Sunday, July 01, 2012

2011, Part 2

Knot Gneiss by Piers Anthony- Wenda Woodwife thought her life should be settled after she settled down with Prince Charming after her adventure with Jumper Spider. But lately, she's been experiencing large highs and lows in her emotions that have her feeling unsettled and nervous. So she travels to see the Good Magician Humphrey to have him find her a solution, only to find that he doesn't have one. What he does have for her is a mission. A tree of Reverse wood has petrified, and turned to producing terror. Only someone like herself, with powers over wood, has the power to remain unaffected by the evil emanations from the wood for longer than anyone else. Humphrey wants the tree brought to him, and Wenda sets out to deliver it, accompanied by some old friends. But as the journey continues, they keep collecting more and more stragglers to join them, like Hilarion, a Prince looking for his betrothed bride, and an Angel who only has half of her body. But when handling the Knot threatens to undo everything Wenda holds dear, and her friends as well, can she keep it together for the sake of the journey, or will she find all is lost? A Good book, but with the problem that seems to afflict all Piers Anthony books of late: too much adult stuff, like sex, that seems extraneously dumped into the story. However, it's better in that it doesn't reek of sex like some of the others. Recommended, but you'll want to read it before passing it on to younger readers.

Jane and the Canterbury Tale by Stephanie Barron- Jane Austen, sometime author and sometime sleuth, is enjoying time in the country with her brother, Edward, and his family on their estate. The current round of gossip concerns a certain Adelaide Fiske, who lost her husband quite suspiciously three years ago and is now once again engaged to be married. But her wedding day is ruined by the appearance of her former husband, quite alive and well, and wanting to call his wayward wife and her new lover on their infidelity. But when he makes plans to meet them both to discuss the situation, he shows up once more, and this time, he is utterly and truly dead for all time, and Adelaide is implicated in the crime. Now Edward, who happens to be first Magistrate for Canterbury, must investigate the crime. While he is quick to see Adelaide as the villain in the piece, Jane is not so sure. And when the body of an unfortunate maid is found in a coppice, her throat slit, Jane must step forward to uncover the true villain of the piece, before she can join the cavalcade of death... I love Stephanie Barron's Jane Austen mysteries, and this is one of the better ones- short but sweet, and filled with vicious murders and villains who are mad to protect what they love. It reads a lot like one of Jane Austen's stories, mingled with a knotty mystery. Highly recommended.

Tegami Bachi, Letter Bee, Volume 7 by Hiroyuki Asada- Letter thefts in Amberground continue, and Lag and Niche, his Dingo, have gone to Blue Notes Blues, where Niche tells Lag she was born 200 years ago. Lag can't believe Niche is that old, but she warns him not to ask about her in town. Lag does so anyway, and discovers that another child of Maka is buried in the caves outside of town. Well, not exactly buried, as Lag and Niche discover when he goes to find out the truth, and the mayor of the town has a vested interest in the true story not getting out, but will it cost Lag and Niche their lives when they learn the truth of the Child of Maka? And after being rescued, Lag discovers that his hero, Gauche Suede, has been stealing letters under the name Noir, and Lag can hardly wait to confront him. But more appears to be going on than Lag knows, and why does the girl who works with Noir/Gauche show up at the Verity Convent as a sister? I loved this volume, especially with the part about the other Child of Maka, and how Niche will grow up when she has an emotional upheaval like her sister did. More stuff is teased to us about Gauche Suede and how he came to be Noir, which will be interesting to see fulfilled. Recommended.

The Quest for Arthur's Britain by Geoffrey Ashe is a series of scholarly essays about King Arthur, both the man, the myth, the stories that are told about him, and what England was really like when Arthur might have ruled. Many kinds of evidence are examined, from the stories told about him, written by Geoffrey of Monmouth and other authors, archaeological researches and surviving remnants of those times, all with an eye to unlocking the "real" King Arthur, his life and times, as much as we can discover about him at this fairly late remove. Lots of pictures and drawings, but the articles tend towards the scholarly and can be deadly dull in patches- more apt to serve as a sleep aid than an interesting book. The book is also old, being first published in the late 60's, so you can almost definitely find a better, more up to date book now. Not recommended unless you have a high tolerance for dense, scholarly writing.

Jack of Fables: The Big Book of War by Bill Willingham, Matthew Sturges, Tony Akins, Russ Braun, Jose Marzán Jr. and Dan Green- The Bookburner and his minions are advancing on the small camp where Mr. Revise keeps the most powerful Fables, the ones whose powers must be kept hidden or they will be able to break the world. But when push comes to shove, and Jack is put in charge of the defenses, the situation becomes so bad that there is only one way out, to unleash the real fables, the ones Mr. Revise spent his life devising , back into action again. But what will happen to the Fables when the Bookburner's forces attack? And when Kevin Thorne regains his pen and starts to write again, what will this mean for the world. And what does it mean that Jack is half-Literal himself? Will he be happy when he finds out who his true father is? I don't like Jack. He's an asshole and not that interesting to read about. I was more interested in the Literals and the other Fables that populate the story, like Sambo and the Prose sisters. You could almost say that Jack was the least interesting part of the book. Still, an interesting story, I just don't care for Jack, or about him, either.

Mixed Vegatables, Volume 3 by Ayumi Komura- Hanayu discovers the chef who created the taste of the Sushi she had always been searching for- Hayato's father. She shares her memory of his egg sushi and tells him that this is why she wanted to become a sushi chef. In fact, he offers her a chance to apprentice with him at the shop- there's just one little hitch- she has to get approval from her own father first, and he wants her to become a pastry chef, not a sushi chef. And confessing her real feelings is not going to go over well with her father or her family. But a long, ongoing family argument is short-circuited by Hayato, who unexpectedly comes to her defense and defuses the tension. And Hanayu finds herself smitten once more. But when she discovers that Hayato says he plans to work in his family's restaurant in his applications for college, will she be able to support him to his own family when he confesses his dreams? Or is he really lying to her? I still enjoy this series more than a bit, and seeing the on-again, off-again nature of Hanayu's relationship and feelings towards Hayato can occasionally be annoying rather than amusing. But seeing their situations play out remains interesting. Recommended.

Mixed Vegetables, Volume 4 by Aymui Komura- Now that Hanayu is apprenticed to Hayato's father at the Sushi shop, she wants to find out why Hayato wants to be a pastry chef and not a Sushi chef, So when Hayato challenges her to a contest cutting Daikon radish and the winner will be based on length and appearance, Hanayu looks at Hayato's skills in that area and thinks she has no chance to win. But can she "steal" the techniques of Hayato's father as he wants her to? And when Hanayu and Hayato discover that their coworker, Saki, has a crush on their teacher, can they help convince him to try and be with her, which is what he really wants? And when Hanayu finds out why Hayato's mother reveres the old Master, Hayato's grandfather, will it help her help him confess to wanting to be a pastry chef? This was cute, and I loved the story with Saki. Hanayu knows she loves Hayato, but the way he sometimes seems to be lying, either to her or his parents, makes her question why- and the readers, too. It pulls you deeper into the story and keeps me wondering about the outcome. I'll keep reading.

101 SCI-FI Movies You must See before You Die by Steven Jay Schneider- less about movies with great stories or amazing special effects, most of this book is taken up with movies that are classics of the genre- although many of them have wonderful stories, too. Many you will never have heard of, being foreign films or from the 1900's like Georges Melie's La Voyage Dans La Lune. But many you will recognize, like Fritz Lang's Metropolis, Stanley Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange" and yes, the original Star Wars. A short (2-3 page) blurb discusses why the film is important and what makes it good and significant. And if you love Sci-Fi Films, it will bring back lots of memories. "Soylent Green is People!" Recommended.

The Mammoth Book of Historical Detectives takes 29 stories throughout history, from Primitive Man to Sherlock Holmes, and collects them in rough groupings by time. Some of the stories in the book were real eye-openers, like "Death in the Downtime", which takes place before recorded History. Despite looking old, the book has plenty of modern authors, and I loved just about every story and time period detective. Despite the wide range of time periods and cultures covered, the book is remarkably even in tone and enjoyment, and you are sure to find most, if not all of the stories enjoyable. This book is a wonderful way to pick up and discover new authors you might enjoy reading. Highly recommended.

This is NPR- The First 40 years- shares stories of NPR, how it started, how it grew, and gives personal reminisces from broadcasters, hosts, writers and administrators, each sharing tales of stories they covered, people they interviewed and how NPR changed from a small single station to something now carried nationwide. Special sections cover particularly important stories, like Nixon's resignation, or the demonstrations at Kent State College and covers from the late 60's to the present day. While some of the stories were interesting, it's a very hard book to read sitting after sitting, and I found myself getting a little bored and skipping around in time and in the book. But still, an invaluable look at NPR. Just not one you can read straight through from cover to cover. Best absorbed in small doses. Recommended, but with caveats.

The Snow Queen's Shadow by Jim C. Hines-Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella have dedicate themselves to keeping the Kingdom of Lorindar free. But with the Queen dying of a magical disease that not even the fairies can cure, it has become even more important to keep the Kingdom stable until Cinderella, really Danielle deGlas, and her husband, the Crown Prince Armand, can take over for the dying Queen. But when Snow White, attempting to save the Queen with her magic, cracks the magical glass that makes up her necklace, it lets loose a demon into the world- a demon who sows hatred and dissent and turns everything good into a reflection of Evil, and his first victim is Snow White herself, exhausted from her effort of trying to save the Queen. And when Snow turns evil and abducts Danielle's son, Jakob, her old friends and comrades must overcome their lingering feelings of friendship and take Snow down before she brings down the entire Kingdom and makes Jakob her spell-bonded slave. But can they kill the woman they once called friend? This was unexpected, and I really didn't see this book coming, but that was a good thing. I felt for Danielle and Talia as they had to try and kill a friend, as she was too far gone to save. amazing and a wonderful ending to the series. But there is the prospect for more, even if new stories go untold. Highly recommended.

Rescue Warriors: The U.S. Coastguard, America's Forgotten Heroes by David Helarg is all about the least-known of America's armed services and the only one who doesn't kill anyone, spending more time stopping threats to American shipping, rescuing fishermen, divers and plane crash victims and does jobs that no other service can or would. From its inception to its modern tasks, we meet the men and machines that make up the Coast Guard, and see why it is an equally valid service, but often forgotten in the glamour of the Marines, Army, Navy and Air Force. Like the Secret Service, which not only acts as bodyguards to the President, Vice President, candidates for both offices and their families, but also oversees the Treasury Department, the Coast Guard does more than just perform heroic rescues, and this book examines the service, the tasks and the kind of people who become Coast Guard members in detail. An excellent book that really opens your eyes as to what the Coast Guard is about and the people who make it up and the kind of training they undergo. It certainly surprised me more than once. Highly recommended.

Bury Elminster Deep by Ed Greenwood- When Mystra died, magic in the Realms broke, and several magicians who were the Chosen of the Goddess were forever changed by her extinction. But now there are signs that Mystra may be returning, and Elminster must join forces with longtime foe Manshoon of the Red Wizards, to see if the rumors are true. But Manshoon, still angry at Elminster for his intruding into the affairs of the Red Wizards, and Manshoon himself, is also trying to do what he has wanted to for so many years- Kill Elminster and extinguish his memory from the face of the Realms. But can Elminster, the Simbul and Manshoon uncover the secrets of the Blueflame magic items hidden over the face of Faerun, and bring back the Goddess of Magic to restore the true face of the Realms? Elminster has lived so long that he is pretty much the face of the Realms for old Dungeons and Dragons players, and this book delivers on Elminster, even if he is much changed in the wake of the Spellplague. The adventure is tense and exciting, and the ending promises more to come- so I enjoyed the book even though I really despise what the fourth edition of the game did to the Realms. Recommended, but I still prefer the books set in the old Realms more.

Bioshock: Rapture by John Shirley takes us to the world of Bioshock and the city of Rapture, a collectivist ideal set under the ocean, but brought down by a combination of misplaced idealism and old-fashioned brutality. Told from the perspective of Andrew Ryan's second in command, Bill McDonough, we see how Rapture was formed and built, and escalating problems eventually brought it down. By the end of the story, Bill hopes to escape Rapture with his wife and daughter, but is there any real escape from the spreading madness and Ryan's own bad choices? I've only seen bits and pieces of the game, so I don't know how much of what goes on in the book is actually cribbed from journals and records you can find in the game, but the story is extremely compelling and make me root for the characters to succeed, despite knowing how it would end from the game itself. In the end, the ending did surprise me, and it was quite chilling. Highly recommended.

Ascension by Caris Roane- All her life, Allison Wells has been unusual, with powers she has never seen or heard of in another human being. And as she has gotten older, she has only gotten more and more powerful, to the point where she can no longer even make love to a man, because she could inadvertantly hurt or kill him. But unbeknownst to her, her powers have attracted the wrong sort of attention- armies of Death Vampires hunger for her powerful blood. But there is one man on her side- Kerrick, also a vampire, but a warrior and guardian. He is assigned to protect her, but when she proves even more powerful than his own superiors know, it might interfere with the growing feelings between himself and the beautiful Allison. And when it appears that she might even be too powerful for this plane of existence, can Kerrick overcome his past hurts to give up Allison to her destiny. This book was really good. As the first in the series, there has to be a lot of worldbuilding, and this one has tons of it, from multiple worlds on multiple levels, both up and down from "our" earth, but the whole death vamps/guardian warrior vampires thing (truth be told, these vampires are *not* the usual sorts of vampires, but even though they drink blood, they have feathery wings like angels) is well explained and I never felt lost. I don't know if there is a sequel to this book yet, but I will certainly be on the lookout for one and I want to delve deeper into the mysteries of this world. Recommended.

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