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Pale Queen Rising (Pale Queen Series Book 1)
Pale Queen Rising (Pale Queen Series Book 1)
Price: $5.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Kicks an established genre down the road, October 9, 2015
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"The Pale Queen Rising," first of, I suppose, three, flows along beautifully. Author A. R. Kahler has had the good fortune come down the old pike at a time when the dark urban fantasy genre is in good order, and while you probably won’t be able to say he turns it down a new road, at least he manages to kick it along aways.

Related in the first person by Claire, the adopted daughter of Mab the Winter Queen, and she’s an agreeable enough companion in a very kickbutt way, we begin with a hit on a Starbuck’s barrista (now that’s quite a way to engage readers), and then we begin to learn the backstory, which is this: someone is stealing “dream” from Mab’s kingdom. Don’t worry about what that is—it’s only the McGuffin—but do, please, pay attention to how it’s derived.

And who do you suppose Mab assigns to find out who’s doing that? Oh, you’ll never guess (wink). And so Claire, with the aid of a demon, a statue, and a magician frenemy set off to discover At the end of this volume they do. And of course there’s more to come.

Notes and asides: straight sex, lesbian longings, murder, blood, cursing, orgies, mommy issues, bad coffee. My September free Kindle choice.

Shadow of Freedom (Honor Harrington)
Shadow of Freedom (Honor Harrington)
by David Weber
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.09
72 used & new from $5.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Another piece in the tapestry, October 1, 2015
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“Shadow of Freedom”:

Where we are: Book 3 in the Sagami series

Which books precede: “A Rising Thunder” (main series), “Storm From the Shadows” (Saganami series), and Torch of Freedom (“Torch” series)

Which book follows: Main Series, TBA. Saganami Series, TBA “Cauldron of Ghosts” (Torch Series)

Note: This Review assumes you have read the previous books in the series, or at least the ones mentioned above. Here be spoilers if not.

The Review:
While Honor and the Queen are forging their deal with Prichart and the Haven Republic, Michelle Henke is being proactive out in the Talbott Cluster. She and the 10th Fleet clean out some corrupt governments on the Verge and also manage a hostage rescue. There is unrest everywhere as local forces are beginning to revolt against the corrupt Solarian rule. We meet some of our friends from the previous Talbott books, and make a few new ones. And can Verrocchio and Hongbo be turned? That remains to be seen.

One interesting ethical dilemma is raised here, and maybe it’s the heart of the matter: can one break a promise one has actually never made? And that alone would make this one of the best in the Honorverse series.

Mr. Weber can, I believe, be called syfy’s Trollope (although you may not wish to), and this is just another segment of this amazing tapestry that has evolved from military syfy to something far more grand—something that seems to put off some readers more than somewhat.

I am not among those.

A Rising Thunder (Honor Harrington)
A Rising Thunder (Honor Harrington)
by David Weber
Edition: Paperback
Price: $15.00
67 used & new from $0.64

5.0 out of 5 stars “Interesting choice, don’t you think?”, September 24, 2015
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“A Rising Thunder”:

Where we are: Book 13 in the main series

Which books precede: “Mission of Honor” (main series), “Storm From the Shadows” (Saganami series), and Torch of Freedom (“Torch” series)

Which book follows: Main Series, TBA. “Shadow of Freedom” (Saganami Series) “Cauldron of Ghosts” (Torch Series)

Note: This Review assumes you have read the previous books in the series, or at least the ones mentioned above. Here be spoilers if not.

The Review: Picking up at the point where Queen Elizabeth III of Manticore and President Elizabeth Pritchart of The Republic of Haven agree to an alliance against the increasingly corrupt—and incompetently so—Solarian League, the author first backs up to show some of the effects of the junction point blockade the Manties have created, and then winds his way back (and repeats a three-page sequence) to the Haven-Manticore agreement. Then, with his usual skillful weaving of multiple points of view, Mr. Weber shows you the machinations of the Mesans and the Solarians, and throws in as a centerpiece Honor’s brilliant battle plan to protect the battered Manticore (still suffering from the Mesan Alliance’s strike) from yet another attempt by the Solarians to defeat Manticore.

The author is fond of citing Murphy’s Law, and much goes wrong; but unlike a certain other long and winding series, which has found its way to television on Sunday nights in the spring, not EVERYTHING goes wrong, and while we do lose some beloved characters along the way, not EVERYONE.

After the battle sequence there is more political scheming and of all things a royal wedding that includes Rabbi Yaakov O’Reilly. And, of course, there is much setup for the next book in the main sequence, which as of the fall of 2015 has yet to be announced.

Mr. Weber can, I believe, be called syfy’s Trollope (although you may not wish to), and this is just another segment of this amazing tapestry that has evolved from military syfy to something far more grand—something that seems to put off some readers more than somewhat.
I am not among those.

Mission of Honor (Honor Harrington)
Mission of Honor (Honor Harrington)
by David Weber
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $7.98
88 used & new from $0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars "She extended her hand across the table", September 17, 2015
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Mission of Honor:

Where we are: Book 12 in the main series

Which books precede: “At All Costs” (main series), “Storm From the Shadows” (Saganami series), and Torch of Freedom (“Torch” series)

Which book follows: “A Rising Thunder”

The Explanation: In the author note to “Storm from the Shadows,” Mr. Weber revealed that he had originally intended to kill off Honor Harrington at the end of “At All Costs.” He didn’t, obviously (for reasons he explains there), but nevertheless this is the first book in what’s essentially a revised sequence.

The Review: A skillful weaving of multiple points of view, in which we learn more about the plots of the Solarians, Mesans, and Manpower, and also the negotiations between the Manties and the Havenites. Honor is dispatched to Haven to negotiate a peace treaty with Eloise Prichard. And maybe the sequence where Honor arrives to start the negotiations is one of the best Mr. Weber’s ever done. The two leaders, after fencing around with each other, start to negotiate the deal. And it’s quite dramatic in the author’s experienced hands. (Emily Blunt as Honor; Charlize Theron as Eloise?) Meanwhile, a battle is fought, after which a mysterious plot that has been building for a few books, orchestrated by Albrecht Detweiler (Charles Dance?) finally comes to a horrific conclusion.

By this time you know, or should know, whether you want to go on with this increasingly complex, more than just space opera, more than just military sci-fi. If you’re still in the Honorverse, you’ll want this one; if you checked out, don’t come back here, because, again, this novel contains dialogue, interior monologue, political science, geek tech, and lots of other stuff you don’t want.

Please know that Honor herself appears in maybe 20% of the book (and still no sign of Shannon Foraker, although we know she’s still around). But there is, as always, a huge cast of characters, some of whom disappear for long stretches while a few will, I think, not reappear until the next volume(s).

So there you are; the rest is up to you.

Wylding Hall
Wylding Hall
Price: $3.82

5.0 out of 5 stars Not just another stately English home, August 21, 2015
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This review is from: Wylding Hall (Kindle Edition)
Elizabeth Hand (“Mortal Love,” “Winterlong,” “Generation Loss,” and her masterpiece, “Waking the Moon”) has now concocted a multilayered short novel in the manner of an Oral History. The surviving members of a 1970s folk rock group, “Windhollow Faire,” are being interviewed in the present day for a documentary film about their second album, “Wylding Hall.” It would also be their last.

Wylding Hall is also a place: a rambling old English country mansion that was erected in Norman times, and was added to during various historical eras. The band members were sent there by their manager to record the album. The building has secret rooms, secret passageways, doors that sometimes open, and sometimes remain locked. There is a room filled with horror; there are staircases that seem to lead to infinity. And all about the site there are mysterious wrens, flowers that bloom out of season, and a strange mound that somehow allows one to see for miles in all directions when climbed.

Ms. Hand starts out with a “dramatis personae,” in which we find out that one of the band members is dead, and from the testimony of the surviving members 40 years on, we learn what happened.

Despite the conversational format, Ms. Hand’s usual (and incredible) sense of place and time (in some sense she has never left the 1970s—a decade that in one way or another appears in virtually all her work) comes through marvelously, and the oral history scheme adds an extra dimension. The characters, from their fictional universe, describe the events to the transcriber who is learning the intricate details of a story the basics of which everyone in the fictional universe knows. But we do not. And that’s where the suspense comes in: the characters keep making reference to events known to them, and while we in the “real world” have no idea what they might be, and are eager to find out, those in fictional universe do, and are eager simply for more details.

All in all, this is a lovely return by Ms. Hand to the magical gothic style of “Waking the Moon.”

Notes and asides: Seventies era sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Wrens. Ms. hand supplies a mini-autobiography with illustrations at the end of the Kindle edition.

A Line of Blood: A Novel
A Line of Blood: A Novel
by Ben McPherson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.78
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Whodunit if you can abide the unpleasant characters, August 17, 2015
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The first thing you need to know about Ben McPherson’s clever thriller is that the characters are unpleasant. The protagonist, Alex, a Scotsman living in London, tells the tale in the first person, and it’s like listening to a guy in a bar telling you all this personal stuff, and all you can think of is “TMI, man. TMI.” A TV producer who doesn't appear to be very good at his job, he curses, he philanders, he has poor impulse control, he drinks too much. And he’s a terrible parent. His tweener son, Max, is a free-range sociopath.

His American wife, Millicent (she originally married him so she could work in England), is—well—let’s say not wired right. She has affairs, keeps secrets, has a job doing psychological counseling over the radio, and she’s written several self-help books. She appears never to take her own advice. When things get out of hand, she either breaks down or bolts.

Max, is a vicious little sociopath with a quick mind. He’s clever--too clever by half--and neither parent can control him. He fights with his schoolmates and tries to manipulate his teachers, his parents, and his therapist—successfully for the most part.

But, if you’re willing to sign on for the ride you’ll find a clever, well-plotted thriller. It begins when Max, searching for the family cat, followed by Alex, finds that the door to the neighboring house is left open and ventures in, Alex in pursuit. They eventually find the neighbor dead in the bathtub, an apparent suicide by electrocution. Alex calls the police.

It’s hardly a spoiler to learn that the police think this is murder, and then during the course of their investigation (they are mostly bystanders—this is not a procedural), we learn more about this unhappy family in dribs and drabs. Mr. McPherson, a first-time author, doles out the reveals well, and I was intrigued, although there are some scenes that needed to have been toned down.

There are a few things that the author gets wrong: the author renders the “arrest” scene in a way that’s ludicrous (and since it comes with a third of the book yet to go you know the wrong person has been taken in), and the scenes between Max and Millicent’s sister Arla, who’s on a visit from California defy belief.

Still they don’t spoil the unraveling of the puzzle (although you’re quite likely to have figured out who the murderer is before Alex does), and it’s wise to keep in mind that Mr. McPherson’s a first-time author. At least he’s already learned that if a cat appears in order to trigger the opening scene, it can’t just disappear after that.

Notes and asides: The second “man walks into an empty house” thriller of the year. Owen Sheers’s “I Saw a Man” (quite different in style and theme) is the first. Murder, adultery, embezzlement, drinking, smoking, cursing.

Ancillary Justice (Imperial Radch Book 1)
Ancillary Justice (Imperial Radch Book 1)
Offered by Hachette Book Group
Price: $9.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Superior space opera with an interesting twist., August 6, 2015
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The first half of “Ancillary Justice” tells in alternating chapters how Breq, once the AI of a ship, is now one lone “ancillary” on a hostile planet, where she has arrived on her quest for justice. Except for the gender confusion, it’s a pretty straightforward hero-on-a-quest space opera. And you’ll get used to that gender confusion (everyone’s described as “she,” although in a couple of cases we do learn the actual gender—not that it much matters), while the extremely interesting characters Ms. Leckie creates make it something special. We start in the book’s present and flash back to the past, where Breq was whole.

The second half, when the story catches up with itself, is something else again as we end up on one of those “Civilized” planets populated by mannered people. Here, one gets the sense that Ms. Leckie has read at least one of the masters of her field. I noted the descriptions of the temples, their colors, and so forth . . . and does one character actually say “just so”? That would seem to be the case.

Anyway, the whole adventure resolves itself nicely, and—especially in the second half—there are some comic elements; but this is not a satire. The last chapter is the setup for volume 2, "Ancillary Sword," already published. There’s a preview of it at the end.

Notes and asides: Shootings and some cussing. Blurred genders but not didactic.

I Saw a Man: A Novel
I Saw a Man: A Novel
Offered by Random House LLC
Price: $12.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Casting no shadows, July 19, 2015
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The time is 2008. The place is London. "I Saw a Man" begins slowly, slowly, a few pages at a time in the present as the protagonist moves through an empty house. Interspersed with his explorations are flashbacks, sometimes double flashbacks. Michael is a professional writer (his specialty is embedding himself with his subjects and as we learn now with his neighbors). He's living in London after having spent time in New York and Wales (we learn he has come to London after experiencing personal tragedy), and he's in that house, which belongs to his neighbors’ (Josh and Samantha, and their two young daughters, Rachel and Lucy) to retrieve a screwdriver he has loaned them but now needs back. He finds their back door open, house empty. He goes in and attempts to find that screwdriver. Interwoven with the incremental steps are those flashbacks in which we learn who he is, who the neighbors are, and how he came to be there.

And then, during the course of Michael’s slow-motion foray we suddenly find ourselves on a military base in Nevada, dealing with Major McCullen, USAF, who operates drones sent to kill terrorists. One mission does not go well. Why this sudden introduction of a totally new character in a totally new place? But there’s no time for puzzlement. After this sequence we’re back in the empty house with Michael, and, oh, yeah. Now we see—it’s a great reveal. The novel winds on and then, just as I was thinking please! enough! Mr. Sheers: get Michael out of this house!! something dramatic happens. Michael does take his leave. The flashbacks are done. The journey continues to its resolution—one that’s a bit too pat (and maybe not cynical enough considering the buildup), but not unsatisfying.

It’s well-crafted. The writing seems effortless; the suspense is maddening, even though this isn’t exactly a thriller. And it’s all set up beautifully. But then I thought about the characters. And their emptiness. None seemed quite real to me; they’re just constructs designed for the unwinding of the story. When I imagined them walking down a street, I thought of them as casting no shadows.

It’s a stunt novel

Notes and asides: Brief violence. British terminology and slang. The author uses disinterested where he should have used uninterested, but perhaps this is a U.S. distinction not observed across the Atlantic.

After Alice: A Novel
After Alice: A Novel
by Gregory Maguire
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $14.84

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wonderland Redux, July 13, 2015
This review is from: After Alice: A Novel (Hardcover)
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Gregory Maguire, chronicler of the alternative Oz, now turns his attention to the Alternative Wonderland. The author, who has visited Victorian England before (“Lost”), this time out has contrasted the real-world mid-Victorian England with Lewis Carroll's classic books by use of a two-part structure. In one part Ada, who is briefly mentioned in “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” falls down the rabbit hole while out searching for her friend Alice, while in the other part 15-year-old Lydia, Alice’s older sister (also briefly mentioned in the original), who has been charged with looking after her dreamy sibling, has lost her.

In the end,Mr. Maguire is more successful in his depiction of the Oxford in 186-. By cleverly leaving off the last digit he creates uncertainty as to exactly how far long the American Civil War is (we learn it's still going on), and this turns out to be important. Lydia and “Pater” have been shaken by the recent death of Lydia’s mother, and while Lydia is out and about chasing Alice (with some help) “Pater,” a librarian, is entertaining none other than Charles Darwin. Meanwhile, Ada is being sought by her governess, Miss Armstrong. A most determined, officious, and gossipy woman is she!
At one point Lydia and Miss Armstrong take a midday tour of Oxford, and while the students are on vacation (it’s midsummer), a certain stammering never-named scholar and photographer does turn up. Now WHO could that be? Yep. It’s a beautiful scene.

Less successfully, the author has injected American politics to the tale in the form of Darwin’s American attendant (I assume fictional) and an adopted son. And while it would be a spoiler to tell how, this subplot drags the book in the direction of the naïve and sentimental. My suggestion here would be to grit your teeth, mutter to yourself, “we know, we know. This is not the time. This is not the place.” Then keep calm and carry on.

As the quest for the two missing girls goes on above, down the rabbit hole in Wonderland Redux, Ada meets with Mr. Maguire’s version of some of Carroll’s creations (and as usual in these reconstructions characters from both “Alice” books appear), and a few new ones. The author attempts the Reverend Dodgson’s logic puzzles, poetic parodies, and wordplay. He’s not bad; but they don’t quite sparkle enough and in some cases (of course there is a mad teaparty scene) they fall a bit flat. Maybe you’ll miss the original versions. Also, the characters are crueler, less whimsical. Since the author has pitched the book at adults (it would be insanity to introduce this book to youngsters who’ve just enjoyed the Lewis Carroll originals for the first time), he evidently thought he needed to make them more cruel. No.

But the book is still fun, and at 273 pages (in my ARC version), it shimmers right along and ends before it tries your patience. By all means give it a try.

Notes and asides: There are, of course 32 pieces in a chess set, not two dozen. May this be corrected in the final version, please.

The Night Sister: A Novel
The Night Sister: A Novel
by Jennifer McMahon
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $14.56
93 used & new from $8.58

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Motel Creeptastic, July 8, 2015
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Jennifer McMahon, who loves to play with stories that span two different periods, in this one ups the ante: There are four here--1955, 1961, 1989, and 2013--and the story moves back and forth among them.

The first scene opens in 2013, to a grisly murder (not shown in too graphic detail). We see things through the eyes of Jason, a local cop in the town of London, Vermont. A phone call, a summoning. Then we quickly flash back.

In 1955 we meet Sylvie and Rose, who live in a motel in that Vermont town. It’s about to become a relic as a result of the construction of an Interstate highway. Blonde Sylvie, in her early teens, wants to move to Hollywood and become a star in a Hitchcock movie. Rose--her younger, plainer sister--insists that Sylvie is disappearing at night (they share a room), but of course nobody else believes her. Sylvie, influenced by the release of an obscure Hitchcock movie, “The Trouble with Harry” (it starred Shirley MacLaine in her debut and was released between the far better known “To Catch a Thief” and “The Man Who Knew Too Much”), which was filmed in Vermont and had its first showing there, is now more determined than ever to leave. And in 1961, with the interstate highway now constructed and the motel now on the verge of closing, she does.

In 1989 we encounter Rose’s daughter, Amy, and her friends Piper and Margot—two sisters. Piper is the oldest, and here’s Jason again, as a teen. He’s fascinated by Amy but ends up with Margot. Amy still lives up at the old motel with her aging grandmother Charlotte.

In 2013, Piper, who now lives in LA, returns at Margot's urging to the town of London (ah yes, I know—how many tales have their protagonist returning home? But this time it works). She’s come to help Margot, who has married Jason and is now 8.5 months pregnant, and to find out what has happened to Amy. That’s your setup.

McMahon, author of several novels (the best, “Dismantled”), is a fine writer who creates characters who break the rules and plays them off characters who do not. Here, the rule breakers are Sylvie and Amy. The book, which has a theme of hypnosis running through it, contains clues, surprises, misunderstandings, and misdirections that will challenge you, especially as clues laid down in one era crop up in another, and not necessarily in chronological order. In 1989, for example, two empty cups are discovered. Later in the book, but back in 1961, we learn who drank from them.

Hitchcock themes, of course run through the book. The “Hitchcock Blonde” and “Psycho,” of course. But there are also sly references to “Vertigo,” “Rear Window,” “Marnie,” and even “Rebecca.” The novel's more fun if you are a Hitchcock fan, but you don't have to be.

Notes and asides: Gunfire, murders most foul, mayhem, madness, sadism, creepy crawly clawy things, Lepidoptera abuse, smoking.

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