Book Reviews: Sci-fi, Mystery, and Other Necessities

The Bronze Skies
After fleshing out all corners and eras of her massive Skolian universe, Doctor Asaro goes back to the beginning in the second book in the Major Bhaajan series. The first was so amazing it’s gonna be a tough act to follow, though it just might have.
I was particularly excited when the blurb mentioned Jagernauts were involved, so I was really hoping Digjan was in this! Nope, Dr. Asaro is just teasing me as usual. Instead it’s a much more seasoned psychic warrior that’s on the warpath, so Bhaaj is called in to find her before she can make another attempt at murdering one of the most important people in the empire, leading into one of Dr. Asaro’s favorite subjects, AI. In what might be called a glut of “robots will rise up and take over” stories nowadays, this one stands out, even from her own previous books like the Alpha series.
Archaeology, anthropology, astronomy, sociology, and of course the inevitable high-level math and science are all happily present here. The best parts, however, are the small moments, especially when she’s helping her people: trying to get a permit for one to sell his wares aboveground, arranging a martial arts competition between her students and an academy, and so on. They really round out her character, making her more than just a detective. At the beginning of the first book she didn’t have much personality, though she grew throughout that story; here she’s even more human, to the point where she’s even telling jokes full of sexual innuendo. It’s a bit startling, considering how tightly wound up she was in the first one. Even more so, she finds out more about the powers she’d been afraid she had at the end of the first.
This story also expands the already large scope of the undercity, but also introduces the above world other than Cries, the legendary planet where human life was transported from Earth so long ago. In the scope of the three huge space empires it’s pretty insignificant, but somehow harder to grasp. I’d been hoping this would lead to finding out what alien race seeded the planet with humans in the first place, but despite the clues in what they left behind it didn’t go that far. It did give us an archaeological site that sounds like it came right out of a video game, and the special Jagernauts that guard it. I anticipate many more stories coming out of that.
So in the end Bhaaj—Calaj too—saved the universe every bit as much as Soz, but just like her, no one will ever know. . .
4.5/5

Beg for Mercy
Mercy went from growing up in a brothel to becoming an assassin, but retains enough humanity to chuck her assigned job when she finds a conspiracy that’s much bigger and more dangerous for what remains of the western United States. Along the way she gets involved with a legendary figure that shares a common enemy.
Yes, this is a dystopian romance/erotica, though that last part was minimal. Not unheard of, but definitely rare.
Not sure about this one. The many factions made it hard to follow, and Mercy was just too stubborn to root for. At one point she puts herself out as bait to catch the bad guy, having conveniently forgotten about the bounty on her. The action was realistic, but the sex scenes didn’t pack as much heat.
3/5

The Unity
A military leader in a sprawling authoritarian space empire questions his oath when his second-in-command tries to kill him. From there the story sprawls all over the galaxy, with a huge cast of characters and ships, far too many to keep track.
There are some nice moments, like the intro and background for Dr. Aravantis; short but sweet, and most importantly memorable. His creations were also a delight to get to know, but the negatives far outweighed them. I had huge problems with the conspiracy, and especially all the killing, alternatively making me annoyed or sad, and I don’t like that. Most of the circumstances were unnecessary, and the dead are hardly grieved over at all. In fact, the whole book seems devoid of emotion. It definitely didn’t make me want to read the sequel.
2/5

Girl, Wash Your Face
I picked this up because I’m a huge fan of Rachel Hollis, though that’s her fiction rather than her lifestyle website. So this work of self-help was new territory for me, but I was quickly relieved to find her amazing humor was still there.
This book feels like a bunch of blog posts, which for all I know is true. At the beginning there’s a section on the true but tired platitude of taking care of yourself before you help others, which by now is so overused it’s hardly a new concept. She does manage to weave several points together, which does help.
This would have been just as good without all the religious stuff thrown in. I feel the earnestness; I don’t believe anything written here is less than genuine. But I can’t be sure if that belief is there because I’m a big fan of her previous works. Nevertheless, it’s more than worthwhile reading for those who aren’t familiar with her Girl series and have no preconceived notions.
3.5/5

Egyptian Enigma
Having enjoyed this author’s previous works, taking place mostly in Australia with fictionalized history tours to the old civilizations of Mesoamerica, this entry tackles Egypt, possibly the only place that would have even more fodder for stories like these. Though it follows the pattern of trying to solve an old archaeological mystery, this book has less in the way of modern conundrums. Most of the story involves who’s in the sarcophagus, but other than a stolen notebook and a break-in, there’s no real mystery until the end, and that’s only a setup for the next book.
The one thing I love the most about this character is her memory palace, and the way it works as a library. If she wants to remember something, it comes up as though brought to her by a librarian. Pretty cool. Just as fun is her amazingly diverse family, if you don’t count all the cats.
It’s funny that the author takes the time to write out the Welsh dialogue, as it’s never pronounced like it’s spelled.
Despite liking Egyptian archaeology very much, I’m not enjoying this nearly as much as I did the previous books, with the flashbacks in Mesoamerica. But if nothing else, this book rekindled my interest in the 18th and 19th dynasties of Egypt. And all the references to Buffy, Firefly, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. . . seriously, this writer is from my tribe.
Long recipes and glossary at end, along with dedications. Wait, my archaeological crush Dr. Kara Cooney was in there and I missed her? Ouch. Please don’t tell her.
There was one point I disliked. In one of the sections taking place in ancient Egypt, the rulers tasks her scribe to check the records to “seek guidance from the ancients.” He does find something similar in the past, but it never occurred to the ruler that, in this time where anyone could be a suspect in the conspiracy, this guy could make up anything he wanted. . .
4/5

The Treachery of Russian Nesting Dolls
I do hate coming to a series late—this is the fourth—but it sounded too intriguing to pass up. It starts with a bang in the red-light district of Amsterdam, and the most unusual foot chase you’ll ever read.
The main character is intriguing, which is more than I can say for the plot, which did not invest me at all. The mystery-solving had its bright spots, but then the writer ruined it by not giving me a chance to solve the case; the clue that did it was not given to the audience till after. Not fun.
Second off, I didn’t like the roller coaster ending, mostly because I didn’t see the point of it. Maybe there was something in the previous books that led to that big moment, but it doesn’t seem likely. The author has an agenda we’re not privy to, other than his obvious hatred for the latest Russian baddie in power.
2.5/5

The Telling Image: Shapes of Changing Times
This is a picture book that wants to be more than that.
The first part reads like Intro to Human Anthropology. There’s an intriguing observation about shapes, the round and the square in Liberia shown as examples. One gorgeous photo brought good memories of Stonehenge, before it was fenced off. The Big Dipper-Great Bear-laptop thing was a bit forced, though that was quickly overshadowed by the most beautiful shot of a spiderweb ever.
This is definitely not something you should read in one sitting, with numerous philosophical discussions that will make you pause to think. This isn’t a coffeetable book that gets opened to look at pretty pictures; the photos here serve to highlight the text.
3.5/5

Love and Laughter
Right at the start, when the author introduces herself, she writes, “In the pages that follow, we’ll talk frankly (because I don’t know how to be anything else!). . . My name is Beth Liebling, and I’m a sappy, emotional, hopelessly optimistic romantic. I believe in happy fairy tales and forever love.” She also mentions that she’s a divorce lawyer. . .
A very conversational intro leads to exactly the same in the main part of the book. It’s important to go into this expecting it to be fun rather than a serious discussion about sex, though the title should have been enough of a clue. At one point she compares romance to going to the theater, then being in a play with your partner. It’s a little trite, but her enthusiasm is infectious.
There’s artwork, sometimes small shots of lingerie as chapter headers, but other times full drawings that seem cartoonish, which works in this setting. Some of the jokes are hokey, and sometimes she goes out of her way for a joke that isn’t really there, but on the other hand I prefer earnestness to sullen any day.
And that’s it exactly. More than just fun, it’s optimistic. I can easily imagine her responding the exact same way in person at her shop.
4/5

;o)

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Concert Photohgraphy: Ruth Anne

Also known as Rooty, Ruth Anne Cunningham is a singer/songwriter from Ireland with a propensity for bluesy love songs. I discovered her when she sang on a track for Lindsey Stirling’s Brave Enough album a couple of years ago. I saw them perform that song at the Jimmy Kimmel Show, but I was in the back and didn’t see anything, whereas this time at Hotel Café I was front row center, and seated, thankfully!
Also video’d a couple of songs, but those will have to wait till the album comes out.

;o)

Travel Thursday: After Arlington Garden

After the visit to Arlington Garden that I blogged about last week I decided to go further north to one of my favorite Mexican restaurants, and for the first time go behind Huntington Hospital rather than the usual Fair Oaks route. I was amazed that in the span of three blocks there was so much gawking to be had.

The famous fork in the road. Read about it, seen photos. Life complete.

Considering my preferences for what is commonly known as weak tea, I’d better not go in there.

How libraries start out.

;o)

Book Reviews: Fat Fit Photography

Making a Case for Innocence: True Stories of a Criminal Defense Investigator
Various stories from the author’s long distinguished career as—like it says in the title—a criminal defense investigator, the PI who looks for ways in which to exonerate a defendant. Most of the remembrances are about miscarriages of justice, and are not easy to read. Some absolve a false suspect before anything happens to them, which is always a reason to cheer, but there aren’t enough of those.
The writing is well-done, familiar but not overly jocular. Parts of the author’s personal life make it in here, the most interesting being that she wanted to be a singer-songwriter before she fell into this line of work. That humanizes her, as well as the stories, and is a good touch.
My only negative is I would have preferred the ending to not be so depressing, downright discouraging. I know what the author is trying to do, but can’t help but wish she’d finished it on a more positive note.
3.5/5

Eat Fat, Get Fit
I do love it when a title tells you everything you need to know, although the second half is optional.
Since I don’t read diet books, it’s hard to compare. This guy is straightforward and tells it like he thinks it is without frills, which might explain why this book is so short. Another reason is the long lists and plans and recipes and an exercise regimen at the end, which take up almost half of the book.
It is well written, with out-of-the-box thinking. But it’s definitely not for everyone—more of a general overview—as it doesn’t take into account most dietary restrictions and allergies like mine.
3/5

Curious Encounters with the Natural World
Once the intros are done, the book becomes two-page chapters of each animal encounter, the first of text and the second of photos. The authors are from eastern Illinois, so most of their explorations are based there, and they love showing off their accumulated specimens. They’re entomologists, one of whom got over the “Ew, bugs!” reflex that I never will. There are more than enough bug photos to give me nightmares for the rest of my life, even though I did my best to skip over ones where I knew what was coming. I risked a look at the peanut-headed bug: revulsion killed the curiosity. On the other hand, I do love the flamingo photo. The turtle-filled log just looks hilarious, and a shot of three turtles attempting to play leapfrog was equally chuckle-worthy. Some of the pencil drawings are more intriguing than the photographs.
My highlights:
That cat-poop-in-the-beard story. . . wow.
Penguin Poop on a Johnny Rook.
I’ve seen penguins on beaches in Australia, but in sandstorms. . .
Hoodoos in Utah: “A place that illustrates the point that geology has much more of a sense of humor than geologists!”
For those who love animals, especially insects, this is fantastic. For those who like some animals or have some curiosity in the field, this is good in small doses. The photography is excellent, but then it should be, because in one photo you can see Susan using the same camera I used back in the days of film photography.
There’s fifteen pages of glossary, references, and index.
I hope I didn’t bring down the book’s grade because of my aversion to creepie-crawlies, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t.
3/5

Understanding Color in Photography
This short book is, as you’d expect, full of photos. Yet despite those two facts, it is not easy going. I’ve been a professional photographer for over 25 years, so this would seem like a slam dunk, but I found myself disagreeing with his opinions too much. It’s difficult being in tune with him—though I’ve been a big fan of his previous books—because he likes warm tones, whereas I prefer the cooler side of the spectrum: blue rather than yellow and red. So this can’t help but color (sorry, couldn’t think of anything else there, definitely not a pun) some of the things the author says.
As always with these books, I learn a few new things and then instantly forget them. I treat them as reference books.
3/5

;o)