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.

Awards

#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

Offline

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."

and,

"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!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The End of All Things by John Scalzi

Either Scalzi has some major new novel in the works, and had to deliver something to satisfy his contract, or he's gotten to the point where he has nothing novel-length left to say in his Old Man's War universe. This book is another stitched-together set of related stories about, for the most part, Ambassador Abumwe and her friends trying to hold the center for the Colonial Union.

I seriously thought, given the title, that he might even be wrapping things up in some destructive fashion.

There's a secretive cabal busily working to set the Conclave, the Colonial Union and Earth at each other's throats, so as to reduce the powers of all three after an all-out war, so that they can take power for themselves when all is said and done. Our old friends and an unlikely group of allies must get very lucky in order to thwart their evil plans.

This one is mildly entertaining, but I'm glad I borrowed it from the library and didn't pay hardback prices for it.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Cast in Sorrow by Michelle Sagara

I've really enjoyed most of this series over the years, but this one (#9) was very very slow to get into, not one of those books I've picked up and stayed way up past bedtime to get through. There's a parody of Lord of the Rings out there somewhere that has the phrase "walking, walking walking..." and this is how this book feels for the first several chapters, as we approach the West March with Kaylin yet approach no closer to understanding what the heck she's doing here in the first place, as Sagara dribbles in meager facts about the Barrani and their history.

Kaylin does some more inexplicable magic with her runes, using some up and acquiring new ones, without ever coming any closer to knowing how her magic works, and threats to the Consort begin to take on a surreal quality of French farce, as she comes out one door of being saved by Kaylin and by the time Kaylin gets back to her lodgings, disappears behind another door of trouble.

I finally gave up, on the book, and on this series, I'm afraid.

There are far too many books on my TBR pile in which things actually happen and plots resolve.

Friday, November 6, 2015

American Sniper by Chris Kyle

I picked up the audiobook recording of Kyle's story to keep me entertained and awake on the long drive to the coast, and it certainly was good for that. The only downside to this book, in my opinion, was that it was pretty heavily laced with profanity, which is appropriate in a book written by a combat veteran, to some extent, but which may turn off some more conservative folks who might otherwise enjoy it.

Lots of good stories in here about BUDS and Seal training, learning to be a sniper, the different weapons that our troops use, and other bangity goodness. Kyle saw a lot of fighting in Ramadi and Fallujah during his overseas deployments, and for the most part managed to get through it all unscathed. It was only upon his return home that his invincibility faded.

I think the book contains a good dose of reality about the situation in Iraq and our military's handling of the war. He conveys a very strong sense that we could have been victorious much more quickly and gotten out of there again if our politicians had left things alone and allowed the fighting men and women to just do their jobs.

Just the thing for a long drive.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Patriot Dawn by Max Velocity

This one has got a little bit of everything for the tin-foil hat crowd. A major terrorist attack on Washington, DC, determined to have been sponsored by Iran, sparks reprisals by the U.S., causing the total meltdown of the Middle East, and a domestic economic collapse prompts a totalitarian-leaning administration to suspend posse committatus laws and take control.

Of course, resistance arises in scattered pockets around the country, and this novel details the beginning of one such campaign, in the Shenandoah River valley, mostly consisting of retired military men and their families, supported by preppers and farmers in the area.

What follows is probably a pretty good descriptive guerrilla warfare story, but unfortunately even after reading about half of the book one evening, I didn't give a hoot about any of the characters, including the main protagonist - it's telling I can't even recall his name a few days later. Nothing wrong, technically, with the writing, but I couldn't bring myself to care how it turned out.

Happily, it was a free download.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Good Hunting by Jack Devine

I began downloading podcasts a few months ago, so as to be able to listen to something different while driving across vast swathes of the Snake River basin. One of the podcast sources was the America Spy Museum in Washington DC, who put out regular author debriefs with former spies and spymasters who have written of their experiences. It was one such that led me to Devine's book.

If you want the highlights, get the podcast. I think Devine did a great job of making his material sound very interesting on the air, but there wasn't a heck of a lot in the book that was revelatory or titiallating or groundbreaking. For me, it provided a little bit of perspective on some of the headlines of my lifetime, such as the Iran Contra scandal (which I finally understand despite all those hearings on C-Span), Charlie Wilson's War, and the discovery of moles like Aldridge Ames. Devine gives an inside perspective on some of these things without revealing methods or sources.

No real dirt is dished, and Devine was obviously a loyal Company fellow throughout his career. The latter half of the book deals with his retirement from the CIA and his new career in corporate intelligence.


Monday, October 26, 2015

Chronicles of Aria Prime, Episode One by AJ Reissig

This free download seemed to me like it might be a good start to a novel or serialized set of stories, but Reissig hasn't yet published a sequel.

It begins when Colonel Christopher Nash, commander of the cruiser Trident, answers a distress call in space, and is ambushed by raiders of some sort. His ship heavily damaged, he flees into hyperspace and crash lands on a primitive planet with a shipload of colonists who were destined for a more developed world.

The planet turns out to have been "seeded" with plants and animals from Earth, including a pigmy-like tribe of humans, who are being terrorized by a hostile tribe of cat-like aliens. The refugees from Earth intervene on the side of the humans, and drive off the cat-men.

Not sure exactly where the series might be headed, there are plenty of tried and true plots that will work from here, including fighting off the raiders who have pursued them all the way to the planet surface, fighting a war with an alien race, doing the old Connecticut Yankee thing with the indigenes.

The tale is told mostly from Nash's point of view, but switches to one of his female officers', then to a tree hugger colonist who may betray the humans to their enemies.

We'll see if Reissig ever releases Episode Two.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Dead Ice by Laurell K. Hamilton

As long as I was catching up on Anita Blake, and the library had this book, I figured "what the heck?"

This is a 556 page novel that really could have been about 200 pages shorter, if one removed all the agonizing that Anita does over her relationships with the men and women in her life.

When it boils down to the action plots of the novel, Anita is contacted by the FBI to help them track down someone who is abusing zombies and selling zombie porn. Back in an earlier book, Anita encountered a voodoo priestess who was able to return the souls of the dead to their bodies after raising them as zombies, torturing them with awareness of their true state, and it appears someone has either discovered or re-invented the technique.

Anita also finds herself in a tough situation when a zombie she raises for a historical society to quiz turns out to be far too lifelike, and developing flesh-eating cravings. The first is a symptom of her growing powers, possibly, and the second is due to an unknown fact about the person whose body she raises.

Speaking of her growing powers, Anita's possession of pan-were capabilities begins to bleed over into the men in her life who are weres, and they discover that they are able to assume more animal forms than their "native" ones.

Anita and Jean Claude's wedding plans continue to move forward, but there's a wrinkle concerning the were tigers, who have a prophecy that the Mother of All Darkness will return if one of them is not wed to Anita, as well. So, Anita has to audition some tigers to join her menagerie.

Asher is also causing problems again, after they have allowed him to return from exile. They really ought to just send him off to Tasmania or someplace really remote.

A fairly good story, but way too much emotional angst.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Hotter than Helltown by S M Reine

The action moves back to Los Angeles in the third Preternatural Affairs story. Cesar has been selected to become the bound apsis (witch guardian) to his boss, Fritz's kopis (super-powered demon hunter), and his success in performing the complex binding ritual will determine whether he keeps both his life and his job...and he's put off studying for the big "test" far too long. He worries about this, distracting him from his main task of figuring out who is killing and mutilating seemingly random men in the area.

One of the inherent problems of urban fantasy seems to me to be how to keep the plots and conflicts new and exciting, gradually increasing both the supernatural powers of the protagonist and of his/her opponents. Laurell K. Hamilton did this quite well in her early Anita Blake novels, until they finally jumped the shark (or perhaps jumped the shark's bones?) and fell into hardcore porn-itude.

So when it turns out that Cesar and his partner are up against a fallen angel "the most powerful of all supernatural beings" how does Reine top this in books four and onward? Two fallen angels? Or does she simply cross the line into PNR, then porn?

I think she's jumped the angel too soon.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Last Praetorian by Mike Smith

The down low on a free book not worth the download. A dozen pages in - two dozen grammatical errors. Bag it and tag it.

Gunship by John Davis

Two pages of forced manly dialogue into this one made it easy to put it down. Sometimes, free is worth what you pay for it.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Odysseus in America by Jonathan Shay

Haven't read Dr. Shay's first book, Achilles in Vietnam, which may be written in the same manner, but I really enjoyed the way he weaves the tale of Homer's Odysseus with the experiences of returning combat veterans in modern day America. It's been a long time since high school literature class, and my reading in the classics and mythology, but the details slowly drifted back into my consciousness as the chapters proceeded.

He had to stretch things a bit to make the story fit all of his ideas and experiences dealing with veterans, but it was still a good read, which left me with a better understanding of the long term effects of combat.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Affliction by Laurell K. Hamilton

I know, I vowed not to read any more of this series, after it turned into a massive porn saga, but things were a little slow on the new books at the library front, and...

Hamilton actually managed to go on for about four hundred pages of action, before Anita got any "action", if you know what I mean.

Micah's father, who is a sheriff in a small town near Denver, gets bitten by a flesh-eating zombie and contracts a disease (hence the book title). It behaves in a manner similar to flesh-eating bacteria, and all previous cases of the disease reported have been fatal, so Anita and Micah and Nathaniel fly off to Colorado so Micah can see his father and try to reconcile with his estranged family, whom he has not seen since he was part of Chimera's menagerie.

There's a lot of family drama at first, but that is soon shoved to the background as Anita is called in to consult on the outbreak of killer zombies that turns out to have taken far more victims than anyone realizes. Flesh-eating, violent zombies are really quite rare, so she knows that some supernatural agency has to be creating them and sending them out to kill.

There's some fantastic action sequences, and some great dialogue between Anita and Marshall Ted aka Edward, the sociopath monster hunter. Anita really makes Ted's day when she asks him to bring along his flamethrower and they get to play with thermite grenades, as well.

It turns out that when (without too many spoilers) Anita killed the Mother of All Darkness and she and Jean Claude gained a whole bunch of her power, they weren't the only ones. We find out here that another of the master vampires whom Marmee Noir had attempted to possess also got a big power boost when she was killed. This, of course, gives us some food for future plots, as we see what supercharging some of the old vamps' power does to create supervillains.

This novel pushes things in a direction far closer to the things that many of us loved about the early series, and perhaps away from its focus on nothing but sex and relationships. There's still some of that around, but the violence and mystery are back a bit stronger. I'm going to brave the next book in the series.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Drafter by Kim Harrison

I thoroughly enjoyed Kim Harrison's The Hollows series over its run, and I was hoping that her next endeavor would provide as much entertainment. The Drafter is the story of Peri, a young woman with the ability to rewrite the immediate past and create a new timeline more to her liking or advantage. She was recruited by a shadowy government agency called Opti, ostensibly to stop terrorists and other criminals, and to rewrite massacres and disease outbreaks...that sort of thing. She's always happily done her masters' bidding, but after a job goes wrong one night, she finds out that the agency is corrupt, and may be simply the tool of the "billionaires club" to maintain their power and the status quo. Opti is opposed by the alliance (yes, all lower case), which turns out to be a group of disillusioned former Opti employees, at its core.

All of this is a really great setup for a well-told tale, but Harrison doesn't really give us one. Instead, it's a murky, confused ramble from one muddled mess to another as Peri tries to find out the truth, and decide whether she really belongs with Opti, or the alliance.

Hoping this was a stand-alone tale, and Harrison has a decent new series on the way, sometime.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Light Blogging

I haven't had a chance to read much of anything lately - too much traveling.
After our return from New Orleans, we had two days at home, then on Wednesday evening I flew from Boise to Baltimore, where my son picked me up and we went back to Quantico Marine Base to finish packing up his worldly goods and drive with him back to Boise. A late night cleaning, and a too short sleep in the Ramada nearby, as the movers had already taken away the bedrooms.

The next day was spent going from one office to another around the base, collecting checkmarks on his outprocessing documents, requesting records, and all that fun paperwork. Really. All stinkin' day.

Around 5 PM (and we started at 7 AM) we headed away from Fort Belvoir's hospital basement, and had a nice dinner in Old Occaquon at a place whose name I can't recall right now, but it's right down on the bay there. A couple of good microbrews and some decent seafood.

We had planned on going to the Virginia vs Boise State football game on Friday, so we drove down part of the way and got a room near Spottsylvania. A more satisfactory sleep this time, and a great breakfast at the Waffle House across the street. We discussed it a bit, and came to the conclusion that, though we had seats right on the 50 yard line, and it was going to be a great game, the wiser course was to begin heading west right away, since we needed to be back in Boise by Sunday night.

An uneventful drive through VA, PA and Ohio, and we stayed in Waseon on Friday night, had a nice meal at a Mexican joint, got a reasonable night's sleep, then pressed on Saturday morning for parts further west. Found ourselves in the middle of Nebraska by evening, and had some good ribs and steak at Uncle Dick's Steak House in Grand Island. Stayed in a threadbare motel run by some very nice Indian or Pakistani folks, and were thoroughly unimpressed by the continental breakfast the next morning.

The last day was a long haul, from the middle of Nebraska all the way to Wyoming, Utah and eventually arriving in Boise around 11 PM. A grueling marathon ride.

Back to work, trying to recover.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Magic Shifts by Ilona Andrews

It's rather stunning what happens when you pick up a book written by true craftspersons. I usually end up staying awake past my bedtime, devouring it eagerly, until reason or sheer inability to keep my eyes open forces me to close. This was my experience with Magic Shifts, which I managed to pick up the same week it hit Amazon.

Kate and Curran have left the pack, in order to save Atlanta from death and destruction wielded by her father, Roland. She has acquired a magic bond to the land and its inhabitants that she hasn't even begun to figure out yet, which may make ongoing episodes interesting as she comes into her powers. They have formed their own security and investigation business, Cutting Edge, and moved into what passes for suburbia in post-Shift Georgia.

When an old friend from the pack, Eduardo (a were-buffalo) disappears during what should have been a routine job for the Mercenary Guild, Kate and Curran hunt for him, and stumble into a really nasty mess.  A powerful, vindictive magical being has come to town, and is taking control of humans and turning them into monsters.

The plot thickens when Kate's father, Roland, plays the devoted paternal type, rather than the psychopathic megalomaniac, and invites her and Curran to dinner to quiz them about their wedding plans.

Kate and Company seem to flail their way from one situation to another, dealing with the new and unexpected adversary, spending time with "Dad", navigating politics with the Pack they have left behind, and taking on a new challenge, reforming the Guild. But at the tail end of the book, Curran actually puts together  plan to confront the monsters which works, in far less pages than it should have. Did we run up against a word count limit?

Good story, lots of fun, and a few "in" references for old geeks.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Not with a Bang, but with a Whisper

Our final day in the Big Easy, the Crescent City, was pretty low key. We got up and went down to Daisy Duke's again for breakfast, and I had bowl of the fluffiest biscuits, smothered in country gravy, that I have ever encountered. Stuck to fruit juices instead of the temptation of their Bloody Marys. Went for a streetcar ride out to the Cemetaries - thousands upon thousands of above-ground graves, and reflected upon mortality.

Back downtown, wandered around on Royal Street and picked up some Mardi Gras beads to bring home for friends, had a smoothie at Smoothie King, and eventually got picked up at our hotel by the airport shuttle. Had an amazingly good muffuletta at the Cheesecake Scoop Cafe out at the airport - seriously - better than the Central Grocery original in my opinion.

The less said about the frustrations of air travel the better, at this point, but we did get home in the wee hours of the morning safely.

Perhaps a wrap-up on what it all means one of these days. Still digesting.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Jazzin' it Up

Decided on a whim to have breakfast at Daisy Duke's just around the corner from the hotel, and was extremely pleasantly surprised by the food and service. Had an alligator omelette with a bowl of grits and a lite fluffy buttermilk biscuit that was absolutely wonderful. They had an early bird special 2-for-1 Bloody Marys, and though we missed the deadline by about ten minutes, they still delivered on it with a couple of reallly really tasty drinks. 

The forecast called for 93 degrees, so I stopped at a Levis store and picked up a pair of shorts to wear, nipped back to the hotel to change, and we were on our way. Made a stop at the Jaxson brewery mall, but didn't find the brewery, then wandered on over to the Jazz National Park office and signed up for a walking tour. Had a good time on the tour, and then watched a trio play in a small ampitheater for a while. 

Checked out the jazz bars on Frenchmen St, but none of them were open yet, so we went back to the market area and had a decent lunch, though not a great one, of po'boys, but our seats were in the front row to listen to the Jazz Cats trio. Wandered over to the US Mint and heard a great jazz duo play and sing, then back across town to Lafitte's Blacksmith Shoppe for a quick Abita and then headed back to the hotel for a cool down before heading out for the evening.

Walked down to the Mississippi to go on a dinner and jazz cruise, but discovered that they were all sold out. A bit disappointed, we wandered back to the French Quarter and had a nice little meal in the courtyard of The Creole Kitchen - the oysters rockefeller, bienville and toulouse were marvelous! Wandered around on Royal Street looking at some of the art galleries for a while, but called it another early evening and left the crush of partiers before things got any crazier.

New Orleans Second Glance

We got up fairly early and walked down to Bourbon Street, where we had beignets and an Andouille sausage omelette while listening to a banjo player at Cafe Beignet. The beignets were hot and fresh, better than a Krispy Kreme, and the sparrow pirates made off with any unattended food, but the omelette was a bit uninspired. Took a self-directed walking tour of the quarter after that, until I lost track of where we were, and decided to simply head for Jackson Square.

Early in the day, the buskers and street vendors were barely setting up, so we wandered on past, only taking time to visit the Presbytere and look at the artwork and stained glass. 

Took  stroll on the Moon Walk, until the rising sun and heat grew unbearable. Bought a hat from a street vendor to shield my tender, bald scalp, then bought a day pass on the streetcar line and cruised on out to the Garden District, to marvel at the mansions, take a stroll in Audubon Park (which oddly enough had a very clean public restroom near the golf course; I wasn't expecting much), and see Loyola University. 

Headed down to Decatur Street across from the French Market to have a muffaletta sandwich at the Central Grocery. The sandwich was massive (we split a half) and very tasty, and we ate it at the crowded counter, washed down with a Dixie beer - a bit like Heineken, but with a sweet aftertaste. Wandered across the street to sample pralines and buy an ice cream cone, then wandered through the French Market, which contained an odd mix of touristy crap and occasional locally produced crafts. A lot of the stuff there we've seen in outdoor markets from one end of the globe to another. Bought a very very tasty organic pina colada from one of the booths, and sipped on that as we walked around.

Back to Jackson Square where things were in full swing. Lots of amazing artists to explore, and we bought a small drawing that we liked. Wandered onwards, occasionally poking our heads into interesting shops, and pausing to listen to busking bands along the way. In mid-afternoon the heat got the best of us and we had to retreat to the hotel for a quick shower and restful hour or two by the pool. 

Refreshed again, we jumped on the streetcar again for a tour of the CBD, which turned out to be a waste of time. Got off down by Harrah's casino and walked over to the area where the steamboats depart, then hit the outlet mall (bigger on the inside than outside, it seemed) and bought M some tennis shoes at the New Balance store, as the ones she had walked around in all day were hurting her toes. 

Back to the docs for a very nice meal of gumbo and crawfish etouffe at Poppy's Crazy Lobster, accompanied by a flask of Voodoo Juice and a very bayou trio playing nearby. Walked back to the hotel and called it an early night, though the good times were just starting to roll on Bourbon Street.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Easin' in to the Big Easy

Walking out the door of the airport in New Orleans, the heat and humidity hits like a brick wall. Took the shuttle to the Central Business District, and met my wife at the Renaissance Pere Marquette. Dropped off the luggage and went for a walk. Found the French Quarter and went for a stroll down the length of Bourbon Street to the land of the rainbow flags, at which point we turned around and walked the other side of the street - not in a figurative sense.

It was just past five o'clock, but the party was already getting started. It's like the line in Alice's Restaurant "you can get anything you want" on Bourbon Street. A friend had recommended Acme Oyster House for dinner, but the line was already down the block nearly to the corner by 7, so we popped across the street to Felix's and the food was fantastic.
One of their signature Bloody Marys, a Hurricane and a plate of Oysters Rockefeller to start - delishus! Had a great plate of fried seafood with just the right amount of spice, and called it good. 

Watched some street musicians for a bit, then wandered  back to the hotel, had a glass of wine and relaxed. Tomorrow we hit the pavement hard 

Travelin' Man

It seems, the older I get, that faces in airports trigger thoughts of "Hey, that looks like..." Is it just a craving to encounter a friend in a vast and lonely setting, or simply the inevitable coincidental facial and bodily similarities after a lifetime creating an internal database of friends, relatives, and acquaintances?

I often also wonder why, after decades of flying passengers around the country, the airlines haven'f succeeded in finding a more efficient way to board than the cattle call of confusion that reigns. Aside from the whole "let's seat the first class cabin first" method - which seems odd to me - why do we make the highest-paying customers wait the longest on the tarmac? - it would make a ton more sense to seat from the back of the plane forward, so that the people stowing their luggage in the overhead bins and juggling seat assignments aren't blocking the passengers who are coming in behind them. Add a couple of big burly flight attendants to toss the carry-ons up into the racks, and you'd really speed things up when little oriental grannies come up...short.

Today, for the first time ever, I actually witnessed a more reasonable group of people deboarding the plane for a change. Most of the time, everyone leaps to their feet the moment the plane comes to a stop at the gate and starts dragging all their baggage down from the bins. You know, people, you can't leave the plane until A) the door opens and B) the people in the 28 rows ahead of you get off of the plane. I always just relax in my seat until the two rows ahead of me are starting to move, then stand and gather my things to depart. Jumping to your feet earlier does not make people move out of the way any faster, and you're still going to have to dash to your connection - at the other end of the terminal...or in another terminal entirely.

Just some of my travelin' thoughts.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Fast times, slow reading

It's been difficult to get anything up on the blog recently, as I've been traveling quite a bit more this summer than ever, and between being slow to finish books (almost four weeks on what I'm reading now), and not feeling the energy to post about a couple of bits of fluff that I did complete, there's been a drought to rival California's here.

I am, however, still alive and well.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Silver Bullet by S M Reine

The action shifts to  Reno, Nevada in the 2nd in the Preternatural Affairs series. Cesar and his partner, Suzy, are assigned to a special team investigating a magical power surge in the Biggest Little City in the World. The trail leads from a nightmare demon who runs a casino to an abandoned silver mine filled with giant spider demons, and right up against a nasty werewolf before the case is finally solved.

Cesar runs afoul of the OPA's security policies when his boss, Fritz, is kidnapped and he is forced to use his cell phone to contact a vicious VP of OPA. She would as soon kill as deal with him, so he has to think fast on his feet to rescue the boss and avoid being terminated in all senses of the term, as a security breach.

Again, long on action, short on plot, but a fun tale to while away a couple of hours. I've downloaded some more of Ms. Reine's work.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Witch Hunt by S M Reine

I believe this book was one of Barnes & Noble's weekly freebies, so I was pleasantly surprised when it turned out to be an amusing , if not engrossing, tale. Cèsar Hawke is a witch, who works with the Office of Preternatural Affairs arresting dangerous witches, demons and miscellaneous supernatural beings.

He's pretty new on the job, but seems to enjoy his work. After celebrating a successful investigation a bit too much, he finds the dead body of a woman he took home in his bathtub the next morning, a bullet hole in her chest. Cèsar isn't the type of guy who is prone to murder on a first date, and though the police are convinced of his guilt, and his bosses don't send anyone to bail him out, he still has a shred of faith in himself, and escapes custody to find the real killer - shades of OJ, anyone?

His partner, Suzy, seems to believe his innocence, and she gives him a place to hide out briefly, but as the story goes on, it appears that Suzy may herself be the killer. Hawke's naive faith in people leads him into a number of near-death experiences, and it's a dark, wild ride through a very spooky Los Angeles.

Definitely an author worth watching.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Werewolf Cop by Andrew Klavan

I really enjoy Klavan's blog posts on PJMedia, as well as a couple of his earlier police procedurals, so I thought Werewolf Cop sounded like a fun read. It didn't totally disappoint, at least. Klavan's writing was good enough to drag me to the ending, but not quite good enough to make me want to run right out and grab some more, alas!

Hotshot cowboy cop (in fact his nickname is Cowboy) Zach Adams runs up against an adversary he really can't handle when Dominic Abend, a former Nazi turned mobster, shows up in the U.S. Abend and his sidekicks torture and kill a known fence, searching for an artifact which was stolen from him, and then leave a trail of destruction as they interrogate everyone else who had contact with the item.

The trail leads the Cowboy to Europe, where he is attacked and infected with lycanthropy by a werewolf there. The werewolf doubles as an elderly female college professor, who has been hunting Abend for the purpose of destroying a powerful and evil magical artifact which he possesses. When Adams kills the werewolf, he inherits its mission.

Zach's mission is further complicated by the aftermath of an extramarial affair, and his inner struggles as he deals with guilt and the potential consequences of his infidelity if it should be revealed, and by the possible corruption of his partner by the criminal Abend.

Twisted, bloody, introspective - typical Klavan.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Kitty Saves the World by Carrie Vaughn

So, Kitty and her eclectic packmates become convinced that Dux Belloram,or Roman, has acquired a magical artifact which will empower him to cause a volcano to erupt - he seems to have done it with Vesuvius centuries ago. So the hunt begins. They lure him to New Mexico with the promise of a new ally - Cormac in drag, so to speak - and try to trap and kill him, but things go badly, and they are attacked by the usual demon and both they and Roman flee the scene.

When they return, Kitty's wolves have all gone missing, and she spends some time running around Denver trying to locate them. The new master of the local seethe of vampires is a weak-willed fellow, who falls under Roman's spell, and eventually forces a confrontation with Kitty.

At long last they discover that Roman is going to work his disastrous spell in Yellowstone, a cauldron of volcanic instability which is long overdue for an eruption. Kitty and all her allies pack up and road trip to the park, where they are able to divine Roman's location and face him down once and for all.

Vaughn claims this is intended to be the last of this series, and it's been a pretty good run, but once you've killed one arch villain, it's tough to top cataclysms and world domination, so she may actually be telling the truth.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

A Rotten Person Travels the Caribbean by Gary Buslik

When Rick Steves speaks or writes about travel, you can be fairly certain that he demonstrates a high level of respect and love for the countries and cultures that he visits. On the contrary, Buslik seems to hold most of the places he visits and the people he meets in contempt. Granted, he's not only sarcastic about foreigners in his writing - he says nasty things about his wife and friends, as well.

I know that the purpose is supposed to be comedy, so one can forgive him some poetic license, but it wears thin pretty rapidly for me, and I gave up on it about halfway through. There's plenty of sarcasm going on in my own head some days, I don't need to increase the traffic.

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Sword of the South by David Weber

Did I miss something? It seems as if there may be at least a short story, perhaps an entire novella, in between War Maid's Choice and this book. Bahzell and Leanna are happily married, running a tavern, with a ten year old daughter, Gwynna, who has a telepathic bond with a dire cat. How time flies!

The fourteen hundred year old schemes of Wencit of Rum are finally coming to fruition, beginning with the appearance of a bedraggled man without a memory, at least of who he is, though his knowledge of geography and swordplay and harpistry seem to be just fine. Wencit knows his true identity, but he refuses to enlighten the poor fellow, who names himself Kenhodan. I suppose if Wencit told him, he'd have to tell us, and spoil the surprise, which truly isn't all that surprising if you've read enough of this sort of thing.

Be that as it may, Kenhodan is the key to the next step in Wencit's plots, which revolve in this episode around the defeat of an evil sorceress, Wulfra, and the recovery of a powerful ancient artifact which she has under her domain, though not necessarily her control. Our mysterious red-headed warrior, Bahzell Bloody Hand, and the ancient wild wizard Wencit (say that three times fast) book passage aboard Brandark's fastest ship for the first leg of their voyage, enduring yet roundly defeating a pirate attack, then journey overland, pursued by Dog Brother assassins, for the remainder of the quest.

Things go about as expected, and the trio manage to deal with every obstacle thrown in their path, including an acid-spitting dragon. It is, of course, quite handy that Bahzell, as a Champion of Tomanak, can magically heal his fellow travelers from all the wounds they suffer in various skirmishes.I don't recall Aragorn being able to pluck out the arrows pincushioning (that's totally a verb) Boromir and lay on hands, but Bahzell is special, dontcha know.

There's a side plot which will probably become important in the 2nd or 3rd book in this final fantasy trilogy of Weber's involving Bahzell and Leanna's daughter, who appears to be slated to be the next incredibly powerful wild wizard, either succeeding or replacing Wencit as appointed guardian of Norfressa.

Predictable, but Weber is always quite readable.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Veiled by Benedict Jacka

Alex begins to worry about what will happen when his former master, dark mage Richard Drakh, decides to focus on either recruiting or eliminating Alex at last. His friends suggest that he join the Keepers, the law enforcement branch of the Council, to gain some extra protection and to make Richard more reluctant to deal with him violently. So he approaches his sometime friend, Caldera, and she gets him recruited on a probationary basis.

Just about the time Alex gets used to the idea that most police work is boring, a late night routine assignment goes horribly wrong and results in him being chased around a railway platform by an assassin, who very nearly succeeds in killing Verus. Alex begins to pull at the threads around the edges of his new case, and pretty soon begins to unravel a deadly conspiracy which holds incriminating information on many of the "light" mages on the Council.

This seems to be more of a transitional novel than anything. The point seems to be to get Alex firmly ensconced in his role as a Keeper, and to finally find a good teacher for Luna's Chance magic talents. Anne and Variam are in a holding pattern, though Variam has definitely found his home with the militant wing of the Keepers. The balance of power on the Council is shifting in a way it hasn't in centuries, as a dark mage is appointed a seat for the first time in history.

Hoping for book six soon, now.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Wicked Bronze Ambition by Glen Cook

 I've been reading Glen Cook's work for a long time - three decades, in fact. I may have to re-read his early Black Company novels one of these days and get some reviews up. I used a Christmas gift card to buy Nook versions of the first six of them recently, and picked this one up as an ebook to catch up on the Garrett series, too. Ebooks weren't even a gleam in their daddy's eye back when I first wandered the streets of Tunfair.

Though Garrett would much prefer to avoid the gazes of the dangerous and powerful, it's gotten a little tougher since being affianced to one of the most powerful sorceresses in the city. Her daddy and grandmother have decided they need Garrett to use his skills to find out more about the contest known as the Tournament of Swords, which threatens to kill off many of the children of the magical families of the kingdom, and by implication to put a stop to it, as well.

Then, someone kills his fiancee,Strafa, and all bets are off. Once the shock is over, he relentlessly pursues the identity of the killer(s), with the help of all of his friends whom we have come to know over a dozen or so books, as well as the resources of one of the powerful wizarding houses, since he is now considered to be family by the denizens of The Hill.

The downside to this novel is that it takes a long and winding road to discover the truth about who is behind the resurrection of the tournament and Strafa's murder, and Garrett stumbles like a drunken bull through it all, only the steadfast support of his friends keeping him from a dire fate on his own. There was almost an element of french farce to the whole thing, as Garrett repeatedly tracked down the usual suspects, hauled them off to be questioned by the Dead Man or to his friends in the Algarda or Relway's guard, then they would escape or be turned loose, and he'd end up tracking them down all over again for a new round of questioning.

Glad I pushed on to the end for a nice surprise twist.

Friday, August 7, 2015

True Enough by Farhad Manjoo

Manjoo seems to have set a new record for how quickly I grew disgusted with the premise of a book. Far from being an unbiased study of fragmentation of our news media, his premise immediately veered to the left, explaining why conservatives and Republicans believe all of the lies that come from Fox News, while the progressives and Democrats live in a fact-based world.

I'm sorry, this book was not "true enough".

The Power of No by James Altucher

I must have read an interesting article by Altucher somewhere which prompted me to put his book on reserve at the library. If that article was an excerpt from this book, it must have been the best thing he wrote, as the rest of it is a confusing, anecdotal gallimaufry of stale ideas about self fulfillment and success in life. I kept trying to push on and finish it, but I simply couldn't relate to what James and his wife, Claudia, had to say.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Spider's Trap by Jennifer Estep

While attempting to untangle a dispute between a pair of minor mob bosses at a meeting hosted on her friend's riverboat, Gin - now the reluctant leader of the Ashland underworld - contends with more of a blowup than anticipated when a mysterious stranger detonates a bomb on the boat. It takes Gin a while to determine who the real target of the attack was, and when she does, it brings back flashbacks aplenty from her days training with Fletcher.

As has become the routine in these tales, Gin doesn't really want to get too involved in pursuing the attacker until one of her friends gets hurt. In this case, it's bf Owen, who narrowly escapes death at the hands of a vengeance-minded metal elemental.

Ok, so I've wondered occasionally why the all powerful and all knowing assassin, the Spider, with all of her friends and resources, never seems to spend any time just thinking about her craft, and how to do things better. It seems like she was more effective in the earlier stories, actually.

One of the key plot devices in most of the conflicts is the use of elemental magic. Why don't any of her allies sit her down and just do a brainstorming session about what possible attacks and defenses a fire elemental, ice elemental, stone elemental, metal elemental, water elemental (you get the drift?) would be most likely to use, or have been seen to have used, let alone come up with some novel ideas for how to attack or defend against one? Fletcher was supposed to have been one of the most feared and respected assassins in the history of Ashland, and Gin has access to all of his files, but he never wrote down anything he had learned about how to kill elementals? If he kept files at all, they ought to have been useful stuff, right, not just gossip and reminiscences. Of course, in the first place, what self-respecting assassin would ever keep paper files laying around his home for anyone to stumble across. Really?

So, once again, Gin gets surprised by how tricky and powerful and nasty her latest foe turns out to be, and nearly dies several times, before finally doing something desperate enough to work.

Time for Gin to step up her game.

Monday, August 3, 2015

The Man Who Knew Too Much

Once upon a time, in my youth, I was the quintessential math nerd. Who am I kidding? I was a geek through and through in STEM fields. My life was a cross between That 70s Show and The Big Bang Theory and if you mind-melded together the characters of Eric and Leonard, it would pretty much describe my life. This book about mathematician Alan Turing stirred up a lot of old memories of fun times solving math problems. No, that's not an oxymoron, people!

Turing was one of the key figures in Great Britain's WWII effort to decrypt the secret communications of the German armed forces using the Enigma device. There's a pretty good description of the strategies employed and the counter-strategies that the Germans attempted to stay one step ahead of their foes.

One of the interesting things the British did to help them decipher the code was to plant mines in particular locations specifically chosen so that the Germans found them easily. Then, when the Germans sent messages back to headquarters to report the discoveries, the British knew what the content had to include (locations), and were able to use these as a key to decipher the rest of the message.

Turing was a homosexual, back in the times when that was still a criminal act in England, and he eventually may have committed suicide after being convicted of unnatural acts, chemically castrated by the government, and denied permission to work for the government in any capacity from that point forward due to security concerns. The book spends an awful lot of time interpreting nearly everything that Turing wrote, spoke or accomplished in terms of his sexuality, but if you ignore most of that, it's still an interesting, though tragic, story.

Fun quote:

"In Newman's laboratory, the walls were covered with brown tiles in what F.C. Williams, his partner in the project, called, a 'late lavatorial' style."

One of Turing's early creations, a computer called "Baby" was set to the initial task of testing Mersenne primes, a task which involved many man hours of calculations. Turing envisioned a time when his machines would become almost human, but I don't think he really had any concept of what the computer revolution would accomplish, and even though Siri sounds almost human at times, computers still have not evolved consciousness, nor have they become inventive or creative.

He also had the odd idea that computers could be taught by  method similar to the one we often use to raise children, with both reward and punishment.

I've certainly been tempted to punish mine...but I think it's got the upper hand.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Around the Web

Funniest thing I've heard today, at According to Hoyt,
"I made entire friendships based on how many books this person had to lend."

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Regrets

It's been over a week since I actually finished a book and got a review posted. Summertime is making it very difficult to find the time to read, but I AM having lots of fun.

More when I get 'em.

Friday, July 10, 2015

The One-Page Financial Plan by Carl Richards

I really enjoyed Carl Richards' The Behavior Gap, both the book and his web site, and so I looked forward to reading his new book about financial planning. For me, however, there wasn't anything really new to learn here. I can see how it would be good for a person who was feeling intimidated by the magnitude of the financial planning task, but I really didn't have a lot of takeaways here.

He starts with goal setting concepts, and builds on a very simple framework of just doing the right things a piece at at time to accomplish those goals. What he really tries to do is to make a scary process seem folksy and conversational. You might buy this book for one of your kids who is just getting through college. 

Nothing bad to say about the book, but it didn't really float my boat.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Black Widow by Jennifer Estep

At least in this installment of the Spider's story, we get to return to a more deadly villain, as Gin finally gets the confrontation she's been expecting ever since Mab Monroe's daughter, Madeline M Monroe, arrived in Ashland. Madeline uses all of her connections around the city to launch a simultaneous group of attacks on Gin's friends and family. Finn is served with a lawsuit, Rosalyn gets cut off by her liquor distributor, one of Owen's big contracts falls through, while his sister Eva is suspended from college for cheating, and Jo-Jo's salon may be designated a historical landmark and deemed unsuitable to operate a business.

Then, horror of horrors, the health inspector arrives at the Pork Pit!

Accompanied by a posse of crooked cops, the barbecue joint is judged wanting and will be shut down. When Sophia trips the head cop, she is arrested for assault, and when Gin and her lawyer, Silvio, try to bail her out, Gin gets arrested, which was M. M.'s point all along. They immediately lock her away in "the Bull Pen", where prisoners get to fight each other to the death for the amusement of the crooked police force. Faced with five deadly opponents at once, Gin uses her mad fighting skills and elemental magic to not only defeat the thugs but to escape custody and take it on the lam.

Run to ground at the Pork Pit, the villainess surrounds the building with cops, then tosses Molatov cocktails inside, making sure that Gin cannot escape the flames.

Gin dies, her funeral is held and life in Ashland goes back to business as usual.

No? Well, you'll have to read the book to find out.

My only nitpick about this book was that it seemed a little rushed. The situations facing Gin's friends weren't really allowed enough time to become serious threats and concern us. A really good evil opponent would have allowed some time for despair to set in before the final blow falls.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Stonewalled by Sheryl Attkisson

After reading Sheryl Attkisson's book, I think I feel a great deal as does she, frustrated by my inability to get to the root truths of a number of recent political scandals of the Obama administration. Some of what she wrote filled in details about Fast & Furious, Benghazi, the (Un)Affordable Care Act, and the horrible waste of taxpayer dollars given to "Green" companies whose owners were donors. But the key questions still remain unanswered. How high in the administration are the people responsible, and are these stories all simply the result of incompetence or something more sinister? I knew before, and Attkission confirms, that the media is in deep with progressive interests as well as big business, and for the most part cannot be trusted to do old-fashioned investigative reporting which speaks truth to power.

"What did we really tell America on this night that they didn't already know?
My own network is passing up stories on the crumbling Affordable Care Act; an exclusive investigation I offered about a significant military controversy; an investigation uncovering a history of troubles surrounding Boeing's beleauguered Dreamliner; and massive government waste, fraud, and abuse. Largely untouched are countless stories about pharmaceutical dangers affecting millions of Americans, privacy infringement, the debate over President Obama's use of executive orders, the FDA monitoring of employee email, the steady expansion of terrorism, the student loan crisis, the confounding explosion in entitlements, the heartbreaking fallout from the Haiti earthquake, continuing disaster for government-subsidized green energy initiatives, the terrorist influences behind 'Arab Spring', various congressional ethics investigations and violations, the governments' infringement of and restrictions on the press, escalating violence on the Mexican border, the debt crisis, the Fed's role and its secrecy, to name just a few."

After the election, President Obama issued orders to all Federal agency heads, directing them he was "commited to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government."

But what was the reality?

"But barely into his second term, the Obama administration finds itself making history instead for its secrecy and assaults on the press. I, and other investigative reporters who are fully experienced in the indelicate art of prying public information from the tight grip of the government's hands, have now begun comparing notes about the daunting challenges this administration poses. There's delay, denial, obstruction, intimidation, retaliation, bullying, surveillance, and the possible threat of criminal prosecution. In my view, and that of other national reporters, this is proving to be the least transparent administration we've covered."

No time to go into an in depth description of all of the problems with the current administration, the bureaucracy and the incestuous relationship between big business and government today. Just go read the book.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Sparrow Hill Road by Seanan McGuire

This is one of those books which is difficult to classify. It fits more into the horror genre than urban fantasy, but isn't quite spooky enough to raise the hackles and cause insomnia. The whole thing is an abrupt change of pace for McGuire, but still enjoyable, though perhaps not as a steady diet - for me, anyway.

This is the story of Rose, the ghostly prom date who appears alongside the roads and byways of rural America, hoping for a ride home. She was killed on Sparrow Hill Road in a car crash on prom night, and has been doomed to an afterlife of rides with strangers.

One of the premises is that if a living human being offers her their coat to keep warm, she becomes solid to the touch and lives until the stroke of midnight causes her to become insubstantial once more. While she's "real", she can eat meals at truck stops and diners, enjoy warmth rather than the coldness of death, and even have sex.

One of her "jobs" is to help those whom the road also claims as victims to come to terms with their new existence, either to join the wandering ghosts of the road or to pass on to whatever heaven or hell awaits them.

The story is told in a series of vignettes and flashbacks, yet moves steadily forward to the resolution of a conflict with the man responsible for her death.

As I said, not my usual fare, but a pretty and dark yarn by McGuire.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Infinity Bell by Devon Monk

Meh.

Matilda and her co-conspirators are being hunted by nearly all the houses, from one end of the continent to the other. Her brother has concluded that the world as they know it is about to come to an end, and they must find their grandmother's diary which will give them the clues they need to travel back in time to the Wings of Mercury event, and re-ring the bell which created the Immortals. I got about  third of the way into this book and realized that, as I suspected by the end of House Immortal, I simply didn't care what happened any more.

Monk has written plenty of better stuff.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Summer Doldrums

I apologize for the lack of posting here. The summer's events and travels have really slowed down my reading. I have three (oops, four) books I'm working on semi-simultaneously, one of which I started over two weeks ago, but can't quite seem to finish any of them.

May have to come up with something new to talk about.

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Tor Boycott

You can read all about the Tor Boycott here.

All I have to say at this point is, "I'm in."

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Grendel Affair by Lisa Shearin

So, Amazon kept displaying this book for me, based on other books I'd ordered, and being the cautiously frugal sort, I decided to check it out from the local library rather than spend my own dime. This was a pretty good yarn, with a few new twists on the monster hunter theme. Makenna Fraser is a former reporter for an Inquirer-like tabloid who has been recruited by SPI (Supernatural Protection and Investigation) as a seer - she can see beyond the illusions that supernatural creatures wear to pass in the human world.

When a man turns up dismembered in the office of a friend for whom she is doing the favor of capturing a preternatural pest, it is the beginning of a rather more dangerous adventure than any bit of investigative journalism. It turns out to be part of the opening salvo in a war between the supernaturals, including the head of SPI, who believe that they need to remain hidden from humanity, and those who believe they should take their rightful place at the top of the food chain, restoring their glory days when humans hid from the dark.

One of the interesting and unique things Shearin introduces in this novel is the appearance of a breeding pair of grendels, the beasts from the Beowulf saga, who are going to turn a New York Rockin' New Years Eve into a highly visible bloodbath if Agent Fraser and her partner, Ian, and the rest of SPI's heroes don't stop them. The only little quibble I have here is that Grendel was the name of the monster in the saga, and using the term as a generic description of the type is similar to using Pegasus to identify every winged horse in a D&D game.

Light, quick, entertaining read, with a good sense of humor. Might even have to pick up the sequel if the library ever buys a copy.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Angles of Attack by Marko Kloos

I felt almost like there was a missing short story in between the second and third novels in the Frontline series. At the beginning of my last review I mentioned how the Russians, Chinese and Ameriicans were still feuding despite the Lankies attacking all of Earth's colonies.This books jumps right into middle of a joint operation between the Eurasian forces allied with the Americans, fighting their common alien foe. Maybe I've forgotten something.

Anyway, the Earth forces out on ice planet Svalbard are soon approaching a time when they and the civilians on the planet will eat their way through all the supplies, and there has been no resupply or communication from Earth for a long time. So, a daring plan is hatched to run the Lankie blockade of the Solar System to make contact with the Earth forces and to see what can be done about relief. Our old comrades, Sergeants Grayson and Fallons, are along for the duration, and we get to live in interesting times along with them.

When they arrive, the situation is very strange. Mars has been overrun, and the forces orbiting Earth do not seem to trust the returnees, quarantining the and locking down their communications. Things come to a head when they take Andrew in for interrogation, leaving him in need of rescue by some of his bad companions - another day, another mutiny.

With the help of one of Andrew's new Russian friends, Dmitri, they escape the clutches of the powers on Earth (who turn out to be cowards fleeing the solar system) and re-run the blockade in reverse to report on the situation to the remainder of the fleet on Svalbard. After a deal of discussion, it's once more unto the breach for a second voyage back to the home system, where they make contact with the flight school on the Moon, where - Yay! - Andrew's fiancee, Hailey, is a flight instructor.

They "borrow" a bunch of fighter spacecraft and their student pilots and make tracks to attack a Lankie mothership which has made it all the way into Earth orbit. Great mayhem ensues.

I'm not so certain now that this is going to end as a trilogy. It appears Kloos has left room for a sequel or two. I look forward to finding out.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Pocket Apocalypse by Seanan McGuire

It seems like a mistake to call this book Urban Fantasy, since it takes place for the most part in the Outback - not the popular restaurant, either. When the Thirty Six Society, a group of cryptozoologists down under, encounter their first werewolf infestation their leader Riley reaches out to his daughter, Shelby Tanner, and she drags Alex out of his comfort zone at the zoo to help contain the outbreak, all the way across the ocean.

Incidentally, this gives him an opportunity to get to know the family that he's probably going to be a part of someday, when he and Shelby finally tie the knot. Unfortunately, they're not particularly happy to see him, for various reasons, and his time there is fraught with the difficulties of Meet the Parents, as well as using his experience with North American lycanthropes to help them kill or cure the local ones.

He actually gets along better with the local Incryptid population than the humans, which works out well when he is able to enlist their help dealing with the werewolves. Alex turns up some new and startling facts about werewolves that his family did not know, or perhaps simply chose not to relate, which complicate matters.

One little plot piece that I didn't think was all that great was when the main villain of the story tries to "talk Alex to death" much like the Bond villains. Just do what you're gonna do already, buddy. No wonder your side always loses.

A fun little story. Wonder if the POV is going to shift to another sibling now. Maybe even one of Shelby's.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

By the People by Charles Murray

 I'm a big Charles Murray fan, but this one was a little disappointing to me. The first third of the book describes some of the problems he perceives with the out of control growth of government interference in the lives of U.S. citizens, but I thought his prescription for dealing with the regulatory state and perhaps rolling back some of its excesses was a little lame. The last third of the book simply seems to be a rehash of some of the research he's described in other works, such as Coming Apart.

I was surprised to see here that "The American Bar Association's Canons of Professional Ethics explicitly forbade 'stirring up litigation, directly or through agents.'" at one point in time. I can barely remember a time without ambulance chasers and other leeches.

Evidently, at one point in time the purpose of tort law was simply to "make whole" some person who had been harmed by the negligence of another. If no negligence was involved, no compensation was owed. Such cases were few. In 1944, there was a California Supreme Court decision which set the precedent for the situation we have today involving strict liability - a defendant can be forced to pay damages even if no negligence occurred. And the floodgates were opened to all the frivolous and damaging lawsuits of the last half century.

In the matter of the Executive Branch choosing which of Congress' laws to enforce,

"Presidents have been pushing against the limits on their powers since George Washington, and that tendency has increased as the limits on government have loosened over the last seventy years...a broad range of constitutional scholars agree that President Obama's unilateral actions (on changing the provisions of the Affordable Care Act and selectively enforcing immigration laws) are not the thin edge of a wedge. He is merely pounding an existing wedge deeper into constitutional limits on presidential power."

Perhaps the most damning chapter in this book is the one titled A Systematically Corrupt Political System.

"..today's political process has produced politicians who, while keeping within the law, do things that are operationally indistinguishable from the way Third World kleptocrats operate."

Think about these identifying factors.

In a corrupt system:

  • Government Service is a Way to Get Rich
  • You Pay for Access to the Authorities
  • Officials Shake Down Businesses
  • Public Officials Shower Their Friends with Gifts
  • Bribes Produce Results Independently of Political Principle


Think about it a bit.

One of the examples that got me a little hot,

"...the Wireless Tax Fairness Act was expected to come to a vote in the fall of 2011. It was supported by the cell-phone industry, had broad bipartisan support, and was certain to pass. But for months House Speaker John Boehner did not bring the bill to the floor for a vote. FinbVerizon sent checks to members of Congress, both Democrat and Republican."

It's called "tollbooth" charges by author P.eter Schweizer.

Murray's fundamental theory of political corruption.

"Corruption in the political process varies directly with the number and value of things that politicians have to sell."

and his fundamental theory of democratic politics,

"People who receive government benefits tend to vote for people who support those benefits."

This applies equally to middle class Social Security recipients, welfare mothers, farmers with sugar subsidies, and multi-billion dollar defense contractors.

There's a pretty good chapter towards the end of the book about the government shakedown of big businesses in the practice of levying large fines in negotiated "sealed", or secret settlements.

"If the government has been behaving with integrity in this process, and exposure of the sealed settlements would reveal that the companies have behaved badly enough to warrant their multibillion-dollar settlements, then corporations have no choice but to start behaving better. (this is the Progressive position on corporations js) But if it is the government that has been behaving badly, selectively choosing what regulations to enforce against whom so as to yield a large cash windfall (my naturally suspicious libertarian bent makes me believe this more likely js), corporate America will have to start asking itself whether it can coexist peacefully with the regulatory state."

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Calvanni by Chris McMahon

Sorry folks, just couldn't get into this one, and put it down after a while. Another one where I just didn't give a hoot about any of the characters after having met them.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Storm Front by Jim Butcher

Every so often I get all weepy and sentimental about my old favorite authors and stories, and have to drag their dusty spines off the shelves to re-read. That, after all, is why I acquired such a huge collection; you never know what the mood will strike you to read at 3 AM on a sleepless night.

So, I cracked the figurative cover on the first book in the Harry Dresden series the other night, and got to spend a bit of time with a very old friend.

One of the first things I noticed was how many things the writers, producers and casting agents of the short-lived TV series The Dresden Files got wrong. This may be why it wasn't supported by fans and renewed for a second season on the Sci Fi Channel, though I thought it was delightful in its own right, and would have been a touch anticlimactic if it had simply followed the story line of the novels slavishly.

Harry's detective friend, Karen Murphy, is described in the book as a blonde, not the brunette played by Valerie Cruz. Harry drives a blue, battered Volkswagen, not a Land Rover. Morgan is not an enigmatic and intelligent black man, he's a dull Scottish thug in the books.

Storm Front introduces us to most of the important characters in Butcher's Chicago, including Gentleman Johnny Marcone, the ruthless yet charming ruler of the mundane underworld, Detective Carmichael, Murphy's skeptical sidekick, ace investigative reporter Susan, the pizza-loving faery, Toot, neutral (like the Swiss) bar proprietor MacAnally, and the beautiful yet deadly vampire, Bianca, who runs the elegant brothel, the Velvet Room.

 Note, in the TV series, Harry and Bianca were once romantically involved, in the books Harry discovers Bianca's true form early in the game, and is never fooled by her semblance of humanity after that.

One point of congruence is that in both the novels and the show Harry is on probation with the White Council, wizardry's governing body, for the murder - or self defense killing - of his uncle, Justin Mornay, a black wizard if ever there was one.

Plot summary - People are being murdered with black magic in Chicago. Murphy asks for Harry's help to investigate, but both she and Morgan, as the White Council's representative are not certain that Harry himself isn't the perpetrator. He's also been hired to find a woman's missing husband, and the two cases rapidly become intertwined and knotty.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Forge a New Blade by Peter Grant

 In Forge a New Blade, Grant continues the story of how the Laredo government in exile finds a way to drive the occupying Bactrian forces from their planet. President Pro Tem, Dave, gets introduced to our old friend Steve Maxwell, of the Lancastrian fleet, who has been recruited into the branch responsible for plausibly deniable operations, it appears. The Lancastrians want Laredo to form and possibly lead a coalition of small colonies against the forces of piracy and annexation, like the Bactrians,

One of the themes that the author explores in this book is that of  bad guys who aren't necessarily bad, from an omniscient POV. In this case, the original hawkish coalition which invaded Laredo and perpetrated war crimes and other atrocities on its populace are the true villains - unrepentant - while the new ruler of Bactria, having succeeded his father to the uneasy throne, would like to withdraw his forces from the occupation, but is hamstrung by needing to appease the nobles and military leaders who began the  invasion to increase their own power. If he comes out and opposes them directly, he risks losing the throne, and incidentally, his life.

So, there's some great plotting and scheming going on on Bactria, while the rebellion simmers on Laredo and other parts of the galaxy. You find yourself hoping that somehow, some way, President Dave and Satrap Rostom could just get together for a few drinks and figure out a way to thwart the crazed plans of the rich and powerful, but it'd be a short story in that case.

Another great bit of military SF from Peter Grant. Can't wait for the sequel, or a new Maxwell Saga book.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Definitely Dead by Charlaine Harris

On another recent road trip, my wife picked out this book by Charlaine Harris which we had both read before - a number of years ago when it first came out, so it wouldn't be completely familiar, but at least would provide some entertainment by an author we enjoy.

One of the things we noticed was that it seemed to take a long long time to get from one chapter to then next. I think we had nearly four hours of listening, and were only up to about Chapter 7 of the novel. Being read to really slows things down. Another thing we noticed was the preponderance of "bodice-ripping" romance that I'd never paid much attention to while reading Harris' Sookie stories before. Do we ordinarily just zoom through that while we're reading, getting to the action/adventure of the story?

We ran out of time on our trip just about the point where the action seemed to shift into gear, as Sookie travels to New Orleans with Mr. Cataliades (the demon lawyer) and Bill (her former lover) to go through the house which used to belong to her cousin Hadley (a murdered vampire), and from which  task forces unknown seem to be trying to stop her. As usual, multiple plot lines keep things interesting.

May have to re-read this series from the beginning some day.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Procedure Change

I've noticed, while looking at older posts, that the Amazon links which I used to display the cover art of books I reviewed, seem to be either expiring - displaying nothing, or being redirected - displaying something entirely different from what they did when I published the reviews.

For the moment, I think I'm going to simply quit including the cover art/links. I never get any commission from Amazon associates' program for people buying books there after following my links, anyway, so that's one less task to get done when I'm writing a review. If there's any popular demand for cover art, I can scan the front of the book on my flatbed scanner and post them.

Friday, May 29, 2015

House Immortal by Devon Monk

 I'm not sure what to think of this start to a new series. On the one hand, Devon Monk always writes some pretty good fiction. On the other, I didn't really get hooked on any of the characters enough to make me care what happens to them, though some of the ideas Monk explores in this book were just good enough that I finished it, and may pick up the sequel at the library.

On a steampunk-ish future Earth control of all resources has been distributed between twelve Houses (Why does it have to be twelve? Is that a genre specified number?)  Those who do not belong to one of the major 11 houses, who are trying to remain independent are part of House Brown, and are constantly under threat of being wiped out by the other houses.

A couple of centuries before this series begins, there was a group of people who were subjected to some supernatural event called The Wings of Mercury, which killed nearly the entire population, except for twelve "immortals", who seem to be indestructible. After a war in the recent past, when House Brown came into being, the immortals all took service with the houses, bound into essential slavery in exchange for the rest of the houses allowing the rebels of House Brown to survive.

The protagonist in this little tale, Matilda, may turn out to be the thirteenth immortal. She was created, it seems, by her brother, who is a genius in the art of stitching living beings together (there seems to be some overlap with ideas from Monk's other steampunk series). Her father and mother were both killed by House White for illegal medical experimentation, but so far the houses have found her brother useful. At present, however, he is being held captive by Orange in a plot to give the head of Orange immortality. When one of the immortals from House Silver shows up on the scene, badly wounded, it triggers a series of events that will draw Matilda into deeper conflict and entangle her in the inter-House plotting and jostling for power.

One good little exchange of dialog,
"OCD?I"
"Feng Shui."
"Is it contagious?"
"Hardly anyone gets it."

The jury is still out. I'll put the second book on hold at the library and see if it goes anywhere fun.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Monster Hunter International

If you have never read the Monster Hunter novels, today is a fantastic opportunity to get started. The Kindle edition is free on Amazon!

Cross Fire by James Patterson

 This was a really quick read. In fact, I started it as I got on the plane in Washington, D.C., and finished it about an hour and a half out of Boise. I'm fairly certain I've read a few of the Alex Cross series in the past, given to my by my late bibliophile friend, Tim G., in one of his library clearing binges. But I certainly haven't kept up to date with the series, and the many loves of Alex Cross, so it was a bit like jumping into the middle in some ways, when Alex proposes to Bree, whom he's been seeing for a few novels, I guess, and his old archenemy Kyle Craig returns...I have no recollection of this villain. Oh well, it still reads quite well, and nothing is lost by not knowing the backstory as long as you understand that Alex is a mega-smart detective, and there are bad guys about.

The plot centers around Kyle's plans for vengeance on Alex for putting him in prison some unknown number of plots ago, and how he assumes the identity of an undercover FBI agent who is returning from the field after years away in order to get close to Alex on a convenient cross-jurisdictional investigation, as Alex is now working for the DC Metro PD. Hey, maybe Murphy's Law knows him!

A pair of snipers who are at least marginally more competent than the last batch to ravage Washington have decided to begin eliminating the "foxes in the henhouse" in the U.S, such as congresscritters who are in bed with the banking industry, corrupt businessmen, and activist federal judges. The bad guys masquerade as homeless men in order to wander around the city without being noticed, and get away with several major assassinations, ratcheting up the pressure on Alex and his team, which includes his masquerading nemesis, Kyle.

There's also a side plot where homeless men are being murdered and mutilated by a paranoid schizophrenic mathematics professor, which provides a bit of entertainment along the way.

After building the tension for hundreds of pages, it all comes to an abrupt climax far to easily resolved.

A good airplane book.