Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Eyes of God (The Bronze Knight, #1)The Eyes of God by John Marco
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've been a fan of John Marco's writing since his first book of the Tyrants and Kings Series - The Jackal of Nar. While the Jackal of Nar and the rest of that series was in-your-face, smash mouth military fantasy, The Eyes of God is something much deeper and more character-oriented. A definite departure for Marco, but one that shows his incredible talent and flexibility for writing deeply personal stories as well as action packed ones. Lukien the Bronze Knight is torn between his love for his king Akeela and also Akeela's soon-to-be queen Cassandra. The story takes many twists and turns as Lukien battles with the inner-turmoil of knowing that he will alienate and possibly lose forever one of the two people who he loves most in the world. But this book isn't just about love and human behavior, not by a long shot. Once the story gets ramped up, there is plenty of action to keep you on the edge of your seat. Not enough credit is given to John Marco as one of the leading writers in fantasy today. While the Sandersons and the Weeks of the world get all of the pub, John Marco simply writes amazing fantasy. Hopefully some day he will get the credit that he deserves, but until then, I will continue to trumpet his talent and continue to read his books.

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ItIt by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you only read one horror book in your life, read this one. Forget about the cheesy "made for tv" miniseries that was made back in the early 90's. That was a travesty and did not do this amazing book the justice that it deserved. I read IT first when I was 16 years-old and then again 25 years later. I remember even though the hardcover was over 1,000 pages, I tore through it in one week during the summer of 1987. My thoughts when I read it all those years ago were that this was a monumental book that would always be one of my favorites as long as I lived. Reading it again after 25 years has only reinforced those thoughts. This is a story of a group of kids who seem to be the only ones who know about and can see an unspeakable evil entity who is killing children in their hometown of Derry Maine. This entity (who's name is revealed as Pennywise to the kids), terrorizes the community for a number of years until the group of kids seemingly banishes him forever (or so they think). There's one problem: terrible things start happening again in the town of Derry Maine as these kids have now become adults and have families of their own. They soon realize that they must regroup, travel back to their old hometown, and fight Pennywise in one last showdown where nothing is certain - especially their own survival. I absolutely loved this book and to this day it remains in my list of top 5 books of all-time. I guarantee that if you read it, you will not want to put it down until the end. Keep a light on though, just a warning!

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Staring Into the AbyssStaring Into the Abyss by Richard Thomas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First off, let me say that I’m usually not a fan of short story collections. I would rather sink my teeth into a 300-500 page book where I can get into a story and live it for a few weeks, than the immediacy and instant gratification of reading a short story. So when I found out that Staring Into the Abyss by Richard Thomas was a short story collection, I had my misgivings to say the least. I am pleased to say that Staring into the Abyss may have changed my attitude toward the short story format, it’s that good. There are 20 stories that span a number of different styles and genres. Yes there are straight-up horror stories, but smattered among the 20 gems are also stories that have obvious science-fiction and fantasy themes. Take for instance the story Stillness which pays an obvious homage to Vincent Price’s The Last Man on Earth. Then there is Maker of Flight about a mysterious mechanical bird maker locked in a room where his only task is to make a certain number of toy birds every day. For what purpose and for who, you’ll have to read it to find out. But of course, this is a horror collection by and large. And there are plenty of intense and downright horrific stories here to satisfy any horror reader’s cravings. Committed tells the story of a video-gamer with serious anger-management issues. Steel-Toed Boots is an especially disturbing entry describing what happens when a wife decides to find out what is really going on when her husband goes out at night for a couple of beers. Splintered shares some insights into a situation that many people find themselves in: a relationship that just isn’t working anymore for one party. His girlfriend has an interesting way of addressing the problem and you’ll be both disturbed and delighted by how it turns out. These are just some of the horror treasures that you’ll find in this fine collection. The thing that I most enjoyed about these stories was the way Thomas told them through the characters’ own eyes as if you were seeing things in real time as they happened. The style of his writing really captured my attention. There was an almost poetic quality to the writing as well. Thomas used a lot of staccato sentences and sometimes fragmented thoughts as opposed to spelling out each and every detail of the story. I thought that this style worked very well and added to my enjoyment of the stories as a whole. My final thought on Staring at the Abyss is that it is truly aptly-titled in the respect that these stories come across as describing the human-condition at its worst and best. These are stories where the characters are forced to look at their lives (some of which have not been lived on the straight and narrow) and come to a final resolution that is both real and intense. If you are looking for a collection of stories that won’t take very long to read but will leave you forever changed, then Richard Thomas has a treat for you. It is called Staring into the Abyss and you should pick it up and read it. Hopefully you will enjoy it as much as I did.

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Red SkyRed Sky by Nate Southard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Nate Southard is an author that I haven't read before. For that reason, I approached Red Sky with no real expectations. After reading the first few chapters however, I soon realized that Nate is an author that we should be seeing big things from very soon. Red Sky starts out with a bank robbery gone horribly wrong when a trigger-happy member of the gang starts shooting victims indiscriminately. This attracts a ton of unwanted attention (mainly from the local police)that results in a high speed chase as the bank robbers attempt to make their getaway. As the gang of robbers are trying feverishly to avoid the police, they come across an abandoned warehouse in the middle of the New Mexico desert. They decide to hole up there until the heat blows over. The only problem is the creatures that call the warehouse their home also reside there - and they're very, very, hungry. This book was a pleasant surprise. It is definitely not your run-of-the-mill horror novel. The suspense is what carries the story, and the characters are not cookie-cutter in the least. The mystery of what the creatures are and where they came from is handled masterfully. Red Sky is a really good horror story. I can't wait to see what Nate Southard has in store for us next!

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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Skystone (Camulod Chronicles, #1)The Skystone by Jack Whyte
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Skystone by Jack Whyte is an interesting take on the King Arthur legend. Most of the tales of King Arthur focus on the mystical aspect. What Whyte attempts to do in this the first book of the Camulod Chronicles is to tell the tale from a straight-forward historical perspective. He weaves a realistic story about what could have actually taken place if the story were stripped of its magical elements. The story is told through the eyes of Roman army officer Publius Varrus and his commander in battle Caius Brittanicus. After an almost fatal injury that Publius suffers on the battlefield, he decides to return home and join his former commander at his villa in Aquae Sulis in southestern England. Publius and Caius soon form a plan to create a functioning and totally self-sufficient military village. The story takes off from there and is a really unique way of retelling this age-old story. By the end of the book we also get an insight into how the sword Excalibur came to be. A fantastic book and series that is worth diving into.

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Gardens of the Moon (The Malazan Book of the Fallen, #1)Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

First off, let me say that I know I'm in the minority when it comes to not liking this book. This series has received so many accolades and I was as surprised as anyone that I was a little underwhelmed upon completing this the first book of the Malazan Book of the Fallen cycle. I have two major problems with the book. The first (and this is a huge pet peeve) is the enormous cast of characters. It got to the point where I had to keep flipping back to the front of the book every 4 or 5 pages to see who was speaking and why they were important. The second is that it was so incredibly difficult to follow what was going on at any given point in the story. I hate books that feel like research papers. I'm by no means a dumb person and I like an involved plot as much as the next guy, but this was to the point of excess and distraction. Sorry Mr. Erikson, I just don't want to have to work that hard to fully enjoy a book. I will not be continuing on with this series.

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The Mists of Avalon (Avalon, #1)The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

THE best retelling of the Arthurian legend with a close second to Mary Stewart's Merlin trilogy. I have read countless versions of the story of King Arthur but Bradley's is by far my favorite. Told from the women's perspective (Morgaine, Igraine etc..) it really shed a different and unique light on the well-known tale. I remember reading it about 15 years ago and being surprised because it looked initially to me like a romance novel. I was pushed to read it by a number of people and finally broke down. I'm glad that I did because Bradley's writing is crisp, vivid, and her depictions of the military battles were on a par with the best historians and novelists who have covered this subject. Please don't judge this book by the dainty cover, this is a tremendous book that ranks among my favorites. If you are looking for a great read that doesn't make you feel like you wasted your money and you are a fan of anything Arthurian, pick this up and read it today. It won't disappoint you.

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Heroes Die (The Acts of Caine, #1)Heroes Die by Matthew Woodring Stover
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I really did not enjoy this book very much. In the future, virtual reality has gotten to the point where "actors" can travel to another virtual fantasy-like world and assume a totally different persona. One of the best known actors is Hari Michaelson aka "Caine". Caine is a bad dude and Stover really goes out of his way to show it. When Michaelson's wife is abducted in this virtual world, Caine must use all of his badass-ness and guile to get her back. My main problem with the book is that the violence is way over the top and the fight scenes are described so meticulously that my eyes began to roll at Stover's over-descriptive style. I understand that in real life Stover is a martial artist in a number of different disciplines, but it really was a chore to slog through every single detail of what vertebrae was being pinched and which bone was being splintered with what maneuver. That being said, I also found the story a bit lacking. I know that there are a ton of people who love this book, but I just couldn't get into it at all and when I was finished, it was almost a relief.

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The Jackal of Nar (Tyrants and Kings, #1)The Jackal of Nar by John Marco
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This review is for the entire Tyrants and Kings series (The Jackal of Nar, The Grand Design and The Saints of the Sword). I stumbled upon these books when I was working at Borders about 15 years ago. Back then I wasn't as serious as I am now about the content of what I read, so I admit that I picked up the Jackal of Nar because it had a really cool cover. After reading it I was blown away by how good it was. At the time I was just getting into fantasy, but I had read enough to know that I wanted to keep reading. Anyway, fast forward 15 years later and I decided to reread this series with a more discerning reading palate to see if it still holds up to what I remember all those years ago. And guess what.....it does! One of the things that makes this series so good and makes it work where other fantasy books fail is that the characters evolve and change so much over the course of the series. Just when you think you have a character figured out, they do something totally out of left field that you didn't see coming. Richius Vantran is one of the most unlikely of "heroes" as a protagonist. Constantly examining himself and his decisions, there is a vulnerability there that is easy to relate to. The setting of the story is also one that I was instantly attracted to. The almost steampunk-like city of Nar is such a compelling locale to be placed in the center of a fantasy story. That's another reason why I like this series so much, Marco throws out all of the usual conventional fantasy templates. There are no endless quests here - only excellent political intrigues and a fantastic story that will keep you turning the pages until your wife yells at you to come to bed. If you haven't read John Marco before, that is your loss. The good news is that you can redeem yourself by picking up the Jackal of Nar, start there, and continue to read everything he has published since then. The guy should have way more notoriety than he has. Hopefully that will change as he continues to put out amazing books.

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The Fifth Sorceress (The Chronicles of Blood and Stone, #1)The Fifth Sorceress by Robert Newcomb
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I guess I should have known when the beginning of Robert Newcomb's The Fifth Sorceress bore an uncanny resemblance to the beginning of Terry Goodkind's Blood of the Fold, that I wouldn't care for this book very much. My dislike of Terry Goodkind and his writing skills are well known. A group of sorceresses are taken prisoner on a ship and are being transported to a desolate place where they will no longer be able to hurt anyone. Sound familiar? Well, just as in Goodkind's Blood of the Fold, this story leaves a lot to be desired. The main character Tristan is about as annoying a protagonist as any I've encountered in the fantasy genre. Take THE most unwilling hero from every standard fantasy in the genre, and he or she doesn't come close to this guy. He's so unwilling that it makes it hard not to be distracted from the rest of the story. Not that the rest of the story is any great shakes. Let's see, there's a wizard named Wigg who also bears a more than coincidental likeness to Zed from the Sword of Truth novels. It almost seems as if Newcomb just took Goodkind's template for the Sword of Truth series and expanded on it, rather than making up his own original universe and characters. My problem with that is if you are going to steal from someone, at least make it a more talented author than Terry Goodkind. I slogged through the rest of the book at my own reluctance and encountered some of the most cookie cutter fantasy tropes I've ever read. There wasn't much that redeemed my time investment in the end, save to say that it did mercifully end and I will not waste any more time reading the next five books in the series. If you are looking for entertaining and original fantasy, look elsewhere. The Fifth Sorceress will not reward you in the least.

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