Hippogriff's Aerie

Apparitions of Imagination

More Classic Reviews

As I explained in a previous post, I have begun to replace some of my old episodic TV show reviews with classic reviews. The first is Shapechangers by Jennifer Roberson, which you can find over in the “my reviews” sidebar…

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January 19, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Book Review: Forsaken Kingdom by J. R. Rasmussen

forsaken kingdomFormat:  Oversized paperback, 1st Edition, 2017

Pages:  343

Reading Time:  about 5 hours

 

Forsaken Kingdom is author J.R. Rasmussen’s debut fantasy novel. I purchased this book based on Amazon reviews, before I learned of the “pay for review” scheme that I mentioned in previous posts. With an average rating of 4.5 stars on Amazon, and after reading the book, I am highly suspicious of that rating. Forsaken Kingdom is not a bad book by any means, but neither is it worthy of a rating equal to Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn or Patrick Rothfuss’s The Wise Man’s Fear, both of which are also rated at 4.5 stars. To be fair, Forsaken Kingdom has less than 50 reviews, so that’s a pretty small sample size, but I would expect to see at least one or two critical reviews at this point. Read on to discover my impressions, and as always, expect a few minor spoilers.

One of the factors that drew my interest in reading this book was that the protagonist, Wardin Rath, decides at the tender age of 12 that he needs to protect his magical school, called a magistry. He does this by surrendering to his enemy and has his past memories “wiped” and replaced with new, fabricated memories that make him think he is a common servant rather than a prince. When the spell that took his memories begins to fail, however, we are led on a quest where Wardin must discover who he is and where he came from. Although this seems like a pretty unique plot, it’s not the first time a protagonist has lost his or her memory – Robert Silverberg’s Lord Valentine’s Castle was the first story that I could recall to use this plot device. However, the method in which the memory wipe is accomplished is pretty unique, and the reason Wardin isn’t executed on the spot makes perfect sense. The enemy, King Bramwell, has a very complex personality. Kudos to Rasmussen for developing Bramwell into a character both despicably brutal and yet able to be touched by sentiment in a believable way.

Another factor I found intriguing was the magic system. There are three schools of magic: contrivance, battlemage, and sagacity. Most people with magic talents use only one of these schools, and doing so requires “balance”; for instance, if you use too much contrivance, a spirit-based school, you need to balance that by performing physical activities such as hiking or scrubbing floors. Becoming “out of balance” leads to catatonic states and madness. Also, magical dogs known as blackhounds can provide a boost of power to a spellcaster through touch. However, by the end of the book it’s still not clear what a person’s limits are, what they are capable of, or what determines whether they can perform magic in the first place (it seems perhaps to be an innate, random ability).

I struggled through the beginning of the book a bit, as the dialog and descriptions are a bit choppy, and everyone seems to have the same voice. As the story progresses, however, Rasmussen settles into a good rhythm and the prose flows a bit better, while characters begin to develop distinct differences. (Spoiler ahead! Skip to next paragraph if necessary!) For the most part, character motivations are explained and believable, including when Wardin returns to the magistry. He has difficulty in cultivating trust with the magistry’s ruling powers, including Wardin’s childhood friend Eriatta, now the archmagister, who believes Wardin might be working for the enemy and trying to destroy them. Wardin is frustrated that he can’t convince them that he is not a threat because his memories haven’t returned. It’s only when a magic item conveniently has the ability to sort out the truth that story progresses. Rasmussen also does a good job of using an early plot device to foreshadow the means by which Wardin is able to repel the army that is about to invade the valley…this was quite clever and nicely done.

Main characters initially feel two dimensional, but Rasmussen does a good job of developing them as the story progresses. I like Erietta, who is strong and courageous, and her twin brother Arun, Wardin’s best friend who has a happy-go-lucky personality. Erietta has conveniently become archmagister despite being only 20 years old; while her character is smart, this seems like a bit of a reach. Minor characters aren’t quite fleshed out like main characters are. Also, Rasmussen experiences a little of what I call “Brooks Syndrome”, where we see few if any supporting characters, “common folk” from the magistry and the kingdom of Eyrdon, and those that we do see are combative or self-serving. It is hard to empathize with protecting such people – instead we have to root for the heroes.

The story has some problems that I feel I need to point out. Although King Bramwell has been established as a complex character who has selfish and brutal motives, we don’t understand why this is. He has killed all of his rivals, yet those rivals were his friends when he was younger. There’s not enough explanation provided as to why he killed all of his friends. He did seem to be jealous and wanted to kill everyone with magic powers because he had none himself, and everyone with magic powers is a threat to overthrow him. But it’s really left to the reader to put two and two together, because we are only given brief glimpses into the king’s past, either as a child playing with his friends, or on the field of battle where he’s killing those friends. I just think a little more depth here would be nice.

Another problem is travel. There is a map provided in the front, which is appreciated, but I didn’t get a good feel as to how far it is from one place to another. And how characters get from one place to another isn’t really explored – they just “arrive” with no explanation of what happened on the journey. Characters just pop into where they need to be in order to move the plot from Point A to Point B. I understand travel can be quite boring, but there should be some kind of attempt to describe the journey, even if it’s just a few paragraphs. There’s another sequence where Erietta is captured by the king’s son, Prince Tobin. Although I liked the sequence of events that leads to her attempted escape, the person who aids her escape arrives from far away and at just the right time, once again with no attempt to describe the journey or timing, the helper just appears and advances the plot to where it needs to go.

The most glaring problem, however, occurs at the big climactic battle near the end that the story has been building up to. (Spoiler ahead! Skip to next paragraph if necessary!) I understand that Wardin hated the king, even though Bramwell could have executed him from the start but didn’t. And I also understand that Wardin was unable to control his rage and rushed to attack the king. This is an important development in the plot, because it helps Wardin win the respect of Wardin’s Eyrdish countrymen, who essentially switch sides during the battle. In reality, however, Wardin should have died instantly. Throughout the story Bramwell has been portrayed as a more-than-competent warrior, who has killed all of his rivals, including those with magical abilities. It’s ludicrous to think that Wardin, a 20 year old boy with very little weapons training, could last longer than 10 seconds in combat with a man that desperately wants to kill him, a man that has proven to be so competently brutal and effective in battle. Rasmussen even acknowledges this by stating that “he was barely twenty years old, inadequately trained and not at all experienced, facing a true swordsman, a true warrior.” There’s no actual description of the fight scene itself, only that Wardin manages to fend off Bramwell’s attacks until help arrives. It actually ruined the story for me, to have this nonsensical sequence lead to an unbelievable victory for Wardin, and turns what could have been a passable story into a disappointing failure.

As I stated at the beginning of the review, Forsaken Kingdom isn’t a bad tale. There’s much to like, and I was engaged in following Wardin’s and Erietta’s efforts, as Wardin tried to recover his memories and the two friends attempted to save their magistry. However, an unbelievable ending unravels all the good work that went before it, and a bad habit of glossing over travel, combat, and events to get characters and/or the plot to where they need to be makes it hard for me to recommend Forsaken Kingdom except to those willing to overlook such flaws. I won’t be purchasing the sequel, A Dark Reckoning, which is due out this Spring 2018, and I’ll be watching to see if the ratings on Amazon remain unbelievably high.

January 16, 2018 Posted by | Book Review | , | Leave a comment

Book Review: The Crown Tower by Michael J. Sullivan

crown towerFormat:  Oversized paperback, 1st Edition, 2013

Pages:  368 (not including 46 pages of glossary, extras, and a preview of The Rose and the Thorn

Reading Time: about 6 hours

 

For a few years now I have been eyeing Michael J. Sullivan’s Theft of Swords, volume 1 in his Riyria Revelations series, as a possible series to add to the queue. Although many of his reviews were positive on Amazon and Goodreads, it was the negative reviews that scared me away. Complaints about one dimensional characters, worn out tropes, a simplistic and predictable plot, and conversations that drive the story in place of telling a story, are found aplenty. As a result, I did not consider reading Sullivan’s books despite owning a library of works including Flanagan, Eddings, and Dragonlance novels that could be criticized in a similar way. When additionally considering the “pay for reviews” scheme that I talked about in a previous post, I was skeptical of the positive reviews I was reading. I’m not accusing Sullivan of paying for positive reviews, but in light of the scheme and the fact that Sullivan was initially self-published, it was a concern. Sullivan, however, utilized focus groups on Goodreads to hone his stories, so he had already built up a following that was enthusiastic about his novels.

It wasn’t until I was looking for books to add to the queue by perusing authors on Fantasy Literature’s site that I came across their page on Sullivan, and I saw a review of The Crown Tower, which is Volume 1 of the Riyria Chronicles. That review convinced me that I should take a chance on this book. Although the author and many readers were recommending reading Sullivan’s books in published order, I ignored that recommendation and determined that I would read the books in chronological order, starting with The Crown Tower. I wanted to form an opinion of the series from the beginning, so that I wouldn’t have knowledge of what comes later, in an attempt to maintain tension. My opinion of The Crown Tower would be the determining factor towards any future purchases of Sullivan’s work. So on to my review, and as always, a few minor spoilers are included…

I won’t provide a synopsis here – the review over at Fantasy Literature does a great job of explaining the plot. There are two main characters that drive the narrative: Hadrian, a soldier returning home from war, and Gwen, a fortune-telling prostitute. The first thing I immediately liked about The Crown Tower was Sullivan’s writing style. It is fast moving with just enough detail to get the job done. I never felt like the story was bogging down in the details, and I burned through the book in a few days. When I did have to put it down it was with disappointment, as I was very engaged in the story. The early mystery of the barge ride and the hooded man was captivating, and a later scene featuring Royce and Hadrian in an inn was also excellent. I almost enjoyed Gwen’s story more than Hadrian’s…watching Gwen outsmart her opponents by cultivating favorable relationships was some excellent plot writing. Gwen is smart, strong-willed, and caring, all excellent qualities. I felt that each character did exhibit flaws – Hadrian is naive, Gwen is filled with self-doubt, and Royce has a laundry list of internal problems. And despite some plot predictability – like a supporting character that is claimed to be dead yet I was 100% sure he wasn’t – there were also a couple of plot twists that I didn’t see coming.

However, there are several problems with his book. Most of the criticisms are spot on. The plot at times meanders, but the worst part is it’s all a little too convenient. When Royce and Hadrian are forced to work together, their benefactor hopes that it will all work out in the end. That hope is dependent on convenient timing and assistance of a god-like figure; the latter’s inclusion is totally unnecessary and is a plot device that suggests it can (and will) be used by the author any time it is needed. It also makes their benefactor look wise and all-knowing as a result of nothing more than chance. Such plot devices really undermine the author’s ability to tell a well-written story that can stand on its own merits and not rely on such contrivances. Another problem is “telegraphing”: due to a character having psychic abilities, combined with the fact that the novel is a prequel, together those two factors tend to rob the story of much of its tension. No one is going to die here that was previously featured in the Riyria Revelations series, and since we know the characters will be arriving at Gwen’s doorstep because as a psychic she’s “seen” it, it’s simply a matter of Royce and Hadrian getting from Point A to Point B without any fear of loss or life-ending danger. This is why I wanted to read the Riyria stories chronologically – to help maintain tension by not knowing what happens later.

Also, the dialog between the main characters is a bit clumsy at times. During those moments that dialog feels forced and unnatural. At times it reminds me of Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice series, with humor that comes off as “I guess you had to be there” to appreciate it. Whether that’s by design, as Royce and Hadrian are polar opposites and thus their conversations are awkward, or it occurs unintentionally, it kills the flow of the story in some places. However, I did not feel that the dialog was driving the story as some other critical readers suggested.

Almost all of the women featured in the story are prostitutes, which is troubling. That’s not to say that prostitution couldn’t exist in Sullivan’s society; it is, after all, known as”the world’s oldest profession” in our own civilization. Rather, it’s simply that there are no women prominently featured in the story that assume any other role. The only woman who does appear as something other than a prostitute makes an appearance at the beginning of the story and is gone by Chapter 5, and a farmer’s wife appears briefly at the very end of the story. There are simply no strong female characters that aren’t prostitutes.

Hadrian’s motives and direction are a bit all over the place. I get that he’s done with fighting a war and he doesn’t know what to do with himself, but it’s a bit frustrating watching him try to figure out things that are obvious to the reader. As to Royce’s motives…well, let’s just say that one of the reasons that the author didn’t want the books read in chronological order is that he thought that readers might want Royce to die in this book based on the way he treats people. That actually does a disservice to readers and to Sullivan’s own story, because characters should change over the course of the tale. In fact, many readers want to see a deeply flawed character rise up and become something more – that is the environment in which novels are written today, due to the influences of George Martin, Steven Erikson, Joe Abercrombie and other dark fantasy writers. Finally, there isn’t much world building here. There are some allusions to events in a previous age, and the Crown Tower itself is a relic of that period, but we don’t really get a good feel for what’s going on in the world, and what has happened in the past, other than a few brief mentions.

Despite these numerous flaws, I still found the book entertaining. I do appreciate that it is not a “coming of age” story…even though the main characters are fairly young, they’ve had their share of worldly experiences. I enjoyed the concept of Royce and Hadrian absorbing attributes from each other and changing over the course of the story, and Gwen’s story was well-written. At first I thought that Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser had influenced Sullivan’s Hadrian and Royce, but in this article Sullivan sets the record straight – there is no connection because Sullivan has never read Leiber.

I didn’t feel that the glossary in the back of the book was necessary, as it’s pretty easy to keep people and places straight. I did like the author’s Q&A session in the extras, they provided great insight into Sullivan’s process. One thing I greatly admire about Sullivan is his commitment to writing and finishing his stories, and continuing this over a period of many years, “honing” his craft. I also admire the amount of advice and help he dedicates to aspiring authors with suggestions on writing and self-publishing. I decided to order the sequel, The Rose and the Thorn, to “kick the can down the road” and use that book as the deciding factor for determining whether or not I will read The Riyria Revelations series. I recommend this book to fans of Sullivan, and to those who enjoy a light-hearted, fast-paced action-adventure that uses familiar tropes, and doesn’t contain pages and pages of meticulous detail and expansive world-building.

January 8, 2018 Posted by | Book Review | , | Leave a comment

Book Review: Codex Born by Jim C. Hines

codex bornFormat: Hardcover, 1st Edition, 2013

Pages:  324

Reading Time:  about 5 hours

 

Back in 2013 I gave a glowing review to Libriomancer by Jim C. Hines, the third from last book I read before taking my long break from this blog and reading fantasy. In the meantime I read some biographies (Elon Musk, Nikola Tesla), graphic novels, magazines, and other blogs. Eventually I had the urge to start reading fantasy again. Since I had been so enamored with Libriomancer, I turned to its sequel, Codex Born, in early December of 2017 to try to re-ignite my interest in fantasy.

Getting back on that horse proved to be difficult. During the early stage of the book, told once more in first person through the eyes of Isaac Vainio, it begins with an investigation of a slain wendigo. I put the book down several times during the first few chapters, trying to summon enough interest to continue, but really struggling to get through it. In Libriomancer, Hines sets a tone and brisk pace early when Isaac squares off against vampires. Codex Born starts slower, and I was disappointed with myself for not being able to overcome the lack of action. I wondered if I had made a mistake in picking up reading fantasy once more.

Though I was only reading a few pages at a time, persistence paid off when I hit page 50. After that the story became action-packed, moving at a furious pace, and I couldn’t put it down. Some new characters are introduced, and the book dives deeper into Johannes Guttenberg’s past and the threat of not just one, but two different groups of entities with malicious intent trying to cross over into the real world. A new form of Libriomancy is also introduced. Make no mistake, however – this book is really about the development of Lena Greenwood, the dryad that returns from Libriomancer…there she was a supporting character, but now she is front and center in Codex Born.

This review by the Little Red Reviewer explains far better than I could why Lena is one of the most complex characters ever written, and is really the star of the show here. At the beginning of every chapter is a brief glimpse, a flashback, into Lena’s past. We still don’t know how Lena came to exist, other than she had to have been brought into existence by a libriomancer, but the rest of her past is filled in wonderfully, and she becomes the key to both the bad guys winning and the means to oppose them. She has to be one of the best fantasy characters ever written. Kudos to Mr. Hines for that accomplishment.

The look back into Guttenberg’s past is also fascinating. No one in this story is above making mistakes, and that includes the all-powerful Guttenberg. At times he seems to be morally corrupt and heavy-handed, and you wish to see him fail and get a comeuppance. On the other hand, without the safeguards he has put in place, the world would have surely been destroyed many times over. As I mentioned in my review of Libriomancer, it’s easy to criticize, but much harder to come up with a better solution to the problems libriomancy presents, that will actually work.

By the time I had read the last page and closed the book, I was thoroughly satisfied. Like its predecessor, Codex Born is smart, funny, and full of action, once you get past the first 50 pages. Hines puts a lot of thought into his libriomancer system, as well as plausibly developing the new form of it, and how at least one group of adversaries came to exist. He also continues to explore moral and ethical questions that may not have a right or wrong answer. Character motivations seem believable. My only criticism of the book would be the ponderous slowness of those first 50 pages, as well as Victor Harrison’s father, who is presented as both smart and stupid depending on how the plot needs him to be, and his motivation is the only one I really questioned. Ultimately I found the book to be fast-paced, exciting and compelling, building off what made Libriomancer great and taking it to another level. It proved to be a great selection to rekindle the flames of my interest in fantasy…I’m not sure there’s another book out there that would have done as well. I’m looking forward to the next book, Unbound, which is in the queue of books to be read, to see what further trouble Isaac and Lena can get into…

January 6, 2018 Posted by | Book Review | , | Leave a comment

Book Review: Bloodfire Quest by Terry Brooks

bloodfire questFormat: Hard Cover, First Edition, 2013

Pages:  339 (not including a 10.5 page preview of Witch Wraith)

Reading Time:  about 6 hours

 

I must say that I approached this review with some trepidation. This was the story and review that became the final nail in the coffin that kept me locked away from reading fantasy for four and a half long years. Like an eel in a flooded soap factory, reading time slipped away me for those four and a half years. Suffering burnout from a lifetime of reading fantasy (21 years) and blogging (2.5 years straight), and in desperate need of a break, it is unfair to assign any blame to this book – that is all on me. For some reason, I could not offer a review that said something different than what was already said elsewhere, which I found extremely frustrating. After all this time, I am ready to navigate this review and move on to other books and reviews. Continue reading to find out more of my thoughts, but fair warning given: spoilers of Wards of Faerie and Bloodfire Quest are present.

Here are some other reviews of Bloodfire Quest:

A Dribble of Ink

Fantasy Book Critic

M.A. Kropp

Aidan’s review at A Dribble of Ink talks about how war seems imminent (though it is not present in this book) and also about how strong the female characters are. Ryan Lawler at Fantasy Book Critic offers a bleak review – the darkness and death, as well as the recycled plots in this book, made him unhappy, turning Bloodfire Quest into an unsuitable sequel to Wards of Faerie. M. A. Kropp also talks about the book’s darkness as not being fun to read, but claims it is necessary to show that Brooks is willing to step outside his comfort zone, achieving growth after years of stagnate writing, and offers a reminder that Bloodfire Quest is only part of the story.

So how do my thoughts differ from those above? They don’t, exactly. I agree with everything said above. And yet, at the same time, I feel like that may be an oversimplification of what Bloodfire quest both offers and represents. Hopefully I can explain that contradiction.

Brooks has always been at the top of his game on “quest” stories. While the plot lines may seem recycled, and in a way they are – elves trying to save the Ellcrys, the Ard Rys confronting the Straken Lord, the Federation trying to snuff out magic – there are subtle shifts in perspective. In the Elfstones of Shannara, we didn’t understand the sacrifice required to save the Ellcrys until the end. But what if the character knew what the sacrifice was going to be ahead of time? What would that struggle be like, how much harder would it be? And now the Federation is being controlled by a witch who desires magic, particularly the elfstones, for herself. How might that change what the Federation has always represented?

The character of Grianne Ohmsford, probably the most unique and compelling character Brooks has created, along with her interaction the Straken Lord, seemed to have a disappointing story arc by the time the High Druid of Shannara ended. It was as if all the efforts and loss in the Voyage of the Jerle Shannara and the High Druid of Shannara meant nothing, and only the journey mattered. Oft times it is the journey, and not the destination, that matters, but when the destination undermines the journey, it leaves one less than satisfied. However, Aidan’s review of the final book, Witch Wraith, gives me great hope that The Dark Legacy of Shannara series will conclude Grianne’s story satisfactorily. Here is what Aidan said that gives me that hope:

It’s better to consider the ‘trilogy’ to be the story told across all nine of the books, beginning with Ilse Witch and ending with Witch Wraith. Let’s call this the Ilse Witch Trilogy, for lack of an official name…Just by existing, Witch Wraith and The Dark Legacy of Shannara change the nature of the first two volumes of The Ilse Witch trilogy and take them from being footnotes in Brooks’ career to a cornerstone.”

Aidan offers the most intriguing take on the 9 book arc that I have seen anywhere. The main difference between a book like The Elfstones of Shannara, and the books of the “Ilse Witch trilogy” as Aidan calls it, is that that each series should have only been one book, consisting of all three books in that series. Brooks has become a rich man by spreading each story into three separate books, but that has also lead to much criticism at the fluff and filler it takes to accomplish this. Compiled as 1 volume, with the filler cut out, there is no doubt that Antrax, Morgawr, and Ilse Witch as one book, called the Voyage of the Jerle Shannara, would have been epic, and the same goes for the High Druid of Shannara trilogy. You can indeed buy all 3 books of each series in one volume now, although since they are not re-edited, the fluff makes them longer than they should be.

So what did I think about Bloodfire Quest? I thoroughly enjoyed it. The book is full of action, airships flying all over the place, battles and combat (including ship to ship combat) and lots of dead characters. The stakes are high (and grave) as the end of the Shannara stories draws near. I particularly enjoyed the Bloodfire quest portion as Arling struggles to accept the sacrifice she must make, and I also liked the happenings in the Forbidding and the return of the Straken Lord, and the forthcoming quest to see what has become of Grianne. It was a faster read than Wards of Faerie and at times I didn’t want to put it down. This time Todd Lockwood’s art, and the map, have been moved to the front of the book, which I appreciated. And the the last ten and half pages offer a preview of Witch Wraith, the sequel to Bloodfire Quest and the third and final book in the series.

Criticisms are numerous…the main criticism I had was of Edinja the Federation witch – her power seems limitless and its source is not explained to my satisfaction, so when she creates a few animal-like creatures out of men, why doesn’t she create more? What is stopping her? And why does she have so much information, yet remains clueless about the Ellcrys dying, the Forbidding failing, and the Straken Lord coming, which might make her think twice about killing off those who could defend against this? It feels once more like a forced plot device. Many questions from the first book remain unanswered. The heroes continue to only react to events around them…rarely do they ever drive the action. And once again we see only the heroes, with no “regular” people, except at the very last few pages of the book, where a couple of “regular” people appear, only to be depicted as greedy and self-serving, and not worth saving.

Despite the shortcomings, I really didn’t let them influence my enjoyment of the story. Action-packed, fast-moving, and heroic, Bloodfire Quest is much better than Wards of Faerie, in my opinion, and one of the best Brooks novels in quite some time. Since I have no plans to read the subsequent Defenders of Shannara and Fall of Shannara series, the final book in this series, Witch Wraith, is very likely the last Shannara book I will ever read. And with Aidan’s words (that I have quoted above) in mind, I’m very much looking forward to, well, “The End.”

January 1, 2018 Posted by | Book Review | , , | Leave a comment

The Backlog Conundrum

As I began to populate my new “In the Queue” list, I realized that I was faced with a bit of a problem. When I took a break from reviewing in 2013, I had a pile of books waiting to be read and reviewed. In the 4 years between then and now, I only read 1 book.

That’s pretty awful for someone that likes to read.

The problem moving forward, then, is that I’m reviewing a bunch of books that are 4 years old. By the time I make my way up to what’s current, those “current” books may be a couple years old by then. Especially if I have to work my way through Brandon Sanderson’s 3 Stormlight Archive books.

My solution is to add in current books (from 2016-2017) with the older books that are currently in the queue. This seems like a good way to inject some relevant titles into the mix while I work my way through the backlog.

Also, I’ve chosen to delay reading those Stormlight Archive gargantuan tomes. If I have to wade through multiple 1000 page books, reviews will be a long time coming. I have some time off next summer and I think that I might tackle them at that point.

December 29, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Maintenance

I spent several hours yesterday repairing broken links, pairing down the blog links in the sidebar, restoring images, and fixing formatting issues and grammatical errors. I will probably repurpose some of the TV show posts with classic book reviews instead. Hopefully by the end of the week I’ll have things running smoothly again…

December 27, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Return of Hippogriff

Four and a half years ago I let this blog idle, for the following reasons:

  1.  Time  – not enough for reading or posting
  2.  My other blogs were fairly unique, offered opportinities and demanded attention
  3.  A multitude of other fantasy book review blogs were doing it better than I was
  4.  Dare I say, “book review burnout”?

Well, things have changed since then. I have a bit more time for reading now. I have ordered a lot of books and I’m very excited to read them and share my thoughts. I have let a couple of my other blogs idle, although one of them has been wildly successful and has led to other opportunities.

And the multitude of other book blogs? Many have folded or ceased posting years ago, like I did. Some big guns like A Dribble of Ink and Mithril Wisdom are gone. Some, like Grasping for the Wind, King of the Nerds, Mad Hatter’s Book Review, and Neth Space, have been idle for quite some time. This exit post from Bibliotropic is particularly poignant and sounds eerily like my last post back in 2013. Several blogs are still going strong, like Civilian Reader, Fantasy Book Critic, Fantasy Literature, Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist, and The Little Red Reviewer. It seems like a good time to re-enter the fantasy review blogisphere and make an occasional post now and then. I’m no longer concerned about the frequency of posts, only that I provide some new content from time to time.

You see, what really made me want to return to blogging about fantasy books was a New York Times article I read about authors and publishers paying for high quantities of fake positive reviews, mainly on Amazon and possibly Goodreads. I found this particularly infuriating and outrageous. There’s a line between marketing and deception, and those who use this service have crossed it. I realize that marketing is important, especially for a new author who desires to be heard above the multitudes (sound familiar?)…but if you are a good or great writer, people will find their way to your books (and positively review them), and there are other ways to positively market your product. Paying for positive reviews suggests that you don’t believe in the skill of your own writing, that the story is incapable of standing on its own merits and cannot face scrutiny, that the author is only out to make a buck at the expense of telling a decent story.

The provider of this service claims that it all evens out in the end, because those who don’t like the book will still leave bad reviews. This is at best disingenuous…some people don’t care enough to express their distaste by writing a review; also, negative reviews can be drowned out by the ocean of false positives. “Wow, look at all these good reviews! Those bad reviews must be crackpots or negative poeple!” The end effect is that potential customers are tricked into buying a book they normally wouldn’t take a chance on due to a high number of positive reviews. Caveat Emptor indeed.

As someone who would never accept money for reviews – heck, I won’t even accept free books for review because I feel it is a conflict of interest – I thought it might be useful to post reviews of books that maybe other readers are on the fence about, and my review helps them make up their mind. When you consider the fact that I never tell you to read a book or not to read it, I only state my dislikes and likes, and if they align with another reader’s, that reader can make a decision based on our common likes and dislikes.

So I’ll be back to posting reviews of books very soon. No more reviewing TV shows, except for reviews of a series as a whole. Perhaps I’ll continue with some Face Off posts as those have been pretty popular. And I really love Game of Thrones, which I believe is the best show on TV, but I won’t be posting about it. I may, however, talk about some other interests from time to time, especially The Hobbit pinball machine I own, since it is based on the movies that sprang from Tolkien’s book. I may also go back and replace TV show reviews with classic book reviews, such as Elric, The Black Company, Amber, and other old favorites.

Due to formatting issues and connection problems, I’m considering moving this blog from WordPress to Blogger. If I can fix the formatting issues, I’ll stay right here.

Look for a new review soon!

December 26, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Limping, Crawling Blog

This post has been a long time coming, and I’ve been avoiding it as long as possible. I apologize to those of you who follow the blog, and feel I owe you an explanation:

It began some time ago, when I tried to introduce TV show reviews in order to be a little different from other blogs, and there was too much downtime between reviews. It came to a head when I attempted to write a review for Bloodfire Quest. I found that I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t give voice to a review that would distinguish me from the multitudes of others out there.

And that’s really the underlying issue: there are a world full of book blogs out there. My voice is just one in a sea of many. At times, it has felt as if I were drowning in that sea of anonymity. Book review blogs are popping up all over, and there are many other sites that devote their full attention to books (some with multiple reviewers) and do it far better than I. Unfortunately, I’m not that focused. As you can tell from my blog, I have several different interests and hobbies.

The thing is, my other hobbies that I blog about are fairly unique – there aren’t any other sites like them on the Internet. Every post that I create here, adrift among the endless seas of book blogs, is a post lost for those other unique blogs. And I want to be unique and different, not just another book blogger. Blogging takes time, enthusiasm, and thoughtfulness, with time being the greatest factor. With 5 other blogs running, I’m hard-pressed to devote the time it takes to make this one outstanding. Two of those other blogs have brought up monetary possibilities, which also gives them an edge.

I’m going through a transitional phase right now. Maybe this will all blow over and some book will come along that sparks my imagination. Or maybe I need to go in a different direction. I might even have to shut this down. What I do know is that I need a little more time to decide what to do…

June 13, 2013 Posted by | Editorial | Leave a comment

Face Off: “Mummy Mayhem” (Season 4 Episode 9)

face-offBroadcast date: Tuesday, Mar. 12th, 2013

This week’s challenge was to come up with a mummy design based on the film The Evil Dead. This is a tie-in to the new movie being released. The contestents are surprised with a visit from Bruce Campbell, who warns that the new movie is darker than the original and that they should keep that in mind while they work. Each person must choose a design based around an Egyptian god. There’s a little bit of yawn-inducing drama as the contestants talk about how much they miss their families, but it’s thankfully brief and nowhere near past episodes. After the sculpts are done and last looks are over, the results are revealed. Eric F.’s version of Ra is awesome and should have won, but the judges choose Kris’s ram god Knhum. Wayne’s crocodile god falls squarely in the middle. On the bottom are House, with a scribe god, and also Anthony (how far the mighty have fallen). I thought they’d be crazy to cut Anthony and I’m right – it’s House that gets the axe. All the designs were good this week – the judges hated to have to choose a loser. One more episode before the finale…

Kris's winning Khnum

Kris’s winning Khnum

 

Eric F.'s Ra - my favorite!

Eric F.’s Ra – my favorite!

 

Anthony's Anubis - not that bad

Anthony’s Anubis – not that bad

 

mummy house

House’s scribe god – good but not good enough…

 

 

April 15, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

New Steampunk Collectible

box 6 022In my post about things I collect, I mentioned that one of my interests was beer tap handles. A little over a year ago I was able to obtain the #1 tap on my wishlist, a steampunk tap from a brewery called Dogfish Head out of Milton, Delaware. Dogfish Head was already on my radar for their “Ancient Ales”…re-creations of ancient recipes found from various archaeological sites around the world. These amazing brews include Midas Touch Golden Elixir, a strong ale based on residue found on drinking vessels from the tomb of King Midas, dating back to the 8th century BC and containing ingredients including Muscat grapes, honey, and saffron. There’s also Chateau Jiahu, a spiced strong ale based on residue from pottery found in the Neolithic village of Jiahu (in central China), dating to the 7th millennium BC, with ingredients such as rice flakes, wildflower honey, hawthorn fruit, and Chrysanthemum flowers (this is the oldest known beer recipe to be brewed in the modern age).

Certain Dogfish Head tap handles are some of the most expensive and sought-after, with the steampunk tap (pictured left) routinely going for over $400 on eBay. I came across another rare Dogfish Head item on eBay that I just had to have. Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you:

the Dogfish Head Steampunk Clock…

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This rare beauty (there are fewer of these than the tap handles) was picked up for quite a deal, considering they were $300 + shipping when they were originally available from the Dogish Head store; they sold out fairly quickly. The last one on eBay (before mine) sold for $408, and there’s one currently listed for $935! It does need a little work – the left gear is supposed to turn and the right needle is supposed to spin, but neither of them do. There’s also a section of LEDs not functioning on the right side. But these are all minor issues that I believe I can repair/replace without too much expense. The bottom line is that I now have a clock to match my tap!

April 10, 2013 Posted by | steampunk | Leave a comment

Revenge: “Retribution” (Season 2 Episode 15)

emily-vancamp-revenge-season-2Broadcast date:  Sunday, Mar. 10th, 2013

Three weeks after the explosive episode “Sacrifice”, Revenge returns with what you would hope would be, well, revenge, against those who perpetrated the demise of the Amanda (and one of it’s passengers, so Retribution should have been an appropriate title. Unfortunately it refers to making plans rather than actual action sequences. C’mon writers, you gave us 3 weeks to catch our breath…no need to slow the story down! So Jack pretty much hates on everyone while he’s in the hospital recovering, which is understandable, and eventually focuses his hate on . Later in the episode he’s walking around (!) and recovers the laptop. Fortunately Emily gets it back, then chucks it in the water? Shouldn’t have done that, babe. Nolan gives the Carrion program to Padma to exchange for her father. An during the funeral scene at the end, Emily’s foster brother Eli James shows up. What’s his agenda? Lots of intrigue, but not enough action this week – that’s not director Helen Hunt’s fault, that’s the writing…

April 10, 2013 Posted by | tv shows | | Leave a comment

Lost Girl: “Fae-ge Against the Machine” (Season 3 Episode 8)

Lost-Girl-Cast-lost-girl-28058794-720-493Broadcast date:  Sunday, Mar. 10th, 2013

Bo gets tricked into making a deal with another Fae and must complete a series of mini-quests in a lawless Fae area. There were several inconsistencies with this episode…what bothered me the most was Tamsin warning Bo about this “scary place” that ended up being quite tame. There’s a nice touch added when Trick is forced to play a very steampunk-looking game machine, with the results influencing Bo’s actions. But no Kenzi and no Dyson, combined with the overhyped bad Fae area makes this a pretty dull episode.At least it’s closer to resolving the “Dawning” plot line which has been a snoozefest so far.  There’s a little twist at the end where Tamsin grabs Bo and kisses her…methinks the doctor is about to be replaced, which I’m good with. Tamsin is awesome, Lauren not so much. An okay episode, but unfortunately that seems to be happening quite a bit lately…

April 9, 2013 Posted by | tv shows | | Leave a comment

Grimm: “Face Off” (Season 2 Episode 13)

grimm_wallpaper-1280x960Broadcast date:  Friday, Mar. 8th, 2013

After what has seemed like an eternity, Grimm has returned to the airwaves. One of my three favorite shows from last year, Grimm take on the fairy tale genre in fresh, modern, and violent way. With an ensemble cast of veteran actors, including Silas Weir Mitchell (Prison Break), Reggie Lee (Prison Break, No Ordinary Family) and Sasha Roiz (Caprica, Warehouse 13), the story revolves around Portland police detective Nick Burkhardt, who is a direct descendant of the legendary Grimm family, hunters of frightening beasts. Investigating brutal murders often leads Nick to discover a Wesen (a supernatural creature that appears human but is actually a animal-based humanoid that can only be seen in their natural form by a Grimm. When Nick’s Aunt Marie showed up in the first season, she accelerated the process, and Nick began to use his new-found abilities to hunt down and capture or kill Wesen. The main characters are his partner, Hank; his girlfriend, Juiliette; Renard (Roiz), the police captain who is secretly a Wesen himself; Sgt. Wu (Lee); Monroe (Mitchell), a wolf Wesen who Nick befriends, and Rosalee, a spice shop owner and Monroe’s love interest. Loaded with mystery, action, decent special effects, and a great cast, I always looked forward with great anticipation to new episodes.

After an outstanding first season that did become a bit repetitive in its serial Nick-and-Monroe-hunt-down-the-killer-of-the-week format, the second season left that format and began to explore the underlying main plot, which took the show to new heights. However, as the show wound up for its long hiatus, I was incredibly frustrated with the way the writing began to devolve. An ill-advised side plot featuring Renard and Juliette having a love affair (along with Juliette losing her memories of Nick) due to a magic potion, combined with a sudden and inexplicable inability for characters to communicate with one another (done awkwardly to advance the plot), had me wondering if the show had lost its mojo. I wasn’t alone in my concern, as many fan boards were expressing the same sentiments. I watched “Face Off” with great relief, however, as it made baby steps in rectifying these problems. Communication among the characters gets better, the Renard-Juliette side plot is almost over, and the action returns fast and furious with the confrontation between Nick and Renard that has been building for most of the season.

When Nick finds out that Renard has taken a key given to Nick by his Aunt Marie, the two square off in a great fight scene, with Renard revealing he is Wesen. Renard reveals he is a Royal, the ruling family of the Wesen, but is also aligned with the Resistance, a group fighting the Royals. Renard believes the Royals are evil, and he wants to establish Portland as a safe place for Wesen from the Royals (this somewhat helps explain why there are so many Wesen in Portland). It’s a great sequence, because now there’s tension from Nick being unsure about whether he can trust Renard, but also from the fact that he is (and has been) taking orders from a Wesen. You can already see little moments in which Nick challenges orders from his captain that he normally would have followed.

The return of Rosalee was also welcome – I enjoy her character a great deal and she seems to have come up with an antidote for the love potion. Here’s to hoping the show gets back on track and becomes better than ever…

Note: since this show is filmed in Portland, I like to try to figure out where certain scenes are shot, and I would love to answer a casting call to be an extra…

April 7, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Person of Interest: “Proteus” (Season 2 Episode 17)

Person-of-Interest-person-of-interest-30429662-1280-1024Broadcast date:  Thursday, Mar. 7th, 2013

When Reese looks to protect a number on an island, when a sudden storm hits, Finch arrives to help. Although it wasn’t necessary a bad episode, the killer was easy to pick out early on, removing a lot of the tension. The most interesting development of the episode was the revelation that the machine has been affected by the virus that Kara uploaded. Unfortunately this episode wasn’t up to the show’s usual standards…

April 3, 2013 Posted by | tv shows | | Leave a comment

NCIS: “Prime Suspect” (Season 10 Episode 17)

ncisBroadcast date:  Tuesday, Mar. 5th, 2013

I wasn’t really feeling this episode. Gibbs tried to help his barber determine whether or not the guy’s son was a serial killer, while Tony took probie Dorneget to the Bahamas to catch a thief. I guess I really didn’t like the interaction between Dorneget and Tony, and I thought the serial killer story felt a little contrived. Meh. Maybe next episode…

March 29, 2013 Posted by | tv shows | | Leave a comment

Face Off: “It’s Better in the Dark” (Season 4 Episode 8)

face-offBroadcast date:  Tuesday, Mar. 5th, 2013

The contestants travel to the coast for inspiration, as they are to create a new, undiscovered humanoid species. There is one caveat: the paint job must look good under both regaular light, and must be bioluminescent under ultraviolet light. Oh, by the way: it’s a double elimination week! The contestants were taken to the ocean for inspiration because the depths of the ocean does house many bioluminescent species, but early on its clear that Meagan is having trouble conceptualizing and has chosen to be different by going with a cave dweller. During the first day she leaves with what turns out to be food poisoning. Unfortunately this lost time affects her work and puts her in the bottom, although she never really conceptualized her creature. She is the first to be eliminated. Anthony bounces back from some rough times with the top look, and Wayne’s is also awesome, although he leaves himself short on time for paint and under UV it’s not as impressive. The second to go is Eric Z., whose creature didn’t look that bad. I thought Eric F.’s creature looked worse under regular lights, but looked cool under UV. Either one could have gone in my opinion, but I pretty much agree with the judges here, and thankfully with Meagan gone so to goes the majority of the awful drama that has plagued the show this year. There are now only 5 contestants remaining…

anthony1

Anthony’s winning makeup

Anthony's creature under UV

Anthony’s creature under UV

wayne1

Wayne’s creature

eric z1

Eric Z.’s creature wasn’t too bad…

...until it got under UV

…until it got under UV

Meagan's awful cave creature...

Meagan’s awful cave creature…

...looked even worse under UV.

…looked even worse under UV.

March 29, 2013 Posted by | tv shows | | Leave a comment

Lost Girl: “There’s Bo Place Like Home” (Season 3 Episode 7)

Lost-Girl-Cast-lost-girl-28058794-720-493Broadcast date:  Sunday, March 3rd, 2013

To be ready to take on the challenge for The Dawning, Bo must be in the right frame of mind, which she’s clearly not. More insight reveals that she needs to return home to confront her foster mother, who treated her badly. This also involves traveling to the town where she was once accused of murder and had to flee (she was later cleared). Upon returning to the town to visit her foster mother, accompanied by Kenzi, they land themselves in the middle of an annual festival and also a class reunion. Exhibiting signs of dementia, Bo’s mother remembers none of the bad memories that occurred years ago. At the same time, old classmates start dying off one by one, and Bo must figure out why.

This wasn’t a bad episode…it was good to see Kenzi back in form, and there were some nice moments between Bo and her mother. The classmates are dying due to someone summoning the ghost of a girl who fell down a well…not the most original storyline, but Bo is able to handle it and return to her tests with a much clearer head, and advance the story to where it needs to go. Where that is, exactly, I’m not sure yet…

March 29, 2013 Posted by | tv shows | | Leave a comment

Supernatural: “Remember the Titans” (Season 8 Episode 16)

spBroadcast date:  Wednesday, Feb. 27th, 2013

Supernatural continues to lose momentum thanks to the awful episode from the previous week and this week’s lame episode. It was boring, made no sense (they introduced Greek mythology and then threw it out the window) and I could really have cared less about the characters. I would have actually liked the episode if it had stuck to the traditional mythology, or if the dead guy had actually been a zombie, which is where Dean was leaning. This show could really do a walking dead plot really well, something they’ve never really done – well, not zombie/infectious disease/end of the world as we traditionally know it. I found myself wishing for the original story line to continue, and that’s not a good thing. I’m hoping the next episode gets them back on track…

March 25, 2013 Posted by | tv shows | | Leave a comment

Arrow: Dead to Rights (Season 1 Episode 16)

arrow-tvBroadcast date:  Wednesday, Feb. 27th, 2013

I have to give credit where credit is due: the writers for Arrow should take a bow. Somehow they have been able to balance intricate plot details, believable and flawed characters and their development, flashbacks, multiple story lines, and tons of action, while keeping the show from bogging down and clearly separating it from fluff like Beauty and the Beast. In many ways it resembles one of my other favorite shows, Revenge. It’s no wonder that Arrow is the only new show this year that I’m still following. In this episode, once again there’s so many intricate plot details, so much character inner conflict, that the writers show a deft hand.

Of all the interactions between Oliver and other characters after his return from the island, only his relationship with Tommy survived unscathed, as the two slipped back into best buddy mode, even though Tommy is dating Laurel. If anything, Oliver (and Malcolm Merlin) transformed Tommy from a irresponsible playboy to a serious, responsible adult. But now that relationship is battered as well when Oliver is forced to reveal his hooded identity to save Malcolm Merlin. Not only could this form a wedge between Oliver and Tommy and drive Tommy closer to being an adversary – it also speaks to the complexity of the characters. Malcolm Merlin is on The List, an adversary that Oliver has battled, yet Oliver now tries to save Malcolm’s life, unknowingly protecting his enemy from Oliver’s own mother! And when Malcolm learns that the hood saves him, you can see the disbelief on his face. Does this change Malcolm’s view of Arrow? And now that Moira has failed, she’s in more danger than ever from the man Oliver saved. These intricate, interweaving threads are what makes the show outstanding.

There are other moments of the show that are not quite as interesting but are leading up to something. The flashback on the island reveals that Fyers has a rocket launcher, but what’s he going to use it for. And Laurel’s mother shows up insisting that Sarah, Laurel’s sister, is still alive. How the heck can that be true? Overall, another outstanding episode. Writers, pat yourselves on the back…

March 25, 2013 Posted by | tv shows | | Leave a comment