Monthly Archives: January 2013

Review: The Girl in the Clockwork Collar

The Girl in the Clockwork Collar
The Girl in the Clockwork Collar by Kady Cross
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the sequel to The Girl in the Steel Corset, and this time the action moves across the Atlantic to New York City, @1897 (in an alternate steampunk version). Finley Jones, a young girl with dueling personalities, one dark and fierce, the other more thoughtful and nice is front and center. She has tremendous power, strength and agility and heals very fast. With her is Griffin, a Duke, who can touch the “aether”, a spirit place if you will. Add Emily, an Irish girl who has a genius way with machines – it is as if she can talk to them, and her numerous inventions, and Griffin’s best friend Sam, who has an artificial heart and super human strength. They have come to New York to find their American friend Jasper, who was taken from Griffin’s house by a bunch of men, claiming he was wanted for murder. When they arrive they try to seek out where he might be, and what actually happened. Finley inserts herself into a gang run by Dalton, a brilliant, charming and vicious snake. Jasper is being held in Dalton’s house because he stole something that Dalton wants back. He is using Jasper’s old girlfriend, Mei, to keep him in line. She is forced to wear a clockwork collar that Dalton can activate and strangle her if anyone tries to take it off, or she leaves the house without permission. The story rolls on as the friends try to save Jasper, find out the truth of the murder, and stop Dalton from his plans to be an arch villain. Nikola Tesla plays an important role. Set in and around Five-Points, where the “Gangs of New York” congregate, and the swanky places of the rich and famous, it is both an action tale, one of romance, and a glimpse at two separate societies, existing right next to each other, but never touching. Fun, amusing, but with enough danger and questions still lurking as to set you on the hunt for the next one in the series.

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Review: Ashen Winter

Ashen Winter
Ashen Winter by Mike Mullin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ashen Winter is the fantastic sequel to Ashfall. Ashfall dealt with the aftermath of the supervolcano in Yellowstone blowing it’s top, and the ash cloud spreading east. Alex, at home in Iowa when the waves of concussions hit (his parents were in Wisconsin, a neighboring state, visiting his uncle and aunt at their farm). The rest of that story details how he travelled, on foot, through the ash, snow and cold, as the ash began to block out the sun and the long winter began. He endured many travails and trials, becoming stronger and more adult as the time went on. While on the road he hooked up with Darla, a genius mechanic girl, 17 to his 15, and together they braved internment camps, bandits, and just plain desperate people who would do anything to survive in a country where anarchy was on the loose. Warning!! SPOILER about Ashfall: He made it to the farm finally, but found his mother and father had left his younger sister there, and set out to go back to Iowa and find him. So Ashen Winter deals with his and Darla’s struggle to go back and find his parents. The world has sunk further into anarchy and flenser gangs on the the rise, gangs that kidnap girls and use them as prostitutes or slaves, and then “flense” or carve the skin away, leaving the meat of a person for eating. They have become cannibals. He meets up with old friends, new camps, and worse villains than ever before, and adds two new people to his party as he searches for his family. Gripping, raw, intense, and not for the squeamish or faint at heart, this story of a young man’s determination to save those around him, despite the cost to himself, is worth the read. I had put off starting it, thinking it couldn’t be that great, sequels rarely measure up, etc. I had been in the grip of a Matt Reilly reread, and still wanted action. Well I got that in spades. Hoping another book is on the way.

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Review: Area 7

Area 7
Area 7 by Matthew Reilly
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Okay, so I’m on a Matt Reilly kick – actually I am reading anything I can find in the boxes piled up still, and he was on top. But I will soon switch gears to some YA from the library. This is my second reading, the first in 2007. Again, I loved this book. The second in the Shane “Scarecrow” Schofield series (The first was Ice Station, set in Antarctica), this one is set in a mysterious government facility in Utah, called Area 7, where classified work is being done. Along for the ride is “Mother,” a 6ft. 2″ giant of a bald headed woman, who is a gunnery sergeant, and Libby “Fox” Gant, who has just begun dating Scarecrow, so called because of twin scars down his eyes (he wears mirrored sunglasses as a result). This time around, because of the notoriety from the Ice Station business, he has been assigned to Marine One and the President’s detail. The President is visiting Area 7 and 8, both classified, and as they enter the facility, Scarecrow gets a spidey sense that all is not well. Within minutes he is proved right, as a rogue element of the air force stationed there announces the plan of it’s leader, a convicted treasonous former AF Colonel, to televise a hunt for the President in the facility, six levels of it. If he dies, huge bombs will be set off in 14 airports strung across the Northern US. He wants a pure white southern America. As they race against time, and a much larger foe, it takes all of Scarecrow’s considerable cunning to elude the captors, follow the “rules” set up, and protect the President. Once again the story is replete with exclamations and italics, like “blasted” and “crashed,” etc. It is a characteristic of Reilly’s books, esp. the earlier ones, and while it does remind me of the old Batman and Robin show, the book is what it is – pure action, adventure, with a dose of humor, and lightheartedness thrown in. Reilly doesn’t take himself seriously, and if there is limited character development (I think, having read all his books once, and working on a 2nd reread that that is not entirely true – it is just spread across the books, as it is with Jeremy Robinson and James Rollins), it is more than made up for in his stated purpose of action, action, action. It’s a romp, a delight, and improbable at best, but what fun. I find myself giggling with glee. Where else can a 55 yr old woman get the thrill of a Sydney Harbor Bridge using Maghooks? And find guns with 900 rounds a minute? Only in Reilly’s books.

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Review: The Companions

The Companions
The Companions by Sheri S. Tepper
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is another winner by the engrossing Sheri Tepper. As with her other books it is very different from each other she has written, and different from mainstream SF. In this one, about 700 years from now, the Earth has been stripped of most vegetation and animals, and people live in 100 sq mile “urbs”, consisted of ten tower blocks each way. There are people who live down near the bottom of these 200 story towers, and those who live at the top, in penthouses that were in trust for their families use. The rest are occupied by the number of people who need the space and no more. They are connected by a series of tubes that go up the buildings and down and sideways, and over to the next. Pets are not allowed, and are kept either in the penthouses, or on exempt 40 acre estates that have been turned into preservationist lands. There is a movement to ban all animal life on earth as it is taking up too much air, water and food, and so a band of humans, who appreciate the love of companion animals, have gotten together, loosely spread apart, and in secrecy, established breeding programs, buying up small, unwanted planets, seeding them with vegetation if needed, terraforming, or for animals like dogs, small prey, so that eventually all the animals can be released onto these planets. But the announcement of imminent extermination sends the arkists into a flurry and they take off for the planets, ready to begin new lives with their animals.

Jewel Delis works with dogs, having discovered a group that has been breeding a group of dogs to be bigger, faster, and stronger and healthier than their forebears, more like the dogs of old. Her brother Paul, a self-absorbed, childish but brilliant linguist, takes her on his trips to other worlds to study language and she uses her time to look at alien cultures, and try to learn. Eventually she chooses to accompany him on a voyage to Moss, one of three allied planets. She brings the dogs with her, as well as their trainers, since the edict has gone out and they must be moved. When they arrive at the planet, it seems as if there are no animals, birds, and no “intelligent: life, although that is still being disputed by scientists sent there to discover if there was, since different rules would govern the outcome.

What follows is a marvelous, heart-tugging look at what animals mean to humans, the bonds they face; what constitutes intelligent life; and what it means to understand the world you live in. Filled with aliens both good and bad, wars, and some marvelous new life forms, it is a joy to read. Read once before in 2007.

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Review: The Judas Strain: A Sigma Force Novel

The Judas Strain: A Sigma Force Novel
The Judas Strain: A Sigma Force Novel by James Rollins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the second re-reading for me – the first was when it came out. Of course I didn’t recall a thing, memory lapses can be a good thing! This is a Sigma Force novel, featuring the entire cast. Sigma Force is a shadowy organization, operating under DARPA – an elite group of handpicked military experts from all forces, put into rigorous doctoral programs to give them the specialized knowledge they need to safeguard or neutralize technologies vital to US interests. Monk, an operative with a bioprothesis arm, and Dr. Lisaa Cummings, on loan to Sigma and the new girlfriend of Director Painter Crowe, have been sent undercover with WHO to a cruise ship anchored off Christmas Island, northeast of Australia, where a strange and fatal plague seems to be breaking out. Meanwhile, Commander Gray Pierce has been sent to Europe to attend a book auction where several arcane Victorian scientific books are being auctioned off, including the Darwin family bible. Instead of just observing the participants, to see who is spending so much time collecting these books, he gets involved and ends up with a young teen-age girl in his care. And someone is after him, the girl and the bible. Figuring out that Marco polo is involved, he follows a trail of Marco Polo throughout Europe, the Mid-East, and Asia, and he is joined by Monsignor Verona (Map of Bones), as they follow this trail of secrets. Meanwhile the hospital ship has been seized by terrorists, turning it into a bio-weapons lab as they seek to identify the cause of the disease and find a cure, so they can use it. They force Dr. Cummings to work on it, but Monk escapes at one point, in the pirate’s lair harbor where they have parked the cruise ship, unseen from prying eyes. Full of tortuous secrets, ancient temples, pirates, terrorists, and cannibals, this is one exciting book, and is a nail-biter. I really enjoyed this thrill ride.

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Review: 12.21: A Novel

12.21: A Novel
12.21: A Novel by Dustin Thomason
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book I won in a contest, and I saved it for December, reading it on 12.21. It is the story of a mysterious artifact,a codex, smuggled out of Guatemala by a young man. It is clearly black market, but nothing like it has been seen before. It is a complete codex of the Maya, the only one found to date. Chel Manu, a researcher at the Getty Museum, works with her old mentor to try and decipher it’s meaning, as the forecasted day of the Mayan apocalypse nears. Chel doesn’t believe in it, but is intrigued by what she uncovers. Meanwhile, at the CDC a doctor studying incurable prion diseases is called by a hospital resident who thinks she may have a case, a new disease. If this is so, it could be an epidemic – fatal nearly all the time. As the two events seem to merge, secrets are unfolded, leading them down to the heart of Guatemala, trying to trace the origin of the codex and this mysterious disease. An enjoyable book by one of the authors of The Rule of Four. The only complaint was the ending. A tad trite and kumbaya for me, it left me unsatisfied. In effect, for me, it spoiled much of the book, although that still doesn’t detract from the depth of scholarship into the Mayan culture and what we know today. Just that I would have liked a bigger ending. After all, it was supposed to be the Apocalypse!

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Review: The Eight

The Eight
The Eight by Katherine Neville
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Hard to classify, impossible to put down, Katherine Neville’s 1988 book , to me, stood the test of time. A cult classic, long in print, it has been on my shelf for over 20 years. I first ran across it in a list of recommended books. Over the next couple of years, I ran across it again and again, so I eventually found a copy, and put it in my TBR (to-be-read) pile, and there it sat for another few years, as more books got added to the pile (a perennial problem).

But one day I decided to take a chance on this long, rather dense book, and was hooked. Involving 1970s New York and Libya, with OPEC, and part of it set in France just before and during the Reign of Terror, and Russia, with Catherine the Great, as well as Charlemagne and the entire cast of characters in France, Britain and America during those pivotal years around the turn of the 18th century, it involves a legendary chess set of Charlemagne, said to have incredible powers. But to deny people access to those powers, during the Terror, the chess set was dug up from it’s hiding place of 1000 years, and separated and dispersed across the globe. Many tried to reunite the pieces during that time, but only in the present day was the cause taken up again, by a group of master chess players and their families, as well as some assorted characters.

A true original, and I believe one of the originators of the “artifact thrillers” that have come to dominate the thriller/action scene in books, it is at once a lesson is history, chess, and power. The cast is broad in scope, and includes, Robespierre, Ben Franklin, Boswell, Jacques Louis David, Talleyrand, etc. Fun, exciting, and spanning centuries, this is one of my all time favorite books, worthy of a re-read time and again. I hadn’t read it in years, and thought how well it stood up.

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Review: Black Order: A Sigma Force Novel

Black Order: A Sigma Force Novel
Black Order: A Sigma Force Novel by James Rollins
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I enjoyed it – I enjoy all of Rollins’ books – and I enjoy the guys from Sigma Force – this one brings Gray Pierce to the forefront, a nice change.

Addendum: I just reread this book, after 5 years, and didn’t recall it at all. Not the book’s fault, but my faulty memory. So it was a more than pleasant surprise to have a new Rollins book at my fingertips. The whole Sigma team is here, including a rare character from a previous non-Sigma book as I recall, Sgt. Joe Kowalski – the muscle (but he did provide a much need clue to solving a puzzle). This one is a race around the world, on two different fronts, with the team split into three – one group on a cruise ship turned floating hospital, tending to the needs of patients dying from a horrible plaque like illness on Christmas Island, as they race to discover why and how to cure it. But the boat is hijacked, and they are at risk. The second group is in Europe, tracing down a rare book at first, Darwin’s bible, but that leads them to Marco Polo, and hidden clues on his journey back from Kublai Khan that might help solve the medical problems arising in SE Asia. And the 3rd group is at Sigma headquarters, trying to use their resources to coordinate help from attacks and and create diversions on two fronts, and a race against time to find Commander Pierce’s parents, who have been kidnapped as leverage against him by the Guild. At Pierce’s side in the race to decipher Marco Polo’s clue is a Guild operative, turned possible friend, Seichen. Interesting, incredible, and fun, this one races through time and mysteries to thwart a plot that could kill all human life.

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Review: Deadlock

Deadlock
Deadlock by Iris Johansen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an enjoyable thriller – a little different from her Eve Duncan series. In this one, a new character is brought to life – Emily Hudson, a UN artifacts expert, who is drawn into a massive conspiracy involving an ancient artifact from Russia, a megalomaniac who wants it’s power for himself, and the riches that surround it. When Emily and her assistant Joel Levy are captured by what seem to be terrorists, Jack Garret, an ex-mercenary, is hired and sent to help them escape. Through Afghanistan, Russia, Belgium, and most of Europe, including a charming island in Greece, they criss-cross, hoping to stay one foot ahead of the enemy, discover the nature of what the mastermind is looking for, and figure out what it all means. Along the way, various interesting and engaging characters are dragged into it, and they make the book, and elevate it above the basic thriller. I would hope that she uses this “team” again.

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Review: Two Graves

Two Graves
Two Graves by Douglas Preston
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

First – I’d like to apologize for my lengthy absence from Goodreads and my blog, the HouseAI. I had to move on short order from a 3 bedroom house and a stuffed garage with the detritus of a pack rat with 55 years behind her, to a one bedroom apartment across town. Big changes, and very stressful. And I had no computer service for that time, since money was tight. But rest assured, I have a large backlog of books waiting here by my desk to try and fill in.

This book, the latest in the Pendergast series, to me is the best so far. Even with my poor memory, I was able to bring forth the necessary recollections to tie the events of this novel to many of the preceding ones. It is not a book, in my opinion, to read if you haven’t read the series. Much of it draws on what happened to Pendergast, his wife Helen, his brother Diogenes, his ward Constance, etc. Without that background structure, a lot would be lost. But if you have been faithfully reading the series, as I strongly suggest you do if you haven’t (starting with Relic), then this one is a real treat. Full of more twists and turns that a carnival fun house, it constantly surprises you, and leaves you wondering what is next. What more can they do to surprise me? Rest assured, you will be. The action is non-stop, and many favorite characters take on greater shape, esp. Constance, his ward. More of her back history is revealed. D’Agosta is at the ready to back him up, as are some new characters, esp. a young girl I hope to see more of. Highly recommended. One of the best I’ve read in the past 365 days, esp. in this genre.

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