Chinatown Death Cloud Peril

by Paul Malmont

Ultimately I liked this book, but it didn't get anywhere close to interesting until somewhere around page 250. Most of the characters seamed rather flat to me, but it's pulp so I wasn't at all surprised or offended...since I'm not actually familiar with the pulp genre it's only a guess that characters are traditionally 2-dimensional.

The story is set in the the 1930's among the small clique of authors known as pulpsters. Malmont creates an atmosphere of reality in the midst of his fantastical, improbable plot by using real life authors of the day. Walter Gibson, writer of The Shadow, and Lester Dent, writer of Doc Savage follow seemingly unrelated clues and mysteries that ultimately bring them and their retinues together for one bone chilling climax. It's a story of death, government corruption, Chinese gangsters, revenge, maniacle ambition, and horrifying chemical warfare.

Everyone in my book group who read this one liked it. The few who hadn't quite finished it are looking forward to it and the one who didn't have time to pick it up has borrowed a copy. All agreed that the most interesting character was Norma Dent, Lester Dent's wife. We were all quite impressed with inclusion or mention of their real life contemporaries such as L. Ron Hubbard, Joe Kavelier, Robert Heinlein, Louis L'Amore, Orson Wells, and H.P. Lovecraft

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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows (Book 7)

by J.K. Rowling

No spoilers in the this review.

I did extremely enjoy reading the final book of the Harry Potter series. There was humor, suspense, tragedy, tension, and a great, believable ending. As is evident in the 759-page length of the book, Rowling refused to rush to the final confrontation. Answers to all questions remaining from the first six books were neatly and cleverly revealed. Kudos to J.K. for creating such a fascinating world. I'm quite looking forward to rereading the whole series now that all books are finally available.

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The AD Chronicles: First Light

by Brodie & Brock Thoene

This turned out to be a very intriguing book about life for the common Jew during end of Jesus' time. I did find it a little difficult at first; there are lots of Jewish names, places, history. Even the people and stories from the Old Testament that I'm familiar with were sometimes hard to place due to the old fashioned forms of the names. Even Jesus was referred to as Yeshua.

There are many story lines in this book though the central one must be the story of a man, blind since birth, who has an astonishing belief in the goodness of God. Astonishing considering the trials of his life. Through his belief that "nothing is too hard for God", the miracles of the time come to light. Culminating the gift of sight from Yeshua - one of the final miracles before his arrest.

Though the story lagged is places, I will be reading the next book in the series. It should be interesting at the very least.

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by Helen Walsh

I can't really say I enjoyed this book nor would I say that I would recommend it, but it certainly left an impression. I can't help feeling prissy as I write this, but the book was really just too crass/vulgar for my delicate sensibilities.

It's a story about a young woman's decent into depravity. Millie is in her last year at university and struggles with motivation, the defection of her mother, and the distancing of her best (male) friend to a relationship with a woman who doesn't get her guy's friendship with Millie, a much younger girl.

Reader be warned, there are more than a few extremely graphic sex scenes - hetero- and homo-. At first there seemed to be little point to them other than the shock value, but as the story progressed and the protagonist sank more and more into her depravity, the shocking scenes became necessarily the point. Uncontrolled highs followed by self-loathing lows.

At the end of the day, Millie wasn't a very likable character. Her best mate, Jamie, was marginally better. And I didn't really see how the crisis and its resolution was going to magically turn Millie into the person she seemed to want to become.

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Angels Fall

by Nora Roberts

I've really fallen back into the romance novels in recent days. They are a great size to hold when Magda is nursing to sleep in bed. And of course they are such brain candy, I'm kinda hoping it will distract me from eating actual candy.

This novel focused on Reece Gilmore, a woman who survived a violent attack in Boston that killed most of her close friends and family. She traveled the country as she fought to regain her sense of self, sanity, and security. Her journey ends at Angels Fist where she witnesses a man murdering a woman. The only one to believe her is a reclusive novelist, Brody. As in most small towns, the woman's mental history gets to be well known. The murderer tries to undermine her sanity and cast doubt on her stability in the eyes of the rest of the townies.

I did enjoy this book. The mystery was plausible and the romance was believable. Reece's passion was to cook and there were some great commentary on how home cooking helps to turn a house into a home.

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Granite Man & Warrior

Elizabeth Lowell

My sister left this book at my house after the Danskin weekend. As with most romance novels, I picked it up and finished it in about 2 days. I liked the first story, Granite Man better than the second one, Warrior. Possibly because I read it first and was getting kinda tired of the drama by the end of the second one. Also, the first one inspired tears where the second one didn't.

Granite Man is the story of a long lost sister returning to the family ranch to reunite with the brother she hadn't seen in innumerable years. Once there, she becomes entangled with the brother of her brother's wife with whom she shares a passion for gold prospecting. They embark on a quest for the family legendary lost gold mine and discovers love and a more elemental passion in the process. Of course, the Granite Man had been burned in love before and was quick to falsely accuse his new love of infidelity at the drop of a hat. She then risks life and limb and more besides to prove her love to the granite man. Typical romance, but worth the quick read.

Warrior takes place with the same supporting cast and focuses on the taciturn segundo on the ranch. He is completely closed to love and is enslaved to the awful memories of the effects of war on the innocents of Afghanistan. Then he meets the women who came to do a preliminary study on the wild cougars in the ranches high country, a women who has known love and loss and was strong enough to continue to embrace life and laughter and the possibility of love. As much as he tries, his will power in not sufficient to resist her charms. She tries to teach him the value of love. He breaks her heart. She learns his fears. He begs forgiveness and they live happily ever after.

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by Jose Saramago

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Poison Study

by Maria V. Snyder

This book was recommended by my novelist friend. I really must remember to thank her next time I see her. I really enjoyed this book as well as it's sequel. I'm looking forward to reading the third book in the series which the library unfortunately doesn't seem to carry.

The story opens in the Commander of Ixia's dungeon where Yelena awaits her fate at the hands of the executioner. The guards come for her, but instead of taking her to the gallows, they take her to the Commander's head of security, Valek, who offers her the recently vacated position of food taster. Of course, to ensure her continued cooperation, he poisons her first requiring her to present herself in his office every day for the antidote.

Yelena quickly (and necessarily) learns the rudiments of her new job. Along the way, she develops friendships with members of Valek's elite squad and convinces them to teach her self defense. Intrigue, respect, and love eventually entwine Yelena's life with Valek's. Magic and sorcery, which is illegal and punishable by death in Ixia, are woven throughout the story. The discovery of the secrets of her past and the thwarting of a plot to end the life of the Commander and take over the government keep this story line moving along very well.

I enjoyed this book immensely. It was a complete story within itself, yet it left me eager to hear how Yelena's life continues in the sequel.

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Song of Fire

by Joseph Bentz

I've been on a fantasy/sci-fi kick at the library, but instead of researching what books might be good, I troll the shelves looking for a likely candidate. Sometimes I find a good book and sometimes I don't. For me, this one falls on the side of "didn't find a good one".

Jeremy falls through the water of an icy lake after a disagreement with his girlfriend. When he quits falling, he lands in a world where music is outlawed and finds he has become a prophet with a duty to lead the beleaguered people to the promised land. He determines that their Emajus is the same as God and in this land, Emajus is in the music for those who open their hearts and minds to him.

I suppose it was an interesting book, but the religious angle was unexpected. It wasn't apparent from the blurb that this was religious fiction - a genre I generally enjoy. Also, I never got the sense that Jeremy did much as far as leading the people, though they did end up where they were going and achieved their ultimate goal of rebuilding the temple. However, it could be argued that Jeremy's guide less trek through this strange land is exactly the point the author is trying to make.

Throughout reading the book, I understood it to be a comatose dream of Jeremy's after being rescued from the frozen lake in his own world and time.

One final note, in all descriptions of the book, the blurb make mention of Jeremy being a "stranger in a strange land". I kind of expected more a relation to Heinlein's novel of the same name. Maybe it's been too long since I read that book, but I just didn't see the similarities.

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God's Pocket

by Pete Dexter

This book group selection provided for surprisingly lively discussion though some people weren't able to make it past some of the bloodiest parts in the first third of the book. I should have written this a couple of weeks ago after I finished the book. I don't have a clear recollection of everything that happened. I do recall that parts of it were hilarious - it's been a while since I laughed out loud when reading, but it definitely happened once or twice when reading this book.

The story begins when a disturbed young man, working on a construction site, pulls his knife on a co-worker. The old man who usually keeps to himself and maintains a steady work pace whacks the young man on the back of the head with a metal pipe and kills him. From there many things fall apart for many people. The old man ages. The site foreman looses the love and respect of his wife. The young man's mother falls apart and his stepfather who has loose connections with the mob selling stolen meat gets caught up in mob related business he never intended to get involved in. There is a drunken newsman reporting on the story and the neighborhood, God's Pocket, where it all takes place. Some reviewers considered his character a waste of space, but from what I understand, the reporter character may be somewhat autobiographical - though the author obviously didn't end up dead as did the reporter in the story.

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Dragon's Winter

by Elizabeth A. Lynn

Yes, I definitely wish I had read this book before I read Dragon's Treasure. It would have made the second one so much more interesting, though it is still disappointing that nothing of real interest happened in the sequel.

This book tells the story of dragon-blood twins. The first born, Karadur, inherited his father's dragon blood while the second, Tenjiro, inherited his madness. Tenjiro's jealousy of his brother's dragon powers leads him to the dark side of magic. He steals the talism that enables his brother's transformation into a dragon and escapes to the barren north where he continues to harness the power of the dark side or rather lets that power consume him. Karadur eventually discovers Tenjiro's stronghold and amasses an army to avenge the wrongs done him and help return the dark powers that have corrupted his brother to the enchanted prison which held them for ages. An epic battle between brothers ensues.

Lynn has created a fascinating world of shape shifters, magicians, and seers. She provides a nicely detailed picture of living in this fantastic world. I don't think I would necessarily recommend this book to anybody (though my husband and cousin both read it after I did), but I would read a third book in this series if it is ever written.

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Dragon's Treasure

by Elizabeth A. Lynn

I love the public library! I picked this book up at random when I went in to get this month's book group book. Overall, I enjoyed the book, but the blurb/description on the book jacket wasn't very accurate.

The book was well written and engaging but there didn't seem to be any point to it. There was no life-changing conflict, no great romance, no mystery. Some of the characters seemed superfluous and some of the relationships weren't well justified. That being said I've discovered that it is actually a sequel to a book written seven years ago which I'll likely pick up tonight. Among the reviewers on Amazon, it is generally agreed that a third book is likely and this one is a good setup for whatever will come next. I wish the fact that this book is a sequel was mentioned is the jacket blurb.

In summary, the book lays out a fascinating account of life under the protection of a dragon lord. Karadur Atani is the dragon lord. He can morph into a dragon at will and struggles to maintain a firm hold on his dragon temper. He's had past trials and tribulations (the subject of the first book no doubt) that still profoundly effect his outlook and temperament. Other main characters include Maia Unimara, a simple herbalist with whom Karadur falls in lust with and who ultimately bears his child. There is also Maia's brother, Treion, a bandit leader who justifiably suffers the dragon's justice. And a whole host of minor characters who populate this imaginative landscape.

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Mary, Queen of France

by Jean Plaidy

I'm inspired to begin writing this entry before I've actually finished the book. As I read about the desolation of young Mary prior to her marriage to the King of France, I feel not one bit of sympathy for her. She has no character beyond that of the spoiled, beloved princess.

Reading this book so soon after having finished The Constant Princess has been very interesting, especially so for the first part of the book which takes place in the English court. The two works of fiction offer very different takes on the feelings and emotions of the royalty and noblemen of the day. So far the most interesting part of this book for me has been reading about the intrigue surrounding the line of succession for the French court prior to Mary's marriage to King Louis of France.

I finished the book this afternoon and though I did enjoy it, I really wouldn't recommend it to anybody. It was nice that Mary finally got to marry her "one true love", but I never really got invested in her drama. I did enjoy the insight provided into the apparent decline of the mental health of Henry VIII and the machinations of both the English and French courts.

I like the idea of historical fiction; it makes history seam more real and engaging. But I've yet to discover an author who can realistically bring it alive for me. It also

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The Thirteenth Tale

by Diane Setterfield

This was a great selection for bookgroup. Everyone enjoyed reading it and would recommend it to others. It also provided lots and lots to discuss. I'm pleased as anything that it was one that I offered up to the group. Even Stepan enjoyed it though he was not looking forward to reading it at all.

This is the story of Vida Winters, a long celebrated author, and Margaret Lea, who Winters choses to write her true biography. Over the years, Ms. Winters has given many different versions of her life's story. She decides to finally reveal her truth as she suffers in the end stages of a fatal disease. Her biographer of choice, Margaret Lea, is a little known bookseller and biographer with her own secret sorrows.

I found this book to be very readable. It was dark without being morbid and it ended with a surprising twist.

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The Darwin Conspiracy

by John Darnton

I finished this book a couple of weeks ago and forgot to write about it here in my book journal. I hope I can remember enough to give the book justice because I did enjoy it.

A floundering researcher, Hugh Kellem, begins investigating Darwin - looking for a new take on the naturalist life and discovery process. Hugh uncovers a secret journal written by one of Darwin's daughters which reveals the truth about Darwin's famous "natural selection" theory. The journal and its author were one of the most fascinating thing about this book. I did enjoy reading it, but some of the revelations were very convenient.

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Good Omens: The Nice & Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch

by Terry Pratchet & Neil Gaiman

I had high hopes for this book - I've heard lots of great things about both authors that I was positive the book could be nothing but good. Ultimately, I did end up liking the book, but not as whole-heatedly as I expected to. I think it just took me a little while to adjust to the English humor It reminds me a bit of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy in that respect - I can see the humor in it, but I don't get the raves and accolades that other people pour on the book.

The "nice and accurate prophecies" have been spot on since Agnes Nutter chronicled them 400 years ago. Sadly, her last prophecy predicts the end of the world on this day at this time. Sure enough, the forces of good and evil are amassing their armies in preparation for Armageddon. But somebody misplaced the anti-Christ and two "enemies" (an angel and a fallen angel) who have been on Earth since the fall of man and have grown quite fond of life on earth and the people who populate it, conspire together to do whatever they can to subvert the end of the world.

It really is a clever book. I'm not sure I would tell everyone to rush right out and buy it, but is't a great light read if you have the time or if you happen to be traveling.

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The Rag and Bone Shop

by Robert Cormier

This book group selection was offered by Elizabeth. I didn't realize until I had finished the book (about 2 hours after starting it) that the author also wrote I am the Cheese, a book I read and liked in high school, though I don't think I completely understood it at the time.

The protagonist in this book is a 12 year old boy, struggling with the trials of adolescence compounded with shyness and the knowledge that he isn't as intellectually acute as most of his peers. Following the murder of a young neighbor, he becomes the prime suspect and suffers the machinations of a police department and interrogator more interested in validating their theories than actually divining the truth of his involvement. Though the real killer ultimately is revealed, it is revealed at the expense of this young boys innocents and the interrogator's integrity.

I've heard of this having happening in real life (or some version of it) but I couldn't find any info after a quick web search. It's easy to believe, but hard to imagine. As in the finale of the book, such an incident would have incredible life-long, character-altering repercussions for the juvenile. One thing is for sure, though I'll do my best to teach my children respect for law enforcement and the judicial system, they will never be allowed to give official witness without me or Stepan present.

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The Last Days of Dogtown

by Anita Diamant

I picked this book up at Chicago O'Hare airport on the way home from our Christmas vacation. I chose this one because the author also wrote The Red Tent which I found fascinating. I was please that this novel was just as engaging. The subject matter of the two books is so completely different; this author has great versatility and talent. I would be interested in reading additional works of fiction by her. I liked this book so much, I chose to pass it on at our book group White Elephant gift exchange.

This story chronicles the last days of a settlement in the early 1800s. The dwindling inhabitants include freed slaves, whores, loners, and presumed witches. The story is told from several perspectives as the final dregs of the Dogtown population either move out or die. It isn't a happy book, but it is compelling and feels real - not contrived as some historic fiction can seem.

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The Constant Princess

by Philippa Gregory

I actually started this last year but finished it on the plane home from our European Christmas vacation. I don't think I'll be seeking out other P. Gregory books though I can certainly see myself picking one up on a whim.

This one was about Queen Katherine of England, a.k.a Caterina, Infata of Spain, the first wife of Henry VIII. The details of her life are fascinating, but the fictionalized account of her relationship with her first husband, Prince Arthur, the trials of her seven year waiting game to remarry the young Prince Harry, and the subsequent early years of her reign as Queen of England seemed a little formulaic. I would have also been interested in reading more about the split final split with King Henry VIII though that would have made a much longer book. And, the final scene, Katherine standing proudly before a court, defending the supposed lie she told to secure her throne, fit nicely with the overall theme of the book as reflected in the title.

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