Monday, November 30, 2015

A Call to Arms by David Weber and Timothy Zahn

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Aeronaut's Windlass by Jim Butcher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Diamond Caper by Peter Mayle

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 23, 2015

Wicked Lewiston by Stephen D. Branting

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

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

Monday, November 16, 2015

Nocturnal Origins by Amanda Green

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 13, 2015

Make Me by Lee Child

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

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

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

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

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.