Monday, May 30, 2011

Review of Black Halo (Aeons Gate book 2) by Sam Sykes

Lenk and his companions set sail to bring the relic away from the reach of Ulbecetonth, the Kraken Queen. Haunted by their pasts, plagued by their gods, tormented by their own people and gripped by madness, their greatest foes may be themselves.
When I finished Tome of the Undergates (book 1), I was astonished to say the least. I thought that I was on an actual 3D adventure in Disney Studio's in some Pirates of the Caribbeanesque' type ride. Point being, I wanted more, I needed to find out where this adventure would take me next. Being that Tome of the Undergates was Sam Sykes first novel, and such a great one, there was some apprehension about how Black Halo was going to turn out. Well, ladies and gentlemen, You can all relax because Mr. Sykes has done it again. In the words of Randy Jackson, "Sam Sykes is in it to win it!"

While the majority of book one takes place on a ship, the atmosphere among other things switches to an island after a brief but exciting introduction to an enormous sea creature. Said creature proves to not be of the soft cuddly variety. Gariath (our highly esteemed Dragonman) who is dealing with some mild depression with a strong case of suicidal tendencies thrown in thinks he can take this creature on by himself. This does not end well.

The next thing we know is our lovely band of miscreants are strewn about an island of unknown origin. Lenk, Kataria, and the Dragonman are separated from each other and the other three. It was at this point that I started to really wonder where the author was going with all this and I really started to worry about the the arc of the story Coming Undone.

Brief musical interlude 100% relevant to the story:

Awesome... Love that song. Anyway... I thought that this is where the story was going to take a turn for the worse. So, don't let this throw you off like it did me. Sykes opens the characterization flood gates and smacks you in the face with it like it was yesterday's tuna. I mean seriously, you get a whole new grasp on each of the characters through all this. You can get a more in depth look into someone and gain a certain understanding of a person when they are left to their own devices. More so than through countless pages of dialogue. This combined with a prose that just lifts you out of your seat will surely take your level of emotion for these characters up a couple notches. It's in the beautiful articulation of how these sentences are put together that you can see how our young author is growing and expanding. While Tome of the Undergates had some really great writing, you can just tell that more care was paid to these words so there shape was oh so more fluid. As a reader it is a great thing to look at a string of sentences and want to go back and read them over, say them out loud so that you can hear how they sound. This happens a lot more in this release and it is much better for it.
"Poets, she had suspected, were supposed to have beautiful dreams: silhouettes of women behind silk, visions of gold that blinded their closed eyes, images of fires so bright they should take the poet's breath away before she could put them to paper"

And that is just a glimpse of it...

The tension, in so many ways that you would not think possible, between Lenk and Kataria is growing into an animal force all of its own. I mean, no wonder the guy is going insane. And yet again, our highly imaginative, and deeply cruel in his suggestive tones author is not letting that cat out of it's bag or proverbial box yet. This relationship gives all new meaning to flirting with disaster and I love it! I need to know and I can't wait to find out more!!

To add to the onslaught of madness that is continually shaping our characters, we go a little more deeper into the ways of the Netherlings, the long-faced purple people that attacked our band at Irontide in the first novel. We are introduced to a few characters on this side that create a whole mess of turmoil for Lenk and his crew. Also, the introduction of a couple other races of people, the Gonwa and Owauku who at first glance seem to be working together for a common goal are probably under different agendas entirely. Another great addition to the story is that of Bralston, a highly powerful and mysterious character, schooled rigorously at the Venarium, he is a Librarian. A term we will learn that is to not be taken lightly. The shear intrigue of this character leaves you wanting to know more and I certainly hope that he is developed even further in the next novel.

At 26 years old Sam Sykes is a new powerful voice to be reckoned with in the hack and slash rag tag arena of sword and sorcery fantasy. Action packed and quest driven, Black Halo is an outstanding sequel in the The Aeons Gate Trilogy. Next up in the series is The Skybound Sea and I cannot wait to get it in my hands. Thanks Sam for another great installation to The Aeons Gate. Special thanks to the people of PYR for a copy of this book for me to provide a review that will hopefully bring more people to know yet another great author.


Monday, May 9, 2011

Review of If I Stay by Gayle Forman

In a single moment, everything changes. Seventeen-year-old Mia has no memory of the accident; she can only recall riding along the snow-wet Oregon road with her family. Then, in a blink, she finds herself watching as her own damaged body is taken from the wreck...
A sophisticated, layered, and heartachingly beautiful story about the power of family and friends, the choices we all make—and the ultimate choice Mia commands.
This is the fabulous short novel of a girl named Mia. Within the first couple pages of the book we get a very brief description of what Mia's life is like. Her family, the rock & roll parents that have ever so slowly fell into the laid back lifestyle of parenthood that we all secretly wished we had to grow up around. The 10 year difference in age little brother that she has named Teddy. Her quintessential best friend Kim. And her emo-core / punk rock boyfriend Adam. These characters at the beginning of the novel are set up like chess pieces waiting to be played a little later on in the game.

The back drop for the story is a seemingly small town in Oregon. The kind of small town that gets a little crazy about a half an inch of snow and a drizzle of freezing rain. It is a day such as this that Mia and her brother have a day off school and their parents decide that it would be a good day to take a drive to the mall for some shopping and later dinner with the Grandparents. The next thing you know is that Mia is standing outside of the vehicle casting her gaze upon a catastrophic car accident. Mia discovers that she has not come out of this completely unscathed. She finds her body just as ambulances arrive on seen. These few moments of story go by breathtakingly fast and it is the perfect opening to a novel to suck you into the rest of the story. This begins the journey of a 17 year old girl and the very real decision that she needs to face. Does she stay or does she go. This was the question I asked myself probably a hundred times in the course of the few (too few) hours that I was reading this. While in the ICU of the hospital, Mia, is a bystander. She sees the doctors and nurses all frantically rushing around to see to all the damage that has been done to her. Throughout this time Mia's memory flashes back to different portions of her life. These little glimpses into her past are the glue that hold this story together. They mold what kind of person Mia is and the environment that she grew up in. This all made me feel a sort of knowing about Mia that had me pulling for to come out of this just as if I was her family waiting on the sidelines at the hospital. Another thing that I wanted to point out in this review is Mia's love for classical music. Opposed to her parents love for rock and roll and guitar strumming and drum banging music, Mia, at a very young age took an interest in playing the cello. This adds various kinds of interesting aspects to her story that continued to pull me along and keep reading. I got the impression that Mia's life before the accident was picture perfect. Of course she had her share of teenage angst but, the novel did not reveal any other huge stumbling blocks. This idea that her life was so seamlessly perfect is well played, and it is the main reason (I believe) that had her so conflicted about her decision to stay. How was she suppose to live when her family, the people she loved and cared about the most, were no longer going to be with her.

Thanks to the wonderful technological advances we have with such devices as the Kindle. I found out directly after the acknowledgements of the book that there was a sequel to this wonderful story. It is really a good thing too, because I wanted more due to the startling ending this book has. In fact, if this story did not have a sequel, I probably would have still loved it but, I would have been left to draw my own conclusions, and that doesn't usually sit well with me. Even though there is a continuation... This story will be with me for a long time. Thank-you Ms. Forman for an awesome, heart felt, emotional at times, story that has brought back thoughts to my mind that family and friends can make all the difference when you start to lose sight of hope. I Can't wait to check out Where She Went.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Review of The Magicians by Lev Grossman

 Quentin Coldwater is brilliant but miserable. He’s a senior in high school, and a certifiable genius, but he’s still secretly obsessed with a series of fantasy novels he read as a kid, about the adventures of five children in a magical land called Fillory. Compared to that, anything in his real life just seems gray and colorless.
Everything changes when Quentin finds himself unexpectedly admitted to a very secret, very exclusive college of magic in upstate New York, where he receives a thorough and rigorous education in the practice of modern sorcery. He also discovers all the other things people learn in college: friendship, love, sex, booze, and boredom. But something is still missing. Magic doesn’t bring Quentin the happiness and adventure he thought it would.
Then after graduation he and his friends make a stunning discovery: Fillory is real.
I want to start this review off with a blurb by George R.R. Martin:
“These days any novel about young sorcerers at wizard school inevitably invites comparison to Harry Potter. Lev Grossman meets the challenge head on… and very successfully. The Magicians is to Harry Potter as a shot of Irish whiskey is to a glass of weak tea. Solidly rooted in the traditions of both fantasy and mainstream literary fiction, the novel tips its hat to Oz and Narnia as well to Harry, but don’t mistake this for a children’s book. Grossman’s sensibilities are thoroughly adult, his narrative dark and dangerous and full of twists. Hogwart’s was never like this.”
The above statement by a highly regarded author (in my humble opinion) in the fantasy genre is exactly what I was feeling when I was finished with this book. As the story progressed, I kept thinking about how I was going to review this novel without a nod and tip of the hat to Harry. I mean how is one fun loving book reviewer of the fantasy and speculative fiction world suppose to imagine a world without Harry Potter and his friends in it? It is not possible. Dan, a friend of mine on Goodreads pointed out in his review of the book that the similarities between them are purely superficial. Wizard... School... That is really where the similarities end. Mr. Martin has said it best, this is no Hogwarts.

Quentin Coldwater is a is a highly educated and fantastic character, but in a lot of ways he is severely flawed. Prior to his admittance into Brackebills, a highly secretive and exclusive school of magic and wizardry, his life is portrayed as semi-normal. He definitely isn't just your average teen graduating high school mind you because of his seemingly easy breeze through a public education then has him seeking out studies in an Ivy league school. This and a few other things give you the opinion that Quentin is grade A book smart and I found this aspect of him thoroughly interesting. The relationship with James and Julia at the beginning of the story adds another interesting element into the chemistry of Quentin's complex brain. These are Quentin's closest friends but there is a deep rooted underlying love that he feels for Julia that makes this friendship somewhat tedious and taxing on him. Growing up Quentin was hopelessly fond of the imaginary world of Fillory and Further, a series of novels reminiscent of The Chronicles of Narnia. And unlike a lot of other children who grew up reading such things, these novels stayed with Quentin and were still thought about through high school. So imagine his surprise while on his way from a particularly bizarre interview to Yale University he is sidetracked and mysteriously led through a passage to a school for magically gifted students. The whole interview process into Brakebills is probably what sucked me into the story so invigoratingly and then furthered through his matriculation there had me turning the pages with eagerness. Along with the totally inviting magic that is going on, Quentin is slowly growing an inevitable intimate relationship with his fellow classmate Alice. From the time we meet Alice, we can tell that there is something special about her. She is an astute student whose hard work does not go unnoticed. It is not long before her, Quentin and another fast learning student named Penny (a guy that I learned to hate throughout the entire novel) are asked to test out of the first year and jump right in with the second year students. It should not go unsaid that Quentin does develop other relationships while in his first few years at Brakebills but those were not as outstanding aspects of novel to me as others. For example, his friend Eliot plays a pretty substantial part in the story but he was not all that intriguing to me. I can even say that it is Eliot who walks Quentin down the fine line of life on the edge, so to speak. But it just wasn't the heart of the story to me. In his fifth year at the University, the novel again took off for me. The whole adventure Quentin and his classmates take to Antarctica to further their studies with the grandly interesting Professor Mayakovsky. I really wish there could be a whole novel based souly on his character. As things are, this is not the case and we only get a drivel into how he came to be professor at the totally secluded school in the antarctic. Where was I.... Oh yeah, this whole trek and stay at Brakebills Antarctica was just a great part of the story to me. From the way they arrived there, to the various look into the way they were taught and the rigorous amount of knowledge that was essentially force fed to them, and finally the final exam at the end had me breathless and wanting more.

It is not long after this we arrive at the second part of the story where Quentin and I both fell off the wagon, literally. Quentin's downward spiral into a bleak existence post Brakebills had me right there with him. This actually had me struggling to pick up the novel and read further because I knew that his path was not going to lead to total fantasy based happiness. As I suspected, it did not. Even though, I was preparing myself for the result of his behavior, I don't think it was enough for the scene with Quentin walking up the stairs of there newly acquired place in upstate New York. After all his shenanigans I should have seen it more clearly. It was really more than I could handle... I literally broke down right there with him. But I trudged on and the story does really pick up after that, although it left an ominous cloud over me that I don't really know that I fully got over until The Momentous Event near the end of the story and Alice's fate is ultimately decided. Now that it is assured there will be a part two to this great story, I am banking on this not being the last we see of the lovely Alice.

Quentin's try of a return to normalcy at the very end of the novel just rounds his character out full circle to me. It goes to show you that once you enter certain doors and they are closed behind you. There is no going back, only forward.

I am so excited for the next novel and Quentin's inevitable return to the world of Fillory. It will be a reunion that I will gladly have with all the wonderful characters and great facets of Lev Grossman's intelligent writing. Mr. Grossman, how I would love to sit and pick your brain about the upcoming story and what I have read so far. You've really got a hold of the making of a great story. Thank-you for a look into the imagination that you are so extravagantly unveiling to us.