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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

The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story
Douglas Preston
I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life
Ed Yong

One Corpse Too Many / Ellis Peters

One Corpse Too Many  - Ellis Peters

An ingenious killer disposes of a strangled corpse on a battlefield. Brother Cadfael discovers the body, and must then piece together disparate clues--including a girl in boy's clothing, a missing treasure and a single flower--to expose a murderer's black heart.

 

"The trouble with me, he thought unhappily, is that I have been about the world long enough to know that God's plans for us, however infallibly good, may not take the form we expect and demand."

Brother Cadfael, that former military man in a monk’s robe, knows his onions….and his murder victims and fugitives! When a murderer dumps his victim amongst the bodies of those hung for treason, Cadfael is not willing to let the perpetrator get away scot-free. Dragged away from his garden and his herbal potions, the good Brother must search for justice, but not interfere in politics.

I so enjoy the time period and setting of this particular series! I also appreciate the non-gory nature of the mysteries and the slower pacing more suited to the historical period depicted. Sure, there are pressures to solve the murder, but Cadfael has the time and thinking space in his garden to put the facts together and come up with a logical argument. He has both his military experience and his monastic learning to draw on, a formidable combination.

But it is Cadfael’s common sense and knowledge of human behaviour that makes him a good detective—and his willingness to admit that sometimes his monastic duties will need to be set aside if justice is to be done. A good man to have on your side!

Nice Girls Don't Bite Their Neighbors / Molly Harper

Nice Girls Don't Bite Their Neighbors - Molly Harper

Just as Jane Jameson's unlife seems to be stabilizing, fate sinks its fangs firmly into her butt. Despite her near-phobia of wedding planning, her no-frills nighttime nuptials to her sexy boyfriend, Gabriel, are coming along smoothly. That is, until she turns a fatally wounded teenage acquaintance, and the Council pronounces her responsible for the newborn vamp until he can control his thirst.

Jane's kitchen barely holds enough Faux Type O to satiate the cute teen's appetite and maintain Gabriel's jealous streak at a slow simmer. As if keeping her hyperactive childe from sucking the blood out of the entire neighbourhood isn't enough to deal with, the persnickety ghost of Jane's newly deceased grandma Ruthie has declared war on the fanged residents of River Oaks. Suddenly choosing monogrammed cocktail napkins and a cake she can't even eat seems downright relaxing in comparison.

Tensions inside the house are growing...and outside, a sinister force is aiming a stake straight for the center of Gabriel's heart. Most brides just have to worry about choosing the right dress, but Jane fears that, at this rate, she'll never make it down the aisle for the wedding all nice girls dream of...

 

***2017 Summer Lovin’ Reading List***

”Sometimes I marveled at how grown-up we’d all come, and then Dick would recite a sixteen-stanza penis-based epic poem, and I’d take it back."

So long, Jane Jameson, it was good knowing you. Jane finally makes it to the altar, just as her mama has always wanted, but of course she does it her own way & like everything in Jane’s life, it’s complicated.

By this fourth book, the cute is wearing off a bit and I think it was a wise decision by the author to move on and write about other characters in Half Moon Hollow. It did seem a little pat that Jane would be burdened suddenly with a teenage “childe” just before her wedding. The complete and happy family picture makes for a stereotypical happily ever after. I must confess that I was happier when Jane was building her own inner circle of people that she was actually fond of, rather than relying on her cranky family members. I liked the non-traditional assemble-your-own-family approach of the earlier books.

I still like Dick Cheney (the vampire, not the vice president) better than Jane’s finally-not-reluctant husband, Gabriel, but that’s just me. Her gal-pal Andrea got the better choice in the marriage sweepstakes, in my opinion.

I’m taking a little break, but will move on to the Half Moon Hollow series this summer.

 

Starting my Summer Lovin' reading list

Death in Cyprus - M. M Kaye Lord of the Far Island - Victoria Holt A Hunger Like No Other - Kresley Cole The Bitter Seed of Magic - Suzanne McLeod Tangled Threads - Jennifer Estep

Friday night seems like a good time to start on my fluffy Summer Lovin' reading list.  I'm going to indulge in a few old favourites, a bit more romance than I would usually choose, and anything that looks like fun.

 

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Clouds of Witness / Dorothy L. Sayers

Clouds of Witness - Dorothy L. Sayers

Rustic old Riddlesdale Lodge was a Wimsey family retreat filled with country pleasures and the thrill of the hunt – until the game turned up human and quite dead. He lay among the chrysanthemums, wore slippers and a dinner jacket and was Lord Peter's brother-in-law-to-be. His accused murderer was Wimsey's own brother, and if murder set all in the family wasn't enough to boggle the unflappable Lord Wimsey, perhaps a few twists of fate would be – a mysterious vanishing midnight letter from Egypt ... a grieving fiancée with suitcase in hand ... and a bullet destined for one very special Wimsey.

 

Dorothy Sayers works seem to me to be perfect for anyone who enjoys the writing of Agatha Christie and P.G. Wodehouse. Sayers imparts an acerbic edge that keeps things from getting too twee. She manages to make sharp observations on both the gentry and the socialists, sometimes at the same time. I’ve recently been cataloguing the works of H.G. Wells, who wrote a lot about socialism in the early 20th century, and I find Sayers’ insights on the complicated societal changes of this time period to be spot on.

She isn’t gentle with her fellow authors either. I loved the following exchange, heard by Lord Peter while dining at the Soviet Club:

The authoress was just saying impressively to her companion: '-ever know a sincere emotion to express itself in a subordinate clause?'
'Joyce has freed us from the superstition of syntax,' agreed the curly haired man.
'Scenes which make emotional history,' said Miss Heath-Warburton, 'should ideally be expressed in a series of animal squeals.'
'The D.H. Lawrence formula,' said the other.


Poor old Lawrence, maligned again for trying to express what he considered to be real emotions and realistic human behaviour in his novels.

For some reason, it made me think of Dilbert, when his pointy-haired boss decrees that, “starting today, all passwords must contain letters, numbers, doodles, sign language, and squirrel noises.”

Being unable to express my review in either animal squeals or squirrel noises, I must tell you in English that this series is worth trying.

The Cold Kiss of Death / Suzanne McLeod

The Cold Kiss of Death - Suzanne McLeod

‘The ghost grasped her shift and ripped it open. The three interlacing crescents carved red-raw and bleeding into her thin chest didn’t look any better than the last dozen times I’d seen them. The wounds weren’t lethal – they weren’t even recent; she’d been dead for at least a hundred and fifty years – but my gut still twisted with anger that someone would do that to a child.’

Being haunted by a ghost is the least of Genny’s problems: she’s also trying to deal with the witch neighbour who wants her evicted. Finn, her sort-of-Ex – and now her new boss – can’t quite decide whether he wants their relationship to be business or pleasure. And then there’s the queue of vamps inviting her to paint the town red; how long before they stop taking no for an answer?

Just when it seems things can’t get any worse a human friend is murdered using sidhe magic. Determined to hunt down the killer and needing help, she turns to one of London’s most capricious wylde fae and the seductive vampire Malik al-Khan.

But all too soon she realises she doesn’t know who she can trust – and now Genny’s the one being hunted, not just by the police, but by some of London’s most powerful and dangerous supernaturals.

 

I’m enjoying this urban fantasy set in London, and McLeod’s mix of fae-vampires-witches. I’ll be very interested to see how this series intersects with Ben Aaronovitch’s magical London when the time comes. I’m guessing that it’ll be their river goddesses/river fae that interact and it should be most entertaining. Or perhaps via the ghosts. I’m intrigued and must continue both series!

Genny ends up fleeing everyone in this book—the ghosts, the vampires, other Fae, the police, the witches—a pretty standard set up in urban fiction. Every heroine seems to do it in one book or another, particularly before she gets settled in with a romantic partner. We live in suspicious times and being wary of everyone has become a fairly believable set-up. Getting away from everyone is next to impossible and it builds a certain amount of tension into the plot by default.

This installment cleared up some things and muddied others as a good series book should do. Genny has been given a year and a day to make some decisions about her life, so she has a bit of breathing room. Or so she thinks, for it seems to me that breathing room doesn’t make for compelling narrative. If I were her, I wouldn’t dilly-dally, I would get investigating immediately. And all of the Fae who are angling for her could be in for a surprise if she chooses the enticing Malik al Khan, her vampiric shadow instead of them!

Jane Steele / Lyndsey Faye

Jane Steele - Lyndsay Faye

Reader, I murdered him.

Like the heroine of the novel she adores, Jane Steele suffers cruelly at the hands of her aunt and schoolmaster. And like Jane Eyre, they call her wicked - but in her case, she fears the accusation is true. When she flees, she leaves behind the corpses of her tormentors.

A fugitive navigating London's underbelly, Jane rights wrongs on behalf of the have-nots whilst avoiding the noose. Until an advertisement catches her eye. Her aunt has died and the new master at Highgate House, Mr Thornfield, seeks a governess. Anxious to know if she is Highgate's true heir, Jane takes the position and is soon caught up in the household's strange spell. When she falls in love with the mysterious Charles Thornfield, she faces a terrible dilemma: can she possess him - body, soul and secrets - and what if he discovers her murderous past?

 

Reader, we were amused.

Jane Eyre is one of my favourite classics. It seems to appeal to a wide range of people and it also seems to inspire a number of authors. I’ve read Wide Sargasso Sea, The Lost Child, and Texts from Jane Eyre: And Other Conversations with Your Favorite Literary Characters and enjoyed all of them. But Jane Steele was the most fun of them all.

Imagine if you will a young woman in similar circumstances as Jane Eyre, with a copy of the book in her hand, as she murders her way out of her problems. In this version, Jane gets rid of the nasty aunt, the abusive cousin, the skeezy schoolmaster, the violent landlord and still finds the Englishman-with-secrets of her dreams.

My second encounter with Lyndsay Faye and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I would also recommend Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killings by Dr. John H. Watson, also set in Victorian London, a place & time that Faye seems to have great feeling for.

New Boy / Tracy Chevalier

New Boy (Hogarth Shakespeare) - Tracy Chevalier

Arriving at his fourth school in six years, diplomat’s son Osei Kokote—“O” for short—knows he needs an ally if he is to survive his first day, so he is lucky to hit it off with Dee, the most popular girl in school. But one boy, used to holding sway in the world of the school­yard, can’t stand to witness the budding relationship. When Ian decides to destroy the friendship between the black boy and the golden girl, the school and its key players—teachers and pupils alike—will never be the same again.

The tragedy of Othello is vividly transposed to a 1970s suburban Washington school, where kids fall in and out of love with each other before lunchtime, and practice a casual racism picked up from their parents and teachers. The world of preadolescents is as passionate and intense, if not more so, as that of adults. Drawing us into the lives and emotions of four eleven-year-olds—Osei, Dee, Ian and his reluctant girlfriend Mimi—Tracy Chevalier’s powerful drama of friends torn apart by love and jealousy, bullying and betrayal, is as moving as it is enthralling. It is an unfor­gettable novel.

 

What is Othello about? Love, jealousy, betrayal, revenge, repentance. This retelling of Shakespeare’s tragedy is intense. The action is condensed into one day on the school grounds. Osei is the new boy—introduced to this grade six class shortly before school ends for the summer. Son of a Ghanaian diplomat, O is used to being the new kid and to being the only black child in the schools he goes to.

Ian is every bit as calculating and cold as any Iago. He is sociopathic in this rendition—shaking down the other kids for their lunch money, turning games into gambling matches, using and abusing those around him. Dee is well-intentioned but easily manipulated by a malicious Ian, as is her best friend, Mimi.

This is an emotional stage in life, as kids go through puberty, start to obsess about relationships, figure out what tasks they are good at, and generally learn to steer their way through the obstacles of life. I was surprised that Chevalier chose this age group to tell this story, but for me it worked well.

It was a quick read and although I knew the broad strokes of the Othello story, I was pleasantly surprised by the details, the characters, and the inevitable ending.

Chimes at Midnight / Seanan McGuire

Chimes at Midnight - Seanan McGuire

Things are starting to look up for October "Toby" Daye. She's training her squire, doing her job, and has finally allowed herself to grow closer to the local King of Cats. It seems like her life may finally be settling down...at least until dead changelings start appearing in the alleys of San Francisco, killed by an overdose of goblin fruit.

Toby's efforts to take the problem to the Queen of the Mists are met with harsh reprisals, leaving her under sentence of exile from her home and everyone she loves. Now Toby must find a way to reverse the Queens decree, get the goblin fruit off the streets--and, oh, yes, save her own life, since more than a few of her problems have once again followed her home. And then there's the question of the Queen herself, who seems increasingly unlikely to have a valid claim to the throne....

To find the answers, October and her friends will have to travel from the legendary Library of Stars into the hidden depths of the Kingdom of the Mists--and they'll have to do it fast, because time is running out. In faerie, some fates are worse than death.

October Daye is about to find out what they are.

 

Shades of Lud-in-the-Mist! Replace Hope Mirrlees’ fairy fruit with goblin fruit, a very addictive substance for changelings and mortals, and you have one of October’s problems in Chimes at Midnight.

If I ever need to plan an insurrection, I would want Ms. Daye by my side. Even without her usual Fae powers, she is a force to be reckoned with. Mostly because of her awesome assortment of friends and acquaintances. Now including the Fae librarian, Mags!!! I knew there had to be a library stashed away in the land of Faerie somewhere and it is excellent. Constantly moving & disguising itself, but a temporary library card guarantees that it sits still until your crisis is over.

More Tybalt, more Luidaeg, an evil goblin fruit pie, revelations about young Quentin, plus Toby gets to lead a rebellion against the Queen in the Mists. What more could an October Daye fan ask for?

The Plan for Friday Night

Chimes at Midnight - Seanan McGuire

 

1.  A massage.

 

2. There are left overs for dinner (Ginger Walnut Chicken!)

 

3.  There is also wine.

 

4.  The next installment of October Daye (which will hopefully break me out of the Hidden Legacy book hang-over that I'm currently caught in).

 

 

Have a good weekend, everyone! 

 

 

White Hot / Ilona Andrews

White Hot - Ilona Andrews

Not only did I read this book a second time, I couldn’t wait to do it.  So, I bought the book on Tuesday and read it on both Tuesday and Wednesday.  Slightly slower the second time, to appreciate the details more.

 

I must confess, I was a teeny-tiny bit disappointed with Nevada’s inner dialog and the exchanges between her & Rogan—there were not so many wonderfully amusing lines like there were in the first book.  I actually had a pen & paper at my side as I read through the second time to record my favourites and found only a couple.*  In any series where romance takes the centre stage, it is difficult to maintain the romantic tension when both parties admit that they are interested. 

 

However, there is still Nevada’s wonderful family—Grandma the heavy duty mechanic and her tanks, Mom the sniper, Bernard the hacker, and the sisters and cousins with hinted-at-but-undisclosed magical powers.  Leon, in particular, shows some worrisome tendencies in this book and I will be interested to see where the Andrews are headed with him.  Nevada’s paternal family who must be dealt with are also introduced and will undoubtedly provide significant problems ahead.

 

My suspicions from the first book about Nevada’s talents were confirmed many times over in this book and her way forward to deal with them will no doubt figure prominently in book three.  Overall, I have to say I am very eager for Book 3 in July.

 

*For example:  “Do you remember that big speech I made in your garage?”
“Which one?” I sighed. “You’ve made several. I’m contemplating installing a personal soapbox with your name on it.”
“The one where I said you would beg to climb into my bed?”
“Ah. That one. How could I forget? I kept waiting for you to pound your chest like a silverback gorilla.”

Best Book Read in May

If We Were Villains: A Novel - M. L. Rio

Looking back at the month of May, I am astounded to find that I read 24 books.  Even better, only one of them was a dud.

 

But this book, this book stood out from the crowd.  An excellent, twisty mystery, lots of Shakespearean drama, and a surprising ending.  For a first novel, it is amazing, but since the author holds a Master's degree in Shakespeare Studies from King's College in London and Shakespeare's Globe and was herself an actor, she seems uniquely qualified to write this fabulous tale.

 

I would highly recommend it.

 

Happy June, everyone!

White Hot / Ilona Andrews

White Hot - Ilona Andrews

The book went on sale on May 30. After work on May 30, I drove 12 km to the nearest bookstore that was stocking it (I checked online to make sure I knew where to find it) in rush hour traffic, people. I drove home, ate dinner, and then read it cover to cover.

And I will no doubt read it again.

 

 

The Palace / Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

The Palace - Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

Renaissance Florence 1490-1498. They say his palazzo is to be a magnificent work of art-a dazzling edifice to rival the most opulent in the city. Its owner is a stranger to Florence, a wealthy foreigner who dresses in black silk and practices the age-old secrets of alchemy. But the man who calls himself Francesco Ragoczy da San Germano conceals his own dark secrets that have exiled him to a life of blood-filled torment and eternal wandering. Yet in the sensation-craving Estasia, cousin to Botticelli, San Germano has found a woman whose unquenchable passions could exceed his own. And in the fanatical monk Savonarola, he has found a powerful enemy: a dangerously obsessed ascetic who exerts a hypnotic power over the citizens of Florence. Savonarola is embarked on a reign of terror that will not end until every thing of beauty is destroyed and every heretic burned at the stake. As the city becomes a hotbed of religious fervor and escalating violence, San Germano is faced with an impossible choice that could doom those he loves forever...and transform his own existence beyond recognition.

 

CQY writes excellent historical fantasy. I appreciate the amount of research that she obviously put in to get Renaissance Florence just right. I don’t know enough Italian to know if that language was being used appropriately, but it sounded good to my untutored ear.

I like her main character, Saint-Germain, but sometimes I think he is not quite “vampirey” enough, if you know what I mean. He is altogether too nice and thoughtful and gentle—rarely does he use his vampire strength or powers of persuasion. Although the books’ covers display ladies’ necks with puncture wounds, the reader really doesn’t see very much to that effect in the novel. There seem to be more problems with being a vampire and fewer impressive powers.

I’m also intrigued with Yarbro’s version of the vampire, where the combination of blood & sex is better than just blood. Apparently Saint-Germain is limited to lips & hands to stimulate his partner (not such a bad thing from a female perspective). However, it would get boring in the long-term, as it does for Estasia in this adventure, leading her to threaten Saint-Germain with exposure and becoming a tricky adversary for him to deal with. This was where I figured he should just drain her and eliminate a problem, and his reluctance to do so made no sense to me. Plus, there is a scene where Saint-Germain visits his alchemical apprentice in prison—the sexual dimension of their meeting when his assistant had just been tortured just felt icky. I know they needed to do a blood exchange if she was to escape, but as I say, the sexuality felt inappropriate to me during that scene.

The recurring theme seems to be loneliness—Olivia writes frequent letters asking Saint-Germain to come to Rome, which for some inexplicable reason he is unwilling to do. S-G seems to be frequently creating new vampires, who then get upset about their situation (despite the fact that they asked for the transformation) and they head out on their own.

Obviously, an eternal vampire gives an author the excuse to research & write about whatever historical setting they are interested in. While the historical angle is great, I wish the vampiric nature of the main character was more apparent.

Venom / Jennifer Estep

Venom - Jennifer Estep

It’s hard to be a badass assassin when a giant is beating the crap out of you. Luckily, I never let pride get in the way of my work. My current mission is personal: annihilate Mab Monroe, the Fire elemental who murdered my family. Which means protecting my identity, even if I have to conceal my powerful Stone and Ice magic when I need it most.

To the public, I’m Gin Blanco, owner of Ashland’s best barbecue joint. To my friends, I’m the Spider, retired assassin. I still do favors on the side. Like ridding a vampire friend of her oversized stalker—Mab’s right-hand goon who almost got me dead with his massive fists.

At least irresistible Owen Grayson is on my side. The man knows too much about me, but I’ll take my chances. Then there’s Detective Bria Coolidge, one of Ashland’s finest. Until recently, I thought my baby sister was dead. She probably thinks the same about me. Little does she know, I’m a cold-blooded killer . . . who is about to save her life.

 

Gin Blanco is ready to quit skulking in the shadows and declare war on the criminals who are worse than she is. That’s right, our assassin main character is done being the patient Spider and is ready to deal with the Big Bad that is controlling everyone in her town of Ashland. She begins small, by trying to protect Finn’s vampire lady friend from a large, aggressive stalker (who is, of course, one of the triumvirate who holds the town hostage).

Gone is a lot of the annoying repetition of certain phrases, although some instances remain. Gone also is the brooding, guilty, conflicted love interest—and good riddance. But somebody’s gotta be the ultra-good guy, so enter Gin’s long lost little sister, Bria, as the new arrow-straight lawman (or woman) in town. This arrangement is perfect—Gin gets have her hot-as-Tabasco love relationship, but still have a law-abiding cop to court, since Bria doesn’t know of their relationship.

Although there is still a lot of focus on Gin’s romantic life and on her relationship with her foster-brother, Finn, this installment shows hope that she may get some female BFF’s soon, with whom to share secrets and drink gin. Creeping closer to Bechdel test territory, I hope the next book reaches the tipping point with this situation.

I am looking forward to attending some sessions at the When Words Collide conference in August where this author will be speaking.

Shakepeare's Champion / Charlaine Harris

Shakespeare's Champion - Charlaine Harris

There's something rotten in Shakespeare... — Lily Bard was running from shattering memories when she moved to Shakespeare, Arkansas. Now cleaning houses pays her bills. Working out helps her heal. Still protecting her scars, she hides a hard body and impressive skill at martial arts under baggy sweats. And nobody knows how strong she is until racial violence has her looking behind closed doors for a killer -- doors to which a housecleaner might have the key.

When Lily uses her training in goju to help a black man jumped by white teens, she does it for justice...only to hear he's been abducted and beaten to death a few weeks later. Then a bodybuilder is killed at her gym. Both incidents jar Lily's need for security and refuge. Looking into closets, sweeping under rugs, she soon uncovers enough dirt to confirm that something sinister is growing in her adopted town. Getting involved could endanger her life. But Lily is seeing a new man and dreaming new dreams. And no one can make this strong woman run again.

 

  I would rate this book just a touch below the first book, maybe 3.5 stars, perhaps because I am now familiar with the setting and with Lily. I still like Lily a lot and she continues to surprise me. Harris introduced a love triangle at the end of the first book and I was anxious to get reading to see where it went. Boom! 
Lily dumps them both! Gotta like a girl who’s decisive like that. Plus, she’s no dog-in-the-manger. She is quite happy to see her exes move along with other women—quite different from Sookie Stackhouse, Harris’ other small town gal, who always seemed to resent any women that “her” men took up with after their break-ups.
(show spoiler)


It’s a treat to read about a woman who can protect herself and develop her strength to overcome past trauma. However, I’m a bit disturbed by her current love-interest, who also has a traumatic past, knows Lily’s situation, and seems drawn to her because of it. I will be interested to see if he lasts in the relationship for more than one book. I’m also hoping that Lily can come out of her hard, protective shell a bit more. At least in this book, she is starting to allow people into her life gradually, even if she has mixed feelings about it. There is true potential for this series to pass the Bechdel test.

On the other hand, after protecting her personal secrets in book one, all of a sudden it seems that everyone and their pet cat knows about Lily’s past in this book. Which is an uncomfortable situation if you’re still sensitive about the details (it seems Lily is, though it was no fault of her own) and you live in a very small community. Lily has been a discreet cleaning lady ever since she came to Shakespeare, but suddenly people are questioning whether they want someone “like her” to clean for them. Another way of blaming the victim, something we can read about in the current media.

An enjoyable sequel and I shall look forward to the next installment when I have the time to read it.

The Choice for this Evening

Shakespeare's Champion - Charlaine Harris Venom - Jennifer Estep

 

It has felt like a long week at work.  Tonight, I'm picking up these 2 books from the library on my way home.  It's tacos for supper.  There's wine in the refrigerator.  There are some nice scented candles and a blankie waiting for me.

 

Does life get any better than this?  I don't think so.