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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

Toni Morrison
Cold Moon
Alexandra Sokoloff
The Moonstone
Wilkie Collins
City of Golden Shadow
Tad Williams
Progress: 54/780 pages
Or Typowoman, as the case may be
Or Typowoman, as the case may be

Illuminae / Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Illuminae - Jay Kristoff, Amie Kaufman

This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do. This afternoon, her planet was invaded.

The year is 2575, and two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than an ice-covered speck at the edge of the universe. Too bad nobody thought to warn the people living on it. With enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra—who are barely even talking to each other—are forced to fight their way onto an evacuating fleet, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit.

But their problems are just getting started. A deadly plague has broken out and is mutating, with terrifying results; the fleet's AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be their enemy; and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady hacks into a tangled web of data to find the truth, it's clear only one person can help her bring it all to light: the ex-boyfriend she swore she'd never speak to again.


I realize that this book will not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I really enjoyed it. I love the epistolary format--whether reading diaries, letters, texts, emails, whatever format. I don’t know why this form appeals to me so strongly, but it rarely fails to charm me.

It’s a new & fresh twist on the old computer-gone-haywire theme, a la 2001: A Space Odyssey (there’s at least one direct reference to that work in here, when someone describes the ship’s computer as “going all HAL on them”) or The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

Combine that with an apocalyptic bioengineered disease (shades ofThe Stand and The Walking Dead) and warring megacorporations (reminiscent of C.J. Cherryh’s Company Wars series). Put a couple of teenagers with relationship issues at the centre and set things in motion! I was entertained by Kady’s voice and their sharp and sarcastic by-play as she and Ezra figured themselves out.

The adults (whether parents, governments, military or corporate) are all of questionable motive here and these teens are kept busy parsing what everyone is actually saying vs. what they are doing. Good practice for going up against the unstable AI known as AIDAN.

The book is a thick one, but it reads very quickly. Quite a few pages have only a few words on them, making it more like a scrapbook in some ways. Once again, I like this kind of thing, but I know it irks some readers.

I will definitely read the next two books, but probably not this year. My dance card seems to still be quite full with other novels that I have assigned myself.

The Hollow of Fear / Sherry Thomas

The Hollow of Fear - Sherry Thomas

Under the cover of “Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective,” Charlotte Holmes puts her extraordinary powers of deduction to good use. Aided by the capable Mrs. Watson, Charlotte draws those in need to her and makes it her business to know what other people don’t.

Moriarty’s shadow looms large. First, Charlotte’s half brother disappears. Then, Lady Ingram, the estranged wife of Charlotte’s close friend Lord Ingram, turns up dead on his estate. And all signs point to Lord Ingram as the murderer.

With Scotland Yard closing in, Charlotte goes under disguise to seek out the truth. But uncovering the truth could mean getting too close to Lord Ingram—and a number of malevolent forces…

***2019 The Summer of Sherlock*** 

I realize now that I neglected to review the second volume of this series, but suffice it to say that I was excited to get my hands on volume three and that I refused to go to bed until it was finished.

I’m enjoying Ms. Thomas’ interpretation of the Sherlock Holmes story. The autism spectrum in nothing new, despite the fact that it wasn’t named until the 1930s, and undoubtedly it would have been swept under the rug exactly as Bernadine is in this series. Charlotte is depicted as having some of the same tendencies, but she is very verbal and highly observant. But her dislike of being touched and her use of food to calm herself plus her confessed lack of understanding of “normal” emotion seem to indicate her presence on the Spectrum.

What truly captivates me are the overarching plots that run through all of the books. Are Charlotte and Lord Ingram going to become a couple? What will become of the remaining Holmes sister, Livia? Will Charlotte be able to support Bernadine and Livia so that they can escape from their emotionally abusive parents? And what of Inspector Treadles and his wife Alice--can Treadles escape his societal training enough to appreciate her ambition?

I think the Treadles plot line is the most poignant one for me personally. The Inspector has smugly considered his marriage to be perfectly harmonious until the day that his wife reveals that she is disappointed that her father did not leave the running of his manufacturing company in her hands, but rather in the incapable hands of her brother. Rather than ignoring this revelation, it poisons the Inspector’s soul. He also observes that other women that he interacts with do not respond positively to him and he is further dismayed. It is a difficult moment when he begs Charlotte to tell him where he is going wrong and she tells him that although he looks like an open, nonjudgmental person, he reveals himself through his actions to be prejudiced against the aspirations of women and thoroughly disappoints them. It is to his great credit that he listens to her and makes some effort to change. I am quite anxious to see where Ms. Thomas takes him from here. 

It will feel like a long wait until the next book comes out in October. 

The Cat of the Baskervilles / Vicki Delany

The Cat of the Baskervilles - Vicki Delany

The show is coming to town on Cape Cod. The West London Theater Festival is putting on a stage production of The Hound of the Baskervilles. Gemma Doyle is excited and participating with her friend Jayne Wilson, whose mother, Leslie, just happens to be volunteering with the company. Leslie arranges a fundraising tea party at the home of the festival organizer, catered by Mrs. Hudson’s Tea Room. The tea is a rousing success, but Sir Nigel Bellingham, the famous star cast as the lead of Sherlock, goes missing. And Gemma finds him at the bottom of the cliff. Dead.

Before the tea, Sir Nigel had come by the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop, only for Gemma to realize that he’s not at all suited to the role. But as Gemma and Jayne investigate, the list of suspects just grows longer. Long past his prime, Sir Nigel was second to a younger actor who had first been given the role. The festival’s executive director also expressed that he had been hired over her objections. Then there are the slew of people to whom Sir Nigel was rude. They all have motive, but then a scrap of Leslie’s apron caught on a bush by Sir Nigel’s body is found. And the police are set to pounce as she becomes suspect #1.

It’s up to Gemma and Jayne to team up again and clear Jayne’s mother’s name in The Cat of the Baskervilles, the delightful third Sherlock Holmes Bookshop mystery.

***2019 The Summer of Sherlock*** 

The third volume of this series and I have come to the conclusion that I don’t like Emma Doyle much as a main character. I understand that being more observant than others is a trait that links her to the Great Detective, but her bluntness and lack of understanding of other people doesn’t endear her to me. What I do enjoy are the details of her relationships with Ryan and Grant, her friendship with Jayne, and the ongoing saga of the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop.

Delany writes a decent cozy mystery. She plants appropriate red herrings and throws in small twists & turns, making the reading experience quite enjoyable. I can’t help, however, feeling sorry for Emma’s dog, Violet. I’m not a dog person, but even I feel like the poor beast is left alone at home an awful lot. Although Delany assures us that Emma loves Violet, sometimes actions speak louder than words--it seems like the dog gets short shrift on many, many evenings. My other bugaboo is Detective Louise Estrada, who seems to dislike Emma even more than I do. In fact, to an unreasonable extent. In small communities like West London, it just isn’t that strange to have the same people involved in multiple community activities and her over-done suspicions of Emma are just unrealistic.

Despite my complaints, I did enjoy the mystery and I’ve requested the next book in the series. I’m interested to see how Delany moves the story arc forward, whether I admire her main character or not.

Silent on the Moor / Deanna Raybourn

Silent on the Moor - Deanna Raybourn

In Grimsgrave Hall, enigmatic Nicholas Brisbane has inherited a ruined estate, replete with uncanny tenants and one unwanted houseguest: Lady Julia Grey. Despite his admonitions to stay away, Lady Julia arrives in Yorkshire to find Brisbane as remote and maddeningly attractive as ever. Cloistered together, they share the moldering house with the proud but impoverished remnants of an ancient family: the sort that keeps their bloodline pure and their secrets close. Lady Allenby and her daughters, dependent upon Brisbane and devastated by their fall in society, seem adrift on the moor winds, powerless to change their fortunes. But poison does not discriminate between classes.... A mystery unfolds from the rotten heart of Grimsgrave, one Lady Julia may have to solve alone, as Brisbane appears inextricably tangled in its heinous twists and turns. But blood will out, and before spring touches the craggy northern landscape, Lady Julia will have uncovered a Gypsy witch, a dark rider, and a long-buried legacy of malevolence and evil. Deanna Raybourn spins a gripping tale of loyalty and lust, set against the wild beauty of the Yorkshire moors.

I had to order this book through interlibrary loan, but I am glad that I did. I read all 465 pages in one day--I really didn’t want to set the book down. Raybourn writes a really good Gothic murder mystery/romance. 

Lady Julia Grey is part of that movement that I sense in fiction right now to feminize the story of Victorian times. The role of women was definitely undergoing change during this time period, what with Margaret Sanger’s championing of women’s rights and birth control, plus the Rational Dress and the women’s suffrage movements. Upper class women’s desires to be able to move, to not be subject to restrictive social mores, and to control their own bodies. What must it have been like to have all your choices subject to parents or brothers? 

Julia is a very sympathetic character to the modern female reader. We identify with her desire to pursue what she wants (Brisbane) without having to answer to her stuffy eldest brother. She is fortunate to have a father who is willing to aid and abet. I was also glad to see that Raybourn spreads the restrictions around, writing Julia’s brother Valerius as a frustrated medical doctor. Gentlemen aren’t allowed to “practice trade,” preventing Valerius from becoming what he is meant to be and showing that even men were hemmed in by the social contract of the time.

I’m disappointed that I will once again have to specially request the next volume of this series through interlibrary loan. Plus, I am unsure where Raybourn will be able to take it after the conclusion of this installment, but I am willing to give it a try.

A Dance of Cranes / Steve Burrows

A Dance of Cranes - Steve Burrows

A trail of murder leads Domenic Jejeune across a vast continent.

Newly estranged from his girlfriend, Inspector Domenic Jejeune returns to Canada, where he soon receives news that his brother has gone missing in Wood Buffalo National Park while conducting field research on Whooping Cranes. Jejeune immediately heads out West to try to find him. 

Meanwhile, back in the U.K., Jejeune’s plan to protect his ex-girlfriend from a dangerous adversary has failed, and she has also gone missing. In Jejeune’s absence, it falls to his trusty sergeant, Danny Maik, to track her down. But there is far more to the situation than either of them anticipated. And time is running out for all of them.

Well, this book was a treat--I had a volunteer job long ago where I exercised Whooping Crane chicks, which were subsequently released to the wild in Florida. I spent many hours doing what I came to call my walking meditation, wearing a baggy white costume which covered my head and interacting with the chicks using a hand puppet. Left to their own devices, the chicks would linger by the food bowl and grow so fast that their long toes would curl. My job was to convince them to go walking with me, wearing off some calories and keeping their limbs and toes nice & straight. It could often be hot, boring work, but I considered it my personal National Geographic moment and thoroughly enjoyed my time there.

I have also visited Wood Buffalo National Park, where Domenic Jejune ends up in this installment of the birder murder mysteries. My time was spent merely on the safe periphery, rather than out in the muskeg, where Jejune seeks his brother, but it is a large, lonely land and the bugs are out of this world! Between mosquitoes and black flies, my friend and I came to regret that we were camping!

I enjoyed the book very much, despite the pattern that seems to be developing of Inspector Jejune nearly dying in each story. His investigations take him into wilderness and the associated risks of those locations can support this plot device to some extent, but I hope there aren’t any near-death experiences in the next book. 

That is, I’m assuming there will be a next book, as Mr. Burrows seems to have left us with enough unanswered questions about the general story arc to require another volume!

Sherlock Holmes and the Lady in Black / June Thomson

Sherlock Holmes and the Lady in Black - June Thomson

By the summer of 1908, Sherlock Holmes has left the Baker Street days of crime and detection behind to take his retirement in a small Sussex cottage overlooking the sea. Holmes extends an invitation to his old colleague and confident, Dr Watson, to join him for a week's holiday. Accepting the summons, Watson arrives anticipating long coastal walks and pub lunches in the local village.

But his holiday takes a darker turn when they spot a shadowy figure below the cliffs one night; Holmes cannot resist the temptation to solve one more mystery and Watson realises he was never invited to the country for recreation. Against the backdrop of the stormy Sussex coast, suspicious men, tragic family history and a crafty theft weave an engaging and complex case that only Holmes and Watson can crack.

***2019 The Summer of Sherlock*** 

In my opinion, Ms. Thomson comes the closest of anyone to capturing the voice of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Sometimes I could forget that I wasn’t reading an original Holmes story. The big difference? Doyle could accomplish his mission in a short story. This author required a (short) novel. 

This was a pleasant entry in my Summer of Sherlock. Holmes purists probably won’t be too offended by this offering, but I doubt it will ever be recommended reading. A reasonable mystery story with good twists and turns. I quite enjoyed it, but feel like I am damning it with faint praise!

A Scandal in Battersea / Mercedes Lackey

A Scandal in Battersea - Mercedes Lackey

The twelfth novel in Mercedes Lackey's magical Elemental Masters series reimagines Sherlock Holmes in a richly-detailed alternate 20th-century England

Christmas is a very special time of year. It is special for Psychic Nan Killian and Medium Sarah Lyon-White and their ward Suki, who are determined to celebrate it properly. It is special for their friends, Doctor John Watson, and his wife Mary, both Elemental Masters, who have found great delight in the season seeing it through young Suki’s eyes. 

It is also special to others...for very different reasons.

For Christmas Eve is also hallowed to dark forces, powers older than mankind, powers that come awake on this, the Longest Night. Powers best left alone. Powers that could shake the foundations of London and beyond.

It begins slowly. Women disappearing in the dark of night, women only missed by those of their own kind. The whispers only begin when they start to reappear—because when they do, they are no longer sane. And when Nan and Sarah and the Watsons are called on to examine these victims, they discover that it was no ordinary horror of the streets that drove them mad.

But then, the shadows reach for other victims—girls of good, even exalted families, who vanish from concerts, lectures, and evening balls. And it will take the combined forces of Magic, Psychic Powers, and the worlds greatest detective to stop the darkness before it can conquer all


***2019 The Summer of Sherlock*** 

Well, I called A Study in Sable a weird tribute to Sherlock Holmes. This book is even weirder. Not only does it continue to represent John & Mary Watson as magical practitioners, it joins them, Nan & Sarah, and Sherlock Holmes himself to battle eldritch horrors out of H.P. Lovecraft! 

The mash-up doesn’t work for me, but it may work for folks who are more into Lovecraft than Mr. Holmes. Both books, to my way of thinking, are far outside of the detective’s wheelhouse and his presence really isn’t appropriate.

The evil magician who starts the whole situation going isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer and the tentacle monster has pretty banal requests of him. Said evil magician is so pitiful at covering his tracks that it’s amazing that he wasn’t apprehended almost immediately!

If you are a dyed-in-the-wool Mercedes Lackey fan, you will probably enjoy this. To my way of thinking, Sherlock Holmes and Lovecraft fans are better off avoiding it. What it may accomplish is sending inexperienced readers to Doyle and Lovecraft if they fancy this novel and haven’t read those two authors.

The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter / Theodora Goss

The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter - Theodora Goss

Mary Jekyll, alone and penniless following her parents’ death, is curious about the secrets of her father’s mysterious past. One clue in particular hints that Edward Hyde, her father’s former friend and a murderer, may be nearby, and there is a reward for information leading to his capture…a reward that would solve all of her immediate financial woes.

But her hunt leads her to Hyde’s daughter, Diana, a feral child left to be raised by nuns. With the assistance of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Mary continues her search for the elusive Hyde, and soon befriends more women, all of whom have been created through terrifying experimentation: Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherin Moreau, and Justine Frankenstein.

When their investigations lead them to the discovery of a secret society of immoral and power-crazed scientists, the horrors of their past return. Now it is up to the monsters to finally triumph over the monstrous.


***The Summer of Sherlock 2019*** 

I’m giving this book 4 stars simply because it combined so many of the Victorian things that often get written about (plus one I’d never heard of before). Obviously, from my Summer reading list, I’ve read a LOT of fiction involving Sherlock Holmes. He is very attractive to modern writers (and I’ve got some ideas why).

But this book throws in so many things! Firstly The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Other Tales of Terror. Then add The Island of Doctor MoreauFrankenstein, with a little bit of Draculathrown in for good measure. And there is the irresistible lure of Jack the Ripper! Plus I must now track down Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story Rappaccini's Daughter, to learn more about the poisonous Beatrice.

So much fiction right now is based on Victorian London--it really holds appeal for the modern writer & reader. I wonder if it’s because we live in a time of uneasy change, just like the Victorian era. The industrial revolution was in full swing, just as we are seemingly immersed in the Internet age. The traditional role of women was being challenged just as the Me Too movement has shaken things up in our society. There were more & more people who actually wanted to help those less fortunate rather than maintain their low status, just as we are starting to realize that more & more people are wanting to come to more prosperous countries to start new lives. I think that these similarities draw us to updated Victorian tales. For me, it is especially the feminizing of popular Victorian literature that appeals. Inserting more independent women or women striving for independence.

Perhaps there is also some nostalgia for the times before DNA and forensics, back to when police had to have their wits about them in order to solve crimes. Our tendency to idealize the Good Old Days, which I don’t have to point out weren’t so good for everybody--particularly anyone who was not a wealthy white man. 

Still, I enjoyed this combination of so many literary works and I can certainly see it’s roots in the author’s dissertation. I’ll be interested to read the next book to see where she takes these characters that she has forged into the Athena Club (which is an excellent name, by the way).

In an Absent Dream / Seanan McGuire

In an Absent Dream - Seanan McGuire

This fourth entry and prequel tells the story of Lundy, a very serious young girl who would rather study and dream than become a respectable housewife and live up to the expectations of the world around her. As well she should.

When she finds a doorway to a world founded on logic and reason, riddles and lies, she thinks she's found her paradise. Alas, everything costs at the goblin market, and when her time there is drawing to a close, she makes the kind of bargain that never plays out well.


It’s been a long time since I read Lewis Carroll’s Alice and I’m still gradually working my way through C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series. Both are good portal fantasy in their way, but I’m truly loving the Wayward Children series. I’m also appreciating that there are some echoes ofMiss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children in the form of Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. 

I’m particularly fond of this volume of Wayward Children, as McGuire explores the nature of the societies that we live in. What is fairness? Do you have to choose between friends and family? Should you have to? What are the unspoken assumptions that govern our lives?

This tale makes particularly good use of the poem Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti. McGuire has skillfully woven many details from that lovely work into her own tale. “There is no friend like a sister” states the poem and Lundy, separated from her sister by a magical doorway, must decide whether to stay with her friend Moon beyond the magic door or to live with her sister in what we would call reality. 

I identified with Lundy in several ways--being more interested in books than in classmates, being unhappy with being treated second-class to boys, and being anxious to move away from home and live life on my own terms. Lundy finds the Goblin Market world, where if one doesn’t deal fairly with others, the consequences show up on the body. Everyone in this world believes in the fairness of the deal, rather in the same way that our system of capitalism “believes” in the fairness of the “free market.” Lundy’s father eventually points out to her that the Goblin Market may not be a fair as she assumed as a young child.

A very short, sweet book, well worth the reader’s time. I hope it will become as classic as Alice, Narnia and Oz.

His Last Bow / Arthur Conan Doyle

His Last Bow -  Arthur Conan Doyle

Sherlock Holmes's fearless chronicler Dr Watson once again opens his notebooks to bring to light eight further tales of some of the strangest and most fascinating cases to come before the enquiring mind of London's most famous detective.

These mysteries involve the disappearance of secret plans as well as of a lady of noble standing; the curious circumstances of Wisteria Lodge and of the Devil's Foot; as well as the story His Last Bow, the last outing of Holmes and Watson on the eve of the First World War.


I believe that I have now read all of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. Plus I have read a lot of fiction that uses his great detective as a character--largely novels. I am truly impressed with Doyle’s skill--he manages to give such detail and delight in the short story format. We come away from his fiction feeling like we know all about Mr. Holmes and like John Watson would be our friend if we ran into him. No wonder people show up at their iconic address in London, as if expecting the famous duo to still be there.

In this collection, we get a better sense of Mycroft Holmes and his importance to the government. One wonders what he would think of Boris Johnson and Brexit. No doubt both brothers would have opinions on the matter! Whether they would share those opinions is another question.

I’m glad to have read the entire Holmes canon and now I think I may turn my attention to a biography of Arthur Conan Doyle and some of his other fiction. 

Grizzly Bears!!

This grizzly sow and two cubs were the highlight of last Monday.

Monday Meanderings, the Better Late Than Never version

OK, so I have sorted my sign-in problems and now I can post some more photos from my Monday birding expedition with my friend & her dad.  We went out to the mountain parks west of Calgary on a gorgeous day!


We began in Bow Valley Provincial Park


The Harebells were blooming in carpets


Yellow Umbrella Plant


Mountain Cottontail


Hard to believe that these rocks were once ocean floor


Least Chipmunk--they don't sit still very often!


Our lunch stop--the Nordic Centre in Canmore


Peter Lougheed Provincial Park


A Pitcher Plant orchid by the trailside



 And now, BL has suddenly decided that the rest of my photos are "too large" though they are exactly the same as those above!  I will try later to post my grizzly bear photos!!  They were the highlight of the day.




American Dervish

American Dervish - Ayad Akhtar



DNF @ 65%


It's not like me to DNF a book, particularly one which was chosen for my book club.  But I just couldn't face any more of this novel right now.


It's summer and dysfunctional family drama just isn't on my reading menu at the moment.  I attended book club last night, Rice Krispie square in hand (it was much too hot to bake), and confessed that I hadn't finished the book.  This is a first for me.


Several other people really enjoyed it, so I chalk this up to my own reading mood.  


Life is too short to read books that aren't delightful.

Trouble accessing Booklikes

I'm having difficulty getting into BL these days. I can only access it on my tablet, which isn't handy for long messages.


I've always signed in via Facebook, but FB is now telling me that the site isn't secure and they won't do that any more. When I ask to change password, notice is sent to my email, which is another account that I can only access on my tablet (I shouldn't have been so stubborn about refusing to supply a phone number, I guess). Because I'm signed in to BL on the tablet, the password question gets short circuited. I can't  just change password because I don't have an original password to change from.


I'm starting to think that the solution to my problem may be a new email address.


A problem for next week I think.