The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

Like many of our patrons and staff members, I was very excited when library books became available for download on my Kindle. The best of all worlds – books that are free, digital, and recent! As a test run, I downloaded (and immediately loved) The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch.

This fantasy novel follows the stunning exploits of the Gentlemen Bastards, a brazen group of expert con artists led by the singularly brilliant Locke Lamora, an orphan who’s been stealing, lying, and outwitting his betters since he was old enough to walk. His scheming is matched only by the mysterious Gray King, an infamous man who can kill with a touch and has an uncanny way of knowing things he shouldn’t know – much like Locke Lamora himself.

The setting of the novel is quite spectacular and fans of world-building prowess will not be disappointed by the invention of Camorr, a great city built on the ruins of an ancient alien settlement made of the beautiful, unbreakable, eerily glowing, and often deadly substance called Elderglass. It’s like Renaissance Venice through a looking glass: people travel via canal and drink plenty of fine wine in between practicing alchemy and dodging attacks from scorpion hawks. Women and men alike work in dangerous and deadly positions, whether in the criminal underworld, lofty upper classes, or the watery ring of female gladiators who use short javelins to fight 10-foot-long leaping sharks. The action is frequent but unsteadily paced; exciting scenes that would be the climax of any other novel are merely a bump on the road of this thrilling narrative. Lots of adult language and a high body count give this book a gritty, real-life flavor.

This book is great for fantasy fans who are sick of elves and prophecies as well as fiction readers who want to try fantasy for the first time!

While we wait for George R.R. Martin to continue writing….

After a six year wait, George R.R. Martin’s A Dance With Dragons was finally released earlier this month.  Knowing the pace at which Mr. Martin tends to write, we’re in for a long wait until the sixth installment in this epic fantasy series is published.  While you’re waiting, here are some other series you might be interested in:

Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time is the first series that is always suggested to me when I’m looking for A Song of Ice and Fire read-alikes.  Starting with the first book, called The Eye of the World, the story involves magic, an epic quest, battles, and adventure.

Robin Hobb’s Farseer Trilogy, starting with Assassin’s Apprentice, is a medieval political saga much like A Song of Ice and Fire, and it even includes an illegitimate son character a la Jon Snow.

Gregory Keyes’ new series, Kingdom of Thorn and Bone, starts with The Briar King.  Like A Song of Ice and Fire, it also has multiple character viewpoints and struggles for the throne.

And if you’re up for something a little less gritty but still tells an epic fantasy tale with fantastic world building, J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series is always enjoyable no matter how many times you’ve read it.  If you’ve never read them before, start with The Fellowship of the Ring, then The Two Towers (my personal favorite), and finally The Return of the King.  It’s next on my re-read list!

Doctor Who on DVD

Being a pretty big fan of anything sci-fi or fantasy, I can’t believe it has taken me this long to watch the long-running BBC series Doctor Who.  Now that I have, I can’t stop watching!  The main character of the show is simply called The Doctor.  He’s an alien (though he looks human), and he is the last of the species called the Time Lords.  Along with various companions, The Doctor travels through time and space in a contraption called the TARDIS (which is disguised as an old-fashioned blue Police Call Box) looking for trouble and solving a myriad of intergalactical crises.  The show has been on since the 1960s and to date there have been 11 different actors who have portrayed The Doctor, whose new look is explained by The Doctor’s ability regenerate if he is near death.

One of my favorite things about this series is the humor.  I especially enjoy the fact that The Doctor is always so chipper when presented with a new challenge or catastrophe.  He and his companions are constantly encountering crazy-looking aliens and monsters and fighting them off using wisdom and wit.  One of my favorite episodes so far had The Doctor and his companion Rose traveling back to 1879 and encountering Queen Victoria, who was being hunted by a werewolf.  It’s honestly just a really fun series to watch.

I know what you’re thinking.  “But hey, this show has been on since the 1960s!  Where am I supposed to start?!”  That’s the beauty of Doctor Who, you can really pick it up anywhere and still enjoy it.  I chose to start with the 2005 relaunch of the series, The Complete First Series, starring Christopher Eccleston as The 9th Doctor.  But one could also argue that the best place to start is The Complete Second Series, which stars David Tennant as the 10th Doctor, because Tennant completely encompasses the fun spirit of the series.  He is so fun to watch thanks to his acting talent and his always expressive face, and I’d say he is easily my favorite Doctor (so far, that is, since I’m still on the second series).  If you’re a fan of humor, sci-fi, or British TV, I’d strongly recommend checking out this series!

A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

Confession:  I am majorly geeking out over George R. R. Martin’s epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire.  I just finished the first book in the series, called A Game of Thrones, and even though it is very long and very intense, all I want to do is start reading the next book!  I’m really not sure how to briefly summarize a nearly 900 page book in a way that will make sense, but here goes nothing.

In the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, seasons can last for decades, and a long period of summer is about to end and lead into winter.  Lord Eddard Stark has just been paid a visit by the King of the Seven Kingdoms with a request:  he would like Eddard to come to King’s Landing and take a new position as the Hand of the King (sort of a second-in-command).  Though reluctant, Eddard accepts so that he can go to King’s Landing and investigate the death of the previous Hand, his good friend Jon Arryn.   The story involves a lot of mystery and intrigue, as well as romance, violence, adventure, action, direwolves, and swordplay.

The story is told in alternating viewpoints, so the reader gets to hear not just Eddard’s viewpoint, but also those of his illegitimate son Jon Snow, the queen’s sharp-tongued dwarf brother Tyrion, Eddard’s wife Catelyn, their willful daughter Arya, and more.  My favorite character, however, has to be Daenerys Targaryen.  She and her brother are the rightful heirs to the throne, but they have been in hiding ever since the current King usurped the throne from their father.  Daenerys (or Dany) starts off as a meek young girl succumbing to her brother’s every temper-fueled demand, but grows stronger and more confident as the book progresses.  I love seeing her transformation and am eager to find out what happens to her next.

My little summary is really just the tip of the iceberg.  There’s a lot going on in this book, and it’s all done with fantastic world building and engaging character development.  I’m pretty eager to pick up the next book, called A Clash of Kings.  Plus, HBO just made the book into a series, but I haven’t been able to watch it because I unfortunately don’t get that channel.   Have YOU watched the show, and if so, how is it?  Does it live up to the book?

The Lost Gate by Orson Scott Card

The Lost Gate is the first book in a new fantasy series by Orson Scott Card.  It is the story of Danny, an 11-year-old boy living on Earth among his family of gods.  Unlike the rest of his family members, he displays no affinity for magical powers, so he is often tormented and cast out by the others living in their village.  That is, until one day when Danny is climbing a tree and discovers that he indeed has a power:  he is a gatemage, meaning he can create gates through space to anywhere he wants to go.  This discovery puts Danny in great danger, as being a gatemage comes with the penalty of death due to the destruction and torment caused by the last gatemage, Loki.  After being discovered, Danny must escape his family and go out into the “drekka world” (the real world for us mortals without magical powers) and learn not only how to survive alone, but how to use this new power.

Card is very skilled at worldbuilding.  Though he does a lot of explaining so that the reader understands this urban fantasy world that he has constructed, it comes off as very easy to understand and interesting.  I expected nothing less of Card, who created a detailed and fascinating new world in his famous novel Ender’s Game, one of my personal favorites.  I will say that the main character in this novel, Danny, often annoyed me and I didn’t feel as connected to him as I did to Ender, but the story was captivating enough that it wasn’t too hard to get through the especially irritating parts (like when Danny becomes friends with young criminal Eric and engages in some unlawful activities).  If you’re a big fan of fantasy and enjoy imagining new magical worlds, I recommend giving this book a try.

Stardust by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman’s fairy tale novel Stardust is a charming story of love and adventure.  Tristran Thorn is a young man who has for years pined away after the most beautiful girl in the village of Wall, Victoria Forester.  One night Tristran bravely asks to kiss her, and though she refuses, she tells him that she will fullfill his greatest desire if he can bring her the falling star they just saw.  Tristran at once sets off on this journey, which starts with the forbidden action of leaving Wall and venturing into Faerie, a realm filled with creatures and magic Tristran never imagined.  Little does Tristran know he has been to Faerie before, and on the course of his adventure he will learn shocking truths about his heritage, as well as what it means to find true love.

This book was an absolute joy to read.  It has a little bit of something for everyone: romance, action, adventure, humor, and so much more.  There are a lot of storylines that don’t initally seem to be related (Tristran’s journey to find the star, an old witch looking to restore her youth, brothers fighting over who will rule their kingdom now that their father has passed, and a woman selling glass flowers at the local faerie market), but they all come together beautifully in the end.  Gaiman does a lovely job of crafting a new and unique world, and the details really make both Wall and Faerie come alive.  I recommend Stardust to anyone who loved fairy tales in their youth, because Gaiman has done a great job at creating one for grown-ups.

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

I really enjoy novels that are set in a unique and exciting new world, and Incarceron by Catherine Fisher fit the bill perfectly and didn’t disappoint.  Finn is an inmate in a futuristic, self-aware prison called Incarceron.  He doesn’t remember anything from before the age of 15 when he recalls waking up in Incarceron, but he is certain that he was born outside the prison and doesn’t belong there.  The prison itself has come to life and is reigning over the inmates, and Finn is determined to escape its cruel walls.  After discovering a crystal key, Finn makes contact with someone on the outside:  Claudia, the daughter of Incarceron’s icy warden, who is betrothed (quite against her will) to the foolhardy prince.  The two work together to plot Finn’s escape and the downfall of Incarceron, learning some surprising and coincidental things about Finn’s past along the way.

I was so confused when I started reading this book.  My problem was that I couldn’t figure out during which time period it is set, since there is a lot of futuristic technology but everyone dresses and behaves in a medieval way.  But that problem quickly got set aside once I figured out what was going on, and the answer made it a really unique and thought-provoking book.  The characters really come alive, and the technology is cool to ponder.  I was on the edge of my seat right up to the end wondering if Finn would succeed in his escape and what his true identity was.  Plus, I hear that it’s being made into a movie soon starring Twilight’s Taylor Lautner as Finn, so all the members of Team Jacob are sure to enjoy it.  If you like dystopian novels or anything with a sci-fi/fantasy slant, you’ll devour Incarceron and rush out to find its sequel, Sapphique.

Harry Mania / Rowling’s Birthday

With the recent movie release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, fans who are still hungry for more may want to consider some of the supplementary materials that have been inspired by this popular series.

letters to harry seven rowling

One cute one is Kids’ Letters to Harry Potter from Around the World.  In this collection compiled by Bill Adler, you’ll find conversational excerpts such as “The Dementors almost got me two days ago.”  Or, as only a child would ask, “What is Snape like?  Why doesn’t Snape like you?”

There’s also a wealth of critical analyses, including 7 by Frederick Zimmerman.  Though it weirdly but proudly proclaims to be ‘unofficial and unathorized,” these books can still be especially helpful if you’re in a Harry Potter book club.  This one gives a chapter by chapter inspection as well as “Points to Ponder.”

Finally, your study is never truly complete until you read at least one biography of J. K. Rowling.  Her rags to riches story is a treat for any aspiring author, struggling or not.  Now a multi-millionare, when Rowling first started writing she was living on public assistance in an apartment without heat.  Plus, she didn’t even have enough money to photocopy her book before submitting it to a publisher.  There are biographies available in both the adult and children’s sections, but one easy read is Meet J.K. Rowling by S. Ward.  What better way to celebrate her birthday (and of course, Harry’s) come July 31st?

Sarah Addison Allen

Though we have only one week of hot, laying around the pool weather, I recommended the following author to readers who enjoy light romance with an ability to suspend some disbelief.

SARAH ADDISON ALLEN – is from Ashville North Carolina, and brings the full flavor of her southern upbringing to bear on her fiction — a captivating blend of fairy tale magic, heartwarming romance, and small-town sensibility.

garden spellsIn Garden Spells there is a garden surrounded by a tall fence, tucked away behind a small, quiet house in an even smaller town, where an apple tree that is rumored to bear a very special sort of fruit grows. In this luminous debut novel, Sarah Addison Allen tells the story of that enchanted tree, and the extraordinary people who tend it….The Waverleys have always been a curious family, endowed with peculiar gifts that make them outsiders even in their hometown of Bascom, North Carolina. Even their garden has a reputation, famous for its feisty apple tree that bears prophetic fruit, and its edible flowers, imbued with special powers. Generations of Waverleys tended this garden. Their history was in the soil. But so were their futures.
A successful caterer, Claire Waverley prepares dishes made with her mystical plants–from the nasturtiums that aid in keeping secrets and the pansies that make children thoughtful, to the snapdragons intended to discourage the attentions of her amorous neighbor. Meanwhile, her elderly cousin, Evanelle, is known for distributing unexpected gifts whose uses become uncannily clear. They are the last of the Waverleys–except for Claire’s rebellious sister, Sydney, who fled Bascom the moment she could, abandoning Claire, as their own mother had years before.
When Sydney suddenly returns home with a young daughter of her own, Claire’s quiet life is turned upside down–along with the protective boundary she has so carefully constructed around her heart. Together again in the house they grew up in, Sydney takes stock of all she left behind, as Claire struggles to heal the wounds of the past. And soon the sisters realize they must deal with their common legacy–if they are ever to feel at home in Bascom–or with each other.
Enchanting and heartfelt, this captivating novel is sure to cast a spell with a style all its own….

sugar queenThe Sugar Queen was written in 2008. In this irresistible follow-up to her New York Times bestselling debut, Garden Spells, is  the tale of a young woman whose family secrets–and secret passions–are about to change her life forever. Twenty-seven-year-old Josey Cirrini is sure of three things: winter in her North Carolina hometown is her favorite season, she’s a sorry excuse for a Southern belle, and sweets are best eaten in the privacy of her hidden closet. For while Josey has settled into an uneventful life in her mother’s house, her one consolation is the stockpile of sugary treats and paperback romances she escapes to each night…. Until she finds it harboring none other than local waitress Della Lee Baker, a tough-talking, tenderhearted woman who is one part nemesis–and two parts fairy godmother. Fleeing a life of bad luck and big mistakes, Della Lee has decided Josey’s clandestine closet is the safest place to crash. In return she’s going to change Josey’s life–because, clearly, it is not the closet of a happy woman.

With Della Lee’s tough love, Josey is soon forgoing pecan rolls and caramels, tapping into her startlingly keen feminine instincts, and finding her narrow existence quickly expanding. Before long, Josey bonds with Chloe Finley, a young woman who makes the best sandwiches in town, is hounded by books that inexplicably appear whenever she needs them, and–most amazing of all–has a close connection to Josey’s longtime crush. As little by little Josey dares to step outside herself, she discovers a world where the color red has astonishing power, passion can make eggs fry in their cartons, and romance can blossom at any time–even for her. It seems that Della Lee’s work is done, and it’s time for her to move on. But the truth about where she’s going, why she showed up in the first place–and what Chloe has to do with it all–is about to add one more unexpected chapter to Josey’s fast-changing life. Brimming with warmth, wit, and a sprinkling of magic, here is a spellbinding tale of friendship, love–and the enchanting possibilities of every new day.