Friday, 21 April 2017

The Eye of the World / Robert Jordan

4 out of 5 stars
The Wheel of Time turns and Ages come and go, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth returns again. In the Third Age, and Age of Prophecy, the World and Time themselves hang in the balance. What was, what will be, and what is, may yet fall under the Shadow.

The Wheel of Time turns….and I am now on The Wheel.

What a kitten-squisher of a book! I had the hardcover edition from the library. When I fell asleep reading it, the thump as the book landed in my lap would wake me every time! (Not that this was a boring book, just that I’ve been having sleep issues lately.)

I hope to take a little breather from The Wheel before I head on to book 2. But I will need to move on while I still remember who’s who. This is one of the better swords-and-horses fantasies that I have found during my reading project, and judging from the number of books times the thickness of each one, I have many hours of reading pleasure in my future.

Book 254 in my Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading Project.

Dead Heat / Patricia Briggs

4 out of 5 stars
For once, mated werewolves Charles and Anna are not traveling because of Charles’s role as his father’s enforcer. This time, their trip to Arizona is purely personal--or at least it starts out that way...
Charles and Anna soon discover that a dangerous Fae being is on the loose, replacing human children with simulacrums. The Fae’s cold war with humanity is about to heat up—and Charles and Anna are in the cross fire.


Dead Heat pulls the Alpha & Omega series more towards the mystery genre. However, there is never any question that it is definitely urban fantasy. The villain of the piece is, after all, a Fae, the theory being that the majority of the Fae have barricaded themselves on their reservations and are strategically releasing their worst offenders to plague the human world. This is one the creepiest Fae that Briggs has introduced us to.

For those of us who love horses, this is the book for us. There is a good dose of horse shows and riding. But it is also a novel that deals with aging, loss, and free will. Charles must say good-bye to one of his few friends, as this man has steadfastly refused to become a werewolf.

Still loving that there’s no romantic angst in this series—it’s lovely to see a married couple acting like adults.

The Ghoul Vendetta / Lisa Shearin

4 out of 5 stars
A vampire gangster's nephew is abducted off his yacht by a bunch of low-rent Creatures from the Black Lagoon. A slew of banks are knocked over by what looks like the cast of Night of the Living Dead. All of this may seem like the movies, but, I promise you, it's not.
I'm Makenna Fraser, seer for SPI, and I know the culprits aren't wearing disguises or makeup. They're real. Deadly real. Especially their leader--an ancient shapeshifter who leaves a trail of chaos and blood in his wake. Now, he's taken my partner, Ian--and his intentions aren't pretty.
The worst part? This is only the beginning...
The beginning of the end of the human race.


Another enjoyable offering in the SPI Files. Now I can see the set-up for this book that Shearin wove into the first three books. Very skillfully done.

For those who are into paranormal romance, this series may frustrate you. The pace of Mac and Rake’s relationship is glacial, but I’m okay with that. This seems to be parr for the course, as Shearin’s Raine Benares series is much the same. Unfortunately there is also the same is a tendency to repeat, repeat, repeat herself (although not quite as much in the SPI Files).

With Vivienne Sagadraco on vacation, we get to see more of Alain Moreau, cool vampire lawyer. Although I love Vivienne, it was nice to see Alain get some page-time.

The big changes in this installment happen in Ian’s life. I will be interested to see where Shearin takes things next, as there are obviously threads of the story left hanging, waiting for another book. Not to mention that I want to know how things go for Mac & Rake. Mac didn’t get to use her seer’s powers much in this book—hopefully that will change in the next one.

Now the big question is when will Book 5 will be published?

Lord of the Flies / William Golding

3 out of 5 stars
Somehow, I missed this book during my school years. I remember seeing stacks of them in our school, but it was never assigned in one of my classes. I can see why it is a staple of high school curriculums, however, since it’s themes are easily seen and interpreted. There is plenty to discuss.
I would have appreciated it in high school, having struggled with Orwell’s Animal Farm instead. Lord of the Flies is pretty straight-forward in its depiction of the descent of supposedly civilized British boarding school boys into “savages” when left without adult supervision. Perhaps it is also a comment on boarding schools in general, which a couple of my friends have experienced (and do not recommend).

I find myself wondering how Golding would have written things differently if there were girls in the mix. Would they have been considered a “civilizing influence”? Or would they have become prizes or hostages in some boy’s competition? How did the “Little’uns” manage to escape the worst of the mistreatment that can be dished out when group dynamics go awry?

I chose this book after reading Barrie’s Peter Pan last year, wanting to contrast the “lost boys” in both novels. Unlike Barrie’s Lost Boys, the boys in LOTF have to grow up. Golding makes them struggle with adult responsibilities that they really aren’t prepared for, like keeping a signal fire going and building adequate shelters. I was also reminded of Robinson Crusoe, but his journey was actually towards religion, rather than away from it. Many years with only a Bible to read turns him into a religious man, which at the time would be considered more civilized.

A worthwhile book, but not one that I will ever likely re-read.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

The Halfling's Gem / R.A. Salvatore

3 out of 5 stars
Regis has fallen into the hands of the assassin Artmis Entreri, who is taking him to Calimport to deliver him into the clutches of the vile Pasha Pook. But Drizzt and Wulfgar are close on their heels, determined to save Regis from his own folly as much as from his powerful enemies.

I will never be a super-fan of this series, but I can still certainly appreciate its appeal. I will try very hard not to complain about character names—many of them, I find completely ridiculous and sometimes even distracting. I mean, who wants an imaginary Halfling in their head who looks like Regis Philbin with furry feet?

There’s plenty of good action in this installment, several lost-and-found characters, plus incredible imaginary beasts. Positive from my point of view is Cattie-Brie getting a bit more page-time (although I still get hungry for cheese when I read about her).

Essentially one long chase scene, this book isn’t too complex. This is good, as there are commas sprinkled throughout the novel, like iron filings in a contaminated loaf of bread, making sentences very unclear. This requires the reader to back up and to try again to wrest the sense from them, not just once or twice, but repeatedly.

The obvious “be who you are and don’t mind other people’s opinions” message of Drizzt is a positive one for the age group that this series seems to be aimed at, namely the high school/young adult crowd.

Book 253 in my Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading Project.

Death Masks / Jim Butcher

4 out of 5 stars
Harry Dresden, Chicago's only practicing professional wizard, should be happy that business is pretty good for a change. But now he's getting more than he bargained for: 
A duel with the Red Court of Vampires' champion, who must kill Harry to end the war between vampires and wizards...  Professional hit men using Harry for target practice...  The missing Shroud of Turin...  A handless and headless corpse the Chicago police need identified...  Not to mention the return of Harry's ex-girlfriend Susan, who's still struggling with her semi-vampiric nature. And who seems to have a new man in her life.

Some days, it just doesn't pay to get out of bed. No matter how much you're charging.


In my opinion, the best book so far in the Harry Dresden series. It feels to me like Butcher has found his stride and as a result that Harry has found his centre. He’s thinking about the Whys of what he does, not just about what to do next.

Although the vampires get things rolling in this book, the Harry-Red Court conflict gets pushed to the side as he deals with bigger issues. This is what I was wanting when I read The Last Coin. Awesome use of Judas’ thirty pieces of silver!

One of the things I appreciate most about this series? There are fabulous women characters. I mean, Susan started out strong, went limp for a while, but returns in this book with power. Too bad that she can’t stay—she would provide a good balance to Harry. Then there’s Michael Carpenter’s wife, Charity, who runs an enormous household, rides herd on a passel of children, and still manages to make armour! Not to mention Karrin Murphy, Harry’s police department contact. She doesn’t get much screen time in this volume, but she’s still effective when called upon.

I also enjoyed getting some back story on John Marcone, the godfather of Chicago.

Okay, I think I am ready to board the Dresden bandwagon. Make room!

Web of Lies / Jennifer Estep

3 out of 5 stars
Curiosity is definitely going to get me dead one of these days. Probably real soon.

I'm Gin Blanco.

You might know me as the Spider, the most feared assassin in the South. I’m retired now, but trouble still has a way of finding me. Like the other day when two punks tried to rob my popular barbecue joint, the Pork Pit. Then there was the barrage of gunfire on the restaurant. Only, for once, those kill shots weren’t aimed at me. They were meant for Violet Fox. Ever since I agreed to help Violet and her grandfather protect their property from an evil coalmining tycoon, I’m beginning to wonder if I’m really retired. So is Detective Donovan Caine. The only honest cop in Ashland is having a real hard time reconciling his attraction to me with his Boy Scout mentality. And I can barely keep my hands off his sexy body. What can I say? I’m a Stone elemental with a little Ice magic thrown in, but my heart isn’t made of solid rock. Luckily, Gin Blanco always gets her man . . . dead or alive.



This isn’t happy-clappy urban fantasy.  Gin Blanco isn’t necessarily someone I’d want to drink blackberry ice tea with, but she makes for an interesting main character.  She’s a supposedly retired assassin, romantically fixated on an upstanding cop.  Staying retired isn’t easy, especially when Gin runs a restaurant on the wrong side of the tracks.

There’s good action in this series, although I wish Gin didn’t get so physically beat-up all the time.  Yes, her friend Jo-Jo can (and does) fix her up afterwards, but why even go through all that pain?  In some ways, Gin has female friends, like Jo-Jo and Sophia, the sisters that help her out regularly, but they aren’t really BFFs—she doesn’t know many intimate details of their lives and she keeps them in the dark about the nitty-gritty of her life too.  That role seems to be occupied by her foster-brother, Finn.

I’m hoping for a change in focus in book 3 from upstanding cop to a new guy who’s been introduced who seems much more suitable for Gin.  I’ve read the teaser at the end of this volume, which seems to indicate a whole lot more beating for Gin to endure, but I also have hope that the new guy’s sister might end up being a true friend to Gin.

Definitely going on to book 3!

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Spook / Mary Roach

3.5 out of 5 stars
What happens when we die? Does the light just go out and that's that—the million-year nap? Or will some part of my personality, my me-ness persist? What will that feel like? What will I do all day? Is there a place to plug in my laptop?" In an attempt to find out, Mary Roach brings her tireless curiosity to bear on an array of contemporary and historical soul-searchers: scientists, schemers, engineers, mediums, all trying to prove (or disprove) that life goes on after we die. She begins the journey in rural India with a reincarnation researcher and ends up in a University of Virginia operating room where cardiologists have installed equipment near the ceiling to study out-of-body near-death experiences. Along the way, she enrolls in an English medium school, gets electromagnetically haunted at a university in Ontario, and visits a Duke University professor with a plan to weigh the consciousness of a leech. Her historical wanderings unearth soul-seeking philosophers who rummaged through cadavers and calves' heads, a North Carolina lawsuit that established legal precedence for ghosts, and the last surviving sample of "ectoplasm" in a Cambridge University archive.


”The debunkers are probably right, but they’re no fun to visit a graveyard with.”

With that one sentence, Mary Roach sums up my whole view of the survival of a soul.  She explores reincarnation stories, Victorian spiritualism, and ghost hunting.  She attends a workshop to develop her mediumship.  In general, she treads the odd pathways that I would if I had the freedom to do so, and she does it with her characteristic humour.

I think one of the key things, that gets several mentions in the book, is the role of loss and grief in starting people on the path looking for spiritual survival of death.  When my parents were killed in a car accident twenty years ago, I had dreams of them that were so realistic that I almost believed that I was communicating with them again.  The longing was so strong (and still often is so strong) that I truly wish that I could somehow reach out to them one more time.

One of my sisters twisted my arm until we visited a local clairvoyant, who I must say provided a very comforting experience.  But I left that session feeling like my emotional self (that wanted to believe desperately) and my intellectual self (that analyzed the session and decided that my sister & I provided most of the information) were definitely in dissonance.  It was an interesting experience and I don’t regret it, but I also don’t think I will ever repeat it.

Perhaps not as much fun as other Mary Roach books that I’ve read, but still an enjoyable way to spend some time.

Callahan's Lady / Spider Robinson

2.5 stars out of 5
A HOUSE OF "HEALTHY" REPUTE...Welcome to Lady Sally's, the House that "is" a home -- the internationally (hell, interplanetarily) notorious bordello. At Lady Sally's House, the customer doesn't necessarily come first: even the staff are genuinely enjoying themselves.

Wife of time traveling bartender Mike Callahan, and employer of some of the most unusual and talented performing artists ever to work in the field of hedonic interface, Her Ladyship has designed her House to be an "equal opportunity enjoyer," discreetly, tastefully and joyfully catering to all erotic tastes and fantasies, however unusual. Like her famous husband, Lady Sally doesn't even insist that her customers be "human."..as long as they have good manners.


2.5 very conflicted stars.

I just don’t know what to think about Spider Robinson’s books. But I keep persistently reading them as part of my science fiction & fantasy reading project. I say persistently, because they aren’t widely available and I find that I have to request them by interlibrary loan, a process which requires patience.

On the one hand, Robinson is an engaging writer. He writes characters who are interesting and situations that are worth exploring (despite all the god-awful puns).

One the other hand, he makes assumptions about life and especially about women that drive me crazy. Take this book for example—the main character, Maureen, who tells the tale is a prostitute. If you believe that prostitution is all about sex, you will love this book. If you believe that it’s all about power, this book will make you cranky. I’m a bit cranky.

I guess what I’m saying is that Maureen, the main character, pretty much felt like a man transplanted into a woman’s body. I couldn’t relate to her motivations at all, despite the fact that I think I’m fairly open minded about sexuality.

Mr. Robinson, I’m not sure if it’s you or if it’s me, but I find your books difficult to enjoy.

Book 252 of my Science Fiction & Fantasy Reading Project.

My Name is Lucy Barton / Elizabeth Strout

4 out of 5 stars
Lucy Barton is recovering slowly from what should have been a simple operation. Her mother, to whom she hasn't spoken for many years, comes to see her. Gentle gossip about people from Lucy's childhood in Amgash, Illinois, seems to reconnect them, but just below the surface lies the tension and longing that have informed every aspect of Lucy's life: her escape from her troubled family, her desire to become a writer, her marriage, her love for her two daughters.

Wow, this little book went by quickly! But it deals with deep issues, the stuff that nobody likes to talk about, especially if you’re directly involved. As Lucy and her mother are.

Despite what Lucy tells us about writing—that one should plunge right in and confront the main issues—that’s not how this book is structured. It’s all about reading between the lines, intuiting what’s going on, and piecing together the bits & pieces that Lucy deigns to throw to us, the readers. She tosses out tidbits of information, all from her own point of view and we have no other voices to give us some balance. Only what she reports that her mother or her siblings or her husband said.

A flighty and somewhat untrustworthy narrator, our Lucy, and yet I felt compelled to sift through the fragments to try to figure out exactly what happened in that family home to make her into the uncomfortable person that she currently is. Was it just poverty? Or what else was happening?

If you enjoyed this novel, you might also like The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver. Both examine women’s attempts to escape impoverished backgrounds (and incidentally, I've read both for my real-life book club).

Stone Spring / Stephen Baxter

3 out of 5 stars
Ten thousand years ago, a vast and fertile plain exists linking the British Isles to Europe. Home to a tribe of simple hunter-gatherers, Northland teems with nature's bounty, but is also subject to its whims.

Fourteen-year-old Ana calls Northland home, but her world is changing. The air is warming, the ice is melting, and the seas are rising. Then Ana meets a traveler from a far-distant city called Jericho-a city that is protected by a wall. And she starts to imagine the impossible...


I read this book for the frivolous reason that it has “Spring” in the title and its springtime as I write this review. Plus, it had been on my TBR list for some time and I decided that it was time that I moved it.

It’s a solid story—set in Mesolithic Europe, as the climate and the land masses change with the melting of the ice sheets. Baxter has obviously done his research on the archaeology of the region, including the parts that are completely underwater now. And he has thrown in his own imaginative touches, creating believable cultures for these prehistoric tribes and inventing one that is entirely fictional, the “Leafy Boys.”

There is conflict—when you’ve got a hammer, every problem looks like a nail and when you’ve got a stone-tipped spear, well everything looks like it needs to be poked with that spear. The primary relationships are those of tribe, parent, child, etc. and not so much romantic. There is very, very little sex described, it is mostly implied or spoken about crudely by loud-mouthed men. In some ways, it is Jean Auel’s Earth’s Children series without the sex and much less emotional angst.

Obvious messages include: slavery is bad, global warming will raise water levels so deal with it, and that it’s difficult to deal with people who hold extremely different worldviews from yourself. I was somewhat unsure of how I felt about the character of Ana, who runs other tribe’s people’s lives ruthlessly and has a baby only to solidify her chosen power structure. I know people like this exist, but her choice of power over genuine emotion bothered me.

I guess what I didn’t entirely care for was the grafting of 21st century values and motivations onto Stone Age people. It didn’t always ring true for me, but it was still a pretty good book.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Nice Girls Don't Live Forever / Molly Harper

4 out of 5 stars
Nothing sucks the romance out of world travel like a boyfriend who may or may not have broken up with you in a hotel room in Brussels. Jane Jameson’s sexy sire, Gabriel, has always been unpredictable. But the seductive, anonymous notes that await him at each stop of their international vacation, coupled with his evasive behavior over the past few months, finally push Jane onto the next flight home to Half Moon Hollow — alone, upset, and unsure whether Gabriel just ended their relationship without actually telling her.
Now the children’s librarian-turned-vampire is reviving with plenty of Faux Type O, some TLC from her colorful friends and family, and her plans for a Brave New Jane. Step One: Get her newly-renovated occult bookstore off the ground. Step Two: Support her best friend, Zeb, and his werewolf bride as they prepare for the impending birth of their baby . . . or litter. Step Three: Figure out who’s been sending her threatening letters, and how her hostile pen pal is tied to Gabriel. Because for this nice girl, surviving a broken heart is becoming a matter of life and undeath...

Another fun Friday night spent with Jane Jameson. I’m glad I left a few months between #2 and this installment—Jane is best enjoyed in small doses. Especially as this book tips the scales much further towards paranormal romance than to regular urban fantasy.

I do love the sass and the snark that Molly Harper channels for Jane. And Jane needs them desperately in book 3 as she deals with relationship issues, both her vampire sire/boyfriend, Gabriel and her sister. Not to mention that her best friend Zeb & his werewolf bride are expecting twins and expecting Jane to keep all the crazy relatives out of the delivery room.

I appreciated that instead of one constant melt-down about the Gabriel situation, Jane decides to get on with her life. She concentrates on her business and its promotion—with the hilarious side effect of becoming embroiled in the local Chamber of Commerce (which seems to be populated with only women named Courtney). I also loved that her friendship with Dick Cheney progresses—Dick takes her out for an evening of drinking, not-talking, and fighting, just the cure for a heartache. The Dick & Jane schtick works well.

Also loving the fact that Jane has Jolene and Andrea as BFFs and that each of them have personalities & motivations of their own within the novel. Yes, the boys still loom large, but Jane definitely has some women friends to lean on. Yay!

4 sassy stars!

The Uncertain Places / Lisa Goldstein

3.5 stars out of 5
The intersection of our “real” world with the Land of Fairy seems to be a popular subject of fiction in recent years. I have become a fan of such books and found this one quite good. Set in the 1970s, it follows two young men who have become romantically involved with two sisters. The girls’ family seems to have something strange going on, and Will Taylor is determined to figure out the mystery.

That goal turns out to not be as easy as it seems—can a modern guy believe in supernatural contracts? Will struggles with how much of the situation he is willing to believe and with a sudden talent for seeing things which others can’t.

If you like The Uncertain Places, you might also enjoy reading The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm or John Crowley’s Little, Big. For somewhat similar reads, you might also try Jo Walton’s Among Others and Nancy Baker’s Cold Hillside, both of which are wonderful.

Hot Lead, Cold Iron / Ari Marmell

3 out of 5 stars
Chicago, 1932. Mick Oberon may look like just another private detective, but beneath the fedora and the overcoat, he's got pointy ears and he's packing a wand.

Oberon's used to solving supernatural crimes, but the latest one's extra weird. A mobster's daughter was kidnapped sixteen years ago, replaced with a changeling, and Mick's been hired to find the real child. The trail's gone cold, but what there is leads Sideways, to the world of the Fae, where the Seelie Court rules. And Mick's not really welcome in the Seelie Court any more. He'll have to wade through Fae politics and mob power struggles to find the kidnapper – and of course it's the last person he expected.


Hard-boiled detective + the Fae = an interesting first book.

When I ran across this title in my public library’s catalog, I was intrigued. Those of you who read my reviews regularly will know that I am a sucker for books that feature Fae characters. I love them! Plus, I am an enormous fan of Raymond Chandler, so this combo was irresistible.

I enjoyed Marmell’s take on the Fae. Mick Oberon (yes, he’s related to THAT Oberon) has a penchant for milk, cream when he’s needs something a bit stronger. He doesn’t always ask for money to pay for his jobs—but he has an instinct for asking for something which later helps with a new problem. He’s also extremely reluctant to head back Underhill for any reason.

Marmell is obviously fully conversant with the whole hard-boiled genre. Mick is tough-talking, hard-(milk)-drinking, and wise-cracking. He gets beat on and thumps others in return. All the correct boxes are ticked. It would be unfair to compare his writing to Chandler—very few can live up to those standards. If I have a niggling annoyance, it’s that I felt the Chicago gangland vocabulary was laid on awfully thick (with a trowel, really).

Still, it’s a fun fantasy world and I will definitely continue on with the series. Not, however, a series that I will want to own.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Hyperion / Dan Simmons

4 out of 5 stars
On the world called Hyperion, beyond the law of the Hegemony of Man, there waits the creature called the Shrike. There are those who worship it. There are those who fear it. And there are those who have vowed to destroy it. In the Valley of the Time Tombs, where huge, brooding structures move backward through time, the Shrike waits for them all. On the eve of Armageddon, with the entire galaxy at war, seven pilgrims set forth on a final voyage to Hyperion seeking the answers to the unsolved riddles of their lives. Each carries a desperate hope—and a terrible secret. And one may hold the fate of humanity in his hands.

Canterbury Tales in space. With the plotting of Agatha Christie.

Earth is just a memory, destroyed long ago, but it looms large in the galactic consciousness. Hyperion is a world on the edge of things—not really part of the Hegemony of Man, not really part of the opposition either. Ruled or haunted by a being known as The Shrike.

As a birder, I am familiar with shrikes. They are songbirds that think they are raptors. When you find one of their larders, you feel like you’ve discovered a serial killer’s lair—they use thorn bushes or barbed wire to impale their prey until needed to feed chicks or themselves. Simmons borrows this behaviour for his creation and it feels ominous.

As for the Canterbury Tales aspect, seven pilgrims are traveling to Hyperion on the eve of galactic war. As they make their way to the Time Tombs on Hyperion, they agree to tell their tales of what has prompted their participation in the expedition. As their stories unfold, we acquire the background that we need to learn more about Simmons’ universe and enough to tantalize us about what may be happening.

As to the Christie angle, I realized as I enjoyed each character’s story that Simmons had skillfully crafted all of the tales to fit together in interesting and intricate ways. Events in each person’s life, reaching back many years in every case, have drawn them to be where they currently are. Have they been manipulated by the Shrike? Or is this a case of massive synchronicity?

I loved the ending of this book and if it was a stand-alone, I could live with that. However, I am pleased that there are three more books to explore this intriguing universe.

Book 251 of my Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading Project.

Ashes of Honor / Seanan McGuire

4.5 out of 5 stars
It’s been almost a year since October “Toby” Daye averted a war, gave up a county, and suffered personal losses that have left her wishing for a good day’s sleep. She’s tried to focus on her responsibilities—training Quentin, upholding her position as Sylvester’s knight, and paying the bills—but she can’t help feeling like her world is crumbling around her, and her increasingly reckless behavior is beginning to worry even her staunchest supporters.

To make matters worse, Toby’s just been asked to find another missing child…only this time it’s the changeling daughter of her fellow knight, Etienne, who didn’t even know he was a father until the girl went missing. Her name is Chelsea. She’s a teleporter, like her father. She’s also the kind of changeling the old stories warn about, the ones with all the strength and none of the control. She’s opening doors that were never meant to be opened, releasing dangers that were sealed away centuries before—and there’s a good chance she could destroy Faerie if she isn’t stopped.

Now Toby must find Chelsea before time runs out, racing against an unknown deadline and through unknown worlds as she and her allies try to avert disaster. But danger is also stirring in the Court of Cats, and Tybalt may need Toby’s help with the biggest challenge he’s ever faced.

Toby thought the last year was bad. She has no idea.


Yay! This is book, folks, where Toby Daye finally wakes up and smells the coffee, both literally and figuratively. Indeed, she is as obsessed with coffee drinking as I am and all the people in her life have learned to make it to her specifications. Plus, she has learned about those people in her life—she cares about them, they care about her, and she should probably get used to that.

It was great to see her accept and even solicit help from her regular crew of friends and to see them all win the day as a team. No more isolation! She & Tybalt are officially great at co-operating to get things done, save each other’s lives, and defend the innocent. Not to mention their excellent chemistry! I also appreciate that this romance element to the story doesn’t over-power the novel. It’s an excellent side dish to a satisfying meal.

I think the major reason that I love October is because she is a flawed main character. She has obstacles to overcome, probably as many of them in her own mind as in the real world. And, like all of us, she has to work through her issues until she reaches a place where she can claim a little more happiness.

This is the series that started my serious love-affair with all things Fae. It’s a good time to love Fae fantasies, they are everywhere now, but this will always be my first love in that category. Thanks, Seanan McGuire, for hours of happy entertainment.

The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, V. 3

3 out of 5 stars
The depth and breadth of what science fiction and fantasy fiction is changes with every passing year. The two dozen stories chosen for this book by award-winning anthologist Jonathan Strahan carefully maps this evolution, giving readers a captivating and always-entertaining look at the very best the genre has to offer.
 
Short story anthologies like these are a wonderful way to find new authors that interest you. I should probably limit my intake, since my “to read” list is already over 1600 titles, but being the book lover that I am, I can’t resist having a peek sometimes.

As with all collections, some stories were fun, some were confusing, some were boring for me. But I can think of three in this book that made me think I wanted more from those authors.

The Dust Assassin, by Ian McDonald. Mostly because it is set in Asia and I think entirely too much science fiction & fantasy is set in North America. Plus this was a gripping story and I’d like to read more in this world.

Pride and Prometheus, by John Kessel. I love a good mash-up. This story used both Shelley’s Frankenstein and Austen’s Pride and Prejudice to create a little side-adventure that really tickled me. I will definitely be looking for more of Kessel’s work.

26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss, by Kij Johnson. Okay, so I have a huge soft spot for animals, plus I love it when an author gets the biology right! Acknowledgement that chimpanzees and gibbons aren’t monkeys, but they’re still in the circus act. The story left me with questions, something that I also love.

If you’re having difficulty choosing your next book, may I suggest an anthology in whatever genre you enjoy? Sure, there may be some duds, but at least one story in the collection will probably send you off on a whole new reading tangent!
 

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Stone of Farewell / Tad Williams

4 out of 5 stars
It is a time of darkness, dread, and ultimate testing for the realm of Osten Ard, for the wild magic and terrifying minions of the undead Sithi ruler, Ineluki the Storm King, are spreading their seemingly undefeatable evil across the kingdom.

With the very land blighted by the power of Ineluki’s wrath, the tattered remnants of a once-proud human army flee in search of a last sanctuary and rallying point—the Stone of Farewell, a place shrouded in mystery and ancient sorrow.

An even as Prince Josua seeks to rally his scattered forces, Simon and the surviving members of the League of the Scroll are desperately struggling to discover the truth behind an almost-forgotten legend, which will take them from the fallen citadels of humans to the secret heartland of the Sithi—where near-immortals must at last decide whether to ally with the race of men in a final war against those of their own blood.


As I look back on the reading experience for Stone of Farewell, I wonder exactly why I enjoyed it so much? I mean, not an awful lot happens. Simon returns to being a pouty, immature boy more often than not. There’s an awful lot of walking, while keeping a look-out for the bad guys. In fact, you could probably sum up the whole book in one sentence: Most of the good guys get to the Stone of Farewell.

I guess what made it worthwhile for me was learning quite a bit more about the Sithi (Williams’ version of Elves). Plus getting some back-story for Ineluki, the Storm King, to find out what turned him into the vengeful creature that is threatening all of Osten Ard. There’s also a peek into Troll culture and a love interest for poor, patient old Binibik.

The character who really gets left in the lurch in this volume is Miriamele, King Elias’ daughter. I would be reading book three regardless, but it is her fate that really is pulling me along at this point. I must know what happens!

This is pretty standard fantasy fare and if you enjoy high fantasy, you are likely to enjoy the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series. Those who don’t like elves, trolls, and magic swords should definitely pass this series by!

Book 250 of my Science Fiction and Fantasy reading project.

Survivors / Richard Fortey

4 out of 5 stars
Evolution does not simply obliterate its tracks as more advanced organisms evolve. Scattered across the globe, organisms and ecosystems that survive from far earlier times can speak to us of seminal events in the history of life. It is these animals and plants that Richard Fortey visits in the field, taking the reader on a voyage to the exotic, and sometimes everyday, places in which they live. Landscapes are evoked, boulders are turned over, seas are paddled as he explains the importance of understanding plants and animals as pivotal points in evolutionary history itself. Survivors: The Animals and Plants that Time Has left Behind is a journey across the globe and across time that weaves a rich and brilliantly delineated tapestry of how life and our planet have evolved together.

 I love Richard Fortey’s science writing. Two of his books are among my absolute favourites (Life: A Natural History of the First Four Billion Years of Life on Earth and Dry Storeroom No. 1). Perhaps because there’s an awful lot of stuff happening in my life right now, I didn’t get into this book in quite the same way as those two.

Still, it’s an extremely enjoyable book if you are a fan of paleontology and natural history. I’ve been fascinated by the idea of a “living fossil” and Fortey explores it thoroughly in this book (while explaining that the whole idea of a living fossil is a bit off-base—they may look the same, but many things will still have changed over the millennia). I am more than a little envious of Mr. Fortey, as I would dearly love to travel to see some of the creatures that he visited for this book. I mean, Horseshoe Crabs? Sign me up to go see them at spawning time! Wouldn’t you like to hold a Lungfish in Northern Australia? Or is it just me?

What I truly appreciate about Fortey’s writing is the enormous depth and breadth of knowledge of paleontology. Now, he does shine brightest when talking about invertebrates, as you would expect of a trilobite specialist, but he’s a dab hand at fish too and obviously an enthusiastic naturalist when it comes to plants and birds. I am amazed how much natural history knowledge resides in one person’s skull.

Add to that the charm of quoting poetry and literature in meaningful ways, making allusions to dance and art, and one has to admit that this is a well-rounded scholar.

Recommended for those who are fascinated with paleontology in all its glory.

Whose Body? / Dorothy L. Sayers

3 out of 5 stars
The stark naked body was lying in the tub. Not unusual for a proper bath, but highly irregular for murder -- especially with a pair of gold pince-nez deliberately perched before the sightless eyes. What's more, the face appeared to have been shaved after death. The police assumed that the victim was a prominent financier, but Lord Peter Wimsey, who dabbled in mystery detection as a hobby, knew better. In this, his first murder case, Lord Peter untangles the ghastly mystery of the corpse in the bath.

  I hope that Dorothy Sayers would be pleased that people are still reading her Lord Peter Wimsey series in the 21st century, 50 years after her death. That said, this was very much a “first book” in the series. Lord Peter is very well named, it seems to have started a bit whimsically. Ms. Sayers was obviously finding out who this gentleman was and what he was capable of.

There are regular references to Sherlock Holmes, so Sayers was obviously conversant with Conan Doyle’s creation. Especially in the matter of the criminal’s need to confess and explain what he did and why he did it, something that I am unsure actually happens in real life.

I also found echoes of two of her contemporaries, Agatha Christie and P.G. Wodehouse. Lord Peter is an amateur sleuth, like Miss Marple, but he has connections in the police department rather like Hercule Poirot. His relationship with his butler, Bunter, is reminiscent of Bertie Wooster and his man Jeeves.

I was very fond of Peter’s mother, the Duchess. She is a wonderfully intelligent & lively woman and I hope that she continues to feature in future installments.

It was an entertaining little book—unfortunately my copy had some major typographical problems. Every time the character “æ” should have appeared in a word, “¾” replaced it, making for some very odd looking words. Things went even further awry close to the end of the book, when Lord Peter speaks with a woman in French. All the accents, circumflexes and cedillas were replaced by symbols and numbers and made the conversation extremely difficult to parse out.

Though not the most scintillating mystery that I’ve ever read, it is better than many. When time permits, I will undoubtedly read further adventures of Lord Peter Wimsey.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Oath of Gold / Elizabeth Moon

4 out of 5 stars
 Paks was somebody special. Never could she have followed her father's orders and married the pig farmer from down the road. Better a soldier's life than a pigfarmer's wife, so, knowing she can never return home, she runs away to be a soldier, beginning an adventure which will transform her.

I spent the first two chapters of this book crying.  Why, you ask?  Because the second book left Paks in such a hopeless, lonely place and in the first couple of chapters Master Oakhollow takes her in and is SO KIND.  He demonstrates a kindness that’s often missing in our world today.

I had difficulty setting the book down—I really wanted to know what happened.  But I just couldn’t give it 5 stars, despite these two factors.  Once she was healed, Paks went right back to being a Mary Sue character, who could do no wrong and could see her way through all kinds (and I mean ALL kinds) of troubles without getting bent out of shape.  This despite assurances to her on several occasions that she is a better Girdsman now, because she knows how helpless people feel.  Plus she’s gone all religious and holy in the cult of Gird.  For a girl who used to fight & cuss in Duke Phelan’s troops, it was odd to see her go so far to the other end of the spectrum.

Having said that, Moon creates a fascinating world—I would have loved to spend more time with the elves and gnomes and know a bit more about their societies.  The ending, although okay, just kind of petered out.  Rather like a fairy tale, when they just say that everyone lived happily ever after.  A bit more detail in the resolution would have made me feel better about it.

All in all, this was a very enjoyable trilogy and would definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoys high fantasy.

Book number 249 in my Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading Project.

The Gate to Women's Country / Sheri S. Tepper

4 out of 5 stars
Tepper's finest novel to date is set in a post-holocaust feminist dystopia that offers only two political alternatives: a repressive polygamist sect that is slowly self-destructing through inbreeding and the matriarchal dictatorship called Women's Country. Here, in a desperate effort to prevent another world war, the women have segregated most men into closed military garrisons and have taken on themselves every other function of government, industry, agriculture, science and learning.

The resulting manifold responsibilities are seen through the life of Stavia, from a dreaming 10-year-old to maturity as doctor, mother and member of the Marthatown Women's Council. As in Tepper's Awakeners series books, the rigid social systems are tempered by the voices of individual experience and, here, by an imaginative reworking of The Trojan Woman that runs through the text. A rewarding and challenging novel that is to be valued for its provocative ideas.


Very much a product of its time! Post-nuclear war, societies are sorting themselves out and we get to witness two ways of dealing with things. One is very, very matriarchal, the other over-the-top patriarchal. As I began reading, I started with the impression that I was exploring a very patriarchal set-up. Fooled me! Yes, the women and men live (mostly) separately and the women must present sons to the warriors to be raised in warrior culture. But women control almost everything else (medicine, agriculture, trading, education, etc.). Not very religious, but any references present are based on Greek mythology. Sex is viewed as healthy & desirable as long as disease is prevented.

On the other extreme is a community apparently organized much like the polygamist culture in Bountiful, B.C. and in Utah. Older men appropriate all the women & girls for their own “harems,” leaving the young men frustrated and angry. Sex is viewed as an evil necessity, but still avidly desired and “religiously” pursued. Very religious society, based on the Judaeo-Christian model.

Although the author does seem to favour the matriarchal culture, my impression from the book is that she wanted to show that NEITHER extreme is desirable and that both fail in crucial aspects. Perhaps influenced by Margaret Atwood’s excellent The Handmaid’s Tale as well as other post-apocalyptic novels of the 70s and 80s. A bit dated today, but worth reminding ourselves that we can co-operate together to run society fairly.

Book 247 in my Science Fiction & Fantasy Reading Project.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Divided Allegiance / Elizabeth Moon

4 out of 5 stars
Paksenarrion, once a sheepfarmer's daughter, now a veteran warrior, meets new challenges as she breaks up a robber gang, dispells an ancient evil possessing an elvish shrine and is accepted for training at an academy for knights. Clearly, a high destiny awaits her.

The biggest impression that this book made on me was thinking, “We still don’t treat our wounded veterans very well.” Paksenarrion, the golden girl, leaves her fighting unit for a while to do advanced training. Being the Mary Sue character that she is, she shines at all of it, and is ear-marked to become a Paladin of Gird until she is captured & tortured. Suddenly, her fellow fighters & superiors are questioning her future, even questioning her past dedication to her profession.

Moon was a Marine, and her service experience colours the Paksenarrion saga. Not nearly as dark as Glen Cook’s Black Company series (she obviously had a less traumatic experience than he did), her portrayals of camaraderie in the ranks are pretty sunny until late in this book, when Paks has what we would call post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and things get pretty bleak for her. As things still are for returned veterans who are suffering, making this still a rather timely book.

The extra portions of angst for Paks actually make this a better book than the first installment, where she could do no wrong. It is much more interesting & engrossing. No question about whether I will read book 3—it is already in my book bag as my next “work break” book.

Book 248 of my Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading Project

Trapped / Kevin Hearne

3 out of 5 stars
After twelve years of secret training, Atticus O’Sullivan is finally ready to bind his apprentice, Granuaile, to the earth and double the number of Druids in the world. But on the eve of the ritual, the world that thought he was dead abruptly discovers that he’s still alive, and they would much rather he return to the grave.

Having no other choice, Atticus, his trusted Irish wolfhound, Oberon, and Granuaile travel to the base of Mount Olympus, where the Roman god Bacchus is anxious to take his sworn revenge—but he’ll have to get in line behind an ancient vampire, a band of dark elves, and an old god of mischief, who all seem to have KILL THE DRUID at the top of their to-do lists.


Granuaile finally gets to shine! And proves that wolfhound Oberon is correct in calling her Clever Girl.

To me, it feels like this series is kind of getting back on track, although Atticus is still working through the repercussions of poor choices made back in book 3 (Hammered).

However, Granuaile has finally become a Druid in her own right and hopefully will continue to be a steadying influence on Atticus. You’d think a guy as old as he is wouldn’t need steadying, but she keeps him focused on better outcomes.

Now that the supernatural world knows that they are still alive, perhaps they can re-gather a circle of friends that made the first two novels work so well for me.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

The Conjoined / Jen Sookfong Lee

4 out of 5 stars
On a sunny May morning, social worker Jessica Campbell sorts through her mother’s belongings after her recent funeral. In the basement, she makes a shocking discovery — two dead girls curled into the bottom of her mother’s chest freezers. She remembers a pair of foster children who lived with the family in 1988: Casey and Jamie Cheng — troubled, beautiful, and wild teenaged sisters from Vancouver’s Chinatown. After six weeks, they disappeared; social workers, police officers, and Jessica herself assumed they had run away.

As Jessica learns more about Casey, Jamie, and their troubled immigrant Chinese parents, she also unearths dark stories about Donna, whom she had always thought of as the perfect mother. The complicated truths she uncovers force her to take stock of own life.


 How well do we know our parents? Social worker Jessica Campbell thought, like the rest of us, that she knew her mother pretty well. Then, as she and her father clean out the family home after her mother’s death, they find a body in the bottom of a chest freezer. They call the police, who find a second body in another freezer. Leaving Jessica to wonder what is going on?

This is very readable and things are revealed by various players in the story it progresses. But it is more about the interactions between people, the hidden secrets in everyone’s lives, and the need to live your own life in your own way than it is about the who-dunnit.

If you require a clean ending with all the bits tied up in a neat knot, this may not be a good book for you. If you can enjoy the humanness of the characters in and of themselves, you will find it a better fit.

The Fall of the House of Wilde / Emer O'Sullivan

3 out of 5 stars
Not the easiest book to read, but it does provide a comprehensive view of Oscar Wilde and his family. And the author is correct, you don’t really understand Oscar the man without the backdrop of his famous family.

Unfortunately, I went into this expecting to adore Mr. O. Wilde, but I came away with my illusions dented, if not shattered. I kept wanting to shake him and yell, “That person doesn’t really care about you! Let him go!” or “Pay attention to your money, dammit!” I will probably regain my fondness for this brilliant man, but it was difficult to see how he fooled himself about so many things. After spending time in prison and penury, all for the sake of a man who must have been a narcissist, Oscar still didn’t “get it” and continued to think that loving the jerk was the thing to do. I’ve watched many women do the same thing, and it drives me crazy!

The whole family had money issues, i.e. they wanted to spend it, but they also wanted it to just magically appear with no effort on their part. I have some sympathy for them—I don’t want to go to work every day either. The difference is that I suck it up & go, whereas they tried marrying people, reissuing books, or just ignoring their lack of money until the problem was breathing down their necks. Oscar really didn’t stand a financial chance, as neither of his parents were dreadfully responsible with cash and he and his brother took that tendency to new lows for the family. To his credit, he endured a personally horrendous tour of North America, all for the money, but squandered that effort by spending the cash almost immediately.

It was also spooky to see how much Oscar’s marriage & affairs mirrored his father’s life. His father chose women while Oscar chose men, but the parallels beyond that difference were uncanny. We really do absorb patterns and behaviours from our families, don’t we?

Considering how small his output was, it is amazing how famous Oscar Wilde continues to be. There is absolutely no doubt that the man was a genius, even if he was a self-destructive one. I will continue to enjoy his many epigrams and his still-relevant & funny plays and try to purge some of my dismay with the realities of his life.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

The Last Coin / James Blaylock

2 out of 5 stars
Judas betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Twenty-nine of the coins are already in the possession of the unpleasant Pennyman. The last coin is all that stands between the world and doom, and it now belongs to ordinary Andrew Vanbergen, owner of an inn where dark magic and bizarre heroism are about to intertwine.

I’m glad that there are plenty of readers out there who appreciated this book, because it was not my cuppa tea. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think this was supposed to be humourous (kind of like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), but I find that I often struggle with humour on the page.

I think this would be an excellent TV show—the main character Andrew bumbling along like Maxwell Smart and his wife Rose herding him in the right direction just like Agent 99 (young folks, go to YouTube and search Get Smart!) It seemed to me that watching the action and being able to appreciate the story’s physical aspects would have probably made me laugh.

In so many ways, I feel this story had potential. I mean collecting Judas Iscariot’s 30 pieces of silver and gaining power from them? That’s an awesome concept. Dan Brown could do something with that (whether that’s good or bad, I leave to your judgment) and I was disappointed in Blaylock’s lack of ambition with such an excellent idea. Treated seriously, this could have been an excellent fantasy thriller. It would also have benefitted, IMHO, from a focus on the villain of the piece, Mr. Pennyman, instead of Andrew. Andrew was such a bumbling idiot, that I longed for a competent narrator. Pennyman would have served, as would have Andrew’s wife, Rose, or Rose’s Aunt Naomi. Nowhere in the narrative did I discern why Rose had actually married Andrew or why she continued to put up with him. If ever a woman had a clear reason to divorce, I would say Rose did.

Needless to say, despite the fact that this is the first book in a series, I won’t be continuing on. I am uncertain whether I will even be willing to try other titles by this author.

This is book number 246 in my Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading Project.

Monday, 27 February 2017

The Little Paris Bookshop / Nina George

5 out of 5 stars
Physician heal thyself.

As the book jacket tells us, “Monsieur Perdu calls himself a literary apothecary. From his floating bookstore in a barge on the Seine, he prescribes novels for the hardships of life. Using his intuitive feel for the exact book a reader needs, Perdu mends broken hearts and souls. The only person he can't seem to heal through literature is himself; he's still haunted by heartbreak after his great love disappeared.”

Nina George nails the grief experience in this novel. I freely admit to crying through the final 100 pages, but in a good way. It was like receiving a book prescription from Monsieur Perdu, as when he counsels one woman early in the book: ”And this book, which you will please read slowly, so you can take the occasional break. You’ll do a lot of thinking and probably a bit of crying. For yourself. For the years. But you’ll feel better afterward.”

Indeed, I did feel better afterward. I wish this book had been published back in 1996-1999, when I really could have used it! Instead of shutting my feelings down, just as Jean Perdu has done, I felt exactly the same way: ”He felt as if there were stone tears inside him that left no room for anything else.”

The grief process is so hard and yet so necessary! To carry them within us—that is our task. We carry them all inside us, all our dead and shattered loves, only they make us whole. If we begin to forget or cast aside those we’ve lost, then…then we are no longer present either.

Jean Perdu is certainly well-named. As his surname indicates, he has lost his life and must work through his grief to reclaim it. I loved his note-taking during his grief process for the Encyclopedia of Emotions—taking note of small emotions on his way to processing the big ones. My own reaction to grief was to quit reading, a big mistake in hindsight! How I could have used a Jean Perdu in my own life.

Books are integral to my life and I am so glad to have the joy of reading returned to me.

He wanted her to sense the boundless possibilities offered by books. They would always be enough. The would never stop loving their readers. They were a fixed point in an otherwise unpredictable world. In life. In love. After death.

Seven Skeletons / Lydia Pyne

3.5 out of 5 stars
An interesting exploration of the reasons that certain paleo-human fossils achieve the status of icons in popular culture. What makes a fossil catch the interest of everyday people? Firsts are always attention grabbing, as are remains which include skulls or very complete skeletons. A good nickname or discover story helps too (see Lucy, Australopithecus afarensis). And you can’t beat good old-fashioned controversy either!

When controversy is one of the requirements, it becomes obvious why the author chose Piltdown Man, the English fake, as one of her iconic fossils! Talk about controversial—and people continue to speculate today about who all was in on the hoax and who got fooled. Humans are attracted to good stories, especially mysteries, so I guess Piltdown deserves this position.

Also interesting was the choice of Peking Man, where the actual fossils were lost in the swirling turmoil of WW2 in China. Only casts of the major fossils remain, but once again there is a very noir mystery surrounding the fate of the real McCoy. The mystery is like catnip to puzzle-solving people and the search for the original fossils continues.

I was most interested in the final two chapters, concerning the Flores Island “Hobbit” and Australopithecus sediba. The first I was only familiar with through the original news announcements and the second was unknown to me. I’m not sure that we could label either of them “iconic” just yet, but there is certainly potential.

Interestingly absent were any of the Leakey family’s discoveries, as was any discussion of the personal rivalries between Richard Leakey and Donald Johanson (Lucy’s discoverer). Hearteningly present was the open attitude of the paleoanthropologists who are sharing their data on Australopithecus sediba—instead of hoarding the fossil and the data, they are opening the doors to any researcher with an interest and showing a new, inclusive way of doing paleoanthropological research which gives me great hope for the future.

Skinwalker / Faith Hunter

3.5 stars out of 5
Jane Yellowrock is a supernatural skinwalker--one sharing her body with the soul of a mountain lion. When the rogue-vampire hunter is hired to hunt down a particularly nasty vamp, Jane is drawn into the steamy New Orleans vampire society where she learns the ins-and-outs of the "sane" vampire culture, more about her own Cherokee heritage, and we are drawn into a rousing, fast-paced thriller.
 
This was an entertaining way to spend Friday night (yeah, I know, exciting life right?). I’m still sitting on the fence about Jane Yellowrock, but there are some threads of the story that give me hope for the series.

Faith Hunter, the author, attended a conference here in Calgary a couple of years ago, which put Jane Yellowrock on my radar, but it’s taken me a while to get to her. Like Jane, Faith claims Cherokee heritage which is reflected in this first book. Jane has a certain charisma, although I wonder if she is quite as tough as she thinks she is!

One aspect I did like was Jane’s BFF, Molly the witch. This book saw frequent phone calls between the two women, plus an extra emotional/mental connection between Molly’s daughter and Jane. There is real potential for this series to actually pass the Bechdel test and I will read on in the series to see if it fulfills my hopes in this regard.

Jane’s clouded history, which she is just remembering in bits, is also interesting. Not just your “average” skinwalker, she has a complex relationship with her alter-ego, Beast. I’m assuming that this story line will also play out in future installments.

The vampires are both scary and attractive—power apparently has that effect! Jane, who advertises herself as a vampire-killer, has never spent much time in their society, for obvious reasons. So the reader gets to learn about vamps right along with Ms. Yellowrock, but they certainly have promise.

A propitious beginning to an urban fantasy series!

Friday, 24 February 2017

Spider's Bite / Jennifer Estep

3 stars out of 5
My name is Gin, and I kill people.

They call me the Spider. I'm the most feared assassin in the South — when I'm not busy at the Pork Pit cooking up the best barbecue in Ashland. As a Stone elemental, I can hear everything from the whispers of the gravel beneath my feet to the vibrations of the soaring Appalachian Mountains above me. My Ice magic also comes in handy for making the occasional knife. But I don't use my powers on the job unless I absolutely have to. Call it professional pride.

Now that a ruthless Air elemental has double-crossed me and killed my handler, I'm out for revenge. And I'll exterminate anyone who gets in my way — good or bad. I may look hot, but I'm still one of the bad guys. Which is why I'm in trouble, since irresistibly rugged Detective Donovan Caine has agreed to help me. The last thing this coldhearted killer needs when I'm battling a magic more powerful than my own is a sexy distraction... especially when Donovan wants me dead just as much as the enemy.


I decided to start this series as the author will be attending a conference that I am registered for this summer. I like to have a feel for the work of the featured guests before the event.

If you are enamoured of urban fantasy, as I am, I would recommend this book to you. If, on the other hand, you find UF tiresome, pass this series by. For those of us who enjoy the genre, this is an acceptable series, with a number of good ideas.

Good ideas: (1) A female assassin. With magical powers, although she tries not to rely on them. (2) An interesting elemental magic scheme. (3) Gin (our assassin friend) is confident, competent & doesn’t even pretend that she’s a loner. She has friends who are like family & freely admits it.

The stuff that didn’t work so well for me? (1) The repetition. How many times do we need to be told where Gin carries all of her knives? Or how much she loves all of her knives? (2) The novel was filled with UF clichés, e.g. the main character has a tragic & damaging past (shades of Batman), she has a “code” (à la Dexter or Spademan in Shovel Ready). (3) Of course she is romantically interested in a policeman, he is as self-righteous as she is pragmatic, and every time she lays eyes on him all she can think about is sex
(but her little feelings are hurt when they eventually have sex & he still dislikes her).

The set-up of Gin’s world is a little grittier and darker than I would normally choose. Sexual situations are just part of the background (lots of prostitutes & their clients) and often described more graphically than other UF series that I have read. I realize that it is just part of Gin’s “wrong side of the tracks” world, but it grated on me a bit.

Still, I liked the book and will continue with the series, both to see if Gin can “go straight” with her restaurant business (I assuming not entirely or the series is named wrong) and if she does, whether Detective Caine will unbend a bit and meet her in the middle.

Sheepfarmer's Daughter / Elizabeth Moon

3.5 stars out of 5
Paksenarrion — Paks for short — is somebody special. She knows it, even if nobody else does yet. No way will she follow her father's orders to marry the pig farmer down the road. She's off to join the army, even if it means she can never see her family again.

And so her adventure begins... the adventure that transforms her into a hero remembered in songs, chosen by the gods to restore a lost ruler to his throne.

Here is her tale as she lived it.


I really wanted to like this tale more than I actually did. It had moments of greatness—as when Paksenarrion fights off her father and leaves home to join the army. (Although, as the daughter of a pig farmer, I will tell you that there are worse men that you could end up married to).

I read this book while on holiday and it always seemed that I was interrupted right in mid-battle, left wondering for many hours how things would turn out! That said, the battles were certainly not gritty like those described by Glen Cook in his Dark Company series. These were battlefield-lite. And although Paks is injured several times and has bad things happen to her, she leads the charmed life of the fantasy heroine.

What was refreshing was having a female main character who was competent with a weapon and interested in tactics. Now, how much is her own doing and how much is she being assisted by somewhat magical influences? This supernatural stirring in her life puts me in mind of Joan of Arc….

Book 241 of my Science Fiction & Fantasy reading project.

The Dragonbone Chair / Tad Williams

4 out of 5 stars
A war fueled by the powers of dark sorcery is about to engulf the peaceful land of Osten Ard—for Prester John, the High King, lies dying. And with his death, the Storm King, the undead ruler of the elf-like Sithi, seizes the chance to regain his lost realm through a pact with the newly ascended king. Knowing the consequences of this bargain, the king’s younger brother joins with a small, scattered group of scholars, the League of the Scroll, to confront the true danger threatening Osten Ard.

Simon, a kitchen boy from the royal castle unknowingly apprenticed to a member of this League, will be sent on a quest that offers the only hope of salvation, a deadly riddle concerning long-lost swords of power. Compelled by fate and perilous magics, he must leave the only home he’s ever known and face enemies more terrifying than Osten Ard has ever seen, even as the land itself begins to die.


Oh, the orphan boy with unknown talents, who under-performs until the pressure is applied—how many fantasy stories have you read with this structure? Let’s see--Magic’s Pawn by Mercedes Lackey, The Riftwar Saga by Raymond Feist, The Belgariad by David Eddings, The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks, even to some extent The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by Tolkien (substitute “hobbit” for “boy”). Maybe even the King Arthur story to some extent—until young Arthur pulls the sword from the stone. It’s a well-used idea.

At the book’s beginning, I found Simon particularly annoying. As lives go in Midieval-like settings, his lot in life isn’t so bad, although the housekeeper Rachel does make his existence somewhat miserable. However, we all have to earn our keep, so pull up your socks, laddie, and make an effort! Even when offered opportunities to learn to read and to study, he complains! Typical 14-year-old, I guess, something I wouldn’t know about, having had the reading bug ever since I learned to read. Simon doesn’t appreciate his warm bed, three square meals a day, and secure surroundings until he has to flee the castle.

Once he starts running for his life, Simon begins growing up. He becomes a much more likeable character at that point and I began to get invested in his tale. He loses some of the ADHD qualities that made him a “mooncalf” in the beginning and becomes a much more focused young man.
I also appreciated a brand new take on trolls—making them smaller, wiser, and wilier. I liked Binobik and his wolf companion a lot. The Sithi are interesting in their ambiguity—are they enlightened, ethereal beings like the elves in Tolkien? Or are they the dark enemies of mankind? The world of Osten Ard is very detailed and easy to picture in the mind’s eye.

The writing isn’t the best ever, but the story is engaging and I am waiting impatiently for volume 2 at my public library, where it is ‘on order.’ No telling how long I will have to pause before I know what happens to Simon, the kingdom, and the Storm King!

Book number 239 in my Science Fiction & Fantasy reading project.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Fire Touched / Patricia Briggs

4 out of 5 stars
Tensions between the fae and humans are coming to a head. And when coyote shapeshifter Mercy and her Alpha werewolf mate, Adam, are called upon to stop a rampaging troll, they find themselves with something that could be used to make the fae back down and forestall out-and-out war: a human child stolen long ago by the fae.

Defying the most powerful werewolf in the country, the humans, and the fae, Mercy, Adam, and their pack choose to protect the boy no matter what the cost. But who will protect them from a boy who is fire touched?


Plenty of Fae goodness in this installment of Mercy Thompson! They are absolutely the best frenemies—devious, slippery, powerful, and power-hungry. Mercy has to be careful even with her friendly Fae!

Mercy & her shape-shifting gang beat a powerful troll, then Mercy “claims” the Tri-Cities area à la Kate Daniels of the Ilona Andrews series. Just like Kate, Mercy finds that her spur of the moment solution causes more headaches than she anticipated.

Excellent things about this book? Mercy finally gets some female friends! She gets to have a heart-to-heart talk with The Flanagan, a fabulous Fae woman—the only reservation I have is that its “girl talk” as they discuss the men in their lives. Soooo close to Bechdel test territory, but no cigar. But there is less hostility from the female werewolves and Baba Yaga makes some friendly overtures, giving me hope that Mercy may get some normal friendships out of the deal.

Secondly, Mercy doesn’t get absolutely bashed up in this installment. For once, someone else gets crushed by troll-tossed cars, fae-flung boulders, and any other bone-crushing missiles. Just a few bruises this time for our heroine.

If there are any minuses, it’s that the vampires are virtually absent. Yes, we get Thomas Hao, as The Flanagan’s prospective love interest, but Stefan never makes an appearance at all and even Wulfe only gets one little phone call to be creepy in.

A perennial complaint of mine—cover art. This one seems particularly bad to me, depicting Mercy with far less clothing that I picture her wearing. I just don’t see that shirt being too practical for all the butt-kicking that she does.

I wonder if we might get a spin-off series featuring Thomas Hao & The Flanagan? I’d read those!