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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

Daughter of the Forest
Juliet Marillier
Progress: 222/560 pages
Sweep of the Blade
Ilona Andrews
A Fatal Inversion
Barbara Vine
Progress: 174/317 pages
The Mysteries of Udolpho
Ann Radcliffe
Progress: 272/654 pages
Black Sun Rising
C.S. Friedman
Progress: 220/496 pages

Reading progress update: I've read 114 out of 288 pages.

The Librarians and The Lost Lamp - Greg Cox

 

 

This should be so much better than it is!

 

Genevieve Cogman, you have spoiled me with your Invisible Library series.  This book is pretty dull by comparison.

 

 

Black Forest Goat Cheese Brownies

Quinoa 365: The Everyday Superfood - Patricia Green, Carolyn Hemming Quinoa Revolution: Over 150 Healthy, Great-Tasting Recipes Under 500 Calories by Green, Patricia, Hemming, Carolyn (2012) Paperback - Patricia,  Hemming,  Carolyn Green

On Sunday, I attended a potluck brunch at my friend's house.  My contribution was a pan of these brownies.

 

They are made with quinoa flour and are gluten-free.

 

 

 

I noticed that people helped themselves to two or three brownies, despite the gluten-free designation--a sure sign that something is up to snuff.

 

The goat cheese makes a nice change from the cream cheese sometimes used in brownies.  I also loved the dried cherries that were layered in with them. 

 

This recipe is a keeper--its from one of the cookbooks referenced above, sorry I'm not sure which one.

Iron and Magic / Ilona Andrews

Iron and Magic -  Ilona Andrews

Hugh d’Ambray, Preceptor of the Iron Dogs, Warlord of the Builder of Towers, served only one man. Now his immortal, nearly omnipotent master has cast him aside. Hugh is a shadow of the warrior he was, but when he learns that the Iron Dogs, soldiers who would follow him anywhere, are being hunted down and murdered, he must make a choice: to fade away or to be the leader he was born to be. Hugh knows he must carve a new place for himself and his people, but they have no money, no shelter, and no food, and the necromancers are coming. Fast.

Elara Harper is a creature who should not exist. Her enemies call her Abomination; her people call her White Lady. Tasked with their protection, she's trapped between the magical heavyweights about to collide and plunge the state of Kentucky into a war that humans have no power to stop. Desperate to shield her people and their simple way of life, she would accept help from the devil himself—and Hugh d’Ambray might qualify.

Hugh needs a base, Elara needs soldiers. Both are infamous for betraying their allies, so how can they create a believable alliance to meet the challenge of their enemies?

 

Buying and reading this novel was my birthday treat to myself. And what a good treat it was!

I remember wondering at one or two points in the Kate Daniels series if Kate shouldn’t have been a little more tempted by Hugh d’Ambray--I wasn’t completely sold on Curran at the beginning. Now, the Andrews give us another look at things from Hugh’s point-of-view and I had some of my questions answered.

Hugh becomes more than just a tool of Roland in this story—he acquires a backstory which helps the reader to gain some sympathy for someone who seemed altogether evil in the Kate Daniels series. He also shows hidden depths and possibilities for redemption that I would never have believed possible. Very similar with what they did with Mad Rogan in the Hidden Legacy series.

With Elara, the Andrews manage to produce a woman of sufficient depth and complexity to match Hugh—in short, someone who is at least his equal and who can’t be overwhelmed by his bigger-than-life stature and who isn’t intimidated by his fearsome reputation. I am intrigued by her and will look forward to getting to know her better in subsequent installments.

There are lots of adventures, including a pow-wow with the Bouda Clan, led by Rafael & Andrea. I’m a forever fan of the were-hyenas, so I was glad to get to see them again. As usual, the authors create a number of characters and creatures that make me want to read on as soon as possible. How is it that Hugh’s horse Bucky can glow sometimes? And is his second in command going to learn ASL to impress one of Elara’s council? Can the Iron Dogs integrate themselves into the witchy community?

An entertaining enemies-to-lovers romance with all kinds of fun by-paths to explore. Now I just have to practice patience until the release of Magic Triumphs.

The Invisible Man / H.G. Wells

The Invisible Man - H.G. Wells

This masterpiece of science fiction is the fascinating story of Griffin, a scientist who creates a serum to render himself invisible, and his descent into madness that follows.

 

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

I remember owning the Classics Illustrated comic book of this title as a child and being rather fascinated by the idea of an invisible person. I remember being captivated by Griffin’s fake nose! If I’m remembering correctly, though, I don’t think the violence in the comic was equal to Wells’ original work. It was probably watered down a little to be suitable for a juvenile audience (although nowadays I’m not sure that would be necessary).

I spent a great deal of last year on the cataloguing of a very large collection of books by and about Herbert George Wells and I was interested to read another of his fictional works. I’ll work through more of them as I can. He was an interesting person and a prolific writer.

This is definitely horror-lite. The most horrifying part is actually the behaviour of Griffin, the invisible man of the title. His lack of empathy for his fellow human beings (and the cat that he tests his invisibility device on) is scarier than his actual achievement. During the reading I kept wondering, was he mentally ill and became fixated on this idea or was he fixated on the idea before he became mentally ill? Someone with more empathy could have charted a far different course—co-operating with his fellow beings, rather than trying to terrorize them.

Reminiscent of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, another tale of a scientist making dubious moral choices.

The Xibalba Murders / Lyn Hamilton

The Xibalba Murders - Lyn Hamilton

Lara McClintoch, her marriage ended and her antiques business sold, eagerly embarks on a trip to Mexico to help an old friend solve a mystery. On arrival, her friend puts off their meeting and then disappears. After Lara witnesses a brazen robbery of a valuable statue of the ancient Mayan civilization and stumbles on a corpse in a museum of antiquities, she becomes a police suspect. Afraid of the police and unsure whom to trust, Lara follows clues pointing to black marketeers and zealous revolutionaries. This dangerous trail takes her to remote archaeological ruins, lush jungles, and bustling streets filled with revelers. Lara engages in a thrilling battle of wits and courage to unmask a killer and stop a tomb-robber in the shadowy world of Xibalba, the Lords of Death.

   

I guess that the purpose of various reading challenges is to get us to read outside our comfort zones. I chose this book to be my “title beginning with X” choice for this year. Although I am a sometimes mystery reader, I’m generally not a big fan of the cozy mysteries and that is how I would have to categorize this one.

What I did really like in this book was the emphasis on Mayan mythology and culture. I hope that the author did her research, as I’d like to believe that I learned a few things about both. However, this is very much a first book as well as the first book in a series. Not too bad for the first novel of a bureaucrat (Hamilton was director of the governmental branch responsible for licensing of archaeology in the province of Ontario) and it did get nominated for the Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Crime Novel in 1998. Apparently Ms. Hamilton visited the sites where she set her books—what a wonderful way to choose your travel destinations!

I can’t say that I feel impelled to read the further adventures of Lara McClintoch, despite the fact that there are ten more books in the series. I suppose that if one of them fit into another reading challenge, that I could be convinced to pick it up.

Slasher Girls & Monster Boys

Slasher Girls & Monster Boys - Jay Kristoff, Carrie Ryan, McCormick Templeton, Stefan Bachmann, Cat Winters, April Genevieve Tucholke, A.G. Howard, Megan Shepherd, Leigh Bardugo, Kendare Blake, Marie Lu, Nova Ren Suma, Kami Garcia

A host of the sharpest young adult authors come together in this collection of terrifying tales and psychological thrillers. Each story draws from a mix of literature, film, television, or even music to offer something new and fresh and unsettling. Even better? After you’ve teased out each tale’s references, satisfy your curiosity at the end, where the inspiration is revealed. There are no superficial scares here. These are stories that will make you think even as they keep you on the edge of your seat. From bloody horror, to the supernatural, to unnerving, all-too-possible realism, this collection has something for anyone looking for an absolute thrill.

 

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

I found this to be a strong collection of YA short fiction. Particular favourites of mine were The birds of Azalea Street by Nova Ren Suma and The dark, scary parts and all by Danielle Paige.

It was interesting to read at the end of each story which works of fiction or film had provided inspiration for the author. Despite reaching to the past for inspiration, the stories were very up-to-date in theme, including several where young women are reaching out from the grave to correct the wrongs of patriarchal society.

Although I’m usually a bit leery of horror fiction, I found all of these stories quite engaging. A most pleasurable way to fulfill my Halloween commitment.

Stolen / Kelley Armstrong

Stolen - Kelley Armstrong

It was in Bitten, Kelley Armstrong's debut novel, that thirty-year-old Elena Michaels came to terms with her feral appetites and claimed the proud identity of a beautiful, successful woman and the only living female werewolf.

In Stolen, on a mission for her own elite pack, she is lured into the net of ruthless Internet billionaire Tyrone Winsloe, who has funded a bogus scientific investigation of the "other races" and their supernatural powers. Kidnapped and studied in his underground lab deep in the Maine woods, these paranormals - witches, vampires, shamans, werewolves - are then released and hunted to the death in a real-world video game. But when Winsloe captures Elena, he finally meets his match.

 

 

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

I just don’t know quite know why this series doesn’t grab me. It had been a year since I’d read the first book and I was actually looking forward to this second installment. The assumptions in Urban Fantasy are always ridiculous to those who don’t like the genre, but this one seemed a bit more ridiculous than most.

Take an ultra-insensitive billionaire, add his secret prison for supernatural creatures, and shake it up with the plot line of Richard Connell’s short story The Most Dangerous Game, and you get Stolen. The first book limited itself completely to werewolves and was all about Elena coming to terms with her life as a member of that community. Hey presto, this book suddenly produces a whole range of other supernatural folk not hinted at in book one—vampires, witches, demons, shamans and sorcerers. Might as well go whole hog, I guess.

I’m not sure why some authors can do this successfully (for me) and yet I find this version annoying. I find Elena to be a disappointing main character, not nearly as mentally strong as I would like her to be. What good is supernatural strength if you haven’t got the brains to back it up? Her relationship with Clay is also an irritant—they are incredibly irresponsible, often stopping in the middle of something crucial for a quickie. The sex seems gratuitous to me, not really moving the plot along, just thrown as “characterization” I’m guessing.

However, I haven’t given up. I will persevere with book three to see where Armstrong takes the concept from here. Just not until I’ve wrapped up all my various reading challenges for this year.

Judgment Day / Wanda L. Dyson

Judgment Day - Wanda L. Dyson

The weekly cable news show Judgment Day with Suzanne Kidwell promises to expose businessmen, religious leaders, and politicians for the lies they tell. Suzanne positions herself as a champion of ethics and morality with a backbone of steel—until a revelation of her shoddy investigation tactics and creative fact embellishing put her in hot water with her employers, putting her credibility in question and threatening her professional ambitions..
           
Bitter and angry, Suzanne returns home one day to find one of her sources unconscious on her living room floor. Before the night is over, the woman is dead, Suzanne has her blood on her hands, and the police are arresting her for murder. She needs help to prove her innocence, but her only hope, private investigator Marcus Crisp, is also her ex-fiancé–the man she betrayed in college.
                       
Marcus and his partner Alexandria Fisher-Hawthorne reluctantly agree to take the case, but they won’t cut Suzanne any slack. Exposing her lack of ethics and the lives she’s destroyed in her fight for ratings does little to make them think Suzanne is innocent. But as Marcus digs into the mire of secrets surrounding her enemies, he unveils an alliance well-worth killing for. Now all he has to do is keep Suzanne and Alex alive long enough to prove it.

 

I read this book to fill the Genre: Suspense square of my 2018 Halloween Bingo card.

2 stars, my reading experience was okay. It’s strange what one finds oneself reading to fulfill certain reading challenges. One of the prompts this year was to read something by an author with whom you share a first or last name. So I checked my public library’s database for things written by other Wandas. I could read this or an Amish romance. This book won that competition, but it certainly won’t be a highlight of my reading year. Since it was supposed to be a thriller, I also scheduled it for Halloween Bingo.

I found the characters to be very stereotypical, either very bad or very good. I guess this is to be expected in something classified as “Christian fiction.” There were quite a few details that really strained my willing suspension of disbelief—for example, Alexandria, the rich man’s daughter turned private investigator, was known for shooting the ears of those who annoyed her. I’m thinking that would be a pretty tricky manoeuvre and wondering how many people she shot in the head before mastering that particular skill.

The framed TV host, Suzanne Kidwell, is morally and ethically bankrupt, hosting a show called Judgment Day—revealing corruption and supposedly rendering judgment on the high & mighty. The author obviously had verses from the Book of Matthew (7:1-2) in mind while writing it: “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.” Suzanne gets her comeuppance and is judged for her shoddy reporting on these matters. Of course, she comes close to death and gets her “come to Jesus” moment.

The book isn’t awful, but I would be hard pressed to recommend it to anyone besides people who only read Christian fiction.

Happy "Talk like a Pirate" Day, me hearties!

Killer Librarian / Mary Lou Kirwin

Killer Librarian (Thorndike Press Large Print Mystery Series) - Mary Lou Kirwin

Champion of the mystery section at a small-town Minnesota library, Karen Nash is about to embark on a dream trip to London, a literary tour inspired by every murderous intrigue, wily suspect, and ingenious crime found in the pages of the British mysteries that she devours. But she's clueless why the love of her mid-life, Dave, would dump her hours before takeoff, until she spies him at the airport with a young honey on his arm! She decides the best revenge (for now) is to get on that plane anyway . . . and entertain schemes for Dave's untimely demise while crossing the pond.
After touching ground in the hallowed homeland of Christie, Sayers, and Peters, she checks into a cozy B & B run by charming bibliophile Caldwell Perkins. Soon she's spilling tears in her pint at the corner pub, sharing her heartbreak saga with a stranger. That night, a B & B guest drops out of circulation permanently. And when Dave and his cutie turn up in London, Karen realizes they are an assassin's target. With the meticulous attention to detail that makes her a killer librarian, Karen sleuths her way through her own real-life mystery in which library science meets the art of murder.

 

I read this book for the Cozy Mystery square of my 2018 Halloween Bingo card.

I’m not usually a tremendous fan of the cozy mystery genre—I tend to like things a bit darker and more threatening--but I was charmed by this librarian-reluctantly-turned-sleuth tale that also incorporated a gentle romance.

Karen Nash is a successful librarian who has always dreamed of visiting England, the land of all of her favourite authors. She has carefully planned her upcoming vacation, trying to indulge her passion for literature while not boring her plumber boyfriend Dave. But the course of true love never did run smooth and Dave dumps Karen just days before they are to embark on this adventure. What’s a girl to do? Karen buys her own plane ticket and goes anyway, finding at the airport that Dave has replaced her with a younger woman. Understandably angry, Karen conceals herself as best she can on the flight, then follows the couple upon landing in London.

Who hasn’t been dumped and fantasized about taking revenge on the former object of our affection? Karen books into her B&B and is pleased to find that the owner loves books as much as she does. When she goes looking for some juice in the middle of her first night, she stumbles over the body of a fellow customer, complicating her situation.

The remainder of the book deals with meeting the other denizens of the B&B, being touristy in London, causing trouble for the disloyal Dave, pursuing the new man in her life, plus solving the murder mystery. A very full schedule. Karen is a woman after my own heart, a planner, a reader, and a very competent woman.

Perfect if you want a warm, fuzzy reading experience with a very gentle mystery attached to it. Truly, the story is much more about Karen and how she sorts out her life after it’s been shaken up. Very enjoyable.

Jaws / Peter Benchley

Jaws - Peter Benchley

It was just another day in the life of a small Atlantic resort until the terror from the deep came to prey on unwary holiday makers. The first sign of trouble a warning of what was to come took the form of a young woman's body, or what was left of it, washed up on the long, white stretch of beach. A summer of terror has begun.

 

I read this book for the Fear the Drowning Deep square of my 2018 Halloween Bingo card.

This is purportedly a book about a monster shark. I would beg to differ—the shark is just a catalyst for the very human drama that became the main thing for me. Police chief Martin Brody is a conscientious policeman—he isn’t perfect and he knows it, but he is striving to do the right thing. He’s not up against the shark really, he’s up against those with money who want to make more money. Shutting down the town beach during the July 4th weekend is going to hurt the community economically, but powerful people seem to value money over human life.

We get a good look at “the old boys club” in action in Jaws. Their indifference to potential deaths is far scarier than the enormous Great White that is cruising the shore. They are as indifferent as the beast itself. We also get a glimpse back in time to society in the 1970s—women are still mostly housewives, maybe with a side job to help with family finances. Only the elderly woman who runs the post office seems to be able to speak her mind without reservation, as she has no husband to police her behaviour.

The icthyologist who admires the shark, but has a sexual liaison with Ellen Brody, ends up self-destructing—it’s unclear which issue he’s being punished for, siding with nature against humanity or breaking societal expectations with another man’s wife.

I’m pretty sure that I read this back in junior high school (at the time it was originally published), but the only familiar thing was that cover! I’m pretty sure that my teenage self was reading entirely for the sharky bits, not so much for the human stuff.

 

Parable of the Sower / Octavia Butler

Parable of the Sower - Octavia E. Butler

In 2025, with the world descending into madness and anarchy, one woman begins a fateful journey toward a better future

Lauren Olamina and her family live in one of the only safe neighborhoods remaining on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Behind the walls of their defended enclave, Lauren’s father, a preacher, and a handful of other citizens try to salvage what remains of a culture that has been destroyed by drugs, disease, war, and chronic water shortages. While her father tries to lead people on the righteous path, Lauren struggles with hyperempathy, a condition that makes her extraordinarily sensitive to the pain of others.

When fire destroys their compound, Lauren’s family is killed and she is forced out into a world that is fraught with danger. With a handful of other refugees, Lauren must make her way north to safety, along the way conceiving a revolutionary idea that may mean salvation for all mankind.

 

What a powerful view of a dystopian near future! Just like Margaret Atwood, Octavia Butler was able to scan the news of the time (early 1990s) and extrapolate from those stories to produce this tale exploring where North America might be headed. Her version of a United States that has been reduced to third world status is striking for how possible it feels. Although Canada features as a desired destination for the economic refugees, Butler tells us nothing of what is really happening north of the border, content to show us the plight of regular Americans.

The trends that she was working with? Effects of drug use (made me think of our current fentanyl crisis), the growing rich/poor gap, the precarious nature of employment, the willingness to build & fill prisons, the unwillingness to build & repair schools & libraries, the tendency to value the economy over the environment, and climate-driven weather change (and the resulting change in what crops will grow and food price inflation). Butler could foresee this twenty years ago—how much closer are we today to this exact situation? Oh, this makes me think so much of Atwood’s The Handmaid's Tale, where you can really feel like the whole book scenario could easily come true.

Of course this wouldn’t be Octavia Butler if there wasn’t some exploration of the power dynamic between people and groups of people as well. The main character, Lauren, progresses from childhood, governed by her Baptist father, to leader of people migrating north and founding her own religion. We get to see Lauren and her brother Keith struggle with their father’s authority in different ways and the outcome of those struggles. Butler certainly makes the reader see the value of having a community—a chosen circle of people who both give & receive support.

My only complaint might be that it is so United States focused, rather like Stephen King’s The Stand. It could have been even better, in my opinion, had she widened the scope to include other parts of the world, rather like Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven.

This is book number 295 of my Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading Project.

A Discovery of Witches / Deborah Harkness

A Discovery of Witches - Deborah Harkness

Deep in the stacks of Oxford's Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library. Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries-and she is the only creature who can break its spell.

 

I read this to fill the Spellbound square of my 2018 Halloween Bingo Card.

I know there is a fandom out there for this particular flavour of Paranormal Romance, but I am not among them. I guess that life experience shapes these tastes and mine have shaped me to reject being a fragile flower type of woman and to abhor bossy, controlling men. Diana is my nightmare as a main character, someone who thinks she is strong but in reality is always tired, hungry, injured, pale and otherwise needy. 

I also had issues with the vampires. They are a pretty namby-pamby kind of vamp--able to eat food, sometimes sleep, and exist happily by hunting deer. Essentially, they are humans with cold skin and long life expectancy. They spend an awful lot of time snarling and growling, but Matthew "purrs" rather a lot. I don't even have an idea of what that would sound like.

Then there's Matthew specifically, who's supposed to be over 1000 years old, but still acts like an adolescent. He's moody and angry for no apparent reason, full of secret sources of angst. And he's met everyone--Christopher Marlowe was his pal, Shakespeare signed a book for him, he corresponded with Charles Darwin. It's like all those folks who go for regression hypnosis and emerge thinking they are reincarnated Robert the Bruce or Cleopatra, never a pig farmer from Finland.

On top of all that, there's the relationship between Diana and Matthew. Once she decides he's the one, she keeps inviting him to bed and being astonished when he turns her down. Science says that she can't get pregnant because they are different species, but Matthew always has some lame excuse. There's some ancient covenant that forbids interspecies relationships or his mother wouldn't approve (!) or they've got all the time in the world, on and on. I don't know about other women, but if a man turned me down that often, I wouldn't be hanging around for further humiliation. Then, all of a sudden, Matthew kisses her and declares his love in front of his mother. Poof, they're married now. (That reminded me so much of a scene in Harris' Sookie Stackhouse novels where Sookie is persuaded to take some object & present it to Eric Northman, and poof! They're married) Despite this official marriage, he still won't consummate the relationship. 

Can vampires suffer erectile dysfunction? 

It's 579 pages long and they still haven't done the deed.

(show spoiler)

 



This is like a cross between the Mayfair Witches of Rice, Outlander by Gabaldon, and Twilight. It reminds me strongly of the work of Christine Feehan and Kresley Cole, two authors that I now avoid. Fans of these franchises will no doubt enjoy this book more than I did. Govern yourselves accordingly.

Frosty Friday

 

Yup, this is what I woke up to this morning!

 

 

At least it scraped off easily.

 

 

This is what it looked like at work.

 

Sigh!  Winter is coming.

TBR Thursday

Parable of the Sower - Octavia E. Butler A Discovery of Witches - Deborah Harkness Slasher Girls & Monster Boys - Jay Kristoff, Carrie Ryan, McCormick Templeton, Stefan Bachmann, Cat Winters, April Genevieve Tucholke, A.G. Howard, Megan Shepherd, Leigh Bardugo, Kendare Blake, Marie Lu, Nova Ren Suma, Kami Garcia

 

How nice to have only 3 books (out of 10) with hard & fast due dates!  I've been waiting most of the year for Parable of the Sower--the library just recently added a second copy to their holdings, or I would probably be waiting until sometime next year!

 

A Discovery of Witches actually arrived way to early for Halloween Bingo, so I threw it back and it has now landed on my reading docket for the second time.  This time I intend to read it and enjoy it!

 

I've already made a start on Slasher Girls & Monster Boys.  It's a book of short fiction, so perfect for coffee breaks at work.  So far, two stories in, the tales are certainly dark, but not something that would freak me out to read after dark.  They're really good--if any one is reading this for Halloween Bingo, I think you (and I) have a treat ahead of us.

 

The weather has been dreary today--all grey skies and looming chances of precipitation.  When I got to work this morning, there were traces of snow around the edge of the parking lot.  It seems awfully early, but this is Canada and we know that winter is coming! 

 

Enjoy the Halloween reading, folks!

Reading progress update: I've read 60 out of 385 pages.

Slasher Girls & Monster Boys - Jay Kristoff, Carrie Ryan, McCormick Templeton, Stefan Bachmann, Cat Winters, April Genevieve Tucholke, A.G. Howard, Megan Shepherd, Leigh Bardugo, Kendare Blake, Marie Lu, Nova Ren Suma, Kami Garcia

 

I've enjoyed the first two stories!

 

Maybe I could even read this after dark--we'll see.