Book Review: Hidden Magic: The Portal Opens by C.C. Rae

Book Review: Hidden Magic: The Portal Opens by C.C. Rae
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This image and all other images were taken from C.C.  Rae’s website for review purposes only under Fair Use doctrine. It’s done with the intention of bringing attention to the author and her work.

Character:  So I have to admit a bias here. This is absolutely a YA book.  With that said, there are some aspects of YA storytelling that I’m personally not a fan of, but fans of YA don’t mind at all.  The biggest issue is the decision making and reactions of the characters.  I liked this aspect least of all the parts of this book because it’s just hard to believe everyone would just roll with some of the things that happened in this story. I don’t find YA in general believable. Now, this is a personal bias of mine, and I want it known that this isn’t a break from what most YA does. I’d just appreciate the genre more if the characters didn’t just roll with the plot so easily. I’m most angry at the father in this story. I’m not blessed to be a father, but I’m an uncle, and there’s no way on earth I’d just roll with things the way this main character’s dad rolls with things. If you like YA, and you don’t mind this aspect, go for it because there are some very cool aspects to this book. While hard to believe, the characters are indeed proactive. I wouldn’t exactly call them sympathetic, but I’l give mad props to Gordon. He’s the character I was most drawn to, but he has the least air time.  Why read a book outside of your genre? Because you have to stretch. I admit my bias in this review because I can not like rap music but still appreciate what it does well.  My distaste for the genre in general doesn’t erase my ability to give credit to what the author does well.

picture-4World building:  Bonus points for Rae here.  You see, she and I are both from Yuma, Arizona!  Why does that matter? The book is set in Yuma.  Now I have to deduct a point because I’m a Criminal, and she sets the scene closer to Cibola High School.  (At least it wasn’t Kofa.) I know…that doesn’t mean much to you dear readers, but imagine a book set in your hometown? Wouldn’t you geek out? I did.  Oh…That reminds me, I discovered this book while home on leave. I met Miss. Rae at a local bookstore and bought her book (with an autograph of course).  So she has my support! Now that the home town angle is sufficiently covered, the world building is interesting.  The idea the our world and a magical world goes back to the days of Lewis. What I like is the explanation for this, and how that explanation drives the plot by providing conflict. I’d hope that future books explain more of how the source of the portal came to exist, but that’s what series do. The magic system is fairly soft right now. But I’m okay with that because magic is more of a source of strife and conflict than plot resolution.

Description: This is solid. It’s not vivid or entrancing, but it’s not overly vague. I probably could have used a bit more detail here and there, but I’m way more glad I didn’t get a description of every blade of grass or article of clothing. The characters are visually stronger in my mind than most settings (though the location of the final conflict is pretty clear to me).

Thanks for reading,

Matt

Book Review: Fortress Beta City by J.R. Handley

Book Review: Fortress Beta City by J.R. Handley
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These images were provided by J.R. Handley and are used with is content. Any reuse without his permission is in violation of his copyright.

Character:  I mentioned in my review for Legion that Lance is the only character I could really hold onto.  While I still think the reader has too many characters to track, things calm down, and we do get to know more of the other characters. I remember GG, a Junton commander. Basil has an amazing hero moment!  Nhlappo is an interesting character as well.  Those characters create an effective base and allow the reader to grow closer to the characters around them. I’d say that’s a definite improvement.  Lance sort of disappears near the end of the book (not literally, like a spoiler, but his air time sort of falls off). The action is so quick, the reader shouldn’t really mind. Besides, I was more interested in GG’s arc at the time. This isn’t unexpected in a series. You’re going to meet a cast of characters, and some books may shift from character to character. I’m most looking forward to Nhlappo’s confrontation with Spartika. If book 3 delivers that, I’m a happy guy. I’d still like a bit more air time for those characters and fewer cuts to other characters, but as long as I have these guys to follow, I’ll be loyal to the series.

World building:  I still think fans of Human Legion will latch onto this more quickly, but I was able to track this story pretty effectively. Now, part of this is because one source of conflict is the survivability of the planet. This clever source of conflict allows a nube like me to get familiar with Human Legion terms and characters as I learn about the story. I didn’t feel nearly as lost in this book as I did at times in book one. Part is because I have a book under my belt, the other is because of that particular plot line.

Description: This is the strongest area of Handley’s writing. He gives the reader what he needs without taking away the readers imagination. He has a nice mix of active verbs and carefully placed adjectives that help the reader visualize through observation instead of narration. He does himself a credit with how he draws the reader in with scenes and action sequences. Action scenes are key in science fiction combat books, and Handley has that part down.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

Interview with the winner of February’s Book Cover of the Month Award Winner Lisa Pompilio

Interview with the winner of February’s Book Cover of the Month Award Winner Lisa Pompilio

As the new BCOTM bracket is running, I had the chance to correspond with Lisa Pompilio, the winner of February’s bracket. You can see other interviews from December’s winner and January’s Winner if you like.

Hello Lisa! Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions.

First off congratulations on your cover wining my blog’s February Book Cover of the Month.
Thank you so much. There were so many great covers by talented artists. I’m very honored.

LMP

When did you get into art? 
I’ve been drawing since I was a kid. In my teens I got into photography, collage and punk rock, which ultimately led to an interest in graphic design and photo illustration. I would make zines of my favorite bands and take photos at shows. A lot of cut and paste art, I just never connected it to being a desinger. But for 17 years, I was also heavily involved in training horses. Then in my 20s, I had a bad fall and realized it might be time to consider a career that didn’t involve broken bones (or at least pay for the broken bones since I am still riding). So I turned to art, and now paper cuts are the biggest job hazard I have to risk.

 

How long have you been creating covers?
It’s been almost 10 years now. I started at St. Martin’s Press and now I’m with Orbit Books.

Von Brooklyn logoWhat got you started in creating covers?
I’ve always been a book lover. I used to spend hours in the library as a kid – reading was a way to escape into another world, and everything I took in – the book covers, the stories, the characters – inspired my art.

Do you prefer one medium over another?
Above all, I’m a photo illustrator. But I let the book dictate the medium – some call for photo illustration, sometimes I hire an illustrator, sometimes there’s a need for type design.

Palisades ParkDo you have someone who inspired your own work? If so, who? Why?
I draw from multiple influences when I’m working on a cover. I think a cover designer should be open and well-rounded, and know their art history. I’m deeply shaped by circus sideshow culture – growing up near Coney Island will do that to you. Tim Burton always sparks something in me, but so do Frida Kahlo and Carlo Crivilli – it’s really a mash-up of artists and styles and history.

What makes you choose to work with an author or not? 
I’ve worked with all different kinds of authors. I base my decision on the project – if it sounds fun, I’m game to take it on.

What do you look for in a great client? 
Trust. A client who trusts I will create an amazing cover for them and lets me just work my magic.

What are some of your pet peeves about clients?
I’m sure I have an official list somewhere…. One of the biggest pet peeves of any designer I know is when you send a comp, and someone takes it, just photoshops over it, and sends it back. That’s just a big no. But as a designer, or any kind of artist, you have to patient and expect criticism, even if the criticism is completely unjustified and drives you a little crazy. You have to remember it’s not just your baby, and that everyone wants what’s best for the book.

What would an author need to do to work with you? Do you have a link to your standard rates, or do you negotiate fees by author?
All they have to do is contact me. I’m always open to freelance work alongside my in-house creations. I do have a standard rate, but I’ll negotiate with self-published authors and do what I can to work within their budget.

61sr30ku-7lHow did you come to be chosen to create the cover for The Unleashed?
Bentz and Jennifer had seen my work for Amada Hocking’s Trylle Trilogy and contacted me for the first book in the series, The UnDelightened. I was thrilled when they contacted me again to continue working on the series.

Artistically, what were your goals for the cover?
I really wanted the reader to feel like they were stepping into a world that was both magical and a little dark at the same time.

Can you walk me through how you approached the cover? I mean, can you take me from you were commissioned to the final product? What were some of the challenges? What techniques did you use? How much did you collaborate with Bents? How happy were you with the final product? Anything you can think of in that regard.

The first book gave me some direction, but I wanted this one to feel a little darker – I wanted the magic to kind of bleed out of the frame – I wanted it more twisted and confused than on the first book. Bentz gave me some details to play with, like the creepy fog, and he had some ideas about how it should look and which character we’d use, and we basically just hit the nail on the head together.

It’s always a little challenging to do a series. You want the covers to be cohesive, but also stand out on their own. Color was a big factor, but it was important for me that readers got the feeling they were moving through the series and growing with it. As for technique, Photoshop played a big role.

I’m very happy with the final product. It does everything I wanted it to do, and now I have to step up my game for the next installment!

How was Bentz to work with?
He was terrible! I’m just kidding of course – it was great. Bentz really gave me a lot of freedom and put his trust in me. When we did The Undelightened, he gave me the manuscript and some samples of covers and images he felt drawn to, then let me loose. It means a lot to me that he trusts me, and it’s really been a delight to work with him.

TornThe Unleashed was an awesome image. Is it your favorite? If so, why?
That’s like asking a parent which kid is their favorite! I can’t go down that rabbit hole and have angry authors writing to say, “I thought I was your favorite!” For my own safety, I am going to plead the 5th.

What can we expect to see from you next?
I’m currently working on a lot of sci-fi and fantasy, YA, and even some military covers. I’m also working on Book 2 for Melissa Caruso, and I’ve just revealed the first in the series The Tethered Mage. I’ve got a few other surprises that I can’t share yet – but stay tuned.

Is there anything you’d like to say to readers?
I’d just like to say thank you, on behalf of all of us cover designers, for appreciating this art form. Your love really motivates us and inspires the awesome imagery we all enjoy.

END INTERVIEW

I don’t think the bracket is perfect, and I don’t think it can be. But when I started this, it was with the intention of brining attention to great covers and giving the designers some credit. I think we’re accomplishing that. I’m thrilled to talk to every artist, and I plan on pestering the authors next! Thank you all for making this a success. Here’s to keeping it growing!

Thanks for reading,

Matt

Book Review: Edgedancer by Brandon Sanderson

Book Review: Edgedancer by Brandon Sanderson

51ofjrk-jflSpolier Free Summary: Edgedancer is a novella pulled from Brandon Sanderson’s Cosemere collection Arcanum Unbounded.  For the record, I’ve read all the other stories in that collection, but Edgedancer was the new material, so that’s what I’m focusing this review on.  Lift is probably the oddest of the Knights Radiant. She’s rushed of from luxury and an easy life seemingly on the quest for taste pancakes. (Honestly, that excuse worked on me; I’m a man who loves good pancakes.) As she works to find her delectable breakfast food, she finds herself again confronting Darkness, the Skybreaker who tried to kill Lift during the events of Words of Radiance. She finds herself in a race to save someone who seemingly everyone has failed to notice has a special secret.

Character:  Lift is charming, as most Sanderson characters are. I don’t quite find her as compelling as Kelsier, Vin, or Kaladin, but she’s growing on me. She’s certainly powerful. Her draw is her innocence. The way she sees the world is fascinating, and that’s what gives her such charm. She’s proactive. Her competence is somewhat on par with that of Captain Jack Sparrow in it’s seemingly accidental genius. It’s her sympathy that I don’t quite have yet. I think there are reasons for her to be sympathetic, but I don’t really know them yet, and that’s preventing me from falling for her the way I do most characters from Sanderson’s world. I think that’s intentional though as she’s supposed to gain prominence later in the series.

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This image, created by Ben McSweeney, was taken from Mr. Sanderson’s website and posted here for review purposes. Also, it’s beautiful.

Worldbuilding:  We get a bit more sense of scope here. We also learn a bit more about some of what Spren can do. I don’t know that a learn a lot more about Roshar, but we do see a bit more of what Knights Radiant are capable of.

Dialogue:  This was a bit limited. It was natural, and charming. Lift is actually a cunningly clever conversationalist. Her blunt style and mannerism catch people off guard. She’s like a rude friend you bring to a party just to see how people will react. (not in a mean way, more like a “My friend is WAY smarter than you think she is, and I can’t wait for you to try and verbal spar with her” sort of way).

Description: As always, we get a perfect mix of color and sensory cues without getting bogged down in details. Sanderson has the balance I hope to find one day.

Overall: I’m always excited whenever I read a Sanderson novel, and that excitement is crippled when it’s a Cosmere story. Lift honestly wasn’t enough to hold me over to the next Archive novel, but it was a scrap of bread to a starving man. It’s a pleasant little glimpse into not just the world of Roshar, but what’s to come in the second half of the series.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

Book Review: The Legion Awakes by J.R. Handley

Book Review: The Legion Awakes by J.R. Handley
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All images were provided with and by permission from J.R. Handley. Any redistribution without his written consent is in violation of copyright doctrine.

Character:  Lance is memorable, and he’s compelling to read about in an 1980’s action movie sort of way. What this book makes up for in pace and excitement, Handley gives up a bit in terms of character. It’s not that Lance isn’t cool; It’s not even that there aren’t other cool characters. The problem is characters get thrown at the reader very quickly, and readers don’t get a lot of time in their heads. Basil is probably my favorite character. He also has the most satisfying arc. I remember Wires because of the nickname, but that’s about it. That said, this felt like an informed decision on the part of J.R (who most of you know is a friend of mine).  This area is probably the weakest of the book for that reason, but I repeat this is because Lance is so powerful and there are SO many other characters we don’t get a chance to learn about.

Worldbuilding:  So I understand that Sleeping Legion is a sub-set of the Human Legion saga. There’s a bit of a struggle (very small mind you). I think if you’re a fan of Human Legion, you’ll burn through this without issue, but there are some pieces of information that bring questions to those who haven’t read that universe. I equate it to people who watch something like Doctor Strange without seeing the other MCU movies. You don’t ACTUALLY need it to understand what’s going on, but it probably increases the enjoyability.  If you’ve read both, I’d be curious to hear if you agree in the comments below. What I will say is the world building we need to understand is laid out for the reader in a plot relevant style.

17035309_1868128633457762_1660927310_nDialogue:  It’s solid, though I wouldn’t be able to argue with those who say some characters sound alike. Lance steals the show for the most part. What the book lacks in voice, it makes up for in mannerisms that are indeed unique to the characters. As a military guy, what’s nice about the dialogue is the natural flow of the military conversations. This book does a great job of mixing up the odd manner service members have of mixing high intensity conversations with light hearted topics that break that tension. It’s realistic. If you’re a service member, you get it.

Description: Depending on who you are, this is either the strongest part of Handley’s game or the weakest. I’m not a fan of description, so the sparse details don’t bother me a bit. It allows the plot to surge forward at a breakneck pace.  Again, I’m not actually a science fiction reader. High fantasy (probably my favorite genre) is very detail obsessive. So if you’re looking for schematic ready description, you’ll probably be disappointed. But you have the visuals you need to move along. Like I said, I’m honestly very interested to hear what fans of this genre have to say on the matter. For my money, I don’t actually care about the layout, specks of the weapons or things like that. I wouldn’t say no to a few more beats of description, but I honestly didn’t miss it.

15673254_1834716943465598_837346620_nOverall: Lance plus a relentless plot pace makes this a really enjoyable book. J.R. makes no excuses or apologies for what he writes, and I’m in agreement with him. This is plup fiction, action oriented storytelling. Any reader could zip through this book during a large meal and a tasty desert. (No, really! I totally read this in about a week, which in Matt’s reading time is about two days…maybe 5 hours of reading time. That’s LUDICROUS Speed at it’s finest).  At the end of the day this is a pleasant, action-packed story that blends elements of 1980s action movies with science fiction themes.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

Book Review: The Blood Mirror by Brent Weeks

Book Review: The Blood Mirror by Brent Weeks
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This cover and other images taken only for review purposes under fair use doctrine.

Spolier Free Summary: (Note: It’s almost impossible to write a spoiler free summary for the fourth book in a series. If you haven’t read the first three books, read on at your own risk, but know I’ll try to limit spoilers. You can rest easy knowing I won’t spoil any of Book 4’s secrets.)  The Blood Mirror is the fourth of five planned novels in the Lightbringer Saga. Gavin must struggle to escape a prison of his own making. Karris hasn’t lost hope that Gavin is alive, but she has to navigate the crushing weight of her position. This is all the more difficult given her efforts to build a relationship with the Prism Elect. Kip is leading his own raids against the Color Prince, and Teia finds herself in the most conflicting position ever as she begins to work more and more closely with the Broken Eye.

Character:  Fist the good. Without a single point of view chapter, Tisis stole the show. She had a lot of moments here where she demonstrated her strength and patience.  The NEED for those things affected Kip’s sympathy slider, but he’s been awesome since Page 1 of Book 1.  I simply felt that a “secondary” character with this much of a compelling story should earn some recognition. Karris, Kip, and Teia are all awesome. They continue their trend. Weeks does a masterful job of given each character not a simple parabolic arch, but a more natural (yet less mathematically friendly) rollercoaster of development. Teia’s task is nearly heartbreaking, and the strength she’s finding to do it is equally so.

unknownNow for the bad:  I need to cry foul here, and it’s hard to do without spoilers. There’s a plot twist in this novel that I simply have trouble buying off on. This has everything to do with the point of view chapters from book one. It’s one thing to tell me a character is outside his mind, I’ve seen stories to that effect, but the difference is, the “character” in question never had a point of view chapter. I loved the book. I love Weeks, but I expect far better answers in the last book, and would be disappointed if I don’t receive a more satisfactory explanation. Again, my problem isn’t with the plot twist, it’s the manner in which is was executed.

Like all epic sagas, this series is rich in characters, and I expect any fans to have favorites outside of the “main” point of view characters (or even those limited in viewpoint). My above gripe aside, all these characters are real and compelling.

Exposition: I’d say Weeks has this down to an art form. I can’t think of a single “data-dump” paragraph. Yes, we do go into other characters’ viewpoints to receive information, but even then, we learn about events as those characters do things.  I think Liv’s chapters are the most “dumpy” in terms of information, but it was still interesting to see what she was up to.

Worldbuilding:  The world is expansive, but it’s a little bit less real to me than others. I think this is because there are a lot of characters spread in a lot of directions, and I don’t see the scope. So what Weeks earns in the expanse of his world he loses a bit (just a bit mind you) in the visceral nature of the world.

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Other books in the Lightbringer saga.

Dialogue:  Some may argue the character dialogue in this book is tough because the characters are pretty similar. I wouldn’t really argue. But I’d read a whole book’s worth of Kip, Karris, and Tiea having a conversation.  Andross is particularly entertaining to listen to as well.  Yes, all of these characters are flippant smart asses, which could make them sound a bit similar if you forced me to acknowledge it, but I like that sort of snappy dialogue, so I don’t care.

Description: Weeks is more vague in this area than most, choosing to only provide clear description on things that matter most in a scene. This may be what’s affected the world building, but if you’re going to be too little or too much, I personally prefer too little.

Overall: I felt like I had to wait forever to get this book. I’m happy to say that when I did, it delivered. Very few series have me waiting for the next piece of info, but this one does. Weeks does a fantastic job of blending intrigue with action, and fans of his books will love this latest edition.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

A 4-Star Review for Caught

A 4-Star Review for Caught

caught-front-coverWhile doing my Internet rounds, I learned I had a new review out. I always like to share those with people. Any time someone takes a minute to share their thoughts about my work is such a thrill (even the not so nice to hear comments).  Feedback is a great thing regardless of its content.

Check out the review here.