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Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Great Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off First Update (by Mihir Wanchoo)

As I talked about previously in my introductory post, Mark Lawrence was kind enough to give me a list. I’ll be doing six reading rounds wherein I’ll be selecting one title from 4-5 books. In the end, the chosen six will get a proper FBC style review and I’ll be selecting one title from that list. So for my first round, I read the following four titles:

1) David Tatum – The Kitsune Stratagem
  The Kitsune Strategem is an interesting book about a world wherein Kitsunes are present and have been brought into existence by the Goddess Inari. The book had an interesting start and the characters are rather straightforward in their approach. Kieras and Mathis are the main protagonists and are the central focus of the story. One of the plus points of this story was how the author inculcated various mythological creatures in a secondary fantasy world. This was a good read but it didn't quite grow out of its fun mold.

2) Charlotte Cyprus – Kiss of the Fae
  Kiss Of The Fae was a romantic fantasy and it focused on two characters Xenos and Johara who are from different sides and are forced to let go of their conventional views. This of course being a story with a strong romantic focus, we find that the characters do manage to overcome their biases and find love in each other. This was an interesting story and the characters were intriguing if not slightly predictable.

3) Scott Warren – Sorcerous Crimes Division: Devil Bone
  I had high hopes from this book as it presented a fantasy world and gave the story a noir feel with magic and gangs and a constabulary who regulates and tries to keep the city safe. The story begins in a meandering fashion and we are introduced to our main characters Commander Vulfort & private Tanner. The plot takes a while to get going but the ending more than makes up for the slow start. What I thoroughly enjoyed with this story was the world that’s slowly unveiled and the epic story that’s promised in the sequel volumes.

4) Brian Lynch – King Callie
  This was a rather different book as it focuses on a teenage character Callie who faces some stern odds. I enjoyed the "teenage character in an adult fantasy world" approach of the story. Very reminiscent of the ShadowMarch quartet by Tad Williams, though Brian Lynch keeps the plot focus much narrowed down than Tad Williams. The story is fast-paced and that kept me reading all the way through to the end. I enjoyed this story but the story felt a bit unrealistic with the way Callie goes about her journey.

From this round, the one title that appealed to the most and will be proceeding forward is Sorcerous Crimes Division: Devil Bone by Scott Warren. Next up will be five new titles & I'll hopefully finish reading them in the next two-three weeks.
Tuesday, April 14, 2015

"Prudence: The Custard Protocol Book One" by Gail Carriger (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

Visit Gail Carriger's Official Website Here
Read FBC's Review of Soulless, Changeless, and Blameless
Read FBC's Review of The Finish School Book 1 and Book 2 

: When Prudence Alessandra Maccon Akeldama (Rue to her friends) is given an unexpected dirigible, she does what any sensible female would under similar circumstances - names it the Spotted Custard and floats to India in pursuit of the perfect cup of tea. But India has more than just tea on offer. Rue stumbles upon a plot involving local dissidents, a kidnapped brigadier's wife, and some awfully familiar Scottish werewolves. Faced with a dire crisis and an embarrassing lack of bloomers, what else is a young lady of good breeding to do but turn metanatural and find out everyone's secrets, even thousand-year-old fuzzy ones?

FORMAT: Prudence is the first novel in The Custard Protocol. This series picks up 20+ years after The Parasol Protectorate series. It is not necessary to read The Parasol Protectorate. Some of the events will be referenced and some characters make an appearance, but it isn't necessary.

Prudence is an adult fiction novel that is a mix of supernatural, steampunk, humor, and a little romance and historical fiction. Prudence stands at 368 pages and was published by Orbit on March 17, 2015.  

ANALYSIS: Gail Carriger is one of those authors that you either love her writing style or you hate it. It is a little bit steampunk, little bit supernatural, and a whole lot of out-right silliness. It certainly isn't for everyone.

I started reading Carriger's novels in 2010 when the Parasol Protectorate series was brand new. I admit it took a little getting used to, as the books weren't like anything I had read before. The conversations between characters was flowery, the situations ridiculous (in a silly/fun way), and there was an effort to keep things time period specific. I grew to enjoy Carriger's novels and have since read the entire Parasol Protectorate series and all three books – so far – of the Finishing School series.

Given how much I enjoyed the Parasol Protectorate series, I was excited when I heard that Carriger was doing a spin-off of sorts with The Custard Protocol. The Custard Protocol follows Prudence – Lord and Lady Maccon's daughter – as she makes her way through society and learns to accept her role as a metanatural. Unfortunately, my excitement did not last through this book.

First, it should be known that if you enjoyed the Parasol Protectorate series, you will probably enjoy The Custard Protocol. The writing style is the same, the characters are the same; everything is pretty much in line with the first series. And that is where the problem begins.

Ultimately, I felt as though The Custard Protocol was a mere redo of the Parasol Protectorate. Substitute Alexia with Prudence, Ivy with her daughter, and a few other characters, and you ultimately have the entire first series. I was really looking forward to seeing Prudence as a new person and new character, but that didn't happen.

In fact, if you closed your eyes there really was no difference between Alexia in book 1 of the Parasol Protectorate and Prudence in book one of The Custard Protocol. The powers were a little different and Prudence was more aware of the supernatural aspect of the world, but attitude, personality, quirks, and speaking style was exactly the same. The only exception is..... Prudence is boring. She only knows clothing and fashion. So imagine a boring Alexia and you get Prudence.

Prudence wasn't the only one without a new personality. Prim Tunstall is attached at Prudence's hip and appears non-stop throughout the book. The problem with this is Prim – while claiming to not be like her mother – is exactly like Ivy Hisselpenny (Alexia's best friend from The Parasol Protectorate series).

I really would have liked to see the characters be themselves instead of feeling as if Carriger was trying to re-capture the feelings from the first series. Yes, it could be argued that people inherit their parent's traits, but every character was almost a cookie cutter knockoff of their parent from the first series. It was a bit disappointing.

In addition to the lack of new character development, there is the lack of a plot. The ultimate plot of the book is that Prudence is sent to India to discover some odd, but tasty tea plant. I wish I could tell you there was more to the plot, but there isn't a whole lot more to the plot. There is a subplot that gets revealed in the last part of the book about two groups of warring supernatural creatures, but it is largely overshadowed and downplayed.

For much of the book readers are overburdened with nonsense. There are huge sections of silly talk about what the proper dress is for an occasion or what hat should go with what. There is a lot of description and time spent talking about a ladybug painted dirigible that farts – yes it farts and that is world-ending horrible. And let us not forget the debates about what is or is not proper for society. I know society gossip/reputation was important in that time period, but this just seemed to be placed there in the absence of a plot.

Don't get me wrong. I understand the series is supposed to be silly and humorous, but for the most part Carriger knows how to bring in humor while keeping a plot going. That did not happen here. We were left with a good 25-50% of nonsense, a little plot development, and a little look back and hints of favorite characters from previous books. 

I wish I could say I enjoyed Prudence. Carriger is a wonderful, amazing and very talented author. Unfortunately, this book was not one of her strongest. I believe fans of her other series may enjoy it, but it does not have the potential to capture the attention of a new audience.
Thursday, April 9, 2015

"The Island of Dr. Libris" by Chris Grabenstein (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

Visit Chris Grabenstein's Official Website Here
OVERVIEW: What if your favorite characters came to life? Billy’s spending the summer in a lakeside cabin that belongs to the mysterious Dr. Libris. But something strange is going on. Besides the security cameras everywhere, there’s Dr. Libris’s private bookcase. Whenever Billy opens the books inside, he can hear sounds coming from the island in the middle of the lake. The clash of swords. The twang of arrows. Sometimes he can even feel the ground shaking. It’s almost as if the stories he’s reading are coming to life! But that’s impossible . . . isn’t it?

FORMAT: The Island of Dr. Libris is a standalone novel. It contains elements of fantasy and adventure with a slight mysterious element to it. The Island of Dr. Libris was published March 24, 2015 by Random House Books for Young Readers and stands at 256 pages.

ANALYSIS: Ask any avid reader if they have ever gotten so engrossed in a book that they felt like they were actually a part of story and chances are you will hear them say 'yes'. It has happened to all readers at some point in time.

Now, what if there was a way we could take the worlds are characters created by our favorite authors and somehow bring those to life. We would be able to interact with the characters, play out scenes from the books, and occasionally add our own plot twists or start our own adventure. That is the concept that is explored in The Island of Dr. Libris.

The Island of Dr. Libris may be a children's book, but it is much more than that. It really explores the concept of the power of imagination. It truly makes us think about just how powerful the written word is in terms of developing our imagination and influencing the future.

I will admit that The Island of Dr. Libris will be enjoyable if you don't take it too seriously. The tone is lighthearted and fun while the entire book is fast paced. But, I'll admit there are certainly holes in the plot and the subplot (the main character's parents are getting divorced) is resolved in a manner that is a bit unbelievable. Readers will encounter things that can certainly be picked apart and debated that it isn't 'logical', but at the core of it – this is a children's book and it isn't really meant to be detailed to the point that everything is explained in a logical way.

In many ways, The Island of Dr. Libris has two distinct audiences. The experience you get out of it will depend upon which group you fall into. The first group, elementary aged children, will like the silly dialogue and fast pace. Those that fall into this first category will certain be introduced to a tone of characters and authors that seem to be pushed to the wayside by the younger audience in favor of newer, hipper authors.

The other audience, the one I fall into, is the adult audience who will appreciate the way the author brought to life – and meshed – favorite literary novels. There is Robin Hood, Hercules, and The Three Musketeers, and my favorite – Pollyanna.

Unfortunately, if you fall into the last category there are drawbacks to the novel and you will probably notice. For example, the entire book revolves around the idea of Dr. Libris running an experiment, but Dr. Libris only appears for like 2 seconds and that is it. If you want to see what happens, I guess you will have to use your imagination and create an ending!

Overall, I enjoyed The Island of Dr. Libris. The story wasn't intense, but it wasn't bad. There were certain plot holes that were noticeable, but it didn't really impact my overall experience with the book. If you are looking for a fast, fun book that will certainly stay with you for a while – this is the place to look.
Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Great Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off by Mark Lawrence & various bloggers

Self-published authors have it quite tough, usually they are disregarded by many readers and review sites. Among the few that do review them, the self-pubbed/indie crowd has tough completion with traditionally published authors and their works. All in all for them, it’s more than just an uphill climb. Which is why I want to thank Mark Lawrence for coming up with this massive idea and blog-off for giving all self-published authors a chance at recognition, reviews and hopefully great press.

Nearly a month ago Mark announced this competition, wherein he asked for author to submit their works to be judged by 10 fantasy review blogs. Previously he had sent out a call for bloggers to participate. In this endeavor, reader & blogger extraordinaire Sarah Chorn of Bookworm Blues admirably helped out with logistics and was the first volunteer blogger to sign up for this.

At Fantasy Book Critic, we have prided ourselves on trying to give Indie and self-published books a fair shake amidst the traditional author books. This has lead us to discover talented folks such as Michael J, Sullivan, Anthony Ryan, David Dalglish to just name a few.

Amid such a fantastic role-call, it was all I could do to not volunteer. Mark was very gracious enough to grant me a place among esteemed bloggers such Ria (Bibliotropic), Bob M. (Beauty In Ruins), Tyson Mauermann (Speculative Book Review) and many others. These bloggers are people whose choices I pay attention to as well as consider them my friends. So after getting close to 300 title entries, Mark disseminated these titles among the 10 of us and I have gotten the following titles allotted to me:

1. Corey Bryers – Scrapper
2. Alex ZiebartBlood and Masks
3. Beth LyonsThe Soul Thief
4. Scott WarrenSorcerous Crimes Division: Devil Bone
5. Domino FinnShade City
6. David TatumThe Kitsune Stratagem
7. Charlotte CyprusKiss of the Fae
8. Scott McGowanBjorn and Bread
9. Greg James – Under A Colder Sun
10. Andy CrawfordThe Pen is Mightier
11. Brian LynchKing Callie
12. Christopher RuzCentury of Sand
13. Anthony LoweCity of Blades
14. Eric KnightWreckers Gate
15. Melissa PorterPurple
16. Rachel BowdenArtisan
17. Annika HowellsHow to disappear completely
18. Wilf Jones The Best of Men
19. Robert MullinBid the gods arise
20. Sean MoranA Time of Kings
21. Rob DonovanRitual of the Stones
22. Randall FitzgeraldNo One’s Chosen
23. Nat Russo Necromancer Awakening
24. A. Murtagh Soldiers
25. Jenny WatsonSpirit’s Mage
26. Ken LimThe Starfall Knight
27. Victor SalinasThe Sword and its Servant

The idea is for all of us to choose one worthy title among the all titles in our list and then pitch it to the rest of us as to why we feel it as the best. Eventually one winner will be announced among all such worthy titles. I plan to do a major review of the best book I choose and also do as many mini-reviews of the books from the above list. I’ll be stating my reasons for books which I’m not able to finish or didn’t enjoy.

Since I’m a bit strapped for time, I’ll be a bit stricter than I usually am while reviewing titles for FBC. So I hope you all join us bloggers amidst our search for the next fantasy self-pubbed breakout star. Here’s what my compatriots have been up to so far:

Bob Milne of Beauty in Ruins on blurbs, covers, and titles.
Lynn Williams of Lynn's Books reviews His Own Good Sword by Amanda McCrina.
Ria of Bibliotropic on titles, covers, and blurbs.
Sarah Chorn of Bookworm Blues divides to conquer!
Elitist Book Reviews outline their slush-strategy.
An update from Lynn's Books.
Here an 11th man has a sift through the slush.
On The Fictional Hangout Milo reviews Fire and Ice by Patty Jansen.
Ria of Bibliotropic reviews Son of a Dark Wizard.
Ria of Bibliotropic starts an update list.
Elitist Book Reviews like The Thief Who Pulled On Trouble's Braids.

As for me, I’ve already selected my first title among the bunch selected for me. I’m currently reading Sorcerous Crimes Division: Devil Bone by Scott Warren. What drew me to it was the mix of procedural noir and fantasy in its blurb which reminded me greatly of Steven Brust’s Vlad Taltos and Daniel Polansky’s Low Town trilogy. So far I’m very much enjoying it and I’ll be posting my thoughts on it soon.
Thursday, March 26, 2015

"Divided: Dualed #2" by Elsie Chapman (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

Visit Elsie Chapman's Official Site HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of Dualed Here

OVERVIEW: The hunter becomes the hunted. . . .

West Grayer is done killing. She defeated her Alternate, a twin raised by another family, and proved she’s worthy of a future. She’s ready to move on with her life.

The Board has other plans. They want her to kill one last time, and offer her a deal worth killing for. But when West recognizes her target as a ghost from her past, she realizes she’s in over her head. The Board is lying, and West will have to uncover the truth of the past to secure her future.

How far will the Board go to keep their secrets safe? And how far will West go to save those she loves? With nonstop action and surprising twists, Elsie Chapman’s intoxicating sequel to Dualed reveals everything.

FORMAT: Divided is the second book in the Dualed duology. It is mostly a dystopian novel with lots of action and a little romance. It stands at 320 pages and was published May 27, 2014 by Random House Books for Young Readers.

ANALYSIS: When I walked away from Dualed, the first novel in the series, I was conflicted. The proposed plot seemed interesting and rather unique, but the stiff writing and lack of world building left me with so many questions that it ruined my experience.

I'll admit I struggled with whether or not to give up on the series. Ultimately, I decided to give book two a try to see if any of my lingering questions were answered and I was surprised with what I read.

Things do start out a big sluggish for Divided. In fact, at one point I gave myself another 20 pages and I was going to put it down if things didn't pick up – which it did. The reason it is important to note this is because people may get a sense that book 2 is just like book 1 and give up. Book 2 really is a lot better, in many ways, than book 1.

One of my biggest complaints about Dualed was there were just so many questions and the world in which the characters lived was so underdeveloped. Chapman really cleared up a lot of questions/confusions from the first book. Was everything cleared up? No, there were still things I had questions on, but things were explained in a way that I felt comfortable with and was satisfied with.

Another area in which I feel Chapman excelled was drawing her character development. In Dualed, I was so frustrated and annoyed with West (our main character). Part of my frustration was due to the fact that I felt nothing for the character. I didn't hate her, I didn't like her. I felt nothing. Divided provided me with an opportunity to get to know West a little better and see different sides to her.

I will admit I don't feel overly close to the characters in the book even after reading the second book, but I feel closer. Character development is a fine art and I really feel Chapman is growing in that area and moving in the right direction.

There were some interesting parts of Divided. I enjoyed the action aspect of it and found the way the world/society unfolded interesting. It is certainly better and more well-written than Dualed. It shows that Chapman is sure to become a wonderful writer, especially in the YA genre.

I should point out that I was a little underwhelmed by the ending. This is being marketed as a duology, but the series sort of ends with no real closure. I'm not sure if there will be a third book, but there is certainly the possibility of a third book. If it was the last book in the series, I really feel it could have ended on a stronger note. I'm not upset about it, but I feel it could have been stronger/better.

Again, if you were to read Divided, I recommend just going along for the ride. Try not to take anything too seriously and just truly read and enjoy. The book turns out better that way, as it isn't a series that is meant to be analyzed (think nice, action-packed read that isn't too intense).

Overall, it was an enjoyable read. It wasn't top of my list of favorites, but it was a good 'in the moment' type read. Just remember to enjoy it and not think too deep into the storyline, and you will be fine.


Click here to find out more about “Blood & Royalty”
Order HERE


Click here to find out more about “The Abyss Beyond Dreams”
Review HERE


Click here to find out more about “Unholy War”
Review HERE


Click here to find out more about “Station Eleven”

Review HERE


Click here to find out more about “The Knight”
Review HERE


Click here to find out more about “The Dark Defiles”
Review HERE


Click here to find out more about “Tom Swan and The Siege of Belgrade 1”
Review HERE


Click here to find out more about “City of Stairs”
Review HERE


Click here to find out more about “Bete”
Review HERE