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Original Essays | September 15, 2014

Lois Leveen: IMG Forsooth Me Not: Shakespeare, Juliet, Her Nurse, and a Novel

There's this writer, William Shakespeare. Perhaps you've heard of him. He wrote this play, Romeo and Juliet. Maybe you've heard of it as well. It's... Continue »


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Knot in Time by Alan Tucker
Knot in Time

nrlymrtl, October 2, 2014

Dare (short for Darius) is a 19 year old high school drop out working as a janitor when he is first approached by the Keepers, who are there to keep time running smoothly. First contact doesn’t go so well, and even second and third contact don’t go so well. But eventually, Dare is swept up into a space ship with time traveling capability. M’sang, a rather enormous hamster alien, takes on training Dare, along with the ship’s artificial intelligence, Kim. After some hard knocks in the training ring, Dare is sent on his first mission with some cool gadgetry. And then he runs up against Hope, who is working for another team of time travelers, and she doesn’t hold back.

As the adventure continues, we end up on a future moon that has a small but tenacious population in a sprawling base. For a while, Dare isn’t sure who to trust �" Have M’sang and Kim been using him, misleading him? Is Hope right in her efforts to preserve a thread of time she considers to be the right one? To add to his confusion, Lauri, a bio-engineered young lady, enters the mix, along with her substitute father figure, Dr. Lansing. The moon base takes on a deadly personality when a genetic experiment (Hans, a rather large and very intelligent, nearly indestructible spider) is let out to play. Plus there’s all those hamster aliens wanting to invade the base. Yep, Dare has plenty of knots to untangle.

I had a lot of fun with this book. Dare often tosses out quips and references to 80s and90s movies, making little cultural touchstones for the readers. He’s a likeable kid, even if he does come off as too much of a good guy at times. But this feeds into his naivete as he always falls for the damsel in distress. The book pings back and forth from humor to action to mystery to occasional violence. It’s a good balance insuring the reader is never bored or feels the need to hurry through a section to get back to the good parts.

The time travel element is well done, being mostly used as a mechanism to tell the story and not getting hung up on the physics behind such a possibility. The characters were easy to connect with. The bad guys had enough variation that some I wanted dead in horrid ways while others I sympathized with a bit. I especially liked M’sang, his gruffness, his ability to toss Dare around the martial arts room. The mental image of Dare being thrown down by a large, irate hamster gave me the giggles more than once.

There’s only a few females in this novel (Kim, Hope, Lauri, any others?) and two of the three are very attractive. In fact, was one a sex worker early in her career. My one criticism is that I would have liked to see a greater variation in the female characters, as we do with the male characters. Over all, a very entertaining read and I definitely look forward to reading more works by this author.

What I Liked: The big hamster has got some serious moves; Dare was a fun POV for the story; maniacal Hans!; good balance of action, humor, and serious moments; the cover is stunning.

What I Disliked: There are few female characters and they are first introduced as hot, sexy things and later get to be a little more.
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Dark Taste of Rapture (Alien Huntress Novels) by Gena Showalter
Dark Taste of Rapture (Alien Huntress Novels)

nrlymrtl, October 1, 2014

Note: Even though this is Book 6, it works fine as a stand alone.

Our two heroes of the story, Noelle Tremain & Hector Dean, each have deep, dark secrets and these secrets keep them separated for much of the book. They first meet at AIR (an acronym for the organization that hunts down misbehaving aliens on Earth) boot camp �" Noelle is a trainee not expected to graduate and Dean is a bald, badass instructor who gives her no quarter. While we get a little time at boot camp, the story then jumps ahead several months to where Noelle is graduated, badged, and on the streets kicking ass. A prominent businessman dies in a nasty fashion and Noelle and Hector are paired up to fight evil, the kind of evil trafficking in slaves.

This was another fun romp in the Alien Huntress series. The bad guys deserved a messy end, the good guys were sassy and dedicated, the tech was fun, and the sex scenes were sizzling. For much of the book, Noelle and her gal pal Eva provide plenty of snarky comedic relief. Everyone needs a friend like Eva who will tell you when you’re an idiot and threaten to smash the face in of anyone else who says it. Plus, she’s rather petite and travels well in a duffel bag. ;)

Hector Dean has plenty of hang ups. His childhood was pretty gritty and he carries the guilt of having killed other children when he lashed out in pain, anger, and despair as a kid himself. Oh, and he has very sensitive arms. Yes, he has this wee little issue of setting things ablaze and turning people to ash whenever he feels a strong emotion, such as anger, fear, arousal. So he hasn’t really made time with the fairer sex. For years now I have believed that male virginity was a highly under rated quality in our society and I very much enjoyed how Showalter employed this aspect of Dean’s character.

Noelle comes from a rich family, and one that has dismissed her as frivolous and useless (except as a trophy daughter) for years. Her decision to become an AIR agent and work for a living, of course, deeply embarrasses much of her family. She too has her secrets and one of them concerns her ability to withstand painful torture with a smile and snarky remark.

The plot was fun, with Dean & Tremain closing in on the slavers, and then losing them again, only to come close yet again. In fact, it somewhat mirrored their own burgeoning relationship. As one moves forward, the other pulls away, and so forth. The draw between the two is palpable, creating plenty of tension for the reader. My one little criticism concerns Hector and his supposed lack of creativity when it comes to having sex without using his hands or arms. Let’s say Hector started thinking about girls when he was 15 and let’s say he is in his mid-20s for this book. Well, he’s had 10+ years to consider how to pleasure a woman and/or himself. Yet, he is rather daunted by how to go about this in the book, at first at least. He’s a planner, always considering possibilities, so I would think that he would have imagined how to get to business. And if he couldn’t imagine it, well there are plenty of videos out there.

But once we finally get Noelle and Hector locked in a room together, sparks do fly. Don’t worry readers, Showalter doesn’t leave you feeling unsatisfied with this book.

What I Liked: Cool fancy tech; aliens and their powers; the sexual tension between the main characters; Eva’s stalwart friendship; the sex scenes.

What I Disliked: It was a little unbelievable that Hector had not figured out how to do the deed without using his hands and arms; the image on the cover seems to have odd proportions to me, especially in the upper arm to lower arm ratio.
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Foreworld #1: The Mongoliad: Book One by Neal Stephenson
Foreworld #1: The Mongoliad: Book One

nrlymrtl, September 22, 2014

Apologies for any misspelled names in this review �" after all, I did listen to the book.

Set in 13th century Europe, the place is being over run by Mongols. A small band of warriors and mystics think they can save much, if not all, of Europe from the expanding Mongol horde. Of course, the Mongols have a different viewpoint. Cagnan, a capable hunter and tracker who knows Mongol ways, joins a band of mixed and overly optimistic warriors: Illyrian, Eleazar, Ishtvan, Roger, Percival, Teran, Rafael, Hakoun, and others. they have all witnessed the absolute slaughter and desolation left by the Mongols, brought down upon those who defy them. Meanwhile, the remaining sons of Genghis Khan vie for power, grabbing for more and more lands. Ghansook, a Mongol warrior, is sent to keep an eye on Ogedei (one of the Great Khan’s sons), as he tends to sink deep in his cups nightly.

First, this novel is a spin off of something much larger �" a multimedia telling of a saga, the Foreworld Saga. I am not too sure what happened to that original intention, but I can tell you that this book is freaking amazing. I kind of expected each chapter to be written by one or two authors. However, the entire novel flows smoothly, moving from character to character, scene to scene, with no stuttering as one might expect from a book that involves so many unique authors. There is more info HERE in the Wikipedia article.

This book is rich in history and character detail. While there are a plethora of characters, they are each introduced in unique and memorable ways, making it easy to keep them straight in one’s head. Cagnan was fascinating to me because she really doesn’t have any higher calling to stop the Mongols. Her people have ordered her to assist the heroic band in safely crossing some Mongol territory and that is what she is there to do. Along the way, she learns a grudging respect for this mismatched band of suicidal, and homicidal, fools (or heroes if they turn out to be successful).

On the other side of the coin we see some of the leaders of the Mongols, such as Ogedei, and a few of the people who serve him. We glimpse his wives, and we spend some quality time with the warrior Ghansook who was ordered to try to modify his drinking habits. Lian, a learned Chinese woman, is tasked with teaching the brutish warrior some palace manners. In turn, he gives her archery lessons. You can imagine that I got rather attached to some of these Mongols �" they weren’t simply part of a devilish horde intent on over running brilliant Christian Europe.

There’s plenty of quick wit humor and well choreographed fight scenes (some masses, some one-on-one). Brilliant characters are drawn from a variety of cultures: Russian, Hungarian, Norman, Irish, Mongol, Chinese, Japanese, among others. While there are few female characters in this character rich book, I can forgive the oversight because this book was simply a pleasure to listen to.

Narration: Luke Daniels was superb as usual. There were a ton of accents and he nailed them all, making each character distinct. He was able to switch quickly between sexes, accents, and ages as people bantered swiftly back and forth in the story line.
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Northumbrian Thrones #1: Edwin: High King of Britain by Edoardo Albert
Northumbrian Thrones #1: Edwin: High King of Britain

nrlymrtl, September 22, 2014

Set in the 600s AD in what would some day be called England, the various small kingdoms jokey for supremacy. We enter the story with Edwin, who is a grown man with a deceased wife and two sons. He has also lost his father and his kingdom to the never ceasing political intrigues and warring kingdoms. This time and place is undergoing change. The Anglo-Saxons hold to the old ways, in language, politics, and religion, while the Britons are introducing ideas, language, and religion from the European continent. As you might guess, the culture clashes this causes adds to the grief and consternation of many of our characters, and makes for a riveting story.

The story is well-paced, keeping the reader engaged and moving the story forward without shorting the reader on plot or character development. As Edwin struggles to gain rulership and then hold it, he has to pay price after price. Some of those prices haunt him in the ghosts of the deceased. I really enjoyed the historical aspects of this book: travel by sea was often safer and quicker; having a private room was a luxury reserved for the ruler of the hall and his lady; a war between two kingdoms could have been as little as 100 men (the total of the trained, fighting forces of both factions). Life was gritty, hard, and for many, way too short.

The religious aspect was presented in context, the author showing the mistrust and misunderstanding inherent on both sides. Since each side claims to speak for some supreme being(s), and each side has their rituals (often viewed as magic or casting curses by the other), there were often misunderstandings and sometimes outright competition for supremacy. Edwin, in his rulership, has to learn to walk a fine line trying to keep all happy and from killing each other.

Now here comes my one criticism. The women are few and far between. They occasionally play some pivotal point, but those scenes were sometimes cut short. For instance, Edwin must take a second wife and she suggests he allow her to sit in on his council meetings. He grants her this, even allows her to speak, but before we get to hear her persuasive words, the scene cuts to the hall singer. Once we return to the council, the decision has been made and the meeting is breaking up. The women have limited roles in this book, so I would have liked to see those roles flushed out and made whole in living color.

Even with that one fault, I often found myself staying up way too late reading this book. It’s engaging, educational, gripping at times. Many of the characters are neither good nor bad, all of them being heroes in their own minds, and all of them doing some harm to another. I like my characters like that as I find myself able to connect with nearly all of them at some point throughout the book. This book is a worthy read and I look forward to the second in the series.
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Sisters of Treason by Elizabeth Fremantle
Sisters of Treason

nrlymrtl, September 22, 2014

Opening in the mid-1500s England, the remaining Grey sisters (Catherine and Mary) are still in mourning after the execution of their elder sister, Lady Jane Grey. Mary Tudor rules England and holds strong, vehemently, to the Catholic faith. Religious executions become, perhaps not normal, but far too common as religious intolerance grows over the years. The plot takes place over several decades as Queen Mary Tudor is replaced by her half sister Queen Elizabeth Tudor. Much of the story is told through the eyes of Catherine and Mary Grey, along with their mother’s best friend, the court painter Levina Teerlinc. Catherine is a bit of a flirt and seeks love and safety in affection. Mary Grey, who was born with a crooked spine and a small stature (which becomes apparent with age) must rely on her wits as she has zero prospects for a marriage. With court intrigue ever threatening to turn them into the reigning monarch’s enemy, these ladies are hard pressed to stay out of trouble.

This was an excellent read. It’s that simple. I loved learning about this little corner of history that I was previously ignorant of. I greatly enjoyed the characters. The plot, while driven by history, was still captivating. While I had heard of Lady Jane Grey an her execution I had never considered her immediate family and what became of them. Her two younger sisters were kept close at court, I expect to see if they had any designs upon the throne that needed to be squelched quickly. Jane’s mother goes on to have a second marriage, one that removes her from court but not from worrying about her remaining daughters. With Mary Tudor on the throne, there is royal intrigue constantly circling the Greys as they have a strong claim to the throne via their Tudor blood.

From the artist Levina we learn some gruesome details about the weekly burnings of heretics as Queen Mary attempts to make the whole of England Catholic. Of course weekly executions are never really useful in maintaining a stable government. Queen Mary needs an heir. From Levina, I got a very good sense of constant tension she and the Greys were in. Those wishing for more religious freedom pushed for another queen, one who could reproduce. However, once Queen Elizabeth takes the throne, the Grey sisters may or may not be in worse circumstances.

With all that said, I believe my favorite character was Mary Grey. She is physically deformed in an age where good looks were associated with the grace of Heaven and bad looks (including birth deformations) were often considered the sign of the Devil. due to Mary’s small stature, she is often treated like an intelligent pet or a doll by the courtiers and the Queen. She is commanded to sit upon the Queen’s knee and keep her entertained with her quips. Mary also has to tolerate the rude remarks by the other court ladies when the Queen isn’t looking. Indeed, her life from a young age looks bleak except for the fact that she will never be eligible to rule England as she can bear no children. No, Mary must use her eyes, ears, and mind to sift her way through decades of court intrigue.

Catherine Grey is also interesting because she had so many love entanglements. She was married at a young age, and pretty much in name only, though the two younglings did their best to sneak a few kisses here and there. With the fall of the Greys from grace (execution of Jane Grey), the marriage was ignored by the parents. Catherine goes through a few years of keeping a few young men dancing on their toes around her. Early on, I found her quite vapid, which suited her character’s actions. But as time went on and life became more serious for her, I found myself getting attached to her character too.

Levina Teerlinc as not quite an anomaly of her time; she earned the bulk of the yearly income with her court paintings and kept her household staffed and fed. In an age where so many women were dependent on a husband or male relative, she stood out in this regard. The author included an afterward in which she explained that very little is known about Levina and she was required to make several educated guesses about Levina’s life. I say she did a very good job and made Levina quite believable.

This book makes history interesting not only for showing what the women were up to, but also capturing how the whim of a monarch can affect so many at this time and place in history. The ending was very satisfying, and there were a few poignant moments that got a little tear from me. That speaks to how attached I became to some of these characters.
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