01.18.10

A Warrior’s Duty by J.R. Tomlin

Posted in Review at 3:40 am by Amber

Title: A Warrior’s Duty
Author: J.R. Tomlin
Publisher: Swimming Kangaroo Books
Source: E-book from Author

A Warrior's Duty

Summary:

When war comes to Wayfare Keep, Tamra has to fight, in every sense, to survive.

Tamra is the Captain of the Guard of Wayfare Keep and nothing can distract her from her duty — which is why she has joined her forces with those of Sir Cedrian and the army of the city of Madrian to defend their land against invading enemies. When their army is routed and her lover, the scout, Jessup, is lost, she is shattered.

Even worse lies ahead as the secrets of her past come to light. Each death in battle only makes their enemy stronger, allowing the enemy priests to summon invincible demons called ixich. Yet in their darkest hour, haunted by loss and with defeat imminent, Tamra and her allies call upon their deepest strengths to survive and triumph.

A Warrior’s Duty has adventure, romance and secrecy contained within its pages.  Tamra is the title character who puts duty to her family and the people of Wayfare Keep before her own survival.  J.R. Tomlin’s novel combines plot with a character arc which can be sorely lacking in fantasy novels.  

The plot is not laid down with a heavy hand.  It has a natural progression that doesn’t make the reader think the characters have to travel from one place or event to another before something else can happen.  There is an urgency created by the compressed timeline that makes this a fast read. 

The adventure begins with Jessup sighting the Faragund army on the move.  The romance between Tamra and Jessup is revealed early but does not overshadow the remainder of the story.  Tamra’s companions experience a lot of emotions together in a short amount of time.  Secrets are revealed that propel the characters and the action forward.  No single character is perfect which is refreshing.  Overall this is a well written fantasy novel.

Return tomorrow for my interview with J.R. Tomlin!

12.16.09

Magic Trixie and the Dragon

Posted in Review at 1:47 am by Amber

Magic Trixie and the Dragon Cover 

Magic Trixie’s adventures continue in Jill Thompson’s Magic Trixie and the Dragon.  She goes to the circus with one of her grandmothers.  The show under the big top features dragon riders.  When her grandmother asks Magic Trixie what she would like as a souvenir, Magic Trixie gives an answer without hesitation.  A dragon!

Her grandmother explains it is out of the question.  Dragons are expensive, endangered and are too messy to keep in the house.  This doesn’t keep Magic Trixie from still wanting one.  While practicing transmogrification on her little sister’s diaper the unbelievable happens.  A dragon appears!

Magic Trixie learns valuable lessons about friendship in this story.  Like the other Magic Trixie books, this is appropriate for children and adults.  The illustrations don’t necessarily need words in every panel to convey the characters’ feelings.

11.10.09

Green Books Campaign – Review of The Cardinal Divide by Stephen Legault

Posted in Event, Review at 2:01 pm by Amber

ecolibris1

This review is part of the Green Books campaign. Today 100 bloggers are reviewing 100 great books printed in an environmentally friendly way. Our goal is to encourage publishers to get greener and readers to take the environment into consideration when purchasing books. This campaign is organized by Eco-Libris, a  a green company working to green up the book industry by promoting the adoption of green practices, balancing out books by planting trees, and supporting green books. A full list of participating blogs and links to their reviews is available on Eco-Libris website.

When I think of green books, I usually think of ebooks.  While it can be more difficult to lend out an ebook to a friend, they don’t take up space in landfills.  Eco-Libris was kind enough to provide me with a copy of The Cardinal Divide by Stephen Legault.  It’s published by NeWest Press on 100% recycled, ancient forest-friendly paper.  What exactly does that mean?  It means no material from ancient forests were used to produce the paper.  It doesn’t indicate if the recycled paper is recycled from post-consumer or pre-consumer use but it’s still good.  Recycled paper takes less energy to produce and reduces the amount of paper that ends up in our landfills.

The Cardinal Divide has environmentally friendly written all over it.  It’s the first book in The Cole Blackwater mysteries.  Stephen Legault knows firsthand the character of Cole Blackwater.  Both are environmentalists who have worked with organizations, companies and the Canadian government to lessen the environmental impact of industry.  To my  knowledge, Legault has never turned into a private detective trying to solve a murder mystery.

Here’s the synopsis:

Cole Blackwater’s life isn’t what it used to be. Once a political superstar within Ottawa’s environmental movement, he now runs a nearly defunct conservation strategy consulting firm which distinctly lacks a paying client. His ex-wife loathes him for a scandalous affair that ended their marriage, he feels he’s failing his eight-year-old daughter as a father, and he’s turning far too often to the bottle to solve his problems.

So when Peggy McSorlie, head of the Eastern Slopes Conservation Group, seeks his help to stop a mining project planned for Alberta’s magnificent Cardinal Divide, Blackwater jumps on the opportunity to earn enough money to pay the rent and buy a few pints at his favorite pub. But when Mike Barnes, head of the mining project, is brutally murdered and a radical member of Eastern Slopes Conservation Group is accused of killing him, Blackwater must first prove the man’s innocence in order to save his own business, and the future of the Cardinal Divide.

The pace starts off fast and then slows down.  The murder takes place in the prologue but it isn’t until 160 pages in that Blackwater decides he should do what he can to help the environmentalist charged with the murder of Mike Barnes.  This is the beginning of a series so this can be overlooked.  Legault has a lot of back story that ties into getting to know Blackwater.  It’s essential knowledge to this story when a person from Blackwater’s past appears to report on the murder.  The reader is given clues to the murderer’s identity but it’s still a surprise when the reader finds out who it is.

11.04.09

Once Dead, Twice Shy by Kim Harrison

Posted in Review at 8:05 am by Amber

  Once Dead, Twice Shy

In Once Dead, Twice Shy, Kim Harrison introduces the reader to Madison Avery shortly after her 17th birthday.  It’s an understatement to say her birthday isn’t the best day of her life.  The all important high school ritual of prom is the same day, her date is the son of her father’s friend who took her as a favor since she’s new to school, and the handsome stranger she left prom with purposely crashes his car.  When she doesn’t die he scythes her because he’s a reaper.  But she steals his amulet which gives her the illusion of a body.  She’s dead and stuck on earth with no body.

While reading this, I was reminded a little bit of the tv series Dead Like Me.  The reapers are given their assignments and they’re supposed to help the souls go to a better place until they’ve done enough assignments to go on to their own reward.  Once Dead, Twice Shy is only similar on the surface.  There are dark reapers who believe in destiny and cut down those who would make a name for themselves in history.  Their counterpart, the light reapers, believe in free will and they protect people who are about to die.  The reapers are angels who have been assigned this duty.

I loved this book.  Madison sounds like a self-aware teenager who misses her old life.  It can be difficult for a writer to nail the voice of someone 20 years younger.  The world Harrison has built is complicated.  Avery is kept as much in the dark as the reader regarding the motivations of other characters and how the magic works.  It’s great to read a book where you’re learning about things along with the main character.

10.01.09

A Change in Altitude by Anita Shreve

Posted in Review at 11:46 am by Amber

My body was sitting on the beach at Topsail Island, North Carolina but my mind was transported to the dusty streets of Nairobi before the seasonal rains while reading A Change of Altitude.  It was not surprising to learn Anita Shreve once lived in Kenya.  Only someone who lived there could capture the moral questions that come up when living in a country different from your own.

A Change of Altitude is about Margaret, a newlywed who lives with her husband, Patrick, in Kenya.  He’s a doctor doing research on tropical diseases.  She’s at a bit of a loss on how to spend her time since the move.  Margaret was a reporter in Boston and now feels purposeless.  Patrick and Margaret are invited to climb Mount Kenya with two other couples.  An accident during the climb changes the course of their marriage.

This book can easily be a book club favorite if readers are brave enough to pick it up.  The events make Margaret ask some hard questions about herself and her marriage.  Although the average reader won’t have lived in another country where the customs are different, many of the feelings and doubts expressed by Margaret have been felt by someone in a relationship.  There are the normal marriage questions such as whether or not to have children, if children are in the future then when would be a good time to start trying and the harder questions such as which characteristics in my mate can be overlooked and which ones should I confront him/her about?  It can make the reader ask those questions of themselves and some readers will find they aren’t ready for those answers.

You can learn more about Anita Shreve, her upcoming visits, and her books at http://anitashreve.com/.

09.19.09

BBAW: Small Publisher Book Giveaways!

Posted in Giveaway at 12:44 am by Amber

BBAW_Celebrate_Books_09

I made a pledge earlier that for BBAW I would have book giveaways from small book publishers.  Here’s the post for it!

Coffee House Press – where good books are brewing – was founded in 1984.  They publish only a few titles a year.  The staff size is small.  Coffee House Press is a nonprofit publisher and will welcome donations.

The book I’ve chosen from them is one on my TBR pile by a Minneapolis author, Norah Labiner.  German for Travelers should be an interesting read.

German for Travelers

From the back of the book:

In Search of the key to unlock a great family mystery, Lemon Leopold, a Hollywood starlet, and her cousin Eliza, a romance writer, set off for Berlin.  Soon they are on a trail that leads back to their great-grandfather, Jozef Apfel, a Jewish pioneer of psychoanalysis in early twentieth-century Germany.

Alternating between the great doctor’s household, the mysterious case of his patient Eliza Z., the rise of Nazi Germany, mid-century Detroit, and modern-day Berlin, this is a story about a girl whose dreams reveal the future, a family beset by ghosts, and the place that haunts them all.

McSweeney’s was founded in 1998 as a literary journal by David Eggers.  It’s expanded into a few different divisions.  The book division has a book of the month club.  Several times a year they have some wonderful sales.  Dave Eggers is one of my favorite authors and I’m giving away a copy of his book, Zeitoun.

Zeitoun

From the McSweeney’s description of Zeitoun:

When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a prosperous Syrian-American and father of four, chose to stay through the storm to protect his house and contracting business. In the days after, he traveled the flooded streets in a secondhand canoe, passing on supplies and helping those he could. But, on September 6, 2005, Zeitoun abruptly disappeared. Eggers’s riveting nonfiction book, three years in the making, explores Zeitoun’s roots in Syria, his marriage to Kathy—an American who converted to Islam—and their children, and the surreal atmosphere (in New Orleans and the United States generally) in which what happened to Abdulrahman Zeitoun became possible. Like What Is the What, Zeitoun was written in close collaboration with its subjects and involved vast research—in this case, in the U.S., Spain, and Syria.

 

The giveaway is open to addresses in the United States and Canada.  You can only enter to win one book so leave a comment with the name of the book you’d like to win.  I will make a spreadsheet with the names and have my husband draw the winning names out of a hat.  Giveaway ends Tuesday, September 22nd at 8pm Eastern.  Good luck!

08.30.09

A Spell for the Revolution by C.C. Finlay

Posted in Review at 12:12 pm by Amber

 

After making early gains on the battlefields, General Washington’s struggling young armies are being relentlessly pressed back by British troops and Hessian mercenaries. Among the enemy’s ranks is a mysterious force from the Covenant, a secret society of evil witches that for centuries has been pulling the strings of European history: a Hessian necromancer who drinks the power of other witches like a vampire and whose allies include devils and ghosts. Now this man seeks to sap the fighting spirit of Washington’s troops by means of a pernicious curse, chaining the souls of the dead to the spirits of the living.

Against him stand Proctor Brown and Deborah Walcott, two young patriots who lead a ragtag band of witches as much in danger from their own side as from the enemy. Proctor and Deborah must find a way to break the Hessian’s curse before the newborn revolution is smothered in its cradle—and the Covenant extends its dark dominion to the shores of America, extinguishing forever the already sputtering torch of liberty.

A Spell for the Revolution is the second book in the Traitor to the Crown trilogy.  It begins in August 1776 and ends in May 1777.  While it’s not necessary to read A Patriot Witch first I would recommend it.  Finlay does a good job of summarizing past events and relationships without dragging the story down but this book reads like it’s the middle of a long story because of the relationship between Proctor and Deborah.  He loves her and thinks she feels the same way but he can’t tell.  He can’t court  her properly due to the war.  Proctor and Deborah spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to break the Hessian’s curse which takes some trial and error. 

The powers of Proctor and Deborah compliment each other.  Deborah has experience and more control.  Proctor is more intuitive in deciding which words may serve as a better focus for his spell.

Though I wasn’t crazy about this book it wasn’t enough to keep me away from the final book in the trilogy, The Demon Redcoat.

08.11.09

The Book of Unholy Mischief by Elle Newmark

Posted in Review at 7:18 am by Amber

The Book of Unholy Mischief

In 1498 Venice, Luciano is caught stealing a pomegranate in the market by the doge’s chef.  Chef Ferrero brings the homeless boy to the kitchen to begin life as his apprentice.  Luciano is provided with room and board in return for emptying and refilling the cistern and running the prepared food from the kitchen to the maids.  He may be promoted to vegetable cook by working hard and listening to Chef Ferrero.

Living on the streets, he had only his friend Marco to advise him.  Chef Ferrero becomes Luciano’s new teacher.  The loyalty Luciano feels towards them sometimes conflict with each other. 

All over Venice conversations are taking place about the New World and about a mysterious book.  The doge believes it will contain a cure his syphilis.  Luciano believes it holds the key to a love potion and will make Francesca fall in love with him.  Marco wants the book to get the reward and live as a rich man.  When Luciano and Marco begin to suspect Chef Ferrero knows the book’s location they are at odds on what actions to take next.

Elle Newmark first self-published the novel under the title of Bones of the Dead after her agent stopped submitting it.  Spurred on by a low sales rank on Amazon and Carrie Bradshaw’s book release party on an episode of Sex and the City, Newmark held a virtual book launch party.  Newmark intended to create a sales spike.  She got more than that –  a day before the virtual book launch she had offers from multiple agents to represent her.  Within a few weeks she had an auction for the book and had a two book deal with Simon and Schuster. 

Retitled The Book of Unholy Mischief it’s been released in multiple languages.  Newmark is hard at work on her next novel.  The Book of Unholy Mischief is ultimately about a boy becoming a man by making some hard decisions and recognizing those crossroads.  Naturally, the setting invites all sorts of descriptions about wonderful meals and food preparation.  At times I had to stop reading in order to have an unsatisfying snack to quell my hunger pangs.  Newmark’s novel tells Luciano’s story with a sweet, wistful tone I haven’t found in a book for a long time.

Elle Newmark’s web site has a book discussion guide and some terrific blog posts.  She may even be available via conference call to attend your book club discussion.  You can find it at http://www.ellenewmark.com/.

08.05.09

The Chris Farley Show: A Biography in Three Acts by Tom Farley, Jr., and Tanner Colby

Posted in Review at 12:02 am by Amber

The Chris Farley Show

 The Chris Farley Show: A Biography in Three Acts is a remembrance of Chris Farley as a person and a comic.  Comprised of interviews, the book is a surprisingly fast read.  The interviews come from his brothers, kids he grew up with, and people from the comedy world.  It was surprising to find out Chris was close to his brothers.  (His sister, Mary Anne, was older and doesn’t factor into many of the childhood stories.  It’s unclear if they weren’t close, if she declined to be interviewed, or if her interviews weren’t used.)  The book contains stories from all of them and there are many pictures of them together.

When someone has died it’s easy to remember only the “good” things about the person.  Though co-written by his brother, this book includes thoughts and opinions that don’t try to make Chris into a saint.  Chris was religious and one of his childhood friends became a priest.  Father Matt Foley and Chris spoke about faith and the temptations of drugs often.

The comedic decisions Chris made also provides conflicting views.  The first Saturday Night Live skit Chris became known for was the Chippendale dancer tryout with guest host Patrick Swayze.  Not everyone interviewed for the book thought it was funny.  One of the motivations for Chris to be funny was to please people (especially his father) and there are differing viewpoints on given on how to achieve this. 

I’ve never seen a movie starring Chris Farley but I think I would have enjoyed seeing him perform live.  Art work right in front of you looks different when it’s in a book and often times can’t capture the essence of what makes it so great.  No matter what unrehearsed footage is shown of Chris I doubt it will capture his comedic timing or athletic ability but it’s a joy to read people talking about it.

08.01.09

Dead Men’s Boots by Mike Carey

Posted in Review at 6:37 pm by Amber

Dead Men's Boots

All book reviews this week have come courtesy of Miriam at Hachette Book Group.  Thank you, Miriam, for making sure I received these books.

Mike Carey’s Dead Men’s Boots was released last week and is the third book featuring Felix Castor aka Fix to his close friends.  He’s a man who specializes in spiritual services.  Felix lives in modern day London in an alternate universe.  The dead have come back to life.  Those who return as a visual echo of their living personages are ghosts.  Some return to their dead bodies and become zombies.  Zombie bodies are still decaying but it’s their force of will that keeps them moving.  Rarer are the dead that invade an animal body.  They are called werewolves or loup-garous.  These dead have the hardest time holding onto their humanity. 

The Breath of Life movement wants the dead to have rights.  One of Felix’s acquaintances is Nick, a paranoid zombie data geek (paranoid and data geek are character traits he had while alive), who could have returned from the dead to absolutely nothing since he had siblings as next of kin.  Nick hid his money so well in multiple foreign accounts that when he returned to his body he was able to live a lifestyle that would slow the decay process.

The Catholic Anathemata believe the apocalypse is coming and everyone should begin to arm themselves.  As time has passed, Felix has noticed more than just the dead are returning.  Demons have shown up and supernatural things not encountered before.  For example, how can an American serial killer who has been dead for several decades start killing in London?  It’s one of the questions put forth in this novel. 

This is the first Felix Castor book I’ve read but I don’t feel this hindered my enjoyment.  It’s equal parts detective novel and urban fantasy with a dash of thriller.  Felix is not a lovable character who obviously has flaws.  He is loyal, although he won’t admit it, and exceptional at his job.  Felix is a man who wrestles with the moral dilemmas of his job but exorcising ghosts is part of his nature.

Carey is best known for his work with comics.  He’s been nominated for several Eisner Awards (the comics equivalent to the Oscar).  Writing comics and novels can be difficult as they are exercising different writing muscles.  Carey scores a hit with this book.

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