Friday, July 22, 2011

Friday Finds

Posted by Simcha 6:47 AM, under | 4 comments

I really like the sound of this book, and not just because it involves chocolate (though that does help). The plot sounds creative and I really look forward to reading it when it comes out in September.

All These Things I've Done
by Gabrielle Zevin

In 2083, chocolate and coffee are illegal, paper is hard to find, water is carefully rationed, and New York City is rife with crime and poverty. And yet, for Anya Balanchine, the sixteen-year-old daughter of the city's most notorious (and dead) crime boss, life is fairly routine. It consists of going to school, taking care of her siblings and her dying grandmother, trying to avoid falling in love with the new assistant D.A.'s son, and avoiding her loser ex-boyfriend. That is until her ex is accidently poisoned by the chocolate her family manufactures and the police think she's to blame. Suddenly, Anya finds herself thrust unwillingly into the spotlight—at school, in the news, and most importantly, within her mafia family.

This one I actually just got out of the library, after reading about it on someone's blog (I wish I could remember where) and I can't wait to get started on it.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson
by John Green, David Levithan

One cold night, in a most unlikely corner of Chicago, two teens—both named Will Grayson—are about to cross paths. As their worlds collide and intertwine, the Will Graysons find their lives going in new and unexpected directions, building toward romantic turns-of-heart and the epic production of history’s most fabulous high school musical.

Hilarious, poignant, and deeply insightful, John Green and David Levithan’s collaborative novel is brimming with a double helping of the heart and humor that have won both them both legions of faithful fans.

I first heard about these Johannes Cabal books on Floor to Ceiling Books and after reading several more reviews on some of the other books in the series I'm really eager to try it out myself.

Johannes Cabal the Necromancer (Johannes Cabal #1)
by Jonathan L. Howard

A charmingly gothic, fiendishly funny Faustian tale about a brilliant scientist who makes a deal with the Devil, twice.

Johannes Cabal sold his soul years ago in order to learn the laws of necromancy. Now he wants it back. Amused and slightly bored, Satan proposes a little wager: Johannes has to persuade one hundred people to sign over their souls or he will be damned forever. This time for real. Accepting the bargain, Jonathan is given one calendar year and a traveling carnival to complete his task. With little time to waste, Johannes raises a motley crew from the dead and enlists his brother, Horst, a charismatic vampire to help him run his nefarious road show, resulting in mayhem at every turn.

How about you? Are there any particular books that you recently discovered and are excited to read?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Cordelia’s Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold

About two years ago, shortly after I started this blog, I approached Lois McMaster Bujold for an interview. To my delight Bujold agreed and I decided that before I put together the interview questions I would read a few of her Vorkosigan books, which is the series that she is particularly well-known for (until then I had only read her fantasy books). Unfortunately getting a hold of these books was a lot more challenging than I had expected it to be. Apparently these books are so popular in Israel that they are always sold out in the bookstores, and so I can never find them. So after two years that interview has yet to be written because my mission is still unachieved. 

I finally decided recently that I’m just going to order each of the books from The Book Depository, treating myself to one book a month. I started with The Warrior’s Apprentice, which introduces the charismatic hero of the series, Miles Vorkosigan, and which left me eager to read more. But after finishing The Warrior’s Apprentice I discovered that there were a couple of prequels to the book which center on Miles’s parents and I decided to read those books first in order to get some of the back-story that is occasionally hinted at in The Warrior’s Apprentice.

Cordelia’s Honor is an omnibus which includes the two books, Shards of Honor and Barrayar, which chronologically take place before The Warrior’s Apprentice, although they were actually written afterwards. In Shards of Honor we meet Cordelia Naismith from the planet of Beta Colony who is taking part of a routine survey mission to an unexplored planet when she gets captured by Captain Aral Vorkosigan and his Barrayan army. Aral’s reputation as the Butcher of Komarr has made him universally feared and hated and Cordelia doesn’t know what to expect from him when the two of them get stranded together alone on the unihinted planet. To her surprise Cordelia finds Aral to be intelligent and kind and the two develop an unexpected rapaport as they struggle through the unfamiliar turrain to where help should arrive. Once home again Cordelia is assigned to an expedition that puts her directly against Aral Vorkosigan and the Barrayans, but when treachery is discovered the two of them end up working together again to end a galactic war.

In Barrayar Cordelia Naismith and Aral Vorkosigan are now married and looking forward to spending some quiet time together. Unfortunetly their newlywed bliss is interrupted when the emperor dies and Aral is assigned to be the guardian of the young heir to the imperial throne of Barrayar. Not everyone is happy with the emperor’s choice for a guardian and someone is determined to eliminate Aral from a position they they want for themselves.

Since I had already read The Warrior’s Apprentice I already knew, in a general way, how both stories would end so the element of surprise was largely missing. I knew that Cordelia and Aral would end up together, because they are Miles’s parents, and it also mentions it on the book’s back cover. I also knew about a dramatic even that happens to Cordelia while pregnant because that too is explained in Warrior’s Apprentice. So while I enjoyed reading both books and getting to know better some of the minor characters from the Warrior’s Apprentice, I kind of wished that I had read these two books first so that I could have been more surprised by the climatic events.

After reading Cordelia’s Honor a lot of pieces fell into place for me and many details from The Warrior’s Apprentice made a lot more sense. What I particularly enjoyed was getting to know Miles's parents better and finding out more about Bothari, Milo’s bodyguard, a deeply complex character who’s dark history is hinted at in The Warrior’s Apprentice. These two books also provide more of an explanation about the culture that Miles grew up in, and helped me understand the extent of his difficulties in being handicapped in a culture that despises weaknesses of any kind.

I will admit to being a little disappointed that the romance between Cordelia and Aral wasn’t a bit more, well...romantic. I had expected the development of their relationship to be a lot more dramatic, since they were supposed to be enemies, but even in their initial meeting neither of them seemed to feel any real animosity towards the other so there wasn’t that tension in their relationship that makes a romance fun to read about. They also fall-in love with each other really quickly, considering the painful experiences each of them had been through, but I didn't let myself dwell on it too much. This wasn't really meant to be a romance novel and I found myself satisfied with the quiet romance that does develop here.

So far I am really enjoying Bujold’s Vorkosigan series, which surprises me somewhat since military science fiction does not usually appeal to me. But the characters are so interesting and multi-faceted that I just keep wanting to read more about them and even the military and political parts are exciting enough to keep me interested, although if do occasionally get lost when things get heated. I’m now really looking forward to returning to Miles’s story with The Vor Game, which is already ordered and on its way to my mailbox. And hopefully one day soon I'll feel prepared to finally put together that interview for Lois McMaster Bujold.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Free Audio Books from Random House

Posted by Simcha 4:03 PM, under | 3 comments

Random House is currently offering three free audiobooks to anyone that signs up for their newsletter (though I think you can actually download the books without signing up for it). The books being offered are:

White Cat by Holly Black ( I read this one and enjoyed it)

Nate the Great Goes Undercover by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat

Survival by Louis L'Amour

For more information visit the Random House website.

Cosplay Fever: Raise Your Glass

Posted by Simcha 3:54 PM, under | 4 comments

This made me smile (and want to dress up in a costume and dance)


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Company We Keep: A Husband and Wife True Life Spy Story by Robert and Dayna Bear

Posted by Simcha 5:54 PM, under | 7 comments

Robert Baer was known inside the CIA as perhaps the best operative working the Middle East. But if his career was all that a spy might aspire to, his personal life was a brutal illustration of everything a spy is asked to sacrifice.

Dayna Williamson thought of herself as just an ordinary California girl. But she was always looking to get closer to the edge. When she joined the CIA, she was initially tasked with Agency background checks, but she quickly distinguished herself as someone who could thrive in the field. Tapped to serve in some of the world’s most dangerous places, she discovered an inner strength and resourcefulness she’d never known—but she also came to see that the spy life exacts a heavy toll.

When Bob and Dayna met on a mission in Sarajevo, it wasn’t love at first sight. But there was something there, a spark. And as the danger escalated and their affection for each other grew, they realized it was time to leave “the Company,” to somehow rediscover the people they’d once been. As worldly as they both were, the couple didn’t realize at first that turning in their Agency ID cards would not be enough to put their covert past behind.


Everything I know I know about the CIA I learned from movies and TV shows so when I came across The Company We Keep: A Husband and Wife True Life Spy Story I was eager to find out how much truth there is to those fictionalized stories. Plus, there was no way I could resist the lure of a real-life spy romance told by CIA partners turned husband and wife

Robert (Bob) and Dayna Bear are both former CIA agents who fell-in love and got married while working together undercover for the CIA. In The Company We Keep Dayna and Bob takes turns describing their experiences working for the CIA, how they met and their decision to leave the CIA in order to build a family.

I found both Dayna and Bob’s accounts of their work for the CIA to be fascinating, though it was Dayna’s story that interested me in particular. While Bob ‘s narration leaned toward the political Dayna’s was more personal and humorous and I found myself tempted to skip Bob's chapters to get to hers (no offense Bob).

Dayan begins by describing the first time she met Bob, while working undercover in Sarajevo, and her surprise at his unconventional methods at tackling the job. Dayna then goes back to talk about how she got started in the secret service branch of the CIA and the detrimental effect that her job had on her marriage. She also discusses a bit of the training that she went through and some of her undercover jobs with different partners. I really enjoyed reading Dayna’s side of the story and just wished that there was more of it. I would have really liked to read more about Dayna's family, her experience as one of the few women in the CIA and about some of the struggles that she faced working her way up.

That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy reading Bob’s sections of the book as well, it was just that his style didn't appeal to me quite as much. Bob focuses a bit more on this political ramifications of his missions and some of the interesting characters that they involved, such as Arab princes and military leaders.

Bob doesn't let us get as close to him as Dayna does and his narration as a bit more distant and matter-of-fact, even when he talks about the romantic developments between him and Dayna. The one exception is when he talks about this mother. Bob recounts a humorous account of the time his mother came to visit him in Beirut, despite his protests that there wouldn’t be anything for her to do there. But upon arrival Bob’s mother processed to befriend everyone she came across, from the prostitutes in the bar to the government employee that Bob had been trying to get close to, without success. Sadly though, Bob later tells us that his mother has since cut him out of her life due to her belief that he was involved in some illegal business.

While Bob and Dayna confirm that the life of a CIA agent is certainly exciting, we can also see that it hasn’t come cheaply for either of them. Both of their first marriages fell apart because neither of them were around enough to make them work and their relationships with their parents and immediate family have suffered as well. To Dayna’s dismay, while she was off on missions for the CIA her father had taken to spending his free time with a woman from work who he calls his “other-daughter.” When Dayna expressed her hurt at this her father just shrugged and said that it was because she was never around. Bob’s children, who live with their mother, barely know their father and have little interest in spending time with him, and his mother is no longer interested in being part of his life. But happily, Bob and Dayna managed to find each other and their new relationship was important enough to both of them that were willing to give up working for the CIA in order to focus on it.

As I mentioned, I was a little disappointed that Dayna didn’t go a bit more into her decision to leave the CIA since it’s clear that it must have been a big sacrifice. Bob was already disenchanted with his work and had been considering leaving, after many years on the job, but I don’t think Dayna would have left if not for Bob. After their marriage the Bears decided to adopt a child from Pakistan, and they finish off their story with a description of the complicated adoption process they had to go through and the many close calls that nearly cost them their little girl. But in the end the adoption went through and the Bears were now a real family.

I really enjoyed reading The Company We Keep and the insight that it gave me into the life of real spies. I do hope, though, that someday Dayna Bear will write a memoir of her own because I'm sure there is a lot more to her story that wasn't included here, and which I would love to read about.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

New Scifi and Fantasy Releases: Week of July 17

Posted by Simcha 3:14 PM, under , | 8 comments

Beautiful Beings
Kailin Gow
Genre: YA Paranormal Romance
Publisher: theEdgebooks
Release Date: July 18

An ethereal exclusive boarding school with unearthly beautiful students...

Lux, a rebel girl, who has been seeing demons and angels since she was two...

Asher, the bad boy on a motorcycle who sketches angels...

Brax Kingsley who instantly captures Lux's eyes when she moves into the neighborhood...

And the Hatchett twins whose parents were murdered, leaving them a ridiculous fortune...

All brought together...all part of the puzzle behind the Beautiful Beings.

A fantasy fiction based on mythology and inspired by the author's experience at age 19.


Bioshock: Rapture
John Shirley, Ken Levine
Genre: Steampunk
Publisher: Tor
Release Date: July 19

It's the end of World War II. FDR's New Deal has redefined American politics. Taxes are at an all-time high. The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki has brought a fear of total annihilation. The rise of secret government agencies and sanctions on business has many watching their backs. America's sense of freedom is diminshing . . . and many are desperate to take there freedom back.
Among them is a great dreamer, an immigrant who pulled himself from the depths of poverty to become one of the wealthiest and admired men in the world. That man is Andrew Ryan, and he believed that great men and women deserve better. And so he set out to create the impossible, a utopia free from government, censorship, and moral restrictions on science--where what you give is what you get. He created Rapture---the shining city below the sea.
But as we all know, this utopia suffered a great tragedy. This is the story of how it all came to be . . .and how it all ended.


The Griff: A Graphic Novel
Christopher Moore & Ian Corson
Genre: Graphic Novel
Publisher: HarperCollins
Release Date: July 19

The alien's four-step plan to conquer our planet included the attack of minivan-sized griffin-0like dragons and the destruction of all humankind. Into that ominous sounding onslaught wander a trio of earthly survivors who don't seem to take anything too seriously. Writer Christopher Moore and artist Ian Corson have created a graphic novel that could probably keep even its bad guys laughing.


Incubus (Fairwick Chronicles #1)
Carol Goodman
Genre: Fantasy/Paranormal Romance
Publisher: Ebury Press
Release Date: July 21

This is where all stories start, on the edge of a dark wood…’

Dr. Callie McFay’s travels to the small college town of Fairwick in New York State for a job interview. Despite it being her second choice she finds herself talked into accepting a job offer from the Folklore Department to teach a class on demons and vampires. She also finds herself drawn to an old house in the woods where Gothic novelist Dahlia LaMotte used to live and buys it on a whim, despite the seeming reluctance of the estate agent to sell it to her.

But on the night of her job interview, she had a very vivid erotic dream about a man made out of shadows and moonlight, and this dream becomes a regular occurrence when she moves into her new home. Callie starts to feel like a heroine in one of the gothic novels she teaches as slowly it dawns on her that things at the college – and in her home – are not what they seem. She learns that her house is supposed to be haunted by LaMotte’s former lover and her new – and rather strange – colleagues tell her an unfamiliar fairy tale about an incubus-demon with a human past who was enchanted by a fairy queen…


The Key to Creation (Terra Incognita, Bk 3)
Kevin J. Anderson
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Orbit
Release Date: July 20

Brave explorers and mortal enemies across the world clash at a mysterious lost continent. After long voyages, encountering hurricanes and sea monsters, Criston Vora and Saan race to Terravitae, the legendary promised land. Saan's quest is to find the Key to Creation, a weapon that may defeat Uraba's enemies, and Criston wants vengeance against the monstrous Leviathan that ruined his life long ago.

Back home, two opposing continents and religions clash for the remnants of a sacred city, unleashing their hatred in a war that could end both civilizations. Queen Anjine and Soldan-Shah Omra are driven by mutual hatred, heaping atrocity upon atrocity in an escalating conflict that only their gods can end.

Meanwhile, the secretive Saedrans. manipulating both sides, come ever closer to their ultimate goal: to complete the Map of All Things and bring about the return of God.


The Knowledge of Good & Evil
Glenn Kleier
Genre: Thriller
Publisher: Tor
Release Date: July 19

On December 4, 1968, world-famous theologian Father Louis Merton visited the ancient Dead City of Polonnaruwa, Ceylon, entered the Cave of the Spirits of Knowledge, and experienced a vision.  It’s claimed he found a backdoor to the Afterlife, that he looked into the Mind of God and escaped with a secret so powerful it could change all humanity…bring wars to a standstill…end forever the age-old hatreds between races, creeds and cultures.

Six days later as Merton prepared to announce his discovery at a religious conference, he suffered a horrific death under mysterious circumstances.  But the secret did not die with him.  Merton left behind a journal…     
Years later, beautiful psychologist Angela Weber and her troubled fiancĂ©, Ian Baringer, are on the hunt for Merton’s long-lost journal and its door to the Afterlife.  Angela, an agnostic, wants to help Ian heal the wounds of a traumatic childhood plane crash that took the lives of his parents.  Ian, a defrocked priest, no longer trusts in religion’s promise of eternal life.  He must know for certain if he will ever see his parents again, and is driven to find out firsthand what lies beyond, and what it holds for mankind.

Together, Angela and Ian plunge headlong into a global chase, pursued by a shadowy cult, dead bodies and destruction in their wake.  If Ian and Angela succeed, they will defy the gates of heaven and hell to learn a secret hidden from the world since the dawn of time . . .

The Knowledge of Good & Evil.


Out of the Waters
David Drake
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Tor
Release Date: July 19

The second novel of The Books of the Elements.

The wealthy Governor Saxa, of the great city of Carce, has generously and lavishly subsidized a theatrical/religious event. During this elaborate staging of Hercules founding a city on the shores of Lusitania, strange and dark magic turns the panoply into a chilling event. The sky darkens and the waves crash in the flooded arena. A great creature rises from the sea: a huge, tentacled horror on snake legs. It devastates the city, much to the delight of the crowd. A few in the audience, although not Saxa, understand that this was not mere stagecraft, but something much darker and more dangerous. If all signs are being read right, this illusion could signify a dreadful intrusion of supernatural powers into the real world. Saxa’s son, Varus, has been the conduit for such an event once before.

This new novel in David Drake’s chronicles of Carce, The Books of the Elements, is as powerful and elaborate as that fantastic theatrical event, a major fantasy for this year.


The Paradise Prophecy
Robert Browne
Genre: Thriller
Publisher: Dutton
Release Date: July 21

A spectacular thriller inspired by John Milton's Paradise Lost in which the final chapter of the War in Heaven is about to play out on Earth, with the fate of humanity hanging in the balance.

The Myth

When God cast the archangel Satan into Hell, ending the War in Heaven, peace prevailed on Earth. Until the fallen angels took revenge in the Garden of Eden. Ever since, mankind has been in a struggle between good and evil, paradise and apocalypse: the fall of Rome, The Crusades, World Wars, nuclear proliferation, the Middle East Crisis... The War in Heaven never really ended-it just changed venues. For millennia, God's angels have been fighting Satan's demons on Earth, all in hopes of bringing about Satan's greatest ambition, the Apocalypse.

The Reality

Satan has never been closer to his goal than right now.

Agent Bernadette Callahan is a talented investigator at a shadowy government organization known only as Section, on the trail of a serial killer with nearly supernatural abilities. Sebastian "Batty" LaLaurie is a religious historian who knows far too much about the other side- and that hard-earned knowledge is exactly what Callahan needs. This unlikely duo pair up for a race across the globe, decoding clues left in ancient texts from the Bible to Paradise Lost and beyond. In the process they stumble upon a vast conspiracy-one beyond the scope of mankind's darkest imagination


Mandy Hubbard
Genre: YA Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Razorbill
Release Date: July 21

Lexi is cursed with a dark secret. Each day she goes to school like a normal teenager, and each night she must swim, or the pain will be unbearable. She is a siren - a deadly mermaid destined to lure men to their watery deaths. After a terrible tragedy, Lexi shut herself off from the world, vowing to protect the ones she loves. But she soon finds herself caught between a new boy at school who may have the power to melt her icy exterior, and a handsome water spirit who says he can break Lexi's curse if she gives up everything else. Lexi is faced with the hardest decision she's ever had to make: the life she's always longed for - or the love she can't live without?


Shadow’s Lure (Shadow Saga, Bk 2)
Jon Sprunk
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Gollancz
Release Date: July 21

There are some things a son of the Shadow cannot ignore, and some fights from which he can't run. In this battle, all of Caim's strength and skill won't be enough. For none can resist the Shadow's Lure . . .


This Shared Dream
Kathleen Ann Goonan
Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Tor
Release Date: July 19

Kathleen Ann Goonan introduced Sam Dance and his wife, Bette, and their quest to alter our present reality for the better in her novel In War Times (winner of the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Novel and ALA’s Best Science Fiction Novel of 2008). Now, in This Shared Dream, she tells the story of the next generation.
The three Dance kids, seemingly abandoned by both parents when they were younger, are now adults and are all disturbed by memories of a reality that existed in place of their world. The older girl, Jill, even remembers the disappearance of their mother while preventing the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
Goonan has created a new kind of utopian SF novel, in which the changes in history have created a present world that is in many ways superior to our own, while in other worlds people strive to prevent their own erasure by restoring the ills to ours. This Shared Dream is certainly the most provocative SF speculation of the year, and perhaps the decade.


The Big Switch (The War That Came Early, Bk 3)
Harry Turtledove
Genre: Alternate History
Publisher: Del Rey
Release Date: July 19

In this extraordinary World War II alternate history, master storyteller Harry Turtledove begins with a big switch: what if Neville Chamberlain, instead of appeasing Hitler, had stood up to him in 1938? Enraged, Hitler reacts by lashing out at the West, promising his soldiers that they will reach Paris by the new year. They don’t. Three years later, his genocidal apparatus not fully in place, Hitler has barely survived a coup, while Jews cling to survival. But England and France wonder whether the war is still worthwhile.

Weaving together a cast of characters that ranges from a brawling American fighter in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in Spain to a woman who has seen Hitler’s evil face-to-face, Harry Turtledove takes us into a world shaping up very differently in 1941. The Germans and their Polish allies have slammed into the gut of the Soviet Union in the west, while Japan pummels away in the east. In trench warfare in France, French and Czech fighters are outmanned but not outfought by their Nazi enemy. Then the stalemate is shattered. In England, Winston Churchill dies in an apparent accident, and the gray men who walk behind his funeral cortege wonder who their real enemy is. The USSR, fighting for its life, makes peace with Japan—and Japan’s war with America is about to begin.

A sweeping saga of human passions, foolishness, and courage, of families and lovers and soldiers by choice and by chance, The Big Switch is a provocative, gripping, and utterly convincing work of alternate history at its best. For history buffs and fans of big, blood-and-guts fiction, Harry Turtledove delivers a panoramic clash of ideals as powerful as armies themselves.


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