March 29, 2016

Alta by Mercedes Lackey

Title:  Alta
Author:  Mercedes Lackey
Pages:  402
Genre:  Fantasy
Publisher:  DAW, 2004
Series:  The Dragon Jousters, Book 2

Synopsis:  In the second novel in national best-selling legend Mercedes Lackey's richly-conceived new Joust series, the dragonrider Vetch escapes to Alta, the subjugated land of his birth. There, he hopes to teach his people to raise and train dragons - and build an army that will liberate his homeland.

Review:  This book started out a little slowly, but it quickly picked up the pace and kept me interested.  Alta is not the paradise that Kiron had hoped for.  The Altan mages are keeping the war going with Tia for their own selfish purposes.  It becomes clear that he and his fellow dragon-riders will have to take matters into their own hands and stop the war.

There is danger and murder and thrills and even a little romance.  Pretty much everything I love.  The fact that the mages are pretty much the ruling class makes it that much scarier.  To top it off, the cover artwork is vivid and beautifully drawn.  But, the dragons stole the show for me again.  They are so well-written and believable.  It's a pleasure to read these novels, just to get to read about them.  The fact that the story is also good makes this series one of the better ones I've read this year.

Rating:  9.5 / 10

March 26, 2016

Joust by Mercedes Lackey

Title:  Joust
Author:  Mercedes Lackey
Pages:  373
Genre:  Fantasy
Publisher:  DAW, 2003
Series:  The Dragon Jousters, Book 1

Synopsis:  For the first time ever, national best-selling legend Mercedes Lackey draws from her extensive knowledge of animals - and her professional background as an avian expert - to create something truly special... The most exciting, authentic and believable portrayal of dragons ever imagined.  It is a richly conceived, fully realized vision, inspired by the culture of ancient Egypt, the legends of Atlantis - and the science of animal behavior and biology.  This is how dragons would live, breed, hatch, hunt, and bond.  The first book in this thrilling new series introduces readers to a young slave who dreams of becoming a Jouster - one of the few warriors who can actually ride a flying dragon. And so, in secret, he begins to raise his own dragon.

Review:  Dragons!  This book has dragons!  It's also a great story.  Vetch, whose true name is Kiron, is a serf.  He is Altan and a prisoner of war.  He will never be freed by his Tian masters because he is considered an enemy....even though he was just a child when taken.  He is lower than a slave and has no rights.

He is saved from a life of torture and drudgery by Ari, a Jouster.  He begins working with and loving the dragons.....and decides to get one of his own.  He wants to escape his life of servitude and be free.

This is honestly a great book.  The detailed descriptions of the dragons, the countryside, and the people are incredible.  The story is touching and believable.  The civilization is superstitious, fanatical, and unfair in many respects, but it still completely drew me in.  I've already gotten the second book off my shelf and can't wait to start it tomorrow.

Rating:  9.5 / 10

March 22, 2016

The Thief of Always by Clive Barker

Title:  The Thief of Always
Author:  Clive Barker
Pages:  267
Genre:  Juvenile Horror
Publisher:  Harper, 1992
Series:  Stand Alone
But Harvey knew that face better than any on earth. It was the first face he'd ever loved. It was his mother.
Synopsis: Mr. Hood's Holiday House has stood for a thousand years, welcoming countless children into its embrace. It is a place of miracles, a blissful rounds of treats and seasons, where every childhood whim may be satisfied...

There is a price to be paid, of course, but young Harvey Swick, bored with his life and beguiled by Mr. Hood's wonders, does not stop to consider the consequences. It is only when the House shows it's darker face -- when Harvey discovers the pitiful creatures that dwell in its shadows -- that he comes to doubt Mr. Hood's philanthropy.

The House and its mysterious architect are not about to release their captive without a battle, however. Mr. Hood has ambitions for his new guest, for Harvey's soul burns brighter than any soul he has encountered in a thousand years...

Review:  I almost hesitate to call this book juvenile.  But the main character, Harvey, is 10.  There are scary parts that might not be appropriate for very young readers though.  Either way, this was a good tale, with plenty of horror.  It also had a moral at the end:  Don't wish your time goes fast enough.

It just wasn't what I was expecting.  This author wrote one of my favorite odd, off-the-wall fantasy novels, Weaveworld, and I keep reading more of his works and being a little disappointed.  I guess I'm hoping to find another one as magical.  This one wasn't it.

Rating:  5.5 / 10

March 21, 2016

Revival by Stephen King

Title:  Revival
Author:  Stephen King
Pages:  405
Genre:  Horror
Publisher:  Scribner, 2014
Series:  Stand Alone

Synopsis:  A dark and electrifying novel about addiction, fanaticism, and what might exist on the other side of life. In a small New England town, over half a century ago, a shadow falls over a small boy playing with his toy soldiers. Jamie Morton looks up to see a striking man, the new minister. Charles Jacobs, along with his beautiful wife, will transform the local church. The men and boys are all a bit in love with Mrs. Jacobs; the women and girls feel the same about Reverend Jacobs—including Jamie’s mother and beloved sister, Claire. With Jamie, the Reverend shares a deeper bond based on a secret obsession. When tragedy strikes the Jacobs family, this charismatic preacher curses God, mocks all religious belief, and is banished from the shocked town.

Jamie has demons of his own. Wed to his guitar from the age of 13, he plays in bands across the country, living the nomadic lifestyle of bar-band rock and roll while fleeing from his family’s horrific loss. In his mid-thirties—addicted to heroin, stranded, desperate—Jamie meets Charles Jacobs again, with profound consequences for both men. Their bond becomes a pact beyond even the Devil’s devising, and Jamie discovers that revival has many meanings.

Review:  At first, I thought this was going to be a story about small town America and the way things were back in the '60's.  I didn't think it was really going to be a horror novel.  I was right on the first thought and very wrong on the second.  The horror built up slowly, inexorably.  By the last 100 or so pages, it was right around the corner, waiting.  Even though I knew it was coming, the horror left me breathless.  I had to stop for a moment to gather up my courage to continue.

This book has real magic in some places.  The description of life in a small town in Maine in 1962 had so many great references, things you think you've forgotten but haven't.  Nobody does nostalgia better than this author.

And, only Stephen King can draw you in, make you a part of the terror and leave you feeling as frightened as the main character.  And then, just when you think it's done, you find out that the monster isn't vanquished at all.....and that it never will be.  It's just waiting in the wings for another go.

This is one of the best stand-alone novels by Mr. King, right up there with such classics as The Stand.

Rating:  10 / 10

A to Z Challenge Theme Reveal

Well, I’ve signed up for the Blogging from A to Z Challenge.  So, the big question is what am I going to write about in April --- a total of 26 posts?

I argued with myself about the theme, but kept coming back to this one.  It may not be all that original, but here's my theme:

All Things Fantastical...
I've loved to read since I was old enough to pick up a book.  And throughout these many years of reading, Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror have been my great loves, with Fantasy usually being the top dog in the pile.  These genres are just full to the brim with amazing and beautiful beings.....and with scary and horrible ones too!  

So for my challenge, I'm going to write a little something about them and the places I've met them.  Seems to me I owe them that much, after all the enjoyment they've brought to my life.  I think it's going to be fun, revisiting some old friends.  I hope you'll think so, too.

March 18, 2016

The Friday 56 and Book Beginnings #11

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:  Revival
Author:  Stephen King
The Beginning:  In one way, at least, our lives really are like movies.  The main cast consists of your family and friends.  The supporting cast is made up of neighbors, co-workers, teachers, and daily acquaintances.  There are also bit players:  the supermarket checkout girl with the pretty smile, the friendly bartender at the local watering hole, the guys you work out with at the gym three days a week.  And there are thousands of extras -- those people who flow through every life like water through a sieve, seen once and never again.

The Friday 56:  "You don't know.  You don't understand.  It was terrible because it was no one's fault.  Certainly not George Barton's.  He simply had a seizure."

Comment:  I have no idea yet where this novel is headed, but it's been impossible to put down so far!

March 17, 2016

Ticktock by Dean Koontz

Title:  Ticktock
Author:  Dean Koontz
Pages:  338
Genre:  Supernatural Horror / Thriller / Comedy
Publisher:  Ballantine, 1996
Series:  Stand Alone
"At this point, no one alive is capable of grasping the enormous dimensions of my confusion."
Synopsis: Tommy Phan is a 30-year-old Vietnamese-American detective novelist living in Southern California, and a chaser of the American Dream. He drives home his brand-new Corvette one day to discover a strange doll on his doorstep. It's rather like a rag doll, but is covered entirely with white cloth, having no face or hair or clothes, little more than a doll blank. Where the eyes should be, there are two crossed stitches of black thread. Five sets of crossed black stitches mark the mouth, and another pair form an X over the heart.

He brings it into the house. That night, he hears an odd little popping sound and looks up to see the crossed stitches over the doll's heart breaking apart. When he picks up the doll, he feels something pulsing in its chest. Another thread unravels to reveal a reptilian green eye --and not a doll's eye, because it blinks.  Tommy Phan pursues the thing as it scrambles away into his house -- and then is pursued by it as it evolves from a terrifying and vicious minikin into a hulking and formidable opponent bent on killing him.

Review:  Well, this book was quite a mix.  It was funny and scary and thrilling and full of magic (and mentions aliens, too!).  The scary parts were really scary.  The funny parts were laugh-out-loud funny.  The magic was a little odd but the explanation towards the end satisfied me.

My only complaint is this book took me five days to finish.  Five days.  There was so much going on and so much of it was completely beyond my understanding that I kept re-reading passages to be sure I hadn't missed something.  By the end, I knew what I didn't know at the start, but by then it had already taken me five days.

Still, I loved the characters.  Tommy and his girlfriend Deliverance and her dog, Scootie, were great.  The secondary characters included various family members and they were fun as well.  The demon inside the doll was not fun.  He was the reason I didn't read this book too close to bedtime.  Here there be nightmares.

Rating:  6.5 / 10

March 12, 2016

The Gate to Women's Country by Sheri S. Tepper

Title:  The Gate to Women's Country
Author:  Sheri S. Tepper
Pages:  315
Genre:  Science Fiction / Dystopia
Publisher:  Bantam, 1989
Series:  Stand Alone

Synopsis:  Since the flames died three hundred years ago, human civilization has evolved into a dual society:  Women's Country, where walled towns enclose what's left of past civilization, nurtured by women and a few nonviolent men, and the adjacent garrisons where warrior men live -- the lost brothers, sons and lovers of those in Women's Country.

Two societies.  Two competing dreams.  Two ways of life, kept apart by walls stronger than stone.  And yet there is a gate between them...

Review:  This story is set in our future, about 300 years after a worldwide nuclear war destroyed much of the land and most of the creatures and people.  The women have a long-term plan to ensure this never happens again, a program that only the Council of Women and a few trusted advisers know about.

There is so much beauty in this book.  The writing is superb, detailed and believable.  The characters have real depth to them.  However, scratch the surface and you'll find that just underneath the beauty is a dark shadow of deception and betrayal.  The purpose of Women's Country is much more heart-wrenching than it seems, especially to those who are sworn to keep the secrets.

There are no good choices left, in this era where parts of the land are poisonous, cows are extinct, dogs are rare, and luxuries such as medicines and electricity are severely limited.  The few pockets of people who do not live under the jurisdiction of Women's Country live in abject poverty and ignorance.  After the near-extinction of the human race, a few people made what seemed like the best (and hardest) choice to guarantee the continuation of our species.  Now, 300 years later, their ancestors are still waiting to find out if they were right.

Rating:  9.5 / 10

March 11, 2016

The Friday 56 and Book Beginnings #10

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 Gate to Women's Country
Author:  Sheri S. Tepper
The Beginning:  Stavia saw herself as in a picture, from the outside, a darkly cloaked figure moving along the cobbled street, the stones sheened with a soft, early spring rain.  On either side the gutters ran with an infant chuckle and gurgle, baby streams being amused with themselves.  The corniced buildings smiled candlelit windows across at one another, their shoulders huddled protectively inward - though not enough to keep the rain from streaking the windows and making the candlelight seem the least bit weepy, a luxurious weepiness, as after a two-hanky drama of love lost or unrequited.

The Friday 56:  "Things happen to you when you're young.  And you think you know what it was that happened, but you really don't.  Then later, sometimes years later, you suddenly understand what was really going on.  And you feel such a fool because it's too late to do anything about the mistake you made."

Comment:  The imagery in this book is incredible.  I usually don't do such a long beginning, but this beginning just spoke to me.  So much of this book is just beautiful -- not to mention, it's a great story!

March 8, 2016

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? #7

It's Monday!  What Are You Reading? is hosted by The Book Date.  Visit the link to learn more.
Last Book I Read:  Captive Universe by Harry Harrison - I really liked this book, although it was disturbing in places.
Book I'm Reading Now:  The Gate to Women's Country by Sheri S. Tepper - I just started this one, but the writing is beautiful and the story already has me intrigued!
Next Up:  I haven't decided yet, but I really want to read some gruesome horror, so maybe Inhuman Condition by Clive Barker.
I've missed a few Mondays, but I'm going to try to do better!

Captive Universe by Harry Harrison

Title:  Captive Universe
Author:  Harry Harrison
Pages:  160
Genre:  Science Fiction / Dystopia
Publisher:  Berkley, 1969
Series:  Stand Alone

Synopsis:  Twenty-one-year-old, rebellious Chimal wants desperately to escape his native valley - an ancient Aztec civilization sealed off from the outside world.  The cruel gods and priests who rule his valley with despotic laws perpetuate a life of fear and frenzy.

Coatlicue the Dreadful walks the river at night in search of taboo-breakers.  One glance at her twin serpent heads instantly kills the beholder, sending him straight to the underworld.  Citlallatonac, the fearful first priest, performs delicate operations on anyone believed to be possessed by the gods - sacrificial operations, that is.

Chimal escapes - but the world outside, at once futuristic and backward, reverential and hostile, promises a nightmare he never bargained for...

Review:  It's been over 510 years since a madman on Earth genetically changed a group of people into the superstitious, ignorant people who inhabit the valley.  He then stuck them in the fake valley in the middle of a star ship, where generations will live and die until the day that the new planet is reached.

Little do they know, the valley and its gods are all run by yet another group of people, far more technologically capable but still prisoners.  They, too, have been genetically altered to serve as the keepers of the Aztecs and to them their duties are a painful and demanding religion.

But that's not even the worst of it.  The religion of the watchers has become so ingrained that their leaders have purposefully passed by the planet the ship was supposed to stop at, all so that they may continue to serve.  They know no other life and have no other purpose.

This story was short and completely believable.  It was impossible to put down.  Very little of it seemed dated in the least, almost 50 years after it was written.

Rating:  8 / 10

March 6, 2016

Blaze by Stephen King

Title:  Blaze
Author:  Stephen King (writing as Richard Bachman)
Pages:  285
Genre:  Fiction / Suspense
Publisher:  Scribner, 2007
Series:  Stand Alone

Synopsis:  A fellow named Richard Bachman wrote Blaze in 1973 on an Olivetti typewriter, then turned the machine over to Stephen King, who used it to write Carrie. Bachman died in 1985 ("cancer of the pseudonym"), but in late 2006 King found the original typescript of Blaze among his papers at the University of Maine's Fogler Library ("How did this get here?!"), and decided that with a little revision it ought to be published.

Blaze is the story of Clayton Blaisdell, Jr. -- of the crimes committed against him and the crimes he commits, including his last, the kidnapping of a baby heir worth millions. Blaze has been a slow thinker since childhood, when his father threw him down the stairs -- and then threw him down again. After escaping an abusive institution for boys when he was a teenager, Blaze hooks up with George, a seasoned criminal who thinks he has all the answers. But then George is killed, and Blaze, though haunted by his partner, is on his own.

He becomes one of the most sympathetic criminals in all of literature. This is a crime story of surprising strength and sadness, with a suspenseful current sustained by the classic workings of fate and character -- as taut and riveting as Stephen King's The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon.

Review:  I was expecting horror and got something all-together different.  Good thing I keep tissues on my desk because this story was sad.  I rooted, shamelessly, for the 'bad guy', Clayton Blaisdell.  His life was messed up and ruined and he never caught a break.  He reminds me a little of William Blakely (Blockade Billy) and John Coffey (The Green Mile).  But he was neither of them.  He was something else, but his story was just as haunting and awful in its own way.

The short story Memory was included at the end.  It is the idea that turned into the novel Duma Key.  It wasn't horror either, although it had a bit of the horrific in it.

Mr. King proves again that, while he is undeniably the King of Horror, he is also a writer with a real talent for making you care about his characters.  He shows that fully in these stories.

Rating:  7 / 10

March 5, 2016

Sovereign by C. J. Sansom

Title:  Sovereign
Author:  C. J. Sansom
Pages:  660
Genre:  Historical Fiction / Mystery
Publisher:  Pan Books, 2007
Series:  Shardlake, Book 3

Synopsis:  Autumn, 1541.  King Henry VIII has set out on a spectacular Progress to the North to attend an extravagant submission by his rebellious subjects in York.

Already in the city are lawyer Matthew Shardlake and his assistant Jack Barak.  As well as legal work processing local petitions to the King, Shardlake has reluctantly undertaken a special mission for Archbishop Cranmer - to ensure the welfare of an important but dangerous conspirator who is to be returned to London for interrogation.

But the murder of a York glazier involves Shardlake in deeper mysteries, connected not only to the prisoner in York Castle but to the royal family itself.  And when Shardlake and Barak stumble upon a cache of secret documents which could threaten the Tudor throne, a chain of events unfolds that will lead to Shardlake facing the most terrifying fate of the age...
What is still true - astonishingly, in the twenty-first century - is that Queen Elizabeth II retains the title Henry VIII took for himself: Supreme Head of the Church of England, Defender of the Faith and - in theory at least - God's chosen representative in England.
Review:  This book was even better than the first two.  Thomas Cromwell is dead, executed by King Henry VIII.  Matthew Shardlake has been trying desperately, ever since the fiasco with the Greek Fire in the last book, to stay out of politics.  It's now the next year and Archbishop Cranmer has called on Shardlake to help keep an important prisoner alive.

In York, Shardlake's life is in danger at every turn.  The Northerners hate the Southerners who have come with the King on his Progress.  Shardlake has enemies now that his old benefactor Cromwell is gone.  And then he comes across papers that may document that the King is not the rightful heir to the throne.  At no point in the story did I realize who was after Shardlake.  I thought I knew, but I was far off base.  I love these stories and how the mystery stays a mystery until the bitter end.

York was even more pathetic and awful than London.  The prisoner Shardlake must keep alive was kept in such awful conditions that I cannot understand how anyone ever made it to trial (or to their execution).  At one point, Shardlake himself winds up in the Tower of London and the description of that scary and horrible place was enough to give me the shivers.  King Henry VIII is even worse 'in person' than I'd expected.

The Historical Note at the end of this novel was eye-opening and I was pleased to see how much of the background of this story was true, or at least as close to that as it can be.  The quote I chose from this book came from there and, after reading the novel, it chilled me.

Rating:  9.5 / 10

March 4, 2016

The Friday 56 and Book Beginnings #9

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:  Sovereign
Author:  C. J. Sansom
The Beginning:  It was dark under the trees, only a little moonlight penetrating the half-bare branches.  The ground was thick with fallen leaves; the horses' hooves made little sound and it was hard to tell whether we were still on the road.

The Friday 56:  'Mistress Jennet Matlin, a maid in waiting.  She has cause to look sour.  Her fiance is in the Tower, accused of a part in the conspiracy.'

Comment:  This author writes some of the best historical fiction I've ever read.  This is the 3rd of his books I've read and they are always enthralling.

March 1, 2016

The Search by Iris Johansen

Title:  The Search
Author:  Iris Johansen
Pages:  311
Genre:  Thriller
Publisher:  Bantam Books, 2000
Series:  Eve Duncan, Book 3

Synopsis:  As part of an elite K-9 search and rescue team, Sarah Patrick and her golden retriever, Monty, have a gift for finding what no one else can.  But their latest assignment is not like the others.  This time Sarah is being forced to take part in a deadly a man who knows enough about her past to ensure her cooperation.

Billionaire Jack Logan's top-secret venture has been sabotaged, its facilities destroyed, and its handpicked staff massacred.  The sole survivor is being held for ransom.  Logan knows that the only way to save the man -- and the secrets he holds -- is to find him as soon as possible.  Sarah is furious when she is strong-armed into joining Logan on his search.  And once she takes the perilous assignment, not even Logan's promises that she and Monty will be safe may be enough to protect them.  Because a killer is devising a sadistic vengeance...and he may soon find use for Sarah.

Review:  I had read what I thought were the first 10 books of this series, only to find out I'd skipped the third one somehow.  So, once I discovered my mistake, I knew that this book would be one I'd read this year.  I love this author's stories, even though they are sometimes a more romantic than I usually like.  And I especially love her character Eve Duncan.

Eve played a minor role in this book.  Sarah and Logan and Monty were the stars of this story.  The bad guy was chillingly, delightfully bad.  The story was great, taking the characters across the world and back again, all in an effort to save lives.....and eventually themselves. But, Monty stole the show.  He and his girlfriend, Maggie, are smart and fun.

Rating:  7.5 / 10
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