203 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

Birding Without Borders: An Obsession, a Quest, and the Biggest Year in the World
Noah Strycker
Living with Shakespeare: Actors, Directors, and Writers on Shakespeare in Our Time
Susannah Carson
Now I Rise (The Conqueror's Trilogy)
Kiersten White
What a Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of Our Underwater Cousins
Jonathan Balcombe
The Gap Into Vision: Forbidden Knowledge
Stephen R. Donaldson
David Brin
Progress: 67/678 pages

An Enchantment of Ravens / Margaret Rogerson

An Enchantment of Ravens - Margaret Rogerson

A skilled painter must stand up to the ancient power of the faerie courts—even as she falls in love with a faerie prince—in this gorgeous debut novel.

Isobel is a prodigy portrait artist with a dangerous set of clients: the sinister fair folk, immortal creatures who cannot bake bread, weave cloth, or put a pen to paper without crumbling to dust. They crave human Craft with a terrible thirst, and Isobel’s paintings are highly prized. But when she receives her first royal patron—Rook, the autumn prince—she makes a terrible mistake. She paints mortal sorrow in his eyes—a weakness that could cost him his life.


Actual rating: 4.25 stars. Better than your average Fae tale, but not quite up to the same bar as Cold Hillside by Nancy Baker, which for me sets the standard. I’ve been addicted to the Fae ever since I ran across them in Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series and I am fortunate that so many authors continue to indulge my fascination!

This is the Fae the way I like them—dark, powerful, tricksy, slippery, unreliable and unaccountably interested in humans. As a portrait artist, Isobel must always be careful in her requests for payment, as a Fae spell can work for you for a while, but twist into something damaging later. She is always aware that she is only seeing the glamour of her portrait-sitters, not their true appearance—and they seem fascinated to discover exactly what Isobel sees. Does she see too much? As a seventeen year old, is she too innocent for her own good?

I am almost sad that this is a stand-alone volume and I will definitely be picking up anything that Ms. Rogerson publishes in the future.

Tell the Wolves I'm Home / Carol Rifka Brunt

Tell The Wolves I'm Home - Carol Rifka Brunt

1987. There's only one person who has ever truly understood fourteen-year-old June Elbus, and that's her uncle, the renowned painter Finn Weiss. Shy at school and distant from her older sister, June can only be herself in Finn's company; he is her godfather, confidant, and best friend. So when he dies, far too young, of a mysterious illness her mother can barely speak about, June's world is turned upside down. But Finn's death brings a surprise acquaintance into June's life - someone who will help her to heal, and to question what she thinks she knows about Finn, her family, and even her own heart.

At Finn's funeral, June notices a strange man lingering just beyond the crowd. A few days later, she receives a package in the mail. Inside is a beautiful teapot she recognizes from Finn's apartment, and a note from Toby, the stranger, asking for an opportunity to meet. As the two begin to spend time together, June realizes she's not the only one who misses Finn, and if she can bring herself to trust this unexpected friend, he just might be the one she needs the most.


My real-life book club is indulging in a year of reading young adult literature, and this is our March selection. I am also using it to fulfill the “book about grief” selection for my 2018 PopSugar Challenge and the entry for B in my Female Authors A to Z challenge.

The main character, June, spends the course of the book figuring out the nature of love and grief in life. She realizes that we say “love” but that it can represent a variety of different emotions—between parents and children, between siblings, for good friends, even for favourite foods, as well as romantic connection. She learns about her mother’s estrangement from her brother, June’s beloved Uncle Finn. She navigates the yawning distance developing between her sister Greta and herself. She processes the loss of Finn and finds a new connection with his partner Toby.

What a great portrayal of life in all its messiness! If you’ve lived through some family rifts or somehow found yourself further away from a sibling that you ever believed possible, you will find something to hang onto in this novel. The relationships were realistic, not melodramatic or overdone. Although the grief was palpable in places, it didn’t send me rushing to a tissue box, like Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls.

I am constantly amazed at how much really good writing there is out there in the Young Adult genre—if you enjoy YA, add this one to your reading pile.

The Story of my Life / Helen Keller

The Story of My Life - Helen Keller

This is my “Celebrity Memoir” book to fill the Book Riot Read Harder challenge for 2018.  Helen Keller was rather famous in her day, being the first deaf-blind person to earn a BA degree.  I believe she is still admired by many in the deaf community.


I don’t suppose it is surprising that she was an avid reader, once her teacher Miss Sullivan managed to make the breakthrough that allowed Helen’s education to begin.  It was an activity that she could pursue on her own at her own speed and, like all of us, gain information on subjects that intrigued her.


I was surprised by how much she loved poetry, however.  For me poetry is very much about hearing it—I often read it aloud in order to properly appreciate it.  Since Helen was unable to hear it, she must have had a very sophisticated sense of the rhythm of the words, probably seeing many more nuances in it than I do.  I was also amazed at the number of languages that she managed to master—German, French, Latin, Greek—and I wish I had the same facility with languages.  I struggle to maintain my little bit of French and Spanish!


I couldn’t help but notice how much the natural world and companion animals were part of her life.  The smells of the garden or the seaside were ways of opening up her world and her pet cats, dogs and horses provided unjudgemental companionship.


I had hoped that this was the story of Ms. Keller that I read during my childhood, but it was a different work.  I think the book that I was familiar with was based on the life of her teacher, Anne Sullivan, and I hope to track it down some day for a reminiscent read—I remember reading it many times as a child and loving it.

The Lost Plot / Genevieve Cogman

The Lost Plot - Genevieve Cogman

In a 1930s-esque New York, Prohibition is in force, fedoras, flapper dresses and tommy guns are in fashion, and intrigue is afoot. Intrepid Librarians Irene and Kai find themselves caught in the middle of a dragon vs dragon contest. It seems a young librarian has become tangled in this conflict, and if they can't extricate him there could be serious political repercussions for the mysterious Library. And, as the balance of power across mighty factions hangs in the balance, this could even trigger war.

Irene and Kai find themselves trapped in a race against time (and dragons) to procure a rare book. They'll face gangsters, blackmail and fiendish security systems. And if this doesn't end well, it could have dire consequences for Irene's job. And, incidentally, for her life . . .


I admit I am very much a fan of Irene Winters and the Invisible Library series. So much so that I will actually be purchasing a copy of this, book 4, to become part of my Nursing Home Collection (all those books that will make the transition with me to said nursing home when the time do come).

I read too damn fast—The Lost Plot went by much too quickly. It is action-packed, putting Irene in many tight spots, between gangsters, plotting dragons, and unpredictable fae assassins. Luckily, she and Kai have been through several of these rodeos before and they are pretty good at judging what their partner will do.

The ending, while obviously leading us on towards book 5, was nearly perfect! I know that I’ve previously been a fan of Irene + Vale, but after book 4, I am really shipping Irene and Kai. It’s a woman’s prerogative to change her mind!

Ms. Cogman, bring on book 5! And could I be lucky enough that you are planning more?

Homeland / R. A. Salvatore

Homeland - R.A. Salvatore

In exotic Menzoberranzan, the vast city of the drow is home to Icewind Dale prince Drizzt Do'Urden, who grows to maturity in the vile world of his dark elf kin. Possessing honor beyond the scope of his unprincipled society, can he live in world that rejects integrity?


This novel relates the first installment of Drizzt Do’Urden’s back story, namely his birth into Drow Elf society. As I have come to expect from Salvatore, it is melodramatic in the extreme. Drow society is over-the-top evil, bad in every way. Despite the fact that Drow females don’t produce many offspring comparative to their extra-long lifespans, Drizzt was conceived as a sacrifice to the horrible spider goddess Lloth and he is spared this fate when one of his brothers murders the other. Lloth’s supremacy as spider goddess has yielded a matriarchal society, where women are dominant and, like female spiders, are quite willing to dispense with a male once his purpose has been served. There is nothing resembling honour in Drow circles—not even between family members. So Drizzt’s violet eyes and moral sense set him apart from his own society.

We also learn how he became involved with his side-kick, Guenhwyvar the black panther and how he became the fighting machine that we are familiar with from previous books.

I can see where in a gaming situation, OTT characters such as these would be fun to play. It’s often more fun to be a villain than a hero because you get to do the awful things.

Book number 273 in my Science Fiction and Fantasy reading project.

The Cruel Prince / Holly Black

The Cruel Prince (The Folk of the Air) - Holly Black

Holly Black is my latest author crush. It helps that many of her books feature the Fae and Fae characters are one of my favourite things.

The Cruel Prince was one of those books that I asked my public library to order and then fidgeted while I waited for it to arrive and to be catalogued. It was worth the wait, in my opinion. It may be a young adult book, but that didn’t prevent me from enjoying it too.

I like Black’s version of the Fae—they don’t play nice, they aren’t always fond of mortals, and there are rules that both sides have to follow. Jude is a mortal girl, living in the Fae world, trying to fit in despite the sneers of her contemporaries at school. She and her mortal sister are picked on and disparaged by the princes and princesses of the Realm of Faerie. And, of course, there’s a boy—Prince Cardan, the cruel prince of the title—who captures her imagination, though maybe not in a good way. Jude decides that if she can’t be accepted by playing nice, perhaps she can scheme and plot her way to a protected position in her adopted world and she proves to be highly adept at it.

It’s pretty obvious where this story will be heading in the second book—Jude & Cardan obviously have some chemistry, despite the rather evil trick on Cardan that Jude indulges in. However, it’s not immediately clear how Black is going to change these passionate enemies into a couple. Now I just wish there wasn’t a whole year to wait for the next installment.

TBR Thursday

A Brief History of Seven Killings: A Novel - Marlon James Bellevue Square - Michael Redhill An Enchantment of Ravens - Margaret Rogerson Alias Grace - Margaret Atwood The Inimitable Jeeves - P.G. Wodehouse The Lost Plot - Genevieve Cogman Vlad: The Last Confession - C.C. Humphreys

So, I am home from a rather unpleasant trip to Taiwan.  The weather was unseasonably cold (yes, its winter, but it doesn't usually get so cold and wet and gray).  The birds were thin on the ground.  Most of Taiwan is not set up to deal with cold weather, so there was no heat on our bus, in our hotels or in the restaurants that we ate in.  My cold weather clothing got a lot of wear and could probably crawl to the washer itself at this point!


To make an unpleasant trip worse, I caught a nasty cold halfway through, complete with hacking cough.  Staying in cold, uncomfortable hotels did nothing to help.  Also, our ground agent (who ordered the food for us) didn't seem to care if we actually liked the food he was providing.  I can't tell you how many evenings at the end I just ate a couple of bowls of rice and decided I'd eat when I got home. 


So I've been under the weather for over a week even when I made it home to my nice soft bed in my warm house and where I get to choose the menu.  I've even been too groggy to have much interest in reading, something which is completely unlike myself.


So it is with great relief that I find myself feeling better and ready to tackle my stack of library books!  I'm going to hear Marlon James at a guest lecture next week, so I am plugging away at A Brief History of Seven Killings.  I'm finding it slow going, but I think I'm finding the rhythm and expect to make a dent on it this weekend.


Bellevue Square is not what I expected--I hope to finish it off tonight or tomorrow night.  I'm reading it for the B in my alphabetical title challenge.  Alias Grace will count toward both my Female Author A to Z challenge and my PopSugar challenge (a book about a villain or an anti-hero).


Then I get to treat myself to An Enchantment of Ravens and The Lost Plot, two books that I've really been looking forward to.  Plus get introduced to Wodehouse's Jeeves in The Inimitable Jeeves


And finally, Vlad : The Last Confession is by a new favourite author, Chris Humphreys, who I met at a convention last summer.  I recommended that our public library acquire the book and it has finally arrived!


Its still cold here in Calgary and we've had a pile of snow, so I will quite happily hide in my house this weekend, cuddled up with my books.



One of the many reasons that Ursula K. Le Guin was awesome!
One of the many reasons that Ursula K. Le Guin was awesome!

Ursula Le Guin

"She wasn't always right, but she was always wise."


I am going to miss her wisdom.  At least we had her for 88 years.

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.