Fantasy

Tales of Brave Ulysses (Timeline 10/27/62)

Tales of Brave Ulysses (Timeline 10/27/62) is the sixth book by James Philip in a Brit-centric alternate history take on the aftermath of a Cuban Missile Crisis turned spasmodic WW3. Over in hours, or so it seems, but everything is changed.

I love this title. The author has a fondness for using song titles as book titles, and the Cream song of the same name is one of my favorites.

This is the last one out as I write this, and thus the last in my reread project for this spacific series. There is a parallel series, currently at three books, set from an American perspective, largely in the United States.

Fair warning: This books ends in the cliffhanger to eclipse his previous cliffhangers. Unless you have paid unnatural attention to detail, you will end the book by crying out “nooooooooo!” I admire the skill that went into building that ending. Fantastic! Luckily, the next volume is out soon. I have preordered it. There will be enough chaos, even without Philip being proverbially ghost-written by GRRM.

Obviously, I love the series. I have pointed out some modest complaints previously. The need for editing continues. Other things improved, or didn’t strike me as hard. Your mileage may vary. I can see some people simply not liking the type of story at all, or failing to get into it at the beginning.

By the end of this book, there has been some cutting to the chase, so to speak. What is known versus what is not known is always a driver of story, but ultimately must resolve for a conclusion to occur. Things look grim, but people who need to know now do, with help from the most surprising of sources. And there needs to be some action! Some tidying up loose ends. The next book is the last set in the sixties, within the years immediately following the nuclear madness. There will be two more, but the last is going to be set a decade later. That could be intriguing.

The Pillars of Hercules (Timeline 10/27/62)

The Pillars of Hercules (Timeline 10/27/62 Book 3) is the next in the main alternate history, Cuban Missile Crisis turned hot series by James Philip. It’s a bargain at $3.99, at least once you’re hooked on the series as I was by the time I finished the second one. I did notice a large number of instances where editing was needed. It rolled off me, but some, and usually I, may find it jarring.

Even as I read this, I found myself wondering what to say, besides praise how good the story is. I would reiterate the author’s skill at building connections between often disparate characters. It doesn’t seem unrealistic so much as literary usage of the proverbial “six degrees.” Kevin Bacon would surely approve.

Despite being Brit-centric, there is no shortage of action in the United States, along with some key points of view. I missed some details on my first read, including the vehement outlook of Curtis LeMay, and the implications of the glimpse we get at the thoughts of the heroine’s brother.

The events of this book have added meaning for me, given that I have read the volumes of the parallel USA timeline that have been published to date. If I were ambitious, I would eventually come up with a recommended reading order that would intertwine the two series logically. A bit like the periodic discussions in Robert Jordan fandom about at what point in reading the main Wheel of Time series you should interject reading the New Spring prequel.

At any rate, things have been unexpectedly grim, but at least now the powers that be have an inkling of what might be going on, and who is not an enemy. Onward!

Gateway to Fourline

Gateway to Fourline is the first book in a trilogy by Pam Brondos. I received the Kindle edition free as part of a special preview program for Amazon Prime customers. It is a relatively short 295 pages for a relatively high $5.99 regular Kindle price.

Short take: I enjoyed it and am intrigued enough that I might be tempted to buy the second part, On the Meldon Plain, though not enough to pre-order it, even at the $5.99 price. But I’d rather pay, say, $3.99 for it. Book 1 is not a cliffhanger, so there is not a compelling need to see what happens next the way there could be. At the same time, you know that Nat is not done with Fourline or the fallout from the help she provided the people trapped in our world.

The story could be considered young adult, centering as it does on a financially challenged college student. It features two types of fantasy characters that are not ones we’ve seen before the way we have, say, elves and dwarves. On the other hand, it features the standard stolen throne sort of scenario, and people who use a tool of sorts that might remind you of Wheel of Time.

As expected when there is a publisher involved, it was well edited.

I definitely recommend it if the price point doesn’t bother you and you enjoy straightforward fantasy of the “person from our world enters an alternate realm and hijinks ensue” variety.

Bad Books – Part 1

So far, if you read my reviews it probably sounds like there’s nothing I dislike or can’t slog through. Not true! Rare enough, but there are books or series I have abandoned or never been able to get into. I’ve been rather lucky with my foray into “cheap Kindle books” over the past, say, year or two. Or perhaps I’ve been selective. I can’t review what I didn’t buy because it didn’t sound like something I really like.

I thought I’d try to name and comment about some of those, as best I can remember them. I’ll obviously post about any new ones I encounter as I run into them. If I remember others from the past, I can do more posts like this. (As it turns out, this will be about just one book and I’ll definitely cover others in future posts.)

The granddaddy of them all is Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin. I first tried reading it all the way back when it was the only book in A Song of Ice and Fire. People on the rec.arts.sf.written.robert-jordan newsgroup talked about it, with some hating it, most liking it, and some thinking it made Jordan and Wheel of Time look pathetic. My sister had read and loved it. As I recall, the copy I tried to read was hers.

I just couldn’t get into it. I didn’t even get as far as Bran’s “accident.” I felt like a heretic, but I thought it was boring, and didn’t get far enough then, or learn enough from outside sources, to at least find it a fascinating concept poorly written or presented.

Flash forward. GRRM becomes a media star and gets his masterpiece filmed, by all accounts, beautifully. People who would never in a million years have thought to pick up those books are avid fans of the show and, in many cases, read the books as a result of seeing the show. People around me love the show and the books.

Feeling like I am missing out, someone gifts me the first book for Christmas 2013. Now, I know more about the characters and plot, without ever watching the show (we don’t have cable), because I read things, watch clips or trailers, etc. I have spoiler non-avoidance issues. Which is funny, given that I sometimes think I say too little in my reviews for fear of telling people too much about the books.

So I tried again. I got much farther into the book, but found it a slog. Putting it down and losing my place, I found I could pick it up, open it to somewhere, start reading, and feel like I missed nothing if I had skipped ahead. It seems bizarre that I had trouble identifying where exactly I had left off upon picking the book up again.

Eventually, bored, my reading petered out. Yet the story was interesting enough that I pointedly read all I could about what happened in the books and the shows. I even developed my own theory that Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen were the pivotal characters the whole thing would come down to in the end.

It was after abandoning Martin that my Kindle reading took off. I still feel vaguely like there might be something wrong with me for not getting into such a widely read, highly regard book. But then, I do run into people who have felt the same. Come to think of it, it’s a bit like Dune. Way back when, I read the first Dune. I found it tedious, but managed to get through it. I never even tried reading the others, and have been told that the first one is the only one that was good enough to bother with at all. It strikes me as more socially acceptable not to have liked Dune.

There you have it: One book (without regard to frugality) that I could not finish and would never recommend. Two, if you count my aside when I remembered Dune at the end.

The Wheel of Time Companion

This is not a “frugal” review, and is not really a review. More of a concurrence with another’s review of The Wheel of Time Companion. At $21.99 (I paid a couple bucks less, at the final pre-order price to get it on the release date), it is not a cheap read, though for a hardcover of its size it’s not so bad. The thing is, it’s a combined collectible and reference for the avid fan, rather than something with inherent story value. Guess I should add a category for reference works here.

“It’s a dictionary” was exactly my first reaction. There are some cool entires. I was tickled by the entry for Bela, and with some of the clarified details on characters. However, as the linked review notes, it is little more than what we either know from reading the series, or could glean from the glossaries that appeared in the series (or could find in a wiki). I, too, have found things that could have been elaborated on were not. Things that could have been organized for ease of reference or comparison were not. I can’t remember what it was, but I found at least one thing I tried to look up was completely absent.

I was intensely glad I did not buy it in Kindle format, but as a collectible, I would never have done that. It would be ridiculous to peruse – and it is for perusing, not flat out reading – in electronic format with no appropriate aid to navigation.

Perhaps my biggest disappointment was the wonderful art by Ariel Burgess not being in color. I’d already seen much of it elsewhere and was a big fan, looking forward to seeing it in the book. I would also have loved improved maps, rather than reprints from the books, albeit all in one volume.

I don’t really regret the purchase. I would have done so even had I know the book was not to be what I had imagined. I am that much a fan of The Wheel of Time. I am enjoying having it sitting by my chair and picking it up periodically to thumb through or to look up items it occurs to me to, well, see if they did a decent job on, at this point.

But I still find it hard to believe that something years in the making, meant to be the crowning glory, was as ill-considered as it seems to have been. It makes no sense. Clearly plenty of effort went into it. And sure, it is a way to rake in more money for the estate and publisher, and a way to throw some public glory as well as additional work to Robert Jordan’s assistants. It’s just… it could have been amazing. It’s not.

The Dreams of a Dying God

I got The Dreams of a Dying God (The Godlanders War Book 1) by Aaron Pogue on a special for $1.99. Based on nothing but the description, I might never have paid the normal price of $4.99. As it turns out, the other two books in the (I presume) trilogy are already out. That’s good, in that I am intrigued. That’s bad, in that I am not sure I am intrigued enough to pay $4.99 each for them. I have months of reading and rereading (to do justice in reviewing stuff I read before I launched this place) I can do before spending another dime on books. Not that I won’t. It’s a weakness. Especially when it seems to be a bargain.

When it came time to start this book, the early part of it had me going back to the description to remind myself what it was about and why a pirate was in the sands of what we might call North Africa, rescuing a slave and conducting a dig for a lost city.

Once it gets going, though, it is completely different from anything I have read. What is real? How does a god create or change reality? How does a god defend himself? How do myths and legends come about? How does reality in the past differ from how we understand it in the present?

I got a sense of quantum many worlds out of this book. That would explain the obvious match for our own world, but with different names, like Hurope. I thought the druids were a great touch. Something like them could make a fascinating story in its own right.

The more I reflect back over it, the more excited I am to read the sequels. I still think they are overpriced – I’d rather they be a buck or two lower – but at least they aren’t current paperback prices.

When I started this place, I had meant to include commentary in my reviews regarding the editing. Were their a lot of corrections needed? What made me think of it is the book I am currently reading, a favorite series, in which I am seeing regular errors. For instance, using the word raise in two different places when raze is the correct word. My inner editor cringes on hitting something like that. The Dreams of a Dying Good did not suffer from editing problems. It was solid.

Bottom line, this was a good book, a rather different fantasy, and you might enjoy it as much as I did. The discounted price I paid was a huge bargain. I’d rather not spend full price, but I lean toward it being worth rather than not worth it.

A last thought: The sequels intrigue me because I can’t begin to fathom what will take place in them. It is not that everything is neatly tied up at the end of this first book, but enough questions are answered to keep me from rushing into the next one because it’s a cliffhanger. I like that. Both the sense of relative completeness and the lack of predictability about where the story will take us subsequently.

The Arch of Avooblis

The Arch of Avooblis (The Adventurers’ Academy Book 1) is a young adult/older children’s book by Charles Streams. I was dubious at first and at times, but overall it was an enjoyable if basic read. It is bound to make you think of Harry Potter at times, if only due to the setting and age of the main point of view character.

Dagdron is a bit of an anti-hero and can be downright unlikable at times. He reminds me somewhat of a late friend I first met at the age of 14. The academy teaches three sets of adventurer types/skills: Warriors, Enchanters, and Rogues. Our hero is a rogue, already trained from a young age by his father. Where Harry embraced Hogwarts eagerly, Dagdron goes off to school reluctantly at best. Worse, he is stuck with an effusive student warrior roommate.

I enjoyed this enough to plan to buy the second and third in the trilogy, which are bargain priced, but not free as this was. There’s no downside at all to checking it out as a free Kindle download. I also expect my eleven year old Harry Potter fanatic to enjoy it, when and if I can get her to read it.

Can a book with an unpleasant main character be worth reading, or even great? It’s been several years, but my adult reread of the Tripods Trilogy made me realize what a twerp the main character in that series was. Yet it remains a classic. YMMV.

I can’t guarantee you’ll like it, let alone love it, or even that your tween or teen will like it. It’s not a book for a rave recommendation. It is rather different, and might be worth a look.

Dawn of Wonder

Dawn of Wonder (The Awakening Book 1) is a coming of age fantasy, with some military and mystery/suspense elements, by Jonathan Renshaw. The author has a web site here, as well. Right up front: There are religious elements to the book. I saw a review that was disappointed by that, calling it a deus ex machina. I don’t see it that way. It was not like that element had not been built toward during the book. Further, one might consider religion itself to be fantasy, and it certainly is a valid fantasy element. At worst it was slightly heavy-handed in one aspect, but you should judge for yourself.

That said, this is one of the best fantasy novels I have ever read. That and its length make it an incredible bargain at $3.99 on Kindle. If you enjoyed works like The Wheel of Time series, this is for you. If you enjoyed Harry Potter, this is for you. It feels Potteresque in spots, but is not crazily so. Most notably, there is a character that makes me think of a cross between Hagrid and Dumbledore. I expect my Potter-obsessed eleven year old will love this when she gets around to reading it. Right now she’s interested in The Martian (which was excellent, I thought, but suffered from excess buildup or hype about how amazing it was prior to my reading it when the price dropped to a still-excessive $6.99).

It starts in the typical middle of nowhere, Shire-like or Two Rivers-like locale, shortly thrown into upheaval by events. No good deed goes unpunished, so it’s road trip time for the main character. Adventures ensue, much is learned, and I can’t wait for the sequel. Also, I am not a horse person, but there is a horse I can’t wait to see again. The author has a wonderful way of describing things, particularly when it comes to the antics or young men. I also enjoyed the political intrigue and glimpse of foreign relations.

Just buy it. Enjoy!

Great Series

While you’re waiting for me to get around to reviewing them properly, ideally even book by book, I thought I’d throw out a list of some series that fall in the range of enjoyed to can’t get enough of them. In keeping with the general focus of this place, these are all low cost eBooks. Thus I won’t bother listing something like The Wheel of Time. Oh wait, I sort of just did.

Spinward Fringe by Randolph Lalonde is a fantastic, distant future SF saga that not only makes you think Firefly writ large, but contains unabashed references or homages to same, and to other bits of culture you may recognize. The first, prequel-like volume, linked, is free to get you started.

Timeline 10/27/62 by James Philip it a Brit-centric alternate history in which the point of departure is the Cuban Missile Crisis turning hot. This is the first series in which I have ever preordered the next book before it was released. I feel like I have shared the lives of Peter, Marijah and others, and cannot wait to see more. The abbreviated first volume, linked, will get you hooked for a mere 99ยข. All are bargains. A secondary, USA-centric concurrent series is due to start releasing, appropriately, on October 27, even as the original continues.

Portals of Infinity by John Van Stry is a catchy fantasy series that I thought might be cheesy at first, but in fact is clever, distinctive, and hard to put down. The first is not introductory priced the way some first books in a series are, but it’s well worth $2.99.

Ark Royal by Christopher Nuttall is another Brit-centric SF series, which has become six books since I read and loved the first three, which frankly I thought tied things up neatly, but I guess I’ll see when I get around to the rest. Humanity’s first encounter with non-humans becomes interesting. The author is prolific and these are not his only books I have read and enjoyed, but the others so far have been standalones.

The Beast of Maug Maurai by Roberto Calas is one solid story in three parts, not quite like other fantasy that I’ve read, with seemingly hopeless odds, some deeper mysteries, and food for thought about duty. Seemingly contrary to how great the set was, the entire first volume in some ways read like a fleshed out version of gathering your band of characters for a D&D quest. Yet it felt real and memorable. I would love to revisit this world, the consequences and future developments. Then again, sometimes it’s fun to feed these things to our imaginations. I couldn’t put these down. I tend to read myself to sleep. Didn’t work with these. Lucky for me I found them after the series was complete

There are others I could probably name, but this covers most of the highlights of a couple years of reading primarily low cost Kindle books and making discoveries such as these.

The Threads of Jericho

Again, not quite my usual fare, though it does fall under fantasy. It’s different, though, reminding me of comics. The Threads of Jericho by Michael A. Scheller , illustrated by Petterson Oliviera, is a mere $1.00, but is less of a bargain than it would be at longer than 104 pages.

When I say it reminds me of comics, let me add some background. I once collected comics, centering largely around titles like Swamp Thing and others in the DC/Vertigo universe. I bought almost the entire run of Swamp Thing, the entire run of Sandman, most of the run of Hellblazer, and the entire run of Preacher. Those last three I bought from the first issue.

The Threads of Jericho is a fantasy centering on characters like Death, his son, and other family in the realm of gods or mythological/supernatural beings. Solcom Jericho, son of Death, does not want to be what he is expected, wishing to do some good in the world. This does not go smoothly or without an unexpected antagonist.

It kept me engaged and entertained, and was not predictable. I wouldn’t mind seeing more along similar lines. Worth reading, if not as big a bargain for your reading budget as a several hundred page novel for $3-4 would be.