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, April 26, 2009

Deep, Dark, Mystery

Among the Mad
by Jacqueline Winspear
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (February 17, 2009)
Rated 4 stars of 5 possible.

Among the Mad is like reading three books in one. First, it's an intriguing mystery that begins with an investigation into a mad-bomber/suicide which occurs on Christmas eve, 1931. That investigation ultimately leads to a related investigation - into the threatening letters recieved by Britian's Prime Minister over the Christmas holiday. When clues begin pointing to a potential suspect, the investigation takes on a new and more dangerous dimension.

While some readers may think that reading the perpetrator's diary entries - and thus his point of view - detracts from the mystery a bit, I don't believe that information detracts very much from the story; indeed it adds another, deeper dimension to the tale which more than makes up for any detraction from the mystery.

Secondly, Among the Mad delves into the reaction of men and women suffering from shell-shock, which occurred during their war-time military service. This is what we describe today as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. In this examination of an often over-looked psycological disturbance, one can see a relationship to the author's carefully chosen title.  These parts of the tale provide an insight to the psychological and emotional abyss  into which the collateral victims of war often fall.

Last, but certainly not least, Among the Mad gives us a marvelous picture of London and the surrounding countryside between the big wars.  Kudos to Ms. Winspear for a wonderful, if somewhat darkly themed novel that I can recommend to mystery fans ages 14 and up with a single caviat. The violence described in some portions of the novel is slightly graphic and may not be suitable for some readers.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Bitter Sweet Disappointment

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
by Jamie Ford
Hardcover: 290 pages
Publisher: Ballantine Books (January 27, 2009)
Rated 3 stars of 5 possible

This novel is a bitter-sweet story of love, coming-of-age, and personal relationships. It examines the racial discrimination practiced against Japanese-Americans during World War II. While the war-time story of the 1940's is rich and complex, the part of the story taking place four decades later falls flat.

The war-time portion of the story, when Chinese-American Henry Lee, befriends a Japanese-American girl Keiko Okabe, and deals with his father's anti-Japanese sentiments holds the reader's interest well. The conflict Henry experiences with his father seems to dominate this portion of the story, yet there are the sweeter moments too; the time Henry spends with his friends; his budding relationship with Keiko.

The post-war segments are woven throughout the novel and deal with Henry's relationship with his son as well as Henry's memories of an earlier time. Henry's search for another copy of the rare Jazz recording he and Keiko had bought together, dealing with the loss of first his wife, and then his sax playing friend add some dimension to this part of the story but are handled in a less satisfactory manner than the wartime portions.

While I found Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet to be worth reading, and the parts of the story based on historical incidents accurately depicted, the inter-woven style of the narrative proved to be more than a little distracting, the transitions between decades a bit hard to assimilate.  Clearly, this novel isn't for everyone.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Epic Within an Epic

The Asteroid Wars
By Ben Bova

The Precipice   (2001) 352 pages; 5 stars
The Rock Rats  (2002) 384 pages; 4 stars
The Silent War  (2004) 384 pages; 3 stars
The Aftermath  (2007) 400 pages; 4 stars

Publisher: Tor Books
Series rating: 4 stars of 5 possible

The Precipice: Two very rich industrialists believe they may have the key to the Earth's salvation and embark upon a partnership with the goal of moving Earth's heavy industries into outer space... but only one of the partners really has Earth's best interests in mind.  Mr. Bova highlights current environmental issues and creates an intense if somewhat traditional good-guy, bad-guy space opera with compelling characters that made me want to continue reading beyond the ending of The Precipice.

The Rock Rats: Taking up right where The Precipice left off, The Rock Rats continues the story of good versus evil, albeit with a change of characters - some of the characters in the first novel of the series gave their lives for the cause in which they believed. I dropped one star from the rating because this second novel suffers from "middle novel syndrome." The Rock Rats carries the burden of sustaining the reader's interest while allowed to provide few resolutions to the questions left open by the first novel... and the characters here (most of whom were continued from The Precipice) are less affable than characters no longer present in the story.

The Silent War: The third novel begins about six years after the end of The Rock Rats. The strange interlude where Martin Humphries visits the artifact on a distant asteroid doesn't make sense here, but provides some foundational information for later in the story. After this interlude, the story resumes from the point where it left off six years earlier. A good bit of the length of this third entry in the series is marred by a plodding pace that could have been vastly enhanced by some objective editing. The problem with "middle novel syndrome" continues from The Rock Rats... and, well, this part of the story is just plain less interesting; however it is still worth reading because it provides some of the background needed to fully understand the concluding novel in the series.

The Aftermath: A family of four Rock Rats out prospecting for valuable ores to bring back to their habitat for processing is attacked by a maniac. Their space ship disabled and rendered both deaf and blind when the main fuel tank is punctured, the radar and antennas destroyed. One family member, in an effort to distract the attacker, separates himself from the others using the control pod to abandon ship.  Predictably, the remainder of the story becomes one of searching and survival, with some surprising twists. Mr. Bova manages to bring the interest level almost back up there with The Precipice, yet his slow-paced beginning to the concluding novel of this sequence earns a one-star drop in the rating for this part of the over-all story.

Conclusion: If you're a Ben Bova fan, the series is a must-read. If you like space-opera type stories, with compelling characters, you'd probably like The Precipice, which does well as a stand-alone, and perhaps The Aftermath too. The middle novels don't stand too well on their own so I can't recommend them unless you're into the entire series as I am. Not recommended for readers under age 15 due to sensitive subjects being addressed. If you like these and still want more, this epic is just part of a larger epic known as The Grand Tour.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

A Study of Human Nature

Of Mice and Men   
By John Steinbeck
Paperback: 112 pages
Publisher: Penguin (January 3, 2002)
Rated 4 stars of 5 possible.

Of Mice and Men is an allegorical tale of commitment, lonliness, hope and loss; this parable examines the predatory nature of human existence. Strong characterization and abundant symbolism fill the pages with lessons to be learned and a story never to be forgotten. There is a lot of information packed into this slim, novellette length story, which takes place during the great depression of the 1930's.

George and Lenny, the story's two main characters, are migrant farm workers with the all-american dream. They want to own their farm, on which they would be able to earn their living and share the chores.  While the characters are fictional, the setting in California's beautiful and fertile Salinas valley is quite real. Imagining one's self as a part of the tragic and strangely moving, dramatic story is easy to do. While the end of the story is a bit predictable, the reader should also remember that it is probably inevitable given human nature; another ending to this story would not likely have been as appropriate.

Recommended for those who enjoy some drama and don't always require a happy ending.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Questions and Answers

by C.J. Cherryh
Hardcover: 585 pages
Publisher: DAW Hardcover (January 6, 2009)
Rated 4 stars of 5 possible

Regenesis is a mixture of hard science fiction and thriller/murder mystery all rolled into one long, fantastic novel. The young protagonist, Ariane Emory, works hard to discover who killed her illustrious predecessor and to ensure that she does not meet the same fate. The many details to this intricate and long-awaited sequel to Cyteen make the novel a slow starter; however, those with enough patience to continue reading will be rewarded. 

Regenesis supplies some of the answers to questions originating in the previous novels, yet the answers lead to more questions, hinting at deeper motivations that are not entirely explained. Was the first Ariane Emory killed because she knew too much about things going on in the Defense department? Regenesis hints that this may be the case, but does not fully answer that question. And there are more unanswered questions of a similar nature... some for which incomplete answers are provided, and a few questions for which no obvious answers are provided at all. Of course, these unexplained motivations leave me ready and even eager for the next novel, which is not entirely a bad thing.

Ms. Cherryh is an accomplished writer, drawing the reader into her world, and more, making that world so real that the reader is reluctant to depart, even when the story has concluded. The characters are very realistic and multi-faceted. Getting to know them was my pleasure; my hope is that there will soon be a next novel in this very interesting series.  Recommended to readers age 16 and up. Even if you don't usually read science fiction, you might want to try this novel, which does very well on its own as well as being a compelling entry in the Cyteen series.