Review: A Storm of Swords, by GRRM

A Storm of Swords, Book 3 in A Song of Ice and Fire, by George RR Martin

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4 stars

Four weddings is too many weddings for one book. 

Granted, interesting things that completely changed the trajectory of the story happened at a couple of them, and important relationships were created that paid off later in the book at the last one, but I just found myself weary of it by the time the third wedding came along. I glossed over so many details, because I just didn’t care about 77 courses. The payoff at the end was amazing, but the lead up was as dry as you get, with lists of food for each course. 

Other than that, I loved the intrigue throughout. There were times I audibly gasped, laughed, and cheered throughout the story because I care about so many of the characters, even as I loathe others. There were some wonderful surprises at the end of the book, so even though this book at times felt long, it was worth the read. Because GRRM kills major characters along the way, the tension any time one of your favourite characters is in danger really gripped me. 

It’s no wonder there have been avid fans of this series, right from the start. As I crack open book 4, I am both excited to see where the story goes, but also frustrated with myself for starting this series before it’s finished, because I know I’ll soon be in good company with a host of fans who can’t wait to see what happens next. I suppose I’ll have to start watching the show at that point, to get some kind of closure (even though I hear many fans didn’t like the conclusion, but that’s life… we don’t always get what we want, and this series has been setting that up again and again!).

Review: The Road

The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
Genre: Post-apocalyptic
Rating: 4-stars
My aunt sent me a copy of The Road, by Cormac McCarthy, and I finally got around to cracking it open a couple weeks ago.
It… took me a bit to get into. I didn’t like the extremely slow start. The way he chose to write the dialogue isn’t to my taste. And everything was so bleak… something I’m not really in the mood for often anymore, given the current state of the world.
Yet I found myself getting drawn into the story of the man and his son. I found myself caring about these nameless characters, and wishing they could find SOME bright hope in a dying, scorched world.
And I cried at the end of it.
I think the father-child bond was what did it for me. I kept trying to imagine myself in such a dire situation, watching my own children slowly wasting away, and it hit me right in the amygdala. It’s a parent’s worst fear.
And I loved how gentle he was with his son, even as he taught him hard truths of the world, or his son figured them out for himself. He took ownership when things went wrong, and realized that when his son did something incorrect, it was his own fault for not double checking things, or teaching his son how to do it properly.
If you can get used to the style of the writing, the book will grab you and not let go until the very end. If you’re a dad who loves your child(ren) fiercely, this won’t be an easy book to read, but there are some great lessons in the darkness.

Review Double Header: Dragon, and Harry Potter 2

Dragon (The Emerald of Light), by Dan Watt

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 2 stars

I picked up this book at Kitchener Comic Con because I talked to Watt and liked the sounds of a “Monty Python Medieval Spoof” type of story. My imagination automatically went to The Holy Grail, which is a movie I’ve loved since I was a kid.

This is not that.

It didn’t even really remind me of Monty Python much at all. There were a few “silly” moments, but they were done in such a way that I didn’t even crack a smile when I read them, never mind laugh. I found the pacing far too fast, to the point that time and distance had no meaning. Add to that errors in punctuation and word use, and I found myself not enjoying the story. Characters would get a scene at one point, and then later their name pops up again, and I couldn’t recall where I’d seen them. By the end I had little idea of what was even going on, and certainly wasn’t invested in any of the characters. And this wasn’t a long book… didn’t take me long to get through. Part of it might have been that the main character, Burnwood, was utterly terrible with names and didn’t care about anyone he met. But he’d change his mind at random about something that moments before he’d been passionate about, and it just left me with a feeling of, “Why did this scene exist?”

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by JK Rowling

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 5-stars

It’s been about 3 years since I last read through the HP series, and now my son’s old enough that he asked to read them, and has been enjoying them immensely. This book doesn’t disappoint. As this was my third time through the book (the first time was so long ago it doesn’t count), I picked up on a lot of bread crumbs that Rowling put in place. It all weaves together quite well into an engaging story that both of my kids loved. After we were done my son walked up to me and squeaked, “Harry Potter has offered Dobby clothes!” So cute.

I know there are people who complain about Harry Potter books, but if they can capture the imagination of five year olds and get them interested in reading chapter books, I think they’re amazing.

Review: Gifts for the one who comes after

Gifts for the one who comes after, by Helen Marshall

Genre: Paranormal

Rating: 5 stars

Marshall has a way with words that makes the macabre and creepy beautiful. While it was a little harder to get into a couple of the later short stories in the collection that were 2nd person, and there was a story that I’m certain had a deeper meaning (I’m terrible at finding those), each and every story was written with graceful prose. Once I started reading, it pulled me along, demanding that I continue from story to story to see what happened next.

There were a couple stories that were difficult for me to read with themes of miscarriage.

I think my favourite story was the one that told you right from the start how the story would end, but encouraged you to read through, because reading the end of the story first wouldn’t make any sense. I followed Marshall’s instructions, and I understood exactly what she meant. And even with her telling the reader how it would end, I still found it surprising.

The variety of voices and locations was refreshing, and it was amazing how she could get me to want to know more about all the varied characters in the stories.

Well done, and highly recommended.

Contest: Fantasy mug!

Do you like fantasy?

Do you drink out of mugs?

Have you read one of my stories, but didn’t leave a review?

If you said “yes” to all of those, have I got a deal for you! In only one month, I’ll be drawing the winner for a mug! You don’t have to buy anything, just review the story you’ve already read on, and you’ll be entered to win.

If you have reviewed everything of mine that you’ve read, I offer the low-cost alternative of picking up a short story and leaving a review. You can peruse my stories to pick the one you think looks the most interesting over on Amazon.

The contest is open to people worldwide! Amazon has a policy of removing reviews from family members, so as long as you’re not family, you qualify for the draw on April 11th!

Why am I doing this? Reviews signal to others the quality of the stories, so if they see a bunch of reviews, and the story is well rated, people are more likely to give a book a try from an unknown author. So if you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read and haven’t left a review, please do!

Good luck!

Review: The Tale of Halfdanur the Black

The Tale of Halfdanur the Black, by Colin Brodd

Genre: Viking fantasy

Rating: 2 stars

I didn’t really know what I was getting into with this one before hand. I mean, I knew it was about vikings, so I expected some adventure and violence.

What I read did have violence, but it was told in such a manner that it read very much like a history book (and this is not a historical account of real vikings, in case you were wondering). The tales are all told in such a way that you might think you’re sitting with a friend, having a drink, and he’s reading to you about the events. Were the events interesting? In some cases yes, in other cases no.

As a father of young children, I took exception to the youth that comes along later in the story. At 5 years old, he speaks as well as any adult (maybe better), and grasps concepts that I doubt any real five year old would be able to wrap their heads around. Sure, he’s a prophetic viking who is destined for great things, but it just rang false … sort of like the tales of Buddha being born and able to walk, with lotus blossoms growing in his footsteps, and then speaking. It’s pretty ridiculous, and no one would take that at face value (would they?). But again, as this reads like an historical account, his advanced language and cunning rubbed me wrong.

And this is a prequel story to a later work, which means the ending sort of stops, assuming you’ll continue to read on about the prophetic viking. Given that this read like a textbook, and I prefer something less dry and more exciting, I won’t find out how Haraladur’s (or whatever his name is – I glossed over all the viking names, like I expect people gloss over my demon names :P) story progresses.

Review: The Minus Faction, Episode 4

The Minus Faction – Episode Four: Blackout, by Rick Wayne

Genre: Science fantasy superhero action adventure awwwweeeesome

Rating: 5 stars

The team’s assembled. Cohesive? No. Not even a little bit. But they’ve got a job to do, and they’re going to fuck it up. And when a job goes sideways for these guys, hooooolyyyyy shit.

Sorry, I don’t usually swear a whole lot, but this story hit me like an ambulance with rocket boosters.

I’m getting used to the head-hopping POV, so I don’t have to re-read sections too often once I figure out whose head I’m in. It mostly happens in quieter parts of the story, as though both writer and story are a little unfocused. But when the action hits, there’s no question where you are. This cast of misfits takes a lot to bond, but it’s amazing when they do.

And the ending had me all misty-eyed. This is the second time Wayne has done this to me, and I curse his name again. So good.

If you aren’t reading this series, why not? The first episode is permanently free. Go get it.

Review: A Handful of Dust

A Handful of Dust: Tales of Post-Apocalyptic Kentuckiana, by Jeff Ford

Genre: Post-apocalyptic

Rating: 4-stars

Biological warfare wiped out almost all of humanity, and these short stories chronicle some of the aftermath.

Each story was unique and evocative. I think my favourite was “Sam,” because I was kept guessing until the very end. I’d thought it was going to go all Shaun of the Dead on me, but it didn’t (I won’t spoil it, though!).

Also, every story had a satisfying ending – that’s not to say happy. It’s an apocalypse. But they wrapped up nicely and showed a wide range of trauma that people went through.

While I enjoyed the entire collection, the stories were littered with minor errors – spelling, added/missing/incorrect words, typos, punctuation – but were not enough to make me want to stop reading. Just a short pause, an, “I think he meant X,” and moving on. I did my usual thing I do with indie authors in offering to point out these sorts of errors, but was told the story already went through an editor, so I didn’t take out my notepad for the last three stories. Thus, I’ll check a sample in future works to make sure more care is put into it, especially if it’s a longer novel, because a longer book with an error on every page or two would wear on me.

All in all, a quick, entertaining read that builds up a world that I look forward to seeing more of from this author.

Review: Thinblade

Thinblade (Sovereign of the Seven Isles Book 1), By David Wells
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: 2 stars
A brother is killed, a necromancer comes out of a stone, and bad stuff happens. That’s as far as I got into this book. 10%.
Should I rate a book that I couldn’t finish? I’ll leave that up to you, but after grinding through this for a few days, I feel like I need to say something about it.
This book is painful to read. The writing style is stunted, littered with short, declarative sentences that don’t vary. I wrote down a couple examples as I neared the 10% mark, and knew I couldn’t carry on:
Alexander looked out the window. There was just the faintest hint of light on the horizon. Dawn wasn’t too far off. He could hear people going about their chores in the yard. The day was about to begin.
At this point in the chapter, we already knew it was night time, so re-declaring that it was dawn coming was unnecessary. And OBVIOUSLY the day is about to begin if it’s dawn. This book had so much of this. Needless repetition meant that I zoned out a lot, and had to go back and keep re-reading passages because my mind wasn’t staying focused on the words on the page.
An example of action:
His blood ran cold. For the briefest moment he froze in utter terror. Whatever had just made that noise was here to kill him. He was certain of that.
Choppy. Choppy. Choppy. I wonder what the difference is between “utter terror” and “terror?” So many unnecessary words throughout this story weakened the writing, and made what could have been an interesting tale a labour to read.
The last guard backed off slowly, looking around wildly, clearly hoping for reinforcements.
So many adverbs! I remember an editor slapping my hand early on in my own writing for using more than one adverb in a paragraph, never mind three in a sentence. Use stronger words, and you can cut two of those.
The last guard inched backwards, casting his gaze about in hopes of finding help nearby.
No adverbs. That isn’t perfect, because it shifts the POV toward the guard, but this book head hopped a fair bit anyway, so it’s not like the writer cared about that.
The last straw for me was “the man that was not a man.” I got tired of reading that phrase after the second time. It came over and over again, relentlessly.
I gave it two stars, despite not being able to finish it, because I thought the villain was intriguing. He had this sort of laid back style of being evil, casually killing those who would better serve him in death (necromancer, remember?). It’s unfortunate that I couldn’t finish this one, because I felt like the story had a lot of promise, even if the characters came across flat. I can deal with flat characters. I can’t handle a long book that’s hard to read due to issues that a good editor would be able to fix.

Review: Excelsior

Excelsior: Book 1 of the New Frontiers Series, by Jasper T. Scott

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 4 stars

Hundreds of years in the future, the Alliance (western countries) and Confederacy (eastern countries) have an uneasy truce. The Alliance is capitalist, the Confederacy is socialist, which gives you the feeling right out of the gate that you know how this is going to turn out, with the Alliance being the stalwart heroes, and the Confederacy being the hive-mind bad guys. Their truce is about to come undone with the discovery of a wormhole. When the Alliance refuses to share the discovery, World War III breaks out while Captain Alexander and his crew make haste to escape through the wormhole to whatever waits on the other side.

First off, if I remember right, this book is set in the 2700’s, so you have to suspend your disbelief for a moment that there hasn’t been a world war between now and then. I find that to be unlikely, even moreso after the US election that just took place.

There was really only one thing that bothered me with this book, and it’s not that major – it’s that the Captain at times seems perfectly comfortable in his role, and sometimes acts like he’s never done anything in space before. When he accidentally tosses all his belongings all over his room because of zero G, I was left wondering, “How are you a Captain of a military space ship, and don’t know how to act in zero G?” There were a few instances where I felt like the Captain was a rookie, despite having 10 years of experience in the navy.

That hiccup aside, the story is quite good. There were times I wished he didn’t explore other POVs to heighten the tension, and keep the reader wondering what was really going on.

The sense that something is wrong with everything after entering the wormhole is pervasive. Although the love story was predictable, the rest of the twists and turns made it so I couldn’t guess what was going to happen next with the main plot.

The ending of the story is satisfying, which is a big thing for me. I don’t feel pressure to jump into book 2 straight away. However, the teaser for the second book in the series was pretty good, and I’ll probably pick it up at some point to continue reading.