August 28, 2015

July / August 2015 TBR Challenge Wrap Up

Goal:  50
Completed:  29

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

19. The Warrior Returns by Allan Cole (5/27/2008)
20. Dissolution by C. J. Sansom  (8/22/2008)
21. Dark Fire by C. J. Sansom  (7/18/2008)
22. Glory by Alfred Coppel  (10/27/2008)
23. Glory's War by Alfred Coppel  (3/26/2008)
24. Glory's People by Alfred Coppel  (3/27/2008)
25. The Pact by Jodi Picoult (11/22/2008)
26. Angel of Darkness by Charles de Lint (7/31/2009)
27. Deathworld by Harry Harrison  (3/18/2009)
28. Deathworld 2 by Harry Harrison (3/18/2009)
29. Finder's Bane by Kate Novak and Jeff Grubb  (2/12/2009)

My favorite was either Angel of Darkness or Dark Fire.  It's too hard to choose between them!

Finder's Bane by Kate Novak & Jeff Grubb

Title:  Finder's Bane
Author:  Kate Novak and Jeff Grubb
Pages:  314
Genre:  Fantasy
Publisher:  TSR, 1997

Synopsis:  When Joel became a priest of the new god Finder, he knew it meant forfeiting the honor and security of his position as a master bard. Now his freedom and his very life are at stake as powers of evil embroil the priests of Finder in a struggle against a plot to resurrect the dead god Bane. — With his only allies the young freedom fighter Holly Harrowslough, the mysterious winged woman Jas, and the aging priest Jedidiah, Joel embarks on a mission to recover the Hand of Bane. His quest leads him from the Realms all the way to the extra-planar city of Sigil. There Joel must rely on all his courage, wisdom, and strength to thwart the return of Bane the Tyrant and rescue the god Finder from imminent death.

Review:  I read another trilogy by these same two authors a long time ago.  I kept promising myself to read another because, while they aren't exactly high literature, these two made series fantasy entertaining.  I am happy to report that this book is the same.  Fast-paced, fast to read, plenty of action and laughs, this book is everything I wanted right now.

Finder and Grypt are the only characters from last go around, but they did mention in passing Alias, the main character from the last trilogy.  Meanwhile, I still like Finder a great deal.  While Holly is a little irritating, she's also so nice you can't help but like her.  Joel is still learning his way and I'm not quite sure whether he'll turn out to be a great character yet or not.

Considering that this is part of the huge Forgotten Realms franchise, this is a really good book.  I've already got the next book in the trilogy ready to go.

Rating:  8 / 10

August 25, 2015

Deathworld 2 by Harry Harrison

Title:  Deathworld 2
Author:  Harry Harrison
Pages:  137
Genre:  Science Fiction
Publisher:  Nelson Doubleday, 1964

Synopsis:  “Deathworld II” finds our hero Jason dinAlt captured to face justice for his crimes, but the ever-wily gambler crashes his transport on a primitive planet populated by clans that hoard knowledge. It’s a difficult situation for a guy who just wants to get back to Pyrrus.

Review:  The first few pages of this book took place on Pyrrus.  The rest on a primitive planet where the people have forgotten nearly all the mechanical and scientific knowledge they once had.  Their whole society is based on clans and slaves and the people are horrible to one another.  Jason traded his own knowledge for survival and manages, eventually, to get rescued by Meta.

With each invention that Jason made out of things gotten from the people of the planet, I had this image in my mind of a MacGyver episode.  Take a piece of metal, three paper clips and a matchbook and boom, you have a lamp.  It wasn't quite that bad and I'm sure all the things he made could be made just the way the author describes.  The problem is, it just wasn't a good enough story to keep me all that interested.

I wanted more about Pyrrus.  I wanted to know how Jason's discoveries there changed the planet.  None of that was in the offing.  The third book is about yet another planet, so I'm going to pass.  This one just didn't make me want to read any more.

Rating:  3.5 / 10

August 23, 2015

Deathworld by Harry Harrison

Title:  Deathworld
Author:  Harry Harrison
Pages:  147
Genre:  Science Fiction
Publisher:  Nelson Doubleday, 1960

Synopsis:  Jason dinAlt finds excitement and intrigue as he investigates Pyrrus, a strange place where all the beasts, plants, and natural elements are out to destroy man. Well-known to fantasy and science fiction enthusiasts, this tale portrays exciting adventures filled with the elements of classic characters and plot twists.

Review:  This was a pretty good book.  Short, but good.  All three of the books are very short.  Since I'm curious to see what happens next, I'll continue with the series.

The world of Pyrrus certainly is deadly and deserves the 'Deathworld' nickname. I expected this story to feel dated since it was published in 1960.  It didn't.  It has a timeless quality to it and does not feel like it's 55 years old.

The main character, Jason, is does not seem very much like a hero at first, but he comes through in the end, mostly through sheer determination, common sense, and luck.  My favorite character is Meta, the female Pyrran who could crush Jason with one hand.  She's a good deal of fun.  I also like Nava, the man who can talk to animals.  He doesn't say much, but what he says made me laugh out loud at times.

The theme is pretty standard.  Man's own violent nature is destroying him.  The twist is that it has more to do with the human's thoughts than with their actions.  The story was fast-paced and had plenty of thrills for being so short.  Not the very best I've ever read, but certainly well above being the worst.

Rating:  6.5 / 10

August 22, 2015

The Pact - The Movie

Well, I just watched the Lifetime movie 'The Pact', which is supposedly based on the novel by Jodi Picoult.  It was not anywhere near the same story.


Well, the characters were the same and Emily died, but other than that, I didn't recognize it.

The glaring differences:

1.  In the book, Emily's mother burned her diary, forcing Chris to face trial.  In the movie, she gave it to Chris' mother, proving his innocence.

2.  I never saw Chris in jail in the movie.  In the novel, the jail scenes are important and tell a whole story themselves.

3.  The restaurant restroom abuse of Emily never happened in the movie.  Her reason for suicide was simply that her family was dysfunctional and she was tired of the falseness and lies.  And she thought her mother couldn't handle her getting pregnant.

All in all, a poor example of a movie based on a book.  The film of My Sister's Keeper was changed from the book, but was still a good movie.  I liked the movies made from Plain Truth and Salem Falls, both of which were more true to the original text.  This one, I give no stars.

Angel of Darkness by Charles de Lint

Title:  Angel of Darkness
Author:  Charles de Lint writing as Samuel M. Key
Pages:  240
Genre:  Horror, Fantasy
Publisher:  Tom Doherty, 1990
"All that's left is a killing time."
Synopsis:  In the early 1990s, Charles de Lint wrote and published three dark fantasies under the name "Samuel M. Key." Now, beginning with Angel of Darkness, Orb presents them for the first time under de Lint's own name. — When ex-cop Jack Keller finds the mutilated body of a runaway girl in the ashes of a bizarre house fire, he opens the door to a nightmare. For a sadistic experiment in terror has unleashed a dark avenging angel forged from the agonies of countless dying victims....
...stop hurting me...
Review:  Charles de Lint has become one of my favorite fantasy authors.  He made a pseudonym for his darker, more horrific novels so that his readers would be forewarned what to expect.  This is the first of the 'Key novels' that I've read.  It will not be the last.

This is not a book for the faint of heart or squeamish.  Between the spousal abuse, the sexual abuse and the serial killer, there's plenty of disturbing sequences.  The angel (who is more like a fury) is the evil that threatens.  Only she is not really evil, just a terrifying force of nature brought to life from humankind's own sadistic tendencies to hurt one another.

I finished this book in less than two days.  I couldn't put it down, at least not during the day.  At night, I left it be.  Nightmares abound in these pages.  Reminiscent of King when his horror makes forays into the fantastical, this novel is disturbing, scary, and completely fabulous.

Rating:  9 / 10

August 18, 2015

The Pact by Jodi Picoult

Title:  The Pact
Author:  Jodi Picoult
Pages:  406
Genre:  Fiction
Publisher:  Harper Perennial, 2006

Synopsis:  From Jodi Picoult, one of the most powerful writers in contemporary fiction, comes a riveting, timely, heartbreaking, and terrifying novel of families in anguish -- and friendships ripped apart by inconceivable violence. Until the phone calls came at 3:00 A.M. on a November morning, the Golds and their neighbors, the Hartes, had been inseparable. It was no surprise to anyone when their teenage children, Chris and Emily, began showing signs that their relationship was moving beyond that of lifelong friends. But now seventeen-year-old Emily has been shot to death by her beloved and devoted Chris as part of an apparent suicide pact -- leaving two devastated families stranded in the dark and dense predawn, desperate for answers about an unthinkable act and the children they never really knew.

Review:  This book was uncomfortable.  While it was also tragic and funny and hopeful, it was mostly uncomfortable for me.  I found it hard to believe that a teenage girl with a loving family would be suicidal over what seemed like small issues.  After thinking about it, I realized that other people's problems rarely seem as important as our own.  A man in a restaurant restroom did a horrible thing to Emily when she was young.  Her boyfriend feels more like her brother.  She is genuinely disgusted with herself and her life.  It is a sad state of affairs that ends with her death.

Ms. Picoult has been my go-to author for contemporary fiction for years.  When I need a break from my usual fare, she never fails to enthrall and amuse me all while making me think about subjects most of us would rather not think about.

I've loved some of her other stories better, but I still couldn't put this one down not until the bitter, yet hopeful, end.

Rating:  8 / 10

August 15, 2015

Glory's People by Alfred Coppel

Title:  Glory's People
Author:  Alfred Coppel
Pages:  320
Genre:  Science Fiction
Publisher:  Tor, 1996

Synopsis:  In Glory's People, Glory and her crew face a challenge from outside time and space, a devouring entity that could wipe human life from the galaxy. The great Goldenwing ship, Gloria Coelis, and her crew of Wired starfarers and cats with enhanced powers, has arrived at a planet settled by Japanese, one of the most technologically advanced civilizations among the colonized planets. The purpose of the voyage is to warn these people of the impending threat of the intergalactic entity and to enlist their scientific and military aid to combat the menace. But the threat is so unbelievable and the civilization so rigid and slow to act as a society that disaster has to strike and the death toll has to mount before the real battle can begin.

Review:  Well, this one was better than the second one and possibly a little better than the first one.  I am still not sure what exactly the entity was, or is, since I'm also not sure if the entity was beaten or not.  I don't think it was, though, from the epilogue.  There was plenty of excitement to go around while they tried, though.

The cats played a major role in this story, which was fun if pretty unbelievable.  I certainly liked this planet better than the rest.  It is peopled by settlers from Japan.  They are fairly busy pretending that they are all samurai and a group of people hire a ninja to try to kill Duncan, but by and large these people are much more likable than the last two planets.

The human characters are all good ones.  I never did warm up to Broni or Anya, the two female members of the crew.  I think actually the character I liked best was either Damon, the rigger who is afraid of heights, or Dietr, the crew doctor who is really afraid of loving anyone including himself.  Both of them were more human than the rest, with insecurities I could understand.  Mira, the queen cat, was charming but I thought the whole cats with telepathic/empathic powers was taken just a tad too far.  Glory was a lovely, semi-sentient machine but still a machine.  The Japanese were all old-fashioned and honorable and oddly sweet, with just a few exceptions.

I stand by what I said in the review for Glory.  This was pure science fiction and it was a well-told tale.

Rating:  7.5 / 10

August 13, 2015

Glory's War by Alfred Coppel

Title:  Glory's War
Author:  Alfred Coppel
Pages:  309
Genre:  Science Fiction
Publisher:  Tor, 1995

Synopsis:  It was the goldenwings that brought the remaining humans to colonize other planets in the last days of the Islamic/Christian Holy War (jihad) that was destroying the Earth. That was thousands of years ago. Now there is only Glory. The crew is wired into the computer that runs it and, in essence, is tapped into Glory's mind. It carries supplies ordered long ago and is about to land on a planet that has been warring with another for eons. Each side sets out to capture the ship and commandeer the supplies. While orbiting one of the planets, the crew discovers that there is an entity out in space (no shape, no structure) that feeds on human emotions. In fighting off this force, Glory and her crew become one and ancient self-defense mechanisms are activated to protect her. The battle first between the planets and then between Glory and her crew against the entity make for an action-packed story with a crackerjack ending.

Review:  This story wasn't nearly as good as the last one.  It centers around a pair of twin planets, one of which is almost paradise compared to the other.  The second, less hospitable planet, was settled accidentally when the goldenwing that was carrying the settlers got hit by space debris.  They were sent to the planet as a last ditch effort to save their lives from a spaceship that was fatally wounded.

The people on the nicer planet are sort of Christians who also follow some Sharia teachings.  The accidental settlers on the nearly barren planet are Muslim.  Guess what?  They've been fighting a war for hundreds of years to decide who gets to live on the nicer planet.  Nope, they can't possibly share it.  Absolutely not.  When Glory shows up with some mining equipment ordered 100 years ago, of course both factions want her for themselves so they can finally win the war.

The whole religious fervor and killing in the name of God (or Allah or Ullah, as they call Him in the book) story line just hit a tiny bit too close to home for me, considering it's in the newspapers just about every day.  And, as I suspected, one of the new crew members, Broni, aggravates me endlessly.

The really interesting part of the story is the entity they encounter, which may be from another universe or dimension, and which seems to be attracted to and feed upon strong emotions.  The two planets are just rife with hatred and fear and all sorts of strong emotions and it makes itself known, killing off quite a few of the warlike people from both planets.  The other good part is that the people from both planets who survived trying to take over Glory are marooned all together in a bitter, cold wasteland in the arctic region of the nicer planet, where presumably they will be forced to work together for once or die.  If they survive long enough, maybe somebody will find them and they can go home a little wiser.

So far, this series has brought me to planets with apartheid and jihad.  I'm glad to note that the next book is not about Nazis.  It's a relief since the only reason I'm reading the third, and last, book of this series is I want to find out more about this entity.

Rating:  4 / 10

August 9, 2015

Reality Check

Well, it's almost 2/3 of the way through the year and I'm a little less than half-way to my total reading goal.  I think it's safe to say that, once again, I'll read fewer books than I did last year.  I wish I knew how to go back to reading like I did, but my life has changed so much since then.  I'm just going to keep reading and keep loving reading and hope one day I have more time to pursue my obsession.  Meanwhile, at least I've found my passion again.

August 4, 2015

Glory by Alfred Coppel

Title:  Glory
Author:  Alfred Coppel
Pages:  373
Genre:  Science Fiction
Publisher:  Tor, 1993

Synopsis:  The Goldenwing spaceship Gloria Coelis approaches the colony planet Voerster with an essential supply shipment ordered centuries before.  Settled by South Africans determined to preserve apartheid, Voerster is now threatened by revolution and war....while its conservative ruler and his wife vie with one another over their daughter whose heart condition will kill her without the spacefarers' more advanced medicine....

Review:  Glory is a large, semi-sentient, beautiful spaceship.  Her crew are diverse but are dedicated to the life they've chosen.  They are not immortal, but due to space time dilation, they live on while people on planetside grow old and die.  They never return home because the people they loved are long gone.

The ship's cat, Mari, is a great character.  As is Duncan, the captain.  The rest are equally interesting, but I am not sure if I will like the newest edition to the crew, Broni, or not.  She is the daughter of the ruler of Voerster and she seems just a little spoiled for my tastes, not to mention that she's been brought up to believe that the races are not equal.  Since I've already started the next book, I suppose I'm about to find out if she fits in well or not.

Speaking of the beliefs of the planet Voerster, I surely hope when the day comes that we reach for the stars, we can manage to leave the worst parts of our society behind.  Somehow, I think it's unlikely though.  We are who we are.

This book had some of the standard fare expected in this genre:  plenty of sex, beautiful women, handsome men, and a sharp spotlight on the obvious dark side to human behavior.  It didn't matter.  This was classic science fiction, told by a master, and I enjoyed it very much.

Rating:  7 / 10

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