The Cult of Unicorns by Chrys Cymri

The Cult of UnicornsThe Cult of Unicorns

by Chrys Cymri
Series: Penny White, #2

Kindle Edition, 234 pg.
2016

Read: December 4 – 5, 2017


Sure, all I know about the life of an Anglican priest comes from this series and Paul Cornell’s Lychford novellas, (oh, and one series of Grantchester) and maybe Fantasy fiction isn’t the best source, but man, being a priest in a small village/town in England seems to be lonely and horrible — especially around Advent. Which is where we find Penny White — running on fumes, bouncing from obligation to obligation — with barely enough time for her grieving brother, her gryphon partner and her snail shark (never mind the duties in the parallel world of Daear) — not to mention casually dating a police inspector and a dragon. Throw in a murder mystery and . . . wow. How does she sleep?

Before we get to much of that Penny and her brother, James, go to Lloegyr for the trial in the death of James’ girlfriend. It is quick, decisive, decidedly alien (as it should be) and adjudicated by a panel of 3 unicorns. Apparently, Unicorns are impossibly fair, honest and just so they make the perfect judges. No one, not even the dragons would dare protest what the unicorns decide. Penny can’t help but note how almost everyone she sees reacts strangely to unicorns — she’d probably do the same, however, if she weren’t so dragon-obsessed. When bodies start showing up on Earth with what seem to be unicorn-caused injuries, Penny seems to be the only one who is willing to follow the evidence. At the same time, maybe it’s just me, but it didn’t seem that Penny was too bothered by the murders — and certainly didn’t seem to spend too much energy investigating them. (although, that might have more to do with the obviousness of the culprits and the difficulty getting anyone else on board with it).

James is not handling the grieving process too well — not that anyone does — and I was less-than-impressed with the way Penny was dealing with him.. It really seemed out of character for her. I think it points to a slow-build of a problem for Penny and her dual callings. In the first book, we got hit over the head with the concern that she’d be too focused on the other world too much to do a decent job on Earth, and while it was only brought up once or twice here, I think it’s easy to see that the danger was real. I like how it seems that Cymri is moving this problem to the back burner, just so it can keep growing as a problem while being subtle about it. Professionally/vocationally, things are not going well for Penny, and I think this will continue for awhile.

While writing about book 1, I was worried about an impending romantic triangle — and I like the way that Cymri dealt with it here, much more than I assumed I would when we left it off. I’m not sure I’m ready to breathe easily about it yet, but I have hope (I also haven’t read as many romantic triangles this year as I have in years past, maybe my tolerance for them will increase). Actually, I liked just about everything about the romance angle in this book. Especially Morey’s.

The Murder plotline (and the aftermath) serves as the narrative hook for the book, but doesn’t seem to occupy as much of the time as you’d think. Where The Temptation of Dragons introduced us to this reality (or dual-realities, I guess), this one explores it — with a greater emphasis on Earth. We really spend very little time on the “other side.” Which was okay, really. I imagine that won’t always be the case (glancing ahead at the blurb for the next volume, it looks as if I’m right).

I’m not sure what else to say at this point, but I’m pretty sure I’ve been less thorough than I intended. I enjoyed The Temptation of Dragons and The Cult of Unicorns kept all the charm and wit about that, but grounded the characters and their actions better (or at least more firmly). And really, that’s about all you can hope for from a series — you keep everything you liked in the previous installment and build on it. Cymri nailed that, which serves to make me plan on getting to book #3 faster than I did this one.

Disclaimer: I received this book from the author in exchange for this post — thanks so much for this book.

—–

3.5 Stars

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Bedlam by M. T. Miller

BedlamBedlam

by M. T. Miller
Series: The Nameless Chronicle, #4

eARC, 210 pg.
2017

Read: November 27 – 28, 2017


I was excited to open my email and see a new book from M. T. Miller waiting for me — but I’m not ready to say goodbye to this series. I do think this was the right point to wrap things up and exit, I just liked life better when I wondered when there’d be a new book about Nameless.

How to talk about this . . . this is really hard without just spilling the beans about everything.

We met Nameless as he seemingly climbed out of his own grave into a dystopian future of the Western US, not knowing anything about himself (inluding, obviously his name), but with a particular set of skills that enabled him to kill — which also seemed restorative. But he didn’t seem to be a monster. After three books of struggle to survive and find some measure of success, Nameless finally succeeded. He accomplished everything he set out to do, and then found a better way to look at life, an equanimity. Life still had challenges, but he has a new way to deal with them, a new confidence.

Then something appears, ready to take it all away — and how will Nameless react? Very differently than he would’ve before (while consistent with the guy we’ve come to know).

Not only that — but a lot of the mysteries surrounding Nameless are resolved. Questions I stopped hoping/expecting to get answers to were answered as we say goodbye to him and the world that Miller has created for us.

There’s a good degree of character development here for both Nameless and Rush — and a believable lack thereof for many others. Characters you liked in earlier books, you’ll still like. Characters that you were ambiguous toward earlier, you’ll probably still be ambiguous about.

About halfway through the book, Miller changes the rules — he does something gutsy and incredibly hard to discuss without ruining. Just when you get to the point where you pretty much accept what he’s doing, he changes it again. Up to this point, this was my favorite of the books — I really got into things. I liked it less with each new tack. Not that I didn’t appreciate the ambition, or Miller’s skill — it just changed Nameless’ story from Story Type X to Story Type Z. And I’ve never been a fan of Z, I don’t hate Z, but it’s just not my cup of tea. The more I think about it, I can see where this is justified by everything that’s happened throughout the series, and I can even defend it. I just don’t like it.

I guess you can compare it to what happened at the end of Lost or Moore’s Battlestar (both of which I liked, I should mention) or — the writers of those made a choice and executed it. I appreciate Miller’s choice and execution, but it’s just not something that’s every going to appeal to me. Basically this series consists of 1 novella and 3.5 novels that I enjoyed with .5 novels that was well done, but not my taste.

Like I said, I do think that this was the time to leave the series, I think Miller had done everything he could with Nameless, Rush and the rest. I wasn’t crazy about how he landed the plane, but I appreciated it for what it was. I can easily see others thinking I’m wrong about Z, and really digging the parts of the book that leave me cold — so please don’t take anything I said as a discouragement from reading either this book, or the series. I’m really looking forward to whatever he ends up doing next, because I do think I can see Miller’s growth over these 5 novels/novellas. It was a heckuva a ride, and I’m glad I came along for the ride. I heartily recommend it.

Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book by the author in exchange for this post and my honest opinion. Thanks, Mr. Miller! This didn’t impact my opinion of the book in any discernible way.

—–

4 Stars

The Hidden Face by S. C. Flynn

The Hidden FaceThe Hidden Face

by S.C. Flynn
Series: Fifth Unmasking, #1

Kindle Edition, 350 pg.
The Hive, 2017

Read: November 14 – 15, 2017


There’s so much of the world-building, the overall mythology and political structure of this book that drives the plot and is given in bits and pieces to the reader, that I’m having a hard time knowing how talk about it without taking away anything from your experience in reading the book.

Essentially, you’ve got Dayraven, returning to the Emperor’s court from being a political hostage for 15 years — he’s pretty smart, a better than average fighter, and the son of a legendarily great warrior. He’s been returned to the court at a pivotal time, and he’s also supposed to be meeting his former teacher for reasons he doesn’t understand, but seem possibly more important.

One of those reasons is to be teamed up with Sunniva, a woman making her way through the world disguised as a man to make it easier for her to move freely as she searches for her missing father. I really liked her — from her memories of a childhood where she’d get bored playing the way the other kids wanted to, so she’d make up her own stories of battle and gallantry, to her dealing with her phobias, to her grit, determination, and compassion. She’s not much clearer on why she’s been teamed up with Dayraven, but jumps in with both feet, certain that it’s the right thing to do.

They have puzzles to solve, clues to piece together — which lead to fights with mercenaries, legendary criminals, a conspiracy or two, and others, while they’re trying to piece together more of the clues which should point the way to the Fifth Unmasking. Don’t worry, you’ll find out what that means as you read the book. On the one hand, none of this story is new to you — you’ve read all these elements before. But the way that Flynn has assembled them, and the way he executes them are pretty novel and are interestingly entertaining.

When we first meet the Emperor, I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to feel about him — whether he was supposed to be funny, if I was supposed to pity him, or something else entirely. If you react similarly, hang in there, and you’ll learn that both reactions are wrong — and you’ll likely end up really liking the Emperor.
There’s a very Sméagol-y character, a few clearly villain-ish characters, and a pretty cool mercenary to round out the cast. All in all, especially by the time we get to the end of the novel and we understand them all pretty clearly, are as strong a collection that you can ask for.

Flynn does do something that it bugs me so much when Fantasy authors do — he uses words/names/ from English/our world to mean something alien in their world. FOr example, the kingdom of Faustia results in the adjective “Faustian.” Which is used a lot, and each time I had to remind myself that he didn’t mean anything like what is usually meant. It’s pretty distracting. Particularly in the opening chapters there’s a sentence or two of dialogue that made me roll my eyes. But it’s not something that detracts too much from the story or, really, makes up that much of the dialogue. My most significant area of criticism is the way that Flynn unspools the mythology for the reader — I think he could have done it a little faster and clearer to get the reader on board with the theology/government of this world. Is it possible that I was being particularly dense this day? Yes. Is it possible that other readers will pick up on things a lot better than I did? Yes. But I don’t think so — I think it was Flynn trying to avoid an info-dump and to dole out the information to the reader at his pace. Which I absolutely endorse, I just think he could have done it a smidge faster.

I’m not sure, but I can’t think of many fantasy novels that I’ve read lately that are as short as The Hidden Face. This isn’t a selling point or a word of warning, I’m just saying this is short, and fast paced. Flynn crams a lot of story into this book and does it well. You don’t feel rushed, or that he’s cutting corners — you don’t get the impression he’s doing anything other than telling his story until you stop and think of everything that happens in 350 pages, a good deal of it is what I expected in book 3. I’m not sure how he pulls that off, honestly.

This is a strong, fast and gripping fantasy novel. I cannot wait for the sequel — it’s pretty clear where it’ll start, but I’m not really sure what to expect the story to do after that, and that really appeals to me. The Hidden Face, isn’t perfect, but it’s good — you should give it a try.

Disclaimer: This book was given to me by the author in exchange for my honest opinion, for which I’m grateful, but not so grateful that it colored my thinking.

—–

4 Stars

Meddling Kids (Audiobook) by Edgar Cantero, Kyla Garcia

Meddling KidsMeddling Kids

by Edgar Cantero, Kyla Garcia (Narrator)

Unabridged Audiobook, 12 hrs and 53 mins
Random House Audio, 2017

Read: October 27 – November 11. 2017


Going to be brief here, this is one of those books that’s all about the concept, if it’s up your alley, you’ll like the book.

The Blyton Summer Detective Club was a group of kids who met up on school breaks in a small Oregon town from their various homes/schools who solved mysteries à la the Hardy Boys, Three Investigators, Nancy Drew and most importantly, Scooby and the gang. Time after time, they’d uncover the solution to a mystery plaguing the community — usually resulting in finding a man in a rubber suit, explaining everything. Meddling Kids asks the question: what if the solution to the mystery wasn’t (just) a man in a rubber suit? What if the kids stumbled on to something actually mystical, real monsters, etc.?

Following their last case, the gang’s lives went in separate ways — mostly downhill. Incarceration, mental health treatment, academic struggles, addiction, and so on. Finally, more than a decade later, the Detective Club reunites to return to the scene of their last triumph to see just what they missed (or suppressed).

Cantero’s execution of this premise was spot-on, early on he left the satirical component/pop culture commentary behind (pretty much), and just told the story, using that as a foundation. Really not much more to say then that.

Kyla Garcia’s narration was pretty good. A time or two I had a little trouble following it, but I think that’s reflective of the text — which doesn’t seem like the easiest to translate to this medium (not a slight on Cantero or Garcia’s talents there). On the whole, though, she did a fine job bringing this book to life and I’d enjoy hearing another book she narrated.

An entertaining celebration of the genre, a rousing adventure, and a pretty creepy story. Pretty much all you could ask for.

—–

3 Stars

Book Blitz: Talisman Of El Trilogy

 

Talisman Of El
T.O.E. Trilogy, Book 1
Author: Al Stone
Genre: YA Fantasy
Publisher: Centrinian

Book Description:
WHAT IF YOUR WHOLE LIFE WAS A LIE?

One Planet.

Two Worlds.

Population: Human … 7 billion.
Others … unknown.

When 14-year-old Char­lie Blake wakes up sweat­ing and gasp­ing for air in the mid­dle of the night, he knows it is hap­pen­ing again. This time he wit­nesses a bru­tal mur­der. He’s afraid to tell any­one. No one would believe him … because it was a dream. Just like the one he had four years ago – the day before his dad died.

Char­lie doesn’t know why this is hap­pen­ing. He would give any­thing to have an ordi­nary life. The prob­lem: he doesn’t belong in the world he knows as home.

He belongs with the others.

On Sale for $0.99 for a limited time on Amazon!

Buy Links:
Amazon US ¦ UK ¦ Kobo ¦ iBooks ¦ Google Play ¦ B&N

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13419125-talisman-of-el

 

Blackout
T.O.E. Trilogy, Book 2

Book Description:
What was shall no longer be. What was not shall now become.

Despite having the protection of the talisman and the Legion, a reforming force of warrior angels and elementals, guarding his every move, things are not looking good for Charlie Blake. Tasked with the responsibility of saving mankind, finding the four diamonds to restore the talisman is all he can think of, but when his prophetic visions start to invade his reality and he suddenly can’t distinguish the dream world from the real world, the pending extinction of mankind becomes the least of his problems. Everyone assumes Charlie’s dormant powers are activating, until he starts showing symptoms of a deadly disease.

With his nemesis, Gaddis, threatening the lives of his loved ones, he faces a race against time to locate the Stone of Raphael, the air diamond, before an imminent pandemic destroys civilization. As he ventures into dangerous lands once again, he unearths shocking revelations about his past life that forces him to question his allegiance. With no one to turn to for answers, he can’t help but wonder if his purpose is truly to save mankind.

On Sale for $3.99 for a limited time on Amazon!

Buy Links:
Amazon US ¦ UK ¦ Kobo ¦ iBooks ¦ Google Play ¦ B&N

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13419125-talisman-of-el

 

Ground Zero
T.O.E. Trilogy, Book 3

Book Description:
It happens every 26,000 years.

Only a few ever survive.

This time …

No one will.

That is unless Charlie Blake can locate all four diamonds to restore the Talisman of El and receive his calling from the remaining three elements before the Annus Magnus strikes. With both Arcadia and the mortal world in a state of unrest, his life quickly spirals out of control as it seems everyone has put a bounty on his head. Maybe even his closest allies.

Not knowing who to trust, Charlie starts to dig up the past. When new revelations arise, he begins to question whether the Legion of Light really is what it claims to be and whether he’s been fighting for the wrong side all along. The line between good and evil is no longer as clear-cut as it used to be, especially when it appears Charlie’s destiny could very well be to destroy everything he loves.

Hero or villain? Charlie isn’t so sure anymore.

On Sale for $4.99 for a limited time on Amazon!

Buy Links:
Amazon US ¦ UK ¦ Kobo ¦ iBooks ¦ Google Play ¦ B&N

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13419125-talisman-of-el

 

About the Author
Al Stone is the author of the YA fantasy trilogy T.O.E. After graduating with a BA in Film & Television, Al had worked in the television industry for a short period before a disabling injury caused her to turn her hand to storytelling. Talisman Of El is her debut novel. The sequels Blackout and Ground Zero are currently available for sale.

When she isn’t writing, she enjoys going to the movies, listening to music and travelling. At present, she lives in England, United Kingdom with her family.

 

Author Links:
Website ¦ Twitter ¦ Blog ¦ Facebook (Author) ¦ Facebook (Trilogy) ¦ Goodreads ¦ Pinterest ¦ Amazon Author Page

 

***GIVEAWAY***

$25, $15 and $10 Amazon Gift Cards up for grabs. 3 Winners. Open internationally.

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An Unexpected Afterlife by Dan Sofer

An Unexpected AfterlifeAn Unexpected Afterlife

by Dan Sofer
Series: The Dry Bones Society, Book One

Kindle Edition, 285 pg.
2017

Read: October 23, 2017


Moshe Karlin wakes up after his birthday party got out of hand — so out of hand that he doesn’t remember drinking as much as he clearly did, he doesn’t remember what happened to his clothes, or why he’s in the cemetery on the Mount of Olives. He makes it home, crawls into bed and finds another man in his bed with his wife. The man (his best friend and business partner, Avi) and his wife are pretty freaked out — as is Moshe. Moshe because that’s the last thing he expected to find in his bed, and the other two are freaked out because Moshe has been dead for 2 years.

Moshe might be alive again, but his life is gone — his business is a wreck, his daughter doesn’t recognize h im, and his wife won’t talk to him. But his neighbor a rabbi will listen to him, and talks to him about the believes around the Resurrection. They soon discover another person claiming to be resurrected — she has no memory about anything, not her name, cause of death, anything. The two bond quickly and begin working together to provide for their new lives, to understand them, and to try to get Moshe’s family back. Along the way, they bring in more of the Resurrected to help out. It’s not a large, general resurrection at work, or even a stream of them — but it is a decent trickle.

Their rabbi friend tries to get them in front of the religions leaders in the culture, but are rebuffed. Next thing they’re fighting to survive. They have no legal standing, a need for money and shelter, jobs, and some way to make people pay attention to their claims.

There’s a prophet running around, too. An accident put shim in the hospital and takes him off the chessboard for most of the game, but he’s aware of Moshe and his friends as well as knowing what that means for the world. If only the medical establishment would let him get to work. His character is plenty interesting and I found myself grinning at the situations he found himself in.

The writing is crisp, nothing too flashy, but it’s more enough to keep you reading. Sofer imbues his characters with a good deal of humanity, of hope. There’s a splash of humor that helps a lot, too. I’m not sure why Moshe is so taken with his wife, but he is — and you have to admire his dedication to her (and if we had some more time with her, I’d probably agree with him). The reaction he has to his daughter not recognizing him is hard to take. All of the resurrected are having difficulty fitting back in to the world — especially when they try to fit in to their old lives — and that’s a very interesting thing to see play out.

I’m really uncomfortable about the subject matter — it’s one thing for McGuire or Hearne to pillage myths of the Tuatha Dé Danann or Riordan to pillage the Greek/Roman/Egyptian/Norse stories. But it’s something very different for someone to utilize figures and beliefs of a religion like Judaism — especially when it’s not just beliefs, but utilizing actual figures from the religion for your own means seems to cross a line to me (and yes, I’d say the same about Christian fiction, for example). I’m not saying Sofer’s wrong to do this, or that he does so with any measure of discernible disrespect, but I figured I have to throw up a warning.

If you can get past the use of the religious characters/events, I’d expect that you could like this one. I’m not sure I can get behind it, but it’s good, I can tell you that.

Disclaimer: I received this book from the author in exchange for this post and my honest opinion — my thanks to him for this.

—–

3 Stars

The Dark Prophecy by Rick Riordan, Robbie Daymond

The Dark ProphecyThe Dark Prophecy

by Rick Riordan, Robbie Daymond
Series: Trials of Apollo, #2

Undabridged Audiobook, 12 hrs, and 31 min.
Listening Library, 2017

Read: October 5 – 11, 2017


I’m not sure how to give a plot synopsis here — basically, it’s the continuation of the Trials of Apollo. He has another task to accomplish — another of the new emperors to take down before the third one, in the next book. It’s the same ol’ set up that has served Riordan so well — and will continue to do so for years to come.

Basically, Apollo/Lester has to go and find another Oracle. To do so, really, he has to face a lot of people that he’s hurt/disappointed over the millennia. He learns a lot about himself, matures a bit. That part was good — and the whole thing was entertaining. But it felt stale. I liked The Hidden Oracle a lot and was excited to see where this series went. Now, I’m not so sure. I’ll finish the series, but with greatly diminished expectations.

Not that it got into details, but there was a lot more intimated/flat-out said Apollo’s sexual history than I’m comfortable with for a MG book. The previous books in the Percy-verse suggested sexual orientation and activity, there was some romance, but this went much further than any of those. Honestly, it went a step too far. If this wasn’t a part of the Percy-verse, or was clearly marketed toward older readers, it wouldn’t have been that bad and I wouldn’t have said anything about it. But that’s not the case here.

As far as the audiobook goes, it was rough. Robbie Daymond was very aware that he was reading amusing material and he read it like each line was a punchline. It was the vocal equivalent of mugging for the camera, if you will. Now, there were a couple of serious and poignant moments, and Daymond pulled those off well, but otherwise it was tough to listen to.

I didn’t like the narration, and didn’t think the story/writing was as crisp as the first book in the series. But it was still entertaining enough. This isn’t the one to start reading Riordan. But it’ll do for his older readers.

—–

3 Stars