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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 Birdwatcher
William Shaw
Living with Shakespeare: Actors, Directors, and Writers on Shakespeare in Our Time
Susannah Carson
Tigana
Guy Gavriel Kay

Two Boys Kissing / David Levithan

Two Boys Kissing - David Levithan

New York Times  bestselling author David Levithan tells the based-on-true-events story of Harry and Craig, two 17-year-olds who are about to take part in a 32-hour marathon of kissing to set a new Guinness World Record—all of which is narrated by a Greek Chorus of the generation of gay men lost to AIDS.

While the two increasingly dehydrated and sleep-deprived boys are locking lips, they become a focal point in the lives of other teen boys dealing with languishing long-term relationships, coming out, navigating gender identity, and falling deeper into the digital rabbit hole of gay hookup sites—all while the kissing former couple tries to figure out their own feelings for each other.

 

A very moving book, one that I would recommend that you buy for any young person in your life, regardless of their sexuality. But I doubly recommend that you buy it for any youth that you know who identifies as gay, lesbian or transgender. And I triply recommend it for any young person who is intolerant of sexual diversity. Remember to let them know that you love them and want the best life for them.

I would also say that if you know a parent, aunt, uncle, cousin, friend, sibling, etc. who is uncomfortable with the sexuality of a child, this would be an excellent way to open their hearts to the reality of the way that people are. We don’t all fit into neatly labelled boxes nor should we have to.

I’m of the generation that remembers when AIDS wasn’t spoken about. Back when governments and society tried to shove it under the rug. The many, many people who died before the disease was taken seriously. How it took the deaths of people like Rock Hudson to get the general population to care. As a result, I loved the “chorus” of those who have passed on, but remain to witness. Very much like a Greek chorus, commenting on what is happening in the book.

A quick but satisfying read.

In the Land of Invented Languages / Arika Okrent

In the Land of Invented Languages: Esperanto Rock Stars, Klingon Poets, Loglan Lovers, and the Mad Dreamers Who Tried to Build a Perfect Language - Arika Okrent

Here is the captivating story of humankind’s enduring quest to build a better language—and overcome the curse of Babel. Just about everyone has heard of Esperanto, which was nothing less than one man’s attempt to bring about world peace by means of linguistic solidarity. And every Star Trek fan knows about Klingon. But few people have heard of Babm, Blissymbolics, Loglan (not to be confused with Lojban), and the nearly nine hundred other invented languages that represent the hard work, high hopes, and full-blown delusions of so many misguided souls over the centuries. With intelligence and humor, Arika Okrent has written a truly original and enlightening book for all word freaks, grammar geeks, and plain old language lovers.

 

  I think I would really enjoy sitting down for a cup of coffee and a discussion with this author! She is a linguist and linguistics is a favourite subject of mine. She knows a thing or two about the Library of Congress classification schedules too (or at least the P section of them, linguistics & languages), which appeals to my inner cataloguing nerd. Plus, she is just interested in words and their history and in the psychology of people who strive to build better languages.

I was absolutely gobsmacked at how many artificial languages are lurking out there and how often that particular bee seems to get into someone’s bonnet! Mostly, the creators seems to be altruists—Esperanto was going to be the language that allowed us all to understand one another and prevent future wars. Many of these language developers were hoping to express “pure” concepts and keep prejudice and politics out of things. Unfortunately for them, language just doesn’t work that way! One of the best uses of language is politicking! Also unfortunate is the tendency of these men (and I think we can say that it’s mostly men who attempt this) to be unable to let go and let their languages run free, to change during regular use. Their rigid attempts to control the people using their languages seemed to negate any positive uses for their creations.

I was amused as the author’s type-A, gung-ho attempt to learn Klingon. If I had been at that particular conference, I would have been right at her side competing to my heart’s content! I loved that in her author note at the end of the volume, she listed both PhDs and her Klingon 1st level pin as her accomplishments.

What I found a bit freaky: I returned to work on Monday (having read the book on the weekend) and the very first volume that I picked up to catalogue was written in Esperanto! (I’ve been working on a big collection of materials by and about H.G. Wells and am busy with translations right now.) That little piece of synchronicity was amusing.

 

Tales of Ancient Egypt / Roger Lancelyn Green

Tales of Ancient Egypt (Puffin Classics) - Heather Copley, Roger Lancelyn Green

These stories include the great myths - of Amen-Ra, who created all the creatures in the world; of Isis, seaching the waters for her dead husband Osiris; of the Bennu Bird and the Book of Thoth. But there are also tales told for pleasure about magic, treasure and adventure - even the first ever Cinderella story.

 

  If I have ever read a book of Egyptian myths before, I don’t remember it. This little volume was a very pleasant introduction to the Egyptian mythos—something that I’ve learned by osmosis while reading books about the land’s history and art and reading fiction set in Ancient Egypt. As in most mythologies, there are unexpected treasures.

The man who polished these little tales was a friend of C.S. Lewis and seems to have made his reputation on rewriting myths and legends for the children’s market. I realize now that the vocabulary of this volume was probably suitable for children, but it did not detract from my enjoyment as an adult reader. He blends history and myth to make both clearer for the reader.

I have always found the Ancient Egyptians to be fascinating—this volume merely reinforced my obsession.

 

What are the chances?

In the Land of Invented Languages: Esperanto Rock Stars, Klingon Poets, Loglan Lovers, and the Mad Dreamers Who Tried to Build a Perfect Language - Arika Okrent

On the weekend, I read a book about invented languages.  When I got into work today and picked up my first book to catalog?  It was in Esperanto, arguably the most successful artificial language.  (I am working on a large H.G. Wells collection and did Czech, Danish, and Dutch language translations last week). 

 

A little coincidence to make my life a little weirder this week.

TBR Friday

Tales of Ancient Egypt (Puffin Classics) - Heather Copley, Roger Lancelyn Green The Birdwatcher - William Shaw Two Boys Kissing - David Levithan The Knife of Never Letting Go - Patrick Ness In the Land of Invented Languages: Esperanto Rock Stars, Klingon Poets, Loglan Lovers, and the Mad Dreamers Who Tried to Build a Perfect Language - Arika Okrent Walls: Resisting the Third Reich: One Woman's Story - Hiltgunt Zassenhaus

How did I miss that yesterday was Thursday?  Oops!

 

I'm actually almost finished Tales of Ancient Egypt.  And I've also begun reading The Knife of Never Letting Go.  With any luck, I will finish the former this evening and be able to return it to the library tomorrow.

 

Next up, The Birdwatcher.  Because you know that I'm a bird watcher, plus who can resist a murder mystery investigated by a policeman with murder in his background.  I'm thinking this one will go quickly!

 

Then to Two Boys Kissing.  It's for my February book club meeting, which I will be missing.  I should feel bad, I guess, but I'll be bird watching in Taiwan, so not too bad.

 

Two non-fiction offerings as well, In the Land of Invented Languages (because I've always secretly wanted to speak Klingon) and Walls : resisting the Third Reich

 

I must have these finished before January 28th, when I fly to Taipei.  Fingers crossed!

Just sayin'....
Just sayin'....

It's All Relative / A.J. Jacobs

It's All Relative: Adventures Up and Down the World’s Family Tree - W.W. Jacobs

A.J. Jacobs has received some strange emails over the years, but this note was perhaps the strangest: “You don’t know me, but I’m your eighth cousin. And we have over 80,000 relatives of yours in our database.”

That’s enough family members to fill Madison Square Garden four times over. Who are these people, A.J. wondered, and how do I find them? So began Jacobs’s three-year adventure to help build the biggest family tree in history.

Jacobs’s journey would take him to all seven continents. He drank beer with a US president, found himself singing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and unearthed genetic links to Hollywood actresses and real-life scoundrels. After all, we can choose our friends, but not our family.

 

I would call this a book about genealogy for people who aren’t really all that interested in the subject. It is genealogy lite. Which is not to say that it isn’t a good book or that I didn’t like it. I enjoyed it a great deal.

I’ve been doing genealogy since I was a teenager and discovered our family Bible, with my great-grandfather’s handwritten records of the family in it. It’s huge & heavy and he bought it from someone in a California train station for 25 cents back in the day. He was a lumberman and his family lived in New Brunswick (and he got migraines—he’s who I blame my headaches on!).

Maybe not the most exciting of stories, but you find all kinds of interesting tales when you start investigating. I haven’t made time for this pursuit for years, but reading this book has encouraged me to get thinking about it again.

I had read in a genealogy book that if you have European heritage, the very furthest apart you can be related to others with similar ties is 10th cousin. Jacobs’ research takes things a step farther: the farthest apart you can be related to anyone on Earth is 70th cousins. Start singing Kumbaya, folks, because we really do belong to the Family of Humankind.

The strange thing is, we do have a bias for treating our family just a little better than others—cutting them some slack when they do things that we don’t understand, for example. What better way is there to increase the kindness quotient in the world than to realize that we are all relatives and all deserve that kind of treatment.

Pie in the sky, I know, but both the author & I wish that it could come true.

Read for the PopSugar reading challenge to fill the “Book tied to your ancestry” choice.

A Promise of Fire / Amanda Bouchet

A Promise of Fire - Amanda Bouchet

Catalia "Cat" Fisa lives disguised as a soothsayer in a traveling circus. She is perfectly content avoiding the danger and destiny the Gods-and her homicidal mother-have saddled her with. That is, until Griffin, an ambitious warlord from the magic-deprived south, fixes her with his steely gaze and upsets her illusion of safety forever.

Griffin knows Cat is the Kingmaker, the woman who divines the truth through lies. He wants her as a powerful weapon for his newly conquered realm-until he realizes he wants her for much more than her magic. Cat fights him at every turn, but Griffin's fairness, loyalty, and smoldering advances make him increasingly hard to resist and leave her wondering if life really does have to be short, and lived alone.

 

Okay, I admit that I enjoyed this little paranormal romance. I almost missed a meeting at work because I unwisely was reading it on my coffee break (oops!). Yet I had a few issues with it. Let me tell you about them.

So there are heaps of the usual romance tropes—Griffin’s an exasperating alpha-male, Cat is a kidnap victim, so there’s the whole enemies-to-lovers thing going on. On the plus side, until Cat actually gives consent there is no sex--no rapes for our hero. Cat doesn’t think of herself as a beauty (but of course she is) and Griffin shouldn’t be ruling a kingdom by the norms of the day (and yet he is). So really, just part of the background radiation, romance-wise.

Here’s what bugs me—the time period of the book (old type Greek gods intervening in lives, fighting with swords & bows and arrows, plenty o’ magic) versus the modernity of the banter, language, and general attitudes. For me the two things just scream at each other “this is wonky.” I mean, this kind of banter works in Ilona Andrews novels because they are set in a modern, urban world. The combination made this historical-fantasy-world feel off-kilter for me.

Speaking of Ilona, there are almost more Kate Daniels parallels than I can detail in one short review. Heroine with powerful magic? Check! Powerful parent lurking in the background to screw with her life? Check! Can’t leave her blood lying around to lead the predatory parent to her? Check! Heroine has been trained in strategy & martial arts since childhood? Check! Caring deeply about anyone is seen by the heroine as giving said parent a way to manipulate her? Check! This is very much a Kate Daniels clone.

Having said that, it’s still an okay story. If I wasn’t already familiar with Kate, I probably would have enjoyed it more. Despite that, with the cognitive dissonance between the setting and the dialog, this novel can’t rate higher than 3 stars for me. I’d never dissuade someone from reading it, but probably wouldn’t go out of my way to recommend it either. However, if you’re suffering Kate withdrawal (that re-reading won’t assuage) this might be your book.

Lincoln in the Bardo / George Saunders

Lincoln in the Bardo - George Saunders

February 1862. The Civil War is less than one year old. The fighting has begun in earnest, and the nation has begun to realize it is in for a long, bloody struggle. Meanwhile, President Lincoln’s beloved eleven-year-old son, Willie, lies upstairs in the White House, gravely ill. In a matter of days, despite predictions of a recovery, Willie dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. “My poor boy, he was too good for this earth,” the president says at the time. “God has called him home.” Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returned to the crypt several times alone to hold his boy’s body.

From that seed of historical truth, George Saunders spins an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of its realistic, historical framework into a thrilling, supernatural realm both hilarious and terrifying. Willie Lincoln finds himself in a strange purgatory, where ghosts mingle, gripe, commiserate, quarrel, and enact bizarre acts of penance. Within this transitional state—called, in the Tibetan tradition, the bardo—a monumental struggle erupts over young Willie’s soul.

 

The format of this book will mean that its not going to appeal to everyone. It is told in multiple voices—book excerpts, newspaper quotes, and numerous ghostly voices. It can feel a bit chaotic and I often found myself searching to determine who was speaking.


Despite that, if you can live with the writing style, this is a tale of grief and love. Not only between Lincoln and his son Willie, but the love of all the poor souls who inhabit the bardo in hopes of being “just sick” instead of dead. Saunders’ vision of what this half-life would be like is original and interesting.

I found it curious that Abraham Lincoln, a respected president today, could be so reviled during his tenure. The brutality of the Civil War, of course, was the reason for the mixed opinions, leading me to muse a bit about how the leaders of the last number of decades will be remembered.

This novel touches on all the big themes—love, death, politics, religion—sympathetically but with humour too.

Read to fill the PopSugar reading challenge—a novel based on a real person.

The Great Hunt / Robert Jordan

The Great Hunt - Robert Jordan

The Wheel of Time turns and Ages come and pass. What was, what will be, and what is, may yet fall under the Shadow. For centuries, gleemen have told of The Great Hunt of the Horn. Now the Horn itself is found: the Horn of Valere long thought only legend, the Horn which will raise the dead heroes of the ages.  And it is stolen.

 

My second step on the Wheel of Time! The best part about it was that it got me feeling things about these characters. I mean, I wanted to bash heads together with Rand being all stubborn and Mat not helping himself a bit and Perrin not accepting who he has become! And despite that, I realize that these would be hard realizations to come to—they aren’t just country lads anymore. Plus, Nyaneve irritated me every bit as much as I appreciated her.

The echoes of the King Arthur story are strong—Galad, Gawyn, and Elayne have been added to the cast. And there was a reference to a sword in a stone that only the Dragon Reborn could use. References to the legendary warrior Arthur, who is born again in the Dragon—like Arthur Pendragon, who is said to be asleep and ready to return to the world if he is needed.

The Horn of Valere and its ability to summon warriors of the past reminded me of Tolkien’s Paths of the Dead. It felt to me like this was being used up awfully early in the course of the WoT—after all, this is only volume 2 of 14!

There are obviously many unanswered questions and I shall look forward to reading The Dragon Reborn as soon as possible. (One of the advantages of getting a late start on this series is that they are all available now.)

Book 270 of my Science Fiction and Fantasy reading project.

The Lunatic Cafe / Laurell K. Hamilton

The Lunatic Cafe - Laurell K. Hamilton

You don't volunteer for slugfests with vampires. It shortens your life expectancy. And you don't fall in love with a werewolf. It interferes with your work. Especially when you're a preternatural expert, like me. My business brings me up close and personal with all shapes and sizes of monsters. And not all of them want to kill me.

Take, for instance, the local pack of lycanthropes - that's werewolves to you. A number of them are missing, and they've come to me for help. Maybe because I'm dating the leader of the pack. I've survived a lot - from jealous vampires to killer zombies - but this love thing may kill me yet...

 

What a treat, to find out you have a cousin who shares your reading habits! My public library has this book on order and I’ve been waiting for it for months! While visiting over New Year’s, my cousin & I got discussing this series, and she sent me home with a suitcase full of reading material—a happy New Year indeed.

Although some aspects of the series are silly, I’m enjoying it despite that. I mean Anita accepts a marriage proposal from a man (well, a werewolf) she really barely knows—and that becomes more and more obvious as the book progresses—and even though she has serious misgivings, they keep on as if they were actually going to go through with a wedding. Then her vampiric nemesis, Jean-Claude objects, stating that if she has feelings for him too, he should get equal time to press his suit. And Anita takes this bit of sophistry seriously. I mean, last time I checked, women were allowed to marry as they chose and didn’t have to give anybody equal time to make an impression! (Besides, I’m usually of the opinion that if a woman really does have feelings for two men, she shouldn’t have to make a decision between them!)

I will also confess to a bout of severe eye-rolling when I read Anita’s reasons for not sleeping with either of them. Betrayed by her first fiancée? OMG. But, as a plot device to keep the love triangle stretched out, it works beautifully. Will I continue to read? Of course! Especially since I now have a suitcase full of Anita Blake books to keep me supplied.

The Difference Engine / William Gibson & Bruce Sterling

The Difference Engine - William Gibson

1855: The Industrial Revolution is in full and inexorable swing, powered by steam-driven cybernetic Engines. Charles Babbage perfects his Analytical Engine and the computer age arrives a century ahead of its time. And three extraordinary characters race toward a rendezvous with history - and the future: Sybil Gerard - dishonored woman and daughter of a Luddite agitator; Edward "Leviathan" Mallory - explorer and paleontologist; Laurence Oliphant - diplomat and spy. Their adventure begins with the discovery of a box of punched Engine cards of unknown origin and purpose. Cards someone wants badly enough to kill for...

 

As many others have pointed out, this book is one of the first in what we now know as the Steampunk genre. It explores the question of what would happen if the Industrial Revolution and the development of the computer had coincided—what would Victorian society have looked like?

It’s a complex novel, with a lot of layers. I read most of it in airports and on planes and didn’t have the best circumstances to be able to concentrate on those details. On the other hand, if it had been really riveting, I wouldn’t have noticed my surroundings, so I apparently didn’t find it all that compelling.

I appreciated the re-structuring of British society, from being run by the blue-blooded to being administered by the scientific. It was nice to see paleontologists and poets being recognized for their skills and not just dismissed as soft science or whimsy. And there must always be a resistance movement, which was well realized and sported realistic details, in my opinion.

The story frequently got bogged down in the details, however, and then just eventually petered out, leaving me disappointed. After a strong start, the weakness of the ending was a let down.

Book number 269 in my Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading project.

The House on Mango Street / Sandra Cisneros

The House on Mango Street - Sandra Cisneros

I started reading The House on Mango Street without really researching anything about it. I could really tell that the author is also a poet—the beauty of the language and the descriptions was stunning. If you are looking for something plot-driven, this is not your book. But if you are willing to savour each chapter/vignette for what it is, you will enjoy this artistic little volume.

Each chapter is like a perfectly cut and polished gemstone, offering the reader a peek into the Chicago of the 1950s and 1960s. What I really related to was the naiveté of Esperanza—at her age, I was similarly clueless about the allure of boys (or what one would actually do with a boy that parents were always worrying about). Despite that lack of knowledge, I struggled against societal expectations, just as Esperanza did. I too watched my mother struggle to express her artistic self, while trying to juggle life as a mother and a wife and I learned the same lesson: support yourself so that you can do the things you need to do in life.

We are also allowed a look into the world of immigrant Mexican families of that time—the strictness of the fathers, the dilapidated housing, the restraint on expectations. The importance of family. The reliance on community.

Esperanza gets her name for a reason—there is Hope that a true artistic life can be achieved. And if this book is any indication, Sandra Cisneros has certainly met those expectations.

TBR Thursday

The House on Mango Street - Sandra Cisneros Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams - Matthew Walker The Great Hunt - Robert Jordan It's All Relative: Adventures Up and Down the World’s Family Tree - W.W. Jacobs Lincoln in the Bardo - George Saunders

Happy New Year, my Booklikes friends!

 

I have to finish The House on Mango Street tonight so that I can discuss it at book club on Friday evening!  No sweat, I should be able to do that and still have time to work on the next book.

 

The rest of the roster is necessitated by library due dates!  I'm almost done Why We Sleep, so I should be able to wrap it up quickly (without staying up late, this author has me scared to miss my sleep!).  Due in 7 days.

 

The Great Hunt is part of my Science Fiction & Fantasy reading project--its a big, thick book and due in 8 days time.  I know how part of my weekend will be spent!

 

It's All Relative is a book that I heard about on CBC radio--the author was being interviewed and since I'm a genealogist, I couldn't resist.  A lot of people in my city seem to listen to the same station and the books mentioned are always popular.  There are 34 people waiting to read this after me!

 

I had a long wait for Lincoln in the Bardo and now I have to get busy and read it.  It's due in 14 days and there are 168 people waiting for it.  No renewals.

 

Starting the New Year off with some interesting stuff!  Hope your January is going well too.

Happy Solstice and Joyous Yule!
Happy Solstice and Joyous Yule!

Today is my last day of work for 2017!

Dickens at Christmas - Charles Dickens Christmas Stories - Diana Secker Tesdell Adventure of the Christmas Pudding (Poirot) - Agatha Christie Christmas in the Crosshairs: Two Thousand Years of Denouncing and Defending the World's Most Celebrated Holiday - Gerry Bowler

I'm off work until January 4th, 2018, so I won't be around Booklikes all that much until the New Year.  You can see the books that I'll be busy with!

 

I'm especially pleased to get my hands on Christmas in the Crosshairs because I recommended that our public library purchase it.  Then when I went to put a hold on it, someone had beaten me to the punch and it wasn't due back until January 8th!  I felt much more wrathful than one is supposed to at this time of year!  But that dear person has returned the volume early (and I'm feeling the Christmas vibes, now, so I hope they enjoyed it) and it is waiting for me to pick up this evening.  Peace on earth, y'all.

 

I'm going on what I'm thinking of as my Christmas procession this year--a day with my aunt & her family on Saturday, Christmas Eve with my sister, and Christmas Day with my niece and great-nephew.  Then, for New Year's, I'm flying to the West Coast to spend time with my other sister and attend a family wedding.  This is going to be one of the busiest Christmas vacations on record!

 

I wish you & yours the happiest of Christmases and wish you all the best for the upcoming year!  I hope 2018 treats everyone well and I will be happy to return in January to see what you have all been reading and doing and hear all the news.