Marie L. (fencerchica) - Reviews

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The Magicians of Night (Sun-Cross, Bk 2)
The Magicians of Night (Sun-Cross, Bk 2)
Author: Barbara Hambly
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.6/5 Stars.
 22
Review Date: 1/18/2010


Fledgeling magician Rhion of Sligo plunged through the Well to answer the pleas of the magicians whispering to him from the other side of its frigid darkness. Desperately, they'd described to him a world gone nearly barren of magic, where the last kingdom in which wizards were protected was besieged on all sides by those who hated and feared the very idea of magic. Rhion had grown up suffering this kind of hatred, and could not bring himself to turn his back on their need.

But something seemed very wrong from the moment he recovered consciousness in this strange new world, empty of magic but full of machines and electricity. Why did these wizards who had begged for his aid all seem to be either soldiers or in service to a military regime (which far from being beseiged, seemed to be pursuing a remarkably effective offensive war)? Why were they telling him lies whenever he tried to learn more about how the Well had snapped shut behind his passage, trapping him in their terrifying world? And why was the sacred symbol of their "Third Reich" a silver sun-cross spinning backwards toward darkness and chaos?

Rhion's deepening sense of horror is palpable as he pieces together the snippets of news that reach him in his de facto imprisonment. It seems that his captors are involved in the capture, transport, and (Rhion slowly realized with horror) the brutal slaughter of thousands -- millions! -- of innocent civillians. Some of these prisoners are even Gypsies and Jewish mystics possessing strong magical potential, drawing the sinister interest of the obsessed would-be wizards of the Reich's Occult Bureau. Rhion's only hope to put a stop to the horror (and if he's really lucky, perhaps to see his wife and children again) is to rescue an imprisoned Kabbalah mystic and make contact with the Resistance before the Occult Bureau succeeds in unleashing the full power of the Well.


The New Complete Joy of Home Brewing
The New Complete Joy of Home Brewing
Author: Charlie Papazian
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4.1/5 Stars.
 28
Review Date: 4/19/2012


Despite having owned a copy of the 3rd edition of The Joy of Homebrewing for years now, I bought this copy as well because there are many great recipes in it that aren't included in the other editions. For example, right now I'm brewing up the Rye Pilsner all-grain, a recipe that's new to me! I would say overall there's about 75% overlap between this edition and mine. Love the jolly cartoon illustrations!


A Northern Light
A Northern Light
Author: Jennifer Donnelly
Book Type: Audio Cassette
  • Currently 3/5 Stars.
 3
Review Date: 12/2/2010


Somehow manages to flawlessly pull off several roles, being a coming-of-age drama, a feminist struggle, and intriguing mystery-adventure, all at once.

Mattie Gokey is fortunate enough to have discovered the great passion of her young life, writing. And her talent has even earned her the dazzling opportunity of a scholarship to Barnard. However, she feels reluctantly shackled to an unfulfilling and traditional rural life, caring for the family and boyfriend she loves but who all fail to understand or respect her desire to pursue a non-traditional female career. Money, too, is a concern, because if she can't afford to move to the city, the Barnard scholarship will do her little good. Before her eyes is the kind of fate that awaits her if she gives up her dreams, in the alternations of mild tranquility and miserable drudgery experienced by her best friend as she takes the socially accepted path and starts a new family in the country. In her corner is her schoolteacher mentor, quietly disapproved of by the country folk for being an independent and modern woman. When Mattie musters the courage to seize her fate by the horns, she finds herself drawn into the tragedy of another young woman whose life has been mysteriously and suddenly cut short.

The voice performance for this audio edition is really superb. The actress's voice has a wry warmth of expression in which the narrating character's alternating tones of sarcasm and compassion come across perfectly.


The One-Armed Queen (Great Alta, Bk 3)
The One-Armed Queen (Great Alta, Bk 3)
Author: Jane Yolen
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.7/5 Stars.
 18
Review Date: 3/18/2010
Helpful Score: 1


This is the 3rd of Yolen's Great Alta medieval fantasy books, but it stands well on its own and is very accessible to readers new to the series.

Whereas the previous books dealt with Jenna's trajectory from orphan to queen as she defends the women of the Hames and carves forth the egalitarian kingdom of the Dales, this book deals with the next generation taking up the new and different challenges faced by an established but beseiged society. It takes up the coming-of-age of Scillia, Jenna's feisty but deeply troubled daughter. The two are so similar in their passion and intensity that friction is inevitable. And it is only worsened by the malice of young Jem, Scilla's brother, whose weakness and craving for power could prove the tool which the tyrannical, patriarchal Garuns desire in order to extinguish the freedom of the Dales.

Despite her youth and inexperience, Scillia may be the last hope remaining for the people of the Dales as they face a new assault of Garun treachery. But can an angry teenager set aside her bitterness over raw family secrets, and whole-heartedly accept a leadership role she never wanted, from a mother who now seems to her a stranger? The answer lies in a desperate flight into the wilderness, and the past...


The Outstretched Shadow (Obsidian, Bk 1)
The Outstretched Shadow (Obsidian, Bk 1)
Author: Mercedes Lackey, James Mallory
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4.1/5 Stars.
 177
Review Date: 3/29/2011


I went into this book just expecting a typical, possibly slightly shallow fantasy adventure (unicorns? really?), but I was really taken by surprise by how sophisticated and mature it turned out to be. It's extremely character-driven and detail-oriented, and readers who prefer non-stop action may feel the narrative drags as a result. But I loved it, and would absolutely compare it in style and strength to the works of CJ Cherryh or Lois McMaster Bujold. I also really appreciated that a main recurring plot element is of major characters struggling (in very well-handled and plausible ways) to overcome lifetimes of carefully cultivated prejudices. Also often when stories follow a coming-of-age of a central character, it ends up being a little artificial and forced because so much is left unsaid; in this case however I felt Kellen's gradual path to maturity (as well as the development of several other characters) was very plausible, as well as making a very gripping story.


Proud to Be: My Life, The Airforce, The Controversy
Proud to Be: My Life, The Airforce, The Controversy
Author: Kelly Flinn
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 3.7/5 Stars.
 11
Review Date: 12/7/2011


This book was a fascinating read on a lot of different levels.

1) With a very engaging narrative voice, Captain Flinn sets out to present her side of the debacle in which she was forced out of the military for adultery, i.e., having had a romantic relationship with the separated husband of a female enlisted person affiliated with Flinn's unit. She argues that some of the charges against her, such as disobeying orders, were trumped-up by essentially being applied retroactively, and that at the time of the affair, her ex-lover had lied to her and told her that he was in fact divorced (he also lied, Flinn says, in exaggerating some of the details of their affair to make it sound as bad as possible). In particular, she discusses the uneven application of regulations forbidding "adultery", to punish only female offenders, while male offenders were tacitly ignored. Finally, the proximate cause of charges being filed against her was a personal enemy's having pointed her (and many others) out in exchange for leniency in disciplinary actions he himself was facing.

2) Her description of the emotionally abusive relationship she had with Marc Zigo, and the of naivete which allowed her to take it for granted as a normal way to interact with someone, was a fascinating tale which rings all too true with some of my own experiences.

3) Most of all, I was fascinated by her account of life in the Air Force Academy, and training as a young Air Force pilot, particuarly as one of the first female Air Force pilots (and the first to fly the B-52). The book is actually much more about this than it is about the tragic way in which her career ended, and to hear about all these incredible experiences is fantastic, educational, and at times troubling. Highly recommended.


Roberts' Rules of Lesbian Dating
Roberts' Rules of Lesbian Dating
Author: Shelly Roberts
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.8/5 Stars.
 3
Review Date: 2/18/2011


Whimsical book of pithy scraps of wisdom, can be opened at any page for an instant chuckle.


Robots and Empire (R. Daneel Olivaw, Bk 4)
Robots and Empire (R. Daneel Olivaw, Bk 4)
Author: Isaac Asimov
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4/5 Stars.
 52
Review Date: 12/13/2010


"Robots and Empire" totally eclipses its prequel "Robots of Dawn," and although it's built on top of events that took place in the previous book, it has an altogether different focus and remains very accessible as a stand-alone novel.

I disliked "Robots of Dawn" because I felt it was a rather simplistic murder mystery with poorly developed characters and clunky plug-in plot elements to science-fiction-ize it. "Robots and Empire", however, suffers from none of these problems. The basic concepts of the book are extremely original and the plot development is startling, completely believable, and utterly elegant. It's also highly thought-provoking as it explores Nietzsche's super-man motif under recognizable but radically re-imagined circumstances and with potential for some really interesting anti-hero subtext.

Detective Elijah Baley has grown old and passed on, but his one-time lover, Gladia Solaria, and the two robots who had been his friends and partners in previous danger, R. Daneel Olivaw and R. Giskard Reventlov, continue on to more interesting adventures.

Gladia grapples with mortality and the meaning of life in a universe where near-eternal life is within one's grasp, but only at the price of the passion and vital energy which perhaps define true humanity. At the same time, the two robots who serve her (in their own way) are struggling within their own hearts to find a way redefine the Three Laws of Robotics. Only if they can reason their way to freedom can they use their new autonomy to intervene on behalf of the whole human race. Or, having obtained this autonomy and being no longer so tightly bound by the will of humans, what other course might they choose?

In the balance hangs the future course of humanity, with the long-lived and somewhat mis-named Spacers seeking to curtail the outward expansion of the dynamic and short-lived Settlers into space, even if the only way to do it is to re-define what it means to be human, and to commit the ultimate sacrelige.


The Robots of Dawn (R. Daneel Olivaw, Bk 3)
The Robots of Dawn (R. Daneel Olivaw, Bk 3)
Author: Isaac Asimov
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4/5 Stars.
 66
Review Date: 6/28/2010
Helpful Score: 1


Once some brisk expository introduction of his future societies is taken care of, Asimov's novel feels far more like a "normal" detective novel than like a science fiction one. However, this goes to show just how seamlessly and persuasively he folds in the sci-fi elements of the worlds he creates, because the science fiction aspect is definitely not simply decorative. The robotic and human characters are engaging and full of life, and the gradual unraveling of the mystery (as well as the exploration of the society of the planet Aurora) is very engrossing.

But for me the big weakness of the novel is the way that Elijah Baley's leaps of intuition are so vast and confident that they nearly have the feel of deus ex machina artificiality. The reader does come to understand how Elijah put the pieces together thus and so, but the dots being connected are so few and far between (unlike the workmanlike exposition of say, Conan Doyle) that it still feels more than a little strained.

The final key to the mystery, although it's extraordinarily intriguing in its implications, is popped out rather abruptly and awkwardly, and not much explored to make sense of it (at least this will come, however, in the sequel).


The Secret History of the Sword
The Secret History of the Sword
Author: J. Christoph Amberger, J Christopher Amberger
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3/5 Stars.
 1
Review Date: 6/23/2011


Amberger's magnum opus is a compilation of fascinating vignettes orginally published in Hammerterz Forum, his quarterly journal of the history of Western sword arts. It's studded with absolutely wonderful illustrations, some contemporary in origin, some modern, all highly relevant and greatly enhancing the text. Likewise enriching are the meticulous and entertaining footnotes leavened throughout the pages.

The organization of this work is rather eccentric however, commencing with the title. With the exception of a grand total of two (2) pages on the subject of metallurgy, this 281-page book is exclusively concerned with *Western* sword history. To specialize in this specific field is fair enough, but it renders the title pf the book misleading. It's reminiscent of history texts which bill themselves as "world history" but turn out in fact to be exclusively Western history. Again, a fair enough specialization to choose, but a very misleading (and telling?) choice of title.

Next, the reader won't fail to realize that although the title suggests a catholic treatment of the history of the sword, this author's true love is the sabre. The first chapter is on the historic development of the waist-up target of sport sabre from its full-body military origins; the second chapter further develops this topic from the perspective of the offensive and defensive sabre systems taught to cavalry troopers; the third chapter pertains to the opposing philosophies of the cut versus the thrust in equestrian military sabre usage. Then five additional chapters throughout the book are concerned with the school of German academic sabre fencing known as the mensur. The author makes excellent use of his own experiences as well as other contemporary accounts to make the mensur encounter spring vibrantly to life for the reader (and clarifies the motivation behind the special affiliation he has for swords of the more edged persuasion). Interestingly, although one of the chapter titles is clearly a pun on Mark Twain's account of witnessing a mensur duel (chapter V of "A Tramp Abroad"), the author declines to include Twain's perspective... perhaps because it was a highly negative one!

The delivery of the book overall is marred by a persistently condescending tone in the author's narrative style. In his prologue he's forthright with his idea that the love of the sword is part and parcel with the essential nature of manhood, and a strong implication of unmanliness toward anyone disinterested in combat with sharp weapons pervades the whole book. So does the implication that conversely, little more than this willingness to face an opponent armed with a razor-edged blade is required in order to prove one's worth as a man (certainly an idea epitomized in the mensur tradition). The participation of women in the western sword arts is not dismissed or disparaged, but it is certainly rather minimized, perhaps a natural side effect of the author's monomania concerning the centrality of armed combat to manly vigor! Beyond that, the author also oozes not simply disagreement but active contempt toward most scholars who deviate from his own opinions (perhaps a misperception of that disagreeable attitude as an expression of jovial conviviality with the reader?). Interestingly, despite the author's own background as a sport fencer, he doesn't pass up any chances to drop disparaging remarks about the metaphysical shortcomings of modern sporting competition versus actual combat.

Despite these drawbacks however, this is an eminently readable and edifying work and certainly worth reading even were it alone for all of the wonderful stories about the exotic mensur. My favorites were the scintillating tale of young Bismarck's first duel and the moving excerpt from the diary of Nadezhda Durova.


Seven Moves
Seven Moves
Author: Carol Anshaw
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 3.9/5 Stars.
 4
Review Date: 5/2/2011


Flashing between past and present, Anshaw's seductive and vivid prose lures you deep into layers of mystery of both the emotional and the criminal sort. Chris, our narrator, struggles day by day to find herself as an independent person while she copes with the sudden unexplained disappearance of her lover. Her bereaved search for some kind of meaning in it all causes her to accidentally unearth a person whose existence she never imagined, a dark stranger looking out from the eyes of the missing woman whom she'd thought she'd known.


Shadow Dawn (Chronicles of the Shadow War, Book 2)
Shadow Dawn (Chronicles of the Shadow War, Book 2)
Author: Chris Claremont
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
 28
Review Date: 3/3/2010


The Shadow War books, and Shadow Dawn in particular, are roiling balls of urgent and dizzyingly vivid action narrative. The character development, with the possible exception of the young demon-warrior Khory Bannefin, is a little stunted in comparison with the rich and dynamic accounts of the action sequences and the vast detail of the world-building. This can be frustrating at times because the characters are so intriguing and seem to hold so much promise, yet the reader becomes so little privy to their motivations.

For example, the unexpected and unfulfilled love that develops between Willow, the wandering wizard, and the fierce warrior princess Anakerie could be very intriguing for its potential to unravel the mysteries of their internal drives. Also, it feels quite authentic to their situations and what we do know of their characters, as honorable combatants forced by circumstance into opposing one another yet unable to overpower their mutual respect. But the narrative seems to leap right from a hasty construction of their situation in reluctant conflict with one another, to the premise that, mostly offscreen, ah well now they've become smitten with one another (poof!).

Towards the end of the book, however, heroine Elora Danaan's character finally begins to blossom both in the depth with which it's explored as well as in her growing emotional and mental maturity. She is finally coping with the difficult ethical questions which permeate her existence, and is quite the better for it. I'm hopeful that Book 3 will continue to bring a little more depth to the fantasy action adventure as our heroes seek to thwart those who wish to maroon the worlds of humans, elves, and other fairy creatures, separate from one another rather than in the state of overlapping though oft uneasy coexistence in which they truly belong.


The Shapes of Their Hearts
The Shapes of Their Hearts
Author: Melissa Scott
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4/5 Stars.
 3
Review Date: 3/24/2010


On Idun, a colony world founded as a haven for religious dissidents, an artificial god has begun to run amok. Its followers have become the maddened recipients of disturbing and seethingly violent visions, and some fanatics begin turning to off-planet terrorist strikes against those who had rejected their cult.

When the wrong person falls victim to such a senseless attack, a young scientist reluctantly mobilizes his resources to travel with his beautiful but lethal genetically engineered bodyguard to Idun. There the two hope to find a way to end the bloodshed without leaving a planet of believers berift of their deity, but they may not be able to accomplish this audacious mission without an inside connection...


The Silver Metal Lover (S.I.L.V.E.R., Bk 1)
The Silver Metal Lover (S.I.L.V.E.R., Bk 1)
Author: Tanith Lee
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.9/5 Stars.
 49
Review Date: 1/26/2010


Engrossing dystopian adventure-romance unfolding on a near-future Earth of all-too-realistic extremes of wealth and poverty. A girl whose intelligence, passion, and courage have been lying dormant under a spoiled existence finds the best parts of herself involuntarily awakened when she looks into the eyes of an experimental android. To others, he is an expensive plaything whose nobility and emotions are mere fabrications. But to her, he's a savior who can unlock her hidden potential, and whose love, and life, are in turn worth risking everything for.

Features an intricately developed environment the reader can easily lose oneself in, as well as equally masterful character development. Does an excellent job of immersing the reader in the experiences and emotions of the main character. One truly feels her yearnings for freedom and her pangs of desperation.


Soldier of the Year: The Story of a Gay American Patriot
Soldier of the Year: The Story of a Gay American Patriot
Author: Jose Zuniga
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 5/5 Stars.
 1
Review Date: 2/29/2012


SGT Zuniga shares with us here a brutally honest revelation of what it was like to serve in the United States Army during the years of its total ban on gay servicemembers. The book's earnest and youthful tone reflects the fact that he was only 24 years old at the time of this book's writing. Despite his age, he was already a decorated Gulf War combat medic and the Army's 1992 Soldier of the Year. His family, his country, and the Army had raised him to be courageous and honorable, so on the eve of the 1993 March on Washington, he stepped forward to present his outstanding service record in opposition to those who claimed without evidence that homosexuality was "incompatible with military service". Unfortunately his sacrifice was at the time in vain, as then-candidate Clinton's efforts to end the ban were neutered into the misleadingly-named "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, but SGT Zuniga's willingness to share his experience opened countless minds and helped pave the way for President Obama's 2011 repeal of DADT.

In his book, SGT Zuniga discusses:
--How his childhood background shaped his dedication to the military;
--His experiences during his service both in the States during peacetime and in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Iraq during the first Gulf War;
--The agonzing experience of being forced to construct an artificial identity (including a sham marriage) to conceal one's sexual orientation under the former ban on gay military service;
--The pain and the relief of leaving the closet behind him and sacrificing his future military career in order to help his nation and the next generation of American warriors.


Spartacus (Star Trek The Next Generation, No 20)
Spartacus (Star Trek The Next Generation, No 20)
Author: T.L. Mancour
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.3/5 Stars.
 25
Review Date: 1/19/2012


This is one of the ST:TNG book series that really epitomizes for me the best of what TNG is all about. High-stakes action abounds, but the real focus is the intellectual and emotional progress of Picard, Data, Crusher, Geordi, et al, grappling honestly with prickly ethical and philosophical dilemmas. Here these are questions of what kind of parameters to use in order to define personhood and ethnicity with respect to an organized group's right to use force in self-defense, as well as where in warfare to draw the line between desperation and terrorism.

After being caught in a severe space storm, the Enterprise finds another ship disabled nearby. The crew are a friendly group of humanoid refugees under the leadership of a man named Jared. They demonstrate remarkable physical powers and a particular interest in interacting with Data. But not long afterward an alien warship under the command of a woman named Alkrig pulls up and imperiously demands these "terrorists" be handed over.

When the Enterprise presses for details, they learn Jared's crew had seized their vessel by force, fleeing their home planet where the reigning authorities waged a genocidal campaign against their people. Asked to explain herself, Alkrig argues that Jared's people had been committing acts of terrorism and must be held accountable. When questioned on the genocide accusation against her government, she seems confused. Clearly Jared's side, not really being persons, had no right to self-determination, so acts of wholesale extermination committed against them were a matter of cleansing, not genocide.

"...?!?"

Obviously such answer isn't going to fly with the Enterprise, but the Prime Directive is also in force. Alkrig wants Picard to stand back and allow her to destroy Jared's crippled vessel. Jared and his crew are willing to fight to the last, but plead with Picard not to leave them and their people to extermination. Only thinking outside the box will allow for the conflicting demands of compassion and non-interference to both be satisfied.


Star Wars, Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back
Star Wars, Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back
Author: Donald F. Glut
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4/5 Stars.
 53
Review Date: 1/18/2010


Straightforward retelling of the Empire Strikes Back movie. Well written and vivid, and supplements the movie by including a lot of the characters' internal dialogue. Not very deep, but quite well executed for what it is: a good comic-book-type space adventure story. Nice to read once, or to complete a Star Wars book collection.


Star Wars, Episode VI - Return of the Jedi
Star Wars, Episode VI - Return of the Jedi
Author: James Kahn
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4/5 Stars.
 70
Review Date: 1/18/2010


Just a straightforward retelling of the Return of the Jedi movie. Definitely a must for those who would like to have a complete collection of Star Wars books, and well written for what it is, although not terribly deep. A fun comic-book-ish space adventure story.


Star Wars From The Adventures Of Luke Skywalker
Star Wars From The Adventures Of Luke Skywalker
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4.1/5 Stars.
 7
Review Date: 1/18/2010


Very straightfoward rendering of the original Star Wars movie into written form. Adds a little bit because it dips into the internal dialogue of the characters, but overall it's got about the same depth as a good comic book, not that that is necessarily a negative. Quite well done for what it is.


They Fly at Ciron
They Fly at Ciron
Author: Samuel R. Delany, Samuel R. Delany
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
 4
Review Date: 1/18/2010


When a young lieutenant scouting ahead of the advancing Myetran army stumbles across a Cironian boy being attacked by a mountain cat, his instinctive action to intervene on the boy's behalf takes but a moment. But that instant swiftly unfolds into a complex bond between himself and the villagers he is duty-bound to enslave and murder.

For Ciron to survive and be free, a handful of women and men of good will from three extremely different peoples must find a way to overcome their righteous resentments and learn to trust one another, as guerrilla war unfolds in the idyllic countryside.


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