Thursday, February 20, 2020

Let's Fly a Plane by Chris Ferrie

Rating: WORTHY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Friends, red kangaroos, children, lend me your engineers! Having just seen Fantasy Island at the movie theater, (the plane the plane - yes they did use that phrase and the movie was great!), how could I not want to review this book with such a bold and maybe even a teensy bit reckless title?

This was a short and fun little book about a kangaroo who wants to fly, but who can't seem to get off the ground. She seeks out author Chris Ferrie who has a doctorate in applied mathematics and who is a senior lecturer at the University of Technology in Sydney. Dr Chris explains the four forces involved in flight (drag, gravity, lift - or was it Uber? - no it was lift!, and thrust), and does so in simple terms. The lift component to flight is the one that's most often misunderstood, even in textbooks, but the explanations here are kept simple and straight-forward.

Red Kangaroo still can't manage to propel herself into the air, but she gets to fly in an airplane! This was a colorful and easy book, useful for introducing young children to a complicated idea without straining young minds. Hopefully a few who read this will become engineers and make some wonderful things because their interest in science was piqued by books like this one, I commend it as a worthy read.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Weird Little Robots by Carolyn Crimi, Corinna Luyken

Rating: WORTHY!

Written delightfully by Crimi, and illustrated by Luyken, this was a middle-grade book that I had access to only in the audiobook format, so I cannot comment on the illustrations. It was quite amusing despite being not aimed at me as an audience. I got interested in it because of the amusing title, so I bought it and listened and it was an easy listen, a fun story, and an empowerment inspiration for young girls. Women are tragically under-represented in many traditional male fields and engineering is one of the most glaring. It was encouraging to find a book aimed at middle-graders and which showed girls interested in sciences and in particular this one girl who made her own little robots out of bits and pieces she put together herself.

The robots could move around, but something happened and they took on a life of their own and began interacting with the other robots and with their creator, Penny Rose, with intelligence and motive. Penny is new in town and has no friends to begin with so the robots are special to her, but soon she makes friends with Lark who, true to her name likes to study birds. Penny gets the chance to join a secret science club, but this invitation, extended only to Penny and not to Lark, causes a rift between her and her new-found friend. Also, what the heck is going on with the robots and will the troublesome Jeremy wreck them with his less than respectful play?

I loved this book and commend it highly.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Little Joe Chickapig by Brian Calhoun, Pat Bradley

Rating: WORTHY!

Written by Calhoun and illustrated by the author and Bradley, this book tells the quest of Little Joe, who is a chickapig: part chick, part pig, who lives on a farm and has ambitious dreams of going on quests, having adventures and even maybe fighting pirates. The pig part seems to be just his nose and ears, but that's not important. It takes a long and winding tale to set him straight about who inspires who to follow their dreams and the tale comes right back home at the end. I thought this was amusingly-illustrated, well-told (in rhyme yet!) and was a wonderful story. I commend it as a worthy read.

What Makes a Hero by Pamela Bobwicz, Eda Kaban

Rating: WORTHY!

Written by Bobwicz and illustrated by Kaban, this was a cute book and a good idea: having female heroes from the Marvel stable advising young children about what makes a real hero - and it isn't a costume and a cape, or super powers. In this era of intolerance, rudeness, name-calling, boorishness, misogyny, homophobia, dishonesty, self-serving power-grabbing, and general disregard for rules and common decency (and we all know where that buck stops), it's important to remember that decent behavior and consideration of others are super powers! I commend this book as a worthy read.

Alice in Virtuality by Norman Turrell

Rating: WARTY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I got turned off this almost from the start, but pressed on because the topic interested me. In some ways it was reminiscent of the 1992 Al Pacino movie Simone, but whereas that was a simulation, Alice is a full AI. The book was still nowhere near as entertaining as the movie though. I skimmed bits and pieces and the more I read, the worse it got. A third of the way in I gave up on it completely.

Instead of focusing on the Alice character, which is what interested me, the author kept going off at tangents, playing virtual poker, playing a D&D type of game, launching an avatar into a virtual chat room, and all of that was tedious to me. The parts in which Alice was featured were more interesting but even those lacked something and felt repetitious at times. In the end I decided I have better things to do with my time than to pursue this when it was so consistently disappointing. I can't commend it based on what I read.

1996 by Kirsty McManus

Rating: WARTY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This book was advertised in a daily book offer flyer I get, and it was free! The only problem was that the only outlet offering it was Amazon! I refuse to get even free books from Amazon anymore, so I emailed the author asking if there were other outlets, quite prepared to purchase it because the subject so intrigued me. I'm a sucker for a good time-travel novel! The author pointed me to a free copy for which I'm grateful, and we exchanged one or two emails, but that didn't affect my review of the book.

The premise of the novel is quirky, and this was what caught my attention. It's that this woman Anna Matthews, in her thirties and married, is a food blogger and she gets a trial dietary supplement from this business that she promotes. The literature with it says it 'rolls back the years' or something like that, so she tries it, and discovers that it's literally true: she ends up in her sixteen-year-old body in 1996. The effect lasts for 12 hours before she returns to the present in her regular mature body, and nothing she did on her trip back there seems to have affected her present, so she tries it a few more times.

I enjoyed this and read it quite avidly to begin with, but as the story went on, some issues arose. Anna is having some minor hiccups with her marriage, so on a whim, while her husband is off on a business trip, she decides to go back to see him as his 1996 self. He's apparently been a bit secretive about his past. He was eighteen back then and she finally tracks him down and goes to his house to meet him, but there's no answer when she knocks. Why she thought he'd be home on a weekday instead of in school is quietly glossed over. When she hears voices from the back yard, she walks back there to see if it's him, and she sees him sitting out in the sun with his then girlfriend, so she spies on him and she gets really jealous.

I don't want to give away spoilers, but it was necessary to tell you that much because the thing is that on her two previous trips she'd met this guy named Kurt and was warming to him. Given that, it felt really ingenuous of her to get jealous of husband several years before he ever met her, when she's already crushing like a 16-year-old on this guy Kurt, and she's actually a married woman! So now we have a triangle and she's behaving far more like she's sixteen than a mature married woman. This really bothered me because it took me out of suspension of disbelief.

I know this novel isn't aimed at a reader like me, but it all seemed off. It was made worse by this guy Kurt cropping-up improbably often. I know the author's likely plan was to get these two together, but he shows up with a disturbingly metronomic regularity. It felt more like he was stalking her than that these were happenstance encounters. It was too much too fast, and that spoiled the story for me. Anna's immature behavior didn't help. It was like she was already planning on breaking-up her marriage before she ever went back in time and Kurt just happened to be her manly savior. It was too YA for my taste.

On the other hand I have learned what a Queenslander is (it's a single-storey house with a wrap-around veranda), and what a City Cat is! I'd thought that was a bus, but it's a ferry. Also there really is a place called Shell Beach! I first heard that name in a movie called Dark City, but there's really a place called that in Brisbane. Probably lots of places called that, for that matter, but I'd never actually heard of a real place with that name until I read this novel. Since the author is Australian, she might give some thought to how non-Aussies will comprehend terms like 'Queenslander' and 'City Cat' and perhaps add a brief word or two by way of explanation.

So, there came a point where I had to put this down to read some other stuff that had a deadline attached to it, and so I did, but when it came time to resume reading it, I found I had could not raise sufficient interest to pursue it any further. It was the woman's rather juvenile behavior and Kurt's creepy stalking that turned me off, so I didn't pick it up again. Despite reading just over half of it, I really have no clue if my idea about Kurt actually took place or if she instead patched things up with her husband. If it was the former, then I have to say that she's far too shallow to be my kind of a character in a novel anyway, but frankly, by then I really didn't care enough to resume it. I wish the author all the best in her career, but based on what I read, I can't commend this as a worthy read.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

A Beginner's Projects in Coding by Marc Scott, Mick Marston

Rating: WORTHY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This book certainly isn't written for me, since my programming, while far from stellar is a bit more advanced than is taught here, but guess what? This isn't aimed at me. Who knew?! Seriously, it's written for any young children (or even adults who want to learn) who've never programmed in their life, and for that purpose, it's perfect.

Written clearly by Scott, and colorfully (and amusingly!) illustrated by Marston, it starts out with an explanation of what coding is and why it's important, before introducing users to the Internet-accessible MIT programming language called 'Scratch'. It advises how to log in (don't use your own name and do pick a pass phrase that's easy for you to remember rather than a complicated password). From then on, the child can assemble easy, but effective and entertaining programs like putting together a jigsaw - but simpler!

The programs can ask questions and provide answers, and even do some animation. Later the book talks about a next-level programming language called Python which is actually a professional language, but available for free and quite simple to learn especially if you've used Scratch beforehand, and got a feel for how programs are put together.

Python (which was named after the BBC TV show Monty Python's Flying Circus, but don't let that scare you!) is quickly installed on your computer so no web access or login is required once it's installed, and it's also quite simple - as long as you follow the step-by-step instructions given here. It can do a lot more than can Scratch and is perfect for young programmers wanting to spread their wings.

The book is bright, easy, and helpful, with lots of good advice, hints, and tips, and it even has a few words about web page programming too, which is a fun and useful thing to learn. I loved this book and commend it as a useful tool and a worthy read.

Small Matters by Heather Ferranti Kinser

Rating: WORTHY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

If the fact that bumble bees have hairy eyeballs grosses you out, then this book is not for you! Not that bees really have eyeballs as such, but you know what I mean. The book literally zooms in on animals and finds things that are too small to be seen with the unaided eye.

I don't know about you, but for me, some books are way too long. This was too short, because it was over before I felt fully-satisfied by these truly engaging images and revelations. I wanted more, but for a much younger child than me, it's probably the ideal length. It educates young children to the unseen world, and encourages them to realize that there is much below the surface to fascinate and learn. I don't doubt that the lessons taught here will be as useful in preparing us for learning about fellow humans as they are in learning about the animals presented here, from all walks - and slithers an flights - of life.

In some thirty pages, we meet a sea-snail, a shark, a butterfly, a bird or two, a snake, an insect or two, and others that each has a microscopic secret to success. For example, I'm sure many of you know that a gecko has a sort of 'suction pad' on its feet that help it climb the walls, but the details of exactly how this works are really interesting - and it's not really a suction pad! Each creature we visit here has a similar script about some aspect of its life. It turns out that 'small matters' are big deals! I found it fascinating and educational and I commend this as a worthy read.

Follow Those Zebras by Sandra Markle

Rating: WORTHY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This book was definitely a worthy read. I mean who's doesn't love a zebra - and here's a British joke: who doesn't appreciate a zebra crossing?! This is about Zebras crossing scores of miles of terrain (when they're allowed to with farm fences not getting in their way). A herd (sometimes known as a zeal of zebras!) of some 2,000 animals, would disappear periodically and return just as seemingly magically.

No one knew where they went or why, so they fitted collars to some o the mares (who fight less, of course, than the stallions do, so they're much less likely to damage a collar) to track them by satellite. They made some interesting discoveries, and in the light of climate change, a scary discovery, too.

The book for me was a bit too prolix. The 44 pages could have been cut by maybe a quarter and still presented a solid and educational book, but I'm not going to bring it down because it had a few extra pages of zebra pictures, including some young 'guns. The story it told was very educational: scientistic and informative, and it handsomely explained what was happening, so I commend this one as a worthy read.

Beijing: A Symmetrical City by Dawu Yu

Rating: WARTY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I found this book to be highly dissatisfying. I imagine it was not designed as an ebook, but that's all a reviewer like me ever has to judge it by, and it was less than stellar. It was also quite confusing and left me in the dark much of the time. Some of the text was misleading. For example, at one point when discussing the front entrance to the Forbidden City, the text mentions the "U-shaped Noon Gate" but all of the gates in the illustration are rectangular! The previous illustration had U-shaped gates (or more accurately, n-shaped!), so i couldn't tell if the text was wrong, the illustration was wrong, or if I was simply misunderstanding what was being said, or what. I'd specify a page number, but there were no page numbers in the book, which was another problem, at least for reviewing purposes.

Note that the book was 'adapted' whatever that means (I assume because of the fact that Chinese and English texts flow in different ways, but I may be wrong about that), by Yan Liu, and translated by Crystal Tai, so it's entirely possible that something got lost long the way. The illustrations by the author are meticulous and colorful, but they're very busy and it's often hard to distinguish exactly what's being talked about. Plus I have no idea what gender the author is. It's irrelevant to the review, except in that I can't use 'he' or 'she' to I'll stick with 'they' or something equally neutral.

There was a guide in the back of the book which highlighted greyscale drawings with colors to indicate specific parts of earlier illustrations. If only those had been included along with the text, it would have been a big improvement! It didn't help to have them in the back - and especially not in an ebook because unlike with a print book, it's a nightmare trying to go back and forth in a ebook and keep your place readily.

Some of the illustrations were oddly chopped-up, too. For example, regarding the aforementioned Forbidden City issue, this was also where it looked like one image had become trapped behind another, so maybe the text was right, but the image it referred to had become hidden behind the next image or mangled or something. But there were other issues, and again the transition point seemed to be they Forbidden City page.

Initially (and I was reading this in Adobe Digital Editions on an iPad FYI) there was one page per screen, but in landscape mode, it was possible to slide the image across and see a seamless 'full-page spread' as it were, whereas other images had a vertical white line down the screen marking the page transition. Right after the Forbidden City page though, the layout changed so that double page spreads were included on one screen, making them much too small in portrait mode, and comfortably visible only in landscape.

Again, this is not a problem you would have with a print edition, but publishers insist on sending out only ebook version for review unless you happen to be a top tier reviewer. What this means is that books can get electronically-mangled and publishers all-too-often fail to make sure the book is readable. This clearly happened here, but even ignoring all of that, the book as still confusing and sometimes indecipherable, and frankly I disagreed with the premise that Beijing - even ancient Beijing - is symmetrical. At least if it is, the author failed to convince me! I found the book not acceptable, and I cannot commend it as a worthy read.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Search and Find Unicorns by Georgie Taylor, Maaike Boot

Rating: WORTHY!

Written by Taylor and illustrated by Boot, this book seems designed to endlessly entertain. The deal is that there's a hidden unicorn on each page that can only be discovered by 'painting' the page with water! Once the water dries, the magical unicorn disappears, and so it remains to be discovered again next time. Each illustration contains a clue as to what to look for.

It seems to me that a book like this will not only be magical to a child, but will encourage confidence and perhaps draw-out (so to speak!) a budding artist. Yes, I'm coloring up after such a bad pun. I commend this one as a worthy read.

French Fairy Tales by Jennifer Afron

Rating: WARTY!

This book for young children was a bit bland and boring. Perhaps young children might find it interesting, but I prefer my fairytales with a bit more oomph than these four or so very short, but illustrated stories pretend to. Although very colorfully and entertainingly depicted, these stories didn't really seem to have much of an ending, to say nothing of teaching a moral. Aargh! I said to say nothing of it and then I went right ahead and said it! Oh well....

Work It, Girl: Michelle Obama by Caroline Moss

Rating: WORTHY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Part of the "Become a leader like..." series, this book covers Michelle Robinson, lawyer, scholar, activist, and who also happened to become married to the president of a few years back (and before he was president!). She came from quite humble beginnings and was sometimes discouraged from pursuing her dreams, but she refused to let others' opinions dictate what her goals would be or where her sights would be aimed, and she achieved every one of them that she set herself, graduating Princeton and Harvard and working in a law firm before moving into more community-spirited occupations.

She met Barack Obama in that first law firm and traveled with him to the Senate and the White House, despite having some doubts about both places! This book tells a fascinating story and makes it all the more a pity that her aversion to politics will prevent her from running for president. If she did, I do not doubt that she would win hands down without question. I commend this book as a worthy and inspiring read for young chidlren.

The Not Bad Animals by Sophie Corrigan

Rating: WORTHY!

p17 has 'bast' instead of 'bats' in the 'facts' section! Bast was a cat god of the Egyptians.
I don't know of any scorpion that's poisonous, but several are venomous! The difference is that if you eat a scorpion (and people as well as animals do eat them) you won't be poisoned, but you can get its venom injected if one stings you!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Here's another educational book about animals. This one tries to improve the undeservedly bad reps of certain critters such as spiders, sharks, and vampire bats. Good luck with that! But it's intelligently written and amusingly-illustrated by an author who is evidently English as judged by her lingo (or perhaps Australian?) and whose last name maybe ought to be 'Incorrigible'? I ask this because I'm by no means convinced that cats have anywhere near the negative reputation she seems to think, yet here they are, right up front, getting a PR job. I find that highly suspicious!

The book even features hyenas, so if you're a fan of the recent (as of this blog post!) Birds of Prey movie, in which Harley Quinn had a pet hyena (not recommended!), you may find this entertaining! I did. But then I loved that movie. The book also features skunks, which I agree are very cute. I'll never forget this one episode of Mythbusters in which the stated task was to determine the best method of removing skunk smells from clothing.

In order to do that, they had to get a skunk to spray, and they had this cute little thing that refuse to spray no matter what they did! It was hilarious, It was like the anti-skunk, but having encountered one walking in to work one dark morning (I was walking in to work - the skunk was already quite busily at work), and noticing how it turned so its back was always toward me as I passed it, the very opposite of what most wild animals will do, I would never trust one as a coworker! That said, it did not spray me since I kept moving and made no threat to it, so I thank that skunk for its forbearance and restraint under trying conditions.

But I digress. The book covers crocodiles, vultures, rats (which I personally adore, having had pet ones and started a children's book series - The Little Rattuses™ - about them), wasps (which, call me waspish, but I certainly do not adore), scorpions (which I adore even less, having found one in the bathtub one night that had apparently been enterprising enough to climb up the bath drainpipe, but then stupid enough to find itself in a slippery bathtub with no exit!), snakes, toads, wolves, ants, and so on, you can see that the animal kingdom is well covered and it's not just all about mammals, as far too many young children's books are.

This book is very well done - amusing, entertaining, nicely put together, hosted a wealth of animals in its eighty-some pages and was very educational. Yes! It's correct, for example, when it advises that peeing on a jellyfish sting will not help. It might even make it worse. The best treatment for such a sting is to pour vinegar on the affected area and then remove the stingers with tweezers (don't scrape them off with anything). What's not to like? Okay, apart from the vampire bats, what's not to like? Okay, vampire bats and scorpions, what's not to like? Really? I commend this as a worthy read.

Play Like an Animal! by Maria Gianferrari, Mia Powell

Rating: WORTHY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Maria and Mia what a team! The author amusingly explains why animals do some of the crazy things they do, and the illustrator (Powell) illustrates them with verve and passion. The idea is of course, to talk kids into exercising their right to be animals as well, playing like these amusing creatures do, and there's nothing wrong with that.

The book covers a variety of animals, but as usual with young childrens' books, it's mostly the mammals which are favored, such as peccaries, rhinos, monkeys, gorillas, and so on, but there are also aquatic mammals featured such a dolphins and otters, along with a couple of birds - ravens and keas - and who wouldn't mourn a kea?! (Sorry, I could not for the life of me resist.)

The behavior of the animals is explained in growing - they need to learn to defend themselves, to get a mate, to stalk prey, to escape being prey, and even to develop their minds, as is the case with ravens. The book was gorgeously illustrated and amusingly written, and I commend it as a worthy read.

Vivienne Westwood by Maria Isabel Sánchez Vergara, Laura Callaghan

Rating: WORTHY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I've enjoyed very many of these young children's biographies about a host of different people, all written by the same author but often with a different artist. In this case it was Callaghan who contributed some beautiful and bright illustrations, in keeping with the subject matter since Westwood is a British fashion designer, who all but single-handedly brought punk and new wave fashions (so-called!) into the mainstream.

I should say right here that I have less than zero respect for the modeling-fashion industrial complex, which is why I like this book. Westwood was very much a rebel and her spirited approach, even though in many ways buying into the shallow and pretentious world of fashion, was to turn things on their head. She also preferred books to fashion magazines, and encouraged a recycling sort of an attitude by suggesting people buy fewer clothes and wear therm more often.

This book tells an interesting and colorful story and I commend it as a worthy read.

Bob Dylan by Maria Isabel Sánchez Vergara, Conrad Roset

Rating: WORTHY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I've enjoyed very many of these young children's biographies about a host of different people, all written by the same author but often with a different artist. In this case it was Roset, whose work was good and very entertaining.

This one talks about folk legend Bob Dylan who unintentionally became the voice of an era as he produced his songs about life and war throughout the sixties and for several decades beyond. I commend it for any young children who are interested in music and making change.

Alan Turing by Maria Isabel Sánchez Vergara, Linzie Hunter

Rating: WORTHY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I've enjoyed very many of these young children's biographies about a host of different people. This one is about computer scientist Alan Turing, who was responsible for breaking the secret of a major German coding machine in World War Two and who was subsequently persecuted for his homosexuality.

Way to thank a war hero, UK! He was, at long last, pardoned, but he should never have been arrested for it in the first place, and the pardon came long years after his suicide. If he'd been hailed as the hero he was and funded, he could have put Britain at the forefront of computing.

This book doesn't pull any punches and tells his story simply and in enough detail for young minds without overdoing it. It's nicely-illustrated by Hunter and is well worth the reading. I commend it. There is one small glitch which hopefully will have been fixed before this goes on sale. At the back of each of these books is a timeline with actual photographs of the subject at different points in their life. This book is no different, but the person featured in the photographs isn't Alan Turing; it's Astrid Lindgren, author of the Pippi Longstocking books! While Turing might well have been amused by this, it really needs to be fixed.

Even More Fantastic Failures by Luke Reynolds

Rating: WORTHY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I had some issues with this one (not least of which the sub-title 'people who changed the world'? In some cases, yes, but for most, not hardly!), but I support its aims, and so I commend it as a worthy read. The book has thirty chapters, not all of which are devoted to a person. Some chapters have a secondary story (called 'The Flop Files') about someone or something, as well as inset boxes with very brief stories, so it's packed with information.

That's where my issues came from though: some of the information is somewhat misleading or doesn't tell the whole story. The chapters cover these topics:

  1. Barack Obama with a sub-story about Ta-Nehisi Coates.
  2. Kehkashan Basu
  3. Alan Naiman with a sub-story about Virginia Apgar.
  4. Nick Foles with a sub-story about fireworks.
  5. Emma Gonzalez with a sub-story about the 54th Mass. volunteers.
  6. Ryan Coogler with a sub-story about George Lucas.
  7. Bryan Slat
  8. The Reggae Girlz with a sub-story about the USNW soccer team.
  9. Lin-Manuel Miranda
  10. John Cena with a sub-story about Michael Phelps.
  11. Joan of Arc
  12. Socrates with a sub-story about Mary Shelley.
  13. Phiona Mutesi with a sub-story about Queen Victoria.
  14. Stephanie Kwolek with a sub-story about penicillin.
  15. Robert Indiana with a sub-story about Specks!
  16. All American Girls Professional Baseball League
  17. Carvens Lissaint with a sub-story about Bette Graham.
  18. Christina Martinez
  19. Ayanna Presley with a sub-story about William Wilberforce.
  20. Mohammed Al Jounde
  21. Mindy Kaling with a sub-story about Kalani Brown.
  22. Patricia Smith
  23. Carl Hayden Community High School Robotics Squad with a sub-story about The Toronto Raptors.
  24. Jeremy Stoppelman with a sub-story about Norm Larsen.
  25. Beyoncé Knowles with a sub-story about Bruce Springsteen.
  26. Greta Thunberg with a sub-story about Angela Zhang.
  27. Lois Jenson
  28. New Orleans Superdome
  29. Grace Hopper with a sub-story about Janet Guthrie.
  30. Haifaa Al Mansour with a sub-story about Roxane Gay.

As I mentioned, I had some issues with some of the information presented here. I don't undertsand some of these pairings. Putting the US Woman's national (soccer) team with the reggae Girlz (also a soccer team) makes sense, but pairing Emma Gonzalez with the 54th Mass. volunteers? Does the author not realize that rampant ownership of military grade weapons is the driving force underlying Gonzalez's campaign? I doubt she'd want to be associated with an actual military outfit! Phiona Mutesi with a sub-story about Queen Victoria? However, those are just quirks so I really not much bothered about that. Below are some examples of the issues I'm really concerned with.

The achievements of the US women's national soccer team (USWNT) have been extraordinary, but they went out of favor with me after strutting all over the Thailand team which they beat 13-0 in 2019. I never thought I'd see a women's team behave like Donald Trump. The book has nothing to say about that, attempting to silence critics of their unconscionable behavior by quoting Mariah Burton Nelson who apparently claimed that criticism of the women's team stems from a fear of successful women! That's not only arrogant, blinkered, and presumptuous, it's plain wrong to blindly tar everyone with the same ill-advised brush. Personally I don't fit into that pigeon-hole.

I've been highly supportive of the women's team and enjoyed their success for many years, but I can't support a team harshing like that on fellow women when that opposing team was quite clearly outmatched. I didn't even have a problem with their scoring of 13 goals. What I objected to was the theatrics after every goal, as though the goal had been scored miraculously against impossible odds when there had been no such achievement. The insane strutting and posing after every single goal was shameful exhibitionism shaming a team that was clearly being overwhelmed.

If the USWNT had done that same thing against a more equally-matched team like the Brazilians, or the Germans, I would have had no problem with it, because then it would have been earned, but this was not, and it diminished the US team to behave like that. I support women in sports and equality, especially in pay and especially for the USWNT after all they've achieved, but that same team has fallen steeply in my esteem after that shameful and embarrassing exhibition.

On the topic of Charlotte Brontë, yes, Robert Southey did tell her that "literature cannot be the business of a woman's life," but what this book doesn't mention is that he did praise her talent. I found that omission to be dishonest. It makes it sound like he was completely negative and dismissive of her when all he was doing was expressing the prevailing sentiments of the day among men. Yes, that's unacceptable, but back then it was the norm. It's misleading to portray him as some arrogant jerk of a guy walking all over a novice female writer.

I'm not sure why Stephanie Kwolek was paired with a sub-story about penicillin, but since Kwolek worked for Dupont which has, at best, a questionable record with regard to what I shall call 'chemical abuse', a word about those failures might have been a better use of space than one about penicillin. Not that Kwolek was involved in the invention or the ill-advised use of Teflon, but still!

I'm not sure why basketball player Kalani Brown was included as a sub-story with comedy writer and actor Mindy Kaling, but Brown's story is hardly one of failure! She missed four free throws in a row? So what? She came from a family of sports players so she had a leg-up into her sporting life, and was no doubt not a stranger to losing a game here and there much less to missing a throw. That story seemed odd and hardly fit into the theme of the book.

Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein, Or the Modern Prometheus was hardly the failure it's represented as being here. No, it did not take off as a best-seller from day one, but it was well-received (despite some criticism) and it sold well in her lifetime. A better story would have been to tell how Mary bounced back after her husband drowned.

One of the inset box stories talks about Eliud Kipchoge, a marathon runner, but the box makes no mention of the sponsorship he got from Nike, and the fact that he wore controversial and specially-designed running shoes for his attempt! These are the same kind of 'augmented' shoes that were under critical review recently, and which several other people have broken records while wearing.

That's all I'm going to write about the issues I had. I think the book in general is well-written and tells an important story about not giving up, but I'm not sure it makes it clear enough that giving up on one thing to turn attention to another is an important part of life and success. The diversity in the book is commendable, but it's also very sports-heavy and once again it's very USA-centric as though only important success stories occur in North America, and the rest of the world not so much, but while I dislike that kind of dangerous nationalism, I do consider this a worthy and inspiring read overall.

A Bowl Full of Peace by Caren Stelson, Akira Kusaka

Rating: WORTHY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This was a short and well-illustrated (by Kusaka) picture-book about a family which (kind of) survived the H-bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki on 9th August 1945. I say 'kind of', because the family really didn't, and today only one of them remains. The rest of them died either in the initial explosion or from radiation which spread afterwards and made people sick before anyone fully-realized what it was or what it could do.

There are many questions surrounding that war and the bombs. People make much of the death toll those two bombs wreaked which was, with the blast and the radiation, perhaps a quarter million - about the same number that died in the St Stephen's Tsunami of 2004. The thing is that without the bombs, the toll was already astronomical. To put it in perspective, the Battle of Stalingrad alone killed two million people!

Yes, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were largely civilian populations not directly involved in fighting (although there were military bases and munitions factories there), so there is a difference, and people can argue that it was necessary because the toll of taking Japan by traditional means was going to be high, but others can argue equally well that Japan did not need to be taken. It could have been blockaded and forced to surrender with no loss of allied life. Alternatively, a demonstration of the bomb's devastative power could have been made over an unpopulated area. That and the threat of dropping bombs on populated areas would have impressed the war leadership of Japan sufficiently without killing innocent civilians.

And yes, it's easy with the distance of three-quarters of a century, to pretend to know what was best back then; but let's not forget that a Christian country, far from turning the other cheek, is still the only nation on Earth to have used atomic bombs in war, and those two bombs back then killed more civilians than all the acts of Islamic terrorism since.

But this book isn't interested in politics because it's a very personal story of loss: of a family of children playing outdoors just a half mile from the epicenter, all but one of which miraculously survived the initial blast. It's about a family that, even though they were evacuated from the area immediately afterwards, still succumbed one-by-one to the sickness of the black rain.

Only one of them, Sachiko Yasui, survived, and now she opens the eyes of others to the horror of nuclear war. It's not just that, but all war which must stop, but nuclear war is the most terrifying act of hostility that we can do to each other and to the planet, and this story handily explains why.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Frida in America by Celia Stahr

Rating: WORTHY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

For a biography with this title, this books spends a lot of time delving into Frida's childhood and teen years, as well as with a couple of trips she took back to Mexico while largely living in the USA, but the subtitle of this volume is "The Creative Awakening of a Great Artist." That time she spent and the experiences she had, whether in the US or in Mexico, or traveling between the two, contributed immensely to the intriguing artist she became.

The bio starts out brightly with Frida and her husband, artist Diego Rivera, traveling to and arriving in San Francisco, but that all comes to a jarring halt as we travel back in time for a history of her life up to this point - which occupies fully a quarter of the narrative - before we get back to her life in the US. For me that wasn't so bad because I find the subject of this biography endlessly fascinating, but others might find themselves irritated when the title so boldly promises a US story and they get sent to Mexico for an extended period! Maybe such readers should learn to be less provincial?!

What did impress me was how well researched this is. I've read a variety of books about Frida Kahlo, but never one that was so delving and so revealing of her inner workings as this one is. It was impressive and truly engrossing for me. Regardless of what it meant before, her art takes on a whole new meaning once you're initiated into the symbolism she employed so often in her work. The story picks up back in the US with Diego's commission, his workaholic approach to his painting as well as his endless philandering and his absurd misgivings over his (at least initially) erroneous belief that his wife was as bad as he was. Far too many men project like that, and poor Frida has to deal with all of this largely by herself.

The book has a wealth of detail about their life both in Mexico and in the US, the people they met, the relationships they formed and the impact they had, as well as the experiences that moved them in return. They were very influential on each other too, each taking cues from the other's work, and expanding or amplifying them in their own art. In a way, their art was a way of talking to each other about topics they perhaps felt uncomfortable discussing face to face.

Frida's initial love-affair with the US was an uneasy one at best, and it quickly turned to disappointment and antagonism the longer she remained there. She missed her family and her homeland greatly which didn't help her state of mind, and her husband was very neglectful of her, focusing on the murals he had arrived in the US to paint, and working insane hours, leaving Frida very much to her own devices. She cultivated her own friends and relationships and worked on her art, showing increasing sophistication and steady improvement over her time in the USA. This books explains all of that and excavates, sometimes a bit too deeply for me!) the meaning, symbolism, and origins of her imagery.

If I have a complaint about this book, it's the same one I would have (and have had!) about any such book where art is discussed in detail, and that is the complete lack of any examples of her art, or any photographs of her which were taken during her travels. Fortunately, with the name 'Frida Kahlo' being so very well-known these days, it's possible to find on the Internet a lot of the pictures discussed in this biography, but it's a nuisance to have to halt reading and go searching for them.

Many images, in particular the photographs that are mentioned, I could not find, which was very frustrating. I don't know if the author's intention is to include the images in a print version and they were simply omitted from the review ebook. I wouldn't blame her for that, because Amazon's crappy Kindle format is renowned for mangling anything that's not plain vanilla text, but if the pictures could have been included in a PDF version of the book made available for review, that would have been truly awesome! It made it rather tedious at times to read a long and detailed description of the art or a photograph without being able to readily view it, or in some cases without being able to see it at all.

That aside, I really enjoyed this book and commend it as a worthy read. But then I'm heavily biased when it comes to Frida Kahlo. She probably the first person I'd visit if I ever managed to get my hands on a time machine! I commend this book as a worthy read for fans of art or of Kahlo.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Dark Queen by Faith Hunter

Rating: WARTY!

If this has been Dairy Queen it would have had more appeal and more chills! This is one I got along with an earlier volume in the series because the blurb on this one interested me; then I discover it's in first person, the main character isn't Asian notwithstanding the book cover, and it's filled with trope. I made it about thirty pages and ditched it beofre I yawned myself to death. I can't commend uninventive, unoriginal, and unimaginative novels like this one, so I'm done with this series and with this author.

Skinwalker by Faith Hunter

Rating: WARTY!

The blurb for one of the books in this series caught my attention, and even though I'm series-averse and will never write one myself, I was curious about this one, so I got the one I was interested in, plus an earlier one in the series to read as an intro. The curiosity didn't survive reading this trope-filled book for very long, rest-assured.

Jane Yellowrock looks like she's Asian on the cover, especially with that stereotype of a cue, but she's apparently American Indian. I just got through a short and sassy discussion of book covers with a long time email friend and it was her opinion that covers are all important. It's my opinion that they're shallow and misleading depictions of the content of the book created all-too-often by someone who appears to have no clue what the book is about, let alone read it themselves.

These covers are a case in point. I know that IRL, people do go by book covers, but I think it's stupid and shallow for anyone to judge a book by its cover. Quite obviously, it's the content that matters. I'd far rather read a good book with a shitty cover than a lousy one with an artwork for a cover (although I might buy a used copy of the artwork one for display if not to read!)

A major character in a novel I'm working on as I write this review is an American Indian, so I sure have no problem with reading about one, but to lead a reader to believe it's about an Asian main character from the cover illustration, and then have someone of different ethnicity actually be in the novel is a piss-off at best. This is my beef about misleading book covers in a nutshell.

Add to that a bunch of info-dumping in the book, some of which seems to me to stereotype the main character, and I'm going to lose interest pretty fast, I promise you. This is the same kind of problem American Dirt has from what I've read about it. Blurbs can be misleading too, but I don't think they're quite as misleading as the wrong cover no matter how many squees that cover gets at the 'unveiling' party! Seriously? I mean how freaking shallow and pompous can we get?

The next problem was the first person voice, which is unrealistic at best, and which I detest unless it's really done well. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, it isn't. This book features Jane traveling to New Orleans. She's recovered from a devastating fight with vampires (so we're told) and is looking to get back into her business of bringing down the rogues, in this Trublood rip-off of a fantasy world where vampires and other paranormals are out and accepted at least in principle.

So this story's been done (to death) before, but I thought this author might bring something new based on the book blurbs. Unfortunately, those can be as misleading (or as dishonest, however you view it) as the cover can, and I felt misled by this one. I know the author typically doesn't write the blurb or illustrate the cover unless they self-publish - and maybe not even then - but you'd think someone who's running a purportedly successful series would be able to police the appearance of her books a bit better. On the other hand, why offer discounted books if you're selling them handsomely already? Maybe the series is in trouble. I dunno.

Anyway, Yellowrock arrives in town and meets with the trope vampire monarch - in this case a queen. Before she even gets there some sleazy stalker jerk on a motorbike is already slavering and panting after Yellowrock like a dog in heat. While bugs (the spying kind, not the insect kind) on the premises of the house she's going to be staying in piss-off Yellowrock, this dick of a guy stalking her didn't bother her at all! This turned me off the whole book, so I ditched it about thirty pages in. It was too sickening to read.

I refuse to commend a book like this.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Furies of Calderon by Jim Butcher

Rating: WORTHY!

Here come six reviews of an entire series one after another!

As I've mentioned elsewhere, I really can’t get into fantasy stories with witches and wizards, and fairies and dragons, elves and dwarves, etc. That is to say, it has to be something particularly special and appealing before I’ll get into it, because most of that stuff turns me right off. So it was curious then that I got into Jim Butcher's series, and entirely uncurious that I don’t read his wizard series. What the difference is between the two in terms of why the one attracts me and the other repels, I can’t say! It pretty much boils down to: I may not know much about fantasy but I knows what I likes! I don't much like series, but this one was exceptional in more than one way.

I got reading this when a friend of my wife loaned her the first book in the series, and she asked me if I was interested. Of course, I leaped at the chance, but then I found out she was talking about reading the book, so I was a bit less enthused, but I was not so turned-off by the lesser offer that I couldn’t get into it, which was a bit of a surprise. The story was written well, which is always a big plus with me. Butcher is very skilled at what he does.

The problem with this series is that it wasn't finished when I began it, so once I caught up to what was last written, I had to wait for the next installment, which was, I think, the 5th book. Waiting is never a good thing with me! I lost my steam and got into reading other things and it wasn't until after the whole series had been published that my interest in it resurfaced. At that point we bought the entire series in hardback and once that had been procured, I embarked upon a mega-read of the entire thing.

It was at that point that I became addicted and pretty much turned into a Codex Alera evangelist! I don’t know what it was that brought this on, but it just caught me and that's when I fell deeply in love with Kitai (don’t worry, my wife never reads any of my stuff, so my marriage is safe!).

I can go back in there even now and re-read the Kitai scenes and love them just as much as I did originally - and probably more. That time in vol 1 when they first encounter each other and go through their challenge is outstanding to me, and I wrestle with this, but I think it’s only exceeded by the next time they encounter each other in vol 2 after a separation of a couple of years. That encounter in vol 2 is classic literature as far as I'm concerned. I want to hug Butcher and clap him on the back and shake his hand for writing that scene.

Anyway, enough of this sappy crap, let’s look at the individual volumes, but a few words of explanation for the series is in order before we do that. The story is that Butcher wrote this series when challenged by someone in his writing group to create a good story based on a really crappy premise. Butcher, so the tale goes, said he could meet such a challenge based on two crappy premises, and the premises with which he was inflicted were: Pokémon and the legend of the Roman Lost Legion!

He decided to set his story on another planet where some power of which we learn nothing allows for, or forces, races from different planets to arrive on the same planet. The Pokémon element is, of course, the furies (more on this anon). The Lost Legion is the Alerans, a human race with strong Roman legion influences.

The planet on which Alera resides is also occupied, as we learn through the volumes, by a race of ice giants in the north, the Marat, a completely different species of humanoid life, in the south, and across the ocean two more races: the Canim - a race of sentient and aggressive wolf people, and the Vord, an aggressive, insectile and sentient race which is, as the name might suggest, like Star Trek's Borg: compelled towards assimilation and domination.

And so to vol 1. I saw at one point that Amazon was asking $400 for this book in hardback! Woah! Who says organic books are on their way out?! but Amazon consists of a bunch of USDA Grade A assholes, so enough said about that.

Vol 1 introduces us to the main characters of course, and there's a lot of chopping back and forth as we meet them all and start to learn who they are and why, and what they're up to. Normally I don’t like this approach and have been known to get confused by so many introductions so quickly (who me?!), but Butcher again excels at this and clearly sets out who's who and what's going on without writing reams of tedious or confusing exposition. I don’t know where he learned to write but I want to take that course!

The main character (ostensibly, because I'll have to disagree in a minute or two) is 14-year-old Tavi, which as usual I mispronounced. I started thinking it was Tah-vee, but evidently, as becomes clear over the course of the entire series, it’s really Tay-vee, because (and we don’t learn this until much later), it's short for Octavian. In a world where the citizens all have at least one 'fury', Tavi has none.

A fury is a connection with a natural power or spirit, which can manifest itself as a ghostly animal (hence the Pokémon element!). This connection allows those who have it to manipulate the 'elements'. Normally this is where I would check-out, because these elements are, as usual in this kind of story, earth, wind, and fire, along with water, metal, wood, and air. I stayed with this because Butcher again has a way of describing these powers and showing their use without it looking like some juvenile magic. On day, when out with his uncle Bernard, a tough giant of a man, Tavi encounters a Marat warrior and his uncle is injured. The latter arranges for himself to be carried back home to "Bernardholt" - a kind of homestead - using his earth fury.

Tavi is to follow, but of course, Tavi goes astray and encounters a cursor - an official messenger of the First Lord (effectively, the king) of Alera, Gaius Sixtus - right when a deadly wind storm, powered by wind furies, comes hurtling down off the mountains. He saves Amana's (the cursor's) life by hiding with her in the memorial to the dead son of Gaius Sixtus: the Princeps Septimus. Those who are a lot sharper than I was may see where this is going at this point!).

Eventually, Tavi gets the injured cursor home to Bernardholt where his aunt Isana, Bernard's sister, who has a water fury and is therefore a healer, fixes her up, and eventually she and Bernard (whom Isana also fixed up) fall in love. Meanwhile out and about on another occasion with an apparently simple-minded servant who has a story all of his own, Tavi and the servant are captured by the Marat, deadly foes of the Alerans, a people who should not be in the Calderon Valley. The warrior who captures him is of a different tribe from the one he initially saw with his uncle, and Tavi is not killed, but held prisoner.

This is where Tavi encounters the real protagonist of this series for the first time. Her name is Kitai. This is another thing for which I hate Jim Butcher immensely because the name is kick-ass! I wish I’d thought of it first. Kitai appears to be male and is very hostile to Tavi. So, of course, the two of them are sent upon a trial, the winner to decide both Tavi's fate and the question of whether this Marat tribe will side with the Alerans or with another and hostile Marat tribe which wishes to eject the Alerans from the valley.

The trial involves them stealing a species of mushroom which has healing properties, but which is in a deep crater harboring a Vord infestation. In the course of this theft, Tavi discovers, as Kitai raises her smock to keep it out of some water, that she's a girl. She denies this! She's a whelp, she insists, and it isn't until she comes of age and is assigned to a tribe that she will become a girl. She desperately wants the horse tribe, whereby she will bond with her horse and take on some of its qualities and it some of hers, resulting in a lifelong pairing as a warrior team.

Kitai is seriously injured by the Vord during the theft, and she urges Tavi to leave her, telling him hoarsely (which is funny because she wanted the horse tribe!) that his plan was a good one, and he must apologize to her father, on her behalf, for her failure. Tavi refuses to abandon her. He realizes that one of the two mushrooms he has stolen will heal her, and he pours some of its juice onto her wound, and makes her drink some too, and as he does so, suddenly, there is a frozen moment where they become completely and intimately aware of each other, and Kitai's eyes, which had been of mixed coloration, suddenly resolve to match Tavi's green eyes. Kitai has bonded with Tavi. Never has this happened before! I'm sorry, but I have to quote this!

Tavi dropped the knife, slid down the rope, and ran to Kitai He seized her and began dragging her back toward the ropes, grunting with effort but moving quickly, jerking her over the ground.

"Aleran," she whispered, opening her eyes Her expression was pained, weary.

"Aleran. Too late. Venom. My father. Tell him I was sorry."

Tavi stared down at her "No," he whispered. "Kitai, no We're almost out."

"It was a good plan," she said.

Her head lolled to one side, eyes rolling back.

"No," Tavi hissed, suddenly furious "No, crows take you! You can't!" He reached into his pouch, fumbling through it as tears started to blur his vision There must be something She couldn't just die She couldn't They were so close.

Something stuck sharply into his finger, and pain flashed through him again. The crows-eaten mushroom had jabbed him with its spines. The Blessing of Night.

Fever. Poison. Injury. Pain. Even age. It has power over them all. To our people, there is nothing of greater value.

Weeping, Tavi seized the mushroom and started tearing off the spines with his fingers, heedless of the pain. Shrieks rose all around him, came closer, though the still-blazing branch seemed to have confused some of the Keepers, to have temporarily slowed their advance.

Tavi reached down and slipped an arm beneath Kitai's head, half-hauling her up. He reached down to the wound over her thigh and crushed the mushroom in his hand.

Musty-scented, clear fluid leaked out from between his fingers and dribbled over the wound, mixing with blood and yellowish venom. Kitai's leg twitched as the fluid touched it, and the girl drew in a sudden breath.

Tavi lifted the rest of the mushroom to her lips and pressed it into her mouth. "Eat it," he urged her. "Eat it, you have to eat it.".

Kitai's mouth twitched once, and then began to chew, automatically. She swallowed the mushroom and blinked her eyes slowly open, focusing them on Tavi.

Time stopped.

Tavi found himself staring down at the girl, suddenly aware of her, entirely aware of her in a way he never had been aware of anyone before. He could feel the texture of her skin beneath his hand and felt the abrupt compulsion to lay his fingers over her chest, to feel the beat of her heart beneath it, slowly gaining in strength. He could feel the surge of blood in her veins, the fear and regret and confusion that filled her thoughts. Those cleared as her eyes focused on him, widened, and Tavi realized that she had felt his own presence in the same way.

Not moving her eyes from his, Kitai reached out a hand and touched his chest in response, fingers pressed close to feel the beating of his heart.

It took Tavi a frozen, endless moment to separate the beating of his own heart, the rush of blood in his own ears, from hers. They beat together, perfectly in time. Even as he realized it, his own heartbeat began to speed, and so did hers, bringing a flush of heat to his face, one answered in her own expression. He stared at the wonder in her eyes and saw that it could only be a reflection of that in his own.

The scent of her, fresh and wild, curled up around him, through him like something alive. The shape of her eyes, her cheeks, her mouth. In that single moment, he saw in her the promise of the beauty that would come in time, the strength that had still to grow, the courage and reckless resourcefulness that matched his own and flamed wild and true in her.

The intensity of it made his eyes blur, and he blinked them, tried to clear the tears from them, only to realize that Kitai was blinking as well, her eyes filling with tears, going liquid and blurry.

When Tavi had blinked the tears away, his eyes returned to hers-only to find not opalescent swirls of subtle, shifting color, but wide pools of deep, emerald green.

Eyes as green as his own.

"Oh no" Kitai whispered, her voice stunned, weak. "Oh no" She opened her mouth, started to sit up-then shuddered once and slumped in his arms, abruptly overwhelmed with exhaustion.

The frozen moment ended.

Tavi lifted his dazed head to see the first of the Keepers edging past the blazing blanket and branch. Tavi hauled himself to his feet, lifting Kitai, and stumbled toward the ropes. He stepped into the loop at the base of one, then reached over to the other, and wrapped it around his waist, around her legs, tying her to him. Even before he was finished, Doroga had started hauling the rope up the face of the cliff. The other rope came in as well, where Hashat must have been pulling it along to keep it tight.

Tavi held on to the rope, and to Kitai, not really sure which one he held tighter. He closed his eyes, overwhelmed, and did not open them again until he and Kitai sat at the top of the cliff, in the cold, fresh, clean snow. When he opened his eyes again, he sat with his back against a stone and idly noted the fresh earth beside him, where Doroga had uprooted the boulder and hurled it down.

A moment later, he realized that Kitai lay against his side, beneath one of his arms, warm and limp, half-conscious. He tightened his arm on her, gently, confused-but certain that he wanted her to sleep, to rest, and to be right where she was.

(Furies of the Calderon by Jim Butcher pp 306 - 308)

When they finally get out of the crater, Kitai's aunt, of the horse tribe, demands of Kitai's father, Doroga, that he do something about this, but he is adamant that the bond has been made and cannot be changed. Moreover, he's beholden to Tavi for saving his daughter's life. While Kitai realizes what this means, Tavi is clueless (as we discover he often is during this series). He thinks no more of it.

Unfortunately, Kitai doesn’t appear any further in vol 1, which means that the story goes downhill somewhat from there! But Butcher is just teasing us for her triumphant return in vol 2.

The rest of the story consists of assorted subterfuges and misleading plays by a guy called Fidelias, who used to be a trusted cursor, but who is now a rebel against the First Lord. The climax of vol 1 is an assault by Atsurak, a bloodthirsty leader of a Marat tribe, upon a fortification which is supposed to be protecting the Calderon Valley. Lead by Bernard and Amara, and with the aid of Dorog, Kitai's father, who is even more massively built than Bernard, the garrison successfully holds off the attack.

In gratitude, the First Lord declares Bernard and his new love Amara to be the new Count and Countess of the garrison, and Isana is granted the right of steadholder in Bernard's place - the first woman in Aleran history ever to be a steadholder and gain her citizenship of Alera in her own right. Tavi is granted a scholarship to the academy, despite his having no fury powers.

And therein lies vol 2!

Academ's Fury by Jim Butcher

Rating: WORTHY!

The next episode in Jim Butcher's Adventures of Kitai in Alera takes place two years after the events of Furies of the Calderon. This is solely to give Tavi time to grow up somewhat so he's at least a bit more on par with Kitai although of course, he never actually succeeds in becoming her equal or in holding his own against her formidable feminine force.

The book begins with a prolog, which frankly annoys me, and I tend to ignore such things: introductions, prologs, etc? Bleccch! (Yes with 3 c's). If it’s important enough to read, make it chapter 1 for goodness sakes! What’s with the prolog crap? Seriously. Call it chapter 0 if you have to, just get it done. Besides, wasn't volume one the prolog to volume 2?!

Having said that, this prolog was one of the very few I've ever found to be worth reading, and even then only the part where it details the interaction and amusing discussion between Kitai and her father, Doroga, chief of one of the Marat tribes, and rider of some sort of giant ground sloth. In fact, I'm going to unapologetically quote that section right here because I laughed out loud when I first read it, and it still tickles me immensely. Kitai is so unapologetically feisty!

She and her father have come, at Kitai's urging, to visit what the Alerans call the wax valley - the site of a Vord infestation, not to be confused with the Calderon Valley. The Vord had occupied this small valley and coated it in their 'croach' - a living substance which breaks down organic material and converts it into food the Vord can use.

It was in this valley, treading carefully over the croach so as not to break it and awaken the Vord, that Kitai and Tavi came in vol 1 to get the mushrooms, and where, at the end of their trial, they became bonded inextricably. Since that time, neither one of them has seen or been in contact with the other. Tavi is clueless about what their bonding means, but Kitai is not, and she resents it immensely, feeling robbed unjustly of her heart's desire to join the horse tribe of the Marat.

As her father overlooks the valley, he sees what Kitai has already discovered: the Vord have gone, and the valley is now dead:

Kitai began to feel cold for the first time since spring. She turned to squint behind her, shielding her eyes from the sleet with one hand. She wore a brief cloth about her hips, a belt to hold her knife and hunting pouch, and nothing else. Wind threw her thick white hair around her face, its color blending with the driving snow.

"Hurry up!" she called.

There was a deep-chested snort, and a massive form paced into sight. Walker the gargant was an enormous beast, even of its kind, and its shoulders stood nearly the height of two men above the earth. His shaggy winter coat had already come in thick and black, and he paid no notice to the snow. His claws, each larger than an Aleran saber, dug into the frozen earth without difficulty or hurry.

Kitai’s father, Doroga, sat upon the gargant’s back, swaying casually upon the woven saddle cloth. He was dressed in a loincloth and a faded red Aleran tunic. Doroga’s chest, arms and shoulders were so laden with muscle that he had been obliged to tear the sleeves from the red tunic-but as it had been a gift and discarding it would be impolite, he had braided a rope from the sleeves and bound it across his forehead, tying back his own pale hair. "We must hurry, since the valley is running from us. I see. Maybe we should have stayed downwind."

"You are not as amusing as you think you are," Kitai said, glowering at her father’s teasing. Doroga smiled, the expression emphasizing the lines in his broad, square features. He took hold of Walker’s saddle rope and swung down to the ground with a grace that belied his sheer size. He slapped his hand against the gargant’s front leg, and Walker settled down amicably, placidly chewing cud.

Kitai turned and walked forward, into the wind, and though he made no sound, she knew her father followed close behind her.

A few moments later, they reached the edge of a cliff that dropped abruptly into open space. The snow prevented her from seeing the whole of the valley below, but for the lulls between gusts, when she could see all the way to the bottom of the cliff below them.
"Look," she said.

Doroga stepped up beside her, absently slipping one vast arm around her shoulders. Kitai would never have let her father see her shiver, not at a mere autumn sleet, but she leaned against him, silently grateful for his warmth. She watched as her father peered down, waiting for a lull in the wind to let him see the place the Alerans called the Wax Forest.

Kitai closed her eyes, remembering the place. The dead trees had coated in the croach, a thick, gelatinous substance layered over and over itself so that it looked like the One had coated it all in the wax of many candles. The croach had covered everything in the valley, including the ground and a sizeable portion of the valley walls. Here and there, birds and animals had been sealed into the croach, where, still alive, they lay unmoving until they softened and dissolved like meat boiled over a low fire. Pale things the size of wild dogs, translucent, spider like creatures with many legs once laid quietly in the croach, nearly invisible, while others prowled the forest floor, silent and swift and alien.

Kitai shivered at the memory, then forced herself to stillness again, biting her lip. She glanced up at her father, but he pretended not to have noticed, staring down.
The valley below had never in her people’s memory taken on snow. The entire place had been warm to the touch, even in winter, as though the croach itself was some kind of massive beast, the heat of its body filling the air around it.

Now the Wax Forest stood covered in ice and rot. The old, dead trees were coated in something that looked like brown and sickly tar. The ground lay frozen, though here and there, other patches of rotten croach could be seen. Several of the trees had fallen. And in the center of the Forest, the hollow mound lay collapsed and dissolved into corruption, the stench strong enough to carry even to Kitai and her father.

Doroga was still for a moment before he said, "We should go down. Find out what happened."

"I have," Kitai said.

Her father frowned. "That was foolish to do alone."

"Of the three of us here, which has gone down and come back alive again the most often?"

Doroga grunted out a laugh, glancing down at her with warmth and affection in his dark eyes. "Maybe you are not mistaken." The smile faded, and the wind and sleet hid the valley again. "What did you find?"

"Dead keepers," she replied. "Dead croach. Not warm. Not moving. The keepers were empty husks. The croach breaks into ash at a touch." She licked her lips. "And something else."


"Tracks," she said in a quiet voice. "Leading away from the far side. Leading west."
Doroga grunted. "What tracks?"

Kitai shook her head. "They were not fresh. Perhaps Marat or Aleran. I found more dead keepers along the way. As if they were marching and dying one by one."

"The creature," Doroga rumbled. "Moving toward the Alerans."

Kitai nodded, her expression troubled.

Doroga looked at her and said, "What else?"

"His satchel. The pack the valleyboy lost in the Wax Forest during our race. I found it on the trail beside the last of the dead spiders, his scent still on it. Rain came. I lost the trail."

Doroga’s expression darkened. "We will tell the master of the Calderon Valley. It may be nothing."

"Or it may not. I will go," Kitai said.

"No," Doroga said.

"But father-"

"No," he repeated, his voice harder.

"What if it is looking for him?"

Her father remained quiet for a time, before he said, "Your Aleran is clever. Swift. He is able to take care of himself."

Kitai scowled. "He is small. And foolish. And irritating."

"Brave. Selfless."

"Weak. And without even the sorcery of his people."

"He saved your life," Doroga said.

Kitai felt her scowl deepen. "Yes. He is irritating."

Doroga smiled. "Even lions begin life as cubs."

"I could break him in half," Kitai growled.

"For now, perhaps."

"I despise him."

"For now, perhaps."

"He had no right."

Doroga shook his head. "He had no more say in it than you."

Kitai folded her arms and said, "I hate him."

"So you want someone to warn him. I see."

Kitai flushed, heat touching her cheeks and throat.

Her father pretended not to notice. "What is done is done," he rumbled. He turned to her and cupped her cheek in one vast hand. He tilted his head for a moment, studying her. "I like his eyes on you. Like emerald. Like new grass."

Kitai felt her eyes begin to tear. She closed them and kissed her father’s hand. "I wanted a horse."

Doroga let out a rumbling laugh. "Your mother wanted a lion. She got a fox. She did not regret it."

"I want it to go away."

Doroga lowered his hand. He turned back toward Walker, keeping his arm around Kitai. "It won’t. You should Watch."

"I do not wish to."

"It is the way of our people," Doroga said.

"I do not wish to."

"Stubborn whelp. You will remain here until some sense soaks into your skull."

"I am not a whelp, father."

"You act like one. You will remain with the Sabot-ha." They reached Walker, and he tossed her halfway up the saddle rope without effort.

Kitai clambered up to Walker’s broad back. "But father-"

"No, Kitai." He climbed up behind her, and clucked to Walker. The gargant placidly rose and began back the way they had come. "You are forbidden to go. It is done."

Kitai rode silently behind her father, but sat looking back to the west, her troubled face to the wind. (Academ's Fury by Jim Butcher pp 1 - 5)

Of course she ends up going. But more about that anon, with another quote! I love the moody way she behaves here, but I have to admit this piece isn’t exactly clear about what’s going on. I think Doroga means for her to watch Tavi, but not go to talk to the master of the Calderon Valley, who happens to be Tavi's uncle, the Count Bernard. Doroga has met Bernard, fought at his side, and become friends with him. Kitai has never met him, so Doroga visits Bernard.

We find Tavi in Alera's capital Alera Imperia, home of the First Lord. He's attending the academy. He still has no furies, but he has friends, and he has a job as a page to the First Lord. He also has a school bully who is only important here in that he allows us to learn of Lord Kalare, one of those who have their eyes focused jealously upon the First Lord's position.

The capital is vastly different from the rustic background from which Tavi hails. It’s all ruthless politics, and since the First Lord is both gaining in years and heirless, his son having been killed in a battle against the Marat many many years before, there is much jockeying for position amongst the lesser lords to see who will take his place when Gaius Sixtus dies.

Tavi is in training to be a cursor - an official messenger of the First Lord and part time spy. His best friend is Max, a black sheep, and disowned son of one of the Lords of Alera. Max can impersonate the first Lord, but he is very much a ladies man and when he gets himself into trouble and tossed into jail, and the First Lord becomes incapacitated, Tavi comes up with the improbable idea of having Max impersonate Gaius in order to keep the kingdom stable until the First Lord can recover.

To achieve this end, Tavi has to break Max out of jail, which is pretty much impossible since this is fortified military tower, not some little down-town lock-up. Tavi can think of only one person who could help him. There is a thief at large in Alera Imperia known as The Black Cat, who seems to be able to come and go as he pleases, lifting whatever goods he wants, by-passing all the fury-crafted alarms and barriers, and never getting caught. Tavi has been assigned to try and figure out who this thief is, but he has not yet succeeded. Now he decides to recruit him, to gain his aid in breaking Max out of jail. Here’s how he captures The Black Cat, and I have to say that I think this is my all time favorite portion of any novel:

A sudden quivering excitement filled him for no reason whatsoever, and Tavi abruptly felt certain that his instincts had not led him astray. He found a pocket of deep shadows behind a chimney and slipped into it, crouching into cautious immobility.

He didn't have long to wait. There was a flicker of motion on the far side of Crafter Lane, and Tavi saw a cloaked and hooded figure gliding over the rooftops just as lightly and quietly as he. He felt his lips tighten into a grin. He recognized the grey cloak, the flowing motion. Once again, he had found the Black Cat.

The figure eased up to the edge of the roof to stare down at the vocalists, then dropped into a relaxed crouch, hands reaching down to rest his fingers lightly on the rooftop. Beneath the cloak's hood, the Cat's head tilted to one side, and he went completely still, evidently fascinated by the singers. Tavi watched the Cat in turn, an odd and nagging sense of recognition stirring briefly. Then the Cat rose and ghosted down to the next rooftop, his covered face turned toward the bakery, with its tables piled high with fresh, steaming sweetbread while a red-cheeked matron did a brisk business selling the loaves. A quality of tension, of hunger, entered the Cat's movements, and he vanished over the far side of the building upon which he stood.

Tavi waited until the Cat was out of sight, then rose and leapt to the roof of the bakery. He found another dark spot to conceal his presence just as the dark-cloaked Cat emerged from between the two buildings across the street and walked calmly through the crowded street, feet shuffling in a rhythmic step or two as he passed the vocal ensemble. The Cat slowed his steps by a fraction and passed the table just as the matron behind the table turned to deposit small silver coins into a strongbox. The Cat's cloak twitched as he passed the table, and if Tavi hadn't been watching carefully he would never have seen the loaf vanish under the thief's cloak.
The Cat never missed a step, sliding into the space between the bakery and the cobbler's shop beside it and walking quietly and quickly down the alleyway.

Tavi rose and padded silently along the rooftop, reaching to his belt for the heavy coil of tough, flexible cord looped through it. He dropped the open loop at the end of the lariat clear of his fingertips, and opened the loop wider with the practiced, expert motions his hands had learned through years of dealing with the large, stubborn, aggressive rams of his uncle's mountain sheep. It was a long throw and from a difficult angle, but he crouched by the edge of the roof and flicked the lariat in a circle before sending it sharply down.

The loop in the lariat settled around The Cat's hooded head. The thief darted to one side, and managed to get two fingers under the loop before Tavi could snap the line tight. Tavi planted his feet and hauled hard on the line.

The line hauled The Cat from his feet and sent him stumbling to one side.

Tavi whipped the cord twice around the bricks of the bakery's chimney, slapped it through a herder's loop in a familiar blur of motion, then slid down the roof to drop to the alley, landing in a crouch that bounced into a leap that carried him into the Black Cat's back. He hit hard, driving the Cat into the wall with a breath-stealing slam.

The Cat's foot smashed down hard on his toes, and if he hadn't been wearing heavy leather boots, it might have broken them. Tavi snarled, "Hold still," and hauled at the rope, trying to keep his opponent from finding his balance. There was a rasping sound and a knife whipped at the hand Tavi had on the rope. He jerked his fingers clear, and the knife bit hard into the tightened lariat. The cord was too tough to part at a single blow, but the Cat reached up with his free hand to steady the rope and finish the cut.

The lariat parted. Tavi slammed the Cat against the wall again, seized the wrist of the thief's knife hand and banged it hard against the bakery's stone wall. The knife tumbled free. Tavi drove the heel of his hand into the base of the Cat's neck, through the heavy cloak, a stunning blow. The Cat staggered. Tavi whirled and threw the thief facedown to the ground, landing on his back and twisting one slender arm up far behind him, holding the Cat in place.
"Hold still," Tavi snarled. "I'm not with the civic legion. I just want to talk to you."

The Black Cat abruptly stopped struggling, and something about the quality of that stillness made him think it was due to startled surprise. The Black Cat eased away the tension in the muscles that quivered against Tavi, and they softened abruptly.

Tavi blinked down at his captive and then tore the hood back from the Black Cat's head.

A mane of fine, silvery white curls fell free of the cloak, framing the pale, smooth curve of a young woman's cheek and full, wine-dark lips. Her eyes, slightly canted at their corners, were a brilliant shade of green identical to Tavi's own, and her expression was one of utter surprise. "Aleran?" she panted.

"Kitai," Tavi breathed. "You're the Black Cat?"

She turned her head as much as she could to look up at him, her wide eyes visible even in the dimness of the alley. Tavi stared down at her for a long moment, his stomach muscles suddenly fluttering with excited energy. He became acutely conscious of the lean, strong limbs of the young Marat woman beneath him, the too-warm fever heat of her skin, and the way that her own breathing had not slowed, though she had ceased to struggle against him. He slowly released her wrist, and she just as slowly withdrew her arm from between their bodies.

Tavi shivered and leaned a little closer, drawing in a breath through his nose. Strands of fine hair tickled his lips. Kitai smelled of many scents, faint perfumes likely stolen from expensive boutiques, the fresh warmth of still-warm sweetbread and, beneath that, of heather and clean winter wind. Even as he moved, she turned her head toward him as well, her temple brushing his chin, her breath warm on his throat. Her eyes slid almost closed.

"Well," she murmured after another moment. "You have me, Aleran. Either do something with me or let me up."

Tavi felt his face flare into a fiery blush, and he hurriedly pushed his arms down and lifted his weight from Kitai. The Marat girl looked up at him without moving for a moment, her mouth curled into a little smirk, before she rose with a thoughtless, feline grace to her own feet. She looked around for a moment and spotted her ill-gotten loaf of sweetbread on the ground, crushed during their struggle.

"Now look what you've done," she complained. "You've destroyed my dinner, Aleran." She frowned and stared at him for a moment, annoyance nickering in her eyes as she looked him up and down, then stood directly before him with her hands on her hips. Tavi blinked mildly at her expression and stared down at her. "You've grown," she accused him. "You're taller."

"It's been two years," Tavi said.

Kitai made a faint, disgusted sound. Beneath the cloak she wore a man's tunic of dark, expensive silk, hand-stitched with Forcian nightflowers, heavy, Legion-issue leather trousers, and fine leather shoes that would have cost a small fortune. The Marat girl had changed as well, and though she was obviously little taller than before, she had developed in other, extremely interesting ways, and Tavi had to force himself not to stare at the pale slice of smooth flesh revealed by the neckline of the tunic. Her cheek had a reddened patch of abraded flesh sharing space with a steadily darkening bruise, where Tavi had first slammed her into the wall. There was a similar mark upon her throat, though it was slender and precise, from where Tavi's lariat had caught her.

If she felt any pain, it didn't show. She regarded Tavi with intelligent, defiant eyes, and said, "Doroga said you would do this to me."

"Do what?" Tavi asked.

"Grow," she said. Her eyes raked him up and down, and she seemed to feel no compunction at all about staring at him. "Become stronger."

"Um," Tavi said. "I'm sorry?"

She glowered at him, and looked around until she spotted her knife. She reclaimed it, and Tavi saw that the blade was inlaid with gold and silver, the handle set with a design of amber and amethysts, and would probably have cost him a full year's worth of the modest monthly stipend Gaius permitted him. More jewelry glittered at her throat, on both wrists and in one ear, and Tavi gloomily estimated that the value of the goods she had stolen would probably merit her execution should she be captured by the authorities.

"Kitai," he said. "What in the world are you doing here?"

"Starving," she snapped. She poked at the ruined loaf with the tip of her shoe. "Thanks to you, Aleran."

Tavi shook his head. "What were you doing before that?"

"Not starving," she said with a sniff.

"Crows, Kitai. Why did you come here?"

Her lips pressed together for a moment before she answered. "To stand Watch."

"Uh. What?"

"I am Watching," she snapped. "Don't you know anything?"

"I'm starting to think that I don't," Tavi said. "Watching what?"

Kitai rolled her eyes in a gesture that conveyed both annoyance and contempt. "You, fool." She narrowed her eyes. "But what were you doing on that roof? Why did you attack me?"

"I didn't know it was you," Tavi said. "I was trying to catch the thief called the Black Cat. I suppose I did."

Kitai's eyes narrowed. "The One sometimes blesses even idiots with good fortune, Aleran." She folded her arms. "You have found me. What do you want?"

Tavi chewed on his lip, thinking. It was dangerous for Kitai to be in Alera at all, much less in the capital. The Realm's experiences with other races upon Carna had invariably been tense, hostile, and violent. When the Marat had wiped out Princeps Gaius Septimus's Legion at the First Battle of Calderon, they had created an entire generation of widows and orphans and bereaved families. And since the Crown Legion had been recruited from Alera Imperia, there were thousands, tens of thousands of individuals in this city with a bitter grudge against the Marat.

Kitai, because of her athletic build, pale skin, and hair-and especially because of her exotically slanted eyes-would be recognized immediately as one of the barbarians from the east. Given all that she had stolen (and the humiliation she had inflicted upon the civic legion in the process), she would never see the inside of a jail or a court of law. If seen, she would probably be seized by an angry mob and stoned, hanged, or burned on the spot, while the civic legion looked the other way.

Tavi's neglected stomach gurgled a complaint, and he sighed. "First thing," he said, "I'm going to get us both some food. Will you wait here for me?"

Kitai arched an eyebrow. "You think I cannot steal food for myself?"

"I'm not going to steal it," Tavi said. "Think of it as an apology for ruining your sweetbread."

Kitai frowned at that for a moment, then nodded cautiously and said, "Very well."

He had just enough money to purchase a couple of heavy wildfowl drumsticks, a loaf of sweetbread, and a flagon of apple cider. He took them back into the dim alley, where Kitai waited in patient stillness. Tavi passed her a drumstick and broke the loaf in half, then let her choose one. Then he leaned back against the wall, standing beside her, and got down to the serious business of eating.

Evidently, Kitai was at least as ravenous as Tavi, and they demolished meat and bread alike in moments. Tavi took a long drink from the flask and offered the rest to Kitai.

The Marat girl drank and wiped her mouth with one sleeve, then turned to Tavi, exotic eyes glittering. She dropped the empty flask and studied him while she licked the crumbs and grease from her fingers. Tavi found it fascinating, and waited in silence for a moment.

Kitai gave him a slow smile. "Yes, Aleran?" she asked. "Is there something you want?"

Tavi blinked and coughed, looking away before he started blushing again. He reminded himself sternly of what was at stake and that he did not dare allow himself to be distracted when it could cost so many people their lives. The terrifying weight of his responsibility drove away thoughts of Kitai's fingers and mouth, replacing them with twisting anxiety. "Yes, actually," he said. "I need your help."

Kitai's playful little smile vanished, and she peered at him, her expression curious, even concerned. "With what?"

"Breaking into a building," he said. "I need to learn how you've managed to get around all the security precautions in the places you have raided."

Kitai frowned at him. "For what reason?"

"A man is locked inside a prison tower. I need to get him out of the Grey Tower without tripping any furycrafted alarms and without anyone seeing us. Oh, and we need to do it so that no one knows that he's missing for at least a quarter of an hour."

Kitai took that in stride. "Will it be dangerous?"

"Very," Tavi said. "If we're caught, they will imprison or kill us both."

Kitai nodded, her expression thoughtful. "Then we must not be caught."

"Or fail," Tavi said. "Kitai, this could be important. Not just for me, but for all of Alera."

"Why?" she asked.

Tavi furrowed his brow. "We don't have much time for explanations. How much do you know about Aleran politics?"

"I know that you people are all insane," Kitai said.

Despite himself, a low bark of laughter flew from his lips. "I can see how you'd think that," Tavi said. "Do you need a reason other than insanity, then?"

"I prefer it," Kitai said.

Tavi considered it for a moment, then said, "The man who is locked away is my friend. He was put there for defending me."

Kitai stared at him for a moment and nodded. "Reason enough," she said.

"You'll help me?"

"Yes, Aleran," she answered. She studied his features with thoughtful eyes. "I will help you."

He nodded seriously. "Thank you."

Her teeth shone white in the dim alley. "Do not thank me. Not until you see what we must do to enter this tower." (Academ's Fury by Jim Butcher pp 264 - 270)

This marks the only occasion upon which Tavi bests Kitai.

Having successfully liberated Max, Tavi, with the help of another reliable soldier, Captain Miles, sets about his daring subterfuge of replacing Gaius until he's well enough to resume his position.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Tavi's aunt Isana, having heard from Doroga of the apparent Vord interest in Tavi, becomes concerned for her nephew and resolves to go to the capital and plead for his safety directly to the first Lord, whom she detests intensely. Unfortunately, when she arrives, she's unable to really see him because he's not really there, and several attempts are made on her life. Having thus failed with the First Lord, she falls into the clutches of the Aquitaine family, another rival for the Gaius' s position. They promise they will take care of her and her nephew if she will align herself with them and give them her allegiance. This she agrees to do.

Meanwhile, Tavi has befriended the Canim ambassador and learns from him that there is some interesting, dangerous and odd activity underneath the city which turns out to be, upon investigation, the Vord, who are evidently being aided by another of the Canim race.

As Tavi tries to figure out what to do, and to manage his vicarious and illegal impersonation of the First Lord, we find that the other odd couple, Amara and Bernard are not exactly on easy street. Isana resents Amara, and Amara resents herself for the same reason: she is unable to have children and she feels that because of this, Bernard should ditch her and find a more fertile spouse. Count Bernard isn’t interested.

As the novel draws to a close, we're faced with an assault on the First Lord's palace by the Canim in a coup attempt. Of course, the only people who can defend him are Tavi, Max, Miles, a few palace guards, Kitai, and the Lady Aquitaine, who happens to be present. They fight a running battle which they win, but barely. Tavi passes out, in fear of Kitai's life.

He recovers, and is discharged from his duties as palace page. As his final task, he's required to deliver a letter of welcome to the new Marat amabassador. I leave you with that scene:

He left the First Lord's suites and walked slowly into the north hall. He paused to ask a passing maid where the new Ambassador's quarters were located, and she directed him to a large set of double doors at the far end of the hall. Tavi walked down to them and knocked quietly.

The door opened, and Tavi found himself facing Kitai as he had never seen her before. She was dressed in a robe of dark emerald silk that fell to her knees and belted loosely at the waist. Her hair was down, brushed out into long and shining waves of white that fell to her hips. Her feet were bare, and fine, glittering chains of silver wrapped one ankle, both wrists, and her throat, where the necklace was set with another green stone. The colors were a perfectly lovely complement to her large, exotic eyes.

Tavi's heart suddenly beat very quickly.

Kitai studied Tavi's expression, her own face somewhat smug, and she smiled slowly. "Hello, Aleran."

"Urn," Tavi said. "I have a message for the Ambassador."

"Then you have a message for me," she said, and held out her hand. Tavi passed the envelope to her. She opened it and frowned at the letter within, then said, "I cannot read."

Tavi took the letter and read it. "Ambassador Kitai. I was pleased to hear from the crown guardsman you passed on the way into the palace yesterday morning that Doroga had dispatched an envoy to Alera to serve as an ambassador and emissary between our peoples. While I did not expect your arrival, you are most welcome here. I trust your quarters are satisfactory, and that your needs have been adequately attended to. You have only to inquire of any of the serving staff if you have need of anything else."

Kitai smiled, and said, "I have my own pool, in the floor. You can fill it with hot water or cold, Aleran, and there are scents and soaps and oils of every kind. They brought me meals, and I have a bed that could fit a mother gargant giving birth." She lifted her chin and pointed at the necklace. "You see?"

Tavi saw very soft, very fair skin, more than anything-but the necklace was lovely, too.<.p>

"Had I known of this," Kitai continued, "I might have asked to be an Ambassador before now."

Tavi coughed. "Well. I, uh. I mean, I suppose you are an Ambassador, if the First Lord says so, but for goodness sake, Kitai."

"Keep your opinions to yourself, message boy," she said disdainfully. "Continue to read."

Tavi gave her an even look, then read the rest of the note. "In order to help you better understand your duties here, I suggest that you take the time and effort to learn to understand the written word. Such a skill will be an immense advantage to you in the long run, and enable you more accurately to record your experiences and knowledge so that you may pass it on to your people. To that end, I am placing at your disposal the bearer of this message, whose sole duty for the next several weeks at least will be to teach you such skills with words as he may possess. Welcome to Alera Imperia, Ambassador, and I look forward to speaking with you in the future. Signed, Gaius Sixtus, First Lord of Alera."

"My disposal," she said. "Hah. I think I like that. I can have you do anything, now. Your chieftain said so."

"I don't think that's what he meant when-"

"Silence, errand boy!" she said, green eyes sparkling with mischief. "There are horses here, yes?"

"Well. Yes. But…"

"Then you will take me to them, and we will go for a ride," she said, still smiling.
Tavi sighed. "Kitai… perhaps tomorrow? I need to make sure Max is all right. And my aunt. We're having dinner this evening."

"Of course," she said at once. "Important things first."

"Thank you," he said.

She bowed her head to him a little. "And you, Aleran. I saw you against the Cane. You fought well. It was cleverly done."

And then she stepped up to him, stood on tiptoe, and kissed him on the mouth.

Tavi blinked in surprise, and for a second he couldn't move. Then she lifted her arms and twined them around his neck, drawing him closer, and everything in the world but her mouth and her arms and the scent and fever-hot warmth of her vanished. It was sometime later that the kiss ended, and Tavi felt a little wobbly. Kitai looked up at him with languid, pleased eyes, and said, "Cleverly done. For an Aleran."

"Th-thank you," Tavi stammered.

"My disposal," she said, satisfaction in her tone. "This promises to be a pleasant spring."

"Uh," Tavi said. "Wh-what?"

She made a little sound, half of impatience, half of disgust. "When will you stop talking, Aleran?" she said in a low, throaty growl and kissed him again, drawing him back into the room, until Tavi could kick the door closed behind them. (Academ's Fury by Jim Butcher pp 450 - 452)