Tuesday, June 30, 2009

"Erec Rex-- The Search for Truth" review

It's been a year and a half since I've had a new Erec Rex book to read. And I was hoping that I wasn't remembering the series too highly, as I have done before on occasion. But Erec Rex-- The Search for Truth is proof that this series is something great: wonderful creativity, impressive storytelling chops from Kaza Kingsley, interesting characters, and a bit of pure magic. Book 3 is the best yet.
Last time we saw young Erec, we found out that he's got more to him than meets the eye (no pun, Transformers or otherwise, intended). He's older than he thought he was, he has to complete twelve near-impossible tasks, and he has two dragon eyes given to him by Aoquesteth. He has now finished the first two of his tasks, but it will only get more difficult from here.
The story starts with a bang as Erec literally falls into the hands of the villain-- Thanatos Argus Baskania. He flees to King Piter's castle in Alypium, barely escaping, but the quests ahead of him (there are TEN more, by the way) will be further complicated by the fact that the Stain triplets are competing as well, under the tutelage of Baskania.

Oh, and Erec is turning into a dragon.

He, along with his friends Bethany, Jack, and Jam, must decipher the riddle-laden quests, which will take him to the most beautiful and exotic locales in Upper Earth-- and beyond. And he must do it in time to stop the visions of destruction ahead of him. But through it all, he will search for the truth of his past, even if doing so produces catastrophic results.

Kingsley doesn't pull her punches as a storyteller. Many of the elements of this book would have been saved until the series finale in the yet-to-come Book 8, or at least the very end of this one. But Kingsley lets the revelations come all throughout the story, and it serves the book to great effect. She gives the reader a lot of information while still keeping them guessing, a skill that is hard to keep going for the 1000+ pages in this series so far.

Once again, I must commend Kingsley for the creativity of her world. Many of the imaginative creations of her mind still amaze me. I want to know how she gets all of her ideas, because the details add a whole new dimension of fun to the book.

As a whole, Erec Rex-- The Search for Truth is a satisfying read, giving the reader a full and complete story, but leaving them hungry for the sequel. I for one can't wait to see what happens in Book 4-- The Three Furies. It can't come soon enough.
My rating: 10/10
Coming Soon: Into the Wild and The 13th Reality-- The Journal of Curious Letters.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Warbreaker and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

I'm sorry it's taken this long to post. I've spent the last week in a cabin in Missouri, and technology's been sparse there. Praise God for A/C, though!
First, Warbreaker.

Welcome to a land where gods and royalty, citizens and renegades, and everyone else coexist in tenuous harmony. Beyond wealth and social status, one aspect levels them all: Biochromatic magic, the essence of breath; the power to see color, feel color, and produce color. The power to give life. In a kingdom of exiled royals, an old treaty demands that the King of Idris send one of his daughters in marriage to the God King in Halladren. But instead of Vivenna—the oldest and more responsible princess groomed for this occasion since birth—her younger sister Siri is sent in her place to a fearsome gaudy city where color is wielded without consequence or care. For behind the opulent curtains of Halladren lies a complicated and explosive court of politics and tangled relationships between gods and priests, prophecy and followers. The fates of the major characters—the two princesses Vivenna and Siri; Lightsong, the reluctant god of bravery; and the wild card Vasher—will collide to determine the fate of the world, both the one on earth and the one beyond.

Brandon Sanderson can tell a heck of a story. And he can do it in only one volume. I'm not entirely sure how he does it, but the fact that he does it is true, enviable genius. Warbreaker has all the elements of a great Sanderson fantasy: compelling characters, a well-thought-out magic system, a story that twists and turns until the nail-biting climax, and revelations I gurantee you won't see coming. If you're new to Sanderon, try Warbreaker. It's worth both your time and your money, and you'll come away from reading it wanting to find everything else that Sanderson has written.

My rating: 9.5/10
Transformers-- Revenge of the Fallen: Michael Bay has a formula, one he sticks to without change. He gives us non-stop action, lots of humor, and killer explosions. And yet somehow, it's still enjoyable. Chances are, however, that you've seen this movie already, seeing as it has already grossed $201 million at the domestic box office.

The plot goes everywhere, but hero Sam Witwicky is brought back to the scene. It's time for him to go to college, but right before he leaves, he finds a shard of the All-Spark from the first movie in his jacket. The shard imprints images of an ancient Cybertronian language into his brain, which the Decepticons are out to get at all costs. (Keep in mind, I'm leaving out all of the subplots.) The shard contains information about a secret weapon concealed on Earth by the lead Decepticon, the Fallen, thousands of years ago. If the key to this weapon is not found in time, it will mean the end for the human race.

I'm going to go against the norm here and say I actually liked this movie in spite of myself, in spite of all the negative reviews. It was fun, the action was good, and the special effects were phenomenal. I do find it funny that many critics said they were confused by the story. I understood the story, despite never having seen an episode of the show in my life. Besides, that says more about the critic than the movie. That said, I did have a few problems with it., and if you've seen it, you know exactly what I mean (Jon Turturro). But it's pure summer fun, and it entertained me for its two-and-a-half hour run time.

My rating: 7.5/10

Coming Soon: Erec Rex-- The Search for Truth.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Dark Half and Duma Key

You know what? I'm not really able to talk about a lot of Stephen King's work. It's all fantastic. It's all accessible to just about anybody. And it's all thrilling. But here we go anyway.

The Dark Half: For years, Thad Beaumont has been writing books under the pseudonym George Stark. When a journalist threatens to expose Beaumont's pen name, the author decides to go public first, killing off his pseudonym. Stark isn't content to be dispatched that easily, though. Beaumont's alter ego comes to life and begins to stalk those responsible for his demise. The police suspect Beaumont is responsible for these violent crimes. And that's all before the sparrows begin to fly...

King crafts a tale of bone-chilling suspense with a villain you'll have a hard time forgetting. Near impossible to put down.

My rating: 9/10

Duma Key: A terrible construction site accident takes Edgar Freemantle's right arm and scrambles his memory and his mind, leaving him with little but rage as he begins the ordeal of rehabilitation. A marriage that produced two lovely daughters suddenly ends, and Edgar begins to wish he hadn't survived the injuries that could have killed him. He wants out. His psychologist, Dr. Kamen, suggests a "geographic cure," a new life distant from the Twin Cities and the building business Edgar grew from scratch. And Kamen suggests something else: drawing, an old habit of Edgar's. He leaves Minnesota for a rented house on Duma Key, a stunningly beautiful, eerily undeveloped splinter of the Florida coast. The sun setting into the Gulf of Mexico and the tidal rattling of shells on the beach call out to him, and Edgar draws. A visit from Ilse, the daughter he dotes on, starts his movement out of solitude. He meets a kindred spirit in Wireman, a man reluctant to reveal his own wounds, and then Elizabeth Eastlake, a sick old woman whose roots are tangled deep in Duma Key. Now Edgar paints, sometimes feverishly, his exploding talent both a wonder and a weapon. Many of his paintings have a power that cannot be controlled. When Elizabeth's past unfolds and the ghosts of her childhood begin to appear, the damage of which they are capable is truly devastating...

This book was AMAZING. I mean, AMAZING. I'm fairly certain it's the best of Stephen King that I've read so far. Well, besides The Stand. But that one can't really be compared to this one. I'm truly excited to discover more of the skeletons in King's closet (proverbial or literal-- either way, I'm good).

My rating: 10/10

Coming Soon: Warbreaker (I've finished it, so I'll just need to find the time to write about it.)

Friday, June 12, 2009

"Blaze" review

Blaze is not just a Stephen King novel. It's billed as "the last Richard Bachman novel". For those of you not in the know, Richard Bachman was King's pseudonym for a time, under which he published some of his early novels. Bachman's true identity was revealed with the release of Thinner, and King released a statement that Bachman had died from "cancer of the pseudonym". Blaze recounts the story of a man (last name, Blaze) whose partner in crime has come up with the ultimate job. But before the job goes down, Blaze's partner is killed. Or is he?

As a thriller, Blaze works wonderfully. Better still, however, is the way that King/Bachman gives readers a glimpse into the life of Blaze. Whether its his childhood or his mind, King never fails to entertain in this sense. There is a sense of tragedy and loss surrounding the book, and perhaps some of King's farewell to Bachman is encompassed in these pages. The book also shows that King can write a great novel in a short space (when he wants to). In about 300 pages, he creates characters and a story that is hard to forget.

My rating: 9/10

Coming Soon: The Dark Half, Duma Key, and Warbreaker.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Blog Description Change

I've changed my blog description at the top of the blog! This really isn't all that important, but it got me started thinking about other possible taglines:

The Writer's Notebook: Because I've got too much time on my hands.

The Writer's Notebook: Because you've got too much time on your hands.

The Writer's Notebook: Because, let's face it, we can't all be Speculative Horizons.

The Writer's Notebook: I read your books for you.

The Writer's Notebook: Why don't more people have interesting taglines?

The Writer's Notebook: I read fantasy. I write fantasy. Get over it.

The Writer's Notebook: Because I've got way too much time on my hands.
The Writer's Notebook: Because Rand's kind of bustin' a move there.

The Writer's Notebook: Because I maybe have a little bit of writer's block right now.

The Writer's Notebook: Because I got my copy of Warbreaker a full three days before it officially came out, and now I'm over halfway through. Suckers!

The Writer's Notebook: Because you'll actually sit here and read all these taglines.

That's all for now! Coming Soon: The reviews I mentioned before, and Warbreaker, too. It's goood.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Ruins of Gorlan, Dragon's Heart, and The Blade Itself

Ranger's Apprentice-- The Ruins of Gorlan: John Flanagan's bestselling YA fantasy begins strong, showing he has the writing chops for anything. The story (a boy named Will is rejected from Battleschool, but is taken on as the apprentice of a Ranger) would break under the weight of cliche if Flanagan wasn't such a good writer. The third person omniscient viewpoint is used to dangerous effect here as well, switching from character to character sometimes after only a few paragraphs. Once again, this would fail if Flanagan was any worse than he is. But John Flanagan is a fantastic writer, and with Ranger's Apprentice he has created a world we want to return to in the sequel, The Burning Bridge. This series deserves all the publicity it gets.

My rating: 8.5/10

The Pit Dragon Chronicles-- Dragon's Heart: Jane Yolen has done the impossible. She has returned to her Pit Dragon trilogy of books (written in the 1980s!) for one last story, set immediately after A Sending of Dragons. Jakkin and Akki return home after a year in the hands of the murderous Trogs, with several dragons and secrets in tow. Akki wants to go to the Rokk to research the incredible change that came over them at the end of Heart's Blood (Book 2), attempting to ensure the information doesn't fall into the wrong hands. But when she sees a familiar and frightening face, she is kidnapped, and it is up to Jakkin to save her. All of the characters from the original Pit Dragon Trilogy return. Many have revelations. Others are killed off, something Yolen rarely did in the original trilogy. And this book gives a better ending to the series, which had ended too abruptly at the close of Sending. Finally, the encyclopedia entry at the end of the book serves as the perfect epilogue, giving a lot of fun facts away if you're paying attention. This is something I thought I'd never see, and now that I've read it, I can't help but wonder how the series did without it in the first place.

My rating: 10/10

Series rating: 9/10

The First Law Trilogy-- The Blade Itself: Joe Abercrombie bursts onto the scene with a wonderful debut novel. It's really quite impossible to talk about the story, but what really shines in this novel are the characters. There's Logen Ninefingers (or the Bloody-Nine), a barbarian who's been in one scrape too many. There's Jezal dan Luthar, a snobbish nobleman who only cares about winning this year's tournament. There's Inquisitor Glokta, the most intriguing and sympathetic torturer I may have ever seen. And there's Bayaz, First of the Magi, who brings them all together. The minor characters are both numerous and fleshed-out. This is the start of a trilogy in the vein of George R. R. Martin, bold, frank, and ruthless, and it is captivating right from the first chapter (The End). It's impossible to put down, and definately in contention for my "Best Debut" category this year.

My rating: 9.5/10

P.S. : In other news, Patrick Rothfuss has just returned from a trip to Europe, and The Wise Man's Fear is in manuscript form. Here's a size comparison:

Coming Soon: Blaze, The Dark Half, and Duma Key (a Stephen King special)

Saturday, June 6, 2009

"The Lost Books-- Lunatic and Elyon" reviews

Ted Dekker's Circle Trilogy captivated readers with an alternate world with events that impact our own. He introduced us to the Books of History. With the Paradise Novels he returned. And, at the beginning of last year, he began an epic 6-book jaunt back into the land of Roush and Shataiki, Forest Guard and Horde, Elyon and Teeleh. But last summer, with the publication of Chaos, it seemed as if the journey had ended with book four of six.

Here's the truth: It's not over yet.

Long-time Dekker fans will remember the climax of Red, when Elyon's lakes turned (you guessed it) blood red. Thomas had discovered the secret of the change and those who followed him formed the Circle. The Horde, however, took over the Middle Forest.

Johnis, Darsal, and Silvie return to their home five years after they left it. And much has changed. They find themselves amongst the Horde, and they have lost the Lost Books of History-- again. Darsal is separated from Johnis and Silvie, and then captured. Now she must love the Horde for Elyon. For Johnis. But the general Marak, who gave the order for his own brother's execution, will be hard to love.

Meanwhile, Johnis and Silvie do not trust the red water. So they slowly, painfully, begin to turn Scab. And Johnis recieves visions from a piercing figure named Shaeda, with one purple eye and one blue eye. She is one of the Leedham, and she has chosen Johnis for a dangerous mission, one that will require him to become the very thing he wants most to destroy.

Ted Dekker has teamed up with another writer, Kaci Hill, to complete the series. Hill's writing is not unlike Dekker's, and together, they create a nonstop ride that leaves you breathless for all of the 600 total pages of these two volumes. There are some truly gripping action scenes here, and they are used to great effect to counterbalance some of the more emotional scenes with Darsal. Plus, Dekker and Hill really bring vampires into the mix, which is always a bonus prize for any tale well told. When all is said and done, while each Lost Book has a different feel from the last, I can confidantly say that Lunatic and Elyon are the best two of the series.

If you've never read Dekker... don't start here. You'll be totally lost. That's not bad in of itself, but you'll enjoy these gems better if you read The Circle Trilogy, The Paradise Novels, House, Skin, and the first four Lost Books before embarking on this journey. But don't worry. They're all really good.

Dive deep.

My ratings:

Lunatic: 9/10

Elyon: 10/10
Series rating: 9/10

Coming Soon: Dragon's Heart, The Ruins of Gorlan, and The Blade Itself.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

"PENDRAGON: The Soldiers of Halla" review

Sorry I took so long. I finished reading this book on May 13, but I've been busy ever since. I've also had the chance to read a few other books: Nightmare's Edge, the conclusion to the Echoes from the Edge trilogy; Lunatic and Elyon, the last two Lost Books; the first couple of the popular Ranger's Apprentice books; and something a little more special-- Dragon's Heart, the long-awaited fourth novel of the Pit Dragon Trilogy (yes, I know) by Jane Yolen.

But first, PENDRAGON: The Soldiers of Halla.

This has been a year for series finales. I haven't even reviewed all of the ones I've read. But this one is perhaps the most important for me. The tenth book in the fantastic PENDRAGON series by D. J. MacHale. 600 pages long. And massive amounts of loose ends to tie up.

I'll say this first: The loose ends are all tied up. All of them. And it's not in the way you'd expect. And the book is amazing.

PENDRAGON has become epic in scope, and some of the style has changed from the early books. This one is DEFINATELY not a stand-alone. But the action is still cool. The jokes are still funny. The mysteries are still intriguing. And the characters are still interesting people to be around (albeit not the same people we met in The Merchant of Death).

I can't really say much about this book without giving anything away. I mean, everything I could talk about, you already know. It's the final battle for Halla. Bobby Pendragon and the Travelers against Saint Dane in a final clash of wills (and fists). So, despite the fact that I could talk about the series all day, I'm only going to say two things.

This is the way it was meant to be.

Hobey ho.

And so we go.

My rating: 10/10. Excellent in every way.
Series rating: 10/10
Coming Soon: Lunatic and Elyon