Monday, August 31, 2009

Tsubasa, Reservoir Chronicle, Vol 21 by Clamp

With Fai's return to his homeworld of Seresu, his hidden past is revealed. How he was set as a trap by Clow Reed, and rescued by King Ashura-O, who put his twin brother Fai into stasis, so he would not decay.

Fai cut his hair, which was originally very long, so that a part of him would always rest with his brother, and Ashura-O added a stone of Protection, Fluorite. Yui/Fai took his brother's name, and Ashura-O added Fluorite as his last name.

As he grew, Fai grew to be Seresu's magical protector. Aware that Fai was cursed to kill any magician stronger than he was, Ashura-O Extorted another promise from Fai, that he would kill anyone he found killing the people of Seresu. In exchange, King Ashura-O gifted him with his markings, that would prevent his power from growing too quickly.

But when a beast starts killing the people of Seresu, Fai is ready to go and see if it really is a beast. Ashura-O reveals his greatest secret. *He* is the beast, and he wants Fai to kill him. But Fai cannot, which is why he put Ashura-O to sleep and left Seresu, hopefully forever. Now that he has returned, but when he still cannot kill Ashura-O, the man who for many years served as a father to Fai, he instead demands that Fai kill Kurogane, who has been nothing but kind to Fai.

Can Fai do it? And how will he react to the real Fai finally dying? Can he find it within himself to Kill Ahura-O to save Kurogame? Or will Clow Reed finally get the upper hand?

So we finally get to see what Fai has been hiding all this time, and it's a doozy. Two curses, and a fairly thorough mind-reaming by both Clow/FeiWang Reed and Ashura-O, who raised Fai so that Fai would kill him. It's no wonder that Fai was so emotionally damaged and hides his feelings behind a false smile.

But King Ashura did a little too well as Raising Fai to be loving and well adjusted, and when the time came, Fai couldn't bring himself to kill the man who raised him. But if Fai doesn't kill Ashura-O, how can the curse on him be broken?

One mystery is ended, but another begins, drawing us deeper and deeper into the web. What is really going on? I'm not sure, but I want to find out. Recommended.

The Awakening by Kelley Armstrong

Chloe Saunders has spent her life seeing Dead People. Yeah, just like in "The Sixth Sense". And she isn't happy about it. She wants to have a normal life, not be sent to the Psych Ward and heavily medicated for the rest of her natural life.

But an encounter with a particularly violent haunting ended up with her being sent to Lyle House, a home for "Disturbed Teens". The trouble is, she suspected the people who ran Lyle House knew about her abilities and wanted something out of her. The only hope she had lay in the other students at Lyle House, many of whom had their own powers. But could she trust them with the knowledge of her abilities?

Now, some of her friends have escaped Lyle House, but she is under even heavier guard than before. The people who run the house find Chloe's abilities as a Necromancer very useful, especially Dr. Davidoff, the director. And the fact that his assistant is the mother of one of the teens at the shelter, Tori (Victoria) has made Chloe unable to trust Tori. Not that Tori's attitude helps. Because Tori holds Chloe in contempt.

Now, with friends Simon, a sorceror, and Derek, a werewolf, Chloe must escape Dr. Davidoff and Tori's mother and find a way to survive on the streets. For she and her friends are experiments, their genes modified to try and suppress their supernatural powers. Even her other friend, Rae, has powers over fire- and there's a reason for that, as Rae is half fire demon. When Chloe and her friends were betrayed at the end of the last book, she assumed that Tori was the one who betrayed them. Seems natural, right? The girl who acts snotty and puts you down all the time *must* be your enemy! But this turns out not to be true, and Chloe and Tori manage to escape from their captors during, of all things, a clothes-shopping expedition.

But life on the streets and on the run is neither fun or glamorous, especially when you are only a teenager, and you have a million-dollar reward on your head. Their only hope is to head for the one person who might be able to help them- Derek and Simon's father. But to get there, they'll have to elude the cops and the other forces on their tails, all of whom would love to see them destroyed or hauled back to Lyle House and the people who run it, the mysterious Edison Group. But Tori isn't going quietly. She's gonna complain and let her opinion be known every step of the way.

Can Chloe, Derek and Simon get to their destination with Tori's assistance, or will they kill her from frustration and anger before they even get partway there? And will Simon and Derek's father even be able to help them against the shadowy Edison group?

I wanted to like this story so much, but sadly, I really couldn't. First, it's another case for me of finding the middle book in a trilogy and not having read the first part. So, we're dropped in the middle of Chloe's situation. And that's okay. But you'd never be able to figure out the character's full name from reading the book's blurb or the first few pages of the story. But okay, knowing her as Chloe isn't exactly so bad. But not much of the plot of the earlier book is recapped so I had to look it up online.

Middle books suffer from Schizophrenia, and often suffer as the author tries to get from where the beginning left off to where she wants to be for the start of the end. And that stress was evident here, with the characters spending pages arguing with each other- did I mention how much I loathe characters endlessly arguing? and trying to survive in a hostile city (or hostile everywhere else) to get where they need to be. The book isn't completely without conflict of the interpersonal kind between the characters- a fight with a bunch of street girls who are angry at what they see as Tori and Chloe stealing their turf, and another confrontation later on between Werewolf Derek and a bunch of redneck weres who see him as intruding on their territory- and David can't tell them what pack he belongs to, because he doesn't even know himself.

I just found myself ultimately not very impressed by this book since so much of it turned into "seen it before" type stuff. Girl pulled between affections for two different guy friends? Pretty girl puts the hate on you because she can't stand your face? Having to make nice with that same girl? Check, yup and uh-huh. ::Sigh.:: And the dialogue was a little too authentically teen for me. I didn't have the patience to put up with it. This book just wasn't all that interesting or fun for me to read, but it might have been different if I'd read the first book first. YMMV, of course.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Manga: The Complete Guide

While plenty of books deal with Japanese anime, the movie or television form of Japanese animation, none have dealt with Manga, the Japanese comics that are so prevalent in Japanese society. But while there are hundreds, if not thousands of Manga published in Japan every year, this book covers series published in America. And not just manga, either, but Manwha as well, the Korean equivalent.

Not only is each series' main themes covered, but each series is reviewed by one of 24 different reviewers. In fact, the only name I recognized out of the group was Patrick Macias, who I remember from Animerica. But really, more than just reviews of manga titles that you can find in America, this book covers various types of manga, from different types of romance manga to categorizations like Sports, Psychic, Horror, Fantasy, Mecha and Robots, Seinen, Transgender, and so on. Other categories are hinted at but not covered because most of them never get published in America, like Salaryman comics- comics for working stiffs, usually about businessmen or middle managers who make good.

The sheer number of manga is just overwhelming, and you may not agree with every rating (I certainly would have given Fruits Basket 4 stars, not 3 1/2), but you may find yourself intrigued by a series only to realize no one in your area carries it (thank goodness for the internet!). But more than just reviews, this book covers the whole of manga, including issues that many don't realize are there, thanks to American censorship. For instance, there is a scene in one of the Sailor Moon episodes where the Sailor Scouts are captured by an enemy and hung from cross-shaped torture devices- A scene excised from the American version because of Christian sensibilities. Or, from the same series, Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune who are either Lesbian or really, really close (take your pick), hugging and hanging all over each other. To give these scenes less of a charge, they became cousins in the American version- although cousins aren't usually that physically close with each other, either). But even things like cutting out images of underage smoking from titles like Hikaru No Go are mentioned. Even as someone who is fairly into manga, I was surprised at how much censorship takes place. There is even more if you want your title to be carried by Scholastic or Wal-Mart- as in when Yu Yu Hakusho first came out on DVD, there were two versions floating around- one in Wal-Mart being the more censored version, and one from other video outlets being more true to the original story.

In this book, the reviewers go the extra mile and review, in separate sections, titles that fall under Yaoi and Adult (Yaoi being male-male romance/love). Almost completely absent is another category in Japan: Yuri, which is female-female love and romance. And the book doesn't even begin to cover so many of the comics published in Japan. Those who think Manga is all sex and pornography would be very surprised- books there are targeted at every market from housewives to children to XXX adult and beyond. it's too broad a category to lump under the "Manga are X", where X is a single thing. If I had to fill in X, mine would be "Diverse" or "Far too complicated to sum up in a single word."

As an overview of all manga this book is good. But of course, as soon as it was finished being written, it was out of date already. Still, as an overview of almost too many manga series to count, this will let you know what's out there. Some series are simply not represented, like "Mail Order Ninja" from Tokyopop, so you may not be able to find all the series you want to learn about.

But it's more than just a catalogue of series, and the essays and information that accompany the listing are invaluable. With so many series, there are ones I have never heard of, and ones that intrigued me but others I knew I'd never read- or want to. Where this book shines is the information about Manga in general, and about how manga is accepted and censored in the US, as well as in Japan.

I liked this book, and it's a wonderful overview of the many flavors of manga. While no book can ever be completely up to date, and you might take issue with some of the reviews of manga you like, this is a book I'd heartily recommend to anyone who likes or is a student of manga and the Japanese production of manga.

Magneto: Testament by Greg Pak and Carmine Do Giandomenico

The man known as Eric Lensherr was born as Max Eisenhardt, a young German Jew living in Berlin just before the 1936 Summer Olympics. His family are jewelers and watchmakers, but they are Jewish and still subject to persecution. Indeed, it isn't long before a German soldier takes exception to Max's uncle and beats him savagely. But Max's father won't hear of leaving. He fought for Germany in the first world war and thinks that his heroism on behalf of his country will keep him safe.

Max also has a hard time at school. His dark eyes and hair, as well as the fact that he is a Jew, mark him out as apart from all the others in school. The students who look like the Aryan ideal mistreat him and push his face in the dirt. But when it comes down to a school athletic competition, Max wins the Javelin throwing event. One of the teachers warns Max that he shouldn't brag about winning the gold too much- because they have shown those in power that they are wrong and that Jews are *not* inferior, which will make them hate him. But Max is happy at winning the gold, and doesn't listen to teacher, and runs off to show his family the medal he won.

He also shows it to a girl he likes, Magda, a Gypsy. Gypsies are even more hated than the Jews, but Max likes her, and she likes him. He makes a necklace and gives it to her, but soon everything goes to pot. The headmaster of his school tries to strip Max of his medal, but even when he must throw a heavier javelin, he still wins, which makes the headmaster even angrier, and he expels Max from his school for cheating, and his fellow students throw in one last beating as well. But the teacher which tried to warn him is also expelled for being Jewish.

Shortly thereafter, the family travels to Nuremburg, then must flee their home when the soldiers come at night. They go to live in Poland, but after the Polish army falls to the Germans, the family flees to Warsaw, where they are put into the Ghetto. And all too soon, the rations are reduced, and Max turns to becoming a food smuggler. But even so, he can barely keep his famly fed. By the time he is sent to Auschwitz, Max is the only one of his family still alive. And then he must still struggle to survive and keep not only himself but the woman he loves, Magda, alive. But with the Germans heading towards "the final solution", can Max, tapped as a Sonderkommando, live through the coming devastation? And what will living do to his soul?

I can't say that this was an easy graphic novel to read. Seeing what happened to the German, Polish and Austrian Jews was very difficult to read. There is never one single "Bad guy" who appears more than once or twice, leading to a real feeling of "faceless evil". Even Adolf Hitler is almost never shown. He appears in a single discussion about the Olympics, and is never seen or mentioned again. The story really highlights man's inhumanity to their fellow humans. It's like all humans needed was an excuse.

And despite the fact that we know Max grows up to be Magneto, Erik Lensherr, we don't get to see very much of Magneto's powers of magnetism. It's rather implied in the Javelin-throwing scene, and it's not until Max is lined up to be shot that we see his powers save his life. But overall, the story isn't all about fighting- it's all about the forces that shaped the young Max's life, and why his past affects how he deals with threats to another set of his people- Mutants. He lost his family, and he doesn't want to lose mutants to the same sort of Genocide as that which consumed the European Jews.

The art, I felt, was good, although Max and Magda look like twin brother and twin sister rather than unrelated through most of the story. But what really struck me was the removal of colors, until the section of the graphic novel that occurs in Auschwitz is shown in black, white, gray and blood-red, as if all of the characters hope was gone, and only flashes of blood and fire lit their world.

It was hard to read this story. a definite sadness pervades the tale, and knowing that the circumstances are true makes it all the more sad. The true story at the end of the tale, of an artist imprisoned in the camp who was used to document many of the people who passed through it and were used in the experiments of Mengele is chilling in how the Museum that now houses her works refuses to return them to her or her family- even when they could be using reproductions. This is one graphic novel you really have to read. It's not like anything else in Graphic novels about made-up characters. Not even Maus comes close. Highly recommended.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Watchmen: The Film Companion by Peter Aperlo

Watchmen was a comic that almost literally rewrote the way people saw comics when it was first published in the 1970's. It was a deconstruction of Superheros, asking what in the real world could make someone don a fancy costume and go out to fight crime.

But it also asked, "What would a world with a Superhuman being in it really be like?", and the answer it came to is less like heaven, and more like Hell. The title is from Juvenal, who asked "Quis Custodiet ipsos Custodes." or "Who watches the watchmen?" i.e. who will keep us safe from those who are supposed to keep us safe?

The comic, and now the movie, explores those issues not in some four-color idealized world, but in the real world that all of us live in, where there are no moral lessons built in, and everything is shades of gray rather than black and white. The film traces super-heroics from the idealistic days of the 50's to the post-modern era.

Filled with color pictures of the Characters, character bios and Actor ruminations on their characters, this book is chock full of interesting stuff that will enhance your appreciation and understanding of the movie, and the comic behind it. For instance, the material of Rohrshach's mask was supposedly made out of material intended for a dress commissioned by Kitty Genovese. You may not know who that is, but that added a certain poignancy to the character of Rorshach for me., since it kind of underscores the kind of character he is/was.

The book is filled not only with stories and information from the making of the movie, but also from the making of the comic and the kind of impact it had on the stories of the time, and since. As a visual exploration of both the movie and the graphic novel, this book provides many meaty bones to dig into, and plenty of things to look at, ponder about and ooh and aah at.

This is a great book, filled with images from the movie, and also from the comic. Think what you may about either, the comic was groundbreaking, and this movie brought the comic to life. So much thought, work and building went into the movie, and the pictures in this book linger almost lovingly over all aspects of it, from the design of Nightowl's flying Owlship to the costumes that each hero wears.

It's obvious that the people behind the movie wanted to be as true to the comic as possible, and they succeeded. It's also quite obvious how much they loved and respected the comic that was quite literally, the blueprint for the movie. It's a lengthy (and weighty) book that you can wander in for hours without getting bored or tired. Highly recommended.

The Art of X2 designed and edited by Timothy Shaner

The Sequel to the X-men movie is covered in this glossy picture book. It has storyboards, production images, sets, animatic frames and covers everything from set design to costume design, face makeup, prosthetics and more.

Pictures from the movie are interspersed with concept art and sketches, showing how things worked, were constructed, and how they were meant to move and work. Not just pencil sketches, but color art as well.

It's interesting to see how many things in the movie were digitally manipulated, from the facade of the Xavier mansion to (of course) Wolverine's claws and Lady Deathstrike's nails. But even more things were constructed, like Cyclops' visor, the interior of the SR-71 Blackhawk the X-Men fly to their missions, and the chairs inside the plane.

Each picture shows the amazing level of detail used in the film, from the X-rays of iconic characters like Angel and Sabertooth, neither of whom actually appeared in the film, to the spines on the facial prosthetics of Mystique and corresponding markings carved into Nightcrawler's face and body, each of which was based on a sigil meant to summon a different angel.

This is an incredible book, allowing you to take long looks at places and scenes that went by too fast in the movie to be studied. You get to see the movie's possible take on Storm's short "Mohawk" haircut that she sported in the comics, which was eventually dropped in favor of the mid-length cut she wore in the film.

This book is a delight for fans of the X-Men, something you'll savor and come back to time and time again. I especially loved the costuming sections, where they showed the various looks the characters sported at different points in the film. And yeah, there's lots of great pictures of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. Which, for a woman like myself, was a pretty big draw for the movie.

I loved this book, and though it's pretty expensive to buy, I found it at the local library, allowing me to read, savor and enjoy it without having to pay that expensive pricetag. But I'm not as big a fan of the X-men as some are, so only you can decide if you want to shell out the bucks for the book. Recommended.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Dark of the Moon by Rachel Hawthorn

Brittany is another young woman who is coming up on her seventeenth birthday and her transformation into a Dark Guardian. But as her time approaches, she feels that something is wrong. All the other girls near her age feel something different, something special: a heightening of their senses, and a rush of heat and sensation when they get close to the one who is meant to be their chosen mate.

Brittany feels- nothing. She feels no attraction to any of the men who comprise the Dark Guardians, and no attraction to any of the men brought in for her to mate with. And she resents being paired with anyone, because the man who helps you through your first transformation is the mate who is supposed to be with you always.

So when the full moon comes, she goes off on her own, even though no female guardian has ever survived her moon passage alone. And, much to her shock, nothing happens. Nothing at all. No transformation. She remains merely human. In shock, she wanders through the forest alone for a day and another night before returning home. But she hopes she can hide her non-transformation from the other Dark Guardians.

But even as she searches through the Dark Guardian's holy book to find an answer, Dr. Keane and Mason are still out there, still looking to study the werewolves, and use their genes to turn humans into supersoldiers. At the same time, Brittany is finding out some painful truths about herself, and why she didn't transform.

But when she and Connerare captured by Mason, He alternately threatens her and lures her with the promise of using his research to become a Dark Guardian in her own right and become what she has most longed to be. But will Brittany betray the Dark Guardians, and Connor, who she is slowly coming to love, to change the genetic quirk that left her human, and not Were?

This is the third and final novel in the Dark Guardians series, and one of the most enjoyable. From Kayla, a werewolf who didn't know who and what she was, to Lyndsey, a werewolf who was confused about what she wanted, but knew what she would be, now we have Brittany, who knows what she wants and what she wants to be, but is denied it by her genes.

The Question for Brittany is what she will do next, now that she has lost everything. What will her former compatriots do to her? Will they kill her for knowing too much? wipe her memories of what she knows and send her elsewhere? She doesn't know, and she can't give up on the people she grew up with and lived with all her life. But it separates her from those she's always been close to, just when she needs them most

I liked the uncertainty in the novel, although we, the readers, are kept in the dark about Brittany's choices and why she is making them. And in the end, she finds a reason to stay with the other guardians: she can do things they can't. But even if I found the ending slightly contrived, I thought this was the most compelling and gripping of all the Dark Guardian novels. Recommended.

Seduction by Amanda Quick

Julian Sinclair, the Earl of Ravenwood, has a very low opinion of marriage and women in general. But the need to have a son or sons and ensure his line doesn't end makes him propose marriage to Sophy Dorring. Sophy is a country-bred girl from a good family, but she turns down his offer, which makes him angry enough to seek her out.

Sophy has put off marriage because she wishes revenge on the man who raped her sister and was responsible for her death. On her way back home, Julian finds her riding, and she tells him not only why she turned him down, but what she ants in a husband- a list of demands that he considers, frankly, impossible.

But he agrees to her demands, including not to pressure her into having a child right away- but he doesn't agree not to try and persuade her differently. However, when she uses her knowledge of herbs to make him pass out on their wedding night, then makes a tea stain on the sheets, he is horrified, thinking he attacked her like a wild animal. When she confesses her deception, he is enraged, thinking she is like his first wife.

But Sophy is nothing like Julian's first wife, and he soon finds himself wanting her more than he thinks he should. He's determined to hold back, to keep himself from the same pain that his first wife's infidelity caused. He's more annoyed that his first wife's lover is now sniffing around Sophy, confident that he can get Sophy to betray Julian as well.

But he hasn't dealt with someone of Sophy's character before, and like it or not, she will not betray her husband. She even challenges a famous courtesan to a duel to defend Julian's honor, a state of affairs which enrages him further, but at the same time, he feels strangely flattered when he learns it was to prevent the woman from blackmailing him.

But Sophy is in greater danger than she realizes. When his wife's former lover kidnaps her to rape her as a ploy to hurt Julian, who he blames for his lover's death, it's up to Sophy to use her knowledge of herbs to ferret out the truth. But will he accept her conclusions, or is he so bound and determined to hate and blame Julian for her death that he will even deny the truth?

I usually love Amanda Quick's heroes, and take to them right away. But Julian was a little different. While every hero and heroine comes to a romance story with baggage, Julian would need about fifteen carts to haul his around. Whereas Sophy, by contrast, merely has to deal with her fear of sex because of the death of her sister.

The book is further complicated by Sophy's tricking of Julian on their wedding night, leading him to do a fair bit of grovelling that he wasn't really obligated to do, and it harkens back to his treatment at the hands of his first wife, which really enrages him. But Sophy refuses to be banished to the country and takes matters into her own hands, and it's Julian who slowly comes to realize that she is nothing like his first wife, and that his heart is safe with her.

It's true that he acts in a very high-handed and arrogant manner towards her, but when he begins to soften, you can really feel the "zing!" it imparts to the story. The accomodation they come to, and the love they come to share really makes you melt into a puddle. And at the end, you are sure that they are destined for a true "Happily Ever After". Definitely recommended.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Full Moon by Rachel Hawthorn

Lindsey Lancaster is a Dark Guardian. Well, almost. She acts as a camp guide in the park, and is looking forward to the full moon before her seventeenth birthday, when she will undergo her first transformation into a werewolf and be mated.

Her mate is going to be her best friend, Connor. She has been promised to him, and he to her by their families when they were just children, and all her life, she's looked forward to being with him forever. But there's a problem.

Lately, she's been feeling attracted to Rafe, and she's finding it confusing. Because she should want Connor, right? I mean, her whole life has been leading up to this and it should make her happy to be together forever with Conner. So why isn't she happy?

She finds herself unable to stay away from Rafe, to stop touching him, to stop wanting him. And when Mason is sighted again in the forest, along with the company that Dr. Keane actually worked for, Lindsey and Conner and Rafe and another incipent werewolf named Brittany are thrown together in an effort to stop the plot and to keep Dr. Keane from getting a real werewolf to study. But as the time ticks closer to the full moon, who will Lindsey choose: Rafe, or Conner? And will she be able to live with the results of her choice?

This was a definite contrast to the first book of the series. Lindsey appeared in that book as Kayla's friend, and seemed to have all her stuff together. But in reality, she wants something she doesn't and seemingly can't have: Rafe. And the story pretty much comes down to that: Which will she choose?

It also brings up the rather interesting information of how hard it is to hide anything from the nose of a werewolf. When Lindsey goes out kissing with Rafe, her friend Kayla, who has already changed, can smell him on her. While this was a small moment, it did a lot to bring a sense of reality, as well as being something different to the Dark Guardian society. I'm sure there is even more that a werewolf can sense in human form that humans miss, but this gave us an insight into that world.

I felt this book definitely was a worthy successor to Moonlight, and I am looking forward to reading the last book in the series, Dark of the Moon. Even if the story tends a little towards the light and fluffy, I still liked it, and I do recommend it as an antidote to Twlight and the like.

Green Lantern: Rage of the Red Lanterns by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis, Mike McKone and Shane Davis

The Sinestro Corps war is over, and the leader, Sinestro, has been captured and imprisoned on Oa. But changes have been happening in the Guardian Corps. Ten new laws have been created, one of which advocates the use of lethal force on occasion, And thanks to that, Sinestro is now on their Death Row.

Meanwhile, the Corps is dealing with the death of so many of its members, but on a far-away planet, a being named Atrocitus is rising, and he has discovered the Red Lantern Battery, and its power of rage. He becomes the first member of the Red Lantern Corps, and increases its numbers by recruiting the victims of the Sinestro Corps.

Meanwhile, the Green Lantern Taira murders the son of Abin Sur, who has become a member of the Sinestro Corps, and is brought back to Oa to stand trial. Amon Sur had murdered the family of one of the Green Lanterns, and waited to be captured because he wanted other members of the Sinestro Corps to follow his example and eliminate the families of the Green Lanterns. While Hal and the other Guardians are on Oa, the Oans unveil a new corps, the Alpha Guardians. They invite several of the Green Lanterns to join, including John Stewart. The others join, but John turns them down.

The chosen Green Lanterns undergo Cosmic Surgery that makes them the perfect guardians of Law, and the Guardians reveal the second new Law- Lethal Force may be used against any of the foes of the Lanterns. Needless to say, Hal finds this disturbing. But the advent of the Red Lanterns is not the only new force in the Galaxy. While the Red Lanterns embody rage, and the Sinestro Corps in yellow embody fear. there also appear Blue Lanterns who embody Hope, and Purple Lanterns that embody- healing? or perhaps emotional calm.

Hal meets with one of the Blue Lanterns, who have chosen him to lead their group, but Hal is loyal to the Green Lanterns. However, the presence of the Blue Lanterns has a synergistic effect on the Green Lanterns rings, supercharging them. But when Hal and the others are charged with taking Sinestro to his place of execution, they are ambushed by the Red Lanterns and the Sinestro Corps. Hal leads the fight to get Sinestro back, but during his fight with Atrocitus, he is infected with the Red Lantern rage- something that has been hidden inside his soul. The Blue Lantern Saint Walker uses the Blue Lantern Ring to purge the infection from Hal, but something strange happens, leaving Hal half Blue Lantern, half Green Lantern- and Atrocitus is still at large.

Meanwhile Carol Ferris is being courted by members of the Star Sapphires, holders of the Purple Power Rings. led by their new leader, Katma Tui- or someone who looks very much like her. The question is, what does this portend for the universe?

Wow. We had the Green Lanterns, and the Sinestro Corps, but apparently every color has some kind of power or emotion inherent in it, from the Green Lantern's Law to the Yellow Lanterns Fear, With Red being Rage and Blue Hope, and Purple... well, that's not made exactly clear. But certain rings can overpower others. Red overpowers green, Blue overpowers red. I have no idea about purple, but it overpowers yellow. The question is what do the emergence of all these rings, colors and powers mean to the universe. And what of the two so far missing colors, orange and indigo> Are they going to show up as well? And what powers will they embody?

While all this is leading up to a storyline called "Blackest Night", which kinda leads me to think that there will be a Black Lantern that will nullify all powers of these various forces and embody evil, if where the story is going is where I think it may be going. I mean, why not have white lanterns that embody Good, not just green ones that embody law? That way, they could manifest all sorts of colors- and the good side of each. Red for passion, etc. Law, while it can be used for good, is also a two-edged sword, as people can use the laws to benefit themselves and not society.

This series brings out that the flaw of the green lanterns and the green lantern corps is not just the yellow impurity in their power source, but that law cares nothing for good or evil. Law can be used to beat people down just as badly as evil does. Laws are neutral with respect for good and evi and can be used for both purposes- and the Guardians, in their quest to bring law to the universe, are going that route, with laws and rules that bring more good than evil. Laws must be maintained with compassion as well as enforcement- and we see that pure law can turn people into monsters.

I can't be sure exactly what is coming next, but it seems that it won't necessarily be good for anyone involved. I'll be interested in seeing if Orange and Indigo power rings are revealed and what sort of powers they might have. And I'll also be interested in seeing what the hell is really going on. Are these new powers going to stay, or what will happened to them? I guess I'll just have to wait and see.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Star Trek: Countdown by Various

Spock had gone to Romulus to bring the emotional, warlike Romulans the way of Surak. Although he started out as an outcast, through the years, he has risen to a place of some prominence among the Romulans, despite being Vulcan.

The Romulan Empire is beset with a problem. A Star in the Hobus system has gone out of control, threatening to go nova. Just one of its solar flares destroyed an entire planet. However, this is different. With each eruption, the energy of the star is increasing synergystically with everything it destroys. Spock believes that if and when the Star goes nova, it will spread out to nearby Star Systems, destroying and absorbing their energy as well. If that happens, the entire Romulan Empire could be imperiled or destroyed, as the repercussions and the energy expand outward in ever-increasing waves.

The Romulans aren't ready to accept that their Empire could be at risk, but he invites their scientists to check his figures. He does have an idea on how to stop it before the star goes Nova. There is a mineral called Decalithium, a rare isotope that can create something called "Red Matter" The Super-dense Red Matter could make a small black hole- large enough for it to swallow the Hobus star before it goes Nova.

The Romulans don't trust Spock, and their scientists don't forsee the same Cataclysmic reactions that Spock does. So they turn down his proposal. However, a young mining guild representative named Nemo has witnessed the Star flare of the Hobus system himself, and he trusts Spock. He tells the Ambassador that he will put his mining ship at Spock's disposal to mine the Decalithium and stop the Hobus star.

Leaving his pregnant wife, he and his crew travel to a small world on the furthest-flung edge of the Empire to mine a deposit of Decalithium. But once there they come under attack by the Remans, but are saved by the timely appearance of the Enterprise, under Captain Data. Starfleet has learned of the threat of the Hobus Star, and is working with the Vulcans to stop it.

Meanwhile, the Romulans have come around to believing Spock was right. But they also believe that Spock will abandon Romulus to save Vulcan. They believe that the only way to survive is to abandon Romulus and attack Vulcan. Meanwhile, Spock, Data and Nemo land on Vulcan, where they meet with the Vulcan Science Council. The Vulcans don't want to work with the Romulans, and believe they cannot let the fruits of Vulcan science fall into the hands of the Romulans. Nemo feels frustrated, being stuck on Vulcan, unable to do anything while the Council debates. Even the presence of Ambassador Picard can't change his mind.

so when the Hobus star goes Supernova, he heads back to Romulus to save his family. He tells Spock that if Romulus dies, he will blame the Vulcans. But he's too late, and the entire world is destroyed. Almost immediately, he swears vengeance, along with his crew. When the crew picks up a group of Senators from Romulus, Nemo kills the Praetor whose vote in Council doomed Romulus, but he and his crew find out the location of a secret Romulan weapons and science research station. They will need weapons for their attack on Vulcan...

While back on Vulcan, the Decalithium is turned into Red Matter. Now they just need to find a way to fire it into the Hobus star. Their solution is a ship called "The Jellyfish", made to withstand pressures no other starship can withstand. And with it comes Geordi LaForge, its designer. But even as Spock prepares to leave for Hobus, Nemo and his crew are taking their revenge on the Empires around them, testing out the new weapons their ship was given. But can Spock save the galaxy from the Hobus nova... and Nemo and his grief-stricken, vengeful crew? That remains to be seen.

This story is a prequel to the new Star Trek movie by J.J. Abrams. It sets up the backstory for the main villain of the movie. I am assuming that the black hole produced at the end of this tale is how both Nemo and older Spock get back from the future (okay, I didn't see the move, so I'm not sure what happened in it-lack of money and time, not lack of interest). It's a very effective tale. You can see why Nemo was out for revenge, and yet feel sympathy for him because of what he lost.

At the same time, the Vulcans and the Vulcan science council end up being as blindsighted as the Romulans, making you wonder how the Vulcans can claim to be better or more civilized. It's like they merely pay lip service to the Principles of Surak when they refuse to work with the Romulans. Surely it would be logical to save their lives and come off better so that more Romulans feel grateful for their cousins, but instead, they decide to remain mired in fear, anger and revenge- and the Federation does nothing. This series has definitely moved far away from "The Future Will Be Better" that Gene Roddenberry espoused.

I enjoyed this book, but it was also a little annoying to see that the Vulcans, basically, can be no better than the humans when it comes to emotion. Neither the Vulcans nor the Federation come off well, and that did make me a bit sad. But I would definitely recommed this series to anyone interested in Star Trek- it just may shatter the illusions of someone who actually watched the original series.

Physics of the Impossible: A scientific exploration into the world of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation and Time Travel by Michio Kaku

When you watch Science Fiction on TV, you're aware that the things you are seeing are not possible- at least not now. But which ones are really impossible by the way Physics and the Universe actually work? This book is dedicated to looking at scientific ideas presented to us in fiction and how they may be used to one day make that fiction a reality.

Michio Kaku breaks down these ideas into three different kinds of impossibles. The first kind is things we know should work by physics, but as yet, we don't have the technology to exploit those ideas in any meaningful sort of way. A type II impossibility is an idea which should be possible via physics, but which we are lacking the knowledge of Physics to explain. While a type III Impossibility contravenes physics entirely.

Each idea is examined in depth, from teleportation, force fields, phasers, the Death Star, invisibility, Holograms like the Doctor from Star Trek: Voyager, Starships. UFOs and Extraterrestrials, Perpetual Motion Machines, Time Travel. wormholes, and so on. Some of the answers for what he considers impossible and what he doesn't are quite amazing. Just in discussing the types of propulstion that Starships might use, he mentions Ramjet Engines, Solar Sails and the Cosmic String, as well as other types of propulsion thought to be plausible in the past (one of Jules Verne's stories has the spaceship being fired out of a giant cannon powered in part by gun cotton, while an H.G. Wells story has Cavorite, a naturally anti-gravity element.) Kaku then discusses the pros and cons of each method.

In fact, that is pretty much the way that all of the chapters go, with Kaku describing several methods to make each idea work, and why they are feasible or not. But you do get the idea that barring some leap forward in technology, each idea is exhaustively covered.

I liked this book. I've seen Michio Kaku on some programs on the Science Channel, and I liked him there for his ability to easily explain scientific ideas in an understandable way, and he brings the same clarity of communication here, allowing readers to really get why telekinesis is impossible, for example, and he's sure to bring up ideas that readers have never heard of before.

This book is an expansive, winding path through the main channels of scientific thought, and utterly fascinating to read. Science Fiction fans may not have given a thought to how or why the science behind their favorite ideas works (or doesn't work), but after reading this book, you can be sure they will.Some of this territory may already have been covered (by Laurence Krauss, among others, but this still remains a wonderfully compelling read.

I liked this book, because it is always fun to read about ideas from science fiction and see whether or not they will work. Some of them might better be classified as "Science Fantasy", but if you read this book, it will open your mind to true possibilities in the world of science and space exploration. It's a thing of beauty to read, and I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

When Gods Die by C. S. Harris

Guinevere, the Marquess of Anglessy is a beautiful woman well in love with her aged husband. So when the Prince Regent attempted to make her his lover, she flatly refused. But now that the Prince Regent is in Brighton, it seems she has finally acquiesced to his lustful advances, and left him a note to meet her in the bungalow. When the Prince goes to meet her, he twists his ankle and must rest, falling asleep for a while. When he wakes, she is still waiting, and he can hear people outside looking for him. But when he goes to embrace her, he makes a shocking discovery- a dagger lodged deeply in her back. And he is caught in that position when the door opens.

Needless to say, the country can't stand for the danger of having the Prince Regent accused of murder. Nor can anyone in Prinny's close circle believe that he was mentally strong enough or had the intestinal fortitude to commit murder. The discovery of Guinevere Anglessy's death was so shocking to him that he has already wiped the incident from his mind. Lord Jarvis, a noble politician who but Prinny on the regent's throne in the first place, wants Sebastian St. Cyr to investigate the murder, but Sebastian has no stomach to help Prinny out of a scrape, until Lord Jarvis presents him with the necklace that the murdered woman was wearing- a necklace that once belonged to Sebastian's mother, one that she wore on the day of her death, when the boat she was sailing in had a mishap and sank, killing all on board.

But the necklace is definitely hers, beyond a shadow of a doubt, which means- the story of her death is a lie, and Sebastian's father has been lying to him his whole life about the death of his mother. Did she even really die? And how did Guinevere Anglessy even come into possession of her necklace. With this incentive, Sebastian agrees to look into the case- and into the life of Guinevere Anglessy.

Hers was an unusual childhood, and she fell in love with a boy from a neighboring estate. When she was denied marriage to him, she vowed never to marry, but finally relented to marry Oliver Gordon Ellsworth, the Marquis of Anglessy. The Marquis is an old man, but he was looking forward to welcoming his son by Guinevere. Now, with his wife and unborn son dead, he has nothing to look forward to, not even life, as he is dying. It was this that got him his wife- he offered her freedom from marriage after his death, for as a wealthy widow, he wouldn't be forced to remarry. But she had come to care for him a great deal, and he hoped she was happy with him.

Her former lover, the boy she wished to marry, also shares an interest in the case, and Sebastian investigates him. Half French by birth, and related to the French throne, the French wish him to return to rule them, but he has been resisting their overtures. Meanwhile, Kat Boleyn, still working for the French as a spy, is trying to quit the spy business to be free to have a relationship with Sebastian, but with Lord Jarvis holding her involvement over her head to get her to inform on her former comrades, will she even have the chance to make a choice?

As for Guinevere Anglessy, it appears she stumbled onto a diabolical plot to kill Prinny at the time of his ascencion to the position of Prince Regent over his raving mad father, King George. But can Sebastian bring an end to the plot before the conspirators detonate all the explosives they have stored up for the occasion? Can Sebastian keep the Prince- and himself, alive as the people demonstrate against the reign of Prinny?

Another excellent book and mystery in the series. This one, too, has some problems, for instance, having Sebastian recognize a Georgia accent without ever having been to America or heard one, but aside from that moment (and a few others), most of the book is smooth sailing. The story of the woman's background is quite unusual, and the reason for her death provides the name of the novel.

Here, we learn more about Sebastian's mother, and discover that she isn't quite so safely dead after all. She never died, but left to be with her lover, and only Sebastian was left in the dark by his mother's behavior. His closest sibling, his sister, hated her mother for being unfaithful to her father. This story mirrors the story of the murder in a very strange way, as Guinevere Anglessy actually is dead, and died from being faithful to the wrong man.

I really enjoyed reading this book, and once again the story swept me along in its wake. Many of the same faces are back from the first: Sebastian, his father, his sister, Kat Boleyn, and Tom, former picker of pockets and now Sebastian's Tiger (Groom and Carriage Driver). Also Lord Jarvis and his daughter, Hero Jarvis (Who I have a feeling will be closer to Sebastian one day, maybe even marry him). Anyone who enjoys cracking good mysteries, but can forgive some overreaching in the story, will love this book. It leaves you wanting more. Recommended.

Monday, August 24, 2009

A Rose by Any Name: The Little Known Lore and Deep-Rooted History of Rose Names by Douglas Brenner and Stephen Scanniello

Open any rose catalogue or go to any garden center to find hundreds and hundreds of rose breeds and varieties, each with its own specific name. While you may "Ooh!' And "Aah!" over this variety of that, do you ever wonder why roses have so many names, and how those names came to be? Wonder no more, because this book will be your guide to hundreds of rose names, and who and what they were named for and why.

Did you know that John Wayne has two roses named for him? Or Greer Garson three? (Two after roles she played, and one for her stage name). Barbara Streisand also has a rose named for her, and so do Rosie O'Donnell, Whoopi Goldberg, and even Frank Sinatra and Victor Borge.

Roses can be popular, like American Beauty or Blaze, or flop, like "Siren". They can be named for people, products (Like the "Tupperware Pink" rose, the "Peaudouce" Rose (a diaper company) or even characters, like the "Ma Perkins, "Mirandy" or "Mrs. Minniver" Rose). They can be named for cars (The "Chrysler Imperial" Rose) or for the surprise the grower got when finding the rose (Including such names as "Happenstance" "Keepit", and "Surprise Surprise").

They can be a variety of types of roses, from climbing roses, rambling roses, floribundas, gallicas and hybrid teas. It's the hybrid teas that get most of the attention from the casual rose grower nowadays. Unfortunately, most of the ones that fill the garden centers have little to no scent. They are bred for hardiness, and for pretty flowers, but the scent is lacking. Not so with other rose types, the "old Garden roses", which can knock you off your feet if you aren't careful, with the intensity of their scent. from the tea-scented "Sweet Juliet" to the extremely sweet "Madame Knorr", you can give your garden both looks and scent.

This was a wonderful book. It has chapters, but inside those chapters, it can lead you from the starting point all over the map, from rose to rose to rose by virtue of what it was named, how it was named and so on. Each chapter is enlivened with pictures, paintings or both of some of the roses talked about in that chapter, all in gorgeous color.

Whether you're someone who grows roses, loves roses or just enjoys reading about the why of things, this book on rose names is wonderfully enlightening. While some rose varieties are dead today, gone out of existence because no one cultivates them any longer, new varieties spring up all the time- some merely renamings of other, older roses, either through a grower's ignorance or malfeasance- this book has a good explanation for the names of these roses, and ones to look up if you are interested in growing new or old roses.

This is an excellent book, filled with true stories about the names of roses, how they were used, grown and how their popularity flares and sometimes dies. Anyone who loves roses or the stories about them will love reading about them, and might even inspire you to plant some of your own. Recommended.

What Angels Fear by C. S. Harris

Sebastian St. Cyr, the Viscount Devlin, was deeply damaged by his actions as an intelligence officer during the war. Once consumed by bringing the perpetrators of various misdeeds committed by those on one side of the war or the other to justice, he saw so many atrocities committed by both sides, that he gave up caring to save his heart, and his sanity. Now, he spends his time drinking and gaming, seeking to fill the emptiness inside him.

And trifling with women, of course. One could argue that his heart had already been damaged before the war when the woman he loved more than anything else left him. But this morning, he has another appointment- with the husband of a woman he's befriended, a woman who had been dreadfully abused by her husband. He only became her friend, nothing more, but her husband is determined to kill Sebastian.

But even as the duel is in the offing, miles away, another woman has been raped and butchered in a dreadful and shocking manner. And, near her body is a duelling pistol with Sebastian's coat of arms on it. Given his activities of late, the police are only too ready to believe that Sebastian is her murderer. But, after having survived his dawn appointment intact, when the police come to take him away for the murder, the icy steps of his home are the scene of another disaster: One of the constables tries to threaten Sebastian. but he pushes the constable away, making him fall. The Constable pulls a knife, and the second policeman slips and lands on the knife, injuring himself horribly. When Sebastian tries to help, the constable who drew the knife blames the second man's injury on Sebastian.

Sebastian is forced to flee into the streets, where he looks for shelter- finding it finally in a grimy inn where he meets a young street-boy named Tom, who at first tries to steal Sebastian's purse, but is foiled by Sebastian, who gives him some money to eat anyway. This endears him to Tom, who from then on decides to work with and help Sebastian clear his name.

And that is Sebastian's aim at first, to simply clear his name. But as he continues to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of the woman, Rachel York, he slowly comes out of the cruel lack of compassion he had been forced to by the Penninsular war, and comes to desire justice for the dead woman. Along with this return of a need for justice, he finds himself reconnecting with Kat Deveraux, the woman he loved more than anything, and much to his own astonishment, still does. But can they still find happiness when he finds out that while he fought for England, his Irish lover has been spying for the French?

Soon, Sebastian finds that while he knows he didn't kill Rachel York, she was deeply involved with members of his own family, including his father. How can he demand justice if one of his own family is to blame for the murder? Is blood and sentiment more important to Sebastian than justice? Or is justice more important than both? What will be the cost to Sebastian and his family to solve these murders and clear Sebastian's name?

I liked this book. Some parts of it are more than a little unbelievable, such as how Sebastian is able to so easily elude the police time and again when investigating the murder, but the action carries you along so swiftly that at the time it is happening, you don't question it, because the story is carrying you along like a rushing river. I'll also mention here that the hero is affected by a Welsh Genetic Disease known as Bithil Syndrome (I can't say "suffers from", since he doesn't suffer) that has his eyes be yellow, like that of a wolf and grants him superior hearing and vision, plus heightened night vision- as well as a malformed veretbrae in his back. All this is revealed in the Author's notes- though we are told of his eyes, hearing and vision, the condition isn't named in the story. And I'll cut off comment by saying that the author, on her website, has already revealed that the information about this condition isn't available on the internet, but she did hear about it from a researcher.

Whether the condition exists or not, we aren't told if that vertebrae affects him or how, since he seems to do everything very easily, but the first four parts of his genetic mutation are used to great effect in the book, both in inciting comment from others and helping Sebastian in his quest. I found the story to be very good and effective, a cracking good read that won't make you think too much about the iffy parts while it gallops towards a horrifyingly effective ending.

I liked this book and I will definitely read more in this series, and if you like a good mystery with a hero by turns mysterious and engaging, you'll probably end up enjoying it as well. This myatery grabs you by the lapels and won't let you go until you have read the whole thing. And after you're done, you'll want to read them all. Highly recommended.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Beyond the Rain by Jess Granger

Cyani is a despised outcast on her homeworld of Azra, all because her mother fell in love, left the elite sisterhood that was headquartered high in the clouds, and lived among the dirt, mud and other filth of the underworld.

Eventually, Cyani found liberty and freedom with the forces of the Union, fighting the Garulen. She made friends and close comrades, including her wolf partner, Vicca. But before she could leave the service and return to Azra, there was one last mission: to free prisoners taken by the Garulen and return them to the union.

But instead of finding the soldiers she expected, she finds a naked man, chained to the wall, badly beaten, but not yet broken. Soren is a Bryalen, whose bodily secretions are sold on the black market for enormous sums of money, being the most powerful aphrodesiacs in the known universe.

He's been drugged since he was captured, and he's been beaten to make him more pliable. But he hasn't broken in will, even if his body is dangerously close to doing so. Because with the way his system has been abused, the only way for him to live is to take a mate- and the only woman around is Cyani, who is still a virgin, and expected to remain one.

But Soren's secretions are aphrodesiac on their own, and Cyani isn't sure she wants to resist. As they spend their days trapped on the planet, left behind so her comrades could make their escape, and then on a tiny fighter that repair to escape. But as they grow close and become lovers, can their relationship last? Or does it owe more to Soren's aphrodesiacal body secretions than any real feeling on both their parts? And when Cyani is recalled to Azra, will she leave Soren behind to head the sisterhood, leaving him to die? Or is Soren someone she is unwilling to live without?

This was kind of unusual for a romance, being set in the future rather than the past. It was almost like Paranormal lite, what with the hero having these unusual pheromonal powers and all., but the question is: is it a good romance? It is. Readers get to experience Cyani's backstory in a way that makes you really sympathize with her. Because her mother fell in love, Cyani is looked down upon her as something tainted and less.

Soren has less of a tragic backstory, unless you count his capture, torture and use as basically a cow for milking his various secretions for sale on the black market. He had a friend who was killed, and he must find a mate or die because of the damage to his bodily systems. But at times this desperation makes his character seem weaker and somewhat repellent. Not generally for long, but it was there for me at some points.

Generally, this is a a very good, hot and sexy book. It has moments where it lost that thread, but it soon picked up again. I felt sympathy for the heroine, and enjoyed the way she and Soren slowly got close to him, and chose to be with him over her own people, who had only ever treated her like crap. Despite it's flaws, I'd still recommend it to someone.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Whatever You Do, Don't Run- True Tales of a Botswana Safari Guide

Peter Allison never dreamed he'd end up being a tour guide in Africa, nor did he have a life that prepared him for the job. He grew up in the suburbs, didn't spend lots of time backpacking or camping as a child, and doesn't know a single thing about repairing cars or making them run. Add to that his severely uncoordinated body and a marked tendency to sweat profusely when excited or afraid, and you have someone who you'd think was the last person to be hired as a tour guide in Africa.

And yet, at 19, he took a break from a job that wasn't working out for him to go backpacking in Africa. After six months in Africa, his money was stolen, and some kind strangers offered to drive him from Malawi to South Africa. They stopped at a guide camp, where, after only two days, Peter was offered a job as a Bartender. Since he was in Africa for the wildlife, he gladly accepted, and so began his sojourn of working in Africa.

Here you'll find stories of the most feared animal by African Safari Guides: The Cape Buffalo, the Safari in which his tour group saw every major animal in Africa before lunch- and which he drove his car into the pond with Hippos. A Close encounter with two male lions which forms the basis for the title of the book, and two stories of how he was "named"- one for his mishap with the car, another for his rather unusual pattern of tanning that got him named "Lehututu", or Ground Hornbill.

There are also stories about Botswana itself, One of King Seretse, who married an Englishwoman and had to fight against his usurping uncle and the British Authorities to marry the woman he loved. There are stories of a much beloved guide who died of AIDS, and of the three guides lost on the rivers of Africa. And of a shining moment, where his friend who he had always looked up to came to Africa and confessed that he could never do the job Peter does.

I liked this book, with its amusing and delightful stories about the people and animals of Africa. Like a patchwork quilt, he built up a comprehensive picture of an Africa that is always vibrant and ever-changing, while sharing some surprising tales of animals, the people who he worked with, and the people on his tours.

Each chapter is generally only a few pages long, making this a book easy to put down and pick up again, and you can read one story or a few- or even a bunch, at one time, put the book down and do something, but be ready to read more when you pick it up again. But no matter how you read the book, you get a wonderful image of Africa and its people. It's enough to make you want to travel there yourself!

This is an excellent book for bringing the flavor of Africa into your home- at least the Africa you experience at Wild animal Safaris, and the sorts of people you might meet when you go there. Sometimes funny, sometimes sad, always enlightening, this book will make you yearn to go on a wild animal safari of your own. Recommended.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Star Wars, Vector, Volume 1 by Miller, Pimentel, Parsons, Harrison, Wheatley and Ross

Zayne Carrick is a Padawan on the run. Accused of killing his fellow Padawans, he's hooked up with a shady con artist named Gryph, determined to clear his name from the machinations of a group known as the Covenant. They believe Zane Carrick is a danger to the Jedi order.

Meanwhile, a Jedi known as Celeste Morne is dispatched to a War Zone to find and retrieve a Sith artifact known as the Muur Talisman and prevent it from falling into the hands of the Mandalorians. But as Celeste seeks to help the innocent leave the conflict, the Rakghoul plague is taking its toll. As friends and allies slowly turn into Rakghouls, Zayne tries desperately to warn the Mandalorian Commander of the danger, and to prevent the rest of the Galaxy from being infected.

The Murr Talisman can control the Rakhghouls, but how and why? And worse, it seems to want a Jedi in control of it- or will it control the Jedi? Celeste offers herself to the Talisman to protect Zane, and finds herself suddenly sharing mental space with the Sith Lord inside the Talisman. Before he and it can take her over, she allows herself to be sealed into the stasis pod of Dreypas.

And, in the future, Lord Vader seeks an apprentice to help him overthrow his master. Can the woman and the Muur Talisman aid Vader, or will they be his downfall? And once again, the Rakghoul plague is free after 4000 years of absence. But will Vader kill Celeste for the Talisman, or will she find some way to battle him and his forces to a standstill?

There can be no safety for the Galaxy until the Talisman and the Plague have been brought under control or destroyed. But who will be able to do it? And can it be done?

This was a dark, disturbing tale for the Star Wars universe, sort of akin to the Stargate SG-1 story where they found the world with the insects that turned you into more of them, and Teal'c was infected. This kind of thing speaks to a very dark fear in the human psyche, the fear of bodily integrity, of losing who you are and becoming something else- something monstrous. You are no longer yourself. And make no mistake about it, it's scary.

Here, we see many characters lost to the Rakghoul plague, but when the Murr Amulet comes into it, the threat is ramped up several notches. The holder of the amulet is immune to the plague, and can command the rakghouls, but the holder of the amulet has to deal with the personalty of the amulet's maker, who is still inside. I was wondering what the true threat is, the plague of the amulet- but since the title is Vector, it seems that the plague will make itself known further.

The Art in the two books is adequate, but I preferred the art from the second story more, as the art from the first can be extremely ugly at times. Yes, at times it was nice, and it fit the story, but I really preferred the art from the more "modern day" story, if you can say art set in the times between the two trilogies of movies is "Modern". I felt it was the better-looking art.

And yet, the story isn't over. With disturbing themes, I can only wait to see where the story will take us, and when. How and when will the story of the Rakghoul plague end and who will deal with it. I guess we readers will have to wait and see.

Afterbirth: Stories You Won't Read in a Parenting Magazine, edited by Dani Klein Modisett

Parents who read Parenting magazines know that the stories that appear in those magazines are almost all uplifting at their heart. It may start with a child having problems, acting out or doing something dangerous, but the kids learn their lesson, and everything afterwards goes back to the happy golden perfection that life is.

As if! Is life ever really happy, golden perfection? Not likely, even with millions of dollars in the bank and nannies. This book collects the real stories from the childhood trenches, when your kid is acting out and you are ready to pull out your hair- but you can't, because your guests will be arriving in five minutes for dinner.

It's the story of taking vacation with your relatives, knowing they are going to spend it all drinking like fishes, and doing it anyway because it is your wife's family. It's a letter from your Loudmouth Lesbian Best friend telling you what she'll do for you, and your new baby. It's a testimony from the gayest straight Dad in America. About having breast cancer.

These are stories about real life, the real life you rarely read about in parenting magazines or those uplifting 3 hanky cry books. The stories are funny, irreverent, and will make you smile, even if you don't have kids, or like me, only have four-footed ones that go "mew!" or "Ah-ruh!"

And because of that, you'll get to see many different sides of parenting. Not just the ones that make you feel it will all be okay, but the ones that make you see that you're not alone in feeling overwhelmed by it all, embarrassed by your relatives, or feeling like you've horribly scarred your own child for life.

I liked this book, even though I don't have kids. Because I don't have them, it's hard for me to say if parents with real, actual human children would enjoy it, but I think so. Of course, YMMV.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Ghost Hunt, Volume 10 by Shiho Inada and Fuyumi Ono

Naru has been in the Hospital ever since their last case over a month and a half ago, but now he decides to discharge himself from the hospital. The rest of the Ghost Hunters have been keeping Naru company and staying to make sure he is okay, and Mai realizes that, even though he was in the hospital for so long, no one from his family ever came to visit him.

She wonders about his family and why none of them came to see him, and why he has no insurance and had to pay his medical costs out of pocket. But on the drive back to Tokyo, they make a wrong turn and end up in the middle of a forest. They stay in a campsite overnight, and the next morning they make another wrong turn. This takes them to a lake and Naru suddenly decides to stay. He tells the others to return to Tokyo while Lin and he stay there. And that after this, he will be closing the office, leaving Mai out of a job.

The Mai and the others decide to stay with Naru, even though he makes it clear that he wants to be left alone. He says he has been looking for this place for a long time, and asks Lin to call in Divers. Mai hears that the divers are looking for a body, and she sees Naru standing by, watching. She asks him if it is true, and he seems unsurprised that there are already rumors. Mai asks him whp the divers are looking for and he tells her it is his brother.

Soon after, they are back in the cabins and are approached by two older men. One is the mayor, the other is his assistant. He says that two years ago, the local school closed. Ever since then, strange things have been happening. They were going to hire some psychics to look into it, but since the SPR team is already here... He also says that some people claim to have seen ghosts and spirits in the school. Some say the school is cursed. The town wants to tear down the school to help build an income-making resort, but they don't want any rumors of Ghosts and Curses to scare people away.

Naru agrees to look into the school while he is here, since he wants to be around anyway because of the divers combing the lake for his brother's body. But when they get to the school, they discover that they have been lied to. And not only is the school haunted, the ghosts there are quite malevolent. But when they are trapped inside the school, will they be able to find a way out before the ghosts inside find a way to kill them all?

I enjoyed this series a lot, and after waiting so long for this volume to come out, I was rather disappointed to see that the series might be coming to an end. I do have to admit that I am rather hoping that something will happed to change Naru's mind, and the series will go on, but at this point it's a moot point- they are trapped in a haunted school and there's no telling if any of them will actually survive.

Maybe at some point, Naru will realize that he is one of the best people to deal with this sort of stuff and decide to keep the office open. Maybe he'll die- although I hope not. Maybe someone else will die- and he'd keep the office open in their memory. But given Naru, I think that's a faint hope at best. I just really don't want this one to end- like Saiyuki Reload and Saiyuki Reload Gunlock, it's one of my favorite series, and the thought of it ending fills me with sadness.

Yes, the story in this book was very creepy, but what scared me more was thinking the series might end soon. It's almost horror, but not quite. Yes, the stories can creep you out- this one certainly did! But it never crosses the line into shock horror. It's more the subtle kind that creeps up on you, giving you chills without exploding heads or people being gutted. If there is such a thing, it's subtle, restrained horror- and all the more effective for that. This is one of my favorite series, and I'll pull a major sulk if its actually coming to end. I hope not. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Ashes of Midnight by Lara Adrian

Andreas Reichen was the head of a German Darkhaven. But when he helped a Breed Warrior uncover some dirty dealings that implicated Wilhelm Roth, Roth's response was savage beyond imagining. He had Reichen's entire family, down to the women and children, killed, and set the Darkhaven on fire. Reichen arrived too late to save his family, and the act unleashed a savagery in him like nothing he'd seen or done before.

Something inside of him snapped, and he unleashed his talent, the talent to burn things with the mere act of his will. He'd been able to cause small fires before, but the rage he feels unleashed hellish fires that make his earlier talent seem like nothing. But as well as the fires, his rage also seems to have unleashed something destructive in him as well, something that makes him burn with a feverish heat as he prepares to take his revenge on Wilhelm Roth.

His first target of vengeance is the men who helped Wilhelm Roth. When they are dead, he turns his sights on Roth himself, going to Roth's Haven and burning it to the ground. But also at the Haven is Roth's wife, Claire. Unlike the two men, she is American, and was once the beloved of Andreas. But when Andreas left her for reasons of his own, Wilhelm proposed to her, and she accepted. Andreas remembers her with regret, and Claire remembers him with longing, for her marriage to Roth has been anything but happy. In response, she threw herself into good works and tries to ignore the sense of emptiness she feels inside. She may be Wilhelm Roth's wife in name, but not in any other way.

When Andreas comes back with his new power, she is rightfully frightened of his new ability, but she is also afraid for him, for she can sense his gift is killing him even as he uses it to gain revenge on Roth. But soon they will both discover that Roth hates Reichen with a vengeance, wanting to blight Andreas's life by taking away anything and everything that ever mattered to him... which included Claire.

Roth knows he cannot rely on Claire to resist Andreas. Andreas, after all, was the man that she loved very deeply. But when she begins using her talent for walking into the dreams of others against her former husband, Roth will have no choice but to kill Andreas and Claire both, before they learn about his secret breeding program to make more first-generation Breed and use them to take over the planet. But is Roth working on his own in this, or is it as the behest of another? And can Claire and Andreas rescue the women that her former husband is using to breed his new generation of Warriors? Most of all, can Claire and Andreas learn to love and trust each other again? Can the love and passion they shared finally snuff out the flames of Andreas's rage, before it consumes them both in its deadly flames?

The action moves from Germany to America as Claire and Andreas flee Roth's retaliation. Soon, Claire's walks into Roth's dreams reveals that he is involved in a horrible conspiracy involving the Old Ones, the aliens who came and interbred with humans to create the Breed. Everyone thought they had been destroyed, but one survives, and his first-generation descendant is breeding more warriors from his father to take over the Breed with him at its head, But can the Breed warriors put a stop to the scheme and free the women being used as broodmares? And can the Breed warriors from the more diluted bloodlines ever have a chance of stopping the Ancient one if he somehow manages to break free?

Whoo. This book was incredible! The feelings of rage and hurt that Andreas was feeling almost literally came off the page at me- so much so that it was scary. But very soon that scariness was augmented by another- the feeling that his powers, even as they helped him get his revenge, were killing him as well, breaking some essential part of him that made him human and made him able to feel anything *but* anger, rage and hatred.

The core of the book revolves around betrayal- mainly that of Wilhelm Roth, who has betrayed Andreas at least twice over- once when he took Claire away from Andreas, and again when he killed those who looked to Andreas for their protection. Claire has also been betrayed- Wilhelm Roth has no love inside himself to give. He only wanted to marry Claire because she was Andreas's, and he's betrayed her with other women in the time since. But most of all, he betrayed the vows he made to her when she married. Luckily for her and Andreas, she's never stopped loving him, nor he her.

Watching her and Andreas come back together to rebuild the love they'd once had and lost was really heart-warming, and seeing her step out of the shell that her husband had forced her into was equally moving. And yet we're also getting to see what Roth was up to, and with whom. The ending brought together a happy ending for Andreas and Claire, and advanced the plot of the remaining Ancient One... but it's not over yet. And I can't wait to read more. Recommended.

Cast in Silence by Michelle Sagara

Kaylin Neya is a Hawk, one of the three forces that patrol the city of Elantra in an effort to keep the peace. But even though now she lives in the city proper, she once lived in the Fiefs, the lands controlled by Fief Lords. There is little Peace or Justice in the Fiefs, which is why Kaylin left the fiefs for the city proper.

But now, with all that has happened to her, it's time for her to go home. But at least this time she won't be going it alone. But can she stand to have other see where she came from and what happened to her before she became the Officer of the Law that she is?

It all starts when she is summoned to the Elani Temple by its Keeper, a man named Evanston. Normally, the Garden is calm and quiet, but something has the elements, especially the element of water, in an uproar. The ferals, the strange, unnatural things which are attacking the Barrens, are getting worse, and this is what draws Kaylin into the Fiefs. But to do that, she will have to confess to several others in the guard exactly how she joined, and why, something she is not comfortable with doing.

Before she knows, though, the Dragons take an interest in the situation, because only the fiefs lie between them and the source of the ferals plaguing the city. The fiefs are, essentially, Elantra's first line of defense. But while most Fiefs are named after their masters, the Ruler of the Fief where Kaylin grew up, Barren, doesn't seem to be as well-run as some of the other fiefs, including the fief run by Nightshade, the Barrani Lord with more than a passing interest in Kaylin Neya. Is Barren truly ruler over his fief, or is he ruler in name only, a front for someone else who has stopped doing the hard work of protecting the fief from the Ferals?

But when they cross over to determine the answer, they are sucked into the past, to the very creation of the castles at the heart of the fiefs, and Kaylin meets the spirit of one which she names "Tara", after her mother. But her naming of the fief causes unexpected problems when she and her companions return to their normal time. For she and she alone may be responsible for the problems that plague the Fief of Barren. But will Kaylin be forced to claim the Fief from its current Lord to undo the damage she unwittingly caused? And will Tara have survived their time apart in anything like a sane fashion, that will allow her to recognize Kaylin once again?

In this story, we get to learn more about the Fiefs, the Fief Lords, and the Castles that they rule and which represent their hold over the fief. We get to see how at least one of them was made, and named, and also how a fief lord claims his/her/their territory. It affords us another look into a very different part of Elantra, and to see how very different Kaylin Neya is from the other inhabitants of the Fiefs.

But is it the strange glyphs on her skin that make her so different? Or do they merely reflect something inside her, something that runs deeper than the Glyphs. Strange as it may seem, as we learn more about Elantra, we also learn more about Kaylin. And while we may understand the different parts of Elantra, it is Kaylin herself that remains the real mystery of the books. We've learned things about her, and about her history, but the mystery Kaylin represents and is carried in her skin? Of that, we know very little indeed.

Still, so much interesting things go on around her that I still want to know, to unravel the Mystery of Kaylin and what she really is. Is she a reflection of the city of Elantra- the whole city, not just the city proper, but the fiefs as well? Was she born this way, or did the marks she bears on her skin come out of something she did? Or is it linked to something she is? It's this mystery that keeps drawing me back to the books of this series- and will continue to do so as long as the mystery continues. I hope for lots of things for Kaylin, and suspect several more, but this series will keep you guessing, and reading. Recommended.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Ink Exchange by Melissa Marr

Leslie is trapped. Her dad lost his job and turned into an alcoholic seemingly overnight, and her brother is a junkie who wants nothing more than to sell her to his drug dealer friends for some free drugs. And even her former and hopefully still best friend Aislinn has drifted away from her, seeming more concerned with Keenan, the boy who had been pursuing her, and her boyfriend, Seth.

Leslie wants to feel something, anything. She wants to change herself, and she's been saving up for a tattoo from her friend, Rabbit. But the tattoo she picks is a very special one, and will link her forever to Irial, Prince of the Dark Court.

Irial wants someone with strong emotions- and Leslie has them in plenty. with the war between the Summer Court and Winter Court over, the Fae of the Shadow Court are no longer as strong as they used to be, and they blame Irial. But if Irial can get a link to Leslie's emotions, he can use her to feed from and strengthen his whole court without bringing them to the attention of the humans, who could kill all three courts.

But too many of the Shadow Fae believe Irial is weak, and are looking to bring him down, which means that Leslie herself is at risk from the Fae she will be linked to, and their King. Even as Aislinn and Keenan try to save her, Leslie must decide if she wants to be saved- or if she will be happy to lose herself in the calm that results from Irial stealing from her emotions- even if she ends up feeling less than human because of it?

As for Irial, he also gets linked with Leslie, and finds himself wanting to know her better, and even to take care of her, but his court views this as weakness. Soon, he finds himself wanting to spend less time with his own court and more with Leslie, who now despises him for using her, much as the other man in her life have been using her. But can there ever be a happy ending for Leslie and Irial, or will another man succeed in winning her heart?

This book only ever got to "Okay" for me. I felt terribly depressed by the story, and while Melissa Marr succeeded in making me identify with Leslie and her desire to escape, I felt angry on Leslie's behalf through much of the story. I ended up identifying with her so strongly that I disliked most of the other characters, especially Aslinn, who were lying to her by omission, even if they weren't already using her in some way.

In a way, it brought home the hopelessness of her position, but I found it too easy to find none of the characters worth redeeming- Leslie thinks a tattoo will change her life, but it's almost ironic that it actually does- she doesn't really seem to change that much on the inside, except to have her hopes rather cruelly dashed. The only character who I felt changed in an appreciable way was Irial, and his change actually *was* for the better, having found what seemed to be actual love for Leslie, even if she didn't return it.

I found this book depressing to read, and would have a hard time recommending it for just that reason. It's not a comfortable kind of book to read, and I have a hard time thinking who would actually enjoy reading this story. It's only okay, and I wouldn't recommend it, but YMMV.

Persistence of Memory by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes

Erin Misrahe is a sixteen year old girl with a problem. Though she tries to pretend to be normal on the outside, she's only been out of the insane asylum for a year. She was sent there for having episodes- episodes where she claimed to be a different person entirely- a woman named Shevaun, who is violent and attacks people and destroys pictures of herself- or Erin, that is to say.

Erin wants desperately to be normal, and it seems as if she finally might get her wish. She's been going to a normal school, is making normal friends, including a new girl named Marissa who actually seems to like her.

But Shevaun isn't just an alter-ego, she is a real person, a vampire. And now Erin's episodes are having the exact same affect on Shevaun that they once had on Erin. And when Shevaun's lover, the witch known as Adjila, must tell her of the human who shares this near-impossible link with her, and Shevaun isn't going to be happy.

Back at home, Erin runs into an old friend from the Asylum who met Shevaun on one of "her" rampages. But when he meets the real Shevaun, will she remember him or kill him, and kill Erin as well to put an end to the episodes that have them switching bodies- or switching consciousness, without warning?

But why is Erin afflicted with this problem, and how did she and Shevaun become entangled in the first place? Is there any hope of separating them, or of saving both of them to live normal lives afterwards? Will Erin even survive an encounter with a woman she has always thought of as her Alter-Ego?

This was a pretty amazing story to read, as the readers know the answer to who Shevaun really is before Erin ever does, but the deeper mystery remains: how did Erin get in Shevaun's head and/or vice versa? And how and why are they exchanging personalities and memories. Is Shevaun just a construct of Erin's mind, or is Erin a construct of Shevaun's?

Needless to say, the reader starts out identifying with Erin, but by the end of the book, you come to identify with both characters. The reasons for how and why the two heroines crossed paths, and how exactly this state of affairs came to be is examined, although the reasons why may have as much to do with magic as anything else. Apparently, memory images of Shevaun live in Erin's head, and to assimilate each back into their own minds, one must fight and kill or absorb the others. I found the climax of the book fascinatingly bizarre, and the ending just as strange as any book I had ever read.

But I did like it, and I did find the answer to the question fascinating. I'd like to read more about Erin somedau, even if Amelia Atwater-Rhodes never writes two books about the same character or characters- at least, not in the ones I have seen. But for the whole strange and twisted setup, I recommend this book unashamedly. It was strange, it was weird, and I literally couldn't stop reading.. Recommended.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Black Jack Volume 6 by Osamu Tezuka

Another 14 tales of the outlaw surgeon named Black Jack.

"Downpour" takes Black Jack to one of Japan's tiny islands where he meets a young female doctor who looks after the schoolchildren there. But she's got a bee under her bonnet- once a cliff face fell during unusually heavy rains, and since then, the town fathers have done nothing to correct the problem. But when the cliff face falls again during another heavy rain, can Black Jack save the life of the woman who has fallen in love with him?

"A Body Turning to Stone" shows a boy whose muscles and skin are turning into bone, or as he sees it, stone. Black Jack finds only one way to treat the disease- to transplant the boy's brain into a new body. But when the boy's father attempts to run over another child to have a new body for his son, he hits his pregnant wife instead. Can Black Jack use her stillborn baby son as a surrogate body for her ill child?

"The Old Man and the Tree" has Black Jack encountering an old man who is defending a Zelkova tree that is about to be cut down after many years of living. The night before it is to be cut down, the man drinks under the tree, shares his liquor with the tree, and commits suicide by hanging himself from the tree. Black Jack may be able to save his body, but can he prevent the man from trying again?

"Twice Dead" has Black Jack being asked to save a dying killer who leapt to his death when he was cornered by the police. He refuses, only to have another surgeon call him in when it looks like the man is going to die on the operating table. But has Black Jack saved him just for the system to sentence him to death at the trial?

In "Lion-Face Disease", Black Jack is arrested by a policeman who hates fake surgeons like him. He has a test for Black Jack- operate on a man who has lion-face disease and cure him, or be thrown into jail. Black Jack operates, placing a radium chip in the man's pituitary gland. But will he be able to pass the Policeman's test?

"Con Man, Aspiring" introduces a child who desperately needs an operation, but his parents can't pay the 3 million yen fee. So the doctor that the woman takes him to decides to try and trick Black Jack with a fake check for the money. But after the operation, cops show up at the Doctor's office. Who will they try to take to jail, and will Black Jack get his fee?

"Brachydactyly" introduces a Texas millionaire willing to pay Black Jack millions to save his son from an inoperable brain tumor. So why are his men threatening Black Jack not to go through with the operation, saying they will kill him unless he pretends to fail? Can Black Jack save the boy... and talk sense into whoever is behind the threats?

"Fire and Ashes" has Black Jack trapped by an erupting volcano with a father and son. The son fell and was badly burned in the volcano. Black Jack can save him- only by amputating both legs. But was he pushed or did he fall into the volcano's mouth? And will his father pay Black Jack to save his son, or does the man want him dead?

In "Revenge", the JMA gives Black Jack an ultimatum- get a license, join them, or be sent to jail. Black Jack refuses, and is duly jailed. A rich Italian man asks Black Jack to operate, and promises to do anything to get him out of jail so he can perform the operation. But the chairman of the JMA blocks him, and when the man takes his son to the JMA's hospital for an operation, the boy dies on the table. But this man is the head of the Mafia, and takes his revenge on the Head of the JMA's son. Now when the leader of the JMA turns to Black Jack to save his son, what will Black Jack do?

When a woman is injured by a rock thrown at the bullet train by her husband in "Vibration", Black Jack is on hand to save the day. He demands 10 million yen in compensation, but plans on getting it from the railroad. But when the bullet train passes by, the entire neighborhood shakes, jeopardizing the operation. Can Black Jack pull it off, saving the woman? Or is it already too late?

In "Nadare", a doctor wins a Nobel prize for discovering that a brain can grow bigger if you transplant it elsewhere. He used a deer that he named Nadare for the experiment back in Japan, working with Black Jack as the surgeon. But now the deer is super-intellgent and has gone on a rampage, escaping from its cage and attacking workers on the mountain where it lives. Will the Doctor agree with Black Jack that Nadare has to be destroyed, or will he find a way to redeem it?

In "Three in a Box", Black Jack is trapped in an elevator with an injured man and his son when a department store collapses. Can he save the man's life when all three of them are buried in the collapse? Or will his son's wailing and crying ensure their deaths from lack of oxygen?

"The Substitute" has Black Jack taking over the role of an injured and dying surgeon to perform an operation- to save the Doctor's reputation. But when he's unmasked by a little girl he talked to earlier, what will happen to his patient- and the hospital?

And in "Terror Virus" Black Jack is brought in alongside Dr. Kiriko to try and save three sailors infected with a mysterious virus from the war. Black Jack works hard to save them, but when it actually seems as though he might be succeeding, he is replaced by Dr. Kiriko, who he knows will kill them. Cam Black Jack engineer their escape to save them before Kiriko can be let loose on his patients?

I really enjoyed reading these stories. You'd think medical procedures would be dry as dust, but all Black Jack's cases are do or die, and this lends the stories weight and tension. Sometimes the tales are about the procedure itself, but it is often the tension from the outside story underlying the procedure that adds weight and depth to the tale.

As I have said in the past, Black Jack reminds me of Doctor House, except that Black Jack doesn't have the Vicodin addiction, and this volume has the added attraction of no supernatural-ish stories. Once again, they are very much human stories- human disease, human frailty and human courage. I liked these stories a lot. Black Jack usually succeeds, but he occasionally fails to save someone, and the cost is usually hard on him.

I like Dr. Black Jack. He's a surgeon who it is hard to look away from- not God, but a man doing his best to succeed. Constantly angered and astounded for people's ability to disregard others and do what they want instead of what they need to do, this manga paints a fascinating picture that never grows old. Highly recommended.

The Magician's Death by P.C. Doherty

Roger Bacon was both a monk and a magician. During his lifetime, he uncovered many secrets, supposedly through magic, and wrote them down in books. The greatest of these was the Book of Secrets, written in a code that is supposedly unbreakable.

England has one copy, kept by King Edward, and France has another copy of this book, kept by one of its foremost scholars. But when King Edward decrees that his agents should "retrieve" the French copy, Hugh Corbett sends some of his most trusted men to France on the mission. But the mission ends badly- most of the men die, and Hugh's servant, Ranulf, is one of the few able to escape what turns into a huge welter of blood and dead bodies.

With the failure of the plan, King Edward feels he has no choice but to agree when the Franch approach him about bringing the best minds of both Kingdoms together to solve the mystery of the cipher that conceals the book's secrets.

But the place chosen for the delegations to meet, Corfe Castle, is currently suffering from a rash of murders of young women, and Hugh feels compelled to find the killer. But the Killer is cannier than Hugh might think, and it will be a struggle to keep his promise.

Then, as soon as the French Delegation arrives, members of it begin to die. But is the same killer preying on these scholarly men, or is it another killer entirely? And is the Killer English, or French? And what does this all have to do with a rumored student of Friar Bacon who is said to live in the area, and a group of outlaws who are starving in the forest and wish only to return to their old lives?

Hugh must find out, before his friend and mentor dies, and, perhaps, before an invasion of Corfe Castle can provide a bridgehead for a French invasion of England. But with so many people desperate for his death, will he be able to solve the mystery in time?

I liked this book a lot, not only for the great mystery, but also for bringing Roger Bacon into it, one of the greatest scientists of the Medieval era. Unfortunately, much about him is not known. Stories are told about him having mystical powers, including the ability to see into the future. And he did leave behind books, and ciphers- much like an earlier Leonardo DaVinci.

I also liked the two separate murder threads. At times, it did seem that they would end up being related, and so many red herrings were thrown at us that that it became hard to tell which clues related to what murder, and who the murderer really was, in both situations. This time, we were even led to suspect Ranulf- as one of the two agents sent to France at the beginning of the book ratted on the others. Was it Ranulf who was a traitor? Well, that one you'll have to read for yourself to find out.

I found this book enjoyable to read, with a story that stretched the usual territory of the Hugh Corbett mysteries, bringing his own subordinates and long-time friends in as possible adversaries and suspects. I'd definitely recommend it, and even though you know lots of things have gone on between Hugh and one of the killers, you don't need to know the details of the times they have clashed in the past.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Ottoline Goes to School by Chris Riddell

Ottoline, the girl who lives alone in an apartment in the city with Mr. Munroe, a Norwegian Bog Fairy, meets another young woman, Cecily, who goes to the Alice B. Smith School for the Differently Gifted, and soon, after hearing stories from Cecily, Ottoline tells her parents that she also wants to go to the school.

Her parents arrange it for her, and soon she and Mr. Munroe are on the way to school with Cecily, her pet pony, Mumbles, and many of the other students. Soon, Ottoline was learning many new things, and struggling to discover her own gifts.

But all was not well at the school. Strange noises were heard in the night, and Cecily claimed the school was haunted by the Horse of the Hammersteins. While all the other students were frightened by the story, Ottoline was intrigued, and became determined to solve the mystery and put the ghost to rest.

But she wouldn't be able to do it on her own. For this, she is going to need the help of not only Mr. Munroe, but of all the pets at the school. But is it really the Horse of the Hammersteins haunting the school, or is there another, more prosaic, explanation?

Building on the characters from Ottoline and the Yellow Cat, Chris Riddell has crafted another book that is fun for kids to read. This book introduces us to the son of the invisible man, and his invisible dog, the very Frankenstein-ish looking butler, Solihull, and quite a number of friendly ghosts who make their home in the Alice B. Smith School for the Differently Gifted.

And once again, half the story is told in the pictures that accompany the story, allowing readers to feel like they are attending the school as well. Kids will also like the kinds of classes Ottoline takes, including "Giggling Studies" and "Sitting" as well as the lunchtime bun fight. Readers will laugh and smile their way through the story, and perhaps guess what Ottoline's gift is before she learns it.

This is a cute book with pictures that add a lot to the story, so much so that reading it again is still fun, even after you have finished the story. This is a book that can be enjoyed again and again. Highly recommended.