Friday, December 26, 2014

Jack of Shadows, Roger Zelazney


Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazney was a watershed book for me as a reader. In what can only be described as a genius move, Zelazney introduces the concept of the Trickster as the hero-antihero. Originally conceived as a serial for F&SF in 1971, it was published in book form that same year by Walker and Company.

But First, THE BLURB:

Shadowjack walks in silence and in shadows to seek vengeance upon his enemies. Who are his foes? All who would despise him or love the Lord of Bats: Smage of the Jackass Ears, the Colonel Who Never Died, the Borshin, and Quazer, winner of the Hellgames and abductor of the voluptuous Evene. One by one, Shadowjack would seek them out and have his revenge, building his power as he goes. And once his vengeance is obtained, he would come to terms with all others who are against him, he would unite the World of High Dudgeon, destroy the Land of Filth, and bring peace to the Shadowguard. But to accomplish all, Jack of Shadows must find Kolwynia, the Key That Was Lost..


MY REVIEW:

Lester del Rey was unimpressed with this tale, but I read this book to shreds. What I loved about this book was the typical Zelazney mystique--many questions abound regarding Shadowjack, and answers come at slow pace, just information enough to keep you interested, and be warned: not all your questions will be answered. Even the ending is a question!

Jack is an awesome character. He is good and he is bad. He has deep compassion and can be moved to do great deed that benefit all of humanity at the cost of his own life, but he will be the smallest, meanest man over a tiny little slight to his ego. He abuses his powers, and also uses them for good.

In this book, Zelazney fully realized the concept of 'shadow.' It is neither light nor dark, and it is not here or there. It all of those and none of them. Thus the unanswered questions. What Zelazney did in this less well-known of his books is create a story in which the reader decides what is true.

If you can find a copy of this book, pick it up. It is a quintessential Zelazney fantasy, combining testosterone, science, and high drama with magic and mystery. The characters are great, the world he sets them is is fantastic, and the story itself is intriguing.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Hunted Heart, Alison DeLuca


I enjoy all things literary, and this gender-bent riff on the Snow-White tale is both literary and full of the fantastic. It is told in a style that harkens back to days gone by, to a time when prose was crafted for beauty as well as for the action it portrayed.

But First--THE BLURB:
When Tali is hired to cut out the heart of Prince Kas, the huntress can’t refuse. Tali realizes there is no escape from the dark magic of the queen’s mirror, even though her own feelings for the prince are far too complex to understand.

As they try to run from their shared destiny, Tali and Kas have to rely on their wits and each other as hunter becomes prey and hearts are won and lost.

A genderbent Snow White for adults (18+ only.) All royalties go to SavetheChildren.org.

*Warning: Chapter 21 contains details about an attempted sexual assault. Also, several chapters detail an assault in the main character's background. Although there are no explicit details, readers sensitive to being triggered by references to sexual assault should exercise caution.
 

MY REVIEW:
Tali is an awesome character, strong and loyal, despite the terrible things that happened in her childhood. She is complex, and driven by her loyalty to her guardian. Prince Kas is no two-dimensional Disney prince either--he is multilayered and quite driven by human emotions. The setting and culture DeLuca places them in is baroque and mysterious. Their story is both harsh and intriguing, and is not sugar-coated in anyway.

The style of writing in this tale is a bit more descriptive and ornate than I usually gravitate to, but I was intrigued by Tali and her situation enough that I soon got into the tale--she is forced down a path she doesn't want to take, and manipulated by one of the best portrayed evil protagonists I have read in a long time. Queen Leila is more nasty, more selfish, and more hateful than Voldemort in a dress.

I highly recommend Hunted Heart to those who love romance and new takes of traditional tales. Alison DeLuca is a masterful storyteller.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Elantris, Brandon Sanderson



I had a hard time getting into this book, but once I did--wow! Elantris by Brandon Sanderson is a deep commentary on fear, lust for power, and humanity.

But first, The BLURB:

Elantris was the capital of Arelon: gigantic, beautiful, literally radiant, filled with benevolent beings who used their powerful magical abilities for the benefit of all. Yet each of these demigods was once an ordinary person until touched by the mysterious transforming power of the Shaod. Ten years ago, without warning, the magic failed. Elantrians became wizened, leper-like, powerless creatures, and Elantris itself dark, filthy, and crumbling.

Arelon's new capital, Kae, crouches in the shadow of Elantris. Princess Sarene of Teod arrives for a marriage of state with Crown Prince Raoden, hoping -- based on their correspondence -- to also find love. She finds instead that Raoden has died and she is considered his widow. Both Teod and Arelon are under threat as the last remaining holdouts against the imperial ambitions of the ruthless religious fanatics of Fjordell. So Sarene decides to use her new status to counter the machinations of Hrathen, a Fjordell high priest who has come to Kae to convert Arelon and claim it for his emperor and his god.

But neither Sarene nor Hrathen suspect the truth about Prince Raoden. Stricken by the same curse that ruined Elantris, Raoden was secretly exiled by his father to the dark city. His struggle to help the wretches trapped there begins a series of events that will bring hope to Arelon, and perhaps reveal the secret of Elantris itself.

My REVIEW:
The setting of this book is the ruined city that once was the shining example of all things wonderful in the world, and which is now a tomb for the living dead. There are three main characters, which was a little offsetting at first, but as I got into the tale, I saw the reason for it, and the story couldn't be told any other way.

Prince Raoden wakes up to find himself afflicted with the curse of 'the shaod,' the physical manifestation of the once beautiful, but now terrible, change. Despite being heir to the throne, he is declared dead and secretly thrust into the city with little food. He finds many reasons to fight against his lot, and struggles to raise the inhabitants of Elantris from the anarchy they have fallen into in their hunger and despair. Raoden is driven to find an answer, to discover the answer to why the Aons no longer work, and to restore their power, thereby returning Elantiris to health.

Sarene is a princess who is married by proxy to the now officially dead Prince Raoden.  She arrives in Arelon, a widow before she has even met her husband, and, despite some roadblocks, immediately takes charge, as she is the only one really suited for the task. She sees the reality that the Arelon nobility ignores, and begins her efforts to both improve the lives of her new people, and head off the impending doom represented by a foreign religion that is poised to take over Arelon. When she realizes what Elantris conceals, and that her husband is there, she takes decisive action, sending food and other encouragement.

Hrathon is the high priest in charge of converting Arelon to his religion and placing a puppet on the throne. His own sense of honor and nobility get in the way of his duty, which sets things up for a spectacular finish. He is complicated, both likable and unlikable.

This is a complicated read, but well worth the effort. The characters are deeply compelling, and Sanderson draws you into his world of magic and logic with precision and a flair for intense drama. I highly recommend Elantris as a one-of-a-kind fantasy set in a distinct and unique world.




Friday, December 5, 2014

The Girl With All the Gifts, M.R. Carey

This book, The Girl With All the Gifts, by M.R. Carey, was a real departure for me. I've never really jumped on the Zombie bandwagon but this book is not as much about the undead as it is about man's inhumanity and what it really means to be alive

But First, THE BLURB:

Melanie is a very special girl. Dr Caldwell calls her "our little genius."

Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don't like her. She jokes that she won't bite, but they don't laugh.


MY REVIEW:

The character of Melanie is an amazing, complex little girl. She is innocent and honest, and that never changes no matter what happens. She has one bright center to her universe, and that is her favorite teacher, Miss Justineau, the only person who has ever treated her with a shred of decency. 

In many ways, the characters of Sergeant Eddie Parks and Private Gallagher are over the top, but that doesn't matter. The core of this tale revolves around the evil perpetuated by Dr. Caldwell and her obsession, the very real and reasonable fear the teachers and jailers have of Melanie and the other children in the facility, and the inescapable realization some wars can't be won.

The way Carey concludes this tale is, when you think about it, the only way it could have ended. 

If I have any complaints at all, it is that the Kindle version is quite expensive, $9.99 and so for readers who are on a budget, this book may be off the menu until it comes out at the second-hand bookstore.

Friday, November 28, 2014

The Castle of Otranto, Northanger Abbey, and The Mysteries of Udolpho



It's the end of November, and this seems like the perfect time to go back to the roots of fantasy, to the books that inspired the early twentieth century masters of paranormal fantasy and horror. Authors from Edgar Allen Poe, to H.P. Lovecraft, to Victoria Holt were influenced and inspired by these root classics.

The late nineteenth century was a great era in which the seeds of the genre of fantasy were planted, a time when books chronicling magic, mayhem, and dark mysteries found fertile soil in the imaginations of thousands of educated, book-hungry middle-class men and women. This was the emergence of the Gothic Novel.

Gothic novels have common themes consisting of incidents of physical and psychological terror, remote, crumbling castles, seemingly supernatural events, a brooding, scheming villain, and (most importantly) a persecuted heroine.



The Castle of Otranto is a novel written in 1764 by Horace Walpole. Many consider it to be the first gothic novel, the beginnings of the literary genre that would spawn the likes of Bram Stoker, Edgar Allan Poe, and Daphne du Maurier. Walpole chronicles the story of Manfred, lord of the castle, and his family. The book begins on the wedding-day of his sickly son Conrad and princess Isabella. Just before the wedding, however, Conrad is crushed to death by a gigantic helmet (!) that falls on him from above. This strange, unexplained event is particularly ominous in light of an ancient prophecy “that the castle and lordship of Otranto should pass from the present family, whenever the real owner should be grown too large to inhabit it.” This sets into motion terrible events.

It also suggests that decking your halls with heavy armor may not be a good idea, for all you medieval Martha Stewart(s) out there.

So anyway–Manfred decides the only way for him to avoid destruction is to marry Isabella himself, but first he must divorce his current wife. Isabella runs away, aided by a peasant named Theodore. ” It’s all very melodramatic and exciting, with Isabella hiding in caves, and the fortuitous appearance of mysterious knights, and dark curses. Theodore is revealed to be the true prince of Otranto and Manfred’s daughter, Matilda, dies, leaving Manfred to repent. Theodore becomes king and eventually marries Isabella “because she is the only one who can understand his true sorrow.”

Even Jane Austen loved Gothic novels.





Northanger Abbey was the first of Jane Austen’s novels to be completed for publication, written circa 1798–99. It was originally written as a send-up of the gothic novel, the Mysteries of Udolpho. She died in 1817 and her book was posthumously published.

The book details the adventures of seventeen-year-old Catherine Morland. She is one of ten children of a country clergyman. Although a tomboy in her childhood, by the age of 17 she has read so many Gothic novels that she considers herself to be in training to be a heroine. Catherine reads voraciously, and Ann Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolpho is a favorite.

She meets and falls in love with Henry Tilney and after a bit of drama, is invited to visit at his family’s home. Catherine, because of her love affair with Gothic novels, expects the abbey to be exotic and frightening. Sadly, it turns out that Northanger Abbey is a pleasant home and decidedly not Gothic. However, (cue the dramatic music) the house includes a mysterious suite of rooms that no one ever enters. Catherine learns that they were Mrs Tilney’s, who died nine years earlier. Catherine decides that, since General Tilney does not now seem to be affected by the loss of his wife, he may have murdered her or even imprisoned her in her chamber.

I LOVED this novel when I read it while in college in Bellingham, Washington in the 1970s. I wore out three hard-bound copies of it!

So what inspired Jane Austen to write a Gothic novel? It was her own love of a work written an Englishwoman who, in turn, was inspired by the Gothic work of Horace Walpole. The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe, was published in four volumes on May 8, 1794. Walpole began the genre, but Radcliffe made it popular.


Set in the year 1584 in southern France and northern Italy, the novel details the plight of Emily St. Aubert, a young French woman. Her mother is dead, and while journeying with her father, she meets Valancourt, a handsome man who also feels an almost mystical kinship with the natural world. Emily and Valancourt quickly fall in love. After the death of her father she is sent to live with her aunt, Madame Cheron. Emily suffers imprisonment in the castle Udolpho at the hands of Signor Montoni, an Italian brigand who has married her aunt. Emily’s romance with the dashing Valancourt is frustrated by Montoni and others. Emily also investigates the mysterious relationship between her father and the Marchioness de Villeroi, and its connection to the castle at Udolpho.

Radcliffe’s fiction is characterized by apparently supernatural events that are then provided with rational explanations. She was a forward-thinking woman, as was Jane Austen, in that in all Radcliffe’s works traditional moral values are reinforced, the rights of women are strongly advocated, and reason always prevails. Sir Walter Scott was quoted as saying, in regard to Ann Radcliffe’s work, “Her prose was poetry and her poetry was prose. She was, indeed, a prose poet, in both the best and the worst senses of the phrase. The romantic landscape, the background, is the best thing in all her books; the characters are two-dimensional, the plots far-fetched and improbable, with elaboration of means and futility of result.”

The roots of our modern fascination with all things dark and mysterious goes back to the first stories told by our tribal ancestors, under the stars around campfires. Every tribe (and in later millennia, every family) had a storyteller who wove tales of darkness, of good triumphing over evil, of sin and redemption. When written languages were invented, the upper classes in early societies had literature written for them by the likes of Homer and Li Fang .

In western societies, the renaissance began the great lust for books. With the advent of the printing press and the emergence of an affluent, educated middle-class, reading novels became a popular way to while away one’s well-earned leisure hours in the evening or on a Sunday afternoon. This habit survived, despite frequent, intense puritanical censure of such frivolity.

It is because of those nineteenth century pioneers of early popular literature that we modern readers have such a wide variety of work to entertain us. Kindles and other ebook-readers show up among the patrons of every coffee shop and in every airport-lounge and every doctor’s waiting room.

Much may have changed how we take delivery of that content–few books arrive at my house with thick paper and leather bindings nowadays, but nothing has changed in the desire to just quietly enjoy a good story when one has a little downtime.

(Re-blogged from Life in the Realm of Fantasy, Connie J. Jasperson, author)




Friday, November 21, 2014

God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlepig: A Bobby Dollar Novella (The Bobby Dollar Books Book 4) by Tad Williams


I love it when a mainstream author goes rogue and goes indie, even if it's for just a few minutes. Tad Williams has done just that with his new e-book, God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlepig: A Bobby Dollar Novella (The Bobby Dollar Books Book 4). YAY! My boy Bobby is home for Christmas even if it is only for 49 pages!

But first, THE BLURB:
"Oh, ho, ho!" the demon Chickenleg said, sounding like your drunk uncle trying to get you to laugh at a dirty joke. "Oh, ho! You'll love this one, Dollar!"

Bobby Dollar, Advocate Angel and perpetual thorn in the side of Heaven, is about to save the holidays for a very special someone. Or somewolf. Or maybe even some pig… Bobby is summoned on Christmas Eve to do his part in the heavenly judgement of a man who is not prepared to go lightly. You see, the family of the gentleman in question are victims of Nazi war crimes, and the crimes are still occurring — in fact, the worst is yet to come. With special dispensation from an Angelic Judge named Ambriel, Bobby Dollar has until Christmas Morning to right some serious wrongs and bring some justice (and a little seasonal cheer) into a rotten world…


MY REVIEW:
I must say--Williams never ceases to entertain me with his descriptions of his characters, both major and minor. His demons are creepy and his angels are not much better. Bobby himself is sort of a rundown, hard-boiled detective type, with unsavory habits, but he has good intentions. (Key word: intentions.) 

My favorite line in this little tale is Bobby opening his defense of his recently deceased client by telling the heavenly judge, "Everyone makes mistakes, and some of us accidentally eat a few people." The hilarity just keeps going from there. Bobby gets the trial continued for an extra day so he can do a bit more investigating, and goes up against a Nazi war-criminal. The bad guys are bad and the snarky one-liners are awesome.

Aw heck. Just read the book. It's $2.99 for the Kindle download and it's only a novella. It's a great little indulgence for one evening of intense, Christmas fun.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Harbinger (The Greatest Sin Book 2), Lee French and Erik Kort




Harbinger is the second book in The Greatest Sin series--and it is  written in such a way that even f I hadn't read the first book, The Fallen, I'd be sucked in. Indie authors Lee French and Erik Kort have written a seamless classic in this series.

But First--the BLURB:
Adjusting to her new life as a soul-bound agent of the Fallen has Chavali pushing herself harder than ever before. Between learning to fight, dealing with idiots, and climbing stairs - lots of stairs - she has little time to waste on thoughts of the future. Or the past.

When another agent fails to report in, Chavali is sent on the mission to discover her fate. Ready or not, she saddles up for a new adventure with new dangers.

The search takes her to Ket, a coastal city slathered in mystery. There, she faces ghosts from her past and demons of her future as she seeks answers. All she seems to find are more questions.

Plague, murder, lies, espionage...this city harbors much more than meets the eye, and maybe too much to handle.

My REVIEW:
Once again, there are several times I would have liked to slap Chavali--but that's part of her charm. She is arrogant, self-centered, and completely uncaring of other people--until she is forced to see that they have feelings too. She stumbles through the afterlife like a bull in a china shop, but she somehow manages to pull it out of the fire.

Once again Chavali is teamed up with Colby and Portia, and a new character, Harris. As in the first book, the surrounding world is vivid and clear. Once character I am waiting to find out more about is Karias, Colby's horse-that-may-not-be-a-horse.

The characters are sharply drawn and their motives drive the plot. Pale, the villain, is a strong, crafty woman, and I really liked that. Robin, Pale's mentor, is still pulling the strings, but he comes into focus more in the tale, as do his plans. 


Harris, the new character, is an excellent foil for Chavali--and provides a little drama as far as Colby's continuing interest in her goes.

All in all, this book is a great way to while away the winter day. But be warned--once you get started reading it, it's hard to put down!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock

Today we are visiting the fantasy classic Mythago Wood, by Robert Holdstock. I am going to say at the outset that it took me ten years to really appreciate this book, but that is because I was unable to figure it out. Then I stopped trying to understand it, and began appreciating the utter beauty of Holdstock's work. This power of prose that Holdstock wields is the reason this book is considered to be a cornerstone of any library claiming to contain the truly great masterpieces of epic fantasy.

But First THE BLURB:

Myth and Terror in the Forest Deeps

The mystery of Ryhope Wood, Britain's last fragment of primeval forest, consumed George Huxley's entire long life. Now, after his death, his sons have taken up his work. But what they discover is numinous and perilous beyond all expectation.

For the Wood, larger inside than out, is a labyrinth full of myths come to life, "mythagos" that can change you forever. A labyrinth where love and beauty haunt your dreams. . .and may drive you insane.

MY REVIEW:
There is a a lot of both history and pre-history in this tale. The tale begins just after the end of WWII. At the outset Stephen Huxley returns from military service, after recuperating from his war wounds, to see his elder brother Christian, who now lives alone in their childhood home, Oak Lodge, just on the edge of Ryhope Wood. Their father, George, has died recently. Christian is disturbed but intrigued by his encounters with one of the mythagos, while Stephen is confused and disbelieving when Christian explains the enigma of the wood. Both had seen mythagos as children, but their father explained them away as travelling Gypsies. Christian returns to the wood for longer and longer periods, eventually disappearing into the wood.Stephen reads about his father's and Edward Wynne-Jones's studies of the wood. Part of his research on the wood causes him to contact Wynne-Jones's daughter, Anne Hayden.

The book  defines a mythago as a "myth imago, the image of the idealized form of a myth creature". Mythagos are dangerously real, but if any of them stray too far from the wood they slowly deteriorate and die. Because they are formed from human myths, they vary in appearance and character depending on the human memories from which they formed. That concept was what I struggled with as a reader, but as I grew to understand it, I was amazed at the possibilities such a notion offered. 

Holdstock's prose is lush and beautiful--even when I didn't understand the concept of the meaning behind the Mythagos I loved the words on the page. And later, when I had begun to understand what had happened to Christian I developed an appreciation for the sheer creative genius of Robert Holdstock as an author and builder of worlds. In Mythago Wood, Holdstock gives us tough questions, deep moral dilemmas, and a seriously epic fantasy world that can never be matched or imitated. 

Monday, November 3, 2014

The King of Ys, series by Poul and Karen Anderson










Today we are revisiting my bookshelf, with a look at series, The King of Ys, by Poul and Karen Anderson. I read this series many years ago, in 1989 to be exact. It was featured as a 2-book book-of-the-month selection for those of us who were members of Doubleday's Science Fiction Book Club, and it was always a happy day for me when my new book would arrive.


THE BLURB:

Ys: Magical city shrouded in legend, where Gratillonius, doomed by the gods to be the last King of Ys, refused to accept defeat, and became a legend that would ring down the corridors of time.


MY REVIEW:

This is the story of Gratillonius, a roman soldier sent by Maximus to act as a prefect for Rome to the country of Ys. Upon arrival he is challenged by The King of Ys for reasons which I was unable to decipher. Gratillonius comes out the victor, and is made king.

The book follows Gratillonius as he navigates both the political and spiritual worlds of Ys. The people of Ys have strong religious ties to their gods, and Gratillonious, a roman soldier, has stong ties to the Roman God Mithras. These beliefs sometimes clash.

He is given nine wives, the Gallicinae, and falls in love with one of them, Dahlis. His preference for Dahlis leads to trouble among the others, and this combined with his lack of understanding about the religion of Ys creates the tension in the tale.

This series has amazing world-building, and rich depictions of the political and religious climate of Breton at the height of the Roman Empire. The characters are real, and in true Poul Anderson tradition, flawed, which leads to their eventual downfall.

I don’t know if the book is still being published. This book can be picked up at a second-hand bookstore, or ordered through Amazon. I do recommend it, if you can get your hands on a copy. It was also published in 1996 by Baen in a two-book compendium, The King of Ys, vols I & II.

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Fallen, by Lee French and Erik Kort

This week we are going deep into a character study, set in an amazing post-apocalyptic world, where magic and mayhem are as natural as breathing. The Fallen, by indie authors Lee French and Erik Kort is one of the better books I've read so far this year.

But first, THE BLURB:
For hundreds of years, the Blaukenev clan has wandered across Tilzam, from one end to the other and back. Each wagon carries history, love, laughter, pain, sorrow, and secrets. Their greatest secret of all may be Chavali, the clan Seer.

Spirits claim/use/save/damn her.

With her gift/curse, nothing surprises her anymore, no one keeps secrets from her. She, on the other hand, has more than enough secrets to keep. Secrets of her own, secrets of her clan, secrets of the world, secrets she even keeps from herself.

There are always people who want secrets.
Some will do anything to get what they want.

The Fallen is the foundation of the story of The Greatest Sin, of a world adrift from its God that desperately wants Her back. Chavali's comfortable, predictable life will be ripped apart and burnt to ashes as she's forced into the middle of that struggle. Change, she hates it passionately. It hates her right back.

MY REVIEW:
Chavali is flat out an awesome character. I can't tell you how many times I wanted to smack her as I read this story. She is feisty and full of passion, stubborn and wrong-headed at times. The Blaukenev clan is unique, joyous and full of life, an enclosed nomadic society that lives in the world and yet outside it at the same time. Their passion for life leaps off the pages.

The contrast between the two societies that Chavali finds herself living in is night and day. In both societies she is forever apart from the rest, both because of her gift and because she is something entirely separate--Blaukenev, and later, Fallen, and a seer cursed with a gift she has little control over.

This is not a romance, though there are tender moments, this is not a book of battles, although there are plenty of those. This is a book about the human journey of life and death that one woman experiences, and it is gripping.

The greatest accolade I can give any story is to say I didn't want it to end. The sequel to this book is due out on October 27, and I intend to be there to get my copy.



Friday, October 17, 2014

Fire Born, by D. M. Raver





This week I am exploring Fire Born, the first book in the forthcoming Flight Moon series. Author D. M. Raver sets this tale in Misca, the alternate world in which her epic fantasy, Brother, Betrayed is also set.


THE BLURB:


Flight Moon was once the prized dragon of Gorusk. Swift and fearless, she oversaw Shirr's army with deadly beauty. But a dragon is never subservient to a human, even if he is the banished king of the Black Waste. Her plans to assassinate Shirr are thwarted. Barely able to escape, Flight Moon flees to Arnith.

Bleeding and exhausted, Flight Moon knows Shirr will eventually catch up to her. She's saved just enough strength for one last fight.

Twins are born in the kingdom of Arnith. A boy with silver hair like his elven grandmother, and a girl with a secret. A secret that if discovered, risks her life and the lives of her entire family.

Barely two weeks old, Fornala is already condemned to death. Bavun, the high mage, believes her physical deformity is a curse laid upon those who abuse magic. For this she must be sacrificed.

A dragon and an infant girl, both outmatched with impossible odds, may find strength in each other. What should kill them both, only makes them stronger.

MY REVIEW:


The book begins with a family being attacked. One of twins, the infant girl, Fornala, was born with no legs, and as such she is looked upon as being a curse. The local man in charge, a mage, declares that she is "not yet aware of what she is," and decides to remove the curse by removing her, and she is taken from her parents to be killed.


At the same time a dragon is being pursued by her former allies, and has chosen to flee to the city where Fornala's life hangs in the balance. A battle involving great quantities of magic ensues over the place where the infant girl is to be executed and a terrible accident occurs. Somehow Fornala and Flight Moon are "blended."


The story moves right along, from scene to gripping scene, and as the characters are introduced, the sense of history that is driving the plot is also revealed.

All of D. M. Raver's works involve the history of Arnith, and the significance of certain truths that form the crux of each tale. I'm glad to see her exploring dragons again in this tale, as Flight Moon is an awesome, very real character--A dragon who is a traitor, merged with an infant girl who is an outcast.


I highly recommend this work of fantasy. The characters are compelling, the plot moves in unexpected directions, and even though it is clearly the first installment in a series, the ending is satisfying.

Friday, October 10, 2014

A Dry Patch of Skin, by Stephen Swartz

I love it when an author approaches an old tale with completely new eyes. A Patch of Dry Skin is most definitely a new take on the old tale, and I must say it's about time! Indie Author Stephen Swartz has put together a well-crafted tale that is both a horror story and a morality tale.

But first, the Blurb:
The truth about being a vampire: It is not cool, not sexy. It’s a painful, miserable existence.

Good reason to avoid that situation, thinks Stefan Székely. He's too busy falling in love with TV reporter Penny Park, anyway. Until one day when she notices he has a dry patch of skin on his face.

At first it's annoying, nothing to worry about, some weird skin disease he can treat with lotions. However, as his affliction worsens, Stefan fears that his unsightly problem will ruin his relationship with Penny.


If only that was all Stefan has to worry about! He soon realizes there is a lot more at stake than his handsome face. To save himself, Stefan must go in search of a cure for the disease which is literally destroying him inch by inch. If only his parents had told him of his family's legacy.


My Review:

This is a deep book--I found myself thinking about it long after I finished reading it. Stefan Székely is an interesting character. He's a successful phlebotomist, his parents have died, he's approaching middle-age, and has finally fallen in love with a woman he could spend the rest of his life with.

Unfortunately, he has this little eczema problem, which begins slowly, and soon escalates to tragic proportions. Confused and just wanting it to go away, Stefan consults doctors, seeking treatment through progressive western medicine, to no avail.

Penny is a strong woman, but the disfiguring disease is sometimes too much for her. If Stefan is to keep Penny, their romance has many bumps to overcome, and some of those are insurmountable. Salvaging his romance with Penny becomes Stefan's obsession. 

Stefan has a high sense of morality, and when he accidentally discovers that blood relieves the symptoms, he is faced with making terrible choices, none of which are good for either his career or his relationship with beautiful Penny.  

Things really take a change for the strange when he seeks an unusual treatment in New Orleans. This tale takes the reader all over the world, and into some dark places. The characters he meets along the way are wonderfully portrayed. The sense of history in each location is there, underpinning the story, and his journey becomes a quest for salvation--one he may not achieve. The ending of this tale is both surprising, and is really the only way it could have ended when you think about it.

All in all, I give A Patch of Dry Skin 5 full stars. This is a classic horror story with a non-traditional twist.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Land of Nod, The Child by Gary Hoover


I've been a fan of Gary Hoover's  LAND OF NOD, a YA Scifi action adventure since the first book in the series, The Artifact. The series deals with Jeff Browning's search for his physicist father, and is as enjoyable from an adult perspective as any series of books I've read. The first two books in the series cover the disappearance of Jeffery Browning Sr. and his son Jeff's discovery of an artifact in his father's locked office that is really a portal to another dimension. Realizing his father has gone through the portal, Jeff follows him, armed only with his baseball bat. 


He finds himself in a world that is full of dangerous, prehistoric creatures, and is glad he has his trusty bat as he must make good use of it. Eventually he meets a family who give him hope that he will find his father. The world is strange and has many amazing technologies, and yet they are awaiting the advent of one special person, the Prophet--and they believe Jeff is that person. It's a lot for a teenager to take in, but he embarks on helping them with the war they are fighting against the Pheerions. The Child is the third and final book in the series.



But first, THE BLURB:

In this action-filled conclusion to the Land of Nod Trilogy, Jeff Browning needs every one of his newfound powers to face increasingly difficult challenges as he travels across an ocean for an inevitable showdown with a ruthless warlord.

Jeff believes the fate of the world that has adopted him depends on his success, and he is determined to find his father and go home – or die trying.

My REVIEW:
The book kicks off with Jeff being thrust into a battle. He is desperate to get a locket that may have fallen into enemy hands. He is still armed with his trusty bat, and as with the lockets, it's so much more than a simply bat in this strange world.  He is unsure if the side who he is traveling with are the good guys or the bad guys, and the officer in charge of him, Major Abel, seems like a cold, unfriendly woman. He also fears his father may be working with the Pheerions, 

Jeff is a great character. He's a bit cocky like any fifteen-year-old, and and also humble. He is loyal to his friends and thinks about the wider view of things, and his actions reflect that. The worry that his father may be on the side of the Pheerions, combined with the fact that he has a friend who is a Pheerion makes him wonder what is really right and wrong. He has an ally who is an assassin, and who may have killed two people Jeff cared about. His growing realization that things are not as cut and dried as Major Abel would wish colors his viewpoint.

More than anything, Jeff fears what he will become in his efforts to find his father and get home to his mother.

All in all this is a great finish to an excellent series. If you have a young science-fiction fan in your family this is a perfect series. Written for a wide range of readers, this series is not 'dumbed-down' in any way.  Hoover writes with respect for his readers, and this final book in the series reflects that commitment to excellence. It is a tale full of the core truths of hard-scifi: plausible science, a moral dilemma, and a cast of fabulous characters. It is well plotted and has a terrific and satisfying conclusion. I am giving this book 5 full stars.



Friday, September 26, 2014

Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, series by Tad Williams


I am on a roll--Two reviews in row for the same author! Tad Williams' masterpiece, the Dragon Bone Chair is the first book in the epic fantasy series, Memory, Sorrow and Thorn.  I first read this book when it came out in 1988 and had to re-read it again immediately upon finishing it. I read it aloud to my children, as each new book in the series came out. This is a sweeping series, and Simon's adventures are absorbing and exciting, and is a cornerstone of my library. 

But first, The BLURB:
A war fueled by the dark powers of sorcery is about to engulf the peaceful land of Osten Ard--for Prester John, the High King, slayer of the dread dragon Shurakai, lies dying. And with his death, an ancient evil will at last be unleashed, as the Storm King, undead ruler of the elvishlike Siti, seeks to regain his lost realm through a pact with one of human royal blood. Then, driven by spell-inspired jealousy and hate, prince will fight prince, while around them the very land begins to die.

Only a small scattered group, the League of the Scroll, recognizes the true danger awaiting Osten Ard. And to Simon--a castle scullion unknowingly apprenticed to a member of this League--will go the task of spearheading the quest for the solution to a riddle of long-lost swords of power...and a quest that will see him fleeing and facing enemies straight out of a legend-maker's worst nightmares!

My REVIEW:
Just like the best and most enduring of love affairs, The Dragon Bone Chair begins a bit slowly, as the author establishes the background to the tale. However, once you are into it, this book is sheer magic.  The main protagonist is Simon, a fourteen-year-old kitchen boy and servant in the great castle Hayholt.  He is not really very enthusiastic in carrying out his duties as a kitchen-drudge in the royal household during last days of the long reign of King John Presbyter. However, he is overjoyed when he finds himself apprenticed to Doctor Morgenes, the castle's healer and wizard. Simon alternates his time between his chores as a drudge and learning to read and write, taught by the good doctor.  Upon the death of the great King John, his son Elias, whom many say is a tool of the evil cleric Pryrates, becomes king.

Soon after he takes the throne, King Elias' brother Josua, whom Elias hates, vanishes and no one is sure if he went voluntarily or was murdered. Elias is blinded by his desire for power.  He creates a pact with the undead Sithi ruler, the Storm King, who plots to regain his lost realm through a pact with one of human royal blood.

Simon accidentally stumbles into the castle dungeons and discovers that Prince Josua is being held captive.  He and Morgenes conspire to rescue the prince. Simon and Morgenes are successful, and Josua escapes, but Elias' soldiers, led by Pryrates, storm Morgenes' office, and Morgenes is murdered by a dark magic. Terrified and confused, Simon is able to flee the castle through a secret passage at the back of the doctor's office. With only with his mentor's biography of the good King John for companionship, Simon is lost and despondent.

In the process of escaping the Hayholt, Simon witnesses Pryrates and Elias performing an evil ritual with some strange white demons. He rescues a member of the Sithi from a trap, and receives a white arrow as a token.  At the same time he is befriended by a troll, Binnabik, who travels with Simon to Naglimund where they hope he will find safety.  While traveling they save a servant girl and her sister from wild dogs, and meet a witch who helps them escape the soldiers who are pursuing them.

Upon arriving at Naglimund Simon discovers that the serving girl whom they saved is actually Miriamele, the only child of King Elias.  She has run away to join her uncle Josua. Simon finds himself on a quest to recover the magical blade, Thorn which once belonged to the greatest knight in their history.  In the process, he runs into the Sitha Prince that he had rescued from the trap, and Jiriki joins Simon in his quest.

Simon’s quest begins simply (in his mind) as a just a desperate need to escape the horrors he’d witnessed at the Hayholt. It becomes so much more, and over the course of the books, he grows from an indecisive boy into a man capable of strong leadership. The divergent paths he and Miriamele must take are hard and nearly break them, but through those struggles they are both made stronger.

The beasts are fantastic as are the representatives of the various races who come to Simon's aid. Their magics and their cultures are clearly drawn; and the storyline is the most compelling and addictive book I've read in a long time. The world of Osten Ard is real and the story set within it is so well drawn and plotted that I find myself thinking about it when not reading it.  Williams paints his world with such detail yet he never falls into the trap of beating the reader to death with the minutia.

There is a large cast of characters, but I found it fairly easy to keep them straight because they are drawn with attention to their individual personalities.  The characters are all the more real because they each have strengths, flaws and weaknesses.  That is why this take on the age-old tale of the kitchen-boy who is really a hero is fresh and wonderful.   Of course, there is an Appendix in the back with the names and pronunciations of all the characters and places.

The intertwined stories of Simon and Miriamele is told in a way that is compelling and very real. Love jealousy, betrayal and redemption--all the worst and best of human emotions are vividly portrayed in these pages.  The day I got my first Kindle I had to get the rest of the books in the series downloaded, as I couldn't wait to re-read the whole series. This is my go-to series when I am looking for a tale that really resonates and absorbs me. I have re-read this series every year since the day the first book was published.

Word has it Williams is once again working on a book set in this world. I guarantee I will have it on pre-order the moment it is available.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Sleeping Late on Judgement Day, by Tad Williams

Okay--I've been waiting for months, but the wait was SO worth it! Tad Williams is back with my boy Bobby Dollar, in the third installment of this crazy, dark, sometimes painfully hilarious series: Sleeping Late on Judgement Day. Who doesn't love a really bad angel?

THE BLURB:
Where does an angel go when he's been to Hell and back?

Renegade angel Bobby Dollar does not have an easy afterlife. After surviving the myriad gruesome dangers Hell oh-so-kindly offered him, Bobby has returned empty-handed – his demon girlfriend Casmira, the Countess of Cold Hands, is still in the clutches of Eligor, Grand Duke of Hell. Some hell of a rescue.

Forced to admit his failure, Bobby ends up back at his job as an angel advocate. That is, until Walter, an old angel friend whom Bobby never thought he’d see again, shows up at the local bar. The last time he saw Walter was in Hell, when Walter had tried to warn him about one of Bobby’s angel superiors. But now Walter can’t remember anything, and Bobby doesn't know whom to trust.

Turns out that there's corruption hidden within the higher ranks of Heaven and Hell, but the only proof Bobby has is a single feather. Before he knows it, he’s in the High Hall of Heavenly Judgement – no longer a bastion for the moral high ground, if it ever was, but instead just another rigged system – on trial for his immortal soul...

MY REVIEW:
Holy crap!  Bobby's in trouble, but when is he not?  This angel is always looking for grief, and he always finds it. Nothing is what he thinks it is, and even Bobby's jaded eyes are opened as the reality of his unreality unfolds. 

Bobby's inquisitive nature has rattled the cage of  someone important in the Heavenly scheme of things, and that someone wants Bobby destroyed. They have already gone to great lengths to do so, and now he's going to find out just who it is, and what it has to do with this mysterious Third Way between Heaven and Hell. All his friends and most of his enemies are back in this tale, and some of his enemies prove to be more likable than his friends. 

He knows who is behind his troubles, and he is up against overwhelming odds. As Bobby says in one of my favorite lines from this book, "You know your life is pretty screwed up when even the winos turn their backs on you."  That comment pretty much sums up the magnitude of his trouble.

There is an innocence and kind of naivety about Bobby Dollar, despite his unsavory occupation. He makes mistakes, and draws attention to himself, and yet he continues to ferret out the truth behind the traitors in Heaven's midst.  The bad guys and the dangerous beasts are really bad, and the good guys are just swimming as fast as they can in shark-infested waters.  There's always something lurking around every corner, just waiting to trip Bobby up.

 As I read this series I find myself hoping that the afterlife is somehow a better, less corrupt place than the three options offered in Bobby Dollar's Heaven and Hell. Some of the angels who hold his afterlife in their hands have no compassion or mercy left in them, and some of the demons are kinder gentler souls than their angelic counterparts. 

I love the twists and turns of William's prose, as his hard-boiled angel gets down to the dirty business of cleaning up the mean streets of Heaven. He uses ordinary words in an extraordinary way, but never commits the sin of dropping the reader out of the story.  THIS is why I read his work.

I highly recommend Sleeping Late on Judgement Day. It is a smart, well-crafted journey into the human condition, set in an environment guaranteed to keep things interesting, and peopled with unforgettable characters. I give it 5 full stars.



Friday, August 29, 2014

Better You Go Home, Scott Driscoll



Today I am dipping into the world of literary fiction, with Better You Go Home by indie author Scott Driscoll. Technically this is a medical thriller, but the atmosphere of mystery and illusion, combined with the harsh other-world quality of the old Czech Republic make this novel a fantasy of a time gone by.

The BLURB:
Seattle attorney Chico Lenoch wonders why his Czech father refuses to contact family left behind the Iron Curtain. Searching through his father’s attic after the Velvet Revolution, Chico discovers letters dated four decades earlier revealing the existence of a half-sister. He travels to the Czech Republic to find his forgotten sister and unearth the secrets his father has buried all these years. There is self-interest behind Chico’s quest. Most urgently, he is nearing kidney failure and needs a donor organ. None of his relatives are a suitable match. Could his sister be a candidate? Chico also meets Milada, a beautiful doctor who helps him navigate the obstacles to finding his sister. While Chico idealizes his father’s homeland, Milada feels trapped. Is she really attracted to him, or is he a means of escape to the United States? Chico confronts a moral dilemma as well. If he approaches his sister about his need for a kidney, does he become complicit with his father and the Big Shots of that generation who've already robbed her of so much?

My REVIEW:
I loved this book. Driscoll takes a little step back in time with this tale. He gets into the workings of  human nature, of who we are, who we think we are, and how others see us.

Chico is an intriguing character. The tale is told in the first person, which I usually find difficult to get into as a reader, but didn't in this case. Also something I usually find off putting but didn't in this case is the way Chico occasionally 'breaks the fourth wall'--he sometimes addresses the reader directly. It works, because you are in his head the whole time and it feels perfectly natural.

An attorney, Chico is a fiercely independent man. An example of that independent streak is that he is nearly blind, and yet he insists on driving despite his friends' pleas, because, like a windshield, he can somewhat clear his vision when it gets foggy.

Despite his independent streak and his analytical nature, Chico's childhood memories are illusions and he only begins to realize it when he gets to Písečná. His father is not the man he believed him to be, and nothing is what he expected. Unable to stop thinking like a lawyer Chico asks questions and uncovers a family secret with far-reaching consequences.

The situation he finds his sister Anezka, in is serious and fraught with danger, the Czech Republic is a treacherous, alien world, and like an onion, truth there is concealed beneath many layers. Suffering, hardship, and betrayal lurk around every corner, but sharply juxtaposed against the grimness of that reality is intense beauty. At the heart of this tale are the lengths even the most ruthless of people will go to for a fantasy, an ideal.  

Driscoll's narrative draws you in and holds you spellbound to the last dramatic moment. He takes you to a world that is at times incomprehensible to western eyes, and immerses you in that culture. The way the authorities work, the absolute power certain people enjoy is shown with heartbreaking clarity. Love and loss, trust and betrayal, jealousy and all stops in-between--emotions drive this plot to it's stunning conclusion.

This is not genre fiction, instead it is written for mature, dedicated readers who want substance in a book. No fluff here, just good solid craftsmanship. I give it five full stars.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Cyador's Heirs, L.E. Modesitt Jr.




I've mixed feelings about this book, Cyador's Heirs. It is a wonderful story, well-written as is all L. E. Modesitt Jr.'s work, but it is published by one of the industry giants,TOR. Quite frankly, the EBook book is outrageously over-priced, and there are numerous, severe formatting and editing errors that make going the rough at times. Proof-reading may have been skimped on in the hurry to publish, because I read many Indie novels that are far better proofed and formatted than this book, every week. Despite those flaws, I loved the story, and Modesitt's handling of the young Lord Lerial's coming of age.


FIRST, THE BLURB:

Decades after the fall of Cyador, its survivors have reestablished themselves in Cigoerne, a fertile country coveted by hostile neighbors in less hospitable lands. Young Lerial, the second son of Duke Kiedron, lives in the shadow of his older brother Lephi, the heir to their father's realm. Lerial’s future seems preordained: He will one day command his brother’s forces in defense of Cigoerne, serving at his older sibling’s pleasure, and no more.

But when Lerial is sent abroad to be fostered by Major Altyrn to learn the skills and wisdom he will need to fulfill his future duties, he begins a journey into a much larger world that brings out his true potential. Lerial has talents that few, as yet, suspect: He is one of those rare beings who can harness both Order and Chaos, the competing natural forces that shape the world and define the magic that exists within it. And as war finally engulfs the fringes of Cigoerne, Lerial’s growing mastery of Order and Chaos is tested to its limits, and his own.

MY REVIEW:

As always, L.E. Modesitt Jr. manages to tell a gripping tale that makes you have to think, have to guess at the motives and thoughts of the people around the main character. Lerial is the younger son of the Duke of Cigoerne, and is expected to lead the Mirror Lancers when his brother, Lephi, ascend's the throne.  His grandfather was the last Emperor of Cyador, and upon the fall of Cyador and the loss of their empire in Candar, the surviving Empress escaped with their son, fleeing to the continent of Hamor where she carved out a duchy for her her son, Duke Kiedron, to inherit.  These deeds and misdeeds of the ancestors loom heavily in Lerial's life.

His relationship with his brother, Lephi, is strained. Lephi openly regards him with jealous condescension. Their mother seems to care more for Lephi than Lerial, but that could be his perception. Due to the tense family currents, Lerial's younger sister, Ryalah, is his most cherished family member, followed closely by his aunt, Emerya.

Though Lerial has the talent to use both Chaos and Order magic, he tends to to Black of Order, and he must struggle to educate himself in his mastery of that craft. This really begins when he is sent away to be fostered at Major Altyrn's estate, which though it hurts his feelings as first, turns out to be the best thing. It is there, working on the family estate, that young Lerial begins to feel a part of a family, and to have a sense of who he is. His new guardian was well acquainted with his grandparents, and was the leader of the palace guard in Cyad. He made possible the Empress's dream of carving some kind of empire for her son, Duke Kiedral, to inherit, and now makes the education of Lerial his top priority.

Great things are expected of Lerial, and he feels the pressure. Being young, he sometimes tries too hard, and discovers that mistakes cost lives. Lerial's sense of Duty and his strict code of ethics keep him going when he at his lowest points. The story is well-crafted and thought provoking. Lerial is a wonderful character, and his struggle is compelling.

Again, I recommend you do not buy the EBook as it is outrageously priced  at $12.99 and too poorly formatted. I suggest you buy the paperback, or wait until it is available in the 2nd-hand bookstore, as the publisher may have taken better care with formatting and proofing the print version. 

This lack of respect for the author's work and for readers like me who prefer EBooks is disturbing, but it seems to be a volley in the war against progress within the industry. I'm just sorry the author is caught in the middle. 

Friday, August 1, 2014

Doublesight, Terry Persun





Well, after my long detour into other genres, we're back in the realm of fantasy. Indie author Terry Persun has created a fantasy that is fresh and exhilarating.  Doublesight  is both an adventure novel and a novel of one girl's coming of age.


The BLURB:

After the Doublesight Wars, dangerous and mean-spirited shape shifters were killed off, causing other doublesight to hide their gifts, congregate into their own villages or clans, and avoid most humans. Zimp and Zora are the twin granddaughters of the crow clan's sage. The reticent Zimp is relieved that she has not been chosen to take her grandmother's position, but after Zora is murdered after an attack on the clan, Zimp is forced into her obligations. Rumors, stemming from Castle Weilk, suggest that dangerous throwbacks have been born--gryphons, harpys, dragons--and, once again the humans decide to hunt them down. Fear leads to mistrust, and mistrust to murder, all seemingly. The doublesight council assembles to assess the situation and sends five doublesight to investigate the rumors, placing Zimp in charge of four men. Struggling with her own intuitive abilities, and trying to hold a stable position as leader, Zimp finds herself in the center of a changing world and must decide on her real place within it.

My REVIEW:

Persun thrusts you into the middle of action from page one. Zimp's clan is under attack, and no one knows why.

Wholly human or wholly crow depending on what form she is in, Zimp is a great character, both endearing and aggravating. At first, she is weak and allows a less qualified, but more aggressive clan member, Arren, to make decisions for her. 

Brok, a shifter who is also a Thylacine, (which I had never heard of before this) is also an interesting and vivid character. He is angry, and Zimp is wary of him. His brother is unable to shift back to human, and his tragedy is poignant for every doublesight, whatever species. 

Lankor is a doublesight dragon, and is also a great character. He is angry and confused, unable to control his temper as all the doublesight teenagers entering adulthood seem to be.

Though they are being persecuted, the doublesight have many divisions and rifts among themselves, and must somehow find a way to work together to find out why they are being hunted. This leads to the discovery of a great evil that threatens their very existence. 

This book is as much about personalities and the need to remember their own commonality as it is about the great evil that threatens their kind. Each individual is sharply drawn, and has presence, struggling for their own place in their society while their world faces calamity. Zimp and Lankor struggle to do what they know is right, in the face of treachery and occasional bad judgement.

I really enjoyed this book, despite the fact that the ending is a set-up for book two. There is some resolution, it's just not complete, and there is ample room for more story. I always have mixed feelings about that sort of ending for the first book in a series, but despite that one minor flaw, this is an awesome book, and I think it is one of the better fantasy books I've read lately. There is nothing stale, or been-done-before in this tale. I will definitely be reading The Memory Tower.

Friday, July 25, 2014

A Killing Tide, by P.J. Alderman





Today I am not reviewing a fantasy or a scifi book--instead I am reviewing a contemporary thriller, located on the Columbia River, in a town I am most familiar with--Astoria. You may remember the town from the 1985 movie "Goonies." 

A Killing Tide, was a RITA finalist and climbed the charts to stay on the New York Times and USA Today bestselling lists for eight weeks. I can tell you why – this book grips you from the first page.


The BLURB:

Where there's smoke...

Kaz Jorgensen is used to fear--the anxiety of negotiating treacherous currents as she captains her family's fishing trawlers, the terrifying nightmares of the day she almost lost her life on the river. But now a man is dead, an arsonist has set the Anna Marie ablaze, and her brother is missing.

There's fire...

Michael Chapman knows how to take the heat--as the new fire chief of Astoria, Oregon, he's dealt with more than his share. No way can he afford to get involved with the sister of a suspect. But the scorching attraction between him and Kaz burns out of control, and when someone takes a shot at her, his protective instincts kick in. Whatever happens, he can't allow another woman to die because of him.
My REVIEW:
A Killing Tide by indie author P. J. Alderman takes place in the small Oregon city of Astoria. With simple strokes, she evokes the atmosphere of the coastal town, the eternal grayness and eternal rain. Based in Astoria, Oregon, Columbia River Bar Pilots were established in 1846 to ensure the safety of ships, crews and cargoes crossing the treacherous Columbia River Bar, which is recognized as one of the most dangerous and challenging navigated stretches of water in the world. The men and women who fish those waters are also a rare breed.
(Kasmira) Kaz Jorgensen was once a well-known local fisher-woman, and has recently returned to Astoria and fishing after a long absence from fishing as financial a consultant in San Francisco. Her best friend had called her, telling her there was trouble with her brother Gary, but not what the trouble was. She has not been able to talk much to him, due to having to be out on her own boat, the Kasmira B, and things are somewhat distant between them.
She has not been welcomed back with open arms by her brother or the community at large.  Having just lost half her pots and most of her catch to a vandal at sea, she brings her boat in late. She arrives at The Redemption, a tavern frequented by the local fishers, and meets up with her best friend, Detective Lucy McGuire who is also her brother’s girlfriend. Also eating dinner in the Redemption is the new fire chief, Michael Chapman. Just hired from Boston, Chapman is a man with a history, which comes out as the story progresses.
That evening in the Redemption, Michael witnesses Kaz trying to break up a violent disagreement between Kaz’s brother Gary and his friend, Chuck. Because she is no longer considered a member of the community for reasons which gradually emerge. Everyone warns Kaz to stay out of ‘it’; indicating to her that whatever is going on between Chuck and Gary is big and it involves the whole fishing community. Michael Chapman intervenes, to Kaz’s irritated chagrin.


Following that, a friend is murdered; a family man who is also a crewman on her brother’s boat, the Anna Marie. Gary, a vet suffering from post-traumatic-stress syndrome, is immediately suspected of murdering him and committing arson to burn his boat to cover it up. Making things worse, Gary has vanished. Police Chief Jim Sykes, a man with political ambitions, is hot on Gary’s trail, sure he is the culprit.  Michael, as fire-marshal, is leaping to no conclusions, and is handling the investigation his own way.
This is an intense tale of greed and small-town lust for power and easy money.  Each and every character is fully fleshed out and you immediately like or dislike them with one exception.  Jim Sykes remains somewhat of an enigma right up to the end.
The attraction between Kaz and Michael Chapman is part of what makes this tale so engrossing.  The possibility of their romance is a thread which weaves in and out of the tapestry that is this mystery.  Right up to the end, I was unsure as to whom the culprit was and the ending is a thrilling as any you could ask for.
First published in 2006, A Killing Tide was my introduction to P.J. Alderman’s work. She has become one of my go-to mystery writers, and I have enjoyed everything she has written.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Starliner, David Drake


I've been on a sci-fi jag lately. Hopefully I will find a fantasy book that rings my bells soon--but I can't seem to find any good fantasy that I haven't read already.  Show me some fantasy with an original plot and a great cast of characters, a book that's not full of cute, romantic fluff, thank you. I want to promote indies, but come on authors--you have to work with me! Write me something original or I'll go mad. I hate to be just killing time with my reading, and I refuse to blog about books that bore me. 

So I was cruising the cheap fiction in the Kindle store--and this one was free!


Starliner, by David Drake is another hard science-fiction tale. The ebook was first published In 2013, but it was first published in june of 1992 by Baen. Somehow I never saw this book, so it's new to me.


The BLURB:


The Empress of Earth

Finest passenger liner in the galaxy —
Brightest link in the chain that binds the starflung civilization of the 23rd century—
Six thousand lives in a single hull, trembling through multiple universes to land on raw, often violent worlds, each with its own history and wonder —


The Empress of Earth

Neutral pawn in an interstellar war!

When hostile necessity knows no law, Ran Colville and the rest of the complement of the Empress of Earth must bring home their ship and the passengers entrusted to them. From the Captain on his bridge to the Cold Crewmen who work in conditions that differ from Hell only by name, they'll have their work cut out for them this voyage!


My REVIEW:


Now this was an intriguing tale, an action adventure, written in a leisurely style. Politics, racism, and the privilege of class and wealth dominate this tale of a cruise gone bad. There is the sort of attention to detail that one might find in an Agatha Christie novel, if she had decided to write political thrillers set in interstellar space. It is a period piece.

The main character, Ran Colville is a poor-boy made good, a man who saw an opportunity to change his future and who seized it, though it is a secret that could destroy his career.  He is efficient, and determined to be as cold and heartless as the world he came from, but he has this annoying ability to care what happens to the people around him, though he refuses to admit it.

The crew is an interesting mix, and consists of people who would be found working on any high-end cruise ship. They are good at what they do, and serve with varying degrees of love for their ship and the passengers they carry, ranging from mild lip service to fanatic devotion.  

The passengers are drawn like caricatures, which in a book with as many walk-on parts as this, is the only way to describe them in the paragraph they are given, but they serve to illustrate the atmosphere aboard the starliner, Empress of Earth.
There is violence, and there is a military precision to the recounting of the action scenes. Juxtaposed against the backdrop of the wealthy  and the not so wealthy, it is a compelling drama that unfolds slowly, but eventually takes off with a vengeance.

If you want your books filled with action happening at all times, with no 'info dumps' this book is not for you. David Drake breaks all the rules of modern genre writing: There are many long passages of background information that is slipped into the middle of conversations--again, rather like an old-fashioned novel. It could be jarring to some readers, and while I normally don't approve of large injections of heavy background,  I felt it added to the atmosphere in this tale.

Starliner is most definitely not a one night read, as it takes a while to work your way through it. I did enjoy it, and all in all, I give this book 4 stars.