Saturday, August 30, 2014

Book 30: A Study in Silks

Title and Author: A Study in Silks, by Emma Jane Holloway

Illustrator: None
Publisher: Del Rey, an imprint of Random House Publishing Co.
Published: 2013
Genre: Fantasy mystery
Target Audience/Age Group: Adult
Part of a Series? Yes
Will the Reviewer Keep It In His/Her Library? No
First line: Evelina froze, a breath half taken catching in her throat, nerves tingling down every limb.

Sherlock Holmes has a niece. This isn't Arthur Conan Doyle's England though. It's a steampunk version.  Our reader didn't like it because she likes the original Holmes stories so much. She doesn't like the TV shows Elementary or Sherlock either.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Book 29: Red Rising

Title and Author: Red Rising, by Pierce Brown

Illustrator: none
Publisher: Del Rey, an imprint of Random House
Expected Publication Date: 2014
Genre: Fantasy
Target Audience/Age Group: Adult
Part of a Series? Maybe
Will the Reviewer Keep It In His/Her Library? No
First line: I would have lived in peace. But my enemies brought me war.

The cover told us nothing about the book as there was no copy, just quotes. The first 20 pages told us the characters lived in a dystopian society where people were grouped into clans labeled by Greek letters. The main character's a miner whose clan never exceeds its quota enough to win the prize of extra rations. 

We skipped to the end and it's clear he's aiming to change the society in which he lives. Good for him.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

A Book That Did What the Publishers Wanted

Publishers give away books at Comic-Con hoping to lure readers into buying more books by an author. Well, it worked for Harper Voyager when they gave our scribe the first book in Kim Harrison's Hollows series. She's purchased the next 11 books and has the 13th and final one on pre-order (release date September 6, 2014).

Good job, guys. And thanks.

Book 28: Pathfinder Todhunter Moon Book One

Title and Author: Pathfinder Todhunter Moon Book One, by Angie Sage (Advance Reader's Edition)

Illustrator: Mark Zug
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers
Expected Publication Date: October 14, 2014
Genre: Fantasy
Target Audience/Age Group: Children
Part of a Series? Yes, Septimus Heap, Pathfinder
Will the Reviewer Keep It In His/Her Library? No
First line: A distant bell tolled.

The series is full of magyk, wizards, sorcery and all things like it. This book takes place seven years after the Septimus Heap series and tells the story of a young PathFinder. All of us were magicked out, so no one wanted to read it with all the other books waiting their turn. We hope it is successful because we all remember a series we loved and didn't want to end.

Book 27: Virals

Title and Author: Virals, by Kathy and Brendon Reichs

Illustrator: Maps designed by Ray Parish
Publisher: Puffin Books, part of the Penguin Group
Published: 2010
Genre: Fantasy mystery
Target Audience/Age Group: Ages 10 and up.
Part of a Series? Yes
Will the Reviewer Keep It In His/Her Library? No
First line: A gunshot is the loudest shot in the universe.

At first glance this book appears to be an effort to capitalize on the success of the Temperence Brennan's books by Kathy Reichs since her name is printed in big letters and her son's in much smaller size. The son was the one signing books at Comic-Con and he was very personable when we got his autograph in our copy. We bet he really wrote them, but it took his mother's name to get them published. That's sad.

At second glance we were reminded of the very popular Animorphs books. Children devoured them, and we support anything that gets kids reading.

At third glance we realized the virus on the cover formed the shape of a wolf. Pretty clever design.

This book deserves praise because it has maps. We love maps.

Temperence Brennan is the main character's grandmother's sister. We didn't realize Bones is that old! That said, we don't like Tory much and actually find her tedious. The story didn't grab us either because all the characters seemed so contrived, so we just skimmed it. There are too many other books waiting for us.

Book 26: Gabriel Filnely & the Raven's Riddle

Title and Author: Gabriel Filnely & the Raven's Riddle, by George Hagen (Advanced Readers Copy)

Illustrator: Scott Bakal (Maps by Jake Parker)
Publisher: Schwartz & Wade Books, an imprint of Random House Childrens Books, a division of Random House LLC.
Expected Publication Date: August 26, 2014
Genre: Juvenile fiction
Target Audience/Age Group: Children
Part of a Series? Maybe
Will the Reviewer Keep It In His/Her Library?
First line: Ravens Love Riddles.

This is a good book. It has ravens. How cool are ravens? There's a reason Poe's The Raven is a poem everyone knows and most people love.

This book has riddles. Good ones. The dedication is a series of riddles. The answers spell out the name of the person the author honors.

This book has maps. We love maps. Too few books have them. 

The story is engaging and we liked it. 

Book 25: Mindwar

Title and Author: Mindwar, by Andrew Klavan (Advance Reader's Copy)

Illustrator: none
Publisher: Thomas Nelson, a trademark of Harper Collins Christian Publishing, Inc.
Expected Publication Date: July 15, 2014
Genre: Juvenile Fiction/Action & Adventure
Target Audience/Age Group: Juveniles
Part of a Series? Yes. It's labeled as Book One of a trilogy.
Will the Reviewer Keep It In His/Her Library? No
First line: Rick Dial streaked through the vastness of space, starlight and gunfire blazing all around him.

A high school quarterback is crippled in a car accident and he disappears into his bedroom to play video games. Until he's asked to help government agents and enter a digital reality.

It sounded a bit too much like Avatar to us, and we all hated that movie. Hard core gamers would like it though, and we encourage them to put down their controllers and give it a try.

Book 24: Beautiful You

Title and Author: Beautiful You, by Chuck Palahniuk

Illustrator: none
Publisher: Doubleday
Expected Publication Date: October 21, 2014
Genre: Erotica
Target Audience/Age Group: Adult
Part of a Series? No
Will the Reviewer Keep It In His/Her Library? No
First line: Even as Penny was attacked, the judge merely stared.

The back cover makes it clear this is erotica, and none of us are into it. Beautiful You is a line of sex toys aimed at women, and apparently they are so enjoyable that women disappear into their bedrooms and don't come out. That doesn't appeal to us either.

Book 23: Of Bone and Thunder

Title and Author: Of Bone and Thunder, by Chris Evans (Advance Uncorrected Proof)

Illustrator: none
Publisher: Gallery Books, a division of Simon & Schuster
Expected Publication Date: October 14, 2014
Genre: Fantasy
Target Audience/Age Group: Adult
Part of a Series? No
Will the Reviewer Keep It In His/Her Library? No
First line: A black condor dipped her featherless head and flapped her wings, straining for height.

After reading the summary on the back cover, none of us wanted to read the book. 

At the top it says, "Apocalypse Now meets The Lord of the Rings in a bold new fantasy from the acclaimed author of the Iron Elves trilogy…" (Publishers Weekly)

All of us liked the author's acknowledgements at the end. He writes about his mates who play Hobbit: Kingdom of Middle Earth with him. Most of all we liked this "Finally, I wish to acknowledge and commend all the veterans I have known over the years. These men and women, whether they fought in Normandy, Khe Sanh, Fallujah, Helmand province, or any number of battle fields around the world, did so knowing that they risked their lives so that we might live and enjoy a world free from the violence and death they faced. To thank them is hardly sufficient. And so I honor their service, and I remember them." So do the GHPALS.

Book 22: Behind the Gates of Gomorrah

Title and Author: Behind the Gates of Gomorrah (A Year With the Criminally Insane), by Stephen Seager (Uncorrected Proof)

Illustrator: none
Publisher: Gallery Books, a division of Simon & Schuster
Expected Publication Date: September 2014
Genre: Non-fiction
Target Audience/Age Group: Adult
Part of a Series? No
Will the Reviewer Keep It In His/Her Library? Yes
First line: Raymond Boudreaux and I sat at opposite ends of a rickety wooden table–with him nearest the door. This was a mistake.

Today my daughter had the day off from work and wanted to watch a horror movie while she drank her coffee. I handed her this book and told her to read one instead. 

The setting is a hospital for the mentally ill, specifically a ward mentally ill people who have committed sickening crimes are treated, not punished. These facilities are not prisons–the people who work there are health care professionals, not guards. The staff is in constant danger from the people they are trying to treat and the greatest punishments they can inflict are denying patients access to art classes because they are working at a hospital, not a prison. They are trained in conflict management, however. I bet that's a big help when a patient is swinging a chair at you.

The author is a psychiatrist. On his first day at work a patient attacked him, cutting him so badly he needed 10 stitches to close the wound. Since it is a hospital, patients rights supersede everything. Eyeglasses must be provided even though prisoners can, and do, easily turn the frames into shivs. Patients cannot have a room to themselves as this is isolating, even though most patients would like to have a private room.

He tells horrifying stories about horrifying people. As I read it, I kept asking myself why are Californians wasting resources on these people? How much evil must a person commit before we decide the world would be a better place without them? What is really wrong with capital punishment?

There's a lot of information in this book, like definitions: mass murder–at least four people are killed at one time in a single location; serial killers–kill at least three people at different times and in different geographic locations; spree killer–kills victims one after another during a single time span but in different locations.

The stories in this book about the patients and staff confirm my opinion that this country has royally screwed up how we handle severe mental illness. Spock is right. There are times when the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Patient rights now prohibit the mandatory treatment of the mentally ill, so we have streets full of people who could function if they stayed on the proper medication. In a country where courts order medical treatment when religious parents object it seems illogical that criminally insane can avoid treatment. It's even more illogical that staff gets no protection as they work around these nuts.

The Afterword lays out the changes we need to make in our criminal justice system, and I, for one, will be sending a letter to Governor Brown supporting mandated patient treatment, prison guards or law enforcement presence in every state hospital unit and the reconfiguration of these hospitals to be like prisons, not hospitals. Society must not forget these "patients" committed vicious crimes.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Book 21: Coloring for Grown-Ups College Companion

Title and Author: Coloring for Grown-Ups College Companion, by Ryan Hunter & Taige Jensen

Illustrator: ?
Publisher: Plume
Expected Publication Date: Available now
Genre: Coloring book
Target Audience/Age Group: Adults
Part of a Series? Maybe
Will the Reviewer Keep It In His/Her Library? No
First line: Materials needed.

We let the college students review this attempt at humor. They were unimpressed, feeling the people who wrote this had gone to party schools. They didn't think it was funny and were kind of offended by the way college students were portrayed.

Book 20: Dark Vengeance Vol. 2

Title and Author: Dark Vengeance Vol. 2, by Jeff Mariotte

Illustrator: none
Publisher: Simon Pulse, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division
Published: 2005
Genre: Fantasy (witches)
Target Audience/Age Group: Teenagers?
Part of a Series? Yes
Will the Reviewer Keep It In His/Her Library?
First line: I am ready to run.

This book has a very powerful witch, dead bodies, a centuries-long feud and a witch-in-training running away from her teacher, through a swamp. Supported by friends, the young witch figures out what is going on. This book stood on it's own, though if you'd read the first book you might know how the heroine got into the mess she escapes from in the first chapters.

This might appeal to young adults, though they'd be better off reading Kim Harrison's books.

Book 19: The Professionals

Title and Author: The Professionals, by Kresley Cole

Illustrator: none
Publisher: Gallery Books, a Division of Simon & Schuster
Published: 2014
Genre: Erotic fiction
Target Audience/Age Group: Adult
Part of a Series? Yes, The Game Maker Series
Will the Reviewer Keep It In His/Her Library? No
First line: Hard to identify. Is it the e-mail in the prologue? or the two words that start Chapter 1 ("Mommy issues?")

None of the PALS was interested in reading erotica. Especially one that has this paragraph on the first page of chapter one: "My best friend Jessica murmured at my ear, "You better be careful, you picky prude, or else you'll take your hymen to your grave. Like a skin tag." Ugh.

Book 18: Big Egos

Title and Author: Big Egos, by S. G. Browne

Illustrator: none
Publisher: Gallery Books, a Division of Simon & Schuster
Published: 2013
Genre: Fiction
Target Audience/Age Group: Adult
Part of a Series? No
Will the Reviewer Keep It In His/Her Library? No
First line: I'm at another party, this one in a Beverly Hills brick Colonial Revival mansion just off Wilshire Boulevard.

This book was given a pass when we were diving up the spoils. No one took it to read. 

Here's the description from the back: "Call him whatever. Call him whomever. He can be any legally authorized fictional character or dead celebrity he wants for six to eight hours, simply by injecting a DNA-laced cocktail into his brain stem. It's called Big Egos and it's the ultimate role-playing fantasy from Engineering Genetics Organization and Systems (aka EGOS). And, as one of the quality controllers for EGOS, he's the ultimate ego-tripper, taking on ore artificial identities than advisable–and having a hell of a time doing it. Problem is, he's starting to lose the ability to separate fact from fiction. His every fantasy is the new reality. And the more roles he plays, the less of him remains. Sure, it's dangerous. Yes, he's probably loosing his mind. Okay, hundreds of others could be at risk. But sometimes who you are isn't good enough. And the truth is, reality is so overrated…"

Book 17: Archetypes

Title and Author: Archetypes, by M.D. Waters

Illustrator: none
Publisher: Plume, published by The Penguin Group
Published: 2014
Genre: Fiction
Target Audience/Age Group: Adult
Part of a Series? Yes
Will the Reviewer Keep It In His/Her Library? No
First line: My mind wakes, but the words essential to describe the stirring of my consciousness escapes me.

This is the first volume of a two-book series. The back cover has the following description of the story, "In a future where women are a rare commodity, Emma fights for freedom but is held captive by the love of two men–one her husband, the other her worst enemy. If only she could remember which is which…Emma wakes with her memory wiped clean. Her husband, Declan–a powerful and seductive man–narrates the story of her past, but Emma's dreams contradict him. They show her war, a camp where girls are trained to be wives, and love for another man. Something inside warns her not to speak of these things, but the line between dreams and reality is about to shatter forever."

Sounds like variations on The Handmaid's Tale, The Stepford Wives and other anti-feminist dystopian fantasies. Among the reasons given for passing this book up were, "I don't do dystopia." and "I don't like the cover art. It's creepy." With so many other books to read, we all gave this one a pass.

Great Books We Discovered at Comic-Con

The PALS were sitting around talking books–the subject was Great Books We Discovered at Comic-Con. The discussion was lively and the list was eclectic.

Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter (absolutely fabulous book that explained everything about Abraham Lincoln's life and the actions he took.

Naomi Novik's Tremaire books

The Youngest Templar books by Michael Spradlin

American Widow, by Alissa Torres and Sungyoon Choi (The pregnant widow of a 9-11 victim  tells what happened to her and her baby. The bureaucratic crap she dealt with is pretty amazing.)

Beautiful Creatures, by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl (The sequel wasn't so hot.)

World War Z, by Max Brooks

Doomsday Book, To Say Nothing of the Dog and other books by Connie Willis

Kitty Norville books by Carrie Vaughn

The Charley Davidson series, by Darynda Jones

The Bartimaeus books by Jonathan Stroud

The Supernatural Law comics by Batton Lash

The Briar King, by Greg Keyes (It was the first of the Kingdom of Thorns and Bone series. Too bad the series went downhill fast.)

Kiersten White books.

The Murder of a Nation

One of us volunteers at the Newport Beach Friends of the Library bookstore. It's a great place to find good books for low prices, as is the Friends of the Costa Mesa Library bookstore.

During her last shift she spotted this book in the glass case where rare books are displayed. The back cover is blank.

She brought it to one of our meetings and we had fun with the cover, throwing out all kinds of ideas about the book's subject.

The contents is more interesting than any of our wild speculations. It's a reprint of 125 pages from a 1918 book, Ambassador Morgenthau's Story and the story he tells is being written in Iraq today. Much of the world is acting the same way it did 100 years ago.

Henry Morgenthau was the US ambassador to Turkey from 1913 to 1916, during the Armenian genocide. His book describes what the Turks did, why they did it and how he knows what they did. He also writes about his efforts to intervene and why they failed, as well as why foreign aid wasn't allowed to reach the suffering Armenians. Mr. Morgenthau, a Jew, was ambassador to Turkey during World War One, when the Turks and the Germans were allies. His chapters on the German reactions to the genocide were downright creepy because they not only didn't oppose it, they actively supported the strategy of cleansing territories of selected ethnic groups. We all know where that led a mere 20 years later.

In a book full of horrifying stories, it's the cold-bloodedness of the Turkish government that creeps one out. Like this one: The Minister of the Interior Talaat "made what was perhaps the most astonishing request I had ere heard. The New York Life Insurance Company and the Equitable Life of New York had for years done considerable business among the Armenians. The extent to which this people insured their lives was merely another indication of their thrifty habits. 'I wish,' Talaat now said, 'that you would get the American life insurance companies to send us a complete list of their Armenian policy holders. They are practically all dead now and have left no heirs to collect the money. It of course all escheats to the State. The Government is the beneficiary now. Will you do so' This was almost too much and I lost my temper. 'You will get no such list from me,' I said and I got up and left him."

We see this same callousness in members of ISIS/ISIL. The Yazidis are chased across the desert just like the Armenians were. There isn't much difference between the pictures of the refugees on TV and the ones in Morganthau's book. This time, though, the Americans did more than protest to the government and we are glad we did.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Book 16: Is Santa Real?

Title and Author: Is Santa Real? by Eric Kaplan (Uncorrected Proof Copy)

Illustrator: Eleanor Davis
Publisher: Dutton, part of the Penguin Group
Expected Publication Date: October 16, 2014
Genre: Non-fiction?
Target Audience/Age Group: Adult
Part of a Series? No
Will the Reviewer Keep It In His/Her Library? No

The Big Bang Theory is one of the most popular shows on TV. A couple of years ago I went to the store at the Warner Brothers Studios. There was Big Bang Theory stuff for sale everywhere, but nothing for Supernatural, another Warner Brothers show (and one I like). The visit wasn't a total loss because I bought my husband a lovely photo of Larry Hagman as J.R. Ewing.

Personally, I don't understand why people watch The Big Bang Theory. I had the same reaction to this book written by its executive producer. Why would anyone read this? What the heck was the author trying to say? It's not what you'd think from the title–it really has little to do with Christmas. It's not funny. It's not deep philosophy either. Would any publisher have looked at it if he weren't connected to the popular show? I can't help but wonder.

Admittedly I didn't read it from cover to cover. I couldn't. I did look at every page though. I kinda liked the line drawings but couldn't figure out how they tied to the text. The jokes quoted in the section on comedy weren't funny. Neither was the script excerpt from The Big Bang Theory.  I like books that have a point I can discern. This one kind of reminded me of the meandering philosophizing my college buddies and I used to do in the middle of the night after drinking too much. 

The author included Wordsworth's The World is Too Much With Us, so the book cannot be all bad. I reprint the poem here because it actually applies to this review. The time I spent watching the raccoon drink out of our bird feeder was better spent than the time I spent with this book. (Other members think this sounds too harsh. They are entitled to their opinions, as I am to mine.)

                       The world is too much with us; late and soon,
                       Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
                       Little we see in Nature that is ours;
                       We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
                       This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
                       The winds that will be howling at all hours,
                       And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
                       For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
                       It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
                       A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
                       So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
                       Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
                       Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
                       Or hear old Triton blow his wreath├Ęd horn.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Book 15: First Grave on the Right

Title and Author: First Grave on the Right, by Darynda Jones

Illustrator: none
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Expected Publication Date: In print now, hardcover & paperback
Genre: Fantasy
Target Audience/Age Group: Adult (there is sex)
Part of a Series? Yes
Will the Reviewer Keep It In His/Her Library? Absolutely. The whole series.

We have loved Charlie Davidson since we got the second volume at Comic-Con a couple of years ago. Right after we finished reading it we checked the rest of the series out of the library. We are delighted to have a copy of the first book to put on our shelves.

Charlie can not only see and talk to ghosts, she has one living with her. Sure, it's just a guy standing in a corner who never moves, but she has to work around him. She's got interesting people in her life, like her neighbor and her family, and the guy who has heavy sex with her in her dreams. And the stories are set in Albuquerque!

We have book six on pre-order. Sixth Grave on the Edge will be released August 26.

Book 14: Lockwood & Co The Whispering Skull

Title and Author: Lockwood & Co. The Whispering Skull, by Jonathan Stroud (Uncorrected Proof Copy)

Illustrator: Kate Adams
Publisher: Disney Hyperion, an imprint of Disney Book Group
Expected Publication Date: September 2014
Genre: Fantasy/Horror
Target Audience/Age Group: Kids
Part of a Series? Yes
Will the Reviewer Keep It In His/Her Library? Yes

This is the second book in the Lockwood & Co. series, the first being The Screaming Staircase. Reading this one makes me want to read the first because I liked the characters and the setting. I just want to read more about them.

I liked that children are the ones who read the supernatural and are valued for their skills. I liked the competition between a have-little firm and a have-all firm, each company having a leader who is good at what he does. 

I liked the opening scene, where the team of Lockwood & Co. find more supernatural than they expected when they're doing a job. The reader is immediately thrown into what these people do, and how they do it. It is everything I hoped for since we really enjoyed Stroud's Bartimaeus series.

I liked the cover–the skull in a jar is really creepy. It's the reason I picked the book from the selection given me. I didn't like the inside of the cover sleeve because it made no sense to me–I hadn't read the first book. Why do publishers do that? If I had gone by the sleeve instead of the cover art, I would have felt like an outsider who had no business picking this book up, much less reading it. I would have put it down and taken another book instead.

Monday, August 11, 2014

An Interesting Experience With Whole Foods Market

I (the PALS scribe) had an interesting experience this morning at the Whole Foods Market at Fashion Island, Newport Beach. I hadn't been in a Whole Foods since one left the basement at The Triangle. Why would I, with Mothers Market right here on Goat Hill? I was picking up the Kim Harrison books at the Barnes and Noble (see the post on book 12) when I spotted the store, and on a whim went in after I bought my books. Like a good Californian, I'd brought my own bag (Southern California Genealogical Society on one side, GENI on the other).

It was early; I wanted to avoid the crowds so I went to B&N when it first opened (got another free book there, from their Popular Arts promotion, but that's another story). There weren't many people in Whole Foods–a few obvious out-of-town tourists gawking at all the high priced organic stuff, a mother & child with an overflowing cart, a few people buying produce, vendors stocking shelves. 

I walked every aisle, "taking inventory," as my father calls it. Fat Tire beer is cheaper here than at Ralphs or Vons, Go Lean cereal is more expensive than Trader Joes, that kind of thing. I briefly considered buying the quinoa, but put it back after close scrutiny of the shelf tags revealed it wasn't the cheap price I thought it was. Some shelver had put bags of quinoa where the barley belonged. I also picked up some bath salts, but put them down after reading they made the tub slippery.

I left without buying anything, putting the empty cart back with the others outside. As I walked out the door I wondered if someone would think I'd shoplifted something. I halfway expected to be stopped, since I thought I looked suspicious, carrying a shopping bag with stuff in it. No one paid any attention.

As I was putting my bag of books in the car I heard a voice behind me. It startled me–the parking lot was kind of empty. Turning around, I saw an obviously nervous young man not much out of his teens. He was holding two phones, which was kind of odd. He asked if I was having a nice day, which was weird. Who does that to a stranger in a parking lot? I wondered if he was some kind of pollster or signature gatherer, but he didn't have a clipboard. He was too nervous to be a carjacker. He finally stammered out a question, "Did you buy anything at the Whole Foods?" 

I told him I hadn't, but I'd bought books at Barnes & Noble. I held the bag out to the kid and told him he could look in it if he wanted. He said it wouldn’t be necessary, and backed away. He probably ran all the way back to the store, but I didn't bother watching him.  I just threw the bag in the car, got in myself and drove away. 

I wasn't insulted. I was almost laughing because the store had lived up to my expectations, though later than I thought it would. I felt sorry for the kid though, Some idiot manager sent him out there to check me out instead of going himself. It's hard enough to approach a customer near the store, it takes real hutzpah to do it in the parking lot far from the store. Hardly anyone that kid's age has it. 

As I was driving home, thinking over the incident, I couldn't help wondering why the kid had two phones out? Was someone listening? Was he taking photos of me, my car, my license plate? What kind of store chases someone out to the parking lot instead of stopping them at the door, or near it. I wasn't walking fast and I stopped to put the cart away. I walked on the sidewalk quite a ways before crossing the street to the parking lot. Did they debate sending someone after me? And after the kid went to all the trouble of catching up to me, why didn't he look in the bag? Was I so obviously telling the truth? Was he just too scared to look?

Whatever. I'm not  ever going back there anyway–they don't have anything I can't get cheaper on the Hill. But after what the management did to that poor employee, I wouldn't if they did.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Book 13: His Majesty's Dragon

Title and Author: His Majesty's Dragon, by Naomi Novik

Illustrator: none
Publisher: Del Rey
Publication Date: 2006
Genre: Fantasy history
Target Audience/Age Group: Adult
Part of a Series? Yes
Will the Reviewer Keep It In His/Her Library? It's already there.

Ok, this cover looks nothing like the one you get when you buy the book. That one is red, with a cool looking dragon and a ship in a bottle on the cover. I'm not sure why the publishers chose to replace that one with this wordy thing because it certainly didn't grab our attention. In fact, it turned us off. 

We got His Majesty's Dragon at Comic-Con when it was first published and enjoyed it very much. We acquired subsequent books at the Con until we lost interest in the series. 

Laurence is the captain of a British naval vessel that captures a French ship during the Napoleonic Wars. There's an egg in the confiscated cargo, and when it hatches, the baby dragon forms a bond with Laurence, forcing the captain to leave his prestigious post and join the dragon troops. The series chronicles the adventures of Laurence, Tremaire, the dragons and the humans assigned to them as they fight the French. They visit every continent in the world it seems, and there are dragons everywhere. They find cultural differences in various cultures' dragon-human relationships, incorporating dragon mythology of all kinds.

We liked the first three books, but lost interest when Tremaire and Laurence were punished for an ethical action. The series ran out of gas. But as we said in an earlier post, we are eagerly awaiting her next book, Uprooted.

Book 12: Dead Witch Walking

Title and Author: Dead Witch Walking, by Kim Harrison

Illustrator: none
Publisher: Harper Voyager, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers
Publication Date: December 2003
Genre: Fantasy action/mystery
Target Audience/Age Group: Adult
Part of a Series? Yes
Will the Reviewer Keep It In His/Her Library? Yes

At Comic-Con publishers will give away copies of the first book in a series by a successful author. They hope Book One will increase sales of Book Two and the subsequent volumes. This worked with us on Naomi Novik's Tremaire books.

And it worked for us on Kim Harrison's Hollows series. Dead Witch Walking is a good book and we have already bought the next two books at Barnes and Noble. (They have this great service, where they'll pull the books and hold them behind the counter for you.)

Rachel Morgan is a witch working for a supernatural police force in Cincinnati (isn't it nice to have a book set somewhere outside New York City?) She's not appreciated at her job but quitting is problematic because she'd have to buy out her contract with her employer. She thinks they'll be glad to get rid of her, but instead of cheerfully waving goodbye, they put out a contract on her life. She leaves anyway, going into partnership with a vampire and a pixie. 

I love the world Harrison has created. I want to lease my garden to pixies–they not only tend the plants, they are a better alarm system than geese. I want a pixie partner. I want to know what happens to Trent Kalamack, the villain, and Nick Sparagmos, the librarian. I want Rachel and Ivey to succeed. I won't bother writing about that world; it's all spelled out on Wikipedia and

And most of all, I'm glad I got the first book in an established series so I can satisfy that urge to read more. So many books given away are the first book in a new series, and until we started this project I refused to read them because I didn't want to have to wait for the next volume. It was hard waiting for each Harry Potter book when my daughter was little; I don't have to do that anymore. I can wait before I get hooked again.

August 10, 2014 Update

The scribe has read book 2, is half way through book 3 and will pick up books 4 & 5 at Barnes and Noble today. Sometimes the sequels don't measure up. This is not one of those times.

Book 3 has this quote on the back: "Discovering a new series like this is like finding buried treasure; you want to dig it all up at once and when you open each book, fistfuls of gold doubloons and jewels fall out sparkling into your lap. The world of the Hollows is fast-moving, funny, harrowing and scary, and–the greatest compliment to a fantasy–absolutely real." Diana Gabaldon

Whatever you think of the Outlander books, Ms. Gabaldon nailed this one.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Book 11: Star Wars: A New Dawn

Title and Author: Star Wars: A New Dawn, by John Jackson Miller

Illustrator: none
Publisher: Del Rey
Expected Publication Date: September 2014
Genre: Star Wars Science Fiction
Target Audience/Age Group: Adult
Part of a Series? Absolutely
Will the Reviewer Keep It In His/Her Library? Yes 

I have fond memories of what I still tend to think of as the “Golden Age” of Star Wars in the 1990s when, beginning with Timothy Zahn’s still deeply enjoyable Heir to the Empire, the future adventures of Luke, Han, Leia, and Chewbacca were revealed to my younger self. 

While the quality of the novels that made up what was rapidly dubbed the Expanded Universe varied considerably in general they felt like a natural and enjoyable progression of the story begun in the Original Trilogy. But then in the early 2000s we witnessed what I like to call, echoing Ben Kenobi, “the Dark Times.” First, The New Jedi Order suffering from conflict among the rotating authors and efforts to make their characters “darker and edgier” stole much of the hope and optimism that was always a part of the Star Wars Universe, with the wholly unnecessary deaths of Chewbacca and Mara Jade being prime examples. And then the prequels arrived, and the less said about them the better at this juncture.

But now as we wait to see what Disney will unleash on this beloved franchise, Lucasfilm has turned its attention to those “Dark Times” between episodes III and IV when the Empire solidified its hold on the galaxy and the seeds of the rebel alliance were sown and nurtured. This fall we will witness the appearance of a new cartoon series Star Wars: Rebels set during this period chronicling the adventures of a rag-tag group of rebels bringing the good fight to the empire. While I have no idea how the series will turn out, though the fact that it is helmed by the same group who did the quite good Star Wars: The Clone Wars cartoon is an encouraging sign, A New Dawn the novel by Star Wars veteran John Jackson Miller which chronicles the first meeting of two of the main characters from Rebels, Kanan Kerrus and Hera Syndulla, has made me cautiously optimistic.

Kanan is an ex-Jedi who survived the purge of his fellows and when the novel opens is scraping though life as an alcoholic working for a mining company on a backwater moon and just trying to forget that whole Force thing. But when he encounters the Twi’lek Hera who is attempting to awaken those she meets of the evils of the empire, evils which most citizens seem happy to accept in the wake of the chaos and destruction that marked the twilight of the Old Republic, and the galaxy’s most evil “efficiency expert” Count Demetrius Vidian he finds himself drawn himself into the fight against evil. A typical fantasy story to be sure, but what makes A New Dawn stand a little above your typical “washed out loser to hero” tale is the world building Miller indulges in. 

Secondary characters ranging from miners to security officials to Star Destroyer captains come across as complex characters who have believable reasons to both support the new order, but we also witness their inner struggles as they face the dark side of stability and power are well chronicled. One of Kanan’s friends, for example, is a crazed conspiracy theorist, so convinced that the Empire is the answer to the corruption and inefficiencies of the Old Republic that he unwittingly gives them the key to the destruction of worlds. 

It is the secondary characters, and the larger war-weary universe they inhabit, one where the horrors of the past make it easier to stomach the increasing tyranny of the present that marks A New Dawn as a promising start to a new era in the Star Wars saga.

Book 10 The Forgotten Girl

Title and Author: The Forgotten Girl, by David Bell (Uncorrected Proof)

Illustrator: none
Publisher: New American Library, part of the Penguin Group
Expected Publication Date: October 7, 2014
Genre: Mystery
Target Audience/Age Group: Adult
Part of a Series? No
Will the Reviewer Keep It In His/Her Library? Maybe

We were excited to get a mystery because several of us like that genre. This one has a somewhat mundane plot revolving around the disappearance of a high school kid many years before the events in the book. The high schoolers are all grown now, with kids of their own. 

Jason Danvers moved back to his hometown after losing his job in New York City. His best friend, Logan, was the kid who disappeared. Jason's sister Hayden shows up one night asking Jason & his wife to look after her teenage daughter for a couple days, but she doesn't come back to retrieve the child. Jason's good friend Regan is also involved (it's nice to see a man and woman be friends without sexual or romantic tension.) 

The mystery is non-existent. Really. At least not to anyone who's read much or watched any TV. It's harder to describe the characters. They aren't cliches, though their actions are. The author makes you understand them and even care about them because they are complex, like real people. Logan's mother is a good example. It's widely assumed she knows what happened to Logan and is hiding him. I won't tell you if she did or not, but you really understand her when you've finished the book. 

I gave this book the MMWR test. It flunked because it was obvious what happened to Logan. It passed because I cared enough about the characters to read the middle. I'd try another book by this author because he writes people well.

Book 9: Slave to Sensation

Title and Author: Slave to Sensation, by Nalini Singh

Illustrator: none
Publisher: Berkley Sensation, part of the Berkley Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Group
Publication Date: 2006
Genre: Horor Erotica
Target Audience/Age Group: Adult
Part of a Series? yes
Will the Reviewer Keep It In His/Her Library? No

This was a book no one in the group seemed interested in reading because it's fantasy erotica, a genre that holds no appeal for our members. There are other books no one wanted to read, but since we committed to posting something about every book we'd acquired at Comic-Con, we divvied the unwanted up among the members for review and comment.

Slave to Sensation has a heroine who is part of a group trained to be emotionless who gets involved with a guy who's a were. In a twist, he's not feral, he's feline. Whatever the animal, he's incredibly hot and sexy. A serial killer is running loose, heroine goes after it. So does the cat. Lots of steamy sex. You've read it all before.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Book 8: Half A King

Title and Author: Half a King, by Joe Abercrombie (Advanced Reader Copy)

Illustrator: none
Publisher: Del Rey
Expected Publication Date: July 18, 2014 (it's available now)
Genre: Fantasy
Target Audience/Age Group: Young Adult
Part of a Series? Maybe
Will the Reviewer Keep It In His/Her Library? No

The first three pages set the scene beautifully. Prince Yarvi has one good hand but since he lives in a society where two good hands are required to hold sword and shield, he isn't respected or valued. He's somewhat happily training to be a minister–until his father and brother are killed. Suddenly he's supposed to become king and rule people who think little of him. Think Vikings.

He has an uncle who is a great warrior. Can you see where all this is leading? I could. From page 20 (the start of chapter 4) I turned to page 229 (chapter 35) to give the book the MMWR test. It flunked. Everything I thought was going to happen clearly had. There were a few characters who evidently became friends of the hero in whatever happened to him in between the beginning and the end, but they weren't engaging enough to make me read the middle.

Book 7: The Return of Comic-Con Mad Libs

Title and Author: The Return of Comic-Con Mad Libs

A San Diego Comic-Con Exclusive

Illustrator: Unknown
Publisher: Price Stern Sloan, part of the Penguin Group
Genre: Humor
Target Audience/Age Group: All ages
Part of a Series? Sort of. There was evidently one published last year.
Will the Reviewer Keep It In His/Her Library? Yes

Is there anyone who doesn't know what Mad Libs are? Called the "World's Greatest Word Games" one fills in the blanks with words called for, like ADJECTIVE ___________________. These words are then inserted in a story. The results can be hysterically funny.

The nice folks at the Penguin Booth passed these out on Wednesday and Thursday, and they were among the best swag at the Con.

Here's an example. The story is Comics at Comic-Con; the blanks were filled in by random society members.

Plural Noun: Rutabagas
Adjective: Piratical
Noun: Ninja
Adjective: Moronic
Adjective: Creepy
Occupation (plural): blacksmiths
Adjective: Ugly
Noun: Warrior
Noun: potato chip
Adjective: Musical
Noun: Petunia
Verb Ending in "ING": Snoozing

People come to Comic-Con for all sorts of Rutabagas. All your favorite movies, TV shows, and piratical video games are there. But hey, what about the comics? After all, it's called San Diego Comic-Con, not San Diego Ninja-Con. You will get way more than the recommended moronic dose of comics at Comic-Con. All the biggest publishers are in attendance. Bring a/an creepy stack of your favorite issues, and you can get them signed by the authors. If you stop by Artists' Alley, you'll find the most popular blacksmiths drawing some of their ugly work. You can pick up a sketch of a beloved superhero, an obscure warrior from a forgotten comic, or even a portrait of you or your best potato chip dressed as a level-one-hundred orc warrior. After that, stop by a panel to find out the latest news about the most musical comics. Will there be another civil war? Will the universe be destroyed by an ancient omnipotent petunia? You'll have to go to the panel to find out! But get there early, or you'll be snoozing the panel through a crack in the door.

OK, so this one wasn't as funny to an adult as it would be if goofy kids picked the words. MAD LIBS aren't aimed at grown-ups anyway. 

Book 6: The Midnight Queen (Uncorrected Proof)

Title and Author: The Midnight Queen, by Sylvia Izzo Hunter

Illustrator: Unknown
Publisher: The Berkley Publishing Group, part of Penguin Publishing Company
Expected Publication Date: September 2, 2014
Genre: Fantasy
Target Audience/Age Group: Children
Part of a Series? Probably
Will the Reviewer Keep It In His/Her Library? No

This book will look different in its final version. There are place holder pages for maps and it will probably have illustrations.

I liked it, but not enough to read it from cover to cover.  There's this thing I do that drives my son crazy–if a book begins to drag, I turn to the end and read the last couple of chapters. If it's pretty obvious what happened between where I stopped reading and the end of the book, the book flunks the MMWR test and I don't go back and read the middle. About a third of the books I read get tested. Not many books pass, I'm sorry to say. This one flunked.

That doesn't mean it isn't an interesting book. It is. I liked the characters. Graham Marshall is a scholarship student at a college for magicians who should have been expelled for his part in rule breaking. Instead he has to spend his long vacation (like our summer, I guess) at a professor's house in the country. The prof has three daughters; the middle daughter is trying to teach herself magic.

It seems to take place in a version of England where kings and queens still rule, not just reign. There's political plots revolving around a missing princess, the king's daughter by his first wife. I didn't follow it all because I skipped the middle. The details weren't important for understanding the end.

The society seems to acknowledge all the ancient gods, Greek, Roman, Celtic, Breton, etc. I found all that confusing.

I did like Graham Marshall and the Callender daughters. Ms Hunter does a good job bringing characters to life. I cared about them, which is why I turned to the end instead of just quitting it. 

Book 5: Vampires of Manhattan

Title and Author: Vampires of Manhattan, by Melissa De La Cruz

Illustrator: none
Publisher: Hachette Books
Expected Publication Date: September 9, 2014
Genre: Romantic fantasy
Target Audience/Age Group: Adult
Part of a Series? Probably
Will the Reviewer Keep It In His/Her Library? No
First line: The alarm went off like an air-raid siren at midnight, and the hand that shot out of the bed slammed the snooze button so hard the side table shook.

The subtitle "The New Blue Bloods Coven" implies this book is related to another series by this author. It is. Reading that other series is not essential to understanding this book but it probably helps a lot. The author writes enough about the characters so the reader can follow what is going on, but I bet subtle nuances of characters and their actions are lost without a knowledge of those previous books. 

Evidently those earlier books were written for young adults while this book is aimed at adults. That makes sense because the people who read and enjoyed them are older now, probably grown up, like the characters in this book.

There was a big war against Lucifer and this book takes place 10 years after it ended. I'm not sure how the world is structured, but there are vampires, werewolves, demons, angels and humans. I couldn't follow all the ins and outs of everything, but the characters kept my interest enough that I read the book all the way to the end.

At first I thought it was just another book where the women were all defined by the men they fell in love with, but that isn't quite the case. Two of them rebelled against their positions, one to the detriment of the whole society. I never did figure out exactly what the venators did; they aren't quite cops but act like them in some ways. 

Bottom line, anyone interested in this book should read Melissa De La Cruz's earlier books. If you like them, read this one to see what became of the characters.

By the way, GHPALS gives a shout out of support to Hachette in their fight with Amazon. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

Book 4: My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish

Title and Author: My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish, by Mo O'Hara

Illustrator: Marek Jagucki
Publisher: Square Fish, an imprint of Macmillan
Genre: Science fiction
Target Audience/Age Group: Children
Part of a Series? Yes
Will the Reviewer Keep It In His/Her Library? No (My kids are too old.)
First line: Yesterday my big brother, Mark, turned into a real-life actual evil scientist.

This was a fun book. The narrator's older brother is evil. Really evil. His approach to his science homework reveals his mad scientist tendencies and the younger brother tries to rescue the poor victim of the experiment. A monster is created. The monster gets loose and out of control. It goes to school and chaos results. Younger brother, and his good friend, put all to right.

The book is fun. The illustrations are funny. We like the flip art at the bottom of the pages–the fish actually jumps out of its bowl.

We can see children all over the world trying to bring their dead goldfish back to life after reading this book. All it takes is a 9-volt battery. The text doesn't explicitly state the size battery, but the picture clearly shows the proper size. You do need both terminals to touch the fish, if we know our science.

We were reminded that we have yet to try to start a fire with a battery like Bear Grylls did on his show last week. The gum we bought didn't have a foil wrapper like it used to, but the Goldfish Crackers we bought the day we read this book did. Wonder if that's really a coincidence.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Book 3: Maplecroft

Title and Author: Maplecroft (The Borden Dispatches), by Cherie Priest

Release Date: September 2014 Trade Paperback
Publisher: ROC published by The Penguin Group
Genre: Horror
Target Audience/Age Group: Adult
Part of a Series? Maybe, it's not clear.
Will the Reviewer Keep It In His/Her Library? Yes

I eagerly picked this up because it features Lizzie Borden. That's her on the cover, with her famous axe, which, it turns out, she is very good at using. Who isn't fascinated by her parents' murders?

The book takes place in 1893 and 1894, after Lizzie was acquitted of the murders. She and her sister Emma have moved from their father's house into the "mansion" they'd built for themselves. The new place features several enhancements built in secret to Lizzie's designs. She even has a laboratory in the basement.

Emma is secretly a prominent marine biologist, hiding behind a pseudonym because she's a woman. She's also very ill, dependent on Lizzie. They have no servants, for reasons that become clear as one reads more into the book. Their only friends are the local doctor, a biologist who received a sample from Emma and Lizzie's lover, Nance O'Neal.

In the world created by the author, the murders of Andrew and Abby Borden make perfect sense and were justified. So does the sister's voluntary isolation from society. 

I liked it. The story was creepy, not terrifying, but it kept my interest through to the end.

I did find errors. On page 9 "that strange mass which dissolves by atoms on the back right table." Though as far back as the ancient Greeks people have theorized the world is made of tiny stuff, atomic theory wasn't known in the 1890's.

On page 159 a funeral is held at a funeral home. This wasn't done in the 1890's. Funerals were held at home.

On page 369 it's said humans evolved from water creatures. The fossil studies that result in this theory had not been done by the 1890's.

When I was done reading the book I wanted to refresh my memory about the murders, so I looked at the website for the Fall River Historical Society. They've published a 1100+ page book on Lizzie Borden (see Parallel Lives).

A great blog on the Bordens and the town of Fall River, Massachusetts, is

Book 2: The Warren Commission Report: A Graphic Investigation

Book Two is an uncorrected proof, advance reader copy
of The Warren Commission Report: A Graphic Investigation. The final book will be in color; this version has black and white illustrations on some pages and only uncompleted sketches on others.

Title: The Warren Commission Report: A Graphic Investigation

Author/Illustrators: Dan Mishkin, Ernie Colon, Jerzy Drozo
Publisher: Abrams Comicarts, an imprint of Abrams
Genre: Non-fiction history
Target Audience/Age Group: Adults
Part of a Series? No
Will the Reviewer Keep It In His/Her Library? No

I read Vincent Bugliosi's book on the JFK assassination and am a complete believer that Oswald acted alone. Every presidential assassin, successful and failed, except John Wilkes Booth, acted alone. One obsessed person can make a difference and history is full of them. Refusal to believe that possiblity is a denial of our power as individuals with free will and insulting to us human beings.

I believe there would be no conspiracy theories if the Kennedy staffers had not interfered with law enforcement. It wasn't the first time and it wouldn't be the last (think Chappaquiddick Island) the family's courtiers muddied the waters so much facts could never be confirmed.

I am a fan of the author/illustrator's illustration of the 9/11 report (The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation) and have it in my library. This ARC indicates this new book will help readers understand why the Warren Commission's work left room for conspiracy theories. It's not clear if it will help people understand that the facts do not support them.

Book 1: The Forbidden Library by Django Wexler

We resolved to publish something about each and every book we were given at Comic-Con as a thank you to the publishers who so generously gave them to us. Some of these books were ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) of books that may change before publication, but most were not. They cover all genres and age groups, and we will not review them in any order whatsoever.

Book One was chosen because our scribe's son stood in line to get it and had the author personalize it for her.

Title and Author: The Forbidden Library, by Django Wexler

Illustrator: Alexander Jansson (He's not credited on the cover or title page!)
Publisher: Kathy Dawson Books, published by The Penguin Group
Genre: Fantasy
Target Audience/Age Group: Children
Part of a Series? It looks like it, but you can't tell from the dust cover or end pages.
Will the Reviewer Keep It In His/Her Library? Yes

Alice lives with her father in gentile poverty. Home-schooled and happy, she eavesdrops on her Dad one night. Everything changes after that night. Her father leaves her and dies in a shipwreck. His entire estate is liquidated and she is sent to live with a relative she didn't know she had. He lives in a huge house with strange servants and puts her to work in his library. What a cool place that building full of books is!

I could not put it down and read it through the night it was given to me. It left me wanting to know what happens next. I try not to read the first book of a series until subsequent volumes have been published, but since it wasn't clear this was part of a series, I read it. I still can't tell if Mr. Wexler is going to write more books, but I will follow him at Maybe I'll get the next book at Comic-Con 2015.

Naomi Novik's Uprooted

Comic-Con attendees are pretty mellow. They know they can't get all the  exclusives they want to buy or and won't get into all the panels they want to see. 

Our scribe stood in many lines with other readers waiting for the books publishers were giving away. As one would expect, they talked to each other, about the books being distributed, the authors signing them and the chapter samplers we'd picked up earlier in the Con and read.

One book that was widely discussed was Naomi Novik's latest, Uprooted. Lots of people read the sampler because her Tremaire books are very popular.

The 41-page, 3 chapter booklet sucks one right into the story of a young woman and her village's protector, a dragon. Everyone who read it was eager to read more. 

Then they turned the last page of Chapter 3 and found this:

AARGHH!! Why does a publisher do that? Get us all excited for a book that's a year away!

Most of us wouldn't have read the damn sampler if we'd paid any attention to the back, but I didn't talk to anyone who had.

The copy of the book on display at the publisher's booth? It was a dummy. A dummy dust cover put on another book.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Best Comic-Con Purchases

After much discussion of the stuff they acquired at Comic-Con, members agreed on the best of it all. No Marvel fans here, not many DC fans either, and though the Game of Thrones graphic novel prequels were discussed long and hard, they didn't make the cut. Neither did the Supernatural Funko characters, though we would have included Mark Shepard's unique Crowley if we'd been able to get hold of it. The Outlander bandana that one member would not take off her arm almost made the cut, but since it was free it was disqualified. So was the foam Sharknado chainsaw, cool as it was.

The Sharknado Tube 

Did everyone watch Sharknado 2? BEST SEQUEL EVER!!!

A $20 T-shirt came with the tube so it was easier to rationalize the price.

The National Cartoonists Society Batman T-shirt

It makes us wish we could all draw.

Pink Archer Dolphin Puppet

It's way cooler than the original grey dolphin puppet–almost as cool as Pam. Part of the proceeds are donated by Factory Entertainment to the Susan B. Konen Foundation and The Pink Ribbon Story.

The First Volume of The Don Rosa Library

"The Son of the Sun" signed by Mr. Rosa himself!

First Issue of Groo vs. Conan

Finally! After all those Sergio & Mark panels promising us new comics, we get one.