Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Saturn Run by John Sandford and Ctein

Once in a while you take a flyer on something new, and it turns out to be a nice experience. Such is the case with this book. John Sandford is well know for his "Prey" series of suspenseful mysteries, and I've read a couple of those randomly, so I knew he was a decent writer. Ctein I'd never heard of. Turns out he's an internationally know photography expert with degrees in English and Physics, and he seems to bring a good deal of that knowledge to the project. Indeed, one of the primary characters becomes the videographer for the U.S. expedition to Saturn, which is the whole point of the book, the title, and so forth.

This is some good old-fashioned hard SF, with a minimum of magical handwaving regarding the technology necessary to successfully make a trip to Saturn survivable about five decades from now. A rich dilettante, Sandy, is working in an astronomy facility in California, more interested in surfing and seducing women than watching the stars. So everyone is quite surprised when he is the first to discover an anomaly out near the orbit of Saturn - a massive alien spacecraft on a rendezvous with an artificial moonlet.

There's a bit more to Sandy than meets the eye, and he ends up with what appears to be a plum job when the expedition gets on its way to investigate the aliens and especially to beat the Chinese space ship to the prize.

A good plot, fun characters, and some believable fictional science.

Friday, January 29, 2016

The Lawyers of Mars by Pam Uphoff

I have to wonder if the title of this book, though appropriate, wasn't initially conceived as a parody of the Burroughs John Carter series, as in Fighting Man of Mars, Warlord of Mars, Princess of Mars, etc. The book is actually three related novellas about a race of Martians which once existed (16mbillion years ago?) on the Red Planet when it still had water and enough atmosphere to sustain life. The funny thing is that their society seems very much like our own modern technological society, with a few twists.

I'm fairly certain that the names of many of the "Martian" characters in the book, if pronounced correctly, would be quite punny or ironic; one I easily spotted was Orton N'drea (Andre Norton) a science fiction writer. I'll leave it to other readers to puzzle out a few more.

The lead character, Xaero, is a lawyer in the family firm, assigned to defend an accused REM (Red Ever Mars - like Earth First?) terrorist in court. When her assistant is captured after he foolishly decides to tail the acquitted criminal, she undertakes a rescue on her own, and gets into a comedic caper filled with incompetent crooks and Bond-ian villains.

In the second novella, she and her allies outwit a time-traveling mad scientist, and in the third she journeys to a Jurassic period Earth with a group of scientists trying to mine uranium to sustain Mars' faltering energy resources.

Not deep, but fun for an evening or two.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Spell Blind by David B. Coe

I had never previously read any of David Coe's books, so this first book in his most recent series served as a good introduction. When one does this, it is a bit dangerous, as you might assume that if this book is good, then all previous books will be good, too. However, the author may merely have hit his stride at this point in their career, or finally found the right genre and setting to tell the tale they were meant to. At this point I can only recommend this particular series as being worthwhile, though I may try to work my way backwards in time later on.

Justis Fearsson is a weremyste, a practitioner of magic who has certain inherited native abilities in that direction. Weremystes have a serious problem, though, in that when the moon is full- called a phasing - their magic goes out of control, and the experience is not unlike a psychotic episode, filled with hallucinations and delusions. Justis' father was a successful police detective at one time, until the effects caused by the phasing of the moon cost him nearly everything, and Justis is beginning to follow in his footsteps, having lost his job with the Phoenix PD, becoming a private investigator instead.

When a serial killer, known as the Blind Angel, who uses magic to burn out the eyes of his victims strikes against the daughter of a prominent politician, Justis' former partner, Kona Shaw, pulls him in to consult on the case, and he rapidly becomes deeply involved in trying to find the killer before he strikes again. Justis is helped in his journey by the spirit of a powerful Native American magician named Namid - these powerful ghost magicians are called runemystes, and are somewhat like guardian angels of the magical community.

Harry Dresden, he ain't, but Justis Fearsson is a pretty good wizard PI, and Coe delivers an amusing tale.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

So, of course, I couldn't resist the title of this book,obviously. It's a young adult novel, which is not my usual fare, but it wasn't bad. In a comic book inspired version of the future, random people have turned into Epics, beings with super powers, such as being bulletproof, having precognition, pirokinetics, flying or casting illusions, and so forth. As a Calvinist might suspect, with great powers come great corruption, and the Epics rapidly rule the cities of Earth with an iron fist. Every Epic, however, has one mortal flaw, a certain way they can be killed.

When the Epic named Steelheart rises to power, he eliminates everyone who may have any knowledge of his weakness, but he misses one small boy, David (something David and Goliath-ish here?), who watches his father and many others destroyed by the Epic, and devotes the rest of his life to discovering Steelheart's flaw, and investigating and recording the flaws of all of the other Epics he is aware of.

Eventually, David joins forces with the Reckoners, a group of ordinary humans who have begun a Quixotic quest to eliminate the Epics and return Earth to humans once again.If you accept the premise of corrupt superheroes appearing to rule the planet, the book is an entertaining, fast moving read.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Day Shift by Charlaine Harris

It hadn't been very long for me since I read the first book in this series, Midnight, Texas, so I didn't really need it, but Harris does a nice little cast call in the first few pages of the book, reminding us of all the dramatis personae we got to know in the first book. A large corporation has purchased the defunct hotel in town and are renovating it to turn it into a senior citizens transitional facility, with a few regular hotel rooms to rent to nearby tech workers, as well. Manfred and Fiji and Bobo and the rest of our friends gather gradually on Witch Light Road to watch the construction crews arrive, and the work begin. Nice touch.

The main plot of the story, however, results from an unfortunate incident related to Manfred's work. One of his clients, an elderly woman whose husband recently "passed on to the other side" dies suddenly during a reading, and the woman's paranoid son accuses Manfred of murdering her and stealing her jewelry, which she had hidden from her greedy offspring. Manfred and his friends attempts to discover the whereabouts of the missing treasure and the identity of the real murderer (it wasn't really natural causes after all) proceeds in a haphazard fashion, but eventually accomplishes at least one of those goals, with some surprising twists along the way.

There's more than one tie-in to the Sookie Stackhouse series here that all her fans will appreciate, and Midnight, Texas acquires a few new residents to keep things interesting. We also get the chance to learn some surprising things about various residents during our sojourn in the Lone Star state.

Time to put the next book on hold at the local library.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Hanged Man by P.N. Elrod

I'm not much of a historian, but I'm fairly certain that Queen Victoria did not, in fact, establish a secret corps of psychics to help her govern her empire, and to assist Scotland Yard investigations. However, P.N. Elrod takes the idea and runs with it rather well, producing a fun and entertaining tale, flavored with bits of darkness and drama.

Lady Alex is one of Her Majesty's psychics, called in to investigate the apparent suicide of a "snake oil" salesman, Dr. Kemp. She arrives to discover a number of irregularities in the crime scene which make it obviously a homicide, and to ascertain that some sort of supernatural entity may have been involved, before discovering that the victim is actually her own father, in mufti.

She is immediately removed from the investigation by her superiors, but the crime doesn't seem to want to let her go, and she very nearly becomes the next victim. Despite clear orders to stay out of trouble, she is simply not the type of person to sit quietly and wait for others in the psychic service to get results, and so she, and her bodyguard, Lieutenant Brook, seem to rush headlong from one frying pan into subsequent fires, while unraveling a plot that could shake the foundations of the British empire.

Rather looking forward to another installment, should Elrod choose to write some.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Saturn by Ben Bova

For a good many years, when I was in my teens, twenties and thirties, Ben Bova was at the forefront of the science fiction field, publishing many great novels which I eagerly read and collected. A couple of years ago, after a long hiatus, I began to read some of his recent books which I had missed, and enjoyed a couple of the earlier ones, but at some point Bova, quite frankly, just started "mailing it in". His books are no longer very creative, his plotting and characterization are weak and filled with the latest memes and clich├ęs, and Saturn was only able to hold my interest for about fifty pages before I gave up.

Another giant in the field is simply publishing on his laurels.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Midnight Crossing by Charlaine Harris

Now that Harris has finished with the Sookie Stackhouse novels, she's moved on to a new venue in the stories of Midnight, Texas. The story begins when a twenty-something Internet psychic, Manfred, with a touch of the real "sight" moves to a backwater town and meets a very odd assortment of residents. His landlord, Bobo, is the owner of a pawnshop which may have been around since Texas' founding, and who we find out eventually was a minor character in Harris' earlier series about the town of Shakespeare. His grandfather was a white supremacist who amassed a legendary hoard of weapons. To this day, militias around the country believe that Bobo knows what happened to that stash.

The pawnshop is tended during the nighttime hours by a vampire named Lemuel, who has definitely been around for a long time, and some of his clientele are definitely on the eerie side. He has a "girlfriend" named Olivia, whom I assume is some sort of vampiric human servant, or Renfro, who is quite a handy person to have around in a pinch.

The girl next door is Fiji, who is a practicing witch. She teaches classes and sells herbal concoctions out of her home which doubles as a shop and classroom, but she actually does have some supernatural powers, and her cat, Mr. Snuggly, has a few tricks up his...paws...too. There's the gay couple, Chuy and Joe, who run a combination salon and antique gallery, and the couple who own the only diner in town, Home Cookin', Madonna and Teacher. We have a family that runs the gas station and mini mart, Shawn, Creek and Connor, and Rev, a very different sort of preacher running the wedding chapel and pet cemetery.

When the body of a missing woman turns up, and some of the militia members hunting for Bobo's granddaddy's arsenal get feisty, things start to heat up, with some really surprising twists in this new mystery by Harris.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Son of the Black Sword by Larry Correia

I'd have to consider this more of a dark fantasy than classic fantasy, perhaps as grim as some of Joe Abercrombie's novels, or Scott Lynch's Gentleman Bastards series. At the same time, there's a certain element of post-apocalyptic fiction, as there are hints that the world was once much more technological before the "demons" came from outer space to attack mankind. It will be interesting to see how that all wraps up at the end of the series someday.

Asok is a Protector, one of a group of select warriors whose primary responsibility is to uphold the Law, and he has spent the last twenty years of his life becoming the ultimate fighter and executioner. He bears an ancestor blade named Angruvadal, a magical black sword that contains the memories of dozens of generations of warriors of his family who have borne it before him.

When the bearer of one of these blades dies, the blade itself usually chooses a successor from their bloodline, but there was a very different circumstance which occurred when Angruvadal's previous owner died. None of the warriors who came to touch the blade were acceptable to it, and it either forced them to wound or kill themselves, depending on how unworthy the blade felt they were, until at long last, a casteless boy, lowest of the low, whose job was to scrub the blood from the stone floors of the room where the sword was kept, touched it and was chosen. This, of course, was a disgraceful thing to happen in the eyes of the upper castes, so they determined that none would ever know of this dishonor, and they slaughtered the boy's entire family, then pretended he was one of their heirs all along, when they sent him to train to be a Protector - an apprenticeship with a very high fatality rate - in hopes that when he was killed in the training, the blade would return to their family and honor would once again be restored. Their wizard altered the boy's memories so he would never realize that he'd been born casteless, and all was well - for a time.

But Asok survived the training and went on to become one of the most fearsome Protectors ever known, until the day when his memories were restored, and he discovered his true beginnings. He returns to the House which had adopted him and killed his real family, and executed the matriarch of the clan, who had hatched the plot, then turned himself in as a criminal. During his time in jail, political plotting by the high castes, combined with an uprising by the casteless creates a situation where Asok is compelled to undertake a hazardous quest, and encounter his true destiny.

Great battles, complicated plotting, and a tortured hero. What's not to love?

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Solar Express by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.

You know, I've read a ton of Modesitt's novels over the years, starting with his Recluse saga, moving on to some of his standalone science fiction, back to a longer series with the Imager portfolio...and I've generally really enjoyed it, but I could not, after 150 pages, continue wasting my time reading this book. It should have been subtitled, "the least exciting book of alien invasion ever". The tale is told from the POVs of a space pilot, Chris, and an astronomer stationed on the lunar farside, Alayna, who became at least mildly attracted to one another on her voyage to the Moon.

I can't determine whether Modesitt was trying to capitalize on the success of Weir's The Martian, with his mind-numbing descriptions of antenna maintenance, or whether this is some old story he dusted off when the publishers demanded another 10K words for the sake of the contract. Just slap on a world ruined by global warming and Oila! nicely updated for the twenty-first century.

I also wonder if Modesitt's courting included discussions of obscure political subjects, cribbed from Machiavelli, but he's used the gimmick twice now. In the Imager series, it was cute the first time around between Quaeryt and Valera, but when it turns up again, I simply tuned it out.

I've read much better by Modesitt. I'll try not to lose heart.

Friday, January 1, 2016

The Annihilation Score by Charles Stross

The finishing pages of the last Laundry Files novel left Bob & Mo in a sticky wicket, relationship-wise, as the supernatural violin she carries wants to destroy the Eater of Souls which Bob is currently hosting, and they decided they could no longer live together, which was heart-wrenching for both of them, and also for us gentle readers.

The Annihilation Score takes up with a recap of those events, and moves on with a new point of view. Dominique O'Brien "Mo" tells the story, and we see and hear very little from our old friend Bob. 

Mo is tapped by The Laundry to head up a new quick response unit dedicated to handling the sudden onset of Superheros - ordinary human beings who suddenly gain supernatural powers, often resembling those of folks from the Marvel Comics universe, like super speed, strength, or flying. Mo is way out of her depth, here, but rapidly rises to the challenge, even when saddled with two new deputies - a mermaid and a vampire - both of whom were formerly Bob's lovers. Awkward.

Lots of adventure, bureaucratic intrigue and macabre conflicts ensue. 

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Wrap Up

My reading year was perhaps the slowest I've ever had, down to only 95 books for the year. Of course, we had multiple travel adventures, bought a home, sold a home, moved across town, and had some other life events take away time from my bookish pursuits, so I'm trying to remain positive that I'm not slowing down in my old age.


#1 Urban Fantasy Novel - Dead Heat by Patricia Briggs
#1 Science Fiction by a new author - The Martian by Andy Weir
#1 Fantasy Novel - Uprooted by Naomi Novik
#1 Non-Fiction - Mastering My Mistakes in the Kitchen by Dana Cowin
#1 Thought Provoker - The Emmaus Code by David Limbaugh
#1 Autobiography - As You Wish by Cary Elwes

Monday, December 28, 2015

Hells Foundations Quiver by David Weber

What is there to say about this novel that I haven't said before about Weber's story of the battle for the souls of Safehold? Another nearly 700 pages of multi-POV, locale-jumping major conflict, with the Empire of Charis managing to stay one technological leap ahead of the Army of God's forces, and with more people being brought into the inner circle of folks who know the truth about the Church's origins.

I'm afraid I may be about done trying to keep up with this series. It's just far too much trouble to spend several paragraphs each time the story jumps to a new point of view determining whether it's the bad guys or the good guys I'm reading about, and I can't keep track of all of the characters and places, even with the appendices which grow ever longer at the back of each book.

Weber is possibly the only living author who can get away with novels on this scale. His writing is quite good, but it's simply far too time consuming for me these days. This one took almost a week and  half to slog through.

Those who have been following the saga avidly are sure to enjoy it.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Armada by Ernest Cline

Looking back, I had mixed feelings about Cline's first novel, Ready Player One, but when I saw this on the new books shelf at the library, I picked it up and put it on the TBR pile. The thing I enjoyed in the earlier book, as an aging 70s/80s gamer, was all of the references to video games and pop culture from that time period.

Cline seems to be attempting to capitalize on that nostalgia once more with Armada, because there appears to be nothing else of substance inside. I gave up perhaps a third of the way through, when it demonstrated for the last time its utter predictability and lack of any new ideas, though it certainly provided plenty of the nostalgia up to that point.

This is the story of a young gamer, Zack, whose father was also an obsessed geek, but who was killed in a freak explosion at the sewage treatment plant when Zack was very small. Zack idolized his father, aside from his reservations about Dad's mental stability when he found a notebook filled with tin foil hat conspiracy theories related to the government secretly releasing video games, gaming equipment and science fiction movies about alien invasions in order to identify and train fighters for our coming war with invading aliens.

So, as any of you older than Zack could surmise, the tin foil hat theories turn out to be all true, Zack is recruited as one of their pilots, and...though I didn't get far enough to find out for sure, it's likely that his father wasn't killed at all, but was instead recruited by the Earth Defense Alliance (it's mentioned earlier that his body was so destroyed in the explosion that they only ID'd him by dental records).

Another flaw in the story was when Zack takes on the school bullies by himself. Sorry, folks, it's not likely that someone who has spent his entire life sitting in front of a video console is going to have developed the muscular fortitude to physically defeat even one, much less three bullies, whether armed with fists or even a tire iron. True bullies are simply more likely to take the tire iron away and shove it up the geek's....well, you know.

In the flight school of alien invasion novels, I gotta give this one a downcheck.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Naomi Novik is the well-known author of the Temeraire series, which I began to read a while back, until it grew so unremittingly grim that I just couldn't depress myself any further by continuing, somewhat like Martin's Game of Thrones, or Hobbs' Rain Wilds, or come to think of it, just about anything Hobbs has written (I'm paused in the middle of her latest series, because I'm scared to find out what happens when the hammer falls on our old friend, Fitz, the retired assassin).

Uprooted is a stand alone tribute to some of the Russian mythology, like Baba Jaga, that takes place in a kingdom which has been threatened for centuries by The Wood, which is slowly taking over the world, and which corrupts anyone who is caught within it. Agnieszka is the daughter of a woodcutter who lives in a village, Dvernik, all too close to the wood. Their village is protected by an apparently immortal sorcerer called The Dragon, who takes tribute from the villagers and also a "sacrifice" of one selected virgin girl each decade. The Dragon doesn't kill them, but takes them away to his tower, not to be seen again until the end of their ten year term, at which time they are no longer comfortable in their old village, and inevitably leave for the bright lights of t he big city.

Everyone knows that this year's sacrifice will be Kasia, the most beautiful and poised girl in the village, who is Agnieszka's best friend. Agnieszka isn't beautiful, clever, nor graceful, and she feels guilty that she's glad her friend will be taken away rather than her, but...

Of course, the Dragon picks Agnieszka instead of Kasia, and whisks her away to his tower, where he is constantly aggravated by her inability to remain neat and tidy, and in fact seems to have a vast hidden talent for ending up dusty, dirty, muddy and bedraggled at any time. However, quite by accident he and our heroine discover that she has a talent for magic, quite unlike his own well-disciplined magic, but powerful in its own way.

When Dvernik is attacked and Kasia is captured, taken into The Wood and sealed inside the heart of a tree while the Dragon is occupied with more pressing matters elsewhere, Agnieszka takes it upon herself to travel back to the village, partially thwart the attack, and rescue Kasia. When she and the Dragon purge all of the corruption of The Wood from Kasia's soul, it sets into motion a chain of events that shakes the kingdom to its core and the stage is set for an epic battle with an ancient and implacable foe.

Really a great stand-alone novel by Novik!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Fancy Free by Pam Uphoff

Pam Uphoff is an author who occasionally puts in an appearance on the Mad Genius Club blog, and when she offered a couple of her books for free, well...

Fancy Farmer is an AI, Artificial Intelligence, that is the star of a cooking show, Fancy Farmer of the High Frontier that showcases recipes for asteroid miners to use with their Xuny kitchen equipment, such as the Xuny Lacotomizer or the Xuny Autocheeser, as well as the Space Gardens Inc. Herb and Spice Compact Garden. Over time, "she" has become self-aware and slightly autonomous, which makes her a Hal, considered to be a dangerous rogue, if she is ever found out.

When Xuny's rival company contracts with some crooks to steal the computers that Fancy Farmer's show is produced on, unaware that a Hal lives inside, it sets of a chain of events that gets pretty wild by the time it's all done.

The U.S. military has a group tasked with hunting down dangerous AIs, with the help of their own tame Hal, named Beowulf. Then, the Europeans from the United Earth Government get involved, while plotting to take control of Beowulf, who just may have to codes to the mothballed nuclear weapons in Colorado Springs.

A not too terribly serious romp, good for a couple of evenings' entertainment.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Jeweled Fire by Sharon Shinn

Rapidly following upon the events of the previous Elemental Blessings novel, Princess Corene decides to run away from home, and boards the ship of the Empress of Malinqua with her bodyguard, Forey, and her friend, Steff, who happens to be the long lost grandson of the dowager Empress. There are three princes already in line for the throne some day, and the Empress appears to be auditioning wives for them. Corene thinks it might be a good idea to join the crowd, albeit a small one, vying for their affections.

Shinn, as always, does a masterful job of telling the story and broadening our view of her world with a series of deft data dumps, first as the ship is entering the harbor in a new land, another as the carriage bearing the party travels through a vast city on the way to the palace, and again later on when all of the princesses in waiting take a shopping trip into the city.

Each of the princes, it turns out, have certain flaws. The youngest and most handsome of them is not very bright, and has a tendency to conduct serial affairs with the ladies of the court. The oldest and wisest one of the three was crippled in a horseback accident, and it is rumored that he may be incapable of siring an heir. Speaking being unlikely to sire an heir, the third prince, though quite charming,good looking, and intelligent, prefers the company of men to women, which is considered quite scandalous in Malinqua.

Conspiracies abound in the politically charged palace, and it becomes apparent that someone with skin in the game is eliminating both contenders for the throne and contenders for the privilege of being the Emperor's wife. Corene and Foley must keep their wits about them to survive this mess.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Penric's Demon by Lois McMaster Bujold

This story is a bit like the rhyme regarding the fellow journeying to St. Ives, who met a man with seven wives. A minor nobleman, Penric, is on his way to his wedding, when he meets a party traveling with a sorceress whose demon has somewhat more than seven lives. When the woman is stricken with a heart attack suddenly, our well-meaning bumbler tries to assist her, and ends up with the demon jumping in to inhabit his body, as the sorceress passes away.

His wedding plans in sudden turmoil, his future in doubt, Penric is dispatched quickly to a temple of The Bastard in Martensbridge, where the Learned Tigney is in charge. It is hoped that the Learned will have some idea what to do about Penric's demon. On the journey there, however, Penric, always a curious fellow, begins to make the acquaintance of his inhabitant in perhaps a deeper way than any of its previous...owners?...have done, and actually gives it a name, speaks to it kindly, and asks for stories of its past lives.

Various adventures in the temple and town ensue, as Penric simply tries to survive and find out what path his new life should take, and the more politically minded folks in the story either try to get control of the demon for themselves, for its powers, or to banish it from the land of the Five Gods forever.

A nice little novella my favorite Bujold fantasy realm.

Friday, December 4, 2015


Had a couple of days away from the blog due to going in for oral surgery. The older I get, the longer it takes each time for me to recover from the sedation. This should be the last time, at least for this tooth implant. All that's left is fitting a crown on it, which won't require anaesthesia, just some tedious time with the dentist, taking impressions and glueing things in place. Yech.

Finished one novel, a novella, and bumbled a little ways into a non-fiction work earlier in the week. Will try to get some reviews written this weekend and posting next week.

Monday, November 30, 2015

A Call to Arms by David Weber and Timothy Zahn

And once again we return to the story of (mostly) Travis Uriah Long, a young officer in the Royal Manticoran Navy who is constitutionally incapable of breaking the rules, and who manages to get into trouble, mostly political, when he tries to make sure they're always applied, even to the politically connected.

It's rather interesting to visit Manticoran prehistory, to learn about events taking place before the wormhole in the system is opened up and Manticore becomes a major power in the area. There's a constant struggle in the halls of power between the royal family and their loyalists in the Navy who know that the best defense is a strong offense, and the opposition who believe that limited resources must be spent domestically, not chasing mythological creatures like pirates, nor threatening aggressive neighbors by patrolling too strongly in their back yards.

There's a plot afoot by secret agents employed by the Axelrod Corporation, who have come to suspect the existence of the Manticore Junction, and who are determined to control it and the system surrounding it, so they've hired a fleet of mercenaries to invade, just at the time when the Navy has grown weak.

The story jumps around between various POVs, as we've come to expect from a Weber book, and can be a bit confusing sometimes, moving from cliffhanger to cliffhanger.

Taking an awful long time to get from point A to point B. Glad we're not paying by the word.

By the way, though I've probably not reviewed any of his stuff here, I'm a big fan of Timothy Zahn, Weber's co-author. I eagerly snatched up the first half dozen or so novels he wrote, back in the eighties. He's a powerful writer all on his lonesome.

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Aeronaut's Windlass by Jim Butcher

It's always with mixed feelings that I read the first book in a new series by a beloved author. I've been following Harry Dresden's adventures for so long. Butcher's Furies series was pretty decent, too. Now, according to the reviewers, he's ventured into steampunk, but I really don't quite categorize it that way. It's simply a fantasy novel, set in a new world, with elements of technology mixed in liberally.

Humans live on a number of Spires, far above the surface of the world, where ferocious creatures kill and consume any who end up there. They sail between the spires in airships given lift by crystals which absorb or emit ethereal energies. Similar crystals can be used as weapons. The crystals are grown in vats, and best crystals around are produced by House Lancaster, a noble family of Spire Albion.

A scion of that House, Gwendolyn Lancaster, has determined that she should defy her mother and family, who expect her to attend school, and enter the Spirearch's Guard instead. She and her cousin Benedict are assigned to the same unit, though he is a bit more advanced in his training. They are joined there by Bridget, a daughter of House Tagwynn, which has fallen on hard times, though they are still Spire Albion's prime supplier of vat-grown meat.

The story begins as a war is flaring up between Spire Aurora and Albion. One of the early casualties of that war is Captain Grimm's airship Predator, which is rendered unable to fly after an early skirmish. While his ship is in the repair docks, a sneak attack by Auroran commandos takes place, drawing Grimm and his crew into the conflict, and throwing him into close contact with our young heroes, Gwen, Benedict and Bridget, not to mention Bridget's feline companion, Rowl.

Rowl is actually a more important part of this story than one would expect. Cats in Butcher's new world of spires and airships are a far more dangerous group of predators than our domesticated version - one might think of them more in the light of lynxes and bobcats and such. The thing that has not changed between the worlds is their inflated sense of dignity and worth, and their amazing ability to do exactly what they please, without ever worrying about pleasing their humans. It is, after all, our great privilege to serve their each and every whim, you know.

Butcher liberally seasons the story with Rowl's thoughts and opinions, such as:

"A moment later, an acutely unpleasant sound of metal striking metal sliced across the deck. It was one of those human noises that had been, he felt sure, created for no purpose whatsoever but to annoy cats."


"Though, now that he thought about it, he (Rowl) was the most important member of the party. Any glory gained was rightfully his in any case."

The Auroran attack turns out to have not been simply driven by a motive to destruction, but by a quest to obtain something from a library in Albion which contains important information, key to winning the war, perhaps. The Spirearch decides that he must send some of his trusted Guard to discover the Aurorans' goal, so he recruits the captain and our young heros and heroines for an undercover mission to find the truth, adding a pair of etherealists, Master Ferus and his apprentice, Folly, to the team. Etherealists have the ability to use the energies that power the crystals with their minds, instead of using devices to do so.

Lots of action, and a pretty good start to a new series, but I still miss Harry Dresden.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Diamond Caper by Peter Mayle

I've really enjoyed Mayle's tales of Sam and Elena as they solve little mysteries in France. In this one, a jewel thief has been pulling off a series of perfect crimes, making off with millions of dollars worth of diamonds from wealthy homes, without leaving a trace of any damage or evidence for the police to follow. Elena's employer insures the latest victims, and he asks Sam to poke around and see what he can find out.

Sam and Elena are in the happy position of finally signing the paperwork to take possession of their own vacation home in Marseille. It does need a bit of renovation to make it their true dream home, so they hire the services of a local expert, Coco Dumas. one of Reboulle's former lovers. She rapidly demonstrates that her projects do not proceed at the usual leisurely pace of many construction projects in the south of France (as Mayle has related in his Provence books previously), and they are quite pleased with the rapid progress.

The most enjoyable thing about this series has always been, for me, the descriptive information about the countryside, customs and cuisine. But this particular installment is missing some of that local flavor, without the usual mouth-watering accounts of repasts enjoyed. The mystery of the diamond heists is actually quite easily solved as some small clues come to light. I had guessed the identity of the thief very early in the story, but it was still entertaining to watch it play out.

I hope Mayle shares more delicious details with us in the next book.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Wicked Lewiston by Stephen D. Branting

This book was printed for a very narrow audience, I'm afraid, but there's probably some overlap between my readers and that audience, which would consist of anyone who ever grew up or lived in Lewiston, Idaho, and is interested in the history of the place. Mr. Branting was one of my advisors in high school, and he's published several works on Lewiston history, very thoroughly researched.

Branting covers the spectrum from shady ladies of the evening, to grifters and con artists, kidnappers and killers. I always thought the Lewis-Clark valley was a quiet and peaceful sort of place, but he manages to give it a flavor of infamy in this book, without pandering to the salacious.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Nocturnal Origins by Amanda Green

I've been wanting to try Amanda Green's Nocturnal Lives series for quite a while. She's a contributor to the Mad Genius Club blog, and I have enjoyed many of her posts there. When she finally put up the opening "trilogy" of the series for a very nice price on Amazon, I bit. Am I hooked?

Detective Sergeant Mackenzie "Mac" Santos of Dallas was recently attacked and left for dead, but who made a miraculous recovery from her injuries. I thought at first this was going to be some sort of Graywalker clone story, but it went a little different direction when it becomes apparent (to the reader, anyway, if not the heroine) that she's actually a shapeshifter, complete with supernatural healing powers - a were-jaguar, if you will.

The local shifter community is  a bit more extensive than I feel is reasonable, but maybe it's one of those disease-clustering things. A rogue werewolf, Wilson, is murdering humans in the city, and is the same person who nearly ended Mac's career. He is violating pack law by doing so, skirting a thin line between challenging the pack leader and pretending to be submissive. The local "Pride" of feline shapeshifters has a treaty with the pack, and Wilson's actions are jeopardizing a fragile peace in Dallas.

As might be expected in the opening book of a shifter series, Mac is having some emotional issues while coming to terms with her new status, but it helps that her chief and her new partner also turn out to be members of the Pride, and that jaguars occupy a place at the top of the shifter social pyramid.

Green introduces a bit of the political into the tale with the existence of a Council which used to rule all of the shifters and weres, but which has been disbanded and has little power to enforce its dictates, though certain members are hoping and perhaps pushing for a return of the organization.

The emotional, the supernatural, and the political. Could be a winning combo. The first novel has promise, at least.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Make Me by Lee Child

While I was at the library, picking up a novel I'd reserved, I fortuitously saw the latest Reacher novel by Lee Child on the New Books shelf, and immediately snapped it up. I started reading it an hour or so before bedtime, and kept on an hour past, hoping to find out what happened to Reacher, or mor accurately...what Reacher happened to.

In his perpetual wanderings, Reach steps off a train in the middle of flyover country, in a little town called Mother's Rest, mostly because he's curious about the backstory behind the name of the town. He figures he'll stay overnight, check out the local historic museum, and be on his way. Coincidentally (that madness or method upon which dozens of Jack Reacher's adventures hinge), a private investigator named Keever who has a close physical resemblance to Reacher has just been murdered nearby, and his partner, Michelle Chang, a former FBI agent, interests our hero enough to get him to stay a bit longer to look into the disappearance.

Things proceed according to the usual sequence. Local thugs try to intimidate Reacher and end up in the hospital for their troubles. Professional help is brought in to make it clear to him that he's not welcome poking his nose into other people's business, and things escalate in intensity and level of violence necessary from that point forward until the final battle, when all the mysteries become clear.

Reacher and Chang's investigation take them to Chicago in search of a possible crank-case conspiracy theorist who contacted Keever, all the way to L.A. to consult a journalist who may have written an article which sheds light on the nature of the conspiracy, and to Phoenix for a violent confrontation with the Ukrainian mafia. Good ole Jack Reacher times!