Saturday, October 31, 2009

Jumper Cable by Piers Anthony

Jumper is a Spider who is plucked from his normal Frame and brought to Xanth by a plot hook. He wants nothing more than to get home, but immediately upon his arrival in Xanth proper, he rescues a maiden from an amorous lout, and she helps him by feeding him tongues so that they can communicate.

The girl is Wenda Woodwife, and she is, as her name says she is, a Woodwife, looking girl-like and beautiful from the front, but from behind, she is a hollow construct of wood. She wishes to become a real woman, and is looking to head for the Magician Humphrey for information on how to do just that. She invites Jumper to come with her so he can solve his own dilemma: how to get home. But he discovers a note on his back, a prophecy that he was brought to Xanth to fulfill.

But what does it all mean? Banding together, they come upon another woman, Maeve Maenad, who was seduced by a scoundrel and is desperate to avoid the stork, who they inadvertantly signalled. She wishes to find Magician Humphrey to find out how to keep it away forever. They also encounter Haughty Harpy, who has a second personalty, Hottie Harpy, that only emerges after dark and spends her time seducing men. She finds this problematic and wants to be rid of her second personality, or at least be able to keep her under control.

They also find Olive Hue, who has the ability to summon imaginary friends with a wide variety of magic talents- but she wants to be able to keep them and Phanta, a maid who can turn into a ghost in the dark. She's running from Gheorge Ghost, who has designs on her body. All of them want answers- or at least to be able to control their talents. But they join together to go to the Good Magician's Castle to find their answers.

One they make it there and through the tests the Magician has laid out for them, he tells them that they can have what they wish, but to do so they must undertake a mission with Jumper. A cable that connects the Mundanian Internet with the Xanthian Outernet snapped when the Demon Pluto was demoted to being a Dwarf. He threw a tantrum that snapped the cable, which was in his interests because he wished to keep knowledge of his becoming a dwarf from both Realms.

Jumper is the only person who can reconnect the cables because half of his legs are negatively charged, and the other half are positively charged, making him able to touch both sides at once without being harmed. And to get him to where he needs to go, he and his companions must be joined by two more, the Princesses Dawn and Eve, who have been banished for fighting over the same man. But if any one of them refuses to help, the mission will not be able to succeed, and none of them will have the answers they have been searching for.

All the women agree to help Jumper, and the Magician gives them potions that will temporarily give them the solution to the problems that they seek. In addition, he gives Jumper potions that will allow him to assume the form of a man or return him to the form of a spider. The girls find Jumper's human form handsome and well-formed and each in her own way forms an attatchment to him. With human form, however, comes the weaknesses of a human man, like being freaked out by the sight of bras and panties.

So, one of Olive's imaginary friends, Angie Ina gives him lessons in love as a human and also enough knowledge to make him less than innocent, and keep him from freaking out. By the time they leave the Magician's Castle, he's fairly well inured to the sight of female panties. Their first stop is the home of Smash Ogre, who Jumper must emulate to fulfill the prophecy. But what part of Smash's personality must he emulate? And even here, Pluto has prepared a less than nice welcome for Jumper and the others.

Their next foray is inside the gourd, where they must follow the Lost Path to the Found Cabin and return the items they find there to their owners. Each woman finds something lost, and Jumper helps them return it to the man who lost it. But they find out that each of the men they made a romantic and intimate connection with is actually a demon. One demon. Pluto. And Sharon, who appeared as the sister or daughter of each man (or something similar) is also a demon, who has apparently fallen in love with Jumper. She, too, has shared intimate relations with him. She is working for Pluto, and hopes that they can seduce one of Jumpers companions, or Jumper himself, into abandoning the mission. But even if they stay true to the mission, can they stay true to each other? Can Jumper fulfill the mission, or will he be the one who abandons it?

So many people who have read Piers Anthony in the past are getting a little... uncomfortable with the direction of his Xanth novels in recent years. So many of them have revolved around panties, sex with women who are actually little girls magically made experienced and adult via magic and other such topics that they have come out and accused him of being a perverted dirty old man. Well, this volume isn't likely to change their minds much, if at all.

In his own defense, Piers Anthony points out that he never intended for his series to be read as a children's work. It's always been adult, and there have always been parents and others who squawked over the least mention of panties. I agree with that, but I also must say that I can see the point of those who criticize his latest works. Yes, Panties and love have always been in his works, but his latest do skirt the edge of what I think is acceptable. I mean the whole "Two to the Fifth" was fairly distasteful for me to read, and this has a lot of the same kind of stuff, but all the characters are nominally adults (Jumper is 2 in Spider age, which translates to his 20's in human terms). It's just that all the women are interested in sex and love, and they use Jumper to experiment with and on, which hardly seemed fair to him.

In the end, everyone finds the love they are searching for, but this seems to be one of the most adult Xanth stories I have yet read. Personally, I liked them a bit better when they were more innocent, and the innocence is going fast. Be aware that these new books may share the puns of the earlier books, but the sexual content will not be the same as the earlier books. It's ramped up and very much in your face, whereas I had to wonder if anyone in Xanth actually had sex in some of the earlier novels, where cuddling close was enough to summon the stork. For some, this will be a very unwelcome change. Don't think that low humor and comedy automatically means kid's book, because in this instance, it doesn't at all. YMMV.

Gwenhwyfar: The White Spirit By Mercedes Lackey

Gwenhwyfar is one of the four daughters of a Celtic king named Ogrfan Gawr. For the most part, Gwenhwyfar's childhood is happy, with loving parents and two older sisters who may be a little distant, but her younger sister, a near-twin named Gwenhwyfach who is unbearably jealous, and is the one blotch on a childhood that is otherwise wonderful.

As much as Gwen idolizes her father, her true hero is a female charioteer named Braith, the vassal of one of her father's fellow lords. Gwen loves watching Braith race, and one day, Braith notices her and allows her to walk her chariot-team's horses after winning a race.

Gwen does so well with the horses that Braith tells her father that it is time for him to give her a real horse and let her learn to ride... and to fight as well. Gwen is delighted, and not even the fact that her little sister immediately demands the same training and privileges can dim her joy. Especially not when her sister immediately demands to be put on a stallion.

The head groom indulges her, and she immediately attempts to gallop and falls from the horse. Neither her father nor the groom comfort her, and she reacts with a massive tantrum, but gets no sympathy from either of them. Immediately, Gwen knows her sister will be in a foul temper, but Gwenhwyfach runs off, and Gwen is too busy getting on her own horse to follow.

She works the rest of the day at riding, and when she joins her mother and father for dinner, she learns that her little sister has been busy ruining and destroying the things that her sisters love best, Gwen included. Her sister gives her eldest sister's best dancing shoes to the dogs, grinds her second sister's best embroidered belt into the dirt, and completely destroys Gwen's doll.

But this time she has gone much too far, and her parents punish her severely, until she can learn better manners. But Gwen fears that even when her sister finally repents and is welcomed back into their family by her parents, that Gwenhwyfach hasn't really changed.

While Gwen's father is a King, there is a greater King over him, Arthur, the High King, son of Uther. Arthur is marrying a woman named Gwehwyfar, one he reportedly loves as much as Gwen's father loves his mother, and before he does so, his advisor, Merlin, goes on a tour of the Kingdom, sounding out the Lords to see how they truly feel about Arthur. While there, he observes Gwen and her sisters, and speaks with Gwen and Gwenhwyfach. With Gwenhwyfach, he leaves a sealed box to keep for him. He also discusses their Power with their parents. Gwen has power from the Goddess, while her sister has something more akin to Glamour.

But Gwen doesn't want to be a lady of Magical Power. She wants to be a warrior and Charioteer like Braith. In addition, her mother is pregnant again, this time with a son. But something happens, and she and Gwen's brother die in the birth. Her father is devastated, as are Gwen and her elder sister. But her youngest sister doesn't seem to care.

Her eldest sister by this time has left for training as a Lady, a wielder of magic, and her second eldest must take over as Lady of the House, while Gwen becomes a scout and her father's military advisor. Gwenhwyfach goes with Morgause and her sister, Morgan, to be fostered in their house. A problem for Gwen is Morgause's son, Medraut, who wants her in a highly disturbing way.

But as Arthur takes a second wife after the death of the first, also named Gwenhwyfar, Gwen gets closer to him when she is part of the army who helps rescue Gwenhwyfar the White Christian from her captor and lover. But when she dies and Arthur is once more looking for a wife, he turns to Gwen, who reluctantly does her duty. She has no feelings for Arthur, but for his Companion, Lancelin.

As Queen, Gwen feels stifled. But can she convince her husband to let her out of the hothouse that is the Queen's court and give her a role in defending his kingdom in time to prevent Medraut, now married to her sister Gwenhwyfach, from carrying out his sinister plot and seizing all- not only Arthur's throne and Kingdom, but Gwen as well?

This was such an unusual novel about Arthur, with him having three wives with the same name, and used them to explain all the varied legends about Gwenhwyfar, from the number of children she had (or didn't have), who abducted her and why, if she was guilty of betraying her marriage vows or not, and with who.

This Gwenhwyfar is a scrappy fighter, beloved of the Goddess Epona, and gifted with visions, from the death of Britha to visions of the fair folk, who she later treats with and gives a home to in the form of a bog on her father's lands. And yet, she remains an outsider to the main story of Arthur pretty much all of that time- never a part of his court or his group of companions. This Gwenhwyfar is someone who spends much of her life denying parts of herself- the woman when she is fighting with her father's men, and the valiant fighter when she becomes Arthur's Queen. It's only in the brief time she spends with Lancelin after she escapes Medraut that she is able to be both- and that time is very brief indeed.

It's rather a saddening story. She survives to the end and gets her freedom, but she's spent all her life fighting for other people. Once she really has her freedom, she is almost paralyzed and unable to act or choose a path on her own. It made me sad that even when she chose to fight for someone at the end, it came off to me as a retreat from the freedom she had briefly enjoyed. She could have done anything, but she chose to retreat into a role that she was comfortable and safe in.

I enjoyed the book, but the ending did make me more than a bit sad. I didn't feel that she had used her freedom well, and the fact that she's been on the edges of the story rather than in the middle was also somewhat disappointing. Still, it's a good story, and I would recommend it.

501 Bento Box Lunches: 501 Unique Recipes for Brilliant Bento

When lunchtime comes around in Japan, people don't generally pull out brown bags with sandwiches. Instead, they eat Bento- Boxed lunches of rice, veggies, and various other treats. If you can't make your own, you can buy them from Bento Box Vendors just about everywhere.

Bento boxes can be one-tier, two tier, or three tier, and are generally beautifully arranged, because in Japan, a beautiful presentation is just as important as what is being served. Japanese Mama-sans will make their children's lunches resemble pigs or pandas, bears or a beautiful garden. But older people will sometimes also make their lunches look like something, and its this tradition that this book plays to.

Here, you can thrill your senses with a day-spa Bento, or a Geisha Bento, or go for the cute Pirate Bento, Peeping Mice Bento or Pac-Man Bento (with a yellow tomato with a wedge cut out of it as Pac-Man, and red, orange and green bell peppers for the ghosts. Or a Ducky Bento, with two Nori (black Seaweed) ducks on a lake of rice with a second tier that resembles the "water" at a duck-shooting gallery. Or a beef stew bento with a carrot flower and Nori Stars on rice.

And these recipies don't just use japanese ingredients, though many of them do. You can make them with everything from morning sausage, eggs, hotdogs, Chicken fingers, mashed potatoes, pancakes and more. The recipes are separated into six different categories: Art Bento, Cute Bento, Colorful Bento, Traditional Bento, Stylish Bento, and Holiday Bento, with a small section at the front devoted to Bento Basics. But even the ones put into other categories end up being cute.

I love this book, and the Bento presented in these pages. While most of these Bento will appeal to kids (eating a meal that looks cute or cool could be the way to get them to eat their vegetables or try things they might never have tried on their own. And it can enliven anyone's lunch, even yours!

With 501 recipes, you could have a different Bento every single day for almost two years and not eat the same thing twice. Tired of the same, boring old lunch? You don't have to be with Bento- a feast for the eyes and the stomach! Nor are you limited to the recipies you see here- many more abound on the internet. And while many use traditional Japanese ingredients like Edaname, Gyoza, rice and so on, many more use western ingredients.

I honestly loved this book. Yes, making these things take time, but the cuteness factor and wow factor greatly overwhelm the annoyance of having to make up these dishes every day. If you are looking for something cute and different, and don't mind people exclaiming over what you are eating, this is the one to try. Highly recommended.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Repeat Engagement

Today I re-read "Victory Conditions" by Elizabeth Moon. You can find my earlier review of it here.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Black Jack, Volume Seven by Osamu Tezuka

Another tale about Black Jack, the unlicensed surgeon who is usually the only chance to save his patient's life.

"Guys and Birds" has Blackjack being summoned to a small house on the edge of a tideland to look at a man's son who has been injured. It turns out that it's not that the boy can't be saved by anyone else, but that no other doctor has the courage to stand up to the crimelord who wants the land, Tonio, the boy Black Jack came here to help, understands the birds of the tidelands, who love him. But when his father is shot, can Blackjack get Tonio to safety, or will the birds give him away?

In "The Gray Mansion", a woman hires BlackJack to rebuild her brother's face and body after he was horribly injured and scarred in a fire. But something about the two seems strange. Can BlackJack penetrate to the heart of the mystery and prevent another tragedy from occurring?

"A Cat and Shozo" brings BlackJack together with a man who lost his entire family, and now sees them in the cat he took in and her kittens. One of the cats is hurt, but can BlackJack heal the man's shattered mind? Or does he get something out of his strange family that is too deep to be gotten rid of?

"The Two Pinokos" bring BlackJack into contact with a girl named Romi, the same girl he modeled Pinoko's appearance on, from a picture in a magazine article. But she is dying of sickness caused by contact with Pollution. Can BlackJack save her, or appeal to the Doctor who is monitoring her case about the importance of being truthful? Or will the other Doctor allow the businessmen to buy him off with money to lie about the cause of Romi's death?

"Unexploded Bomb" brings BlackJack together with a fat-cat who allowed homes to be built on an island filled with unexploded bombs and other ordinance. Landing together on the island in a balloon, he allows the fat-cat to escape. But can the man escape the other bombs left on the island. And why is BlackJack doing this?

"Younger Brother" tells the story of two sons of a man dying of cancer. Both agree to become surgeons, and if either falls ill, will save the other. But the older son is needed to run their father's company, and the younger son is too stupid to be a surgeon. When the elder brother falls ill, the brother brings in Black Jack to be a "ringer" for his own son, who is studying medicine in America. But will the older brother fall for the ruse?

"High and Low" brings together an executive who needs a blood transfusion and a construction Worker who has the same rare blood type to save him. Black Jack performs the operation for 50 million yen. But when the construction worker also needs an operation, will the executive repay the favor or will he save his company instead?

"Goribei of Senjogahara" gives us a Gorilla who attacks women on the sacred mountain, and steals milk and vegetables. BlackJack is helping the latest victim when a famous hunter shows up to track down and kill Goribei. But can BlackJack stop the attacks in his own way?

"The Kuroshio: A Memoir" shows the lengths BlackJack will go to for justice, as hounds a famous actor who is attempting to escape apologizing to a couple for the death of their xon. Who will crack first? BlackJack, or the actor?

In "Black and White", a surgeon named Shirabyoshi (Or "White") meets a man with a brain tumor. But when he hears that the man is going to BlackJack, he begs the man's wife to let him perform the surgery. But can he deal with the aftermath of a patient who is a criminal on the run from a rival organization?

"A Hill for One" has BlackJack denying to make a contribution to the reforestation of a hill that was partially denuded by the Winter Olympics. But when BlackJack is injured and saved by a bear, will he return the favor when he is well? And what else will he do for the animal that saved him?

"Cloudy, Later Fair" brings together a young boy, his injured father, and BlackJack when the father's life is endangered by an employee strike at the hotel they are in. But when they are trapped on the mountain during a lightning storm, can BlackJack save his life through surgery?

In "Hurricane", BlackJack is brought to a small island by a man determined to save his father- or so he says. In reality, he is the lover of his father's beautiful young wife, and when a hurricane threatens, he attempts to strand BlackJack and the old man on the island so he can inherit his father's company, money and holdings, and his father's wife as well. Can BlackJack keep the old man alive and survive the storm?

"Timeout" has BlackJack at the scene of an accident with a young boy trapped under metal pipes that rolled off the back of a truck. Assured by the owners of the trucking company that they will pay his fees, BlackJack works tirelessly to free him and reattatch the limbs he had to remove to free the child. But will the company pay up in the end?

I liked these stories, which really covered all sorts of medical conditions and people. And some of those "people" weren't exactly "people" at all, like Goribei the Gorilla and the bear who saves BlackJack's life. Pinoko appears hardly at all in this volume, which I thought was all to the good. I find her too much of a one-note character, a gag whose time has long since passed.

This book was very full of stories about BlackJack's sense of justice, and why he is needed. After all, even criminals need medical care, And being outside the law himself, he can deal with thema manner befitting their behavior. But we also get to see some of the experiences that shaped BlackJack into the man he is today, In "Unexploded Bomb" we see a side of him that is cruel and ruthless- much more so than he usually is. And its a shock to see, how far he'll go to wreak vengeance on the wronged. Perhaps he's got reason to be so harsh when you see the hand that life dealt him.

I still love this series. It makes medical operations taut and gripping, and shows the genius of Osamu Tezuka, that you can care so much about the characters in a very few pages. Modern manga are generally all about long, involved stories, but they need many pages to achieve the same effect that Tezuka does in just a few. This is genius at work, and I love reading these stories. Highly recommended.

The Tale of Applebeck Orchard by Susan Wittig Albert

Beatrice Potter, beloved Children's Author, returns to Lake Country to find the villagers up in arms over the closing of what everyone considers a public path through Applebeck Orchard. And not just closing, but enclosing, with wire and wood and tar.

The Owner of the Orchard, Adam Harmsworth, is angry over someone having torched one of his haystacks in the night, and believes it is the fault of the Claife Heights Ramblers, a group of walkers based in the Sawrey Villages. He thinks that one of them set the fire for fun, and has decided to close the path running through the orchard to prevent anything like it from happening again. And if they aren't responsible, perhaps it's Auld Beechie, who used to work for Adam Harmsworth, but was turned off, like that, and now must subsist on a rather dodgy way of making a living.

But the Animals of the Land between the lakes know the truth- the fire was started by a woman, and maybe a Ghost, a woman who haunts Applebeck Orchard looking for her daughter who drowned in the small pond there. Bosworth Badger, the Badger who runs the animal hostel known as the Brockery, knows the tale- though he's beset with a problem of his own. He's getting on in years, and is looking for someone to pass on the Badge of the Brockery to. At first he was considering passing it onto Thorn, the son of his Badger Housekeeper and Cook, Primrose, but he's been missing since he left on a trip in January.

The only remaining candidate for the job is Primrose's daughter, Hyacinth, and while she's smart, intelligent and courageois, she'd also be the first female to ever hold the job. Can Bosworth trust her enough to give her the job, and does she have the intelligence to keep up the standards of Bosworth's family?

Another unusual career is in the offing in the village, with Caroline Longford wanting to attend the Royal Academy as a student composer. She has the talent, the drive, and the ambition, but can Beatrice and her music teacher persuade her tight-fisted grandmother to support her in her schooling instead of saving Caroline's inheritance as a dowry to be used when she marries?

Beatrice is also a bit upset. After having been in mourning for her fiancé of one month for five long years, she has fallen in love with Will Heelis, a local solicitor. But she cannot marry him for the same reason that she could not marry her former suitor. He is in trade- he is beneath her- and more to the point, her parents view her as attempting to be anything other than a put-upon nursemaid for them to be sheer folly. And Beatrice knows she doesn't have the will to gainsay them or put up with their unpleasantness on the subject of her marrying.

Meanwhile, Miles Woodcock is also turning his attention to marriage, and when he unexpectedly finds himself falling for Margaret Nash, the village Schoolteacher, she unexpectedly finds herself agreeing to marry him, for she has loved him ever since he spoke up on her behalf and got her the job with the school.

But as the problem of the closing of the Applebeck Orchard footpath consumes the village, shots are fired, and another building goes up in flames. Tempers on both sides run high. But can Beatrice discover the true culprit and set matters to rights in the short time she will be staying on her farms?

I like this book, but this mystery really wasn't much of one. Much of the story seemed to be pairing characters off or setting up small bits of business to distract from how small this mystery was. I figured out who had done it fairly early in, so it all becomes wondering when the other characters were going to catch on and how the culprit would be caught. Essentially, it doesn't have the dripping pull of someone being killed or otherwise menaced. It seemed that more time was spent on other storylines than the mystery itself.

But mainly, its the characters here who attract, and this book has them aplenty. Following the lives of the villagers of both near and Far Sawrey (named for their distance to a market town) allows you to see how their attitudes towards Beatrice, and each other, change over time. And it's not just the humans who are characters, but the animals of the region as well, from the local cats and dogs to the Badgers, ferrets and other animals who call the village home- and Beatrice seems to be the only one who understands them.

It's a cute series, but the series itself is changing, becoming slightly different. Beatrice Potter is entering a less creative period in her life. From now on, she will only make books to support her farms. And the stories are less about her own animals, and more the wild animals of the village and surrounding farms. It will be interesting to see where the series heads from here, and yeah, I'll be there to read it. Recommended.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Murder at Holy Cross by Peter Davidson

In 2001, a startling murder occurred at South Florida's Holy Cross Academy. One of the teachers, a nun named Sister Michelle Lewis, was murdered in the night by an unknown assailant.

But the police who were called to the scene could see the seeds of an awful truth: Michelle Lewis was killed by someone who had access to the keys to her residence, and that meant it was almost certainly someone from Holy Cross itself who had killed her.

And soon they had their suspect, a young man who was training to be a monk under the auspices of the Father Abbot, Gregory Wendt. This young man was Ukranian, and named Mykhaylo Kofel. But why had he murdered Michelle Lewis? He claimed that she had always been nasty to him, and mean. But the Father Abbot was the worst, fondling him through his clothing, and running the lives of the monks with an iron hand.

But the murder investigation opened a number of facts up to public view: that Holy Cross Academy was being run as the personal fiefdom of Father Abbot Gregory Wendt, and that his taking of teenage boys to train for monks was highly unusual in the church. The accusations of molestation by Mykhaylo Kofel were believed to be accurate by everyone who heard him speak. But would the monks be brought to trial for their misdeeds? And what would happen to Mykhayl Kofel?

I found this book rather unshocking, as I've read it after all the accusations of Child Sexual Abuse by priests against young men who worked under them in church, so the accusations of abuse weren't so incredible or shocking to me. What was shocking was how the Father Abbot and his second in command were able to stymie the investigation into the sexual abuse accusations for so long.

In the end, they paid, but not with jail time. Instead, students left the school in droves, and it eventually closed down. But the priests... well, you'll have to read that for yourselves.

After reading two novels with a rather depressing end to them, it was almost nice to read a book where the ending was more or less happy- the murderer caught and confessed, tried and put in jail.But other than that, the story was rather "meh". It was a short, if interesting, read.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Vampire Academy: Blood Promise by Richelle Mead

Rose Hathaway os a Dhampir, a half- vampire. Her friend Vasalissa Dragomir, known as Lissa, is a living Moroi Vampire whom Rose has sworn to protect. In reality, Rose is bound to Lissa, and is known as a Shadowkissed, because Lissa, whose element to control is Spirit, had brought her back from the dead. This allows Rose to see into Lissa's head, and draw off the darkness of spirit that Lissa sometimes feels.

But when St. Vladimir's Academy, where they both went to school came under attack. Dmitri Belikov, the guardian that Rose was in love with, was attacked and bitten by a Strigoi Vampire. Recalling that they had both agreed that they would rather die than become Strigoi, Rose feels she must leave school and kill Dmitri herself.

So she travels to his home in Russia, but because she is killing Strigoi in Russia, she comes to the attention of the Alchemists, a group of humans who cover up the evidence of Vampires so that other humans don't find out about them. But the girl who discovers her, Sydney, thinks that she is an inhuman, unnatural monster. Rose knows that Dmitri comes from a village where humans and Dhampir coexist, but she doesn't know its name or where it is. Sydney does, and after some discussion, agrees to take Rose there.

But on the way, they are attacked, and Rose defeats the two Strigoi who have tracked them down, but is badly injured. When she wakes up, she is in Dmitri's home, being nursed by his mother. There, she recovers and tells his family what has happened to him, and they hold a funeral for him, because even if he is Strigoi or undead, he is now dead to them.

While Rose is in Russia, She is still looking in on Lissa through their connection. And Adrian, another Moroi royal with the power of Spirit, has been walking into her dreams and keeping tabs on her. But with Rose's departure, Lissa has been going a little wild and crazy. She's been assigned a minder, another Moroi named Avery, whom Lissa at first pushes away and eventually befriends after learning that Avery is considered a bad girl and has no friends.

But Avery's friendship isn't good for Lissa. She starts drinking too much and partying, even kissing other male Moroi despite being in love with Christian Ozera. And when Rose manages to piss off Adrian, she is left alone in her own head. Meanwhile, Dmitri's grandmother takes her to meet another Spirit-bonded pair, a male Dhampir and younger Moroi who are very much in love. Dmitri's mother can also manipulate spirit, and there is another man who apparently brought a Strigoi back from the dead.

But an argument with Dmitri's sister sends Rose to Novosibirsk, where she joins a group of young Dhampir on a Strigoi hunt, looking for Dmitri. Unluckily for her, he finds her, and her love for him makes her hesitate when it comes to killing him. He, on the other hand, has no such compunction, and he takes her prisoner in a luxurious suite, where he tries to persuade her that she should turn Strigoi to be with him. She is caught by his bites, which keep her in a sensual fog where she forgets herself enough to enjoy their time together.

But one night, Adrian appears in her dreams once again after telling her he would never be back, and is shocked at her appearance. Their argument breaks her out of the fog, and she is finally able to come back to herself. But can she escape Dmitri's prison, kill him and free his soul, and manage to return to save Lissa from Avery? Because if she can't, she's dead, and so is Lissa. But how can she kill the man she loves, when she isn't sure he's really all dead on the inside? And he isn't the only Strigoi who is interested in her... the others want her dead, and Dmitri as well!

I enjoyed this book, mostly, but some of it was annoying.because Rose has severe problems with addiction. She gets too easily addicted to things- in this volume to Dmitri's "kiss" or bite. It annoyed me that she fell into it again all so easily. It made her character seem very weak in this way, and I lost patience with her. Yes. it's true that she fights back from her addiction, but it's an outside source to herself that sets her fighting, where I wanted it to be more of an internal, self-directed decision.

Aside from that, I did enjoy the book. The scenes of Russia were well-described and made it almost like being there. It was driven home that Dhampir are just as inconstant and find it just as easy to fall into childish behavior as humans are and do. so, essentially, humans and Dhampir are very alike- but human society allows for a wide range of behaviors, whereas Dhampir are either Kick-ass, Badass guardians or wimpy disliked Blood whores. In Russia, this appears to be not the case, but most western Dhampir fall into one of those two camps. It was nice to see something different in Russia.

I enjoyed this book, even if it was somewhat depressing to read, what with Rose being a prisoner for about 1/3 of the book. But I foresaw the ending even as it was happening, and I think most readers will be as well. Rather obvious clues were also thrown in about Dmitri's fate as well. And while I suspected that something like that would happen, instead of the clues being buried in the story, we're slapped in the face with them, as if there was a big sign flashing "MAJOR CLUE HAPPENING HERE!" I didn't mind the clues, I just wish they were a wee bit more subtle. It's not like you're left wondering what is going to happen, just how. Recommended.

The Ghost King: Transitions, Book III by R. A. Salvatore

The Crystal Shard, Crenshinibon, has been destroyed. Or has it? When the spirit of a dead Illithid torments the Dragon whose fire destroyed the artifact, as well as its own eyes, the spirits of the seven liches who made up the shard are released, and the Wyrm, a dragon named Hephaestus- dies, but is transformed into a Dracolich, and the shard is bonded to its forehead.

The Dragon wants revenge on Jarlaxle, the Drow who used it to destroy the shard, and Crenshinibon wants revenge on Drizzt Do'Urden, the drow who defeated it and caused it to be destroyed the first time. When the spirit of the mind-flayer Yharaskrik joins the other two, they become a new entity, the Ghost King, who will go for revenge on each of the entities involved in their death and mutilation.

Meanwhile, Jarlaxle is finishing up his business, accompanied by the Dwarf, Athrogate. But the intrusion of The Ghost King into his mind when he goes into the state of Reverie that makes up the sleep of elves bothers him, causing him to forgo that rest. He can block the Ghost King from knowing where he is, but not its ceaseless whispers declaring its revenge. He decides to go north to ask Drizzt for help (in his own way).

But Drizzt has a sudden problem of his own. The source of the magic called the Weave is fragmenting, and it strikes down his wife, Catti-Brie when she is in the midst of her morning exercises. She undergoes a strange magical affliction that causes her to relive her life as if it was happening all over again. But in between these episodes of almost-sanity, her eyes glow blue and she magically levitates. He is determined to save her, and takes her to Mithril Hall. There, Bruenor, her foster-father, is no less determined to save her. Deciding she needs clerical intervention, he decides to take her to Spirit Soaring Cathedral, and to Cadderly Bonaduce, cleric of Deneir.

Cadderly is having problems of his own. Deneir has gone silent, although Cadderly is still recieving help from his deity when he asks for help. But the spells and powers he gets are nothing like anyone has seen before. But his own children by his wife, Danica, are in a town under seige by creatures of Darkness, and coincidentally by some of the liches from Crenshinibon. As Danica sets off in search of her missing children, they are on the run back to spirit soaring along with their dwarven protector, the druid Pikel Bouldershoulder.

But as Drizzt and Bruenor prepare to set out for Spirit Soaring, another tragedy befalls- Regis, the Halfling with the magical ruby, attempts to bring Cattie-Brie out of the magical state she is in. But instead of him drawing her out, she draws him in, and for him it is torture- trapped in a shadowy world where he seems to be under constant attack. They cannot even take him with them, as his attempts to defend himself hurt and endanger the others around him.

But is there any healing to be had for Catti-Brie? For even as everyone heads for Spirit Soaring, it is already under attack, and the Ghost King himself is glad that all its foes are finally in one place. As the broken magical weave reshapes Faerun, a rip in the fabric of space and the dimensions links the underground ways of the Dwarves to the Plane of Shadow, allowing beasts from Shadow to roam free. But can there be any victory when the conditions are so grim?

I had been kind of looking forward to this book, but kind of dreading it, too. Because this is the last book in the third edition of the Forgotten Realms, and the first in the fourth. I knew there were big changes ahead for Drizzt and his friends, and I sort of knew that while he would survive pretty much unscathed (being the fan favorite that he is), I was not so sanguine about those around him.

And I was right to feel that way. Wizards of the Coast nerfed the Forgotten Realms because a growing number of players felt that they couldn't have heroic characters in a setting with so many high-level heroes. I don't agree, and it's basically stopped me from buying or even playing 4th edition. I do not like or agree on the direction in which the game has gone. And basically, all my fears for this book were realized.

The ending to the story, I found intensely depressing to read, and the last line nearly made me cry. I won't give it away, but essentially, not only did Drizzt and Bruenor lose their friends, but they won't even be together in the afterlife. As I've said, intensely depressing. If you enjoyed the old Realms, the real Realms that were Ed Greenwood's creation, this book will make you very sad to see them going away forever. I can't honestly recommend this book unless you feel like being sad. But YMMV. Especially as my disappointment was rather colored with metabook stuff.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Metaphase by Vonda N. McIntyre

At the end of the second novel, Transition, the Starfarer had jumped from the Solar System of Tau Ceti to Sirius, following the trail of two uplifted humans who had tried to warn the crew off and send them back home, Androgeos and Europa tried to pawn them off with a small asteroid controlled by something called a Squidmoth- a reclusive being that never communicates with anyone or any other race. But as the Starfarer humans have show, they are stubborn, and they will take this opportunity even if the other humans show scorn on it as a viable option.

But far from being aloof and standoffish, the Squidmoth, who J.D. christens "Nemo" has no problem communicating with J.D or the other members of the alien contact team. As they struggle to understand it and how it lives, J.D. finds her making friends with this alien creature and enjoying talking with it.

But once again, the Starfarer team is under a crunch- this one concerned with time. The aliens who make up the interstellar community who are rejecting the people of Earth and the crew of the Starfarer have been withdrawing the cosmic string that the ship travels with and by. If the ship stays in the Sirius system too long, they run the risk of being stranded there with no way back to Earth, consigning them to a cold death among the stars.

But J.D. notices something changing in her friend, and finds out that Nemo is pregnant and about to give birth- the result of which will end her new friend's life as her offspring take more and more from her. But when Nemo asks for J.D. to stay with her/it, J.D. cannot refuse, even though she knows her friends must leave without her. But will J.D. be able to rejoin them before they leave, or will she be stranded in the cold depths of space?

Space exploration is muted in this volume to give the first exploration of a true alien life form- and it is very alien indeed. However, it can speak- or perhaps think, in English, which speeds communication in one way, but at the same time, some concepts don't translate well into English, leaving conversations sometimes more confusing than enlightening.

J.D. Sauvage is the leader of the alien contact team, mainly because she is the person who has had the most experience with sentient nonhumans like orcas and the still mostly-human but mysterrious divers like Zev. And it is her experience with both of these entities that gives her an edge up on understanding Nemo. And despite the very great differences between them, they manage to become friends. Because of that relationship, J.D. ends up receiving a gift that could completely change their situation with the aliens who are, in a sense, punishing them for the nuclear missile blast.

Yes, there is a fourth volume, in which the Starfarer crew will either convince the aliens to admit them to the galactic confederation, or go home empty-handed. But this one shows why the Starfarer crew is out here, not just to fight against arrogant, immortal humans like Europa and Androgeos (battles of words and ideas, not physical fights, mind you). And the squidmoths turn out to be not so aloof, perhaps as a way of showing that the scientists are out there for the knowledge- not for things- not like Europa and Androgenos. And they are humble, seeking to learn, while the old immortal humans are arrogant, assuming their own superiority. Which could be why they assume the squidmoth won't talk to anyone- it just wouldn't talk to them!

Still. I liked this book. Yes, it was more static than the first two, but by the end, you can hope that the Starfarers overcome their initial bad impression to have humanity join the galactic community. You have faith that it will happen, and soon. I only wish I had a chance to re-read the final book, but I couldn't find it in the secondhand store, and mine is in the attic (and it's too cold and windy to go up there right now). I'll keep looking out for Nautilus, but for now, I'll just relive how awesome both this book and this series was for me. Highly recommended.

Dreamdark: Silksinger by Laini Taylor

Whisper Silksinger is a faery, a weaver of flying carpets. But her family is also something more: the guardian of a djinn named Azazel, who has gone to sleep inside an ember that is kept in the family. But the devils, led by one called Ethiag, fear the return of the djinn, for they are fated to reweave the tapestry of existence, or, in other words, the entire world.

When her family is attacked, Whisper and her grandparents are the only ones left of the Silksinger family. Most of them are thought to be dead, but they have gone into hiding to protect the ember. Whisper is the last of the Silksingers, and one of the most powerful in ages, perhaps ever. But her grandparents die to take out the devils who are chasing them, leaving her alone in the world. Her only treasure is the ember, which she holds in a teapot.

Hirik is a young faerie working as a general worker on a caravan, but he, too, has hidden depths. For he is of clan Mothmage, once champions of Azazel, but charged with betraying him and banished from Faery society. His clan knows the time for the return of the djinn is near, and Hirik hopes to erase the stain from his clan's name by becoming Champion to the Djinn once more.

He meets Whisper when she steals away in the caravan he is working, and while he has seen her in the divinatory smoke of a smoke weaver, he cannot know why she will become so important to him. But when she is discovered, he protects her and trades his clan's greatest treasure, a scale of the last dragon to exist, known as Fade, for money, her passage, clothes for her and food. She finds it hard to trust him, but his continuing care of her brings him her trust. But when the secret of who she is comes out, the caravan protects her, but when Hirik's secret is exposed, they drive him out. Remembering the promise he made to her to see her safely to the city, he trails after the caravan.

But once she gets to the city, she is abducted by Ethiag, and forced to weave a carpet to bear him through the skies. Also in the dungeon are the firedrakes that once belonged to Azazel, now imprisoned by Dusk, the same faery who betrayed Azazel long ago and let the Mothmage clan take the blame for what he did.

Hirik's only allies are a group of crows led by a faery woman named Magpie, who is seeking the other sleeping djinn to awaken them for the coming reweaving of the world. But can they rescue Whisper before she is forced into evil by Ethiag, and before he can kill Azazel to prevent the reweaving? For Ethiag wants everything, including whisper and the entire world, and he can't be killed because he will similarly terrorize the afterlife. So how can they deal with Ethiag permanently without killing him? And can Dusk be brought to justice as well?

This is the second book in the series, but I found myself liking it. I was grabbed by Whisper's story and character right away, and also by her plight. She starts off as very innocent and sheltered, but by the end of the story has made her own destiny and disposed of a great foe, all by herself. Hirik, too, grows up a great deal. He starts off wanting to clear his clan's name, but by confronting adversity and helping rescue Whisper, he becomes more than just a boy/young man with a dream.

I also liked the worldbuilding in the story, and how the Moongarden, the faeries version of the afterlife, was a real place that Magpie could visit. Not having read the first book, I wasn't sure if she was being set up to be an ally of Whisper or an enemy. I didn't realize that she was the heroine of the first book and was going to be an ally. The story was very efficient at eliminating one enemy (Ethiag) and substituting another (Dusk). And you don't get a hint of who the real villain actually is until nearly the last half of the book. and it's a deliberate reveal.

I really liked this book, and I can't wait to read more. The story was very engrossing and enjoyable, with characters that sucked you right into the story and kept you there.I'm going to have to track down a copy of the first book and read that one while waiting for another. It's just that good. Highly recommended.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Transition by Vonda N. McIntyre

After their startling entry into a new star system, and announcing their arrival with the detonation of an atomic missile fired at their leaving ship by members of the American military, J.D. Sauvage and the rest of the members of the alien contact team on board Starfarer ready themselves for the exploration of the new system. They already have a signal coming from one of the planets- a weak signal not meant to reach beyond the solar system.

But even as they take off on a scouting craft to explore this new system of Tau Ceti that they have found themselves in, the main ship is having problems- the least of which is the damage from the nuclear missile fired at them at the end of the last book. Part of the ship is an open cylinder the recreates various earth ecosystems, complete with plants and small animals. But the light in it comes from solar radiation, and when they were near earth, the sun's light was just fine to keep the system from running smoothly. Now that they are in a new system with a star whose light is different from the sun's, it's causing problems for the ecosystem.

Meanwhile, the team of Alien Contact Experts are dealing with their own problems. The minute they land on one of the moons in the system with a dome, there is a nuclear explosion that destroys pretty much everything on the moon. As far as they can tall, the dome was a museum filled with information- but nothing is left. Was it their presence that destroyed it, or did it have to do with the nuclear missile that went off in the system? The nuclear missile that nearly destroyed the Starfarer and still caused it massive damage may have caused them far more problems than they could have anticipated.

However, their continued exploration of the Tau Ceti system eventually brings a response, two human visitors who were uplifted from earth's past and are now part of a galactic Federation who wants nothing to do with the Starfarer or its crew because of the nuclear explosion. These two arrogant, dismissive humans tell J.D. and her team that every world they attempt to land on will be destroyed to prevent their warlike ways from contaminating this galactic civilization- and that maybe in 500 or so years, the galaxy will believe they have changed.

Of course, the alien contact team aren't going to take that sitting down, but politics back on the ship, and the ongoing illness of Stephen Thomas create a lot of worry on the part of his family and friends. Stephen Thomas mourns the loss of his friend from the first novel, whom he wanted to join the marriage he shares with Victoria and Satoshi, and Victoria explores her own attraction to her friend, J.D. and the Diver, Zev as other characters struggle to keep the ship, and everyone else, alive. But as further acts of sabotage occur, the scientists must work together with the others trapped on the ship to undo the damage and allow them to go home. The question is, can they achieve it so far from home?

Second books are always a little more dull than first or third books, but I didn't find that to be the case in this one. There are two plots going on- the alien contact team are attempting to find out about Tau Ceti and any alien civilizations that they might encounter, and the rest of the scientists and crew, who are dealing with the damage and devastation inside Starfarer as they attempt to survive when the ship's systems start breaking down. It's much harder than many of them thought it was going to be- half the buildings on the "campus" are collapsed or damaged, and all the food service and hospitality workers are gone after the government decrees. And even the robot AIs are gone, taken out by an act of sabotage- so it's getting rather uncomfortable inside the ship- and that's not even going into the political problems on board!

Still, as the scientists and alien contact team attempt to solve their respective and collective difficulties, the story just zips along as things go from bad to worse- Stephen Thomas comes down with a strange illness, and his partners worry that because he was in the Biochem building when it collapsed, he may have contacted a disease from one of the cultures there. It takes a while for the truth about his condition to be revealed, but the tension is certainly there because you want to find out what is going on.

The only "problem" with this book is that the cover makes it seem like this book is set in the same universe, yet unrelated to Starfarers, when in fact, it is a sequel to the first story. Readers who pick up this book without reading the first book will find it confusing, as the book assumes you know the characters from the first volume, and doesn't give any space at all to retelling the first story or reintroducing the characters, it just drops you in the deep end to sink or swim. And if you've read the first book, that's fine- the story was fascinating enough that you are going to remember the characters pretty well.

The interpersonal relationships from the first volume continue and are enlarged upon in this volume. Does that mean sex? Yes, it does! And it's described pretty comprehensively, but also vaguely enough to not go into pornographic detail. Some might find the sex scenes annoying or overdone, but they speak to the closening bonds of the characters, as well as makes them more completely whole and human- Humans use sex for many things besides procreation, and comfort and closeness are just two of some of them- and that describes a lot of the sexual encounters in this book. I'll also point out that almost nothing puts humans off sex for long, so I didn't find the sex scenes to be silly or superfluous. I treasured them for the humanity they brought to the characters.

I found this book fascinating and a welcome follow-up to Starfarers, letting me see more of the characters I most enjoyed from the book, and expanding their story into a new solar system. Again, this is not the first time I read the book, and it still made me want to read more. An engaging second volume well-set to lure you into the third. Excellently done and highly recommended.

Mercy Thompson: Homecoming by Patricia Briggs, Francis Tsai, Amelia Woo and David Lawrence

Mercy Thompson is a wanna-bee teacher who comes to the Tri-Cities of Washington looking for a job as a Civics teacher, but when her prospective employers want someone who is as much coach as teacher, she stands up and leaves in disgust.

But, she doesn't want to go home just yet, since it will mean a return to working in a fast food restaurant, and she just hates that idea. Her mother wants her to work in computers, but Mercy isn't thrilled with that idea, either. Then, a nice, relaxing run turns into a chase when a werewolf pack decides Mercy is prey. But she isn't prey and she's not a full human, either.

Mercy is a skinchanger, not exactly a were, but someone who can change without being dependent on the moon. But she knows werewolves- she was raised by the leader of all the North American Werewolves, the Marrok, whose name is Bran. But Bran has run her life and thinks he can still run it, and Mercy resents his interference in her life, which is one big reason she doesn't want to return home right away.

Thankfully, the werewolves chasing her are driven off by a second set of weres, but her car is pretty much trashed in the attack. She takes it to the local mechanic, but when she gets there, the office is being run by ten year old kid. His father, Zee, is the real Mechanic, but his wife died, and he's been drinking ever since, leaving the boy, Tad, in charge.

All her car really needs is the Windshield replaced, so Mercy hangs around and waits for it to be done. But she falls asleep and wakens to the sound of someone threatening Tad. The guy isn't a vampire, but he smells like one, and he threatens Tad if the leader of the Seethe, or group of vampires, van isn't repaired by the end of the night, he'll kill Tad.

But Tad is too small to pull a clutch on his own, so Mercy, who did community service as a mechanic's assistant, does it. Meanwhile, she and Tad talk about vampires, but another nasty man comes back and attempts to attack both Mercy and Tad- Mercy for knowing about Vampires, and Tad for, presumably telling her. But this time he's accompanied by a real Vampire, Stefan, who realizes that Mercy is no human and cuts the man off at the knees.

He apologizes for his companion, telling her that the man is a fool, and says his name is Stefan. He's surprised to see a walker, telling her he thought all of them were dead. Tad offers Mercy a job, but she still wants to be a teacher, so she turns him down.

But then that night, a werewolf named Adam Hauptman shows up at her door with a Message from the Marrok- and a check for $10,000. He wants her to go home. That sets Mercy's mind to stay- and she starts with a job at Zee's Auto Repair Shop.

But by staying, Mercy is setting herself up for a confrontation between Adam Hauptmsn's wolf pack- the one who defended her on her run, and the rogue wolves headed by Orson Park, who already live in the town- Rogues who have been breaking all the rules- and eating humans. Obviously, Mercy won't stand for that. But will Mercy's compulsion to help end in her death?

While there is a whole series of Mercy Thompson books, this graphic novel is the actual prequel to the whole series, showing how Mercy came to the Tri-Cities, got a job as a mechanic, and came to know not only Adam Hauptmann, but Sebastian, Zee, and Tad as well.

I loved this book- I loved seeing Mercy dressed up for her job as a teacher, and the much more casual attire she sports away from the job on her own- heck, I love pretty much everything about her! She may not be as powerful as a werewolf, but she's pretty kick-ass, smart, and mouthy- even when sometimes being mouthy isn't smart.

My only problem with this book was that the image of Mercy looked far less Native American than the cover art on the novels, and I had kind of gotten used to seeing her that way, not the sort of middle American white chick we get in the graphic novel. But hey, this is how Patricia Briggs sees her, so I really can't complain.

For people who have enjoyed previous Mercy Thompson books, this is a welccme addition to the series, graphic novel or not. Here, we get to see how Mercy wound up in the Tri-Cities, and why she stayed. Highly recommended.

The Good Neighbors: Volume One: Kin by Holly Black and Ted Naifeh

Rue Silver's mother has left, and her father has sunk into a daze of doing nothing- watching TV and completely ignoring his job as a professor. Rue is worried for her family, because as far as she can remember, her mother had no family.

Worse, Rue has always been different, and aware that her mother is/was different as well. She believed that trees talked, had their own language, and was able to understand them. And Rue sometimes sees things straight on that she can't see out of the corner of her eye. Strange things, uncanny things. And plants are responding to her in a way they never have before- saving her from falling.

In fact, plants seem to be taking over the town. But when her father is arrested for the murder of one of his graduate students, she meets the members of her mother's family. And she can see that they aren't human. At all.

But Rue is determined to find the truth of what happened to her mother, and also of the graduate school girl who died. Who killed them, why did her mother leave, and who is really responsible for the utter mess Rue's life has become? Rue will have to find out for herself, and save a faery whose cloak of feathers has been stolen and used to blackmail him.

But when her mother returns and tells Rue she's dying, is it even really her mother,or are the faeries just playing another trick on Rue and her father?

I love Holly Black's tales of faerie, and I've enjoyed Ted Naifeh's stuff ever since he did Courtney Crumrin and Death, Jr. This graphic novel brings together the best of both worlds for a story that feels truly creepy. Rue starts out with friends, but the things she discovers about herself and what she can do begin to cut her off from those she loves, and those who love her.

But she not only learns about herself, but about Faery and how her parents came together, and why her mother left. Her father promised to be true to her mother only, but she remained young while he aged, and then he grew scared of her unchanging, unaging beauty- so he had an affair with an old friend of his- just once, but to faeries, whose rules of honor are unchanging, that once was enough.

And now Rue's grandfather has it in for humans. He wants them to remember why his people were called "The Good Neighbors"- not because they were nice or kind, but to placate them, because humans were scared of them. But was the betrayal of their marriage vows by Rue's father to her mother the last straw, or what really set him on the path of this revenge? I don't know, and I don't know how Rue can fight her grandfather, but it seems that she'll never have a "normal" life again, whatever that is.

I loved this graphic novel. It can be a little difficult to read, but it tells a story every bit as gripping as a book, and Ted Naifeh's art is a perfect compliment to the words and dialogue, revealing a world both dark and strange, with things lurking in the forest and the blackness of the shadows. I highly recommend this graphic novel for being a great, mysterious read.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Red Dragon Codex by R. D. Henham

Mudd is a tinkerer living in a tiny village named Potter's Mill. His sister, Hiera, is a Ranger-in-Training. But a Red Dragon named Redclaw the Detroyer has a plot to bring together Mudd, a Dwarf named Greenthumb Drakecutter and a young outcast named Kirak to destroy a rival Silver Dragon named Sleekwing.

Redclaw starts by attacking Potter's Mill and carrying off a seer known as Shemnara. Once, Shemnara was completely blind, but she chose to regain her sight. She is no longer properly a seer, but instead seeks visions on behalf of those who come to her. A while ago, she sought a vision for Kirak, who sought the den of a Silver Dragon...

But when Shemnara vanishes, Mudd decides to leave his sister and go in search of the Red Dragon's Lair and Shemnara. When he finds Hiera following him, he's determined to make her go home- until she saves his life, after which he concedes that he needs her.

Mudd had found a book with a picture of the door to the Dragon's lair in Shemnara's house, but he needs someone to translate it for him, so he goes to the Dwarven Village to speak with Stonefist Drakecutter, Greenthumb's father. But while they are there, Redclaw attacks the town and steals Stonefist's axe. Stonefist is injured in the attack, and Greenthumb is determined to track down the Dragon and kill it.

Eventually, the three join up and travel to the Library of Palanthus, where they encounter Kirak. Kirak, a former squire, is also looking for the Dragon's lair, but he's working with Redclaw to trap the others. He's not really human, but a Sivak Draconian, who can take on the appearance of someone they have killed. The only thing is that most Sivak Draconians, which Kirak is, are evil, and Kirak isn't as evil as other Draconians.

They also meet a Kender who claims to be Iroden Endorlian- a noted Elven Cleric of Paladine. But is he telling the truth, or just lying? And how can a Kender be a cleric of Paladine? But he's the only one who can translate the runes on the picture of the door to the Dragon's Lair, and perhaps the only one who can help them pass all three tests and be allowed to enter through the door.

But Kirak isn't like other Draconians. He's something quite special. But can he break free of Redclaw's influence in time to save Shemnara and Stonefist Drakecutter? Or will he choose to give into evil and betray the others, who think of him as a friend? And can he ever find the Silver Dragon who is his mother?

This is the first book in the Dragon Codex series, and one I found myself really enjoying. We're told (or know) that Draconians are evil. They are the corrupted eggs of good Dragons, their spirits taken over by demonic Abishai, but somehow, Kivak was able to fight off the Abishai before his draconic soul could be corrupted- which makes me think there could be others like him out there...

I like how the big theme of this book was friendship and working together. Mudd wants to go it alone, but he can't do it without friends- and Kivak has to learn this lesson as well, that he needs friends- he can't just do it on his own. It takes all of the characters working together to defeat the big Bad Redclaw- and the story leaves you guessing which side he'll choose until almost the end of the book. But I did guess who his mother was pretty early on.

I liked this book, and readers who like to read about adventure, dragons, Dungeons and Dragons or Dragonlance will really enjoy this particular book, and all the other books in this series. It's about more than just not relying on yourself, but that's the main thrust of many books in this series, as well as the importance of having friends and accepting others. Well done and recommended.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Starfarers by Vonda N. McIntyre

In the future, humanity has spread out from the earth to the Asteroid belt, but the many nations of earth came together to build the Starfarer, an interstellar research vessel meant to travel the stars by means of the cosmic string, something left over from the Big Bang that can be used to fold space to make space travel happen more quickly.

However, as the time for the launch of this ship nears, the earth has come to the brink of war, and the powers that be want to change its purpose from Star ship to weapons platform. The Chief scientist on board the ship, Victoria MacKenzie, a Canadian, won't hear of it- she wants to keep the ship for its original purpose, even as the Western powers come together to try and keep the ship from beginning its mission.

Also coming aboard are several other people, including diver and ambassador to the aquatic races known as the Orca and the Divers- genetically modified humans, J.D. Sauvage, Journalist Feryl Korzybski, Virtual Artist Chandra, who makes the experiences she has available to others by recording them and downloading them to the internet, Florrie Brown, an ex-Flower child and one of the first "Grandparents in Space" travellers, and Griffith, a military man slipped aboard the ship to try and sabotage it if it tries to leave orbit.

But both sides run into problems with their plans, the scientists because the Americans keep pushing at the Starfarer crew to abandon the ship so it can be reconfigured to make it a military base, and Griffith finds that one of the people on the ship is his own childhood hero, Kolya Cherenkov, a Russian Cosmonaut who is trying to get beyond his own people's and his own former militarism and find a more peaceful way to the future.

As Victoria reunites with her family, her husbands Stephen Thomas And Satoshi, Alien Contact Specialist J.D. Sauvage realizes that her best friend and lover, among the divers, has gone missing. With her joining the expeditio, the Divers are moving to the deep waters of the planet and away from most human contact to avoid the human powers of the land who seek to bring war to each other. As J.D. intensifies the search for her friend, Victoria MacKenzie comes to the startling realization that she can keep the Starfarer from being co-opted for the war- by moving up the time when the ship starts on its transition to another Star System. But even as the time gets closer to transit, hidden forces are conspiring to keep the Starfarer tied to Earth. Will the scientists find a way to come through?

This is a rather unusual novel, with a wide number of characters and no one particular hero or heroine. The closest might be J.D. Sauvage, since she is the character first introduced, and since she doesn't know any of the other characters but Victoria and Zev, it's her concerns that drive much of the story. But then, so do most of Victoria's family, and all of them are equally represented in the book. In truth, all characters are. and we get to spend time with each of them.

But the book is more about the preparation for the journey to the stars than the actual trip, but whether the characters will even get to make the trip is seriously in doubt- all of the scientists want to, but the government is doing their level best to bring enough pressure to bear on the scientists so that they will "voluntarily" give up and go away so the military can snatch their starship. Adding to the scientist characters stress is the knowledge that if they don't go now, they will almost certainly never get to go again in their own lifetimes- the costs of building the spaceship were prohibitive even before a world devastates by global war.

Even as some scientists crumble under the pressure, Victoria and her family are hatching a plan to make their dreams a reality. While some readers will love the science and speculative fiction concepts, others might find the personal and sexual lives of the characters more interesting and arresting. The multiple-gender marriage of Victoria, Satoshi and Stephen Thomas is sure to titillate, and possibly even shock, some readers. While it appears to be polyandry on the surface (Multiple men, one woman, as opposed to Polygyny, which is multiply women, one man), in reality, it's far more fluid than that, a polygamous marriage involving multiple partners of both sexes.. That's not the most interesting character relationship in the book, but Vonda McIntyre is fairly open (some might say "in your face") about it.

This was not the first time I'd read this book- I bought this copy for a friend at a second-hand bookstore, but my memories of it were so wonderful that I just couldn't resist reading it again. And I enjoyed it just as much, if not more, the second time around. The characters, though multiple, are well and clearly drawn, and you feel the scientist's need and desire to leave the earth to travel through the stars. Even as the ship manages to leave, there is a tragedy at the end of the book, as well as a triumph- they do manage to leave, but not without casualties- and a whole new world opens up before them.

This book is the opening to one of my favorite Science Fiction series, and the amazing characters and the world they inhabit are only two of the reasons why. I can't recommend this book, and this series, enough. I think it's really excellent and there should be more books like this- just reading this volume again made me hunger to read more. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Kiss of Darkness by Jennifer St. Giles

Emerald Linton is an Irish Healer who lost her daughter's father to a Vladarian Vampire infection. Once a dedicated hunter of Vampires,he succumbed to the evil of being a vampire, and was ready to sacrifice both his wife and daughter to the other Valdarian Vampires.

Emerald only barely managed to escape that dreadful night, when her home was torched, and she and her daughter were attacked. But the worldwide threat of the Vladarians has grown stronger, and she has joined with the otherworldly Shadowmen and their human allies to fight them. But unbeknownst to her allies, Emerald does not get her powers from Druidic ancestors, as she has told them. Instead, Emerald is part angel, and so is her daughter.

But the man Emerald has fallen in love with, Sheriff Sam Sheridan, has been bitten by a Vladarian Vampire, and is infected with their evil. To save the man she loves from the infection, she must perform a sort of cleansing on him, one that may very well put her own life in danger.

But they aren't going to be able to have that chance, because the Vladarian Vampires have geared up for a major attack on the town, and Sam Sheridan must be right in the middle of the defense, because as the Sherriff of the town, the residents are relying on him to keep the peace. But when a pair of military personnel show up and tell Sam that his former commander and superior wants to see him, NOW, they are willing to do almost anything to take him with them.

But as the miasma of the Vladarian's presence rolls through the small town, making the residents short-tempered and suspicious, the transformation taking place in Sam has made him unable to resist Emerald's charms. And while he has wanted her from the first time he met her, he hasn't been able to do anything about it until the vampire virus supercharged his lust and emotions. Now, having had her, he's unable to stop wanting her, and while she knows he's infected with a virus slowly changing him into a bloodthirsty vampire, and someone evil, she's unable to keep away herself- because she's in love with him.

But can Emerald save Sam from the infection, and from himself? And can Sam save her and the other people who have joined with him to fight off the Vladarian vampires and the demons they have made deals with and save the world from the horror of vampire infection? Or is their cause doomed when the Vladarians steal a holy relic and intend to desecrate it to remove the protection and angelic powers of Emerald. With so many forces arrayed against them, can Sam and the Shadowmen be saved?

Usually, it's not a problem for me to pick up a series in the middle and figure out what is going on. This book, however, was quite different, and I found it confusing. I didn't care about any of the characters, and didn't find any of the sequel-baiting the story does with any of the characters to be interesting or make me want to read more. Stuff happened. Stuff that happened in the past was discussed, but I found myself just... not particularly caring about any of it.

I even found the love story of Sam and Emerald boring and not at all hot. Nothing in the story called or spoke to me. In short, I was turned off. I felt... nothing. And it's not a general malaise against supernatural romance, it was just... bleh. Obviously, it's not the first book in the series, and just as obviously, someone must be reading it and liking it, but I was left cold. Completely cold.

I can't recommend this book. It isn't hot. it isn't interesting, and the various romances in it failed to interest me in any way at all. It bored me, and I find that to be a deadly fault in a book. Not recommended. I wouldn't throw water on this book if it was on fire, sadly enough, and I grew to resent the time I spent struggling to finish it.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Silver Dragon Codex by R.D. Henham

Worver's Amazing Circus of Light is a favorite in the lands of Solamnia, and this year, Acrobat Jace and Juggler Cerisse are touring with the Headliner of the circus's new act, Belen, a dancer.

Jace is in love with Belen, so when a white-robe wizard leaps up and nearly kills him, spoiling his act, he's angry, but when the Wizard, a man named Mysos, claims that not only is Belen a Silver Dragon, but that she killed an entire town full of people, he is all to willing to defend her.

Belen doesn't know she is a dragon- she can't remember anything of her life before the circus or how she got there, but if Mysos is right, she is willing to be punished for what she has done, even if she no longer remembers doing it or why.

Jace and Cerisse ask Mysos for five days to see if the story is true, and travel to the village, not far away, and also to the Dragon Belen's former lair. Along the way, they are accompanied by a wizard named Ebano, an illusionist with the circus. When they get to her lair, Belen finds that she remembers some of what happened to her, but not all. They do discover why she freaked out: her egg was stolen, and someone, she can't remember who, told her that the villagers were responsible.

But when they get to the village, they find the villagers are not dead, just cursed by the Goddess Chislev for losing her stone that they were meant to guard. The villagers were cursed to turn into werewolves, and the last uncursed human is the Priestess of Chislev, who guards her former friends and neighbors and blames Belen for stealing the stone.

But Belen didn't steal it. Someone used the confusion of her attack on the village to steal it, and steal away the village's good luck and plenty. But who could that villain be? When they return and find the circus' owner, Worver, has locked them up so that they cannot tell what they have discovered, while Belen prepares to enslave herself to Worver and the circus for the rest of her life, blaming herself for what happened to the village even if she isn't ultimately at fault. But can Cerisse and Jace fight Worver, his minions, and the power of the stone before Belen voluntarily enslaves herself to Worver? Or will Worver win after all?

I liked this book. It had just the right combination of magic, detective work, and derring do to solve the mystery. Not that it's an easy fight. Worver is a lot like Professor Quirrel from the Harry Potter books. He appears ridiculous and a wuss at first glance, but that's just a mask he wears to conceal the menace on the inside.

So far, he's managed to fool everyone, and he even manages to fool the reader. Well, for a while. But Jace and Cerisse come off as authentically young and heroic. Jace, after all, doesn't seem to realize that Cerisse has feelings for him, even as he pines for Belen. But whether he pines or not, even if he has no training as a warrior, Jace uses his tumbling and acrobatic skills to his best advantage.

In short, I liked this book alot. It's well in keeping with the rest of this series I have read. Though the protagonists are all, generally, teenagers, the focus of the story isn't love or an adult relationship, and so younger readers won't get grossed out by the story. Recommended.

Friday, October 16, 2009

How to Take Over Teh Wurld: a Lolcat Guide to Winning by the Author of "I can Has Cheezburger" Professor Happycat and

If you haven't gone to the website "Icanhascheezburger', it is a Lolcats site, meaning it has cute, funny and amusing pictures of cats with even more amusingly misspelled captions. This book collects more of the best from the ichc website.

The book is broken up into various chapters like: "Beware uv menni danjurs", "Charms to Disarm", "Do What U Want" and 'Know Ur Skillz". Each set of pictures loosely fits the criteria of the chapter, such as a fat cat in a fake tie with the caption, "I has three years Excel and Powerpoint" for the "Skillz" Chapter.

It's hard not to laugh at the pictures when combined with the captions. I can't quite say I had a favorite one, because there were too many that made me laugh to have any one as a favorite. One of my favorites showed a tiny kitten being bathed in a sink, looking up with a reproachful look in its eyes, with the caption saying, "You has betraid my tiny trust".

If you aren't familiar with the LolCat phenomenon, it's pictures of cats with misspelled captions, presumably said by the cats themselves, who aren't able to write in good or proper English. There are also all sorts of weird words used to describe parts of cats, such as "harbls" or 'Horribles" meaning a cat's sack, and so on.

This is the perfect book for introducing someone to Lolcats, or discovering the phenomena on your own. Packed to the brim with cute and funny photos with captions. This book can provide a much-needed laugh break at any time during your day. Readers will find plenty to laugh at, and begin looking at their own pets a bit strangely, wondering what lurks behind those loving eyes and inside their small brains. Could it be... plans to take over the world? Recommended.

Vampire Kisses 2: Kissing Coffins by Ellen Schreiber

Raven has finally found love with Alexander Stirling. But ever since she found out that Alexander is actually a vampire, he's been missing, and she's bummed. She really does love him, but it's hard to stand when she can't be near him because he isn't there.

But finally Raven decides to take the initiative into her own hands and goes to see Ruby, her former co-worker. While Raven was getting close to Alexander, Ruby was doing the same with Jameson, his butler. In fact, they had a date. Under the pretext of returning Ruby's compact, Raven returns to where she so briefly worked and finds out that Ruby had gotten stood up on her date. Jameson does send Ruby flowers to make up for his rude behavior, allowing Raven to track them both to Hipsterville, where her aunt, Libby, lives.

Talking her parents into letting her visit her aunt during the winter break. Ruby travels there on the bus, and almost immediately commences her search for Alexander- but not without detouring to buy some more wonderful Goth clothes. Raven loves it in Hipsterville, which is a community of artists who care more about who a person is than their mode of dress. Here, Raven finds lots of people who dress like she does- and a goth bar named the Coffin Club.

Raven, pretending to attend her aunt's performance in Dracula, slips out to go see the Coffin Club, and while she's carded at the door, she uses her wits, and the fake ID her brother's friend made her, to get in. Once inside she is stunned by the attention- because it's good attention, for the first time in her life. She makes a hit with the people in the bar, but finds no sign of Alexander- or Jameson. Instead, she attracts the attention of Jagger, a young man who seems to like her a lot- but is he really a vampire, or just a goth-obsessed teen?

Raven isn't sure at first, but when she ends up visiting his apartment, she sees a coffin surrounded by dirt- which he claims he bought cheap as a movie souvenir. But all too soon, she's running from Jagger when she finds out that he's a vampire, too- and he's looking on revenge on Alexander, who was engaged to his sister but threw her over because she had always been human- and because of that, they hardly knew each other. So instead of marrying her, he set her free, and her family took it as an insult.

For having taken marriage away from his sister, Jagger wants to make Alexander pay- and he's going to do it by taking the one thing Alexander loves and cares about away from him- Raven. If he can just get her to pledge to him on sacred ground, their bond can never be broken and Jagger can have the ultimate Revenge on Alexander. But neither of them counted on one thing- Raven! Can she stay free of Jagger's grip while sticking close to Alexander? And can se get Jagger to just leave her and Alexander alone? One thing is for sure- her life has just gotten complicated!

This was a short but still cute sequel to "Vampire Kisses", and it also had that sort of strange, chopped-off ending. And then it hit me. These books are the print equivalent of manga. Every book slowly advances the story while ensuring enough zany things happen to the hero and heroine to keep you interested, and then it ends on something of a cliffhanger to keep you buying the manga/books.

And in this one Raven is left along, much like Edward left Bella in New Moon. And while Raven doesn't go on a half-year long cryfest, she is very bummed out about it, but soon gets an idea to break into Alexander's house to see if he is really there. Which leads, slowly and inexorably to finding out where he has gone. I like Raven. She's smart, witty, and not afraid to jump in and do what needs to be done to get her man back.

I like this series, and while we got in #4 along with the second book, I haven't seen the third one- I'll have to order it before I read #4. But this is a very likeable series. Maybe a bit fluffy, but very cute to read. Girls who like vampires will definitely like this one- maybe even consider it a "Must-read". Recommended.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Blood of Elves by Andrzej Sapkowski

Geralt of Rivia is a Witcher, a sort of monster-hunter for hire, but the Witchers have been all but eliminated, their home at Castle Morhen invaded and nearly destroyed, and all the witchers therein slaughtered. Only the Witchers who were not at the castle when it was attacked survived. Now, they are in danger of dying out.

So when Geralt rescues a young girl named Ciri after the battle of Sodden, he's impressed enough with her ability to survive to try and make her into a Witcher as well. He takes her back to Caer Morhen along with the few other Witchers who survive. They no longer have the potions and elixirs to mutate her in the same way that they have been mutated, but by feeding her certain plants and mushrooms, are able to give her much of the strength and speed and unnatural agility of the Witchers.

It is there at Caer Morhen that Triss Merigold, sorceress and former lover of Geralt, finds them. She is enraged on Ciri's behalf, and tells the all-male Witchers to give Ciri a break from the physical stuff when she has her period. She also confirms for them that Ciri is a special kind of Magician called a Source- she has mediumistic abilities, and can touch magic, but has no control over it, so often a source will be unknown until they cause some kind of conflagration or other disaster using magic. So, she must be trained. Also, she tells the men to let her develop physically as a woman- she might not thank them later for it if they don't

Geralt tells her he had planned to have her schooled, and after the winter is over, he takes Ciri to the Convent School run by Mother Nenneke. But on their trip there, Triss gets sick, and they take shelter with a caravan being run by Dwarves. The Dwarves are loyal subjects of the human king, but many of the elves, sick of being pushed out of their homeland, have taken to fighting a guerilla war against the humans, and quite a number of dwarves, gnomes and halfings (Half human, half something else) have joined in, making the humans look on the non-humans with suspicion. The elves have formed small bands and call themselves Scoia'tel, or squirrels, for the squirrel tails they wear on their clothing. But the humans are starting to look askance at the loyal non-humans, thinking they would naturally sympathize with the rebels. Too many humans are starting to think that the only good elf is a dead elf.

But the elves are a dying race. Only their young can reproduce, and most of them are dead, killed in the first war with the humans. The few who remain are rebelling also as part of the Scoia'tel- and if they are killed, there will be no hope for the elven race, and Ciri learns firsthand the cost to both sides when one of the Dwarves she is friends with is killed in a fight with the Scoia'tel.

But Ciri isn't just some girl orphaned in a battle. she is also a princess of a fallen nation, and highly sought after by those wanting to use her as a pawn to lay claim to that same land- either through marrying her themselves, or through marriage to their sons. Now one of those people has set a man named Rience on Ciri's trail, and he's willing to kill Geralt to find her, while Geralt wishes to keep Ciri safe from those who would use her. But can Geralt, with the assistance of another of his ex-lovers, Yennefer, a Healer named Shani, and a bard named Dandilion, track down Rience and keep Ciri safe?

This book felt like only half a book to me- the book ends with nothing quite resolved. Geralt has fought Rience, but Rience escapes- probably to return in the sequel. Ciri is still alive and free, but she and Yennefer are leaving to search for Geralt. Aside from that, I really did like the book, which introduced us a bit more to the politics and nations of Geralt's world.

There were very few battles with monsters in this book. This time, Geralt's foes were humans, if very nasty, dangerous humans- and it had a lot to do with politics- but the politics was all rulers discussing what to do with Ciri when (and if) they find her. It was chilling to see people casually discussing murder of spouses and daughters-in-law, just to control Ciri's land.

I enjoy this series. It's very different from most Western Fantasy, and evokes an elegiac quality of things changing forever and dying, mixed with action, fighting and politics. If you are looking for something different from western fantasy, something that's not like other writers, you could certainly do worse than Andrzek Sapkowski. Highly recommended.

Theo Gray's Mad Science: Experiments you can do at home- but probably shouldn't by Theodore Gray

Ever wanted to make your own ice cream- using liquid hydrogen or dry ice? Ever wanted to astound your party guests by making ice sink? Ever wanted to make your own solid-silver bullet, or glass barbecue, or salt at home?

These are school science projects turned up to 11, and while some of them are impossible for people to do at home (requiring chemicals that it is illegal to possess in a private home or for a private person), you can still enjoy the pictures-from a rocket that runs on candy bars to making your own nylon, turning a soup can into a search light, make your own pencils, make an arc furnace, see a catalytic converter in action, make soap bubbles explode or tint titanium- even make yout own titanium.

You can achieve wonders like trapping lightning in a block or save a snowflake for decades. Reveal crystals in metal, plate your iPod, even turn pennies inside out. And best of all, not only is each step set out, but he also explains why it works, allowing readers to almost painlessly absorb the science.

I loved this book. Not only does it appeal to the science geek in all of us, it also appeals to the ten-year old boy that loves to see things blow up, break, explode and catch fire. It also makes a really good science fair book- like removing iron from beach sand using only a magnet.

It's great for adults as well, but let's face it, a lot of this stuff is expensive. Just a solid silver bullet is $12. Too expensive for real ammo, except if your undergoing a massive werewolf invasion. Of you could just silverplate your bullets- he gives instructions on electroplating, too.

Anyone interested in science is going to love this book, and it's quite an amazing read. I'd love to see more from Mr. Gray- and have my own solid silver bullet. I just wish I had the stuff I needed to produce it! Highly Recommended.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Vampire Kisses by Ellen Schreiber

Raven was the daughter of two flower children. She loved her life until the day her mother gave birth to her brother. That's when everything changed. Her parents gave up their hippy lifestyles, got jobs, and settled down in Dullsville, where nothing *ever* happens- just ask Raven!

Raven dresses in all black, wears black lipstick and black nailpolish and is cordially shunned by most of the other kids. She spends her time tormenting and being tormented in turn by Trevor Mitchell, the golden boy of the soccer team. Everyone was scared of him when he was a child- all except Raven, who beat him up.

Now, a new boy named Alexander Stirling has moved into town, and into the spooky mansion on the top of the hill. The old lady who used to live there was thought a witch by the people of the town- especially the kids, and his parents strange ways are also the talk of the community- shunning garlic in their antipasto, avoiding the light and having huge boxes of soil in the vans that moved them into the house.

Raven despairs of ever having a boyfriend, but she can't stay away from Alexander, and his tall byronic, gothic good looks. But with Trevor convinced that Alexander is a real vampire and trying to stir up sentiment about him in town, will Raven ever find love with Alexander before he is driven away?

This was a cute book, and I liked it. Raven wants a boyfriend who is a vampire- indeed, when she was in grade school, her ambition was to be a vampire when she grew up. But she also knows that vampires aren't real. but it's like her goth clothes are a symbol of her mourning for the family she had before her brother, whom she calls "Nerd Boy" appeared on the scene. She dislikes that his arrival turned her hippy family into an 80's Yuppie family that seems to care more about work than anything else.

The only guy who really likes her is the town bully- not exactly a girl's dream, nor does he impress her at all. She doesn't like him, and she's not afraid of him. I liked the story and the background here, but the ending felt... muted, like it was just calling out for a sequel. It was almost painful for it to stop at the point it did- but it seems that the next novel is... a manga?

This a cute book and will appeal to girls who love vampires as well as those who have ever felt like an outcast, with no one who actually "gets" or understands them. The last dance in the novel is wonderful, and shows Raven she isn't so alone after all. I recommend this book as a light antidote to heavy, lengthy novels about vampires. like whipped cream on a pie, this is the perfect antidote and complement. Recommended.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Wet Nurse's Tale by Erica Eisdorfer

Susan Rose was born to a Victorian wetnurse. Her father was once a good man, but slowly became more interested in drinking and less in taking care of his family, and was abusive besides. So when she got older, she went into service in the Great House. Most of her brothers and sisters had worked there, including her youngest sister, Ellen.

But Ellen attracted the attention of the mistress, and was soon serving as upstairs maid, which brought her to the attention of the master of the house. This was the wrong sort of attention, and though Ellen believed that the Mistress would protect her, she was soon found assaulted and raped in the stable, and soon after that, she committed suicide.

Susan never wanted to go back, but her father made her. She resolved to always stay away from the master of the house,but became friends with the son. All too quickly, that friendship turned into being lovers, and Susan herself became pregnant. She had no regrets, and left the Great House, for the son was soon to be married.

Her father was enraged, and wanted to know who the baby's father was. She wouldn't tell him even though he savaged her with his tongue and called her a whore. Once again she lived with her parents, but when her baby was just a few weeks old, a woman came to the house for a wet-nurse, and her father forced her to go, being as her mother's milk had dried up.

Susan wanted nothing more than to stay with her child, but she sent money home to her parents for her son's care, only to be told that her baby son had died. She was very upset, but embarked on a new career as a wet nurse, until one day she came back to the great house and met the son again.

He was married now, but his wife refused him her bed and lay with other men instead. He missed Susan, and she felt sorry for him, so she lay with him once more- and once more got pregnant. But this time, someone had seen her, and when she went back to wetnursing, her father sold the babe to the woman of the house, and she gave it away to another couple to raise.

Susan wanted her son back, and was determined to find him, no matter what. Eventually, she tracked the boy down to London, and contrived to work as a wet-nurse to his new mother. But the woman with the child was dangerously unstable, and getting worse as time went on.

Wanting only her son back, Susan had to contrive matters so that she could take the child before the woman's husband or brother could intervene. But how far would she go, and what would she do to save her son?

I picked up this book thinking it was a mystery, and I expected a mystery to develop as I read it. But, disappointingly, it never did. And while it was an okay story, it was rather dull when you are expecting- waiting, and hoping, for the mystery to start.

Otherwise, it was not a bad story, but not particularly one I wanted to read. I did finish the book to see how it ended, but I wouldn't read another non-mystery book like this again. It just wasn't interesting enough for me.

I wish I could recommend this book, but this ended up in only the so-so range for me. It was okay, but my own expectations sank the book when it didn't live up to them, and it just wasn't good enough to transcend my disappointment.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Eternal Kiss: 13 Tales of Blood and Desire An Anthology

Would you trade your life and sunlight for a single kiss? Vampires are all hot right now, but would you really want to become one? These tales examine life and love from the perspective of a vampire.

"Falling to Ash" has vampire Moth returning home for her mother's funeral. While she's there, her vampire sire asks her to retrieve an urn of vampire ashes that a hunter has stolen. Rejected by her family for what she has become, where else can she turn for the affection she needs to live?

"Shelter Island" has Hannah meeting an unusual boy, one hiding from someone who wants him dead. At first, she thinks he's a ghost- because he is almost translucent. But he's a vampire, and he hasn't fed in a very long time. Can Hannah give him what he needs to escape?

"Sword Point" introduces us to Ava, a girl who is training for the fencing competition for the Olympics. She is attending a new fencing school, said to be one of the best, if not the best, in the world. But with her entrance to this new world, she is attracting attention from a new crowd of people- a very pale, scary crowd. What are they, and why do they want her?

"The Coldest Girl in Coldtown" has Matilda, a vampire trying to cure herself by going cold Turkey from blood. But when finds out that the sister that she abandoned when she ran away from home is trying to become a vampire and enter Coldtown- the place where the vampires are quarantined- can she save her sister from her own bad choices- and can she even save herself?

"Undead is Very Hot Right Now" introduces Christian, a vampire who has become part of a manufactured boy band. But will the band's success change that underneath, he's still just an unsure kid who has no idea about anything about women?

"Kat" is a human girl who lives with a vampire. She was part of an experiment, taken away from her parents and used for research, until she was rescued by Marguerite. But when the hunters come for them both, will she be able to survive?

"The Thirteenth Step" introduces us to Lauren, a young woman who get a job at Angelus House, a halfway house. But there is a place she is forbidden to enter, and the screams and cries from there are unearthly. Can she survive finding out what secrets Angelus House holds?

"All Hallows" gives us Eve, a human girl dating a vampire named Michael. They are going to a Halloween party together, along with her roommates, but he needs to leave for a fast meal. But when he's kidnapped by a group of jocks working for a girl who also wants to be a vampire, it's going to be up to Eve and her roommates to save Michael... and maybe herself as well.

"Wet Teeth" follows vampire Miles as he meets a girl in the park. When she finds out what he is, she's scared, but as time passes, she overcomes that feeling. Is it possible that Miles could make a real friend, or is that a forlorn hope, when he is what he is?

"Other Boys" has Jenny meeting a boy named Colin, who says he is a vampire. The other girls at school think he's weird and a goth, but Jen can't take her eyes off him. Her mother tries to warn her off, to tell her there will be other boys, but Jen is bound and determined to see him. Can her family prevent a tragedy from occurring?

in "Passing" we meet Jenn, a vampire hunter competing to become the premiere Vampire Hunter along with her 17 classmates in the school for Vampire Hunters. But Jenn has a secret, a vampire named Jack who makes her feel safe. But will he save her on her last night in school- when she and her classmates must fight vampires, kill or be killed?

"Ambition" tells the story of a Catholic School girl who is poor and going to school on a scholarship. All the other girls around her are rich and look down on her, except for her friend, Gwyn. But when Gwyn betrays her at a house party, and the girl meets a handsome young boy, will she give up her erstwhile "friend" for a taste of eternity?

"All Wounds" brings us Becky, a young girl looking out after her grandmother, who has Alzheimers and no longer remembers her so well. But when there is a horrible accident and people are injured, Becky finds out some interesting things about her grandmother, and herself. How will that knowledge change her life?

Well, this was an interesting book. Not all the stories really interested me, but they were rather intense. They kept my attention, but all felt really young to me. Not mature- or not very mature- and don't think I mean that in a sexual way, either. They felt authentically teen, like they were written by teens rather than just having teenaged protagonists.

I did like the spectrum of stories, from the Vampires as protagonists, vampires as antagonists, and vampires that were a mix of both. I tend to like stories where the vampires are protagonists, or at least have a chance of being friendly, but my favorite stories in this volume were a mix of both types. 'Undead is Very Hot Right Now" kind of made me laugh, because I could just see it happening, especially with the Twilight Craze happening now- an irony not lost on me as this book seemed put out just to cash in on that, so it was very slyly humorous. My other two favorites were "Sword Point" and "The Coldest Girl in Coldtown"- they were ones I long remembered after finally putting the book down.

This book is somewhat teenagery and juvenile, but that adds to the sense of this book going after the same crowd as Twilight and all the other Vampire series they dredged up after Vampires got hot again. Night World (which I read when it first came out- I still have some of the old covers), Bloodlines, and so on. Not to mention the other series that will probably be re-released The Vampire Twins, Christopher Pike's The Last Vampire and some of Amelia Atwater-Rhodes's works. This book had some good and interesting stories, but the others were pretty much forgettable. You might want to read it at the library before spending money on it.