The Exile of Sara Stevenson: The Review

Exile-of-Sara-StevensonThe Exile of Sara Stevenson; Darci Hannah, 2010; Ballantine Books

“The Exile of Sara Stevenson” was Hannah’s first novel, but I began my own introduction to her authorship via her second, “The Angel of Blythe Hall“.

As with the second,  the author picked two of my favorite things to write about; Scotland and fantasy (well the fantasy part was a little on the light side, but there none the less).  Now I’m not a huge fan of romance, but if done with the right blend of history and quality character development, I’m willing to make an exception. So based on my enjoyment of novel number two, I went back for novel number one.

I thought the overall story was good, but light on both history and character development. The first maybe not such a big deal (since the author only used history as a point of reference) but the second…well it might have been her use of first person that left everyone, except for the heroine and her counter-part, half done. I for one would have like to have seen more from the other characters.

There was good use of plot and intrigue (though both took rather a long time to develop), yet I think there were several aspects  of the story, had they been fleshed out more, would have added a lot to it (particularly the area of Scottish smuggler’s). As well as several she could have done without.

My favorite aspect of the entire book was its ending; which truth to tell almost made up for any other disappointments I may have had. Fact of the matter is if it were me, I might have begun with it, instead. But I’m not, and a book is like a child; you can stand around all day and tell its parent how you think it should be raised, but at the end of the day it’s still their child, not yours.

The upside… her second book was even better than the first, which tells me that in all likelihood we’ll be seeing even better stories coming from Darci Hannah in the future.

On my reader’s scale of 1-5 stars, I’m giving The Exile of Sara Stevenson 3.5 stars.

The Mark of Ran: The Review

The Mark of Ran; Paul Kearney, 2005; Bantam Books

A writer has less than five pages to grab my rather short attention span, unless they are someone like Terry Brooks who’s ten or twenty page introduction is almost always worth the wait. Paul Kearney managed to do it within two, by using the theory less is more; at least in the beginning.

For the majority of “The Mark of Ran”, a first in what was originally intended to be a four book series, the author invests a considerable about of time developing his main character’s Rowen and Rol Cortishane – particularly the mystery surrounding Rol. And though I am not a sailing buff myself, Kearney’s well placed nautical terminology didn’t leave me lost and wondering in the wilderness of ‘guy stuff’. Instead it left me feeling as though I’d just finished a really enjoyable story and couldn’t wait to read Book Two; “The Forsaken Earth”

But this review isn’t really about the story or whether I like or don’t like tales written about sea pirates and confused young men. Rather its about style and whether the author’s writing should be lauded or panned. Since I’m not particularly fond of being mean just for the sake of being mean,  if this had been about a poorly written book, I’d either not have written a review or at least have watered down the criticism. But fortunately for all who read it, The Mark of Ran is not a poorly written book; if anything Kearney’s authorship is one of the best I’ve seen in a long time. Fact is, if I were to compare his ability to paint stories rather than tell them, I’d have to compare him to Norman McClean; author of “A River Runs Through It”. Which when you think about it is weird because McClean didn’t write fantasy and his stories certainly don’t rise out of the landscapes of mythology or Nintendo Game Boys (though theology was at the heart of at least the first one).

So why the comparison?

paul-kearneyWhen I read “The River Runs Through It” I was immediately struck by the author’s ability to describe fly fishing in a way that made me feel as though I was right there. As if I were the one casting the line, gauging how the current would carry the fly and what each ripple and swell of water meant. I became the character. I stood in that river, under an August sun completely melded with the moment. And it didn’t matter that I’d never been fly fishing a day in my life, or that I melt in temperatures above 72 degrees, or that I wouldn’t know a ‘Bass Popper’ from a ‘Sneaky Pete’ if one snagged itself in my pink Roper hat. All that was important is that the author did and he used that knowledge to immerse me in his experience – empowering me to make it my own.

And that is exactly what Kearney has done; used words to bring us vicariously into his experience and then invite us to make it our own.

Can’t wait to sneak off with the second book and spend the day sailing, drinking cheap wine and finding out whether Rol Cortishane is god or man.

On my reader’s scale of 1 to 5 I’m giving “The Mark of Ran” 4 stars for being a darn good story and 5 to Paul Kearney  for writing it so well I now want my own pirate ship.

The Key: The Review

The Key; Simon Toyne, 2012; Harper Collins Publishers

Sancti Trilogy

It’s always a good thing when I come across a new author that expands my collage of reading material, by beckoning me to leave planet Shawn and visit worlds beyond; and this of course is what Toyne did with “Sanctus”, and continues to do with his second novel, “The Key”.

I’m not a huge fan of religious conspiracy theories – having grown up under the doom and gloom of dispensationalism – but I find Toyne’s approach to theology, relics, political intrigue, and romance to be refresh enough, that it was worth the read.

By taking a very old story and spinning it in an entirely new direction, the author forces his readers to step back and rethink a few things about; the Catholic Church, ecology, and the concept of ‘mother earth’. Which, with my proclivity towards chaos, I rather enjoy, as nothing gets people’s panties in a bunch faster  than to have their beliefs about creation, the fall, and what it is that keeps the universe spinning round, challenged.

I should know, I’m continually having to adjust my own.13092142

So if you like to be offended, and you don’t mind having your notions about the battle for good and evil, God, Jesus, and what really happens behind the closed doors of organized religion, then buy the book, find a comfy place to put up your feet, and prepare to be entertained.

If on the other hand, you believe it is your self-appointed  job to defend Scripture at all costs,  and thrive on being offended – even outraged – then I recommend the same thing; buy the book, find a comfy spot to put up your feet, and prepare to be offended.

Either way, you’ll have read a good book and helped promote a promising author.

On my readers scale of 1-5, I’m giving “The Key” a 3.5 for story, and a 4 for originality.


Dawnthief: The Review

th_ebf486218337267c1b432845a3df25be_1301584663_magicfields_cover_artwork_1_1Dawnthief; James Barclay, 2009; Prometheus Books, Amherst, NY

Dawnthief is a first for author James Barclay and myself, and I must say for a first book-date it was  pretty sketchy. Not that I don’t think the novel (first in three series “Chronicles of the Raven”) was an intentionally badly written book. I actually thought for a fantasy novel the author created a rather unique story line. Which lets face it, with over one hundred thousand new authors cranking out manuscripts per year, is not all that easy to do.

No, my issue with the book wasn’t about content or characters or even story line; all three aspects of the book have what it takes to create a really good tale. What I was disappointed in  was that the author took the ingredients for a really great story and only wrote half of it. Kind of like having all the ingredients for a frittata, then only cooking it half way through. The result being, Barclay ended up with a story that, in my not so humble opinion, is one of the most underdeveloped, finished stories, I’ve ever read.

What only took the author 399 pages to say, should have taken him at least twice as many, if not more. Where he was given incredible opportunities to create layers of richly done back story, intrigue, and world building, Barclay  instead chose to serve up only what he absolutely had to and still call it a book. Almost as though he was afraid that if he used too many words he’d bore the reader. The only boredom this reader suffered was the recurring disappointment of a half told story.

I generally file novels in one of three categories: Bad, Good, and Fabulous. After reading Dawnthief, I now find myself compelled to create a fourth: Had all the potential of a great novel but…

Will I be reading “Noonshade“; #2  in the “Chronicles of the Raven”? Let’s just say my perpetually optimistic outlook is the only reason I’m considering it.

On my reader scale of 1-5 stars, “Dawnthief” gets 3 stars for overall read, and 4 for potential. Crossing my fingers my generosity is not wasted.

Abraham Lincoln|Vampire Hunter: The Review

vampirehunter_custom-s6-c10Abraham Lincoln – Vampire Hunter; Seth Grahame-Smith, 2010; Grand Central Publishing, NY


That was the expletive that escaped my lips when I finished the last word, of the last line, of the last paragraph of this book. I was completely taken by surprise.

I had originally wanted to go see the movie at a local theater, but as I hate going to films by myself (the result of cultivating friends who don’t share my pre-disposition for vampires, werewolves, and other urban legendary things) I opted out and figured I’d just rent it when it came out on DVD.

Then, much to my surprise, I was cruising the fiction section at my local library and discovered that the movie was taken from Seth Grahame-Smith’s book. Excellent! I’d read it first, and if I didn’t like the book, I wouldn’t have to waste my time on the film.

Read it in one afternoon. Now I just hope the film is as good as the book; if not, I’m going to be really bummed.MV5BMjAzODY1MTc3OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNDczNzk5NQ@@._V1._SY314_CR3,0,214,314_

I am not usually one for giving my approval to authors who take perfectly good classics and butcher them with gruesome tabloid style sensationalism. Like any good purest, I like my Jane Austen on the right shelf, my Jim Butcher on the left, and my biographies somewhere in the middle: all three hold a sacred place on the shelves of my library; all three know their place in the realms of fictional verisimilitude; seldom if ever do they cross the line.

So where in the world am I going to put “Abraham Lincoln; Vampire Hunter”?

Not only has the author crossed the lines between history, fiction, and truth with vicissitude and style,  but he’s done it so flawlessly, I can never look at Lincoln’s Memorial  in quiet the same way again. Fact is, if more history was written with this kind of bent realism, we probably wouldn’t be having as many problems getting kids to stay in school and get descent SAT scores as we do. They’d be lining up to get a seat in every US and World History class – guaranteed.

On my readers scale of one to five, I’m giving “Abraham Lincoln – Vampire Hunter”, four stars.

Intimate Life Lessons:developing the intimacy with God you already have.

5.0 out of 5 stars

A Lifestyle of Intimacy With God, July 14, 2012

This review is from: Intimate Life Lessons (Kindle Edition)

When I read this book I was struck by how simple Linda makes developing a lifestyle of intimacy with God the Father. Growing up in traditional church, I was taught that everything is about Jesus (which it is), but the fact that He came to reveal the Father was sadly neglected.

Linda helps the reader regain a childlike relationship with the Father God that He intended for us to have all along. Each chapter contains easy to follow suggestions for overcoming doubt, erroneous traditions and our own wrong imaginings. She guides the reader from the outer court of our minds to the inner court of our hearts,  and helps us become, once again,  introduced to the one who loves us so much,  that He sent His only Son to die for us as proof. SSpjut

Intimate Life Lessons: by Linda Boone

Everyone tells you that you need to be intimate with God but no one tells you HOW. Finally a how-to book on intimacy.

This book takes the mystic out of intimacy with God and teaches it in simple terms with simple exercises.

Each chapter will give you: a short explanation or training on the how-to; an intimate moment section, which is a word from God to you; and an activation exercise. Group discussion guide also included.

God desires your heart and longs to give you His. He invites you on a journey of the heart. Linda Boone: Real Love Encounter His Love Ministry

This Dark Endeavor

Simon & Schuster; 2011

by Kenneth Oppel

Whether I was eight  reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit”, or fifty-six reading Anne Rice’s “The Wolf Gift”, I have been, and always will be, a voracious reader looking for the ultimate  voyeuristic literary experience: a story that invites me to immerse myself within the mind, thoughts, and emotions of the authors creations.

A seduction of the senses used to lure me into becoming  one with the  very humanistic passions, victories, and despairs of its characters.

Kenneth Oppel’s “This Dark Endeavor” has accomplished all that, and more.

I don’t remember what it was that first drew me to read “This Dark Endeavor”, as I’d never heard of Kenneth Oppel or any of his other YA books such as, “Airborn”, “Skywing” or “Skybreaker” .

It might have been a review I read somewhere (though I don’t usually put much stock in other people’s reviews, or even my own for that matter), Facebook post or Twitter tweets. More than likely I saw it at the library (still, after all these years, one of my favorite haunts) proudly displayed on their  “New Arrivals” shelf;  flaunting what I think is a very cleverly designed book cover (Let’s face it, front covers make or break books. Find yourself a great cover artist and you sell even the worst prose. But get stuck with a moderately, so-so one; might as well bury the book somewhere in the middle of a fifty-cent bin.).

Regardless of where I first discovered the book, the fact that I did, and that I liked it well enough to run right out and locate the sequel,  should say a lot for what I think about the author, his characters, and the story he tells.

“You can’t eat [literature], that’s the problem,” he said. “I’ve tried, it’s very dry, and not at all nutritious.”
― Kenneth Oppel

Not only is the book well written,  and the plot and its characters nicely developed, but Kenneth Oppel has done a brilliant job of exploring the unspoken question in Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”; “Who was the real monster; the creature or its creator?”

Throughout the main protagonist-antagonist’s story,  Victor Frankenstein’s narrative search to find a cure for his twin’s mysterious illness, Oppel  enlightens  us with  glimpses into the nature and soul of a young man at war with himself;  the moral obligation to do what is right and good,  against the inner darkness to  become the god-man he secretly believes himself to be.

Oppel  helps his readers to do this by exploring the humanistic schizophrenia that lives within us all: that at one time or another in the journey of every life, each of us will be forced to choose between darkness and light, human or god; and that hidden within the very best of intentions, are motives powerful enough to deceive us all.

It is the precursor to the mind and heart of a man,  who in later years, will be forced to come face to face with the dichotomy of his own heart.

“This Dark Endeavor” is one of those books that should,  and or will be found (in my not so humble opinion), on the bookshelves of the; young and old, classical or pulp, serious or flibbertigibbet.

On a scale of one to five, I’m giving “This Dark Endeavor” a four and half.

Book Two: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein: “Such Wicked Intent

From the laptop of an uncensored dreamer,


Author: Kenneth Oppel

Kenneth Oppel.
August 31, 1967; Spouse; Philippa Sheppard
Born in Port Alberni, British Columbia, he spent his childhood in Victoria, British Columbia and Halifax, Nova Scotia.
He has also lived in Newfoundland and Labrador, England and Ireland. Wikipedia
Awards: Vicky Metcalf Award, Governor General’s Award for English language children’s literature.
Nominations: Michael L. Printz Award, Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, Locus Award for Best Young-Adult Book, Carnegie Medal.
Kenneth Oppel is the author of numerous books for young readers. His award-winning Silverwing trilogy has sold over a million copies worldwide, and been adapted as an animated TV series and stage play. Airborn was winner of a Michael L Printz Honor Book Award, and the Canadian Governor General’s Award for Children’s Literature; its sequel, Skybreaker, was a New York Times bestseller and was named Children’s Novel of the Year by the London Times. His most recent books are THIS DARK ENDEAVOR and SUCH WICKED INTENT, prequels to the gothic classic Frankenstein. Born on Vancouver Island, he has lived in Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, England, Ireland, and now lives in Toronto with his wife and children.

The Heretic’s Wife

 Brenda Rickman Vantrease, ST. Martin’s Press, New York, 2012

Among the natural rights of the colonists are these: First a right to life, secondly to liberty, and thirdly to property; together with the right to defend them in the best manner they can.”  Samuel Adams

Several years ago I purchased Ms. Vantrease’s book, “The Mercy Seller” but just couldn’t get into the story line. Not that there was anything wrong with the storyline, but during that period of my life,  I wasn’t reading a lot of fictional books, so trying to make myself read this one wasn’t working.

But then a couple of weeks ago I came across the “The Heretic’s Wife” and thought, “What the heck. The worst thing that can happen is that it’ll end up on the slowly growing pile of books I can’t even pay myself to read, let alone waste the time to comment on.”

Let me start off by assuring both the reader, as well as the author, that this book was worth not only the time it took for me  to read it, but the time it took to  comment as well.

I’d also like to add, that I have placed  it on a shelf as far from the garbage heap of  the unread and discarded,  as possible.

It was truly one of my favorite history reads to-date (It doesn’t’ hurt that I am a huge fan of that particular era of history (1500-1600 AD), or that as a Christian,  I am always fascinated by people who have lived a life of conviction, no matter the cost).

Brenda Rickman Vantrease

Bookpod: Brenda Rickman Vantrease: freedom-of-speech-in-tudor-england

Set in the early 1500’s during the reign of King Henry the VIII, the author  does a brilliant job of drawing out of history annuals the players and events surrounding the persecution of people like William Tyndale, John Firth and hundreds of others involved with interpreting and publishing the Holy Scriptures from Latin into other languages. People persecuted and burned at the stake  by  individuals such  as Sir Thomas More, Thomas Cromwell , John Fisher and Mary Queen of Scots (to name only a few); who believed themselves to be the ambassadors of God, the Holy Roman Papacy, and  King;  men and women convinced that it was their responsibility to eradicate, at all costs, any and all who would try and  advocate for religious, government, or social reform.

The main character of this story  is Kate Gough-Firth;  sister to John Gough (an historically known English Bookseller and smuggler of Luther and Tyndale’s printed scriptures); fictional wife to John Firth (historical translator of scriptures from Latin to English) and instigator of Finnish woman of faith (woman later arrested and burned as seditionist’s  and witches).

Through no intentional plan on her part, Kate finds herself;  harboring  the much sought for Oxford – student -turned – heretic John Firth; smuggling New Testament Bibles across England’s borders,  and leading others in the pursuit of religious freedom. It’s a story told through the eyes and heart of a woman caught up and  tossed through history  by the passion and convictions of those she loves.

“I come hither, good people, accused and condemned for an heretic, Sir Thomas More being my accuser and my judge. And these be the articles that I die for. First, I say it is lawful for every man and woman to have God’s book in their mother tongue. Second, that the Bishop of Rome is Antichirst…The Lord forgive Sir Thomas More”. Statement Made By James Bainham Upon His Burning, April 1532

“The Heretic’s Wife” has all the rich ingredients of  history, conviction, injustice, and romance that make for a good read.  But even more than that, it is a reminder that we in America (and other democratic countries), live  off the freedoms that our ancestors paid dearly for. And whether you’re a Christian, Muslim, Atheist, Agnostic,  or Buddhist,  the fact that we have the liberty to read, speak, and protest without threat to life, family, or goods, is something we should always be grateful for,  and  never take lightly.

When I see Americans and people from other nations or  cultures  protesting in front of our government buildings, businesses,  and schools,  condemning whatever political – special interest group that is currently pissing  them off,  I breath a prayer of thanksgiving that we are still able to do that;  because somebody else had the courage to stand up to the Nero’s, Pope Peter’s, Sir Thomas More’s, slave trader-owners, or denier of human rights,  and demand  all human beings have the right to pursue conviction of faith and political belief (more often than not, at the cost to their own lives).

“Let it not make thee despair, neither yet discourage thee, O reader, that it is forbidden thee in pain of life and goods … to read the Word of thy soul’s health; …for if God be on our side, what matter maketh it who be against us, be they bishops, cardinals, popes…” From William Tyndale’s The Obedience of a Christian Man, 1528

So whatever your religious preference (or not), literary interest, political persuasion, or internal moral compass, the right to breathe and enjoy the freedoms you do have, should awaken in you a sense of gratitude and awe. You may not like our current political leaders or social reformers, but as long as they are protecting the rights our forefathers (and  military personnel), who have or are currently shedding their own blood and fortune for us,  then at least have the decency to honor their measure of bravery as well.

I have to rate “The Heretic’s Wife” at four stars for overall plot and story, and four and a five for its ability to weave history with conviction of faith. Excellent!

From the laptop of an uncensored dreamer,