Brooks - Book Reviews

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

The Dragon King and I
(The Fairest Of Them All series, Book 1)
Adrianne Brooks
CreateSpace
Fiction, Fantasy/Romance
**+

DESCRIPTION: Everyone knows the fairy tale: a damsel in distress, a terrible curse, and the knight in shining armor who saves her and carries her off to a Happily Ever After ending. Alex's curse is the knight. Since she was young, boys and men have fallen all over themselves to help her even when she didn't need or want it... even stealing her away to keep and protect. Now she lives as a recluse, with only her computer, her friend Rachel, and her cold mother's incessant phone calls (mostly concerning when she'll get married and breed grandchildren) connecting her to the outside world. But she can't go on like this much longer - especially as the curse is growing stronger, strong enough to pull strangers from the street to stalk outside her apartment door.
Strong enough to kill.
With the help of the fairy godmother she didn't know she had - a stripper named Seraphim - Alex sets off on a Quest to gather the magic ingredients needed to break the curse. But damsels can't go on Quests without help... which is where Sam comes in. Strong, handsome, and not quite human, Sam is the first man she's met who is immune to her charms - and the first man who tempts her wounded heart. But Sam has his own reasons for joining her on her Quest, and the secrets he hides may doom any notion of a happy ending.

REVIEW: At first, I was pulled in by the fast pace, the clever voice of the heroine, and the dark fairy tale feel - more like Grimm in the original than the sanitized Disney versions. Unfortunately, the promising sheen hid deeper flaws. Despite her snarky, take-no-guff voice, Alex is anything but a strong woman for most of the story, a helpless damsel in distress who can't do much on her own except get into trouble. The fact that she can think sarcastic pop culture references about her predicaments doesn't hide her general uselessness, save as an object of desire (and near-rape, on more than one occasion - at least one of which would've been averted with the classic knee to the groin, but even that much power is evidently beyond her. But, then, much of the "romance" in this book consists of her being helplessly ogled and pawed at.) Actually, most of her problems could've been cleared up earlier if she hadn't been deliberately kept in the dark about everything from magic to her fairy godmother's existence to the inhuman nature of her own bloodline - a sadly common yet irritating plot device. When Brooks starts dancing not just about this, but about the true nature of Sam, I started grinding my teeth: why name the book after a character, then go to such great lengths to hide the truth from the heroine? Is it really a spoiler if it's printed on the cover? The storyline itself moves decently, but loses the thread of logic during several bizarre sequences that make an acid trip look downright lucid. And the ending... well, the implications aren't exactly a healthy message on female empowerment. I also caught a couple continuity hiccups and several annoying proofreading errors, not to mention twists that, on reflection, defy the tale's own inner logic. While I liked some of the ideas Brooks presented, and her imagery could be compelling, overall I felt let down by the characters and the confusing plot.

You might also enjoy:
Dream a Little Dream (Piers Anthony and Julie Brady, Fiction - When a world created by human dreams is in trouble, a man must venture into reality to find the woman Dreamer who created him)
Dragons Wild (Robert Asprin, Fiction - A college-grad slacker learns he has powers he never dreamed of when he discovers his dragon ancestry)
The Last Dragonlord (Joanne Bertin, Fiction - A race of weredragons is both honored and feared)
The Darkest Part of the Forest (Holly Black, YA Fiction - A long-sleeping faerie prince wakens, bringing danger to a modern town and to teens Hazel and Ben)
Invisible Prison (Mary Buckham, Fiction - A half-shaman/half witch woman is recruited for a secret government agency)
The Sisters Grimm series (Micheal Buckley, YA Fiction - Two orphaned girls discover that fairy tales were based on true events)
Dragon's Keep (Janet Lee Carey, YA Fiction - A princess born with a dragon-claw finger faces the flaming beasts marauding her lands)
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)
Nightingale (David Farland, YA Fiction - A foster teen unknowingly belongs to a secret, superior human subspecies)
The Last Dragonslayer (Jasper Fforde - The prophecised slayer of the last dragon in the Ununited Kingdoms may be a foundling girl)
Wizard's First Rule (Terry Goodkind, Fiction - A ranger and a wizard must save their world with the help of a Confessor, a woman whose very touch saps people of their free will)
Tangled Tides (Karen Amanda Hooper, YA Fiction - Turned into a mermaid on her eighteenth birthday, a girl faces a dark, inescapable destiny)
Teller (Chris Howard, YA Fiction - A teen boy learns he can manipulate reality with stories and paintings)
Fairy Quest: Outcasts (Paul Jenkins, YA Comic - In the fairy-tale realm of Fablewood, forbidden friends Red and Woof must escape the totalitarian rule of Mister Grimm)
Burned (Amber Kallyn, Fiction - A shapeshifting dragon falls for a firefighter while investigating unnatural arsons)
Summoned (Rainy Kaye, Fiction - A modern-day genie is enslaved by a crime lord)
Bedlam's Bard (Mercedes Lackey with Ellen Guon, Fiction - Elves and magic hide in plain sight in California)
Ella Enchanted (Gail Carson Levine, YA Fiction - A girl sets out to break a fairy's "gift" of compulsory obedience)
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")
Merlin's Mistake (Robert Newman, YA Fiction - A boy seeks out the wizard to undo a botched christening gift)
Valkyrie Rising (Ingrid Paulson, YA Fiction - On vacation in Norway, a teenaged American girl discovers her mythological family heritage)
Dragon Rose (Christine Pope, Fiction - 19-year-old Rhianne is sent to the reclusive immortal Dragon Lord as a bride, where she's threatened by his curse)
The Princess and the Firedrake (Jim Stinson, YA Fiction - Cursed by being too clever, a banished princess must save her kingdom from an angry dragon)
Blood for Wolves (Nicole Taft, Fiction - A biologist dedicated to protecting wolves finds herself in a world where wolves are cursed)
The Enchanted Forest Chronicles (Patricia Wrede, YA Fiction - Sick of being the proper princess, a headstrong girl runs away to live with dragons)

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Young Frankenstein: A Mel Brooks Book: The Story of the Making of the Film
Mel Brooks with Rebecca Keegan
Black Dog & Leventhal
Nonfiction, Media Reference
***+

DESCRIPTION: While filming the soon-to-be-hit Western comedy Blazing Saddles, director Mel Brooks and star Gene Wilder began collaboration on a quirky idea of Gene's, the tale of a descendant of the infamous Victor Frankenstein who finds himself following in the man's foosteps by building his own monster. Young Frankenstein would achieve classic status, making its stars into household names almost overnight. Here, Brooks relates tales of the cast and crew and the making of his favorite movie.

REVIEW: Young Frankenstein is, indeed, a classic movie. One doesn't even have to be intimately familiar with the old black-and-white movies it honored and parodied in order to understand it, though the more one knows, the more one sees. It's a perfect blend of comedy and story, craft and kismet. This collection of memories and photos explores behind the scenes, from first inception to the premiere, via Brooks's recollections and clips from articles and interviews. It reads fast and is reasonably interesting, though not especially deep. I clipped it a half-star for the formatting of the e-book version, which tries too hard to replicate a printed book; the end result has lots of empty white space, poor and sometimes incomplete or cropped photo captions, and other issues that grew irritating even for a short title like this one. If you're a fan of the movie, though, it's worth a read.

You might also enjoy:
Eve & Adam (Katherine Applegate and Michael Grant, YA Fiction - A teen girl discovers dark secrets at her mother's medical research lab)
Extreme Science (Phil Clarke, YA? Nonfiction - A look at scientists who have pushed the boundaries of knowledge and ethics)
Frankenstein (Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly, Fiction - A man who thought to play God is tormented by his own abominable creation)
Young Frankenstein (Special Edition) (1974 movie DVD - The Mel Brooks/Gene Wilder classic follows a descendant of Doctor Frankenstein, who inherits the ancestral castle and replicates the infamous monster)

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Magic Kingdom For Sale - Sold!
(The Magic Kingdom of Landover series, Book 1)
Terry Brooks
Del Rey
Fiction, Fantasy
****

DESCRIPTION: Attorney Ben Holiday's life ended two years ago with the sudden death of his wife Annie. Now, he lives as a virtual recluse, increasingly disenchanted with the legal profession and increasingly resistant to the efforts of his last remaining friend to draw him back into the social world. One evening, he finds an unlikely chance at salvation in the pages of a high-end catalog's Christmas Wishbook: for a mere million dollars, he can purchase a magic kingdom and rule as King. Dragons, knights, fairies, chivalry... Landover promises all this, and more. It has to be a trick. At the very least, it's a waste of good money. But something about that ad pulls at Ben, and he can't come up with a good reason to walk away. After all, he's been living like a dead man in this world - why not try for something better in another?
Advertizing, Ben quickly discovers, is not always accurate. The magical kingdom of Landover is a fixer-upper if ever there was one. The magic that sustains it has been slowly draining away since the last true King died twenty years ago. The human lords squabble and backstab amongst themselves, a dreadful dragon stalks the skies, and demons roam freely through the land, putting many a would-be ruler to a gruesome death. Even the Paladin, legendary defender of Landover, has seemingly vanished from the world. In fact, the only allies left to the throne are a half-baked wizard who can never seem to find the right spells, a court scribe who was turned into a dog, and a pair of kobolds who don't even speak human tongues. Worse, the demon lord known as the Iron Mark challenges Ben's fledgeling attempts at rulership, a challenge no mortal can hope to survive.
As a lawyer, Ben has faced many difficult trials. Convincing the people of Landover to accept an offworld king - and living long enough to actually rule - will quickly become the trial of his life.

REVIEW: A fun book, it moves decently, if not necessarily at a breakneck pace. Landover has all the trappings of a typical fairy-tale kingdom, and while it may not be startlingly original at least it's nicely described. Likewise, Ben's new advisors lean on standard fantasy formulas, but have some traces of true and distinctive personalities. More than one plot twist relies on other people knowing something Ben doesn't and choosing not to tell him about it until sufficiently pressed, which grew a bit irritating. The ending leaves plenty of openings for sequels, which evidently comprise the rest of the Landover series. All in all, I enjoyed reading this book, though I can't say I feel a need to read any further.

You might also enjoy:
Abarat (Clive Barker, YA Fiction - A Minnesotan girl travels to the bizarre archipelago of the Abarat)
The Practice Effect (David Brin, Fiction - A 21st-century physicist finds himself stranded in a strange, violent world with peculiar physical laws)
Dragon Companion (Don Callander, Fiction - A librarian suddenly finds himself in a world of elves and dragons)
The Wiz Biz books (Rich Cook, Fiction - A wizard from another world summons a Silicon Valley programmer to stop evil magicians)
The Dragon and the George (George R. Dickson, Fiction - A man, seeking his lost wife, is transported to a medieval world of wizards and knights and dragons)
The Dark World (Henry Kuttner, Fiction - A World War II vet finds himself in a parallel world of magic, fighting memories of an alternate, evil self)
Doon (Laurie Langdon and Carey Corp, YA Fiction - Two American teen girls find their way to the mystical Scottish kingdom of Doon)
Eccentric Circles (Rebecca Lickiss, Fiction - A woman inherits her grandmother's cottage, complete with a doorway to a fairy realm)
The Fablehaven series (Brandon Mull, YA Fiction - Kids discover fairies and a magical sanctuary at their grandparents' farm)
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (Catherynne M. Valente, YA Fiction - An Omaha girl travels to Fairyland for an Adventure, and finds herself fighting an evil Marquess)
The War of the Flowers (Tad Williams, Fiction - A man is taken to the world of faeries, where magic parallels technology)
The Dragons of Ordinary Farm (Tad Williams and Deborah Beale, YA Fiction - Two kids find very unusual animals on their great-uncle's farm)

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Running with the Demon
(The Word and the Void trilogy, Book 1)
Terry Brooks
Del Rey
Fiction, Fantasy
****

DESCRIPTION: Hopewell, Indiana is a typical Midwestern American town, falling into hard times with the strike-induced closure of the local steel plant. Sinnissippi Park is about the only place not feeling the effects of the strike, a place of deep forests, unexplored bayous, and ancient magic. The 14-year-old Nest Freemark is one of the few who knows of the park's magical nature, being gifted herself. She was long ago enlisted by Pick, a diminutive sylvan who guards the forests, to help keep the balance of power stable in the park. Her mother and grandmother served before her, though her grandfather is willfully ignorant of magic and her own father disappeared before she was a year old. Lately, powers have been shifting beyond their abilities to control. The shadowy feeders, invisible to all but the gifted, have grown exponentially more numerous, feeding on the dark emotions of a town full of desperate people. They are just a symptom of a larger problem that not even Pick can identify. A far greater darkness is waiting to be unleashed here, but Nest has no idea what face it will wear, or where it will strike first.
John Ross is a Knight of the Word, one of the elite few enlisted in the crusade against the dark Void that seeks to destroy civilization and life as we know it. His dreams show him the haunted, apocalyptic future that awaits him should he fail in his quest, hunting demons and preventing the Void from gaining a foothold in America. He comes to Hopewell for two reasons. First, he has tracked a particularly elusive demon here. The second reason is a girl who figures as a pivotal role in all his nightmares, whose fate will determine whether the Word or the Void will reign in the coming years: none other than the young Nest Freemark.

REVIEW: A while back, I stumbled across the sequel to this tale, A Knight of the Word, which began my quest to find this book. (I refuse to read a series out of order if I can help it.) Having at last read it, I am mostly satisfied with the story, and may track down the second book eventually. The characters were well written and realistic, for the most part, without being stupid for the sake of the plot. My main objection was the number of side-stories that didn't quite pay off in the end, stories which seemed to be there mainly to boost the page count. They were distracting and bogged down the plot. Other than that, I liked this story.

You might also enjoy:
The Furies of Calderon (Jim Butcher, Fiction - A civilization uses their gifts to control furies, elemental beings, and survive in a hostile world)
The Wiz Biz books (Rich Cook, Fiction - A wizard from another world summons a Silicon Valley programmer to stop evil magicians)
The Dragon Quartet (Marjorie Kellogg, Fiction - Elemental dragons and their human companions time-travel to save Earth)
The Gunslinger (Stephen King, Fiction - A man from a dying world seeks a dark tower from which it may be saved)
The Fire Rose and The Serpent's Shadow (Mercedes Lackey, Fiction - Master mages secretly control elementals and their magic in late-1800's Earth)
Switch! The Lost Kingdoms of Karibu (Karen Prince, YA Fiction - Three modern African boys become entangled in magical dangers in a hidden world)
Mystics #1: The Seventh Sense (Kim Richardson, YA Fiction - An orphan girl can see invisible monsters, some of whom seem to be hunting her down)
The Mistborn trilogy (Brandon Sanderson, Fiction - A homeless thief girl with an unusual gift is recruited to help topple the immortal Lord Ruler's cruel empire)

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Sometimes the Magic Works: Lessons from a Writing Life
Terry Brooks
Del Rey
Nonfiction, Writing
*****

DESCRIPTION: A successful fantasy writer for over 20 years, Terry Brooks offers insights and advice from his life and career.

REVIEW: This is an extremely rare find: a good book from the Book Warehouse discount book store. I was intrigued by the title (and the author, and the fact that it was only six bucks), and I figured I’d kick myself if I didn’t buy it, so I gave it a try. This is an excellent book for wannabe fantasy writers such as myself, short and sweet and to the point. Inspirational and entertaining.

You might also enjoy:
How to Avoid Making Art (or Anything Else You Enjoy) (Julia Cameron, Art - Common obstacles we place to our own creativity)
How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy (Orson Scott Card, Writing - Advice on writing sci-fi and fantasy stories, from idea generation to publication and beyond)
Writing Down the Bones (Natalie Goldberg, Writing - Advice on writing)
Reflections (Diana Wynne Jones, Nonfiction - A poshumous collection of essays and articles by the noted author)
Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy (Crawford Kilian, Writing - How to write sci-fi/fantasy stories that sell)
Bird by Bird (Anne Lamott, Writing - Anecdotes on writing)
Writing Magic: Creating Stories That Fly (Gail Carson Levine, YA Writing - Great advice and inspiration for writers of all ages)
How I Wrote My First Book: The Story Behind the Story (Lida E. Quillen and Anne K. Edwards, editors, Writing - Essays by writers on their first works)

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The Sword of Shannara
(The Shannara series: The Shannara trilogy, Book 1)
Terry Brooks
Del Rey
Fiction, Fantasy
***+

DESCRIPTION: Some two thousand years ago, a great and terrible war brought the world to the brink of destruction. In the aftermath, a new civilization slowly rebuilt itself on the ashes of its failed predecessor, in a new world where the races of Men, Elves, Dwarves, Trolls, and Gnomes vie for power and knowledge left over from the elder days is all but vanished. In these dark times, an ancient Druid unlocked the dark secrets of sorcery, using it to prolong his mortal life and create a dark kingdom in the forbidding Northlands. He was almost destroyed once by the elf-king Jerle Shannara wielding the powerful blade known as the Sword of Shannara, and many thought him gone forever, those who believed he had existed at all, but the Warlock Lord is far from dead. Indeed, he is poised to fulfill his dark dream of conquering all known races and lands, and it seems nobody in these divided times can stop him.
Shea Ohmsford, half-Elven man from sleepy Shady Vale, never thought much of the rest of the world; like most of humanity, he sees isolation as the one sure way to prevent a third interracial war. Thus far, he has been content to stay home at his father's inn or, on occasion, visit his adventurous friend Menion, prince of nearby Leah. He doesn't even accompany his full-human cousin Flick, with whom he was raises as a brother, on his occasional forays to the far reaches of the Vale. One day, a dark stranger appears in the valley, and Shea and Flick's pastoral existence and its illusion of safety comes to an abrupt end. The strange traveler Allanon tells Shea of his obscure descent from Jerle, which makes him perhaps the last being alive capable of wielding the Sword of Shannara against the returning Warlock Lord. Shea and Flick soon find themselves on a grand adventure against impossible odds, with strange allies and terrible enemies.
This edition features illustrations by the brothers Hildebrandt.

REVIEW: Brooks serves up a nice, if somewhat typical (by modern standards), fantasy epic, with the requisite history lessons, humanoid races, maps of terrain from desert to swampland, and Hidden Agendas woven into the heroes' travels. Originally published in 1977, it was the first major story since Tolkien to enter the field of epic fantasy, so the books I'm comparing it to likely took their cues from Brooks rather than the other way around. Still, there's a certain epic fantasy formula already in evidence. The tale moves at a decent clip, though it hits some lulls as the plot goes on and felt, on the whole, about a hundred or two hundred pages too long. He offers more than a few nods to Tolkien, to the point where I pretty much guessed some characters' functions and the gist of their personal Hidden Agendas at first glance just based on their similarity to Lord of the Rings. I also felt, on more than one occasion, an obscure, insane desire to whack Brooks over the head with a thesaurus when he kept using the same exact words over and over again to describe almost everybody and everything. (Does everyone, when sneaking, have to be "cat-like"? Does "Valeman" almost always have to be accompanied by "little"?) Like so many fantasy epics, this is a tale of Men having Manly Adventures to save Mankind; lip service is given to wives and children back home (though I give Brooks credit for not making mention of a waiting sweetheart an automatic death sentence for the beloved adventurer), and the only female character is introduced roughly two-thirds in, for the sole purpose of having someone fall in love with her. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, but there are women who do read fantasy, out here. Must it always be the guys who get all the glory while the women, invariably beautiful and sweet, pine away helplessly on the doorstep? On the brothers Hildebrandt illustrations... I've seen their work. I know it is vibrant and beautiful. It is also in color, and seeing black bloblike shapes stuck into a black-and-white book just doesn't do their images, if images they were and not some peculiar, page-sized printing errors, justice. Overall, I can't say I regret reading this book, though I don't feel compelled to follow the series any further.

You might also enjoy:
The Book of Three (Lloyd Alexander, YA Fiction - A rustic boy, caretaker to an oracular pig, becomes part of a dangerous adventure)
The Green Rider series (Kristen Britain, Fiction - A girl finds a dying royal messenger, and must agree to take his final missive to the imperiled king)
The Vlad Taltos series (Stephen Brust, Fiction - A finely crafted world serves as the backdrop for stories of a clever assassin and his dragonlike familiar)
Great Expectations (Charles Dickens, Fiction - Young Pip aims to rise above his common birth and win the hand of an aloof young lady)
King's Dragon (Kate Elliot, Fiction - Political unrest and inhuman raiders presage a greater evil)
Magician: Apprentice (Raymond E. Feist, Fiction - An orphan boy in a frontier castle faces otherworldly armies)
Wizard's First Rule (Terry Goodkind, Fiction - A cranky wizard, a woodland guide, and a mysterious woman face terrible dark forces)
The Lost Journals of Ven Polypheme (Elizabeth Haydon, YA Fiction - A young Nain boy itches for adventures, and finds more than he bargained for)
The Rhapsody trilogy (Elizabeth Haydon, Fiction - A gifted woman, a disfigured assassin, and a brutish soldier may be all that stands between their world and ultimate destruction)
Dune (Frank Herbert, Fiction - The interstellar human civilization relies on life-extending spice from desert Arrakis)
The Farseer Saga (Robin Hobb, Fiction - The bastard son of a king, born with rare gifts, is apprenticed to the royal assassin)
The Liveship Traders trilogy and The Rain Wilds Chronicles (Robin Hobb, Fiction - High fantasy in a world of living ships and dragons)
The Tough Guide to Fantasyland (Diana Wynne Jones, Fiction - A humorous tour guide to epic fantasy worlds)
The Eye of the World (Robert Jordan, Fiction - Evil awakes and threatens a peaceful realm)
A Song of Ice and Fire series (George R. R. Martin, Fiction - World-spanning epic tale of wars and kings, good and evil, and a few dragons for good measure)
The Gem People (Logan Mickel, YA Fiction - A young miner discovers people made of living gemstones, relics of a lost civilization)
The Rover (Mel Odom, Fiction - A halfling librarian finds himself swept away on a grand adventure)
The Tortall quartets (Tamora Pierce, YA Fiction - Tales of adventure in a magical world)
The Sword Dancer Saga (Jennifer Roberson, Fiction - A slave-turned-swordfighter of the Southron deserts helps a determined northern woman seek justice)
The Name of the Wind (Patrick Rothfuss, Fiction - A living legend, now hiding behind a pseudonym as a quiet innkeeper, relates the story of a young life gone wrong)
The Way of Kings (Brandon Sanderson, Fiction - A stormswept world of war and magic faces a grave threat)
The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy (J. R. R. Tolkien, Fiction - The classic epic tale of Hobbits, Elves, Men, wizards, and Middle-Earth)
The Death Gate Cycle (Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, Fiction - An epic fantasy spanning seven worlds)
The Once and Future King (T. H. White, YA? Fiction - The story of King Arthur, from childhood under Merlyn's tutelage to Camelot's rise and fall)
The Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy (Tad Williams, Fiction - The magical land of Osten Ard faces an ancient evil)
The Heart of What Was Lost (Tad Williams, Fiction - After the final battle, a mortal army pursues the faerie Norn across Osten Ard to their last stronghold)
The Shadowmarch series (Tad Williams, Fiction - The Eddon twins, Prince Barrick and Princess Briony, stand between the threat of faerie Qar to the north and the brutal god-king Autarch to the south)

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