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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Ghosts in the Snow

Ghosts in the Snow
Tamara Siler Jones
Publisher: Spectra
ISBN: 0553587099

Like many books I’ve read recently, I acquired this one on a whim; it showed up at Waldenbooks, and there was some confusion over whether it should be shelved in the fantasy or the mystery section. Eventually, it ended up in fantasy. Given my enjoyment of fantasy, and my recent rediscovery that I love mystery, I thought I’d check it out.

The Basics:
At its heart, Ghosts in the Snow is a modern-day thriller that’s been transplanted into a fantasy setting. The book follows Dubric Bryerly, head of security at Castle Faldorrah and investigator par excellance. Dubric is also the victim of a strange curse—the ghosts of people murdered at Castle Faldorrah appear to him, and won’t go away until their murders are solved. Generally speaking, the ghosts can’t DO anything, and no one but Dubric can see them (or knows about the curse). Normally, it seems, this isn’t a big deal; someone gets murdered, Dubric solves the murder fairly quickly, the ghost goes away. At least, that’s the impression that I have. We never see Dubric solve a simple case, because, let’s face it, that wouldn’t make for a very interesting novel.

Instead, Ghosts in the Snow pits Dubric against a Hannibal Lector-style serial killer who is murdering, dismembering, and eating parts of various serving girls around the castle. As the murders and ghosts pile up, Dubric is forced to deal with political pressure, servant revolts, crazy nobles, and a variety of other problems, in addition to the killer himself.

The Good:
Jones has set up a fairly interesting story, an interesting setting, and populated it with some fun, if not terribly deep, characters. Dubric himself is a bit of a classic embittered cop who’s lost his faith, his wife, and is wholly dedicated to his job. He has some classic sidekicks, including the geeky peasant made good Otlee, the physically formidable Dien, and Dubric’s understudy Lars, who occasionally perceives the ghosts that plague Dubric as the murders continue. Nella, one of the serving girls who is a focal point for part of the story, is also a fun character, if a bit of a stereotype. In short, Jones does a marvelous job of translating the classic tropes of modern thrillers into a fantasy setting.

Jones is sparse on the world-building, which is a nice touch in an age where fantasy writers seem to feel that everyone needs to write like Tolkien, and that problems can only be resolved over a twelve-book series. She introduces information as it’s needed to advance the story, and not much more. It’s well done, and keeps the story moving at a brisk clip.

The killer’s identity is appropriately obscured; I gave it my best shot, but totally failed to figure it out until the big reveal.

The Bad:
Jones does commit a minor version of the great cardinal sin of mystery’s (and writing in general)—she introduces something that seems relevant or important, but never appears to be. The killer’s means of turning invisible also grants him the ability to perceive the victims internal fluids, blow flow, etc. It’s neat, and gives the killer a sort of Predator-vision that makes him creepy, but nothing ever really comes of the ability. It’s not clear why it matters, or what it’s supposed to be used for.

The red herring in the story is bright red, with flashing red lights that say “Red Herring Here.” Or pretty close. Jones keeps pushing it to the point where it becomes obvious that it can’t be the right explanation, at which point, the continued pushing becomes a bit annoying.

The Ugly:
The killer murders, dismembers, and eats people. He also ties someone up with someone else’s intestines; someone else is literally ripped apart. If gory details aren’t your thing, this book is emphatically not for you.

Overall, Ghosts in the Snow is fun book that, while interesting, doesn’t quite live up to it’s potential. The plot is a little too straightforward, and the overemphasis on the red herring eventually starts to make Dubric seem a bit thick (though even HE gets frustrated with it). It is a first novel, so I’m willing to forgive some of the clunky writing. It’s also apparently the start of series, which is interesting, but leaves me a bit skeptical. The premise doesn’t really seem to allow for a lot of interesting stories except for more of the same. Dubric is a neat character, but a single castle and the surrounding lands seems a bit small to work as a setting for a series of murder mysteries. But I guess we’ll find out.

Fans of mystery, fantasy, or both will probably enjoy this, provided they aren’t looking for anything genre-breaking or mind-blowing. But it’s a fun read, and if you like both those genres, it’s definitely wroth checking out.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Core Performance

I picked this one up a while back on Paul's recommendation. I had seen the book in stores for years, but there was something about it that put me off buying it. Which is unfortunate, since it turns out to be a pretty good book.

What's Good

If you're looking for a comprehensive, one-book kind of exercise program, Core Performance delivers. The book contains advice and instruction on warming up, strength training, cardio (or energy system development, in the Core Performance lexicon), explosive power development, and post-workout stretching routines. It's even got a short, but informative nutrition session. There's a very clearly laid out twelve week program to get you started, and advice for what to do once you complete that twelve week program.

So, yeah, there is a lot of information in here.

The program follows a nice, steady progression that is pretty easy to work into. I actually was using it after coming off of a really bad injury (Piriformis Syndrome, which still plauges me), and used the optional three week starter program before jumping into the full program. My wedding and honeymoon stopped me from doing the last week of the program, but overall, it seems pretty solid.

Even if you're not following the program precisely, there's a lot of good ideas and information in here. The movement prep and pre-hab concepts are invaluable for anyone involved in an athletic activity, particular combat sport. A lot of Verstegen's concepts tie in nicely with the material on Kevin Kearns DVDs, and if you're a fan of one, you will find a lot of value in the other.

What's Bad?

While Verstegen insists that you can follow this program with a minimum of equipment, the actual program does not bear that out. In order to complete the program as outlined in the book, you'll need a heart-rate monitor (or a piece of cardio equipment that has one), barbells, dumbbells, a bench, a physioball, a foam roller, some rope...and that's just what I can think of off the top of my head. If you're a member of a well-equipped fitness facility, you'll probably be fine. If you're like me and mostly workout at home or in a martial arts school, you may have a hard time following the program to the letter.

If you have access to a fully-equipped fitness facility, this is a great "one book" for fitness. If you don't, I'd recommended Ross Enamait's Never Gymless instead. It's just as comprehensive, but not nearly as equipment intensive. Still, the movement prep and pre-hab routines make Core Performance a worthwhile purchase in it's own right. Check it out!