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Friday, April 30, 2010

Spotlight on May Books

This month Robert Thompson provided most of the book titles with additions by Cindy Hannikman, Liviu Suciu and Mihir Wanchoo. We are featuring 60 books. This month there were considerably more new sff releases but we tried to limit ourselves to a reasonable number and we chose the books most in tune with what's reviewed here.

The release dates are US unless marked otherwise and the books are first edition unless noted differently. The dates are on a best known basis so they are not guaranteed; same about the edition information. Since information sometimes is out of date even in the Amazon/Book Depository links we use for listings, books get delayed or sometimes even released earlier, we would truly appreciate if you would send us an email about any listing with incorrect information.

Sometimes a cover image is not available at the time of the post and also
sometimes covers change unexpectedly so while we generally use the Amazon one when available and cross check with Google Images, the ultimate bookstore cover may be different.

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“Ship Breaker” by Paolo Bacigalupi. Release Date: May 1, 2010.
“The Hypnotist” by M.J. Rose. Release Date: May 1, 2010.
“Deceiver” by C. J. Cherryh. Release Date: May 4, 2010.
“The Prince of Mist” by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Release Date: May 4, 2010.
“Well of Sorrows” by Benjamin Tate. Release Date: May 4, 2010.
“Tell-All” by Chuck Palahniuk. Release Date: May 4, 2010.

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“A Taint in the Blood” by S.M. Stirling. Release Date: May 4, 2010.
“The Dragon and the Stars” by Derwin Mak, Eric Choi & Tess Gerritsen. May 4, 2010.
“White Cat” by Holly Black. Release Date: May 4, 2010.
“The Princess and the Snowbird” by Mette Ivie Harrison. Release Date: May 4, 2010.
“Shade” by Jeri-Smith Ready. Release Date: May 4, 2010.
“The Red Pyramid” by Rick Riordan. Release Date: May 4, 2010.

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“Marks of Cain” by Tom Knox. Release Date: May 6, 2010.
“Apartment 16” by Adam Nevill. UK Release Date: May 7, 2010.
"Still Sucks To Be Me: The All-True Confessions of Mina Smith, Teen Vampire" by Kimberly Pauley May 10, 2010
"The Golden Spiral" by Lisa Mangum Date: May 10, 2010
"The Rise of Renegade X" by Chelsea M. Campbell Date: May 11, 2010
"Monster Slayers" by Lukas Ritter Date: May 11, 2010

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“The Nearest Exit” by Olen Steinhauer. Release Date: May 11, 2010.
“For the Win” by Cory Doctorow. Release Date: May 11, 2010.
“The Unincorporated War” by by Dani Kollin & Eytan Kollin. Release Date: May 11, 2010.
“The Legions of Fire” by David Drake. Release Date: May 11, 2010.
“Much Fall of Blood” by Mercedes Lackey, Eric Flint & Dave Freer. Release Date: May 11, 2010. “Five Odd Honors” by Jane Lindskold. Release Date: May 11, 2010.

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“Migration”
by James P. Hogan. Release Date: May 11, 2010.
“Fever Dream” by Lincoln Child & Douglas Preston. Release Date: May 11, 2010.
“The Ark” by Boyd Morrison. Release Date: May 11, 2010.
“Moonshine” by Alaya Johnson. Release Date: May 11, 2010.
“The Fire Opal” by Regina McBride. Release Date: May 11, 2010.
“Illyria” by Elizabeth Hand. Release Date: May 13, 2010.

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“The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet” by David Mitchell. UK Release Date: May 13, 2010.
“The Mask of Troy” by David Gibbins. UK Release Date: May 13, 2010.
“Restoring Harmony” by Joelle Anthony. Release Date: May 13, 2010.
“Super Human” by Michael Carroll. Release Date: May 13, 2010.
“Occultation” by Laird Barron. Release Date: May 15, 2010.
“Blood Oath” by Christopher Farnsworth. Release Date: May 18, 2010.

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“Flight of Shadows” by Sigmund Brouwer. Release Date: May 18, 2010.
“The Kings of Clonmel” by John Flanagan. Release Date: May 18, 2010.
“Worldshaker” by Richard Harland. Release Date: May 18, 2010.
“The Enemy” by Charlie Higson. Release Date: May 18, 2010.
“The Dragon's Secret” by Donna MacQuigg. Release Date: May 19, 2010.
“Absorption” by John Meaney. UK Release Date: May 20, 2010.

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“Wolfsangel”
by M. D. Lachlan. UK Release Date: May 20, 2010.
“Destiny’s Star” by Beth Vaughan. UK Release Date: May 20, 2010.
“Speak to the Devil” by Dave Duncan. Release Date: May 25, 2010.
“The Machinery of Light” by David J. Williams. Release Date: May 25, 2010.
“The Devil in Green” by Mark Chadbourn. Release Date: May 25, 2010 (US Debut).
“Banners in the Wind” by Juliet E. McKenna. Release Date: May 25, 2010.

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“Stealing Fire” by Jo Graham. Release Date: May 25, 2010.
“30 Days of Night: Fear the Dark” by Tim Lebbon. Release Date: May 25, 2010.
“SpellCrash” by Kelly McCullough. Release Date: May 25, 2010.
“Perchance to Dream” by Lisa Mantchev. Release Date: May 25, 2010.
“The Necromancer” by Michael Scott. Release Date: May 25, 2010.
“Land of the Burning Sands” by Rachel Neumeier. Release Date: May 25, 2010.

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“The Gardener” by S.A. Bodeen. Release Date: May 25, 2010.
“The Extinction Event” by David Black. Release Date: May 25, 2010.
“The Crown of the Blood” by Gav Thorpe. UK Release Date: May 27, 2010.
"Vegas Knights" by Matt Forbeck. UK Release Date: May 27, 2010.
“Leviathan Wept and Other Stories” by Daniel Abraham. Release Date: May 31, 2010.
“Clementine” by Cherie Priest. Release Date: May 31, 2010.
Thursday, April 29, 2010

"The Hourglass Door" by Lisa Mangum (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)


Visit Lisa Mangum's Official Website Here
Order The Hourglass Door from Amazon Here



Introduction:
The Hourglass Door has caught my eye as a YA romance/time travel novel. It seemed to have a unique twist on the regular romance novels that were coming out in mass quantities. While I was unable to review it in 2009 for it's release I was able to catch it in enough time to prepare for the sequel's release on May 2010.


Overview: Abby is a regular senior in high school. She has to deal with after school activities, a perfect boyfriend, and college applications. Everything in her life seems to be going smoothly and on track. She knows exactly what college she is going to go to, what her and her boyfriend will do every Friday evening, and even how the school play will turn out. Until the unexpected happens.

A mysterious Italian foreign exchange student shows up by the name of Dante Alexander. Abby can't seem to keep her eyes off of him. Every time he turns up her world seems to be turned upside down. Dante is very private and tends to show up at the oddest times. After taking Abby out to breakfast one morning, Abby notices that it appears as if time has completely stopped. For some reason Abby feels as if she is slowly falling in love with Dante, but she is supposed to love her perfect boyfriend that she has known her whole life.

Without realizing it, Abby begins to be pulled into a mystery that she has no idea about. One that involves time traveling, a door that is used to punish criminals, and a group of 16th century time travelers that are looking to change the course of time.

Format: The Hourglass Door is the first novel in a series of YA romance novels. It is available in both hardback and paperback form from Shadow Mountain Press. It stands at 398 pages and is told in the first person style from the point of view of Abby. There are a few plot threads that are not wrapped up and will keep readers waiting for the sequel.

Analysis: When I saw The Hourglass Door had very similar thoughts that are probably going through you're mind. "Oh no not another YA romance novel. Isn't there already thousands of novels out there?". The answer is yes. However, this novel while a YA romance stands out from the other YA novels that are in the same genre. The Hourglass Door is unique, fast paced, and entertaining.

There are two major strengths of this novel that make it stand out from the other YA novels that I have read like this: Characterization, the unique aspect of the plot, and the captivating nature of Lisa Mangum's writing.

The character portrayals and relationships amongst the teens were realistic. Abby and her boyfriend start out with a perfect relationship or what is believed to be a perfect relationship but it slowly starts to fall apart. Abby doesn't jump up and run off with the mystery man or anything non-realistic like that. The hardest problem I have with most YA romance novels is how quickly things happen and in The Hourglass Door things happen in what I believe as realistic time.

This going along with realistic characters but the thing that I noticed was that, although the parents were invisible. There were still rules, boundaries, and curfews. It really gets me when all these teens (15-16 year olds) are sharing beds with unknown guys and the parents just seem in another world. Along with bed sharing is the fact that sometimes these teens are out till 4 am and the parents are just walking around like nothing is different. I really liked this little added area to the novel.

The other area that sets this novel out is the unique plot. While not super unique it does have a few twists and turns that were a bit surprising. There is a bit of time traveling (or the idea of time traveling) involved in the plot. There is also a major pending doom that might happen but isn't explored too much in this novel. There is definitely a lot of potential for this series as this is a great starting point for it.

Lisa Mangum's writing is very captivating. It's not non-stop action but there was enough to keep me wanting to read further and further to see what is going on. There is mystery added to the plot but not so much that it left me completely in the dark. I was constantly trying to read more and more and not wanting to put the book down.

As with all novels there are a few weaknesses.

First is the time traveling aspect. While I understood the whole traveling to the river area and what it involved. I had a hard time following what was involved with the aspect of the door and time traveling. It's hard to describe without spoiling the book but the door aspect and some of the mechanisms involved with the door confused me.

Another aspect that was a bit frustrating was the amount of time spent on the play. While I found this a quick read, there was a lot of time spent on Abby's play Much Ado About Nothing. It felt like one third of the novel was devoted to this play and I just wasn't that into this part of the book. It just didn't seem to fit into the novel and when there was a lot of time devoted to the play it almost made this quick book seem to lag.

Overall if one is looking for a YA romance/supernaturally novel that doesn't involve the werewolves or vampire craze that is going on lately. Lisa Mangum has a lot of potential as a writer and creates a captivating and unique story that will keep readers wanting the sequel.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

"The King of the Crags" by Stephen Deas (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)


Official Stephen Deas Website
Order The King of the Crags HERE
Read FBC Review of The Adamantine Palace

INTRODUCTION:
"The Adamantine Palace" was one of the novels that resonated with me a lot and my estimation of it improved on the first reread, while remaining as powerful on the second reread I have completed just before starting "The King of the Crags".

Due to the mixed reviews I saw for "The Adamantine Palace" including our own FBC review from Robert linked above, I meditated a bit on why I liked it so much and found it both fresh and exciting. I think that mostly it was the "take no prisoners" attitude of the book and the ambiguity of most characters. "The Adamantine Palace" just rolls on from the first memorable pages of sex and murder on the back of a huge and dangerous dragon and never stops to "explain" things and while its setup is pseudo-medieval plus dragons with all the associated paraphernalia, it reads like a ride on one its powerful and barely tamed dragons...

In consequence "The King of the Crags" became a 2010 Top 10 Anticipated Novel and while I liked it well enough to recommend it and rank it a strong A, I was a bit underwhelmed by it, not necessarily by what it does, but more by what it does not do. In essence "The King of the Crags" plays it safer and confines itself to a "traditional" second book status which means that a lot of what goes on here is transitional while there is additional world building to satisfy the critics rather than continuing to let it go to the hilt.

FORMAT/CLASSIFICATION:
"The King of the Crags" stands at 364 pages divided into 48 named chapters. The books starts with genealogies of the Kings and Queens of the 9 Realms, a map and a prologue that segues directly from "The Adamantine Palace"; the epilogue closes one of the main threads, the "bridge" one that was introduced here as noted below, while the several chapters preceding it promise great stuff for the next book.

The main POV's are the (surviving) ones from "The Adamantine Palace", Jehal, Zafir, Kemir, Semian, Vale, Jaslyn, with several additions who had a more minor role in the debut. Like "The Adamantine Palace", "The King of the Crags" stands at the border between adventure and epic fantasy.

ANALYSIS:
Since Robert reviewed "The Adamantine Palace", I will present here my quick take on the series setup and then discuss a bit how "The King of the Crags" continues the tale.

The Dragon Realms in which the novels take place, are a largish area bordered by mountains and sea and which contain pretty much all the standard geographical zones, from the cold mountains to the warm lowlands and the sea. There are Nine Realms, though the Desert one has almost disappeared as a separate country due to events that took place some decades ago and which are explained more in
"The King of the Crags".

Each realm is defined by its geography and by its number of dragons, number which is crucial in the geopolitics of the series since the total number of dragons in the world seems to be unchanged, so a new dragon can hatch only when another dies; there are more hints about the history of the world and why things are as they are, but the other crucial thing about dragons is that they need to be drugged immediately after hatching since if they remain sentient, for once they remember all their previous lives and for another they hate humans with a passion and kill and eat them on sight.

The mysterious Taytakei, sea traders with magic of their own and rumored to covet a dragon hatchling, seem to favor Prince Jehal aka "the viper" of The Endless Sea Realm who rules with his gelded uncle Meteroa as Chief Alchemist and main adviser, as regent for his comatose father King Tyan and is the main schemer in the series so far and the most interesting character for me.

Among the ruling families of the Nine Realms there is a continual struggle for power and influence, with the ten year elected position of Speaker of the Realms as a pinnacle of achievement and mediating the Dragon royalty from the Adamantine Palace itself, while commanding the loyalty both of the Alchemists who are so crucial for keeping the dragons in check and of the powerful Night Guard.

"The Adamantine Palace" consists of two main threads - the intrigue and scheming to succeed retiring speaker Hyram, intrigue that involves his "official" successor and sister-in-law, powerful Queen of the North Shezira, whose three daughters are also of consequence in their own, one as a Queen of a smaller realm and two as Heirs to strong realms, and the upstart young Queen Zafir and her secret lover and Shezira's son-in-law Jehal who opens the book so memorably by murdering Zafir's mother, Queen Aliphera in their tryst on the back of the dragon.

The other thread consists of the "awakening" of a special white dragon that was supposed to be Jehal's as dowry from Shezira's daughter Lystra, dragon that got "kidnapped" on the way to Jehal's palace.
This thread involves mercenary Kemir and nobleman Semian and intertwines with the first one in the powerful climax of the novel.

The King of Crags
continues the story started there and essentially keeps the same two threads while adding a new "bridge" one, except that now with the election of the new speaker and following the events at the end of the
"The Adamantine Palace" the realms are moving towards open war; only the reclusive and single most powerful of all royals as number of dragons go, Valmeyan, King of the Crags can avert the war if he chooses to play peacemaker and to everyone's surprise he comes to the inauguration of the new Speaker, though his reasons are to be determined.

Snow, the awakened dragon was thwarted in her attempts to "free" the dragons but is still alive and has her own designs; it's up to the only human that so far managed to be her companion/pet, mercenary Kemir, to keep her in check. And to add a new wrinkle, Semian now slightly mad and dreaming of flames and revenge, recreates a rebel band called The Red Riders that legend claims it precedes total war and devastation of the Realms, while another "figure" of the old, times a member of the proscribed blood mage organization fishes in the troubled waters with plans of his own.

As a traditional middle novel "The King of the Crags" keeps the major threads above in play though there are some resolutions on the way. The novel is even more brutal that the first one, darker and more cynical with no-nonsense and sentimentality; the awakened dragons still hate humans with a passion and eat them when they do not burn them, queens and kings die, cities are burned and the prize - if anything will remain intact of course - is still there for the taking.

For me this "play safer" rather than continuing to "roll the dice" so to speak and go in unexpected places was the reason
"The King of the Crags" was less of a favorite then "The Adamantine Palace" since it brought only a little new stuff at the table so to speak; so while I enjoyed "The King of the Crags" well enough and I thought the author attained his stated goal in the note at the end, to write a more "traditional" fantasy at least as far as explanations and world building go - "The King of the Crags" sits squarely in the "new gritty" camp and it even features to great success I say, the dual polite nonsense dialogue, cynical "true thoughts" that seems to be a trope of such - I missed the "let's roll" attitude of the debut.
Tuesday, April 27, 2010

"Neverland" by Douglas Clegg (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)


Visit Douglas Clegg's Official Website Here
Order Neverland from Amazon Here

Author Introduction: Douglas Clegg is a New York Times best seller and the winner of the Bram Stoker Award, The International Horror Guild Award, and the Shocker Award. He is known for his novels: Isis, The Priest of Blood, Afterlife and The Hour Before Dark.

Overview: Gull Island is where 10 year old, Beau's family has vacationed every summer for years. They stay in his grandmother's family house known as the Retreat, with his grandma, aunt, uncle and cousin Sumter. Sumter has always been a little different from the other children. He is sweet around adults but mean and nasty behind their backs. It seems that the only person who sees him for what he is, is his grandmother who has called him out on many of his evil actions.

Every summer it has been the same boring activities time after time, going to the beach and shopping with his sisters. The adults seem to fight and drink all summer leaving the children on their own.

There is something different about this summer's vacation. Sumter has found a way into an abandoned shack. This shack has been off limits for many years as the adults want nothing to do with it. There is something evil that is lurking around the island and the shack.

This shack becomes a hide away to a secret world for the children. Where games are played in the dark and secrets are bound by blood oaths. It is a way for the children to hide from the harsh reality of the Retreat, where parents fight constantly and when there's not fighting there's lots of drinking.

Sumter believes that he has found a sacred god known as Lucy and is slowly building up a following to this mysterious god. Many odd events have happened from bringing animals back to life and sacrifices being made. Is there really a Lucy that is a controlling god or is this just a make believe game gone to far?
When do the games that are played in Neverland become more then just games and cross over to reality?

Format: Neverland is a dark suspense, psychological thriller. It is re-released on April 13, 2010 by Vanguard Press in paperback form. It stands at 352 pages and has illustrations by Glenn Chadbourne.

Analysis: I thought I'd step out of my "comfort zone" so to speak and give a book that I probably never would have tried before a try. Neverland is an amazingly detailed psychological thriller/suspense novel that completely blew me away.

The element of writing that stands out in this book is the amount of characterization that is involved. Readers are introduced to Sumter and Beau who are probably the most detailed characters in the novel. The story is told via first person from Beau's point of view and Douglas Clegg captures the attitude of a 10 year old perfectly. There is a bit of blatant honesty that is present within the narration that makes this story amazing. The reader is really taken into the life and thoughts of Beau and what is happening. Without this amount of development the suspense in the novel would have fallen flat.

As for the character of Sumter there is just something portrayed about him that made him creepy but not overly creepy. It's like that odd kid in school that everyone was afraid of but couldn't explain why he acted the way he did. There were times that I was a little creeped out at Sumter's attitude, I was just that into the novel.

The pacing of the novel isn't slow so much as there is a build up to the suspense. There is a lot of time describing little events here and there that start to pile up. Don't expect all the action and suspense to happen at once. It's this amount of build up to the "big" events that really makes the novel stand out. It's worth it to see what happens in the ending.

Neverland can be read so many different ways. It's really a novel that every person who reads it will have a different experience or take away something different. There's enough family drama and mystery involved with the island that there's a little bit of something for everyone.

Neverland will definitely keep a reader on their toes. For my first experience with this type of novel I was amazed at not only the writing but the amount of character development that was involved. It will definitely be hard to top a novel such as this and I'm not sure if other novels will be as developed and well rounded as Neverland was.

Overall this was an amazing novel that really has many meanings and undertones with a bit of creepy suspense added in.

Monday, April 26, 2010

"New Model Army" by Adam Roberts (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)


Official Adam Roberts Website
Order New Model Army HERE
Read FBC Review of Yellow Blue Tibia

INTRODUCTION: The blurb for the novel says:

"Adam Roberts' new novel is a terrifying vision of a near future war - a civil war that tears the UK apart as new technologies allow the worlds first truly democratic army to take on the British army and wrest control from the powers that be. Taking advances in modern communication and the new eagerness for power from the bottom upwards Adam Roberts has produced a novel that is at once an exciting war novel and a philosophical examination of war and democracy. It shows one of the UKs most exciting and innovative literary voices working at the height of his powers and investing SF with literary significance that is its due.",

while in my 2010 Anticipated Books Post I continued:

"The undisputed king of high concept sf and one of my top six sf authors of the 00's, Adam Roberts does not write sequels and each book is different conceptually from the rest. So when this one - about which I know precisely what is above in the blurb - was announced it became another get asap and read on receive."

And so it turned out, since while delayed a little by the European airspace unpleasantness of recent times, I got "New Model Army" relatively soon after its publication and I read it on arrival; sadly while there was a lot I liked in the book, it underwhelmed me for reasons I will explain below but that overall can be reduced to the fact that after a strong start "New Model Army" evolves more into a sketch of a novel than the real thing.

FORMAT/CLASSIFICATION: For most of its slim 280 pages, "New Model Army" is narrated in first person by Anthony Block an Englishman soldier and currently a component of New Model Army (NMA) Pantegral that has won a commission from the Scottish Parliament to "convince" by force of arms the English state to accept Scottish independence.

"New Model Army" is partly near-future mil-sf novel, partly abstract didactic talk about love, war, faith, democracy and while the action part is very good to excellent at least to start with, the didactic part is way too simplistic, generic and with "cookie cutter" pronouncements that can come straight out of a graduate seminar or a maudlin bar discussion to be of much interest beyond its showcasing the author's erudition.

ANALYSIS: Before proceeding to show how a NMA acts, "New Model Army" opens with a sort of introduction about democracy as practiced by the Athenians and about how current technology may enable a return to such, rather than the "pseudo-democracy" we are used to, all of this of course in the opinion of the narrator.

So from the start we have the dichotomy between the two main aspects of the novel:

the show part
- NMA's as a new kind of sentient organisms, each composed by some thousands of smaller sentient cells (ie people) that make war because it's fun, the new kids on the block that smash things as they experiment; while a staple of sf as group mind, this particular instance of it is excellent and combined with the superb style of the author makes the show part of the novel an A+

the tell part - witty and full of great references but very didactic dialogue about "true" democracy, love, faith and war between Anthony - who among other things happens to be gay and with parental and authority issues - and his "interrogator", a Baptist fundamentalist US officer; the dialogue contains the expected barbs and it occupies too much of the slim novel; the tell part is a C for wit and references otherwise it would have been an F

When the novel covers NMA Pantegral in action as seen through Anthony's eyes and his part in it, as well as when Anthony "detaches" from the NMA and goes on his own - for example in the periods Pantegral "rests"- the pages turn by themselves and they are wonderful. However beyond those pages there is very little exploration of the impact of the NMA's on the world and instead we get the didactic and pointless talk mentioned above. Still the 200 hundred pages of this first and as it turns out "core" part of "New Model Army" is reasonably good and were the book to stop here I would actually have appreciated it more.

However the second part of "New Model Army" in which Anthony is supposedly primed to destroy NMA's by his captors is very sketchy and unconvincing; that may have been a deliberate choice since after all Anthony is still narrator and now he is quite unbalanced, but it just does not work and those 70 pages transform the book into a sketch of a novel rather than the real thing. The epilogue part which is predictable but quite good, redeems a little what came before, but overall "New Model Army" was a B from me and a minor disappointment.
Sunday, April 25, 2010

Winners of The Emerald Storm Giveaway!



The three lucky random winners of the giveaway for "The Emerald Storm" by Michael J Sullivan are Shaun Duke (Flordia), Natasha Schneider (New Mexico), and Stephen Parker (Arizona). Congratulations to the winners!

A big thank you goes out to everyone that entered. An extra big thank you to Robin Sullivan for providing the opportunity to host this contest!

"Calamity Jack" by Shannon Hale & Dean Hale Illustrated by Nathan Hale (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)


Visit Shannon Hale's Official website Here
Order Calamity Jack from Amazon Here


Author Introduction: Shannon Hale, Dean Hale, and Nathan Hale are most known for their graphic novel Repunzel's Revenge, a 2008 Cybil Award Winner for Middle Grade Graphic Novel. Repunzel's Revenge is a retelling of the fairy tale Repunzel only with a bit of a western style to it and Repunzel can really hold her own in a fight with her long braids.

Shannon Hale is also known for her Newbery Honor book, Princess Academy. Nathan Hale has illustrated various children's novels.

Overview: Jack is a bit of a criminal mastermind. He steals, he swindles people out of money, and he is a bit of a trickster. He justifies his actions in that they are being done for his mother who is trying to keep a business and roof over his head.

One evening while Jack is out doing his evil deeds he decides to try and take on a bigger target. A giant. Jack goes into the giants fortress and steals a golden egg. While all this is going on he drops a few magic beans that soon sprout up destroying half the town. As the beans were Jack's he becomes a wanted man throughout the city and he runs away in hopes that he can come back and start a new life some day for his mother.

Running away leads Jack to run into Repunzel (as told in Repunzel's Revenge) and soon Jack decides it is time to return home. Only what he discovers is that the town he left isn't the same and there are a few evil plots of their own brewing in the city.

Format: Calamity Jack is a YA/Middle Grade Graphic Novel that stands at 144 pages. It is a spin off retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk, but it's more Jack and the Beanstalk meets the Wild West. Although the beginning of this starts before Repunzel's Revenge, the second half is a "sequel" of sorts to Repunzel's Revenge.

Analysis: There was so much talk about Repunzel's Revenge, it was a nicely illustrated, beautifully told story. It was everything a graphic novel for children could be and more. It used the old fairy tale retelling but had a completely new spin that wasn't worn out. When Calamity Jack was announced I was very excited for a sequel of sorts as I loved the rough and tumbling Repunzel.

Calamity Jack has all the same qualities that Repunzel's Revenge did. Beautifully illustrated and a fairly unique retelling of a fairy tale. However, this story wasn't as new and as fun for myself and there are various reasons for this.

The characters. I didn't like Jack, although it is explained why he steals, and acts so obnoxious it didn't come across as anything that made me want to feel sorry for him or even like him. This is probably the main reason this graphic novel was just alright for myself. This whole story except for the last part revolved around Jack and it just didn't work out for me. There are a few new side kicks such as the little fairy and the giants but they were only in the novel occasionally and really weren't outstanding in any way.

Another area that seemed a bit off was the flow of the story. It just seemed as if events were thrown out there for major events sake. It didn't really connect or flow as nicely as it should have. There is non stop action in this graphic novel but it just seemed action after action with no connecting factors.

Although it might appear as if I didn't enjoy this graphic novel, I enjoyed it but compared to the amazing first novel it just couldn't compete. It's a great novel for those that enjoyed the first novel but it doesn't stand out from the first. For children they probably won't even notice the difference. For adults the illustrations and fast paced storyline will make it a quick read.
Saturday, April 24, 2010

Two Mini-reviews and One Unreview - "The Juggler" by Sebastian Beaumont, "The Hittite" by Ben Bova and "Tome of the Undergates" by Sam Sykes

Here I will talk a little about three novels that I read or in one case, only partly and then fed up with the silliness inside I fast read it to the end. All very different novels as genre, style or reaction that I had to each...


First a "leftover" from 2009, "The Juggler" by Sebastian Beaumont.

One of the books I had great expectations for - after the author's excellent Thirteen - but somehow did not click with me on arrival - I bought it on publication in early 09; it is about a young man who feels trapped in his job and family so when at a bar a comedian brings up his problems out of the blue and gives him directions for a seaside town and then a stranger puts a 40000 pound sterling bag in his hands with a cryptic message, the hero just leaves everything and goes to that town...

Some strange people and things are there but all in all, while the style was good and the book kept me guessing till the end, I was not that convinced by the motivations of the hero and the book read to me like "how cool is to be able to leave everything behind including your children and go to find your so called destiny" and it kind of rubbed me the wrong way; a B for style and a minor disappointment.


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Next 'Tome of the Undergates" by Sam Sykes, a major debut of 2010 that featured prominently in my 2010 Anticipated Book Post where based only on blurb and "feel" I said "this one has the best "vibes" for me of all the fantasy debuts here". Boy, was I wrong!!

Now to be fair, the early all-around pretty negative reviews that I saw dampened my excitement somewhat, but I still pre-ordered the novel from Book_Depository and was quite interested to read it since I thought it may be just the quirkiness of the author' style that did not work out for the various people who read arcs of this one.

There are books that are so bad to be funny, but this one while as bad as anything I've read in a long time is not that funny; if you like potty humor and enjoy a paragraph describing the potty habits of various characters and deep ruminations like "potty habits never change", or if you like juvenile humor going back and forth in the middle of supposedly tough fights, maybe you should try this one, but otherwise steer clear; I had high expectations when the book was announced and even though the reviews I saw kind of tempered them, I still expected a readable book.

Maybe it works as fantasy humor but I am not in the market for such and this one is definitely not sold as such either
; an F and a series I have no intention to continue.

**********************************************


And then finally a positive surprise, The Hittite by Ben Bova. I am not a fan of Ben Bova' sf, so usually I would have steered clear of this one, but there is something about names like Troy, Odysseus, Helen which makes me try any novel that involves them.

A fast and furious historical fiction from sf author Bova, featuring the siege of Troy, lots of brutality and blood, a good but conventional take on the Greek heroes; the novel has a great main lead, the Hittite officer Lukka, but Helen steals the show and Odysseus appears in an excellent role too, while Agamemnon and Menelaus make super-villains; as a bonus we get to see how Homer became Homer so to speak...

This beginning of a series has our heroes stopping at a way point after Troy - would not say more not to spoil the novel - and I am definitely in for the next volume. A B+ from me and the potential for more as the series progresses.
Friday, April 23, 2010

Quick Blog Note: Fantasy Book Critic's Comment Moderation


For over the past week or so, comments that have been left on Fantasy Book Critic have not gone through after approval especially if the comment is left on a post that is more then 24 hours old.

I feel it's a good time to review Fantasy Book Critic's stance on comments.

1. FBC does have comment moderation on. This is to keep the number of spam posts down. Every day there are between 10-20 bot generated comments that are left on this blog. Without comment moderation they would go through. With comment moderation comes drawbacks such as there isn't instant comments posted.

2. FBC approvals all comments (except for spam and hate speech and advertisements). We try to keep the comments as a general discussion and understand that not everyone is going to share the same views on topics and novels that we read.

I hope to look into this comment problem. Until then we apologize in advance if a comment that you have made does not appear. Feel free to email us at fantasybookcriticblog@gmail.com if you have any questions or concerns about this issue.

The Fantasy Book Critic Team

"The Celestial Globe: The Kronos Chronicles Book Two" by Marie Rutkoski (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)


Visit Marie Rutkoski's Official Website Here
Order The Celestial Globe from Amazon Here


Introduction: One of my favorite books of 2008 was the first book in the Kronos Chronicles: The Cabinet of Wonders. It was such a rich and detailed debut novel but at the same time it wasn't overly long. It's been a long year and half wait for the second novel but it was well worth the wait. The Celestial Globe is the second novel in the Kronos Chronicles by Marie Rutkoski.

Overview:
For the past few months Petra has been hidden away from Prince Rodolfo. In an attempt to try and capture the young girl who has stolen from his secret cabinet the Prince sends evil man made monsters to track down Petra. With the help of a friend and her father, Petra has enough warning to not be killed by the monsters but instead ends up facing them in a fight.

The next thing Petra knows she has magically appeared in London. However, London is thousands of miles away from her hometown. It appears as if John Dee has saved her from the monster attack but is now keeping her prisoner in his home. What would his motivation be to keeping Petra safe? Is he out to use Petra like he did in Prince Rodolfo's castle?

Meanwhile, after the monster's attack on Petra. Petra's friend, Tomik goes in search of her. What he finds are four dead animals. As he searches the area that he believes Petra is he magically walks through a rift that takes him to a mysterious beach somewhere on the coast. It is Tomik's luck that he is captured by a group of gypsy pirates who take Tomik captive in the hopes of selling him as a slave later on. On the ship that Tomik is taken captive on there is an old friend of Petra who will take an interest in Tomik's goal of saving Petra. While on the ship the pirates are in search of a magical globe known as the Celestial Globe which will help them travel around the world through rifts. The only problem is no one knows where this Globe has disappeared to or even how to use it.

Format:
The Celestial Globe is a YA fantasy novel with historical elements throughout, magic, and adventure. It is the second novel in the Kronos Chronicles. It stands at 304 pages and was released by Farrar Straus Giroux on April 13, 2010.


Analysis:
The Cabinet of Wonders caught my eye in 2008 and I loved every minute of reading it. I have actually read it several times and it never gets old. There is something about Marie Rutkoski's writing that just pulls you in and makes you want to read the book over and over again. I have since recommended the book to several others. When Celestial Globe came out I grabbed it up the first chance I got. Celestial Globe is just as good as Cabinet of Wonders but in it's own unique way.


The major strength of Cabinet of Wonders and Marie Rutkoski's writing was the unique setting. Not many YA fantasy books choose the setting of a Bohemian town that has a bit of an old world feel to it. Add magic to the mix and there is a perfect mixture of for a great story.


Celestial Globe
has a different setting. Instead of a Bohemian setting it's Elizabethian England and a ship traveling on the high seas. While this isn't the first book to use this setting Rutkoski really made it her own.


The characters are another great strength to this book. Cabinet of Wonders introduced readers to Petra and Astrophil (Petra's pet tin spider). In Celestial Globe the characters start to grow into their own. Petra is beginning to come into her talents and is learning what her role in the world will be, she is a bit head strong but at the same time is starting to develop multi dimensions as a character. Meanwhile, Astrophil offers his guidance and a bit of humor to the story. Astrophil is my favorite character, he is honest, straight forward and funny all in one.


Something that stands out in Celestial Globe is the mixture of fiction, history and a magical world. Celestial Globe is by no means a historical fantasy, but there are plenty of historical facts that are nicely blended into this magical story that make it an amazing read. It really shines through how much research is done to make it come across so smoothly. This is one of the major appeals of this whole series for myself.

I would not recommend reading Celestial Globe without first reading Cabinet of Wonders. There is to much background information that is needed to fully grasp what is going on. For example, why the Prince is after Petra or who Neel is. While these are briefly explained I'm not sure it would be understood fully without the first book.

This novel is a very quick read. The action is very fast paced but what makes the novel run so quickly is the brief chapters in the book. Each chapter stands between 5-15 pages. This might give it a bit of a faster pace feeling to it. There is no dwelling on unnecessary events or feelings.


The novel is nicely wrapped up but there are threads that are still hanging out there for the future novels to come. There is a sense of completion but of wanting to read more of the series which is a perfect mixture.


Overall Celestial Globe exceeded my expectations and will definitely be a top 2010 novel for myself. While it is a YA novel it has enough appeal and fast paced atmosphere that even adults will love this novel. Maria Rutkoski is showing her real talent for character and plot development and I await the third novel.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

"A Magic of Dawn" by S.L. Farrell (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)


Official SL Farrell Website
Order A Magic of Dawn HERE
Read an Excerpt from A Magic of Dawn
Read FBC Review of A Magic of Nightfall

INTRODUCTION: The Nessantico trilogy that ends in this novel consists of books that take place in relatively short intervals from three crucial years of the imaginary city's history.
The author's description of his wonderfully created City is the best:

Imagine Renaissance Florence blended with late Imperial Rome and spiced with some of the trappings of ‘fin de siécle’ Vienna: a great city of a far-reaching empire; a city situated at the center of civilization; a city where art and music and writing flourish, where the world’s greatest minds and greatest talents come to make their reputations, while the trade of a hundred lesser nations passes through the ports and the streets.

That is Nessantico.


At least to start with, in the Year 521 when it is the half century Jubilee of its ruler Kraljica Marguerite and the events of the first novel A Magic of Twilight take place. The series debut is almost a standalone in the sense that the second book A Magic of Nightfall taking place 27 years later in 548 keeps only a few of the main characters of it and somewhat severs the reader's emotional connection between the two books. However A Magic of Dawn which takes place in 563 so only 15 years later keeps most of the main characters of the previous ones, while the additions are natural and excellent, so these two books form a duology in the more traditional sense with a strong sense of continuity and together they are more than the sum of their parts.

In the following there will be inevitable spoilers for the previous volumes, while for more about Nessantico, the various magic systems, the nomenclature I did a more detailed overview in the review of A Magic of Nightfall linked above. The author put a lot of thought and care in the "little" details of chronology, social structure, magic, faith, worship and the glimmers of science, and the books contain excellent maps and appendices about the above.

FORMAT/CLASSIFICATION: "A Magic of Dawn" stands at about 550 pages of text and almost 600 total including the maps and detailed appendices. As in the previous volumes there are a number of pov's that appear in each of the 10 parts - at least as long as they are surviving of course - and the action is carried forward by weaving the pov's paths as they meet or separate.

The pov's are Allesandra (appears in all 3 novels, pov in "Nightfall", Kraljika of Nessantico of Firenczian origins), Jan her son and major political rival (pov in "Nightfall", Hirzig of Firenczia and dominant leader of the day), Brie (Jan's wife and mother of their 4 children, new character), Rochelle (daughter of famous assassin White Stone of Nightfall, new character), Niente (Westlander magician and pov in Nightfall), Sergei (pov in all novels, soldier, diplomat, first councilor of Allesandra and pillar of Nessantico), Varina (pov in Nightfall, "heretic" Numetedo leader and trusted adviser of Allesandra), Nico (pov as a child in Nightfall, now a powerful and charismatic conservative religious leader opposed both by the Church and by the Kraljica).

"A Magic of Dawn" is epic fantasy with a bent towards intrigue, politics and faith but with lots of action too and written in a very clear and enjoyable style that makes pages almost turn by themselves. The novel concludes the trilogy in a very satisfactory way and the Nessantico Epilogue with the city as a pov makes for quite an elegiac finish. I would love more novels set in this universe at some point in the future of "A Magic of Dawn".

ANALYSIS: When "A Magic of Dawn" starts, fifteen years of consolidation have passed since the tremendous events of 548 when the Westlanders came from over the seas and sacked Nessantico only to be repelled by the Firenczian army. However partly as payback for her intrigues, partly because he did not want to take the blame for the forthcoming hardships, Hirzig Jan named his mother Allesandra as Kraljica instead of taking the reunified throne and expected the Nessantico Holdings to fall apart so he would easily pick up the pieces as the obvious "savior".

However it did not work that way since Allesandra proved formidable and kept the Holdings more or less intact and even tried though somewhat halfheartedly to get back territory from the Firenczians who are still the dominant power. But now the Westlanders stir again, while Allesandra confronts a direct challenge when gifted and charismatic Nico Morell claims to speak in Censi's name and demands a restoration of "true faith", including the reformation of the Church and the conversion or execution of the heretics, most notably the "atheists" Numetedo who had become quite a power in Nessantico with their "science" used to help the Kraljica in critical ways.

This is roughly the situation when "A Magic of Dawn" starts and what follows is a whirlwind tale of intrigue and war, love and faith, prophecies and redemption with magic, battles, assassinations, secret relationships, but also families and their shared joys and sorrows.

While action and relationships power the novel, several of the main characters stand out as persons, while Allesandra is the embodiment of the "larger than life", fallible for sure but quite resolute leader. Jan is more pragmatic and compromise oriented especially that he has a great partner in Brie who is the best realized character in many ways, with her love of husband and children, small insecurities but also resourcefulness and leadership. Grandma that sends presents or "that wicked woman" in Nessantico is a tough choice for four young children to make and to her credit Brie manages to hold as much normality as possible in her family.

In a secret corner of his soul, Jan still pines a little for "Elissa" aka The White Stone despite knowing for sure that at Alessandra's behest and to make him Hirzig after all, the assassin killed his beloved uncle Finn who served as both "older brother and father" figure instead of the drunkard and later rebel nobleman that was Allesandra's estranged husband.

Sergei is the usual commanding presence even now a little shrunken with age, with Nessantico as his supreme "mistress" so before he dies he wants to broker a lasting peace and eventual reunion of the two states under Jan or his children since after all they are the natural heirs to Nessantico.

Rochelle was one of my favorite characters and despite her heritage on her mother' side and her having taken up the mantle of The White Stone at least temporarily, you cannot but wish her success in her endeavor of somehow getting to know and be known by her father and even maybe by her step-brothers and sisters.

Outside of the main power figures of the novel, the two hinges of "A Magic of Dawn" are Nico and Niente who both have some similarity in the great magical powers they possess as well in their belief in their "destiny", though of course that destiny is to be quite different for each. And since with great power, comes great responsibility both Nico and Niente have to eventually face up to that also. And of course from the "secular" side there is another "magician" of some power but also greatly respected as a community leader, Varina of the Numetodo who has just lost her beloved husband - and former pov in both previous novels - Karl as time does not spare anyone after all. Since for a while Varina was almost like a mother for Nico in his troubled childhood, she just cannot believe that the charismatic young man is publicly demanding her death for heresy...

The interaction between the characters above powers the novel and for me "A Magic of Dawn" was a perfect ending for a very good A-level series, with volumes 2 and 3 quite outstanding as series connection goes too.

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