Book Review: James Clyde and the Diamonds of Orchestra by Colm McElwain

James Clyde and the Diamonds of Orchestra by Colm McElwain

This book revolves around James Clyde, plucky orphan, and his two friends, siblings Mary and Ben (also orphans). The three, recently adopted by crotchety Anne Brown, are looking forward to visiting with James’ elderly grandfather, Wiltmore Clyde, over the Christmas holidays. Wiltmore has always told James and his friends stories of the legendary land of Orchestra, where three invaluable diamonds are hidden, diamonds that can grant wishes.

The appearance of a sinister man in black heralds an attack on Wiltmore’s house by mysterious cloaked monsters, and James finds out that the stories his grandfather has been telling him all this time have been true. Orchestra is a real place, the diamonds are real, and James is in fact the long-lost heir to the throne. James (with the diamond his grandfather has been hiding since he was a baby) flees with Mary and Ben to Orchestra, where they find themselves embroiled in a long-running war for the rule of the legendary land, and possession of the magical diamonds.

I don’t normally review children’s books, nor do I have children, so I am reduced to giving an adult’s perspective on this book. The bones of the story are interesting, with flavors of The Chronicles of Narnia, the Harry Potter series, Peter Pan, and even the Terminator (yes, the movie, I kid you not). The cloaked monsters, the Dakotas are frankly creepy, and you get the impression  of quite a bit of background waiting to flesh out the story.

Along those lines, some additional world building would have been helpful. The story throws you right in, with little explanation. I generally enjoy getting thrown into the middle of the chaos, but the book does little to explain things later on. James, Mary, and Ben know all about Orchestra and the diamonds, so there is no vehicle for the reader to learn much about the world. It feels like the author has a complete world built in his imagination, but you are only seeing the smallest sliver. The book feels like the beginning of a series, so future books could help to add depth to the land of Orchestra.

However, I think this book will be enjoyed by the ages it was intended for–kids around 10-12. The plot is simple enough for younger readers to not get bogged down, and the resulting fast pace will keep their attention. There are some violent and scarier scenes in the book, but nothing really over a PG rating. Kids who enjoy fantasy books would be a good match for this one.

Book Review: Firebrand by Kristen Britain

firebrand

Firebrand by Kristen Britain

Firebrand is the sixth book in Britain’s Green Rider series. So: There are going to be major spoilers for the previous five books in this review. I will also say that you probably don’t want to dive into this book without having read the previous ones. If you haven’t read any of the Green Rider Series, stop reading this review right now and click here to find out where to start.

__________________________________________________________

Okay, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way: it’s wonderful to be reading a Green Rider book again! Britain averages about three and half years between books, and the wait for a new one always seems interminable. Add that to the rather disappointing Mirror Sight (the last book in the series, not bad on its own merits but not really a Green Rider book), and it has been seven years since we last got to travel to Sacoridia.

This book takes place shortly after the events of Mirror Sight, and five years after the first book. Karrigan G’ladheon (one of my original favorite badass female characters) has returned from the dark future time with a shard of looking mask embedded in her eye. The Second Empire, led by creepy and cunning Grandmother, still threaten Sacoridia’s northern border. To prepare for war with the Second Empire, King Zachary and his Eletian allies decide to send a party to seek out the legendary P’ehdrose people and convince them to fight at their side. Though not yet recovered from her past ordeals, Karrigan is chosen to make the perilous journey. Meanwhile, Grandmother has unleased an elemental force against the Kingdom, one that puts the royal family in grave danger.

As a fan of the series, I must say that this was a very satisfying book. It was wonderful to enter back into Sarcoridia again, and to take up all the treads that had been left dangling in Blackveil (the fourth book), and not addressed at all in Mirror Sight. The events of this book mainly revolve around heroine Karrigan (naturally), her friend Estral the bard, and an Eletian named Enver (briefly introduced in the first book). Grandmother returns, as does her frankly disturbing granddaughter, Lala. the book unfolds in typical Green rider fashion, with disaster and happenstance radiating off the main storyline. Nothing in Kristen Britain’s universe ever goes as planned.

Britain’s main strength is, as always, her ability to create worlds and characters that resonate. The setting she has created in Sacoridia is vivid and believable, with a wondrous amount of depth, and layers enough to provide for many more novels. Her characters, especially her female characters, have grown and evolved through the events of five previous books. I am constantly amazed at the organic way Karrigan and her counterparts grow and change through the Green Rider novels. Even with characters like Queen Estora, who would be easy to turn into a two dimensional foil, or Grandmother, who could simply become another raving villain, are given a depth and breadth of character that is rare in any genre. Even those characters you don’t like, you wind up at least understanding.

If you have read and enjoyed the previous books in this series, you will more than likely enjoy this latest book. In light of that, if you haven’t read any in this series, this book is not for you. There is simply too much back story, and too much intricacy lost without having read the previous five novels. However, if you tend to enjoy fantasy, and are looking for a series with a plethora of strong female characters, and you want to edge away (sometimes far, far away) from the young adult genre, then this series will appeal to you. I highly recommend you pick up Green Rider and get started.

An advanced copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Firebrand will be available for purchase on February 28th, 2017.

Book Review: Gil’s All Fright Diner by A. Lee Martinez

gils-all-fight-diner

Gil’s All Fright Diner by A. Lee Martinez

This is A. Lee Martinez’s debut novel, and I recently had the hankering for a reread. I still remember picking it off an end cap in my local library as I looked for something the read over the winter break. The bold title and the one-eyed, tentacled monster on the front had me hooked. I’ve been a huge fan of Martinez ever since.

This book revolves around Duke (a werewolf) and Earl (a vampire), who stumble upon a diner in the middle of the desert that is besieged by zombies. In an effort to earn a couple of bucks and help out Loretta, the diner’s owner, Duke and Earl agree to stick around and do some light repair work. And find the source of the restless dead. As it turns out, Rockwood County has a rather bizarre and supernatural past, and the Law of Anomalous Phenomena Attraction (weird shit pulls in more weird shit) means that things are only going to get stranger and more difficult.

With this book, Martinez set his style as something of an American Terry Pratchett. His style of writing is zingy and humorous, sarcastic and witty. His subject matter tends to be a little out there, whether lovecraftian, sci-fi, sword and sorcery, or what have you. The writing in Gil’s All Fright Diner is a bit rougher than his later work, but nevertheless you can see the promise in the colorful characterizations of Duke and Earl, the flow of the banter, and the arcane twists of the plot.

If you enjoy science fiction, fantasy, or monsters, but would like a light-hearted read rather than something overly serious (and who wouldn’t in these abysmal times?), Martinez’s books are a good bet.

Gil’s All Fright Diner is current;y available for purchase.

Book Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Screenplay) by J.K. Rowling

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay by J.K. Rowling

I can’t believe I’m actually saying this: Make sure to watch the movie before cracking open this book! This is not a novel (or even a novelization), and it is not the lackluster and minimal-effort filler Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them“>mini book  published in 2001. This is a screenplay, pure and simple, and follows script format. If you’ve read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (see my review here), then you already know what you’re in for.

I mention this know, because when purchasing from Local Bookstore, the poor, defeated woman behind the counter informed me of this not once, but twice. I guess a few people made a stink about the book not being an actual novel.

But as a Potterhead, and a fan of the movie (and, let’s face it, a completeist) I couldn’t not get this book. Plus, have you seen it? It’s beautiful!

Anyhow, the story (again, this is the screenplay from the movie, you should have seen the movie already)follows Newt Scamander, future author of Hogwarts textbook Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, as he travels to the United States to do research for his book, and to conduct some magical animal rescue along the way. He inevitably gets pulled into American wizarding politics, and the dangers of a group known as “New Salem”, who are seeking to unmask and persecute witches. The movie was engaging and fun, while at the same time holding a light onto some important social issues (segregation, conversion therapy, etc.). The scree.play is by Rowling herself (unlike Cursed Child) and so retains a good deal of her whimsy.

So see the movie. The book, being merely a screenplay (a novelization by Rowling would have been spectacular, but perhaps I am greedy), is not a necessary read, nor a necessary purchase, but sometimes I just can’t help myself.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is currently available for purchase.

Friday the 13th Book Review: Warren the 13th by Tania del Rio and Will Staehle

warren-the-13th-and-the-all-seeing-eye

Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing Eye by Tania del Rio and Will Staehle

Happy Friday the 13th!

I don’t usually really or review children’s books, but after getting a gander at the artwork for this book (I’m a huge Edward Gorey fan), I just couldn’t resist. And I wasn’t disappointed. The book is recommended for readers age 8-12, but us older folks can find a lot to like in the story as well.

Warren the 13th is a young, vaguely ghoulish-looking boy who helps to run the family hotel (The Warren), does all the odd jobs his ne’er-do-well uncle is too lazy to do, and tried to avoid his evil aunt, Annaconda. Since the tragic death of Warren’s father (Warren the 12th, obviously), the hotel has fallen into disrepair as Warren’s uncle ignores the place and his aunt tears the building apart looking for a legendary magical artifact, the All-Seeing Eye, which is said to be hidden inside the hotel.

When  a mysterious new guest appears, the race to find the Eye is on. Warren will have to venture deep into the bowels of the unusual hotel and solve ancient mysteries in order to claim his rightful inheritance.

As I said above, I really enjoyed this book. The illustrations are wonderful  and put the reader in an Edward Gorey/Tim Burton-esue mood. The story is simply told (it is for younger readers, after all),  but not childish. Fans of more offbeat stories, like Artemis Fowl or A Series of Unfortunate Events will like this book.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Warren the 13th and the All-seeing Eye is currently available for purchase.

Hey there! How about some Friday the 13th perks?

The authors have made up a short story and activity book for Warren the 13th on this most unlucky of days. You can check out this online only goodie here.

Happy reading  (and grab your lucky rabbit’s foot)!

Book Review: A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess

shadow-bright-and-burningA Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess

Henrietta Howel can set herself on fire. Along with all the other problems brought on with self immolation is one unfortunate fact: women in Victorian England aren’t allowed to do magic.

Welcome to a lovecraftian Victorian England, where a witch opened a portal into another dimension, setting free the Ancient Ones, hideous monsters bent on the submission and eradication of the human race. (Male) sorcerers are tasked with trying to hold the monsters at bay, and any magic outside the narrow confines of their purview is punishable by ugly death.

Henrietta Howel grows up in Jane Eyre-esque poverty at a charity school for girls, trying to keep her firestarter tendencies under the radar. But when a visiting sorcerer discovers her magical abilities, the cat is out of the bag. Rather than be put to death, she is brought to London to fulfill an ancient prophecy which will pit her against the Ancient Ones as humanity’s last hope. But is she really the chosen one?

All in all I found this book to be an engaging and fast-paced read. Cluess borrows elements from several sources (Jane Eyre, Harry Potter, and Lovecraft being the most obvious), but she is able to make the combination work (and let’s face it, bringing Jane Eyre into the Cthulhu mythos is not a task for the faint of heart). Parts of the book were genuinely creepy, especially the familiars, humans transformed by the ancient ones to do their bidding. The major flaw in this book comes from the overdone romance angle, as our heroine has not one, not two, but three possible romantic entanglements within the book. Is it too much to ask for the protagonist to stand on her own for a bit before delving into the pathos of teenage love?

Ah well. In all, this book was very enjoyable and I look forward to the next in the series. I think Cluess has a promising future ahead of her.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher via Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. A Shadow Bright and Burning is currently available for purchase.

Book Review: The Dead Seekers by Barb Hendee and J.C. Hendee

The Dead Seekers by Barn Hendee and J.C. Hendee
 

I was a fan of the authors’ Noble Dead series, which I read way back in the day (2003, probably before you were born). Now this book, the first of a planned series, has come along, set in the same world they created for the Noble Dead, but with new and exciting characters.

And I liked it. The book introduces us to Tris, unwanted son of a noble lord and able to control and banish spirits; and Mari, a mondyalitko (gypsy) shifter (think were-lynx) looking to avenge the deaths of her entire family. When Mari saves Tris’ life, she is inadvertently drawn into his business of ridding the world of violent spirits. But there is more lurking out there than meets the eye: what should have been a routine job in a remote village becomes a greater mystery when it seems that the spirit of the dead woman plaguing the village may herself have been killed by a vengeful ghost. And, as Mari begins to learn more about Tris, it seems more and more likely that he may have had something to do with the slaughter of her family.

This book, like the Noble Dead series, isn’t high literature, but it doesn’t have to be: it’s fun. One of my favorite features of the Hendees’ work is the setting. This book takes place in Stravinia, a medieval, remote country of scattered villages and larger towns hiding behind thick walls. The picture the authors paint is gothic and dark: deep, foreboding forests, poor villages consisting of hovels huddled together against the predatory creatues that lurk in the darkness. Vampires, ghosts, and werewolves roam the land, and superstition and fear permeate everything. Think of the Solomon Kane stories by Robert E. Howard (you know, the guy who wrote the original Conan stories). The world created by the Hendees breathes with malicious intent, and I enjoyed stepping into it again.

I would recommend this book for those who read and enjoyed the Noble Dead saga. Likewise, anyone who likes dark fantasy would probably enjoy this book.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publishers via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The Dead Seekers will be available for purchase on January 3rd, 2017.

Book Review: Chapelwood by Cherie Priest

chapelwood-cherie-priest

Chapelwood by Cherie Priest

Fair Warning: This book is the second in the Borden Dispatches series, and so this review will unavoidably contain spoilers for the first book.

___________________________

Thirty years have passed since the events of Maplecroft. Emma Borden is dead, as is the good doctor Seabury. The town of Fall River is quiet and peaceful, and Lizzie Borden (now going by Lizbeth Andrew) has settled into quiet infamy with a great many cats.

But a new celestial threat is rising in Birmingham, Alabama of all places. A shadowy group calling themselves The True Americans, supported by a strange new church known as Chapelwood, is looking to cleanse Birmingham of its undesirables, namely blacks, Jews, Catholics, and those who don’t want to see the world end screaming in the tentacles of an Elder God.

Called in by her old aquaintance Inspector Simon Wolf to help solve the murder of a local priest, which may or may not be tied into the nighttime activity of an ax-murderer known as Harry the Hacker, Lizzie Borden must shoulder her ax once more to defeat a cosmic evil growing strong in the dark southern soil.

I began this series because I could not say no to a Lizzie Borden-Cthulhu mashup (who could?). The first book in the series was enjoyable (though with some tweaks to the mythos and to geography that irked me a bit). The second in the series is weaker, less cosmic horror, more plain old crappy human beings. I will say, however, that I enjoyed the Ku Klux Klan as despotic bringers of the elder god apocalypse angle. That part of the story was done quite well, and should resonate with anyone who’s been following American politics recently. Though I will say that it made this book a bit of a dud when it comes to escapist fiction (but not entirely in a bad way).

In all, if you enjoyed the first book, this one is a different creature altogether, but still worth your time. New comers to the series should definitely start with the first book, both because that one is a bit more in the Lovecraftian style, and because you will be thoroughly lost if you try to start this series in the middle.

Book Review: Iron Cast by Destiny Soria

Iron Cast Destiny Soria.jpg

Iron Cast by Destiny Soria

Welcome to Boston, 1919. Well, perhaps not the Boston you are accustomed to. For you see, hemopaths (those infernally talented souls who would have been called witches in a bygone age) live among us; and their ability to ensnare the senses and manipulate ordinary, hardworking people is an ever-present threat.

Or so they would have you believe. Meet Corrine Wells and Ava Navarra, Wordmith and Songsmith, respectively. Ava and Corrine are part of a crew of misfits who work at The Iron Cast, a nightclub/underground entertainment venue on the eve of prohibition. Life isn’t easy as a hemopath, civil, lawful society has made their existence more or less illegal. But within the smokey atmosphere of their speakeasy-style club, hemopaths can feel at home.

That is, until Johnny Dervish, the owner of the club and de facto leader of the hemopaths it employs, is murdered. Suddenly the outcasts have nowhere to go and no one but themselves to turn to. With government agents, rival clubs, and difficult relations circling, Ava and Corrine must find out who is willing to kill to shut down The Iron Cast.

This book is a very enjoyable YA offering that drops you right into the middle of the action without so much as a ‘by-you-leave’. For many books, this is an irredeemable sin, but Destiny Soria manages to lead you through uncharted territory in an exciting way until you are able to find your own way through the world. The story is set in Boston on the eve of Prohibition. The Great War has ended, Jazz is king, Bolsheviks are to be feared and anarchists lurk around every corner. The entire book is infused with the energy of the era. I found Soria’s use of magic to be original and interesting: different types of hemopaths (wordsmiths, songsmiths, thespians, etc.) have different, and well defined abilities. I also rather liked how many of these gifts are tied to a form of creative talent.

In all, if you enjoy the young adult fantasy genre, magic, or the vaguely steampunk, you will likely enjoy this book.

An advance ebook was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Iron Cast will be available for purchase on October 11th, 2016.

Book Review: After Alice by Gregory Maguire

After Alice Gregory Maguire

 

After Alice by Gregory Maguire

The summer day waxes hot in Oxford and young Alice has gone missing. But enough about her. Right now we’re concerned with the plights of Lydia, Alice’s older sister, Ada, the neighbor girl, and Miss Armstrong, Ada’s governess.

The book opens with the squalling of an infant: Ada’s younger brother, and a sudden, pressing need to be out of the house. Running out ahead of her governess, young Ada heads down to see her friend Alice. Encountering Alice’s sister, Lydia, on the road, she is directed to Alice’s regular haunt. Unfortunately for Ada, who requires an iron brace to walk straight, she encounters a rabbit hole instead and promptly tumbles down.

Miss Armstrong is left to search after her charge, becoming more and more worried when it seems that Alice may be missing as well. Dragging a reluctant Lydia along in the search, she is desperate to find the girls before Ada’s or Alice’s fathers learn the girls have gone. Ada, meanwhile, must navigate Wonderland and its strange denizens to find both Alice and her way home.

All this sounds a bit more promising in summary that it was in reality. I’m a fan of Gregory Maguire, Wicked was a fantastic book, and added a huge amount to L. Frank Baum’s classic. We don’t get that same gift here with After Alice. There are no huge revelations about any Wonderland favorites, nor is the real world plot very compelling. Following Ada into Wonderland, we meet many of the same folks that Alice did, but we gain nothing new in the encounter. After a bit, it seems as though we’re ticking off boxes, making sure we’ve said hello to everyone, but not really speaking to them.

Back in Oxford, we follow Lydia and Miss Armstrong as they search for Ada and Alice. This story line largely seems to go nowhere. The two women search halfheartedly, annoy one another, and compete for a gentleman’s attention. Lydia is sharp where Miss Armstrong is a bit insipid, but neither seems very engaged in finding their missing charges, which is the part I had been keen to explore: what pandemonium might erupt in Oxford when not one, but two children go missing? The answer seems to be very, very, very little.

In all, I feel like this is not Maguire’s best work. I’d recommend this for hardcore Maguire fans, and those looking for even a little bit more about Alice and her world. For the more casual reader: you won’t hate this book, but it left little impression on me.

A copy of this book was provided via Goodreads Givaways in exchange for an honest review. After Alice is currently available for purchase.