Thursday, 25 May 2017

Shakespeare Saved My Life / Laura Bates

4.5 stars out of 5
Just as Larry Newton, one of the most notorious inmates at Indiana Federal Prison, was trying to break out of jail, Dr. Laura Bates was trying to break in. She had created the world’s first Shakespeare class in supermax – the solitary confinement unit.

Many people told Laura that maximum-security prisoners are “beyond rehabilitation." But Laura wanted to find out for herself. She started with the prison's most notorious inmate: Larry Newton. When he was 17 years old, Larry was indicted for murder and sentenced to life with no possibility of parole. When he met Laura, he had been in isolation for 10 years.

Larry had never heard of Shakespeare. But in the characters he read, he recognized himself.

In this profound illustration of the enduring lessons of Shakespeare through the ten-year relationship of Bates and Newton, an amazing testament to the power of literature emerges. But it's not just the prisoners who are transformed. It is a starkly engaging tale, one that will be embraced by anyone who has ever been changed by a book.


My inspiration to read this book was Margaret Atwood’s fiction Hag-Seed (and secondarily The Heart Goes Last), as well as a memoir by former prisoner, Stephen Reid (A Crowbar in the Buddhist Garden). Additionally, I had just finished If We Were Villains, in which Shakespearean plays may have played a role in sending the main character to prison, the very opposite of this memoir.

Now, I am predisposed to enjoy a memoir of the redemptive value of literature, particularly Shakespeare, for whom I have an abiding love. Add to that the fact that I have considered doing literacy work with prisoners (although I have not yet taken the plunge) and I appreciated Laura Bates’ description of the perils and the pluses of doing such work.

This is real-life, not fiction, so I didn’t get exactly the story that I hoped for. There is no ending, really, because Larry Newton will never get out of prison. All projects must come to an end eventually, and the author is no longer teaching Shakespeare to prisoners. Still, it was very readable and inspirational. If nothing else, I am encouraged to study the works of the Bard more closely myself.

Shakespeare's Landlord / Charlaine Harris

4 out of 5 stars
TO SEE OR NOT TO SEE — To Lily Bard, the sleepy town of Shakespeare, Arkansas, was the perfect place to hide from the violence that nearly destroyed her life years before. Today Lily is strong, confident in the martial arts she studies, her looks disguised by her closely cropped hair and baggy clothes. Working as a housecleaner, Lily comes and goes without anyone noticing -- until she witnesses a murder.

What Lily Bard saw on that dark night has stripped away her, anonymity and earned her the unwanted attention of a homicide detective and a suspicious community. And with her intense, married, karate instructor showing a passionate interest of his own, Lily's plan of a private, well-ordered life is coming unhinged. The killer of an unlamented landlord is lurking close by. And while Lily knows the dirt on her neighbors' dust, drawers, and private live , must admit to a secret of her own: that in the shadow of a brutal murder, she is coming alive again...
 
I really enjoyed this little mystery, set in Shakespeare, Arkansas. Lily Bard, the community cleaning lady, has chosen this small town on a whim because of her last name. It seems like the perfect sleepy little community in which to avoid her traumatic past and live a quiet life.

Harris excels at portraying small town life, using ordinary people as characters. Lily is not someone that most people pay a lot of attention to—as a cleaning lady, she tends to blend into the background. The only place where she stands out is in her karate dojo, where she excels. She reminded me of Harris’ other small town character, Sookie Stackhouse, who is often overlooked because she is “just” a bar maid, but has unknown talents (telepathy).

Lily has a skill that many women have—she pays attention to detail and she can analyze those details to come to accurate conclusions. Not the most exciting mystery that I have every read, but I am already invested in Lily’s life and hope to read the next book in the series very soon.

Silence Fallen / Patricia Briggs

4 out of 5 stars
Attacked and abducted in her home territory, Mercy finds herself in the clutches of the most powerful vampire in the world, taken as a weapon to use against alpha werewolf Adam and the ruler of the Tri-Cities vampires. In coyote form, Mercy escapes only to find herself without money, without clothing, and alone in the heart of Europe...

Unable to contact Adam and the rest of the pack, Mercy has allies to find and enemies to fight, and she needs to figure out which is which. Ancient powers stir, and Mercy must be her agile best to avoid causing a war between vampires and werewolves, and between werewolves and werewolves. And in the heart of the ancient city of Prague, old ghosts rise...


A very satisfying installment in the Mercy Thompson series—in fact, it may be my favourite of the entire run.

I always love the books where the vampire seethe figures prominently, and this book is all vampires all the time! My only disappointment is that Stefan doesn’t get quite as much page time as I would like, while the Master of Milan (Jacob Bonarata) gets lots, but isn’t nearly scary enough. After all of the foreshadowing in previous books, I thought he was remarkably easy to get along with!

Also refreshing was the setting—Europe. Quite a change from the Pacific Northwest and very enjoyable. Grumpy European werewolves and plentiful European ghosts aid Mercy along the way. Also interesting in that we get to know a bit more about Adam’s friendly witch, Elizeveta. Not to mention some insight into submissive wolf, Zack.

Mercy, as usual, is underestimated by the people who don’t know her and she uses that lack of expectation to her advantage. Like the old Timex watch ads, she takes a licking & keeps on ticking! And thinking and planning. She’s smart, strong, and skilled. What a nice way to see a woman portrayed in fiction.

If We Were Villains / M.L. Rio

5 out of 5 stars
Enter the players. There were seven of us then, seven bright young things with wide precious futures ahead of us. Until that year, we saw no further than the books in front of our faces.

On the day Oliver Marks is released from jail, the man who put him there is waiting at the door. Detective Colborne wants to know the truth, and after ten years, Oliver is finally ready to tell it.

Ten years ago: Oliver is one of seven young Shakespearean actors at Dellecher Classical Conservatory, a place of keen ambition and fierce competition. In this secluded world of firelight and leather-bound books, Oliver and his friends play the same roles onstage and off: hero, villain, tyrant, temptress, ingénue, extra. But in their fourth and final year, the balance of power begins to shift, good-natured rivalries turn ugly, and on opening night real violence invades the students’ world of make believe. In the morning, the fourth-years find themselves facing their very own tragedy, and their greatest acting challenge yet: convincing the police, each other, and themselves that they are innocent.

Part coming-of-age story, part confession, If We Were Villains explores the magical and dangerous boundary between art and life. In this tale of loyalty and betrayal, madness and ecstasy, the players must choose what roles to play before the curtain falls.


Wow, that was a first novel? For me, it was perfection. A good twisty mystery, lots of Shakespeare, and THAT ENDING.

Dellecher Classical Conservatory is like Hogwarts for Arts students and this novel focuses on the fourth year Drama students. They’ve been marinating in Shakespearean drama for four years and have maybe absorbed more than they think. The narrator, Oliver, is most often cast as a supporting character and the others agree that he is a giving actor and a giving person. Despite that, the reader realizes that he seems to be pretty clueless—not very observant, he makes some of his most important realizations during performances of the Shakespearean tragedies.

The little that we see of Oliver’s family indicates that there is something desperately wrong—Oliver doesn’t want to go home to them and can hardly wait to leave. One of his sisters has a serious eating disorder and Oliver resents that his family can’t pay for her treatment AND his tuition. There is a serious attitude of entitlement, not only in Oliver, but in all of these students. I didn’t like a single one of them, but I loved the story!

I would love to be able to conduct conversations in Shakespeare quotes! That level of expertise in the plays would delight me. If nothing else, this book has certainly inspired me to continue with my project to see all of Shakespeare’s plays.

Every Heart a Doorway / Seanan McGuire

4 out of 5 stars
Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children
No Solicitations
No Visitors
No Quests

Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere... else.

But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.

Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced... they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.

But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of the matter.

No matter the cost.


What if you weren't reliant on authors to be transported to another reality? What if, like Alice, you really fell down a rabbit hole, or like Dorothy, you were carried off by a tornado to a magical world where you fit in perfectly? When the saying, "There's no place like home" sounds like a curse.

You've been forced back to "reality" and find that no one believes your story or even cares about it. All they from you is a return to "normal," a state which you've always hated.

There's grief, mourning your lost perfect world. Now surround yourself with others in the same predicament from very different worlds, doing group therapy to try to come to terms with this old, unsatisfactory existence.

This lovely little novella explores this dilemma beautifully. I think each of us probably has a "golden age" in our past that we remember with nostalgia and we can recognize that longing in this book.


 

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Shadow Games / Glen Cook

4 out of 5 stars
After the devastating battle at the Tower of Charm, Croaker leads the greatly diminished Black Company south, in search of the lost Annals. The Annals will be returned to Khatovar, eight thousand miles away, a city that may exists only in legend...the origin of the first Free Companies.

Every step of the way the Company is hounded by shadowy figured and carrion-eating crows. As they march every southward, through bug infested jungle, rivers dense with bloodthirsty pirates, and cities, dead and living, haunted by the passage of the Company north, their numbers grow until they are thousands strong.

But always they are watched--by the Shadowmasters--a deadly new enemy: twisted creature that deal in darkness and death: powerful, shadowy creatures bent on smothering the world in their foul embrace. This is the first round in a deadly game, a game that the Black Company cannot hope to win.


A smattering of the Black Company still remains and they have decided to head back to their beginnings, heading south to the legendary city of Khatovar.  They are in search of the lost Annals of the Company, so you may be sure that this operation is being headed by our cranky Annalist, Croaker.

Croaker isn’t sure that he likes being in charge, but he shows an aptitude for it, thinking up sneaky surprises for the enemies that they encounter and showing that knowing some history gives a leader a good grasp of the many things that can go wrong.  He informs the reader that “I guess I suffer from an impoverishment of the sociopathic spirit necessary to go big time.”  He is selling himself short.

Finally, I see why so many other readers love Lady.  She is down, but not out.  She still has the governing touch and retains buckets full of knowledge about battle, administration, and politicking.  And she’s not afraid to use it.  A peek at the next book reveals that she will take up the pen as Annalist and I can hardly wait to get her take on things.

Book 258 of my Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading Project.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

The Sweet Scent of Blood / Suzanne McLeod

4 out of 5 stars
'My name is Genny Taylor. I work for Spellcrackers.com. It’s a great job, pays the rent, lets me do the thing I’m good at – finding magic and cracking it – and the bonus is it’s run by witches, which stops the vamps from taking a bite out of me.

Not that vampires are the big bad any more, not since they launched a slick PR campaign – ­ oh, and they brought the goblins on board. Now the vamps are sought-after celebrities, and Getting Fanged and taking the Gift are the new height of all things cool.

But only if you’re human.  And I’m not.  I’m Sidhe fae.  And I know firsthand just how deadly a vampire can be.’

When Mr October, a sexy calendar pin-up vamp, is accused of murdering his girlfriend, an old debt is called in and Genny is forced to help prove his innocence, risking her job and the protection it offers – and threatening to expose her own dark secrets. Searching for the killer plunges Genny deep into the hidden heart of vampire society. It’s not long before she realises that she and Mr October are both unwitting pawns in a centuries-old power struggle between London’s non-human communities . . . and it’s not just her own neck that’s at stake, but the lives of all London’s supernaturals.


I am a fan of all things Fae, so I was predisposed to enjoy this book. The main character, Genny, is Sidhe fae and she reminded me a little bit (but only a little bit) of October Daye (written by Seanan McGuire). McGuire’s fae world doesn’t include vampires, witches, or goblins, so McLeod has taken things in a very different direction.

As in so much urban fantasy, the vampires have ‘come out’ of the coffin and have become wildly popular, but regular humanity doesn’t know everything that the other supernatural creatures know. Genny has an interesting history with vampires, which will no doubt shape upcoming books.

As is traditional in this genre, there is a bit of a love triangle, between Genny, the handsome Satyr who she works with, and an alluring vampire. It doesn’t overwhelm the plot, thankfully, but will probably provide some tension for at least one more book.

I chose to start this series as I’ve heard through the rumour-mill that characters from another favourite series (Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London) make an appearance in this one at some point.

Crocodile on the Sandbank / Elizabeth Peters

4 out of 5 stars
Set in 1884, this is the first installment in what has become a beloved bestselling series. At thirty-two, strong-willed Amelia Peabody, a self-proclaimed spinster, decides to use her ample inheritance to indulge her passion, Egyptology. On her way to Egypt, Amelia encounters a young woman named Evelyn Barton-Forbes. The two become fast friends and travel on together, encountering mysteries, missing mummies, and Radcliffe Emerson, a dashing and opinionated archaeologist who doesn't need a woman's help -- or so he thinks.

If Jane Eyre starred in an H. Rider Haggard novel written by Agatha Christie….you would get Crocodile on the Sandbank. First published in 1975, Peters overlays feminism over the gothic romance (which usually had mysterious goings-on too) and produces this engaging mystery. Extra points for using an Egyptian setting and getting the archaeology right. Amelia Peabody is a bit of a bossy bones, but you get enough of her history to see the why of it. (I’m probably more like her than I care to admit.)

If you enjoy a good mystery set among pyramids and ancient tombs, this book is for you.

Friday, 12 May 2017

No Bed for Bacon / Caryl Brahms & S.J. Simon

4 out of 5 stars
Shakespeare's in love, perchance, in this rollicking send-up of the Age of Elizabeth. A very funny look at Elizabeth I, Will Shakespeare & the Elizabethan era which shows the Queen at her riotous best and the author unappreciated.

It’s a tribute to William Shakespeare that we are still interested in him, 400 years after his death. His life provides just the right mix of known facts and mysteries. We know the bare bones of his life—who he married, how many children he had, details of his career, and elements of his reputation.

What’s missing are the personal details—how did he feel about things? What kind of person was he to work with? What were his religious beliefs? Was he a faithful husband? Who was that Dark Lady of the sonnets, anyway? Did he really write all those things attributed to him?

This leaves authors lots of lee-way to write their own adventures for the Bard. I’ve enjoyed the likes of Shakespeare Undead and The Dark Lady's Mask, not to mention a short story involving Atticus O’Sullivan of Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid series (Goddess at the Crossroads). Surprisingly, there doesn’t seem to be any kind of collated list of fiction featuring Shakespeare as a character, but No Bed for Bacon is the earliest that I have yet encountered. I’m surprised that there aren’t many more novels with Shakespeare figuring prominently as a character! If you know of any, please let me know in the comments, I’m intrigued to read more. There are tons of books written as reinterpretations of his works, but fewer which feature the Bard himself.

Despite being first published in 1941, No Bed for Bacon still feels remarkably fresh to me. Reputedly, it is the basis for the movie Shakespeare in Love.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

A Beautiful Truth / Colin McAdam

3.5 out of 5 stars
Told simultaneously from the perspective of humans and chimpanzees, set in a Vermont home and a Florida primate research facility, A Beautiful Truth at times brutal, at others deeply moving is about the simple truths that transcend species, the meaning of family, the lure of belonging, and the capacity for survival.

A powerful and haunting meditation on human nature told from the dual perspectives of a Vermont family that has adopted a chimp as a surrogate son, and a group of chimpanzees in a Florida research institute.

Looee, a chimp raised by a well-meaning and compassionate human couple who cannot conceive a baby of their own, is forever set apart.  He’s not human, but with his peculiar upbringing he is no longer like other chimps.  One tragic night Looee’s two natures collide and their unique family is forever changed.

At the Girdish Institute in Florida, a group of chimpanzees has been studied for decades.  The work at Girdish has proven that chimps have memories and solve problems, that they can learn language and need friends, and that they build complex cultures. They are political, altruistic, get angry, and forgive. When Looee is moved to the Institute, he is forced to try to find a place in their world.


I have always maintained that the best way to understand office politics is to spend some time studying chimpanzees or other apes. You will see all of the same drives and personalities, but you will see them without the veneer of civilization. Wherever you get 3 people or 3 chimps in one place, you will have politics.

This book reminded me of human hubris—the belief that we are somehow separate and different from the rest of the animal kingdom, that we are superior to other apes.

In a strange way, this book made me think of Jack London’s The Call of the Wild or White Fang. All the ways in which wild animals can or can’t be tamed and how tame animals (including humans) can become wild. It is a cautionary tale about keeping wild animals in private homes, but it is about trust—trusting those animals, trusting our friends, trusting our spouses. It is about the dangers of assigning human motivations to other species and the peril of deliberately ignoring the drives that we obviously share. Also the risk of assuming that our friends and acquaintances think about things the same way that we do. Who is worthy of our trust and why do we trust them?

ABT is also an interesting meditation on the study of our nearest kin, the chimpanzee. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, while trying to understand the evolution of speech among humans, people started to raise chimpanzee babies in their homes, hoping to encourage speech in the apes. Chimps like Gua (the experiment was terminated when her human “sibling” began to get much more chimpanzee-like than she got human-like) and Vicki (who eventually produced 4 very simple words with extreme effort). Then came Washoe, who was exposed to American Sign Language, with limited success (as were Nim Chimpsky and Koko the Gorilla), the reasoning being that apes might be unable to speak, but might still be able to grasp language. ASL should be easier for them as it uses hand gestures rather than vocal apparatus. They do seem to be able to acquire vocabulary, but show much less grasp of grammar or the significance of word order. Unsurprisingly, they possess the first stirrings towards spoken language, but humans are the only ape species to have developed it significantly. I would be more surprised if no other primates showed any aptitude for vocal communication.

Some aspects of the Girdish Institute in the book are likely based on the Yerkes Institute in real life. The Yerkes Institute developed a keyboard of lexigrams (as alluded to in ABT) which became known as Yerkish. There has been a certain amount of success using this method, including one super-star bonobo, Kanzi (born at Yerkes, but moved to the Language Research Centre at Georgia State). He communicates via keyboard and has picked up a bit of ASL as well.

All of the apes mentioned above learned to understand some human-spoken language and to respond appropriately to it (when they were in the mood). Part of the problem with these experiments is that they do not interest the apes as much as they do the humans. Interestingly, dogs seem to naturally understand human hand gestures, like pointing, more easily than chimps do. Dogs look where the hand is pointing, while apes look at the hand. Our thousands of years co-evolving with canines is showing through.

I’m impressed by how many details of human-chimp history are represented in this fictional account. I recognized many of them from non-fiction books that I’ve read over the years. If you are interested in more details on chimpanzees (and bonobos), I would recommend Frans de Waal’s excellent book Our Inner Ape: A Leading Primatologist Explains Why We Are Who We Are. I also highly recommend de Waal’s book Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Blood Memories / Barb Hendee

3.5 out of 5 stars
Eleisha, a vampire, is far older than she looks and makes men yearn to care for her. Then she usually kills them, since self-preservation comes first. So when an old vampire friend kills himself, Eleisha is shocked. And what she finds in his home shows how world-weary he had become; hoarding corpses and keeping records of vampires actual names and addresses. Now the police know who Eleisha is, and more alarmingly, what she is. But she soon realizes that being known may have its uses, even if it puts her and her kind at risk.

A pretty good vampire yarn. Great for those looking for just vampires. No annoying werewolves, faeries, or other supernatural creatures. The vamps are after blood, not sexy times, and have limited abilities. The main character has been made a vampire (against her will) to do a specific task and left without instruction or assistance from her maker.

It would seem that there are only half a dozen vampires in her world and that number is shrinking, as Eleisha’s current companion commits suicide. Chances to learn from another are limited and her abilities are changing in ways that startle her.

Reminiscent of Anne Rice’s vampires, as there is a fair bit of angst about the need to kill to survive. There are also hints that vampire history may become a focus, as it does for the Vampire Lestat. However, without the same powers as Rice’s vamps, these characters must learn human skills like driving, managing money, and renting hotel rooms.

Eleisha is in many ways an abused woman who is learning to own her power and to run her own life. I wasn’t crazy about her at first, as she starts out timid and overly dependent on others, but she gains momentum during the course of the book, eventually leaving her in a much more independent place.

An interesting exploration of the concept of immortality—what will keep an immortal being engaged & interested in life? What interests or skills will keep them anchored in their society and in sanity? So many speculative fiction books deal with enormously long human lives, but don’t really consider this problem.

It looks like I will have to request book 2 by interlibrary loan if I am to continue the series.

Magic for Nothing / Seanan McGuire

4 out of 5 stars
As the youngest of the three Price children, Antimony is used to people not expecting much from her. She’s been happy playing roller derby and hanging out with her cousins, leaving the globe-trotting to her older siblings while she stays at home and tries to decide what she wants to do with her life. She always knew that one day, things would have to change. She didn’t think they’d change so fast.

Annie’s expectations keep getting shattered. She didn’t expect Verity to declare war on the Covenant of St. George on live television. She didn’t expect the Covenant to take her sister’s threat seriously. And she definitely didn’t expect to be packed off to London to infiltrate the Covenant from the inside…but as the only Price in her generation without a strong resemblance to the rest of the family, she’s the perfect choice to play spy. They need to know what’s coming. Their lives may depend on it.

But Annie has some secrets of her own, like the fact that she’s started setting things on fire when she touches them, and has no idea how to control it. Now she’s headed halfway around the world, into the den of the enemy, where blowing her cover could get her killed. She’s pretty sure things can’t get much worse.


A fabulous Friday night read. A glass of wine and another volume of InCryptid.

In this installment, we get to know the youngest Price, Antimony (Annie), as she gets drafted into the family’s plans. Her carnival and roller derby past will serve her in good-stead as she attempts to infiltrate the Covenant of St. George.

We learn more about the Covenant and Price family dynamics, plus McGuire manages to neatly tie in her ghost characters, previously explored in Sparrow Hill Road. For me, the best part was Annie’s companion Aeslin mouse, Mindy, who makes contact with the Aeslin who remained in the U.K. I love her new companion, Mork, who joins Annie & Mindy to serve & protect cryptids. McGuire is obviously old enough to have seen & enjoyed Robin Williams’ first TV show, Mork & Mindy, which I hadn’t thought of in years.

As per usual, the mice make the book for me. I adore them and I’m not sure I would love the books the way I do without the magical mice.

How long until the next book?

Carpe Diem / Sharon Lee & Steve Miller

4 out of 5 stars
On the run from assassins, Val Con yos'Phelium and Miri Robertson are stranded on a distant planet and must learn to trust each other if they're going to survive and learn to love each other if they're going to heal the dark wounds of their past.

Carpe Diem picks up where Agent of Change left off, continuing the story of Miri Robertson and Val Con yos’Phelium. There’s good action, interspersed with more character development, both of which entertained me.

Lee & Miller have created some memorable aliens—I hope at some point to get more info about the Yxtrang, the race that everyone seems to fear & dread. I love The Clutch, the giant sapient turtles who view humanity rather like Tolkien’s Ents—we are hasty, but interesting. Of them, Edger, Val Con’s friend & adopted brother, steals every scene in which he appears!

And of course, we get more insight into Liad itself and Val Can’s family, who form the nucleus of this series. I find myself intrigued by the way that family works on Liad—and how this family is definitely different. Not only have they accepted Terrans into the fold, but they seem to be more genuinely fond of one another that other Liadan families. They also seem to have a predilection for life-mating, making the whole system of contract marriage that prevails on Liad a bit difficult for them.

Actually, I can see this series as an ancestor to the urban fantasy genre that I so enjoy today—it introduces the idea that fantasy and science fiction can contain a romantic story. Plus, the whole life-mate idea seems to be a predecessor of the mate-bond found in works like Mercy Thompson or Sarah J. Maas’s Court of Thorns and Roses series.

Book 256 in my Science Fiction and Fantasy reading project. Looking forward to Plan B to get the next installment of the tale.

The Urban Fantasy Anthology / edited by Peter S. Beagle & Joe R. Lansdale

3 out of 5 stars
Star-studded and comprehensive, this imaginative anthology brings a myriad of modern fantasy voices under one roof. Previously difficult for readers to discover in its new modes, urban fantasy is represented here in all three of its distinct styles—playful new mythologies, sexy paranormal romances, and gritty urban noir. Whether they feature tattooed demon-hunters, angst-ridden vampires, supernatural gumshoes, or pixelated pixies, these authors—including Patricia Briggs, Neil Gaiman, and Charles de Lint—mash-up traditional fare with pop culture, creating iconic characters, conflicted moralities, and complex settings. The result is starkly original fiction that has broad-based appeal and is immensely entertaining.

An interesting collection of short fiction. For those who think that urban fantasy consists only of paranormal romance, this volume will surprise you. The Mythic fiction and Noir Fantasy sections may be just what you’ve been wanting. At least one of the stories reminded me strongly in atmosphere of Stephen King’s novel The Stand.

I was particularly enamoured of the Patricia Briggs story, Seeing Eye, which fills in some backstory in the Alpha & Omega series, namely the story of the blind witch Moira and her werewolf companion. The volume was a worthwhile read for me with just this one story.

I also found Susan Palwick’s “Gestella” to be a haunting story, well worth the read.

A nice selection of stories to read “in the cracks” between other books.

Prentice Alvin / Orson Scott Card

2.5 out of 5 stars
The Tales of Alvin Maker series continues in volume three, Prentice Alvin. Young Alvin returns to the town of his birth, and begins his apprenticeship with Makepeace Smith, committing seven years of his life in exchange for the skills and knowledge of a blacksmith. But Alvin must also learn to control and use his own talent, that of a Maker, else his destiny will be unfulfilled.

This has to be one of the oddest fantasy series that I have ever read. O.S. Card gives early American history his own strange, imaginative torque. Cross Pilgrim’s Progress with the Belgariad, add in a dash of chemistry, alchemy, and magic, and you get this weird combination of the chosen one quest tale and religious allegory.

Alvin is definitely a “chosen one” with characteristics of Jesus and Joseph Smith both. His quest is to become a Maker, kind of an apprentice creator to God. Like the protagonists in most quest tales, he must learn to control himself as well as to control his talent. He is up against the Unmaker, the Satan stand-in for this series, which reminds me strongly of Guy Gavriel Kay’s Fionavar Tapestry series.

The last volume dealt with race relations between settlers and Native Americans, which leaned heavily on the Noble Savage concept of the 19th century. This volume explores the relationship between white owners and black slaves. Both of these volumes leave me wondering what exactly Card is trying to accomplish in this regard—whatever it is, I didn’t get it.

Book 255 in my Science Fiction and Fantasy reading project.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Paranormalcy / Kierstan White

3 out of 5 stars
Evie’s always thought of herself as a normal teenager, even though she works for the International Paranormal Containment Agency, her ex-boyfriend is a faerie, she’s falling for a shape-shifter, and she’s the only person who can see through paranormals’ glamours.
But Evie’s about to realize that she may very well be at the center of a dark faerie prophecy promising destruction to all paranormal creatures.
So much for normal.

Young adult novels can be hit-or-miss for me. This one is kind of in the middle, because I quite enjoyed the story while being disappointed by the writing.

There are so many good elements—Evie herself has great potential, as a teenage agent for the International Paranormal Containment Agency. But she’s a teen, so she has teen concerns like forging an identity for herself, getting motivated to do school work, wondering if she’ll ever meet a boy, and trying to figure out what “normal” life is.

Evie’s best friend is a mermaid who runs the command centre at IPCA and they communicate through a translator of some kind. When Lisha, the mermaid, gets riled, her curses are translated by the machine as “bleep.” Resulting in Evie using “bleep” a lot in her everyday conversation. A neat way around the swearing dilemma in YA fiction.

The ability to see through glamours is Evie’s special talent and she actually “sees” and apprehends the young man who becomes her boyfriend during the course of the novel. Once again, fitting with the YA format, this relationship is very chaste and they get no further than hand-holding and kissing.

My major complaint is the lack of emotional depth to Evie. When people important to her IPCA life are killed, she seems to barely register these deaths, but instead concentrates on prom dresses and whether her boyfriend actually likes her. Although faeries are set up as the bad guys, they lack any real grit as villains.

For my money, if you like Paranormalcy, you should definitely try Lisa Shearin’s SPI Files, starting with The Grendel Affair. I found it funnier, more suspenseful, and definitely better written.

Spook Street / Mick Herron

4 out of 5 stars
A shakeup at MI5 and a terrorist attack on British soil set in motion clandestine machinery known to few modern spies. David Cartwright isn't a modern spy, however; he's legend and a bonafide Cold War hero. He's also in his dotage and losing his mind to Alzheimer's. His stories of -stotes- hiding in the bushes, following his every move have been dismissed by friends and family for years. Cartwright may be losing track of reality but he's certain about one thing: Old spooks don't go quietly and neither do the secrets they keep.

Mick Herron has really hit his stride with the fourth book in the Slough House series! River Cartwright is an inspired creation, grandson of an admired British “spook” (that’s a spy to you & me) who has been sabotaged during a training exercise by a frenemy and ended up in Slough House, the place where failed spies go to be punished for their sins.

There’s been a bombing of a shopping centre, plus River is starting to worry about his grandfather’s mental state. He has the same concerns that everyone has about relatives with dementia, plus the added concern that his grandfather may indeed shoot someone who comes to the door, believing that they are out to get him. That spy-paranoia doesn’t just go away just because he is losing his grip on every-day life.

As per usual, Herron provides a complex plot, with plenty of twists & turns to keep the reader on their toes. There are interesting revelations from the past, political machinations of the most vicious & devious kinds, and Herron isn’t afraid to sacrifice a person or two along the way. The ending is also skillfull—I was given enough resolution to satisfy, while still left with enough loose threads that I am happily anticipating the next installment. Well played!

AB Negative : an anthology of Alberta crime

3 out of 5 stars
A solid little collection of short stories in the mystery and noir genres.  I have the pleasure of being familiar with several of the authors because of a writers & readers conference that I attend here in Calgary each August.

With short stories, I often find myself wishing that they were longer and more detailed—several of these stories would, in my opinion, have been better suited to novel-length works, or at least novellas.  As with most short story collections, some appealed to me more than others.

It was refreshing to read stories set in my home province and, in some cases, in my own city.  I also give kudos for the very clever title of the volume (AB is the abbreviation for Alberta, dovetailing nicely with the blood group).

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Bewitched & Betrayed / Seanan McGuire

4 out of 5 stars
Elf seeker Raine Benares finds lost things and missing people- usually alive. After bonding with the Saghred, a powerful soul- stealing stone, she must hunt down its escapees. Especially since one of them is also hunting her, also hot white magic paladin and drool-worthy black mage.

As much as I enjoy the Raine Benares series (and I do enjoy it), I have to admit that the story doesn’t advance very much in each book. There is plenty of action, plenty of opportunities for Raine to beat on things or get beaten upon, but the actual story of her unwilling partnership with the evil Saghred stone doesn’t move much.

What this installment does give us is a shift in the three-way bond that she, Mychael, and Tam have been trying conceal from the Council. In some ways, it is nice to have resolution of the issue, if you believe that there must be only two people involved in an intimate bond. I find myself a bit disappointed, as I’d been hoping that we might actually get a realistic vision of what a polyandric relationship might look like. I see no reason why Raine should have to choose between Mychael and Tam—why can’t she choose them both? But apparently I am in the minority on this one.

Raine continues to be the competent fighter who tries to know her own limits. She is realistic enough to fight dirty when the occasion requires it and to rely on the people around her rather than go it alone. She is stubborn and snarky and yet often worried about her potential future if things go sideways with the Saghred. I am charmed by her circle of friends and relatives who have her back and I am heartened by the addition of a female goblin who may provide that necessary female friend that I believe that all female protagonists should have in their arsenals.

A Morbid Taste for Bones / Ellis Peters

4 out of 5 stars
In the remote Welsh mountain village of Gwytherin lies the grave of Saint Winifred. Now, in 1137, the ambitious head of Shrewsbury Abbey has decided to acquire the sacred remains for his Benedictine order. Native Welshman Brother Cadfael is sent on the expedition to translate and finds the rustic villagers of Gwytherin passionately divided by the Benedictine's offer for the saint's relics. Canny, wise, and all too wordly, he isn't surprised when this taste for bones leads to bloody murder.

The leading opponent to moving the grave has been shot dead with a mysterious arrow, and some say Winifred herself held the bow. Brother Cadfael knows a carnal hand did the killing. But he doesn't know that his plan to unearth a murderer may dig up a case of love and justice...where the wages of sin may be scandal or Cadfael's own ruin.


I am quite sure that I used to own a copy of this novel, back in the early 1980s. I finally donated it because I just couldn’t get into the story. Now, I look back at my younger self and shake my head, because this time around I found the story to be very accessible and very easy to engage. Another instance of the right book at the right time—not suitable for me in my 20s, but eminently suitable for me in my 50s.

I think that Brother Cadfael will become an old friend—I will certainly be reading the next book of the series! In my opinion, Peters transplants the murder mystery genre into medieval times extremely well. She gives Brother Cadfael common sense and logic to work with, plus a good dose of human psychology. How he deals with the Church hierarchy and the other Brothers feels very real and is often amusing.

The action begins slowly—the reader must be patient as Peters builds the story towards the murder, but after that, the action is unabated until the final resolution. This story is quite different from the forensic-based murder mysteries that crowd today’s shelves, but that very difference recommends it. Not exactly a cozy mystery, but a gentler one. No gore or psychopaths to deal with here.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd / Agatha Christie

4 out of 5 stars
In the village of King's Abbot, a widow's sudden suicide sparks rumors that she murdered her first husband, was being blackmailed, and was carrying on a secret affair with the wealthy Roger Ackroyd. The following evening, Ackroyd is murdered in his locked study--but not before receiving a letter identifying the widow's blackmailer. King's Abbot is crawling with suspects, including a nervous butler, Ackroyd's wayward stepson, and his sister-in-law, Mrs. Cecil Ackroyd, who has taken up residence in the victim's home. It's now up to the famous detective Hercule Poirot, who has retired to King's Abbot to garden, to solve the case of who killed Roger Ackroyd--a task in which he is aided by the village doctor and narrator, James Sheppard, and by Sheppard's ingenious sister, Caroline.

M. Poirot, what were you thinking? Retiring to a small village to grow vegetable marrows? I too would hurl them in fits of regret! As if marrows could suitably engage those little grey cells!

Excellent depiction of the competitive sport of gossip. Small communities everywhere suffer from it. That is one of the reasons that I came to live in a city—I can actually keep my private life relatively private!

Dame Agatha really did set the patterns for current mystery literature, didn’t she? Very, very enjoyable and as usual, I had no idea who the perpetrator was until M. Poirot did the big reveal.

Hôtel Transylvania / Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

3 out of 5 stars
The classic tale that introduced the legendary Le Comte de Saint-Germain, first published in 1978 and spawning 14 titles in the Saint-Germain epic, is now available in paperback. A fixture in 1740s Parisian society, Saint-Germain is a perfect gentleman--and a vampire. When the fiery young Madeline falls in love with him, a group of evil sorcerers targets her for their black mass--and only Saint-Germain can save her soul.

Hôtel Transylvania was probably a cutting edge book of its time (the late 1970s), but today it feels a little old fashioned. However, I can certainly see its place in the process of getting to the abundant vampire fiction that we have today.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula merely hinted at the sexual nature of vampires. The vampire snuck in at night like a clandestine lover and had to get up close and personal to bite his victim. Blood transfer is pretty intimate after all.

A couple of years before Hôtel Transylvania was published, Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire appeared and updated the vampire legend for the times. These were vampires who could interact with humans, who could live for many centuries, and who felt strong emotions. The eroticism of the vampire-human interaction became more explicit. This was a way-station along the path that has led us to the completely sexual vampire of current urban fantasy.

Enter Le Comte de Saint-Germain. Although he does drink blood, he also provides pleasurable sexual experiences during the process. There is some hint that he obtains energy from the sex as well as the blood meal. He is apparently over a thousand years old, is able to handle religious symbols such as crucifixes, and can endure sunlight and running water if properly grounded with his home earth in the soles of his boots.

An aspect of this book that marks it as a product of its time—it is set in the France of Louis XV and revolves around a Satanic cult in the French court (supposedly linked with La Voisin, an alleged sorceress in the court of Louis XIV). Published in 1978, Hôtel Transylvania appears just before the Satanic cult panics of the 1980s. The physical & sexual abuse ascribed to the bad guys here is very similar to that attributeded to the cults of the 1980s. Rather like the Salem witch trials, it turned out that panic-stricken people have very active imaginations.

This was my first time reading the first book in the series—I vaguely remember several volumes in the late 1980s, which I enjoyed more at the time.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

On the Edge / Ilona Andrews

4 out of 5 stars
Rose Drayton lives on the Edge, between the world of the Broken (where people drive cars, shop at Wal-Mart, and magic is a fairy tale) and the Weird (where blueblood aristocrats rule, changelings roam, and the strength of your magic can change your destiny). Only Edgers like Rose can easily travel from one world to the next, but they never truly belong in either.

Rose thought if she practiced her magic, she could build a better life for herself. But things didn’t turn out how she planned, and now she works a minimum wage, off the books job in the Broken just to survive. Then Declan Camarine, a blueblood noble straight out of the deepest part of the Weird, comes into her life, determined to have her (and her power).

But when a terrible danger invades the Edge from the Weird, a flood of creatures hungry for magic, Declan and Rose must work together to destroy them—or they’ll devour the Edge and everyone in it.


This is probably my least favourite Ilona Andrews offering to date, but I still really enjoyed it. I feel like I am reading historical background to books 2 and 3 of the Innkeeper Chronicles, learning the backstory of the arbiter, George. I can also see this particular book as a blue-print for Burn for Me, which is, in my opinion, a stronger offering (and both BfM and OtE tip further into the paranormal romance direction than the Kate Daniels series did).

There is at least one obvious fairy-tale element here—Declan can win Rose’s hand by performing three difficult tasks. Plus, she is living in poverty and working a minimum wage job, evoking Cinderella comparisons. Also obvious is a fairly standard romance trope—reluctant allies developing genuine feelings for one another. Add in a Romeo-and-Juliet type angle, with Rose and Declan being from extremely different family backgrounds, and how can you miss? There are built-in communication problems to confound the couple as they try to navigate their relationship.

Another solid offering from the Andrews writing team. I will definitely read book two and I’ve already picked up books three and four second hand, so they are a foregone conclusion. I am worried that I am almost caught up-to-date on their published works—rereading will be my solution until more are published!

One Fell Sweep / Ilona Andrews

4 out of 5 stars
Gertrude Hunt, the nicest Bed and Breakfast in Red Deer, Texas, is glad to have you. We cater to particular kind of guests, the ones most people don’t know about. The older lady sipping her Mello Yello is called Caldenia, although she prefers Your Grace. She has a sizable bounty on her head, so if you hear kinetic or laser fire, try not to stand close to the target. Our chef is a Quillonian. The claws are a little unsettling, but he is a consummate professional and truly is the best chef in the Galaxy. If you see a dark shadow in the orchard late at night, don’t worry. Someone is patrolling the grounds. Do beware of our dog.

Your safety and comfort is our first priority. The inn and your host, Dina Demille, will defend you at all costs. We ask only that you mind other guests and conduct yourself in a polite manner.


This installment of the Innkeeper Chronicles manages to be very satisfying while leaving the reader anxious for the next book! Some things are “settled” (or at least the beginnings of settling has begun), but enough loose ends are left to entice me along. Please tell me that there will be a volume 4? I need to know what has happened to Dina’s parents! And although it seems a foregone conclusion, I want to know what Dina’s sister, Maud, decides to do.

I loved the sibling dynamics in One Fell Sweep. The teasing between the two sisters, the insights that they have on each other, the love, and the support. I adore Dina, but I’m also becoming a fan of Maud.

I was also delighted that the trademark Ilona Andrews banter continued—the dialog sparkles. Plus, the new role for Officer Marais is genius! We get some brand new aliens to enjoy, we get to know Caldenia a bit better, see what Beast can do when necessary, and meet Sean’s parents. All in all, a lot of personal information, all while fighting a righteous battle whose conclusion is not easily foreseen.

I am ever so glad that I have purchased all three of the Innkeeper books, as I can easily envision reading all of them over-again from the beginning while I wait for number 4.

A Court of Mist and Fury / Sarah J. Maas

4 out of 5 stars
Feyre survived Amarantha's clutches to return to the Spring Court—but at a steep cost. Though she now has the powers of the High Fae, her heart remains human, and it can't forget the terrible deeds she performed to save Tamlin's people.

Nor has Feyre forgotten her bargain with Rhysand, High Lord of the feared Night Court. As Feyre navigates its dark web of politics, passion, and dazzling power, a greater evil looms—and she might be key to stopping it. But only if she can harness her harrowing gifts, heal her fractured soul, and decide how she wishes to shape her future—and the future of a world torn apart.


This is an enormous book. I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly I was able to conquer it, however.

The things I liked?
- Getting to see more of various fairy courts (Night and Summer, for instance).
- Seeing Tamlin’s “perfect” plans being derailed by Rhys, the charming bad boy.
- Feyre escaping the controlling relationship that she found herself in.
- Watching Feyre explore her new abilities.
- Seeing the set-up for an extreme Fae-Human war.

The things I wasn’t crazy about:
- This book could have been one third the size without all the angst about what Feyre feels, what she should do, was she being fair, all that crap that unnecessarily complicates relationships.
- It reinforces the “women like bad boys” sterotypes that plague us. Despite the fact that Rhys turns out to be a nicer guy that Tamlin in every way that is important.
- Yet another book which tells women that a relationship is the most important achievement in our lives, rather than our talents and accomplishments.

Basically, Feyre has gone from being a fragile human, needing protection, to a strong Fae woman who needs a supportive partner. Tamlin was her entrée into the Fairy realm, but once she returns with him to the Spring Court, he goes all controlling on her—restricting her contact with others, restricting her movements, and acting like an abusive spouse. I’m all for getting away from abusive partners.

The whole romance-y genre drives me crazy, because I enjoy the books, but the subtext messages in them drive me up the wall!

I wonder if Maas’ plan is to write a book set in each of the Fairy Courts? Despite my complaints, there is no doubt that I will be reading on, to see how things turn out.

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.