158 Followers
191 Following
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

At the Mountains of Madness and Other Works of Weird Fiction
H.P. Lovecraft, D.M. Mitchell
Doctor Sleep
Stephen King
Wise Children
Angela Carter

Misery / Stephen King

Misery - Stephen King

Paul Sheldon is a bestselling novelist who has finally met his number one fan. Her name is Annie Wilkes, and she is more than a rabid reader—she is Paul’s nurse, tending his shattered body after an automobile accident. But she is also furious that the author has killed off her favorite character in his latest book. Annie becomes his captor, keeping him prisoner in her isolated house.

Annie wants Paul to write a book that brings Misery back to life—just for her. She has a lot of ways to spur him on. One is a needle. Another is an axe. And if they don’t work, she can get really nasty.

 

I read this for the “Terrifying Women” square of my 2017 Halloween Bingo card.

I suppose Annie Wilkes is a terrifying woman. She is definitely written as mentally unstable and cruel. I suppose that, for a man, she would be terrifying, but in real life women face situations like these far too often. Read books like My Story by Elizabeth Smart or 3096 Days by Natasha Kampusch. Heck, just pay attention to your newspaper—there are frequently abductions and murders of women. And they aren’t fiction.

What truly fascinated me in this novel was a bit of insight (maybe) into King’s writing process. I loved the idea of finding the “hole in the paper” into which the writer could disappear, writing until inspiration left or exhaustion threatened.

Interestingly, the novel also seems to be slightly prophetic—writing about a car accident, including multiple leg fractures and a broken hip, the pain of those injuries, and how uncomfortable is was to write afterwards. But this was published in 1987 and King’s real-life car accident didn’t happen until 1999.

Well structured, well written, but not really my thing.

Julius Caesar / William Shakespeare

Julius Caesar - William Shakespeare
  Politics. Power. Ambition. Backstabbing (Literally).

Shakespeare knew human behaviour well. I thoroughly enjoyed the production that I attended on Sunday. So many lines of this play are still used today! “The fault … is not in our stars, but in ourselves.” “Cowards die many times before their deaths.” “Constant as the northern star.” “Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war!”

And of course, I cannot think of this play without remembering the Canadian comedy team, Wayne & Shuster and their still funny sketch, Rinse the Blood Off My Toga. (Watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rR_5h... )

Now, join me for a martinus (wait, we’ll need more than one: martini) and we’ll “Beware the Ides of March.”

 

Sourdough / Robin Sloan

Sourdough: A Novel - Robin Sloan

Lois Clary is a software engineer at General Dexterity, a San Francisco robotics company with world-changing ambitions. She codes all day and collapses at night, her human contact limited to the two brothers who run the neighborhood hole-in-the-wall from which she orders dinner every evening. Then, disaster! Visa issues. The brothers close up shop, and fast. But they have one last delivery for Lois: their culture, the sourdough starter used to bake their bread. She must keep it alive, they tell her—feed it daily, play it music, and learn to bake with it.

Lois is no baker, but she could use a roommate, even if it is a needy colony of microorganisms. Soon, not only is she eating her own homemade bread, she’s providing loaves daily to the General Dexterity cafeteria. The company chef urges her to take her product to the farmer’s market, and a whole new world opens up.

When Lois comes before the jury that decides who sells what at Bay Area markets, she encounters a close-knit club with no appetite for new members. But then, an alternative emerges: a secret market that aims to fuse food and technology. But who are these people, exactly?

 

I picked up this novel because I absolutely loved the author’s last offering, Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore. I won’t say that this book is completely different, because there are a few similarities, but don’t be expecting a clone of Penumbra if you choose to read it.

Lois Clary is a charming main character—a software engineer at a demanding company in San Francisco, she comes to realize that she needs more in her life than code and liquid meals. The beginning of this realization (the starter, if you will) is a bond with two brothers in her neighbourhood who run a food service out of their apartment—sour dough bread and spicy soup. When they run into visa problems, they move on, leaving their sourdough culture with Lois, their Number One Eater.

Anyone who has baked bread realizes that it takes skill. Lois leaps in with dedication and is soon getting more satisfaction from her bread baking than from her coding. Bread is indeed her ticket to real life and Sourdough follows her as she “rises” to meet new challenges. It made me wish that I could still eat gluten without consequences—instead I was driven to the kitchen to make gluten-free toast!

I Heard the Owl Call My Name / Margaret Craven

I Heard the Owl Call My Name - Margaret Craven

In a world that knows too well the anguish inherent in the clash of old ways and new lifestyles, Margaret Craven's classic and timeless story of a young man's journey into the Pacific Northwest is as relevant today as ever.

Here amid the grandeur of British Columbia stands the village of Kingcome, a place of salmon runs and ancient totems - a village so steeped in time that, according to Kwakiutl legend, it was founded by two brothers left on earth after the great flood. Yet in this Eden of such natural beauty and richness, the old culture of totems and potlaches is under attack - slowly being replaced by a new culture of prefab houses and alcoholism. Into this world, where an entire generation of young people has become disenchanted and alienated from their heritage, Craven introduces Mark Brian, a young vicar sent to the small isolated parish by his church.

This is Mark's journey of discovery - a journey that will teach him about life, death, and the transforming power of love. It is a journey that will resonate in the mind of readers long after the book is done.

 

This was a re-read for me, but it might as well have been my first time, I remembered so little. Mind you, I think I was in my teens when I read it the first time. My only memory of it was a feeling of melancholy.

The young vicar, Mark, is sent to the Kwakiutl village of Kingcome by his bishop, who knows Mark has a terminal illness, but chooses not to tell him. In our 21st century culture of consent, this just wouldn’t happen anymore. No doctor worth his or her salt would let a patient out of the office without informing him of the diagnosis.

It struck me during my reading how residential schools are mentioned matter-of-factly. How the clash of cultures becomes intense as the children come home for Christmas. The pain of the parents as their children are pulled towards the outside world and away from the old ways. The enticing lure of education and modernity for the children.

Although Mark is nominally in the village to minister to the community, it is he who receives the majority of the spiritual benefits. In his tenure in Kingcome, he learns more of friendship and community than he ever anticipated—and this is why his bishop sent him there. I shed a few tears at the end and found that my only memory of melancholy was wholly accurate.

Dreamfever / Karen Marie Moning

Dreamfever - Karen Marie Moning

He has stolen her past, but MacKayla will never allow her sister’s murderer to take her future. Yet even the uniquely gifted sidhe-seer is no match for the Lord Master, who has unleashed an insatiable sexual craving that consumes Mac’s every thought—and thrusts her into the seductive realm of two very dangerous men, both of whom she desires but dares not trust.

As the enigmatic Jericho Barrons and the sensual Fae prince V’lane vie for her body and soul, as cryptic entries from her sister’s diary mysteriously appear and the power of the Dark Book weaves its annihilating path through the city, Mac’s greatest enemy delivers a final challenge.…

It’s an invitation Mac cannot refuse, one that sends her racing home to Georgia, where an even darker threat awaits. With her parents missing and the lives of her loved ones under siege, Mac is about to come face-to-face with a soul-shattering truth—about herself and her sister, about Jericho Barrons…and about the world she thought she knew.

 

A perfect Friday night read, glass of wine in hand, needing something fluffy & easy after the work week.

Mac gets rescued, overcomes obstacles, and progresses as a human being. I love her bond with Dani, the teenage rebel. And I’m always ready for some revenge!

However, I am weary of the cliff hanger endings.

My Big Fat Supernatural Wedding / edited by P.N. Elrod

My Big Fat Supernatural Wedding - Jim Butcher, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Rachel Caine, Susan Krinard, P.N. Elrod, L.A. Banks, Charlaine Harris, Lori Handeland, Esther M. Friesner

An "ordinary" wedding can get crazy enough, so can you imagine what happens when otherworldly creatures are involved? Nine of the hottest authors of paranormal fiction answer that question in this delightful collection of supernatural wedding stories. What's the seating plan when rival clans of werewolves and vampires meet under the same roof? How can a couple in the throes of love overcome traps set by feuding relatives---who are experts at voodoo? Will you have a good marriage if your high-seas wedding is held on a cursed ship? How do you deal with a wedding singer who's just a little too good at impersonating Elvis? Shape-shifters, wizards, and magic, oh my!

 

Read to fill the “Supernatural” square of my 2017 Halloween Bingo card.

A collection of short fiction—these are almost always a mixed bag for me. I enjoyed all but one of the stories and my favourites were “Tacky” by Charlaine Harris and “Dead Man’s Chest” by Rachel Caine. Not surprising, as I am familiar with both authors.

There are lots of vampires and werewolves of course, but I loved the cursed pirate ship in Rachel Caine’s story and the spookily good Elvis impersonator in P.N. Elrod’s “All Shook Up.”

Definitely a worthwhile read if you enjoy any of the contributing authors or are looking for something new. I must say I wish there were more pirates in the urban fantasy genre!

Good Me, Bad Me / Ali Land

Good Me Bad Me - Ali Land

Not recommended for those who have children and/or are sensitive to violence against children.

Milly knows she is different from other children. From other people. But she maybe doesn’t realize just how different. You see, Molly’s mother is a serial killer and she has forced Milly to be Satan’s little helper. It’s much easier to snatch a child if you have one of your own in tow.

What conscience Milly has left has sent her to the police. Yes, she felt bad for the children lying dead in their basement, but what she was truly dreading was the “birthday party” that her mother was planning when she turned “sweet sixteen.” So before the invitations go out to people to come & brutalize her, Milly turns her mother in.

But she had no idea how hard it was going to be to leave her mother behind. Or how difficult it will be to act like she is “normal,” especially when she has been taught by an expert how to read body language, how to manipulate people, how to tell them what they want to hear. She can’t seem to fit in to her foster situation, because she can see altogether too clearly what is going on in their home—and how can she trust a social worker who can’t see that his wife is an addict and his daughter is well on her way to the same state.

If you like this book, I would recommend I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga. It is a young adult work, but really well done in my opinion. Another child struggling to right himself after being raised by a serial killer dad.

A Court of Wings and Ruin / Sarah J. Maas

A Court of Wings and Ruin - Sarah J. Maas

Feyre has returned to the Spring Court, determined to gather information on Tamlin's manoeuvrings and the invading king threatening to bring Prythian to its knees. But to do so she must play a deadly game of deceit – and one slip may spell doom not only for Feyre, but for her world as well.

As war bears down upon them all, Feyre must decide who to trust amongst the dazzling and lethal High Lords – and hunt for allies in unexpected places.

 

When I sit down to read these tomes by Sarah Maas, I always wonder as I begin if I will find this volume as engaging as the last one. So far, so good. Once I started Wings and Ruin I couldn’t stop until I was done. I reluctantly went to bed (late) on Saturday night and picked the book right back up again on Sunday morning. Why do I like this series, when writers like Christine Feehan and J.L. Ward leave me annoyed? Because there’s some PLOT here. The first two books got us set up for the big war scenes that we experience in W&R.

Yes, there is romance and there’s some sex, but there are plenty of friendships too, all kinds of relationships really. Indeed, because Feyre & Rhys are an established couple, Maas can concentrate on the other relationships. Enemies, frenemies, relatives, chosen families, unknown quantities, close friends, useful acquaintances….they’re all in here. Many of them had a place in the earlier books and now we see them in a new light. Will Feyre’s sisters fight with her or against her? Will they accept their transition to the Fae world or will they cling to their past humanity?

Feyre makes mistakes, admits it, and works on fixing them. What I like the most is the circle of chosen family that Rhysand has assembled for himself and how Feyre is finding her way into their hearts as well and vice versa. Yes, its all a bit melodramatic and unrealistic, but I got swept along with the story and didn’t notice too much until I thought back on it after finishing. Not sure if it would actually be possible for Morrigan to keep her sexual preference a secret for over 500 years—especially not since in the High Fae world, it seems like anything goes, so why would she bother?

So, it has its idiosyncrasies and silliness, but I still found it to be an enjoyable read. Although this one actually felt final, I see there are future volumes planned. At this point, I’ll be willing to give the next one a try.

Reading progress update: I've read 303 out of 566 pages.

Proven Guilty - Jim Butcher

Though I walk through the valley of trauma, I will fear no concussion.

 

Poor old Harry gets beaten on a lot.  I guess its all part of being the noir detective version of a magician.

 

Akata Witch / Nnedi Okorafor

Akata Witch - Nnedi Okorafor

Akata Witch transports the reader to a magical place where nothing is quite as it seems. Born in New York, but living in Aba, Nigeria, twelve-year old Sunny is understandably a little lost. She is albino and thus, incredibly sensitive to the sun. All Sunny wants to do is be able to play football and get through another day of school without being bullied. But once she befriends Orlu and Chichi, Sunny is plunged in to the world of the Leopard People, where your worst defect becomes your greatest asset. Together, Sunny, Orlu, Chichi and Sasha form the youngest ever Oha Coven. Their mission is to track down Black Hat Otokoto, the man responsible for kidnapping and maiming children. Will Sunny be able to overcome the killer with powers stronger than her own, or will the future she saw in the flames become reality?

 

Read to fill the “Diverse Voices” square of my 2017 Halloween Bingo card.

The Nigerian version of Harry Potter, with an albino Nigerian-American girl as the star. Sunny really only wants to be able to play football and attend school without being bullied, but her family has a legacy of magic that no one talks about and which is going to take her life in unexpected direction. Her talent is recognized by the friend of a friend and soon Sunny is being coached in juju, taken to the magical city of the Leopard People, and dealing with some very serious magical situations. Fortunately, she has her own coven of friends to aid and abet her in her adventures.

Here, there are leopards and lambs, rather than magicians and muggles, there is football rather than quidditch, but there is also a whole window into West African life and mythology that will be unfamiliar to many North American readers. Nnedi Okorafor is in the perfect position to open this window for us, being born in the United States with Nigerian immigrant parents. With feet in both worlds, she is able to weave a tale understandable to both sides of the divide.

Nine Coaches Waiting / Mary Stewart

Nine Coaches Waiting (Rediscovered Classics) - Sandra Brown, Mary Stewart

Read to fill the “Romantic Suspense” square of my 2017 Halloween Bingo card.

This Bingo was a great excuse to revisit an old favourite, which only been slight worn by the passage of time. It is very much a gothic romance, with the heroine having the usual attributes—she is an orphan, she needs to pay her way in the world, and she is hired by a French family to school a young nobleman in English. The young Comte is nine years old and it takes a bit for Linda Martin to make friends with him and get him acting like a real small boy, but they manage to make the connection just before sinister things begin to happen. Has Linda been chosen because she is an orphan with no real connections in France? Will she be the scapegoat when young Philippe is killed?

Add the complication that Linda has fallen in love with Raoul, her employer’s son, who manages another large family estate. Raoul is as sophisticated as Linda is naïve, which causes much of the romantic tension, as the reader wonders whether he is serious or just playing with Linda. Stewart actually uses Cinderella imagery to reassure the reader—there is an Easter ball, of course, for which Linda sews her own dress and during which she dances with Raoul and they agree to become engaged. She has promised to visit her charge, Philippe, in “the dead of night” so he can feel included in the event, so she & Raoul take a “midnight feast” pilfered from the buffet table up to the little boy’s room. On her way up to the nursey, Linda’s shoe comes undone and she almost loses it, completing the Cinderella reference.

Nor is that the only literary reference. The book’s title comes from the poem The Revenger’s Tragedy, a tale of lust and ambition suited to the story line of Nine Coaches Waiting. Each of the chapters is referred to as a coach and Linda takes some kind of conveyance (train, car, plane) in each. The poem also includes a tempter’s list of pleasures: coaches, the palace, banquets, etc., all of which decadent indulgences may lure our heroine to overlook the attempts on her student’s life.

One of the joys of the book for me was the description of the French countryside and communities. These descriptive interludes extend the tension of both the mystery & the romance and give the reader some time to assimilate the clues and try to see the road ahead. It also gave me breathing room to assess the very whirlwind nature of the romance, something that I would usually find unrealistic & therefore off-putting (and which I never noticed as a teenager reading this novel).


I am delighted to report that I enjoyed this novel almost as much forty years later as I did when I first read it.

Weekend Reading

Grendel - John Gardner Misery - Stephen King Akata Witch - Nnedi Okorafor Nine Coaches Waiting (Rediscovered Classics) - Sandra Brown, Mary Stewart

The weather has cooled down here in Calgary considerably.  I haven't any big plans for the weekend, so I hope to do some baking and read some Halloween Bingo books.

 

I've read part of both Grendel and Misery, so I just want to finish them up.  Akata Witch is the next book due at the library (with holds so I can't renew).  And I think that Nine Coaches Waiting will be an excellent Friday evening book.

 

Happy weekend, everyone!!

Monk's Hood / Ellis Peters

Monk's Hood  - Ellis Peters

Gervase Bonel, with his wife and servants, is a guest of Shrewsbury Abbey of Saint Peter and Saint Paul when he is suddenly taken ill. Luckily, the Abbey boasts the services of Brother Cadfael, a skilled herbalist. Cadfael hurries to the man's bedside, only to be confronted by two very different surprises. In Master Bonel's wife, the good monk recognises Richildis, whom he loved before he took his vows. And Master Bonel has been fatally poisoned by a dose of deadly monk's-hood oil from Cadfael's herbarium. The Sheriff is convinced that the murderer is Richildis' son Edwin, but Cadfael is certain of her son's innocence. Using his knowledge of both herbs and the human heart, Cadfael deciphers a deadly recipe for murder...

 

I read this for the “Murder Most Foul” square of my 2017 Halloween Bingo card.

Brother Cadfael has not disappointed me yet. In this book, one of his herbal potions is used for evil instead of for good and the Brother feels he must right the wrong caused by his tincture. A very young step-son is blamed for the murder and since Cadfael is sure the boy is innocent, he pursues the matter all the way to Wales.

Cadfael is such a steady, sensible character. It’s a joy to watch as he methodically put together the pieces, assesses the people involved, and uses his opportunities to solve the mystery, while still managing to (mostly) obey the rules of the Abbey. This situation has probably perturbed him the most because of his reconnection with Richildis, the woman he loved before he went to the Crusades and joined the religious order. One poignant scene has him looking at her son and thinking “That child could have been mine if I’d returned to her.”

This is a very quietly enjoyable series and I will look forward to the next installment with anticipation.

Smut / Alan Bennett

Smut - Alan Bennett

One of England’s finest and most loved writers explores the uncomfortable and tragicomic gap between people’s public appearance and their private desires in two tender and surprising stories.

In The Greening of Mrs. Donaldson, a recently bereaved widow finds interesting ways to supplement her income by performing as a patient for medical students, and renting out her spare room. Quiet, middle-class, and middle-aged, Mrs. Donaldson will soon discover that she rather enjoys role-play at the hospital, and the irregular and startling entertainment provided by her tenants.

In The Shielding of Mrs. Forbes, a disappointed middle-aged mother dotes on her only son, Graham, who believes he must shield her from the truth. As Graham’s double life becomes increasingly complicated, we realize how little he understands, not only of his own desires but also those of his mother.

 

3.5 stars rounded up to 4 because I’ve always wanted to say that I was reading smut.

My only familiarity with Alan Bennett’s work was seeing the film The Lady in the Van, which amused me greatly. These two pieces of short fiction, The Greening of Mrs. Donaldson and The Shielding of Mrs. Forbes, were also amusing in a somewhat different way. The author admits to using the title Smut to forestall the critics who were likely to label it as such.

Truly not very smutty, these stories are more meditations on our social hang-ups about sexuality and our reluctance to talk honestly about it. I must say that I preferred Mrs. Donaldson because I could relate to her more easily that Mrs. Forbes. I enjoyed how she took two moneymaking propositions and found ways to make them more fun & interesting while also being able to annoy her rather judgmental daughter. Mrs. Forbes, on the other hand, would probably have gotten along with Mrs. Donaldson’s daughter.

Phoenix / Steven Brust

Phoenix - Steven Brust

Verra, Vlad's patron goddess, hires him to assassinate a king whose country lies outside the Dragaeran Empire, resulting in increased tension between the two places. Meanwhile, the peasant Teckla and the human Easterners persevere in their fight for civil rights. As Vlad's wife Cawti is a firm partisan of the movement, and Vlad is not, their marriage continues to suffer, causing Vlad to make some decisions that will change his life forever.

 

The fifth book of the Vlad Taltos series, and I feel like Brust has prepared the way to get back on track again. Vlad is our friendly, neighbourhood assassin and generally amusing, snarky guy, but he has been involved in Dragaeren politics for several books, with he & his wife Cawti on opposite sides of the divide. It’s difficult to write humour for a character who is engaged in a struggling relationship, and humour is the main attraction of this series, in my opinion.

And now for something completely different—at book’s end, we see a new Vlad emerging. Has he really put his assassinating ways behind him? Or will he find that it’s a difficult profession to retire from? Are he & his wife going to have to go their separate ways? How much longer will he have his beloved grandfather to lean on?

I’m glad Brust didn’t write another prequel to avoid the issues. I’m looking forward to the next book to see where the tale goes from here.

Book 263 of my Science Fiction & Fantasy reading project.

Swainson's Hawk
Swainson's Hawk
Juvenile Swainson's hawk
Juvenile Swainson's hawk
A covey of Gray Partridge
A covey of Gray Partridge
Rosehips
Rosehips
Asters
Asters
Carseland Provincial Park
Carseland Provincial Park
Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron
Male Ring-Necked Pheasant
Male Ring-Necked Pheasant

This is how I spent my Sunday--wandering about east of Calgary, enjoying the bright sun and the clear air.  We've had a lot of smoke haze from forest fires to the west of us, so the day was a wonderful reminder of what life can be like without the smoke.

 

An idyllic day, really.