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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

Night Shift
Milla Vane, Ilona Andrews, Lisa Shearin, Nalini Singh
Lord of Chaos
Robert Jordan
Memory and Dream
Charles de Lint
Walnut wine (chopped green walnuts & herbs soaked in red wine)
Walnut wine (chopped green walnuts & herbs soaked in red wine)
Pork tenderloin in blueberry sauce
Pork tenderloin in blueberry sauce

Highlights of last nights dinner. The wine was good, but I don't think I would want to drink it all the time.


Makes a rainy day better however!


It's been a long day but my friend & I have arrived in Lyons. A crowded overnight flight to Frankfurt. Our flight was late, we got separated at some point, then found one another again at the departure gate of a later flight that we were rebooked on. Both suitcases arrived, a minor miracle! A shuttle ride to our hotel and we were able to collapse. Showering was awesome! Birding begins tomorrow.


Frankfurt airport is so confusing!

Reading progress update: I've read 220 out of 499 pages.

Excession - Iain M. Banks



OMG, this is great!  A spy novel with sentient space ships in the spy roles.


I'm particularly amused by the horrible, bigoted tentacle beasts that are trying to compete with the Culture, here.  They are all the worst characteristics of the "Old Boys Network" personified--so hilariously bad that they are highly entertaining.

Honor Bound / Rachel Caine and Ann Aguirre

Honor Bound - Ann Aguirre, Rachel Caine

Zara Cole was a thief back on Earth, but she’s been recently upgraded to intergalactic fugitive. On the run after a bloody battle in a covert war that she never expected to be fighting, Zara, her co-pilot Beatriz, and their Leviathan ship Nadim barely escaped the carnage with their lives.

Now Zara and her crew of Honors need a safe haven, far from the creatures who want to annihilate them. But they’ll have to settle for the Sliver: a wild, dangerous warren of alien criminals. The secrets of the Sliver may have the power to turn the tide of the war they left behind—but in the wrong direction.

Soon Zara will have to make a choice: run from the ultimate evil—or stand and fight.


An excellent follow-up to the first book. More is revealed about the Honors universe and it’s a dark and twisty place. Perfect for an adventure for a girl from the mean streets of Earth, like Zara Cole. I am glad that there will be a third volume, as this is a great fantasy world and it would be a shame not to explore it fully. Keep on writing, Ms. Caine and Ms. Aguirre!

I would maybe rate it at 4.25 or 4.33 stars, when I gave the first book the full 5 star treatment. Some of this is undoubtedly due to my mental state these days, whirling with many different priorities. Plus I had some books for my real-life book club that needed attention right while I was in the middle of reading this. Distractions!

If you feel strongly about cliff-hangers, you may wish to wait until this series is complete, because I would have to call the ending to this volume a cliff-hanger. However, I would strongly recommend the series to readers of fantasy and science fiction--it may be classified as Young Adult, but trust me there is enough substance here to please an older adult as well. (Caine is particularly good at that, I find). 

I do find myself wondering about the tendency in the science fiction genre to portray humanity as the street fighters in the universe, looked down on by extraterrestrial species for our aggression and general dangerousness. I’ve encountered this idea repeatedly, including in this series and I think that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but I guess we need to be optimistic that we could hold our own in the universe.

At any rate, this was an excellent book, with a great set-up for the next and I can hardly wait to get my hands on volume 3.

We Need to Talk About Kevin / Lionel Shriver

We Need to Talk About Kevin - Lionel Shriver

Eva never really wanted to be a mother - and certainly not the mother of the unlovable boy who murdered seven of his fellow high school students, a cafeteria worker, and a much-adored teacher who tried to befriend him, all two days before his sixteenth birthday. Now, two years later, it is time for her to come to terms with marriage, career, family, parenthood, and Kevin's horrific rampage in a series of startlingly direct correspondences with her estranged husband, Franklin. Uneasy with the sacrifices and social demotion of motherhood from the start, Eva fears that her alarming dislike for her own son may be responsible for driving him so nihilistically off the rails.


Here I am, several days after finishing this book, trying to collect my thoughts about it into a coherent narrative. I’m also intensely aware of writing this missive on Mother’s Day. I vascillated back and forth between 3 and 4 stars, finally settling on 4 because I couldn’t quit thinking about it.

It’s an exploration of the whole nature vs. nurture argument (although surely we all realize by now that its “both and” rather than “either or”). The volume that I read had an essay by the author at the end and I was interested in her perspective:

Though any writer is pleased by admiring reviews in the Wall Street Journal or Publishers Weekly, I’ve been more fascinated by the responses to Kevin...by so-called “ordinary” readers. Not only are many of these amateur reviews surprisingly well written and reflective, but they divided almost straight down the middle into what seem to be reviews of two different books….Mission accomplished.”

I believe that I read somewhere that nature (genetics) loads the gun, but nurture (environment) pulls the trigger. To me, it seems that Kevin shares a genetic tendency with his mother towards being restless and bored. Eva solved it first by traveling and second by childbirth, her son by murder. Both are competitive in their own arenas. With a different mother, Kevin might have turned out differently. Maybe. But we see from Eva’s relationship with Celia that she is capable of being a good mother, given a child who will meet her halfway. Every time you think you know for sure what went wrong, Shriver produces an event like a rabbit out of a hat to show you that it ain’t necessarily so.

I really enjoy epistolary novels, so that was a point in its favour for me. I also appreciated how carefully the author doled out the bread crumbs, leading the reader on, gradually revealing the true situation. Or at least what Eva believes the true situation to be. It seems to me that the two camps of readers (That poor woman vs. the woman who ruined her son’s life) show us clearly the stresses of parenting in the modern world. It’s still the mother who is saddled with the expectations for her children, as if the father’s job was over when sperm joined egg. Mothers aren’t allowed to be human or have imperfections. I think that’s what people are referring to when they call this a feminist novel--why is it the mother or why is it only the mother who is deemed at fault? Because all the way through the novel, I found myself asking, “What the hell is wrong with Franklin? Why can he not see any of this?” I also found myself wondering what had drawn Eva and Franklin together to begin with and why they stayed together. 

I could write a thesis on this book. It makes me think of so many things, join so many disparate threads together. So although I may not have enjoyed the book in the traditional sense, I can’t quite get it out of my head. The impulse was to sit right back down and read it again. Maybe I will revisit it in the future, who knows? May I say that I am profoundly happy to be single and childless.

Reading progress update: I've read 39 out of 400 pages.

We Need to Talk About Kevin - Lionel Shriver


Okay, time to get serious about this--only 6 days left until its due at the public library.



On Basilisk Station / David Weber

On Basilisk Station  - David Weber

Honor Harrington in trouble: Having made him look the fool, she's been exiled to Basilisk Station in disgrace and set up for ruin by a superior who hates her. Her demoralized crew blames her for their ship's humiliating posting to an out-of-the-way picket station. The aborigines of the system's only habitable planet are smoking homicide-inducing hallucinogens. Parliament isn't sure it wants to keep the place; the major local industry is smuggling, the merchant cartels want her head; the star-conquering, so-called "Republic" of Haven is Up to Something; and Honor Harrington has a single, over-age light cruiser with an armament that doesn't work to police the entire star system.

But the people out to get her have made one mistake.

They've made her mad!


Honor Harrington—a very obviously virtuous name for a woman who is going to be all about her own personal integrity. I liked Honor as a character because Weber depicts her as a strong, decisive leader. Mind you, he throws in a few stereotypes as well—she’s “not good at math,” she has striking good looks but thinks she’s lumpy and unattractive, and she’s single, so she has to have a cat (because we single women are always just steps away from being crazy cat ladies). Nevertheless, if anyone can make lemonade out of the lemons that life handed her, it’s Honor.

There’s lots of good action, but Weber could take some lessons from Lois McMaster Bujold and her Vorkosigan series on how to keep the plot flowing. (I found quite a few similarities in how talented both Miles Vokosign and Honor Harrington are). Unfortunately, OBS has pages and pages of different commanders going on and on about what they were going to do plus how and why they were going to do it. *Yawn!* Also, during the final, dramatic space chase, there were more pages and pages devoted to the history of hyperdrive. Really? In the middle of the supposedly high stakes chase? Dude, I’m glad you thought about these things, they’re great background info for you as author, but why are you dumping them on your readers? I almost never skim and I skimmed until I found action again.

I also had to go back and re-read bits, where the space Navy and the Marines annihilate thousands of Medusan aborigines! I just couldn’t believe what I was reading and that they were completely unconcerned about repercussions of such an act. Seen through a 2019 lens, that just seems wildly out of touch. How times have changed!

Still, it was a pretty good story and I’m glad that I read it. I’m maybe not excited enough to pursue the series, however.

Book number 317 of my Science Fiction & Fantasy reading project.

Reading progress update: I've read 270 out of 342 pages.

On Basilisk Station  - David Weber


Very good when the author sticks to the action.  But he does go on and on as each commander drones on about what he's going to do and why.  Weber needs lessons from Miles Vorkosigan (and Lois McMaster Bujold) on how to keep the characters hurtling through space!

Reading progress update: I've read 24 out of 400 pages.

We Need to Talk About Kevin - Lionel Shriver


So far, so good.


I do love a novel in epistolary format.



Gap Into Power / Stephen R. Donaldson

The Gap Into Power: A Dark and Hungry God Arises - Stephen R. Donaldson

The stage is set of confrontation at Billingate--illegal shipyard, haven for pirates and brigands, where every vice flourishes and every appetite can be sated.  Gateway to the alien realm of the Amnion, the shipyard is a clearinghouse for all they require to fulfill their mutagenic plans against humanity.

It is here that the fate of Morn Hyland is to be decided amid a kaleidoscopic whirl of plot and counterplot, treachery and betrayal.

As schemes unravel to reveal yet deeper designs, Morn, Nick, Angus' lives may all be forfeit as pawns in the titanic game played our between Warden Dios, dedicated director of the UMC Police, and the Dragon, greed-driven ruler of the UMC.  Here, the future of humankind hangs on the uncertain fortune of Morn Hyland in a daring novel of epic power and suspense, relentlessly gripping from first page to last.


I have made no secret of the fact that I struggle with Stephen Donaldson’s writing. This is the only series of his that I have made any connection with, and my relationship to it is turbulent. I’m not one of those people who needs to like the characters in order to like the book, but it helps if I care what happens to them. I reluctantly care about what happens to the main characters in the Gap series.

Its like Donaldson took the Star Trek universe and turned it inside out. There is no Prime Directive, no Starfleet, no honourable oversight by basically good-intentioned people. Like in C.J. Cherryh’s Company Wars series, it is the giant corporation that controls space and with the United Mining Companies comes the shadowy director, also known as the Dragon, who seeks to control everything.

In many ways, this is a bleaker, darker version of Cherryh’s idea of the megacorporation running outer space, like Glen Cook’s The Black Company running the universe. I had to order this volume through interlibrary loan, but I’ve got the remaining books from the local used book store, so finishing the series is a very likely proposition.

Book number 316 in my Science Fiction & Fantasy reading project.

Troubles / J.G. Farrell

Troubles - J.G. Farrell, John Banville

1919: After surviving the Great War, Major Brendan Archer makes his way to Ireland, hoping to discover whether he is indeed betrothed to Angela Spencer, whose Anglo-Irish family owns the once-aptly-named Majestic Hotel in Kilnalough. But his fiancée is strangely altered and her family's fortunes have suffered a spectacular decline. The hotel's hundreds of rooms are disintegrating on a grand scale; its few remaining guests thrive on rumors and games of whist; herds of cats have taken over the Imperial Bar and the upper stories; bamboo shoots threaten the foundations; and piglets frolic in the squash court. Meanwhile, the Major is captivated by the beautiful and bitter Sarah Devlin. As housekeeping disasters force him from room to room, outside the order of the British Empire also totters: there is unrest in the East, and in Ireland itself the mounting violence of "the troubles."


I wasn’t in a head space to properly appreciate this book. Whenever I would pick it up, I could read along quite happily. However, when I set it down it was always an effort to pick it back up. What can I say, life is complicated right now. I’m in the process of retirement, which takes more energy than I thought it would. We’ve been having mail issues and water issues at my condo complex. I’ve spent time cat-sitting for my cousin and have been away from home (thankfully during most of the water issues). I’m preparing for a trip to France. The washer in my building is out of order and I desperately need to do laundry. And do you know, when you announce that you’re retiring, you suddenly get coffee & lunch dates galore!

So, I’m easily distracted by shiny objects right now, and this book deserves more attention than I was able to give it. It’s a shame that the author died as young as he did, because I have a feeling that he would have produced more & better.

There were so many details that amused me—the colony of cats inhabiting one of the bars (and the abortive attempt to get rid of them later), the plethora of dogs also roaming the hotel premises, the overgrown palm garden room requiring a machete from time to time. Mostly the complete benign neglect with which the Majestic Hotel was just allowed to fall to pieces bit by bit.

The hotel seemed to represent the British Empire—something old, decrepit, and bordering on useless. The Irish weather was gradually tearing it down, just as the IRA was gradually wearing down the British attempts to rule in Ireland. Its owner, Edward Spencer, guards his statue of Queen Victoria, looks down his nose at his Irish neighbours, and fights a losing battle against Irish Republicanism. Major Brendan Archer, who came to the Majestic to sort out a possible engagement to Edward’s daughter, Angela, finds himself trying to temper Spencer’s behaviour and to encourage him to pay more attention to the hotel’s structure. The novel recounts the troubles experienced by the denizens of the Majestic, which mirror the Troubles between England and Ireland—was ever a conflict so misnamed? Troubles sounds minor, but this conflict was anything but.

Everyone has mixed emotions and divided loyalties. There’s no happy solution to anything. There are some amusements along the way, but I found this to be a very sad book, not that there could have been any other conclusion.

Vurt / Jeff Noon

Vurt - Jeff Noon

Vurt is a feather--a drug, a dimension, a dream state, a virtual reality. It comes in many colors: legal Blues for lullaby dreams. Blacks, filled with tenderness and pain, just beyond the law. Pink Pornovurts, doorways to bliss. Silver feathers for techies who know how to remix colors and open new dimensions. And Yellows--the feathers from which there is no escape.

The beautiful young Desdemona is trapped in Curious Yellow, the ultimate Metavurt, a feather few have ever seen and fewer still have dared ingest. Her brother Scribble will risk everything to rescue his beloved sister. Helped by his gang, the Stash Riders, hindered by shadowcops, robos, rock and roll dogmen, and his own dread, Scribble searches along the edges of civilization for a feather that, if it exists at all, must be bought with the one thing no sane person would willingly give.


Well, if most cyberpunk were more like this, I would be more enthusiastic about it. This was fun. And it reminded me of so many other books that I have read during my Science Fiction & Fantasy project. Like A Clockwork Orange, oh my brothers! I also kept thinking about Gravity's Rainbow, just because of the way things flowed and characters entered and exited, only to return at odd moments. But mostly, it was like going Through the Looking Glass with Alice, where Alice is actually Philip K. Dick. I absolutely loved it when Scribb showed up at a club called the Slivey Tove and there was a White Rabbit doorman. That was when my Lewis Carroll suspicions were confirmed. And the dogmen made me think of The Island of Doctor Moreau (and in Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant series, what they called the Stripclub of Dr Moreau).

The layers of reality were both confusing and intriguing--just trying to keep track of where Scribb was could be challenging. (Just like the Queen of Hearts said, you have to run as fast as you can just to stay in one place).

I haven’t had much luck locating the other two volumes (Pollen andAutomated Alice), but I intend to keep searching for them. 

Book 315 in my Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading Project.

The Dame Was Trouble

The Dame was Trouble - Gail Bowen, Sandra Ruttan, Susan MacGregor, Melodie Campbell, S.G. Wong, Darusha Wehm, Pat Flewwelling, Kelley Armstrong, M.H. Callway, R. M. Greenaway, Elle Wild, Hermine Robinson, Natalie Vacha, Alice Bienia, Meghan Victoria, Jayne Barnard

A collection of Canadian Crime Fiction from the best and brightest female crime writers that the Great White North has to offer. From noir to hardboiled, and thriller to cozy mystery, these Dames know how to tell tales to thrill, chill and KILL.



There is nothing like a dame.

Especially when she’s running her own life, marching to her own tune, doing her own thing. 

Great detective stories, almost all of which I really enjoyed. There were two that I felt a bit “meh” about, but by and large they were very entertaining. I especially enjoyed reading stories set in my own country. And populated by women who aren’t the slightest bit hesitant about supporting themselves and running their own lives.

Sisters are doin’ it for themselves! Plus, most excellent cover art.

Reading progress update: I've read 190 out of 459 pages.

Troubles - J.G. Farrell, John Banville



I quite enjoyed the bar full of cats! 


13 days left to finish--it should be do-able.

Reading progress update: I've read 200 out of 397 pages.

The Dame was Trouble - Gail Bowen, Sandra Ruttan, Susan MacGregor, Melodie Campbell, S.G. Wong, Darusha Wehm, Pat Flewwelling, Kelley Armstrong, M.H. Callway, R. M. Greenaway, Elle Wild, Hermine Robinson, Natalie Vacha, Alice Bienia, Meghan Victoria, Jayne Barnard



So far, there is only one story that didn't really do much for me.  Much better than usual for these collections.


There is nothing like a dame!

Reading progress update: I've read 137 out of 342 pages.

Vurt - Jeff Noon

"Doorman at the Slithy Tove was a fat white rabbit.  He had a blood-flecked head protruding from beer-stained neck fur and a large pocket watch in his big white mittens."


OK, now I know that there's Lewis Carroll involved.  A reference to Jabberwocky plus a white rabbit like in Alice.


I'm not usually so entertained by cyberpunk lit, but I'm liking this one quite a lot.