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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

False Positive
Andrew Grant
Sweep of the Blade
Ilona Andrews
The Gun Seller
Hugh Laurie
Diamonds Are Forever
Ian Fleming

The Desert Spear / Peter V. Brett

The Desert Spear - Peter V. Brett

The sun is setting on humanity. The night now belongs to voracious demons that prey upon a dwindling population forced to cower behind half-forgotten symbols of power.

Legends tell of a Deliverer: a general who once bound all mankind into a single force that defeated the demons. But is the return of the Deliverer just another myth? Perhaps not.

Out of the desert rides Ahmann Jardir, who has forged the desert tribes into a demon-killing army. He has proclaimed himself Shar'Dama Ka, the Deliverer, and he carries ancient weapons--a spear and a crown--that give credence to his claim.

But the Northerners claim their own Deliverer: the Warded Man, a dark, forbidding figure.

 

This book is a distinct change of view from the first one, The Warded Man. We must back up and approach this story again, this time from the Krasian point of view. Jardir, who seemed like simply a back-stabbing traitor in book one now has his own version of the same events, giving us an alternate POV in this one.

We learn far more about Krasian civilization, which seems to be heavily based on early Middle Eastern cultures, with warrior values, harems of women, and contempt for outsiders, both non-warriors within the culture & actual foreigners. Many parallels can be seen within Arlen’s agrarian society, which is extremely patriarchal and very hidebound (very like medieval Europe), something which can happen when a society is under siege.

It almost seems, in this installment, that everyone has become much too comfortable with the demon-haunted night. Both societies seem to be channeling their inner demon hunters and the tension of the first book is gone in this regard. Hints are happening that we may soon get the POV of the demons—will they get the same sympathetic treatment as Jardir?

Arlen and Jardir were friends at one point—now they are rivals. Which one will become the great Unifier who will unite humanity and defeat the Corelings (demons)? But while Jardier claims to be the Deliverer, Arlen denies the title just as strenuously. Nevertheless, the demons clearly see them both as threats. These men could also have been rivals over Leesha if Brett had written things a little differently, but that ship seems to have sailed.

I’m displeased that my library doesn’t have book three and there’s no time for them to order it before I see Peter Brett at the When Words Collide conference in August. I’m not usually known for laying out the dinero for new books, but if I can get a bit of a discount at the merchants’ corner, I’ll maybe spring for book 3 (since I note that the library has books 4 & 5).

Casino Royale / Ian Fleming

Casino Royale - Ian Fleming

In the novel that introduced James Bond to the world, Ian Fleming’s agent 007 is dispatched to a French casino in Royale-les-Eaux. His mission? Bankrupt a ruthless Russian agent who’s been on a bad luck streak at the baccarat table.

One of SMERSH’s most deadly operatives, the man known only as “Le Chiffre,” has been a prime target of the British Secret Service for years. If Bond can wipe out his bankroll, Le Chiffre will likely be “retired” by his paymasters in Moscow. But what if the cards won’t cooperate? After a brutal night at the gaming tables, Bond soon finds himself dodging would-be assassins, fighting off brutal torturers, and going all-in to save the life of his beautiful female counterpart, Vesper Lynd.

 

***2018 Summer of Spies***

Two things about this book surprised me—first that Fleming was a pretty good writer, second that the book was so short! I’ve never attempted any of Fleming’s fiction before, partly because I saw some of the films of these works back about 30 years ago. You can’t live in a co-ed residence in university without at least having some of these movies on the lounge television set and I think I may have been dragged to the movie theatre as well (back when a movie only cost $5 and a person could afford to go).

Bond in the book is much less charming than Bond on the screen. He’s rougher around the edges and the racism & misogyny of earlier times are very apparent. It’s difficult for me to judge—how much of this is the fictional character, how much is just the zeitgeist of the 1950s, and how much of this is Ian Fleming himself?

I’ve requested a biography of Fleming from the library, to help me try to sort this matter. I’m also intrigued by how much he was influenced by the work of Agatha Christie. One of the very first scenes in Casino Royale involves Bond checking to see if his room has been searched, using exactly the same stratagem as a character in Christie’s They Came to Baghdad (the use of precisely placed, unobtrusive hairs). Undoubtedly Fleming read Christie, so I’m interested in that angle as well.

One can’t claim to have read spy fiction without reading Fleming, so I will pick up Live and Let Die in the near future and continue on during my Summer of Spies.

Reading progress update: I've read 25 out of 303 pages.

Berlin Game - Len Deighton

 

I think I'm already hooked.  Good job, Mr. Deighton.

The Good Gut / Justin and Erica Sonnenburg

The Good Gut: Taking Control of Your Weight, Your Mood, and Your Long-term Health - Erica Sonnenburg, Justin Sonnenburg, Andrew Weil

Finally, a book about the gut microbiome that actually offers constructive advice! This is what I’ve been searching for, even if I am a bit disappointed with the authors’ recommendations.


First off, there are things that affect your microbiome that you cannot change—if you were born by C-section or weren’t breastfed, there’s nothing that you can about it. Neither can you change the amount of antibiotics that you took as a child.

There are three things that you can do from this moment on, however. First, don’t rush off to your doctor and demand antibiotics for every little thing. Every time you take them, there is nuclear winter for the good microbes in your gut, leaving space for pathogens to muscle in and make you sick. There are times that you will need antibiotics—save your exposures for those time. (Having recently struggled with a nasty skin infection, cellulitis, which made me very feverish and scared, I am very thankful for antibiotics).

The second thing is that we have developed the idea that ultra-clean is ultra-good. Not necessarily so, say the authors. Accept a bit of dirt back into your life. Dig in the garden, get a bit of dirt under your fingernails, pet your dog or cat, don’t stress too much about washing. Of course, clean up to make yourself comfortable and always wash your hands after toilet visits, but your kitchen does not have to have the same level of clean as an operating room. You can benefit by challenging your immune system via the gut and maybe acquire some useful microfauna in the process.

Thirdly, we are starving our good gut microbes. They need the fibre from foods like vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains. Lots of it. Also keep in mind that our microbiome is a pharmaceutical factory, producing molecules that can affect our lives in unexpected ways. Too much meat favours microbes that produce a cancer causing substance. Finally the whole “eat less meat” message makes more sense to me, although it makes it no easier to follow. Moving away from simple carbohydrates can also be challenging, especially because we enjoy them so much, but they feed the wrong bacteria.

I find this kind of book very inspirational. It’s difficult to change life-long bad habits, but I’m always re-inspired after reading about current research and its ramifications. So I made a happy trip to the farmers’ market last night to buy cherries, raspberries and carrots and I plan to feed the beneficial bacteria as well as I can.

The Name of the Star / Maureen Johnson

The Name of the Star - Maureen Johnson

Jack the Ripper is back, and he's coming for Rory next....

 

Louisiana teenager Rory Deveaux arrives in London to start a new life at boarding school just as a series of brutal murders mimicking the horrific Jack the Ripper killing spree of more than a century ago has broken out across the city. The police are left with few leads and no witnesses. Except one. Rory spotted the man believed to be the prime suspect. But she is the only one who saw him - the only one who can see him. And now Rory has become his next target...unless she can tap her previously unknown abilities to turn the tables.

 

Another example of really enjoyable YA literature. It reminded me of Paul Cornell’s London Falling (although it is not nearly so dark) what with the Jack the Ripper references and ghostly presences. But the main character, Rory Deveraux, made me think of Karen Marie Moning’s MacKayla Lane (the Fever series)—both are Southern girls with professional parents who go to school in the U.K. Both girls are capable of seeing things that ordinary people can’t—MacKayla sees the Fae, Rory sees dead people. However, Rory is much less self-absorbed & she is smarter and funnier as a main character.

I really enjoy this author’s sense of humour! I adored her descriptions of Claudia, the school’s house mother: “Something about her suggested that her leisure activities included wrestling large woodland animals and banging bricks together.” She is, in fact, the field hockey coach and very devoted to that sport. Later, Rory says, “She introduced herself to my parents with one of her mighty, bunny-crushing handshakes. (I’d never seen Claudia crush a bunny, to be fair, but that’s the approximate level of pressure.)” Perhaps she’s a bit of a female Hagrid, despite the fact that this is not a school for wizards.

The real details of homework, living in residence, cafeteria meals, etc. grounded the novel for me. Rory gets drawn into the paranormal gradually, but still has to cope with reading assignments and essays like a regular student. Rory has just the right amount of snark in her soul to make all these tea-drinking, field hockey-dreading moments highly entertaining. She also acquires a small circle of reliable friends, reminiscent of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

I’m not sure when I’ll be able to pick up book two, but I am very much looking forward to it!

 

TBR Thursday

Berlin Game - Len Deighton Jade City  - Fonda Lee Even - Andrew  Grant Bog Child - Siobhan Dowd N or M? - Agatha Christie A Poisoned Season - Tasha Alexander

The Summer of Spies continues, with Berlin Game, Even and N or M?  I get double points for Even, as it is a spy novel and its author, Andrew Grant, will be attending When Words Collide in August.

 

Plus two more books towards the When Words Collide conference:  Jade City and A Poisoned Season.  Both authors, Fonda Lee and Tasha Alexander, will be in attendance.  Tasha Alexander is one of the replacements for Deanna Raybourn (along with her husband, Andrew Grant, above).

 

And I've got only 1 renewal left for Bog Child, so I better just read it and return it to the library!

 

I've made great progress on the stack of books from the library--I'm down to one teetering stack rather than two!  My boyfriend is currently getting ready to move and is paring down his books, so he's been making some comments about the stacks around my house, cheeky bugger!  I've been having great luck at the used book store lately and I'm running out of shelves, but eventually those books will return to said store.  Having said that, a reorganization may be in order this weekend. 

 

Good reading, friends!

 

 

The Secret Adversary / Agatha Christie

The Secret Adversary - Agatha Christie

After WW1, childhood pals Tommy Beresford and "Tuppence" Prudence Cowley, lack money and prospects, become adventurers for the British Government. Rich American Julius P. Hersheimmer, powerful Mr Whittington, and an evil mastermind's conspiracy all seek Jane Finn, given papers vital to peace by an agent at the sinking of the Luisitania. Kidnaps, escapes.

 

***2018 Summer of Spies***

I had great fun reading this, the second of Dame Agatha’s books to be published. It is refreshing for its lack of a plot formula, like those developed during her career and well established by books like Hallowe'en Party. It is also unusual in its featuring of a couple in the starring roles, Tommy & Tuppence. Plus it incorporates a relatively recent event, the sinking of the Luisitania (1915), The Secret Adversary being published in 1922. I was really struck, however, by the plight of the young people after WWI :

"Rot!" said Tommy hastily. "Well, that's my position. I'm just about desperate."

"So am I! I've hung out as long as I could. I've touted round. I've answered advertisements. I've tried every mortal blessed thing. I've screwed and saved and pinched! But it's no good. I shall have to go home!"

Maybe because I live in a town where the economy has been dominated by the (now slumping) petroleum trade for decades and I have also been perusing resumés for a new position in our department. It’s rather sad to see young people bravely putting their best foot forward and knowing that there are much more experienced candidates available.

Of course it’s very unrealistic for two young amateurs to fare so well against the Secret Adversary, but it’s more fun than realism would have been. Tuppence, especially, seems to embody the spirit & brains that so many of Christie’s female characters exhibit, giving a hint of what is to come. It was just what I was looking for in a summer read—a rather fluffy & fun adventure.

I also liked the author’s dedication: “To all those who lead monotonous lives in the hope that they may experience at second hand the delights and dangers of adventure.” I think she could have dedicated a great many of her books this way.

A Perilous Undertaking / Deanna Raybourn

A Perilous Undertaking - Deanna Raybourn

London, 1887. At the Curiosity Club, a ladies-only establishment for daring and intrepid women, Victorian adventuress Veronica Speedwell meets the mysterious Lady Sundridge, who begs her to take on an impossible task--saving society art patron Miles Ramsforth from execution. Ramsforth, accused of the brutal murder of his mistress, Artemisia, will face the hangman's noose in a week's time if the real killer is not found.

But Lady Sundridge is not all that she seems, and unmasking her true identity is only the first of many secrets Veronica must uncover. Together with her natural-historian colleague, Stoker, Veronica races against time to find the true murderer. From a Bohemian artists' colony to a royal palace to a subterranean grotto with a decadent history, the investigation proves to be a very perilous undertaking indeed....

 

Well, I am disappointed that this author has withdrawn from the writers’ conference in my city in August. I enjoyed this second book in the Veronica Speedwell series almost as much as the first! I do hope that she will attend When Words Collide in the future.

I came into this series a bit suspicious, as I have my reservations about the whole Victorian-lady-detective set-up. I know, I know, it’s popular right now to re-write Victorian society to give it larger, more interesting female roles—and I’m theoretically in favour of that. Thankfully this series has convinced me that the concept can be done and done well.

I love the sassy Veronica and her foil, the cranky Stoker. At this point, they are BFFs and coworkers and their relationship is comfortable, if sometimes complicated. During the first book, we learned about Veronica’s family—this installment educates us about Stoker’s upbringing. They know just enough about one another to provide good advice, whether it is always appreciated or not.

The banter between the two is highly entertaining and I had to assume that at some point they will give in to romance, but I hope that Raybourn doesn’t rush it. Like all the TV shows that use this device, once they become a couple there is the danger that the story will lose all its tension. However, authors like Ilona Andrews have convinced me that there can still be life after the hook-up, so I will travel hopefully into the third book.

Looking for Alaska / John Green

Looking for Alaska - John Green

Before: Miles “Pudge” Halter is done with his safe life at home. His whole life has been one big non-event, and his obsession with famous last words has only made him crave “the Great Perhaps” even more (Francois Rabelais, poet). He heads off to the sometimes crazy and anything-but-boring world of Culver Creek Boarding School, and his life becomes the opposite of safe. Because down the hall is Alaska Young. The gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed up, and utterly fascinating Alaska Young. She is an event unto herself. She pulls Pudge into her world, launches him into the Great Perhaps, and steals his heart. Then. . . .
After: Nothing is ever the same.

 

This is my first foray into John Green’s writing, undertaken for my real life book club during our year of reading young adult literature. It seemed appropriate to include one of Green’s books, since he is sometimes credited “with ushering in a new golden era for contemporary, realistic, literary teen fiction, following more than a decade of dominance by books about young wizards, sparkly vampires, and dystopia.” (Wikipedia).

Looking for Alaska is his first published novel. One of the things that I did appreciate about it was its male narrator, Miles “Pudge” Halter. A story of a young man, written by a male author, something that we could use more of in the world of YA. One presumes that Green, having been an adolescent boy, would bring his experience to the novel and that seemed to me to be the case. Of course, my only way of judging is from comparison to my long-ago experience of being a teen girl.

I also appreciated the strong character of Alaska Young, the young woman who provides the lynch-pin of Halter’s boarding school life. She is intelligent (coaching the boys in mathematics) and a reader with a large collection of books in her room. But she is also cool, smoking & drinking & presumably sexually active (we readers only see the first two activities). She challenges the boys regularly on matters of female objectification and patriarchy. But she has a boyfriend outside of the boarding school, which makes her off-limits as a potential girlfriend to the boys—nevertheless, they all fall for the beautiful Alaska and hope to be the one to catch her fancy should she break up with Jake.

I liked all those features—so why only 3 stars? Because I felt really emotionally manipulated during my reading. My first few tears were shed in the coffee room at work, and I decided to finish up the book at home rather than cry in the workplace. For my money, Patrick Ness does a much better job at writing a YA book on grief in A Monster Calls. I cried over that one too, but it felt a bit more honest to me somehow.

Mind you, I would never discourage anyone from reading Looking for Alaska. I consider 3 stars to be a pretty good rating and I’m sure that younger readers would rate the novel higher than I do. And it certainly provides the young male viewpoint that is needed to attract young men into the world of reading.

Reading progress update: I've read 28 out of 384 pages.

The Name of the Star - Maureen Johnson

 

Rory meets Claudia:

 

"Something about her suggested that her leisure activities included wrestling large woodland animals and banging bricks together."

 

 

Have a great day, my American friends!

 

 

Reading progress update: I've read 152 out of 221 pages.

Looking for Alaska - John Green

 

 

Okay, I now know that Mr. Green deserves his reputation for writing tear-jerkers. 

 

 

Reading progress update: I've read 40 out of 178 pages.

Casino Royale - Ian Fleming

 

I complete see the scene that Broken Tune pointed out as very, very similar to one in They Came To Baghdad.  It would be really hard to miss!

 

The chapters are short & snappy.  I'm having a good time, despite Bond's attitude toward women.

Reading progress update: I've read 112 out of 221 pages.

Looking for Alaska - John Green

I wanted to like booze more than I actually did (which is more or less the precise opposite of how I felt about Alaska).

 

 

 

Reading progress update: I've read 180 out of 320 pages.

The Good Gut: Taking Control of Your Weight, Your Mood, and Your Long-term Health - Erica Sonnenburg, Justin Sonnenburg, Andrew Weil

 

Advice that I've gleaned so far:

 

Throw away your hand sanitizer and (outside cold & flu season) maybe don't wash your hands quite so fanatically.

 

Spend some time digging in dirt.  Maybe let some of it stay under your fingernails for a while.

 

If you have the desire, get yourself a pet.  Once again, don't worry about hand washing after touching them quite so much.

 

Much to my delight, don't get too bent out of shape about house cleaning.  A bit of dirt is a good thing.

 

Eat lots of foods that will nourish your inner microbial garden:  fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains.  You know, that stuff that every book tells you to eat.

 

We are too clean and we eat too much junk.

TBR Thursday

Casino Royale - Ian Fleming The Desert Spear - Peter V. Brett The Spy Who Came In from the Cold - John le Carré The Name of the Star - Maureen Johnson The Secret Adversary - Agatha Christie Jade City  - Fonda Lee

After a very fun buddy read, I must now settle down & finish both a book club selection (Looking for Alaska) and a non-fiction selection (The Good Gut).  Also for book club (because we are combining two months' meetings) I better start The Name of the Star.

 

Then I'm going to move on to Casino Royale while I still have They Came to Baghdad clear in my memory.  Also on the Summer of Spies list are The Spy Who Came In From the Cold and The Secret Adversary.

 

Looking towards my writers' conference in August, I'll be reading The Desert Spear (second book in the Demon Cycle by Peter Brett) and Jade City (by Fonda Lee, one of this year's panelists).

 

July 1st is Canada Day, so I get July 2nd off work as a statutory holiday.  I've booked this Friday as vacation too, to give myself a 4 day break.  Right now the weather predictions are not all that promising, so I may get more reading time than anticipated!

 

Have a great weekend, friends!