Month: October 2015

Book Review: The Magic Mines of Asharim By: Pauline M. Ross

I give this book four out of five stars for it’s witty and flawed heroine, the authors talent in creating a foreign yet relatable world, and lovely new creatures who are more than just part of the setting.

Things I liked about the book:

1) The magic and fantastical creatures, especially the flickers. They played an important role in the story and they added a great deal to the setting. I liked how the heroine came into some of her magic abilities during the course of the book and it was a natural process. Some of my favorite displays of magic came when the heroine fled the mines. What actively created new tunnels and walls, or watched her in the shadows of an underground city? It was fun to think about the underground room with the reflecting floor and guessing which of the characters was right about what it housed. I could not understand why extinct mages had trapped an entire race of people’s sexual desire; it’s a different concept and added a lot of tension for part of the story.

2) This is a stand-alone novel. In a sea of series books that comprise most of the Fantasy genre, here’s one you can pick up and be happy the story is all contained inside one cover.

3) There is tremendous world building in this book, and it was nice to see how the tensions between the cultures collided and intertwined with the plot. I especially enjoyed the time spent in the mines, and the magic city around the mine. The journey along the canals and the journey up to the lake were well done.

What I thought could have been better:

1) The overuse of narrative exposition. I’m usually lenient on epic fantasy when it comes to exposition narrative and the descriptions of places, however the narrative used in this work tended to override action being shown or oddly there was one instance where it cut it off. I really enjoyed parts of the story, and because of this I paid attention to where my interest waned. The key culprit was always the author telling me and not showing me the action. The author has a talent in providing a picture of where each scene takes place. This level of detail combined with exposition narratives really made parts of the book feel too long. There were things described that were entirely irrelevant and added little value to the story. One example is characters walking down a hallway to bed; nothing happens between the characters and nothing-unexpected takes place during the walk. This little walk was a page and a half of nothing important to the story. It’s the kind of thing where if nothing happens, or if the location has no impact on the character or the story, then it needs to be cut or summarized.

2) My own views about sex are reflected in my negative opinion of the heroine, and the outcome of the story. There’s a lot of sex in this novel, don’t worry all you haters of sex in books it’s not graphic. It’s also not the prolific amounts of sex that bother me. I disliked the way the heroine treated those who became attached to her because of the sexual relationships she started. She pursued sex with Hyi when she knew she didn’t love him, and I hate how she compromised her self worth with Zak. I’m still reflecting on all the ways sex influenced the action in this book, which I consider a good thing. This book has given me something to think about, but even though I’m thinking about it, I can’t help the way I baulked and was disappointed with the ending. There’s this big emotional journey, so much material spent on the relationships and heartbreak, but in the end it’s all tied up in one neat little scene. One scene, just one, and the heroine’s off skipping down halls all happy and cool being a third wheel. I felt so cheated by this. I think I would have been happier if she ended up alone. Really, based on her actions, this would have been the more realistic ending. As a side note, if the sex were more graphic, this book could be launched as an erotic romance, a very twisted erotic romance. With so much of the book focused on the heroine’s relationships and her ability to read others emotions, turning this into an erotic romance is not a stretch, and that stuff sells.

3) The heroine’s goals seem inconsistent. At the front of the book she’s hiding. Then her lot changes and suddenly she’s embracing a danger she had taken great care to avoid. Then her focus shifts and she’s out to save her homeland, which her internal thoughts claim were her long-term goals all along, and I’m scratching my head thinking I didn’t remember any of that. Then she doesn’t care if she survives or if she’s conveniently elevated into an entirely new job. This inconsistency, and hiding the protagonists “grand plan” bothered me and seemed silly. As a reader I want to root for the protagonist, but it was hard in this book when I didn’t always know or was confused about what to root for.

Overall I think the strengths of the book out weighs its weaknesses. It’s a fantastic journey and the parts well done were really well done.

*Special note for those sensitive or opposed to reading about rape and sexual violence. There is difficult scene where the heroine is chained up, beaten, and raped multiple times while also witnessing the rape of a child.

I received an ARC of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Liars Key (The Red Queen’s War: Book Two), By: Mark Lawrence

I give this book five out of five stars for making me laugh from its beginning to end. Anyone who thinks grimdark fantasy has no room for humor will be proven wrong with this book. I never expected the second book in this series to be better than the first. I’m just blown away and astounded that it is, because Prince of Fools is one of my favorite reads from the past two years. I think die-hard fans of the Broken Empire series will appreciate the appearance and mention of some much loved characters.

What I loved about the book:
1) Mark Lawrence is a master at writing first person narratives. For me, reading his prose is like fine artists marveling over the brush strokes in a masterpiece painting. I’m in awe at the narratives construction, the distinct voice of each character, and the very visual action, all compiled into a perfectly synced tale. I’m so happy to know writing is now the author’s full time profession.

2) The plot kept me guessing, and it was fantastic. I assumed the story would follow a neater trail, and it was great to learn I was wrong. The magic played a different role than it has in previous books. It felt new by its very visual representation, layering current action to times and events opened by magic for Prince Jalan.

3) It has the epic fun I search for and crave when I pick up a fantasy novel. I want monsters, magic, interesting characters, battle scenes, friendship, conflict, learning something unexpected, and visiting a world that looks nothing like my backyard. I got all of that and more in this book including: robots, old gods, ghosts, angels, demons, and objects imbued with strange power. It reads odd to see all those things listed off and know some authors can’t handle more than three of these things in one manuscript. I can’t wait to read the next book in this series.

I also wanted to mention how brilliant I think the author’s note at the start of the book is. More fantasy authors need to replicate this tidy summary to avoid annoying chapters of characters parroting the plot of the first book in the series. It would be great to have notes like these added to future novel audio versions as well; they were not included in my audible copy of this book.

You can find out more about the author Mark Lawrence and his other works on his website HERE. Indie authors should check out the ongoing self-published fantasy blog-off he started.

Review: Camping Maplewood State Park

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I made reservations for our four night camping trip, October 8th-11th 2015, back in February 2015. I had no specific park in mind, but I wanted to stick to parks in the deciduous forests in the state and hopefully time our weekend with some great fall color. With our kids out of school on Friday, this was a great weekend for us to travel to a park that was three or more hours from our home in the Twin Cities Metro area. I wanted to go to a park new to us, with camping cabin accommodations for six. Reviewing maps and availability, Maplewood State Park was the winner. The Baker cabin cost $60.00 Thursday night, and $75.00 for Friday and Saturday night. There was also an $8.50 reservation fee. We have an annual Minnesota state park vehicle pass, which is $25.00 and grants access to all of Minnesota’s seventy-five parks.

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Things we liked about the campsite:

  • Well maintained campfire ring
  • Picnic table
  • Cabin fitted with electricity and a heater.
  • Next door to a bathroom and very close to the shower facility.

Things we liked about the park:

  • The park is very picturesque. It was especially beautiful to see in peak fall color. However the rolling hills, kettle lakes, and mix of trees and native prairie plants make for lovely views anytime of year.
  • The hiking trails are well maintained, and there is a scenic driving tour as well.
  • All campsites in the park can be reserved except for the six horseback campground sites.
  • It is near the city of Pelican Rapids, which hosts a very large annual Oktoberfest every year. Pelican Rapids had several gift shops, local restaurants, and a nice park with a playground overlooking a dam that houses the largest pelican statue in the world.

Wildlife observed: Native and migrating birds including loon, woodpecker, chickadee’s, and hawks. We saw fish, Monarch butterfly, caterpillars, and ladybugs. We also found evidence of beaver building lodges near some of the small kettle lakes.

Activities we participated in: Hiking, and the prairie scenic drive.

Campsites we observed and would recommend include 48, 50, 52, and the camping cabin next to grass lake.

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Maplewood State Park, 39721 Park Entrance Road, Pelican Rapids, MN 56572, tel: 218-863-8383

Book Review: Lightness, By: C.A. Higgins

I give this book two and a half stars but I am rounding it up to three. Fans of the “science” part of the sci-fi genre should enjoy this book. There’s cool stuff like black holes, asteroids getting farmed with a man made atmosphere, people growing up on the dark side of the moon, and lots of “rules of physics”. Crime fans or professionals in the fields of investigations, the military, and well anything to do with running a criminal interview or interrogation DO NOT READ THIS BOOK. I also have to believe anyone who’s studied human interpersonal behavior, or those who can’t tolerate complete lunatic decisions made by “best in their field” characters, will be dissatisfied with this book.

What I liked about the book:

1) The author has used her intense love and study of science to ground the futuristic ideas in real scientific theory. I had a love hate relationship with everything science all through school, so I don’t know/don’t care if the authors science is nonsense or real. It is one of the laurels marketing this book, and I did enjoy the science bits. It was cool to learn what the Anake’s super secret mission was, and I liked the idea of a black hole being inside the ship.

2) There are quite a few messages worked into this bit of fiction. The discussions about God and socialism were well presented. One of my favorite scenes is the back and forth between Althea and the Anake about God.

What I didn’t like about this book:

1) The author failed to do research about the less scientific things taking up at least fifty percent of the book. The interrogation of Ivan, and the military culture on board the Anake were poorly done. This book is a great example as to why writers need beta readers who are subject matter experts. It’s so sad to see a writer succeed at writing what she knows, but then fall flat on her face for not doing simple research into the occupations she’s not intimately familiar with. The interrogations were bad. Really-really bad. The awkward cobbled together military culture was even worse. As someone who has worked in both fields, it was insulting.

2) The plot is predictable. I think the biggest factor playing into this downfall is the number of one-dimensional characters. The only thing I didn’t correctly guess as each plot question presented, was the Anake’s super secret mission. Most of the plot can be determined by the books thirty five percent mark.

3) Call me a stickler for setting details, but there were several moments where I had a hard time believing this was set in the future. I was pulled out of the story every time a character shut off a manual alarm clock, or banged on a door. There is technology to house a black hole inside a spaceship, to run an entire craft on a crew of three, but bedside alarm clocks are still being used? Remote arms have replaced normal human functions, but characters are manually opening doors? My local Target store has auto doors, but the spaceship with a black hole in it doesn’t? That makes no sense to me.

I received an ARC of this book through Light in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Fool’s Quest by: Robin Hobb

I give this book three out of five stars for its beautiful language, the lovely imagery of this twisting tale, and learning more about what happens to Fitz Chivalry, his young daughter Bee, and old friend Fool. I’m a fan of Hobb’s work, but some of the annoying repetition common to the Rain Wild’s Chronicles, surfaced in this series as well. This books redeeming qualities revolve around fleeting moments of action, a few fun surprises, and a trip that involved dragons. Other than that, be prepared for a lot of crying and gnashing of teeth, especially from Fitz. A good sixty percent of the book is Fitz giving monologues about how guilty and depressed he is. Normally I would not call this out in my into paragraph, but I think it’s important for readers sensitive to graphic rape or violence against women to be warned about the high amount of sexual violence in this book. There is actually a character Bee refers to as, “the handsome rapist.” There are multiple scenes where it is depicted, later discussed, and also scenes where more victims are interviewed or made to remember.

What I liked about the book:

1) Seeing Killisengre from other character point of views. I liked seeing little bits about the dragon keepers who were followed in Rain Wild Chronicles, presented in this book. I also liked the bits about King Verity and the stone dragons.

2) It was good to see Chine’s character evolving. I liked learning more about her history. It was good to see her and Bee working as team.

What I didn’t like about the book:

1) There are too many characters sitting around making poor decisions or just being stupid. Could one of the protagonists, besides little girl Bee, have their wits about them? Why do they ALL need to be making such poor decisions?

2) There’s so much talking, rehashing, and endless monologues about events from prior books. Then something new would happen, but within the same chapter or the next, characters are rehashing that action as well. It just bogs down the books pacing, and for me it was everything I hated in the Rain Wild Chronicles all over again. There really must be a high expectation for stupid fans when constructing this book. As if the majority of us readers don’t retain anything read prior.

3) Fitz is such a whiner in this book. He’s a grown man but he will not shut up, and when he does shut up, we then have to read all about his emotions, so it just never ends. Add the misery in Fitz’s scenes, to the sexual assaults in Bee’s scenes, to the graphic torture and recovery of the Fool and you have one huge mess of depression.