Lexcalibur: Useful Poetry for Adventurers Above and Below the World by Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik

Useful poetry for adventurers above and below the world from the guys at Penny Arcade. A collection of nerdy poems for adventurers of all ages, written by Jerry Holkins and featuring illustrations by Mike Krahulik. (taken from Amazon)

I was gifted this poetry collection. My friend described it as “Shel Silverstein poems for nerds”, and there’s really no better description. It’s all kinds of nerdy fun!

The poems are generally on the shorter side, and are extremely clever. There’s never that feeling of trying too hard and I found myself chuckling as I read through the book. The poems are engaging enough for children with enough wit and little nods that adults will be just as entertained.

The book covers all things fantasy, ranging from important topics such as were beasts, to concerns about viziers, and complaints about mimics. It’s incredibly obvious that both the author and illustrator are well versed in both the tropes and the lesser-known gems of the fantasy genre. They appreciate all things imaginative and fun.

Lexcalibur is made even better by the inclusion of whimsical and fun illustrations which are scattered throughout. They’re truly delightful and add so much to the book.

I should mention that Lexcalibur can only be found on the Penny Arcade website ( link here, for your convenience). The Penny Arcade comics themselves are meant for adults to enjoy, but this book is all-ages fun. I have heard rumors that there will be a second poetry collection coming before too long. If that’s true, I’m ready to pre-order it.

I loved, loved, loved this collection of poems! If you’re a lover of all things fantastical, you’ll really enjoy Lexcalibur. I’ll leave you with one of the poems:

Irony Lesson

I got a ring, and it makes me invisible.

No one can see me! A marvelous thing!

As I suggested, your eyes have been bested.

Completely invisible.

Except for the ring.

Around the Dark Dial by J.D. Sanderson

Take a trip around the dark dial with eleven original and thought-provoking short stories that invoke the wonder and mystery of old-time radio dramas. Forget all that you know about modern sci-fi. In Around the Dark Dial, it’s all about the unexpected. (taken from Goodreads)

Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

This is a short story collection unlike any other I’ve read. Evoking a sense of the mysterious, each story had an underlying tension that kept me fascinated. Short story collections can be hit or miss for me; this was a definite hit.

Each story provided a unique take on the sci-fi genre. While there were stories featuring common sci-fi features, they were uniquely done in ways that felt fresh and new. There were what seemed to be hidden connections between some of the stories, more common themes than anything else. I enjoyed the thrill I got from seeing how one might be connected to another. Even the way the stories were ordered added to my enjoyment of the collection.

I particularly liked The Simulant for its take on AI. The humanity that author J.D. Sanderson gave to his Simulant was actually very thought-provoking. The ending gave off a sense of paranoia, much like a good thriller can. In fact, Sanderson knows just when to end a tale, leaving plenty of room for the reader to think and wonder, without suddenly dropping the plot. I don’t like books that stop abruptly, but I also am not a huge fan of things being overexplained. Sanderson tread the fine line between the two with skill.

My absolute favorite of the stories, though, was Caller Four. This one revolved around a radio show that covered the topic of alien abductions. The late-night scene, combined with the question of whether the alien encounter was really happening, made for an engrossing read. I loved how the ending brought the story full-circle. This one will definitely stick with me.

If you’re a fan of creative fiction, or if you enjoyed The Twilight Zone, Around the Dark Dial will be right up your alley. I highly suggest giving this one a go!

You can find Around the Dark Dial on bookshop.org (among other places). If you order through my link I’ll get a small kickback. More importantly, you’ll be supporting local bookstores.

For the authors: thank you


I’ll start this post by saying the now overused phrase, it’s been a tough year. I kind of think that’s the unspoken assumption at this point: “I’m doing well” (considering it’s a tough year), or “It’s been a bad day” (in the middle of a tough year). The book community isn’t exempt from the “tough year” unfortunately. I could go into the nitty gritty, but smarter minds than mine have already done that. So, this one is for the authors: you are appreciated.

I know it must be a discouraging time for so many of you, either with news you might have received, or just with life in general. Being an author is not for the faint of heart. You do not have it easy. To take the words in your mind and share them with others requires a massive amount of bravery. It also requires being willing to relinquish a little bit of your vision, knowing that the reader will picture your characters differently in their mind than you do. That takes guts.

This year has been full of changes in schedules, jobs, and lifestyle. There has been worry, and there has been loss. I cannot tell you what a godsend it has been to be able to curl up with a book – either an old friend, or a new discovery – and leave it all behind for a bit. From familiar favorites such as Dragonlance and The Night Circus, to more recent favorites, like The Ventifact Colossus and The Devil and the Dark Water, these books have kept me calm(ish).

Authors, what you do is important. So, so important. You aren’t just writing words on a page. Rather, you are building an escape pod. Your words are reminding us that even though we’re all stuck in our homes bunker-style, we aren’t alone. Good still exists and so does hope, laughter, creativity, new worlds, and mystery.

So, THANK YOU. Thank you for all you do. Keep writing. We’ll keep reading.

With Love,

A Voracious Reader

The Serpent Slayer: And Other Stories of Strong Women by Katrin Tchana, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman

This volume is an anthology of 18 stories about heroines with as much courage, wit and intelligence as their more familiar male counterparts. It includes Li Chi, the serpent slayer, and the old woman sly enough to outsmart the devil. (taken from Amazon)

I love a good fairy tale collection, and The Serpent Slayer delivers! As the title suggests, this book highlights female heroes. There are no heroic knights or true love’s kisses. Rather, these women kick butt all on their own.

One of the many things I love about this collection is that the stories come from all over the world. There are tales from Indonesia, China, and India, to name a few. Each one is so original, and very different from the average fairy tale fare. Let me tell you-this book has it all! There are dragons, devils, fey folk, and more.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the illustrations. Trina Schart Hyman is one of my favorite illustrators anyway, and she outdoes herself in this book. Everything comes to life and a beautiful and fantastical way. The colors are bright and beautiful, and each illustration strives to capture the place of the story’s origin. The pictures elevate the book from good to freaking amazing!

Obviously, I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves fairy tales, especially lesser-known ones. Go ahead and buy it; you’ll want to be able to read this one again and again.

American Fairy Tales by L. Frank Baum

American Fairy Tales by L. Frank Baum, Fiction, Fantasy, Fairy ...

From the vivid imagination of L. Frank Baum, the visionary who created the legendary Wizard of Oz series, comes American Fairy Tales, a collection of 12 modern fables and fantasies. These magnificent stories are doorways into fantastic settings beyond the dreams of most. Baum took us over the rainbow into the wonderful land of Oz; now join him on other fantastic adventures including The Box of Robbers, The Glass Dog, The Queen of Quok, The Girl Who Owned A Bear, The Enchanted Types, The Laughing Hippopotamus, The Magic Bon Bons, The Capture of Father Time, The Wonderful Pump, The Dummy that Lived, The King of The Polar Bears, and The Mandarin and The Butterfly. They are fantastic, one-of-a-kind fairy tales that could only come from the mind of this renowned storyteller. (taken from Amazon)

Confession time! I don’t like the Oz books, and I hate the Wizard of Oz movie. I’ve never had any desire to read anything else by Baum at all. I wouldn’t have even considered picking this collection up, except that it was assigned for my Children’s Literature class. I am so, so glad that it was!

This book is chock full of odd, fun little stories. Each tale has a little “moral” added to the end, which made it so very charming. The stories are short, with just enough detail to leave room for the reader to fill in the gaps. Baum did a wonderful job of writing about the fantastical as if it were everyday experiences he was recounting.

I loved all of the short stories, but my favorite was The King of the Polar Bears. I loved the cross between natural animalistic behavior, and the behavior of a monarch. The way the story ended was perfect. I also really enjoyed The Capture of Father Time. I’ve read several books over the years that involved the capture of Death, but this is the first I’ve read that discussed the ramifications of time standing still. It was such a cool idea!

I was pleasantly surprised by this book and plan to read it again in the future. I recommend this story collection for the young and the young-at-heart.

 

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

The Yellow Wallpaper - Kindle edition by Gilman, Charlotte Perkins ...

“The Yellow Wallpaper” is told as a series of journal entries written by a woman who has gone to a country manor to recover from what is assumed at this time to be postpartum depression.  Her loving husband, John, follows the recommendation of doctors of the day (he is also a doctor), and sequesters the woman so that she might rest and recover. She is not supposed to exercise or write,  instead letting repose heal her. The woman (whose name is never learned) is not allowed to leave her room, which has yellow wallpaper. As time progresses, the woman becomes convinced that the wallpaper moves and there is someone in the wallpaper trying to get out.

I really can’t accurately describe the creepy feel of this story. While it is ultimately a tale of the deterioration of the woman’s mental state (due to the absolutely absurd treatment of mental illness in the late 1800’s, when this was written), there is an eerie vibe to it. The writing is astounding. I was immediately drawn in. I can see why this story is considered a classic.

When I began the book, I thought it was odd that the color of the wallpaper was such a big deal. However, I soon found that it makes perfect sense. The metaphors found throughout are amazing, conveying the hopelessness the woman felt regarding her situation.

It isn’t a happy-go-lucky story, but it is a compelling one. And the ending! Holy terror, Batman! Gilman’s writing is excellent. I highly recommend reading this story.

Dragon Age: Tevinter Nights

Dragon Age: Tevinter Nights: Weekes: 9780765337221: Amazon.com: Books

An anthology of original stories based on the dark fantasy, role-playing video game series from Bioware.

Ancient horrors. Marauding invaders. Powerful mages. And a world that refuses to stay fixed. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book is available for purchase now.

Sometimes I’m in the mood for a fun, slash ’em and bash ’em fantasy. This collection of stories certainly fit the bill. As is the case with most short story collections, I enjoyed some of the stories more than others. However, this is a strong book and even the stories I didn’t love were fun.

I’ll admit that I don’t know a ton of the lore surrounding Dragon Age. I don’t get much chance to play video games and I prefer multi-players, so I only know what I’ve been able to garner here and there. It didn’t matter, though: everything that is important to the book is explained throughout. Kudos to the authors for making this a book anyone can follow.

Even though all the stories are fun, there were two that really stood out to me. The first one is “Three Trees to Midnight” by Patrick Weekes. Without giving anything away, I’ll just say that I loved the development of the relationship between the two main characters. The condescension that built to a grudging respect moved the story along wonderfully.

The other story that I loved is “Luck in the Gardens” by Sylive Feketekuty. The narration in this story was excellent and made it easily the most memorable of the tales. The opening immediately hooked me.

If you’re looking for a book to take you out of the stress of everything going on, one to escape into, this book is for you.

Queens of Fennbirn by Kendare Blake

Image result for queens of fennbirn

Together in print for the first time in this paperback bind-up, the dazzling prequels to the Three Dark Crowns series are finally available for fans to have and to (literally) hold. Uncover the sisters’ origins, dive deep into the catastrophic reign of the Oracle Queen, and reveal layers of Fennbirn’s past, hidden until now.

The Young Queens

Get a glimpse of triplet queens Mirabella, Arsinoe, and Katharine during a short period of time when they protected and loved one another. From birth until their claiming ceremonies, this is the story of the three sisters’ lives…before they were at stake.

The Oracle Queen

Everyone knows the legend of Elsabet, the Oracle Queen. The one who went mad. The one who orchestrated a senseless, horrific slaying of three entire houses. But what really happened? Discover the true story behind the queen who could foresee the future…just not her own downfall. (taken from Amazon)

I love Kendare Blake’s writing. The darker tones present throughout her Three Dark Crowns series adds a glorious sense of the gothic. This book of two novellas was no different.

Both of these stories take place in Fennbirn, the world of the Three Dark Crowns. I would suggest reading at least the first few books in the actual series before picking these novellas up, because you’ll get spoilers otherwise. There are also things in this book that won’t make as much sense if you haven’t already read the others.

In The Young Queens, we get a bigger view of the queens’ lives before they were pitted against each other and the events of the Three Dark Crowns series unfolded. While I can see why this novella is so well-liked, I honestly didn’t feel that it added anything to the original story. In fact (and this is a weird opinion), I preferred getting only glimpses of the queens’ time together prior to their fight for the crown. This book was sweet in many ways, but it just didn’t do it for me. From a technical standpoint, the writing was as strong as ever, but this novella just felt…unnecessary.

The Oracle Queen, though! Holy Hannah, that packed a punch! Kendare Blake’s ability to keep me on the edge of my seat is once again made apparent. The story of the last oracle queen is full of intrigue, betrayal, and more than a bit of violence. I loved every moment of it. Kendare Blake has never shied away from being mean to her characters, a trait that makes her books unpredictable and compelling. I suggest picking up this book of novellas for this story alone.

This was a good book, even though I didn’t love The Young Queens, and it’s definitely worth adding to your shelf.

Continuing On: Lesser-known sequels to popular books

Sometimes a book is so popular, and functions so well as a standalone, that I don’t realize there’s a sequel. This happened last year when I discovered that Richard Adams had revisited the world of Watership Down. Maybe I’m the only person who doesn’t always check for sequels, but here’s a list of sequels to popular books that may have been skipped over. Let’s give these books some attention!

Tales From Watership Down by Richard Adams: 

Image result for tales from watership downI’m one of those weirdos who actually really likes Watership Down. Yes, it’s odd, and the themes are harsh and rather upsetting, but I would argue that it’s an important book (even though the characters are adorable little rabbits). I have to be honest: I was disappointed by Tales From Watership Down. It felt like an unnecessary tack-on, which might be why it’s never talked about.

 Jo’s Boys by Louisa May Alcott: 
Image result for jo's boys by louisa may alcott
Here’s the thing: I really hate Little Women. Not the movie with Wynona Ryder, I like that one; I hate the book. I tried to reread it not too long ago, but the way the author beats the reader over the head with her life lessons was just flat-out annoying. I love Jo’s Boys, though. The lessons are still there, but they’re less in-your-face, and following Jo as she runs her school for boys is pretty cool. Don’t forget to read Little Men first!

Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card: 

Paperback Speaker for the Dead Book
Without discussing the author’s behavior in any way, I think it’s pretty common knowledge that Ender’s Game is fabulous. The series continues in several more books. The Speaker for the Dead is the sequel and it is brilliant. I highly recommend it. I’d also suggest Ender’s Shadow, which is actually a parallel novel to Ender’s Game. It’s written from Bean’s perspective, and it really fleshes out his character and adds a new dimension to the original book.

Twenty Years After by Alexander Dumas:

Image result for twenty years after
I fell in love with The Three Musketeers when I was pretty young (who doesn’t love buckling swash?) and I reread it a lot. It’s one of those books that’s just fun. Twenty Years After feels a little more serious to me, but it’s still very well-written, and definitely one worth reading.

                                                       Sequels I haven’t yet read

The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
Image result for the further adventures of robinson crusoe
I haven’t read this one yet. I plan to get to it eventually, but I also plan on traveling the world, and actually having a clean house while my children still live here, neither of which has happened yet. We’ll see what I manage to accomplish first.

Closing Time by Joseph Heller:

Image result for closing time joseph heller
How did I not know about this book? I must be slipping in my old age. I’m actually rather annoyed at myself for not having gotten to it yet. I will definitely have to read this one soon!

Have you read any of these? What are some other sequels to popular books that I’ve missed? Let me know. I love to talk books!

Death Train and Anxious Anna by Daye Williams

Anxious Anna & The Souls by [Williams, Daye] DEATH TRAIN by [Williams, Daye]

Thank you to the author for providing me with these novellas in exchange for my honest opinion.

I went back and forth on whether to review these two novellas in one post, or separately. I finally decided on one because they both examine similar themes, albeit from different angles.

Death Train is about a man who stores aboard a train that delivers souls to the Underworld. He is attempting to save the souls of his deceased loved ones. While this story is ostensibly about saving his family, what made me invested in this story are the underlying themes of grief, and dealing with loss.

The story moves along quickly without ever feeling trite. While the descriptions are absolutely incredible, sometimes I’d get lost in them and have to remind myself of what was happening. Daye Williams has a very detailed writing style. It was fascinating to get a glimpse into his mind, so to speak. I quite enjoyed this one.

Anxious Anna also explores themes of mortality and the fear of the unknown. This story is about a young girl who, on her eighth birthday, is so terrified by the idea of growing old and dying that she manages to break the binds of Time and goes on a journey wherein she must come to grips with her fears and decide whether to return home.

This one was a little more difficult for me to grasp. Again, it was very well-written, but I felt a little lost at times. The descriptions were beautiful, but I couldn’t connect with Anna as easily. Taken separately, both of these novellas are good. Read back-to-back (I read Anxious Anna first), they paint a vivid picture and are thought-provoking. These stories can be read quickly, but they’ll stick with you and make you think.

Have you read either of these novellas? What did you think?