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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

Hot Lead, Cold Iron: A Mick Oberon Job Book 1 by Marmell, Ari (2014) Paperback
Ari Marmell
My Name Is Lucy Barton: A Novel
Elizabeth Strout
Freedom in Exile: The Autobiography of the Dalai Lama
Dalai Lama XIV
Progress: 32/320 pages

Hyperion / Dan Simmons

Hyperion - Dan Simmons

On the world called Hyperion, beyond the law of the Hegemony of Man, there waits the creature called the Shrike. There are those who worship it. There are those who fear it. And there are those who have vowed to destroy it. In the Valley of the Time Tombs, where huge, brooding structures move backward through time, the Shrike waits for them all. On the eve of Armageddon, with the entire galaxy at war, seven pilgrims set forth on a final voyage to Hyperion seeking the answers to the unsolved riddles of their lives. Each carries a desperate hope—and a terrible secret. And one may hold the fate of humanity in his hands.

 

Canterbury Tales in space. With the plotting of Agatha Christie.

Earth is just a memory, destroyed long ago, but it looms large in the galactic consciousness. Hyperion is a world on the edge of things—not really part of the Hegemony of Man, not really part of the opposition either. Ruled or haunted by a being known as The Shrike.

As a birder, I am familiar with shrikes. They are songbirds that think they are raptors. When you find one of their larders, you feel like you’ve discovered a serial killer’s lair—they use thorn bushes or barbed wire to impale their prey until needed to feed chicks or themselves. Simmons borrows this behaviour for his creation and it feels ominous.

As for the Canterbury Tales aspect, seven pilgrims are traveling to Hyperion on the eve of galactic war. As they make their way to the Time Tombs on Hyperion, they agree to tell their tales of what has prompted their participation in the expedition. As their stories unfold, we acquire the background that we need to learn more about Simmons’ universe and enough to tantalize us about what may be happening.

As to the Christie angle, I realized as I enjoyed each character’s story that Simmons had skillfully crafted all of the tales to fit together in interesting and intricate ways. Events in each person’s life, reaching back many years in every case, have drawn them to be where they currently are. Have they been manipulated by the Shrike? Or is this a case of massive synchronicity?

I loved the ending of this book and if it was a stand-alone, I could live with that. However, I am pleased that there are three more books to explore this intriguing universe.

Book 251 of my Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading Project.

Ashes of Honor / Seanan McGuire

Ashes of Honor - Seanan McGuire

It’s been almost a year since October “Toby” Daye averted a war, gave up a county, and suffered personal losses that have left her wishing for a good day’s sleep. She’s tried to focus on her responsibilities—training Quentin, upholding her position as Sylvester’s knight, and paying the bills—but she can’t help feeling like her world is crumbling around her, and her increasingly reckless behavior is beginning to worry even her staunchest supporters.

To make matters worse, Toby’s just been asked to find another missing child…only this time it’s the changeling daughter of her fellow knight, Etienne, who didn’t even know he was a father until the girl went missing. Her name is Chelsea. She’s a teleporter, like her father. She’s also the kind of changeling the old stories warn about, the ones with all the strength and none of the control. She’s opening doors that were never meant to be opened, releasing dangers that were sealed away centuries before—and there’s a good chance she could destroy Faerie if she isn’t stopped.

Now Toby must find Chelsea before time runs out, racing against an unknown deadline and through unknown worlds as she and her allies try to avert disaster. But danger is also stirring in the Court of Cats, and Tybalt may need Toby’s help with the biggest challenge he’s ever faced.

Toby thought the last year was bad. She has no idea.

 

Yay! This is book, folks, where Toby Daye finally wakes up and smells the coffee, both literally and figuratively. Indeed, she is as obsessed with coffee drinking as I am and all the people in her life have learned to make it to her specifications. Plus, she has learned about those people in her life—she cares about them, they care about her, and she should probably get used to that.

It was great to see her accept and even solicit help from her regular crew of friends and to see them all win the day as a team. No more isolation! She & Tybalt are officially great at co-operating to get things done, save each other’s lives, and defend the innocent. Not to mention their excellent chemistry! I also appreciate that this romance element to the story doesn’t over-power the novel. It’s an excellent side dish to a satisfying meal.

I think the major reason that I love October is because she is a flawed main character. She has obstacles to overcome, probably as many of them in her own mind as in the real world. And, like all of us, she has to work through her issues until she reaches a place where she can claim a little more happiness.

This is the series that started my serious love-affair with all things Fae. It’s a good time to love Fae fantasies, they are everywhere now, but this will always be my first love in that category. Thanks, Seanan McGuire, for hours of happy entertainment.

Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, V.3

The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume 3 - Holly Black, Peter S. Beagle, Stephen Baxter, Stephen King, Hannu Rajaniemi, Jeff VanderMeer, Meghan McCarron, Ted Kosmatka, Rachel Swirsky, Ken Scholes, Richard Bowes, Ted Chiang, Robert Reed, Elizabeth Bear, Kij Johnson, Paolo Bacigalupi, M. Rickert, Margo Lanagan, Maure
 
The depth and breadth of what science fiction and fantasy fiction is changes with every passing year. The two dozen stories chosen for this book by award-winning anthologist Jonathan Strahan carefully maps this evolution, giving readers a captivating and always-entertaining look at the very best the genre has to offer.
 
Short story anthologies like these are a wonderful way to find new authors that interest you. I should probably limit my intake, since my “to read” list is already over 1600 titles, but being the book lover that I am, I can’t resist having a peek sometimes.

As with all collections, some stories were fun, some were confusing, some were boring for me. But I can think of three in this book that made me think I wanted more from those authors.

The Dust Assassin, by Ian McDonald. Mostly because it is set in Asia and I think entirely too much science fiction & fantasy is set in North America. Plus this was a gripping story and I’d like to read more in this world.

Pride and Prometheus, by John Kessel. I love a good mash-up. This story used both Shelley’s Frankenstein and Austen’s Pride and Prejudice to create a little side-adventure that really tickled me. I will definitely be looking for more of Kessel’s work.

26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss, by Kij Johnson. Okay, so I have a huge soft spot for animals, plus I love it when an author gets the biology right! Acknowledgement that chimpanzees and gibbons aren’t monkeys, but they’re still in the circus act. The story left me with questions, something that I also love.

If you’re having difficulty choosing your next book, may I suggest an anthology in whatever genre you enjoy? Sure, there may be some duds, but at least one story in the collection will probably send you off on a whole new reading tangent!
 
 

Stone of Farewell / Tad Williams

Stone of Farewell - Tad Williams

It is a time of darkness, dread, and ultimate testing for the realm of Osten Ard, for the wild magic and terrifying minions of the undead Sithi ruler, Ineluki the Storm King, are spreading their seemingly undefeatable evil across the kingdom.

With the very land blighted by the power of Ineluki’s wrath, the tattered remnants of a once-proud human army flee in search of a last sanctuary and rallying point—the Stone of Farewell, a place shrouded in mystery and ancient sorrow.

An even as Prince Josua seeks to rally his scattered forces, Simon and the surviving members of the League of the Scroll are desperately struggling to discover the truth behind an almost-forgotten legend, which will take them from the fallen citadels of humans to the secret heartland of the Sithi—where near-immortals must at last decide whether to ally with the race of men in a final war against those of their own blood.


As I look back on the reading experience for Stone of Farewell, I wonder exactly why I enjoyed it so much? I mean, not an awful lot happens. Simon returns to being a pouty, immature boy more often than not. There’s an awful lot of walking, while keeping a look-out for the bad guys. In fact, you could probably sum up the whole book in one sentence: Most of the good guys get to the Stone of Farewell.

I guess what made it worthwhile for me was learning quite a bit more about the Sithi (Williams’ version of Elves). Plus getting some back-story for Ineluki, the Storm King, to find out what turned him into the vengeful creature that is threatening all of Osten Ard. There’s also a peek into Troll culture and a love interest for poor, patient old Binibik.

The character who really gets left in the lurch in this volume is Miriamele, King Elias’ daughter. I would be reading book three regardless, but it is her fate that really is pulling me along at this point. I must know what happens!

This is pretty standard fantasy fare and if you enjoy high fantasy, you are likely to enjoy the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series. Those who don’t like elves, trolls, and magic swords should definitely pass this series by!

Book 250 of my Science Fiction and Fantasy reading project.

Why I Love Urban Fantasy

I’ve been a fantasy reader all of my life.  I started as a little kid with books like Waldo the Jumping Dragon.  I continued as a teenager with The Lord of the Rings.  And although I still have an enduring love of the regular fantasy genre as well as science fiction, I have found my true love in the Urban Fantasy subgenre.

 

Urban fantasy seemingly has it all: vampires, werewolves, fairies/the Fae, spies, time-traveling librarians, Medusas, talking mice, druids, magicians, goblins, intergalactic inns, magic swords, you name it!  It also has a propensity towards tough, ass-kicking main characters, be they male or female.

 

But no matter how impressive the main character, they suffer from the same problems as you and I do.  They sometimes doubt their abilities (Seanan McGuire’s October Daye).  They have difficulty with their families (Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels trying to cope with her god-like father).  They struggle with their finances (Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden).  They experience confusion in their love lives (Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse).  They worry about their careers (Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant).  They make bad decisions that have lasting effects on their lives (Kevin Hearne’s Atticus O’Sullivan).  They’ve lost people who are important to them (Ilona Andrews’ Dina Demille).  They’re having problems with their supervisor at work (Genevieve Cogman’s librarian, Irene).  They struggle to provide for their families (Ilona Andrews’ Nevada Baylor).

 

In short, these characters share the same problems that we have in the mundane world.  Just as the Harry Potter books speak to regular kids’ problems (sports, tests, bullies, misunderstandings between friends), Urban Fantasy represents a subset of somewhat more adult problems. 

 

Plus, Urban Fantasy is all about relationships and not just romantic relationships.  Building a supportive circle of friends and allies.  Making a good reputation for yourself.  Finding a good partner, both in work and in love.  Finding out what you stand for.  Basically, it is about building a well-rounded life for oneself.

 

When the main character is female, she is generally a take-charge woman.  She’s a mechanic like Mercy Thompson or a vampire-librarian like Jane Jameson or an Inn Keeper like Dina Demille.  She’s got a quick wit and quicker reflexes.  They are us the way we would like to be.  I don’t know about you, but I always think of the perfect rejoinder about two days later and I often feel like I’m in danger of tripping over my own feet.  This is the REAL fantasy of these novels—the fantasy that allows up to enjoy this feeling of competence that is occasionally missing from the daily grind.

 

I love the hopeful nature of Urban Fantasy—the belief embodied in it that we can all find our place, find our people, and find our way in the world.

Survivors / Richard Fortey

Survivors: The Animals and Plants That Time Has Left Behind. Richard Fortey - Richard Fortey

Evolution does not simply obliterate its tracks as more advanced organisms evolve. Scattered across the globe, organisms and ecosystems that survive from far earlier times can speak to us of seminal events in the history of life. It is these animals and plants that Richard Fortey visits in the field, taking the reader on a voyage to the exotic, and sometimes everyday, places in which they live. Landscapes are evoked, boulders are turned over, seas are paddled as he explains the importance of understanding plants and animals as pivotal points in evolutionary history itself. Survivors: The Animals and Plants that Time Has left Behind is a journey across the globe and across time that weaves a rich and brilliantly delineated tapestry of how life and our planet have evolved together.

 

I love Richard Fortey’s science writing. Two of his books are among my absolute favourites (Life: A Natural History of the First Four Billion Years of Life on Earth and Dry Storeroom No. 1). Perhaps because there’s an awful lot of stuff happening in my life right now, I didn’t get into this book in quite the same way as those two.

Still, it’s an extremely enjoyable book if you are a fan of paleontology and natural history. I’ve been fascinated by the idea of a “living fossil” and Fortey explores it thoroughly in this book (while explaining that the whole idea of a living fossil is a bit off-base—they may look the same, but many things will still have changed over the millennia). I am more than a little envious of Mr. Fortey, as I would dearly love to travel to see some of the creatures that he visited for this book. I mean, Horseshoe Crabs? Sign me up to go see them at spawning time! Wouldn’t you like to hold a Lungfish in Northern Australia? Or is it just me?

What I truly appreciate about Fortey’s writing is the enormous depth and breadth of knowledge of paleontology. Now, he does shine brightest when talking about invertebrates, as you would expect of a trilobite specialist, but he’s a dab hand at fish too and obviously an enthusiastic naturalist when it comes to plants and birds. I am amazed how much natural history knowledge resides in one person’s skull.

Add to that the charm of quoting poetry and literature in meaningful ways, making allusions to dance and art, and one has to admit that this is a well-rounded scholar.

Recommended for those who are fascinated with paleontology in all its glory.

Beware the Ides of March!

I love this old Wayne & Schuster sketch, Rinse the Blood off my Toga and use any excuse to share it.  Hope it gives you a smile too on this Ides of March.

Whose Body? / Dorothy L. Sayers

Whose Body? - Dorothy L. Sayers

The stark naked body was lying in the tub. Not unusual for a proper bath, but highly irregular for murder -- especially with a pair of gold pince-nez deliberately perched before the sightless eyes. What's more, the face appeared to have been shaved after death. The police assumed that the victim was a prominent financier, but Lord Peter Wimsey, who dabbled in mystery detection as a hobby, knew better. In this, his first murder case, Lord Peter untangles the ghastly mystery of the corpse in the bath.

 

I hope that Dorothy Sayers would be pleased that people are still reading her Lord Peter Wimsey series in the 21st century, 50 years after her death. That said, this was very much a “first book” in the series. Lord Peter is very well named, it seems to have started a bit whimsically. Ms. Sayers was obviously finding out who this gentleman was and what he was capable of.

There are regular references to Sherlock Holmes, so Sayers was obviously conversant with Conan Doyle’s creation. Especially in the matter of the criminal’s need to confess and explain what he did and why he did it, something that I am unsure actually happens in real life.

I also found echoes of two of her contemporaries, Agatha Christie and P.G. Wodehouse. Lord Peter is an amateur sleuth, like Miss Marple, but he has connections in the police department rather like Hercule Poirot. His relationship with his butler, Bunter, is reminiscent of Bertie Wooster and his man Jeeves.

I was very fond of Peter’s mother, the Duchess. She is a wonderfully intelligent & lively woman and I hope that she continues to feature in future installments.

It was an entertaining little book—unfortunately my copy had some major typographical problems. Every time the character “æ” should have appeared in a word, “¾” replaced it, making for some very odd looking words. Things went even further awry close to the end of the book, when Lord Peter speaks with a woman in French. All the accents, circumflexes and cedillas were replaced by symbols and numbers and made the conversation extremely difficult to parse out.

Though not the most scintillating mystery that I’ve ever read, it is better than many. When time permits, I will undoubtedly read further adventures of Lord Peter Wimsey.

Worse Monday than usual!
Worse Monday than usual!

Oath of Gold / Elizabeth Moon

Oath of Gold - Elizabeth Moon

I spent the first two chapters of this book crying.  Why, you ask?  Because the second book left Paks in such a hopeless, lonely place and in the first couple of chapters Master Oakhollow takes her in and is SO KIND.  He demonstrates a kindness that’s often missing in our world today.

 

I had difficulty setting the book down—I really wanted to know what happened.  But I just couldn’t give it 5 stars, despite these two factors.  Once she was healed, Paks went right back to being a Mary Sue character, who could do no wrong and could see her way through all kinds (and I mean ALL kinds) of troubles without getting bent out of shape.  This despite assurances to her on several occasions that she is a better Girdsman now, because she knows how helpless people feel.  Plus she’s gone all religious and holy in the cult of Gird.  For a girl who used to fight & cuss in Duke Phelan’s troops, it was odd to see her go so far to the other end of the spectrum.

 

Having said that, Moon creates a fascinating world—I would have loved to spend more time with the elves and gnomes and know a bit more about their societies.  The ending, although okay, just kind of petered out.  Rather like a fairy tale, when they just say that everyone lived happily ever after.  A bit more detail in the resolution would have made me feel better about it.

 

All in all, this was a very enjoyable trilogy and would definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoys high fantasy.

 

Book number 249 in my Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading Project.

The Gate to Women's Country / Sheri S. Tepper

The Gate to Women's Country - Sheri S. Tepper

Tepper's finest novel to date is set in a post-holocaust feminist dystopia that offers only two political alternatives: a repressive polygamist sect that is slowly self-destructing through inbreeding and the matriarchal dictatorship called Women's Country. Here, in a desperate effort to prevent another world war, the women have segregated most men into closed military garrisons and have taken on themselves every other function of government, industry, agriculture, science and learning.

The resulting manifold responsibilities are seen through the life of Stavia, from a dreaming 10-year-old to maturity as doctor, mother and member of the Marthatown Women's Council. As in Tepper's Awakeners series books, the rigid social systems are tempered by the voices of individual experience and, here, by an imaginative reworking of The Trojan Woman that runs through the text. A rewarding and challenging novel that is to be valued for its provocative ideas.

 

Very much a product of its time! Post-nuclear war, societies are sorting themselves out and we get to witness two ways of dealing with things. One is very, very matriarchal, the other over-the-top patriarchal. As I began reading, I started with the impression that I was exploring a very patriarchal set-up. Fooled me! Yes, the women and men live (mostly) separately and the women must present sons to the warriors to be raised in warrior culture. But women control almost everything else (medicine, agriculture, trading, education, etc.). Not very religious, but any references present are based on Greek mythology. Sex is viewed as healthy & desirable as long as disease is prevented.

On the other extreme is a community apparently organized much like the polygamist culture in Bountiful, B.C. and in Utah. Older men appropriate all the women & girls for their own “harems,” leaving the young men frustrated and angry. Sex is viewed as an evil necessity, but still avidly desired and “religiously” pursued. Very religious society, based on the Judaeo-Christian model.

Although the author does seem to favour the matriarchal culture, my impression from the book is that she wanted to show that NEITHER extreme is desirable and that both fail in crucial aspects. Perhaps influenced by Margaret Atwood’s excellent The Handmaid’s Tale as well as other post-apocalyptic novels of the 70s and 80s. A bit dated today, but worth reminding ourselves that we can co-operate together to run society fairly.

Book 247 in my Science Fiction & Fantasy Reading Project.

Divided Allegiance / Elizabeth Moon

Divided Allegiance - Elizabeth Moon

Paksenarrion, once a sheepfarmer's daughter, now a veteran warrior, meets new challenges as she breaks up a robber gang, dispells an ancient evil possessing an elvish shrine and is accepted for training at an academy for knights. Clearly, a high destiny awaits her.

 

The biggest impression that this book made on me was thinking, “We still don’t treat our wounded veterans very well.” Paksenarrion, the golden girl, leaves her fighting unit for a while to do advanced training. Being the Mary Sue character that she is, she shines at all of it, and is ear-marked to become a Paladin of Gird until she is captured & tortured. Suddenly, her fellow fighters & superiors are questioning her future, even questioning her past dedication to her profession.

Moon was a Marine, and her service experience colours the Paksenarrion saga. Not nearly as dark as Glen Cook’s Black Company series (she obviously had a less traumatic experience than he did), her portrayals of camaraderie in the ranks are pretty sunny until late in this book, when Paks has what we would call post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and things get pretty bleak for her. As things still are for returned veterans who are suffering, making this still a rather timely book.

The extra portions of angst for Paks actually make this a better book than the first installment, where she could do no wrong. It is much more interesting & engrossing. No question about whether I will read book 3—it is already in my book bag as my next “work break” book.

Book 248 of my Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading Project.

Trapped / Kevin Hearne

Trapped - Kevin Hearne

After twelve years of secret training, Atticus O’Sullivan is finally ready to bind his apprentice, Granuaile, to the earth and double the number of Druids in the world. But on the eve of the ritual, the world that thought he was dead abruptly discovers that he’s still alive, and they would much rather he return to the grave.

Having no other choice, Atticus, his trusted Irish wolfhound, Oberon, and Granuaile travel to the base of Mount Olympus, where the Roman god Bacchus is anxious to take his sworn revenge—but he’ll have to get in line behind an ancient vampire, a band of dark elves, and an old god of mischief, who all seem to have KILL THE DRUID at the top of their to-do lists.

 

Granuaile finally gets to shine! And proves that wolfhound Oberon is correct in calling her Clever Girl.

To me, it feels like this series is kind of getting back on track, although Atticus is still working through the repercussions of poor choices made back in book 3 (Hammered).

However, Granuaile has finally become a Druid in her own right and hopefully will continue to be a steadying influence on Atticus. You’d think a guy as old as he is wouldn’t need steadying, but she keeps him focused on better outcomes.

Now that the supernatural world knows that they are still alive, perhaps they can re-gather a circle of friends that made the first two novels work so well for me.

Murder on the Orient Express / Agatha Christie

Murder on the Orient Express - Agatha Christie

I am surprised by how easily and quickly Dame Agatha’s books slip by. I can certainly see why this is one of her favoured books, loved by many. It does reveal Hercule Poirot at his best, exercising those little gray cells.

Now my reading of Anne Holt’s 1222 last year makes more sense—is it ever an homage to Christie and the Orient Express!

I can also see where it is nearly impossible for the reader to guess the ending of this one, so Christie – 2, Wanda – 0 so far with my Agatha Christie reading.

The Conjoined / Jen Sookfong Lee

The Conjoined: A Novel - Jen Sookfong Lee

How well do we know our parents? Social worker Jessica Campbell thought, like the rest of us, that she knew her mother pretty well. Then, as she and her father clean out the family home after her mother’s death, they find a body in the bottom of a chest freezer. They call the police, who find a second body in another freezer. Leaving Jessica to wonder what is going on?

This is very readable and things are revealed by various players in the story it progresses. But it is more about the interactions between people, the hidden secrets in everyone’s lives, and the need to live your own life in your own way than it is about the who-dunnit.

If you require a clean ending with all the bits tied up in a neat knot, this may not be a good book for you. If you can enjoy the humanness of the characters in and of themselves, you will find it a better fit.

What's waiting at the Library!

Murder on the Orient Express - Agatha Christie Freedom in Exile: The Autobiography of the Dalai Lama - Dalai Lama XIV Survivors: The Animals and Plants That Time Has Left Behind. Richard Fortey - Richard Fortey Hot Lead, Cold Iron: A Mick Oberon Job Book 1 by Marmell, Ari (2014) Paperback - Ari Marmell My Name Is Lucy Barton: A Novel - Elizabeth Strout Trapped - Kevin Hearne

 

Yay!  Plenty of good stuff to read.

 

Have a wonderful weekend!