Reynwood’s Reviews: The Children of Húrin

Title: The Children of Húrin

Author: J. R. R. Tolkein, edited by Christopher Tolkein

My Rating: 5 of 5

The Children of Húrin is the first complete book by J.R.R.Tolkien since the 1977 publication of The Silmarillion. Six thousand years before the One Ring is destroyed, Middle-earth lies under the shadow of the Dark Lord Morgoth. The greatest warriors among elves and men have perished, and all is in darkness and despair. But a deadly new leader rises, Túrin, son of Húrin, and with his grim band of outlaws begins to turn the tide in the war for Middle-earth — awaiting the day he confronts his destiny and the deadly curse laid upon him.

My Thoughts:

Oh, boy. I think that’s an accurate place to start. If you love a good tragedy, this is the book for you.

The Children of Húrin is a part of the History of Middle-Earth, taking place long, long, long before the events of The Lord of the Rings as part of the world’s lore. This tale chronicles the life of Túrin son of Húrin, the one man who had dared to defy and scorn  the Dark Lord Morgoth. (Familiar with the ‘Balrog of Morgoth’ from the trilogy? Yeah. It’s that Morgoth. The guy so bad that Sauron was his lackey back in those days).

Morgoth’s hatred for Húrin extended to his children, Túrin and Niënor, in a curse of doom, which was to follow them until the end of their days. Túrin suffered hardship and woe over and over again, dogged by the shadow cast upon him by the Enemy. His life was overshadowed by a dark doom since childhood, when his father was taken captive by Morgoth, his country forfeit to the Dark Lord and his minions, and himself sent away from kith and kin alone to escape thralldom. Yet even so he was determined to overcome the evil curse and master his own destiny. The strength of his will and his honor endeared him to many people, but even so he never stayed long in any one place ere something bad would happen that drove him away. Often enough it was his own temper that got the better of him, prompting him to do less-than-noble deeds, but he and Niënor both were deceived and manipulated by the evil dragon Glaurung, too; lied to and spited in an ever descending spiral of malice.

This tale marks Túrin’s efforts to master his destiny, but in so doing ends up succumbing to it; the epitome of ‘you can’t escape fate’. In that regard I say this is very much a tragedy, that despite his efforts, his desires, and his mighty deeds, Túrin yet fell, hated and grief stricken ─ but not altogether friendless and unmourned.

This is a sad story, but a good one; definitely worth reading. The world that Tolkein creates is vast, filled with beauty and sorrow alike, for what was and is now lost. The characters are vivid and diverse in personality, the narrative is easy to read, and the heart of the story is compelling. I am reminded of what makes Tolkein and his stories so great, and I am grateful to his son for his efforts in bringing to us what his father could not.

Reynwood’s Reviews: The War of Souls Trilogy

28509Title: The War of Souls Trilogy

Authors: Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

My rating: 3 out of 5

The people of Krynn have known war in past ages. Some are still alive who remember the triumph of good at the conclusion of the War of the Lance. Still more remember the devastation of the Chaos War, which ended the Fourth Age of the world.

But now a new war is about to begin, more terrible than any have known. This war is one for the very heart and soul of the world itself.

The War of Souls.

My Thoughts:

Wow. I had to take a moment and a deep breath after this one. This trilogy took me (I’m a little embarrassed to admit) several months to finish. Each volume is so big it could break a foot if you dropped it. This is a very intricate story with many threads woven to make a fine mesh tapestry.

I have been interested in the universe of DragonLance for a long time, and my very first venture into the world of Krynn was the Suncatcher Trilogy by Jeff Sampson (which I’m thinking of reading again, because Sindri). I fell in love with the race of kender, which are kind of like hobbits, but not really.

Then I brought this War of Souls Trilogy into my collection and decided to give it a whirl. My first impression after diving into the first volume was that I would have benefitted exponentially from reading its predecessor series first, as there are many people, places, and events mentioned and alluded to that bear some significance. Albeit the authors did a fair job adding enough detail to give a novice (such as I am) some understanding to keep me from being totally lost, but in the future I would advise starting at the very beginning, because that’s a very good place to start. I jumped into an ocean with this DragonLance stuff, because while there are numerous (and I mean numerous) series and trilogies encompassing individual stories, they’re all strung up along the timeline of this world of Krynn, which opens with Dragons of Autumn Twilight, first in the Chronicles Trilogy by Weis and Hickman.

So, before you dive into the War of Souls, be smarter than yours truly and start in the beginning instead of somewhere in the middle.

Now, that said, I have to admit I have some mixed feelings about this story. Overall in the grand scheme of things I enjoyed it, but it was the ending that sold it to me. I love me a good ending (I’m not saying anything more about that, because a spoiled ending is the worst). I had some trouble getting there, though, because it took so very long. We follow a bucket load of people scattered across the continent dealing with the myriad of happenings, and to be honest, I really only cared about Tasselhoff’s happenings (poor, poor, loveable Tas. I’d read Dragons of Autumn Twilight just for him). I favored Gerard’s bits, too, but those two were my only real favorites.

The overarching theme of this One God seriously creeped me out in the beginning, when I couldn’t decide if it was a good or bad thing. The details were so conflicting (which is good storytelling, leaving the reader in the same shoes as the characters as they try to figure out what to think of it). I’m going to spoil that for you and say that it is most certainly a bad thing. There wouldn’t be much of a story if it had turned out to be a good one.

Such is life.

Anywho, the diversity of the characters and their varying personalities gives a wide perspective of what’s going on, what it means to the world as a whole, and how it affects/will affect the individuals in it. One thing is for certain, not a single person will be the same. Trials can stretch and grow or shatter and destroy. Tas learned about fear and true bravery, Odila found her way through the mire of a troubled heart, Gilthas fought through the pain and responsibility of kingship to lead an exiled people. Mina succumbed to darkness.

Mina is a curiosity for me. Duly mysterious in the beginning, we learned very little about her throughout the story. Outside of her unswerving faith in her One God, she has almost no personality. Her initial impression is one of a capable leader and miracle worker filled with kindness and compassion for everyone, including her enemies, so long as they recognize the One God whom she serves. Then come to find out towards the end that this ‘innocent’ youth isn’t as kindhearted as we’ve been led to believe. I know that stress and pain can alter a person, but I would think that such a compassionate person would hesitate a little more before doing what she did, might waver a little in the face of the dark truth. But maybe it was all a farce to begin with. An act. Devotion to her god turned this inquisitive girl into a devout pawn and then a bitter and vengeful creature. It would be interesting to see what happens with this new bane in the followup series, The Dark Disciple.

Story aside, I thought the narrative had good points and not so good points. It was wonderfully descriptive, painting vivid pictures, but there were times when I thought this exposition or that one wasn’t entirely necessary for the development of the plot. I also found a boatload of typos, but it’s not like that ruined the experience for me. The pace was moderate for the most part, kind of slow at times (which is one of the reasons it took me so long to finish, I rarely felt the insufferable need to read more at the soonest opportunity). But it got better in the last three or four hundred pages, keeping me up too late.

All in all I’d say it was a good addition to the DragonLance world, certainly enough to convince me to go back and read from the first.

Thoughts on a Christmas Classic

Well, with it being December and Christmas and all, I thought I’d share with you one of the universe’s all-time classics (at least since 1843: A Christmas Carol. This story has become so popular that you might be hard pressed to find a person who hasn’t heard of it. Ever wonder how we got the term ‘Don’t be such a Scrooge’ and how ‘humbug’ became so popular?

You guessed it.

A Christmas Carol, by our dear Charles Dickens.

This story is small in size and big on impact, recounting the tale of a miserable old miser by the name of Ebenezer Scrooge, who cannot see the joys of Christmas and will not open his heart to the world and people around him. Then he receives a visit from the ghost of his long-dead business partner, Jacob Marley, who warns him of the woes awaiting him after death and gives him a heads up about his opportunity for hope in the future.

Thus begins Scrooge’s journey, his heart shattered as old and painful memories are resurrected, the lives of good and suffering people outside of his melancholy existence are made known to him, and the mysteries and miseries of a dark future are revealed if his ways do not change.

This is a powerful story that teaches us to overcome ourselves, to see the joys in life beyond the hardships and troubles and disappointments, and to share that joy and compassion and impish good cheer with the people around us. There’s more to life than money (gain/success) — this is but one lesson Scrooge learns. Money doesn’t bring happiness, otherwise there would have been no need for the spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet To Come to visit.

Money doesn’t bring happiness. Happiness and joy come from a far less material source, and once Scrooge realizes this he is reborn as an all-new person. This just goes to show that you’re never too old and never too far gone to change and turn a new leaf, try again. The journey may not (and usually will not) be easy or pleasant, but nothing worthwhile is every easy. True and lasting change comes from the depths of the heart where all the gunk we keep hidden there has dried up and stuck to the walls ─ it requires some serious scouring to clean it ─ but is it not worth it in the end?

Scrooge relived some very painful moments from his past, saw the struggling of good people in his present life, and knew the fear of a bleak future were he to remain on his path of destruction. When dawn came his eyes were opened and he received a second chance.

And by George he took it! The hope he now has makes him positively giddy. He now finds joy and happiness in giving to and serving others, not hoarding for himself. He finds love, and that it was always there waiting for him. The Spirit of Christmas has awakened in his soul, and nothing remains as it was

But Scrooge isn’t the only character in this story. We have his nephew, whose joy in life is untainted by his uncle’s grouchy attitude. His love and faith in Scrooge is admirable. Then there’s Bob Cratchet and his family, poor and content to be so, for they have each other. Despite his less than stellar treatment, Bob Cratchet remains grateful to Scrooge for the job he holds and the provision it provides for his family. These men go to show that, no matter how wretched we might be, no matter how many others despise or couldn’t care less about us, there is always someone who wishes us well.

This is a story about hope, which is an absolutely perfect theme for Christmas, the holiday we celebrate hope coming into the world through Jesus Christ.

May you all find hope and joy this Christmas!

Rewynwood’s Reviews: Writing Lessons From the Front

Title: Writing Lessons From the Front23463910

Author: Angela Elwell Hunt

My rating: 4 of 5

A complete writer’s workshop in a book . . . The first ten Writing Lessons from the Front are compiled into this volume. Lessons cover plot structure, characterization, point of view, evoking emotion, self-editing, creating and maintaining tension, writing historical fiction, plans and processes to get your book finished, self-publishing, and a complete writer’s checklist that will take you from prewriting to publication, including details on how to publish on CreateSpace and Kindle.

My thoughts:

As most everyone who knows me well would agree, I don’t often read non-fiction (unless cookbooks count, of course. Then it’s a different story.). It may or may not be a character flaw. I think there are at the very least two different types of non-fiction: recreational and educational. I do far more educational non-fiction reading than recreational (any suggestions?)

This book, Writing Lessons From the Front by Angela Hunt, is an educational read. I’ve recently decided I needed to take a more active role in learning how to hone my craft so that my stories can improve in quality. I always want to be moving forward, progressing, developing.

Some might wonder at it, but there is, in fact, a method to the madness of creative writing that goes beyond what the reader sees. People have skeletons, buildings have skeletons, and stories have skeletons — a basic structure that gives your story a sound shape and feel, sturdy, per se. It’s the (and we’re speaking figuratively here) muscle, sinew, and flesh that we build onto this structure that makes our stories so unique.

This book is loaded with knowledge on storytelling, compiled by someone who’s spent longer than I’ve been alive writing books. Hunt has penned well over a hundred books in a range of genres, and she also teaches courses on writing.

The lessons in this book range from the first stages of developing a story all the way to publication, offering loads of resources to help you write your story best. For myself, who never did any creative writing courses before jumping headfirst into my first project (The Journey Taken), I found the chapters on plot skeletons, character development, evoking emotion, and tension monumentally helpful. The plot skeleton, which is the first chapter, provided a vivid picture for me to visualize while constructing my plot for this new project I’m working on.

In the back is a section of checklists for every stage of the process as well, from prep work through the first handful of drafts. They give bullet point topics and details to focus on, building layers of depth and meaning for the story — like baklava, layers of flaky pastry and spiced nuts drenched in sweet goodness. Man, now I want to make baklava . . .

The chapters are clear on their respective topics and easy to understand, with examples that illustrate the point being covered. The chapters are:

  • The Plot Skeleton
  • Point of View
  • Creating Extraordinary Characters
  • Evoking Emotion
  • Plans and Process
  • Writing Historical Fiction
  • Tracking the Weasel Words
  • Tension on the Line
  • The Book of Checklists
  • Ruminations on a Life in Pages

I enjoyed this book and will certainly be coming back to it as I develop my craft. I highly recommend it to anyone aspiring to write fiction.

Reynwood’s Reviews: The Dragon Business

20607958Title: The Dragon Business

Author: Kevin J. Anderson

My rating: 4 of 5

King Cullin may be known as “the Dragon Slayer,” but he fears his son’s legacy will be as “King Maurice Who Speaks with Proper Grammar.” The boy keeps his nose buried in parchments, starry-eyed at the idea of noble knights and eager to hand royal gold to any con man hawking an unicorn horn. Tonight, though, Cullin will educate the prince in the truth behind minstrels’ silly songs of glory.

Long ago, in a kingdom, well, not that far from here really, young Cullin traveled the countryside as squire to brave Sir Dalbry, along with Dalbry’s trusted sidekick Reeger, selling dragon-protection services to every kingdom with a coffer. There were no dragons, of course, but with a collection of severed alligator heads and a willingness to play dirty, the trio of con men was crushing the competition. Then along came Princess Affonyl.

Tomboyish and with a head for alchemy, Affonyl faked a dragon of her own, escaped her arranged marriage, and threw in with Cullin and company. But with her father sending a crew of do-gooder knights to find her, the dragon business just got cutthroat.

My thoughts:

What fun! I read the synopsis of this story, that it was about con artists slaying false dragons, and thought it such an unique twist on the usual adventure trope that I knew I had to give it a try, and I’m glad I did.

Anderson crafted this tale wonderfully, formatting it so that King Cullin is telling his sheltered son a grandiose tale of his past shenanigans in order to learn him up on the way the real world works. It follows a group of con men who prey upon the simple-minded, gullible, and superstitious peoples of the (many) kingdoms, in a world where con artists, swindlers, and money grubbers abound. It paints a fantastical rendition of the world we live in today.

And yet, even though our ‘dragon-slayers’ are making a living rather dishonestly, selling a service nobody needs, you can’t help but like them. Reeger is rather crude ─ in his humor, behavior, and lifestyle ─ but he’s also very good at what he does (the dirty work), a loyal friend, and in a way charming for his preferences of ‘latrine refurbishing’ to high courtly politics. Sir Dalbry is a victim of his own trade. Swindled out of his inheritance at a young age by a group of con men, he has vowed to avenge his honor for having run away. His current methods are questionable, but even so, he insists on retaining a sense of ‘knightly honor and nobility’ ─ to the point where it nearly costs him his life. Cullin is an apt and clever sidekick. Tempted by dreams of starting fresh in the new land across the sea, fantasizing about someday marrying a princess and gaining a kingdom and riches of his own, he serves as Sir Dalbry’s squire. Affonyl, the newest member of their band, is a runaway princess who faked her own death by dragon attack in order to escape her fate as a princess. She would much rather study alchemy and gallivant across the country  as a person than marry a silver-tongued and sticky-fingered duke as a princess, because as it happens, princesses aren’t people.

The writing is witty, whimsical, and humorous from the first page to the last. Minstrels’ songs go viral, one town’s local Renaissance Faire is ‘futuristic’, newspapers (like the Olden Tymes) are transcribed by monks, purified guano and bone dust are thought the more active ingredients to pain killer than the milk of poppy. On and on, every page is filled with crafty and silly details about life in medieval times that those of us who are more accustomed to the more epic, hard-core fantasy don’t usually think about ─ like hawking seagull guano as a miracle fertilizer.

Yet through the ridiculousness are strings of heart that do more than entertain us, they endear us to the characters, who they are and what they’re searching for. Sir Dalbry wants to regain his honor, following a code of knightly nobility to a fault that nearly gets him killed. Reeger wants to raise enough money to establish his own tavern. Cullin wants a better life, but looks for it in the wrong places. He realizes, after he gets what he thinks he wants, that it’s not what he wanted all along. The meaning of bravery and honor, friendship, and loyalty are all currents carrying this story and the character of its heroes forward.

I hope Maurice gets as much from his father’s tales as we do.

Reynwood’s Reviews: Tarzan of the Apes

Hello, everyone, and happy middle of September! The weather this past week has really turned around from what we were anticipating — it’s gorgeous up here, like summer is giving us its last ‘hurrah’ before forfeiting his place to autumn’s graces. There’s only one week left before the calendar autumn commences (the 22nd), and school has already begun (this is week two for us, I believe). But instead of pining over that finished season and mourning the coming cold, why not remember with fondness all the great memories this summer has held for us? What people did you see and spend time with? What projects did you undertake and accomplish? Any milestones reached? What good books have you put under your belt while basking in the sunshine or taking refuge in the shade, hunkering down next to the livingroom lamp on balmy, black nights just to find out what happens next?

For myself, the latest one was Tarzan of the Apes, a classic story from the early 20th century (first appearance, 1912), and it truly was a great read.

20308032Title: Tarzan of the Apes (#1)

Series: Tarzan

Author: Edgar Rice Burroughs

My rating: 5 of 5

In 1888 Lord and Lady Clayton sail from England but to West Africa and perish on a remote island. When their infant son is adopted by fanged, great anthropoid apes, he is Tarzan of the Apes. His intelligence and caring mother raise him to be king. Self-educated by his parents’ library, Tarzan rescues genteel Jane Porter from the perils of his jungle.

My Thoughts:

As I’ve mentioned before in a previous review on one of these stories, I LOVE Tarzan. My first exposure to this fantastic tale was Disney’s cartoon adaption, which we all know tends to vastly rewrite the original. I fell in love with that story and, years later, fell in love with the original, too. But they are very, very different in many respects.

In this story we get to know Tarzan’s human parents far more before they perish, making sure we understand Tarzan’s exceptional breeding as an English lordling. However, it isn’t at the hands of a leopard that they die, but by the hands of Kerchak the King of Apes. Yes, apes. Not gorillas. I’ll admit, I was a little sad to note this, plus the fact that the creatures were represented far more like animals in their natural light than Disney’s tendency to humanize them, but Kala was still a devoted mother. She was the only one in all the tribe ─ largely the entire jungle ─ whom Tarzan actually loved, and you felt for him when she was killed by the newly arrived human natives.

Tarzan proves rather indifferent when it comes to killing and a bit devilish when tormenting his mother’s killers, and yet we see that he can be noble and very loyal. He is clever and ingenious with a mind that learns like a sponge. He likes to spend as much time as possible in the cabin on the beach built by his human father (John Clayton, Lord Greystoke) whom he never knew, playing with all the curiosities of human civilization stowed there, but mostly the books. Now, Burroughs has Tarzan learn how to read and write English through these books, and while I could condone perhaps some basics with word/picture association, I found it odd that he could grasp the language to the extent that he did without any teaching. But that was my biggest issue. He understands that he isn’t an ape after all, but a Man, and so when a party of his paler complexioned people arrive on shore he is very curious and hopeful of meeting them ─ but shy ─ and he can’t understand a lick of spoken English in which to readily communicate with them. These people include, of course, Jane and her father, but no gorilla hunting madmen. This is when the story really veers from the more familiar Disney version, involving treasure hunts and kidnappings and rescues and a wee bit of romance. Tarzan loves Jane on first sight, and when he rescues her from a bull ape she loves him, too.

Happy ending, right? Nay!

Tarzan’s nobility and love are both tested when he must safeguard an injured French officer in the jungle instead of returning immediately from the rescue to the beach and his beloved. (He befriends the officer who teaches him to speak French). Then, by the time they get back to the cabin, it’s deserted! Tarzan has to travel up the coast of Africa to civilization and on for his love, but not to England. To America. Tarzan finds Jane in the foreign land of Wisconsin, rescuing her from a forest fire.

Happy ending now, right? Nay!

Tarzan is not the only one vying for dear Jane’s love, but so, too, is William Clayton (evidently Tarzan’s cousin) and a certain Mr. Canler, who is of a rather unsavory character, but is prevailing due to financial stresses on the part of the Porters. I could hardly bear to see how this was all going to go down, seeing as this original story is so different from the one I’ve been so familiar with, but then the story ends with a cryptic message and never says just who Jane is going to marry.

I just might have thrown the book were it mine and not already falling apart with age. Is Tarzan going to keep quiet about his newfound identity as the true Lord Greystoke and defer to his cousin or is he going to claim his title and his woman? I am sincerely hoping that the next volume will tell me, otherwise I might turn inside out.

The characters were awesome and the frank humor was great. I can certainly see how Burroughs became so popular a writer in his day, for his narrative and storytelling are engaging. I haven’t finished a book in so short a period of time in a good, long while and this one is definitely going on my list of absolute favorites.

Reynwood’s Reviews: Jungle Tales of Tarzan


Title: Jungle Tales of Tarzan

Series: Tarzan, #6

Author: Edgar Rice Burroughs

My rating: 4 0f 5

Glorious tales of Tarzan’s early growth to manhood in the forest…
Tarzan, the heart of primeval Africa, escapes death on the horn of Buto the rhinoceros, saves the life of Tantor the elephant, sends the witchdoctor Bukawai to a terrible death, battle victoriously with his arch-enemy Numa the Lion, and slowly but surely fights his way to a mastery of his savage, unforgiving jungle.

My thoughts:

I fell in love with the story of Tarzan when I saw the Disney movie an age and a half ago, and got very excited when I recently found this book at a thrift store. I didn’t know at the time that this was a small part of a series of stories about Tarzan (and it’s pretty extensive, numbering 27 volumes). I felt the ‘dropped into the middle’ confusion, in having not read the preceding stories to explain current events more clearly, but bits and pieces were filled in as each tale progressed.

As is per usual, the Disney adaption is nothing like the original, but in my opinion neither one is better than the other. Tarzan is more of an incubus in the books, and it’s interesting to see the take on an human’s inquisitive mind when largely isolated from mankind and raised by apes. Not gorillas. Apes. There are native Africans in these tales, too, to which Tarzan is absolutely devilish due to an enmity I will not divulge. You might have a better idea if you’ve seen the most recent Tarzan film, The Legend of Tarzan, I believe it is. 

Each chapter is its own, self-contained story, adventures and exploits of our wild ‘ape-man’, and I found them fun — if not a little far-fetched at times. Nevertheless, I am certainly more than willing to go back and start from the beginning of this series!

Find out more about Edgar Rice Burroughs and his stories (which include the infamous Barsoom tales of John Carter on Mars!) on Goodreads!