The Universal Mirror

Written by Gwen Perkins

Peel: Set in a fantasy country, where magicians are forbidden to leave or cast, harmful or helpful, magic on people.

This was an interesting read as it seesawed between being high-action and quickly paced to dramatic dialogs. The book is composed of four parts, and in the third, the plot became much more interesting and I became more sympathetic to the characters. The book did promote interesting ethical questions including how much a life is worth, and the value of knowledge. Perkins creates some interesting characters, though I would have liked to see more about the side characters. Perkins certainly set up a universe that’s very open to future novels. Personally, I would like to read more about Felix.

On the other hand, there are quite a few typos and occasionally Perkins over-explains an idea.

Nibble: “I used to catch frogs and let them loose on her head, and she never screamed, not once. In fact, she used to put spiders in my tea when her mother called on mine.”

I would recommend this book to lovers of fantasy.

My Rating: 7 out of 10 magical red apples

I received a free electronic copy from the author.

Gwen Perkins’s Site

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River Daughter and Other Stories

Written by Annie Bellet

Peel: This is a fantasy short story collection, with a bonus of the first five chapters of A Heart in Sun and Shadow.

All of the stories are packed with lovely imagery and imagination. Bellet’s language was playful throughout and fun to read. A few of the stories were on the darker side, especially River Daughter, which balanced out all the whimsical fantasy. My favorite story of the collection was “The Scent of Sunlight”. All together the collection was a little under a hundred pages, and a quick read.

Though the characters were interesting, there wasn’t quite enough space to really deepen them. For that reason, some of the endings didn’t really feel satisfying. I would be interested in checking out this author’s longer works, a novel and a couple novellas, to see if everything comes together. From what I read of A Heart in Sun and Shadow, that looks promising.

Nibble: “She was always hungry these days, her little Truc consuming everything as soon as it entered her body and then kicking for more.”

I would recommend this to anyone who wants a few darker fairy tales.

My Rating: 7 out of 10 slippery golden apples

I received a free electronic copy of this book from the author via LibraryThing.

Annie Bellet’s Site

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My Memories of a Future Life

Written by Roz Morris

Peel: Our first person protagonist, Carol, has devoted her life to playing piano. Her obsession and sense of self are seriously shaken when her hands are injured to the point where she can’t play without feeling pain, and no doctor she sees can help her. Carol turns to hypnosis and discovers a future life- but is it real or imaginary?

Morris weaves an intriguing web between her cast of characters, and when the suspense picks up the book is hard to put down. Her characters, even minor ones, were rather realistic. The chapters were pretty short, and the book is broken up into four parts; I found it best to read in the parts. There’s a lovely twist towards the end that comes completely out of the blue. Between all of Morris’s detail and craftiness, the book would certainly hold up to multiple reads. For the second read, I’d suggest listening to the songs mentioned in the novel, and those not.

Since the book was rather detail heavy, I found it easy to get bogged down in them, especially in the first portion. The story also builds up rather slowly, and I didn’t care much about the narrator until page sixty or so. As a small note, the ending chapter does wrap up and clear up the story rather nicely, though I liked the murky potential ending by stopping after chapter seventy-eight. All in all, a fantastic and intriguing heavy read.

Nibble: “I wasn’t born gifted. It’s how I’ve cheated with the unsatisfactory clay I’m made from.”

I would recommend this to anyone wanting a weekend thought-producing read.

My Rating: 8 out of 10 soothing spiced apples

I received a free paper copy from the author.

Roz Morris’s Site

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Five Dances with Death

By Austin Briggs

In this book Briggs displays an incredible world drawn in historical fiction, and mixes it with fantasy. It’s set during the Spanish Conquest of Mexico, which contributes to an underlying tone of eventual doom. The protagonist, Angry Wasp, is trying to keep his nation safe while also searching for his long lost daughter. Nations around him are becoming more inclined towards war, and the Spanish are beginning to march inland. There is quite a lot of violence and sacrifice in this book, but I found the descriptions tasteful and not overly gratuitous. Angry Wasp certainly lives up to his name, and in the beginning makes many impulsive decisions. In his character we see progressions, and a few recessions, in his development. Briggs’ simple language worked excellently, and most of the dialog came off as authentic and translated. The ending was actually a surprise and twist, which was lovely.

I realized towards the end of the book that I didn’t care what would happen to Angry Wasp. It was an odd realization as he’s an interesting and realistic character to read about- but between the amount of casual death and a lack of sympathy for him, I found myself rather neutral towards his fate, yet wrapped up in his story. As a warning, when reading this you really have to pay attention with the multitude of places, and jumping from reality to outer body experiences with spiritual doubles. A map in the beginning of the book would have been very helpful.

I found this a great story, that also filled a niche that should certainly be expanded. In my American history classes and books, it tended to be about how Europe colonized America, rather than placing emphasis on the people who were actually living there and being invaded. You can also feel the depth of knowledge Briggs has about this time, and it grounds the story without being distracting.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction.

Nibble {first sentence of prologue}: “I had challenged Talon to the ballgame because my daughter Dew had been his slave as long as she knew how to walk.”

My Rating: 8 out of 10 fresh jumping apples

I received a free electronic copy of this book from the author via LibraryThing.

Enchantress of Rurne

By Chris Turner

In this short story a warrior sets out to slay his master’s killers, but is waylaid by a seductress who has her own plans for him. Turner creates rather descriptive scenes for his characters to operate in. He also tends to use very pretty and visual language. The first part of the story has a feeling of impending doom as the tension steadily builds. We’re quickly given a complete-feeling profile of the protagonist, which makes the story easy to jump into. An early inn scene displays some excellent natural dialog, even if the situation is a bit cliche. Suddenly, a flurry of action occurs, and the tension dissipates as the story comes to a close.

I found that the tension dropped off a little too quickly. I would have liked the action scenes, mainly the fight to avenge his master’s killers, to be fleshed out a little more. I also would have liked to see the protagonist develop in some way, or have some reason to empathize with him. I found the seductress a much more interesting character, with a curious backstory.

I would recommend this story to someone wanting to briefly be emerged in a fantasy hero adventure.

Nibble: “Taar’s sudden-spawned desire for her flesh flared again and her seductive aura was a promise of rapture, to which he was drawn like a burning magnet, feeling a lover’s overpowering ache for the warm, inviting woman-ness lurking beneath that soft leather.”

My Rating: 5 out of 10 dark red apples

I received a free electronic copy of this book from the author via LibraryThing.

The Seamstress and the Wind

By Cesar Aira

The central story and fiction in this are fantastic. Aira flits between short scenes, pushing the reader through the race- a short sprint of a little over 100 pages. The story certainly has a foot in realism and a forgotten leg in fantasy. Aira’s language is beautiful, especially in the scenes where the wind, Sir Ventarron, and the seamstress, Delia, interact. It reads like a long adult fairy tale, with interesting twists and turns, and sudden surprises. There’s also a few themes that echo throughout the book, like travel and no-where. The ending was a shade disappointing as Aira ends this crazy world and situation he’s created, rather quickly and quietly.

I could have done without the brief metafiction in the beginning and end, both ran as rather dull and took away from the book’s overall feel.

Nibble: “To think I had to eat what a thieving wind brought me!”

I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a fantastic journey with lots of shallowly interesting characters.

My rating: 7 out of 10 red delicious apples

Good Omens

By Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

As a light humorous read, Good Omens was fantastic. All of the characters, minus the rag-tag group of 11 year olds, were interesting to read about and developed the plot nicely. The book itself really only takes five days, which is retrospectively surprising for how much happens. The book also has some interesting theological ideas attached to it, although nothing terribly original. Watching Aziraphale, an angel, being not so angelic, and Crowley, a demon, being almost a nice guy, and the two interacting with each other is rather interesting. These two characters certainly made the book for me, although having the anti-christ named Adam was lovely as well. The footnotes are also rather amusing, and add another dimension to the book. The only major downside of this novel was the ending. It ties up a little too neatly and easily, and just isn’t as great as the rest of the novel.

Terry Pratchett is on my to-read list currently as I haven’t read anything just by him. Gaiman on the other hand, I’m rather well acquainted with. I felt that his individual works, like Anansi Boys or the Sandman series, developed protagonists much more fully. As amusing as the Good Omens characters are, they still feel very two dimensional.

Overall I would recommend it as an introduction to either of the authors, or as a fun read on a dark and stormy night.

My Rating: 8 out of 10 shiny red apples