Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Shifting Shadows by Patricia Briggs

 For a number of years now, we've all gotten to see things from Mercy Thompson's point of view, or even Charles and Anna's, in Briggs' world, but this collection of shorts gives us the opportunity to get to know some of her "minor" characters a bit better, too.

Briggs tells us the story of how Samuel and Ariana met and fell in love, which includes a good bit of backstory on the origins of the Marrock, as well. We get the tale of how a Chinese vampire rescues a fairy princess from a group of jealous rival lesser fae, and how a Chicago vampire learns to live with the ghost of the husband she slew when she first awoke, hungry and mindless.

We experience the meeting of Tom the werewolf and Moira the witch (does it seem like there's a lot of cross species mating going on these days?) and tag along as they rescue Tom's brother from Moira's father's coven. There is, of course, the obligatory Charles and Anna short, and a ghost-hunting tale about Mercy that takes place after Night Broken., plus out takes from that  story and Silver Borne.

There are others, too, all delightful, and easy to finish in delicious bites that won't keep you up all night trying to finish another Briggs novel.


Monday, April 27, 2015

Planet Run by Keith Laumer

 I have been reading Keith Laumer for just about as long as I can remember reading science fiction. This book has always been one of my favorites, so when I was packing up boxes of books to send to my library-owning partner, Larry, I held it back to savor one more time.

The setting: The planet Corazon, discovered decades ago, has been under quarantine until the present day, when the Planetary Survey has released it for a "Run". Every hornswoggling, backstabbing, swashbuckling son-of-a-gun in the Galaxy will be there to try to claim the best land for himself, or for the interests which he represents. Captain Henry, formerly of the Survey, was along on the voyage which discovered Corazon. He is now retired, living a life of ease on Aldorado, enjoying watching his great-granddaughter, Dulcie, grow into a young woman. It has long been rumored that he found a treasure trove of precious jewels on Corazon, bolstered by the fact that he occasionally sells a perfect specimen to finance his quiet life, and Dulcie has been seen wearing a necklace of precious stones on special occasions, not the sort of thing a retired spaceman could afford on his own.

Senator Bartholomew of Aldorado thinks he has the means to blackmail the captain into undertaking one last planet run, with the fact that Henry returned to the planet several times, illegally, the last time returning just barely too late to save his wife from a terminal illness the treatment for which the gemstones in his possession could have paid. But Henry turns the tables and puts his own twist on their agreement. Bartholomew's nephew, Larry, who has a bright future in Aldoradan politics, is a bit of a fop, but Dulcie is quite taken with him. Captain Henry decides he's either going to make a man out of the boy, or break him in the process, and tells Bartholomew that he'll undertake the run, if Larry goes along with him to help, and if the proceeds are split between Larry and Dulcie 50/50.

So Henry and Larry go off on one of the greatest adventures of all time, rootin' tootin' and shootin' their way through the claim-jumpin' lily-livered villains and varlets. It has a great surprise ending, too.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Dead Heat by Patricia Briggs

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Fifth Sorceress by Robert Newcomb

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

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

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

Ah well.

Friday, April 10, 2015

The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss

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

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Resilience by Andrew Zolli

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

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

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

Monday, April 6, 2015

Coming Home by Jack McDevitt

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 3, 2015

Daughter of the Sword by Steve Bein

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

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

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

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Stand Against the Storm by Peter Grant

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

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

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

A great story, wish I could do it justice.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

More Audio book

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

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