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Wanda's Book Reviews

I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles.  (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).

Currently reading

Neverwhere
Neil Gaiman
City of Golden Shadow
Tad Williams
Progress: 54/780 pages
Brightness Reef
David Brin

The Gap into Madness : Chaos and Order / Stephen R. Donaldson

The Gap Into Madness: Chaos and Order - Stephen R. Donaldson

As the planetoid Thanatos Minor explodes into atoms, a specially-fitted cruiser escapes the mass destruction and hurtles into space only a step ahead of hostile pursuit. On board Trumpet are a handful of bedraggled fugitives from an outlaw world, old enemies suddenly and violently thrown together in a desperate bid for survival.

Among this unlikely crew of allies are Morn Hyland, once a UMC cop, now a prisoner to the electrodes implanted in her brain; her son, Davies, “force-grown” to adulthood by the alien Amnion and struggling to understand his true identity; the amoral space buccaneer Nick Succorso, whose most daring act of piracy could be his last; and Angus Thermopyle, unstoppable cyborg struggling to wrest control of his own mind from his UMC programmers.

Locked in a lethal batter against one another for control of Trumpet, they also find themselves the target of Punisher, a police ship whose human captain, Min Donner, is torn between her duty and her sympathy for the outlaw crew she’s been ordered to capture. Yet as Min races to reach Trumpet in time, Warden Dios, the director of the UMC Police, receives a darker directive from the mysterious, semi-immortal Dragon, ruler of the UMC: Kill everyone aboard Trumpet except for the one person whose blood carries the mutagenic key to ultimate Amnion triumph—the ability to appear perfectly human.

In a final titanic showdown in space, amid uncharted comets, planets, and asteroid swarms, these forces will converge in a contest of skill and survival on which their future—and the future of the galaxy—depends.

 

The best book so far in this series and the best book by Donaldson that I’ve read. A very high stakes penultimate book. Donaldson plunges the reader right back into the plot without any recaps or explanations. Thankfully, I read The Gap Into Power: A Dark and Hungry God Arises just back in May and was able to dredge the details from my memory fairly quickly.

The CEO of the United Mining Company (The Dragon) doesn’t appear very often in this installment, but he lurks in the background. Finally, we begin to divine his intentions regarding the fearsome Amnion aliens. (Hint, it may be good for him, but maybe not for the rest of the human race).

I really hope that the final book will reveal a few more details about the threatening aliens--their culture, their relationships to one another, their motivations. They are just too intriguing! Of course I’ll also be reading to see what happens to all the various humans who are integral to the plot line. It will be interesting to see how the author wraps all of this drama up!

Book number 334 in my Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading Project.

The Water Babies / Charles Kingsley

The Water Babies - Charles Kingsley

What a weird little book.  I owned a copy of this book as a child and never read it.  Now I know why--lots of it is just so much babble to a child.  Without the historical notes in this copy of the work, I wouldn’t have had a clue about a lot of the details included in it.  I have to wonder who gave it to me way back when, and whether they had ever read it themselves? I certainly wouldn’t hand it to a contemporary child.

 

I found it interesting that the clergyman author was so easily able to accept Darwin’s theory of evolution.  Beliefs weren’t quite so cut and dried at that time apparently. I also have to think that Kingsley had read Gulliver’s Travels and may have aspired to produce something similar.  His comments on contemporary events, seemingly scattered at random through the text, suggest those aspirations. It was also a strange mix of mythology, fairy tales, and Christianity.  Very, very odd.

The Order War / L.E. Modesitt

The Order War - L.E. Modesitt Jr.

The deadly White Wizards of Fairhaven, wielding the forces of chaos, have completed their great highway through the Westhorns and now threatened the ancient matriarchy of Sarronnyn, the last bastion of order in Candar. The ruler of Sarronnyn appeals to the Black order wizards of Recluce for help.

Justen - a young Black Engineer in the city of Nylan - joins the relief force. Despite their success in destroying more than half the White armies, Sarronnyn falls to the White Wizards, and Justen is chased into the most inhospitable desert in Candar. These trials are but the beginning, for the White Wizards have all Candar in their grasp. Justen must fight both Recluce and Fairhaven, as well as the highest powers of order and the forbidden technology to harness chaos itself in his efforts to halt the conquest of the chaos wizards.

 

I am hopeful that with this installment done and dusted that the next one will be more to my taste. So far, I have enjoyed book two the most, with my engagement falling during books three and four. These two books have included far too many blacksmithing details and far too many details about gears, clutches, fuel tanks, and wheels. Boring!

The other problem I’m having with this series is that the emotions experienced by the characters feel very wooden to me. I feel like I’m being held away at arms’ length from their emotional lives. For me, that makes it pretty difficult to care about them.

The ending of this volume gives me hope that we may be moving away from all of the engineering details that have dominated the last two books and that we are moving toward more magic and regular fantasy-novel type adventures. If that’s not true, please don’t tell me. I’ve got the next book queued up in my TBR pile and hope to read it before year’s end!

Book number 333 in my Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading Project.

Labyrinth / Lois McMaster Bujold

Labyrinth - Lois McMaster Bujold

Miles and his Dendarii mercenaries are on a mission in Jackson's Hole to retrieve a geneticist, who unexpectedly says he won't leave until a certain "monster" is neutralized and a tissue sample is taken from it. What Miles finds is something vastly different from what he was led to expect…

 

Miles Vorkosigan, you charmer!  I think this short fiction piece reveals a great deal about Lois McMaster Bujold’s view of humanity--that society should be based on treating everyone decently, establishing common goals and desires, being loyal, and truly caring about other people.

 

Who but Miles could be thrown into prison with a being that others have labelled as a monster and come out with a loyal friend?  This is Miles at his compassionate best. Having felt like a freak and an outsider for all of his life, he is perfectly placed to provide friendship and advice to this young female prisoner.

 

A very feel-good story from one of my favourite authors.

 

Book number 332 in my Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading Project.

Cetaganda / Lois McMaster Bujold

Cetaganda - Lois McMaster Bujold

The latest installment in the adventures of Miles Vorkosigan. Miles and Cousin Ivan travel to Cetaganda to play the part of sprigs of nobility doing their diplomatic duty. But when the Empress of Cetaganda dies naturally, and her lifelong attendant dies unnaturally, Miles and Ivan finds themselves in the thick of it.

 

Finally, we get to meet the Cetagandians, who have largely featured as kind of a boogey-man enemy for Miles Vorkosigan through the previous volumes. Bujold is great at imagining radically different societies (the Betans, the Barrayarans, and now the Cetagandians) and she gives us a good romp through the upper echelons of Cetagandian society.

Miles Vorkosigan is the Master of Chaos, in that he seems to be able to create it wherever he goes and then surf the chaos waves to an acceptable conclusion. This adventure is no different, as Miles and his handsome cousin Ivan go to represent Barrayar at the Cetegandian Empress’ funeral. What could possibly go wrong?

Plenty, as it turns out, with Miles having to shush Ivan quite a bit and manoeuvre around his superiors as per usual. Ivan manages to becomes extremely popular with the ladies of Cetagandia, and a fair bit of humour is generated through his misfortunes. A very fun romp through the Vorkosigan universe.

Book number 331 in my Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading Project.

Foreigner / C.J. Cherryh

Foreigner - C.J. Cherryh

The first book in C.J.Cherryh's eponymous series, Foreigner begins an epic tale of the survivors of a lost spacecraft who crash-land on a planet inhabited by a hostile, sentient alien race. From its beginnings as a human-alien story of first contact, the Foreigner series has become a true science fiction odyssey, following a civilization from the age of steam through early space flight to confrontations with other alien species in distant sectors of space.

 

Once again, I find myself fascinated by C.J. Cherryh’s aliens. The Atevi, although superficially humanoid-shaped, have an entirely different way of looking at the universe and Cherryh lets us struggle with those viewpoints along with her main character, Bren Cameron. I quickly realized that it was human psychology that was being explored just as thoroughly as Atevi psychology.

So, how do you maintain yourself as a diplomat among people who operate through only loyalty, not through affection, liking, or loving? Especially when they are very pragmatic about assassination? Bren is rapidly discovering that he hasn’t maintained emotional distance from the Atevi that he lives among--being the only human allowed in Atevi society has made him lonely and searching for attachments. However, his Atevi “friends” aren’t necessarily able to reciprocate his feelings or even understand his need for affection.

When Bren suddenly finds himself the target of an assassination attempt, all of these problems in understanding come crashing down on him. Has he been a romantic fool, believing that he can trust the Atevi around him? Did he not contact the humans in Mospheira because he has lost touch with his humanity in some crucial way? There is plenty of action, as Bren is taken here and there, tries to discover who he can actually trust, avoids death frequently, and sorts through conspiracy theories. But the big question is, if Atevi have no word for affection, can they still feel it?

I look forward to book 2 to see if Bren’s diplomatic career survives the crisis.

Book number 330 in my Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading Project.

The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl / Theodora Goss

The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl - Theodora Goss

Life’s always an adventure for the Athena Club...especially when one of their own has been kidnapped! After their thrilling European escapades rescuing Lucinda van Helsing, Mary Jekyll and her friends return home to discover that their friend and kitchen maid Alice has vanished— and so has their friend and employer Sherlock Holmes!

As they race to find Alice and bring her home safely, they discover that Alice and Sherlock’s kidnapping are only one small part of a plot that threatens Queen Victoria, and the very future of the British Empire. Can Mary, Diana, Beatrice, Catherine, and Justine save their friends—and save the Empire? Find out in the final installment of the fantastic and memorable Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club series.

 

Forget the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, because now we have The Athena Club. I guess we could call it the League of Monstrous Gentlewomen. Another of the feminist versions of the Victorian time period with plenty of girl power (although the main characters do get justifiably huffy about being called girls when they are full grown women).

Even the female villains outsmart their male counterparts in this particular volume. The women of the Athena Club may sometimes doubt their abilities, but they pull off the caper (with the help of Ayesha of course). Just like most women, they doubt themselves unnecessarily. Plus, they get to rescue Sherlock Holmes!

I know that this series is technically wrapped up with this third book, but it seems to me that there are enough loose threads and unexplored avenues that further adventures could follow, if the author can persuade the publisher to continue. Fingers crossed that there will eventually be another book about the Athena Club!

The Art of Theft / Sherry Thomas

The Art of Theft - Sherry Thomas

As "Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective," Charlotte Holmes has solved murders and found missing individuals. But she has never stolen a priceless artwork—or rather, made away with the secrets hidden behind a much-coveted canvas.
 
But Mrs. Watson is desperate to help her old friend recover those secrets and Charlotte finds herself involved in a fever-paced scheme to infiltrate a glamorous Yuletide ball where the painting is one handshake away from being sold and the secrets a bare breath from exposure.
 
Her dear friend Lord Ingram, her sister Livia, Livia's admirer Stephen Marbleton—everyone pitches in to help and everyone has a grand time. But nothing about this adventure is what it seems and disaster is biding time on the grounds of a glittering French chateau, waiting only for Charlotte to make a single mistake...

 

One of the best aspects of my 2019 summer reading list (The Summer of Sherlock) was the discovery of this charming series, the Lady Sherlock series. I’m really enjoying a lot of these feminist revisionist Victorian adventures! The Victorian age as it should have been.

I love Charlotte Holmes as a character and I relate to her when she would rather be at home with a cup of tea and a pastry than out in the world pursuing criminals! I rather favour coffee and popcorn, but it’s the same idea. I have to laugh at her concept of Maximum Tolerable Chins, which is the point at which she restricts her pastry consumption until her clothing fits more comfortably. Been there, done that, my dear Charlotte!

My only disappointment with this book was that it did not deal with the Treadles’ plot line until the very last pages! I really want to know what happens between Inspector and his wife, but it seems that I must wait for the next book.

In the meanwhile, I have to applaud the author for being able to bring Charlotte and Lord Ingram together and then separate them so skillfully, retaining the romantic pursuit and it’s accompanying plot tension into the fourth book of the series. Of course I am also interested in the Livia and Stephen Marbleton situation, but it is Charlotte & Ash who command my attention in terms of relationships.

Ms. Thomas also uses the Maharani’s character deftly as a way to explore colonialism and to introduce a person of colour into the very white, upper-class world that the main characters inhabit.

All in all, I will be very excited when Book 5 is published, hopefully next year.

Assassin's Apprentice / Robin Hobb

Assassin's Apprentice  - Robin Hobb

Fitz is a royal bastard, cast out into the world with only his magical link with animals for solace and companionship.
But when Fitz is adopted into the royal household, he must give up his old ways and learn a new life: weaponry, scribing, courtly manners; and how to kill a man secretly. Meanwhile, raiders ravage the coasts, leaving the people Forged and soulless. As Fitz grows towards manhood, he will have to face his first terrifying mission, a task that poses as much a risk to himself as it does to his target: Fitz is a threat to the throne… but he may also be the key to the future of the kingdom.

 

What a pleasure to read something so engaging and well written after a few less-than-stellar choices! Fantasy is my favourite genre and Robin Hobb writes just what I like to read. In some ways, this tale is absolutely stereotypical--an orphan boy, a mysterious background but likely with royal connections, and special talents that he discovers as he grows. In those ways, it is reminiscent of The Dragonbone Chair or Magician: Apprentice. With Fitz’s ability to bond to animals, I was also reminded of Anne McCaffray’s Pern.

It is Hobb’s skill that makes this novel such a pleasure to read. She describes things well without going overboard. Her sentences flow, allowing me to immerse myself in the world without being overly aware of the words. Her characters perform actions and make assumptions that seem sensible to me. The dialog is natural and the world, although obviously fictional, seems normal despite things that we might call psychic talents. Fitz may get a bit sulky from time to time, but he realizes it quickly and readjusts (unlike Simon in The Dragonbone Chair, who is rather a whiner).

There are a lot of books written about assassins: Grave MercyJhereg, and Spider's Bite are just a few examples. But Fitz is the first fictional assassin with whom I have felt connected--I could sense his loneliness and the desire for true human contact. I’ve planned to read the second book in the series before the end of the year, but I am now really looking forward to it!

Book number 329 in my Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading Project.

Tournament of Hearts / Dustin Bilyk

Tournament of Hearts (The Librarian Gladiator, #1) - Dustin Bilyk

Hamelin, a town separated from the rest of the world, has a deadly problem. Fierce, flying beasts ravage the countryside and cull the sparse human population, forcing the majority of Hamelin’s citizens to live within the safety of her boundaries for fear of being snatched away and torn into pieces. With no help in sight, the Town Council look to their gods for salvation and unearth a chilling answer to their problems.

The Tournament of Hearts – a much-celebrated, barbaric event that pits four gladiators against each other in deadly combat. Winning The Tournament brings rich rewards, fame and glory for one’s bloodline. Losing, however, results in a deadly trip to the Sacrificial Altar for you and all of those who share your blood: man, woman and child. The sacrifice is said to be a blood offering to the gods in payment for reprieve – a necessary evil for the greater good of all.

Neven Fairchild, adolescent town historian and librarian, is chosen by random draw to fight for the survival of his bloodline. Utterly inept at doing much other than reading and writing his histories, Neven must find the courage deep within himself to defeat his stronger opponents, for he discovers that much more than the lives of those he loves hangs in the balance. An evil lurks, waiting for its moment to deliver the death blow, and Neven is all that stands in its way, whether he likes it or not.

 

 

I read this book to fill the Paint It Black square of my 2019 Halloween Bingo Card.

I’m a former library worker and I’m a sucker for books about libraries and librarians. I bought this book a while ago, because the main character is a librarian of sorts. It’s the second book I’ve read this year where the author has obviously decided to juxtapose “Librarian” with something unlikely. In this case, librarian gladiator. (See also The Hunted, where it is librarian-assassin). Strangely, both of these books were written by fellow Canadians. I hadn’t realized that this author was a Canuck until I hit about one third of the way through, and one of his characters “hucked” a bottle into a bush. That’s such a prairie Canadian verb! It is something I’ve never heard outside the prairies, but we used it all the time in school--”Huck this in the garbage” for example.

It is obvious that the author has read a fair amount of fantasy literature and he knows how these things need to be structured. His ideas were basically sound, he came up with good villains (kind of a cross between a human and a pterodactyl), he created his band of buddies. However, I had a really difficult time finishing the book because of the quality of the writing itself. There were a lot of really long sentences, sometimes a bit confusing. There were awkward sentence structures. Stephen King may say that the road to hell is paved with adverbs, but adjectives can fulfill that role too. There were way, way too many adjectives, often repetitive. How many times does the reader need to be reminded that a character is young, for example? There was a lot of unnecessary crude language (and I admit that this is just my thing). I can see using various swear words and crude expressions in dialog--it gives you a feeling for the character using it. But I found it unusual for the author to use it during description, which is unspoken by any character. Last but not least, there were a lot of words that seemed to be picked out of a thesaurus without the author actually realizing what they meant. He described one character’s sleep: “He tousled and turned,” rather than tossed and turned. He also writes: “...he could feel the veins on his head swelling beneath his frock of fine, black hair.” Now a frock is a dress, not a hair pattern, so this rubbed me the wrong way. Combine that with a confusion about whether to use “your” or “you’re” and this book drove my inner editor to drink.

In short, this author has potential, with decent ideas and knowledge of how to plot a novel. However, I would recommend a really good professional editor to help him improve his final product. It would be a shame if he quit writing, but he needs to level up.

A Kestrel for a Knave / Barry Hines

A Kestrel for a Knave (Valancourt 20th Century Classics) - Barry Hines, Mark Hodkinson

Life is tough and cheerless for Billy Casper, a troubled teenager growing up in the small Yorkshire mining town of Barnsley. Treated as a failure at school, and unhappy at home, Billy discovers a new passion in life when he finds Kes, a kestrel hawk. Billy identifies with her silent strength and she inspires in him the trust and love that nothing else can, discovering through her the passion missing from his life. 

 

I must confess that this was a somewhat depressing book to read. It’s the December selection for my real-life book club and it reminded me of an earlier selection we read this year, Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx. At first glance, the circumstances of a poor Puerto Rican family in an American ghetto (RF) and a poor family in the North of England (KfaK) might seem to be entirely different. But many of their problems overlap.

Lack of opportunities, poor education, inadequate nutrition, and no role models of successful people for the younger people to emulate. Billy, in Kestrel, has a neglectful mother, an abusive brother, a job before school that is precarious, plus teachers that don’t care about their students, not to mention abusive teachers. He has to share not only a bedroom, but a bed with his drunken, irritable older brother Jud, then get up super early to deliver papers. There’s no money for extras like gym clothes and no energy for non-necessities. Billy doesn’t want to end up working in the mines, but he doesn’t have either the energy or a plan to change his destiny.

But our true interests will shine through--Billy claims a young kestrel from a nest, steals a book on falconry, and proceeds to train himself and the bird. Obviously, in multiple intelligence theory, Billy would have a Naturalistic intelligence. Being stuck in a classroom or forced to participate in sport is never going to be right for him. He had all of my sympathy, as I share his love of nature and particularly birds.

Blameless / Gail Carriger

Blameless - Gail Carriger

Quitting her husband's house and moving back in with her horrible family, Lady Maccon becomes the scandal of the London season.

Queen Victoria dismisses her from the Shadow Council, and the only person who can explain anything, Lord Akeldama, unexpectedly leaves town. To top it all off, Alexia is attacked by homicidal mechanical ladybugs, indicating, as only ladybugs can, the fact that all of London's vampires are now very much interested in seeing Alexia quite thoroughly dead.

While Lord Maccon elects to get progressively more inebriated and Professor Lyall desperately tries to hold the Woolsey werewolf pack together, Alexia flees England for Italy in search of the mysterious Templars. Only they know enough about the preternatural to explain her increasingly inconvenient condition, but they may be worse than the vampires -- and they're armed with pesto.

 

I can’t believe that I neglected this series for so long! It is such fun! Gail Carriger has a sense of humour that I understand and appreciate. I love her steampunk Victorian world with its werewolves, vampires, and the Soulless, like her main character Alexia. It’s this addition of a new category of supernatural which really gives her an advantage--when you create something new, you can write something original and fresh.

I’m highly disappointed that my city library doesn’t have the remaining two volumes of this series. I’ve placed an interlibrary loan request for the next one, as I know for sure that I want to read it. I’m pleased to note that she has two more related series, Finishing School and The Custard Protocol, which I also look forward to reading.

When I originally began reading steampunk fantasies, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of them. However, as I encounter more of them that are well done, such as this series, I have been converted. Now they are among my favourites. I think the modern attitudes, juxtaposed with the Victorian sensibility, makes for excellent opportunities for humour.

I’m late to the party, Ms. Carriger, but I’m enjoying myself immensely now and I’ll be staying right until the end!

Penguins and Moral Peril / Ruby Loren

Penguins and Mortal Peril - Ruby Loren

When the penguin keeper is found dead at the bottom of the penguin pool, zookeeper Madigan Amos is determined to find out what happened to him… even if it means apprehending armed intruders, getting caught in the middle of a terrorist attack, and sparring with a machete wielding murderer.

The police struggle to conclude whether or not the death was accidental, but it’s not the only recent, unexplained happening at Avery Zoo. Since the tragic, avoidable death of a serval, animal rights activists have plagued the zoo. Activists with a reputation for extremism. Do they have something to do with the penguin keeper’s demise?

Madi also has her suspicions about two new zoo employees, but what exactly do they have to do with the goings on? Are they activist spies, or do they have their own scores to settle?

 

 

I read this book to fill the Amateur Sleuth square of my 2019 Halloween Bingo Card.

I couldn’t resist buying this book--it had too many things that were irresistible. Penguins, my favourite birds. A zoo setting, when I volunteered in the education department of my local zoo for 17 years. A mystery, and me a fan of that genre. I wasn’t expecting wondrous things, which is good, because this was a serviceable little cozy mystery, but nothing exceptional.

I lent it to a zoo friend, for whom it was a “meh” experience. He is a retired penguin keeper, so maybe he didn’t appreciate that this book’s penguin keeper ended up at the bottom of the pool during the first few pages of the novel. I thought that the author did a pretty fair job of showing the kind of politics and personal interactions that complicate the zoo workplace. She was probably a little kind though. It’s the people who are the vicious ones in the zoo world (but don’t go in with the bears or big cats anyway). The things she was realistic about? The people who put their children right into harm’s way, seemingly not realizing the dangers.

One thing I give full marks for is the beautiful cover. I love it.

Bringing Mulligan Home / Dale Maharidge

Bringing Mulligan Home : the other side of the good war - Dale Maharidge

Sgt. Steve Maharidge, like many of his generation, hardly ever talked about the war. The only sign he'd served in it was a single black and white photograph of himself and another soldier tacked to the wall of his basement, where he would grind steel. After Steve Maharidge’s death, his son Dale, now an adult, began a twelve-year quest to understand his father’s preoccupation with the photo. What had happened during the battle for Okinawa, and why his father had remained silent about his experiences and the man in the picture, Herman Mulligan? In his search for answers, Maharidge sought out the survivors of Love Company, many of whom had never before spoken so openly and emotionally about what they saw and experienced on Okinawa.

In Bringing Mulligan Home, Maharidge delivers an affecting narrative of war and its aftermath, of fathers and sons, with lessons for the children whose parents are returning from war today.

 

I picked this book up at the library for my real-life book club, not sure if I was truly going to read it or not. The subject matter is certainly outside my normal areas of interest, since I’m not much interested in military history, despite the fact that I catalogued books for a Military Museum Library for a number of years. Actually maybe because I had that job!

I was pleasantly surprised by this combination biography/memoir/history. I’ve been experiencing insomnia lately and I started this book expecting it to put me to sleep. Imagine my surprise when I found myself much more interested and engaged than I expected! I think what won me over was the author’s exploration of his relationship with his father and his striving to understand his father’s life. Anyone who wishes they had asked their father more questions will identify with his quest, although not all of them will travel to Japan to pursue these questions.

I was also pleasantly surprised by his willingness to track down and record the remembrances of men who served in the US Marines alongside his father and to go to Okinawa, where they fought, to get the Japanese perspective on the story.

I have fond memories of my own trip to Okinawa in 2013, in pursuit of the Okinawa Rail, among other birds. I was charmed by the local people, the beautiful environment, and, of course, the bird life.

 

The guest house where we stayed on Okinawa

 

The traditional accommodations at our guest house

 

The lovely breakfast provided by our landlady

 

We saw signs before we saw the real Okinawa Rail

 

Success!  The Okinawa Rail

 

The giant Okinawa Rail statue on the island

 

The Book of Speculation / Erika Swyler

The Book of Speculation - Erika Swyler

Simon Watson, a young librarian, lives alone on the Long Island Sound in his family home, a house perched on the edge of a cliff that is slowly crumbling into the sea. His parents are long dead, his mother having drowned in the water his house overlooks.

One day, Simon receives a mysterious book from an antiquarian bookseller; it has been sent to him because it is inscribed with the name Verona Bonn, Simon's grandmother. Simon must unlock the mysteries of the book, and decode his family history, before fate deals its next deadly hand.

 

 

I read this book to fill the Relics & Curiosities square of my 2019 Halloween Bingo Card.

This reading experience definitely suffered from my own fit of ennui, a mini-reading-slump that marred my life during mid-October. I was half way through this book and really enjoying it when I suddenly just bumped to a halt and had an extremely difficult time getting rolling again. That said, this book should have been right up my alley--the main character is a librarian, the relic in question is a wonderful old handwritten book, and the exploration of the main character’s genealogy is a major part of the plot. All of those factors are usually like catnip to me, a retired special collections library cataloguer. I can’t explain the waning of interest, but I know that it was more about me than about the book.

If you’ve enjoyed this book, I would suggest that you also check out Robertson Davies’ Deptford Trilogy, including Fifth BusinessThe Manticore, and World of Wonders. This series also includes a relic (a stone which was originally wrapped in a snowball & thrown) and circus elements. I am inordinately fond of these three novels and in the spirit of fairness, I may try The Book of Speculations again in the future to see if I like it better when I’m in a more receptive mood.

Die on Your Feet / S.G. Wong

Die on Your Feet - S.G. Wong

Lola Starke is a PI with a trust fund. Not that she gets everything she wants—or doesn't want. Like being rid of her Ghost, Aubrey O'Connell, for instance. But in Crescent City, Ghosts are commonplace and Hosts are supposed to be happy about it. So Lola's learned to bide her time. It's served her well as a gwai girl raised in a Chinese city.

When two disparate clients won't take 'no' for an answer, Lola reluctantly agrees to both. She and Aubrey are quickly entangled in a murky puzzle of government officials, drug addicts, angry cops, and the gossamer threads of a dangerous plot. Soon enough, the past comes calling with bad news and worse enemies.

This is the '30s and this is Crescent City, where mah-jongg parlours and film studios hold sway. Where the City's highest official is a Ghost with unimpeachable power and a history with Lola's mother. Where secrets last only as long as it takes money to change hands—or a gun to pry them loose.

 

 

I read this book to fill the Ghost Stories square of my 2019 Halloween Bingo Card.

I bought this book at the annual writers & readers conference that I attend because I heard the author speak in several sessions that I attended and I was intrigued by her description of her work. Unfortunately, the fit between my tastes and her writing isn’t the best, but it was still a decent read.

Wong has created an interesting world for her characters to inhabit--she doesn’t exactly specify where it is located, but with it’s mash-up of Asian culture, hard-boiled detective, and paranormal elements, we can assume that it is an alternate version of California. She works very hard to make Lola into a female version of Philip Marlowe. The problem is that it’s really difficult to write anywhere near as elegantly as Raymond Chandler, making the comparison of Lola and Marlowe quite unequal.

This seems to be a California that has been dominated by Asian influence, with Christianity and European culture being minority elements. It gives the Caucasian reader of European background a small taste of what it is like to be a minority group, a salutary experience.

Ghosts feature as major characters, but I found them to be much more limited than what I expected. The majority of ghosts are tied to a human host, although the ghostly Mayor of this fictional city has seemingly found a way to stay vital in the world without such tethering. I guess it is realistic that each ghost would have different abilities, just as each person does.

I’m glad that I finally read this book, which I’ve owned for several years now. I like to support local writers and I’m glad that I liked the book.