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Golden Son (The Red Rising Trilogy, Book 2)
Golden Son (The Red Rising Trilogy, Book 2)
Offered by Random House LLC
Price: $8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars At Least as Good as Red Rising, January 27, 2015
One of my favourite reads of 2014 was Red Rising by author Pierce Brown. I looked forward to its sequel with anticipation but, to be honest, I wasn't expecting anything anywhere near as exciting as Red Rising. It would be, after all, the middle book in a trilogy and middle books tend to be mainly just bridges between the first and the third books, mostly filler with some hints to keep the reader's interest while waiting for the really good stuff. Not to say that a second book can't be a compelling read but, at least in my case, my expectations tend to be lower than for the other books.

But gorydamn if Golden Son isn't at least as nail-bitingly exciting and unputdownable as the first. Darrow and most of his Howlers have survived the deadly games of the Institute but he still has one more test to pass if he is to be accepted by the Governor, the man who killed Darrow's wife. And just when he thinks he has proven his worth, he is defeated and it seems like his chance to bring down the colour caste system is over even before it has started.

Instead, he finds a way to turn his defeat into an even bigger opportunity to aid the Sons of Ares. But while their plan is to bring down the system seemingly one Gold at a time, Darrow has other ideas; he will foment a Civil War that will bring it all down around them quickly - that is, if he can survive the arrogance and betrayals of both his enemies and his friends among the Golds.

In Golden Son, Brown expands the world-building and we get a glimpse of just how big this world is. And, while this is most definitely Darrow's story, he also gives us a more three-dimensional picture of many of the other characters including Roque, Mustang, and Cassius. Golden Son is not a standalone so if you haven't read Red Rising, you should do that first - trust me, you won't be sorry. No surprise that this ends on a cliffhanger but, wow, what a cliffhanger - normally I hate them but this was just mind, just read the book. But make sure you have lots of time and no interruptions because you are not going to want to put this one down for anything trivial like eating. I do have one question, though, how in all the hells of Mars will Brown top Golden Son in the last book of the trilogy?

The Paper Magician (The Paper Magician Series, Book 1)
The Paper Magician (The Paper Magician Series, Book 1)
Price: $4.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Whimsical Tale of Magic, January 25, 2015
Of all the forms of magic, paper is the least powerful which is why no one wants to become a paper folder. So when Ceony Twill, first in her class at the Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined is informed that there is a shortage of paper folders and, therefore, she is to be apprenticed as one, she is devastated because once bonded to a form of magic, it is a bond for life.

She is apprenticed to the eccentric folder Emory Thane and, at first, she is sarcastic and rebellious. However, when she sees the kind of beauty and whimsy he can produce from paper including a small dog as a present to her, she begins to accept her fate. Unfortunately, just as she starts to like her new life, Emory's wife, Lira returns. She is an Excisioner, a blood magician and, when she steals Emery's heart literally, Ceony must find a way to save him - not easy when you're only a newly bonded paper folder and your opponent can kill with just a touch.

This is the first book in The Paper Magician series and, for the most part, I enjoyed this YA fantasy by author Charlie N Holmberg. Although the story has obvious roots in other series including Harry Potter, it was more homage than derivative. I really appreciated the idea of paper folding as magic. However, the story seemed to bog down somewhat as Ceony has to make her way through the chambers of Emory's heart. It was an interesting way to give us Emory's backstory as well as parts of Ceony's but it tended to slow the story down considerably.

Still, Ceony and Emory are both extremely likable characters. There is a hint of possible romance at least on Ceony's part but, fortunately, it isn't love at first sight and, in fact, nothing happens at least in this first book. Lira makes a great evil temptress and the idea of blood magic, although not unique, is quite scary here. There is also a nice touch of subtle humour that works well within the storyline. I know I have used the term `whimsy' several times already but it is the best word I can think of to describe this book. The story itself is self-contained and, unlike so many fantasy series, does not end on a cliffhanger. Although not perfect, The Paper Magician was a fun read and I look forward to the next book in the series.


The After House
The After House
Price: $0.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining For What It Is, January 17, 2015
This review is from: The After House (Kindle Edition)
The After House starts out great. It is Puerto Rico in the 1840s and Eli Gasper is the captain of a whaling ship. It's been a good day; they have taken a mother and her calf and they are heading home. Then a bull appears from nowhere, the biggest he has ever seen and Eli decides `this was too great a prize to ignore'. It turns out he and his crew are no match for this angry bull.

This first part was exciting and I fully expected one chilling nail-biting roller coaster ride of a horror story. It didn't happen.

The story switches to the present. Remy has divorced her cheating spouse and she and her 6-year-old daughter have moved into an old house last occupied by an artist who, despite his fear of the sea, has painted beautiful pictures of it on the walls. Soon things start happening, loud bangs, damaged furniture. Remy refuses to leave though especially after she meets Hugh, handsome mayor of the town.

Things begin to look up for Remy and her daughter despite the seemingly strange occurrences in their house. Then her studio burns down and her car crashes. Is it a ghost or something or someone more corporeal haunting her?

Despite the first part about the whale hunt, the haunting which was kind of half-assed anyway, and the later possibility of a murder, The After House is really just a paranormal romance; you know, girl is hurt in love, swears she will never love again, meets new hunky guy, falls madly in love at first sight but fights it until at least their second date because every love story needs some conflict and/or obstacle to overcome.

Don't get me wrong - I didn't hate the book. I really enjoyed the part about the whale hunt. It offered so much potential. Unfortunately the story never lived up to it. I also learned the original meaning of `dork' and although it was slipped into the story rather clumsily, it was pretty interesting. And the story was entertaining enough for what it was. It just felt like the author, in trying to put so much into it, history, romance, ghosts, haunting, murder, angels, that it just seemed to meander around until the rather deus ex machina solution to who's really behind all the `accidents'.

My recommendation: if you like paranormal romances with just a touch of suspense, you will most likely enjoy this one. However, if you are looking for a creepy good horror story, you might want to pass this one up because this definitely ain't that.

Dragons at Crumbling Castle: And Other Stories
Dragons at Crumbling Castle: And Other Stories

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Just a Whole Lot of Fun, January 16, 2015
Dragons at Crumbling Castle is a collection of 14 tales for children by Terry Pratchett but, trust me, you don't need to be a child to appreciate them - all you need is a sense of humour and whimsy and perhaps a little private space so that people won't stare at you funny when you read them on the bus (trust me, it's embarrassing).

Although these tales were written early in Pratchett's career, they are just as funny as his Discworld books. As I read them I kept thinking I wish I had a small child to read them to because these are the kind of stories that make you want to do silly voices and sound effects.

In the title story, King Arthur is informed that dragons have invaded crumbling castle. Ralph `a small boy in a suit of mail much too big for him' is chosen by the king to deal with the problem (mainly because no one else is available) so he sets out with his talking donkey. After many exciting (and hilarious) adventures, they arrive at the castle only to discover that dragons are actually quite nice and peaceful. They only moved to the castle because the original lord dammed the river to build a swimming pool and accidentally flooded their cave.

Among the other stories are two tales about the carpet people who set out on an adventurous journey across the carpet seeking a new home perhaps near the shiny plains of Linoleum, one about an egg-dancing contest, and one about Father Christmas' attempt to find a job to help make ends meet during the other 364 days of the year when he's not employed. I liked some stories more than others but they are all hilarious.

Dragons at Crumbling Castle is the perfect antidote for a rainy afternoon or for the reluctant child at bedtime. It is just a whole lot of fun. The marvelously quirkly illustrations by Mark Beech are a perfect complement to the tales. The best thing: this is the kind of book you will probably enjoy just as much if not more than the kids.

Blue Labyrinth (Pendergast series Book 14)
Blue Labyrinth (Pendergast series Book 14)
Offered by Hachette Book Group
Price: $9.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Exciting Addition to the Series, January 14, 2015
Someone has dumped the body of Pendergast's son, Alban, on the doorstep of his mansion. Although he doesn't mourn his son's death - Alban was one of the most cunning and dangerous criminals he has ever encountered - he realizes that the murder is meant as both a message and a challenge to him and he has no choice but to accept. However, it becomes very clear that his adversary, as impossible as it seems, can only be Alban himself and, in what could possibly be Pendergast's last case, he may be no match to his dead son.

Blue Labyrinth is the 14th novel in this series by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child and it's all about the past both Pendergast's and the series. Pendergast is much more present in this novel than he was in the last one, White Fire. But, after a deadly encounter that leaves him on the brink of death, it is left to his friends Vincent, Margot, and Constance to solve the case and, as it turns out, the female may really be the most deadly of the species.

In Blue Labyrinth, Preston and Child return to the roots of the story and they ratchet up the suspense and excitement to turbo-charge. This is one fast-paced, nail-biting roller coaster of a ride. It seemed for a while that the series was losing its oomph but this novel brings it back with a vengeance.

Climate Peril: The Intelligent Reader's Guide to Understanding the Climate Crisis
Climate Peril: The Intelligent Reader's Guide to Understanding the Climate Crisis
Price: $9.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Well-researched Book on a Very Important Issue, January 13, 2015
John Berger's book, Climate Peril, goes a great way in not only explaining the science of climate change and the role we play in it but clearing up many of the misconceptions surrounding it. The book begins by positing a possible future if nothing is done: increases in deadly heat waves, droughts, hurricanes, wildfires, dust storms, loss of coastal areas (the US alone is losing 80,000 acres of coastal wetlands every year) and island nations, and widespread extinctions. Deadly diseases, once limited to the tropics will spread far beyond their normal areas - diseases like cholera, malaria, meningitis, Dengue fever.

Although these are just possibilities, he gives examples showing that many of these things are occurring already: loss of wetlands and drought in California, the destruction of coral reefs leading to `dead zones', dust storms in Iran, melting in the Arctic and the loss of permafrost, the extinction or near-extinction of many species including frogs and lizards. It may see unimportant if these species disappear but, as he shows they matter very much because the loss of one small creature can lead not only to the loss of others that depend on it for food, some of which we may depend on for food, but to the increase of others like disease carrying insects:

"Even if one had no moral about wiping out supposedly unimportant species, it is obviously a bad idea to condone the loss of any part of nature's intricately interwoven, multifaceted architecture to which we ourselves belong."

He also explains the science behind climate change and, although I admit I didn't understand it all, it certainly gave me a better grasp. He discusses the different conferences that have been held and what they have produced in real terms which he shows is very little. He gives examples of some of the arguments against action and he gives rebuttals to these arguments. He talks about the economics of climate change: what it would cost to try to fix it and what it will cost if we continue to do nothing. And he talks about the politics of climate change and why, despite all the talk, governments refuse to act in any meaningful way.

But, despite the lack of will by our leaders, Berger, who holds a PhD in Ecology, remains hopeful:

"Fortunately, many global studies confirm that we have the technology, financial capabilities, and renewable energy resources to successfully transition to an energy economy largely free of fossil fuels. But this will require some hard technological and political choices.".

He suggests that, if the leaders won't lead, then it will be up to us to act through Grassroots and Social Justice movements.

Climate Peril is a well-researched, well-documented and well-written look at the science of climate change, the consequences if it continues unchecked, and the cost to the planet and to it inhabitants including us humans. I can't recommend this highly enough for anyone interested in better understanding this important issue.

Prayers for the Stolen
Prayers for the Stolen
Offered by Random House LLC
Price: $11.72

5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, Bleak & Completely Engrossing, January 11, 2015
"The best thing you can be in Mexico is an ugly girl."

Ladydi (named after Princess Diana because her mother `loved any woman to whom a man had been unfaithful') is the narrator of this powerful novel set in a small village in Mexico situated between the seaside resort of Acapulco and the compounds of the drug cartels. If the drug lords hear of a pretty girl, `they'd sweep onto our lands in Black escalades and carry the girl off'. As a result, there are only `boys' born here who somehow become girls around the age of puberty but even then, when they hear a car or a helicopter, these girls must hide in holes to keep them safe because no girl has ever returned after being one until Paula, `the most beautiful girl in Mexico' who was stolen but returned one year later. No one knew how she got away from the cartels or how she managed to get home. She was fifteen when she returned covered with cigarette burn scars and with a tattoo that declared her Cannibal's Baby.

There are no men in Ladydi's village; they have all gone to the United States in search of jobs which makes the girls easy pickings for the cartels. But it is not just the fear of kidnapping; it's the oppressive heat, the insects, the scorpions, the snakes, the inadequate schools and health facilities because no one wants to come to this village for fear of the cartels and it's the toxic herbicides dropped from planes on the poppy fields, infecting the children and the livestock, making them sick and shortening their lives.

The story follows Ladydi and her friends through adolescence and after as well as describing those of their mothers. Their lives are stark and their fate is rarely in their own hands. This is a village and a country at the mercy of the cartels and the drug trade and these women and many more like them including the women Ladydi encounters later in prison are its victims. But despite the tragedy and unrelenting sorrow of their lives, author Jennifer Clement manages to suffuse the novel with humour and gives the women a sense of strength despite this constant adversity; they may be victimized but they never wear the mantle of victim. This novel will elicit empathy and perhaps anger but never tears - these women are too strong to be cried over.

Prayers for the Stolen is a beautifully written novel. With its stark prose and dark portrait of these women, all of whom have had their lives stolen in some way, it is a powerful indictment of the drug trade and War on Drugs and the devastating effects they are having on the people of Mexico. But it is also a powerful portrait of human resilience, the ability of these people to rise above and to survive in a world completely stacked against them. It is a surprisingly hopeful tale set in a unrelentlngly bleak world and it is a completely engrossing read.

After the New Atheist Debate
After the New Atheist Debate
Price: $13.77

4.0 out of 5 stars Adding a Much Needed Moderate Voice to the Atheist Vs Religious Debate, January 10, 2015
The debate between what are called the New Atheists and the Christian Right has been raging for several years. It has been acrimonius, obstreperous and self-serving on both sides and has only served to divide. Phil Ryan, who teaches at Carleton University in Canada, attempts, in his book After the New Atheist Debate, to find common ground between atheists and the religious community. He is clearly aiming his arguments at those on both sides who may not agree with the take-no-prisoners quality that the debate has taken in the media. It is his belief that the vast majority of religious and atheists, although as committed to their position as those who claim to represent them, do not share the same sense that the two sides can't co-exist in harmony.

Although Ryan speaks as a moderate Christian, he avoids the question of God's existence and rather tries to outline and answer some of the arguments and counter-arguments put forth. Although he examines the rancour that has arisen on both sides, he is careful not to repeat it in his own arguments. He points out that those who have been the most vocal and vehement about their right to speak for all on their side do not represent all religious or all atheists and he is clearly trying to reach those left out of the debate. He examines the unfair stereotypes that each side presents about the other eg Christians are deluded or conversely atheists are immoral. He provides an historical look at whether a literal interpretation of the Bible has always been the norm as well as the fact that atheism as a simple lack of belief in deities of any sort is not new, that it has coexisted beside religion throughout history. He contends that the New Atheists, in fact, are not atheists but anti-theists.

This book will clearly not appeal to those on either side who have been most involved in this debate lately. However, as Ryan points out, it is a debate that must take place because the questions especially about ethics will have real consequences for everyone. Ryan provides clear, cogent, and best of all polite and well-reasoned arguments and solutions to how we can move forward to meet future challenges and gives a voice to those on either side of the argument who may feel that, in all this bickering, their voices are not being heard.

Willful Child
Willful Child
Offered by Macmillan
Price: $11.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Fun Spoof & Homage To Star Trek, January 7, 2015
This review is from: Willful Child (Kindle Edition)
Captain Hadrian Sawbuck is the commander of the spaceship, Willful Child. This is Hadrian's first voyage and, as he points out, `Space ... it's f*cking big'. However, he's not in the least bit worried about his ability to complete his mission (or abandon it and follow a new one if the first gets boring) - Hadrian is arrogant, self-absorbed, and wildly inappropriate towards the female members of his crew, all of whom were chosen for their looks rather than their abilities. He is also not above eliminating other lifeforms if they're really annoying. Willful Child is not only the name of the ship and the title of the book, it's a perfect description of Captain Hadrian Sawbuck and he couldn't be prouder. But since Willful Child is author Steven Erikson's spoof as well as homage to Star Trek (the original series), it couldn't be any other way. Hadrian Sawbuck is the quintessential starship captain of the future assuming, of course, the future looks suspiciously like the TV shows of the Swinging `60s and I do mean the 1960s, double entendres, adolescent sexual fantasies, polyester uniform and all.

Reading Willful Child, it is clear that Erikson had great fun writing it and that's fair because it is, for the most part, great fun to read. Sure, some of the jokes are so corny even Laugh-In (another wildly inappropriate but hilarious product of the `60s) would have rejected them but that's okay. Willful Child is not meant to be taken seriously. I didn't mind Hadrian's constant inappropriate sexual advances either having grown up with and remembering fondly not only Star Trek but so many of the action shows from the era when a suggestive leer at any woman within leering distance was a sign that the male lead was a man's man. And, let's face it, the crews of the various Starships in the Trekkie franchises were always interfering in the running of other planets despite their prime directive not to - I mean, they had an hour to fill every week (sans commercial time of course) and Tribbles really were as annoying as a stampede of kittens. I did, however, start to find the constant sexual innuendo somewhat repetitive after a while and was glad when the story moved on to other `episodes' even if they included stampeding kittens. And fortunately, there was enough action and some truly funny moments to keep me reading and laughing right to the end.

Willful Child will not appeal to everyone but for fans of Star Trek or modern shows like Archer or even perhaps for those of us who remember the `60s with a certain fondness but without the nostalgic belief that it was the best of times, it really is a fun book to relax and boldly go with.

Day 21 (The Hundred series)
Day 21 (The Hundred series)
Offered by Hachette Book Group
Price: $9.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Sequel, December 27, 2014
The 100: Day 21 is the second in author Kass Morgan’s dystopian series, The 100. In the first book, 100 young people, accused of crimes on a space ship hovering over Earth, are sent to the surface to test if the planet is now habitable. The title of this sequel refers to the number of days it took for radiation poisoning to begin to affect the patients in Clarke’s parents experiments on the ship. Now, on Earth, some of the hundred are becoming ill and she is worried that it is radiation.

This second book answers many of the question raised in the first. It switches back and forth both in time and place as we learn what is happening in the present and, through flashbacks, what happened in the past to bring them here. There was more action in this sequel and the main characters, if somewhat one-dimensional, are likeable. However, I found the change in font for the flashbacks somewhat distracting. I also found some of the motivation for the actions of some characters a tad, well, disconcerting, for example in the case of Glass but especially Wells – some of his decisions seemed not only dangerous and ill-thought-out but completely out of character as it was portrayed in most of the two books. I will grant that fictional characters can be given a certain amount of leeway in their behaviour but there has to be limits if the reader is to continue to willingly suspend their disbelief.

But that’s just me. I suspect that this series would resonate much better with its intended YA audience than it did with me. And in fairness, I did, for the most part, enjoy the book. Its fast pace and short length helped to offset my objections to the story so that they weren’t enough to make me stop reading. My recommendation: if you liked the first book in the series or even if you had mild misgivings about it, you are likely going to enjoy Day 21.

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