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Crosscurrent: Star Wars Legends: Crosscurrent

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Star Wars: Crosscurrent, by Paul S. KempLet me start by saying that I am a fan of Paul S. Kemp - I love his Forgotten Realms Erevis Cale series, and couldn't have been happier when I heard he was going to write a Star Wars Extended Universe book. I ran out to pick up "Crosscurrent" the day it was released and devoured it in the same day. "Crosscurrent" takes place near the end of the EU Legacy of the Force series and features Jaden Korr, a relatively obscure Jedi Knight. Jaden is suffering from uncertainty, questioning his life as a Jedi, and the role of the Jedi in the universe. When he's sent a Force vision, Jaden feels he must journey to the place in his dream, where he's sure he will find the answer to his uncertainty.Also starring in "Crosscurrent" is Relin Druur, a Jedi Master fighting in the Great Hyperspace War against the Sith...a war that took place 5,000 years ago. Relin and his Padawan are shadowing a Sith ship, looking for intelligence that will tip the next battle. Kemp entwines the stories of Jaden and Relin skillfully, creating characters that you care about instantly.One thing I really like about this book is it doesn't have any big-names in the EU - there's no Luke, Leia, or Han. I had no clue who was going to live or die, and I loved it. Kemp's Jedi aren't goody two shoes who know everything, but instead are real people, questioning their place and purpose, balancing on the fine line between light and dark. They are supported by a grimy cast of characters: two junk scavengers and an Anzat villain. I liked Khedryn and Marr, the scavengers, just as much as the major characters of the novel, and hope to see more of them in the future. For me, I often enjoy the minor, normal people of the Star Wars EU, and Kemp gives a great picture of some mostly normal guys trying to make a mostly legal living who are drawn into a dangerous situation by Jedi. If you've been disillusioned by recent Star Wars EU novels, I encourage you to try "Crosscurrent." Kemp brought back some of the magic that has been missing for me in recent SW novels, and I know that "Crosscurrent" will be a book I reread with enjoyment. I cannot wait for his next EU book! 5/5.
Wicked Lovely

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Wicked Lovely, by Melissa MarrWow! I had read Marr's second novel, "Ink Exchange," before reading "Wicked Lovely." I wasn't impressed by "Ink Exchange," but I was curious about the world Marr created, so decided to give her first book a shot. And boy, am I glad I did. This is one book I can see rereading often. The first page caught my attention, and I couldn't put the book down until I'd finished. Aislinn, the main character, is a girl who can see faeries. It's this ability that has ruled her life: if the fey know she can see them, her life would be in danger. So she walks through life ignoring the presence of faeries on every street, in the parks, in stores, etc., learning to control her fear without showing it. I really liked Aislinn, she's an interesting, strong character, and Marr doles out her backstory temptingly slowly. Keenan is the Summer King, a summer faery who has searched centuries for his queen. His mother, the Winter Queen, bound Keenan's powers at birth, so that he couldn't overpower her in a court power play. In Marr's world, there are several courts of faeries, each with their own powers and weaknesses. For example, the Summer court fey are passionate, but prone to volatile moods. Keenan and his mother play a deadly game, trapping mortals in the courts as he searches for his true queen. Information about the fey is doled out as necessary, filling in gaps without dumping huge pieces of exposition. Marr's fey are not always pretty, and not always goodness and sunshine; I really like the darkness of the courts and am happy she went in that direction. Most of "Wicked Lovely" deals with Keenan trying to seduce Aislinn, because he believes she is his queen, and will help him restore the balance between summer and winter. But Aislinn isn't an easy target, and she alone of all of Keenan's hunted girls can see him and knows what he really is. But far from being a sappy love story, "Wicked Lovely" lets Aislinn make her own path, in a dark, fantastical world. As I said above, "Wicked Lovely" will be a book I reread often. Marr really shines in this book, creating some memorable characters, funny moments, and dark, gritty scenes. I'm looking forward to more stories of Aislinn and Keenan.5/5.
Wicked Lovely

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Wicked Lovely, by Melissa MarrWow! I had read Marr's second novel, "Ink Exchange," before reading "Wicked Lovely." I wasn't impressed by "Ink Exchange," but I was curious about the world Marr created, so decided to give her first book a shot. And boy, am I glad I did. This is one book I can see rereading often. The first page caught my attention, and I couldn't put the book down until I'd finished. Aislinn, the main character, is a girl who can see faeries. It's this ability that has ruled her life: if the fey know she can see them, her life would be in danger. So she walks through life ignoring the presence of faeries on every street, in the parks, in stores, etc., learning to control her fear without showing it. I really liked Aislinn, she's an interesting, strong character, and Marr doles out her backstory temptingly slowly. Keenan is the Summer King, a summer faery who has searched centuries for his queen. His mother, the Winter Queen, bound Keenan's powers at birth, so that he couldn't overpower her in a court power play. In Marr's world, there are several courts of faeries, each with their own powers and weaknesses. For example, the Summer court fey are passionate, but prone to volatile moods. Keenan and his mother play a deadly game, trapping mortals in the courts as he searches for his true queen. Information about the fey is doled out as necessary, filling in gaps without dumping huge pieces of exposition. Marr's fey are not always pretty, and not always goodness and sunshine; I really like the darkness of the courts and am happy she went in that direction. Most of "Wicked Lovely" deals with Keenan trying to seduce Aislinn, because he believes she is his queen, and will help him restore the balance between summer and winter. But Aislinn isn't an easy target, and she alone of all of Keenan's hunted girls can see him and knows what he really is. But far from being a sappy love story, "Wicked Lovely" lets Aislinn make her own path, in a dark, fantastical world. As I said above, "Wicked Lovely" will be a book I reread often. Marr really shines in this book, creating some memorable characters, funny moments, and dark, gritty scenes. I'm looking forward to more stories of Aislinn and Keenan.5/5.
Warcraft: War of the Ancients #1: The Well of Eternity: The Well of Eternity

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Warcraft, War of the Ancients #1: The Well of Eternity, by Richard A. Knaak"The Well of Eternity" is the first in a trilogy of books based on the bestselling game series World of Warcraft. It's a fun and informative read for fans of the game - you see plenty of game characters fleshed out, and by the end of the first book you'll know them better. The book starts a little slow, setting up the main characters and settings, but quickly picks up pace. Krasus, a dragon who spends much of his time in the guise of a human figure, and Rhonin, a mage of Dalaran, are thrust into the distant past. There they meet Malfurion Stormrage, the first druid of the night elf race. Krasus and Rhonin arrive at a time when the Burning Legion is reaching its claws into the world, intent on perverting Azeroth and "cleansing" it of all life. Krasus and Rhonin run into the classic paradox of time travel - if they mess with the events of the past, will they affect their own future? But when faced with their own destruction, the two inevitably join the war effort of the night elves in an attempt to save Azeroth so that there can be a future..."The Well of Eternity" is clearly meant for fans of Blizzard's epic game, but I think that people unfamiliar with the game would enjoy it as well. Knaak gives enough background information so that someone unfamiliar with the world would quickly gain familiarity; in doing so, he also expands nicely on the lore for Warcraft fans. I find this book a good read - it's enjoyable fantasy, and one I reread every year or so. There's plenty of action, magic, and lore, which is a good combination. 4/5.
Dynasty of Evil: Star Wars Legends (Darth Bane): A Novel of the Old Republic

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Star Wars: Darth Bane #3: Dynasty of Evil, by Drew Karpyshyn"Dynasty of Evil" is, in my opinion, the best book in the Darth Bane series. This book picks up the story of Bane and his apprentice, Zannah, about a decade after the previous book. Bane is highly disappointed in Zannah because she has not yet followed his Rule of Two by challenging and beating him for the role of Sith Master. He believes that she is biding her time until he weakens from age, and this goes against his beliefs - if Zannah ousts him from his position by waiting, she will not be strong enough to continue the Sith order. And then everything Bane has worked for will fall. But what is Bane to do? He is aging faster than normal due to his use of the Dark Side and his ordeal with orbalisk armor, and doesn't have the time left in his life to train another apprentice. Then, in an ancient scroll, he finds mention of Darth Andeddu, a Sith who discovered a way to extend his life indefinitely. This is Bane's answer - if he can find Andeddu's Holocron, his Sith Order will survive. However, Bane can't set off to find the Holocron without sending Zannah away as well, to divert her attention from him. Although Zannah hasn't yet challenged him, Bane isn't sure who would survive in a fight between the two; he can't risk dying before finding the secret of immortality. So he sends his apprentice to Doan, an insignificant mining planet, and also the site of a Jedi's murder. On Doan Zannah finds the trail of a Dark Jedi, one who she believes could have the potential to be her own apprentice. It's best to read the other two Darth Bane novels before "Dynasty of Evil," as Karpyshyn brings back characters from the first novel, "Path of Destruction," and winds them into a twisting plot. His writing is the best it's been yet, with the exception of a few passages that needed better proofreading. At first I couldn't believe the coincidences of so many characters meeting again, but as the novel went on, I understood how it all worked in a bigger context, and I wasn't in disbelief anymore. I rushed through this book, eager to see how everything would end, and continued until I finished it (even though I had a pretty bad headache). "Dynasty of Evil" kept my attention from beginning to end, and as I said in the beginning, I think this is the best Darth Bane book. Karpyshyn keeps the plot just unpredictable enough that you're unsure who will be victorious, and the ending is a surprise. 5/5.
Leadership: Achieving Life-Changing Success from Within

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The White Queen, by Philippa GregoryBefore reading "The White Queen," all I knew of this period of history was the name of the war, the War of the Roses. Gregory has done a good job in bringing the events around the Cousins' War to life, told primarily from the point of view of Edward of York's wife, Elizabeth. After finishing "The White Queen," I'm inspired to check out some of the books in the bibliography so that I can learn more about the Houses of York and Lancaster. The book is pretty solid. The first person point of view lets the reader get a real feel for Elizabeth, and her and Edward's struggles to keep the throne on England. Her concern for her family and her children is clear, and the reader gets to see her thought processes on keeping them as safe and powerful as possible. The value of sons in that period is evident, as much of Elizabeth's focus is on her two sons - her multiple daughters, except the oldest, are barely mentioned. Gregory entwines the myth of Melusina, a water goddess, with Elizabeth's story. Supposedly descended from the goddess, Elizabeth sometimes uses magic or curses as a way to aide her family and herself. It's an interesting concept, especially since Elizabeth was accused of being a witch, but I think it's used too much. I got a little sick of it after what felt like the 10th time. Also, sometimes the author switched from first person to third person to describe some of the battles, and this was a little jarring because there was no clear transition. I did like Gregory's theory on the princes in the tower; a mystery that has confused historians for centuries. I don't want to spoil it, but I think it's a very plausible theory. Overall I enjoyed "The White Queen," but I don't think it's Gregory's best book. But she did interest me enough that I will pick up the next volume, particularly since this one ended in a cliffhanger. And she did interest me enough in the subject matter for me to do other reading, which I attest to her good storytelling skills. 3/5.
You've Come a Long Way, Maybe: Sarah, Michelle, Hillary, and the Shaping of the New American Woman

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You've Come A Long Way, Maybe, by Leslie SanchezI found this book quite interesting, as when I watched election coverage in 2008, I was struck by the unfairness of the media toward Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin. I enjoyed Sanchez's conversational but informational style as she posed questions, observations, and made conclusions based on polling data, interviews, and opinions. The author asks the important question of where the first female president will come from, what her background and political experience will be, what her family will consist of. In trying to answer these questions, she compares the backgrounds of Clinton and Palin. Sanchez also looks at how their campaigns were run, and how that impacted the female vote for each candidate (as well as other demographics). I was most surprised to learn that some of the most insulting or vocal coverage of the female candidates came from *other* females. Sanchez considers the "Mean Girls" factor, and believes that one of the most important lessons all women need to learn is how to fend for themselves in a world where social bullying is a huge problem. It's an interesting proposition, and one I wouldn't have thought of without reading this book. "You've Come A Long Way, Maybe," sparked some good debates in my house as we considered the questions posed by Sanchez, and looked back at the 2008 election coverage. 4/5.
Two to the Fifth

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Xanth #32: Two to the Fifth, by Piers AnthonyI've been reading a lot of Xanth novels lately, and "Two to the Fifth" is the only one I've really enjoyed after reading a few other lackluster installments in the fantasy series. I do have one big complaint about this book, and that is Anthony violates his own "Adult Conspiracy" and has a 12 year old girl (Princess Rhythm) have a relationship with an adult male. The relationship isn't a little thing either; it's thrown in the reader's face quite often and is a big plot point. It irritated me somewhat, and I was sick of being reminded of their relationship over and over. Anthony seems to be turning into something of a pervert, and while it's a bit refreshing to have him move beyond the oppressive "Adult Conspiracy," doing it in this way wasn't the best.Well, enough harping on that. Because once you get over that point, you'll be reading one of the better Xanth novels in recent years. Cyrus Cyborg goes to see the Good Magician and learns his life's desire - to be a playwright. His Service for the Answer is to rescue Xanth from the clutches of an evil roc who is intent on taking over the magic land. Cyrus and his troupe are the only ones who can defeat Ragna Roc. A nicely large part of the book details the troupe's formation and evolution into a talented acting company. I really liked Anthony's take on writer's block - instead of keeping one from writing, in Xanth, one *needs* a writer's block, complete with a muse inside to inspire the writer. The plays Cyrus creates are fun as well. All in all, a good Xanth book with just one big stumbling block, but at least Anthony does clean things up at the end. A little too neatly for real life, but then again, Xanth is a land of fantasy. And for once, there isn't an overabundance of puns, which was a real plus for me. 3/5.
Thirst No. 1: The Last Vampire, Black Blood, Red Dice

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Note: This review is a combination of my reviews for the first three books in "The Last Vampire" series, the books contained in "Thirst No. 1." ===The Last Vampire #1, by Christopher PikeWith the recent popularity of young adult series such as Twilight, Vampire Academy, and The House of Night, some older vampire series are being republished. One such series is The Last Vampire, by Christopher Pike, first published in 1994. "The Last Vampire" kicks off a six book series about Sita, who is the last vampire left on earth. Reborn more than five thousand years ago, she has mostly stayed out of the spotlight, content to observe events and live history. Always careful to conceal the truth of what she is, everything's about to change for her when the original vampire, Yaksha, comes calling. Pike writes an entertaining story, creating a character that is intriguing. Sita smashes most of the myths of vampires - she can tolerate sunlight, cross running water, can't command packs of wolves, etc. She is incredibly beautiful, intelligent, strong, and wealthy. Pike has Sita tell us many of these things though, showing most character development through narration and not action. Sita is pretty much an unstoppable force, powerful in just about every way...her only faults are impatience and underestimation. The action in "The Last Vampire" is fast-paced and constantly moving. Pike weaves chapters of Sita's modern life with snapshots from her past, including information on how his vampires came about. Sita hails from ancient India, from 3000 B.C., and Pike has a new twist on the vampire myth."The Last Vampire" is a quick read, one that will keep you turning the pages until you're finished. The length, fortunately, won't keep you up all night. Sita is an interesting character who may seem a little too much like Superwoman, but hey, she is a vampire after all and Pike doesn't pull punches when making her powerful. The writing is straightforward, with some witty sentences that will stick in your mind. The characterization is also spot on - Sita was changed in her twenties, and sometimes she's very mercurial in her emotions, but she also has the wisdom of her five thousand years. I'm happy to see this series available again, it was one of my favorites when I was younger. Pike's Sita is one of the first vampires I can really remember reading about, and for a few years she really kept my attention; I reread the series, especially this first book, often as a teen. So it's nice to be able to buy it and add it to my bookshelves. 4/5.===The Last Vampire #2: Black Blood, by Christopher Pike"Black Blood" picks up six weeks after the events of "The Last Vampire." Weakened by a stake wound to her chest, Sita has spent the time recuperating. She and Ray, whom she changed into a vampire to save his life, are together. Sita believes Ray is her husband reincarnated, her true love brought back to her after five thousand years. But their bliss is about to be interrupted, when she suspects that there is another vampire embarking on a murderous rampage in Los Angeles. Sita and Ray imagine themselves the last vampires, after the death of Sita's creator, Yaksha. But if they are, who are the killers in L.A.? Sita heads into the city to investigate, quickly running into the worst nightmare she could imagine in all her long years...a psychotic vampire. In contrast to the typical stereotype, Sita is the powerhouse and Ray is her wimpy backup. He's somewhat whiny and not very thrilled about being a vampire (he won't drink blood for example), while Sita is as ruthless or as loving as the situation dictates. She lives very in the moment, doing what she believes is necessary to protect humanity. I find that you can read these books on two levels. One for young adults - it's simply a damn good vampire story. Two for adults - as I reread these books, about a decade after I first read them, the threads and themes that Pike writes about astonish me. He covers loneliness, disease, religion, and more, in an intriguing way. I greatly enjoy his merging of the vampire "story" with Krishna and Hinduism. Sita even gets some of her tactics from parables and dreams. As with the first book in the series, the action in "Black Blood" is very fast, I think the entire novel covers a period of less than a week. It fits in a way though; Sita's so powerful it's hard to believe it would take her less than a week to defeat the other vampire. The writing matches the action - straightforward and quick, sometimes leaving you wanting more. 3/5. ===The Last Vampire #3: Red Dice, by Christopher PikeAt the start of this book, Sita wakes up next to Joel, an F.B.I. agent she was forced to change to save his life. In doing so, she broke the vow she made to Krishna more than five thousand years ago, and she wonders if doing so has damned her. The action starts off just a little too fast in "Red Dice." In the previous book, "Black Blood," Sita had been on the track of a psychotic vampire who left a bloodbath in the streets of Los Angeles. His actions attracted quite a large following of police and F.B.I. agents. Joel had been caught in the crossfire of events. The two wake up in the vampire's house, a day after the events of "Black Blood." They are immediately captured by the government, thus launching Sita on an incredible chase through the streets and skies of L.A. in an attempt to escape. The chase was just too unbelievable to me, and that feeling bled into the rest of the book. Although Sita tries her best, she is unable to save Joel from capture. He is trucked away to a secret facility outside of Las Vegas, a base loaded with nuclear weapons. Fearing what experiments could reveal into the secrets of vampire blood, Sita knows she must rescue Joel before the scientists can get their needles into him. As I wrote above, "Red Dice" started off feeling too unbelievable for me. Yes, I know this is fiction, and vampire fiction at that, but when the book starts off with the first 40 or 50 pages setting an unrealistic tone, it stays in my mind; and the book ends the same way. So for the rest of the book the action felt too quick, too rushed, too contrived. The timeline of this book feels very speedy as well. Even the addition of some interesting alchemy concepts doesn't help much. This is one of the weaker books in the series in my opinion. 2/5.
Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women

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Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women, by Harriet Reisen"Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women" is a fascinating biography into the life of the author of the classic "Little Women," and also an in-depth look at her family. Reisen provides an extremely complete picture of Louisa's unusual childhood, and how it influenced her later publications. The beginning of the book focuses on her father, Bronson Alcott, an unusual man for his time; he was one of the early Transcendentalists, and counted Emerson and Thoreau among his friends. Bronson focused on philosophy, experimental teaching, and lecturing rather than supporting his family; the Alcotts moved over twenty times while Louisa was a child. Often a wild, unruly child, Louisa had a rocky relationship with her father, but was a mini clone of her mother. It was Abby Alcott, Louisa's mother, who encouraged her to write as a way to express her feelings. Well aware of her family's financial troubles as a child, Louisa's goal as an adult was to fully support her family, while trying to have a measure of independence for herself. Her start in writing came after publishing a book of children's stories, and indeed, her most successful novels would be written for youngsters. But Reisen explains to readers that Louisa wrote thrillers under pseudonyms, and they were rather popular - and likely her preferred format. Louisa would strive all of her adult life to write one great novel that she could be proud of, and never thought "Little Women" was that book, even though it was her biggest cashcow. And with Louisa's drive to earn earn earn, money was often the deciding factor in what she wrote. Louisa is a tragic figure: she spent her entire life being pushed one way or another, feeling obligated to help family and friends at the expense of her own personal life. She literally wore herself out and died at the relatively young age of 55. She took care of her sisters, mother, father, and friends; and even when she was fully supported by her writing, she never really got to enjoy the fruit of her labor. Reisen paints an interesting and educational picture of Louisa's life. While remembered mainly for "Little Women," Louisa was so much more than just a children's author. She was a feminist, an abolitionist, a poet, a Civil War nurse, philanthropist, and so on. I learned so much while reading this book, and not just about Louisa, but also about the Transcendentalists and the Civil War era. And while it could be easy to fall into hero worship, Reisen is careful to point out the flaws in Louisa's character, penning a realistic image. The biography starts out a little slow, but if you give it a chance for a few chapters, I think you'll be pulled into a wonderful tale. Reisen makes use of abundant source material, including many quotes from Louisa's journals and poetry, but weaves them seamlessly into the narrative. I learned a lot, and had an enjoyable time doing so. 4/5.
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