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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

Urban Enemies
Jim Butcher, Kevin Hearne, Kelley Armstrong, Seanan McGuire, Jeff Somers, Joseph Nassise, Jonathan Maberry
Shadow Rider (The Shadow Series)
Christine Feehan
Shattered
Kevin Hearne
Dark Lover
J.R. Ward
Bloodfever
Karen Marie Moning
Brothers in Arms
Lois McMaster Bujold, Grover Gardner

My beautiful bingo card!  Many thanks to Moonlight Reader for creating personalized cards!

A Mystery of Errors / Simon Hawke

A Mystery of Errors - Simon Hawke

Two travelers, Will Shakespeare-a fledgling dramatist, and Symington Smythe, an ostler and aspiring thespian, meet at a roadside inn and decide to cast their lot together for fame and fortune in the cutthroat world of the London theater in Elizabethan England . . . but neither was prepared for their offstage encounter with A Mystery of Errors. When a backer's daughter is double-crossed by a would-be suitor, the reluctant bride turns to the ostler and the playwright for help.  Little does anyone realize that these simple affairs of the heart and an arranged marriage will lead to a vast web of conspiracy, mistaken identity, and murder that finds the playwright targeted for assassination and the ostler hopelessly in love.

 

This novel suffered from comparison with recently read historical fiction by C.C. Humphreys, whose work stands head-and-shoulders above this little mystery. The writing of just the first page had me wondering if I would even bother to finish the book. After all, life is finite and there are tons of good books out there.

I did persevere, however, and followed the story to its rather pedestrian end. The plot was imaginative and I wish the author had been able to exercise more skill in its execution. Rather than flowing, events bumped along rather brusquely. The dialog was simple and the characterization was basic. Every now and then, there would be a tiny info-dump as the author proved that he had done his research.

If you are considering this book, I would suggest that you approach with caution. If you are looking for a book featuring Shakespeare as a character (as I was), I would recommend Shakespeare's Rebel. If something involving a highwayman is your goal, try Plague. If you are looking for a 21st century humourous take on Shakespeare, pick up Shakespeare Undead, which is lighthearted yet effortlessly shows how to reference the Bard’s works without belabouring the point.

At some point, I will probably solider on and read the second mystery in this series, as I have made a bit of a project out of reading all the novels I can find that feature Shakespeare as a character. You are not obliged to follow me in this obsession.

Plague / C.C. Humphreys

Plague - C.C. Humphreys

London, 1665. A serial killer stalks his prey, scalpel in his hand and God's vengeance in his heart. Five years after his restoration to the throne, Charles II leads his citizens by example, enjoying every excess. Londoners have slipped the shackles of puritanism and now flock to the cockpits, brothels and, especially, the theatres, where for the first time women are allowed to perform alongside the men. But not everyone is swept up in the excitement. Some see this liberated age as the new Babylon, and murder victims pile up in the streets, making no distinction in class between a royalist member of parliament and a Cheapside whore. But they have a few things in common: the victims are found with gemstones in their mouths. And they have not just been murdered; they've been . . . sacrificed.  Now the plague is returning to the city with full force, attacking indiscriminately . . . and murder has found a new friend.

 

Chris Humphreys is an inspired historical fiction author. I met him last weekend at a literary conference and he is smart, funny, and charming as the devil. He definitely benefits from his acting background, particularly his ease with performing Shakespeare (we got an excerpt from one of the Henry plays during his key-note address). During one of his panel discussions, he mentioned that as an author, one must choose how the dialog will be written—choose your form of “bygone-ese” as he called it. Humphrey’s ease with the English of Shakespeare and his playwright’s ear for what will sound good gives his fiction a feeling of reality, using just enough older vocabulary and never becoming too 21st century.

There is, of course, theatre involved in the novel—a subject that the author is knowledgeable and comfortable with. But the variety of characters, from highwayman to serial killer to royalty, gives the story a breadth that I appreciated. As a reader, you are not limited to merely the theatre of 1665, you experience many parts of London. In fact London itself could be counted as a character.

I will be working my way, gradually, through all of Chris Humphreys works and will definitely look forward to more. Highly recommended.

For all you Harry Potter fans--start planning your trip to this new restaurant!

 

Step into The Cauldron Inn when you're in Exeter!

Imago / Octavia Butler

Imago - Octavia E. Butler

In the third book of her Xenogenesis series, Octavia Butler gives us the alien’s perspective.  It makes the Oankali marginally less creepy, but only a tiny bit.  Butler excels at creating truly alien life forms, with wildly different forms of reproduction.

 

The Oankali having stinging cells and tentacles, giving them some resemblance to jellyfish (Cniderians) in our world, but they are upright walking, hand-and-arm-possessing, intelligent life forms.  And, it turns out, they have a three stage metamorphosis like Earth’s insects do.  This installment follows that mysterious third sex, the Ooloi, as one of Lilith’s children matures sexually into the adult form (hence the title, Imago).

 

In the first book, the Oankali have rescued the small remainder of humanity from a disaster of their own creation and have begun combining the two species.  That’s what the Ooankali do and they consider it their payment for their rescue services, but that’s not what it looks like or feels like to humans.  Lilith gradually becomes convinced that she won’t be allowed to live as human and reluctantly gets involved with the aliens, although it is against her true wishes.

 

In the second book, we follow Lilith’s construct child, Akin, who actually has five parents and who understands the relationship between the two species better than either the humans or the Oankali.  He sees the basic incompatibility between the two species but also how they can also become compatible.  Seemingly a paradox, which Akin reveals as a prejudice of the Oankali against humanity—we’ve always known that humans are prejudiced against the aliens.

 

This third installment reveals just how much the Oankali need and long for relationships with humans.  To this point, they have seemed very unemotional, almost clinical, in their desire to revitalize their own DNA through incorporation of the human genome.  Jodahs, who is metamorphosing into one of the mysterious Ooloi, shows us the depth of feeling, the intense sexual need, and indeed the pain of separation that we have been missing so far in the story.

 

Despite gaining understanding, the whole sexual system of the Oankali feels deeply creepy.  The human male and female in the sexual constellation experience repulsion when they touch one another directly, but when joined by an Ooloi, experience intense sexual pleasure.  Pheromones by the Ooloi make the situation addictive—being apart from one’s group becomes torment.

 

Butler is skillful in her refusal to “pick a side.”  She provides logical reasons for the aliens’ behaviour and points out both the logical and totally illogical responses of humanity.  She explores co-operation, coercion, limited choice, and unequal power without making it obvious which species she favours.

 

In some ways, this series makes me think of Arthur Clarke’s Childhood’s End, in that humanity is being absorbed into a genetic continuum, but likely won’t survive on its own ever again.  Do we mourn the loss or celebrate what survives?

 

Book 260 of my Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading Project.

The Shivering Sands / Victoria Holt

The Shivering Sands (Casablanca Classics) - Victoria Holt

***2017 Summer Lovin’ Reading List ***

In many ways, this is a very dated Gothic romance—after all, it was first published in 1969. I’m pretty sure that I read it as a teenager, but it must not have been part of my personal collection, because this reading felt like I was enjoying it for the first time. There are enough differences from Holt’s usual romance formula to make it feel a bit fresher plot-wise too.

A young widow, Caroline Verlaine, takes a position as music teacher at an estate close to excavated Roman ruins where her sister had been working as an archaeologist, only to disappear under mysterious circumstances. Concealing her relationship to the missing woman, Caroline tries to trace her missing sister. There are no poisonous distant relatives, exiling Caroline to a tedious life of uninspired pupils, penury, and living below stairs. She has freely chosen her position for a specific reason, she has an undeniable talent for music, and is therefore much less rebellious than other Holt heroines.

Of course, further disappearances occur and there are mysterious goings-on that lure Caroline into dangerous situations. If I have any complaints, it is that the ending was a bit abrupt and completely predictable. I felt the heroine’s choice should have been just a bit more difficult, requiring a just bit more agonizing than occurred. The book ends suddenly with Caroline’s choice, giving no insight into what happens to numerous other characters who formed an integral part of the story.


Still, in this genre, this was a very enjoyable novel.

Boundary Problems / Greg Bechtel

Boundary Problems - Greg Bechtel

In his confident debut, Greg Bechtel offers ten magnetically charged stories about the impossible-turned-possible — secrets, paranoia, sex, conspiracies, and magic — as he effortlessly shatters the boundaries between speculative and literary fiction.

Boundary Problems vibrates on the edge of meaning, as carjackers, accidental gunrunners, and small-town cabbies struggle to wring meaning from the strange events that overtake them. Bechtel’s worlds of mystery and magic constantly challenge his characters’ pursuit of logical explanations. These compelling tales blur lines and push boundaries — into the surreal, into the playful, into the irresistible energy of uncertainty.

 

I must be finally getting over my summer cold (its been kicking my butt for about a month now), because I felt the lure of reading something better and more complex than the fluff that I’ve been filling my summer with to date. This book has been sitting on my shelves for almost a year and the time had arrived—I picked it up with anticipation.

What a perfectly titled collection of short stories! All of them poke at boundaries of some sort—between physics and magic, mental health/illness, male/female, reality/illusion, self/others, past/present/future. How accurate is anyone’s assessment of the world? We each view it through our own lenses. The characters are ordinary people, made extraordinary by the author’s attention to their existence.

The writing is beautiful. The stories are a pleasure to read, but I hesitate to say that I fully understand them. They don’t spill their secrets too easily and I can see where I will likely read them again, more slowly and with more attention. Though each stands on its own, they also support one another, each providing a window into their creator’s imagination. The varied topics reveal an unexpected mix of experience and knowledge.

I will definitely be interested to see what Mr. Bechtel publishes next.

Blood Cross / Faith Hunter

Blood Cross - Faith Hunter
The vampire council has hired skinwalker Jane Yellowrock to hunt and kill one of their own who has broken sacred ancient rules — but Jane quickly realizes that in a community that is thousands of years old, loyalties run deep...

With the help of her witch best friend and local vigilantes, Jane finds herself caught between bitter rivalries — and closer than ever to the secret origin of the entire vampire race. But in a city of old grudges and dark magic, Jane will have to fight to protect both sides, even if no one will protect her.
 
***2017 Summer Lovin’ Reading List***

Jane Yellowrock is growing on me. Faith Hunter is a good writer and I’m enjoying the world that she has crafted to show off Jane’s talents. I appreciate that Jane has female friends right from the get-go. And they tease her about the various men who are circling, trying to win Jane’s favour. Also a pleasant change is the mystery and puzzle-solving aspects of the book taking higher priority than the personal relationships. Not that I mind a love interest, but I prefer when it isn’t the be-all and end-all in the book.

Jane is a smart leading character. She can put information together, find ways to get others to help her willingly, and see through problems that have stymied others. She’s tough, as is her alter-ego Beast, and she needs to be in the line of work that she has chosen.

The side-line into Cherokee culture as Jane reconnects with her roots was intriguing as well. Volume 3 was an easy decision—I’ll be reading it asap.

Thunder Heights / Phyllis A. Whitney

Thunder Heights - Phyllis A. Whitney

When Camilla King's grandfather leaves her the family estate in his will, she is shocked. Before her summons to his deathbed, she had never met any of her late mother's relatives. Although the rest of the family clearly does not want her there, Camilla honors her grandfather's wish and becomes the mistress of the magnificent Thunder Heights.

But along with the grand house, Camilla has inherited a legacy of hatred and secrets. Not knowing who, if anyone, she can trust, Camilla searches for the truth about her mother's death. Soon she begins to suspect that it was no accident, but rather murder.

 

 

 

***2017 Summer Lovin’ Reading List***

A disappointment, as I had high hopes of Phyllis Whitney. So many gothic romances are set in England, at first I found it refreshing to read one set in New York instead. But I just couldn’t connect with the heroine, Camilla King, who seemed to be unrealistically naïve, especially for someone who had been through so much loss and was supporting herself through governessing.

The big party that happens close to the book’s ending would have been better placed in the middle or slightly before that, and to have introduced at least one other man into Camilla’s sphere of influence. As things stood, as a reader I knew she would have to end up with either the artist or the engineer/advisor. Whitney spent very little time letting Camilla form relationships with either one of them. As a result, when the choice was made at the end, I just couldn’t feel it was realistic—she barely knew the man she ended up with.

Darkfever / Karne Marie Moning

Darkfever - Karen Marie Moning

When her sister is murdered, leaving a single clue to her death—a cryptic message on MacKayla Lane’s cell phone–Mac journeys to Ireland in search of answers. The quest to find her sister’s killer draws her into a shadowy realm where nothing is as it seems, where good and evil wear the same treacherously seductive mask. She is soon faced with an even greater challenge: staying alive long enough to learn how to handle a power she had no idea she possessed—a gift that allows her to see beyond the world of man, into the dangerous realm of the Fae.

 

 

***2017 Summer Lovin’ Reading List***

A reasonably good premise, with a really TSTL main character, MacKayla. If you could solve mysteries by wearing the correct colour of nail polish, Mac would be fabulous. Instead, her special talent is vomiting when she’s close to one of the special Fae artifacts. She can’t think her way out of a paper bag—her most often asked question is merely, “Huh?”

Barrons is the typical overbearing asshole alpha who gets saddled with Mac when she shows up in Ireland, totally clued out but too stupid to give up and go home. This first volume is obviously setting him up as a love interest for Mac, but I don’t see how either one of them can be seriously interested in the other.

Add to this a very simple writing style and basic vocabulary, and an insultingly simple plot, and I have a hard time believing how many people absolutely love this series! Perhaps I was just crabby when I read it, maybe I picked it up at the wrong time. I will read one more book in the series, just to see if I can find what the fuss is about.

The Laughing Corpse / Laurell K. Hamilton

The Laughing Corpse - Laurell K. Hamilton

Harold Gaynor offers Anita Blake a million dollars to raise a 300-year-old zombie. Knowing it means a human sacrifice will be necessary, Anita turns him down. But when dead bodies start turning up, she realizes that someone else has raised Harold's zombie--and that the zombie is a killer. Anita pits her power against the zombie and the voodoo priestess who controls it.

In The Laughing Corpse Anita will learn that there are some secrets better left buried-and some people better off dead...

 

***2017 Summer Lovin' Reading List***

How can I not adore a book that has a character bearing my name? May I say that I did love Wheelchair Wanda, the prostitute with a heart of gold? Even better, she lives while men die around her like flies!

But the book is about Anita, who is just a bit rougher and tougher that your average Urban Fantasy heroine. Because she is an animator/nercromancer, there are also far more zombies than I'm used to in the genre. How is it that I can lurve the vampires and feel so ambivalent about the zombies? I just don't understand their appeal.

Nevertheless, Anita experiences what so many (if not all) UF heroines do--they suddenly find hidden depths to their powers which solves their current dilemma, but opens a whole can of worms, to be explored in further volumes. Has she found her leverage to use against Jean-Claude, the King of Vampires in her city, or will she be lulled into a false sense of safety with him? (I'm betting on door number two!)

Right, off to order book three from my friendly neighbourhood public library!

Romeo and/or Juliet / Ryan North

Romeo and/or Juliet - Ryan North

Shakespeare’s plays weren’t meant to be read. They were meant…to be played.

What if Romeo never met Juliet? What if Juliet got really buff instead of moping around all day? What if they teamed up to take over Verona with robot suits? This choose-your-own-path version of Romeo and Juliet—packed with fun puzzles, secrets, and quadrillions of possible storylines—lets you decide where the plot goes every time you read. You might play as Romeo, or as Juliet, or as both of them at the same time.

 

This was a fun idea and I really wanted to love it. It reminded me of many of the books that I bought from Scholastic Books during grades 6 and 7, puzzle books, mystery books, that a child could go through multiple times and still find new treats by taking different turns.

I don’t know how many times I started through this choose-your-own-adventure book, trying to actually follow the Bard’s version of the story, only to get distracted by goofy story lines that I just couldn’t pass by. Unfortunately, goofy was the general standard of the various branchings and the writing was a great disappointment. Less silliness and more depth would have been welcome.

I still don’t know if it was even possible to get to the traditional ending of the play. I lost interest in trying after about a dozen attempts.

Real Murders / Charlaine Harris

Real Murders (Aurora Teagarden Book 1) - Charlaine Harris

Though a small town at heart, Lawrenceton, Georgia, has its dark side-and crime buffs. One of whom is librarian Aurora "Roe" Teagarden, a member of the Real Murders Club, which meets once a month to analyze famous cases. It's a harmless pastime—until the night she finds a member killed in a manner that eerily resembles the crime the club was about to discuss. And as other brutal "copycat" killings follow, Roe will have to uncover the person behind the terrifying game, one that casts all the members of Real Murders, herself included, as prime suspects-or potential victims.

 

 

***2017 Summer Lovin’ Reading List***

A typical Charlaine Harris setting for this mystery series, a small community in the South. As per usual, Harris nails the small town details, the over-entwined lives, the importance of reputation, and the somewhat rigid social roles that people get pigeon-holed into.

Not an overwhelmingly wonderful mystery, but enough to keep me reading quickly right to the end and enough to encourage me to put a hold on the second volume at the library. It also helps that the heroine, Aurora Teagarden, is a librarian, a career near and dear to my heart.

Like so many of Harris’ leading characters, Roe is used to being part of the background. Just like Sookie Stackhouse and Lily Bard, Aurora is overshadowed by the women around her that are deemed more attractive or more normal. Harris seems to enjoy giving these kind of women some power, some male attention, and room to explore what they might actually want from life.

The Shifting Price of Prey / Suzanne McLeod

The Shifting Price of Prey - Suzanne McLeod

Sometimes a bit of magical help might cost more than you bargained for ...

London is hosting the Carnival Fantastique, and Genny's job has never been busier or more fulfilling. Only not everyone is so happy. Genny believed she'd cracked the fae's infertility curse ... but the fae are still barren. It's a devastating plight to which the mysterious Emperor may have the solution - if Genny can find him.

She needs help.

She turns to the vampire Malik al-Khan, only to find he's wrestling with his own demons and, when the police request Genny's assistance with a magical kidnap, her own problems multiply too. Is it all unconnected, or can the Emperor help her solve more than the fae's infertility? Soon Genny is hard on his trail, so it seems she'll have a chance to ask ... but will the answer cost more than she's willing to pay?

 

 

***2017 Summer Lovin' Reading List ***

 

Under normal circumstances, I read urban fantasy to take a little holiday from the real world and to simply enjoy a story. But Suzanne McLeod refuses to let me coast, she provides a plot of such complexity that I have to pay attention and her characters are down-right Machiavellian in their manipulations of one another.

In her acknowledgements in this volume, she talks about getting to meet Charlaine Harris, author of the Sookie Stackhouse series and one of the queens of urban fantasy. I enjoyed the Sookie series, but I think that McLeod is head and shoulders above Harris in every aspect—plot, characters, setting, complexity. One of my other favourite authors, Ben Aaronovitch, also appreciates McLeod’s work and their series are set to intersect somehow in a future volume of Spellcrackers.com.

How in the world am I going to fill my time until The Hidden Rune of Iron? (Very much a rhetorical question, as I have an enormous stack of library books waiting for me in my reading nook).

The Lost Ones / Sheena Kamal

The Lost Ones - Sheena Kamal

It's late. The phone rings.

The man on the other end says his daughter is missing.

Your daughter.

The baby you gave away over fifteen years ago.

What do you do?


Nora Watts isn't sure that she wants to get involved. Troubled, messed up, and with more than enough problems of her own, Nora doesn't want to revisit the past. But then she sees the photograph. A girl, a teenager, with her eyes. How can she turn her back on her?

But going in search of her daughter brings Nora into contact with a past that she would rather forget, a past that she has worked hard to put behind her, but which is always there, waiting for her . . .

 

I’m not sure how this book even got on my TBR list—but it came in at the public library for me last week, so I must have seen something along the way that prompted me to put a hold on it. I’ve obviously had it on hold for some time and now that it’s published, voila!

A woman with a past. Alcoholism. Sexual assault. A baby given up for adoption. Homelessness. Indigenous heritage, making her invisible to the justice system unless it is making life more difficult for her.

And yet she has talents and has carved out a very small place in the world for herself. One phone call shatters all of that progress and plunges Nora Watts back into the world with a vengeance.


I would definitely read another book about Nora. I hope Ms. Kamal finds another story that Nora could tell.

Spider's Revenge / Jennifer Estep

Spider’s Revenge - Jennifer Estep

Old habits die hard. And I plan on mur­der­ing some­one before the night is through.

Killing used to be my reg­u­lar gig, after all. Gin Blanco, aka the Spi­der, assassin-for-hire. And I was very good at it. Now, I’m ready to make the one hit that truly mat­ters: Mab Mon­roe, the dan­ger­ous Fire ele­men­tal who mur­dered my fam­ily when I was thir­teen.

Oh, I don’t think the mis­sion will be easy, but turns out it’s a bit more prob­lem­atic than expected. The bitch knows I’m com­ing for her. So now I’m up against the army of lethal bounty hunters she hired to track me down. She also put a price on my baby sister’s head. Keep­ing Bria safe is my first pri­or­ity. Tak­ing Mab out is a close sec­ond.

Good thing I’ve got my pow­er­ful Stone and Ice magic — and my irre­sistible lover Owen Grayson — to watch my back. This bat­tle has been years in the mak­ing, and there’s a chance I won’t sur­vive. But if I’m going down, then Mab’s com­ing with me...no mat­ter what I have to do to make that happen.

 

***2017 Summer Lovin’ Reading List***

I’m glad this installment actually made some plot progress. The revenge plot actually went somewhere finally in this 5th (!) installment. And the romantic sub-plot seems to have firmed up nicely as well. I like the magic system, I’ve grown accustomed to the environs of Ashland, I like the secondary characters.

I’m so tired of hearing about Gin being an assassin (retired or otherwise), where she keeps her knives (seriously, if you’ve made it this far in the series, you have read that hundreds of times), how Mab Munroe hurt her, what the inside of the Pork Pit looks like, what everybody’s various runes look like, or about Finn & his chicory coffee, just like dear old dad. The obsession with eye colour is also a bit tiring. Does it really matter?

I liked that Gin actually made some realistic mistakes, early in the novel, and has to deal with the fallout. I also appreciated that we finally got some back-story on the Devereau sisters and we now know why they help Gin. I’m a little less gung-ho about Finn & Bria’s new attraction to each other.

The big negative that I can see ahead? There’s going to be no end of the repetition reminding us of what went down with Mab. This will last for at least 4 more books by my reckoning, if not more.  Sigh! I like Gin, I like her friends, I like the setting. This could be such an awesome series if an editor was willing to be ruthless.