July 30, 2015

Dark Fire by C. J. Sansom

Title:  Dark Fire
Author:  C. J. Sansom
Pages:  503
Genre:  Mystery, Historical
Publisher:  Viking, 2004

Synopsis:  It is 1540, and Matthew Shardlake, the lawyer renowned as "the sharpest hunchback in the courts of England," is pressed to help a friend’s young niece who is charged with murder. Despite threats of torture and death by the rack, the girl is inexplicably silent. Shardlake is about to lose her case when he is suddenly granted a reprieve—one that will ensnare him in the dangerous schemes of Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s feared vicar-general.

In exchange for two more weeks to investigate the murder, Shardlake accepts Cromwell’s dangerous assignment to find a lost cache of "dark fire," a legendary weapon of mass destruction. Cromwell, out of favor since Henry’s disastrous marriage to Anne of Cleves, is relying on Shardlake to save his position at court, which is rife with treasonous conspiracies.

Review:  Another delicious mystery starring Dr. Shardlake.  This one is set in London itself and surrounds a missing recipe for Greek Fire and a string of murders, with an equally important story about a young girl accused of a murder she did not commit.  If possible, the city is even more horrible and sad and disgusting than the monastery was.  The justice system seems so completely unfair and random, I'm surprised anyone survived the time period.  I had some inkling of who had framed Elizabeth and who was spying on our heroes, but for the most part I had no idea who was actually to blame for what.  Great stuff.

Dr. Shardlake has a new assistant, Barak, who is low-class, foul-mouthed and generally completely enjoyable.  I liked this book just as well as I did the last one, maybe even a bit more because of the addition of Barak.  The Moorish monk, Guy, from the last story, has become an apothecary in London and one of Dr. Shardlake's most trusted friends.  His dry wit and intelligent insights are another refreshing plus for this tale.

But, I think I'll stop now and read the other two another time.  Don't want to get too much of a good thing and get bored with it.

Rating:  8.5 / 10

July 25, 2015

Dissolution by C.J. Sansom

Title:  Dissolution
Author:  C. J. Sansom
Pages:  390
Genre:  Mystery, Historical
Publisher:  Viking, 2003
The Bible says God made man in his image but I think we make and remake him, in whatever image happens to suit our shifting needs.
Synopsis:  It is the winter of 1537 and England is divided into those faithful to the Catholic Church and those loyal to the King and the newly established Church of England. Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII's feared vicar-general, crusades against the old Church with savage new laws, rigged trials, and a vast network of informers. Queen Anne Boleyn has been beheaded and monasteries are being dissolved-their treasures pillaged and their lands eyed greedily by courtiers and country gentry. But having put down one people's rebellion, Cromwell fears another might topple the realm. So, when one of his commissioners is murdered in the monastery at Scarnsea on the south coast of England, he enlists his fellow reformer, Matthew Shardlake, a lawyer renowned as "the sharpest hunchback in the courts of England," to head the inquiry.

When Shardlake and his young clerk and protégé, Mark Poer, arrive at Scarnsea, the two are greeted with thinly veiled hostility and suspicion as their investigation quickly uncovers evidence of sexual misconduct, embezzlement, and treason. While the community of brothers is revealed to be far less pious than they would seem, Shardlake himself is shocked to discover truths about Cromwell that undermine his own beliefs and threaten to cost him his faith, and even his life. But when a novice is poisoned and a year-old corpse dredged up from a nearby pond, Shardlake must act quickly to prevent the killer from murdering again.

Review:  I have always been in love with the Middle Ages.  I love stories about the Black Plague, monasteries, kings, queens, Knights Templar, and King Arthur.  This book reminds me a little of the Eleanor of Aquitaine series by Sharon Kay Penman, but only because they, too, are mysteries set in the Medieval Period, although the Penman books are set about 400 years earlier.  I even had a few flashbacks to that old Sean Connery movie, The Name of the Rose, but mostly because it, too, was a mystery set in a monastery.

Dr. Shardlake is an unusual hero.  A lawyer, a hunchback, and stout believer in the Reformation, he is investigating a murder on behalf of Thomas Cromwell.  He is not always a completely likable man, but he is honest and honorable, if perhaps a little blind when it comes to seeing what his benefactor Cromwell is really like.

I was so sure I knew who'd done it.  Absolutely positive.  It had to be Prior Mortimus, who was so hateful and mean and obviously hiding something.  I was wrong.  I never would have guessed the answer to the chain of murders at the Monastery of St. Donatus the Ascendant of Scarnsea.  That in itself made the book good.  But, along with that, the story was well told and the descriptions of Medieval life are terribly, yet also beautifully, realistic.

I have three more of these books.  I'm not going to read them all at once.  I'd get burnt out.  But, I think I will read another one.  I'm not ready to wave farewell to Dr. Shardlake just yet.

Rating:  8 / 10

July 16, 2015

The Martian by Andy Weir

Title:  The Martian
Author:  Andy Weir
Pages:  387
Genre:  Science Fiction
Publisher:  Broadway Books, 2014
Damn it, Jim, I'm a botanist, not a chemist!
Synopsis:  Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he's sure he'll be the first person to die there. — After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone, with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive -- and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive.

Chances are, though, he won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old "human error" are much more likely to kill him first.

But Mark isn't ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills -- and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit -- he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?
Problem is (follow me closely here, the science is pretty complicated), if I cut a hole in the Hab, the air won't stay inside anymore.
Review:  I use little colored pieces of paper to mark the quotes I like in books.  When I got done reading this book (in just over 2 days of never wanting to stop reading), I had about 30 pieces of paper.  I could have marked the entire book.  I loved this book.  This was some of the best Science Fiction I've had the pleasure of reading, ever.

It was funny, scary, sad, thrilling, uplifting and disgusting.  Usually all on one page!  It was chock full of science geekiness, which I have a soft spot for.  I am letting this one sit for a while and see if I want to re-read it another time.  It was that good.  I'm pretty particular about books I consider keepers, more so now that I've moved so many times in the last 4 years.  But this book, it gets a spot.

And now, I find out they are making a movie out of this book!  I can't wait!  I hope it's as good as this book was.

I think the quote from the Reader's Guide at the end pretty well sums it up.  "Ultimately, The Martian transcends its undeniable nerdy thrills of how to survive on Mars to celebrate human resilience."  I couldn't have said it better myself.  And, boy, was it a kick-ass ride!
...apparently, I smell like a skunk took a shit on some sweat socks.
Rating:  10 / 10

July 12, 2015

May / June 2015 TBR Challenge Wrap Up

Goal:  50
Completed:  19

The date the book was added to my TBR is in parenthesis.

May / June
11. The Dragon Token by Melanie Rawn (8/19/2008)
12. Skybowl by Melanie Rawn (8/19/2008)
13. Army Wives by Tanya Biank (3/28/2015)
14. The Walking by Bentley Little (11/22/2008)
15. And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini  (3/12/2015)
16. The Far Kingdoms by Allan Cole & Chris Bunch  (5/26/2008)
17. The Warrior's Tale by Allan Cole & Chris Bunch  (6/18/2008)
18. Kingdoms of the Night by Allan Cole and Chris Bunch (5/26/2008)

My favorite this time is easy!  The Warrior's Tale by Allan Cole & Chris Bunch was just great!

The Warrior Returns by Allan Cole

Title:  The Warrior Returns
Author:  Allan Cole
Pages:  440
Genre:  Fantasy
Publisher:  Del Rey, 1996

Synopsis:  For those who thrill to the adventure and wonder of The Anteros, here is the book where all the secrets from KINGDOMS OF THE NIGHT are finally, dazzlingly, revealed.  For new initiates, this tale stands alone, entry to a world of intrigue, high drama, derring-do . . . and, most of all, magic! — All of Orissa believed that Rali Emilie Antero, legendary warrior and sorceress extraordinaire, was dead, lost at sea during some grand adventure gone wrong. In fact, Rali was not dead, but left entombed in ice to dream for eternity--until a goddess needed her for one last quest . . .

Novari, a beautiful succubus intent on achieving ultimate power, had swept the world by storm.  All the Anteros had been assassinated--save one : a golden, magical child named Emilie.  Novari had succeeded in taking Orissa.  Now she had only to sieze little Emilie, as well.

Review:  Well, Rali is back for a final story.  I was excited to read more about this great character.  Unfortunately, this book did not hold up as well as I had hoped it would.  It was good enough to keep my interest, but not nearly as good as the best of the series, The Warriors Tale.

I'm glad I found this series.  It has many new and interesting ideas in it.  I just wish all the books had been as good as the one truly great one.

Rating:  6 / 10
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