Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Children of Anthi

By Jay D. Blakeney

Blaise Omari (BLZ-80-4163) is a member of the crew of the scoutship Forerunner. Omari is not his real name and he realizes he is facing imminent arrest by the authorities. So he hijacks the scoutship and takes it into the Uncharted Zone where it cannot be tracked.
The ship crash lands on the planet Ruantl and all aboard die except Blaise and fellow crew Saunders, a woman.
Blaise and Saunders are soon captives of a rough group of natives, the Bhan'jen. This group of Bhan'jen are controlled by Picyt, a Tlar. Tlar look very different from the Bhan'jen. Tlar are tall and attractive, Bhar'jen are smaller and hideous. Picyt is a kind of high priest and servant of Anthi, a sort of deity who turns out to be just a very powerful computer. Picyt is currently in a power struggle with the ruler of Ruantl, Hihuan. Picty sees in the arrival of Saunders and Blaise two technically proficient workers who can help the Tlar with their failing machinery.
Blaise is soon kidnapped by Hihuan's people and shot and dumped in the desert to die. Ruantl is a very hostile place, arid and subject to extreme storms and bathed in X-rays from its black sun. The locals all wear heavy cloaks and masks to protect themselves. Blaise has no chance to survive such conditions plus having been shot in the leg. Fortunately he is rescued by a tribe of Bhan and they return him to Picyt.
Blaise is pretty much done for when Picyt offers him a chance to survive. Asan, an ancient Tlar and the first ruler of Ruantl, sleeps in a high tech coffin. Picyt needs to raise Asan but to do so he needs a volunteer to provide the catalyst, infusing their vitality into the sleeper. Picty promises Blaise that Blaise will have a strong new body but what he really expects is that Blaise will die. However, Blaise survives the transfer and defeats the personality of Asan and takes control of Asan's body.
Hihuan is aware of what Picty has done. He sends his warriors to fight Picty's and Blaise and Saunders are caught in the middle. Blaise doesn't support Picty and he certainly doesn't support Hihuan who had him shot and dumped in the desert. Stranded on a poison planet, with no hope of rescue, caught in a terrible power struggle between three factions, Blaise and Saunders have to make the best of their bad situation. All Blaise wants is to survive. All Saunders wants is Blaise's head on a silver platter.

This was an OK story. I had a hard time keeping track of who had Blaise and what they wanted from him. I also had trouble keeping track of the various factions in the story. To me, the story was rather chaotic and Blaise is pretty much just a pawn for a lot of the story, stumbling from one disaster to another. Poor Saunders is more sinned against than sinning and doesn't deserve her ultimate fate. However, I did like reading about the Bhan and the Tlar, even though they seemed a little too human.
For another review see: http://sfmistressworks.wordpress.com/2014/03/11/the-children-of-anthi-jay-d-blakeney/.

Monday, July 28, 2014

A year in Provence

By Peter Mayle

Peter Mayle worked in advertising for a long time but quit to become a full time writer. He and his wife left England and moved to Provence, France. They bought an old farm house and proceeded to renovate it. This book is a fictionalized version of their first year in Provence.
In it they cope with the locals: the hunters, the repairmen, the wine makers, the farmers, the trufflers, and, best of all, the cooks. It's an orgy of classic French cooking, fresh meats, fresh vegs, fresh fruits, fresh breads and pastries, and bottle after bottle of local wines. Not a prepackaged food within sight.
All in all, Mayle makes Provence sound like heaven on earth. Except for the fact that it is full of tourists. And sometimes the weather is a little iffy.

I liked this book. I did think it was a tad condescending in its descriptions of the local people, but clearly affectionate in tone. Makes Provence sound very appealing, indeed. Probably somewhat glosses over the real Provence, as it mentions, just briefly, traffic jams and crime. However, I can see that it was likely a tremendous boost to tourism for the area, whether it needed it or wanted it. I think Mayle still lives there, though not in the same house as when the book was written. Apparently, his privacy was ruined after the book became such a huge success and the house became a tourist attraction.

May Contain Nuts

By John O'Farrell

Alice and David, like most parents, want the best for their three kids. So their youngsters lives are filled with activities designed to give them a leg up in life. Music lessons, language lessons, dance lessons, fencing lessons and on and on. Their oldest child, Molly, will soon be done with grade school and ready to move on to middle school (or whatever the equivalent is in England). But Molly, an otherwise bright eleven-year-old, is poor at math.
Her parents have their hearts set on a select local private school. This school has a rigorous entrance exam and Molly did not get a passing score in the math section of the practice test. Despite Alice and David's efforts to tutor her, Molly is not improving and is becoming sullen, nervous and anxious from all the pressure.
Alice, who is a small, thin woman, gets an idea. What if she dresses up as a child and takes Molly's entrance exam in her place? David thinks it is a super idea and helps his wife bone up for the exam. Only one problem, though. Molly inherited her poor math ability from her mother. And now Alice is enduring the same struggle Molly was, trying to prepare for the math section of the test.
Will Alice manage to get enough math under her belt to ace the math section of the test? Will she be able to fool the test proctors  and pass herself off as her own daughter? Or will she and David come to their senses and realize the terrible example they are setting for their children, that it is OK to cheat to get what you want? One can only hope.

This was a funny and enjoyable book, often laugh-out-loud funny. At one point, Alice loses a little weight and gets her gray hair dyed and buys some cute, preteen outfits and models them for her husband who reacts thus:
"You look fantastic. Except . . ."
"Except what?"
"Except I fancy you."
"I'm really sorry but I fancy you. And seeing as there is no way I could fancy you if you looked eleven, it simply can't be working."
The only real drawback to the story was that the latter part gets a little preachy. I did find that a little annoying as I don't much care for preaching. Or preachers.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Goblin Emperor

By Katherine Addison

Maia is the son of the emperor. But he is the youngest son, unwanted and exiled, with three older half-brothers. He never expected he would ever become emperor and neither did anyone else. He certainly was not raised to be emperor or prepared to be emperor. But the unthinkable happened. His father and his three brothers were all killed when their airship crashed. Suddenly young Maia is now the emperor and he doesn't have a clue as to how to behave or what to do. Friendless and alone, he has to cope with his weighty responsibilities and with all the double-dealing and intrigue that goes along with the imperial court. And the fact that Maia is half goblin doesn't endear him to his nobles who are all elves. Things go from bad to worse when it is revealed that the crash that killed the imperials was caused by an explosive device. And the killer or killers are aiming to take down the new emperor too.
Maia is a sweet kid forced to deal with a strange and often hostile new environment. His lack of self-confidence and his doubt of his own abilities are further strikes against him. Surrounded by plots and hateful relatives, Maia is mostly on his own. Drowning in luxury, waited on hand and foot, servants everywhere, Maia is the loneliest guy in the world. Alone, he has to figure out how to rule, who murdered his family and why. Plus try to stay alive.

This was a good story. Maia is unspoiled and untainted by the harsh treatment he received after his mother died and he was sent into exile with a man who hated and abused him. Foundering in a demanding and often cruel new environment, Maia still manages not to lose himself or give into his baser instincts. I really enjoyed this book, but I did find it hard to keep track of all the characters and their strange and difficult names and titles, despite the guide in the back of the book.
For another review, see: http://www.tor.com/blogs/2014/02/book-review-the-goblin-emperor-katherine-addison-sarah-monette.

The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains

By Neil Gaiman

The small man has some guilt he needs to deal with. His beautiful daughter disappeared and he leaped to the conclusion that she had run away. He didn't find out for a year that she was dead. He spent that year hating her. He is haunted by his failure and his misjudgment of his daughter, Flora.
Ten years have passed and now he is on a quest. He needs to find a certain cave on the Isle of Skye, a cave said to be filled with gold, there for the taking. He sets off on the journey and hires one Calum MacInnes as guide. Calum has been to the cave once.
As the journey progresses, the details of Flora's demise are gradually revealed. And the man's journey isn't just about the search for gold, it is also about the search for justice.

This isn't a long story, about 75 pages. But it is a very interesting and captivating tale. The truth is slowly revealed little by little and the tale changes from a search for gold to a search for revenge. An unforgettable folk tale.

More Than a Skeleton

By Paul L. Maier

Jesus has returned! Or has he? Is Joshua Ben Yosef really Jesus reborn or is he just a very smart con man? Joshua seems to have all the right stuff: born of a virgin who was married to Yosef, turning water into wine, healing the sick and blind, casting out demons, preaching sermons that are a new take on the gospel sermons. Charismatic, handsome, extremely intelligent, saintly, heralded by mysterious events, surely he is the Christ.
But Dr. Jonathan Weber just isn't buying it. And he digs deeper into the mystery of Joshua Ben Yosef, even at the risk of alienating his new bride, who is one of the many thousands of people who are convinced that Joshua is the real deal. But everything he discovers only reinforces Joshua's claim to be Jesus Christ incarnated.

At first I was put off by the Joshua character's aping of the acts of Christ.  Logically, why would it be necessary for Jesus to return only to repeat everything he did the first time? He already did all that. That just seemed really fake to me. Eventually, though, the story got a lot more interesting as Weber digs deep into Joshua's background. So, overall, it was a pretty good read, once I got over my annoyance with the Joshua character.

For another review see: http://www.bookreporter.com/reviews/more-than-a-skeleton.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Hank & Chloe

By Jo-Ann Mapson

Life had never been easy for Chloe Morgan. Raised in foster homes and subjected to abuse, her background included rape and an abortion. But she didn't let the tough times defeat her, helped through it all by her love of horses.
Chloe has a deep understanding of horses and the main focus of her life is working with horses. When she was younger, she feel deeply in love with a fellow horse trainer but he was a lot older than her and an alcoholic. They had many years together but he couldn't control his drinking and it eventually killed him. Chloe was devastated by his death and since then has avoided serious entanglements with men.
The story opens with Chloe attending a horse who having a hard time giving birth. Chloe's shirt gets dirty and she borrows a shirt from a man she has just met. Hank is a college professor and long time bachelor. But he is attracted to Chloe and manages to talk her into a first date.
Chloe's house gets raided by the police looking for drugs and Chloe is arrested. Hank comes to her rescue, bailing her out, getting her to the hospital to have her injuries attended to, taking her into his home, and finding a lawyer to fight the charges. Their relationship deepens but then differences in their backgrounds drive a wedge between them.

I enjoyed this book quite a bit. Chloe is stubborn and has a lot of "baggage" and Hank gets jealous and acts like a jerk. They are not the most likable of characters but they are very human and their story is wonderful.
For another review see: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/jo-ann-mapson/hank-chloe/.