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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

The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements
Sam Kean
Lion (Movie Tie-In)
Saroo Brierley
Narcissus in Chains
Laurell K. Hamilton
Progress: 445/644 pages
Strong Poison
Dorothy L. Sayers
Doomsday Book
Connie Willis
Progress: 226/578 pages

Reading progress update: I've read 51 out of 288 pages.

Small gods - Terry Pratchett


I can see why other people enjoy this.  I might actually do better with an audio book version, as I really struggle with humour on the page.


But at least I'm not hating it, so there's that.

Sweep of the Blade / Ilona Andrews

Sweep of the Blade -  Ilona Andrews

Maud Demille was a daughter of Innkeepers. She knew that a simple life wasn't in the cards, but she never anticipated what Fate would throw at her.

Once a wife to a powerful vampire knight, Maud and her daughter, Helen, had been exiled for the sins of her husband to the desolate planet of Karhari. Karhari killed her husband, and Maud had spent a year and a half avenging his debts. But now all the debts are paid. Rescued by her sister Dina, Maud had swore off all things vampire. Except she met Arland, the Marshal of House Krahr. One thing led to another and he asked for her hand in marriage. She declined.

Try as she might, she can't just walk away from Arland. It doesn't help that being human is a lot harder for Maud than being a vampire.

To sort it all out, she accepts his invitation to visit his home planet. House Krahr is a powerful vampire House, and Maud knows that a woman who turned down the proposal from its most beloved son wouldn't get a warm reception. But Maud Demille never shied from a fight and House Krahr may soon discover that there is more to this human woman than they ever thought possible.


Otubar reached over and plucked Helen from the bed. “Come with me, child. It’s time we tested you with other weapons.”
“If you do well, I will give you cake,” Ilemina said.
Helen’s eyes lit up. “What kind of cake?”
“Delicious kind,” Otubar told her.

And that’s what this little novella-swollen-to-novel was—delicious cake with frothy icing! No nutritional value whatsoever. It was a fun little paranormal romance, getting Maud & Arland together with lots of blood and severed limbs along the way.

From the beginning of the Innkeeper series, I have been on Team Arland. Sean Evans was fine as a love interest for Dina, but I loved Arland immediately and I will read anything featuring him. There is no doubt in my mind that Maud is a better match for him than Dina was, so I was thrilled to travel with Maud and little Helen to his home planet and sort things out.

Reading an ongoing, serialized work such as this one is less satisfying than being able to read a fully edited, printed version, but still entertaining. I had something to look forward to every Friday (besides the end of my work week). I will definitely be buying the print version (and not just to enjoy the R-rated bits that the authors weren’t posting to the interwebs) to add to my Ilona Andrews collection, to be enjoyed repeatedly.

My House Smells Wonderful....

Skinnytaste Fast and Slow: Knockout Quick-Fix and Slow Cooker Recipes - Gina Homolka, Heather K. Jones

I have the Crustless Apple Pie in my slowcooker and it smells great. It is basically just chunky applesauce, but there is nothing wrong with that!


There are a few recipes in this book that I want to try. But I am glad  my library had it on the shelves.

The Serial Novella is Finished!

Sweep of the Blade -  Ilona Andrews

What kind of cake?


Delicious kind.


Well that was fun.


And I liked the ending very much!

Reading progress update: I've read 63 out of 432 pages.

Dark Queen - Faith Hunter


"My life was a soap opera with fangs and fur."


Oh, Jane, I do enjoy your life!

A Time of Omens / Katharine Kerr

A Time of Omens - Katharine Kerr

The kingdom of Deverry is left behind and strange lands to the west, beyond the elven territories are explored. The story delves back into elven history to the fall of the cities and the Great Burning.


This is the sixth book of the Deverry series that I’ve read and I realize that I have never written a review of any of them. I come away from this novel feeling conflicted—I do like the Celtic details in the stories, but this isn’t our reality, so I can’t really call it historical fantasy. I enjoy the magic and the concept of Dweomer plus I like Kerr’s version of Elves. However, I weary of all of the blood & guts warfare. It seems like all the men of this society do is trot off to beat each other senseless, and I don’t ever get as much time with the magic and such as I would like to.

It was kind of interesting in this installment when Kerr re-introduced characters from past volumes. Perrin, for example, who now has a grandson that he can send along with Rhodry on a mission of mercy. We also get to see Rhodry & Jill reunited as old friends, rather than as lovers and enjoy the bitter-sweetness of that moment.

The only author that I can think to compare this series to would be the Deryni books of Katherine Kurtz, also a fantasy version of a Celtic culture with added magic. I adored those books when I was in my twenties and I imagine I would have loved Kerr’s works equally had I encountered them during that time period. I don’t know how I missed them back then.

Bottom line? I wish I liked these books more than I do. I like them well enough to continue reading the series (which is good because I found a bunch of them at the used book store & stocked up) but I think I am past my best-before date for this kind of fantasy.

Book number 301 of my Science Fiction & Fantasy Reading Project.

TBR Thursday

Nairobi Heat - Mukoma wa Ngugi Skin Game: A Novel of the Dresden Files - Jim Butcher Doomsday Book - Connie Willis Shark Drunk: The Art of Catching a Large Shark from a Tiny Rubber Dinghy in a Big Ocean - Morten A. Strøksnes The Second Empress: A Novel of Napoleon's Court - Michelle Moran Small gods - Terry Pratchett


Time to buckle down and see how many of my planned 2018 books I can finish before the year's end.


Both Doomsday Book and Small Gods will count towards my Science Fiction and Fantasy Project.  I think that Small Gods, Nairobi Heat, Second Empress, and Shark Drunk can all contribute to my 24 Tasks of the Festive Season, too.  Maybe I can find a way to make Skin Game fit, if I am crafty enough!


I was supposed to meet my new great-niece on Saturday, but my niece's whole household has come down with some nasty plague, so we are cancelling those plans.  I guess this gives me a day to get caught up on housework, do some cooking (so I have a Menu Monday offering), and read!


My car & I were reunited yesterday.  All seems to be well with the tires, so I am happy about that.  Today, I'll be headed off to my retinal specialist for my annual check-up.  Just making sure those retinas stay stuck to the back of my eyeballs!


Happy reading, friends!



A Frustrating Morning


I had a tire blow-out on the way to work this morning!  Not how you want to start a Tuesday.


Two good things:  I was close enough to my tire shop to limp the car in there and I had purchased brand new tires from them in early October, so the work will be done on warranty and I'll only have to pay $50.


Another good thing--I have enough vacation time accumulated that I can stay home until the work is complete.


The only bad thing?  They didn't have a tire to match the remaining three in stock.  They're having to send to another city for it, but they promise to have me back on the road by tomorrow afternoon.


So I guess I'm on vacation today & tomorrow.  Not how I expected to spend my week.

Reading progress update: I've read 184 out of 395 pages.

A Time of Omens - Katharine Kerr


I never know what to say about these books--I like them ok, but I don't love them.


I enjoy the Celtic elements and the dweomer, but I don't love the characters.


Book number 301 of my Science Fiction & Fantasy Reading Project.

The Shadow Rising / Robert Jordan

The Shadow Rising - Robert Jordan

The seals of Shayol Ghul are weak now, and the Dark One reaches out. The Shadow is rising to cover humankind.  In Tar Valon, Min sees portents of hideous doom. Will the White Tower itself be broken?  In the Two Rivers, the Whitecloaks ride in pursuit of a man with golden eyes, and in pursuit of the Dragon Reborn.  In Cantorin, among the Sea Folk, High Lady Suroth plans the return of the Seanchan armies to the mainland.  In the Stone of Tear, the Lord Dragon considers his next move. It will be something no one expects, not the Black Ajah, not Tairen nobles, not Aes Sedai, not Egwene or Elayne or Nynaeve.

Against the Shadow rising stands the Dragon Reborn.....


This is the 300th book that I’ve read for my Science Fiction & Fantasy Reading Project!

Go me!

I can’t believe the number of different sources that Jordan drew on while he was writing The Wheel of Time. I mean, Tolkien is obvious. You’ve got the small town lad drawn into the problems of a larger world, sent on perilous adventures with his friends with uncertain outcome. You’ve also got a looming, dark, powerful enemy that no one truly expects him to be able to do anything about. Even things like pipeweed (Tolkien) and tabac (Jordan) being grown in the area that the hero is from (and it being considered superior quality too).

But this novel also reminded me of Frank Herbert’s Dune. The Aiel people remind me a lot of Herbert’s Fremen on Arrakis. They are desert dwellers, they are fierce & formidable fighters, they can blend with their environment, and even the women are dangerous. Just like Paul Atreides, Rand appears to represent a prophecy fulfilled, though some members of the Aiel struggle with this idea. Plus, there are the Aes Sedai, pulling strings in the background just like the Bene Gesserit. Rand, just like Paul, struggles to maintain his independence both from them and from prophecy.

Two things annoyed me during the course of the novel. The first is this whole “Women are mysterious creatures that men can’t possibly understand” thing that Jordan seems to have going. Along with the corresponding “Women easily manipulate men” corollary, which I also don’t buy. Men and women are perfectly capable of communication, asking questions when they don’t understand things. My gentleman friend is actually far too observant for me some days! He’s sees my motivations more clearly than I do and provides a needed perspective. My second annoyance was the whole “To make your female character independent, you show that she is stubborn” assumption. Jordan is so good at providing lots of significant female characters—I so wish that he didn’t subscribe to this erroneous idea. Being stubborn does not equal power or independence, in female or male characters and I see it in far too much fiction.

I can’t believe how many pages I have read and I am only through book 4 of 14. This is an incredibly detailed fantasy world, the author follows a tremendous number of characters, and I can see myself spending many more absorbing hours on the Wheel of Time.

Melbourne Cup Day - Task 4

Have you ever been to or participated in a competition involving horses (racing, jumping, dressage, whatever)?


It’s been a long, long, long time since I participated in a horse show, back when I was in junior high and high school during my 4-H Horse Club days.  The more I think about those days, the more I think that my mother was a super-hero. 


I had a gentle old sorrel mare named June that we took to these events.  She was gentle until she was presented with a truck that she was supposed to get into.  Then, she became the more stubborn, balky animal on the face of the earth.  Looking back, I can’t say that I blame her.


My mother & I would load June into the back of our half-ton truck (with stock racks) and drive about three quarters of an hour up to the horse show site.  Mom didn’t just have her hormonal teenage horse-crazy daughter along, she also had the two younger siblings.  The competitions would last most of the day, then it would take almost every willing man on grounds to help us convince June to get back in the truck to go home!  And June would always shift around, like she was thinking about trying to jump out of the truck, making driving difficult.  And yet Mom did this for me, year after year. 


I was a horse-crazy kid.  I still remember the day I got my first pony, Nippy.  My dad and grandpa and I had gone to the auction market, probably to sell hogs.  It was always a big treat to be allowed to go—not only did I get to see all the animals, but we would get a hamburger for lunch and probably a bottle of pop for the drive home.  Those are big considerations when you’re a ten year old! 


When we saw the little black pony in a pen in the back of the auction, the very first thing he did was nip each of us (hence his name).  I had no expectations, I just wanted to pet the pony.  I was incredibly surprised and excited when my dad bid on the pony when it came up for auction!  I remember that we paid $50 dollars for him and he came with a bridle.  I also remember my grandpa saying he was glad that Dad had bid, because he’d been thinking about it!


Nippy & I had our struggles, but he became a devoted friend to me.  He could count—when the cousins came to visit, if the line of pony riders was too long, he would be absolutely miserable to the first one or two to scare away some of the more timid kids.  He also knew exactly where he could scrape off an inattentive rider (we rode him bareback).  At the end of his life, he would still struggle to perform the little tricks that I’d taught him and I could get him to move when no one else could.  He lived with us to the end of his life.


June was unimpressed with Nippy.  He was so excited to have another horse to hang with that he came trotting up to her when she arrived on our farm.  Imagine his surprise when she bit him hard and sent him running away!  Eventually they reached a détante, but in the early days there was a lot of hostility.


Eventually, we had June bred and she produced a sorrel filly that we named Peaches.  Photos of Peaches follow.  I got to do the first bit of her training and rode her a very few times, but I had to sell her before I went to university.  I haven’t been able to lay my hands on photos of Nippy or June.

A very young Peaches with one of Mom's friends


A mature Peaches, just before I had to sell her.

Me, every weekend.
Me, every weekend.
— feeling haha
Throw out the lettuce, cook up the bacon!
Throw out the lettuce, cook up the bacon!

The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs

The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World - Stephen Brusatte


Ah, the blast that ended the dinosaurs!  So much controversy!


And to think it all dates back to the days when religion dominated science.  When extinctions were explained by catastrophes ordered by God.  Need to get rid of Pleistocene animals? Invoke a flood.  Not just Noah's flood, either, the various churches decided there were plenty of catastrophes to go around.  Catastrophism its known as.


Things started to change when Charles Lyell published his Principles of Geology.  His theory was that you could observe geological processes at work in the world and make conclusions based on that.  Erosion, sedimentation, etc. are slow, gradual processes.  Lyell's book was reading material that Charles Darwin took with him on his Beagle voyage and the whole slow-and-steady change message really influenced his thought on evolution.  It's known as Uniformitarianism.


But here's the thing--the geological community got hung up on this.  It became verboten to attribute change to catastrophes.  That was considered a reversion to the past, to the Church.  Hence all the denial that a comet or asteroid impact could possibly be the reason for the Cretaceous extinction event.


At University of Calgary, we have a professor, Dr. Alan Hildebrand, who studies meteorites and impact sites.  He has been a major contributor to the study of the Chicxulub Crater on the Yucatan Peninsula, the impact that is thought to have ended the Cretaceous period. 


Just like Brusatte, I got my moment with the K/T boundary while in Cuba.  Our tour guide took us to a place where that fateful layer was exposed.  I got to put my hands on it, iridium, shocked quartz, and tektites included!  After a bit of searching, I found my photo of it.  Guys, its a seriously boring photo, but here it is:



Wish I had posed by it now, but what can you do?


Reading progress update: I've read 802 out of 1006 pages.

The Shadow Rising - Robert Jordan



Blimey, this book is taking a long time to read!



A North American early bird fossil found in Utah

This article mentions at least two of the scientists mentioned in Steve Brusatte's book The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs. 


It also shows how long can elapse between a discovery and its publication. This fossil was found in 1992, but it's making news now, after preparation, study, and finally, publication.


I love paleontology precisely because we are always learning new things.