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.