Review: Reese by Lori Handeland

ReeseReese by Lori Han­de­land
My rat­ing: 3 of 5 stars

And now for some­thing COMPLETELY dif­fer­ent. Yes, this book is out of char­ac­ter for me, but I like Lori Han­de­land, and since I received a free copy I felt oblig­at­ed to read it and write a review. I’m keep­ing the fact that it is a west­ern romance in mind, and judg­ing it accord­ing­ly.

I don’t know from west­ern tropes, but I do know the stan­dard romance tropes, and Han­de­land hits them all. Mary is a spin­ster school­marm who is con­sid­ered too plain and too out­spo­ken to ever be attrac­tive to any man — in fact, anoth­er char­ac­ter (a real jerk) says so. It’s her char­ac­ter, more than her looks, that is the prob­lem, accord­ing to the jerk.

But the hero, Reese, finds her beau­ti­ful in her inno­cence, her igno­rance of her effect on him, and espe­cial­ly in the fact that she’s as stub­born as he is. The fact that they have to butt heads is an impor­tant romance trope, as I under­stand these things.

Mary believes she isn’t the kind of woman any man would want, and Reese believes he isn’t good enough for Mary, so they hold back from reveal­ing their feel­ings to each oth­er, pro­vid­ing the main con­flict in their rela­tion­ship.

There’s a plot that goes beyond Mary and Reese, obvi­ous­ly, explain­ing why the town of Rock Creek need­ed to hire Reese and his lit­tle troop of gun­men in the first place. That larg­er plot sets up the entire Rock Creek Gang series. I found noth­ing to laud or com­plain about in the main plot. It’s prob­a­bly a stan­dard accept­able west­ern, to be hon­est, and it doesn’t read so dif­fer­ent­ly than any oth­er sort of adven­ture sto­ry. It worked to set things up, but obvi­ous­ly wasn’t the main focus of the book. The ener­gy is in the romance.

I think per­haps romance fans read books like this because they’re com­fort­ably pre­dictable, like an old friend wear­ing new clothes. In any case, Han­de­land has writ­ten a sweet lit­tle love sto­ry that I didn’t mind read­ing. I could see her hand in the details, and while I would have pre­ferred read­ing more of one of her para­nor­mal series, she did a nice job with this book. Fans of west­ern romances will prob­a­bly enjoy it.

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Review: This Case Is Gonna Kill Me by Phillipa Bornikova

This Case Is Gonna Kill MeThis Case Is Gonna Kill Me by Philli­pa Borniko­va
My rat­ing: 5 of 5 stars

This book was an unex­pect­ed delight. Lawyers? Meh. Even lawyers with para­nor­mal spice.

But Lin­net Ellery is no ordi­nary lawyer, even for a young lawyer in a White Fang law firm. She has no end of back­bone and smarts, not to men­tion luck — or should I say Luck? Because for­tune swirls around her like nobody else, mak­ing her a nexus of events and a lit­tle too con­spic­u­ous for her very dis­creet employ­ers.

That’s not to say that she doesn’t make her share of mis­takes — that wouldn’t be any fun, now would it? She sur­vives and learns from them, then helps oth­ers avoid the same.

Liv­ing in a world of vam­pires, were­wolves, and Alfar (elves) might be intim­i­dat­ing to most humans, espe­cial­ly when those beings (Pow­ers) are essen­tial­ly in charge. Lin­net doesn’t let them intim­i­date her. She uses her con­tacts and plays to her strengths, win­ning more and more sig­nif­i­cant bat­tles every time she goes to bat.

Borniko­va sets things up very nice­ly for a sequel, and I am per­son­al­ly hun­gry to read more. I strong­ly sug­gest this book to any­one who enjoys para­nor­mals, urban fan­ta­sy, or sim­ply good, humor­ous fic­tion with a dol­lop of sus­pense and a strong hero­ine.

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Review: Face Off by Mark del Franco

Face Off (Laura Blackstone, #2)Face Off by Mark Del Fran­co
My rat­ing: 4 of 5 stars

I went back and forth on the rat­ing for this book, but final­ly set­tled on a four. I hon­est­ly found all the con­flict to be exhaust­ing and unpleas­ant, but it was very real­is­ti­cal­ly writ­ten and I cer­tain­ly felt con­nect­ed to Black­stone. I decid­ed that if del Fran­co weren’t such a good writer, I wouldn’t be feel­ing every­thing so much.

I read Face Off right after fin­ish­ing Skin Deep, which is how I rec­om­mend that you read them. That is, after all, how the plot works. There’s a lot more of Jono Sin­clair in this vol­ume than the first, which will be pop­u­lar with romance fans.

Dur­ing the events of Skin Deep, Lau­ra retired the Jan­ice Craw­ford per­sona. Her life should be sim­pler now that she’s just her­self and Mariel Tate, right?

Wrong, because she and Mariel Tate are being pulled in oppos­ing direc­tions by pow­er­ful forces, and she has two more-than-full-time-jobs. Toss in an order to imper­son­ate an unco­op­er­a­tive pris­on­er in order to infil­trate a ter­ror­ist group, and her life is at risk every day too.
In the midst of all this, there’s a vis­it from roy­al­ty, and her boss assigns Mariel yet anoth­er top pri­or­i­ty.

The only respite is her grow­ing rela­tion­ship with Jono Sin­clair, who is also under­cov­er with the ter­ror­ist group. He’s the only per­son in the world who always knows who she is, no mat­ter what glam­our she’s wear­ing.

Lau­ra start­ed won­der­ing how much of her­self was left behind all the per­sonas in Skin Deep, real­iz­ing that “Lau­ra Black­stone” was in dan­ger of becom­ing just anoth­er per­sona. She’s even more con­cerned about that issue in Face Off, but thanks to Jono she’s get­ting back in touch with who she is behind the masks. Will she be able to hold on to her progress? Will she be able to sim­ply sur­vive the under­cov­er assign­ment with almost no prepa­ra­tion? Or will it be the inter­nal Guild­house pol­i­tics that do her in? These ques­tions kept me read­ing and inter­est­ed. I was thrilled with how del Fran­co answered them, and I’m intense­ly curi­ous as to whether those answers leave any room for fur­ther adven­tures with Lau­ra and Jono.

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Review: Skin Deep by Mark del Franco

Skin Deep (Laura Blackstone, #1)Skin Deep by Mark Del Fran­co
My rat­ing: 3 of 5 stars

This is an intrigu­ing begin­ning to a series. I’ve played a char­ac­ter with sim­i­lar abil­i­ties in a long-run­ning role­play­ing game, so I was par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ed in this book. I think the author did an excel­lent job of explor­ing just how much could be done with “essence” (glam­our), while set­ting believ­able lim­its to the character’s abil­i­ties. She has an excep­tion­al­ly well-trained mem­o­ry, but even she slips on a few details here and there when jug­gling too many per­sonas or with some­one very close to her for a long time.

The plot was less inter­est­ing to me, frankly, than the char­ac­ter. In fact, the details are a lit­tle fuzzy and I just fin­ished the book ear­li­er today. (Of course, I’ve read most of the next book since then, too). Even while read­ing it, though, some details strained believ­abil­i­ty. That detail took the rat­ing down a point.

Still, I was inter­est­ed enough to go right on to the next book in the series, and I intend to read more of del Franco’s work. I would rec­om­mend this book for those who enjoy urban fan­ta­sy.

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Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player OneReady Play­er One by Ernest Cline
My rat­ing: 5 of 5 stars

Add this book to the short list of must-reads for every True Geek, right along­side Snow Crash. It’s a glee­ful homage to geek­dom and pop cul­ture.

Wade explains to the read­er that he was born after human­i­ty wore the world out and escaped to OASIS, a mas­sive sim­u­la­tion that has replaced the inter­net and all oth­er forms of enter­tain­ment. Nobody seems to spend time in real­i­ty any more, because it sucks. There are mul­ti­ple wars going on over the few ener­gy sources that are left. Pover­ty, hunger, and home­less­ness are ram­pant every­where.

Most peo­ple who are for­tu­nate enough to live indoors at all are like Wade, who lives with his aunt and her lat­est boyfriend in a three-bed­room dou­blewide trail­er shared with 17 peo­ple. The trail­er is at least near the top of a stack, which is just what it sounds like: a stack of trail­ers 10 or so high, so many across and wide, so that 500 or more trail­ers are held togeth­er with rust­ed scaf­fold­ing, chains, and what­ev­er oth­er rein­force­ments peo­ple have added over the years. Stack col­laps­es are com­mon.

Wade spends most of his time in his hide­out, the back of an old van that’s parked in a junk­yard and crammed in a stack of vehi­cles. That’s where he keeps his com­put­er and oth­er equip­ment, so he can attend school (in OASIS, of course) and spend time research The Con­test, which is the cen­ter of his life.

The cre­ater of OASIS, James Hal­l­i­day, cre­at­ed The Con­test in his will. Who­ev­er wins it will inher­it Halliday’s vast for­tune and con­trol of OASIS. At the open­ing of the nov­el, it has been five years since Hal­l­i­day died and con­tes­tants are ridiculed in every­day soci­ety as obses­sive losers.

Wade’s quest through The Con­test and his fight to sim­ply sur­vive is far more inter­est­ing than I thought it would be. I’ll also admit to being enter­tained by the 80s triv­ia that pops up through­out the book (inte­gral to The Con­test). I’m biased, as I was a teen dur­ing those years.

I whole­heart­ed­ly rec­om­mend this book. It’s one of the very few that I’ll be sav­ing to re-read in the future.

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Family Announcement

I know, I know — I’ve been post­ing a lot of reviews late­ly. They seemed more inter­est­ing than actu­al updates. Most of my time has been spent doing vol­un­teer work for Grants to You, which is inter­est­ing to do but not to describe.

How­ev­er, I have actu­al NEWS now! My baby girl and her beau are engaged! I swear, it feels like she was just learn­ing to walk last week and now she’s all grown up!

No, there isn’t a date set for the wed­ding yet. I’ll post more when there is one. But for now, I’m very hap­py for my girl and her sweet­heart. There have been lots of tears of joy around here.

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Book Review: More Holmes for the Holiday edited by Martin H. Greenberg & co.

More Holmes for the HolidaysMore Holmes for the Hol­i­days by Mar­tin H. Green­berg
My rat­ing: 3 of 5 stars

Mar­tin H. Green­berg and com­pa­ny have pro­vid­ed a fine col­lec­tion of Sher­lock­ian hol­i­day sto­ries that fit in quite well with the tra­di­tion­al set.

The Christ­mas Gift” by Anne Per­ry is a nice lit­tle piece about a stolen Stradi­var­ius and a cou­ple who want to mar­ry against the wish­es of the young lady’s father. There is an excel­lent red her­ring, one of the few in this anthol­o­gy.

In “The Four Wise Men” by Peter Lovesey, Wat­son must answer a call to duty from his for­mer com­mand­ing offi­cer in the Army, in order to help guard a medieval trea­sure in a Christ­mas pageant. The game is soon afoot, and Sherlock’s pow­ers of obser­va­tion are as keen as ever.

Bar­bara Paul’s “Eleemosy­nary, My Dear Wat­son” gives Holmes a jew­el theft and a kid­nap­ping to solve, which he does in his inim­itable way. One clue seemed slight­ly too obvi­ous to me, but it may not to oth­er read­ers.

In “The Adven­ture of the Great­est Gift” by Loren D. Estle­man, Holmes receives a wax cylin­der con­tain­ing a record­ing of a song pop­u­lar in Amer­i­ca. He takes it as a warn­ing of a crime which could lead to war between Britain and France, and of course he leaps into action. This is Mycroft Holmes’ only appear­ance in the vol­ume.

There’s plen­ty of mis­di­rec­tion in “The Case of the Rajah’s Emer­ald” by Car­olyn Wheat. Some­how, though, I sus­pect­ed one of the great rev­e­la­tions in this one from the begin­ning, but I couldn’t tell you exact­ly why. It didn’t ruin the sto­ry for me, and there was still a sur­prise at the end.

On the oth­er hand, Edward D. Hoch’s “The Christ­mas Con­spir­a­cy” man­aged to take me com­plete­ly unawares. I couldn’t fath­om why the crime would be com­mit­ted or by whom, despite hav­ing a major clue dropped by one char­ac­ter. Very well done!

The Music of Christ­mas” by L.B. Green­wood telegraphed the iden­ti­ty of the crim­i­nal from the start, but was well worth read­ing. One of the char­ac­ters also tugged at the heart­strings.

Bill Crider’s “The Adven­ture of the Christ­mas Bear” is large­ly mem­o­rable because of the appear­ance of Oscar Wilde as a char­ac­ter.

The Adven­ture of the Naturalist’s Stock Pin” by Jon L. Breen gives us Charles Dar­win as Holmes’ client. The mys­tery is less Sher­lock­ian than some of the oth­ers, but I didn’t mind read­ing it.

Daniel Stashower’s “The Adven­ture of the Sec­ond Vio­let” was an inter­est­ing twist on a well-known Christ­mas sto­ry. I can­not say more with­out spoil­ing it, but he has a nice touch.

The Human Mys­tery” by Tanith Lee is as dark as I expect from her, and was a depress­ing end­ing to the col­lec­tion. It was, how­ev­er, very well-writ­ten.

The anthol­o­gy left me hun­gry for more Holmes, and wish­ing that I weren’t between sea­sons of BBC’s Sher­lock or that I had anoth­er col­lec­tion of sto­ries on hand. That’s the sign of a suc­cess, I think.

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Book Review: Dragon Ship by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller

Dragon ShipDrag­on Ship by Sharon Lee
My rat­ing: 5 of 5 stars

Sharon Lee and Steve Miller con­tin­ue to please with this lat­est install­ment in the Liaden Uni­verse series. Theo Wait­ley, now First Pilot on the sen­tient ship Bechi­mo, is in the process of decid­ing whether she’s going to bond with the ship per­ma­nent­ly as its Cap­tain. She and the Bechi­mo are being pur­sued, togeth­er and sep­a­rate­ly, by the Depart­ment of the Inte­ri­or. Despite that fact, she goes out to estab­lish a new trade route for Clan Kor­val, with for­mer Jun­tavas Boss Clarence O’Berin sit­ting as Co-pilot.

Theo’s for­mer lover Win Ton is con­fined in Bechimo’s restruc­tur­ing facil­i­ty, some­thing a step beyond the autodoc, where he is being rebuilt cell by cell after being tor­tured by the Depart­ment of the Inte­ri­or in its pur­suit of the Bechi­mo. There’s no guar­an­tee that Win Ton will sur­vive the process, or what shape he’ll be in when it is com­plet­ed.

They aren’t far into the route when they receive a dis­tress sig­nal from space sta­tion Codres­cu, in orbit around Eylot, the plan­et where Theo began train­ing as a Pilot. The polit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion on Eylot has come to a head, and all Pilots there are in dan­ger. Codres­cu has put out an emer­gency call for help, so Theo takes Bechi­mo to the res­cue — despite the fact that she has good rea­son to nev­er want to see that sys­tem again.

Theo is a very young woman, but grow­ing by leaps and bounds. She makes any deci­sion that doesn’t rely on social intel­li­gence very well, guid­ed by good basic instincts and oth­er types of intel­li­gence. Her social skills still leave much to be desired, but she’s slow­ly improv­ing those and she knows she has a weak­ness in that area.

It is always a joy to read a Liaden nov­el, but watch­ing Theo grow up adds a new dimen­sion of plea­sure to the read­ing. While I’ve paused to read and re-read some of the chap­books in order to put off the time before I ran out of new mate­r­i­al, the time is here now. I’m back to the same old com­plaint: I want more, now! Please?

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Book Review: Ghost Ship by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller

Ghost Ship (Liaden Universe, #14, Theo Waitley, #3)Ghost Ship by Sharon Lee
My rat­ing: 5 of 5 stars

Theo Wait­ley has met her father’s Clan and been Seen by the Delm of Kor­val now, at the end of both I Dare and Salta­tion. She does not, how­ev­er, con­sid­er her­self of Kor­val — she is a Wait­ley, as is rea­son­able for a young woman raised in a matri­lin­eal cul­ture. She did, how­ev­er, take two issues to the Delm for solv­ing, and one has been resolved: she has been reunit­ed with her miss­ing father.

How­ev­er, she also car­ries the Captain’s key to the sen­tient ship Bechi­mo, and that ship is look­ing for her. The Delm chose to put that issue aside, trust­ing that it would solve itself, giv­en enough time. How much time, though, and in what man­ner?

In the mean­time, she acts as couri­er for Uncle, one obvi­ous­ly known to the Clan and not as an ally — although not nec­es­sar­i­ly as an ene­my, either. As his couri­er, she flies his ship, Arin’s Toss, which is hunt­ed by his ene­mies, includ­ing the Depart­ment of the Inte­ri­or.

Theo acquits her­self as well as any child of Kor­val could in meet­ing her chal­lenges. She con­tin­ues to expe­ri­ence more than the usu­al num­ber of them, though, because of her Ter­ran rear­ing and Liaden appear­ance. It seems to me that a father as duti­ful as Jen Sar Kila­di (or Daav yos’Phellium) would have giv­en her more prepa­ra­tion to encounter Liaden soci­ety.

Ghost Ship cer­tain­ly isn’t lim­it­ed to Theo’s sto­ry. We rejoin Val Con and preg­nant Miri as they move to Sure­bleak, and check in with Daav as he set­tles in to being Daav again after his long sojourn as Kila­di. There are also appear­ances by Pat Rin, Nate­sa, Quin, Padi, Shan, and oth­er fam­i­ly mem­bers. Def­i­nite­ly an ensem­ble cast this time out, and just as absorb­ing as fans have come to expect.

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Book Review: Saltation by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller

Saltation (Theo Waitley, #2) (Liaden Universe, #13)Salta­tion (Theo Wait­ley, #2) by Sharon Lee
My rat­ing: 5 of 5 stars

Salta­tion (Theo Wait­ley, #2) is good enough that I fin­ished Fledg­ling (Theo Wait­ley, #1), then read it in one sit­ting. It sim­ply has the sort of momen­tum that doesn’t allow for good stop­ping points — some­thing that is true of many of the Liaden Uni­verse nov­els.

At the end of Fledg­ling, Theo was spon­sored into pilot school by Scout Cho sig’Radia. Salta­tion begins with her time there, just as polit­i­cal­ly naive as ever, but a much more con­fi­dent per­son than she was at the begin­ning of Fledg­ling. Many of the char­ac­ters from Fledg­ling reap­pear, includ­ing Win Ton, Kamele, and Jen Sar. There are new char­ac­ters too, though, such as Kara ven’Arith and Orn Ald yos’Senchul (who, by the way, also appear in a free sto­ry, Land­ed Alien, that has just been released at the Baen web site and should be read after Salta­tion).

Theo is a legal adult now, but a very young one, and she has plen­ty of grow­ing up left to do. That said, this is a young ADULT nov­el, not a children’s book — while it isn’t dis­cussed specif­i­cal­ly, Theo does take a lover.

She con­tin­ues to flex and stretch into an admirable hero­ine. She isn’t per­fect, by any means, being some­times short-tem­pered and not under­stand­ing social cues eas­i­ly. She’s some­one read­ers can relate to, though, and that is impor­tant. We were brought up con­cur­rent with the end of I Dare, which was vast­ly sat­is­fy­ing. I will go right on with read­ing Ghost Ship, because I def­i­nite­ly want to know more!

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