Classic Tales of Science Fiction & Fantasy

Classic Tales of Science Fiction & Fantasy (Leather-bound Classics)Classic Tales of Science Fiction & Fantasy by Jules Verne
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This huge book is a hodgepodge of some well-known sci-fi and fantasy tales, with some lesser known ones. The editors arranged them in order of publication, which also makes this book an interesting glimpse into the progression of fantasy/sci-fi through the mid-nineteeth to early twentieth century. With all the racist and sexist attitudes from those times, unfortunately. Thankfully some are better than others.
The Diamond Lens by Fitz James O’Brian (1858): The opening story shows us a young man obsessed with microscopy who stumbles across the secret to create the world’s most powerful lens, which leads to an unexpected discovery. Really reminded me of Edgar Allan Poe, right up until the ending when I think the author looked at his watch and realized he was late for something important? Content warnings for murder.
A Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne (1864): The classic sci-fi tale of the professor and his nephew who decipher a text from a mysterious Iceland/ic explorer and embark on a trek to the planet’s core is one of my favourites.
Looking Backward: 2000-1887 by Edward Bellamy (1888): Less a story and more a “Communism: You Should Try It!” instructional pamphlet. If pamphlets were 150 pages long. I struggled to get through this one, but it was interesting to read a story about one author’s vision of the world over 100 years in the future, which is set 17 years in our past. The things Bellamy assumed would change (which mainly didn’t), and the things he assumed would stay the same (which mainly haven’t), and the changes he didn’t predict made for a unique take. Not quite enough to make up for the dullness of the plot, but I gave him extra points for effort. Even if it wasn’t his doing.
The War of the Worlds by HG Wells (1897): Another fantastic sci-fi classic. Wells’ tale of a Martian invasion – and its unexpected resolution – is something everyone should read.
A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1912): Opening the “John Carter of Mars” series by the author of Tarzan is this action-filled novel where the main character discovers a mysterious cave which transports him instantaneously to an inhabited Mars. Fortunately it has a breathable atmosphere or this would have been a very short series.
The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle (1912): The original Jurassic Park, with dinosaurs and egos larger than life.
The Scarlet Plague by Jack London (1915): Did not live up to the high hopes I had for it, after having read White Fang and The Call of the Wild. A multi-generational band of apocalypse survivors roaming the States listens to its oldest member reminiscing about the disease that nearly ended the world.
Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1915): Tied with Looking Backward for worst title, but a far better plot. Wealthy, mismatched college students chasing a rumoured all-women society bite off more than they can chew when they find that society and think they can just waltz in and be the cock of the rock. Content warnings for sexual assault.
Armageddon 2419 A.D. by Philip Francis Nowlan (1928): In this extravagently racist tale, Nowlan imagines the second World War will be everyone ganging up on America…because industry? Who knows, because now China rules everything and only a few stalwart forest bands stand between us and total moral degredation in a society where ease and luxury abound (and that’s bad). Super duper racist, but not as sexist as you would think for 1928. Overall an interesting story, despite the somewhat unbelievable premise.
The Dunwich Horror by HP Lovecraft (1928): Classic Lovecraftian fantasy has this small town attacked by an interdimensional monstrosity whose origins may be alarmingly local. A great story for when you feel like something creepy. Content warnings for animal mutilation.

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The Day the Sky Fell: The Yellow Hoods, Book #5 by Adam Dreece

The Day the Sky Fell (The Yellow Hoods, #5)The Day the Sky Fell by Adam Dreece
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is it. The last of the series. Do Tee and her brave friends triumph against the Lady in Red, the Piemans, the Fare, and all the other foes arrayed against them? Can a group of teenagers best experts in intrigue?
Of course I’m not going to tell you. Read the book and find out. The Day the Sky Fell had the fastest plot of the whole pentalogy, I really couldn’t put it down. I still wanted a flowchart for all the character relationships, but at least there weren’t any new ones added. Again, some violence and bloodshed, but little else. Dreece has even revealed one of the characters is gay, in the sort of offhand scene that makes me dream of one day having a society where homosexuality isn’t a big deal. It just is. I’m happy to see that Dreece agrees with me, and put his beliefs where his mouth is. Or rather, where his writing utensil is.
Despite Dreece closing The Yellow Hoods with this book, not all the loose ends are tied up. A few of the antagonists could certainly stage a comeback some years down the road, and Dreece mentions possibly starting a second series around a more mature Tee and her friends. I wouldn’t say no to that. It’s been a good run.

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Beauties of the Beast: The Yellow Hoods Book #4 by Adam Dreece

Beauties of the Beast (The Yellow Hoods, #4)Beauties of the Beast by Adam Dreece
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Maybe you thought there weren’t going to be new characters in the penultimate book. Maybe you thought you could stop updating your cast flow chart. Finally laminate it and put it up on the wall to use as a reference. Well put that frame back in the box. Dreece put in more people. Never fear, the delightful Tee, Elly, and Richy are still with us. As are many of the old favourites from previous installments. Plus all the backstabbing, plotting, and double-dealing we’ve come to expect from Dreece’s writing. But wait, there’s more! Airship battles! More explosions! Rocket packs! Here I thought shock sticks and mechanical horses were enough excitement. Dreece disagreed, and we all benefit. Something he didn’t add more of was bloodshed. The level of violence has been pretty consistent since it was upped in the second book, and there isn’t much else to warn for. This is a really decent series, and I’m looking forwards to seeing how everything gets tied together in The Day the Sky Fell. Stay tuned!

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All the King’s-Men: The Yellow Hoods Book #3 by Adam Dreece

All the King's-Men (The Yellow Hoods, #3)All the King’s-Men by Adam Dreece
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Just when you thought you knew all the characters. Dreece keeps stuffing them in, with more betrayals and flashbacks than you could shake a shock-stick at. If your memory is anything like mine, it isn’t the gripping plot alone that keeps you from putting these books down. It’s the fear that when you pick it up the next day you won’t remember who is on what side anymore. Tee, Elly, Richy, and Nikolas Klaus haven’t left us, nor have the Cochon brothers from Along Came a Wolf, but the leaders of the Tub and the Fare join the Pieman family in seeing just how many people can fit into a 340 page steampunk romp. (Answer: about 30). I wonder if Dreece reads much Russian literature? Tolstoy would be proud.

It seems that Dreece uses All the King’s-Men to start tying the history of Eorth with its present political climate, as he brings the series to its climax. Tee and the Yellow Hoods are joined on their flight through the wilderness by new friends and questionable leaders as they flee the agents of the Fare and other rogue factions bent on toppling the government and taking over the world. Again, some bloodshed, gunshots, and deaths. Suggestions of child abuse and mentions of kidnapping, but written from the perspective of the (safe) survivor which takes out much of the sting. An even mix of female and male characters. With an even mix of strong and weak traits. Take a spy novel, add teenagers, set it in the medieval era and then hose everything down with a good spray of steampunk and you’d have yourself The Yellow Hoods series. It’s good stuff.

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Breadcrumb Trail: The Yellow Hoods Book #2 by Adam Dreece

Breadcrumb Trail (The Yellow Hoods, #2)Breadcrumb Trail by Adam Dreece
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is where things start to really pick up. Tee, Elly, and Richy are joined by a steadily increasing number of characters as Dreece weaves several parallel plot lines; chapters on missing children in the previously peaceful town of Mineau tag team with secret societies plotting to steal steam engine plans in a universe where inventing has been outlawed. If you had a tough time putting down Along Came a Wolf, clear your calendar when you start Breadcrumb Trail. You can put it down if you really have to, but there aren’t exactly breathers built into the plot. It’ll be a struggle. This was also the book with the strongest fairy tale influences, thanks to the plot line with the disturbing “Ginger Lady.” The fairy tale influences in the first book seemed to revolve around names and titles rather than having those old stories come to life, or be rewritten in a novel way. Compared to the first book, this one has more violence. Actual bloodshed, gun shots, deaths. No racism or sexism. Child abuse and kidnapping are present in this installment, however. Only hinted at, but they are there. Having finished the series, I can say they are mentioned again later in the series, but only in passing in two other books. Dreece writes a good story without resorting to sensationalism, and his non-stop plots make for a quick read.

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Along Came a Wolf: The Yellow Hoods, Book #1 by Adam Dreece

Along Came a Wolf (The Yellow Hoods, #1)Along Came a Wolf by Adam Dreece
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

With Along Came a Wolf Dreece launches a steampunk-fairy tale young adult fantasy series with ample excitement, danger, and plot twists to keep you engaged until the last page of book five. We follow the spunky Tee, Elly, and Richy as a visit from a mysterious messenger to Tee’s grandfather plunges the four of them into a world of intrigue and danger. The action barely pauses until the last page. The characters are pretty well fleshed out and a good balance of gumption and terror. There isn’t a single thing for me to offer a content warning about. Very little violence, no sexism, no racism, nothing. Only the editing could have been better. There are some sentences that could have been more polished, and a few times where Dreece used the same word in two adjacent lines, which is kind of a pet peeve of mine. However, I will say that I started book two Breadcrumb Trail immediately upon finishing Along Came a Wolf and the editing has much improved, so if it bothers you push through it and the rest of this page-turner of a series will be your reward.

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The Sea of Monsters: Percy Jackson and the Olympians #2 by Rick Riordan

The Sea of Monsters (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, #2)The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sea of Monsters is one of those book/movie duos where they only have the slightest resemblance to each other. The basic plot carried through, but the specific events diverged so greatly you might as well have been watching another movie all together. As per usual, the book is better. Riordan makes different people his heroes, instead of it being only Percy all the time. He recreates the Odyssey more closely than the movie has. Percy and Annabeth’s quest is a young adult, modern version of the Odyssey. Which is interesting and cool! I love the magic of reading a new story for the first time and seeing woven through it motifs from famous tales. You don’t get that same rush watching the movie. Those motifs are left out.

Beyond the usual fisticuffs, sword fights, and chariot races, with mild violence, there’s not much to warn for in this book. It’s a quick, easy read that zips along from demon dodgeball to chariot race to sea battle, without asking too much of you to come along.

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Silence Fallen: Mercy Thompson #10 by Patricia Briggs

Silence Fallen (Mercy Thompson, #10)Silence Fallen by Patricia Briggs
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Faithful readers or people who know me personally will already know how much I adore this entire series. I will try to restrain myself from squealing with giddiness over Briggs’ newest offering. The way I did when it showed up in the mail. It’s gonna be tough though! Silence Fallen might be the best book in the series to date. It’s got all the usual goodnesses Briggs stuffs her books with; sassy comebacks, a great heroine, fist fights, danger, evil monsters, and clever ruses. Mercy has been kidnapped by a group of vampires and spirited away. She manages to escape. But winds up stranded in an unfamiliar city with no money or clothes. Meanwhile Adam, her husband and the leader of the werewolf pack, gathers allies and travels to negotiate with Mercy’s kidnappers. Neither he nor Mercy know who this group is or what they want. Or why they’ve chosen Mercy as their hostage. And there’s another change: Briggs has structured her story differently. Rather than following a strictly chronological layout, she switches between Mercy’s viewpoint and that of Adam’s, swinging through past and present in the timeline of the novel. Readers already accustomed to books that play with timelines in this way will have no trouble following it. For those to whom this is new territory, Briggs has prefaced each chapter with a tiny blurb from Mercy explaining where in her timeline this portion falls. It’s very easy to follow, so if you don’t typically read books that do this, don’t let it scare you off. This technique is new to Briggs as well, so she puts effort in to making sure it’s as straightforward as possible. I’m hoping to see more of it in her next books and to see her expand her repertoire. It’s always exciting when an author you love tries something new! But as long as she keeps writing, I’m happy.

***I’m not sure why I left this out when writing the review originally, but Silence Fallen does have some content warnings. There’s Mercy’s kidnapping, martial arts battles with guns, knives, and descriptive blood shed, a few violent sequences involving vampires, a car crash, and a couple violent deaths. Please exercise caution if you are sensitive to violence!

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The Lightning Thief: Percy Jackson and the Olympians #1 by Rick Riordan

The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, #1)The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Young adult books make for a speedy finish! It didn’t hurt that I could not put this book down. Riordan made quite the page turner. It took me a couple of chapters to get through the whole “main character is a whiny pre-teen” but once Percy gets his quest that pretty much fades away. Thankfully. There are a couple of issues that prickled me at the beginning of the story, but by the end Riordan had presented them in a different light and they troubled me less. The overall plot is pretty straightforward. A somewhat troubled youth who has bounced from school to school throughout the states finds out that his dyslexia and ADHD are actually caused by the fact that he is the son of a Greek god and a human woman. He doesn’t know which one, although he finds out later. Lots of characters straight out of Greek mythology, and the main story is an Epic Quest™ complete with cross-country trip and descent into Hades. Mystery, prophecies, betrayals, everything you’d expect to see in a Greek myth. There is a fair bit of violence, obviously all directed against youths, so if you’re sensitive to that proceed with caution. There’s also a couple of deaths. One within the context of the story and one that predates it, and if memory serves me correctly only one of these shows up in the movies, so be aware if you’re reading the book after watching the movie you might still be in for a surprise. Aside from that, the movie stayed pretty true to the original story. And neither was too shabby.

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Tower in the Crooked Wood by Paula Johanson

Tower in the Crooked WoodTower in the Crooked Wood by Paula Johanson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this ebook in exchange for a review

This was a really good story. It’s quite short, but is well-crafted enough that it doesn’t feel like the ending just dropped out of the sky, or like pieces are missing. The characters are interesting without feeling contrived, and the descriptive passages of the scenery are lovely. I felt as though I were hiking the BC coast alongside Jenia don Dela don Tared, who, with her mouthful of a name, is Johanson’s heroine. And an arborist. We need more stories where arborists are the heroes. Very unique. Jenia has left her home and is searching for a wizard who is building a tower. But that is all she knows. Who, or why, or even where are questions to which she doesn’t have the answers. Excluding a love interest, this story has all the elements of a classic quest narrative. A journey. A goal. Strangers in strange lands. People who help and those who hinder. Danger and chases and terrifying beasts. All those good things.

There are still some editing issues, but of the three books I read by Johanson this one had the fewest, and most minor, errors. Overall the construction was pretty solid and it made this book much easier to follow. It’s a good read for a fantasy lover looking for something quick and straightforward, but still satisfying.

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