Friday, May 31, 2013

Arrow's Flight by Mercedes Lackey

Reviewed by Holly White

Arrow’s Flight is the sequel to Arrows of the Queen. (Click on the title to read that review; for an overview of the world in which these novels are set click here.)

Talia, the Queen’s Own Herald, has finally completed most of her Herald training, and had earned her Heraldic Whites, the white uniform worn by Heralds. The time had come for her internship, eighteen months riding circuit with a full Herald, for on-the-job training before she can take up her full position and title of Queen’s Own Herald. However, new accomplishments have brought new challenges for Talia.

Elspeth, the daughter of Queen Selenay, was once a spoiled, selfish brat. Talia had tamed the brat, but Elspeth still had not yet been Chosen by a Companion. Since only one who is Chosen can be an heir, Council is pressuring Selenay to select another heir. However, all the Heralds who are viable choices have relatives who might seek to become the power behind the throne. The most outspoken is Lord Orthallen, who, as a member of the Council himself, had also been the one in years past to encourage young Selenay in directions which turned out to be mistakes. Orthallen sought to place his nephew Kris, a handsome young Herald, on the throne someday. It’s a dangerous time for Talia to leave Elspeth and Selenay, but there’s no other option. 

Further complicating Talia’s life are her growing feelings for Dirk, to whom she is strongly attracted in spite of his homeliness. Although Dirk shared her feelings, he said nothing, especially since she has been assigned to ride circuit with his best friend, the good-looking Kris. Dirk has been brutally hurt by women in the past. Now he feared that Talia would do the same, especially since she will be going away with the handsome Kris on her circuit. And so she and Dirk are at an impasse.

To make things even worse, there are problems with Talia’s Gift. Talia is an empath; she has the Gift of sensing and being able to control others’ feelings. She can bring emotional healing to someone who is suffering. However, Talia’s Gift seems to be going rogue. She’s unable to shield herself from others’ emotions and she’s inadvertently projecting her own emotions onto others. Unless she can get her Gift under control, she could accidentally harm herself or others. It would also do significant harm to the reputation of all Heralds. Talia’s problems with her Gift are only magnified when Kris starts asking her questions that make her doubt herself, questions that his Uncle Orthallen have put into his head.

Things come to a head when she and Kris are snowed in all alone at a Herald’s Waystation out in the middle of nowhere, during a severe blizzard without even so much as a shovel to try to dig themselves out. And their Waystation was right at the edge of The Forest of Sorrows, a forest cursed in times past, a forest that seems alive and aware … and is watching them.

As always, Mercedes Lackey has given us a well-plotted, well-characterized trip into a magical place full of adventure, humor, romance, and danger. If this review piques your interest at all, I think you’d thoroughly enjoy reading this book. Mercedes Lackey doesn’t just create memorable challenges for her characters; she creates satisfying solutions, and in such a way that you can’t put the book down.

Be on the lookout next month for the review for the third in the Arrows of the Queen trilogy, called Arrow’s Fall.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Nevermore: You Came Back, Low Pressure, and Sarah's Key

To paraphrase Faulkner, the past is never really past. It exists in the present too. The Nevermore fiction choices all seem to reflect that sentiment in one way or another.

One of our Nevermore reviewers was much taken with You Came Back by Christopher Coake. Mark Fife was devastated by death of his young son, Brendan.  His marriage to his college sweetheart fell apart, and they divorced.  Just as he is starting to put his life back together with a new girlfriend and a flourishing career, he gets a call from a woman who lives in the Fifes’ old house.  She claims that the house is haunted—by Brendan. Our reviewer found it to be a moving exploration of love, loss, and relationships, and said she couldn’t put it down.

Continuing the theme of how past and present can collide, Low Pressure by Sandra Brown was mentioned as a good light read.  A young woman writes a novel based on her sister’s murder eighteen years earlier, causing a tabloid reporter to take an interest in the case.  Unfortunately, someone else takes an interest too—someone who may know more about what really happened that stormy day.

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay begins with Julia,  an American journalist living in Paris with her husband and daughter. She’s asked to write an article about the Nazi round-up of  Jews in Paris, which happened 60 years previously.  As she begins her research, she finds out the apartment where they’re currently living had belonged to a Jewish family caught in the round up. The book goes back and forth in time, weaving together the story of Sarah Starzynski  in 1942 and Julia’s life in the present.  This book has come up several times in Nevermore, and has always been highly recommended.

Friday, May 24, 2013

May Favorites: Most Requested Books

Here’s our list of the most requested books for May:

10. Best Kept Secret by Jeffrey Archer is the third book in the riveting Clifton family saga, following Sins of the Father.

9. Bone Tree by Greg Iles is scheduled for December 2013.

8. Second Honeymoon by James Patterson and Howard Roughan has FBI agent John O’Hara seeking a killer who kills newlyweds. O’Hara first appeared in Honeymoon.

7. Deeply Odd by Dean Koontz follows Odd Thomas across the west as he searches for a man he believes is going to murder three children.  This is the seventh “Odd Thomas” novel; a movie version of the first book is scheduled to come out this year.

6. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson is NOT one of her Jackson Brodie mysteries.  Instead, Atkinson recounts the life of Ursula Todd—or rather, the lives of Ursula as the main character progresses through different versions of her life, from dying as an infant to attempting to assassinate Hitler.

5. Ninth Girl by Tami Hoag has detectives Nikki Liska and Sam Kovac investigating the murder of a mutilated girl by a serial killer who seems to strike around holidays.

4. Don’t Go by Lisa Scottoline begins with a soldier in Afghanistan being told that his wife Chloe has died in an an accident.  He returns home but soon discovers Chloe had secrets he feels compelled to uncover.

3. Inferno by Dan Brown is the long awaited new novel featuring Harvard professor Robert Langdon. This time Langdon is in Italy, trying to unravel a mystery connected with Dante.

2.Whiskey Beach by Nora Roberts has attorney Eli Landon moving into his grandmother’s house to try to put his life back together after being suspected of murdering his wife.  His grandmother’s attractive caretaker, Abra, inspires him to try to prove his innocence in this romantic mystery.

And the most requested book is:

1. Dead Ever After by Charlaine Harris is the book every fan wants and dreads: the last of the Sookie Stackhouse series.  Harris’ psychic waitress and her world of vampires, faeries, and shapeshifters have attracted a very loyal following, so it’s no wonder everyone wants to know how it all turns out.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Cat Trick by Sofie Kelly

Reviewed by Jeanne

Kathleen Paulson took a temporary job as library director in the small town of Maysville Heights, Minnesota, on a limited contract, which will be ending in a few months.  Her original plan was to head back to her family in Boston, but she’s made some good friends here—and then there’s Detective Marcus Gordon, the handsome policeman with whom she is NOT falling in love.  Really.  She isn’t. No way. She’s also acquired cats Hercules and Owen who were part of a feral colony near an old house and who have some disconcerting habits, such as walking through walls, becoming invisible, and understanding human speech.

This time around the town is hoping to arrange with Legacy Tours to have Maysville become a tour destination for the company’s upscale clientele.  It would be a boon to the local economy, showing the area’s arts, food, and scenic vistas.  It should have been a fairly easy sell, given that one of Legacy’s owners is a former Maysville resident, but Mike Glazer turns out to be what would charitably be called “challenging.” This may be the reason that Mike ends up dead, and Kathleen has another mystery to solve.

This is the fourth in the Magical Cats series of mysteries. As with the others, this is a light, fun book with some humor, a bit of romance, a good bit of female friendships, food, and magical cats.  Owen and Hercules are catnip for cat lovers, and their personalities really shine through in this entry in the series.  Also, it seems that Kathleen is finally acknowledging what’s been obvious since book one, that she and Marcus would make an ideal couple—even if she does continue to meddle in police investigations.

Each book can be read as a standalone, but here’s a list of the earlier books in the series if you’d prefer to read in order:
1.    Curiosity Thrilled the Cat 
2.    Sleight of Paw
3.    Copycat Killing

Monday, May 20, 2013

Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird, World of Geography Wonks by Ken Jennings

Reviewed by Kristin

I admit it:  I’m a maphead too.  I have always loved maps, and would even wallpaper my room with them if I could.  I loved looking at the United States and Canada road atlas when I was a kid travelling with my family.  Even now, there is a very tattered road atlas under the seat of my car, just in case the GPS fails me.  I am reminded of when my husband’s grandfather first saw a younger family member’s GPS.  He said, “I had one of those telling me directions for years.  Her name was Charlotte.”  Yes, Charlotte was his wife.  Sometimes, GPS just can’t take the place of a good map or a good companion.

Many people can identify with a topic that Jennings touches upon—the “need” to make a checklist of places they have been.  How many states?  How many countries?  How many national parks?  How many McDonald’s restaurants?  Jennings tells the tale of Peter Holden, who has visited and eaten at more than twelve thousand different McDonald’s.

Writing about more than just maps and the history of cartography, Jennings delves into how geography helps to explain the natural, social and political history of the world.  I found this fascinating, as I always find myself aware of how the lay of the land shapes the development of human settlements.  Try walking or driving across some of the diagonally running mountains around here; you’ll quickly understand why the major roads were built where they are.  Map lines have been drawn and redrawn across the world as nations fight over disputed territories containing natural resources or culturally significant locations. Extensive footnotes throughout the book are fascinating for those of us who like seeing the sources behind (and additional tidbits about) what we are reading. 

Jennings also writes about fictional maps.  I love seeing maps in novels, whether on the endpapers or within the book itself.  For those who like seeing things laid out spatially, it’s nice to imagine the characters moving about in the story along those paths.  Jennings also discusses the difficulty in drawing those fictional maps, such as creating an irregular coastline that looks real.  Author Gelett Burgess said over a century ago that the best way to create a realistic looking coastline was to spill water on paper, pound it, and trace the outline left by the splashed water.  This makes me want to go splash some water, or study cracks in ceilings, or look for rust stains in strange places.  Then, maybe I can draw an imaginary land.

Jennings explores the history of geocaching, which uses clues and GPS technology to seek out a tiny “treasure” capsule stashed in a hidden place.

Jennings’ sense of humor shines through in his writing.  He tells of his fascination with the shapes of places, as well as their intriguing names.  He notes similarities such as how much Lake Michigan looks like Sweden, and California looks like a leaner version of British Columbia.  I always just thought that Indiana and Louisiana looked like a mismatched pair of boots.  Jennings realized that the reason he knew all the Australian state capitals was that his second grade desk was right next to that section of the world map.  I enjoyed looking at worldwide geography through someone else’s eyes.

(Note:  For those of you wondering why the name “Ken Jennings” sounds familiar, he’s best known for his long run as“Jeopardy!” champion where he became as memorable for his wit and charm as for his knowledge.  He’s written three other books besides MapheadBrainiac, which looks at world of trivia buffs; Ken Jennings’s Trivia Almanac; and his latest,  Because I Said So: The Truth Behind the Myths, Tales, & Warnings Every Generation Passes Down to Its Kids.)

Friday, May 17, 2013

Lost Cat: A True Story of Love, Desperation, and GPS Technology by Caroline Paul, illustrations by Wendy MacNaughton

When the doctor told Caroline Paul that she’d broken her fibula and tibia in the crash of her experimental aircraft, she started laughing.  This confused the medical staff.  They weren’t reassured by her explanation that those were her cats, thinking that she was “just another numbskull hallucinating on a gurney.” But Paul did have two cats, Fibula and Tibula, aka Fibby and Tibby, brother and sister tabbies. Fibby was the lapcat, queen of all she surveyed, while Tibby was an anxious fellow, apparently sure that danger lurked everywhere.

Finally released to recover at home, things are really beginning to look up and then Tibby goes missing.  Paul is frantic.  Hobbled by her injuries, she’s unable to search for poor Tibby herself, but friends put out flyers and search the neighborhood.  Paul even calls a pet psychic, all to no avail.

Then five weeks later, Tibby strolls back inside.  He’s none the worse for wear—in fact, he looks sleeker and fatter.  He seems more confident, a feline swashbuckler.  Where on earth has this cat been?

Determined to find the true story, Paul and her partner, artist Wendy MacNaughton, try to unravel the mystery of Tibby’s travels. 

Lost Cat is a brief book, one I finished in under an hour, but I found it to be a most enjoyable hour.  People have differing ideas of humor, but for me Paul is laugh out loud funny, even when cataloging her misery.  She’s thrilled when Tibby comes back but where has he been?  Was he locked up in a kitty jail?  Was he enticed with some fabulous exotic cat treats and then hooked like an addict? Is he still two-timing her with someone else? Is it possible that. . . that. . . he loves someone else MORE?
I probably should be ashamed to admit this, but I understood all those emotions perfectly. In fact, I may have taken a few notes about some of the ways they tried to track Tibby. Now if I can just get Fred to wear a collar so I can attach things to it. . . .  (Melon would wear a collar but I don’t need a GPS to find Melon. I just look at the food bowl or the couch.)

MacNaughton’s illustrations are as delightful as the text.  I especially liked the map of a cat’s eye view of San Francisco as envisioned by a cat owner: Home, Loud Kids, Food?, Worry, Terror, Damnation, Total Death, and so forth.  There is a sad incident in the book, but for the most part it’s a very funny, very creative book about the lengths pet lovers will go for their animals. Lost Cat is catnip for cat lovers. I have to buy copies for myself and for some other folks I know.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Llama of Death by Betty Webb

Reviewed by Jeanne

The Llama of Death by Betty Webb is the third in the “Gunn Zoo Mystery” series.  Theodora “Teddy” Bentley has been roped into managing the llama rides at the Renaissance Faire which means that participants must dress up in period costume and try to remain in character.  Teddy is trying to manage Alejandro, a formerly abused llama who dislikes adult humans but adores children.  Fortunately, Alejandro tolerates Teddy most of the time and only spits on her occasionally.

Things begin to get a bit tense when Teddy’s flamboyant mother, Caro, is informed that she’s been demoted from playing Anne Boleyn to generic lady in waiting by Victor Emerson, the owner of the local wedding chapel who is portraying Henry the Eighth.  Caro is furious, and makes no secret of her displeasure.  That night Teddy discovers Victor’s lifeless body in the llama pen along with a very upset Alejandro.  Teddy’s initial relief at the discovery that Victor died from a crossbow bolt and not from a llama stomping evaporates when Caro is arrested on suspicion of murder.  Just when it seems things can’t get any worse, her father shows up to try to help get Caro out of jail.  Since Dad is a wanted fugitive from justice after embezzling millions, the next Bentley family reunion might take place in prison. Things only get murkier when it’s discovered that Victor wasn’t who or what he professed to be: notably, he was not licensed to perform marriages, leaving a whole lot of people with a whole lot of motive.

As with earlier books in the series, Webb manages to pack in a lot of information about animals in the book in a painless and entertaining way.  It’s like getting a sneak peek behind the scenes of a real zoo, where you see not just the nice animals but the sheer amount of work that goes into keeping animals reasonably content and healthy.  Webb also makes sure that readers understand just because an animal is cute doesn’t mean it can’t be deadly if handled the wrong way. The characters are entertaining and run the gamut from sensible Teddy to her flamboyant parents. Usually Webb’s characters also have more to them than meets the eye as well. While the animals have personalities, none talk (with the possible exception of an escaped snake who tweets her activities) and are realistically portrayed.
The “Gunn Zoo Mystery” books are fun and painlessly informative books which should please cozy mystery fans and animals lovers. The two earlier entries are The Anteater of Death and The Koala of Death.  Webb also writes a grittier mystery series with private investigator Lena Jones, all of which are set in the Southwest and involving more controversial themes such as polygamy.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Nevermore: Gun Guys, New New Testament, Accidental Empires, and The Queen's Agent

Director Jud Barry found the book Gun Guys: A Road Trip by Dan Baum to be unexpectedly funny and fascinating.  Baum, a self-described middle-aged Jewish Liberal from New Jersey, is also a gun enthusiast and has been since he was a child.  He decided to embark on a cross country trip to visit gun shops and to talk to fellow gun owners in hopes of having a discussion about gun control and gun ownership rights.  He believes most gun owners are responsible, good citizens and he has doubts about the effectiveness of gun control.  However, he soon discovers that it’s difficult to have serious conversations with either side because gun owners and non-gun owners both have deeply ingrained, preconceived notions about each other.  Baum believes we spend too much time talking AT each other and not TO each other, and he doesn’t use the standard arguments on either side. Along the way Baum takes part in a wild pig hunt in Texas, talks with numerous people on both sides of the issue, and presents intriguing profiles of people with strong views.  Love guns or hate them, there’s plenty of food for thought in this look at the people behind the arguments.

The New New Testament: A Bible for the 21st Century edited by Hal Taussig includes some recently discovered early Christian texts along with the classic early writings. Taussig gathered a group of scholars that included representatives from several different faiths to discuss some of these new discoveries and to decide which ones to add in order to give readers a fresh perspective on the early Christian church.

Accidental Empires: How the Boys of Silicon Valley Make Their Millions, Battle Foreign Competition, and Still Can’t Get a Date by Robert X. Cringely is a look at the rise of the computer industry and some of the idiosyncratic personalities who have created one of the largest industries in the world.  Cringely’s assessments are blunt and often amusing as he dissects the history of computers and the rise of the “geek culture.”  Our reviewer was enjoying the book so far.

 The Queen’s Agent:  Sir Francis Walsingham and the Rise of Espionage in Elizabethan England by J.P. D. Cooper is the story of Queen Elizabeth I’s spymaster. Walshingham, a  Protestant, was ruthless in his pursuit of those he felt were threats to his monarch’s reign.  He built up an international spy network to defend the country against threats foreign and domestic.  Codes, plots, and counterplots abound in this intriguing true story, and our reviewer is enjoying it so far.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

And Everything Nice by Kim Moritsugu

 Reviewed by Nancy

Orca Book Publishers has introduced a line of short novels and non-fiction books called "Rapid Reads." The idea behind Rapid Reads is to provide well-written books that can be read at one sitting. Appealing to a diverse audience including ESL students, adults who struggle with literacy, and reluctant readers, as well as anyone who is simply interested in a quick, gripping story, rapid reads focus on strong writing and storytelling.

One of their selections, And Everything Nice by Kim Moritsugu caught my eye recently.  I was intrigued when I saw it, wondering who had let this tiny “pretend novel” into our library. Of course, to see what it was all about I did what I always do, which is read the first few sentences. That’s all it took, and I was hooked. This book was quick and easy to read, but strangely gripping from the first page.

Stephanie, the primary character, works as a store manager at a mall. How could a book about someone who works in a mall be this interesting? Gee, it must have something to do with good writing. I suppose you might call this a small thriller. No FBI. No CIA. No Secret Service. No Mafia. Just a chick who works at a mall, joins a community choir, and is suddenly involved with a local television personality who is embroiled in a blackmail plot, as in someone is blackmailing her.

Anna, the blackmailee, barely knows Stephanie, but turns to her for help after she discovers someone has stolen her personal diary and plans to extract cash from her in exchange for its return. Stephanie helps Anna conjure a plan by which they will pretend to go along, but in the end catch the blackmailer who turns out to be someone who sings with them in the choir.

The book begins with a prologue that initially seemed a little baffling to me. After reading the first few paragraphs of chapter seventeen I was compelled to go back and read it again, and everything began to fall into place.

So! Once that nasty blackmail business is resolved, we’re done, right? Wrong! That’s not the whole story. The blackmail, the blackmailer, and the blackmailee may have been settled down, but there’s still the issue of Stephanie’s personal ambition. This story is fun, because you think you know where it’s headed but then it gets a little twisty in the last few pages. Is Stephanie honest or not? Does Stephanie get what she wants by being dishonest or by taking the high road?

You’ll just have to read to find out.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Beyond Confusion by Sheila Simonson

Reviewed by Jeanne

Marybeth Jackman is one nasty piece of work. She’s a bully who loves to spread innuendo, create rumors, and generally force the world to go as she would have it. She's a master of pitting staff members against each other and is expert at exploiting secrets and weaknesses. She’s a nightmare to work for or with, but as Meg McLean points out, she’s a nightmare with seniority.  Meg is the director of the Latouche County Public Library, but she’s a relative newcomer.  She also has the job Marybeth believes should have been hers, and Meg suspects Marybeth is attempting to undermine Meg in the community. Still, it’s quite a shock when Marybeth is killed in a fall—and it’s even more shocking when it begins to look as if that fall was not accidental.

At the same time, a house is vandalized in what might be a hate crime against the Klalos, a Native American tribe in the area. The house in question is about to be renovated and turned into a library/cultural center for the tribe.  Are the two incidents related? Or is it a coincidence?  Meg’s significant other, Undersheriff Rob Neill has much to investigate while Meg tries to find out just how much damage Marybeth has wrought.

Simonson does a good job of making this mystery seem more realistic than many cozies.  Meg does actual library work! The relationship between Meg and Rob is solid, and each respects the other’s work:  Meg doesn’t decide Rob needs her help to his job, for instance.  This makes a nice change of pace from books where an author tries to create tension by putting the couple at odds over the woman’s desire to investigate a mystery. Caution is one thing, but cliché is another. One of my favorite passages in the book has a weary and emotionally drained Meg realizing that Rob is going to age very well and she isn’t, that soon people will see the two of them and wonder what he sees in that old woman.  Simonson writes, “It was an index of her desolation that the thought did not provoke in her the slightest urge to laugh.” It’s so nice to have a woman secure enough that her normal impulse would be to laugh instead of requiring massive reassurance of her desirability.  In fact, it’s just nice to have characters with a bit more maturity than I’ve seen in a number of light mysteries.

Other pluses include excellent use of the Columbia River Gorge setting, a mixture of wild beauty and icy chill. The Native Americans are portrayed as modern people in a modern world. Their chief is a woman, and a savvy politician. The non-Native characters seem respectful of Native culture, and stereotypes were avoided.

The book flowed very well indeed, and it had me turning pages to see find the solution. Occasionally there were too many minor characters running around but it wasn’t enough to be annoying. Most of the investigation was left to the professionals and Meg didn’t go off half-cocked. 

Not to give away any spoilers, let me just say that the last part of the book was written for all of us who love libraries.  It made me want to cheer and left me with such a good feeling that now I want to read the other books in the series.

In short, I found Beyond Confusion to be a cut above many of new light mysteries, too many of which seem to be created in cookie cutter fashion. Good characterization, well-considered plot, and vivid setting make this a book worth reading and recommending.

Beyond Confusion is the third in the series of “Latouche County Library Mysteries” but can be read as a standalone.  The other books in the series are Buffalo Bill’s Defunct and An Old Chaos.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Arrows of the Queen by Mercedes Lackey

Review by Holly White

Note:  This review follows a series set in Mercedes Lackey's world of Valdemar.  For those unfamiliar with Valdemar, Holly's overview of the series is here.

At the age of thirteen, Talia had to decide to either get married to a person of her parents’ choosing, or to become a celibate servant of the Goddess. For the Holderkin, the barbaric folk who lived on the extreme borders of Valdemar, those were the only two choices available to a young woman. Talia wanted neither. She didn’t want to marry a man who ruled his family like a tyrant, and she certainly didn’t want to give herself to the boredom of lifelong religious servitude. Although Talia’s father was strict, he had allowed Talia to learn to read (an oddity for Holderkin females), and due to the indulgence of a beloved older brother who had died too soon, Talia had also been allowed to own three precious books of her own. And in those books, Talia had read tales of the Heralds.

When confronted by her father’s wives about her choice to get married or to choose religious servitude, Talia blurted out without thinking that she wanted to be a Herald, only after pronouncing the words, realizing it was indeed true. The wives were shocked, of course. To speak of Heralds was considered unseemly, and so no one did. No one dealt with Heralds at all except for the Elders.

Talia escaped the scrutiny of the wives and ran away crying, to her private place in the woods. As she cried alone there, she dreamed of finding acceptance and love. There she met Companion, a horse-like creature ridden by Heralds.  This Companion, Rolan, is without his Herald-- an unusual circumstance.  Indecisive, Talia considered the options. She could never go back to the Hold anyway; after her unseemly and rebellious outburst, they would never allow her to do anything but be a kitchen drudge. Rolan obviously needed to be returned to his owner. So she decided to begin looking for his Herald, and if she couldn’t find him, to return Rolan all the way to the Herald Collegium so that he could be reunited with his Herald.

On her journey, not only did Rolan himself help her, but she met more than one person willing and even eager to help her along her way, with food, changes of clothing, even a bath. But no one would tell her how a Companion could have gotten separated from his Herald, and everyone just told her to go to the Collegium, that she would find out there. At last, after a weary journey, she arrived at the city of Haven, where the Collegium was.

Rolan was joyfully recognized, and Talia was accorded special respect because she rode him. She was taken to see the Herald, a woman named Selenay, who explained that Rolan had Chosen her, and that she was now a Herald Trainee, if she wanted the position. However, Rolan was the Queen’s Own Companion, meaning that Talia had been Chosen to be the Queen’s Own Herald. If she accepted, she would become the queen’s confidante, the one person with whom the Queen could "let her hair down," so to speak. In return, she would be the Queen’s adviser and speak the truth that others might fail to speak for self-serving reasons. She would also have to deal with the Queen's daughter, a spoiled child called the Brat who should be the Heir to the throne,had not been Chosen because of her attitude. It would be up to Talia to turn the Brat into the kind of person that could eventually be Chosen and rule over the kingdom with wisdom and goodness.

If all this wasn’t responsibility and burden enough, Talia was then informed that the previous Queen’s Own Herald had died under suspicious circumstances and that as the new Queen’s Own, her own life might be in danger.

Would Talia accept that position, and all the responsibilities and danger that came with it? And if she did, how would she handle all the new challenges that were to come her way? Although she knows that Companions don’t make mistakes, she still cannot fathom that Rolan Chose … her … a simple Holdgirl. She has no special talents. How could she presume to advise the Queen herself? How would she make friends after learning the hard way at the Hold not to trust anyone? How would she learn to not be afraid of men, after her Holderkin experiences with tyrant men? How would she unmake the Brat? How would she deal with the dangers, both subtle and unsubtle, that came with being Queen’s Own? How would she learn to use and control her newfound powers to the aid of the Queen? And with all of that, how could she NOT choose to be a Herald, and the Queen’s Own Herald at that?

These questions and more are answered as you read the  Heralds of Valdemar trilogy.    The books are well-written and thought-provoking with a bit of everything- adventure, humor, danger, romance, daring, and drama. I was not able to put Arrows of the Queen down until the end, and then I had to immediately read the next book. I have in my home a "Favorites" shelf, a shelf separate from the rest of my bookshelves, and only the very best of my book collection get to sit there. This book rests with the others of its trilogy on my "Favorites" shelf, the same shelf where C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien sit beside Karen Hancock and Kathy Tyers. If authors like these make it to your favorites as well, please read this one for yourself to find out why it made it to mine. I think you’ll be glad you did.

Note:  the next book in the series will be reviewed the first Friday in June!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Nevermore: Peter The Great, 1775, and When All the World Was Young

Nevermore readers were hooked on history this week.  Peter the Great by Robert Massie is the Pulitzer Prize winning biography of a fascinating Russian monarch.  At age 10, Peter became co-tsar with his half brother.  He had a lifelong fascination with the sea and ships, and traveled Europe incognito.  He modernized Russian life, bringing in Western influences and restructuring government.  Massie has been praised for his thorough and readable biography, which also serves as an excellent book on Russian history and society of the 17th and 18th centuries.  Massie is well-known for his books on Russia; his first book was the acclaimed Nicholas and Alexandra, and his most recent is a biography of Catherine the Great.
1775: A Good Year for Revolution by Kevin Phillips was also lauded for its good style, which made it a very readable book about events prior to the American Revolution. Phillips, who also wrote The Cousins’ War, makes a convincing case that 1775 was the pivotal year, as the colonies organized themselves against the British.  Not only were the rebels mounting boycotts, they were acquiring arms and creating governments without British oversight.  By the time 1776 rolled around, the rebels were ready. This book was recommended for anyone interested in the Revolutionary War era, especially the background for the conflict.

Barbara Holland’s When All the World Was Young is a personal memoir about growing up in Washington, D.C. during the 1940s and 1950s. Holland has an eye for the incongruities of the times, and a sharp wit with which to comment.  She grew up with a mother who didn’t fit the mold of the 50s housewife and an autocratic stepfather.  As those who have read any of her other books know, Holland has a wicked sense of humor and keen sense of the absurd.  Holland also wrote a book about U.S. Presidents, Hail to the Chiefs , a book about extraordinary women entitled They Went Whistling: Women Wayfarers, Warriors, Runaways, and Renegades, and the self explanatory In Defense of Naps.  Her books come highly recommended from several Nevermore members, both for their insights and the wit.