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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

12 Days at Bleakly Manor: Book 1 in Once Upon a Dickens Christmas
Michelle Griep
Jade Dragon Mountain
Elsa Hart
Shark Drunk: The Art of Catching a Large Shark from a Tiny Rubber Dinghy in a Big Ocean
Morten A. Strøksnes
The Last Command
Timothy Zahn
Progress: 322/480 pages

A Frustrating Morning


I had a tire blow-out on the way to work this morning!  Not how you want to start a Tuesday.


Two good things:  I was close enough to my tire shop to limp the car in there and I had purchased brand new tires from them in early October, so the work will be done on warranty and I'll only have to pay $50.


Another good thing--I have enough vacation time accumulated that I can stay home until the work is complete.


The only bad thing?  They didn't have a tire to match the remaining three in stock.  They're having to send to another city for it, but they promise to have me back on the road by tomorrow afternoon.


So I guess I'm on vacation today & tomorrow.  Not how I expected to spend my week.

Reading progress update: I've read 184 out of 395 pages.

A Time of Omens - Katharine Kerr


I never know what to say about these books--I like them ok, but I don't love them.


I enjoy the Celtic elements and the dweomer, but I don't love the characters.


Book number 301 of my Science Fiction & Fantasy Reading Project.

The Shadow Rising / Robert Jordan

The Shadow Rising - Robert Jordan

The seals of Shayol Ghul are weak now, and the Dark One reaches out. The Shadow is rising to cover humankind.  In Tar Valon, Min sees portents of hideous doom. Will the White Tower itself be broken?  In the Two Rivers, the Whitecloaks ride in pursuit of a man with golden eyes, and in pursuit of the Dragon Reborn.  In Cantorin, among the Sea Folk, High Lady Suroth plans the return of the Seanchan armies to the mainland.  In the Stone of Tear, the Lord Dragon considers his next move. It will be something no one expects, not the Black Ajah, not Tairen nobles, not Aes Sedai, not Egwene or Elayne or Nynaeve.

Against the Shadow rising stands the Dragon Reborn.....


This is the 300th book that I’ve read for my Science Fiction & Fantasy Reading Project!

Go me!

I can’t believe the number of different sources that Jordan drew on while he was writing The Wheel of Time. I mean, Tolkien is obvious. You’ve got the small town lad drawn into the problems of a larger world, sent on perilous adventures with his friends with uncertain outcome. You’ve also got a looming, dark, powerful enemy that no one truly expects him to be able to do anything about. Even things like pipeweed (Tolkien) and tabac (Jordan) being grown in the area that the hero is from (and it being considered superior quality too).

But this novel also reminded me of Frank Herbert’s Dune. The Aiel people remind me a lot of Herbert’s Fremen on Arrakis. They are desert dwellers, they are fierce & formidable fighters, they can blend with their environment, and even the women are dangerous. Just like Paul Atreides, Rand appears to represent a prophecy fulfilled, though some members of the Aiel struggle with this idea. Plus, there are the Aes Sedai, pulling strings in the background just like the Bene Gesserit. Rand, just like Paul, struggles to maintain his independence both from them and from prophecy.

Two things annoyed me during the course of the novel. The first is this whole “Women are mysterious creatures that men can’t possibly understand” thing that Jordan seems to have going. Along with the corresponding “Women easily manipulate men” corollary, which I also don’t buy. Men and women are perfectly capable of communication, asking questions when they don’t understand things. My gentleman friend is actually far too observant for me some days! He’s sees my motivations more clearly than I do and provides a needed perspective. My second annoyance was the whole “To make your female character independent, you show that she is stubborn” assumption. Jordan is so good at providing lots of significant female characters—I so wish that he didn’t subscribe to this erroneous idea. Being stubborn does not equal power or independence, in female or male characters and I see it in far too much fiction.

I can’t believe how many pages I have read and I am only through book 4 of 14. This is an incredibly detailed fantasy world, the author follows a tremendous number of characters, and I can see myself spending many more absorbing hours on the Wheel of Time.

Melbourne Cup Day - Task 4

Have you ever been to or participated in a competition involving horses (racing, jumping, dressage, whatever)?


It’s been a long, long, long time since I participated in a horse show, back when I was in junior high and high school during my 4-H Horse Club days.  The more I think about those days, the more I think that my mother was a super-hero. 


I had a gentle old sorrel mare named June that we took to these events.  She was gentle until she was presented with a truck that she was supposed to get into.  Then, she became the more stubborn, balky animal on the face of the earth.  Looking back, I can’t say that I blame her.


My mother & I would load June into the back of our half-ton truck (with stock racks) and drive about three quarters of an hour up to the horse show site.  Mom didn’t just have her hormonal teenage horse-crazy daughter along, she also had the two younger siblings.  The competitions would last most of the day, then it would take almost every willing man on grounds to help us convince June to get back in the truck to go home!  And June would always shift around, like she was thinking about trying to jump out of the truck, making driving difficult.  And yet Mom did this for me, year after year. 


I was a horse-crazy kid.  I still remember the day I got my first pony, Nippy.  My dad and grandpa and I had gone to the auction market, probably to sell hogs.  It was always a big treat to be allowed to go—not only did I get to see all the animals, but we would get a hamburger for lunch and probably a bottle of pop for the drive home.  Those are big considerations when you’re a ten year old! 


When we saw the little black pony in a pen in the back of the auction, the very first thing he did was nip each of us (hence his name).  I had no expectations, I just wanted to pet the pony.  I was incredibly surprised and excited when my dad bid on the pony when it came up for auction!  I remember that we paid $50 dollars for him and he came with a bridle.  I also remember my grandpa saying he was glad that Dad had bid, because he’d been thinking about it!


Nippy & I had our struggles, but he became a devoted friend to me.  He could count—when the cousins came to visit, if the line of pony riders was too long, he would be absolutely miserable to the first one or two to scare away some of the more timid kids.  He also knew exactly where he could scrape off an inattentive rider (we rode him bareback).  At the end of his life, he would still struggle to perform the little tricks that I’d taught him and I could get him to move when no one else could.  He lived with us to the end of his life.


June was unimpressed with Nippy.  He was so excited to have another horse to hang with that he came trotting up to her when she arrived on our farm.  Imagine his surprise when she bit him hard and sent him running away!  Eventually they reached a détante, but in the early days there was a lot of hostility.


Eventually, we had June bred and she produced a sorrel filly that we named Peaches.  Photos of Peaches follow.  I got to do the first bit of her training and rode her a very few times, but I had to sell her before I went to university.  I haven’t been able to lay my hands on photos of Nippy or June.

A very young Peaches with one of Mom's friends


A mature Peaches, just before I had to sell her.

Me, every weekend.
Me, every weekend.
— feeling haha
Throw out the lettuce, cook up the bacon!
Throw out the lettuce, cook up the bacon!

The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs

The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World - Stephen Brusatte


Ah, the blast that ended the dinosaurs!  So much controversy!


And to think it all dates back to the days when religion dominated science.  When extinctions were explained by catastrophes ordered by God.  Need to get rid of Pleistocene animals? Invoke a flood.  Not just Noah's flood, either, the various churches decided there were plenty of catastrophes to go around.  Catastrophism its known as.


Things started to change when Charles Lyell published his Principles of Geology.  His theory was that you could observe geological processes at work in the world and make conclusions based on that.  Erosion, sedimentation, etc. are slow, gradual processes.  Lyell's book was reading material that Charles Darwin took with him on his Beagle voyage and the whole slow-and-steady change message really influenced his thought on evolution.  It's known as Uniformitarianism.


But here's the thing--the geological community got hung up on this.  It became verboten to attribute change to catastrophes.  That was considered a reversion to the past, to the Church.  Hence all the denial that a comet or asteroid impact could possibly be the reason for the Cretaceous extinction event.


At University of Calgary, we have a professor, Dr. Alan Hildebrand, who studies meteorites and impact sites.  He has been a major contributor to the study of the Chicxulub Crater on the Yucatan Peninsula, the impact that is thought to have ended the Cretaceous period. 


Just like Brusatte, I got my moment with the K/T boundary while in Cuba.  Our tour guide took us to a place where that fateful layer was exposed.  I got to put my hands on it, iridium, shocked quartz, and tektites included!  After a bit of searching, I found my photo of it.  Guys, its a seriously boring photo, but here it is:



Wish I had posed by it now, but what can you do?


Reading progress update: I've read 802 out of 1006 pages.

The Shadow Rising - Robert Jordan



Blimey, this book is taking a long time to read!



A North American early bird fossil found in Utah

This article mentions at least two of the scientists mentioned in Steve Brusatte's book The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs. 


It also shows how long can elapse between a discovery and its publication. This fossil was found in 1992, but it's making news now, after preparation, study, and finally, publication.


I love paleontology precisely because we are always learning new things.

Reading progress update: I've read 309 out of 416 pages.

The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World - Stephen Brusatte

Okay, feathered dinosaurs, y'all.  I remember when these were being found and debated and I have been to a LOT of lectures about those early feathered finds.


And I've heard Phil Currie tell the story, so I have it from the horse's mouth.  What Brusatte says about local Chinese farmers is absolutely true--they are educated individuals who have returned to the farms in Liaoning Province and they supplement their income by prospecting for fossils.


What Brusatte neglects to mention is that the Jehol Group (the geological formation in Liaoning) is a Laggerstatten, a sedimentary formation which preserves extraordinary fossils, often including soft tissues.  These fossils can be found by splitting sedimentary layers and you will often find a fossil by splitting it, leaving part on the top layer, part on the bottom layer, part and counterpart.


A very savvy farmer found Sinosauropteryx and he sold it's part and counterpart to two separate museums.  Double the income.  Yay farmer!  However, the heads of the two museums loathed one another.  Neither would give up their portion of the significant fossil and neither would allow their portion to travel to where the other piece was.



Enter Dr. Currie, who was a neutral person and a diplomat, to visit both museums, examine both part and counterpart, confirm that they were parts of the same fossil and examine those fuzzy bits that you see coming down the spine.


Oh the huffing and the puffing of experts, many of whom had never seen the fossil, about whether that fluff was feathers or not.  Much the same as when Archaeopteryx was found and the fuss over whether its feathers were real or not (and those were obviously flight feathers, unlike the fuzz on Sinosauropteryx.)


In 1999, feathered fossils came to Alberta, specifically to Drumheller's Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology, where Dr. Currie was the head of  Dinosaur fossils at the time.  I made a pilgrimage and I hauled out my exhibition catalogue the other night to reminisce a bit:



(Sorry, nothing that I've tried can make this image display in the right direction.)  I believe that the cover depicts Caudipteryx, not mentioned by Brusatte, but a fossil from Liaoning which featured obvious feathers, including those wonderful tail feathers.



I'm thrilled that it seems that the vast majority of paleontologists now agree that dinosaurs (at least the theropods) had feathers and that birds are indeed dinosaurs.  This combines two of my own obsessions:  Dinosaurs and bird watching.



Reading progress update: I've read 582 out of 1006 pages.

The Shadow Rising - Robert Jordan


I am slowly but surely working my way through this kitten-squisher of a book! 


I can't believe the detail in all of the characters' stories.  I have to say that I appreciate the number of women who get to have significant roles to play.  But I do wish that Jordan wasn't so committed to the "women are mysterious creatures that men can't possibly understand" myth.  We're not that complex!  And men aren't that dumb!



Menu Monday (but on Tuesday)

Another week when I'm a day late and a dollar short.  Better late than never?


First up, is Sweet Sriracha Chicken.  This is my second or third time making this and I now have the hang of it.  The sauce consists of equal parts honey & Sraracha sauce, plus small amounts of a few other ingredients including a lot of chopped garlic:



They were just the right amount of spicy & sweet.


Next was a brand new recipe, for a Taco Casserole:



As you can tell, I forgot to take a photo until after a good portion of the casserole had been consumed!  It was good & filling, if not tremendously memorable.  I can see myself assembling it again and perhaps using the left overs in a Taco Salad.


Finally, after a much-needed chiropractic appointment, I put together some comfort food:  Coconut Curried Chicken!



I recently found about half-size cans of coconut milk, which were the perfect size for this purpose.  No more measuring out part of a large can and wondering what to do with the remainder.  This makes the perfect amount of curry-coconut sauce to make the rice extra delicious.


Have a delicious week, friends.





Reading progress update: I've read 269 out of 416 pages.

The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World - Stephen Brusatte


On page 242, the author briefly mentions a Centrosaurus bone-bed in Alberta.  I've been there multiple times and it is a great place to visit.


It is in Dinosaur Provincial Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, located close to the town of Brooks, Alberta.  It's a popular camping site, although because of the paleontological value of the landscape, campers are somewhat restricted in where they can go.


The site also holds the cabin of John Ware, the best known Black cowboy & rancher in Alberta's history. 



It's also a fabulous birding location.  The look-out at the park entrance is one of the best places that I know locally to see Lark Sparrow.



There is a field station of the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology and there used to be guided tours of some of the dig sites.  The last one I went on was over 20 years ago, so I'm not sure if they still run those, but I wouldn't be surprised if they do.  The tours were ultra-popular.


There is an exposed portion of the bone-bed along a public hiking/driving path--the bones are coated in preservative and have a shelter over them to protect them from the worst of the Albertan weather.


All in all, it is a wonderful location to visit.  I haven't been out there for a year or two and this is making me want to go back.  I must plan a trip for next spring.





Hellburner / C.J. Cherryh

Hellburner - C.J. Cherryh

Lt. Ben Pollard thinks he's traded the perils of the Belt for security as an Earth-based computer jockey for United Defence Command. Then he's forced to perform a mission of mercy - and lands on an isolated, intrigue-riddled space station.  He's been named next-of-kin to a man he never wanted to even see again: Paul Dekker, a young pilot who attracts crises like dead flesh draws flies. The centerpiece of a top-secret war project, Dekker has just lost his entire crew in a mysterious freak accident and lost his mind to amnesia from an attempted suicide. Or attempted murder. Suddenly two more faces from Dekker and Pollard's past are shanghaied to Sol II: their occasional lovers, renegade pilots Meg Kady and Sal Aboujib. Together they had once smashed the criminal cover-ups of a mining cartel. Now, they're all caught in a shadowy, deadly maze of power-mongering rivalries between UDC and Fleet Strategic Operations, the Senate and Peace Lobby, and the corporate lords of both Earth and Mars.


Thus far, as I have been reading Cherryh’s Company Wars books, they have overlapped slightly (mentions of Pell and its inhabitants occur in pretty much every book, for example). But this is the first time that I would call a book a sequel. Hellburner seems to me very much to be a sequel to Heavy Time, as we follow the further association between Paul Dekker and Ben Pollard.

If you have ever felt manipulated at work, you will feel great sympathy for Paul & Ben. They are frenemies, both trying to find their way in the universe. Ben thinks that he has finally landed a cushy spot for himself on Earth, far from the wars ongoing in space. This is a big achievement for a boy who grew up in the asteroid belt and who had never seen the ocean! He really doesn’t understand Earthers (OMG, they think that they have the right to air and water, how misguided are they?) but to find a peaceful work environment, he is willing to try.

Paul Dekker is Ben’s mirror image, a kid who grew up on and around Sol and who escaped an uncertain and unpromising future in Earth orbit by going to the asteroid belt. In the process, he has made himself some powerful enemies and has undergone a lot of mental disturbance. Still, he has awesome piloting skills and he’s a valuable commodity if his enemies can be dealt with.

Ben had hoped to never, ever see Dekker again. He is on the cusp of getting his ideal job when he is called away as Dekker’s “next of kin,” when Dekker is experiencing mental problems again, having been left to die in a flight simulator. Ben considers simply beating Dek to death and returning to Earth.

Instead, they are rejoined by their partners in crime from Heavy Time, Meg Kady and Sal Aboujib, and they set out to conquer the new experimental ship, the Hellburner, that no one else has been able to run successfully. Can Dekker hang onto his sanity long enough to do this? Can Ben rein in his temper? Can Meg and Sal make the cut?

As a person struggling with a new computer system at work, one which no one seems to want to provide training for, I have great sympathy for this team.

Book number 299 of my Science Fiction & Fantasy Reading Project.

SuperMutant Magic Academy / Jillian Tamaki

SuperMutant Magic Academy - Jillian Tamaki

The New York Times and New Yorker illustrator Jillian Tamaki is best known for co-creating the award-winning young adult graphic novels Skim and This One Summer—moody and atmospheric bestsellers. SuperMutant Magic Academy, which she has been serializing online for the past four years, paints a teenaged world filled with just as much ennui and uncertainty, but also with a sharp dose of humor and irreverence. Tamaki deftly plays superhero and high-school Hollywood tropes against what adolescence is really like: The SuperMutant Magic Academy is a prep school for mutants and witches, but their paranormal abilities take a backseat to everyday teen concerns.


My first thought on this is that I am wayyyy too old to truly appreciate this graphic novel! I liked the idea of a school for mutants and witches and I’m pretty sure that this would have totally been my jam when I was in junior high school. Because, let’s face it, we all feel like mutants when we’re in junior high.

It was definitely a creative way to illustrate all the problems that we have at that age: where do we fit in? What are our talents? What will be do after graduation? Or even today after school? Do our marks matter? Does that cute boy/girl know that we exist?

I can still relate to some of it—don’t we all still feel like mutants some days? But those days are fewer and farther between the older that I get. I know that I can support myself and run my life successfully on the majority of days. If I could talk to my teenage self that would be my message: you’re going to be okay. Loosen up and enjoy things more. Too bad that wisdom only comes to us once we’re short on the energy to appreciate it fully.