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wandapedersen39

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

The Mummy Case
Elizabeth Peters
Progress: 49/327 pages
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers
Mary Roach
The Great Starvation Experiment: The Heroic Men Who Starved so That Millions Could Live
Todd Tucker
The Green Man
Kingsley Amis

It's the Weekend!

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers - Mary Roach The Kiss of Deception (The Remnant Chronicles) - Mary E. Pearson The Mummy Case - Elizabeth Peters

Hopefully I'll have at least a little time to read this weekend.

 

I'd like to finish The Mummy Case, which I haven't had enough time to enjoy.

 

Next books due at the library:  Stiff and The Kiss of Deception.  Both have holds and can't be renewed, which makes them priority.  I always enjoy Mary Roach's writing, so I know Stiff will be fun, but I've forgotten all about The Kiss of Deception, so I'll go into it blind and see how things go.

 

In other news, I've got company coming for dinner on Saturday night, so I must do a mountain of laundry, clean the bathroom, and scrub or vacuum all the floors on Saturday morning.

 

Sunday will be a cooking and reading day, with any luck.

 

Enjoy your weekend, folks!

Night / Elie Wiesel

Night - Marion Wiesel, Elie Wiesel

An autobiographical narrative in which the author describes his experiences in Nazi concentration camps, watching family and friends die, and how they led him to believe that God is dead.  Night is Elie Wiesel’s masterpiece, a candid, horrific, and deeply poignant autobiographical account of his survival as a teenager in the Nazi death camps.

 

I chose this book as one of several Remembrance Day reads. I read Viktor Frankl’s Man's Search for Meaning just before it and, although there are many similarities, there are also interesting differences.

Reading about life in a concentration camp is a brutal experience. Frankl had the advantages of being a grown man and a psychiatrist when he entered the system—he understood human behaviour, both good and bad, and could make assessments that the teenage Wiesel wasn’t able to. The fact is that anyone who survived the death camps ended up doing things that were selfish in order to survive and people who are starving don’t have the emotional energy to spare to care about others. They are numb to both their own suffering and that of even their own family members. Knowing that other prisoners were in worse shape and could have used more help and/or sympathy left these survivors with terrible guilt, feeling that they were faulty human beings who should have done better. They saw horrible things, they did things that they judge themselves for, and it is absolutely no wonder that they had psychological issues for the rest of their lives.

Where Frankl emerged from Auschwitz with a renewed sense of purpose, Wiesel seems to have changed profoundly—from an innocent, religious, and scholarly young man, he became a crusader to preserve the memory of the Holocaust. This book is a testament to his experience, his survival, and his mission.

Allan Quatermain / H. Rider Haggard

Allan Quatermain - Henry Rider Haggard

Allan Quartermain is a sequel to the famous novel King Solomon's Mines. Quatermain has lost his only son and longs to get back into the wilderness. Having persuaded Sir Henry Curtis, Captain John Good, and the Zulu chief Umbopa to accompany him, they set out from the coast of east Africa, this time in search of a white race reputed to live north of Mount Kenya. They survive fierce encounters with Masai warriors, undergo a terrifying subterranean journey, and discover a lost civilization before being caught up in a passionate love-triangle that engulfs the country in a ferocious civil war.

 

I have read Haggard’s She and King Solomon's Mines, and I basically knew what to expect when I began Allan Quatermain. In many ways, AQ is a combination of the other two novels, but not quite as good as either one of them. It’s an adventure fantasy, starring rich Englishmen in deepest darkest Africa. They shoot a lot of animals and incidentally kill off quite a few African servants in the course of their quest. And what are they searching for, you ask? Why an unknown civilization of white people in an area where almost no one has gone before.

When the men find their Lost Civilization, Haggard doubles down on a good thing. Instead of one mysterious white woman ruling the area (as in She), he provides two of them in this novel! And just to show that the love triangle trope is not unique to modern romance literature, both of these queenly personages fall head over heels in love with Allan’s companion, Sir Henry. To say that this causes problems is an understatement. Also similar to She is Allan’s position vis-à-vis Sir Henry, just as Horace Holly played wise, humbler advisor to his young companion Leo.

I adore Haggard’s She, having discovered this portal to fantastical adventure during my high school years. I feel affection for all of his work because of that and it is impossible for me to rate it objectively, but if you are only going to read one of his adventure fantasies, choose She and get to know She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed. Allan is just not quite as much fun.

Man's Search for Meaning / Viktor E. Frankl

Man's Search for Meaning - Viktor E. Frankl, Harold S. Kushner

Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl's memoir has riveted generations of readers with its descriptions of life in Nazi death camps and its lessons for spiritual survival. Between 1942 and 1945 Frankl labored in four different camps, including Auschwitz, while his parents, brother, and pregnant wife perished. Based on his own experience and the experiences of others he treated later in his practice, Frankl argues that we cannot avoid suffering but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward with renewed purpose. Frankl's theory-known as logotherapy, from the Greek word logos ("meaning")-holds that our primary drive in life is not pleasure, as Freud maintained, but the discovery and pursuit of what we personally find meaningful.

 

If there is meaning in life at all, then there must be meaning in suffering.

This seemed like a fitting book to read on the Remembrance Day weekend, especially since I recently read Anne Frank’s Diaries. It is a harrowing reading experience, but also strangely comforting. Frankl details his concentration camp history in order to show us the how and why of survival.

I think it was Frankel’s even-handedness that impressed me the most. He sees evil when it presents itself, in the form of sadistic guards and other prisoners who lord it over their peers, but he also acknowledges the presence of good people in difficult situations—the server in the food line who always scoops from the bottom of the soup pot, giving everyone a chance at one of those longed-for peas, the guard who nudges the weaker prisoner towards lighter duties, the fellow marcher who offers a hand.

Survival is often a matter of luck—choosing the right work assignment or choosing a favourable move to another camp, but each person was also responsible for their own luck by paying attention and helping others when they were able or stroking the ego of a guard when the chance arose. Frankl points out that most of those who survived had a bigger goal—a loved one to be reunited with or a project to be finished. He credits his half-finished book with getting him through a bout of typhus during his imprisonment.

A tale of grim survival, leading to a sympathetic psychiatric theory. Have you identified your purpose?

To Green Angel Tower / Tad Williams

To Green Angel Tower - Tad Williams

As the evil minions of the undead Sithi Storm King prepare for the kingdom-shattering culmination of their dark sorceries and King Elias is drawn ever deeper into their nightmarish, spell spun world, the loyal allies of Prince Josua desperately struggle to rally their forces at the Stone of Farewell. And with time running out, the remaining members of the now devastated League of the Scroll have also gathered there to unravel mysteries from the forgotten past in an attempt to find something to strike down their unslayable foe.

But whether or not they are successful, the call of battle will lead the valiant followers of Josua Lackhand on a memorable trek to the haunted halls of Asu'a itself - the Sithi's greatest stronghold.

 

A satisfying ending to an engaging trilogy. I can see why this final tome was originally published in two parts—it was a definite door-stop! I sprained my wrist two years ago, and I found that old injury aching at the end of lengthy reading sessions!

However, the size of the volume was necessary in order to tie up the many, many loose ends from the first two books. I especially appreciated the return of “Rachel the Dragon” as an honoured elder lady, even as I grieved the loss of other characters. I also have to say that I appreciated the focus on Miriamele, despite the fact that she often came across as spoiled and irrational. I was able to endure that portrayal because Simon was often angry and petulant for no particular reason that I could discern either. Equal opportunity bad behaviour!

I appreciated that Osten Ard was not just a clone of Middle Earth. Williams gave the world his own structure and rules, and created unique creatures and challenges for his characters. I really liked the ending--it worked for me. I always feel the tug of emotion as the war ends and the circle of friends must split up to return to their own lives—happy to get back to normal, sad to be parted.

Book number 267 in my Science Fiction & Fantasy reading project.

Weekend Plans

To Green Angel Tower - Tad Williams Allan Quatermain - Henry Rider Haggard Path of the Eclipse - Chelsea Quinn Yarbro The Mummy Case - Elizabeth Peters

I’ve got an extra-long 4 day weekend coming up.  This is a good thing—my house looks like a bomb went off in it!  Tomorrow I have to get things cleaned up and do a mountain of laundry.  I’ve also been planning to make an Chicken Peanut Stew in the slow cooker (on a day when I can be home to supervise it, I hate leaving a slow cooker on when I’m out of the house).

 

I’ve also got thoughts about doing up some freezer meals, which would entail a bit of shopping, organizing, labelling, etc.  Plans to make Nuts & Bolts for Christmas have also been floating about in my brain, forget the sugar plums!  While I’m shopping for the freezer meals, I might as well shop for that project too.

 

But I have my relaxation planned as well.  The library practicum student that I’ve been working with gave me a bottle of wine yesterday as a thank you!  What a nice young woman she is.  And of course, I’ve got my pile of books to work on.

 

Next due at the library is To Green Angel Tower, which is enormous and I am half way through.  I’ve got an interlibrary loan coming due—Allan Quatermain—and another due in the near future—The Path of the Eclipse.  If I can make progress on those three over the next four days, that will make my life easier.  I’m also partially done The Mummy Case and it should be a quick finish.

 

Have a lovely weekend, all, and I’ll be back on Tuesday!

Reading progress update: I've read 49 out of 327 pages.

The Mummy Case - Elizabeth Peters

Amelia and Emerson continue to charm me with their unconventional relationship and Ramses and the cat are highly entertaining.

 

I may tire of this series eventually, but for now I am enjoying it immensely.

Reading progress update: I've read 342 out of 1104 pages.

To Green Angel Tower - Tad Williams

I have the paperback version of this.  It is so heavy, that my right wrist (which I sprained two years ago) is sore at the end of a reading session.  Thank goodness it isn't the hardcover!

 

 

The Library at Mount Char / Scott Hawkins

The Library at Mount Char - Scott Hawkins

Carolyn's not so different from the other people around her. She likes guacamole and cigarettes and steak. She knows how to use a phone. Clothes are a bit tricky, but everyone says nice things about her outfit with the Christmas sweater over the gold bicycle shorts.  After all, she was a normal American herself once.  

That was a long time ago, of course. Before her parents died. Before she and the others were taken in by the man they called Father.  In the years since then, Carolyn hasn't had a chance to get out much. Instead, she and her adopted siblings have been raised according to Father's ancient customs. They've studied the books in his Library and learned some of the secrets of his power. And sometimes, they've wondered if their cruel tutor might secretly be God. 

Now, Father is missing—perhaps even dead—and the Library that holds his secrets stands unguarded. And with it, control over all of creation.  As Carolyn gathers the tools she needs for the battle to come, fierce competitors for this prize align against her, all of them with powers that far exceed her own.  But Carolyn has accounted for this.  And Carolyn has a plan.

The only trouble is that in the war to make a new God, she's forgotten to protect the things that make her human.

 

4 dark and twisty stars.

I spent the first couple of chapters of this book wondering WTF? What is going on here? Who are these people? Are they really people? Then things started to weave together for me—if not exactly making sense, I could start to see a pattern developing and it intrigued me. By the end, I was enjoying the hell out of it.

I’m a pretty devoted fantasy reader and I chose this book for my real-life book club as a horror choice. I had to sit and think about that once I was finished. Was this horror? I had to go look up some definitions of the horror genre, but I’ve come to the conclusion that it does indeed slot into that classification. It has supernatural elements. It is surreal and sometimes gruesome. It is unsettling. I guess that I associate horror with being scared and because I wasn’t hiding under my bedcovers, this felt more like dark fantasy to me.

It’s been decades since I read The Epic of Gilgamesh, but I thought about it when reading about David, who reminded me a bit of Enkidu, the Wildman. I have to say that all the resurrections and being children of a god made me think of the New Testament too and its stories about Jesus. The lions, Dresden and Naga, brought C.S. Lewis’ Aslan to mind as well, so there were just threads pulling all over the place to all these other works.

What made me laugh, after I was done, was reading the author’s biographical note and seeing that he’s very involved in dog rescue, including owning a “pack” of foster dogs. One of the more disturbing events in the book is a scene where Steve and the two lions must fight off an unending stream of supernaturally determined dogs!

I love it when an author doesn’t get all explainy and lets you sort things out for yourself. I also love it when details that seem like throw-away items early in the book become suddenly significant when the chips are down.

A very impressive debut novel and I shall be very interested to see what this author produces next.

October Observations

I read 20 books during October.

 

5 star

  1. True Crime Addict / James Renner (RL Book Club)

 

4 star

  1. The Severed Streets / Paul Cornell (H)
  2. Wise Children / Angela Carter (H)*
  3. Doctor Sleep / Stephen King (H)
  4. The Only Child / Andrew Pyper (H)
  5. The High Window / Raymond Chandler (H)
  6. Carmilla / Sheridan J. Le Fanu (H)
  7. Diary of a Young Girl / Anne Frank
  8. Northanger Abbey / Jane Austen (H)*
  9. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children / Ransom Riggs (H)
  10. And I Darken / Kiersten White

 

3 star

  1. Bitten / Kelley Armstrong (H)
  2. What the #@&% is That? (H)
  3. At the Mountains of Madness / H.P. Lovecraft (H)*
  4. The Gap Into Conflict / Stephen R. Donaldson (SFF)
  5. Late Bite / John Matsui (H)
  6. Use of Weapons / Iain M. Banks (SFF)
  7. The Secret Life of Germs / Philip Tierno
  8. Down and Out in the New Economy / Ilana Gershon
  9. Help for the Haunted / John Searles (H)

 

The best book of the month was also a re-read (True Crime Addict) and I found it almost as fascinating the second time through, a real feat. 

 

Thirteen of these titles were for Halloween Bingo.  They are indicated by (H).

 

Two were part of my Science Fiction & Fantasy reading project (SFF).  Three were part of the Boxall 1001 Books (*).

 

All in all, I would have to say that it was a successful month of reading (and I managed to have a social life too, go me!)

Bitten / Kelley Armstrong

Bitten - Kelley Armstrong

Elena Michaels is the world’s only female werewolf. And she’s tired of it. Tired of a life spent hiding and protecting, a life where her most important job is hunting down rogue werewolves. Tired of a world that not only accepts the worst in her–her temper, her violence–but requires it. Worst of all, she realizes she’s growing content with that life, with being that person.

So she left the Pack and returned to Toronto where she’s trying to live as a human. When the Pack leader calls asking for her help fighting a sudden uprising, she only agrees because she owes him. Once this is over, she’ll be squared with the Pack and free to live life as a human. Which is what she wants. Really.

 

I read this for the “Werewolves” square of my 2017 Halloween Bingo card.

I keep reminding myself that this is a first book in a series and that I often like later books better, once the author has found their groove. I’m fence sitting with a 3 star rating on this one because I’ve got some issues with it, but I found it interesting enough to finish it, and not just for the sake of my Bingo game!

Elena, the main character, drove me crazy. She should actually be a cat of some kind, because no matter where she was, she thought she wanted to be somewhere else. If she was in Toronto, she was thinking she’d be happier in Stonehaven. Then she’s pissed off when she gets summoned to Stonehaven and wants to be back in Toronto. She’s supposedly trying to build an ordinary life for herself with Philip in Toronto, but pretty much immediately is having sex with Clayton when she returns to the werewolf fold. Rinse and repeat the pattern above—whichever man she’s currently with, she wants the other one.

Philip, although we see very little of him (and never from his point of view), haunts the background of most of the book. He’s an unusually patient man, who spent months trying to get to know Elena and who seems to have been stealthily sneaking more ties into their relationship as time passes. What he finds attractive is somewhat of a mystery—he is sleeping with a woman who sneaks out in the middle of the night regularly and doesn’t explain why. She’s slim, of course, from all that nocturnal wolf running and starving herself so as not to display her amazing werewolf appetite, but she admits that she hates clothes shopping and doesn’t concentrate too much on her appearance. She’s secretive, understandably to those of us in the know, but not the slightest bit creative about her excuses for her behaviour and Philip doesn’t seem to have the wherewithal to interrogate her in the way I think a normal lover would.

In the foreground is Clay, who doesn’t care about people at all, just werewolves. He liked Elena, so he made sure to bite her in order to trap her in his world. He’s not the alpha (that would be Jeremy) but he’s still an overbearing a-hole who only listens to Elena when he wants to. Mind you, he has some reasons for that, since she seems to lie to herself quite regularly about what she truly wants and what is realistic for a woman in her situation.

So the ending of this volume was no surprise to me—there was only one way things could resolve, it was just a matter of the path that Armstrong took me on to get there. I know that a lot of my GR friends who like urban fantasy love this series, so I am going to persevere for a book or two more to see if I can get into it. After all, I would love to support a Canadian writer and to read fantasy set in my own country.

Next up on the reading schedule

The Library at Mount Char - Scott Hawkins To Green Angel Tower - Tad Williams Allan Quatermain - Henry Rider Haggard Path of the Eclipse - Chelsea Quinn Yarbro The Green Man - Kingsley Amis

I feel I did really well on the Halloween Bingo this year.  I predict that I will finish Bitten before the end of the 31st, so I will only have missed one book on my bingo card, The Green Man, which I had chosen for the Ghost square.  I'll read TGM early in November, since I already have it in hand.

 

My next priority, however, had to be The Library at Mount Char for my real-life book club, which meets this Friday evening!  As long as I've made a good start on it, I'll be happy.

 

Then I start dealing with what's due when at the library!  To Green Angel Tower is due first and it's one of the heaviest paperbacks that I've every lifted!  To be followed by two interlibrary loans, The Path of the Eclipse and Allan Quatermain.

 

This should keep me out of trouble for the next while!

 

Happy November reading, my friends.

What the #@&% is That? / edited by John Joseph Adams & Douglas Cohen

What the #@&% Is That?: The Saga Anthology of the Monstrous and the Macabre - John Joseph Adams, Douglas Cohen

Ranging from irreverent humor to straight out horror, What the @#&% Is That? grew from a meme on Twitter when iconic comic book artist Mike Mignola painted a monster. Nobody knew what the F it was, but they loved it.

Renowned editors John Joseph Adams and Doug Cohen then asked some of the best writers in the fantasy, horror, and thriller genres including Jonathan Maberry, Seanan McGuire, Christopher Golden, and Scott Sigler to create a monster story that included the line “WTF is that?”

This anthology is a feast for the imagination for anyone who loves monsters.

 

 

I read this book to fill the ‘Free’ square of my 2017 Halloween Book Bingo card.

 

Horror is not really my genre, although I use Halloween each year as an excuse to stretch my boundaries a little bit.  Short stories aren’t my preferred format either, so I expect for horror aficionados who enjoy short fiction, this would be an excellent anthology. 

 

As promised in the introduction, each story in this volume eventually has a character who asks, “WTF is that?”  As usual with short fiction collections, some are better than others (and not always the ones that you would expect in either the good or bad categories).  By and large, the pieces tended towards the playful rather than tremendously scary, which a casual horror reader such as myself can appreciate.

The Severed Streets / Paul Cornell

The Severed Streets - Paul Cornell

Summer in London: a city in turmoil. The vicious murder of a well-known MP is like a match to tinder but Detective Inspector James Quill and his team know that it's not a run-of-the-mill homicide. Still coming to terms with their new-found second sight, they soon discover that what is invisible to others - the killer - is visible to them. Even if they have no idea who it is.

Then there are more deaths. The bodies of rich, white men are found in circumstances similar to those that set the streets of London awash with fear during the late 1800s: the Whitechapel murders. Even with their abilities to see the supernatural, accepting that Jack the Ripper is back from the dead is a tough ask for Quill's team. As they try to get to grips with their abilities and a case that's spiralling out of control, Quill realizes that they have to understand more about this shadowy London, a world of underground meetings, bizarre and fantastical auctions, and objects that are 'get out of hell free' cards.

 

  I read this book to fill the ‘Darkest London’ square of my 2017 Halloween Book Bingo card.

I really must give Neil Gaiman credit for being a very good sport—I am not sure how I would feel about becoming a character in someone else’s fiction, especially if that author gave me some rather dodgy motives, as Cornell does.

I liked this second book in the series considerably more than the first one. It’s like the majority of the world-building has been settled now and Cornell can get on with telling us the dark and twisted tale of what’s going on under the surface of London!

There is a walking tour of Jack the Ripper sites, where two of our coppers see ghosts of each of the victims, there is an auction of supernatural items, and a mysterious Ripper-like murderer at work in the great city. Our team of Shadow Police get ripped apart in several ways and kind of patched back together eventually. I’ve got to get to the third book, Who Killed Sherlock Holmes?, as soon as I can arrange, to see if their team can survive these upheavals.

 

   

At the Mountains of Madness / H.P. Lovecraft

At the Mountains of Madness and Other Works of Weird Fiction - H.P. Lovecraft, D.M. Mitchell

I read this book to fill the ‘Monsters’ square of my 2017 Halloween Book Bingo card.

I’ve read a few accounts of Antarctic exploration and At the Mountains of Madness starts out in exactly the same style, but then it veers dramatically off course--the tale becomes an H. Rider Haggard adventure novel crossed with a cheesy horror movie! Lovecraft is very skillful at making the readers use their imaginations—he doesn’t describe the horrors experienced by the men of the expedition. Instead, he shows us a destroyed campsite and lets the expedition leader tippy-toe around the ancient ruins, jumping at every sound. There is a lot of hinting and alluding to mysterious writings, rather than descriptions of actual creatures, which would have become silly quite quickly. Much better to let each reader’s mind fill in the details that they would find the most horrifying.

It has taken me a long time to get around to reading Lovecraft, probably because I’m not much of a horror reader. If you are going to read any significant amount in this genre, a basic knowledge of Lovecraft and his Cthulhu mythos will stand you in good stead. I now realize that I have been missing allusions to his work in a number of short story collections that I’ve read in the past.

Reading progress update: I've read 198 out of 416 pages.

The Severed Streets - Paul Cornell

Well *of course* Neil Gaiman has the Sight and *of course* he hangs out at the local supernatural pub.  Why wouldn't he?