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A Call to Arms (The Damned)
A Call to Arms (The Damned)
by Alan Dean Foster
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
119 used & new from $0.01

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Homosapien payback!!, July 2, 2011
I am not typically a science fiction fan, but this series of books was suggested to me by my lifelong friend. After reading the entire series I have to say that in a addition to just being a good, fun read, it was refreshing.

In this book there is the stereotypical conquering race, in this case a race of psychics who can bend others to their will, who want to conquer the universe. The lone force that stands in opposition to them is called the weave. The weave is your stereotypical multi-species federation that has banded together for numbers. All-in-all the basic outline presents a pretty cliché setting.

The real difference between this series and other sci-fi stories is that unlike other stories where humans are typically outmatched in every way and only manage to hold onto their lives by sheer, dumb luck. In the series, The Damned, with the exception of obvious space faring technology, the human race meets or exceeds the abilities of the alien races in every way.

In this series, humans are the weapons that turn the tide of battle. They are stronger, faster, more durable and completely resistant to mental control. Furthermore, human physiology is apparently very simple to repair to the sort of damage the alien weapons cause.

This complete reversal of the "puny human" phenomenon that is so common in this genre provides for an endless supply of unexpected humor. There is one scene in the final book in fact, where an alien is being chased by a human. This race is typically considered one of the fastest in the universe, but is unable to shake the human. At one point it looks back and sees the human "bearing its teeth" and is so terrified by the presence of the human that it loses control of its bowels. It takes a moment in its terror to try and understand the cultural significance of the human bearing its teeth and then it remembers the human is smiling. It realizes this death machine is toying with it and it almost dies of fear.

I highly suggest this series for someone who likes action filled sci-fi and wants to see humans finally get a little bit of retribution on those alien jerks. Also, keep in mind, this is the guy who wrote Stargate.

Storm Front (Dresden Files)
Storm Front (Dresden Files)
by Jim Butcher
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $8.99
211 used & new from $0.01

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Fun Read for Fantasy and Mystery Lovers Alike, June 29, 2011
An all around excellent read, Storm Front, introduces the reader to the world of Harry Dresden, Wizard for hire. The story itself is essentially a murder mystery with a fantasy twist.

Harry Dresden, a wizard and P.I., is contracted as a special advisor to the Chicago PD. When a truly gruesome murder leaves the police baffled, they call in Harry Dresden, much to the chagrin of the PD's brass. Amid his attempts to solve this mystery he is also hired out to investigate a cheating spouse and winds up getting more than he charged for. Before he knows it he is knee deep in a mob-war that involves guns, drugs, and magical mayhem.

In addition to these problems, Harry Dresden must figure out how to avoid becoming a suspect. Already under the "Doom of Damocles," from the wizarding world's equivalent to a probation council due to a previous offense. Harry must save the girl, get the bad guys, and not break anymore of the wizarding world's laws or else face the sword.

Overall, Harry is a flawed character that is wonderful to read. He combines a sense of gaping emotional vulnerability with a wry smart-ass sense of humor that is very appealing. Other characters that will obviously be reoccurring in the series also have a certain feel to them that make them enjoyable and fun to read.

Small fine points of the world that Harry exists in provide an expansive sense of realism that not only drive the plot, but set it in definable boundaries that ensure limits on the ability of fantasy to interfere with the human drama unfolding on the pages. Details like the fact that most wizards are unable to be around technology because magic makes it malfunction give the story a humorous and dependable source for inconvenient accidents that help to keep the reader in suspense.

Overall, I would rate Storm Front as one of the best books I've read this year. This is a fantasy story written by a fan of fantasy stories and one that anyone would enjoy. Charlene Harris fans will find this a wonderful accompanying piece for those dry-spells (no pun intended) in between Sookie publications.

The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian: The Original Adventures of the Greatest Sword and Sorcery Hero of All Time!
The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian: The Original Adventures of the Greatest Sword and Sorcery Hero of All Time!
by Robert E. Howard
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.35
145 used & new from $4.04

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Immesurable Quality and Imagination, June 25, 2011
Like most people I have seen the Conan movies and enjoyed the "in-your-face", Nitchze style of the films. Anyone who liked them will most likely enjoy the books as well. In spite of that, those movies were not my impetus for reading the Conan book.

In my personal endeavors in learning to be a fantasy author myself, I came upon the fact that there are generally considered (very generally) two types of fantasy:
1) High Fantasy: These are fantasy worlds more akin to "The Lord of the Rings", or "The Chronicles of Narnia."
2) Sword and Sorcery: These are stories where the protagonist is generally not someone who is a magic user and must pit muscle, bone and steel against the mystic forces of the world.

I had read a lot of things that could be deemed high fantasy and once I discovered its existence, I felt a need to be able to reach through the veil of sword and sorcery to be able to understand it better. This led me to the writings of Ron Howard who is credited by many with the invention of the genre.

After some research, I discovered that the author had in fact killed himself before his writing became better known. I assume this is what led to many other writers either finishing the Howard stories or adopting the world of Conan as their own and sort of making their own little additions to the world.
After some research however, I was able to discover the fact that this book (and only just a few others) is comprised wholly of stories written by Howard himself. In addition, there is a great section about the various human races of the rich world Howard has created. Lastly, there are also some great hand-drawn maps showing the geography.

Be prepared. This world is richer than you could ever imagine. Despite the films starring Arnold, there is nothing stupid or mutton-headed about Conan or the way he was written. This collection of short stories gives glimpses into the life and endeavors of one of the most iconic figures in all of fantasy.

"The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian" may not be high fantasy, but it certainly is high adventure.

The Dwarves
The Dwarves
by Markus Heitz
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.65
115 used & new from $0.35

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Written Big Box Trash, June 25, 2011
This review is from: The Dwarves (Paperback)
"Ugh," is really pretty comprehensive here but I'll try to be a bit more descriptive.

Here is a story about dwarves (which one could easily pick up from the clever title). Granted, dwarves are the heavily stereotyped and often times dark, anti-heroes of the fantasy world, but here they are the main characters.
Admittedly, I did like the fact that an author took the time to try and flesh out dwarven society a bit more than just "we like to dig and use hammers" the problem is that it was a half-hearted effort. The book started off okay with a fish-out-of-water style story about a dwarf that was raised by humans. It even went so far as to give vast promise by showing depth of the main character's concern for his adopted loved ones that have slowly aged and approached death while he stays the same.

Unfortunately, from about the first third of the book on, it quickly devolves into a tragic flotsam of cliché magic weapons and quests for enchanted items to bring down a big bad intent on taking over the world. There was one semi-interesting portion of barricaded dwarves battling it out with the undead but overall I was unimpressed.

In a book comprised of poorly thought out quests and uninspiring magic weapons, the action also flopped. The majority of the fighting consisted of ridiculous and unlikely battle moves that seemed clunky and more at home in a video game for the uncoordinated than a pitched battle.

Don't let me make it seem like the author was completely uninspired or uncreative. There were some very interesting applications of a dwarven calendar that gave the timeline a sort of Tarantino feel that I really like because it keeps the reader thinking, but I've seen it done before. More likely than not, this book was the product of an author who based the entire writing on a combination of MMORG video games and books that are themselves very, very derivative from cleaner sources like the Elder Edda or Prose Edda of Snorri Sturluson. The problem with works like this is that they are like literary Chinese food: they might be quick and tasty but they leave the reader feeling undernourished and hungry again in a half hour... and that's the parts that are appetizing (Although Chinese food by comparison is my dirty little pleasure and it's wonderful).

You're welcome to purchase this book and make your own decisions. But seriously, I lent it out to see if it was just me. Later it turned out that the lendee's child spilled chocolate milk on it and it was ruined. I actually found myself relieved since that meant it would never take up space on my bookshelf again.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 7, 2011 2:53 PM PST

A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 1)
A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 1)
by George R. R. Martin
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.83
233 used & new from $0.40

4 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good but There is Room for Improvement, June 25, 2011
Although I am certain I will receive a ration of fan-hate for saying this, the book could have been better. On a technical/mechanics level it was as close as I've ever seen a fantasy book to being perfect. There was excellent character development, a rich fantasy world, dynamic characters that were much more complicated than some of the two dimensional fictional beings we have seen from authors in the last ten years. I especially liked the fact that the heroes were flawed and the villains had redeeming qualities... much like real life.

The major problem with this book was none of the technical sorts of things that can be diagramed on an outline. The author unfortunately, based solely on this one book, appears to be somewhat of a mediocre storyteller. By the time I was several chapters into the book, my eyes were beginning to roll into the back of my head. It isn't that I'm too slow to follow the in-depth storyline, it's just that I generally need at least a little action or humor mixed in with my sorrowful and burdensome details.

Additionally, as a general lover of the fantasy genre, I felt there was a fair lack of magic in the story. I of course understand that this was supposed to be a world where knowledge of magic was fading, but I think maybe the author took it just a tad too far. I really don't want to take away from the fact that the world is very creative and thought out, it's just that there was so much gritty realism that it almost felt more like a history book on the medieval period instead of a fun read. Also, it was pretty depressing in parts.

The real high point of the book was the sub-portion of the book in which (*spoiler*) a young descendent of the previous royal line is forced to marry an Attila-the-Hun sort of warrior nomad. To me, that was the best portion of the book and I found myself wanting to skip over the chapters of the primary story line and hurry on to her sub-plot.

At the end of the day, I'm not saying that this is a bad book. I'm just saying it could have been told a little better and as a result I have chosen not to read anymore of the books in the series. I should point out, in playing devil's advocate, that friends have told me this is the worst book of the entire series. Having said that, I have to ask myself what kind of publisher would allow an author to print their first book in a series (assuming they knew ahead of time it was a series) to be the worst one. But hey, make your own decision as it's still a decent read. What do I know anyway, they made an HBO series out of it and I am sure the corporate fat cats at the network have run marketing tests and focus groups.

Golden Compass
Golden Compass
by Philip Pullman
Edition: Paperback
20 used & new from $0.87

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great Mechanics but a Clunky Ride, June 16, 2011
This review is from: Golden Compass (Paperback)
Allow me to preface this entire entry with, "I read this book after I saw the movie."

Having offered that disclaimer, I have often found that books are, as a rule, usually much better than their silver-screen counterparts. I wasn't crazy about the movie, "The Golden Compass" but that was primarily limited to reasons that are specific to film and have nothing to do with the written word. Also, there is already a healthy supply of plot spilling reviews so I will try to focus on the plusses/minuses associated with non-plot points.

I thought that in retreating to the written word I would be assured an improved product but the truth is I wasn't. It isn't that the book isn't as good as the movie, it's just that it isn't any better for entirely different reasons.

I admit that there is an exceptional amount of creativity and originality in this story. Ideas like having a daemon and setting it in an alternate universe where renegade factions of the church are at odds with society were fantastic. I would also like to offer that this story is very well written from a mechanical/grammar standpoint.

Where this book really lacks however is forming a cohesive continuity. The insertion of witches and talking polar bears is very mechanical. Don't get me wrong, I love the armored (a.k.a. PanserBjorn), and I think the concept was fun and original and sadly the best part of the book. The problem is that they don't really seem to fit into the structure of the books universe and feel like they were sprinkled in as an afterthought. They (witches and bears) were very clunky in the way they were used and felt similar to the way that C.S. Lewis used "Father Christmas" in "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe."

While I realize I have just blasphemed one of the great writers of fantasy fiction, rather than chock me up as a kook, I offer this... These books both would have been just fine without the addition of either of these elements. The Gyptians (society of people who live exclusively on boats and are analogs for gypsies) could just have easily taken out the gobblers (scientists who experiment on children) without an armored bear. Further, the Tartars could have been as easily tricked by Lyra as the bears were and the confusion of races that do not conform to the same laws as every other character in the book could have been avoided. Similarly, the children in C.S. Lewis' book could just have easily found their weapons in some tomb set aside for them (I mean they were already "fortold" so why not set up a weapon cache for when they get there?) without the addition of an incongruent character like Santa Claus.

I don't want to stop anybody from reading this book. In truth, it was a good read but one that I could have just seen the movie and been pretty close on. If you're the sort of reader who gets attached to a series that is regularly printed and then you have to wait for the author to put another one out... just wait for the dry spell before you read this one. BTW I still think C.S. Lewis is great.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 14, 2011 5:58 PM PDT

The Eternal Mercenary (Casca, No. 1)
The Eternal Mercenary (Casca, No. 1)
by Barry Sadler
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
22 used & new from $28.75

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Curious Case of Casca, June 10, 2011
Personally, I would have never picked this book up on my own. I would have judged it based solely on its cover in complete violation of the old cliché. Truly, this series was suggested to me by a friend who, much like the author, is a Green Beret. After a gentle cajoling, I begrudgingly accepted and read the thing... what the heck it's only two hundred pages.

Today I am pleased to say that I am fourteen books into the series and hungrily devouring each one I get my hands on. The books are well written and avoid jargon. Furthermore, the "voice" of the main character Casca Rufio Longinus is written with what I can only assume are tones consistent with what the average soldier has in their own mind. The books have, thus far, been very consistent with regard to quality and storytelling.

I have even taken the time to look into the life of the author a little. It has become fairly clear that the insertion of certain characters and experiences in the books are taken directly from the author's life. This has been true on several occasions, if not in time period, then at least in relevant context. Not surprising as authors do not, after all, exist in a vacuum. What is surprising however is the way that Barry Sadler has managed to work these themes into actual historical events. Moreover, he manages to do this with a fair level of accuracy.

Casca Rufio Longinus, the roman legionary who stabbed Christ on the cross, is cursed to live until the second coming as a soldier. In living out his curse, Casca works as a soldier for various countries or as a mercenary for various missions because as it turns out even immortals need to eat and buy clothes. The experiences are always rich because they are always new with new characters and new parts of the world.

What is especially compelling to me is the depth of the Casca character. While he is of course, a soldier, he has no misconception about where his place is or what he is capable of. Furthermore although he is surrounded by either an army or friends, Casca always feels very isolated due to the fact that friends and loved ones will eventually die. At times, this sense of isolation that the character feels is almost palpable.

Overall, I would definitely suggest Casca the Eternal Mercenary. With the exception of the fact that getting the earlier books is like pulling teeth (although I have contacted the publisher and they assure me Kindle editions are on the way), they are really great, a nice change from traditional fantasy novels, the likes of which can be hard to find in quality if not quantity.

The Adventures of Peek a Boo The Sea Lion
The Adventures of Peek a Boo The Sea Lion
by Larry Medina
Edition: Paperback
Price: $21.00
17 used & new from $14.50

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Swimingly Good fun for the Kids, May 27, 2011
This is a charming story of a little sea lion named Peek-a-boo and his dream to be a Navy Seal. In addition to being very patriotic, this book is a cute story for youngsters which chronicle the introduction of sea lions into the Navy Seals (something which actually happened). The character Peek-a-Boo makes his way through the best of his ability accompanied by a collection of adorable color illustrations. The combination of appealing characters and a compelling story make this a must have for children of all ages. I liked it so much I bought two copies!

Dead Reckoning (Sookie Stackhouse/True Blood, Book 11)
Dead Reckoning (Sookie Stackhouse/True Blood, Book 11)
by Charlaine Harris
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.40
638 used & new from $0.01

10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Both Sookie and Ms. Harris both seem to be slipping, May 7, 2011
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Quite frankly, this is one of the saddest installments of the "Southern Vampire Mysteries." I don't mean the emotional impact of the plot upon my personal psyche so much as I mean the whole book just makes me sad.
There was a time when each of these stories held me excitement over what was going to happen next. It seemed like although the stories were certainly a dirty little pleasure, they were so engrossing I couldn't put them down. These days (whereas "these days" seem to coincide with books written after the HBO series started), the books are much more like pale shadows of what had come before.

Originally, the Southern Vampire Mysteries were just that; mysteries in the south with vampires. The author would dab a touch of romance and sexual tension for flavor, but ultimately whether the characters were vampires or simply Scooby-do, it was still a mystery.

The more recent books however have taken on a new tone altogether. The books that have been released since Ms. Harris' creation reached the "little screen, have been more like a collection of random Sookie thoughts punctuated by mostly mundane happenings. While this book seemed to have a little more (very subtle) structure under the story than the last, there were still far too many pages dedicated to the trifles of getting ready to go somewhere after a shower.

I think that many Sookie fans would agree that Ms. Harris has veered too far from the original format of the book. In fact, the biggest mystery in this book seemed to be, `will people enjoy the baby shower for Tara,'... puke. As if to add insult to injury poor Tara didn't even have so much as a line during the entire affair. Dead Before Dark, was an excellent example of a mystery ex: girls were dying and nobody seemed to know who the murderer was - only to be revealed at the end as a trusted friend (ominous music). Here, there is the spark of mystery: some unknown assailant firebombs Merlot's and nobody knows who it is - until about fifty pages later when the person is arrested and the ending of the book is telegraphed worse than acting by a professional wrestler in a "b" grade movie.

Sookie as a character has also begun to stagnate a bit and that is really unfortunate. She started out as a sheltered and socially damaged young woman. Through the first few books she learns to control her telepathy and through this new control see her "disability" in a new light, even drawing strength from it. She also comes into her own as a woman and begins the difficulty of navigating her first relationship. Throughout all this, she not only has to learn how to deal with the violence of the vampire world around her, but also what it means to become a murderer herself. Unfortunately, after that the character starts to become somewhat stagnant and the author tries (albeit successfully for awhile) to hide that fact with love triangles. By the point in the storyline we've reached, Sookie should be past trying to simply deal with violence. She's seen more blood and death than most cops do in a thirty year career and should be a bit more calloused than she is (especially after the fairy war).

On a positive note, it was interesting to find the genesis of Sookie's telepathy and to have the social structure of the fae fleshed out a bit more. I also like that Sookie seemed to be so much stronger now that she had been living with other fairies. Perhaps it's time that she transmute into some sort of vampire (due to blood consumption) fairy hybrid and have Eric looking to her for protection for once. Whatever happens, for God's sake, at least make the plot mysterious otherwise change the name to "Southern Vampire Aftershower Decsionmaking".

A Wizard of Earthsea (The Earthsea Cycle, Book 1)
A Wizard of Earthsea (The Earthsea Cycle, Book 1)
by Ursula K. Le Guin
Edition: Paperback
114 used & new from $0.01

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Simple and Fantastic - (in both senses of the word), December 17, 2010
This book is by far the most clear cut example of excellent and pure storytelling I have ever read.

I admit, the story is for a younger reader than I am, but for God's sake, not everything has to be Jane Austin. One very interesting trick that , for me, seemed brilliant but so simple you'd miss it if you weren't paying attention was the uncomplicated way magic was used in the book.

Many fantasy novels go to great lengths to create whole languages and spend tremendous effort on the explaination of how magic works and why. In this book the author jsut says, "Ged laid a charm upon it and the brackish water ran pure." Another example would be, "He had to hold his boat together mostly with magic." It's very simple and in itself uses the magic of giving enough information to paint a detail, but leaving enough out so that the reader's own imagination can fill in the gaps instead of being beaten over the head with details until it submits to the author's pre-envisioned ideal of how the story should appear.

Kudos to the author for she has given us a delightful book that is fun to read and not so hung up on itself that it becomes a fantasy physics piece. Kudos for keeping it simple but rich.

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