Monthly Archives: July 2012

Review: Bewitching Season

Bewitching Season
Bewitching Season by Marissa Doyle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a wonderful teen book on two witches, coming of age in 1837, the year young Victoria reaches the age of 18. The girls are witches, but they are the first girls born in the family line for generations, so a governess is hired, recommended by a friend, who happens to be a witch as well, so she tutored the girls over the years she spent with them in how to cast spells, etc. But soon it’s time for the Season – balls, Almack’s, routs, drums, etc. They are going to their house in London, calling on friends, holding open houses, and being presented to court, with all it’s attendant regulations. One of the girls though is shy and bookish, and when she meets the boy next door, her childhood friend who has ben away for years, she falls in love with him, but is afraid that because she is a witch, he would be unhappy marrying her is he ever found out. So she tries to turn him away. Meanwhile, their governess has been kidnapped, in a elaborate plot to get her to use her magic to have the young Victoria either sign over herself to a Regency, under the care of her mother and her mother’s close advisor, Sir John Conroy, or have him appointed as her personal secretary. But she is strong and courageous for such a young girl, and stands up to him – hence the need for magic. And so begins the rounds of balls, calls, dresses, milliners, and trying to find out what happened to their beloved governess, while trying to discourage the suit of a man she loves, and one from a man she dislikes, and trying to play matchmaker for a new friend, etc. Complicated, but fun and engaging – the girls and the supporting characters are all intriguing, adventurous and full of life, although at times you might want to bash Persy, the shy twin who’s in love, for not figuring out a solution, and instead piling up stupidity on stupidity. It brought back many memories of my Regency reading days, and all the things I knew about that life, as it took place shortly after the Regency, when most of the social customs were still in place – only the clothes had changed somewhat, and some of the key players are gone. I hope there might be more in the series, as there are still some trailing loops that could be turned into a book.

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Review: Abyss

Abyss by David Hagberg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a good solid contemporary thriller about what is happening right now in the energy field – the power players, and would-be brokers, and what is at stake. Dr. Eve Larson has developed a project, for which she is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize that will use the gulf stream, through giant impellers, and harness it’s energy and pump it back to the mainland through cables, to serve the eastern seaboard. She believes that when the research is complete, she will be able to change some of the violent weather happening now, and even control it in the future. But big oil, and OPEC, and the big oil bank in Dubai, as well as a hedge fund oil derivatives manager, don’t share that vision. They want to get rid of nuclear power plants,wind and solar energy, and make the world dependent on oil reserves to make the electricity that everyone knows is what is really gong to drive America and other nations – electric cars, but it’s the source of the electricity that’s at stake. Oil, where billions are invested, or this new clean, free energy. So they hire a team of mercenaries and terrorists to help slow down and eventually stop her project, using a revivalist preacher with presidential leanings to whip the country up against the nuclear power plant danger, and her “God Project,” in thinking she can control the weather. With Kirk McGarvey, ex CIA director, now with NNSA, and his assistant, Gail, also with NNSA, they set out to thwart the plans anywhere they can, forcing the other party to raise the stakes even higher. A good taut thriller, with strong characters in the personage of Kirk and his fellow computer geeks, showing the politicalization of energy, and how we may not be able to stop oil, even if we wanted to.

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Review: Born Wicked

Born Wicked
Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the first book in the Cahill Witches set. Set in an alt. universe where witches came to prominence, abused their power trying to control men’s minds, and were brought down by a close-minded group of men called The Brotherhood. In certain areas of the world, women can come and go and dress as they please, hold jobs and be educated, such as Dubai, or even Mexico to the south or Indo-China, but not in New England. Here The Brotherhood holds strong, and women are to be meek, subservient to their husbands, and by age 17, choose a husband or life in The Sisterhood, the female religious equivalent of The Brotherhood. Women or girls who are thought to be witches are arrested, tried, and if convicted, which most are, sent to prison ships to labor, to a school for re-training, or they disappear. Cate is a witch, and she is almost 17. Her mother was a witch as well, as are her two sisters. When her mother died several years before, she made Cate promised to protect and look out after her sisters. Their father doesn’t know about the fact that they are witches, as his health is frail, and even their mother wasn’t sure he could handle it and keep it from The Brotherhood without harming his health. None of the servants are supposed to know either, so they follow some basic rules, such as no magic in the house or outside, only in the Rose Garden where no one can see them,and then only limited. Cate is doing her best, but she has no guidance, until one day a letter comes for her, from a mysterious person, Z.R. telling her that she and her sisters are in danger and to look for her mother’s diary. At the same time, a meddlesome neighbor gets their father, who is often away on business, to foist a governess on them, to allow them to become ladies and be fit for marriage. But a governess, being with them all the time, might find out, and Cate is worried. She reads the diary, and it talks about a prophecy, which could change their fate, and the fate o the world. So she decides to talk to her mother’s best friend and see if she knows anything about what all this means, what the diary says about a prophecy. Complicating things are the governess; Paul, the boy next door who she has been best friends with since childhood and who has returned from the University to ask her to marry her; and the bookstore owner’s son, Finn, who was hired to be their gardener. A fun alternate look at a society which is similar in many respects to the time of the Salem witch trials, but is set in quasi-late Victorian/Edwardian times. Her characters are interesting, if a tad flat, but the plot makes up for that, and the minor characters are more interesting at times. Enjoyable, and I look forward to the other books.

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Celebrity update: Tom Cruise

If you are interested in a more detailed look at Scientology and how Tom Cruise fits into that structure, see my post from shortly after his marriage to Katie Holmes:

Tom Cruise: Guru or Goner? from Jan. 23, 2008

Review: Corbenic

Corbenic by Catherine Fisher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a modern re-telling of The Fisher King, and Parsifal. Cal, running away from his drunken schizophrenic mother, is on his way to his uncle’s house where his uncle has grudgingly offered him a trial job in his accountancy firm, and he gets to take a course at the university one day a week, as well as a place to stay. But he gets off the train at the wrong stop, in the dark and fog, and finds himself at Corbenic, but there is nothing there. He decides to wait for a later train, but realizes that one may not be coming until morning and it’s cold and drizzling. So he makes his way up and overgrown path, brushing his way past brambles, until he hears voices and sees a light. It is two fishermen on a river, one of whom directs him to a hotel up the road, and tells him to say that he sent him. So Cal forces his way up the path, and finds a broken down sign for the inn/castle, and goes inside. Inside, there is light, warmth, and it’s beautiful to him. Someone greets him, and leads him upstairs to a wonderful bedchamber, and tells him there is no charge, since he is their guest. Cautious, but low on funds, he decides to stay. The bell rings for supper, and from out of the rooms around him come men and women dressed in fabulous evening clothes, on their way to a banquet. Once there, he is told that the Fisher King wants him to sit at the head table. Feeling decidedly out of place in his cheap new clothes, he goes to the table, where he finds “Bron,” the Fisher King, is one of the fishermen he met earlier in the boat. He eats course after course of delicious food, and as the banquet progresses, suddenly the others fade out, and from a door behind the table he is seated at, comes a procession: a boy carrying a spear that bleeds from the tip, then two more boys carrying candlesticks, and finally, as a cold wind blows through him, and pain comes agonizingly, just as his mother has described her visions, comes a blonde girl in a green gown, carrying a large jeweled, but dented old cup. A light shines from the Grail cup, and then the procession moves on into a doorway that wasn’t there before, and afterwards disappears. The Fisher King asks him to say what he saw, to ask him what it means, but Cal, afraid that he is becoming a victim to the same mental disease of his mother, and scared by what he has seen, says he saw nothing. The Fisher King bows from pain, and Cal, unsure of himself now, quickly leaves for bed, with the Fisher King saying it will be a long journey. When he awakens the next morning, the castle is not the same. It is an old ruin, and gone are the people, the beautiful wall hangings, etc. It is an open ruin, with leaves, and mold and vegetation creeping in. Stuck into the moldy pillow is a beautiful sword, with a note that tells him it will serve Cal as he has served the Fisher King. He stumbles out of the castle, and hacks his way through the clinging vines and finds himself not far from a village, where he finds his way to his uncle, and tries to forget about Corbenic. But he can’t forget, and he falls in with a group of motley re-enactors, who call themselves Arthur’s men, but speak as if they really are them. He decides, after trying to rid himself of the sword several times, to try and learn how to use it. But he is torn between the nice, upscale life he has wanted, and the desire to set things right. And the legend plays out. Once again, Ms. Fisher outdoes herself in the telling of a legend. She is masterful at imagery and at feelings, delineating characters with swift loving strokes of words, and by their actions, shows them to be who they truly are. No one is perfect – all have flaws that they must work to overcome. But Cal must follow his path, until he figures out what Corbenic means, and come to peace with his past.

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Review: Gideon the Cutpurse

Gideon the Cutpurse
Gideon the Cutpurse by Linda Buckley-Archer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the first book in a trilogy. My 18 yr old daughter picked it out for me, and I was skeptical, but was wonderfully surprised. Although the protagonists are 12 year old kids, the vocabulary and syntax is advanced. Part of the action takes place in present day England, and part in the past, in 1763 Georgian England. Peter, who’s parents are always busy working, goes with his nanny to a friend of her’s farm where they have lots of kids, to spend the weekend. While there he meets Kate, a tomboy his age. When her Dad has to go into work at the local science lab, they ask to go with him, so that Kate can show his partner’s cool new invention to Peter. Once there, Kate’s dog escapes, and while running around looking for her, suddenly everything goes black, and the next thing they know is they wake up in a meadow, a little bruised, but other wise okay. The area looks familiar, but they have no idea of what happened at first. Gradually their memory returns and they recall chasing the dog, and then whoop, waking up here. Hiding in the bushes nearby, is Gideon, a cut-purse and a gentleman, who decided to see who and what the children are, and if they pose a danger. Deciding that they don’t, he approaches them, and asked how they got there. Gradually the story is pasted together, and they tell him the truth. Having witnessed their arrival, he is inclined to believe them, but thinks it is in their best interest not to let others in on this secret in a time when people still believed in witches. Gideon brings them to a nearby manor house, where he is to be employed as the estate keeper, and explains that the children are from abroad, and got set upon by highwaymen, and got separated from their uncle who was traveling to London. The lady of the house takes them in, and her kids take to the new comers well, laughing at their funny clothes. Soon they are rested, fed and dressed in their new finery. Thus begins an enchanting tale of Gideon, a good man who has had misfortunes in life, the evil villainous Tar Man, who stole the device that brought them back to 1763, and the difficulties in living in 1763, and trying to find the device, escape from footpads and more highwaymen, and not end up in gaol. Written in a flowery style of that era when back in 1763, except for the kids, who still think and talk in modern terms, the book catches the flavor of the Georgian period wonderfully, the clothes, the food, the traveling, the dangers, the smells, and the cruelty. It was such a gentle story, and full of the details that I used to love when I read Georgian romances, that it brought me back to them, and made me want to drag them out after about 15 years in storage. Thanks to my daughter for this one. Well done, and I look forward to reading more of their adventures.

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Review: The Babel Effect

The Babel Effect
The Babel Effect by Daniel Hecht
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the second book by Hecht that I have read, and it was as good or better than Skull Session. The story is about a group of geniuses, a think tank nominally pursuing neurological areas, but also working on the larger pictures that emerge – emergence, pattern recognition, etc. At the beginning of the book they were finishing off modeling computer software that, taking all the epidemiological and medical information about a disease outbreak, and being able to correctly and accurately predict when and where the disease would move, and also the ability to trace it back to the source, or patient zero. The leader of this group, Ryan McCloud, is approached about working on finding out what causes violence in killers, and other such types. He and his wife Jess and the group agree to do it, but as they look at it, and do some preliminary work with a bunch of guys on death row, they begin to see that the pattern of violence is much larger, and indeed, encompasses society as a whole, with staggering trends in the past century, and also, going back into history, waves of violence that would travel through populations, almost like a disease. Jess, several months pregnant, take this one to heart, as she is still grieving the murder of her sister two years ago. She wants to know why – to put things into perspective. Are we victims of our genes, of a disease vector that attacks the areas of the brain known to cause violence and aggression, or are we victims of environmental poisoning, etc. She begins to pull away, and since Ryan is working on concomitant projects and other areas of this one, he doesn’t realize. He is called to Africa to study a new outbreak there, and while there, sees an opportunity to look at the people there for the new project, called the Babel Effect. He studies two groups of Congolese Africans, those who are prisoners, and were killers, and those who refused to get caught up in the killing and took refuge at a plantation nearby. As he is closing up that project, all hell breaks loose and he is captured by a new warlord, and imprisoned for several months. Meanwhile Jess is stateside, pursuing leads on this Babel Effect, where people loose their connections to others, both the kinship connection and the theory of mind, or the ability to relate to others. When Ryan gets back, he finds that his wife and their colleague who had been working with her have been kidnapped, and all traces of their work destroyed. So the group sets out to retrace her thoughts, her work, who she talked to, since the FBI is stymied. What follows is a blend of thriller, and thoughtful discussion of what it means to be good, is it because of our genes, or because we choose it, and what are we really made of. Lots of tough questions, and tons to think about, so this book took me longer, since every few pages, my thoughts would latch onto something and wander off on that tangent. I’d have to grab my mind and bring it back to the book – not because it was dull, but because there was so much of interest that you could study, follow up on. Hecht did 3 years of intensive research for this book, and most of the neurological and genetic stuff is real, as is the historical record. One fascinating book for me.

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