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Happy reading!
Book 30: Childhood's End.
Author: Arthur C. Clarke, 1953, 1990. Introduction Adam Roberts, 2009.
Genre: Science Fiction. Future.
Other Details: ebook. 226 pages.

When the silent spacecraft arrived and took the light from the world, no one knew what to expect. But, although the Overlords kept themselves hidden from man, they had come to unite a warring world and to offer an end to poverty and crime. When they finally showed themselves it was a shock, but one that humankind could now cope with, and an era of peace, prosperity and endless leisure began. But ..... - synopsis from UK publisher's website.

The official synopsis gives major spoilers so will omit for those who are not aware of the Overlords' actual mission.

With the recent TV mini-series I decided to read this classic work of science fiction. It is a interesting novel though quite pessimistic in terms of humanity's evolution and a different take on the alien invasion theme.

While elements in terms of technical and other advances seem predictive this perhaps were less so given thatthe opening chapters were revised in 1990. It was also interesting to compare the original with the adaptation, which was fairly faithful though had a more dramatic ending.

Book 38

The Yard (Scotland Yard"s Murder Squad, #1)The Yard by Alex Grecian

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I expected to love The Yard as I love historical mysteries and sadly I just didn't. I liked it but not loved it. I think it tried to do a little too much as a first novel in a series. You're bombarded with characters and while I had no trouble following all the different characters and different points of view, I also felt I didn't get to know anyone well. The three characters we're obviously suppose to bond with are Dr. Kingsley, the doctor who appointed himself (free of charge) as the forensic examiner for the titular yard. He is the most progressive of the group, up on all the forensics that would have been available in the 1880s (i.e. not much but he does push for fingerprint analysis even though some detectives like Blacker, don't believe it can be real or useful); Detective Day who is brand new to the force and just happened to be the first man on scene for a murder that turns out much bigger than expected and not everyone is okay with him being the detective in charge. He's even new to London, coming from Devon; and Hammersmith a Welshman who fled the coalmines and is a London Constable.

Honestly I might have been even more interested in this story if it had been in Wales or Devon since Victorian London is so over done but to be fair, London is so interesting its practically another character.

Day finds himself facing opposition from other detectives when he's officially assigned to the man in the trunk case, especially considering the fact that the victim is another “bluebottle” Detective Little. He's backed by the brand new chief and a detective Blacker who has a sense of humor (unlike the old fashioned and self important Detective Tiffany). Little has been stabbed many times and of course the specter of “Saucy Jack” (the Ripper) looms over the crime especially since much of London has lost faith in their police. There are two other cases of murder where men have been shaved and their throats cut that Blacker thinks is connected to this but Day isn't sure.

As for Hammersmith, he's led to another crime by a burglar and finds a young boy dead, jammed in a chimney. He's told to ignore it by Tiffany as the climbers employed by chimney sweeps are often found dead like this and no one knows who the kids even belong to, if they belonged to anyone.

Layered over this is, is the point of view of the murderer who actually is killing to keep his secret, that he's stealing boys to replace his son (this isn't a spoiler, you pretty much know who the killer is early on and the tension comes from the fact he's connected to the police department tangentially and they are totally unaware). Also there is the point of view of Day's wife, Hammersmith's roommate, constable Pringle and two prostitutes, one of whom was an escaped victim of Jack's (plus a few more minor points of view).

So yes, it is very convoluted and occasionally overly long. The reason I assumed Day, Kingsley and Hammersmith are the go-to characters is they have the lion's share of pages and each had an 'interlude' showing how their past brought them to where they are now.

I did like it and I'd probably read more but in the end I didn't feel like I really got to know any of them particularly well yet.

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Once you let a book into your life, the most unexpected things can happen...

Broken Wheel, Iowa, has never seen anyone like Sara, who traveled all the way from Sweden just to meet her pen pal, Amy. When she arrives, however, she finds that Amy's funeral has just ended. Luckily, the townspeople are happy to look after their bewildered tourist—even if they don't understand her peculiar need for books. Marooned in a farm town that's almost beyond repair, Sara starts a bookstore in honor of her friend's memory.

All she wants is to share the books she loves with the citizens of Broken Wheel and to convince them that reading is one of the great joys of life. But she makes some unconventional choices that could force a lot of secrets into the open and change things for everyone in town.

It's a little "Field of Dreams," about books instead of baseball, and a little "Northern Exposure," set in Iowa instead of Alaska. The plot is occasionally corny and predictable, but it's more often quirky and heart-warming, as well as an ode to books and readers. The characters are quirky but credible, and the rivalry between neighboring small towns is a notable element. Sara clearly loves books and enjoys her role as the town's de facto librarian and unofficial bibliotherapist. It's mostly short chapters interspersed with correspondence between Amy and Sara. There is a helpful appendix of books mentioned, as well as Sara's rather idiosyncratic shelving categories.

I recommended this as a future book club selection, so we'll probably discuss it at some point in the fall, but I needed to "put this to bed" as I'm in the middle of several other books at the moment. I'll be on a solo business trip next week and hope to get caught up with the pace for my reading goal.


Books 36-37

Bloody Mary, Vol. 1Bloody Mary, Vol. 1 by Akaza Samamiya

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I bought this one on a whim in the bookstore and I enjoyed it more than I should. I do really enjoy vampire stories and this one has an interesting set up IF you can do a lot of suspension of disbelief (and also look past the stupid names) Bloody Mary is not your typical vampire. He wants to die but nothing seems to work. He can handle sunlight, crosses etc and he's redhaired (which in this universe is rare for vampires so it deviates from actual myth quite a bit there). He wants Isaac di Maria, a priest to exorcise him so he can die.

Only the Isaac he wanted lived centuries ago. This one is a teenager, Ichiro, (I have no idea why there are so many high schooler priests in manga but they are so off...). Ichiro goes out walking every night, almost as if to taunt the vampires who try to feed on him. He and Mary make a deal, he'll learn about this exorcism deal (he has no idea about it and I don't want to say too much about that because his ignorance is one of the twists).

It's an interesting relationship with hints of shonen-ai (though it is put out by shojo beat). There's plenty of action and mysticism. I liked the characters enough to try the next volume.

View all my reviews

Bloody Cross, Vol. 1Bloody Cross, Vol. 1 by Shiwo Komeyama

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I have a penchant for vampire stories and this was a 2.5 read for me because honestly none of the characters are particularly likeable and the world building is very chaotic. Tsukimiya is half angel and half demon and like all her kind she is cursed. She has to drink pure demon blood in order to stave off the curse that will kill her. She is tracking down powerful objects and demons trying to stay alive. She comes across an angel, Hinata who also is hunting the same demon. In the end she tries to feed from him and they end up sharing the curse.

In this universe, I'm not exactly sure how the half breeds happen since Angels seem to disdain the vampires and definitely the half breeds. I suppose that doesn't matter much. The rest that follows is Tsukimiya and Hinata partly working together, partly trying to outdo the other while full blooded angels manipulate them.

It ends on a cliffhanger but I don't see myself looking for more. I didn't like either character and I didn't like that of course Tuskimiya's curse mark is on her breast and we're always finding reason to rip her shirt open (meanwhile Hinata's mark is on his hand). I'm getting a little old for that sort of nonsense and the story wasn't interesting enough for me to look past it. Yen has many better offerings.

View all my reviews

Book 29: Blood Defense by Marcia Clark

Book 29: Blood Defense (Samantha Brinkman #1).
Author: Marcia Clark, 2016.
Genre: Legal Thriller.
Other Details: ebook. 400 pages.

Samantha Brinkman, an ambitious, hard-charging Los Angeles criminal defense attorney, is struggling to make a name for herself and to drag her fledgling practice into the big leagues. Sam lands a high-profile double-murder case in which one of the victims is a beloved TV star—and the defendant is a decorated veteran LAPD detective. It promises to be exactly the kind of media sensation that would establish her as a heavy hitter in the world of criminal law. Though Sam has doubts about his innocence, she and her two associates (her closest childhood friend and a brilliant ex-con) take the case.

Notorious for living by her own rules—and fearlessly breaking everyone else’s—Samantha pulls out all the stops in her quest to uncover evidence that will clear the detective. But when a shocking secret at the core of the case shatters her personal world, Sam realizes that not only has her client been playing her, he might be one of the most dangerous sociopaths she’s ever encountered.
- synopsis from author's website.

Looking over April's offerings on Kindle First I focused on this first because I enjoy crime thrillers and then realised the author's background as I have been watching The People vs O J Simpson, which sold it further as she clearly had extensive experience of the USA legal system.

The story certainly held my attention and while there were a few WtF! moments it held together well and kept me guessing until the final reveal. There were a few elements that felt unresolved in terms of characters but spotted that this is the first in a series and these aspects left me curious for more so will be keeping an eye out for the follow-up.



It's been a bit over a year since the death of one of my favorite authors, known on the Internet as PTerry, and in the British Empire as Sir Terrence, and I knew that there was still one of his books that I'd yet to read. I had been waiting for it to be released in the US, and apparently it never has been. I've never seen it for sale at conventions, either, so finally I caved in an ordered a copy from Amazon. Yesterday I finished reading Terry Pratchett Presents Dodger's Guide to London; it's not fiction, though Dodger is a fictional character that Pratchett had used as a protagonist in a book of that name. It appears to me that the author kept a notebook with odd little facts about London in the Victorian era and put it all together in a small book. As with many books of the sort, it can be quite amusing, and Terry Pratchett's turn of phrase adds enjoyment to it, but this isn't his Discworld, and unless you have an interest in the period in London (say, if you're into Sherlock Holmes, say, or the Flashman novels, maybe) this probably wouldn't be a book worth pursuing. That said, I did enjoy it; so there!

Books 14 and 16

14. Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson. This one fits the middle school novel requirement for the Book Riot challenge. This is essentially Woodson's autobiography, told in free verse. It's beautifully written. Woodson (After Tupac and D Foster, and many other books) covers her life from a toddler in Ohio and a young child growing up in Greenville, South Carolina, and later in her years split between Greenville and Brooklyn, the latter city which would eventually become her home. She captures a childlike innocence with a story set in the middle of the Civil Rights movement. She shows the difficulties growing up in two areas, both of which present difficulties, but she doesn't dwell on the hardships. Instead, you see the closeness of her family, especially to her grandparents. You see her relationship with her mother, two older siblings and her younger brother. You see her curiosity as she seeks to find her way and find where she fits, and her thrill as her ability to tell stories and, later, write them come to fruition. This is an excellent book for preteen and younger teens- or any age.

15. Trashed, by Derf Backderf. This fulfills the graphic novel requirement for the Book Riot challenge. Backderf, best known for his graphic novel My Friend Dahmer. Here, Backderf tells a fictionalized story of his time serving as a garbageman. As expected, this story has a generous serving of Backderf's irreverent humor. However, there's also a good deal of compassion, such as when the garbage crew comes to a house that has obviously been foreclosed on. Throughout the story, Trashed gives information on how much garbage is generated in the United States, how it is stored, the anatomy of a landfill and even some history on garbage trucks. While the story is listed as a fictionalized story of Backderf's life behind a sanitation truck, I suspect there's more truth than fiction in many of the stories, which not only go over the perils and hardship of picking up garbage, but exposes the garbage in politics and even within people. There are a few four-letter words, but teachers in the higher grades shouldn't feel they need to hesitate to use this book as a teaching tool, and not just for ecology, either.

16. Big Girls Do Cry, by April Kirkwood. This was an interesting autobiography of a Youngstown woman who had a periodic affair with legendary singer Frankie Valli. She recalls her days as a child, going with her mother to Four Seasons concerts and meeting Valli afterwards. When she was older, she'd go back with him to his hotel room. Her infatuation and dreams of becoming the next Mrs. Frankie Valli would color her relationships with other men, none of which ended well. She reflects on her weaknesses and on imprinting, which she says can ruin any relationship. Kirkwood also goes into her background, growing up in blue-collar Youngstown, her up and down relationship with her troubled mother, and the more stable support of her aunt and grandmother. This is a quick read, about a colorful and fascinating life. Today, she works as a counselor and as a speaker on relationships.

Currently reading: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, by John le Carre.

Book 28: The Golden One by Elizabeth Peters

Book 28: The Golden One (Amelia Peabody #14).
Author: Elizabeth Peters, 2002.
Genre: Adventure. Historical Mystery. Egyptology.
Other Details: ebook. 641 pages. Unabridged Audio (17 hrs, 51 mins). Narrated by Barbara Rosenblat.

Risking winter storms and German torpedoes, the Emersons are heading for Egypt once again: Amelia, Emerson, their son Ramses and his wife Nefret. Emerson is counting on a long season of excavation without distractions but this proves to be a forlorn hope. Yet again they unearth a dead body in a looted tomb - not a mummified one though, this one is only too fresh, and it leads the clan on a search for the man who has threatened them with death if they pursue the excavations. If that wasn't distraction enough, Nefret reveals a secret she has kept hidden: there is reason to believe that Sethos, master criminal and spy may be helping the enemy. It's up to the Emersons to find out, and either prove his innocence or prevent him from betraying Britain's plans to take Jerusalem and win the war in the Middle East. - synopsis from UK publisher's website.

After a slight slump with the last novel here the story and characters picked up the pace again. Multiple plot lines including more about the Great War in the Middle East were woven together and came to a satisfying conclusion.

I have been listening to this series while driving but early into this one I received the news that due to increasing eye problems I am no longer permitted to drive until the issue is corrected. As a result I elected to transfer this to my MP3 player and listen to it while waiting for buses and at odd moments during the day. I expect to continue and complete the series this way as well as to access the Kindle edition..

Books #15-16

Book #15 was "Ancillary Justice" by Ann Leckie. I'd heard good things about this book and it has won awards, so it was on my "to read" list. Then I found out Leckie is guest of honor at an upcoming con, so I I bumped it up the list, and I'm so glad I read it! This story takes place in the future where the Radch have taken over huge swaths of the universe, trying their best (in their own minds, anyway) to be humane and fair with the people they conquer, turning the cooperative ones into full citizens. The book follows the story of an AI that used to inahbit a whole ship plus had its consciousness spread out among the bodies of formerly dead and frozen conquered people, called "ancillaries." The AI has been mostly destroyed and only inhabits one human body. She has parts of her memory erased, but the parts she remember are disturbing, and she's looking for answers and revenge. The book is space opera, but because the first-person narrative by Breq is so engaging, it really pulls you in. I loved it and can't wait to read the next two in the series and to (I hope) meet the author soon.

Book #16 was "Beauty Queens" by Libba Bray, as an audibook. I can't even remember how I came to get this from the library - I might have just been looking at YA audiobooks and found the premise amusing: a plane full of beauty queens goes down on a deserted island. What happens next? What happens next is a hilarious satire of the beauty industry and consumer culture, as well as a deconstruction of societal notions about gender. Bray walked the line of making it so ridiculous that it borders on camp, but she does end up fleshing out the characters with back stories, hopes and dreams, so they are more than just stereotypes. I had a few criticisms of how she handled point of view in the book, but I really had fun with it and recommend it, especially as an audiobook read by the author, with a short Q&A with Bray at the end.
The other books I"ve read so far this year:Collapse )

#36: O Pioneers by Willa Cather

O Pioneers! is a 1913 novel by American author Willa Cather. It was written in part when Cather was living in Cherry Valley, New York, with Isabelle McClung and was completed at the McClungs' home in Pittsburgh. The book is number 83 on the American Library Association's list of most frequently banned or challenged books.

O Pioneers! tells the story of the Bergsons, a family of Swedish immigrants in the farm country near the fictional town of Hanover, Nebraska, at the turn of the 20th century. The main character, Alexandra Bergson, inherits the family farmland when her father dies, and she devotes her life to making the farm a viable enterprise at a time when other immigrant families are giving up and leaving the prairie. The novel is also concerned with two romantic relationships, one between Alexandra and family friend Carl Linstrum and another between Alexandra's brother Emil and the married Marie Shabata.

I have read excerpts of this book over the years, and it was wonderful to read the full book at last. It's a short read (my copy was a little over 200 pages) and it reads fast as well--much more so than many other novels of the period. Cather is a master of lyrical reason. For that alone, she should be studied and modeled by writers, but her story construction is likewise fascinating. Cather's characters are well-rounded and evocative and utterly relatable. She does follow some conventions of the time, such as tragic, transformative deaths of major characters, but O Pioneers! is actually more positive than other period books in this regard. This is in keeping with the nature of the book's heroine, Alexandra, who is a strong, assertive woman in a male-dominated world. I was bothered by some of Alexandra's actions at the end, but I'm also aware that her reactions were in keeping with a woman of faith in her time.

Book 21

Title: The Edge of Worlds
Author: Martha Wells
Series: part four of "The Books of the Raksura", follows Stories of the Raksura Volume Two
Pages: 388
Summary: An expedition of groundlings from the Empire of Kish have traveled through the Three Worlds to the Indigo Cloud court of the Raksura, shape-shifting creatures of flight that live in large family groups. The groundlings have found a sealed ancient city at the edge of the shallow seas, near the deeps of the impassable Ocean. They believe it to be the last home of their ancestors and ask for help getting inside. But the Raksura fear it was built by their own distant ancestors, the Forerunners, and the last sealed Forerunner city they encountered was a prison for an unstoppable evil.

Prior to the groundlings’ arrival, the Indigo Cloud court had been plagued by visions of a disaster that could destroy all the courts in the Reaches. Now, the court’s mentors believe the ancient city is connected to the foretold danger. A small group of warriors, including consort Moon, an orphan new to the colony and the Raksura’s idea of family, and sister queen Jade, agree to go with the groundling expedition to investigate. But the predatory Fell have found the city too, and in the race to keep the danger contained, the Raksura may be the ones who inadvertently release it.

My thoughts:
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Tooling along slowly, I finished Osprey Campaign #4: Tet Offensive 1968: Turning Point in Vietnam this week. I was pretty young when this happened, and on this side of the Pacific, whatever was happening was poorly reported, so this quick discussion of the events and results is pretty solidly good. Worthwhile.


A couple of days back, I finished reading Osprey Vanguard #4: Fallschirmpanzerdivision 'Hermann Goring', a unit history of a vanity unit of the German Luftwaffe, manned with ground crew that had to be retrained. They fought in North Africa, Sicily, Italy and the Russian Front. Moderately interesting as far as Osprey books go.

book 35

The Sword of Summer (Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, #1)The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a 3.5 star read for me (though I rated it 4 since I did enjoy it a lot but there were problems). Magnus is a homeless young man who is being hunted at the moment by his odd Uncle Randolph who his mother told him to avoid and his equally odd cousin Annabeth and her dad. (Yes, that Annabeth. This is in the Percy Jackson universe). Magnus is afraid of being found because he's afraid he'll be arrested for his mother's death in a house fire 2 years ago. There were wolves there and he's now afraid of wolves.

Randolph tells him 'they're coming for him' now that he's 16 and he has to find the Sword of Summer. It was his father's and is now his. Magnus has no idea what he's talking about but allows Randolph to take him to where Randolph himself lost his own wife and child in his search for the sword. Just as Magnus finds this old crappy sword, he's set upon by a fire giant named Surt. The two other homeless men looking out for him, Blitz and Hearth come to his rescue wielding a protest sign and a plastic bow and arrow.

And Magnus dies saving them all. Yeah. Dies. And is plucked from his watery grave by a valkyrie, Sam who happens to be a Muslim (with a magical hijab) and not well liked because she's a screw up. In fact bringing Magnus into this really irritates Gunnilla the head valkyrie who manages to get Sam kicked out but Sami is still there helping Magnus as is Blitz, a dwarf and Hearth, a deaf elf who were supposed to guard Magnus.

Now they have to get the Sword of Summer back and train Magnus to use it but is one of their number working for Loki, who claims he actually doesn't want Magnus to use the sword to cut the bonds of the world wolf, Loki's son. But who trusts Loki? The rest of the long novel is Magnus stumbling on his quest but is he here to stop Ragnarok or speed it along.

All the characters are very good and likeable. Blitz the fashion dwarf and Hearth with his tragic backstory because who's ever heard of in 'imperfect' elf (and make no bones about it, the elves in this universe see deaf elves as inferior). Magnus is likeable too and Sami pretty much so. The story moves a long in typical Riordan fashion.

I did however have issues. If you removed any references to Norse gods and Greek gods, you would not be able to tell Magnus's dialog from Percy's. They're pretty much the same smart assed character. Magnus has a slightly more tragic story than Percy is all.

And that also bothers me. murdered teenagers make me sad and I spent the first half the novel thinking about all the potential even if Magnus IS one of the honored dead now.

And the last thing that bugged me is the whole set up. Blitz and Hearth are supposed to be watching Magnus and yes they're not fighters but still, they are caught completely unprepared to save his life, yet are otherwise competent the rest of the novel, especially Hearth's magic. And Magnus himself doesn't seem too put out by the fact that Sam, Odin and his friends know someone is going to try and kill him and in fact Sam, being a valkyrie just waits for it. You'd think he'd be a tad more angry they just stepped back and let him be slaughtered. He's very blase about that.

Still, I'll definitely be seeing what comes next.

View all my reviews

All That Remains by Patricia Cornwell

book 30:  All That Remains by Patricia D. Cornwell

This is the third Kay Scarpetta, medical examiner, mystery.  It concerns a serial killer targeting couples and commiting murders with aspects that make the military/ CIA nearby suspect.  This story also looks at how politics and media can influence, manipulate, and interfere with cases for better or worse.  I continue to enjoy this series and the Kay Scarpetta character.  The ending on this one felt a little anti-climatic, but not overwhelmingly so, and it was more realistic.  Otherwise, Cornwell is still doing well in keeping up the suspense and giving multiple story lines to follow to trip you up with red herrings and keeping the story well paced.   

Books 10 through 13

10. Grounding the Cloud, by Todd Lyle. This is a short, easy to follow book aimed at businesses eyeing going into the technology cloud. I also heard Lyle's talk at the Hudson Library, and he covered verbally large parts of the book, so this book reinforced his talk. It's a short, quick read but covers the important information in a way a non-IT person can grasp.Each short chapter is followed by a bulleted synopsis of the high points. I recommend it for those wanting a read on the basics of cloud technology.

11. The Little World of Liz Climo, by Liz Climo. My lil sis gave me this charming book for my birthday. A lovely and different gift! Climo fills a book with amusing cartoons. The cartoons range from cute to light comedy to just a bit twisted. There is some mild language in a handful of the comics, but the main reason I consider this more geared to adults is that I don't think younger children would get half of the jokes or references. Overall, this collection made me smile.

12. Ukrainian Folk Tales, by Irina Zheleznova. This is a lovely collection of short folk tales, many with beautiful illustrations. This was a book sent to me by a dear friend who lives in Ukraine. I was struck how many tales had parallels with stories that I grew up with. The Little Round Bun, for example, is similar to The Gingerbread Man. Another story (don't recall which one) had elements of Snow White. What was fascinating was the staple characters and scenarios. The stories are filled with devils, witches (including Baba Yaga), Sister Fox, wily wolves, and dangerous dragons. A couple I've heard before in different formats- the flying ship and the one with the glove. All in all, an enjoyable collection of stories. They are well-translated; there were only a few places where the translatons and ion felt a bit off, and nothing major. Also loved the illustrations within. I found it curious that the dragons and snakes were often depicted as green-skinned people.

13. Hedy's Folly, by Richard Rhodes. This one fulfills the Reading Riot challenge for a biography. Hedy Lamarr was well-known as a famous Hollywood actress and, for her time, regarded as the most beautiful woman. What is not as well known is that in her free time, she loved to invent. One of her inventions, which she worked with composer George Antheil, has impact even today: spread-spectrum radio. The technology was initially created for the World War II Allies' torpedoes. With the technology, torpedoes would not only be controlled by radio communication but the signal that controlled them would hop randomly from frequency to frequency - making the torpedoes' radio signal virtually impossible to jam. Lamarr used her knowledge of weaponry from her ex-husband and his contacts, and Antheil used his technical know-how from working with recording and with player pianos (I know that last one may sound odd; it just proves how the strangest knowledge can come in handy in the most unforeseeable ways). They were spurred into action after the torpedoing of two boats filled with children being spirited away from their war-torn countries. The book refers to Hedy but it's almost a split biography, with roughly equal pages dedicated to the movie start and Antheil. This is a quick read, and easy to follow. There's a good balance between setting the scene and time period and keeping the story moving.

Currently reading: Big Girls Do Cry, by April Kirkwood.

Number of pages: 176

This book contains a comprehensive collection of maps showing public transport systems from around the world, along with commentaries.

I have a fascination with maps of urban transit systems, mostly stemming from my obsession with London's underground system, so I loved this book. It had some fascinating facts about transport in cities all over the world, though I was mainly interested in the maps themselves, with some that were more interesting than others (inevitably, the more detailed and complex ones). My only real complaint was that some of the maps seemed very small and difficult to read.

I also know that I'm going to keep going back to study the maps a lot.

Next book: Les Miserables (Victor Hugo)

Book 27: The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

Book 27: The Lie Tree.
Author: Frances Hardinge, 2015.
Genre: Historical Fiction. Gothic. Horror. Young Adult.
Other Details: ebook. 417 pages.

Faith's father has been found dead under mysterious circumstances, and as she is searching through his belongings for clues she discovers a strange tree. The tree only grows healthy and bears fruit if you whisper a lie to it. The fruit of the tree, when eaten, will deliver a hidden truth to the person who consumes it. The bigger the lie, the more people who believe it, the bigger the truth that is uncovered.

The girl realizes that she is good at lying and that the tree might hold the key to her father's murder, so she begins to spread untruths far and wide across her small island community. But as her tales spiral out of control, she discovers that where lies seduce, truths shatter . . .
- synopsis from UK publisher's website.

I knew very little about this novel when it was chosen for our reading group apart from it having won the Costa Award. I found it a haunting tale with a strong underlying ethical theme of the insidious nature of lying. It and a very compelling lead character in Faith with her quest to uncover the truth about her father's death. The tree itself presented an atavistic horror as it exerted its influence upon Faith and others. There were some interesting twists to the tale that proved very satisfying.

I was surprised when it was not as well received by some group members who said that they did not get drawn into the tale. Perhaps the element of magical realism that gave a somewhat fantastical aspect was the issue? However, those of us who did read it all were full of praise.

Books #13-14

Book #13 was "The Blood of Olympus," the last in the Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan. I felt this novel was a very satisfying conclusion to the series. It wrapped up a lot of loose ends while also leaving a few things open to speculation. I like that some of the characters who didn't get to do as much in earlier books (especially Piper) come into their own in the final book. Apparently some people were annoyed that Percy wasn't a viewpoint character in this last book, but he had his own whole series, so I didn't mind it. I was really interested in finding out what happened to the other characters. I truly loved this series.

Book #14 was "Ivanhoe" by Sir Walter Scott. This classic novel had been on my "to read" list for a while. I'd read other classic authors praising it, and heard that, as an adventure tale, it stands the test of time, so I thought I'd tackle it. The downside is that the language is antiquated, and was antiquated even in Scott's time (he wrote it around 1819/1820) because he was portraying events from many centuries earlier, right after the end of the Crusades. The upside is that the book is jam-packed with action: nobles traveling in disguise, jousting, archery contests, kidnapping, threats of torture and rape, a witch trial, a daring rescue, a madwoman in the belfry. If you are the sort of reader who won't get frustrated with encountering many obscure (and often obsolete) vocabulary words, you might find Ivanhoe a fun read. I'm curious to watch one of the movie adaptations of it now.

The other books I"ve read so far this year:Collapse )

Book 26: The Awakening by Kate Chopin

Book 26: The Awakening.
Author: Kate Chopin, 1899. Introduction by Barbara Kingsolver, 2014.
Genre: Classic. Relationship Drama.
Other Details: ebook. 141 pages.

Over one long, languid summer Edna Pontellier, fettered by marriage and motherhood, becomes acquainted with Robert Lebrun. As the days shorten and the temperature drops Edna succumbs to Robert's devotion. But as her desire grows so too does her discontentment - with the role society has forced her to play and with the bonds that hold her fast - and her world begins to unravel with devastating consequences...

The Awakening is widely regarded as one of the forerunners of feminist literature alongside Tolstoy's Anna Karenina and Flaubert's Madame Bovary. First published in the United States in 1899, this radical novel sent shockwaves through American society and continues to speak to readers over a hundred years later.
- synopsis from UK publisher's website.

Written over a hundred years ago, this novel has echoes of the novels cited above though notable for being written by a woman. It is easy to see given the subject matter why it was so controversial. Barbara Kingsolver provides an enthusiastic introduction, which also points out those aspects that dates it to the late nineteenth century such as the anonymity of the servants and now unfashionable names.

I found the writing elegant and lyrical. I felt that she brought Louisiana of the period to vivid life. I admit that I have a sort spot for New Orleans and this setting was an added feature for me.

While I enjoyed it and felt that it deserved Barbara Kingsolver's praise it was not well received by the library reading group. The main issue seemed to be that Edna's character was perceived as too self-absorbed, which I also felt but it did not prevent my having empathy for her situation. Still, it generated discussion, which is always a good aspect for any selection no matter how it was received.


In illuminating detail, Winchester, bestselling author of The Professor & the Madman ("Elegant & scrupulous"—NY Times Book Review) & Krakatoa ("A mesmerizing page-turner"—Time) tells the story of Joseph Needham, the Cambridge scientist who unlocked the most closely held secrets of China, long the world's most technologically advanced country.

No cloistered don, this tall, married Englishman was a freethinking intellectual. A nudist, he was devoted to quirky folk dancing. In 1937, while working as a biochemist at Cambridge, he fell in love with a visiting Chinese student, with whom he began a lifelong affair. His mistress persuaded him to travel to her home country, where he embarked on a series of expeditions to the frontiers of the ancient empire. He searched for evidence to bolster a conviction that the Chinese were responsible for hundreds of humankind's most familiar innovations—including printing, the compass, explosives, suspension bridges, even toilet paper—often centuries before others. His journeys took him across war-torn China, consolidating his admiration for the Chinese. After the war, he determined to announce what he'd discovered & began writing Science & Civilisation in China, describing the country's long history of invention & technology. By the time he died, he'd produced, almost single-handedly, 17 volumes, making him the greatest one-man encyclopedist ever.

Epic & intimate, The Man Who Loved China tells the sweeping story of China thru Needham's life. Here's a tale of what makes men, nations & humankind great—related by one of the world's best storytellers.

I read this for research purposes, but I soon discovered a deeply personal element to connect me to the book: Joseph Needham first ventured to China by traveling over "the Hump" to Kunming during the same period when my grandpa served there during World War II. This delighted me. As Needham explored China and fell more deeply in love with the place, I couldn't help but think of my grandpa and wonder if he experienced many of the same things.

Needham was quite a quirky individual. A leftist nudist with an open marriage, his passion for his Chinese mistress led him to China in the thick of war. He traveled thousands of miles as he assisted scattered professors and scientists continue their studies during horrible circumstances, all while his own major idea germinated: to write an in-depth study on how China discovered many innovations first, sometimes centuries before they were 'invented' by the west.

As with all Winchester's works, this is an incredibly easy read--both intellectual and accessible.

#40, 41

I've been a bit slow in posting the last few days for a variety of reasons. Let's catch up:

I finished two books since my last update. First was The Wisconsin Dells by H. H. Bennett, a book that I downloaded from The Internet Archive; written sufficiently long ago that it's in the public domain, I downloaded it to read because I'd traveled there a couple of years back, and I wanted to see what folks had to say about it back then. Much of the book is devoted to a very extensive description of the geography of the area, and it finishes with stories about the settlers displacing the Native Americans from their land. Probably only of interest to people looking for Wisconsin history.

Next, last night I finished Osprey Raid #27: Tomahawk and Musket: French and Indian Raids in the Ohio Valley 1758. Most students in the US rarely hear much about the French and Indian War, AKA The Seven Years War, aside from being told that George Washington got his early military experience there. This book goes into some detail about some of the fighting of that period.
Read Harder Challenge Task #11: Read a book under 100 pages long

A companion book to The Chronicles of Prydain, this collection of short stories revisits beloved characters and reveals more about the history of the magical land of Prydain.

Here readers will find Dallben, destined to be an enchanter; Angharad, Princess of the House of Lyr; Kadwyr, the rascal crow; and Medwyn, the mystical protector of all animals. They'll learn the grim history of the sword Dyrnwyn and even find out how Fflewdur Fflam came by his enchanted harp.

Several years ago I read the Chronicles of Prydain in pretty much one gulp right around Christmas. They're a charming series of five books that tell the story of a pig named Hen Wen, her keeper Taran, Princess Eilonwy, and others as they try to keep their land safe from various evildoers. There was a Disney animated movie based on part of the story that came out about thirty years ago with limited success, and I've heard that there might be a live-action version at some point in the future. In any event, it's not necessary to know the Chronicles in order to appreciate these tales. Many are origin stories of a sort about a character or object from the Chronicles. One of my favorites, however, is "The Rascal Crow," a stand-alone fable about animals working together to save their forest. The appendix is a helpful guide to pronouncing the Welsh names of Prydain's inhabitants.

Book 20

Title: The Gilded Scarab
Author: Anna Butler
Pages: 298
Summary: When Captain Rafe Lancaster is invalided out of the Britannic Imperium’s Aero Corps after crashing his aerofighter during the Second Boer War, his eyesight is damaged permanently, and his career as a fighter pilot is over. Returning to Londinium in late November 1899, he’s lost the skies he loved, has no place in a society ruled by an elite oligarchy of powerful Houses, and is hard up, homeless, and in desperate need of a new direction in life.

Everything changes when he buys a coffeehouse near the Britannic Imperium Museum in Bloomsbury, the haunt of Aegyptologists. For the first time in years, Rafe is free to be himself. In a city powered by luminiferous aether and phlogiston, and where powerful men use House assassins to target their rivals, Rafe must navigate dangerous politics, deal with a jealous and possessive ex-lover, learn to make the best coffee in Londinium, and fend off murder and kidnap attempts before he can find happiness with the man he loves.

My Thoughts:
SpoilersCollapse )

Book 34

The Enchantment Emporium (Gale Women, #1)The Enchantment Emporium by Tanya Huff

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I usually like Huff's work but this wasn't my favorite. Parts of it were very good but there were too many parts that were confusing and/or borderline squicky.

The basic plot is Allie Gale is from the huge Gale clan of female magic users. The women hold all the power in this family (more on that later). Her grandmother in Calgary has disappeared and left instructions for Allie to take over the titular antique shop. Once there, Allie finds Joe, a leprachaun, hanging around and takes him under her wing. It turns out Granny had a lot of dealings with the fey. Also she quickly runs into a journalist who came to do an article on her grandmother and they hit it off and this quickly turns into yet another paranormal romance. Okay I can live with that.

However, things start going weird. Charlie, a slightly younger cousin keeps getting bounced out of 'The Wood' (one of the poorly defined things in the story) and she has to get to Allie by the long non-magical way and sets up with a country band (she's a musician). Cousin Michael also eventually ends up at the shop (he's the first man Allie ever loved but he's gay and he's hiding from his boyfriend who cheated on him). And then there are the Dragon Lords.

They want something. They're afraid of the Gale Girls (a common theme in this novel). They might even ally themselves with Allie against a common enemy or just take them both out if they dared. The common enemy? Graham's boss, a sorcerer named Kalynchuk. According to the Aunties, as the adult 'first circle' Gale women are known as, all sorcerers eventually go evil and they must all be destroyed. And since they would kill Graham too for being Kalynchuk's servant Allie makes sure no one calls in the Aunties. Also she doesn't want them around because they're sure Allie's brother, David, is too powerful which means he'll go bad and she doesn't want them to do anything about David.

I don't want to say what the Dragon Lords and Kalynchuk are after because that would ruin the ending which comes fast unlike the rest of the novel which is a bit overly long in my opinion.

I like Allie and the other characters. It's nice to see strong female characters however it almost borders on uncomfortable. In my studies into feminism I've found a subset who follow an idea I'm uncomfortable with. I'm a big believer in equality but there is a group who believe women are better and men are awful and are lesser than women. The Gales seem to espouse this. I saw no difference in the magic used by the women and the men in this but sorcerers were all 'taken care of' and something 'had to be done' about David because of his magic. There needed to be a better explanation for it.

That's one of my bigger complaints about this. The world building seemed to have big holes. Yes I know show not tell but in this case telling would have helped because it was confusing especially the beginning. I could not get into this or figure it out until several chapters in and we get to Calgary.

But the squickiness comes from the sexual nature of their power. I'm fine with sex magic. I wouldn't care if Allie banged half of Calgary to fund her magical powers. I'm far less okay with the incestuous nature of the Gales. They mate with cousins (though not always, Allie's dad was an outsider as is Graham. Hmmm this is the second book in a row for me with this theme) and it's almost non-con in some cases. They 'cross over' into more power into higher circles as they age into "Aunties" and their mate gets one chance 'choose or get out' and it's sort of a mate for life. Weirder still are the men with their horns showing during magic. I know it's referencing Herne but if i didn't I would have been totally confused since it's not clear and I think 'losing David' might mean he totally becomes the alpha male stag like Granddad did. These horns are physical too. At one point David has to go find some hookers and walk home because he won't fit in the car and at another Charlie was moaning she had to blow him just to get him into the car and this is why Aunt Catherine has a convertible. At more than one point David and Allie can't be in the same place because they'd have sex with each other and to heck with being brother and sister. I'm not sure what it added to the story. It took away for me.

So strong women who have incestuous sex with cousins to keep the magic all in the family and save Canada while they're at it. That sums it up. I might read the next one but I need a little bit of a break from this I think.

View all my reviews

Book 25: Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Book 25: Burial Rites.
Author: Hannah Kent, 2013.
Genre: Historical Fiction. Iceland 19th Century.
Other Details: ebook. 337 pages.

In northern Iceland, 1829, Agnes Magnúsdóttir is condemned to death for her part in the brutal murder of two men. Agnes is sent to wait out the time leading to her execution on the farm of District Officer Jón Jónsson, his wife and their two daughters. Horrified to have a convicted murderess in their midst, the family avoids speaking with Agnes. Only Tóti, the young assistant reverend appointed as Agnes’s spiritual guardian, is compelled to try to understand her, as he attempts to salvage her soul.

As the summer months fall away to winter and the hardships of rural life force the household to work side by side, Agnes’s ill-fated tale of longing and betrayal begins to emerge. And as the days to her execution draw closer, the question burns: did she or didn’t she?
- synopsis from author's website.

I first read this novel when it was short-listed for the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction (2013 Book 96) and when it was selected for our library reading group welcomed the opportunity to re-read. It proved well worth a second read as it allowed me to experience again this powerful tale based on true events.

It was very well received by the entire reading group and generated plenty of discussion of its plot, characters and setting. It is rare for everyone to give a thumbs up and I would again state how engaging a novel this is.

Book #17: One Forever by Rory Shiner

Number of pages: 88

Short book about how Christians a "united with Jesus". I'd read one piece by Rory Shiner before, and it was a short essay in a longer book with several contributors.

I liked how this set out various aspects of what it means to be a Christian, including why we should see going to church as a privelage rather than a chore, and how we are all united as one body. The book also looked at the idea of the New Creation from angles that I'd never thought of before.

Next book: Transit Maps of the World (Mark Ovenden)

Book 24:Furious by T. R. Ragan

Book 24: Furious (Faith McMann #1).
Author: T. R. Ragan, 2016.
Genre: Crime Thriller.
Other Details: ebook. 318 pages.

Faith McMann comes home to a nightmare: her husband is killed and her son and daughter are taken. Although the intruders leave her for dead, she survives. Crippling grief and fear for her children make life unbearable. Until her anguish turns to anger…and she trades victimhood for vengeance.

Frustrated with the law’s efforts, she takes action to rescue her children—and wreaks havoc on the brutal criminals who tore them from her. With her family and newfound allies at her side, Faith descends into the hellish underworld of human trafficking, determined to make those who prey on the innocent pray for mercy.
- synopsis from author's website.

I had enjoyed the Lizzy Gardner series and so pre-ordered this novel, the first in a new series. The subject matter of human trafficking of children and young teens does make for disturbing reading though once started it was hard to put down as Faith's seemingly hopeless quest was so heart-breaking and compelling.

Aside from this dark theme I would warn that this is not a stand alone; something i suspected as we neared the last chapters. I have already ordered the sequel that is due in September..

Book 33

Heap House (Iremonger, #1)Heap House by Edward Carey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of the reviews on the cover of Heap House, says something to the effect of it's weird, spectacularly so and I couldn't agree more. This book is what would happen if Charles Dickens & Lemony Snicket had a baby and let the heir of Edward Gorey illustrate it. It's also very hard to review without ruining the surprises.

It's an alternative London, late 1800s and most of the narrative alternates between Clod Iremonger and Lucy Pennant, with a few other points of view spattered about. Clod is an Iremonger born and raised in the titular Heap House which is outside of London amidst these enormous trash heaps. The Iremongers are wealthy beyond reason rising from mere rag pickers, to the kings and queens of garbage disposal and finally buying up all the debts in London. Their house is actually torn from other abandoned places and cobbled back together out on the heaps, huge, moving mounds of trash that seem almost alive.

Clod is weird even among the Iremongers and they're all pretty weird. Every Iremonger has a birth object, something given to them the moment they are born and they must keep with them at all times. Without their birth object they will be in serious trouble. That's where the story opens, one of the aunts has lost her birth object, a brass door handle, and the whole of the house, all the cousins, aunts and uncles are searching for it. Clod has an advantage. He can hear the objects and they only say one thing: a person's name. His own object, a bath plug, is James Henry Hayward.

However, this ability sets him apart and he was already an outsider as his mother died giving birth to him and his father died of a broken heart soon after. His grandmother in particular has never forgiven him for this. Most of his cousins don't even believe he can hear the objects and that goes for the adults in his life. Clod is particularly unwanted by many though Uncle Alivir, the doctor, seems to be on his side along with another outsider, a cousin Tummis who collects and speaks with animals and bugs, particularly birds. Tummis is also weird because he's in love with his cousin Ormily.

In this family, love matches don't really happen. At sixteen they simply marry whichever cousin has been chosen for them. Both Tummis and Clod are still in short pants waiting to be trousered (i.e. become an adult) and to marry soon after. Clod isn't in that much of a hurry to marry his rather homely match, Pinalippy. Worse, there's cousin Moorcus, the family golden boy and bully who possesses the only birth object Clod can't hear.

Lucy is discovered in an orphanage and is told she's a distant halfblooded Iremonger cousin (i.e. one parent was Iremonger and the other a non-Iremonger). She's 'rescued' from there and a life of being married to the heaps (a dangerous short lived job managing the garbage piles which are known to call people into their depths and kill them). She's brought to Heap House to be the fire grate tender in the Uphouse (upstairs/downstairs sort of British serving person's life). It's an enviable job. She is stripped of her name and she like all servants except the head cooks, the lock mistress and the Butler/head woman is now simply 'Iremonger.'

To her confusion and consternation, Lucy finds that most of the other serving Iremongers can't even remember their own name and at dinnertime, they all greedily eat up this grey globby stuff like it's ambrosia which she refuses to touch. Once she's forced to, even she has trouble holding onto her name and probably wouldn't have if she hadn't done the one thing she's forbidden to do: talk to an Uphouse Iremonger: Clod.

As they become closer, things start going really awry in Heap House. The birth objects start saying more than just their name and a Gathering is happening (which seems to be a magically alive collection of crap) and the story just gets weirder from there but I can't really review it much without ruining it.

It is a melancholic tale of strangeness. Things like the birth objects do get explained. Clod and Lucy (Clod more so for my tastes) are fascinating and likeable characters. I will say if you like Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, you'll probably like this and if you didn't, this probably isn't the story for you. It's one of those that I feel like I can say you'll either really like it or hate it. I don't see much of an in between.

The one thing I didn't really like was the ending but I'm not much on endings that are nothing more than 'you have to get book two to see how it turns out.'

View all my reviews
For Diago Alvarez, that’s the choice before him. For unless he wants to see his son Rafael die, he must do the unthinkable:

Help the Nazis receive the plans to the ultimate weapon.

And while Diago grows more comfortable not only with his heritage, but also with his place among Guillermo’s Los Nefilim, he is still unsure if he truly belongs amongst them.

In a frantic race to save the future of humanity, Diago is forced to rely on his daimonic nature to deceive an angel. In doing so, he discovers the birth of a modern god—one that will bring about a new world order from which no one can escape.

The Second Death is the final chapter in T. Frohock’s haunting and lyrical Los Nefilim trilogy, which bestselling author Mark Lawrence has called “a joy to read.”

This third novella completes the story arc, and wow. It feels like the full climax of a novel. Action and emotion, start to finish. Frohock has a masterful way of delicately weaving in deep sentiments without it being saccharine. The setting of 1930s Spain is full of dark potential, and the magic is dark as well. The tale is strengthened by the lovely relationship between Diago and his partner Miquel and Diago's newfound son, Rafael.



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