Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Crown of Blood Blood Crown Trilogy # 3 (Answering Review Request)

This is for the third book of the Blood Crown Trilogy, Crown of Blood. This is where Denland's civil war reaches its conclusion. I will examine plot, character and polish and then assign a grade.
SPOILER!
SPOILER WARNING!
Beware of spoilers for the first two books. Given the wham line that occurred at the end of book #2 and the contents of this book, it is difficult to talk about the final book of the trilogy without spoiling things. So if you don't want to risk spoilers then don't read this review.
SPOILER!
SPOILER WARNING!

I also have reviews for the first and second books in this series. They have spoilers too, especially the second one, which is basically entirely spoilers.
Book 1 - Kingdom Asunder
Book 2 Traitor's Prize

SSSSPPPOOOOIIILLLLEEEERRRR!

PLOT


The narrative thrust here is the invasion of Denland by neighboring Falaria. This would be the second or third invasion during the civil war depending on how you view the Kurtrish that landed to the north and demanded to be hired as mercenaries. I wonder if John Esden anticipated that possibility when he opened this can of worms by opening Queen Anne's diary.

Anyway, the rival factions of Penmere and Esden have a conundrum. They have weakened each other so much that neither has a chance of defeating Falaria on their own but working together has its own mess of problems, the most pressing of which is, of course, what happens immediately after they remove their common enemy? This book charts the reaction to this invasion, the response to it, and then the aftermath to decide the war.

It really is an interesting turn of events, and Mr. White uses a rotating perspective narrative style to show them all. I am typically wary of this style because I have read the work of authors who have used it poorly (in my opinion). The result is an underdeveloped mess lacking development in all its parts. That is not the case here, where the style is used to create a proper kaleidoscope of contrasting and mutually reinforcing perspectives. It also works to provide relevant information that would be difficult to exposit on in any other way.


There is one twist in the latter part of the book that "appears" to come out of nowhere. It confused me. I had to re-read the scene to get a sense of what was happening. It truly turned the tables after a big event. At first I thought this was just that "every chapter has to end in disaster to maintain tension" advice that I saw being touted about as a rule on some blog, and so I was upset at what I thought was a lame diablous ex machina. Then I thought about it, and I reconsidered.

This particular twist was set up as far back as the first act of the first book. It was further hinted at in a line from a relevant character in book 2 and more foreshadowing appeared in this very book. It was not at a plot device simply to maintain tension. On the contrary, it was an integrated plot advancement that makes perfect sense in the framework of the narrative. The initial confusion that the reader might experience is the same that the characters on the receiving end of this twist would experience. The full details of the twist are explained by its engineer in a manner fully consistent with the character and the setting. It is a brilliant twist really, not at all contrived for some stale narrative "rule".

The ending is a satisfying one. The war has been won but the peace may or may not have been lost. Life goes on and it is a bitter-sweet experience for most, with one fortunate exception.

CHARACTERS

I did an interview with Mr.White on my blog when he did the book-release-promotion for this book. One of his responses was that nothing completes a character/character's arc like that character's own death. That is clearly represented here. There are a number of characters, big-name-important-characters, who face their death and it reflects or reveals big things about them.

One character who seemed only ambitious and using a pretext for grabbing power turned out to be more lawful and selfless than I thought they were. Another character who presented as cold and scheming turned out to value their family far more highly than I thought. A third character turned out to be a poisonous friend and a fourth, rather than loyalty to a friend, appeared to value their skill more than friendship.

I would like to name these characters and go into more detail about the skill of the author who wove their insightful and poignant final moments but these events were some of my favorite parts of the book. I do not want to spoil them by doing more than hint.

I would like to comment specifically on two people. The first is Stephen Penmore. He starts as a total scholar who seemed perfectly happy to wait the war out in a library and while he has gained some skill in war it is not a dramatic transformation. He's still not a warrior. It is always his knowledge that is the key point, in contrast to his cousins' brawny confidence and steel-like scheming, respectively.

The second is Stuart Esden, a man ruled by ambition and an utter lack of restraint in all matters. Even his one sympathetic moment in the whole trilogy can be read as his refusal to be mastered by anything or anyone. He is also revealed to be pettier and more spiteful than I thought. I figured him as the type who would do everything on his own terms, and never let anyone decide anything involving him for him. Yet he gives up control of something of lasting importance just to twist a metaphoric knife.


POLISH

I didn't any errors of grammar or spelling, so that's always nice.

I have just one question, what was with the Hykir fort that had that dragon statue? I don't see how it relates to the rest of the story, and so it feels like filler. It was a fun diversion but I don't know why it was included.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Crown of Blood - Bloody Crown Trilogy" an A+

This makes Thaddeus White the second author to be inducted into my blog's Hall of Fame. This means I granted "A"s to four of his books. "Journey to Altmortis", "The Adventures of Sir Edric", "Kingdom Asunder", and now "Crown of Blood" ("Traitor's Prize" was a B+). This means that I see Mr.White as achieving a consistently high level of quality in his novels across all categories.

Congratulations!


This has been a free review request. The author asked for an honest review so I provided one.


Click here for my previous book review: The Lost Mines Of Phandelver

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration). His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

The Lost Mines of Phandelver (Read for fun) D&D

The Lost Mines of Phandelver. This is the first published D&D adventure I have ever read, and I must say that I am impressed. The story comes in four segments offering different styles of play.

As this is written for starting characters, the first one is almost like a tutorial, with a few goblin enemies and a small lair with only a couple simple traps. Yet it showcases the many features of the game: travel, exploration, the value of terrain, the influence of one area's actions upon the next, and social interaction. The second segment features an urban environment and encounters, where players can interact with NPCs, collect information, and make stuff happen. The third segment is basically an open sandbox where players can explore the region, follow-up on quests, and push forwards the story-line in many different ways.

Indeed, for a published adventure, and one that is written to happen in a certain order, there are a lot of freedom and possibilities. There are many sideboxes advising the DM on what to do if X happens or if the players do Y . Some events, even major ones like the Red Ruffian hideout, don't need to occur at all. The story can continue. Even the adventure's plot hook need not happen; a different hook can be used.


It is a modular adventure. One can take pieces out and put different pieces in, if the DM is inclined to do so. For instance, I can see an adventure entirely based in Phandelver itself in a sort of gang-war style control of the town, no Wave Echo Cave needed. One could go the other way and decide that Wave Echo Cave is a more known commodity and the party has to defend it from others like the green dragon while Phandelver itself is less important.

 

All the necessary rules and creature statistics are included in the book (front for the former and back for the latter). The maps of the region and the locations look great, and I'm sure would be very useful in smoothly running the campaign and encounters. The adventure's big-bad gets his own artwork.



Trickster Eric Novels gives "The Lost Mines of Phandelver" an A+.


Click here for my next book review (a request): Crown of Blood, book 3 of the Bloody Crown Trilogy

Click here for my previous book review (a request): Nici's Christmas (Troubadors short story)



Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Nici's Christmas - Troubadours series (review request)


"Nici's Christmas" is a short story by one of my favorite authors, Jean Gill. She is the reason I created a Hall of Fame here on my blog. This story meets the high standard she has set with the other four Troubadours books. It is the story of Nici's life up to the point where he meet Estela, which is the starting point of the first Troubadours book, "Song at Dawn".

One of the interesting things about this book is that it is both a sequel to the fourth Troubadours book and a prequel to the first. Despite this, there are few spoilers. Estela's real name is one of them and why she is found sleeping in a ditch at the start of the first book is the second one. A third one is part of the conclusion of the fourth book. It is a mild spoiler but a spoiler it remains so if you want to read the series from the start (and you should; Hall of Fame) without any spoilers then save this one for last.

SPOILER WARNING!

Now that this is out of the way I will begin.

What I like most about this story is the sequel/prequel set up. This way we can read a story of conflict, endurance, triumph, fateful decisions etc. but also enjoy the peaceful present. This present is set after "Song Hereafter" and so Estela and Dragonetz are firmly established as the lord and lady of Breyault, happily (officially) married, and raising their son Musca in the company of friends like Giles and Raoulf.

Even Nici has his own happy circumstances; finding a mate and raising up a litter of puppies. One could say he is the Lord of the Pasture because he protects the sheep with assistance of his mate and two of his older offspring. After reading this story, I have decided that he is basically Dragonetz in dog-form. Both of them are noble knights haunted by past failures and whose reputations have been soured by past masters who find redemption through a bond with Estela, which starts, incidentally, through her music.

It is thus little wonder that they get along so well and why Dragonetz was so quick to come to Nici's defense at the end of "Song Hereafter".

Through the bulk of Nici's story we see two contrasting shepherds who strike me as archetypes of the good shepherd and the bad shepherd (people herding literal sheep). This is Nici's actual history but given that he's telling the story as a bedtime story to his puppies, it makes me wonder if he is using it for instructive purposes. In either case, the life and status of shepherds and the vices of some of them show the historical research that I have come to expect from Miss. Gill.

Musca is adorable. He's like the puppies that he goes to the sheep pen to cuddle because he's scared and lonely. I think he's going to be a good big brother.

Trickster Eric Novels gives Nici's Christmas an A+


This has been a free review request. The author requested an honest review so I provided one.

Click here for my next book review: The Lost Mines of Phandelver

Click here for my previous book review: When Champagne Became French

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback

Saturday, October 19, 2019

When Champagne Became French (read for fun)


This is the last of the books from my academic backlog. It took me perhaps seven years to read them all. That's how much reading is assigned in the college I attended. Anyway, this book is about the production and marketing of the sparkling wine known as "Champagne" that is produced in the region of France known as "Champagne" by the people living there known as "Champenois". Making it more confusing (for them and me), none of these three categories were fixed and/or rigid at the time, depending on who you asked. That's the point of the book.  

It is a mix of economic, national, regional, social, geographical, and nutritional themes. No wonder the laws about the beverage grew so complicated. It is divided into five primary chapters sandwiched between an introduction and a conclusion. These sections can be summarized as:
2. Marketing champagne
3. Producing champagne
4. Protecting champagne
5. Defining champagne
6. Fighting over champagne
 
The book describes in the first chapter how champagne became a big deal even though its characteristic bubbles were originally considered a trick to cover the taste of bad wine. I found that to be a fun little fact.
 
The rest of the book goes into a conflict between vine-growers and sparkling-wine-produces, the vignerons and negociants and the two of them together (or not) against those from outside their region. So the bulk of the book is about this conflict. As a novelist, it appeared to me as a Decoy-Protagonist thing because it starts with the negociants but shifts in focus and sympathy to the vignerons.
 
Apparently, it is really difficult to grow grapes in the Marne because of the thin, chalky soil and more so when the weather is bad. Even if you get a big harvest and good wine the market for ordinary wine from the region at the time did not fetch a good price. Then there was one problem after another; a shifting market, phylloxera, competition with grapes and wine from other regions (even after a national demarcation made this illegal) and then World War I. Indeed, the vignerons of the region known as "Champagne" had a raw deal in this time period according to this book.
 
Despite this, the author, Kolleen M. Guy, makes the argument that this is not a struggle originated in class conflict. Labor vs capital is not what's going on (at least, not the primary thing). It is about a sense of regional identity within a national identity and defending what they see as both a regional treasure and a national legacy. Ms. Guy states that the average vigneron was more likely to get along with a negociant who was their neighbor then a vigneron who was not (this is such a gross oversimplification that I fear it is misleading but I'm trying to keep this review short).
 
It's clear that Miss. Guy did a lot of research. References are made to police reports, peasant petitions, political posters, records of the minutes from many meetings of many organizations, quotes from various people of various standings, and also comparisons with the scholarly works of historians and others who have written on this subject. The appendix and notes section could be their own chapter by length. The newspaper parody "War of the Two Beans" was particular poignant.
 
The history of the various "champagnes" is weaved into a story. It is an engaging story. I didn't want to look up "champagne" the beverage on Wikipedia or something like that because I didn't want to spoil the ending for myself.
 
I have two hang-ups about this book, and the first is the gratuitous French. There are a lot of French words used here that are not defined. Sometimes a quote will be only 90% translated into English.  While Ms. Guy does define terms like "terroir", "vigneron" and "negociant" these are the exception rather than the norm. I had to look up what "mevente" meant, a drop in sales.

The second hang up is the lack of section subtitles. The chapters themselves are labelled but sub sections are not. They are demarcated by a space and a special symbol to detonate a shift in subject but without a label it impossible to see at a glance the nature of the shift. This limits the book's utility as a reference. Which is a shame considering the great information here.
 
Trickster Eric Novels gives "When Champagne Became French" a B+


Click here for my next book review (a request): Nici's Christmas (Troubadours)


Click here to read my previous book review (for fun): Who Sang the First Song



Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).
His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Who Sang the First Song (read for fun)

I found this book in the Children's Christianity section of a bookstore while looking for a baptism gift for my niece. I'm glad I did.

It has beautiful artwork. A starry night, the top layer of the ocean, a field around a cottage, a log across a river and more are lovingly depicted. It is bright and cheerful for a young reader but has a certain poignancy and elegance that can appeal to the adult reading to them. This is the beauty of the natural world, God's creation.

It has a great message for children; affirmation of their worth as individuals and encouragement to lead lives of joy and discovery, and also friendship. The art depicts children having fun with each other in nature.

I've read this through twice so far. Being a picture book it is a quick read, and thus perfect as a bedtime story.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Who Sang the First Song" an A+


Click here for my next book review: When Champagne Became French


Click here to read my previous book review (for fun):
American Heritage Picture History of the American Civil War

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).
His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Picture History of the American Civil War (read for fun)

Believe it or not this is not another book that I kept from a college class. It's actually a gift from my mom because she knows I am a history buff. Anyway, it is a general history of the American Civil War from its background to Lincoln's assassination. As the title indicates it is composed predominantly pictures instead of text.

Each chapter has five or so pages that give an overview of the chapter itself, and the rest of the chapter is filled with relevant pictures alongside a couple paragraphs going into a little more detail on the subjects from the overview. For instance, the chapter relating to the Battle of Gettysburg will have pictures taken from early cameras of the battlefield and the military camps, more modern pictures of the area as it is now, maps showing the routes taken by the armies, and one more thing.

It is a drawing of the battles and how they progressed. Just one image for the major moments in a given battle that lasts two days or more. One is supposed to follow the numbers to follow the events. It is an interesting concept, but I found it confusing. Maybe I wasn't reading it right.

It is a mostly chronological account focusing on the land armies and their leaders but a few chapters divert from this. There is a chapter focusing on the naval battles and there is one for the political battles fought by diplomats at home and abroad. There is one for the common soldier on both sides and the kind of live he lived.

It is a fun book that does more than list dry facts. There is such a force of personality in the prose that one can imagine Bruce Catton lecturing on the subjects.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "American Heritage Picture History of the American Civil War" a A+

Click here to read my next book review (for fun): Who Sang the First Song

Click here to read my previous book review (for fun): My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom - volume 1

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).
His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Paladin as Party Healer (D&D Stories)

I've been playing Paladin recently in my regular D&D group. It's quite a change from my previous (and current, it's complicated) character of Fighter - Eldritch Knight. Both of them are primarily melee classes with limited magical ability but my experience with the former has been the opposite of a melee class. Due to the lack of a cleric, my paladin has become the party's heal bot.

In our first major battle, my paladin spent more time keeping our wizard alive then fighting. Likewise, his biggest contribution in the second (due to poor attack rolls) was again healing the wizard. In the third battle he was again on healing duty but this time it was the monk who fell unconscious because the wizard was elsewhere. It was initially frustrating but then I realized how perfectly it fell in line with my character's backstory.

See, he is a dwarf with the guild artisan background and a serious competitive drive. It drove him to sabotage the works of his fellow guild members in order to make his own wares appear superior. This mean-spirited cheating eventually got him into serious trouble with the guild and he became a paladin to atone for it, vowing to channel this competitiveness into doing good as a team player. Thus, a supporting role is perfect for him.

He started the first and third battles by casting Bless on himself and two other party members and then moved around performing Lay on Hands and Cure Wounds as needed. On one occasion, he helped the monk flank an enemy. On another he helped the druid use the Pack Tactics of her direwolf Wild-Shape. At fourth level, I'm planning on him taking the Menacing feat to boost his spell modifier and frighten foes out of attacking the party in the first place.

I've rolled terribly for attacks in all three sessions of this campaign so far. It got to the point where I changed dice. I still didn't hit anything but it doesn't matter. The party needs a dedicated healer more.


Update:
Several sessions later, my dwarf paladin is STILL rolling poorly for attacks; just attacks. He is level 4 now and he has landed fewer attacks than his level.


Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).
His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

How real life can influence the campaign (D&D stories)

What I like about Dungeons and Dragons is that it is communal story-telling. Everyone contributes to the story and how the campaign's narrative plays out. Usually this is through their characters, but the players themselves can also work interesting changes by just their presence or absence.

See, I'm one of those players that isn't satisfied with ignoring a character whose player didn't show up for the session. I want to know what happened to them; where did they go, what are they doing, etc. So the DM at the time provided good reason such as eating bad mushrooms or getting drunk after a victory. That sort of thing provided fun flavor. However, the truly interesting thing happened after I became the campaign's DM.

To set the stage, the party had been trying to free a large group of people who had been enslaved by a hobgoblin army. They were toiling away in a gold mine near the hobgoblin war camp. In the course of gathering allies for a raid on the camp, the party exited a Lost-World style plane through an arcane portal (long story) and decided to use this magical device to spirit the slaves away.

Two players dropped out at this time so we decided that their characters would stay on the other side and prepare a camp for the slaves to rest after their flight: preparing simple spears, gathering food, etc.

As it happened, the main army had departed the camp and the camp itself had fallen into decay, disorganized and lacking in discipline. This allowed the party to sneak into the mine because the goblin guards were sleeping. The bard decided to cast Leomond's Tiny Hut to block the entrance. We would use the portal device to free the slaves.

This is it. The Free-the-Slaves arc took five weeks and over each of those weeks a new player came by for that week only (with one exception). So each week the session would start with the party running into another adventurer who was trying to free the slaves by themselves. It started to get ridiculous at how poor the security for the mine was when so many people could independently sneak in. One character gave the impression that he had wandered in and had no idea where he was.

We all had a good laugh about this. One player even joked that the party had done a better job securing the mine than its hobgoblin owners. That was true.

The story was written so that security would be lax at this point in time. However, nothing I could have done would have underscored this plot point as thoroughly and hilariously as this string of new one-time players. Adding them as NPCs would have been pointless and lame. It was the real-life consequence that made it memorable.


Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).
His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback

Saturday, August 31, 2019

My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom" volume 1 (read for fun)

This is a series that I discovered on Tvtropes. I find a lot of fun stuff over there. We tropers like documenting things and this one is new (to me at least). I will examine Plot, Character, and Polish before assigning a grade. Also, I should mention that this review is specifically for the manga adaptation of the light novel.

PLOT

While the premise is simple enough, someone from contemporary real-life Japan inhabiting a role in another world, it becomes more complicated. Several twists are quickly introduced. One of these is that our protagonist finds herself in the role of a game's villain, Katarina Claes, and she realizes this seven years before the game's story begins. As a result, she resolves to avoid the "doom" that awaits her (character), and in doing so, she sends the entire game's plot "off the rails" before it even starts.

I like this development. Not only does it have a clear and focused goal for the prime story and its heroine but it quickly moves away from this origin. Katarina is no longer following the game's script so any advantage she has of such knowledge is increasingly moot. It also provides a fitting and reasonable excuse for being Oblivious-To-Love as is common for leading characters in this genre. She truly believes, with sound justification, that no one is going to fall in love with her because she's not the game's heroine but an obstacle for said heroine.

There is no preamble to get this plot going. The manga devotes one page and four panels to Katarina's past life, and only to introduce the founding idea of this past life playing the dating game, Fortune's Lover. Then Katarina quickly realizes how much trouble she could be in and takes appropriate measures. No time is wasted making her appear "ordinary" or "relatable", aside, of course, from her desire to avoid death or exile, which is very relatable.

This volume is structured as encounters with the game's love interests/capture targets and the other two rivals. They may look like loosely connected short stories but they are linked by Katarina's desire to avoid doom. Besides, they take place over years so it doesn't feel rushed or contrived. It's basically slice-of-life otherwise.

This story is a lot of fun. Katarina's doom counter-measures make perfect sense to her and are fully explained to the reader but her family and noble peers are baffled by them. Thus, hilarity ensues when she starts farming as a hobby or throws a toy snake at people. The "Council of Katarinas" is my favorite running gag. Beyond comedy, there are sincerely touching moments such as Katarina's attempts at bonding with her adoptive younger brother, Keith, and finding a romance novel buddy in Sophia.

CHARACTERS

Our heroine and the in-universe game's villain is Katarina Claes. She is a delightful character. The mixing of her memories has made her a friendly and done-to-earth sort of person, considering social debuts to be a hassle and would rather make friends than climb the social ladder.
Her sense of self and identity is interestingly crafted. We don't get any picture or idea of what her past self (henceforth referred as "the monkey girl") is like except from Katarina herself (other than the video game thing, naturally). She thinks of herself as "Katarina Claes" with eight years of memories as such. Her previous memories function like a USB data drive in that they are extra memory but otherwise don't interact with the main computer, so to speak. She doesn't mourn her death or try to return to her life as "monkey girl"; this doesn't even occur to her. Why would it? She is Katarina Claes and that is not her life (anymore).
Another part of her that is fun and interesting is the balance between opposite traits. She is quite the tomboy, enjoying tree-climbing and farming as hobbies, but knows how to act lady-like when necessary, due to her mother's diligence in teaching her decorum. She has rational and pragmatic reasons for the things she does but she also has strange behaviors such as consulting a Council of Katarinas where one of them has a mustache.

 

I could write as much about the other characters but that would take too long. I will select Alan Stuart, the fourth prince of the setting as an example.

He has numerous traits but is not defined by any one of them, thus making him more than a two dimensional character. He suffers from an inferiority complex due to comparisons with his twin brother, Jerod, which makes him weepy when they share a conversation, but is boastful and confident in situations that exclude him. He shows determination in his tree-climbing duels with Katarina but not so much stubbornness that he cannot become her friend in the process. His piano skills are magnificent (even if his brother is better).

POLISH

As this review is for the manga adaptation, I can only speak of the art work in this section. It is cute. It is soft and warm and perfectly suited for the light-hearted comedy of the story. Being as the cast are all nobles, they get some fancy clothes which the artist does a splendid job with as well.

Trickster Eric Novels gives ""My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom" volume 1 an A+


Click here for my next book review: Picture History of the American Civil War

Click here for my previous book review: Mahou Sensei Negima! Omnibus #9


Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).
His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback

Friday, August 16, 2019

Mahou Sensei Negima! Omnibus #9 (volumes 25-27) Read for Fun

This is an exciting collection. Here we have the first full confrontation between the Negi Party and Fate Party (volume 25) Rakan finally bothering to tell everyone about the great pre-series war (volume 26) and the climax of the tournament arc with an epic volume finale (volume 27).

Pactio artifact vs Pacio Artifact! I must say I enjoyed seeing the Ministra Magi fight each other. It is a different form of combat then the slugfests/wizard duels between Negi and his opponents. Haruna's creation magic (Retreat-kun!) and Nodoka's mind-reading make a potent combination. We also get to see Rakan in action again in a scene that is comedic, silly and outrageous which serves as foreshadowing to how NOT silly Rakan truly is.

The man of a thousand blades comes with a thousand nicknames, among them "living computer virus" and "human nuclear warhead". He looms large here as a fighter, a storyteller and a mentor (and a clown).

The peak into the backstory was fun and interesting. With the war, and the investigation, and Nagi's contrasting personality, it was like a genre shift. Fate didn't like a child back then but age-changing magic is a thing here so it could mean nothing.

The final fight of the Ostia tournament (which, metaphysically, could be the only one given its detail) is incredible. Negi and Kotaro vs Rakan and Kagetaro is a skillful mix of fighting awesome, narrative awesome, pacing awesome, and artistic awesome.

Trickster Eric Novels gives Mahou Sensei Negima! Omnibus #9 an A+

Click here for my next book review: My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom" volume 1

Click here for my previous book review: Chuang Tzu

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Chuang Tzu (read for fun)

Chuang Tzu is a book on Taoist philosophy. This particular translation is part of the Basic Writing series from Burton Watson.

The introduction written by him advises the reader against systematic analysis of the work itself because it is a mystic text. It is not to be analyzed and studied but reflected upon and understood. I agree with him.
Looking for meaning in each line, paragraph, page etc.  is bound to be frustrating. I don't see it as written that way. It's more of gestalt sort of thing. You have to read it with an open mind, without preconceptions, to get anything.

For me, personally, it resembles some of the martial art books that I've read. I see themes of the empty mind, value of intuition/muscle memory and the importance of detachment and focus.

It's been kind of hard to write this review because of the nature of the wisdom in this book. It frequently makes light of language itself by calling it "reckless" or otherwise insufficient in explaining The Way. At one point, Chuang Tzu even says that once you understand the meaning of his words you can and should forget the words themselves. So while I wrote this review I felt like I failed to really talk about the book at all. It's more like what I thought about the book which might be completely off-base.

I like this book but for some reason I don't feel like giving it an "A". Perhaps it is because some of the passages feel like nonsense. The introduction mentioned that some of the text was difficult to translate, corrupted, or something like that. It also mentioned how some of the historical text feels like it was written by a different person with less skill but that he tried to remove as much of that as possible. Although this particular copy has scribbled notes from its previous owner which function as a contrasting viewpoint, which is helpful.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Chaung Tzu" a B+

Click here for my next book review: Mahou Sensei Negima! Omnibus #9

Click here for my previous book review: Drinking Cultures

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback

 

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Drinking Cultures (read for fun)

Drinking Cultures is an anthology of anthropology. It is yet another book that I was assigned to read in a college class but did not have time for. Seriously, there is too much reading in a full load even for a nerd like me who loves reading stuff like this. Anyway,  each chapter focuses on a specific drinking culture somewhere in the world,  from Japan to San Francisco to France to Germany to Malta to Hong Kong.

 The idea of "alcohol as community builder" takes on just as many varieties, each influenced by each area's differing attributes. The wine-tasting subculture within France has the characteristics it does because of the long historical connection between "France" and "wine", and even this has its nuances with those critiquing such a view (in discussions of national identity and such).

Most of the anthropologists acquired their information through direct and personal investigation of these drinking cultures. It sounds like going to pubs, fairs, bars, and other places where drinking occurs and then observing the clientele and talking with them. More formal interviews are explicitly used in more de-centralized cases, such as the young gangs in San Francisco with the aid of people who have good relations with them, like social workers.

This is an information dense book. Each article (excluding the notes/references/etc.) is about 15 pages in length and yet it goes deep into its respective drinking. The why, how, where and other angles are covered. It is interesting and engaging reading.

Each chapter stands alone and can be read in about 1.5 hours so in this respect it is a quick read. However, I noticed something of a pattern in the way the chapters are arranged. It is as though consecutive chapters are meant to contrast each other. The first drinking culture, in Japan, has as its theme a drinking party which reinforces social roles and hierarchy and even has rules for behavior when its celebrants are drunk. The second one, in Germany, instead speaks of how the locals use the idealized "Irish Pub" as a means of relaxing from social restraints into a more loose and friendly atmosphere. The third and fourth drinking cultures, in Czechoslovakia and Norway, respectively, contrast the attitudes of public drunkenness. The former, according to this article, drink an awful lot and excuse mistakes due to drunkenness, while the latter drink regularly but in a narrow window and views silly behavior due to intoxication in a similar manner.

I had fun reading this.
 
Trickster Eric Novels gives "Drinking Cultures" an A+
 
 


Click here for my next book review: Chuang Tzu

Click here for my previous book review: Young Miss Holmes Casebook 5-7

 
Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Heart of the Curiosity - Author Interview


This is part of my contribution to the Heart of the Curiosity blog tour, which took place earlier this month. I featured its blurb and author at this article here so click that for information on the book itself. This right here is an interview with the author that focuses on the setting of the story, the titular theater, The Curiosity.


What inspired the setting of this story?


I started out just interested in the idea of professional audience members, which led me to the idea of writing a story about show business folk, and I like contained settings, so I chose a theater. Once I knew I was going to write a story about a theater I also knew that I wanted it to be a treasure hunt and have Steampunk elements … it kind of just wrote itself from there. 





How did you design the theater? Did you have to draw it out?


I didn’t really design it so much as if the story took the characters somewhere, I went there with them. I had a few things that NEEDED to be in the theater for either plot reasons (certain tunnels/passages that went certain places) or because it wouldn’t make sense for a theater NOT to have them (a stage, a lobby, a ticket booth).


It wasn’t really necessary to draw it out.  The whole idea of the theater is that it is an impossible to fathom maze of passages and rooms that my main character finds a little confusing. If she didn’t know how it was laid out exactly it wouldn’t make sense for me to either. Also, I only ever bother to figure out parts of my world building that readers will actually experience/interact with, and there was a lot of the theater that simply didn’t matter from that perspective.  



How did you come up with the obstacles?


I honestly can’t remember. There was probably caffeine involved. Maybe some wine. 


To an extent each obstacle is supposed to represent an aspect of the theater (storytelling and invention, dance, lighting), but I also kept in mind what I needed my characters to feel in that moment, so there’s a mix of traps with high tension and a dire consequence if you don’t figure it quickly and more cerebral puzzles that force the characters to slow down and calmly think through something together--and maybe have a chance to talk when they aren’t in a panic. 



Tell us about the cafe. Did you base it on a certain cafe in real life?


No. I’ve been to multiple bakeries, and just kind of picked things I like about bakeries/cafes in general. It’s kind of a wish fulfillment bakery that always has something new and lots of coffee and baked goods. 




How did you come up with the desserts?


I googled “bakery display case,” pulled up images, picked the prettiest, most whimsical looking displays and described some of the things I saw inside them. (Writing is a lot less glamorous when you know how the sausage is made, huh?) The flavor combinations were a mix of wish fulfillment (who doesn’t want to know what sunshine tastes like?) and things I’ve read about in descriptions of wines that seem odd to think of as flavors but which do often come up and weirdly taste good (smoky, leathery, oaky).



______________________________________________________________________
Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback
  

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Young Miss Holmes casebook 5-7 (Read for fun)


This is the final casebook for "Young Miss Holmes" and it is appropriately set up as a finale. Christie's parents are finally coming home.

 There is more original content here, such as backstory information for the Hope family and what Christie's father has been doing in India while his daughter solves cases in London.

The author takes a different approach to each of these cases, which increases variety and furthers the original content/re-invention of the tales instead of simply adding Christie's group to them. For instance, the "the Dying Message" is framed as Christie relating the case to her grandmother. Holmes has already solved it and the grandmother wants to try solving it herself while spending an evening with Christie. "The Famous Trainer" has Christie and Holmes Working-The-Same-Case. She doesn't even know there is a case until a little ways in, being primarily interested in a suspicious canary seller who has started a trend among her fellow daughters of nobility.

 "The Giant Rat of Sumatra" is particular interesting. In this book, it is revealed to be an attempted assassination centered squarely on Christie, and is thus the most original of the entire series. It is also the least like a mystery and more like an action-y home-defense thing. It also introduces a foil for her. I wish I could see more those two working together.

 
The art continues to be great. It is cute and does a good job of both setting the scene and building tension across the panels.

I would like to continue reading with the "London Massive" sequel series but I can't find it in English (or at all, really).

 

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Young Miss Holmes" an A+

Click here for my next book review: Drinking Cultures
 
Click here for my previous book review: Log Horizon v 11 Krusty Tycoon Lord
 
Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Log Horizon v 11 - Krusty Tycoon Lord (read for fun)

This is another Kanami focus volume. It shows what she and her group have been doing while Shiroe did his The Chessmaster thing in Japan. It also reveals what happened to Krusty after he disappeared. It is excellent place to pick up the series after watching season 2 of the anime because it overlaps a bit.

It is heavy on introspective philosophical themes. Krusty reflects on his lack of in-game memories as well as his pre-Apacolypse past (interesting itself) and then applies this in an awesome way in the climax. Elias angsts about feeling useless due to his Thou-Shall-Not-Kill curse among other things. Leonardo is linked and contrasted with Elias and the pair also do something awesome in the climax.

The climax is a great pay off from the prior build up.

Also, there's world building for the Chinese server. The developers there found an efficient way to populate endless content over a wide area and this has produced unfortunate side-effects since the Apocalypse. I enjoyed reading about all that and how it compares to the domestic and inter-city troubles in Japan.

Hua Diao (a child-size martenfolk) and Krusty make both a charming moe couplet and a fun comedic duo.

Most of the combat takes place in two major stages and they are amazing. They are these focus bits of streaming action, story pay-off and character development.

Each chapter/section provides a character sheet for a present character. Their level, stats, and flavor text for their items, which are fun to read about.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Log Horizon v 11 - Krusty Tycoon Lord" an A+

Click here for my next book review: Young Miss Holmes casebook 5-7

Click here for my previous book review: War and Human Nature

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback