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Archive for December, 2011

Fantasy Friday – Circle of Enemies

Saturday, December 31st, 2011

Circle of Enemies by Harry Connolly

 

Review by Bowden P. (Trey)

 

Circle of Enemies opens with something that seems like a bad dream – an old friend appears to Ray in his rinky apartment to tell him “You killed me. You killed Arne, and Lenard, and Ty, and all the others, too. We’re all going to die because we knew you.” Then she hits him. Normally, this is something one could write off as a nightmare. But since Ray is up to his eyes in the Twenty Palaces Society and that bad dream leaves behind physical evidence before disappearing, Ray heads to LA to help (he doesn’t want the Twenty Palace Society aimed at people he cares about) and discovers things he wishes he didn’t.

Circle of Enemies takes Ray back to his familiar LA stomping grounds from when he was a car thief and re-acquaints him with his old friends. The only problem is, its no longer clear on whether they’re his friends any more. A few are trying to go legit, others have doubled down on the criminal life style. And it looks like most of them have a predator involved as well…

Initially, I couldn’t make up my mind about this one. Circle of Enemies gives Ray a lot more depth. It even gives some more to Annalise, though it seems to have her do a volte-face that almost feels out of character – right up until you remember her history as a sorcerer’s toy. It also gives us much more information on magic, spell books (less books and more dreams), the Twenty Palaces society and predators. It also gives us someone that’s literally a mass of symbiotic predators. And while I enjoyed the information, it seemed to remove some of the mystery. There’s an additional twist as well – since Ray has been so successful, the Twenty Palaces want to replicate his capabilities with other Wooden Men. Making them much less disposable – not thugs or terminal cases, more along the lines of elite soldiers. And Ray gets to meet the first test case.

Still, Connolly writes some great action scenes and I swear Ray should have been a fire fighter or policeman from the way he puts his butt on the line to save folks. And those folks – instead of random small town Americans, these are people Ray knows and cares about. And sometimes they’re killers. And sometimes they’re both. The fact the people involved are ones that care about Ray, or used to, gives it a different weight and impact as the events play out.

I liked the story. Its a nice change of pace away from small towns and begins to fill in Ray’s back story with more details. I didn’t like that its beginning to get kind of repetitive in how things play out. Given the stakes, I don’t doubt the Twenty Palaces wouldn’t hesitate to put anything in the field to contain a predator or put magic away. But I’d almost like to see smoother sailing for Ray and Annalise. Still, a well written tragedy does have its place.

How much did I like it? Four stars.

Likes: Filling in Ray’s story; More about the Twenty Palaces; The other characters; Learning more about magic and where it comes from.

Dislikes: Its beginning to get a bit repetitive; Grim fates for folks who aren’t Ray.

Suggested for: Fans of the Dresden files, Stross’ Laundry series (The Atrocity Archives, The Jennifer Morgue and The Fuller Memorandum), Kadrey’s Sandman Slim and horror fans in general.

Holiday Romance Review – The Bite Before Christmas

Friday, December 30th, 2011

The Bite Before Christmas by Heidi Betts

 

Review by reacherfan1909  

 

 

 

A Bite Before Christmas is a vampire romance anthology of three novellas using interrelated characters.  It’s quick, easy, holiday themed fare – light as fluff and just amusing enough to enjoy – that provides a brief escape from the hectic season.  Each novella can easily be read in 2 hours or so.

 

All I Vant for Christmas: Angelina Ricci is a vampire matchmaker.  Classy and beautiful, she a friend of very human party planner Jillian Parker.  With the market downturns and the cutback in corporate spending for Christmas parties, Jillian finds her calendar frighteningly bare for the holidays.  Connor Drake is a old and very wealthy vampire with two younger sibling trapped in what feels likes endless adolescent rebellion.  All Connor wants is an old fashioned holiday.  He tried that on Thanksgiving, and his rebellious brother and sister managed to ruin it for him.  He’s determined to have his old-fashioned Christmas – even if it means hiring an event planner to do it for him.

Angelina Ricci has just what Connor needs – the very human Jillian.  Vampires might have come out of the closet, or the crypt, sort of, but Jillian has a healthy dose of self-preservation when it comes to working for them.  Angelina is too important a contact for an event planner to ignore, so reluctance aside, a very nervous Jillian goes to the Drake mansion to see what wealthy Connor Drake wants.

It turns out Connor is handsome, stressed, and surprisingly ordinary – aside from the whole old vampire thing. His Goth sister and rebellious younger brother might be hellbent on defying him, but Jillian is a lot more nervous about her own reaction – one of attraction.  With a no limit contract, a client that won’t take ‘No!’ for an answer – AND insists she live at his mansion till the holidays!  No other clients in sight, and more drawn to Connor than she’d care to admit, Jillian finds herself suddenly negotiating things like a ‘no biting’ clause in her contract. 

A fun, lighthearted, and breezy story with just enough character for a quick, happy Christmas read.

 

A Vampire in Her Stocking:  Vivian Harrison is secretary to the very handsome – and very human – newsman Sean Spicer.  She’s never told him about being a vamp, but he has news for her – he’s leaving, and not for a better job.  Permanently.  Thanks to an inoperable brain tumor, Sean’s life expectancy is short indeed.  Vivian is devastated, but Sean would never want to save himself by becoming one of the undead, so she has to let her love go.  Easier said than done.  Tears and ice cream therapy with old friend Angelina don’t really help. 

Despite Vivian’s insistence that Sean has NO desire switch from being a dying human to the living undead, she wakes  to find Seam on her sofa wearing a big bow and card from Angelina.  Now Viv has the very unwelcome job of convincing Sean he’ll never again get a natural tan and will need a good supply of blood.

Sean wakes up on his secretary’s sofa and gets told a wild tale about how Viv’s friend turned him into a vampire to save his life.  He’s even wearing a red bow.  All these years and he never knew the lovely Vivian was nuts.  At least he thinks she is, but he’s hard put to explain the craving for blood.  Disbelief turns to anger at being unwillingly made into a thing he thought a fantasy, then anger goes to denial.  It’s when the sun burns his hands that finally sends Sean into blaming it all on Vivian.

Of the three stories, this one was stuck the best  defined characters and plot.  But keep in mind, these are novellas, so you don’t get the fully developed story arc or complex characters that you get in full novels.  For the format, A Vampire in Her Stocking was the most complete of the three.

 

It’s a Wonderful Bite: Angelina and her vampire lover, a Boston cop, Ian, return from a party hosted by Jillian and Connor from All I Vant for Christmas.  Angelina, the one character that ties the three stories in the anthology is the star of this entry.  A matchmaker for vamps, but unsatisfied with her own status quo.  She loves Ian, but she’s having trouble getting him to propose marriage.  It might seem a bit old fashioned, but that’s what she wants.

Problem for me was, the beginning was so tedious I got fed up with it rather quickly.  By the time Angelina wakes up and finds she and Ian, are now not only human, they’re detective partners who have their own kind of ‘benefits’ program – despite being married with kids.  (OK, does anyone else have a problem with this being ‘romantic’, or is it just me?)  Naturally, they end in in a life or death situation and it’s up to the now fragile and all too human Angelina to save them from fangy predators.

This is one of those borrowed plots that takes a big chunk Scrooge’s Ghost of Christmas and splices wit with It’s a Wonderful Life.  Married lover was a huge turn off, especially in a Christmas anthology and it weakened the book a lot.  Yeah, yeah, ‘dream sequence’ or not adultery is a tough sell in a lightweight and supposedly amusing anthology.

 

 

Unlike most anthologies being sold these days, a single author anthology has the advantage of a more cohesive style and related plots, which improves things.  The downside is, there still seems to be one lemon in every anthology and single author books are rarely exempt from this flaw.  It’s like the publishers order, “One bright and breezy fluff, one weepy with HEA fluff, and one with a big dramatic element.” The ‘big dramatic element’ all too often is jarring against the fluff, just like fluff is jarring when reading noir style anthologies.  Frankly, a more upbeat, story played for laughs would have been a better choice for a Christmas romance anthology.  Christmas cheer and all that.  My grade for The Bite Before Christmas is C+.

 

 

 

 

 

Grab This Book Winner!

Thursday, December 29th, 2011

The winner of the Grab This Book contest is:

 

 

 

Tammy L (tammyluck)

 

Congratulations to Tammy for Grabbing this copy of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Your book is on its way to you.

 

 

 

 

Tammy was chosen at random from over 200 entries.

 

 

Thank you everyone for your comments. Stay tuned to the Blog for more chances to win books from Most Wished for Books on PBS.

Holiday Business Book Review – Our Iceberg Is Melting

Thursday, December 29th, 2011

 

Our Iceberg Is Melting by John Kotter with Holger Rathgeber

 

Review by Brenna B. (demiducky25)

 

When recently asked to submit a review for holiday related books, I searched my bookshelf to see if there was anything holiday related that I hadn’t already read yet.  This book had penguins on the cover.  Penguins live in the Antarctic, albeit the opposite pole from Santa but it still cold there.  However,  I LOVE penguins and if the holiday décor in my house has anything to say about it, penguins have a lot to do with Christmas (there are about 10 toy penguins sprinkled throughout the living room and porch and probably a bunch of penguin ornaments on the tree as well).  As a business book, it is not about the holidays per se; however, the general message of the book, changing and succeeding under any conditions, can certainly be applied to the often-times stressful holiday season where the weather, family dynamics, and work overload can frequently come to a head.

At 137 pages (many with cute illustrated pictures) this is a very short book, and the majority of it is a fable about a colony of penguins that have to figure out what to do when they find out the iceberg they live on is melting.  At first, most of the penguins refuse to believe this until Fred, a very observant penguin, provides irrefutable proof that something needs to be done.  He becomes part of a team with a number of penguins with different personalities, and together they need to figure out how to come together to make a plan that will work for their colony.  The team consists of:

-Louis: the head of the Leadership Council

-Alice: a no-nonsense member of the Leadership Council

-the Professor: a highly knowledgeable penguin (lacking in people skills…errr…penguin skills) who thinks that everyone is beneath him due to his vast intellect

-Buddy: a very well liked, though not very bright young penguin

The foil of this story is NoNo, a member of the Leadership Council who refuses to see that the iceberg is melting and does everything possible to cause disorder in the colony.

Throughout the fable the 8 key points for effectively enacting chance in an organization are illustrated:

1)      Create a sense of urgency

2)      Pull together the guiding team

3)      Develop the change vision and strategy

4)      Communicate for understanding and “buy in”

5)      Empower others to act

6)      Produce short-term wins

7)      Don’t let up

8)      Create a new culture

I’ve read very few business oriented books (not having majored in anything business related), but I can’t imagine that most are as relatable and as fun to read as this one.  Yes, it does get a bit repetitive since the authors feel like they are beating you over the head with their points a number of times throughout the story, but it certainly wasn’t a dry read!  Most of us can probably find ways to apply the 8 step process to successfully change areas of our lives.  During this holiday season, take a look at your life, try to identify your “iceberg” and see if you can apply the steps the penguins followed to deal with their melting iceberg.  All in all, I give this book 3 ½ out of 5 stars.

 

Grab This Book!

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011


You wish you could get the books you want faster.  We wish you could too!  Alas, popular books do take a little longer.   To thank you for your patience, here is a Book Grab Giveaway!

 

 

 Each month we’ll surprise you with chances to win a brand new copy of those hot books for which you’ve been waiting.   We’ll be choosing books from the list on the Most Wished for Books on PBS.

 

It’s so easy to enter…just reply to this post, but here’s the catch…you only have 24 hours to enter the Giveaway for the featured book!  We’ll randomly draw a lucky winner from all entries. Stay tuned to the PBS Blog …you never know when the Book Grab Giveaways will happen or which book you can win!

TODAY’S BOOK IS:

 

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
ISBN 9781400052172

Members, leave a comment to Grab This Book, but only until 12/29/11 at 9am (Eastern Standard Time)

Good luck!

Holiday Traditions – Happy Kwanzaa!

Tuesday, December 27th, 2011

by Geri (geejay)

Kwanzaa is a Celebration of Family, Community and Culture. It is celebrated from December 26th through January 1st.

The first-fruits celebrations (Kwanzaa) are recorded in African history as far back as ancient Egypt and Nubia and appear in ancient and modern times in other classical African civilizations such as Ashantiland and Yorubaland. These celebrations are also found in ancient and modern times among societies as large as empires (the Zulu or kingdoms (Swaziland) or smaller societies and groups like the Matabele, Thonga and Lovedu, all of southeastern Africa. Kwanzaa builds on the five fundamental activities of Continental African “first fruit” celebrations: ingathering; reverence; commemoration; recommitment; and celebration. Kwanzaa, then, is:

* a time of ingathering of the people to reaffirm the bonds between them;
* a time of special reverence for the creator and creation in thanks and respect for the blessings, bountifulness and beauty of creation;
* a time for commemoration of the past in pursuit of its lessons and in honor of its models of human excellence, our ancestors;
* a time of recommitment to our highest cultural ideals in our ongoing effort to always bring forth the best of African cultural thought and practice; and
* a time for celebration of the Good, the good of life and of existence itself, the good of family, community and culture, the good of the awesome and the ordinary, in a word the good of the divine, natural and social.

This is a holiday that’s celebrated throughout the world African community. Kwanzaa brings a cultural message which speaks of what it means to be African in the fullest sense.

The theme for Kwanzaa this year is the Seven Principles: Sharing and Sustaining the World.

The are seven Symbols of Kwanzaa:

Mazao (The Crops) symbolizing the harvest celebration

 

 

 

 

Mkeka (The Mat) symbolizing the foundation on which tradition and history is built.

 

 

 

 

Kinara (the Candle Holder) symbolizing the continental Africans, the roots.

 

Muhindi (The Corn) symbolizing the children and the future.

 

 

Mishumaa Saba (The Seven Candles) the matrix and minimum set of values for African people

 

Kikombe cha Umoja (The Unity Cup) symbolizing the practice of unity.

 

 

 

 

Zawadi (the Gifts) symbolizing the labor and love of parents and the commitments made and kept by children.

Gifts are given mainly to children. They must always include a book and a heritage symbol. The book to emphasize the African value and tradition of learning stressed since ancient Egypt. The heritage symbol is to reaffirm and reinforce the African commitment to tradition and history.

What is a Zawadi to We by Vandella Brown
Colors and decorations for Kwanzaa are black, red and green. They should include African baskets, cloth patterns, art objects and harvest symbols as well as other objects.

     

It is important to note Kwanzaa is a cultural holiday, not a religious one, thus available to and practiced by Africans of all religious faiths who come together based on the rich, ancient and varied common ground of their Africanness.

 

Kwanzaa: From Holiday to Every Day by Maitefa Angaza

 

The Children’s Book of Kwanzaa: A Guide to Celebrating the Holiday
by Dolores Johnson

 

Practicing Kwanzaa Year Round
by Gwynelle Dismukes

 

Boxing Day Guest Blog by Author Angus Donald

Sunday, December 25th, 2011

We are thrilled to have one of our favorite authors Guest Blog for us today! Thank you, Angus Donald!

 

 

BOXING DAY

By Angus Donald

Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the Feast of Stephen, when the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even . . .

“Good King Wenceslas” is one of my favourite carols; I belt it out in a freezing English country church, my breath pluming before my face, almost every Christmas. And yet, while I’ve been singing it for forty years now, today, when I began doing research for this blog, I realised something about the old carol that had never occurred to me before: “Good King Wenceslas” is not so much about Christmas but about Boxing Day.

Boxing Day is the term used in the United Kingdom for the day after Christmas Day – the 26th of December, a public holiday. It is celebrated in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and in many former British colonies around the world but not, as far as I know, in America. Its origins are disputed – some speak of church alms boxes in medieval times which were opened by the priest and the coins within distributed to the poor at this time – but most probably the etymology of Boxing Day lies in the old feudal tradition that the lord of the manor should give gifts to his servants on this day. A “box” was a gift given by a superior to an inferior. In the 19th century, the rich who lived in grand houses would allow their servants to have the day off on the 26th of December (after they had cooked, served and cleared up the great Christmas Day feast) in order to visit their families, and the workers would be given “Christmas boxes” containing gifts of money or food to take to their less well-off relatives. Indeed, Victorian department stores sold ready-made parcels for employers to buy and give out their servants.

The tradition lives on in some 21st century British companies in the form of a Christmas bonus, and in the still-extant custom in Britain of giving tradesmen who regularly visit the house – such as the milkman, the postman, the “binmen” (rubbish-disposal people) or the paper-boy – a small cash gift on Boxing Day as a thank-you for the year’s work.

In modern Britain, Boxing Day, an official holiday enjoyed by everyone in the country, is marked by a number of important sporting contests: football (you would say soccer) matches, horse racing events, and even fox hunting meets – although pursuing foxes has been illegal in Britain since 2004 and the hounds now follow a running man dragging a scented bag. Nevertheless, the traditional Boxing Day sight of all those hearty riders on huge glossy horses – the mounts stamping and champing in the cold air, the men marvelously bold in their scarlet coats, sipping hot mulled wine and calling out to old friends before the excitement of the hunt begins – always gives me the warm feeling that I have slipped a couple of hundred years into the past.

 

In my family, Boxing Day is the day of the Big Walk: after gorging on Christmas Day on roast turkey, cranberry sauce, hot gravy, roast potatoes and vegetables, and Christmas pudding with brandy butter and cheese and nuts and chocolate (not all on the same plate, I hasten to add) everybody feels like taking a bit of exercise the day afterwards and so we stir ourselves on the morning of the 26th, wrap up warmly and walk for ten miles or so around the frosty (sometimes snowy) Kentish countryside – before collapsing in front of the TV as the daylight fades, and gorging again on a late lunch of cold turkey, cranberry sauce, glazed ham, cold potatoes, cheese, chocolate . . .

For many people in the UK, Boxing Day is a shopping holiday, much like the day after Thanksgiving in the USA. Shops often offer huge discounts on normally expensive household products in the sales which begin on Boxing Day, and Britons turn out in their millions to snap up bargains. In 2009, 12 million UK residents attended the post-Christmas sales – which is twenty per cent of the total population! The queues stretch around the block as people patiently wait for the stores to open; and when they do pandemonium ensues. Injuries sustained in the stampede are not uncommon.

 

 

But it would be a shame if, in the commercially-minded 21st century, we forgot that Boxing Day was originally a day on which those who have plenty give to those who are in need; we should remember that Boxing Day it is also Saint Stephen’s day, the Feast of Stephen mentioned in my favourite carol. Wenceslaus – who was in fact a 10th century Duke of Bohemia – ventured out on the Feast of Stephen to give a poor man food and wine and winter fuel; personifying the true spirit of Boxing Day.

“Therefore Christian men be sure, wealth or rank possessing, ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.”

 

 

 

 

 

Below are Angus Donald’s Books

   

 

And his newest, Warlord, due out in July 2013

 

To read more about Angus Donald, and his book series The Outlaw Chronicles, about the legendary hero Robin Hood, visit his web-site, www.angus-donald.com.