Fantasy Book Review: Shadow Grail: Sacrifices

Shadow Grail: Sacrifices by Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill

Synopsis:
The students of Oakhurst Academy believe they have triumphed over the Shadow Knights. But Spirit, Burke, Muirin, Loch, and Addie know better. Under the guise of a company called Breakthrough Adventure Systems, the Shadow Knights have actually taken over the campus. The new regime is brutal, designed to turn the students into soldiers wielding both weapons and magic. Anyone who protests disappears.

Desperate, the group decides that Muirin should go undercover to spy on Breakthrough. But Muirin’s act is a little too good, and Spirit begins to fear that her friend’s loyalties might have truly changed. Surrounded by enemies and friends who suddenly seem like strangers, Spirit has to decide who can—and cannot—be trusted.

Review:
Spirit and her classmates are now under lockdown at the school. Though the school was strict before, it’s almost like a prison now. And those that run the school are the biggest threat. The students slowly uncover the secrets of Arthurian legend that are manifesting in present day, but discovering who they can trust proves difficult.

Sacrifices is the third book in the Shadow Grail series, packed with suspense, magic, and intrigue. The big mystery has been slowly unfolding throughout the series. Spirit finally learns about her magic at the end of the story, which was easy to predict. And while the adventure is not fast-paced, the drama is intense. The strength of this series is the mystery and character development. This YA fantasy series is smart, dark, and incredibly enjoyable. The story ends with a fairly big cliffhanger that left me wanting more. The next in the series can’t come soon enough for me.

Guest Post and Giveaway: Kevin Emerson

Author Kevin Emerson joins SciFiChick.com today to talk about our fascination with aliens and alien abductions… and to promote his new book THE FELLOWSHIP FOR ALIEN DETECTION! (reviewed here)

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I had never run into a person who seemed to sincerely believe that aliens had visited Earth until I visited Roswell in 2004. Sure, I had many fun theoretical conversations about it, mostly related to the better episodes and theories on The X-Files. And I certainly believe, given the size and age of the universe, that there are definitely other complex life forms out there. But as to whether those aliens have been here: maybe? But it doesn’t seem likely. For every compelling oddity in ancient history or strange account in modern times, there tends to be a fairly compelling alternate, non-alien possibility.

But the people in the International UFO Museum and Research Station http://www.roswellufomuseum.com/ seemed to genuinely believe that they had been visited. Walking up to the museum, I was expecting something with a similar kitschy vibe as the surrounding alien-themed gift shops. The museum, inside an old movie theater, definitely has kitsch, but it’s also free admission and staffed by retirees (or it was the day I visited anyway), which makes it feel a lot less like a hustle. Inside, it seemed sincerely devoted to exploring the question of what happened on that stormy night in Roswell in 1947. I found myself torn between feeling like I was part of an elaborate joke, and feeling like I’d stumbled into an alternate reality. Did these people really believe this stuff? And afterward, did I? Not necessarily, but I wanted to more than ever before.

The aliens in my novel THE FELLOWSHIP FOR ALIEN DETECTION are entirely fabricated, and many of their aspects were crafted in service of the story I was writing about Haley and Dodger, the main characters. (Though they do stop in Roswell for some other-worldly action midway through the story.) It was exciting to write about aliens and UFO’s, and I have a few thoughts on maybe why these stories are so enduring, why we “want to believe” as Mulder’s poster said, or in many cases, really do believe. This list is just meant as food for thought.

1. UFO Stories blossomed in a new and scary world. The fact that Roswell happened in 1947 may be no coincidence. It was a new age of science, and the global landscape had been drastically changed by World War II. In a very brief span, we’d dropped two nuclear bombs that forever changed the scope and scale of destruction possible in warfare, and the Soviet Union had risen to become our chief adversary on the global stage: a massive, aggressive country, similarly armed, and subscribing to a very different philosophy (communism) than us. UFO’s represent the unknown, not just in terms of foreign beings but foreign technology, both of which could crush our frail species. Post-war atomic America was ripe with these fears.

2. Our lives are still a mystery. For all of our scientific advancements, so much in our lives is still unexplained. We are a physically vulnerable and psychologically unstable species, living in a world that can kill us with virus, bacteria, cancers, madness. Most of us can’t afford the kind of all-access to health care that we know modern science is capable of. That leaves us not only feeling left out, but powerless, even suspicious. You might do your best to live a responsible life, only to find out that the water you were drinking for ten years was actually contaminated with some chemical. Or that there was a test for the condition you had, but you never had a chance to get it. So maybe sometimes we look for other explanations for our lack of control. We imagine government conspiracies, alien abductions and cover-up’s. I think sometimes, in a sense, we give away power to others in order to feel better about our lack of control, about the s###-happens nature of our lives.

3. We want there to be more. We want to live longer, go farther, see more, to understand the great mysteries of life and death. We seek to understand our greater purpose, to know the reasons behind life’s twists and turns. Humans have looked to the stars throughout the ages for these answers, believing larger truths lie beyond our vision. And yet, all of alive right now on this planet are unlikely to leave it in a space ship, at least not beyond low earth orbit where Space X or a similar venture might go. Maybe my kids, ages 2 and 7, have an outside chance at the moon, maybe their kids at Mars, but that’s it. We are never going to get to the aliens, unless they come to us. We need them to come here before we die. And if they came, maybe it would answer some of these mysteries: why we’re here, where we came from, where we’re headed. Or, they could at least open our minds to a vastly larger scope of existence, which would, if nothing else, put us in our place. Actually, what would probably fire us up to get to space faster would be to discover something like gold on another planet.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know that when I look to the stars, the reason I hope that one of those static dots will swoop down, unroll a metal tongue and spit little green beings onto my lawn, is for some larger knowledge. They’d make the lonely dark a little less unknown. And if they had an elixir for extra long life, a warp-capable ship to show me the Horsehead Nebula, and knew how to get to Mos Eisley, even better.

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Kevin Emerson is the author of THE FELLOWSHIP FOR ALIEN DETECTION, published by Walden Pond Press, as well as THE ATLANTEANS series, the OLIVER NOCTURNE series, and Carlos Is Gonna Get It. His band, The Board of Education, wrote the Star-Wars-themed kids’ song “Why Is Dad So Mad?” He lives with his family in Seattle.

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Courtesy of Walden Pond Press, I have a copy of THE FELLOWSHIP FOR ALIEN DETECTION for one (1) lucky winner!

Contest is open to US residents only. No PO Boxes, please. To enter, just fill out the form below. Contest ends May 24. I’ll draw a name on May 25, and notify winner via email.

Good luck!

Read moreGuest Post and Giveaway: Kevin Emerson

SciFi Blu Ray Review: Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 3 and the Best of Both Worlds

Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 3 and Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Best of Both Worlds

Synopsis:
STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION – THE THIRD SEASON is a 6-disc collection featuring all 26 episodes of the third season. Continuing to follow the remarkable voyages of the Starship Enterprise, the third season includes some of the most celebrated episodes in Star Trek canon.

STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION – THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS Blu-ray features a seamlessly edited, one-part, feature length presentation of the classic two-part cliffhanger. In this fan favorite episode, Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) is captured and assimilated by the Borg. Available in high-definition for the first time ever, a centerpiece to the release is a newly-produced featurette entitled “Regeneration: Engaging the Borg.” Offering fans an in-depth exploration into the creation of The Next Generation’s most iconic villains, along with the making of the episode, the exclusive featurette includes all-new interviews with the show’s production staff, visual effects artists, writers, and cast as they reveal the challenges faced in producing one of the most technically complex episodes of the series. Plus the set includes an exclusive gag reel and all-new commentary with technical consultants Mike and Denise Okuda, actor Elizabeth Dennehy and director Cliff Bole.

Review:
Star Trek: The Next Generation was my favorite television series from the time it aired. And season three had some of the best episodes such as: The Most Toys, Deja Q, Yesterday’s Enterprise, and The Best of Both Worlds, Part 1 to name just a few. By now, the crew has formed a noticeable camaraderie. This is science fiction at its finest with unique characters, exceptional stories, and great special effects for its time. I loved experiencing these adventures again, restored on blu ray. I received this season for review, but enjoyed so much that I had to go out and buy the previous seasons on blu ray as well. My favorite new addition was the featurette “Inside The Writer’s Room” moderated by Seth MacFarlane. And of course, I can’t get enough of gag reels.

Read moreSciFi Blu Ray Review: Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 3 and the Best of Both Worlds

Book Giveaway: Tales of Majipoor

Courtesy of Roc, I have a copy of Tales of Majipoor by Robert Silverberg for one (1) lucky winner!

Contest is open to US residents only. No PO Boxes, please. To enter, just fill out the form below. Contest ends May 24. I’ll draw a name on May 25, and notify winner via email.

Good luck!

Read moreBook Giveaway: Tales of Majipoor

Fantasy Book Review: The Rising

The Rising by Kelley Armstrong

Synopsis:
Things are getting desperate for Maya and her friends. Hunted by the powerful St. Clouds and now a rival Cabal as well, they’re quickly running out of places to hide. And with the whole world thinking they died in a helicopter crash, it’s not like they can just go to the authorities for help. All they have is the name and number of someone who might be able to give them a few answers. Answers to why they’re so valuable, and why their supernatural powers are getting more and more out of control.

But Maya is unprepared for the truths that await her. And now, like it or not, she’ll have to face down some demons from her past if she ever hopes to move on with her life. Because Maya can’t keep running forever.

Review:
Following the events in the previous book, Maya and a couple of her friends are still on the run and trying to track down someone to help them from outside the Cabal. The teens have finally learned the truth about themselves and the huge conspiracy. Now, they need to make decisions about their futures.

The Rising is the third and final installment in the Darkness Rising trilogy. The suspense and fast-paced adventure makes this sequel an exciting YA fantasy that’s hard to put down. The teen angst/romance had its place at times with a love triangle that forces Maya to reevaluate feelings. I wasn’t exactly happy with the outcome, simply because I didn’t feel the chemistry between the characters. But that could just be me. Events come to a head in a climactic ending that wraps up nicely. This is an enjoyable and distinctive fantasy trilogy of shape-shifters and other mythological creatures fused with thrilling intrigue.

Fantasy Book Review: Finnikin of the Rock

Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta

Synopsis:
Finnikin was only a child during the five days of the unspeakable, when the royal family of Lumatere were brutally murdered, and an imposter seized the throne. Now a curse binds all who remain inside Lumatere’s walls, and those who escaped roam the surrounding lands as exiles, persecuted and despairing, dying by the thousands in fever camps. In a narrative crackling with the tension of an imminent storm, Finnikin, now on the cusp of manhood, is compelled to join forces with an arrogant and enigmatic young novice named Evanjalin, who claims that her dark dreams will lead the exiles to a surviving royal child and a way to pierce the cursed barrier and regain the land of Lumatere. But Evanjalin’s unpredictable behavior suggests that she is not what she seems — and the startling truth will test Finnikin’s faith not only in her, but in all he knows to be true about himself and his destiny.

Review:
Finnikin is a young man who has wandered the land, learning languages and apprenticing under a leader of the old army. His people have been scattered and living in exile for the past ten years. Evanjalin claims that the prince, Finnikin’s childhood friend is still alive – and can lead their people back to Lumatere and restore their place.

Marketed as young adult fantasy, this reads more like adult epic fantasy. With an impressive cast of characters, there is plenty of drama, political intrigue, adventure, and a bit of romance. My only complaint was that some of the story jumped around a bit, and found it hard to follow. At times, I had to go back and re-read passages when I realized it was a flashback or had jumped forward in time. Otherwise, it was even-paced for an epic fantasy where most of the story is part of the journey. The characters are engaging and the story is full of suspense and adventure. There are several surprises along the way that build to grand and satisfying finale. Finnikin of the Rock is the first in a trilogy, but certainly works well as a standalone story.

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