Author Archives: The Emerald Frog Blog

About The Emerald Frog Blog

I'm just a girl who likes to read. And I wanted to write about what I read. I'm all about fantasy (think A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings or Wheel of Time, not Twilight. Or sexy vampire/werewolf hybrids). I also read other genres, but fantasy has always been my favorite. If I could live in any fantasy world it would be Narnia, because who wouldn't want to frolic with fauns? I'd spend my time sitting under an oak tree, sipping tea...and reading A Song of Ice and Fire. :)

The Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne Trilogy by Brian Staveley

I had been looking for a good epic fantasy, and someone mentioned this on Goodreads, so I gave it a try. I’m glad I did!

The three books in the series are:

  1. The Emperor’s Blades (TEB)
  2. The Providence of Fire (TPoF)
  3. The Last Mortal Bond (TLMB)

This is the story of 3 siblings who are the children of the Emperor of Annur. The children are raised in different places; Valyn is on an island training to become a member of an elite military group; Kaden (the heir to the throne) is studying with monks and Adare is raised at home in Annur. It’s not much of a spoiler to say that the emperor dies, and since the heir to the throne is off studying with monks, you can image that the empire of Annur is in a very precarious situation. That’s pretty much where the story takes off.

I am not a big fan of long and detailed descriptions of battles, so for the first book (TEB) at least, that was a plus. The battle descriptions were general enough so that you get a sense of what is happening, without the excruciating detail of every knife, punch or sword thrust. There was some of that, but not too much. If you are looking for a sweeping romance to carry you through the trilogy, well, you won’t get that. I like a good romance, but I will admit that it was refreshing to not have that angst.

You have a wide range of characters. There’s an immortal race of beings, gods (both young and old), regular humans and fantastical creatures. Not too much, but just enough. That seems to be my running commentary- not too much of this, not too much of that. However, once you get into the second (TPoF) and third (TLMB) books, the violence is on the uptick and you get a new point of view character. In the third book (TLMB), there is a confusing section in the middle of the story that can be hard to make heads or tails of. Stick with it because it does resolve itself before the end of the book. More astute readers may be able to catch on sooner. There are also some time jumps which you can miss if you are not reading carefully. I did notice in the third book (TLMB) that there were a few events that happened off screen, and you only learn about them when a character is describing the events either to another character or in their own thoughts. I wish some of that could have happened in “real time” but the last book goes through quite a bit of plot, so that may have been a good thing. I’m still not completely sure that I liked it.

Anyway, it was a great adventure with good world building and characters that you can really root for- or against.

Also, if you read the series and want more, there is a standalone novel called Skullsworn. It is the backstory for one of the characters in the trilogy.

Lilypad Rating: LilyPadLilyPadLilyPad1/2 More than just “pretty good”, but not quite at the top of your “to read list”

 

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TV Round Up

Well, I did a  Reading Round-up last time, so now let’s move on to TV!

These are TV shows that I am currently watching, just finished watching, or ones that I am looking forward to. These are mostly sci/fi  and fantasy, but I did include some others. As usual, they are in no particular order. I already do more in depth pieces on 12 Monkeys and Man in the High Castle, so I won’t list them again here. These are shows that I’m not going to do regular posts about, but that I am enjoying watching. As usual, these are in no particular order.

  1. The Expanse (SyFy) I have posted about the book series already, but needless to say the TV show is fantastic. The production values are high quality for television and the story is staying very true to the spirit of the books. Season 2 is currently airing. The SyFy channel has really upped its game. Its nice to see the channel focus on good quality science fiction programming, rather than shows with only a tangental relationship to the genre. Bravo, SyFy!
  2. The Magicians (SyFy) Once again, another great series from SyFy, based on a book series (The Magicians by Lev Grossman). I like the show, however, even though I’ve read the books, the show can get a bit confusing. From episode to episode, and sometimes from scene to scene, it feels as though something is missing, whether its a scene or a whole episode. It is very jumpy. I have found that binging a few episodes at a time is helpful. Having read the books helps, but in places where they have veered very far from the books, sometimes it becomes muddled. I do recommend this series, but you have to pay close attention. No playing on your phone while watching this one!
  3. Emerald City (NBC) This show has finished its first season. It is a take on the Wizard of Oz series by L. Frank Baum. Notice I said a take on the book series, not on the movie. I’ve only read the Wizard of Oz, and if your only exposure to this story is the classic movie, well, lets just say the books are not a technicolor fantasy. Its quite dark. So, basing the tv series on the books rather than the movie was a pretty interesting take. Of course, the characters are very grey, and the story includes elements from the books that I don’t think have ever really been translated to the screen. The story has its issues, but if you are looking for something that is not just a re-make of the movie, this is worth checking out. The ratings were not that great, so I don’t know if it has been picked for a second season, but even with its future up in the air, I do recommend giving the show a try.
  4. 3% (Netflix) This one is something that I wouldn’t normally watch, but I was looking for something different, and this came up on my Neflix home page. I’m glad I took a chance! This is a Brazilian show about a future society where people are given the chance to live in a better, utopian society. However, only 3% of the candidates are taken. Those chosen to compete for a spot in the utopia are put through a series of challenges, and of course, the surviving 3% get to move “offshore” to the utopia. And, as you can imagine, this utopian society is probably not a real utopia. The show is in Portuguese, so you can watch it dubbed in English (or other languages) or use subtitles. Its a great show, and it has been picked up by Netflix for a second season.
  5. Prison Break (FOX, April 4, 2017) I was a huge Prison Break fan when the show first aired in 2005. It aired for 4 seasons, plus an extra episode called “The Final Break”. As you can guess from the title, its about a prison break. The main character comes up with an elaborate plan to get himself into the same prison where his brother is on death row, in order to break his brother out of prison. Every episode is a piece of the plan to break out. It is woven together brilliantly, and the first season is riveting.  By the 3rd and 4th seasons it got a bit convoluted,  but its still a great thrill ride. A new season is coming to FOX on April 4th, 2017. It takes place a few years after the events of season 4. You can watch all of the previous seasons on Netflix.
  6. The Americans (FX) The Americans is about Russian spies living in the U.S. in the early 80s. They are posing as your typical suburban American family. The parents are the spies, but their two kids have no idea.  I can’t say too much without spoiling it, but there is a lot of eighties nostalgia going on, in addition to all the spy stuff. Its very dark and keeps you on the edge of you seat. he episodes can get slow at times, but the precarious situations the spies get themselves into, and the lengths to which they have to go to accomplish the mission, are very intense. Highly recommended. Be forewarned that there are some graphic scenes, so if you’re squeamish, be prepared to cover your eyes. A lot. Its currently in its 5th season. Its final season (season 6) will air next year.

Other shows I’m watching include: All the Marvel Netflix shows (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist); Arrow, The Flash, Better Call Saul (although I am a season behind).

There’s more I could add, but this gives you an idea of what I like. What are you watching?

 

 

 

Reading Round-up

This is just a post to give everyone an idea of what I’ve been reading this month, and my anticipated reading for the next couple months.

Like many people, I have a bunch of books in my virtual “to read” pile. There are so many good books and so little time to read them. One of my goals for 2017 is to make more time for books. There’s a lot of great TV and movies out right now, and its so easy to get home from work, plop down on the couch, and flick on the TV. Rather than saving reading for the weekend, I’d like to get more reading done during the week. Anyway, here are a few of the books in my “to read” pile, and what I am currently reading right now.

Currently Reading: The Providence of Fire by Brian Staveley (Book 2 of The Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne). I raced through the first book in this series, The Emperor’s Blades. I haven’t read a good epic fantasy in awhile, and this one definitely filled the void. I may do a full review of the entire trilogy when I’m finished, but so far I am really enjoying this.

To Read (in no particular order):

  1. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. I’m late to the game on this one, but I’ve heard great things about it, so of course I will give it a try. It is about a slave named Cora, who, of course, uses the Underground Railroad, a network of people, places and things used by slaves escaping slavery in the American South. This novel won the National Book Award and was an Oprah Book Club pick, so of course, I must read it.
  2. The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin I have read her books before, most notably The Inheritance Trilogy, and really enjoyed it. I have not been able to connect with her other books, but after reading a sample of The Fifth Season, I definitely want to give it a try. This novel won the Hugo Award for Best Novel of 2016.
  3. The City by Stella Gemmell Stella Gemmell is the wife of the late author, David Gemmell. I read David Geemmell’s trilogy, Troy, and one of his other novels, The Lion of Macedon. You can read my review of The Lion of Macedon here. David Gemmell died before he could finish the final book in the Troy trilogy, so Stella completed the novel for him. I love Greek mythology and stories from ancient Greece and Rome, and The City takes place in a similar setting. What I have read of the sample has peaked my interest, so at some point this year I will give it  a try.
  4. The Witchwood Crown by Tad Williams. I am so looking forward to this! I have already posted my thoughts on Memory, Sorrow and Thorn and The Heart of What Was Lost. Needless to say, book 2 in The Last King of Osten Ard is tops for me.
  5. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I read the sample and was hooked. This is, in part, the story of a Nigerian immigrant to America, and how she grapples with her values and ideals in a post 9/11 America. These are stories we don’t hear enough about, and I can’t wait to dive into this one. Again, I’m late to the party on this one, but at least I’m getting there!

There are more on my list, but this gives you an idea of what I’m diving into in the next few months. I’m always on the lookout for new stuff, so my list will only grow.

What’s on your list?

Binti: Home by Nnedi Okorafor

Binti: Home is the sequel to need Okorafor’s previous Hugo and Nebula award winning novella, Binti. I’m going to keep this brief because I shared most of my feelings about the world, the main character, plot, etc. If you want my take on Binti, you can read it here.

The story takes place after the closing events of Binti. And as the title lets us know, Binti goes home. Binti’s experiences at the university have changed her, both emotionally and physically, but she feels compelled to go home for a rite of passage that is very important in her culture. She brings along her alien friend, Okwu. Of course, we have the inevitable conflicts with Binti and her family- she’s changed, and her family has a hard time understanding this new Binti. Through her rite of passage, Binti begins to discover more about herself, and her people.

Overall the story is a worthy successor to the story begun in Binti. The use of an African culture for this futuristic setting is refreshing and exciting. We are able to sidestep the usual tropes found in science fiction when its based on European or American norms. If you’re looking for something new and fresh, Binti and Binti:Home are an excellent place to start.

I fully realize that this doesn’t give you too much to go on, (I don’t want o spoil the plot!) but trust me, its worth the read.

Lilypad Rating: LilyPadLilyPadLilyPadLilyPad out of 5

 

The Man in The High Castle, S1 and S2

I didn’t post about this show last year, but I will give you the general run down. Its based on the novel of the same name by Philip K. Dick. In a nutshell, this is what the world could have been like if the Axis powers won World War II. The United States in divided into 3 territories: The east coast is controlled by Germany, and the west coast is controlled by Japan. Down the middle of the country, the Rockies, part of the Great Plains, is the neutral zone. Of course, this isn’t just straight alternate history. There are time traveling elements! You see, there are these films that very few people know about, that show a world like ours, where the Allied powers win. Of course, the bad guys want these films, because you don’t want the good guys seeing them and getting any ideas about starting a resistance movement or anything like that. (wink, wink).

So in Season 1, we get the set up. The story takes place in 1962. We figure out who the players are and how each part of the country is run. We get a little more insight into what’s going on in the rest of the world in season 2. In season 1 we meet Juliana, who’s sister is a part of this resistance movement that knows about the existence of the films, and is determined to use them to overthrow the Germans and the Japanese. Juliana is in San Fransisco. We also meet Joe, who is in New York City.  Juliana discovers the film, meets Joe, and that’s pretty much when the story takes off. There are many more characters involved of course, but to try to list all of them here would be information overload, but suffice to say, the interplay  between the characters, the two empires (Germany and Japan) is incredible. If you know your WWII history, then you know that the alliance between Japan and Germany was not an easy one, and that tension remains even after their victory. This is explored more in season 2.

I will say that the show really hits its stride in season 2. We are past the set up and exposition phase of Season 1, and we get to see more of the world created after WWII. There is so much attention to detail, that you find yourself looking for all the “easter eggs” and references to what technology and culture would have been like. In many ways it was more advanced, and in others it seems stagnated in the 1940s. I am not an expert in any way when it comes to WWII and this time period, but just as a fan of history in general, the whole thing is just riveting. In season 2, we get to spend more time with other characters and delve a little bit into their motivations. The world is also expanded, and we see more of what life was like beyond Joe and Juliana in the States. I feel like if I say too much more it will give away too much and will take away from some of the surprise revelations about the characters. Watching the show raises the question, for me at least, as to why some Americans appear to be whole heartedly accepting the superiority of both the Japanese and the Germans. In every oppressed society you always have people who will buy into the propaganda of the oppressor, but it just makes you want to know how they got there. I am aware of the times and the state of race relations, and due to their own prejudices that it may have been easier for some to get there, (at least in the German controlled eastern U.S.) but these were still foreign invaders. We start to see some of this in Season 2. And lets not forget, this is alternate history with a bit of science fiction thrown in. The existence of the films themselves speaks to the existence of time travel and alternate universes, and this is a major plot element in season 2. Be forewarned, it gets a bit timey-whimey, but its not hard to follow at all. I actually think it handles the concept of time travel and alternate universes in a very thoughtful way. At times it will break your heart.

As you can probably tell, I whole heartedly recommend this series! You can binge watch both seasons on Amazon Prime.

Lilypad rating: LilyPadLilyPadLilyPadLilyPad out of 5

The Heart of What Was Lost by Tad Williams

Happy 2017!

As I mentioned in my Memory, Sorrow and Thorn post, this is a bridge novel between the last events of Memory, Sorrow and Thorn (MST), and the beginning of the new trilogy, The Last King of Osten Ard. More specifically, this book details the events between the end of To Green Angel  Tower (the third book in MST) and its epilogue. For those who don’t want MST spoiled, I will say that this book is clearly a set up for the new trilogy, and is probably a necessary read before you dive into The Last King of Osten Ard (LKOA).

SPOILERS FOR MEMORY, SORROW and THORN ahead!

After the Storm King was defeated, Duke Isgrimnur is tasked with destroying the remaining Norns, who were still terrorizing parts of Osten Ard. We get view points of Isgrimnur, a couple of common soldiers, and the Norns themselves. With the Norn point of view, we get to see more of their society and how it works. We see the conflicts that arise when the ultimate fate of their entire race is hangs in the balance.  What some of them propose to do is actually quite shocking, and seems to go against everything they believe, about themselves and about the world, but it makes for a fascinating dilemma. What would you do if you are facing the complete annihilation of your race? I became very invested in their story, and it’s pretty clear that what happens in the final battle between the Norns and the humans if Osten Ard will have ramifications for generations to come.

I was not as invested in the point of view of the common soldiers. While the change of perspective was good for pacing, the characters didn’t resonate with me. I tend to like fantasy that focuses more on the upper classes, royalty, etc. as opposed to the common folk. I get why its there, its just not as compelling to me.

There are certainly events in this book that are foreshadowing of events to come in LKOA, including some good old fashioned prophetic ramblings from immortal creatures!

The Heart of What Was Lost is a great throwback to the epic fantasy of the 90’s. When I first read MST, I was reading it along with The Wheel of Time, A Song of Ice and Fire, etc. which were clearly influenced by MST. Its nice to get back into high adventure, and a nice break from the graphic violence and long detailed depiction of battles that are depicted in the more “grim/dark” fantasy that is popular now.

This is absolutely a set up for the new trilogy. For fans of MST, this relatively short novel is a nice way to reacquaint yourself with the world of Osten Ard, and prepare you for the new adventure to come.

Lilypad Rating:LilyPadLilyPadLilyPadLilyPad out of 5

The Shattered Sea Trilogy by Joe Abercrombie

In the Shattered Sea trilogy, each book has a different protagonist, but they all appear in various capacities in all three books. The books in the series are:

Half of a King

Half the World 

Half a War

The protagonist in Half a King is Yarvi, the youngest son of the king and queen. He was born with a deformed hand, so, of course, he is seen as weak and not fit for the throne. After some tragic events he goes on a quest to find himself and to seek some revenge. We see him come to the beginning of his power by the end of the book, which leads us into the second book, Half the World.

In Half the World the protagonist is Thorn, the daughter of a warrior who gets herself into a fine mess, and goes on a sea voyage to the southern empire, where she helps her country secure help from a powerful empire. Yarvi makes some appearances here, and you get to see how far he has come since the last book.

Finally, we come to Half a War, where we have yet another protagonist, Skara. Skara is the princess without a kingdom, and she must make alliances to try to rebuild her kingdom, while also taking part in the war against the big bad of the series. Yarvi and Thorn are also in this book.

I have not read Joe Abercrombie’s other works, and I know that this one is definitely more YA than his First Law trilogy. I won’t say that I was disappointed- I liked the first book well enough. The pacing was good, and it was a nice page turning adventure. There’s not a lot of detail to the world, but there’s just enough to keep things interesting, and to provide the proper context for the action. If the rest of the series had kept Yarvi front and center, I would have liked it more. He was an interesting character with motivations that went beyond the “I must prove them wrong about my disability!”. He knew his limitations (personal and societal) so he went itnthe direction that he needed to go, and found a new, better path to power.

When we get to the second book, that’s when I had trouble. There was a big gap between my readings of the first and second books, so my memory was a little fuzzy, but the second book didn’t seem to move anything along as far as the plot goes. It was very much focused on developing the characters which is fine, but I found myself a bit lost. More than likely because I had forgotten a few things from the first book, but I didn’t have a firm grip on the plot. Lots of new characters, and mostly new places, were introduced, and I had trouble following who was who, and what country was on what side, and what the whole reason was for this mess in the first place. Even at the end, I still wasn’t absolutely sure what was going on. There was a long journey to the south to get an alliance but I couldn’t tell exactly what the good guys got out of it. And there was a very YA romance thrown in there too.

Then, there is Half a War. This started out much better, and I felt that we were finally getting back to the plot. Still more countries and places are introduced, and I found that I needed to just not get too bogged down in trying to figure out where everyone was and who was who. I had to just roll with it, so I did. The protagonist, Skara, was likable, although the princess who has to learn to be a queen of course is nothing new. There was a romance thrown in here too, but I liked that it didn’t end unrealistically, or with a convenient plot twist or reveal, like many others would have. There is a revelation that took me a bit by surprise, probably because I wasn’t able to remember any possible clues that came out in previous books, but I thought it was a nice twist. It kind of made the ending somewhat abrupt (and also made me wonder why they didn’t do what they did sooner), but it was ok. Not very much to go on with that, but, there it is.

Overall, I liked Half a King and Half a War, and could’ve done without Half the World.

Lilypad rating: LilyPadLilyPad1/2  Take it or Leave it

Memory, Sorrow and Thorn

This is one of my favorite series of all time. I have apparently been under a rock, because I recently discovered that there will be a new trilogy set in Osten Ard, the world of Memory, Sorrow and Thorn! A “bridge” story will be published January 3, 2017 entitled The Heart of What Was Lost, which will cover the year between the end of the third book in MS&T and the beginning of the new trilogy. Thus, I have begun my re-read of Memory Sorrow and Thorn! Here are all the stats:

Memory, Sorrow and Thorn by Tad Williams (www.tadwilliams.com)

  • The Dragonbone Chair
  • Stone of Farewell
  • To Green Angel Tower

The Heart of What Was Lost (publishing January 3, 2017)

The Last King of Osten Ard Trilogy

  • The Witchwood Crown (publishing June, 2017)
  • Empire of Grass
  • The Navigator’s Children

I won’t be posting updates on my re-read, but I will post my reviews of The Heart of What Was Lost and the Last King of Osten Ard Trilogy. Can’t wait! Is it 2017 yet?

The Fever Code by James Dashner

This is the second prequel in the Mazerunner series. It tells the story of the maze, and the role Thomas and Teresa played in its creation.
This is probably my main criticism of the book. Thomas and Teresa were these “super kids” who were chosen because they had the characteristics and talents necessary to help build the maze. But we only get a handful of scenes showing them helping to create a backdrop for the maze. Teresa has the vague job of doing technical computer stuff, and Thomas pretty much is just there on the ground helping her through their telepathic communication. Thomas talks about going to classes but we don’t know what he’s learning. He also goes through all kinds of tests and exercises, but what are these? What exactly is his contribution? Teresa seems to be the most important one here, which is fine, but why did they choose Thomas, other than the fact that he is immune from the virus, along with all the other kids?

Which brings me back to the maze. Why a maze? And what are they testing for? Once again, lots of vague references to testing their responses to certain stimuli and how they react or don’t react to the virus. There was a bit more explanation later on, but I still don’t have a grasp on the full program. It is very likely that I missed it, but I don’t think I did.

Perhaps the intent here was not to get bogged down in these kinds of details, but to simply stick to the main points with some description or detail added as needed. I tend to like a story that is a little more full. I don’t need to have every blade of grass or every motivation even, explained in excruciating detail, but I do like good, quality detail so that I know why characters are doing what they  are doing and why certain things are happening.

I won’t get too spoilery, but there were some character reveals that put the original trilogy in a different light. Teresa was already sketchy in the original trilogy, and the events at the end of this book make her even more sketchy. Revelations about  Jorge, Brenda and George were surprising, but I think those could’ve been left out. Teresa was enough!

SPOILERS




The fact that the kids all knew each other before hand but forgot everything when their memories were swiped before going into the maze was tragic, but I think the original trilogy showed the bonds between them, and the natural affinity they had for each other very well, so I don’t think this plotdevice was really needed. But then again, it would’ve been awkward to explain why all theses kids were in this facility for so long, and never interacted at all. I can see why it’s there, and it adds even more emotional baggage to Thomas’ relationship with Chuck. I’m still kinda “meh” on it though.

If you are a fan of the original series, I think this would be an enjoyable read that will give you some background information on the original trilogy, answer some questions, and will cause you to re-evaluate events and characters from the original series. I liked this one more than the first prequel, The Kill Order. Is it a must read? Not quite. However,  it was enjoyable for what it was, and does round out the series pretty well.

Lilypad Rating: LilyPadLilyPad out of 5

The Kill Order by James Dashner

This is a prequel to the Maze Runner series. There are three books in the original trilogy, along with this book and a sequel. The sequel is being marketed as the fifth book (Fever Code) in the Maze Runner series. I am not going to get into the specifics of the series in case you want to read it ( I do recommend it), but there will be some minor spoilers ahead for the series.

This is the story of the Flare, and how it came to be. In some ways it is predictable, you can tell where the story is going pretty early on. You also find out more about Teresa, (a main character in the original series) later on in the story.

This is a novel, but it really should have been a novella. A lot happens, but nothing that gets you any closer to finding out about the Flare- at least not until very close to the end. And this whole story is told from the perspective of a character that we don’t see in the original story. The tie to characters in the original series starts about halfway through, but it seemed to me that this could’ve been where the story started. Learning about the sun flares and the immediate aftermath was fine, but it could’ve been the prologue, or the first section of the novella. On top of that, our point of view character, Mark, was annoying.  Its like he is very easily distracted. There is always the one character who always yells “I can’t just leave him there!” Or “We have to help them!”. Well, Mark is that character, and even though they’ve been through the effects of the solar flares, attacking hordes of zombie like people, etc. He still keeps that same attitude. On the one hand this means that he has kept his humanity, and that he hasn’t succumbed to the baser instincts of the other survivors, but it just seemed to be too much. I wanted to see more growth from him. He seemed at some points to kind of just bungle along.

I will say that it is refreshing to have a YA novel that is not trying to be gritty, just barely this side of PG-13. The violence is kept to a minimum, and is not overly graphic. You get just enough to know whats’ going on, and you can use your imagination to fill in the rest. A small love story that doesn’t bog things down, and no profanity. It was a nice change of pace.

Overall, I would say that if you are a big fan of the Maze Runner series, this is probably a must read. If you’re like me and more of a casual fan, then this may be one you can skip. I am more interested in Fever Code, which is the story of how the maze was built.

Lily pad rating: LilyPadLilyPad out of 5. Take it or leave it.