Wednesday, 23 May 2018

A Curious Beginning / Deanna Raybourn

4.25 stars out of 5
London, 1887. Veronica wields her butterfly net and a sharpened hatpin with equal aplomb. She thwarts her own abduction with the help of an enigmatic German baron with ties to her mysterious past. Promising to reveal in time what he knows of the plot against her, the baron offers her temporary sanctuary in the care of his friend Stoker—a reclusive natural historian as intriguing as he is bad-tempered. But the baron is murdered before he can reveal her secrets. Suddenly Veronica and Stoker must flee from an elusive assailant, wary partners in search of the villainous truth.

I can hardly wait to meet this author in August at the When Words Collide conference here in my city! I really enjoyed this novel and have already requested book two from my public library.

I appreciated the main character, Veronica Speedwell, a great deal. It’s very much the trend now, to rewrite female characters during the Victorian era, giving them bigger ideas and more autonomy. I think of The Lie Tree and Jane Steele, both of which I have also enjoyed a great deal. I’m also reminded of the Amelia Peacock character in Elizabeth Peters’ series, about a feminist female archaeologist in the Victorian era (this series began in 1975, so it could probably be considered the grandmother to this current batch of novels). Veronica is determined to remain single and support herself through providing natural history specimens to collectors. She is also enamoured with foreign men, enjoying dalliances while abroad to collect those specimens.

Stoker is a very attractive love interest for Miss Speedwell, despite the fact that she has decided against marriage and has rules about not getting involved with Englishmen. (Actually, her pursuit of sexual liaisons while abroad seemed the most unlikely part of this novel, for me, there being no reliable birth control during that period). He is bad tempered, less than cleanly, and often surprised by Veronica’s sass. He also sports tattoos that make him a little too 21st century to be entirely believable, but I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt because I enjoy his character. Plus, he has great potential to clean up well.

There are plenty of twists and turns in the plot, but I don’t think I am alone in thinking that the very slow-burn romance between Veronica and Stoker is the best aspect of the book.

Forensics / Val McDermid

3 out of 5 stars
The dead talk—to the right listener. They can tell us all about themselves: where they came from, how they lived, how they died, and, of course, who killed them. Forensic scientists can unlock the mysteries of the past and help serve justice using the messages left by a corpse, a crime scene, or the faintest of human traces. Forensics draws on interviews with some of these top-level professionals, ground-breaking research, and McDermid’s own original interviews and firsthand experience on scene with top forensic scientists.

Along the way, McDermid discovers how maggots collected from a corpse can help determine one’s time of death; how a DNA trace a millionth the size of a grain of salt can be used to convict a killer; and how a team of young Argentine scientists led by a maverick American anthropologist were able to uncover the victims of a genocide. It’s a journey that will take McDermid to war zones, fire scenes, and autopsy suites, and bring her into contact with both extraordinary bravery and wickedness, as she traces the history of forensics from its earliest beginnings to the cutting-edge science of the modern day.


I cancelled my cable TV years ago because I was making myself paranoid, watching way too many true crime stories. Plus, I had an unhealthy addiction to the show “Criminal Minds.” I’m pleased to report that I’m a much calmer person now that I’m not being inundated with this sort of entertainment. However, that former obsession with crime shows means that most of what McDermid writes in this non-fiction volume was not new to me, hence only a three star rating. If you are new to the world of forensic investigation, I think this would an excellent introduction.

McDermid has obviously had to research this field to make her mystery novels ring true. And what better way to make that research pay off again but to write a non-fiction book about the subject! It was good to get a British POV on these matters. Here in Canada, we tend to be bombarded with American material, both in books and television, so many of the case studies were new to me.

The author goes into just enough detail to make things comprehensible, without overloading the reader. The explanations are clear and easy to understand. I think it would make a good reference for jurors who are responsible for making decisions based on these methods.

Robots Vs Fairies

4 out of 5 stars
Rampaging robots! Tricksy fairies! Facing off for the first time in an epic genre death match!

People love pitting two awesome things against each other. Robots vs. Fairies is an anthology that pitches genre against genre, science fiction against fantasy, through an epic battle of two icons.

On one side, robots continue to be the classic sci-fi phenomenon in literature and media, from Asimov to WALL-E, from Philip K. Dick to Terminator. On the other, fairies are the beloved icons and unquestionable rulers of fantastic fiction, from Tinkerbell to Tam Lin, from True Blood to Once Upon a Time. Both have proven to be infinitely fun, flexible, and challenging. But when you pit them against each other, which side will triumph as the greatest genre symbol of all time?


A perfect coffee break book for those who appreciate either robots or fairy tales. I could read 1, sometimes 2, short stories per break.

My particular favourites were Build Me a Wonderland by Seanan McGuire, Murmured Under the Moon by Tim Pratt, and A Fall Counts Anywhere by Catherynne M Valente.

I’m a McGuire fan girl, so it’s no surprise that I enjoyed her story. It reminded me of her last novel of the Incryptid series, featuring an amusement park as it does. Ms. McGuire seems to be a fan of these facilities and so writes about them enthusiastically. She also writes the October Daye series, so is firmly on Team Fairy, although the story also features some robotic elements.

I will definitely be looking for more work by Tim Pratt! He has combined two of my favourite things, libraries and the Fae. I really, really liked this story.

Catherynne Valente’s offering was great, in that it utilized both robots and fairies, involved in a WWE type competition, complete with a combat ring and loud commentators! Her names for the robot contestants were excellent and she had me smiling all the way through the story.

I enjoyed all the stories to one degree or another, but those 3 were my highlights. I like robots just fine, but count me on Team Fairy all the way! I love those treacherous, dangerous, beautiful beings.

Friday, 18 May 2018

The Bloodsworn / Erin Lindsey

3.5 out of 5 stars
As the war between Alden and Oridia draws to its conclusion, the fates of both kingdoms rest on the actions of a select group of individuals—and, of course, the unbreakable bonds of blood...

Unbeknownst to most of Alden, King Erik, in thrall to a cruel bloodbinder, is locked away in his own palace, plotting revenge. To save her king, Lady Alix must journey behind enemy lines to destroy the bloodbinder. But her quest will demand sacrifices that may be more than she can bear.
 
Meanwhile, as the Warlord of Oridia tightens his grip on Alden, the men Alix loves face equally deadly tasks: her husband, Liam, must run a country at war while her brother, Rig, fights a losing battle on the front lines. If any one of them fails, Alden could be lost—and, even if they succeed, their efforts may be too late to save everyone Alix holds dear...


I liked this book just a little less than the first book. And as I sat down to write this review, I realized why. I’ve accidentally read book 3 before book 2. Oops! That would explain all the references to events in the past that I was unfamiliar with. I enjoyed the book anyway (and I’ll read book two when it becomes available at the library), but that explains why I sometimes felt like I was in the fog.

The main reason that I would remove half a star from my rating is the amount of agonizing that Lady Alix, Prince Liam and King Erik do during the course of the novel. All three of them flagellate themselves over decisions they’ve made. Now, most people regret some actions from their past, but don’t most of us also realize that there’s no use dwelling on our mistakes and move on? Do what you can to right the situation and move forward.

I think perhaps this is the author’s way to prove to her readers that these are “good people.” Evil people are sure they are doing the right thing, good people are forever questioning their own motives.

Nevertheless, fantasy is my happy place and I have to appreciate that a woman with a sword saves the day as often as any of the men do. The author will be at a conference that I’m attending this summer and I’ll be most interested to hear what she has to say on any number of topics.

The Country Girls / Edna O'Brien

4 out of 5 stars
Meet Kate and Baba, two young Irish country girls who have spent their childhood together. As they leave the safety of their convent school in search of life and love in the big city, they struggle to maintain their somewhat tumultuous relationship. Kate, dreamy and romantic, yearns for true love, while Baba just wants to experience the life of a single girl. Although they set out to conquer the world together, as their lives take unexpected turns, Kate and Baba must ultimately learn to find their own way.

I have absolutely no idea how to rate this book. Can I say that I enjoyed it? Yes and no. Can I say that I appreciated it? Yes indeed.

It was an important book for its time—published in 1960 and showing an Ireland that doesn’t exist anymore. One where the Catholic Church and patriarchy reigned supreme and women had extremely limited choices. You could get married or become a nun. That was pretty much it, at least for the country girls. Women weren’t admitted to be sexual beings and weren’t supposed to criticize how their society worked.

Edna O’Brien writes beautifully about the naiveté of the two rural girls when they come to the big city. Kate is the artistic, romantic, intellectual girl who has idealistic visions of what life should be like. She wants to discuss literature with her dates and they only value her sexuality. She becomes involved with an older married man from her village because he offers a window into the more sophisticated world that Kate longs for. Baba, on the other hand, is far more earthy—she wants to smoke, drink, and enjoy the company of men. The two women couldn’t be more different from one another, but small communities make for strange friendships. With few people of the right age to choose from, you bond with the most compatible person available and these relationships rarely withstand leaving home.

The poverty, the alcohol problems, the repression of women--The Country Girls reveals them all. No wonder this book was denounced and banned. It was hanging out the dirty linen for the world to look at.

Ireland is a country that is definitely on my “to visit” list. I love reading books which are set there and I will definitely read more of O’Brien’s work.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Honor Among Thieves / Rachel Caine, Ann Aguirre

4.5 out of 5 stars
Petty criminal Zara Cole has a painful past that’s made her stronger than most, which is why she chose life in New Detroit instead of moving with her family to Mars. In her eyes, living inside a dome isn’t much better than a prison cell.

Still, when Zara commits a crime that has her running scared, jail might be exactly where she’s headed. Instead Zara is recruited into the Honors, an elite team of humans selected by the Leviathan—a race of sentient alien ships—to explore the outer reaches of the universe as their passengers.

Zara seizes the chance to flee Earth’s dangers, but when she meets Nadim, the alien ship she’s assigned, Zara starts to feel at home for the first time. But nothing could have prepared her for the dark, ominous truths that lurk behind the alluring glitter of starlight.


What a treat! I could barely put this book down and was almost late for the family Mothers Day celebration as a result.

The beginning was quite transparent—you have an Earth that has been contacted by aliens known as the Leviathan. Enormous whale-like interplanetary travelers, they can create spaces for humans inside their bodies and a small number of humans are chosen each year to go travel the stars with them. These people are known as the Honors and they are (by and large) star mathematicians and musicians. Into this mix, introduce Zara, someone who hasn’t really adjusted to the new situation on Earth, who is a petty criminal trying to stay one step ahead of the law and her enemies. Of course she’s going to be chosen as one of the new crop of Honors, confounding her and her contemporaries.

The story plays on our notion of what whales are all about—gentle giants, intelligent, worthy of our regard and our love. But are the Leviathan the universe’s equivalent? They’ve rescued Earth from environmental and political disaster, but it that rescue a freebie? It takes a con-woman to ask the questions and to deal with the answers! And of course, I came to love Zara because she wasn’t a bad person, but someone pushed into a bad life by her circumstances. She gets to be the skeptic, who is reluctantly won over by contact with Nadim, the Leviathan that she is matched with.

There are many twists and turns to the story, including a sequence that reminded me of Dave & the computer Hal in 2001, where Zara dons what is called a skinsuit to go make necessary but risky repairs! The tension was fabulous!

I’d be really interested to know about the process of the two authors, who contributed what and how they shared the manuscript! But mostly I’m glad that book two is in the works and I have a chance to see how Zara, her co-pilot Bea, and Nadim progress from here.

The Bloodbound / Erin Lindsey

4 out of 5 stars
A cunning and impetuous scout, Alix only wishes to serve quietly on the edges of the action. But when the king is betrayed by his own brother and left to die at the hands of attacking Oridian forces, she winds up single-handedly saving her sovereign.

Suddenly, she is head of the king’s personal guard, an honor made all the more dubious by the king’s exile from his own court. Surrounded by enemies, Alix must help him reclaim his crown, all the while attempting to repel the relentless tide of invaders led by the Priest, most feared of Oridia’s lords.

But while Alix’s king commands her duty, both he and a fellow scout lay claim to her heart. And when the time comes, she may need to choose between the two men who need her most…


Another one of the authors who will be featured at When Words Collide this August. She has attended before, at the point where this book had just been published (as a panelist, but not a featured guest). Gotta like a book cover which features a woman with a big-ass sword!

Alix Black is an engaging main character, as she scouts for the army, fights when necessary, and sorts out her feelings for the men in her life. She has a bit of a tendency to act first and think later, which causes some complications! It also keeps her from being entirely a Mary Sue character—she makes enough blunders to keep her grounded.

For those who detest love triangles, you may want to give this book a miss, but if you have tolerance for such plot devices, this one resolves itself before the end of the volume. A bit predictably, but very sweetly.

I was impressed enough that I immediately put a hold on the second book at my library and I’ll be looking forward to hearing the author at this summer’s conference.