This is a story of Nik, an art student, and his girlfriend Jennifer, a dancer. Like many eccentric artists, Nik is obsessive – especially when it comes to painting his dancer girlfriend. On the day Jennifer goes missing, Nik’s world falls apart.
With few clues to Jennifer’s past, Nik begins a cross-country trip to find her and encounters a Dickensian cast of characters and a little Truth about Jennifer, himself, and love along the way.
My first reaction was – this was a fast read! I’m not sure if that’s a good reaction or not, but at least it wasn’t a slow, dragging read.
My second reaction was – I enjoyed this. Author Suzanne Alyssa Andrew’s writing is crisp and gentle and her language just pulls a reader in.
Although Nik and Jennifer are the focus of the story, the book is told from the point of view of the people Nik meets on his journey. Thus, the ‘circle of stones’ are the people we meet.
This is a ‘concept’ book and I generally don’t like concept novels where the unique form is more important to the story, but Andrew keeps the story in focus. Still, there is something almost uncomfortable about this concept. We’re getting the story from minor characters who come in for a moment, seem important because of what they have to share, but then they’re gone. There becomes too many characters for such a tight story.
While I enjoyed the book and found it a quick read, ultimately it was a bit unsatisfying. I might normally suggest that this is a good beach read, but because of the rotating character/narrators it needs more attention than what a beach read usually gets. Perhaps this makes a good fireplace read.
Looking for a good book? Circle of Stones by Suzanne Alyssa Andrew is a well-written book but the unusual narrative format makes it just a little harder to recommend.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
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Circle of Stones
author: Suzanne Alyssa Andrew
paperback, 272 pages
Ellen Cooney’s Thanksgiving follows one family through 350 years of Thanksgiving preparations. One family, one house, one room, one meal. Cooney’s book connects generations, shares family joys and sorrows and as family items and heirlooms are handed down and sometimes lost, reminds us what is important in life.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
The story itself is pointless. If we don’t care about the characters (and we don’t) then why should we care what happens to them? Hint: we don’t.
The book seems to glorify celebrity while trying to tell the reader that celebrity has its own poison and isn’t all its cracked up to be and that there may be other forces at work behind the scenes (yes, we have to get a little conspiratorial here – note some of the symbols on the cover).
I should also point out that the book has an almost excited, infantile attitude toward sex, with the assumption that music celebrity comes with a free pass to perform sex acts on and off the stage. There is also a pretty vile rape scene included in the book.
I requested this because I’m always on the look out for books that use music in its theme or storytelling, but I’m definitely singing no praises for this one.
Looking for a good book? Skip this and look for another.
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author: G.E. Butler
publisher: El Marko Books
paperback, 488 pages
Ronnie, a charming con man, has been estranged from his family since his sentencing, but his early release from the correctional facility (due to a technicality) has him nearly slipping into his past behavior (especially conning women to bed) and he feels the best thing for him is to move in with his daughter and grandson.
Nikki doesn’t Ronnie around, afraid, in part, that he’ll be a bad influence on Cody, but Ronnie uses his con charm to integrate himself deeper and deeper into Nikki and Cody’s lives. Ronnie recognizes Jake’s con and helps Nikki shake him loose, and Nikki can’t help but see the positive change in Cody now that his grandfather is giving him some attention.
I don’t remember what it was about this book that had me interested in reading it, and I had no idea what to expect as I got into it. I was expecting something dramatic to happen, which was never really there. About half way through I thought, “Okay, we’ve established the characters and the plot, when is the dramatic moment going to happen?”
But this isn’t that kind of book. This is a gentle story about one woman turning her life around and making new connections with the men in her life.
This is what readers often refer to as ‘chick lit’ – a term I don’t care for, but when I looked it up on Wikipedia I found:
Chick lit … is genre fiction, which “consists of heroine-centered narratives that focus on the trials and tribulations of their individual protagonists”. The genre often addresses issues of modern womanhood – from romantic relationships to female friendships to matters in the workplace – in humorous and lighthearted ways.
Oh, this definitely fits!
At the point where I was waiting for something more dramatic, I was already quite invested in the book because author Tracy McMillan delivers really well defined characters. Nikki is the appropriately strong protagonist. She is strong, though she needs the nudges she gets to shake her up a little bit to remind her not to settle. She goes through the most significant character arc through the course of the book, opening herself up to what Ronnie brings to her (and Cody’s) life.
Although Ronnie plays a significant role in the book (every other chapter being from his point of view), he is more of a stereotype, not quite so well defined, and he doesn’t grow or change nearly as much as Nikki. His role is simply to provide the impetus for all the changes that Nikki will need to navigate. Given this role, and the more stereotype-ness of his character, I think Ronnie’s carrying half the book was just too much.
But this was still an enjoyable, feel-good book that’s easy to read.
Looking for a good book? If you like chick lit and need a good quarantine read, consider Multiple Listings by Tracy McMillan
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author: Tracy McMillan
publisher: Gallery Books
hardcover, 336 pages
At the end of each year I take a look back on the books that I’ve read and try to determine the best books I’ve read in each category and the best book I read during the year. This is a best of those I’ve read and reviewed in 2020, not necessarily the best books published in 2020.
I read more books in 2020 than I expected or intended to read. This is a result of the COVID pandemic. My summer job was cancelled, which left me with a bunch of time and a bunch of books queued in my Kindle.
There were some consistently good mystery writers that were a part of my reading this past year. David Housewright is always reliable for a good hard-boiled detective mystery and I read two of his McKenzie Mysteries this year.
I also read two novels and one collection of short stories by one of my new favorites, Gigi Pandian. I’m always eager to open a new Pandian book.
2020 saw a new arrival on the mystery scene – possibly over-looked by most mystery readers because here books are also science fiction – Amanda Bridgeman. As I look back, I think the two books in Bridgeman’s Salvi Brentt series stand out the most to me.
But only one mystery got a full five stars and so I think it’s appropriate to award it the best of 2020…
BEST MYSTERY 2020 – Atlanta Burns by Chuck Wendig
Chuck Wendig should be a household name because everything I’ve read of his, has stood out as tremendously powerful.
I don’t typically read a lot of Historical Fiction so there aren’t a lot of books in this category to choose from, making it an easy call.
BEST HISTORICAL FICTION 2020 – THE PARISIANS by Marius Gabriel
Last year I struggled to find some worthy children’s books and YA books. That wasn’t a problem this year. It seemed as though everywhere I looked I found some worthy reading in these categories. That Best Mystery could just as easily be the Best YA. 2020 saw the return of Bruce Coville – one of my favorite children’s book authors.
“Children’s Book” covers a lot of ground, and if I broke the category down more to include a specific “Middle Grade Reader” I think Coville would be a shoo-in, but for 2020 I think I have to award the Best Children’s Book to another perennial favorite – someone whose art is quickly recognizable.
BEST CHILDREN’S BOOK 2020 – COZY by Jan Brett
There were a lot of good Young Adult books read in 2020 but one of my newer favorite authors – someone I don’t usually think of as a YA author, but it definitely fits for this book. You just can’t go wrong with Seanan McGuire.
BEST YA BOOK 2020 – ACROSS THE GREEN GRASS FIELDS by Seanan McGuire
I like reading Westerns, but those typically fall into a good-but-not-great category for me. This year I read a couple of ‘new’ authors (for me anyway) in this category, and I enjoyed them. And while I will read a Craig Johnson “Walt Longmire” any time, any where, the latest didn’t really stand out. This year’s best western book goes to one of my ‘new’ authors.
BEST WESTERN 2020 – DARK TERRITORY by Terrence McCauley
Non-Fiction books have typically done pretty well on my blog here – I think they typically get better ratings than any other category. Of the 17 books I logged into this category in 2020, only three or four were rated less than 4 stars.
Normally, any book that gets 5 stars will be higher in line than a book with 4 and a half (or four and three-quarter as in this case), and while John Cleese’s Creativity: A Short and Cheerful Guide is deserving of 5 stars, Hallie Rubenhold’s The Five sticks with me as a much more memorable book.
BEST NON-FICTION 2020 – THE FIVE: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold
I have listed a Best Romance in previous years, but other than The Parisians, which I awarded Best Historical Fiction, I didn’t read anything worthy of awarding in 2020.
I’ve cut back on my Graphic Novel reading over the past few years but I did read a few this past year and I really enjoyed reading the reissue of Asterix, but one graphic novel really blew me away with its simplicity and power. And it was a biography!
BEST GRAPHIC NOVEL – BIX by Scott Chantler
And so we come down to the two categories that I might still consider my favorites … Fantasy and Science Fiction. I enjoy a lot of different genres, but these are the types of books that first got me reading and continue to thrill me. These two categories also have a fair amount of crossover and my selection for Fantasy could easily be considered Science Fiction.
In Fantasy books, it would be easy to award Seanan McGuire again for Across the Green Grass Fields. It’s such a good book! But my Fantasy award goes to an author whose work defines the field and should be studied in schools.
BEST FANTASY 2020 – FOUNDRYSIDE by Robert Jackson Bennett
And for Science Fiction there are some giants in the field – established and new – I read Jeff Noon, John Scalzi, Christopher Paolini, Amanda Bridgeman, Jim Butcher, Kim Stanley Robinson, to name just a few. John P. Murphy’s Red Noise came out of nowhere, was terrific, and I look forward to more in that series. But the best book in the category is easy to name. This book won’t be published until 2021 and it is one you won’t want to miss. I hope they print enough first editions!
BEST SCIENCE FICTION 2020 – PROJECT HAIL MARY by Andy Weir
There was one other book that I read in 2020 that I still think about. It’s hard to define a category for it. Science Fiction? Fantasy? Alternate History? I’ll call it Speculative Fiction (a term used back in the 1970’s for authors like Harlan Ellison and Thomas Disch) and call a special award this year. Read this book.
BEST SPECULATIVE FICTION 2020 – CORPORATE GUNSLINGER by Doug Engstrom
And so it comes down to The Best of the Best! Some years it is difficult to choose the best of the best, but this year was pretty easy, despite some really fantastic reads. This is a highly anticipated book to be published in early 2021 and it is very easily the most exciting, riveting book I read in 2020.
THE BEST OF THE BEST 2020 – PROJECT HAIL MARY by Andy Weir
It was definitely a good year, and I look forward to 2021!
I almost missed reading books by Gary Paulsen. His books came out well after I would have been interested in reading his kind of adventure stories, and my children had interests in other themes and genres. Fortunately there was a teacher or two who required my children (and their classmates) to read Hatchet – and I often tried to read what they were reading (if I wasn’t already familiar with the book) so that we could talk about.
I enjoyed it and quickly read many of his other books. Which of course brings me now to this, Paulsen’s narrative autobiography.
This is one of the most unusual biographies I’ve ever read. It does not read like a biography. It does not read like a memoir. This reads exactly like one of Paulsen’s adventure tales. This means a couple of different things.
First, this means that the book will be easily read and devoured and enjoyed by the same audience that reads Paulsen’s novels This younger audience is already familiar with how he lays out a plot and narrates a story. He spends most of his time here relating about his early years – the same age as Brian from Hatchet or Russel from Dogsong.
The second thing this means is that Paulsen had an extraordinary childhood. The subtitle, “Surviving a Lost Childhood,” isn’t just hype to make the book sound more interesting.
Before he was even school age, Gary was witness to the horrors of war. He lived in Manilla where his military father was stationed. His father was mostly absent – which was probably a good thing. When he was home, Gary’s parents were abusive alcoholics – worse together than separate. He learns at this time to fend for himself and to not trust adults.
He is shipped off to live with and aunt and uncle – the first time he’s ever shown any warmth or caring – and it is here, through the gruff manner of his uncle that he learns how to venture safely outside in the wilderness.
But just as he is learning to trust in his family foster parents, his mother and father move back to the United States and want him ‘home.’ A young child doesn’t have much say in this, and most would assume that being with his real mother and father is best for him.
Not much has changed in their behavior and when he’s not stuck living in the corner of a cold basement, he is living outside, sleeping under the stars.
Another positive, memorable moment in his early life is when he discovered the public library and the kind librarian (whom at first he didn’t trust because, like all adults, she must have had a secret agenda) who exposes him to the many worlds found in books, and encourages him to write down his own thoughts (when he tells her all the inaccuracies in the books he’s read).
It’s a powerful autobiography, and more than just a little depressing. Paulsen saw, and experienced, more terrible things before he was a teen than most people will in a lifetime.
This will definitely appeal to anyone who’s read a Gary Paulsen book, and it might very well reach a new audience who will come to discover some of his classic books because of this biography.
Looking for a good book? Gone to the Woods, Gary Paulsen’s autobiography is quite possibly more adventurous and frightening, more a tale of survival, than his classic children’s books.
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Gone to the Woods: Surviving a Lost Childhood
author: Gary Paulsen
publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
hardcover, 368 pages
According to a 2003 article on the NASA website, “NASA-funded scientists have recently learned that cloud-to-ground lightning frequently strikes the ground in two or more places …” and that the third and fourth strokes of a lightning flash will follow the same path as the second stroke. In other words, lightning DOES strike the same place twice.
But you don’t need to search the web for this information. If you want proof that lightning strikes twice, just read Andy Weir’s newest book, Project Hail Mary, and you’ll see that Weir has created a giant sci-fi bestseller, in the same electric path as The Martian.
Ryland Grace has a puzzle on his hands. He wakes up without a clue as to where he is, but he seems to be alone except for a computer AI that was keeping him alive. Unfortunately it didn’t seem to be doing the same for two others in his … wherever he is … as he notes the decayed corpses in their creches on the … well, it’s a ship. A space ship. And bit by bit Grace puts the pieces of the puzzle together.
An alien microbe has been discovered. Ryland Grace is brought on to the science team to learn more about the life form because Grace, currently a middle school science teacher, wrote papers about the notation that there does not need to be water to create life. Only in a biozone such as Earth’s would water be needed, but other building blocks could be used in other systems.
The science community as a whole mocked Grace, which is why he left and went on to teach kids, but now, he may be the best suited to understand this new life form. And as he remembers more and more, he also remembers that this life form is feeding on the energy output of the sun, which is decreasing the energy that gets to Earth, which spells disaster – as in the end of all life as currently known – on Earth if something isn’t done.
Scientists discover that Sol isn’t the only star that is losing its energy output – likely due to the alien consumption, but that there is one star, in the center of all the known stars losing their energy, that remains constant with its output. In which case, the answer to the survival for Earth is likely found there, at Tau Ceti.
The world’s best scientific minds come together (by force and coercion) to create a ship that can get to Tau Ceti in twelve years (using the alien microbe as fuel) with shuttle pods to bring back answers to how to save the planet, but for the crew, it’s a one-way trip.
Knowing why he’s there is only the first puzzle for Grace. Now he has to figure out how to save Earth. There’s a very small window of time for him to discover the way to save the human race and get the answers sent back. Take too long and the shuttles will return to a dead planet.
This book is amazing.
Author Andy Weir brings us back to the magic that made The Martian so successful – an abandoned scientist trying to survive. But Ryland Grace’s story is more complicated because he’s not just trying to survive, but also help humanity survive.
There’s lots and lots of science – which is part of Weir’s writing signature – and there’s also a really wonderful story.
It’s hard for me to tell you just what I liked about this book because anything I write will be a spoiler and a huge part of the joy in this book is making the discoveries with Ryland Grace.
Grace is our main character, but through the liberal use of flashbacks, we have a full cast of characters – at least one quite important to the story. Everyone is unique and individual which makes it easy to read, but just as with The Martian, where Mark Watney’s personality carries the story, Ryland Grace here is the smart-mouth, sometimes funny, obsessed scientist infusing his personal tastes into his discoveries. He’s also quite smart – which is good since he will need his intellect to save all of humanity.
This is a page-turner. I did not want to put this book down. Neither did my 21 year old son who picked up my copy after I was well into it and finished it before I did. And days later he’s still talking about how much he liked it and quoting sections of it to me at the dinner table.
I hope Ballantine Books will do a very large print run because this is going to be huge seller and you definitely don’t want to miss out on the biggest thing to come out in 2021.
Looking for a good book? Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir is proof that lightning strikes twice as this has all the excitement and energy of Weir’s debut novel, with a more complicated storyline that will hold the reader all the way to the end.
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Project Hail Mary
author: Andy Weir
publisher: Ballantine Books
hardcover, 496 pages
A small town is rocked by a bank robbery when the robber runs to a nearby apartment viewing and holds the group of people gathered hostage and then disappears in thin air even as the police and media vans surround the apartment. The local police department brings all those who had been in the apartment at the time in for questioning to try and understand how the bank robber escaped.
But as the leading police investigators meet with the former hostages they run into a little problem – the witnesses are no help. Some seem to have a grudge with the police. Some are more concerned with appearances. And some border on being absolute idiots.
Slowly, these people come to realize that their lives have intersected in an unusual way and they begin to open up to one another. And the police leading the investigation, who happen to be father and son, come to realize a few things – not just about the bank robber or the lives of these anxious, ordinary people, but about one another as well.
Like many, I am a Fredrik Backman fan, so I was very eager to read this.
One of the first things that strikes me is that this seems much different from most of the books I’ve read by Backman before. The humor, almost slapstick at times, with our two policemen like Keystone Cops, is almost over the top. We run in to idiot after idiot in the police interview room, and I must say that there were times I thought Backman went too far. The lunacy had gone a little bit beyond what I was willing to accept as standard behavior.
But Backman is a master storyteller and I should know enough to trust that he’s setting us up. There is a purpose for all of this, and he will get to it.
It’s ridiculous, and touching, and there are more than a few surprises in store for the reader.
One of the things I find most interesting is that there’s almost no central character here. It could be the bank robber, but we don’t really know much about this person until much later in the book. It could be the father police officer who does play an important role in the story but it’s not really his story being told. Maybe it’s the police officer son? Or the real estate agent who led the apartment viewing? Or maybe … No. It’s everybody’s story, merged at the intersection of a bank robbery gone wrong.
Let me diverge for just a moment … for a little over a decade I worked for a Shakespeare Festival and one of the things the directors would talk about was the reason Shakespeare remained so popular was because he wrote so well about what it was to be human. From his histories, to his comedies, to his dark tragedies, Shakespeare relayed what it meant to be human better than anyone else.
I bring this up, because I think Backman is our present-day Shakespeare. He’s now shown a variety of styles – humor to tragedy – and I can’t think of any living writer who does a better job relaying the complex human experience to readers. Even our hostages – who we think are nothing but a group of idiots – come to show us a tremendous giving spirit, as do our Keystone Cops.
The book is fun, funny, and quite moving. I did think that the process of the interviews with our goofball hostages went on a little too long without much variety and there were moments that I grew bored with the book while reading it. Though upon reflection, I’ve come to understand it better.
This, like all of Backman’s books, is highly recommended.
Looking for a good book? Read Anxious People by Fredrik Backman – you won’t be disappointed.
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author: Fredrik Backman
publisher: Atria Books
hardcover, 352 pages
If you are like me, when someone says “mermaid” images of Ariel from Disney’s The Littlest Mermaid film, or Daryl Hannah from the film Splash come to mind. Though lately the other image might be a creature looking half human, half fish, with piranha-like teeth – from Mira Grant’s excellent book Into the Drowning Deep. But if you are expecting a collection of these sorts of mermaids, you will be sadly disappointed.
Editors Cristina Bacchilega and Marie Alohalani Brown have gathered mermaid stories and legends from all over the world. The term ‘mermaid,’ however, is quite loosely defined for the purposes of gathering the stories for this book. Any human-like creature that lives primarily in the water is acceptable here.
It did take me awhile to get used to this concept that the idea of a ‘mermaid’ could be so drastically different from culture to culture. For instance, this book contains a tale from the Passamaquoddy tradition, here titled “Of the Woman Who Loved a Serpent Who Lived in a Lake” in which the ‘mermaid’ is more snake than fish, and male. It’s an odd tale as the woman who interacts with the serpent/mer-being is a vessel for the serpent’s poison, transferring it to her husband’s (multiple, as they die shortly after being with her). My note from the reading is simply: “Mermaid?”
I enjoyed this collection quite a bit, and I enjoyed expanding my knowledge of the mermaid concept, but at the same time, I can’t say that this was overwhelmingly ‘good.’ Only one story/legend stood out for me: “Julnar the Mermaid and Her Son Badar Basim of Persia.” Wait … does this sound familiar? It should … it’s more commonly known as “Julnar the Sea-Born and Her Son Kind Badr Basim of Persia” and it’s the 23rd chapter from Tales from the Arabian Nights.
This is actually one of the things I really appreciated about this book … the research of so many different sources for mermaid/sea-creature stories. I also learned a few things (“Ningyo, the Japanese word for mermaid, has no gender.”) and it did occur to me that the purpose to read a collection like this is not so much for ‘pleasure’ but for knowledge or perspective or cultural significance or social significance (which is not to say some of us don’t take great pleasure in expanding our knowledge or perspective or …).
Looking for a good book? If you are willing to expand your horizons and your concept of what a mermaid is, you should give The Penguin Book of Mermaids (edited by Cristina Bacchilega and Marie Alohalani Brown) a read. But don’t expect too many stories that project a Daryl Hannah style creature.
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The Penguin Book of Mermaids
editors: Cristina Bacchilega and Marie Alohalani Brown
publisher: Penguin Books
paperback, 368 pages
Thank you, Doug Engstrom! Corporate Gunslinger is a tremendously unique, remarkable literary experience.
Kira Clark is an aspiring actress. She has financed her education through loans. And with acting being what it is, she borrowed just to pay rent or to pay the premium on her school loans. with debt compounding, Kira faces a grim reality. Her loans were secured with a ‘lifetime services contract’ – meaning if she defaults, the bank will control every aspect of her life. With her debt now out of control and no means to pay it back, Kira resorts to the only option left open to her … she becomes a corporate gunfighter.
In this world – not so much a future world, but an alternate reality (and sadly not so far-fetched) from our own – there is no Judge Judy or small claims court, filled with lawyers trying to make deals so that they can claim a share of the payout. no, the final legal recourse is a duel, old west style.
After a solid year of training, Kira goes to work for TKC Insurance. Anyone challenging a claim against TKC Insurance – if they decide not to payout for instance – the legal recourse is to fight a one-against-one gunfight duel against the insurance company’s representative.
How it works is that the two fighters go into a single changing area to prepare for the fight. If either does not come out of the changing room and onto the dueling field by a specified time, the duel is forfeited and the standing fighter on the field is declared winner. If both face off, the last fighter standing is declared winner. The duel is generally skewed toward the insurance companies, of course, since they have trained and prepared their agents.
Kira quickly rises up the ranks of successful duelists, though admittedly in large part by psyching out her opponents who will often not even show up to the field. But even in an actual duel, the safest way to ensure a win is to score a kill shot, guaranteeing that the opponent goes down. But killing people, even though it’s legal, it’s her job, and those people always have an out, takes its toll on Kira. Unfortunately, her debt is deep and she’ll be doing this a long time, or until someone kills her.
How do I describe to you how utterly fantastic this is? The commentary on our culture is so spot on. We are a nation obsessed with greed and with violence (just note the rise in interest in MMA-style fighting). How far-fetched is it, really, that those in control of both (greed and violence) combine them? We’ve done it before (the gladiator games of ancient Rome) so it seems likely that it’s only a matter of time before we do something similar again.
Regular readers of my reviews will know that I often talk about how much I prefer character-driven stories, and while I’ve extolled on this concept, the character of Kira is just great. She sees her role as a gunslinger as just an act – a part to play, just like any other she might, using her theatre training. But some of her kills get under the facade and she questions what she does.
Kira’s professional ‘Second,’ Diana Reynolds – who personally trained Kira and saw something unique in her – is a wonderful balance for Kira, both in the story as a character, as well as for the reader to not constantly have Kira’s personality at the forefront.
While I am a male and my viewpoint is clearly skewed, I thought that these three leading female characters (Kira’s closest friend is Chloe) were written with warmth, strength, and integrity. It takes some courage for a male author to decide that his three central figures will be female and Engstrom handles with grace.
Finally, it certainly helped my enjoyment of the book that this is set primarily in the U.S. Midwest and I could recognize the basic landscape.
Looking for a good book? Corporate Gunslinger by Doug Engstrom is a powerful, well-written tale. The copywriter for the book cover lays it out perfectly: “Greed means debt means violence.”
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review.
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author: Doug Engstrom
publisher: Harper Voyager
paperback, 320 pages
I first played Dungeons & Dragons (or “D&D” as it’s commonly known) back in 1977. A number of the people I first played with are still good friends (some have passed on, with others I’ve simply lost touch). And while I was never able to get my own children interested in playing D&D with dad, my 23 year old son now has a regular group that gets together, some of them online, three times a month, to play the latest edition of D&D. Which is to say … D&D certainly has staying power!
For the most part, D&D is adaptable and playable for any age, though some of the manuals might get a bit complex. Finally the publishers of D&D manuals are offering up a quality book of monsters and creatures that are likely to be around and good campaign.
The artwork is something that will be noticed first and foremost by anyone considering this book. There aren’t a lot of lavish scenes – this is mostly a painting of a creature at its fiercest with just enough other background to identify a habitat. But the artwork, credited to “Conceptopolist,” is really top notch. This is exactly the kind of art one expects to see in a D&D manual. It’s sharp, strong, and evokes strong emotion.
The written detail on each beast is only two or three paragraphs long – just enough to get a feel for what makes the creature dangerous. It’s brief, but works very well for the target audience.
What I like the most, I think are the “DO’s” and “DON’T’s” for each creature … “DO THIS: Aim wide. Their displacement ability means these wicked beasts are never where they seem to be. DON’T DO THIS: Don’t stick to a schedule. Displacer beasts are clever enough to remember the schedules of travelers passing by on a regular basis…”
The category of beasts is broken down by terrain type (Caverns & Dark Places; Forests, Mountains & Other Terrain; Moors, Bogs & Boneyards, etc) and as we begin each new terrain there’s a short scenario, as if a Dungeon Masters was telling the players what they see ahead of them. This wasn’t necessary for me, but it might be nice for the young DM to get a feel for how to set up the action.
All in all, this was a nice book and I can easily see giving this as a gift to the young role-player – but I wouldn’t want to face any of these creatures on my first foray into a quest!
Looking for a good book? Monsters & Creatures, a new book for Young Adventures from Dungeons & Dragons, would be ideal for the young or new Dungeons & Dragons role players.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review.
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Monster & Creatures
author: Jim Zub and Stacy King and Andrew Wheeler (Dungeons & Dragons)
publisher: Ten Speed Press
hardcover, 112 pages