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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

Sweep of the Blade
Ilona Andrews
A Fatal Inversion
Barbara Vine
Progress: 174/317 pages
Grave Mercy
Robin LaFevers
The Mysteries of Udolpho
Ann Radcliffe
Progress: 272/654 pages
Black Sun Rising
C.S. Friedman
Progress: 220/496 pages

Into the Black Nowhere / Meg Gardiner

Into the Black Nowhere: An UNSUB Novel - Meg Gardiner

In southern Texas, on Saturday nights, women are disappearing. One vanishes from a movie theater. Another is ripped from her car at a stoplight. Another vanishes from her home while checking on her baby. Rookie FBI agent Caitlin Hendrix, newly assigned to the FBI's elite Behavioral Analysis Unit, fears that a serial killer is roaming the dark roads outside Austin.

Caitlin and the FBI's serial crime unit discover the first victim's body in the woods. She's laid out in a bloodstained, white baby-doll nightgown. A second victim in a white nightie lies deeper in the forest's darkness. Both bodies are surrounded by Polaroid photos, stuck in the earth like headstones. Each photo pictures a woman in a white negligee, wrists slashed, suicide-style--posed like Snow White awaiting her prince's kiss.


I read this book to fill the New Releases square of my 2018 Halloween Bingo card.

I read the first book in this series (UNSUB) last summer—it was an excellent summer book and I have been looking forward to this next step in the story. However, I’ve found myself a bit jaded with the mystery/thriller genre recently, so bear that in mind with my star rating of this book. For me, the stars reflect my personal reading experience, not an objective quality measurement and, as I say, I’m a bit off when it comes to this genre right now.

I was unsurprised to read on the dust jacket that this series is being made into a TV series. All the while I was reading, I was staging it in my mind’s eye to look like Criminal Minds! It reads like it is prepared to become a script. Looking at the GR description now, I see that this plot was based on Ted Bundy’s life of crime and I certainly notice the parallels now that I know to look for them. Using real-life details makes for a haunting plot.

So I was not at all startled when the book ended on a cliffhanger, obviously setting us up for the third book, due next year. I think I’ll be taking a hiatus from the thriller/serial killer category for a while, but I could see myself reading The Dark Corners of the Night eventually.

The Librarians and the Lost Lamp / Greg Cox

The Librarians and The Lost Lamp - Greg Cox

The story toggles between the past, as Flynn Carsen tries to find Aladdin’s Lamp before an ancient criminal organization known as the Forty Seals gets hold of it, and the future, when Eve Baird and a new group of Librarians — protectors of ancient artifacts like King Arthur’s sword Excalibur — stumble on a mystery in Las Vegas that seems to relate to the Lamp and the powerful djinn it can summon.


I read this book to fill the Relics and Curiosities square of my 2018 Halloween Bingo card.

The relic in play in this book is Aladdin’s lamp. Usually, someone creative takes a book and from it produces a movie or a TV show. This book is the reverse engineering of that process and I didn’t really warm up to it. It is a novelization of the TV show The Librarians. Now, as a library worker, I am predisposed to like things like this and maybe I would have enjoyed the TV show. But I found the book rather boring. I was chatting with a colleague over coffee this morning and she said that she’d seen a bit of the TV show, but hadn’t really been very interested in it either. Your mileage may vary.

There is a distinct difference between what comprises witty dialog in a book vs. on TV. Where I can see that some of this novel would have worked on the screen, it was definitely anemic on the page. Aladdin’s Lamp and the Genie should not have to work so hard to create some excitement—the rebooted Forty Thieves were bumblers, rather than sharp competitors for the Lamp.

I guess Genevieve Cogman has spoiled me for the plot device of a central Library that collects important works of fiction from many different realities. If the description of The Librarians and the Lost Lamp sounds the slightest bit enticing to you, do yourself a favour and pick up The Invisible Library and get to know Irene, Kai, and Vale. The fifth installment of that series comes out in late November of this year and I have it marked on my calendar to go purchase the book that day.

Blood Moon / Alexandra Sokoloff

Blood Moon - Alexandra Sokoloff

Twenty-five years have passed since a savage killer terrorized California, massacring three ordinary families before disappearing without a trace. The only surviving victim of his rampage was a child…who is now wanted by the FBI for brutal crimes of her own.

Special Agent Matthew Roarke is on an interstate manhunt to track her down, despite feeling torn between his dedication to duty and his sympathy for her horrific history and motives. But when Roarke’s search unearths evidence of new family slayings, the dangerous woman he seeks—and secretly wants—may be his only hope of preventing another bloodbath. He just has to find her first.


I read this book to fill the Free Space square of my 2018 Halloween Bingo card.

Bloody hell, what a good book! Make it 4.25 or 4.4 stars or something of that sort. An intriguing mash-up of the FBI profiler genre with a dash of the paranormal. Special Agent Matthew Roarke realizes that his morals have been compromised—he has come to identify with a woman who murders the men who prey on women. His partner is giving him the side-eye, not entirely trusting his judgement anymore, but his team still seems to be following his lead. When he chooses to re-open a decades old cold-case in the course of investigating Cara Lindstrom, his superior officer closes things right down again. Until it becomes clear that the Reaper is back and Cara is as interested in catching him as the FBI is.

Sokoloff knows how to build tension effectively and how to structure the mystery to keep me reading, reading, reading until the end. She is also gentle with the paranormal aspects of the story, never over playing them and leaving room for us to wonder if there’s a rational explanation.

Written well before the “Me Too” movement, this book still made me think about it, as women still take the brunt of domestic abuse, serial murder, kidnapping, sexual enslavement, and other forms of violence.

The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club / Dorothy Sayers

The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club - Dorothy L. Sayers

Lord Peter Wimsey bent down over General Fentiman and drew the Morning Post gently away from the gnarled old hands. Then, with a quick jerk, he lifted the quiet figure. It came up all of a piece, stiff as a wooden doll . . .
But how did the general die? Who was the mysterious Mr X who fled when he was wanted for questioning? And which of the general's heirs, both members of the Bellona Club, is lying?


I’m still enjoying Lord Peter Wimsey and Dorothy L. Sayers. I am entertained by the mysteries that Sayers invented, but I think what I truly adore is getting to know Lord Peter and his history more fully with each installment. While I think that Sayers started out making Wimsey more like Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster (only in the first book mind you), but I am so glad that she turned right around and began to use him as her agent in both sleuthing and social commentary. Wodehouse’s Jeeves may completely run Bertie’s life, but Mervyn Bunter is a co-conspirator for Lord Peter.

Sayers starts in right away depicting the Bellona Club as a waiting room for death:

'What in the world, Wimsey, are you doing in this Morgue?' demanded Captain Fentiman, flinging aside the Evening Banner with the air of a man released from an irksome duty.

'Oh, I wouldn't call it that,' retorted Wimsey amiably. 'Funeral Parlour at the very least. Look at the marble. Look at the furnishings. Look at the palms and the chaste bronze nude in the corner.'

'Yes, and look at the corpses. Place always reminds me of that old thing in Punch, you know - 'Waiter! Take away Lord Whatsisname. He's been dead two days.' Look at old Ormsby there, snoring like a hippopotamus. Look at my revered grandpa - dodders in here at ten every morning, collects the Morning Post and the armchair by the fire, and becomes part of the furniture til the evening. Poor old devil. I suppose I'll be like that one of these days. . .'

An interesting issue in this work—what happens if one sibling leaves her earthly belongings to her brother if she predeceased him, but then they die at virtually the same time? Will anyone suspect murder if they are two elderly, unwell people? (This is why a string of nursing-home murders went undetected in Ontario—Elizabeth Wettlaufer had a nine year span of overdosing elderly patients with insulin before she was caught. All because health professionals just expect folks in nursing homes to die and are unwilling to look further).

All becoming much more relevant as the Baby Boom generation speeds toward nursing care and the funeral parlor.


Carniepunk - Kevin Hearne, Kelly Gay, Jackie Kessler, Nicole Peeler, Kelly Meding, Hillary Jacques, Allison Pang, Jaye Wells, Delilah S. Dawson, Rob Thurman, Rachel Caine, Seanan McGuire, Mark Henry, Jennifer Estep

The traveling carnival is a leftover of a bygone era, a curiosity lurking on the outskirts of town. It is a place of contradictions—the bright lights mask the peeling paint; a carnie in greasy overalls slinks away from the direction of the Barker’s seductive call. It is a place of illusion—is that woman’s beard real? How can she live locked in that watery box?

And while many are tricked by sleight of hand, there are hints of something truly magical going on. One must remain alert and learn quickly the unwritten rules of this dark show. To beat the carnival, one had better have either a whole lot of luck or a whole lot of guns—or maybe some magic of one’s own.

Featuring stories grotesque and comical, outrageous and action-packed, Carniepunk is the first anthology to channel the energy and attitude of urban fantasy into the bizarre world of creaking machinery, twisted myths, and vivid new magic.


I read this book to fill the Creepy Carnivals square of my 2018 Halloween Bingo card.

I seem to be developing more of a taste for short fiction, especially in this dark fantasy category. I enjoyed the offerings by the well-known authors (Rachel Caine, Jennifer Estep, Kevin Hearne, Seanan McGuire) but actually found some of the stories by folks that I didn’t know to be more engaging. These people have to try harder, they can’t rely on well-trodden paths with familiar characters and situations. I think I’ll be checking out more fiction by Rob Thurman, for example, who got cover billing (and so must enjoy some notoriety) but whose work I had never encountered before. I’m also eyeing a book by Jaye Wells (Cursed Moon), maybe for Halloween Bingo next year.

It was fun to dip into several people’s versions of the creepy carnival, rather than cope with one author’s vision for 440 pages. It’s not like I need to expand my reading list at this point, but if you are struggling to find new authors that you enjoy, I would recommend an anthology like this one on a subject that intrigues you—you are bound to find someone whose work you enjoy.

Menu Monday (but on Tuesday)

I am stealing WhiskeyintheJar Romance's idea of Menu Monday.  I find it difficult to convince myself sometimes to cook when its "only me."  The idea of photographing & sharing made the cooking much more interesting to me.  We just finished a long Thanksgiving weekend, hence the Tuesday-ness of my Menu Monday.



First up was Apricot-Sriracha Glazed Meatballs.  They were from the appetizer section of the Yum and Yummer cookbook, but I used them as a main course.  They were excellent and I think I can safely say that I will make them again.



Next, I made a pasta casserole (fancy Mac & Cheese) with roasted butternut squash, lots of garlic, and bacon.  Provolone cheese in the sauce, plus topped with Parmesan.  Really good, but I'm starting to think that dairy doesn't agree with me, so I don't think this will be a repeater.



More successful was this Chili Garlic Chicken stir fry.  Another sauce with Sriracha.  Very tasty and since this is the second time I have cooked it, I think its safe to say its one of my go-to recipes now.



For book club on Friday, I made this plum coffee cake.  The recipe actually called for peaches, but I had plums on hand, needing to be used.  This one was delicious and the book club women dug in!  A success.



My contribution to Thanksgiving dinner was Pumpkin Bread--I tried two recipes, both gluten and dairy free.  The one on the left was made with almond flour, the one on the right with a gluten free mix.  Both are tasty, but the one on the right is far more attractive.



You can tell in this photo that the almond flour loaf really didn't rise.  It tasted fine, but the texture was a bit soft.  The other (from Gluten Free on a Shoe String) had better texture, rise and appearance. 


It's challenging to cook for one and to do so gluten-free.  Plus, it remains to be seen if I can stick with this photography project!  Encouragement is appreciated.

Reading progress update: I've read 196 out of 288 pages.

The Librarians and The Lost Lamp - Greg Cox


OMG, this book is really tough sledding. 

Snow Tuesday

Welp, it's winter in Calgary--ready or not!  It took me quite a while to clear about a foot of snow off my car this morning.  Then I had to venture onto inadequately plowed roads.  White knuckle stuff.


These photos are from the CBC news site--I had my hands full just dealing with snow, photography was out of the question.


Buses were getting stuck all over the place, clogging up the works. 


I'm in bad need of new tires.  I think I'll be stopping in at a tire shop this evening and purchasing my first ever set of snow tires.  I'm driving a longer distance to work now and if this morning was any indication, snow tires are necessary.


What I wouldn't have given to stay home!



Cat out of Hell / Lynne Truss

Cat Out of Hell - Lynee Truss

For people who both love and hate cats comes the tale of Alec Charlesworth, a librarian who finds himself suddenly alone: he’s lost his job, his beloved wife has just died. Overcome by grief, he searches for clues about her disappearance in a file of interviews between a man called "Wiggy" and a cat, Roger. Who speaks to him.
            It takes a while for Alec to realize he’s not gone mad from grief, that the cat is actually speaking to Wiggy . . . and that much of what we fear about cats is true. They do think they’re smarter than humans, for one thing. And, well, it seems they are! What’s more, they do have nine lives. Or at least this one does – Roger’s older than Methuselah, and his unblinking stare comes from the fact that he’s seen it all.

And he’s got a tale to tell, a tale of shocking local history and dark forces that may link not only the death of Alec’s wife, but also several other local deaths. But will the cat help Alec, or is he one of the dark forces?


  I read this book to fill the Thirteen (13) square of my 2018 Halloween Bingo card.

I am always a fan of books that involve libraries and librarians, so this book has been on my radar for a while now. So it was very handy when the black cat on the cover qualified it for the ‘unlucky 13’ choice for bingo!

If you’re a cat lover, I think this book will also make you snicker, as you discover who cats *really* report to and how much their traditional powers have lapsed! Roger and the Captain will have you giving your moggy the side-eye and listening a little more carefully to what they have to say.

But I hate to report, it’s a dog that really stole the show. Watson is Alec Charlesworth’s dog, named by his deceased wife. The quotes from Sherlock Holmes that the two of them used with regard to Watson are outstanding. For example, when Watson comes in dirty from digging in the yard, their line is, “You have been in Afghanistan I perceive.” When calling Watson at the dog park, “Watson, come at once if convenient. If inconvenient, come all the same.”

A very short, amusing horror-lite tale. Perfect for a quiet afternoon before Halloween, though you may want to put the cat out first.


Cold Days / Jim Butcher

Cold Days - Jim Butcher

For years, Harry Dresden has been Chicago's only professional wizard, but a bargain made in desperation with the Queen of Air and Darkness has forced him into a new job: professional killer.

Mab, the mother of wicked faeries, has restored the mostly-dead wizard to health, and dispatches him upon his first mission - to bring death to an immortal. Even as he grapples with the impossible task, Dresden learns of a looming danger to Demonreach, the living island hidden upon Lake Michigan, a place whose true purpose and dark potential have the potential to destroy billions and to land Dresden in the deepest trouble he has ever known - even deeper than being dead. How messed up is that?

Beset by his new enemies and hounded by the old, Dresden has only twenty four hours to reconnect with his old allies, prevent a cataclysm and do the impossible - all while the power he bargained to get - but never meant to keep - lays siege to his very soul.


I read this book to fill the Supernatural square of my 2018 Halloween Bingo card.

The difficult we do right away—the impossible takes a little longer.

But only a little, because Harry Dresden’s impossible tasks always seem to come with a deadline. Truly, if he doesn’t come through, lots of people will be dead.

Harry is now Mab’s Winter Knight and he’s learning why the last guy to hold the role was the jerk that he was. But like all good urban fantasy heroes, Harry has a whole gang of good folks (with various abilities and powers) who will walk into hell with him and he’s also pretty good at forging alliances across the aisle with some on the opposing side (or do they just think they’re on the opposing side?)

How appropriate to be reading a book called Cold Days when the sky was trying it’s best to snow on us! Cuddling up in a fuzzy blanket and reading the further adventures of Harry Dresden just seemed like the best thing to do!

The Madness Underneath / Maureen Johnson

The Madness Underneath - Maureen Johnson

After her near-fatal run-in with the Jack the Ripper copycat, Rory Deveaux has been living in Bristol under the close watch of her parents. So when her therapist suddenly suggests she return to Wexford, Rory jumps at the chance to get back to her friends.

But Rory’s brush with the Ripper touched her more than she thought possible: she’s become a human terminus, with the power to eliminate ghosts on contact. She soon finds out that the Shades - the city’s secret ghost-fighting police - are responsible for her return. The Ripper may be gone, but now there is a string of new inexplicable deaths threatening London. Rory has evidence that the deaths are no coincidence. Something much more sinister is going on, and now she must convince the squad to listen to her before it’s too late.


I read this book to fill the Baker Street Irregulars square of my 2018 Halloween Bingo card.

I jumped at the chance to read this second book in the Shades of London series, having enjoyed the first book so much. Although I liked this one just a touch less than the first one, it was still an engaging read.

I think the reason that I found the first book so charming was Rory’s school routine and her friendships. The banter of this Southern girl with her British school mates really made that book into a special thing. That’s why I would rate this book probably at 3.75 stars, because Rory is away from school for most of the story—she’s trying to persuade her parents to let her go back to school, or she’s back at school and realizing that she’s too far behind to be able to finish with her cohort (and therefore skipping school to do her ghostly investigations). Her ghost-fighting police friends are great too, but Rory doesn’t have the same kinds of conversations with them.

This installment also gets much more serious and there is a bit of a cliffhanger at the end—I’ll have to go on to the third book to find out how things resolve for the Ghostbusters. Mind you, I was planning to do that anyway!

The Franchise Affair / Josephine Tey

The Franchise Affair - Josephine Tey

Robert Blair was about to knock off from a slow day at his law firm when the phone rang. It was Marion Sharpe on the line, a local woman of quiet disposition who lived with her mother at their decrepit country house, The Franchise. It appeared that she was in some serious trouble: Miss Sharpe and her mother were accused of brutally kidnapping a demure young woman named Betty Kane. Miss Kane's claims seemed highly unlikely, even to Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard, until she described her prison -- the attic room with its cracked window, the kitchen, and the old trunks -- which sounded remarkably like The Franchise. Yet Marion Sharpe claimed the Kane girl had never been there, let alone been held captive for an entire month! Not believing Betty Kane's story, Solicitor Blair takes up the case and, in a dazzling feat of amateur detective work, solves the unbelievable mystery that stumped even Inspector Grant.


I read this book to fill the Country House Mystery square of my 2018 Halloween Bingo card.

This was my first Josephine Tey, but it will certainly not be my last. I thoroughly enjoyed this twisty little mystery. Although it is nominally part of the Alan Grant series, Grant appears in the novel as a secondary character. His thunder is stolen by a bachelor lawyer, Robert Blair.

I thought Tey did a masterful job of describing Blair—a man of a certain age who has never married, never left his small town, and never left the care of his aunt with whom he shares a home. When he receives a plaintive phone call from Marion Sharpe, asking him to come to her country home, The Franchise, he initially wishes that he’d left the office five minutes earlier and had missed the call. He is shaken out of his overly comfortable routine—into a portion of the law that he is less familiar with and dealing with people and events that he is not familiar with.

It is marvelous to watch Blair rise to the occasion, to become more aware of his community, his surroundings, and himself. His kindness to Marion & her mother was above & beyond the call of duty and I ended up liking him very much.

The twists & turns were well written, the motivations of those involved revealed, and the mystery eventually solved. Now I just want to know how Blair’s visit to Saskatchewan to his sister turned out!

Reading progress update: I've read 156 out of 288 pages.

The Librarians and The Lost Lamp - Greg Cox


Finally past the halfway mark!  I think I might enjoy the TV show, but this novelization of the show is not too enthralling.


Still, it fills a coffee break.

Reading progress update: I've read 129 out of 384 pages.

Into the Black Nowhere: An UNSUB Novel - Meg Gardiner


I am not surprised to read on the dust jacket that this series is being adapted for TV.  To me, it already reads like an episode of Criminal Minds.


I'm reading it for the New Releases square of Halloween Bingo.

Reading progress update: I've read 231 out of 384 pages.

Cold Reign - Faith Hunter


Resistance was futile last night & I was entertained by Jane Yellowrock.  There are other books that I should read first, but what the heck! 


Meeting Faith Hunter at When Words Collide was a happy thing.  I might never have picked up the first book Skinwalker if I hadn't heard her speak and liked her way of approaching both writing and life. 


This is my choice for the Southern Gothic square of Halloween Bingo.

TBR Thursday

The Mysteries of Udolpho - Ann Radcliffe Blood Moon - Alexandra Sokoloff Cold Days - Jim Butcher Cold Reign - Faith Hunter


Halloween Bingo is in full swing!  I've got plenty of reading queued up and ready for the weekend.  It snowed this morning (it started as rain when I was at my home and turned to snow as I drove north to work).  So a cozy weekend of reading will be a good thing.


I've been evaluating my 2018 planned reading and I think I can finish it by the end of the year.  Plus, I've read 28 books in my Science Fiction & Fantasy project and would like to fit in a few more if I've got time.  There's a certain amount of overlap between these two goals, so I'm hopeful I'll be successful.


Hope you are having better weather, wherever you are, and I wish you all happy reading.