Review: The Art of How to Train Your Dragon 2

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: The Art of How to Train Your Dragon 2The Art of How to Train Your Dragon 2 on 2014-05-06
Pages: 160
Format: Hardcover
Goodreads
five-stars
Filled with more than 300 images, the official illustrated tie-in to the second chapter of the DreamWorks Animation critically acclaimed Academy Award® nominated How to Train Your Dragon trilogy is based on the characters in Cressida Cowell’s bestselling series and features an introduction by the voice of Stoick the Vast, Gerard Butler.Mirroring the style of the bestselling The Art of How to Train Your Dragon, this outstanding insider’s guide introduces fans to the creative process behind the film, from the story and the characters to the visual development art and animation, to the rigging, surfacing, and lighting. The Art of How to Train Your Dragon 2 includes more than 300 concept sketches, preliminary drawings, architectural plans, and digital artwork that reveal how teams of artists bring the Dragon and Viking worlds to life with modern cinematic energy.Starring the voice talent of the original cast—Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrara, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T. J. Miller, Kristin Wiig—along with Cate Blanchett, Kit Harington, and Djimon Hounsou, this action packed comedy adventure continues the story of Hiccup and Toothless five years after they have successfully united dragons and Vikings on the Island of Berk. While Astrid, Snoutlout and the rest of the gang are challenging each other to dragon races (the island’s new favorite contact sport), the now inseparable pair journey through the skies, charting unmapped territories and exploring new worlds.When one of their adventures leads to the discovery of a secret ice cave that is home to hundreds of new wild dragons and the mysterious Dragon Rider, the two friends find themselves at the center of a battle to protect the peace. Now, Hiccup and Toothless must unite to stand up for what they believe while recognizing that only together do they have the power to change the future of both men and dragons.

I’ll be honest: I don’t really know how to review an art book. Much to my artist husband’s sorrow, my appreciation of art is usually limited to such devastatingly acute thoughts as, “Wow. Pretty.” I’m still training myself to read comic books. If I don’t stop to think about it, my eyes go right to the text and completely pass over the art.

When this book arrived in the mail, it was difficult for me to see anything but the gorgeous art. In fact, I had a hard time not completely devouring all the pages right there. I tried to set the book aside until I’d seen the movie (spoiler alert: I still haven’t), but that didn’t work. After a week or so, I saw it sitting there next to my usual work space and couldn’t resist. Yes, that means that I’ve read all of the spoilers the book contains for the movie. Whoops.

Toothless

I’m going to tell you a secret: the only degree I have to my name is an AAS in Multimedia Technology. What does this vague description mean? It means I spent two years and way too much cash studying GUIs, web design, and… 3D animation. So when I tell you that this book contains line drawings, characters sketches, and full renders of landscapes that just boggle the mind, I actually do know a little bit of what I’m talking about (unusual for me,  I know :P).

I decided, when it was far too late financially to extricate myself, that 3D animation was not for me. Despite the fact that I had a desperate dream of working for Pixar, when I realized that 1) I could not draw. At all. And 2) 3D animation requires hours upon hours of teensy, tiny, painstaking tweaks to every single aspect in every single dimension for even the smallest of objects… Well, at that point, I was out on animation as a career.

What it does mean is that I can appreciate the thoughtful work behind these gorgeous, full-color renders of not only dragons and Viking ships, but strange northern landscapes covered in icebergs like giant, glittering knives. It’s beautiful, and sometimes scary, and seeing the progression of the character sketches is amazing.

This hardcover has heft, too. Even the cover is thick and glossy, slick and beautiful in the hands. If you have an appreciation for animation or even just love How to Train Your Dragon (there are some character sketches from part 1 as well as those from part 2), then this book is worth a look through. It’s certainly built to make it worth the hefty hardcover price. I even sold a copy myself, as after showing a co-worker the book, she immediately put it on her wishlist to buy for her son.

I’m extremely grateful to the publisher for sending me this hardcover book to review. It isn’t something I would have picked up on my own, but I’m certainly glad I had the opportunity to see it. Five of five stars for people who love art or dragons or these movies in particular.

five-stars

Review: Deadly Curiosities by Gail Z Martin

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Deadly Curiosities by Gail Z MartinDeadly Curiosities by Gail Z. Martin
Published by Solaris on June 24th 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, Urban
Pages: 464
Format: eARC
Goodreads
four-stars
Welcome to Trifles & Folly, a store with a dark secret. Proprietor Cassidy Kincaide continues a family tradition begun in 1670 ? acquiring and neutralizing dangerous supernatural items. It?s the perfect job for Cassidy, whose psychic gift lets her touch an object and know its history. Together with her business partner Sorren, a 500-year-old vampire and former jewel thief, Cassidy makes it her business to get infernal objects off the market.When a trip to a haunted hotel unearths a statue steeped in malevolent power, and a string of murders draws a trail to the abandoned old Navy yard, Cassidy and Sorren discover a diabolical plot to unleash a supernatural onslaught on their city.It?s time for Kincaide and her team to get rid of these Deadly Curiosities before the bodies start piling up.

Some of us have gotten more than tired of UF stories with extraordinary main characters. Super speed? Super strength? Y.A.W.N. The beasties are no fun when you can beat the hell out of them. Which is why, I think, I found Gail Z Martin’s new book so intriguing. Cassidy Kincaide has one unique ability: psychometry. She can read an object’s past by touching it. Usually this doesn’t amount to much except old memories… Unless the object has a particularly nasty history.

I also love the name of Cassidy’s shop: Trifles and Folly is just a hilarious name for an antique shop, especially considering the deviant nature of some of the objects she runs across. The “trifles” are sold to tourists as antiques and the “follies” are handed over to Cassidy’s centuries old vampire partner to be locked away before they do more damage. Vampires have been so generally overdone as to be boring, but at least Sorren is mostly a secondary character and not the focus of the story.

This book is why I had a strange dream about a malevolent, possessed kitchen table. Now, I’ve always had odd dreams and strange nightmares. I taught myself lucid dreaming as a pre-pubescent so I could realize when I was asleep and not wake myself and my little sister up by screaming. I can say, however, with 100% certainty that I had never before encountered sinister furniture before in any of my previous nighttime wanderings.

If you like your urban fantasy to lean less toward paranormal romance and more toward horror, Deadly Curiosities is a solid book with which to spend some time. The later half of the book is so drawn with tension that I was practically jumping at shadows. I also love a book where the setting is practically its own character, and Charleston certainly fits that bill. I’d give this a solid four of five stars.

four-stars

Review: Sparrow Hill Road by Seanan McGuire

Review: Sparrow Hill Road by Seanan McGuireSparrow Hill Road on 2014-05-06
Pages: 432
Format: Paperback
Goodreads
four-stars
Rose Marshall died in 1952 in Buckley Township, Michigan, run off the road by a man named Bobby Cross—a man who had sold his soul to live forever, and intended to use her death to pay the price of his immortality. Trouble was, he didn’t ask Rose what she thought of the idea. It’s been more than sixty years since that night, and she’s still sixteen, and she’s still running. They have names for her all over the country: the Girl in the Diner. The Phantom Prom Date. The Girl in the Green Silk Gown. Mostly she just goes by “Rose,” a hitchhiking ghost girl with her thumb out and her eyes fixed on the horizon, trying to outrace a man who never sleeps, never stops, and never gives up on the idea of claiming what’s his. She’s the angel of the overpass, she’s the darling of the truck stops, and she’s going to figure out a way to win her freedom. After all, it’s not like it can kill her. You can’t kill what’s already dead.

Sparrow Hill Road has a unique format, in that it is more of a collection of shorts with most of the same characters and an overall theme than it is a linear book. This is mostly, I think, because the book started out as a series of shorts. However, I think the format is also a suggestion of the way a ghost might experience time. Namely, in strung together bursts of interaction with the living or their fellow dead. Sometimes convenience and storytelling work together, and it’s lovely when they do.

There is an over-arching plot, however. Rose Marshall died in 1952 due to a car crash on the way to her high school prom, a crash that was instigated by a man named Bobby Cross. Bobby sold his soul to live forever and must use the souls of the dying to fuel his existence. Rose is the soul that got away, and she’s been doing her best to thwart him ever since, sometimes directly and other times indirectly. These are her stories, and the stories of the souls she’s tried to save.

I’m pleased to see on Goodreads that this book is listed as Ghost Stories #1. I was originally a bit crestfallen at the book’s ending, but knowing there is supposed to be more makes me feel a lot better about things. (Please, DAW, don’t tease us! We need more Rose.) ((And readers, please buy this book! Sales = Life in the world of publishing, and I need Rose to live. Figuratively speaking.))

Sparrow Hill Road is a book that serves up ghost stories on a heaping slice of Americana. It is a testament to, and a warning of, the American highway system, and all the miles of road and the strangeness that has grown up around them. When I’m driving sometimes at night, I wonder if a dark road after dusk is what Purgatory is. I wonder if I would know if I can crossed over from the living into the world of the dead. Seanan McGuire has taken that spinal chill and extended it into a full body shiver of a ghost story. This book is an apt spiritual successor to Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. (Spiritual. See what I did there?)

I wish McGuire’s writing got as many accolades as her work under the name Mira Grant does. It is justly deserved, regardless of which name is on the book. Sadly, I think it’s the genre that doesn’t get any respect. All I can say is — I pity the people who aren’t giving McGuire just as much attention as Grant*. The work is outstanding, regardless of subject matter or hot pink covers (as seen on Discount Armageddon, probably my favorite of the McGuire canon.)

*Full disclosure: I’ve only read part of one book from the Mira Grant list, and that book (Parasite) wigged me out to the point where I put it down and have yet to work up the courage to go back to it. 

four-stars

Review: The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu

Review: The Lives of Tao by Wesley ChuThe Lives of Tao on 2013-04-30
Pages: 204
Goodreads
three-half-stars
When out-of-shape IT technician Roen woke up and started hearing voices in his head, he naturally assumed he was losing it.He wasn’t.He now has a passenger in his brain – an ancient alien life-form called Tao, whose race crash-landed on Earth before the first fish crawled out of the oceans. Now split into two opposing factions – the peace-loving, but under-represented Prophus, and the savage, powerful Genjix – the aliens have been in a state of civil war for centuries. Both sides are searching for a way off-planet, and the Genjix will sacrifice the entire human race, if that’s what it takes.Meanwhile, Roen is having to train to be the ultimate secret agent. Like that’s going to end up well…File Under: Science Fiction [ The Tug of War | I Was Genghis | Diary of a Slob | Spy vs Spy ]

I’m going to call The Lives of Tao an “urban sci-fi story”. Firstly, because that’s honestly what it is. This isn’t near-future, far-future or even “long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away”, but actually set right now in our world science fiction. So I’m going to call it urban sci-fi because 1) It’s got all the elements of an urban fantasy except replace the vampires and werewolves with aliens and technology, and 2) I know it will drive the no-girl-cooties parts of the science fiction fandom absolutely wild. You’re welcome.

Tao is an ancient, immortal, sentient, parasitic being from a race that crash-landed on Earth pretty much at the dawn of man. He’s part of an in-fighting group of aliens that are now stuck here until they can get human society to be advanced enough for long-flight space travel. The two groups of aliens have been fighting amongst themselves since they argued over a small matter of policy eons ago.

The small matter they argued over? Whether human civilization really *needs* to continue on after the aliens get what they want. One group, the Prophus, think that humans are pretty handy people to have around and that they can get what they want without killing millions of people in the meantime. War is the fastest way to advance technology. It’s also the fast lane toward extinction. The other group, whose designation eludes me at the moment, and my book is all the way across the room so you’ll have to live with it, [Editor’s note: They’re called the Genjix.] thinks humans are necessary eggs for their interstellar omelette. They don’t really care if humans live or die, so long as the Prophus die with them.

Caught in the middle of this is a depressed, out-of-shape, programmer from Chicago. Tao, wise and immortal ancient being, is forced to take up residence in this hopeless lump of a man if he wishes to survive. Sure, Roen — the useless lump — gets a brand new diet and exercise regimen courtesy of the Prophus and Sonya, the woman tasked with training him. He also gets some bad ass hand-to-hand and weapons training. He also gets his ass kicked several times by bad guys, his View Spoiler » gets [spoilered] and View Spoiler » [spoils] [the spoils].

I honestly don’t know if I liked this book. It was well-written, at times hilarious, and the alien bits were fascinating — but the plot was mostly taken up with turning a fat guy into James Bond. Hoo. Ray. Although I’m not really surprised that I’ve heard whisperings of Wesley Chu one day being a big name is SF/F. [Editor here again: Since I originally wrote this review, Chu was shortlisted for the John W Campbell Best New Writer Award.  So, plot twist! I was right!] This book dragged me all the way through it even as I insisted that no, really, I was bored and wanted to do something else. I honestly don’t know how the author managed that.

I will be looking at the sequel, The Deaths of Tao, with great suspicion in the near future. Of course, I WILL be looking at it, which means the author has done his job. N’est-ce pas?

three-half-stars

Review: Shadow Ops: Breach Zone by Myke Cole

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Shadow Ops: Breach Zone by Myke ColeShadow Ops: Breach Zone on 2014-01-28
Pages: 384
Format: eARC
Goodreads
four-stars
The Great Reawakening did not come quietly. Across the country and in every nation, people began “coming up Latent,” developing terrifying powers—summoning storms, raising the dead, and setting everything they touch ablaze. Those who Manifest must choose: become a sheepdog who protects the flock or a wolf who devours it... In the wake of a bloody battle at Forward Operating Base Frontier and a scandalous presidential impeachment, Lieutenant Colonel Jan Thorsson, call sign “Harlequin,” becomes a national hero and a pariah to the military that is the only family he’s ever known. In the fight for Latent equality, Oscar Britton is positioned to lead a rebellion in exile, but a powerful rival beats him to the punch: Scylla, a walking weapon who will stop at nothing to end the human-sanctioned apartheid against her kind. When Scylla’s inhuman forces invade New York City, the Supernatural Operations Corps are the only soldiers equipped to prevent a massacre. In order to redeem himself with the military, Harlequin will be forced to face off with this havoc-wreaking woman from his past, warped by her power into something evil...

The entire Shadow Ops series is like looking through a spider’s eye. (I suppose this makes the author the dark carnivore at the center of the web… Sorry for that metaphor, Myke.) Every glimpse we get into this world shows us a slightly different facet. With every piece, we get another view of the same story, views that make us re-evaluate what we thought we were sure of before.

In Control Point, we had Oscar Britton’s story. A soldier who screwed up in his efforts to do right and was punished severely for it. In that book, Harlequin is the bad guy, along with the rest of the government.

In Fortress Frontier, we meet Bookbinder and see the whole situation from another perspective. The government is maybe a little corrupt, but it’s still made of people. More people screwing up what they were trying to do right. The goblins and Scylla are the bad guys here.

Then we get to Breach Zone, and we get to see that the Big Bad of the series (And can I just say what a thrill it is that the Big Bad is a *woman*?) is also just a person who messed up while trying to do the right thing. It’s noted in the text that even the goblins fighting are doing so because they want to make sure that they get LEFT ALONE in their own world.

The author said at one point that this book is, at its heart, a romance story. And to that, I say, “Ehhhh. Sorta.” Some people do, after all, consider Romeo and Juliet a romantic tale. I think those people are kind of nutballs, myself, but I do have to admit that there’s an element of romance there. I think both stories are, however, more about the consequences of backing people into a corner.

R & J would have loved each other for all of about two weeks and then gotten over it if they’d been allowed to get it out of their system. Harlequin wouldn’t have been forced to choose between his duty and his government. Scylla wouldn’t have needed to run or hide or murder an ass-load of people. They were all trying to make their best choices with the tools that they had — and they were all, without exception, both completely right and UTTERLY WRONG.

I think the moral of the story is that there are never any good choices. There are only the best choices we can make at the time. We never know all the consequences for our actions. That doesn’t mean we should never make any, just that we should weigh them carefully and be prepared to deal with any fallout.

I believe most of us think of our nation’s soldiers as Brave and Good. We also tend to think of our government (no matter which side you’re on) as Corrupt and Sometimes-Evil. So how is it possible for our soldiers to always be Brave and Good when being directed by a power that is Corrupt and Sometimes-Evil? The polarity of that, the struggle of it, is something I saw repeated again and again throughout this series. I don’t think Cole intended to give us an answer (and I don’t believe that he does) but I think that this series forces us to see that there are at least two sides (and probably more) to any story.

It makes me see that those Brave and Good soldiers and our Corrupt and Sometimes-Evil government can do both Good Things and Bad Things — sometimes both at the same time. Multi-faceted. Spider’s eyes. Seeing through them is both wonderful and disconcerting.

Thinking about this story through the context of the author’s biography is fascinating. Myke Cole has experience with the armed forces, is an officer of the Coast Guard, and is someone who does work with the NYPD… To take this story and filter it through that lens is part of what, for me, made this story fun. So yes, I think this book is definitely a love story. But I don’t think Harlequin and Scylla are it. I think this is a story of the love between a man, a soldier, and his country, his home city. And for that I think it’s just beautiful.

You guys, these books are so well written. Everything I know about the military I picked up watching NCIS, but even I didn’t get stuck on the soldier-speak (and O, the acronyms!) (There’s a glossary in the back if you get stuck.) Every time you think you have the line in the sand drawn and you know where the story is going, Cole turns it on its head. I was a little miffed at first when the story didn’t keep following Oscar after Control Point, but I have to admit that the author’s method was completely sound. The fact that Cole can write this well AND shoot a rifle just doesn’t seem fair.

four-stars

Blog Tour Review & Giveaway! Stone Cold by Devon Monk

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Blog Tour Review & Giveaway! Stone Cold by Devon MonkStone Cold on 2014-04-01
Pages: 368
Format: eBook
Goodreads
five-stars
The latest Broken Magic novel from national bestselling author Devon Monk. Marked by Life and Death magic, Shame Flynn and Terric Conley are “breakers”—those who can use magic to its full extent. Most of the time, they can barely stand each other, but they know they have to work together to defeat a common enemy—rogue magic user Eli Collins. Backed by the government, Eli is trying to use magic as a weapon by carving spells into the flesh of innocents and turning them into brainless walking bombs. To stop him, Shame and Terric will need to call on their magic, even as it threatens to consume them—because the price they must pay to wield Life and Death could change the very fate of the world...and magic itself.

I don’t know what to tell you except I loved this book. Okay, so I’m still a little bit traumatized by That Thing that happened in the first book, which, if it could have been overcome or maybe not happened so that Shame could’ve had a happier ending, I would have loved. I know I’m being vague, but we’re talking Major Spoiler for the first book, so deal with it. I realize that it wouldn’t fit in with Shame’s character for him to have a *truly* happy ending, but oh, man… Did I want that for him. I really did.

As much as I love Shame, Zayvion is still my favorite character in this world. I don’t think that will ever change. I just needed to say that. I mean Shame is bitter & snarky (which I love) but Zayvion is tall, dark, Zen, and snarky which just pings all my buttons. (Hello, let me introduce you to my husband…)

I honestly don’t know what else to tell you about this book that’s not a super-powered spoiler. This is only a duology, but honestly it wouldn’t make sense for me to urge you to read these if you haven’t read the Allie Beckstrom series. (WHICH YOU SHOULD ALSO READ.)

Basically, this was one of those rare books that made me resent absolutely everything that interfered with reading it: work, sleep, eating, showering, using the bathroom. I finished it in two nights and even that took too long because I had to Know! I was unhappy with one of the elements in the ending, but even I have to admit that the book ended just where it should have. Just because I wanted it to happen doesn’t mean that it was a good idea for the story. I find it fascinating that Devon Monk can do that. That ending was absolutely perfect and yet completely agonizing and I hate it and I love it and… and…

If there is ever an opportunity to hear Devon Monk teach about writing I will figure out a way to fly cross-country to do it. And the people who know that my first and last plane flight gave me anxiety dreams for six solid months know what it means to me that I would say that. (Note for the curious: it’s not the flying that gets me, it’s the airports. ::shudder:: Seriously. I never worried about the plane having problems, but having my ticket? Getting through security? Oh, yes! Basically, flying alone is the worst thing that can happen to someone with anxiety, in my opinion.)

The writing here is tense and flawless and I’m both envious and deliriously thrilled by that. If you haven’t read Devon Monk, we might need to seriously reconsider our friendship. Think about that.

Seriously though… Do you like that “dropped into the middle of a strange world with weird magic rules that haven’t been explained yet” feeling that you get from Sanderson’s Way of Kings? Then you will feel right at home here. Fans of the series shouldn’t need me to tell them to read it. This is a fabulous, and fitting, end to Shame and Terric’s story.

For those of you who sat through all that, we now have something special for you. Enter to win one of two copies of Stone Cold for your very own.

What: One of two print copies of Devon Monk’s Stone Cold.

When: Beginning at 8a.m. EDT on March 31st and ending approximately midnight on Monday, April 7th (Sunday night/Monday morning). End time subject to change without notice.

Who: Anyone with a valid US or Canada mailing address.

Details: You must be willing to share your email address for the contest and your mailing address if you win. Your information will be used by me for those purposes only. As prizes will be mailed by the publisher, you also agree to share your mailing address with them. As such, Waiting for Fairies cannot be held responsible for the shipping or arrival of prizes.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

five-stars

Review: Known Devil by Justin Guistanis

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Known Devil by Justin GuistanisKnown Devil on 2014-01-28
Format: eARC
Goodreads
three-stars
My name’s Markowski. I carry a badge. Also, a crucifix, some wooden stakes, a big vial of holy water, and a 9mm Beretta loaded with silver bullets. A new supernatural gang is intent on invading Scranton – as if I didn’t have enough to contend with! Supernatural gang warfare? Not on my watch! File Under: Urban Fantasy [ Fang Warfare | Invading Forces | Uneasy Alliances | The Devil You Know ]

In which I talk, not about the book, but about the lessons it’s teaching us.

This series puzzles me a lot. I have read a lot of this author’s work and enjoyed almost all of it, so I’ve given this series a very large dose of benefit of the doubt. It’s not that the plot or characterization is confusing — they’re not. It just seems that the deep, moral lesson of the series can be a bit heavy-handed.

As the main character of our series, we have an ordinary human detective whose cultural heritage would find him the butt of many a joke. We know this, because it’s mentioned in every book. This man himself, at the start of the series, has a deep-seated hatred himself of a cultural group — namely, vampires; and he’s not too fond of the other types of supernaturals living in his city either.

Soon, Markowski has to face his own prejudice: both his daughter and his partner become blood-suckers. Crazily, we find out that Markowski had his daughter turned *at his own request* because she had a fatal medical condition. The choice was either undeath or true death. This complicates his feelings even more, as he hates the undead but loves his daughter. He despises what she became, even while admitting that it’s better than having her dead. He can’t hate his daughter when she was turned, not by her choice, but by his. He can’t hate all vampires when she is one of them.

So essentially we have this bigoted man whose job and home life have both forced him to confront the fact that he hates by default a class of people that includes the person he loves most AND the people that, as a police detective, he is supposed to be trying to protect. Couple this with an outside conflict with a man whose goal is complete obliteration of all the supernatural species — a goal that, perhaps at least at the beginning, Markowski may not have been too antagonistic towards.

However, the law he prizes is now on the side of the creatures he hates. He is slowly exposed to the very real, thinking, feeling beings at the source of his hatred. It’s his duty to protect with his life the thing he hates most… And eventually, he starts to see the supernatural community not as a group of monsters but as distinct people with their own individual wants and desires. Just like humans.

I wish prejudice was so easy to handle in real life. Pick a marginalized group and their story could echo the obstacles found in this series. Hatred on the street just for being different? Check. Blamed for their own disadvantages? Check. Even while hatred and politics keeps them disadvantaged? Yep. The cops who are supposed to be protecting them being a source of the problem? Oh, hell yes.

Feminists. POC. LGBTQ. The poor. Pick a group and they could be dropped into this book without much trouble. Does the author intend to speak about one of these groups? Or maybe all of them? Or perhaps it’s none at all and my own experiences with trying to be a champion and ally are coloring my reading. (Possible, but I think unlikely. I did say the moral lesson seems to be pretty thickly laid down here.)

The point of the thing, I think, is that we shouldn’t let ignorance and fear (and especially our politicians) convince us that people different from us are automatically the enemy. As humans, our brains like to classify things, but it’s all a lie. There is no such thing as “the vampires” or “the goblins”. “The gays”, “the blacks”, “the feminazis”, “the welfare moms”… Those labels are all a lie. Lies completely fabricated at times by people who want to point our hatred in a specific direction for their own benefit.

There are just people. People who are trying to do the best that they can with the life that they were given. Even people who make the wrong choices should be given enough of our respect to be seen as PEOPLE and not as a stereotype. And when I say this, I’m thinking of the series’ recurring antagonist: a rich, white man who was willing to wipe out entire groups of people for his own gain. Even he is just a man: an evil, misguided, ignorant and greedy man who made his own choices and now — after this latest book — has to deal with the consequences of them.

If only real life worked out so well.

three-stars

Review: Charming by Elliott James

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Charming on September 24th, 2013
Pages: 400
Format: eBook
Goodreads
three-stars
John Charming isn't your average Prince...
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 chain mail and crossbows to Kevlar and shotguns, John Charming was one of the best--until a curse made him one of the abominations the Knights were sworn to hunt.
That was a lifetime ago. Now, John tends bar under an assumed name in rural Virginia and leads a peaceful, quiet life. That is, until a vampire and a blonde walked into his bar..

This review has been so delayed that it’s almost silly to post it, but since I did read a review copy it seems only fair.

This book wasn’t quite what I was expecting. I had hopes for more of a tie to the old fairy tales, what with the book being called Charming and all. But other than our protagonist’s ties to an old monster hunting family and the pseudo-military organization that trained him, there’s really no tie to folklore or the old tales at all. We get your average vampire tale with a Valkyrie thrown in for spice.

There are a couple of interesting creatures, but nothing truly unique here. Despite that, however, this is a pretty good story. If you have time for a mid-length urban fantasy that’ll keep your attention for a few hours, then it wouldn’t be a mistake to pick this one up.

three-stars

Review: The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson

Review: The Rithmatist by Brandon SandersonThe Rithmatist on May 14, 2013
Pages: 378
Format: eBook
Goodreads
four-stars
More than anything, Joel wants to be a Rithmatist. Chosen by the Master in a mysterious inception ceremony, Rithmatists have the power to infuse life into two-dimensional figures known as Chalklings. Rithmatists are humanity’s only defense against the Wild Chalklings — merciless creatures that leave mangled corpses in their wake. Having nearly overrun the territory of Nebrask, the Wild Chalklings now threaten all of the American Isles.

As the son of a lowly chalkmaker at Armedius Academy, Joel can only watch as Rithmatist students study the magical art that he would do anything to practice. Then students start disappearing — kidnapped from their rooms at night, leaving trails of blood. Assigned to help the professor who is investigating the crimes, Joel and his friend Melody find themselves on the trail of an unexpected discovery — one that will change Rithmatics — and their world — forever.

Bestselling author Brandon Sanderson brings his unique brand of epic storytelling to the teen audience with an engrossing tale of danger and suspense—the first of a series. With his trademark skills in world-building, Sanderson has created a magic system that is so inventive and detailed that that readers who appreciate games of strategy and tactics just may want to bring Rithmatics to life in our world.

Another awesome magic system and another YA novel win for Brandon Sanderson on this one. This book lacks the whimsical humor of his Alcatraz books and some of the more mature themes from his adult fantasy series. The Rithmatist purposely lacks a romantic element, and I really enjoyed that aspect. It was a nice contrast from some of the relationship-centered YAs I’ve been seeing lately.

If this makes some people see the book as more of a middle grade novel than what they expected, well… I think those people are wrong. There are plenty of kidnappings, conspiracies, and murders in this book but god forbid the author doesn’t include the thing teens really think about — which is always sex, right? I’m not saying this book is inappropriate for younger audiences. Quite the opposite, actually. I find the exclusion of a lead pairing refreshing, and I wish that choice was made more frequently across all genres. Yes, including adult ones! There are people out there, teens and adults, that aren’t letting their genitals lead their lives.

But enough about that.

The chalklings were suitably unnerving and the ending big bad was super creepy. The mystery wasn’t terribly hard to puzzle out, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find out that the answer we received at the end of this book wasn’t the entire picture. (Get it? Picture?)

At first when I finished this book, I was disappointed that there wasn’t a happier result for our main character, but the more time that has passed, the more I’ve come to realize that the happier ending would have been the easy way out. I look forward to what else is in store for us.

four-stars

Review: Under the Empyrean Sky by Chuck Wendig

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Under the Empyrean Sky by Chuck WendigUnder the Empyrean Sky on July 30, 2013
Pages: 354
Format: eBook
Goodreads
four-stars
Corn is king in the Heartland, and Cael McAvoy has had enough of it. It's the only crop the Empyrean government allows the people of the Heartland to grow ? and the genetically modified strain is so aggressive that it takes everything the Heartlanders have just to control it. As captain of the Big Sky Scavengers, Cael and his crew sail their rickety ship over the corn day after day, scavenging for valuables, trying to earn much-needed ace notes for their families. But Cael's tired of surviving life on the ground while the Empyrean elite drift by above in their extravagant sky flotillas. He's sick of the mayor's son besting Cael's crew in the scavenging game. And he's worried about losing Gwennie ? his first mate and the love of his life ? forever when their government-chosen spouses are revealed. But most of all, Cael is angry ? angry that their lot in life will never get better and that his father doesn't seem upset about any of it. Cael's ready to make his own luck . . . even if it means bringing down the wrath of the Empyrean elite and changing life in the Heartland forever.

This book foretells the near-future dystopian conclusion to our recent political history: Occupy Wallstreet and the 1%, GMO food scandals, domestic government spying campaigns, and the health detriments of high fructose corn syrup. In this somewhere-in-the-future world, the richest 1% literally float high above the rest. Below, spouses are chosen by government dictate and everyone gets hitched and is expected to procreate whether they’re reproductive or heterosexually inclined or not.

The farming heartland has become filled from horizon to horizon with one crop only: a strain of corn that has carnivorous tendencies. Other crops are forbidden, and whole towns have been completely depopulated over the merest whisper of a fresh vegetable, with no trace left of where the residents may have been taken — if they were ‘taken’ anywhere at all. Cancer runs rampant through the population and a deadlier, more virulent strain of plant-like growths pop up to devastating effects.

In the midst of all this bleakness, we have a group of teenagers coming of age. Their government-chosen spouses are about to be announced and they’ll be expected to abandon any pretense they had of hope for their future in favor of factory or farm work that will without doubt one day kill them.

Our main character — for he isn’t at all a hero — is Cael. Seventeen and about to arbitrarily be declared a man, he resents his lot in life and is angry with just about everyone. Most teenagers are, but Cael has more reason than most. He’s ashamed of his father for not standing up to their bully of a mayor. He’s lost his ship and his hopes for a different livelihood to the mayor’s arrogant son. His mother is bed-ridden with tumors and cancer. His lover is most likely about to be pledged to wed another against both of their wills.

All of this is completely understandable. All of this also turns Cael into a little asshole. He is arrogant, head-strong, selfish, and focused only on the usual and generally misplaced dreams of glory and triumph of the young. He treats just about everyone, including his friends and girlfriend, badly.

But there is hope at the end of this book, even if only a glimmer. There is clear indication that there is still story left to tell, at least. To be completely honest with you, I found this story terrifying. Not because there is anything particularly horror-genre-like to be had. There is suspense, surely, and moments of tension but nothing that can be pointed to and named as the Big Bad Monster. Except, of course, when you take into account all of those things that I mentioned at the beginning of this post.

Maybe I am just old and embittered, but I find this world Wendig has created not so very far fetched at all, and that scares the daylights out of me. My own fear and feelings of helplessness at the circumstances of right now, today, in the real world make this story sound more like science than science fiction. With that said, I want young people to read this. I want lots of young people to read this. I want them to read this with hope in their hearts rather than the despair I have in mine, and I want them to make better choices than we have been making.

I haven’t felt this petrified that a story might actually happen since Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother. And since we actually did get NSA spying after all, I’m hoping we as a society can nip this particular narrative in the bud before we end up growing some killer corn.

Note: If you’re interested in reading this book, there’s a giveaway over on Goodreads

four-stars