Category Archives: Book Review

Book Review: Monochrome

Picture Monochrome, by H.M. Jones
* * * * (4 stars)

Monochrome is a strikingly original tale of a young wife and mother who, overwhelmed with post-partum depression and fears about her marriage, comes close to giving up on life. When she awakens from a panic attack, she finds herself in the strange, dark world of Monochrome (fittingly colored blue), where good memories are the highly-coveted currency. With the help of her guide, Ishmael, she has the chance to find her way back to the life she no longer wants to leave behind – but at what cost?

I love the idea of a world where you have to pay your way by giving up memories. The book takes a close look at the different kinds of memories we have – from nice ones that we could live without to those memories that define who and what we are – and how giving up even the ones that don’t seem significant affects our perceptions of our whole selves. It really made me think about what memories I would give up if I had to – and in Monochrome, only good memories are valid currency, you can keep the bad ones. The thought was chilling.

Ishmael and Abby are both appealing characters. I especially liked Ishmael, the deeply wounded young man who never made it out of Monochrome and instead took a job of trying to help others find their way out. I would like to know more about his past, and his future. I’m also intrigued by how the world of Monochrome came to be, and would love to read more about that and about the menacing Boss, who rules Monochrome.

There’s some action, but this is mostly an introspective book, with long conversations between Ishmael and Abby, two very articulate and self-aware young people. They are both also poetry buffs, and quote a lot of Romantic (as in style, not in lovey-dovey) poetry to each other.

Monochrome is a dark book, but also filled with hope and beauty. Recommended if you’re looking for a fantasy/urban fantasy/paranormal that will make you slow down and think and feel.

(My interview with Abby)


Book Review: The Sacred Band

Picture

The Sacred Band, by Janet E. Morris and Chris Morris
* * * * * (5 stars)

(I was gifted with a copy of this book by the author for the purpose of giving an honest review.)

I really didn’t know what to expect with The Sacred Band when the author requested a read-and-review. I was not familiar with the Thieves World shared fantasy world and the book looks like it’s based on Greek history and mythology, perhaps even set in ancient Greece, which isn’t really my thing, but it looked intriguing so I decided to give it a go, and I’m glad I did.

The Sacred Band is an exciting and deeply emotional epic fantasy about a band of warriors, dedicated to each other as brothers, who find themselves in a battle to restore their integrity and right some old imbalances in their world. It touches on ancient Greece, when the Sacred Band of Stepsons comes to our world to save a group of otherwise-doomed Theban warriors (in an incident based on a historical battle). Then the action returns to Thieves World, a world where gods and demigods, wizards and mortals interact in a struggle for control. A member of the Sacred Band of Stepsons then commits a terrible crime, stirring up other forces and bringing old tensions and imbalances to a head in a great, epic, magical battle.

The writing is gorgeous, rich, colorful, and emotional. It slips between present and past tense, which at first I found confusing. But when I got used to it, the passages in present tense gave a very immediate and impressionistic feeling to the story.

This book is a later stand-alone novel that follows an earlier trilogy (beginning with Beyond Sanctuary). The author recommended that I start with The Sacred Band, and I was able to pick up on the characters, setting, and backstory pretty well, but I might have had an easier time understanding who the characters are, what they want and what drives them, and what was at stake for them, if I had started with the earlier trilogy. The Beyond trilogy is now on my TBR list, and I’m looking forward to catching up with the characters and events before The Sacred Band.

It took me a while to really get a grasp on the characters, again because I was coming into their story later on, but eventually each one stood out to me as an individual, well-drawn character. I particularly liked Niko (although a brief mention of his activities in a brothel left me somewhat less sympathetic and admiring of him than maybe the reader is intended to be), and Kouras, one of the youngest Stepsons. There are a number of admirable female characters as well, though I was a little disappointed that they are all goddesses or other supernatural beings. There is no major female character who is an ordinary mortal. Thieves World appears to be very much a man’s world, with ordinary women being relegated to the roles of dancing girls, servants, and prostitutes.

For a 5-star review, this review seems to have a lot of reservations, but in the end, despite the difficulties I had with the book, I couldn’t put it down. It’s a long book and it took me a while because I was reading it during a particularly busy period, but every chance I got, I picked it up just to read a little more to find out how the characters were doing and what happened next. I was deeply emotionally touched by the honor and loyalty that the members of the Sacred Band feel for each other, and intrigued enough by the characters, events, and world that I’m looking forward to reading the trilogy that comes before.


Book Review: Klondaeg the Monster Hunter/Klondaeg and the Klondaeg Hunters

PictureKlondaeg the Monster Hunter, by Steve Thomas

* * * * * (5 stars)

Klondaeg’s philosophy in life is simple: kill all the monsters. With the help of his trusty talking double-headed axe, King’s Rest (the name is literal), he goes about attempting to do just that, in the hopes of eventually taking revenge on the unknown monster who killed his parents. Along the way, he encounters supposedly extinct bird people, a hero resigned to the prophecy of doom upon his head, gnome werewolves, and undead magma goats.

This is a funny, well-written and fast-moving tale that takes on a lot of the major fantasy tropes, including magical weapons, prophecies, gods, heroes, and pretty much every fantasy race there is (and some completely new ones) and turns them upside down. It’s silly, but beneath the silliness there’s clever wordplay, engaging characters, exciting adventures and fight scenes, and some impressively creative worldbuilding (you have to love a pantheon that includes a Goddess of Whatever Passes For Love These Days).

Highly recommended, and when you finish it, be sure to have the sequel, Klondaeg and the Klondaeg Hunters, on hand so you can dive right in.

PictureKlondaeg and the Klondaeg Hunters, by Steve Thomas

* * * * * (5 stars)

In the course of his quest to kill all the monsters, in hopes of avenging his parents, Klondaeg has made some new friends… and some enemies. Throw in a bossy fairy, men on the moon, an anti-Klondaeg conspiracy, and an unwelcome moral dilemma, and monster-hunting suddenly isn’t so simple any more.

And to top it all off, one head of his double-headed talking axe has fallen in love.

Another excellently funny and exciting adventure, the sequel to Klondaeg the Monster Hunter. Well-written, with clever wordplay, original worldbuilding, fantasy tropes turned inside out, and exciting fight and action scenes. I enjoyed this a lot, and look forward to reading more about Klondaeg and other books from Steve Thomas.


Book Review: A Vampire’s Saving Embrace

PictureA Vampire’s Saving Embrace, by Darlene Kuncytes

* * * * (4 stars)

Vampire paranormal romance is way out of my usual reading, but I decided to give A Vampire’s Saving Embrace a try and I’m glad I did. Fast-moving, emotional, and dramatic, with gripping battles between the vampires (and their werewolf allies) and some truly nasty demons.

My favorite part of the book was Desmond. Gorgeous and manly, he genuinely cares about Abby and wants what’s best for her. In a time when one of the hottest trends in romance seems to be the idealization of abusive jerks, it’s wonderful to find a hero who is hot and entirely masculine but also a genuinely nice guy (yes, even though he’s a vampire, he can still be a nice guy) and who treats the heroine with true caring and respect.

Abby makes a few decisions that I found frustrating, but I think she learned her lesson by the end. There were also a few minor editing issues I found a little distracting, but nothing serious.

Overall, A Vampire’s Saving Embrace is a lot of fun, both for lovers of vampire romances and for those of us new to the genre. I’m looking forward to catching up with two of the supporting characters, Katrina and Luke, in the next book, A Wolf’s Savage Embrace.


Book Review: The Steps to Karma

Picture The Steps to Karma, by Jennifer Howard

Karma Clark’s life as a high-powered Washington DC divorce attorney is killing her – almost literally. When she realizes that she has to give up the life she knows in order to have any life at all, she heads for the U.S. Virgin Islands in search of herself and a way of life she can live with.

Written in the same breezy style as Ms. Howard’s first novel, The Healing Heart, The Steps to Karma starts out with a truly harrowing life crisis for Karma. I immediately loved the character and wanted to see things go better for her. The characters she meets on St. John, especially new best friend Jae and hunky Will, are also well-drawn and engaging. The descriptions are beautifully written, and I could almost see, hear, smell, and taste the warm and exotic Caribbean flavor of the setting.

After the initial crisis, The Steps the Karma is very much a feel-good novel, that will take you on a fun, uplifting, and exotic island escape.


Book Review: Cloaked in Fur

PictureCloaked in Fur, by T.F. Walsh (spotlight here!)

* * * * (4 stars)

Daci has a terrible secret – the time is rapidly approaching when she will become a full-blown wulfkin. At the same time, all she wants is to find a way to permanently join the human world and her beloved Connell. While she tries to find a way to take control of her destiny, a monster in the woods threatens everything and everyone she knows and loves, human and wulfkin alike.

Paranormal shapeshifter romance isn’t my usual reading, but this was a lot of fun. The characters are well-drawn as individuals, and even though the antagonists are pretty nasty, the author still gets you to sympathize with them. The setting, in the towns, forests, and mountains of the author’s native Romania, is vividly and beautifully described. The action, and Daci’s dilemma, grabbed me right from the beginning and didn’t let go until the end.

The ending leaves a few loose ends; this could easily be the first book of a series.

I did get frustrated with Daci’s inability to tell Connell the truth about herself, but that was a lesson that the character needed to end up learning the hard way during the course of the story. A few editing problems were also kind of distracting.

On the whole, Cloaked in Fur is a fast-paced, exciting story with characters I cared about in a beautiful setting.


Book Review: The Shining Citadel

PictureThe Shining Citadel, by A.L. Butcher

* * * * (4 stars)

The Shining Citadel is the second book in The Light Beyond the Storm Chronicles. This book centers around the search for a lost city that can help the elves rise from their current sorry state, and gives the backstory on how they fell from their former glory. Archos and Dii are back, along with Olek and Ozena, and are joined by Th’alia, a captive elf who is being forced to lead them into a trap so that the Witch Hunters can claim the riches of the lost Citadel for themselves and get rid of the Archmage Archos, along with Marden, Th’alia’s Witch Hunter escort and Talfor, a troll.

As in the first book, the characters are strong, unique, and engaging. It was fun to catch up with Archos, the thoroughly awesome mage, and to see how Dii and the other characters from book 1 are doing. Marden’s character arc was especially interesting, as the Witch Hunter comes face to face with the fact that everything he’s been taught about elves and mages is a lie. The group – Archos, Dii, Olek, Ozena, Th’alia, Marden, and Talfor – meet up with exciting and dangerous adventures during their search for the Shining Citadel. And the trolls in this world are really cool.

Some long, tangled, run-on sentences make the book a little difficult to read in places, and, as in book 1, there are some very explicit sex scenes. However, readers who prefer to avoid reading explicit material can skim over or skip those scenes without the story being affected.

On the whole, The Shining Citadel is an exciting, heroic fantasy adventure with great characters that kept me reading, wanting to know what happens to the characters and to learn more about this fascinating world.


Book Review: The Last Ranger of Sarn

Picture The Last Ranger of Sarn, by Ed Ireland

* * * * (4 Stars)

The Last Ranger of Sarn is an epic fantasy telling the story of a young woman, Vespias, who grows to become the commander of the legendary Rangers at a time of terrible war against a demon-possessed prince and his armies of the undead.

Last Ranger is a big, sprawling book, mainly focusing on Vespias’s growth and progress from hunter’s child to commander of the entire Castian military. It goes into her early life quite a bit to show how she becomes the woman she eventually becomes, and illustrates the loves, tragdies, triumphs, and losses she experiences. I originally read this book a few months ago, and felt that other aspects of the story were shortchanged, but in this new edition, the book is well-balanced between Vespias’s story and the events that led to the downfall of the Prince and his war against the Castians.

The book features of number of strong female characters, and I came to care about not just them but all the main characters. The writing is clear and easy to follow, though there are some missing commas.

Overall, engaging characters, an intriguing world, and lots of exciting action makes this a fun, gripping read.


Book Review: Journey to Altmortis

PictureJourney to Altmortis, by Thaddeus White

rating: * * * * (4 stars)

Fun fantasy adventure, featuring some of the secondary characters from Bane of Souls. Thaddeus, master of the underground, and his sister Lynette, accompanied by Pretty Pierre and Roger the Goat (actually a man; “goat” is a well-earned nickname) head off to the fabled, long-dead city of Altmortis in pursuit of two brothers who have stolen some items of great value and importance to them. Along the way they meet with a variety of adventures and dangers, including a crazed cannibal serial killer and a village of truly creepy beings, the Hykirs, who have their weird eyes on Lynette and Anja, the women in the group. Then, when they find the city and disturb a nest of hungry baby dragons, things really get interesting!

The story seemed a bit slow until they ran into the baby dragons; from that point to the end it really grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. But the Hykirs were wonderfully creepy, and I really enjoyed that part. I would have liked the part with the serial killer/cannibal to have more real significance to the plot; that part was too good to just be a passing incident.

For me there was the right amount of description and world-building. I think it really helped that I read Bane of Souls first, so I already knew who the starting characters were and a little about how that world works. Thaddeus and Lynette’s secret did seem to kind of come from out of nowhere; I can’t remember if any hints were dropped about it earlier. But it’s a very cool secret.

I enjoyed seeing more of Pretty Pierre; a really good character from Bane of Souls. I also enjoyed Anja and Fritigern, who are new to this book. Roger the Goat is amusingly revolting; I was glad to see him have an important role in this story.

All in all, a fun read.


Book Review: The Princess and the Paladin

PictureThe Princess and the Paladin, by Hiram Webb

World-building: * * * * *
Writing: * * * *
Story: * * *
Characters: * * *

(I was provided with a free copy of this book for the purpose of giving an honest review.)

The Princess and the Paladin takes readers on a journey through the great Empire of NaRasch at a time of impending revolution. Gail, the youngest of the old Emperor’s multitude of children, is given an unexpected gift: a kingdom of her very own. When the old Emperor’s oldest son takes the throne, Gail is suspected of treason and imprisoned. She’s rescued from her imprisonment by a warrior in the thrall of a mysterious sword – the Paladin, which begins her adventure through the lands of the NaResch Empire.

Fantasy novels can often be loosely grouped into character-based, plot-based, and world-based novels. The Princess and the Paladin reads very much like a world-based novel, in which the main focus is on the history, geography, and political tensions in the Empire. As Gail is handed off from one group of people to another, we get an extensive tour of the land and learn a lot about its history, including the tensions that are now leading these various groups to join together in rebellion against the Empire. There’s some spectacular scenery and exciting action along the way on Gail’s dangerous journey. I particularly enjoyed where she is taken white-water rafting (or canoeing) along a river through the mountains. There’s also dragons and some other cool creatures.

The weak point of the story is Gail herself. We follow her on her adventures, and she’s the central character of the story, but we know very little about her personality or what she’s thinking or feeling or, especially, what she wants. She also doesn’t really make any of her own decisions; she’s just taken from one place to another by the other characters. This lack of ability to determine her own fate is an issue that comes up a few times – she objects from time to time over not being given any choice in what she does or where she goes. The others tell her that she does have a choice, but the choices she’s given are really no choices at all, and she just goes along with what everyone else tells her would be best for her to do. According to the author’s notes, The Princess and the Paladin is the first part of a longer work, The Fall of NaResch, so I assume that later on, Gail moves into a position of having more control over her life and her choices. She does start to come more into her own as she begins to master the magical sword Maroward, and has a lot of potential to become a powerful character later on.

The Paladin storyline and the rebellion storyline don’t seem to be connected to each other, but I assume they tie in together more later on in The Fall of NaResch.

Besides Gail, there are a number of other characters in the book who are brought to life quite vividly. I especially liked the three young Pirates (who are the ones who take Gail on her white-water canoeing adventure). The writing is clear, with well-done descriptions that bring this vast, magical land to life. There’s a lot to like about this book, and it will be interesting to see how the threads of the story laid out here develop later on.