Friday, July 29, 2011

The Cunning Linguist by Richard Lederer

Richard Lederer is a well known lover of the English Language, having published such works as "Anguished English: An anthology of unintentional assaults upon our language", "Get thee to a Punnery", "More Anguished English", "The Bride of Anguished English", "Crazy English", "The Play of Words" and "Pun and Games", among others. While normally, he stays classy and avoids jokes or puns that reference sex, this book lets it all hang out with jokes based on English that rely on the dirty minds of the readers.

Not blatantly, of course, but in a way that is still hilarious all on its own. For example, for those men who think their lives are bad, compare yourself to an egg. You only get laid once, you only get eaten once. To get hard, you have to be boiled, and it takes you two minutes to get soft, you have to share a box with eleven other guys, and the only woman who ever sat on your face was your mother...

It's these sort of jokes that fill the book, but none of them actually cross over the line from "Suggestive" to "Outright lewd". Over ten chapters of these jokes make it clear that this isn't a book to be read straight through. Instead, it's one to be savored a bit at a time. Sometimes you might be able to go a chapter or two before you have to put the book down to stop your sides from hurting, but sometimes you might have to stop after only a few pages and take a break.

These jokes are also clean enough to be shared in more or less polite company without raising eyebrows, and a lot of them will go over the heads of even children, though you may want to be careful if your children are very intelligent, as they will probably be able to figure out that something is going on.

I enjoyed this whole book, but one of my favorite parts of the book was the pictures with the suggestive titles. "A nice ass" beneath a picture of a donkey; a picture of some Navy guys with the title "Seamen", and so on. it invoked gales of laughter from me and was the chapter that took the longest for me to read. Truly excellent book that will really appeal to those who enjoy slightly naughty laughter, and the last joke in the book is the only one that departs from the standard of what has gone before.

So, despite being full of slightly naughty (and if you are British 0-y) stuff, this book is something that won't make you worry if kids find and look at it. Most of them won't understand it, and neither will anyone who is too unimaginative or innocent-minded. For those who are less innocent and lovers of words, this book is a never-ending delight, similar to other books by Richard Lederer, like "Get Thee to a Punnery" or the Anguished English books.

Richard Lederer is an accomplished author who has given lovers of words and wordplay plenty of material to laugh at over the years, and despite this book being very naughty and dealing with sex, this book is no less funny or amusing. Anyone who loves English and plays on words (and jokes and puns that take a dirty mind to get), will want this book on their bookshelves. Highly recommended.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Murder on Sister's Row: A Gaslight Mystery by Victoria Thompson

Sarah Brandt is a professional midwife. She comes from a socially prominent and rich family, but when she married her husband, a doctor who worked with the poor and indigent, she left that lifestyle behind. Her husband's death didn't change anything, as she went on working with the same sorts of people her husband once treated. She lives apart from her family in a working-class neighborhood with two young girls she has adopted as daughters, and makes her living by helping women with childbirth, which means that she is usually called out at all hours of the day and night.

Sarah is asked to look after a young woman about to give birth by the madam that she works for, and while examining the young woman, the girl claims that the madam is keeping her against her will and that as soon as her baby is born, it will be taken away from her. Sarah, who knows that the girl is a prostitute, knows that this is almost certainly true. But the girl asks her to deliver a special message for her, to Mrs. Vivian Van Orner, who can help Amy, the girl, escape.

Sarah does as Amy asks, and meets Mrs. Van Orner, a lady of means who spends her days helping women who want to escape the life of the brothel and the cribs (low priced whorehouses) find work as maids and other domestic servants. Mrs. Van Ortner and her organization, Rahab's Daughters, are perfectly willing to help Amy, but they also have to make sure that Amy really wants to leave the life. Too many former prostitutes are seduced back into their old lives because it is so much easier than the hard work of a servant. All a prostitute has to do is lie back and pretend that she enjoys the sex- a much easier way to make money than slaving hard. But Sarah is convinced that Amy truly wants to leave and tells Mrs. Van Orner so, so the Daughters of Rahab go to work and do what they do best, managing to not implicate Sarah Brandt in Amy's release, as brothel owners don't take kindly to anyone removing the women they see as their "merchandise". They have been known to kill those responsible for rescuing their workers.

And shortly after Amy is rescued, Mrs. Van Orner is found dead in her office, a victim of murder. But who did it? Was it the owner of Amy's brothel? Or was it the owner of some other brothel that Mrs. Van Orner had worked against in the past? Or could it be possible that she was killed for some other reason entirely?

Sarah Brandt, feeling responsible for Mrs. Van Orner's death, also feels that she must find out who is actually responsible for killing her. Allying with her friend, and the Detective of the New York Police Department, Frank Molloy, she must plumb the depths of the Daughters of Rahab and Mrs. Van Orner's friends to find who is ultimately responsible for her death. But Mrs. Van Orner wasn't as kind and aboveboard as she seemed at first glance, and Amy isn't as innocent, either. It's apparent that the Daughters of Rahab has all sorts of dirty linen that they don't want aired, and Mrs. Van Orner's home life is not in any way as idyllic as it seemed. Can any of these people involved in the case be trusted to tell the truth? And can Sarah and Frank Molloy work together to find the truth and the person or persons truly responsible for the death of Vivian Van Orner?

Many of the books in the Gaslight mysteries have focussed on deaths in the poorer parts of Tammany Hall New York City, but this volume shows that things weren't much better, or indeed, any better, in the richer parts of town. Corruption, both moral and financial, are rife, and even those who look like Saints on the outside can be veritable devils (or at least, going about their saintly work for less than saintly reasons). And it's up to Sarah Brandt and Frank Molloy to peel back the whitewashing to reveal the truly seamy stuff that is hidden from public view.

This book shows us why prostitution isn't easy to wipe out. While some prostitutes may desperately want to leave that sort of life behind, there are many things holding them back, from truly brutal pimps or brothel owners, to substance addiction and simple laziness and fear. Likewise, those who would rescue them aren't always doing their work out of a sense of moral obligation or a true determination to help those imprisoned, and this book shows that in spades. I have seen very few books where so many people were lying almost all the time, but this is one of the few in the series where you can trust none of the principal characters. It was almost depressing to read, and the murder turned out to be something I found saddening, because it made me lose some faith in human nature. Everyone gained something out of what they were doing or the role they were playing, and it wasn't what you would think.

This book may have been depressing to me on a personal level, but at the same time, it was still good, excellent and engaging. In fact, how depressing I found it to be is a factor of how the book held my interest and how believable yet horrifying I found the characterizations. This is not a book to read to make you think that human beings are worthy of being exalted or praised, but as a mystery, it was impossible to put down or turn away from. Horrified fascination, like watching a car accident, is the best way to describe my reaction to the story and the characters. Highly recommended, but be aware that this book can be depressing to read. Not for everyone.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Vampire Academy: The Final Sacrifice by Richelle Mead

Rose Hathaway is a Dhampir, a half-vampire. She and her friend, Vasalisa Dragomir, have always made their own rules, from when they ran away from Vampire Academy to protect Lissa's life and Rose took care of her, to when Rose's love, Dmitri, was turned into a Strigoi vampire and Rose ran after him to try to get him back. After being captured and imprisoned by him twice, Rose broke away both times and was reinstated into the school and being Lissa's protector. She and Lissa even took off on their own after graduation to find out how Strigoi vampires could be returned to sanity and managed to do so for Dmitri. But doing so ended Rose's romance with Adrian, another Spirit user.

Because Lissa herself is a user of the least well-known of the elemental powers- Spirit. Lissa's power is strong enough to return life to the dead. She did this once for Rose, creating a bond known as "the kiss of shadows" between them. Now, simply by closing her eyes, Rose can see what is happening around Lissa, and knows where she is and when she is in danger at any moment, as long as she concentrates. It is part of what makes the two so close, although Rose can close down the link when she wants privacy. Her amazing powers come with another drawback- using spirit causes her to have horrible black depressions that only Rose can help her with but taking some of the bad emotions into her own emotions.

The Moroi vampires of which Lissa is a part is facing a problem, a shortage of Dhampir guards and guardians due to increased Strigoi vampire attacks. While the Moroi have some actual life (being born and aging, albeit much slower than humans after they attain adulthood), the Strigoi are actually dead and fit the image of the classic vampire, being conscienceless killers who will drink from anyone, unless the Moroi, who rely on blood donors.

But when the Moroi Vampire Queen decided to deal with the shortage of Dhampir guardians by graduating those guardians from the Academy two years early, Rose was angry about it. The Queen's decision meant that more guardians will be killed because they will have less of a chance to train and grow strong. This would only increase the problem instead of helping it in the long run. However, the alternate idea that Rose, Lissa and several other Moroi and Dhampir had come up with- to actually spend some time training the Moroi to defend themselves, was unconscionable to the Queen. Rose had made her outrage known in no uncertain terms, so when the Moroi Queen turned up dead, she was blamed for the crime and imprisoned for the deed, despite having been nowhere near the Queen when she died.

The Moroi leadership didn't want to look into what really happened any more than that- they had someone to blame who seemed good for the crime and were content. But Rose's friends, including Lissa, know that she isn't responsible and break her out of the guardian prison before she can be executed. Rose and Dmitri (who was rescued from being Strigoi by Lissa and a spirit-infused stake) must go on the run while Lissa, Adrian and Rose's other friends work inside the court to try and prove not only Rose innocent of the crime, but find out who really killed the Queen and bring her to justice.

Rose and Dmitri can't simply hope to stay off the grid and be unrecognized, because Dhampir enforcers are on their trail and trying to track them down to bring Rose to justice. Rose gets the help of some of her father's secret operatives in the Alchemists, specifically Sydney Sage. Although she dislikes both Moroi and Strigoi, she is willing to help Rose and Dmitri to flee the Moroi court for a bunch of Dhampir who have renounced the whole of Moroi society. But is their society any healthier than the one she left behind in court? And when one of them decides to fight Rose for the "right" for her brother to marry Rose, can Rose defend herself well enough to keep the both of them free? Dmitri might claim that his feelings for Rose have died, but how much of that is horror over the things he did when he was Strigoi and feeling unworthy of the lengths that Rose went to in trying to save him from his undead state? Can there ever be any love between them again, and how can Rose choose between Dmitri, her first and strongest love, and Adrian, who she fell in love with for helping her again and again?

Meanwhile, in the Moroi court, while the search continues to go on for Rose, a new Ruler of the Moroi must be chosen, and while Rose witnesses it all through Lissa's eyes, a surprising secret comes to light. Lissa is supposed to be the last of her family line, which makes her ineligible for the Succession. But Abe Masur, Rose's father, and others believe that Lissa is *not* the last of her line and that she might have a relative, somewhere. So while Lissa is able to join those Moroi in the running to become the new Moroi ruler, she and Rose must find Lissa's relative to make her participation in the tests to become ruler more than just an intellectual exercise.

But finding out the truth may cost Rose her life more than just being on the run for supposedly killing Queen Tatiyana, and there are plenty of other plots that could cost Lissa her life as well. Even with Rose able to see through Lissa's eyes, Rose is too far away to keep her safe in the manner she usually uses, and while Rose works to find Lissa's relative, Lissa works to prove Rose innocent in the midst of the many gruelling tests of leadership while avoiding plots to kill her, even though she is a favorite to become Queen amidst the younger generation and the less hidebound Moroi. Can both Lissa and Rose succeed, and how will they react to a final twist that could completely change the relationship they have shared for so many years?

This is the last book in the Vampire Academy series, but Richelle Mead has already announced a spin-off series focussing on different main characters, so if you really enjoyed this series, that can offer you some hope that you'll be seeing more of at least some of the characters, Adrian, Jill and Sydney being at least some of them. And you will get to see how Lissa, Rose and their loves are doing, and possibly changes that the new ruler will be introducing to Moroi society.

I found this to be a fascinating book. So much is changing for the Moroi. It's possible to rescue and redeem Strigoi from their state, but it's also very hard, and the mental state of the redeemed vampires, as is witnessed by how Dmitri reacted to suddenly being Dhampir again, may end up killing them off. In this book, we get to see another Strigoi being redeemed, and at least this one has hope, because the one who loved them is still around and still has feelings for them, possiblt allowing them to get over what they have done.

But more than just Rose's trial and tribulations, this book is about Lissa finally having to stand up for herself and what she believes in and possibly bring those things to Moroi society as a whole. In many of the books, Lissa, even while Rose was apart from her, sort of went along to get along, but now she has to stand up and stand strong without anything but Rose's mental support, all the while undergoing some truly torturous quests to prove that she has what it takes to be the Queen of the Moroi- all the while not knowing if she will even be able to become Queen, unless Rose manages to find the other living member of her family.

The subplot with Lissa's trials nicely interweaves with the one of Rose fleeing the other guardians and her quest to find Lissa's relative. The plots come together just in time to save them both, and while the ending completely changes the relationship between Rose and Lissa, I may have found it disconcerting, but in the end I liked what happened, and I also liked the way both main characters got what was coming to them, in so many, many ways! I can't wait to read "Bloodlines", the first book in the new series, and see where the worlds of the Moroi and Strigoi go from here.

This book builds on everything that has gone before in the series and provides a tension-filled and thrilling ending to the series and to the lives of both characters. The series ends on a hopeful note while making a (to me) completely unseen twist that changes the main characters relationship to each other, Other readers might see it as having a familiar rug pulled out from under them and not like it at all, but you'll just have to read it for yourself to see. Highly recommended, and a phenomenal ending to an amazing series.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Dragon's Oath: A House of Night Novella by P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast

Dragon Lankford is a Warrior of the Sons of Erebus, of the House of Night in Tulsa Oklahoma. But even though he is a Warrior now, and alone, he was once a mere fledgeling like the rest. So, what is his story?

Dragon was born Bryan Lankford in Scotland, third son of an Earl. But yet, because of his behavior, his father disowned him and banished him to America. Yet, Bryn was already feeling the sickness that comes on from Vampire fledglings being too close to humans, and when he was being escorted to the port, his father's men decided to take their revenge on him, mistreating them and taking his sword away.

Only after the searcher had claimed him did he get his sword back, and on seeing the dragon ship that had come to take him to America, changed his name to Dragon Lankford.

In St. Louis, Dragon met the love of his life, a Priestess of Nyx named Anastasia, who, despite her young age of 22, has already become tbe Master of Spells and Rituals of the St. Louis House of Night. She has come to do a spell of true seeing on her students, all of whom, even the young men, are in love with Dragon Lankford, who is also a student at the school, though a Sword Master, and is destined for the Sons of Erebus.

But doing the spell draws Dragon to her, and Anastasia discovers that she, too, is not immune to Dragon's charm. And he quickly falls in love with her, although he is not yet a vampire.

But more problems than the students' lusting after Dragon affect the House of Night, a human named Biddle has rescued a creature of Darkness, who is influencing him to be even harder and nastier towards vampires than he is usually inclined to be. But when Anastasia performs a peace spell to settle the feelings in St. Louis and she is attacked, will Dragon be able to save the woman he loves? And can his choices in the present day lose him Anastasia's spirit forever?

This is a short story set in the House of Night universe, dealing with the background of Dragon Lankford, one of Zoey Redbird's teachers. He is a Son of Erebus, and he teaches sword, being a swordmaster, but even he was once human. This books tells of his background, and how he came to Amerioa from Scotland.

He also fell in love and lost his love, and we get to see how he and Anastasia, a beautiful young priestess of Spells and Rituals, as they first meet and fall in love. Sweetly, but not quite so uncomplicatedly.

This is a very short book, illustrated, but short, and yet, the story reaches to the heart of the series and manages to illustrate exactly why I love this series so much. Although the beginning and ending do give away one of the twists to "Awakened", so you should wait to read this until after reading that book. it's still in the spirit of the best parts of the "House of Night" series. Recommended, with some caveats.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Chicks Kick Butt edited by Rachel Caine and Kerrie L. Hughes

This anthology is dedicated to chicks who kick butt, bigtime. The thirteen stories within, written by female authors, feature protagonists far tougher than their appearances would indicate...

"Shiny" is a story set in Rachel Caine's "Weather Warden" universe. Joanne Baldwin and her lover, the Djinn David, take the day off to go to the beach, but on their drive, stumble on a Djinn named Whitney who is pretending to be a model in a bikini made of diamonds and shooting an ad for the Bugatti Veyron. But when Whitney ditches the shoot to steal the car, it's up to Joanne and David to go after her and find out what she is *really* up to.

"In Vino Veritas" by Karen Chance has Dhampir Dory attracting the attention of a new gang come from the East, the Leaping Tigers. When they send an assassin after her, Dory kills him and goes seeking information on why she is so wanted, and what this might have to do with Lord Cheung, a past foe. But when a duel of weapons turns into a drinking contest of fey wine, can Dory keep the potent liquor from affecting her, and what secrets and truths might she spill under its influence?

In "Hunt" by Rachel Vincent, Werecat Abby's camping trip with her friends and roommates is interrupted by an attack on their camp, and a group of men who want Abby. But why? And do they know about her being a Werecat? But most of all, can Abby save her roommates and herself from a bunch of men who want to hunt her to death?

In "Monsters" by Lilith Saintcrow, Eleni, a Preserver vampire, seeks vengeance for the death of the humans she was protecting and sheltering. But when she runs into another man, a strange survivor of the same ones who killed her family, she discovers that he is more than just a lucky human- he's a werewolf and the enemy of her kind. But can they form a new family and get her vengeance on those who wronged her?

"Vampires Prefer Blondes" by P. N. Elrod stars Bobbi Smythe, the love of Elrod's vampire character Jack Fleming. While on tour, Bobbi discovers that another one of her fellow performers is on the run from an abusive husband. Bobbi, a blonde, looks similar to this girl, which makes her the subject of an attack. But when her husband was revealed to be a vampire, she ran. Can Bobbi help this girl escape her husband, and put an end to his taking over the town she came from, all without the assistance of another vampire?

"Nine-Tenths of the Law" by Jenna Black has Morgan Kingsley, an exorcist, called in to help a couple whose daughter has been possessed by a demon. But Morgan senses a rat when she figures out that the mother is a member of a Church known as God's Wrath, a group of fanatical demon-haters. They don't stop at exorcism, but burn the formerly possessed, and Morgan senses that the mother is the kind who would burn her own daughter. But can she save the girl from her parents when she runs away, and her parents track her down and try to kill her?

"Double Dead" by Cheyenne McCoy stars Nyx, a Drow or Dark Elf, who is also a tracker, a supernatural dedicated to seeing that the Metamorphs, a set of paranormal creatures who can take on any shape, keep from taking over human society. Captured by Metamorphs pretending to be her boyfriend, she discovers that the Metamorphs have a plan to destroy the Council that directs the paranormal society of races. But, poisoned by an herb deadly to Drow, can she escape and recruit enough allies to keep the Metamorphs from carrying out their plan?

"A Rose by Any Other Name Would Still Be Red" involves Red, servant to the High Baron, who must bring down a rich nobleman who is trafficking in slaves, which is against the laws of the High Baron. But the orders from her Lord include the chance of mercy if any of the guards will accept it, a hard task when everyone wants to kill her. But can Red accomplish her mission on her own, or can the new slaves that have just arrived somehow help her in her task?

"Superman" by Jeanne C. Stein has Anna, a vampire and the Chosen One. She is in conflct with Chael, a vampire who would elevate vampires to the top of the food chain and make humans no more than herd animals. But when she receives a message from her human ex-boyfriend, Max, asking for her help, she reluctantly decides to go see him. He is tracking a vampire who is feeding on Mexican immigrants who want to escape to America. But can Anna, so newly made, defeat the other vampire, and what will happen between her and Max?

"Monster Mash" by Carole Nelson Douglas has Delilah Street, paranormal investigator, contacted by Sansouci, a werewolf enforcer to expose a problem with someone killing CinSims- Cinema Simulations, or a look and personality overlaid on the bodies of Zombies that the visitors to Vegas can interact with. CinSims use the look and personality of famous old movie stars and characters. But now one of them seems to have gone crazy. Can Delilah track down the one responsible and take care of him or her before they become even more of a problem?

"Wanted: Dead or Alive" by L.A. Banks has Tanya, a bounty hunter, contemplating the end of her career. After being the best bounty hunter of Supernaturals, her own career was ended by her last target, who turned her into a vampire. But when former associates of her target decide to kill her, can she somehow bond with her own assassin to be and save herself from the vengeance of the undead?

"Mist" by Susan Krinard, chronicles the story of Mist, Valkyrie. After Ragnarok, she was one of the few survivors along with Valli and Vidar. Now, she lives a life among the mortals, teaching combat. But when she is attacked by a giant, a Jotunn, looking for one of the treasures that she guards, she discovers that Loki survived, and that for some reason, he wants the spear that she is guarding. But can she ally herself with an Alfar or Elf, she believes is a traitor to the Gods, to find out what is really going on?

"Beyond the Pale" by Nancy Holder has Meg, an American with the Sight who has joined the Magical House of Knights, Haus Ritter, in Germany, to patrol the Black Forest against the forces of the Erl King. But when Meg realizes she may have been lied to about the Erl King and what he does with the human infants he steals, can she turn her back on what she thought she knew and choose a new path?

I really enjoyed most of these stories, and even the ones I found less than successful were still rather interesting to read and provided me with some strong female characters. I really enjoyed "Shiny", "In Vino Veritas", "Hunt", "Vampires Prefer Blondes" and "Mist".

The best part about this anthology is that none of the stories felt out of place, wrong, or not thematically in line with the rest of the stories. While each character might exhibit different examples of strength, each of the female characters presented do kick, both literally and metaphorically.

I enjoyed this short story collection very much. Many of the stories were extremely good, and they were all interesting to read. I'd definitely recommend this book to anyone who enjoys action books with strong women. Highly recommended.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Delirium's Party: A little Endless storybook by Jill Thompson

Delirium is one of the Endless, a set of human-like figures embodying the various concepts in the DC universe. There are seven of them, from Destiny (the oldest), Despair, Desire, Dream, Death, Destruction and then Delirium herself, although she was once known as Delight. Delirium suffered some event in the past where she became what she is today- she speaks what seems like nonsense, but in her own way, she has a greater than normal understanding of the world.

Little Delirium loves her brothers and sisters, but when she calls all of them up to talk, most of them just put up with her nonsense and talking about green monkeys. But one night, she realizes that she has never seen her sister Despair smile, so she decides, after much thinking, to throw a party for her sister and invite all her brothers and sisters with presents for Despair to try and make her happy.

So she and her talking Dog Barnabas prepare Delirium's realm for the party and make a huge cake, and then wait for everyone, including the guest of honor to arrive. Delirium hopes that something in the party and the presents will make Despair happy, and make her smile for the first time in well, forever, actually. Her other brothers and sisters arrive first, and Delirium makes them all hide to jump out and yell "Surprise!" when Despair arrives.

But that doesn't make Despair happy. Nor does the idea of a party... or the cake... or the decorations that Delirium has created. And the cake doesn't make her smile. Or eating it. So Delirium trots out her brothers and sisters with their presence. But none of them know what will appeal to Despair, either. Even so, they do their best. But what will make Despair happy enough to smile? Will Delirium ever get her wish of seeing Despair with a smile on her face?

This is a completely adorable graphic novel, short but sweet, reinterpreting Neil Gaiman's classic characters in a new and very Chibi-fied way. Some might say that it's an insult to the characters, but I viewed it as "This is from Delirium's point of view, and be lucky the characters don't have fish heads or something equally bizarre." Jill Thompson's art fits for this story, but it does kind of come off as kiddified. Real kids will have no idea, or very little idea, who these characters are.

The story itself is mere fluff, but cute, entertaining fluff. After all, what would make Despair happy? Bringing her chosen emotion to others. This is a graphic novel, but it's more like a kids storybook, mostly words enlivened with pictures rather than being told in a standard comic or graphic novel format.

A cute light read, but not, to my mind, really worth the $15 for the hardcover version. More for teens than actual children, as I don't know many kids who would be up to reading the original graphic novels, and some kids might find the form of the book rather insulting. On the whole, though, cute and short. Recommended.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern: Dragon's Time by Todd McCaffrey

Lorana, the Dragonqueen Rider, has at last cured the plague that was killing the Dragons of Pern. But doing so extracted its own horrible cost: her own Golden Queen died in the plague, along with too many other Dragons of all colors. Now, there aren't enough Dragons left to successfully fight the horrible thread that falls from the sky, and the Dragons that are left will slowly fall in fighting thread. Unless something is done, the Dragons who daily fight thread will wither away and die.

The only one who can possibly save the Dragons is Lorana, and with no Queen she must ride a borrowed Queen Dragon into both the past and the future to find a cure. But isn't it impossible to change what has already happened? As Lorana herself discovers, the Laws of Time may not be broken, but they can be bent. Although even for that bending to occur, there will be some significant consequences. But to save the people and Dragons she loves, Lorana is willing to do anything.

Meanwhile, back in the Weyrs, the Queens rest and eat and prepare to clutch. But the humans have their own issues to deal with. Even without enough Dragons, and all the Queens mating and clutching, there needs to be enough Dragonriders to ride those new Dragons. And all those candidates must be searched and trained and housed and fed. And that will require a great deal of resources, not to mention trainers and cooks, and new places to house all the new dragons and their riders.

And Lorana isn't going to be responsible for saving the Dragons on her own. In the current time, the Weyrwoman Fiona, and her husband, Kindan, are going to have to be the planners who see to it that all the other things need to be done, the finding of new places to Weyr dragons, and setting up those Weyrs and seeing to it that they are manned and supplied. But there will be a price for all this timing it and cheating time. The question is... is it one that Pern as a whole is prepared to pay?

I don't really know what to think about Todd McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern stories. Yes, he's Anne McCaffrey's son, and he grew up with these stories as told to him by his mom, but his writing, while it's fine in its own way, doesn't really have the same feel to me as hers did. It feels hollow and empty and different, and not in a good way. There was a lyrical quality to Anne's words that Todd lacks, and he also lacks clarity.

With so much back and forth-ing through time, any writer must have clarity to make it clear what is going on and to make the plot understandable. This book starts off okay, but soon ends up a confused mess, and I don't know that having to put the book down several times along the way hindered me from understanding the plot, but it certainly didn't help! Characters appear, disappear, have to act nasty and hateful, because to move the time travel plot along requires it, and.. Let's just say it very soon turns into a horrible, muddled mess, and it doesn't really get better. The author's note makes it clear that the Author's agent wanted to take Pern "In a new direction", but that direction is a major wrong turn.

What really rankles is how past Pernese history and conventions are completely ignored or turned on their ear. Between is now a place more like hyperspace than a dark, cold black endlessness, and when Lorana found a "pocket" in it, I had a hard time not throwing the book down and going, "Come on!" I don't want to say that Todd's "new direction" and writing is the equivalent of him spitting on her legacy, but it comes damn close, and that is extremely disappointing. Todd, maybe you should stick to writing your own stories set in your own worlds. It can't be any worse than this.

For anyone who enjoyed the original Pern books, this book and this entire new series, is a disappointment. I kept hoping for it to get better, and it didn't. I can't recommend this book at all, and in fact, I'd advise you to avoid it completely. Pern's stories ended with Anne's passing, and I think fans will just have to face that. Not recommended.

Friday, July 08, 2011

For My Lady's Honor by Sharon Schulze

Lady Alys Delamere is a woman who is more interested in stories than in men. Indeed, ever since she has been young, she's been more interested in writing down the stories she learns and the ones she makes up. To this end, she wants to enter a convent and become a nun, to dedicate her life to learning and writing. But her parents ignore her and have instead sent her to the manor of l'Eau Clair to learn how to be a proper, accomplished lady- all the better to marry her off to someone who will enhance the fortunes of her parents, especially her father.

Now finally finished with her education at l'Eau Clair, her parents have sent a troop of men to l'Eau Clair. She hopes it is to take her to a nunnery, but she knows it is more likely that it is to bring her home to Winterbourne and marry her off to some man. But among those men was the Knight known as Padraig ab Huw, and for once in all her life, she found herself drawn to him, and he to her.

Padraig is a honorable knight, and he knows that he shouldn't touch the Lady Alys- she isn't meant for him, but her innocence and interest spark an answering interest in him, and he finds himself wanting to touch her- to hold her, and to kiss her, even knowing that he shouldn't. But when a chance storm strands them with wounded in the midst of the countryside, Alys herself is injured, and Padraig struggles to bring his party back to Winterbourne so that she and the others can heal in safety.

But to do so, he finds that he must get close to her, to heal her wounds and put her shoulder back in joint. A long journey with the wounded finds them back in Winterbourne, only to find that it has been taken over by a party of Welsh raiders, and they capture most of Padraig's men, except for one, Rafe, and Alys, and both Rafe and Padraig are wounded by arrows fired by the Welsh raiders.

With nowhere else to go, they take shelter in the Devil's Forest with a young boy named Dickon, the last survivor of his family from a massacre in the village, and find a secret passage underneath the earth where they hide from the Raiders. It is here that they begin to heal their wounds and where Alys and Padraig finally come together in love. But with her father prizing her only as a pawn to be married off as he wills, will Alys and Padraig ever find happiness together, or will her father's anger and blindness to her wants and happiness make their love end in tragedy?

I found myself really drawn to this particular love story, probably because I, too, am a writer, and have devoted my life to writing and reading (and blogging about what I read, at least for the last few years). I also really liked the innocence with which Alys approached life. It didn't descend into stupidity or "too stupid to live" territory- she approached life openly, but was willing to follow orders if it made her safer or to help someone else.

And by the end of the book, she gains the courage to stand up to her very frightening father, and demand a life that she wants. It's not to be a nun- she only wanted to join the nunnery to learn and write, and she can have that with Padraig. Admittedly, though, she does need the help of some others to pull it off, but she does stand up for her love, and so does Padraig.

I enjoyed this book. Yes, it's a Harlequin Historical, set in Medieval times, but the story is fine and seems complete despite its relative shortness of length. I enjoyed this writer, and often do- she's one of the better Harlequin Historical writers, and her books are always interesting to read. Recommended.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Invincible Ultimate Collection, Volume 2 by Robin Kirkman, Ryan Ottley and Bill Crabtree

Invincible is a Superhero who is really a highschool kid named Markus Grayson. He's the offspring of a human woman and an alien, a Viltrumite who posed as a human superhero named Omni-Man. But his Dad turned out to be a villain, not a hero, and he was just the first infiltrator who was checking out the planet so that his people could come in and conquer the entire Earth.

Now, with his father gone, Mark has to take his place as a defender of the Earth, finish his last year of High School, fight off alien invaders, graduate, and start college. But this time, there is going to be some very upsetting developments for Mark: First, his mother takes up drinking to try and forget her problems and her broken heart, an undersea race whose King his father killed wants Mark to marry their Princess, because their race believes that only the strongest should rule them, his girlfriend, who is alarmed that Mark is talking to himself, carrying a beeper and keeps running off when it goes off, thinks that he's become a drug dealer, and the alien he met and fought in the first book returns to his people, bringing them the news that there is a half-Viltrumite who doesn't share the evil of his people and is willing to fight them to defend his home planet. But when someone on the council that Allen the Alien is passing on information to the Viltrumites, what will that mean for Mark and the people he defends on planet Earth?

He isn't the only one whose life is undergoing changes. Mark's mother can't deal with the pain of rejection of Mark's father, and she's turned to the bottle in a big way. Can her friendship with Art, the man who made her husband, and now her son's costumes, save her? Or her connection to Claire Bono, the wife of the Hero known as Super-Patriot, bring her back from the brink? Or will it take something else to make her see how self-destructive she is being, and snap her out of the funk she is in?

And Mark's friend Will, who he will be living with in college, is having his own problems with his girlfriend, Eve, who just happens to be Atom-Eve, the superheroine. When he finds out her secret, he becomes so clingy and immature that she realizes what a mistake it was to do so. And when Eve decides to give up being a Superhero to actually do something good with her powers, can Robot and the rest of the new Global Guardians take up the slack?

Robot is having his own problems- his leadership is constantly being undercut by their government liason, and Monster Girl is constantly aging in reverse- becoming younger and younger the more she uses her powers. And like Baby Herman from Roger Rabbit, with a 50 year old lust and a six month old "winky", she still feels all the attraction and lust of a 29 year old woman, despite looking 13 or 14. Can Robot find a cure or a help for her, and who is the baby in the bottle ordering him around?

The end of the book shows the origin stories of a number of other heroes in the book, from the Immortal to Atom Eve, and including "Monster Girl", but not Robot.

This is another excellent compilation of Invincible. Mark is growing up, and older, and has to deal with a great number of changes in his life. For one, he now seems to be the Earth's foremost protector, taking the place of his father, and he has a great number of expanded duties and responsibilities, just one of which is trying to save his mother from the emotional black hole she has fallen into with the death of his father.

Another is preparing for college, and all that that entails, while simultaneously taking on multiple heroic deeds. And lest we forget, he's not the only one out there. While the rest of the galaxy might take some comfort in the fact that Mark isn't like his father's people, his Dad nearly killed him, and while he abandoned the fight for what seemed like no reason, it's very likely that the other Viltrumites aren't going to be as careful with Mark as his father was, and they have no reason to spare him. If he opposes them, they will kill him.

I suppose my question is "Will Mark's Dad try to save him again?" if the Viltrumites return to try and conquer the earth, and what is up with the rest of the Heroes his Dad used to hang with? What is going on with Robot, and can he save Monster Girl from the side-effects of her own powers? We can see how she got her powers, but they are actually more of a curse, and she just uses them to become a superhero. It's interesting to see how Mark deals with his fellow heroes, and new foes. A good book, and definitely recommended.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Lady Protector by L.E. Modesitt Jr.

Mykella, Princess of Lanachrona, has just survived a coup by her Uncle and nephew, aimed at killing her and her father, and her Uncle taking over the country. But Mykella has magic, and by virtue of her being strong enough to use it to slay her uncle, she is now Lady-Protector of Lanachrona.

But ascending to the highest office in the land is by no means easy on Mykella. One of her sisters hates her because she felt something for the man she was being forced to marry, while the other is too busy training to be a warrior to take the time to care much at all. And not every man in the Kingdom relishes serving under a female Protector. Some of them are the same men that were fleecing both her father and Lanachrona with their penny-pinching and inefficient or downright treasonous ways, while others just think that a woman- any woman, is unfit to rule.

Mykella must now find men that she can trust to run the Kingdom efficiently and deal with the entrenched problems that came from the disinterest and outright theft of monies from the Kingdom's coffers, pay for the needed repairs to bring everything back up to where it should be, and ensure that similar problems don't occur in the future. Among those problems are the army, which is too small and underfunded to defend a country the size of Lanachrona,and finding someone that the troops can trust and will follow to war, not to mention train new troops to an acceptable standard and use them to keep Lanachrona free from its enemies, which even now are amassing along its borders.

As well as enemies from her own world, Mykella must keep Lanachrona and her world safe for enemies from other worlds, those with the same powers that she has, or even greater, who would like nothing more than to invade and make her world like their own, either dead and lifeless, or so regimented and autocratic that it would almost be better to be dead than live in a world like that.

There are signs of hope. For one thing, there are men on her side, and those who she can put her trust in. Remaking Lanachrona into the country and the world it was supposed to be will not be easy, but Mykella isn't one to give up or give in, no matter how hopeless or dire the situation seems to be. And if she can just find enough trustworthy men and women, she may be able to save her country. But war is coming, and is not without cost. Can Mykella survive without giving up the core of who she is, and what kind of sacrifices will be necessary to save her land? Can Mykella bear the cost of victory- or of defeat?

I was pleasantly surprised to see L.E. Modesitt Jr. finally finish a mere trilogy. Except for the "Empire and Ecolitan" series of two books, most of his series are ongoing, and manage to take five or more books to finish. And this one, thankfully enough, was less about Mykella being proved wrong about everything by her teachers and having to support their views with essays, but with Mykella having to be her own teacher and learn by doing. Yes, she's somewhat supported by the non-human Soarer, but it only tells her what she must do, not how to go about it.

And honestly, that's one of the things that had bugged me about L.E. Modesitt's recent books, that they had degenerated into a same-old, same-old that was getting boring and repetitive to read. This one was more in line with "The Magic of Recluce", the first Modesitt book I had read, in that the main character learns better by doing, rather than being lectured or told he is wrong (well, he does get told he's wrong, but he refuses to accept it and has to learn better by himself, which I think makes for a more dynamic and less boring book.

So I found this book a return to what made L.E. Modesitt great. A wonderful heroine who learns from doing, no long boring lectures on how her views are wrong, and lots of battle scenes, both physical, magical, financial and emotional. The romance between Mykella and her former guard turned general is full of stops and starts, and no one actually admits that the other is important to them until far too close to the end of the book, but their closeness grows gradually and while I hoped for some more romantic-type scenes, most readers of fantasy probably won't miss them.

I really would recommend this book to fans of the old L.E. Modesitt and fantasy readers alike. It's exciting and full of action, along with more static scenes of Mykella trying to learn to wield her magic and take care of her country and rebuild it, both morally and in infrastructure and soldiers, to make it the kind of place it was always meant to be. If this is how L.E. Modesitt Jr. is returning to writing, I am all for it, and hope to read less lecturing and more learning on their own for his future heroes and heroines. Highly recommended.

Friday, July 01, 2011

For Heaven's Eyes Only by Simon Green

The man that John Taylor knew as Shaman Bond is actually Eddie Drood, a man whose family is despised in Supernatural circles because for many, many milennia, they kept order, pledging themselves to be the protectors of humanity. Possessors of Golden Torcs that could form themselves into indestructible armor and weapons, they were often the last line of defense against the bad things of the cosmos.

But all that power came at a Price. Eddie discovered that the power that made the Torcs was itself an evil fugitive, and that the cost of owning and possessing the Torcs came at the cost of every Drood being a twin, one of which was sacrificed to the entity to power the Torc. And since they had never been raised to never question where the power for all this came from, the Droods were themselves serving something that they would have deemed a danger to humanity had it served anyone else.

Eddie fought a war to free his family from this entity's malign influence, unwittingly with the aid of another member of the Entity's race, a cop to its criminal aspect. He was also aided by Molly Metcalf, a witch who was once a foe of his family. But Eddie is the only one of his family who seems to have both a true sense of honor and the ability to question the status quo and what everyone believes to be, and Molly who once would have despised him for his name and out of principal, found herself having feelings for him and is his girlfriend.

After a facing down an imposter that was pretending to be Molly Metcalf's sister, Isabelle, Eddie was killed. But he isn't actually really dead. Instead, he's in Limbo, and Limbo appears to him like his family's home, only empty, deserted, and full of shadows and shades, all of whom want his family's secrets. While there, he discovers that his parents, long thought dead, are actually still alive. Someone has lied to him, but who, and why?

While in Limbo, he discovers evidence that another Great Satanic conspiracy is brewing, and he and Molly go to investigate it, and while they are in the business that serves as the Conspiracy's HQ, they encounter Molly's sister Isabelle, the real one this time, who is also investigating the Conspiracy. While Molly may have mellowed with regards to Eddie and his family, Isabella still hates the Droods, and despite Molly vouching for him, she is still unsure. And while Eddie may have had doubts about the Satanists rising once again, after their visit with the Satanists, he is certain that Isabella and the spirit in Limbo were right- there is definitely something they are doing, and they are planning a great Sacrifice to bring back one of the baddest of the Big Bads- and with only Eddie, Molly and his family, which still harbors a traitor, to stand against them. Can the Droods prevail?

I started reading Simon Green with his Hawk and Fisher series back in the day, and I loved him even more for the John Taylor books. To be honest, when I first started reading this series, I considered Eddie a poor substitute for John Taylor, but now that I read about him more and more, I find him growing on me. I have also discovered the similarities between Eddie and John Taylor, and, for that matter, all of Simon Green's other heroes.

Each of these characters conforms to the stereotype of the "Last Honest Man", or perhaps the "Last Honorable Man". In other words, in a world full or dishonesty, bigotry, corruption and betrayal, all of these characters alone stick to their honor. Them being truthful and honorable and keeping their word is what sets them apart from everyone else, and they stick to their convictions. Anyone else can be moved and fall, but Simon Green's main characters never do. Even if, as Eddie, they come from a family that is doing evil, wittingly or un, they alone will stand out, call a spade a spade and fight for the right, because that is who they are.

And once again in this book, that is Eddie all over again. He's determined to do what's right, and to drag the rest of his family into doing the same, just because it is right, and if he uncovers lies and betrayal, he'll do his best to put it right, and that happens both with the family traitor, and with the truth about the survival of his parents, that also seems to be coming as well. But even though Eddie is the same kind of hero as John Taylor, there are still distinct characters, and Eddie is a bit more of a sarcastic, humorous character than John Taylor is. I only wonder if they will encounter each other again in the future. (And now that Eddie knows that his family is alive, will he use John to locate them?)

An interesting and action-filled book that I really enjoyed, I can't wait to read the next installment and find out what is going on with Eddie's parents and why they let everyone believe that they were dead for so long. I don't know the answer, but it's sure to be interesting, and I'm looking forward to it. Recommended.