Fantasy

Book Review: The Stone of Valhalla by Mikey Brooks

This book was received free from NetGalley in Exchange for an honest review. This has in no way influenced my opinion.

I had what many would consider a turbulent childhood. In the darkest times I turned to books as a way to escape the very real stresses of my life. I often wondered, as it is evident in our literature many have, what it would be like to be pulled from my world into another. There is an entire sub-genre of fantasy books that involve such an idea, and it goes back decades. Faced with what must have felt like a lifetime more of abuse and neglect at the hands of his aunt and uncle, Harry Potter receives a letter from Hogwarts inviting him to the secret life of witches and wizards. In the heart of World War II, three children are ripped from their homes and forced to stay with their mysterious uncle. Tucked away in his house is a wardrobe that holds within a portal to the magical world of Narnia. Adventuresome Alice is being forced into a life on conformity she doesn’t want, and finds herself falling down a rabbit hole to Wonderland. During times of emotional or physical trial, whether it be large or small, these children are taken into another world where they learn about themselves, grow in maturity, and return to the real world more able to face life’s challenges than before. ‘The Stone of Valhalla’ is one such book. It is not spectacularly well written, nor is it groundbreaking, or even original, but I enjoyed it. ‘The Stone of Valhalla’ is an entertaining bit of escapism with some decent lessons for middle grade and young adult readers.

I think it is important to note here than I don’t feel that every book needs to be a show stopper. There are some amazingly well reviewed classics that I cannot stand, and there are some generic genre pieces that I sped through from start to finish and found myself wishing for more. This was one of those. What made me like it so much? I honestly could not tell you. I had a difficult time starting this review, because I could not figure out why I had rated this a four when other, more original stories, ranked a three. Ultimately, it comes down to a combination of factors, but mostly characters, setting, and message.

In ‘The Stone of Valhalla’, you find a veritable smorgasbord of fantasy classics. There is a young boy named Aaron who is slightly nerdy, and desperate to find out where he fits into this world. He is willing to do almost anything to fit into a group. He will undoubtedly appeal to the nerdy young folks out there who long to feel like they belong somewhere besides the pages of a book. Accompanying him on his adventures is a life loving orphan boy, a wise and grumpy old wizard with a chip on his shoulder, a sharp tongued old witch, and a gorgeous, kind hearted young witch in training. Each character is well developed and grows along with the story, with a few twists and turns along the way. Their interactions, for the most part, are beautiful from stories of ancient dragons being told around the fire, to dealing with broken hearts, to forgiveness for wrongs small and large. I was connected to them and found myself cheering them on as they moved through their adventure, and mourning with them when, inevitably, they were caused pain. Through their eyes, a young reader can learn lessons about love, loss, forgiveness, and the slippery nature of good and evil.

Aaron in particular goes through some amazing character development. If we think about the sub genre, one of the defining characteristics of it is that the protagonists learns about his/herself as he/she makes way from the beginning to, the end. At first I was confused because Aaron’s actions and thoughts seemed to be those of a younger character than 13. It is hard to say if it was intentional because I do not have a window into the author’s thought process, but intentional or not, it was artful. By the end of the book, he has matured quite a bit in a believable way.

The setting is equally classic and just as fun. Aaron is transported to a medieval fantasy world complete with competing factions, magic, witch burning, imps, goblin kings, and more. The reader gets to see much of this world as the characters travel through it adventurer style. D&D players and other gamers will recognize the setup, like I did, as the party faces random encounters along the way that ultimately lead them to a boss battle. There are some twists and turns in the road, some predictable, and others utterly surprising.

This story sang to the game loving, fantasy reading, nerd girl inside of me. It was a quick read, being targeted at middle grade readers. There were, alas, some elements I could have lived without. First, in the beginning of the story, the female characters are downright rude to the male characters. There is a bit of background story that explains why the witch and wizard have their magic knickers in a twist while dealing with each other, but I am growing tired of seeing so many sniping women and girls in middle grade and young adult fiction. Female characters can be strong without being abrasive or rude. It sends the wrong message. It is not all right for men to treat women that way, but it is all right for women to treat men terribly. I would love to see writers of fiction for young people change it up a bit.  In the same vein of broken records, I could have done without the love triangle. I feel like the story had enough conflict and emotion already without adding a triangle to the mix. It added nothing. How many must we suffer through before this fad finally dies out?

Problems aside, I think Stone of Valhalla will appeal to the demographic it was written for. It is a fun story with great character development. I look forward to checking out more of Mikey Brooks’ writing.

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Weekly Reading and Review Update- September 10th, 2014

Wow! It has been a few days since I last posted. A posting schedule like that just won’t do. Since I currently have several irons in the fire and none of them are quite ready to be pulled out, I figured why not let everyone know what is coming up?

Currently Reading During Commute

nest_esther_ehrlichNest by Esther Ehrlich

(Middle Grade)

I was invited to review this by the publisher through Netgalley. It is a beautiful story that I am savoring slowly because so much about the narrator’s life reminds me of the pains and triumphs of my transition into teenager from child.

Currently Reading Before Bed

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The Book of Life (All Souls Trilogy Book 3) by Deborah Harkness

(Adult Fiction)

I could wax poetic about my love for this series and the author, Deborah Harkness. She is intelligent, funny, and has a way of telling a story that makes it come to life. The final book in the All Souls Trilogy series is not a disappointment. It is hard to put this one down when it is time to sleep.

Currently Listening To

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Off to Be the Wizard by Scott Meyer

(Adult Fiction)

I must admit, the 8-Bit cover drew me to this book. I haven’t had a lot of time to listen at work since things have been kind of crazy, but when I do have time, I drop into this one. It is a tongue in cheek play on the traditional “thrown into a fantasy world” idea. I find it thoroughly entertaining.

Upcoming Reviews

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The Stone of Valhalla by Mikey Brooks

(Middle Grade)

4 Out of 5 Stars

the_mystery_of_dragon_bridge_ann_howard

The Mystery of Dragon Bridge by Ann Howard

(Young Readers)

5 Out of 5 Stars

#TBT Book Memories: XXXHolic

I know this is a day late, but unfortunately my tablet went missing last night and it was much to late to finish my post by the time I found it. In the spirit of Throwback Thursday, every week I share a memory related to a book. It could be my impressions of a book. It could be a memory of when I received the book, or what was happening in my life while I read it, and how the story affected me. If you would like to play along, simply do the same, and post your link in the comments.

Manga and graphic novels are one of my favorite forms of literature. They offer me a reading experience that is both visually and mentally stimulating, and thoroughly different than reading a novel. Instead of relying on my mind to illustrate the world I am momentarily inhabiting, I get lost in the world the author and extremely talented illustrators have created for me. This week, I have chosen a manga for Throwback Thursday; “XXXHolic” by CLAMP. The XXX in the title is misleading as there is nothing explicit about the story.  I will preface this by saying that I am not, nor have I ever been, a huge CLAMP fangirl. “Chobits” is the only other manga / anime by them that held my interest. “XXXHolic” is more adult and mature than the other works of theirs I have had the opportunity to glance through, like “Card Captor Sakura” and “Angelic Layer”.  Back in 2004, CLAMP was most well known for their shojo (girly) stories. “XXXHolic” was a departure from that, featuring a male lead. The cover art is what caught my eye and the summary sealed the deal.

It is difficult to explain what it is I love about XXXHolic. The word that comes to mind when I think of the story is ‘haunting’. The protagonist is literally haunted by demons and ghosts, but he is also haunted by his thoughts and the plights of the people that he interacts with throughout the story. The dimensional witch, Yuuko, is haunting in her own way. She is mysterious, powerful, and somewhat frightening, as many a fictional witch are. The woodblock print art style with gothic lolita elements and the color palette for those images that are not in black and white further the feeling. “XXXHolic” is dark, beautiful, and emotional. And yes, as with most manga, also a little bit silly. I stopped reading several books in for financial reasons, but the upcoming Kumoricon in Vancouver, WA got me thinking about the mangas I used to read and the animes I used to follow. It is an older story, but worth checking out. I, for one, intend to finish it one day.

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Deborah Harkness at Powell’s Books July 31st

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On Thursday night I had the pleasure of meeting Deborah Harkness, author of the best selling All Souls Trilogy which contains the books “Discovery of Witches”, “Shadow of Night”, and “The Book of Life”. I found the series shortly after the first book was released on a front display at Barnes and Noble. I have always been a fan of stories about witchcraft and the occult. On top of that, the cover was beautiful. They say not to judge a book by its cover, but I will freely admit that the more attractive the cover, the more likely I am to notice it. I don’t think I even read the synopsis before picking it up, and I normally meticulously pour through reviews and ratings before committing my treasured free reading time to a new book series. I was not disappointed.

The All Souls Trilogy is the story of reluctant witch Diana and her vampire companion Matthew as they work together to find out the secrets of a mysterious manuscript that might hold the key to saving the supernatural world. No one knows what is in the manuscript, but that isn’t stopping them from hunting it down. Diana and Matthew’s journey take them on an action packed journey around the world, through the past and the present, surrounded by an amazingly rich cast of characters.

Deborah Harkness is a history professor and it shows in her work. Her approach to the supernatural is intelligent and grounded in history with scientific explanations to back up the existence of the paranormal. The character’s fears, their world views, and their actions are guided by evidence of how supernatural beings were thought of and dealt with historically. During the Q&A session she revealed that the idea came to her one day as she stared down a wall of supernatural fiction inspired by the recent release of “Breaking Dawn”. Knowing what she knew about history, it seemed strange that supernatural beings in these stories walked amongst normal people with no one noticing, and that witches seemed happy to be witches, which “historically was not a good career path for a woman”.  So, Diana’s character, a witch who did not want to be a witch, was born.

Ms. Harkness’ sense of humor, her passion for her stories and characters, showed through as she spoke to the full house at Powells. I cannot wait to dig into “The Book of Life” which is currently waiting for me to finish reading “The Belial Stone”. Until then, I will leave you with a few fun facts from the Q&A.

  • Ms. Harkness’ favorite historical character is Elizabeth the 1st, but for no particular reason.
  • She handles her fame by thinking of her fans as an extension of her students, only when she enters the room for a book signing, she knows everyone has done the reading.
  • There was an attempt to make a movie out of “A Discovery of Witches”, but it ended in an amicable breakup.
  • Male lead Matthew Clairmont is based on a missing poet named Matthew Roydon.
  • Originally Ms. Harkness thought she would be writing one book, but around page 400 she realized that is was going to be much longer than one book.

If you enjoy historical fiction and supernatural stories with a hint of romance and are looking for something a little bit different, I highly recommend the All Souls Trilogy.

Deborah Harkness Book Reading

The Crowd for Deborah Harkness Powell's Books

Book Reading with Deborah Harkness at Powell's Books

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