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Let’s play ball! Summerland by Michael Chabon June 5, 2010

Posted by taryn in best books ever, fantasy, good covers, young adult.
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Cover of Michael Chabon's SummerlandThis is on my list as a must-read for young and adult readers.

Pulitzer prize-winning author Michael Chabon creates an incredible fantasy world where an unlikely hero has to save the world … with baseball

In Summerland, Chabon sets his literary sights on creating an American fairytale, it’s like a modern American version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe featuring the greatest of all American sports, baseball.

Summerland is a place where the sun always shines and it never rains, not in the entire history of Clam Island. It’s where everybody plays baseball. The people of Clam Island are obsessed with baseball, as is Ethan’s dad. But Ethan is hopeless at baseball. He is so bad, he often just stands at the plate and lets the balls go by, much to the despair of his teammates.

But one day it rains in Summerland and everything changes. Ethan is recruited by a bunch of baseball-mad ferishers (American fairies) who want him to save the four worlds … with a baseball team.



A rough and insane Cleopatra June 6, 2008

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Cover of Empress

Empress (Godspeaker Trilogy Book 1) Karen Miller, Published April 2008.

Karen Miller is a great storyteller. If you liked her previous series Kingmaker, Kingbreaker, you’ll enjoy this new series. Fast-paced and easy to get into, I sped through Empress and am keenly awaiting the next book: The Riven Kingdom.

Empress is the first in line to a new trilogy outing by Miller, Godspeaker. Mijak is turning into a desert, some of its provinces are failing, some are still green and fertile. Its citizens are fanatical about their Gods and making war. Mijak is a ruthless place run by Warlords and priests who divine the Gods will through entrails, blood, sacrifice and scorpions.

In the barren wastes, Hekat is sold into slavery but from the start knows that she is precious and destined for something great. Empress tells her merciless rise to power.

Mijak has a great ancient Egyptian feel, you can almost imagine Hekat as a power hungry and insane Cleopatra. Add to this a bit of puzzling magic and magical items (never fully explained), great “knife-dancing” and the battle, sacrifice and other violent scenes are gory and detailed. The plot holds no quarter, just when you think things can’t get any worse they do.

Check out the contentious reviews over at Amazon, over the book and Hekat in particular. Granted Hekat is not the most heroic or virtuous of characters but she cannot be ignored – I hated her for most of the book. Nevertheless she stands alone in her own right and I found her quite refreshing (plus there are lots of other nice characters to identify with).

Read an extract and decide for yourself.

I also found this interesting cover over at fantastic fiction, I think the UK cover is much better visually and the cheesy tagline doesn’t do much for the cover (Her name is Hekat and she will be slave to no man).

Empress - Alt cover

A lovely fantasy twinset May 28, 2008

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What do you call two books in a series? A twinset? Musings aside, this is another great offering from Orbit, one of my favourite sf&f publishers. A fast-paced classic fantasy tale, this is one of my must-reads.

The Innocent Mage

The Awakened Mage

Asher is a strapping young fisherman living in a small fishing village of Lur. He heads to the big city to make a bit of cash to buy his own boat and look after his Da. He scores an excellent job liaising between the races and advising the young and magic-less (and disabled) Prince Gar.

Lur is ruled by the Doranen, an arrogant and magical elf like race. They escaped to Lur from the evil tyrant Morg and now a magical barrier is all that protects them. Asher is an Olken, one of the original inhabitants of Lur. They are banned from using Doranen magic, on penalty of death, but rumous abound of their own ‘earth’ magic, forced underground. Asher of course has loads of this new magic, is the prophesised one and is pulled this way and that as Morg tries to break the barrier and underground Olken magickers try to use him.

The characters are fascinating and flawed (kudos to another strong female character) and the world itself is very entertaining. Love the magic scenes, the weatherworking (love a bit of blood in magic). The world Miller has built is very cool and easy to get absorbed in.

The Innocent Mage and The Awakened Mage are called the Kingmaker, Kingbreaker series. I read these back in October 2007 and have also passed them over to my 14 year old sister who loved them. Albeit she found the ending not quite to her liking and a bit depressing.

Read an extract of The Innocent Mage and The Awakened Mage.

The Innocent Mage (Kingmaker, Kingbreaker 1), Karen Miller, Orbit, April 2007.
The Awakened Mage (Kingmaker, Kingbreaker 2), Karen Miller, Orbit, September 2007.

Look at this! Farseer graphic novel March 16, 2008

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Wow, how cool is this? The Farseer Trilogy in a French graphic novel.

Farseer graphic

Thanks, to Patrick for this.

disappointing, but hobb nonetheless March 16, 2008

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I bought this book, mostly to see the end of the trilogy. I love Robin Hobb, the Farseers and tRenegade’s Magic by Robin Hobbhe Liveship traders trilogy are two of my favourite fantasy series of all time.

*Aside – The cover art of this series and all of Hobb’s books are fantastic.*

This series has been essentially about a clash of cultures – the western style Gernians vs the American Indian style Specks. The Gernians are pushing trade routes and “civilisation” into the forests, unknowingly killing the Speck’s ancestor trees. The Specks’ magic takes hold of Gernian Nevare, and drives him to betray his people.

If you have read any of the other books in this series, it continues along the same track, Nevare/Soldier Son is thrust along a course he doesn’t want, he hates himself and for most of the book is a hostage in his own body.

The forest scenes and descriptions are lovely, very visual and inspiring, they make me want to get ‘back to nature’. They definitely bring that spark and serenity of the forest to life.

All in all, I found this series disappointing. (As do the majority of Amazon reviewers). It is depressing with hardly a glimmer of light. Well written with great characters, magic and awesome forests, but the main character just doesn’t inspire and brings the whole series down.

I have to agree with Eyeris, the ending is a big fat ‘what the? THAT was all the magic wanted!’. It is so convenient, all wrapped up withn a few pages, the ruthless magic that had all but destroyed Nevare’s life wanted something so small. Sigh.

Anyway, it has made me go back to the Farseer trilogy. I love it. Soldier Son just doesn’t compare.

Renegade’s Magic (Soldier’s Son Book 3), Voyager, Jul 2007.

Neil Gaiman – online giveaway February 11, 2008

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For his birthday, Neil Gaiman has announced that he will give away one of his books online and for free. He’s asking you to help him decide which of eight books you would choose to give to someone who has never read his work before, to get them excited about his writing.

What a great marketing idea!

I had a look through  the selection and I have read a few of the titles. I voted for Smoke and Mirrors. It was the very first Gaiman I read, passed to me by a good friend. I loved it and it started me on more Gaiman. Smoke and Mirrors is a collection  of Gaiman’s short stories and is a great introduction and teaser I think. It’s low risk, low commitment  but easy to read and a really great set of short fantasy stories.

Jennifer Fallon – The Demon Child Trilogy February 7, 2008

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Medalon by Jennifer FallonJennifer Fallon is another one of those authors, who I’ve heard of but yet to sample. Over Christmas I got seriously stuck in to her first trilogy:- Medalon, Treason’s Keep and Harshini. If you’re looking for some quality medieval magical fantasy then this is it! And don’t just trust me, Medalon was nominated for the Aurealis Award.

Medalon is a world where four countries live very different lives. Medalon is ruled by the Sisters of the Blade, female atheists who abhor religious ‘pagans’. They have spent years purging their country of paganism and a race called the Harshini. To the north there is Karien, a country of religious fanatics. To the south and south west smaller pagan fiefdoms. The gods are at war and so are their followers. There is a prophecy of a Demon Child who will be half Harshini and who will kill a God.

Treason’s Keep by Jennifer FallonJennifer Fallon is a great writer and storyteller, her characters have depth and irrationalities – they change their minds and they create animated and sparring relationships with each other. There is magic and atheism in her world, gods who behave like stubborn children, politics and strong female characters. The books kept me awake and I just had to get to the end.

Book 2 suprises with some fantastic new characters and subplots. Book 3 is a satisfying conclusion and keeps the tension running high.

Looking forward to diving into a few more Fallon books. Luckily for me she has got a few more books up her sleeve. Hooray!

Harshini by Jennifer Fallon
Her blog is great reading as well, check it out. I particularly enjoyed these entries: Must Love Dogs and ‘The great debate of our time’. She also tips for aspiring writers, movie reviews, author’s notes and all sorts of extras about the world she created.

Will definitely be reading more Fallon

These covers are the best and I think for the latest UK edition.

Jonathon Strange & Mr Norrell – Susanna Clarke June 1, 2007

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9780747579885.jpg I had seen this book on the shelf for ages and I kept picking it up, reading the back, flicking through the millions of pages and thinking ‘is this going to be worth it?’ and ‘should I?’

Yes, I darn well should have! The book is HUGE…but its definitely worth a read.

What I loved most about this book was the footnoting – like Terry Pratchett the footnotes are separate stories in themselves and often go over a few pages. Its a great way of introducing background and context. Not too much info, good writing and a fun aside from the main plot.

The most frustrating thing in the book was the plot with the wife! I found it so annoying that they kept coming so close to revealing and fixing all …but no. It is kind of fitting in the end.

Funnily, I kind of expected this book to be similar in world to the recent Magician movie, but was pleasantly suprised. The setting is quite similar to Temeraire, so no wonder we enjoyed it.

-David says- I loved this book too. Long drawn-out period dramas don’t usually do it for me, but I couldn’t get enough of this. The challenge to the magicians of York had me interested, and the talking stones in the cathedral had me hooked. The pacing was fine for me, I just dived in and didn’t bother coming up for air.

This is a great synopsis from Waterstones:
Two magicians shall appear in England. The first shall fear me; the second shall long to behold me The year is 1806. England is beleaguered by the long war with Napoleon, and centuries have passed since practical magicians faded into the nation’s past. But scholars of this glorious history discover that one remains: the reclusive Mr Norrell whose displays of magic send a thrill through the country. Proceeding to London, he raises a beautiful woman from the dead and summons an army of ghostly ships to terrify the French. Yet the cautious, fussy Norrell is challenged by the emergence of another magician: the brilliant novice Jonathan Strange. Young, handsome and daring, Strange is the very opposite of Norrell. So begins a dangerous battle between these two great men which overwhelms the one between England and France. And their own obsessions and secret dabblings with the dark arts are going to cause more trouble than they can imagine.

Temeraire (Book 1) – Naomi Novik June 1, 2007

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TemeraireThis is a great read, what a joy after Kylie Chan! Great plotting, each chapter leaves you wanting more – this is the kind of book you’ll end up reading until 4am.

The Dragons are fantastic creatures – intelligent and possessive of their riders. The bond developed between the rider and dragon reminds me of Robin Hobb’s Fitz and Wolf relationship. Except they are HUGE – can you imagine running a dragon like a ship? After reading this it’ll seem to make perfect sense. The geneology of the dragons has been well planned with a myria of species

The historical setting is primed for conflict with Napolean Bonaparte, a great nemesis, his plans for world domination (mwah hahah), and of course stragically cunning with his use of offensive dragons. And

And hurrah, although the lead character is male, there are plenty of women in the book who are jumping into the fray on the backs of their dragons.

You can read an excerpt at Naomi Novik’s website.

NB: Naomi was a computer programmer who found she liked writing more than programming while on Neverwrinter Nights.

I am Legend May 16, 2007

Posted by taryn in best books ever, fantasy, horror.

I am Legend

While I was waiting for crappy Kylie Chan to arrive, I delved into some other much better sci fi/fantasy and landed upon I am Legend by Richard Matheson.

This is a great book, well worth a read. Since it was published in 1958, there are bound to be some copies in second hand book stores for a song!

Stephen King himself wrote a glowing introduction to this book and I have to agree – Matheson manages to keep upping the tension and the pace.

“When you thought it had to be over, that your nerves couldn’t stand any more, that was when Matheson turned on the afterburners. He wouldn’t quit. He was relentless.”

I was very dissapointed to read this review over at Book Covers Blog, I think you have to think a little bit about when this book was written – 1958. Sure this story of isolation amidst an end of the world type virus might seem obvious now – think 28 Days Later, Cell, etc etc but it was first.

I really empathised with the hero, he is so flawed, teetering on the brink of madness and I loved the ending – won’t say anything to spoil it but very refreshing.

You can read an extract and a bit of Stephen King’s essay here.

I found this book through the Orion/Gollancz books series, they all have great covers. I love this cover- stylish, simple and scary! The texture is also really rough and the book has rounded edges too. V old school.

The titles in the Gollancz series are:

The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin, The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester, Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, The Forever War by Joe Haldeman, Cities in Flight by James Blish, Ubik by Philip K Dick, Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny, Gateway by Frederik Pohl and The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut. (Thanks to Diary of a Phanatique)

I’ve read most, so I’ll try and add the reviews here.

One of the first books in our book club was The Forever War….thanks David!

Kylie Chan – White Tiger May 9, 2007

Posted by taryn in don't bother, fantasy.

Ok, why? David/Ellen, why?

Even though I haven’t finished this book, I feel compelled to write a brief review as David has chosen to propose about six books!

I am really struggling to get into this book. Maybe its because of the clumsy language. Maybe its because I have actually lived in HK and know the places the author is writing about — ahem –trying to describe.

Actually, I think its because the story line is so predicatable and cheesy. Nanny in love with her boss who is going to teach her magical judo? Please.

Anyways I am going to read it dammit as I ordered it from Australia – but if you were considering buying it, I would say don’t bother.

Note: I have given up at chapter 3. The sad news is that there is a book two.

I will send them to my 14 year old sister and see if she likes them…

Scott Westerfield – The Risen Empire January 8, 2007

Posted by taryn in best books ever, fantasy, sci fi.

The Risen EMpire

I know this wasn’t on the list to read, but I picked it up at Dymocks before I left and really enjoyed it! Read it, I command you.

The book has a host of things I liked: A love story (I’m a sucker, yes, but when you’re parted from your loved one its much more intense) between two likeable, strong and complex characters, a great female character battling with her empathic abilities and her job as Senator, awesome AIs who have character and finesse, battleships, honour and action and of course the old political subertfuge, rebellion and betrayal.

This is a fast paced book, with a lot going on on the different planets. The world itself is great medieval yet sci-fi – and I love a personlity cult dictatorship. Facsinatingly evil.

Anyways, if you haven’t read it, do and let me know what you think.

Scott Westerfield’s Blog

Juliet Marillier – The Well of Shades (Book 3 of The Bridei Chronicles) November 28, 2006

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I have really enjoyed this series. This book can easily stand alone and apart from the series, the story is strong and the two main characters – Faolan and Eile – changed just the way I wanted them too. I stayed up until 3am completely sucked in.


My favourite thing about these books is the romance, Ana and Drustan, Bridei and Tuala, and Foalan and Eile. I was totally shocked when Faolan started to thaw, he had begun to change in the last book, but in this one he completely turns around. I love Foalan, he’s the type every girls wants to save, brooding, hurt, honourable. It was great when his family turned out to forgive and love him. I didn’t expect Faolan to fall for Eile or her for him either, considering. There were some moderately graphic details of Eile’s abuse which was disturbing but necessary.

Honestly, I had to read through to 3am to find out if they got together! Am I a sucker or what.

I’m wondering what Marillier is planning with this series, its not like George RR with many issues left unresolved, or a Katherine Kerr where the rebirth scenario creates a greate excuse for a new storyline. I was kind of hoping that Carnach would turn against Bridei just for the fun of it.

The Christian vs Druid thread is not as strong in this book, although Brother Suibne’s letters feature as an aside and scene change.

I think that the main problem with the series is now that Broichan has reunited with Tuala, there isn’t really a great nemesis/antagonist to pit Bridei against. Breda was a pretty weak antagonist. Marillier is setting up Colm for this, but I’m not convinced. Marillier is closely following Pictish history, you can read more at her website…


Gene Wolfe – The Knight November 28, 2006

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I think I jumped into this book with high expectations – Neil Gaiman professed it to be ‘important and wonderful’ after all, and I love Neil Gaiman.

I was drawn into the world that Wolfe created, a young boy taken from the modern day to another place, a place full of elves, ogres, knights, serpents, dragons, flying castles, levels of worlds, etc.

However, I found the style of his storytelling a bit difficult to get into. Wolfe writes as a brother writing of his adventures home to his older brother he left behind. I don’t like this style as it often gives authors the excuse to do a great big info dump on how the worlds work by saying “i just give you some background on this brother” or “I may as well explain this now”. Now, I’m not syaing that this isn’t a perfectly respected form in the craft, but as a reader I don’t like it. I find it lags, I want to get back to the story. The second half of the book had less of this and I enjoyed it much more. However, the end – I was want to bitch about this here so…

——-spolier warning————–

…I was really getting ito the story, the journey, things are finally falling into place when all of a sudden he drops everything and wanders off into the elf-world. Time goes faster for the middle world when you are in the elf world, so he knows hes on a time-critical mission and forks off onto a tangent that Wolfe only introduces halfway through! And then it ends! The annoyance, no resolution for me, the lead into the next book is awful. I wanted to know what was going to happen with the giants and the rescue thread not the Viking horsewomen of the sky!

I found the rest of the book quite similar, just I was getting into a story or path, some bizarre thing happens to the main character, he goes into another world and loses track, wanders around and leaves me more confused than ever.

I was interested in the similarity between the new world and earth, that kept my curiosity going.

I wonder whether this is a boys book, because I just couldn’t get into it. David, I would be interested in your take.

–David says–
This books has what I would call a ‘dreamlike’ quality to it. The main character drifts through the world, encountering people and situations seemingly at random. It fits for me since the main character is a boy in a man’s body, attempting to be a boy’s naive version of what a knight should uphold.
I found the world Wolfe had built an intriguing one, based on viking lore (I think). There is a second book called The Wizard which might make some things clearer.
Is this a boy’s book? That’s a fair call, since the book is certainly lacking for female characters defined by anything other than what they want the central character to do for them. The other male characters are acting under their own motivation, but never the women.

Grace Dugan – The Silver Road November 28, 2006

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Thanks, David for lending me this book – I honestly couldn’t put it down. I was totally absorbed by the story of Zuven’s journey to discover who she was and what she wanted. I also loved Yetala, a young noblewoman ambitious, strong, courageous and breaking new ground in the military school. Great strong female characters. Although a few times I did wish Zuven would get more involved or get into a heated discussion.

The world that Dugan has created is fascinatingly different from any I have encountered before, possibly with a middle-eastern feel, although I can’t be certain. Mountainous, yet arid, feudal mixed with a little byzantine or maybe islam? I have a great picture of the world she has created, particulary the rural part. Dugan has created a fascinating cultural picture complete with visual, written and physical details. I loved the idea of intricately sewed/painted flagscarf – it reminded me of beautiful handpainted silk scarves I’ve seen from Indonesia.

Dugan is an Australian writer, and a Queenslander. This was her first book and I was interested to see it was worked on at both Clarion and Veruna. I would be interested to read other books that were published out of this process (perhaps I already have and don’t know it).

–David says–
I loved Grace’s first book, and I can’t wait for the next one. The book never went in the direction I was expecting, and while in the end I was disappointed with Zuven’s decision, she was following what her heart told her to do, which is what the book is ultimately about. A more experienced reviewer than me might call Grace “a refreshingly new voice in fantasy” and they’d be right, too.