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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

After Hello
Lisa Mangum
The Queens of Innis Lear
Tessa Gratton
Furry Logic: The Physics of Animal Life
Liz Kalaugher, Matin Durrani
Progress: 127/304 pages
The Silver Chair
C.S. Lewis, Pauline Baynes
The Fires of Heaven
Robert Jordan
Progress: 476/912 pages

The Five Red Herrings / Dorothy L. Sayers

Five Red Herrings - Dorothy L. Sayers

The body was on the pointed rocks alongside the stream. The artist might have fallen from the cliff where he was painting, but there are too many suspicious elements - particularly the medical evidence that proves he'd been dead nearly half a day, though eyewitnesses had seen him alive a scant hour earlier. And then there are the six prime suspects - all of them artists, all of whom wished him dead. Five are red herrings, but one has created a masterpiece of murder that baffles everyone, including Lord Peter Wimsey.


Give this volume about 3.5 stars, I think. For me, it has been the least enjoyable installment of Lord Peter Wimsey. And still, it had its great moments. Dorothy Sayers is the only author that I have read who had produced Scots dialog on the page that hasn’t annoyed me to death! I found it was effective and even a bit humorous from time to time.

Where this book fell down for me was the intricacy of the clues. I know that Sayers prided herself on not “cheating,” giving the reader all the clues that they needed to solve the mystery right along with Wimsey (see Dorothy L. Sayers: Her Life and Soul by Barbara Reynolds). However, I would have needed to make myself a detailed flow chart if I was going to solve this mystery! So I just drifted with the flow of her writing and enjoyed other details along the way.

The last few pages, including the re-enactment of the crime, were absolutely the best part of the book. I don’t usually laugh out loud when I’m reading, but I know for a fact that I produced several outbursts as I enjoyed this production! Well worth enduring all the train time tables!

Reading progress update: I've read 308 out of 354 pages.

Five Red Herrings - Dorothy L. Sayers

The inspector brightened.  This was his moment.  He felt convinced that he, and no other person, had the right sow by the ear, and was, indeed, extremely grateful to Dalziel, Sir Maxwell, and Duncan for having produced such inferior animals and refrained from spoiling his market.




With these words, the Inspector handed over a neatly written manuscript which he produced from his breast-pocket, and learned back with the shy smile of a poet attending a public reading of his own works.



I'm a farm-girl from a hog farm--I love the agricultural reference!

TBR Thursday

After Hello - Lisa Mangum The Silver Chair - C.S. Lewis, Pauline Baynes The Queens of Innis Lear - Tessa Gratton Against a Darkening Sky - Lauren B. Davis The Falconer - Elizabeth May My Sister, the Serial Killer - Oyinkan Braithwaite A Shimmer of Hummingbirds: A Birder Murder Mystery - Steve Burrows


The upcoming line up!  I'm looking forward to all of them.


The two most popular are The Queens of Innis Lear and My Sister the Serial Killer.  Both of these books have long lists of holds on them at the library, so I'll probably tackle them first. 


On Saturday, I'm off to the cinema to see the Stratford production of Coriolanus.  See details here:




We've been having lovely, exceptionally warm spring weather here.  So much so that the ice sheet in my parking lot has receded to about half.  However, there are predictions of snow flurries on Sunday.  A perfect time to cozy up with all those novels!


Have a wonderful weekend!

Reading progress update: I've read 264 out of 912 pages.

The Fires of Heaven - Robert Jordan


I should be finishing up Five Red Herrings.  I'm so close to being done.  But to do that I would have to go get it out of my work bag and The Fires of Heaven is sitting right by my reading chair.  Once I've picked it up, there's no changing books!  I'm sucked right in.

Well, I've done it


Yes, after a lot of agonizing, I wrote my letter today to announce my retirement at the end of May, 2019.


I'm excited and scared.  But it's the right thing to do.


What am I going to do, you ask?


Well, I've got a trip to France planned for the last couple of weeks of May.


Then I'll get on with organizing my home, purging junk and fixing things up.  I'm also going to have more time to exercise and cook, both of which should contribute to better health.


I've got retired friends that I'm sure I can talk into going birding.  I hope to get back to genealogical research and cross-stitch.  I hope to edit one of my mother's novels with an eye to publishing it (better late than never).  I'll have time to help organize family get-togethers.  Plus, I'll have more time to visit with you good folks.


I plan to take the summer to just rest and re-orient myself.


Cheers, friends!  Here's to the future!


Remarkable Creatures / Tracy Chevalier

Remarkable Creatures - Tracy Chevalier

From the moment she's struck by lightning as a baby, it is clear Mary Anning is different. Though poor and uneducated, she learns on the windswept, fossil-strewn beaches of the English coast that she has a unique gift: "the eye" to spot fossils no one else can see. When she uncovers an unusual fossilized skeleton in the cliffs near her home, she sets the religious community on edge, the townspeople to gossip - and the scientific world alight with both admiration and controversy. Prickly Elizabeth Philpot, a middle-class spinster and also a fossil hunter, becomes Mary Anning's unlikely champion and friend, and together they forge a path to some of the most important discoveries of the 19th century.


I’ve just recently read a non-fiction book about Mary Anning (The Fossil Hunter: Dinosaurs, Evolution, and the Woman Whose Discoveries Changed the World by Shelley Emling) and I was anxious to read this fictional account of Anning’s life before the details had faded too much in my mind. Chevalier sticks to the big, important details, but takes the liberty that those who write fiction often do, to write in drama and make a better story.

It’s always a tricky business, writing fiction about real historical figures. I appreciated Chevalier’s depiction of the friendship between impoverished, working class Mary Anning and genteel spinster Elizabeth Philpot. It was a real friendship, made across class boundaries and well documented in the written records of the time. What either woman was actually like personally is an unknown quantity (to me at least), but well filled in by Chevalier.

The official record doesn’t offer much drama beyond Mary and her family being on the edge of going to the poor-house most given days. Very suspenseful if you are experiencing it, but not the most riveting plot for the reader. So I completely understand why Chevalier creates the rivalry between the two women for the attention of one un-noteworthy man. Still, it disappoints me. One the main ribbons running through this book is the changing role of women during this time period—getting recognition for their minds, not just their appearances, and loosening some of the conventions that bound them to child-rearing and household roles. Both of the main characters and all of the marine reptiles are indeed remarkable creatures.

Some details are extremely fictional—there’s no indication that Mary’s mother, Molly, ever set foot on the beach or ever searched for a fossil. She was only reluctantly won over to fossil selling as a way of earning cold, hard cash. I know Mary’s dog, Tray, was killed in a landslide, but I don’t think that Mary herself was caught in it (although it made good, dramatic sense in this version). I also wish that Chevalier had captured more clearly the intellectual achievements of Mary and the expertise that she drew on to educate many of the fossil-hunting men who came to her for assistance. There was definitely an auction by Lieutenant-Colonel Birch to fund the Anning family, but no indications that it was Elizabeth who shamed him into it or that he was romantically involved with either woman.

In short, this was an enjoyable, dramatic telling of a famous woman’s life, but don’t take every detail as gospel. As they say of movies, “Based on a true story.”

Reading progress update: I've read 27 out of 354 pages.

Five Red Herrings - Dorothy L. Sayers


"Och, weel," said the Sergeant, "if ye find him, ye'll let us know."


"I will," said Wimsey, "though it will be rather unpleasant, because ten to one he'll be some bloke I know and like much better than Campbell.  Still, it doesn't do to Murder People, however offensive they may be.  I'll do my best to bring him in captive to my bow and spear--if he doesn't slay me first."



Reading progress update: I've read 88 out of 912 pages.

The Fires of Heaven - Robert Jordan



It always takes a little while to get re-oriented in Jordan's world--he follows so many characters in such detail!


But so far, I have always found my footing quickly and get re-invested in the plot nicely.



Dead Over Heels / Charlaine Harris

Dead Over Heels - Charlaine Harris

What's the world coming to - when you can't relax with an ice-cold beverage in your own backyard without a body falling from the sky and landing in your garden? Part-time librarian and frequent amateur investigator Roe Teagarden has good reason to ask herself this question when the remains of one of the Lawrenceton, Georgia police department's finest catapults into her flower bed one beautiful sunny morning. Roe's friend and bodyguard, the long-legged, bikini-clad Angel Youngblood, is mowing the grass and Roe is reclining on a lounger when a small red-and-white plane flies low overhead and drops its unlikely debris more or less at Roe's feet. Roe's husband of two years, wealthy businessman Martin Bartell, immediately wonders if the killer chose his dumping place to send some kind of message to Roe. And the mystery deepens when two federal agents arrive in town to investigate the murder. It's only when Madeleine the cat provides a clue that Roe and Martin realize Roe herself may be in danger and that using Roe's yard as a temporary landfill for dead bodies was no accident.


What do you do when you’re suffering from a severe case of insomnia? If you’re me, you wander to your bookcase and say to yourself, “Which of these books is interesting, but I’ll be willing to set it down when sleep finally feels possible?” I gave up at about 2 a.m. on Saturday morning and started to read--finally, at 4 a.m. I managed to set down the book and sleep for a while.

I’d have to call this both a cozy mystery and a Southern mystery. Charlaine Harris includes so many of the details of Southern life--the churches that people attend, the community conflicts, the everyday lifestyles of her characters. Some readers obviously love these details--I must confess that they are why I chose it as a “sleeping pill.” 

Despite that, Aurora is a character that drew me in and made me care what happens to her. This is the fifth book in the series after all, I’m still reading them, and I have no doubts at all that I’ll continue on with her adventures when I have another sleepless night. 

Random Family / Adrian Nicole LeBlanc

Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx - Adrian Nicole LeBlanc

In her extraordinary bestseller, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc immerses readers in the intricacies of the ghetto, revealing the true sagas lurking behind the headlines of gangsta glamour, gold-drenched drug dealers, and street-corner society. Focusing on two romances - Jessica's dizzying infatuation with a hugely successful young heroin dealer, Boy George, and Coco's first love with Jessica's little brother, Cesar - Random Family is the story of young people trying to outrun their destinies. Jessica and Boy George ride the wild adventure between riches and ruin, while Coco and Cesar stick closer to the street, all four caught in a precarious dance between survival and death. Friends get murdered; the DEA and FBI investigate Boy George; Cesar becomes a fugitive; Jessica and Coco endure homelessness, betrayal, the heartbreaking separation of prison, and, throughout it all, the insidious damage of poverty.

Charting the tumultuous cycle of the generations - as girls become mothers, boys become criminals, and hope struggles against deprivation - LeBlanc slips behind the cold statistics and sensationalism and comes back with a riveting, haunting, and true story.


I guess that I’m not entirely sure what the author was trying to achieve with this book. There’s no introduction, there’s no conclusion--I don’t enough about her to know her motivations. To be charitable, it would seem that she is trying to show, through the lives of three main people, the ties that bind people into poverty, drugs, and crime.

I have no doubts about how difficult it is to escape poverty. When your parents are uneducated, violent, and poor, who can you look to for an example of how to get out of that situation? During this time, in this place, boys were fathers in their teens, dropped out of school, and could only earn money through drugs and other criminality. Girls are pregnant in their teens, dropped out of school, and can’t provide for themselves and their children on minimum wage jobs. Sexual abuse is common because children get left with people that can’t be trusted. Girls skip from one man to the next because they’ve watched their mothers do the same thing. No one has enough education to properly fill out government forms to obtain benefits or to budget what little money they have. Boys take advantage of their male status to have sex with as many girls as they can talk into it. Girls can’t afford birth control and view having children as a way to bind boys to them.

Add to these problems that being a generous, good person can work against you. How many times did these women feed people who were only “random family”? Someone connected to someone who was part of the family? When girls have children by 2 or 3 different men, all of their relatives somehow become part of the web of family and women like Coco feel badly about denying them food and/or housing. Yet she knows that it’s bad for her own children in the long run.

These people are in a virtually inescapable situation. Their only pleasures are food and sex and they indulge when they get a chance--who wouldn’t? But when all the food is gone and there are more babies on the way, once again their lives worsen.

It was depressing reading because I know that the same things are probably happening to the children and grandchildren of Jessica, George, and Coco. Reading this made me realize how incredibly fortunate I am to have been born into the family that I’m part of, into the communities that I’m part of, and to be a citizen of my country. The fact that the adults around me didn’t lecture me about how to live, they just lived it and let me watch & learn. I learned to work, to live within my means, to value education, to regulate my emotions, all those skills that are necessary to living well. 

I’d like to think the author meant this book as more than just downward social comparison, but I wish that she had addressed her purpose directly. What would have made things better? Are there programs that could actually assist people in these life circumstances? Ultimately, without this kind of analysis, I wonder why she wrote it?


Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx - Adrian Nicole LeBlanc


I am finished!



TBR Thursday

Remarkable Creatures - Tracy Chevalier Five Red Herrings - Dorothy L. Sayers The Fires of Heaven - Robert Jordan After Hello - Lisa Mangum The Silver Chair - C.S. Lewis, Pauline Baynes The Queens of Innis Lear - Tessa Gratton


Holds have been coming in faster than I anticipated and I'm confronted with quite the stack of library books!


First come the ones that I can't renew:  Remarkable Creatures and The Five Red Herrings.  Chevalier's Remarkable Creatures is a fictional version of Mary Anning's life, an interesting counterpart to The Fossil Hunter, the non-fiction version that I recently enjoyed.  The Five Red Herrings will be interesting, as I continue to read a biography of Dorothy L. Sayers, author of the book.


I will pick up Queens of Innis Lear this evening at the library and I suspect that it will also have holds after me.  I will have to read it soon too.


I've read a few pages in The Fires of Heaven, but it is such a kitten-squisher that it's going to take a little while.  And I'll see where I can squeeze After Hello and The Silver Chair in around the other titles.


I have a meeting with my financial planner tomorrow, to discuss how quickly I am able to retire.  Then (shhh....don't tell anyone) I have two unplanned weekend days!  I know I need to do a bit of laundry, but if I don't do any other chores, I'll still be fine.  (That's the benefit of doing an incredible amount of housework last Saturday).


The weather is finally smartening up, sunny and above freezing, so I may venture outside on some kind of adventure!


Have a great weekend, friends!

Reading progress update: I've read 91 out of 304 pages.

Furry Logic: The Physics of Animal Life - Liz Kalaugher, Matin Durrani

Mantis Shrimp are awesome!



Remember this?

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


It turns out that the author, Steve Brusatte, will be speaking at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller on April 4.


I am sincerely tempted to book a day off work to drive out & hear him.



Today's Liz Climo calendar page


This made me smile--Have a good Wednesday!

When True Night Falls / C.S. Friedman

When True Night Falls - C.S. Friedman

Two men, absolute enemies, must unite to conquer an evil greater than anything their world has ever known. One is a warrior priest ready to sacrifice anything and everything for the cause of humanity's progress; the other, a sorcerer who has survived for countless centuries by a total submission to evil. In their joint quest, both will be irrevocably changed.


There was never any doubt that I would read this novel—I enjoyed the first installment a great deal and it is part of my Science Fiction & Fantasy reading project. Not only that, but I found all three volumes at the popular used book sale in my city and had them on hand. If all of that wasn’t enough, last year at the When Words Collide writers’ conference, Peter V. Brett recommended it. He was on a panel about female characters in fantasy fiction and I came away quite impressed with his views. (He thinks that male and female characters should reflect reality, i.e. have equal numbers of male & female characters, among other things).

So, I was fired up to read this series and I have been enjoying it. I was somewhat dismayed, however, that Celia Friedman leaves behind one of her main female characters in this volume (Ciani) and I was left with only Hesseth, a female native of Erna, to carry the flag for women. Friedman does offer us the female child, Jenseny, but that doesn’t last all that long. By book’s end, we are left with just the guys.

I can certainly see, however, that Brett gathered some inspiration from this fantasy series. His Demon Cycle seems to owe a debt to the demons of this Coldfire Trilogy. One of my great pleasures in reading my long list of speculative fiction is seeing the various influences between authors, so this correlation pleases me.

Book number 311 in my Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading Project.