Thursday, 27 April 2017

Bewitched & Betrayed / Seanan McGuire

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

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

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

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

A Morbid Taste for Bones / Ellis Peters

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

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


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

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

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

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd / Agatha Christie

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

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

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

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

Hôtel Transylvania / Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

On the Edge / Ilona Andrews

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

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

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


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

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

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

One Fell Sweep / Ilona Andrews

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

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


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

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

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

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

A Court of Mist and Fury / Sarah J. Maas

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 21 April 2017

The Eye of the World / Robert Jordan

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

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

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

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

Book 254 in my Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading Project.

Dead Heat / Patricia Briggs

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


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

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

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

The Ghoul Vendetta / Lisa Shearin

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


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

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

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

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

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

Lord of the Flies / William Golding

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

The Halfling's Gem / R.A. Salvatore

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

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

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

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

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

Book 253 in my Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading Project.

Death Masks / Jim Butcher

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Web of Lies / Jennifer Estep

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

I'm Gin Blanco.

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



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

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

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

Definitely going on to book 3!

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Spook / Mary Roach

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


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

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

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

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

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

Callahan's Lady / Spider Robinson

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

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


2.5 very conflicted stars.

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

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

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

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

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

Book 252 of my Science Fiction & Fantasy Reading Project.

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.