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Forum nameReading Challenges, 2010
Topic subjectZette's Reading Challenge
Topic URLhttp://www.fmwriters.com/community/dc/dcboard.php?az=show_topic&forum=505&topic_id=2
2, Zette's Reading Challenge
Posted by zette, Tue Dec-15-09 07:06 PM
I would like to join at the 25 book challenge and hope to move up to 50 books, but I probably won't have enough time.

To make things easier, I will edit this post to list my books.

1. Wilhelm Hohenzollern, The Last of the Kaisers, Emil Ludwig

2. The Sumerians: Their History, Culture and Character, Samuel Noah Kramer (ISBN 0-226-45238-7)

3. Under a Cruel Star: A Life in Prague 1941-1968 by Heda Margolius Kovaly (ISBN 0-14-0126630)

4. Discontinuity in Greek Civilization by Rhys Carpenter

5. Foreigner by C.J. Cherryh (ISBN: 0886776376)

6. Invader (Foreigner 2) by C. J. Cherryh (ISBN 0886776384)

7. Inheritor (Foreigner 3) by C. J. Cherryh (ISBN 0886776899)

8. Precursor (Foreigner 4) by C. J. Cherryh (ISBN 0886778360)

9. Defender (Foreigner 5) by C. J. Cherryh (ISBN 0886779111)

10. The Oxford History of Italy, Edited by George Holmes (ISBN 019802579)

11. Another World: 1897 to 1917 by Anthony Eden

12. Explorer (Foreigner 6) by C. J. Cherryh (ISBN 0756400864)

13. How to Write Short Stories by Sharon Sorenson (ISBN 2189862201)

14. Destroyer (Foreigner 7) by C. J. Cherryh (ISBN 0756402530)

15. Writing A Short Story: A Hands On The Program, Jack M Bickham, (ISBN 0-89879-670-9)

16. Pretender (Foreigner # 8) by C. J. Cherryh (ISBN 075640374X)

17. Deliverer (Foreigner # 9) by C. J. Cherryh (ISBN 9780756404147)

18. Conspirator (Foreigner # 10) by C. J. Cherryh (ISBN 13:9780756405700)

19. Deceiver (Foreigner # 11) by C. J. Cherryh (ISBN 13:9780756406011)

20. The Water Mysteries of Mesa Verde by Kenneth R. Wright (ISBN 13:9781555663803)

21. Majestic Island Worlds (National Geographic Books)

22. From Alexander to Cleopatra by Michael Grant

23. Storm Front (Dresden Files #1) by Jim Butcher

24. Fool Moon (Dresden Files #2) by Jim Butcher

25. The Realm of Prester John by Robert Silverberg

26. Grave Peril (Dresden Files #3) By Jim Butcher

27. Everyday Life in Early Imperial China By Michael Loewe

28. Summer Knight (Dresden Files #4) By Jim Butcher

29. Death Maks (Dresden Files #5) By Jim Butcher

30. Blood Rites (Dresden Files #6) By Jim Butcher

31. Dead Beat (Dresden Files # 7) By Jim Butcher

32. Proven Guilty (Dresden Files # 8) By Jim Butcher

33. White Knight (Dresden Files # 9) By Jim Butcher

34. Pride and Prejudice By Jane Austen

35. Small Favor (Dresden Files #10) By Jim Butcher

36. The Defiant Agents by Andre Norton

37. Turn Coat (Dresden Files # 11) By Jim Butcher

38. Changes (Dresden Files # 12) by Jim Butcher

39. Side Jobs (Dresden Files # 13) by Jim Butcher

(Ha! Did it! Both Cherryh's Foreigner series and Butcher's Dresden Files in one year.)

40. A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whelan Turner
117, Review: Wilhelm Hohenzollern by Emil Ludwig
Posted by zette, Sun Jan-10-10 10:22 PM
Reading Wilhelm Hohenzollern, The Last of the Kaisers (1926) was like watching the movie of a train wreck, one slow cell at a time. The conductor, oblivious to the trouble right before his eyes, scowls at the masses standing by the tracks and smiles at his companions -- the German nobility -- as he takes them on a death ride.

The German Empire suffered two misfortunes that brought William the Second to the throne when it did. First, the grandfather lived and ruled into his 90's and second William's father died of cancer only a few weeks into his long-awaited reign. William took the throne at a time of peace and prosperity and he assumed a kind of autocratic control that was better suited to the middle ages rather than a modern empire. From the start, people around him bowed to his capricious whims and no one told him anything he didn't want to hear. Even in the depths of war, they continued to feed him with news of victory and hid from him even that the people who had followed him to the brink of disaster were ready to sacrifice their Kaiser for peace.

William liked to saber-rattle. He wanted to be the most powerful of all rulers, and he turned that longing against two groups: the Russians and the English. This was more than country against country -- Tsar Nicholas was his cousin, King Edward was his Uncle -- and Queen Victoria is grandmother. He hated and loved them all, but it was his personality -- that need to be the better of all of them -- that shaped the policy of the German Empire, and drove Europe into World War I. From his ill-thought outbursts to his private letters and even to his insistence on a growing navy that clearly threatened England, he pushed each country step-by-step toward war.

And yet, when the war came, he was the one who realized the enormity of the trouble and did his best to back away. By then, though, the Generals had gained too much control and he had lost all power of persuasion outside of the German Empire. He had his war when he finally had grown up enough to realize he didn't want it.

This is a complex and long journey through the thirty years of the Kaiser's reign, and the portrait that Emil Ludwig paints is clearly not without the author's own prejudices. Ludwig was too fond of adding the thoughts of people, assigning motivations and other things that he clearly could not have really known. He also tried far too hard to hint that the Kaiser was a hidden homosexual without actually saying it. He did this by the continued use of such terms as 'his womanish tendencies' and applying nearly the same terms to Eulenberg who was removed from his post -- and close link to the Kaiser -- because he was found guilty of sexual perversions, a terrible crime in that day. Oddly, though, Ludwig's sympathy is often apparent when he writes about Eulenberg and he often laments the loss of Euglenberg's influence on the Emperor.

Emil Ludwig's diatribe aimed at William the Second in the final couple pages of the work clearly shows he is not an objective viewer at this point. His regret that the Kaiser didn't make a suicidal march to the front or kill himself 'behind the curtains' rather than go into exile is a personal opinion in full force, rather than half-hidden as such observances had been in other parts of the book.

Ludwig makes much about how the Kaiser's crippled left arm affected his early life and how it likely made him more forceful in his nature. William expected criticism and he used his power of place to make certain he could not be judged as weak. However, Ludwig's assertions that the William was a 'civilian' at heart, and never a military man, seems to be more of a personal attack along the same lines as his 'womanish' statements. There is no doubt that Emil Ludwig had not divorced himself from the situation in order to write this book, so soon after the abdication and the disastrous (for Germany) aftermath of the war. In some ways, that makes it all the more interesting. The views of those who lived through the age are often far different than those written from sources fifty or a hundred years later.

Although I am not qualified to make a true judgment, and certainly not based on one single book, I think William the Second showed signs of being bi-polar. The pattern of frantic activity and high spirits, balanced with crushing depression seems to point in that direction.

Ludwig lacks the grace and style of a writer like Andre Maurois, who also wrote biographies at about the same time. Maybe this is partly due to the choice of subject, or even the work of the translators. However, it seems that Ludwig uses a hammer, pounding the same point again and again. His timeline for the work sometimes skips back and forth making it hard to follow events, and isn't helped that ninety years later the names everyone knew are now obscure.

There is another odd item: While he speaks of William's mother, the daughter of Queen Victoria and named after her, it is never in any good terms. I wouldn't have thought much about it, except that while he mentions William's wife, he never, as far as I remember, named her or even when they wed. The only mention of any of his children is that he refused to visit wife and child when his wife was ill. There are later references to the Crown Prince and even a grandchild. Since Ludwig states in his preface that this book 'is a portrait of William the Second -- no more: it presents neither his epoch, nor the whole story of his life' I find it odd that anything about his marriage would be left out while he dwelled on the relationship with the unfortunate Eulenberg.

Overall, the book proved fascinating and well worth reading and I would recommend it not only to people studying in the history of the era, but also to writers interested in a fascinating character study.
188, Review: The Sumerians by Samuel Noah Kramer
Posted by zette, Fri Jan-22-10 04:21 PM
(ISBN 0-226-45238-7)

Until the mid 1800's no one knew of the existence of a land called Sumer in the ancient Mesopotamian (Iran and Iraq) area. Finally, the gradual gathering of information and the incredible deciphering of cuneiform lead archeologists to realize that they had discovered a lost civilization -- and a huge, important one that had affected not only the civilizations that succeeded them, but still has influence on the world today.

While reading 'The Sumerians' I almost found that I was more excited and interested in the work of finding a new civilization than I was about the civilization itself. The gradual realization that there was a vast network of city-states before the Akkadians came as a true shock, especially since the Sumerians were not Semitic as the later Akkadians were. This was proved by the language they spoke, which is still being deciphered from the thousands of clay tablets found in the area.

It isn't that the Sumerians aren't interesting people to learn about. Actually, they are fascinating, from laws that allowed women to buy and own their own property to the schools for scribes (in which at least one woman's name has been found so far). The Sumerians likely had contacts as far as Egypt and Ethiopia to the west and India to the east. Many elements of their myths found their way into Biblical literature, from The Flood to Job. They had law courts, judges and councils of local men that the King's called upon (but didn't always listen to) when making major decisions. This was a far more complex civilization than people believed possible 5000 years ago.

The Sumerians did seem to be a contentious people who seemed to favor acerbic debate, at least from some of the works that have been deciphered. And here is the true glory of the Sumerian civilization and what kept it from being completely lost to the world: they wrote out everything from lists of natural world to copies of essays, myths, proclamations and laws. Thousands of these clay tablets have been found in the ruins of palaces, but also sometimes in the ruins of an edubba -- a school.

The Sumerians bequeathed their great gifts of civilization to the Akkadians who conquered them, but held on to much of what the Sumerians had created, including the complex form of writing called cuneiform. The Sumerian language, through cuneiform, became the 'Latin' of the distant ancient Near East -- a language that continued to be used in written documents that could be read by educated people no matter what their native tongue might be.

The Sumerian legacy is considerable and the discovery of the civilization fascinating. This relatively short book is a good overview of both, and a good basic work for the personal exploration of these fascinating people.

199, Review: Under a Cruel Star by Heda Margolius Kovaly
Posted by zette, Sun Jan-24-10 12:26 AM
Under a Cruel Star: A Life in Prague 1941-1968 by Heda Margolius Kovaly

(ISBN 0-14-0126630)

There are few autobiographies as powerful and heart-wrenching as this one, filled with the profoundly moving account of what one woman suffered; a tale of her tragedies and her triumphs, and a testament to her will to survive.

Heda starts with the first of the many horrible tragedies of her life: the order for all the Jews in Prague to Lodtz. There, living in abject poverty, she watched many people die, including a cousin who died in her arms. But worse came afterwards when they are moved from Lodtz to Auschwitz.

The horror of Auschwitz begins with her mother dragged away to her death. The horrific tale of her life there cannot be imagined, even with the the words on the pages to help. And yet Heda did the seemingly impossible. She not only survived, she escaped.

Finally, back to Prague she found something she had not expected -- friends turn away from her in fear, and she has virtually no where to go. She didn't blame them. It meant death to harbor her -- and yet, there is a sense of such loss in this section that it's not hard to believe that she was willing to die then, when she had survived so much else.

But the war comes to an end. The Russians arrive and drive out the German occupation force. And for awhile... for too short a while, there is joy and wonder in her life again. Her beloved Rudolf had also survived. It seemed impossible, and yet they are together. They have a life and a future.

At this point, Heda presents an interesting view of how it was that Czechoslovakia went willingly to a Socialist government. She has many personal observances that seem to be a good explanation of how this country turned from democracy to socialism in those post-war years.

First was the feeling all during the war that their Western allies had betrayed and abandoned them to the Germans. Then, at the end of the war, the Americans held off and it was the Russians who drove their tanks through Prague and freed the city. Also was the fact that so many people had been living within a communal sort of environment already, sharing all they had to survive, that they understood the need to 'share the wealth'. Heda isn't as convinced that socialism is the best answer, but her husband is, and soon the country moves toward its new future.

For a while, all is well. Rudolf holds a high post in the local party government, but even now there are feelings of stress. Heda, with her new baby son, is perhaps more aware of the bullying by some party members than is her husband, who truly believes in what he is doing. He's convinced they are making a better future.

But then the arrests begin. It is the start of the Stalinist Purges. People disappear. No one trusts anyone else. A single wrong word, a whisper of dislike at anything created for or by the Party, and they were apt to be disciplined -- or arrested. The dream of a communal life disappeared as the top people in the Party did all they could to hold on to power.

The arrest of her husband puts Heda in a difficult position. She has a young child, and because her husband is suspected of treason, she has trouble finding any work at all. Her position at a publishing house disappears. She's strong, though. She will do everything in her power to help her son and her husband. She takes a job working in a factory, she writes letters to everyone she knows. Nothing helps. She is not good at the factory job, but she works, often long after hours, to make up her quota. She does her best for her son....

Months and months pass, and she grows dangerous ill. She holds it off as long as she can, but then finally sends her son to the country when a doctor finally puts her into the hospital. And there, listening to the radio, she hears her husband's voice at the trial ... and the words of his confession. It is, she knows, not the truth. She knows what he must have suffered at the hands of those who held him. It is no better than the Nazis and the concentration camps.

They literally kick her out of the hospital, even though she is still very ill. She is a persona non grata now -- her husband a traitor. After Rudolf is executed, she loses her job, even their apartment, and she and her son live in a hovel until, finally, a friend finally saves her. He marries her, and because he has married the former wife of a traitor, he loses his job. But they survive. They continue on. For awhile, it even looks as though things will be better, in the 1960's when the Czech people rebel against the audacities of the Party leaders who ruled while Stalin lived. It looks better. Things are brighter. It's spring again ...

And then the Russian tanks invade to bring the country back in line once more, and Heda, reluctantly, finally leaves the country behind.

My bare recitation of the events cannot begin to do justice to the anguish of reading this memoir. It is a book that will put your own petty problems into perspective. Even her son left Czechoslovakia because he could not continue to live in a land that had allowed all of his family to be killed. Except for his mother, every one of his relatives had died, and none of them had died naturally.

There is no true victory in this book. You do not come away from it filled with the joy of human triumphs over adversity and evil. You come away appalled at the horrible things that people will do to each other. Through Heda's simple, poignant words, you understand the pain and the loss -- but there will never be a true answer to why it has happened.

But in the end... in the end, Heda survived.

252, Review: Discontinuity in Greek Civilization by Rhys Carpenter
Posted by zette, Fri Jan-29-10 07:53 PM
The first time I read this collection of three short lectures (and a forward and afterward), I didn't expect it to start out with references to Atlantis. The first lecture points toward the island of Thera as a possible location for a place that became the myth of Atlantis. I'd heard this possibility before, and was only surprised because I didn't expect it.

The other two lectures, though, cover something nearly as mythical -- the fall of the Mycenaeans and the Dorian invasion. Carpenter's discussion of climate change, wind shifts and drought seem to explain the oddness that accompanied the Dorians entrance into Greece. It is important to note that the Dorians are also sometimes referred to as the Heraklids -- the descendents of Heracles -- and that they believed they were returning home.

The Mycenaens were apparently already gone from the scene by the time they arrived, and many of the locations abandoned without sign of destruction. The signs of drought appear in other areas as well, and Carpenter's study of meteorology makes a reasonable answer to a perplexing problem.

Though at times it seems a bit repetitious, with less than 100 pages, this little book is a treasure of interesting information and well-worth a quick read.

259, Review: Foreigner by C.J. Cherryh
Posted by zette, Sat Jan-30-10 06:58 PM
ISBN: 0886776376

When I first read Foreigner, back in early 1994, I was immediately drawn into the exceptional world building, fascinating aliens and wonderful characters. It became one of my favorite Cherryh books and I hoped she would write more.

I got my wish.

It is now sixteen years later, the eleventh book in the Foreigner Sequence will be out in a few months. In celebration, I decided it was time to go back and read the earlier books. I knew I had forgotten some of the material and this gave me the perfect excuse to reacquaint myself with the full depth of story line again.

What struck me as I started the first book is how much of the later trouble is present there in the first one. Not only is the world expertly created, but problems mentioned in passing will become trouble in the future. Places, people ... almost everything is there in the first book, ready to unfold through this epic science fiction journey.

The book starts with an unfortunate group of humans who have lost their way in the wide, dangerous universe. They arrive at the world of the Atevi by chance. They are not at peace among themselves; there is a difference of opinion between those who want a world beneath their feet and a group who want to keep to space at all costs. Some make their way to the world below, despite opposition.

All seems to be going well enough after the first encounter ... but when the story leaps ahead in time, we learn there was a war and now the humans and Atevi are separated and only one human, the paidhi, lives at the Atevi court. This person is responsible for helping to introduce new technology to the Atevi in a way that will not upset the balance of their civilization. The paidhi is also as fluent in the Atevi language and customs as any human can be, and his observances will help future relationships between the two species.

Bren Cameron is the current paidhi. He's very popular with a powerful Atevi leader. He's likely the best paidhi that has ever served at the Atevi court. However, an assassination attempt against him and then a trip that puts him fully into the hands of Atevi, with no human to turn to, shows him just how little he truly knows.

And the adventure has only just begun.

317, Review: Invader (Foreigner 2) by C. J. Cherryh
Posted by zette, Mon Feb-08-10 08:14 PM
(ISBN 0886776384)

When Bren Cameron is rushed from surgery back to the high court of the alien Atevi, he knows there has to be something drastic going on. And he's right. The woman who replaced him, Deana Hanks, is not at all qualified to work in the position of Paidhi. Her interests are purely and politically human, and Bren can't decide if she's incompetent or malicious. Whatever the answer, she's stirred up a hornets' nest with her off-hand remark about faster-than-light travel, something that the Atevi, with their strong numerical instincts, are already having a hard time working into their culture.

And there is the human spaceship, returned after two hundred years, and the crew worried because they've found the station abandoned and the humans -- and Atevi -- not technologically ready to take to space again. Can the Atevi trust the new humans? They are more than aware they can't trust most of the humans who already live on the world.

Bren has moved up in the Atevi society. He has a historic apartment next door to Tabini, the leader of the Western Association -- the most powerful man in the Atevi world, and ... well, one can't say he is a friend (a word that doesn't exist for the Atevi) but he is at least a protector for Bren.

Invader takes us farther into the Atevi culture, which Bren only thought he really understood. It's obvious there are far too many things a human just isn't qualified to experience, much like the Atevi can't experience friendship and love. Man'chi takes its place in their psyches, and Bren almost begins to understand it -- or at least to see how it works.

He is, however, losing contact with the human population, both in a physical and a mental capacity. He's not as comfortable changing for the Atevi mindset to the human one these days. His failed love life, the pressure from his family who are being harassed by the same people who back Deana Hanks, and his own government department is no longer truly backing him.

Bren Cameron is on his own, fighting against Deana Hanks and her influence with fringe Atevi, and trying to prepare for the arrival of two more Paidhi -- these from the ship, one for the humans and one to train under him for the Atevi.

People are still trying to kill him. Life is not going to get any easier.
319, Review: Inheritor (Foreigner 3) by C. J. Cherryh
Posted by zette, Mon Feb-08-10 08:45 PM
(ISBN 0886776899)

The Atevi have taken to the idea of racing the planet-bound humans in their rush to reach the space station. Bren Cameron, the only human diplomat on Atevi soil, is firmly in the Atevi camp. So much so, in fact, that it's creating trouble for friends and families on the island the Atevi gave the humans -- and to which they are restricted. The cultures do not mix well, and they've already fought one war.

It seems as though the humans may be pushing for another one. The reactionary people have gotten control, none of Bren's family is safe, and he can't reach anyone who will protect them. Even when his mother is in the hospital, he can't go home, much to the dismay of his brother.

Bren doesn't need the extra human emotional baggage. He's having trouble enough with Jason, the man the ship sent to train as the Paidhi between them and the Atevi. Jason is prickly, morose, unused to open spaces, mistrusting -- but he is working hard to learn the Atevi language. That he and Bren don't get along as well as Bren had hoped might, in fact, have more to do with Bren's inability to relate to humans as well as he should.

And then when Jason learns, in a circular way, that his father has died, the relationship been Jason and Bren and Jason and the Atevi take a turn for the worse. With an important Atevi about to visit the apartment, keeping Jason in line is going to be very difficult.

And perhaps a vacation afterwards would be nice. Jason would like to see the sea. The redoubtable Ilisidi agrees to help -- and that is Bren's big mistake. Illisidi, grandmother of the most important person in the world, literally has her own agenda.

It doesn't help that Jason has been lying about a number of things and that Deanna Hanks is trying to encourage a rebellion in the Atevi world -- and that the human government is doing nothing to get her in control.

And it doesn't help Bren that he's feeling more and more drawn to his Atevi guard, Jago.

Nothing is going to work well.

I did feel that this book perhaps started out a little too slowly. I enjoyed the characterization, but there were times when I wanted less talking and more action -- however, by the end of the book there was more than enough going on!

352, Review: Precursor (Foreigner 4) by C. J. Cherryh
Posted by zette, Sun Feb-14-10 06:00 PM
(ISBN 0886778360)

Three years have passed since we left Bren Cameron in the dangerous work of translator between the Atevi and the humans who are trapped on their world. Or maybe not as trapped as they had been, since the human ship has returned to the abandoned space station hanging over their heads. The fact that the humans have a deep seeded, cultural distrust of the Phoenix ship crew only complicates the problem since they don't trust the Atevi, either.

And the ship hasn't returned with good news. There is another species in space, and they are not at all friendly. They may be heading this way.

In those three years, the Atevi have done the practically impossible. They've built a shuttle and they've made some practice runs to the station. Everything is going smoothly.

So why has the leader of the Atevi suddenly ordered Bren to go to the station? And why is it at this crucial moment that his human family seems to be complicating the situation with their own problems?

But that's nothing compared to the trouble he's about to have with the ship's captains who suddenly find they have an Atevi presence on the station.

Book 4 of the Foreigner sequence starts fast and never slows down. Bren and his Atevi companions have their hands full with dangers on every side and little cooperation from anyone. They're only hope for back up is weeks away with the return of the shuttle. There's no easy answer on whom to trust among the humans, and, as always, no easy answer for Bren.

For those who have read all the books up to this point, the understanding of the Atevi and their culture starts to make it easier to predict some of their moves and to understand what will happen in some instances -- but even for Bren, there are occasional surprises.

This was a fun, fast book to read. The sense of things changing in the world, of the dangers lurking not only in space but close to home, makes Precursor a great lead into even more trouble to come!

395, Review: Defender (Foreigner 5) by C. J. Cherryh
Posted by zette, Tue Feb-23-10 06:45 PM
(ISBN 0886779111)

A deathbed confession, overheard by the wrong person, sets a wildfire of emotion through both the station and the ship crews as they learn there may be survivors on a station they abandoned when they ran back to the Atevi world.

Betrayal, anger and distrust are rampant in every interface between the various human groups and even with the Atevi. However, with the ship refueled, there is no reason why the crew can't go back to get the missing people. A year-long journey and a chance of a hostile alien encounter are only part of the problem. A decade has passed since they abandoned Reunion. What will they find when they return?

The hope that friends and family might still be holding on in the partially destroyed station is going to lead to a mutiny if a rescue isn't immediately launched -- and even that would take a year to reach the station -- then there is going to be serious trouble.

Into this atmosphere, Bren Cameron must try to work a solution to everyone's liking -- but he's working blind in one respect. He has had no instructions from the Aiji or the Atevi government. Urgent messages go unanswered at a time when he most needs the guidance of his friend.

He knows friend is not a word he can apply to any Atevi. He knows that he doesn't feel what they feel, and yet he can't help but feel a level of betrayal when he learns the Aiji has been working with another rather than with him. He's been cut off with no one but his loyal Atevi companions to stand by him in a dangerous situation where he can only guess what the leader of the Atevi world will want. Add the pressure of family commitments he can in no way deal with, and believing himself abandoned and betrayed, Bren can only do what he's always trained to do -- mediate between groups of people who are one step away from open warfare. When the indomitable Illisidi and the Aiji's young son come to the station, intending to travel aboard the ship, the situation grows even more complex.

Defender is an exciting book from start to finish, with enough twists and turns to keep the reader guessing just what might be the truth and what enemies might Bren faces. As always, the alien society is exceptionally well-written and the plotting superb. This book is a real treat for fans of the series.

458, Review: The Oxford History of Italy, Edited by George Holmes
Posted by zette, Wed Mar-10-10 01:00 AM
(ISBN 019802579)

This collection of essays about Italy starts with the announcement that it is not a history of Rome, though, inevitably, a lot of Roman history winds through the pages from the age of the Emperors through the growing Papal authority.

The long ages of fragmentation between the different kingdoms in Italy is a fascinating and sometimes appalling story of power, prestige and sibling wars between the various city-states. Add to that the almost mythological status of having control of practically any part of Italy, and you have a set-up rife with trouble. Austria, Germany and France often had their hands on some part of Italy, helping to keep the country fragmented. And yet, while each of the cities had their own culture, there was obvious overlay and even competition that kept them striving to be the best. Rome was, by no means, the only city of cultural importance.

This book, with alternations between history and culture of the times, did much to layout the history of these city-states in a way that allows a better understanding of the overall problems and triumphs of the area, and the final push to create a unified country -- quite late in history by our modern standards.

Of all the chapters, the one on World War I seemed to be the most appalling in many ways, and an interesting counterpoint to other works I've been reading on the era.

The book was informative, relatively easy to read, and filled with gorgeous photography. While having different authors work on different sections helped in many ways, it did sometimes give it an uneven feel for the writing style. I found it amusing to read one of the cultural sections which seemed, in my opinion, to read a little over the top in the 'snobish' art critic range -- and yet, even there, I found the work fascinating, and the ability to tie painting, music and writing together far more informative than many books I've read dedicated to the arts. Pulling all the pieces together made this a fascinating read.

459, Review: Another World: 1897 to 1917 by Anthony Eden
Posted by zette, Wed Mar-10-10 01:04 AM
By the time I finished reading this book, I had begun to think that the word 'Elegy' ought to have appeared somewhere in the title. I doubt that more than five pages pass at any time without him marking the death of another person -- and far too many of them in World War I where he lost brothers, cousins, uncles and friends. Even the opening -- where he is returning to the home he knew as a child -- is a moment of loss as we see the huge, old building going to ruin.

That makes this a melancholy book to read, and yet there is something about Anthon Eden (Lord of Avon) and his acceptance of all that happened, that makes this less painful than it otherwise would have been. Even his description of living in the trenches during World War I, while informative seemed distant. And yet it as a moving book -- powerful perhaps, in its lack of sentimentality and its straight-forward approach to horrific and horrible events.

From his father's obsession with modern art to his days in the trenches in Somme, a reader can see, piece by piece as the old world slips away. His closing lines, perhaps, best explain the changes:

"...I emerged tempered by my experience and bereft of many friends, but with my illusions intact, neither shattered nor cynical, to face a changed world."

This short, well-written book is an excellent glimpse into the world of British aristocracy at the turn of the century. It's filled with insights about the links that stretched across the Europe, and about how badly many of them miscalculated the situation with Germany. From a protected childhood to days in the trenches at the battle of Somme, this narrative does carry the reader easily through a passage when the world did, indeed, change.

475, Review: Explorer (Foreigner 6) by C.J. Cherryh
Posted by zette, Sat Mar-13-10 11:35 PM
(ISBN 0756400864)

The paidhi, Bren Cameron, is in the one place he never really expected to be. He's aboard the Phoenix, heading for a damaged space station, to rescue the people who had been left behind more than a decade before. Bren Cameron is in space -- something he dreamed about when he was younger, but never thought that the world would change so quickly that he'd have this chance.

And, being older and wiser, he's really not certain it's what he truly wants anyway. But he now the Lord of the Heavens and this is his place.

Traveling with him is the aiji dowager, Ilisidi and her great-grandson, the seven year old heir. They were going to a dangerous place -- a place where the humans who are in control are not friends of the Atevi or to the humans like Bren Cameron, who is descended from people the Pilot's Guild would consider rebels and deserters, since they abandoned the station at the Atevi world.

It's a perilous position, made all the more so by the presence of a dangerous new alien race. Bren and Jas, now one of the senior captains on the ship, do their best to establish communications and learn that the station fired on what must have been a peace envoy. The aliens want back the body. Bren is determined to get it for them.

The Pilot's Guild is not cooperating, not in the action with the aliens and not with the idea of 'rescuing' everyone on the station. And Bren learns that the envoy isn't dead, but captured. It's going to be a dangerous game to get him free, satisfy the aliens who are very powerful, and rescue the humans.

This book moved at the speed of light. It was a joy to read and a great adventure with the promise of more 'adventure' than probably Bren would ever want in the future. From toy car races and dinosaur movies to daring raids on enemy territory -- this book never stops.
476, Review: How to Write Short Stories by Sharon Sorenson
Posted by zette, Sun Mar-14-10 12:04 AM
(ISBN 2189862201)

I picked up this book from my shelf because I wanted to reacquaint myself with how others approach the writing of short stories. I remembered that I hadn't finished this book the first time, and I wasn't certain why.

It soon became clear.

While the book has a lot of interesting tidbits and ideas, it is also packed with some of what is, to me, the most boring short story examples I have ever read. This is because the book is obviously aimed at mainstream and litfic and not at a genre writer like me. That may make a huge difference for other people who read it.

I found it painful to try and pick through the material, looking for those helpful pieces. I did find them, though. My reaction to the book is likely partly a response to the type of stories presented. I did think, though, that the writing was sometimes a bit pushy in a 'this is the only way to do stories' sort of way. Having written my share of 'how to write' material, and having spent ten years working with new writers, I know there is no such thing as a single answer to any field of writing.

I wouldn't tell people not to read this book. I think we learn best about writing by expanding our views and purposely reading books about writing that may not suit our styles. You never know what you might learn -- or what you might learn about yourself that you can qualify by seeing something that absolutely does not work for you.

So, while this was not my favorite book on writing, I do think that it has helpful sections and someone who is more attune to the types of stories presented is likely to find this book far more useful than I did.

477, Review: Destroyer (Foreigner 7) by C. J. Cherryh
Posted by zette, Sun Mar-14-10 12:40 AM

(ISBN 0756402530)

With the first book in the third Foreigner Sequence, it's a return to the world of the Atevi, the Phoenix having overcome all obstacles, rescued the stranded humans of the Reunion Station and even made tentative peace with a new alien race. It should be a return in triumph.

Things have changed at home. The Western Association of the atevi is in a state of chaos. There are reports of rebellions. The station is low on supplies and now has to take on several thousand more rescued humans. And worst -- the worst of all -- Tabini aiji is reported dead by his usurper.

Into this chaotic, troubled land Bren, Ilisidi and Tabini's son and heir, must make their way across country to the dubious safety of an old, hidebound lord with no love of humans and their technology. And while he knows that their journey to Reunion and the contact with the kyo aliens vindicates everything that Tabini did to rush his people to the stars, Bren cannot help but feel that maybe he failed in his own true job -- that of the paidhi, who stood between the atevi and human technology that everyone feared would ruin their civilization if handed over too quickly.

But what could he have done differently?

This is another great book in the series, from the surprise fall of the Western Association through all the trouble Bren and his companions have to find safety and get news of a problem that might be following them in -- the new alien race that expects to find a stable, Atevi government with everything in hand.

There are times when I think Bren 'thinks' too much, but beyond that I very rarely even come up for air as I'm reading. Far too often, I've found it dawn before I put one of these books down and get a few hours sleep. The characters are wonderful, the plot exciting and world building exquisite.
528, Review: Writing a Short Story by Jack M. Bickham
Posted by zette, Sat Mar-27-10 07:04 PM
ISBN 0-89879-670-9

I was really amazed at how much this book must have affected my writing when I read it several years ago. I remember feeling as though I had found vindication in how I work, and I know now that I picked up a lot of basic ideas from here without ever realizing it. Much of what Bickham wrote about in this book were things I had already been doing. Re-reading it a decade later has only reinforced some of my approach and perhaps refined and added a few new steps in.

I never did get caught up in his card file system, though. That just seemed a little excessive for me, even though I have note cards stacked up everywhere in the room still delete that and occasionally use them for notes.

Bickham does a comprehensive overview if a way to create a professional short story career. He believes in thoroughly laying out story ideas and working everything up before you write. He missed trusts the work of inspiration alone and believes that is where a number of writers get into serious trouble.

The fact that I agree on some serious levels with this book does not mean that I think everything in it will work for every writer. However, he does have a good, solid sense of how to put a story together. More than that, the book covers just about every phase of writing and offers insights that can help with longer works, as well.

I recommend this book for anyone who is looking for help and direction in writing short stories. I would even suggest that you try his notecard system at least once. You never know when something different is going to be just what you need to break through at some level.

529, Review: Pretender (Foreigner # 8) By C. J. Cherryh
Posted by zette, Sat Mar-27-10 11:35 PM
(ISBN 075640374X)

The Lord of the Heavens, the paid'hi Bren Cameron has returned victorious from a two year voyage in space. He's brought back everyone, saved the humans of a far station and convinced a new alien race that the Atevi -- and Tabini in particular -- are in charge of the world, not the humans who so badly messed up things where the Kyo are concerned.

Only he quickly found that Tabini had been deposed by a reckless southerner. Now he and his Atevi companions must do their best to get Tabini back in charge before the Kyo turn up on the proverbial doorstep.

The problem, though, is that many of the Atevi believe that Bren Cameron and his space program -- and the rush of technology that came with it -- is the reason why their world is now in a civil war. This makes Bren as much a target for assassins as Tabini himself.

Once again, C. J. Cherryh has moved the continuing story of Bren's life forward at a frantic pace, and with the knowledge that -- win or lose -- this isn't going to be over, only makes the story all the more intersting. There will be trouble in the southern lands where the usurper rose to power with his clan. And there is the problem that the Kyo might show up at any time. The humans on the island are frantic, believing they're going to be under attack by the Atevi as well, and Bren is no more popular there than he has been in years past.

He is safest with his Guild body guards and sticking close to Tabini . . . except that the great lord is avoiding him, and Bren realizes that he has most likely fallen out of favor with the only person who really has the power to keep him safe.

530, Review: Deliverer (Foreigner # 9) by C. J. Cherryh
Posted by zette, Sat Mar-27-10 11:41 PM
(ISBN 9780756404147)

Cajeiri, Tabini's son and heir drew up for two years in space. There he had human friends, raced to toy cars as members of the assassins guild and became friends with an alien.

Now he's back in his parents' care. There are two problems - -he's very intelligent and he's extremely bored. The duty and two guards put a name isn't all that difficult. However, when the boy disappears from the apartment in the middle of the night it's no child's play.

Illisidi and Bren head to the eastern lands where he will of course draw attention and where he has made no friends except for Illisidi herself. However, his is important to get his team into the field looking for the boy. And they, of course, will not go without him. So Bren is in for wild rides, worries about the boy he's become very fond of and visits to people who really would rather not see him.

Cajeiri, in the meantime is not sitting idly by in the hands of his kidnappers. He remembers the human movies he saw on the ship. It's time to tunnel out of the dungeon.

This book was a lot more fun than I thought it would be. I'm generally not fond of children but even I've started taking a liking to Cajeiri. Cherryh does a wonderful job of creating these characters and it's been a joy to read the book so far, though I have begun start feeling very sorry for Bren.

This is another great addition to the series. It's been a wonder to read these books and I recommend them to everyone who is interested in read about alien societies. By this point thinking in numbers when it comes to the characters of the story doesn't seem very odd it all. These are masterful stories by a great storyteller.

619, Review: Conspirator (Foreigner # 10) By C. J. Cherryh
Posted by zette, Sat Apr-10-10 09:40 PM
(ISBN 13:9780756405700)

Things are relatively calm in Bren's life -- and you know that just isn't going to last for long. A note from Lord Tatiseigi gives him notice that he must move from the historic apartments he's been leant while the Lord was away -- and he has about three days in which to do so. His own apartment is still in the hands of a clan of dubious alignment and there is no other place open in the historic Bujavid. It looks as though he and his people are going to be living in one of the hotels down the hillside -- a nightmare for security.

After the initial panic, Bren decides now is a good time to go visit his coastal estate, spend a month relaxing, and figure out where he's going to live back in the city when the new assembly begins. A few quiet days at his estate is just what he needs.


Toby is coming to visit. Unfortunately, he will also bring Barb. That's bound to create trouble. Next Cajeiri, upset that he's been denied the promised fishing trip, takes his two followers and heads to see Bren anyway, causing all kinds of havoc at home and at the estate.

A mishap with a small boat, a serious problem with a neighbor, assassins in the house, and a visit from the aiji-dowage: Bren is not getting the quiet he needs.

While I was reading this book, I began to think that they needed to put Caijeiri on a leash. He's always wandering off and getting into trouble. But then it occurred to me that they would have to do the same with Bren. I also had a strange thought that Caijeiri seems older than his years, and thought about the spider plants growing wild on the ship, and wondering if there isn't a connection.

This was an exciting tale, like all the others. It was interesting to see Bren trying to juggle things between his human brother and his staff. And it was also a very interesting look at what happens when mani'chi goes bad in an atevi.

It is, like the others, another book in the series that is well worth reading. I am looking forward to the next one, which (as I write this) should be out within a month. I've had a whirlwind adventure, reading all ten Foreigner books in three months. It's going to be difficult to not have the rest of them -- but there are more coming out. Another has already been delivered to the publisher, and C.J. Cherryh has begun the next one already. The adventure is far from over.
703, Review: Deceiver (Foreigner # 11) by C. J. Cherryh
Posted by zette, Sun May-09-10 04:19 PM
(ISBN 13:9780756406011)

With a title like that, you know there's going to be a major problem in the story -- that's to be expected in Bren Cameron's life. There is no such thing as a quiet vacation, perhaps a bit of a fishing trip (a belief reluctantly held by young Cajeiri as well). Knowing that the southern Marid has made inroads into the coastal area, he must work with his allies to do their best to make certain

Bren has a full house of important guests -- Illisidi, Lord Geigi (returned from space to help with the problems at his estate), Geigi's discredited nephew locked up in the basement, and Cajeiri -- not to mention Toby and Barb. Of course it's a magnet for enemy assassins. And perhaps worse, because it looks as though they might have a viper within their own midst.

Who is the real enemy here? Who can Bren trust?

And what side is he going to come down on when the battle becomes far more personal?

There is only one problem with Deceiver -- it ends too soon, and it ends in the midst of trouble which is going to make it difficult to wait another year to find out what is going on. I want to read more and I want to read it right now.

But you know, that's always been the fun of a Cherryh story. She never leaves you thinking that you've had enough.

So, I'll wait and look forward to the next book.

704, Review: Water Mysteries of Mesa Verde by Kenneth R. Wright
Posted by zette, Sun May-09-10 04:22 PM
(ISBN 13:9781555663803)

When Kenneth Wright gave a talk on the water systems of Machu Picchu, he didn't know that his next project was already waiting for him in the guise of someone in the audience. Invited out to visit the Mesa Verde ruins in Southwestern Colorado, he soon found a new puzzle. How did the Ancestral Pueblans (Anasazi) survive in such an arid, unforgiving area.

For the next several years, he used the resources of the Wright Paeleohydrological Institute to map out their water resources and presents the results in this small, sometimes highly technical, book. He has set to right the controversy over whether some areas were dance platforms or reservoirs, and at what ages the reservoirs were used.

This is a short book (132 pages) and filled with pictures and diagrams. It also reads as though it is a collection of reports on each of the areas, rather than a unified picture. The pieces do support each other and reference other material, so that it is easy to pull together a picture of what life was like when these reservoirs were in use.

I have a love of Mesa Verde, which I've visited a few times, along with other areas in the American Southwest. I found this book fascinating when the technical material wasn't over my head. I also read it for a second, personal reason. As someone who writes both fantasy and science fiction, I am always looking for ways in which to help believable worlds. This book has added another layer of realism to my backgrounds.

For anyone interested in either the area or in how non-modern water systems can work, this book is well worth reading.

738, Review: Majestic Island Worlds
Posted by zette, Tue May-25-10 11:24 PM
Majestic Island Worlds (National Geographic Society)

I wanted a quick look at island life to help me create a good feel for some scenes in a current novel. This book proved to be a quick, pleasant read -- and a reminder of the vast diversity of islands there are in the world. Even from the few samples presented, the variety of lifestyles, climate and animal life proved fascinating and astounding.

And, being a National Geographic book meant the photography was breathtaking, of course.

Each section was written and photographed by different people. The islands visited were:





New Zealand


It turned out that the last provided the best 'feel' for what I wanted, along with exceptional photography of the area.

At less than 200 pages, and much of that photography, this is a fast read, and yet provides a wonderful quick overview of the areas with enough discussion of the different peoples and cultures that it proved to be a fascinating introduction to many of the islands, and a great jumping off point to go find more information.

I recommend this book for both researchers looking for info (and pictures) and armchair travelers.

741, Review: From Alexander to Cleopatra by Michael Grant
Posted by zette, Wed May-26-10 10:31 PM
(History Book Club Edition, 1982)

I have never been disappointed with a book by historian Michael Grant, and this one lived up to all expectations. I knew bits and pieces about the Hellenistic age, but this book did a masterful job of pulling it all together, with separate sections on history, art and culture.

Grant has a masterful hand for making history understandable. This section of Greek history -- between the death of Alexander and the rise of Rome -- is an area filled with an incredible amount of diversity as the Successors took their areas of Alexander's Empire and made them into bastions of Greek culture in foreign lands. One of the most interesting was the short-lived Bactrian lands in northern India, where Greek influence held out, cut off from all the other Greek-held lands, for some time. And, of course, the Ptolemy Empire in Egypt, from start to finish, is always fascinating.

It was a mesmerizing time to study about, filled with experimentation in art and philosophy as the Greeks came into contact with other powerful nations and began to adopt and adapt what they learned. The confluence of so many inputs created a diversity of thought and imagination that blossomed so quickly that it was difficult for anyone to keep up with the changes.

This book is well worth reading for an overview of the Hellenistic Age that doesn't skimp on details and lays out everything so that it's easy to follow the history of each section. I highly recommend reading it for anyone who is interested in the time period.

802, Review: Storm Front (Dresdent Files #1) by Jim Butcher
Posted by zette, Sat Jun-12-10 05:11 PM
I decided it had been too long since I read the first of the Dresden File books so I decided to read them all. I loved them the first time through, and they have turned out to be just as much fun this second time.

I really didn't remember a lot of the first book since I had read it so quickly. I was surprised, in fact, to see how much of the later books is already set up in this first one. There are secrets hinted at, people mentioned in passing, and a lot of back story primed and ready to go!

While Dresden battles an evil mage, everyone else in the world seems to think that Dresden is the one to blame, and even close friends who should know better are turning on him. Dresden, though, holds firm to his convictions and faces the enemy with determination and wit.

The Dresden Files are, in my opinion, the very best of the Urban Fantasy genre. They're fast, witty, exciting and even this first one, which might not be as well-written as the later ones (or that may just have been my mood at the time), is an incredible adventure. Don't miss it!
803, Review: Fool Moon (Dresden Files #2) By Jim Butcher
Posted by zette, Sat Jun-12-10 05:11 PM
There are more werewolves in this story than you can shake a stick at! And you wouldn't want to, not with some of the truly dangerous creatures that are on the rampage in Chicago. Hexenwolves, werewolves, lycanthropes, loup-garous -- it seems as though they are all out there ready to go claw to fist against Dresden.

Susan is making a play for him -- or does she just want information for her column? Karrin doesn't trust him and that makes it hard to work with the police. Gentleman Jim Marcone wants to hire him because it looks as though those werewolves (and others) are going after him.

Dresden is running out of tricks and power and the enemy -- enemies -- are far from done with him.

Fast, furious exciting -- this book really takes off. With his only allies a group of college nerd werewolves, it looks as though Dresden is in for the fight of his life while he tries to protect people from a danger many of them can't begin to understand.

This book is great fun. Exciting, fast and funny. Dresden has a wonderful 'voice' in the book and easily entertains the reader though this adventure.
804, Review: The Realm of Prester John by Robert Silverberg
Posted by zette, Sat Jun-12-10 05:12 PM
I love learning new things, and this book proved to be an exceptional chance to expand a bit of knowledge. I had heard of Prester John but I really didn't even know the much of anything. Robert Silverberg (better known for his science fiction writing) takes the reader on a wonderful journey of exploration through the ages and lands where the Prester John myth took residence. How, for instance, could Gengis Khan be mistaken for a benevolent Christian ruler? Silverberg unravels the links that led people from end of the earth to another, looking for him.

From far China to India and finally to Ethiopia, the mystical tale of a Christian King of great wealth and sanctity was hard to kill. Marco Polo looked for Prester John (and believed he found him in a distant Mongolian city). The Portuguese, looking for a way to by-pass the Italian stronghold on eastern trade, began their great age of exploration hoping to find and make a treaty with Prester John.

Something I found especially interesting was how so many magical tales and creatures became part of the Prester John mythology when he was reported to be the preeminent Christian ruler, and how the changes in the myths also mark (as Silverberg points out towards the end of the book) the change from the medieval ages to a more modern and scientific time.

The book gives a wonderful overview of the Mongols and the Ethiopians with special attention to customs and history, as well as a nice overview of the Crusades (and the hope Prester John would come to their rescue), plus interesting information on India and St. Thomas.

It's well worth the read for both learning about the legend and the true history surrounding it. I highly recommend it. This was one book that I really didn't want to end.
862, Review: Grave Peril (Desden Files #3) By Jim Butcher
Posted by zette, Tue Jul-06-10 04:33 PM
What is causing the sudden outbreak in dangerous ghosts in Chicago? This isn't the normal sightings -- the ghosts are dangerous and powerful in ways they shouldn't be. And now it looks as though this may be personal as well.

While working with Michael, a man very close to God, Dresden is doing his best to get things back where they belong. But there are other problems as well. The Red Court of the Vampires is making moves that look more than a little sinister. A young girl suffering from Cassandra's Tears -- a form of prophecy -- has come to him for help and then disappeared.

And he can't tell Susan that he loves her. Just can't say the words, even though Michael is urging him to make that much of a commitment, if not more. But some things should never be put off.

Grave Peril is an excellent book. The characters are great. I don't always like Michael and his wife, Charity, but that's because they are very much like real people.

Oh, and let's not forget Thomas. Oh, what a fun character he is, right from the start.

Butcher has a gift for story, character, dialogue and wit. You don't get that kind of combination very often, and not in a prolific writer. It's a joy to read his work.
934, Review:Everyday Life in Early Imperial China
Posted by zette, Sun Aug-08-10 12:02 AM
Everyday Life in Early Imperial China by Michael Lowe

This book should not have taken me nearly as long to read as it did. It's a relatively short book with lots of drawings. It was not difficult to read. There were even some fascinating tidbits of information scattered throughout the book, and while I would have liked for it to have gone into more depth, it did provide a good backbone for further study.

The problem seemed, to me, to be in the dryness of the presentation. The book covers the Han Dynasty age from 202 BC to 220 AD. And while I didn't expect an in depth, scholarly review of the era in so short a work, I did think it might have done a little better. This was a land and time period filled with fascinating, exotic history and life, and yet Loewe seems to have backed away from areas that might have benefited from a little more color. This was especially noticeable when he dealt with anything having to do with Chinese religion or philosophy, both of which he rolled into one with little regard for what either offered. In this, it was obvious that his Western bias showed, and once so obviously apparent, it seemed to me that they colored other parts of the work as well.

This book did provide me with a few pieces of background material I needed for research purposes. The material on things like the ranking system for people and their rights and privileges is an excellent, quick over view of the subject. A look at life in the city is also interesting.

In all, not a bad book to read, even with the few flaws in presentation.

954, Review: Summer Knight (Dresden Files #4)
Posted by zette, Tue Aug-24-10 06:57 PM
Summer Knight is the most ambitious and complex of the Dresden Files so far. All the characters are intriguing and the plot -- a brewing war between the Summer and Winter fae courts -- draws Dresden into the wrong side of trouble. Of course, in this case, there can be no right side for a wizard who hasn't the backing of his own White Council, who is targeted by the Red Court Vampires, and who is not -- all in all -- having the best week of his life.

And then when someone he thought long dead turns up at his door -- well, it just gets worse.

The one thing to always remember when reading these books is that the honor, love and chivalry are not just words to Harry Dresden. They are a code by which he lives -- and that can be dangerous when there is no room for compromise.

This is the third time I've read Summer Knight and I still enjoyed it as much as the first two times. There is enough going on that the plot never slows, and trouble lurks on every page. It is difficult for a first person POV story to remain that interesting over a series of novels, but Dresden is still damned interesting to read.

Re-reading the Dresden File books has been a wonderful experience and a reminder of how well Butcher handles his characters. The book is exciting, fast-paced and a delight for Dresden fans. This is Urban Fantasy at its best.
1002, Reveiw: Death Masks (Dresden Files #5)
Posted by zette, Tue Sep-21-10 07:37 PM
by Jim Butcher

Dresden has more than enough trouble this round. A duel to the death with an ancient, deadly Red Court vampire seems the least of the troubles as he faces demons, fallen angels and a lot of other generally bad-ass trouble. Between Knights of the Cross who don't believe in God and Priests who don't believe in miracles -- and a missing Shroud (yes, the shroud) -- he's not going to get much rest at all.

Once again we meet Thomas -- what a wonderful, fun character he is at this point! That's something about Butcher's books that I greatly admire. He can make individuals in ways that make them all seem far more than characters in books. It is a gift that few writers can master so well.

I didn't remember Death Masks being this good. Since Summer Knight, the previous book, was so powerful, I think I just didn't realize the depth to this one at the time. This is an impressive bit of work, with powerful messages and a fast-moving story that does not let up -- even at the end.

The Dresden books are a powerful set of stories and it's easy to see why they continue to hold interest. Butcher is a master storyteller, and along with his Codex Alera series, has marked him as one of the best fantasy writers of our time.
1003, Review: Blood Rites (Dresden Files #6)
Posted by zette, Tue Sep-21-10 07:38 PM
by Jim Butcher

There is nothing in Harry Dresden's life that is going to be easy. When a story starts with huge monkey demons flinging flaming poo at the hero, you know you're going to be in for an interesting story. And when Thomas, the White Court vampire, asks for his help . . . Well, Dresden will do it for a price. He wants the truth about why Thomas has been helping him.

It may not be a truth he really wants to know.

And there is the little puppy, scion of a Tibetan Foo Dog, who has attached himself to Dresden, much to Mister's dismay. And Murphy, doing her best to find a way out of a family picnic and willing to even go on a suicidal vampire hunt to do it.

Blood Rites, like all the other books, never slows down. Harry has his back to the wall. He has allies he can trust -- but it's still going to come down to him. He's going to be doing battle against both Black Court and White Court Vampires. He's going to learn truths about his friends, his family and people he admires -- and all of it is going to hurt and change things.

But he's Dresden. He can handle it.


1017, Review: Dead Beat (Dresden Files #7)
Posted by zette, Tue Sep-28-10 12:47 AM
by Jim Butcher

Happy Birthday, Harry Dresden.

Murphy has gone off to Hawaii with Kincaid, a dangerous man. Well, maybe not a man. But definitely dangerous. But maybe that's just as well, because if she found out that Dresden is dealing with the most dangerous of all Black Court vampires in order to save her reputation, she'd probably kill him herself.

But, as it turns out, the vampires are the very least of the problems hitting the streets of Chicago this Halloween. Necromancers are out in force looking for an important book, and if they get it, one of them is going to be a god. Not the kind of thing Dresden is going to stand by and let happen. He may have to make a deal with his personal, fallen angel -- and take that first step towards hell.

Butcher writes brilliant characters. This book is a masterpiece of character showmanship, from Thomas explaining what it is like to be him, to Butters and is obsession with polka music -- to Mouse making it apparent he is more than an average oversized dog. Add to that another non-stop storyline, and you have a Dresden book that is damned difficult to put down!
1026, Review: Proven Guilty (Dresden Files # 8)
Posted by zette, Tue Oct-05-10 02:17 AM
The book starts with an execution by the White Council. It's stark, harsh, and unforgiving and Dresden, as one of the Wardens, has to take part in the 'ceremony.' He's not happy, even though he fully understands the reasoning behind it.

And from there . . . well, things go badly. This isn't a shock, of course. Things always get complicated for Harry Dresden, and this case is filled with all the usual dangers -- plus something even more troubling. He has to work with Charity Carpenter, a woman who quite obviously despises and distrusts him.

It's not a good relationship -- but the two learn a great deal about each other, and from each other. And Dresden will do anything to protect his friend's family, even if, in the end, that means he has to go up against the White Council and face their justice as well.

This book was filled with the 'who is really behind it all' feeling from start to finish. It's also obvious by the end that things are out of control. There is more trouble coming.

Dresden will be there to stand the line.

Excellent book, as always. Questions of right, wrong, and the need to do things that transcend the law are interwoven into a backdrop of the usual mayhem and marvels. From a Horror Convention to the Fortress of the Winter Queen, Harry Dresden moves like an unstoppable freight train -- and nothing better get in his way.

I don't think I'll ever grow tired of these books.

1037, Review: Pirde and Prejudice
Posted by zette, Fri Oct-22-10 09:47 PM
By Jane Austen

Okay, so I had managed not to read this in school. Or later. Not my kind of book, ya' know? I'm an sf and fantasy person. I don't read much of any sort of romance, and if it intrudes too much in one of the genres I do read, I get annoyed.

But . . . .

I bought a Nook. Pride and Prejudice is one of the three free books on it. I opened it up just to see how it looked, if it would be easy to read --

I couldn't put the book down. When I didn't have it in hand, I thought about it constantly. This is not going to be a regular review of the story -- just a couple observations.

First was the realization of how little description there is in this book. We are free to imagine a good many things. I suspect this is mostly because she expected her readers to know what certain things should mostly look like and wasn't going to explain the obvious. But there is a lack of 'people' description, too. I think that helped with the second observation --

The characters, and specifically the sisters, are very modern in their general attitudes. We are not treated to simpering, fainting flowers or all the other stereotypes that people have been led to believe were old-fashioned. Elizabeth is straightforward in what she believes, and even in seeing her own mistakes and learning from them. Lydia could be a modern teen with no trouble at all. Being able to easily identify with all the characters made this a joy to read. There was no disconnect that reminded me 'other age, old book' even when some of the things mentioned (like transportation) came into play.

I am now ready to read more of her work. I already have a couple new ones on the Nook.

Oh, and yes, it looked very good on the Nook and I can read from it just fine.
1046, Review -- Small Favors by James Butcher
Posted by zette, Sun Oct-31-10 04:14 PM
(Dresden Files # 9)

When winter comes early to Chicago, it's a sign -- and it means trouble for Dresden, of course.

Summer's Queen has someone to avenge the death of her daughter whom Dresden for having killed. The Winter Queen, who is likely very much insane, wants Dresden as her Knight. The Fallen Angels are back and causing more trouble.

And his boss seems to be rather personally interested in Dresden.

For some reason, Small Favor didn't quite connect with me as strongly as the previous books had. I don't know if it was the story or just me in this case. There was nothing technically wrong with Small Favors. The story played out well, the tension was there, and the trouble was wonderfully complex. Dealing with the fallen angels is always rather unsettling and well handled. The best parts, to me, were still the scenes with Thomas and those kept me going. I also enjoyed seeing how it all came together in the end.

I would still recommend Small Favor for anyone who has enjoyed the Dresden File books. It just has the feeling of a book that is . . . transitional, perhaps -- one of those books in the midst of a series that is breaking the path from one spot to another, but which is not as powerful as the start of the journey or the end will be. And perhaps part of it was that there was nothing really new in this book -- the troubles, on all sides, stemmed from previous works.

Nevertheless, it read well and I enjoyed it, even if not as well as the previous books.
1103, RE: Review -- Small Favors by James Butcher
Posted by tianne, Thu Dec-09-10 10:05 AM
there's actually a book in between Proven Guilty and Small Favor, called White Knight. I don't know that reading it would've helped much with Small Favor, beyond making some of the stuff with Marcone clearer. Neither Small Favor nor the two books since (Turn Coat and Changes) appealed to me as much as the earlier ones in the series.
1113, RE: Review -- Small Favors by James Butcher
Posted by zette, Thu Dec-16-10 03:28 PM
Duh! Yes, I did read it -- just missed getting it on the list. Things were crazed. And now I have a few more books to add.