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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
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

The Body in the Library / Agatha Christie

The Body in the Library - Agatha Christie

Colonel Bantry has found the strangled body of an exotic blonde bombshell lying on his library hearth - and the neighbors are beginning to talk! When Miss Marple takes an interest, though, things begin to move along nicely, and its all far more convoluted - and sordid - than the genteel Bantrys could have imagined.

A curmudgeonly financier, his self-absorbed adult children, a couple of pragmatic and clever hotel workers, tons of money and influence, a wild local lad, some smitten girls, the film business, mix into a classic Christie plot filled with twists, turns, and double-backs galore. Plus the glorious settings of A Great House, a fancy Hotel, and an excessively genteel little village, and let's not forget Miss Marple...



I read this book for the Terror in a Small Town square of my 2018 Halloween Bingo card.

Another Miss Marple mystery, which Dame Agatha crafted carefully to deceive the reader. One mystery author quoted on the cover claims that no matter what twisty thing you think up, you soon find that Christie did it first. This is why she is still the Queen.

Miss Marple knows human nature—she’s an observant woman who has lived in a small village all of her life and has taken note of the goings on. She’s been an employer too, having hired and fired maids and other assistants over the years. There’s nothing like job interviews to teach you about paying attention to details of human behaviour.

I loved Dolly Bantry, who states that if a murder is going to be committed in her house, she’s going to enjoy it. She summons Jane Marple and they begin their investigations by bullying a young copper into letting them have a good look at the body. A reminder of how strong class differences still were at this point in history. Inspector Slack is obviously on the forefront of the change in respect for the gentry and is viewed with some distaste by his boss, Colonel Melchett, as a result.

I had to laugh when one of the young men in this story bragged about having autographs from Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie! I enjoy the work of both of these women and I don’t blame him for his excitement.

So was is Colonel Bantry in the library with a rope? No need to play the game of Clue to find out, just enjoy this compact little mystery. It is a fabulous way to spend an evening.

The Ask and the Answer / Patrick Ness

The Ask and the Answer - Patrick Ness

We were in the square, in the square where I'd run, holding her, carrying her, telling her to stay alive, stay alive till we got safe, till we got to Haven so I could save her - But there weren't no safety, no safety at all, there was just him and his men...

Fleeing before a relentless army, Todd has carried a desperately wounded Viola right into the hands of their worst enemy, Mayor Prentiss. Immediately separated from Viola and imprisoned, Todd is forced to learn the ways of the Mayor's new order. But what secrets are hiding just outside of town? And where is Viola? Is she even still alive? And who are the mysterious Answer? And then, one day, the bombs begin to explode...



I read this book for the Doomsday square on my 2018 Halloween Bingo card.

I have become quite partial to Patrick Ness’s writing, having loved A Monster Calls and thoroughly enjoying The Knife of Never Letting Go. The Ask and the Answer is a solid follow-up to TKONLG, showing us more of this non-Earth world where humanity and the aliens that they call The Spackle must find terms of co-existence and human men must learn to deal with the Noise germ, which makes their thoughts visible/audible to everyone around them. As we learn more about the aliens, we realize that they are dependent upon on the Noise to communicate with one another, but it causes major privacy concerns for human men; for some reason, the germ doesn’t affect women.

But privacy of thought is only one concern in this world—the Mayor of Prentisstown, where Todd grew up, is out to become president of the whole world and he doesn’t care what happens to people who get in his way. He recognizes Todd as a person of principles, who may do something wrong but gets back up and tries to set it right or do better. This second installment sees Prentiss try to recruit Todd to his cause, mostly manipulating him through his loyalty to Viola. I think it is also admirable that Todd is able to identify his emotions and admit that he loves Viola and to stand by her. So often, I feel like men and boys are encouraged to refuse to acknowledge their feelings, leaving the women in their lives wondering if they care at all. I guess this is one benefit of the Noise—Viola knows that Todd loves her.

The differences in the way that Noise affects women and men naturally divides them. Prentiss can’t trust women, because he can’t know what’s going on in their heads. As a result, women find themselves separated and confined quite quickly, which naturally makes the women fearful, resentful, and unwilling to go along with his program. But women aren’t going to take the change in government without a struggle—many women go into hiding and provide violent opposition. Then we get to explore the whole who is a freedom fighter and who is a terrorist question. Both sides twist logic to convince their followers.

I think this would be a great book for high school students, showing conflicts in all their grayness, very little black and white. For although I as a reader identified with Todd & Viola, they do regrettable things along the way and those who think they are on the right side are willing to do violence to make their opinions known. There are so many ethical and moral questions explored, it would make for lively discussions.

If you dislike cliff-hanger endings, you should have the next book teed up and ready to go. I’m willing to let things rest for a while at this point and will probably pick up the last book in early 2019. My reading queue is full until then.




TBR Thursday

The Franchise Affair - Josephine Tey The Body in the Library - Agatha Christie Jaws - Peter Benchley Carry on, Jeeves - P.G. Wodehouse


I will finish up my book club selection Bloody Jack this evening (and since book club is tomorrow, that's not a moment too soon).  And I must continue to work on the latest interlibrary loan, Beggars in Spain.  It's due on the 17th, so I can breathe a little easier.


Once those are done, I can plunge into Halloween Bingo with abandon!  My first Josephine Tey, The Franchise Affair, then Dame Agatha's The Body in the Library, and finally, Jaws.  I'm pretty sure that I read Jaws when I was in junior high, but I don't remember many details.  I may try to find a companion to go see the movie The Meg, if I think my heart can take such a thing.


And then, just to recover from the thriller, Carry On, Jeeves.


Plus, at work, I have finished up the cataloguing of a set of romance novels from the 1940s and 1950s.  The dust jackets are beautiful and I've been having a grand time determining subject headings for them.  Who knew there were so many young orphaned women in the world?  I'm both glad and sorry to be finished with them.



Reading progress update: I've read 44 out of 438 pages.

Beggars in Spain - Nancy Kress


Earlier this year, I read the short story version of this and decided that I needed to read the full treatment.  I had to request it through interlibrary loan, as neither of my libraries has it and I couldn't locate it second hand. 


So far, its very similar to the short version, but I'm remembering why I requested it. 


If you could live happily, indeed joyously, without sleep, what would be the effect on society?  Especially those who still need sleep?

Reading progress update: I've read 108 out of 278 pages.

Bloody Jack: Being an Account of the Curious Adventures of Mary "Jacky" Faber, Ship's Boy - L.A. Meyer


Aw, now we know how she came to be called Bloody Jack!



Reading progress update: I've read 451 out of 553 pages.

The Ask and the Answer - Patrick Ness



So many themes that are prominent today, featured in a fictional universe where young people could discuss them without all the political baggage of our reality.


I think this would be an excellent series for schools.

Reading progress update: I've read 30 out of 278 pages.

Bloody Jack: Being an Account of the Curious Adventures of Mary "Jacky" Faber, Ship's Boy - L.A. Meyer


This is a little slow to get going, but I hope now that I am through the introduction to Mary/Jacky's world and we will get to the meat of the story now.


I must finish before Friday so that I can discuss it with my RL book club!

Wrap up for the Summer of Spies

The Hanged Man - P.N. Elrod Her Royal Spyness - Rhys Bowen The Apocalypse Codex - Charles Stross

I am pleased to have finished 28 books as part of my Summer of Spies reading!  I knocked quite a bunch of books off my TBR and learned about some new series and authors that topped it right back up again.


I have to say that I loved the 4 Agatha Christie titles included in the total and that I appreciate the look into Ian Fleming’s work that I got through reading his biography plus 7 (!) of the Bond novels.  I also enjoyed Len Deighton and John Le Carré although I’m not sure that I’ll read much by either of them again.  I was very taken with Helen MacInnes and Somerset Maugham and can see myself perusing more of their writing sometime in the future.


I regret that I never did get to any books by Graham Greene.  His writing is a hole in my reading life that I must fill at some point, but unfortunately not this summer.


True to my fantasy-adoring self, my favourite reads of this summer were Rhys Bowen’s Her Royal Spyness series, Charles Stross’ Laundry Files, and P.N. Elrod’s The Hanged Man.


I hope that all of you who joined me in the Summer of Spies also had fun and got some memorable moments out of the experience.


And now, Happy Halloween Reading, everyone!



Voyager / Diana Gabaldon

Voyager - Diana Gabaldon

Claire Randall discovers that Jamie Fraser survived the Battle of Culloden and must choose between returning to him or staying in the life she has made for herself in her own time.


Well thank goodness that Voyager is now in my rear-view mirror! Not that it’s a terrible book, just it’s not the right book for me, especially right now when I’m looking forward to diving into my fall reading list. But my hold was fulfilled at the public library sooner than I anticipated and then I found there were 25 people waiting patiently behind me in line for it, so there would be no renewal allowed. Le Sigh!

I’m interested in the basic plot of the story, but Gabaldon bludgeons the reader with detail. I persist in thinking that a more ruthless editor would improve these books by orders of magnitude. Apparently this is an argument that the author has heard before, as Jamie & Major John Grey have a discussion about the length of books when Jamie is in the prison which Grey is overseeing. They are discussing Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded, by Samuel Richardson which is another kitten-squisher of a book and they come to the conclusion that some books just need more details to capture a life. Obviously, I don’t agree, but it’s a valid argument in some cases.

And of course I can’t review Gabaldon without my ritual bird-rant. This time around, it’s about a pelican, caught by the Chinese character and used to bring in fish. This method of using a bird to do the fishing is a real thing, done in China, but with cormorants. I’m unaware if pelicans have ever been trained in this way, but I suppose it is possible. There are certainly lots of cormorant species at sea that could have been chosen for the book. I’m not sure which species of pelican is referred to here, but I assume it’s a Brown Pelican (and Gabaldon, with her poor bird track record, thankfully doesn’t specify species). I suspect that she chose the pelican over the cormorant because it is a larger bird, providing some protection for its new master.

Having just recently finished Dr. No, by Ian Fleming, also set in Jamaica, I was struck by the shared details between the two books. Descriptions of mangroves and of the guano industry, for instance. Fleming references the bird guano industry, Gabaldon specifies bat guano. I assume that there are insectivorous bats in the Caribbean and caves large enough to house them and collect guano? I definitely know that Fleming’s bird colonies are dead accurate. ***I just found a reference to Jamaica bat guano on Amazon, of all places.  So Caribbean bat guano is a thing.***

One thing that I did appreciate in this volume was the lovely portrayal of middle-aged lovers. Jamie & Claire have still got it going on. I also thought that their hesitance when they are first reunited was right on the money—a 20 year gap is almost like starting over with a new person, after all.

I’m pleased to report that it looks like at least a year will pass before I will pick up the next book in this series. Hopefully, I’ll be feeling less time pressure at that point and can read at a more leisurely pace, which would dampen my resentment of all the unnecessary padding in these books.

Book number 293 in my Science Fiction & Fantasy Reading Project.


This was the cover of the version that I read, and I have to say that I love it!  That lichen covered rock, reminiscent of something in a stone henge, with Claire and Jamie on either side of it.

Goldfinger / Ian Fleming

Goldfinger - Ian Fleming

Auric Goldfinger, the most phenomenal criminal Bond has ever faced, is an evil genius who likes his cash in gold bars and his women dressed only in gold paint. After smuggling tons of gold out of Britain into secret vaults in Switzerland, this powerful villain is planning the biggest and most daring heist in history-robbing all the gold in Fort Knox. That is, unless Secret Agent 007 can foil his plan. In one of Ian Fleming's most popular adventures, James Bond tracks this most dangerous foe across two continents and takes on two of the most memorable villains ever created-a human weapon named Oddjob and a luscious female crime boss named Pussy Galore.


***2018 Summer of Spies***

I spent part of the Labour Day weekend finishing up my Summer of Spies and finishing up Goldfinger. I’ve had fun with earlier installments of Bond, but found this book a bit of a grind. It started, Goddess aid me, with card games yet again and then continued on with one of the only subjects that I consider more boring than cards, golf! There was much eye rolling and boredom on my part, but I realize that these subjects excite other people, and certainly were passions of Mr. Fleming.

Add to that statements like Koreans being “the cruelest, most ruthless people in the world” and a criminal organization consisting of lesbians under the direction of Pussy Galore, and well, this one went way off the charts of the stereotype-meter. I’ll take the TV show “Kim’s Convenience” over Oddjob any day for an example of Koreans in our society. Next time I’m feeling down about the role of women and minorities in our society and feeling like change is taking for-bloody-ever, I’ll pick up the next Bond book for a reminder of exactly how far we have come.

I will reiterate what I said in my review of Casino Royale, that I am surprised and pleased at the caliber of Fleming’s writing. I shouldn’t be so surprised, I guess, as he read a lot and spent a fair amount of time with literary people, including one of my favourites, Raymond Chandler. I guess that I’ve unfairly absorbed the literary judgements of his wife’s literary circle, who looked down their noses at Fleming’s work. I’m glad to have read several of the books that have created their own enduring niche in popular culture.

Reading progress update: I've read 178 out of 347 pages.

Goldfinger - Ian Fleming


According to Auric Goldfinger, Koreans "are the cruellest, most ruthless people in the world."


I can hardly wait to tell my Korean cousins about this. Ha!

It's Here!

Iron and Magic -  Ilona Andrews



Just received my copy of this in today's mail--it was all I could do not to hug the mailman!  But I suspect that would have scared him.


Now to figure out how to shoe horn into my reading schedule.  *rubs hands with glee*



Reading progress update: I've read 334 out of 870 pages.

Voyager - Diana Gabaldon


I am disappointed to report no birds in this volume thus far.


The positive:  its a great depiction of middle-aged lovers.


Summary of the first third of the book?  Claire, Brianna, and Roger do a lot of research, while pretty much everyone Jaime meets in Scotland wants to sleep with him.  All right, that's a BIT of an exaggeration, but really.  *rolls eyes*


And I'm having the same problem that I always do with Gabaldon's work, I read along fine for a while, but when I set the book down, its really hard to pick it back up.


I have seven more days until its due.....

TBR Thursday

Voyager - Diana Gabaldon Bloody Jack: Being an Account of the Curious Adventures of Mary "Jacky" Faber, Ship's Boy - L.A. Meyer Goldfinger - Ian Fleming A Royal Pain - Rhys Bowen


I'm almost finished In the Month of the Midnight Sun and then I will have to move on to Voyager, as it is due on September 7 and 23 people are waiting for it.  I've waited quite a long time for my turn, so I'm reluctant to return it without reading it.  It is part of my Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading Project and be assured that I will be reading with a notebook at my elbow to record any birdy inaccuracies that occur!  Its a kitten-squisher, so I better get busy with it asap.


I've also got to read Bloody Jack before September 7, as it is the current selection for my real-life book club.  As the member who made the selections for the year, its my duty to have them read and be able to discuss them!


And I still have two hold-overs from the Summer of Spies--Goldfinger and A Royal Pain.  I'm looking forward to getting them cleaned up prior to getting serious about Halloween Bingo.


The Labour Day weekend is just about here.  I've booked Friday off work to extend it to a four day weekend.  There's the usual weekend stuff to do, of course--laundry, a bit of house cleaning, some cooking, grocery shopping, you all know the way the list grows.  But I'm also going to make some time to go to my favourite used book store to look for a growing list of books that my libraries don't have.  Also, I hope to reorganize my paperback shelves and get my Science Fiction & Fantasy project books in better order (and perhaps fitting on the shelves more tidily).


I wish you all happy reading and a great weekend!



Silent in the Grave / Deanna Raybourn

Silent in the Grave - Deanna Raybourn

These ominous words, slashed from the pages of a book of Psalms, are the last threat that the darling of London society, Sir Edward Grey, receives from his killer. Before he can show them to Nicholas Brisbane, the private inquiry agent he has retained for his protection, Sir Edward collapses and dies at his London home, in the presence of his wife, Julia, and a roomful of dinner guests.


Prepared to accept that Edward's death was due to a long-standing physical infirmity, Julia is outraged when Brisbane visits and suggests that Sir Edward has been murdered. It is a reaction she comes to regret when she discovers the damning paper for herself, and realizes the truth.


Determined to bring her husband's murderer to justice, Julia engages the enigmatic Brisbane to help her investigate Edward's demise. Dismissing his warnings that the investigation will be difficult, if not impossible, Julia presses forward, following a trail of clues that lead her to even more unpleasant truths, and ever closer to a killer who waits expectantly for her arrival.


I read this book to fill the Romantic Suspense square of my 2018 Halloween Bingo card. It was also my choice as pre-read, before the beginning of September.

And what a good choice it was! I am so disappointed that Deanna Raybourn didn’t make it to our writers’ conference a couple of weekends ago. It seems that I am going to enjoy her Lady Julia Grey series every bit as much as her Veronica Speedwell series. I’ve only read 3 of her books, so it would seem that I have plenty of pleasurable reading hours ahead of me.

This book has perhaps the best opening lines that I’ve read in a long time: "To say that I met Nicholas Brisbane over my husband's dead body is not entirely accurate. Edward, it should be noted, was still twitching upon the floor." Those two sentences set the tone for the book, as Julia reluctantly comes to the conclusion that her husband Edward was murdered and that something should be done about it.

It’s a thick volume and the pace is leisurely. However, I found myself eating toast for dinner one evening in lieu of setting it down and actually cooking. It definitely reminded me of both Victoria Holt and Mary Stewart for tone, although I think the mystery portion of the novel was superior to those gothic romances. Romance is an element of Raybourn’s writing, but the mystery is the main concern. When I finally set the book down to go to bed, I was about 90% through it and had two suspects for the murderer, but I was quite prepared to find that I was entirely wrong. The final reveal showed that I had been on the right track and had been skillfully guided there by the author. It all made sense and Raybourn provided really good red herring clues that kept me from being sure in my choice.

Now my only complaint is that my public library doesn’t have the second book in this series. That is only a half-hearted complaint, as it gives me an excuse to visit my favourite used book store in the near future.


Reading progress update: I've read 64 out of 384 pages.

In the Month of the Midnight Sun - Cecilia Ekbäck


I can't leave so much space between readings of this book--there are too many details to remember & lack of details to puzzle over.


Once I've finished Silent in the Grave, this will be my priority.