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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

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West
Gregory Maguire
Steven Brust

Steel Beach / John Varley

Steel Beach - John Varley

Fleeing Earth after an alien invasion, the human race stands on the threshold of evolution, like a fish cast on artificial shores. Their new home is Luna, a moon colony blessed with creature comforts, prolonged lifespans, digital memories, and instant sex changes. But the people of Luna are bored, restless, and suicidal -- and so is the computer that monitors their existence... 


I would have to say that this book is very much an homage to Robert A. Heinlein. That’s not necessarily a bad thing--there’s a very strongThe Moon is a Harsh Mistress vibe, which I was totally okay with. The Central Computer (CC) in Steel Beach is channeling the self-aware computer in TMiaHM and ends up having similar problems. 

There are nods to other writers as well. There’s a lot of sex-changing in this novel, which made me think of Iain Banks’ Culture series and George Effinger’s When Gravity Fails. Varley’s version also made me think of Tiersias of Greek mythology--you know, the guy who found a pair of copulating snakes and hit them with a stick? Hera was so displeased with him that she turned him into a woman for seven years (apparently being female is a punishment). Needless to say, the Ancient Greeks were eager to hear his perspectives on this and he confirmed their bias by saying that women got much more out of the sexual experience than men did. It seems that Varley believed this too.

There’s also a shout out to Arthur C. Clarke, when the CC is worried that he’s going to end up singing “Daisy, Daisy,” like Hal in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Another Heinleinian element: a scrapped spaceship called in R.A. Heinlein, within which his spiritual descendents live & grumble. When Hildy is handing out pseudonyms, she christens one of them Valentine Michael Smith (see Stranger in a Strange Land).

I read until the end because I wanted to see how things were wrapped up, but if you’re not a big fan of RAH, my advice is to skip this book. 

Lies Sleeping / Ben Aaronovitch

Lies Sleeping - Ben Aaronovitch

Martin Chorley, aka the Faceless Man, wanted for multiple counts of murder, fraud, and crimes against humanity, has been unmasked and is on the run. Peter Grant, Detective Constable and apprentice wizard, now plays a key role in an unprecedented joint operation to bring Chorley to justice.

But even as the unwieldy might of the Metropolitan Police bears down on its foe, Peter uncovers clues that Chorley, far from being finished, is executing the final stages of a long term plan. A plan that has its roots in London’s two thousand bloody years of history, and could literally bring the city to its knees.

To save his beloved city Peter’s going to need help from his former best friend and colleague–Lesley May–who brutally betrayed him and everything he thought she believed in. And, far worse, he might even have to come to terms with the malevolent supernatural killer and agent of chaos known as Mr Punch….


As I said in my review of the last Peter Grant novel, I just enjoy Ben Aaronovitch’s version of London and spending time there with Peter, Bev, Nightingale, Molly, Toby, Guleed, and all the assortment of other people who populate Peter’s world. 

The Folly has certainly become a much busier place and the world of magic is much more acknowledged in this installment than when we first met PC Grant. I’m particularly happy to see Peter’s young cousin, Abigail, getting to learn the basics from Nightingale and starting to participate in the adventures. I do hope that the books won’t lose their charm with more & more people involved in Falcon mattrs! But I’m positively anxious to see more of Muslim-ninja, Guleed. Her character has the greatest promise, at least in my mind.

Hopefully we’ll see more of Molly & Foxglove as well. Now that Bev is a fixture in Peter’s life, I can only hope that more of the magical demi-monde establish themselves in similar fashion. Maybe there’s even hope for Lesley May????

I think it’s safe to say that I’ll be reading anything that Mr. Aaronovitch cares to produce in this story line. Please sir, may we have some more?

Decluttering at the Speed of Life / Dana White

Decluttering at the Speed of Life: Winning Your Never-Ending Battle with Stuff - Dana White

While the world seems to be in love with the idea of tiny houses and minimalism, real women with real families who are constantly growing and changing simply can’t purge it all and start from nothing. Yet a home with too much stuff is a home that is difficult to maintain, so where do we begin? Add in paralyzing emotional attachments and constant life challenges, and it can feel almost impossible to make real decluttering progress.

In Decluttering at the Speed of Life, decluttering expert and author Dana White identifies the mind-sets and emotional challenges that make it difficult to declutter. Then, in her signature humorous approach, she provides workable solutions to break through these struggles and get clutter out—for good!


This was exactly what I needed this week--an inspirational book to spur me to get a few things done around the house. I took a week off to do things like tackle my laundry mountain, tame the paper piles, do some pre-emptive cooking, and generally clean & reorganize some of the corners of my home that have been driving me crazy.

Generally speaking, I find White’s advice to be very practical. Start with the easy stuff--take out the garbage, do the recycling, move as many of the things as you can without having to make big decisions. It needs to be done so just do it.

She also has you ask yourself a practical question: if I was looking for this, where would I look first? Then go put that thing there. Question two I found a bit iffy: Would I even remember that I had this if I needed one? Maybe its an indication that I really am on the verge of being contained and organized that I’m pretty sure I’m secure in the knowledge of what I own and where it lives.

I did love (and am stealing) her term for this work: deslobification. That’s exactly what I’m engaged in. Her other wonderful word is procrasticlutter. You know, that stuff that sits on the table, in the hallway, in your bedroom, etc. waiting for you to do it and then put it away. I am awful about this kind of thing, procrastinator that I am! 

Another concept that I will be grateful for as I move forward is that of a shelf or a closet as a container. Yes, I can have such-and-such a number of some thing--but only as much as the drawer or the shelf will contain. When the container is full, you must choose your favourites and then let go of the rest. A wonderful way to limit oneself!

Between this book and a bit of journaling (which I’ve also had time for this week) I’ve come to realize how much progress I’ve made in the organizing of my household and I’m feeling quite optimistic about it. 

Recommended as an inspirational text when you need a boost towards your household goals.

The Legacy / R.A. Salvatore

The Legacy - R.A. Salvatore

Having found a measure of peace among the dwarves in the reclaimed Mithral Hall, Drizzt begins to know contentment for perhaps the first time in his tumultuous life. But for a dark elf renegade from a city ruled by priestesses of a demon goddess, no peace can long last. It is Lolth herself, the dreaded Queen of the Demonweb Pits, who musters her followers to pour up from the black depths of the Underdark to reclaim for their goddess the one soul that had managed to elude her. The soul of Drizzt Do’Urden. 


In which Drizzt learns that family is forever. They may be evil psychotic bitches, but you’re still tethered to them unless you’re willing to do something drastic about it. Readers who have had a change in religion from their families and find it coming back to bite them will also feel right at home in this adventure!

The Spider goddess, Lloth, does her best to re-capture Drizzt and get what she considers her due. Possibly because friendship is an unknown quality in Drow Elf society, she under-estimates the number and quality of Drizzt’s friends and allies.

Obviously, the author is setting the stage for Drizzt to return to his society of origin and settle everyone’s hash with his amazing blade work. The biggest question for the next book is who will be accompanying him, especially after the losses in this book. I guess it says something about character development when one of the major characters can be wiped out completely and everyone else just keeps on keeping on. 

Book Number 307 in my Science Fiction & Fantasy Reading Project.

Doomsday Book / Connie Willis

Doomsday Book - Connie Willis

For Kivrin, preparing an on-site study of one of the deadliest eras in humanity's history was as simple as receiving inoculations against the diseases of the fourteenth century and inventing an alibi for a woman traveling alone. For her instructors in the twenty-first century, it meant painstaking calculations and careful monitoring of the rendezvous location where Kivrin would be received.

But a crisis strangely linking past and future strands Kivrin in a bygone age as her fellows try desperately to rescue her. In a time of superstition and fear, Kivrin--barely of age herself--finds she has become an unlikely angel of hope during one of history's darkest hours.


One of my pet peeves about time travel stories is the ease with which the people blend in and communicate smoothly with people from the past. Having studied just enough linguistics to be dangerous, I’m pretty sure that language changes quickly enough to scuttle that part of the plot line! Witness all the people who struggle with Shakespearean language today, and you realize that traveling to the past is not going to be a cake walk. Kivrin struggles enough upon her arrival in the Middle Ages to be credible.

I thought the flu epidemic in the future environment was a stroke of genius on Willis’ part. Disease is disrupting life on both ends of the time travel, creating uncertainty everywhere. And I suspect that Willis has spent time in a university environment (as I have) and is fully aware of department heads like Gilchrist who think that they know everything and regard cautious people as foolish. It’s not usually the life of a student which is on the line, but we are familiar with the guy who won’t listen to reason and doesn’t have to because he’s “in charge.”

This also made me consider how we view historical texts—how we try to reinterpret them according to our own contemporary standards. Kivrin’s studying of Middle English, for example, and how she finds it incomprehensible when confronted with those who spoke it naturally. Gilchrist’s easy assumption that people of the Middle Ages exaggerated the number of deaths due to plague. It’s so easy to sit in our comfortable 21st century chairs and criticize their observations!

I also remember being tied to a landline phone as Mr. Dunworthy is in flu-epidemic-stricken Oxford! At the time that this book was written (1992), mobile phones were still pretty clunky. If there were to be a revised version, some of it would have to change to make the same problems for smart phone users. People do leave mobile phones behind or turn them off or get outside of networks, so the same problems could be created. But it did seem strange to have a book set in our near future that didn’t incorporate mobile phones at all.

All in all, I found this a very satisfying tale and I’ll look forward to reading the next installment in the Oxford Time Travel series.

Book number 306 in my Science Fiction & Fantasy Reading Project.

TBR Thursday

Decluttering at the Speed of Life: Winning Your Never-Ending Battle with Stuff - Dana White The Wicked King - Holly Black Lies Sleeping - Ben Aaronovitch I Still Miss My Man But My Aim Is Getting Better - Sarah Shankman The Interpretation of Dreams: The Complete and Definitive Text - Sigmund Freud, James Strachey


OMG, how did it get to be Thursday already?


I'm currently going to finish The Doomsday Book this evening (or know the reason why!)


I'm also working on Steel Beach and Wicked.  All three of these books are part of my Science Fiction & Fantasy Reading Project.


I think I am going to take a week's vacation next week--for 3 reasons.  My Aunt's funeral is this Saturday and I just want to take some time after that.  A somewhat difficult coworker returns after 3 weeks holidays, and I need one more week before I have to deal with her again.  Finally, because my house looks like a homeless person has been squatting in it and I need to get caught up on so many tasks!


Decluttering at the Speed of Life will be my motivational reading during this time!  The other books will just be good fun when I get to them.


It's also been damn cold here in Alberta and I am wanting to cocoon at home for a couple of days.


Hope you all have great reading lined up for yourselves!



I'll Be Gone in the Dark / Michelle McNamara

I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer - Michelle McNamara, Patton Oswalt, Gillian Flynn

For more than ten years, a mysterious and violent predator committed fifty sexual assaults in Northern California before moving south, where he perpetrated ten sadistic murders. Then he disappeared, eluding capture by multiple police forces and some of the best detectives in the area.

Three decades later, Michelle McNamara, a true crime journalist who created the popular website TrueCrimeDiary.com, was determined to find the violent psychopath she called "the Golden State Killer." Michelle pored over police reports, interviewed victims, and embedded herself in the online communities that were as obsessed with the case as she was.


I love reading true crime, but I’ve always been aware of the fact that, as a reader, I am actively choosing to be a consumer of someone else’s tragedy. So like any responsible consumer, I try to be careful in the choices I make. I read only the best: writers who are dogged, insightful, and humane. It was inevitable that I would find Michelle.

So says Gillian Flynn in her introduction to this fascinating book. She is so right about author Michelle McNamara. Her writing is top notch—right up there with Truman Capote in his classic In Cold Blood. So many true crime writers get bogged down in details, so intent on giving the reader every tiny fact that they neglect to tell a story. McNamara goes down the rabbit hole of details regularly, but she doesn’t make the reader accompany her—she sorts things out, investigates tirelessly, then reports her results.

This is as much a memoir of McNamara’s obsession and search for this killer as it is a history of the crimes and investigation. I felt like I got to know her and I liked what I saw. She would have been a fascinating coffee date and I got the feeling that she missed her calling, that she should definitely have been a professional investigator of some kind.

The saddest thing for me about the book was that Michelle died two years too soon to know the identity of the man she was searching for. From her descriptions in the narrative, I was unsurprised that it was Paul Holes who made the DNA discovery. He seems to possess the same investigative drive that Michelle embodied. As for justice, I guess this is a “better late than never” scenario.

The title of the book makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up, coming as it does from a line from the criminal himself: “Make one move and you’ll be silent forever and I’ll be gone in the dark.”

If you, like me, tore through this book and wished it was a bit longer, try James Renner’s True Crime Addict: How I Lost Myself in the Mysterious Disappearance of Maura Murray, which provides a very similar reading experience.

Reading progress update: I've read 169 out of 352 pages.

I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer - Michelle McNamara, Patton Oswalt, Gillian Flynn


OMG, this book is absolutely addictive!  I am so saddened to learn that the author died so young, and we won't get any more of these meditations on true crime.


Gillian Flynn wrote the introduction, and reminds us that we are consuming the tragedies of other real people.  She advises that we stick with the best and Michelle McNamara is definitely one of those.

The Hanging Tree / Ben Aaronovitch

The Hanging Tree - Ben Aaronovitch

The Hanging Tree was the Tyburn gallows which stood where Marble Arch stands today. Oxford Street was the last trip of the condemned. Some things don't change. The place has a bloody and haunted legacy and now blood has returned to the empty Mayfair mansions of the world's super-rich. And blood mixed with magic is a job for Peter Grant.


I must admit that I just enjoy hanging out in Peter Grant’s London. I enjoy each and every one of these novels and the graphic novels in varying degrees, all positive. I adore the diverse set of characters—and I don’t get the feeling that Aaronovitch is actively trying to have “diversity” of cultures, languages, or skin colours. My conclusion is that this is how London is now and he’s just reflecting his city. I’m loving how much Guleed is figuring in this installment and I’m glad to see the River goddesses back in full force. I love both Peter’s Sierra Leonean Mama and his Caucasian jazz-man father.

Not only does Aaronovitch create a diverse police force, but he is gradually assembling quite the range of supernatural people/creatures for Peter et al. to cope with too. Nightingale has been playing his cards pretty close to the vest, not letting Peter know what else might be lurking out there until he has to share. Probably a good way not to send your apprentice screaming away into the scenery.

Peter is acknowledged as a “cheeky bugger” and his internal dialog gives a lot of humour to the series. I love his assessments of police work and those folks that his work brings him into contact with. I love that Aaronovitch gives us these asides, guiding what we think without just clubbing us over the head with his opinions. Plus, I adore Peter's experimenting with his magical powers, testing exactly what distances from electronics are safe, for example.

I’m now caught up to date and the next volume awaits me at the library. Life is good.

You Could Live a Long Time, Are You Ready?

You Could Live a Long Time: Are You Ready? - Lyndsay Green

Are you ready to live a long time, or do you dread it? Recent medical advances mean we could live longer, but doesn’t guarantee the quality of that life. In the words of one senior, "We’re not living longer, we’re dying longer."

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. Getting older doesn’t have to mean living a limited life. Author Lyndsay Green has interviewed forty successful seniors to talk not just about the problems of old age but its strength and benefits.


If you are of an age to be starting to think of retirement, you could probably benefit from Ms. Green’s little volume. As she points out, we all tend to obsess over the financial details and we don’t spend much time pondering what we will actually DO when we are retired.

Although some of the details are a bit dated (web sites which I’m not sure will still work, that kind of thing), the advice is still outstanding. Green reminds us that we will still need to fill our days with meaningful things to do and maintain links with people to avoid isolation. If you retire at 60 and live until your late 80s, that’s another 30 years of life. That’s a long chunk of time to experience without any structure!

The vast majority of us are going to face some health challenges as we move through our senior years. I’m already struggling with knee and balance problems, so I know what she’s talking about! So, make your plans, but be ready to be flexible because things will change.

Also, be aware that we do better if we start doing some of our retirement activities before we retire. If you’re planning to volunteer, maybe get a foot in the door while you still have a job. (Employed people are apparently more appealing to some volunteer agencies.) We are also much more likely to continue an activity than to seek out new ones—just human nature, I guess. Many people have invested so much of their personal identity in their paid work-role, that they feel like they are experiencing a major loss when they leave the workplace—avoid this happening to you by getting other sources of satisfaction arranged before you pull the plug at work.

I think the best advice she gives is twofold: one, keep in touch with your current friends, by whatever means necessary (phone, text, email, skype, even cards & letters) because you will value your contemporaries when you are older. Number two, MAKE YOUNGER FRIENDS! I can’t tell you how many of my friends and relatives in their 80s tell me that their contemporaries are dwindling and they rely on younger friends for stimulation and a connection to the current world. One of my beloved aunts has just passed away—she was a devoted teacher and after retirement, she tutored children to stay in touch. I think she was 86 before she gave up that activity. She was the last of her siblings and I know that she missed them a great deal.

I’m planning to phase out of work gradually over the next few years, so this book really spoke to me. I also took a course on being ready to retire and I think I’m on the right track. I have practice, having given up a volunteer role that used to be central to my life. I didn’t think I’d have friends or a social life once I left that position, but thankfully I was very wrong. Be ready to take some risks, to make as many new friends as you can, and to find a reason to get up & get dressed every morning! Retirement is looking very appealing.

Half Spent was the Night / Ami McKay

Half Spent was the Night - Ami McKay

During the nights between Christmas and New Year's, the witches of New York--Adelaide Thom, Eleanor St. Clair and the youngest, Beatrice Dunn--gather before the fire to tell ghost stories and perform traditional Yuletide divinations. (Did you know that roasting chestnuts were once used to foretell one's fate?)
As the witches roast chestnuts and melt lead to see their fate, a series of odd messengers land on their doorstep bearing invitations for a New Year's Eve masquerade hosted by a woman they've never met. Gossip, dreams and portents follow, leading the witches to question the woman's motives. Is she as benevolent as she seems or is she laying a trap. And so, as Gilded-Age New York prepares to ring in the new year, the witches don their finery and heard for the ball, on the hunt for answers that might well be the end of them.


A charming little novella, perfect for the days leading up to the New Year’s celebration. I was surprised at how long a waiting list there was for this book at my public library! I didn’t get my paws on it until late January, well into the New Year. But I still enjoyed this gentle little historical urban fantasy.

Lovely uses of British Isles mythology and some intrigue made it a worthwhile reading experience for me. I will definitely be willing to read the author’s The Witches of New York for the background story.

Smoke and Iron / Rachel Caine

Smoke and Iron - Rachel Caine

The opening moves of a deadly game have begun. Jess Brightwell has put himself in direct peril, with only his wits and skill to aid him in a game of cat and mouse with the Archivist Magister of the Great Library. With the world catching fire, and words printed on paper the spark that lights rebellion, it falls to smugglers, thieves, and scholars to save a library thousands of years in the making...if they can stay alive long enough to outwit their enemies.


Rachel Caine is becoming one of my favourite authors! Especially with this series, which offers plenty of twists & turns and lots of characters that you wish could spend time with (after the crisis is over, of course).

I love this whole idea of the Library of Alexandria surviving into modern times and becoming an evil empire! The whole ecosystem of knowledge, with the Library controlling as much as they can, with protest movements like the Book Burners and Ink Lickers, and the criminal smugglers, there is plenty of complexity around which to build an excellent plot.

Caine leaves it to the reader to figure out how it all might relate to our world today, instead of getting to explain-y, like some authors do. I love that she gives her young adult audience the opportunity to think for themselves about the issues and doesn’t preach to them.

I’m very much looking forward to the grand finale, Sword and Pen.

Reading progress update: I've read 389 out of 578 pages.

Doomsday Book - Connie Willis

Only a few more days left before this is due at the library.  I've already renewed it the maximum number of times.  You'd think I wasn't enjoying it, but I am.  I think Kivrin's experiences are far more realistic than what is presented in most time travel fiction.


Pushing on!

Give Me Everything You Have / James Lasdun

Give Me Everything You Have: On Being Stalked - James Lasdun

A true story of obsessive love turning to obsessive hate, Give Me Everything You Have chronicles the author's strange and harrowing ordeal at the hands of a former student, a self-styled "verbal terrorist," who began trying, in her words, to "ruin him." Hate mail, online postings, and public accusations of plagiarism and sexual misconduct were her weapons of choice and, as with more conventional terrorist weapons, they proved remarkably difficult to combat.

James Lasdun's account, while terrifying, is told with compassion and humor, and brilliantly succeeds in turning a highly personal story into a profound meditation on subjects as varied as madness, race, Middle East politics, and the meaning of honor and reputation in the Internet age.


I first read this book back in 2013. I had a great deal of sympathy for the author, as I had four creepy men oozing their way around the outskirts of my life at that time and I was struggling to cope with the situation. Fortunately for me, none of them was nearly as persistent or proactive as the woman who troubled Mr. Lasdun.

On re-reading this volume, I was struck by two things. First, that the events in this book took place before we were really familiar with things like public shaming on the internet, revenge porn, and GamerGate and so many other attacks on people’s reputations in cyberspace. It’s taken a long time to get police interested in pursuing physical stalkers and their assistance has extremely mixed results, so I’m unsurprised that this author couldn’t get them effectively interested in his predicament.

Second, I have to point out that I don’t think this book wouldn’t have been deemed worthy of publishing if the author had been female. Women have to put up with this kind of behaviour with very little help from authorities on a regular basis. The reason that this book was “news” was because the victim was male and that character assassination on the internet was a new-ish thing.

I’m pleased to report that all four of the creepy men in my 2013 life are history. I don’t know where a single one of them is and I’m happy that way. Stalking is about power, having the power to make someone else’s life miserable while trying to get them to conform to some fantasy.

For observations on the stalking phenomenon, I would recommend Obsession by John E. Douglas (former FBI agent). For advice on keeping yourself safe, I would advise reading The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us from Violence by Gavin De Becker.

Lady Slings the Booze / Spider Robinson

Lady Slings the Booze - Spider Robinson

Despite his employer's doubts that he is an authentic detective, Quigley is called in to investigate Lady Sally's establishment, a reputable place that caters to adults of all species and tastes. Lady Sally was the wife of the proprietor of Callahan's Place, the bar where human and other beings from all space and time come to cajole, drink, and occasionally save the world. The clientele and staff at Lady Sally's may have the same mission at hand, but now Quigley plays a significant part as the fate of the world hangs in the balance....


I have a difficult relationship with Spider Robinson’s writing. Unfortunate for me, since he wrote a number of the volumes on my self-assigned science fiction & fantasy reading list. Robinson is a great admirer of Robert A. Heinlein and it certainly shines through in his Callahan’s stories. Although I admire Heinlein’s achievements & acknowledge that he was a great influence in the science fiction genre, I don’t love all of his work either.

The story itself could have interested me, if Robinson had been willing to stick to the mystery aspect of it and treat it seriously. However, he simply cannot resist long, winding sidetracks, inserted specifically to make ridiculous puns. All of which I consider unfair pun-ishment to my reading sensibilities.

He also refuses to be serious about the mystery aspect of the story, serving up silly non-clues and preposterous reasoning. I could have forgiven a lot if he had given the plot more slightly more serious consideration.

It’s been difficult to find Robinson’s books—my public library weeded them out of their collection a couple of years ago. As a result, I’ve searched for and found several more volumes of the Callahan’s collection as second hand books. I’m debating whether to read them or whether to just take them to my favourite used bookstore for credit. I’ll probably persevere, but I’m certainly questioning my own judgement on that!

Book number 305 of my Science Fiction & Fantasy Reading Project.

Reading progress update: I've read 152 out of 566 pages.

Steel Beach - John Varley

I've enjoyed the other books by Varley that I've read, so I'm struggling desperately to refrain from judging this one too soon.


But, having just finished Lady Slings the Booze by Spider Robinson, I'm a bit weary of the assumptions of straight white men about sexual matters.  I knew Robinson was a big fan/friend of Robert Heinlein, but I didn't realize that Varley was also Heinleinian.  Sigh!


The story isn't bad, but I keep bumping into assumptions that annoy me and I'm getting grumpy about it.