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Sunday, May 27, 2007

Jade Tiger by Jenn Reese

Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Juno Books (October 1, 2006)
ISBN-10: 080955674X
Price: $12.95

From start to finish Jade Tiger is a page turning adventure. You have it all; romance, mystery, suspense, travel, and some more adventure not to mention some edge of your seat action. Once I picked this on up it was hard to put down.

Shan is half-Chinese and half-American woman who grew up in China as part of a group called the Jade Circle. When they are attacked by an unnamed group who are after the precious jade animals that they take their name and power from Shan and her father are forced to flee.

Once in America both refuse to give up the search for Shan’s mother who stayed behind. Shan studies with different martial arts masters and searches for the missing jade animals hoping that they will somehow reunite her with her mother. When she spots one of the animals in a magazine photograph she tracks it down immediately.

But it turns out that Shan is not the only person looking for the animals of the Jade Circle. So what Shan hoped would be an easy retrieval turns out to be a problem. But with the help of Ian, a professor she saves while trying to rescue the jade animal, and his comic relief friend Buckley Shan is soon flying around the world to discover another missing animal from the Circle.

From there the story takes off. Shan and Ian are a perfect match as they uncover the mysteries surrounding the Jade Circle and the locations of its sacred animals. Along the way women from Shan’s past, members of the Jade Circle, slowly start to come back into her life. Shan must not only recover the animals but prove that she is worthy to do so.

Shan is a great character. Part Laura Croft, Indian Jones, and Bruce Lee she fights her way though the book, and like a good guy every time, not only kicks the bad guy’s rear but gets what she came for too. But while Shan may seem super human she is far from it and it was nice to see that even she could still get hurt or get weak in the knees from a kiss.

Jade Tiger was a lot of fun. Well written and fast paced it moved you along quickly to a satisfying conclusion. I only hope that Jenn Reese’s next book is as good

Friday, May 25, 2007

Circle of Quilters by Jennifer Chiaverini

Circle of Quilters: An Elm Creek Quilts Novel (Elm Creek Quilts Novels)

by Jennifer Chiaverini

ISBN-10: 074326021X

Book 9 in the Elm Creek Quilts Series

As life takes some of the Elm Creek Quilters in different directions, there are openings for instuctors at Camp. We meet the applicants and suffer through their decisions, the assembly of their applications and their interviews.

The new characters are warm and likable, sad and hopeless, and joyful and creative. There histories merge into the circle of quilting and the bonds of creativity and friendship.

Some of the stories are obvious, but you find yourself rooting for the outcome, and welcome them into the Elm Creek Quilters.

I have never been sorry that I picked up the first book in this series in a remainder bin. I still don't quilt, but I get great joy from these books and the characters that are all too human.

Book 1 - A Quilter's Apprentice
Book 2 - Round Robin
Book 3 - The Cross-Country Quilters
Book 4 - The Runaway Quilt
Book 5 - A Quilter's Legacy
Book 6 - The Master Quilter
Book 7 - The Sugar Camp Quilt
Book 8 - The Christmas Quilt

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Christmas Quilt by Jennifer Chiaverini

The Christmas Quilt
by Jennifer Chiaverini

ISBN-10: 0739458817
(not yet released in paperback)

Book 8 in the Elm Creek Quilts Series

This volume takes us back to the relationship between Sylvia and Sarah. Finding the blocks for an unfinshed quilt stuffed in the Christmas decorations, leads to Elm Creek Manor stories from the antebellum era, through the Great Depression and World War II, to the present. All of the quilt blocks are stories of their creators and their times.

As Sylvia and Sarah explore the foundations of the Christmas traditions of Elm Creek Manor, they find that though our traditions may differ, our memories are all about family and friends and the simple virtues of joy and hope buoyed by the spirit of giving.

I especially enjoyed this volume in the series. The presentation of our Christmases and the memories they evoke went from bitter-sweet to joy to sorrow to humorous to contemplative. It was reflective of the many Christmases we have all experienced.

Book 1 - A Quilter's Apprentice
Book 2 - Round Robin
Book 3 - The Cross-Country Quilters
Book 4 - The Runaway Quilt
Book 5 - The Quilter's Apprentice
Book 6 - The Master Quilter
Book 7 - The Sugar Camp Quilt

Tokyo: Exploring the City of the Shogun by Sumiko Enbutsu, Katsuhito Nakazato (Photographer)

Paperback: 68 pages
Publisher: Kodansha International (June 1, 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 4770030339
Price: $ 24.95

I have a friend who grew up in Japan and we have spent hours swapping military brat stories, my own of Spain for hers of Japan. I was fascinated by the images her words brought to mind and I have wanted to visit Japan ever since. But living in a foreign country is completely different from spending a few days there. It can be hard to see and do all the things you would like to but a good guide can help you make decisions.

Tokyo, though very modern and efficient, is an old city. Founded by Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1603 it was first called Edo but was renamed Tokyo in 1868. Tokyo is full of history, having been the center of government, business, and culture for over four hundred years. Exploring the City of the Shogun was designed for the ‘non-Japanese speaking residents and visitors to explore this complex mega-city on their own’ focusing on the historical aspects.

The first thing I noticed about this book is the beautiful photographs taken by Katsuhito Nakazato. Deserted graceful stone bridges, a shelf full of glass bottles containing a rainbow of pigments, or a crowded shopping street; each photograph is lovely.

The book is divided into eight different walks that focus on the Edo period of Tokyo. There is a map of the walk detailing the route which includes the names of buildings and landmarks in English and Japanese forms. As well as the closest station entrance, estimated time of the walk, and estimated distance. It is all rounded out with the interesting history of the area.

The walking directions given seem very detailed and clear. I can’t vouch for them myself since I have not traveled to Tokyo yet but you are given easy landmarks; restaurants with the opening and closing times are included and souvenir shops with a recommendation to visit on monthly fair days. The writing is fresh and always interesting, pointing out landmarks or bring to your attention an over looked shop.

I was very impressed with this walking guide. It has wonderful photographs, key details about the places to visit including the history of the place which really brings what you are seeing to life. How else would you know that one building survived a fire but its neighbor was rebuilt in the 1920’s?

I want to visit Japan more than ever now that I have read Exploring the City of the Shogun; and I know exactly which book I’ll be taking with me for the journey

Matters of the Blood by Maria Lima

Paperback: 248 pages
Publisher: Juno Books (April 11, 2007)
ISBN-10: 0809557908
Price: $12.95

Keria Kelly is not your average girl. For one she isn’t human, sure she looks it, but in reality far from it. What is she exactly? Well she has not found out yet. She could be anything; a shape shifter, a clairvoyant, a mind reader, or a healer. Until her body decides she gets to enjoy a little bit of everything.

Keria belongs to a clan of ‘others’ and her extended family is large with her grandmother at the head bossing everyone around. This among other reasons is why Keria is in Rio Seco a quite little town in Texas Hill Country. Keria is playing babysitter to her human cousin Marty, the outcast in her supernatural family.

Things seem to be on a normal course until two mutilated deer show up at a resort ranch on the outskirts of town. Keria, as part of her change, has been having graphic dreams about the deer and is horrified to learn that they are not just dreams. When Marty calls her and tells her he has to speak to her urgently concerning family business Keria gets a little worried.

As is Keria didn’t have enough to worry about an old flame rolls back into town. Sheriff Carlton Larson is investigating the dead deer and a possible connection to Marty. When he questions Keria it is not all business and Keria tries her best to stop his advances. But the Sheriff is not the only possible love interest here. Adam Walker, owner of the resort ranch, is also walking straight out of Keria’s past and he is a temptation that is harder to resist.

So what used to be a small quite town turns out to be anything but. The mystery that soon takes over Keria’s life is in engrossing and quickly snowballs to something much larger than just two dead deer. Her favorite brother Tucker shows up to complicate matters all the more and her wise cracking best friend Bea provides some comic relief.

Matters of the Blood is a great page turner from first time novelist Maria Lima. Her characters are believable, likeable or dislikeable in some cases. The interaction life like and often grin worthy. As of yet there is not a guarantied continuation of Keria’s story but I will be the first one to pick up one up if there is.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

White Oleander

By Janet Fitch
496 pages
ISBN-10: 0316182540

This book was selected by Oprah's Book Club.

My Thoughts on This Book:
I don't think this book is for everyone. When it was suggested I read it I was cynical. It didn't sound interesting. But, the girl promised I would not be able to put it down. She was right. Rarely do you find a book that puts so many of society's flaws and errors in it. About every chapter I thought to myself, 'Oh man, that is so messed up!" in a Jerry Springer kinda way.
That is why some may not like this read because it really goes a little overboard on the drama. But I liked it, and, as previously mentioned, I couldn't put it down.

From Publishers Weekly
Thirteen-year-old Astrid Magnussen, the sensitive and heart-wrenching narrator of this impressive debut, is burdened with an impossible mother in Ingrid, a beautiful, gifted poet whose scattered life is governed by an enormous ego. When Ingrid goes to prison for murdering her ex-lover, Astrid enters the Los Angeles foster care program and is placed with a series of brilliantly characterized families. Astrid's first home is with Starr, a born-again former druggie, whose boyfriend, middle-aged Ray, encourages Astrid to paint (Astrid's absent father is an artist) and soon becomes her first lover, but who disappears when Starr's jealousy becomes violent. Astrid finds herself next at the mercy of a new, tyrannical foster mom, Marvel Turlock, who grows wrathful at the girl's envy of a sympathetic next-door prostitute's luxurious life. "Never hope to find people who will understand you," Ingrid archly advises as her daughter's Dickensian descent continues in the household of sadistic Amelia Ramos, where Astrid is reduced to pilfering food from garbage cans. Then she's off to the dream home of childless yuppies Claire and Ron Richards, who shower her with gifts, art lessons and the warmth she's been craving. But this new development piques Ingrid's jealousy, and Astrid, now 17 and a high school senior, falls into the clutches of the entrepreneurial Rena Grushenka. Amid Rena's flea-market wares, Astrid learns to fabricate junk art and blossoms as a sculptor. Meanwhile, Ingrid, poet-in-prison, becomes a feminist icon who now has a chance at freedomAif Astrid will agree to testify untruthfully at the trial. Astrid's difficult choice yields unexpected truths about her hidden past, and propels her already epic story forward, with genuinely surprising and wrenching twists. Fitch is a splendid stylist; her prose is graceful and witty; the dialogue, especially Astrid's distinctive utterances and loopy adages, has a seductive pull. This sensitive exploration of the mother-daughter terrain (sure to be compared to Mona Simpson's Anywhere but Here) offers a convincing look at what Adrienne Rich has called "this womanly splitting of self," in a poignant, virtuosic, utterly captivating narrative. Reading group guide; author tour. (Apr.) FYI: An excerpt from the novel was selected as a notable story in Best American Short Stories 1994.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

The Sugar Camp Quilt by Jennifer Chiaverini

The Sugar Camp Quilt
by Jennifer Chiaverini

ISBN-10: 0743260198

Book 7 in the Elm Creek Quilts Series

The book in the series takes us into the world of Creek's Crossing, Pennsylvania prior to the Civil War, with friends and neighbors taking sides in the abolitionist debate.

Dorothea, a young lady in the midst of the arguments and her tormented family life, learns wisdom beyond her years over a quilt she makes. She finds herself in the midst of the Underground Railroad and learns lessons of friendship and honor along the way.

This book is riveting from beginning to end, and provides a view of the times that is valuable in understanding it.

The author, again, creates characters that are quite real - loveable, yet flawed. Her descriptions of the way of life in the mid-1800's are realistic and give you a sense of the work required to live in the times.

Book 1 - A Quilter's Apprentice
Book 2 - Round Robin
Book 3 - The Cross-Country Quilters
Book 4 - The Runaway Quilt
Book 5 - The Quilter's Legacy
Book 6 - The Master Quilter

Jack Mangan's Spherical Tomi

The first thing that stuck out about Jack Mangan’s Spherical Tomi is that is was hard core, cyberpunk science fiction. The second thing was, for a sci-fi novel, it was incredibly easy to read. Spherical Tomi is a strong mix of Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game because of the complicated war strategies, and Ghost in the Machine because most of the characters in Spherical Tomi use disposable bodies called itai instead of their real bodies.

Spherical Tomi begins with a battle where the main character, Tomitsu, and her lover Nez are in a battle against William the Black. Ultimately, Nez is killed and Tomitsu, in a fit of anger, selfishly kills 105 innocent people (in their real bodies). The true target, William the Black, survives.

The story then jumps ahead three years, where Tomitsu, now known as Michi, is a space debris sweeper. She is residing in a black market itai body and has sworn to redeem herself for the mass murders by doing whatever she can to help others. On her new job with partner Jeanette, she finds a minefield in an area where William the Black (the man who killed her lover) is set to pass through. Therein lies the dilemma: will Tomi/Michi protect William the Black so that she can redeem herself or will she risk everything she's worked towards for revenge?

Spherical Tomi is available to order at Creative Guy Publishing but it can also be found at as a free audiobook. I listened to it briefly while at work and I thought it was well performed and easily understandable. So if anyone is looking for a cool way to read while working I highly recommend the audiobook.

Overall, Spherical Tomi was expertly written and it was full of action, tension, regret, redemption and forgiveness. I fell in love with Tomi and I found it hard to believe that a man could write such a brilliantly, strong and complex woman and at the same time seamlessly blend hard core sci-fi, action, and plot.

Go to for information about the author and subscribe to Deadpan, Mangan's weekly podcast.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Master Quilter by Jennifer Chiaverini

The Master Quilter

By Jennifer Chiaverini

ISBN-10: 0452284686

Book 6 in the Elm Creek Quilts Series

Sylvia quietly plans her wedding without her friends knowledge. When her friends discover her secret, they begin one of their own. Her friends wish to honor Sylvia and Andrew with yet another surprise - a wedding quilt. They contact former Elm Creek Quilt Campers to get the 140 squares needed for the quilt. They wait in secretive anticipation for the sqaures to arrive so that they can assemble the quilt.

The secrecy is deeper than the topic of the quilt and the secrets in the lives of these friends threaten to tear apart the unity and friendship that they have so enjoyed. They once again relearn the lessons that we all need to be reminded of - honestly, loyalty and friendship.

Book 1 - A Quilter's Apprentice

Book 2 - Round Robin

Book 3 - The Cross-Country Quilters

Book 4 - The Runaway Quilt

Book 5 - The Quilter's Legacy

Monday, May 21, 2007

A Quilter's Legacy by Jennifer Chiaverini

A Quilter's Legacy
By Jennifer Chiaverini

ISBN-10: 0452284678

Book 5 in the Elm Creek Quilts Series

The continued interweaving of history, quilting, families and friends continues in this volume.

Sylvia begins a search for her Mother's quilts - quilts sold by her sister decades before. In searching for the quilts she uncovers more of the family history, including the flu epidemic of 1918. Her search leads her on a cross-country journey with the man she has come to love and wishes to marry.

While the search was begun to find the quilts, what Sylvia finds is the history of her Mother's life that she knew little of. She also learns that love is not impossible despite her age, though others acceptance of it might be more challenging, just as it was for her mother.

Book 1 - A Quilter's Apprentice
Book 2 - Round Robin
Book 3 - The Cross-Country Quilters
Book 4 - The Runaway Quilt

Sunday, May 20, 2007

The Runaway Quilt by Jennifer Chiaverini

The Runaway Quilt
by Jennifer Chiaverini

ISBN-10: 0452283981

Book 4 in the Elm Creek Quilts Series

This volume in the series finds Sylvia going through the attic and finding antique quilts and journal of her ancestor, Gerda, which describes the Civil War ear and the family's role in the Underground Railway and the use of quilts to that end.

In this volume, we learn a great deal about the history of the family and Elm Creek Manor and the heritage of quilts throughout the country.

This is a fascinating look at a little known chapter in history.

Book 1 - A Quilter's Apprentice
Book 2 - Round Robin
Book 3 - The Cross-Country Quilters

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Cross-Country Quilters by Jennifer Chiaverini

The Cross-Country Quilters
by Jennifer Chiaverini

ISBN-10: 0452283086

3rd in the Elm Creek Quilts Series

Elm Creek Quilts Camp is in full swing. Quilters come from across the country to take classes, seek inspiration and joy in their craft and to make new friends. The unity of quilting unites people who would never meet otherwise.

Five quilters who attend camp decide to make a challenge quilt;
each will design blocks that represent their lives and goals and share them when they reunite at Camp the next year.

As we follow them through the year, what keeps them going through the trials of life is the friendship that is interwoven in the stitches of their quilts and the promises they made one another before they stitched their quilts.

Book 1 - A Quiler's Apprentice
Book 2 - Round Robin

Casino Royale by Ian Fleming

Casino Royale (James Bond Novels)

I'll admit that I read this book because I liked the movie so much. Casino Royale was so much more a movie than 007 movies of recent past that I found myself wanting to see what the book was like. As with most books that are made into movies, the story is either truncated, embellished or otherwise changed for the screen, but the general concept of the story is similar.

James Bond is a young agent in the British Intelligence Service and is assigned to gamble at the casino in Royale. He is attempting to uncover and neutralize a high-stakes Russian spy known as "Le Chiffre".

There are other agents involved from different countries but another British agent from another section, the beautiful Vesper, shows up at the casino. Bond begins to fall for her when he knows he shouldn't. But Vesper is different from the other romantic flings he's had in his fast-paced life in service.

The pace ramps up as both Vesper and Bond are captured. Bond is tortured by Le Chiffre in a way that will make all men cringe in pain. This torture scene, by the way, is quite the same in the movie. As his recovery progresses, he states that he is quitting the service, embellishing on his take on the nature of evil. Bond and Vesper go off to a secluded villa and spend time together but it is quickly spoiled by distance and Bond finds out that Vesper is not all she seems to be.

The Children of Húrin by J.R.R. Tolkien (edited by Christopher Tolkien)

Buy The Children of Hurin at
Húrin is a Man, a king, living towards the end of the First Age, by Middle-Earth reckoning. He is unfortunate to bear the brunt of Morgoth's conquest. Húrin is captured and a curse is placed on his family. His son, Túrin, is main focus of the story. Túrin is a brooding warrior, much like his mother. His affect is wrought early by the death of his lovely sister, Urwen. As a youth, he is forced from his home and is fostered in the forest halls of Thingol, a king of elves. He will soon have a sister, for as he departs, his mother is with child.

Túrin soon becomes very wise in the ways of the forest and the world as taught by the elves, but he still bears the curse of Morgoth and is a bitter friend to the elves. His adventures take him through battles and strained partnerships across Middle-Earth. He has taken The Black Sword, a cursed blade, and is effective with it in his battles. But the curse also is deadly to friends of the bearer. As the Orcs of Morgoth spread across the land, Túrin lands in Nargothrong, another elven stronghold, and becomes the military leader. He is soon confronted with Glaurung, the Great Worm, the father of the dragons.

Túrin's death, along with his sister, Niënor, and mother's death fulfill the tragedy of the curse placed upon Húrin's family.

The Children of Húrin is one of J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-Earth projects that never fully made it to the world until after his death. His son, Christopher, has been the executor of his father's library of works and has previously produced works like The Silmarillion. The tale of Túrin was a favorite of Tolkien's. As Christopher explains in the Introduction and in the Appendices, his father's background works (Lost Tales, Silmarillion, Húrin) were often interrupted by other more popular works, like The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, but he was always wanting to make his fantasy world very rich with tales of people and their triumphs and tragedies.

As in most recent publishings, Alan Lee is the artist for the books. Lee is a master at capturing the essence of the stories with his illustrations.

After reading other, more modern books, it's takes a moment to orient myself to the older language of Tolkien, but it is a very pleasurable thing to turn the pages of his romantic writing. Tolkien's mastery of words and names (real and made up) brings its own illustrations in your mind and you follow his characters. This is an excellent story of a tragedy that took place at a pivotal point in the history of Middle-Earth.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Round Robin by Jennifer Chiaverini

Round Robin by Jennifer Chiaverini

ISBN-10: 0452282276

2 in the Elm Creek Quilts Series

A Round Robin Quilt is one that is handed around to several quilters who each add to the craft and the design and the theme, interweaving their ideas and lives into one creation.

Elm Creek Manor has become a haven for quilters and a school to teach quilting. A group of friends, the Elm Creek Quilters, has started a Camp for quilters. The Elm Creek Quilters have decided to create a quilt for Sylvia. As the quilt is passed from quilter to quilter, their stories and the history of Elm Creek Manor continue to evolve.

Once again, we meet very real women who are united by their love of quilting and allow that love to overcome their vast differences.

"..a continuing tale of friendship and loyalty in which quilting is a bountiful metaphor for the way we stitch our lives together, piece by imperfect piece."

Buy Round Robin (Elm Creek Quilters Novels) at

Book 1 in the series A Quilter's Apprentice.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Quilter's Apprentice by Jennifer Chiaverini

A Quilter's Apprentice by Jennifer Chiaverini

1st Book in the Elm Creek Quilts Series

ISBN 0452281725

I picked up this book from the remainders bin several years ago. Little did I know that I would be embarking on a journey that still continues. I am not a quilter, though I admire those who are. As a spinner and knitter, I understand the tactile pleasure and the creative expression. So, my interest was in the story of people who shared this love.

A Quilter's Apprentice begins the journey of Sarah McClure and her husband. Moving to a new town, Sarah finds herself without a job and with few prospects. She takes a job with Sylvia Compson, a seventy-five year old who is sorting through the family home from which she was long estranged, for eventual sale. Sylvia is bitter and lonely. Sarah is desperately unhappy. Sarah trades some of her salary for quilting lessons from Sylvia.

Sylvia slowly confides the history of Elm Creek Manor and the tribulations of World War II that tore the family apart with tragedy, betrayal and jealousy. Sarah comes to terms with the uncomfortable truths about her own family.

Through the sorting of the house and the quilting lessons, a bond of friendship and trust develops between the two women, who came to the relationship with little in common. As they both learn to forgive themselves and to live life forwards, rather than backwards, joy enters their lives, which are now changed forever.

The characters are strong women with likable traits and vivid flaws. They are people we know. We share their pains and sorrows and we celebrate their victories.

This series can be read out of order, but it is more enjoyable to read in order, as the characters develop and change.

Monday, May 14, 2007

The Gypsy Madonna by Santa Montefiore

Buy The Gypsy Madonna at

Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Touchstone (March 27, 2007)
ISBN-10: 0743278895
Price: $15.00

Santa Montefiore says that ‘with each book I try to create a world that is exotic, sensual and full of colorful characters.’ The Gypsy Madonna, her sixth book, is no exception. From the first page to the last her words paint a picture of a time and place that is unforgettable.

The majority the of story centers around Mischa’s unhappy childhood living in a château just outside the sleepy French town of Maurilliac. His mother Anouk is a servant of the château turned hotel for wealthy guests and Mischa, only six, helps where he can. What sounds idyllic is far from it.

Everyone in the town is hateful towards Mischa and his mother and soon the reader learns why. The year is 1948, just a few years after the end of World War II, and Mischa is half French and half German. During the war Anouk had fallen in love with a German officer and they were married in secret. But once the war was over Anouk and Mischa were left on their own with the town and its people against them.

Mischa’s childhood is unhappy but with a few bright spots. An American woman who comes to Maurilliac to remember her fiancé who died liberating the town is six-year-old Mischa’s first love. The old man who cares for the vines of the château is a sort of father figure for awhile, supporting Mischa and Anouk as best he can. The one friend Mischa has from town, Claudine and her toothy grin.

Then Coyote, a charming American, is blown into town by the wind. Everything changes for Mischa and Anouk with Coyote’s arrival; suddenly the other servants in the château and the people of the town are being civil. In Mischa’s eyes Coyote is pure magic.

Coyote takes Anouk and Mischa to America with him, stealing away together in the middle of the night without any good-byes. At first their lives in America are everything they had dreamed but soon a shadow falls over this small and happy group. Mischa learns that people are not always what they present themselves to be.

Years later, with his mother's death, Mischa discovers that Anouk has given a priceless Titian to the Metropolitan Museum. But where has this priceless piece of artwork come from? Mischa decides to face the demons of his past and discover how exactly his mother came to have the Titian.

The Gypsy Madonna is a wonderful story of redemption and the fact that it is never too late to make changes in life. True love is always worth fighting for and no matter what choices a person has made they are still capable of that love. Mischa is a very human character, and there are aspects of his personality that many people could find in their own. In the end everything is wrapped up nicely and all the secondary characters are accounted for.

There is nothing I like more than finding an author that I enjoy with several books to their name. After reading The Gypsy Madonna I’ll keep my eyes open for the rest of her work.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Soprano Sorceress by L.E. Modesitt

Anna Marshall was a not quite big-time opera singer in Ames, Iowa. She taught music and generally led a frustrated life. That is until she is transported from Earth to Erde, another world with a medieval, male-dominated setting that is full of magic and spells. Erde is a place where vocal music is magic.

As Anna comes to terms with her situation, she realizes that she has a great power in her voice. She finds that she is able to cool and clean her drinking water; influence other people, i.e. keeping men off of her that plan to rape or kill her; turn people to fire and ash; and even move the very ground of Erde to bury an enemy.

There is an evil movement going on. The Dark Ones in Ebra are mobilizing forces to attack Defalk and then the entire continent of Liedwahr after that. They have already altered the weather to dry out many areas of Liedwahr. As Anna finds out about this, it becomes clear to her that she must do what she can to repel and defeat this enemy…which almost boggles her mind, for just weeks before, she was on Earth struggling to make her way through the politicking of the musician’s world. Anna must seek out those in power who will not try to kill her due to her gender and her power, and gather enough knowledge of this strange world so that she can defeat the evil ones.

This is a pretty entertaining concept for a novel series. It takes a good story to pull it off, though. I was somewhat skeptical at first because of the musician/sorceress concept, but the author uses a well-seasoned woman character to try to bring a new social structure to a backward world and keep from using her newfound talents in every situation. She finds out, as most fantasy authors write about magic, that using magic has its price.

I had several laughs at some things that the author included in this fantasy book. He mentions KFC, an El Reno motel (that’s in Oklahoma), “On the Road Again” by Willie Nelson and even has rearranged the lyrics to the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” in order to defeat an enemy. Great stuff!!

The Soprano Sorceress is the first book in The Spellsong Cycle series by L.E. Modesitt, Jr. There are currently five books in the series.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Mercury by Ben Bova

Mercury: Planet Novel #4 (The Grand Tour) is Ben Bova's fourth planetary sci-fi novel, preceded by Jupiter, Venus and Saturn. In this book, Bova incorporates his usual suspects of plots: nanotechnology, planetary travel, evil corporations, romance and a troubled protagonist. It's a fast read, if somewhat predictable.

The book is divided into four sections.

It starts on the planet Mercury with Dante Alexios working for corporate mogul, Saito Yamagata (a carryover character from previous Bova books), to harness energy from the sun on the planet. Little does he know that he is one of three people with a past connection...and that Dante Alexios is not really Dante Alexios, but Mance Bracknell, an exile for the murder of millions of people.

The next section goes back in time ten years to when Mance Bracknell was a talented engineer and was the leader of the project to raise a space elevator near Quito, Ecuador. The elevator was successfully built but sabotage brought the tower down and caused the deaths of over 4 million people. Mance was quickly scapegoated in the courts and exiled from Earth.

We then follow Mance in his quest to escape his exile. He is sent to the mining center on Ceres, in the Asteroid Belt, where he is picked up to work on a transport vessel. After an attack he is able to escape and change his identity to Dante Alexios. He has almost forgotten his past when he hears about Yamagata's plan for capturing energy from the sun on Mercury. He plans his revenge.

The final section brings the reader back to the present on Mercury as Mance/Dante carries out his revenge on Victor Molina, a former friend, astrobiologist and colleague in the space elevator project and betrayer at his trial; Bishop Elliot Danvers, the New Morality representative who ratted out secrets of the project; and ultimately Yamagata, who he thinks secretly ordered the elevator razed.

This was a pretty quick read featuring some neat science. The space elevator has been done before by Arthur C. Clark and Kim Stanley Robinson, but it still is quite awe-inspiring. Nanotech is a recurring theme is most of Bova's latest books, especially since the Moon series. I was somewhat disappointed with the ending. I think the author was trying to leave some openings for a sequel, but the protagonist's revenge seemed unsatisfying and incomplete. Otherwise, it's a good solid novel by a respected sci-fi writer.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

Mere Christianity is a classic non-fiction book comprised of three radio broadcasts from the World War II era in Britain. WWII was a devastating time for people of the Christian faith and C.S. Lewis aired Broadcast Talks (1942), Christian Behaviour (1943) and Beyond Personality (1944) for the people and troops of Britain during the war. These three talks were put to paper and put together to make Mere Christianity. The book is made from three broadcasts, but it is divided logically into four books.

Book 1 is entitled "Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe". In this book, Lewis goes into the fundamental reasons why there is a God and that moral right and wrong, in its basic sense, is proof that God exists. He doesn't get much into the Creation vs. evolution debate although he does touch on it at times. Book 1, along with Book 2, are Lewis' strongest statements in favor of the Christian God and of Christianity.

Book 2, "What Christians Believe", is the argument of the central Biblical truth that Jesus Christ became man and actually died to atone for our sins. As an apologist (someone who systematically defends the faith with logic, reason and science), Lewis breaks down other non-Christian religions, shows that mankind cannot save itself from its own evil (referring to Book 1) and presents the solution to man's evil in the man of Jesus and his death for our sins and also what it takes to believe in the Christian way.

Book 3, "Christian Behaviour", describes what happens after you believe. How do you act as a Christian? Are you supposed to act different? How different are you supposed to act in relation to non-believers? Does that even matter? This book, in a way, revisits Book 1 and its descriptions of moral rights and wrongs, but under the light of a Christian life and not just for morality's sake. Some of the topics he covers in this chapter are social morality, Christian marriage, psychoanalysis, sexual immorality, faith, hope and charity.

In Book 4, entitled "Beyond Personality: Or First Steps in the Doctrine of the Trinity", builds on Book 3 in that it studies the way Christianity is spread, the Doctrine of the Trinity (one God in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit) and the cost to be a Christian. Is it hard or easy? Or both? This book deals with some harder and deeper topics in Christianity.

One of the themes that is found throughout Mere Christianity is that C.S. Lewis compares various topics in Christian belief to everyday occurrences and objects that we are very familiar with. But he almost always will note that there is a point where the analogy breaks down. In this, he shows that Christianity is unique in this world and when paired with the logic of God's existence, it is very compelling evidence.

In his preface, Lewis states that he intentionally is refraining from discussions that separate out different Christian denominations. That type of discussion would have been detrimental to any push for logic in Christianity. That doesn't change the fact that there are different Christian doctrines, but his focus with Mere Christianity was to nail down the central premises of Christian belief.

C.S. Lewis, after converting from atheism to theism and then to Christianity, championed apologetics to skeptics. In his many books, he tackles difficult problems that seem to go against the argument for a Christian life. He is most famous for his fantasy allegory of the Bible's central theme in The Chronicles of Narnia.