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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Athena's Ashes Review

Athena's Ashes (Star Thief Chronicles, #2)Athena's Ashes by Jamie Grey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received a free ARC of this book in exchange for this review.

Renna wakes up in a medical facility. She has had an implant placed in her brain. She is trying to destroy Pallas, the traitor within MYTH that she believes has done this to her. The implant gives her special mental abilities, such as the ability to see maps, and to communicate with other electronic systems. Renna is worried that she is turning into a cyborg. (Think Summer Glau in the Terminator TV series from a few years ago.) Dr Samil tries to give her injections to control the integration of the implant, while Pallas is Meanwhile, Renna misses the captain of the ship, Finn, that she was on before being brought to the hospital. She may be faling in love with him.

That's just from the beginning of the book. I won't give away too much because of spoilers, but I didn't want to put the book down. The plot moves fast, with a lot of twists and turns that are unexpected. The focus is on Renna, and her increasing abilities with the implant. I found shades of Terminator, Star Wars, and 2001: A Space Odyssey in this book. Pallas is also trying to construct a cyborg army based on the implant.

This is book 2 of the series. I didn't read book 1, but the first few chapters brought me up to speed on the important things. It can be easy to get lost in the details, but I was able, after a few pages, to catch up.

I liked how the author showed Renna's increasing power from the implants, and how she is able to use that power to get what she needs. Again, I won't say too much because of spoilers, but the integration isn't always smooth, and its use isn't always perfect. If it were, it would have ruined the plot.

This was an ARC, so there were some spelling errors, which I wrote off as typos. I assume they will be fixed in the final copy. When I review ARCs, I make allowances for this, and just review the content.

The ending is a little ambiguous. It ends, but it leaves open the possibility for a 3rd book in the series. I'm not sure if that's going to happen, but I think I would enjoy it if it did. All in all, a good book.

View all my reviews

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Athena's Ashes Giveaway

Publisher: Clever Crow Press
Release Date: August 26th 2014
Rate: *4 of 5 stars*


It’s Renna’s biggest job yet – convincing MYTH leadership that she’s put away her lock picks and is ready to save the galaxy, despite the dangerous implant in her brain. But with the Athena on the run, she’s working solo and facing her most ruthless enemy, the traitor Pallas, who’ll go to any lengths to destroy the MYTH organization. Including framing Renna for a devastating assault on MYTH HQ that leaves their defenses crippled and hundreds dead. 

Now that MYTH believes she’s a dangerous double-agent, Renna escapes their firing squad before they put more holes in her than a pair of fishnet stockings. But the ticking time-bomb in her head is the one thing Pallas needs to complete his master plan and he’s not about to let her get away. Even worse, he’s discovered the only thing that will bring Renna to her knees – threatening Captain Nick Finn.

Out of time and options, Renna’s got one shot to take down the traitor before he annihilates everything she loves, even though winning this battle may cost her everything.


For someone who was supposed to be the best thief in the galaxy, Renna had been spending entirely too much time locked up lately. Not that a high-security hospital room in a secret MYTH base was much of a prison for her, but the IV line snaking from her arm might as well have been a pair of Saltani iron handcuffs. She swung her feet over the edge of the lumpy bed and watched the holoscreen on the far wall. Stats scrolled past, red text on the black background. Her vitals were stable; blood pressure was fine. Looking at her chart, she was the picture of health. Except for the cybernetic implant taking over her mind. Renna rubbed the back of her neck where the original incision site had started to throb. It had been doing that a lot lately, thanks to Navang’s depraved experiments and the drugs he’d injected her with. Drugs he’d used to create a whole army of human-robot hybrids. Thana Samil, the MYTH doctor in charge of her case, said it was nothing to worry about, but Renna knew better. In the five days she’d been locked up here in the MYTH facility, the pain in her head had only gotten worse. And then there were the weird side effects. She hadn’t stepped foot outside her room, but she knew a bank of super-servers sat in the northeast corner of the facility, as if she’d drawn the blueprints herself. Communications relays resided on each corner of the roof. She’d even felt the throb of the automated defense cannons guarding the facility. If the doctor and her team didn’t figure out how to slow down the integration between the implant and her nervous system, Renna would be a walking machine before she had the chance to stop the person behind all this. Pallas. If Renna’s hunch was right, the traitor was close enough to touch. Maybe even inside this facility. But she’d never find him if she was trapped here for the rest of her short life. She slid off the bed to pace the stark room, careful not to disturb the needles in her arm. Six steps to the door. Turn around. Six steps back to the bed. She’d done this to herself. She’d volunteered to be locked away and dissected, just to keep Myka Aldani safe. To keep Finn safe. Her pacing slowed as a pang of longing shot through her. Captain Nick Finn. Former gang member turned MYTH soldier and her first childhood crush. Now, she suspected that she’d fallen in love with him, which worried her. Renna had spent most of her life making sure that didn’t happen. Yet somehow his bright blue eyes, square jaw, and straight-laced moral code had slipped through her defenses. And oh, the way his fingers had tantalizingly stroked her most sensitive places… Renna felt herself go warm as she remembered the last time she’d been with him. She’d escaped from Navang, but not before he’d started the process of taking over her implant. Finn had spent the night in her room, waiting for her to regain consciousness, and she’d practically begged him to make love to her. She could still feel the heat of his skin. She inhaled, half-expecting to smell his scent—sandalwood, gun grease, and something that was inexplicably him. She needed to know what was going on between them, and if that meant more bunk-side exploration, she’d totally take one for the team. But until she knew how to stop Pallas and put an end to these experiments, she wasn’t going anywhere, despite the urge she had to run back to Finn. She’d stay in this facility and let them poke and prod her, just to protect him and Myka. Even if it made her crazy. The lock on her door beeped, and high-heeled shoes clacked across the threshold. Speak of the devil. Renna turned as Dr. Samil entered the room. The young doctor wore a pleasant smile despite the slightly frazzled appearance of her long blonde hair escaping the messy bun she always wore. Renna leaned back against the edge of her bed. “Do you always have to look so happy at the prospect of stabbing me with those instruments of torture?” Dr. Samil’s blue eyes sparkled. “For someone who’s done her share of killing, I can’t believe you have a needle phobia.” “We all have our weaknesses,” Renna said with a shrug. “Pointy, shiny, metal bloodsuckers just happen to be mine.” Samil set her holopad down on the counter and pressed her thumb to the scanner to unlock the drawer. She pulled out a tray of tools. “I guess it’s time for the torture to begin.” The doctor brushed her bangs back off her forehead, and Renna gritted her teeth as she slid back onto the bed, preparing to be poked. “How’d the last test go? Is the implant fusing normally?” Renna stared pointedly at the far wall as Samil fumbled with the glinting needles on the tray. “Or whatever normal is in this fucked-up situation.” The doctor shook her head, flicking a finger against one of the syringes before pushing the plunger. Pink-tinged liquid squirted from the needle. “I wish I knew. I haven’t seen anything like this before. It’s fascinating.” Her voice was full of that breathless excitement Renna had come to hate. “Whatever Dr. Navang did prompted your ordinarily harmless implant to start fusing directly with your nervous system. If my hunch is right, any other cybernetic implants installed during this time would also fuse to your body. You could even start picking up other electronic signals.” Renna flinched. Not only because of the quick jab of pain as the doctor deftly slid the needle into her arm, but because she was already picking up those electronic signals. Things were progressing faster than the doctor knew. “Relax. I promise this won’t hurt.” “That’s what Navang said.” Renna tilted her head and fixed Samil with a frown. “And look how that turned out.” The doctor finished injecting Renna with whatever drug cocktail she was trying today, then smiled. “There. Wasn’t so bad, was it? I promise I don’t like torturing you any more than you like being tortured. Unfortunately, I need one more sample to check your antibody levels.” “Of course you do.” Renna grudgingly let the woman extract a vial of blood and then crossed her arms as Samil slipped the vial into her pocket. “So what did you mean about the other implants?” Dr. Samil nodded as she tapped some information into her tablet. “Navang wanted to create an army of hybrids he could control, right? Well, the first step was to keep their bodies from rejecting the modified implants he installed. But it didn’t work. His technique destroyed some of their own tissue and risked the constant rejection of the implants. Hence the need for a steady infusion of the anti-rejection medications. “The new formula he tested on you was a different attempt at the same thing. If he could find a way to make your body fuse with the implant, make it think it was part of itself, eventually technology could overtake biology. Even better, when the process was complete, depending on the type of implant, he could have different types of soldiers. He’d be able to control them all using his neural network. They’d be nothing but mindless robots until he gave them orders.” Samil’s voice rose as she spoke, her gestures growing even more animated, but a dull ache had started in Renna’s stomach. She remembered the expressionless eyes of the minions at Navang’s lab as she’d slaughtered them to ensure Finn and Myka’s escape. Her heart squeezed as she recalled Viktis’s assurance that she would make it. Her skin crawled at the realization that she was nothing more than an experiment to the doctor, a shiny new toy to be studied until the novelty waned. But this was Renna’s life. She wasn’t going to sit here helpless while other people tried to save her. “How long do I have?” she interrupted before Samil could get even more excited. The woman positively hummed. Samil paused, blinking at Renna. “Of course. Right. My assistant has had some success in creating a new drug to slow the fusion. It’s not exact, but I’m hopeful it will work.” Wispy, flyaway hairs floated around her face like a halo as she shook her head. “I’m confident we’ll have a breakthrough soon. I promise we’ll figure this out.” “Don’t make promises you can’t keep, Doctor. The headaches are getting worse every day.” Renna rubbed at her sore temples, closing her eyes as a wave of pain started to build. She shored up the walls surrounding her heart and refused to even think about losing the connection she’d made with Finn. “On the plus side, if your drugs don’t work and the implant takes over my brain, I hear metal body suits are all the rage this year.” Samil crossed her arms and leaned back against the table, a frown marring her pretty features. “You’re awfully calm about this whole situation.” Renna shrugged. She was ten years younger than the doctor, but she suddenly felt like she was a hundred years older. “I’ve learned to deal with the unexpected in my line of work, doc. If you can’t change something, you figure out how to work around it. It’s the only way to survive.” “That’s a cynical view of life for someone who’s only twenty-three.” “You saw my file. I grew up in the Izan tenements on Earth, with a prostitute for a mother and a background in stealing. I’ve worked hard to move on, but growing up like that leaves a scar. Or two.” Renna forced herself not to touch the physical scar on her neck, the daily reminder of that life and everything she’d worked so hard to forget. Thinking about her mother’s attempt to kill her in a drug-induced rage still made Renna flush with shame and hatred. Still made her wary of trusting anyone. Even Finn. Samil’s expression softened. “I know. And for someone with your past, you’ve come a long way. You’re now part of an intergalactic organization, doing your part to save the universe. You’ve become something bigger than just a thief. I admire you for that.” “If I had a choice, I would’ve been long gone by now. I’m no hero, and I certainly am not a team player. I don’t need to depend on a galactic organization. I just need myself.” Renna settled back against the pillows and crossed her arms. “MYTH can keep its good deeds. I’m just in this for the dental plan.” And just maybe to make sure she got a shot at happily ever after. Samil chuckled, and Renna felt a responding smile twist her lips. Despite the needles and the fact that the doctor viewed Renna as a science experiment, she liked the woman. Samil was whip-smart, and if anyone could solve this puzzle, it would be her. “What am I going to do with you, dove?” the doctor asked with a shake of her head. “Save me, I hope.” But the doctor could stop using that stupid nickname any time now. Thinking of Renna as a meek little dove was laughable. “I’m doing my best. I do wish Navang’s facility hadn’t been destroyed. If I had access to his drugs and research, it would make all of this so much easier. Or even Myka Aldani. At one time, he was the key to all of this.” Renna’s pulse jumped, and she dropped her gaze to the stark white tiles on the floor. This was exactly why she’d sent Finn on the run with Myka. Destroying the facility had been the only way to stop the human-robot hybrid army Navang and Pallas were building, but it had also signed Renna’s death warrant and put the kid in even more danger. Had she made the right choice? Could she have stopped Navang another way? “Do you know why Captain Finn destroyed the place?” Samil asked. “It doesn’t make sense. The captain doesn’t disobey orders.” “You know Finn?” She clenched her hands in her lap at the unexpected pang of jealousy. The past seven years had changed Finn into a different person, and those years were wrapped in a protective cloak that seemed to surround his heart. He was different, but that Finn from her childhood still remained. She’d thought they’d have plenty of time to get to know him again, to figure out if there was, in fact, a relationship developing under her nose, but life never worked out the way she planned. Samil nodded. “I was ship doctor for a year on the Athena. He’s a good man. It must have been something big for him to turn his back on MYTH.” Her blue eyes searched Renna’s. “Are you sure he didn’t tell you anything?” A lump formed in her throat, and she had to swallow around it before answering. “Finn and I didn’t exactly get along when I came on board.” Sticking to half-truths was the safest bet for now, until she figured out who she could trust. “Right. I’d heard he was angry that Major Dallas wanted him to work with a thief on the last mission. You, I presume?” “Guilty as charged. He wasn’t likely to confide in me either way.” “Probably not. I know how he felt about people like you.” Samil’s eyes widened. “I mean, people who don’t follow the law.” She shook her head with an apologetic frown. “I’m sorry, this isn’t coming out right. I just mean Finn’s a good man. For him to go on the run from MYTH means something is seriously wrong.” Renna nodded. “I get it. I’m a thief. Untrustworthy. But I was hired to do a job and that’s what I did.” “I didn’t mean anything by it, Renna. I’m sorry.” The doctor glanced at the door. “Now that I’ve put my foot in it, I’m going to go make sure my assistant has your newest sample. Stay positive, Renna, it’s going to be fine.” “I hope you’re right because it feels like my brain is about to ooze out my ears.” Samil unlocked another drawer with her thumbprint and rummaged inside. She pulled out a small, flesh-colored disk. “Here, put this medipatch on. It should help with the pain.” Renna slapped it on her arm. “Thanks, doc. I’ll see you later. Hopefully much, much later.” Samil smiled as she left. The door swished shut behind her, and the sound of the lock re-engaging echoed through the room.

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Jamie Grey spent most of her childhood writing stories about princesses who saved the day and pretending to be a daring explorer. It wasn’t until much later that she realized she should combine the two. Now, as a tech-obsessed gamer geek, her novels mix amazing scientific developments, future worlds, and the remarkable characters that live in them.

Jamie lives in Michigan with her boyfriend and their pets, who luckily tolerate her overspending on tea, books, and video games. You can learn more about her at, or follow her on twitter via @jamie_grey.

Win (1) copy of The Star Thief and Athena's Ashes, along with a copy of the ebook novella (All the books in the Star Thief Series) + some Athena's Ashes swag (INT)

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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Shakespeare's English Kings

Shakespeare's English Kings: History, Chronicle, and DramaShakespeare's English Kings: History, Chronicle, and Drama by Peter Saccio
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I once had a high school English teacher describe Shakespeare's histories as "boring". Part of the reason for that is that it is easy to get lost in the murk of history. The events happened around 600 years ago, and seem like something out of a Renaissance Fair. This is what Dr Saccio's book works to explain. He very succinctly goes through the over 100 years of history discussed in the history plays, Henry IV parts 1&2, Henry V, Richard III, Henry VI parts 1-3. Richard II, King John, and Henry VIII. At times, it's hard to imagine how England could have survived. There were always questions over who was the legitimate heir to the throne, always battles over land, wars with France, arranged marriages, and bills of attainder prosecuting certain people for treason, many times on trumped-up charges. (This last part explains why the drafters of the US Constitution inserted a specific clause prohibiting bills of attainder.) Henry VIII also deals a bit with the Church of England's break with Rome. This is great material for any kind of dramatic play. Dr Saccio shows the differences between the actual history (as far as we know) and Shakespeare's version. Shakespeare occasionally telescopes events, has people present at certain locations who weren't actually there, and ages younger characters to be present for dramatic effect. In this, Shakespeare is no different than modern screenwriters, who will telescope events and composite characters to keep the movie under 2 hours. In Shakespeare's case, he was trying to show general themes--betrayal, murder, greed, incompetence--to show how the history evolved. The original book was written in 1977. Dr Saccio adds an Afterword, written in 2000, to explain the evolution of scholarship on Shakespeare since 1977.

Of the history plays, 3 seem to be the most widely performed today--1 Henry IV, Henry V, and Richard III. These are performed, not because of any history involved, but because of the characters. In 1 Henry IV, modern performers focus on the character of Falstaff, who, as Dr Saccio points out, is a Shakespearean invention. He is the "fat knight", and in many cases is portrayed as a buffoon. His famous line, "Discretion is the better part of valor," which he uses to explain his hiding out in the bar instead of taking part in the battle. (Supposedly, Queen Elizabeth I was so enthralled with Falstaff that she asked Shakespeare to write another play featuring him. The result was Merry Wives of Windsor.) Shakespeare's Henry V is almost the ideal king. I believe Shakespeare had the same view. I've seen modern business books cit Shakespeare's Henry V as a model of organizational leadership. One scene that isn't addressed in the book is the famous scene where King Henry disguises himself as a commoner and mingles among his troops the night before the battle at Agincourt. Was this a Shakespearean invention, or was there some historical basis for this? The book doesn't answer this question. I suspect that his "band of brothers" speech was all Shakespeare. The original motivational speech, predating "Win one for the Gipper" by 300 years. (As a Notre Dame graduate, I love that speech. GO IRISH!) Shakespeare's Richard III, by contrast, is the antithesis of what a king should be. He is the living embodiment of Machiavelli's Prince, always conniving and scheming to get the throne, until he falls at the battle of Bosworth. His famous line, "A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!" is Shakespeare's invention. So is the humpback and the crooked nose often used by those who portray Richard. As Dr Saccio points out, the real Richard wasn't all that bad, but wasn't all good either. The truth is somewhere in the middle. Henry VIII is a historical footnote. At the premiere of Henry VIII at the Globe Theater, one of the stagehands apparently got drunk and fired off a cannon, which burned the Globe Theater to the ground.

If you look at the current situation with England and France today, it's almost hard to believe things were any different. Today, the Chunnel connects England and France by rail under the English Channel. The 2014 Tour de France spent the first 3 days in England before moving to France. It received a royal opening by Prince William, Duchess Kate, and Prince Harry. Queen Elizabeth II has been on the throne for 62 years as of 2014 (1952-present), surpassed only by Queen Victoria's 64 years (1837-1901). In 2011, Parliament passed legislation removing the preference for boys to rule, and removing the prohibition on the King or Queen marrying a Catholic. You wonder if all of drama described in Dr Saccio's book was necessary. All in all, this is an excellent book for those who want to know more about Shakespeare's kings.

View all my reviews

Thursday, August 7, 2014


ElixirElixir by Ted Galdi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for this review.

The timing of this book is eerie. There are news reports every day of the outbreak of the Ebola virus in western Africa, with a death toll over 900. There was also the report of 2 American missionaries being flown home to the CDC in Atlanta for treatment for the Ebola virus. That's what makes this book timely, although it's just a coincidence.

As the novel begins, Sean Malone is an 11-year-old prodigy, winning over $1 million on Jeopardy! Just 3 years later, he is in college, where he solves a previously unsolvable problem. This gets the attention of the NSA, which uses his solution to hunt down drug lords. He is forced to fake his own death and move to Italy, where he meets Natasha when he turns 18, a woman looking for some adventure. She goes with her family on a trip to Africa. When she comes back, she becomes sick,rom and is placed in the hospital, suffering from the effects of the Ebola virus. Sean tries to develop a drug that will heal her. I can't give away any more without revealing spoilers.

As I said earlier, this book has the benefit of timing. It reminds me of the release of the movie The China Syndrome in 1979, just a few days before the accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant. It was hard to read this novel without thinking of current events. That said, it was an engaging novel. The first few chapters jump ahead, skipping ahead a few years at a time. Once the action gets to Germany, however, the time frame settles down. It becomes a race against time to get the elixir finished in time, and get it injected into her before she dies. The action is well-paced. I won't give too much away, except to say that you never know quite what's coming next. It made me wish there really was an elixir that would cure Ebola. All in all, a good book.

View all my reviews

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Wrap-up of Season 11, Great River Shakespeare Festival in Winona, MN


It's A Wrap!

"Let us agree that we shall never forget one another, and whatever happens, remember how it felt when we were all here together, united by a good and decent feeling that made us better people, better probably than we otherwise would have been."--The Brothers Karamazov

Season 11 of the Great River Shakespeare Festival in Winona, MN, wrapped up today. It seems too soon. It feels like only yesterday I was attending Will's Opening Weekend parties, and now it's over. 

Special appreciation to Lee Gundersheimer and Doug Scholz-Carlson, who were in charge for their first full season this year. This was definitely a success.

I know the quote at the beginning wasn't from Shakespeare, but I felt it was appropriate. There is a good and decent feeling among the players, the crew, the volunteers, and even the audience, to make this a great Festival. I haven't been to other Shakespeare Festivals, so I can't compare this Festival to others, but I have heard from some of those who have been elsewhere that this feeling is not necessarily shared at other Festivals. One crew member actually described another festival (which shall remain nameless) as a "dysfunctional family". This is definitely not the case here. From my own experience, as a reviewer, an usher, and concession stand worker, this does feel more like a family, without the dysfunction.

I have already reviewed the plays in other posts on my blog. I will only say that they were very well received by the audience. The total attendance was the second-highest ever in the 11 seasons of the Festival. The only season that exceeded it was a week longer. I also know that people in Winona also are willing to discuss the plays. 

The goal of the Festival is to make Shakespeare accessible for everyone. In that, I believe they have succeeded. They don't water down the text (although, for Hamlet, I've heard that they cut about 1000 lines to keep the running time reasonable; without that, it would have been over 4 hours long), but rely on the basic intelligence to understand what's going on. 

They sponsor pre-show conversations to help the audience understand the plays better. There are also Front Porch conversations with academics, to delve further into the plays. I attended one of these with Dr Peter Sacchio, noted Shakespeare scholar and author of Shakespeare's English Kings. He discussed Hamlet and the play based on Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (R&G). It was a fascinating discussion. I've just started reading his book, so I post my review when I have finished. 

They also sponsor Company Conversations, some held after the play was over, some held at Acoustic Cafe in Winona. This is a chance for the audience to discuss various elements of the play, and of their free time, with the cast members in a relaxed setting. If there are any other festivals that do this, I have not heard of them.

Another event is Concerts on the Green. Each Friday and Saturday night, there are concerts put on by various musical groups right on the campus of Winona State University, where the Festival is held. They're free with a free will offering. Food is available for sale. (Because of state law, alcoholic beverages are not sold on campus.) Everyone seemed to enjoy them. I know I did. Fortunately, this year they only had to use the rain location once.

Today the plays for next year were announced. They are:

Much Ado About Nothing (Barnes & Noble Shakespeare)

Much Ado About Nothing. This could be the subtitle of Jerry Seinfeld's show.

Romeo and Juliet (Barnes & Noble Shakespeare)

Romeo and Juliet. The classic story of star-crossed lovers. What else is there to say?

And, based on the success of R&G, another non-Shakespeare play.

The Glass Menagerie

The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams. An American classic.

They have not yet announced the Intern/Apprentice project or the Shakespeare for Young Actors and Designers project. 

To honor Shakespeare's 450th birthday, the Festival had a goal of gaining 450 new sustaining memberships. Today, they surpassed the goal with 456. This should ensure the Festival's continuation for some time.

In closing, I leave you with the words of Carol Burnett, which she sang at the end of her show every week.

"I'm so glad we had this time together,
Just to have a laugh, or sing a song.
Seems we just get started and before you know it 
Comes the time we have to say, so long."

Congratulations on a great season, and we'll see everyone next year.

For more information on the Festival, go to

For more information on Winona, go to