Happy Three for Three! Today’s the day to review bomb Amazon.com. Pick three books that you really should have reviewed by now and write at least three sentences about them. Post these reviews to Amazon and you are done. If you pick your favorite independent author, you’ll be doing them a solid favor by giving their profile a small boost thanks to the inscrutable working’s of Amazon’s algorithms.
Here’s mine (apologies in advance for the rambling, each of these books deserves a tighter review I just don’t have time to do.):
- Souldancer by Brian Niemeier – 5 stars
Wild ride on an insane roller coaster. Grab a cup of coffee if you’re going to read this thing – and you should read it – you’ll need to pay attention as you do not want to miss any of of the awesomeness. Love story? Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, girl turns out to be a flaming – as in, literally on fire – demonic metallic monstrosity. Who does have her charms, which are occasionally expressed in piles of the smoldering charred flesh of her enemies. Good thing, too, for she and her companions have a Universe to save.
And it gets better. Really. Just go read it.
2. Captive Dreams by Mike Flynn – 5 stars
6 intense stories that are deep, moving examinations of complex characters who live in a suburban neighborhood encircling a small wood – and a near future hard sci fi universe. Each story has its own deeply-felt mood, plotted somewhere in the Venn diagram where melancholy, sadness, and wonder intersect. Flynn subtle and mischievous sense of humor keeps these stories from getting anywhere near morose, even where most of the subject matter and the characters’ interactions might lead one to weeping or despair. Sounds weird to say it, but despite topics like death of loved ones – an ancient old lady, a child, a lifelong friend, a wife, a loyal crew – and the tragedy of misguided desires to live as one dreams despite the cost – there are moments where you laugh out loud, often right before reaching for the tissues.
But Flynn is a sly dog – his ‘jokes’ are often so dry and obscure that part of the delight is just seeing them in the first place, and wondering how many others you’ve missed. Extreme example: a philosopher is described as an analytic philosopher with an interest in metaphysics. Well, analytic philosophy got its start by denying the reality of metaphysics (a metaphysical assertion if ever there were one). This character does then try to fulfill the role analytic philosophy claimed for itself – to help scientists understand what they are doing – and what they are doing in this story is trying to defy metaphysical truths. So the whole endeavor of analytic philosophy leads to a repudiation of all the premises upon which analytic philosophy is based – leading the philosopher to ‘cross the Tiber’ and the scientist to kill himself in denial of the metaphysical truth. And it’s funny!
A more broad joke lies in his description of an animal rights extremist as a remarkably small man – not a dwarf, just a scaled down human. Um, yep.
The overall tone remains somewhere along the melancholy axis – the occasional bits of humor are only necessary lubricants to telling stories about who and what people are. In the best science fiction tradition, Flynn uses technology as a means of revealing the true nature of people and reality to the reader. He just does it deeper and better than just about anyone else.
3. The Raven, The Elf, and Rachel (The Books of Unexpected Enlightenment) (Volume 2) by Jagi Lamplighter. – 5 stars
If you need a series that is fun, engaging, suitable for adult fantasy lovers while appropriate for younger teenagers but does not shy away from some real but delicate issues such teenagers will face, The Raven, the Elf and Rachel and the whole Books of Unexpected Enlightenment series are for you. Engaging and often hilarious characters get themselves into and out of serious trouble at a dizzying pace, while trying to grow up and navigate the boy/girl swamp and manage the expectations of the adults – not all of whom are on their side – at a magical boarding school. And dragons! And magic! Duels, ghosts, elves, angels, scary bad guys, hair-breadth escapes. And mystery upon mystery slowly unfolding through 3 books so far! This is book 2 in the series.
Most important, the stories don’t try to muddle the distinctions between good and evil to the point where every villain is just misunderstood, every evil act excusable, and all good deeds just a hypocritical facade. In the glorious tradition epitomized by C.S. Lewis and Tolkien, while it is not always easy to tell good from evil and right from wrong, time and experience will tell. Your job is to be, like Sam Gamgee, faithful and loving. True heroism flows from that spring, and Lamplighter’s characters live in a world full of the deep, personal – and, I might add, normal – relationships of sister to sister and brother, parents to children, daughter to grandfather – and true friends. These are flawed – sometimes deeply flawed – characters who nonetheless love each other and dread doing, not just suffering, evil.
Lamplighter isn’t interested in telling us how all the villains are just misunderstood, like sparkly vampires, and how great acts of evil are acceptable or, worse, indifferent. No, she’s interested in seeing just who people are as they reveal themselves through their lives and actions.
This second book in the series begins where the whirlwind 1st book ended. Rachel, a diminutive yet irrepressible young magician, has gathered a group of remarkable and, to say the least, colorful friends about her at Roanoke Academy for the Magical Arts. Things go wrong at an often dizzying pace – there’s no slogging through pages of background or filler. Rachel, a good and proper daughter of upstanding and loving parents, seems the least likely person to attract trouble. Yet, trouble arises.
And Something is going on, something deep. Secret wizard agents working with her father are maddeningly unhelpful; a sort of truth serum broaches the topic of acceptable levels of privacy; the wild boy Zigfried is both bound by the strictest code of honor – yet willing to do many things, such as spying on people and executing elaborate revenge, that seem more than a little iffy. But, hey, he has a talking, flying, fire-breathing dragon for a best friend, so who is going to argue with him? And that’s not the half of it – there is raven, and this elf, and this gigantic tree, and secrets that must not be told…
Get this book and read it yourself or to your 14-year old daughter. Maybe wait on the 12 year old son for a couple years – nothing bad, but might make him uncomfortable. And get ready to eagerly order every subsequent book in the series.