Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Dwarfs (9th book in Time-Life's Enchanted World series)

Dwarfs (The Enchanted World Series)Dwarfs by Time-Life Books

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is similar in appearance, style, and presentation to other volumes in the Time-Life Enchanted World series, but contains content focusing on yet another creature of myth and fantasy: the dwarf. As with other Enchanted World volumes, "Dwarfs" contains numerous color illustrations that make it an aesthetically pleasing book. While the text is likely not detailed enough for use as source material for academia, it is an informative, introductory read for those unfamiliar with the fantasy genre, and even those well-versed in myth or fantasy are likely to find some interesting information between the covers of this book.

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Scimitar Sun

Scimitar SunScimitar Sun by Chris A. Jackson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Scimitar Sun, Chris A. Jackson, 2010, Dragon Moon Press, paperback, 332 p. ISBN 1-897492-17-0 ; more info at www.dragonmoonpress.com and www.jaxbooks.com.

Following in the wake of his award-winning Scimitar Moon, (2009 ForeWord Sci-Fi/Fantasy Book of the Year), author Chris A. Jackson offers up a new Scimitar Seas tale in the rousing Scimitar Sun. This latest novel continues the adventures of Cynthia Flaxal, the Seamage of the Shattered Isles, and makes one wonder if Scimitar Sun is a sequel, or if Scimitar Moon is more accurately a prequel to the real adventures Mr. Jackson has in store for his readers. In Scimitar Sun, Mr. Jackson takes that timeworn catchphrase "just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water," breathes new life into it, and proves quite handily that it's not only big sharks one has to watch out for.

Life in the Shattered Isles is good for Cynthia Flaxal. She has found love and purpose, and holds great hope for that same peaceful life for her unborn child. The shipyard and docks are flourishing, and the seas are at last safe from the predations of Captain Bloodwind, legendary pirate and scourge of the Scimitar Seas. But the unfounded fears of the empire, the vengeful ire of merfolk, and the boundless greed of pirates set into motion events that threaten to plunge the Shattered Isles into chaos and shatter the tranquility in Cynthia's life. As much as she might wish otherwise, Cynthia finds herself drawn into the unrest as surely as a riptide can pull even the strongest swimmer to a watery grave. Even more factors complicate Cynthia's situation--that matter of a volcano and an untried pyromage, for instance. But, dear readers, perhaps I should keep some secrets and allow you to set sail on your own voyage of discovery.

The unique world Mr. Jackson presents for our reading pleasure may bear some slight resemblance to a mature and carefully blended mixture of "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "Harry Potter", with a dash of old Errol Flynn movies tossed in for good measure. But make no mistake; the story, setting, and characters are as fresh and dynamic as any fantasy creations on the market today, and the author's judicious balance of drama and humor lends variety. If there is one bit of caution I might forward, it might be "Landlubbers beware!" for Mr. Jackson is no stranger to sailing, and this clearly shows in the vocabulary of his work. If one is uncomfortable with nautical terminology, be sure to keep a dictionary handy. That being said, one shouldn't consider this a flaw in the writing, but rather part of its charm. The language throughout doesn't detract from the novel's appeal; instead, it adds layers of accuracy, credibility, and realism.

If Scimitar Sun is your first exposure to Mr. Jackson's writing, he will not disappoint. Likewise, returning fans will also find good reason to applaud. Over several years, I have come to trust this author's sense of pace and to expect vivid descriptions and delightful characters, while often wondering when these talents would fail him. After all the pirates, magic, merfolk, swashbuckling, sprites, warships, and intrigue of Scimitar Sun, Mr. Jackson leaves me to happily consider the possibility he will never fail to deliver. Though this voyage has ended, I find myself looking forward to joining him yet again on whatever further adventures he decides to share with us.

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Monday, August 22, 2011

Anansi Boys

Anansi BoysAnansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A Delightfully Entertaining Modern Mythology

Nearly forgotten in today’s modern world, the old gods live on. They exist in those shadowy and obscure places far from the limelight, and their power has waned, but they live on. In Anansi Boys, Fat Charlie Nancy discovers this fact much to his surprise and discomfort. The circumstances of Fat Charlie’s ordered life shift drastically and humorously as author Neil Gaiman leads us through a wild and wacky tale that teeters on the brink of what is real and what is not of this world.

Fat Charlie is not at all fat, yet he cannot rid himself of the unflattering nickname his father bestowed on him. He has done all he can humanly do to distance himself from his father, an eccentric and embarrassing old man, including a move to England to put an ocean between them. Fat Charlie hasn’t spoken to his father in years, but Rosie, his fiancée, pressures Fat Charlie into inviting the much senior Nancy to their fast-approaching wedding. In his conversation with an old neighbor, Mrs. Higgler, Fat Charlie learns his father has died suddenly and unexpectedly—not to mention embarrassingly—on a karaoke stage. Fat Charlie returns to Florida to pay his last respects and bury his father, although he hadn’t planned on doing quite that much shoveling. While in Florida, Fat Charlie learns the utterly unbelievable truth about his father. And the truth is that old Mr. Nancy was none other than Anansi the Trickster, a god from the beginnings of time itself. As if that news were not enough, Fat Charlie also learns that he is not, as he had always believed, his father’s only son.

It is only after he returns to England that Fat Charlie meets this brother, Spider, and the pleasantly drab life Fat Charlie had so carefully woven begins to unravel in an series of bizarre events that defy explanation using any known natural laws of the universe. At the forefront of all of Fat Charlie’s difficulties is his carefree brother, who appears to be a magnet for mischief and mayhem. The author points to two critical forces that drive the events in Fat Charlie’s life. First, "Human beings do not like being pushed about by gods. They may seem to, on the surface, but somewhere on the inside, underneath it all, they sense it, and they resent it." And, second, there is an ancient rivalry between Anansi and Tiger—-a bitter enmity between elder gods that now centers on Fat Charlie.

Anansi Boys, Gaiman’s side-splitting sequel to American Gods, is a tale to be treasured for the author’s keen wit, stinging irony, and inimitable blend of dark and whimsical humor. But be very cautious; once you’ve read Anansi Boys, you’ll be tempted to read it again…just to be sure Anansi, the trickster god, hasn’t changed the story since you closed the cover.

Neil Gaiman's website may be found at http://www.neilgaiman.com/

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Monday, August 15, 2011

Engaging the Enemy (Vatta's War, #3)

Engaging the Enemy (Vatta's War, #3)Engaging the Enemy by Elizabeth Moon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
[Note: This review was originally written in 2006.]

Nebula Award-winning author Elizabeth Moon continues her interstellar “Vatta’s War” saga with Engaging the Enemy, the third book in the series. Those who have read the previous books in the series will welcome the return of Captain Kylara Vatta, the young, self-doubting, yet determined heroine who seems prone to difficulties and disaster even when she makes the right decisions. It is precisely this quirk in Ky’s luck that endears her to science fiction fans everywhere. During her earlier exploits, we learned a little about Ky, her family, and her family business, Vatta Transport. We watched as she faced the dangers wrought by the destruction of ISC communications assets, dealings with pirates and mercenaries, assassination attempts, hand-to-hand combat, and the vengeful spite of the family’s black sheep, Osman Vatta. Put your helmets on and buckle up, because that was only the beginning.

In Engaging the Enemy, Moon treats her fans with a much closer look at Ky’s Aunt Grace, a remarkable woman with a great deal more about her than her outward appearance would suggest. Aunt Grace struggles to preserve the lives and livelihood of the Vatta family on Slotter Key, Vatta Transport’s corporate home world. The cunning Vatta matriarch finds she has both enemies and allies as she battles on cut off from communications with all off-world assets and working with tremendously reduced Vatta resources. Meanwhile, Kylara, now captaining the Fair Kaleen — a well-armed pirate vessel she captured from Osman — as her privateer flagship, begins her earnest quest to avenge the near-total annihilation of the Vatta family and to restore the family business. Trailing behind her in the Gary Tobai is Stella, Ky’s cousin and ally in the undeclared Vatta’s War. While catching up to Kylara as she hops from one star system to another, Stella finds reason to doubt Kylara’s motivations and intent, but nothing can prepare either of them for the shocking truth they discover during the trial of Captain Furman, one of Vatta’s most senior merchant captains.

Moon continues to chronicle the events of Kylara Vatta’s life as a young, star-faring merchant-captain-turned-privateer in Engaging the Enemy. For veteran readers of the “Vatta’s War” series there are answers to be found in Moon’s latest space opera aria. Unfortunately, since this is but a single volume of the series, readers who are new to this continuing story will finish with far more questions than answers. The author’s writing style and skillfully placed redundancies allow this book to be enjoyed without reference to her earlier works, Trading in Danger and Marque and Reprisal. However, readers who have not read these earlier works are depriving themselves of valuable insights and background information, not to mention the pleasure of more of Elizabeth Moon’s entertaining writing. Whenever the physical action slows, the internal struggles and interaction of the various characters ensure there is no lull in the book’s overall pace. The author has placed great emphasis on character development — personality traits and motivations — and it is this particular aspect of Moon’s writing that ultimately keeps her audience enthralled.

Moon’s ability to pen a sweeping tale of science fiction has never been in doubt, but if ever it were, her “Vatta’s War” series would surely lay those doubts to rest. If you haven’t had your share of interstellar adventure this week, Engaging the Enemy is only a bookstore away.

Elizabeth Moon maintains a website at http://www.elizabethmoon.com/

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Marque and Reprisal (Vatta's War, #2)

Marque and Reprisal (Vatta's War, #2)Marque and Reprisal by Elizabeth Moon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
[Note: This review was originally written in 2005.]

Welcome aboard the Gary Tobai, cargo specialist! Prepare yourself for a crash course in murder, mercenaries, mutiny, and letters of marque. Writing a sequel to Trading in Danger might be considered a tall order, but Elizabeth Moon proves she’s up to the task with Marque and Reprisal. The daring, young heroine, Kylara Vatta, newest captain in the Vatta Transport fleet, returns in this sweeping adventure filled with action, suspense, intrigue, combat... and a puppy.

After the near disastrous events in the Sabine system, Kylara finds herself, her crew, and her ship facing some very tough odds. Ky has no choice but to plunge onward relying on her seasoned crew, her training and intuition, and sometimes just a little luck. Attacks against Vatta Transport, the communications assets of ISC, and the Vatta family itself leave Captain Kylara Vatta of the Gary Tobai isolated from direct aid and consul from corporate headquarters. She is left with little choice but to improvise after learning of the widespread attacks upon Vatta headquarters, ships, and personnel. Ky formulates a three step plan that encompasses their best hope for survival: locate and protect surviving Vatta family members, identify the source of the attacks against the Vatta family and assets, and conduct a counterattack against those enemies.

Along the way, Ky gathers allies to help her in her mission. Stella, a cousin whose past mistakes have marked her as a black sheep; Rafe, a shady character from Stella’s less than laudable early years; fourteen-year-old Toby Vatta, lone survivor of the destruction of the Ellis Fabery; and the mercenaries of the Mackensee Military Assistance Corporation. Attempts on her life by unknown assassins, run-ins with the police while her ship is docked, problems caused by failure of the ISC communications system, the attempted destruction of her ship, and the sense that disaster is always lurking just out of view all combine to keep one turning pages. My pang of disappointment at the end of the book, when I realized there were no more pages to read, was tempered by the knowledge that Engaging the Enemy will be available next spring. I know I’ll be waiting in line for my copy.

Marque and Reprisal stands on its own but, since it was intended as the second in a series of novels, it may suffer a loss of impact and continuity if one has not read Trading in Danger, the first book of the series. Enough background information is doled out to cobble together a vague awareness of earlier exploits, but reading the books of the “Vatta’s War” series in order will lend a much greater understanding of the action in Marque and Reprisal, particularly the action detailed in the first few chapters.

Moon’s accessible style of writing lends itself well to development of well-defined characters within a believable star-faring society. The end result is this briskly paced and thoroughly enjoyable interstellar escapade. So, if science fiction adventure is your cup of tea, take a big sip.

Elizabeth Moon maintains a website at http://www.elizabethmoon.com/

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Saturday, August 13, 2011

Sorcerer's Legacy

Sorcerer's LegacySorcerer's Legacy by Janny Wurts

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
[Note: This review was originally written in July 2009.]

A very quick read and worth even more time than it takes to get to the final page. "Sorcerer's Legacy" stands as an impressive first foray as an author. Janny Wurts possesses a beautifully broad vocabulary that lends itself well to the telling of this (or any other) tale. The duel between two sorcerers in chapter nine is particularly impressive as an example of immersing your audience in the moment -- I was almost afraid to take my eyes from the page for fear of seeing a magical battle raging in the room with me.

Janny - I know you're out there, so here's what I really think: "Sorcerer's Legacy" is a GREAT book of wizardry, court intrigue, love, and tragedy (in spite of the "ho-hum" artwork on this particular edition). I was disappointed in the fact that I didn't discover you as an author until quite recently, and now I will have to make an effort to catch up. Thank you for this thoroughly enjoyable experience, and I look forward to reading more of your work in the future... as soon as real life allows...

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Talk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or Six Good Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door

Talk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or Six Good Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the DoorTalk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or Six Good Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door by Lynne Truss

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My day began with an innocent browsing of the shelves at a local bookstore and ended with an impulse buy. To my horror, I had purchased a book in which I might have no interest. I chided myself for that moment of weakness until I began to read. The misgivings I had over my purchase faded as I read the words of author Lynne Truss. Satisfaction washed over me as I realized I was “hooked” even before I had finished reading her brief three-pages of acknowledgments.

In Talk to the Hand, Truss attacks the failings of our society with the same humor and aplomb she employed in her earlier best seller, Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. With her focus on the rudeness of today’s society, she combines her powers of observation with a liberal amount of scathing wit to lambaste the people of the world for their errant behavioral flaws. Although her writing is laced with humor and sarcasm, her underlying message is never far from sight or thought. Talk to the Hand is a scolding that is as harsh as it is well deserved. The author systematically presents her case, and one cannot help but admit individual and collective guilt. As the prosecutor in the high court of manners, etiquette, and decorum, Truss makes it impossible to mount a credible defense for our inexcusably rude behavior.

Are courtesy and kindness dead? Things of the past? Perhaps, but one can hope they are only napping. Truss has given her readers much to contemplate and ample reason for repentance. There are few faults to find in Talk to the Hand unless one is inclined to complain that the author has provided far more than the promised SIX good reasons to stay home and bolt the door. And wouldn’t complaining of that just be… rude?

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Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess

Bobby Fischer Teaches ChessBobby Fischer Teaches Chess by Bobby Fischer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Note to readers looking for a little light reading enjoyment on a sunny afternoon: "Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess" is not the book you're looking for. It has two woefully undeveloped main characters, with poor distinction between protagonist and antagonist. These mysterious main characters, known only as "White" and "Black", have the sole purpose of meddling constantly in the affairs of thirty-two minor characters, also lacking more than cursory description or much development. With "mating" being the rather single-minded goal of these opposing forces, there isn't much that can be identified as a main plot. There is a fair amount of action, and there are hints that other books have been written featuring these characters, so perhaps there is hope for some story arc. Though lacking a focused, cohesive central plot, it is fraught with flashbacks and countless tedious sub-plots, often leaping from one action scene to the next without so much as a "by your leave" en passant. Worse still, the setting is terribly unimaginative in its scope, as if the medieval landscape had been designed by one whose vision was limited to black & white. I hope Hollywood decides NOT to make this into a movie...

This book gives a beginning player plenty of interesting examples, and focuses on two important aspects of the game: thinking ahead and recognizing opportunity (although there also seems to be huge emphasis on achieving mate while the opponent's king is trapped in the back row, presumably by his own errant play). The complexity of the presented game situations increases as one progresses through the book. Despite its failings in some areas, I believe this book to be a very handy learning tool for any beginning player.

Did it help me as a beginner? Sure, but just like most of us will never be NFL quarterbacks or Olympic gold medalists, I also will never be a master at chess. That said, the fact that I still continue to have my @$$ handed to me almost every time I engage in a friendly game of chess in no way detracts from the enjoyment of exercising the brain... nor from my opinion of this book when viewed in light of its intended purpose. So, yes, I believe my game improved some from having read it, and I'm equally certain that no one shall ever bestow upon me the title of chess master.

Beginning chess player? Yes? Then read this book.

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The Summoner: Volume One in the Chronicles of the Necromancer

The Summoner (Chronicles of the Necromancer, #1)The Summoner by Gail Z. Martin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
[Note: This review was originally written in 2007.]

I opened to the title page of The Summoner, where the author had written in my copy, "Thank you for believing." I gave her comment only cursory thought at the time, but it only took the reading of a few pages before I began to believe in Martin’s well-developed fantasy world and in her ability to lead her readers through it with an enchanting grace that obscures the fact that this is her first published novel.

This epic fantasy quest begins with a bloody and violent coup d'état on "Haunts", an evening of festivities when the line that separates the living from the dead blurs and ghosts walk freely among the living. The King of Margolan and his family are slain by order of the heir to the throne, Prince Jared, and the cruel and avaricious prince seizes power. After routing those loyal to the old king, King Jared is left with one small matter remaining: Jared’s younger half-brother, Prince Martris Drayke, has survived the coup and has escaped along with a handful of trusted friends.

"Tris" and his tiny band of followers prove to be elusive and, as the young prince begins discovering the true strength of his heritage, he learns that some of his greatest allies do not dwell in the lands of the living. Tris slowly gains the knowledge and control he will need in order to master the powers of a summoner -— a necromancer. He also learns difficult lessons in the laws, limits, and responsibilities that come with such potent magical power. Meanwhile, as he continues his mission to find a means to remove his half-brother from Margolan’s throne, Tris learns that Jared may not be his most dangerous foe. Another sorcerer of great power, one of the immortal vayash moru, is allied with the Margolan usurper and is setting in motion his plan to awaken and unleash the Obsidian King, thereby plunging the world into a reign of darkness. Tris finds that he must prepare for battles of both physical and magical nature. We learn, as do the young necromancer’s allies, that their fates are deeply intertwined and all will share together in triumph or defeat.

Although one might be tempted to describe a great deal of The Summoner as standard fantasy fare, such a generalization would be a misstatement and an injustice. Martin’s work easily rises above the standard due to the care she has taken in presenting the interaction between the living, the dead, and the undead. The background and detail evident in several of these encounters suggest that they could be easily expanded into novels or novellas and, perhaps, a prequel will appear someday. For now, however, we can be thankful for this breath of new life Martin has summoned into the fantasy genre. After the first few pages, I thought the author’s greatest strengths were a knack for character development and the creation of splendid settings. I was wrong. As I progressed through the tale, I soon found myself adding to my initial list of the author’s skills, admitting gladly that Martin’s command of foreshadowing, suspense, and intricate plot development are also noteworthy. The world, the characters that populate it, the social structures, and the laws of magic are all well conceived and skillfully presented by the author. The Summoner is the first volume of what Martin calls "The Chronicles of the Necromancer" and will be continued in The Blood King, due for release in January 2008. If The Summoner is indicative of what adventures lie ahead in this series, Gail Z. Martin is certain to keep her readers entranced from page one to the finale.

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The Cattle

The CattleThe Cattle by Greg M. Sarwa

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The author gets five stars for his fast-paced story.
I'll only give three stars for the proofing/editing.

Greg Sarwa’s The Cattle is a chilling and incisive glimpse at one possible future facing America. Following a wave of fear and uncertainty brought about by continued terrorist attacks on US interests both at home and abroad, the American government reacts in a decisive, far-reaching effort to curtail acts of violence and end terrorist anonymity. However, in its haste to protect its citizens, the federal government unknowingly squanders the hard-won freedoms purchased with the blood of our forefathers. With international terrorism growing at an alarming rate, ample justification exists for the creation of a National Identification System (NIDS), an electronic guardian of unprecedented scope. The legislation enacted to protect Americans now threatens to irrevocably alter the American way of life, and only a select few are even aware of the dark agenda that takes shape under the guise of protecting our citizenry.

Does this sound like fiction? Perhaps, but it isn’t as improbable as one might think. Disturbingly enough, the technologies needed to make this system a reality are either available or under development today.

But questions remain.

Exactly where are the boundaries of such a system? By accident, Brian Warburton discovers the answer to this question and copies startling evidence of the system’s capabilities on a computer disk. When his dead body is searched, the disk is nowhere to be found.

What secrets have been uncovered? Clues to the disk’s disappearance are contained on a security camera videotape that has also vanished. A trail of death follows both the tape and the disk in a fast-paced and deadly game of cat and mouse.

Can America be warned in time? Chicago TV news reporter, Jacob Reed, through an unusual sequence of events, finds himself thrust into the role of would-be-savior. He must unravel the mystery quickly, all the while staying one step ahead of his coldly efficient pursuers. As Jacob tries to ferret out the truth, others become caught up in a lethal race against time: Jacob’s friend, Eric Lester, whose computer expertise proves indispensable; a Polish immigrant named Anna Tabor who finds herself entangled in a sinister intrigue; Jacob’s “boss”, Richard Leyland, also unwittingly drawn into the fray as the fate of America hangs in the balance.

All in all, The Cattle is a cold splash in the face -- a stark, sobering view of what might yet come to pass. It is a tale many will find as entertaining as it is thought-provoking. Chicagoans will delight in the familiar settings, Americans will be enthralled by Jacob’s common man heroics, and readers everywhere will pause to wonder, “Is this fiction or is this a prophecy?”

Visit Greg M Sarwa's website at http://www.gregsarwa.com/

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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Arms of Deliverance

Arms of Deliverance: A Story of PromiseArms of Deliverance: A Story of Promise by Tricia Goyer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Arms of Deliverance is author Tricia Goyer’s fourth novel to feature Christian values in a World War II setting. Surprisingly, the main focus of her story is not the men who fought the battles in this bloody, war-torn era. It is, instead, a tale of three women: competitive New York Tribune reporters Mary Kelley and Lee O’Donnelley, and Czech-born Katrine. These women find their lives intertwined despite their vast differences. Mary, a tag-along reporter on a bombing run, finds herself behind enemy lines when Destiny’s Child, the B-17 she is aboard, is shot down while returning from its mission over Berlin. Lee, hailing from the glitz and glamour of high society, learns several lessons of the heart as Mary’s occasional roommate, as a war correspondent on the front lines following the Normandy invasion, and in her effort to rescue her friend. Katrine is an Aryan-appearing Jew hiding in plain sight in Nazi-occupied Belgium. Her deception is so effective and complete that she becomes pregnant with the child of a Nazi Schutzstaffel officer. She lives in terror that her secret will be discovered, thus threatening her life and the life of her unborn child. Heinrich, the SS officer, has devout belief in the righteousness of the Nazi cause. He is a complex character who possesses great national pride and a single-minded drive that is stereotypical of Nazi inflexibility and madness. Though he seems human at times, his humanity is often swallowed up by the part of him that is has become a brutally evil monstrosity. His actions are governed by his misguided belief in the Nazi philosophy of Aryan supremacy, his rationalization of the Nazi breeding program, and a deep desire to produce a son to perpetuate the Thousand Year Reich.

The Historical Notes and Acknowledgments pages, thoughtfully included by the author, speak of the care she has taken to bring her readers realism through research and historical accuracy. Although her book is a work of fiction, she has skillfully interwoven fact into this tale, effectively breathing life and honest emotion into the characters that populate it.

Arms of Deliverance is touted as "A Story of Promise" and, in this, Tricia Goyer does not disappoint. The diverse obstacles each of the three women face and the tough choices they make in moments of great adversity contribute to their increased faith in God and a resulting bond of trust in each other. Although some may be tempted to categorize her work as historical romance, it goes beyond such mundane attempts to pigeonhole it. Goyer’s book is a war story, a tale of faith in God, and a romance. Even so, her book is not written for the hardened student of military history, nor is it strictly for the Christian fiction crowd, nor those who devour romance novels by the dozen. In Arms of Deliverance, the author has created a sweeping meld of genres, and has provided a story that will be satisfying to a wide range of readers. It is an unexpectedly heartwarming story of promise—Tricia Goyer offers us the promise that there is hope for humanity through kindness, love, sacrifice, and individual acts of faith.

For more information about Tricia Goyer and the books she has written, visit http://www.thegoyers.com/

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Fragile Things

Fragile ThingsFragile Things by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Neil Gaiman Feast... As if he had written it expressly for those who think they have no reason to read an anthology, author Neil Gaiman presents a smorgasbord of thirty-one very good reasons in Fragile Things. While this collection of short fiction cannot provide the same experience as feasting on one of his novels, it does allow a reader the time to savor and digest each delicate morsel before moving on to the next bite. What a delightful literary meal!

In Fragile Things, Gaiman serves up an erratically varied stew of short fiction, which, for some readers, may be somewhat unsettling. Perhaps foreseeing this possibility, the author has included an informative and entertaining introduction that is useful in appreciating the pieces presented thereafter. These tidbits, introductory background notes regarding each tale or bit of poetry, are helpful in the reader’s full understanding of the author’s work. It is within the introduction, also, that one discovers which pieces have been awarded critical recognition, such as Locus Award-winning “October in the Chair”, or Hugo Award-winning “A Study in Emerald”, the latter an unusual blending of H.P. Lovecraft and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In predictably unpredictable Gaiman fashion, a thirty-second short piece, “The Mapmaker”, is found tucked neatly into the introduction.

The range of subject matter is wide, yet the voice throughout is unmistakably Gaiman: his stories contain an irrational plausibility that seems to stem from the ease with which he appears to write. To entertain his fans and to entice new readers, the author offers his readers appetizers such as a trip to hell in “Other People” and a brief foray into the world of filmdom’s “The Matrix” in the short story “Goliath”. Those who are familiar with Gaiman’s earlier work will revel in Gaiman’s tales and in the poems scattered between them. As an added incentive for his followers to remain faithful, the author closes the anthology with “The Monarch of the Glen”, a novella that revisits the world and main character made popular in his earlier, widely acclaimed novel, American Gods.

The poems and short stories nestled between the covers of Fragile Things afford glimpses of the author’s creativity; each view comes from a slightly different perspective, under varied shades of light and dark, and yet all are seen through the same prism—that fragile thing that is Neil Gaiman’s boundless imagination. This collection will become a welcome addition on the shelf of any Gaiman fan, and is an open invitation to the uninitiated. Welcome to the banquet. There’s a place at the head of the table just for you, dear reader.

Neil Gaiman's website may be found at http://www.neilgaiman.com/

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Friday, August 5, 2011

The Coming of the Walrus

The Coming of the WalrusThe Coming of the Walrus by James Riordan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I probably should have given The Coming of the Walrus only four stars. However, I'm allowing my personal tastes to override my critical sensibilities and awarding it that fifth star. Why? Just because I enjoyed it so much... After all, isn't that what reading is all about?

The Coming of the Walrus is the definitive novel for those who were born too late to experience the 60’s, or for those who fondly recall the 60’s, or even those who lived it but were too stoned then to remember any of it now. Here is author James Riordan’s hilarious tale of Dave Chalmers and his harrowing search for the greatest truth of all.

Dave Chalmers is a burned-out former reporter for Rolling Stone magazine. A fateful meeting with over-aged roadie Tom-Tom Brubaker at a concert in The Who’s “last” tour sets in motion a chain of improbable events and meetings. When Tom-Tom’s body turns up at the morgue following the concert, Dave Chalmers begins piecing together clues to a greater mystery and sets out on a personal quest to discover the identity of the legendary Walrus of Beatles song fame.

Chalmers, a reluctant, ill-prepared, and delightfully unlikely hero, soon finds himself whisked along on a wild, globe-hopping carnival ride of discovery—a roller coaster with angels and demons wrestling for the controls. Why are they interested in a nobody like Dave, you might ask? The answer is deceptively simple. Chalmers is determined to uncover the secret of the Walrus, to rediscover the source of all the “goodness” that existed in the 60’s and, perhaps, to satisfy his foot fetish or a few other fantasies. To make matters worse, Dave’s motivation for embarking on this quest is an enigma that even he cannot fathom. The author, skillfully stretching and manipulating even the most outrageous fables and conspiracy theories of the 60’s, soon has his readers hoping—and occasionally believing—that there actually may be something to the Walrus Myth.

In the broadest terms, The Coming of the Walrus is a tale well worth reading. If not for some adult language, situations, and themes, I would have recommended this novel to anyone who can lay hands on a copy. One should be aware at the outset, however, that it is meant for mature readers who are comfortable in knowing that their humor gyroscopes may be more than a couple degrees out of calibration. My initial impression of the book, based on its appearance and rather limited information about it, was very enthusiastic. As a reader, I was not disappointed by this fast-paced, madcap tale that reminds me of a quirky melding of The Da Vinci Code and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. A great deal of the book’s charm rests in the raw feel of the work. Surprisingly, the over-sized, trade paperback format and a few scattered typos within add to its immediacy and appeal. The often-humorous revelations about human nature, presented through Dave Chalmers’ experiences, also have impact of a serious nature. After reading The Coming of the Walrus, it is easy to find oneself contemplating the big picture and marveling at the monumental battles between good and evil that raged in the 1960’s.

Even with the abundant humor straining to burst from between the covers of this book, readers can still believe that, perhaps, not everything about the Walrus is mere legend. Perhaps even peace, love, and understanding… So, dear readers, dive in for a swim with this Walrus, but watch out for the Roly-Poly Man!

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Weapon of Flesh

Weapon of FleshWeapon of Flesh by Chris A. Jackson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In the city of Twailin a power struggle has been heating up for years. The fate of the city hangs in the balance as the Duke, others of the noble families, and factions of the Guilds ruthlessly vie for supremacy. The chessboard is cluttered with numerous pawns, but one very special pawn might sway the battle. But who will control this pawn?

Per the exacting instructions of the mysterious Grandfather, a weapon is fashioned. Through the painstaking labor of the wizard, Corillian, a perfect killing machine is created. Over the span of years, an innocent babe is transformed into a flawless, nameless assassin. He is simply “the weapon.” As a result of the wizard’s magic, the weapon has no emotion, feels no pain, moves silently, leaves no traces of his passing, and enjoys enhanced senses, agility, and strength. Grievous wounds knit and heal in moments. The weapon is trained by masters of the various martial arts in all forms of combat, armed and unarmed. His training does not include the clutter of social skills or human emotions. He has but one purpose: to kill.

This weapon is readied for delivery to a new master who will wield it to his advantage. But Corillian fails to deliver the weapon to this new owner, and a nameless young man, who knows nothing of the world and thousands of ways to end a human life, finds he must find his destiny on his own.

Based on his first brief encounters with society, the weapon makes the assumption that his name must be Lad. He thrills in his newfound autonomy, but Lad is unaware that the Grandfather’s hunters track him, intent on locating and capturing him alive—at any cost—by any means. After nearly two decades of waiting, the Grandfather is impatient to try out his new weapon. The Grandfather’s agenda remains a secret, even to his closest underlings, but there is no doubt that Lad, the weapon of flesh, is integral to the plan’s success.

Lad, through the controlled process of his creation, is like no other young man this, or any other, world has known. This fact was not lost on the author, who offers his readers the stark realities of a world rife with magic, intrigue, assassins, and death. This is not a tale for children, nor is it for those of meek demeanor. It is an often-dark exploration of man’s emotions, desires, hopes and downfalls. It is a clash of a wizard’s arcane spells and the magic of love, a battle of innocence against soul-consuming evil. The author’s treatment of the book’s characters is both consistent and insightful, allowing one to easily empathize with the heroes and loathe the villains. Some of Jackson’s characters fit neatly into one of those categories. Others, however, occupy that grey area between, adding spice to this tale as we struggle to sort them out. Weapon of Flesh is a fabulous tale of medieval fantasy that will leave readers begging for more from author Chris A Jackson.

To discover more about this talented author, visit http://www.jaxbooks.com/

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Collected Poems by Chinua Achebe

Collected PoemsCollected Poems by Chinua Achebe

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Within the bright yet unremarkable cover of this small book is the world as seen through the eyes of Mr. Chinua Achebe. The world witnessed by this talented Nigerian-born author and poet contains death, hope, strife, hunger, joy, love, wisdom, and wonder—and Achebe ushers his audience on an emotional journey through them all. As I read Collected Poems, I became more interested in the poet himself and was driven to learn more about the man behind the words. What continues to impress me the most about Achebe is the half-century span of his creative effort and quiet achievement in literature. As I thought more on this, I found that beside his sometimes brutally heart-wrenching imagery, what disturbs me about this man’s literary work is that America is mostly unaware of its existence.

As undeniable proof that big things come in small packages, Achebe’s mastery of the English vocabulary shines in this thin but powerful collection of poetry. He begins with a short preface then presents his poetry in five categorized chapters. At the back of the book are a few pages of notes, which I found to be a welcome and indispensable reference.

Steeped in the tragedies of a Biafra too soon forgotten, the chapter titled “Poems About War” is perhaps the most compelling. Achebe brings to light aspects of war sometimes overlooked. For example, in “A Mother In A Refugee Camp”, a mother’s love for her child converges with her hopeless acceptance of that child’s imminent death from starvation. Passing on into the chapter of “Poems Not About War,” the reader will discover such gems as “Public Execution In Pictures” and marvel at Achebe’s ability to capture the emotion of such an event. The poem expresses gratitude that children who see atrocities in newspaper photographs have not themselves witnessed them firsthand. At the same time, there is an unspoken regret that they may never fully understand injustice and or human suffering.

Much of this book has seen prior publication in 1973’s Christmas in Biafra and Other Poems. For those of us whose memory of the Biafran War has grown dim and for those unfortunate enough not to have read his earlier book, the reintroduction of Achebe’s vision in Collected Poems is nothing short of a gift. So mired are we in our own day-to-day minutia that we rarely notice what has happened or what is happening elsewhere in human terms. Mr. Achebe has, with his elegant words in Collected Poems, given both a reason and a means to see beyond our own doorstep.

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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Selected Shorts and Other Methods of Time Travel

Selected Shorts and Other Methods of Time TravelSelected Shorts and Other Methods of Time Travel by David Goodberg

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For our reading enjoyment--and contemplation--author David Goodberg presents three dozen short tales from the age following the Worlds War of 2267. Time travel has become commercially available and, as with most technologies, mankind has found various methods of exploitation, misuse, and ....... well, if there's a loophole in the rules, you can just bet that someone will find it and stretch it to the breaking point. With temporal paradox as that loophole, be ready for some serious reality evasion.

Some of the stories in this collection seem to be intended as lessons in future history that we should study so that we of our own era might use this knowledge to avoid falling into the pitfalls before us. Other selections from this time travel grab bag take serious jabs at the failings and flaws of society, highlighting those individual imperfections that make us human.

"Selected Shorts and Other Methods of Time Travel" stands as an entertaining diversion with subtle streams of deeper thought, and the illustrations throughout by Antonio Deleo spark just the right amount of curiosity about each new story by David Goodberg.

[Note: I received this book at no cost through Goodreads First Reads.]

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The Quotable American Civil War

The Quotable American Civil WarThe Quotable American Civil War by Iain C. Martin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Iain C. Martin's The Quotable American Civil War is an excellent overview of the American Civil War, passed down to us through the words of those who lived it. The variety of attributed sources serves as both a "Who's Who" of the era and a remembrance of those whose names are no longer part of our collective memory. This book of quotations is a treasure trove of emotionally charged utterances -- from battle weary Union and Confederate infantrymen, storied generals, statesmen and scholars, and the Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis -- all grouped into chapters to enhance the reader's understanding of the war of brother vs. brother that tested the resiliency and resolve of all Americans.

The Civil War proved to be America's crucible, forging the nation's character. This compilation of compelling thoughts, deep wisdom, and occasional humorous quips does honor to those men and women whose actions and beliefs were the catalysts for great social and political change.

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Lyn Perry Reintroduces a Truly EPIC Warrior Hero

Some food for thought.

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