Friday, June 29, 2012

Castle Dreams (Castle Perilous #6) by John DeChancie

Castle Dreams (Castle Perilous, #6)Castle Dreams by John DeChancie

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I discovered DeChancie's Castle series many years ago, browsing a used book store. I've been collecting the eight book series, off and on, since. Castle Dreams is the sixth book and it is, by far, the strangest in an admittedly strange series.

For those that don't know it, the books revolve around Castle Perilous, a large medeival castle with a rather odd attribute: scattered throughout the castle are "aspects" or portals to other worlds. Residents of the castle can come and go through these portals. What happens to a core set of characters as they venture through various portals, and what befalls the castle through them, make up most of the stories in the series.

Castle Dreams is a bit different. It opens like many, with familiar characters Gene, Linda, Snowclaw, and a few others in the Gaming Hall in the castle. Gene, as is often the case, is bored and heads off to find an aspect that looks interesting. He ends up on an alien world, helping a female member of the ruling party there escape capture by a rebel force. The chapters about him are scattered among the other stories, and Gene's seems the most straightforward of them all. While he is gone, word comes that Lord Incarnadine, the King of Castle Perilous has died. As the residents and subjects of the Castle prepare for the funeral, strange stories begin to be interspersed. There is the strange, void-like barren where a lone traveler, who cannot remember who he is or why he is here, must travel until he finds his answers. Linda is having dreams of being back on Earth, with a boyfriend, living in California. Or are they dreams? Trent, Prince and brother to Incarnidine, sees his chance to take the throne he has always felt bleonged to him and not his brother. Along the way, he begins to suspect that Incarnadine was murdered, and sets out to find the killer, lest he be blamed. And Incarnadine- well, dreams are not only for the living.

If that's not enough, there are chapters that are quizzes- some multiple choise, some essays, some delaing with the story and some completely out of the blue. As well as footnotes, purportedly by the Castle scribe. Confusing? Yes. And I would not recommend starting your journey to Perilous with this one. It is very different and if you are not familiar with the tone and character of the Castle series, you will most likely be turned off a fun, comic fantasy run.

I can't really say what I thought of the book, at the end. It kept me reading, I chuckled more than once, yes, I figured out what was going on (mostly), but there were things that kept jarring me. The quizzes for one. They were odd bits that were stuck in here and there, and I'm not sure of their purpose. The footnotes were amusing, but added little to the book, except a bit of comic relief. This is the fourth of the books I've read (yeah, I'm kind of out of order). I will read the rest, but again, if you haven't read any, start with Castle Perilous, and read the others. I think this one might be best saved for closer to the end of the series.

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Monday, June 25, 2012

Summertime and the Livin' Is...

Busy! We spent the weekend with friends in the Hudson Valley region of NY.  It was fun just doing vacation-y things rather than the busy days of a chili cook off weekend. We drove down on Friday, and if any of you hear me say we are heading to CT or NY again, PLEASE message the BaldMan and tell him "DO NOT go by way of I-84!" Yeesh!

On Saturday morning,  we went to the Walkway Over the Hudson. Our friends walked and we had brought our bikes, so we rode. We rode back and forth on the bridge for a total of about 8 miles. It was a gorgeous day, sunny and pretty blue skies. We got out early enough that the temperature wasn't too hot yet.

Here are a couple pictures I took of the Hudson River from the walkway:

When we got back, we walked down  to an  old cemetery not far from our friends' house. These old graveyards fascinate me. I love looking at the headstones and reading the names and dates. Some were very specific: So-and-So died August 1825, 66 years, 3 months and 5 days. I wonder who was counting? A few pictures from that walk:

On the weather front, Summer has hit! With the Solstice, came the heat. 90+ degree temps for a few days at the end of the week kept everyone, Dog included, enjoying the air conditioned indoors. Not that I mind the heat. As long as the humidity is low, I would rather high heat than bitter cold. And the garden is grateful. We had a few weeks of either warm-ish weather or damp and chilly, and the tomatoes and peppers were not as happy as they could be. Now, they are quite green and getting taller. I'm seeing blossoms on many tomatoes and tomatillos. I've harvested a few small radishes where thinning was needed, and some greens. There are carrots growing nicely, as well. The chickens are getting back to full laying, also, now that the weather has gotten better. They do slow down in winter, and ramp up slowly through Spring. And they always lay better when they can get out of the pen and onto grass where they can enjoy greens and all the bugs they can catch.

We had thunderstorms while we were driving to NY, and rain part of the evening. That cooled things off a bit and definitely dropped the humidity.

Now I get to do more laundry and prepare for our next trip. This is the longer vacation trip, and heading to NY, OH, and IL. We'll be gone for about two weeks. We will also get to visit with the newest grandson when we get to IL. I hope I can get a little down time  in there, too!

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Rookie (Galactic Football League #1) by Scott Sigler

The RookieThe Rookie by Scott Sigler

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Football, aliens, smugglers, mob bosses- did I mention aliens? Set in the future, The Rookie is the story of Quentin Barnes, a Human star quarterback in what is probably akin to the minor leagues we know now. But Quentin wants to play in the big leagues. He has talent, speed, intelligence, and he knows the game. The catch? In the GFL, he will be playing with and against several alien races. Races he has been taught all his life are spawns of Satan, to be hated and destroyed. Add to that the aliens blinding speed, ability to jump 25+ feet in the air, and sheer size and weight, and you've got a whole different league, brother.

Quentin gets his chance to play for a GFL team, and things don't start out well. Quentin is used to being the star, the one in charge, and being second string doesn't sit well. Add to that his background of religious hatred and distrust of the alien races, and his career seems doomed from the start. When the starting quarterback gets injured in an altecation with the enforcers for the crime boss he is supposed to be working for, Quentin gets his chance. What he does with it is the main story of the book.

The football is quite well done in this book. I've been a football fan for a long, long time, and Sigler gets it right. It couldn't have been an easy task to keep the game intact, while adding alien races with superhuman athletic abilities into the mix. If you don't know football, you probably won't fully understand the game descriptions, but it isn't necessary to know what an I formation is, or where the tailback position lines up, to follow the story. It helps, of course, but you can follow the action without in depth knowledge. If you do know the game, you'll enjoy reading the play by play action from Quentin's viewpoint. I did find the pages of game stats after each one a bit tedious and ended up skimming most of them.

The whole of the story is told from Quentin's point of view. We see him start as a cocky, smart-ass kid, convinced of his talent, only to be shot down, again and again. It takes a long time for Quentin to see his role on the field and off, and to set aside ingrained prejudices and conceits to concentrate on what matters most: winning the game. In some ways, this is a coming of age story. Quentin is nineteen at the start of the book, and he is as full of himself as any nineteen year old who has had things relatively easy. And he is as blind to his failings as anyone his age can be. It's the gradual realization that he is the one who has to change that makes him a viable character. The change is not a sudden epiphany of revelation, however. It's slow and difficult for Quentin to own up to. There are moments of insight, and failures, and times when he takes steps backwards. It all adds to his human-ness, and rounds him out as a character.

The rest of the characters are not quite as well drawn as Quentin, but they are a good supporting cast: Don Pine, the first string quarterback who has gambling debts and gets himself in real trouble because of them, the female alien receivers who take their quarterbacks so seriously, it's part of their religion, and the team owners, coaches, and other players.

World building is well done. There are huge orbiting space station/cities, team busses that are essentially giant spaceships complete with practice fields, small, flying aliens who have conquered most of the known races and act as overlords, a mob-like system of smuggling and other illegal actvities that has hooks in the GFl, and more.

The Rookie was an enjoyable book. It reads fairly quickly, and kept me turning the pages. Footbal fans who can entertain the idea of a futuristic game with aliens as team members, and fans of good science fiction will both enjoy The Rookie. If you happen to be both, you really want to read this one.

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Monday, June 11, 2012

On the Chili Trail (and Other Travels)

Looking at the calendar, it appears we are not home on a weekend until July! I guess the suitcase will stay out for a while longer.

We got home yesterday from a the Southern CT cook off where we were Chief Judge and Scorekeeper. It was the first year for this one at Quassy amusement park. It's a small park but I'm sure the kids enjoyed it. We did manage to get 20 cooks, so it will be a Regional. Which means nothing to the non-chili folk out there, but it is a Good Thing. I wish the weather had been better. It was kind of chilly and on-and-off rainy most of the day, so I'm sure that kept some people away. The sponsoring charity, Abilities Without Boundaries, seems interested in doing it again next year. Anther Good Thing.

This coming weekend, we will be in Meriden, CT for the Chili and Chihuahuas cook off to benefit the Meriden Humane Society. We are running the judging area again for this one. I really hope the weather cooperates for us. Then we go for a weekend visit with friends in NY, and then the BaldMan starts his six week sabbatical. We are taking the first part of that and visiting his sister in NY, and then on to IL to spend some time with Jill, John, and Carter. We have some stuff to get done around the house for the balance of his time off. We're going to be busy!

Still having eating issues with the dog. He just doesn't seem to want to eat. Sometimes, if I sit with him and hand feed him, I can get him to eat. Some days, he's fine and eats ok. Other days, he just looks at it and walks away. Had him in to the vet and she doesn't find anything wrong. X-rays showed nothing in the way of tumors or such, just the arthritis we knew about. His blood work was really good. She said some of the numbers were in a range she'd expect to see in a much younger dog, and all were well within normal. I'm not sure what's going on. I haven't changed his diet for 8 or 9 months, since I put him on the raw foods. All the supplements have been the same since then, too. Unless he just has gotten it into his stubborn Lab head that he doesn't like one of the additives any more. Steph said while we were gone, she had trouble getting him to eat, and once she just gave him his bag of food, with nothing added and he ate that fine. So I guess I will try leaving stuff out, and if he eats, start adding one thing at a time, and see if that tells me anything. If anyone has any other ideas, I'm listening!

I am also babysitting Will today. Now that will make for an exhausting day, I am sure! I'm not used to chasing four year olds around all day anymore. But it will be fun, I am sure. He's a good kid, and it is always great to spend time with him. I'm sure Nikki (their dog) will love having someone around all day, too.

Then it will be on to laundry and the other clean up from the past weekend, and start getting it all together again for the next trip. Wheeee!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Guardians of the Lost (Sovereign Stone #2) by Margaret Weis and Tracey Hickman

Guardians of the Lost (Sovereign Stone, #2)Guardians of the Lost by Margaret Weis and Tracey Hickman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Guardians of the Lost is the second book of the Sovereign Stone trilogy. (See my review of Book 1 here: Well of Darkness) This story takes place 200 years after the events of the first book, with Loerem torn by war and strife. Prince Dagnarus, who has extended his life since becoming a Vrykyl, has amassed an army of vicious half-beast warriors to reclaim the throne he feels he was cheated of 200 years ago. He has also added to his ranks of Void magic born Vrykyl. Dagnarus is still searching for the four pieces of the Sovereign Stone, still believing he was cheated out of its possession by his brother. Gustav, a Dominion Lord, learns the location of the human portion of the Sovereign Stone and tries to take it to the Council of Dominion Lords, only to be pursued and attacked by a Vrykyl. Gustav manages to defeat the Vrykyl but not before he is mortally wounded. He entrusts the piece of the Stone to a pecwae and a Trevinici youth, enjoining them to deliver it to an elfen Dominion Lord so that she may take it to the Council. The group sets out across the different lands of Loerem, pursued by Vrykyl and barely ahead of Dagnarus and his conquering army.

As a second installment, this is quite well done. Most of the backstory and detail outline was set up in the first book, so the plot here can move along fairly well. There are narrative breaks, some of which seem rather dragged out, but in main, the pacing is good.

Characters are interesting and well-drawn. There are representatives of all the four races of Loerem in the main character set, with the exception of the orks, who in this book, seem relegated to minor roles. World-building is as well done as any of the authors' works, and the magic system is interesting in its association of one of each of the four Elements with each of the four races. Two of the characters in particular bring a bit of humor to the story, a nice touch in what is a rather dark tale.

Where the first book basically finished its story, with the addition of the set up for this one, Guardians of the Lost ends on a somewhat ominous note, with the main quest as yet unfulfilled. Even so, the story is satisfying.

I did find it a bit slow reading in spots, but overall, was intrigued enough with the characters and some of the other plot elements to finish. I look forward to reading the third book and finding out what happens.

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