Front Lines… Edited by Denise Little

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Front Lines

Edited by Denise Little

Published By: DAW Books, Inc.: A Member of Penguin Group (USA)


Good Pick for Fans of Speculative Fiction

Reviewed by Vicky Burkholder
on 12/21/2008

I said in an earlier review of a different anthology that reviewing an anthology of short stories has to be one of the hardest things a reviewer can do, especially if the stories are all written by different authors. My previous statement still holds true. Some of the authors in this anthology include Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Laura Resnick, Jody Lynn Nye, Jim Fiscus, J. Steven York.

In this book, we are given twenty-one different stories by different authors but with one theme uniting them all – in this case, being on the front lines in a war, whether against human, pixie, or “thing” and settings are all over the universe, from the intergalactic to a little boy’s backyard. According to the introduction, “this book isn’t about…what it means as a society to fight a war….it’s all about the life of the people on the front lines of battle.” What I find interesting about the book, is that more than half the writers are women. Surely a unique perspective in a hard science fiction book. The stories are thought provoking, funny, poignant, and sad. Everything an anthology should be.

Like all anthologies, there were some stories I liked, some I didn’t care much for, but not because of the writing. Each story is well crafted and well-written. Overall, the tales were very good.

If you don’t have a lot of time to invest in reading, anthologies are a good place to go. Each story is complete and is good for a quick read when you don’t have time for a novel. I recommend this one for anyone interested in speculative fiction from the perspective of someone on the “Front Lines”.

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Arrow’s Flight… by Mercedes Lackey

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Arrow’s Flight

(The Heralds of Valdemar, Book 2)
by Mercedes Lackey

Published By: DAW Books, Inc.: A Member of Penguin Group (USA)
ISBN-10: 0886773776


Disappointing

Reviewed by Christina Wantz Fixemer
on 10/01/2008

Talia has earned her Herald whites (see ARROWS OF THE QUEEN) and is ready to embark upon her eighteen-month internship with Kris, her mentor. Together, they are to ride through their assigned sector to settle disputes and perform other duties as Heralds.

The circuit is in trouble from the start, however, as Talia learns of rumors that she has abused her powerful empathic Gift. With her fragile confidence shattered, her Gift gets out of hand. She must regain control, or she’ll be a danger to everyone around her.

Talia must successfully complete her internship. The Queen and many, many others are depending on it. Can Talia finish the year and half without driving herself, and her mentor, insane?

I was disappointed with this novel. The first one was enjoyable, so I was eager to dive in to this, the second installment of The Heralds of Valdemar. Unfortunately, the main conflict in this novel was over the lack of control over Talia’s Gift. She didn’t talk about it with her mentor until it was almost too late. The slow degradation of her abilities over many, many months was painful and repetitive to read. For being a smart character, she didn’t act with much intelligence in that regard. One might argue that this lack of communication was due to her long-standing poor self-esteem, but that excuse only goes so far.

One of my pet peeves is when the author expects the reader to swallow a series of misunderstandings that should never have gone beyond the first few scenes. It feels like a deliberate machination on the author’s part. If the author feels the need to use this to make the story fit their idea of the plot, then there’s a fundamental flaw in the plan. The author should figure out how to work with the conflict without using tenth-grade tricks.

Another thing that annoyed me about this novel is that there were events that seemed important to the story and weren’t included. By this, I’m referring to a visit Talia took to her family of birth and was basically turned away. This event was mentioned in passing, but I never saw it happen. The rejection by Talia’s family is a critical key to the formation of her as a character, and it needed to be in the book. Whether Lackey didn’t feel the need to write this event or whether the editors chopped it to save on page count, I feel it was a mistake.

After all that, it probably sounds like I hated this novel. In fact, I liked it well enough to finish it in less than a day. These two major issues, however, made it difficult for me to enjoy this book to its potential.

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Arrows of the Queen… by Mercedes Lackey

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Arrows of the Queen

(The Heralds of Valdemar, Book 1)
by Mercedes Lackey

Published By: DAW Books, Inc.: A Member of Penguin Group (USA)
ISBN-10: 0886773784


Good, but not Spectacular

Reviewed by Christina Wantz Fixemer
on 10/01/2008

Talia would rather die than be wed at the age of thirteen. When she tells her father’s wives that she wants to be a Herald, to be Chosen by the mystical equine Companions, the women are horrified. To Talia’s complete shock, she is found that very day not only by a Companion, but by the most important Companion in the land.

Chosen to be the Queen’s Own Herald by the Companion Rolan, Talia is overwhelmed by a world completely different from oppressive Holder life. Responsibilities far beyond those she imagined are now hers. As Queen’s Own, she is to be the Queen’s confidant. Her far more difficult task is to help reform “the Brat,” the presumed Heir to Valdemar. Certain parties don’t want the Brat to ascend to the throne and will go to extreme measure to see Talia fail. Clearly, there is more going on than young Talia can fathom.

This is the first novel of Mercedes Lackey’s “The Heralds of Valdemar.” She has built a highly detailed and complex world in which readers can be lost for hours. The characters are deep and scenery richly painted.

In this introductory novel, I was pulled in and sucked through to the end. It seems like some scenes may have been cut out to make a page count. This isn’t as big an issue as it is in the next two novels (ARROW’S FLIGHT and ARROW’S FALL), but it may bother the readers who are more particular about such things.

Overall, I recommend it as a good, but not spectacular, fantasy read.

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Vamps… by Nancy A. Collins

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Vamps

by Nancy A. Collins

Published By: HarperTeen: An Imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers
ISBN-13: 978-0061349171


Lukewarm Teen Vampire Drama

Reviewed by Christina Wantz Fixemer
on 10/01/2008

Lilith is the New York vampire underworld’s queen bee. Young, filthy rich, and still flame resistant, she lives for high-end labels and adoring lackeys. Other Old Blood vampire girls are expected to bow to Lilith’s whims at Bathory Academy, the prestigious school where hunting prey and shapeshifting are core classes.

So when a night spent “slumming” in Central Park results in the death of Lilith’s right-hand vamp—no thanks to a trashy New Blood—things start to change. That nasty New Blood suddenly shows up as Bathory’s newest student. Lilith sees her as a threat, not just on the social scene, but also with her boyfriend, Jules.

Cally couldn’t detest the idea of Bathory Academy more if you paid her. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have a choice. What’s worse is that Old Blood brat, Lilith, blames Cally for something that wasn’t even her fault. Why can’t Lilith just leave her alone? Then there’s that vampire hunter guy who can’t seem to leave Cally alone, either…

Nancy Collins’s new novel, VAMPS, is an interesting take on the vampire subgenre. Take one part “Beverly Hills 90210,” one part “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and throw in a dash of “Sex in the City,” and you have a New York vampire buffet with plenty of teen angst.

The writing is solid, but the characters are mostly shallow. Cally shows the most depth with her secret history and personal code. Lilith is clearly the “bad girl” here, but she is so utterly shallow that I couldn’t respect her even as a villain. This is epitomized in the scene where she’s more concerned about her father cancelling her credit cards than about the death of her supposed friend. Many of the things she does or tries to do to Cally are cliché, especially when it comes to her obsessive attitude toward her boyfriend, to whom she’s been “promised.”

There are twists and turns enough to keep a reader’s interest. If you can get past the unbelievably shallow Lilith and a handful of clichés, you’re likely to enjoy this novel. Otherwise, I’d look to other paranormal choices.

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Geek Chic: The Zoey Zone… by Margie Palatini

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Geek Chic: The Zoey Zone
by Margie Palatini

Published By: Katherine Tegen Books: An Imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers
ISBN-13: 978-0061138980


How Cool is Chic?
Reviewed by Christina Wantz Fixemer
on 09/22/2008

Zoey Zinevich is almost-but-not-quite eleven years old. It’s less than 200 days until sixth grade, which means it’s less than 200 days to get molto chic. If she isn’t by the time sixth grade starts, she will never be cool! That’s what Venus’s (read: Zoey’s magnifico best friend) sister says.

It seems like nothing Zoey and Venus do can get the other kids—especially the Bashleys—to admit they’re cool. What’s not cool about catching bullfrogs, or bowling shirts with fedoras, or owl pellets? Zoey’s only hope lies in getting a fairy godmother. It worked for Cinderella! So what if other ten-almost-eleven-year-old-double-digit kids don’t believe in that kind of stuff anymore?!

This is a very creative middle-grade novel that deals with the preteen’s most pressing concern: coolness. Author Margie Palatini enters into Zoey’s story with great intentions and a sense of offbeat style. Unfortunately, there’s a little too much style. Literally. There are so many font styles and embedded sketches that the pages—just as literally—made my head hurt worse than it already was. The pages are so busy that the reader’s eye jumps helter skelter all over the place. It distracts from the story.

The story is full of heart. It speaks to the basic need for most American preteen girls to fit in with the popular crowd. Zoey is a free spirit who can’t be leashed, and this will become quite apparent, especially toward the end.

The end of the story is one that parents will appreciate, even if it’s a touch unrealistic. Even though the pages are visually busy, I recommend this for all preteen girls.

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Paper Towns… by John Green

Paper Towns
by John Green

Published By: Dutton Books: A member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
ISBN-13: 978-0525478188


This Paper Burns with Soul
Reviewed by Christina Wantz Fixemer
on 09/20/2008

Margo Roth Spiegelman is a name you say in one breath. Just ask Quentin. Q has watched her grow up, the literal girl next door. When she shows up at his window late one night, he’s swept through the next few hours on an adventure such as he’s never experienced. Still in the thrall of overnight hijinks, he goes to school to learn that Margo has disappeared.

With his friends Ben and Radar, Q desperately works to solve the mystery that is Margo Roth Spiegelman. Her cryptic trail of clues has Q crisscrossing central Florida. His friends say she’ll show up at graduation, but he’s not so sure. He doesn’t care about prom or graduation. He just wants to find Margo before it’s too late.

Author John Green knows how to see into the souls of teens on the cusp of adulthood. There is a lot of Young Adult fiction that sees teens just as kids who need to be entertained. Green sees beyond the surface and creates situations that delve into readers hearts—whether they are eighteen years old or thirty or fifty.

Green waxes philosophical fairly often, but it works. There is enough “normal” teen behavior to balance the spurts of deep thinking. Besides the intellect behind the book, Green does a great job of setting each scene. Readers will find each of their senses engaged, pulling them into Q’s life.

Lest readers think I’m all aglow about PAPER TOWNS, it is worth noting that there is a lot of swearing and frequent references to sex and teen drinking. This novel could be used as one of those “teaching moments” professionals like to talk about. Quite frankly, a lot of the behavior in this book is common, so it would be a good chance to talk about it and let kids and parents air out how they feel about these issues, as well as the overall plot of the book.

This is one that will make people see others around them with fresh eyes. I highly recommend this novel for older teens and up.

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Who Lives in the Rainforest?… by Nora Pelizzari

Who Lives in the Rainforest?
by Nora Pelizzari

Published By: HarperCollinsPublishers
ISBN-13: 978-0064117709


Nice Little Book
Reviewed by Christina Wantz Fixemer
on 09/20/2008

This little book is very colorful with a bit of a puzzle feel. Children are asked to find an animal in the jungle, which is drawn in bright greens, oranges, yellows, and reds. The animals hide behind flaps. When they’re found, the child sees an uncluttered picture, with a labeled, smaller picture on the reverse of the flap.

The flaps in this board book seem sturdier than average, but I am still concerned about small kids pulling them off. For flap books, I tend to recommend them for preschoolers rather than babies–although flaps often don’t survive three years olds either!

Cute and educational, this is a nice little book for your child’s library.

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