by Nils Visser et al
This is an outstanding collection of stories, all having to do with dragons in some way. The stories are from twelve different authors so styles vary, but there wasn't a dud in the bunch. One by the editor was written in present tense, but it was actually done well which is rare.
I've read a few of the authors before so I knew I could expect above average quality for at least some, but I was pleasantly surprised overall. I've added A,J. Noon to my favorite author list and sent for samples of his other work. I do like a bit of humor in my Fantasy!
The editing was also above average, even for big publisher books. I counted four minor typos for the whole book, plus two in the author bio section. I bet they didn't check there!
It was an enjoyable collection and included sample chapters from some of the authors' other books as well, but they were self-contained segments that didn't leave me wondering what was going on.
It's also good knowing that any money generated from the project is going to a ferret rescue center. So a good read and something to help animals. Win-win! And the cover art is amazing!
by Heegyum Kim
This was a cute drawing book with very simple drawings of a wide variety of animals. The initial drawings of the animals are shown in 5-6 steps and those are fairly clear and easy to follow.
Each animal is followed by a 'make it cute' page and that's where it could have used a lot more instruction. The drawings were undeniably cute, but how to put the animals in different positions while keeping perspective wasn't addressed at all.
Probably best for someone with a natural artistic perspective eye, though someone just learning to draw could follow the basic designs easily enough.
by Bram Stoker
I have to wonder why I waited so long to read this Classic. It is wonderfully atmospheric and though in the form of journal entries, the story flows smoothly and lyrically and completely drew me in so much that I was seeking out other Bram Stoker writings by the time I got 4% in.
The plot is a well known one. Jonathan Harker is summoned to Castle Dracula to assist Count Dracula's intention to move to England. Along the way he meets several superstitious East Europeans who fear for him and speak of evil at the castle. By the time he arrives, he is already on edge. However, he is met by a most gracious host, and treated to the best of everything for his stay. This soon begins to take a sinister turn and Harker flees the castle to return home to England, but Dracula has what he needs to follow him there.
I loved the writing for the most part. The one exception is in some of Mina's entries where she is quoting characters with Northern accents. I've lived in Yorkshire and can understand the accents easily in real life, but in writing it doesn't come over well and I actually had to skim some of the dialogue without ever working out what they were saying.
On the plus side, each character had their own unique voice. Mina's entries are very different from Jonathan's and when other characters added to the narrative, they also had individual voices that fit their roles.
I've seen several movie versions of this story, but reading the original has given me a kind of pleasure I find difficult to describe. It's like I finally have the whole story for the first time and again, the writing is what has made this a Classic. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys classic fiction or scary vampire stories. It sets the bar for everything in the genre that comes after, apart from the ending which I thought was a little weak and rushed. I had expected a little more drama in the conclusion, probably because of movies that have raised expectations.
This is like an encyclopedia of dragons and related creatures, treated totally seriously and giving not only size and colour information, but native area, natural habitat, diet and everything you would expect of any encyclopedia of animals.
It goes much further than just differentiating between a Dragon and a Wyvern, but explains creatures less familiar like Amphipteres and Jormundganders, Sea Orcs and Hydras.
I'm not sure of the authority for some of the 'facts', but I suspect a combination of established mythology and gaming manuals.
Explaining the relationships with some recognisable mythological creatures like the Cockatrice adds interest.
The artwork is fantastic. The pre-release Kindle copy doesn't display it to best effect, but I downloaded the PDF version to see it in full color. This is a book worth getting in hard copy for the art alone!
An excellent resource for any Fantasy fan's library.
by Glenn Cooper
I had mixed feelings about this story. I had read another of the author's books and enjoyed it, but I got caught up in this one very quickly, partly because the Physics involved in a hadron collider scenario had me drooling. The author clearly knows enough about the subject to make it realistic.
Another thing I liked about the story is that the primary characters, John and Emily, are grown-ups, 46 and 37 years old. The reading world is glutted with teenage and 20-something protagonists and though I'm not all that old myself, I prefer stories with a certain level of maturity.
I also liked the way the author introduced diversity in the form of Trevor, an important character of Jamaican descent, but born and raised American. It's all written in a way that fits neatly into the story.
The characters are well-defined. John and Emily are both likeable but human, and John's ex, Darlene, is someone you just have to hate. She's a real manipulator with her brains in her crotch.
The story starts out in a self-defence class, which makes for some good foreshadowing for things that happen later.
How can I explain about Down without giving away too much? You find out about it in the early chapters, but that discovery is an important part of the journey. Let's just say that it's a place and the people who come from there aren't necessarily the nicest people you'll meet.
The alternate world has its own rules and denizens and much of the story will involve learning about what feels like Alice in Wonderland on a bad acid trip. It is not a friendly place.
The story allows the reader to learn a lot of history through cameo appearances of significant people from the past, but I actually think this was over done to the extent that throwing in a known Nazi was predictable. The instruction for building makeshift weapons was very thorough and knowledgeable, but I felt that the sequences in Down read very, very slow.
Probably the most likable character in the book was Duck. He's just a displaced peasant, but he has a kind of innocent charm that made me want to see him come out of things okay.
The one thing that blew this one for me was the ending, or rather non-ending. Just at a point when everything seems to be wrapped up neatly, a new crisis hits you and you have to buy the next book to see what happens. This is a pet peeve of mine. Yes I knew it was to be a trilogy, but I can think of many continuing series that while they might leave questions of ongoing situations open for a next volume, they at least wrap up the story for that episode. Also, a random factor on the Physics for this new crisis stretched believability. I like this author's writing but I'll be looking for stand alone stories from him in future.
edited by Samie Sands
Fourteen stories all on the theme of the world coming to an end. Of course such an idea intrigued me! I had never read any of the authors before but part of the idea of anthologies is to discover new voices. Like most anthologies, some stories appealed more than others. It's well edited and I don't remember tripping over any typos at all.
There were just three of the dreaded present tense stories and a couple of others where the writing wasn't up to scratch or the plot went nowhere, but also a few notable stories with interesting ideas stood out.
We had aliens, zombies, vampires eating zombies, people who melt, mythological gods, dystopia, dead people who stay animate long enough to testify against their murderers, WW3, immortality whether you want it or not and a fairy world dying. Quite a variety of approaches!
The stand out stories IMO are From Strange to Indifferent by Katie Jaarsveld and Nightmare Rising by McKenzie Richardson. Both of these are well written and explor some interesting ideas. The latter will be of particular interest to Fantasy fans.
Not too bad as such collections go and it's given me two more authors to pay attention to.
by Michelle Muto
I was warned. The story starts out with a girl attempting to commit suicide, to join her twin sister in death. The writing is very good and takes the reader into the character's mindset in a way that someone who hasn't been depressed normally wouldn't experience. The transition when she begins to realize she doesn't really want to do this is remarkable and I think would serve as a good warning for anyone who has ever contemplated suicide. Most people do change their minds when it gets too real, though for some it's too late by then.
The one thing I couldn't reconcile was disincarnate spirits having tears, letting out breath and bleeding when they don't eat or have other physical characteristics. Feeling pain might have worked on its own but too many living attributes hampered the believability.
Despite this, there was some real originality in the events and I found the story an enjoyable read. I did guess the twist at the end by halfway through, but I tend to pick up easily on the slightest hint of foreshadowing. Towards the end some of the fast action lost me a little, but overall I thought it was a good story and a well-written, enjoyable read.
by Miguel de Cervantes
This is one of those Classics that I've meant to read for a very long time. To my great joy, it immediately covered familiar parts of the story that I had seen in films, though not entirely in the same order, and the writing was engaging and kept me interested in the exploits that have made this story so well known. At first.
There was the odd chapter where the author broke the fourth wall and wittered on about details in a way that newer authors can't get away with today, but in context of classic literature, it didn't detract too much.
Naturally a book can cover more adventures than the well known encounters that have been popularised by film and common knowledge. This gave me new material to read as well as things unfolding differently than I might have expected. Unfortunately, it went on and on until it actually became tedious to read. I put it aside for a while and went back to it, determined through sheer stubbornness to finish this book even if I had to do it one chapter at a time.
I've lost track of how long it's been. Certainly over a year. But I refused to DNF because it's a favourite theme and has made for some good movies. It's long, it's disjointed, tedious in parts, and still one of the most wonderful Classics ever written.
by C. J. Sansom
Book 1 of the Matthew Shardlake Tudor Mystery series.
This is the beginning of an ongoing series of Historical Mysteries that take place in the Tudor period of England. The books are all self-contained stand alone novels and the character who takes us through the progressing snippets of history is a high-level lawyer called Matthew Shardlake. In this first novel, it is 1537 and Lord Thomas Cromwell is the vicar general and supports the Reformation, as does Shardlake.
The country is divided between those who are faithful to the Catholic Church and those loyal to Henry VIII and his newly established Church of England. A murder leads Cromwell to bring in Shardlake to investigate.
Shardlake is a hunchback, which I thought was a brilliant way to bring diversity into a historical setting where not a lot of diversity existed. He is intelligent and thorough in his investigations and that can get him into some difficult situations when he uncovers uncomfortable evidence of such things as sexual misconduct, embezzlement, and treason.
Like much Historical Fiction, a lot of detail is included and it can take a while to get from one place to another. I wouldn't call it 'slow' because it keeps interest and seeing events from Shardlake's point of view works well with his detailed observations. It is basically a Mystery story, but within a historical context. The historical details look to be well-researched and accurate.
There's also a certain amount of dramatic action, especially at the end. I thought it was extremely well done and I enjoyed reading the historical notes after the end, as I always do when a Historical Fiction novel includes them.
Most importantly, the end really is the end. The first chapter of the next story in the series is included, but each story is complete and you don't have to buy another book to see what happened. If you enjoy a good historical mystery this is a good place to start as it develops Shardlake as a character and gives the reader some insight into how his deformity affects him as well as his thinking processes and how he came to be in his position, but after that the books could be read in any order.
A very intelligently written series.
by Andrew Michael Hurley
Every autumn, John Pentecost returns to the farm where he grew up to help gather the sheep down from the moors for the winter. Usually his grandfather, known as the gaffer, tells tales that always begin with the devil and local rituals are believed to keep the sheep safe over the winter, but this year the gaffer has died and John has brought his wife along where they will both attend the funeral.
This story is a slow burner. It starts out following a lot of what looks like conversation with no real point, though eventually it begins to reveal some of the local happenings that suggest the town really is plagued by the Devil. There is some Yorkshire dialect which was very well done, though I wonder whether it will translate well to people who have never heard Yorkshire people speak. Beginning sentences with "It were..." might look like bad grammar, but it's part of the local colour.
The one thing I found difficult was that there are no chapters, though there are a few section breaks starting nearly halfway through. It's one never-ending read with the occasional skipped line where I could decide to use my bookmark and continue later. The thing is, the lack of any real action in the first 75% of the book didn't inspire me to want to keep reading. It's like a snapshot of life in a rural Yorkshire Parrish with a dark secret or two. I finished wondering what was the point of the story and still waiting for something to happen, especially as there were some good hints of foreshadowing.
Not a lot of action, but the writing was good.
by Jaq D. Hawkins
Although this is technically the second book in a series, it stands alone and could easily be read as the first book for those who like more action in their Fantasy instead of the exposition and world building that characterized the first book.
It starts out with a young girl running away from an arranged wedding to join the magicians on the other side of the river in a post-apocalyptic London. The old city is in ruins, but a more primitive society has developed over time from the descendants of survivors of a cataclysm.
I liked the young characters in this. I think it would appeal to YA readers as much as to adults. The young Prince Alaric is a cheeky 10-year-old who can be very childish one moment, then very mature when circumstances require it. Namah, the girl who has run away, leads the story and it is through her eyes that we learn about the magicians and later, the goblins.
Instead of repeating the conflict between humans and goblins from the first book, an outside threat drives Count Anton to seek help from the goblins, but such assistance is far from guaranteed and there are some scary moments when he confronts a faction of goblins that would be happy to see all humans dead.
As with the first book, the world of the goblins is very primitive and tribal, but we get to see some different aspects of it than we saw in the first book and without wanting to give spoilers, dragons feature.
The book has a tidy ending, but leaves something open enough to make me want to read the third story. There are some unexpected surprises and I found the whole thing very emotional, though there were some very funny moments too. One of the things I liked best were the variety of interesting creatures related to the goblins and the different factions of goblins themselves, plus the ending was a heart wrencher. The writing is very accessible too. I read more than half of the book in one night without realizing I had gone that far until it was nearly the end.
by Frances Hardinge
Hark and his best friend Jelt scavenge a living in whatever ways they can, especially if they can acquire some of the artefacts of the dead gods from before the cataclysm.
The world building in this one is fantastic. A group of islands that form the Myriad has a well-developed society, including old priests who remember the gods from just 30 years ago.
However, hints that the gods still have influence begin fairly early in the story. Subtle physical changes on those who deal closely with 'godware' or anything to do with the gods suggest potentially sinister undertones.
I got caught up in the action of this one very soon. The characters flesh out a little slowly, but there is enough going on to carry the story forward and Hark's character development makes noticeable strides by about a third through.
The story is very imaginative and I was particularly intrigued by the 'undersea', a sinister, magical ocean beneath the regular ocean where the 'gods' gain power. Near the end a lot of 'and this is what happened' information got dumped, but there was still plenty going on to reach a satisfying conclusion. A very enjoyable read.
by Tim Curran
This was wonderfully atmospheric.
From the Prologue:
"Shut your mind down, shut it right down or they will hear you thinking and if they hear you thinking they will find you."
How many children have hidden under their blankets in the dark thinking just this? Invoking our childhood fears from the start, the story goes on to trigger other fears, including fog, darkness and most notably, the vast open sea.
Several members of a construction crew have never been out of sight of land before, but they needed this job. What awaits them goes far beyond fear of a sinking ship or natural disasters when the ship enters an eerie fog in the vicinity of the Bermuda Triangle. Everything seems wrong. Watches and radios don't work properly and sea creatures unlike anything even the seasoned sailors have ever seen before add to the otherworldly feeling of being somewhere unknown, where all the rules have changed.
This book could do with a technical edit as there are periodic words missing or shoved together, but the writing is exquisite and the characters develop into very distinctive personalities, some of them sensible and others so irritating you want to just shoot them for the good of the group. The eerie atmosphere is very well done and keeps the pages turning to the point of losing sleep over 'just one more chapter'.
I loved the way the author got inside the minds of men who are trying to hang on to sanity in circumstances that test their limits more and more as time goes on. Sometimes I've had to stop reading just to get out of that world for a little while myself! I wanted a book with monsters. Well, I definitely got it with this one. It took me unequivocally into another world where nothing is as it should be and the rules become clear only when it's too late.
As if that weren't enough, we get some theoretical Physics! One of my great interests and the reason I love time travel books. It was sensibly done, going just far enough. My only complaint besides the typo errors is that an aspect of the ending was a little too convenient for something untried, but by then reality was fully suspended so I didn't care too much. Despite my little criticisms, this one gets a full 5 stars for the amount of enjoyment it gave me.
by William Andrews
This is a powerful story. It's Historical Fiction, based closely on events that actually happened in Korea during WW2 and the Korean war and after. The story of Anna, a Korean war orphan, is fiction but much of her grandmother's story reflects things that happened to real people.
Quite honestly, I cringed when in started out written in present tense. However, the story itself was interesting so I persevered. To my joy, I soon learned that most of the story is told by Anna's grandmother and her history is all in past tense, so I could get sunk into it. I can sort of see how the author thought switching to present tense for Anna's part of the story might work, but it really doesn't. The change is too severe.
A fascinating, though unpleasant story unfolds about the Japanese occupation of Korea and the atrocious treatment of Koreans by their military occupiers. Men were taken off to war, many women were forced to work in factories, but some women were forced to become 'comfort women', as the book description implies. The dehumanising treatment these women received is disturbing to read, yet the historic aspect of it is gripping.
Apart from the main plot of the story, it becomes apparent that there is a mystery involved. What does it mean to be a daughter of the dragon? What does the symbol of the dragon mean? All becomes clear by the end.
This was one of those stories that once I started getting into it, I actually couldn't stop reading. I had tears in my eyes at the end and couldn't bring myself to start reading another book the same day. It taught me about a time and place in history that I knew little about and left me with very strong feelings about the horrors of war, the inhumanity of occupying forces and the human element in the conflicts of nations, especially the abhorrent treatment of women.
I usually mark down a star for present tense writing but not this time. I highly recommend it for anyone who enjoys reading Historical Fiction.
by Olivia Lara
This one had a lot of consistency problems, yet I couldn't put it down! With short chapters alternating between two protagonists, there was always just one more chapter and a few late nights ensued.
Leon and Zara meet very young, hiding in a dark museum. They share a love of art and especially for Monet. Zara comes from a family where the women have dreams about the man meant for them, seeing things though his eyes. Some of them ignore the ability and slough it off as superstition and imagination. Some believe it whole-heartedly.
Among the problems with this book is Zara, whose real name is Dominique, sharing the story of her star-crossed romance with Leon with her granddaughter and switching between present and past tense to maximum cringe effect, yet the story itself comes through and it was easy to care about the characters and to want to slap them when they made stupid decisions that made them miss each other.
Hopefully the final edit will fix some of the problems, especially the disappearing walking stick and the wrong name used in one of the later chapters. The fact that it held my attention so well makes it necessary to give it four stars either way.
by Helen Susan Swift
Two people are out on a pleasurable boating trip on the North Sea when storm clouds suddenly move in and turn the sea violent. As if that weren't enough to ruin their day, things take a strange turn.
This is a ghost ship story with a few weird turns. It did stretch believability in some places, but was overall an interesting read. My one complaint is some lazy writing where one of the main characters would 'just feel' what she was meant to do or that a ghost wanted her to do something.
The majority of the story is told through the voice of a doctor who had been on the ghost ship and what happened to the rest of the crew. There are some triggers here. It was a sealing ship and animal lovers like myself may find some passages difficult, though it isn't gratuitous gore. Just the thought of a sailing expedition whose purpose is to slaughter animals, including baby animals, is enough to be upsetting.
The writing is excellent and the supernatural aspects of the story are very well done. The beginning and end sequences felt rather rushed, but the bulk of the story, told by the doctor's journal, made for a very good read.