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Princess Alethea's Magical Elixir
  Book Reviews by Alethea Kontis
February 2012

Title: Witchlanders
Author: Lena Oakley
EAN: 9781442420045

Take all the classic elements of fantasy and swirl them around (stirred, not shaken), and you have Witchlanders. There's nothing particularly unique about the world that Lena Oakley has created in this novel, but she does not trivialize those tropes we love so dearly, ultimately making Witchlanders a thoroughly pleasurable read.

The book opens like a page from George R. R. Martin: winter is coming and the world is divided. Only a generation away from a great war, bad blood still exists between the Baen and the Witchlander people. (And yes, it was tough for me to read about the "Baen" people without constantly imagining Toni Weisskopf as their High Queen.)

The two races are distinguishable by their outward appearance -- Witchlanders are blond and blue-eyed, while the Baen are black-haired and dark-eyed. The Witchlanders pray to a goddess and two mythical prophet-sisters-Aaya and Aayse -- both of whom were witches that wielded fantastical powers and boneshaking (divination by thrown bones) abilities.

Not all of the Witchlanders are witches; that title is reserved for those who wear red robes and live in a coven up in the mountain. But the witches have forseen their power waning, a disastrous new development on the eve of new war.

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Despite the pretty blonde girl on the striking cover of the book, this novel centers around two boys, Ryder and Falpian, a Witchlander and a Baen. Ryder has a mother who has been cast out of the witches' coven, though she still throws the bones and partakes (a little over much) in the petals of a poppy-like flower that aid her visions. Falpian has a father whose disappointment runs deep. He blames Falpian for the death of his twin brother, with whom Falpian was never able to make a proper connection and perform decent magic. Falpian is sent out into the woods to mourn for his brother, and perform a task that will ultimately redeem him in his father's eyes.

That task is to die.

A series of events force Falpian and Ryder to become unlikely allies (surprise!), and they discover between them a bond that means more to the world than either one of them cares for, frankly. There is also a dreadhound, a sword named Baenkiller, magically summoned golems called gormy men, and a witch-aunt named Lilla Red Bird or Lilla the Blood-smeared . . . depending on which side of the border you were raised.

Again -- if you were raised on Tolkien and your TBR pile is of the Big Fat Fantasy persuasion, you won't find much here in the worldbuilding that's particularly exciting and new. But if you're in the mood for a decent story with decent characters and a decent plotline, this book will tick the boxes for you nicely, and for less than 1000 pages.

February 2012

Title: Shadow Ops: Control Point
Author: Myke Cole
EAN: 9781937007249

The day that John Green's The Fault In Our Stars hit the stands, I dropped everything and read it straight through (thus putting my novel-in-progress and the fate of this column in jeopardy for a few days). Unfortunately TFIOS is not remotely science fiction or fantasy, and as I've already slipped a biography in here at the end, I won't expound on it at the moment. Suffice it to say that I do not recommend it if you are not already a John Green fan (start with Looking for Alaska). I also suggest that you have some seriously adventurous Max Mayhem-style mass market fiction on hand to dive straight into when you finish drying your tears.

Like manna from heaven, the same day I picked up The Fault in Our Stars, I received Myke Cole's Shadow Ops: Control Point. Thank you, Myke Cole and Ace Books, for answering this princess's wish before I even had a chance to make it.

Like a scene straight out of Volcano High, Shadow Ops hits the ground running. Cole introduces the reader to his hero: steadfast soldier Oscar Britton, in his element as an army lieutenant supporting the Supernatural Operations Corps in a situation where they have to stop two latent teenagers who have taken over South Burlington (where I was born, incidentally) High School. The incident has a less-than-optimal outcome, jading Lieutenant Britton toward the power of the SOC to act as judge, jury, and executioner.

Especially when, after a few more pages, Britton (surprise!) discovers he has latent superpowers himself. And not just any superpower, but "Portomancy," one of the powers forbidden by lawn and punishable by -- as Britton himself witnessed first hand -- death. Thus begins a chase through the wilds of Vermont by way of the strange world on the other side of the portal, a chase ending in chaos, death, and the apprehension of Britton.

But the Military Forces do not kill our hero -- perish the thought! -- for they must instead enlist him into a top secret operation based in the other world (for this sort of thing is illegal on Earth). The mission there: "To conquer the magic kingdom."

Bhere are indigenous peoples in this magic kingdom (referred to as "goblins"), and strange beasties, and magical insurgent forces back in the Real World...and they all have more to do with one another than anyone supposes. Britton quickly becomes a man with an inner war between soldier and sorcerer. His fight becomes one not of selfishness but selflessness, and he must decide on which side he will stand for true Freedom.

Yes, there is a military dialect that permeates the novel, almost Shakespearean in its cipherous complexity and foreign to those unfamiliar with the acronym- and nickname-laden vocabulary of the US Armed Forces, but there are Big Guns and Forbidden Superpowers and Multi-Dimensional Travel and Top Secret Agencies and Alien Life Forms. Seriously, if you ever loved X-Men and Stargate SG-1, you'll pretty much love this, hands down. I for one enjoyed it wholeheartedly, with a smile on my face . . . and a post-it tagged to the acronym glossary.

February 2012

Title: Happy Accidents
Author: Jane Lynch
EAN: 9781401341763

Outside treatises on Fairy Tales or Folklore, I'm not one to read a lot of nonfiction. It used to be because the writing styles are typically as dry as the subject matter, but the quality of nonfiction prose has gone up in recent decades. Now the problem is more of a time issue, or lack thereof. Isn't that just the way?

I see biographies come into the bookstore all the time, and I'm tempted to check them out. AT the very least, I'll read the first few pages to see what's got them on the bestseller or buyer's pick lists. I only made it a few pages into Jaycee Dugard's A Stolen Life before wondering why anyone would want to relive such a horrible event as being kidnapped as a child. I prefer less stress in my world, thank you. I actually made it a few chapters into Carrie Fisher's Shockaholic, but as talented a writer as Fisher usually is, I felt very little sympathy for or empathy with a spoiled Hollywood brat that chose to wallow in self pity and suicidal thoughts. The stories were fun enough, but not enough to keep me reading.

I had no idea what to expect of Jane Lynch's memoir when it showed up, but I liked the title: Happy Accidents. I didn't understand the fascination with Sue Sylvester until I became a fan of Glee, but I had been a fan of Jane Lynch in general, from her work in Christopher Guest's projects Best in Show and A Mighty Wind to her surprise (for me, anyway) cameo appearance as Meryl Streep's sister in Julie & Julia. I cracked the spine of Happy Accidents mostly wondering whether the tone would be more "Sue Sylvester" or "Dry Biography Written by Someone Else."

To my surprise, Happy Accidents was neither. A fan with an overeager imagination might think that a fictional member of McKinley High School's Glee Club would go on to have such a career: a childhood fan with the dream of a lifetime. The up-and-down rollercoaster of Lynch's life -- both business and personal -- prove that with hard work and hard-headedness, some people really do make their own luck. A chance encounter in a hotel lobby or ships passing at a coffee shop could mean the turning point in your life. But if you don't put yourself out there in the moment to see and be seen, these sorts of happy accidents might just pass you by.

I'm not sure there's anything in Jane Lynch's story that will have Hollywood banging down her door, but it certainly inspired me to write Jane Lynch a fan letter, at the very least.

With any luck, she'll send me back a form letter response and a signed photograph that I can scrapbook into my own memoir someday.

Read more by Alethea Kontis

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