February 27, 2016

Breathless by Dean Koontz

Title:  Breathless
Author:  Dean Koontz
Pages:  431
Genre:  Suspense / Thriller
Publisher:  Random House, 2009
Series:  Stand Alone

Synopsis:  In the stillness of a golden September afternoon, deep in the wilderness of the Rockies, a solitary craftsman, Grady Adams, and his magnificent Irish wolfhound, Merlin, step from shadow into light ... and into an encounter with enchantment.  That night, through the trees, under the moon, a pair of singular animals will watch Grady's isolated home, waiting to make their approach.

A few miles away, Camillia Rivers, a local veterinarian, begins to unravel the threads of a puzzle that will bring to her door all the forces of a government in peril.

At a nearby farm, long-estranged identical twins come together to begin a descent into darkness...In Las Vegas, a specialist in chaos theory probes the boundaries of the unknowable....On a Seattle golf course, two men make matter-of-fact arrangements for murder...Along a highway by the sea, a vagrant scarred by the past begins a trek towards his destiny.

Review:  This story is about our future and the evolution (or what we thought was the evolution) of our species.  It takes everyone from an ex-Army sniper to a budding serial killer and makes five completely separate lives all part of the story.  And the story is about Puzzle and Riddle, two beings who have appeared out of nowhere.  They are wonderful and smart and far better people than most humans.  And they are our future.

Of course, the powers that be are scared.  Homeland Security cannot control or understand what's happening, so they treat this gift like a threat.  Fortunately, not even the United States government can control Mother Nature.

If you're at all interested in reading a story full of miracles mixed with science which includes enough thrills and mystery to knock your socks off, this novel is just the ticket.  I can't begin to tell you the hopeful and wistful feelings I was left with.  I wish, so much, that Puzzle and Riddle (and their brethren) were real.

Rating:  9 / 10

February 26, 2016

The Friday 56 and Book Beginnings #8

The Friday 56 is hosted by Freda's Voice and Book Beginnings is hosted by Rose City Reader.  Visit their links to learn more.
Title:  Breathless
Author:  Dean Koontz
The Beginning:  A moment before the encounter, a strange expectancy overcame Grady Adams, a sense that he and Merlin were not alone.

The Friday 56:  Few crimes occurred in this remote land, and those were mostly crimes of passion, seldom theft or vandalism.  Consequently, Grady occasionally forgot to lock the workshop door.

He might have forgotten this time, but he hadn't left the door open, as it now stood.  With the faintest click of claws, Merlin preceded his master across the threshold.

Comment:  I'm not sure where this novel is headed, but it's got my interest!

February 25, 2016

The Magic Cup by Andrew M. Greeley

Title:  The Magic Cup
Author:  Andrew M. Greeley
Pages:  285
Genre:  Historical Fantasy
Publisher:  TOR, 1979
Series:  Stand Alone

Synopsis:  In this novel of legendary Ireland, Andrew Greeley takes you back to a long-ago time of mists and magic, faith and love.  Here you will meet Cormac MacDermot, the young king destined to lead Ireland out of paganism to Christianity; his aged father, now on the throne; and the seductive witch-queen who holds the country in thrall.  Here also is the lovely slave girl Brigid.  As light-footed as an Irish pixie, she will help Cormac seek the magic cup that will confirm his right to be High King of Ireland.

Over mountain and river they will journey, beset by perils.  But when their enemies capture Brigid, and Cormac strives to save her, he will see that the little slave girl is a great deal more than she seems.

Review:  This book is a version of the Irish legend of the quest for the Holy Grail.  I honestly love historical fiction, especially from this time period, but this book was a bit of a disappointment.  It had plenty of realistic historical backdrop.  It just also seemed to drag on and on and on in some places.  The perils were many.......too many.  It got to the point where I wondered if the quest would ever end.

It was also a little like reading a torrid romance novel set in ancient Ireland.  Since I have very little patience for romance of any kind, this set my teeth on edge.  It was almost a bodice-ripper and almost a sweet love story, but didn't manage to really be either one.  It came across as just plain silly for the most part.

Rating:  3.5 / 10

February 22, 2016

The Sands of Mars by Arthur C. Clarke

Title:  The Sands of Mars
Author:  Arthur C. Clarke
Pages:  252
Genre:  Science Fiction
Publisher:  Warner Books, 2001
Series:  Stand Alone

Synopsis:  Science-fiction writer Martin Gibson finally gets a chance to visit the research colony on the Red Planet.  It's a dream come true -- until he discovers the difficulties and perils of survival on another world....and the very real terror it holds.

Review:  This was a fun story, with plenty of interesting characters.  It was written in 1952, so most of what the author describes about Mars has since been proven wrong, but that doesn't take away from the story.

What makes this story feel dated is that there are people living on Mars.....but the writer, Martin, is using a typewriter and carbon paper to write his articles.  He also owns a camera that has film that has to be developed back on Earth.  There are other examples of far-outdated technology, but I think you get the idea.

Still, it was a fun story.  I liked the animals they find on Mars.  Little Squeak is too cute for words.  This book was more fiction than real science but, considering how old it is, I think it held up better than some newer novels I've read.  It wasn't anywhere near as good as The City and the Stars though.

Rating:  5.5 / 10

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? #6

It's Monday!  What Are You Reading? is hosted by The Book Date.  Visit the link to learn more.
Last Book I Read:  The Sands of Mars by Arthur C. Clarke -- I haven't reviewed this one yet, but it was pretty good, although a little dated.
Book I'm Reading Now:  The Magic Cup by Andrew M. Greeley -- I just started this one.  I'm not sure whether I'm going to like it as much as I'd hoped...
Next Up:  Breathless by Dean Koontz -- I almost always adore this author, so I'm sure I won't be disappointed!
I missed the last two Mondays and I was sad about it, but I'm back on track!

February 21, 2016

Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult

Title:  Leaving Time
Author:  Jodi Picoult
Pages:  405
Genre:  Mystery
Publisher:  Ballantine, 2014
Series:  Stand Alone

Synopsis:  Alice Metcalf was a devoted mother, loving wife, and accomplished scientist who studied grief among elephants. Yet it's been a decade since she disappeared under mysterious circumstances, leaving behind her small daughter, husband, and the animals to which she devoted her life. All signs point to abandonment . . . or worse. Still Jenna--now thirteen years old and truly orphaned by a father maddened by grief--steadfastly refuses to believe in her mother's desertion. So she decides to approach the two people who might still be able to help her find Alice: a disgraced psychic named Serenity Jones, and Virgil Stanhope, the cynical detective who first investigated her mother's disappearance and the death of one of her mother's co-workers. Together these three lonely souls will discover truths destined to forever change their lives. Deeply moving and suspenseful, Leaving Time is a radiant exploration of the enduring love between mothers and daughters.
...in spite of what Serenity's said -- in spite of what I had believed -- she's not a lousy psychic. She's a fucking great one.
Review:  This book kept me guessing until the very end.  I was so sure I knew what had happened to Jenna's mother.  It turns out, I was nowhere near the truth.  This book was written from several points of view, mostly using Jenna and Alice, and it was easy to get so caught up in the story that I'd forget whose part I was reading.

The characters were all great.  Jenna and her mother, Alice, and her father, Thomas, are at the center of the story.  But, Serenity, the psychic, and Virgil, the ex-police officer, were more important to the quest to find out what had happened ten years ago, when Alice vanished.

I loved the little bits of obscure information about elephants.  Learning about the way they interact, live and treat one another was an eye-opening experience for me.  Realizing how poorly this incredible animal is being treated made me angry and sad.

I was completely unprepared for the ending and found myself in tears.  This was a great novel, one of Ms. Picoult's better ones, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Rating:  9 / 10

February 18, 2016

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

Title:  The Man in the High Castle
Author:  Philip K. Dick
Pages:  274
Genre:  Alternate History / Dystopian Fiction
Publisher:  Mariner, 2011
Series:  Stand Alone

Synopsis:  It's America in 1962.  Slavery is legal once again.  The few Jews who still survive hide under assumed names.  In San Francisco, the I Ching is as common as the Yellow Pages.  All because some twenty years earlier the United States lost a war -- and is now occupied by Nazi Germany and Japan.

Review:  This is a really odd book and is hard to understand in places.  It's also a good novel.  While I'm not sure I came away completely understanding it, I know I won't soon forget it.

California, Oregon, Washington and part of Nevada are the Pacific States of America, run by the Japanese.  The rest of the nation is run by the Nazis.  The Middle East is owned by the Italians.  And everywhere, people are being slaughtered.  Africa is nearly empty - a barren land used for dumping toxic waste.  The few black people left are used as slaves.  The Jews have nowhere to hide because they are arrested and sent to Germany for elimination.  Russia has almost no Russians left.  The rest of the Americans, the Europeans and the Chinese are the lower class now, held in disdain by all the world's powers.

All in all, this novel was unsettling, upsetting and eye-opening.  It made me realize how lucky we are.  This book forces you to ask yourself hard questions about hatred, racism, and power.

Rating:  5.5 / 10

February 16, 2016

Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness

Title:  Monsters of Men
Author:  Patrick Ness
Pages:  604
Genre:  YA Science Fiction / Dystopian Adventure
Publisher:  Candlewick, 2010
Series:  Chaos Walking, Book 3

Synopsis:  As a world-ending war surges to life around them, Todd and Viola face unspeakably vast consequences of each action, each word, each monstrous decision.  The indigenous Spackle are mobilizing to avenge their murdered people; ruthless human leaders are defending their factions; and a convoy of new settlers is approaching.  All the while, the ceaseless Noise continues laying all thoughts bare -- and the projected will of the few threatens to overwhelm the desperate desire of the many.

Comment:  This is a great ending to a great series!

Title:  The New World
Author:  Patrick Ness
Pages:  25
Genre:  YA Science Fiction / Dystopian Adventure
Publisher:  Ebook, 2009
Series:  Chaos Walking, Book 0.5

Synopsis:  In this dramatic short story -- a prequel to the award-winning Chaos Walking Trilogy -- author Patrick Ness gives us the story of Viola's journey to the New World. Whether you're new to Chaos Walking or an established fan, this prequel serves as a fascinating introduction to the series that Publishers Weekly called "one of the most important works of young adult science fiction in recent years.

Comment:  Tells a little of Viola's history from before she meets Todd.  Great addition to the series.

Title:  The Wide, Wide Sea
Author:  Patrick Ness
Pages:  39
Genre:  YA Science Fiction / Dystopian Adventure
Publisher:  Ebook, 2013
Series:  Chaos Walking, Book 2.5

Synopsis:  The Wide, Wide Sea is set in the past, at a time before the Spackle War, and we get a first look at the fishing village on the sea where some very important things happen at the end of Monsters of Men, so best to read it after The Ask and the Answer but before Monsters.

Comment:  A story of love between a Spackle and a human.  Mistress Coyle from the trilogy plays an important role.  Nice story.

Title: Snowscape
Author:  Patrick Ness
Pages:  40
Genre:  YA Science Fiction / Dystopian Adventure
Publisher:  Candlewick, 2010
Series:  Chaos Walking, Book 3.5

Synopsis:  This book is set after Monsters of Men and that's when you should read it.

Comment:  This was a scary story.  It tells about an exploration expedition.  Two characters from the original trilogy, Lee and Wilf, play important roles.  Nice extra story.

Overall Review:  I'm reviewing all of these books together.  Since three of them are short stories, I can't possibly do an entire post for each one and have enough to say.  All of these books are so completely wonderful that I'm sorry to see them finished.

Monsters of Men was the finale that I had been looking forward to and it didn't disappoint.  I was thrilled to find Snowscape included at the end of the book.  So, then I got to wondering whether there were other short stories.  I found The New World for free on Amazon and The Wide, Wide Sea for free on scribd.com.

They added even more tidbits of information about the people and the planet.  Snowscape gave a little bit more closure to the story, which I was very happy about.  They were well worth finding and reading.  Even though I ended up reading all the short stories after I'd already finished the original trilogy, it didn't detract from my enjoyment.  This series is a keeper, without a doubt.  I'm sure I'll revisit Todd and Viola again.

The Chaos Walking series is now one of my all time favorites.  It's also earned a place on my 'keeper' shelf which, out of all the books I've ever read, has only about 35 books on it.  I cannot say enough how much I loved these books.

Rating:  10 / 10

February 13, 2016

The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness

Title:  The Ask and the Answer
Author:  Patrick Ness
Pages:  366
Genre:  YA Science Fiction / Dystopian Adventure
Publisher:  SFBC, 2010
Series:  Chaos Walking, Book 2

Synopsis:  Reaching the end of their tense and desperate flight in THE KNIFE OF NEVER LETTING GO, Todd and Viola did not find healing and hope in Haven. They found instead their worst enemy, Mayor Prentiss, waiting to welcome them to New Prentisstown. There they are forced into separate lives: Todd to prison, and Viola to a house of healing where her wounds are treated. Soon Viola is swept into the ruthless activities of the Answer, aimed at overthrowing the tyrannical government. Todd, meanwhile, faces impossible choices when forced to join the mayor’s oppressive new regime. In alternating narratives -- Todd's gritty and volatile; Viola's calmer but equally stubborn -- the two struggle to reconcile their own dubious actions with their deepest beliefs. Torn by confusion and compromise, suspicion and betrayal, can their trust in each other possibly survive?
It's not that you should never love something so much it can control you. It's that you need to love something that much so you can never be controlled.
Review:  Impossible to put down.  This series grabs on and just doesn't let go.  Todd and Viola are such strong characters, with such rich personalities.  All of the characters seem so real that you find yourself believing in them and worrying about them.  New World is just as realistically drawn.  So are the native Spackles.  All together, they make a powerful story.

This book is quite a bit more violent than the last, with torture and warfare and bombs and people dying.  Both Todd and Viola have compromised their beliefs and themselves, but only because they have no other choice.  The lack of choice doesn't lessen their disillusionment with themselves and sometimes with each other.

But, along with all the horror, this story is also about hope, love and forgiveness.  It's hard to explain, but it's true.  These books are well worth the time.  These are some of the very best young adult fiction I can ever remember reading.  Again, it ended on a cliffhanger so I'm off to start book three and find out what happens next.  

Rating:  9.5 / 10

February 12, 2016

The Friday 56 and Book Beginnings #7

The Friday 56 is hosted by Freda's Voice and Book Beginnings is hosted by Rose City Reader.  Visit their links to learn more.
Title:  The Ask and the Answer
Author:  Patrick Ness
The Beginning:  "Your Noise reveals you, Todd Hewitt."  A voice -- In the darkness -- I blink open my eyes.  Everything is shadows and blur and it feels like the world's spinning and my blood is too hot and my brain is clogged and I can't think and it's dark --

The Friday 56:  "I'm sorry," she says, almost tenderly.  Almost.  "I don't know anything about a boy."  She frowns.  "I'm afraid I don't know anything about anything except that you were brought to this house of healing yesterday morning so close to death I wasn't at all sure we would be able to bring you back.  Except we were informed in no uncertain terms that our survival rather depended upon yours."

Comment:  I'm on book two of the Chaos Walking series and it is absolutely fabulous.  If you haven't read it yet, give it a try!

February 11, 2016

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

Title:  The Knife of Never Letting Go
Author:  Patrick Ness
Pages:  329
Genre:  YA Science Fiction / Dystopian Adventure
Publisher:  SFBC, 2010
Series:  Chaos Walking, Book 1

Synopsis:  Todd Hewitt is the only boy in a town of men. Ever since the settlers were infected with the Noise germ, Todd can hear everything the men think, and they hear everything he thinks. Todd is just a month away from becoming a man, but in the midst of the cacophony, he knows that the town is hiding something from him -- something so awful Todd is forced to flee with only his dog, whose simple, loyal voice he hears too.

With hostile men from the town in pursuit, the two stumble upon a strange and eerily silent creature: a girl. Who is she? Why wasn't she killed by the germ like all the females on New World? Propelled by Todd's gritty narration, readers are in for a white-knuckle journey in which a boy on the cusp of manhood must unlearn everything he knows in order to figure out who he truly is.
"Todd?" he says when I get close. "Tail, Todd?"
Review:  Todd and his new friend, Naomi, are great characters.  His adoptive parents, Ben and Cillian, are also good characters.  The Mayor Prentiss and his son, Davy, are truly bad, selfish men, which is just what they're meant to be.  So many lies have been told to Todd and we find out the truth along with him, which makes the story that much more believable.

But, the show is stolen by Manchee, Todd's dog.  He's loyal and brave and smart.  His conversation may not be all that interesting, but he can talk.  Which is just too much fun for words.  I can't say any more about Manchee without giving away some of the story.  But take my word for it, he'll steal your heart.

All of the animals talk and understand humans to a degree.  It's one of the most entertaining parts of this story to me.  The story itself is scary and thrilling and sad and hopeful.  It's just plain good reading.  Even though it's rated as Young Adult, I found myself unable to put this book down.  And of course, it ended in a cliffhanger.  So, I've started book two already.

Rating:  9.5 / 10

February 9, 2016

Witch Hill by Marion Zimmer Bradley

Title:  Witch Hill
Author:  Marion Zimmer Bradley
Pages:  188
Genre:  Horror / Thriller
Publisher:  TOR, 1990
Series:  Claire Moffatt, Book 3

Synopsis:  This little-known classic by the late Marion Zimmer Bradley is a wonderful treat for readers feeling the loss of this marvelous author. Part of Bradley's beloved "Light" series, Witch Hill is a sensuous story of witchcraft, demonic possession, and true love. — Sara Latimer's last relative has died. Heartbroken and feeling totally alone, Sara moves to the family home she had just inherited, Witch Hill, only to find that she is shunned by most of her neighbors.

Finally Matthew Hay, one of her only allies, explains that Sara's aunt was a powerful, evil witch and that the townspeople fear that Sara is following in her footsteps. Matthew and his ladylove, Tabitha, are also witches, and they too believe that Sara has her aunt's powers-and that she is ready to be possessed by her aunt's waiting spirit.

Sara crumbles under the steady onslaught of Matthew and Tabitha's evil. For a time, her love for Brian Standish keeps her sane, but at last Sara is lost in a maelstrom of dark power and sex magick.  As a Champion of Light, Colin MacLaren cannot allow Sara to be destroyed by Matthew Hay. Even at the risk of his own soul, he will save Sara.

Review:  I really have nothing good to say about this book.  It reads like a Gothic romance twisted together with a mishmash of nightmarish horror.  The very few more standard mystery / thriller portions of the book are so overshadowed by the rest of the book that they are barely noticeable.  Add to that a half-dozen scenes of mostly drug-crazed, brutal sex and the book became very quickly almost more than I could stand to read.  But, I forced my way through it and came to the dismal, disappointing end, where everything tied up too neatly, with true love and sunshine on the horizon.

I disliked this book so thoroughly that I am not going to be reading any more of this author's work for a while.  Since I own almost a dozen more of Ms. Bradley's books (and know of a dozen more I'd hoped to get in the future), I certainly hope this is the very worst of the entire lot.  Otherwise, I'm in for an even worse letdown in the future.

Rating:  0.5 / 10

February 8, 2016

The Inheritor by Marion Zimmer Bradley

Title:  The Inheritor
Author:  Marion Zimmer Bradley
Pages:  414
Genre:  Thriller / Horror
Publisher:  Severn House, 1984
Series:  Claire Moffatt, Book 2

Synopsis:  Leslie Barnes has just bought her first home, overlooking San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge. It seems the perfect place for Leslie and her sister, a brilliant young musician....but as soon as they move in, a plague of dark events begins, unsettling both women. To her horror, Leslie realizes that she is living in a vortex of magical power. She must become the guardian of that power and protect it from those who seek to use it for evil. Trained as a psychologist, Leslie is in over her head when dealing with the occult -- until she meets Claire Moffatt, a charming medium, and Claire's mentor, Colin MacLaren, world-famous psychic investigator. Together they stand against evil and enable Leslie to claim her full inheritance.

Review:  This book dealt with everything from fake mediums to human sacrifice.  It had moments of terror but it also had a great deal of psycho-babble in it.  I realize that the main character, Leslie, is a psychologist, but it seemed that everything had to be explained with very detailed reasoning that you might expect to find in a psychology course.

This book is set in the early 1970's, just like the last one, but still seems like it's the 1950's.  I know that women were treated differently not all that long ago, but certainly not to this degree in the early 1970's.  Or at least I would hope not.  Either way, it just is very old-fashioned feeling, especially the interactions between men and women.

There's one book left in this series and it's short.  I haven't hated the first two and liked this one a little better than the last.  It's unfortunate though that I knew fairly early on who was responsible for all the dark events happening to Leslie.  I really want to try to finish this series.  It's been sitting on my shelves far too long for me to give up on them now.  This is not one of the better works by this author.  I am reminding myself that Ms. Bradley is really at her best with historical novels and this isn't one of those.

Rating:  5 / 10

February 6, 2016

Dark Satanic by Marion Zimmer Bradley

Title:  Dark Satanic
Author:  Marion Zimmer Bradley
Pages:  218
Genre:  Horror / Thriller / Fantasy
Publisher:  Tom Doherty Associates, 1972
Series:  Claire Moffatt, Book 1

Synopsis:  Jamie Melford is about to publish a book on witchcraft, one that reveals long-hidden occult secrets.  Someone very powerful wants that book destroyed -- and Jamie Melford with it.

Review:  Jamie and Barbara Melford have their lives turned upside down by a book about witchcraft.  Either someone is trying to kill them or trying to make them lose their minds....or both.

Barbara is lucky enough to meet Claire Moffatt and Colin MacLaren.  These two are part of a larger group that fights against the use of the dark arts.  Between the three of them, they have to find a way to save Jamie's life.

I know this book is set in the early 1970's, but some of the story is quite dated.  The interactions between the men and the women come across more as something from the 1950's, but it didn't stop me from enjoying the book.

This book is a mixture of several genres.  It has some truly horrific moments, is a thriller that kept me on the edge of my seat quite a few times, and because of the subject matter is a bit of urban fantasy.  Unfortunately, I already knew who two of the witches were long before the ending.  It didn't really take away from the story, but I wish I'd been more surprised.

Rating:  4.5 / 10

February 5, 2016

Once Gone by Blake Pierce

Title:  Once Gone
Author:  Blake Pierce
Pages:  204
Genre:  Thriller
Publisher:  Author-Published E-Book, 2015
Series:  Riley Page Mystery, Book 1

Synopsis:  Women are turning up dead in the rural outskirts of Virginia, killed in grotesque ways, and when the FBI is called in, they are stumped. A serial killer is out there, his frequency increasing, and they know there is only one agent good enough to crack this case: Special Agent Riley Paige.

Riley is on paid leave herself, recovering from her encounter with her last serial killer, and, fragile as she is, the FBI is reluctant to tap her brilliant mind. Yet Riley, needing to battle her own demons, comes on board, and her hunt leads her through the disturbing subculture of doll collectors, into the homes of broken families, and into the darkest canals of the killer’s mind. As Riley peels back the layers, she realizes she is up against a killer more twisted than she could have imagined. In a frantic race against time, she finds herself pushed to her limit, her job on the line, her own family in danger, and her fragile psyche collapsing.

Yet once Riley Paige takes on a case, she will not quit. It obsesses her, leading her to the darkest corners of her own mind, blurring the lines between hunter and hunted. After a series of unexpected twists, her instincts lead her to a shocking climax that even Riley could not have imagined.

A dark psychological thriller with heart-pounding suspense, ONCE GONE marks the debut of a riveting new series—and a beloved new character—that will leave you turning pages late into the night.

Review:  This was a really good first novel.  I stayed up far too late last night reading it.  Riley Paige and her partner, Bill Jeffreys, are both good characters.  The opening drags you right into the serial killer's playground and never lets you go after that.  I found one mistake, but it didn't take away from the story.

While I enjoyed the tale, I didn't enjoy the whole e-book experience all that much.  I've read a few e-books, but not many, and each time I miss the whole 'having a book in my hand' feeling.  Maybe I'm just old-fashioned and set in my ways, but I don't think I'll go out of my way to read too many more in this format.  It just isn't the same for me.

But, this is a darn good novel and well worth reading.  I notice the sequel is available in e-book format for a very reasonable price.  I'll probably give it a try down the road.

Rating:  6 / 10

The Friday 56 and Book Beginnings #6

The Friday 56 is hosted by Freda's Voice and Book Beginnings is hosted by Rose City Reader.  Visit their links to learn more.
Title:  Dark Satanic
Author:  Marion Zimmer Bradley
The Beginning:  The sign on the door, in modest gold letters, read JAMES C. MELFORD, MANAGING EDITOR.  The faintly pretty girl at the reception desk smiled, depressed a button, and murmured, "Mr. Melford?  Can you see Mr. Cannon for a few minutes?"

The Friday 56:  Now I have learned to serve a new God -- a God who makes allowances for the faults of humanity -- and I am at least learning to live.  Before I die, I will have my revenge on those who taught me that life was nothing but guilt and fear.

Comment:  This book was published in 1972 and in some ways seems a little dated, but the excitement keeps building and I have to find out what is going to happen!

February 4, 2016

The City and the Stars by Arthur C. Clarke

Title:  The City and the Stars
Author:  Arthur C. Clarke
Pages:  281
Genre:  Science Fiction
Publisher:  Warner Books, 2001
Series:  Stand Alone
For quivering in evanescent beauty above the base of the fall was the last rainbow left on Earth.
Synopsis:  The ten-billion-year-old metropolis of Diaspar is humanity's last home.  Alone among immortals, the only man born in ten million years wants to find what lies beyond the City.  His quest will uncover the destiny of a people...and a galaxy.
And then, at the end of the Universe, as time itself was faltering to a stop, Vanamonde and the Mad Mind must meet each other among the corpses of the stars.
Review:  This book is what science fiction is all about.  Originally published in 1956, the story has technologies that we still haven't managed today.  It's also an incredible adventure which in no way seems aged or old-fashioned.

Alvin is the main character and, unlike all the other inhabitants of Diaspar, this is the first time he's lived.  All the other people live for a thousand years, turn themselves back into the computer memory banks, and wait to be reborn again after a good, long rest.  Some people have lived a dozen or more lives and they can remember all of them.  But Alvin has never, in all the billions of years, lived before.

He wants more than anything to know what is outside the domed city.  He wants to see the stars, the sun, mountains and oceans.  But the teachings say that there is nothing but desert on the whole planet Earth and that Diaspar is the only place people can survive.  The teachings also say that once man had an empire in the stars.  But they were beaten by an aggressive species and forced back to Earth, where only Diaspar still survives.

I think the part about this story I found most disturbing is that genetics have been completely mastered.  People are immortal.  They have no nails or teeth because they are unnecessary.  The only body hair they have is on their heads.  They can still have sex, but normal reproduction is no longer possible.  Why bother with reproduction when the computers can make new people?  The list of 'improvements' made goes on and it made me a little uncomfortable thinking about it.

Alvin sets out to prove the teachings and his people's beliefs wrong.  His quest and what he finds will change the course of humanity.  And his story made for a unbelievably great novel, one that I will never forget.

Rating:  10 / 10

February 2, 2016

The War Hound and the World's Pain by Michael Moorcock

Title:  The War Hound and the World's Pain
Author:  Michael Moorcock
Pages:  207
Genre:  Historical Fantasy
Publisher:  Pocket Books, 1982
Series:  Stand Alone

Synopsis:  The time is The Thirty Years War, and the whole of Europe is in devastation, Graf Ulrich von Bek, killer, survivor and mercenary captain of fearful repute, deserts his soldiers after an outbreak of plague and finds himself traveling through a dense forest, at the heart of which there stands an empty but unplundered castle. He takes refuge there.

But this is no shelter, for the lord of the castle is Satan himself. Von Bek has been granted entrance so that the Devil may offer him a most unusual bargain. Lucifer will relinquish his claim on von Bek's lost soul, but the price is success in a quest that Lucifer himself cannot undertake. The Devil wishes to be reconciled with God, and to prove his sincerity to Heaven needs the Cure for the World's Pain.

But even among the damned there are those who fear change. And even as von Bek accepts his quest, Hell raises in rebellion to stop him.

Review:  This book opens in the year 1631 in Germany.  It is a bloody, horrible time.  Ulrich is not much of a hero, being neither especially good or honest, but he has to complete the quest for the Holy Grail.  Lucifer has promised he will release Ulrich's soul in exchange for the successful completion of the quest.

Between the mages and demons and Lucifer himself, this is one of the oddest historical fantasy books I've ever read.  That doesn't mean I didn't like it.  I did.  It was a fast-paced read with plenty of action and even a little romance.

Unfortunately, it's sequel (The City in the Autumn Stars) could not hold up.  I ended up giving up on that one in less than 30 pages.  Since the sequel is actually about Ulrich's ancestors, this is really a stand-alone story and, in my opinion, should be read as such.  While it is not this author's best work, it's quite good and easily finished in a day.

Rating:  5 / 10

Teaser Tuesdays #5

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly meme hosted by A Daily Rhythm.  Visit the link to learn more.
Book I'm Reading:  The City and The Stars by Arthur C. Clarke
Teaser:  "Your people have remarkable mental powers," he replied, trying to divert the conversation from dangerous ground.  "I think they might be able to do something for the robot, if not this animal." (page 150)

Comment:  I haven't even started this book yet, but I will tonight!

February 1, 2016

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? #5

It's Monday!  What Are You Reading? is hosted by The Book Date.  Visit the link to learn more.
Last Book I Read:  Shadow Moon by George Lucas and Chris Claremont -- This book turned out to be a real disappointment.  I decided not to finish the series.
Book I'm Reading Now:  The War Hound and the World's Pain by Michael Moorcock -- This is a really bizarre Historical Fantasy, but so far it's been really good!
Up Next:  The City in the Autumn Stars by Michael Moorcock -- The sequel to the one I'm reading now.
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