Saturday, March 31, 2018

Book Review: Heart of the Sun, by Pamela Sargent & George Zebrowski

Heart of the Sun
(Star Trek, The Original Series, Book 83)
Pamela Sargent & George Zebrowski
Mass Market Paperback, 
245 pages
Pocket Books, First Edition, 
Nov. 1, 1997
Star Trek TOS, Science Fiction
Source: Barnes & Noble Bookstore

Synopsis: When an abandoned space habitat is found within a distant asteroid belt, the Starship Enterprise is sent to investigate. Captain Kirk and his crew discover an artificial world full of technological marvels – and unexpected dangers. But wonder and curiosity soon give way to fear when the habitat suddenly sends itself on a collision course with the system's sun, with Spock inside! Now Kirk and crew must find a way to save a planet, and a friend, without destroying the treasure trove of alien science, and time is running out...

Overall, this was a fairly satisfying read. I do have some quibbles, though..... 

I can't deny that the characters were spot on! Spock's usual demeanor elicits Kirk's good-natured humor, while McCoy gets in his usual digs at Spock. Scotty, of course, mentions that machines can get "ill", just as people can. Uhura is her usual calm, observant self. I felt as if I were actually watching a Star Trek episode from the original series!

What this book's synopsis fails to mention is that the Enterprise is already en route to a diplomatic mission on the planet Tyrtaeus II when they come across what at first appears to be a meteor, on a direct line to the system's sun. Spock is immediately interested in getting a closer look, but, since they are already on a mission, any investigation must be postponed until that mission has been completed. 

This was the part of the novel I liked the least, as it was rather slow-paced. The mission consists of helping the Tyrtaeans to restore some lost data to their planetary computer database. What made this mission a bit unpleasant and tedious -- both to this reader as well as the Enterprise crew -- was the Tyrtaeans' notorious isolationist tendencies. Originally from Earth, they prefer to remain as independent as possible from any outside "interference". They are, in fact, reluctant members of the Federation. 

Some new characters were introduced here, such as Aristocles Marcelli and Myra Coles, who govern the planet together, and Wellesley Warren, Myra's assistant. They're not very interesting people, though, nor is their civilization, which strikes the Enterprise crew as rather bland and boring. I heartily agree! The interactions between Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and these people are not without some conflict, however, as the Tyrtaeans  insist on investigating the meteor -- which turns out to be a space habitat -- right along with the Enterprise. Kirk initially refuses to allow them to participate, as they are civilians, but then reluctantly gives in, taking Myra and Wellesley on board the starship. 

As a very assertive woman, Myra attempts to include her suggestions and ideas in the investigation. Besides, she is very concerned about the effect this space habitat's trajectory toward the sun might have on her planet. I can't say that I blame her for feeling this way, but she did get a bit annoying at times. I did not like her constant complaints and accusations, which were always directed at Kirk. To his credit, Kirk remained courteous and very patient toward her, but it wasn't easy for him.

As for Aristocles, he was just intolerably narrow-minded and unpleasant, and I was VERY glad that he never joined Myra and Wellesley on board the Enterprise! Whenever he appeared in the narrative, I couldn't help curling up my upper lip in disgust. Lol. In fact, he strongly reminded me of the SUPREMELY irritating Nilz Baris (played by character actor William Schallert), the Federation Secretary of Agricultural Affairs, from the HILARIOUS 1967 Star Trek episode, "The Trouble with Tribbles". I guess the authors might have been trying for some comic relief here. Lol.

The rest of the novel deals with the investigation of the space habitat, which turns out to be of alien construction. It is indeed headed straight toward the system's sun. Although Kirk orders Scotty to use phasers and even a tractor beam in order to divert its course, nothing seems to affect the artifact, so they must board it in order to find out if there's a way to prevent its certain collision with the sun. They also intend to warn whoever might be aboard, as they seem unaware of the danger involved.

What Kirk and company discover does make for some fascinating reading, as nothing is as they had feared. In the process, they discover a virtual reality that is totally alien to them. And they discover the aliens themselves.

Although I did find this novel interesting and intriguing, for the most part, I thought the pacing was not only a bit slow in the beginning, as I have already mentioned, but also when the actual investigation of the habitat began. I would have wanted a more detailed description of the aliens' virtual reality. There's a reason they constructed this reality, which the authors do mention, but I wanted MORE. There could have been more details about the alien culture, more interactions between them and our heroes. True, these aliens were of an even more isolationist disposition than the Tyrtaesns, but still.

This novel is definitely very well-written. The authors have certainly captured the "feel" of the original Star Trek episodes. I just wish they had expanded on the concept of the alien culture, and created more conflict with the inhabitants of that culture. The pacing could have been faster. More action was needed. True, there was some conflict with the Tyrtaeans, but these people were descendants of Earth colonists, so I found these interactions less interesting. The aliens in the space habitat, on the other hand, were TOTALLY alien.

In short, this novel fell a little flat for me. I would still recommend it as an entertaining read for the diehard Star Trek TOS fan (like me!). Just don't expect this to be a totally riveting story.


About the Authors

Pamela Sargent has won the Nebula Award, the Locus Award, and has been a finalist for the Hugo Award, the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, and the Sidewise Award for Alternate History. In 2012, she was honored with the Pilgrim Award by the Science Fiction Research Association for lifetime achievement in science fiction scholarship. She is the author of the novels Cloned Lives, The Sudden Star, Watchstar, and several others.  The Washington Post Book World has called her “one of the genre's best writers.”

In the 1970s, she edited the Women of Wonder series, the first collections of science fiction by women; her other anthologies include Bio-Futures and, with British writer Ian Watson as co-editor, Afterlives. Two anthologies, Women of Wonder, The Classic Years: Science Fiction by Women from the 1940s to the 1970s and Women of Wonder, The Contemporary Years: Science Fiction by Women from the 1970s to the 1990s, were published by Harcourt Brace in 1995; Publishers Weekly called these two books “essential reading for any serious SF fan.” Her most recent anthology is Conqueror Fantastic, out from DAW Books in 2004. Tor Books reissued her 1983 young adult novel Earthseed, selected as a Best Book for Young Adults by the American Library Association, and a sequel, Farseed, in early 2007. A third volume, Seed Seeker, was published in November of 2010 by Tor. Earthseed has been optioned by Paramount Pictures, with Melissa Rosenberg, scriptwriter for all of the Twilight films, writing the script and producing through her Tall Girls Productions.

The Shore of Women has been optioned for development as a TV series by Super Deluxe Films, part of Turner Broadcasting.

Pamela Sargent lives in Albany, New York, with
fellow SF author George Zebrowski.

George Zebrowski is an SF author and editor who has written and edited a number of books, and is a former editor of The Bulletin of the Science Fiction Writers of America. He lives with author Pamela Sargent, with whom he has co-written a number of novels, including Star Trek novels.

Zebrowski won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award in 1999 for his novel Brute Orbits. Three of his short stories, "Heathen God," "The Eichmann Variations," and "Wound the Wind," have been nominated for the Nebula Award, and "The Idea Trap" was nominated for the Theodore Sturgeon Award.

Shelf Candy Saturday No. 246: The Wizard's Ward, by Deborah Hale

Welcome to Shelf Candy Saturday!

This is my weekly feature
showcasing beautiful covers!
It also provides information, 
if available, on their 
very talented creators!

Here's my choice for this week!

The Wizard's Ward
(Umbria, Book 1)
Deborah Hale
Mass Market Paperback, 464  pages
July 1, 2005
Fantasy, Romance

My Thoughts About This Cover

This beautiful, evocative cover reminded me of the legends of King Arthur as soon as I laid eyes on it! This scene is very poetic, with a touch of mysticism in it, as well.  The young woman is apparently waiting for someone, as she sits, listening intently, inside her canoe. I can almost hear the sounds of the forest surrounding her..... In the distance, a strange, rather gloomy-looking castle looms, apparently sitting on a cloud bank. The young woman is in the middle of a forest, and, paradoxically, seems to be in soft daylight, although it doesn't really look like daylight. It might be late afternoon. The castle, too, appears to be in daylight.

Lovely as this scene is, it's even more so because of the beautiful title, which is set in a bar running across the cover, and is enhanced by the lovely embellishments on the letter "W". Titles don't always add to a cover's appeal, but this one certainly does! It actually makes this cover even more enchanting than it already is, and that's because of the fairy-like look of that embellished letter, as well as of the young woman herself.

The colors used here are soft and muted, which also contributes to the cover's magical atmosphere. And that dress! I LOVE that aqua-colored dress!!

Although I have checked the Amazon preview, I have been unable to find out who created this very magical and beautiful cover..... Nor have I found that highly talented person's name in a Google search. We must content ourselves with merely admiring this wonderful art!

What do you think of 
this week's cover?
Please leave a comment
and let me know!

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Book Review: Rebel of the Sands, by Alwyn Hamilton

Rebel of the Sands
(Rebel of the Sands, Book 1)
Alwyn Hamilton
Hardcover, 320 pages
Viking Books for Young Readers, March 8, 2016
Fantasy, Feminism, Romance, Young Adult Fiction
Source: Barnes & Noble bookstore

Synopsis: The New York Times bestselling novel by the Goodreads Choice Awards Best Debut Author of 2016, published in 15 countries!

Mortals rule the desert nation of Miraji, but mythical beasts still roam the wild and remote areas, and rumor has it that somewhere, djinn still perform their magic.  For humans, it’s an unforgiving place, especially if you’re poor, orphaned, or female.

Amani Al’Hiza is all three.  She’s a gifted gunslinger with perfect aim, but she can’t shoot her way out of Dustwalk, the back-country town where she’s destined to wind up wed or dead.

Then she meets Jin, a rakish foreigner, in a shooting contest, and sees him as the perfect escape route. But though she’s spent years dreaming of leaving Dustwalk, she never imagined she’d gallop away on mythical horse—or that it would take a foreign fugitive to show her the heart of the desert she thought she knew.

Rebel of the Sands reveals what happens when a dream deferred explodes—in the fires of rebellion, of romantic passion, and the all-consuming inferno of a girl finally, at long last, embracing her power.

This novel certainly lived up to all the hype before its release date! I was also happy to find out that, behind that beautiful, simply stunning cover, there was a greatly enjoyable story!

Like any skillful fiction writer, Hamilton knows that one of the keys to having readers fall in love with your novel is to write compelling, dynamic characters that literally live in the minds of these readers. She has certainly done that here! All of her characters and their emotions felt so real, that this novel quickly became a memorable one for me! 

Amani Al'Hiza, the female protagonist, is too vibrant and dangerously intelligent for the society she was born into. In that society, women are commodities, bartered and given into marriage according to the dictates and whims of their fathers or other male relatives. Polygamy abounds, and is, of course, engaged in only by the men. Vividly reminiscent of extremist Muslim culture (except that women are not required to wear anything resembling a hijab), this is a heavily patriarchal society in which a young woman like Amani cannot hope to be her own person.

So she risks everything to escape from the town she was born in, leaving with only the clothes on her back, as well as her trusty gun. And the clothes on her back are those of a boy. This is the only way she can hope to evade capture, and a humiliating return to an existence she loathes. Much to her surprise and initial dismay, she soon becomes embroiled in a revolution she had not even known had been boiling in the hot desert sands....

Amani is a highly skilled gunslinger, something that would have gotten her into heaps of trouble, had her family known about it. But she has trained herself in secret, and is counting on her shooting expertise in order to navigate the dangers she will encounter in pursuit of her ultimate goal -- to live life on her own terms, and no one else's.  

Jin is an equally compelling character. He is supremely confident, yet not arrogant. Of course, he's very easy on the eyes, especially Amani's. And yes, there's an air of danger and mystery about him. This is a common romance trope, although, in this novel, it's also used in the interests of the overall plot. Jin sees the same qualities in Amani, though, and is equally drawn to her. I love the nickname he gives her -- "The Blue-Eyed Bandit"! Romance is not a main focus of this novel, however. In fact, it's only hinted at, and takes a back seat to all the action. And there's plenty of that! Scenes change rapidly from Dustwalk, to a desert journey, to jumping on and off trains, to an oasis where Amani discovers just who Jin really is, and how his story ties in with the ultimate destiny of Miraji.

And so Amani, in quest of herself, ends up becoming a rebel of the sands in more ways than one. Her personality actually undergoes an evolution, as she gradually begins to focus on the needs of her country, which end up meshing with her own. Paradoxically, she does find herself in the process, and it's an interesting one. This is perhaps the most important element in the novel, and I love the way Hamilton interwove it with other plot elements.

There are actually several themes in this book, such as the overarching one of finding one's ultimate purpose. The other themes are the idealistic search for justice, sibling rivalry, the place of religion and magic in the lives of the characters, and the tension between self-interest versus altruism. All of these themes are perfectly interrelated and given dramatic form. As I read, I became totally immersed in them, right along with the characters.

The setting and action are totally riveting. The changing landscapes of the novel are vividly described, as well as the magical characters -- the Djinn, the magical, sand-formed horses, the various characters with strange paranormal powers. And encompassing it all is the ominous feel of the ever-present desert with hidden mysteries of its own.... In fact, the desert becomes a character, too, as we see its shifting aspects that somehow mirror the characters' own moods.

There are at least two villains in this novel, but the reader does not find out about one of them right away, and indeed, the identity of this person is a bit of a surprise, and a rather sad one, too. This unfortunate surprise gave even more realism to the plot, as it's the type of thing that all too often happens in the real world.

The secondary characters are equally compelling, and I'm very glad that Hamilton took as much care with them -- although, of course, they're not as fully-developed -- as she did with the main ones. There's Shazad, a strong female in her own right, and the second-in-command of the rebel forces. There's Bahi, who is a sort of spiritual leader, but not in any conventional sense. And there are the several rebels with paranormal powers, such as shapeshifting and the ability to ignite fires at a moment's notice. 

The novel has a perfect balance of action and character development in the plot, along with observations on the religious and political aspects of life in the desert. Nothing is too heavy-handed, however. Hamilton never loses sight of the sheer, exhilarating adventure of it all, of the interplay between the individual characters in one-to-one situations, as well as in the bigger picture.

Summing up, this is a great fantasy/paranormal/adventure, as well as a coming-of-age read, with quite a bit of depth to it! And the totally kick-butt female protagonist will have readers cheering for her all the way! Feminism has never been so much fun, as well as serious business, paradoxically enough. I highly recommend this book to all fans of the above-mentioned genres, as well as those who enjoy reading about strong female heroes!


Alwyn Hamilton was born in Toronto and spent her childhood bouncing between Europe and Canada until her parents settled in France. She grew up in a small town there, which might have compelled her to burst randomly into the opening song from Beauty and the Beast were it not for her total tone-deafness. She instead attempted to read and write her way to new places and developed a weakness for fantasy and cross-dressing heroines. She left France for Cambridge University to study History of Art at King’s College, and then to London where she became indentured to an auction house. She has a bad habit of acquiring more hardcovers than is smart for someone who moves house quite so often.
Alwyn's New York Times-bestselling debut, the YA fantasy Rebel Of The Sands, was published by Viking Children's Books in the U.S. and Faber Children's Books in the U.K., and in Brazil, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Israel, Turkey, the Czech Republic, Serbia, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Iran. Its sequel, Traitor To The Throne, was published in spring, 2017. The third volume, Hero at the Fall, was released in the U.S. on March 6, 2018. Alwyn was named the 2016 Goodreads Choice Award winner for Best Debut Author.


Can't Wait Wednesday No. 58: Smoke and Iron, by Rachel Caine

Welcome to "Can't Wait Wednesday"!

This is a weekly event hosted by
Tressa @ Wishful Endings, and inspired by "Waiting On Wednesday", which used to be hosted by
 Jill @ Breaking the Spine.

For more information, please click HERE.

As in the previous meme, this one showcases future releases  we book  bloggers 
are eagerly anticipating!!
There's also a Linky widget, so participating blogs can link up!

Here's my choice for this week!

 Smoke and Iron
(The Great Library, Book 4)
Rachel Caine
Hardcover, 448 pages
Berkley Books
     July 3, 2018      
Fantasy, Historical Fiction,
Young Adult Fiction 

To save the Great Library, the unforgettable characters from Ink and Bone, Paper and Fire, and Ash and Quill put themselves in danger in the next thrilling adventure in the New York Times bestselling series.

The opening moves of a deadly game have begun. Jess Brightwell has put himself in direct peril, with only his wits and skill to aid him in a game of cat and mouse with the Archivist Magister of the Great Library. With the world catching fire, and words printed on paper the spark that lights rebellion, it falls to smugglers, thieves, and scholars to save a library thousands of years in the making...if they can stay alive long enough to outwit their enemies.


Why I can't wait for this one!

WOWZA!!! As usual, I haven't even started a series yet, and a NEW volume appears on the horizon! Lol!! I've been wanting to get to this one for some time now. Well, there are enough installments for me to go smoothly from one to the other! And hopefully July will be swinging around in NO time! Lol.
Of course, any books dealing with BOOKS and LIBRARIES and BOOKSTORES (Oh, my!) will automatically ping my literary detector radar!! Lol!! 

Here are the previous volumes in this bookworm's paradise series!!
(Click on the covers for the GR pages.)

And these are short stories FREE
to read online!!! Click on the covers
for the GR pages, and on the links
to read the stories!!



Rachel Caine is the pen name of Roxanne Longstreet Conrad. She is the New York Times, USA Today, and #1 internationally bestselling author of more than fifty novels, including the smash hit bestselling thriller Stillhouse Lake, the internationally bestselling Morganville Vampires series, the Great Library series, the Weather Warden series, the Outcast Season series, the Revivalist series, and the acclaimed YA novel Prince of Shadows.

The pilot for the crowdfunded show Morganville is now available on Amazon Prime as streaming video.

She was born at White Sands Missile Range, which people who know her say explains a lot. She has been an accountant, a professional musician, and an insurance investigator, and ultimately a corporate management executive before leaving to write full time. She and her husband, comic historian/actor/artist R. Cat Conrad, live in Texas.

Twitter/Amazon Author Page

What do you think of my
choice this week? 
Please leave a comment and
let me know!


Sunday, March 25, 2018

Shelf Candy Saturday No. 245: Silver Phoenix, by Cindy Pon

Welcome to Shelf Candy Saturday!

*Late Edition*
This is my weekly feature
showcasing beautiful covers!
It also provides information, 
if available, on their 
very talented creators!

Here's my choice for this week!

Silver Phoenix
(Kingdom of Xia (Phoenix), Book 1)
Cindy Pon
Hardcover, 352  pages
Greenwillow Books, First Edition
April 28, 2009
Diverse Reads, Fantasy, Romance,
Young Adult Fiction

My Thoughts About This Cover

This STUNNING cover immediately captured my attention while I was doing a Google search for this week's (although it's really NEXT week's now) "Shelf Candy Saturday" post. Of course, now I want to read this book! And that's what gorgeous, eye-catching book covers are supposed to do -- make a potential buyer/reader want to get lost in the book's story. Without a visually powerful cover, there's not much chance of that ever happening. Of course, there ARE readers who will pick up a book regardless of the cover. But I'm not one of them. A book cover has to appeal to me on an aesthetic level before I will open it to investigate the book's contents. In fact, I've been known to buy a MORE expensive edition of a book I've heard about (this usually happens with classics), simply because it has a beautiful cover, while a cheaper edition does not. Lol.

This cover is AWESOME in SO many ways! First off, there's that kimono, which is such a GORGEOUS shade of pink! I don't like soft pastel pink, but this shade is HOT pink, which I do very much like! And the kimono fills up most of the cover, too, with those shining satin folds that catch the light so well, highlighting the power of the girl's stance, as well as the beauty of the aquamarine pendant on a delicate chain around her neck. 

It's those folds, and the way the light flows over them, as well as over the entire kimono, that have me SO fascinated. I've always loved artists' renderings of drapery in Old Master paintings, and it sure looks like this cover artist was inspired by such paintings. I am especially reminded of one of the masterpieces of Hans Holbein the Younger. (See the photo below.) 

Portrait of Sir Thomas More
Hans Holbein the Younger
Oil and tempera on oak panel
Frick Collection, New York City

The model used for this cover is a beautiful young girl, whose determined -- even angry -- expression, shows her to be a strong personality. So there's this contrast between the kimono and its wearer.  She could very well be an expert practitioner of martial arts. And the flowing sleeves of that kimono remind me of some type of wings, too. Also, there's a very mystical feeling to this image. Her figure fades into mist in the lower background. I can't WAIT to make this book part of my collection!

Speaking of the background, I also LOVE that lovely blue shade at the top of the cover! And, when I looked more closely at it, in the Amazon preview, I discovered a Chinese dragon in the top left-hand cover, right over the young girl's right hand! This gives the cover a very magical touch!

The title is also very striking, and complements the cover image perfectly. The font used is a classic one, but it's made very interesting by the illusion of flurries of snow superimposed on the letters. This is a clear reference to the snowy mountains in the background, which are barely seen, but are still quite evident.

Last but not least, I like that the young woman's braid leads the eye from her face and shoulders to the title. VERY effective, indeed!!

The person responsible for all of this cover awesomeness is Paul Zakris, who is the Art Director at HarperCollins and Greenwillow Books. (The latter is an imprint of HarperCollins.) Zakris has a Bachelor's Degree in Design and Visual Communications from the State University of New York at Buffalo. He's been the Art Director at Greenwillow for about 16 years, and has been designing covers for children's books for nearly 30 years. I sure want to see more of his covers!

Online Links

What do you think of 
this week's cover?
Please leave a comment
and let me know!