Saturday, May 21, 2011

27. Song of the Lioness by Tamora Pierce

This story, all four books, is about the making of a hero. It's also about a very stubborn girl.

Alanna of Trebond wants to be a knight of the realm of Tortall, in a time when girls are forbidden to be warriors. Rather than give up her dream, she and her brother--who wants to be a mage, not a knight--switch places. She becomes Alan; Thom becomes a student wizard in the school where she would have learned to be a lady.
The quartet is about her struggle to achieve her goals and to master weapons, combat, polite behavior, her magic, her temper, and even her own heart. It is about friendships--with the heir to the throne, the King of Thieves, a wise and kindly knight--and her long struggle against a powerful enemy mage.
She sees battle as a squire and as a knight, lives among desert people and tries to rescue an independent princess. Singled out by a goddess, accompanied by a semi-divine cat with firm opinions, somehow she survives her many adventures to become a most unlikely legend.   Tamora Pierce website

I was into the third story before I realized that my book is actually a compilation of four smaller books.  Aaah, that explains what I thought was unnecessary explanations about things I had just read about in the previous "chapter."  So that was just a minor annoyance in a really good fantasy.  Alanna is a tremendous character as she struggles to learn to become a knight while disguised as a boy.  There are lots of really great characters and evil villains in these four books and the magic and adventure are riveting.  My only gripe is the depiction of Alanna sleeping with her three love interests (not at the same time, but this is a young adult book).  While there is nothing graphic, I thought it was unnecessary and even a bit disturbing in its casualness.  Other than that, I thought the story was great.  Rating:  4

26. American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin

American Prometheus is the first full-scale biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer, "father of the atomic bomb," the brilliant, charismatic physicist who led the effort to capture the awesome fire of the sun for his country in time of war. Immediately after Hiroshima, he became the most famous scientist of his generation-one of the iconic figures of the twentieth century, the embodiment of modern man confronting the consequences of scientific progress.

He was the author of a radical proposal to place international controls over atomic materials-an idea that is still relevant today. He opposed the development of the hydrogen bomb and criticized the Air Force's plans to fight an infinitely dangerous nuclear war. In the now almost-forgotten hysteria of the early 1950s, his ideas were anathema to powerful advocates of a massive nuclear buildup, and, in response, Atomic Energy Commission chairman Lewis Strauss, Superbomb advocate Edward Teller and FBI director J. Edgar Hoover worked behind the scenes to have a hearing board find that Oppenheimer could not be trusted with America's nuclear secrets.

American Prometheus sets forth Oppenheimer's life and times in revealing and unprecedented detail. Exhaustively researched, it is based on thousands of records and letters gathered from archives in America and abroad, on massive FBI files and on close to a hundred interviews with Oppenheimer's friends, relatives and colleagues.

We follow him from his earliest education at the turn of the twentieth century at New York City's Ethical Culture School, through personal crises at Harvard and Cambridge universities. Then to Germany, where he studied quantum physics with the world's most accomplished theorists; and to Berkeley, California, where he established, during the 1930s, the leading American school of theoretical physics, and where he became deeply involved with social justice causes and their advocates, many of whom were communists. Then to Los Alamos, New Mexico, where he transformed a bleak mesa into the world's most potent nuclear weapons laboratory-and where he himself was transformed. And finally, to the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, which he directed from 1947 to 1966.

American Prometheus is a rich evocation of America at midcentury, a new and compelling portrait of a brilliant, ambitious, complex and flawed man profoundly connected to its major events-the Depression, World War II and the Cold War. It is at once biography and history, and essential to our understanding of our recent past-and of our choices for the future.

This is such a massive book that I blatantly used someone else's summary.  Don't be dismayed by the size of it.  It has to be big since it took twenty-five years to write, but it's well worth the effort.  Not only did I learn about the enigma that is J Robert Oppenheimer, I also learned about the creation of the atomic bomb, America in the 40's and 50's and the whole McCarthy anti-communist movement.  While Oppenheimer is a hard man to like, his story is compelling.  The book won a Pulitzer prize and I can understand why.  Rating:  4.5

Thursday, May 05, 2011

25. Survivor in Death by J D Robb (audio)

I always need a good action book to keep me awake when I'm driving by myself; and, for the most part, Survivor in Death did a pretty good job.  I like the Eve Dallas series for several reasons:  1.  It takes places in New York City in the year 2059 and some of the technology is outrageous.  2.  Eve Dallas is the ultimate strong woman, perfect cop with a heart of steel with just a touch of marshmellow at the center and a past that still gives her nightmares.  3.  Roarke, Eve's husband, is the most delicious male character ever written.  4.  The mysteries are always gripping with great details and interesting twists.  5.  The humor between straight arrow Eve and her fellow police officers keeps things from getting too serious and makes the books even better.  What I don't like is the profanity which is impossible to get away from on an audio version and the explicit sex which is very easy to skip as you see it coming a mile away. 

This particular book involves the mass murder of a family while they are sleeping.  The killers make one mistake and kill a girl who is sleeping over while the real daughter has gone to the kitchen for a snack.  When she sees the shadows, she calls the police and then hides.  Eve finds her and takes her to her home for protection when she realizes the killers will not be satisfied until the mission is completed.  When 9-year-old Nixie is taken to say good-by to her her family in the morgue, it is pretty gut-wrenching.  You don't often find that sort of emotion in an Eve Dallas book, but I thought Robb did a good job with the way she portrayed the little girl's grief and loss.  I did find the rehashing of Eve's early childhood trauma to be tedious as it is covered in almost every book.  Probably important if this is the first of the series you had read, but I would suggest starting at the first and then you might get tired of the angst as well.  I do want to give a shout-out to the narrator, Susan Erickson.  She does an excellent job with the different voices, especially Roarke's Irish accent.  With her narration, I had no problem keeping up with the story and the characters.  Rating:  4

24. Dead Sleep by Greg Iles

Photojournalist Jordan Glass is visiting a museum in Japan and finds herself face-to-face with a painting of herself naked and sleeping.  She quickly realizes that the painting must be of her twin sister who has been missing for a year and Jane is not asleep, she is dead.  Jordan realizes that all the paintings in the exhibit called "Sleeping Women" are actually of dead women.  She quickly returns to the U.S. and joins forces with the FBI and an investigator in New Orleans where most of the women disappeared.  As she tries to find out if here sister truly is dead and who took her,  Jordan begins to also learn more about her father, a famous photographer who went missing in Vietnam twenty years earlier.  This mystery had plenty of suspense and action; and its view into the high dollar stakes of the art world was very interesting.  However, I found the romance that develops between Jordan and the investigator to be implausible and contrived.  Rating:  4

23. Spirits in the Wires by Charles de Lint

Spirits in the Wires is the second de Lint book that I have read and it should have been read before Widdershins.  I would have enjoyed them both even more if I had read them chronologically.  Even so, I really liked this book.  The town of Newford is a magical place even if very few of the resident humans realize what is happening around them.   But, when people start disappearing into a website called Wordwood, everyone takes notice until the site master controls the flow of information and makes it seem as if computers are not involved at all.  Christy (a guy) Ridding's girlfriend is one of those who was sucked into the site; and with the help of his friends, both magical and otherwise, they journey to the otherworld to rescue Saskia.  This story is fantasy and science fiction rolled into one and a great tale of computers run amok.  The visual of being inside a website and the dangers of viruses and crashing is absolutely stunning.  What an imaginative and intriguing book.  I look forward to reading another Newford novel soon.  I should deduct a little for the cover which I don't feel added to the story at all, but I won't  Rating:  5