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Thursday, April 30, 2015

"Alistair Grimm's Odditorium: Odditorium #1" by Gregory Funaro (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

Visit Gregory Funaro's Website Here

OVERVIEW: Grubb, age twelve (or thereabouts), has never known anything beyond his miserable existence as a chimney sweep, paid only in insults and abuse by his cruel master.

All of that changes the day he stows away in the coach belonging to a mysterious guest at the inn that he is tasked with cleaning. Grubb emerges from Alistair Grim's trunk and into the wondrous world of the Odditorium. Fueled by a glowing blue energy that Grubb can only begin to understand, the Odditorium is home to countless enchanted objects and an eccentric crew that embraces Grubb as one of their own.

There's no time for Grubb to settle into his new role as apprentice to the strange, secretive Mr. Grim. When the Odditorium comes under attack, Grubb is whisked off on a perilous adventure. Only he can prevent the Odditorium's magic from falling into evil hands-and his new family from suffering a terrible fate.

Grubb knows he's no hero. He's just a chimney sweep. But armed with only his courage and wits, Grubb will confront the life-or-death battle he alone is destined to fight.

FORMAT: Alistair Grim's Odditorium is the first book of a children's fantasy series. It has a mix of everything in it from action, adventure, sci-fi, steampunk, supernatural, enchanted characters, mythology, a London setting, and a little mystery.

Alistair Grim's Odditorium stands at 432 pages and was published January 6, 2015 by Disney-Hyperion.

ANALYSIS: What if you added a steampunk/gothic flair to Harry Potter and threw in some magical creatures like from Beauty and Beast? What would you get? I would say you get the Odditorium series. Now, before you rush off and chalk this up as just another Harry Potter/children's fantasy knockoff book, let me tell you it is anything but that.

The minute I started reading Alistair Grim's Odditorium, I knew I was in for a treat. There is just something magical about the writing style, the characters, and the pace of the book. It practically pulls you in and before you know it the book is over and you have to wait until the next one is released.

One of my biggest concerns with Alistair Grim's Odditorium was that it would become a pure mess. The overview promised a lot. There was a promise of dragons, mythology, magical creatures like banshees, a powerful magical force, wizards, witches, and a steampunk-like house. That is certainly a lot of elements that can turn into a mess when not handled properly, but luckily it was handled with care.

It is surprising with all the elements that are actually present within the novel that there was such a simple feel to the book. Even though Gregory Funaro introduces a lot of things it is done at a pace that – for the reader – is easy to keep up with and maintain. Characters were slowly introduced and developed, which kept them memorable.

There also was a 'main cast' that stayed consistent throughout the book. Some secondary characters were introduced, but for the most part the main cast was involved in all, or most of, the activities. This made it really easy to remember who people were, what their background story was, and really relate to them.

Another element of Alistair Grim's Odditorium that really helped was the pacing of the novel. The novel was fast paced with a lot of action, but there were detailed elements thrown in. There was a whole backstory that was revealed, the characters' stories were told, and everyone developed a personality. Considering how fast and action-packed the novel was it was surprising so much could be jammed into the book and not turn into something that was confusing or just plain junk.

Overall, I loved Alistair Grim's Odditorium. I loved the magical watch character, found Grubb likeable and someone I really wanted to learn more about, and really was just invested in the entire story. I can't wait to see where the series goes. There was a lot thrown in at the end that left me waiting anxiously for the next novel. The author is extremely talented and I just cannot wait to see what happens.

If you are looking for a good read that isn't overly complex, give Alistair Grim's Odditorium a try. It is sure to be a delight for anyone who likes children's fantasy books and is looking for something that is a little out of the norm.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

From this round, the one title that appealed to the most and will be proceeding forward is Sorcerous Crimes Division: Devil Bone by Scott Warren. Next up will be five new titles & I'll hopefully finish reading them in the next two-three weeks.
Monday, April 13, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wish I could say I enjoyed Prudence. Carriger is a wonderful, amazing and very talented author. Unfortunately, this book was not one of her strongest. I believe fans of her other series may enjoy it, but it does not have the potential to capture the attention of a new audience.
Wednesday, April 8, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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