Over the centuries, whenever dark forces have emerged in The Four Lands, the Leahs have always been part of the small group of heroes who fight the good fight and save the day. Legend has it that the family sword that now hangs above the fireplace was once a magical weapon but Paxon Leah has never found a way to unlock that power. That will soon change. The Leahs aren’t the only ones aware of the sword’s history — a powerful sorcerer has set his sights on the sword AND the two youngest members of the Leah family. Arcannen intends to take down the Druids and the Leahs play an important role in his plan.
Disappointed. I love the world of Shannara and I don’t mind if the quests from one book to another are overly similar to one another. Brooks has always been good at creating a strong sense of place and he’s always given me a character or two that I really care about. That said, the first in the The Defenders of Shannara spin-off didn’t work for me.
The first problem I had with the book was the lack of urgency felt when Chrys is threatened. Jayet and Paxon walk quickly, sure, but shouldn’t Paxon have been running? He’s just been told that his sister is in trouble at the local tavern over a dice game with a stranger. I could have let that slide — maybe — but Paxon’s long introspection after Arcannen escapes with Chrys as his hostage — that was a bit much. Yes, I know he just got pummeled. Yes, Arcannen is clearly powerful so Paxon needs a plan — but couldn’t he plan as he did something? His sister’s been abducted by someone who clearly means her harm — I find it hard to believe that he wouldn’t have given chase immediately, if for no other reason than not trusting that Arcannen would take her where he said he was taking her. Couldn’t he have told someone from the airfield what was going on and send a message to Jayet asking someone follow him, bringing weapons — or something?
The lack of urgency isn’t the only problem. Things are also too easy. Chrys is tortured — turns out, there’s a potion for that. The Druids are framed, quite convincingly, but crisis is averted because the Federation guy is different from every other Federation leader Brooks has given us. That sort of thing. Assuming Brooks continues this storyline, I’m sure he’ll introduce wrinkles, but as it stands, everything was simply too easy.
Book Review: Fall From Grace by L.R. Wright
More than the heat is simmering in the picturesque community of Sechelt. Herman Ferguson has high hopes for his roadside zoo but someone is freeing his animals and he suspects the Crazy Cat Lady up the road. Bad Boy Bobby Ransome is back in town and he’s worrying at least one husband. And a former resident mysteriously falls to his death from a scenic cliff with an exceedingly full money belt around his waist.
Wright again excels at atmosphere — the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia is on my Places to Visit list, thanks to her. She doesn’t just excel at creating a sense of place, however; she also excels at connecting the reader with multiple characters’ points of view. Opportunities lost, regrets, longing, jealousy, rage — Wright takes readers on a tour of the soul.
Even though Wright’s suspense typically comes from Why Did They Do It rather than Who Did It, by the end she usually shows all of her cards. Usually — Fall From Grace is an exception. Some of the mystery I pieced together fairly early and she was kind enough to pull back the curtain enough for me to see that I was spot on. Some of the mystery remains shrouded — there was a hint of something that happened long ago and I think I know what happened — but maybe not. But no worries — there’s no question of how the man fell to his death and why. If you like psychological mysteries, you will not be disappointed. Highly recommended.
An archaeological dig uncovers the body of a woman shot in the head 70 years ago and buried with care under the old kitchen of Bloodworth House. Historian Simon Shaw is an expert on the history of site and he identifies the victim as Anne Bloodworth, an heiress who disappeared in 1926. Why would someone want her dead? And why did they bury her with reverence? When discovered, her arms were crossed demurely over her chest and she was neatly shrouded in a quilt.
Puzzling as those questions are, Professor Shaw has more immediate concerns. Just as he’s pulling himself out of an emotional nosedive following his divorce, a colleague tries to discredit him. Is the colleague also behind the recent attempts on Shaw’s life? Attempts which are staged to appear like suicide? Who else would have motive to want this popular, Pulitzer Prize winning professor out of the way — permanently?
Simon Said is the first entry in the Simon Shaw series. Described by his love interest as “small, bookish, and unambitious”, Shaw has a certain charm. A 30-something unexpectedly finding himself single and quite uncertain about dating the second time around, Shaw’s personal situation is easy to relate to — as is his apparent caffeine addiction (do not read this book if you are trying to kick the soda habit). I like the fact that he teaches where he feels at home rather than seeking a position at a more prestigious university. I like that he surrounds himself with heirlooms from his family. I like that he has a cat and for a first date, he took his love interest to a baseball game. Yes, he has a certain charm. :)
I also liked both mysteries, past and present. My only quibbles would be that Shaber has a tendency to spell everything out and yet somehow allow our characters to miss the obvious. While most of the story is told from Shaw’s viewpoint, we are given glimpses of other characters’ viewpoints as well, particularly regarding their feelings toward Shaw. So, there’s not much excitement there, because we know that no one who counts believes he’s suicidal. There were too many obvious clues that intelligent characters should not have missed — and, as good as Shaber’s characterization of Shaw was, some details seemed to suddenly emerge when needed. Still, it’s a cozy read with a strong atmosphere of small-town life in the South and I will definitely give the next book in the series a go. Looking forward to Snipe Hunt!
Book Review: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
In 2075, underground colonies thrive on the moon — Luna, as its inhabitants prefer to call her. A penal colony for all of Earth, most residents are criminals, exiles, or their descendents. The mixture of cultures, extreme conditions, and scarcity of women have led to a uniquely Lunar way of life. While there are no laws, there is an accepted code of behavior. There is no room on Luna for those who don’t earn their way or who mistreat women. Wrongs are dealt with immediately and often permanently.
All in all, Mannie is content. His happy polyamorous family is faring well and, as a non-inmate, he is independent of the Authority. Things take a drastic turn however, when he heeds the request of the self-aware master computer he has nicknamed Mike and attends a political rally that leaves several guards dead. Mannie escapes with Wyoh, an attractive political agitator, and they meet up with “rational anarchist” Professor Bernardo. Mannie decides to introduce them to Mike who verifies that if Luna continues exporting wheat to Earth, its resources will be depleted in seven years. And a revolution is born.
Mike is a fascinating character. Lonely until noticed by Mannie and introduced to other not-stupids Wyoh and Professor, he felt real to me the minute Mannie stated “Not that Mike would necessarily give right answer; he wasn’t entirely honest.” I love Mike’s childlike sense of humor. I also love that he was as flawed as any person, expressing disappointment in his “idiot son”, a computer that he trains to handle certain tasks. Heinlein did an excellent job making Mike’s sentience believable.
Heinlein’s excellent characterization extended to the other characters as well — love Mannie! And the lunar dialect, a mish-mash of predominately Western colloquialisms strongly influenced by Russian grammar, felt real. While not overly-descriptive, Heinlein’s attention to detail made it easy for me to picture a system of interconnected warrens, bustling with life. It was refreshing to see a vision of a future in which a scarcity of women establishes a respect for them, as opposed to property to be fought over. Not that this is an optimistic tale. It’s filled with politics and even the “good” guys manipulate the masses. But it is a tale of the innate desire to be independent, to be respected, and to be dealt with fairly.
Mira James is still reeling from the events of December Dread when she discovers yet another dead body — this one under the frozen lake the whole town has gathered around for Winter Wonderland festivities. Does this death have anything to do with the recent gang activity in the area? Does it have something to do with a crime that happened in the area shortly after the Civil War? Or, does it have to do with something else entirely?
As much as I love this series, this book fell a little short for me. Just a little and it may be in part because December Dread was so GOOD. It felt like there was too much going on this time — to begin with, the Bad Brad storyline didn’t do anything for me. It was mildly funny, yes, but he’s not an interesting character; I would much rather see Mira spend more time with Sid and Nancy, or even Jed. And, after loving Mrs. Berns in DD, I wasn’t as fond of her this time around. Surprisingly, I did like Kennie and Gary Wohnt. Finally, there were a couple of incidents that seemed like they should mean SOMETHING, but if they did, we didn’t discover the meaning.
Those are minor quibbles though. There were two major things that I didn’t like. I hate it when characters leave cryptic “in case anything bad happens to me” messages. It doesn’t ring true. If I thought something bad was going to happen to me, I can tell you right now that there are several people who would know exactly what they needed to know, no sleuthing required. I also hate storylines in which the girl sees her guy with another woman, jumps to conclusions, which of course are WRONG because her guy is a GOOD guy and they don’t cheat. There are many reasons I hate this storyline but for the sake of brevity we’ll just stick with it’s overdone.
That said, there were several things I did like about this trip to Battle Lake. As always, Lourey creates a strong sense of place. I like the new museum opening in town, the connection of the present with the past, AND the possibility of a ghost. I loved the interactions between Mira and Curtis and I mostly enjoyed the banter between Mira and Wohnt. Mostly. Mira did seem a little too oblivious to the situation, but that’s okay, I guess — it’s taken me several books to see him as the character he’s become too.
I am hopelessly behind with book reviews. I just finished January Thaw by Jess Lourey and will post a review soon. Until then, here’s a brief look at some novels I’ve read over the past few months.
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. Most descriptions credit this as the first “sensation” novel. Scandal, blackmail, wrongful imprisonment, hopeless love, greed, assumed identities, and second chances are all somehow connected to a mysterious woman in white. Highly recommended for a weekend–it’s a thick book and you won’t want to put it down.
Takedown Twenty by Janet Evanovich. Stephanie is still torn between Morelli and Ranger, Lula leaves food out for a giraffe she’s convinced is wandering the burg, and another car gets blown up. Still not nearly as good as the earliest books in the series but better than the last few. I stopped purchasing this series long ago but I can’t quite stop reading it. Yet. I keep hoping that Evanovich will yank the series back into shape and end it on a high note. Yes, I’m an optimist.
The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley. Nicola Marter holds master’s degrees in Russian studies and art history; what most people do not know is that she also has the ability to see past events when she touches things. When a woman comes into the gallery with a small carved bird, Nicola has a vision of the Empress Catherine giving it to a young woman named Anna. With no documented provenance though, the carving is worthless to collectors. Nicola reunites with someone from her past, someone who shares her unique abilities, in the hopes of finding documentation for the object. Standard Kearsley: romance, historic detail, and a touch of the paranormal. Recommended.
The Cypress House by Michael Koryta. In the midst of the Great Depression, Arlen Wagner works in the Civilian Conservation Corps. He works hard and drinks hard to keep himself grounded in the real world. Wagner is a haunted by two things: fear of seeing smoke curl out of someone’s eyes and fear of becoming his father. Koryta is a master of spooky and he also does a great job with mystery. Highly recommended.
Chill Rain in January by L.R. Wright. One of Sechelt’s spunky elderly residents snuck away from the nursing home, probably in search of a martini, and she’s nowhere to be found. Just down the street, a man takes a fatal tumble down the stairs while visiting one of the town’s newest residents. The two storylines come together in a chilling way. Another atmospheric, compelling Why Did They Do It mystery by Wright. Highly recommended.