Return of the Dragon Riders by Kristian Alva

AlvaRetunOfTheDragonRidersWhy I Read It: Book 1 was good and I wanted to see how the story continued.

Where I Got It: A review copy from the publisher (thanks!)

Who I Recommend This To: Fantasy adventures fans who like a note of seriousness in their fiction.

Narrator: Adam Chase

Publisher: Passkey Publications DBA Defiant Press (2013)

Length: 7 hours 44 minutes

Series: Book 2 Dragon Stone Saga

Author’s Page

Book 2 picks up right where Book 1 left off. Elias is pulled up into a new world. one where great things are expected of him because of this prophesy. Pf course, this makes him a major target for the evil Vosper and his allies. The few remaining dragon riders have one last refuge, the city of Parthos. Elias and his new friends face many foes in this book and sometimes Elias isn’t too sure who his friends are.

While we have yet to meet the evil Vosper, we do get to see plenty of his badguy handy work, from the past, and in Elias’s present. More info about Elias’s parentage is revealed to the readers. Thorin, Elias’s halfling friend from Book 1, is still around providing advice, support, and the occasional comedic relief. The dragon riders themselves area mixed bag, some being extremely serious all the time. Others have a little fun. Some new magic users are recruited and some young dragons are looking to make a match with human riders.

There’s plenty of action in this novel and it is well-paced with comedic moments and serious moments. I like that the point of view shifts around and we get to spend time in different heads. Elias is a well-meaning teen who wants to think the best of nearly everyone. Many of the other characters are not so trusting. In fact, there is a hidden traitor among them, which added suspense to the story.

Overall, this was a very good follow up to Book 1. I am very much looking forward to Book 3.

Narration:  Chase did a great job once again. He has distinct male and female voices and does accents. He also had several opportunities to portray strong emotions in this book, which he did very well.

What I Liked:  Elias is growing up; plenty of action; Thorin is a true friend; the suspense of the hidden traitor; their task is not done and we are set up perfectly for the next book.

What I Disliked:  I wasn’t so keen about the cover to the paperbook, but I LOVE the cover to the audiobook.

What Others Think:

Peace Love Books

Bookworm Family

Dragon Stones by Kristian Alva

AlvaDragonStonesWhy I Read It: I enjoy a good dragon adventure fantasy every few books.

Where I Got It: A review copy from the publisher (thanks!)

Who I Recommend This To: Fantasy adventures fans who like a note of seriousness in their fiction.

Narrator: Adam Chase

Publisher: Passkey Publications DBA Defiant Press (2013)

Length: 4 hours 30 minutes

Series: Book 1 Dragon Stone Saga

Author’s Page

In a little corner of the world, Elias lives with his grandmother on the edge of the village. She’s a healer and he is her apprentice, though healing arts are considered to be women’s work. At night she tells him stories of her youth, when she traveled and dragons and their riders were not so scarce. Before Emperor Vosper came to reign, magic in many forms was not uncommon. In fact, Grandma got a year or two of training in magic before Vosper started his wholesale enslavement or slaughter of magi users and dragons. So some of her healing is done with a touch of magic, which she has taught to Elias. Through her stories, we get a good idea of the past 20-30 years in this land without it being a strenuous info dump. Then one day, Elias finds a Dragon Stone while mushrooming in the woods and things change. Word of the Dragon Stone leaks out to the authorities, and they come in force to Elias’s house. His grandma hides him in the cellar and tells him to run when he can – and he does. So begins the adventure. There’s dwarves and dragons, necromancers, tricks & traps, and a goal.

I was hooked on this book from the beginning. It starts with a dark scene – the Emperor’s men have been out searching and destroying dragon nests and they have just found one. While not overly graphic, the point comes across loud and clear with the killing of newly hatched dragons. I definitely like my fantasy to have a little bit of a darker side, a more serious side, as this shows there are real consequences for the characters to consider. Then we moved to Elias and his grandma. She was a strong, guiding force in his life and such an integral character before Elias set off on his adventure. Through her, we have just enough background to be very curious about many things: her own past, Elias’s parents, dragon riders and dragons in general, etc. I definitely wanted more and the author delivered.

Pretty soon, Elias comes across the dwarf Thorin (and I think Thorin is actually a half-breed dwarf-halfling, but I could have that wrong). And yes, is Thorin a nod to Tolkien’s work? Thorin and Elias become quick friends, mostly because Thorin has recently fallen out of a tree and needs some healing and Elias obliges. They adventure off together, dodging the Emperor’s men and necromancers, meeting more dwarves, ever heading for safety. The necromancer we meet was freaky scarey and the voice the narrator gave her was quite fitting and a little frightening.

The adventure scenes are speckled with scenes of another kingdom – the last hold out from Vosper’s tyrannical reign. Dragons, their riders, and magic users are welcomed and safe there (or at least not actively hunted by the government). We meet some of the dragon riders, the dragons, and the king. There is an interesting scene involving star fruit (a personal favorite of mine). And in the second half of the book we meet a dragon and her rider who were once imprisoned and tortured by Vosper and his minions. Wow! I don’t know if they are the good guys, good guys gone a little insane, or potentially a chaotic bad element off on their own. I am fascinated by these two and really, really look forward to learning more about them in the next installment.

This was a great start to a fantasy series. While suitable for most (if not all) audiences, it has enough gravity to strongly appeal to most adult readers. The characters have depth and history, the world building is just enough to give scope and interest without bogging down the story. The narration was excellent.

Narration:  Here is where I gush about the narration of Adam Chase. I loved his various accents for the different peoples of this book, especially Thorin’s voice and that creepy voice of the necromancer. His female voices were also done quite well, especially for Elias’s granma.

What I Liked:  The world building; Elias as a main character; the serious note to this adventure; left me ready to jump into the next book; excellent narration.

What I Disliked:  While I like the cover art, I am not sure who it depicts. Am I daft? I don’t think that is Elias’s granma, with such a slim figure and low neckline. Is it the necromancer?

What Others Think:

Peace Love Books

Bookworm Family

Suddenly Books

OnceUponATime8Tis the season for fantasy in all forms. Join the reading challenge Once Upon A Time, hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings. You can catch my intro post to this year’s challenge over HERE. Anyone can join this event, which runs from March 21 – June 20, 2014.

Unlikely by Frances Pauli

PauliUnlikelyWhy I Read It: Quite frankly, it was the cover. I can be shallow like that. 🙂

Where I Got It: A review copy from the author via Audiobook Jukebox (thanks!)

Who I Recommend This To: Fantasy fans

Narrator: Lisa L. Wiley

Publisher: Self-published (2013)

Length: 6 hours 52 minutes

Series: Book 1 A Kingdoms Gone Story

Author’s Page

Satina spends her life on the move. In a world of violent-prone gangs, Satina can’t help but grant those who ask her help. She is a Granter, that is her special gift. So after helping someone flee a gang, she herself must move on, traveling from pocket to pocket (places only those in the know magically can access), she ends up in Westwood. This place is about to be torn apart by two rival gangs and the people of Westwood are caught in the middle. The leader of one gang seeks an edge, magic that will make him the ruler of this little town. Satina joins forces in a haphazard sort of way with an unlikely group.

This story was rich and magical. Frances Pauli created a world with its own lingo, a rich atmosphere that I sank into. I loved riding around in Satina’s head, figuring out her world and the mess she stepped into in Westwood. There’s history and lost knowledge to be considered, different cultures and peoples, and the broken down disarray that allows the gangs to rule. And of course, there are the other magical denizens keeping a low profile in Westwood.

Enter the imp Skinner, Marten. Is he a bit of a mischief maker? A little chaotic good? At first Satina isn’t sure. Marten runs a little store in Westwood and the bullying gangs aren’t above wrecking the place and roughing up Martin to force Satina into helping them with their plans for total local domination. Marten was an intriguing character since I was not sure where he stood at the beginning. Of course, I became quite fond of him by the end. And one gang, lead by Zane, became more of a pain in the ass than the others. While Zane threatens Marten’s health to get Satina to help him, he also lets Satina know that more of her is desired.

My favorite aspect of this story was the pockets, magical bubbles closed off from the real world unless you have the magic and can enter them. In these pockets, many of the remaining magical folks (faeries and such) choose to live. These pockets range in size from small grassy knolls perfect for a lovers’ tryst to small villages (where the magic folk can romp and play). Satina uses the pockets to travel safely, often setting up camp in one at night (provided she can find one). We learn a little about the magical denizens of these pockets, how they have chosen to shut out the real world and humanity. And because of this, much of humanity has forgotten how magic works.

All in all, a very good start to a fantasy series. There’s been great set up of Satina’s world, with plenty more left to discover.

Narration: Lisa L. Wiley was a good choice for the voice of Satina. She had a great mix of wonder, hesitancy, and resolve in her performance of Satina. Her male voices were also decent. On occasion, Wiley did narrate rather slowly and a few times there was some stilted speech patterns. These were not enough to make me put the book down.

What I Liked: The world building; the cover; Satina’s practical nature; Martin the imp; the magical pockets.

What I Disliked: The narration was sometimes stilted.

What Others Think:

Book Hostage

My World…in words and pages

OnceUponATime8Tis the season for fantasy in all forms. Join the reading challenge Once Upon A Time, hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings. You can catch my intro post to this year’s challenge over HERE. Anyone can join this event, which runs from March 21 – June 20, 2014.

Sunshine by Robin McKinley

Claudie is an old, dilapidated kitty.
Claudie is an old, dilapidated kitty.

Why I Read It: Read it years ago, loved it, and wanted to try it on audio.

Where I Got It: Own it via paperbackswap.com.

Who I Recommend This To: Urban fantasy fans.

Narrator: Laural Merlington

Publisher: Tantor Media (2008)

Length: 15 hours 23 minutes

Series: One can only hope McKinley will bless us with more books in this world.

Author’s Page

In the near future, the world as we know it is no longer. Now magic walks the streets or heats the coffee or is used to hunt those who feed on humanity in one form or another. Rae (aka Sunshine) barely graduated highschool and was quite ready to be done with it and go to work at the bakery full time. Her mother does the books there and her step-father is the owner and chief cook. Rae handles the bread and pastry items, getting up at the butt crack of dawn to go make hot, fresh bread goodies for the masses. It’s been more than a generation since magic burst out on the scene, so the US government has had time to create a new branch – the SOFs hunt down dangerous magic users. And after Ray spent a rather eventful night out by the haunted lake, they keep a sharp eye on her.

This is one of my favorite books and it was so great to revisit it in audio format. She’s an average person, a baker, who finds herself in the middle of vampire turf war. Messy. Yeah, that really sums up a lot of it. But there is a lot more going on in this world that McKinley created. The SOF suits are a complicated bunch. Magic users are suppose to be registered, and if they aren’t the SOFs can arrest them, or more depending on what the magic users are up to. But the SOFs that keep an eye on Rae have known her for years, and they are far more interested in taking out the dangerous elements of the paranormal community, like vamps. The SOFs also have several interesting secrets of their own.

Then there is Mel, Rae’s boyfriend. He also works at the bakery. His hobby is working on bikes and riding bikes and making love to Rae. He’s a calm character with lots of tatts. His tatts are the complicated kind that are really wards to keep his skin intact. I so wish to know more about this man, his history, and why he needed such powerful wards at one time in his life. Perhaps from the Voodoo Wars?

And of course we have to talk about the vampires. There’s the rude and crude ones, lead by Beau, that planned to sacrifice Rae to their enemy (Constantine), who they had shackled in an abandoned mansion on the lake. But things don’t go as planned and together, Rae and Constantine find a way out of this trap. Their relationship, if it can be called that, becomes the underlying plot line to all the other stuff going on in Rae’s life.

Just a side note: There is one of the hottest not-a-sex-scene in all of literature in this book. Yeah. You need to read this book.

The world itself is lush with charms that have a mind of their own, weres (werehound, wererabbit, werebears), and remnants of destroyed cities from the Voodoo wars. Rae has been able to wall out this world by and large for years by living simply and working at the bakery. But it comes crashing in as she has to confront the heritage from her father’s side.

Deeply rich in environment, excellent characters, and wonderful plot makes this book one of my favorites and earns it a permanent place on my shelf. Don’t particularly care for vampire stories? Yeah, me neither. But I love this book. It’s not about vampires; it’s about Rae and her world and her struggle to keep that world and those people precious to her. Definitely worth the read.

Oh, and Ms. McKinley, if you ever do have a need to write another book in this magnificent world, I would be ever so tickled pink to add it to my permanent bookshelf. Just saying….Oh, and perhaps a companion cookbook as I need to try Rae’s Death by Bitter Chocolate.

The Narration: Merlington does a fantastic job with Ray’s voice, perfect fit. She also did a good job with the other female voices. Her male voices sometimes felt like a bit of a stretch in masculinity, but each was distinct and that matters more to me. Overall, a very good performance.

What I Liked: Everything; Rae and her bakery skills; Mel and his mysterious tattoos; Constantine and all his secrets; the messy, messy way to end vampires; the SOFs and all their little secrets; Rae’s mysterious heritage.

What I Disliked: Nothing. I love this book. I hope Ms. McKinley adds another book or two in this world.

What Others Think:

Love Vampires

The Flyleaf Review

Strange Horizons

Sf Site

Urban Fantasy Land

The Obsessed Reader

Valiant by Holly Black

BlackValiantWhy I Read It: I’ll admit it – it was the cover.

Where I Got It: The library.

Who I Recommend This To: Urban fantasy YA junkies.

Narrator: Renee Raudman

Publisher: Listening Library (2006)

Length: 6 CDs

Series: Book 2 Modern Faerie Tales

Valerie is into sports, specifically lacrosse. She doesn’t worry about her nails, fancy hairdos, or makeup. I could like her. While not immensely popular, she does have a best friend and a boyfriend. With divorced parents, she lives with her make-up queen mother in New Jersey. Her father moved off and founded another family, living in bliss, making Valerie feel like an outsider in his life. Pretty dull, typical teen life. But then she has a nasty fight with her mother, breaks up with her boyfriend, and takes off to NY to watch a game she had bought tickets to prior to these events. After meeting some street kids, reality starts to warp a little, and then a lot. And that is where this book gets interesting.

For such a short book, I found it a slow start to get to the good stuff – you know, the urban fantasy part that had me check the book out. About halfway through Disc 2, things finally picked up and a lot of the teen angst, bickering, and wannabe clever remarks are left behind. Hanging with two brothers and a street girl (Lolli), who has a kitten, Valerie starts a slow spiral into the world of Faerie, drugs, and sex. She also makes the mistake of invading a troll’s hidden domain, messing with his items, and getting caught. Now she owes him 6 months servitude, which pretty much means cleaning up after him and making deliveries of his medicine to the various Faerie denizens exiled to the land of man and iron.

This book went up and down for me. At times, I was totally sucked into the story, hanging on the intensity of the scene, feeling very connected to Valerie, wincing with her mistakes and rooting for her in triumphs. Other times I wondered what the author, Holly Black, was trying to convey or where she wanted to take the story. My mind would drift and upon coming back didn’t seem to miss the anecdotal goings on of the main characters.

Lots of drug references clutter this book up, and at times I wondered why Valerie’s nickname was ‘Valiant’ as she spends some quality time blowing off those who care, stealing, and degrading herself. While realistic, I often felt I was reading two separate novels as these aspects didn’t fully mesh with the other Valerie – the one who learns sword fighting, serves a troll, and unravels the mystery of the murdered Fae.

The best parts of this novel where those dealing with the beings of Faerie, watching Val struggle to find her way, not get killed, and come out with her skin in tact. Those sections were exceptionally well written, having purpose, intensity, connection. However, the in between bits were dull in comparison and at times didn’t seem to fit the story at all. Will I try another Holly Black novel? Probably. I crave those intense scenes and I know she can write them well.

Our narrator, Renee Raudman, was a very good fit for this book. She gave Val a practical, determined voice, performed all the various, creepy, haunting Fae well, and had a variety of young male voices. Oh, and she made Val’s mom sound like a self-centered vapid human, just like I pictured her.

OnceUponATime7What I Liked: Complicated Faerie society living in the human world; Val’s interactions with the troll; Black shows how drugs start off as fun, lead to out of control behavior, and finally self-harm; sneaky, deadly dangerous faeries everywhere; this is Book 2 in a series and can be read as a stand-alone novel.

What I Disliked: Too much teen angst; sometimes felt like there were two entirely different novels meshed together in this one book; the ending didn’t feel complete.

Once Upon A Time hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings is wrapping up, but you can still swing by and check out all sorts of Fantasy genre fun.

What Others Think:

BC blogcritics

Firefly’s Book Blog

Books, Writing, Tea

Bringing Avalon Back by Lisa Lody

Picabuche checking my book out.

Why I Read It: I like the idea of recovering lost things, like ancient religions and cultures.

Where I Got It: Review copy from the publisher (thanks!)

Who I Recommend This To: Perhaps someone doing metaphysical or religious studies might find it interesting.

Publisher: Virtual Bookworm Publishing (2012)

Length: 247 pages

Sage is a 16 year-old woman, in body, and far more ancient in spirit. Leaving home to escape her abusive father, she seeks solitude in the forests of England. There she meets a magician, Artos, who gifts her with a deck of cards that have the ability to transport her to different places and allows her to talk with various beings and animals and moss. As Sage learns about her spiritual past, she gains exponentially in ability and understanding. She has a destiny and that is to bring the ancient land and knowledge of Avalon back to her present time. The second half of the book bestows a similar destiny upon another woman, Axis, to bring Avalon to her future.

I really wanted to like this book. In the end, I could respect the underlying idea, but the story-telling execution was sloppy. There are no dates used in this book, so that made the timeline very murky. However, this was kind of explained in a psuedo-metaphysical sense – that all time is really a dot and everything is happening now. Maybe. Interesting concept to ponder; makes for a lousy storyline. The back of the book sets the beginning of this book at 1000 AD, England. So, if I use that as a starting point, I still have lots of issues.  Terms like ESP (yes, an actual acronym, set in 1000 AD), astral projection, force field, standard earth reality, & comprehensive global memory were used throughout this book. The vocabulary the author uses is really important in world building – make me believe we are in the forests of England in the year 1000 AD.

My guesstimated timeline.

Lisa Lody used real places that still exist int he UK today, like Glastonbury (which is tentatively linked to ancient Avalon) and Snowdonia. I really liked this aspect a lot, because I look this stuff up. Tidbits like this encourage me to explore my world a bit more. However, she has a group of ladies traveling between these 2 points on horseback in 3 days (no, they weren’t hurrying). By today’s roads, that trip is 192 miles. A good horse can usually do 20-30 miles per day walking. Readers also look this stuff up too, so back to that line about world building above.

Animals, especially cats, features heavily in this book, another bonus. There were also beavers, a fox, and various birds. However, some of these animals strayed outside of their known ancestral habitat for this book – such as the Great Blue Heron (uncommon in Europe) and the Blue Jay (native to North America). Reference the line about world building. There was also the use of red coral and an Indian tapestry is a ceremony that was set in 1000 AD (best guess since dates aren’t used). There just wasn’t a whole lot of trade world wide at that time. Then there are the rabbits. Now this isn’t the first author I have noted who misplaced rabbits, but the earliest recordings of rabbits in the UK come from the 12th century. So, plausible they were around in 1000 AD, but with all the other misfacts in the book, I tend to think the author didn’t research this tidbit either.

While I liked the inclusiveness of various religions, I found the tale a bit one sided; the focus was on the lost knowledge of Avalon and not a sharing between it and the existing religion of the land. Most of the characters are one dimensional and the plot was weak, making it difficult for me to suspend my disbelieve and enjoy this tale. Additionally, the ending was not satisfying (but I won’t spoil it here).

What I Liked: Lots of animals; respect for multiple religions; the cover; use of real places.

What I Disliked: This book felt like a rough 2nd draft instead of a finished product; no depth in characters or world building; weak ending.