7 Picks for the Summer

Summer is not only upon us, but sitting on most of our faces at this moment. Wouldn’t it be nice to put something else a bit closer to your face? Well how about some good books? What a novel idea!

Below are my Summer picks, which also amount to what are some of my favorite reads of the year thus far. I left off novels from series in progress as I like to think of this as a list I’d rattle off to a friend I haven’t seen in a long time who might not be down the genre hole as deeply as I. These are in no particular order.

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The Age of Ice by J. M. Sidorova

This one is definitely the most challenging read of the bunch, but it is worth it. If you’re feeling the heat then the cure is surely The Age of Ice with a protagonist who has not only a cold disposition, but whose icy skin leaves him at arms length from everyone in his life. Placed during the late 1700s in Czarist Russia it is both a wonderful historical look at the period as well as a beautifully told story about feeling out of place wherever you are.

Love Minus Eighty by Will McIntosh

This is exactly what I want my Sci-Fi to be. The story centers on a future in which good looking women who die are kept cryogenically frozen and can be reanimated if someone is willing to pay the exorbitant costs involved. In less capable hands this could have easily turned comic, but McIntosh has infused his characters with such believable depth you can’t help care for them. The future McIntosh envisions is telling about the direction of our own hyper connected society and the direction that we’re headed towards.

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

As the title intimates a Jewish golem and a genie out of Arabian lore both end up in New York City in search of a place they fit in. One is as blank slate driven by simple desires while the other is already hundreds of years old, but far out of their own time. The New York City of the early 1900s is not only beautifully explored but so are the communities of Syrian and Jewish these character inhabit. It’s a fantastical love story that had me from its opening pages.

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Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan

Guns and magic have finally hit their stride with McClellan’s opening salvo in the Powder Mage Trilogy which we enter in the middle of a coup d’état with the King and his mages of old being silenced to usher in the age of the Powder Mages. My only real complaint is that there are very few women of substance in the telling. Hopefully this will be fixed in the subsequent volumes. Still McClellan’s got me hooked and I need my next fix. Someone pass the snuff box.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Yes, it is on everyone’s list, but it deserves it for more than the author’s name on the cover. A month removed and my mind still wanders back. The tone is highly personable which makes it feel like your own tale of childhood as you fight against an ancient evil mistakenly released.

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Lexicon by Max Barry

Words of power are not necessarily a new idea, but Barry breathes life and high action into them with his secret society of Poets who have access to a lexicon that will have you doing back flips if they so desired. Simply a page flipping good yarn that hits far more often than it misses with a tight plot and humor in all the right places.

The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

This is one falls into the “fun” category and lives up to the publisher tagline, which basically boils down to a European Forrest Gump. If you like road trip stories than consider this a world trip movie as the old man in question Allan Karlsson lives a rich full life and likes to blow things up. But this isn’t just the story of an old man jumping out the window, but flips back and forth to the life of a young Allan who meets some of the most influential people of the last 100 years.

One thing is clear from this list: I have a thing for Historical fiction this year. So what have you really enjoyed this summer?

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Sep 13, Grand Remembrances

Today is Grandparents Day in the United States. Being a Grand is a special honor. I feel very blessed that my wife and I have two grandchildren. We were able to visit them today. Yes, we are still being cautious with the coronavirus, but we also find it very difficult to not see them when they live so close. So today we did drop by to visit Jacob (age 10) and Sophia (age 7) along with their parents. We brought donuts and caught up with them. Our grandchildren are still pretty young and this is a precious time in their lives – and ours!

I wish I had known my grandparents better. We never lived in the same place. Dad was a career Air Force pilot, so we moved around a lot. But we did get to see them once in a while when they would visit us, or we them.

A Plague of Giants

There are five known magical ‘kennings’ or types: air, water, fire, earth, and plants. Each nation specializes in of these kennings, and the magic influences the society. There’s a big pitfall with this diversity of ability and locale–not everyone gets along.

Enter the Hathrim giants, or ‘lavaborn’ whose kenning is fire. Where they live the trees that fuel their fire are long gone, but the giants are definitely not welcome anywhere else. They’re big, they’re violent, and they’re ruthless. When a volcano erupts and they are forced to evacuate, they take the opportunity to relocate. They don’t care that it’s in a place where they aren’t wanted.

I first read Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid books and loved them (also the quirky The Tales of Pell), so was curious about this new venture, starting with A PLAGUE OF GIANTS. Think Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series. Elemental magic, a variety of races, different lands. And it’s all thrown at you from page one.

But this story is told a little differently. It starts at the end of the war, after a difficult victory, and a bard with earth kenning uses his magic to re-tell the story of the war to a city of refugees. And it’s this movement back and forth in time and between key players in this war that we get a singularly grand view of the war as a whole. Hearne uses this method to great effect.

There are so many interesting characters in this book that I can’t cover them all here. Often in books like this such a large cast of ‘main’ character can make the storytelling suffer, especially since they don’t have a lot of interaction with each other for the first 3/4 of the book–but it doesn’t suffer, thankfully. And the characterization is good enough, despite these short bursts, that by the end we understand these people and care about what happens to them.

If there were a main character it would be Dervan, a historian who is assigned to record (also spy on?) the bard’s stories. He finds himself caught up in machinations he feels unfit to survive. Fintan is the bard from another country, who at first is rather mysterious and his true personality is hidden by the stories he tells; it takes a while to understand him. Gorin Mogen is the leader of the Hathrim giants who decide to find a new land to settle. He’s hard to like, but as far as villains go, you understand his motivations and he can be even a little convincing. There’s Abhi, the son of hunters, who decides hunting isn’t the life for him–and unexpectedly finds himself on a quest for the sixth kenning. And Gondel Vedd, a scholar of linguistics who finds himself tasked with finding a way to communicate with a race of giants never seen before (definitely not Hathrim) and stumbles onto a mystery no one could have guessed: there may be a seventh kenning.

There are other characters, but what makes them all interesting is that they’re regular people (well, maybe not Gorin Mogen or the viceroy–he’s a piece of work) who become heroes in their own little ways, whether it’s the teenage girl who isn’t afraid to share vital information, to the scholars who suddenly find how crucial their minds are to the survival of a nation, to the humble public servants who find bravery when they need it most. This is a story of loss, love, redemption, courage, unity, and overcoming despair to not give up. All very human experiences by simple people who do extraordinary things.

Hearne’s worldbuilding is engaging. He doesn’t bottle feed you, at first it feels like drinking from a hydrant, but then you settle in and pick up things along the way. Then he shows you stuff with a punch to the gut. This is no fluffy world with simple magic without price. All the magic has a price, and more often than not it leads you straight to death’s door. For most people just the seeking of the magic will kill you. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Ahbi and his discovery of the sixth kenning and everything associated with it. But giants? I mean, really? It isn’t bad enough fighting people who can control fire that you have to add that they’re twice the size of normal people? For Hearne if it’s war, the stakes are pretty high, and it gets ugly.

The benefit of the storytelling style is that the book, despite its length, moves along steadily (Hearne is no novice, here). The bits of story lead you along without annoying cliffhangers (mostly), and I never got bored with the switch between characters. It was easy to move between them, and they were recognizable enough that I got lost or confused. The end of the novel felt a little abrupt, but I guess that has more to do with I was ready for the story to continue, despite the exiting climax.

If you’re looking for epic fantasy with fun storytelling and clever worldbuilding, check out A PLAGUE OF GIANTS.

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The Artwork Of Gary Choo

Gary Choo is a concept artist/illustrator based in Singapore. I’ve know Gary for a good many years ( 17, actually ), working together in animation studios in Singapore like Silicon Illusions and Lucasfilm. Gary currently runs an art team at Mighty Bear Games, but when time allows he also draws covers for Marvel comics, and they’re amazing –

The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo

To see more of Gary’s work or to engage him for freelance work, head down to his ArtStation.

The post The Art Of Gary Choo appeared first on Halcyon Realms – Art Book Reviews – Anime, Manga, Film, Photography.