Thursday, February 28, 2008

Spend Some Time in Mercy's Garage

The third book in Patricia Brigg's Mercy Thompson series is out, "Iron Kissed" I have been looking forward to it, and it has been worth the wait.

For those unfamiliar with the series, Mercy Thompson is a Native American shapeshifter who, after being raised by werewolves, moves to the Tri-Cities area and becomes an auto mechanic. She also get caught up in the supernatural politics that take place when the various Fae, shapeshifters and undead living in America decide to reveal their presence to the "normal" world.

After the first two books Mercy is back, trying to choose between the two Alpha werewolves for whom she has feelings, avoid the vampire coven that she has intereacted with in a deadly way and just live a quiet life.

She is called by her friend/mentor Siebold Adelbertsmiter (Zee for short) to come and help investigate a series of murders on the Fae reservation. Things quickly become complicated when Zee is framed by the rulers of the Fae for the murders and left to rot in jail.

The book drew me in , as did the first two in the series. I like the characters and the way that the interactions between the vaious supernatural groups are done. Visiting with Mercy is like visiting with an old friend, if your old friends can turn into animals, fight vampires and solve mysteries.


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

I went to Vancouver BC and had time to read

Hi all,
I accompanied my daughter to Vancouver for a choir conference and found myself with time to read! So here's what I've got to say. The new Mary Doria Russell novel set during the Cairo Confererence is a must read for those who wonder what some of the causes of the mideast political mayhem are. This novel has a great historical backbone and the plot kept me going throughout. The hardcover is coming out soon - look for it on our staff picks section. Then I read Spellspam by Alma Alexander a young adult title where magic is transmitted over emails and elemental houses pick up after themselves. Alma will be at the store on April 4&5 for the children's literature festival. This was a seriously fun read with a clever world.

There were more books for this trip, but they'll have to wait just a little while! - Laura

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Scourge the Heretic, 40K Fiction

For 20+ years the English company Games Workshop has put out a game set in the far future called Warhammer 40K, in which the far flung outposts of humanity fight against various alien races as well as the forces of evil within ourselves. This has always been a tabletop game, to be played with metal soldiers and dice. But what has attracted me to the game, which I have played almost since its release in the late 80s, has been the rich background materials detailing the various races and forces of good and evil.

This year Games Workshop, through their Balck Library subsidiary, has published a 40K based role-playing (think Dungeons and Dragons in space) game called Dark Heresy, where the players take on the roles of various agents of the galactic empire, looking for outposts of corruption and evil across the span of space. I think that it is a great game system, and anyone who likes either 40K or role playing should give it a look. But it is not what I am reviewing here.

To support this role playing game a series of fiction books are planned, similar to the Dragonlance books of Weis and Hickman that introduced so many to Dungeons and Dragons in the 80s and 90s. I have just finished the first of these, "Scourge the Heretic" by Sandy Mitchell.

Scourge the Heretic follows the adventures of a small band of agents of the Emperor as they root out the group that is trying to use alien technology to bring chaos and death to the planet of Sepherus Secundus. The plot of this book is somewhat streightforward and certainly the book makes much more sense if you play the game. But I find that I like the characters.

There is the mysterious Inquisitor, who spends most of the book offstage but manages to be an undercurrent to the plot. There is the teeneage assassin, raised to be a fanatic killer but testing out her other emotions. There are the two members of the imperial guard who are drawn into the orbit of the inquisition mearly because they survived an alien incursion and who must prove their worth. The sub-leader of the group, who must deal with the responsibilities that have fallen on his shoulders while the Inquisitior stays off stage. And the Mech-Priest, more machine than human, who is most interesting in his lack of humanity.

I liked the book and will read more in the series when they are released. If you like campy Science Fiction you might want to check it out as well.


Friday, February 22, 2008

Give a Cheer

Today I am reviewing the book "Cheer!" by Kate Torgovnick. It will be realeased in March 2008, so this was a preview copy.

I have always liked the genre of book that follows a sports team through a season, from the initial training camp to the final game. Probably my favorite is " Civil War" by John Feinstein, which follows the Army and Navy football teams.

I was hoping for such a book from Cheer!, and fearing a fluffy piece that focused on the social lives and eating problems of cheerleaders.

I got the former. This book follows the members of three top college cheerleading squads from tryouts to nationals. There is the Stephen A Austin University squad, a traditional mixed gender squad that at the start of the story was the defending champ in their college division. There is the Southern University squad, from the traditionally black school probably best known for its band and participation in the annual Bayou Classic football game against Grambling. And there is the all female squad from Memphis, a distant second in its own school for funding to the co-ed squad but eager to prove that they can do the same stunts and acrobatics as the co-ed group.

The book does touch on some of the darker sides of cheerleading, from the pressure to lose weight to the steroid use by the men who have to throw people into the air and catch them. But primarily this book looks at a subculture, a group of college students who want to be recognized as athletes, who work very hard at their sport with little recognition from the general public that they are more that just attractive airheads and who face serious injury everytime they do some of their most acrobatic stunts. I found myself following their progress towards their final competitions, hoping that the pyramids would not fall on stage and that the students with whom I had started to sympathise would achieve their goals.

The book gives you a good look at the sheer amount of work that goies into cheerleading and some idea of what drives young men and women into the sport. Even if you are not a cheerleader or parent of a cheerleader, I think that this book is worth a look.


Thursday, February 21, 2008

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: Cheese and Chickens

This book should come with a warning label: Warning, Do Not Read and then go to the Grocery Store.

Barbara Kingsolver sets out in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle to document a year in the eating life of her family. They have decided to try and eat only localy grown foods, some from their garden and farm and the remainder from various local sources. The book is written chronologically, floowing the food year from the planning of their garden to the first fruits and vegetables through the fall harvest and winter months.

The result for me was not so much a look at what she was eating as a look at what I was eating. Her book is full of the flavors of fresh fruit, the anticipation of eating food in its proper season not as it is shipped up from Florida or Chile or wherever you get peaches from in January.

It is February here in Boise, and there is no fresh fruit available that is local. So when I went shopping and saw the apples, strawberries, peaches, pears, etc on the grocers shelves I had to ask myself, "are these really going to have the flavor that I crave or will they be a pale imitation of what I know they should taste like?"

I garden. I have both a vegatable garden and a small number of fruit trees (apples, cherries and peaches). I have a raspberry patch and an herb garden. And to be honest, much of the fruits and vegetables from these are eaten in the yard, where the food travels in a streight line from plant to mouth for myself or my family. And Kingsolver is right, the food tastes so much better when it is fresh, not picked while unripe and shipped thousands of miles to sit on a shelf for a week and then be consumed.

I like the fact that Kingsolver discusses buying from local farmers. The best way to increase the variety of what we eat is o create a demand. Buying heriloom varieties from local farmers gives them a reason to grow cool stuff, and gives us the chance to eat it. Buying the same old apples that you can get anywhere at a farmer's market only keeps you from experiencing new things.

When Laura and I finished this book, we made some decisions. We bought a copy of "Home Cheese Making" by Ricki Carrol and have started working on making our own cheese (I'll review this in a later post). We are expanding our garden with more beds, trees and raspberries. And we will be getting chickens for freah eggs (I'll be builing the chicken house over the next month or so).

I know that I cannot change the world overnight. But I can change what and how I eat, and Kingsolver helped me to see a path that is full of flavor and good food.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Laura's Latest Craze

I finished Animal Vegetable Miracle last week and have spent this entire week looking at my food choices in a whole new way. Kingsolver's book is so well written and puts things from many places together so well, that I must agree with Marianne that this is one of the best books of 2007. Definately put this in your in box. There are also rumors that we might get chickens at home this spring . . . . Laura

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Two Books: Pride and Destruction

After taking the weekend off I need to catch up on my reviews, so I will be doing two books today, on that I liked very much and one not so much...

Pride of Baghdad by Brian Vaughn was released in paperback this month, and if you have not yet read this graphic novel you should. Set in Baghdad during the gulf war, this book follows a family of lions that are set free during the American bombing of the city.

Ths story is told from the point of view of the lions, and part of what makes the book so great is that the author can convey what the lions understand about events while using our knowledge of the war's events to convey a real sense of suspense that the lions do not have. We know how the story will progress, at least from the human events side of things, and this knowledge gives additional poignancy to the decisions that the lions make. The story is compelling and the art is visually interesting, bringing you into the middle of a place where no one, neither human not lion, really wants to be.

Since the story takes place in the middle of a war, it is not suitable for young children. But the storyis well told and thought provoking.

The second book is "How to Self-Destruct, making the least of what's left of your career and what to do if you fail at failing" by Jason Seidon. This book is one of the many pre-production books that we see at the store, and I had high hopes for a humerous look at both the business and self-help genres.

The problem with this book is that it cannot decide if it wants to be a funny look at business books or a serious look at how to break out of your destructive habits and become sucessful in life and business. And by trying to do both, it does neither as well as it could.

It is not a bad book. I found myself both laughing in places and also nodding in agreement in the parts where Seidon tells you how to deal with life if you just are no good at failing. But I would have liked a book that was either funny or serious, not a mish mash of both. I think that Seidon would have written either/both of the books that I wanted to read, instead he wrote this one.