Archive for June, 2013

Noah’s Boy — The Shifters Return

Noah's BoyWhen the Great Sky Dragon mysteriously disappears and is believed dead, the weight of the world falls upon the shoulders of Tom Ormson.

Noah’s Boy, the third book of Sarah A. Hoyt’s Shifter series, starts off without pulling any punches. The Great Sky Dragon wants another dragon, Bea Ryu, to marry the dragon shifter Tom and create many dragon babies in order to keep the dragon line alive. Bea is not thrilled with this idea, and voices her dissent. One doesn’t tell the Great Sky Dragon “no”, however, without some consequences coming down upon them.

Meanwhile, lion shifter and Goldport detective Rafiel Thrall has been called to what is being classified as a “mountain lion attack”. However, Rafiel smells the distinct scent of shifter in the area and begins to suspect that the individual who survived the attack (not the poor man who was found mauled to death) may know more than he was letting on. In fact, Rafiel discovers that the man is a bear shifter. Rafiel realizes that he has another shifter murderer on the loose and, if not caught quickly, could bring down the entire shifter community – which includes Tom and Kyrie, his two best friends.

Tom, meanwhile, is suddenly hit with the memories and images of the Great Sky Dragon, which, according to the other shifters, means that the Great Sky Dragon was dead and Tom had just been unceremoniously promoted. Tom is not happy with this – he has a cafe to run and he doesn’t have time to play Lord of the Shifters – and shirks his duties as the Great Sky Dragon as long as he can before a challenge is issued by an older pair of brother dragons. Tom defeats them with ease, cementing his leadership as the Great Sky Dragon (at least, until the Great Sky Dragon returns. Tom isn’t convinced he’s dead, merely incapacitated).

However, in the midst of this all is a troubling… incident is the only way I can say it, an incident which caused my heckles to rise. Rafiel is taken control of by a rouge shifter female and is forced to mate with her, which in anybody’s book is called rape. It’s a bit uncomfortable to read but illustrates just how far gone this rogue shifted is, and just how dangerous the older shifters are to the newer ones. Of course this makes Rafiel feel extremely violated (as it should) but he really doesn’t talk about it to anyone (which is bad).

Noah’s Boy is a fun, fairly well-paced continuation of the entire Shifter series. Of particular note is that my longtime favorite in the series, Rafiel, is finally front and center as he and Bea begin to be drawn closer together, in spite of the Great Sky Dragons command that she bear the children of Tom (who is not happy about the insinuations at all and prefers his live-in girlfriend, Kyrie). The development of Rafiel from potential love-interest/conflict to loyal confidant is something to behold, as the richness of his personality practically dominates the book (I must admit, this feels like it should have been Rafiel’s book and not a “joint” book with Tom and Kyrie).

The only thing I can complain about is the ending being too “pat”. Everything concludes nicely, with a potential new love interest for Rafiel. However, with new shifters appearing from everywhere and Tom’s diner (The George) still attracting shifters due to the pheremones sprayed by the previous owner (see Draw One in the Dark for more about that little bit of back story), there are many more tales to be had in Goldport.

A definite addition to my library, and for any fan of quality urban fantasy.

Reviewed by Jason

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Karen Myers’ “To Carry the Horn” Is a Solid Read

The first novel in Karen Myers’ The Hounds of Annwn series is TO CARRY THE HORN.  It stars George Talbot Traherne, a whipper-in from modern-day Virginia, his Elven grandfather Gwyn ap Nudd, and a cast of thousands rotating around these two.

The story starts with George out riding one day with the Rowanton Hunt.  However, he gets distracted by a huge white stag and ends up veering off course, ending up in the Fae Otherworld on the very day Gwyn’s own Master of the Hunt has been murdered.  George quickly realizes he’s in a different place (though the land is much the same), but rather than becoming discommoded by this, he quickly immerses himself in working with Gwyn’s hounds.  This quick immersion isn’t as jarring as it sounds, however, because George is obviously a man of action rather than one of introspection.

Anyway, Gwyn’s hounds are not your normal run of dogs by any means, as they’re actually the Hounds of Hell (most are half-demon, half-dog), which makes Gwyn far more than just any Fae overlord.  And there’s only two weeks to go before the next edition of the Wild Hunt must take place; if it doesn’t come off, ancient God Cernunnos, who set Gwyn up as Lord of his own establishment long ago, can take the rulership away from Gwyn again.

Now, you might be wondering how a normal guy from Virginia, albeit a huntsman and whipper-in, can possibly control the Hounds of Hell.  Well, in Ms. Myers’ conception, it comes down to two things: George genuinely has a gift when it comes to animals (most particularly dogs), and he also has an extra ability gifted to him from his non-human — and non-Fae — grandparent, who appears to be none other than Cernunnos himself.  Because of these two rather exceptional grandparents, he can handle the Hounds of Hell.  And because George is somewhat at loose ends in his life — thirtyish, athletic, smart enough to own his own computer company and pragmatic enough to make more than enough money to live on with it — he definitely is ready for a new adventure.

Once George takes charge of the pack of hounds, he quickly realizes that he’s going to need allies.  The Elven teenager Rhian becomes George’s apprentice along with the lutin Isolda, while Rhian’s older brother Rhys continues on for a short time as the most experienced person left who’s used to dealing with the hounds.  This is important, because George never led a hunt by himself before, much less with these particular hounds.

But George also needs allies in Gwyn’s court, which is why his nascent friendship with two Elves — Edern, a lord, and Angharad, an artist — is so important to the plot.  These two help George get up to speed quickly with regards to the overall political situation with the Elves, much less the major scandals in Gwyn’s past that may or may not come back to haunt Gwyn in the near future, and often function as quasi-infodumps.

Then George realizes that the more time he spends with Angharad, the more he wants to be with her.  Yet he still has a home and business in our Virginia, and he’s been told it won’t be that difficult to go home again.  He doesn’t want to leave his grandparents behind (this grandmother is Gwyn’s daughter and George’s reason for close kinship to Gwyn in the first place), but he certainly doesn’t want to leave Angharad, the dogs, Rhian, Isolda, or any of the others in this strange new place he’s come to love.

So what’s to do?  And will he ever figure out who, exactly, killed the former huntsman?  Much less why?  And is Gwyn’s rule really as endangered as all that?  All of these questions will be answered, but most of the answers in turn raise more questions.

This is a good story that I found both engaging and absorbing, but it does have a few flaws.  This is a first novel, and because of that, there are a number of minor issues that distracted just a touch and interfered with the reading trance.  These small things mostly were in the way inner monologue was presented (most of the time, it’s easiest to show that with italics), or in a few areas where our hero, George, was led to the right answer rather than reasoning it out for himself.

Overall, TO CARRY THE HORN is a solid fantasy that is interesting, well-plotted, and held my attention through several re-reads.  There are many nonhumans in this story (much less Cernunnos), and their motivations are sensible, logical, and well thought out.  Ms. Myers’ knowledge of Welsh mythology, up to and including the Mabinogion (perhaps the first-known collection of Arthurian tales), served her well in the creation of this novel.

Bottom line: TO CARRY THE HORN is a solid introduction to the Hounds of Annwn series.  I liked George quite a bit as a hero, can’t wait to see how his relationship with Angharad develops, and will be interested to follow his future adventures.

Grade: B-plus.

— reviewed by Barb

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NOTE: Book two of The Hounds of Annwn, THE WAYS OF WINTER, will be reviewed here at Shiny Book Review in the next few weeks.

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Homo Saywhaticus? — Mish Mash of Bad Jokes

(Ed.– Today’s review comes from guest reviewer Chris Smith. We here at Shiny Book Review thank Chris for stepping up and delivering this review, and hope that he sticks around for more.)

 

Homo SaywhaticusI blame it on Howard Stern. The idea that crude and obnoxious is inherently funny. For him, it worked. I think part of that was the fact that it had never been done in such an obviously over the top way. I’m not a fan of Stern’s show, but I’m willing to give him credit for being a pioneer of sorts in the ‘shock value entertainment’ industry.

Unfortunately, his success spawned imitators. Lots of imitators. Oh Dear and Forgiving (insert favorite God, Goddess, Higher Power, or Celebrity) the imitators. Each newcomer, it seemed, had less talent, and less wit, than the one that had come before. I quit listening to morning shows on terrestrial radio, the natural spawning ground for the species. They made their way to satellite, infecting the airwaves I paid for, trying to escape. There is now one station I can’t listen to on Fridays, simply because they play a certain host’s show for three hours in the morning, and then replay another three hours of “The Best of.”

Then came MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and all the rest of the social media. Whatever good has come from social media- yes, there is some good, be it keeping long distance friends in touch with each other, getting to know your favorite authors, free publicity for your business, etc.- the format has also brought out the ‘140 character brain dump’ style of commentary. Some of it is good. Most is not. The shock jocks had found a new format. The virus spread.

So this is what it has come to, then. A collection of what seems to be a bunch of Facebook posts, blog entries and assorted ‘Deep Thoughts’ (the old SNL bit, not something deep and profound) liberally sprinkled with bathroom “humor”, penis “jokes”, and direct references to masturbation.

I’m not using quotes here in an attempt to sound elite or snobby, I actually don’t have a problem with low humor done well. “Blazing Saddles” is one of my all time favorites, and still brings me to tears with the infamous ‘bean scene.’ I thought the first “Hangover” was hysterical.  Louis CK has the ability to be crass and over the top, yet still come off as a likeable guy. “40 year old virgin?” Modern classic.

No, I use quotes simply because, unlike Mel Brooks, the author seems to assume that just mentioning his defecation or masturbation is somehow funny, with very little setup, attempted wit, or punch line. Or point, for that matter.

I can’t say I wasn’t warned, though. It was right there in the introduction. Following a short sample, we get this: ”Had enough? That’s pretty much what you’re going to get if you read this book. Don’t know what the point is? Neither do I most of the time.”

Fair enough, the sample was crude, but had potential. I read on. Three or four entries in, I found myself losing hope. What had seemed somewhat promising was not getting any better. I started counting the pages until my minimum, looking forward to putting this all behind me.

Roughly a third of the way through, the promise of improvement came back. There were a few stories, such as “A whole lot of shaking going on” and “New Year’s Day” that started out strong and fizzled at the end. The feeling crept over me that this author, when confronted with a story that went somewhere, panicked and scuttled it before it became a fully developed piece.

I glared at the remaining page count, resenting the fact that I had been teased with something good, only to have it snatched away at the last line.

What kept going through my head was that the author, for better or worse, was taking George Carlin’s later routines, Dane Cook’s current routines and attempting to write them in Dave Barry’s irreverent style.  With less than spectacular results.

Then I read “States of Grace.” It started out as more of the same, and to be honest, it took everything I had to keep going. Then the unexpected happened; the final line made me go back and read it again. My jaw dropped. In this one story, everything I had been hoping for had finally made an appearance. Plot, character growth, and yes! an actual point! It even showed the deeper and more introspective side of the author that had been hinted at earlier entries.

Dare I say this was a new direction for the rest of the book?

I read the next entry, “Stop bullying racists”, with hope in my heart, and a new look at the author. More of the same, but there was humor under the surface, waiting-just waiting, I knew it!- to burst forth. It didn’t.

A few more like that, same results. The potential was there, so close I could touch it, but never fully realized.

I checked the page count. Home stretch, twenty or so to go to minimum. I can do this.

I should have seen it coming. Whipping through the pages before the intermission, I slogged through ‘meh’ (“Easter realization”),’hunh?’ (“Al goes his own way”), not bad but needs polish (“Little ditty bout Jack and Diana”), weird-in-a-good-way (“The perpetual scary-go-round”), then touching and insightful (“Piedmont”). “Piedmont” was like “States of Grace,” it caught me off guard and felt genuine.

Then came “Bad advice for writers.” The author lays out his method and theory on writing. As I read the piece, the feelings of minor irritation at some of the lackluster entries disappear, turning into something more like relief. Here’s why; After the analogy of a best-selling author as a parade, and himself as the janitor that cleans up after, the author says “Usually there are a few people who are looking down and finding something more interesting caught in a storm grate or written in fading spray paint on an alley wall. They buy books as well. Just not my books. Yet. And they deserve the very least I can provide.”

Well, if this is the very least the author could provide, I don’t feel so bad about thinking most of it was crap. This isn’t something he had put a lot of time into creating, which is reinforced by the line “Just write it down. Don’t worry about the “craft,” that only applies to about a dozen people. The rest of us are just churning s**t out.”

To be honest, he’s probably right, and given the culture of shock value entertainment I mentioned earlier, will continue to be right for years to come.

Fine. I accept that this is not something you care about enough to give your best effort.

Then came the intermission, and the swearing. On my part, and for once, not the author’s. This is your only warning on spoilers, because frankly, if my reprinting this line from the intermission ruins the effect that the author had in mind, GOOD. He doesn’t deserve to get the effect. Not after this:

“Please keep in mind that the purpose of these stories is not to immerse you in some epic saga but instead act as a catalyst for your own imagination. If you’ve gotten to this point and haven’t already come up with much better endings for some of the stories or even much better stories that you wouldn’t have thought of unless you were reading this book then you might be missing the point … although I will give you credit for sticking with it then.”

No. Just no. You don’t get to say this after laying out your “write down anything that comes to mind” manifesto. I could accept that, and possibly be interested in reading the rest of the book to find some gems. Not now.

Screw you, dude. You copped out. I can’t help but envision you sitting at your laptop, reading over what you had compiled, not liking it, and then coming up with this BS reason for putting it all together. It comes off as a desperate attempt to strive for a loftier goal, and a weak attempt at convincing me that this is what you planned all along.

I don’t buy it. I feel betrayed.

If this were an actual paper book, I wouldn’t give it the honor of “hurling it across the room with great force.” It would be taken out back and dropped in a bucket of water, so no accidental reading could occur. Then I’d toss it out while driving on a back road. That’s it, the very least I could do to make sure it didn’t find its way into anyone else’s hands.

All moot, though, as I was given a PDF to read. It galls me that I have to go through the process of deleting it from my hard drive, as I don’t feel that this work deserves any more of my time or attention.

Link to a free copy here at Amazon

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