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downloadI like Robert McCammon’s books, although I wouldn’t call myself a fan. The exception if Boy’s Life. I’ve probably read this book four times now, and I rarely read a book more than once because I have so many of them in my “To Read” pile. There’s something magical about Boy’s Life, though.

When I read it the first time, I thought that it would be a horror novel as most of McCammon’s novels are. However, while there are some scary moments in the book, by and large, it is a coming-of-age story unlike any other.

The story centers around Cory Jay Mackenson who lives in the small Alabama town of Zephyr in the 1960’s. The books is essentially a series of vignettes about his life and the unusual happenings in the town. There’s bootleggers, water monsters unleashed by a flood, a dog that won’t die because it is too loved, and an ancient dinosaur in a carnival sideshow.

All of these stories are held loosely together with a mystery. Cory and his father see a car go off the road and into the town lake, which is said to be bottomless. Cory’s father dives into the lake to help and sees a naked corpse handcuffed to the steering wheel. It’s a sight that haunts him.

The story is beautifully written. If there is one thing wrong with it, it’s that I found the subplots vastly more interesting than what was supposed to be the main story.

Although my childhood was ten years later, I can still see elements of it in McCammon’s storytelling. He tells a beautiful story through the eyes of a young boy. It has the sense of wonder that children experience.

While To Kill a Mockingbird is a wonderful coming-of-age story that is accurate and believable, Boy’s Life captures the magic of a young boy’s life.

I remember building forts and fighting fake monsters and bad guys. I remember my friends and I riding bikes, racing go-karts, and exploring the woods behind where I lived. We had once place where we would play and pretend that it was another world.

When I read Boy’s Life, I think back on my childhood and think that if what I used to imagine had been real, it would have been a lot like Boy’s Life.

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The_Sum_of_All_MenI originally read the fantasy novel, The Runelords, when it came out years ago. It caught my attention and I went on to become a fan of David Farland (aka Dave Wolverton). I’ve also gone on to read the other books in the series.

I recently downloaded the e-book for my Kindle and re-read it. I am happy to say that I still like it.

It starts out like a typical fantasy novel, but then you quickly discover a unique magic system where traits can be transferred from one person to another using rune brands made of blood metal. The traits are called endowments and the rich and knights use the runes to increase their strength, speed, sight, beauty, etc. and become runelords.

The catch with endowments is that the giver of the trait (a dedicate) loses it. So someone giving their sight will be left blind. The care of the dedicate is then the responsibility of the recipient of the trait. It’s a moral responsibility, but also the trait only last as long dedicate lives.

Prince Gaborn Orden is a runelord who is also starts to realize that he is being endowed with another type of magic. Earth magic. He has traveled to a foreign land to try and convince Princess Iome Sylvarresta to marry him.

However, he is caught up in political intrique and a power struggle at the kingdom is invaded and taken by Raj Ahten. Ahten says that he wants to protect mankind from invasion from the reavers, huge monstrous creatures. While his goal is admirable, his method is to take thousands of endowments by whatever means necessary. This had turned him into a force of nature.

Gaborn finds himself on the run, trying to avoid capture by Ahten and save Iome whose has been forced to become a dedicate to Ahten.

Meanwhile, King Orden, Gaborn’s father rushes to try and help his friend, King Sylvarresta. Facing an opponent like Ahten, who can use his endowments of voice to convince enemies to surrender without a fight, forces Orden to make some risky decisions.

What I liked about the book was the characters who were deep and complex. The good guys don’t always win and when sacrifices are made, you feel them deeply because Farland has created characters you can identify with.

There are eight books in the series so far, but the series takes a radical change midway through. It should have probably been called a different series. The second half of the series is good, but not nearly as good as the first four books.

BeastlyBonesBeastly Bones is the second novel in the Jackaby series by William Ritter. I’ve heard the books described as a cross between Sherlock Holmes, Doctor Who, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and if you read them, you will see all those elements.

In this second book, paranormal investigator R. F. Jackaby and his assistant, Abigail Rook, find themselves at the site of unearthed dinosaur bones. Paleontology was Abigail’s father’s profession and an interest of her. Jackaby is uninterested until the site becomes connected to a series of unusual murders that Jackaby, Abigail, and Detective Charlie Barker set out to solve. Needless to say, there is much more going on at the dig site than first appears.

The book is still a fun adventure, but it lacked a little something that the first book had. Perhaps it is that Jackaby doesn’t seem quite so odd now in the second book or that this book seemed more grounded in reality than the first book.

I enjoyed the new character Hank, a master trapper. He reminds me somewhat of Hagrid from the Harry Potter novels. I hope he shows up in future stories.

I very much enjoyed the exploration of the dinosaur dig site and the rivalry between the two scientists. I recently read a book about the first discovery of dinosaur bones and there definitely was fighting between different scientific parties.

The book also sets up the next story and a character who could turn out to be Jackaby’s Moriarty or The Master.

Though it is considered a young adult novel, readers of any age who enjoy fantasy will enjoy Beastly Bones and want to read more.

imagesI stumbled on Jackaby at a book signing that I was doing in Winchester, Va. A placard described it as Doctor Who meets Sherlock Holmes. Being a fan of both Doctor Who and the Sherlock, I was intrigued. I thought my youngest son would enjoy it since he is even a bigger Doctor Who than I am. I bought him a copy since I keep trying to get him to read more when all he wants to do is play Five Nights at Freddy’s.

I still don’t think he has read the book, but I bought a ebook novella about R. F. Jackaby called The Map. I really enjoyed that story so I decided not to wait for my son to give me his opinion of the book. I decided to read it.

I loved it. It is definitely a cross between Doctor Who and Sherlock, and you don’t have to be a kid to enjoy it.

The story is told from the viewpoint of Abigail Rook, a young woman who comes to New Fiddleham in New England looking for work in 1892.

She meets R. F. Jackaby, a quirky individual to say the least. He is in need of an assistant. All of his previous assistants have quit on him, except the for the one that was turned into a duck. Yes, a duck.

Jackaby investigates the supernatural, unexplained and unusual. He understands the supernatural and can see mythical creatures that most others can’t. However, sometimes, he’s not so good about the details.

That’s where Abigail comes in. She catches the details at a crime scene. Together, they begin to work together to solve a series of murders that Jackaby believes is leading to something much larger. They are aided by a young detective named Charlie Cane, who has his own secret to hide.

The similarities to Sherlock Holmes are easy to spot. Detective and assistant, who tells the story. Victorian era setting, although this story is in America. Attention to details, although Abigail has this talent.

The Doctor Who similarity comes from Jackaby’s personality. As I read the book, I couldn’t help but picture Matt Smith’s performance as The Doctor. I could even picture Jackaby dressed as The Doctor did in the Christmas special episode “The Snowmen.” The Doctor also has clever assistants who are generally females. Plus, the supernatural monsters are more the style of Doctor Who.

Jackaby is a fun story filled with action and mystery in a very unusual, yet familiar world. I will say, guessing who the killer was, wasn’t that hard, though I had no idea what the killer was.

Besides this book and the short story, there is also a sequel that I haven’t read yet and a third book on the way so Jackaby is turning into a nice series that I will be following.

The Warded ManI’m not sure why I decided to buy The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett, but I now have another fantasy writer that I’ll be reading.

I wasn’t sure what was happening at first. There were three storylines that didn’t interact until late in the book. Also, I didn’t even try to follow the dating system, but I realized while following the three storylines that the stories weren’t running simultaneously.

However, I enjoyed all three of the characters. There is the warded man, an herb gatherer, and a jongleur. They are different ages, have led different lives, and have different personalities. The two-thirds or so of the book you learn about their backgrounds and what happened to bring them to the point where their lives intersect.

They live in a world where humans and demons battle for supremacy. Humans rule the day, but at night hide behind wards to protect them from the demons who rise from the core. It is a battle that humanity seems to be losing because although they can protect themselves, they have forgotten how to use the wards as weapons.

While the book explores some themes of morality, science, and religion, it becomes a solid action story with all three of the main characters using their special talents to fight demons.

It’s the first in what is currently a 4-book series so I am anxious to see where Brett goes with the story.

Pawn_of_Prophecy_coverI like David Eddings’ early fantasy series, but until last year you couldn’t find them on Kindle. So I was very excited when they became available for download. They were even reasonably priced at $4.99. I downloaded Pawn of Prophecy, the first book in The Belgariad last September and put the rest on my wish list to read later.

I went to download the next book in the series, Queen of Sorcery, the other day and it’s not available. Nor are any of his other books in his most-popular series.

What a disappointment!

So does anyone know what happened? I’m hoping that they will be listed again soon, but seeing as how it took so long to get them listed in the first place I wonder. Why are his other novels listed and not his most-popular ones?

So now I have a lonely Eddings’ novel on my Kindle and I’m wondering when and if, I’ll ever be able to get the rest of the series.

Lies-of-Locke-LamoraThe Lies of Locke Lamora is fantasy’s version of The Sting. It has a title that stuck in my mind once I heard it. Every time that I saw it, I couldn’t help but start hearing the song “How Are Things in Glocca Morra?” from Finian’s Rainbow in my head.

It’s an interesting look at the life and career of a young man named Locke Lamora. He is an orphan that the Thiefmaker sells to a supposedly eyeless priest but an actuality is a con artist. The priest trains Lamora as a con artist and thief. Lamora takes to the profession and eventually comes to lead the Gentlemen Bastards, a small group of thieves and con artists like himself who prowl the land Camorr.

It took a little bit to get into the story, but once I did, I became fascinated by the con that Lamora was trying to pull off among Camorr’s nobility. I enjoyed his character and was willing to follow him through the story. He has to deal with rival gangs and Camorr’s secret police, but the main opponent is a mysterious character called the Gray King.

The Gray King has come to overthrow the current leadership of Camorr’s underworld and he does so in a brutal fashion. Then he sets out to do much the same with the nobility. However, he makes the mistake of crossing Lamora in a deadly fashion and forcing Lamora to take on a man that he himself fears.

I was delighted to stumble across Scott Lynch. He is one of a new set of fantasy writers who I’ve discovered in recent months and really enjoyed. The other two are Brent Weeks and Brian McClellan.

The Lies of Locke Lamora moves quickly and smoothly. The main characters are interesting. Even the ones you don’t like, you can understand why they are the way they are. The plots has plenty of interesting twists as you would expect in a story that centers around a con. I will be curious to see where Lynch takes the next book in the series.

 

McClellan_PromiseofBlood-TPI bought “Promise of Blood” because I thought the idea of powder mages—people who can heighten their senses by sniffing gunpowder and manipulate its explosive power—as a fun magic system to use in an 18th Century world. I wasn’t disappointed.

The story starts just as a coup is overthrowing a king who has squandered his kingdom’s wealth while his people starve. It took me a few chapters to get all of the characters straight because there’s a lot going on in this book. Once I did, though, I zipped through the story. It’s not only a great fantasy novel, but it’s filled with plenty of political intrigue.

Field Marshal Tamas has formed a coalition with other prominent people in the kingdom to overthrow a corrupt king. Now, that he has a kingdom, he has to find a way to hold it from foes outside the borders who want to take advantage of the weakened kingdom and royalists within the borders who want to re-establish the royal bloodline. Not only that, but it appears as if Tamas and his supporters may also get caught in the middle of a God war.

There’s a few storylines that McClellan keeps weaving throughout the book. Some get resolved by the end, but others leave you wondering just what will happen in the next book.

 

 

Mark-of-AthenaIt’s a shame when such fun books have been destroyed by their movie version. Luckily, I had read The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan before I saw the movie. If I hadn’t, I might not read the rest of that series and started The Heroes of Olympus series, which has some of the same characters.

The Mark of Athena is the third book in the series. While this series could have been just a retelling of the first series with a different bad guy, Riordan has added an interesting new layer. Though the Roman gods and the Greek gods are by and large the same, the differences have caused the gods to be a bit schizophrenic. Just as the children of the Greek gods have Camp Half-Blood, the children of the Roman gods has New Rome.

Neither group has been aware of the other until Juno wiped the memories of heroes Jason Grace and Percy Jackson and placed them in the camp where they don’t belong. It was a desperate plan to get the young heroes to trust each other and work together to face Gaea, the mother of all gods.

As a group of seven Roman and Greek demigods set off on their quest to close death’s doors so that dead monsters say dead, they are pursued by angry Roman demigods who believe that the group attacked New Rome.  The quest takes the demigods to Kansas; Charleston, NC; Atlanta, GA and Rome.

Each of the seven must face their own challenges, but it is obvious that they are strongest when they are together as they face giants and ancient gods.

Fans of the original Percy Jackson series will enjoy all of the scenes with Percy and Annabeth as they explore the depths of their commitment to each other and their personal doubts.

The book ends with a bit of a cliffhanger, which is not unexpected seeing as this is part of a series.

I continue to enjoy these books, which sometimes surprises me. At times, I think this seems all too familiar, but then I just can’t seem to put the book down whether I’m enjoying the humor or the action.

 

Hackers 1 CoverI e-published my first book under a pen name the other week. I’m not sure why, but it felt like a big deal to me. I think it is because I gave it so much thought before I did it.

The main reason for doing so was because most of my writing this century has been either history or historical fiction, which has all been published under my real name, James Rada Jr. However, if you look at my bibliography, you’ll see a few titles that just don’t fit in—a Christmas story, a couple fantasies, and a young adult novel.

So when I completed my latest novel, which was what I plan on being the first in a series and started thinking about another young adult series, I started thinking that the covers just wouldn’t look at home on my current web page.

Then I noticed that an acquaintance of mine, Jeffrey Savage, not publishes his young adult fantasies under J. Scott Savage while his mysteries are still by Jeffrey Savage.

I liked this approach. It doesn’t try to hide who the author is, it simply uses the author’s name as a brand name so that a reader will be able to quickly tell whether Jeff’s books are fantasy or mystery.

I created my first pen name, J. R. Rada, to do the same thing. I’ll use this name to publish any young adult or fantasy novels I’ve got in mind. The trick now is that I have to create a whole different identity for this pen name, such as Facebook page, Twitter account, web site, etc. Anyone interested in reading my historical fiction will be able to find links to my current sites on the new pages.

The discouraging thing is that I’ve started to build some momentum using my familiar name and this feels like I’m starting from scratch. Hopefully, it will all be worth it in the end.

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