Friday, September 30, 2011

Black Jack, Volume 14 by Osamu Tezuka

Fourteen more stories involving Black Jack the world's best unlicensed surgeon. He charges outrageous prices for his interventions, but his skills are more than enough for him to triumph.

In the first story, "The Corsican Brothers", Black Jack and Pinoko are at the circus when there is an accident. One of a pair of high-flying twin acrobats takes a fall, and the brothers share a psychic link that one twin feels the other's pain. When the circus owner calls on Black Jack to help, can Black Jack save the one brother while convincing the other that he won't die even if the surgery somehow fails?

"The Third Call" has Black Jack at home when he gets a call from a man who blames all Doctors for the death of his mother. Doctors are too expensive and can't be trusted, so he threatens to kill Pinoko after kidnapping her. When the time comes, he shoots Black Jack. But when the man's sister shows up to stop him, he ends up shooting her accidentally when trying to finish off Black Jack. The only way to save her life is for Black Jack to operate and remove the bullet- and he can only do that with the help of the young man. And even if he does save the Sister's life, will the man help Black Jack save himself?

"A Transient Love" follows Michiru, a young girl dying of cancer who is in love with love and wants to get married before she dies. But when she fixes her hopes on marrying Black Jack, he wants nothing to do with it. But can Black Jack save her life and show her the man who truly loves her and wants to marry her?

"Full Moon Disease" follows Black Jack as he makes a visit to a grave. Afterwards, he goes to a restaurant for coffee and discovers that the waitress who used to work there abruptly disappeared. Through her ex-boyfriend, he is able to track her down and discover that she is suffering from Cushing's disease- also known as "Full Moon Disease". But far from the sob story that her boyfriend told Black Jack, he broke up with her when her disease affected her, and once Black Jack operates to cure her, can he keep her safe from the man who dumped her? And why did he save her?

"Captain Satan" brings a former American officer who served in Vietnam to Black Jack to have surgery to remove the bullet from his head. He was shot at the end of Vietnam, but the bullet can't be removed because of where it is- if lesser surgeons tried to remove it, it would kill him. But the children who are survivors of the village he massacred don't want Black Jack to save him, saying that he should die for murdering their parents. But can he teach both sides a lesson before he operates?

"Urashima" has Black Jack facing off against Dr. Kuriko to determine the fate of a boy crushed in a mining accident 55 years ago. But even though he is in a coma, he hasn't aged. Who will win the fight to save him, or is this a fight that can even be won?

"Little Devil" follows the problems of a small boy whose mother is going to be worked on by Black Jack. When he gets the idea that Black Jack is going to hurt her, not fix her, can he prevent the operation, or will Pinoko be able to get it through his head that Black Jack is only trying to help her?

"Stop Drawing" follows a man who supposedly creates a manga that wins a famous award. The problem comes because he isn't actually the artist- he's a mere stand-in for the resl artist, who is sick and could lost the use of her arms if Black Jack can't save her. But to do the job, she's going to have to stop drawing. What will happen when the secret comes out, and can Black Jack save her life?

"A Rapid Current" sees Black Jack needing to cross a river, but the Bridge is out. Nearby lives a ferryman, but he is busym and only his wife and children are there. She agrees to take Black Jack across, but she's heavily pregnant, and in the course of their trip, starts to give birth, only to be interrupted by a Flash Flood. Stranded on a stone in the middle of the river, can Black Jack save her life and her baby's as well?

"There Were Two Films" sees a famous director come to Black Jack to try and save his son, who was born with illness and stayed that way all his life. Now, he's afflicted with cancer, and he wants Black Jack to save him. But he also wants to film him doing it, and Black Jack agrees- as long as he gets to pick his assistant. But when the surgery is over and the boy is saved, will the medical association allow the film starring Black Jack to be shown?

"The Man Swallowed by a Whale" tells of Shoichi, a whaling worker swallowed by a whale along with teo other sailors washed overboard. Only he survived, but he can't remember anything, and he was so burned by the whale's gastric juices that they had to construct a whole new face for him. They have decided to give him back to his mother in hopes it will jog his memory. But while she tries everything, nothing seems to work for him. What can make him regain his memory?

"The Vanished Noise" has a man who stabbed his own eardrums three times to stop being driven crazy by the noise of jets taking off and landing from a nearby airport. Can Black Jack find a way to defeat the problem, and will the man be grateful for the fix?

"Black Jack Disease" has Black Jack finding out that there has been a disease named after him. It's an ironic name, since only the rich recover. But when the man who named the disease, Dr. Kooma, starts sending Black Jack the stomachs of the people infected by the disease asking for his help in discovering a cure, can Black Jack help the small African country affected by the disease, and discover the cure in time to save Dr. Kooma as well?

"Just like B. J." has Black Jack witness a young girl trying to commit suicide. Saves her, only to discover that her attempt was necause her grandmother is ill. Her doctor saved her life three times, but the money it cost is bankrupting the family. Can Black Jack make the Doctor, so very like himself, see reason? Or will he continue to save the grandmother;s life, with each attempt costing them more and more money?

I liked how this volume was less about the operations (although, yeah, that was important), but led right into some of the things that are around the doing of medicine: medical ethics, quality of life, and the ability to choose when life was over and the DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) orders. As well as ongoing medical problems. Some of the problems showed Black Jack that he was wrong, like "Just like B.J.". There are tales about Doctors with too much pride, who think they are like God, but life and death and the universe can be their undoing.

And it's not just Black Jack who learns that, but a whole lot of other Doctors as well, including Dr. Kuriko, his longtime Nemesis, who feels it is better to let people out of their pain rather than try and save them. And sometimes, sacrifices must be made, as when Dr. Kooma sacrifices himself to save the people who are ill in Africa. And though he passes away by the end of the story, Black Jack is determined to find a cure (and we assume he does so) for the disease named after him.

A fairly widespread set of stories, in kind and aim, but altogether interesting reading. As this series goes on, it's getting more and more interesting, as the people are becoming as important as the diseases. Osamu Tezuka makes an interesting case for what is wrong about the practice of medicine, mainly in Japan, where he studied to be a Doctor, but here we see that even Black Jack, brilliant and dedicated as he is, doesn't have all the answers and is guilty of pride. A fascinating series. Highly recommended.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Tegami Bachi: Letter Bee, Volume 6 by Hiroyuki Asada

Lag Seeing is supposed to write a letter to deliver to Gauche Suede to make him remember his heart, but he's finding that harder to do than he supposed. Every time he starts, he ends up focussing on things that aren't important and getting off-track, so that each time ends in frustration and failure. How can he bring back Gauche's heart with a substandard letter?

None of the other bees can help him, either, as none of them have either written letters, or written them about anything near as important. Gauche heads out into Central, only to bump into an extremely tall maid, who asks him to come back into the house where she works to meet "the lady". Lag has no objection and meets Rei Attlee, a woman who has her hair cut short and so looks like a man. Rei, however, has a problem Lag may be able to help her with. She comes from the mountains, but was sent to this house by her parents for her health, as her lungs are weak. Lately, she has been receiving letters from someone, but with no idea as to who sent them to her. The letters weren't delivered by Bee, they just show up at the front door, And there isn't a single word in the letters, they just show paintings of the mountains in a single color, Hydrangea Blue.

The paintings of the mountains bring back happy memories for Rei, and give her the strength to go on when her illness threatens to overcome her. She asks Gauche to find the person who sent her the letters so that she can thank them. But when Lag finds the real letter writer, she begs him not to tell Rei that she was the sender, but won't say why. When someone else takes credit for sending the letters, can Lag keep his promise and still reveal the truth behind the letters?

Then, we see the story of a lighthouse keeper and his grandson, all he has left to him since his son and his son's wife went away. But when the grandfather seemingly goes mad and tries to kill his grandson out of hatred, will we see how this story has anything to do with Lag? And what will happen when the famous Letter Bee Jiggy Pepper must get involved to save Lag's life? Can he save Lag when even Niche cannot?

Then, Sylvette gets a letter from a girl who wants a doll that looks just like her so she can give it to someone to take with him so he won't forget her when he is far away. But she wants the doll by the very next day, so Sylvette uses a doll she already made, mixing it up so that she can have the doll ready. But when she leaves to deliver the doll on her own, Lag insists on accompanying her, to keep her safe. She jokes that for now, he's her Dingo. But when the coach they are on is attacked by a bandit intent on stealing any items of value, can Gauche, and his own Dingo, Niche, retrieve the doll and bring the little girl the doll she wanted?

Then Lag and Niche travel to Blue Ground, where Lag's friend and mentor, Suede, lost his heart and his memories. Can Lag discover why Gauche lost his memories, and figure out a way to get them back for him and return Gauche to his sister and the capital? And what is the truth behind the stories about Niche, the Child of Maka and the town of Blue Note?

This was a mixed bag of stories, but most of them really were heartwarming, especially the first story. You might even think that most of them are filler, as they are distractions from the main story of Lag trying to write a letter to Gauche to bring back his memories. But in reality, they are meanders as Lag tries to think about what he needs to put into his letter to get Gauche to remember. And by the end of the volume, he knows that his mission isn't hopeless, that Gauche remembers at least something of his past life.

I really like this series. Yes, Lag comes off as something of a crybaby- he's constantly tearing up when something makes him happy, sad or upset. But then again, his name is based off a Japanization of the word "Lacrimae", meaning "tears" in Latin, so it's not really surprising that he always seems to be crying. And this volume was a return to the early style of the manga, where lighthearted side stories were the norm at the beginning. And this volume is mainly a return to that, but by the end, you can see that there is going to be a return to the more serious stories.

I like this series, and I wonder how Lag is going to return Gauche's heart to him and what will happen when he does. There is still the problem of Reverse and the rebellion in the provinces to deal with, not to mention what happened to Lag's mother and the whole "Day of the Flicker" thing. This is a series that could conceivably go on for a very long time, and I'll want to be there to see what happens. Recommended.

Vermonia,Volume 5: The Warrior's Trial by Yoyo

Jim, Doug, Mel and Naomi were just skateboarders on Earth who came together to form a band, but when Mel was kidnapped to an alternate world, the other three followed her, hoping to rescue their friend. They found a world conquered long ago by General Uro, who rebelled against the real Queen. She managed to protect the four elements from him by using her followers to merge with the shrines, becoming pillars that support the land and protect it from ultimate dominion by Uro. Each of the band members and friends became one with one of the elemental guardians, gaining access to powers to call on and a beastly companion that aids them in battle.

Mel, however, remains imprisoned by Acidulous, one of Uro's followers, and her melding with her guardian is incomplete, because Acidulous wants to take the power of the bonding for himself. Mel is allowed some freedom, but she realizes that Acidulous is not a completely willing follower of General Uro. Although she doesn't know what could cause someone to do what he has done, she has sympathy for him and hardly realizes that his turning by Uro was so that he wouldn't have to face up to the ultimate grief of losing the woman he loved.

Jim has dived into the lake to rescue Rainbow, who he has feelings for, from drowning. But it's not really Rainbow, but one of Uro's female warriors, who is using the power of the lake, and its ability to make people see what they most love, against them. But when Doug joins them, another illusion, that of Naomi, is added to what they must face. But can they convince the power of the lake that they are on its side, trying to fight for Vermonia against General Uro?

Meanwhile, Naomi, Fly, Khaan, and the rest of the Potonawi, having failed to prevent the takeover of the temple of the pillar of flame, are fighting against one of Uro's creatures. But Naomi's powers, given by Suzaku, are running out, and to call on even more of his power, she mustaccept it and be open to the change that comes with accepting the physical changes that come with calling on more of his powers. But if her changes are a sign of what is coming for the friends, will they even be human by the end of the battles to come?

Naomi's sacrifice frees the guardian of the island, and it allows Doug and Jim to access the crystal that embodies the pillar of thunder. But when a squelp that resembles Satoshin shows up, will their distraction mean they lose control and possession of the crystal? Will they be able to save the floating island and the Tribe of the Turtle?

Meanwhile, Satoshin is tricked by the other Squelp into imprisoning himself in a prison of ice. There; he meets Mel, who tells him that every day, her captors control more and more of her, and she fears she is becoming like them. Arussha attempts to see what is so special about Satorin, but touching him brings out the true self at the core of her being, and Acidulous must help her fight it back down. Just what is this Squelp and why is it so important?

Then, Jim is recovering from his injuries when he is contacted by Rodvel, who shares his memories of Uro and his life. Queen Frasinella, who seemed so pure and good, had ulterior motives for controlling Uro during his life. But can Jim find out the truth of what Uro and his brother Lord Boros were before they were split into separate beings by the Queen and what she was attempting to control?

This is a new volume in the series, and far from being the slipcovered soft-cover form of the earlier books, this volume has reverted into the usual softcover manga form, which was somewhat disappointing, because I liked the other books somewhat more. But here, I started to get the idea of what Uro might have been, when I put Uro and Boros side by side, you get a word very similar to OUROBOUROUS, the worm with no end. Did Queen Frasinella separate some elemental force into two beings in an attempt to control them both? I suspect that the next volume will make this clear, and makes me wonder if Queen Frasinella was as good as she is supposed to be.

Meanwhile, more changes are ahead for the rest of the warriors from the Blue Star (aka Earth). Naomi's transformation makes clear that the more power they call on from the totems that power them, the more physical changes that they can expect. But as Uro's power grows closer to taking over the world and destroying the pillars, can they manage to beat off his forces and free this world, and then the world of Vermonia? And does Vermonia and its Queen deserve to be freed? If she was playing around with forces that should have been left alone, I'd have a hard time summoning up sympathy for her.

This series continues to make me think, and to wonder. I am enjoying it, and the various ideas, many of which have resonances to other stories featuring various elemental forces of thea cosmos and the sacred beasts Byakko, Suzaku, Genbu and Seiryu, but which is refreshingly different. I recommend this book and this series, and remain interested in where it is going from here.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Ironside by Holly Black

Kaye is a pixie of the Unseelie Court. Roiben in the Prince and is soon to be coronated, and Kaye loves him, but is unsure of how anyone could accept a pixie as queen. When she gets drunk at the coronation and declares her love before the entire court, Roiben is forced to set her a quest before he will be able to make her his queen.

And his quest is the most impossible one that anyone at Court has ever heard: to find a faerie capable of lying. This is impossible, because Fairies can only tell the truth. They can shade the truth, and speak around it, but to actually lie is impossible for them.

In addition, Kaye is a changeling, a faerie placed with a human woman in place of her real child. Kaye is beginning to believe that her human mother has never loved her, and that her being with her human family is a horrible imposition, and that she should simply go away and never bother them again. But first, she must restore to them what has been taken away...

Unfortunately, Kaye has no idea who or what fairie took the real Kaye, or where she is now. So in addition to her being able to find a faerie that can lie, she must also recover a human child from a faerie who may not want to give her up- and to do it, she'll have to enter into the human world in a way she has never done before, and do battle with the forces of the "Ironside" on its own terms. But will her battle to return Kaye lead to her discovering the solution to her dilemma with Roiben?

And when Kaye falls in with a boy who has been cursed by the Fae, it may cause her even more troubles than her love for Roiben and the impossible quest she is on. For he has been using faerie essence to gain fae powers, and, in essence, stealing them from other fae. But she needs his help to find her mother's real daughter, and to search for a Faerie who can lie. But as she tries to keep up with her human friends and the human world, her faerie self and human self cross over. Is there any hope for Kaye to fill her self-imposed search and the one imposed by Roiben at the same time? And when she falls into the clutches of Silarial, the Seelie Queen, who wants Roiben's throne, can she keep the man she loves safe from harm even while he must shun her until she succeeds at his quest?

I love Holly Black's faerie stories, because they embody the real faerie stories and not the more hopeful, sanitized versions that pass for faeries in a lot of the fantasy novels written. These are the real faeries, who are as specialized in the arts of pain as the arts of love and combat, even those of the Seelie Court- the Seelie Court merely has better press. These faeries are scary! But this is the third book in the trilogy that began with Tithe and continued in Valiant, and characters from both novels feature here, including Corny, Luis and Dave.

In time, this book picks up after Tithe (Valiant was happening at about the same time as Tithe), and continues the story. Here, Kaye has to juggle her life in the human world and her life in the Fae world, and which is the more important? Or are they both important? Can she win Roiben's love and that of her human mother as well? Kaye has to decide what she really wants, and shows one of the more interesting sides of Faeries- yes, they have to tell the truth, but truth and the meaning of words can be parsed so many different ways... That's part of what makes fae so scary.

I liked this continuation of the story, and all the characters got some kind of ending. Whether those endings are happy ones or merely pleasant is up to the reader. Certainly worse things could have happened to Kaye, Roiben and the rest. But the ending was the very best part. I had the feeling that Roiben broke down laughing at Kaye's words. Recommended.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys over Girls and the Consequences of a World Full of Men by Mara Hvistendahl

Every father wants a son to carry on his name. But in places like China, where couples are limited in the number of children they can have, the importance of having a son, even if it is the only child you have, plus the advent of ultrasounds that can show a pregnant mother their child in the womb, combined with the widespread availability of therapeutic abortion, has created a world in which 160 million women are missing.

That's more than the entire female population of the United States. Imagine a US where there are no women- no mothers, no daughters... just men and boys. That will give you an idea of the magnitude of the problem.

You may feel that this isn't a problem at all- if people choose not to have female babies, what's the harm? I mean, there are six billion people in the world, so what if there are a lot fewer women?

Well, this book shows why that is a problem. For one thing, in a world with that many missing women, what happens when those boys grow up seeking marriage? Where do they go to for wives? In some places, and in many cases, this is already becoming a problem. With so few women to go around, the men of China are seeking wives in other, nearby countries. They have gotten so many wives from there that the same sort of problem is affecting the men of the countries they are importing wives from- who will the men there marry?

The price of a bride is rising, meaning that many poor men cannot afford to pay a bride price and thus, cannot marry. Men without an outlet for their affection and attention, and depressed by the thought of never being able to afford a bride, have turned their attentions to more violent and manly pursuits- gun battles and gunfights with water or paintball guns that look disturbingly similar to the real thing- and none of them want to stop at just water or paintball guns. Some of them want the real thing, and the violence in China is rising as these unmarried and unable to get married men take out their frustrations in violence, because literally, they have nothing left to lose.

But violence against women is also growing in China. Women in some places are commodities, and even the Chinese are beginning to wonder where their precious sons are going to procure a bride. And perhaps, if it was just China, that might not be a worry. But China is not the only country where this is happening- India has had a long history of just the same sort of manipulation of the Genetic lottery. While there is no compulsory government punishment for having more than one child, the government is pushing the idea of a "perfect" family with a mere two children. And just as in China, the availability of Ultrasounds and no questions asked abortions has pushed the total of male children born over that of females- leaving India in dire straits with regards to the marriage dilemma as well. And not just China and India, but other places as well that put a premium on male children as a means of carrying on the family name and legacy.

And what can we do about it? At this point, it is almost too late for some countries. The collision of choice and technology mean that entire generations of men are going to be without a wife. And while you might think that this would only raise the status of women, it's having the exact opposite effect- women are becoming a commodity and are being kidnapped or even forced into prostitution to satisfy the men who can't get a wife of their own legally. Even brides bought from elsewhere aren't having very good lives- treated as slaves by the families who buy them for their husbands- most unable to speak the language and mistreated if they should ever go against their husband- life for these women is often bleak, and while some may find love, oftentimes the families of their husband views her as an interloper should the man die.

But it's not just men who are at a premium in some areas- now women could be as well. And one of the places that is happening is in America. Women tired of boys are paying a premium to have baby girls- could this lead to the same kind of skewed gender politics as is happening elsewhere, only with a female twist? That remains to be seen. Nonetheless, women in America are not aborting boys, but instead paying for other forms of gender selection, but the implication is clear- we could be next.

I found this book intriguing and at the same time, horrifying. Places like China and India have long preferred male babies over females, but the idea that because now Ultrasound allows parents to see their offspring in the womb, and abortion is seen as clean and tidy (and Western and Advanced, and therefore good) as opposed to taking the baby out somewhere and abandoning it to the elements, selecting the sex of your unborn child is seen as no big sin or bad thing. It's like a weird science experiment: if it's not what you like, discard and try again. I've always been pro-choice, but this is over the line, even for me. We all agree that women's bodies are theirs to do with as they will, but here, the choice of all these women (and their husbands) to abort a daughter and have a son, are really screwing up society.

The idea that a child should be loved and wanted no matter its sex comes bang up against the idea that a man needs to have a son to carry on their family name, or that having a son is somehow 'manlier' than having a daughter- especially if you are limited to only having a single child. But now that there are more than 160 million men who will have to go without wives, the balance of those countries are screwed up, and there is nothing that will change that- and the Chinese who made that choice are only just beginning to realize that. Even if things do eventually get better, things will get worse before they get better- and that's not good news for those countries or the world. Men without wives, or even the hope of a wife, will get more radicalized, and marriage, by and large, calms those impulses by giving men other things to think about- like a wife and children.

This book is a fascinating and terrifying look at what sexual politics, and the politics of having babies of the parents choice, can lead to. It paints a disquieting picture of a future of society skewed in all the wrong ways by the unforeseen consequences of a leap forward in technology, and governments who use abortion on demand for population control. But it's not just abortion that has consequences- it's just one of many sex selection techniques that are fraught with problems for the future. The question is... what are we going to be able to do about it, and is China and India just the first part of the world that is going to have to deal with this problem? Highly recommended.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Angels of Darkness by Nalini Singh, Ilona Andrews, Meljean Brook and Sharon Shinn

Angels of Darkness is a short story anthology about Angels who do not come to give hope and enlighten, but who are there during the darker emotions of humans, from death and fear and sadness.

Angel's Wolf by Nalini Singh, follows Noel, a vampire from Rafael's Court in New York after he is sent to serve Nim'ra, a powerful female angel said to be extremely cold and cruel. Noel is recovering from a terrible attack that nearly killed him, and he views this reposting as a judgement on his inability to forsee the attack that laid him low. But Nim'ra, though a fairly young and powerful angel- may be cold and retiring, but that is because her heart is soft and rather too easily affected, which would be considered a terrible weakness in a ruling Angel. But when it becomes clear that someone in her court is trying to kill her- possibly in a bid to overthrow her, can Noel find the person who hates Nim'ra enough to try to do away with her, and can he undo the effect of her caring and beauty on his own previously cold heart?

Alphas: Origins by Ilona Andrews has Karina Tucker, an abused wife, who is fleeing from her abusive husband who has tracked her and her daughter, Emily, down. In the course of her flight, she is rescued by Rishe and his crew, who identify her as a Donor, and abduct her into an alternate reality where she must stay with her child. It turns out that the men who have rescued her are the many times removed offspring of alternate versions of humanity, each with their own separate powers. She is paired with Lucas, to bond with him and remove some of the rage that pervades him. But each time he does, there is a greater chance that she will also develop powers. Can Lucas persuade Karina to stay with him and not try to flee? Or will Karina put the world at risk to save her daughter from eventually having the same fate?

Nocturne by Sharon Shinn is the story of Moriah, a worker at the Gabriel school. Hiding from those she has taken advantage of in the past, she drudges through the night hours in the kitchen at the school, cleaning and preparing for those who will work in the morning and the afternoon- washing dishes and preparing the kitchen to be used once again. But there is a strange story hidden in the school, and the house on the hill. And Moriah, through her spying and prying, discovers the secret- a blinded Angel lives in the house. It is hoped that he will somehow find the strength of will to live again, and not hide himself and his talents away from others. But can the former conwoman Moriah make the Angel Corban see that life is still worth living, and can he effect a similar change in her life as well?

Ascension by Meljean Brooks follows Guardian Angel Marc Revoire, who is investigating the disappearance of Vampires in the community he watches over. But another guardian, Radha, who he had a relationship with in the past, insists that he isn't safe and that he needs her help to accomplish his duties. But when the killers turn out to be someone he would never have suspected, and Radha saves his life, he's forced to conclude that she is right about the way things are. But as they track those who put the killers up to their deeds, can they re-forge the thread of their loving connection, or have things gone too far awry to ever get it back?

This was an unusual series, because in many cases, the characters really *were* angels- not so much the "Alphas" story, as that was the proverbial "Guardian Angels" rather than actual angels, but each one stood out as the stories were about one person protecting another from horrible fates, or having lost hope- although it's a turn around in "Nocturne", because it's the human woman bringing the angel hope, and her slightly peppery personality is just the thing to keep shocking him into doing something, either for her approval or to overcome her disapproval.

In fact, the stories in this book were so good that I had a hard time picking my favorite. It came down to a toss-up of "Nocturne" or "Angel's Wolf", both of which were really excellent stories in worlds I love and will continue to read in. I actually can't decide which one I liked better, as Sharon Shinn's lyrical writing and Nalini Singh's wonderful ability with story and characterization really fought it out to a standstill in my mind. The other stories were fine, too, but my familiarity with both Sharon Shinn and Nalini Singh's Angel worlds made me prefer them. I am just less used to Meljean Brooks's angels, and Alphas was a new world for Ilona Andrews.

I really enjoyed this anthology. The stories were excellent, every one, and if you haven't read stories set in those worlds before, this volume is likely to make you want to seek them out and read them. I even would like to see more of the Alphas series, which is new to this volume, although I have read other of Ilona Andrews series. A stunning set of stories with plenty of adventure and romance, and the kind of happy ending you want to read. Highly recommended.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Tiger's Quest by Colleen Houck

Kelsey Hayes is back at home after spending the summer in India, but she's upset that Ren, who is no longer solely tied into his tiger form except for an hour a day, hasn't tried to contact her. After the adventure they shared and the love that she thought flowered between them, she thought he loved her, but when he doesn't try to contact her in any way, she decides to get on with her life, going to college, albeit living in private housing rather than a dorm, and living her life.

However, when she's finally decided to take her romantic life in her own hands and go on a date with a guy she met through her Kung Fu class, who should return to her life but Ren, who is equally upset that Kelsey didn't contact him over the ensuing time that they were apart, and he is not only going to college with her, but lives in the house next door to her own. Kelsey, though she longs for the return of the closeness that she and Ren shared in India, is nonetheless not sure that she and Ren- who is, after all, a Prince, are totally right for each other. She is still determined to go on dates with other boys, as she is sure that Ren is only fixated on her because she helped fight off part of the curse.

Ren, for his own part, is blisteringly angry that Kelsey wants to see others, but he is determined to back off and show her that their love is true. So as she goes on dates with guys from college, he takes her out on dates as well, and she has to admit that, next to Ren, all other guys are not measuring up. Soon, she is sure that she loves Ren, but he still holds her at arm's length, determined to make her see that they should be together by showing her how the other men she would date are either jerks or not what she is interested in.

Finally, the semester is over, and Kelsey travels back to India to help break the next part of the curse. But when Ren disappears, she and Mister Kadam are sure that Lokesh is behind his disappearance. So where does that leave Kelsey? Well, she can still help break more of the curse with Kishan, Ren's brother who happens to be the Black Tiger to Ren's White Tiger.

Kelsey doesn't know if she can trust him, because of his behavior last summer, when she and Ren broke the first part of the curse. Kishan wants Kelsey as his own, but for now, he is willing to back off pursuing her strenuously because he realizes how much she misses Ren and wants to find him. But to break this form of the curse, he and Kelsey must call on the aid of the Goddess Durga, and find a tree that touches the sky- the entrance to which they will find somewhere in the Himalayas. But as Kishan and Kelsey journey together, she finds herself softening towards him. She will maybe not fall for him the way she fell for Ren, but she could definitely see herself doing so at some point, and her feelings for the brothers become confused.

But by the time they come together to rescue Ren from the forces of Lokesh, a reversal worse than anything else she has experienced thus far in her relationship with Ren hits Kelsey with unexpected force. Suddenly, everything she thought she knew about the two of them and her own feelings is up in the air. Could this be the end of a relationship between Ren and Kelsey, or can it be saved to return to what they had before?

I was very much looking forward to the sequel to Tiger's Curse, that I read back in May, and this volume didn't disappoint. The first volume ended on an undecided note, but in this book Ren and Kelsey came back together as neither seems to be able to forget the other, no matter how much time or distance separates them. And while the first book reminded me of "Twilight" a bit, this one reminded me of "New Moon", with Ren's somewhat antagonistic brother being added to the mix. He promises to take care of Kelsey and not make any moves on her, but with how much time they will be spending alone in each other's company, can Kelsey believe his promises?

It was certainly possible in this book to feel somewhat sorry for Kishan. Unlike his brother, Ren, he succumbed more fully to the nature of the Tiger and lost something of his human nature. As a result, he's more of a "Bad Boy", and more likely to resort to violence and rage. But as with Ren, being with Kelsey draws him back to more of his human nature, and he obviously feels something for her, something a bit big-brotherly and something romantic as well. The ending of the book was a real shock, as Kelsey has done so much to be there for Ren and to rescue him from his imprisonment by Lokesh, who certainly doesn't want to give either Ren or Kishan up- or the power he gets from their imprisonment. But by the end of the book (an ending I am not going to give away), I felt bad for Kelsey and Ren both- and for Kishan as well. It was saddening and shocking after all that had gone on and all Kelsey had gone through, like getting thrown face-first into a wall.

This book was great, and the ending makes me want to read the third book even more than I wanted to read this book after reading the first. These two books are so strong in story and character. and although I compare them to the "Twilight" series, they are so much the better for having a stronger heroine who doesn't just fumble around tripping over her own feet and waiting to be rescued, that even the elements that bring to mind the Stephanie Meyers series are made immeasurably better. Highly recommended, but read "Tiger's Curse" first to understand the characters and what is going on. I can only hope the third book is the icing on the wonderful cake of this series.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Pegasus by Robin McKinley

Sylviianel is the daughter of the King. As for all her life, she has known that she will be bound to a Pegasus when she turns twelve. She is the only daughter of the King, and because she has three older brothers, she is used to thinking of herself as superfluous. Even her binding with a Pegasus isn't expected to change that, but when the time comes and she meets her new Royal Pegasus, Ebon, a handsome black Pegasus, both of them soon realize that the binding, which is intended to allow them to occasionally be able to read the gist of each other's thoughts and words, is far, far stronger in them than in any of the other human/Pegasi bonds. Not only can they understand each other, but they can actually hear what each other is thinking even *before* the binding Ceremony!

This angers the Chief Magician in charge of the Ceremony, Fthoom. Although Sylvi can't read his thoughts... indeed, he frightens her beyond belief, she has reason to think that it might be because only magicians are trained to become translators between bonded humans and their Pegasi, and Sylvi and Ebon being able to understand each other so clearly endangers the pre-eminent place that the magicians hold in human society, for as well as using their magic to protect the Kingdom, they are the only ones who can tell the humans what the Pegasi are saying. Indeed, Sylvi and Ebon felt that the binding ritual was not so much tying them together as trying to push them apart.

But that night, after the ceremony, Ebon comes to see Sylvi after everyone else has gone to sleep, and ignores all the restrictions that have been established between humans and Pegasi by touching her and offering to take her flying. The rules of human society are very strict on that regard- no touching and especially no flying, to protect the dignity and consequence of the Pegasi, but neither he nor Sylvi really care about that, and she is small and light enough that carrying her is no real problem for him. During their night flight over the Kingdom, and out beyond the wall that protects most of it from monsters that infest the land, they come to love and trust each other as few bonded "friends" ever manage to do.

The next day, Sylvie is summoned to a meeting of her father and Fthoom in a small audience chamber, and Fthoom, confident in his ability to sway people to his own way of thinking, claims that the bond between Sylvi and Ebon is not only a danger to the Kingdom, but to human-Pegasus relations and demands that the bond be dissolved. Once again, he frightens Sylvi, but this time, she leaps to her feet to defend her friendship with Ebon, as Fthoom gets so angry he almost- almost strikes her. This angers her father, along with Fthoom's using a glamour to try and influence everyone in the chamber, and he relieves Fthoom of his place at the head of the magicians and sets him a task to seek out tales and stories of human and Pegasus bonded partners who could speak to each other as Ebon and Sylvi do and to present his findings, no matter how long it may take.

Sylvi is very upset by what Fthoom tried to do, but it doesn't prevent her from continuing her friendship with Ebon, as well as their night flights. But while some people believe Fthoom was right, Sylvi, while continuing her studies, also goes out into the world to show people everywhere that there is nothing bad or wrong with her and Ebon's bond. She attends countless country celebrations, where Ebon allows the littlest humans to ride on his back for a bit and even answers questions put to him through Sylvi from people in the crowd- generally harmless ones about things like "What is your favorite color?" or some practical ones about farming- because his people plant crops of their own and know something about farming.

As Sylvie grows older, she is given more duties and responsibilities at the court, and spends it in research and gathering facts about rivers and streams in part of the Kingdom, to determine where dams and Bridges should be built. But this isn't anything she decides for herself, it's something pressed upon her by her father. Even so, Sylvi comes to enjoy it, and even ends up making a contribution to the healers of the Kingdom when she finds out that Pesasus healers have their own remedies which may be useful for humans as well.

Even so, her presence, and her ability to speak so clearly with Ebon, causes division in the ranks of the Magicians, some of whom still support Fthoom, and even in her own court, where some people still believe that Sylvie should not be able to understand Ebon so clearly. Even if Fthoom is still doing his researches... and finding nothing, Sylvi knows he won't rest until he takes his revenge on her and Ebon for what happened to him. But as her sixteenth birthday approaches, Sylvie is asked by the Pegasi to visit their own land of Rhiandoom, and she very much wants to go, to be an ambassador between her own people and the Pegasus, about whom so very little is known despite the humans being allied with them for over 800 years.

But while the human council argues over whether or not to allow it, Sylvi must deal with her own fears and wants. While she wants to visit Rhiandoom very much, it would also mean being the only human in that country for over three weeks, and Sylvi has never been on her own for that long before. And she's been comparing herself very unfavorably to Pegasi- how can they stand to look at someone so ugly and stunted compared to her? But when the council eventually votes to allow the visit- even though the country has lately been more plagued by attacks from monsters thought banished from the Kingdom, can Sylvi bear what she learns about the Pegasi and how they think? Or, for that matter, what her people's magic does to the Pegasi and their Shamans? Or will she find a new way of living for her people, one that will draw the humans and their Pegasus allies closer together and allow them to overcome the differences that separate their peoples? And what will happen when Fthoom finally has the information he needs to present his findings to the King and Court?

Robin McKinley is a magical writer. Once you start reading her stories, every word is chosen so well and fittingly that you are simply drawn into her stories and her worlds before you can blink. While most of her books are stand-alone works, which I expected this one to be, she also does sequels, and the ending of this one promises to have an excellent sequel- and very soon, I hope! I was drawn in by Sylvi and Ebon, by her world and Ebon's world of the Pegasi, which is so different from that of the humans, not only by how they live it, but also how they conceive the world to be. And also in their magic, which is very, very different from human magic.

I loved how traveling to Rhiandoom was like almost like being on a different plane of existence for Sylvi. Like the Shaman's journey in our world, other humans aren't going to understand the difference in the world unless they have had something like that experience as well. And those who haven't had the experience could use Sylvi's words against her to twist the meaning so that it would be something bad and threatening instead of simply different, as if she was speaking an entirely different language. And in a way, she is- it's hard for her to put her experiences in Rhiandoom into human words and concepts, and because of the danger of someone twisting her words like that, she doesn't even try. But even that cannot save her from some of the backlash of her trip into places no other human has seen or experienced.

My only disappointment in the book was how abruptly it ends, but that was also good, because it meant that Robin McKinley must be writing a sequel, and it's one I desperately want to read. This book is so beautiful that it seems lyrical and is utterly amazing to read. It actually feels wrenching when the book ends and you feel like, "That's it? I want to read more NOW!" And the sign of a good book is that it leaves you wanting more. And boy, did that book do this for me! In spades.

I completely loved this book, I honestly can't think of any problems it had or anything that I thought should have been better written or edited. Robin McKinley continues to impress me with her level of writing skill and I only wish she could write faster to get the sequel into my hands all the sooner- but I know her writing is worth waiting for. Highly recommended.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Out of the Waters by David Drake

Poblius Corylus and his friend Gaius Alphenus Varus have been instrumental in saving the Rome-like City of Carce from the minions of Fire, but they know their task isn't done. For on the heels of Carce's death by fire is the omen of an even more horrible death, this by the forces of Water. So as they sit back to enjoy a fete organized by Varus's father, Saxa, over his appointment to the Governorship of Lusitania, the play they are watching as part of his triumph turns into a vision of a City being destroyed by a Giant monster that comes out of the water to engulf the city, a monster better known as Typhon.

But the city that Typhon destroys isn't just Carce, it's also a city of glass towers and circular canals that greatly resemble the classical view of Atlantis. And while Corylus, Varus and Varus' mother-in-law Hedia, Saxa's second wife, see a monster, It's Alphena, Varus' sister whose interests include swordfighting and other traditionally masculine pursuits, instead sees a powerful man. But why was her vision so different from those of the others?

As Varus works with his friend Corylus to find out information on the new doom facing the city, Corylus' nurse, Anna, who also happens to be a powerful witch and married to a man he fought with on the German frontier, has a vision of an amulet that might allow Corylus to survive the coming conflict. But first, the amulet must be recovered from the Etruscan tomb in which it was buried.

And Hedia, who went into the Underworld in the last book to rescue Alphena, encountered her dead ex-husband there, and only just managed to escape, but also managed to rescue Alphena. Her actions were not without cost, for now she is being troubled by horrible dreams of her ex-husband being tortured in Tartarus, and of three glass men who are part of those torturing him, and who frighten her very, very much. She wakes from these dreams screaming loudly, and notices that there are three new friends and advisors of a senator named Tardus who somehow remind her of these glass men.

So when she is kidnapped from her chamber by these same three glass men, this time it is Alphena who must go to rescue her stepmother, who she has come to cherish and respect after the last book. But instead of winding up with her mother, she falls from the mount that Anna summons and is rescued from the void by the man that she saw in the vision in the theatre. He tells her his name is Uktena, and he is defending the village from attacks by an Atlantean named Procron. Procron was a Minoi, or ruling magician of Atlantis, but he replaced his own skull with one of crystal, giving himself greatly enhanced powers and making him functionally immortal. He's been cutting a swath through the other Minoi, and other magicians as well, and Uktena, because of his great powers, has been loosed by the magicians of this village to defend them and their people.

Meanwhile, Hedia has been kidnapped by the Minoi of Atlantis because she has visited the Underworld. They are convinced that she, too, is a magician, because no one but a magician could travel to the Underworld. But Hedia manages to escape the glass men for a short time, finding herself, naked and alone, in the jungle. But after encountering a man-headed monkey and some other very strange creatures, she is recaptured and taken to Atlantis by one of the Minoi. The other Minoi of Atlantis are angry to find out that she isn't a magician after all- which they can tell from her aura. Deeming her to be of no use, they imprison her beneath their city.

She is freed by the human-headed ape, formerly a Minoi, who was reshaped by Procon into his current form, and robbed of his ability to think and reason as a human, not to mention, speak as a human. But in saving Hedia, he brings her back to his former hold, where they are eventually forced to escape between the worlds and back to Carce. As Corylus fights against the forces of Atlantis in the skies with the help of a tree nymph whose tree-nut was long ago entombed in a piece of glass, and another creature who was buried beneath her tree, Varus must give in to his destiny as a magician and go face Procron on his own.

But can he survive the attack of Typhon, who was once Uktena, after defeating Procron and saving the world? Or will he have to rely on someone else to talk sense into the creature that became Typhon and to be able to go home again? And how will Corylus and Alphena ever find their way back to the city? And can they defend Carce from the forces of Atlantis who are ready to invade from the doomed future?

I had enjoyed "The Legions of Fire", and this book is the sequel in the books of the Elements. Carce will be attacked by the forces of the four elementa, and the attack by the forces of water was forecast at the last book. Despite that, this book does take a bit of time to get going. We get re-introduced to the characters who were important in the last book, but many of their relationships have changed in this one. Alphena hated Hedia in the first book, but now, she realizes that her step-mother would do anything to save her and loves and cherishes her, to the point of taking her advice gladly. Corylus and Varus are still friends, but their friendship has deepened, and Alphena still likes Corylus, but hasn't had much time to spend with him. And Hedia remains who she is, but we have a deeper understanding of her character, and she is closer to Alphena, and even Varus.

What I especially enjoyed this time around was Alphena's role in the story, and she gets something to do that makes her character more well-rounded. Besides getting kidnapped in the last book, she spent some time fighting, but she is using her experiences to change herself for the better- not treating her slaves like objects, and learning to keep her temper and to fight her battles. All the characters are changing, but for most of them, it is becoming more of who they really are, whereas I feel that Alphena is discovering not only who she is, but who and what she wants to really be, and it's interesting to see that character growth, since she was a very angry, shrill person in the last book. She still has a lot of anger, but she's learning to manage it better and not take it out on the people around her, which makes her a less disagreeable character. I actually managed to like her this time around.

This book took off faster than "The Legions of Fire", though the build-up seems like it is going to be more gradual because of the way it begins. Clues are becoming clear that Varus is going to be a very powerful mage, and Alphena is one also, which leads me to wonder if it was their mother who they inherited their power from, since neither Saxa nor Hedia has that type of power... and was Saxa's first wife something like Corylus's mother? Something or someone not entirely human? Or did her power that she passed on to her children come from her family heritage? Something I'd be very interested in finding out. In any case, if you are looking for an excellent fantasy book, this series is well able to provide them. Highly recommended, both the book and series both.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Star Wars: The Old Republic, Volume 2- The Threat of Peace by Rob Chestney, Alex Sanchez, and Michael Atiyeh

The Republic and the Sith Empire have decided to broker peace between the Jedi, the traditional protectors of the Republic and the Sith, who bear a grudge against the Sith for a long-ago war. But when the Sith lay siege to Coruscant, the seat of the Empire, and destroy the Jedi temple, it puts them in a superior position in the talks- they can threaten to destroy Coruscant unless they get what they want.

But their actions and decisions are not without consequences. Master Dar'nala, and her student, Satele Shan, are in the middle of Negotiations with Sith Lord Baras, but even the treachery of the Sith means that the Peace will go forward, despite the fact that the Sith wiped out most of the Jedi on Coruscant.

On Coruscant, Jedi Master Orgus Din and his friend, Lieutenant Tavus, are too slow to prevent the fall and destruction of the Temple, but they do find out the identity of the Sith Lord in charge of the attack- Lord Angral, a Sith Warlord. But Lord Baras is supposedly taking advantage of the recently declared Peace to destabilize the Jedi order, including killing Master Dar'nala, and destabilizing several planets while allying with the Hutts of Nar Shadda. But even as the two groups team up with the Bounty Hunter known as Braden and another Jedi Master named Fortris, they must discover who is really seeking to Destabilize the peace and defeat an alliance that undercut the Jedi and all they stand for... But will Satele, descendant of Bastila Shan, fall to the Dark side as the Sith hopes, or can her muddled emotions possibly lead her to the correct decisions?

This graphic novel is based on the game by Lucas Arts and the new MMO being developed by Bioware. As it stands, they introduce characters from all the major classes, from the Jedi Negotiator to the Sith Warlord and Sith Manipulator- each of which have a very different feel and powers from the "standard" Sith or Jedi. The story seems a bit scattered at first, since despite the threads being linked, the characters are separated by large bits of space, but eventually the characters combine and so do their stories link up, showing a larger, overarching story that is being told to manipulate the Jedi and the Republic.

I found the book interesting. It "introduces" the different classes, but aside from Baras being more subtle in his use of power, it doesn't really underscore what makes the different classes so different at the level of what kinds of powers they develop. And the Bounty Hunter "class" is given short shrift in the story- although the character of Braden ends up being successful in his hunt, he also ends up being hunted by both sides- the Republic and Sith. The characters are also more than characters, many of them stand in for the attitudes in various parts of the Republic, like Tavus, who respresents the attitude of the Republic military, even if he is also a character in his own right.

I enjoyed the book, which told an interesting story, but for those who are looking forward to seeing the differences coming in the game, well, there isn't much there to go on. Maybe after the game comes out, this is a graphic novel you can go back to and find the story enhanced by the game. But as for now, it's just a regular story and not much more. Recommended.

Batman: Bruce Wayne- The Road Home by Fabian Nicieza, et al.

Bruce Wayne was thought dead during the Blackest Night event, but in reality, he had somehow been shunted back in time and had to slowly work his way back to modern Gotham City, aided and abetted by the mystical order of the Bat.

But Gotham hasn't been static in his absence. Dick Grayson has stepped into Bruce's shoes and taken over the role of Batman. while Bruce's Son with Talia Al'Ghul, Damien, is still the new Robin. And, as Bruce has planned for this in case he ever disappeared, he is happy, but not content. Instead, he decides to test how effective they are in their new roles, teaming up with Tim Drake, the former Robin, now fighting crime under the name of "The Red Robin".

But along with Bruce come back, someone else is making a comeback in Gotham City- Vicki Vale, Bruce's onetime love interest and reporter. She's been demoted from the television show and the notoriety she used to have, but now she's on the trail of a story- the true identity of Batman. And not just Batman- she's laying bare the entire criminal underworld as well, and that has garnered her attention of the entirely wrong kind. The question is, which of Batman's Rogues Gallery is trying to take her out, and can Bruce Wayne, the former Batman, now using a different suit that gives him powers similar to the Justice League and calling himself "Insider", can he keep Vicki Vale safe and convince the villain who is after her to let her go free? Or will he even be able to keep himself alive as he tangles with his rogues gallery old and new?

I am of two minds about this graphic novel. Yes, Batman is showing us that he's his usual crazy prepared self- to the point of actually having a plan put in place as to what to do if he ever disappears and is presumed dead in Gotham- one which he told Cassandra Cain about, but presumably no one else, since her not being Batgirl any longer was part of this plan.... But he's also kind of being a jerk, not telling Dick Grayson or Damien about him being back while he travels the world, "testing" the various allies and shades of gray villains as to how they are doing without them, even after deciding that Dick and Damien are doing just fine.

I know there is a joke internet site called "Superman is a Dick", but this is the first time I've ever wanted to tag Batman with the same label. Okay, here, the "crazy prepared" drifts over the line into outright "crazy". And the whole idea of testing everyone in his "family" to see how they are doing without him struck me as a bit... well, jerk-y. But at the same time, almost in character. I just found the premise a bit troubling. Batman has never seemed OCD before.

I found this book, as I said, troubling, and the ending left me wondering when exactly he was going to tell Dick and Damien that he was still alive. He puts off telling them for the entire book, while Alfred knows and Tim knows, and by the end of it, Oracle And Selina know. It just seems like he's delivering a massive diss to Dick and his own son, by NOT clueing them in. I've never seen Batman playing such a jerk before. I didn't like that characterization at all. YMMV, but I don't recommend this graphic novel, even if the stories it tells are interesting.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Sup with the Devil by Barbara Hamilton

Abilgail Adams, the wife of John Adams, is a New England Patriot in colonies that are still under the control of King George of England. Trying to run her house, aid her husband, and raise their children is difficult at the best of times, and with England coming down heavily on the colonies in order to try and bring them to heel, it is no easier.

Abigail is contacted by her nephew, Horace Thaxter, and finds out that an attempt has been made on his life after he was contracted to write a letter on behalf of a mysterious woman. Unusually, the letter was written in Arabic, which Horace had some knowledge of, but after he did the translation, someone drugged him and tried to drag him into a carriage out on the streets, and he isn't sure that his attackers were either a person in employ of the woman who hired him, determined to silence anything he might have to let slip about the letter, or someone who may have wanted the woman dead or disappeared as well, as nobody seems to have seen her again afterwards.

Abigail, worried on Horace's behalf, travels to Harvard to find out what is going on, and discovers that there is another mystery brewing as well, surrounding some books purchased on the supposed behalf of the college, some of which are very dirty books indeed, being full of licentiousness and filth, while others are on chemistry. Nevertheless, the books seem to be disappearing from those who owned them, and a volume bought by Horace in Arabic is merely one of them. Could the problem with the disappearing woman who may or may not have been trying to kill Horace be behind it, or is she merely caught up in the same problem?

Meanwhile, one of Horace's only friends at college, a fellow student, is murdered in the middle of the night, and some of his books stolen. Suspicion falls on his black manservant, who had drunk overly much of his master's wine, and as a result, quarreled quite loudly with him. Those who heard the argument assume that the manservant killed his master, and figure it is a fait accompli to arrest him and return him to the boy's father, who can then kill the manservant for killing his master, which is a capital crime in the Colonies. But neither Horace nor Abigail believe the manservant killed his master, and Abigail is determined to get to the truth of the crime before the young man's fianceƩ can add her own voice to those that call the servant the murderer.

Meanwhile, Abigail must also work to discover the truth behind the letter that Horace translated for the woman, one that spoke of hidden pirate treasure. It's no secret that the Sons of Liberty need gold to fight the forces of the King, and also that anyone would want the money that a pirate treasure represents. But the books that are being stolen seem to connect to the stories of a hidden treasure in a strange way, and Abigail and Horace Thaxter will have to travel into New York State to find the truth of the stories and how the treasure connects to the books and acts of murder. But can Abigail find the truth when so many want her to fail and find the riches for themselves? And what if the treasure isn't gold or jewels at all, but a far more dangerous secret that could lead to many, many more deaths?

I like Abigail Adams as a detective, somewhat because there aren't that many mystery series that are set in this particular time and place, but also because she really was a formidable and intelligent woman who probably would have been excellent at solving mysteries had she actually come across them in real life. She was not only intelligent, but well-educated as few women of her time were, and she arranged that her own daughters were educated as well. If there is such a thing as a "Renaissance woman" in the same way that there are "Renaissance Men", she is definitely one of them.

I also liked the stories in the book and how they all came together. The early colonial period certainly was at the same time as Caribbean piracy, and i like how the stories all tied in together with the chemistry and biology books, and the final revelation as to what this "treasure" was that the original owners of the books were working on. It was something I rarely see used in historical mysteries, and it holds just as much shock as the ending of "The West End Horror" did back when I first read it in the 70's. A superb story!

I highly recommend this book for the way that the historical facts and details have been interwoven with story elements of this book, introducing you to the way things were and the facts of history that you might not have put together on your own before (like the colonial period and pirate treasure being so close together, along with true historical details of the real Abigail Adams. I definitely recommend this series, and this volume.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Across the Great Barrier by Patricia C. Wrede

Eff is the thirteenth child in a family of fourteen children, and her twin brother, Lan, is the seventh son of a seventh son. Her family moved to Mill City to escape their own relatives, who were busy building Lan up because of his magical status of a seventh son of a seventh son, but at the same time tearing Eff down because she was an unlucky (and malevolent) thirteenth child. In reality, Eff was not malevolent at all, but her relatives treating her as if she were might have made such a thing actually happen.

Life in Mill City gave Eff a lot more confidence in herself, and she learned Aphrikan magic from her teacher at the local school, because her Avrupan magic was going badly wrong for her. But when a magical plague of bugs started attacking the outside settlements across the Great Barrier, Lan and Eff ended up being the ones to overcome that problem with their magic, and it turned out that Eff was the heroine of the hour. This made her a three days wonder, and while she found it refreshing at first to be a hero and not derided for being a thirteenth child, she has gotten tired of it completely. But as her secondary schooling nears its end, her brother, already going to attend an Eastern Magical College, pushes her to go with him and learn to do more of her own magic.

But that isn't what Eff wants to do, and his pushing does have the effect of making her actually think about what she wants to do with her life after her schooling is over. And after thinking it over for a good long while, she decides that she wants to go exploring beyond the Great Barrier, to see what sort of plants and animals live there, as very little is known about them. In the meantime, she wants to continue working at the Menagerie, where animals from the west are kept for study. Her mother objects to Eff wanting to put herself in danger, but at the same time, her parents have supported all their children in what they want to do as adults, meaning that while her mother isn't happy about it, neither does she cut Eff off after learning her daughter's plans.

Sooner than she might have thought possible, Eff learns that, because of the problem of the Bugs and Grubs that caused so many problems for the settlements, the Council which runs the settlements has agreed to send a scientific expedition out beyond the barrier to survey the land and see what has changed after the bugs wreaked their destruction. However, the amount of money given for the expedition means that it will just be one professor, a Scandian woman named Professor Torgeson who worked with Eff at the Menagerie, and Eff herself, along with Wash, the Aphrikan Circuit-Riding magician responsible for the area which they will be studying.

But as they leave the Barrier and some of the oldest outposts behind, they discover that the Rationalists are having a very... unrational response to the crisis with the Bugs that Lan and Eff dealt with. Some of the Rationalists, those who don't want to use magic, think that they should use even less magic in response, and Eff's sister Rennie is angry that even the little magics she once used to help her family aren't being allowed in the settlement any more. But it gets worse. Some of the Rationalists think that they should round up whatever bugs and grubs remain and use them as a weapon against the magic-using settlements around them. Because if the Rationalists use no magic at all, they would be safe from the grubs and mirror bugs.

But Professor Torgeson points out that there are plenty of other animals out there that the rationalists aren't safe from, and that using the bugs in that would could possibly kill the people whose magic is used to sustain the barriers. Rennie's husband is already concerned, caught between his wife's opinions, wanting to keep his children safe, and the outright hatred that his fellow rationalists regard anyone who uses magic with. It has even begun to imperil his family, and it's not safe for Eff, Wash and Professor Torgeson to stay with Rennie and her family in the settlement. Eff is concerned for Rennie and her relatives and writes to her mother to tell her to invite Rennie and the others to come to stay with them, which may make it easier for her to stay safe.

Not just that problem is brewing on the plains, but the loss of the ground cover have hit the prey species hard, and now packs of Sabercats and Columbian Sphynxes have come out of the West in search of food and are imperiling the settlers and settlements where they have never or very rarely seen before. Not only are animals affected, but the whole feel of the land is changed, with all the magic sucked out of the land by the bugs and grubs, it's taking longer for all the plants and animals to return to where they once had been. Eighteen settlements have failed since the attack by the mirrorbugs and grubs, forced out by lack of food, and some others are on very shaky ground.

But out in the furthest settlement of all, Promised Land, where escaped slaves were sent during the War, the three discover some strange rocks when they look into a stream that has suddenly gone dry. These rocks are white, but resemble bits and pieces of animals. And what's even stranger is that they aren't carved, but seem to be actual animals petrified and turned to stone. No animal known could do such a thing, but what caused the animals to be petrified, and if it was an unknown animal, what can be done about it?

Upon their return to civilization, Professor Torgeson sends out pieces of the rock to be examined by experts in biology and geology. But when a magical disaster engulfs her brother Lan, can Eff save him in time to be there when the mystery of the strange animal statues is finally investigated? And can she correct her own wandering magic in time to save herself when the new expedition goes horribly wrong?

I loved Patricia Wrede's "The Thirteenth Child", and this book is the sequel, which I had been long waiting for. Starting this book made all of my memories of Eff and her family come back in a great rush, and I was once again enmeshed in Eff's world of magic and problems in an alternate America. Here we get to see a lot more of the land that is on the other side of the protective barrier, where two of Eff's siblings have chosen to live their lives. And even though Eff once considered Mill City to be little better than the wilderness, now we get to see the true wilderness and how dangerous it can be.

I love how Eff slowly begins to resolve her problem with Avrupan magic. In the first book, it seemed that Aphrikan magic might be her saving, but here we learn it was merely another crutch to keep her from seeing the real source of her problems and dealing with it. Part of which is that, like her brother, Lan, Eff is very magically powerful, and she uses too much power in her spells. Instead of pouring it out with a pitcher, she needs to learn to portion it out with an eyedropper to use her spells correctly. And while she still may have problems with spells in the future, she has gone a long way towards learning to deal with her problems.

I loved returning to Eff's world and seeing what she will be dealing with in the future. Many problems were set up in this book, and I am sure they will be future story threads in forthcoming books. But I love Eff and the characters she interacts with, all of whom are their own people and rarely do anything as expected of them. We also get to see Hijero-Cathayan magic for the first time, and I'd like to see more of that as well. We may end up seeing it through Lan, although he's been burned on that score.

I found this book wonderful, giving us another chance to experience more of Eff and her world, and to once again meet the people that she interacted with in the last book. I love this series, and hope it goes on quite a bit longer, as I am not yet in the least tired of Eff and her world. Highly recommended.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Secret Sex Lives of Animals by David Lambert and the Diagram Group

Most people are well acquainted with human breeding and sex lives, but the sex lives and practices of animals are often not only stranger than we can imagine, but so strange that they inspire disbelief. Snails that fence with their penises? Octopi whose penises break off inside the female and fertilize her eggs for fifteen years? Yes. All that and more.

This book collects true stories of animal copulation and fertilization, from female fish that turn male if the male who mates with them dies (wrasse), to animals whose males actually become part of the female after they bite her (angler fish). There are birds with penises longer than they are (Argentine Lake Duck) and those that mate in midair (Chimmney Swifts), and there are deer that even masturbate by rubbng their velvet-covered antlers through the grass (Male red deer) and there are animals that will even attempt to mate with just sbout anything, including swimming humans (Dolphins). While others can die just from the size of the young they produce, like the Kiwi females, who can die trying to pass their own eggs, which are 1/4 the size they are!

Other animals remain stuck together after mating, like pigs and dogs, while other species of animals have the males looking after the children after they are born (Seahorses, Japanese Cardinal fish, Darwin Frogs), while Surinam Toads and Midwife toads are carried around as eggs by their fathers. Other species, like manatees and seals, have sexual dimorphism- their males are much larger than the female of the species. In other species, like certain Octopi and angler fish, it is the female that is larger.

This book cobbles together just some of the amazing facts about the animals of the animal kingdom. No type of animal is overlooked, not even viruses and how they reproduce by taking over the reproduction abilities of the cell and producing so many copies of themselves that the cell literally explodes, freeing the now numerous viruses, which are free to do the same to another cell.

This book is fully illustrated with pictures of the different animals and the facts about them, from snails "penis fencing" to snails copulating on a long string of slime while hanging from a branch. These pictures are never lurid, but also must be seen to be believed.

Bright and colorful, and not very large, this book delights and informs as you read it. With an abundance of amazing facts and stories, this book is just right for when you want to do a little light reading. Recommended.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Rogue Warrior: Domino Theory by Richard Marcinko and Jim DeFelice

Richard Marcinko and his fellow Red Cell Warriors have been called to India to protect the Commonwealth Games, a sports contest that is like the Olympics for countries who were once part of the British Empire. Now the Muslims in Pakistan seem to be lashing out against India, hoping to disrupt the games, and Red Cell is called in to try and stop whatever mischief the terrorists plan against the games.

Dick Marcinko is working with India's own special forces, who have been working not only on training, but on establishing their own versions of assault helicopters and transports, based on those used by the Americans and the Soviets. But the raid on the Madrassa results in only two captures of agents/students there, but before they can be fully debriefed, or even questioned, the two men escape. Following a bug put on the escaped agents leads them to a very run-down part of India, and a kid who stole the shirt that the bug was placed on from a boat near the water. Marcinko and his men try to find the escaped terrorists, but they have no luck. They are gone.

They do eventually manage to track down the boat, but the men are gone, and no one in the village where the boat was abandoned seems to know anything about the men or what they were doing, or will admit to it, anyway. Meanwhile, the Commonwealth Games are about to start, and Trace is undercover in the women's Scottish field hockey team, and Doc is undercover as the team Doctor, and as they work to understand what exactly is going on, and what the terrorists are doing, they find out it is possible that their employers and supposed allies are up to something underhanded, using the Commonwealth Games as a cover, just as the terrorists are doing.

But can Dick Marcinko and his team unravel both plots and bring them to ruination, avoiding being blamed for the theft of Indian Nukes and preventing the death of near-millions at the games, and bring the ones behind both plots to doom? Dick's not alone in this one, and his son will be equally at risk when he tries to do his Dad one better and goes off alone into India to try and winkle out members of the terrorist cell. But, cut off on his own, will he be able to do as well as his Dad, or will he screw the pooch without help? And can everyone make it out of the pressure cooker alive?

I read Richard Marcinko's autobiography of his time in the SEALS, and I was pretty impressed. Yeah, he doesn't like the pussyfooting around that the current armed forces seem to be doing at the present, and he left the SEALS with some bad feelings on both sides, him towards his superiors and theirs towards him. But he's capable of writing a nice, gritty adventure story that seems realistic, even if he does tend towards the satisfying macho fantasy end a great deal (him screwing over Kim Jong Il in one of his books was sheer feel-good fantasy, but it fit in with the tone of the book.

This book takes place in India, a place a lot of writers seem to ignore when it comes to men's adventure (as they used to call it). But India has a large Muslim population, and is right next to Pakistan, where the Taliban is mostly located, so it's in a perfect position to be primed for a terrorist incident. And Marcinko takes advantage of all of this in spades. And while it turns out that not all Indian officials are on the side of the angels, so to speak, he weaves a wonderful tale that brings mental images of India and turns them into very real, living places in the book

I found the story interesting and compelling, and the backgrounds made India and its people come alive. Anyone looking for a good, old-fashioned beatdown on terrorists in book form should look no further than this book. It brings the goods and brings them hard and right. Recommended.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Avengers: Prime by Brian Michael Bendis, Alan Davis and Mark Farmer

Once, Iron Man, Captain America and Thor were part of the Avengers, Earth's Mightiest Heroes. They considered each other friends and were there for one another. But the Civil War shattered the friendship between Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, along with Steve's death and eventual rebirth.. Now, the Avengers are back, in name only, as the shattered friendship between the two causes friction in a team that was once strong and vital to be fractured by the distrust that has arisen between them. Even Thor is not immune to this, as his long absence from the team has caused issues of its own.

But now Odin has been overthrown, and Asgard has been relocated to America, specifically Oklahoma City, and ruined. But even after the Avengers defeated Normal Osborn and gave him some much well-deserved payback, in the aftermath, nothing has changed among the three main Avengers. They spend their time arguing instead of accomplishing anything, and even the other Avengers find themselves stunned by what is happening.

But as the Avengers try to clean up the mess that used to be Asgard on Earth, a portal appears in Heimdall's Observatory, pushing the three squabbling heroes into the Nine Worlds connected by the World Tree, and into the chaos left behind. The Enchantress rules over Midgard, but even she is no match for Hela, the Asgardian God of Death, who has found the Twilight Sword, and with it is looking forward to ruling all nine Realms.

Separated by the portals that brought them to the Nine Realms ruled by Asgard, Tony Stark is deprived of his armor and menaced by a Dragon, while Steve Rogers lands among elves both beautiful and monstrous. Meanwhile, the Enchantress goes after Thor in an attempt to defeat him while Hela stands back until she is forced to confront Thor on her own. But can she rely on her supposed Ally, the Enchantress, and can the three former friends rekindle their friendship and work together to get back to Asgard on Earth and defeat Hela's foul scheme? Or will the Dragon Fafnir and the army of dead, elves and other monstrosities cobbled together by Hela and the Enchantress prove too much for them to overcome in their state of fractured friendship?

This is the miniseries that was Brian Michael Bendis's last work on the Avenger, bookending stories that began with Avengers Disassembled. And in this, he restores the status quo of the book that he took over years ago, rebuilding the friendshipa and trust that underlay the Avengers team. But even though it has that serious goal, the book comes off as good, lighthearted fun, with plenty of color and almost no grit or gray-brown moody "realism".

Wisecracks flow fast and free, most notably from Iron Man, one in which he's naked and when Cap asks where his armor went, he tells Cap that his new armor is just invisible... And later, when he gets his circa-1980's era armor back (with just enough tools to be able to help him be more than a guy in a tin can), he tells Cap that despite all this armor lacks, he still has roller skates... which he can use if they ever come across a paved road... So, it's not serious at all, despite all the fighting and such that they undergo, it's never taken so seriously that you feel that the characters are in any serious danger of failing to overcome their foes. And even Cap seems to view this side trip like Superhero summer camp, where you go to make friends and have adventures and a good time.

The book and miniseries ends with the heroes back in Oklahoma City/Asgard on Earth, ready once more to start cleaning up the carnage as the rest of the Avengers gape at how their attitudes towards each other have suddenly changed. It's not a necessary book to own, but it's fun to read, and you should either read it from your local library or wait until it comes out in paperback. Fun, but like Cotton Candy- kind of vapid in retrospect. Recommended, but not highly. You may want to read before you buy.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Go Fish: How to win Contempt and Influence People by Mr. Fish

Mr. Fish is a political cartoonist who draws for the online site Truthdig, Harper's and has drawn for the Village Voice, LA Weekly, Los Angeles Times, the Atlantic, Huffington Post and Vanity Fair, among others.

Unlike many political cartoonists, though, nobody's sacred cow is safe from being gored by Mr. Fish- from Christianity to the Right, the Left, the Center, and the Center- Left and Center-Right, no one is safe from his scathing satire. In one he mocks those who seek pacifism, in another he shows how War is no better.

His political cartoons are well done and occasionally disturbing, even crude, with one being Jane (from the old "Dick and Jane" books raising her skirt to reveal a very large, hairy penis with the caption "See Jane's Dick". In between cartoons linked together by topic are his writings, which express deeper, more complex views on life and politics. Even some of his cartoons express disgust with, say, the 2007/2008 Presidential campaign, which got so ridiculously vicious he actually got tired of drawing cartoons about it and retaliated by drawing a picture of himself picking his nose to express what he'd rather be doing.

Very many of his cartoons, even while being satire, are funny. Like the one of a young Cupid at the dinner table pierced full of arrows an him looking over the table at his presumed parents (also drawn with wings) with the caption about Cupid thinking his parents suspected he was masturbating. I appreciated the implied joke of Cupid bringing love with his arrows and masturbation being "self-love". Others are funny in a more disturbing way, like a blood-spattered man with a knife standing over a figure stabbed full of holes saying, "Well, he protested at first, but now look at him. Not a word." to two doubtful figures standing by. Or the one of an orangutan about to shoot itself in the head when it found out it was related to humans.

Not everyone may enjoy Mr. Fish's sense of humor, but part of the thing about political humor and satire is that it's not meant to be funny in a ha-ha kind of way, although it can. This sort of searing humor disquiets as much as it amuses, and sometimes, indeed, many times, the disquiet overcomes the straight up ha-ha humor. In that, Mr. Fish is very talented, because I certainly felt that all throughout the book.

I have no sacred oxen to be gored, but I can understand why this book would appeal to, and at the same time, anger and annoy all sides of the political spectrum- it's because he doles out his razor wit and satire on both sides of the aisle, and nobody but nobody is safe. This sort of humor will best appeal to you if you are able to laugh at yourself and your own political party. Otherwise, you may find the book making you angry.

But these cartoons do make you think, no matter which side you are on. That's because Dwayne Booth (Mr. Fish's real name) stands for truth and the sort of journalistic integrity you rarely see any more. Wether a cartoon makes you angry or makes you laugh, they will always make you think, and that's something this country needs a great deal right now. Highly recommended.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Canyons of Night by Jayne Castle

Rainshadow is a small island off the coast of Harmony, home to a bunch of people who are more independent and rugged than most of the people on Harmony. It is also home to a piece of the Island known as the Preserve- a wild and untamed area of forest that is home to strange psi-forces that confuse almost anyone who enters it. The dangerous reputation of the Preserve makes most people stay far away, as people in the past have gotten lost and died without ever finding their way out of the trees, but for some people, it's only more of a draw, which is why the preserve is surrounded with a stout psi-fence.

Charlotte Enright is a native of Rainshadow who goes out to see the beauty of the preserve for herself, but when three mainlander men decide that they can have her with no price having to be paid, she finds herself in over her head. Luckily, she is saved by Slade Attridge, a hunter talent who works in the preserve and whose talent allows him to make his way through the preserve without being misled or dying. And, in return for her bad experience, he takes her inside the fence and guides her to a place in the preserve to experience it for herself- if only for a short time.

Charlotte, who's had a crush on Slade for just about as long as she's known him, returns the favor by giving him a Black Amber knife from her own possessions. She doesn't tell him how to open it, but lets him find out that secret on his own. She does tune it for him, using her rainbow powers, to work more perfectly with his aura or rainbow. Slade is about to leave the island to work with Harmony's version of the FBI, and as far as he is concerned, he won't be back, ever.

Fifteen years later, Slade returns to the island to become its chief of Police. Despite a long career with the FBPI, he was recently involved in a case that turned very bad for him. He was dosed with a psi-active drug that somehow affected his Hunter-talent. Now, every time he tries to use it, he feels a strange psi-storm at the edge of his talent, and he's gone from a level 9 hunter talent down to a 7. He hates the feeling of losing his power, and is afraid that he will soon lose *all* his psi-talent. Even so, he isn't planning to stay on Rainshadow for long. He's using his new job as a stepping-stone to start an agency of his own, a detective-style agency. But he needs the police job to try and expand his contacts.

Also back on Rainshadow is Charlotte Enright. Once just a helper in her Aunt's Antiquities store, she's made a name for herself on the mainland by selling Psi-active antiquities. But with her aunt's death, she gave up her own store in Frequency to come back to the island, selling some of her stock and taking the rest to her aunt's store. But almost as soon as she comes back, someone breaks into her store, and she gets to meet Slade Attridge again, and she realizes that her crush on him has never really gone away.

She's been unlucky in finding a match, as her talent of rainbow-reading is considered to be not very useful, and because it is such a rare talent, the people at ArcaneMatch haven't found anyone who is a good candidate for her. There was one man who expressed an interest in her, but she was not at all interested when her reading of his rainbow indicated he was probably a psychopath. Now, she can't stop checking out the rainbows of those around her on a regular basis, which often tells her more about the person than she wanted to know- or is good for their relationship.

Being that she and Slade are some of the few unattached people on the island, the rest of the Rainshadowers have a vested interest in trying to create a romance between the two of them. Very few police chiefs stay on the island for long, and they hope that if Slade and Charlotte fall in love, it will make Slade stay rather than leaving in six months time. But as Slade and Charlotte fumble their way towards a relationship with each other, it is complicated by Rex, Slade's dust bunny, who loves to steal things from Charlotte's shop, Devin, a boy growing up under his grandmother's thumb who has a definite penchant for falling into trouble both on his own and with others, and a dead man turning up in Charlotte's shop with links to Hot Antiquities dealers back in Frequency City, not to mention the Preserve itself, which is becoming a truly scary place with Psi that seems to run darker by the day, and Slade's own talent, which he fears is failing him, but which might be becoming something very different indeed! Arcane doesn't like people with two powers, and Charlotte and Slade are both Arcane. Can he discover his new, enhanced power without bringing Arcane down on his head, and can he save Charlotte from the people who want to kill her to get something they are sure she owns out of her shop? And will both of them stay on Rainshadow after Slade's six months are up?

This book is third in the "Looking Glass" trilogy, but really, this book didn't have many links to the other two books in the series. At least, not as many as Quicksilver did. The other two heroines in the series had glass reader powers, and the only real link I could find between Charlotte and the glass readers was her pendant, which was made of glass and allowed her to amplify and channel her powers better. Oh, and the glass curiosities of Mrs. Bridewell also make a reappearance, but for most of the book, we don't know that's the point of what the bad guys are looking for.

Other not so good points were that the romance seems rushed, and there are entirely too many secondary characters vying for space with the main leads. On top of that, one of the major mysteries of the book is left unsolved to set up another trilogy that is coming. It's done so heavy-handedly that its like "Ooh, strange and bad things are happening in the preserve. What could possibly be causing this?- TO BE CONTINUED IN THE NEXT TRILOGY!" It really made me feel a little sick, because it undercut this story by doing it like that. If they'd waited until the end to set it up, it would have come off more naturally and not made this ending seem so brutally abrupt on that score. She could have spent that time setting up the Preserve situation devoting more time and energy to the romance between Slade and Charlotte, which could have done wonders for their story.

I like Slade and Charlotte, but they didn't seem to have the chemistry of some of her other hero and heroine pairs. I never got the feeling that they were all that attracted to each other, and when the sex happens, it's more warm than actually hot. Adding the fact that Charlotte gets panic attacks rather than turned on when her talent goes too hot, and what could have been hot sexy times meant that the two characters had to approach it more slowly- which could have been hot, but instead sometimes feels as though the sex got kicked in the teeth rather then having a slow buildup.

That being said, I still enjoyed most of the secondary characters, and the Rainwild is slowly growing on me, but the whole blatant telegraphing of "SEQUEL GOES HERE!" just made me annoyed. Slade and Charlotte could have become some more of her beloved characters for me, but too much meddling and outright bad choices kind of ruined the book for me. It doesn't feel like the third book in the Glasslight trilogy to me- more like the unofficial first in the Rainwilds Quadrology. This one is only slightly recommended, and I'd recommend avoiding this one entirely unless you are a completionist.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Dead Center: Behind the Scenes at the World's Largest Medical Examiner's Office by Shiya Ribowsky and Tom Shachtman

Shiya Ribowsky, the former director of Special Projects for the New York City Examiner's Office, tells of how he came to work at the Medical Examiner's Office, and how he handled things before, during and after 9/11, until he quit being Director of Special Projects, and his life beyond.

Starting as an Orthodox Jew, Shiya's parents became part of the Frum movement, and Shiya grew up mostly in that world. But early on in his teens, he became more and more interested in hard science and less interested in religion, something that would eventually lead to him leaving the Frum world. But he trained as a Physician's Assistant, something his prior schooling and upbringing hadn't well prepared him for, due to it being more slanted towards religion.

Hut life as a PA was both exciting and stressful, and in the wake of study for a law degree, he found an opening as an MLI-I, a medico-legal investigator, level one. Working as an MLI was an eye-opener. The work was disgusting and often disturbing, but Shiya found himself loving the job and being very, very good at it.

So good, he found himself rising up in the ranks. But shortly before he could ascend to the position of director, 9/11 happened, and the Medical Examiner's Office had to deal with the corpses recovered from the World Trade Center site, and notifying the families, and identifying the pieces of bodies that weren't whole.

But as the days turned into weeks, and into months and years, the work went on, but Shiya found the needs of the job changing, and new procedures that Shiya and others helped develop, were put in place. By the time most of the remains were identified, and those left, likely never would be, the position he'd wanted had been filled by one of his contemporaries for 2 years, and was likely not leaving, and Shiya himself was almost too caught up in the concerns of the 9/11 families he had been helping. But what was left for him to do?

This book examines the life and times of Shiya Ribowksy as he came to work for the Office of the Medical Examiner, and his job and decisions in what happened on 9/11 and in the years afterwards. Some of what happened to him was growth, but in another way, it also locked him into a mindset that would make it impossible for him to continue in his job after the job of dealing with 9/11 was mostly done. Because he identified too much with the victims and the families of the victims, that became his whole focus, and when the job was done, he couldn't return to the job he was doing beforehand, nor could he move up in his chosen profession.

But the true meat of the book is about 9/11, and how the office of the Medical Examiner changed in response to what needed to be done. But it wasn't without resentment. Towards the end of his employment, he heard the sentiment that people hated 9/11, because so much of the medical examiner's office was directed at dealing with that, instead of other crimes that needed attention. And Shiya understood the sentiment, but at the same time, he couldn't change because of how the job and office changed him in the course of his changing them to respond to the crisis. The crisis was the making of his time there, and at the same time, the end of his time there. It lent a sad ending to the book that really wasn't warranted for all he had done.

This book is a fascinating read. Although it's concerned with some of the minutia of dealing with the crisis that 9/11 precipitated on the Medical Examiner's Office and the people who worked therein, it never bores or drags, and remains taut and interesting throughout. Highly recommended, especially to people who enjoy CSI, NCIS and other medical/investigation dramas and shows.