Book Review – Beyond Redemption

Title: Beyond Redemption
Author: Michael R. Fletcher
Format: Paperback
Written: 2015

A dark and twisted fantasy story, Beyond Redemption by Michael R. Fletcher is one of the rare stories that succeeds at creating a gritty fantasy world while still giving us an intriguing story. It is a world full of Geisteskranken, men and women whose delusions and psychoses twist into reality, and the theocratic government that would use them for their own malicious intent.

Fletcher’s world is one driven by faith and corruption, calling to question the very nature of belief, religion, and power, and which drives which. It is the story of a young boy, destined to Ascend and become the God of a new religion, founded by the malignant High Priest Konig–a man who is quickly losing his grip on reality as the story progresses. However, the actions of a Slaver Geisteskranken and a gang of degenerates–an aging warrior, a kleptomaniac, and the self-proclaimed Greatest Swordsman alive–throw Konig’s careful plan into chaos.

Fletcher’s world is a truly intriguing one, and his view of religion and it’s use in Beyond Redemption, combined with the delusions and magic of the Geisteskranken, make for a thought-provoking story with an unexpected ending. It is a story about perseverance and determination in the face of terror and the crushing weight of a broken, dystopian world, which drags the reader along through the grimness if for no reason other than to see how it could possibly end.

The story does starts at a painfully slow pace, with a waterfall of information dumped on the reader to establish this world, the characters, the faith, and the Geisteskranken. The pacing issues continue throughout the book, with some chapters whisking by with high action and intensity and others trudging through waist-deep mud, which, combined with cliched characters and increasingly bizarre Geisteskranken make it hard for the reader to stay immersed in the story.

The story itself is a gripping one, and one that will continue to pull you back each time you put the book down. If you are looking for an original fantasy story, it’s worth the read. Overall I would give it three out of five stars.

 

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Book Review: Seventh Night by Iscah

Title: Seventh Night

Author Iscah

Format Published: Smashwords Edition, published by Amoeba Ink co.

Published: 2013

iscah

Writing fairy tales today is an interesting task.  It seems that every few years, someone puts out a book that is either seeking to or somehow accidentally redefines how fairy tales are told.  Sometimes, it’s something like ‘The Princess Bride’, a book that takes a rather irreverent look at all the conceits of fairy taledom and plays them in a rather tongue in cheek fashion. Other times, it’s a book like ‘Wicked’, and all the various ‘retellings’ of classic tales, fairy and non fairy alike, that seek to pull a deeper meaning out of the familiar cast of characters, often by putting more meat on the fictional bones of a little realized character from the original work.  And then of course, there’s always the attempt to revolutionize how a fairy tale is told, to do something completely new and different.

‘Seventh Night’ by Iscah….accomplishes all three.

The plot is basically that in order to bring peace between her land and another, a princess, the Seventh Night of the title, agrees to marry a Prince from the other land.  Only it turns out the Prince may not be the Prince….and along the way, she trips across a Magician’s Apprentice who is also not a Prince, but may be someone she could be in love with.  Mix into this liberally a murder plot, a few royal family secrets, and a quest like sojourn into a land literally of wizards and sprinkle in the required bad guys, who may actually appear to be good guys first in this book, and the good guys, who are ambiguous at best as to which side of the line they stride sometimes, and what you end up with is wonderful tale replete with magic, love, monsters, betrayal, unicorns, intrigue, and …all the stuff fairy tales are made of.

Iscah’s ‘Seventh Night’ definitely bears comparison to ‘The Princess Bride’ for its rather brusque and modern style of storytelling.  The characters obviously should fit certain fairy tale molds and even some are conscious that they should and do not, so there is a lot of humor and winking throughout at the story at the original source material. If not handled well, this can often be distracting or weigh down a tale. Not in this case. Iscah masterfully weaves a tale and never once loses her sense of humor or wonder for the genre she is working within.

This is not so much a retelling of any particular fairy tale, but more of a retelling of fairy tales in general.  Isaac takes the established patterns, regular storylines, and, instead of really tearing them apart and making something new, she actually utilizes the tropes that already exist and gives new life to them.  Also, she takes the classic character types and, by giving them a certain degree of self awareness, redefines the stereotypical princess to be married off, the underdog love interest, the sorceress, and all the other character types that have to populate a good fairy tale.  This is how she both essentially produces a retelling of fairy tales that gives more insight into the characters AND creates a new way to tell them, which in large part involves seeing the old, familiar pieces of fairy tales through imaginative and modern eyes.

Iscah’s ‘Seventh Night’ is definitely five pages out of five. It is also perhaps one of the best books I read in the last year and is most definitely the best and most successful attempt to bring the fairy tale into the modern era, not be changing the setting, but simply by taking all the parts that work and casting them in a thoroughly updated light.

By my personal scale, this gets Six out of Six bullets.  It is fantastic and fun read, fully loaded to entertain one and all.

 

 

Book Review – Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things

TITLE: Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things
AUTHOR/ILLUSTRATOR: Ted Naifeh
FORMAT: Paperback/Graphic Novel
PUBLISHED: 2003

Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things is volume 1 of I don’t know how many.  It collects issues 1-4 of the comic of the same name.

In this, Courtney and her parents move in with a creepy old Great-Uncle that nobody really knows because they want to be part of society’s elite and this is the only way they can afford to do it.  But the house is also occupied by the night things, and there are creepy crawlies in the woods and everywhere else.

Poor Courtney is faced with having to be the odd kid out in a preppy school, and her only friend doesn’t stay her friend for long.

Also, I want to put this here… It’s from the introduction:

Now that I’m an adult, … I see that I am part of the diaspora of kids that was driven from the village, for various reasons, and spent all of adolescense observing it from the outside.  We’ve formed our own tribes and, as far as I can see, we, the geeks, won.  We’re smarter, we’re independant, we’re more courageous, and we value each other more than the kids who fit in without effort, blending in and never really getting to know themselves.

If that’s the basis for the book, that book is the story of my people.  I may as well be Courtney.  Well, with a bunch of magic and weird stuff thrown in.  But hey, why not.

Now then.  Some cons.  The illustrations were in black and white.  And I don’t know if they were better in the original comics or not, but they were too small to look good in this format.  If this had been comic sized, I think they would have looked better.  The lettering was a little hard to read in some places, too.

So my rating.  I loved the story but had issues with the visual, and let’s face it, this is a visual medium.  I’m going to get the next volume if I can, though, so I guess they did good.  I will give it a 4/5.

Book Review – Choose Your Own Autobiography

Title: Choose Your Own Autobiography
Author: Neil Patrick Harris
Format: Hardback
Published: 2014

NPH is a trip, and I wish I knew him in real life.  This autobiography totally proves that.

For starters, the book is a throw back to the choose your own adventure books of my childhood (and his, he’s not that much older than me), complete with making you flip back and forth around the book for the whole story.

I gotta say, I was totally into those books as a kid, but I had a knack for *always* picking the fastest route to end the book.  I’d turn maybe two pages and then BOOM! i was dead or something.  And in this book, sure enough, I picked the fastest way out and was done in less than five pages.  I’m awesome like that.

So I read through the second attempt and managed to get a pretty good view of his early life – childhood and early breaks – and a huge chunk of his personal life,  but somehow managed to totally miss everything about HIMYM and movies and everything else.  Oops.  But I’ve found the cocktail recipe multiple times, so I’m probably going to need to try that.

Oh, and if you’re not a fan of the CYOA books, I’m going to have to explain them.  You’d read a section, written in second person, and at the end, it’d give you a choice.  You’d pick one and flip to the corresponding page.  Same here, except instead of “A bear is trying to eat you, what do you do?” You’re getting choices like “to read about the time you appeared on broadway…”

 

It’s a must for a child of the 80s, and a must for any NPH/HIMYM/Doogie fan.

Read this book.  Several times.

5/5.

 

 

Book Review – Codecrafter by Erica Sandbothe

Title: Codecrafter

Author: Erica Sandbothe

Format: Paperback

Written/Published: 2013

As many of you readers know we here at Book in the Bag do get requests from authors to read and review their books.  If you are familiar with how we operate we do not promise to give good reviews only honest ones, thus I will dictate that I have received nothing more than a few e-mails and a copy of her first book Codecrafter from Erica.

To start off, the book is about a young girl named Tagglinde (Tagg for short) who is going to a school to learn how to be a sorceress.  He spell work however is not your typical mystical fare but rather based in code and programming.  She receives a magical stick that has a memory drive that she has to remember to defrag and her spells have to be written in proper code for them to come out and be usable.  If you are familiar with any sort of coding you can see a lot of the connections between what she does in the book to actual coding, if not in a lot of ways everything is still very odd and mystical. I am not overly familiar with coding but I do know enough to be familiar with what was being talked about on some levels (most of what I have done has been BBC coding and very basic code to set up a web page back in the day).

Still, if you know about coding or you don’t the story is still and enjoyable read and is very well fitted for middle grade ages as Erica claims the book to be.  The story was interesting and I wasn’t sitting there wondering when will this book end or regretting to volunteer to read the book.  I only have one major complaint about the book which sometimes can be a good complaint and that is that the book wasn’t long enough.  There were times where I would have loved a bit more pacing and a deeper exploration of certain things but all the same I enjoyed the read.

Aside from the book being a quick read of only 135 pages (perfect for the age range she is aiming for), my only remaining recommendation for future copies of the book if possible is to have a map or two in the front of the book showing the lands of the world of Codecrafter and maybe even a map of the school grounds where the gardens and school building are in Tilde.  Of course, these things aren’t necessary but I know I probably would have flipped to the map if there was one at some point just to get a feel for where Tagg was when she was traveling about.

Overall, the book was a good read and not only that it taught some great mathematical concepts as well because computer science is related to that ever dreaded subject for many- math.  Odds and probability are something that tends to go over people’s heads.  I had fun with it, because I’m your all around geek not only enjoying a good read but also loving a good mathematical problem as well.  There was actually a point where I stopped reading the book to figure out the answer to the question before I read the answer (please note I was just waking up from sleep at that point).

In the end I would give this book a 4 page rating saying that it is a good read and age appropriate for middle grades.  I know I’m looking forward to the next book in the series which I’m told Erica is currently working on!  Additionally I am looking forward to the growth and expansion of her website to include the yet to come teaching materials because I can see the educational value of the book as well having formally been in the field of education myself!

Book Review – Beautiful Creatures by Margaret Stohl and Kami Garcia

Title: Beautiful Creatures

Author: Margaret Stohl and Kami Garcia

Format: Paperback

Written: 2009

Published: 2012

 

After seeing the previews in the movie theater I grew curious about the book.  It took forever to get the book from the library as it seems that several people had the same idea as me to read it because it was coming out as a movie.  My curiosity started with reading an online sample of the book and I was quickly surprised by it.  In the theaters I had been convinced that the book was told from the perspective of the girl, considering that it how stories of this nature seem to be generally told, yet when I opened the book I was surprised to see it being told from the perspective of the boy.  Seeing this I was excited and all the more intrigued to hear a love story from the male perspective, and it started out quite good giving me a very clear picture of the town and life our main character Ethan Wate was living.  I was quickly hooked and turning the next page to read just a little bit more.

 

Sadly that breath of fresh air that excited me turned sour as I was meat with tedious repetition about the town of Gatlin and the life that Ethan lives there.  I don’t know how many times and ways I was reminded that the town of Gatlin was a southern town, very proud of its history and anyone not born of the two was an outsider shunned by all particularly if you are Lena Duchannes the nice of the town’s  ‘Boo Radley’.  This was what majority of the book consisted of, if that point was left alone and made minimally the book would not have been the door stop that it was!  For those who would like to make comparisons, if you are familiar with the thickness of the fifth Harry Potter book, Beautiful Creatures was thicker.  I don’t mind playing with the concept of the town being against Lena, making the romance between Ethan and her difficult but when I have to be reminded of why she’s not accepted and yet Ethan is despite his ‘poor choices’ it gets annoying.  Many of my friends had to unfortunately deal with me complaining about the book being the book that never ends.

 

What also made this book difficult for me was not only the fact of repetition but the inconsistency with chapter.  I know as a writer and an avid reader, some chapters are going to be longer than others but typically in my experience there is some consistency on chapter lengths.  In this book I could read a chapter that is only three pages long and a breeze to get through and the next chapter would be ten pages long.  It jumped and fluctuated in the extreme when it came to chapter lengths.  My other issue with the book is that each chapter wasn’t just named but also dated.  Generally speaking dating a chapter is not a big deal to me, but I have an issue when three quarters of the book is done where each individual day gets its own chapter but at the end a chapter can be labeled something like 12.15 and include the events of the 15th the 24th, 25th and lead me into the New Year.  I also have issues that the authors would make any busy day into one forever long chapter but had no problem making the biggest day of the book be three separate chapters.  I am grateful that they didn’t make the 20 plus pages into one chapter, but I felt if you can break that day up why you couldn’t break the other days up as well.

Outside of the idiosyncrasies the story itself was fair, I wasn’t in love with it and finding it to be as good as the general plot could have made or even the movie previews make it, but it was an okay story to say the least even if it was in some ways fairly predictable.  As a last note, the book Beautiful Creatures is the first in the series and thus in some small way sets up for the next book which leave you feeling that pretty much you’ve got the same story all over again only it is the next year.  Having no intention of reading any more of the books in the series I used Google to find out the rest of the story and it is in some ways rather predictable and not that intriguing playing on various classic tropes which makes me just sigh and almost roll my eyes.  Over all I would give this book a 2 page rating and say don’t waste your time.  I’ve not seen the movie but it looks to be better than the book was so as rare as it is for me to say it, go see the movie instead of reading the book and I’m sure you’ll be more entertained than I was in reading it.

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