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Book 166: Top Secret 21 (Stephanie Plum #21).
Author: Janet Evanovich, 2014.
Genre: Chick Lit Crime Fiction. Comedy/Drama. Spy Fiction.
Other Details: Unabridged Audiobook (6 hrs, 16 mins). Read by Lorelei King.

Stephanie Plum is getting desperate. She's running out of leads in the search for Jimmy Poletti, who was caught selling more than cars out of his New Jersey dealership. Even Joe Morelli, the city's hottest cop, is struggling to find the criminal wheeler and dealer. Stephanie's No.1 temptation, Ranger, is also struggling. There's a killer in town with a personal vendetta against him. If Ranger wants to survive, he'll need Stephanie's help - and to reveal a piece of his mysterious past. Death threats, highly trained assassins and highly untrained assassins are all in a day's work for bounty hunter Stephanie Plum! - synopsis from UK publisher's website.

In addition to the above Stephanie finds herself helping out Randy Briggs, always a fun supporting character, when person or persons unknown blow up his apartment. She discovers that Briggs was acting as Poletti’s bookkeeper and decides that he could be useful as bait to draw Poletti out, if indeed he's behind the attack on Briggs and not the many other enemies that Briggs has managed to make.

I do enjoy this series even if basically Evanovich is writing the same story over and over with a few changes of supporting characters, baddies and the like. Stephanie continues to be unsure if she loves Joe or Ranger and still seems to know little about bounty hunting. Still they do prove perfect listening in the car as they demand so little and provide amusement.

Janet Evanovich's web page for 'Top Secret Twenty-One' - contains Chapter 1 and audio sample.
Summary:
Eamon Evernight has always lived in his older brother's shadow. While his brother is fair of hair and lithe in body, Eamon sparks fear with his fiery locks and massive frame-and rumors of a mysterious power. But when his brother has the good fortune to be betrothed to a beautiful stranger, it's Eamon's help-and quick wit and romantic heart--that he needs. Eamon agrees to write the noble lady...a generous offer that will forever leave him a changed man.

Lady Luella Jane Moran has no interest in an arranged marriage and tries valiantly to dissuade her betrothed from afar. Though her own letters plainly state her case, the words her husband-to-be writes her leave her aching for his touch. Will Lu give in to the desire the missives have kindled within her? Or will desire turn cold when she discovers their true author?


This well-done 33,000-word novella leaves me more curious about Callihan's world of Darkest London. The steampunk and paranormal elements are present here though very light; it's really about the people and a really lovely romance. Eamon and Lu fall in love as penpals. The problem? Lu thinks the letters are written by Eamon's brother, her betrothed. The conceit is nothing new but it's still delightful here because they do have such great chemistry, even over the post. When they inevitably meet, there's the expected awkwardness and dread of the truth, plus another threat for good measure. Their wedding night scene is really cute because of their fumbled efforts.

Books #33-34

Book #33 was "Wisp of a Thing" by Alex Bledsoe, the second of his Tufa novels. I read the first book in the series, "The Hum and the Shiver" earlier this year and knew I neeeded to read more by Bledsoe. The second book is only loosely related to the first - it only features a couple of the same characters but it's set in the same part of Tennessee where the mysterious and private Tufa people live. Rob, a musician who has experienced heartache, comes to Tufa territory to find a special song that is supposed to heal a broken heart, but he gets caught up in the politics of the two clans of the Tufa. This book was excellent, just as good if not better than the first. I highly recommend the series.

Book #34 was "The Talented Mr. Ripley" by Patricia Highsmith. I'd seen the film but the book still knocked me out. It isn't just a beach book but a psychological thriller where the author actually has some deep psychological insights. There's a scene where Tom Ripley has a moment of existential crisis and dissociation that is written so perfectly, I had to go back and read the paragraph three times. I liked the story and the character development was great but it was Highsmith's simple but effective prose that really excited me about the book. I have to read more by the author though I might branch out from the Ripley book (there are 4 sequels with Tom Ripley).  This was a perfect little gem of a book.
The other books I've read so far this year:Collapse )

Books 75-76

Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy - PreludeMarvel's Guardians of the Galaxy - Prelude by Dan Abnett

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


First off, let's be clear what this book isn't. It's not a movie tie-in. The first two stories and the rest are the characters from some of their earliest appearances. It's pretty obvious a lot of the reviewers didn't get that but to be honest if you're only here because of the movie, there's not much for you in this volume. The first story is about how Nebula became stronger and to garner sympathy for her and the second is about the collector and I could care less about either. Those did nothing for me. However, the rest (barring the #0.1 beginning for the 2013 reboot which I saw elsewhere) are some of the earliest appearances of the characters which is what seems to have been missed by many. Even I was wondering what was with the old-time garish color palette when I first got this from the library (I'm SO glad we've moved past that). So if you love comics and love their history, this might be of interest to you.

The first of the old stories is Iron Man #55> from 1968 where Iron Man helps Drax the Destroyer (who doesn't look much like the Drax of today) against Thanos. I loved the ridiculous, overwrought, vaguely homoerotic poses they had Tony in, not to mention all the words they made up like telepathing and being telepathed.

Then there's Adam Warlock in Strange Tales #181 and according to this it was from 1951 but I know I had this and I'm not that old. WIKI has it as 1973 and that seems more feasible to me. It has Adam Warlock in it (I always liked him) needing rescued from SPACE CLOWNS!!! by Gamora and Pip the Troll (yeah, I don't remember him and yet he does seem familiar). It was fun seeing Gamora kick ass even if she is in a green fishnet outfit plunged to her pubic region (thank you for the save, belt buckle) but my god, they couldn't draw her head right. Half the time she looks microcephalic.

I DO however want to know what's up with Pip's one line 'Wahoo! This is more fun than brown eyeing!" Um say what? Just what did this mean in 1973 (I was too young then to remember) I have only one thing in mind and that's Pip enjoys anal play.

Next came The Incredible Hulk #271 from 1968 and he's in Rocket Raccoon's universe which is definitely different than the reboot. Tons of animal creatures all after the Gideon's Bible (it's a long in-joke). I'll be honest I like Hulk in the TV show and the movies because he's mostly Bruce Banner. As the Hulk, he's interesting for short bursts. I've never really liked the comic because he's mostly in Hulk form and Hulk has nothing much interesting to say. But this ALSO gives us Space Clowns. Really Marvel? Space Clowns? It's the late 60s early 70s, I know what you were smoking.

The last one is very short Tales to Astonish#13 from 1959 and I believe this is an accurate date. It reads like a 50s horror drive in movie, class D or below. It's pretty bad. It's Groot but not the enigmatic tri-syllabic character we know today. This Groot talks, turns all of Earth's trees into Ents so they can web their roots together and hijack a city to take back to his planet for study. You can tell it's from the 50s with the main character's wasp-waisted girl, Alice who exists to hang on his arm and either hector him or praise him. 'He's so manly, so rugged, if only you could be like him, Leslie" (Sweetie, your man's name is Leslie..." and 'Must you be weak and spineless to the bitter end?' (ain't she a peach?) Only to tell him how sorry she is later.

Honestly, it was a lot of fun to get in the way-back machine and looks at comics as they were 40+ years ago but on the same hand, I'm glad I didn't pay money for this. Yay for libraries.




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Bloodwitch (The Maeve’ra Trilogy, #1)Bloodwitch by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


The book started out strong but weakened a bit in the middle and part of it is there isn’t much of a plot. It’s mostly just Vance trying to find out his place in the world and stuff happens around that. I thought there were some logic gaps in the world building but then came to Goodreads and learned that even though it’s not marked anywhere on the dust jacket, this ties into another series by the same author. That annoyed me and would have been good to know. This might not have been the book I chose to start with because maybe the author is assuming we already know a lot of this. That would explain the lax world building. I have to confess I’ve been curious about this author but waited to read her. I remember a time where they wouldn’t even consider publishing an author as young as she was when she first published and a lot of people were wondering was she basically a gimmick to lure in young readers. Now, with as many books as she has behind her, I thought okay there has to be more than gimmick her.

And this wasn’t a bad book. I more or less enjoyed it but I did want more out of it. The point of view character is Vance Echecatl, a fourteen year old quetzal, one of the holy birds of the Aztec (the Azteca in this alternative Earth). The dust cover assures us that this form of shapeshifter will commit suicide if kept in a cage but as we go on, we learn that this is what Vance is, only he’s not really aware of it. He lives in Lady Brina’s greenhouse and the hardest thing he has to do is keep it clean for the vampire and pose for her art. He’s kept in complete luxury and has done since Mistress Jeshicka (how much do I hate this spelling? Plenty) gave him to Brina after his family abandoned him. He lives in the greenhouse with Calysta, a serpent shifter. Jeshicka is the ruler of Midnight and she and Brina are vampires (and this is where reading the other books might have helped. I couldn’t entirely figure out Midnight because it felt like pieces were missing. Vampires rule everyone. Everyone hates vampires. Shape shifters are freeborn but can be vampire slaves but are deemed traitors even if it’s not their fault and humans are…I have no idea mostly slaves I think).

After the visit of the merchant Malachi Obsidian (an outlaw group as it turns out), Vance’s world is never the same. Calysta does something drastic but it’s Vance who is beaten first by Brina and then another vampire lord for literally no reason. He’s severely injured (shifters heal fast) and takes off into the woods and would have frozen if not for Malachi. Malachi seems to exist merely to sow the seeds of doubt in Vance’s mind. He tells him how cruel the world is outside of Midnight but also that Vance is in a cage and he wants to save him.

Instead Vance returns to his abusers and is taken by his trainer, Taro to Jeshicka’s estate to work with another vampire, Jaguar. Jaguar’s purpose is to awaken Vance’s bloodwitch magic and I would be lying if I said I knew what that was. It remains poorly explained. Malachi keeps popping in and out and things just keep getting worse to the point Vance defending the vampires makes him seem almost too stupid to live. I had to keep reminding myself that he’s only a young boy of fourteen and not really TSTL. He’s being asked to turn against the only life he’s ever known and the only family for very little gain.

Overall, it’s not a bad story and might have been a better one if I had known to read the other books first. GR says this is the first in a trilogy but I’m not sure I’ve been moved to get book two. Still, I do think this young author (who’s probably mid-twenties by now) does have talent. Vance can be a likeable character. There just needed to be less reliance on the other books for the world building (or at least a clear indication this in an established universe. I couldn’t even tell where Midnight was supposed to be) and maybe a tad less simplistic plot. I really did like the first third of the book when I was getting to know Vance.




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Book #41:The Dark Half by Stephen King



Number of pages: 461

George Stark
1975 - 1988
Not a very nice guy


I felt there was probably something semi-autobiographical about the premise of this book, in which the main character, Thad Beaumont, "kills" his alter ego George Stark, the pseudonym under which he wrote a number of ultra-violent pulp thrillers.

Stephen King himself used to write under the pen name Richard Bachman; I haven't read any of the books he wrote as Bachman, so I don't know how they compare to his other books (except that I doubt any are more shocking than Pet Sematery, which he didn't write as Richard Bachman). I do know that some writers like to use a different style when using a pseudonym - Ruth Rendell writing profanity-laden detective novels under the alias Barbara Vine, for example.

This book quickly turns into a brutal pulp horror novel, as several people are murdered in ways that ape killings from George Stark novels, and it quickly becomes clear, to Thad at least, that George Stark has somehow taken on a physical form and is attempting to prolong his own existence. It turns out that they are linked in more ways than one, in a manner that relates to the book's prologue, set during Thad's childhood.

The book gets very creepy quite fast, with sparrows becoming menacing in a way that consciously mimics Hitchcock's The Birds (and presumably the novel it is based on), although most of the unpleasant stuff comes from the fact that Stark starts to physically deteriorate, taking on a more and more gruesome visage.

Overall, it's quite a simple story, made more exciting by Stephen King's recognisable style, with the usual pop culture references (I have noticed that he likes to mention cartoons a lot), and I doubt any other writer would come up with the chapter title, "The Psychopomps are coming". I had read this before years ago, but couldn't exactly remember the plot very well. I found it to be gripping from start to finish.

Next book: Middlemarch (George Eliot)

#85: The Time Roads by Beth Bernobich

Summary:
Éire is one of the most powerful empires in the world. The Anglian Dependencies are a dusty backwater filled with resentful colonial subjects, Europe is a disjointed mess, and many look to Éire for stability and peace. In a series of braided stories, Beth Bernobich has created a tale about the brilliant Éireann scientists who have already bent the laws of nature for Man's benefit. And who now are striving to conquer the nature of time.

This is an impressive work of steampunk-lite that left me wanting a bit more. The basics of the world-building here are fascinating: this is a world where Ireland, not England, ascended as one of the great world powers at the dawn on the 20th century. The political structure and colonization of the globe is radically different, though never fully clear. Against this backdrop, the young Queen Aine of Ireland tries to secure her realm against the constant threat of Anglian radicals. Scientists have discovered means of using prime numbers to access "time roads," essentially strings to alternate realities, which brings a whole new source of danger.

It's hard to write about time travel. It can be hard to read about it, too. It gets all twisty and confusing. That happens here as well because the book hops across several realities and character viewpoints--which is frustrating because the mood of the book changes so much, too, becoming more of a spy thriller for a long stretch. I really wanted to know Aine more--to see her lose more of herself as she became the queen, and I felt it lost that with viewpoint shifts. I also wanted to understand more of the world. It was never clear if regular people understood anything about the diverging realities, though it was common knowledge among court. This is the kind of cool concept that has endless room for stories and expansion.

For readers of steampunk, balloons are commonly used for travel and there are the machines that access the time roads. Really, it's a sort of steampunk that harkens back to the roots of Jules Verne--it uses the science in an almost magical way and doesn't try to explain things in detail, which is fine. The alternate history aspect is what hooked me more than the steampunk.

Even though it left me frustrated in several ways, The Time Roads was a highly enjoyable read. I zoomed through in a matter of days. The take on history is just so cool and fresh.
Book 164: Blood on the Strand (Thomas Chaloner #2) .
Author: Susanna Gregory, 2007.
Genre: Historical Fiction. Restoration London. Spy Thriller.
Other Details: Paperback. 464 pages.

Rebellion is in the air of London in the spring of 1663. Thomas Chaloner, spy for the King's intelligence service, has just returned from thwarting a planned revolt in Dublin, but soon realises that England's capital is no haven of peace. He is ordered to investigate the shooting of a beggar during a royal procession. He soon learns the man is no vagrant, but someone with links to the powerful Company of Barber-Surgeons. He master, the Earl of Clarendon, is locked in a deadly feud with the Earl of Bristol, and an innocent man is about to be hanged in Newgate. Chaloner is embroiled in a desperate race against time to protect Clarendon, to discover the true identity of the beggar's murderer, and to save a blameless man from the executioner's noose. - synopsis from UK publisher's website.

Even though Thomas is a fictional character, his family are not and in this series Gregory brings into play a cast of characters who were part of the actual political intrigues taking place in Restoration England. Her writing is quite dense and so demanded close attention for the period detail, plot complexity and the number of characters. After the text she includes notes on the historical figures. I was especially interested to discover that Aphra (Effray) did exist and was one of the few female spies during the period. This is a terrific series that I look forward to continue reading more of Thomas' exploits.

Book 165: Remarkable Creatures.
Author: Tracy Chevalier, 2009
Genre: Historical Fiction. 19th Century England. Natural History.
Other Details: Large Print Paperback. 384 pages.

In the early nineteenth century, a windswept beach along the English coast brims with fossils for those with the eye. Remarkable Creatures is Tracy Chevalier's stunning new novel of how one woman's gift transcends class and gender to lead to some of the most important discoveries of the nineteenth century. Above all, it is a revealing portrait of the intricate and resilient nature of female friendship. - from W. F. Howes website.

I first read this book in 2010 (see 2010 Book 36 for more detailed synopsis) and welcomed the opportunity to revisit in when it was selected for my library reading group. I enjoyed it even more the second time around, which for me is the hallmark of a good book.

It was very well received by all members of the group present at the meeting.

Tracy Chevalier's page on 'Remarkable Creatures' - contains further information and fossil gallery.

Books 35 & 36 - 2012

Book 35: Windsor Castle: Official Souvenir Guide by Jonathan Marsden – 72 pages

Description from bookdepository.co.uk:
The official guidebook to the Windsor Castle Illustrated with 130 color images including paintings, drawings, works of art, historic documents and beautiful photographs of the State Rooms These new, fully revised official souvenir guides, published in partnership with the Royal Collection to mark the Diamond Jubilee, include titles on the magnificent palaces and residences, on the finest working stables in existence, on the largest dolls house in the world and on the enthralling history of the royal line of succession. Written by specialist authors including the curators of the Royal Collection, beautifully illustrated and containing details of the works of art, the architecture, stories of occupants, photographs and plans, each book gives a fascinating insight into these famous sites, their history and contents. Windsor Castle, the largest and oldest occupied castle in the world, is one of the official residences of Her Majesty The Queen. The Castle's dramatic site encapsulates over 900 years of British history. It covers an area of 26 acres and contains, as well as a royal palace, the magnificent St George's Chapel and the homes and workplaces of a large number of people. This fully illustrated official souvenir guide details the history of the Castle from its founder, William the Conqueror, to the present day, including the fire of 1992 and the superb restoration of the damaged rooms, and presents a beautifully illustrated tour of the Castle, including the State Apartments and Semi-State Apartments and their treasures.

Thoughts:
This was another tourist book I purchased, while I was touring Windsor Castle (i.e. where Queen Elizabeth lives). It’s a decent read, with some interesting information, particularly about the Royal Collection (so much stuff, not stuff anyone would necessarily want, but still so much!) and the various rooms of significance (so many rooms, why would one person require soooo many rooms!). It’s a nice enough place, Windsor Castle, and it’s in a cute little village in West London. I’d highly recommend a visit should you be in London. Sometimes the Queen is even in!


35 / 50 books. 70% done!


10190 / 15000 pages. 68% done!

Book 36: Ave Judas by Cassian Brown – 208 pages

Description from Goodreads:
Ave Judas: An SF Conspiracy Thriller. It is the year of our Lord 2449. The Pope believes he has just forty-four daysto avert a galactic Armageddon by discrediting anew the most reviled man in history ...Owen Stonehaven is leading the strangest of lives. As a child, his mother gives him to a huge and fierce rat kangaroo; as an adult, the Church has him shut into a derelict and lightless spaceship. Freed, he returns to his home planet, a surreal place that is roamed by lizards of barely imaginable size, towering thunderbirds and ferocious marsupial lions - for on New Yamba a master cloner has been at work re-creating the megafauna of Australia's past. Owen's plan is to find the mysterious coin his mother stole on the day she died, a well-worn piece of silver he hopes will help reveal his true identity, and to await a visit by the brother he loves, Henry, a priest. Extremists detonate a bomb and Henry is hurt. Owen realises he is the subject of a conspiracy engineered by an all-powerful and ruthless man. As he begins to understand his origins, he finds he cannot shake the darkness at his core. Is betrayal in his genes?

Thoughts:
I won this book as a goodreads giveaway. I can’t quite remember why I put my name down for it, and it’s the last (and one of only two) Goodread giveaways I’ve won. It was a very odd story. I think its supposed to be a sort of modern day Judas story (hence the title) but set in Australia (I think!), with some sci-fi thrown in the mix. Whilst the writing itself is solid, and the story is paced reasonably well, I couldn’t really tell what the whole point was. Particularly in respect of the megafauna that seemed to inhabit the weird maybe-Australia place. There was some backstory, flashback business with Owen and Henry’s mother, and a rat kangaroo, and a sort of Jesus/Judas relationship between the story, but by the end I was left confused, and not really feeling it. I’m a pretty big fan of sci-fi, and maybe I was supposed to read more into the concepts and critical analysis behind the story, but I didn’t really get any drive to, nor were they obvious enough to me. Maybe I just prefer sci-fi that involves aliens or blowing up things. The books has some rave reviews on Goodreads, so if non-space related sci-fi is your thing, give it a go. I’ll stick to Star Trek and my own personal sci-fi ramblings.


36 / 50 books. 72% done!


10398 / 15000 pages. 69% done!

Currently reading:
-        American Gods by Neil Gaiman – 588 pages
-        The Sexual Paradox: Troubled Boys, Gifted Girls and the Real Difference between the Sexes by Susan Pinker – 308 pages
-        Mortal Remains by Kathy Reichs – 306 pages

And coming up:
-        The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant: Volume 3: White Gold Wielder by Stephen Donaldson – 500 pages
-        The Odyssey by Homer – 324 pages
-        One for the Money by Janet Evanovich – 290 pages

Book 163: NW by Zadie Smith

Book 163: NW.
Author: Zadie Smith, 2012.
Genre: Contemporary. Relationship Drama. Racial Issues. Literary.
Other Details: Paperback. 340 pages/Unabridged Audiobook (10 hrs, 55 mns) Narrated by Karen Bryson and Don Gilet.

Zadie Smith's brilliant tragi-comic 'NW' follows four Londoners - Leah, Natalie, Felix and Nathan - after they've left their childhood council estate, grown up and moved on to different lives. From private houses to public parks, at work and at play, their city is brutal, beautiful and complicated. Yet after a chance encounter they each find that the choices they've made, the people they once were and are now, can suddenly, rapidly unravel. A portrait of modern urban life, 'NW' is funny, sad and urgent - as brimming with vitality as the city itself. - synopsis from UK publisher's website.

From the synopsis, which was also on the back cover of the novel, I expected this to be an ensemble piece along the same lines of Zadie Smith's previous novels. However in NW Felix and Nathan, are closer to supporting characters while it is Leah and Natalie, who are the main protagonist. She also has opted for an experimental style, rather Joycean with sections of stream-of-consciousness. This was not quite as annoying as some I have read using this style but still came as a surprise.

NW was by no means a bad book, just one that initially left me feeling rather 'meh'. I really did not understand why on earth Natalie did what she did - perhaps rebelling against her perfect life or just showing that under the surface there can be self-destructive tendencies.

However, after reading the material provided by The Guardian Book Club I wondered if I had been too hasty in my assessment and elected to listen to the audio version. This proved a very different experience. The narrators, especially Karen Bryson, did a great job of capturing the London accents and slang as well as the stream-of-consciousness sections. As I have noted in the past I feel that this kind of material can work better in audio format. So the outcome was this second encounter revised my opinion of the novel markedly. I not only enjoyed it but could appreciate better the themes that Zadie Smith was exploring in the novel.

Guardian Book Club - John Mullan on 'NW' - overview of the novel.
Guardian Book Club - Zadie Smith on 'NW' - Zadie Smith talks about the inspirations behind 'NW'.
Book 162: Who Goes There?.
Author: John W. Campbell, 1948.
Genre: Science Fiction. Horror. Short Stories.
Other Details: Paperback. 256 pages.

When a group of scientific researchers, isolated in Antarctica, stumble across an alien spaceship buried in the ice it seems like an incredible opportunity. The alien pilot can just be seen - a shadowy figure frozen just a short depth into the ice. It looks as though he survived the crash only to be flash-frozen on the Antarctic plateau. The team fight the frozen conditions to free the ship from the ice - with disastrous consequences - and rescue the alien. As they transport the corpse, one of their greatest finds, out on the ice back to their camp, several scientists begin to experience extraordinary, vivid and unsettling dreams. They're dismissed as the product of stress and the harsh conditions . . . but the nightmare is only beginning. - synopsis from UK publisher's website.

I borrowed this from the library specifically to read the novella 'Who Goes There?' because I realised that I'd never read it despite it being a classic work of horror/SF and it is one that is hard to find.

Who Goes There? was a genuinely creepy story and I realised that John Carpenter's 1982 film The Thing was much more faithful to the source text than Howard Hawks 1951 'The Thing from Outer Space'.

The six short stories that were also included in the collection were fine but not that amazing or memorable. Some of the science was also a bit dodgy and I had to remind myself that these stories were written long ago and thus made allowances. One story, 'Frictional Losses', was more impressive and could have been a template for the TV series 'Falling Skies' with its alien invasion reducing the human race to a small resistance force and the skitter-like aliens.

Still am glad I read this for Who Goes There?.
Book 161: Sisters of Treason.
Author: Elizabeth Freemantle, 2014.
Genre: Historical Fiction. England 16th Century.
Other Details: Hardback. 496 pages.

Mary Tudor clings fearfully to the English throne. Seeing the threat posed by her cousin, Lady Jane Grey, the Queen orders her execution. But what of Lady Jane's young sisters - Katherine and Mary? Cursed with royal blood, they must endure the perils of a Tudor court, closely observed by its paranoid Queen. Entranced by the drama, intrigue and romance of court life, young Lady Katherine's desire for love leads her to make ill-advised and dangerous liaisons. Burdened with a crooked back, her younger sister, Lady Mary - the 'mouse' - is seen as no threat and becomes privy to the Queen's most intimate secrets. Yet Mary, who yearns to escape court dramas, knows her closeness to the Queen could be her undoing. For the Queen is childless and in ill-health. If she should die, her fearsome sister Elizabeth will inherit the crown. Then Katherine and Mary will find court a maze of treachery and danger - where possessing royal blood is the gravest crime of all . . . - synopsis from UK publisher's website.

After a couple of disappointing historical novels it was so good to read this, which was so well written and obviously well-researched covering the reigns of Mary I and Elizabeth I.

The story is narrated by Katherine and Mary Grey with a third perspective in third person focusing on Levina Teerkinc, a Flemish painter who served in the courts of Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I. I had not known anything about Levina as she was not mentioned in my art history courses even though the tutors were seeking to include women artists that had been largely forgotten. So learning about her was a revelation and I was fascinated by her role in popularising miniatures and certainly will be seeking out more information on her as recommended by Freemantle in the work of art historian Susan E. James.

The tragic story of the Grey sisters was deeply moving and I felt that Freemantle was able to express the complexities of the Tudor courts with great skill.

Sep. 2nd, 2014

There we were, on a warm summer day, chilled late harvest sauvignon blanc in glasses in reach, and I finished the bottle and two books, yesterday:

First was Osprey Warrior #151: Samurai Women 1184 – 1877; fairly interesting, it gives a fair picture of what life was like for the non-male members of a samurai family.

Then, Osprey Men-At-Arms #387: The Italian Army of World War I. It's a useful reminder that as a nation, Italy had only existed about fifty years, and hadn't aggressively built a modern infrastructure to support an army of the size of the other combatants in the Great War. Moderately interesting...

Sep. 1st, 2014

I said that there'd be more to come, and there was:

Finished Osprey Warrior #167: Early Aegean Warrior 5000 – 1450 BC, which I found to be a very good description of the archaeological data on these obscure peoples. It's interesting, especially as they were the ancestors of the Greeks, and the enemies of the Ancient Egyptians. Good piece of work.

August 2014 reading

August 2014 reading:

27. Winter Moon, by Mercedes Lackey, Tanith Lee, and C.E. Murphy (400 pages)
I read this for the C.E. Murphy novella, but I wound up really enjoying all of them. The Tanith Lee story was very heart-wrenching in a lot of ways. Definitely a worthwhile anthology.

28. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs (352 pages)
A sort of fantastical bildungsroman, this follows young Jacob as he grows up to his grandfather's fantastic stories of monsters and children with strange abilities, and comes to disbelieve them. But that was Before, and now he is After, and he must enter the world his grandfather spoke of. I enjoyed the interspersed pictures.

29. Paranormalcy, by Kiersten White (335 pages)
The premise is interesting and reminded me somewhat of Holzner's Deadtown series and Harrison's Hollows series. This was definitely a YA, in that the main character is very obviously a 16-year-old girl with all the maturity and insight that comes with that age. Interesting world-building, but a little on the skeletal side of development.

30. Touch, by Alexi Zentner (272 pages)
This novel reminded me of One Hundred Years of Solitude in terms of the sort of mythos built and this beautiful feel of magical realism. Spanning decades, the narrator speaks of the present, his childhood, and the stories his grandfather told him of the early generation of Sawgamet, the north-woods boomtown which his grandfather founded. Filled with elements of the supernatural--mahahas, wendigo, qallupilluit, and others--the mixture that made this into a sort of north-woods magical realism was well-woven. Very enjoyable. This is not a Western-traditional tale with a rising action, climax, falling action, but rather a story that seems to deal with infinity circles.

31. East Coast Literary Review: Summer 2014 Edition, edited by Heather Lenoir (138 pages)
Lots of really good poetry and some good fiction pieces in here. Got a copy because one of my poems is in here.

August pages: 1,497

Pages to date: 10,931

Progress: 31/52


August 2014 comics/manga reading:

335. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind: Volume 3, by Hayao Miyazaki (156 pages)
336. Berlin 2: City of Smoke, by Jason Lutes (210 pages)
337. Star Trek Ongoing: Volume 1, by Mike Johnson (104 pages)
338. Kekkaishi: Volume 26, by Yellow Tanabe (192 pages)
339. Kekkaishi: Volume 27, by Yellow Tanabe (192 pages)
340. Freakangels: Volume 2, by Warren Ellis (144 pages)
341. Scalped High Lonesome: Volume 5, by Jason Aaron (128 pages)
342. Claymore: Volume 5, by Norihiro Yagi (200 pages)
343. Bleach: Volume 33, by Tite Kubo (200 pages)
344. 100 Bullets: Volume 4, A Foregone Tomorrow, by Brian Azzarello (264 pages)
345. Absolute Boyfriend: Volume 4, by Yuu Watase (200 pages)
346. Time Stranger Kyoko: Volume 2, by Arina Tanemura (210 pages)
347. Rosario Vampire Season II: Volume 10, by Akihisa Ikeda (218 pages)
348. Puella Magi Kazumi Magica The Innocent Malice: Volume 5, by Magica Quartet (144 pages)
349. Case Closed: Volume 38, by Gosho Aoyama (200 pages)
350. Case Closed: Volume 39, by Gosho Aoyama (200 pages)
351. Millennium Snow: Volume 3, by Bisco Hatori (200 pages)

August pages: 3,162

Pages to date: 69,645

Progress: 351/365

Book 74

Cursed in the ActCursed in the Act by Raymond Buckland

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I have a love-hate relationship with mysteries using real people as their sleuths. I usually don't like them but I can't seem to stay away from them either. This one was better than most in that genre, a 3.5. It's centered on the Lyceum Theater and Bram Stoker as the theater manager. However, Mr. Stoker isn't the pov character. It's told first person by Harry Rivers, Stoker's stage manager and right hand man.

One of their competitors is trying to shut the Lyceum down, first by poisoning their lead actor (not fatally) and any host of other dirty tricks. In the middle of this, the lead's stand in actor is killed in a hit and run accident and later he's removed from his grave and his head appearing in the Lyceum.

As Harry looks into this, because they can't afford to have the theater close, he learns that the brother of the other theater's owner, might be behind it all and he has help from a very strange source, a voudoun priest he met in his travels.

While the ending wasn't too hard to predict, I still enjoyed the journey. It occurred to me I don't really know much about Stoker other than his famous novel so I have no idea how true to him this feels. I'll probably look up the next in the series.



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Books #23-24

23. Treachery in Death by J.D. Robb (a.k.a. Nora Roberts), 375 pages, Mystery, 2011 (In Death, Book 32).

Fresh off her first stint as primary on a case, Peabody goes from elated to terrified when she overhears dirty cops discussing their operation and the murder of someone who crossed them. Dallas starts the investigation into a squad in illegals (narcotics) led by the daughter of a retired police legend, a paragon of honor and duty. It’s intense, with the plans within plans, and more than a few physical encounters. I read this in a day; the In Death series has become a comfort series, easy to read with a family of characters that fascinate me.


24. New York to Dallas by J.D. Robb (a.k.a. Nora Roberts), 402 pages, Mystery, 2011 (In Death, Book 33).

As Detective Peabody and Lieutenant Dallas are preparing for an awards ceremony, in recognition of their efforts in the prior book, Eve receives a message from one of her first arrests. The pedophile she stumbled upon as a rookie, a man who would kidnap, torture, and kill young girls, has escaped from prison. And while he was in New York to announce himself, Eve is going to have to go to Dallas, the city she was found in as a child, the city she remembers in her nightmares, in order to save some other girl from those nightmares. Intense read, and a great glimpse into the back story of Eve Dallas and what brought her to the attention of Feeney, who trained her as a murder cop.

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Sleep Like a Tiger, by Mary Logue
This is a charming go-to-sleep tale, distinguished from its peers both by the absolutely beautiful illustrations and by the sense that the storyteller is thinking about the kid more than the parents. I'll be giving it to a kid I know.
(159)

Existential Time-Limited Therapy, by Freddie and Alison Strasser
There were some neat ideas and some compelling case studies in here, but there was also a lot of heavy jargon and unnecessarily stuffy writing. Very self-consciously academic.
(161)

A Shiver of Light, by Laurell K. Hamilton
I'm not sure if the ending to this latest Merry Gentry magic, mayhem, and sex tale was abrupt and kind of a disappointment, or if it was just that I was like 50 pages from the end when the copy I was reading got trashed, so I didn't read the last part until about a week after I read the rest of the book. I find I enjoy Hamilton most if I swig her down all in one big gulp.
(162)

The Muppets Character Encyclopedia, by Craig Shemin\
It was deliciously nostalgic to be reminded of Muppets I haven't thought of since before I hit puberty. Not quite amazing (I admit I'd been expecting something even more detailed and geeky, given that it's published by DK), but still really fun to read through.
(164)

Maxine Banks is Getting Married, by Lori Aurelia Williams
Banks is a splendid conveyer of personality and relationship, so I deeply enjoyed this book even though the plot was well outside my experience / interest zone. I hope she writes more.
(166)

The Memory of Water, by Emmi Itäranta
The worldbuilding and plot of this post-climate-change dystopia got me to stick with it, even though the main character's quiet and distanced perspective made it hard to connect with her until several chapters in. By the end of the book, it had my mind and my heart.
(167)

Garlands of Moonlight, by Jai Sen and Rizky Wasisto Edi
A bizarre little horror comic based on a Malaysian legend that I thought had a terrible ending until I realized there was a sequel... also, while it's mostly black and white, the artist used a silver wash for highlights, which upped the illustrations from good to stunning.
(168)

Beach Reading, by Lorne Elliott
This was kind of hard for me to read for personal reasons that I don't feel like going into, but I'm glad I stayed the course. A warm, wry, charming, and homesickness-inducing coming-of-age novel.
(169)

The Year of Reading Dangerously, by Andy Miller
One of the most readable books about books I've ever read (and I've read many). Sometimes thigh-slappingly funny, sometimes awkward and gangly, most often feeling like you're having a beer with the guy while he tells you about his reading life and you laugh and ask questions and make suggestions and tell stories of your own. I liked this even more than I liked Nick Hornby's collections of book reviews (which was a lot).
(170)

#84: Marina by Carlos Ruiz Zafron

Summary:
In May 1980, fifteen-year-old Oscar Drai suddenly vanishes from his boarding school in the old quarter of Barcelona. For seven days and nights no one knows his whereabouts. . . .

His story begins in the heart of old Barcelona, when he meets Marina and her father Germán Blau, a portrait painter. Marina takes Oscar to a cemetery to watch a macabre ritual that occurs on the fourth Sunday of each month. At 10 a.m. precisely a coach pulled by black horses appears. From it descends a woman dressed in black, her face shrouded, wearing gloves, holding a single rose. She walks over to a gravestone that bears no name, only the mysterious emblem of a black butterfly with open wings.

When Oscar and Marina decide to follow her they begin a journey that will take them to the heights of a forgotten, post-war Barcelona, a world of aristocrats and actresses, inventors and tycoons; and a dark secret that lies waiting in the mysterious labyrinth beneath the city streets.


I received this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers Program.

Zafron excels at numerous elements within this book: the viewpoint of an awkward teenage boy in love for the first time, painting the setting of Barcelona as a decaying character itself, and creating a downright creepy mystery. Really, this could be described as young adult horror. It's a fast read. The creepy elements were a bit too creepy for my liking and the first person narrator Oscar came across as rather empty to me.

Books 138-149 for 2014

138. Lady of Devices by Shelley Adina. 168 pages.

Another American author who writes books set in England apparently without bothering to do any research…. Hint : Victorian English ladies would not be talking about “cookie batter” nor do English schools have graduation ceremonies - universities yes, schools, no.

The story and characters were quite fun though.

139. The Cat Who Knew Shakespeare by Lilian Jackson Braun. 150 pages.
140. The Cat Who Sniffed Glue by Lilian Jackson Braun. 161 pages.

Two more outings for Jim Qwilleran and his Siamese cats.

141. The Little Grey Men by “B.B.”. 178 pages.

The last gnomes in England set out upstream to find their missing brother…

I seem to have missed this children’s classic when I was a small person, which is rather a shame, because I think twelve-year-old me would have enjoyed it even more than fifty-one-year-old me did, which was quite a lot.

The writing is excellent - the language used is often poetic but without being overblown or pompous. The author’s evident approval of fox hunting would be more controversial today than in 1942 when the book was written, but otherwise it's very charming.

142. The Cat Who Went Underground by Lilian Jackson Braun. 183 pages.

Another murder mystery for Jim and the cats.

143. Skinwalker by Faith Hunter. 321 pages.

And on to a rather different cat… Jane Yellowrock is a vampire hunter, but she’s also a skinwalker, someone who can take the shape of various different animals - for a price. Jane’s in New Orleans to hunt a rogue vampire who’s killing not only humans but other vampires too. Staying alive, earning her fee and keeping her true nature a secret make life pretty complicated….

This was a lucky find in a charity shop and I enjoyed it very much - will definitely be looking for more of the series.

144. Swan For the Money by Donna Andrews. 246 pages.

Another visit to the town of Caerphilly where this time Meg Langslow has been landed with organising the local rose show. Of course, this being Meg’s life, things are far from simple and it’s not long before complications abound and a corpse is in evidence.

As ever, utterly implausible but huge fun.

145. The Cat Who Talked to Ghosts by Lilian Jackson Braun. 191 pages.

Jim Qwilleran and his cats solve another mystery or two.

146. The Orphaned Worlds by Michael Cobley. 147 pages.

Book two of the Humanity’s Fire trilogy. A bit slow and moving-people-into-place, as book2 of trilogies tend to be….

Still interesting though and makes me want to know what happens to the characters.

147. Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews. 204 pages.

Kate Daniels is a mercenary in a world where there are “waves” of magic and technology working.

She’s been trying to keep a low profile, but when her guardian is murdered, she has to find the culprit…

I enjoyed this one a great deal. interesting world building and characters and a lot of questions still unanswered make me want to read more books in this series.

148. Killer Keepsakes by Jane K. Cleland. 263 pages.

Another mystery for antiques dealer Josie Prescott. This time her assistant, Gretchen has gone missing - is she victim or villain?

Workmanlike whodunnit, although Josie’s relationship with the press is a touch implausible.

149. The Cat Who Lived High by Lilian Jackson Braun. 186 pages.

Jim Qwilleran and his cats go to Chicago to spend the winter and investigate the possibility of refurbishing a grand old building. But skullduggery is afoot…

A reasonable entry in this series, except for the annoying “two weeks earlier” style beginning and really objectionable scene where Qwilleran, aware that one of his fellow tenants, a harmless elderly lady, is nervous of strange men, deliberately behaves in such a way as to intimidate her - breathing heavily, stomping down the stairs behind her and so on. Way to be a creep, Qwilleran…

This isn’t usual behaviour for him, so perhaps it’s meant to show he’s under stress living in the city, but it just made me want to yell at him.
Book 160: The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair .
Author: Joel Dicker, 2012. Translated from the French by Sam Taylor, 2014.
Genre: Period/Contemporary Fiction. Mystery. Metafiction.
Other Details: Hardback. 624 pages.

August 30, 1975: the day fifteen-year-old Nola Kellergan is glimpsed fleeing through the woods, never to be heard from again; the day Somerset, New Hampshire, lost its innocence.

Thirty-three years later, Marcus Goldman, a successful young novelist, visits Somerset to see his mentor, Harry Quebert, one of the country’s most respected writers, and to find a cure for his writer’s block as his publisher’s deadline looms. But Marcus’s plans are violently upended when Harry is suddenly and sensationally implicated in the cold-case murder of Nola Kellergan—whom, he admits, he had an affair with. As the national media convicts Harry, Marcus launches his own investigation, following a trail of clues through his mentor’s books, the backwoods and isolated beaches of New Hampshire, and the hidden history of Somerset’s citizens and the man they hold most dear. To save Harry, his own writing career, and eventually even himself, Marcus must answer three questions, all of which are mysteriously connected: Who killed Nola Kellergan? What happened one misty morning in Somerset in the summer of 1975? And how do you write a book to save someone’s life?
- synopsis from author's website.

I found this quite simply a magnificent novel, intelligent, intricately constructed and multi-layered. Aside from the compelling central mystery of 'Who Killed Nora Kellergan', with its echoes of Twin Peaks 'Who killed Laura Palmer?', the novel also takes a dark comic swipe at the publishing business that reminded me of The Silkworm.

Despite the history of a love affair between Nola and Quebert, Harry is no Humbert Humbert. He had been shocked by his attraction to Nola and initially endeavoured to keep her at a distance. Even thirty-three years later he does not deny to Marcus that Nora was under-age and accepts the censure that is aimed at him while protesting his innocence of her murder.

Although written by a Swiss writer in French it has many hallmarks of the 'Great American Novel' in its style and atmosphere including capturing the ambiance of small town America as well as the heady heights of New York. It is also meta-fiction using the style of a novel that contains within it a true crime account along with snippets of other novels and writing. There is a great deal of ambivalence within the novel about events and characters. It keeps the reader on their toes.

I initially borrowed the book from the library but once I started and realised that I loved it bought my own hardback copy. It is certainly a novel that I will be recommending widely.
35. History's Greatest Lies, by William Weir. This is an entertaining read for history buffs (and perhaps for reluctant readers). Weir goes into several oft-repeated historic tales and exposes the lies- then tells the truth (or, in a couple cases, as close to the truth as we can know). For example, that story about Nero fiddling while Rome burned? Didn't happen (for starters, the fiddle didn't come into existence until more than a thousand years after Nero's death). Indeed, while Nero was no great emperor (in fact, he was probably the worst one, after Calligula, in my opinion), his actions during the fire that destroyed a large part of Rome were probably his most noble. According to Weir, Nero risked his life several times to save others.

The most intriguing story was about the death of John Dillenger. The official story is that Dillenger was fatally shot by FBI agents outside a Chicago theater in July 1934. However, forensics evidence (and the lack of it) and conflicting stories casts doubt on this. Throw in that J. Edgar Hoover needed Dillenger's death to retain his own job after a previous capture attempt went horribly wrong, it's not hard to believe that there could have been a cover-up.

The most disturbing was the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, anti-Semitic propoganda crafted during Tsar Nicholas II's regime by his cohorts to deflect attention from the tsar's ineffectual leadership. In case you have never heard of this (I had not), the Protocols were supposed to be an outline of a Jewish plan to take overthe world. Nicholas II, having some honor, actually rejected using it once he realized upon investigation that the so-called documents were a forgery but the Protocols still managed to spread. The Protocols are partially responsible for one of the greatest atrocities in modern history, the Holocaust. There are still segments of the world's population that still believe it. Sickening.

There's a lengthy bibliography and notes. The book is chock full of illustrations and sidebars, and the histories are told in an easy to follow, engaging style. Those who like history should enjoy this, and I can see even those who may not like reading liking this book's easy-to-follow format.

Currently reading: Cleopatra, by Zahi Hawass and Franck Goddio (back to this one), and Wards of Faerie, by Terry Brooks. Also ordered four more books from the library: Just My Type: A Book About Fonts, by Simon Garfield; The Devil's Teeth, by Susan Casey; The Family That Couldn't Sleep, by D.T. Max; and The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, by Anne Fadiman.

Aug. 31st, 2014

So we went to the gaming convention, and I wandered the dealers' room, like you do, and picked up a few Osprey books, as is my habit. I have to admit that I found myself irritated, because their stock wasn't in numeric order, the way they've always had it in the past, but I managed to dig up some books, anyway.

In any case, while I manned our own booth for the show, I got through a couple of the books I'd purchased.

First was Osprey Elite #201: The Carthaginians 6th - 2nd Century BC; it's not an era or force that I knew much about previously, since they were beaten and overshadowed by the Romans, but this book has some pretty solid information as well as the plates.

Then, Osprey Men-At-Arms #465: Brazilian Expeditionary Force in World War II: I'd played the Avalon Hill board wargame called Anzio, and one of the Allied units was a Brazilian division, so I knew that the South American country had been an active participant in European combat, but I'd never seen anything written about their exploits before, so I thoroughly enjoyed reading this one. Very cool.

I've another that I'll start later today, but that'll be for a future post.

Aug. 30th, 2014

Yesterday afternoon, I caught up with Harry Turtledove's Crosstime series by finishing The Valley-Westside War. The book deals with an alternate reality in which there'd been a nuclear exchange, and some generations later the kingdom of the San Fernando Valley (ruled by King Zev) goes to war with the Kingdom of the Westside (ruled by Cal, supported by his dog, Pots). The team from the home timeline is trying to figure out what happened that lead to the nuclear war; once again, their secret is discovered and they have to escape...

Once again, a pretty good book, something of a YA flavor to it, though.
Book 158: The Treatment (Jack Caffrey #2).
Author: Mo Hayder, 2001.
Genre: Police Procedural. Crime Fiction. Disturbing Themes.
Other Details: Hardback. 410 pages.

A quiet residential street in south London. A husband and wife are discovered, imprisoned in their own home. Badly dehydrated, they've been bound and beaten. He is close to death. But worse is to come: their young son is missing. When Detective Inspector Jack Caffery is called in to investigate, the similarities with events in his own past make it impossible for him to view this new crime dispassionately. And as he digs deeper - as he attempts to hold his own life together in the face of ever more disturbing revelations about both his past and his present - the real nightmare begins ... - synopsis from author's website.

A crime novel dealing with he subject of child abduction, sexual assault and murder was never going to be comfortable reading and here the feeling was that Hayder had picked up a rock to expose something very nasty indeed lurking in South London.

Jack Caffrey is himself consumed by the disappearance of his brother Ewan some 25 years ago and that drives him in his determination to solve the case but is also his weakness. Here there is a horrific irony as he manages to find a clue realting to Ewan and contacts a member of a paedophile gang who claims to know more about Ewan's fate. Just heart-breaking in places.

Book 159: The Ritual (Jack Caffrey #3).
Author: Mo Hayder, 2008.
Genre: Police Procedural. Crime Fiction. Drugs.
Other Details: Paperback. 560 pages.

Just after lunch on a Tuesday in April, nine feet under water, police diver Flea Marley closes her gloved fingers around a human hand. The fact that there's no body attached is disturbing enough. Yet more disturbing is the discovery, a day later, of the matching hand. Both have been recently amputated, and the indications are that the victim was still alive when they were removed.

DI Jack Caffery has been newly seconded to the Major Crime Investigation Unit in Bristol. He and Flea soon establish that the hands belong to a boy who has recently disappeared. Their search for him - and for his abductor - lead them into the darkest recesses of Bristol's underworld, where drug addiction is rife, where street-kids sell themselves for a hit, and where an ancient evil lurks; an evil that feeds off the blood - and flesh - of others ...
- synopsis from author's website.

I had wondered about the long gap between The Treatment and this third novel and according to the end notes Mo Hayder decided to drop Jack Caffrey as a character but then when she came to write The Ritual, which she thought was going to be the first of a new series starring police diver Flea Marley, when Jack popped into her consciousness and she elected to reintroduce him here away from London.

From the opening pages I adored Flea and was also glad of the move to the West Country as well as seeing Jack again. The Ritual was a less graphic crime thriller than her first two books in this series though still had its uncomfortable moments and was a thrilling read from start to finish.

Book 73

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 1: Cosmic AvengersGuardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 1: Cosmic Avengers by Brian Michael Bendis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This slim graphic novel was released for the movie (naturally) and collects the comic reboot (again) of Guardians from 2013 (#0.1-#3) then a series of individual character studies encompassed as 'Tomorrow's Avengers.' Let me deal with them separately since they feel like it.

The 2013 0.1-3 is well worth it. The storyline is solid and relatively simple. The Guardians are back together after the Thanos thing in 2006 (which I'd be lying if I said I remembered much about that). They're talking with Tony Stark to help keep Earth safe. After all, Star Lord is part human and he grew up there. There is a bit of non-linear story telling here but nothing too hard to keep up with. Peter Quill tells Tony his life story, or more precisely his mother's story (which doesn't jive with the movie at all but does with the early series).

Peter's father is a galactic king and has ordered everyone, including Peter, away from Earth (There are reasons and it gives the All-Mother a bit of a moment to shine). Peter sees this as painting a target on earth, especially for aliens like the Badoon which naturally happens just as Peter fears. Naturally neither the Guardians nor Iron Man is going to stand around letting this happen. Let's just say Peter's father J'Son is none too thrilled with this defiance.

The good - the storyline and the art. No lie, Steven McNiven and Sara Pichelli's art is beautiful. If all comic art still looked this good, I'd be collecting more avidly. I would hang some of this on my wall, especially the Peter pissed off ones.

The Bad - there isn't much. I wasn't too fond of how they rendered Iron Man's armor or Rocket's legs but the thing that gets me is typical comic book sexism. I know it's not going to end but seriously why would Gamora be the only one in a black bathing suit under her armor? At one point they're all stripped of their battle suits and everyone is in black skin tight undersuits except her. She's in a French cut bathing suit because that's what all assassin wear (eye rolls). There is one cover variant with Gamora that is a gorgeous piece of art on one hand and on the other she's in something that is little more than three thin strips of cloth that would require her to go Brazilian to wear (assuming of course that her secondary sexual characteristics are human). I just don't see Gamora going for a wax.


Now for the final third of the book, the individual stories has an underlying theme of Peter going to round up his friends again. It really should be the first thing since it predates the other two-thirds of the book but it's just as well it's in the back. None of the stories are strong (Gamora's and Drax's stories are just battle scenes). Rocket's seems like something that might be continued down the road and Groot's had a bit of heart to it. The art is also very variable in this (some of it not particularly good, reminding me of why I don't collect like I did.

Overall, this is a very good graphic novel. Though it is a bit darker than the movie for those who only know that aspect, much fewer jokes.



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Book 157: The House of Dolls (Pieter Vos #1).
Author: David Hewson, 2014.
Genre: Police Procedural. Crime Fiction. Political Thriller.
Other Details: Hardback. 430 pages.

Anneliese Vos, sixteen-year-old daughter of Amsterdam detective, Pieter Vos, disappeared three years ago in mysterious circumstances. Her distraught father's desperate search reveals nothing and results in his departure from the police force. Pieter now lives in a broken down houseboat in the colourful Amsterdam neighbourhood of the Jordaan. One day, while Vos is wasting time at the Rijksmuseum staring at a doll's house that seems to be connected in some way to the case, Laura Bakker, a misfit trainee detective from the provinces, visits him. She's come to tell him that Katja Prins, daughter of an important local politician, has gone missing in circumstances similar to Anneliese. In the company of the intriguing and awkward Bakker Vos finds himself drawn back into the life of a detective. A life which he thought he had left behind. Hoping against hope that somewhere will lay a clue to the fate of Anneliese, the daughter he blames himself for losing . . . - synopsis from UK publisher's website.

Hewson uses the tried and tested formula of teaming a crusty battered-by-life police detective, in this case retired due to personal tragedy, with a misfit newcomer and alongside the case also explores the dynamics of the professional relationship between them.

This proved another highly engaging thriller from David Hewson. While it worked well as a stand alone I was pleased to read that it is the start of a new series. The storyline mixed politics with organised crime as well as the cold case involving Vos' daughter who had disappeared three years previously. Vos proved a likeable character as did Laura Bakker, and I look forward to more of their cases.

#83: Renegade Champion by Richard Rust

Summary:
"If you buy that horse, you're buying your daughter's death warrant," Jane Pohl's father was warned at the army barracks in the spring of 1941. But the potential that his teenage daughter Jane saw in the small, temperamental Thoroughbred was enough to convince him otherwise.Earlier that year, when Fitzrada arrived at the army base where Jane's family lived, the horse was stubborn, unpredictable, and dangerous. Any man who dared addle him up soon found himself face down in the dirt. Jane, excited to ride any horse and up for the challenge, had the most success with Fitz. She was patient and consistent, and the horse responded well at last, showing a great affinity for jumping. Then, inexplicably, a terrible riding accident resulted in serious injuries for both Jane and Fitz, and the army decide that it was time to destroy the horse. Heartbroken, Jane pleaded with her reluctant father: the only way to save Fitz was to buy him from the army.

Jane Pohl's foresight proved to be correct. Jane and Fitz went on to take the Virginia show-jumping circuit by storm, winning 37 jumper and 6 hinter championships. At a time when women were rarely seen in jumping classes at horse shows and were not taken seriously by male competitors, Jane and Fitz helped to break down barriers against women riders competing in the Olympics. In 1946, Jane and Fitz found themselves at the Jumper Championship at the prestigious National Horse Show in Madison Square Garden--the highest jumping title in North America. The road there for horse and rider was a five-year test of faith, patience, and understanding friendship.


The tale of Jane Pohl and Fitzrada is one of true sportsmanship, of a woman proving herself as strong and capable in a man's sport, and of a horse so intelligent and obstinate that it was almost his undoing. Fitz had nearly been ruined through rough handling and developed an intense fear of men and most people; it took Jane over four years of constant effort to win Fitz's trust. The book excels at describing the culture of jumping and foxhunting through the 1940s into the 1950s. Horse shows are evoked through vivid, visceral detail. Jane is a complex character herself. The author is her son, and he does a fairly good job of keeping his distant to tell the story with both the positive and the negative. Family dynamics and pressures of the time period (i.e. proper things a woman should do) constrained Jane and her career.

At times, though, Rust is too close to the story and the details are excessive. This especially bogged down the end of the book--it lost focus after Fitzrada's passing. In particular, I really didn't want to know about Jane's deathbed request regarding her beloved dog and it made the book end on a very sour note for me.

That said, it's worth reading if you love horses and history. It's fascinating to find out how the military's horsemen participated in the Olympics up through World War II, after which the equine divisions were dissolved. At some point I'd love to use the horse show details as a backdrop for a story of my own.

21: A L'Ombre des Jeunes Filles en Fleurs

Originally posted by audrey_e at Book 21: A L'Ombre des Jeunes Filles en Fleurs
21: A L'OMBRE DES JEUNES FILLES EN FLEURS (Eng. Trs: IN THE SHADOW OF YOUNG GIRLS IN FLOWER) Marcel Proust (France, 1919)

45al'ombre

The second installment in Marcel Proust's "In Search of Lost Time" focuses on the author's first love stories and his obsession with female beauty.

I enjoyed this second installment even more than the already impressive first one.
Proust is the ultimate narcissistic writer, and his lyrical daydreams are filled with delightful insights on human nature. His detailed depiction of early twentieth-century society is also particularly valuable because he both adores and loathes it. This contradiction is what makes him the ideal witness of his time; one who is willing to be an active and enthusiastic member of society, while remaining detached enough to fully understand the mechanics of it.

4.5/5

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20: Irish Freedom

Originally posted by audrey_e at Book 20: Irish Freedom
20 IRISH FREEDOM: THE HISTORY OF NATIONALISM IN IRELAND Richard English (Ireland, 2007)

44irish

The ironically named Richard English's aim is dual; to provide his readers with a concise history of Irish nationalism and its evolution throughout the years, as well as to more broadly define the practically universal concept of nationalism.

While I would not recommend this book to those who aren't at all familiar with Irish history, my beginner's knowledge was enough to help me follow English's arguments.
Let me tell you, it's easy to sense that the author isn't a big fan of nationalism, but his personal views do not prevent him from delivering a fairly objective commentary.
I believe all of us should at some point stop and think about nationalism as a defining societal force, and this book certainly asks the right questions; has nationalism in some form always existed?, is it necessary?, what human needs does it fulfill?...

4/5

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