Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Beautiful Ashes, by Jeaniene Frost

Ivy is 20, incredibly stressed and heart-broken as she searches desperately for her missing 18 year old sister. Their parents have just died in a car crash in Bennington, Vermont. Tragically, the accident occurred when they were searching for their younger daughter Jasmine in the community from which her last text message had come.

Stopping in the rain at a charming bed and breakfast, Ivy hopes  the desk clerk will recognize a photo of Jasmine, but suddenly Ivy is hit with a vision, a much seedier and dreary version of the charming inn, and is shocked to see Jasmine there too.  When the vision disappears, Ivy is startled to realize that the desk clerk has assaulted her.  Somehow Ivy is able to escape, but a return to her motel just increases the confusion and mayhem.

A handsome stranger is waiting for her in her room; minutes later a police officer knocks on her door. The two men seem to know each other and regard one another as enemies.  There is a lot that Ivy isn't being told but the next thing she knows she is a kidnap victim travelling in the rear seat of the handsome stranger's car. Amazingly,  he talks like he wants to date her, even as he takes her to a mysterious meeting with someone who just might have the answers to Jasmine's whereabouts.

This is a paranormal romance with tons of action, including battles between angels and demons. Ivy quickly learns more about herself.  The recurring visions she has had are actually real, and she has some latent powers that she must learn how to use to have a chance at freeing Jasmine from the demon world.  She is torn by the enormous attraction she and Adrian have for one another, and the growing realization that they may not be on the same side in this supernatural struggle.

The first in a series of Broken Destiny Novels, this is a satisfying and fast-moving read that will have you anticipating the next in the series.  The Beautiful Ashes is scheduled for publication in September, 2014, so be looking for it now.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson

Volume One in the projected ten volume series of The Stormlight Archive, The Way of Kings is an epic fantasy that outdoes itself in world building. Brandon Sanderson has imagined a world that is vast, harsh, and rife with unique and unusual technology.  The warriors use swords and shields, but the civilization has developed a form of long distance instant messaging that allows instant communication across the miles.  Some gifted folks among them have the ability to transform substances in abundance into much needed goods, such as rocks into food, for instance. And others have developed, or been gifted with, skills to defy gravity...a definite advantage in hand to hand combat!

Battles are fought over the chrysalis of giant armored creatures, whose bodies enclose giant crystals which can be used to create and sustain energy for whomever possesses it.  

Sanderson uses main character flashbacks to fill in the past stories of key people whose stories we follow to delve deeper into the world of Roshar and how it has come to be what it is.  Though history has been imperfectly preserved in children's tales and in mythology, there are also vast libraries with written history preserved and available to scholars among them.

Kaladin is one of the protagonists we follow.  He is the son of a surgeon in a small rather remote village and expects to become a surgeon himself.  But unexpected circumstances cast him into the role of a soldier.  He quickly demonstrates his leadership ability and his fighting skills, but is double crossed by an officer and becomes a slave. His leadership skills re-emerge however, and over time the group of lowly bridge movers he is assigned to in another military unit become a band of effective workers with great loyalty and admiration for Kaladin.  Kaladin himself is a great self-doubter, but eventually even he comes to recognize his special qualities as being similar to some of the legendary warriors of yore.

While Kaladin is in the lowest social rank in this army, Dalinar is a high ranking warrior, almost legendary hero and a close adviser to his nephew the Alethi king.  Like Kaladin, Dalinar sees visions occasionally. Though the visions seem to be allowing him to see glimpses of the past and perhaps the future, he doubts himself and his interpretations, much like Kaladin does.  The Alethi Army is fighting the Parshendi army for access to the giant crystal harvest. And by the way, there is a lot of mystery surrounding the Parshendi.  They are similar to humans, but have the ability to communicate with one another through humming, not to mention the ability to grow armor on their own bodies.

 Dalinar's niece Jasnah is a scholar/historian in a far away city-state, looking for answers to questions of history and destiny in the archives.  As it happens, Shalinar, a young woman trying desperately to salvage her family's fortune and status, offers herself as an apprentice to Jasnah.  But her hidden agenda requires her to gain Jasnah's trust and then steal the Soulcaster fabrial that Jasnah wears on her hand and wrist.

Eventually all their paths are destined to either clash or merge to continue to unfold the mysteries of the past and future of the world of Roshar.  Lots of questions remain at the end of this lengthy volume, but the promise of nine more novels in the series should surely take care of "the rest of the story."  Dedicated epic fantasy fans are no doubt waiting for the answers and volume 2, Words of Radiance is already on the shelves.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Song of Kali, by Dan Simmons

Dan Simmons has written a horror story that chills the reader to the very core. The protagonist has been invited to Calcutta to pick up a new manuscript of an established poet.  The problem is that the poet's death had been reported some years ago, and the editors at Harper's magazine want journalist/poet Robert Luczak to go pick it up personally so that he can determine if the poet M. Das is indeed still living, or if the Writers Union in India is perpetrating a hoax. 

Robert takes his wife, who knows several of the Indian languages. Having been born in India, he feels she can help him translate not only language but cultural differences. Their 7 month old baby daughter goes along as well. 

Problems begin almost immediately.  The plane is late; the person expected to meet them is not at the airport but another man is.  He is socially awkward to say the least but convinces them he was sent to meet them.  He does finally get them to the hotel but Bobby has an almost visceral dislike for the man and for the city of Calcutta.  Once he gets to the hotel he relaxes a little and decides his anger is likely due to jet lag.

But every time he leaves the hotel, he meets with obstacles, changed plans, and the uncertainty of whether he will get back to the safety of the hotel or not.  When he insists that he must meet M. Das personally, he is gradually introduced into a perverse cult of the Hindi goddess Kali. He begins to see her evil influence everywhere.  Perhaps the evil is not just the religious cult but the culture of the city itself.  His departure is delayed over and over.  He tries to get his family out of town but the flights are so unreliable...will they ever be safe and secure again?

First published in 1985, this book has won the World Fantasy Award and is recognized as a classic in the horror genre.  If you haven't read it, give it a try.

The Silver Rings, by Samuel Valentino

The Silver Rings is a delightful conglomeration of fairy tales that should delight very young readers and their parents, as well as the older children who read for themselves.  It is fun to pick up on the similarities to the Cinderella story, and characters such as The Fairy Godmother, the Three Little Pigs, the Sly Fox, a magic mirror, giants, noble princes, etc., etc.

Samuel Valentino has written and illustrated a story featuring identical twins Alice and Celia.  They are patient and hard working girls who are bossed around mercilessly by their step-mother.  StepMom has two daughters, Tara(ntula) and Ana(conda), who are as mean as they can be, not to mention ugly and obnoxious.

Celia and Alice take advantage of an opportunity to escape from their home into the Enchanted Forest.  With only a few missteps, they make their way to their fairy godmother Mozzarella's house.  She gives the girls each a disguise for protection and a magic ring, so that they can separate, but the ring will turn colors if one sister is in trouble and needs the help of her sister.  The girls love each other but like different  environments so they set out in different directions.  Celia loves the outdoors; Alice wants four walls and the comforts of home.

They find what they want in the short run, but troubles come...there are lots of fairy tales to allude to...but the girls find first, adventure, then obstacles, then an awareness that they are quite capable of saving themselves.  And oh, yeah, some handsome princes, eventually (who they help to save) come, making their lives just that much more interesting!

A delightful tale with appealing illustrations and plenty of humor and wit, the book is available as of July 1, 2014, so be on the look out for this delightful fairy tale!

I read the eversion of the book courtesy of NetGalley.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Bad Magic, by Pseudonymous Bosch

Pseudonymous Bosch has authored a witty mystery for middle schoolers in the vein of Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events.  Bosch writes from a personal perspective but does not reveal the narrator's relationship to the featured characters right away.

Bosch uses wry humor and a comfortable story telling style to introduce protagonist Clay, a 12 year old familiar with magic since his preschool days. But since his older brother with whom he shared the pursuit of magic mysteriously left home, he has left the hobby behind. Clay and his brother have attached some meanings to words they use to describe magic, so that Bad Magic really means good, or impressive, or even awesome, magic. But now Clay feels like bad magic means cheesy and fake.

He has recently performed in a school play, The Tempest, by William Shakespeare, which also involves magic. Before the reader even realizes it, Bosch is sharing/teaching about the play in a most entertaining way which moves the plot of the book right along. Bosch uses footnotes (super easy in the e-version) to define words or add details in his witty style, making one not want to miss a single footnote!

But Clay's life hits a downward spiral when  graffiti appears on a wall at school and everyone believes he did it. He knows he didn't, but neither the school administrators nor his parents believe him. The school insists that the parents see that he faces "consequences" for the action, and that's how he gets sent to a summer camp for wayward kids.

And THAT'S where the magic and the mystery both kick in! Entertaining and likeable characters with clever dialog make this an enjoyable read from cover to cover...not to mention that one just might learn how to's on some magic tricks along the way, or even give Shakespeare a chance!

I received a pre-publication e-book from NetGalley. The book should be available where books are sold in September 2014, so be looking for it.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Jack Strong, A Story of Life After Life, by Walter Mosley

Jack Strong comes slowly to awareness in a Las Vegas hotel room.  His vivid dreams are seemingly coming from different personalities at home within his mind. But when he awakens, becoming aware of his physical body, he sees that he is patched together...predominantly in appearance a white male, but when he examines his hand, he sees that one finger of his left hand seems to be that of a black man and one on the right is from a woman.  The voices in his head remain, but he can control, with some effort, which personality will dominate at a given time.

Author Mosley has stepped away from the urban detective genre that he does so well, but his skills make him at home in any genre.  This short story incorporates some sci-fi elements with enough of a criminal action element to keep it exciting.

We are not told how Jack came into being, but there is a hint that he has been "created" by some organization or out of this world power.  All these personalities within Jack are beings who have previously died, but have some unresolved issues to deal with.  This may be their opportunity for redemption. When they pool their capabilities some can help others by providing physical strength or specific knowledge to help right a wrong or gain an edge against the bad guys.

The great thing is that this open ended tale can go so many directions, depending on which personality steps up to the "podium" to take control for awhile.  In this sequence a professional in the gambling world, Lance Richards, was killed by his partner after they were discovered skimming from the casino profits that their boss was skimming from the big boss.  The partner had assumed that Lance's safety deposit key would be on him when he died, but the knowledge of it's whereabouts died with him.  After Jack/Lance has creatively  dealt with this situation, he decides to hitch hike out of town...Jack's not sure why until he realizes that the personality taking over is a hitch hiking serial killer...don't you want to know what happens next?!

Received an early digital copy courtesy of NetGalley, and hope that this intriguing story has a sequel in the works.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Precious and the Mystery of the Missing Lion, by Alexander McCall Smith

Alexander McCall Smith has turned to the childhood of his delightful protagonist, Precious Ramotswe, to create a new children's book, Precious and the Mystery of the Missing Lion.  This delightful children's story recalls the exciting week when eight year old Precious gets to go stay with her aunt, who works at a safari camp on the river. The illustrations are classic woodcuts with splashes of color which help visualize the story on  every page.

Precious is already good at paying attention to details, and it pays off when a tame lion goes missing. The lion is actually an animal actor who comes along with a film crew, and Precious and her new friend Khumo actually get to help with some of the filming.  Precious and Khumo are nearly as upset as the film crew when they wake up one morning to realize Timmy the lion has escaped!

After the grown ups give up looking, Precious and Khumo offer to take the canoe down the river in search of Timmy.  Aunt Bee warns them about the dangers of the river and the children promise to be very careful.

Will they be able to find Timmy? Does Timmy want to be found? Even as an eight year old Precious is showing signs of the wisdom and cleverness that will stand her in good stead as owner of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency in Botswana.

This book will be fun to read to young children, and the older children will love reading it themselves.  The suggested age range is 7-12 years.