beach read · Book Review · Favorite Authors · Favorite Books · Mythology · series books · Summer Read

The Kingfountain Series by Jeff Wheeler

 

Happy summer y’all!

If you’re like me, you’re getting your summer reading list ready for beach days, lake days, hammock days, park days!  There is nothing better than reading a good book in the summer sun.

With that being said, I have been obsessed (OBSESSED!) with the Kingfountain Series by Jeff Wheeler the last few weeks, reading book after book and losing hours of precious sleep in the process.   Probably should have saved this series for a long beach weekend but it was too good to stop reading and save for later.

Wheeler is one of the founders of the e-zine Deep Magic and a few chapters of The Poisoner’s Enemy were featured in the last edition I read.  It was soo good, I had to find the book immediately.  Unknowingly, I read The Poisoner’s Enemy first despite it being the last book Wheeler wrote in the series, however it did make the rest of the series make more sense, particularly since it is intended to be a prequel to the series.  Even though Wheeler’s website recommends reading this book last, I recommend reading it first as it sets the stage for understanding the complexities of the main character, Owen Kiskaddon.

The entire series is incredibly compelling and moves quickly with strong under tones from the legends of King Arthur and Joan of Arc, as well as inspiration from the War of the Roses.  Wheeler does a fantastic job tackling the issues of faith, religion, tradition and duty, with “The Fountain” playing a major role in each character’s moral and emotional development.

World building isn’t Wheeler’s strong suit.  Majestic waterfalls aside, I had a hard time envisioning the countries and locations of the Kingfountain series.  His character development, on the other hand, is absolutely fantastic.  It was nearly impossible to not fall in love with Ankarette, Owen, The Maid, Captain Staeli and Trynne.   The “villains” are as equally well developed as the heroes.  Severn, for example, is a tyrant you’d ful expect to hate, except Wheeler expertly fleshes him out to be a man with weaknesses and ambitions, decisions and regret, longing and loneliness that allow the reader to sympathize with Severn and understand Owen’s loyalty to a very complicated man.

Like The Mists of Avalon, The Kingfountain Series features women in a strong primary role with many of the female characters taking the lead for several of the books.  Unlike The Hunger Games where Katniss’ femininity was essentially nonexistent or The Outlander Series, where Claire’s femininity was a major hinderance, the women in The Kingfountain series are as strong, capable, and independent as they are loving, gentle and vulnerable.

Overall, The Kingfountain Series ranks as one of my top series favorites and I’d highly recommend for summer reading.  The story is fantastic, the character development is amazing, and the subtle threads of familiarity that weave the reader in with the Arthurian legends, Joan of Arc and British history were very well done.

Until next time, happy reading!

-R

 

beach read · Book Review · series books · Summer Read · thoughts

Author Review: Charlie N. Holmberg

It’s not often I review authors, but Charlie N. Holmberg intrigues me.  If you remember, the first five chapters of Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet hooked me over Christmas break, only to leave me disappointed when the novel went sour.  Another five chapters at the end of a Dark Magic ezine hooked me into The Fifth Doll.  While I enjoyed this book significantly more than Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet, The Fifth Doll still felt like it could have been tighter, stronger, and edited a bit more.  If there is one thing about Holmberg, it’s that she can write a hell of an opening to her novels.  With the second one I picked being so much better than the first, I dropped into The Paper Magician series.

It is in this series that Holmberg seems to find her stride as an author.  Gone are the random acts of violence and plots holes that leave you scratching your head and enter a very very very young adult genre book of magic, love and adventure.  (And by very, I do mean this book would probably be a crowd-pleaser for the female pre-teen types.)  The first book in the series, The Paper Magician is currently the number one best seller in Teen and Young Adult Historical Fiction on Amazon.

As with Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet and The Fifth Doll, Holmberg builds an entire world with her writing placing magic in London in the late 1800’s and setting her main character, Ceony, on the road to earning her magician-ship via an internship with a very quirky bachelor, Emery Thane.  Ceony, the stereotypical poor girl working her way through the crusts of society with her hard won education, is to learn the magic arts of paper from Emery, who despite his unusual behavior and poor taste in clothes is witty, smart, caring and devastatingly handsome.  As expected, Ceony develops the worlds biggest crush on her mentor, leaving the reader to slog through many pages of teenage angst.  Mercifully, Holmberg spares us the double angst of Twilight and Ceony goes on an adventure with her heart attached to a single male.

Ceony is an unlikely hero and her back story is a bit vague.  We know she has multiple siblings, came from the poor side of town and has a near perfect photographic memory.  However, I would have liked to know more about her beyond the fact that she was poor, incredibly smart and a good cook.   I could have also done without all of the endless meal planning, prep and descriptions of food Ceony gives.  Unlike Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet, where these things had a place, it felt odd to be reading about her culinary skills which never added anything to the actual plot line.

After reading six of Holmberg’s novels, I’ve found she has a way of slipping in random events or traits that never flesh out the character or develop the plot further, they’re just there.  Also, character development is not her strong point.  The Good Guys are overly good and pure and righteous.  The Bad Guys are overly bad and a bit stereotypical.  The characters themselves are never fully fleshed out and developed into living, breathing beings who exist outside of Holmberg’s pages.  Again, perfect for the preteen crowd, not so much for more mature readers.

While Holmberg wraps up The Paper Magician relatively quickly, the other three books , The Glass Magician, The Master Magician and The Plastic Magician all follow the same pattern.  Ceony adventures her way through magic and mystery, using her photogenic memory and quick wit to battle bad guys.  As the story unfolds, Holmberg’s writing improves, however it’s her world building that leaves the reader stunned, rather than her character development.  I particularly enjoyed the way Holmberg took paper and gave it so many different magical traits.

All in all, Holmberg’s writings can be described as immature.  They aren’t emotional inspirations nor are they mentally stimulating.  They aren’t meant to be scrutinized or picked apart or even thought about too deeply.  They are purely enjoyable tales that you can read quickly without much investment.  These are the kind of books I read after finishing traumatic books like The Kite Runner.  Holmberg is a fairly young writer and her skill in world building (and writing the first five chapters) is immense.  With time, I hope she hones her character development and tightens the plot lines, which in my opinion, will take Holmberg from immature flighty young adult novels to something much much deeper and I can’t wait.

Until next time, cheers!

-R

 

beach read · Book Review · series books · Summer Read

Everything We Keep by Kerry Lonsdale

everything we keepIt’s been ages since I’ve had a chance to sit down and write anything.  Luckily, nightly reading has still been a priority and keeping me sane!

This year, I’ve been pretty obsessed with old school YA mystery like Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys.  They’re quick, interesting, intelligent and as a bonus, the whole family enjoys the audio books.  While I do enjoy a good “adult” book now and then, the emotional strength needed for books like The Girl on the Train or Little Bee has just been too much for me this year.  Even finishing The Maze Runner series proved too much emotionally, which led to a good browsing through the Kindle Unlimited section one night and an introduction to Kerry Lonsdale, a writer from California.

Lonsdale’s debut novel, Everything We Keep, follows Aimee and her childhood sweetheart through a compelling tale of love, betrayal, mystery and self-awakening.  Lonsdale weaves a tale that is as romantic as it is mysterious.  This story twists and turns in so many delicious directions that it’s impossible to put down while the characters are so perfectly flawed that you can’t help falling in love with them.

While most series start strong and fizzle out, Everything We Left Behind was even stronger (and better) than Everything We Keep.   It feels like Lonsdale really hit her stride with Everything We Left Behind as she takes Aimee and James through a few more twists and turns.  While these books aren’t high suspense thrillers, aren’t true mysteries or even true romance novels, they do borrow a little bit from each genre to create a good story.

If you’re looking for a little down time with a book by the fire but need some space from the big emotional riveting books this Christmas break, check out Everything We Keep, Everything We Left Behind or All the Breaking Waves.

Cheers!

beach read · Book Review · Books to Movies · children's books · Greek Mythology · Mythology · Secret Hideout · series books · Summer Read

Percy Jackson & The Olympians vs Harry Potter

PERCY JACKSON THE LIGHTNING THIEFAnticipating a nice slow week at the beach, I set off on Amazon and Overdrive for something interesting.  I was craving something Harry Potter-esque without the deep tomes.

Cue Percy Jackson and The Olympians.

The first book in the series book popped up on my Amazon Kindle Unlimited freebies with a heading like  “If you liked Harry Potter, you may enjoy Percy Jackson.”  Amazon was right.  I absolutely enjoyed Percy Jackson and The Lightning Thief.  It was an excellent beach read that could not be put down.  I even got a sunburn because I couldn’t be bothered to move while reading!  These books are easy reading and I read the first two in two weeks.

After I’ve finished a good book, I usually head over to Amazon to check out the reviews and see if there were any insights or interesting tidbits that I missed or see if anyone else felt a certain way about this character or that event.  When skimming reviews for Percy Jackson, I was blown away by how many people felt Rick Riordan had followed a bit too closely in J.K Rowling’s footsteps.  This was interesting, because while reading the book, not once did I think “Wow..this is just like Harry Potter”.

After discussing with my favorite bibliophile, we both agreed the reviewers panning Percy Jackson as a Harry Potter knock off had done a lazy comparison of the two books.  Yes, they both involve magic.  Yes, they both have a ridiculously smart female character that the male characters depend on.  Yes, they both have a somewhat silly sidekick.  But honestly, that could be any young adult series in this genre and calling Percy Jackson a cherry pick on Harry Potter is a bit like saying The Hunger Games cherry picked from 1984 or The Maze Runner.

While the Harry Potter books derive directly from the vast imagination of their author who created an engagingly dynamic world, the PJ books overlay classical Greek mythology into modern day life.  Riordan does this incredibly well and weaves the Greek myths into a coming-of-age tale while also adding his own spin and a little bit of modernization to the personalities, stories and descriptions of the Greek Gods and mythical creatures.  His characterization of Ares, for example, as an aggressive biker thug was spot-on.   Riordan peppers the books with ancient Greek phrases that add a little dash of mysticism to the stories, while also feeling a teensy bit familiar.  I liked knowing the history and myths surrounding the Greek gods and creatures and seeing how Riordan wove them into this tale.  It’s easy to see how this series would inspire young readers to follow the PJ series with something else rooted in Greek mythology.

While there is a fair amount of magic involved in PJ, it is always limited by the original Greek myths; unlike Harry Potter, in which magic itself is a main character capable of many great and seemingly unlimited things.

Unlike Harry, who grew up an orphan with his terrible extended family, Percy has a loving mother and a distant, somewhat disappointing relationship with his father, Poseidon, the Sea God.  While Harry’s parents are lodged forever in the story as the perfect loving parents who died battling evil, Percy often grapples with anger, confusion and irritation with his missing father while balancing the usual preteen love and annoyance with his incredibly understanding and supportive mother.  Percy’s complicated relationships with his parents are handled incredibly well in an age appropriate manner that kids can relate to.  Harry’s parents, on the other hand, are put on a pedestal and frequently out of Harry’s reach, making it a bit harder to relate to that parent-child relationship.

The world J.K. Rowling created for Harry Potter was absolutely unlimited in place, description and location.  As the primary setting for the HP books, Hogwarts plays a huge role in the story of Harry Potter and with all of the quirky personality it displays, can essential be considered a character itself.  The three friends set off on the occasional adventure elsewhere, but Hogwarts occupies the majority of their adventures.

The PJ books are again limited to Greek myth and the modern world.  These books read more like the Odyssey, with Camp Half-Blood acting as a temporary home base while Percy and friends race around the world to ancient places like Mount Olympus, The Underworld, The Sea of Monsters, and the island of Polyphemus which are hidden in modern locations.  The description of LA as the secret entrance to the Underworld, for example, was particularly delicious.

And finally, we reach the comparison of Hermione to Annabeth.  Both are presented as incredibly smart and capable young ladies who seem ages older than their male counterparts.  This frequently leaves them as the voice of reason and in the case of Hermione, the default caretaker of the group.  For the most part, Hermione was a bit of a know-it-all outcast and a bit of a show-off with a chip on her shoulder.  She was frequently trying to prove herself as a Muggle Witch and maintain her place among her peers.

Annabeth, however, as the daughter of Athena, tends to show more restraint and wisdom for her age.  Her knowledge tends to show itself in her extensive planning and unlike Hermione, who tends to always be right, Annabeth has been known to falter, particularly with the Siren’s song.  Unlike Hermione who tends to always be the caretaker, Percy and Annabeth tend to share caretaker duties.  Their relationship feels a bit more equal than the relationship between Harry and Hermione.

And of course, we can’t forget about the Greek Gods who dip in and out of the PJ stories, interfering and guiding, setting traps and leaving life lines.  While Harry Potter has some minor religious undertones now and then, the PJ characters deal heavily with the presence of celestial beings.  They waiver between believing in the Gods, being a pawn of the Gods and being part of the Gods.

All in all, the PJ books are enjoyable, quick to read and I enjoyed the incorporation of the Greek Gods.  I wouldn’t classify them as anywhere near Harry Potter knockoffs, and hope those shunning this series as an HP knockoff give it another chance.

Until next time, happy reading!

 

ps.  Due to the fact that nectar and ambrosia kills mere mortals, a shot of Greek ouzo will do just fine.  Opa!

 

audio books · Bad Ass Women · Biography · Books to Movies · children's books · Historical Fiction · series books · Western

Finding Minimalism on the Prairie

little house on the prairieWe tend to think of materialism and a desire to hold on to and collect physical objects as a modern day enigma, one born of mass production and fast fashion.  Imagine my surprise when this theme popped up unexpectedly in the strangest of places, the final chapters of The Little House on the Prairie.

The book ends dramatically when the Ingalls family finds their homestead, along with a few of their neighbors, is unintentionally but illegally located on Indian Land.  Rather than face the soldiers tasked with removing these settlers by force, Pa decides it’s best for the family to move along before the soldiers arrive.  As the restless spirit in the family who initiated the move out west, it’s easy to see Pa moving along without regrets.  He is akin to the modern day uber minimalist, packing furs and rifle in lieu of the mandatory modern minimalist back pack and laptop.  You can just see Pa nodding a curt goodbye to the house, the well, the garden and the year he spent building, digging, planning, planting, and trapping.  You can just see him moving along to the next adventure without a second glance.

For Ma and the girls, the disappointment is a bit thicker, but they face their reality head on with chores and no tears.  When everything they own is loaded in the wagon, Laura and Mary’s only sentimentality is a request to watch the little house disappear behind them as they roll away.  It’s hard to imagine any modern child (or adult for that matter) packing up their belongings as quickly or calmly as those two little prairie children asked to vacate their beloved home in such short order.

As the family heads towards Independence, Kansas, they come across a couple stranded in the middle of the prairie, the victims of a horse thief.  When the Ingalls family offers them a ride to Independence, the couple refuses.  They won’t leave their belongings.

Knowing full well the dangers the couple face alone in Indian Territory, Pa offers the ride multiple times, practically begging the couple to join them.   Each time, the couple refuses, opting instead to stay in the prairie with wagon full of (now useless) belongings.

As Pa drove off, burdened now with the knowledge of these people choosing to stay stranded in a very hostile land, I was left contemplating the situation.  It was impossible not to compare the stranded couple with modern Americans.

How many of us let our belongings dictate our future and hold us hostage, sometimes in dangerous territory, just so we can hold onto them?

How many of us have forgone a dream vacation or chance of a life time trip around the world because we couldn’t let go of our apartment?

How many of us have declined to take that exciting job opportunity in a field we love because it meant moving all of our belongings cross country?

How many times have our friends or family members stayed in a relationship way beyond the expiration date, simply to avoid giving up their stuff?

How many of us have taken on the burden of homes that chain us to the porch with the mortgage?

How many of us have taken on careers we actively despise or work multiple jobs so we can afford our wants?

How many of us are giving up our lives for a wagon full of useless shit?

audio books · children's books · Ice-Cream Sundae · Secret Hideout · series books

Nancy Drew & The Hardy Boys

Nancy Drew the secret of the old clock book cover

My son, who we’ll call Huck in this blog, LOVES story time and was very disappointed that Mommy couldn’t read him his favorite books while driving him to school in the morning.  I attempted a few “from memory” recitations, which never quite hit the mark, before remembering my brother and I having several books on tape that we would sit and listen to over and over and over and over again.

On our next library visit, we found the “reading kits” which contain the book for the child to read and the cd for them to listen.  We picked out several and headed home.  The ride home (and all subsequent car rides for the next week) was awesome, until it became apparent we were going to listen to the same 5 min story 15 times for each car ride.

Cue the Nancy Drew audio book in the wrong location.

The bright yellow color caught Huck’s eyes and he had to have the yellow audio book.  We checked it out and were soon absorbed in a world of 1930’s American mystery.  Unlike the children’s books, this book had chapters and it took us about a week to complete.  My kid was obsessed, OBSESSED I tell you, with the mystery and we would have to sit in the car listening until we reached the end of each chapter.

At 3, I wasn’t sure he’d be able to follow such a long complex story, but he really surprised me by not only following the story, but coming up with his own ideas, conclusions and plans for catching the bad guy.  Over the next few months, we moved through the first five of the original Nancy Drew mysteries before moving on to the Hardy Boys.

Both series are very well written.  The characters are well developed and very like-able.  The plot is always intriguing and the mystery ending always attempts to be creative.  I enjoyed the timelessness of Nancy Drew.  Despite the lack of cell phones, which would have ended quite a few of her mysteries before they started, the novels never felt dated  and it was easy to relate to Nancy and her friends.  The length and complexity of the story was just right to satisfy the literary needs of both Huck and me.

Listening to these books took me straight back to third grade and I enjoyed just as much now as I did then, how Nancy, George, and Bess were presented as strong independent young women who held their own in the mystery world.  It was particularly refreshing to “read” about Nancy’s relationships with men.  The local police force, for example, respected her ideas, opinions and appreciated her assistance on cases.  Her father, a successful lawyer, encouraged Nancy to take chances and follow leads, while also backing her up when she needed it.

The Hardy Boys books are well written as well, but at times felt a bit dated, particularly when they mention money.  The Hardy Boys were also still active in their high school social life, leading to a few more characters than Nancy’s trusty sidekicks of George and Bess.  The stories were very very good but longer than the Nancy Drew mysteries and at times a little bit more complex.  While written about high schoolers, the books seem to be written for a little bit older audience that the Nancy Drew books.

Both my husband and I enjoyed listening to these mysteries with our son, and while I have a notorious affection for F-Bombs and complex tales, I enjoyed the fact that all of the language, scenarios and situations in these books were G rated.  These two series are just as good and as satisfying to read as an adult as they were as a child, and I’m rating these as 5 stars and recommending a traditional old ice cream sundae as the choice of drink while reading.

Title: The Nancy Drew Mysteries/ The Hardy Boys Mysteries

Rating: 5 stars

Location best to enjoy: Your secret hideout, a blanket fort, or the crook of a big old tree

Best Paired with: An old fashioned ice cream sundae with the works