214 Following

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 Beekeeper's Apprentice
Laurie R. King
Progress: 212/384 pages
Birds of Stone : Chinese Avian Fossils from the Age of Dinosaurs
Luis M. Chiappe
Progress: 193/304 pages
The Magic Engineer
L.E. Modesitt Jr.
Progress: 412/617 pages

Don't Lick the Minivan / Leanne Shirtliffe

Don't Lick the Minivan: And Other Things I Never Thought I'd Say to My Kids - Leanne Shirtliffe

As a woman used to traveling and living the high life in Bangkok, Leanne Shirtliffe recognized the constant fodder for humor while pregnant with twins in Asia's sin city. But in spite of deep-fried bug cuisine and nurses who cover newborn bassinets with plastic wrap, Shirtliffe manages to keep her babies alive for a year with help from a Coca-Cola deliveryman, several waitresses, and a bra factory. Then she and her husband return home to the isolation of North American suburbia.

In Don't Lick the Minivan, Shirtliffe captures the bizarre aspects of parenting in her edgy, honest voice. She explores the hazards of everyday life with children such as:

•The birthday party where neighborhood kids took home skin rashes from the second-hand face paint she applied.
•The time she discovered her twins carving their names into her minivan's paint with rocks.
•The funeral she officiated for "Stripper Barbie."
•The horror of glitter.
And much more!


Now, let me begin my emphasizing that this is NOT my genre and I am NOT in the target audience for this book. I’m sure that if you have raised twins, you will probably find things to laugh about in it.

So, why did I read it, you ask? Well, the author is going to be a key-note speaker at a conference that I’m attending in August. I like to have some familiarity with the work of these folks before I attend. So I’ve also read a children’s book by Shirtliffe.

I also hasten to add that I am notorious for not getting written humour. I’m sure that when I hear the author in person, that I will at least smile, if not laugh out loud. I’ll be interested to hear her speak for that exact reason.

As a single & childless woman, I can’t appreciate many of the stories that the author tells. It’s just not my experience. But I can tell that Shirtliffe has spent a lot of time on her writing and is quite skilled at it. If you read mommy blogs and have raised children, you will probably enjoy this book far more than I did.

Lord of Chaos / Robert Jordan

Lord of Chaos - Robert Jordan

On the slopes of Shayol Ghul, the Myrddraal swords are forged, and the sky is not the sky of this world ...

In Salidar the White Tower in exile prepares an embassy to Caemlyn, where Rand Al'Thor, the Dragon Reborn, holds the throne -- and where an unexpected visitor may change the world ...

In Emond's Field, Perrin Goldeneyes, Lord of the Two Rivers, feels the pull of ta'veren to ta'veren and prepares to march ...

Morgase of Caemlyn finds a most unexpected, and quite unwelcome, ally ...

And south lies Illian, where Sammael holds sway ...


This wasn’t a straight forward read for me--I lost focus somewhere around halfway through the novel and had to go do other things for a while. But having done that, I came back and found the second part of the book to be great. Perhaps it should have been two books, instead of this enormous kitten-squisher.

I continue to be amazed at how many characters Jordan juggles during this series and the level of detail that he goes into. It must have taken incredible patience to write and edit these enormous tomes and his publisher was brave to believe that this many books in a series was a good idea.

Perhaps the second half of the book was more engaging for me because it seemed to feature the female characters a bit more. Egwene is currently my favourite--trying to find her inner viking princess warrior and subdue the Aes Sedai, who actually think that they’re going to control her and her BFFs. Not gonna happen.

I think I’m the same as many folk who read this series in saying that I care about the story and where it’s going, but I’m being driven crazy by the way the characters deal with each other, particularly the male/female dynamic. Rand doesn’t seem quite bright enough to pull off the whole “save the world” thing and if Mat and Perrin are his greatest supports, he is in a bad way. He’d be better off hooking his wagon to that of Elayne, Nyenaeve, and Egwene. 

My plan is to read one more of these books before the end of the year, but it will have to wait awhile. I will need quite a bit of palate cleansing before I proceed on.

Book number 322 of my Science Fiction & Fantasy Reading Project

Reading progress update: I've read 412 out of 617 pages.

The Magic Engineer - L.E. Modesitt Jr.



You know, I still don't really know what to make of Modesitt's very Black & White world.  And I find it confusing that Black = Good and White = Bad.  Thankfully, the protagonist in this one is realizing that shades of gray are possible, which I am grateful for.


Reading progress update: I've read 212 out of 384 pages.

The Beekeeper's Apprentice - Laurie R. King



Two things:


1. I rather like this, BUT


2. Something about it feels really off kilter.


Makes for a strange reading experience.

Buddy read?

A Fountain Filled With Blood - Julia Spencer-Fleming


I've been planning to read this murder mystery over the next week or so, as it is set during the 4th of July celebrations.


If anyone would care to join me, I'd be delighted to have company.


It is currently winging its way to my library branch and I should be ready to go in a matter of days.



Run Hide Repeat / Pauline Dakin

Run Hide Repeat - Pauline Dakin

Pauline Dakin spent her childhood on the run. Without warning, her mother twice uprooted her and her brother, moving thousands of miles away from family and friends. Disturbing events interrupt their outwardly normal life: break-ins, car thefts, even physical attacks on a family friend. Many years later, her mother finally revealed they'd been running from the Mafia and were receiving protection from a covert anti-organized crime task force.
  But the truth was even more bizarre. Gradually, Dakin's fears give way to suspicion. She puts her journalistic training to work and discovers that the Mafia threat was actually an elaborate web of lies.  As she revisits her past, Dakin uncovers the human capacity for betrayal and deception, and the power of love to forgive.
    Run, Hide, Repeat is a memoir of a childhood steeped in unexplained fear and menace. Gripping and suspenseful, it moves from Dakin's uneasy acceptance of her family's dire situation to bewildered anger. As compelling and twisted as a thriller, Run Hide Repeat is an unforgettable portrait of a family under threat, and the resilience of family bonds.


Sometimes, when I read memoirs, I have to wonder what motivated the author to share a slice of their life in book form. With this volume, I have no doubt what the author’s motivation was--this is easiest way to explain the weirdness of her life to the people that she has encountered along her journey.

What if the major assumptions of your life, ones that determined major things like where you lived and who you associated with, were based on someone else’s delusion? This is what Pauline Dakin describes in this fascinating memoir of life on the run with her mother and the man that they all trusted.

Dakin is a journalist, having worked for the CBC as a medical and health reporter. She is now an instructor, teaching future journalists. With this background, it is no surprise that this is a well-written account and it is obvious that she has spent a lot of time reflecting on her experiences and trying to make sense of all that happened during her childhood and young adulthood.

I heard her interviewed on CBC radio, which put this book on my radar. I’m a sucker for memoirs, enjoying being a voyeur into someone else’s existence I guess. I’m surprised that the author’s husband and her brother’s wife were drawn into the whole delusion for as long as they were, but their spouses had been involved since childhood & were predisposed to believe Stan Sears and his complicated delusional assumptions about the world.

If nothing else, Dakin has given Delusional Disorder a little more exposure, which may be a help to others who are attached to someone with these issues.

Daughter of Smoke & Bone / Laini Taylor

Daughter of Smoke & Bone - Laini Taylor

Around the world, black hand prints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.

In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grows dangerously low.

And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherworldly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real, she’s prone to disappearing on mysterious "errands", she speaks many languages - not all of them human - and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out.

When beautiful, haunted Akiva fixes fiery eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?


An enjoyable young-adult offering in the urban fantasy genre. This is my first novel featuring angels (or seraphs, as this author calls them).

It is very much a Romeo-and-Juliet tale, as a striking male Seraph (Akiva) meets and falls for a mysterious young woman (Karou) who is associated with the Chimaera, the seemingly evil, rather animalian opposition to the Seraphs. It quickly becomes apparent to the young couple that they are on opposite sides of this eternal conflict and that their continued relationship will probably bring them buckets of trouble. But, just like the Montague-Capulet characters, these two cannot deny their feelings. 

The author actually does a remarkably good job of delaying the grand romance, all the while treating us to a wonderful depiction of the city of Prague. It was quite wonderful to see urban fantasy set outside of the United States. She also manages to make war look like the senseless waste that it truly is, all the while making us smile with gentle humour.

Despite the very steep cliffhanger at the end, this is obviously a tale where True Love will conquer all. I prefer a little more mystery than that, a little more uncertainty before reaching that conclusion. Still, I can see myself reading further in the series at some point in the future.

Once & Future / Cori McCarthy & Amy Rose Capetta

Once & Future (Once & Future #1) - Amy Rose Capetta, Cori McCarthy

I’ve been chased my whole life. As a fugitive refugee in the territory controlled by the tyrannical Mercer corporation, I’ve always had to hide who I am. Until I found Excalibur.

Now I’m done hiding.

My name is Ari Helix. I have a magic sword, a cranky wizard, and a revolution to start.

When Ari crash-lands on Old Earth and pulls a magic sword from its ancient resting place, she is revealed to be the newest reincarnation of King Arthur. Then she meets Merlin, who has aged backward over the centuries into a teenager, and together they must break the curse that keeps Arthur coming back. Their quest? Defeat the cruel, oppressive government and bring peace and equality to all humankind.

No pressure.


A very intelligent and cheeky retelling of the King Arthur legend. Merlin has been recalled more than 40 times to train various versions of Arthur and since he is aging backwards, he better get it right this time, as he’s soon going to be far too young to be taken seriously! This time, his student is a girl and he is beginning to hope for a breakthrough.

Written by two people who identify as enby (non-binary) and demigirl, their characters are a delightful mix of male, female, and several other flavours of identification. All of them fit well in the story and the “explaining” is minimal and easy to comprehend.

I love the tag-line for the story: I’m Ari Helix. I’ve got a magic sword, a cranky wizard, and a revolution to start.

With both Merlin and Morgause filling us in on the details of the Arthur legend as necessary, it’s easy to keep up with this Round Table in Space adventure. If you don’t care for cliffhangers, you may want to wait until the next book is published before you begin. I’m happy to have read it, although I think I’ll be quite comfortable waiting for the next part of the story.

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes / Arthur Conan Doyle

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes -  Arthur Conan Doyle

In The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, the consulting detective's notoriety as the arch-despoiler of the schemes concocted by the criminal underworld at last gets the better of him.

Though Holmes and his faithful sidekick Dr Watson solve what will become some of their most bizarre and extraordinary cases - the disappearance of the race horse Silver Blaze, the horrific circumstances of the Greek Interpreter and the curious mystery of the Musgrave Ritual among them - a criminal mastermind is plotting the downfall of the great detective.

Half-devil, half-genius, Professor Moriarty leads Holmes and Watson on a grisly cat-and-mouse chase through London and across Europe, culminating in a frightful struggle which will turn the legendary Reichenbach Falls into a water double-grave.


2019 The Summer of Sherlock 

It’s always a treat to read Conan Doyle and return to the world of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson. I suppose it’s no accident that a doctor should narrate the tales, seeing as Conan Doyle was himself a medical man. What is surprising to me is that a man with so many mystical interests would create so intensely logical and skeptical a character as Sherlock Holmes!

The last story in this little book is the final confrontation between Holmes and his nemesis, Dr. Moriarty. A man of as many interests as this author was not going to be happy pigeon-holed as a mystery writer, especially when all his audience seemed to want was more Sherlock stories. Talk about trapped in a corner! But I can definitely see why readers rebelled at this end to the great detective. The story is so short and really doesn’t do justice to the legend that Conan Doyle created. Perhaps it was a good thing that he didn’t document Sherlock’s demise too thoroughly and was able to engineer a return of the celebrated detective.

It is this truncated and unsatisfactory final story that drags my rating down to a 3.5 from my usual 4 star enjoyment of Holmes. 

Wednesday Wandering

A rainy day, but we birded between the showers.


Eastern Kingbird


Savannah Sparrow


Wilson's Snipe


Wilson's Snipe


Prairie Falcon


Wilson's Phalarope


Eared Grebe


American Coot & chick


American Coot chick


It was a good day!

Reading progress update: I've read 111 out of 320 pages.

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes -  Arthur Conan Doyle



And so the 2019 Summer of Sherlock begins!


Hello Dr. Watson and Mr. Holmes, I'm delighted to spend time with you both.

Reading progress update: I've read 60 out of 368 pages.

Once & Future (Once & Future #1) - Amy Rose Capetta, Cori McCarthy

7 days left before this comes due at the library and 5 people waiting for it.


No problem!  It's going to be a fun book.

The Stranger in the Woods / Michael Finkel

The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit - Michael Finkel

Many people dream of escaping modern life, but most will never act on it. This is the remarkable true story of a man who lived alone in the woods of Maine for 27 years, making this dream a reality--not out of anger at the world, but simply because he preferred to live on his own.

In 1986, a shy and intelligent twenty-year-old named Christopher Knight left his home in Massachusetts, drove to Maine, and disappeared into the forest. He would not have a conversation with another human being until nearly three decades later, when he was arrested for stealing food. Living in a tent even through brutal winters, he had survived by his wits and courage, developing ingenious ways to store edibles and water, and to avoid freezing to death. He broke into nearby cottages for food, clothing, reading material, and other provisions, taking only what he needed but terrifying a community never able to solve the mysterious burglaries. Based on extensive interviews with Knight himself, this is a vividly detailed account of his secluded life--why did he leave? what did he learn?--as well as the challenges he has faced since returning to the world. It is a gripping story of survival that asks fundamental questions about solitude, community, and what makes a good life, and a deeply moving portrait of a man who was determined to live his own way, and succeeded.


What an oddly fascinating little book! Even though I am very definitely an introvert, I cannot imagine existing in the way that Chris Knight chose to live for nearly three decades. He wandered off into the wilds of Maine in 1986 with next to no planning and next to no supplies. He managed to find himself a sheltered campsite, right alongside civilization, where he existed in a tent even during the cold of Maine winters. Mind you, he could never have achieved it without pilfering supplies from nearly all of his civilized neighbours.

Mr. Knight might still be out there, still not speaking to other humans, if he had found a way to support himself without specializing in home break-ins. I can’t conceive of not letting my family know where I am and that I’m okay. I may withhold details of my holiday locations to prevent the more neurotic from pestering my tour company unnecessarily, but I generally try to email or Facebook if I think there will be any concern. Chris Knight just wandered out into the landscape without letting anyone know anything. He also abandoned a partially paid for truck that his brother (who had co-signed the loan) was stuck paying for without the benefit of being able to drive it.

It seems like there is a tendency among a certain segment of humanity to seek solitude. The author, Michael Finkel, provides just enough history of religious hermits, recluses, and other people seeking seclusion to be interesting without being overwhelming. It rapidly becomes clear, however, that it is very difficult to avoid human interaction even under those circumstances. And most of us don’t want to completely avoid other humans.

Mr. Knight’s whole family seems to be rather taciturn and isolationist, so in some ways his behaviour is no surprise. I do feel rather sorry for him, now that he has been returned to society and must deal with people again. It is obvious from Finkel’s observations that it is a great hardship for him. In this regard, he is certainly not neural-normative. I hope he can find some way to exist somewhat happily in the world.

A Brightness Long Ago / Guy Gavriel Kay

A Brightness Long Ago - Guy Gavriel Kay

In a chamber overlooking the nighttime waterways of a maritime city, a man looks back on his youth and the people who shaped his life. Danio Cerra's intelligence won him entry to a renowned school even though he was only the son of a tailor. He took service at the court of a ruling count--and soon learned why that man was known  as the Beast. 

Danio's fate changed the moment he saw and recognized Adria Ripoli as she entered the count's chambers one autumn night--intending to kill. Born to power, Adria had chosen, instead of a life of comfort, one of danger--and freedom. Which is how she encounters Danio in a perilous time and place.

Vivid figures share the unfolding story. Among them: a healer determined to defy her expected lot; a charming, frivolous son of immense wealth; a powerful religious leader more decadent than devout; and, affecting all these lives and many more,  two larger-than-life mercenary commanders, lifelong adversaries, whose rivalry puts a world in the balance.


As usual, GGK writes like a dream. If you like historical fantasy, I would highly recommend his work. This volume features a world very much like Renaissance Italy, with all its political machinations and complications. 

But what I absolutely adore is Kay’s portrayals of women. They have exactly the same depth, the same complexity, the same motivations as the male characters. In other words, he treats women as equal people. It is such a delight to read fiction written to depict real women!

I was especially fond of Adria Ripoli (with her desire for a more independent existence and the freedom to ride in a horse race) and Jelena, the healer who rejects a traditional female life to pursue her calling and her interests. Because there must have been women during every time in history who weren’t willing to be relegated to being solely wives, mothers, or nuns. 

But there is also Ginevra della Valle, a woman who has chosen the traditional route to female fulfillment and succeeded. She began as a powerful mercenary’s mistress and has progressed to being his wife and mother of two sons. But there is absolutely no doubt in anyone’s mind that she is a power unto herself.

I cannot recommend Kay’s writing too strongly. I haven’t read his entire canon yet, but I have been delighted by everything that I have consumed so far.

Reading progress update: I've read 77 out of 304 pages.

Birds of Stone : Chinese Avian Fossils from the Age of Dinosaurs - Luis M. Chiappe



Absolutely lovely photography!



A Serial Killer's Daughter / Kerri Rawson

A Serial Killer's Daughter - Kerri Rawson

What is it like to learn that your ordinary, loving father is a serial killer? 
In 2005, Kerri Rawson heard a knock on the door of her apartment. When she opened it, an FBI agent informed her that her father had been arrested for murdering ten people, including two children. It was then that she learned her father was the notorious serial killer known as BTK, a name he’d given himself that described the horrific way he committed his crimes: bind, torture, kill. As news of his capture spread, Wichita celebrated the end of a thirty-one-year nightmare.


For Kerri Rawson, another was just beginning. She was plunged into a black hole of horror and disbelief. The same man who had been a loving father, a devoted husband, church president, Boy Scout leader, and a public servant had been using their family as a cover for his heinous crimes since before she was born. Everything she had believed about her life had been a lie.

I wouldn’t have requested this book from the library if I hadn’t heard the author interviewed on the radio. She sounded somewhat exasperated and I wondered why, driving me to look for her book. Now that I’ve read it, I understand some of her indignation.

First, it seems that many people don’t read the title or don’t believe it. This is NOT a book about her father, this is HER story. Yes, her father appears in her account as a major player because he is her father, but the story is hers. It focuses on her life and her beliefs. I can see why she’s ticked that people read it only as a way to view her dad.

Secondly, it has obviously been written as what the evangelical Christians call “a witness.” She is professing her Christian faith and it is the most important part of the work to her. The discount of that by secular reviewers must drive her mad.

Truth be told, she could have used a good ghostwriter to assist her. There are several chapters dealing with one hiking trip to the Grand Canyon, where there should probably only be one. It was a good idea to use this trip as a way to illustrate her relationship with her father and to highlight his idiosyncrasies. It just drags on far too long and has too much religious reference in it.

It quickly becomes obvious to the reader that Dennis Rader was a volatile man and a challenge to live with. His daughter, having known no other way of life, didn’t realize the extent of his abusiveness until long after his arrest. She has fought a life-long struggle with anxiety and depression and that is unsurprising, given her family situation. Interestingly, it seems that she and her mother are the ones who are depended on to “manage” Rader. Funny how it’s always up to the women in the family to handle the volatile man! 

The important aspect of this book, to my mind, is the fact that we tend to forget the families of serial killers when we are thinking about their victims. Rawson shows us in no uncertain terms the difficulties encountered by her family and their attempts to put their lives back together. Dennis Rader may be BTK to the world, but he was still a husband and father, uncle, neighbour, and working man. Those who shared his life were shocked by his arrest and confession and had hard work to do to put all of this behind them to some extent. We need to extend to them the same compassion that is offered to the murder victims’ families, as they have been betrayed and damaged too.