Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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Princess Alethea's Magical Elixir
  Book Reviews by Alethea Kontis
May 2011

Title: Sparks
Author: Laura Bickle
EAN: 9781439167687

It's funny . . . I read this book a few weeks ago, and I'm still not quite sure whether or not I liked it. I finished it, which is certainly something for the plus column these days. So I must have enjoyed it, anyway.

I certainly loved the main character's job: Anya Kalincyzk a rare type of medium called a "Lantern". Not only does she see dead people, but she kind of eats them too. Not a bad thing, certainly, but it's not exactly win-win either, an intriguing dilemma for the reader. Yet while I loved Anya's job, I didn't entirely warm to Anya herself. Of course, this book is the sequel to Embers, which I have not read.

Like a witch, Anya has a familiar: a salamander fire elemental named Sparky. Sparky exists in the real world as a torc Anya wears around her neck, but Anya can see the elemental itself come to life and wreak havoc with anything and everything with an electrical signal. Anya also (as you might have guessed from the title) has an affinity with fire, which aids her day job as an investigator with the Detroit Fire Department.

While investigating a mysterious case of apparent spontaneous human combustion (always a great way to start a book), Anya begins to stumble on a deeper plot involving soul-trapping, a slimy celebrity psychic named Hope Solomon, and Pandora's (yes, that Pandora) Jar. It's a real conundrum . . . in the middle of which, Sparky decides it would be a great time to get pregnant and hatch about fifty offspring, and Anya is forced to deal with some very important skeletons in her emotional closet. Despite the complexities, however, it's a fairly simple story and a generally fast read . . . and I'm still trying to decide where I stand on the whole thing.

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What appealed to me most here, I think, was Laura Bickle's phenomenal worldbuilding. I was impressed by the characters' roles, both in the Real world and the Paramnormal realm. I loved the concept of crystals and spirit-stealing and channeling souls as a means to a far more powerful end. I loved the world beyond death that Anya is eventually forced to traverse. I enjoyed Katie the witch and Renee the ghost and quirky Charon (yes, that Charon).

I think that because I was so intrigued about the world, I missed feeling sympathy for the characters that much more. I wanted to get to know them and like them far more than I did. Most of the time I felt separated from the action, like I was watching a really great movie, and I wanted to be part of it. There were also a few quirks of the author that pulled me out of the story a few times -- Bickle certainly knows a lot about a lot of things and does phenomenal research, but while the "infodumps" (like architectural stats and precise medical jargon) are brief, they still seem jarring and out of place.

The other quirk is just a personal pet peeve: the use of the word "magick" as vernacular, instead of only when referring to some sort of arcane texts. I just don't think that as language evolves in a hip, urban society that it would adopt such an antiquated spelling. But again . . . it could be explained in book one, or it could be just me.

So to sum up: I just don't know. I loved a lot of things about this book, but I'm not sure I loved enough to read further, or go back and catch up on what I missed. Perhaps you should go buy Sparks (probably Embers as well) and let me know what you think and why. For books that spark (yes, the pun is intended) a discussion are never a bad thing.

Title: WWW:Watch (audiobook)
Author: Robert J. Sawyer
Narrated by: Jessica Almasy, Marc Vietor, Oliver Wyman, Jennifer Van Dyck, Robert J. Sawyer

In my capacity as reviewer, it's incredibly difficult when I come across an absolutely brilliant piece of literary work, because I feel compelled to rise to the challenge and pen a thorough review as complex and elegant as this work that took months -- sometimes years -- of an author's life. Seriously, I actually stress out about this. Granted, I'm lucky if a book of this caliber comes across my desk once or twice a year, so I don't need a therapist's couch or anything. I'm just going to go ahead and say this: Robert J. Sawyer's WWW: Watch is a masterpiece. Read it. But for an even better experience, listen to the audiobook.

The best -- and worst -- thing about listening to a book on audio is that you are forced to "read" every single word. In this era of ADHD, so many readers fly through the pages, all but skimming on to the next chapter. This technique works for lighter genre works full of snappy dialogue and explosive action; the equivalent of Summer Blockbuster movies. WWW: Watch is an Oscar-caliber storyline, and deserves to be given the time and attention that such a creation deserves.

While this book was the second in the WWW trilogy, I will admit to not having read WWW: Wake (though I do have WWW: Wonder here on my shelf), so I can't speak to how this volume fits in with the other two books. But isn't that the point? This amazing story stands alone, from beginning to end. And the layers! I could go on for pages.

This is the coming-of-age story about a teenage girl, having recently moved to Canada from Texas, for whom technology has cured her blindness. Through the iPod-based device that aids her vision, Caitlin Decter befriends Webmind, an emerging consciousness born of the World Wide Web. The engineer of this cutting-edge innovation is Kuroda, a Japanese scientist. Webmind's existence doesn't go completely unnoticed, however, and suddenly WATCH, a secret government agency, is behind the scenes trying to find out how exactly Webmind came into being . . . so they can stop it. Then, in a seemingly unrelated scene, a female primatologist works with an intelligent chimpanzee/bonobo hybrid named Hobo. But you know it's going to work into the Webmind plot somehow, and you're willing to trust Sawyer to do it all masterfully, and in good time.

And those are just the main storylines. Beneath the overarching science fiction premise of the existence of Webmind, there are discussions of game theory and the philosophy of consciousness, autism and homosexuality, religion and Big Brother, International politics and Canadian minutiae. Not only are these topic well-presented and discussed at a decently short, conversational length, but they are on a level that would be easily understood by any young adult astute enough to pick up this book in the first place. And I suspect that young adults, much like me, will find themselves smiling at the quirky pop culture references as often as I did.

I tip my hat to you, Mr. Sawyer, for giving the world an incredibly impressive book that I would happily recommend to any adult -- young or otherwise -- of my acquaintance. And I similarly applaud the exceptional vocal talents of the Audible cast: Jessica Almasy, Marc Vietor, Oliver Wyman, Jennifer Van Dyck, and even Mr. Robert J. Sawyer himself (doing the introduction). It was a www:wonderful book, and I feel smarter for having read it.

Title: The Perilous Prophecy of Guard and Goddess
Author: Leanna Renee Hieber
EAN: 9781428511163

I enjoyed Leanna Renee Hieber's first two books in this series: The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker and The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker. As a third book, Perilous Prophecy is unique in that it is technically a prequel for the series. It more closely covers the original love story of Persephone and her Phoenix, the destruction of her lover and the terrible plight set for the goddess by Darkness himself, and the initial creation of Persephone's precious Guard.

"Five Muses ran toward [the phoenix feather]. Four ran away." As eloquently simple as that, the Guard was formed to aid the Goddess against Darkness and fight for good, as outlined by The Grand Work. Of course, since The Grand Work is tantamount to ghostbusting, it's a pretty sweet job to get . . . one would think.

In contrast to the Victorian setting of the first two books, Perilous Prophecy begins a few decades earlier, in Cairo. In doing so, Heiber picked a gorgeous (figuratively, if not literally), multiculturally diverse setting and was able to select her Guard from a myriad of backgrounds -- not only geographically, but also theologically. This diversity weaves the question of divinity delicately into the story's folds, for no matter what each of the Guard believed before, The Grand Work seems to both embrace and supersede it all. After all, no matter what one's belief, no mortal can cheat Death. That we know of, anyway.

Heiber's strikingly rich, dark, and beautiful imagery complements the exotic setting and its vibrant characters, enhancing the journey for those of us who already know how said prophecy comes to pass. In fact, the only complaints I really have with the book are 1) that the Guard must leave Cairo and journey to London at all (though we know it needs to happen) and 2) that so much time is given to the goddess Persephone as she sets in motion all her delicate plans. I fell so much in love with charming George, pretty Belle, mysterious Verena, effervescent Ahmed, quiet Ibrahim and complicated Beatrice that it was hard to leave them and switch back to a storyline to which, once I became familiar with the inciting incident, I already knew the spectacular outcome. I mean only to flatter the author with my criticism here; it is no small thing to create characters so vibrant that a reader is loathe to leave them.

Much like C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia, the reading order of which is constantly debated upon among fans, I am curious as to how I would have received this trilogy (though I hear there is possibly one more book in the cycle) had I read this prequel in the order chronological to the story as opposed to the actual writing. Perhaps those of you not yet familiar with Heiber's series can do exactly that and report back!

Read more by Alethea Kontis

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