Anderson - Book Reviews

***** - Excellent
**** - Good
*** - Okay
** - Bad
* - Terrible
+ - Half-star

Tales of Great Dragons
J. K. Anderson
Bellerophon Books
Fiction, YA Fantasy/Folklore
*****

DESCRIPTION: From the Babylonian dragon-goddess Tiamat to the taniwhas of New Zealand, from peaceable Chinese dragons to the beast Fafnir slain by the Norse hero Sigurd, there are many great dragons and dragonlike creatures in myth and legend. This is both a collection of dragon tales and a coloring book, with images drawn from a variety of sources.

REVIEW: For a coloring book, this is an excellent overview of dragon lore. Many dragons are covered here, and some - like the taniwhas - are rarely found in other dragon-lore books. Not especially in-depth, but the articles are more detailed than some other books I own. I recommend this book as great introduction to dragons, regardless of whether you want to color the pictures.

You might also enjoy:
Jim Henson's The Storyteller: Dragons (Daniel Bayliss, et al., YA Graphic Novel - Four stories of dragons based on world folklore)
Me and My Dragon (David Biedrzycki, YA Picture Book - A boy wants a pet fire-breathing dragon)
The Book of Dragons (Ciruelo, Fiction - Dragon lore and illustrations)
Dragonlore (Ash "LeopardDancer" DeKirk, Nonfiction - Myths and traditions ancient and modern about dragons and their kin)
Here Be Dragons: A Fantastic Bestiary (Ariane Deleacampagne and Christian Delacampagne, Nonfiction - An examination of fabulous beasts in cultural, religious, and artistic history)
Step Inside Dragons (Gaby Goldsack, Nick Harris, Richard Jewitt, YA Picture Book - A 3-dimensional picture book about dragons)
Dragons (Peter Hogarth with Val Clery, Nonfiction - An examination of dragons in myth and story around the world)
Dragon Poems for Smiletrain.org 2011 (M. R. Mathias, editor, YA? Poetry - An anthology of dragon poems collected for charity)
Dragon Magic (Andre Norton, YA Fiction - A mysterious jigsaw puzzle pulls four boys into magical tales of legend and dragons)
Dragons - Truth, Myth, and Legend (David Passes, YA Nonfiction - Dragon lore and myths)
An Essay on Dragons (S. Shana, YA? Fiction - A brief essay about dragons)
Dragons: A Natural History (Dr. Karl Shuker, Nonfiction - Dragon myths from around the world)
The Evolution of the Dragon (G. Elliot Smith, Nonfiction - An exploration of the roots behind the universal dragon myth)
The Dragonology books (Dugald A. Steer "editor", YA Fiction - A 19th century "dragonologist" discusses the dragons of the world)
How to Raise and Keep a Dragon (John Topsell, Joseph Nigg "editor", YA Fiction - A guide to keeping dragons as pets, based on real-world dragon lore)

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Casting Shadows
J. Kelley Anderson
World Castle Publishing
Fiction, Fantasy
****

DESCRIPTION: When Edward Kelley's beloved sister Beth died, the last of his humanity seemed to die with her. Already embittered by the deaths of their missionary parents, his anger at the world and the heartless, hypocritical people infesting it consumed his very soul. How could the same loving God he once prayed to, the God his ill-fated sister embraced so wholeheartedly, allow such terrible things to happen - and how could the town he grew up in turn their backs on him when he needed them most?
Perhaps he should've been more skeptical when the mysterious envelope arrived on his doorstep, containing the details of a dark ritual to contact the entity known as Seth. Perhaps dabbling in powers beyond his comprehension was a bad idea, even deadly. But Edward's life wasn't worth living anymore as it was; if he could gain the power to take down the rest of suburban Hurst, Ohio with him, why the Hell not?
When Edward manages to summon a skeletal servant, doubts begin to plague him. Vincent makes him question his self-destructive hatred, offering him a glimpse of the human heart that still beats in his own chest. But Seth - and the mysterious stranger who started Edward on the black path - won't let go of their protege so easily... and some paths, once started down, cannot be lightly turned aside. Suddenly, the angry young man finds himself hunted by a powerful enemy, wielding forces he scarcely comprehends - all to save not only himself, but the very town he once vowed to see burned to the ground.

REVIEW: Placing ancient magicks in an unexpected contemporary setting may not be new territory, but Casting Shadows makes it feel fresh. Anderson weaves in threads of Russian folklore as he establishes a magic system that relies more on the caster's own subconscious than any teachable rituals; Edward can be given the tools, but not the knowledge to use them, and figuring out how his own powers work teaches him nothing of what other casters can and cannot do. Starting fairly quickly, the story moves at a good pace, establishing interesting characters and the unique magic system along the way without significantly holding up the plot. The troubled, angry protagonist finds himself transformed from a would-be villain to a would-be savior, but not without some setbacks and sidetracks as he tries to come to grips with his own emotions. His sidekicks - the skeletal servant Vincent and a jovial, if foul-mouthed, cop friend, plus a mysterious ally who might be more dangerous than his enemy - can only carry him so far; the path of magic is a path that can only be walked alone. Some distant religious undercurrents threatened to turn the story into a Christian tale of salvation, but - surprisingly - they stayed distant enough not to interfere with the plot, leaving many gray shades between Good and Evil and no clear-cut answers. The story lost a point mostly due to poor proofreading; many instances of wrong homonyms and bad formatting in general grew distracting over the course of the book. (I read the Kindle version, so perhaps that explains the formatting problems, but it wouldn't explain errors such as "hear" instead of "here.") I also thought some elements wanted further exploration. Overall, though, I enjoyed Casting Shadows, and wouldn't mind revisiting the universe if Anderson chooses to continue it.

You might also enjoy:
Flight (Sherman Alexie, YA Fiction - On the verge of murder, a rage-filled half-Indian boy finds himself falling through time)
Death Warmed Over (Kevin J. Anderson, Fiction - A New Orleans zombie works as a PI among the city's unnatural denizens)
Devil's Race (Avi, YA Fiction - A boy fights the ghost of an evil ancestor that wishes to consume his soul)
Plain Kate (Erin Bow, YA Fiction - In a superstitious land, a girl sells her shadow to a witch for safety, then must win it back)
Keeper of Cats (Elizabeth H. Boyer, Fiction - A teen girl seeks treasures, magic, and a killer among ancient barrows, with some help from her grandmothers' special cats)
Something Wicked This Way Comes (Ray Bradbury, YA Fiction - Two Midwestern boys discover a dark secret behind a traveling carnival)
Invisible Prison (Mary Buckham, Fiction - A half-shaman/half witch woman is recruited for a secret government agency)
Graceling (Kristin Cashore, YA Fiction - Born with an unnatural gift for combat, a girl is used as an intimidator and killer by her royal uncle)
Chamber of Horrors: Amulet of Doom (Bruce Coville, YA Fiction - A girl receives a pendant that comes with a demon and a curse)
The Very Best of Charles de Lint (Charles de Lint, Fiction - Collected stories of magic old and new by the noted fantasy author)
The Tiger Rising (Kate DiCamillo, YA Fiction - A boy's repressed emotions bind him to a caged tiger he finds in the woods)
The Stoneheart trilogy (Charlie Fletcher, YA Fiction - An angry boy's act of vandalism plunges him into the unseen war between London's statues and gargoyles)
The Paper Magician (Charlie N. Holmberg, YA Fiction - In an alternate London, an apprentice Folder must use her paper-enchanting skills to save her master's life)
Magic or Madness (Justine Larbalestier, YA Fiction - A teen girl learns the dark family secret behind her mother's insanity)
My Sparkling Misfortune (Laura Lond and Alla Alekseyeva, YA Fiction - A dark lord accidentally binds a goodly spirit to his service)
Heroine Addiction (Jennifer Matarese, Fiction - Five years after leaving the family superhero business behind, a resentful woman must find her missing father)
Bitterwood (James Maxey, Fiction - In a world where dragons enslave humans, a dragonslayer's rogue strikes may doom his own species)
The Falconer (Elizabeth May, YA? Ficiton - In steampunk Edinburgh, a society girl trains to assassinate invisible faeries after one murdered her mother)
Song for the Basilisk (Patricia McKillip, Fiction - The sole survivor of a slaughered noble house returns for vengeance)
Griffin's Castle (Jenny Nimmo, YA Fiction - A lonely girl summons stone guardians to help protect herself and her home)
Sabriel (Garth Nix, YA Fiction - A girl's necromancer father sends an urgent call for help from beyond the gates of Death)
Uprooted (Naomi Novik, YA Fiction - A peasant girl becomes a servant to the wizard who protects the people from a malevolent Wood)
Dragonheart (Charles Edward Pogue, Fiction - An embittered dragonslayer must join forces with the last living dragon to topple an evil king)
The Takers (R. W. Ridley, YA Fiction - 13-year-old Oz Griffin wakes from a fever to find that invisible monsters, escaped from a dead boy's comic book, have devastated the world)
Dracula (Bram Stoker, Fiction - An evil force from Transylvania comes to London seeking fresh prey)
The Bartimaeus trilogy (Jonathan Stroud, YA Fiction - An angry apprentice summons a djinn for vengeance, setting in motion a chain of events that may topple his magician-ruled world)
Heroes of the Valley (Jonathan Stroud, YA Fiction - Guided by a flawed notion of heroism, a misfit boy sets out to avenge his uncle)
The Screaming Staircase (Jonathan Stroud, YA Fiction - In a haunted modern-day England, three talented kids confront horrors living and dead)
Devil's Tower and Devil's Engine (Mark Sumner, Fiction - The sudden, violent return of magic reshapes America's westward expansion)
The Iron Dragon's Daughter (Michael Swanwick, Fiction - Abducted into the fairy world and enslaved at an iron war dragon factory, a human girl seeks escape and revenge)
Game Over - Extended Edition (Todd Thorne, YA? Fiction - Trapped between his divorced parents, a boy turns to VR terror simulations for escape)
Dragon's Bait (Vivian Vande Velde, YA Fiction - Accused of witchcraft, an angry village girl teams up with a dragon for revenge)
Testament of the Dragon (Margaret Weis, YA? Fiction - During the Black Plague, a nobleman sacrifices his soul into the service of the last Western Dragon for power and immortality)
The Wretched of Muirwood (Jeff Wheeler, YA Fiction - An orphan girl, living at a magical abbey, becomes entangled in world-changing events)
Caliban's Hour (Tad Williams, Fiction - A broken and bitter beast-man tells his tale before exacting revenge)
The Dragonback Adventures (Timothy Zahn, YA Fiction - An interstellar boy thief reluctantly teams up with a noble warrior-poet alien)

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Death Warmed Over
(The Dan Shambles, Zombie PI series, Book 1)
Kevin J. Anderson
Kensington
Fiction, Fantasy
***

DESCRIPTION: Ever since the Big Uneasy woke ghosts, vampires, werewolves, and more, the life of New Orleans private investigator Dan Chambeaux has been a little more interesting... as has his death. First his girlfriend Sheyenne was poisoned, then Dan wakes six feet under after a bullet to the head. But cases don't solve themselves, and the first thing Dan did - after crawling out of his own grave - was report back to work. With Robin, a lawyer specializing in nonhuman rights cases, and Sheyenne, the firm's new receptionist, Dan investigates cases ranging from exploited Egyptian mummies to harrassed vampires... all the while hoping to catch a lead in the greatest murder of his career: his own.

REVIEW: This urban fantasy's tongue-in-fang tone starts out on a fun note, but with some bite. New Orleans's unnatural citizens are just as messed up as any human, making for a colorful cast of characters. Unfortunately, that cast sprawls all over the city, tangled in numerous cases large and small that seem to exist primarily to distract Dan from his investigations into his own demise. The characters also lean heavily on classic PI stereotypes, sometimes with a slight supernatural twist. Once in a while, Dan proves rather dense for a private investigator, and the name of one of the characters gives away what I expect was supposed to be a major plot twist. That obvious case of telegraphing, plus an eye-rollingly blatant setup for sequels at the end, cost it the extra half-mark that the (initially) light tone almost earned it. On the whole, I've read far worse stories, but this just felt too unfocused, telling its own joke a few times too often to keep me amused to the end.

You might also enjoy:
Sherlock Holmes: The Breath of God (Guy Adams, Fiction - Holmes investigates a mysterious murder tied to the occult Order of the Golden Dawn)
The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (John Joseph Adams, editor, Fiction - Modern authors revisit the classic detective in new, sometimes strange adventures)
Casting Shadows (J. Kelley Anderson, Fiction - An angry young man turns to magic for vengeance, only to find himself defending the people he wanted to destroy)
Aftershock (S. A. Archer and S. Ravynheart, Fiction - After the fall of the underground faerie world, a lone survivor attempts to rebuild the Sidhe court)
Dragons Wild (Robert Asprin, Fiction - A college student learns he is really a dragon, and heads to New Orleans to exploit his talents)
The Peculiar (Stefan Bachmann, YA Fiction - A half-faerie changeling boy becomes entangled in a plot that might tear his clockwork world apart)
Spirelli Paranormal Investigations (Kate Baray, Fiction - A human investigator and his dragon assistant investigate supernatural goings-on in modern Austin)
Invisible Prison (Mary Buckham, Fiction - A half-shaman/half witch woman is recruited for a secret government agency)
Finder (Emma Bull, YA Fiction - A deadly drug plagues a city where magic and technology collide)
An American Werewolf in Hoboken (Dakota Cassidy, Fiction - Cursed alpha werewolf Max meets his human life mate when she rescues him from death row at the animal shelter)
The Artemis Fowl series (Eoin Colfer, YA Fiction - A young criminal mastermind crosses paths with the hidden Fairy nation)
The Nina Tanleven series (Bruce Coville, YA Fiction - A girl and her best friend do some amateur ghostbusting and detecting)
The Very Best of Charles de Lint (Charles de Lint, Fiction - Collected stories of magic old and new by the noted fantasy author)
King: The Graphic Novel (Joshua Hale Fialkov, Fiction - The illustrated adventure of the last man alive in a darkly humorous post-apocalyptic, monster-filled Los Angeles)
Claws (Mike and Rachel Grinti, YA Fiction - When her sister disappears, a girl accepts a talking tomcat's offer of help, not realizing the price)
Hounded (Kevin Hearne, Fiction - An immortal Druid confronts a mad Irish god in modern-day Arizona)
Bedlam's Bard (Mercedes Lackey with Ellen Guon, Fiction - Elves hide in plain sight in modern California)
You Slay Me (Katie MacAlister, Fiction - A woman's business trip to Paris takes a bizarre turn, with demons and murders and a wyvern insisting she's his "life mate")
Sabriel (Garth Nix, YA Fiction - A girl's necromancer father sends her a message and a burden from beyond the gates of Death)
A Pocket Full of Spells (Ash Stirling, Fiction - A cynical soldier of fortune survives on the mean streets of the City, where cybertech, monsters, and magic collide)
The Screaming Staircase (Jonathan Stroud, YA Fiction - In a haunted modern-day England, three talented kids confront horrors living and dead)
Devil's Tower and Devil's Engine (Mark Sumner, Fiction - The westward expansion of America ends abruptly during the Civil War when magic reawakens across the land)
Beetlejuice (20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition) (1988 movie DVD - A young married couple, killed in an auto accident, summon a crude ghoul to help rid their home of annoying new tenants)
Tim Burton's Corpse Bride (Widescreen Edition) (2005 movie DVD - A nervous young groom inadvertently wakes a dead bride, murdered on the eve of her own wedding)
Ghostbusters (Widescreen Edition) (1984 movie DVD - Rising paranormal activity in New York City paves the way for four entrepeneurs to make their fortune... and maybe save the world)
The Nightmare Before Christmas (2010 movie DVD - Jack Skellington, leader of the ghoulish beasts of Halloweentown, tries to take over Christmas, with disastrous results)

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The X-Files: Ruins
(The X-Files series)
Kevin J. Anderson
HarperPrism
Fiction, Sci-Fi
***

DESCRIPTION: When a team of American archaeologists disappears while exploring the newly-discovered Maya ruins of Xitaclan, FBI agents Mulder and Scully are called in to investigate. The site, deep in the unexplored jungles of the Yucatan peninsula, is rumored to be under a curse by the elder gods, with stories of continued blood-sacrifices and sightings of the mythical plumed serpents that figure so heavily in pre-Columbian mythos. The jungle isn't the only hazard, as treasure-hunters, native practitioners of the ancient gory religion and a local liberation army are already on the scene. To further complicate matters, the Pentagon detects mysterious signals emanating from the lost city, and sends in a team of commandos whose mission is to terminate them, at any cost.

REVIEW: I guess I should've been suspicious when, instead of praise for the book, the first page of hype lists reviewers' favorable comments on the TV show. Nevertheless, it was at Half-Price Books (for half price), so I decided to give it a try. In the end, I found it a mediocre read. Especially toward the beginning, I felt like I was reading a novelization of a "field trip" episode; you know, those annoying episodes filmed on location in an exotic place, where roughly 1/3 of their air-time is filled with stock footage of scenic views and colorful natives. The plot drug in spots, the characterization wasn't accurate or consistent, and the ending seemed contrived for the reason of pyrotechnics and the obligatory violent confrontation with the liberation army. Another "finale" scene, just a little later (which I won't reveal in case you intend to read this book, but I guarantee you'll know it when you see it), felt hokey and tacked-on, as did the whole sub-plot leading up to it. Still, I liked parts of the story, and some nice ideas were presented. I enjoyed a few scenes, though I didn't quite feel I was reading about Mulder and Scully except in a few rare moments. Ruins wasn't lousy, it was just uneven and ultimately nothing special. I even found myself thinking that I could've written some parts better... a bad sign, I think.

You might also enjoy:
The Jaguar Princess (Clare Bell, Fiction - A girl descended from Mayan jaguar gods becomes an Aztec slave and potential sacrifice)
Keeper of Cats (Elizabeth H. Boyer, Fiction - A teen girl seeks treasures, magic, and a killer among ancient barrows, with some help from her grandmothers' special cats)
The X-Files: Fight the Future (Chris Carter, adapted by Elizabeth Hand, Fiction - Agents Mulder and Scully investigate the alien-coverup conspiracy)
The Lost World (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Fiction - A professor leads an expedition to a remote South American plateau, where prehistoric animals still roam)
Kingdom of the Serpent's Eye (Malla Duncan, Fiction - Adventurer-for-hire Barry Philpot seeks a woman's lost father in the depths of the Amazon)
The Nitpicker's Guide for X-Philes (Phil Farrand, Nonfiction - Humorous reference for the TV series)
Treasure of the Jaguar Warrior - Mystery of the Mayan Calendar (Barbara Ivie Green, Fiction - A divorced woman finds a handsome ghost tied to a lost treasure and a world-ending Mayan curse)
Carnacki, the Ghost-Finder (William Hope Hodgson, Fiction - A collection of tales about a turn-of-the-century paranormal investigator)
Crown of Serpents (Michael Karpovage, Fiction - A half-Native American ex-Army historian clashes with a powerful tribal casino magnate seeking a magical artifact)
The Haunted Mesa (Louis L'Amour, Fiction - A man searches the Southwest desert for a missing friend, and finds a possible connection to a legendary, evil world)
The Maya: Life, Myth and Art (Timothy Laughton, Nonfiction - A look at the Mayan culture and history)
Rough Draft (Michael Robertson Jr, Fiction - Stranded in a mountain cabin, three horror writers confront a deadly terror)
The X-Files: Season 1 (1993 TV series DVD - Two FBI agents investigate paranormal events, uncovering an alien conspiracy within the government)

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