Monday, June 18, 2018

The Bookwyrm's Review of Charlemagne: Father of the Franks, Leader of the Lombards, and Premier Holy Roman Emperor

Author: In60Learning

Length: 42 Pages/ 1 hr, 2 mins. (Audio)

Release Date: February 3, 2018/February 28, 2018

Publisher: In60Learning

Narrator: William Kenny

While I normally do reviews of Fantasy novels, I have always had a passion for history. Ancient Greece and Rome, Indian history, Medieval and renaissance history, history of the Middle East, I love it all. This book is a primer on the life and times of Charlemagne, covering the highlights of his life and reign.

The book starts off with the some basic information about Charlemagne (Charles the Great), including his family's history, the time and area he ruled in southern Germany and all of France, as well as a chunk of Italy. It showed how he came to the throne after the death of his father Pippin the Short, and how he expanded his rule throughout the region. It describes his various battles and conquests, and his ruling style, which was defeat your enemy, then let them rule themselves with his as their overall leader. His various alliances are described, as well as the one defeat he ever had in battle, fighting through the Basques of Northern Spain on his way back to France. His death and subsequent dynastic issues are also described, as well as his legacy on French and German history.

William Kenny did a nice job narrating. He has a smooth voice, and he has excellent pacing, never dropping into the dreaded monotone. He definitely brought an added dimension to the material.

While it is a short primer, I would definitely recommend this for anyone looking for some basic information about Charlemagne's life and times.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Bookwyrm's Review of Fear The Light by William Massa

Author: William Massa

Length: 200 pages/ 5 hrs, 17 mins.

Publisher: Critical Mass Publishing/ Tantor Audio

Release Dates: August 1, 2014/ July 20, 2017 (Audio)

Narrator: Kirby Heyborne

While a lot of the vampire fiction out today is more urban fantasy than Dracula slays, There are still some original stories being told. This happens to be one of them. It's actually a hybrid of a vampire story mixed with a murder mystery, and it will keep you guessing through to the end.

When Dracula awakens to find himself just before sunrise outside staked to a cross with Silver stakes, he realizes his very long unlife is about to end in pain and misery. When his eight progeny come together to determine the new leader of the clan, things definitely don't go as expected. The diverse group, including a renaissance era knight, a 40's movie starlet, an 1800's era Texas Ranger, a teen street thief from the Victorian era and a 70's Hells Angel. AS the group bickers amongst themselves, one by one they are being killed in ever increasingly ingenious ways. Trapped in Dracula's French Chateau, The dwindling survivor's must find a way to either escape or catch the killer before they are all killed. This becomes even more difficult when hired mercenaries arrive at the chateau, fully trained and prepared to kill vampires. When the last vampire is left standing and the villain is revealed, you realize this whole story is about the sins of the past coming back to haunt. Great way to tie off the story!

This is a shorter story, so plot was much more in the forefront than super detailed character building. That being said, you got a good handle on the personalities of the characters, their motivations and the paths they had taken to get to where the story begins. The setting is well described, the action sequences and murders are excellently laid out and executed, The mystery elements are all their too, and William Massa is excellent at building tension and suspense.

Kirby Heyborne's narration was fantastic. He has a softer narrating voice, but he has a wide range of character voices and accents, and has no trouble switching from Hell's angel to Hollywood starlet.His narrative pitch and pacing is excellent as well, and he makes you want to keep listening. He is a very talented actor, having appeared in quite a few movies, tv shows and commercials, and his audiobook work is pretty wide ranging and just excellent.

I think this is the kind of book that will appeal to fans of mysteries, vampire horror or urban fantasy. It has a little bit of everything from those genre's, and stands apart in a world of Twilight clones.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The Bookwyrm's Review of Alpha Male by Joshua Corey Mays

Author: Joshua Corey Mays

Length: 285 Pages

Release Date: February 1, 2015

Publisher: Joshua Corey Mays

As a huge fan of comics as a kid, I have been excited to see the volume of superhero/antihero/villain-centric fiction being produced over the last decade or so. Whether it be Marion Harmon's Wearing the Cape superhero books, CT Phipps Rules of Supervillainy series, Ben Bequer's Blackjack series, Jim Bernheimer's D-List Supervillain series, or even Nelson Chereeta's Dr. Anarchy's Rules for World Domination, it is a great time to be able to read the various adventures of these super powered characters. I now have to add Joshua May's Alpha Male in to the mix, although it is of a decidedly darker tone than the ones I mentioned earlier.

In a city somewhere in America, the world's only superhero, Alpha Male, blessed with incredible strength, invulnerability and flight, has driven crime to the lowest level of any major urban area.  Alpha is a huge celebrity, invited to all the galas, feted as the superhero he is. There is even a TV show about his adventures with his former partner, Beta Boy. There is a problem, though. The people of the city have come to expect him to fix all their problems. When he misses a crime, they get incensed he wasn't there to stop it. Basically, familiarity has bred contempt. In addition, the politicians are pressuring the police to rein him in, no matter what it takes.

On to this scene for the first time burst some actual supervillains! When a super powered man and 2 super powered creatures fight their way through a chunk of the city, Alpha Male has a challenge he'll need all his powers for. The two monstrous supers are captured by a street gang looking for revenge on Alpha, while the human one has amnesia and starts living on the street after he escapes. The street gang releases one to try and kill Alpha, but he manages to defeat it. The homeless one, Al, who has massive telekinesis, ends up with the street gang as well, and helps rob various warehouses to keep the group fed in the subway tunnel lair. He also has run ins with Alpha, who he irrationally hates, and it ends indecisively.  Meanwhile, the police are tracking down possible leads into what created the new supers. What they discover could rock the world as they know it, as Alpha Male and Al, now going by the supervillain name Omega, face off in a penultimate battle with all the secrets of Alpha's past potentially coming to light, and having much broader effect than it would seem possible.

Characters and plotting are definite strengths of this book. While Alpha Male is hidden behind his mask the whole book, his actions indicate he is dealing with a lot of personal issues, and not always constructively. One of my favorite characters was the police Chief, Rose, a strong woman in an old boys network that has to fight twice as hard for the respect she's due, while also trying to keep a leash on the loose cannon Alpha, who can basically do whatever he wants. Al is basically the kind of stock amnesia character, although his arc does develop nicely, and you do find out why he has such an irrational hatred of Alpha. The setting has lots of Easter Eggs, like a robbery at the corner of Kirby and Lee, or the local college having a Richards Building on Yancy Street. For those who don't know, Kirby and Lee refers to Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, creators of Spiderman and a host of other comic characters for Marvel. Yancy Street and Richards are Fantastic Four references. Definitely some fun for comic fans.

All in all, this is a good addition to the growing volume of superhero stories today. It's definitely darker than a lot of the more comical titles today, but still worth your time to read and enjoy,

Sunday, June 3, 2018

The Bookwyrm's Review of Scattered, Smothered and Chunked by John Hartness

Author: John G. Hartness

Length: 310 Pages/ 10 hrs, 16 mins. (Audio)

Release Date: November 11, 2012/ November 17, 2015

Narrator: Andrew McFerrin

In a crowded Urban Fantasy loaded with clones of the Dresden Files or romance novels with supernatural elements, Bubba the Monster Hunter is a breath of fresh air. Certainly, it bears no resemblance to anything else on the market today. I can't think of anyone else who could pull off a story about a beer swilling, monster shooting good old boy redneck that is still endearing and sympathetic, all without becoming a caricature. It also doesn't hurt he's really good at wrecking monster face. Hartness has also done a great job creating a fantastic supporting cast.

When it absolutely, positively, has to be shot, stabbed, blown up, decapitated, set on fire, defenestrated, disintegrated, banished, impaled, bludgeoned and/or destroyed, you call Bubba. six and half feet tall, north of 300 pounds, the former defensive lineman for his beloved University of Georgia Bulldogs comes from a long line of monster hunters, and has the skills, tools and support necessary to ensure whatever supernatural baddie he's up against is put down with extreme prejudice. He is the Southeast regions official hunter for the Holy Roman Catholic church, meaning he has a priest for a handler, Uncle Father Joe (a running joke, since Joe is Bubba's tech support genius Skeeter's uncle), a tech genius in Skeeter, who keeps Bubba in line as much as a skinny guy can keep a man mountain in check. Whether it be a rash of zombies being raised by a voodoo priest, campers being killed by a supernatural creature which may or may not be a love lorn Rakshasa, a nest of vampires in a ballet troop, a bigfoot out of his territory scaring locals, or a possible chimichanga...err, Chupacabra killing livestock, Bubba is just the guy to handle it, usually with a bunch of rounds from his Desert Eagle .50 Caliber pistol. 

When a new threat calling himself the Messiah has all the supernatural world aching to rise up and take over the world as the apex predators, Bubba has to team with agent Amy Hall of DEMON (Department of Extradimensional Mystical Occult Nuisances, because someone really wanted to name the department DEMON) to try and discover who the messiah is and how they can stop him. The problem is, the Messiah turns out to be a problem left from Bubba's past that he never saw coming, and which he might not be able to defeat.

This is honestly one of my favorite Urban Fantasy series. Bubba is just such a fun character. He could have been written as a total caricature of a good old boy redneck, but instead, underneath all that is an intelligent, clever man, trying to do right by his friends and those he protects. He also has a live and let live policy. If a "monster" isn't hurting people, Bubba feels no need to ensure they take a dirt nap. He only puts down the true monsters. You get the feeling there is more to Bubba than meets the eye. He is very well written, and a fully fleshed out character. His various associates are all well written as well, with the core three of Skeeter, Amy and Uncle Father Joe being given a lot of attention to make sure they resonate with the reader. The villains, some of which are hilarious, and some of which are deadly serious, also get a lot of attention. They all have realistic, for monsters, goals and reasons for their actions, even if it's just the need to feed, because that's their nature. 

The dialogue is snappy, with the banter between Bubba and Skeeter especially good. The plot moves along rapidly, never leaving you feeling as though its lagging. It is also consistent within its universe, the only inconsistency being Bubba's height, which is mentioned throughout the book as six foot three to six. Other than that little hiccup, its very consistent. The setting is well described, and being familiar with the areas he travels in, I can say for a fact its realistically described.

Andrew McFerrin  does a good job voicing the various characters. He nails the southern accent they use, and he brings each character to a life of their own. his Skeeter voice is a particular favorite. His narrative pacing is excellent, and never devolves into a monotone or uneven pacing. All in all, and excellent narration.

I will admit to being an unabashed fan of this series. The later books only build on what this one starts, and I can't recommend it highly enough to any fan of urban fantasy.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Bookwyrm's review of Son of a Liche by J. Zachary Pike

Author: J. Zachary Pike

Length: 616 Pages/ 20 Hrs, 9 Mins (Audio)

Release Date: May 22, 2018/May 3, 2018 (Audio)

Publisher: Gnomish Press LLC

Narrator: Doug Tisdale, Jr.

Its always a worry when getting book two in a series with a first book as good as Orconomics that the book will be a letdown, not being able to capture the same magic as the first. Well, after reading and listening to Son of a Liche, I can attest that this is not an issue. While it follows in the same vein as Orconomics, it improves in a lot of ways what was already a fantastic series debut. More action, deeper plot, character revelations, bigger stakes for the overall world. In other words, it is a fantastic book in its own right.

One year after the events of Orconomics, the party of Gorm, Kaitha, Jynn, Heraldin, Gaist and  Laruna are still hunting for the remnants of the betrayed Gazvarda tribe of orcs, and having no success. In fact, they haven't had nearly the success they planned on. The Heroes Guild and kingdom have a a huge bounty after them, and they haven't had the impact helping protect the Darklings they had hoped to. The Darkling races of Orcs, goblins and other assorted races that were screwed out of their NPC status have formed the Red Horde, forsaking their clans. Meanwhile, the bankers and King that had betrayed them all are starting to haul in the loot from revoking the NPC's papers. 

Deciding to put the Gazvarda quest on hold, the party comes across a skeleton that is animated. This is bad news, since the only one who could animate a skeleton is a necromancer, and the group only knows of one of them operating currently: Datarr Urmayan, Jynn's father, currently a powerful undead Liche! Following the skeleton, they discover Jynn has gathered an army of the undead and plans to invade the Freedlands. Hatching a plan to recover some artifacts that may help them fight Datarr, they meet some old companions of Gorm to help equip them, and recover a powerful artifact to use against him. 

Facing Datarr in battle as he attempts to destroy the bulk of the Kingdom's army and Heroes Guild, the group is defeated, and Datarr gains even more converts to his cause. you know, the cause of undeath. It does have a great benefits plan, after all, and he actually goes recruiting with surprising results. Licking their wounds as they barely escape, The party comes up with a last dich plan to stop the necromancer and get an army of their own: Namely, the Red Horde. Now, if only the Red Horde didn't want the party dead, thinking they were the ones that betrayed them to the Heroes. All of this leads to a climactic battle in the Kingdom's capital of Andoran, with an amazingly staged battle scene that has more twists than seem possible. The book ends with plot lines resolved, but the story isn't over. In fact, it will be continued in Dragon Fired.

I can't stress again how fantastic I found this books. The characters were all fleshed out even more, with more revelations about their pasts, some of which were just completely unseen. The dialogue is crisp and witty, and it just comes across as banter that real friends and companions would use. You really sympathize with their struggles, and cheer at their successes. The setting is expanded even more, and the author's world building is some of my favorite in all of fantasy. You just feel like you are right there in the middle of the action at all times. The same issues from the first book are addressed. The nature of heroics, the good and ills of a market economy, especially when its abused by those in charge. Those same individuals, though, also show how easy it is to fall from grace. Even the least of us has it in them to be a hero, as several of the characters show. 

Doug Tisdale, Jr. did his usual fantastic work narrating this one. He had an even bigger cast to work with, and he still managed to give them all a life of their own. While Gorm may be my favorite character he does, several others were almost at that level this time. His narration is smooth and flowing, never lagging or monotonous. He has crept up into my top 3 narrators with this performance, it's that good.

All in all, this is probably my favorite read this year, a year that included Kings of the Wyld, Blackwing and The Great Hearts. Lofty company, but it has something for everyone who likes a fantasy novel, with elements of comedic, epic and grimdark fantasy woven throughout. I can't recommend it highly enough, and you are missing out if you don't try these out for yourself. If I did stars, this would be a 10 out of 10 stars. Its that good.

The Bookwyrm's Review of Orconomics: A Satire by J. Zachary Pike

Author: J. Zachary Pike

Length: 389 Pages/ 11 hrs, 46 mins (Audio)

Release Date: September 30, 2014/ December 21, 2016 (Audio)

Publisher: Gnomish Press LLC

Narrator: Doug Tisdale, Jr.

I happened to notice this title looking through Audible one day. The title intrigued me, as did the cover, so I said what the hell. Best credit ever spent! While the title has satire written into it, and it does have many humorous elements, it also has a serious fantasy soul mixed in to it, taking the typical fantasy tropes and turning them on their head, all while adding what must be the most hilarious explanation of economics ever.

Across the various kingdoms of Arth, the Heroes Guild is responsible for keeping monsters in check, putting down dangerous monsters and collecting the loot from their hordes. The volume of loot hauls over the years have been a huge boon to the economy, and now make up the majority of the economy. To take advantage of this windfall, investment groups formed to back parties of adventurers in exchange for a cut of the loot. After years of profitable ventures, however, the loot stream seems to be drying up, causing worry in financial sectors. 

This is where the story starts, as we first meet Gorm Ingerson, disgraced dwarf hero, who did the one thing you don't do on a quest. He ran away. For that, he was stripped of his ranks and has been on the run ever since. He has now fallen so low as to become a homeless vagabond, robbing low ranking heroes of their spoils. After one such encounter with one, where he unintentionally save the life of a goblin the hero was out to kill, the goblin, Gleebek, joins Gorm in his wanderings. Since he doesn't speak any lightling (human/elf/dwarf) languages, Gleebek speaks the shadowkin language, and its a hilarious version of I Am Groot, since Gorm has no idea what Gleebek is really saying. After being captured by the guild trying to get Gleebek his NPC (Noncombatant Paper Carrier) papers, Gorm is given 2 choices: Face guild justice, likely to involve a rope and a short fall, or join the prophesied quest of the seventh Al'Matran hero, what usually turns into a suicide run. Usually. Which is still better odds than the other option.

Bowing to the inevitable, Gorm goes and meets his new companions: a drunken elven ranger, a snooty dark mage, a reckless fire mage, a thief turned bard, a silent weapons master from Gorm's past and the High Scribe of the mad Goddess Al'Matra's temple, who is the ostensive leader. They are set the task to find a group of marble masks known as the Elven Marbles, and returning them to the elves. This is the start of a quest that goes in directions you just don't see coming. As the company travels around trying to find the marbles, they run across various dangers, shaking the rust off their skills and cohering as a unit. They even pick up a hidden member, who is much more formidable than you'd believe. 

While on their travels, they meet the most dangerous creatures imaginable; Orcs! How are orcs all that dangerous, you ask? These orcs of the Gazvarda tribe, follow the Path of the Aggressive Seller, that's how! They will make you part with your money with their value added proposition! While in the orc village, they discover a lead that the marbles may be in the fortress of Detarr Urmiyan, the evil necromancer killed years earlier by the paladin Johan the Mighty. Discovering it's empty, they investigate it and find the Marbles. They also discover that while he may be dead, Detarr is still kicking around, now its only as a powerful Liche! Managing to escape, they have to determine who gets the marbles: The elves, or the orcs who they were stolen from years ago. This decision leads to the crux of the story, as the decision of who gets the marbles leads to tragic unexpected consequences, when a huge betrayal takes place. The party then has to decide where to go after the fallout settles, and its in a direction you might not expect.

While this book is a satire, poking holes in traditional fantasy tropes, it is also a serious look at societal issues such as racism, class status, economics and the true nature of heroics. I mean, really, just because goblins are ugly by human/elf standards and live in a dungeons/tunnel systems, if they haven't harmed anyone, how is it heroic to just show up, but in and slaughter them all and steal all their stuff? Who's the real monster? There is a character in the book that is of a species so dangerous the Guild guide says that if you run across one, run away! The problem is, he may be a monster, but he's a true hero, protecting people and just trying to find a true home. How is he a monster? The whole issue with NPCs and their second class citizenship is also discussed, and really plays against the tropes. As far as the economics is concerned, you will have a solid grasp of how an actual market economy works after reading this, and it never feels boring, it's so well interwoven in the story. 

The characters are some of the best written I have ever run across. That's not just in fantasy, that's in all of literature. Whether it be Gorm's or Kaitha's rather tragic story, Heraldin and Jynn's desperate attempts to escape their pasts and even Niln's attempts to find meaning in the prophecies he's been given, you can't help but to like and sympathize with them. They are not just cardboard cutouts playing generic tropes, they are fully fleshed out characters, dealing with the hand dealt them as best they can. As humorously as possible in a lot of cases. The world building is top notch. Arth is a fully fleshed out world, and you really get a sense of the setting as you read through, and can visualize it easily in your minds eye. I consider this to be a setting equally on par with Ankh-Morpork or Lankhmar in terms of depth, darkness and potential for humor.

The narration was handled by Doug Tisdale, Jr. after listening to this, he has cemented a spot in my top five favorite narrators. He did a fantastic job with the various voices, of which there are quite a few, giving live and individuality to each. his portrayal of Gorm Ingerson is literally my favorite voice portrayal in any of the thousands of audiobooks I have listened to. Its that good. His narrative pacing is excellent, and you will find yourself hoping the story continues just to keep listening. Easily one of my top five listens of the last two years.

All in all, I can't recommend this book highly enough. The sequel, Son of a Liche, should be highly anticipated by anyone reading or listening to Orconomics. Anyone who like fantasy books should find something to enjoy in Orconomics. Get your copy today.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

The Bookwyrm's Review of The Great Hearts by David Oliver

Author: David Oliver

Length: 324 Pages/ 10 hrs, 46 mins (Audio)

Release date: May 16, 2017/ January 31, 2018 (Audio)

Publisher : David Oliver

Narrator: David Oliver

As anyone who's read my reviews knows I am a big fan of audiobooks, and thanks to, which connects reviewers to authors, narrators and publisher looking for honest reviews, it's possible to discover books like The Great Hearts. That's a good thing, since it would be tragic to miss out on stories as good as this.

Callidan Darkheart and his hulking partner Cassius are Imperators, Voice of the Emperor, the hands that solve the Empire's problems which others can't, often painfully and permanently.
They are also Callidan and Cassius, boys from a small village in the mountains, who watched their entire village be tortured and slaughtered by a group of barbarian cannibal demon worshipers bent on summoning their foul master to the realm. Escaping the barbarians and their demon, they swear revenge as only young teens can do. While escaping, they trap their pursuers and manage to have a huge boar kill most of them.

One survived, the tracker, although he was injured. They discover that he only worked for the barbarians, he wasn't a crazy cannibal. They start nursing him back to health so he can help them make it to civilization. During this time, they also encounter a strange creature in the dark one night, and Callidan feeds it. This comes in handy later as they face down a wolf pack, since this creature comes and saves them. It is a giant cat the size of a moose, called a Great Heart, and Callidan feeding it caused it to bond to him. This means he is mentally linked to it, and gains strength, speed, agility, increased healing and other abilities, making him much more than human.

Reaching civilization, they are introduced to the local army commander, who puts the tracker to work training his scouts, and takes the boys under his wing, training them as future officers. This includes training in a martial art from a distant country, which Callidan's abilities really allowed him to excel at. This all comes to an end, though, when a rogue Imperator student comes through the city, with two Imperators on her trail. This leads to a confrontation with the student, who it turns out is possessed by a demon. This confrontation injures Cassius, and outs Callidan's bond to his Great Heart, which forces the Imperators to bring them before the Emperor, who heals Cassius. He also inducts them into his Imperators,  telling them the training will either make them Imperators or kill them.

Thus starts the Imperator training. The sheer difficulty of the training would be hard to describe, and be a huge spoiler. Needless to say, it involves a varied cast of characters, learning the skills it takes to be and Imperator, including statecraft, combat training, diplomacy, assassination, and the basics of magic. They even take a field exercise to mysterious valley which has killed all who have entered it. The students and their Imperator instructor do enter, and discover the lost history of their world, which I can't reveal due to spoilers. They also discover the truth of the worlds magic, all in an exciting climactic battle.

This is all told in flashback form, as we start and continue the story throughout with Callidan and Cassius on various tasks as full fledged, experienced Imperators. This includes trying to track down the demon and his worshippers that killed their village. You also see that Cassius is bonded with a creature from the depths of time, making him a match for anything on the world, if also making him frightening in the extreme. This leaves us waiting for the next book for the story to continue.

I am a huge fan of Callidan and Cassius. They play very well off each other, and are hugely different from teens to adult. You can tell life has really weathered them. They are just so well drawn out, you are really able to get inside their heads. The secondary characters are all equally well drawn out, given three dimensions, with realistic motivations and consistent actions. The format of shifting to flashbacks doesn't work for all authors, but this author does it better than any writer I have ever read. It is done so well, it never feels jarring, and is used with great effect to foreshadow current events. The plotting is fast paced, and definitely qualifies as grimdark for those looking for genre labels, although there is a generous helping of humor to help offset the grim. The action scenes are so well described you would swear you can feel the swish of the blade, the bite of the edge. From the smallest duel to the biggest battle, you feel as though you are right in the middle of the action, blade in hand. You can't ask for much more in a fantasy tale.

The Author self narrates. This is often a hit or miss proposition, but in this case, it's a definite hit. He really brings each character to life, injecting separate personalities into each. He really gets a variety of accents and inflections to differentiate the characters. His narrative pacing is excellent, and you never feel the narration slow down into any sort of monotone.

All told, an excellent effort, one which I heartily recommend. As I've said, I rate this up there with Nicholas Eames' Kings of the Wyld and Ed McDonald's Blackwing as my top fantasy reads/listens in the last 12 months. Do yourself a favor and get a copy.