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wandapedersen39

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

Sweep of the Blade
Ilona Andrews
The Gun Seller
Hugh Laurie
Progress: 26/340 pages
The Human Factor
Graham Greene
From Russia With Love
Ian Fleming

Reading progress update: I've read 104 out of 535 pages.

Last Call - Tim Powers

 

This is a really weird mix of poker and tarot cards, with the cards causing threatening things to happen.

 

I'm a hundred pages in and I still don't have any idea what exactly is happening (but that's parr for the course with Powers' writing & me).

 

But it certainly isn't boring!

 

 

 

TBR Thursday

A Fatal Waltz - Tasha Alexander Moonraker - Ian Fleming False Positive - Andrew Grant In the Month of the Midnight Sun - Cecilia Ekbäck Ashenden, or, The British Agent - W. Somerset Maugham The Gun Seller - Hugh Laurie The Human Factor - Graham Greene

I'm working on Bright We Burn and Last Call which are both due at the library in 9 days!  And I'm still gradually reading a biography of Ian Fleming.  BWB has a waiting list, and LC is an interlibrary loan, so neither can be renewed.  I know how I'm spending my weekend!

 

However, the When Words Collide conference is approaching at warp speed and I've got 3 books I'd like to get to before then:  A Fatal Waltz, False Positive, and In the Month of the Midnight Sun.  All written by key note authors--I must give Andrew Grant another chance.  I found his spy novel to be somewhat ridiculous, but I'm going to give his murder mystery a try, hoping for better things there.

 

And the Summer of Spies isn't over yet.  On the docket, I've got Moonraker, Ashenden, The Gun Seller and The Human Factor

 

Meanwhile, I'm getting all excited over my Halloween reading list.  It's hard to keep my attention on the spies, with Halloween Bingo on the horizon!

 

I have tomorrow off work and Monday is a statutory holiday, so I've got 4 days to play!  On Sunday, I'll be headed out on two Historic Calgary tours.  Other than that, I've got time free.  Once the laundry is done and the house relatively clean, maybe I'll go to the used book store and add to Mount TBR. 

 

Whatever you do this weekend, have fun and stay safe!

 

 

Reading progress update: I've read 120 out of 336 pages.

Her Royal Spyness - Rhys Bowen

"When I venture to point out the unfairness of this, I am reminded of the second item on my list. Apparently the only acceptable destiny for a young female mem​b​er of the house of Windsor is to marry into another of the royal houses that still seem to litter Europe, even though there are precious few reigning monarchs these days. it seems that even a very minor Windsor like myself is a desirable commodity for those wishing a tenuous alliance with Britain at this unsettled time. I am constantly being reminded that is is my duty to make a good match with some half-lunatic, buck-toothed, chinless, spinele​s​s​​​, and utterly awful European royal, thus cementing ties with a potential enemy. My cousin Alex did this, poor thing. I have learned from her tragic example."

 

 

This is absolutely charming and I think I'm going to adore this series!

Jade City / Fonda Lee

Jade City  - Fonda Lee

FAMILY IS DUTY. MAGIC IS POWER. HONOR IS EVERYTHING.

Magical jade—mined, traded, stolen, and killed for—is the lifeblood of the island of Kekon. For centuries, honorable Green Bone warriors like the Kaul family have used it to enhance their abilities and defend the island from foreign invasion.

Now the war is over and a new generation of Kauls vies for control of Kekon's bustling capital city. They care about nothing but protecting their own, cornering the jade market, and defending the districts under their protection. Ancient tradition has little place in this rapidly changing nation.

When a powerful new drug emerges that lets anyone—even foreigners—wield jade, the simmering tension between the Kauls and the rival Ayt family erupts into open violence. The outcome of this clan war will determine the fate of all Green Bones—from their grandest patriarch to the lowliest motorcycle runner on the streets—and of Kekon itself.

 

Recommended for people who love both The Godfather and kung fu movies.

I found I really had to be in the right mood to get started with this book (and it took me longer than usual to read it). I started it 3 or 4 times before I finally made it beyond the first few pages and discovered what a marvelous world Fonda Lee has created here. So it wasn’t the book at fault, it was my mood.

This is a fantasy world, where jade mined from the country of Kekon has magical qualities and some of the people of the realm have a special sensitivity to the stone. They get extra-special powers when they wear the stones, turning a regular person into someone with extra-strength, super-perception, etc. (they are known in Kekon as Green Bones). It’s real Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon stuff.

But this is very, very much a book about the two clans who uneasily share the city of Janloon, the No Peak clan and the Mountain clan. And let me tell you, they could give the Mafia a run for their money! It’s all about honour, family, & clan. May the gods help you if you disrespect any of these or if you try to trade loyalties!

The reader comes to know the main members of the No Peak clan intimately. There’s Lan, the Pillar (like the CEO) of the clan; Hilo, the Horn (the enforcer); and Shae, the sister who is trying to forge her own way in the world and separate herself from the gang lifestyle that she grew up with.

This is an extremely well-written, well-realized fantasy world. To my caucasian, North American eyes, this was exotic stuff, but I always knew what Lee was writing about, what she was trying to do. I loved her complex system of magic and the rules that governed it. If you’re sensitive about violence, I would say, “Set this book down and walk away. Jade City is not for you.” That’s one of the reasons why it took me so long to read the book—I could only take so much death & destruction per day.

This author will be at the conference that I’m attending in mid-August and I will definitely be fan-girling.

The Apocalypse Codex / Charles Stross

The Apocalypse Codex - Charles Stross

Bob Howard may be humanity’s last hope.
Start praying…

For outstanding heroism in the field (despite himself), computational demonologist Bob Howard is on the fast-track for promotion to management within The Laundry, the super-secret British government agency tasked with defending the realm from occult threats. Assigned to “External Assets,” Bob discovers the company—unofficially—employs freelance agents to deal with sensitive situations that may embarrass Queen and Country.

So when Ray Schiller—an American televangelist with the uncanny ability to miraculously heal the ill—becomes uncomfortably close to the Prime Minister, External Assets dispatches the brilliant, beautiful, and entirely unpredictable Persephone Hazard to infiltrate the Golden Promise Ministry and discover why the preacher is so interested in British politics. And it’s Bob’s job to make sure Persephone doesn’t cause an international incident.

But it’s a supernatural incident that Bob needs to worry about—a global threat even The Laundry may be unable to clean up…

 

 

***2018 Summer of Spies***

Anyone who’s been sent on a management training opportunity and gone to it against their better judgement will be able to related to Bob Howard’s predicament in this installment of The Laundry Files. Especially since he’s sent on a mission to America to accompany two “external assets” who don’t really want his “management.”

It turns out that’s not really why Bob was sent along—his previous experience and partial transformation into an Eater of Souls turns out to be just the thing to get all three of the agents out of the soup. In the meantime, there is witty dialog about things like the “coffee speak” one must use at Starbucks and the nature of occult tools (a pigeon foot for use as a Hand of Glory, for example). There are also wonderful brain parasites which reminded me strongly of the Ceti Eels used in the Star Trek : The Wrath of Khan movie.

A great combination of the spy and urban fantasy genres.

Highlights of July 2018

A Perilous Undertaking - Deanna Raybourn The Name of the Star - Maureen Johnson Bog Child - Siobhan Dowd A Poisoned Season - Tasha Alexander

I read more this July than I anticipated, chalking up 21 books.  These four really stood out for me and I'll definitely be interested to read more from these authors.

 

In fact, I already have Tasha Alexander's A Fatal Waltz in my reading pile at home.  I'm hoping to add the second Shades of London (The Madness Underneath) to my Halloween Bingo reading list.  If I'm lucky, I'll also be able to use Deanna Raybourn's A Treacherous Curse in the Halloween cause.

 

I also note that my public library has two more titles by Siobhan Dowd:  The London Eye Mystery and A Swift Pure Cry.  Once I've notched a few more titles towards this year's reading goals, perhaps I'll wander off mission with one of them.

 

Still a month left in the Summer of Spies!  I've got lots of good reading ahead.

Ghost Story / Jim Butcher

Ghost Story - Jim Butcher

When we last left the mighty wizard detective Harry Dresden, he wasn't doing well. In fact, he had been murdered by an unknown assassin.

But being dead doesn't stop him when his friends are in danger. Except now he has no body, and no magic to help him. And there are also several dark spirits roaming the Chicago shadows who owe Harry some payback of their own.

To save his friends—and his own soul—Harry will have to pull off the ultimate trick without any magic...

 

 

“You’re dead, son,” Jack said. “Cheer is contraindicated.”

Mr. Butcher, you are a manipulative man. Your writing made me cry, unnecessarily I might add, over a fictional character that I will never meet. And I think you took a lesson from the old TV show Dallas on how to kill a character without really committing yourself to what seems like the logical outcome.

In some ways, this also reminded me of the movie It’s a Wonderful Life in that Harry Dresden gets to find out how many people he mattered to and how much. It turns out he was more important to the whole city, including people who didn’t know him personally, that he would every have imagined. His powerful presence scared off a lot of bad guys who might otherwise have made Chicago their place of business.

Harry gets to view his life, his city, and his friends from an entirely new angle in this volume of the Dresden files. Remember the sleazy ectomancer, Mort, from an earlier volume? An almost throw-away character who served his purpose and hasn’t been seen since? Mortimer has come up in the world and I’m thinking he may continue to feature in future volumes. He makes a good addition to the cast.

I read this book much closer in time to the last one than usual because of the cliff-hanger nature of the 12th story. I had to know what happened. Butcher took so much away from Harry during the last book. Next book, we’ll see what Mr. Dresden decides to do with this new lease on life that his author has granted him.

Reading progress update: I've read 344 out of 498 pages.

Jade City  - Fonda Lee

Hilo draped his arms over Shae's shoulders and hugged her, then spoke into her ear, "I could still kill him for you."

 

"Screw you, Hilo," she snapped.  "I can kill my ex-boyfriends myself."

The Fall of Hyperion / Dan Simmons

The Fall of Hyperion - Dan Simmons

In the stunning continuation of the epic adventure begun in Hyperion, Simmons returns us to a far future resplendent with drama and invention. On the world of Hyperion, the mysterious Time Tombs are opening. And the secrets they contain mean that nothing--nothing anywhere in the universe--will ever be the same.

 

This was by no means a bad book, but it just didn’t grab me the way the first one did. I really enjoyed the first book’s “Canturbury Tales” structure and the way Simmons wove the tales tightly together. The second book is a more traditional novel complete with war, a topic which doesn’t thrill me. It is in some ways tied together by the John Keats cybrid, who narrates his vision of what is happening, but the amount of POV hopping was challenging for me.

I did appreciate the wide field of interests that Simmons must have—of course, Keats’ poetry is referenced a lot. In fact it is his epic poem, Hyperion, which provides much of the structure for these two of Simmons books. Stephen Hawking is honoured by the Hawking drive used in the space ships. John Muir’s environmental philosophy is acknowledged in the Templars, on their planet God’s Grove.

Echoing the Canturbury Tales, there is a priest’s tale and the involvement of the Catholic Church. I am always surprised at the inclusion of religion (and often Catholicism) in science fiction set in the far future, as I don’t feel the Church is all that relevant even today, let alone hundreds of years from now. The emphasis on the presence of gods, either evolved from human consciousness or constructed by powerful artificial intelligences, didn’t interest me all that much, despite its pivotal role in the novel.

There is another connection to the Wizard of Oz movie, when the Consul at the book’s end plays “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and teaches the words to some of his fellow pilgrims. (In the first book, they sang “Follow the Yellow Brick Road,” if I recall correctly).

My absolute favourite reference, however, was when one of the Artificial Intelligences makes a speech in the Hegemony in which he says, “It pains the Core to take any human life…or through inaction, allow any human life to come to harm.” What a great tribute to Isaac Asimov’s laws of robotics, from which the Core AIs have obviously been liberated during their evolution! And of course, the Core represents human creation run amok, a frequent theme in science fiction.


What I found truly impressive was Simmons’ writing in 1990 about a World Web, to which citizens were connected at all times using comlink devices! Remember, this was before our World Wide Web was really much of a thing and well before smart phones which could keep people connected almost all the time. Simmons seems rather prescient about our current reliance on these devices, to the extent that some people in the novel are made anxious and/or mentally unstable when their access to the Web is cut off.

There is so much more going on in this novel—exploration of time travel and its paradoxes, the nature of the Shrike, the choices faced by the Hegemony (shades of Card’s Ender’s Game), the nature of the Ousters. It must have been difficult for the author to keep all of those balls in the air!

Book number 291 in my Science Fiction & Fantasy reading project.

TBR Thursday

Master of Plagues - E.L. Tettensor The Apocalypse Codex - Charles Stross False Positive - Andrew Grant Ashenden, or, The British Agent - William Somerset Maugham In the Month of the Midnight Sun - Cecilia Ekbäck Bright We Burn (And I Darken) - Kiersten White

I'm doing things a bit slower these days--partly because the weather is warm and partly because its the anniversary of the car accident which claimed my parents.  That event was 22 years ago, but I still find this time of year tiring--its kind of like I'm wading through molasses. 

 

At least I've got good books to distract me.  I'm reading Master of Plagues, False Positive, and In the Month of the Midnight Sun to prepare for the When Words Collide conference. (Just over 2 weeks away, how exciting!!)

 

The Summer of Spies continues with The Apocalypse Codex and Ashenden.

 

And I've reached the conclusion of The Conqueror's Saga, with Bright We Burn.  I've enjoyed the first & second volumes a lot, it is almost a shame to be done.  But all good things must come to an end (or so they say).  And look at that beautiful cover!

 

Good reading, friends!

A Poisoned Season / Tasha Alexander

A Poisoned Season - Tasha Alexander

London's social season is in full swing, and Victorian aristocracy is atwitter over a certain gentleman who claims to be the direct descendant of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Adding to their fascination with all things French, an audacious cat burglar is systematically stealing valuable items that once belonged to the ill–fated queen.

But things take a dark turn. The owner of one of the pilfered treasures is found murdered after the theft is reported in the newspapers, and the mysterious thief develops a twisted obsession with Lady Emily Ashton. It takes all of Lady Emily's wit and perseverance to unmask her stalker and ferret out the murderer, while faced with a brewing scandal that threatens both her reputation and her romance with the dashing Colin Hargreaves.

 

 

What a lovely discovery! I’m very impressed with Tasha Alexander on the basis of this book. She will be a key-note guest at a writers’ conference that I’m attending next month and I try to read a little something by each guest before the event to help me know who I want to hear more from. Our public library didn’t have the first volume of her Lady Emily series, but this second book managed to allude to enough of the plot of the first book to get me into the loop and able to appreciate A Poisoned Season.

This is a historical mystery with a good splash of romance. Unlike so many current Victorian lady detective books, there are no paranormal events in this one, although Lady Emily does end up with one rather mysterious admirer. Her mother is still a thorn in her side—Emily thinks that, as a widow, she had the social license to remain single for a while and carve out her own place in society. Her mother could not agree less, and is already determinedly pushing her widowed daughter towards a second marriage. Thankfully, Colin Hargreaves seems like just the man for the job—now he must convince the independent Emily of that.

I will definitely be continuing on with this series—I even hope to read the next book before attending the conference in mid-August. Fingers crossed that the public library delivers it in a timely fashion!

Live and Let Die / Ian Fleming

Live and Let Die - Ian Fleming

Beautiful, fortune-telling Solitaire is the prisoner (and tool) of Mr Big—master of fear, artist in crime and Voodoo Baron of Death. James Bond has no time for superstition—he knows that this criminal heavy hitter is also a top SMERSH operative and a real threat. More than that, after tracking him through the jazz joints of Harlem, to the everglades and on to the Caribbean, 007 has realized that Big is one of the most dangerous men that he has ever faced. And no-one, not even the mysterious Solitaire, can be sure how their battle of wills is going to end…

 

***2018 Summer of Spies***

Wow, this book has not aged gracefully. The casual racism really overwhelmed everything else for me. The dust jacket stated that Fleming had spent some time with the NY police as research. He seems to have absorbed their attitudes towards African-Americans without any reservations. All the black characters seem to be superstitious, criminal, or both. At least he allows Mr. Big to be a really talented criminal, not a push-over.

Fleming’s own attitudes towards women shine through his Bond character with regard to Solitare, the white woman who he rescues from Mr. Big. Fleming seems to have regarded women as conquests and told many people that women were more like pets to him than people [per Andrew Lycett’s biography of IF]. Fleming was well known as a womanizer and was accused by several people of being ‘a cad and a bounder,’ something which he did not dispute. Solitare is mostly a prize for Bond, something to be enjoyed once the action is over with.

Despite that, there are some bright spots—Fleming was very familiar with Jamaica, owning a house there and spending a great deal of his time swimming, diving, and fishing while he was in residence at Goldeneye, his Jamaican home. The scenery and details of this setting are extremely well realized in Live and Let Die. The descriptions of fish during Bond’s dives are fabulous, too. Unsurprisingly, the Jamaican portions of the book are far superior to those set in the United States. [I also thought that the fishy method of smuggling was an ingenious invention and I loved the shark tank!]

One can’t have a Summer of Spies without James Bond, so I’ll be proceeding on to Moonraker in short order. And, incidentally, I still love Paul McCartney's song Live and Let Die which was written for the movie version.

Reading progress update: I've read 31 out of 498 pages.

Jade City  - Fonda Lee

 

After struggling through the first few pages, I've found my groove with this book.

 

It's going to be a gooder.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy / John Le Carré

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy - John le Carré

A modern classic in which John le Carré expertly creates a total vision of a secret world, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy begins George Smiley's chess match of wills and wits with Karla, his Soviet counterpart.

It is now beyond a doubt that a mole, implanted decades ago by Moscow Centre, has burrowed his way into the highest echelons of British Intelligence. His treachery has already blown some of its most vital operations and its best networks. It is clear that the double agent is one of its own kind. But which one? George Smiley is assigned to identify him. And once identified, the traitor must be destroyed.

 

***2018 Summer of Spies***

Well, you couldn’t get much further away from the playboy-spy image than this, could you? George Smiley, the chubby everyman who’s always polishing his glasses, is the antithesis of James Bond. Rather than Miss Moneypenny, there’s a whole department of women known as “the mothers.” And instead of posh casinos, George spends a lot of time in a run-down hotel, reading swathes of paper files.

This is spy work done through the archives, searching for patterns in the paperwork, and through careful interviews with those who have been betrayed and/or let go. We have hints that Smiley had his daring days when he was younger, but he’s now a middle-aged man using his intellect instead of his muscles, carefully piecing together the story. Sometimes he learns as much from what’s not said as from what is said. Plus, he’s reinvigorating his career—sacked because he sided with the wrong person (Control), he is getting his place in the biz back by figuring out which high-level Intelligence man is their Russian mole.

Double agents, backstabbing, and betrayal. What more can you ask for in a novel?

Changes / Jim Butcher

Changes (Dresden Files, Book 12) - Jim Butcher

Long ago, Susan Rodriguez was Harry Dresden's lover-until she was attacked by his enemies, leaving her torn between her own humanity and the bloodlust of the vampiric Red Court. Susan then disappeared to South America, where she could fight both her savage gift and those who cursed her with it.

Now Arianna Ortega, Duchess of the Red Court, has discovered a secret Susan has long kept, and she plans to use it-against Harry. To prevail this time, he may have no choice but to embrace the raging fury of his own untapped dark power. Because Harry's not fighting to save the world...

He's fighting to save his child.

 

Jim Butcher must sit up nights thinking up ways to make Harry Dresden’s life miserable! Just when you think that his life can’t get any more complicated, Butcher dreams up worse things for him to deal with.

Susan Rodriguez returns to mess with Harry’s reality—and inform him that he’s a father and his little girl is in tremendous danger from the Red Court vampires. Harry has spent the last 11 books gathering friends, allies, and frenemies. He has to call on all of them, all his talents, all his anger & power, and all of his cunning to get through this tangle.

So Butcher throws everything into the blender and gives it a good whirl. There is a lot of action, a lot of blood, a lot of characters. I was happy to see the return of Butters and Toot-Toot. Also, it was great to have Mouse get to show off his powers. Harry makes a questionable deal in order to cope with the situation and gets assistance from unexpected quarters. The book ends on a cliff-hanger, so if you object to that sort of thing, consider having the next book queued up and ready to roll. Because, let’s face it, if you’ve read this far, you’re not going to quit now, are you?