Book Review: Schooled in Magic, by Christopher G. Nuttall

Emily is a teenage girl pulled from our world into a world of magic and mystery by a necromancer who intends to sacrifice her to the dark gods. Rescued in the nick of time by an enigmatic sorcerer, she discovers that she possesses magical powers and must go to Whitehall School to learn how to master them. There, she learns the locals believe that she is a “Child of Destiny,” someone whose choices might save or damn their world … a title that earns her both friends and enemies. A stranger in a very strange land, she may never fit into her new world …

…and the necromancer is still hunting her. If Emily can’t stop him, he might bring about the end of days.” — Schooled in Magic, from Goodreads

 

Schooled in Magic is the first book in Christopher G. Nuttall’s series by the same name, and it follows the main character, Emily, as she tries to adjust to the medieval magical world she’s been kidnapped into. She’s being hunted by a necromancer named Shadye, who wants to sacrifice her to the Harrowing, because he believes she is a Child of Destiny and her death would be a powerful offering. It’s a very classic, world domination plot, and the necromancers are the current Big Bad, with the faeries being the background, Ye Olden Days Big Bad. Before Shadye could go through with the murdering, Emily is rescued by a sorcerer named Void. After the rescue, it’s discovered that Emily has powers herself, and is promptly enrolled in the–impenetrable from everything but plot–magical school of Whitehall.

Okay, let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way. Yes, it comes across as a story that borrows heavily from Harry Potter. In fact, if I had to give a brief description, I’d say it’s all seven Harry Potter books with their major highlights pulled out and rolled into one. We start with, “Yer a sorceress and the Chosen One, Emily,” and finish with the, “Battle of Hogwarts, er, Whitehall.”

We have the one loyal friend from the beginning (Ron/Imaiqah), and the bossy friend who was befriended through a harrowing experience, (Alassa/Hermione). Though, the intelligence level of the characters is swapped, the parallels are there and incredibly obvious, as are all the other ones: History of Magic, the McGonagall character, a Dumbledore character, a Defense against the Dark Arts type class, Care of Magical Creatures type class, Alchemy (Potions), Charms, and so on. The author also makes no bones about his incredulity of how other fantasy novels of similar ilk portray their worlds. However, he should keep in mind to not bite the hands of those who helped make fantasy more mainstream.

That said, here are my pros and cons, which include **SPOILERS** so reader beware:

Pros:

  • Because the main character was kidnapped at a more mature age, and wasn’t cloistered away for most of her life like Harry, there’s more real-world comparisons between the magical world and her own. She compares the writing of spells to computer coding, which, as someone who writes scripts, resonated with me.
    • In the same vein as above, because she’s put in a medieval world instead of a magical world hidden within our own, there’s more opportunity for her to try and introduce real-world concepts, (bookkeeping practices, Arabic number systems, stirrups, and a few more), into this world. She theorizes that development is stunted through a combination of magic, and a medieval class system, and she’s probably correct. It’s interesting to watch the waves she creates by introducing these things.
  • The magical system was laid out more in-depth. It gave us a more technical look into how the magic system works, and was like putting icing on an otherwise delicious, but barren, cake (Harry Potter world). Such things are explored in Fan Fiction of J.K. Rowling’s works, but the author herself didn’t touch too much on how magic functions. To be fair to Rowling, though, her target audience in the beginning was much younger than Nuttall’s, which means he had more leeway with attention-span for such details than she did.
  • It was interesting, for me, to draw comparisons between Harry Potter, both obvious and not, and see how Nuttall interpreted or changed those references. And there’s no doubt that, despite the low level of scorn displayed by the main character for unbelievable aspects of other fantasy novels at certain points, the book played on the nostalgia of people who enjoyed Harry Potter.
  • I enjoyed that their History of Magic was an actual discussion on the topic, rather than memorizing and spitting out facts. More history classes need to be taught like this, to be honest.
  • The main character is relatable, in that her reactions make sense given her new environment, and likeable enough for a teenager.

Cons:

  • I had a couple of main grievances, one being Emily supposedly introducing the concept of bras to the world. That one had me going, “Oh, come on!” While the modern concept of the bra we know today was introduced in the early 1900s, women have been binding their breasts as far back as ancient Greece, or farther. Is he trying to tell me that a woman never stopped to think, “Gee, it’s really uncomfortable to walk around like this, guess I’ll not try anything to make myself more comfortable.” I’d believe there was an alternate world with magic in it, before I believed any species with breasts went thousands of years and didn’t think to give themselves some support.
  • My other main grievance: the numbers don’t add up. What I mean by this, is we’re told by Void that necromancers outnumber sorcerers. We are also told that a necromancer functions by using murder to gain massive amounts of power. “Drain the mana, then drain the soul.” (Mana is the magic of the world.) It’s this massive amount of power being channeled through their minds that drives them mad, and they end up destroying themselves. However, one of the linchpin moments in the end is Emily being forced by Shadye to sacrifice someone to make her a necromancer, but the person has no mana, so it doesn’t work. Maybe I missed something, but here are my issues with this:
    • If regular humans don’t work, and sorcerers are in short supply, how in the world are these necromancers even a threat? Who are they sacrificing in massive amounts to gain enough power to be a threat to the allied lands?
    • We’re told in a story from one of the teachers that the necromancers were sacrificing people by the thousands, and rulers were sending shipments of people to be sacrificed in an attempt to bargain with the necromancers. As I said, the numbers and plot point don’t add up in the slightest.
    • All they’d have to do to win is put everyone with significant mana behind wards like in Whitehall, and let the necromancers tire themselves trying to get in and access the only sources of power they can use.
    • It could just be the population is half-magicless and half-mana capable, but not enough to utilize it. However, I don’t think that’s ever stated, leaving this plot hole wide open.
  • In the beginning we’re told a General Kip is in charge of Combat Magic, but later, when the character is in said class, no one of that name is there. Instead, we have two Drill Sergeants: Harkin and Miles. It’s another point to a lack of consistency that occasionally crops up.
  • The author seemingly uses a lot of terms interchangeably, like elves/faerie/Fair Folk, sorceress/witch/sorcerer/wizard, and so on. For the latter, I’m assuming it’s sort of a power structure, as Imaiqah states she’s a magician which is less powerful than a sorceress. However, since it isn’t really explained, it created a somewhat jarring, and less than smooth transition when giving the history of things.
  • The overall technical aspect of the writing left something to be desired, and more rigorous editing was needed. There were grammar mistakes, homophone mix-ups (knew instead of new), and a lack of consistency with capitalization of certain things, like goblins/Goblins. While even the best editing can leave a few flaws, and I don’t tend to nitpick to this level, there were enough to be rather noticeable.
  • The secondary characters have, well, character, but most feel as though they fall just short of being three dimensional.

CONCLUSION

I want to give it 3.8 out of 5, but the number system doesn’t work that way, so we’ll round up to 4/5.

The book was enjoyable for what it was: a play on Harry Potter’s popularity, but beginning with a little more maturity and critical thinking, as well as more depth with the magic.

The later books have higher ratings, and from what I’ve read in other reviews Nuttall’s technical writing gets better as it goes on. Given the fact that he has seemingly written 17 books in this series in a span of 5 years, while also writing other series concurrently, my only thought is that his man is either a magical machine, or a beast that never sleeps.

In the end, I’d recommend this book to anyone who won’t be offended by the obvious Harry Potter similarities, won’t get too hung up on the technical writing, and enjoys a reasonably good book about a magical school and saving the world. It’s not groundbreaking by any means, but I do think I’ll be purchasing more books in the series, so there’s that.

Enjoy!

Book Review ~~ Dave vs. The Monsters: Emergence

 

 

They say the only two things guaranteed in life are death and taxes. Dave Hooper has managed to avoid both, though the IRS and recent events in Dave’s life are doing their best to cash in on his debts. Dave is a father in a self-destructive, downward spiral who is currently fonder of hookers, blow, and booze than of taking care of or seeing his kids—or paying taxes. Though, who can really blame him about the taxes?

He was heading back a day early for his shift on an off-shore oil rig, hungover and hating life in general, when his world crashed down around his ears. Monsters were attacking the rig and eating his guys. What’s a safety manager to do? Piss your pants and kick monster ass, of course.

Art by: Concept Artist and Illustrator Ray Lederer for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Emergence is the first book in John Birmingham’s Dave vs. The Monsters series, and it follows our, (as per the back of the book), ‘unworthy champion of humanity’. Apparently, humans learned nothing from Tolkein’s Dwarves of Moria and they dug too deep, releasing monsters not seen on Earth since humans thought caves and mud huts were high class living.

Overall, the book is an enjoyable read and an interesting take on what would happen if your average Joe Schmoe were thrown into a monster madness situation. I do have a few issues with it, but not enough to keep me from reading more into the series.

First, the pros:

  • As I said above, it feels like a more realistic take on the average person being thrown into one of these situations. Whereas in similar books with comparable concepts, (Monster Hunters International comes to mind), the person has some special skill, are blessed by Fate, or have been training all their lives to fight the adversary, whoever or whatever that may be. It’s a sort of Buffy the Vampire Slayer syndrome for main characters. I’m not saying these special people have it easy because of their powers, only that they do have them right from the get-go, and generally know how to use them.

Dave, on the other hand, is not the first thing that comes to mind when you picture a ‘hero’. I won’t spoil anything about the book here, but let’s just say that Dave’s rise to herodom is both awkward and not a little painful.

  • The military stuff in the book is mostly accurate. I really enjoyed the fact there wasn’t some government agency that crawled out of the woodwork having expected something like this to happen. As Heath, our Navy officer in charge, points out, “All you’ve got is JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command).” And Heath isn’t some super-commando, he just happened to be the closest military presence to the oil rig when all the bad stuff went down, hence he’s put mostly in charge.

It also takes time to mobilize military assets, especially during unknown encounters and in a situation where there is no Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for what’s going down. Because the monsters aren’t following a pattern that a typical terrorist organization would follow, and the fact they have no idea where they’ll show up, it’s impossible to adapt procedures that quickly.

  • I liked the monster descriptions and concepts, as they weren’t based on anything from myth or legend on Earth (for the most part). It felt like it pulled from various fantasy worlds, like the Drow in Forgotten Realms and some Vord from the Codex Alera for their hierarchy and hivemind-type stuff. The different clans and abilities of clans were also interesting.
Found at: http://codexalera.wikia.com/wiki/Vord

Now, the cons:

  • My biggest gripe with the book is the endless exposition that could have been done through interaction with the monsters and other characters. I got more than halfway through the book and there were only two interactions with the bad guys at that point: the initial one, and a very brief one after Dave gets out of the hospital.

It felt more like an alternate history book than a fantasy novel. I wanted to see more interaction with the monsters to get details on how they worked, instead of Dave just constantly doing his thing. (Not going to tell you what it is, you’ll just have to read for yourself). Dave’s thing should have been used as an addendum to the interactions, not the primary source. Which brings me to my next issue…

  • The monster viewpoints in the book added almost nothing to the book overall, and even less to the plot. In fact, you could probably skip the ones that are chapters by themselves and not miss out on much. While it could be interesting, and it gave us a look into their hierarchy and how they function, it got incredibly tedious to have to basically translate their way to a human understanding/concepts.

Everything we learned from their viewpoints could have been done in Dave interactions with the monsters. In fact, the little bits woven in where the monsters interacted with Dave and we were getting information from their point of view were great—in small doses.

  • Compton isn’t filled out very well as a character, and as a result his actions at the end of the book had the plot fall on its face right at the finish line. In fact, some of the characters we meet for only a few pages leave a more lasting impression than Compton.

It might have to do with another character explaining Compton’s motives instead of Dave (especially), Heath, or Ashbury having any real confrontation with him. He just doesn’t come across as anyone willing to throw their weight around enough to do what he does at the end of the book.

  • The main character can be hard to connect to for some people. For people who haven’t gone through any self-destructive behavior in their life, Dave can come off as an emotionally stunted, major scumbag, and incredibly unlikable. He’s very: Work hard. Play hard. Damn the consequences. Even to the detriment of his family. So, there might be a majority-ish of people who can’t understand his motives and actions.

The nitpicks:

  • I have never met a woman who says they have, “good breeding hips,” so J2’s comment made me cringe a bit. Perhaps it’s a regional thing, and I just don’t ‘get it’.
  • Some of the emotional reactions of characters didn’t track for me, and left me scratching my head as to why they reacted the way they did. There were times people got pissed off at Dave for something he said, that left me wondering why they reacted to him like that. I’m putting it in the nitpicks because that could just be a failing on my part, and not the author’s.

The tl;dr:

Concept: Good. Execution: Shaky.

All in all, I give it 3/5 stars.

As I said, the cons won’t stop me from reading the rest of the books, but I’d like to see more plot and character interaction, and less exposition. Where it ended for the first book had the feeling of the middle-point in your average novel with good pacing and plot.

I’d relegate the series to something you could read between waiting for your favorite authors to release their next book, and I don’t think I’d ever buy a hardback if the rest of the series is similar.

Book Review: The Hammer and the Blade, by Paul S. Kemp

Egil and Nix, adventurers and swords for hire, are pulled into the dark schemes of a decadent family with a diabolical secret. A fast paced adventure redolent with the best of classic sword and sorcery tales.” — GoodReads

hammer-and-blade

The Hammer and the Blade is the first book in the Egil and Nix series by Paul S. Kemp. I had high hopes for it when I picked it up and read the interplay between the main characters in the first few pages. It was amusing, and I must admit I fancy main characters that are smart-asses. 
Egil and Nix aren’t out to save the world–just their corner of it. They bungled into a pact made between a sorcerer’s family and a family of demons, and jeopardized the sorcerer’s power base and life. As a result, they’re forced into helping the sorcerer fix the mess. That makes it sound as though the sorcerer is a victim here, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. 

 

As much as I enjoyed it, I can certainly see the flaws. But first, the pros:

  • I love the dialogue and wit between the main characters. It’s entertaining, and more often than not I was laughing out loud. 
  • Action abounds in the book, and in general keeps the story rolling. 
  • Nix’s personality is reminiscent of Silk’s in The Belgariad; flamboyant and a little over-the-top. Egil is a more steadfast character, and his comical delivery is dry in comparison, but no less amusing. 
  • Some of the world-building is interesting, and setting up (most likely) for stories later on. 

The cons:

  • For as long as the book was, I was surprised to see my progress and realize so little happened in regards to the story. I’m not sure where the filler went, for the most part, but it must have happened somewhere. There was no depth.
  • The characters besides Egil and Nix feel two-dimensional, and not very fleshed out. A couple of the guards, Baras and Jyme, get better treatment, so they’re not as bad. However, most of the others just feel flat. 
  • One of the scenes where they fight a demon is pages long, and went on for what seemed like forever. I enjoy a good action scene, but you need to know when to say; ‘Enough is enough.’
  • While I enjoy the wit and sarcasm, it undercuts the tension and thrill we should feel during tense and dangerous moments. 
  • The outrage the characters feel for the sisters’ potential predicament loses its credibility and punch when the sorcerer is defeated. I can see the whole, ‘turnabout is fairplay’ aspect, and an eye for an eye, but it does undermine their anger.


I’m giving the book 3.5/5 stars.

3-5-star

The book was a potato chip when I was looking for a baked potato. If there had been a little more depth to the characters and the story, it would have gone a long way.

I’d recommend this book if you need something light and entertaining, that you can put down at a moment’s notice if need be. It was good, but hopefully the second novel brings us a little more story and a little less wit.

Book Review: Staked, by Kevin Hearne

When a druid has lived for two thousand years like Atticus, he’s bound to run afoul of a few vampires. Make that legions of them. Even his former friend and legal counsel turned out to be a bloodsucking backstabber. Now the toothy troublemakers—led by power-mad pain-in-the-neck Theophilus—have become a huge problem requiring a solution. It’s time to make a stand.

As always, Atticus wouldn’t mind a little backup. But his allies have problems of their own. Ornery archdruid Owen Kennedy is having a wee bit of troll trouble: Turns out when you stiff a troll, it’s not water under the bridge. Meanwhile, Granuaile is desperate to free herself of the Norse god Loki’s mark and elude his powers of divination—a quest that will bring her face-to-face with several Slavic nightmares.

As Atticus globetrots to stop his nemesis Theophilus, the journey leads to Rome. What better place to end an immortal than the Eternal City? But poetic justice won’t come without a price: In order to defeat Theophilus, Atticus may have to lose an old friend.” — GoodReads

staked

Staked by Kevin Hearne
 
Staked is book #8/9 in Kevin Hearne’s The Iron Druid Chronicles. I have to admit, it’s not the best book in the series, and I was let down by certain aspects. The concept is still interesting, and I enjoyed the overall story itself, but there were a few issues I feel should be addressed:
  1. The book opens with a warning from the author that unless you’ve read A Prelude to War, you might be a little lost. For anyone who didn’t read the Author’s Note in Staked, they were even more lost than those of us who did. There have been very few book series I’ve read, where a short story between the primary books in a series contributes to the main storyline that heavily. Even then, the authors did a much better job at starting a novel that didn’t leave their readers feeling lost in the sauce. A Prelude to War is important to the primary storyline–gotcha. That doesn’t mean you just dump us off like we got a copy of a book missing the first few chapters. It’s obnoxious, and smacks of; “Give me more money!” I’m not saying that is Mr. Hearne’s intent, at all. However, for those of us who spend money on the hardback, only to be told we need to spend more money, it can be a little frustrating. Add to that the fact it’s only available on eReaders…well, needless to say it has upset quite a few people.
  2. I’m probably in the minority here, but too much emphasis is being placed on Oberon’s interactions. KH did a great job of making him an entertaining SIDE character in the other books, without making him overbearing. This book he didn’t stick with that. It seems to have gotten out of control, much in the way Minions have gotten out of control with Despicable Me. 
  3. I love first-person narration. I love writing in first-person narration. I really did not like having three different first-person narrators in the book, with only the chapter number art as the indicator as to who I was reading from. It was overly confusing, and slowed the reading and story up. It would have been a better story, and easier to read, if he’d switched to third-person. As it stands, it seems as though he started the series in first-person, realized he wanted to do the story from other perspectives, and rolled with the first person for everyone. It didn’t turn out as well as I’m sure he would have hoped. 
  4. Speaking of the narrators…Owen and Granuaile also miss the mark in this book for me. Owen is kind of put on the back burner, relegated to twiddling his thumbs, and I would have enjoyed more from him in the primary story, (rather than all the time put into Oberon, who needed no further development). Granuaile comes off as whiny, and fell flat as a character. Her daddy issues are superficial and yawn-worthy. Atticus has almost lost the spark that made people fall in love with his character. I’m left with the image of a chicken running around like its head has been cut off, for how the characters behaved in this book. That’s to say, a whole lot of nothing with a messy finish.
  5. Along with the Oberon issue, it feels as though KH is putting so much time into unnecessary things, (those Twitter things between Owen and Oberon, and Oberon’s book, or whatever it is), as well as other projects. It’s easy to see how the series has suffered as a result. 

Overall, I’m giving it 3/5 stars:

3-out-of-5

 

The only thing that kept it from being two, was essentially the high the series is riding from the other books. The third star is my hope that the final book of the series brings back the aspects of the story, and characters, that made us fall in love with the series in the first place. As a stand-alone? The book would get two stars. 

I’ll be purchasing Scourged (#9, final book) when it comes out, but that’s only because I have to know how it ends. If I was told to expect more of what this book gave me, I’d rather live with not knowing than waste my time. 

I’ll have to see how the last book ends before I recommend the series to anyone. I know I’d be pissed at me if I started with something so awesome, then got around to the last couple books. 

Book Review: The Summoner, by Gail Z. Martin

The comfortable world of Martris Drayke, second son of King Bricen of Margolan, is shattered when his older half-brother, Jared, and Jared’s dark mage, Foor Arontala, kill the king and seize the throne. Tris is the only surviving member of the royal family aside from Jared the traitor. Tris flees with three friends: Soterius, captain of the guard; Carroway, the court’s master bard; and Harrtuck, a member of the royal guard. Tris harbors a deep secret. In a land where spirits walk openly and influence the affairs of the living, he suspects he may be the mage heir to the power of his grandmother, Bava K’aa, once the greatest sorceress of her age. Such magic would make Tris a Summoner, the rarest of magic gifts, capable of arbitrating between the living and the dead.” — GoodReads

 

summoner

 

The Summoner is the first book in Gail Z. Martin’s Chronicles of the Necromancer, and despite its girth it’s an easy, breezy beautiful cover girl. Er, I mean read. Damn jingles. In reality, it reads as something that might do better in the Young Adult section than adult. If you enjoyed Garth Nix’s Abhorsen series, this might be a book series for you. It has the same kind of general feel to the storyline. It’s dark, but there’s no Lovecraft-ian monster lurking in that darkness. 

There are some books I read for the twists, the surprises, and the depth of the plot. This isn’t one of those series. The plotlines are predictable, the character arcs are similarly foreseeable with cliche characters, and it has all the earmarks of the classic hero’s journey. Sounds boring, right? Well, not completely. 

It has some pretty interesting concepts: the Eight Faces of The Lady, a ‘good’ necromancer, being able to see ghosts on Haunts (Halloween), and the world in general. It makes the read enjoyable and interesting, but as I said, very easy on the mind. 

What really made me enjoy this book? Sometimes you need something almost modern, fairytale-like, where the good guys prevail after a few hardships, and the bad guys lose. Real life is messy, and having a story where everything fits nice and neat is relaxing. Think of this series as the opposite of what you’ll see in A Song of Ice and Fire, as far grittiness and plot. 

Most of the pros and cons below can double as both, as you’ll note in the lists. 

The Pros:

  • Engaging concepts, as noted above. 
  • Easy read for moments where you don’t have a lot of time to read, and don’t want anything that’ll get you in trouble for staying up late to read it.  
  • You know the good guys are going to prevail despite the hardships, and nothing overly horrific will happen to them. Everyone ends up with who and where they should.
  • It’d be good for teens looking to get into adult fantasy, without their parents having to worry too much about the content. 
  • Gives you the feel goods.  

The Cons:

  • There’s no real depth to the plot. You see everything coming from a mile away, whether it concerns the overall story or the character arcs. 
  • The good guys don’t face any true life-threatening hardships. The worst that might happen is hurt feelings, and some bruises. Honestly, The Hunger Games, is darker and grittier than this book, and THG is slotted for teens. Even on the first read-through, there was no real sense that any of the characters were in true danger.
  • Your teens could read this.
  • It was a lot of book to give us nothing new in the genre, except a world that was more engaging than the characters.

It’s getting 3/5 stars:

3-out-of-5-stars

 

Overall, if you’re looking for a book where you won’t need to think too hard, and is essentially a 637-page fairytale, this is for you. I’d also recommend this for teens more than adults. I’m not saying teens can’t handle deep concepts, because they can. However, if they’re looking for something that gives them a classic hero’s tale and won’t traumatize them, this is it.

If you prefer Game of Thrones-type stories, this is absolutely not for you, and will seem like absolute fluff in comparison.

Huh, fluff. That is a good word to describe this book. It’s fantasy fluff.

So if you’re looking for a little feel good fluff in your reading time, pick up The Summoner by Gail Z. Martin. If you’re looking for nitty gritty, this is not the book you are looking for. /waves hand

Book Review: Charming, by Elliott James

He comes from a line of Charmings — an illustrious family of dragon slayers, witch-finders and killers dating back to before the fall of Rome. Trained by a modern day version of the Knights Templar, monster hunters who have updated their methods from chainmail and crossbows to kevlar and shotguns, he was one of the best. That is — until he became the abomination the Knights were sworn to hunt.

That was a lifetime ago. Now, he tends bar under an assumed name in rural Virginia and leads a peaceful, quiet life. One that shouldn’t change just because a vampire and a blonde walked into his bar… Right?” — GoodReads

big-cover

This is the first book I’ve read by Elliott James, and it’s left me barely on the, ‘I enjoyed this book’, side of meh. If I had the option of buying only one book, and it was between Mr. James and just about every other author I’ve ever read, I’d choose the other author. I’m not saying I won’t be reading any more of his books. However, he’s the kind of author I turn to when the to-be-read pile is empty, and I’m months off of my favorite authors’ new book release. Low author on the totem pole. 

If you’re looking for a main character that could be described as tangentially related to Harry Dresden and Atticus, this might be something like that. The main character, John Charming, has some great, witty moments in the book, though I’d hesitate to say he’s on par with Dresden’s wiseassery.

The book has an interesting concept, the Pax Arcana, which keeps ordinary folks from discovering the extraordinary. The Knights, who raised and trained John, are under a geas to protect the Pax, but are also trying to destroy John. Who they now consider to be another misbehaving monster and a threat. Not only to them, because he knows about them, but the Pax. 

You also get vampires, but they aren’t the mouth-watering morsels like in some novels, but instead eye-watering in stench and appearance. I can appreciate a book trying to veer away from the sexy vampire archetype, and the book doesn’t limit it to just vampires. Most of the stories/creatures we’ve heard/read about have an alternate explanation in Charming. Making changes to more than just vampires lets me know the author is making an effort beyond: “We’ve got too many sexy vampires out there, time for something nastier.”

So, the pros:

  • The Pax Arcana is an interesting way to explain how regular people don’t recognize the supernatural when they see it. 
  • The main characters have some great dialogue and interesting back stories. 
  • The story itself wasn’t, ‘drive me to stay up all night to finish it’, but it kept the pages turning and entertained me. 
  • I liked the alternate interpretations/descriptions of stories/supernatural creatures. 

The Cons:

  • By the gods, the INFO DUMPS. The character goes off on these long, inappropriately timed expositions, where I felt as though I was reading a history novel instead of a story. 
  • The characters seemed somewhat immature for people who have supposedly been around for as long as they have. e.g. John Charming being born before WWII
  • Some of the writing itself is off-putting. Mr. James makes it seem like you’re getting random bits and bobs from John’s head at times. Like one part where John says he heard another character say something, but they didn’t. The character wasn’t even there, and it goes right into the next scene without explaining what in the world John was on about. 


Overall I give Charming a 2.5 / 5 stars:

2-5-out-of-5

 

I can’t say I’ll ever re-read it, but I will buy the other books in the series if there’s nothing else for me to buy. If I could give it 2.75 out of 5 I would, because there are parts that put it just beyond the middle of the road for interesting. However, the stars in Google search don’t have such a beast, and I got a bit of a squirmy feeling about making it 3 out of 5.

If you can find it in the library, I’d recommend borrowing it. If buying is your only option, I’d put this at the bottom of your list. It’s an interesting read, but I’m never going to be buying any hardbacks of this series.

Book Review: Hard Magic, Book I of the Grimnoir Chronicles, by Larry Correia

Hard Magic
Book I of the Grimnoir Chronicles
Larry Correia
Jake Sullivan is a licensed Private Eye—with a seriously hardboiled attitude. He also possesses raw magical talent and the ability to make objects in his vicinity light as a feather or as heavy as depleted uranium, all with a magical thought. It’s no wonder the G-men turn to Jake when they need someone to go after a suspected killer who’s been knocking off banks in a magic-enhanced crime spree. Problems arise when Jake discovers the bad girl behind the robberies is an old friend, and he happens to know her magic is just as powerful as his, and the Feds have plunged Jake into a secret battle between powerful cartels of magic-users–a cartel whose ruthless leaders have decided that Jake is far too dangerous to live…” — GoodReads
hard-magic
This book is X-Men meets a modern attempt at noir, and a passing glance at hardboiled detective fiction. The Actives are people with magical abilities, and their lot in life almost mirrors that of the outcast X-Men. At least in the book, though, they are slightly more tolerated than in the Marvel Universe and Fox films. Also, I say a passing glance at hardboiled detective fiction, because one of the main characters, Jake Sullivan, is technically a detective. In all honesty, Mr. Correia could have had any profession for Jake, for how much of the story is built around him being a detective. It’s also not one-hundred percent true to being noir. Though it may seem like a fair shake of it for those of us who don’t read exclusively in that genre. It’s similar to when a modern television show tries to go noir for a single episode: they have the props, but not the soul. 
film-noir
Image Source
“You can go a long way with a smile. You can go a lot further with a smile and a gun. A smile, a gun, and a Brute get you the key to the city. —Al “Scarface” Capone, Interview, 1930”
 
The world building relies heavily on a knowledge of America, while glossing over details of other countries. That’s not as big of a deal as some make it out to be, since the countries themselves are not as important as the characters, motives, and their actions. I was going to point out it seemed as though Mr. Correia took the easy way out with: “How come there isn’t war anymore?” “Peace Ray!” After I thought about it, though, that’s exactly what we did with nuclear weapons, and MAD. You also get to read about dirigibles quite a bit, as a desired form of transportation. 

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Without reading too much into what the book was about before listening to it, I honestly thought I was in for a more fantasy-esque novel. Yes, it leans toward Sci-Fi in the sense of the technology. With the powers and additional magic used by some of the characters, though, I thought it would be fantasy. Lo and behold sometime into the book, you’re given information that points directly to Sci-Fi. Do not pass go, do not collect 200 Galleons. 

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It boils down to: Grimnoir are the good guys, and are made up of multiple nationalities. The Imperium are the bad guys, and are lead by The Chairman, who is Japanese. Grimnoirs fight to make sure people with magic aren’t abused, as well as not letting people with magic abuse others. The Imperium believes in might makes right. This story is about their clash over a super weapon called a “Death Ray”, as well as essentially who should be ruling the world. Jake Sullivan is a “Heavy”, or gravity controller, and he’s caught between the two organizations. He doesn’t completely agree with the Grimnoir’s ‘wait and see’ tactic, but he knows he won’t toe the line in the world The Chairman wants, either. Between a rock and a hard place, Jake uses his brains and powers to try and save the world.

Cons: 
I’m putting this in the con section, but I won’t knock any points off for it because it’s a personal preference: I don’t care for third-person narration. It takes a really good story to distract me from it, but this isn’t one of those times. It might have been because I was listening to it as an audiobook, but I’ve never been a big fan of jumping between characters.

The author likes to talk about guns, and I ran into the same issue with that aspect as I did when Patricia Briggs went overboard with the horse information in Dead Heat. Authors are told to write what they know, but we don’t have to beat readers over the head with it. While he’s not going on for pages about the guns, the details do get a little much at times. 

Pros:

The characters. Mr. Correia did an amazing job with the personalities, backstory, and all-around fleshing them out. My personal favorite is Faye. She’s smarter than most assume, based off her Okie accent, and incredibly powerful. Not just when it comes to “Travelers”, (think Nightcrawler in X-Men), but compared to most “Actives”, (Mutants).

Though the powers are part of the characters, the details of each, what the people who use them are called, and so on, were wonderfully done. 

It may have come across differently in my mind if I had read the book, but I greatly enjoyed the varying personalities and accents of the audiobook. The narrator, Bronson Pinchot, did a stupendous job narrating the book. He brought the characters to life, and while I’m sure my mind could have come up with something almost as good, I must bow to his talent. 

The side stories are not extraneous, which I appreciate, and do lend detail to the characters and primary storyline. 

I was entertained by the quotes and anecdotes at the beginning of the chapters. It gives us a glimpse into the alternative history in which Actives play a role. One such quote is above, from Al Capone.

Notes:

If you’re uncomfortable with ethnic and racial stereotypes, this book is not for you. 

If you don’t like graphic and seemingly excessive violence, this book is also not for you. 

I’m not going to get into the author’s political leanings and opinions; I’m solely here to review the book.


I’m giving Hard Magic 4 out of 5 stars

4-out-of-5
There are some parts that drag on, and Mr. Correia can get lost in details at times. In all, the book is a great story, a decent sci-fi alternative history, and has engaging and believable characters. I’ll be picking up the next book, as well as the first, so I can badger my husband into reading it. I’ll probably get the first book in his Monster Hunter series, too, which I’ve heard is better than this one.

Book Review: The Shadow Queen, by Anne Bishop

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Theran Grayhaven is the last of his line, desperate to restore the land of Dena Nehele. But first he needs to find a Queen who remembers the Blood’s code of honor and lives by the Old Ways.

Languishing in the Shadow Realm, Lady Cassidy is a Queen without a court. But when she is chosen to rule Dena Nehele, she must convince bitter men to serve once again.”GoodReads

 
 
Shadow Queen by Anne Bishop is the seventh novel in her Black Jewels Series. It’s one of three books in a standalone, offshoot set of stories, with The Invisible Ring coming before the events in The Black Jewels Trilogy. The Shadow Queen, and it’s sequel Shalador’s Lady, take place after the conclusion of The Black Jewels Trilogy. 
 
*****
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ SPOILERS AHEAD ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 ~~~~~~~~~~~FROM THE TRILOGY~~~~~~~~~~
 
***** 
A little look into the story:
 
Jaenelle Angelline has survived and recovered from releasing her Witch powers against the Dorothea SaDiablo and Heketah, and has cleansed the realms of their taint. Along with Daemon Sadi, they have settled down to live out the remainder of their lives in relative peace. However, when Theran Grayhaven comes along, heir of Jared and Lia, (The Invisible Ring), and the Grayhaven line, Daemon endeavors to help for the sake of Jared’s memory. 
 
Theran Grayhaven has fought against the tainted queens, and after they perished in the Witch Storm released by Jaenelle, he fought against the Landens, (non-Blood). There aren’t enough Warlords to protect the land and people, and there are even fewer Queens able to care for the land and hold the reigns of the dangerous Warlords. Theran sets out for the Shadow Realm to find one of the most dangerous and powerful Warlord Princes to ever live: Daemon Sadi. What is he asking for? 
 
A Queen. 
 
Someone to lead his people back from the brink of destruction, and to bring back the Old Ways of the Blood. A Queen who will inspire cynical and jaded men. The men want to serve, but they’ve seen far too much, and don’t trust easily. 
 
Enter Cassidy. A light-jeweled Queen whose court recently broke to reform with a more visually appealing, and a hair more powerful, Queen. She’s adrift, and doesn’t know what will come next for her. She’s never wanted to rule more than the two villages she’d been in charge of, but when Jaenelle comes along with an offer, she worries she’ll be in over her head. The land and people in it are nearly dead in body, and almost dead of soul. Can she be the Queen they need, despite not being what Theran wants?
 
That is essentially the premise for the book.  I fell in love with the Black Jewels Trilogy in high school, but when I want to re-read books from the series, this one and its sequel are usually the ones I grab. Why? Because despite some of the threats and posturing in the books, it is nowhere near as intense as the trilogy. It’s a lighter read in a series that can have some heavy topics. 
 
As much as I love the books, I also recognize they have their flaws. Which is why I’m giving it a 3.5/5 stars:
3-5-star
So first we’ll cover the pros:
  •  The world building in the series has always been spot-on for me, and is the big draw for all the books. The different realms, how they’re connected, the various races, the powers and how they work, and so on. It’s detailed and incorporated into the story very well without bashing you over the head with it. It’s also why side stories work so incredibly well in this series.
  •  You can emotionally connect with certain situations the characters are in, and certain actions and reactions of the characters. Plenty of people have been in Cassidy’s shoes, where appearance is measured as more important than actions.
  • Some of the characters show consistent emotional growth in the story.

Now the cons:

  • I’d say the characters’ behaviors are bi-polar, but that’s not really how being bi-polar works. This is especially true of Theran and Cassidy. Theran almost constantly vacillates between outright disrespect of Cassidy, and doing his best to work with her; though that isn’t saying much in some cases. This can happen from one scene to the next, with little prompting as to why he’s feeling particularly dick-ish that day. Cassidy on the other hand hobbles and re-victimizes herself. I’m not saying it isn’t valid in some cases, particularly during an episode with Theran, but at some of the thoughts and dialogue you want to reach through and shake her a bit. Life sucks. Brush off the haters and move on. I think the Black Jewels world needs to invest in training some psychologists. 
  •  All the conflict occurs between this small group of characters. This wouldn’t be too bad, but it never changes, and it does get tiresome after some time. You can only take so much of Cassidy and Theran butting heads. A little outside danger, from some of the mentioned more dangerous territories, might have been just what the story needed to spice things up and set them straight. 
  • The theme of personality over looks gets somewhat undermined by the relationship between Gray and Cassidy. He doesn’t fall in love with who she is over the way she looks. He notices her physical appearance, and likes it despite others finding her unattractive, before he’s even spoken with her. Yes, the mutual love of gardening follows his descriptions, but when he talks about her sunset hair, or her freckles, or her eyes, it overshadows him loving her for who she is over how she looks. 
  • The stories involving the SaDiablo family, but have nothing to do with the primary story, come off as fan service. They play no purpose, and don’t really bring anything new to the table for the original characters.  
  • This is more a personal quirk, but I can’t read Theran Grayhaven without also thinking of Theon Greyjoy.

 Things that fall in the middle, and should be considered before buying the book:

  • If you’re not a fan of gender essentialism, don’t buy this book, or any in the series. The roles and responsibilities of males and females in this book are rigid, and unchanging. The men are the protectors, and will even remain in abusive situations with Queens they ‘click’ with, because they have a biological drive to serve a Queen. The women are the rulers, but are weak and vulnerable during certain times, such as their ‘moontime’ (menstruation) and pregnancy. Men go into ruts, where they aggressively pursue a female for around three days and have marathon sex. The one inverse in the world is the premise for the trilogy, in that women have more potential to become abusers, simply because the way power is distributed. Queens rule all, and all obey the Queens. 
  • In The Shadow Queen there is a character, Grey, who was tortured as a teen by some Queens. One of the complaints I read in the comment section was there was a bad portrayal of Gray’s PTSD . This makes no sense to me, since all the instances of Gray’s PTSD pull from classic PTSD symptoms. We also need to keep in mind that people experience the same disorders differently. 
  • Yes, the side stories serve no purpose, whatsoever, but the original cast of characters do have legitimate reasons for being in the book. The author just needed to confine their role to the primary storyline. 

  

I know the con list seems a touch long, but overall it really is a good series to get into. It doesn’t one hundred percent need to be read in order, but some of the character interactions between the original characters might be confusing. 
 
If you’re looking for something to read in spare moments, when you don’t have the time to get into deep prose and contemplating the universe, this is a good choice. Someone said it’s “wish-fulfillment crack”, and I’m going to have to agree. Think of it as a fairytale where nothing too bad happens to the main characters, the bad guys get their just deserts, and the good guys live happily ever after. 
 
 
“We know how it ends practically before it starts. That’s why stories appeal to us. They give us the clarity and simplicity our real lives lack.” — Anne Bishop, Daughter of the Blood

Book Review: Dead Heat, by Patricia Briggs

Book Review:
Dead Heat
Patricia Briggs
For once, mated werewolves Charles and Anna are not traveling because of Charles’s role as his father’s enforcer. This time, their trip to Arizona is purely personal, as Charles plans to buy Anna a horse for her birthday. Or at least it starts out that way…

Charles and Anna soon discover that a dangerous Fae being is on the loose, replacing human children with simulacrums. The Fae’s cold war with humanity is about to heat up—and Charles and Anna are in the cross fire. ” — goodreads

dead-heat
 
The Alpha and Omega series by Patricia Briggs always turns out some wonderful stories about Anna and Charles, who are a mated werewolf pair. The books consistently get wonderful ratings, generally over 4 stars, but under 5. However, considering the publish date between the third book, (Fair Game, 6 March 2012), and this one, which is the fourth book in the series, (3 March 2015), I had to do some back-reading to make sure my memory was on-point. 
 
As a note, it is a series that needs to be read in order, (I’ll provide links at the bottom), and the first introduction we get to the two is actually in a short story compilation, On the Prowl.
 
Dead Heat begins with a tidbit on the bad guys for the book, the Fae, though not so much information that we get everything that is going on. Then we move on to Charles and Anna, and as the blurb above states, they head down to Arizona to visit some friends from Charles’ past to get Anna a horse for her birthday. The inciting event occurs the same day they come in, with a deadly interaction between a mother, Chelsea–who is married to the grandson, Kage, of the Salt River Pack Alpha, Hosteen–and her children, Max, Michael, and Mackie. This turns a birthday present trip/blast from Charles’ past, into a Fae-hunt to save children, because we all know that the Fae have a dangerous soft-spot where human children are concerned. 
 
For the most part, I delighted in reading this book. Patricia Briggs, (PB), is a magnificent storyteller, who paces her character development and plot very well. We still see a flash of Anna’s abusive past and how it impacts her, which I expect given it’s only been three years since Charles rescued her, and it makes her a much more believable character. However, her progress is probably not as realistic in a real-world setting, but we can attribute her development to the nature of her being an Omega.
 
It was also lovely to get some more of Charles’ past, and insight into why he’s balking at Anna’s latest character turn–children. What was interesting for me was the mention of them potentially using surrogacy, because I’m a surrogate myself. So, it was pretty wicked to see an idea I’ve had tumbling in my head for most main characters who have one issue, or another, with having children, mention the use of a surrogate. I’d love to see an author take a more serious turn in this direction, but that is likely based in personal feelings more than anything else. 
 
We also got a visit from a character in a previous book, Special Agent Leslie Fisher, FBI, which I was pleased by, because she’s a great character. Not to mention we finally got to meet some Cantrip agents that weren’t complete jerks, and actually helped, giving the readers another side of the agency to consider. I’m not saying you should trust the guys, but at least they weren’t horrible people this time around. 
 
For the most part we got happy endings, or at least just as much as we expected, and I was glad to see that PB made an effort to wrap up the little side stories going on throughout. 
 
As for the cons of the book, there were admittedly few. My biggest issue with the book, and from other reviews it seems as though I wasn’t the only one, was all the technical horse jargon. Though most was done from Anna’s point of view, who confessed to being as confused as the readers were, it certainly tripped up the reading a bit. One of the marks of a good sales agent is not bogging down the person you’re trying to sell something to with too much technical hullabaloo. This happened almost every time we were confronted with anything to do with the horses in the book. It wasn’t a good sales tactic for the characters, and since it jumbled the flow of the story it would probably be better to not use it in writing, either. 
 
Also, I understand the horse scenes were used to gain some interaction and insight with other characters, furthering development, but for the most part it seemed like filler. My other issue was also a personal one, in that I’m not big on jumping between characters, or at least not as many was we did here. It also seemed to happen frequently, which interrupted the flow a bit. I will agree that the book was more about Charles’ past and friendships, than it was about any spectacular development of Charles’ and Anna’s characters, as well as some foreshadowing with the Fae. However, it was still worth paying for the hardback when it came out.
 
Overall, I give the book 4/5 Stars:
star-4
It was a great story, decently paced, and is likely setting us up for something going on with the Fae in the next book of the Mercy Thompson series.
Here are the other books in Patricia Briggs’ Alpha and Omega series:
On the Prowl — Short Story introduction to Anna and Charles

Book Review: Night Broken, by Patricia Briggs

I discovered something this past week (30 Dec. 2014): when going out of town and intending to read books as one of my only forms of entertainment, pack a book for each day I’m vacationing. I went through my nightstand book pile like Edward Scissorhands through paper.

However, this also meant I finally got around to reading, Night Broken by Patricia Briggs!

night-broken

“When her mate’s ex-wife storms back into their lives, Mercy knows something isn’t right. Christy has the furthest thing from good intentions—she wants Adam back, and she’s willing to do whatever it takes to get him, including turning the pack against Mercy.

Mercy isn’t about to step down without a fight, but there’s a more dangerous threat circling. As the bodies start piling up, she must put her personal troubles aside to face a creature with the power to tear her whole world apart.” — Amazon

We get to meet Christy, Adam’s infamous ex-wife, for what I believe is the first time in the flesh. However, Christy also brought along a stalker and evidence increasingly points to the werewolf pack as being the only ones who could possibly help. Not to mention a Grey Lord showing up, and demanding Mercy hand over a particularly stubborn walking stick that seems to find its way back to Mercy like a boomerang with deadly accuracy and consistency. She also encounters someone who may prove to be an interesting addition to her life, and gets tangled up with Coyote all over again–yikes! She’s definitely a busy girl this time around, but she handles it marvelously.

One of the things I so enjoyed about this book, besides the ending with Christy (hah!), was the combination of poise and honesty with which Mercy handled her feelings toward Christy. The reactions and timeline of Mercy’s development in this regard were spot-on. At times you almost feel the need to grit your teeth or cringe, along with poor Mercy, every time Christy opens her mouth–not to mention when those in the pack who still like Christy, back her up.

On the Fae side of things we get an unreasonable demand from a Grey Lord for the walking stick, as well as some more information on what it is, or rather what the walking stick isn’t supposed to be doing. Having given it to Coyote, though, she’s not sure when or if she’ll be able to retrieve it, and telling a Grey Lord, ‘no,’ is a fast way to wind up dead. We also get some humorous interactions with Tad, and a look into his powers. We don’t get a firm conclusion on the Fae side of things, but that’s to be expected with their kind.

Which leads me into the vampires and their brief cameos. We get a little interaction with Wulfe and his crazy self, in addition to a secret of Stefan’s. In all honesty, while it ties into the story and creates a convenient plot device, or two, for the characters, it seems more like a set-up for some vampire drama in an upcoming book. If I end up wrong about that, then it really does equate to nothing more than; “We need these things to happen in the book, so we’ll create an interesting coincidence for these events.”

We get some heavy Mercy action in regards to the stalker and it’s a good way to let the pack know she’s not just Adam’s wife, but a legitimate, go-down-fighting member of the pack. She cares for the pack, even those who may not 100% care for her in return, and it shows in her interactions with all the pack members. Sure, she’s not above giving some tough love to those who need it, but the key word there is love.

All in all, I’ll give it 4.5/5 stars:

4-5-5-stars

My favorite parts of the book have to be Christy and Mercy’s interactions between each other, as well as Adam, the pack, and Jesse, and it’ll be interesting to see where that ends up if certain events happen. The Fae portions were spread out and tied in well to the timeline of events, as were the interactions with Coyote and the newcomer. The one thing that seemed a little more for writing convenience and possibly a later set-up for a book, were the vampires and their ‘help’. However, this did further the plot in a couple of spots and didn’t seem thrown in where nothing else might have fit, therefore only the reduction of half a star.
Patricia Briggs never fails to deliver with Mercy Thompson, and I can’t wait for the next one!