Monday, December 29, 2008

"New Moon" The Twilight Saga book 2 - by Stephenie Meyer

New Moon
The Twilight Saga book 2
by Stephenie Meyer
audiobook read by Ilyana Kadushin
Published by Little, Brown Young Readers (August 21, 2006)

As many of you know I'm a sucker for a good vampire story (ha, sucker...vampire). So I've decided to give this Twilight Saga series a read, and I can say that they aren't bad. I knew going into this reading adventure that I was diving into adolescent fiction, but hey, Harry Potter was very entertaining and Lemony Snicket's "Unfortunate Events" books kept me in stitches, so the adolescent fiction can sometimes be a real treat.

I'm still on the fence on this one but I will say that during the moments of tension and thrills the author kept me reading with a fervor that makes these books worth reading. BUT (I know everyone's got a big BUT), the main character, Bella Swan, is a typical mopey teenage girl, that uses her teenage girly wiles to get what she wants. At times I just wanted to slap this wanna be Emo girl. But she did represent a fairly large slice of the psyche of teen angst, especially in this installment of the Twilight Saga, "New Moon."

In this novel Bella (the mopey human girl) and Edward Cullen(the beautiful, moody vampire) compare and contrast their lives with Romeo and Juliet. Bella has to watch the movie for her English class and uses this as a stall tactic to keep from going to her birthday party the Cullen's (family of vampires) have planned for her. You see, Bella doesn't want to age any more she wants to be eternally 17 like Edward, but Edward does not want Bella to become a vampire. Edwards reasoning behind this is that he believes vampire's souls are damned and he doesn't want to damn Bella. At the end of the Romeo and Juliet movie Edward states he doesn't want to live in a world without Bella.

Eventually she goes to the party and is showered with gifts. As she opens one of the gifts she gets a paper cut. Typically not a problem, actually at most parties it would be a source of a joke, but in a house where the folks live off blood and the smell of blood can encourage an attack, this creates problems. One of the Cullen family is still trying to get used to the not feeding on humans and only animals (vegetarian vampires), and goes to attack Bella at the smell of her blood.

This fiasco shows the Cullen's that their living in the same town as her creates a constant danger to her life and decide it's time to move on. The family leaves and Bella is thrown into several months of depression in which her dad, who she refers to with his first name, Charley, rather than calling him dad, finally decides he doesn't know how to handle this depression and threatens to send her back to live with her mom. This motivates Bella a little so she becomes a little more active with her social life. During these months of depression she has also made herself a bit of an outcast with her friends at school, and surprises one by inviting her to go to a movie.

After the movie Bella comes to walk near a bar where some neighborhood ruffians are hanging out and being the target of constant danger and accidents, she walks too close to the guys and as she does she hears Edwards voice in her head warning her to watch out. After she clears what could have been danger she realizes that in order to hear the sweet voice of Edward the only thing she can do now is put herself in danger.

Within a few days she sees a school mate is giving away 2 motorcycles, she knows that Charley has always forbidden the riding of motorcycles and they potential danger they hold, so she takes them. In comes Jacob Black, a minor character in the first book and member of the Quileute Indian nation. Jacob has a talent for fixing vehicles so she gets him to fix up the bikes and show her to ride. Side note here; this is one of the areas that really ticked me off. Bella played on Jacob's emotions and crush on her to get him to do what she wanted, fix bikes and teach her to ride. Jacob is smitten with Bella and that is his weak spot with her. So thinking she likes him he does what she wants.

The nice turn in this part of the story is that Jacob, being a member of the Quileute nation, soon becomes a shapeshifter/werewolf. According to legend the werewolves protect the tribe from vampires.

Jacob and his pack of other werewolves rescue Bella from a rogue vampire, Laurent, who we met in book one. Laurent is out to find Bella so the other vampire in their pack, Victoria, can kill her. This is revenge for Edward killing Victoria's mate, James.

Victoria continues to hunt for Bella, which leads to many dead bodies and the community is out looking for large wolves. The wolves are seen leaving the kill sites as they try to track down the bloodsucker. Bella is kept on the reservation while the wolves hunt. During the boredom Bella decides to try to hear Edward's voice again (it's all in her head, by the way) so she decides cliff-diving is dangerous enough.

One of the Cullen's, Alice, has a talent for seeing the future and sees this dangerous activity as Bella committing suicide and succeeding. Word get's out to Edward about Bella's "death" and he heads to Italy to get an ancient family of vampires to kill him. Remember the Romeo and Juliet reference?

Bella must now hurry to Italy with Alice to prevent Edward's suicide.

The events in Italy create an interesting outcome that affects the remaining 2 books in the series, and honestly I can't wait to read them. Make sure you note I'm on Team Jacob and not Team Edward.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Proven Guilty The Dresden Files, Book 8 by Jim Butcher Published 2006 by ROC

Proven Guilty
The Dresden Files, Book 8
by Jim Butcher
Published 2006 by ROC

Things just never get easy for Harry Dresden. The White Council who always had it out for him has recently mad Harry a Warden for the White Council (basically the police force for the wizarding community). You'd think with this promotion Harry Dresden, wizard/private investigator, would be more accepted. But at the beginning of this book, Proven Guilty, a trial is being held for a young man that has used magic to influence the mind of a human, this not only breaks one of the 7 laws of magic but also uses black magic which can bring harm the user. As with most trials conducted by the White Council the youth is found guilty,declared a warlock and sentenced quickly. There is only one sentence for breaking the laws; DEATH.

The White Council held this trial in Chicago to make sure Harry saw the outcome. Harry remarks how blood does not stain the gray cloaks of the wardens as he is forced to watch the beheading of the warlock.

With this impression made Harry and the rest of the council depart. Most go off to continue the war with the Red Court Vampires, others go off to continue their duties. Harry in the meantime is contacted by The Gatekeeper, a higher up Council member that through some mysterious method of sending a message from the future asks Harry to investigate some black magic going on in Chicago.

Before I go too much further I would like to talk about the Dresden Files series in general. I've said before that Jim Butcher has created one of the best series of myth / magic / and mayhem with this series. One of the things that makes these books so good is they always start out with some big event grab you and you have no choice but to hang on and enjoy the ride. Proven Guilty is no exception. Without giving too much of a spoiler hereI will point out that the beginning and the end of this book is perfectly bookended and not only comes full circle but hits with some great life lessons. In fact I love the way Jim Butcher through Harry Dresden turns the Parable of the Talents from they Holy Bible into the catch phrase of Stan Lee's Spider-Man, "With great power comes great responsibility."

Back to the story...the black magic Harry has to track down seems to be occurring at "Splatter-Con" a convention held in Downtown Chicago celebrating the art of horror movies. Creatures from the movies are coming to life and attacking the patrons of "Splatter-Con." One of the many talents of Jim Butcher is to be able to write some wit and humor into these stories, in fact Harry Dresden wouldn't be worth reading about if it weren't for the quality of "wise-assness." During some of the magical battle scenes with some of the more popular creatures, Harry Dresden quotes the movies with some great tact and fun reactions.

The creatures creating the monsters are known as fetches, they are from the "Nevernever" and they feed off fear. The fetches have come for the daughter of Michael Carpenter, Michael is a Knight of the Cross...yes THE CROSS...and is God's swordsman (one of 2 left). It seems that Michaels daughter, Molly,has some magic abilities and the fetches abduct her. Now it is up to Harry to rescue her.

With a rescue party that features, Karrin Murphy of Chicago PD, Harry's half-brother/ White Court vampire, Thomas and Molly's mother, Charity, Harry follows the fetches into Arctis Tor, the castle of the Winter Queen and fights off the fetches, the faerie and fae of Winter's court, the Erlking and many more to come to an exciting climax which then forces Harry to bring Molly in to a trial with the White Council.

For some great action, thrills, chases and everything that makes a great read the Dresden Files is the perfect series, and Proven Guilty fits into the series offering even better action, thrills, chases and everything mythical and magical.

Friday, December 19, 2008

"Reunion in Death" by J. D. Robb Published by Berkley, 2002

"Reunion in Death"
by J. D. Robb
Published by Berkley, 2002 

Once again Nora Roberts, er...ummm...I mean J.D. Robb has created a exciting futuristic detective novel in the "...in Death" series.  This book, like most of the other books in this series, starts out running and never lets up until the villain is caught.  (Not much of a spoilere there, really, because Lt. Eve Dallas, NYPSD always gets her man, or in this case woman.)
 
Before I get to the meat of the story of this book I would like to point out a few things.  The characters in this series of books are awesome!  They are so realistic and their relationships are very human and work well to show the human side to drama.  The action in these books usually is up and down but with this one it never lets up. 

I really only have one complaint with these books but really it's not much of one.  It has to do with the graphic sex scenes throughout all the books in this series.  I understand Eve and Roarke really love each other and are a very physical married couple and I understand that Nora Roberts is a romance writer, but jeez, enough already.  These books are perfect science-fiction detective novels with great character development but I feel the books are cheapened by the bodice-ripping sex scenes.  I keep looking for Fabio on the cover.  I have a hard time convincing people to keep reading these books when they get to the sex scenes.  Some of the scenes described could make a Licensed Companion (LC) blush.  In the future prostitution is legal as long as they are licensed.  It really is for me an abrupt stop in the story when Eve and Roarke start having sex and the details of such scene is drawn out in explicit detail.  Okay yeah I know now after reading most of the series to skip ahead about 10 pages, but .....c'mon!
 
One other thing but this is on the cool side of stuff.  For anyone who has read any of the novels or my reviews, you know that Lt. Eve Dallas' husband Roarke owns nearly everything on and off planet.  But in this novel we learn he has  a holodeck.   How cool is that?  A holodeck!  I love this guy.

Okay, here's the story. In this book Lt. Eve Dallas and her husband Roarke return to New York rested from a vacation. Eve is eager to get back to work in the madness and mayhem that is homicide in NYPSD. When she returns to her desk she finds her office has been cleaned and painted and all her paperwork filed. Is it pixies? Nope, Officer Peabody took initiative and finished all pending paperwork and cleaned Eve's office while she was away, but only after Peabody and EDD Detective McNabb came back from a vacation funded by Roarke.

Since there are no pending cases or paperwork, Eve opens up the cold case file and finds one that seems solvable, and proceeds to give Peabody her first case to fly solo on. But just as they return from interview a dead woman's husband there's a ruckus in the bull pen in homicide division and a faint smell of baked goods....hey, cops and doughnuts, even in the future they go hand in hand. Anyway, the baked good culprits are Officer Peabody's parents dropping in for a surprise visit. The visiting Peabodys wrangle their way in to staying in Eve's & Roarke's mansion. Now Eve has to do the one thing she detests most, entertain guests.

Luckily she becomes busy when a man is murdered and Eve is called on the case. The man was poisoned at his birthday party in plain sight of all the guests. Eve soon learns that one of the catering staff left the scene. The staff member is identified as Julianne Dunn, a woman who Eve had put in prison for murdering her three husbands, a black widow who likes to poison her husbands and take off with their riches.

This time Julianne Dunn is seeking revenge on Eve, the only woman that ever bested her. To do so she targets Roarke but before she takes away Eve's man she sends the Eve and her staff chasing red herrings, other murdered men that fit no pattern.

What turns out to be a global romp with great action and great detective work "Reunion in Death" is another superb sci-fi cop thriller that can get you hooked on this series. So if you like/don't mind the sex scenes go ahead and read them but if you think they are just fluff and serve little purpose (like i do) skip over them and enjoy an action packed thriller.


 
 

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

"Valis" by Philip K. Dick audiobook review


Philip K. Dick
Valis
Read by Tom Weiner
Blackstone Audio
Approx. 8 1/2 hours
Audiobook published 2008

Valis is the first of Philip K. Dick's three final novels (the others are Divine Invasion and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer) and seem to cover PKD's final days searching for the meaning of life within religion. This book fits not only into the science fiction category, but could also fall easily into the philosophy realm, because the book consists of the main character discussing the origin of God and the purpose of life while suffering through mental illness.

The reader, Tom Wiener, has a very pleasant voice that adds a bit of a feel of authority while reading through the many sections. The book covers times when the main character is locked up in a county mental hospital, writing and quoting from his exegesis (his book on trying to find God), hanging out with his friends and discussing theology and finally meeting what could be the messiah of our time. When Weiner reads the scripture-like quotes from the exegesis they sound like real scripture being read from a pulpit, which definitely makes listening to this book more interesting and easier to absorb the philosophies.

Valis takes place in the 70s in the United States, and may be semi-autobiographical. One hint at the autobiographical feel is that the book is written in both first and third person. In first person the narrator refers to himself as Philip the sci-fi writer and refers back to some of his books. When the narrator shifts to third person he refers to the character Horselover Fat. It is revealed that Horselover Fat is actually part of PKD's schizophrenic split personality and all his friends treat them as 2 different people and hope for him to be cured eventually. Another semi-autobiographical aspect is in the name Horselover Fat. "Horselover" is English for the Greek word philippos (Φίλιππος), meaning "lover of horses" (from philo "brotherly or comradely love" and hippos "horse"); "Fat" is English for the German word "dick".

Valis is about a group of friends' search for God, who turns out to be a virus, a joke, and a mental hologram transmitted from an orbiting satellite. The friends are very reminiscent of the friends in the book "A Scanner Darkly," especially in their very humorous dialogues about God. Basically the friends are all former stoners who have stopped doing dope and now have philosophy as their new drug.

The main character of the novel, Horselover Fat, is thrust into a theological quest when he receives communion in a burst of pink laser light. From the mental ward of a bay area hospital to the ranch of a fraudulent charismatic religious figure/rock musician where they confront the Messiah: a two-year old named Sophia. She confirms their suspicions that an ancient, mechanical intelligence orbiting the earth has been guiding their discoveries. who turns out to have a direct com link with God,

Truly, Valis is an eye-opening look at the nature of consciousness and divinity as PKD leads us down the twisted paths of Gnostic belief, mixed with his own bizarre and compelling philosophy. For an exciting sci-fi trip through theology and philosophy with some great humor thrown in pick up Blackstone Audio's recording of Valis by Philip K. Dick.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Academ's Fury Book two of the Codex Alera by Jim Butcher

Jim Butcher
Academ's Fury Book two of the Codex Alera
Read by Kate Reading
Penguin Audio
Approx. 21 hours
Audiobook published 2008

Jim Butcher wanted to create what he called a "sword and horses" novel and the Codex Alera series is that and more. This high fantasy series  is very successful in creating a new world where swords are the weapon of choice and the horse is one of the main transportation methods. However, Butcher did not limit himself to these two concepts when creating his world. Other weapons include furies, a type of sorcery using the elements. The furies are also the answer to transportation as well as communication and medical arts. Basing all this on the ideals of the Roman Legionnaires, Butcher's writing not only provides excellent battle scenes but great characters that live in a four dimensional universe. Academ's Fury builds on that foundation and not only pushes the series along but also is an intriguing read in and of itself.

The narrator, Kate Reading, has a touch of a British accent that brings a classic quality to the book. Her accent gives this sword and sorcery novel the feel of an Arthurian tale. At the same time, she provides the perfect level of emotion during the warm moments of love between the characters and, when needed, bursts of excitement during the novel's tense battles. She can deliver lump-in-the-throat speeches as well as screaming enemy attacks.

Academ's Fury picks up 2 years after the events in the book, Furies of Calderon. The hero, Tavi, lacks the ability to control the furies (fury crafting), making him a "freak" in Alera.. Studying to become a cursor, or messenger, for the First Lord (Emperor) of Alera, Tavi learns the job also requires becoming a spy and a warrior.  As his studies near their end a new danger comes to the capitol of Alera, where the First Lord resides and is the home for the acadamy Tavi is attending. This new danger is in the form of a being known as the Vord.

The Vord is an insect-like race also referred to as shapeshifters. The Vord gain control of the body and mind of an enemy, creating a zombie with a Vord mind to battle their enemies. This tactic is a demoralizing weapon because the body taken over by the Vord, perhaps a loved one or even a child, becomes a treacherous killer. In any great story a hero will have his ultimate villain, Batman has the Joker, Spider-Man has Venom. Jim Butcher has created one of the most ultimate nemeses of all time with this race of Vord. They are powerful, dark and complex.

Tavi awakened the Vord in the first novel in the Codex Alera, Furies of Calderon, by spilling some of his own blood on the Vord nest in the wax forest. This not only awakened the Vord but also made Tavi a target. When the Vord expands its community it separates into 3 queens, which move to different locations and set up new nests to conquer all life in that area.

Duroga, a clan leader of the Murat, has come to warn Tavi's uncle of the danger after destroying one of the three nests. The other two must be destroyed or all of Alera will fall. One nest is in Calderon Valley the other is seeking Tavi in the capitol city.

While this new danger is going on there also exists the beginnings of a civil war in Alera due to the First Lord having no heir. So with complications of politics piling on top of the pending destruction of humanity, Tavi must use his wits and strength to save Alera.

This book is cram-packed with excitement that will keep you up until you hear the final sentence, and even there you will be reaching for the next novel in the series.

Monday, December 08, 2008

"Dead Beat" Book 7 of the "Dresden Files" by Jim Butcher

"Dead Beat"
Book 7 of the "Dresden Files"
by Jim Butcher
published by ROC, 2005


Once again Jim Butcher has created a great novel of suspense, action, thrills, and dare I say... a little romance, featuring the coolest wizard of all time Harry Dresden. In this novel the Wardens of the White Council are all but wiped out by the Red Court Vampires, all of humanity is threatened by the Erlking, Chicago will be destroyed by 5 necromancers seeking godhood, Harry Dresden faces a Fallen Angel that threatens to take over his soul, and his half brother is a slob. But hey, this is just a typical Halloween for Chicago's wizard for hire Harry Dresden.

This title of this edition of the "Dresden Files," "Dead Beat," refers not to Harry having to hunt down a dad not paying child support but rather the relentless toll the never ending perils facing humanity that he must defeat, thus leaving his body "Dead Beat." One thing I've noticed in all the Dresden files books I've read is it seems that Wizard Harry Dresden always takes on more than seems like he can handle, but usually through friends and sometimes pure dumb luck he comes out on top. He always seems reluctant to ask for help but eventually volunteers come out of the woodwork. That excitement of not knowing whether he will survive the ordeal and the absolutely wonderful wit and humor by author Jim Butcher keeps me coming back to these books.

This book however Harry finally admits he's in over his head and asks for help from the Wardens of the White Council. The White Council is the Justice League for wizards and out to battle evildoers, the Wardens are their police force. The problem is , when Harry asks for help it's a bad time for the White Council, the ongoing war between the Red Court and the White Council (started by Harry, by the way) has cut down the number of Wardens from 200 to only 50 remaining alive around the world. Thus only 5 can come to Harry's aid. In the process and much to the dismay of Morgan, the Warden that hates Harry, the Council makes Harry a Warden. But before I get to far ahead of myself, let's talk about what happens here.

Harry gets a message from Mavra, the leader of the Black Court of vampires who Harry supposedly destroyed in the last book, apparantly Mavra got away and now wishes to speak to Harry. Remember the Black Court are the most evil of all the vampire courts and are the ones best represented in the Bram Stoker novel, rumor has it that the White Council encouraged Stoker to write that book so the average joe can kill a Black Court vampire, which led to their near extinction. It seems Mavra wants Harry to find a book for her. Only this book is the ultimate of all evils and the ultimate book of Necromancy, black magic raising the spirits of the dead. With this book Mavra could become a god. The catch is that if Harry doesn't find this book, Mavra will destroy the life of Harry's best friend and possible love interest, Lt. Karrin Murphy of the Chicago PD Special Investigations. A little blackmail and Harry pretty much has to do this, actually this is where chivalry gets the best of Harry Dresden.

At the same time Harry is searching for this book, 3 days before Halloween, 5 powerful Necromancers are also looking for this book. When they learn Harry is searching for the book they now have to hunt down Harry.

Dresden learns that the necromancers will use this book to raise the Erlking, a faerie king that can destroy humanity, and make one of the 5 a god with ultimate power to destroy all of mankind. The race is on and Harry is finding these necromancers too powerful to be handled alone.

Harry decides to call in the Cavalry, in this case the Wardens. Keep in mind here that Harry has been under constant surveillance by the Wardens and under the most extreme scrutiny that if he were to ever delve into the Black Arts, he would be executed immediately. Well the Wardens come in to help but before they do they make Harry a Warden, big decision for Harry. He accepts and they go to battle with the Necromancers.

Big action, big thrills, big suspense in "Dead Beat" the 7th book in the Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher. A little bit of a spoiler before I go--- It is so cool when Harry goes riding through Chicago on the back of a T-rex with a polka playing one man band riding with him.