Monday, April 28, 2008

The Apocalypse Troll

My hip was bothering me the other night, so I put ice on it and read this book. It is a military science fiction. I like David Weber because he explains the jigs and manoeuvres of a fighting air(space)craft very well, although sometimes I feel like I need to get a pen and paper out to diagram what is going on.
Not any great innovations in this one, in fact I bought it at the library book sale because they were getting rid of it. The actions is set in 2007, where the problems in Bosnia are causing international discord. So the guesswork for the future was a bit off. Science fiction ages best when the time spans are way too far away for the author to be proved wrong.
A good night's read, but nothing spectacular.

The Apocalypse Troll. David Weber. Baen. 1999

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Good Omens

This is a great book. I've read it a number of times now and every time I do something new strikes me as funny. It is not a subject I would normally see a proper for satirization, but man these two do a wonderful job. It is about Armageddon and how is could go wrong. I guess it doesn't bother me because it mostly makes fun of cultural ideas about the Last Battle, and not what I feel would really happen. And using verses from Revelations you could put all sorts of odd things in and still be Biblically accurate.

The main characters are an angel and demon (in the traditional sense, as beings different from human beings) and The Antichrist (also in the traditional sense of the son of Satan). But the boy gets misplaced and grows up completely human. This messes with both sides' agendas and much havoc ensues.

Neil Gaiman wrote Stardust, which was made into a movie last summer and I have mentioned Terry Pratchett a time or two already. The two authors worked very well together on this. I have heard that Terry Gilliam (Monty Python, Twelve Monkeys) was someday going to make it into a movie. But he has a tendency to not actually make all the movies he tries to so I'm not holding my breath.

Here is a passage from the beginning of the book, a conversation between an angel, and Crawly, a demon:

Eventually Crawly said, "Didn't you have a flaming sword?"
"Er," said the angel. A guilty expression passed across his face, and then came back and camped there.
"You did, didn't you?" said Crawly. "It flamed like anything"
"Er, well-"
"It looked very impressive, I thought."
"Yes, but, well-"
"Lost it, have you?"
"Oh no! No, not exactly lost, more-"
"Well?"
Azriphale looked wretched. "If you must know," he said, a trifle testily, "I gave it away."
Crawly stared up at him.
"Well, I had to," said the angel, rubbing his hand distractedly. "They looked so cold, poor things, and she's expecting already, and what with the vicious animals out there and the storm coming up I thought, well, where's the harm, so I just said, look, if you come back there's going to be an almighty row,but you might be needing this sword, so here it is, don't bother to thank me, just so everyone a big favor and don't let the sun go down on you here."
He gave Crawly a worried grin.
"That was the best course, wasn't it?"


The sword shows up later of course. I just really like this book.

Good Omens. Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett. Ace Science Fiction. 1990

Ysabel

This was an incredibly evocative novel. I mean that it really gives you a feel for where it is set and makes you want to visit there. This book is a Celtic/Modern Day ghost story set in Aix En Provence, France. The author has obviously spent a lot of time there, not only figuring out where things are and the history, but the feel of the place, how the sunlight makes the castles look in the morning and again at sunset.
I was struck by the amount of history contained in certain regions of Europe. In all of Europe really. We Americans are not used to things more than a couple of hundred years old. The Indian Ruins of Mesa Verde and such don't seem to count because they have been abandoned for so long. In Europe people are still living in and using artifacts much older than our country. This age was as much a character in the book as any other person in it.
The ghosts keep coming back because of the change of cultures, from Celtic to Greek, Roman and Christian eventually. It is interesting to think what the world would be like if the Romans hadn't taken over so much. As much as people like to romanticize Celtic things, I think a religion that was just as much into human sacrifice as the Meso-American cultures is probably best left in the past. A good book, mostly YA, since the narrator is a thirteen year old boy, very much a coming of age type of book.

Ysabel. Guy Gavriel Kay. ROC. 2007

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Engines of God

I need to not read anything from this author for a while. They are too good and I get stuck in it. I have never developed the ability to put a book on hold in my head while I do other things. I should work on it more, but I am not thinking about it until it is 1:00 in the morning and I feel dumb because I just did it again. Even if I do have enough will power to stop, if it is a good book it stays in my thoughts all day until I can get back to it. The worst is when I started reading the Wheel of Time series. I was unemployed at the time and I read six, 700 page books in a week. I was dreaming about the books and couldn't think of anything else. It is a good thing my obsessions are easily cured though. Once I got to the end and there wasn't anymore to read it burned itself out. That is one of the major dangers of the Internet. Now when you get into something like that you can go online and find others who feel the same way and keep each other fired up. I finished this one in one night, just like the other one by McDevitt, A Talent For War.
They are like sci-fi archeology. With a mystery and a puzzle and really good characters.
The pacing of the plot I especially enjoyed, he reveals things just enough that you have to keep reading because each piece of the puzzle just makes it that much more interesting. And good plots twists and surprises and people that you more or less care about. He is not afraid to kill people off either. And while in real life that is not a good thing, with an author it is definitely a plus. It adds to the tension and mystery of a book when you know that just about anyone could get killed off.

The Engines of God. Jack McDevitt. Ace Books. 1994

Daggerspell

This is the first in a large series, so I thought I would try it to see if I would have a bunch of new books to read. I will have to be pretty desperate I think. It wasn't a bad book, but it depends a lot on reincarnation and I can't decide if that is going to bug me too much.
Normally I can just pass things like this off and not worry about it, but this time as I was reading I realized what a hopeless philosophy it seemed to be. How awful would life be if you could never repent and leave your foolishness and weaknesses behind. If in every life you had to make up for the things you messed up in the previous ones you would never catch up. I can't see all that many people being so good in a lifetime that they would be able to make up for past lives as well as live their own well enough not to mess themselves up in the future.
It was another aspect of the atonement that I realized I don't appreciate enough. Just knowing that I can repent and start over without the baggage from everything wrong I've done trailing behind me like an embarrassing piece of toilet paper stuck to my shoe is wonderfully comforting. I still have to work on the repenting properly and not making the same mistake over and over, but at least I know it is possible and can be done.
So I suppose this was a good book, just in the reflections I had from reading it.

Daggerspell. Katharine Kerr. Bantam Books. 1986

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Perfection -NB

Yesterday was a perfect day, weather-wise. It was warm enough to go outside comfortably without shoes, yet not so hot the sidewalk burned your feet. And just a light wind, not like the gale we are having today. We worked outside, the kids played in the water and had a Clean-out-the-garden family home evening. Maggie saw the older kids learning to use the trimmers and saw, so she went into the toy room and brought out her toy pliers, "I'm ready to work!" she said.
Along the topic of perfection, here is the cheesecake recipe I have been accused of hoarding:

Double-Chocolate Italian Cheesecake
CRUST
1/2 cup slivered almonds
15 vanilla wafer cookies
1 TBSP unsalted butter, melted

CHEESECAKE
2 (8-oz) pkg cream cheese, softened
2 (8-oz) pkg mascarpone cheese, softened
1 1/3 cups sugar
2 tsp vanilla
4 eggs
6 oz. bittersweet chocolate, melted, cooled
6 oz. white chocolate, melted, cooled

GLAZE
8 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup unsalted butter
1 1/1 TBSP light corn syrup

1.Heat oven to 325. Place almonds in food processor; pulse until chopped. Add wafers and melted butter; process until finely crumbled. Press into bottom of 9-in spring form pan. Wrap outside of pan with foil.
2. Place cream cheese, mascarpone cheese and sugar in large bowl; beat at medium speed until smooth. Beat in vanilla. At low speed, beat in eggs, one at a time, until well-blended.
3. Divide cheese mixture evenly between 2 medium bowls. Add melted bittersweet chocolate to one; stir to combine. Add white chocolate to second bowl; stir to combine.
4. Pour white chocolate mixture into pan. Gently spoon and spread bittersweet chocolate mixture over white chocolate mixture. Place pan in large shallow roasting pan or broiler pan; fill roasting pan with 1 inch of hot water.
5. Bake 1 hour or until edges are puffed and top looks dull and is dry to the touch. Center should move slightly when side of pan is tapped. Turn off oven. Let cheesecake stand in oven 1 hour. Cool to room temperature; refrigerate overnight.
6. To make glaze, place 8 oz. bittersweet chocolate and 3/4 cup butter in medium saucepan. Heat over medium heat until melted; stirring occasionally. Remove from heat; gently stir in corn syrup until mixture is smooth and slightly warm to the touch.
7. Remove sides from spring form pan; place cheesecake on wire rack placed over baking sheet. Pour glaze over cheesecake, spreading with spatula. Refrigerate until set. Store in refrigerator.

Its a lot of work, but very yummy. I've only made it twice, but it was very, very, very good both times. See what you've made me do, now I'm craving chocolate.

A Talent For War

This was a hard sci-fi novel. Meaning space ships and a pretty dense plot full of details. It had the sort of plot that really draws you in. Though what is it with novels and the incomprehensible prologue? It is like the author is saying "I have a secret, and you are going to have to read the whole book to find out what it is. Ha!"
I liked this one, the story was almost a flashback, as the main character inherits a mystery and investigates the main character in a galaxy-wide war. He seemed to have some cynicism in relationship to the politics of war; it amazed me to discover this book was written in 1989. It felt very relevant to the silly political things that go on today. Though I suppose those political things have always been part of war, since if politics goes right there is no need for war. It also got me into an interesting conversation. I was reading it at the Diner, having a Mommy Night out when one of the men working there, I think he is part owner, came by and was snooping my book. Everyone who reads a lot does this. So we started talking about science fiction, the lack of good books at the local library and bookstore, and what we had been reading lately. It was fun to have a conversation like that out of the blue. He recommended some things that I know I have seen at the library, so I have something new to look forward to.

A Talent For War. Jack McDevitt. Ace Books. 1989

Princess at Sea

This is the sequel of The Decoy Princess. I had a hard time with this one at first. There was a lot of first person agonizing, which I always tend to skip. And if it is a large part of the book, which it was, then I stop reading.
David finished it and he kept telling me to keep going, that it got better, so I finally did. And he was right. It did get a lot better, I was very impressed with the last third of the book. And, in retrospect, I liked the earlier bits better, because they turned out to be very relevant to the plot at the end.
Dawn Cook is an interesting author. Her style is like a lot of throwaway fiction, especially of the romance variety: very light and breezy, with much anguish about this or that man's attentions. The humour is conversation based, like reading an episode of Friends. But she does amazing things with her plotting. And her characters are much more developed than a lot of light fiction. It is as if she starts out with a stereotype and then sees what new territory she can find with those starting parameters.
Spoiler -- if you have any desire to read this book, don't read the next paragraph.

The twist that made me really like this book is that she makes the main love interest from the last book and this one be the bad guy. Now it isn't unusual to have the new guy be the bad guy, but she has spent two novels building up how great this man is, and then he turns out to be a craven opportunist. He isn't even evil, plotting dastardly schemes, just an selfish no-account, who is hanging out with our heroine because she lives in the palace and he might be able to make a big score if he keeps stringing her along.
So all of the "Oh, what about Duncan?" that was driving me nuts in the beginning was a set-up for just how taken in and emotionally at risk Tess was at the end. I was very impressed, not many people writing a series are brave enough to spend that much time on that type of deception.

Princess at Sea. Dawn Cook. Ace Fantasy. 2006

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Tag- NB

Ok, I'll play. Jenny sent me this, so you can all do it too.
A- Attached or single: Attached
B- Best Friend: My Hubby (yes I know that corny, but its true)
C- Cake or Pie: pie
D- Day of Choice: Thurs- I don't babysit anyone and the older kids are at school.
E- Essential Item: book
F- Favorite Color: blue
G- Gummy Bears or Worms: neither. Give me chocolate or give me death (or at least not gummy candy)
H- Hometown: Moab, This place feels like home
I- Indulgence(s): Mommy night out: the bookstore and a meal by myself
J- January or July: July, I hate the cold
K- Kids: 5
L- Life is incomplete without: church and kids
M- Marriage Date: Aug 9, 1997
N- Number of Siblings: 5; 3 sis, 2 bro
O- Oranges or Apples: oranges
P- Phobias or Fears: ruining my children and bizarre accidents
Q- Quote(s): I can never think of good quotes when I want them. I tend to be brain dead in this area.
R- Reason To Smile: Maggie and Bridget playing. My flowers coming up. Watching DH fly a kite with the kids. The View from my front window.
S- Something new: David's new car, which leaves one for me ALL THE TIME!
T- Tag: lajendi, Brandon Sanderson's site
U- Unknown Fact About Me: I've got a dancing soul in a non-dancing body
V- Vegetarian or Oppressor of Animal: Save a cow, eat a vegetarian
W- Worst Habit: Being lazy
X- X-Rays or Ultrasounds: I've had far more of these, so ultrasounds I guess
Y- Your Favorite Food: This white chocolate/chocolate cheesecake recipe I have, I've only made twice because it has like 850 calories per serving
Z- Zodiac: Libra
There you go. Learn anything new?

Friday, April 4, 2008

The Hinge of Fate

This is the fourth volume of the WWII series. I think I'm going to take a break from these for a while. I have two more to read, but I'm getting a bit burned out. They are each 800 some odd pages, not counting the appendices. But I am still fascinated by the stuff I am learning.

So, everyone out there, pop quiz. Who knew before now that just after the United States entered WWII our shipping was attacked constantly by the German Navy, even just off shore of New Orleans and in the Chesapeake Bay and all around Florida? We didn't have very effective anti-submarine defense at the time and they picked off ships at will. Even to the point of picking and choosing which ships to sink. Two-thirds of the ships that went down were tankers, since they were the most important. 70 ships were lost in 6 months. Most of the American.

Hello, I had never heard this before. All I have heard is we were never attacked on American soil except for Pearl Harbor (which almost doesn't count) and 9-11. OK, so this isn't soil but right offshore should count for something. I have asked various people and no one had heard this before. We tend to edit out losing things from our histories I suppose.
I knew that the desert war turned around at El Alamein, but I never knew just how close to Cairo and all the important stuff in Egypt it was. Had Rommel won there things would have turned out much different. But he didn't and this was the battle Churchill calls the Hinge of Fate, because it was the beginning of the Allied victories. After this they didn't lose any major battles.

The Hinge of Fate. Winston Churchill. Houghton Mifflin. 1950

Stuffed

This was probably the funniest and oddest mystery I have ever read. The basic premise tells you how the rest of the book is going to go: a man who rents and brokers taxidermy )stuffed animals of ALL kinds) is attacked and his white crow stolen. This ticks him off so he tries to get it back. His assistant is a Russian with English As a Second Language difficulties, he owns six stiffed penguins named after the seven dwarfs ( the seventh was attacked by a real penguins, who apparently hate the stuffed versions.) There are side show freaks, malicious Game Wardens, North Koreans and a stuffed bear.
It might have been too weird for some but I really enjoyed it. The thing that worried me was that it was set in New York and a lot of times authors will put a lot of gratuitous language and sex in, just to show the gritty realism of the city. This one felt like a real person more than those Gritty realism ones do. Perhaps since i don't swear or encounter violence on a regular basis, putting those in just makes thing less realistic.
But all of the strange things sort of show up in a logical way, at least it doesn't take any bizarre twistings of the plot to bring them in. It is sort of like explaining to your mother what went wrong. It all made so much sense until you get to the part with the scorched electrical smell and the burned hole in your clothes and the popped circuit breaker.
Here was one of the numerous silly conversations in the book :
"There's not going to be any killing,: I said, with little conviction.
"Garv, very important: must to always shoot gun fast. Mother tell to me: Shoot, shoot, shoot When gun is pizdyets, yes?"

"I told you, there's not going to be any killing."
"She tell to me: Otisha. . . today is to kill, tomorrow is to interrogate."
"Please, Otto--"
"She tell me: Otisha, to take gun, they must to dig hole at grave, remove my smelly hand."
"Otto!"
"She tell to me:Otisha, it is to make them meal on your projectiles. Ah, Mother, very beautiful woman. Cookies very nice when to kitchen make."
No doubt Mother's brownies were made from chocolate, flour and C4. I'd hate to be the one to blow out candles on one of her birthday cakes. Better to submerge it in a bucket of water.

"Mother say to Otto: Otisha gun not toy, but much fun."


As Otto says, "Much fun." I liked this one and will probably read
more of this author. I like the warped sense of what is possible.

Stuffed. Brian M. Wiprud. Dell Mystery. 2005