Review of The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Book Review by Redd Becker

Written in 1988, The Alchemist remains timeless.The Alchemist Coelho wrote it in a traditional story telling style which fits the format of ageless stories created to teach life lessons. Through “the boy’s” journey from shepherd to crystal merchant in Tangier across the African desert to an oasis and beyond to the Egyptian pyramids he learns. We learn with him. We learn about life’s lessons through his actions and the poignant words of those he meets. The importance of listening to your ‘self’ and looking for good omens runs a thread through the story. As does the importance of realizing one’s own “Personal Legend” or your path and purpose of life.

While drilling philosophical messages home, The Alchemist entertains. Coelho brings eclectic characters to life in exotic locations that take us out of ourselves.

Worldwide appeal in Paulo Coelho

Born in Brazil soon after World War II, Coelho grew up in a Catholic family. His 500 mile pilgrimage in Spain gave him experiences and insights that fed his stories. As one of the most important international writers of our times, Coelho writes for everyone interested in stories that impart meaning.

Review of The Alchemist by Paulo CoelhoThe Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, Alan R. Clarke
Published by HarperCollins on May 1st 1993
Pages: 197
Goodreads

Paulo Coelho's enchanting novel has inspired a devoted following around the world. This story, dazzling in its powerful simplicity and inspiring wisdom, is about an Andalusian shepherd boy named Santiago who travels from his homeland in Spain to the Egyptian desert in search of a treasure buried in the Pyramids. Along the way he meets a Gypsy woman, a man who calls himself king, and an alchemist, all of whom point Santiago in the direction of his quest. No one knows what the treasure is, or if Santiago will be able to surmount the obstacles along the way. But what starts out as a journey to find worldly goods turns into a discovery of the treasure found within. Lush, evocative, and deeply humane, the story of Santiago is an eternal testament to the transforming power of our dreams and the importance of listening to our hearts.

Review of Radiant by Karina Sumner-Smith

from Towers Trilogy

Radiant tells a coming-of-age story set in a dystopian world where magic is the Radiantcurrency of power. The heroine’s apparent power, seeing ghosts, gets her more trouble than any food or shelter she could trade for its use. She is shunned by most, even residents of the lower city. This makes her more than just a lonely orphan. She’s desperate. Her deep longing for companionship leads her to defending a ghost who’s powers have lasted beyond death. The ghost’s future may be as a zombie in another person’s body, if Xhea doesn’t help. A powerful high tower in the upper city wants the ghosts magic to run their complex. Xhea willing puts her life on the line for the ghost, Shai. As they work together Shai teaches Xhea how to unlock her power. Dark magic flows through Xhea. Not the type of magic the towers want for good, and not a power Xhea wants used for bad.

Chapter 1 Analysis of Radiant

For those interested in writing: A well turned phrase is a wonderful talent and Karina Sumner-Smith uses plenty of them. Although not flashy, they imbue the narration with her unique style.

Review of Radiant by Karina Sumner-SmithRadiant (Towers Trilogy, #1) by Karina Sumner-Smith
Series: Towers Trilogy #1
Published by Talos on September 30th 2014
Genres: Dystopian, Paranormal, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 400
Goodreads

Xhea has no magic. Born without the power that everyone else takes for granted, Xhea is an outcast—no way to earn a living, buy food, or change the life that fate has dealt her. Yet she has a unique talent: the ability to see ghosts and the tethers that bind them to the living world, which she uses to scratch out a bare existence in the ruins beneath the City’s floating Towers.

When a rich City man comes to her with a young woman’s ghost tethered to his chest, Xhea has no idea that this ghost will change everything. The ghost, Shai, is a Radiant, a rare person who generates so much power that the Towers use it to fuel their magic, heedless of the pain such use causes. Shai’s home Tower is desperate to get the ghost back and force her into a body—any body—so that it can regain its position, while the Tower’s rivals seek the ghost to use her magic for their own ends. Caught between a multitude of enemies and desperate to save Shai, Xhea thinks herself powerless—until a strange magic wakes within her. Magic dark and slow, like rising smoke, like seeping oil. A magic whose very touch brings death.

With two extremely strong female protagonists, Radiant is a story of fighting for what you believe in and finding strength that you never thought you had.

Book Review: All Systems Red, The Murderbot Diaries, by Martha Wells

A fast paced intriguing novella by Martha Wells takes us into the from the Murderbot Diarieshead of a android, who finds his way free of the Company’s command. When the Company assigned the droid to a human survey team as insurance, Murderbot, as he calls himself, turns off his command module. Acting as a free agent he plans to fulfill his mission, regardless of the danger.

Wells addresses issues of ‘cyber sentience’, ‘droid rights’, and ‘droid consciousness’ in her Murderbot Diaries series. Although an admitted killer, the robot has a sense of rightness, preferences and its commitments are clear.  His personality roughly exhibits aspects of what some may attribute to Asperger’s.

Murderbot

Martha Wells brings her robot to life for readers. It becomes yet another one of her unique characters to root for.

Book Review: All Systems Red, The Murderbot Diaries, by Martha WellsAll Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries, #1) by Martha Wells
Series: The Murderbot Diaries #1
Published by Tor.com on May 2nd 2017
Genres: Novella, Science Fiction
Pages: 144
Goodreads

A murderous android discovers itself in All Systems Red, a tense science fiction adventure by Martha Wells that blends HBO's Westworld with Iain M. Banks' Culture books.

In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety.

But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern.

On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid — a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is.

But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it's up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth.

Book Review of Renegades by Thomas Locke

A Recruits Novel

Once again Thomas Locke’s novel entertained on Thomas Lockemultiple levels. He starts right out with a kidnapping, snarling gangsters and rebellious twins at a military academy. From there you know you’re in for an entertaining action adventure. The book begins with two main plot lines in clearly delineated chapters. As with many of Locke’s books, you know they’ll converge so you read on, enjoying the plot set-ups, as you anxiously anticipate their interaction.

The story is heavily testosterone driven with the twins, Sean and Dillon, and the military dudes, Logan and Vance. Female generals’s and a female advocate keeps it modern and adds balance. Although peppered with romance, the romance is a side element to the story, more of an admittance that romance is an element of life than a predominating plot point.

Teleportation and telepathy play a primary role in the main characters. Sean can project his mental vision outward in order to “hunt” for the information he wants, and the twins can both  jump to any location they know. The military team Logan put together, from the ragtag of adepts he assembled from book one, boasts similar powers.

As the second in the Recruits series, Renegades stands on its own nicely. References to the first story provide a little background, but the story doesn’t rely on you having read the first book. Undoubtedly, the first book will prove an equally fun read. I haven’t read it, but expect to enjoy it when I have time.

Thomas Locke’s Social Commentary

As with all good sci-fi the story-line functions as a vehicles for the authors views on life and/or society. Locke writes about things as he would like them to be, in specific, how people get alone, support each other and work together. His views come out in his depiction of interpersonal relationships. Many novels emphasize conflict between characters, in particular within family. Locke depicts the twins, Dillon and Sean, as an examples of how brothers can interact with respect, understanding and support for each other’s individuality.

Military scenes are similar. Interactions among the team Logan put together show how a trusting team can work. It may not be realistic, but that doesn’t distract from the story. In fact it makes it better.

Book Review of Renegades by Thomas LockeRenegades (Recruits) by Thomas Locke
Published by Fleming H. Revell Company on November 7th 2017
Genres: Novella, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Goodreads

Twins Sean and Dillon are using their transit abilities for good--but not everyone sees it that way. Arrested and imprisoned by a clandestine group within the highest reaches of the Human Assembly, Sean and Dillon are forced to choose sides between those who wish to serve and those who seek to rule. At the same time within a distant outpost system, a young soldier is coming into his own. Logan has known since childhood that he possessed a special ability--a distinct form of transiting called ghost-walking. Though ghost-walking has been outlawed for centuries, Logan is secretly drawing together a crew for a risky quest. The fates of these three young men will lead them, along with the entire Assembly, to the brink of destruction in this inventive tale of adventure, honor, and the things worth fighting for.

Review of Splinters by Fiona J. R. Titchenell & Matt Carter

The Prospero Chronicles #1

Fion Titchenell and Matt Carter co-author the Prospero Chronicles. In book one Ben goes to a funeral of an old friend where he becomes an by Fiona Titchenell and Matt Carterunintentional participant in an alien species’ quest to take over the world.

We follow the story from both Ben and Mina’s perspective in 1st person. Each chapter clearly delineates the perspective, so there is not confusion.

The story is often told with tongue-in-cheek humor. In many ways this horror story is wrapped in humor, the young fresh carefree humor of youth.

Fiona Titchenell and Matt Carter Collaboration

Spliters is one of a series of three in the collaboration of Fiona J. R. Titchenell and Matt Carter. An interview on Smashwords with Titchenell describes the process they use to work together.

“When Matt and I are working on a project together, we construct the outline together and then mostly alternate the chapters between us, so we’ll be writing a pair of chapters concurrently, then we’ll trade them, make notes to each other, adjust accordingly, and continue on to the next pair… It usually takes us about four drafts to get a manuscript ready for an outside editor. Draft two fixes major continuity errors and adds in any parts we wanted to include but forgot in draft one. Draft three cuts the fat and smooths emotional continuity, and Draft four is usually down to fine-tuning.”

Bravo for their process and the results of their co-creating.

Chapter 1 Analysis

Many first chapters set up the challenge of the protagonist and give a good sense of the setting.  Splinters provides a solid setting, while it oozes with clues. Some clues may mislead the reader until they dive further into the book. The first chapter end leaves readers with a pile of questions to peak their interest…

An abundant use of commas pepper a multitude of run-on sentences. The commas can be distracting. Short sentences periodically break the run-on sentences up and help create much needed white space, but a cleaner punctuation style might work better.

Review of Splinters by Fiona J. R. Titchenell & Matt CarterSplinters by Fiona J.R. Titchenell, Matt Carter
Series: The Prospero Chronicles #1
Published by Createspace on June 6th 2017
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 304
Goodreads

Under normal circumstances, Ben and Mina would never have had reason to speak to each other. He’s an easy-going people person with a healthy skepticism about the paranormal; she’s a dangerously obsessive monster-hunter with a crippling fear of betrayal. But the small Northern California town of Prospero, with its rich history of cryptid sightings, miracles, and mysterious disappearances, has no normal circumstances to offer.

When Ben’s missing childhood friend, Haley Perkins, stumbles out of Prospero’s surrounding woods and right into her own funeral, Ben and Mina are forced to work together to uncover what happened to her. Different as they are, their unlikely friendship may be the only thing that can save the town, and possibly the world, from its insidious invaders.

“A snapping, crackling, popping homage to classic horror.” —Kirkus Reviews.

“Whip-smart dialogue... genuinely terrifying Splinters, the descriptions of which will have fans of monster films utterly enthralled... A promising series opener, this will satisfy those readers who like their scary stories to be as clever as they are chilling." —KQG, the Bulletin of The Center for Children's Books.

“The stakes are high. The action is intense." —Washington Independent Review of Books.

Review League of Dragons by Naomi Novik

#9 in the Termeraire Series

Naomi Novik skillfully writes the tension of opposing forces. Termeraire #9 by Naomi Novik Whether dragon cooperating with humans or allegiances between world nations, she hits her target. League of Dragons explores the internal political struggles between rulers and military forces as allies fight for rule of the world.  When Napoleon promises dragons worldwide new rights previously deprived of them, the balance of power may be at en end. The allegiance of dragons with humans is key to political tranquility.

Novik creates an alternate history of Europe where dragons are common and Napoleon’s forces attempt to take over the world. As #9 in the series, this story begins with Laurence and his dragon companion, Termeraire, trying to locate Napoleon. Although they have successfully rid him of Russia they believe he’ll soon return.

Novik incorporates wonderful historical details that add authenticity to her world view. Her depiction of Russia’s climate captures the frigid chills of their northern land.

This novel rounds off the Termeraire series at nine. I have not read the previous, however I believe all novels should stand on their own, regardless of their part in a series.

Although character’s were well defined in this novel, they didn’t go through much transformation. Their reactions appeared immediate rather then transformative This may be attributed to it being the end of a long series in which Termeraire played a central role. My expectation, however, follows the assumption that going through an adventure with a character implies that I will learn while the character learns. This story did not provide that feeling.

Since the character’s arch was not emphasized, our understanding of war strategies becomes enhanced. Novik takes this to the ultimate conclusion with her ending in this novel.

Naomi Novik’s Gamer Perspective Comes through in her Termeraire Series

The focus on military strategies and alliances is only one aspect of how Novik integrates her gaming background into her storytelling. She professes a love for computer technologies and helped build the Archive of Our Own for fan-fiction.

Chapter 1 Analysis

Novik appears to have fun playing with language. Similes are sprinkled throughout the story and she uses lots of alliteration (words that begin with the same sound) throughout the first chapter. It quickens the pace of sentences and creates a fun read. One line in the first paragraph uses alliteration in three places to punch it up. “Laurence saw its small hard shining eyes peering patiently out from beneath the brambles.” What a fun line to read.

Novik likes color and she ensures we see what we imagine in color. This provides detail, but it also correlates to emotions we associate with those colors. We often associate red with blood and military uniforms, while gold imparts images of wealth and regal illusions.

I’ve learned a great deal from Novik’s first chapter, although her style is not my favorite. Using Nancy Pearl’s Four Doors to Book Reading, I believe League of Dragons’ primary focus is world building or setting, then plot, specifically military conflict. My favorite books develop character at the forefront, however, that is a matter of taste. For those who enjoy setting oriented novels with a penchant for military conflict, the Termeraire series should captivate you.

Power Words Power the Chapter

Naomi Novik’s extensive use of power words rings true in her tale of war, where militaries clash, Napoleon is king and dragons rule the sky. One can read only the power words to obtain a clear picture of events. In the leading paragraph: dead – scavengers – raucous – dragon’s – shadow – sunken – hollow – muzzle red, create a picture that draws us in. The second paragraph includes: dead – proud – red – gold – dragon – hunger – frozen – snow – corps – peasants – epaulets, all reinforce the action. The third paragraph goes on with: descending – corps – Napolean’s army – racing – escape – Napolean – dragon – reinforcements – safely – devouring – war – no end – slaughter. Wow.

Margie Lawson teaches a wonderful course on using power words and rhetorical devices in language. You are sure to learn a lot from her.

Review League of Dragons by Naomi NovikLeague of Dragons (Temeraire, #9) by Naomi Novik
Series: Termeraire #9
Published by Del Rey on June 14th 2016
Genres: Alternate History, Fantasy
Pages: 380
Goodreads

The final adventure in the New York Times bestselling Temeraire series that started with the beloved His Majesty’s Dragon which has won fans of Napoleonic-era military history, Anne McCaffrey’s Pern novels, and Patrick O’Brian’s seafaring adventures.

The deadly campaign in Russia has cost both Napoleon and those allied against him. Napoleon has been denied his victory…but at a terrible price. Lawrence and the dragon Temeraire pursue the fleeing French army back west, but are demoralized when Napoleon makes it back to Paris unscathed. Worse, they soon learn that the French have stolen Termeraire and Iskierka’s egg. Now, it is do or die, as our heroes not only need to save Temeraire’s offspring but also to stop Napoleon for good!

Book Review of Songs of Willow Frost

by Jamie Ford

Historical fiction is a wonderful vehicle to learn about history. Jamie Ford sets Songs of Willow Frost in Seattle’s Chinatown during the by Jamie FordDepression of the 1930s. In this specialized locality, the story takes us through desperation into hope on a very personal level. It centers around William Eng on his quest to find his ah-ma, who he believes is Willow Frost. The reader walks with William at the orphanage and on the streets of Seattle. We also learn of Willow’s struggles as a beautiful Chinese American in the early 1900s.

Ford proves his skill at weaving-a-yarn in a traditional literary fashion, while providing a history lesson of a part of America we don’t often consider. The historical context of Seattle’s Chinatown infuses every aspect of the story, while Ford compassionately gives readers an understanding of the culture and limitations of the times.

Flashbacks and descriptions of feelings, places and people abound. None of it is dry or devoid of interest however. Ford’s vision becomes real as he mixes memories into action scenes making them ever more poignant.

We believe the story’s truth. We hurt for the characters, and we deplore our collective history. Regardless, we read on–eager to know what happens.

Ford doesn’t let the reader down. He leaves us with tears, understanding and a hope for redemption. Thank you Jamie Ford for telling us Willow’s and William’s stories.

Chapter 1 Analysis

First chapters provide readers a sense of an author’s writing style and a promise of what will come. I started the week thinking I’d study the first chapter of a half-dozen books, but stopped. My study was sidetracked with Songs of Willow Frost in which Jamie Ford captured my empathy and interest with his depiction of an orphanage child in 1934 Seattle.

From the first line, “snapping leather belt and the shrieking of rusty springs”, I questioned the circumstances to come. Although this orphanage wake-up scene compels the reader to continue, Williams’s thoughts peak interest even more.

Long paragraphs of backstory including the brutality of being beaten for peeing in bed and memories of pre-orphanage days push readers out of a scene in order to explore varied facets of William’s life. For example in the boys birthday sojourn to the movies cryptic memories of finding his ah-ma in a bath tub, as well as growing up in the orphanage, interrupt and extend the scene.

Chapters often end with cliff-hangers. The first chapter’s ending leaves us wondering if the actress in the movie really could be his mom. Regardless, William’s quest is defined at that moment, when he becomes driven to find the actress.

Ford’s most popular novel is his first book published in 2009, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. It won the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature in 2010. He was also a runner-up for the 2009 Langum Prize for historical fiction and it was named the #1 Book Club Pick for Fall 2009/Winter 2010 by the American Booksellers Association. If you like Songs of Willow Frost, perhaps another of Ford’s books is in order.

Book Review of Songs of Willow FrostSongs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford
Published by Ballantine Books on September 10th 2013
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 331
Goodreads

Twelve-year-old William Eng, a Chinese-American boy, has lived at Seattle’s Sacred Heart Orphanage ever since his mother’s listless body was carried away from their small apartment five years ago. On his birthday—or rather, the day the nuns designate as his birthday—William and the other orphans are taken to the historical Moore Theatre, where William glimpses an actress on the silver screen who goes by the name of Willow Frost. Struck by her features, William is convinced that the movie star is his mother, Liu Song.

Determined to find Willow, and prove his mother is still alive, William escapes from Sacred Heart with his friend Charlotte. The pair navigates the streets of Seattle, where they must not only survive, but confront the mysteries of William’s past and his connection to the exotic film star. The story of Willow Frost, however, is far more complicated than the Hollywood fantasy William sees onscreen.

Shifting between the Great Depression and the 1920s, Songs of Willow Frost takes readers on an emotional journey of discovery. Jamie Ford’s sweeping book will resonate with anyone who has ever longed for the comforts of family and a place to call home.