Friday, 17 November 2017

Night / Elie Wiesel

5 out of 5 stars
An autobiographical narrative in which the author describes his experiences in Nazi concentration camps, watching family and friends die, and how they led him to believe that God is dead.  Night is Elie Wiesel’s masterpiece, a candid, horrific, and deeply poignant autobiographical account of his survival as a teenager in the Nazi death camps.

I chose this book as one of several Remembrance Day reads. I read Viktor Frankl’s Man's Search for Meaning just before it and, although there are many similarities, there are also interesting differences.

Reading about life in a concentration camp is a brutal experience. Frankl had the advantages of being a grown man and a psychiatrist when he entered the system—he understood human behaviour, both good and bad, and could make assessments that the teenage Wiesel wasn’t able to. The fact is that anyone who survived the death camps ended up doing things that were selfish in order to survive and people who are starving don’t have the emotional energy to spare to care about others. They are numb to both their own suffering and that of even their own family members. Knowing that other prisoners were in worse shape and could have used more help and/or sympathy left these survivors with terrible guilt, feeling that they were faulty human beings who should have done better. They saw horrible things, they did things that they judge themselves for, and it is absolutely no wonder that they had psychological issues for the rest of their lives.

Where Frankl emerged from Auschwitz with a renewed sense of purpose, Wiesel seems to have changed profoundly—from an innocent, religious, and scholarly young man, he became a crusader to preserve the memory of the Holocaust. This book is a testament to his experience, his survival, and his mission.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Allan Quatermain / H. Rider Haggard

3 out of 5 stars
Allan Quartermain is a sequel to the famous novel King Solomon's Mines. Quatermain has lost his only son and longs to get back into the wilderness. Having persuaded Sir Henry Curtis, Captain John Good, and the Zulu chief Umbopa to accompany him, they set out from the coast of east Africa, this time in search of a white race reputed to live north of Mount Kenya. They survive fierce encounters with Masai warriors, undergo a terrifying subterranean journey, and discover a lost civilization before being caught up in a passionate love-triangle that engulfs the country in a ferocious civil war.

I have read Haggard’s She and King Solomon's Mines, and I basically knew what to expect when I began Allan Quatermain. In many ways, AQ is a combination of the other two novels, but not quite as good as either one of them. It’s an adventure fantasy, starring rich Englishmen in deepest darkest Africa. They shoot a lot of animals and incidentally kill off quite a few African servants in the course of their quest. And what are they searching for, you ask? Why an unknown civilization of white people in an area where almost no one has gone before.

When the men find their Lost Civilization, Haggard doubles down on a good thing. Instead of one mysterious white woman ruling the area (as in She), he provides two of them in this novel! And just to show that the love triangle trope is not unique to modern romance literature, both of these queenly personages fall head over heels in love with Allan’s companion, Sir Henry. To say that this causes problems is an understatement. Also similar to She is Allan’s position vis-à-vis Sir Henry, just as Horace Holly played wise, humbler advisor to his young companion Leo.

I adore Haggard’s She, having discovered this portal to fantastical adventure during my high school years. I feel affection for all of his work because of that and it is impossible for me to rate it objectively, but if you are only going to read one of his adventure fantasies, choose She and get to know She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed. Allan is just not quite as much fun.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Man's Search for Meaning / Viktor E. Frankl

5 out of 5 stars
Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl's memoir has riveted generations of readers with its descriptions of life in Nazi death camps and its lessons for spiritual survival. Between 1942 and 1945 Frankl labored in four different camps, including Auschwitz, while his parents, brother, and pregnant wife perished. Based on his own experience and the experiences of others he treated later in his practice, Frankl argues that we cannot avoid suffering but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward with renewed purpose. Frankl's theory-known as logotherapy, from the Greek word logos ("meaning")-holds that our primary drive in life is not pleasure, as Freud maintained, but the discovery and pursuit of what we personally find meaningful.

If there is meaning in life at all, then there must be meaning in suffering.

This seemed like a fitting book to read on the Remembrance Day weekend, especially since I recently read Anne Frank’s Diaries. It is a harrowing reading experience, but also strangely comforting. Frankl details his concentration camp history in order to show us the how and why of survival.

I think it was Frankel’s even-handedness that impressed me the most. He sees evil when it presents itself, in the form of sadistic guards and other prisoners who lord it over their peers, but he also acknowledges the presence of good people in difficult situations—the server in the food line who always scoops from the bottom of the soup pot, giving everyone a chance at one of those longed-for peas, the guard who nudges the weaker prisoner towards lighter duties, the fellow marcher who offers a hand.

Survival is often a matter of luck—choosing the right work assignment or choosing a favourable move to another camp, but each person was also responsible for their own luck by paying attention and helping others when they were able or stroking the ego of a guard when the chance arose. Frankl points out that most of those who survived had a bigger goal—a loved one to be reunited with or a project to be finished. He credits his half-finished book with getting him through a bout of typhus during his imprisonment.

A tale of grim survival, leading to a sympathetic psychiatric theory. Have you identified your purpose?

To Green Angel Tower / Tad Williams

4 out of 5 stars
As the evil minions of the undead Sithi Storm King prepare for the kingdom-shattering culmination of their dark sorceries and King Elias is drawn ever deeper into their nightmarish, spell spun world, the loyal allies of Prince Josua desperately struggle to rally their forces at the Stone of Farewell. And with time running out, the remaining members of the now devastated League of the Scroll have also gathered there to unravel mysteries from the forgotten past in an attempt to find something to strike down their unslayable foe.

But whether or not they are successful, the call of battle will lead the valiant followers of Josua Lackhand on a memorable trek to the haunted halls of Asu'a itself - the Sithi's greatest stronghold.


A satisfying ending to an engaging trilogy. I can see why this final tome was originally published in two parts—it was a definite door-stop! I sprained my wrist two years ago, and I found that old injury aching at the end of lengthy reading sessions!

However, the size of the volume was necessary in order to tie up the many, many loose ends from the first two books. I especially appreciated the return of “Rachel the Dragon” as an honoured elder lady, even as I grieved the loss of other characters. I also have to say that I appreciated the focus on Miriamele, despite the fact that she often came across as spoiled and irrational. I was able to endure that portrayal because Simon was often angry and petulant for no particular reason that I could discern either. Equal opportunity bad behaviour!

I appreciated that Osten Ard was not just a clone of Middle Earth. Williams gave the world his own structure and rules, and created unique creatures and challenges for his characters. I really liked the ending--it worked for me. I always feel the tug of emotion as the war ends and the circle of friends must split up to return to their own lives—happy to get back to normal, sad to be parted.

Book number 267 in my Science Fiction & Fantasy reading project.

Friday, 3 November 2017

The Library at Mount Char / Scott Hawkins

4 out of 5 stars
Carolyn's not so different from the other people around her. She likes guacamole and cigarettes and steak. She knows how to use a phone. Clothes are a bit tricky, but everyone says nice things about her outfit with the Christmas sweater over the gold bicycle shorts.  After all, she was a normal American herself once.  

That was a long time ago, of course. Before her parents died. Before she and the others were taken in by the man they called Father.  In the years since then, Carolyn hasn't had a chance to get out much. Instead, she and her adopted siblings have been raised according to Father's ancient customs. They've studied the books in his Library and learned some of the secrets of his power. And sometimes, they've wondered if their cruel tutor might secretly be God. 

Now, Father is missing—perhaps even dead—and the Library that holds his secrets stands unguarded. And with it, control over all of creation.  As Carolyn gathers the tools she needs for the battle to come, fierce competitors for this prize align against her, all of them with powers that far exceed her own.  But Carolyn has accounted for this.  And Carolyn has a plan.

The only trouble is that in the war to make a new God, she's forgotten to protect the things that make her human.


4 dark and twisty stars.

I spent the first couple of chapters of this book wondering WTF? What is going on here? Who are these people? Are they really people? Then things started to weave together for me—if not exactly making sense, I could start to see a pattern developing and it intrigued me. By the end, I was enjoying the hell out of it.

I’m a pretty devoted fantasy reader and I chose this book for my real-life book club as a horror choice. I had to sit and think about that once I was finished. Was this horror? I had to go look up some definitions of the horror genre, but I’ve come to the conclusion that it does indeed slot into that classification. It has supernatural elements. It is surreal and sometimes gruesome. It is unsettling. I guess that I associate horror with being scared and because I wasn’t hiding under my bedcovers, this felt more like dark fantasy to me.

It’s been decades since I read The Epic of Gilgamesh, but I thought about it when reading about David, who reminded me a bit of Enkidu, the Wildman. I have to say that all the resurrections and being children of a god made me think of the New Testament too and its stories about Jesus. The lions, Dresden and Naga, brought C.S. Lewis’ Aslan to mind as well, so there were just threads pulling all over the place to all these other works.

What made me laugh, after I was done, was reading the author’s biographical note and seeing that he’s very involved in dog rescue, including owning a “pack” of foster dogs. One of the more disturbing events in the book is a scene where Steve and the two lions must fight off an unending stream of supernaturally determined dogs!

I love it when an author doesn’t get all explainy and lets you sort things out for yourself. I also love it when details that seem like throw-away items early in the book become suddenly significant when the chips are down.

A very impressive debut novel and I shall be very interested to see what this author produces next.

Bitten / Kelley Armstrong

3 out of 5 stars
Elena Michaels is the world’s only female werewolf. And she’s tired of it. Tired of a life spent hiding and protecting, a life where her most important job is hunting down rogue werewolves. Tired of a world that not only accepts the worst in her–her temper, her violence–but requires it. Worst of all, she realizes she’s growing content with that life, with being that person.

So she left the Pack and returned to Toronto where she’s trying to live as a human. When the Pack leader calls asking for her help fighting a sudden uprising, she only agrees because she owes him. Once this is over, she’ll be squared with the Pack and free to live life as a human. Which is what she wants. Really.


I read this for the “Werewolves” square of my 2017 Halloween Bingo card.

I keep reminding myself that this is a first book in a series and that I often like later books better, once the author has found their groove. I’m fence sitting with a 3 star rating on this one because I’ve got some issues with it, but I found it interesting enough to finish it, and not just for the sake of my Bingo game!

Elena, the main character, drove me crazy. She should actually be a cat of some kind, because no matter where she was, she thought she wanted to be somewhere else. If she was in Toronto, she was thinking she’d be happier in Stonehaven. Then she’s pissed off when she gets summoned to Stonehaven and wants to be back in Toronto. She’s supposedly trying to build an ordinary life for herself with Philip in Toronto, but pretty much immediately is having sex with Clayton when she returns to the werewolf fold. Rinse and repeat the pattern above—whichever man she’s currently with, she wants the other one.

Philip, although we see very little of him (and never from his point of view), haunts the background of most of the book. He’s an unusually patient man, who spent months trying to get to know Elena and who seems to have been stealthily sneaking more ties into their relationship as time passes. What he finds attractive is somewhat of a mystery—he is sleeping with a woman who sneaks out in the middle of the night regularly and doesn’t explain why. She’s slim, of course, from all that nocturnal wolf running and starving herself so as not to display her amazing werewolf appetite, but she admits that she hates clothes shopping and doesn’t concentrate too much on her appearance. She’s secretive, understandably to those of us in the know, but not the slightest bit creative about her excuses for her behaviour and Philip doesn’t seem to have the wherewithal to interrogate her in the way I think a normal lover would.

In the foreground is Clay, who doesn’t care about people at all, just werewolves. He liked Elena, so he made sure to bite her in order to trap her in his world. He’s not the alpha (that would be Jeremy) but he’s still an overbearing a-hole who only listens to Elena when he wants to. Mind you, he has some reasons for that, since she seems to lie to herself quite regularly about what she truly wants and what is realistic for a woman in her situation.

So the ending of this volume was no surprise to me—there was only one way things could resolve, it was just a matter of the path that Armstrong took me on to get there. I know that a lot of my GR friends who like urban fantasy love this series, so I am going to persevere for a book or two more to see if I can get into it. After all, I would love to support a Canadian writer and to read fantasy set in my own country.

Monday, 30 October 2017

What the #@&% is That? / edited by John Joseph Adams & Douglas Cohen

3 out of 5 stars
Ranging from irreverent humor to straight out horror, What the @#&% Is That? grew from a meme on Twitter when iconic comic book artist Mike Mignola painted a monster. Nobody knew what the F it was, but they loved it.

Renowned editors John Joseph Adams and Doug Cohen then asked some of the best writers in the fantasy, horror, and thriller genres including Jonathan Maberry, Seanan McGuire, Christopher Golden, and Scott Sigler to create a monster story that included the line “WTF is that?”

This anthology is a feast for the imagination for anyone who loves monsters.



I read this book to fill the ‘Free’ square of my 2017 Halloween Book Bingo card.

Horror is not really my genre, although I use Halloween each year as an excuse to stretch my boundaries a little bit.  Short stories aren’t my preferred format either, so I expect for horror aficionados who enjoy short fiction, this would be an excellent anthology.

As promised in the introduction, each story in this volume eventually has a character who asks, “WTF is that?”  As usual with short fiction collections, some are better than others (and not always the ones that you would expect in either the good or bad categories).  By and large, the pieces tended towards the playful rather than tremendously scary, which a casual horror reader such as myself can appreciate.