Wednesday, January 3, 2018

ARC REVIEW: The Eternity Elixir by Frank L. Cole (Potion Masters #1)

Twelve-year-old Gordy Stitser is one of the few people who knows the truth about the secret society of potion masters, because not only is Gordy’s mom on the Board of Ruling Elixirists Worldwide (B.R.E.W.), but she has also been training Gordy in the art of potion-making. 

Gordy is a natural, and every day he sneaks down to the basement lab to invent new potions using exotic ingredients like fire ant eggs, porcupine quills, and Bosnian tickling juice.

One afternoon, Gordy receives a mysterious package containing an extremely rare potion known as “The Eternity Elixir.” In the right hands, the Elixir continues to protect society. But in the wrong hands, it could destroy the world as we know it.  

Now, sinister potion masters are on the hunt to steal the Eternity Elixir. It’s up to Gordy, his parents, and his best friends, Max and Adeline, to prevent an all-out potion war.

Received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Eternity Elixir hooked me right from the start, opening on a hairy, pus-covered, slime-trailing monster moping through the house, who is in fact our main character, Gordy, after another failed attempt to create the perfect Halloween costume with a potion of his own invention.

Gordy is a natural talent at concocting and identifying potions, encouraged by his Elixirist mother to continue honing his skills, despite his young age. But when a mysterious potion is sent from his eccentric aunt while his mother is away and two shady lawyers start plying his dad for access to his mom's secret lab, Gordy knows potions aren't going to solve all his problems. With the help of his two best friends, he's got to figure out what the mystery potion is and why someone wants it so bad.

The Eternity Elixir is a fun and fast-paced introduction to a promising new series of magical adventure. It's a great read for younger fantasy lovers, especially anyone who likes Shadow Mountain's other great titles, like Fablehaven or Mysteries of Cove

Cole has created a clever concept with his new Potion Masters series. Instead of wands and spells and flying brooms, his magic system is instead entirely composed of magic potions and stresses the necessity of the exact ingredients and following instructions to the letter. It has a fantastic "Ewww!" factor in its weird and disgusting ingredients -not to mention the ancient mummy in the basement that requires constant treatments of air freshener- which boys especially will love. For anyone who loved and misses Hogwarts' potion classes (and Bertie Bott's Every Flavor jelly beans), then this is probably the series for you.

One of the things I appreciate most about this book is that Gordy is a good kid. Already on his way to being a master Elixirist, he understands the importance of patience, following directions, and obeying the rules. I love to see this in main characters, especially when they're fun and well-developed ones. Gordy does have to push the rules as the events of the story intensify, but it's never for mischievous reasons, and it's refreshing to see this in a children's book. (Don't worry; his best friend Max makes up for this in the mischief department.)

Cole skips over some other genre cliches by making Gordy's family well-grounded and fully supportive in its secrets, and giving Gordy friends who have already stumbled on said secrets. It was a nice twist to jump into a story where the best friends don't have the adjusting period and there's no tenseness in the family over secrets and differences.

The Eternity Elixir is a decent adventure, funny, fast-paced, and full of clever and weird potions and inventions; despite a climax that's a little anti-climactic, it finishes off with a great open-ended epilogue to set up the sequel and potentially an even better villain. There's a lot more to explore in this new world and these characters so I'm looking forward to the next Potion Masters book.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

REVIEW: The Prince of Korin by Melody J. Bremen

Prince Endomer of Korin is not a hero. Nor does he want to be one.

He spends his days in the royal library, poring over old manuscripts, studying archaic languages and playing chess. He’s never been like Krollis, his fearless twin brother, who is an expert swordsman and hunts wild beasts in the forests.

When an army of vizzens, the fearsome old enemy of Korin, attacks from the east and Krollis disappears, Endomer is left in charge of the country. He struggles to find a way to save his people while his soldiers are dying and his citizens are forced to flee. As he fights to gain the respect of the palace court, he discovers a threat coming from within the palace walls. There is no one he can trust.

He isn’t only fighting for his country – he’s fighting for his life.

Fans of Megan Whalen Turner and Jennifer A. Nielsen will enjoy this story of political intrigue and betrayal.

I received an ARC copy of this book from the author, in exchange for an honest review. And boy I'm glad I did!

The Prince of Korin hit that wonderful sweet spot of being exactly the book I wanted at exactly the right time and I love everything about it.

Bremen's tale opens on twin princes, brothers who are polar opposites -and neither know which is to be heir to the throne until their fast-approaching fifteenth birthday. Instead of going the route of rivalry and discord, bookworm Endomer and adrenaline-junkie Krollis have become estranged by their vastly different interests and personalities -a route that, in Bremen's favor, was probably not as easy to write and far, far more interesting to read about.

There's not a drop of sorcery in this tale, but it turns out Bremen didn't need any magic but her own words to tell it. Reminiscent of the master Gail Carson Levine, Bremen spins her tale of fantasy politics, intrigue, treachery, murder, and the rise of an ancient powerful enemy from the eyes of Endomer, a woefully unprepared bookworm of a prince, clever if a little naive, thrust suddenly under the burden of it all.

An easy and enjoyable read for its fast pace and almost effortless flow, The Prince of Korin is a character-driven story with a perfect balance of mystery, action, and intrigue. As the threat of war tears across the country, Endomer is expected to lead his people through the crisis, to either live up to or break under expectations.

Our view is an intimate one as he struggles to find his place, battle his own self-doubt, earn the respect of the court, and -perhaps my favorite of all- find a way to connect with his brother. Their relationship grows and blossoms as they come to understand one another for the first time, to appreciate the others obvious and not so obvious strengths and weaknesses -and not at all in the way you'd expect.

While not unpredictable, The Prince of Korin is still immensely enjoyable and kept me up into the wee hours of the morning.

I'm still trying to decide whether my favorite character is Endomer -bookworm power!- or the intimidating bodyguard Baclen, for his gruffness, tough love, and irreverent sense of humor. As a pair, at least, they're impossible not to love!

"You'll be fine," Baclen said.
I shook my head. "I can't even get on a horse without someone helping me."
"I'll help you get on your horse."
Somehow, I could still smile. "That's reassuring."

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

5 Book Recommendations to Ease Your LAST JEDI Disappointments

If, like me, you were more than a little disappointed in The Last Jedi's contribution to Disney's take on Star Wars, here are some reading suggestions to restore your faith in galaxies close and those far, far away...

1. The Thrawn Trilogy by Timothy Zahn
An obvious choice, perhaps, but with good reason. Widely regarded as one of the best series in the Star Wars Extended Universe (the former canon, since demoted to 'Legends'), this brings Luke, Han, and Leia back to life in true Star Wars fashion. It is a thing of beauty, for both character and story. Zahn is a master storyteller and one who does the universe justice, even creating here two characters -Mara Jade and Talon Karrde- who became favorites in the EU and were later used by many different authors. The Heir to the Empire and its sequels were long-held as the canonical sequel trilogy to George Lucas' originals. In fact, during the early days of the announcement of Disney's new trilogy, many fans believed it would be this story they would adapt to film.

2. The Reckoners by Brandon Sanderson
This epic trilogy of superhero fiction is brilliant and will work as a wonderful salve if anyone else (ironically) lost hope despite The Last Jedi's 'spark of hope' theme. In a world where absolute power corrupts absolutely, superpowers corrupt even the best of mankind into supervillains and a ragtag bunch of vigilantes fight for hope and freedom. Also included: terrible, hilariously terrible, analogies around every corner.

3. The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer
While this doesn't include lightsabers or a mystical Force, it's a fantastic space opera that includes rebellions, a tyrannical government, mind control, ordinary people turned heroes, political intrigue -and, best of all, fairy tale adaptations. ^_^

4. Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Another great addition to the Star Wars EU, this goes into more detail -and tries to make sense of- the events between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. It features fantastic and heartbreaking development for familiar characters with especial focus on Anakin and the events that make his downfall more believable, an in-depth look at the dubious morals from both the Jedi Order and the Republic that led to the galaxy's downfall, but also an incredible arc for EU character Quinlan Vos, a gray Jedi and a kind of anti-Anakin. This series has so many different facets, so many great stories, and definitely worth reading.

5. Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa
This sci-fi/fantasy manga will definitely appeal to Star Wars fans for its unique worldbuilding, lovable characters, and depth of mythology. Instead of the mystical Force, it uses magical alchemy, a power more scientific but perhaps not as understood by its practitioners as they'd like to think (reminiscent, I think, of both the Old Republic's Jedi Order and the supposition hinted at in The Last Jedi). Like Star Wars, it too centers around a terrible struggle between good and evil, its villains not drawn to the dark side but instead born of the dark side of humanity. Filled with an eccentric and lovable array of heroes, anti-heroes, revolutionaries, vigilantes, and big-hearted everyday people, this will definitely make a good read for fans who enjoyed those aspects of Star Wars.

BONUS 6. Knights of the Old Republic
Contributed by a follower over on my Facebook page!
"Some good picks! If I might add, for what I feel to be a truly great Star Wars adventure (for the main arc, anyway), the Knights of the Old Republic comic line. Zayne Carrick is one of my all-time favorite Star Wars characters, and the supporting cast is also great."

Do you have any suggestions?

Monday, December 18, 2017

THE LAST JEDI -Why Bother? (Spoiler-Free Review)

Hey guys! Here's my SPOILER-FREE basic review; I'm also working on my total SW-nerd analysis expounding on my likes/dislikes and that will post within the week! Enjoy!

Check out 5 Book Recommendations to Ease Your LAST JEDI Disappointments
The Last Jedi only serves to finalize the dreaded fear of the Rehash. While itself was a mess of plot points stolen from previous films (primarily Empire and Return), it fully realizes the unsavory certainty that this new trilogy as a whole is nothing more than a rehashing of the original. It's not clever about it, either, which leads me to wonder -outside of the obvious money to be made- why they bothered making a new trilogy at all.

A big stink was made over how closely The Force Awakens plot points followed Star Wars (aka, A New Hope) and it won't escape people's notice that The Last Jedi does the same thing with a mesh of Empire and Return. But it's much, much worse than that. This isn't two individual films simply duplicating pacing and story structure of they're predecessors. (If the story's had been original, we would have forgiven that.) This is Disney, attempting to duplicate the original trilogy -and it's success- as a whole and putting in no real effort or ingenuity into come up with a new story. At all. Don't believe me?

  • Good guys: Ragtag group of humans and aliens fighting for freedom and a republic, feautring potential Jedi alliances.
  • Bad guys: Tyrannical, power-obsessed, Sith-run government.
  • Goal: Defeat the Sith empire, free the galaxy, while the Jedi-potential character attempts to return the Jedi and its light side ideals.

With the huge expanse of the Extensive Universe's former canon at its disposal -still unfamiliar to most Star Wars fans- Disney had a huge advantage, of hundreds of stories that would have been new and refreshing to most minds, and appreciated on screen by those already familiar, but they instead insisted on borrowing almost solely from the films that everyone who's even borderline into Star Wars has already seen.

Despite many claims I've heard that The Last Jedi is 'new', 'fresh', 'original', or 'far better than Force Awakens', there is nothing new here. Even the arguably original additions -like Finn's entire subplot or Poe's, shall we say, 'disagreement' with Admiral Holdor- are either (painfully) unnecessary or mediocre storytelling, at best. Even the poignant moments the film offers up -there are a lot, delivered in the midst of so much drama its downright cheesy- are marred by the preceding acts of pointlessness or by the fact they're obvious and tired echoes of the original trilogy, trying to piggyback on its incredible resonance.

The film is gorgeous, I admit; a beautiful piece of cinematic eye-candy. It's high on action, it's an enjoyable thrill ride of a film that's fun to watch, so I'm not surprised many people loved it at first viewing. But it's also flat on characters, squandering any potential the empty shells of Finn, Poe, or Rey might have grown into and, by the way, completely reducing Luke to nothing more than a plot device, whose every choice and action in the past 30 years was completely out of character. (I'm a fanfiction writer, guys; if you're going to continue a universe and include original characters, you've got to use them right.) Kylo Ren is, in my opinion, the only character who has gotten any substantial and satisfactory depth or development at all, and the only truly decent thing The Last Jedi had to offer. And I hate this character!

Like the characters, The Last Jedi is only interesting on the surface. Once you break down the pieces of the film, you realize there is no substance underneath. What isn't pointless filler scenes, or uncharacteristic if brilliantly acted Luke bits, or vital plot details withheld solely for dramatic reveals, you're left with a slew of fantastic fight scenes, regurgitated plot, and details that don't even mesh with The Force Awakens. (As an acquaintance pointed out, if Luke really went to that island to die, why did he leave behind a map?)

I predict The Last Jedi -and the new trilogy as a whole- will not endure. This, ladies and gentlemen, is a fad. Once the novelty of new Star Wars films starts to wear off, it's going to fade. There is no staying power, no emotional resonance, and no deep connection being made with its audiences, past the nostalgia factor and the adrenaline of its constant stream of actions scenes. Plenty of people will love it for its high-action, cool effects, and cinematography. And you know what? That's fine. I've got no problem with that. But for myself, The Last Jedi has made me realize that the only true continuation lies in the Classic Canon (now dubbed 'Legends') and that's where I'm going to satisfy my Star Wars cravings for now on.

I don't plan to pursue Disney's new franchise any farther. That is to say, not actively or ardently. I'm still currently enjoying Star Wars: Rebels, I've got quite a few of the newer books I still haven't read, and I'll have no qualms about picking up any story or some of the solo movies that might pique my interest. But the new stuff is not canon to me; this is the weird alternative universe version of events that always get spin-offs in the comic book industry and nothing more.

2 out of 5 stars

PSSST! If you were a little disappointed in The Last Jedi -or completely disillusioned by it- I made a list of books to help restore your faith in galaxies near and far, far away! Check out 5 Book Recommendations to Ease Your LAST JEDI Disappointments