Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Emperor's Soul by Brandon Sanderson

A heretic thief is the empire’s only hope in this fascinating tale that inhabits the same world as the popular novel, Elantris.

Shai is a Forger, a foreigner who can flawlessly copy and re-create any item by rewriting its history with skillful magic. Condemned to death after trying to steal the emperor’s scepter, she is given one opportunity to save herself. Though her skill as a Forger is considered an abomination by her captors, Shai will attempt to create a new soul for the emperor, who is almost dead.

Probing deeply into his life, she discovers Emperor Ashravan’s truest nature—and the opportunity to exploit it. Her only possible ally is one who is truly loyal to the emperor, but councilor Gaotona must overcome his prejudices to understand that Shai’s forgery is as much artistry as it is deception.

Brimming with magic and political intrigue, this deftly woven fantasy delves into the essence of a living spirit.

3 Star Rating
My recommendation:  Buy it in paperback or ebook version.

Recommended Age:  14+ (This is not a YA book, but for "smarter than the average" teens who like reading about new magic this should be ok).
A satisfying novella that builds a world of new magic and royal politics.  Brandon Sanderson has a knack for coming up with unique ideas.  The magic he creates for his books is always different from anything I've read by other fantasy authors.  The book contains amazing explanations on how the magic works and what it does.  It provides a way for the mind to understand and appreciate what is happening.  Shai and Gaotona's relationship really blossoms in this book.  The writing enables the reader to empathize with each character's annoyance, disappointments and finally mutual respect and acceptance.  The story is rife with political intrigue and betrayals, but nothing so complex that you would find this book hard to follow.  The most gratifying aspect of the novella is how you reflect on class/cultural differences and stereotypes.  The Emperor's Soul is well worth reading.

Plot/Pace:  Because this is a novella, it was a pretty fast read for me.  Also, since the material was interesting, I read it quite quickly.  There was nothing too spectacular about the actual plot of the book.   But the world Brandon Sanderson built around the plot was, as usual for him, unique and refreshing.  There were no surprises with how things resolved themselves by the end of the book.  Most of Shai's future actions can be predicted based on the dialogue.  I did love the irony of Gaotona's actions in the Epilogue though!  Well played, Mr. Sanderson.

Imagery:  The book is based on Shai's genius as a Forger and the descriptions of her creations are very vivid.  The author also relates very well, the feelings and prejudices behind the various castes and the mysticism and belief around forging.  No FTPng (Flipping Through Pages) for me in this book.

Romance:  None

Action:  The political turmoil in this book, played out primarily through intellect, not assassinations and battles.  The "action of the mind" shows through in Shai's ability to read her adversaries and manipulate situations to her benefit.  Cleverly written.

Characters:  Shai is a complex character.  She is jaded, suspicious, very clever and intelligent, selfish and yet driven to do her best.  In contrast to Gaotona, who is, if not as intellectual as Shai,  very wise, arrogant, prejudiced and old fashioned.  It is his compassion that makes him a wonderful character to read about.  Reading the development of Gaotona and Shai's relationship was a high point for me in the book.  I wanted her to put him in his place. I waited for him to see her for the artist she is.  
By using caste systems to define his characters,  I couldn't help but think of real life prejudices while I read.   Reflecting on the way we place groups of people into a specific box; expecting certain behaviors based on culture.

What Irked the Shiznit Out of Me:  Nothing
What Blew Me Away:  Nothing

A satisfying quick read.  One I would recommend to friends who like Sanderson books and "new"(not yo mama's fairies, elves and dwarves) Fantasy.

If you like this book, what else might you like???

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Island by Michael Stark

The Fever struck hard and fast, rising out of the slums and claiming victim after victim. At first, reports trickled across the wire in small segments relegated to the final seconds of the broadcast news. Lost among stories of failing economies and political bickering, few noticed what proved to be the birth pangs of a monster. Within months, the disease dominated the news as thousands died and infection rates soared.

William Hill knew his chances of avoiding the virus sat squarely between slim and none. With experts predicting a global pandemic, his choices boiled down to not if, but where he would die. While the rest of the world built barricades and set up distribution points for food, he chose a simpler end. The island had been one of the last and best times with his father. He couldn’t think of a better place to spend his final days.

He wanted sun and sand, fresh fish on the grill and cool nights by the campfire. He wanted feel-good days filled with oldies on the radio, days when he could hoist the sails and run before the wind. He didn’t set out to make enemies, but he did. He didn’t plan on becoming humanity’s last hope for survival, or watching over an old woman and an eerie little boy either.

To William Hill, the island seemed as good a place as any to die.

He just didn’t realize how good.

5 Star Rating
My Recommendation:  It is only in ebook format, but if it ever comes out in hardback, buy it and keep it on your shelf!
Note:  This review is for Book One Parts One through The Final Chapters

Recommended Age:  17+ 
This has been added to my "most favorite books" shelf.  While this is not a new story idea - Virus decimates the population, then turns out to be supernatural in origin - the plot of the book definitely is.  Michael Stark confines the bulk of the story to a tiny island, which somehow made the action more intense and the read became more intimate for me.  The main characters are amazingly portrayed with realistic personalities and behaviors.  The imagery was described so well that I actually opened my mouth to spit out when the author wrote "My mouth tasted of bile, putrid flesh, and rancid meat, the sensation so strong my stomach heaved in an immediate rejection ".  Ahh...just spit it out already!  SPIT!!!  This book was very well written.  It is not a quick read.  Don't take that statement to mean boring prose that you have to read through before you get to the good stuff.  It means get your mind ready, there is a lot of information in this book. I thoroughly enjoyed The Island; excitement from beginning to end.

Plot/Pace:  Perfect pacing.  There are a lot of things going on on the island but the author does not overwhelm you with them.  The scenes are not long and drawn out.  Michael Stark is able to setup the conflicts, pull you in with their descriptions, then resolve things just to a point where you are satisfied but anxiously waiting to see what happens next .  While there were no real surprises with the plot, neither is it predictable.

Imagery:  I must admit (sadly) much as I loooved this book, I did find myself skipping paragraphs.  I just really don't need to know that much about boats and sailing!  Unless, you are giving me these lessons because someones life will depend on it later, I don't need that much detail.  I liked that the walks on the beach were detailed enough that I could see it happening in my mind, but sometimes it was too much information.  BUT, with that said!  I definitely found myself in movie mode with this book.  The description of the grisly scenes, the fighting, the was amazing!  My face contorted into so many shapes during this book.  Great is a writer that can make you involuntarily act out on your face what your are reading.

Romance:  None.  Now there was a sex scene..but romance?  None to be had.  This was not that kind of book.  

Action:  Was there action? Was...there...action?  Uh, yeah!  There were fights, battles and even fearful running away.  Again, my mind went into movie mode reading these parts of the book.  Sometimes I found myself reading really fast because I just had to know what was going to happen.  Then I would go back and re-read the entire thing so I could experience it again slowly.  The action was written so well.  Settings described in such a way that you either felt anxiety at William being in a cramped space or hope since he had a chance to get away.  Setting, timing and the details of the monsters he fought all combined to really make you a part of the action.

Characters:  Very realistic.  William did not turn out to be some impossible hero set on saving everyone.  He was consistently a normal man with great leadership abilities.  Still flawed in ways and still able to be frightened.  The other main characters on the island were written just as realistically.  Each having their own quirky personalities and behaviors.  Not much development was done with the secondary characters.  I found myself forgetting who a certain character was when they were mentioned.  Who was Jessie again?  How old was she supposed to be, what was her relationship with the other characters?  

What Irked the Shiznit Out of Me:  These only came in mini books!  
What Blew Me Away:  All of it.  The level with which I got involved when reading the book.  Unfortunately, I don't write spoilers, so I can't give examples of the several parts where the action, imagery and character dialog made you feel like you were there.

Goes without saying that this book is a keeper.  One to be shared among friends and recommended to random people!

If you like this book, what else might you like???

Monday, July 22, 2013

Grave Mercy (Book 1) by R L LaFevers

"Why be the sheep, when you can be the wolf?" 

Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts--and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others.
Ismae's most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany--where she finds herself woefully under prepared--not only for the deadly games of intrigue and treason, but for the impossible choices she must make. For how can she deliver Death's vengeance upon a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart?

3.5 Star Rating
My recommendation; Buy it in paperback or ebook!

Recommended Age:  15+ For those who like an "easy-read" historic romance with intrigue, this is a good book for you. Since this is a YA book, the author doesn't go into an in-depth retelling of the time period, but you do get enough history to understand the politics of the time.  When you see the word Assassin in the title, don't think of an action filled book. Grave Mercy tells a very good story of a young girl who finds purpose in a life that started out abused. 

Plot/Pace: The plot stayed consistent throughout the book. The story had a lot of plotting and scheming, but no twists. Nothing had me sitting up in my seat thinking..."Now, I didn't expect that to happen!". Even without surprises, I stayed so interested in what was happening to the characters that I stayed up later every night.  It was difficult trying to stop at a point where I didn't feel like I was going to miss something.

Imagery: Thank you Robin LaFevers for not putting to much description in the book! Whew! I didn't have to FTP(Flip Through pages) too much or skim paragraphs. It was the right amount of description to to let me picture what was happening on the page.  Unfortunately it was not written well enough to where I found myself slipping into movie mode. 

Romance: Just enough for a YA book! No sex (at least I don't believe there was sex. Those that read the book may find themselves confused on a certain part that may have been sex, but wasn't really worded that way, and really Ms LaFevers given what they were going through there shouldn't have BEEN any sex...just saying) The kissing scenes were enough to get my blood just a little heated though. Nicely done!!

Action: Ehhh....only a little. I liked the different ways the girls were trained to kill and the choice of weapons they had to do this with, but there wasn't much murder and mayhem. Not that there needed to be a lot of killing for the story to be great. It happened when it needed to and not just to make the book more interesting. Which I think is a good thing.

Characters: I found myself more interested in the secondary characters than Ismae. Not that Ismae's character didn't have potential. The development of her character in the beginning pulled me in by making me feel for her. But that did not last throughout the book. After a certain point Ismae seemed to have everything together. There was no real conflict other than the attraction/confusion/uneasiness she felt with Duval. Which could have been played up a little more and explained a little bit better.  I felt more pull and emotion for Duval, Sybella and deLornay.  All in all, there was great chemistry between the characters.  The characters were so uniquely described through their actions and words that I started developing the characters in my mind.

What Irked the Shiznit Out of Me: Nothing.
What Blew Me Away: Nothing

And....that is why this book gets a 3.5/5. It was a good read; I'd buy it again. I'd recommend to friends who like this kind of book.

If you like this book, what else might you like???