Friday, October 31, 2014

Thinking About Reading...

Alongside the familiar pitched battles, regular sieges, and large-scale manoeuvres, medieval and early modern wars also involved assassination, abduction, treason and sabotage. These undercover operations were aimed chiefly against key individuals, mostly royalty or the leaders of the opposing army, and against key fortified places, including bridges, mills and dams. However, because of their clandestine nature, these deeds of 'derring-do' have not been studied in any detail, a major gap which this book fills. It surveys a wide variety of special operations, from the eleventh to the sixteenth century. It then analyzes in greater depth six select and exciting operations: the betrayal of Antioch in 1098; the attempt to rescue King Baldwin II from the dungeon of Khartpert in 1123; the assassination of Conrad of Montferrat in 1192; the attempt to storm Calais in 1350; the 'dirty war' waged by the rulers of France and Burgundy in the 1460s and 1470s; and the demolition of the flour mill of Auriol in 1536.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Eye on New Releases for October 28, 2014

John Willoughby is being pulled between worlds. Or he is going mad, ‘riding the unicorn’ as his prison officer colleagues would say. It’s clear to Willoughby it must be the latter. Disappearing in the middle of his prison shift from among convicts, appearing in a makeshift medieval encampment for minutes before tumbling back to the real world, Willoughby believes his mind is simply breaking apart.

He finds no solace at home, with a wife who has grown to dislike him and a daughter who can barely hide her disgust. He’s realised he isn’t worth anyone’s time, barely even his own, and falls into drinking and violence guaranteed to bring about his downfall. Except in this other world, in this winter land of first-settlers he is a man with a purpose, a man upon whom others must rely. Persuaded to kill a King so as to save a people, Willoughby finds that in another world, with a second chance he may be the kind of man he had always wanted to be after all.

 (B&N, Amazon)

This lavishly illustrated volume is a comprehensive history of the Seven Kingdoms, providing vividly constructed accounts of the epic battles, bitter rivalries, and daring rebellions that lead to the events of A Song of Ice and Fire and HBO’s Game of Thrones. In a collaboration that’s been years in the making, Martin has teamed with Elio M. GarcĂ­a, Jr., and Linda Antonsson, the founders of the renowned fan site—perhaps the only people who know this world almost as well as its visionary creator.

Collected here is all the accumulated knowledge, scholarly speculation, and inherited folk tales of maesters and septons, maegi and singers, including

• full-color artwork and maps, with more than 170 original pieces
• full family trees for Houses Stark, Lannister, and Targaryen
• in-depth explorations of the history and culture of Westeros
• 100% all-new material, more than half of which Martin wrote specifically for this book

Deep below the University, there is a dark place. Few people know of it: a broken web of ancient passageways and abandoned rooms. A young woman lives there, tucked among the sprawling tunnels of the Underthing, snug in the heart of this forgotten place.

Her name is Auri, and she is full of mysteries.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things is a brief, bittersweet glimpse of Auri’s life, a small adventure all her own. At once joyous and haunting, this story offers a chance to see the world through Auri’s eyes. And it gives the reader a chance to learn things that only Auri knows....

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Review: old review from BSC: The Sheriff of Yrnameer

The Sheriff of Yrnameer
by Michael Rubens

Format: Advance Reading Copy, 288 pages
Publisher: Pantheon Books
Cover Design: Virginia Tan
Release Date: August 4, 2009
ISBN-13: 978-0307378477 

Our “hero”, Cole, is having a bad day.  He is deep in debt and a tentacled alien bounty hunter by has finally caught up with him.  His partner in crime has run off with his girlfriend.  To top it off his spaceship gets disintegrated by a traffic robot.  In desperation, Cole steals a ship filled with freeze-dried orphans bound for Yrnameer, which, coincidentally, is planet of a myth. 

Cole is reluctantly compelled to transport the defenseless children to safety, recruiting a team of humans, aliens, and one very friendly computer.  When the ship finally arrives at its destination, Cole finds an old enemy is threatening the sole town on the planet.  The citizens of the town decide they need a sheriff and Cole is thrust into the role.  Will Cole do the smart thing and run?  Or will he do the right thing and save the people from an evil criminal?

The Sheriff of Yrnameer is the first book of field producer Michael Rubens whose credits include The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.  The tale itself is a wacky science fiction comedy in the tradition of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, albeit with a slightly more adult tone.  So if you like oddball stories that make you laugh out loud there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy this book.  For a taste, try this excerpt from page 18 when Cole makes the mistake of trying to jaywalk and gets caught by a traffic robot:

“It’s not the size of the ticket, went the refrain, it’s the delivery.  And nothing delivered a ticket better than an InvestCo patbot, whose artificial personalities were the result of much effort and expense to identify and nurture the most irritating traits possible. 

‘So,’ began the patbot, ‘do you happen to know the history of jaywalking laws?’

Thirty-two minutes later and Cole did, in excruciating detail.”

Much of the book is like this.  The plot is light, relying on short episodes to carry the story forward.  There are many instances where Cole and company get into trouble and must find a way to get out of it.  You won’t read this book for the plot, but rather for the strange and outrageous adventures.

While The Sheriff of Yrnameer is certainly enjoyable, I did have a couple of complaints.  For one, there is a romance sub-plot in the last third of the novel that makes the story drag a bit.  There isn’t much that is funny is this part, which mainly features Cole stringing along the townfolk and making an ass of himself trying to win the girl, until the resolution of criminal storyline. 

Also, I thought that the other characters in the book harped a little too much on Cole doing the “right thing”.  By introducing morality into the story, it loses a bit of what makes it all fun.  The question becomes not what zany thing happens next, but if Cole will give up a life of crime. 

The Sheriff of Yrnameer is a wacky, zany book that, for the most part, manages to pull it off.  There are a few weakness, but if you’re a fan of comedy and parody books, consider checking out this first novel by Michael Rubens.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Eye on New Releases for October 21, 2014


In the world of A Song of Ice and Fire the ice dragon was a creature of legend and fear, for no man had ever tamed one. When it flew overhead, it left in its wake desolate cold and frozen land. But Adara was not afraid. For Adara was a winter child, born during the worst freeze that anyone, even the Old Ones, could remember. 

Adara could not remember the first time she had seen the ice dragon. It seemed that it had always been in her life, glimpsed from afar as she played in the frigid snow long after the other children had fled the cold. In her fourth year she touched it, and in her fifth year she rode upon its broad, chilled back for the first time. Then, in her seventh year, on a calm summer day, fiery dragons from the North swooped down upon the peaceful farm that was Adara’s home. And only a winter child—and the ice dragon who loved her—could save her world from utter destruction.

Hm, I don't remember this story being set in the world of A Song of Ice and Fire.  Sounds more like whoever wrote the blurb hadn't read either work so they just assumed they were set in the same world because they both have dragons.  .  

Review: more mini-reviews of The Widow's House, Full Fathom Five, The Leopard, Rogues, and The Causal Thief

If you're not already reading the Dagger and the Coin series, I can't help you.  It's not Abraham's best series, but it's very good and enjoyable.  Definitely a must for all fans of epic fantasy.  One of the things I liked about the fourth book was how the re-appearance of a dragon did not become the "deux ex machina" plot device it could have been.  Abraham's ability to play on the tropes of the genre is one of the things I like about these books.

Rating: 8/10.

Full Fathom Five is the third book in the loosely connected Craft Sequence by Max Gladstone.  One of the really interesting things about these books is how closely interconnected gods and mages are their world.  Gladstone does this by using a very legalistic component in his books so that there are lawyers, contracts, courtroom drama, etc.  This gives the books a very unique feel in a genre that sometimes feels stagnant.

This particular book features people who create idols for foreign businesses on an island much like Hawaii.

Rating: 8/10. 

This is my second book by K.V. Johansen.  The first was 2011's Blackdog, and while the world was interesting, the story felt too long and drawn out for the plot.  The Leopard is an improvement, featuring some characters from Blackdog as well as new ones.  The writing feels stronger and never gets bogged.  The two books written so far have a very mythic feel to them with gods, demons, sorcerers, curses, and quests.

Rating: 8/10.

After the disappointment that was last year's Dangerous Women, Rogues was quite a relief.  It is clearly a much stronger anthology than the other.  Most of the stories are quite strong and entertaining.  Even the authors I don't generally read or like managed to write decent stories.  This anthology may not be quite as impressive as Warriors, but it's certainly worth a look.

Rating: 8/10.

This is another sequel and third book for a series that doesn't seem to have a name, I think.  This loose series is very much on the science fantasy scale, like the Clarke quote, where any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.  In this future, matter and information are interchangeable and virtually indistinguishable.  

This third outing was not quite as enjoyable as the first book, but I liked it a lot.  Rajaniemi is an author to watch.

Rating: 7.5/10. 

I've seen this one called a "side-quel" to Blindsight, which doesn't make much sense to me.  What I think is more accurate, it that it's a companion piece to the 2006 book about sentience and intelligence.  This tackles some of the same ideas, but in a different way that is kind of hard to describe.  In the appendix to this book, the author suggests, "faith-based hard sci-fi", which is certainly interesting.  I didn't enjoy Echopraxia quite as much Blindsight, but then a lot of ideas in this one were over my head.  The two books together are certainly full of fascinating ideas and just beg for multiple re-reads.

Rating: 8.5/10.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Review: A Taste fur Murder

A Taste fur Murder
by Dixie Lyle

Format: Mass Market Paperback, 330 pages
Cover Art: Mary Ann Lasher
Release Date: February 25, 2014
ISBN-13: 978-1250031075

Meet Deirdre “Foxtrot” Lancaster. Trusted employee of eccentric zillionairess Zelda Zoransky, Foxtrot manages a mansion, a private zoo, and anything else that strikes her boss’s fancy. Her job title is Administrative Assistant, but chaos handler would be more accurate. Especially after she glimpses a giant ghost-beast in Zelda’s pet cemetery. For some strange reason, Foxtrot is seeing animal spirits. And, ready or not, in this mystery from Dixie Lyle, the fur’s about to hit the fan…

Still reeling, Foxtrot comes home to find her cat Tango—her dead cat Tango—alive and well and communicating telepathically. But that’s not all: There’s an ectoplasmic dog named Tiny who changes breeds with a shake of his tail…and can sniff out a clue like nobody’s business. So when a coworker drops dead while organizing closets, Tiny is on the case. Can Foxtrot and her new companions ferret out the killer among a menagerie of suspects—human and otherwise—before death takes another bite?

As you can tell from the blurb, A Taste fur Murder is not a typical mystery cozy.  It does seem to be following a trend lately in mainstream mystery and fiction to add a more fantastical element to the story.  In fact, this book might almost have too much supernatural stuff in it as the reincarnated cat and the doggy ghost are hardly the only bits.  It certainly does feel like Foxtrots character and the readers both get thrown in the deep end. 

One of the best elements of the book is the humor, which reading the biography, the author seems to have in spades.  There is a good deal of humorous interaction between the main character and her animal companions.  Foxtrot’s interactions and dialogue with the other humans in the story is also good and well done, though some characters are hardly used at all so few really stand out. 

Where this novel really fails though is in plotting.  There are a couple of big plot holes that are fairly obvious.  Also, many of the logical arguments used in the book are so daft they wouldn’t fool a ten-year-old child.  This means that the main character makes some really stupid decisions that could be solved by just an ounce of common sense.

So, this book may be a mildly diverting read for the casual reader, or someone looking for something a little different with a bit of humor.  However, more discerning readers may want to look elsewhere. 

Rating: 6.5/10.