June 30, 2011

June 2011

June has been a tough month for me.  My personal life seems to be spiraling out of control and I haven't had as much time to put into reading.  I only read 11 books this month and 3911 pages.  This is the lowest number yet this year.  Maybe July will be better.

1. The Quiet by Patrick Billings (4/10)
2. Wait Until Midnight by Amanda Quick (8.5/10)
3. Beautiful Lies by Lisa Unger (9.5/10)
4. Doom Helix by James Axler (8/10)
5. Labyrinth by Kate Mosse (8.5/10)
6. The Voice of the Night by Dean Koontz (4.5/10)
7. Phytosphere by Scott Mackay (10/10)
8. Dragonlord of Mystara by Thorarinn Gunnarsson  (6/10)
9. Dragonking of Mystara by Thorarinn Gunnarsson  (3/10)
10. The Good Women of China: Hidden Voices by Xinran (6/10)
11. The King of Torts by John Grisham (8.5/10)

I read 3 Thrillers, 2 Historical Fiction, 2 Science Fiction, 1 Horror, 2 Fantasy, and 1 Non-Fiction.  That's a pretty good split of genres and pretty unusual for me.  There weren't any books I couldn't finish, although I chose not to even start the third of the books by Thorarinn Gunnarsson.  The series just wasn't that great.

My To Be Read Pile sits at 518 today, although I do have a few books to add tomorrow.  That's 64 less than last month, mostly due to my need to really weed out some books and simplify my life.  I'm right on track to finish my goals this year, even though this month was not a great one for me.  

My favorite book this month is easy. The book I'm choosing was wonderful.  I love picking up a book by an author I know nothing about and just being completely blown away.

Favorite book of the month:  Phytosphere by Scott Mackay

June 29, 2011

The King of Torts by John Grisham

Title:  The King of Torts
Author:  John Grisham
Format:  HC
Pages:  375
Genre:  Legal Thriller
Publisher:  Doubleday, 2003
ISBN-13:  978-0385508049
Series:  Stand Alone

Favorite Quote:  "Nobody earns ten million dollars in six months, Clay.  You might win it, steal it, or have it drop out of the sky, but nobody earns money like that.  It's ridiculous and obscene.  I'm giving some back.  So is Paulette.  Not sure about Johan, but he'll come around."

Synopsis (Amazon):  The office of the public defender is not known as a training ground for bright young litigators. Clay Carter has been there too long and, like most of his colleagues, dreams of a better job in a real firm. When he reluctantly takes the case of a young man charged with a random street killing, he assumes it is just another of the many senseless murders that hit D.C. every week.

As he digs into the background of his client, Clay stumbles on a conspiracy too horrible to believe. He suddenly finds himself in the middle of a complex case against one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, looking at the kind of enormous settlement that would totally change his life—that would make him, almost overnight, the legal profession’s newest king of torts...

Review:  It's John Grisham.  Of course it's a great story.  Fast paced and exciting with plenty of courtroom drama, Mr. Grisham has never failed to deliver in any of the books I've read by him, and this is no exception.

I enjoyed the inside look into class action suits and the lawyers who file them.  It's amazing how little I know about these things, but Mr. Grisham makes it understandable.  It's hard to say whether the King of Torts was actually trying to do good or just trying to make money, but either way the story was almost impossible to put down.

The characters are believable.  Sometimes these stories can be very black and white, with the bad guys being obvious and the good guys at least mostly good.  This book has more shades of grey, which made for an interesting read.  I really enjoyed it.

Rating:  8.5 / 10

June 25, 2011

The Good Women of China: Hidden Voices by Xinran

Title:  The Good Women of China: Hidden Voices
Author:  Xinran
Format:  PB
Pages:  241
Genre:  Non-fiction
Publisher:  Anchor, 2003
ISBN-13:  978-1400030804
Series:  Stand Alone

Favorite Quote:  When you walk into your memories, you are opening a door to the past; the road within has many branches, and the route is different every time.

Synopsis (Amazon):  When Deng Xiaoping’s efforts to “open up” China took root in the late 1980s, Xinran recognized an invaluable opportunity. As an employee for the state radio system, she had long wanted to help improve the lives of Chinese women. But when she was given clearance to host a radio call-in show, she barely anticipated the enthusiasm it would quickly generate. Operating within the constraints imposed by government censors, “Words on the Night Breeze” sparked a tremendous outpouring, and the hours of tape on her answering machines were soon filled every night. Whether angry or muted, posing questions or simply relating experiences, these anonymous women bore witness to decades of civil strife, and of halting attempts at self-understanding in a painfully restrictive society. In this collection, by turns heartrending and inspiring, Xinran brings us the stories that affected her most, and offers a graphically detailed, altogether unprecedented work of oral history.

Review:  Asia has always intrigued me.  It seems like such a strange and beautiful part of the world.  The lives of the women in this book are strange, but not very beautiful.  The thought that people still live in such poverty and with such lack of choices seems almost impossible.  I wonder if these stories could even be true.  They seem so awful and sad.  They also inspired and touched me.

As an American woman I found it hard to understand how anyone would allow themselves to be treated the way most of these women do.  Still, it broke my heart and made me thankful for the life I do have.

This is really a quick read.  I didn't have a lot of reading time this week, so it took longer than it should have.  The author's writing style is intimate and concise.  I enjoyed it.

Rating:  6 / 10

June 19, 2011

Dragonking of Mystara by Thorarinn Gunnarsson

Title:  Dragonking of Mystara
Author:  Thorarinn Gunnarsson
Format:  PB
Pages:  395
Genre:  Fantasy
Publisher:  Wizards of the Coast, 1995
ISBN-13:  978-0786901531
Series:  The Dragonlord Chronicles, Book 2

Favorite Quote:  "If that alone will satisfy you, so be it."

Synopsis (Back Cover):  An uneasy peace has descended over the Highlands as the new Dragonlord must deal with contentious factions and ambitious rivals who threaten to undermine Thelvyn's pact with the rogue dragons.

The dragons cannot forget their ancient fear and hatred of the Dragonlord, nor can they forget the mysterious prophecy that ties Thelvyn to the destiny of their race.

Soon the world is brought to the very brink of war, and this time the dragons are determined to defeat their enemies once and for all.

Review:  This book was slow moving and disappointing.  I've noticed that this author uses dialogue far too often to advance the plot.  Instead of relying on action to move the story forward, everyone sits down and talks, detailing secrets that were unknown prior to the exchange and making sudden suggestions for future plans that were never mentioned before.  While the story was still fair and the dragons are still lovely to behold, the telling of the story just didn't hold my interest like it could have.

To make matters worse, this book was not very well edited.  Entire words were left out, forcing the reader to guess as to the missing verb or adjective.  Since the language used is already a little odd, this created a rather frustrating reading experience.

While I hate to leave a trilogy with only one more book to finish, I think I'm done here.  These books just are not quite good enough to justify reading almost 400 more pages of almost constant dialogue, when what I'm really longing for is some action.

Rating:  3 / 10

June 17, 2011

Dragonlord of Mystara by Thorarinn Gunnarsson

Title:  Dragonlord of Mystara
Author:  Thorarinn Gunnarsson
Format:  PB
Pages:  395
Genre:  Fantasy
Publisher:  Wizards of the Coast, 1994
ISBN-13:  978-1560769064
Series:  The Dragonlord Chronicles, Book 1

Favorite Quote:  "You?" Solveig said incredulously.  "You haven't the patience of a yak in heat.  You don't even fight in a normal manner, now that you've taught yourself to use those gadgets you attach to your wrist cuff."

Synopsis (Back Cover):  Pursued across rugged mountain country by dragons until nearly dead from fatigue, the sorceress of unknown origin lived only long enough to give birth to her son.

Now, years later, the dragons have returned in fury to ravage the northern lands in search of the sorceress's orphaned offspring.

Thelvyn Fox Eyes and his guardian, one-handed adventurer Sir George Kirbey, embark on a fantastic quest to unlock the secret of an elusive prophecy that will lead them to the legendary Dragonlord.

For if the dragons decide to go to war, only the Dragonlord can hope to stop them...

Review:  I picked up this complete trilogy at a yard sale.  I wasn't expecting too much since they are books based on a role-playing game, but they had dragons on the cover and I'm a sucker for dragons, so I thought I'd at least give them a try.  I must say, this book was really quite good.

The only negative thing I really have to say is that the language is a little awkward and old-fashioned sounding.  I imagine this is because English is probably not the author's first language.  It reads like a book written far longer ago due to the language usage, but I'm not 100% sure it's actually a bad thing.  It feels right in many places.

Most of the characters have impossible to pronounce names.  I like the characters, though, especially the dragons.  The dragons are well-written, being intelligent and civilized creatures for the most part.  The companions on the quest are all memorable, with the female warrior, Solveig, being my favorite.  She is accompanied by a dwarf, a mandrake, a mage, and the main character, Thelvyn, who is not sure of his background yet.  This is not exactly an original mix and the characters attitudes and behaviors are somewhat stereotypical, but they are still enjoyable.

This novel left me curious as to what will come next.  I've already begun the next book of this series.

Rating:  6 / 10

June 13, 2011

Phytosphere by Scott Mackay

Title:  Phytosphere
Author:  Scott Mackay
Format:  PB
Pages:  376
Genre:  Science Fiction
Publisher:  Roc, 2007
ISBN-13:  978-0451461582
Series:  Stand Alone

Favorite Quote:  They would see this fire, and they would get another lesson in how humans behaved, especially when they had nothing left to lose.

Synopsis (Amazon):  After settlement negotiations between humanity and the alien Tarsalans go horribly wrong, the Earth is engulfed in a mysterious green sphere-blocking all sunlight from reaching the surface. Only two scientists-one isolated on the Moon's lunar colony, the other trapped on a dying Earth-possess the minds and the means to destroy the sphere before it renders the world completely barren...

Review:  This is one of the best science fiction novels I've read.  Ever.  The two scientists, Gerry and Neil, are exact opposites.  Gerry is the ne'er do well, always looking for the answers but never quite finding them.  Neil is the scientific adviser to the President of the United States.

The Tarsalans are smart and sly and technologically superior.  They, however, do not seem to understand the determination of humankind to control its own destiny.  This turns out to be their great downfall, for while they can seemingly think 5 steps ahead of humans, they cannot fathom our complete inability to give up, even in a no-win situation.

And, Gerry manages to pull the win off.  The costs are massive, but the world survives and humankind is still standing, while the Tarsalans are not.  There were unexpected heroes, other than Gerry:  Ian, the alcoholic test pilot, who actually does the saving of the world; Mitch, the engineer who loses his life in the effort to make Gerry's plan come to fruition; and Gerry's family, who must survive the months on-planet while the Earth is slowly perishing and people are being killed for a can of food.

This was an incredible story.  Aliens bringing the end of the world isn't an especially new theme, but this book does it so well and this story is so gripping that it seemed new to me.

Rating:  10 / 10

June 12, 2011

The Voice of the Night by Dean R. Koontz

Title:  The Voice of the Night
Author:  Dean R. Koontz
Format:  PB
Pages:  339
Genre:  Horror
Publisher:  Berkley, 1991
ISBN-13:  978-0425128169
Series:  Stand Alone

Favorite Quote:  A few steps farther on, he realized that the voice of the night was now within him, and that, in fact, it always had been.  It was within everyone, whispering maliciously, twenty-four hours a day, and the most important task in life was to ignore it, shut it out, refuse to listen.

Synopsis (Amazon):  Two young boys--one withdrawn and shy, and the other popular and confident--participate in a game for those with a dangerous fascination with death, an irresistible game with deadly implications.

Review:  This was a horror story centering on two young boys.  One of them is so painfully shy that he will do almost anything for a friend.  The other is a sociopath.  They face coming-of-age and abuse issues.  I hate to say it, but this theme has been done better in other books.  This was just okay, not great, but certainly a quick read, worthy of a few hours curled up on the couch, but not this author's best work by a long shot.

Rating:  4.5 / 10

June 11, 2011

Labyrinth by Kate Mosse

Title:  Labyrinth
Author:  Kate Mosse
Format:  HC
Pages:  508
Genre:  Historical Fiction / Thriller
Publisher:  Putnam, 2006
ISBN-13:  978-0399153440
Series:  Stand Alone

Favorite Quote:  "I watched the green of spring give way to the gold of summer, the copper of autumn give way to the white of winter as I have sat and waited for the fading of the light.  Over and over again I have asked myself why?  If I had known how it would feel to live with such loneliness, to stand, the sole witness to the endless cycle of birth and life and death, what would I have done?  I have survived this long life with emptiness in my heart, an emptiness that over the years has spread and spread until it became bigger than my heart itself."

Synopsis (Amazon):  In this extraordinary thriller, rich in the atmospheres of medieval and contemporary France, the lives of two women born centuries apart are linked by a common destiny.

July 2005. In the Pyrenees mountains near Carcassonne, Alice, a volunteer at an archaeological dig stumbles into a cave and makes a startling discovery-two crumbling skeletons, strange writings on the walls, and the pattern of a labyrinth; between the skeletons, a stone ring, and a small leather bag.

Eight hundred years earlier, on the eve of a brutal crusade to stamp out heresy that will rip apart southern France, Alais is given a ring and a mysterious book for safekeeping by her father as he leaves to fight the crusaders. The book, he says, contains the secret of the true Grail, and the ring, inscribed with a labyrinth, will identify a guardian of the Grail. As crusading armies led by Church potentates and nobles of northern France gather outside the city walls of Carcassonne, it will take great sacrifice to keep the secret of the labyrinth safe.

In the present, another woman sees the find as a means to the political power she craves; while a man who has great power will kill to destroy all traces of the discovery and everyone who stands in his way.

Review:  While I admit this is a thriller, it is also historical fiction.  The chapters switch between 2005 and the 1200's.  My favorite portions, by far, were the ones set in the past.  I loved Alais, Sajhe, and the whole medieval world they lived in.

It was a cruel, awful time:  the Inquisition was starting up, the Crusades were under way, and most of the population lived in abject poverty.  But, somehow, the people had so much heart and honor and faith.  It's a time period that's always drawn me.  The quest to keep the secret of The Grail, from the deepest past into the current times, against people determined to use it for their own selfish ends, was a good tale.

I loved this new take on the legend of The Grail.  This book questions the very foundations of the major religions.  It was inspiring, interesting, and made me wonder.  This thrilling saga kept me interested and involved for all 500+ pages.

Rating:  8.5 / 10

June 8, 2011

Doom Helix by James Axler

Title:  Doom Helix
Author:  James Axler
Format:  PB
Pages:  317
Genre:  Science Fiction / Action & Adventure
Publisher:  Gold Eagle, 2010
ISBN-13:  978-0373626045
Series:  Deathlands, Book 95

Favorite Quote:  She pointed at the holstered, black powder LeMat.  "Pot calling kettle. Come in kettle...."

Synopsis (Amazon):  Devastation from the nukewar shattered civilization and left a planet both primitive and ripe for rebirth--or retaking. While the balance of power has fallen to avaricious, amoral barons, a handful of humanity still holds hope of a future worth fighting for or dying to defend. If a better life inside the hellground exists, Ryan Cawdor and his friends will find it.

The Deathlands feudal system may be hell on earth but it must be protected from invaders from Shadow Earth, a parallel world stripped clean of its resources by the ruling conglomerate and its white coats. Ryan and his band had a near-fatal encounter with these genetically enhanced aggressors and their advanced weaponry and wags once before. Only a fatal chink in enemy armor saved planet Earth from plunder. Now, these superhuman predators are back, ready to topple the hellscape's baronies one by one.

Review:  Another exciting adventure in the Deathlands.  I really do like the story-line with the people from an alternate Earth, although from the sound of the ending, this may be the last one of those.  Either way, it was full of action and thrills.

I really liked the bad guys in this novel.  The genetically enhanced warrior, Auriel Otis Trask, was a great character.  I was almost sad to see her well-deserved end come.

These books are not for the faint of heart.  They are kind of like watching a really good action movie.  You can't expect much except a lot of blood and gore, but it's a pretty fun ride anyhow.

Rating:  8 / 10

June 6, 2011

Beautiful Lies by Lisa Unger

Title:  Beautiful Lies
Author:  Lisa Unger
Format:  HC
Pages:  371
Genre:  Thriller
Publisher:  Shaye Areheart, 2006
ISBN-13:  978-0307336682
Series:  Stand Alone

Favorite Quote:  If the last few months have taught me anything, it's this:  We don't have control, we have choices.  The little ones, the big ones, these are the points on which our lives pitch and pivot.  All we can do is make the best choices we can with what we know, and hope that things turn out the way we want.

Synopsis (Amazon):  If Ridley Jones had slept ten minutes later or had taken the subway instead of waiting for a cab, she would still be living the beautiful lie she used to call her life. She would still be the privileged daughter of a doting father and a loving mother. Her life would still be perfect—with only the tiny cracks of an angry junkie for a brother and a charming drunk with shady underworld connections for an uncle to mar the otherwise flawless whole.

But that’s not what happened. Instead, those inconsequential decisions lead her to perform a good deed that puts her in the right place at the right time to unleash a chain of events that brings a mysterious package to her door—a package which informs her that her entire world is a lie.

Suddenly forced to question everything she knows about herself and her family, Ridley wanders into dark territory she never knew existed, where everyone in her life seems like a stranger. She has no idea who’s on her side and who has something to hide—even, and maybe especially, her new lover, Jake, who appears to have secrets of his own.

Review:  This was a really terrific book.  I'm so glad I found Ms. Unger because I already am looking forward to getting the sequel to this novel so I can read it.

There is plenty of action and the story certainly has its thrilling moments.  However, the story is many things:  a family tragedy; a close look at what it means to love another person; a mob-laced thriller; and, most of all, a look at what we believe about destiny and whether we can really change our own lives.  More than any of these though, this novel felt like it was about hope, which may seem strange for a thriller but it wasn't strange at all.  It was just really good.

The two main characters are completely believable.  I really wanted Ridley and Jake to overcome the obstacles and come out okay in the end.  I was amazed at the depth of feeling in the writing and the obvious intelligence with which this story is told.  There is really nothing negative to say about this novel.  I loved every last minute of it.

Rating:  9.5 / 10

June 4, 2011

Wait Until Midnight by Amanda Quick

Title:  Wait Until Midnight
Author:  Amanda Quick
Format:  PB
Pages:  350
Genre:  Historical Romance / Suspense
Publisher:  Jove, 2005
ISBN-13:  978-0515138627
Series:  Stand Alone

Favorite Quote:  "It is not a joke.  Brace yourself, sir.  I am about to become embroiled in a shocking scandal involving murder and an illicit liaison with a famous sensation novelist."

Synopsis (Amazon):  Adam Hardesty has a serious problem. The secrets of his past are in danger of being exposed, and in the course of investigating his would-be blackmailer, he discovers the dead body of a prominent psychic. To make matters worse, her house has been torn apart, and the diary containing Adam's secrets is missing. His only lead is a list of the psychic's last visitors - the people who came to her house for a sitting on the night of her death. The most likely suspect is a woman named Mrs. Caroline Fordyce, whom he confronts in her parlour, only to discover an inconvenient attraction to the beautiful young widow. Alarmed by Adam's insinuations and questions, Caroline concludes that she must conduct her own investigation into this strange matter. If she can discover the true killer, Adam will have no reason to expose her connection to the dead psychic, which would cause a scandal she and her aunts could ill-afford. Besides, her life has been boringly uncomplicated for too long, and the exciting tension she feels around Adam presents a welcome alternative to her mundane daily routine. But as Caroline and Adam journey deeper into the shadowy world of psychics, mediums and con artists, they find that the only ones they can count on are each other...

Review:  I was expecting a thriller set in historical times.  I got a romantic suspense novel set in historical times.  Was I disappointed?  Not in the least!  Ms. Quick writes so well and with such humor that it was impossible not to enjoy this novel.

The novel is set in what I believe to be the late 1890's in England.  The characters are all quite proper and society is so full of rules that it made me wonder how anyone ever got anything done.  However, the two main characters, Adam and Caroline, are hardly your average people for this time period.  I found them both humorous and wonderful.  Caroline's aunts were perfect.  Adam's family was lovable.  The bad guy was quite insane and, in the end, got exactly what he deserved.  The best part?  I was completely fooled until the very end as to who the murderer was.

Since I usually cannot abide romance novels, I was completely surprised how much I enjoyed this one.  If this novel is any indication of this author's writing style, I will be searching out more novels by this author.

Rating:  8.5 / 10

June 1, 2011

The Quiet by Patrick Billings

Title:  The Quiet
Author:  Patrick Billings
Format:  PB
Pages:  244
Genre:  Thriller
Publisher:  Tor, 1994
ISBN-13:  978-0812521313
Series:  Stand Alone

Favorite Quote:  Following this, a third and final woman must be found to fulfill the requirements for his spiritual transfer.  But before he could offer her, he must find another grizzly to replace the one who had deserted him.

Synopsis (Amazon):  As the mutilated bodies of women continue to turn up in Yellowstone National Park, the apparent victims of killer grizzly bears, a cold, calculating, and deviously evil presence stalks the park, living out his mad childhood fantasies.

Review:  The Silence of the Lambs meets Grizzly Adams.  Sort of.  This was an original story, but certainly not on the same level as some others I've read.  The madman, who was abused by his mother as a child, tortures and kills women using trapped grizzly bears.  Like I said, original.  It was a quick read, something you could easily read on a plane trip or a quiet evening.  It just wasn't as great as it could have been.  I was a little disappointed.

Rating:  4 / 10
Back to Top