Book Review: Heroes of the Valley, by Jonathan Stroud

It’s the first Wednesday of the month, which means it’s time for a book review. I listened to the audiobook of Heroes of the Valley at the end of 2018, right smack at the same time I was preparing for the launch of my book. It was a great distraction for all those times I needed to relax and escape the stress of planning a large event, interesting enough to hold my interest, but not gripping enough that I was tempted to stay up after bedtime.

Heroes of the Valley

The Story:

Halli Sveinsson, youngest and most awkward of the Sveinsson house, grew up listening to the stories of when his valley was a wild and dangerous place and brave men stood heroically to defend it. His reality is much more bland. The valley is ruled by laws and governed by a Council of women who demand peace and equality. His heroic attempts always end badly, usually with someone being humiliated, and that someone is usually him.

When violence comes to his home, Halli sets off on a path of revenge and his own hero’s quest. He is inspired by the stories of the brave and bold Svein, the hero from which his family took its name. Along the path, Halli learns that he is not the hero he’d hoped he’d be and returns home, guilt ridden.

But, all is not is as it should be. Not only has Halli gained a reputation of being an ill-doer, he is accused of murder. His actions put the whole village in danger from the house of Hakonsson who comes to attack. With the assistance of the lovely and brave Aud, Halli creates a plan much like Svein of old to protect his house.

My Review:

While I love a good high fantasy, especially one filled with swords, magic, and noble characters – this one was definitely different. Our main character Halli is wonderfully flawed almost to the point of being comedic. Everyone else around him tolerates him at best, and downright hates him at worst. Because he’s never really liked, he experiences a sort of freedom that the rest of his house doesn’t enjoy. It doesn’t matter what he does, he’ll get in trouble for it anyway, so he does whatever he wants. Being at the bottom of the respect ladder means you can’t fall down further.

One would think that this would make Halli depressed and hard to read, but it does the opposite. He’s got a ready wit and shares it regardless if it’s the right thing to say or not. When he’s not speaking, he’s always thinking of a way to get what he wants. His goals are neither noble or evil, but are very realistic, which makes his story that much more relatable.

Interspersed between Halli’s chapters are chapters where the legend of the beloved Svein and the Battle of the Rock are told. These fable-like stories paint the hero in such inflated terms that he’s grown much bigger than life, performing feats of super human strength and endurance that can hardly be believed. Because I was listening to the story (yay audiobooks!) I didn’t catch that there was this switch for the first half of the book and ended up very confused. When listening, there is precious little to cue the listener that this switch has taken place. So when you believe you are in a Halli chapter, it might be several paragraphs before you realize you are in a Svein chapter.

Even with this, the two stories end up complimenting each other in such a way that the reader feels they understand Halli’s drive. He loves the story of Svein so much, he will do anything in his power to become a hero.

Those who enjoy fiction with a strong Nordic feel and heavy cultural notes, plus monsters that we are never quite sure are real, will enjoy this book.

It’s a strong read, well-written with lots of excellent world and culture building. As for liking it, I enjoyed listening to it, but didn’t love it. The storytelling style made it hard to be immersed in the story the way other books do and the magical element I was hoping for didn’t come through as a significant part of the story.

I’d still give the title 4/5 stars for being ingeniously constructed, well-written, and an all around solid narrative.

***


Psst! Jodi here. Did you enjoy today’s review? Did it help you decide if this book was for you? Cool, eh?

Guess what? You can do the same for me. If you’ve read Stonebearer’s Betrayal, head on over to Amazon, Goodreads, or the book site of your choice and leave me a review.

It doesn’t have to be big and long like this one – a few sentences is perfect! Thanks in advance!

***

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Book Review, Stonebearer’s Betrayal

Posting a full review here feels way too much like tooting my own horn, but today’s review is special. Last Friday, my oldest son job shadowed me as I went about my day as an author. He learned about free writing, work/life balance, drafting, and marketing.

Watching an author work is awkward for the author and boring for the watcher. The best way to experience what any job is like is to try it. And … since he is my perfect target audience and has already read my book, teaching him how to write a book review was the ideal exercise to learn how to draft out a new project. Even better, he’s thrilled to have his work published here on the blog.

Here’s his review of my book, which is it’s own special kind of adorable.

Stonebearer’s Betrayal Book Review

by Timothy Milner

Stonebearers Betrayal is a fantasy book about a girl named Katira and her friends who get wrapped up in this adventure featuring magic, demons, travel stones, magic stones, an alternate reality, and a creepy old guy who kidnaps her for a couple days. Not as creepy as it sounds, just a bit creepy.

Though there’s a bit of bias in this statement, I love this book.  The sense of adventure and danger really puts this book in a special category, so much so that some would call it a “underrated masterpiece.” Stonebearer’s Betrayal does a magnificent job at conveying emotions. It makes you feel like they’re going to die or feel like she’ll never escape.

I’m not sure about what I don’t like about this book, other than the fact that some of the concepts are a bit creepy. Although I didn’t really like the creepiness factor, I’m sure that others would. It makes the main villain feel even more powerful and demonic.

In stories, it’s usually very important to make the villain feel powerful, make it look like the odds for success are low. You don’t want a story with a wimpy villain, right? If the villain is easily defeated and the heroes go home to celebrate, then there isn’t much story to begin with, especially at the climax. And this is what Stonebearer’s Betrayal does very well.

I’d rate it for people 13+, because anyone below that won’t really understand or respect it. I’m not sure what it’s similar to, I want to say it’s a bit similar to Eragon by Christopher Paolini, but I’m not sure.

About today’s reviewer –

Timothy Milner is a 13-year-old who is way too mature for his age, but nonetheless, he likes to nuke things from orbit, design TNT machine guns, and die to the goddamn triple spike at 53%. Did he mention he was a gamer?

***


Photo by Paolo Nicolello on Unsplash

Do you like dragons? Good news! I’m working on several dragon projects at the moment. Two of these are short stories that will appear in anthologies and one is a middle grade novel that I’m co-writing with friend and fellow Immortal Works author, Daniel Swenson.

Written as part research, and part fun, check out my article “Symbology of Dragons” I wrote for Amy Beatty about the significance of dragons in different cultures around the world.

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Sigil in Shadow by Constance Roberts

Sigil in Shadow WEB ONLY

Let’s review a book, shall we? First things first, the important stuff. Sigil in Shadow is a YA fiction novel set in a time period where royal intrigues between princesses and commoners can take place.  At a smidgen over 250 pages, it’s a good length and it definitely doesn’t get boring.

I was given an advanced reader copy in exchange for a fair review. 🙂

On to the story!

This lovely back cover copy does a lovely job of summing up the story without spoilers –

“Ellary Dane knows she deserves to die – but not for a crime she didn’t commit.

She believes her 19 year streak of bad luck is over when she accidentally saves the life of a highborn officer and is taken to court to study under the tutelage of the most renowned healer in the kingdom. Suspicions surround her sudden presence, making her more enemies than allies. She soon finds herself ripped from her warm palace sheets and thrown into a dank prison cell.

 As nobles vie for their spot on the throne, Ellary learns she is bound to a secret history that could change the kingdom forever. If she is going to break her chains, she must trust the stranger labeled as her accomplice and face the lie that pushed her into the silent warfare of highborn society.”

Ok, now for the good stuff. This book has great prose and it’s a nice read for the imagery alone. The characters are enjoyable and well-rounded. Ellary herself has strength and a good heart, although she is a touch paranoid about her big secret being discovered. In her situation, I would be too.

Is this a perfect story? Nope. But, let’s be honest, perfect stories are predictable and boring. In this story, Ellary has all sorts of challenges to overcome. While she does conquer her biggest challenge which revolves around how to maintain her integrity while being forced into a social position where she doesn’t belong, she fails many smaller but super significant challenges.

 

I would recommend this book to readers who love royal intrigue, Cinderella stories, and a strong female lead.

 

Sigil in Shadow can be found on Amazon. 

Want to see more from this author? Here’s her website.

Fresh Fantasy: Shadows of Angels by L. G. Rollins

There’s nothing better than a book you can sink into, one that grabs your attention and wrestles you for your time until you finish. L. G. Rollins debut fantasy novel does just that.

I have read my fair share of fantasy. I write the stuff, I owe it to myself and my future readers to stay on top of the latest and best there is out there.

When the author, who also happens to be one of my critique buddies, asked me to be a part of her blog tour to announce the release of her first novel, I had to say yes!

I’ve known Laura for several years and can honestly say that she’s got what it takes to spin a riveting story.

Shadows of Angels Cover

My Review: Shadows of Angels is a mix of magic and intrigue. The main character, Aerbrin, faces a life full of new challenges when her father is murdered and leaves her rightful owner of his mysterious and powerful Zaad stone. She must survive against all the forces who would force it from her.

The story has surprises right and left, including people who aren’t who they say, inventive and terrifying  magical creatures, and cursed places that exist to destroy the pure in heart.

If I were to compare it to anything, I’d say it would be like a darker version of the 1986 cult classic movie Labyrinth if it were directed by Guillermo del Toro. There’s no maze, but there is a dream trance place where stolen memories are hidden away. Very cool stuff. And as a bonus, Aerbrin is much stronger and more clever than Labyrinth’s Sarah (Jennifer Connelly).

If you like reading well-written books that have lots of thrilling near death experiences, kings in hiding, noble men, plenty of magic, and unique fantasy settings, this book is perfect for you. Oh, and I should mention that this is a clean read, meaning no profanity or explicit anything. There is a fair amount of tastefully executed violence.

However, if you shy away from characters in pain, need a strong romantic side story to keep you interested, or can’t stand powerful magical characters, you may need to steer clear of this book.

***

Because I love you – check out this exerpt:

Stay calm, her father’s words echoed in her head. When you find yourself in danger, above all, stay calm. Aerbrin took a deep, steady breath and leaned down, reaching for her bow. one of the Forest Dwellers charged. It collided with her and knocked her to the floor. Raising a knotted fist, he bashed her head.

Sparks exploded across her vision. She tried to raise an arm, tried to call out. Her body wouldn’t respond. The Forest Dwellers grunted again. The creature above her raised its fist again. She looked up. This was the end, she knew. When these monsters attacked, they killed everything. Animals, plants, and particularly humans. No one survived.

Closing her eyes, Aerbrin forced her body to relax. This time, there was no pain.”

About the Author:

L. G. Rollins grew up in a far off land fighting dragons, stealing talismans, and traveling with dwarfs and elves. She is especially skilled at bribing giants with sweets. Currently, her husband and four kids live in Utah so that is where she spends most of her time. She may, or may not, have a Zaad Stone. To learn more about L. G. Rollins and her books visit LGRollins.com. Shadows of Angels comes out December 8th and is the beginning of the Zaad Stone trilogy.

 

Shadows of Angels Blog Tour Image.jpg

Book of the Month: Going Postal by Terry Pratchett

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“Discworld Postal” by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Discworld_Postal.jpg#/media/File:Discworld_Postal.jpg

As part of the ever popular Discworld series, Going Postal marks the 33rd novel that takes place in the world.  I love the writing of Terry Pratchett and was very happy to return to one of his novels after not having the pleasure of reading one for a long time. His passing this year was felt deeply by his adoring fans.

The book is about a con man with the unfortunate name of Moist von Lipwig, which was never a problem to him because he always used an alias. That is, until his crimes caught up with him and he was given the option of a government job or death. Being a reasonable man, he chose the job figuring that the first minute no one was watching he could slip away and return to his dishonest ways.

However, what he didn’t expect was a magical golem as a parole officer who could track him tirelessly across oceans if the need existed. He learns this the hard way when Mr. Pump hauls both him and his horse bodily back to the defunct post office where Moist has been forced to serve as Post Master.

Half the fun of the book is in the unpredictable and amazing world that Pratchett has created. This post office hasn’t delivered a piece of mail in decades and the backed up mail has been stuffed into every nook and cranny, every spare office and attic space, until immense glaciers have formed.

Moist is determined to make his new job work, but more importantly, he is determined to make a buck or two in the process.

My Review:

It is a delight to read the work of a master who truly excels at his craft. Pratchett has a knack for creating terribly flawed characters who are both charming and charismatic in unexpected ways. They are not your typical heroes or villains, but real people with real issues that are often really funny.

These people are set into a fully fleshed and intriguing world where magic is real but very practical. Discworld is an amazing place and it is clear that Pratchett knows every facet of the place down to the heights of the gutters and species of birds that frequent the financial district.

Prachett is talented enough to make a whole book work with just interesting people wandering around this magical place. However, he has also created a story that is both fresh and fun. There are the dark powers behind the scenes who think they have everything under control – and they don’t. There are the businesses of the post office and the clacks towers, an equivalent of the telegraph, running neck and neck against each other, and there’s Moist who is trying to make the best of it all.

I give this book 5 stars – it is masterfully written and delightfully conceived.

Book of the Month: Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

night-circusIt can be dangerous picking books from a list and hoping that they live up to the hype. The Night Circus has appeared over and over on book lover Pinterest boards so I decided it would be worth seeing what the big deal was about. I’m glad to say that this is a book that delivers.

Not too long ago I wrote a post discussing what Magical Realism meant. The Night Circus is a terrific example of magical realism. The story takes place in an ahistorical Victorian London and follows the lives of two young magical proteges. These magicians can perform actual magic and not just feats of illusion. These proteges and their masters create the Night Circus – Le Cirque des Rêves, the Circus of Dreams. A reality defying collection of curiosities that is only open from dusk to dawn.

The circus itself is surreal enough to make for intriguing reading. Among the expected acrobatic acts and contortionists there are tents that are full of the impossible. One is a garden created entirely from ice. Another, a cloud maze where you can fall from incredible heights without the fear of being hurt.

The story weaves it’s way through the lives of two magical proteges. Through the years, Prospero the Enchanter and Mr. A.H. have been locked in a rivalry to prove who is the better, more powerful magician.  Their students, Celia Bowen and Marcos Alisdair are the pawns in a dangerous competition in which they have been groomed their whole lives to play. Except, they are never given the rules of the competition. They must push to find what must be done and are never sure what the next step must be.

My review:

It’s not often when a book takes me by surprise. The Night Circus has an otherworldly quality that makes for perfect escapist reading. I was transported into this alternate world where magic is indeed real and palpable and filled with wonder. The story itself is fresh and full of ideas and creativity that haven’t been seen before, which is a feat in itself seeing how most stories I read are beaten dead from over use.

The best part of the book is the circus itself, the wonder and the thrills contained therein continually change and evolve to captivate and delight both reader and the characters that walk the pages.

I recommend this to anyone who likes magical realism, Cirque du Soleil, and surrealism. For those of you who like their fiction to keep both feel solidly on the ground, this might be a touch cerebral for you.

Like book reviews? Here are a few of my others:

Book of the Month: Redshirts by John Scalzi

91Hx5ImdhzLThis month I ventured into a new and unfamiliar land where reality collided with fiction in a fun and thoughtful way. In the Star Trek universe the sad fact exists that if you are wearing a red shirt and are sent on an away mission, chances are you are going to die.

Scalzi’sRedshirts takes this truth and turns it on it’s head. The crew start asking questions when they notice the abnormally high death rate on their vessel. Crew who aren’t in the officer line have watched their friends leave on away missions never to return. They have learned it’s best to avoid the senior officers at any cost. Being found by one certainly means being assigned to another of these deadly away missions.

Another Star Trek truth that Redshirts makes fun of is the magic box that solves the most insanely complex problem the same way that a microwave heats food.  You insert the correct samples, set the timer for slightly less than when the catastrophe is going to occur, and wait patiently for it to finish. The data it produces is then taken personally to the bridge and presented to the captain, always stating that there is some sort of random made up problem. This is when the captain dramatically looks over the data and within seconds solves the problem, showing just how awesome of a hero he really is.

There are several more of these little gems hidden inside the book, if you want to find them, I suggest you read it.

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Our main character, Dahl, is one of these minor members of the crew who are often targeted. The older crew don’t warn him of the dangers in an attempt to save their own skins and he is assigned to an away mission where he barely survives. When he returns, he wants answers and he demands to be told everything. This line of questioning leads him to the mysterious Jenkins, a hermit who has sealed himself into the utility passages of the ship. Jenkins has a crazy theory that logically explains why the ship works like it does. It’s the alternate reality created when Star Trek was written. Every death, every dramatic rescue, every inconsistent part of their world is there because some writer has invented it to make entertaining television.

Dahl comes up with an insane plan to get it all to stop, and it involves jumping dimensions.

***

My Review:

I got a kick out of this book. For anyone who likes Star Trek but finds some of the science and story lines far-fetched, this book is a joy ride. It’s written in a very direct and to the point way, not wasting any time to dwell on the scenery or the deep internal turmoil of the characters.  What I found most unique is that the characters start to become self-aware that they are indeed characters being written. If you like light sci-fi parodies, discussions on inter-dimensional theory, and paradoxes, this is a great book for you.

However – reader be warned. There is a fair amount of rude language sprinkled throughout, enough to make it rated a solid R. There is also casual innuendo, violent (but humorous) death, and an absence of a bad guy. Although I didn’t find it a problem, some might not like the three-part coda ending where after ending of the principle story, there are an additional three sections that explore what happened to three of the minor, but significant characters.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Month – The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Ocean_at_the_End_of_the_Lane_US_Cover

When an author’s name keeps coming up over and over, at book clubs, at conferences, at critique groups, you know there is something special about what they create. Neil Gaiman is one of those authors. This month I explored his book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

In this book, an unnamed middle-aged man returns to his childhood neighborhood and finds a mysterious draw to visit an old friend’s house. While he is there he remembers a strange event that happened when he was a boy.

Short on cash, the narrator’s family rents out his bedroom and he must share a room with his younger sister. One of their renters commits suicide in the family car. His death allows a supernatural being to enter the world and strange things start happening.

The narrator goes to his friend Lettie Hempstock’s house at the end of the lane for help. Lettie agrees to help and takes the narrator with her to bind the supernatural spirit back into her own world. In the process, the being sticks the narrator in the foot and anchors a pathway back to the human world in him.

The being returns in the form of the caretaker, Ursula Monkton, that the narrator’s family has hired so that the mother can return to work, proving that the most terrible of terrors is the one that is hiding in your own home and no one believes you about. Ursula is manipulative and soon bends the family into loving her, everyone except the narrator, who she turns the family against.

With the Hempstock’s help, the narrator is able to defeat the villanous Ursula, but it comes at great price. To save the narrator the pain of remembering they alter his memories so that the event is more like a dream that quickly fades.

Every few years he returns to visit, and every few years he is allowed to remember the experience once more only to forget once again the moment he walks away from the house.

There is, of course, much more to the story than this. If you want a more complete synopsis you are welcome to go visit the wiki page.

My Review:

There is a reason that so many people talk about Neil Gaiman’s work, especially around writing circles. He has a talent with language that makes the prose flow beautifully across the page. The ideas that he chooses to weave into each story are unique and intriguing and make the reader question their own realities.

Gaiman’s books are short, making them easy to start and finish in a long evening. Which is a good thing because once you pick one up you won’t want to put it down.

I loved the Ocean at the End of the Lane and can’t wait to pick up another of Gaiman’s books. I recommend this title to those who love well written prose, good vs. evil, and practical magic. Those who don’t like magic, even in small, easy to digest portions, might not like this book.

Book of the Month: Everneath by Brodi Ashton

9413044This month’s book, Everneath, comes from fellow Utah native Brodi Ashton and is the first in the Everneath series.

Twilight fans rejoice! I have found a perfect novel for you. It is loaded with teenage angst, and I mean ANGST. The main character, Nikki Beckett, is in high school when her mother is tragically killed by a drunk driver. Her resulting depression, paired by the belief that her boyfriend has cheated on her, drives her into the lethal clutches of Cole, an Everliving.

Every 100 years the Everliving must feed on the energies of a human host and then that host falls prey to the tunnels, a hellish place where the host is drained of all emotions until they cease to exist. The feed takes 100 years, but in the alternate space of the Everneath time works differently so only six months pass on the surface. The host can choose return to the surface for six months before the tunnels claim them, that is if they can remember any of their life before. Most don’t.

Nikki is an exception. Not only does she survive the feed without aging, she remembers Jack, her boyfriend, and is compelled to return to him. She now has six months to reclaim her life before the tunnels come for her once again. Paired with Jack, she must find a way to survive, and even thrive.

As I said before, this book is perfect for all those Twilight fans out there. There is a supernatural element in Cole, however instead of being a traditional vampire, Cole is what many would call a psychic vampire.  He feeds on the energy and emotions of those around him. There is a troubled love triangle between Cole, Nikki, and Jack, not unlike Jacob, Edward, and Bella. There is a lot of high school drama and as a perk there are nice mythological elements and nods to the myths of Persephone and Eurydice.

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Coolest picture ever.

However, like all books, there are elements in Everneath that might drive readers crazy. Nikki is very similar to Bella, she’s very passive and has a very simple character arc. Her recurring debate is whether to go with Cole and become his queen in the Everneath and have to engage indirectly in his vampire-y ways, or to let the hellish tunnels come and eat her soul. She spends most of the book flip-flopping between the two choices, that is when she isn’t flip-flopping between Jack and Cole.  Jack is the leading quarterback and football prodigy, a personal pet peeve of mine and many readers like me.  Why does the romantic lead always have to be the quarterback? Stereotypes people! Another stereotype is found in the trampy cheerleader who tries to destroy Nikki and Jack’s relationship. Oh, and did I mention that Nikki is devastatingly attractive? Thankfully, she’s not also a cheerleader.

I recommend this book for teenage girls who like a good angst-y story of love and loss. If that’s not you, read at your own risk.

Book of the Month: Existence by David Brin

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Some books are meant to sweep readers away into another world where they can live another life. Then there are those books that exist on a different plane where the concepts are foreign and bizarre and it takes hundreds of pages to start understanding what is actually happening.  Existence is one of those books.

If I were to compare it to other books I’ve read I’d call it Cloud Atlas meets Ender’s Game. It is similar to Cloud Atlas because it combines a handful of storylines that all have a few sparse threads in common. The characters come from vastly different walks of life and most of the interest lies in trying to figure out what’s actually going on. It takes hundreds of pages to find links between the different storylines. It resembles Ender’s Game, not in the edge of your seat thrill ride, but the way that the author introduces his philosophies and ideas about the vast unknown.

To be fair, I haven’t finished reading Existence, yet. It’s long and requires focus and persistence to keep going forward. I can see why many people recommend it, Brin possesses a deep understanding of his world and a keen intellect which is demonstrated in the distinct characters that each play a role in the story.

Do I like it? Yes and no. Yes, the world is fascinating and I really want to see what will happen. I like the questions it asks about the nature of existence and the possibility of life on other worlds, and how to communicate with said life. And no, it’s slow going and almost too intellectual to be a read in a way where the reader can feel truly immersed. The story is so fractured among the different characters that the reader only gets a taste of what’s happening before being shoved somewhere else. To fracture it even further, between each chapter are different seemingly random essays on different facets of existence, discussions between scientists, or meandering thoughts of an autistic person.

I’m looking forward to finishing, nothing would make me happier than for the story to unfold into a brilliant and hard-hitting climax that gives the reader what they came for!

Have you read Existence? Come share your thoughts in the comments!