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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

J.G. Farrell, John Banville
Into the Drowning Deep
Mira Grant
Progress: 40/512 pages
Honor Bound
Ann Aguirre, Rachel Caine

TBR Thursday

Honor Bound - Ann Aguirre, Rachel Caine Merrow - Ananda Braxton-Smith Sea Witch - Sarah Henning Troubles - J.G. Farrell, John Banville


This weekend's crop of books.  Honor Bound is the newly released sequel by Rachel Caine and Anne Aguirre.  I rated the first volume at 5 stars, so I'm looking forward to this second installment.


Merrow and The Sea Witch are both part of my MerMay project.  And yes, I know it's not May yet.  But I'll be away during the second half of May, returning for my retirement party on May 31st.  So if I'm going to read mermaid books (and I am) the time is now!


Troubles is the next choice for my RL Book Club.  I've read a few pages on my coffee break yesterday and I think it's going to be okay.  Not what I would have chosen, but then that's the point of book clubs, isn't it?


I'm using up vacation time prior to retirement, so I have next week off work.  I'll also be back at my cousin's house, cat sitting.  Festus the cat is the quite the character, but he's an elderly kitty and requires insulin injections night and morning.  He will be so glad when my cousin gets home on the 27th!


Meanwhile, family here in Alberta all want to celebrate Easter on the same day.  I have three invitations and can only fit in two.  I'm planning to make a gluten-free chocolate layer cake, frost it with mocha flavoured whip cream, and decorate it with candy coated chocolate eggs.  If this is a success, there will be photos.


Have a pleasant Easter, everyone, and safe travels.


Reading progress update: I've read 40 out of 512 pages.

Into the Drowning Deep - Mira Grant


OK, this is definitely NOT the Little Mermaid.


This is creepy.  It's one of those "only in daylight" books.



Against a Darkening Sky / Lauren B. Davis

Against a Darkening Sky - Lauren B. Davis

Wilona, the lone survivor of a plague that has wiped out her people, makes her way across the moors to a new life in the village of Ad Gefrin, where she is apprenticed to Touilt, a revered healer and seeress. She blossoms under Touilt's tutelage and will one day take her place, but as an outsider, she is viewed with suspicion by all except Margawn, a warrior in the lord's hall. When the king proclaims a conversion to the new Christian religion, Ad Gefrin becomes a dangerous place for Wilona and Touilt. Their very lives are at risk as the villagers embrace the new faith and turn against the old ways, even as Wilona's relationship with Margawn grows. Wilona's fate becomes intertwined with that of Egan, a monk sent to Ad Gefrin as part of the Christian mission; both will see their faith and their loyalties tested.

Torn between her deepest beliefs and a desire to belong in a confusing, changing world, Wilona must battle for survival, dignity and love against overwhelming odds. Seamlessly combining timeless choices and struggles and rich, nuanced historical detail that brings pagan Britain to life, Against a Darkening Sky is an exquisitely rendered work of fiction from one of Canada's most acclaimed and celebrated novelists.


For me, this was about a 3.5 star reading experience, despite the fact that it has so many things that I really enjoy. First, its setting—at the point where country religions are being replaced by Christianity in Britain. Second, I loved that Wilona was a healer, as I enjoy that kind of character. And thirdly, Lauren B. Davis is an excellent writer.

Back in 2013, I read Nicola Griffith’s excellent book Hild, set in the same time frame. It was a mention that Hild appears in Davis’ book, that encouraged me to pick it up. Unfortunately, Hild makes only one cameo in this book as a child and we don’t see her again.

The ending is inevitable, but I still found it disappointing. I guess I am a pagan at heart and I’m always disappointed when Christianity triumphs. If you like this book, I would definitely recommend Hild, as well as Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon and Mary Stewart’s Arthurian Saga, beginning with The Crystal Cave.

The Falconer / Elizabeth May

The Falconer - Elizabeth May

One girl's nightmare is this girl's faery tale

She's a stunner.
Edinburgh, 1844. Eighteen-year-old Lady Aileana Kameron, the only daughter of the Marquess of Douglas, has everything a girl could dream of: brains, charm, wealth, a title—and drop-dead beauty.

She's a liar.
But Aileana only looks the part of an aristocratic young lady. she's leading a double life: She has a rare ability to sense the sìthíchean—the faery race obsessed with slaughtering humans—and, with the aid of a mysterious mentor, has spent the year since her mother died learning how to kill them.

She's a murderer.
Now Aileana is dedicated to slaying the fae before they take innocent lives. With her knack for inventing ingenious tools and weapons—from flying machines to detonators to lightning pistols—ruthless Aileana has one goal: Destroy the faery who destroyed her mother.

She's a Falconer.
The last in a line of female warriors born with a gift for hunting and killing the fae, Aileana is the sole hope of preventing a powerful faery population from massacring all of humanity. Suddenly, her quest is a lot more complicated. She still longs to avenge her mother's murder—but she'll have to save the world first.


I read this book in one evening and completely enjoyed myself, hence the 4 star rating. It was really quite predictable—aristocratic girl in a steampunk Victorian timeline who is vowed to avenge the death of her mother. At a swanky event of some kind, a banshee has killed Aileana’s mother and left Aileana drenched in blood. Since then, she has acquired a pixie sidekick (Derrick) and a Fairy mentor and fight instructor (Kiaran).

Very reminiscent of Karen Marie Moning’s Fever series or Sarah J. Maas’ Court of Thorns and Roses series. I blundered into this volume, not realizing that it is first of a trilogy—if you abhor cliff-hanger endings, you either want to skip this book or have book two queued up and ready to go.

There is a very obvious paranormal romance element to this novel, telegraphed from extremely early in the book. In this respect, both Moning and Maas were better at the build up to the relationship, letting their heroines struggle with the concept longer and creating better tension in the stories. May throws in an old flame of Aileana’s—she may be a Falconer (a hunter of the Fae), but Gavin is a Seer. Aileana needs a magic flower in order to see the Fae, so she and Gavin are a natural team. This sets up a quasi-love triangle between Aileana, Gavin, and Kiaran.

The end of this first installment may have been a cliff-hanger, but it’s a very effective one. It left me wishing I had the second book already in my hands to see what is meant by those last couple of pages! I was relieved to find out that my public library has both of the remaining books, so I will eventually get to discover the outcome.

Use of Scots dialect was sparing, just enough to remind the reader of where the action takes place, a feature which I appreciated. Also the dust jacket art is gorgeous. Recommended for fans of Fae paranormal romance fiction.


The Little Mermaid / Metaphrog

The Little Mermaid - Metaphrog

The Little Mermaid lives deep under the ocean and longs to see the world above. When at last she is allowed to rise to the surface at age fifteen, she falls in love with a young prince. In order to become a human and to be with him, she makes a dangerous pact with the Sea Witch.


This is the ultimate Mermaid tale—the one that got the ball rolling, so to speak. Having just re-read a bunch of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales, this story was very fresh in my mind. I headed into this graphic novel unsure of which version I was getting, HCA’s or Disney’s. I am happy to report that it was very true to the Andersen version.

The artwork was beautiful and I would be happy to recommend it to all ages of reader. I remember reading a comic book version of this tale as a child and being very scared by the Sea Witch. In this version, she is not nearly so scary in my opinion, but I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. Bad people don’t necessarily look bad and that’s a valuable lesson to learn.

I was struck by the fact that the Little Mermaid is only 15 years old, and that’s in a species that lives to be 300. She is so young to be making these life changing decisions! I mean, who among us is married to the person we were in love with at 15? Not very many!

Read for my 2019 MerMay Project, which is getting an early start because I’ll be on vacation for half of the month of May.


My 2011 photo of the Little Mermaid in the Copenhagen Harbour

Has anyone had a look at this?

The Barbara Pym Cookbook - Hilary Pym, Honor Wyatt


I've been able to find a bookstore to order it from for a reasonable amount, but I'm dithering about whether to get it.


Anyone have any experience with this cookbook?

Excellent Women / Barbara Pym

Excellent women - Barbara Pym

Excellent Women is one of Barbara Pym's richest and most amusing high comedies. Mildred Lathbury is a clergyman's daughter and a mild-mannered spinster in 1950s England. She is one of those "excellent women," the smart, supportive, repressed women who men take for granted. As Mildred gets embroiled in the lives of her new neighbors--anthropologist Helena Napier and her handsome, dashing husband, Rocky, and Julian Malory, the vicar next door--the novel presents a series of snapshots of human life as actually, and pluckily, lived in a vanishing world of manners and repressed desires.


I felt that I was now old enough to become fussy and spinsterish if I wanted to.

Amen, sister Mildred! I felt so much kinship to this single woman, obviously competent and to whom others turn when they want something done and don’t want to do it themselves. At a tourist site, someone turns to Mildred to ask directions and says, “I hope you didn’t mind me asking, but you looked as if you would know the way.” I’ve had the same thing happen to me frequently. Apparently I look like I know what I’m doing, despite the fact that I’m often wondering about my own competence! (One of my coworkers once told me that he figured the world was split into patients and nurses and that I would be a head-nurse. I’m still wondering if this was a compliment or an insult.)

It’s no secret that there are tasks that tend to get heaped on single women. It is assumed that because you don’t have a husband or children, you have oodles of spare time in which to do things for others. So you can be the one to do the emotional labour of keeping up friendships or keeping in touch with family. This can work for you or against you. You can use it to your advantage as Mildred does:

”I began piling cups and saucers on to a tray. I suppose it was cowardly of me, but I felt that I wanted to be alone, and what better place to choose than the sink, where neither of the men would follow me?”

She can find solitude at the kitchen sink because, as she told us earlier, “I had observed that men did not usually do things unless they liked doing them.” Hence the church-going men who hang around the jumble sales and drink tea, but, like the drones they are, do very little else.

It has always surprised me how much society pushes us toward romantic relationships. Like Mildred, I’m just fine with my single status—I can certainly see the married women around me struggling with challenges that I don’t have to face. It may be a liability someday when I need an advocate when I’m in assisted living, for example, but having a spouse or children doesn’t guarantee that they will show up to do this task. I had to laugh when one relative spent ages agonizing to me about whether to get divorced and then turned around and worried about whether I would get married!

I am just fine being numbered among the excellent women.

The Future is Written / Jonas Saul

The Future Is Written (Sarah Roberts) - Jonas Saul

When Sarah Roberts blacks out, she wakes to find prophetic notes mysteriously
written by her own hand. After receiving a message that someone is about to
be kidnapped with instructions on how to stop it, Sarah’s convinced it won’t be hard
to do. She is wrong.


The kidnappers take Sarah instead. She’s thwarted them in the past, and they
want to know how she keeps showing up where she has no business being.


Sarah needs help from the police, but they’re hunting her for a different reason.
They found her notebook riddled with prophetic messages, linking her to crimes and
unsolved cases. Is she a vigilante keeping score? Or on a citywide crime spree?


Armed with a note that simply states, save yourself, Sarah struggles to stay alive
using her wit and street smarts.


First things first: this was really outside my wheelhouse. Not my thing at all. However, the premise was an interesting one, something with potential. This author will be coming to a conference that I’m attending in August and I try to read something by each key note speaker before the conference so I will know who I want to hear more from. I had to order this book by interlibrary loan—my local library had nothing by this author. It turns out that this book was actually a collection of three (as I discovered at the end) though I had guessed that as I was reading.

Thrillers are really not my cuppa tea. I had a similar experience with another author at the conference last year—he was a lovely man, I just couldn’t enjoy his books. Which is fine. There’s a lid for every pot, and these type of books just aren’t my “lid.” I had to laugh, though, when I realized that the bad guys in both this and one of the books I read last year threatened their male associates with castration if they failed. Seriously, is this a thing?

I have come to the conclusion that thriller readers are in it for the plot and only the plot. The characters tend to be cardboard stereotypes and the action is non-stop, with no chances to slow down and consider implications or underlying themes. The paranormal aspects of this book were what made it tolerable for me—Sarah (the main character) is an automatic writer who receives messages from the “Other Side.” Sometimes oddly specific—be under this bridge at this time on this day. Bring a hammer. There’s enough ambiguity to make it challenging.

I realized as I read the afterword that I’ll be interested to hear this author speak at least once at the conference. He described the vivid dreams that he had of his deceased brother that inspired the novel. I’ve experienced similar things and could appreciate what he has done with his ideas.


Magpie Murders / Anthony Horowitz

Magpie Murders - Anthony Horowitz

When editor Susan Ryeland is given the manuscript of Alan Conway’s latest novel, she has no reason to think it will be much different from any of his others. After working with the bestselling crime writer for years, she’s intimately familiar with his detective, Atticus Pünd, who solves mysteries disturbing sleepy English villages. An homage to queens of classic British crime such as Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers, Alan’s traditional formula has proved hugely successful. So successful that Susan must continue to put up with his troubling behavior if she wants to keep her job.

Conway’s latest tale has Atticus Pünd investigating a murder at Pye Hall, a local manor house. Yes, there are dead bodies and a host of intriguing suspects, but the more Susan reads, the more she’s convinced that there is another story hidden in the pages of the manuscript: one of real-life jealousy, greed, ruthless ambition, and murder.


Probably about 3.5 stars. I must confess I picked it up because it had a bird in the title and I’m a bird nerd. One small complaint: the bird featured on the dust jacket of the edition that I read was not a magpie.

A very clever mystery within a mystery. Solved by an editor. Obviously the author is a smart guy, writing something that is very much an homage to Agatha Christie inside his more literary novel. And I think that was very much the point--that divisions between “literature” and “genre fiction” are artificial and limiting. Good writing is good writing, no matter the genre. But I’ve heard this argument at writers’ conferences for years--genre is just a spot to shelve things in the bookstores.

I didn’t get as wrapped up in this novel as I expected. It probably has more to do with me than the novel, really, as I’ve got a lot going on right now. Still it was a good read and I wouldn’t discourage any interested parties from picking it up.

The Pisces / Melissa Broder

The Pisces - Melissa Broder

Lucy has been writing her dissertation about Sappho for thirteen years when she and Jamie break up. After she hits rock bottom in Phoenix, her Los Angeles-based sister insists Lucy housesit for the summer—her only tasks caring for a beloved diabetic dog and trying to learn to care for herself. Annika’s home is a gorgeous glass cube atop Venice Beach, but Lucy can find no peace from her misery and anxiety—not in her love addiction group therapy meetings, not in frequent Tinder meetups, not in Dominic the foxhound’s easy affection, not in ruminating on the ancient Greeks. Yet everything changes when Lucy becomes entranced by an eerily attractive swimmer one night while sitting alone on the beach rocks.

Whip-smart, neurotically funny, sexy, and above all, fearless, The Pisces is built on a premise both sirenic and incredibly real—what happens when you think love will save you but are afraid it might also kill you.


So, I will be away for half of May, and I’m getting an early start on myMerMay project. This book qualified, as the main character is romanced by a merman.

I went into this book expecting a romance--don’t. It has to do with the importance our society gives to romance for women. How we are found to be odd, crazy, or strange if we aren’t focused on a relationship with a man. How we are to be considered defective without a partner.

Lucy has broken up with her boyfriend almost by accident and is plunged into depression and bizarre behaviour. Her sister offers her a house-sitting gig to get away and figure things out. She can stay in the sister’s house and take care of the sister’s dog as long as she goes to therapy. For a while, she finds she can love the dog and forget about men.

Lucy finds it difficult to take the group therapy seriously--all the women seem so damaged that she really doesn’t want to identify with them. However, she gradually begins to see the similarities and to see the women as more than their oddities. Meanwhile, she pursues liasons with men on Tinder, believing the superstition that her boyfriend will come back to her if she finds someone else. And she takes to sitting by the ocean at night, where she makes friends with a swimmer. Only of course he’s a merman.

It seems like Broder made all the characters pretty unlikeable, at least to me. But I did appreciate her frank assessment of the craziness that women are sometimes driven to in their pursuit of an unreasonable cultural dictum. And I also appreciated that she didn’t make Theo, the merman, into some kind of real romantic leading man. This isn’t the Little Mermaid in reverse. At least not the Disney version--it may bear more resemblance to the original Hans Christian Anderson tale, in the lack of a happy, romantic ending.

Reading progress update: I've read 321 out of 464 pages.

The Future Is Written (Sarah Roberts) - Jonas Saul


This author will be at When Words Collide this August.  I had to interlibrary loan this book to read something of his.


What is with thriller writers?  Why do the villains seem to threaten castration so often?  


I have rolled my eyes so often and so hard that I'm afraid they'll get stuck.


Film at 11.

TBR Weekend Edition

Magpie Murders - Anthony Horowitz Honor Bound - Ann Aguirre, Rachel Caine Against a Darkening Sky - Lauren B. Davis The Falconer - Elizabeth May

I've had a relaxing week on vacation, taking care of my cousin's cat. He's a demanding beastie, but I've enjoyed my time here. It snowed last night and I didn't pack any socks! Silly me, believing that spring had arrived for good!


Back to the office next week, but then I'll be back to the cat for another week just before my cousin gets home. Meanwhile, I'm seeing her photos of Italy and turning green with envy. About a month until I get to France for my turn!


Have a great weekend, friends.

Reading progress update: I've read 72 out of 256 pages.

Excellent women - Barbara Pym


Barbara Pym, why have I never read any of your work until recently?  What a pleasure!

That Ain't Witchcraft / Seanan McGuire

That Ain't Witchcraft - Seanan McGuire

Antimony Price has never done well without a support system. As the youngest of her generation, she has always been able to depend on her parents, siblings, and cousins to help her out when she's in a pinch--until now. After fleeing from the Covenant of St. George, she's found herself in debt to the crossroads and running for her life. No family. No mice. No way out.

Lucky for her, she's always been resourceful, and she's been gathering allies as she travels: Sam, fūri trapeze artist turned boyfriend; Cylia, jink roller derby captain and designated driver; Fern, sylph friend, confidant, and maker of breakfasts; even Mary, ghost babysitter to the Price family. Annie's actually starting to feel like they might be able to figure things out--which is probably why things start going wrong again.

New Gravesend, Maine is a nice place to raise a family...or make a binding contract with the crossroads. For James Smith, whose best friend disappeared when she tried to do precisely that, it's also an excellent place to plot revenge. Now the crossroads want him dead and they want Annie to do the dirty deed. She owes them, after all.

And that's before Leonard Cunningham, aka, "the next leader of the Covenant," shows up...

It's going to take everything Annie has and a little bit more to get out of this one. If she succeeds, she gets to go home. If she fails, she becomes one more cautionary tale about the dangers of bargaining with the crossroads.

But no pressure.


Let me just warn you up front, that I am an InCryptid fan and cannot be expected to be too critical of my beloved series. I enjoy the Price family, in their weirdness and their oddly chosen purpose, to protect the cryptid species in their vicinity. I love the wide selection of creatures than McGuire has dreamed up for them to interact with and run interference for. I enjoy their opposition to and reluctant engagement with the Covenant of St. George. The Prices fight against prejudice in all of its forms. 

I must confess that I miss the Aeslin mice. (Hail, cake & cheese for all!!) But I have a feeling that Annie will be able to rejoin the family fold soon and be reunited with her rodent worshippers. This is a consummation devoutly to be wished. In fine family style, Annie will be returning with a new adoptive family member and a potential spouse. Parr for the course among these crytozoological ninjas.

As long as Ms. MaGuire chooses to write these adventures, I will continue to read them. They are a wonderful little hit of fun, frolicking among the gorgons and bogeymen and traveling the ghost roads with likeable characters. 

Now that the Covenant is fully aware of the Prices' existence in North America, the plot will no doubt thicken. I can hardly wait for the next story!

A Shimmer of Hummingbirds / Steve Burrows

A Shimmer of Hummingbirds: A Birder Murder Mystery - Steve Burrows

Chief Inspector Domenic Jejeune is hoping an overseas birding trip might hold some answers in his fugitive brother’s manslaughter case. But there are people on the tour who seem keen to keep their secrets, and the rainforest can be a dangerous place for those who ask too many questions. 

Back in the U.K., in Jejeune’s absence, Marvin Laraby, his former boss and longtime nemesis has been brought in to investigate the murder of an accountant. He is proving so effective that Superintendent Colleen Shepherd is considering making his replacement of Jejeune a permanent arrangement. 

With the manslaughter case poised to claim another victim, Jejeune learns that an accident back home involving his girlfriend, Lindy Hey, is much more than it seems. Lindy is in imminent danger. And only Jejeune can help her. But to do so, he must sacrifice his working relationship with Shepherd, opening the door for Laraby’s appointment as Saltmarsh’s new DCI. 

When Jejeune discovers the truth about Laraby’s current case, he is faced with a dilemma. He can speak up, knowing it will cost him his job on the north Norfolk coast he loves. Or he can stay silent, and let a killer escape justice. 

As he weighs his alternatives, Domenic Jejeune begins to realize that, sometimes, the wrong choice is the only choice you have.


The best part of these multi-volume mystery series? One mystery is solved during the course of the book, but the overarching storyline develops more slowly. Burrows doesn’t rush things and he assumes that the reader will be able to fill in the blanks without too much coaching. He gives enough details so that if the reader, like me, has been away from the main characters for a while we can fit them into their places quite easily. But he doesn’t do like some of the cozy mystery authors, who repeat their characters’ life details far too often and in too much detail.

Being a birder myself, I could see the lure of Columbia as a destination, a good cover for what we know Domenic is really up to. As in real life, many other people can also see through his smoke screen--and unlike me, they don’t understand the lure of the bird. 

Burrows leaves us with a tiny bit of a cliff hanger in this volume….I’ll be headed on to the next installment soon.

My Sister, the Serial Killer / Oyinkan Braithwaite

My Sister, the Serial Killer - Oyinkan Braithwaite

When Korede's dinner is interrupted one night by a distress call from her sister, Ayoola, she knows what's expected of her: bleach, rubber gloves, nerves of steel and a strong stomach. This'll be the third boyfriend Ayoola's dispatched in, quote, self-defence and the third mess that her lethal little sibling has left Korede to clear away. She should probably go to the police for the good of the menfolk of Nigeria, but she loves her sister and, as they say, family always comes first. Until, that is, Ayoola starts dating the doctor where Korede works as a nurse. Korede's long been in love with him, and isn't prepared to see him wind up with a knife in his back: but to save one would mean sacrificing the other... 


What an easy little book to swoop through, an ignore so many of the things about women’s lives that the author explores! I was eagerly slurping down the story, when I had to take a little break. And that little break got me thinking and suddenly the book was more than the story.

Korede and Ayoola are two halves of the same coin. Korede claims that she is ugly and that Ayoola is beautiful. (We have only her word for this and I just don’t find her to be the most reliable narrator). They get treated differently because of this difference--Korede learns the “homely woman” lessons. You must learn to cook and to keep house well because this is what you will be judged on. Ayoola get a pass on those skills. Korede also holds a responsible job outside the home, something that Ayoola also gets a pass on. And yet, Korede is so controlled, so obsessively clean and tidy--she needs Ayoola to clean up after.

The two sisters are involved in a complicated dance, stemming from their abusive father. Ayoola is the one who creates messes and Korede cleans them up. How many siblings have this dynamic, although not to this extreme. As a eldest sibling, how many times have I been tempted to meddle in my sisters’ lives when I haven’t been asked to? How many times have I bitten my tongue and listened, trying not to judge or offer unsolicited advice? 

Plus, when you get a peek into a culture that’s not your own, how easy it is to see all the patriarchal expectations that shape female lives. The whole idea that being married and producing children is the main purpose of a woman’s life, that she should be willing to endure being beaten and abused to fulfill this purpose. No wonder Ayoola kills the men in her life--she’s just behaving like a man. Korede is trying to herd her back towards female behaviour norms, but ends up helping her because she also knows what it’s like to be shoved into the uncomfortable straight jacket of societal expectations.

It’s a wonder that so many of us choose to be Korede and not Ayoola.