Thursday, May 5, 2011

Blue by Lou Aronica

I found Blue by looking at the top-selling fantasy ebooks on Amazon. When I started it, I thought it might have been miscategorized. It follows the story of Becky, a 14 year old survivor of childhood leukemia and her father, who struggles to re-bond with his daughter after her mother divorced him. However, it is definitely a fantasy. To help Becky deal with her illness, she and her father created a make-believe world called Tamarisk and spent the evenings making up stories about it. As Becky grew older, they stopped creating stories, but one night, Becky is transported to Tamarisk and realizes it isn't quite as make-believe as she thought.

This book was very emotional and I very nearly cried as I read it on an airplane (don't worry - I managed to hold back the tears and avoid a very awkward situation!). The story deeply resonated with me, as I'm sure it does with many others. It has an average of 4.3 stars on Amazon, and it's only $2.39 on the Kindle. I highly recommend it for daughters, fathers, and anyone with an imagination who has ever imagined another world.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Legend of Witch Bane by Kevis Hendrickson

The Legend of Witch Bane, by Kevis Hendrickson, is an enjoyable tale about three young siblings faced with a nearly insurmountable challenge. An evil curse has been set upon the kingdom of Kaldan which has left nearly all its inhabitants in a state of indefinite sleep. Those immune to the spell are the three children of King Kruge and Queen Yvora Falinn. The children, Kodobos, Laris, and Anyr, soon discover that it is up to them to reverse the dark spell which has been enacted by the evil High Queen of the Northern Realm: Rhiannon Eldess. They embark upon a grand journey filled with magical creatures, perilous battles, and discover their true purpose in a greater cause. Witch Bane, despite some missteps, soars with creativity and brings to life the wonderful world of fantasy.

What struck me most about this book's author (with whom I am acquainted) is his passion for writing fantasy. Mr. Hendrickson clearly loves the genre, and this is evident throughout the novel, as his voice is clearly distinguished. He has a definite idea of what he is trying to convey, and he obviously enjoyed writing it. He incorporates familiar children's fairy tales which adds to the book's overall charm. This makes for a fun and exciting tale filled with imagination, interesting characters, fantastic artwork, unexpected twists, and good life lessons for children.

The Legend of Witch Bane is an easy read--a definite plus--as it is geared toward children, though it is not without its bumps. As I read Witch Bane, I quickly noticed certain trends, which--for me--dampened my reading experience. The author's voice is a part of the book's success, though it is also one of its flaws. The narration at times took away from what could have been a much more enjoyable experience. There's a saying in writing: "Show, don't tell." Unfortunately, the latter of the two is used almost to the point of erasing any and all suspense. Not everything has to be "shown," however, revealing crucial plot details well before they take place and explaining what just happened can cause a decline in interest. This was the case for me, and I struggled to plunge ahead.

Another point which detracted from my overall enjoyment was the overuse of the plot device known as "Deus ex machina." "Deus ex machina" is described as a surprising or unexpected event which occurs in a story's plot to suddenly and completely resolve an otherwise unsolvable conflict. This tool, when used sparingly, can add to the story; when used excessively, believability is lost. This occurs in numerous action sequences where the children are saved at the last second.

I am a firm believer in deep characters, and being that Witch Bane is a book aimed at a younger audience, I approached this story with a less critical eye. Kodobos, Laris, and Anyr are an interesting trio, though I believe they could have benefitted from an extra layer of depth so as to better round them. I like when the main characters are rooted in conflict-whether internal or external in nature. With that said, our young protagonists do live up to my expectations, though at times their conflicts are a bit excessive. The children all seem to suffer from an acute case of "Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde" syndrome. One minute they love each other, the next they say the most hurtful things. Children might act this way in real life, but when I am being led to believe these children--like Atreyu from Michael Ende's, The Neverending Story--are more mature than their age expresses, (7, 10, and 13) I struggle to grasp their behavior.

All the points of criticism I have mentioned cleared at the novel's end as the children's characters came full circle in the face of their enemy. Their numerous battles were both detailed and riveting. I came to care about Kodobos, Laris, and Anyr, and their cause. The Legend of Witch Bane concluded, and I find myself curious to learn of the children's further adventures. Fortunately, I know for a fact that Mr. Hendrickson is hard at work on the sequel. I will gladly join the children on their next quest, as will I recommend this novel to anyone--and any age, I might add--seeking to escape reality.


Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Lost Gate by Orson Scott Card

The Lost Gate is the first book in a new series by Orson Scott Card. I loved his Ender's Game series, so I decided to give this one a try. It's set in present-day Earth, but revolves around a set of people descended from the ancient gods with various magical powers. The hero, Danny, is a young teenage boy born to two of the greatest mages of his family. It's too bad he seems to be completely powerless and can't even manage the most basic magical tasks.

Eventually, he realizes he's actually quite powerful, but has a type of magic totally forbidden to the world: he can create gates from one place to another, connecting them instantly. Knowing his family will be forced to kill him if they find out, he leaves the family compound and enters the human world to pursue his powers.

It's a fun, engaging book, but Danny is a little TOO realistic. He is most definitely a young, irritating, whiny, immature teenage boy. It took away my enjoyment of the story a little, but I still enjoyed it overall. It's a bit expensive for the Kindle right now ($11.99), but if you can get someone to lend it to you, or wait until the paperback comes out in November ($7.99), I'd recommend it.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks

I wanted a book about assassins and this book was recommended by several friends. However, this book does not feature assassins, it features "wetboys." To call them assassins would be a terrible insult - assassins can't use magic.

The Way of Shadows follows the journey of Azoth as he desperately tries to get off the streets and become an apprentice to the most feared wetboy in the city: Durzo Blint. To succeed, he must cast off his previous life and become someone new: Kylar, the killer. Probably the best part of this book is the balance between becoming a cold-blooded killer who doesn't value life and remaining human. Although Kylar isn't the same person as Azoth, he still values his friends and finds it extremely difficult to cut off all ties with them. As the story progresses, he also realizes that his master and hero, Durzo, might have a few secrets of his own.

This book is very long (688 pages print), but I blew through it in 3 days. It's an amazing story about a world on the brink of war, where Kylar is unknowingly right in the middle of the action. Although I was sometimes confused about all the history, politics, and the multitude of characters in power, it didn't stop me from greatly enjoying the story. There are some disturbing scenes, so it might not be best for younger readers, but I highly recommend it for an adult audience. It is the first book of a trilogy, which I will definitely be picking up. The Way of Shadows currently $7.99 on Kindle (or $19.99 for the entire trilogy).

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is a fast-paced, dystopian story that will constantly keep you guessing. Though there are countless comparisons to books like Ender's Game, this story takes on a life of its own as we learn about a grim, destitute world through the eyes of a cutthroat yet fascinating teen girl named Katniss Everdeen.

Katniss is thrown into a life or death tournament where the fate of her starving people is thrown onto her back. Though its also categorized as YA, there's definitely enough bone-crunching and violence to make this book more appropriate for adults than younger readers.

In case you're not aware, a film production is currently in development. I can't wait to see how well they translate The Hunger Games into a movie version.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Jenny Pox by JL Bryan

Jenny Pox is the first book in a fantasy horror series by JL Bryan about a girl whose touch amounts to a deadly plague.  It's hard to explain the story much better than the description:

Jenny has a secret: her touch spreads a supernatural plague.  

She devotes her life to avoiding contact with people, until her senior year of high school, when she meets the one boy she can touch, and she falls in love.  But there's a problem--he's under the spell of his devious girlfriend Ashleigh, who secretly wields the most dangerous power of all.

Now Jenny must learn to use the deadly "Jenny pox" she's fought her entire life to hide, or be destroyed by Ashleigh's ruthless plans.

I have to admit I've heard a lot of people talking about Jenny Pox lately, and part of that might be because its sequel Tommy Nightmare was just released. Jenny Pox was the #1 Horror book for Red Adept's Indie Awards in 2010, and promises to be a raw and gritty story of contagious superpowers for fantasy fans.

Get Jenny Pox on Amazon for just 99c now!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Bright of the Sky by Kay Kenyon

The Bright of the Sky by Kay Kenyon is the story of Titus Quinn, a husband and father who found himself in another world after an accident crippled his spacecraft. Years later, he returns inexplicably to Earth with a bizarre tale that nobody believes until a team of scientists discovers the existence of that other world. Quinn is offered the chance to return, where he focuses on finding out what happened to his wife and daughter, only to discover that he isn't welcomed back.

This was a captivating science fiction novel, very well-written and imaginative. Though the reader is plunged into the story with little introduction and may struggle to make heads or tales of the situation in the beginning, he quickly becomes immersed in this fun and exciting tale. If you prefer stories full of rich prose and elegant description, this one isn't for you, but if you like a well-plotted novel that tests the moral fiber of likable characters, I recommend The Bright of the Sky. It's book 1 of The Entire and the Rose, though it does have a complete story arc and stands alone quite well. 

As of this moment, the Kindle edition is free at Amazon.