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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

The Mummy Case
Elizabeth Peters
Progress: 49/327 pages
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers
Mary Roach
The Great Starvation Experiment: The Heroic Men Who Starved so That Millions Could Live
Todd Tucker
The Green Man
Kingsley Amis

Help for the Haunted / John Searles

Help for the Haunted - John Searles

It begins with a call in the middle of snowy February evening. Lying in her bed, young Sylvie Mason overhears her parents on the phone across the hall. This is not the first late-night call they have received, since her mother and father have an uncommon occupation, helping "haunted souls" find peace. And yet, something in Sylvie senses that this call is different than the rest, especially when they are lured to the old church on the outskirts of town. Once there, her parents disappear, one after the other, behind the church's red door, leaving Sylvie alone in the car. Not long after, she drifts off to sleep only to wake to the sound of gunfire.

Nearly a year later, we meet Sylvie again struggling with the loss of her parents, and living in the care of her older sister, who may be to blame for what happened the previous winter.

As the story moves back and forth in time, through the years leading up to the crime and the months following, the ever inquisitive and tender-hearted Sylvie pursues the mystery, moving closer to the knowledge of what occurred that night, as she comes to terms with her family's past and uncovers secrets that have haunted them for years.

 

I read this book to fill the “Haunted Houses” square of my 2017 Halloween Bingo card.

As in any good ghost story, there is a lot of ambiguity in this tale of family strife and striving. Can Sylvie’s father see ghosts or not? What are her mother’s capabilities? Are they helping people or just fooling their clients and themselves?

Sylvie is a typical “good kid.” She is co-operative, obedient, studious—even when she doesn’t want to be any of those things. And her sister Rose is the typical “bad kid.” She questions everything, does what she wants to, and makes life as miserable as possible for the rest of the family. Rose and their father clash a lot—probably because they are a lot alike. That’s generally how these things work. My father & I butted heads occasionally because we were both quiet people with strong ideas and more that our share of stubbornness. Other than that, I was pretty much the stereotypical good kid, so I could relate to Sylvie quite well.

I had to wonder about what kind of person would choose a career of helping those with supernatural difficulties. Why would you put your own family into such a situation, where your own children often took a backseat to the children of others? It’s almost a truism that preacher’s kids will get in trouble, often as a way to plead for attention from their parents and that seems to hold true with any of the religious & quasi-religious professions.

In the end, it seemed that it maybe wasn’t the house that was haunted, but the family. Haunted by things left unsaid, paths left untrod, people left behind.

And I Darken / Kierstan White

And I Darken - Kiersten White

No one expects a princess to be brutal. And Lada Dragwlya likes it that way. Ever since she and her gentle younger brother, Radu, were wrenched from their homeland of Wallachia and abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman courts, Lada has known that being ruthless is the key to survival. She and Radu are doomed to act as pawns in a vicious game, an unseen sword hovering over their every move. For the lineage that makes them special also makes them targets.

Lada despises the Ottomans and bides her time, planning her vengeance for the day when she can return to Wallachia and claim her birthright. Radu longs only for a place where he feels safe. And when they meet Mehmed, the defiant and lonely son of the sultan, Radu feels that he’s made a true friend—and Lada wonders if she’s finally found someone worthy of her passion.

But Mehmed is heir to the very empire that Lada has sworn to fight against—and that Radu now considers home. Together, Lada, Radu, and Mehmed form a toxic triangle that strains the bonds of love and loyalty to the breaking point.

 

Another “young adult” book which hooked me from its first pages and left me wanting more at the end. And, handily enough, there is another book! So I will get another hit of this historical fantasy set in the Ottoman Empire and Wallachia. It’s a time and place that I know little about, so its interesting just to absorb the historical details.

But, Lada! Oh Lada! A strong girl, a fighter, ruthless and tough. What a heroine! Determined to chart her own course and not to belong to any man. Her handsome brother Radu, who probably should have been a girl, but who eventually finds his own way to be a powerful man. And Mehmet, the sultan’s son, who befriends both Wallachian children and eventually assumes the throne, changing their lives forever.

Having read this novel in close proximity to The Darkest Part of the Forest, I was struck by the parallels in the brother/sister relationships in both books. The girl being the tough fighter and the boy being hesitant about grasping his talents. Both being in love with the same person. Is this a common trope in young adult literature?

In any case, I will look forward to reading Now I Rise. I am pleasantly surprised, as I read the author’s Paranormalcy back in April and did not find it anywhere near as compelling.

The Darkest Part of the Forest / Holly Black

The Darkest Part of the Forest - Holly Black

Hazel lives with her brother, Ben, in the strange town of Fairfold where humans and fae exist side by side. The faeries’ seemingly harmless magic attracts tourists, but Hazel knows how dangerous they can be, and she knows how to stop them. Or she did, once.

At the center of it all, there is a glass coffin in the woods. It rests right on the ground and in it sleeps a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointed as knives. Hazel and Ben were both in love with him as children. The boy has slept there for generations, never waking.

Until one day, he does…

As the world turns upside down, Hazel tries to remember her years pretending to be a knight. But swept up in new love, shifting loyalties, and the fresh sting of betrayal, will it be enough?

 

 

I read this book to fill the “In the Dark, Dark Woods” square of my 2017 Halloween Bingo card.

 

I am continually amazed at how much I enjoy some of these “young adult” novels!  This one is definitely in the “really good” category.  I’m a sucker for stories that include the Fae, especially if they’re dark, mysterious & threatening.   

 

The story also explores the brother-sister relationship between Hazel and Ben, how they support one another and how they lie to one another and the consequences of both of those choices.  There’s a boy with horns and pointed ears asleep in a glass coffin (very Cinderella-ish) in the middle of the dark, dark woods and both siblings are in love with him or maybe with the stories they’ve created around him.  No one expects him to awake, and when he does, perhaps they believe their own imaginations too much and aren’t as worried as they should be.

 

The need for love, the need for purpose, and the love & support of family, all explored in an adventurous fairy tale.  Delightful!

The Modern Fae's Guide to Surviving Humanity / edited by Joshua Palmatier & Patricia Bray

The Modern Fae's Guide to Surviving Humanity - Jim C. Hines, April Steenburgh, Susan Jett, Kari Sperring, Barbara Ashford, Avery Shade, Shannon Page, Seanan McGuire, Jean Marie Ward, Anton Strout, Kristine Smith, S.C. Butler, Joshua Palmatier, Juliet E. McKenna, Patricia Bray, Jay Lake, Elizabeth Bear

What if the fae were still here, living among us? Perhaps living in secret, doing their best to pass for human? Or perhaps their existence is acknowledged, but they're still struggling to fit in. How have they survived? Are they outcasts clinging to the edges of society, or do their powers ensure success in the mortal realm? Here are fourteen fabulous tales-ranging from humor to dark fantasy-that explore how the creatures of fae are fitting into the modern world.

 

A collection of short stories, mostly to my taste. To my complete surprise, the first story by Seanan McGuire did not come anywhere close to being my favourite of the batch!

Remarkably few of these authors have books listed in my public library catalogue, so I may not run into some of them again, unfortunately. A couple of them seem to have only contributed to anthologies thus far in their careers, some have only a book or two to their credit, and some must just not be on the radar of the acquisitions dept. of our library. I realize that they can’t afford to order everything!

I guess the point is that some of these authors are just starting their writing careers and that we have good things to look forward to, if this collection is any indication.

The Vor Game / Lois McMaster Bujold

The Vor Game - Lois McMaster Bujold

Miles Vorkosigan graduates from the Academy, joins a mutiny, is placed under house arrest, goes on a secret mission, reconnects with his loyal Dendarii Mercenaries, rescues his Emperor, and thwarts an interstellar war. Situation normal, if you're Miles.

 

“Very good. But your most insidious chronic problem is in the area of . . . how shall I put this precisely . . . subordination. You argue too much.”
“No, I don’t,” Miles began indignantly, then shut his mouth.


Ah, another visit with Miles Vorkosigan/Naismith! That incredible bundle of energy, that intellect struggling to slow down to regular human speed. His problems with being the smartest guy in the room, but with physical limitations.

In many ways, Miles is like a jazz musician—he knows strategy (the melody) inside & out. When a new situation is thrown at him, he is able in incorporate it into his playing and take the strategy song to new places.

My favourite line? One of his captors at one point asks, “How many people are you?”

Book 264 of my Science Fiction & Fantasy Reading Project.

The Island of Dr. Moreau / H.G. Wells.

The Island of Dr. Moreau - H.G. Wells
  I’ve been cataloguing an enormous collection of H.G. Wells for the special collections division of our library, and as a result I’m thinking I need to read a little more Wells. Just looking at the wide spread of his interests is fascinating! It was an interesting exercise to read this tale, which I read in school at about Grade 5, I think, and see how different the experience was.

Wells was a very dedicated socialist and didn’t have much time for religion (although he went through a phase of flirting with the spiritual). I don’t think there’s any doubt that he had read Darwin’s On the Origin of Species before he wrote this story (it was published in 1859 and Moreau in 1896).

Dr. Moreau has set himself up as God on this little island and he has handed down his commandments to the Beast-Men that he has created. Edward Prendick watches as their essential nature pulls the Beast-Men back to their original state—but he sees the same in people, suggesting the Darwinist view that humans are animals too. Moreau never gives any rationale for what he is doing, rather like the Christian God, who has left his creation to its own devices.

The Island of Dr. Moreau seems rather prophetic today, in our days of bioengineering and genetic modification. I’ll be interested to see what other tidbits await me in Wells’ prolific writings.

 

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.