Monday, April 30, 2007

The Wheel of Time

Is Rand the Dragon Reborn?
Why can't Matt survive without the ruby dagger?
What caused Perrin to become "Wolfbrother"?

Come join Robert Jordan and discover the answers in the Wheel of Time series.

The journey begins in book 1, "The Eye of the World" where we are introduced to these three young men of the Two Rivers. Become caught up as they are whisked away into adventure by Aes Sedai Moiraine and a Warder named Lan, along with the young woman Egwene and their village Wisdom, Nynaeve. As they are hunted by the Dark One's Myrddraal and Trollocs they discover they are each more than what they ever knew they were.

Jordan takes us to a world with as much power and intrigue as Tolkien's Middle Earth, with captivating characters we are drawn to love and hate and immerses us in a realm of magic beyond one's imagination.

Ysabel for Beltane

If you aren't into Celtic myth and Beltane, don't let that deter you from reading this book. I am not normally a fan of fantasy and, had I known that this book would revolve around the love-that-transcends-the-ages theme, I would have missed a really good read because I would not then have chosen this title to review. Fortunately, the lead character, a 15 year old, i-pod-carrying, cell-phone-using, nice-guy boy named Ned got my undivided attention before it dawned on me that I was in for a fantasy.

Ned is on holiday with his hot-shot photographer dad in Aix-en-Provence, France and encounters a love-triangle that has played itself out life after life after life. The unexpected twist is that he can sense the auras of the gorgeous Ysabel (who has taken over the body of his dad's administrative assistant, Melanie) and her two lovers, the Celt and the Roman (who was really a Greek in their first life).

The plot is like the lovers, old-old-old and Saturday-matinee-silly, but the play is the thing. There is a double mystery to solve (How to get Melanie back, and why is Ned able to sense these 2,500 year-old lovers?) and all the characters are interesting. There are no real villians (except maybe the unfortunate and ineffectual Druid), only passionate people who love too deeply and too well. The violently tragic history of Aix-en-Provence, provides the theme that binds the characterization and plot. It is a barbarism vs. civilization game in which both the barbaric and the civilized are allowed their positive points and the realization that "You can't go home again," is poignantly underlined.

Great for adults looking for a romp of a read--acceptable for young adults--no sex, not much "adult" language (why do we call junior high curses "adult" language?), and recounting of historical violence rather than ripping off heads and swimming in gore.

Fantasy Fans--Gotta Have It!
Everyone Else: Give it a try.

Monday, April 23, 2007

The Priest Fainted

No, and yes. No, This isn't a book about a priest. Yes, it is about breaking rules. From the Picasso-esque dust jacket to the rich retelling of Greek myth this book is not at all what it seems, and exactly what it seems. This is a woman's book, specifically a mother-daughter book, a journey of discovery and emancipation that leads the reader through hopeful (sometimes strained) retelling of masculine myth in feminine terms, sprinkled liberally with basil, garlic, olive oil, and tomato. And in the end, the heroine finds herself remade in feminine terms--her own person.

The plot is not linear. The characters are not stereotypical. The pace is leisurely. Not a quick read, but as fulfilling as a rich stew on a cold day, this book will have a very small , but devoted, circle of readers

Monday, April 16, 2007

Is it a Bird? Is it a Plane? Is it an MQ-1A Predator Unmanned Aerial Vehicle with Hellfire C Laser-Guided Weapons

Cold days and wet weather gave me a little indoor time and, ignoring the dust bunnies hopping in and out of the den, I settled in to finish Tyrannosaur Canyon by Douglas Preston. What fun! This one is a definite for the shelves, and we will watch for his other books, but how do I classify it?

It's a mystery with the critical clue given in the prologue to the book and not revealed until the end, but the plot is straightforward. The bad guys are the bad guys and the good guys are exactly what they seem to be--good guys. No surprises. No unexpected twists. Just a thrilling good ride.

It is a thriller. Like a good Saturday matinee, it has cliff-hanger after cliff-hanger (Literally! The plot is set in the canyons of the desert southwest!), and one night in particular I found myself reading through the night and into the morning, looking for a place to put a bookmark. Nonetheless, I figured out early on that Preston wasn't going to kill off any of his good guys after the initial murder, and though the threats were real, my anticipation was in how they were going to survive rather than if they were going to survive.

It's an adventure. Dinosaur hunter, power-hungry scientist, CIA, top-secret G-men, fossils, Anasazi ruins--and all of it in my favorite northern New Mexican landscape--Delight! However, it's too much thriller to go on the adventure there is that element of mystery...

It does have its flaws. There are times when I had to suspend incredulity for a time to get past the plot devices that seemed a little strained (When a special-ops group is so critical to world security that the leader can break all laws and has no rules, how can an ordinary army guy thwart the mission with impunity?), but the read was such a romp that I really didn't care.

Preston's characters are excellent; even the villains are fully-fleshed with their good traits. One particularly nice touch is the killer's surprise that perfectly legitimate activities make him more money with less effort than crime. The monk, Broadbent and Sally will appear later in other books by Preston. He leaves them teamed up and ready for the next adventure.

Me too!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Good Night, Mr. Vonnegut, Wherever You Are

There was a disturbance in the ether sometime yesterday, though I did not feel it, did not know it had occured until about 7:05 am this morning when my radio alarm woke me to the news that Kurt Vonnegut had died. The literati of the world have lost a friend. And humanists, both secular and Christian, have lost their voice.

I picked up his last book, A Man Without A Country, in an airport on a trip to Seattle this January, though at the time, of course, I didn't know that it was his last book. I think he knew, though. It is his valediction, his letting go. In these pages, he no longer warns his readers that our ability to exist on this earth is contingent on our prudent use of natural resources. Like the street corner prophet we no longer believe, he tells us the end is near. He says, "And nobody can do a thing about it. It's too late in the game."

However, Vonnegut to the end, he does not leave us with a despairing final opus. He points us back to those things that make us human: altuism, mercy, the crafting of peace. Marveling at our determination to post the old testament words of Moses in public buildings, he asks why there is no outcry for the display of the Beatitudes of Christ. In this warlike time, meekness, mercy, and peace are out of fashion for most of us, but Vonnegut has never given up on these attributes that are the focus of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.

I had thought I would place the book in the library when I finished it, but I found I could not part with it after all, and so I must point Vonnegut's following to the 800s section on the shelves, where his novels take their place with the works of his literary peers. Of the choices there, I recommend particularly Cat's Cradle. Not for the faint of heart, the book satirizes all elements of society, stripping civilization down to the cold hard bone--and reminding us that we find our true selves in the marrow of bone, not in the fragility of flesh.

Mr. Vonnegut, I know you do not believe in life after life, but I hope you have been pleasantly surprised. You always loved a good laugh.

Monday, April 9, 2007

It's a Conspiracy!

Why is it when the house is full of winter dust and the yard is lost in leaves that all our favorite authors come out with new titles?

John Grisham's Innocent Man is HOT! Even though we have multiple copies, the list of reserves is long. I haven't gotten to read it yet, and that's only half the story. If I don't get my leaves raked and mulched, I may never get to read it! (And Hennessy Hank predicted an early spring--hah!)

I want to try the Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz. She sounds like a contender for Evanovich sisterhood, though who can equal Janet E? And, of course, I've got to read Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill just to see if he is following in his dad's footsteps. I'm wondering if there is another King maturing in Stephen's household.

In the meantime, I have The Priest Fainted languishing on my book table, balanced precariously on top of Tyrannosaur Canyon and a persistent little voice in the back of my brain that keeps insisting that I need to reread the Harry Potter series before we get Rowling's final chapter.

What's a reader to do?