Tag Archives: highly recommended

Convergence (Eve of Redemption #7)

Title: Convergence

Author: Joe Jackson

Series: Eve of Redemption #7

Erik has been kidnapped, but his family is determined to get him back. But Erik isn’t the only problem facing Kari. The city is still smouldering from the aftermath of the attacks, and her body is warning her she can’t keep going with these kinds of adventures . . .

I received a free review copy from the author. However, I liked it enough I also bought the book.

As expected from the ominous news last book, Erik’s situation is grim. Captured by the demon lord he and the Silver Blades once bested, held deep within demon-controlled territory, there’s little chance he’ll be rescued. Yet knowing his siblings, he knows they’ll try.

I liked the unexpected way this worked out. The split viewpoint really helps here, as we can see Erik’s inside view of the situation, as well as Kris’s approach to infiltrating deep enough to have a chance at getting him back. But the complications—some good, some bad—keep forcing both sides to change their approach.

Also, I’m never going to get tired of these werewolves. Sharyn is just enough like the beshathans to cause some really fun interactions.

Kris is a very different leader from Kari or Erik. He takes account of the people with him, the situation around him, and is constantly planning. I like how he’s aware of the potential problems with having fighters who have never actually killed before, and how he deals with the psychological aspects of his team and the enemy. He’s also suitably epic in fights, although I get the feeling he’s got much more in reserve. His divine heritage works somewhat differently than Kari’s gift from Sakkrass.

I like that Kris is a Christian, and acknowledges that this poses a few theological difficulties in a world with multiple gods, but since the plot isn’t here to argue about such niceties, the story just notes it and moves on. In some ways his is a harder faith than Kari, who can interact more directly with her gods, but he’s rock solid in it. And it doesn’t stop him from encouraging Liria to connect with her own creator, Sakkrass.

I also liked getting more of Corbanis. He’s fighting for the family he’s just gotten back, and he’s also quite amusing when he’s really mad.

“Hang on, Aeligos gave me his lock picks,” Corbanis said. He pulled the shield off his back and slammed his girth behind it into the door, smashing the flimsy portal off its hinges with ease. “That was easier than he makes it out to be…”

Erik gets quite a nice arc too. I liked that some of his rough edges are knocked off almost unintentionally as he finds himself in uncharted territory. I can’t wait to see the ways this will change things going forward. I like how an earlier kindness cycled back around again and gave him so much.

We also get a bit of an update on Typhonix, which was nice. Some intriguing hints point to future stories, but for now it’s mostly an interlude to keep everyone up to date.

In an interesting twist, Kari herself isn’t a member of the rescue squad. She’s done so much the last several books, with not much of a chance to take a break, and I think it’s great we see some of that catching up with her enough to force her to tend to her own needs. Of course, that doesn’t mean she’s on vacation. With her house burned down, the Order a mess from the recent incursion, and various other things that crop up, a long journey might have felt like a break.

And by the end she’s MORE than made up for any lower-key things she was involved in before. Kari on the warpath is capable of some delightfully enormous mayhem . . .

I also found it hysterical that Kari finally learns the meaning of the insult she’s been so casually slinging around, and her reaction to the whole episode is priceless.

Overall this is yet another solid entry in a fantastic series. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

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Dark & Day (Dark & Day #1)

Title: Dark & Day

Author: Israel Grey

Series: Dark & Day #1

Jonothon lives in the Twilight—the border country that separates Dark and Day. But when he finds an ancient artifact, he might have set off the end of his world. Now he’s racing to keep the artifact out of the hands of the Queen of Dark, before the forces of Day are crushed . . .

This book is made of awesome. The sheer amount that’s packed into the story should make it feel confusing, but it all just works. Because Jonothon is of the Dark, we get more detail about the Dark. Loosely, it’s science versus magic, on a world where the sun only ever shines on one side of the planet. Both sides have a multitude of races, but the Dark also has mechs, cyborgs, and “hollows”—holograms. In fact body modification is so common in Dark that staying “natural” is equivalent to choosing to live like a caveman. And given the way they do computers, it’s also true.

I liked the layers of mythology with the stories of the seven seraphim, and the way it’s never quite clear how much of this is true. I liked how the story challenges Jonothon about dealing with reality, and how both Dark and Day have their own stories that blind them to what they might otherwise see. I liked that it wasn’t quite as black and white as it initially appears.

The illustrations are gorgeous. My only wish is that they’d show up in color when I read it on the computer. It was great to see all the characters, and some, like Celeste, were a reference I didn’t catch until I saw the picture.

Which was the other thing that made me smile. There are callbacks to Final Fantasy, Tolkien, and more. It’s not so big as to be a ripoff, or so obvious as to be distracting, but it’s a nice little wink to those who recognize names like Wedge and Biggs.

Overall, if you have any interest in fantasy adventure stories, read this. The world is bursting with detail, the pace never lets up, the story careens around all sorts of twists and turns, and the end pulled everything together in a satisfying conclusion. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

Psyren (Manga)

Title: Psyren
Volumes: 1-16 (chapters 1-146, complete)

Ageha is a kid who likes to fight. He says he’ll solve problems for 10,000 yen, but that’s just an excuse to get into trouble. But when a former friend asks him for help, then disappears, he’s determined to figure out all the things she didn’t say and solve a mystery far bigger than he ever imagined . . .

This is primarily a mystery-driven story, so I’m going to try to avoid talking about plot or even characters as much as possible, since spoiling too much would ruin the fun. What I will say is that the story rockets through its twists and turns. The sci-fi angle starts by the end of the first chapter, and Ageha soon understands why Amamiya always looked so strung out. Now he’s stuck in the game as deeply as she is, and one false move will get them killed.

I really liked the characters, especially the four kids. Kyle was a particular favorite—he was rambunctious without being annoying, he had a neat darker-skinned character design, and his enthusiasm never lets up even when the situation looks extremely grim. And Ageha’s relationship with those kids, and his desire to protect them, changes their lives quite a bit.

Although Psyren doesn’t have the benefit of an anime, it does have the benefit of being complete. All volumes have been released by Viz, making it easy to acquire. (I can hope it gets the Ushio and Tora treatment of getting an anime adaptation well after the fact, but I won’t hold my breath.)

Overall this is another recommendation I’m glad I followed. The series is well worth checking out. It does end a bit fast, but the major story completes in a satisfactory way, and there were only a few bits that felt like they should have been fleshed out. I rate this series Highly Recommended.

Radiation (Of Cats and Dragons #2)

Title: Radiation

Author: Carol E. Leever and Camilla Ochlan

Series: Of Cats and Dragons #2

Omen tried to stay out of trouble. Really. But when he and Tormy get the chance, he begs for a quest–and not just any quest, but something huge and important that only he can complete. So Etar, his divine brother, gives him one. Now Omen must hunt down another divine sibling in a world utterly desolate . . .

I liked the second book even better than the first. We get a lot more backstory on Omen, Omen’s family, and Templar. I love how the history is so rich that every story brings questions about a dozen more details. I never thought there was a reason behind the names in Omen’s family, and now I want to see a story about his parents since their lives were at least as interesting as his. And ouch, poor Templar. No wonder he’s always a bit on edge. Although it hasn’t stopped his sense of humor.

The friendship between Omen and Templar continues to be one of my favorite parts, even though in this book it took something of a backseat to Omen’s “epic quest” and an extended adventure for Lilyth, Omen’s sister. Templar and Omen arguing about who exactly is the bad influence on whom was hysterical, as was Templar’s succinct summation of Omen’s quest (quote below review for those wanting to avoid spoilers).

And the new characters were all compelling. I really liked Etar, a younger god that is more or less Omen’s brother. Kyr is just adorable despite his circumstances (and I have to wonder how much Tyrin will be able to influence him, since Tyrin is basically Trouble-capital-T). Tyrin is of course hysterical, especially the “identical twins” routine, or the way he takes things too literally.

Overall this series continues to improve everything I liked about the first book, and I can’t wait for a third. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

Templar’s take on the quest:

“So basically what you’re saying is,” Templar stated when Omen had finished, “you wandered into an empty wasteland, got rained on, and came home. And that’s what you call epic?”

Night’s Gift (Of Cats and Dragons #1)

Title: Night’s Gift

Author: Carol E. Leever and Camilla Ochlan

Series: Of Cats and Dragons #1

Omen Daenoth just wanted to explore the city of Hex, free of guards or responsibilities. But when a pickpocket steals the bracelet that damps his psionic powers, Omen must race against the clock to get it back before his tenuous control slips.

I was intrigued enough by the sample to get the full book, and am so glad I did. I loved this. The banter between Omen and Templar (and later Tormy), the high octane adventure, and the solid worldbuilding made for an excellent read. There’s a lot of history that isn’t explained but only hinted at—like the city of Hex, which makes me curious to see more in this world. I wish Omen’s background got a little more attention (five bloodlines?) but since I read the second book before writing this I know some of it gets covered there.

Also this has one of the best reasons I’ve seen for not accepting consumables from elves: they’re insatiable druggies and have a tendency to lace narcotics into the food/drinks. At least one particular branch of elves.

I like Omen and Templar a lot. They’re both more than human, which leads to some interesting fights. Omen’s psionics and Templar’s magic can put on a flashy show, and their ability to heal damage means they can get into the middle of some intense situations. And it’s not just power—Omen’s clever use of song against the Mer or the way they get the box shows they can approach situations with brain in addition to brawn.

All in all this is a real treat, and I’m certainly going to read it again. From the sample clip I listened to, the audiobook also looks like a worthwhile investment. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

Ushio and Tora (Anime)

Title: Ushio and Tora
Episodes: 1-39 (complete, seasons 1 and 2)

Ushio is a normal student who discounts his priest father’s stories about the legendary Beast Spear (and monster it’s trapping) that their temple supposedly protects. At least, until he stumbles across the monster while cleaning out a storeroom. Ushio ends up releasing it to help him fight the myriad of tiny demons now assaulting himself and his friends. He calls the tiger-like demon Tora, and it’s a rocky relationship from the start—Tora’s cautious of the Beast Spear but determined to eat Ushio. And if he can’t eat Ushio, he’ll haunt him. Ushio, for his part, now has the Beast Spear, which grants him incredible power but is chipping away his humanity.

I remembered reading an enthusiastic recommendation for this when I was looking for something to binge-watch over New Year’s Eve, so I gave it a shot, and was instantly hooked. 39 episodes and less than a week later, it’s now one of my top anime series as well. I ordered the anime the first night, and I still have the manga to read, which promises quite a lot that couldn’t make it into the anime. Unfortunately the manga doesn’t have an official English release or I’d be collecting that too.

Ushio and Tora is a modern remake of a rather old series that ran from 1990-1996. This gives it a unique aesthetic (and sometimes, like with certain demons who look like a bunch of heavy metal band rejects, it can be unintentionally hysterical). The animation is generally good, though towards the end it suffers a bit more from still frames because the final battle is pretty epic in scope. I’m not overly fond of the first opening song, but the music during the show worked well.

What makes the show so fascinating to me is the characters. Ushio is almost the definition of average. He’s got very average looks (no special hair color or wild design that calls him out as the protagonist, at least before the Beast Spear). He might have some talent for sports (and getting into fights), but his passion is art, despite a rather low amount of artistic talent. But he’s got enormous emotional range, and most unusually for a guy, he’s not ashamed to cry. Which he does, often. He empathizes with people (and youkai), stands up for what’s right, defends the weak, and often puts himself in considerable danger if someone else is in need. And once the Beast Spear comes into his hand, he gains slitted eyes, claws, huge hair, and a massive power boost. (Also, the Beast Spear seems to have something against shirts. Ushio may start wearing layers but as soon as he picks up the spear the shirt is usually toast.)

Tora is his polar opposite. Strong, vicious, bestial, prideful, and most of all selfish, Tora despises the heroic impulses that drive Ushio. He’s quick to pick a fight with anyone that offends him. But he’s also very childlike in personality—the modern world fascinates him (his reaction to television, cars, and bus rides left me in stitches). And that childishness in the end makes him really easy for those who know what he’s like to manipulate him (Mayuko does it with kindness, and Ushio has a variety of ways to bait Tora into helping him out). Tora was my favorite part of the show, but he wouldn’t work nearly so well without Ushio drawing such a sharp contrast.

On the love interest side, Asako is the childhood friend who won’t admit to anyone she likes Ushio (he returns the sentiment). Mayuko, though, also has a crush on Ushio—and in a radical departure from modern storytelling trends, admits that because she loves both Ushio and her friend Asako, she’s willing to move on so they can be happy together. AND SHE DOES. And this does NOT take vast numbers of episodes of her internal agony, but comes up quickly and is stated as a matter of fact. Mayuko won my respect with that. I also like how both of them have their own ways to be strong, whether that’s Asako’s refusal to give into fear despite the hopelessness of her situation or Mayuko’s steady faith.

It’s also really neat to see how Ushio’s kindness changes the people around him, and how that has unexpected dividends. And how as long as he has people who support him, he can’t fail—but when he feels utterly alone, no amount of his own strength is enough.

Another area that struck me is how integrated everything is. Ushio and Tora end up getting filmed fighting a giant monster IN THE SECOND EPISODE. And he KEEPS making the news, along with the other youkai-caused disastrous events. He’s only a “secret” hero because his looks change so drastically using the spear that even his own friends have a hard time recognizing him. He’s not jumping into a hidden war, but a very public one. The real enemy threatens humans and youkai alike—and BOTH GROUPS are needed to stop it. Every time I thought the show was going to rag hard on something (like the scientist episodes) it turns around and points out that this, too, can have a purpose. Most of the things that started out looking extremely cliche turned out to have something more running through it.

And the show is gut-bustingly funny. Tora wins pretty much every scene he’s involved in. Whether it’s his wide-eyed enthusiasm about watching himself on the news or his rage at someone else wanting to eat the human he picked out for his own lunch, he’s going to throw himself into things wholeheartedly. His vicious streak also makes him great at trolling enemies.

Equally, the story has tons of pathos. Ushio gets his heart broken again and again by the various things he’s going through. And he’s dealing with a lot of people in emotional crises themselves. It’s not just a story that knows how to deliver great action and funny lines, but one that’s honest enough about pain and joy and all the rest to go deeper.

All in all, this is one of the rare few shows I’d highly recommend to pretty much anyone. It packs so much in that even 39 episodes feels far too short. If you’ve missed out on this one so far, definitely give it a try. It’s currently streaming at Crunchyroll.

Thief of Time (Discworld #26)

Title: Thief of Time

Author: Terry Pratchett

Series: Discworld #26

Once, a man named Wen sought enlightenment, and found Time. Once, Time fell in love with a mortal.

Lobsang Ludd is an apprentice to the History Monks, the order founded by Wen to keep Time more or less in order. But the Monks are facing their biggest crisis yet. Someone is reconstructing a clock that can stop time itself. And it may be up to Lobsang and his eccentric mentor, the famous Lu-tze (who seems to be nothing more than a crazy old sweeper) to stop it.

This is my favorite Discworld book. There’s an order of warrior monks who mix old kung-fu movies with quantum physics. There’s the madness of someone like Jeremy, who is so sane he’s gone out the other side (with attendant Igor to help him build a most unusual doomsday device). There’s Death, preparing for the latest Apocalypse, and finding that his fellow Horsemen have rather lost their touch. And of course Death’s granddaughter Susan, a ruthlessly sensible grade school teacher who applies the skills gained battling elementary school students against forces that will end the world.

And it all WORKS. Beautifully.

This is Pratchett at his best—loaded with common sense as well as the humor, willing to say the obvious things no one says out loud, and pointing out that sometimes the most highest and secret wisdom was right in front of us all along. He’s got a way of peeling back the foibles of humanity, but underneath it all there’s a fierce love of what makes humans human. Like Lady Myria LeJean, who is discovering all the things that can’t be measured or explained.

It’s also interesting because Time had a son, we learn early on, but there are two strong candidates for who it might be: Lobsang Ludd, the apprentice with amazing skills slicing Time, or Jeremy Clockson, the only clockmaker attenuated to Time well enough to build a truly accurate clock. And the actual answer is a nice surprise.

Also, the climatic battle is basically a chocolate war, which is another thing I love about the book. Fine chocolates ARE deadly weapons.

Overall, this book works on so many different levels. I keep meaning to pull quotes for my file but I’d end up pulling most of the book, as it only seems to take a few sentences to get to something else that cracks me up.

If you’ve never read anything by Terry Pratchett, or just missed this one, give this book a try. The Discworld books are all basically standalone novels that loosely hook into the larger Discworld universe. I rate this Highly Recommended.