Book Review: Dragon Keeper

Dragon Keeper (Rain Wild Chronicles, #1)Dragon Keeper by Robin Hobb

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The book started out slow and even a little boring. I almost turned it aside unfinished. However, Robin Hobb is known (to me) for slow beginning and brilliant endings so I persevered.

Once the place markers were set and the characters introduced, the pace picked up and I found myself entertained and thoroughly immersed in this world of dragons.

Thymara, touched by the Rain Wilds and born with claws and scales, should have been disposed of at birth, but her father could not allow that to happen and went against his wife’s wishes by keeping her. Alise, almost an old maid when she finally marries, had already set her mind to the study of dragons and refuses to let her new husband stop her studies. Lethrin, captain of a Live Ship, will do anything for money…and love. These three people are thrown together when the council are persuaded to move the young dragons to a place more suited to their needs. The problem is … none of them are expected to return to civilisation, as it’s a dangerous journey.

The three main characters are complimented by a great cast of secondary characters. Their individual stories are complex and real. This is compounded by external conflicts and danger. In my opinion, what the author lacks in being able to get straight into the story, she makes up for in character and world development.

This is a brilliant book, once you get past the first 50 or so pages. However, the story ended without resolution. Smack bang in the middle of the tension…it finished! To be continued in book 2. As my definition of a story is that it must have a beginning, a middle and an ending this was a great disappointment for me.

eBook Review: Heidi

Heidi by Johanna Spyri

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Like most females, I loved this story as a child. However, recently, I realised that I’d only ever seen various movie versions of it (the one I remember most was the one with Shirley Temple playing the role of Heidi) and had never actually read the book. With this in mind, I decided it was time to fix that oversight.

Heidi by Johanna Spyri was written around 1880 and for this reason the wording is very old fashion and stiff to read. Yet, knowing the era the story is set in suits the formal writing. I found it easy to accept and even to ignore.

Heidi is about a young girl who lives in the Swiss mountains. Everyone who meets her falls under her spell as she is a girl of innocence and loves helping people. Her loving nature and giving heart result in people depending on her more than they should.

The story is well known by most people, as it was to me. What I didn’t know was that the book is heavily religious orientated. These days, a writer is warned to be subtle in the messages they wish to share with their audience. The messages within Heidi were not subtle! The messages are clear and strong, sometimes even a bit overpowering, but I didn’t allow that to ruin the story.

Give with a willing heart.

Remember God in all that you do and the reward will be greater than your wish.

I’m glad I read the ebook for no other reason than the fact that I can now say I’ve read it. It was good to revisit a childhood story and discover new things within it.

Podcast Review: Shadow Magic

Some months ago, actually it was more like two years ago, a friend recommended a podcast to me. I had only just discovered podcasts and she thought I would enjoy this one. However, having to listen to them on my computer proved to be annoying as I can’t work and listen at the same time, so I left the email containing the link in my inbox, waiting for a more convenient time.

That time never came, but the email remained in my inbox.

Then, earlier this year I bought myself an iPod Touch (as you are no doubt sick of hearing about by now). For the first several months I couldn’t get enough of ebooks. But then I also rediscovered the world of podcasts (which you are probably also sick of hearing about). By this time, the email had become part of the furniture and I hardly even noticed it when I checked my email. Until a couple of weeks ago, when I was doing a clean up.

I followed the link provided by my good friend, Sherry, and then I followed another link to the author’s website and from there I followed another link to iTunes. Brilliant! The entire book was promptly downloaded to my iPod Touch and within days I was listening to the podcast.

Shadow Magic by John Lenahan is simply brilliant. It is read by the author, who is a writer, comedian and magician. It is a fantasy story based on Irish Mythology, so you’ll hear names of people and places that ring a bell. It’s about an eighteen year old named Connor, who has lived in our world his entire life. He has a cheeky personality and a loving spirit. Although he never knew his mother, Connor has been raised by a caring father, but he doesn’t have any other living relatives. Then one day he discovers he has an aunt. But the discovery is made after his aunt tries to kill him and he is taken to The Land!

John brought the characters alive with his telling of the story. So much so, in fact, that part of me is glad I listened to the podcast rather than purchased the book. The reason I say this is because the author is so easy to listen to and the storyline is so well crafted that I simply couldn’t hear enough of it. It’s funny, serious, gory in places and filled with emotion in other places. The world is vivid. The characters strong. The plot believable. I truly did enjoy it. At the risk of repeating myself, which I know is strictly not good for a writer, the story is brilliant!

This one is highly recommended.

The podcast can be found at iTunes or head over to the author’s website to find out where else you can download the book. If you prefer books over podcasts, then you can buy Shadow Magic at The Book Depository.

eBook Review: The Yin & Yang Books

The Yin & Yang Book (Chinese Whisperings)

The Yin & Yang Book by Paul Anderson & Jodi Cleghorn

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lately, I’ve been hearing people repeatedly say that we must open our minds and experience new things. I am very much a creature of habit. Most people can set their clocks by me. “What’s Karen doing? Oh, well it must be X o’clock then!”

You can laugh or smile, but I think that’s a bad thing because a creature of habit learns nothing new. I’m trying to become another type of creature right now. I’m not sure what the creature is called, but it steps out of its comfort zone more often, sees new things, reads new things, experiences new things. It doesn’t come naturally for me to do this, but so far the experience has been pretty good.

On 10/10/2010 a book was released and in that book is a story written by a long-time friend of mine, Benjamin Solah. I was made aware of the book’s release through an invitation, from Benjamin, to attend the online book launch. Of course, I went. I respect Benjamin and his writing and wanted to show my support. Through that event I was made aware of a book that sounded quite…what can I say…“different”. I made a note of the book’s title on my to-read list and carried on with my day. A few days later I was thrilled when I received notification that I had won a copy of the ebook.

The Yin & Yang Books edited by Jodi Cleghorn and Paul Anderson is a collection of short stories set in an airport. That doesn’t sound exciting in itself, but believe me, the stories are entwined together in a way that forces the reader’s attention. They are filled with intrigue, mystery and humour. One story will tease you with something and another story will satisfy you with the resolution. Several stories might hint at something else and then you’ll be treated with the “real” story later in the book. The characters, because they are written by many authors, have unique voices…yet you feel as if you are reading one complete story written by one person. It is most cleverly done and I was impressed by the high quality of writing by not one or two of the authors, but ALL of them.

Now, going back to Benjamin’s story. He describes himself as a marxist horror writer. He is passionate about many political issues and likes to address these topics in his writing. “Somewhere to Pray (Kurush)” is not an exception. For the duration of however many words the story is, the reader finds themselves in the head of a Muslim. It doesn’t matter what your views are, you’re seeing life through his eyes and you’re feeling his desperation. The story is extremely fast paced and in some ways horrific. By the time you reach the end you’re breathless, ashamed and alarmed. More than that I cannot say without a spoiler, in my opinion. Benjamin writes with passion and his words make you stop and think, even if it’s for a second, and that cannot be a bad thing.

I thoroughly enjoyed this ebook and would happily recommend it.

Podcast Review: Shadow Hunter Trilogy

I’m a bit behind with my reviews as I’ve had other things on my mind, but more about that in another post later.

Oh, where do I start? I think I’ll tell you about the podcast sequels to Shadow Hunter by Terrence D McLean. The second book in the trilogy is called Chasing Shadows and the third book is Shadows Fall.

I remember when Terry started out with podcasting, about three or so years ago. Those first few episodes betrayed his nerves even though he desperately tried to hide it. But our voice is not easily controlled and I heard the nerves. I admired his courage because I do not believe I would have been able to even start a podcast, let alone to start and conquer the thing that makes us nervous and then go on and record three books. In fact, I know I wouldn’t be able to achieve this accomplishment, so a sincere “well done” must be sent through the airwaves to Terry. And as each episode was published, I knew he was feeling more confident and long before the end of the first book all thoughts of whether or not he was nervous were completely gone. In the second book he introduced guest readers, who adopted particular points of view to read, which gave a new dimension to the characters.

The Shadow Hunter trilogy is pure fantasy. If you love magic, demons, mystical objects and other worlds then you’re in for a treat. The world is fully developed and totally believable. As I listened to Terry tell his story, I had vivid images playing out in my mind. The characters are likeable, flaws and all. Even the ones we are not supposed to like, play their parts extremely well. The scenes are captivating for many reasons. They were fast paced, drawing me from one catastrophe to the next. One scene would have me listening to strong battles where my heart beat would speed up a little and the next scene might bring tears to my eyes (literally) because of the emotion contained in the story, which was beautifully conveyed by Terry.

I listened to all three books, one after the other, which meant I was listening to the story of Shalli and her world for several weeks. When the podcasts came to an end, I actually felt sad. It was over and I don’t think I was quite ready for the end. A friend told me that he had just finished watching a TV series. He said that he felt like a good friend was leaving forever, which left him feeling sad and quiet. I understood what he meant because I had just finished listening to the Shadow Hunter trilogy and I felt exactly like that.

Shadow Hunter by Terrence D McLean, and its sequels, are recommended.

Edited on 25/1/2023: The links in this post no longer worked so I removed them. Also, I cannot find the podcast so it may not be available any longer. Pity. But if you do have a link, please let me know so that I can add it here. Thank you.

eBook Review: Nightmare

Nightmare by Steven Harper

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is book 2 in The Silent Empire Series. The title of the first book is Silent and you’ll find my review for Silent here.

Nightmare is more of a prequel and I must say that I really enjoyed this book. It was excellent in all ways.

The story takes us back to Kendi’s childhood. We see how he is split up from his family when he’s sold into slavery. We share the life that follows. It’s a hard life, a subservient life but Kendi is unwilling to forget his past. When the Children of Irfan rescue him some years later, he can hardly believe he’s free, let alone safe. But it turns out he’s not safe; no Silent is safe because there’s a serial killer on the loose.

The hesitation I felt from the author in book one was non-existent in this book. It was so much more believable. The characters came alive on the page. The setting was three dimensional. The plot was sort of like a fantasy/science fiction mystery thriller, which I considered to be well thought out and written. There were some gory descriptions but nothing that wasn’t absolutely necessary for the storyline.

The thing that stood out the most was the fact that I started reading and with no time at all, I was finished! For me, this is a sign that I’ve been totally absorbed by what I’m reading. The words flowed effortlessly, the storyline unfolded without any jarring occurrences and the resolution was more than just acceptable.

Again, I really enjoyed this book and highly recommend it. I certainly will be purchasing the next book in the series.

Podcast Review: ThrillerCast

Book podcasts are much like audiobooks, the reader is telling the listener a story. Non-book podcasts are different as the reader is giving the listener information. The information can be about anything, but in this case, the reader (or should I say hosts, as I doubt they have a set script in front of them) are talking specifically about writing. Writing thrillers, in particular.

ThrillerCast is new to the podcast world. The hosts, Alan Baxter and David Wood, are published authors. They talk amongst themselves regarding writing thrillers, reading them and getting them published.

The first episode was a good, sound introduction. The hosts work well together, are easy to listen to and had me chuckling out loud at one stage (which was embarrassing as I was on a crowded train at the time).

The second episode is about ebooks. They discuss the past, the present and what they predict for the future of digital publishing. I found their insights to be well thought out and inspiring. They made me want to get to work and get more publications out there so that I can be a part of it.

The third episode is about size – short stories, novellas and novels. The information isn’t new, but I liked the way they put it across. It made me realise there is a place for novellas in today’s market. Anything that makes you revise your opinion has to be good. And…as for the cat’s fifteen minutes of fame…I loved it! You’ll have to listen to the podcast to find out what I mean.

I have a feeling these two authors will share a lot of useful information in the future and I look forward to future episodes.

I recommend this podcast to all writers…and you don’t have to be a thriller writer to gain something useful.

Book Review: Insomnia

Insomnia (Special Limited Edition)

Insomnia by Stephen King

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

My parents always told me “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all” so I guess I’m going to have to keep this short and sweet, even though I’ll be breaking the golden rule.

I didn’t like Insomnia. The concept was great, but the author waffled on and on and on until I lost all connection with the characters and story. In the end, I just didn’t care what happened to any of them and found myself skimming over paragraphs just to get to the end faster.

I’ve read other Stephen King books and enjoyed them a lot, but not this one. Total waste of time.

Audiobook Review: The Shack

The Shack by William P. Young

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Horror of horrors, I came to the end of my knitting supplies and have nothing to fill my morning train ride hours. No, I can’t write. I’ve tried it and I’m too sleepy to be able to focus. Besides that, my eyes water like crazy, which is more than a little annoying and I was arriving at work looking as if I’ve cried all the way because my eyes were so red and puffy. Not a good start to the day, I can tell you. Yet I find I can knit and not suffer any “side affects”.

After some complaining, I woke one morning to find a small mp3 player sitting on the kitchen table, along with a spare battery. Upon querying why the device was there, I was told that an audio book borrowed from the library had been converted and loaded onto the player and that I was to take it with me on the train. I did. It’s not the first audio book I’ve listened too, but it’s the first time I’ve realised that I can listen to a book without “side affects” too. Yay!

The Shack is a story of a man whose six-year old daughter is taken and murdered, while the family is on a camping trip, and then goes on to tell the anguish that follows the tragic event – emotionally and spiritually. When G borrowed the item from the library and when I first started listening to the story, neither of us knew it was religious. By the time I did realise, I had already grown attached to the main character and his problems (I could identify with him because of my own loss) and I wanted to know more. I wanted to know if this man, this father, could get through the darkness that I knew so well…so I kept listening.

Yes, this story is highly religious and my one complaint is that at times the dialogue felt more like a sermon than a discussion, which really grated on my nerves. Yet at the same time, I was drawn in and held tight by the ideas behind the sermons. I guess I even found comfort in those ideas to a degree. So, again, I kept listening.

This book was written to get those religious thoughts across to an audience. I know and accept that. Prior to 18th May 2006, I wouldn’t have listened to the entire book because I simply don’t like being preached at and to be honest I wouldn’t have related to the characters and events at all. But I’ve changed…in many ways. I didn’t like the preachy parts, but I sat and listened and was completed absorbed in what was being said. I was touched by the emotional struggle the father was battling, enough to bring tears. I remained oblivious to the comings and goings of other passengers. I was oblivious to everything happening around me. In fact, when I turned off the player and looked around I was shocked to see so many people seated around me when I had been completely alone when I pressed play.

This isn’t a book I would feel comfortable recommending to others because not everyone will get something from it. It’s a book that the reader should read if they have experienced troubled times, if they know grief and if they want to attempt understanding just one possibility of the whole picture. It’s a book I believe will pull a reader/listener in, but only if that person can relate to profound grief and emotional stress.

Religious or not, I’m glad I listened to this audio book because I gained something from it.

From A Child’s View

I found myself thinking about book covers yesterday afternoon, as I visualised my unpublished books on the shelf of a book shop.  🙂

Whispering Caves isn’t finished yet, but I have always had an image in my mind that I associate with the cover.  However, Cat’s Eyes is finished and because of that, I concentrated on that cover more.

Later in the evening, out of boredom, I opened Photoshop and tried to put my thoughts into an image.  It was difficult!  When I went to bed several hours later, I had a cover that appealed to me, but there’s the big problem…

…I’m a lot older than the intended audience.

This morning, I left my warm bed and decided to research the covers of children’s books and I found From A Childs View: 30+ Creative Children’s Book Covers.

To me, some of the covers shown in the post look old fashioned (and perhaps they are).  The ones that appeal to my young heart are the ones with vibrant colours.  They stand out from the rest.  They scream “READ ME” and isn’t that what every author wants?

Don’t judge a book by it’s cover, but remember when preparing one that just about all readers do, so investing time into a brilliant cover is worth the effort.