Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Review: Planet of Exile

Planet of Exile (Hainish Cycle #2)

Planet of Exile is a story of a long lost colony stranded on a planet where seasons last for 15 years, so summer and winter are generational events. As the story opens autumn is quickly giving way to winter, and the world is rapidly changing for the colonists, known as farborns, and the indigenous people, who the colonists have dubbed hilfs (highly intelligent life forms). The colonists have been stranded on this planet for 600 years , and their population is slowly dwindling. Fewer children are born every year, there is a high incidence of miscarriage and over time other colony locations have been overrun or otherwise abandoned.

Against this backdrop we are introduced to Rolery, a hilf girl who is the daughter of a chieftain and a bit of a free spirit. Her people are nomads who have gathered to build a winter city where they can ride out the generational winter. This gathering place happens to be close to the farborn city. Not content with the drudgery of her daily life, Rolery ventures to the city of the farborns and there she encounters Jakob Agat, a leader among the farborns. Rolery and Agat form a connection after Agat saves her life, and as the story progresses they are brought together by mutual desire and the vagaries of fate. Agat needs the help of Rolery's father to bring farborn and hilf together to face their mutual enemy, the barbarian Gaal who migrate south at the onset of every winter. However it is precisely the forbidden attraction between Agat and Rolery that may prove to be the greatest obstacle to cooperation.

The Gaal migration, or Southing, threatens both Landin and the winter city as the sheer numbers of Gaal dwarf anythning previously seen. The Gaal are not the only threat to appear with the winter snows, however... the mysterious snowghouls are not far behind and are feared by everyone, including the Gaal. As mistrust and betrayal threaten to derail their alliance, the only hope for hilf and farborn alike may just be Rolery and Agat.

Planet of Exile is a straightforward story of love and hope in the face of daunting odds. It also explores the themes of acceptance and regret, and the shattering of old prejudices. The viewpoint shifts between Rolery, Agat and her father as they each struggle with the changes winter brings. Planet of Exile is a great science fiction read and at 124 pages is very short as well. It's one of my favorite stories and I thought it held up well on rereading it recently.

One thing I noticed upon re- reading this was the similarities between this story and the Game of Thrones series by George RR Martin. Both stories have seasons that can last a generation, both have an impending winter that could spell doom, the Gaal could perhaps be the wildlings... and the snowghouls are an eerie threat from the north that everyone fears...could GRRM have been influenced by this story? Hard to say, but regardless Planet of Exile is a great read from one of science fictions's most celebrated authors.


Saturday, November 22, 2014

Sunday Post #71 Holiday Open House



The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Kimba the Caffeinated Book Reviewer.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey

Can you believe it's Thanksgiving week already? We've had about 28" of snow this past week and roads have been very slippery. Winter is here in this part of Michigan. 

Here's a pic of our front yard this week.  




We're starting to see holiday trees in the neighborhood. Thanksgiving is not even here yet but it's starting to feel like Christmas with the weather we're having. 

Tonight we're going to a holiday open house with carolers, Santa and Mrs. Claus, a tree lighting ceremony, hot chocolate and lots of fun. 



This week will also be the last week of SciFi Month and I have a few posts planned. I have some thoughts on Planet of Exile by Ursula LeGuin, a book I reviewed for Knights of the Dinner table magazine several years ago- this is one of my favorite books and I'm looking forward to sharing my thoughts for SciFi Month. Stop by and let me know what you think! 

LAST WEEK: 

Review: What Happens At Christmas - a great holiday read, and hilarious too 

THIS WEEK: 

Review: Planet of Exile (for SciFi Month)
Teaser Tuesday #37
Review: Star Trek Log Five (For SciFi Month)

CURRENTLY READING: 

Murder at Mullings

NEW ARRIVALS: 

Planet of Exile (Hainish Cycle #2) Heirs and Graces (Her Royal Spyness Mysteries, #7) Winterfrost

BLOGOSPHERE FUN: 

Read Me Away has a great post on why she loves science fiction

Lola's Reviews talks about her favorite genres. 

The Nocturnal Library has a review up for Night Shift

The usual cosplay goodness- Wonder Woman, a kickass archer and Black Canary

I'll leave you with this.

Monday, November 17, 2014

What Happens At Christmas

What Happens At Christmas (Millworth Manor, #1)

What Happens At Christmas was a delight to read. It's the story of a widowed woman of means, who decides she wants to marry a prince of a tiny country in Europe. She's sure he will propose over the holidays, if only she can show him a proper English Christmas- to do so she hires a troupe of actors to portray her family, as most of them are out of the country, and she doesn't consider them very proper anyway. Her sister Beryl thinks this is a very bad idea, but Camille is determined and the plan goes forward.

The actors are brought in to portray not only Camille's mother and younger sister, but the servants as well. Things get a little more complicated when grayson Elliott shows up- the long lost love of Camille's life. They had been inseparable friends growing up, and on the eve of her marriage to an older man, Grayson had professed his love for her. Camille had not reacted well and Grayson had left, and they haven't seen each other for eleven years. Camille has been widowed in the meantime, and now thinks she wants to marry Nikolai the prince- but when grayson arrives, having acquired his fortune in the intervening years, old wounds are reopened and long dormant feelings are reawakened.

Grayson still loves Camille, and when he realizes the the game that is afoot, he resolves to help in order to earn her trust, and ultimately, her heart- but he has no intention of letting her marry Nikolai. Let the games begin! I don't normally read romances, but this has a romantic comedy feel to it- a comedy of errors that I couldn't stop reading. Camille tries to keep everything running smoothly, managing a troupe of actors while at the same time entertaining Nikolai and trying to figure out what Grayson is up to. Grayson suspects something is not right with the prince, and with Beryl's help he tries to protect Camille while at the same time thwarting her plan. I was laughing throughout the book as events went from one comedic turn to another.

The fun really picks up when Camille's real family shows up and chooses to play roles in the charade as well. An absolute hoot. It does get a bit unrealistic as it goes, as everyone is keeping secrets, and a few times I thought these people just need to talk and get it all out. Wouldn't have been nearly as fun though! This is a masterful story with sparkling dialogue and wry asides, and twists and turns that come at just the right time to keep things interesting. The repartee and dialogue are an absolute highlight, it all flows so smoothly. There is a theme of redemption that runs through all the zaniness, of regrets, longing and atoning for past mistakes- in short, can one have a second chance at love?

I wasn't sure if I would like this book, and was I pleasantly surprised! The dialogue is a joy to read, and it was so fun. A perfect Christmas treat.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Sunday Post #70 It's Snowing!



Hard to believe we're halfway through November already. This has been a quiet week, not much reading done, but I'm kind of at a point where my reading is wide open- not sure what I'll read next. I've got mysteries and holiday reads lined up, but I'd like to read some fantasy as well. So I'll have to see what jumps out at me. Any suggestions?

The holidays are approaching like a freight train and I'm actually thinking of putting holiday lights up early this year, and of course holiday music is in full swing on radio stations. Is it too early? I don't know- the weather's pretty frightful so why not a little holiday cheer? Speaking of which- we have snow! We have about five inches, the pumpkins on the front porch are staring out at a snow covered front yard, and the snow mixed with the berries on the tree is cool to see. We had blizzard conditions for a few days this week...

LAST WEEK:

Review: The Secret Zoo
HoHoHo Readathon Wrap Up Post
A Christmas Eve Story 

THIS WEEK:

Teaser Tuesday #37
Review: What Happens At Christmas- a great story about a woman who hires a troupe of actors to portray her proper English family at Christmas time. I laughed throughout this book.
Review: Secret of the Stars- for SciFi Month.

CURRENTLY READING:

TBD

NEW ARRIVALS:

Trust Me, I'm Lying Winterfrost Behind the Shattered Glass

Star Trek: Log Five (Star Trek: Log, #5) Tarzan the Invincible (Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan, #14)


BLOGOSPHERE:

Rita at My Home of Books has a new blog- View From My Home. Check it out!

Book Snob talks about her favorite podcasts.

A Flurry of Ponderings has a nice review up for Fangirl.

I'll leave you with this...

Friday, November 14, 2014

Review: The Secret Zoo

The Secret Zoo (The Secret Zoo, #1)

The Secret Zoo is the first in a middle grade series by Bryan Chick. It tells the story of 4 children who discover there is more to their local zoo than meets the eye. Megan is in her treefort one night and sees monkeys on the roofs of surrounding homes. She tells her brother Noah but he doesn't believe her. Shortly after this she disappears. Her brother Noah and their friends Ella and Richie are determined to find her. Their search is fruitless until one night a bird arrives at Noah’s window- a bird with a message. The message tells Noah to go to the zoo where he will find more clues. Once there he receives another message- this time a page from Megan’s journal.

It appears that Megan was investigating some odd occurrences at the zoo. Noah receives several pages from her journal, all from different animals, and he begins to realize this zoo is more than it appears. As the kids investigate the zoo they see some strange goings-on. They have an encounter with a polar bear named Blizzard and continue to receive clues as to Megan's disappearance. The animals seem to watch them and before long they run afoul of zoo security, who waste no time in evicting them.

They soon find there’s another world and a secret society and a wondrous place called the City of Species where humans and animals live together in harmony. The City ofSpecies is a neat place. The descriptions are lush and whimsical, and the author really lets his imagination run wild here (pardon the pun). I particularly liked the Forest of Flight, an immense aviary in the City that holds a multitude of birds of all kinds. The kids flee into theForest and there is a running battle of sorts as the kids and their animal friends Blizzard, Podgy the penguin and a bunch of prairie dogs try to escape a band of overzealous police- monkeys. One of the better sequences in the book.

I enjoyed the first two thirds of the book a great deal, however after everything is explained at the City of Species I started to lose interest. The backstory and the villain were just not compelling for me. There is a battle at the end with mild violence, and some of the later events strain credulity even in a book this whimsical. But overall it's fun and lighthearted.

There’s no shortage of imagination in The Secret Zoo. The book is charming and whimsical, and it reads fast. There’s a lot of humor as well, and the animals who help the kids are adorable. Who wouldn’t want a ferocious polar bear friend? The Secret Zoo is the first in a series. I don't feel compelled to rush out and get the second one, but I may continue with the series at some point. This one is self- contained enough that you can enjoy it as is. It's a great middle grade book.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

HoHoHo Readathon Wrap Up

HoHoHoRAT_300x300

The HoHoHo readathon has come and gone and I'm sorry to see it go. It was a lot of fun reading the posts and doing the challenges, and there was even a Twitter party. A big shout out and kudos to Kimba at Caffeinated Book Reviewer and Jennifer at Book Shelfery for hosting this. This was my second year doing this readathon and it is a blast. I got through two books and that was pretty good for me with time constraints and work. Even better, I acquired a few other Christmas reads, so I'll spend the next month or so reading those for the holidays. Here's what I read:

The Twelve Clues of Christmas (Her Royal Spyness Mysteries, #6)

This was a fun tale of Georgie, thirty- fifth in line for the throne, who finds herself a house guest at a Christmas house party. She's basically there because she has nowhere else t ogo, but soon finds that murder is on the menu along with the minced pie and Christmas pudding. As the murders pile up, Georgie has to solve the mystery before Christmas is ruined entirely.

What Happens At Christmas (Millworth Manor, #1)

This was a spur of the moment buy, I just liked the cover. Does it just say Christmas or what? This is more of a romance than a mystery, so not my usual read, but I enjoyed it.

Here's what else I picked up and hope to read soon:

Winterfrost Ho-Ho-Homicide

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Christmas Eve Story

Ho-Ho-Ho Read-A-Thon

This is a story I wrote last year on the spur of the moment for the HoHoHo Readathon. Melissa's Mochas, Mysteries and Meows hosted a writing challenge - to write a story about a kitty's first Christmas. I thought I would re- post this with the holiday season approaching and another readathon in full swing. I hope you enjoy it! 

A quick note: I changed the name of the cat protagonist this year to separate it a bit from the original writing challenge. The two cats are both cats we owned and were sisters. Otherwise the story is mostly the same. 

A CHRISTMAS EVE STORY 

Christmas Eve found Mystique sleeping contentedly on the bed of her human. She was a young kitty, and new to the family, so all this Christmas stuff was new too. The twinkling lights, the presents under the tree with the irresistible bows and  wrapping paper, the ornaments on the tree… and the tree itself! What a wondrous thing- Mystique still remembered the day it came in from outdoors, snowy and smelling like wild things, and all the boxes and tissue paper everywhere as ornaments were unwrapped and placed on the tree. That had been a fascinating night! Lots of boxes to crawl into… too bad they had to be put away all too soon. Phooey!

Mystique was having little kitty dreams when something woke her. An odd noise- she listened for a moment, then put her head back down. There it was again- a thump from above. That was strange- it almost sounded like something was on the roof. What on earth could be moving around up there in the middle of the night? After thinking about it for a few moments, she decided to investigate. It was time for a bite to eat anyway.

As she jumped silently down from her human’s bed and padded into the living room, she saw Whisper curled up in one of the living room chairs by the tree. Whisper, her older sister and queen of the house. Whisper (so named because her meows were so quiet) had been here for years before Mystique arrived, but they got along well from the start. Mystique suspected that Whisper had been lonely and was only too glad to have some proper feline company in the house again… apparently her sister had gone away in one of those ridiculous cat boxes after falling ill, and had not come home.

Whisper was an old hand at this Christmas stuff- she had been around this block a few times. She sniffed disdainfully at Mystique’ fascination with boxes and loose tissue paper, and maintained her dignity at all times- but Mystique wasn’t fooled. She had caught Whisper just the other night tearing through the living room, batting a stray ornament around like she was a young’un, and looking decidedly undignified the whole time. Mystique had rather enjoyed watching her gallivant all over the house- apparently the old girl still had some moves left after all. Of course after Whisper was done, Mystique had to have a go at the ornament herself… until she batted it down the basement stairs and heard a tinkling crash. Oops.

Whisper watched with one eye open as Mystique made her way through the living room towards the kitchen. She passed the little card table with its saucer of milk and Christmas cookies- that had been odd, she thought, that they had left an unusual snack like that out. Her and Whisper had promptly lapped the milk up as soon as the humans were asleep, of course, but the cookies… nah. Not really her thing. Now as she approached her food bowl she heard something again- a rustling noise from the living room. Turning back, she saw Whisper now fully awake and quite alert. There it was again- something or someone was in the living room. At this time of night?

Peeking around the corner she saw movement by the tree. One of the little humans? No they were all fast asleep, she was sure. And the kids didn’t have pointed ears and wear red and green- nor did they have little bells that tinkled when they moved. This was something altogether different. This little creature was busy stuffing things into the stockings hanging from the fireplace, and there was a sack by the fireplace bulging with what looked like presents. The creature turned away from the stockings, rubbed his little hands together as if pleased, then went to the sack and began removing presents, placing them under the tree carefully. Mystique wondered if there was one for her…

Once the presents were placed, the strange little creature turned toward the fireplace- but then turned back and with a little smile approached the card table. Whisper rose as he got closer and arched her back, but she held her ground- this was her home, after all. The pointy-eared stranger just smiled at her, reached out a tiny hand and stroked her behind the ear, then turned his attention to the Christmas cookies on the tray. He looked them over, picked one, took a bite, and then apparently satisfied, stuffed the rest into his mouth. The other two he slipped into a little satchel he was carrying. “For later, you understand,” he said to Whisper.

Mystique moved closer, cautiously, and the little creature turned to look at her. “Hello, shy one,” he said pleasantly. His voice was like a bird chirping and yet not at the same time. Mystique wondered if this could possibly be the “Santy Claus” she always heard her little humans chattering on about. She thought he would be… plumper, somehow. As if reading her thoughts he shook his head and said, “No, I’m afraid I’m just one of the helpers. The old man had a few too many cookies on the first few stops, and ‘afore long he don’t fit down the chimney no more. So it falls to the rest of us to do the work while he sips hot chocolate up top.” He cocked his head towards the ceiling with a wry smile. “Happens ev’ry year…”

“Well I best be off… the night is still young and we got lots more stops yet. Tally ho, you two.” And with that the little man swept off his cap, gave a low bow, and waddled over to the chimney. Grabbing his sack he turned and waved, then he was gone in a rush of air up the chimney.

Mystique could see that Christmas was a little more peculiar than she had realized. She glanced at Whisper, who gave the feline equivalent of a shrug and proceeded to make herself comfortable, turning around in her chair several times before laying down and going back to sleep. Mystique decided to go have that snack, and had just reached her bowl when she heard muffled voices from the roof, and then a long thumping noise like something was being dragged across the roof. Then it was gone, though she saw snow drifting down outside the kitchen window, no doubt disturbed by whatever was going on up there.Strange, Mystique thought as she padded back to the bedroom. Certainly more to this Christmas than meets the eye. She wondered what else was going to happen. But a deep silence settled back over the house as she leapt onto the bed and found a spot on top of one of her humans’ feet. Lots of time for a good sleep before morning, she thought drowsily. After all, the night was still young.