Spring/Summer 1999 Reading

bkwrm.jpg (69023 bytes)

Rating system

***** Excellent and not just by airport standards
****  Very good. usually something fresh unique or quirky about these books
***+ 1/2 A good book.  Well written and I enjoyed it.  I would call this my Dick Francis rating.  The plot may be formulaic but it's always a page turner    
*** Read the whole thing.  This is often a some what generous rating.  If I get through the flight I'm  happy.
** + 1/2 A book with this rating means that I did read the whole thing but there is some significant flaw   in  the book.  That means it's ok to pick it up in the airport under emergency circumstances   but  not  to buy in a bookstore.  
**  Skimmed it for the few good parts I could find. Definitely only purchase under true emergency situations (as defined by there being nothing else on the shelf  you haven't read)
* Hurled the book across the room and wrote nasty comments at the amazon.com review site. A pure waste of money (buy magazines instead)

 

September 1999

alphacenturi.jpg (2190 bytes) Alpha Centauri by William Barton, Michael Capobianco *
The year is 2239 and the overburdened Earth groans beneath the weight of 200 billion people.  The last salvation of humanity is traveling with the crew of the starship Mother Night, on a colonizing mission to Alpha Centauri. But a terrorist plague has infiltrated the ship, planting the seeds of failure and extinction in every man and woman on board.


I bought this in the airport hoping to have something to read on a trip to New Orleans. Crediting the authors with writing a disturbing but failed vision of the future is simply too generous. I assume they sat down and said well let's see, sex always sells and if a little is good a lot is better, also it should be as kinky as possible. Since this is science fiction we need aliens and wouldn't it be brilliant if the aliens had 4 sexes and if they were also vampiric by nature because (don't you know) vampires are always related to sex. Now to finish the book we only need to craft a shell of a story around the sex scenes, and if it's confusing and far-fetched, well it won't matter because our readers are only going to be interested in the sex scenes.

Other reviewers at Amazon found something interesting in their technology but quite frankly I couldn't slog through the book thoroughly enough to care.  Finally as if all of the above weren't enough, I gave it to John to read (he's always a more generous reader than I am) and he found it just as impenetrable and poorly written as I did.

Dark Nadir by Lisanne Norma ***
While fleeing from the Valtegans, the ship carrying Kaid, Kusac and Carrie is scooped up by a completely unknown race.  While on board Kusac is tortured; Kaid, Carrie and others are ruthlessly experiemented on by their captures and their Valtegan puppets.   Meanwhile, Dirt side on Shola, marriage contracts and petty politics dominate the scene.

This book reads as much like a political intrigue novel as a sci-fi but the Valtegans (the villains of the series) now become full characters with a past, a present and a future.  Well she's improving.  I still think she somewhat hobbled herself with her feline/human pair but her story is moving beyond cardboard characters in motion and I would definitely say I enjoyed this one more than any of the others.  I guess the question is now with 5 novels under her belt where does she stand?  I'd be forced to say firmly in the C+ category with a following of women who want more romance than science fiction (though my husband has read all of her books and rates her slightly higher than I do) .

path of daggers.jpg (3363 bytes) Path of Daggers by Robert Jordon ***
Synopsis:

Rand is still on the brink of losing it,  Egwene is leading an army toward Tar Valon. Nynaeve and Elayne keep on wandering toward the Lion Throne, again on the run from the Seanchan. Mat Cauthon is barely mentioned, and fellow ta'veren Perrin keeps busy with politics in Ghealdan.

A true bit of a slog.  I've had the book for almost two years and just got through it now.  It's not that it's written badly, on a scene by scene basis it's all fine but it's that 604 pages later very little has been accomplished.  If I was brutally honest he probably could have skipped the whole book and put the few relevant pieces either in the last book or the next book.   BUT unlike my comments on Terry Goodkind's obnoxiously bad 5th book, Jordon can write.  His characters stay true and no matter how plodding it becomes we're still on the road to the final confrontation

 

crownofswords.jpg (2384 bytes) A Crown of Swords by Robert Jordon ***
Synopsis:
The seventh volume in the Wheel of Time fantasy saga continues the quest to restore natural weather conditions to the world and end the terrible heat wave.  The novel continues to follow the lives and times of the 6 main characters.  Egwene is practicing at being the Amyrlin, Elaine and Nynaeve are searching for the bowl of the winds with Mat close on their heels, Perrin is trailing after Rand, and Rand is busily taking over the known world

You can't start this series in the middle.  If none of the above make sense go back to the Eye of the World and I'll see you about 5224 pages from now (yes I added them up).   Are they worth reading?  Absolutely, though I'd strongly recommend pacing yourself to one every 4 to 6 months.  Two back to back may be ok but I guarantee your brain will fog if you try to read three.  Terry Goodkind's early books (A wizard's first rule and the stone of tears) are nothing more than plagiarized Jordon but they're faster paced so you'll see a lot of reviewers recommending Goodkind over Jordon.  My recommendation would be to read the Jordon series and get the Goodkind series on tape (they come unabridged and they don't cost a kings ransom).  Dick Hill narrates 3 or the first four volumes so they're bound to be good.  Buck Schirner narrates Blood of the fold and I hated him on the Soul of Fire but in fairness the book was so bad I'm not sure anyone could have done any better

 

August 1999

scentofmagic.jpg (2408 bytes) Scent of Magic by Andre Norton ****
Synopsis:
The orphan Willadene has "the ability to recognize and name the most subtle of mixed scents," including the taint of evil. After she saves Hawice the Herbmistress from a magical trap, Hawice brings her to the Ducal castle. There Willadene meets the Duke's daughter Mahart, and Nicolas, who spies for the Duke. When Mahart is abducted after meeting Prince Lorien, her intended fiancé, Willadene, Nicolas, and the Prince set out to find her and track down those responsible.

What can I say.  This is vintage Andre Norton.  Given the woman's age reviewing her books now is a bit like the dancing bear.  It's a wonder she can write at all.  What I enjoyed about this was that it lacked the political correctness that her younger co-authors seem to through in all their joint efforts.  Scent of Magic has characters and a story and they go about their business supporting good and warring with evil.  If your a Norton fan this is something to be treasured as one of her last books.  I doubt if even she can keep it up much longer.

shinningcourt.jpg (2879 bytes) The Shining Court by Michelle West *****
Synopsis:
Jewel, of House Terafin, has been having visions which are about to send her into enemy territory with only her domicis Avander to watch her back. Behind her she leaves a House on the brink of a bloody dynastic war, before her lies the Dominion, home to the clans which are the sworn enemies of all who dwell in the Empire. But far more deadly than the clans are those with whom they have formed an unholy alliance--the demons of the Shining court!

This series, in my humble opinion is the best fantasy being written today.   Though calling it fantasy hardly does it justice.  Ms. West has crafted a world every bit the equal to Frank Herbert's Dune.  If you're new to the series start with the Broken Crown or the Hunter's Oath

 

July 1999

alien_shore copy.gif (8763 bytes) This Alien Shore by C. S. Friedman ****
Synopsis: Welcome to the universe of Jamisia a young girl from Earth with multiple personalities, who may hold the key to breaking a guild's monopoly on interstellar travel, and a computer security
expert hired by the Guild to find the cure for and creator of a dangerous computer virus which
threatens the Guild's pilots.

Not a perfect book and yes the ending's just a tad week but who cares?   I simply couldn't put it down.  Of course I've been a fan since I first read In Conquest Born back in 1988.  

 

dragonneeg.jpg (14465 bytes) Dragonne's Eg by Mary Brown ****
Synopsis:
A poor Victorian School teacher is left a wonderful house in her uncle's will if she will only under take a special journey.  To return a Dragon's egg to China on a journey that can take her no more than a year.  On her way she's assisted by a kylin, a London street urchin and a magical cat.

Not quite as complex a story as Ms. Brown's Pig's Don't Fly but a delight none the less.

 

heirtotheshadows.jpg (14287 bytes) Heir to the Shadows : Book 2 of the Black Jewels Trilogy by Anne Bishop ****
In Heir to the Shadows, Jaenelle's vampiric, adoptive father, Saetan, and her foster-family of
demons shelter her. To restore her memory and emotional balance, they move to Kaeleer, where Jaenelle befriends the kindred--animals with magical and communicative powers--and gathers a circle of young Queens. She also heals Lucivar, Daemon's half-brother, who offers a brother's love and a warrior's fealty.

This is a wonderful book.  If it's suppose to be dark or bordering on S&M as some Amazon readers implied I think they had the wrong book.  So a character's a vampire; vampire's can be good loving fathers can't they? Saetan's and Jaenelle's relationship is what made the book for me.  Her romance with Daemon can happily wait for the third novel.  On the subject of compassionate, interesting vampire go read The Madness season by C.S. Friedman.  It's the best "Vampire" novel I've ever read.

 

June 1999

The Soul of Fire   by Terry Goodkind *   Buck Schirner (Narrator)
Synopsis: The D'Haran Empire faces new challenges: the mysterious ``chimes'' possess a magical power that can steal souls; and war with the powerful Imperial Order may be unavoidable. Richard will discover that the chimes are themselves slaves of an undead being who has created for himself an impenetrable otherworldly fortress. Meanwhile, intrigues at the sovereign's court in Anderith and feuds between Anders and Hakens among its population threaten to give the imperials a clear road forward, without any assistance from the Chimes.

Skip this book, or borrow it from a friend.  My advice would be just ignore the fact that this book was ever written. If you need something to do between book 4 and book 6 pick it up in the used book store or borrow it from one of your friends who wasn't warned in time. There is maybe 50 pages of new material in the whole book (and that may be an over statement). Also the writing is absolutely horrible. At least 100 pages of text should have been edited out of the manuscript before it was published because it's completely and totally redundant. How many times can Richard think to himself how important it is that he's the seeker of truth?

Listening to it on tape in some ways is even worse than reading it. The narrator was at a loss with what to do with such dramatically boring material and his rendition of the dialogue is every bit as flat as it deserves

 

silverwolf.jpg (10996 bytes) Silver Wolf by Alice Borchardt *** 1/2
Into decadent Rome of the Dark Ages comes Regeane, an enigmatic young woman distantly related to Charlemagne. But the blood she has inherited from her murdered father makes her   more than a child of royalty. Regeane is a shape shifter--woman and wolf. Betrothed to a lord she has never seen, Regeane is surrounded by enemies and must fight to live with dignity as the proud creature she is: civilized and savage, partaking of both, yet infinitely more than either . . .

I don't care that she's Ann Rice's sister.  I enjoyed this book and if book two is as good as book one I might reconsider and up the rating to a 4 star.  The parts with Regeane are quite good.   Some of the other sub plots in the book might stretch incredulity a little but hey isn't the art of fiction convincing the reader to suspend disbelief?

acorna's quest.jpg (11542 bytes) Acorna's Quest by Anne McCaffrey, Margaret Ball **
Synopsis:
Acorna the "unicorn girl" has come of age and is ready to cross deep space to find her own people. But when she finally meets them, she gets a terrible warning. The Khlevii, the predatory alien warriors who destroyed Acorna's parents, are now planning to invade and conquer the human-held worlds. Only Acorna herself holds the key to humanity's salvation.

Silly me, I somehow hoped for better but I couldn't even make my way through this one.  I was so bored I was fighting in my plane seat.  I think some of the reason this was so unreadable to me was that I'd just finished Pigs Don't Fly and the mediocre drivel of Acorna's Quest makes a terrible second course after the tangy delight of Mary Brown's creation.

 

pigsdon'tfly.gif (5407 bytes) Pigs Don't Fly  by Mary Brown ****1/2
Synopsis: Pigs Don't Fly tells the story of a most unlikely heroine and her equally unlikely band of fellow adventurers--a blaspheming dog, broken-down horse, crippled pigeon, half-dead tortoise and flying pig. All Summer wanted was to settle down and get married. . . and the amnesiac, blind knight was the handsomest man she had ever seen .  

I bought this to get me through another long plane flight.  It was just intended as emergency backup since it's a short book and looked kind-of-dumb, but airport standards are flexible.  I couldn't have been more wrong, the book is fresh, imaginative and absolutely charming, without being in the least cute or syrupy sweet.  In fact, the thing that most struck me about this book is that things don't end up quite the way you'd expect.  There's a hidden hard edge of reality buried beneath unicorns and dragons and talking dogs that you won't quickly forget.

jerlayne.jpg (13709 bytes) Jerlayne by Lynn Abbey ****
Synopsis:
Jerlayne's mother had warned her not to marry the handsome elf, but Jerlayne refused to listen. Now a century after the wedding, Jerlayne's marriage is in shambles and none of their children have matured into elves like their parents. Jerlayne wants answers--she wants to know why her mother was so opposed to her marriage, and in finding those answers, these two elven women will confront an issue that will rock both realms down to their very foundation.

It was good to read Lynn Abbey again.   Jerlayne didn't have the punch of her earlier works but it was still good and the plot was enough different from every other elf story I've read to keep me interested.   Still if you can find Black Flame

 

May 1999

acorna.jpg (11993 bytes) Acorna : The Unicorn Girl by Anne McCaffrey, Margaret Ball **1/2
Synopsis:
When her parents' spaceship is attacked, Acorna's parents set her adrift in a lifepod to be found by three asteroid miners who become her uncles. But Acorna's special talents bring them unwanted attention, pulling her and her uncles into a series of dangerous and exciting adventures throughout known space.

This epitomizes the three star airport read.  It wasn't great but I could at least plough through the fairly mediocre story.   So she's "a unicorn girl" and has a magic horn, matures quickly, is bright, and can purify water and heal people. That alone doesn't make her an interesting character.  There are no plot twists in the book or surprises or even much true imagination.  Unless you're desperate skip the book it isn't really worth reading.

dreamsunderfoot.jpg (13556 bytes) Dreams Underfoot  by Charles de Lint ****
Synopsis:
There are still fairy tales that can be told about life in cities where the bogie man lives under boardwalks and Magical birds that live in Uncle Dobbin's Pet shop.  The sons and daughters of the shidhe are still with us they just live in tenement housing and in upscale suburbs rather than forests and fairie mounds.. 

I was so impressed with Someplace to be Flying that when I found this in the used book store I had to pick it up.  Normally I don't care for short stories but these are terrific.  It's a weaving of place and time, characters who's lives touch one another. 

leopardlord.jpg (12388 bytes) Leopard Lord by Alanna Morland ***1/2
Synopsis:
Varian is many things: a Lord Baron who cares deeply for his people; a shape-shifter who can take on the form of an ice leopard -- and an unwilling minion of the God of Evil. When he bargains for his freedom from his Master, he does not expect the price to be the bride he does not yet have.

I bought this as another emergency airport read.  At 272 pages it would only get me through half a flight but I have a thing about snow leopards so, hey what can I say?  That it was a very good first novel?  That it wasn't the cheesy fantasy romance novel I was afraid it was and actually had some characters and a plot?  My advice for her next novel would be to trust her vision and dig a little deeper into the complexities of human beings, she's got the right instincts she just needs to let go.  I'd also advice her to publish under her own name.  Alanna Morland must be a pseudonym and it sounded so much the cliché I almost didn't buy the book ('cept it had a snow leopard on the cover)

 

kar kalim.jpg (12350 bytes) Kar Kalim  by Deborah Christian **
Synopsis:  Inya is a powerful sorceress and the land of Drakmil's self-appointed guardian. But she is not prepared when a ruthless wizard and his elite guard of fierce dog-men break through a dimensional gate of her tower. Taken prisoner and stripped of her magical abilities, Inya must still strive to subvert the sorcerer's lust for power, or die knowing she created this cruel monster now known as Kar Kalim.

I simply didn't like this book.   It's well written and has flashes of a story I might have liked but basically it's flat and dead and reminds me more of a medieval morality play than a good fantasy.

 

runelords.jpg (14967 bytes) Rune Lords by David Drake **
Synopsis:
Young Prince Gabon Val Orden of Mystarria is traveling in disguise on a journey to ask for the hand of the lovely Princess Iome of Sylvarresta when he and his warrior bodyguard spot a pair of assassins who have set their sights on the princess's father. The pair races to warn the king of the impending danger and realizes that more than the royal family is at risk--the very fate of the Earth is in jeopardy.

Looks like this is one of those books you either love or you want to hurl across the room.  Since airplanes are so crowded I refrained but only out of consideration to my fellow passengers.  I read most of the book skimming as I went along.  Every once and a while there'd be a spark of interest and then he'd beat the story back down to a flat boring recitation.  His concept of endowments (abilities taken from other people) left me cold.  Any use of them would be immoral in any reasonable society so the hero and heroine become characters I simply couldn't care about.

 

April 1999

princeofdogs.jpg (14464 bytes) Prince of Dogs by Kate Elliott *** 1/2
Synopsis:
Prince of Dogs returns readers to the war-torn kingdoms of Wendar and Varre, and to the intertwined destinies of: Alain, raised in humble surroundings but now the Court's heir; Laith, who struggles to unravel the secrets of her past while evading the traps set for her by those seeking the treasure she hides; Sanglat, believed dead by those who could save him, but actually a prisoner in the city of Gent; and Fifth Brother, who now builds an army to do his father's - or his own - bidding in a world at war!

The first book was a little rocky.   The second book was much better and while it wasn't so riveting that I couldn't put it down (I read it over two plane flights) I enjoyed this book and have high hopes for her third.

maximunlight.jpg (2728 bytes) Maximum Light by Nancy Kress ** 1/2
Synopsis: Humanity's ability to conceive children has been severely reduced by pollution and disease. Kids are scarce but adoption is almost impossible. Three people are entangled in a life-threatening web. A teenaged girl sees something shocking and illegal, but is disciplined and told she is a liar. She joins forces with a doctor and a gay dancer to discover the truth

Almost but not quite.  Nancy Kress is a writer with talent and vision but I'm beginning to believe that her forte is the novella or short story and not the novel. If you subscribe to the premise that a novelist is a failed short story writer and the short story writer is a failed poet, then this comment (at least from me - since in my own writing I'm hopeless a novelist) would be as much a compliment as a condemnation.  The book simply didn't hold my interest for the length of the story.  I found her characters hard to warm up too and her premise that women denied children of their own would chose to substitute a monkey with a human face and  human hands as a child.  Read Beggars in Spain or Oath and Miracles instead.

 

swordborn.jpg (3093 bytes) Sword Born by Jennifer Roberson ***
Synopsis:
The Dynamic Duo, Tiger & Del are back and in trouble as usual.   Now they are going in search of Tiger's heritage, which turns out to be a double-edged sword. On one hand there's his possible cold-hearted relatives, which he's not sure he wants. And on the other there's magic, which he considers a fate worse than death.

To a Tiger and Del fan any chance to visit with them is welcome.  With that said I'm forced to agree with the comments at Amazon that not enough happens in this book to keep it in the same class as the other four.   The action only kicks in in the latter part of the book and ends on a somewhat down note.   If Roberson wasn't clearly promising all of us another book I think her devoted following would have considered hanging her in effigy. 

swordbreaker.jpg (3126 bytes) Sword Breaker by Jennifer Roberson ***1/2
Synopsis:
When a bloodthirsty, driven northern girl met easy going, happy-go-lucky southern boy it was a match made in hell. Little did they know that their relationship had what it takes to go the distance. With a sword carrying the spirit of the evil Sorcerer Chosa De.  Del and Tiger head back to the South in Search of the equally Legendary Shaka Ord. 

The problem with demons is that sometimes once you find them they want to stay found.  In fact they want to stay found in your flesh.  Tiger has his hands full in this one and while it's not her strongest book it was still a good read.

swordmaker.jpg (2847 bytes) Sword Maker by Jennifer Roberson ****
Synopsis: He was a champion of sword magic sworn to track the hounds of hoolies. Yet before Tiger waited perils far deadlier than any hounds--the Dragon's Lair.

Tiger and Del struggle ever onward dealing with the pain of betrayal, lost hopes and duty that can not be turned aside.   Hey I'm a sucker for these two characters.  If they want to go around chasing demons I'm happy to come along for the ride.

swordsinger.jpg (2792 bytes) Sword Singer by Jennifer Roberson *****
Synopsis: Tiger and Del, having found Del's brother in SWORD DANCER, now move north to confront the demons, both literal and figurative, that haunt Del's past. They return to Staal-Ysta, where Del must do penance for slaying her teacher and reconcile herself to past decisions.

Very often second novels don't carry their own weight.  Not so this book.  Roberson continues to write from SandTigers perspective but this story is Dell's and it is riveting in it's unfolding.   I read this when it was originally published and then again in April.  It had lost nothing in the intervening nine or 10 years.

 

sworddancer.jpg (2863 bytes) Sword Dancer by Jennifer Roberson *****

When I first read this book in 1987 I was completely blown away.  The book sang to me then and it hasn't lost anything in the last 12 years. The problem with writing in first person is that if the reader doesn't relate with the character they might find themselves at an unconscious level struggling with living in another's skin for the length of the book.  Sandtiger and I fit hand in glove and I was quite happy to be traipsing through the Punja with Del and the Stud for company.    I was somewhat shocked when I read what Roberson says of her own story. Her comments are limited to the statement that the subtext is about sexism and about how a MCP gets his consciousness raised.  If I thought the story was limited to that, I'd give it a thumbs down in a heart beat, but the book is so much more, that any whiffs of strident feminism simply float by with nary a ruffle. 

Fall 98/Winter 99