Friday, April 17, 2015

Dead Heat by Patricia Briggs

 This must be a lucky post...I have previously written thirteen reviews of Briggs' novels, so this breaks that unlucky total...phew!

As an effectively immortal shape shifter, Charles is cautious in the attachments he forms with mortal humans; it's painful to see friends die while you remain young. Come to think of it, it's painful to watch friends die when you age right along with them, too. But that's beside the point. Charles has formed few mortal friendships in his lifetime, but his longest lasting friend, a Navajo horse breeder named Joseph, is dying, so he and Anna take a trip to Arizona to, in effect, say "goodbye" to his old friend, while Anna is meeting Joseph and his family for the first time.

It's a "blended" family. Joseph's father, Hosteen, is a werewolf, who is angry that his son has never let Charles or himself "turn" him, so he would live longer. And it turns out that Joseph's daughter-in-law, Chelsea, is a witch, at least by blood, though she has never studied the art to become a practitioner. Anna and Charles' trip also serves a second purpose. Charles wants to buy Anna something special for her birthday, and hopes to buy one of the Arabians which the family breed, show and sell. So, the "meat" of the plot gets seasoned with little interludes of them trying out riding horses, discussing horse breeding and the market for show horses.

Shortly after they arrive, Chelsea is attacked by a fae spell which forces her to attack her children. She resists in the only way possible, by attacking herself instead, and by the time help arrives in the form of our favorite couple, she is so close to death that the only way to save her is to "turn" her into a werewolf, as well. This causes all kinds of fun new challenges within the family dynamics, and some opportunity for Anna to shine with her calming Omega powers.

When the immediate danger is over, Charles and Anna team up with a pair of Cantrip investigators, plus their old friend, FBI agent Leslie Fisher, to hunt down the fae who attacked Chelsea, and who has been abducting children and killing them since nearly the beginning of recorded history. Lots of good action and adventure. Another worthy episode in the Alpha and Omega books.

This one kept me up past my bedtime several nights in a row. Had to force myself to put it down to accommodate an early morning work schedule the first two, but finally succumbed to temptation and finished it off late last night.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Fifth Sorceress by Robert Newcomb

 This book came highly recommended by a personal friend, so it is with deep regret that I found myself unable to get into it. It took me two nights just to read 70 pages, as compared to the next book I picked up, where I read 120 pages the first night, the gripping nature of the story being that good. Even discounting the fact that it was from an author I knew and loved, with characters I knew and loved, that's still a huge difference. Sorry, Aaron.

The story didn't "grab" me, and it had a couple of early flaws that I couldn't get past. We are given access to the inner thoughts of one of the major characters, a wizard, and those thoughts contained far too much foreshadowing of the amazing future in store for the prince whom I assume was going to be the protagonist for at least the first few books in the series. Clumsy.

The other thing was, in a realm that has been peaceful and prosperous for the last three hundred years, ruled by the council of wizards and a benevolent king, the wizard and the princess encounter a horrendous monster left over from the last war (did I mention three hundred years ago?) within a few hours ride from the capitol city. GMAB! Bored and prosperous nobility should have long hunted all dangerous creatures into extinction. Probably eventually going to be explained away by the resurgence of EVIL POWERS, but still...

Ah well.

Friday, April 10, 2015

The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss

 This is a charming little story, which perhaps illuminates a bit of the world and thinking of Patrick Rothfuss, at least as it relates to The Kingkiller Chronicles. It's only unfortunate that it doesn't move the plot along, nor does it satisfy most folks' desire to hear what's next in the saga. This is a story about a week in the life of Auri, a strange little waif who lives in the abandoned spaces of the magical university. She has a very odd way of seeing things and thinking about them, and spends her days immersed in a very rich and revealing thought life. I think you'll find it amusing, if you need a break from actual narrative to read something more poetic.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Resilience by Andrew Zolli

 Why things bounce back. A good theme for a book, and it was rather interesting, jumping from resiliency in people who have been through stress and crises, to organizations and ecosystems. A lot of critique here of bureaucracies' inability to deal realistically with situations outside of the normal.

Unfortunate that my concentration is shot these days. I only took note of one passage, which I found intriguing.

"All individuals become accustomed to some acceptable level if risk - a risk temperature - so when they are required to reduce risk in one area of their life, they will find themselves, consciously or unconsciously, increasing other risks until they are back in their risk temperature comfort zone."

Monday, April 6, 2015

Coming Home by Jack McDevitt

 McDevitt has a talent for taking two seemingly unrelated plot lines...and keeping them unrelated. Chase and Alex are contacted by the heir of a former archaeologist to assess and possibly arrange the sale of an artifact her relative left on a closet shelf which dates to the Golden Age of space exploration, and which possibly provides a link to the whereabouts of the long lost contents of the Huntsville Space Museum.

At the same time, Chase and Alex are involved with the people who are trying to find a way to rescue the crew and passengers of a space liner stuck in a space warp, which only surfaces into real time once every five years.

Both tales are deftly interwoven without ever affecting the other, a quality rare in today's fiction, you know.

Other than that, and a somewhat surprising ending to the treasure hunter's tale it seems a rather lackluster performance from McDevitt. He's always a good writer, but it was a push to finish.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Daughter of the Sword by Steve Bein

 Barnes and Noble was running a special on this book, and it seemed like a good opportunity to check out a new author, so I snagged the ebook. I have to say, though it wasn't my usual fare, I found it interesting enough. This book begins the saga of Tokyo Detective Mariko Oshiro, who struggles for respect in the male-dominated world of Japan's police force.

While investigating a burglary attempt, she meets Master Yamada, an elderly sword master who intrigues her, and over the course of the book, takes her under his wing to teach her the art of the sword. One of Yamada's former pupils is a Yakuza who has decided to make a big move into the drug business, and he intends to steal a valuable sword which Yamada possesses to trade for his big cocaine stake.

The thing that makes this story really interesting is how Bein interweaves the story of three ancient swords, forged by Master Inazuma centuries ago, with the modern tale. Each of the swords has its own powers and personality, and they have been deeply involved in Japan's history.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Stand Against the Storm by Peter Grant

 Of all of the books I have read recently, this is probably the one which I most regret having neither the time nor energy to review properly. Peter Grant (whose blog I follow religiously) had mentioned the delay in getting this book published that had been caused by having to tear the whole plot apart and start again almost from scratch. Bravo, Peter! The delay was worth it, and your extra effort paid off.

Just as Steve Maxwell finally has a plan to return the jade knife artifact to the tong, he is unexpectedly called away to serve a term of duty on a peacekeeping mission on a backwater planet, with all of the usual B.S. that sort of mission involves, given the types of limitations that politicians and diplomats love to impose on the peacekeepers.

Hampered by restrictive rules of engagement, Maxwell must use initiative to accomplish his mission and, for the most part, keep his superiors happy. The planet has served as a penal colony for generations, and one of its most recent cohorts of prisoners includes the crew of a Dragon Tong ship which was caught smuggling. Steve seizes the opportunity to employ skilled workers of the crew and to make use of his tong connections, getting them released to his supervision by the planetary government, so he can get his strongpoint constructed quickly.

A great story, wish I could do it justice.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

More Audio book

I did a bit better job of selecting audio books for a road trip this time. The Rant Zone, by Dennis Miller, was a series of short takes from his HBO show that covered the gamut from insurance companies to God. They were, at times, laugh out loud funny, and definitely kept our interest, though his profanity-laced screeds were at times offensive - so not for the family road trip.

My other pick was The Lost Symbol, by Dan Brown, third in his series about Robert Langdon. I couldn't remember if I had already read the book or not - it turns out I had, but I still found it interesting and engaging. The audio version actually made it easier to distinguish between some of Brown's "true" history, and that which he made up out of whole cloth.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

A Light at the End of the Tunnel

Hope may finally be dawning.

Friday evening, we had four friends come over and help us move furniture out of the old house, then unload two pickup loads at the new townhouse. Back to the old place to spend one last night there, and on Saturday morning (as Tolkien once said) "they have begun to arrive", as a procession of friends came by and helped us with the last of the heavy stuff. We loaded two very large trailers full, plus the beds of three pickup trucks, and trundled across town to unload much of it at the new place, and the remainder at our rented storage (which I'm really going to have to work hard to clear out before too long).

And still, and yet, we are not done with the move. I need to finish clearing out the garage of tools and miscellany after church today, then we'll do a final cleaning and some touchup painting, and should be ready for the closing of the deal on Friday.

Friday, March 20, 2015

America: Imagine a World Without Her by Dinesh D'Souza

Heh. I have an old colleague whose last name is D'Souza. When I first typed the title this post, I had his name as the author of this book, rather than Dinesh D'Souza. The mind works in mysterious ways.

D'Souza does a pretty good rebuttal of the Progressive view of America, as quoted below,

"According to the progressive critique, America was found in an original act of piracy; the early settlers came from abroad and stole the country from the native Indians. Then America was built by theft; white Americans stole the labor of African Americans by enslaving them for 250 years. The theft continued through nearly a century of segregation, discrimination, and Jim Crow. The borders of America were also extended by theft; America stole half of Mexico in the Mexican War. Moreover, America's economic system, capitalism, is based on theft since it confers unjust profits on a few and deprives the majority of workers of their "fair share." Finally, American foreign policy is based on theft, what historian William Appleman Williams termed "empire as a way of life." America's actions abroad are aimed at plundering other people's land and resources so that we can continue to enjoy an outsized standard of living compared to the rest of the world."

As an unabashed, patriotic, white cismale American capitalist, I can say for my part that he was pretty much preaching to the choir while he demolished these premises one by one. Without Western capitalism and Judeo Christian values, not to mention technology and modern medicine, far more of the people on planet Earth would still be living lives "nasty, brutish, and short".

I wish I had the energy to do a more thorough discussion. It was a very good read.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Around the Web

A book review over on Pajamas Media.

More audiobooks

So, we're still not doing too well on choosing audiobooks to keep us entertained and awake on long car trips. Our most recent attempts were An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin, which was at its very best an education in the world of art auctions, and at its worst, a modern Valley of the Dolls. We gave up after a half dozen chapters.

The other selection was A Good Fall by Ha Jin, a collection of short stories by an acclaimed author. Acclaimed and $5 will buy you a cup of coffee. The stories were very odd, and after just two of them we turned it off.

Hoping to fare better on our next trip.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Still too quiet

Life continues to interfere with blogging, and even with reading, for that matter. Might get a couple of short posts up late in the week.

In case you've been wondering what's going on, it's been a winter of real estate madness. We've lived in our current home, an old Victorian built in 1932, for 19 years, and accumulated 19 years worth of "stuff" along with our memories. So, when the house sold after a short time on the market, we have spent hundreds of hours "triaging" what stays in our lives and what needs to go away, and have rented a storage shed and searched for and rented a townhome in the last few weeks, then taken load after load to various destinations. Many mornings on the way to work I stop at the storage place with a pickup truck full of boxes, and in the evenings this week we've been madly packing boxes and hauling them to the new place we'll be living in after this weekend.

Things should settle down some after we close on the house at the end of the month, though that may be a foolishly optimistic thought, as I already have some oral surgery scheduled for the first week in April, and I'm sure other events will fill my days. To add to the fun, I'll be covering work responsibilities for a colleague who is going home to India for a month, starting the 25th.

Hmm...might be a while before the next lengthy review gets posted.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Madness in Solidar by L.E. Modesitt

 Once again, the story jumps time periods by four centuries, to a time when the Collegium is in decline, a Rex who is considered to be mad rules Solidar, and the passing of the old Maitre has left his replacement, Alastar, blindly attempting to figure out the political scene so that he can create order from chaos.

Did you ever notice how some actors, no matter what role they are playing, end up playing themselves, over and over again? Hugh Grant, the prototypical bumbling, oblivious, yet well-meaning Englishman, comes immediately to mind. It seems to me recently that all of Modesitt's leading men in the Imager series have begun to sound alike, and their lady love foils, who all seem to be highly intelligent, strong-willed, and with personalities that anchor or reign in the protagonists, Rhen, Quaeryt, and Alastar, begin to blend together into one archetype, as well.

The Rex wants to raise tariffs. The High Holders and factors oppose him. The army supports him against the High Holders and wants to see the power of the Collegium eliminated. There may also be a coup or two in the wings.

Modesitt is such a good writer that he can make the tale enjoyable and entertaining, despite the fact that nothing really all that new happens here.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Ford County by John Grisham

I recently picked up the audio book of Ford County, hoping it would keep me entertained and awake on a long trip. The most enjoyable audio book I ever listened to was Playing for Pizza, by Grisham, while several others by other authors nearly put me to sleep - a bad thing on the interstate.

Ford County is a series of vignettes describing life, or perhaps low life, in a rural county down South. At best, they displayed a dark humor, and for the most part were terribly depressing to listen to, though Grisham is a masterful writer. The only one that had a "happy" ending involved a "hero" that one could barely cheer for, as he is a lawyer who robs his clients, divorces his wife, abandons his children, and runs away from all his problems.

If you like to be darkly amused by stupid and bad behavior, you'll enjoy these, but I finally had to turn it off and listen to the radio instead.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Low Midnight by Carrie Vaughn

I just got the joke in the title of this book - the showdown doesn't happen at High Noon, but...Low Midnight. A little slow.

Cormac Bennet is finally off parole, and this story switches to his narrative, instead of Kitty's. A nice change, one would think.

Cormac and his resident ghost travel to the hinterlands of Colorado to speak with the aunt of the witch who gave Kitty her books of spells, hoping that she can help translate the code in which it is written. The aunt decides to test Cormac by setting him a hundred year old mystery to solve regarding a pair of dueling sorcerers in the Wild West. Along the way, Cormac encounters some low lifes from his past, and that of his bounty hunting father's.

A somewhat anticlimactic battle eventually occurs when the thugs get in Cormac's way, and the overall plot arc of this series moves minutely forward. The underlying theme still remains, as it does in most female written urban fantasy these days, about the importance of relying on your friends, and slowly realizing how important they are to you.


Friday, March 6, 2015

The Future Falls by Tanya Huff

Due to the busy-ness in my life right now, I'm not going to write a long-winded essay about the latest in the Gale Aunties series by Huff. Huff is a superb and well-established author who writes very readable fiction. BUT...this particular iteration of the series spends most of its time going nowhere, while indulging in maudlin whining from the main character, Charlie (Charlotte) about the unable-to-be-consummated love affair between herself, and Jack the Dragon Prince. The plot should have been about the existential threat of global extinction posed by the asteroid which is about to strike Earth, and about the characters and their friends doing everything in their power to stop it, but instead it was mostly about interpersonal power juggling and emotional foolishness. I still love Huff's writing, and it was vastly entertaining, but if you're looking for adventure, it ain't here.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Start Your Own Restaurant and More by Jacqueline Lynn

 My apologies to the author of this book, who did a marvelous job of describing and analyzing all phases of the process of starting a restaurant, from a pizza parlor to a bakery and more. I began reading it when I was considering buying a restaurant, but when that deal didn't happen, I lacked the motivation to motor my way on to the end of the book. If you're curious about such things as how many place settings of silverware you need per "top" in the dining room, and the ins and outs of choosing suppliers and determining staffing needs, this is an excellent resource.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Still Alive and Well

Nothing to report on the literary front. I have three books in various stages of read-ness, which I cannot seem to complete. The sale of our home of twenty years, packing, and attempting to find a rental home are keeping me way too busy.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Hidden by Benedict Jacka

 I can't say enough good things about the Alex Verus series. It started as a bit of a ripoff of Butcher's Harry Dresden, seemingly, but has acquired an interesting life and story line of its own along the way. Mage Talisid, from the Council of the light mages, is still trying to recruit Alex to help them discover the whereabouts and plans of Richard Drakh, Alex's former master dark mage, but Verus wants nothing to do with this, and refuses to believe the rumors of Drakh's return. Alex's relationship with Anne is still strained due to her feelings about how all of the people who have come after him in the last few years seem to end up dead, and his former friend, Sonder, is also uncomfortable with Alex's trail of bodies.

Luna, however, is still strongly on his side, as (surprisingly) is Variam, Anne's former co-apprentice with the dark mage Sagash. Keeper Caldera is still on the fence as far as Alex is concerned, but she tends to be a bit more pragmatic about these things, having faced the dark mages and other evils for too long in her career. When Anne is kidnapped, though, they must all join forces to try and find her and help her escape from her captors.

One of the interesting things that develops as we go along in this series is that we find out more and more about exactly how Verus uses his powers of divination to discover the answers he needs. I wonder if Jacka had all of this worked out at the very beginning, and used it as the basis for his plot lines, or if it has just come to him in dribbles and drabs, too.

Also, I like the use of the Elsewhere to reveal interesting facets of the non-POV characters history and motivations, and how the beings there have interesting motivations of their own.

I've reached the end of the books already written in this series. Now, I have to wait. I'm not good at that.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Count to a Trillion by John C. Wright

I'm noting a curious phenomenon. Enjoying a person's blog writings doesn't seem to translate well to enjoying their novels. I read John C. Wright's Orphans of Chaos a while back and didn't really like it much, but I recently discovered his blog, and liked some of the things he had to say there, so I thought I should give him a second chance. Yeah, that didn't work out too well. I only managed about 25 pages of Count to a Trillion before I gave it up as confusing and un-engaging. Sorry Mr. Wright.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Talk amongst Yourselves

Blogging will be light. The real world takes all my attention at the moment. Have three books in progress, none of which are finishing up any time soon. Hope to be back in stride next week.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Strands of Sorrow by John Ringo

 Ringo mentions in the intro to this book that he had intended to end the series with the previous book, Islands of Rage and Hope. I don't recall it seeming to me like a good stopping point at its conclusion, and I'm not certain that this one was much better - still far too much work to be done to clear the U.S. and the world, but I suppose that series could go on longer than the Posleen War, if Ringo had the ambition, or needed the cash, eh?

The leaders of Wolf Squadron make the tactical decision to clear the coastlines of the U.S. focusing on naval bases around San Diego and Jacksonville. We have plenty of descriptions of Faith and Sophia using their zombie killing and helicopter piloting skills to turn zombie hordes into zombie sludge. I think Ringo may have anticipated the Super Bowl's "Like a Girl" campaign quite nicely.

Focus continues to remain on Lt. Faith's conflicts with regular officers and NCOs who don't understand that the world has changed, and that their pre-apocalypse attitudes and tactics simply won't work. We barely see anything from the point of view of the adults in the story, and the girls' mom has done a full Houdini.

Ringo introduces some new characters, just long enough to have them show us some interesting aspect of the process of taking back America, and then drops them, never to appear again.

Hoping Ringo goes back to writing Ghost stories, or perhaps picks up the saga of Troy Rising or Wands. Or, heaven forbid, maybe he's reached that point in his writing where he has nothing new left to say - that would be a pity.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Into the Storm by Larry Correia

I've been reading Larry Correia's Monster Hunter series from the beginning, and have really loved it. I tried his Grimnoir series, and wasn't thrilled, but I thought his new fantasy series might be fun. And for a brief shining chapter or two, it was. After that, not so much.

The opening scene of the book is simply brilliant. Lieutenant Hugh Madigan, Knight of Cygnar, is working undercover to arrest a bandit leader in a tawdry tavern in an obscure village. Just as he is about to be brought into the inner circle, a clueless Cygnarian sergeant, Cleasby, stumbles into the taproom with an urgent message from the capitol for Madigan, and refuses to take a hint, blowing Madigan's cover, and triggering a bloody but short barroom brawl.

Madigan has been laboring in exile and disgrace after being on the wrong side of the most recent coup in the city of Sul, and being found guilty of war crimes - although that may just have been excessive enthusiasm about fulfilling his mission. But Cygnar is now at war with a neighboring kingdom, The Protectorate, and they need all of the skills Madigan can bring to bear to turn a platoon of the sorriest bunch of misfits the army has ever seen into elite Storm Knights and lead them into battle.

Up to the point where Madigan and his merry men head off to fight the Protectorate, things are pretty interesting, but after that point, nothing truly novel or amusing happens, in my opinion. I pushed on through to the end, because Correia at his worst is still pretty good. I think the book has a game tie-in of some sort, too, and this may be a chronicle of some RPG adventure set to paper. If you insist on owning the Compleat Correia, go for it.