Trial of Intentions (Vault of Heaven #2) ~ Peter Orullian

Trial of IntentionsISBN ~ 978-0765325723
Publisher ~ Tor Books; First Edition (May 26, 2015)
No. Of Pages ~ 672 pages
Links ~ Amazon, Barnes & Noble

The gods who created this world have abandoned it. In their mercy, however, they chained the rogue god—and the monstrous creatures he created to plague mortal kind—in the vast and inhospitable wasteland of the Bourne. The magical Veil that contains them has protected humankind for millennia and the monsters are little more than tales told to frighten children. But the Veil has become weak and creatures of Nightmare have come through. To fight them, the races of men must form a great alliance to try and stop the creatures.

But there is dissent. One king won’t answer the call, his pride blinding him even to the poison in his own court. Another would see Convocation fail for his own political advantage. And still others believe Convocation is not enough. Some turn to the talents of the Sheason, who can shape the very essence of the world to their will. But their order is divided, on the brink of collapse.

Tahn Junell remembers friends who despaired in a place left barren by war. One of the few who have actually faced the unspeakable horde in battle, Tahn sees something else at work and wonders about the nature of the creatures on the other side of the Veil. He chooses to go to a place of his youth, a place of science, daring to think he can find a way to prevent slaughter, prevent war.

And his choices may reshape a world . . . .

The second title in the Vault of Heaven series, Peter Orullian’s Trial of Intentions is a mesmerizing fantasy epic that turns the conventions of the genre on its head

5 Thumbs-UpYes, this is the second instalment in the Vault of Heaven Trilogy, and yes I have read the first book although I did not review it on here; the reason for this being it is a major player in my English Literature thesis.  Unfortunately though, for this book, it is not a standalone read and therefore the first must be read to make any sense of this one.

The main protagonists are many in both books, and their stories continue in this one; we see them grow from the children we first met in The Unremembered to adults that are still connected to their inner children at times.  I usually go into great detail about my likes and dislikes of characters in the books I read, but with this cast of characters I felt the mixed emotions one has when confronted with Family and all the imperfections they bring with them.  At times I just wanted to shake some sense into them and ask ‘why?  Just why?’ and at others I was in my full cheerleading garb, pom-poms and all doing high kicks to spur them on.  One thing I did find disappointing was the forced humour in the dialogue, this had come so easily in the first book as it does between friends, but in this one it seemed as if they were just trying to keep the humour going at all costs.  I am hoping that this stilted humour is more a result of the events the characters have been through up to the end of this novel, and not an indication that the Author has lost his humourous pen.  Rather than just continue expanding on characters from the first novel, the Author brings new ones into the storyline, and some that were introduced in Book One become integral to the storyline in this novel.

Unlike Book One, Trial of Intentions is up and moving from the very first chapter; the reader has moments where the pace slows down enough for them to calm their racing pulses before picking up and propelling them through to the very end of the book.  Something I was pleased to find in this second instalment that was present in the first was a musical quality that accompanies the writing of this Author; in gentle areas easy listening folk music is brought to mind in the way the language is placed on the page and I found myself reading everything rather than skipping the ‘song’ sections as I do in Lord of The Rings or The Hobbit; even when the action really picked up it was as if somewhere just out of view there was a rock guitarist playing some riff to accompany the action.  Whereas Clockwork Angels by Kevin J Anderson was music (an album of the same name by Rush) to words, this is a book that could be translated from words to music.

All of the major plotlines end on a cliff-hanger that leaves the reader waiting with baited breath for the final book in this trilogy, hopefully it won’t be as long as the wait has being for The Doors of Stone, book three of The Kingkiller Chronicle.  Despite the cliff-hanger endings, unlike so many books that finish in this manner, this one does not leave the reader feeling that the book is unfinished and that the Author decided they’d had enough and sent it off to the publisher as is.

I highly recommend both this book, and the first in the trilogy, for those who love to read this genre.  It was expansive, it was epic and it was rich with hidden things that come out when the novel was reread (I have to say I am on my fourth reading of this book).  Like an onion with its layers, this second instalment added a depth and richness to the world in which it takes place, and I hope that the Author continues in this way in Book Three.  I will definitely be waiting to read the next novel by this Author.

divider

Advertisements

Review: The Children’s Train: Escape on the Kindertransport ~ Jana Zinser

Children's trainISBN ~ 978-1939371850
Publisher ~BQB Publishing
No. Of Pages ~368 pages
Links ~ Netgalley, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

The Jewish children of Germany are frightened, and their parents are too. Hitler’s men have just broken their store windows, stolen and destroyed their belongings, and arrested many Jewish fathers and brothers. When England arranges to take the children out of Germany by train, the Kindertransport is organized. The train filled with Jewish children escaping the Nazis chugs over the border into Holland, where they are ferried across the English Channel to England and to freedom. But for Peter, the shy violin player, his sister Becca, and his friends Stephen and Hans, life in England holds challenges as well. Peter’s friend Eva, who did not get a seat on the Kindertransport, is left to the evil plans of Hitler. Peter, working his musician’s hands raw at a farm in Coventry, wonders if they should have stayed and fought back instead of escaping. That night the Coventry farm is bombed. The Nazis have reached England. Peter has nothing left. He decides it’s time to stand and fight Hitler. Peter returns to Germany to join the Jewish underground resistance, search for the mother and sister he left behind in Berlin, and rescue his childhood friend Eva.

5 Thumbs-Up I actually downloaded this novel for free from Netgalley, with the usual caveat I would provide an honest review, as if I write anything else, as it fit into my studies and was looking for a different fictional viewpoint for a paper I was writing.  Little did I know that once I started reading this I would find it very hard to put down.

There really aren’t any words I could write here that could make anyone read this book, particularly given the subject, but it surely is a book that needs to be read to ensure something as horrific and tragic as this never happens again. The Author writes mainly from the viewpoint of the children involved in the journey of the Kindertransport, but also takes time to bring to life on the page the awful decisions their parents had to make in letting them go.  As always with history, hindsight is a wonderful thing, but at the time in which the novel is set many of these adults still did not believe their lives could possibly be in jeopardy, never mind the lives of their children.

Although there are few places in the book where the Author reminds us that this is truly a work of fiction, the novel is very informative and engrossing and I would highly recommend this book as reading for teenagers to help them understand another aspect of the Holocaust.  I am always indecisive when it comes to the issue of whether to read another novel on this subject, but I am glad I read this and will be looking out for more from this Author in the future.

divider

Review: Jackaby ~ William Ritter

JackabyISBN ~ 978-1616203535
Publisher ~ Algonquin Young Readers
No. Of Pages ~ 299 pages
Links ~ Algonquin Young Readers, Barnes & Noble,

“Miss Rook, I am not an occultist,” Jackaby said. “I have a gift that allows me to see truth where others see the illusion–and there are many illusions. All the world’s a stage, as they say, and I seem to have the only seat in the house with a view behind the curtain.”

Newly arrived in New Fiddleham, New England, 1892, and in need of a job, Abigail Rook meets R. F. Jackaby, an investigator of the unexplained with a keen eye for the extraordinary–including the ability to see supernatural beings. Abigail has a gift for noticing ordinary but important details, which makes her perfect for the position of Jackaby’s assistant. On her first day, Abigail finds herself in the midst of a thrilling case: A serial killer is on the loose. The police are convinced it’s an ordinary villain, but Jackaby is certain it’s a nonhuman creature, whose existence the police–with the exception of a handsome young detective named Charlie Cane–deny.

5 Thumbs-UpThis is the first one in a series and, when I realised it was aimed at the young reader market it made me come to the conclusion that all hope of ever finding a good read in this genre is not dead.

The Author certainly has a way with words, and a wonderful way of using them.  This becomes apparent from the first character introduction he writes.  Not only does he make his characters three-dimensional and interesting from the very first meeting, but he manages to keep this standard up and apply it to all subsequent characters that appear throughout the book.  It may be wrong of me but, as the title of the book suggests, Jackaby is not the only front and centre main protagonist in this novel; his assistant takes equal footing as the story progresses and, in some places outshines Jackaby.  When this happens it doesn’t read as if the Author ran out of steam as far as Jackaby was concerned, but rather embraced the ebb and flow of real life into the plot that makes it inevitable that lead roles will change.  The description of our title character, and his actions, had me swinging between wondering if he was truly the genius he purported to be and also trying to figure out how he had evaded being consigned to the nearest asylum long before the story takes place.  His assistant on the other hand shows all the traits and stubbornness that many young women were feeling in this time period, and went to extraordinary lengths to stretch those newly discovered wings.  I particularly liked with her character the way in which the Author had her determined in her path but at times interspersed this with a glimpse at the closeted lifestyle she had left behind.  In the supporting cast of characters, some of whom I do hope will appear in future instalments, they too were treated with as much care and consideration as the main characters.  Do I have a favourite in all those presented to me within this novel’s pages?  I certainly do, and I would have to say there wasn’t one that I didn’t like.

With as much care as he put into his characters, this Author sets the locations and events within the book.  He pulls on the weather and lifestyles of the period to create atmosphere and suspense in a way that I can honestly say I haven’t seen in a YA book before.  The Author manages to blend the thought processes of Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot and Harry Dresden together in a seamless manner; the end result being something that really shouldn’t work producing a whole new way to look at the world of detection.  There is no wasted area in the book, as scenes visited early on come back at some point to play an integral part of the plot; the result of this is an engrossing read that will pull you into the mystery from the very first chapters.

I would highly recommend this book to readers of all ages, not just those in the aimed demographic, and also anyone who enjoys any of the characters mentioned in the previous paragraph.  Will I read anymore by this Author?  Definitely, I am already halfway through book two in the series.

divider

Review: Inkheart (Inkworld #1) ~ Cornelia Funke, Anthea Bell (Translator)

InkheartISBN ~ 9780439531641
Publisher ~The Chicken House
No. Of Pages ~534 pages
Links ~ Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Scholastic,

Twelve-year-old Meggie learns that her father, who repairs and binds books for a living, can “read” fictional characters to life when one of those characters abducts them and tries to force him into service.

Characters from books literally leap off the page in this engrossing fantasy. Meggie has had her father to herself since her mother went away when she was young. Mo taught her to read when she was five, and the two share a mutual love of books. He can “read” characters out of books. When she was three, he read aloud from a book called Inkheart and released characters into the real world. At the same time, Meggie’s mother disappeared into the story. This “story within a story” will delight not just fantasy fans, but all readers who like an exciting plot with larger-than-life characters.

5 Thumbs-UpThis book is the first of the Inkworld Trilogy, with the others in the series being Inkspell and Inkdeath.  I first was introduced to the world of Inkheart through the movie of the same name, and from watching this numerous times and also mentioning how I would love to read the book my Husband surprised me with the Trilogy.  I have to admit that I was a little apprehensive about starting Inkheart, as for the movie to be so good I felt that maybe the book was truly terrible; thankfully I was wrong.  There has also been a lot of debate as to whether this Trilogy is suitable reading for the age group it is aimed at (8-12 years), but as parents are the ones who know their children it is not for me to pass comment in this area.

Surprisingly, for a book aimed at this age group, the Author has managed to create characters that are rich and full of life, so much so it almost feels as they may just come off the page and enter the real world alongside the reader.  It would have been easy for the Author to just make her characters cookie cutter images and move on with the story, but they endow them with all the personality traits, flaws and weaknesses that go into making us all so uniquely human.  Through the book the reader learns about love and loss, hatred and deceit and, although it can become a little dark at times, there is nothing that would make anyone think that these characters could not possibly exist outside the written word; I think that was the beauty of the book for me.  The Author has written a storyline that revolves around characters coming out of the book, and carries this theme into them whether they are major leads or just passing through on their way to another story.  The Author skilfully manages to keep any secrets the characters may have well hidden, making them not easy for the reader to guess until they are revealed at exactly the right moment, and in exactly the right way; a skill that many other Authors of this genre would do well to learn,

The world in which the book takes place is also very real, there are no made up locations in this book; the reader can visualise a place in Europe where all the scenery described is there.  With the colourful houses, I was transported to parts of Italy and Southern France which also included the mountains which seem to be always looming in the background in this region.  I could smell the ocean and feel the change in the wind when a storm was approaching.

This is a book lovers book, whether they like the fantasy genre or not, whether books in this age group are their thing or not.  This is a book that understands those among us that love to smell books, don’t break the spines and would be devastated if anything happened to our collections.  This is a book that says ‘hey it’s OK to be this way.  I understand and you’re not alone’.  This is an easy novel to read, and pulled me in totally from about the 4th or 5th page not letting go until I closed the back cover on it two days later.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who loves to read, loves books and is open to the infinite possibilities that losing themselves in a book can bring.  I already have the remaining two books in the Trilogy lined up to read, but am trying to resist as I don’t want to rush through this world without having the time to absorb everything; who knows if I’m lucky I may even be ‘read’ into it.

divider

Review: The Art of Blizzard Entertainment ~ Blizzard Entertainment

art of blizzardISBN ~ 9781608870271
Publisher ~ Insight Editions
No. Of Pages ~ 376 pages
Links ~ Insight Editions, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Over the past two decades, Blizzard Entertainment has had a tremendous impact on the world of games and global pop culture. From its humble beginnings as a three-person console-game development studio in 1991 to the creation of the blockbuster Warcraft®, StarCraft®, and Diablo® series, Blizzard has a history of crafting stunning worlds of science fiction and fantasy. The company’s distinctive gameplay and storytelling styles have captivated an international audience numbering in the tens of millions whose passion cannot be quelled.

Twenty years after Blizzard opened its doors, the company’s World of Warcraft® boasts the title of the world’s most popular subscription-based massively multiplayer online role-playing game, and the studio is widely recognized as one of the leaders in creatively driven game development.

An epic volume of art and behind-the-scenes insights, The Art of Blizzard® celebrates the studio’s genesis by examining the creative forces behind these games and showcasing their artistry through more than 700 pieces of concept art, paintings, and sketches. Commentary on the art is provided by Blizzard Entertainment’s own Nick Carpenter, Sam Didier, and Chris Metzen, who’ve each played important roles in shaping Blizzard’s game universes over the years.

5 Thumbs-UpWeighing in at 8lbs, this is a coffee table book in the true meaning of the word; my knees went numb as I was reading it on my couch.  Although, if you use the links above, it is hard to find a copy of this book for under $50, I found mine in the bargain priced section at Barnes & Noble, and if you want to splash out more money Insight Editions are selling a specially bound version.  However, if you already own all of the Collector’s Editions of Blizzard artwork books, this is probably not a purchase you will want to make, as many of the illustrations featured in it are in the previously mentioned books.

With over 700 illustrations this book covers the artwork from such iconic Blizzard games as Warcraft, Diablo and Starcraft, with accompanying commentaries by the artists themselves.  It gives the reader a fascinating insight into the creative talents of the company as well as providing a visual history of Blizzard games.  What I found particularly interesting about this book was how clearly apparent the evolution and refinement of the artists techniques became as time passed, it was almost as if I were seeing physical proof of their confidence in what they were doing growing before my eyes.  Another aspect of the book I liked was the fan art submissions and how some of them were actually recruited into the Blizzard team.  This book covers everything from the early sketches right up to the completed box artwork; one of my favourite in the Diablo section was the Mistress of Pain.

Full of magnificent scenes and characters, what little text there is in this book has been thoughtfully placed so as not to intrude on the main stars of its pages, in fact in some places the writing is rather quite difficult to find and read.  This didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the book in any way, but for anyone who has a visual impairment and wants to read the text for the back story to the images it may prove to be a challenge.

However, this book does not just focus on the well know side of the company, in this book there is also a section with conceptual art for games that never were as well as a spoof chapter containing holiday themes using the more well-known characters.  In reading this book you actually get a sense that you are in the same room with the creators, listening to them discuss, accept or reject ideas for the next project whilst also sharing with them a trip down memory lane.

I would highly recommend this book whether you are a fan of Blizzard games or just a lover of fantasy art; this book touches all the bases..

divider

Review: His Majesty’s Dragon (Temeraire #1) ~ Naomi Novik

his majesty's dragonISBN ~ 978-0345481283
Publisher ~ Del Rey
No. Of Pages ~ 356 pages
Links ~ Amazon, Audible, Barnes & Noble

Aerial combat brings a thrilling new dimension to the Napoleonic Wars as valiant warriors’ ride mighty fighting dragons, bred for size or speed. When HMS Reliant captures a French frigate and seizes the precious cargo, an unhatched dragon egg, fate sweeps Captain Will Laurence from his seafaring life into an uncertain future – and an unexpected kinship with a most extraordinary creature.

Thrust into the rarified world of the Aerial Corps as master of the dragon Temeraire, he will face a crash course in the daring tactics of airborne battle. For as France’s own dragon-borne forces rally to breach British soil in Bonaparte’s boldest gambit, Laurence and Temeraire must soar into their own baptism of fire.

5 Thumbs-UpI have to admit I wasn’t expecting much from this book, after all I found it lying around on the floor at the recent Emerald City Comicon so it that didn’t bode well for it.  Once again I was proved very wrong and was pulled into this novel from the very first page; how can I have not known of this series before now? It definitely falls into the category of one of those great little secrets that not enough people know about.

The characters in this first book in the series are well-developed, but not to the point where there is no room for growth, and there is no romance which is very rare in this genre of book.  The relationship covered in this first book is that between a man and his dragon; the Temeraire (the main dragon protagonist) and Laurence (the main human protagonist) bond is a deeply emotional connection. There is palpable love between man and dragon, and their relationship is the emotional thread that weaves through the novel.   Temeraire is intelligent, logical and witty with a childlike wonder for the new world in which he finds himself.  Laurence is the battle proven Naval Captain that patiently guides him through the world in the best way he knows.  Neither of these characters have experience with the world of the other, but the Author brings those two worlds together via these characters in a realistic and caring manner.  The Author captures the warmness and sincerity of their bond, enough to give balance to all the colder, plot-driven elements of the story.   This novel is primarily an adventure, a story in wartime, an exploration of dragons in this fascinating alternate history society, but in its writing the Author doesn’t neglect the warmer, more ‘human’ side of things. There are moments of extreme emotion and emotional distress, mostly due to the closeness that aviators develop with their dragons, and each moment played out realistically. When it comes to moments of high emotion I feel that each one has to be earned in character, in story, in meaning, and I feel cheated when I think the Author  is trying to manipulate me to respond;  this Author used no manipulative techniques at all as the reader is right there feeling everything with the characters.

The world-building is handled with startling grace, given that this is the Author’s first novel.   This was one of the main pleasures of this book for me; the authentic feel of the world that was built.   It is apparent that extensive amounts of research went into correctly portraying 19th century English society, from the realities of the Navy to the manners of the drawing-room.   And best, none of it is done in a lecturing way; it is all of it presented as naturally as possible. The Author hasn’t  let research intrude  at all upon telling the story, and better yet, her addition of dragons into this world is so well thought-out (from their feeding, breeds, natural inclinations, personalities, levels of intelligence, size and temperament, mode of fighting and the innovative invention of aerial fighting) that it adds to the depiction of the historical period. In a seamless manner the Author grafts on her inventions to the known historical realities, and comes up with a beautifully realised fictional world that’s meticulously detailed and worked out. I particularly liked the fact that there is so much thought given to how the dragons would fit into this society, and she succeeds in a way that few Authors in this genre succeed.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it to anyone who likes dragons, alternate realities or fantasy; actually I recommend this book to anyone who likes a good, well written story and feel that even readers of the Master and Commander and Dragonriders series of books would enjoy this as well.   I will definitely be reading the remaining books in this series.

divider

Review: Robert Oppenheimer: A Life Inside the Center ~ Ray Monk

oppenheimerISBN ~ 978-0385504072
Publisher ~ Doubleday
No. Of Pages ~848 pages
Links ~ Random House, Amazon

Robert Oppenheimer was among the most brilliant and divisive of men. As head of the Los Alamos Laboratory, he oversaw the successful effort to beat the Nazis in the race to develop the first atomic bomb—a breakthrough that was to have eternal ramifications for mankind and that made Oppenheimer the “Father of the Atomic Bomb.” But with his actions leading up to that great achievement, he also set himself on a dangerous collision course with Senator Joseph McCarthy and his witch-hunters. In Robert Oppenheimer: A Life Inside the Center, Ray Monk, author of peerless biographies of Ludwig Wittgenstein and Bertrand Russell, goes deeper than any previous biographer in the quest to solve the enigma of Oppenheimer’s motivations and his complex personality.

The son of German-Jewish immigrants, Oppenheimer was a man of phenomenal intellectual attributes, driven by an ambition to overcome his status as an outsider and penetrate the heart of political and social life. As a young scientist, his talent and drive allowed him to enter a community peopled by the great names of twentieth-century physics—men such as Niels Bohr, Max Born, Paul Dirac, and Albert Einstein—and to play a role in the laboratories and classrooms where the world was being changed forever, where the secrets of the universe, whether within atomic nuclei or collapsing stars, revealed themselves.

But Oppenheimer’s path went beyond one of assimilation, scientific success, and world fame. The implications of the discoveries at Los Alamos weighed heavily upon this fragile and complicated man. In the 1930s, in a climate already thick with paranoia and espionage, he made suspicious connections, and in the wake of the Allied victory, his attempts to resist the escalation of the Cold War arms race led many to question his loyalties.

5 Thumbs-UpI don’t read many biographies as I tend to come out of most them with more questions than answers about the subject; this was not the case with this superb biography of Oppenheimer.

Through careful and extensive research the Author paints the picture of a man who was not only a puzzling character but a man of many contradictions. The only continuous thread that seems to run through the whole of this man’s life was his undeniable love of America, and it was this love that appears to have had an influence in many of the choices he made.  However, as the reader progresses through this large book, even this love of America is open to contradictions and leaves the reader wondering if Oppenheimer actually had loyalty to anyone but himself.  In my opinion the only consistent thread in Oppenheimer’s life was his love of physics.

This is a meaty book will definitely make a reader a think; about the justification of the Manhattan Project, about the issue of identity in America, about the morality of using Fat Man and Little Boy on the Japanese, and above all about the motives behind Oppenheimer’s actions. There is no doubt that it is exceptionally well-written, and is definitely not a book to be dipped in and out of, it is serious reading at its best without the dryness of many biographies.

I would highly recommend this Oppenheimer biography both for clearly laying out the man behind the myth that was Robert Oppenheimer and also to reveal some of the mystery that was the United States in the 1940’s and 1950’s.

divider