Friday, May 31, 2013

To Far Off Lands

Trade Winds To Meluhha by Vasant Davé

Disclaimer: I received this book from the author in exchange for a review. Review based on an old edition of the book. 

Summary: In the year 2138 BC, Samasin worked as a stable boy with a wealthy Babylonian named NERGAL. One day he was falsely implicated in the murder of a foreign trader. Tipped off by Nergal's divorced wife ELLA about risk to his life, he fled to the distant land of Meluhha in search of SIWA SAQRA whose name the dying man had uttered. During the voyage, he met a beautiful damsel, VELLI. He fell in her love but was dismayed to find that she was still devoted to a person who had jilted her. He also met ANN, a Mesopotamian woman who concealed her identity because she was determined to search out a couple of faceless men for revenge.

On the way, Samasin learnt about a board etched with ten glyphs (actually excavated on the site of Dholavira) and with Ann's help deciphered them, leading to an adventure in the ravines of the Saraswathi. He faced a series of obstacles including a few which almost killed him. Then he found that they were manoeuvred. Finally when he met Siwa Saqra, he learnt that there was more to the murder in Babylon than met the eye.

Circumstances brought all the characters together in Babylon when with awe they discovered the stark reality about the trade between Meluhha and Mesopotamia.

Review: A somewhat convoluted tale of murder, lust, and revenge set in the Bronze Age.

Trade Winds To Meluhha is a first for me. I know very little about the Bronze Age and certainly have not read any historical fiction novels set in the time period. The novel started with the idea of the possibility of trade between the Indus Valley and Mesopotamia. Those what ifs can make for good stories. Since, as I had mentioned earlier, I am not very knowledgeable about the Bronze Age, I wondered about the historical accuracy of the work. According to the summary, Dave has vetted the work with renowned archaeologist so I can rest easy with that.

There is certainly a lot of intrigue in Trade Winds To Meluhha with plenty of characters. I don’t mind books with large number of characters (I do enjoy space opera after all), but I do need the characters to stand out, be their own person. Unfortunately, a number of the characters blend together in this book. Samasin is a remarkably tenacious character. He gets up in a bad situation a number of times yet is still determined to deliver his message. The book ends on a happy note.


Recommendation: I would recommend this book to those interested in historical fiction set in the Bronze Age.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

X + Y = Z

The Man of Numbers: Fibonacci's Arithmetic Revolution by Keith J. Devlin

Summary: In 1202, a 32-year old Italian finished one of the most influential books of all time, which introduced modern arithmetic to Western Europe. Devised in India in the 7th and 8th centuries and brought to North Africa by Muslim traders, the Hindu-Arabic system helped transform the West into the dominant force in science, technology, and commerce, leaving behind Muslim cultures which had long known it but had failed to see its potential.The young Italian, Leonardo of Pisa (better known today as Fibonacci), had learned the Hindu number system when he traveled to North Africa with his father, a customs agent. The book he created wasLiber abbaci, the "Book of Calculation," and the revolution that followed its publication was enormous. Arithmetic made it possible for ordinary people to buy and sell goods, convert currencies, and keep accurate records of possessions more readily than ever before. Liber abbaci's publication led directly to large-scale international commerce and the scientific revolution of the Renaissance.Yet despite the ubiquity of his discoveries, Leonardo of Pisa remains an enigma. His name is best known today in association with an exercise in Liber abbaci whose solution gives rise to a sequence of numbers--the Fibonacci sequence--used by some to predict the rise and fall of financial markets, and evident in myriad biological structures.One of the great math popularizers of our time, Keith Devlin recreates the life and enduring legacy of an overlooked genius, and in the process makes clear how central numbers and mathematics are to our daily lives.

Review: A short tale of Fibonacci with a good dose of the Hindu-Arabic number system.

It really is incredible to think how different our lives would be without the Hindu-Arabic number system. I certainly can’t imagine having to do problems with Roman numerals. Fibonacci, or technically, Leonardo of Pisa, was one of the people who helped to popularize the Hindu-Arabic number system by bringing it to the attention of a large number of people. It took an incredible amount of research for scholars to realize how important Leonardo’s works are. I myself was giddy at the old and incredibly rare books that were mentioned.

Leonardo’s skill in math is certainly hard to deny. What is most incredible are the problems that Leonardo describes and solves in Liber abbaci. Some problems take paragraphs or even pages to solve. Today, those problems take only a few steps to solve using symbols. I can’t imagine how much went into solving such seemingly simple problems. Very little is actually known about Leonardo although the author does a good job of showing the world that Leonardo lived in. The history of abacus books is also mentioned. I found it to be a fascinating subset of rare books.


Recommendation: I would recommend this book to those interested in the history of mathematics.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

To Be Loved

Becoming Marie Antoinette (Marie Antoinette #1) by Juliet Grey

Summary: Why must it be me? I wondered. When I am so clearly inadequate to my destiny?

Raised alongside her numerous brothers and sisters by the formidable empress of Austria, ten-year-old Maria Antonia knew that her idyllic existence would one day be sacrificed to her mother’s political ambitions. What she never anticipated was that the day in question would come so soon.

Before she can journey from sunlit picnics with her sisters in Vienna to the glitter, glamour, and gossip of Versailles, Antonia must changeeverything about herself in order to be accepted as dauphine of France and the wife of the awkward teenage boy who will one day be Louis XVI. Yet nothing can prepare her for the ingenuity and influence it will take to become queen.

Filled with smart history, treacherous rivalries, lavish clothes, and sparkling jewels, Becoming Marie Antoinette will utterly captivate fiction and history lovers alike.

Review: An enjoyable historical fiction novel with a very sympathetic, perhaps too sympathetic, Marie Antoinette.

I’ve read a few historical fiction novels about Marie Antoinette. I believe I’ve read one or two nonfiction books about her. I do want to read more about her and the French Revolution as well. The views on Marie Antoinette can fall into two extremes: an innocent woman caught up in events beyond her control or a woman who cared only for her own pleasures. From what I’ve learned so far, I believe it to be a bit of both. Of course, as long as the author does it well, I can read either perspective.

Becoming Marie Antoinette takes the perspective of Marie Antoinette being innocent of what is going on around her. I found her to be a sympathetic character that was forced into a role that no teaching could fully prepare her for. The difference between the French and Austrian courts seems to be incredibly vast (and I certainly plan to learn more about 18th century Europe). Marie Antoinette was being pulled between varying self-interests. As I said before, the author made her sympathetic, but at times I found her to be too good.


Recommendation: I would recommend this book to those that enjoy reading about Marie Antoinette.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Ads in your Head

Ephemera by Jeffery M. Anderson

Disclaimer: I received this book from the author in exchange for a review. 

Summary: Ephemera is not a 1984, knock off, dystopian novel. It is dark, gritty and satirical future fiction, performed by an off-beat cast of unforgettable characters. This is future fiction in the hands of a talented literary writer.

Nester Cab, a second rate magazine writer, goes about his mundane life, disenfranchised and hiding from the roaring city he lives in. But, a mysterious note left in his office awakens his ravenous curiosity and sets him on a journey to find a missing soldier. In his travels, he becomes entangled with a clandestine anti-government organization, witnesses a delusional and violent American society and stumbles ever deeper into unfathomable government conspiracies.

Taking inspiration from internet conspiracy theorists, talk radio and the media, Anderson has created an edgy and frightening world where no one and nothing are as they appear. It is a world where the extreme is the every day, where the preoccupation with the meaningless novelty has consumed society. Meanwhile, the government conducts its business behind the curtain, with ominous intentions, All of it will feel uncomfortably familiar to the modern reader. Darkly humorous and palpably real, Ephemera is an epic journey that will have you believing even the most outrageous conspiracies just might happen.

Review: A rather depressing dystopian like read with a silly yet utterly tragic ending.

Ephemera had some elements of a dystopian novel in it. I personally considered it more of a “what could happen” in the near future science fiction sort of story. And it is depressing. Advertising has taken over everyone’s lives and no one really seems to mind. I do agree with a number of the sentiments in this book, mainly how genius creates new inventions that makes our lives easier and oftentimes, makes us lazier as well. Our lives are speeding up and people are trying to cram more and more into what time we do have.

Ephemera did start off slowly. There were a lot of disparate elements that had to be brought together. It took a while to bring everything together, but it was worth the wait. I wasn’t sure exactly what the novel was building up to, but I must admit to being surprised by the ending. I was certainly not expecting that. Stillman and his group reminded me of the paranoia that people have that a group of a few people are running the world. I personally don’t believe that theory, but Ephemera does a good job of making it seem all too likely.


Recommendation: I would recommend this to those that enjoy dystopian novels or near future science fiction stories.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Dangerous Kind of Vampires

Restraint: A Novel by Sandra Madera

Disclaimer: I received this book from the author in exchange for a review. 

Summary: Tragic circumstances bring two sisters, Laura and Linda, to a foreign land where they are stripped of their fortune and are at the mercy of their estranged uncle. However, strange happenings force Laura to believe their current situation was no accident. Something is after her. (YA Fiction Novel, intended for ages 16 and up)

After the abrupt death of her father, Laura Carter and her sister, Linda, are shipped off to England by an uncle they barely know. They are taken to a large house in Annesley to begin a life of service. When Laura becomes a governess to a young boy named Marcus, she begins to experience strange things in the night... horrible things.
Creatures in the night. Bite marks on her body.
Laura is about to discover a secret that has existed in her family for generations... Something wants to possess her. It wants her blood, but it didn't expect her to resist and lose all restraint.

Review: A suspenseful young adult vampire novel.

Vampire novels are a dime a dozen these days, especially young adult vampire novels. I know the craze has turned to other creatures including angels, demons, and werewolves. As much as I shamelessly enjoy reading YA paranormal novels, it is nice to find one that isn’t cookie cutter with perfect female characters who don’t realize how perfect they really are. I liked the setting and the fairy tale feel (one sister is loved by her father, while the other sister seems to be despised by her father). I like the love interest and found him to be a sweet guy although I am not sure if any relationship will ever occur.

I liked that Laura was so suspicious of the situation with her father, her “uncle”, and one of the servants. She does a very good job of speaking out when she feels something is wrong. I don’t like how she eventually gives in though, although that might have something to do with the time period and the view of women at that time. There is a lot of build up to the action that occurs in the prologue. I love that Laura was able to escape the situation on her own.


Recommendation: I would recommend this book to those that enjoy young adult vampire novels.

The Great and Infamous Speculation

Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings by Alison Weir

Summary: Sister to Queen Anne Boleyn, she was seduced by two kings and was an intimate player in one of history’s most gripping dramas. Yet much of what we know about Mary Boleyn has been fostered through garbled gossip, romantic fiction, and the misconceptions repeated by historians. Now, in her latest book, New York Times bestselling author and noted British historian Alison Weir gives us the first ever full-scale, in-depth biography of Henry VIII’s famous mistress, in which Weir explodes much of the mythology that surrounds Mary Boleyn and uncovers the truth about one of the most misunderstood figures of the Tudor age.
With the same brand of extensive forensic research she brought to her acclaimed book The Lady in the Tower, Weir facilitates here a new portrayal of her subjects, revealing how Mary was treated by her ambitious family and the likely nature of the relationship between the Boleyn sisters. She also posits new evidence regarding the reputation of Mary’s mother, Elizabeth Howard, who was rumored to have been an early mistress of Henry VIII.

Weir unravels the truth about Mary’s much-vaunted notoriety at the French court and her relations with King François I. She offers plausible theories as to what happened to Mary during the undocumented years of her life, and shows that, far from marrying an insignificant and complacent nonentity, she made a brilliant match with a young man who was the King’s cousin and a rising star at court.

Weir also explores Mary’s own position and role at the English court, and how she became Henry VIII’s mistress. She tracks the probable course of their affair and investigates Mary’s real reputation. With new and compelling evidence, Weir presents the most conclusive answer to date on the paternity of Mary’s children, long speculated to have been Henry VIII’s progeny.

Alison Weir has drawn fascinating information from the original sources of the period to piece together a life steeped in mystery and misfortune, debunking centuries-old myths and disproving accepted assertions, to give us the truth about Mary Boleyn, the so-called great and infamous whore

Review: A biography that was mostly speculation with a few very sparse facts.

The idea of a book about Mary Boleyn sounds like a great idea. Mary Boleyn is a very interesting historical figure and a book about her is one that Tudor fanatics would probably read. I was certainly interested in reading it. It turns out that very little is actually known about Mary Boleyn and writing a full length book about her is probably a stretch. I think it would have been better for Weir to add a chapter about her in a book that is dealing with Anne Boleyn or her family.

So very little is known about Mary Boleyn. A lot of sources are conflicting. Some sources purposely report malicious gossip or are merely repeating from what they have heard or learned from other people. Weir does a good job of figuring out what is true, what is false, or usually, what is most likely true or false. It is hard for Weir to be certain of anything with so little information. I assume most of her guesses are correct, but I don’t like how certain Weir is after she decides that something must be true or false.


Recommendation: I would only recommend this to those that are looking for any information about Mary Boleyn. 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

To Cage the Spirit

Touchstone by Letitia Coyne

Disclaimer: I received this book from the author in exchange for a review. 

Summary: When war is all you've ever known, the promise of peace is more terrifying than any battle. For Freya, there is no life worth remembering before the army, and none worth imagining after. Born to the lowest caste of a brutally bigoted society, she's found no more horror on the battlefield than she knew on the streets.And she's earned a lot more respect with a sword in her hand.As a young man, Dragan was blooded on the rush of adrenaline and sated by the euphoria of victory. With Freya beside him as his partner, he was indestructible. But age and mortality are gaining ground, and cracks have started to appear.He's had fifteen years of war and he's earned his retirement.Together they survived the war. But can they survive peace when it means different things to each of them?

Review: A poignant story with a bittersweet ending.

I was warned that there was a sad ending so all throughout the book I was keeping an eye out for it. I was able to figure out what the sad ending would be. The ending was more bittersweet than actually sad. Although I am sure we all wish for a happy ending (unless we really dislike the characters), Touchstone needed the ending it had. Anything else would have been casting more characters into misery. I can only hope that Freya will be able to find true happiness and that Dragan will be able to find his own peace.

Touchstone, although not specific to any place, time, or country, does an incredible job of showing what war can do to people and how it affects them differently. Dragan wishes for peace and an end to his fighting. Freya wishes to continue doing what she knows best even as her body ages and injuries plague her. It was hard reading this book. Dragan was well meaning, but he still has the same prejudices as other men in the book. He never did see Freya for who see really is and that is a tragedy.


Recommendation: I would recommend this book to those who want a realistic tale of how war affects people.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

First Blog Tour: Review, Excerpt and Giveaway

First (Book 1 of Live Once Trilogy) by Chanda Stafford

Summary: Seventeen-year-old Mira works on a farm in the ruins of Texas, along with all of the other descendants of the defeated rebels. Though she’s given her heart to Tanner, their lives are not their own.

When Socrates, a powerful First, chooses Mira as his Second, she is thrust into the bewildering world of the rich and influential. Will, a servant assigned to assist her, whispers of rebellion, love, and of a darker fate than she’s ever imagined.

With time running out, Mira must decide whether to run to the boy she left behind, the boy who wants her to live, or the man who wants her dead.

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Don’t say a word.”
The room smells musty, unused. Kind of like the back storage buildings on the farm, or the old cellar the Chesanings don’t use any more where we explore and play games. Shafts of sunlight slant through the cracks in the heavy, dark red curtains, and when I take a step, more puffs of dust cloud the air. Chairs covered in white blankets line the walls and tower over me in stacks almost as high as the ceiling. 

“What do you think they’re doing out there?” I whisper, but it’s so quiet, I could be shouting.

My servant, Will, shushes me. “If you listen closely, I bet you can hear your First talking.”

I creep over to the door and press my ear against it. Nothing. As if no one’s on the other side. “Isn’t this the Release Ceremony? Shouldn’t I be out there with him?”

Will nods, leaning against the wall, crossing his arms in front of him. “That’s normally how it happens. This is… odd.”

“Did I do something wrong? Did I make Thoreau mad?” I bite my lip to keep it from trembling. Grow up, Adrian. Stop acting like a baby.

“No, of course not.” He flashes me a quick grin, but I can tell he’s nervous.

“Are you sure?” I hate it when my voice is all shaky like a little baby’s.

“Definitely. I would know if there was a problem.” He shrugs, and a bar of light illuminates his carefree smile. “I bet it’s to save you from having to sit out there for the whole ceremony. Some of them can get pretty long.”

On the other side of the door, I hear clapping. An old man’s voice rises up as the applause dies.

“There, you see?” Will says. “Nothing to worry about.” I turn away and tune him out so I can listen to Thoreau.

“Thank you, my friends, for this most welcome reception. As a First, I’ve lived for hundreds of years, influenced this country in ways the average person can’t even begin to comprehend. With your continued support, and that of Princeton, I will use your gift to change the future and create a better tomorrow. Thank you.”

A dull roar follows his words, and I fidget in my seat, watching the door. My eyes dart to Will.

“This doesn’t make any sense, Will. I should be out there.”

“I’m sure they’ll call you shortly, Adrian. Maybe the usual waiting room was unavailable and—”

A loud boom shakes the room, and I almost fall down. The chairs weave back and forth in their towers, and millions of dust particles rain down. Will shoves me away from the wall and pushes me toward the back of the room.

“Move, now!” he shouts, but my ears are ringing, and I cough from the dust. He looks behind us at the door and forces me to move faster.

“Murderer! Child killer! Free the Second!” a loud, mechanical voice shouts from the other room. “Free the Second! Free the Second!”

There’s more yelling, but I can’t make out what they’re saying. Another, quieter boom. Will pushes me to a narrow closet.

“In here,” he hisses and shoves me inside. We stay like that for what feels like a couple hours before the door to our main room bangs open, and I hear the heavy clomping of boots.

“You in here with the Second, boy?” Will stays silent. There is a general grumbling outside, some swearing my mother would never approve of, then the deep, gravelly voice speaks again. “Alpha Code One, this is Underground Robin. Is the cargo safe and accounted for? I repeat, is the cargo safe and accounted for?”

Apparently these are magic words for Will because relief washes over his features.

“Who wants to know?”

“Papa bird.” The men march over to our closet and slide open the door. “Good spot, boy.” The head guard, an older man with a pinched face and a permanent frown sheaths his Artos. The other guards keep theirs out. Why? Is it still dangerous?

“What’s going on out there?” Will asks.

“Nothing we didn’t expect. Stupid rebels, always doing things half-assed.” He grins. “Let’s go.” One of them reaches out for me, but I jerk away.

Will touches my shoulder, reassuring me. “It’s okay, Adrian. We’re safe now.”

I shake my head and step back. “Where are we going?”

“Someplace safe.” The head guard takes my arm roughly in his. “Don’t worry. We won’t let anything happen to you.” One of the other guards laughs, as if that’s somehow funny.

“Is… my First all right?”

“He’s fine, boy.” He drags me from the closet. “Now let’s go.”

“Where?” My feet skitter, trying to find purchase as the guard forces me to follow him. The other men glance at each other, at me, then away again. Even Will won’t meet my eyes. Fear freezes me, and I dig my shoes into the thick carpeting. “Will? What’s going on?”

“Nothing,” he answers too quickly. “Just a trip down to the medical center, to make sure you’re all right.” He tries to give me another smile, but he’s lying about something. I can feel it.

“But I’m fine,” I protest as the guard pulls me to the side of the room, behind the curtains where, instead of a window, there is another door. “Can’t you just tell them that? I’m fine. I just want to go back to my room.”

Will shakes his head, sadly. “I’m sorry, Adrian, I really am.”

“What’s going on? Why are you sorry? Will?”

“Let’s go,” one of the other guards growls from the rear of our group. “We don’t have all day. Some of us have work to do.”

Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for a review. 

Review: A very realistic portrayal of a very dismal and depressing future.

Unlike many of the young adult dystopian novels I have read recently, First’s dystopian setting is one that I actually believe and find completely plausible, which makes it quite scary. Along with Mira, the reader slowly discovers what Seconds actually do for their Firsts. The history of the world that First takes place in is something I would to love more about. I know that Texas rebelled, but apparently not any other places in the country. There are mentions of the wilderness of the border. What happened to Mexico?

Mira was a strong, sympathetic character whom I rather liked. I also liked Socrates despite what he did to a number of children over hundreds of years. I am not sure what it was about Mira, the rebels, or his wife or some combination of them all that made him make the decision he eventually did in the end. I saw it coming, but was glad Socrates made that decision. I really do wonder what will happen to Mira in the future. Though I thought her love for Will developed too fast, I do hope that she will be able to be with him.

About the Author: Chanda Stafford teaches middle and high school English. She loves traveling and currently lives in Michigan with her husband and a menagerie of rescued dogs and cats.

When she’s not reading or writing, Chanda enjoys old zombie movies, authentic Italian food, and comic books.

Visit her blog


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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

About Face

Agents of Change (Agents of Change #1) by Guy Harrison

Disclaimer: I received this book from the author in exchange for a review. 

Summary: Karma has a new face...

In his debut, Guy Harrison writes a unique tale of corruption and espionage in what's been called "an exciting thriller with plenty of surprises" and "an exciting story packed with twists, disasters and suspense."

An amiable corporate manager by day and a matchmaker whenever he can get around to it, Calvin Newsome's new dream job falls into his lap when he's recruited by a secret worldwide organization whose agents use uncanny abilities to empower and influence everyday downtrodden individuals. Disaster strikes, however, when an elaborate scheme leaves Calvin as a prime murder suspect...and his new employer is presumably to blame.

With the authorities on his heels and his life left in ruin, Calvin uses his new powers to blend in until a journey for freedom becomes a quest for peace. As the agency's rival organization threatens the security of all of earth's inhabitants, he teams up with unlikely allies and battles surprising enemies hellbent on unleashing their power in a twisted version of justice, innocent lives be damned.

Review: An enjoyable science fiction story with superheroes of a sort and plenty of twists and turns.

Agents of Change was an interesting book although sometimes confusing. I really liked Calvin and felt like he was a realistic character although I find it hard to believe how quickly he joined the Agency of Influence. The Agencies were an interesting idea along with their agents getting telekinesis and shape shifting abilities. The agents came close, but not quite, to being superhero type characters. It seems like the Agency of Justice should be the good guys in the story, but they are not and it is quite easy to see how justice can get out of hand.

I was really enjoying the story until the end of the first part. There was a lot of drama, a lot of action, and not knowing how you can trust. Calvin is so gung ho about helping everyone even when his life is at risk. The Calvin in the second part of the book felt rather different. How could he so quickly leave his desire to help behind so easily behind? And why did the Agency of Influence become so evil? The ending was unexpected and it will certainly be interesting to see what Calvin will do in the second book.


Recommendation: I would recommend this book to those that enjoy science fiction novels with or without a superhero angle.

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Not So Brave, Not So Far Future

The Erased by Grant Piercy

Disclaimer: I received this book from the author in exchange for a review. 

Summary: You’ve been imprisoned by a shadowy government project and your identity has been erased; the only question is why. Welcome Home.

In a dystopian society where severe laws are in place to regulate the media you’re allowed to view, anyone and anything can be erased. Most people get their information and entertainment from the Knowledgebase -- a computer network dubbed the “sum total of human knowledge.” But forces are at work to edit and shape the Knowledgebase as they see fit -- suppressing dissident thoughts and behaviors. Their clear target: a group of rebels who hide in plain sight and call themselves the Transhumans -- people who remote into androids illegally, and whose goal is to eventually transplant a human consciousness into an android.

In the middle of this stands 77, a prisoner who’s been asked to repair a broken android for his captors. Once he solves the mystery of this android, he may find the truth behind the Transhumans, the elusive Knowledgebase architects, and the erased.

The Erased presents a near-future parable for the media age, where the march toward merging with technology comes at a terrible price.

Review: A science fiction story set in the near future with a good deal of dystopian elements.

Since this book is told through many viewpoints, it is hard at first to get a handle on what is happening in the story. Luckily, the characters are quick to tell us their stories and I was able to get an idea of what is going on. From what I gathered, the characters are in a 1984 sort of world where information is controlled and the past is slowly being erased. Then they are the androids and gynoids. The idea of Transhumanism is especially scary since it is something that could easily become a reality in a number of years.

It was a bit hard keeping track of all the characters at first. Most of the characters are kept in the dark as to why they are in the Home and so is the reader. Even those in the know, revel very little. I understand that this book is supposed to be a commentary on society, the government, and technology. It was a good commentary as far as that goes. As for the plot, while I enjoyed it, I found myself very confused by the end of the book. I know what happened, but I don’t know how it’s supposed to fit into the larger world or will it even have any effect on the larger world.


Recommendation: I would recommend this to those that enjoy science fiction with dystopian elements.

Free Mother's Day Read!

Journey across the Four Seas by Veronica Li

FREE MOTHER’S DAY READ: Journey across the Four Seas is a true story of my mother’s life.  While caring for her in her last years, I recorded her life stories and wove them into a memoir.  It was my way of thanking her for all that she’d done for me.  The book is about her struggle to get an education for herself and later for her children.  For the sake of their education, she was willing to emigrate from China to the U.S.  Be cause of her, my siblings and I are living out the American dream.

The book will be free on May 11 and May 12.

The Skittering of Little Feet

The Scorpion Nest: A Short Story by Guy Harrison

Disclaimer: I received this from the author in exchange for a review.

Summary: Newlyweds Joel and Sonnet have just wrapped up a housewarming party in Suburban Phoenix. Custom-built on the site of a meteor crash a half century ago, the young couple received everything they wanted in their dream house. Unfortunately, Joel and Sonnet also got what they didn’t want: thousands of unwelcome, venomous guests. Despite a clean inspection report, the house is crawling with more scorpions than your average infestation, leaving husband and wife to avoid the pests’ numbing and potentially fatal sting.

On a night that will forever alter their fates, Joel and Sonnet are forced to uncover the mystery of the scorpions’ origins. What they find challenges their greatest fears as well as their love for one another.

Review: A slightly confusing, but creepy tale of horror and revenge.

I like scorpions. I think they are very cool creatures. However, while I would have snakes, lizards, and spiders for pets, I don’t think I would have a scorpion for a pet. They are better at a distance. I can’t imagine the horror to find that your house is infested with scorpions that seem dead set on terror. The horror was good and the revenge Joel got was sweet. I was confused by the scorpions. Where did they actually come from? Why didn’t they kill Joel? Despite my confusion, this was a good, quick horror read.


Recommendation: I would recommend this to fans of horror.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Latin, Greek, and French, Oh My!

The Golden Lily (Bloodlines #2) by Richelle Mead

Summary: Sydney Sage is an Alchemist, one of a group of humans who dabble in magic and serve to bridge the worlds of humans and vampires. They protect vampire secrets—and human lives.

Sydney would love to go to college, but instead, she’s been sent into hiding at a posh boarding school in Palm Springs, California–tasked with protecting Moroi princess Jill Dragomir from assassins who want to throw the Moroi court into civil war. Formerly in disgrace, Sydney is now praised for her loyalty and obedience, and held up as the model of an exemplary Alchemist.

But the closer she grows to Jill, Eddie, and especially Adrian, the more she finds herself questioning her age–old Alchemist beliefs, her idea of family, and the sense of what it means to truly belong. Her world becomes even more complicated when magical experiments show Sydney may hold the key to prevent becoming Strigoi—the fiercest vampires, the ones who don’t die. But it’s her fear of being just that—special, magical, powerful—that scares her more than anything. Equally daunting is her new romance with Brayden, a cute, brainy guy who seems to be her match in every way. Yet, as perfect as he seems, Sydney finds herself being drawn to someone else—someone forbidden to her.

When a shocking secret threatens to tear the vampire world apart, Sydney’s loyalties are suddenly tested more than ever before. She wonders how she's supposed to strike a balance between the principles and dogmas she's been taught, and what her instincts are now telling her.

Should she trust the Alchemists—or her heart?

Review: A mostly uneventful sequel to Bloodlines with some romance, danger, and Adrian.

I will admit that I am enjoying this series more than Vampire Academy. I was always ambivalent about Rose as a character. She was impulsive, selfish, and annoying. Sydney is smart, a bit of a know-it-all, and sometimes quite boring. I found that Sydney was a much more boring character in The Golden Lily than in Bloodlines, but I still like her more than Rose, mostly because of her desire to learn and fascination with older cultures (I am learning Latin and want to study medieval literature for my PhD).

Most of this book was taken up with romance. Brayden seemed like a good match for Sophie, but he was so very boring. He had no spark of life about him. As I have read the Vampire Academy series and the Bloodlines, I find myself liking Adrian more and more. I know Sophie is torn between duty and her desire to be friends with the Moroi and the Dhampirs, but the ending really killed me. What is she willing to sacrifice for a system of beliefs that she is finding herself doubting? I hope Sydney realizes what is truly important to her before it is too late.


Recommendation: I would recommend this book to those that have read Bloodlines and the series to those that enjoyed Vampire Academy and/or young adult supernatural novels.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Catching Mediocrity

Catching Fire (The Hunger Games #2) by Suzanne Collins

Summary: Katniss is the spark to a revolution, and the Capitol wants revenge. She won the Hunger Games and returns alive with District 12 Tribute partner Peeta. But he and longtime friend Gale both reject her. On their Victory Tour of all the districts, locals riot but the winning duo must appear lost in their love.

Review: A somewhat mediocre sequel to The Hunger Games.

It’s been a while since I’ve read The Hunger Games so I don’t remember all the details, but I do remember that there was a good deal of action and the book was decently good at showing how murdering innocent human beings affects people.
Catching Fire was a bit of a letdown in the action department. While there is some action in this story, it doesn’t happen until later in the story and lacks the punch as did the Hunger Games in the first novel.

In The Hunger Games, Katniss had been willing to sacrifice herself for her sister. In Catching Fire, she seems quite happy to merely go along with what people are telling her to do. I get that she want to be left alone and seems to believe that going along with what President Snow wants will allow her some peace. I can’t understand that Katniss would believe anything President Snow said, especially when it comes to give up any possible future with Gale. True wuv is not going to stop rebellion. Plus, it felt like a way to force Katniss and Peeta together. I am intrigued by District 13 and do want to see how the rebellion works out.


Recommendation: I would recommend this to those that have read the first and I would recommend the series to those that enjoy young adult dystopian fiction.

Far Far in the Future

Drayling by Terry J. Newman

Disclaimer: I received this book from the author in exchange for a review. 

Summary: The small district of Drayling, in 25th Century Britain, is typical of communities throughout the country, and its citizens live in harmony and contentment. However, the death of the Premier brings a significant shift in approach - which forces a small group of ordinary people to conclude that they have no alternative but to take radical action to protect their way of life.

This is their story.

Reality collides with fantasy and philosophy as they embark on a mission of suspense, danger, deceit and death - with far-reaching ramifications.
Drayling is a different kind of science fiction book - for the intelligent reader.

Review: A science fiction novel with a lot of buildup and not much action.

The summary of this book made it seem like it would a dystopian science fiction story with a good deal of action. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much in the way of action. I had been expecting more technology or at least space travel in 25th century Britain.Drayling focuses on a very small area of Britain, technically BFF or Britain Friendly Federation. There is a great deal of world building involved in the beginning of the novel in the guise of history lessons and talks between father and son.

I would have liked to see how the BFF was truly brought about, how the rest of the world was, and did the people of Britain accept the new rule without a fight or did they fight for their old way of life? Life in the BFF seems to be idyllic and without much labor, but they are giving away so much for that sense of peace and security. I really was expecting more when the action finally got going and people realized what their world was actually like. The book ends before any real action was taken against the government.


Recommendation: I would recommend this book to those that enjoy science fiction stories that focus heavily on world building.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Too Good To Be True

The Fairest Beauty by Melanie Dickerson

Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for a review. 

Summary: Sophie desperately wants to get away from her stepmother's jealousy, and believes escape is her only chance to be happy. Then a young man named Gabe arrives from Hagenheim Castle, claiming she is betrothed to his older brother, and everything twists upside down. This could be Sophie's one chance at freedom—but can she trust another person to keep her safe?

Gabe defied his parents Rose and Wilhelm by going to find Sophie, and now he believes they had a right to worry: the girl's inner and outer beauty has enchanted him. Though romance is impossible—she is his brother's future wife, and Gabe himself is betrothed to someone else—he promises himself he will see the mission through, no matter what.

When the pair flee to the Cottage of the Seven, they find help—but also find their feelings for each other have grown. Now both must not only protect each other from the dangers around them—they must also protect their hearts.

Review: A retelling of Snow White with no magic and a too good to be true character.

As I have mentioned before, I love to read retellings, especially fairy tale retellings. The first thing I noticed about this book was that it took place in Europe in an unspecified time in the past. There is also no magic. I did like the fact that it was told in such a setting. It puts a new spin on the standard fairy tale. I really liked what they did with the seven dwarves. Instead of being dwarves, they are men that happen to have disabilities.

What I didn’t like was Sophie. I know that she has to be incredibly beautiful since that is how the fairy tale goes, but even so, I didn’t like always hearing about how beautiful she is. The author tries to make it seem like she is a tough person, but once Gabe comes along, she becomes totally dependent on him. Sophie was way too innocent and pure for her own damn good. She won’t let a man touch her to stitch up her arm when she has been injured. The man is trying to help you! He is not trying to molest you!


Recommendation: I would only recommend this to those that are big fans of fairy tale retellings.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Fair and Some Related Murder

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson

Summary: Author Erik Larson imbues the incredible events surrounding the 1893 Chicago World's Fair with such drama that readers may find themselves checking the book's categorization to be sure that 'The Devil in the White City' is not, in fact, a highly imaginative novel. Larson tells the stories of two men: Daniel H. Burnham, the architect responsible for the fair's construction, and H.H. Holmes, a serial killer masquerading as a charming doctor.

Burnham's challenge was immense. In a short period of time, he was forced to overcome the death of his partner and numerous other obstacles to construct the famous "White City" around which the fair was built. His efforts to complete the project, and the fair's incredible success, are skillfully related along with entertaining appearances by such notables as Buffalo Bill Cody, Susan B. Anthony, and Thomas Edison.

The activities of the sinister Dr. Holmes, who is believed to be responsible for scores of murders around the time of the fair, are equally remarkable. He devised and erected the World's Fair Hotel, complete with crematorium and gas chamber, near the fairgrounds and used the event as well as his own charismatic personality to lure victims.

Review: An informative tale of the Chicago World’s Fair mixed in with a tale of a murderer.

From the summary, I thought the story of Holmes, a notorious murderer that killed many people, would be directly related to the World’s Fair, connected to it in some deep way. There was no connection though. Holmes was a murderer who just happened to be in Chicago at the time of the World’s Fair and managed to take advantage of the young women who came to visit the fair. Violence and crime was not uncommon during that time period of Chicago as statistics in the book reveal and I am sure there was thievery, assault, and murder during the fair. Yes, Holmes was a serial killer, but his story felt tacked on.

It was very interested to read about the fair and how it came about. What really amazed me was how quickly everything was designed and built. The amount of exhibits, buildings, displays, and people there was astounding. The fair came close to not being finished a number of times and could have easily not made enough money to repay their creditors. There were a number of descriptions and stories from those who attended the fair. What was really missing from this book were pictures.


Recommendation: I would recommend this book to those that are interested in learning more about the World's Fair and how it came to be.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Get On With It!

Touch of Power (Healer #1) by Maria V. Snyder

Summary: Laying hands upon the injured and dying, Avry of Kazan assumes their wounds and diseases into herself. But rather than being honored for her skills, she is hunted. Healers like Avry are accused of spreading the plague that has decimated the Territories, leaving the survivors in a state of chaos.

Stressed and tired from hiding, Avry is abducted by a band of rogues who, shockingly, value her gift above the golden bounty offered for her capture. Their leader, an enigmatic captor-protector with powers of his own, is unequivocal in his demands: Avry must heal a plague-stricken prince—leader of a campaign against her people. As they traverse the daunting Nine Mountains, beset by mercenaries and magical dangers, Avry must decide who is worth healing and what is worth dying for. Because the price of peace may well be her life....

Review: A story about a group of men in a rush to heal their leader, yet who take their grand old time when they finally have the healer.

Yes, that’s what annoyed me the most about this book. Kerrick has been searching for years to find a healer to heal Ryne and obviously there is a sense of urgency about the quest since other forces are stepping up in the power void. They finally find their healer (the last one!!!) and instead of rushing straight to Ryne, they go on many side adventures. Of course there is plenty of time for bonding and getting to know one another.

The world setting was quite vague. There were fifteen realms, but only a few were actually named and you didn’t learn much about them and how they came about. It was mentioned in the book how plague destroyed the government. A president was also mentioned. Were the fifteen realms created after the plague destroyed the government? Why would there be a president? It felt like the author was trying to create a setting that would fit with her story. There was magic, kings and queens, priests, castles, market towns, forests, and the like. It was a watered down version of a fantasy setting.


Recommendation: I would recommend this book to those that enjoy romances set in a light fantasy setting.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Barely Human

Gangster by M. Jones

Disclaimer: I received this book from the author in exchange for are review.

Summary: From the dark, basement speakeasies of 1926 Chicago, to the decadent parties of the Hollywood elite, psychopathic Clara slices her way through various people across America in her quest for fame. Brought along for the whirlwind ride of her murderous rampage, her enigmatic alien companion patiently waits for the opportunity to find his own target, a former friend set for assassination. He doesn't understand Clara's random need to destroy, but then, he is new to this strange, human landscape of murderers and victims. He can't wait to simply do his job and leave this vicious world behind.

Review: Technically a science fiction story, more of a statement on the condition of humanity.

Gangster, on the surface, is a story about an alien creature who has come to earth to kill a target before he can return to his home planet. The details of the alien, the alien’s mission, and his home planet are very limited. The reader learns that the alien is a liquid sort of mass that can inhabit dead bodies and likes motor oil (it’s like a drug to him). He’s formed a working relationship of sorts with Clara who kills people for fun. She’s convinced him that his target is in California and off they go.

A number of adventures ensue with plenty of death, murder, and mayhem. The alien meets another of his species and keeps having people call him Frankie. I am not sure how sane Clara actually is. She does make a number of important insights. Clara and the alien are actually more alike than they realize with their disregard for human life. They each have their reasons, but it is murder just the same. What justifies murder? Is it ever justifiable? The ending is especially powerful. Being human does not give us humanity. We must earn humanity.


Recommendation: I would recommend this book to those that enjoy philosophical science fiction or books that you make you think.

The Key to My Heart

Nefertiti's Heart by A.W. Exley

Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for a review.

Summary: Cara Devon has always suffered curiosity and impetuousness, but tangling with a serial killer might cure that. Permanently. London, 1861. Impoverished noble Cara has a simple mission after the strange death of her father - sell off his damned collection of priceless artifacts. Her plan goes awry when aristocratic beauties start dying of broken hearts, an eight inch long brass key hammered through their chests. A killer hunts amongst the nobility, searching for a regal beauty and an ancient Egyptian relic rumored to hold the key to immortality. Her Majesty's Enforcers are in pursuit of the murderer and they see a connection between the gruesome deaths and Cara. So does she, somewhere in London her father hid Nefertiti's Heart, a fist sized diamond with strange mechanical workings. Adding further complication to her life, notorious crime lord, Viscount Nathaniel Lyons is relentless in his desire to lay his hands on Cara and the priceless artifact. If only she could figure out his motive. Self-preservation fuels Cara's search for the gem. In a society where everyone wears a mask to hide their true intent, she needs to figure out who to trust, before she makes a fatal mistake.

Review: A steampunk adventure with some standard romance elements and plenty of mythology.

I requested this book from Netgalley on a whim because of the cover and because it was steampunk. It’s a genre that I enjoy, but that I haven’t read enough of recently. I’ve been very into historical fiction lately, especially about the Tudors, so that’s been taking up a good chunk of my reading time. Tangent aside, I was interested to read Nefertiti’s Heart. The premise of a madman trying to stick keys into women looking for his lost love was a very intriguing one. It’s a wonderful play on the phrase, you hold the key to my heart.

Cara was a bundle of contradictions, and not in a good way. She talks about how touch bothers her, which is understandable considering what happened to her, yet she lets Nathanial touch her so quickly. You can’t escape the trauma just like that. She is constantly reminding us how slim she is and her rounded her chest is. I got it the first time. Cara talks about how she hates feeling girlish and wearing girly clothes yet is constantly wearing corsets and doesn’t want to get blood on her clothing while she is boxing.

Cara’s interaction with Nathanial was a bit too much of your standard romance at first. He wouldn’t take no for an answer and had her followed. I was disinclined to like him at first, but as their relationship developed, Nathanial actually showed that he really did care about Cara although I still feel like he was too protective.


Recommendation: I would recommend this book to those that enjoy steampunk novels with romance.

A Whole Lot of Guesswork

Jane Austen: A Life by Claire Tomalin

Summary: Here, firmly rooted in her own social setting for the first time, is the real Jane Austen—the shy woman willing to challenge convention, the woman of no pretensions who nevertheless called herself "formidable," a woman who could be frivolous and yet suffer from black depressions, who showed unfailing loyalty and, in the conduct of her own life, unfailing bravery. In an act of understanding and brilliant synthesis, Claire Tomalin reveals Jane Austen with a clarity never before achieved, one which makes us look upon her novels with fresh and even greater admiration.
The world she wrote about—that place of civility and reassuring stability—was never quite her own. As Tomalin shows, Jane Austen's family existed on the very fringe of the world she described in her fiction, struggling to get ahead with little money and no land in the competitive society of Georgian England, sometimes succeeding but often failing with painful consequences. New research in family papers has yielded a rich, tragicomic picture of the Austen clan—their ambitions, their matrimonial alliances, their exotic connections with India and France. At the same time, Tomalin's explorations in local archives reveal a surprising view of the neighbors the family lived among in Hampshire, more extravagant and eccentric by far than anyone depicted in Austen's books. We realize how much closer her genius lies, in its splendid artifice, to the great comic operas of Mozart than to the main tradition of the English novel.
But it is in the deeply human portrait of Jane Austen herself that this biography excels. The honesty and directness of her personality (perfect heroines made her "sick and wicked"), her strength in giving up a chance at marriage to follow the path her vocation as a writer required her to take, the warmth and long consistency of her relationship with her sister, Cassandra, the poignancy of her death. —Claire Tomalin here captures, with unforgettable skill, the living character of a great writer who is read, reread, read again, and adored, now more than ever.
Review: Part biography, part literary criticism.

I’ve only read one book by Jane Austen and that was Pride and Prejudice. I read it for an English class and while I enjoyed it, I wasn’t terribly blown away by it. I do seem to be interested by the retellings of her stories. I read this book for a challenge and also because I wanted to learn more about Jane Austen. From what I gather, there really isn’t much to learn since so many of her letters were destroyed. I understand the reasons for destroying personal materials, but it does make me sad when precious material is lost.

Claire Tomalin had plenty to see about Jane Austen and her life. I know some of it was factual and some of it was the author making logical guesses, but I didn’t like how she assumed Jane Austen would be laughing at this or be upset by this. I hate when authors assume. This is a biography after all. Tomalin includes critiques of Austen’s novels and tries to link them to events that Jane Austen experiences or heard about. I felt that Tomalin loved Austen’s novels too much to be objective. I did learn some about Jane Austen and I might read another, not so biased work, about her life.

Recommendation: I would recommend this to fans of Jane Austen's work or to anyone who is interested in learning more about her.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Way We Were

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Summary: Three ordinary women are about to take one extraordinary step.

Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.

Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.

Minny, Aibileen's best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody's business, but she can't mind her tongue, so she's lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.
Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed.

In pitch-perfect voices, Kathryn Stockett creates three extraordinary women whose determination to start a movement of their own forever changes a town, and the way women - mothers, daughters, caregivers, friends - view one another. A deeply moving novel filled with poignancy, humor, and hope, The Help is a timeless and universal story about the lines we abide by, and the ones we don't.

Review: An enjoyable tale of three women in the south that shows have far we have come and how far we have still to go.

One thought that really struck me when I was reading this book was how some people from that time period would have their heads explode at the fact that an African-American is president of the United States. Anyways…I don’t read too much fiction that takes place in the 20th century. I am much more partial to fiction written in earlier centuries, especially the 16th and earlier. If I want to read about the 20th century, I prefer non-fiction.

Despite being fiction, The Help has its roots in reality and does showcase an appalling way of life. Considering the state of things 50 or so years ago, it’s amazing how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go. Some people have mentioned that racism gets whitewashed in this book and I can certainly see that. I was glad that Skeeter’s book got published and that some progress was made in the town, but I found it hard to believe that one book, although true, would have as much of an effect as it does in the book. Perhaps I am too cynical. Despite all that, I did enjoy The Help.


Recommendation: I would recommend this book to those that are interested in fiction that takes place in the 20th century or anyone interested in civil rights.