September 6, 2012

Interworld by Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves

Title: Interworld
Author: Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves

Format: HC
Pages: 239
Genre: Juvenile Science Fiction / Fantasy
Publisher: Eos, 2007
ISBN-13:     978-0061238963   
Series: Stand Alone

Favorite Quote:  The In-Between was cold, and it tasted like vanilla and woodsmoke as I Walked.

Synopsis:  Joey Harker isn't a hero. — In fact, he's the kind of guy who gets lost in his own house. — But then one day, Joey gets really lost. He walks straight out of his world and into another dimension. — Joey's walk between the worlds makes him prey to two terrible forces -- armies of magic and science who will do anything to harness his power to travel between dimensions.

When he sees the evil those forces are capable of, Joey makes the only possible choice: to join an army of his own, an army of versions of himself from different dimensions who all share his amazing power and who are all determined to fight to save the worlds.

Master storyteller Neil Gaiman and Emmy Award-winning science-fiction writer Michael Reaves team up to create a dazzling tale of magic, science, honor, and the destiny of one very special boy -- and all the others like him.

Review:  This was a really great, original story.  It might be meant for a younger audience, but I enjoyed it immensely.

Rating:  9 / 10

Haven's Blight by James Axler

Title: Haven's Blight
Author: James Axler

Format: PB
Pages: 317
Genre: Science Fiction / Action & Adventure

Publisher: Gold Eagle, 2012
ISBN-13:    978-0373626120
Series: Deathlands, Book 103

Favorite Quote:  "I want it, too.  What you all want.  An end to constant running and gunning.  Peace.  Sanctuary.  I promise one day we'll find it -- home."

Blunt Force

The future rose from the ashes of nuke-scorched America with a vengeance. The unchecked wrath of Deathlands pits Ryan Cawdor and his companions against long odds. But their skill as survivors, strategists and warriors is unmatched and they've held on to something more precious than life: their humanity. They nurture the hope that somewhere, hidden amidst the grotesquerie of a tortured land, safety and sanctuary awaits.

Random Generator

Bartering their expertise to a nautical band of brilliant technomads, Ryan's group finds trouble waiting in the steaming, fetid swamplands of the Louisiana Gulf. Merciless storms and pirates strand them in Haven. But the barony's inviting name masks a ville hijacked by fear, territorial conflict and monstrous horror. With the gravely injured Krysty Wroth's fate uncertain, a desperate Ryan aids the strange but hospitable Baron Blackwell in his effort to save Haven from a genetic blood curse. He'll succeed, provided his luck -- and his options -- don't run out first.

Review:  Fun, fun, fun.  I really liked this one, with the magic and mystery and all the action.

Rating:  8 / 10

August 30, 2012

Lost Gates by James Axler

Title: Lost Gates
Author: James Axler

Format: PB
Pages: 314
Genre: Science Fiction / Action & Adventure

Publisher: Gold Eagle, 2011
ISBN-13:   978-0373626113  
Series: Deathlands, Book 102

Gateway to the Future

Existence after Skydark is a gamble against grim odds -- winners and losers decided by guns, jack and raw nerve. Still, one intrepid group pushes on, working to understand the secrets of preDark tech at the heart of nuke-altered America. Because keeping hope alive is the next best thing to a good shot and finding something better.

Law of Sudden Death

Baron Crabbe is dangerously high on legends of the Trader and rumors of a secret cache. He occupies a redoubt but the old tech remains unfathomable. His ace in the hole is Ryan Cawdor and his band. Prisoners at blasterpoint, they're ordered to use the matter-transfer units to secure the whereabouts of the imagined weapons stockpile. Ryan knows the truth -- and it won't help Crabbe. But the only option is to play along with the crazed Baron's scheme and make the dangerous jumps in a limited window of time. Staying alive is all about buying time -- waiting for their one chance to chill their captors.

Review:  Fun and exciting.  Unfortunately there were a few errors in the story, but it didn't ruin the pleasure of reading it.

Rating:  7 / 10

Tiger Tiger by Margaux Fragoso

Title: Tiger Tiger
Author: Margaux Fragoso
Format: PB
Pages: 314
Genre: Non Fiction / Memoir

Publisher: Picador, 2012
ISBN-13:   978-1250002426  
Series: Stand Alone

Synopsis:  A Washington Post Notable Nonfiction Book for 2011 A Globe and Mail Best Books of the Year 2011 Title — Tiger, Tiger is a Publishers Weekly Best Nonfiction title for 2011A Kirkus Reviews Best Nonfiction of 2011 title One summer day, Margaux Fragoso meets Peter Curran at the neighborhood swimming pool, and they begin to play. She is seven; he is fifty-one. When Peter invites her and her mother to his house, the little girl finds a child's paradise of exotic pets and an elaborate backyard garden. Her mother, beset by mental illness and overwhelmed by caring for Margaux, is grateful for the attention Peter lavishes on her, and he creates an imaginative universe for her, much as Lewis Carroll did for his real-life Alice.

In time, he insidiously takes on the role of Margaux's playmate, father, and lover. Charming and manipulative, Peter burrows into every aspect of Margaux's life and transforms her from a child fizzing with imagination and affection into a brainwashed young woman on the verge of suicide. But when she is twenty-two, it is Peter, ill, and wracked with guilt, who kills himself, at the age of sixty-six.

Told with lyricism, depth, and mesmerizing clarity, Tiger, Tiger vividly illustrates the healing power of memory and disclosure. This extraordinary memoir is an unprecedented glimpse into the psyche of a young girl in free fall and conveys to readers, including parents and survivors of abuse, just how completely a pedophile enchants his victim and binds her to him.

Review:  This is a really tough book to read.  It was hard for me to understand in places how no one knew what was happening to the little girl named Margaux.  I did find it to be a well-written book, but I didn't like it as much as other people seem to have.

Rating:  8 / 10

August 24, 2012

The Litigators by John Grisham

Title: The Litigators
Author: John Grisham

Format: PB
Pages: 469
Genre: Legal Thriller

Publisher: Dell, 2012
ISBN-13:   978-0345530561  
Series: Stand Alone

Synopsis:  The partners at Finley & Figg often refer to themselves as a “boutique law firm.” Boutique, as in chic, selective, and prosperous. Oscar Finley and Wally Figg are none of these things. They are a two-bit operation of ambulance chasers who bicker like an old married couple. Until change comes their way -- or, more accurately, stumbles in. After leaving a fast-track career and going on a serious bender, David Zinc is sober, unemployed, and desperate enough to take a job at Finley & Figg.

Now the firm is ready to tackle a case that could make the partners rich—without requiring them to actually practice much law. A class action suit has been brought against Varrick Labs, a pharmaceutical giant with annual sales of $25 billion, alleging that Krayoxx, its most popular drug, causes heart attacks. Wally smells money. All Finley & Figg has to do is find a handful of Krayoxx users to join the suit. It almost seems too good to be true . . . and it is.

Review:  Mr. Grisham has never let me down before and, once again, he's written a great legal thriller.  It's fast-paced and full of great characters.  I loved it. 

Rating:  10 / 10

Sacrament by Clive Barker

Title: Sacrament
Author: Clive Barker

Format: PB
Pages: 604
Genre: Horror

Publisher: HarperTouch, 1997
ISBN-13:   978-0061091995  
Series: Stand Alone

Favorite Quotes:  Take pleasure not because it's fleeting, but because it exists at all.

This will not come again.  Nor this.  Nor this....

Synopsis:  Living and dying, we feed the fire. Will Rabjohns, perhaps the most famous wildlife photographer in the world, has made his reputation chronicling the fates of endangered species. But after a terrible accident, Will is left in a coma. And in its depths, he revisits the wildernesses of his youth and relives his life with a mysterious couple who have influenced his life as an artist and a man. When Will awakens, he sets out on a journey of self-discovery--one where he will penetrate the ultimate mystery and finally unlock the secret of his destiny. Soaring, provocative and passionate, Sacrament is a masterwork from the pen of one of today's moist acclaimed authors.

Review:  This was a really, really strange story.  I liked it, mostly, but it was an odd journey and difficult to follow in places.

Rating:  7 / 10

August 16, 2012

Prodigal's Return by James Axler

Title: Prodigal's Return
Author: James Axler

Format: PB
Pages: 315
Genre: Science Fiction / Action & Adventure

Publisher: Gold Eagle, 2011
ISBN-13:   978-0373626106  
Series: Deathlands, Book 101

Favorite Quote:  Next time, I'll explain how to set a broken leg.  That could be useful.

Torn Asunder

America, defiled and reshaped by nuclear carnage, promises little but a struggle for survival. Still, a group of hard travelers trek the worst this hellish place can offer, surviving by their wits, razor skill and knowledge of preDark technology. Their leader, Ryan Cawdor, is a Deathlands legend, a warrior and hero to many, a relentless enemy to more. And he understands the only way forward is the future, even when the past has a will of its own....

Sins of the Father

Searching for an operational redoubt, Ryan and his companions go up against a ruthless band of coldhearts. The shock of seeing Ryan's long-lost son as the band's point man puts the group on a new mission -- rescue Dean at all cost. But when Dean shoots and wounds his father in a firefight, the strange turn of events leads the travelers deeper into the shifting sands of their own destiny. And father and son, each committed to the laws of decency and fair play, will confront an uncertain legacy.

In Deathlands, there's no going back....

Review:  I was so happy and excited that Dean seemed to be rejoining this series.  But, at the end, he didn't.  I really wish the powers that be would bring him back.  I always liked his character.  It was a good story though. 

This is actually the 101st of these books I've read.  The outside cover says it's #100, but I think they aren't counting the prequel, Encounter, and I am.  I think I'm ready for something different for a little while now.

Rating:  6.5 / 10

August 14, 2012

Perception Fault by James Axler

Title: Perception Fault
Author: James Axler

Format: PB
Pages: 315
Genre: Science Fiction / Action & Adventure

Publisher: Gold Eagle, 2011
ISBN-13:   978-0373626090  
Series: Deathlands, Book 100

Favorite Quotes:  "If we get out of here, Ryan, you can beat me to your heart's content, but until then you stay awake, dammit!"

Dark Passage

The ravaged landscape that was America two centuries ago is now blighted by post-nuclear holocaust savagery. Still, there remain pockets of preDark technology that may offer undiscovered paths to reclaiming the future. Ryan Cawdor and his companions have faced most kinds of horror that Deathlands can deliver -- and survived. This merciless place can break even the strongest, but it has yet to destroy hope.

Place of Promise

Denver offers a glimpse of that very hope -- a power plant, electricity, food and freedom. But the city is caught in a civil war between two would-be leaders and their civilian armies. Challenged by both sides to do their bidding, Ryan discovers a third player in the quest to control the mile-high city -- a secret enclave of White Coats with the strength and technology to pursue a twisted agenda of their own.

Tomorrow is never just a brand-new day in the Deathlands...

Review:  The story idea is a great one.  It's unfortunate that this particular book was so poorly edited.  Incomplete sentences, misspellings, and other obvious editing mistakes make this a trying book to read at times.  I still did like the story though.

Rating:  6 / 10

August 13, 2012

Tainted Cascade by James Axler

Title: Tainted Cascade
Author: James Axler

Format: PB
Pages: 316
Genre: Science Fiction / Action & Adventure

Publisher: Gold Eagle, 2011
ISBN-13:   978-0373626083  
Series: Deathlands, Book 99

Favorite Quote:  Certain aspects of life in Deathlands just shouldn't be committed to paper, she realized.

Primal Salvage

The blighted aftermath of a global nuclear showdown, Deathlands exacts a blood price. The living pay it; the dead don't care. For one legendary band of warriors, this barbaric new world holds a chance for redemption: the secrets of the past. They roam a disfigured America, searching for pre-dark tech... seeking the path to a future worth living.

Victory Spoils

Utah's Great Salt Lake Desert remains a death pit of scorching heat, cannies and grim odds. Ryan Cawdor and his group survive the trek there, only to be drugged, robbed and left for the slave trade. Escaping their captors leaves them alive but stripped of their prized gear: their weps, J.B. Dix's glasses, Dr. Mildred Wyth's medical kit and, worse, her secret codex. The companions must rely on each other to challenge their enemy and settle the score.

In Deathlands, revenge is sweeter.

Review:  I've almost read 100 of these books.  In fact, I'm starting #100 today.  I just can't seem to get enough of them, although I certainly can't read more than a few at a time.  They really are one of my favorite vices.  They cannot be called great classics, but they are always fun, exciting and fast to read.

Rating:  7 / 10

August 9, 2012

A Secret Gift by Ted Gup

Title: A Secret Gift
Author: Ted Gup

Format: HC
Pages: 346
Genre: Non-Fiction

Publisher: Penguin Press, 2010
ISBN-13:   978-1594202704  
Series: Stand Alone

Favorite Quote:  The fourteen-year-old author -- the last and only living link to the B. Virdot letters -- was now ninety, a great-great-grandmother who lived at the Laurels of Masillon, a nursing home just outside Canton.

Synopsis:  An inspiring account of America at its worst-and Americans at their best-woven from the stories of Depression-era families who were helped by gifts from the author's generous and secretive grandfather. — Shortly before Christmas 1933 in Depression-scarred Canton, Ohio, a small newspaper ad offered $10, no strings attached, to 75 families in distress. Interested readers were asked to submit letters describing their hardships to a benefactor calling himself Mr. B. Virdot. The author's grandfather Sam Stone was inspired to place this ad and assist his fellow Cantonians as they prepared for the cruelest Christmas most of them would ever witness.

Moved by the tales of suffering and expressions of hope contained in the letters, which he discovered in a suitcase 75 years later, Ted Gup initially set out to unveil the lives behind them, searching for records and relatives all over the country who could help him flesh out the family sagas hinted at in those letters. From these sources, Gup has re-created the impact that Mr B. Virdot's gift had on each family. Many people yearned for bread, coal, or other necessities, but many others received money from B. Virdot for more fanciful items-a toy horse, say, or a set of encyclopedias. As Gup's investigations revealed, all these things had the power to turn people's lives around- even to save them.

But as he uncovered the suffering and triumphs of dozens of strangers, Gup also learned that Sam Stone was far more complex than the lovable- retiree persona he'd always shown his grandson. Gup unearths deeply buried details about Sam's life-from his impoverished, abusive upbringing to felonious efforts to hide his immigrant origins from U.S. officials-that help explain why he felt such a strong affinity to strangers in need. Drawing on his unique find and his award-winning reportorial gifts, Ted Gup solves a singular family mystery even while he pulls away the veil of eight decades that separate us from the hardships that united America during the Depression. In A Secret Gift, he weaves these revelations seamlessly into a tapestry of Depression-era America, which will fascinate and inspire in equal measure.

Review:  I'm not a huge fan of non-fiction, but this story seemed to hold promise.  It was quite good in parts and quite dry in others.  I can't say I loved it, but I'm still glad I read it since it is a true story that I otherwise never would have known about.

Rating:  5 / 10

August 7, 2012

Through the Ice by Piers Anthony & Robert Kornwise

Title: Through the Ice
Author: Piers Anthony & Robert Kornwise

Format: PB
Pages: 271
Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Baen, 1992
ISBN-13:   978-0671721138  
Series: Stand Alone

Favorite Quote:  "I am the One," Seth agreed.  "But I shall not serve you."

Synopsis:  One minute Seth was fighting for his life against a gang of teenage punks in Michigan, the next he had fallen through the ice--into another, magical Earth. Seth, along with a telepath, a faun, and a giant have been chosen from four different Earth planes to fulfill a quest in a world of magic.

Review:  This was an okay story, not one of my favorites by any means, but it was alright.  It was fast-paced and easy to read.  It is definately juvenile literature but it didn't take away from the story.

Rating:  4.5 / 10

August 3, 2012

77 Shadow Street by Dean Koontz

Title: 77 Shadow Street
Author: Dean Koontz

Format: HC
Pages: 607
Genre: Horror

Publisher: Random House, 2010
ISBN-13:   978-1617932991  
Series: Stand Alone

Favorite Quotes:  "Boy.  Black hair.  Blue eyes.  Aboveground.  Second floor.  West wing.  Exterminate.  Exterminate"

She said something then that made no sense:  "'We're going to the meadow now to dry ourselves off in the sun'"

Synopsis:  I am the One, the all and the only. I live in the Pendleton as surely as I live everywhere. I am the Pendleton's history and its destiny. The building is my place of conception, my monument, my killing ground. . . . — — The Pendleton stands on the summit of Shadow Hill at the highest point of an old heartland city, a Gilded Age palace built in the late 1800s as a tycoon’s dream home. Almost from the beginning, its grandeur has been scarred by episodes of madness, suicide, mass murder, and whispers of things far worse. But since its rechristening in the 1970s as a luxury apartment building, the Pendleton has been at peace. For its fortunate residents—among them a successful songwriter and her young son, a disgraced ex-senator, a widowed attorney, and a driven money manager—the Pendleton’s magnificent quarters are a sanctuary, its dark past all but forgotten.

But now inexplicable shadows caper across walls, security cameras relay impossible images, phantom voices mutter in strange tongues, not-quite-human figures lurk in the basement, elevators plunge into unknown depths. With each passing hour, a terrifying certainty grows: Whatever drove the Pendleton’s past occupants to their unspeakable fates is at work again. Soon, all those within its boundaries will be engulfed by a dark tide from which few have escaped.

Dean Koontz transcends all expectations as he takes readers on a gripping journey to a place where nightmare visions become real—and where a group of singular individuals hold the key to humanity’s destiny. Welcome to 77 Shadow Street.

Review:  This book is unlike anything I've read before.  It's scary and horrible and could so easily be true.  I enjoyed every terrifying moment!

Rating:  10 / 10

July 30, 2012

Seeds of Yesterday by V.C. Andrews

Title: Seeds of Yesterday
Author: V.C. Andrews

Format: PB
Pages: 408
Genre: Horror

Publisher: Pocket, 1987
ISBN-13:   978-0671648152  
Series: Dollangagers, Book 4

Favorite Quote:  There's a garden in the sky, waiting there for me.

Synopsis:  Cathy and Chris, haunted by the tragedies and sins of the past, return at last to Foxworth Hall, where they were hidden long ago. Despite every endeavour, they find that they are prisoners of a past they cannot escape and the past comes back to prey upon them once more.

Review:  This is *very nearly* as good as the original story.  I really enjoyed it, even though I hated how it ended.  I will not be reading the last of the books in this series because Garden of Shadows is a prequel and I'm just not in the mood to go way back in time. 

Rating:  8.5 / 10

If There Be Thorns by V.C. Andrews

Title: If There Be Thorns
Author: V.C. Andrews

Format: PB
Pages: 874
Genre: Horror

Publisher: Pocket, 1981
ISBN-13:   978-0671648145  
Series: Dollangagers, Book 3

Favorite Quote:  But one day when we're both older, wiser, and I have found the right words, I'll tell him something Malcolm wrote in his book -- there has to be darkness if there is to be light.

Synopsis:  Chris and Cathy made such a loving home for fourteen-year-old Jory -- so handsome, so gentle. And for Bart,who had such a dazzling imagination for a nine year old. — Then the lights came on in the house next door. Soon the Old Lady in Black was there, watching them, guarded by her strange old butler. Soon she had Bart over for cookies and ice cream and asked him to call her "Grandmother".

And soon Bart's transformation began...

Fed by the hint of terrible things about his mother and father... leading him into shocking acts of violence.

Now while this little boy trembles on the edge of madness, his anguished parents await the climax to a horror that flowered in an attic long ago, a horror whose thorns are still wet with blood, still tipped with fire.

Review:  Still a great book, not as good as the first one, but a little better than the second one I think.

Rating:  8/10

July 26, 2012

Petals on the Wind by V.C. Andrews

Title: Petals on the Wind
Author: V.C. Andrews

Format: PB
Pages: 438
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Pocket, 1980
ISBN-13:   978-0671648138
Series: Dollangagers, Book 2

Favorite Quote:  I would never lock away my two sons, even if Jory did remember one day that Chris was not his stepfather but his uncle.

Synopsis:  For Carrie, Chris and Cathy the attic was a dark horror that would not leave their minds. — Of course mother had to pretend they didn't exist and grandmother was convinced they had the devil in them. — But that wasn't their fault. Was it? — Cathy knew what to do. She knew it was time to show her mother and grandmother that the pain and terror of the attic could not be forgotten...Show them. Show them -- once and for all.

Review:  I didn't like this one quite as much as the last, although it was still quite good.  

Rating:  7 / 10

July 18, 2012

Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews

Title: Flowers in the Attic
Author: V.C. Andrews

Format: PB
Pages: 411
Genre: Horror

Publisher: Pocket, 2003
ISBN-13:  978-0743467162 

Series: Dollangagers, Book 1

Favorite Quotes:  "Eleven:  you will not allow wicked, sinful, or lusting thoughts to dwell in your minds.  You will keep your thoughts clean, pure, and away from wicked subjects that will corrupt you morally."

"Arsenic is white, Cathy, white.  When mixed with powdered sugar, you cannot taste its bitterness."

Synopsis:  Way upstairs there are four secrets hidden. — Blond, beautiful, innocent little secrets, struggling to stay alive. — Flowers In the Attic — The four Dollanganger children had such perfect lives -- a beautiful mother, a doting father, a lovely home. Then Daddy was killed in a car accident, and Momma could no longer support the family. So she began writing letters to her parents, her millionaire parents, whom the children had never heard of before.

Momma tells the children all about their rich grandparents, and how Chris and Cathy and the twins will live like princes and princesses in their grandparents' fancy mansion. The children are only too delighted by the prospect. But there are a few things that Momma hasn't told them.

She hasn't told them that their grandmother considers them "devil's spawn" who should never have been born. She hasn't told them that she has to hide them from their grandfather if she wants to inherit his fortune. She hasn't told them that they are to be locked away in an abandoned wing of the house with only the dark, airless attic to play in. But, Momma promises, it's only for a few days....

Then the days stretch into months, and the months into years. Desperately isolated, terrified of their grandmother, and increasingly convinced that their mother no longer cares about them, Chris and Cathy become all things to the twins and to each other. They cling to their love as their only hope, their only strength -- a love that is almost stronger than death.

Review:  Wow, this was a heartbreaking, scary, terrible and wonderful book.  I really liked it.  It wasn't easy to read, by any stretch of the imagination, but I am so glad I did.  I'm starting the 2nd book today.

Rating:  8.5 / 10

July 13, 2012

A Murderous Procession by Ariana Franklin

Title: A Murderous Procession
Author: Ariana Franklin
Format: PB
Pages: 374
Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Berkley, 2011
ISBN-13:  978-0425238868 

Series: Mistress of the Art of Death, Book 4

Favorite Quote:  "D'ye ken that?  By all that's holy, it's the peeps.  The peeps.  I've come home."

Synopsis:  In 1176, King Henry II sends his daughter Joanna to Palermo to marry his cousin, the king of Sicily. Henry chooses Adelia Aguilar, his Mistress of the Art of Death, to travel with the princess and safeguard her health. But when people in the wedding procession are murdered, Adelia and Rowley must discover the killer's identity and whether he is stalking the princess or Adelia herself.

Review:  I'm so sad.  This is the last book.  Maybe there will be a new one some day.  I really, really enjoyed this series.

Rating:  9 / 10

July 12, 2012

Grave Goods by Ariana Franklin

Title: Grave Goods
Author: Ariana Franklin
Format: PB
Pages: 529
Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Berkley, 2010
ISBN-13:  978-0425232330 

Series: Mistress of the Art of Death, Book 3

Favorite Quotes:  Lord, how I hate Avalon.  To beautiful, too terrible.  Once and future kings -- you can keep them.

"Excalibur."  In his reverence, Roetger began to sob.  "What else?  Where else?  Are we not in Avalon?"

Synopsis:  Set in 1176, Franklin's excellent third Mistress of the Art of Death novel (after The Serpent's Tale) finds Adelia Aguilar, a qualified doctor from the School of Medicine in Salerno, in the holy town of Glastonbury, where Henry II has sent her to inspect two sets of bones rumored to be those of Arthur and Guinevere. — Henry is hoping that an unequivocally dead Arthur will discourage the rebellious Welsh. The bones have been uncovered by the few monks, under the saintly Abbot Sigward, who remain after a terrible and mysterious fire devastated the town and abbey. Adelia's party includes her loyal Arabian attendant, Mansur, whose willingness to play the role of doctor allows Adelia to be his translator and practice the profession she loves; and Gyltha, Mansur's lover and the caretaker of Adelia's small daughter, Allie.

Review:  It just gets better and better.  This story is about trying to find whether a particular set of bones might belong to the long-dead King Arthur.  I loved it!

Rating:  10 / 10

July 9, 2012

The Serpent's Tale by Ariana Franklin

Title: The Serpent's Tale
Author: Ariana Franklin

Format: PB
Pages: 382
Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Berkley, 2009
ISBN-13:  978-0425225745 
Series: Mistress of the Art of Death, Book 2

Favorite Quote:  Oh, God, a stupid man - the most dangerous animal of them all.

Synopsis:  When King Henry II’s mistress is found poisoned, suspicion falls on his estranged queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine. The king orders Adelia Aguilar, expert in the science of death, to investigate—and hopefully stave off civil war. A reluctant Adelia finds herself once again in the company of Rowley Picot, the new Bishop of St. Albans and her baby's father. Their discoveries into the crime are shocking -- and omens of greater danger to come.

Review:  These books really are an awful lot of fun.  Mystery and intrigue set in a time that I have always adored reading about.  Plenty of humor and excitement and I still couldn't figure out whodunit until the very ending.  I'm already starting the next one and cannot wait.  I believe I liked this one even more than the last.

Rating:  9 / 10

July 6, 2012

Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin

Title:  Mistress of the Art of Death
Author:  Ariana Franklin
Format: PB
Pages: 400
Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Berkley, 2008
ISBN-13:  978-0425219256 
Series: Mistress of the Art of Death, Book 1

Favorite Quote:  Henry Plantagenet, King of England, Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, Count of Anjou, hoisted himself up on the refectory table, letting his legs dangle, and looked around.

Synopsis:  A chilling, mesmerizing novel that combines the best of modern forensic thrillers with the detail and drama of historical fiction. In medieval Cambridge, England, four children have been murdered. The crimes are immediately blamed on the town's Jewish community, taken as evidence that Jews sacrifice Christian children in blasphemous ceremonies. To save them from the rioting mob, the king places the Cambridge Jews under his protection and hides them in a castle fortress. King Henry I is no friend of the Jews-or anyone, really-but he is invested in their fate. Without the taxes received from Jewish merchants, his treasuries would go bankrupt. Hoping scientific investigation will exonerate the Jews, Henry calls on his cousin the King of Sicily-whose subjects include the best medical experts in Europe-and asks for his finest "master of the art of death," an early version of the medical examiner. The Italian doctor chosen for the task is a young prodigy from the University of Salerno. But her name is Adelia-the king has been sent a mistress of the art of death. Adelia and her companions-Simon, a Jew, and Mansur, a Moor-travel to England to unravel the mystery of the Cambridge murders, which turn out to be the work of a serial killer, most likely one who has been on Crusade with the king. In a backward and superstitious country like England, Adelia must conceal her true identity as a doctor in order to avoid accusations of witchcraft. Along the way, she is assisted by Sir Rowley Picot, one of the king's tax collectors, a man with a personal stake in the investigation. Rowley may be a needed friend, or the fiend for whom they are searching. As Adelia's investigation takes her into Cambridge's shadowy river paths and behind the closed doors of its churches and nunneries, the hunt intensifies and the killer prepares to strike again . .

Review:  And another new author I simply love.  I've already begun book two.  While there is some expected things, what I never expected was the ending, when the real killer was revealed.  There are some parts that are a little too obvious and sweet, but all in all this is a fine novel.

Rating:  8.5 / 10

July 2, 2012

Sing You Home by Jodi Picoult

Title:  Sing You Home
Author:  Jodi Picoult
Format: PB
Pages: 466
Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Washington Square, 2011
ISBN-13:  9781-439102732 
Series: Stand Alone

Favorite Quote:  "I'm not," I say, straight-faced.  "I mean, if you look at sheer probability - the fact that all these things are happening to you means it's much more likely I'm safe.  I'm positively charmed, in fact.  You're good luck for me."

Synopsis:  Every life has a soundtrack. All you have to do is listen. — Music has set the tone for most of Zoe Baxter’s life. There’s the melody that reminds her of the summer she spent rubbing baby oil on her stomach in pursuit of the perfect tan. A dance beat that makes her think of using a fake ID to slip into a nightclub. A dirge that marked the years she spent trying to get pregnant.

For better or for worse, music is the language of memory. It is also the language of love.

In the aftermath of a series of personal tragedies, Zoe throws herself into her career as a music therapist. When an unexpected friendship slowly blossoms into love, she makes plans for a new life, but to her shock and inevitable rage, some people -- even those she loves and trusts most -- don’t want that to happen.

Sing You Home is about identity, love, marriage, and parenthood. It’s about people wanting to do the right thing for the greater good, even as they work to fulfill their own personal desires and dreams. And it’s about what happens when the outside world brutally calls into question the very thing closest to our hearts: family.

Review:  When I need a good book, guaranteed to be a can't-put-it-down, enthralling, fast read, I nearly always choose this author.  She hasn't let me down yet and certainly not with this story.  It wasn't what I expected, but then I didn't really know what to expect.  I really did love it though.

Rating:  9.5 / 10

June 27, 2012

The Prince and the Pilgrim by Mary Stewart

Title: The Prince and the Pilgrim
Author: Mary Stewart

Format: HC
Pages: 283
Genre: Fantasy / Historical Fiction
Publisher: William Morrow, 1996
ISBN-13:     978-0688145385 
Series: Stand Alone

Favorite Quote:  For this was not only the former Queen of Rheged, and Arthur's own sister, but also from all accounts a notable witch, whom men feared, and called Queen Morgan the sorceress, Morgan le Fay.

Synopsis:  The bestselling author of the acclaimed Merlin Trilogy returns to the magical world of King Arthur and Camelot--to tell a story of daring adventure, unexpected love, and unsurpassed enchantment. . . . 

— ALEXANDER THE FATHERLESS — Eager, burning, and young, Alexander has come of age to take vengeance on the treacherous King of Cornwall who murdered his father. He sets off toward Camelot to seek justice from King Arthur, only to be diverted by the beautiful and sensual Morgan le Fay, Arthur's sister. Using her wiles and her enchantments, Morgan persuades the young prince to attempt a theft of the Holy Grail. He is unaware her motives are of the darkest nature. . . .

 ALICE THE PRETTY PILGRIM  Motherless daughter of a royal duke, Alice has lived a life of lively adventure, accompanying her father on his yearly pilgrimages. Now, on her father's final visit to Jerusalem, she comes under the protection of a young prince whose brothers were murdered, a prince who is in possession of an enchanted silver cup believed to be the mysterious Holy Grail itself.

Thus the stage is set for two young seekers to meet--and to find not what they are searching for but, instead, the greatest treasure of all . . . love.

Review:  This story was set in Arthur's Britain, but the King himself was only mentioned.  This is a great side-story though and full of adventure and romance.  It was a super-fast and enthralling read.  I enjoyed it completely and am sad that this is the last book by this author that I own.  I will certainly remedy that in the future.

Rating:  10 / 10

June 26, 2012

The Wicked Day by Mary Stewart

Title: The Wicked Day
Author: Mary Stewart

Format: PB
Pages: 358
Genre: Fantasy / Historical Fiction
Publisher: Fawcett, 1984
Series: Merlin, Book 4

Favorite Quotes:  So died Morgause, witch-queen of Lothian and Orkney, leaving by her death and its manner another hellbrew of trouble for her hated brother.

It was war.  This was the day.  This was the wicked day of destiny.

Synopsis:  The Wicked Day is the gripping story of Mordred, bastard son of King Arthur by incest with his half-sister Morgause, witch-queen of Lothian and Orkney. Morgause sent the child to the Orkney Islands to be reared there in secret, in the hope that one day he would become, as Merlin the Enchanter had prophesied, the doom of her hated half-brother.

When Mordred is taken from his rude life as a fisherboy in the islands and suddenly thrust into the full panoply of the High King Arthur's court, he learns of his true parentage and rises to a position of trust in his father's kingdom. But, as the plots and counterplots of the last part of Arthur's reign unfold, Mordred is drawn into the tangled web of tragedy that is the climactic drama of the Arthurian legend.

The Wicked Day breathtakingly displays Mary Stewart's extraordinary gift for bringing the obscure past to life. Her characters are unforgettable: the young Mordred, whose close bond with his father arouses dire jealousies in the High Court at Camelot; his malevolent mother; her four unruly sons by King Lot; King Arthur himself, his Queen Guinevere, his trusted friend Bedwyr; and the warring factions that seek to bring down the bastions of Arthur's new confederation of Britain.

As she did in her earlier Arthurian novels, Mary Stewart challenges the accepted legends in this stirring and danger-ridden tale. Was Mordred in truth a traitor--or the victim of implacable fate? Mary Stewart's view brings tremendous emotional impact to the drama, as Merlin's prophecy hangs broodingly over each moment and the action plays itself out inexorably to the final, wicked day . . .

Review:  I'm so glad to see Mordred portrayed not as some chillingly insane and evil villain.  It's refreshing to find an author who sees that sometimes destiny forces you to do things you'd rather not.  Both Mordred and Arthur are dead now, the Saxons are in Britain, and there is only one more book left by this author about this topic.  I'm not sure what to expect, but I'm looking forward to perhaps a more happy ending.

I liked this book, very nearly as well as any of them but not quite.  I didn't like knowing that Arthur was going to die.

Rating:  9 / 10

June 13, 2012

The Last Enchantment by Mary Stewart

Title: The Last Enchantment
Author: Mary Stewart
Format: PB
Pages: 471
Genre: Fantasy / Historical Fiction
Publisher: Fawcett, 1979
ISBN-13:     978-0449242070
Series: Merlin, Book 3

Favorite Quote:  I cried out:  "Stay for me, for God's sake!  I'm no ghost!  Stay!  Help me out of here!  Stilicho, stay!"

Synopsis (PBS):  The richest of the three...mighty...climactic...action and suspense constant, even harrowing."-- The Wall Street Journal — Arthur is King! But while unchallenged on the battlefield, sinister powers plot to destroy him in his own Camelot. When the rose-gold witch Morgause, Arthur's half-sister, ensnares him into an incestuous liaison--and bears his son, Mordred, to use to her own evil ends--a fatal web of love, betrayal and bloody vengeance is woven.

Review:  I really like these books.  Morgause is delicously evil.  Guinevere is honorable and not written like she ruined King Arthur's life.  Merlin is at his decline, which I hated to see, but his legacy is passed on to Nimue (who also is not evil in the least in this version of the tale).  Mordred is barely met, but seems innocent enough at this point, although I know he will be the end for Arthur at some point, probably in the next book which I am starting today. 

While I didn't enjoy it quite as much as the last two books of this series, this is a very satisfying and believable tale of King Arthur, Merlin and Camelot.

Rating:  9.5 / 10

June 5, 2012

The Hollow Hills by Mary Stewart

Title:  The Hollow Hills
Author:  Mary Stewart
Format: PB
Pages:  436
Genre: Fantasy / Historical Fiction
Publisher: Fawcett Crest, 1974
ISBN-13:     978-0449020890
Series: Merlin, Book 2 

Favorite Quote:  It had come by water and by land and lay waiting now for this, to bring Arthur his kingdom, and keep and hold it, and afterwards go from men's sight for ever....

Synopsis (PBS):  A novel that recreates the suspense and excitement of an ancient legend--how Merlin, the enchanter, helped Arthur become king of all Britain. — Once again, as she did in her international best seller The Crystal Cave, Mary Stewart uses Arthurian legend to tell a spellbinding story. — The Hollow Hills takes place in a fifth-century Britain fraught with superstition and fear, where no life is safe, no law is stable, and where a king risks accusations of murder and adultery to get himself an heir. For his own safety, the boy Arthur, rejected as a bastard by his father, is long kept ignorant of his parentage.

Dangerous rides through the deep forest of England and Wales, sudden battles amidst brooding mountains, and retreats into secret hollows in the hills provide the background for this tale of Arthur's growth into manhood and his discovery of the strange sword that was to test his claim to power.

Behind and around Arthur always is the mysterious, strong, yet vulnerable figure of Merlin, who see and knows so much but who, like Arthur, must also suffer for the sake of a nation being born. In this world of embattled kings and courtiers, hurried journeys, whispered anxieties, and sudden death, we watch Merlin and Arthur follow their common destiny.

Merlin is the narrator, and his prophetic voice communicates not only the bristling atmosphere of the ancient setting but also the profound relevance of this age-old tale to our own time.

Review:  Oh, so good.  I am thoroughly loving this series.  Merlin and Arthur are wonderful.  Uther is a flawed but genuinely good King.  This retelling of the finding of the sword in the stone is original and believable.  I just loved it.

Rating:  10 / 10

May 29, 2012

The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart

Title:  The Crystal Cave
Author:  Mary Stewart
Format: HC
Pages:  519

Genre: Fantasy / Historical Fiction
Publisher: William Morrow, 1970
ISBN-13:    Pre ISBN
Series: Merlin, Book 1

Favorite Quote:  Do you think Uthur is a King, Cadel?  He's but a regent for him who went before and for him who comes after, the past and future King.

Synopsis (PBS):  A big novel of sheer enchantment, this is the story, told by himself, of Merlin, man of magic and eventual guardian of King Arthur.... — Almost everyone knows Merlin as the dark brooding figure mysteriously associated with Camelot and King Arthur's court. — But who, really, was Merlin? Was he the enchanter of fairy tales, the magician in the black robe and pointed hat and wand? Or was he the king and prophet of old legends of Brittany and Wales? How did a man reputed to be the bastard son of the Prince of Darkness, and condemned to death as a child of the Devil, become the chief architect of the first united Britain?

Mary Stewart's answers to these provocative questions form a spell-binding novel that catapults the reader into fifth-century Britain- a land uncertainly emerging from Roman rule and divided by conflicting loyalties, political and spiritual; a land riddled with rumor real and planted, and spear-alert with superstitious fear.

Into this strange world was born Merlin, bastard son of Niniane, daughter of the King of South Wales, and an unknown father. The novel opens in Wales when Merlin is seven, and closes in Cornwall, at Tintagel, with the begetting of Arthur.

Mary Stewart is one of the most widely read novelists writing today. Her great gift as a story-teller, her enviable flair for making places and action come alive have never been more clearly defined than in The Crystal Cave.

This is not a story to be read once, however eagerly, and forgotten. Its imaginative truth will stand the test of time.

Review:  One of the best Merlin stories I've ever read.  I applaud the fact that it is both believable and magical.  The characters are fabulous.  Old Britain is described in almost painful detail.  It is really almost perfect, although I admit I'm a sucker for anything related to Merlin and King Arthur.

Rating:  10 / 10

May 20, 2012

Digital Fortress by Dan Brown

Title:  Digital Fortress
Author: Dan Brown
Format: PB
Pages:  372
Genre: Thriller
Publisher: St. Martins Griffin, 2000
ISBN-13:     978-0312263126 
Series: Stand Alone


Synopsis (PBS):  When the NSA's invincible code-breaking machine encounters a mysterious code it cannot break, the agency calls its head cryptographer, Susan Fletcher, a brilliant, beautiful mathematician. What she uncovers sends shock waves through the corridors of power. The NSA is being held hostage--not by guns or bombs -- but by a code so complex that if released would cripple U.S. intelligence. Caught in an accelerating tempest of secrecy and lies, Fletcher battles to save the agency she believes in. Betrayed on all sides, she finds herself fighting not only for her country but for her life, and in the end, for the life of the man she loves.

Review:  Okay, pretty standard high-tech thriller with romance tossed in just for fun.  I wasn't as impressed as I wanted to be.

Rating:  4.5 / 10

May 11, 2012

Ancient Light by Mary Gentle

Title:  Ancient Light
Author: Mary Gentle
Format: PB
Pages:  555

Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Signet, 1990
ISBN-13:    978-0451450135     
Series: Golden Witchbreed, Book 2

Favorite Quotes: "...And because you were here before you went back to Tathcaer, and found out what I'd done, I saw myself through your eyes, as you saw me, a friend."

"I won't wait any longer," he said.  "You've delayed and delayed, arykei, and I have thought the cause Ruric, alive or dead, or one of your Company men; and now I've done with waiting, and will have an answer."

"You can leave worlds behind you," he said.  "Where can we go, who can't leave this earth and live?"  His face twisted with disgust.

Synopsis (PBS):  This gracefully written sequel to Golden Witchbreed powerfully depicts the impact of a high-technology civilization on a decaying planet. Ten years after having served as Earth's first envoy to Orthe, which is struggling to survive after a planetwide holocaust millennia ago, Lynne de Lisle Christie returns there as an advisor to PanOceania, one of Earth's giant multinational companies, which is seeking to discover the technological secrets of the Goldens, the ruling race that had destroyed itself while almost obliterating Orthe. Christie seeks to help the native people, some of whom have been her friends, some her enemies, but all closely bound in her memories and loyalties. Instigated by the last of the Golden, a madwoman seeking domination, war between the poor and starving hiyeks of the Desert Coast and the land-loving telestres of the north is aggravated by smuggled high-tech weapons.

Review:  Argh!  I loved this world and Ms. Gentle wrote the ending so that we humans have destroyed it.  It isn't dead yet, but well on its way and the people will all die with it.  I can't even begin to tell you how disappointed I am.  I tire of Sci Fi sometimes for this very reason.  We humans *always* ruin everything in most of these stories.  While it may be true in some cases that we are careless and thoughtless, couldn't we just this one time not ruin everything we touch? 

Still, grudgingly, I admit I loved all of the book except the very end, although I didn't like it quite as much as the first.

Rating:  9 / 10
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