Monday, October 31, 2011

Child of Fire

By Harry Connolly

Ray Lilly is a wooden man. His role is to serve as a decoy while his boss, Annalise, moves in for the kill. As a wooden man, his life expectancy is nil. Which is fine by Annalise because she hates him. He caused the death of a very good friend of hers and she cannot forgive him for that. The sooner Lilly is dead the better as far as she is concerned.
Annalise is a powerful sorcerer, member of the Twenty Palace Society. Their goal is to hunt down and exterminate dangerous renegade magicians. She and Lilly are off to investigate a very successful toy company in a small town where it seems much of the company's success may be based on illicit magic. Before they even arrive at the town, they discover the townsfolk are paying a terrible price for the success of the toy company: the destruction of their children. To feed the demon powering the rogue magician, the children are gradually being consumed in a fiery blaze and all memory of them erased from the community.
The townsfolk love the prosperity the toy company has brought to them and, since they don't remember the many children lost to the demon, they are putting every obstruction in the way of Annalise's and Lilly's investigation. But the demon behind the magician doesn't care about humans and many more will perish in fiery oblivion as it fights to stay in a world that will soon fall victim to its terrible power. This is what Annalise and Lilly must prevent even if it means their own deaths.

This was an exciting story. The relationship between the implacable Annalise and Lilly adds a real depth to the story as Lilly struggles to build trust between himself and his ruthless boss. The story is jammed packed with action as Lilly pretty much fights a running battle between himself and the angry townsfolk who fear Lilly is there to mess up their sweet deal. Meanwhile, the rogue magician remains elusive and protected not only by the townsfolk but also by the demon who is only using the magician in an attempt to gain access to our world. And speaking of the demon, this is no horns, pointy tail and pitchfork kind of demon. It is a creature from another dimension, completely alien to our universe, and with an appetite that would result in the destruction of all humanity if it ever managed to free itself from the magician's control. So not only are Lilly and Annalise trying to save one small town, they are trying to save the whole world.
On the other hand, even though this is a very exciting and engaging story, the body count is really high, starting with a little boy who burns up in front of his parent's and Annalise's and Lilly's eyes. And the the body count continues to mount as the demon possesses its victims and turns them into living flame throwers as weapons against Annalise and Lilly. So even though I did enjoy the story very much, I found all the death and destruction, especially of the little kids, rather depressing and I am not planning to continue on with the series. It's is just too gruesome and grim for me.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Spellman Files

By Lisa Lutz

Izzy Spellman has a big problem: her family. They are nosy and intrusive and demand to know everything that is going on her life. Which is probably one of the hazards of their profession: private investigators. And they have their reasons for being concerned: in her teens, Izzy was not exactly the best behaved kid. She drank, drugged, broke curfew, stole, vandalized. But now she is in her late twenties and she wants her P.I. parents to give her a little space. Which they seem unwilling to do, going so far as to plant a bug in her room and hire her uncle to tail her.
Izzy finally puts her foot down and they come to an agreement. Izzy, who also works for her parents as an investigator, will do one last case and then they will let her be.

Here are some of the words used to describe this book in the blurbs on the cover: delightful, droll, fun, funny, hilarious. It is true that is does have a few amusing moments but mostly it is just annoying. The behavior of these people, the parents and Izzy's bratty sister is very off-putting. Especially the sister whose parents seem not to have a grasp of how to discipline their out-of-control child. I didn't not find her antics amusing nor did I find the parents spy tactics against Izzy amusing. And Izzy comes off as an odd combination of gutsy and gutless. She grouses about how impossible it is for her to get away from her family and I kept thinking, if you want to leave just go. It's that simple. Just go. So, although the book does have a few funny moments, mostly it was just irritating and about halfway through it just seemed to drag on forever.

Saturday, October 22, 2011


By Karen Robards

Lady Elizabeth has a reputation for breaking betrothals. She has been engaged three times and three times broke it off. The last fellow she dumped didn't take it so well, though. He arranged to have Lady Elizabeth kidnapped and taken to be sold as a sex slave. And the only man who can save her is a ruthless assassin who wouldn't think twice about snapping her neck if he had to.

This book starts off as a pretty ordinary period romance. But when Lady Elizabeth gets kidnapped it turns into quite an entertaining adventure story. Lady Elizabeth and some of her fellow captives make a break for freedom, with the assassin, Neil Severin, luckily showing up to help them on their way. They narrowly escape, but Neil gets shot in the process. They end up in a smuggler's cave and have to climb to safety only to be stopped by a rock slide. They escape the rock slide but Neil is captured by the authorities. And the adventure continues from there, with the ladies he rescued helping him and Lady Elizabeth escape.

This was a pretty entertaining romantic adventure story. Actually, I enjoyed the adventure story more than I did the romance. There are some sex scenes but fortunately not too graphic.
But as much as I enjoyed the adventure part of the story is how much I didn't enjoy the last part of the story, where Lady Elizabeth is safely returned home and Neil and she are trying to take their place in society. It felt like the obligatory nod to a Regency romance, with dances at Almacks and rides in the park and damped petticoats and stolen kisses and the threat of scandal. Nothing new there and all pretty boring. But the adventure part of the story was first rate!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Garlic and Sapphires

By Ruth Reichl

When Ruth Reichl accepted the position of restaurant critic at The New York Times, she soon found out that the local restaurants were ready and waiting, with photos posted and staff briefings. The key to reviewing restaurants is to be anonymous, so they can't put their best face on for the critic. So Reichl came up with a strategy: disguises.
With the help of a couple of experts, she developed some characters to hide her true identity behind. First was Molly, a rather staid, older woman. And Brenda, a flamboyant and kind-hearted redhead. And the woman in tweed, who didn't have a kind word for anyone. The disguises worked and Reichl was able to give honest and impartial reviews of area restaurants. But after awhile, she began to question herself and wonder about all these strange women lurking inside her own head.

After reading Reichl's book, I know that she would eat almost anything. She would probably eat a pig fetus. In fact, I bet she has eaten pig fetus and loved it! I bet she has eaten those unhatched ducklings still in the shell and raved about how their little bones cracked between her teeth. But even though her very evocative descriptions of the food she ate left me unmoved I still enjoyed this book very much.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Sex and the Single Vampire

By Katie MacAlister

Allie is a Summoner, or rather she hopes she is. A Summoner is a person who has the power to call up ghosts, poltergeists and demons. For Allie, the trouble is, although she is highly trained, she has yet to actually summon anything. So her boss has given her one last chance to prove herself. She has been sent to London and if she can't manage to summon some spirits while there, she is out of a job. Things are not looking good until one night in her hotel room she does summon a spirit: a three-legged ghost cat.
Buoyed by this dubious success, Allie pays a visit to an old building that is rumored to be haunted. But although she can't get any spirits to appear, she does stumble across a wounded vampire, a very handsome and manly vampire who is an angry and upset vampire who doesn't want Allie interfering in whatever scheme he is running. But for Allie this vampire is the man of her dreams, literally. She has had some very bad and intense dreams about this vampire, dreams in which the vampire is in terrible trouble and Allie is the only one who can save him. Now it looks like her dream has become reality.

This was an OK story, even if the plot was a little on the weak side. The bad guys kidnap a vampire who is a friend of Allie's vampire, then they grab Allie's vampire and they are also holding various ghosts captive, but the explanation for why all this was done didn't make a lot of sense to me. Still, the author includes a lot of comic relief in the story, mainly provided by the various ghosts that end up attached to Allie. And since this is also a romance story, there is a lot of sex, but it is not excessively graphic.

Lily Pond

By Hope Ryden

For four years naturalist Hope Ryden studied a family of beavers that lived on a stream in a park in New York State. She was able to observe the beavers even in winter and at night, when the animals were most active. She was with them as their family grew with the arrival of babies every spring. She brought them branches to supplement their food supply when she was concerned they might starve. She and a friend helped the beavers repair their dam when vandals tore a huge hole in it. And she drove away a trio of people who were possibly trying to raid the beaver lodge for the vulnerable beaver kits inside, the kits to be sold as pets. She came to identify with the beavers and gave them all names and worried about their welfare. Eventually she realized it was time to move on and leave the beavers to manage on their own after the matriarch of the beaver family died of old age.

If you have ever been at all curious about beavers then this is a great book to read. It details the lives of the Lily Pond beavers, their trials and tribulations, their triumphs and accomplishments and their remarkable ability to engineer their environment to suit their purposes. Really, beavers are amazing animals and this book is an excellent window on the their hidden world.

The Professor and the Madman

By Simon Winchester

For centuries, the English language went without a complete, comprehensive dictionary. Finally, it was decided that such a dictionary should be created, backed up by extensive scholarship and quotations from literary works and other writings illustrating the meanings of words and how the meanings changed as the language did.
Professor James Murray became the chief editor of the dictionary as it was being created. Coming from a ordinary family, it was soon apparent that young James was no ordinary child. Extremely intelligent and consumed with a hunger for knowledge, James excelled in school. But since his parents were not able to pay for his further schooling, he quit at the age of 14. That didn't mean an end to his scholarship, as he continued to educate himself in a wide variety of fields, including archaeology, languages, and history. By the age of twenty he was the headmaster of the local academy for boys. It was at about this time that he discovered his passion for Anglo-Saxon and was soon presenting learned papers on the subject.
Meanwhile, across the ocean in America was another young man of about the same age as Murray. William Minor, unlike Murray, was born to a family of distinction and wealth. Like Murray, however, Minor too was a bright, intelligent and gifted lad, if a little on the sensitive side. He pursued the study of medicine and became a talented and competent surgeon, this at the time of the American Civil War. Dr. Murray enlisted and before long found himself performing surgery on the battlefield. But his sensitive nature was overwhelmed by horror of war and his fragile mind cracked. He left the military in an attempt to recover his mental balance and eventually decided a trip abroad might help, which is how he came to be in London. The change of scenery did not help, his private demons still plagued Minor. Early one morning, in the grip of his delusion of persecution, Minor shot and killed a man, a man Minor didn't know and who had never met and who was simply on his way to work.
The courts were lenient and recognized Minor's illness so instead of hanging he was incarcerated at Broadmoor, a prison for the criminally insane. He lived pretty well there, in a private room and with money from his military pension and funds from his family back in the USA, Minor amassed quite a large library of books which he was allowed to keep in his room.
Meanwhile Professor Murray was sending out a call to the public asking for volunteers to read and look for words and note down the passages where the word's context helped to reveal its meaning. Thousand of slips of papers poured into the Scriptorium, the building where the dictionary was being created, and one of the most prolific and helpful of the volunteers was Dr. Minor. And while Professor Murray relied on and valued the contributions that Dr. Minor was making to the dictionary, he had no idea for many years that one of his most important volunteers was a madman locked up in an insane asylum.

It sounds like a dry subject, the creation of a dictionary. But the human drama behind the fact makes this anything but a dry subject. Dr. Minor's story is so sad and compelling and his life was such a waste, except for the work he did to help with the creation of the dictionary. It was the one of the few bright spots in his otherwise blighted life. Reading about his story and the story of the dictionary and its editor, Professor Murray, was really interesting. It was a very good read.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Ready Player One

By Ernest Cline

It's 2044 and things are not good for planet Earth. Overpopulation, declining resources, rampant poverty and crime are worldwide. Wade Watts, a high-schooler, is a typical example of the times. He lives in the Stacks, an urban slum that used to be a trailer park but now is trailers, piled on trailers, each trailer crowded with multiple families. But there is one place that anyone with Internet access can go to escape the harsh realities of life: the Oasis. The Oasis is a virtual universe, with thousands of planets and uncounted adventures to be had. It was created by gaming genius James Halliday and can be accessed free of charge.
But then Halliday died and left no heirs. What he did leave was a challenge -- anyone who could solve the puzzle he created would inherit his vast fortune and control of Oasis!
Thus challenged, millions of people set out to solve the puzzle set in the Oasis universe, including young Wade Watts. But individuals were not the only ones who wanted to solve the puzzle. Also determined to solve the puzzle and gain control of Oasis is IOI, an near-monopoly Internet service provider. If IOI wins, it will limit access to Oasis to only those who are willing to pay a fee to use it. Naturally, everyone is up in arms over this and determined to prevent IOI from winning. But IOI is willing to go to any lengths to win, including mass-murder, as Wade finds out when his home is blown up by IOI because he has become the first person in years to solve the first part of the multi-part puzzle and IOI wants to take out any one who even gets close to solving the puzzle.
Before he came into conflict with IOI, Wade was like the thousands of other "gunters" trying to figure out Halliday's puzzle. The person who will be successful at it will be the one who understands and knows the most about the puzzle's creator, James Halliday. Halliday loved American culture of the 1980s, especially science fiction, fantasy and video games. The solution to the puzzle lies in Halliday's obsession with that time. As a result, gunters spend their time researching Halliday and Wade is one of the best gunters. He has a "quest journal" with meticulous and detailed notes on Halliday's life and Halliday's obsessions. He has played and mastered the games Halliday loved, viewed, read and memorized the shows, movies and books Halliday enjoyed. He is the first person to solve the first part of the puzzle but he is soon followed by four other young gunters, Aech, Art3mis, Daito and Shoto. They all find themselves targets of IOI and together and apart will work to solve the puzzle and keep themselves alive despite IOI's dirty tricks and financial muscle.

I loved this book. And I am not a video gamer. You really don't have to be a gamer to understand and enjoy this fun and engaging action-adventure story. Wade has lots of adventures, gets to be on top for a while then falls back but stages a tremendous rally at the end. I don't know if this is true, and it isn't meant to disparage the book, but it reads like it was written to be a huge special-effects movie. It is chock full of 1980s sci-fi culture, movies, books, TV shows, games, comics and music. Anyways, I enjoyed it so much, that I was sorry to reach the end of the story.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011


By Janet Kagan

Tocohl Susumo is a Hellspark, an interplanetary trader. Like other Hellsparks, she is an expert linguist and fluent not only in several languages but also in the customs and cultures of the peoples who speak those languages. She is called upon to bring her expertise to bear on the question of whether the denizens of a newly-discovered planet are sentient or not. If they are found to not be sentient, then the planet will be open to exploitation. But if they are, then the planet will be closed to development.
The corporation that is doing the initial survey of the planet would prefer that the natives be declared not sentient and the planet open to exploitation. But one of the expedition members is sure that the sprookjes, large, humanoid, bird-like beings are intelligent. The leader of the expedition has decided they are not, because they simply parrot what the people in their midst say, they don't really communicate. And that is where a Hellspark like Tocohl may be able to help. Because Hellsparks are not only expert linguists, they are also experts in body language and culture and may have the necessary knowledge to determine if the sprookjes are indeed sapient or just good at imitation.
But that is not the only reason Tocohl is there. She is also investigating the death of one of the expedition members who died under suspicious circumstances, including the fact that he was one of the staunchest defenders of the sprookjes. As her investigation continues, whoever killed the first man is definitely trying to eliminate Tocohl too.

I enjoyed this book. I liked Tocohl, she is smart, competent and cool. Although she is there to figure out if the sprookjes are intelligent, the main thrust of the novel is about how expedition members all try to get along in a very stressful situation and coming from widely separated backgrounds and clashing cultures. For instance, one woman comes from a planet where the people regard the bare human foot as shocking and indecent and another woman likes to run around bare foot, which produces tension between the two women. The different customs and cultures were interesting, as was Tocohl's near-sentient computer, Maggie. The only problem I had with the story was the rather minor role the humanoid alien sprookjes played in it. I would have liked a lot more about them.