Friday, January 28, 2005

Apprentice Fantastic, edited by Greenberg and Davis

Apprentice Fantastic, edited by Greenberg and Davis

I was looking forward to this book when I picked it up; I’ve always liked tales about the not-so-perfect guy or the accidental hero and so a bunch of shorts about apprentices appealed to me. Virtually every story in this collection has magic in the story at some point (Flanking Maneuver by Mickey Zucker Reichert is the only one with no supernatural influences at all) which I found a bit disappointing—what about the squire that has to carry the equipment for the knight or the king’s advisors or the spaceship’s co-pilot—but still entertaining. When the Student is Ready by Tanya Huff was the most interesting to me: a girl discovers she is a wizard and is ramrodded into being apprenticed to a madman. Homework by Esther Friesner was easily my favorite with it’s peek behind the veil of the valiant hero versus the evil powermonger. All-in-all this was a pretty even group of stories; none were fantastic (despite the title) and none were awful.

First Sentence (from the Introduction):
This is a book of stories about apprentices, and I’m sure that somewhere in the Almost Unofficial Speculative Fiction Editor Handbook there is a rule that I don’t dare violate: any volume of stories pertaining to, dealing indirectly with, or touching on apprentices in any way, shape, or form must contain a reference to “that lovable mouse who knew enough to get the brooms started, but not how to get them to stop.”

Monday, January 24, 2005

The Run, by Stuart Woods

The Run, by Stuart Woods

I’ve had a streak of mediocre books lately, and this one didn’t snap it. I got the impression this wasn’t the first book starring Senator Lee, but I’m probably not going to seek the others out. As with a lot of political novels, it is populated by caricatures—Lee is the brilliant Democrat running for President, Efton is the dense opponent, Wallace is the evil Republican senator propping up Efton, and Tennant is the backwoods paramilitary nut. The Secret Service is portrayed as nearly incompetent (apparently after two near miss assassination attempts they still didn’t have any surveillance on the roof of the building where a major presidential debate was occurring), the sitting President has a stroke and dies, and the VP secretly has Alzheimers. An inmate of a federal penitentiary has a better intelligence network than the mass-media and is able to use his knowledge to blackmail members of Congress. I’m sure there are even more clich├ęs, but from all that you can pretty much guess the plot of this novel. And you’d be right.

First Sentence:
United States Senator William Henry Lee IV and his wife, Katharine Rule Lee, drove away from their Georgetown house in their Chevrolet Suburban early on a December morning.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

No Second Chance, by Harlan Coben

No Second Chance, by Harlan Coben

This books tries to pull at your heartstrings, but fails miserably. The setup is tragic: a man wakes up in the hospital to discover he was shot, his wife killed, and his six-month-old daughter is missing. That situation would make me crazy—I can’t imagine what I would do in a similar situation and it makes my stomach churn just to think about it. None of the angst, sadness, or anger I believe I would feel, though, seems to be experienced by the protagonist. In fact, he seems more concerned with being considered a suspect than offended. Where I would be outraged, he was logical. Because of this I had a really hard time getting drawn into the story which made the “shocking” plot twists seem more amusing than anything else—I found myself rolling my eyes at several points. This is one of those tales where everyone has something to hide and each secret was somehow intertwined. Think Murder on the Orient Express without the fascinating characters or the well-crafted story. This would have worked much better as a Law and Order episode than a 338 page novel. Actually, that isn’t fair to Law and Order; let’s call it an Ashley Judd movie instead.

First Sentence:
When the first bullet hit my chest, I thought of my daughter.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

The Sinister Pig, by Tony Hillerman

The Sinister Pig, by Tony Hillerman

Hillerman is back with his Southwest Scooby gang: Manuelito, Leaphorn, and Chee. The characters are as entertaining as always, but the plot is pretty convoluted. It starts out looking as if we are going to get some insight into the story of the missing royalties owed Native Americans but then veers into a tale of simple drug smuggling with the more interesting storyline dropped. I know Hillerman tries to keep his stories grounded in our universe and so couldn’t realistically solve this mystery, but it made for a more interesting motive than narcotic trafficking. The villain would need depth to be considered one-demandingly—Snidely Whiplash is more believable as a bad guy - but the rest of the cast is fleshed out a bit more. The lovelorn moaning of Manuelito and Chee wears pretty thin, too; while this gets resolved by the close of this book I was surprised to see these two strong characters revert to the classic he-strong-she-weak personas. The backdrop of the adventure was my favorite character; Hillerman does a fantastic job describing the beauty of the American Southwest. If you already like this author you will probably enjoy this novel as well, but if you aren’t familiar with Hillerman’s gang then I’d recommend starting with an earlier book in the series.

First Sentence:
David Slate reached across the tiny table in Bistro Bis and handed an envelope to the graying man with the stiff burr haircut.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

A Salty Piece of Land, by Jimmy Buffett

A Salty Piece of Land, by Jimmy Buffett

Just finished Jimmy Buffett's new novel. It is filled with the kind of characters you imagine meeting at a bar in Aruba. Not the Carlos'n Charlies near where the cruise ships dock, but the one a couple of blocks inland where the locals hang out. Even the names are unique: Tully Mars, Cleopatra Highbourne, Ix-Nay, and Captain Kirk to name just a few. These delightful personalities float through adventure after adventure with an esprit de corps that made me want to head for the coast myself. There aren't any deep themes or hidden messages, but a reverence for simply living life is deeply rooted in each character—a concept for which a lot of people I know could benefit. I was thoroughly entertained by this book; if you enjoy spending hours drinking beer while doing nothing but watch the tide come and go, you probably will too.

First Sentence:
It all simply comes down to good guys and bad guys.

Mack Daddy

The Rose Bowl was a thing of beauty. Vince Young made the BCS look brilliant for matching Texas and Michigan in a game for the ages. The Wolverines came out determined to stop Benson; while this isn't a bad plan (it is how Oklahoma beat us) when Young is hot he is unstoppable. Yesterday, he was blazing! Young was the main event, but for sure Braylon Edwards will be playing on Sundays next year. This was a fantastic matchup that fans of both teams are sure to remember for years to come. If it were a perfect world all the columnists that said Texas didn't belong and wanted a boycott would be printing apologies and retractions today, but I don't expect to see much of that. Texas gets a huge win, and Mack Brown (hopefully) loses his can't-win-the-big-games tag. We're Texas!

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