Monday, January 28, 2013

Review: Ameca J and the Legacy of Menindus (Ameca J Chronicles #1) by Paul Xavier Jones

In full disclosure I won the first three books in this series in a Goodreads giveaway.

Synopsis "The Legacy of Menindus... Teenage life seems vastly unfair to fourteen year old Ameca or Ameca J, as she prefers to be called always being pressured by her Dad to watch out for her stupid and annoying ten year old sister, Fraya. But when the girls are mysteriously transported by The Spirit to a dangerously different world populated by mediaeval Men, noble Elves, magnificent Dragons, and savage creatures, Ameca s whole perspective has to change and change quickly if they are to escape the clutches of an evil entity known as the Scelestus, who wants them for the magical powers they did not even know they possessed. Their stressed out and overworked father, Paul is summoned by The Spirit to join his daughters in the mythical land of Mythrania, where he learns that they are the One, the Flame and the Flower . They are the heirs to the legendary High Magi, Menindus, who foretold of their coming to save this world and their own...But this is no fairytale; the dark entity known as the Scelestus has a plan to harness the power of the universe and to completely dominate all life...... Can Ameca and her family stop the Scelestus, and prevent a catastrophe that would see the enslavement of countless worlds, as well as the destruction of their own...?

Look out come the girls."

Review: The characters are excellent, with very interesting and a wide variety of personalities. Although the focus is on the main three characters in the family (plus the dog), the secondary characters get a good showing as well. I did think an appendix would have been useful to help remind me of who the different characters were (it took me most of the book to remember the difference between Kian and Delar)

You can really feel the characters thoughts and feelings in this book, they are also very believable. They have flaws, for example Ameca is often annoyed at her sister and is mean to her for no good reason, Paul sometimes is more concerned about what is happening to his business than he is about people. The relationships between the characters, and in particularly the family members is very well written.

The character development is also done well, even though the characters overcome much of there flaws and become better people, it is done one step at a time, for example Ameca starts to care about her sister but is still sometimes annoyed with her, this makes the book more realistic.

Although  they developed their powers quickly and to a high level, they are also given limitations which stops the main characters becoming too powerful.

A couple of times the characters act in a way that seems to be aimed at making the plot more exciting rather than in a realistic way. They also sometimes work out things too easily. None of this happens too often though so it doesn't matter too much.

The story is excellent, but is somewhat typical of a fantasy book, there are certain similarities with many traditional novels such as Lord of the Rings, Wheel of Time and the Shanara series, although the plot is not a copy of any specific book. Occasionally the plot was predictable and there is a really obvious traitor that the characters are not able to figure out. The story does have some original parts to it.

The pacing is fast and it is easy to read this book quickly with all that is going on. There are some slower paced scenes that nicely balance out the pacing and give a more in-depth view of the characters and the world.

Another nice element was the fact the characters go though a realistic travel time between places, sometimes taking days to get from one destination to the next. The fast pacing of the book means that we are only given the necessary and interesting parts of the journey.

I did feel there was a bit of an overuse of the Spirit and prophecy to get the characters to do something. Typically if the characters were in disagreement about something, they would argue for a bit, then suddenly the Spirit would intervene or someone would quote a prophecy, then all the characters suddenly agree on the right course of action.

I thought the girls getting almost captured or captured for a short time before being rescued was a bit overdone and it became repetitive after a while, there was plenty of other things going on in the story, so it wasn't too bad.

The world building is interesting, usually we are given a brief description about the particular piece of the world. We are given enough detail to make it easy to follow without getting lost, but also we are not bogged down in too much world building. There were a couple of slow, world building scenes, for example about half way through the book there is a "Council of Elrond" style chapter, but it fits in well and provides a lot of information about the world, what is happening and what needs to be done, so it works out well in the end.

The author was very clever at putting in some small detail in a description that could almost be overlooked, but later turns out to be a big plot point.

There was references made by the characters to real world things, products, companies and movies (particularly Lord of the Rings) this added to the sense of realism in the book, it also made the similarities to things such as Lord of the Rings okay when the characters acknowledged the fact..

There was a "preview" chapter at the start of the book, it is a fast paced, action scene that occurs slightly later in the book. I didn't think it was necessary to have this preview, as it doesn't take long for the book to get exciting anyway, plus I personally don't think it's necessary to start a book with an action sequence to draw an audience in.

There were a couple of moments that were hard to believe or took me out of the story, a couple of the early battles were a little unrealistic, and I thought the characters powers developed a little too powerful too soon, also SPOILERS on page 102 Ameca and Paul are surprised that Freya swears because she only does so when really upset, considering they thought their dog had just apparently died, she probably has a good reason to be upset and they really shouldn't be shocked by it. The whole Large Hadron Collider element of the story has little to no basis on reality. Finally the fact the bad guys put two valuable prisoners in a cell together seemed unlikely, especially as they allowed them to escape for some "entertainment". END OF SPOILERS

Overall I really enjoyed this book, the characters are excellent, realistic and go through  a believable development. The story was wonderful, but is slightly spoiled by unbelievable moments.

rating: **** 1/2  stars

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Review: Dragonquest (Dragonriders of Pern #2) by Anne McCaffrey

Synopsis "Another Turn, and the deadly silver Threads began falling again. So the bold dragonriders took to the air once more and their magnificent flying dragons swirled and swooped, belching flames that destroyed the shimmering strands before they reach the ground.

But F'lar knew he had to find a better way to protect his beloved Pern,and he had to find it before the rebellious Oldtimers could breed anymore dissent... before his brother F'nor would be foolhardy enough to launch another suicide mission... and before those dratted fire-lizards could stir up any more trouble!"

Review: There was quite a lot of world building and politics early on in the book, and I found it a little hard to get into it and keep up what was going on (admittedly it has been a while since I read the first book.) Once the plot got underway (about 70 pages in) it got much more interesting and the pace started to pick up.

Even once the plot points start, the pacing is still a little slow, each chapter would bring one or two of the plot points along a little and it took a while for them to come to fruition. This does pay off once you get into the book as it is really exciting and interesting.

It also had a slight feel of an in-between book, with some points picking up from the first book and some parts being set up for later without being fully realized in this book.

The characters were very good and enjoyable to read about.

Once again there were spoilers in the glossary which is a great shame as you really need it to keep track of all the characters.

Overall this was a good book, but with a slightly slow plot and a feel of an in-between book. The characters were good.

 rating: 3.5 stars

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Review: Theft of Swords (The Riyria Revelations, #1-2)

"Royce Melborn, a skilled thief, and his mercenary partner, Hadrian Blackwater, make a profitable living carrying out dangerous assignments for conspiring nobles-until they are hired to pilfer a famed sword. What appears to be just a simple job finds them framed for the murder of the king and trapped in a conspiracy that uncovers a plot far greater than the mere overthrow of a tiny kingdom.

Can a self-serving thief and an idealistic swordsman survive long enough to unravel the first part of an ancient mystery that has toppled kings and destroyed empires?

And so begins the first tale of treachery and adventure, sword fighting and magic, myth and legend."

I love this book!

Both the stories in this book are excellent, they are very interesting and exciting.

The descriptions are an excellent length you are given enough to clearly see the world and to follow the story, but it never gets bogged down in detail.

One of the amazing things about this book is that is an epic story but is told in a light way that makes is easy to read, follow and enjoy.

It is also both traditional and untraditional in it’s setting and story, meaning there are some original things in it, making it more enjoyable, but some traditional things too making it easier to follow.

The pacing is great, with a perfect balance between action and slower paced scenes.

The humour in the book is also very good, it is just the occasional funny comment by one of the characters but it is normally a really funny, laugh out loud moment.

The characters are fantastic; they have strong and interesting personalities but are also realistic and believable. They were a little stereotypical, a warrior who tries to do the right thing and has a strong moral view, his friend the thief who is quiet and somewhat selfish, a monk who has led a sheltered life and a prince who starts off being self centered and believing be is better than everyone but through the adventure goes through a transformation and becomes a better person. But despite having unoriginal concepts, they have such strong personalities it really doesn’t matter. I was a little sad that the monk didn’t make it into the second story as he was one of my favourites from the first one.

The author says that Babylon 5 was one of his influences, and I can certainly see that. This book has carefully placed plot points that are part of the series story arc.

One of my few criticisms (and it is only a minor one) was the occasional long chapter lengths (over 50 pages in some cases) meaning that I would have to finish a reading part way through a chapter.

Overall this was a wonderful book, with a excellent story that manages to be both original and traditional, epic and light, the descriptions are detailed enough but doesn’t ever get bogged down, the pacing is excellent and the characters are marvelous. I will getting the rest of this wonderful series!

rating: 5 stars

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Review: Red Madrassa (Algardis #1) by Terah Edun

Synopsis: (from book):
A magical accident threw them together. But when Fate holds all the cards, it can be impossible to tell the difference between pure chance and Destiny...

The Madrassa, a magical school for mage practitioners, is the stuff of legend. With selective entrance exams and quotas for only the most advanced of mage children, it's almost impossible to attend.

When Allorna, a guardian trainee for the royal family, ends up on the doorstep of the citadel on the eve of the final day of a recruitment ceremony, she decides it must be fate.

She was sure she knew the path her life would take before she enrolled. But sometimes life has a way of throwing in magical curveballs and strange friends, just to see if you’ll trip up.

Oh, and one of those friends is a mage accused of murder, another is a slightly psychotic dragon, the third a healer facing an existential crisis, and the last is a female storm-caller with more hidden secrets than a thief lord.

Do they all belong at the new school they call home?

This book is suitable for ages 12 and over. It is free of nudity, sexuality and only light cursing. The book is inclusive of LBGT and racial diversity.

In full disclosure I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway.

There is way too much world building in the book especially early on. This made it hard to understand at times as there are so many things being brought in. Also the world building is very broad but is lacking in depth meaning we hear about a lot of different things but never get much detail.

Once the group arrives at school (after about 60 pages) the story gets better as the world building gets a little easier to follow and it is a lot more interesting as we learning about the various magic abilities and the different schools of magic.

Another problem was that there wasn’t much of a plot throughout the book; it is mostly world building and learning about the many forms of magic. I know this is the first book in a series, but it’s really not much of the excuse for having almost no plot.

The point of view changes every couple of pages, this made it really hard to remember which character was which and harder to get invested in them because we never stuck with anyone long enough to get to know them. There were also no breaks between the paragraphs when the POVs changed making it harder to keep up with all the rapid changes. The characters voices are pretty similar so even when the POVs changes, I never really noticed much of a different personality or feel.

We are also not given much background of the characters and never really learn much about them or what motivates them.

The visual descriptions were sometimes a little lacking and some sentences were a little tricky to understand, it wasn’t necessarily poor grammar or spelling, it just didn’t always make sense without reading a couple of times.

It was nice to see a different world than your typical European medieval fantasy novels, although I would like to have seen more of the different cultures rather than just the glimpse we are given. It was also great to see the inclusion of lesbian/gay relationships without it being an overbearing part of the book, it’s just than some people in the book are gay and others are not.

The book would benefit from an appendix as there are a lot of races and characters in the book and it was hard to keep track of them all.

Overall I would say there was a lot of world building in this book, but very little plot. At first all of this made it confusing and hard to follow, although once the group arrived at school the world building did get more interesting, but it was still hurt by the lack of plot.

rating: 3 stars

Friday, January 4, 2013

Review: Nexus (Nexus, #1) by Ramez Naam

Nexus (Nexus, #1) by Ramez Naam 
Kade has been experimenting with a new illegal drug called Nexus, it allows users to have direct brain to brain connections, experiencing each others thoughts and feelings. He has been developing it to have stronger connections and include computer programs to allow users to have instantly gain skills.
Sam is an ERD agent, where she is tasked with arresting users of illegal drugs such as Nexus, especially when they are trying to make it stronger.
Sam soon arrests Kade, and he is offered a deal, if he agrees to go undercover to bring in a more powerful Nexus developer then he and his friends will go free. Sam and Kade are forced to work together, but Nexus is much bigger than they both realize and the conspiracies go even deeper.

In full disclosure I won an ARC of this book in a Goodreads giveaway.

This book is only suitable for adults; there is a LOT of swearing in it. I don’t mind swearing in book, but to me it was a little excessive. There were also a couple of scenes of a sexual nature.

The story is tech heavy, I really enjoyed it, the technology was well developed and the author has a great understanding of what he is writing about. The author does an excellent job of explaining how it all works in a clear way without getting too bogged down in excessive details.

Having said that there were some times where the story dragged, either by over explaining something, by reiterating already discussed points, retelling a part of the story from a different point of view, or simply taking too long on a less interesting point in the story.

I was pleased to see that the chapters had titles, for some reason this is rare for adult books. There were also occasional “Briefing” chapters; these were used to give world building information, usually something relevant to the upcoming chapters. Normally this would be a clunky way to do this, but somehow it seemed to work for the technology orientated story.

There first few chapters had time stamps for when the story is happening, although after a few chapters this stopped. I really don’t mind if time stamps are included or not, but feel they should be consistent, either always having them or not including them at all.

One problem was that there weren’t any visual markings to differentiate between what a character was thinking, when they were having a general thought or memory, when they were having a telepathic conversation or when the author was describing what was happening. At times this made what was happening confusing, this could have been solved by having italics for thoughts and bold text for telepathic communication for example.

For most of the book there is no clear good side, this is both realistic and also increases the dramatic tension and excitement.

The characters were good without being exceptional. Sam’s past was particularly interesting. The main characters morals, thoughts and feelings were also interesting.

There was some Hollywood style action. The heroes did have a tendency to come out of situations relatively unscathed even when all around was in total chaos, they also would recover from injuries quickly or be saved just in the nick of time.
The bad guys also had Star Wars Stormtrooper shooting abilities, they would be deadly accurate against everybody, but as soon as they started shooting at the main characters they would either miss or only be able to slightly wound them.

I was a little annoyed of how the governments were portrayed in the book, they seemed to just act evil without any reason and carry out actions just for an exciting story rather than any logical reason
SPOILER The worst example was they planned an attack where they would have to ensure that they could not be traced back to the government, and if they were any civilians in the way or risk of detection they should immediately withdraw. This attack was carried out by a pair of American helicopters full of Navy Seals, so much for staying anonymous, then when one of the monks takes a photo of the attack instead of withdrawing they decide to begin attacking the monks “since it didn’t matter then” which makes no sense.

Overall this was a fairly good story with some interesting technology and ethical discussions, but was let down by a slightly slow pacing, and plot points that seemed illogical and were only there to make it “exciting”. The writing style was also confusing at times.

rating: ***1/2 Stars