January 15, 2015

Salem Falls by Jodi Picoult

Title:  Salem Falls
Author:  Jodi Picoult
Pages:  434
Genre:  Fiction
Publisher:  2001, Washington Square Press

Synopsis:  Love can redeem a man...but secrets and lies can condemn him.  A handsome stranger comes to the sleepy New England town of Salem Falls in hopes of burying his past: once a teacher at a girls' prep school, Jack St. Bride was destroyed when a student's crush sparked a powder keg of accusation. Now, washing dishes for Addie Peabody at the Do-Or-Diner, he slips quietly into his new routine, and Addie finds this unassuming man fitting easily inside her heart. But amid the rustic calm of Salem Falls, a quartet of teenage girls harbor dark secrets -- and they maliciously target Jack with a shattering allegation. Now, at the center of a modern-day witch hunt, Jack is forced once again to proclaim his innocence: to a town searching for answers, to a justice system where truth becomes a slippery concept written in shades of gray, and to the woman who has come to love him.

Review:  Whenever I need a break from aliens, spaceships, dragons and knights, Jodi Picoult is one of my favorite authors to turn to.  Her books are always fast reads; impossible to put down stories of the joy and tragedy of life.  This story is no exception.

This page-turner takes a look at witchcraft and rape, a seemingly odd combination and certainly two risky topics to write about.  So many things could have gone badly with such sensitive issues being discussed, but the story works perfectly.  The ending shocked and saddened me.  The girl who starts most of the trouble in the story, Gillian, turns out to be the most troubled teenager in town.  I won't give it away, but I certainly didn't see myself ever feeling sorry for her....until I did.

The main characters (teenager and adult alike) are well-rounded and believable.  There are no perfect people in Ms. Picoult's stories and that, to me, makes them all the more enjoyable.  I really loved this story.  It was unusual and made me question my own preconceptions about the subject matter.

Rating:  9 / 10

January 11, 2015

Hunters of the Red Moon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

Title:  Hunters of the Red Moon
Author:  Marion Zimmer Bradley
Pages:  176
Genre:  Science Fiction
Publisher:  1973, DAW
Series:  The Hunters, Book 1

Synopsis:  For the Hunters, the Hunt was a religion. The Sacred Prey, sentient beings collected from all over the galaxy, were literally given a fighting chance--they were allowed to choose weapons from an armory with every imaginable weapon and given time to train. Then they were taken to the place of the Hunt, where death awaited them. Those who survived until the eclipse of the red moon, however, were honored by the Hunters and rewarded with all the wealth they could desire. The trick, of course, was surviving.

Review:  The story idea is quite good.  Dane, kidnapped from Earth, is taken to an alien planet to be hunted.  His group is part of the Sacred Prey.  It reminds me a little bit of The Hunger Games meets 'Aliens', except not as good as either one.

His group consists of a fierce, cat-like creature, Cliff-Climber, a huge reptilian philosopher, Aratak, and two human females, a scientist named Rianna and an empath named Dallith, neither of whom are from Earth.  Dane is basically a playboy who dabbles in martial arts.  By far, the best character is Aratak.  He is an enormous, intelligent reptile who is a philosopher and pacifist; he's pretty humorous.

This otherwise promising story, unfortunately, has weepy, weak and generally aggravating female characters.  Both the main female characters are in love with Dane after about 15 minutes.  I know that it is pretty common-place in Sci-Fi, especially in the era this particular book was written, but it just irks me.  And, really, the whole story just was not all that great.  Several times during the first half, I nearly gave up on it.  The very last part, leading up to and including the final battle scene was exciting.  Unfortunately that was only about 20 pages out of the whole book.

I've been reading Marion Zimmer Bradley books for some time now.  This is not my favorite, not by a long shot.  I couldn't even find a quote worth mentioning, so I left the quote section out.  There's a second book in this series, but I think I'll pass on it.

Rating:  3 / 10

January 8, 2015

The Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King

Title:  The Wind Through the Keyhole
Author:  Stephen King
Pages:  307
Genre:  Fantasy
Publisher:  2012, Scribner
Series:  The Dark Tower, Book 4.5
"I like it.  In fact, I want a bumper sticker that says I Waited Out the Starkblast in Gook."
In King’s own words: “What happened to Roland, Jake, Eddie, Susannah, and Oy between the time they leave the Emerald City (the end of Wizard and Glass) and the time we pick them up again, on the outskirts of Calla Bryn Sturgis (the beginning of Wolves of the Calla).  There was a storm, I decided ..."  The Wind Through The Keyhole takes place between books four and five in The Dark Tower series.

We join Roland and his ka-tet as a ferocious storm halts their progress along the Path of the Beam. As they shelter from the screaming wind and snapping trees, Roland tells them not just one strange tale, but two -- and in doing so sheds fascinating light on his own troubled past.
Time is a keyhole.  Yes, I think so.  We sometimes bend and peer through it.  And the wind we feel on our cheeks when we do - the wind that blows through the keyhole - is the breath of all the living universe.
Review:  It was nice to visit again with my old friends from The Dark Tower series.  This new edition to the series is very good.  It was impossible to put down.  I learned new background on Roland, his mother and, of course, the man in black.

During a storm, Roland tells his friends a true story from his past called 'The Skin-Man'.  During the story, his younger self tells another, much older fairy tale called 'The Wind Through the Keyhole' to a young, scared boy named Billy.  It was an interesting how the two stories intertwined and became part of one larger story.

Before and after the story-telling, a few more details and adventures of Roland and his ka-tet are given and while I do love Roland, Jake, Eddie, Susannah and Oy, I think those parts are just padding to be honest.  The real story is....well, the stories.  And they are good stories, too.  They would have been good stories no matter who told them, but since the man in black figures into them, Roland was the man tapped for the job.

Rating:  8.5 / 10

January 2, 2015

The Gunslinger by Stephen King

Title:  The Gunslinger
Author:  Stephen King
Pages:  231
Genre:  Fantasy
Publisher:  2003, Viking Penguin
Series:  The Dark Tower, Book 1
The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.
Synopsis:  Eerie, dreamlike, set in a world that is weirdly related to our own, The Gunslinger introduces Roland Deschain of Gilead, of In-World that was, as he pursues his enigmatic antagonist to the mountains that separate the desert from the Western Sea. Roland is a solitary figure, perhaps accursed, who with a strange single-mindedness traverses an exhausted, almost timeless landscape. The people he encounters are left behind, or worse - left dead. At a way station, however, he meets Jake, a boy from a particular time (1977) and a particular place (New York City), and soon the two are joined—khef, ka, and ka-tet. The mountains lie before them. So does the man in black and, somewhere far beyond...the Dark Tower.
"Go then.  There are other worlds than these."
Review:  I purchased the original, un-edited version of this book in 1989.  I read it and fell in love.  I waited years and years for Mr. King to finish his opus.  I've read all of the original 7 books in this series, but now a new one has come out.  I re-read this, one of my all-time favorite books, again (for what is probably the 10th time) to get back in the mindset for reading the recently released addition to this series, The Wind Through the Keyhole.

I had initially planned to re-read the entire seven books, an undertaking of thousands of pages, but realize that I've actually read these books so often that I just can't seem to read them again, at least not now, not when my pile of unread books sits waiting for attention.

The world is so *nearly* ours and so obviously not that it is a haunting set of stories to read.  The Gunslinger is not the most solid, well-written of the series, but it will always have a special place in my heart.  Since it was initially written in 1970, it's understandable that the writer's skills might not have been as well-honed as they are now.  Mr. King is known as the King of Horror, but, while this book has plenty of horrifying moments, it is Fantasy in the truest sense.  In the end, it's mostly about good versus evil....except the good is just an imperfect man who has lost so much and knows he will lose even more before his quest is done.

If you are a lover of Fantasy and haven't tried this series, I cannot encourage you enough to give it a try.  The second book will hook you in, I promise.  It's admittedly a large series, but well worth it.

It's really hard for me to rate this book.  I've loved it my entire adult life.  I'll try to be fair.

Rating: 8.5 / 10

January 1, 2015

2015 Challenges

As I made my New Year's resolution to start joining challenges again, here we go...

2015 New Authors Challenge
Hosted by Literary Escapism
I've chosen to try to read 15 new authors this year!

2015 TBR Pile Reading Challenge
Hosted by Bookish

I've chosen the to read 50+ (Married with Children)

2015 Outdo Yourself Reading Challenge
Hosted by The Book Vixen
2015 Outdo Yourself Reading Challenge

I've chosen to try for Getting My Heart Rate Up: read 1–5 more books (or 250–1,499 more pages).  My page count is on the sidebar.  My number of books read is on the page 2015 Books

I have to read at least 64 books (or 21,682 pages)

2015 Let Me Count the Ways Reading Challenge
Hosted by Avanti Ciera

I've chosen Multi-Diamond: 10,001 + pages.  This one will be kept track of in the sidebar.

2015 Whats In a Name Reading Challenge
Hosted by The Worm Hole
I'll be creating a page to keep track of the books I choose.

Okay, I think that's enough.  Along with my personal challenges, I hope I haven't bitten off more than I can chew!  I'll have the individual pages for the first two challenges up soon, so I have a place to keep track of how I'm doing.

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