About This Blog

This blog was started as a place to post book reviews. The books reviewed here will be mixed. Science Fiction, Fantasy, Romance, General Fiction, NonFiction and more. Both positve and negative reviews will be posted, as well as reviews for books written for all ages and all reading levels.

Many of the books reviewed here are ones that I have purchased for my own reading pleasure. Some, I receive free in exchange for reviews. Beginning in December, 2009 you will know which are the free ones if you read the final paragraph of my reviews.

Also of note: I choose what I will read, attempting to avoid the books on which I would end up writing a negative review... but I have been known to make mistakes. Thus you see some one and two star reviews here. Since I don't enjoy writing negative reviews, I only write them if the review was promised, or if the book was so exceedingly bad, I just had to say so. Regardless of the percentage of positive to negative reviews on this blog, I give my honest opinion each and every time, and have never received financial compensation for posting my reviews.

Note that, except for fair use portions quoted from some of the books reviewed, all copyright in the content of the reviews belongs to Lady Dragoness.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Simply Powerful

The Old Man And The Sea
Ernest Hemingway
Publisher: Scribner (May, 1995)
Paperback: 128 pages
Rating: 4 stars of 5 possible

The Old Man and the Sea is one of Hemingway's most enduring works. Told in language of great simplicity and power, it is the story of an old Cuban fisherman, down on his luck, and his supreme ordeal -- a relentless, agonizing battle with a giant marlin far out in the Gulf Stream. Here Hemingway recasts, in strikingly contemporary style, the classic theme of courage in the face of defeat, of personal triumph won from loss. Written in 1952, this hugely successful novella confirmed his power and presence in the literary world and played a large part in his winning the 1954 Nobel Prize for Literature.

Synopsis of this novella is from the back cover of the Scribner trade paperback edition and is copyright Simon and Schuster,1995

The first time I read Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man And The Sea, I was an 8th grade student looking for adventure. The second time I read this book - much more recently - I read it to study Hemingway's style which, I must say, I greatly admire.  Hemingway provides plenty of adventure, characterized by short, declarative sentences that, in the wrong hands, could be deadly to a written piece.  Yet, Hemingway uses that base to build strong characters and an action-filled story every bit as well developed as some 400 page novels in a much smaller space. The key to a good story is to let the characters and their actions carry the main load of telling the story. Hemingway knew this well. He provided just enough clear and concise description to allow his characters to come alive in your mind and then lets those characters do the job he created them to do.

If you are a female who prefers to read about female protagonists, then Hemingway's stories might not be your cup of tea. However, if you sample this one, don't forget to appreciate the strength of the characters and the brevity of the writing before you move on to something more feminine. If you are a wanna-be writer, you could do far worse than to study this masterful storytelling style; clear, concise prose is an asset to any writing. If you're looking for adventure, you can find it in this novella, which I recommend to readers ages 14 and up.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Promise is Not Fulfilled

The Once and Future King
T.H. White
Publisher: Ace (July 15, 1987)
Paperback: 639 pages
Rating: 3 stars of 5 possible

Cliffs Notes on White's The Once and Future King
Publisher: Wiley Publishing
Paperback: 104 pages
Rating: 1 star of 5 possible

The Once and Future King is an omnibus edition of the first four installments of the epic story of King Arthur and the knights of the round table. The first two parts were published separately in the late 1930's and the third part followed in 1940, just before World War II intervened, cancelling separate publication of the fourth part of the story and delaying the omnibus edition until 1958, when the first four parts were published together. A fifth part to the saga was published much later and is reviewed separately. That part is titled The Book of Merlyn.

In The Once and Future King, White liberally borrows from (and credits) Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte De Arthur as being the source of much information regarding the story of King Arthur and his knights of the round table. Though Malory also wrote of the quest for the holy grail, White barely mentions that quest, referring us to Malory if we wish to read more extensively of it. Fans of the Arthurian saga will want to read The Once and Future King for White's original view of the classic saga... those most deeply into the fantasy will probably also wish to explore Sir Thomas Malory's contributions as well.

Daniel Moran's Cliffs Notes on The Once and Future King is not as comprehensive as one could wish. Though the guide is helpful in studying the symbolism and satire present in first part of the story (The Sword in The Stone), only vague and unhelpful references to the second, third and fourth parts of the epic are present in this Cliffs Notes volume. This would be better titled Cliffs Notes on White's The Sword in The Stone. I recommend this Cliffs Notes only if one wishes to study The Sword In The Stone; it's practically useless for the rest of the saga.

For young and old alike: read The Sword in the Stone - either with or without studying it in depth. That part of the saga is pure fun.
For die-hard fans of the Arthurian saga: - finish reading The Once and Future King, either with or without including The Book of Merlyn. The saga almost seems complete without that last chapter.
Optional for those studying The Sword in the Stone: Buy or (better yet), borrow Cliffs Notes on White's The Once and Future King. Just don't buy the Cliffs Notes expecting it to cover much of the later volumes in the saga. It doesn't give them much coverage and isn't any help with studying them in depth.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A Shadow of Memory?

Tad Williams
Publisher: DAW Hardcover (November 2, 2004)
Hardcover: 672 pages

Also available:
Publisher: DAW Trade (November 1, 2005)
Trade Paperback: 672 pages

Publisher: DAW (September 5, 2006)
Mass Market Paperback: 816 pages
Rating: 4 stars of 5 possible

At the uppermost edge of the northern kingdoms lies Southmarch Castle. For hundreds of years it has remained isolated from the affairs of empire but now it is under siege: from both its neighbours, without, and the more insidious enemies who would destroy it from within.

Even further to the north, within the ancient walls of Qul-na-Qar, the Twilight People gather to hear the blind king Ynnir pronounce the dark fate of human kind. In the south, the Autarch now looks to extend his domain yet further. It is upon Southmarch that the armies advance, and on its people that darkness will fall: for a war is coming that will shake the world.

Above synopsis is taken from The official UK website of Tad Williams and is copyright Little, Brown Book Group Ltd.

Shadowmarch is the first of a recent epic fantasy by best-selling author Tad Williams. Tad's epic fantasy novels are not those plotless, mindless things you can zoom through in under an hour just to say you've read a book... no, on the contrary. To really read and understand this kind of book takes time and effort. Admittedly, I had other things occupying a lot of my time, so I took about six months to read this book from cover to cover. That was well invested time that I don't regret spending in Todd's world. I enjoyed every bit of that time, too; which is something I can't say about every book I read.

Some would say this adventure seems like a rewrite of Tad Williams's Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series that was published from 1988 through 1993. While there are similarities, there's no harm in an author using elements from his own novels over again. The trials and tribulations of Barrick and his twin sister, Briony are not the same as those of the characters in Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, but those trials and tribulations are just as compelling.  I found myself both wrapped in the story and eager to know what was going to happen to the heroes next. I'm also eager to get my hands on Shadowplay, which was released in hardcover last March, but I haven't managed to get my hands on both the money and that desire at the same time - yet... I think that time is coming very soon though.

Recommended for fans of epic fantasy age 15 to adult. The story depicts some violence so those who are sensitive about such elements should not read this, although I'd have to say not reading this epic would be skipping one of the best tales written in recent years. Buy Shadowmarch if you’re the type to read and devour fantasy epics over and over again… Borrow it if you only read books once; just don't miss it!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Reality Break!

Passion For The Game
Sylvia Day
Publisher: Brava (June, 2007)
Paperback: 320 pages

Rated 4 stars of 5 possible

Two noblemen have set two notorious criminals against each other, certain that one will betray the other to save himself. Yet the noblemen do not count on the pair finding such a startling affinity for each other, nor on the audacious pair's scheming solution to their common problem. Will the lady betray the pirate to see him hang? Will the reverse be true? Or will those two noblemen find the tables turned upon themselves?

Passion For The Game is a fast paced historical romance with a touch of mystery and adventure with a bit of violence included. I recommend it only for ages 18 and up due to some explicit scenes. This novel can be a welcome break from reality for consenting adults. The author captures the reader's interest and holds that interest hostage from the beginning to the end. Romance readers may find this story a change of pace from their usual fare.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Set Your Creativity Free

A Writer's Book of Days:
A Spirited Companion and Lively Muse for the Writing Life

Judy Reeves
New World Library (November 1999)
Paperback: 240 pages

Rated 5 Stars of 5 Possible

A Writer's Book of Days is full of inspiring and challenging prompts to get you started in your own writing. There is also practical instruction (ignore that critic in your head) on how to get past the stumbling blocks that every writer encounters at one time or another, and encouraging, supportive advice on making writing part of your daily life. Daily prompts culled from hundreds of writing workshops taught by the author help open the door to your own creative process.

What does the beginning writer need?  Just a pencil and paper! Everybody has those, or can easily get them at their neighborhood store. Judy Reeves recommends going back to paper and pencil to discourage you from editing your work as you go. The main thing about writing practice is to get it down on paper. Spelling, grammer, and punctuation are all secondary and should come AFTER that first draft is complete.

I'll admit that edit as I go has been my writing style since I started using computers oh so many years ago... I don't write that way in my practice notebook though. I just write - and I don't even worry about how sloppy my writing turns out.  With the solid advice contained in this book, my writer's block is broken...and my creativity has been set free. I have seen my writing improve day by day,and you can too!

Work through the book day by day (my personal goal for 2008) or skip around as I have been doing this year. Do not forget to read the author's excellent advice. There are sufficient daily prompts to keep you busy writing for an entire year, plus extras in case you should need them; but you shouldn't need the extras. You can use each prompt multiple times and get different results each time, so when you've gotten through the book the first time, you will probably find you are nowhere near finished. I highly recommend
A Writer's Book of Days.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Vampires In Your Dreams?

Vampire Plagues: Paris, 1850
Sebastian Rook
Scholastic Paperbacks (September, 2005)
Paperback: 208 pages
Reading level: Ages 9-12

Rated 2 stars of 5 possible

An ancient evil. A ritual gone wrong. The vampire plague is threatening like never before...

Jack wants to believe it is only a dream, that the vampires are gone, that they've been banished by an ancient ritual which sent their leader to the depths of hell. But he isn't so sure... Soon, Jack, along with his friend Benedict Cole (aka Ben), and Ben's older sister, Emily discover that the vampires are indeed not just in Jack's dreams. Can our heroes defeat the vampires once again and escape with their lives?

A little bit reminiscent of Lemony Snickett's A Series of Unfortunate Events, the Vampire Plagues trilogy finds our heroes losing their guardian just about every time they turn around. The difference is, in The Vampire Plagues, the youngsters are fighting a different type of evil. The middle book of this trilogy feels a lot like reading the middle third of a much longer book. There are plain references to the first volume, mostly incorporated in the first third or so of book 2 which don't help this volume stand alone very well.

Reading the Vampire Plagues trilogy should be an all or none proposition. If you read and liked the first installment, then by all means buy or borrow the second and then the third... this is an interesting story that should not have been broken up into a trilogy, but instead published as one longer novel.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Advice From An Experienced Writer

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
Stephen King
Scribner, October, 2000
Hardcover: 288 pages
Rated 5 stars of 5 Possible

Stephen King, master of the macabre, tells some of the events in his life which, he says, turned him into the writer he is today. Partly autobiographical and partly good advice, On Writing is a quick, enjoyable read, that, unlike the average text book, isn't full of difficult to comprehend and otherwise useless data. King likens the process of writing to archaeology and digging up fossils... he uses "What if..." to define the situations and discover the fossils that become the novels King is famous for writing.

On Writing isn't a text book, yet, the teacher in him couldn't resist including just one writing exercise near the middle of the book. King shows the wanna-be writer a fossil and encourages that writer to explore the situation and expose more of the fossil. This is the master's technique for turning out novel after novel after novel. 
King claims that his novels are created from story, not from plot. King says the huge difference is that "story is honorable and trustworthy, plot is shifty, and best kept under house arrest." I think using King's advice, I will be able to turn my fiction onto a better path by using more situation, exposing more of the far too often over-looked fossils, and keeping that shifty plot where it belongs.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A Purrrfect Detective Story

Rex Tabby, Cat Detective
Daniel Kirk
Scholastic Paperbacks (November 1, 2005)
Paperback: 140 pages
Reading level: Ages 9-12

Rated 5 stars of 5 Possible

When I first picked this novel up, I could not help thinking of the old Dragnet television series and Sargeant Joe Friday.  School Library Journal compared Rex Tabby with the old cartoon character Dick Tracy. Either way, it's cops and robbers with a cute twist; all of the main characters in the story are feline. Rex Tabby is also educational since most chapters end with a detective lesson.

I highly recommend this for young readers. I think even adults looking for a brief escape would enjoy reading Rex Tabby, either for themselves or to children not yet old enough to read. Don't miss out on the cutest detective novel on the market!

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

A Different Side of Asimov

A Whiff of Death
Isaac Asimov
Publisher: Lancer (1958)
Mass Market Paperback: 210 pages
Rating: 5 stars of 5 possible

Some of you may know that Isaac Asimov was famous for his science fiction novels and short stories and that he wrote other books, also mostly science related. A Whiff of Death is both different and not different than Asimov's usual books.  It's different because it is not science fiction, nor is it straight science as were so many books he wrote. It is a murder mystery.

It's not too different though because, like most of what Isaac Asimov wrote,
A Whiff of Death has a background in science too; in this case, chemistry.  Now, I've never studied chemistry myself so I don't know how solid, how accurate the science is in the book; but it seemed very plausible to me.  There is a lot of suspense and many of the typical red herrings buried in this story.

I was rather surprised at the end because I had believed someone else was the culprit.  All in all, I have to say I liked A Whiff of Death.  It was refreshingly different than most of what I've been reading lately.  Though it is old (published in 1958) it was a worthy addition to my reading list.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Meet The Keeborn Cats

Race For Doroon
Gloria Jean Hartman
Robert D. Reed Publishers (September 2001)
Paperback: 204 pages
Rating: 5 stars of 5 possible

"Here lives a displaced race, once so entwined and dependent upon one another that each sect had its place in the perfect system of life. Their world had long before mysteriously died but not before each sect in their order had time to leave for other worlds. The Keeborn Cats are the Guardian Sect of this once upon a time Kee Nation. Time has denuded memory of their counterparts. This then is the beginning of the Kee's stories.

This is a story of the Keeborn Cats, which begins the inevitable reunion with the other Kee kinds. Race discovers Satin, the future queen of Doroon, in a colonist's trap and he develops a loving bond with her. As the gentle guardian nature of the Keeborn flow over to include the humans who become involved with them."

Race for Doroon is a wonderful book. It has all the suspense, action and adventure of a best seller, and a touch of romance too. I couldn't put it down because I kept wanting to find out what was going to happen next! Race for Doroon will keep you turning pages until the end of the story. There just aren't words enough in any language to say how I truly feel about Race for Doroon. It is one of those "Must Read" books for adventure fans and science fiction fans alike.

This is the author's first book, but if she hadn't told me herself when I met her online in her Delphi forum, I'd never have known. It is very professionally done!

Monday, August 6, 2007

Not Your Usual Vampire Story

Stephenie Meyer
Little, Brown Young Readers (October, 2005)
Hardcover: 512 pages
Reading level: Young Adult
Rating: 5 stars of 5 possible

"About three things I was positive.  First, Edward was a vampire.  Second, there was a part of him -- and I didn't know how dominant that part might be -- that thirsted for my blood.  And third, I was unconditionally and irrevocably in love with him."

Usually, the first thing I do with a new book is to read the back cover, and, if included, reviewer comments, which are sometimes printed on the first few pages inside, so I started Twilight that same routine way. My copy of Twilight has no reviewer comments, but almost immediately, I discovered I didn't need them.  The above quote - lifted from the back cover - was all it took to get me hooked;  if I had needed more, the Preface would have done that job equally well.  

Stephenie Meyer writes a strong beginning to her novel and doesn't lag in the middle or at the ending either.  I found Twilight very difficult to put aside. When I was getting close to the end of the book, I didn't want it to be finished, yet I felt compelled to continue reading right up to the last word.  I had to know...

Now that I have read Twilight, I know it is not your usual vampire story. Edward and the other vampires in this story aren't at all what I expected them to be; they are far different than Bram Stoker's Dracula or the vampires in Stephen King's story, Salem's Lot.  It's a refreshing difference and one that I am glad I discovered.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

An Interval For Learning

Dragon's Kin
Anne McCaffrey and Todd McCaffrey
Del Rey (November, 2003)
Hardcover: 292 pages
Reading Level: Young Adult
Rating: 5 stars of 5 possible

The first mother-son collaberation in the Dragonriders of Pern series begins late in the second interval, just 16 turns before the third pass of the Red Star. This novel, which is also aimed at young adult readers, explores a portion of Pern's history that we have not previously visited, and we learn quite a bit about the mysterious watch-whers, who are, after all, Dragon's Kin.

Despite the fact that, in this time, there is no Thread falling for the dragons to battle, the story is suspenseful and has all the action and appeal of earlier tales, as well as some humor. I especially enjoyed the interaction of Kindan with the young watch-wher and how he found out about miner Natalon's secret early in the story. I was trying to read Dragon's Kin slowly, to savor the story; but approximately 1/3 of the way through the novel, I just couldn't put it aside. 

I adore dragons, and the novels I like best are those that grip me with such ferocity that putting the book aside is out of the question.  When I can have both dragons and the intensity, well, that's the best of both worlds!

Friday, August 3, 2007

Artfully Believable

Darwin's Children
Greg Bear
Del Rey (April, 2003)
Hardcover: 400 pages
Rating: 5 stars of 5 possible

Darwin's Children by Greg Bear is a hard science fiction novel that explores the controversial science of genetics, the ability to alter the genetic pattern of humans, and the struggle for survival of the genetically enhanced people.

Besides being a compelling novel that I found hard to put aside, the volume also contains some very helpful addenda at the end, including a short Glossary Of Scientific Terms and a short Biological Primer that helped with understanding the science in this story.  It was very thoughtful of the author and publisher to include those items.

I like both the characters and the rhythm of Darwin's Children, a fairly fast-paced, enjoyable story that included some action as well as some scenes that make the reader stop and think.  This novel stands alone well. I did not read Darwin's Radio, the initial volume in this series, and I don't feel that I need to do that to understand this one.

In short, I recommend this book to those who enjoy reading science fiction, and if you have stayed away from hard science fiction because the science was not well explained, you may change your mind after reading this novel and studying the addenda that were so thoughtfully included.