Plain Kate

13356203Plain Kate
By Erin Bow

“PLAIN KATE lives in a world of superstitions and curses, where a song can heal a wound and a shadow can work deep magic. As the woodcarver’s daughter, Kate held a carving knife before a spoon, and her wooden charms are so fine that some even call her “witch-blade” – a dangerous nickname in a town where witches are hunted and burned in the square.

For Kate and her village have fallen on hard times. Kate’s father has died, leaving her alone in the world but for her cat, Taggle. And a mysterious fog now covers the countryside, ruining crops and spreading fear of hunger and sickness. The townspeople are looking for someone to blame, and their eyes have fallen on Kate.

Enter Linay, a stranger with a proposition: In exchange for her shadow, he’ll give Kate the means to escape the town that seems set to burn her, and what’s more, he’ll grant her heart’s wish. It’s a chance for her to start over, to find a home, a family, a place to belong. But Kate soon realizes that she can’t live shadowless forever – and that linty’s designs are darker than she ever dreamed.”

I’ve picked up this book from the author herself after listening to one of her talks set up by our local NaNoWriMo writing group. I enjoyed her talk and been meaning to read this book earlier – but you can guess how many books I have on my pile I need to read. It has also been a while since I read a YA book, I enjoyed the easy read and was able to get absorbed into the characters, setting and magic so easily. A great book with a strong heroine!

The story starts with a brief history of Plain Kate, how she received her nickname and her abilities as a carver. Able to carve before she could hold a spoon, she uses the knife as an extension of herself able to carve the charms the townspeople buy to protect their homes from dark magic and curses. Her relationship with her father, the carver of the town, is close and full of love. He teachers her to carve and she claims to be a master cover before she is twenty. But her father warns her of how people view her, a young girl with talent and skill with the knife is unusual and even at a young age many whisper ‘witch-blade’ behind her back. They believe her skill and talent is witchcraft. But Plain Kate decides to keep on carve despite the whispers and looks she receives. However, her peaceful life is short-lived when the town is overcome by a darkness, a fever that causes many to die – including her father.

Left alone, Plain Kate tries to keep her life moving by living in the town square in her father’s old stall, carving the charms that people need and are willing to buy. Not everyone in the town is against her, and she is able to make by for a couple of years. To help her with her loneliness is her cat Taggle, one of three kittens she found the first night she slept in her father’s stall.

Eventually a new wave of darkness and hard times approach the town Kate lives in, a fog that makes people sleep and never wake up. Soon, she is suspected again for being a witch. But before drastic measures are taken against her Linay enters the town, pale and white-haired, he offers her a deal, a way out of the town, her heart’s wish for her shadow. Eventually Kate gives in and he takes her shadow – and in exchange her heart’s wish comes true, her cat Taggle can talk.

Yup a talking cat which is the best thing in this book!

Plain Kate soon finds herself amongst a group of Roamers who takes her in. She carver her charms to sell in the next town they come across, she also begins to piece together the identity of Linay. She befriends a girl a little younger than her and for once Kate thinks she’s found a place to belong, but her shadow grows smaller, and soon she would be faced to tell them the truth of what she did. Before she can explain her true situation with the Roamers, the fog approaches them, and in the fog a being appears.

Leaving two of the Roamers on the verge of death, in the sleep that can’t be waken, Kate is assumed a witch and is burned – or tried to burn. She escapes and runs into the clutches of Linay once more. She pieces together the story, the revenge Linay has in store and why he needed her shadow. Appalled, Kate tries to stop him.

This story was so enjoyable to read, I loved Kate so much, her troubled life, her friendship with Drina, and even the feelings she had toward Linay, whom she blamed for a lot of her hardships. By the last three chapters I was crying my eyes out. Even though Kate is still just a young girl, maybe a teenager, she is compelled to save a town that burns witches. She is deterred to stop Linay from using her shadow to do harm to others. I find that admirable, and courageous.

I also extremely enjoyed the talking cat, Taggle. He gives the book a humours tone as he address situation as a cat would see, but also in humanistic ways. He gives Kate companionship that she desperately needs throughout the course of events.

Then there is the world, full of superstition and magic, the use of charms to ward these magics off, yet also condemning any sort of healing magic that might help them. It’s a fine line by the sounds of it. Despite much of the faceless people Kate comes in contact with, I like that there were still those who knew Kate and were willing to help her, to pay for her services and even give her stale bread or food if they had extra. The village we started in, you get the sense of community and you do get upset that despite growing up in the town Kate is still forced to leave it because of superstitions.

Overall, this book was an enjoyable read. I loved the characters so much and the magic in the world. For those looking for a light, fun read, I recommend this book. Let me know if you cry has hard as I did!

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Ghost

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Ghost
By Piers Anthony

Back Cover:
Starship Captain Shetland feels like a ghost on his on planet: Earth is an energy starved madhouse of compulsory sex and forced interbreeding, where eating meat and casting shadows are felonies – and spacers are hated as power “wasters”. In fact, Shetland’s life is dedicated to finding new energy for Earth – a search that takes him into deepest space. And deepest time. For Shetland is commander of the Meg 2, a time-ship assigned to explore the void beyond the universe. What Shetland and his crew find are – ghosts. First the ghost of the ship’s dead chemist. Then ghosts of dead planets, dead stars, dead nebulae. A galaxy-sized black hole – the ghost of a cosmos, the ghost of all reality… and beyond it, beyond the spectre of Time.. The most powerful, terrifying, malignant ghost of all…

It’s been my mission for some years now to get my hand on ‘classic’ sci-fi, authors I’ve missed reading growing up, who have mapped out much of the science fiction genre before my time. I’m not sure if Piers Anthony falls into that category or not, but when I picked up this paperback at a used book sale I felt drawn to it. Ghosts and Space – two of my favourite genres together in one book. I had no idea who Peirs Anthony was, or what this book will be like. Overall it was an interesting read, a little over my head in places once the crew and Shetland began talking about time, physics and other heavy science theories, but I managed to pull myself through the hard sci-fi moments to enjoy the storyline and plot behind everything.

The book follows Shetland, a Captain from the space program of Earth. Earth is in an energy starved state, getting to the point where all public transportation has shut down. People now have to travel by their own method to work, bikes, walking, or a new peddle driven aircraft bicycle hybrid. (It’s only in the beginning but I still can’t get that image out of my head). People grow wheat in their front yards instead of grass, and vegetable gardens in the back. Even eating animals, meat of any kind has become almost unheard off as too much energy is used in the process of killing, butchering and cooking meat. At first when I read this opening chapter about the way earth has become, I wondered if this was some sort of dystopian/utopian environment! I have to admit, the idea of it all intrigued me and made me wonder if such a lack of energy resources would really cause such a shift in social outlook. Because of this shift, there was no pollution, people were healthier. Any extra weight would single you out as a ‘waster’. What’s more is the introduction of the ‘Miscegenation Act’, where it now became illegal to have offspring with a person of the same race. A government way of destroying the ‘racism’, but it is later talked of how the Act really prevents people from having kids another ‘waste’ to the social environment.

Now, sex is prevalent in this new society, as long as it is voluntary, age doesn’t seem as big of an issue either. Yet, sex is now separate than reproduction, and those that break the law in the reproduction stage can be dangerous, not just to be an outsider of the society, but incarceration, or worst. Anthony’s futuristic earth has an interesting balance of someplace that could be for the better for the human race, while also having several issues that seem almost too big to deal with. All this description of Earth seems a bit off at first, given this is meant to be a story set in space, but all the issues from earth are still relevant as the story develops as many members of the crew are young and grew up in this new environment. They bring with them the issues that cause a lot of strife and stress that can be detrimental to their end goal.

Their goal, or Shetland’s goal in particular is use the new time-ship (yup we’re time traveling!), the Meg 2 and search for the remains or find out what happened to the crew of the Meg 1, previously sent out into the void of future space to find a pocket of energy that can be brought back and used on Earth. Now time travel in this novel is different from any others I’ve read. The group can only go forward in time, then back to their present in order to avoid any conflict with interaction with their own time stream, and to keep them on point as to not go too far in time one way or another a psychic is used to hone in and keep his mind on the beacon. The beacon is their connection back in their present time. It was when the beacon of the Meg 1 went out that they knew something went wrong. Now the beacon is delicate and because of the mental connection can be influenced by stress and emotion from other members on the ship.

I don’t want to give too much away in this story, there is a lot of science and theories passed around through this book that are all very interesting but slightly out of my level of understanding. A lot happens to Shetland as he and his team travel through time, millennia at a time and the void approaches. There are disruptions, flickers in the beacon and a death on a crew member that Shetland has to cover up for the sake of the beacon to get everyone home. Even that doesn’t because easy when they pass through the void and encounter the ghost of galaxies, their answer, but also their downfall.

From here on out, it gets confusing.

This ghost entity/matter they encounter can conform to their will, which they test out by creating a fictional, but not fictional animal out in space that comes alive with this matter. After that the ship falls away and every member of the crew interacts with the matter both consciously and subconsciously as it twists and forms into whatever the person wants. Castles, armour, food, a chessboard…

I told you it gets confusing, but still enjoyable.

I’ll leave the end for you to find out if you choose to read it, which I hope some of you do. It’s a interesting story and will make you think. The issues of race, sex and an energy crisis explored in this book is enough I think for everyone to read at least once. This has been the first sci-fi book I’ve read with a ‘black’ main character (Shetland), yet because of the issues surrounding race, it is important that is brought up in the beginning of the book, Anthony even goes into detail on race on each member of the crew to signify future issues that could arise.

Like I said, this book was a great read and I’m so happy to have found it. I turns out my boyfriend has other books by him on the bookcase, so I look forward to reading more of his books in the future.

Review: The Riddles of Epsilon

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The Riddles of Epsilon
By Christine Morton-Shaw

Back Cover:

Jess is not pleased when her parents drag her off to live on the weird little island of Lume. But then she encounters an eerie presence in an abandoned cottage, and her anger turns to fear when it begins to lead her through a series of creepy riddles. As she slowly unravels the mysteries of Lume, she finds the writings of Sebastian, a boy who lived one hundred years ago and to whose life contains unsettling reflections of her own. To her horror, the dangers he unearthed in 1894 now begin to threaten Jess and her family… and if Jess does not unlock the riddles in time, she may lose her mother forever.

I love finding hidden treasures like this book. I wasn’t expecting a lot out of it, a good mystery, riddles and some light reading. It is light reading, and has a strong YA feel to it, but I enjoyed it tremendously. Christine Morton-Shaw created a wonderful world and I love her all the riddles she placed in it. I envy that talent for I’m not the best with riddles as much as I would love to use something similar in my own writing. But what she did do that I have always wanted to and now have a possible structure/aide is how she had the book read in multiple diary entries and chat-room experiences. Set in the first person, through Jess’s eyes, we see what she sees and what she writes down in her diary as she puts together the riddles and clues she found, the mysterious person Epsilon, and her own problem solving skills as she works things out. We also see a lot of her teenage attitude, which can be annoying for some, but really puts an emotional feel into the book.

So the novel surrounds Jess as she moves to this remote island called Lume, away from her friends who has put her in a lot of trouble in the past. It is partly to get her away from them, but also for her mom to explore this large manor she inherited from her own mother. Right from the start, Jess is your typical moody, brooding teen, hating her parents for dragging her out to the middle of nowhere. She has no friends and feels very isolated. Thankfully she still has her computer and internet privileges that she uses to keep in contact with her friends from back home. But even then through the chat-room conversations we see how annoying her friends are and to me at least, am thankful her parents did take her away.

It is during one of her chat-room conversations that Epsilon first appears. But only Jess can see him when he logs on. At that point he is only known as ‘V’, but by probing Jess and poking her, giving her details of her day when she was completely alone and frightening her does she unravel the first of his riddles – that being his name. I’m not going to go through the process of how she discovered it, because well that’s part of the story and I don’t want to ruin it for potential future readers.

From then on, Epsilon warns Jess about her mother, about a prophecy and how if she didn’t solve the riddles in time her mother may be lost forever. At first Jess doesn’t believe him, thinking he is some sort of stalker, and rightfully so, but she notices changes in her mother’s behaviour, of her collecting multiple shells off the beach, painting only one portrait when her job is to paint other people’s portraits. We get a sense that something is not right with her mom, whether she be ‘mad’, or under a spell. Either way Jess begins to listen to Epsilon more and more. It is when she has the dream of a boy, writing about a dream he had about her – a mirrored dream of the two sharing parts of their lives with each other. She discovers the boy is named Sebastian, how he lived in her house over a hundred years ago and was facing the same riddles from Epsilon as she was. We learn his mother’s behaviour mirrored her own mothers. The riddles begin to frighten Jess, but so does the strange similarities between herself and Sebastian, forcing her to continue on instead of dropping the matter and forgetting it like Sebastian did.

I don’t want to spoil anything else, as from here on out, she begins to connect the dots, learn of the story behind Lume, the mythology and legends that turns out not to be quite so myth or legend as one may think. There are dark forces fighting against light, a secretive evil organization on the island to avoid, and several people warning Jess not to trust Epsilon. This novel has everything for a great adventure, full of excitement and some fun fantasy elements as well. It was a surprise how much I really liked the book and I guess it’s no wonder why I finished it in only a couple of weeks.

Like I said, this turned out to be a great hidden treasure. I recommend this book to anyone really, it was so much fun reading and I hope to find others by the author in the future.

Book Review: Rising of the Shield Hero

cover_1_engThe Rising of the Shield Hero

By Aneko Yusagi

“Naofumi Iwatakni, an uncharismatic Otaku who spends his days on games and manga suddenly finds himself summons to a parallel universe! He discovers he is one of four heroes equipped with legendary weapons and tasked with saving the world from its prophesied destruction. As the Shield Hero, the weakest of the heroes, all is not as it seems. Naomi is soon alone, penniless and betrayed. With no one to turn to, and nowhere to run, he is left with only his shield. Now, Naomi must rise to become the legendary Shield Hero and save the world!”

I stumbled upon this book quite by accident at my local Chapters. I had a gift card from christmas to use up and while looking in the fantasy section I found this very colourful manga looking book. It caught me off guard, not expecting such a book in the fantasy novel area. At first I thought it was a mistake and a full manga novel, but it turns out to be a written novel with a dozen or so manga pages inside. I was hooked instantly! The back cover was just the frosting.

The story is all written in first person from the perspective of Naofumi, starting with a brief look at his life before being transported to this alternate reality. We learn he’s an otaku, how he likes having fun, goes to college but spends all of his time on manga and games. In games he tends to lean towards the jack-of-all trades, more about making money than fighting all the bosses. He is also very practical and when he doesn’t have the money to spend on manga and the like, he goes to the library to read manga there. That’s where he stumbles upon and odd book called “The Record of the Four Holy Weapons”, and went into detail about four destined warriors spent to a realm to fight the waves of destruction that came. There were the Sword, Spear, Bow, and Shield. He began to read the book, considering it all fantasy and enjoying the first bit when it talked about the first three heroes and their personalities. There was also a princess who played and toyed with the heroes, causing them to fight amongst themselves. Naofumi instantly dislikes her but to his surprise there was no information on the shield hero – the pages were blank.

That is when he is transported to this magical realm. The next moment he is on an altar with three other guys around his age. And on his arm is the Shield. The monks/priests, whoever did the summoning takes the group to the King for further details and clarifications.

Now at this moment, I found it odd how everyone just shrugged and followed the priests. There were a few questions from the others but when the priests ask them to save them from destruction only Naofumi agrees to hear them out while the others began to nitpick about rewards. Seriously, if this happened to me I would be freaking out a whole lot more and asking several questions about how to get back.

Anyways, onto the story. So they meet the king who tells them their destiny and the waves of destruction that wrecks this world. They happen once a month and in the meantime they are to level up (as they all start at level 1) in order to prepare. Here we also start to learn the mechanics of this realm, which is very much like a video game. In each of their vision there are menu items to the corners that they can focus on and open, reading up on their own stats and weapons, as well as the world and anything else they come across. The other three accept the King’s propose, as does Naofumi and all are given a shared quarter to rest until the set out the next morning with guides that the King will provide.

It’s the only time the four heroes are together for a reasonable length of time. We learn that not only are they from another reality, but all are from different realities, they are all Otakus, and all besides Naofumi have played games similar to this. They understand the mechanics better and tell Naofumi how weak the Shield class is once he reaches the higher levels. They also discover another difference amongst them, how previous to their transportation, all the others besides Naofumi had been in some accident, that they were about to die before arriving here. It was enough to put distance between Naofumi and the others. They gave him some advice, but not a lot, coveting their own knowledge for themselves. The bitterness Naofumi has grows at that moment.

The next day, the King has the guides pick their hero, and nobody wants the Shield hero. Unable to go on the offence, Naofumi complains and a young woman offers to go with him. Naofumi is grateful as it means he can protect her while she handles the monsters. All seems to work out that first day, the woman – Myne – take shim to an armoury, upgrades their armour and weapons and discovers that he can’t even hold a sword in battle, only the shield. Disappointed, Myne takes him out to the fields to beat up on the lowest monsters, that he can only punch – but their bites don’t inflict damage due to the shield.  It was a slow first day, the two find a tavern to sleep in, Myne asking for two rooms where Naofumi falls asleep in one right after supper. The next morning he finds himself robbed, of his chainmail, the remains of his silver, only his shield and underclothes remain. He is instantly captured by city guards and taken to the palace where Myne betrays Naofumi by claiming he attacked her sexually in the night.

Nobody believes Naofumi, the girl plays the victim quite well and there the Spear hero Motoyasa is wearing his chainmail. Unfortunately, he asked to be sent back if nobody wants him, but that is impossible. The only way they can get a new Shield hero is if all the heroes die and they have to summon a new group. Everyone is quiet at this, but Naofumi is outraged at the injustice. Being the Shield hero, they cannot lock him up as he is the legendary hero, but the entire town has heard the story and for the rest of the month before the first wave, they judge him. Myne joins Motoyasa’s group, leaving Naofumi on his own. Nobody will join him, and he becomes more bitter inside.

Eventually he knows that he needs someone to fight the monsters for him, the simple ones in the field are too much, but he uses them allowing them to bite him and hide them under his cloak to use as intimidation tactics against the townspeople who try to give him a rotten deal on loot. He gathers a few coins from the few monsters he can take care of, and is then met by a slave trader who offers him three miserable demi-humans, all weak, ill or having some deformity. He picks the little girl – a girl who reminds him of Myne and his hatred for her. She’s the cheapest, but also coughs and looks battered. Still, he needs someone and the slave contract magic would prevent her from betraying him. With the spell on her, he takes her immediately to the armour to get her a sword and some basic armour and forces her into battle. The girl is frightened and has night terrors but Naofumi needs her to make it to the first wave. He gives her medicine he made, food, and shelter even. He doesn’t rebuke her – only when she refuses to fight. The demi-human is a racoon humanoid, named Raphtalia, and she begins to grow attached to Naofumi, finding a good master in him and giving her a strength to fight.

I’ll end my synopsis there, this is really only the first half of the book and there is more on the story with Naofumi, Motoyasa, Myne and Raphtalia. I will say that I’m glad the ending was happy, and that the bitterness and hatred Naofumi feels for the majority of the book is cleared away by Raphtalia’s respect and I will call it love. But I don’t want to give too much away, it’s a great ending.

I really enjoyed this book, it was light-beat, easy to read and a lot of fun. It only took me four days at the most to get through it. The book looks large, but the lettering is larger than most fantasy novels and is double spaced. I’m not sure if that’s typical for these type of books or not. There were a few issues that I found that could just be due to translation, but mostly what made it such a simple read was that it was all direct and to the point. There was no long drawn out explanation for scenery, or history. We are expected just to pick things up and go with it – which can be typical for any fantasy story. But I felt that with this one in particular it was even more condensed than usual. I had no problem following the course of events, but I did miss some of the long-winded expositions, or maybe I felt something was missing because they weren’t there. Either way, the story still has an emotional tie behind it – which is all you need to connect the readers.

This is a first book in a series, and the author included the first two chapters in the next book at the end. I am extremely excited to find the next book and hope to find it soon. For anyone looking for a light, fast-paced fantasy story with a manga twist – this will be a great read of you!

Review: Starship Troopers

bba840c9b22938f7b30957b4c032b383Starship Troopers
Robert A. Heinlein

“Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers are the jet-propelled infantrymen of the future. In a galactic war of untold violence and destruction, they scour the metal-strewn emptiness of space and hunt out The Enemy. But neither the viciousness of their electronic armour nor the bloodthirsty militarism of their training can save them from the grip of loneliness and fear.  Heinlein is an acknowledged master of Science Fiction, a genius who has become spokesman for a whole generation. And his starship trooper John Rico, rising from boyhood dreams to high command in the cosmos, is a hero of the first dimension – and beyond.”

Maybe you’re familiar with the 1997 Starship Troopers, but did you know it was based on a book? Granted I haven’t seen the movie in years, but when I discovered my boyfriend had an old copy – I had to read it. I know how much better books tend to be than the movies, so I expected this book to be quite entertaining, but to my surprise it is nowhere near as cheesy or goofy as the movie portrays it.

It is also curious to note there was a comment at the beginning of the book – not only does it state how the book won a Hugo and science fiction novel of the year 1959, but that since it has been highly controversial to the point where “other writers have written satires in an attempt to discredit it entirely.” That just sounds mean! But I’m now defiantly reading to form my own opinion.

The book is told through John Rico’s eyes as he looks back on his life as a Mobile Infantryman. Throughout the book in a number of flashbacks we get the idea of the world he lives in, how much has changed and the issues of the military. Of course in this futurist world the military has a very different role on the world and the galaxy. It’s quite different and I can understand where the critics come from, however I also think Heinlein’s is making a point of his opinion in this book and he makes some very valid and logical points.

In the book there is reference to a “History and Moral Philosophy” class everyone has to take in high school – but it’s not necessary to pass. Through these flashbacks on this class we get insights on how the Federal Military formed and why it has withstood time – much longer than those back in the 20th century. In particular only those who serve two years in the Federal Military and leave can vote. They obtain ‘full citizenship’. It’s still all voluntary. But the world is divided between civilians and the Federal military. Over the course of the book we get insights as to why that is. Because those who served understand what takes place, what soldiers of all different areas go through, they are better able to make the big decisions and vote whether to go to war or not.

As Rico says in the book; “If it was my choice I’d never vote to go back into the tube.”

Throughout the book, this History and Moral Philosophy comes into play, as Rico learn more about the hidden meanings behind the lectures he took back in high school, how to truly understand and respect freedom and why he continues to serve throughout everything that happens. It’s hard to put into words but the feeling and opinions Heinlein puts forth is really interesting.

The book is quite easy to read, and has a totally sci-fi classic feel. The armoured suits they battle in sound amazing and I’ve looked through several pieces of artwork and found some great examples of artists renditions of the suites. There’s space travel, bugs – at last they kept that in the movie – and  even other alien species they come up against. For anyone who enjoys the old sci-fi stories had haven’t read this – please do. Don’t go by the movies, this book is serious and has some very interesting points to make.

Review: Dragonlance Vol. 1

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Volume 1: Dragons of Autumn Twilight

By  Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Dragons.

Creatures of legend. Stories told to children.

But now dragons have returned to Krynn. The darkness of war and destruction threatens to engulf the land.

Then hope appears – a blue crystal staff in the hands of a beautiful barbarian woman. The promise of hope, as fleeting as smoke upon the autumn wind, forces a group of long-time friends into the unlikely roles of heroes.

Knight and barbarian, warrior and half-elf, dwarf and Kender and dark-souled mage; they begin a perilous quest for –

The legendary Dragonlance.

You may have noticed how much of an RPG lover I am. I’ve recently been playing D&D with my boyfriend and his friends, the two of us are hooked on Critical Role and are still working our way through the videos, and then there’s the video and board games that deal had an RPG style to them. Well, despite all those likes I’ve never read any of the D&D books before now. I’m so glad my boyfriend had these DragonLance Chronicle books on hand that I could read whenever I’m ready. I’m happy to announce that I’ve just finished the first volume – Dragons of Autumn Twilight.

I will say this first and foremost – I wasn’t expecting the style that they were written in. Don’t get me wrong, the story is amazing, and the characters all great. I was just a little put off when the POV continued to change between the six plus characters that appear in the pages. After a while I got used to the Third Person Omniscient tone and fell into place with the story. I haven’t read a lot of stories in that style before, and I liked it. It was different and given it’s theme as part of the D&D board game, made sense to get into everyone’s head as such games deal with multiple people playing their own character against each others. Still – I had to laugh as my writing resources always seemed to go against this style.

One to the story. I don’t even know where to begin. We have our group of travellers, all reuniting in their hometown Solace, already I feel like I’m missing a book as old friends reunite. Yet, the start picks up so quickly that you accept their personalities and move on with the story. Tanis – the half elf and Flint the dwarf are the first two we are introduced to. It’s clear Tans is the leader of the group, not to mention one of the oldest given his elven blood line, as with Flint and his age as a dwarf. We are next introduced to Tasslehoff the Kender (not knowing much history of D&D my boyfriend had to explain Kenders to me). I love Tass, he is a bubble of energy and can’t help himself from picking up anything shinny, making him a good thief. There’s Strum a Knight of Solamnia, a lawful good character that can be difficult to deal with. Next came the twins, Caramon the warrior and Raistlin a dark soul mage who wears the red cloak of neutrality. That’s the pre-existing group that gathers in Solace, everyone coming back on a set determined date after five years have passed. There is one missing, the twins’s older sister Kitiara who has gone north to be a hired sword for some other purpose. We don’t get to see her in the book, but Tanis mentions her ever so often, as well indicating a love interest between the two.

But wait, there are more characters to introduce! Besides what sounds like the original crew, we are also introduced to two more members of the party that is added by the end of the first chapter. Two Barbarians Goldmoon and Riverwind. There’s a lot of characters so you get when I mention how often they switch POVs through the chapter. Grateful they start a new paragraph whenever that happens and the transition is smooth. But I have to hand it to the writers to be able to achieve everyone’s viewpoint when necessary and still make a great narrative.

So, the group reconnects at an inn in Solace, but the reunion is short-lived as Goldmoon’s staff becomes a vocal point and can heal others. The group is almost arrested just on that matter but escape in the nick of time. They are chased across the wilderness and learn of a prophecy and how important Goldmoon’s staff is against a coming evil over the land – Dragons.

There’s actually so much that is covered in this one volume, from finding the ancient gods and Goldmoon becoming a cleric for one, to being placed on a new quest to find the leader of man who will stand up and defeat the ancient dark goddess and the dragons.

Besides the main quests that push the characters forward there is a lot of dynamics played out within the group. Raistlin being a focus point. His character has dark tendencies – well not dark but he has this thirst for power to become stronger than his twin brother and the others. There are a number of times he comes out and says that with so much hatred to the group that you’re always wondering if he’ll betray them at some point. It doesn’t help that his twin brother will never leave his side, and his body is frail, weak and after his test for wizardry now having gold skin and hourglass golden eyes. He freaks me out sometimes but surprisingly he’s yet to betray any of the party members. But then again this is only the first book.

There’s also the Goldmoond – Riverwind dynamic of their love for one another that is kept being pushed off and tested over the book for one reason or another. They do get the happy ending at the end but I won’t spoil it for anyone who hasn’t had the chance to read these books yet.

In the second half of the volume more characters are added. There’s Tika the barmaid turned fighter, another wizard named Fizban – who’s mystery is never revealed and I’m still upset about that – and a couple of elves from Tanis’s past. Our half elf Tanis is faced with his elven blood and we feel there’s some closure for him on that account, but by then the Dragons have revealed themselves and created a war among all other races on their world Kern. The elves are forced to leave their home for safety, and the group attempts to help them escape by attacking their home base on Pax Tharkas and bringing back their forces. It’s the climax of the book and a good one I don’t want to spoil.

In the end the book is a wonderful adventure. Full of your epic fantasy style characters and quests – I enjoyed it immensely. For those of you who haven’t had a chance to read these way back when, and are really into fantasy and adventure – I recommend picking up a copy somewhere. You’ll have a great read on your hands.

Review: In Real Life

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By: Cory Doctorow & Jen Wang

“Anda loves Coarsegold Online, the massive-multiplayer role playing game that she spends most of her free time on. It’s a place where she can be a leader, a fighter, a hero. It’s a place where she can meet people from all over the world, and make friends. Gaming is, for Anda, entirely a good thing.

But things become a lot more complicated when Anda befriends a gold farmer — a poor Chinese kid whose avatar in the game illegally collects valuable objects and then sells them to players from developed countries with money to burn. This behavior is strictly against the rules in Coarsegold, but Anda soon comes to realize that questions of right and wrong are a lot less straightforward when a real person’s real livelihood is at stake.”

I stumbled upon this graphic novel quite by accident. I was looking for something else and an Amazon pop up came and suggested this as something I would enjoy – give my past searches and buying history. I’m always looking for new graphic novels and to find one that deals with the virtual world – I was overjoyed. It did take me a while to finally purchase the book, but when it arrived I devoured it that same day.

The story revolves around Anda, an overweight teen who’s a coder, gamer and D&D player. We get the impression early that she’s new to town and like many new teens sticking to the outskirts. Things change when their computer class has a special speaker from Australia who invites girls to join an online MMO game and play as girls and join her guild. The story briefly touches on how many girl gamers don’t play female avatars in the online game world. So by encouraging girls to play girls in a safe online environment as part of this all girl guild, the speaker hopes to encourage future girls to be more confident in the gaming and computing world.

From that point on, Anda creates a warrior character and falls in love with the game “Coarsegold”. She befriends another guild member by the name of “Sarge” and is introduced to ‘gold farming’ and being paid in real money to destroy these gold farming avatars. At first Anda doesn’t understand what she is ultimately doing, only that gold farming is bad in the game and wanting to make things fair for other members. It becomes more complicated as the story unfolds and Anda befriends a gold farmer from China. Her eyes and mind are open to an entirely different way of life, where a kid just like herself is playing a gold farmer as a job. She tries to help but only seems to make things worse. I won’t go into any more details, the ending is definitely worth reading.

Besides the story, there is the art. I really enjoyed Jen Wang style and illustrations. It reminds be a little of Scott Pilgrim but unique and different at the same time. It’s also refreshing to see the main character outside the game as being more overweight, and not having it brought up in conversation. It’s just there. There are actually a few different body types we see and I really liked the representation. The avatars were just as good, or even crazier, but that’s the point of these online games – people can make outlandish looking characters and I liked how that was introduced in the game world.

I’m not an online gamer so I had my boyfriend explain gold farming to me. They explain it in the book and Cory Doctorow does a great opening and introduction to it too, but it’s still hard for me to understand the real problem behind it. But it didn’t stop me from enjoying the characters and the book. There’s a political side to the story, but I don’t find it overly cumbersome. The pace is kept up and we are always eager to see Anda log in and find her friend and discover more in Corsegold. I really hop there will be more books in the future, there is a “01” on the spine.

For all those gamer girls out there, please check this one out and enjoy!

What’s a Ghoul to Do?

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By Victoria Laurie

I’ve been looking for a long time for a book, or a book series dealing with the paranormal, supernatural or ghost hunting that isn’t ROMANCE! I mean, is it so hard to find some adventure paranormal ghost hunting book?

Thankfully I stumbled upon Victoria Lourie’s ghost busting psychic M.J. Holliday. This has been an absolute delight to read. It has all that I was looking for; a spunky medium turned ghost hunter, action, a murder master and yes, a little romance on the side.

What’s a Ghoul to Do? Is the first of a series starring M. J. Holliday, a medium psychic who uses her skills to hunt ghosts and lead them to the other side – or trap them in the bottom plain if they are jerks. What was so great about this book was the first chapter that had our heroine jumping into the action. We actually see her right off the bat dealing with a haunting of two spirits and how she is capable of handling herself alone. There is more to the cast, including her partner Gilly, a close friend from grade school who is gay and pulled her with him after high school to New York where they’ve work together with her ghost busting business. Then there is Doc, M.J.’S parrot who has just the right thing to say at the wrong time.

In this opening series, we not only meet and get to know M.J. and Gilly, but also Steven Sable, well Doctor Steven Sable, a client who hires M.J. and Gilly to help him deal with his recently departed grandfather upstate at a mansion of a house. That’s when the murder mystery comes into play. We discover that the grandfather did not commit suicide, and there is one other ghost that haunts the place. As M.J., Steven, and Gilly began to unravel the history and mystery that surrounds the family and why someone is out to try to kill Steven.

The story moves at a comfortable pace, and had me reading chapter after chapter to find out what happens next. I love how M.J. is constantly picking up on spirits in the town. She would be talking to people and then just out of the blue a spirit would tug at her energy and she would go into a message and shock the people she’s talking with. Through these interactions M.J. is able to piece together the events that happened with Steven’s grandfather, amongst the other strange things going on.

This is defiantly a ‘cozy mystery’ but I love it. I hope to learn from Victoria and her characters to help me in my own paranormal adventure stories. There’s much to learn and the more stories like these I find, the better! To those who want a light read with a few ghosts thrown in, check her out as well with her other series.

The Witch’s Daughter

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The Witch’s Daughter
Paula Brackston

“In the spring of 1628, the Witchfinder of Wessex finds himself a true Witch. As Bess Hawksmith watches her mother swing from the Hanging Tree she knows that only one man can save her from the same fate: the Warlock Gideon Masters. Secluded at his cottage, Gideon instructs Bess, awakening formidable powers she didn’t know she had. She could not have foreseen that even now, centuries later, he would be hunting her across time, determined to claim payment for saving her life.”

I’ve had The Witch’s Daughter on my Kobo device for over a year, sitting  by until I finally had time to read it. Story of my life, right? A pile of books sitting waiting to be read for years before I can  get around to it. I wish I could have read this one sooner. It was terrific!

The story surrounds Elizabeth Hawksmith, and the centuries of her life. From the 1600’s when she first becomes a witch and onward to the present. Close to four hundred years. We start in the present and we learn about Elizabeth at the beginning through journal entries. She has moved to a new location and prepares her cottage for all the needs a witch like her requires. Shrubs, herb garden, as well as making pacts with the wildlife to not disturb her supplies.

It’s all quiet interesting but the story doesn’t pick up until she meets a young girl named Teagan. Another new resident in the neighbourhood, she is lonely, without friends and has an absent mother. Surprisingly she is not frightened off by Elizabeth’s rough attitude and becomes absorbed in her hand-made creams and ointments. Elizabeth finds herself a friend, and she hopes that maybe she could be an apprentice. Over the course of the book she tells bits and pieces of her life story to Teagan. First to appease the girl’s never-ending questions about witchcraft, then for her own safety when she discovers the warlock Gideon Masters has found her location.

What I found interning and different with this book is how it switches from first person to third person. The story is in first person through the journal entries as Elizabeth talks about her current tasks and interactions with Teagan. Then, when Elizabeth recounts parts of her past, it is changed to third person. At first it was awkward, but I got used to it and accepted the changes when it happened. By the last (third) story of her past, it was written in first person like all the journal entries, or as one would tell a story of their past. It worked because it was the final story and Elizabeth had just revealed to Teagan that the previous stories weren’t her ancestors but herself, and revealed her true age.

The Witch’s Daughter has done a good job moving us from present to past and back again, and describing different centuries without losing the audience. I get excited about that as I have a character of my own who is centuries old and I struggle on how to explore bits of her past and future. This has given me a great inspiration towards that but more I really liked the way witches are portrayed, not evil or ugly as the stereotype can be but of a girl who made a choice and had to life with it and survive through very harsh times.

To anyone who has an interest in the occult, historical fiction and magic – I recommend this book. A first of a series, I am intrigued to read the rest of the books and learn more about the world and lives Paula Brackston has created.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

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BOOK REVIEW:

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
By Ransom Riggs

This has been a book sitting my Kobo E-reader for… a long time. I had bought it and forgot about it. Distracted by other books and events going on in my life. It wasn’t until I hear about the upcoming movie that I remembered I already had the book. It was time – and I waited too long. Within the first few chapters I realized why I had bought the book in the first place and mentally hit myself for not reading it sooner. It reminded me of X-Men (with children having unusual gifts), and all the time travel movies/shows I’ve seen. It was exciting, engaging and most times I had trouble putting it down. Just on that alone, I would recommend the book to any sci-fi/fantasy fan.

The story itself revolves around Jacob Portman; a normal, everyday teenager. We learn early on how Jacob used to idolize his grandfather who told him stories about his childhood at the Home. Showing him the bizarre pictures of the children and their usual gifts. One who is invisible, another who seems to float off the ground. Ransom Riggs includes many of these ‘photos’ into his book, all creepy in their own way but enjoyable and adding to the interest of the reader. Eventually Jacob, as he ages, realizes that none of his grandfather’s stories are true and begrudged him for all the lies he told him. It’s not until Jacob is sixteen that events change and he learns that his grandfather’s stories are not fiction at all.

After the death of his grandfather, he begins to trace his grandfather’s steps back to England and to the island where the children’s home used to be. There he hopes to settling his internal fears and make sure that nothing his father said was real, or could hurt him. Instead, he finds the truth that everything is exactly as his grandfather said. He finds the Bird, the children and home, but all in another time. There is a loop, that only those with gifts could pass through, taking them back to the day before the bomb fell on their home, in 1940.  What’s odd is that the children don’t age in the loop, keeping them as youthful as the day his grandfather left. Jacob learns a lot about the place, and why his grandfather left. Even his own special gift that his grandfather tried to warn him about before he died.

But there’s more! There are monsters hunting the children, giving them the reason to flee to these loops to protect themselves. The monsters are Hollowgasts, driven to eat the children and those with unusual gifts. It’s quite freaky and scary, but is these monsters that make Jacob realize his own gift and how valuable he is to the others.

I won’t go into any more details about the story, afraid to give away spoilers to those who have not read it. It has an exciting climax, and the ending is left hanging in preparation for the next book. As for the movie, I’m unsure how it will hold up. Visually it looks amazing, but I’ve already noticed they have altered a few characters around which I’m always displeased about. Yet, I try not to let subtle detail changes get in the way.  This is an amazing story, full of wonderful characters and heartwarming events. The photos just add that touch of creepiness and reality to the fictional story. Random Riggs did a wonderful job and I can’t wait to read more of his books.