May 31, 2011

May 2011

I read 14 books in May.  My page count for the month is 4918.  I'm still on track to meet my goals.

1. The Bright Forever by Lee Martin (9/10)
2. The Magicians' Guild by Trudi Canavan (8/10)
3. The Novice by Trudi Canavan (8/10)
4. The High Lord by Trudi Canavan (8.5/10)
5. Once Upon a Winter's Night by Dennis L. McKiernan (8/10)
6. Northshore by Sheri S. Tepper (4/10)
7. Southshore by Sheri S. Tepper (5/10)
8. Blood Harvest by James Axler (8/10)
9. Arcadian's Asylum by James Axler (3/10)
10. Shoeless Joe by W. P. Kinsella (8.5/10)
11. House of Echoes by Barbara Erskine (6.5/10)
12. Where the Evil Dwells by Clifford D. Simak  (9/10)
13. Baptism of Rage by James Axler (8/10)
14. Zero Time by Jack Anderson (9/10)

I read 5 Fantasy, 5 Science Fiction, 2 Fiction, 1 Horror and 1 Thriller.  I was unable to finish the following books:  Flesh and Gold by Phyllis Gotlieb and Codex by Lev Grossman.

I think I did better this month, as far as choosing good books to read.  I liked nearly everything I read.  There were a few disappointments, but none of them were huge losers.  I do notice my page count is a little less than last month though.  I'll have to be more aware of that this coming month.  

Choosing a favorite book for the month is going to be hard.  I really loved 4 or 5 of the books.  Even though it didn't get the highest rating, I'm going to choose one that was part of a Fantasy series that I didn't expect to love and yet I did.  I love being surprised.  Plus, really, I think this entire series probably deserved higher ratings than I gave it.

My To Be Read Pile sits at 582, which is 13 less than last month.  I did get a few books in from so that explains that.  Also, there was only one series I was not happy with so my number didn't lessen due to removal of a large group of books as it has in the past.

Favorite book for the month:   The High Lord by Trudi Canavan

Zero Time by Jack Anderson

Title:  Zero Time
Author:  Jack Anderson
Format:  PB
Pages:  507
Genre:  Thriller
Publisher:  Zebra, 1993
ISBN-13:  978-0821740873
Series:  Stand Alone

Favorite Quote:  During his days as a prisoner of the Iranian terrorists, Hassan Kamateh had seen in their single-minded obsessiveness all that he had feared and rejected in the recent history of his homeland -- the perversion of religious fervor into a violent elitism, the warping of a message of love and faith into vengeful killing.

Synopsis (Back Cover):  There is nothing unusual about farmland foreclosures in America's heartland...unless you knew the small rural bank doing the foreclosing had just been bought by an international investment company called IBZ -- and that it was reclaiming all the land surrounding a large U.S. nuclear storage site.  Luke Cameron's father knew -- and he suddenly turned up dead -- and Luke found himself catapulted into a nerve-shattering international scramble to stop an army of terrorists from striking the world's most powerful nations where they were most vulnerable -- from the inside.  Time was growing short for no time at all it would be...ZERO TIME

Review:  This was a classic espionage thriller, reminiscent of  Tom Clancy.  Written before 9/11, it may have seemed far-fetched at the time, but now it seemed all too realistic.  Major players of the times were in the novel -- George Bush (the first one, not the second one) plays a fairly large role as the President of the United States; Khomeini is still in power in Iran; and Gorbachev is mentioned.  The KGB is in full swing and glasnost still dicey at best.  The FBI, CIA, DOE and all the rest of the alphabet soup people are at their best (and worst).

The idea of a nuclear weapon on American soil isn't a new one.  Clancy did it.  I'm sure others have as well.  But this novel had some really original characters and plot twists.  I loved Al Trautman, the special investigator for the Energy Department who is a retired intelligence agent.  He is completely believable and his no-nonsense approach makes for a good bit of fun.  The main character, Luke, is a fine example of the average American man, but he isn't half as interesting as Al.

Stories like these seem to hit me harder now than they did back in the 90's.  I can't be sure if it's due to my own aging or due to 9/11 or both.  It really doesn't matter.  I was completely caught up in the story and couldn't put it down.  Using real life people to populate the story only made it seem more real.  The 500+ pages whizzed by.  All around, a great story.

Rating:  9 / 10

May 28, 2011

Baptism of Rage by James Axler

Title:  Baptism of Rage
Author:  James Axler
Format:  PB
Pages:  313
Genre:  Science Fiction / Action & Adventure
Publisher:  Gold Eagle, 2010
ISBN-13:  978-0373626038
Series:  Deathlands, Book 94

Favorite Quote:  Despite herself, Mildred felt her lips rise into a smile.  "You sound like a fortune cookie," she said.
Doc shook his head.  "If I knew what that was," he said, "I'm sure I'd be insulted."

Synopsis (Amazon):  The end of the world arrived in a nuclear rush, forging the agonized remains of past and present into a new reality known as Deathlands. Now life is a simple series of rules of survival, where having is better than not having--and anything is worth killing for. But in a world that has seemingly turned against mankind, the possibility of miracles can exist....

Of all the resources Ryan Cawdor and his group struggle to recoup, hope for escaping the grim daily life-and-death struggle has suffered most. But now reports of a ville holding the mythical waters of rejuvenation, a fountain of youth, appear to be true, luring Doc and the others on a journey inspired by promise, tainted by mistrust. Hiring on as sec men with a convoy headed to the healing waters of Babyville, the survivors discover the deadly price of immortality.

In the Deathlands the future looks like hell--and delivers far worse...

Review:  I've once again returned to the world of Deathlands.  This book was good, much better than the last one I read.  The legend of the Fountain of Youth, James Axler style.  As is usual, this was a quick, fun read with just the right amount of action to keep me entertained.

There is something about the simplicity of the companions' lifestyle that appeals to me.  Survival is all they require.  Anything else is icing on the cake.

Doc and Jak continue to be the best characters, but I think Mildred might be right up there with them.  She's so caustic and sarcastic that I always get a good chuckle out of her attitude.

Rating:  8 / 10

May 26, 2011

Where the Evil Dwells by Clifford D. Simak

Title:  Where the Evil Dwells
Author:  Clifford D. Simak
Format:  PB
Pages:  249
Genre:  Fantasy
Publisher:  Del Rey, 1983
ISBN-13:  978-0345297518
Series:  Stand Alone

Favorite Quote:  "One thing only," said the Knurly Man.  "You must promise that you will not allow that sanctimonious churchman to do any mumbling over me.  Restrain him by force if that is necessary."

Synopsis (Back Cover):  Secretly and in stealth, four puny humans set out to invade the heartland of Evil -- the so-called Empty Lands, filled with every evil creature from the darkest of mankind's myths.

Harcourt went reluctantly to rescue his long-lost and almost forgotten fiancĂ©e.  The Knurly Man, who was somewhat other than quite human, went to find the death that would be kinder than the future he foresaw.  The abbot sought to recapture a fabulous prism in which the soul of a saint had been trapped.  And the girl Yolanda was seeking the answer to a mystery and a question she did not know.

But already their coming and their purpose was known.  The denizens of the Empty Lands were girding for war.  And behind all the Evil lay the most ancient of the dark Powers, waiting patiently for the humans whose souls should set it free.

Review:  This was a fun and original tale, full of great characters, plenty of action, and quite a few laughs.  An unlikelier set of companions I've never seen:  Harcourt, the lord of the manor, Yolanda, the adopted daughter of the miller, Guy, the grumbling Abbot, and the Knurly Man who is not really a human at all.  Some other fun characters are met along the way, my favorite by far being the troll who is looking for a bridge to make his home.  He is supposed to be one of the Evil, but turns out just to be funny and a little pathetic.

I like how the story is set against what seems like an alternate past of our world.  The Romans are there, but then so are trolls, orcs and goblins.  It makes for a good story, especially since the author pokes fun at everything from the church to the Romans to people in general.

The story moved at a brisk pace with just enough description of the events to keep me interested, without being overdone or too wordy.  I really enjoyed this novel and will be looking for more by this author in the future.

Rating:  9 / 10

May 25, 2011

House of Echoes by Barbara Erskine

Title:  House of Echoes
Author:  Barbara Erskine
Format:  PB
Pages:  475
Genre:  Horror
Publisher:  Signet, 1997
ISBN-13:  978-0451181954
Series:  Stand Alone

Favorite Quote:  Forgive me, Jocelyn, but I can no longer fight your father's wishes.  I have no strength left.  I am leaving Belheddon, with all its blessings and its curses, but he will only let me escape if I give in.  He wants Belheddon to be yours and I have to obey.  If you read this letter then he will have got his way.

Synopsis (Amazon):  A woman and her family move into the English manor she inherits from a mother she had never known--the same place where her young brothers died--and are harassed by occult happenings, the effects of a centuries-old curse.

Review:  This was a fairly good tale.  It is about a cursed house, which has been done many times and quite a few of them were done better than this effort.  Even though this novel was written pretty recently, it still seemed dated.  It is set in the then-current times, but it seemed the characters might be more comfortable in an earlier age.  I do get tired of the women always being the ones to witness the ghosts, demons and what-have-you, while the men stand back and flex their muscles and disbelieve the whole thing.

Some of the local words were unfamiliar to me but an online dictionary helped with the translations.  I started using the dictionary after I finally realized that the biscuits that were constantly being baked and eaten are called cookies over here.  The setting was beautifully written and the characters believable, if a little old fashioned.  It was an entertaining story and the historical references were intriguing.  I enjoyed reading it.

Rating:  6.5 / 10

May 23, 2011

Codex by Lev Grossman

I've decided when I can't finish a book, I'll simply do the review and rating.  The page count, publisher, and etc hardly matter when I didn't like the book.  The premise of this book is promising: a book (the codex) coupled with a computer game, twined into a thriller.  Unfortunately, for that premise to hold up, the thriller should be thrilling.  Instead, I was simply bored.  To make matters worse, the characters were unbelievable and not even likable.  I only got through 38 pages when I realized I was wasting my time.

Rating:  0 / 10

Flesh and Gold by Phyllis Gotlieb

Title:  Flesh and Gold
Author:  Phyllis Gotlieb
Format:  HC
Pages:  80 of 286
Genre:  Science Fiction
Publisher:  Tor, 1998
ISBN-13:  978-0312865238
Series:  Flesh and Gold, Book 1

Favorite Quote:  N/A

Synopsis (Amazon):  A story of science, slavery, murder, and justice set in the distant future is put into motion when a telepathic woman judge sees an amphibious human enslaved and displayed in a tank as an advertisement for a pleasure house.

Review:  I just couldn't get into this book at all.  Even the action seemed dull.  And while I realize that a good portion of the pages I read are set in a 'pleasure house', I'm just not one for strangely detailed sex scenes between species that don't exist and are not even humanoid.  I'm giving up on this series as a whole and I think I'll take a pass on this author's other works as well.

Rating:  0 / 10

Shoeless Joe by W. P. Kinsella

Title:  Shoeless Joe
Author:  W. P. Kinsella
Format:  PB
Pages:  224
Genre:  Fiction
Publisher:  Ballantine, 1983
ISBN-13:  978-0345309211
Series:  Stand Alone

Favorite Quotes:  "If I'd only got to be a doctor for five minutes, now that would have been a tragedy."

"They'll turn up your driveway, not knowing for sure why they're doing it, and arrive at your door, innocent as children, longing for the gentility of the past, for home-canned preserves, ice cream made in a wooden freezer, gingham dresses, and black-and-silver stoves with high warming ovens and cast iron reservoirs."

Synopsis (Back Cover):  The voice of a baseball announcer tells the Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella: "If you build it, he will come." "He" is Shoeless Joe Jackson, Ray's hero. "It" is a baseball stadium which Ray carves out of his cornfield.  SHOELESS JOE is about baseball. But it's also about love and the power of dreams to make people come alive.  Will you be among the Iowa dreamers who can see a cornfield stadium filled with baseball's greatest heroes?

Review:  Oh, this is a tough book to review.  It is a great story.  The characters are so well written and the story so well told that I believed every word.  I wonder, if I drove to Iowa tonight, could I see the game being played by Shoeless Joe Jackson and the rest of eight 'Black Sox'?  A few other players join in, including a player named Moonlight Graham, who only ever played one inning before becoming a doctor, and Johnny Kinsella, Ray's long-dead father, who returns as a much younger man.

The problem with reviewing this book is one of my all-time favorite movies, Field of Dreams, is based upon this story.  The movie is on my top five movie list.  And, enough of the story was changed in the making of the movie, that I found myself thinking, 'but, that's not what happened!'.  It's almost unheard of for a movie to outdo a book, but I'm afraid in this instance it's true.

The changes?  There are mostly small ones and I won't mention them.  The main one, however, surrounds one of the main characters.  The author who Ray drives across the country to find is J.D. Salinger, the reclusive author of Catcher in the Rye, rather than the movie's pseudo-political writer from the 60's named Mann, played so effortlessly by James Earl Jones.  Since I honestly dislike Salinger, it wasn't a change I found appealing.

But, I will put aside my love of the movie.  The bottom line is this:  I knew what was going to happen.  How could I not?  I've seen the movie a dozen times.  It didn't matter.  I still read it with relish.  It made me want to believe, it touched me and made me think.  I got teary-eyed when Moonlight Graham stepped off the field to become the much older Doc Graham to save Ray's daughter from choking.  And, when a book makes you feel, really feel, isn't that the definition of good fiction?  I'd highly recommend this story to anyone.

Rating:  8.5 / 10

May 21, 2011

Arcadian's Asylum by James Axler

Title:  Arcadian's Asylum
Author:  James Axler
Format:  PB
Pages:  315
Genre:  Science Fiction / Action & Adventure
Publisher:  Gold Eagle, 2010
ISBN-13:  978-0373626021
Series:  Deathlands, Book 93

Favorite Quote:  They stood alone.  As always, just the six of them.  And Tod had been right: this wasn't their fight.  No one came out of this with any glory to robe themselves.

Synopsis (Amazon):  A lust for power and a strong sec-force are the basic requirements of any Deathlands baron. But brilliant, charismatic Baron Eugene Arcadian has bigger visions than simply a monopoly on jack and trade. He wants the future. Turning his ville into the nascent heartbeat of the new civilization would require the help of Ryan Cawdor and his warrior group. But for these unwilling participants, the endgame of their enigmatic host remains hidden in the secret maze of laboratories beneath Arcady, where a new terror is about to be reborn....

Review:  James Axler is a pen-name used by many authors over the course of this series.  Some of them are better than others.  This one was not up to the usual standards for the series.  It was okay and had plenty of action.  But it wasn't great and wasn't even close to being as good as the last one I read.  Plus, while I don't expect these books to have a 'G' rating, the language in this one was a little over the top in some places.

I still like the characters and the scenic wastes of the Deathlands.  I just wasn't excited by this particular author's style.  I've got a few more of these books to read but for now, it's time to move on to something else.  I'll come back to the next one later.

Rating:  3 / 10

May 19, 2011

Blood Harvest by James Axler

Title:  Blood Harvest
Author:  James Axler
Format:  PB
Pages:  315
Genre:  Science Fiction / Action & Adventure
Publisher:  Gold Eagle, 2010
ISBN-13:  978-0373626014
Series:  Deathlands, Book 92

Favorite Quote:  "And smote the Philistine in his forehead," Doc continued.  "And he fell upon his face to the earth."  Sylvano stumbled two more steps forward and collapsed.  The reflected red light of the sunset left Sylvano's great sword like a snuffed candle as it fell to the sand.  "Samuel, Book 1, Chapter 17, Verses 48 and 49," Doc concluded.

Synopsis (Amazon):  Washed ashore in the North Atlantic, Ryan Cawdor and Doc Tanner discover two islands still pristinely intact after Skydark, but whose inhabitants suffer a darker, more horrifying punishment. A hideous strain of mutation manifests, turning some into half-monstrous giants with an unquenchable thirst for blood. The Nightwalkers unleash a hellish feast of horror when the sun goes down. Now Ryan and Doc struggle to survive this enclave of unimaginable terror, trapped in a baronial conflict between the rulers of night and day, with only one way out--internecine war in a world of the damned....

Review:  I'll freely admit it.  The Deathlands series is my secret weakness.  I love them.  They are full of guns, killing, sex, violence, mutants and horrors.  They are not by any stretch of the imagination great literature.  I still love them.  Every so often, I need a break from reading books that are supposedly great and meaningful and this series never lets me down.

I love the characters:  Doc Tanner, Jak, Ryan, J.B., Mildred and Krysty.  My favorite is either Doc or Jak, depending upon when you ask me.  I love the post-apocalyptic world of the Deathlands.

The best thing about this series is that I can read one or two of these books and stop, then read a few more months later and still not be lost since each is a story unto itself (with a couple of exceptions), although they do have a chronological order which I have followed.

Over the course of several years, I have read 92 of these books and, really, I'm not tired of them yet.  This story, like all the rest in this series, is unapologetically violent, with Ryan and his gang being forced to fight for their lives against evil.  They always survive and this time they won.  The story is original even if it does follow a very similar formula to the other novels.  For the serial pulp fiction that it is, this was a great story and a fast, fun read.

Rating:  8 / 10

May 17, 2011

Southshore by Sheri S. Tepper

Title:  Southshore
Author:  Sherri S. Tepper
Format:  PB
Pages:  246
Genre:  Fantasy
Publisher:  Tor, 1988
ISBN-13:  978-0812556193
Series:  Awakeners, Book 2

Favorite Quote:  "So, you have a world inside you, child of my heart, which I can see a little.  And the one you love, this Thrasne, he has a world as well, and it is utterly strange to me, to all the Noor.  You ask me to love him for your sake.  And I have not even a little map drawn with a burned stick to find my way to that."

Synopsis (Amazon):  Pamra Don has learned much on the River and has become the visionary leader of a great pilgrimage, carrying the discontent of Northshore to lay at the feet of the Protector of Man. But the native Thraish have at last taken note of Pamra Don and her crusade--and their vengeance will be swift.

Review:  This novel was better than the first one from this series.  There are still many things about the world of the River that I do not understand, but the overwhelming number of oddities seem more easily comprehended in this story.

There were many things that were not explained thoroughly.  I wonder what happened to the child Lila, whether she is to be the link between the alien race that lives in the river and mankind.  I wonder what will happen to the humans that have been returned to life with the blight by the Strangeys.  I wish there had been an epilogue telling me whether the Noor created a better life on Southshore or if that dream turns to a nightmare, like so many of the other people's dreams did.

The religion of Northshore fell in a few long days.  But it looks as if it will be replaced by another, far worse one.  I get the feeling that this author has no use for organized religion, painting even the best-intentioned beliefs as doomed to failure.  The secondary point being made is that mankind fights, against itself and against any other creature which defies it, often to total destruction.  Only the Noor and their queen seem to be above these petty beliefs and warlike tendencies.

These books were both odd, in many ways.  While SF is expected to be full of imagination and strangeness, it seemed at times almost like a parody.  At other times, it seemed that the author just wrote the most confusing, detailed books imaginable as a platform for her personal views.  While I did like this book better than its companion, I still can't say I loved it.

Rating:  5 / 10

May 15, 2011

Northshore by Sheri S. Tepper

Title:  Northshore
Author:  Sherri S. Tepper
Format:  PB
Pages:  245
Genre:  Fantasy
Publisher:  Tor, 1988
ISBN-13:  978-0812556179
Series:  Awakeners, Book 1

Favorite Quote:  And Northshore's River edge, where lean forms of stalking Laughers, tight-helmed in black, announce their approach with cries of scornful laughter, ha-ha, ha-ha, making the heretics run for cover.

Synopsis (Amazon):  Come to the world of the River.

Come to a world distant in time and space, a world where the pace of life is counted by tides of the great River, but where, as in the river itself, there are swift dark currents flowing under a placid surface.

Meet Pamra Don--a young woman scarred by her mother's death, lured to a priest-hood where the truth must be hidden from the faithful. And meet Thrasne, a young boatman who trades from town to town, free from the iron control of the towers of the Awakeners, and the priests of the world of the River--free, that is, as long as he never speaks his mind. These two, by design and accident both, are about to discover many truths. And on the Northshore of the River, the truth can kill you.

Review:  I love good descriptions and strange locales.  This is another planet, with wild, strange creatures and dangerous lifeforms.  I should love this book.  But, instead, I am left dazed and confused.

At its core, this novel is about the religion of the planet and how it is based upon lies.  After death, the people are brought back to life using Tears, a fungus, to feed the Thraish who were the original inhabitants of this planet.  This was begun as a way to ensure the survival of both the human and Thraish species.  In exchange for harvesting their own kind, the leaders of the so-called religion are given Thraish blood to extend their lives and make them very nearly immortal.  All of this evil is obscured using deception, ceremonies, and festivals.  There are even darker, more awful secrets, known only to the topmost leaders of both species.  If it sounds dark and terrible, that's because it really is.     

I sense a bit of male-bashing going on, along with various axes to grind against political and religious leaders and religion in particular.  It isn't offensively obvious, but there nonetheless.

The characters are believable.  A group of people discovering that their entire belief system is a sham, not to mention cruel in the extreme, seems like a sound story-line.  And, it is, especially since some of the human religious leaders seem to be involved in trying to bring down the religion they serve.  However, it should not take me 2 days to read 250 pages, but each sentence must be read and re-read and often I found myself returning to earlier sections to try to make sense of what was happening.  The problem is that there is too much going on; too many castes, classes, species, cities, and etc, to the point where the story is almost lost.

Since I'm curious to know whether good will prevail, I am going to make an effort to read the final book in this duology.  Maybe now that I've gotten through the initial information-overload, the second book will be better.

Rating:  4 / 10

May 13, 2011

Once Upon a Winter's Night by Dennis L. McKiernan

Title:  Once Upon a Winter's Night
Author:  Dennis L. McKiernan
Format:  PB
Pages:  412
Genre:  Fantasy
Publisher:  Roc, 2002
ISBN-13:  978-0451458544
Series:  Faery Series, Book 1

Favorite Quote:  "I was just wondering whose silver tongue or golden pen is telling the tale we find ourselves in."

Synopsis (Back Cover):  Once upon a winter's night, a poor crofter trades his daughter Camille to wed Prince Alain of the Summerwood in exchange for a lifetime of riches.  Though love blossoms between Camille and the prince, he is haunted by sadness and will not allow her to see his unmasked face.  Believing she can lift whatever curse has been bestowed upon him, Camille acts on her own -- with devastating results, as all she loves is swept away.

Now, to regain what she has lost, she must embark on a desperate quest through the hinterlands of Faery, seeking a mysterious place lying somewhere east of the sun and west of the moon...

Review:  This story is based upon the old fairy tale, 'East of the Sun, West of the Moon'.  I have never read the original tale, but it is a very short story.  This version has been lengthened considerably, with great details, richness and adventure.  The characters are so well written as to be almost alive.  The vistas seem so real.  The way this story is told reminds me again why I do adore this author.

This novel has high adventure, plenty of wondrous fey creatures, and humor.  But, at the core, this is a love story.  And, what a fabulous love story it is.  Even though I usually steer clear of romances of any kind, this one is so well done that I could not help but be drawn in.

There are four more books in this series, each one generally following a different fairy tale.  While I believe the characters remain the same and that the basic storyline will continue, I do not feel the dire need to complete them back to back.  There was no cliffhanger here, with the exception of a future battle against evil foretold by the Fates, which Camille, Alain and his family will eventually have to face.

While I enjoyed this story thoroughly, I know my limits on reading anything in the romance genre.  For now, I will move on to something a little less 'romance-y'.  I will certainly read the rest of this series, of that I have no doubt.

Rating:  8 / 10

May 10, 2011

The High Lord by Trudi Canavan

Title:  The High Lord
Author:  Trudi Canavan
Format:  PB
Pages:  525
Genre:  Fantasy
Publisher:  Harper Voyager, 2004
ISBN-13:  978-0060575304
Series:  Black Magician Trilogy, Book 3

Favorite Quote:  "Then let it be known throughout the Allied Lands that Akkarin of family Delvon, House of Velan, formerly High Lord of the Magicians' Guild, and Sonea, formerly the High Lord's novice, have been exiled for the crimes of learning, practicing and killing with black magic."

Synopsis (Amazon):  "You want to know the truth."

Sonea has learned much since she was but a penniless urchin possessing an awesome untapped ability. She has earned the grudging respect of her fellow novices and a place in the Magicians' Guild. But there is much she wishes she had never learned—what she witnessed, for example, in the underground chamber of the mysterious High Lord Akkarin . . . and the knowledge that the Guild is being observed closely by an ancient fearsome enemy.

Still, she dares not ignore the terrifying truths the High Lord would share with her, even though she fears it may be base trickery, a scheme to use her astonishing powers to accomplish his dark aims. For Sonea knows her future is in his hands—and that only in the shadows will she achieve true greatness . . . if she survives.

Review:  As I suspected, this was a thrilling end to what is a very good trilogy.  Since I don't want to spoil the story for anyone, I hesitate to write too much about the plot, but I will say it was exciting and sad and full of great characters.  Unfortunately, a few of my favorites did fall to the fight against the Ichani.

I still love Sonea, although towards the very end of the trilogy she has changed a bit and lost some of her independent nature.  Since many terrible things happened to her and were done by her, it is understandable that she would change.  And, she is still strong.  Perhaps not as sure of herself as she once was, but still a strong young woman.

I was correct in my earlier guess that Black Magic is not intrinsically evil.  It all depends upon who is wielding it and their intentions.

While all three of the novels of this trilogy were very good, I think this one was the best of them.  I love how the story ended on a bittersweet and hopeful note.  It was just the right ending.

Rating:  8.5 / 10

May 7, 2011

Reminder to Self

Next year, I will join more of the blog challenges.  I've enjoyed reading the reviews and added a number of books to my list of books to get when I have fewer on hand.  I'll be both more and less choosy about the challenges.

I'd forgotten how much I actually do read and could have done with another couple of challenges to spread the wealth.  But, hopefully I won't join any that are left unattended like one of the ones I've joined this year.  It's been quite a disappointment.

I'll be trying to find more blogs to follow in the coming months, so I can see which challenges others are joining.  That seems the best way:  choose ones that others who have similar interests and who I've come to 'know' choose.

The Novice by Trudi Canavan

Title:  The Novice
Author:  Trudi Canavan
Format:  PB
Pages:  460
Genre:  Fantasy
Publisher:  Harper Voyager, 2004
ISBN-13:  978-0060575298
Series:  Black Magician Trilogy, Book 2

Favorite Quote:  "Because the object of this was not for Sonea to win," Yikmo said quietly.  "But for Regin to lose."

Synopsis (Amazon):  "Even if a magician's powers surface of their own accord, he will soon be dead if he does not gain the knowledge of how to control them."

Alone among all the novices in the Magicians' Guild, only Sonea comes from lowly beginnings. Yet she has won powerful allies—including Lord Dannyl, newly promoted to Guild Ambassador. But Dannyl must now depart for the Elyne court, leaving Sonea at the mercy of the lies and malicious rumors her enemies are busy spreading . . . until the High Lord Akkarin steps in. The price of Akkarin's support is dear, however, because Sonea, in turn, must protect his mysteries—and a secret that could lead a young novice mage deep into the darkness.

Meanwhile, Dannyl's first order to resume High Lord Akkarin's long-abandoned research into ancient magical knowledge is setting him on an extraordinary journey fraught with unanticipated peril—as he moves ever-closer to a future both wondrous . . . and terrible.

Review:  As with the previous novel in this series, I loved this story.  There is action a-plenty and a few close calls for some of the main characters, all told in a believable fashion.  The world of Kyralia is further described, in great and glorious detail.  And, while I'm speaking of that, the three maps at the beginning of these books are amongst some of the clearest, best drawn maps I've seen in novels of this type.

The novice, Sonea, continues to be a entertaining and strong female protagonist.  Most of her contemporaries and teachers look down on her because she comes from a low-class upbringing.  This makes her strength of character all the sweeter.  While she has found a possible love interest in Dorrien, her ex-mentor Rothen's son, it has not addled her mind or made her incapable of taking care of herself.  In my experience, this is unusual in Fantasy fiction and I am so thrilled to find an exception to that rule.    

The High Lord of the Magician's Guild, Akkarin, is revealed as a Black Magician, but I am left wondering if he is evil in truth or if Black Magic is, like many things, only evil if the intentions are.  The true antagonist of this novel is Regin, a novice in Sorea's class.  He is spiteful, cruel and vicious.  I despised him and was cheering to myself when Sorea finally got justice.  

I am left curious and anticipate a grand finale in the next book.

Rating:  8 / 10

May 4, 2011

The Magicians' Guild by Trudi Canavan

Title:  The Magicians' Guild
Author:  Trudi Canavan
Format:  PB
Pages:  364
Genre:  Fantasy
Publisher:  Harper Voyager, 2004
ISBN-13:  978-0060575281
Series:  Black Magician Trilogy, Book 1

Favorite Quote:  Rothen laughed, "I like your friend.  I don't approve of him, but I like him."

Synopsis (Amazon):  "We should expect this young woman to be more powerful than our average novice, possibly even more powerful than the average magician."

This year, like every other, the magicians of Imardin gather to purge the city of undesirables. Cloaked in the protection of their sorcery, they move with no fear of the vagrants and miscreants who despise them and their work—until one enraged girl, barely more than a child, hurls a stone at the hated invaders . . . and effortlessly penetrates their magical shield.

What the Magicians' Guild has long dreaded has finally come to pass. There is someone outside their ranks who possesses a raw power beyond imagining, an untrained mage who must be found and schooled before she destroys herself and her city with a force she cannot yet control.

Review:  This was a gem of a book.  I really wasn't expecting much, having never heard of or read this author before, but this is a good story.  All the characters are completely believable.  There are no unlikely terrors or immortal evils surfacing.  It's just a good story about a girl, Sonea.  She is a poor girl from the slums, who suddenly finds that she has magical powers.  She must learn to trust the magicians, particularly her mentor, Rothen, in order to begin to learn to control her powers.

Sorea's best friend, Cery, a thief in the making, is both amusing and endearing.  Sorea herself is suspicious and cautious, worldly and innocent, and she trusts very few people and relies upon herself.  She is all together a fairly strong female lead character.  It is so rare to find a female character of any strength in fantasy fiction that I'm always thrilled to actually find one.  There are several strong female characters in secondary roles as well.  It's quite refreshing.

The book concluded the current problems, but made it clear there were more to come.  The selfish and cruel Fergun is found out and his machinations are put to a stop.  However, there is a foreshadowing of the Black Magician who Sorea and her friends will have to combat.

I'm pleased to have found this author.  If the rest of the trilogy is this pleasant to read, I'll surely be seeking out novels by Ms. Canavan in the future.

Rating:  8 / 10

May 2, 2011

The Bright Forever by Lee Martin

Title:  The Bright Forever
Author:  Lee Martin
Format:  HC
Pages:  268
Genre:  Fiction
Publisher:  Shaye Areheart Books, 2005
ISBN-13:  978-1400097913
Series:  Stand Alone

Favorite Quote:    Maybe you've made up your mind about who's good and who's evil, and if you have -- if you're one of those -- God help you.  Ask anyone who was living in the middle of it all and they'll tell you:  it didn't have anything to do with good and evil; it was all about love.

Synopsis (Amazon):  On an evening like any other, nine-year-old Katie Mackey, daughter of the most affluent family in a small town on the plains of Indiana, sets out on her bicycle to return some library books.

This simple act is at the heart of The Bright Forever, a suspenseful, deeply affecting novel about the choices people make that change their lives forever. Keeping fact, speculation, and contradiction playing off one another as the details unfold, author Lee Martin creates a fast-paced story that is as gripping as it is richly human. His beautiful, clear-eyed prose builds to an extremely nuanced portrayal of the complicated give and take among people struggling to maintain their humanity in the shadow of a loss.

Review:  I started out the month of May with heartbreak.  This novel is sad and terrible, full of guilt, remorse and innocence lost.  I was hoping to find another novel as good as The Lovely Bones, which is one of my all-time favorite novels, when I picked this book out.  It's not quite that good.  It is, however, a story that I won't forget soon.

The story is told in turns, each of the main characters getting to tell a part of the whole story.  Each person brings their own perspective and feelings to the story they tell.  Only one man knows the entire story, though, and he only tells the last of it at the very end of the book.  I wanted to cry for poor nine-year old Katie, but I felt most sorry for her older brother, Gilley.  He is just a young man, still in high school, and he lost the remainder of his childhood and blamed himself endlessly for doing the one thing that started the whole horrible tragedy.  Of course, he couldn't have known that tattling on his sister would have such dire repercussions, but that didn't alleviate his guilt.

All the characters are human and flawed, with sparks of beauty and gentleness, just like most people.  The characters were well-written and the story well-told.  It was sometimes hard to keep up with whose point of view I was reading, but that's only because I tore through the chapters so quickly that sometimes I lost track.

This was a great way to enter a new month.  I really enjoyed this book.

Rating:  9 / 10
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