After the Golden Age by Carrie Vaughn

After the Golden AgeSuperheroes have been a part of our culture for decades. Figures such as Superman, Batman and Spider-Man are just as familiar to us as any legendary person out of actual history. And these mighty warriors have gained more fame in recent years as the film industry has updated them for the new millennium. Novels, too, have provided us with heroes to admire, and Carrie Vaughn’s newest book joins these ranks. After the Golden Age is a deeply affecting tale of the hero in each of us.

Celia West is an accountant, specializing in the kind of forensic work that helps bring criminals to justice. She lives in a modest apartment and appears to be, for all intents and purposes, normal. But she’s the daughter of Warren and Suzanne West, also known as Captain Olympus and Spark, Commerce City’s greatest superheroes. This makes Celia a favorite target for someone looking for a prime hostage.

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The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

The Lightning ThiefThis book was a personal purchase.

The Greek myths are among the richest and most well known ancient stories. Tales of gods and monsters, heroes and villains, they’ve provided a vast well of action and pathos. And no matter how many times they’re fodder for books and movies, they still delight and enchant. The Lightning Thief is one of the more recent examples of this phenomenon.

Percy Jackson has been kicked out of every school he’s been in, even though it’s not his fault that weird stuff happens around him. It’s definitely not his fault that his math teacher just turned into a winged hag and tried to kill him. And it’s really not his fault that Zeus’s master lightning bolt has been stolen and the gods are blaming him for it.

But because of all of this, Percy learns that his father was one of the gods of Mount Olympus. Percy is a half-blood, and now it’s up to him and his friends to find Zeus’s bolt before the summer solstice. If they fail, all hell will break loose—literally.

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Galileo’s Dream by Kim Stanley Robinson

Galileo's DreamThis book was borrowed from the Yolo County Public Library Davis branch.

While speculative science is fodder for science fiction novels, grounding a story in real science takes more skill and research. And nobody does science woven with story better than Kim Stanley Robinson. Now Robinson has tackled the life and legacy of the legendary scientist Galileo, mixing it with futuristic encounters.

Galileo’s meetings with the mysterious stranger who calls himself Ganymede are, at best, half-remembered episodes. But Ganymede’s talk of lenses that allow the viewing of distant objects impel the maestro to create a telescope. Galileo’s subsequent viewings of Jupiter’s moons lead him to endorse Copernicus’s theories. But the idea that the earth is not the universe’s fixed center is heretical to the Catholic Church, and Galileo must face charges of heresy.

But this is not Galileo’s only challenge. Ganymede is actually from a future where humanity lives on Jupiter’s moons, and he takes the old scientist with him to that distant time. There, he learns not only about the possible fate of his world, but his own fate as well.

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Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde

Shades of GreyThis book was a personal purchase.

Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series is a marvel of literary fun and games, but the author has proven that he’s not confined to parody. With Shades of Grey, he’s added social satire to his repertoire. The first in a series, the book raises as many questions as it answers.

Eddie Russett hasn’t taken his Ishihara, or color test, yet, but he’s pretty sure he’ll score in the high red. This will confirm him as a productive citizen and give him a fighting chance at marrying Constance Oxblood, heir to the family string fortune.

But an ill-timed prank sends Eddie to East Carmine to conduct a chair census as punishment. When he and his father arrive there, they discover that the Rules that govern everyone’s lives are a little more flexible than in the cities. Into this morass comes Jane, a Grey with a flagrant disdain for the Rules and a very cute nose. She challenges Eddie to find the truth about the world he so blindly lives in, before it consumes him.

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Liar by Justine Larbalestier

LiarThis book was borrowed from the Yolo County Public Library Davis branch.

One of the trickiest narrative voices is an unreliable one. Readers are used to a story’s narrative voice being honest. Can a book work when you can’t trust the main character? Liar proves that it most definitely can.

Micah is a chronic liar, as she’s quick to point out. But now she’s expressing the desire to come clean and tell the truth about something important. Her boyfriend Zach has died, apparently murdered, and Micah is a prime suspect.

In trying to talk about Zach and his death, Micah tells readers much about her life, her past, and her problems. She speaks candidly about her habit of lying—or least, she appears to. But as the novel progresses, readers will learn a startling fact about Micah, and then they will have to decide if her story is real, or just another lie.

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Saint Antony’s Fire by Steve White

Saint Antony's FireThis book was a personal purchase.

Many authors have melded the Elizabethan era with the legends of faerie and elves; the history and myths go well together. But Steve White takes a totally different approach with Saint Antony’s Fire, which has both elves and a strong science-fiction aspect.

In an alternate reality, Ponce de Leon hunts for the fountain of youth but finds something quite different. Many years later, Queen Elizabeth faces the Spanish armada, which is armed with the Gray Monks and their devastating weapons. Fearing capture, Elizabeth flees to the New World in the hopes of finding where Spain found its new weapons and allies.

She’s accompanied by luminaries as Dr. Dee, an alchemist, and a young playwright named Shakespeare. But when they reach Roanoke, Va., they find the colony deserted. With help from the local natives, they learn that the English colonists simply vanished into thin air.

Is this the secret to Spain’s unholy alliance?

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Firebird by Mercedes Lackey

FirebirdWhile Celtic and British mythology is a fertile hunting ground for novel ideas, occasionally another nationality crops up. For example, Mercedes Lackey’s Firebird draws on a Russian fairy tale to tell a tale of magic, adventure, and the journey to adulthood.

Ilya, one of the younger sons of a Russian tsar, spends his life wondering when he will next suffer a beating at the hands of his brutal older brothers. But one day, something happens that distracts everybody’s attention—the tsars prize cherry trees are being picked clean every night despite being guarded.

Curious, Ilya hides in the orchard and catches a glimpse of a glowing creature, a firebird. But seeing this mythical being is bad luck, and soon Ilya’s life takes a turn for the worse. When his brothers maroon him the forest to die, he sets out to find his destiny elsewhere.

Instead of safety, he finds the palace of the Katschei, a sorcerer who keeps beautiful women prisoner and turns their would-be rescuers to stone. When Ilya falls in love with one of the women and vows to rescue her, the firebird arrives to help him, although she cautions that not all is as it seems in that strange place.

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Guardians of the Keep by Carol Berg

Guardians of the KeepCarol Berg’s writing and storytelling are among the genre’s best. She continually comes up with fresh ideas and interweaves them around stirring characters, and she demonstrates this anew in her latest novel, Guardians of the Keep, (the second part of The Bridge of D’Arnath series, which began with Son of Avonar).

Seri returns to Comigor, her ancestral home, to tell her brother’s family of his death in battle. Everything is in chaos; her sister-in-law is unwilling to shoulder the burdens of managing an estate. Her nephew Gerick has become sullen and withdrawn, and he soon makes his hatred of Seri (“the witch”) well known. But that doesn’t stop Seri from conducting an all-out search for the boy when he vanishes.

Seri’s old nemesis, Darzid, has spirited the boy away to the Zhev’Na lords’ stronghold, there to corrupt him for their own purposes. They’ve discovered a cataclysmic secret about him, something unknown to anyone … something that will shatter Seri’s world and throw all that she knows into doubt. With the aid of her husband, whose soul is in a body not his own, she attempts to stop Gerick’s descent into evil and prevent the destruction of two worlds.

Berg’s narrative style, in which she alternates the story’s “present” with flashbacks of events in different locations, serves her well. Rather than making the tale too scattered, it gives readers a fuller picture of developments influencing the main plot. The result is a richly detailed chain of events that never grows stagnant or boring.

The author’s deft hand with characterization is never more evident than in how she handles Gerick. Readers will see through his eyes, and watch his personality change and grow, as he deals with the reality of evil. It’s powerful–and sad–to see how a child can believe himself beyond redemption, and how he can be twisted to that way of thinking.

When the fate of worlds and the destiny of a child combine, the result is an affecting and deeply touching story. Guardians of the Keep holds up well for a middle book and sets everything up for a thunderous conclusion.

Series: The Bridge of D’Arnath
ISBN: 9780451460004
Publisher: Roc
Page Count: 528
Publication Date: September 7, 2004
Acquired: Provided by the publisher
Author Website
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Phoenix and Ashes by Mercedes Lackey

Phoenix and AshesFans have endured a long three-year wait for the Elemental Masters’ return, but they need not languish in suspense any longer. Mercedes Lackey sets her Cinderella tale against the backdrop of World War I in Phoenix and Ashes.

Eleanor Robinson’s fortunes have gone from good to intolerable. When her father remarried, she found herself relegated to the status of a servant. But upon her father’s untimely death in France, the horror truly begins: Her stepmother, Alison, cuts off one of Eleanor’s little fingers and uses it to magically bind her to the house in utter servitude. Freedom still may be at hand, though, in the forms of Eleanor’s godmother (also a mage) and the little creatures that live in the fire.

Eleanor isn’t her stepmother’s only target. Reggie Fenyx, a pilot and Air Master, has come home wounded and shell-shocked. While trapped in a collapsed bunker and tormented by Earth monsters, he shut himself off from his power. He must regain it before Alison launches an attempt to marry him off to one of her daughters. She’ll use any means to achieve her ends, magical or mundane, because Dark Masters never are satisfied with anything less than destruction. Even greater dangers await both Reggie and Eleanor, unless a way is found to fight back.

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