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RobinLythgoe

Robin Lythgoe

Author. I'd open a vein and bleed, but I'd get chocolate all over my keyboard. My world is magic—is yours?
Dragon Fate - J.D. Hallowell

I found this book to be a decent read with a nice dash of humor. The plot is not complicated, and the adventure is mild—good for a light read with a dab of actual adventure near the end. There is plenty of basic dragon lore involved, and the author has clearly taken great care with those details. I especially liked the use of the Dragon Mark and the magical relationship between dragon and rider. Characters are mostly well-crafted and likable, consistent, but not complex. 

What I liked:

- The dragons
- The humor
- Some of the technical details about dragon physiology
- The variety in the characters

What I didn’t like:

- The heavy-handed dialogue full of info dumps
- Too many chapters ending with Delno going to sleep, or beginning with Delno waking
- The specific and violent abuse—twice—of male private parts (particularly in a book written for teens)

The main character is a perfect hero throughout. That doesn’t bother me, but I’d have liked seeing him—as well as his companions—struggle against some overwhelming odds. Maybe in the next book in the series? It makes for an easy journey, an easy end, and an easy read.

Scarlet  - Stephen R. Lawhead

"Scarlet" is an engaging follow-up to the first book in the "King Raven" trilogy, "Hood." The story is told from Will Scarlet's point of view as he is sitting in jail after a failed kidnapping attempt. Scathingly funny at times, he is also down-to-earth and practical. While I enjoyed his character—as well as the development and rendering of the others—I feel his romance with one of the village women lacked depth; it felt extraneous.

Lawhead’s style and expertise propels the story forward. There is plenty of drama, mystery, and tension throughout most of the book. In the last third or so, I found some of the lengthy descriptions getting in the way. And, although I got a kick out of the little “in the moment” sections where Will is speaking directly to his autobiographer, the inevitable “and so we trudged on” got to be annoying. What a shame.

I loved the historical background: the contest between two popes, the machinations of those with power trying to expand that power, the casual (and sometimes horrific) indifference in the way the conquerors treated the conquered, and the sense of utter powerlessness experienced by the natives in the face of oppression. The author does a fantastic job, too, of presenting both sides of the church coin. There are those using their religion to advance themselves at the expense of others (and coming up with ways to justify it) and there are those simple folk with sincere belief, both calling on the same god.

All in all, another superb read. And I have book 3, “Tuck,” to leap into next…

Transgression: A Time-Travel Suspense Novel (City of God, Book 1) - R.S. Ingermanson

The story is fun, action-packed, and the characters are solid enough. The technical chitchat about the “timeline self-intersecting loop” (a.k.a. “time machine”) made my eyes glaze. The author is a physicist; I imagine most readers are not. It was over my head! 

I did find some thought provoking ideas in both the concept of time-travel (whether one travels back into their own universe or an alternate) and in the theological debates, though they both got a little repetitious. The tests to the characters' faith(s) nicely ratcheted tension.

I found the descriptions of the setting a little too light to make me feel completely immersed. It was suggested that the characters saw a lot they'd come to expect, but that it was "different." I wanted to see more of how it was different, and more (besides the difficulty of male/female social customs) about how the characters experienced this journey through their senses. It seems like it would be completely jarring.

I'd have liked to give this a higher rating than three stars because the writing was decent, because of the aforementioned thought-provoking, because it was a clean read, and because there was plenty of action. But the antagonist was weak and clumsy, and made a poor foil. Then the ending was an obvious cliff-hanger, and the epilogue was sappy.

Children of Earth and Sky - Guy Gavriel Kay

I received a copy of “Children of Earth and Sky” courtesy of NetGalley.

I found the book… frustrating. Lots of things are going on in the story, and it’s a wonderful tapestry of borrowed history and political machinations, but I was never invested in any of the characters. Boatloads of possibility there, but it seemed that more went into redefining the history from our world to fit this created one than went into delving into the characters. They are mildly interesting, though I had a hard time discerning their goals with only two exceptions.

The prose is complicated and flowery. Lovely descriptions give a real sense of being in the scene. The setting closely parallels the history of the Ottoman Turks, Venice, Dubrovnik, and etcetera. It is easy to see that a lot of intensive research went into the tale, even if the names are somewhat obvious (Djanni as Janissary, Dubrava is Dubrovnik, Osmanli for Ottoman).

The fantasy element showed all-too-briefly as the deceased grandfather of one of the main characters talking to her, and twice interfering in things that are about to happen. 

The shifting point of view sometimes leaves characters behind (at the 30% mark in my Kindle we had yet to return to the guy who opened the story—and whose name I couldn’t help but forget), but we are given a view of cultural differences and customs that beautifully details the peoples and the challenges they face in dealing with one another.

I am curious to know why the point of view of a single character was written in the present tense. I found it jarring. There is rambling about religion, scenes or information redone in another person’s point of view (almost word for word), and some unfortunate repetition.

There is also some regrettable crassness. Do some people just never grow up, or do they think this is actually amusing? Or necessary?

And why do we get a preview of Life After This Story for some of the characters? It seems an awkward way of answering the question of what happens to this (fairly minor) character when you remember he didn’t appear again.

One quote worth taking away: “You had to grow into your own significance—or come to terms with the lack of it.”

Spellslinger: Legends of the Wild, Weird West - Joseph J. Bailey

I was first drawn to this story by the really cool cover (by Rodrigo González Toledo and Sol Devia).

The blurb presents a fairly promising idea for a spell-shooting, gun-toting, fast-paced weird west story, but it’s written in choppy, incomplete sentences. I'm okay with that in small doses, but the story continues in the same vein. For no logical reason I can fathom, all but a few of those sentences are used on their own as paragraphs. It wrecked the pacing for me, which is a shame because the story itself is pretty action-packed after you get through the initial laundry list of woes. Formatting error, I hope? 

The opening loses even more impact when the viewpoint character waxes poetic about the scenery. He’s in a really tight place (literally), and he’s hurt. Who cares about the scenery at that particular point? (Or at any other point when the main character is in danger!)

From there we go on to lists of descriptions, and modifiers on nearly every noun. The descriptions are vivid, which is good, but… better in moderation. The protagonist suffers from “tell-don’t-show,” and—

There’s potential here and the story is fast-paced, it just needs an editor.

(I received this book from Story Cartel in exchange for a review.)

Rend the Dark - Mark Gelineau, Joe King

Rend the Dark starts off with a slightly strange prologue—and then launches into a rich, well-done tale of fantasy and horror. The magic is unique, the evil the characters face is unusual (at least in my reading experience!), and the world-building is tidily woven into the meat of the story. The characters are diverse, cleverly sculpted, and appealing in their flaws. The pace is easily intense enough to keep the reader eagerly turning the pages. Gelineau and King have produced a first-class story that fits in a little bitty space.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley, and I’m glad I got to read it!

The Redemption of Althalus - David Eddings, Leigh Eddings

For a story by a “fantasy master,” this was incredibly disappointing…

Publisher’s Weekly calls the main protagonist an “engaging young reprobate hero.” I found him irritating, inconsistent, repetitious, full of himself with no good cause, and frequently stupid. Face it, he couldn’t have been very smart if it took him 2500 years to get his basic education from the mysterious “Book” of the god Deiwos. That the goddess Dweia put up with his stupidity for so long makes me doubt her intelligence—which leads us to the rest of the characters. They were all remarkably alike, even down to quoting the same annoying phrases. It didn’t take long at all to tire of Dweia calling Althalus “pet” and him responding to everything she said with either a “yes, dear,” or “if that’s what you want.” I found it hard to care one way or the other about these cardboard characters. Mostly, they were snippy and thought they were funny. They weren’t. “Watch and learn.” Everyone had a shot at that line at least once…

The book started slowly and took a long time to gain any real momentum. And when it did, and things finally started to look like they might possibly get interesting, the way was immediately blocked with great, huge rambling conversations that didn’t just repeat information in the conversation itself, but from previous parts of the story.

The premise had some potential, but there was only one time that the “heroes” faced a real challenge—and that was easily solved. Everyone succeeded, all the time. I lost track of the number of times a scene started with one of the characters reminding another of how they were going to do something they’d gone over twenty times.

The book seriously needs a content editor—it could have been half as long and twice as good.

Harry Takes Off: Astounding Stories of Adventure (Iron Pegasus Book 1) - Steve Turnbull

Harry Takes Off is a really enjoyable, historical, steampunk story — with an ornithopter! I enjoy all those aspects, and I love that the author doesn't cram any one of them down the reader's throat with too much description and exposition. The stakes are continually raised, which makes it necessaryto read on—though I found the chapter and scene breaks a little weak. The characters of Harry and Khuwelsa were fun and well thought out. If I were Harry's father, I'm sure I would have yelled a lot more and I'd certainly have checked more thoroughly on my daughter after a particular one of her escapades. The tale makes for a fun, quick read with some interesting female protagonists.

The Woodcutter - Kate Danley

What a wonderful, unique twist on fairytales! Danley weaves her own style into a retelling of familiar stories and does not disappoint. I love the brevity of her descriptions; it is a rare author that can convey so much information and emotion with so few words and still maintain such a lyrical quality. I was completely enchanted by her prose and by the story itself. Duty, treachery, love and sacrifice wind throughout a mystery that the Woodcutter must solve. He has help on his long and twisting journey, and we’re given a sizable dose of the old-fashioned magic one rarely sees outside of fairytales. Humor, setbacks, and plot twists lead to a climax and resolution that surprised and delighted me with its emotional impact.

A few editing issues interrupted the otherwise smooth flow of the tale—typos, words left out, and odd chapter breaks. I hope they are cleaned up in later editions than my copy. Otherwise, I say Bravo, Kate Danley! Thank you for a truly engaging read!

A Cast of Stones - Patrick W. Carr

I thoroughly enjoyed this single-point-of-view tale. It begins with the introduction of a staggering drunk as the main character—a not entirely likable character, but the reader can sympathize with him—and journeys with him to his surprising new position in the world. This advancement doesn’t come to Errol Stone easily; he has physical and emotional demons to overcome while he’s being chased by poison- and blade-toting villains. He makes some incredible faux pas, and he also does exactly the opposite. There is a lot going on his world that he doesn’t know or understand. Carr handles the mystery well, and the reader learns as Errol learns. This doesn’t prevent the revelation of several subplots that keep the action and suspense going—and the story is wonderfully complex.

The end is a little shaky, but not abysmal. It didn’t keep me from moving directly on to Book 2. The intriguing epilogue definitely helped in that respect.

Criticisms? There are a few typos and confusions about direction, number, and who a character is talking to — enough to make me read the passages twice, but not enough (by any means) to ruin the story. The book does have a virulent case of Comma Splicing, which I find annoying in general but, again, not enough to ruin the story. And… naming conventions are inconsistent, with some taken straight from our world, some slightly modified (Morgols, Soedes, Basqu — and Finn Maccol), and some original. What was going on there? Did I miss something?

Those nit-picking concerns aside, the book is a wonderful page-turner. Clean, gore-free (in spite of fight scenes), and an all-around good read.

The Blade Itself - Joe Abercrombie

I could wish that this book weren't so incredibly vulgar and riddled with the f-bomb. Besides that and some irritating and foolish editing, the story is good. Intriguing. Many layered. Varied.

 

Were it not for the foul language, explicit violence, and crude vulgarity, I could give this 4-4.5 stars. I even considered reading the next book in the series, but I’m not going to spend the $10 currently being asked for a book full of grossness.

The Graveyard Book - HarperChildren's Audio, Neil Gaiman

The Graveyard Book, set in the graveyard in “Old Town” (somewhere in England) is a story about Bod, an unusual boy living in an unusual place and under truly unusual circumstances. When tragedy strikes his family, Bod is adopted by the denizens of the cemetery and guarded by a man known only as Silas.

While he grows he is taught by ghosts from every century, by Silas, and by Miss Lupescu (a werewolf). The tales of his adventures combine a wonderful sense of humor with shades of creepiness and a dash of magic. The assassin that killed Bod’s family was supposed to kill him, too. His failure haunts him and he continues to hunt the boy. In the end, Bod faces the killer—but not without cost.

The end is bittersweet, but well crafted and fitting, even full of hope for Bod’s strange future.

More suitable for tweens and teens, The Graveyard Book has its dark moments and some violence. It is the winner of the British Carnegie Medal and the American Newbery Medal. As an adult, I found it occasionally dark, occasionally sad, and frequently heart-warming.

In Siege of Daylight (Compendium of Light, Dark & Shadow, #1) - Gregory S. Close, Thomas Weaver, Mike Nash
Are you a fan of traditional fantasy? In Seige 0f Daylight delivers a sweeping fantasy tale full of adventure, prophecy, and intrigue. Author Gregory S. Close translates many of the familiar tropes into his own breed of characters—characters with flavor and rich backgrounds in a setting that is comfortable, but not too familiar.

His pacing is spot-on, and his prose provides some lovely scenes. If there's one thing that interrupted the read, it would be the naming conventions. Close veers from horrendous, unpronounceable, apostrophe-ridden monikers to French (what?) names without missing a beat. Many of the characters and creatures share names so similar that they confuse.

If you can ignore that, a compelling prologue catapults the reader into the first chapter, where the young protagonist makes his debut. I wanted to slap him several times, but that's a good thing; a young apprentice who knows everything, can do everything, and doesn't demonstrate his actual youth is difficult to believe. Calvraign may be a quick study, but he's also victim to a mercurial temper and a teenage sense of invincibility.

The other figures introduced in this story are equally well developed — no cardboard cut-outs here. Aside from the names, the other races are introduced without the baggage of an info dump, yet they flow into the tale smoothly, and still leave room for surprises.

The plot unwinds at a good pace, displaying contrasting cultures, veiled histories, and surprise reveals. While the territory is familiar, Close does a fine job of keeping it from being cliché. In spite of the number of character views, he’s kept them in balance and done it in a way that coaxes the reader to keep turning the pages to find out what happens next. He is clearly a storyteller worth watching.

 

Dark Currents (The Emperor's Edge #2) - Lindsay Buroker

I really enjoyed the first book in this series, Emperor’s Edge, and the fun continues in Dark Currents. Buroker has developed a good, solid framework of society that isn’t thrown off kilter with the inclusion of magic—a magic that is referred to in Amaranthe’s world as “science.” Her writing style is smooth and engaging, neatly balancing narrative and dialogue. The characters continue to capture the reader’s interest. What’s more, they develop even further—no cardboard cutouts here! They are each wonderfully detailed and clearly different from one another, and the fact that they are not all always comfortable and heroic makes them even more believable. When one of them goes out of his comfort zone in order to get something important accomplished, it *means* something.

 

The quality of writing style, grammar, punctuation, formatting, characterization, setting—all are top notch. The story is a quick read, not too long and it’s fast-paced. There are some wonderfully quirky twists and surprises, though the antagonists remained slightly distant and nebulous. If I have one complaint it’s about the gratuitous crass innuendoes. They felt like a forced afterthought and could honestly (and beneficially) have been left out altogether. Otherwise, the humor and the usual exchange of barbs had me laughing out loud in places. Buroker has a knack for telling a good tale.

The Viscount and the Witch

The Viscount and the Witch - Michael J. Sullivan The story (when you finally get to it past the introduction), is… cute.

It’s a nice little “day-in-the-life” of two men—three, if you count their rescue project—that gives a lighthearted look at their relationship. There’s more talking/explaining than showing, and I found the tale a bit short on both plot and tension. I found the ending too coincidental and convenient to be particularly satisfying, but I did enjoy the banter, the humor, and the unusual character of the viscount. The contrast between the two main characters made an interesting study, and it’s clear that the author knows these two very well.

“It's a good thing there was a moat right under the window.”

Royce stopped. “There was?”


All in all, I am still I am looking forward to reading the series.

Ice Cracker II: And Other Short Stories (The Emperor's Edge, #1.5)

Ice Cracker II: And Other Short Stories (The Emperor's Edge, #1.5) - Lindsay Buroker This is a fun collection of short stories about Amaranthe, Sicarius, and the gang. "Ice Cracker II" as a title for the collection is misleading, as it is not actually the followup to an "Ice Cracker I," but the name of a ship. In addition to being light reads, the stories are satisfying in that they each have a complete beginning-middle-end, and don't leave you scratching your head and wondering what happened to the rest of the story when you reach the end(s). Each continues to develop the characters across the board, and give delightful tidbits about their inner workings. As in The Emperor's Edge, there is never a dull moment.