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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Ringside, 1925: Views from the Scopes Trial - Jen Bryant

One of the most controversial and compelling issues the world has seen is covered in this fictionalized recapturing of the trial that made the world think twice about religion and science: The State of Tennessee vs. J. T. Scopes, also known as the Scopes Trial.

Written in poetic prose, Jen Bryant tells the views of several townspeople, including open-minded youngsters and stern-believing adults, as the trial unfolds in the courts of their small town of Dayton, Tennessee. The unshakable resolve in some and lingering faith in others will cause even the most steadfast of believers to think twice about the situation.

Bryant's straight-forward writing exemplifies the '20s, while the lax format allows even the most uninformed to delve into this book with interest and curiosity. The situation of the trial, Christianity versus Darwin's evolution, may cause some Christian parents to raise an eyebrow if their child checked it out, but it doesn't favor one side or the other; rather, it subtly teaches the American right to religious freedom and acceptance. Some characters stay adamant about their beliefs, while others walk away with a newfound knowledge of themselves and others. An quick, but powerful read.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Skystone - Jack Whyte

The Skystone is a different take on the Arthur legend, beginning before Arthur, Merlin, Galahad and Lancelot supposedly lived, before the Romans abandoned the island of Britain. It is the first book in the Camulod Chronicles.

The story follows Gaius Publius Varrus, a soldier and second in command to his friend, Caius Brittanicus, Roman commander of a large contingent in Britain. From history, we know that the time setting of this book is the decline of the Roman empire. Publius is seriously injured in an ambush by the savages of northern Britain and the story unfolds his new life after his service to the empire. His motivation is to find more of the skystones, stones of ore that produce a strange but almost magical metal. A sword made from this metal would be exquisitely exotic.

Publius becomes entangled in a bloodfeud not originally from his family, but of his friend and compatriot, Brittanicus. The Seneca family and the Brittanicus family have been feuding for several generations and Publius, by sheer accident becomes involved. Along with searching for the skystones, seeking revenge upon a certain young malice from the Seneca tribe is his motivation.

This is a wonderfully written story, full of historical facts about the Roman empire and military, centered in Britain in the mid-4th century. I found the book/series in the fantasy section at my local big box book store. There was no magic involved in this book, but is hinted at for the coming books.

I really liked this book. The author is a master of character and developing relationships with those characters. The book is not as action-packed as some I've read recently, but it kept my attention very well, with well-paced dialogue and excellently written scenes and appropriate sequels.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Divorcing Dwayne - J. L. Miles

If maintaining a marriage is this hard, I ain't never gettin' hitched.

Divorcing Dwayne (which gives part of the story away in the title - it would've been more appropriately called "Dealing with Dwayne") is one hell of a ride. Francine Harper's trying to hold her marriage to Dwayne together, but finding him in bed with town hussy Carla and discovering his plans to open up a topless barbershop with her (because you can never have enough of those in your town) puts quite a bit of strain on Francine's trust. Even more, when his band, the Rocky Bottom River Boys, suddenly go from independent demos to big-movie soundtracks with perhaps a little involvement from the local mobsters, Francine really goes crazy. Put a gun in her hand during all this, and we've got a story fluidly combining a menagerie of genres (chick-lit, suspense, mystery, action, comedy, law) with ease.

Miles' characters are well developed with their unique and catchy personalities (Nanny Lou is a riot), and the plot, though occasionally confusing, is entertaining and filled with twists and turns. Any fan of Sophie Kinsella will enjoy Miles' slang-filled writing in this book.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Sword Song - Bernard Cornwell

Sword Song is the fourth book in the Saxon Tales series of books by Bernard Cornwell. Sword Song tells of Uhtred's personal quest to retake Bebbanburg, his place of birth and his rightful place of rule. But he continues to be sidetracked by the Great historical figure of Alfred, the King of Wessex.

Uhtred, a Saxon, but raised a pagan Dane is a powerful warrior and leader of warriors. But he is not always sure where his allegiances lie. But he has given an oath to Alfred, to fight for Wessex.

The story begins with the marriage of Alfred's daughter, Æthelflaed, to Æthelred, cousin to Uhtred. They are to rule Mercia, leashed to Alfred of Wessex. Æthelred is to fight for Lundene (old term for London, already the largest city in England) as it in the territory of Mercia but is essentially without a ruler.

As Uhtred and Æthelred fight for Lundene and fight against each other, Uhtred is again faced with challenges to his loyalty.

I really enjoyed this book. I feel that the author genuinely has fun with this series. He is witty, smart and poignantly portrays the emotions between the main characters in a gritty and volatile era.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Stonehenge - Bernard Cornwell

Stonehenge is a novel of prehistoric times in which we have no recorded history and little archaeological data. The monument Stonehenge is not the only ancient temple found in Great Britain. There are many scattered across the country.

Having very few facts to derive a story, the author paints a picture of big battle, lust and ego. The story revolves around three brothers: Lengar, the warrior; Camaban, the club-footed madman; and the main character, Saban. As their rivalries grow, so does the need for a grand temple in their homeland. A temple to bring back the favor of the gods.

The author describes many of the processes involved with moving the large stones and the alignment of the stones with the sun and moon in relation to the solstices.

Although this standalone book has little historical events for the modern reader to relate to, the author's character building and plotting is topnotch, implementing love of child and spouse, bloodlust, death and victory.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Seven Sins by Jon Land

I was given an advanced reader copy of Land's new book, The Seven Sins. I have not read any of his books before, but I can guarantee you that I will be buying more.

To Dream, To Dare, To Win. Michael Tiranno's personal motto has driven him to achieve the greatness of which most men just dream. A self made man, fabulously wealthy and famous, Tiranno has created the Seven Sins casino, a lavish resort catering to your every desire.

When terrorists attack Las Vegas, Michael Tiranno is forced to reach into his carefully hidden past to strike back. As he digs into the terrorist plot to destroy Sin City, someone else is uncovering his secrets. Tiranno thought his secrets were buried deep enough to never see the light of day, but now his past is becoming a weapon to destroy everything he loves.

The Seven Sins is a thrilling roller coaster ride from start to finish. The globe spanning tale starts in Vegas but takes you to the Mediterranean Sea, Africa, the Mid East and Far East in Tiranno's quest to save his empire from an old enemy's violent vendetta.

Land has created a sharp character in Tiranno, a good blend tough, no-nonsense attitude and compassion. The Seven Sins is full of rich, dangerous characters doing what dangerous people do best. The action leaps out of every page. I will definately be waiting for the sequal.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Eight Lives Down by Chris Hunter

Eight Lives Down
The Story of the World's Most Dangerous Job
in the World's Most Dangerous Place
By Chris Hunter

Eight Lives Down is the story of a British bomb disposal expert, Major Chris Hunter, and his tour in Basra, Iraq. Major Hunter captures you in the first chapter and you know that this is a journey you will take with him - no matter how frightening or sad. It is a journey with true heroes and not for the faint of heart.

The journey with Major Hunter and his team tells of the bombers that infested Iraq - the bombs, the materials, the forensics and the dismantlement of them. I was hesitant to read it at first, knowing how many have lost their lives to the vile IEDs and their various forms (many of whom are on my side bar, including my friend SGT James Craig). But, I know that those who defuse these bombs have a story that is rarely told and a much higher rate of saved lives than lost lives.

I ended up in awe of the men in this profession. The precision and concentration with which they work is awe inspiring. The detail of knowledge that they must have is impressive, and major Hunter tells of the challenging school he had to attend to do his job. As the team becomes more successful, a price is put on his head. Camera crews show up at incidents to film him and the team hoping to capture images of things going badly. We learn about the forensics - the parts made in Iran, the style of the Chechen's or the IRA or others.

We are allowed a glimpse into the family that the team becomes - the shared laughter and sorrow. Although, I must admit that I did not understand all of the British slang, I did understand the meaning!

We have had some remarkable books come out of the Great War on Terror: Lone Survivor, Rule Number Two, On Call in Hell, My Men are My Heroes. This is definitely another one. It is an intense, but great read. It is well written, and you may find yourself holding your breath in parts of it. It flows as if a story is being told aloud, holding your attention through each sentence. I strongly recommend this book to anyone who wants to understand a part of the story on the ground in Iraq.

To Major Hunter and his team - Thank you - thank you so much for your service, your bravery, and your dedication. The world is a better place because of all of you and I am so grateful.

About the Author: CHRIS HUNTER joined the British Army in 1989 at sixteen. He was commissioned from Sandhurst at twenty-one and later qualified as a counter terrorist bomb disposal operator. He retired in March 2007 from the Defence Intelligence Staff, where he was the Ministry of Defence's senior IED intelligence analyst. He is a former chairman of the Technical Committee of the Institute of Explosives Engineers and continues to serve as a counter terrorism consultant. He works regularly with US military and law enforcement personnel, including a member of government agencies and the US Special Forces. He has served on numerous operations in the Balkans, East Africa, Northern Ireland, Colombia, and Afghanistan and was awarded the Queen's Gallantry Medal for his actions during his tour in Iraq.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Winds of Asharra - Volume 1: First-flight by R Leigh

R. Leigh has written a good book once you open yourself up to what's acceptable in writing and the host of invented words. At first I felt, as a parent, hard to wrap my mind around the concept of two 18 year old college students, Victor and Zoe, being swept away to another world where there was no clothing of any kind. But considering that this is written in as a "Twilight Zone" meet "Star Trek" then you can relax your morals and enjoy the story.
Who would not enjoy living in a sensual world that has no clocks or calenders? No bathrooms to clean, no banks or money. No vehicles or pollution? Everybody on Asharra helps each other and works together. If you need or want anything, you barter for it.
"Visitors" arrive from time to time that are from toher worlds, yet they are not made to feel like outsiders. just because they may look different.
As you follow the story, you will experience joy as well as sadness as they journey from the comfortable world they have always known to teh new and unique world of Asharra. They follow their hearts and find love and true friendship and learn that what you see with your eyes is not always what you see with your heart.
Guest Reviewer- Marijon Logan-Duncan

The Winter Rose by Jennifer Donnelly

Winter Rose starts off a little slow, but once you get past the first few chapters, you are better able to follow the flow of the characters. The prologue is a little bit misleading as you assume the book will be about Lilly Walker. And though some of the first chapters are a little dry, don't give up or you will miss out on a great story of true love, love lost, heroism against all odds, passion, and greed. Not to mention some of the strongest female characters you will ever know.

Don't miss getting to know India, Fiona, Will and Ella. These women will show you what friendship, loyalty, strength, hope, compassion and family are all about. You will follow their trials and tribulations as they strive to succeed in a world that believes women should only follow the guidance of men and should not be free to think for themselves or be considered as equals. You will learn how these women struggle to succeed and surpass women's limitations in early 1900 London.

You will laugh. You will cry. And you will applaud these women and the men who love them.

Guest Reviewer- Marijon Logan-Duncan

Monday, June 2, 2008

Unholy Domain - Dan Ronco

If this is our future, I really can't say I'm looking forward to it all that much.

Dan Ronco spins a riveting futuristic novel packed with action, suspense and a whole lotta robots. And religious nuts - those guys are the fun ones. In 2022, the world lies in the aftermath of the virus that hit the world and its computers a decade before. The accused creator, Ray Brown, is dead, but his son David, possessing a weird ability to communicate with artificial intelligence, lives on, often suffering from his father's indiscretions. But when David receives a preset email from his father claiming his own innocence, David suspects that perhaps his father wasn't behind the world-shattering virus, but a business associate who now prepares and distributes A.I. inventions underground. And with the religious sect called the Church of Natural Humans causing havoc as well, picking off anyone who sneezes in the direction of an A.I., answers don't come as easily for David as he might've originally thought.

Though some character dialogue comes off as a bit too scripted, Ronco's story and writing is solid, providing enough twists and turns for the mystery-favoring reader and enough fist-to-fist action for the James Bond followers. An excellent read.