Sunday, March 31, 2013

Review: Bariwon Books 1 & 2 by J. Lloyd Morgan.

In full disclosure I won book two (The Waxing Moon) in a Goodreads giveaway.

The Hidden Sun (book 1)

Synopsis (from back of book): A faraway kingdom.

A beautiful princess.

A courageous hero.

A ruthless villain.

An impossible choice.

Eliana and Rinan are in love. However, she is destined to become queen of Bariwon, obligated to marry the victor of a competition called the Shoginoc, while Rinan, her royal guardian, is forbidden to marry. Normally they could renounce their titles to be together, but these are not normal times. Abrecan, the malevolent governor of Erd, is determined to win the Shoginoc, thereby placing his easily manipulated son Daimh on Bariwon’s throne. Can Eliana and Rinan find a way to be together without jeopardizing the peace they are so desperately trying to protect?

Richi's Review
Personally I enjoy fantasy books, I don’t mind some romance in them, but I don’t normally read romance novels set in a fantasy world. As the second book in the series, the one that I won, was described as “With a touch of romance, this action-adventure story is amazing” I figured that this series would be okay for me.

After the first few chapters, the romance seemed very heavy and I felt like the kid at the start of the Princess Bride.


Fortunately the story soon becomes much less of a romance novel and more of a fantasy story.

It was interesting to see the story spread across a couple of generation of characters. It was also realistic in the way it would kill off characters on both sides.

The characters are excellent, they have interesting personalities. They were a little extreme with all the good characters having only good personality traits and the evil characters only have evil ones.

I enjoyed seeing how the most evil of the characters was somewhat of a background character that would manipulate the king and run things the way he wanted. It was also realistic to see how those in power seek to have more; it reminded me or the Rise of the Empire era of the Star Wars saga.

It was nice to see from the POV of the evil characters, early on it did give a bit too much plot away, but later it became more subtle what they were planning.

As an adult reading the book I did find the story line a little predictable and unoriginal, but it was fun, exciting and interesting so this didn’t really matter. There were many tantalizing moments such as when two of the main characters kept missing each other or when the characters were investing the original Tome of Laws and we were giving little bits of it at a time.

My biggest criticism of the story was how the plot was dictated by the <i>Tome of Laws</i>. Sometimes it would help the good characters and sometimes it would harm them, but it seemed most of the story happened according to the rules of the book. Sometimes the rules didn’t make much sense or would be unrealistic and were only there to push the plot in one direction. It was especially bad at the end when it all tied up nicely because of the laws.

I enjoyed seeing how some small details, that at the time seemed insignificant, would late turn out to be a bigger part of the plot.

Overall I really enjoyed this story; it is great adventure story for all ages and could be enjoyed by both males and females. The story was exciting and very interesting although a little unoriginal in places. The characters were excellent with a number of personalities. The political planning of the evil characters to gain more power was particularly well done. The main problem was the plot being run by the rules in the Tome of Laws, rules that often seemed to have been written just to steer the plot in a certain direction.

 rating: ****

The Waxing Moon (book 2)

Synopsis (from back of book): A faraway kingdom. A brave Warrior. An unexpected danger. An ancient secret. A desperate plan. Fear is running rampant in Bariwon. The people of a small village near the northern mountains have vanished. Newly commissioned royal guardian Snapdragon is sent with a scouting party to investigate. His responsibility is to protect the non-soldiers, including Seraphina, a stunning young nursemaid. When the party arrives, they make a shocking discovery. During the chaos that follows, Snapdragon discovers his feelings toward Seraphina are more than protective. Soon, he is forced to make difficult choices that will impact the future of everyone in Bariwon. 

Richi's Review:
The characters are excellent, the main ones from the first book play only a small role in this one, but the new characters are so well written I didn’t really miss the original cast. 

I found the new main good character, Snapdragon, to be more realistic than those in the first book; they were a little too good and without negative traits. Snapdragon starts off the book with some flaws, he is quick to anger, he is impulsive and doesn’t think things through, he also feels overshadowed by his family and annoyed by anyone who he feels treat him different because of his relatives. Snapdragon goes through quite a development through the story; it is a natural progression with him slowly changing with the events of the book.

The evil cast is also stronger in this book; some of them are more subtle in this book. Merton was very well done, with that perfect blend of appearing to be friendly with undertones of caring only for himself. The bad guys from that last book are back, but their planning from prison makes them more interesting rather than out and out evil.

The story was more original in this book, and the twists at the end are more surprising. This book was also very good and putting in small details that would later become important parts of the plot.

The pacing in the book is excellent, enough time is spent describing things to visualise the world and follow the story, but it doesn’t dwell on things and moves on fast enough to keep things fresh and interesting.

My biggest criticism with the first book was the overuse of the Tome of Laws to dictate the plot, I was pleased to see that it had a smaller role in this book and the plot shaped itself more naturally.

Overall I thought this was an excellent book, the story, characters and writing are stronger than they were in the first book, if you enjoyed that then you will enjoy this one too.

rating: **** 1/2

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Review: Hawk Quest by Robert Lyndon

Synopsis from back of book:

The year is 1072.

The Normans have captured England. The Turks have captured a Norman knight. And in order to free him, a soldier named Vallon must capture four rare hawks.

On a heart-stopping journey to the far ends of the earth, braving Arctic seas, Viking warlords, and the blood-drenched battlefields, Vallon and his comrades must track down their quarry one by one in a relentless race against time.

The scale is huge. The journey is incredible. The history is real. This is Hawk Quest

Richi's Review:

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

If Ken Follett, George R. R. Martin and John Flanagan had a love child, the result would be this epic book.

Robert Lyndon has an excellent understanding of the medieval world and he brings it to life in this story. Just like in John Flanagan’s Rangers Apprentice and Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth, Lyndon brings this knowledge to the reader, and gives clear understanding to the world, but what is clever is that it is blended into the story in such a way that it never feels like a lesson. There were moments that he made something sound so interesting I found myself wanting to find out more about whatever subject he was talking about.

There is a gritty realism to the story, like Follett and Martin, Lyndon doesn’t have a problem with making bad and unpleasant things happen to our characters. This is not to say it is a depressing book, there are plenty of happy moments and the characters have hope even in the darkest of times. But character deaths can be sudden, brutal and without meaning, the normal rules of whom and how you kill off do not apply. Failure is always an option in this story.

I also enjoyed how the author brought in the characters superstitions into the story, and they could sometimes make themselves see more in something that there really is. It is realistic in how people would act and believe back then, it also brings in a supernatural and fantasy element, but because you cannot be certain that something a character is witnessing is simply an overactive imagination it keeps it grounded in the real world.

The details and descriptions in this book are amazing; they describe beautifully the world and action. It is always easy to picture the world with every sense. There are so well written that it never feels like it is taking up too much time or dragging.

The characters are wonderful; they have complex and distinct personalities. None of them are the simple cookie cutter types that we have seen before, and they have many layers to them. The interaction between the characters is amazing; between the good characters is a strong sense of friendship and companionship, with antagonism and aggression directed towards the evil characters. What is especially clever is that much of what goes on between the characters is subtlety done, only a careful reader will catch everything that is going on, but you won’t miss out on too much if you don’t pick up on those little clues. Another clever thing is that people and groups don’t always stay on one side or the other, an enemy can become an ally, or a friend may end up betraying the group, and it is never obvious when or by whom this will happen.

The characters develop nicely throughout the book, they progress in a natural way and become better and more interesting characters. As part of this progression we find out bits and pieces of the characters history spread throughout the book and we learn more about our heroes in this way too. There are many wonderful thoughts and ideas of the characters in this book.

This author does a great job or realistically portraying something’s that could easily be overlooked, such as one characters surprise and confusion of the concept of zero, something that we take for granted now-days but back then is something that most people wouldn’t really think about.

The story is fantastic, it reminded me of epic journeys such as the Odyssey, where the characters are trying to complete a journey but keep facing trials that slow them down or take them away from their path. It was very interesting seeing where the characters would go next or how they would face and overcome the next obstacle.

I really hope to see more fiction works by this author; this book is easily the best book I have read this year, and certainly in the top ten books I have ever read. For possibly the first time ever, I was sad to finish a book, knowing that it will be a long, long time before I read something that I enjoy this much again.

Rating ***** + 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Review: Oliver and Harriet and the Dark Forest by P.R. Schoenfeld

Synopsis from back of book. "Oliver and Harriet are a seemingly normal set of twins, living a normal life, in our normal world, with one exception -- they are not normal -- they have the strange ability to read each others' mind -- something they thought was perfectly normal. Oliver and Harriet know nothing about other realms, strange creatures, magic potions, or evil tyrants. That is until they turn thirteen and return to the realm where they were born -- Framington, to stay at their Gam's house for the summer. Oliver and Harriet quickly realize their summer journey would not be like anything they have ever experienced before, and could be and experience they may not survive. Framington is a mythical place full of colorful hobbits, cranky ogres, and fire breathing dragons -- a place where their father once ruled and they are decedents to the throne. Framington is now ruled by an evil tyrant -- Lord Thornas. Thornas has been confined to the Dark Forest for years and the only way out is for him to find "The Book" -- a book which only Harriet has the ability to use. Thornas must find a way to lure Oliver and Harriet to Albazar castle to gain possession of "The Book." If Lord Thornas succeeds Oliver and Harriet will surely not make it out of the Dark Forest alive."
Richi's Review.
In full disclosure I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway.

This was a very good story, it reminded me a lot of Fablehaven and 100 Cupboards, and if you enjoyed those stories you will like this one as well.

It was one of those books that you could tell it was the authors debut novel, not to say it was badly written but it didn’t quite have the polish that normally only comes with experience.

I enjoyed the way the author wrote as if talking to the reader, it made it seem as if someone is telling a story and perfect for an adult to read to a child.

Early on I thought some of the descriptions were overly simplified, but as the story went on I thought they became good for a middle-grade novel, enough to follow what is happening and to visualise the world but short enough to keep the pacing fast.

I thought the author did a good job with building the world while still progressing the story, the pacing was always kept up and I never felt that the world building went on for too long.

There were Scooby-Doo clues in the book, meaning that whenever there was a clue the author and characters would make it very clear that it was a clue, I guess this is okay for a middle-grade novel but as an adult it made it very obvious.

It seemed a bit unrealistic that the children’s grandmother would bring them to the world and then immediately leave them alone for several days. I also thought the children did too much on their own, rather than ask for adult help. They also go into the woods after being told how dangerous it is. These sorts of things really bother me and seem to happen a lot in middle-grade books.

The characters were good, there was nothing particularly original about them but they were still very interesting. The interaction between the characters was excellent. I loved the concept of telepathy between twins but felt more could have been done with this and the ability used more often.

I felt that characters would be able to work things out too easily or predict what others were doing far too easily. I also thought that the children overpowered and outwitted the bad guys too easily; this seemed both unrealistic and took away the peril making it less exciting.

Overall I thought this was a very good book and lovers of Fablehaven and 100 Cupboard will enjoy this story as well. You could tell this was the author’s debut novel as it wasn’t quite as neat as more experienced novels and the few problems I had with the book extend from that, I will be looking forward for more books in this series.

rating: 4 stars 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Review: Ameca J Chronicles, 2 & 3

Link to my review of Book One of this series

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

 Ameca J and the Revenge of Rex-Ultar (Ameca J Chronicles, #2) 

Synopsis from back of book
In Book I of the Ameca J Chronicles, Ameca aka The Flame, Fraya aka The Flower, and Paul aka The One are the heirs of Menindus, each with fabulous, magical powers. Previously thought to be normal people from Earth, the father and daughters had been magically transported to the land of Mythrania where they successfully battled the Scelestus, the evil entity bent on domination of the entire universe—or was it successful?

In Book II, Paul is dead, murdered while rescuing Fraya from the clutches of the malignant Scelestus. Torn with grief, both Ameca and Fraya jump at the chance to bring their father back to life. Seeking the guidance of Menindus, the ancient Magi tells the girls they must leave Mythrania and return to their own world, taking three companions with them on a quest to recover a powerful magical artefact that has the ability to return the dead to life or make the living immortal.

But all is not as they left it on their world. Their mother has been abducted—and so have they—according to the newspapers. The girls must contend with the police, who are trying to “rescue” them; Lord Bellatrix, the High Priest of the Scelestus, who is implementing a plan to enslave humanity; and the immortal Rex-Ultar, who has been waiting for them ever since Menindus killed his father, centuries ago. While they are occupied on their quest, the Scelestus’ agents continue their work to dominate the Kingdoms of Mythrania by infecting the population with a disease that turns them into almost indestructible, flesh-eating monsters.

Can Ameca, Fraya and their companions recover the artefact and stop Bellatrix, rescue their mother and return to Mythrania to restore their father to life before the Kingdoms are overrun and the Scelestus returns triumphant?

Look out come the girls...again.

Richis Review
This book starts off right where the first one finished with Fraya figuring out how they can save their father.

The characters are once again excellent; the girls have developed quite a bit, both in terms of their powers and in terms of their personalities. Ameca is now thankfully much nicer to her little sister. Prince Kian replaces Paul for the male POV. Amanda, the girls’ mother also has a POV in this book. Both the new characters had good personalities and I enjoyed hearing from them.

Just like last time, the author does an excellent job of bringing the characters thoughts and feelings to life, you really feel for the characters and what they go through, they are also very believable. Ameca has overcome her big flaw of being mean to her sister, which in a way is a nice thing, but I did have a bit of a problem with the fact the bad guys were pure evil, with a lot of crazy thrown in, where as the good characters are always good and don’t have any character flaws.

A few times characters act in a way that is more driven to making an interesting story rather than in a realistic way, the Police Inspector in particular seemed unbelievable. Also a few times characters could work things out easily even if they didn’t have much information.

I thought the zombies were too weak and never seemed much of a threat, although the rest of the monsters and bad guys were dangerous so there was a strong threat to the good characters from them.

The story is again excellent, it has a more unique feel compared to the first one, with just a couple bits and pieces being similar to traditional fantasy novels, it also has a bit of a thriller feel to it. This time one of the twists really surprised me, which I really enjoyed.

The pacing is fast and easy to read, if anything the book was even faster than the first book.

The descriptions were a good length, you are given enough to follow the story and visualise the world without getting bogged down in detail. The book has two stories; the main one set in the “real” world the second smaller story set in Mythrania, the story was so exciting I didn’t really miss the fantasy element of Mythrania too much (although I am hoping to see more of it in future books). The battle sequences were exciting and full of action.

I thought a couple bits of the science in this book were a little shaky.

The author does an excellent job of recapping the details from the first book, always giving enough information to remind the reader what happened if it has been a while since they read the first book.

The story is much darker than the first book; it was more interesting seeing these elements in the story. It reminded me of the middle Harry Potter books, where things get very grim and bad things happen to the good characters (including in this case torture).

Overall I really loved this book; the characters are excellent, believable and continue to develop. The story is fantastic, with a few unbelievable moments that can easily be forgiven since the rest of the book is fantastic.

rating: **** 1/2

 Ameca J and the Demon God of Mythrania (Ameca J Chronicles, #3)

Synopsis from back of book.
Ameca and Fraya, the legendary Flame and the Flower, Heirs of Menindus on the magical world of Mythrania, have achieved the impossible: they have rescued their mother from the vile Bellatrix, High Priest of the evil entity known as the Scelestus and brought their father back from the dead. Surely now, their adventures on this alien world are over and they can now return with their parents to their own world…? But things are never that simple. When their father begins acting strangely, is accused of murder and goes missing, the two girls and their mother are forced to embark on a dangerous mission to redeem him before they face the final battle with the enemy.

Richis Review
This book starts right off where book two finished; making all three books a continuous timeline, with some series wide story, but with each book having a story in itself.

This book is even darker than the second book; it seems a natural progression, the first book being fairly light, with each book getting slightly darker. This makes the story more interesting in some ways, without getting too dark too quickly. Despite the darker story the book still has the humour that was so well written in the previous books.

The story is very well written; I thought it was much tighter than the previous books with fewer plot holes. It was also more original.

The characters have come along well, with both the powers and personalities of the girls getting even stronger. One of the criticisms that I had for book two, that the good characters had become a little to nice and always doing the right thing was certainly not true for this book, and it was nice to see the good characters occasionally act in a bad way, making them more believable.

The problem of characters acting in a way that was plot driven rather than in a realistic way was not a problem in this book, this makes them more believable.

The pacing again is nice and fast, but there are still plenty of slower moments that allow the characters and story to develop in a more interesting way.

The descriptions are great, giving you enough to visualise the world and to follow the story, but not getting bogged down in too much detail. The recapping of the previous two books is also done well, with just enough information being given to remind a reader but not too much that you want the story to move on.

As in the previous books the thoughts and feelings of the characters was fantastic. The best parts in this book was from Paul’s POV, how he feels about his "possession", his conversations with Merlin and what he thought about the events going on around him is some of the best writing I have seen on a characters thoughts and feelings.

The POVs shifted around a lot and would often jump back and repeated events from a different POV, I felt this happened a little too much and I found myself wanting the story to continue rather than tell me of events that I have already read about from another perspective, but maybe this was because the events were so exciting.

Overall this was a fantastic book and my favourite in the series so far. The writing is even stronger, the story more interesting, darker and original, the characters more believable, developed and enjoyable. The POV of the possessed Paul is perfectly written and my favourite part of the amazing book

 rating: ***** +

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Stacking the Shelves (5)

**Stacking the Shelves is a meme hosted by Tynga of Tynga's Reviews that spotlights the books we receive each week**
 We visited our favorite trading books bookstore this weekend and we each found a few bargain books that were on our to-buy lists.

I found a couple great crafting books (one old, one new/er) and two books (both are book #1's/firsts in their series') and I already have the following books in their series', so I *needed* these books :)

  • Making Dolls by H. Wtizig and G.E. Kuhn (copyright (c) 1969)
  • Fallen by Lauren Kate (I already have books #2 and 3 in this series)
  • Firebirds - an anthology of original science fiction and fantasy edited by Sharyn November (I bought book #2 in these series in December)
  • Complete Feltmaking (easy techniques and 25 great projects) by Gillian Harris

Richi found two great Terry Brooks books!

And here's to me 'Being in the Right Place at the Right Time' (I follow both these authors on FaceBook and they offered on their pages to send out bookmarks). Yes Please and Yay!

I received 3 signed bookmarks from Megg Jensen, author of The Swarm Trilogy 
I also received a signed bookmark from Keary Taylor featuring her newest book The Bane (releases MArch 5, 2013)
I think these bookmarks are beautiful, and I'm hoping to find/buy/get their accompanying books to use them with soon :)

Thank you Ladies!!
Have a Great and Wonderful Week & Happy Reading!!