Thursday, September 29, 2016

A Wizard's Gambit [Book Review]

Genre - Fantasy
Year Published - 2015
Length - 400 (digital) pages
Written by Ryan Toxopeus

Rating: 4 Skulls

Plot Summary:
Thomas, Sarentha, and Eliza will learn that peace never lasts. After fighting for their freedom, wicked forces beyond the Tamorran Empire's borders rise against them. Tamor's king falters when threats of genocide and an undead plague arise. The would-be heroes must fill new roles of responsibility and power to hold Tamor together. When more menaces emerge, each darker than the last, their adventure spans the entire continent. Thomas, Sarentha, and Eliza must make difficult choices and face their darkest fears to uncover their lost history by reviving long-dead wizards. Only by illuminating the past will they be able to step into the future. One misstep could lead to their undoing.

Review:
'A Wizard's Gambit' is Book 2 in the Empire's Foundation trilogy.

There is a lot going on in this book!
(dragon attacks, the training of dragon riders, raising ancient wizards from the dead, a zombie outbreak, etc!)
Fortunately, Toxopeus made a smart move writing a couple of short stories, in between books 1 & 2, that help to fill in some of the gaps/questions.
(I definitely recommend reading the novella 'Demon Invasion' before reading this book.) *see my last post, regarding the preferred reading order of these stories*

For those who have already read 'A Noble's Quest' and are fans of the orc wizard Feng, there is a great battle near the end of this book where he faces off with the ancient dragon Fyrsanthemar: the god crusher. (I just had to mention that, as I am still pumped from that battle!)

Toxopeus bookends each book by having the prologues and epilogues tie into past events, which I love, and definitely makes me look forward to the release of 'A Hero's Birth' next year!

Jason

Monday, September 26, 2016

'1100 BGW' & 'Demon Invasion' [Double Feature Short Stories Review]

These two individual short stories coincide with the 'Empire's Foundation' trilogy, written by Ryan Toxopeus.

My previous review was 'A Noble's Quest' (Book 1 of said trilogy).

Per the author, the recommended reading order of this series is as follows:

'A Noble's Quest' (Book 1)
'1100 BGW' (Short Story)
'Demon Invasion'  (Novella)
'A Wizard's Gambit' (Book 2)
'Dawn: A Dwarven Creation Story' (Short Story Collection)
'A Hero's Birth' (Book 3 - coming in 2017)

So, following the above order, here are my reviews of the two tales between Books 1 & 2:

1100 BGW [Before God's War]
Genre - Fantasy/Short Story
Year Published - 2015
Length - 21 (digital) pages
Written by Ryan Toxopeus

Rating: 3 Skulls

Plot Summary:
Amurtag and her fellow minotaur farmers are called away from the harvest by the priests. Margaff, their new chief, is making a play for power over all the minotaur tribes using a secret weapon. But when Amurtag questions him publicly, he shares his vision for the future. The question is, will everyone stand by and allow him to take control?

Review:
What I liked about this story is that it is centered around minotaurs. Margaff is named their new emperor, and it is his wish to unite all of the tribes and bring peace to all of the races...

Within this story, you also discover that the dwarves may not have been the 1st created race after all, as previously believed in Toxopeus' world. The 1st created race may in fact have been the Aeri - half man/half bird beings, created by the Titans, Air & Earth, to have dominion over the sky and the land.

While not tying in directly with anything that happened in Book 1, this is still an interesting read, taking place in the same world, well before the events in 'A Noble's Quest'.

Demon Invasion
Genre - Fantasy/Novella
Year Published - 2016
Length - 93 (digital) pages
Written by Ryan Toxopeus

Rating: 4 Skulls

Plot Summary:
The demon lord Zeracth has a plan to take an army to the world of Illuma. However, his spawn Glezxnodin has his own plans to save his people and create a demon nation.

Illuma at first appears ripe for the taking, but the world has changed since the demons fled ages ago and many new challenges await them.

Review:
I get that demon's true names are most definitely unpronouncable, however this makes for very distracting reading!
(A perfect example: Ffckookckck)
Fortunately, Toxopeus has included a glossary, at the back of this book, that makes the names much easier. (Still, I found myself skimming over the majority of the names, or just coming up with shorter versions.)

Once you become accustomed to the names, you realize that Toxopeus has actually created a really good, intriguing story. One that I believe to be tying in directly to the Empire's Foundation trilogy.

Stay tuned for my upcoming review of Book 2!

Jason

P. S. Google's Blogger App is still not allowing me to post pictures of the book covers. (I keep being told, "pictures not found") Unless this issue gets fixed, you will need to read these reviews on my Google+ profile, in order to see the cover art.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

A Noble''s Quest [Book Review]

This review was originally posted on my Google+ profile, earlier this month. For whatever reason, Google's Blogger app was acting up. It looks like the issue has been resolved, however the app is not allowing me to post the book's cover. :(

Here is the review:

Genre - Fantasy
Year Published - 2012
Length - 288 (digital) pages
Written by Ryan Toxopeus

Rating: 4 Skulls

Plot Summary:
Two lumberjacks, Thomas and Sarentha, flee everything they know when Thomas murders a co-worker. In the dead of night, a cloaked noble approaches and offers them a sum of coins they cannot refuse. His sole request is for the pair to retrieve an amethyst from a tomb. From there, they are introduced to Eliza, a spirited and head-strong noblewoman who proves her competence with her skills in diplomacy and combat. Together with Thomas’ strength and steadfastness, and Sarentha’s drive and inquisitiveness, the trio makes an odd but capable group. Their adventures take them across the lands of the Tamorran Empire to witness sights they never imagined. With grand plans in motion, everything hinges on Thomas, Sarentha, and Eliza’s success. Artefacts need to be crafted, alliances need to be formed, and above all, secrets need to be kept. Not even their own allies know every facet of the noble’s quest, and he plays a dangerous game by creating plots within plots. Can the disparate trio hold together throughout their trials? What secret does the noble know that causes him to go to such extraordinary lengths to succeed? Dark shadows blanket the Tamorran Empire, and illuminating those secrets will bring a terrifying truth.

Review:
I absolutely loved the prologue to this story, where we are introduced to humanity's greatest champion and hero, Matthew Strongblade.

The book then jumps ahead 450 years later to where we meet best friends Sarentha and Thomas who, after getting themselves into some trouble, are approached by a mysteriously cloaked figure who offers to send the two of them on a quest. Fortunately for us, the two friends, being the adventurous type, accept the offer.

Toxopeus has crafted a fun, well-thought-out, classic fantasy tale that is perfect for lovers of Dungeons & Dragons and for fans of the Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms books.

This is book one of the series, and I am looking forward to reading the next book. As much I enjoy Thomas and Sarentha's adventures (as well as several other characters - namely a "Rager" dwarf named Thurzin) I am hoping for some more stories from the past. (In Toxopeus' timeline, BGW - Before the God's War)

Jason

Monday, August 29, 2016

Shrouded Voices: Tales of Terror and Fantasy [Anthology Review]

Genre - Horror/Fantasy (Anthology)
Year Published - 2016
Length - 67 (digital) pages
Written by +Zane Dowling​, +Theresa Jacobs​, +David Kummer​, and Peter Vialls

Rating: 3 Skulls

Plot Summary:
A Compilation of Short Stories: Wondrous adventures await you beneath Shrouded Voices. Ageless and timeless, four adventurers set out on journeys all their own, but fate wound their tales together. Lead by the fearless Theresa Jacobs, they threw their lots in as a team with one goal – to vanquish the evil wizard of time, Obscuritmos. Follow their individual tales as they weave together to form the powerful weapon that will one day vanquish their dark enemy to bring their new light into the world. Well maybe not ageless, but definitely timeless, Theresa Jacobs has truly accomplished something great. With Zane Dowling as her Chief Editor, Theresa set out to bring the works of her friends, as well as her own, to this short but powerful compilation of stories. Shrouded Voices showcases not only her own talents as an author, but those of other outstanding authors, Zane D. Dowling, David Kummer, and Peter Vialls. Each of these accomplished authors have novels of their own. If you enjoy their works in this compilation, you are sure to enjoy their individual novels. Please check them out on the internet and let the adventures begin.

Review:
I am not sure how accurate the above description really is, but it does point out that anthologies/short stories are a good way to discover new authors that you may  enjoy, and with that I wholeheartedly agree.

The standout author in this collection is Theresa Jacobs, whose story 'The Followers' makes this collection worth getting. There are also 8 other (very short) stories that were pretty much hit and miss with me. Keep an eye on this one to go free again. You may find an enjoyable tale or two.

Jason

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Lament of the Fallen - The Last Bucelarii: Book 2 [Book Review]

Genre - (Dark) Fantasy
Year Published - 2016
Length - 376 (digital) pages
Written by Andy Peloquin

Rating: 4 Skulls

Plot Summary:
The Hunter of Voramis is no more.

Alone with the bloodthirsty voices in his head, fleeing the pain of loss, he has one objective; travel North to find her, the mystery woman who plagues his dreams and haunts his memories.

When he stumbles upon a bandit attack, something within urges him to help. His actions set him at odds with the warrior priests commanded to hunt down the Bucelarii.

Left for dead, the Hunter must travel to Malandria to recover his stolen birthright. There, he is inexorably drawn into direct conflict with the Order of Midas, the faceless, nameless group of magicians that hold the city in a grip of terror.
All the while struggling to silence the ever-louder voice in his mind that drives him to kill.

Review:
In this sequel to 'Blade of the Destroyer', we discover the ramifications of The Hunter killing his victims with his blade, Soulhunger.

When we last left The Hunter, he had burned his city to the ground and every man of The Bloody Hand along with it. He had killed the Demon of Voramis and his Dark Heresy. Fleeing the city that he lived in for decades, The Hunter is now at war with the voices in his head, demanding blood.

If you read my review of the first book in this series, you will notice that I rated this book 1-star less. The reason for this is that The Hunter is not the same as he was in the first book. (I understand that he is going through a personal journey, and that is why this book still received 4-stars - the journey is great!) My biggest issue is that The Hunter is [***slight spoiler***] the whole book (it is kind of like reading a story about your favorite super hero, without their super powers). This caused a few seemingly erratic moments for me - particularly when The Hunter has a problem with two street thugs, and yet soon thereafter he has not much of a problem with three trained assassins!

Aside from the above, the storytelling in this book is still top notch! Having The Hunter battle his conscious regarding needless killing, and placing the majority of the story in Malandria (City of a Thousand Spires) worked for me. I am still definitely looking forward to the 3rd book in this series ('Gateway to the Past') coming out next year!

Jason

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Awakening [Book Review]

Today is the day - 'The Awakening' is finally being released for your consumption! (I received an advance copy of this book, back in June, flew through it, and have been waiting ever since to post this review!)

Trust me on this one - just buy this book - you will not be disappointed! It is absolutely phenomenal!

In case you are unfamiliar with the backstory, here is some history:

Back in 2014, I read Pete Kahle​'s debut novel 'The Specimen', and it ended up being my favorite book of that year. Since then, Kahle has entered the publishing field and established 'Bloodshot Books'. Underneath the 'Bloodshot Books' banner, Kahle has a "Second Sight Imprint" where he is currently seeking out authors whose published works have gone out of print and republishing them under 'Bloodshot Books'. Brett McBean's 'The Awakening' (which was originally published in 2012) is the first book to be released under this imprint.

Now that the history lesson has concluded, on with my review:

Genre - "Coming of Age"
Year Published - 2016 (a 2012 reprinting)
Published by Bloodshot Books/Second Sight Imprint
Length - 441 (digital) pages
Written by Brett McBean

Rating: 5+ Skulls

Review:
I have to start this review off with a WARNING: Do not attempt to read/start this book until you definitely have some free time on your hands - otherwise, things might not get done! ;-)

Also, if you noticed, I have bypassed the plot summary for this book. (I will post it after the review, for inquiring minds, though I highly suggest skipping it this time around!) The reason for this is that when I read this book, I knew absolutely nothing about it, and I was the better for it.

If you missed my Google+ post yesterday, I posted this quote, "A good book makes you want to live in the story. A great book gives you no choice." This applies perfectly to 'The Awakening' - it is a great book, and you are given no choice but to live it out, consequences and all!

This is a book that allows you to relive your childhood - your early teenage years, where it is the start of summer, being able to camp out with friends, watch late night creature-features, get into mischief, and if you were lucky enough, to also have that "creepy neighbor". . .

This is, by far, the absolute best "coming of age" story that I have read! This is the first book that I have read by McBean (a phenomenal storyteller!), and I can guarantee that it will not be the last. (McBean is an author whose entire library I plan on reading!)

I cannot/will not give anything else away at this point. I will tell you this though - I was amazed to discover that I was already 150 or so pages into this book, when I realized that nothing of significance had even happened, yet the story is still fantastic! It is also, right around this time, that the story takes a climactic turn, time jumps, and shifts gears. All I can say is hold on tight and enjoy the ride!

Jason

Oh yeah, I almost forgot, for those of you wanting a plot summary - read at your own risk!

Plot Summary:
For as long as he can remember, fourteen-year-old Toby Fairchild has been afraid of the strange old man living across the street. Along with the rest of the kids in the small midwestern town of Belford, he sees the reclusive Mr. Joseph as the local bogeyman.

Mr. Joseph's life is an unhappy one. The memories of his past fill him with deep sorrow, and the kids of Belford have long been afraid of him, what with his unusual features and awkward gait.

However, when Toby accidentally discovers the remarkable truth about Mr. Joseph, an unlikely friendship develops. Over the course of the summer, Toby will come to know about pain and death; loss and the meaning of freedom, as Mr. Joseph recounts the incredible story of his past back in Haiti.

***I implore you not to read any further, if you want to be surprised - Spoilers Below***

This is a story laced with voodoo spirits, slave plantations, evil sorcerers... and zombis.

Toby will learn that monsters do exist - though not always where you expect to find them.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Lanmò: A Tale of Southern Horror [Short Story Review]

Genre - Horror
Year Published - 2015
Published by Shadow Work Publishing
Length - 53 (digital) pages
Written by Thomas S. Flowers

Rating: 4 Skulls

Plot Summary:
1964 Mississippi.
John Turner, a young black man canvassing for votes in the Delta, is pulled over by local police on a rural, dusty road. After carrying out what they believed was their civic duty, the klansmen believed they'd gotten away with what they did to John. But they  didn't know the powers residing in those dark Delta woods. And they certainly didn't bank on southern voodoo.

Review:
This is a hard-hitting, punch you right in the gut, kind of story!

Flowers excels at putting you in the time-period, living out exactly what happens to John. You can feel the sweat and the terror emanating from the character.

A cringe-worthy, satisfying read!

Jason