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Wednesday, December 27, 2017

"You're in the Wrong Bathroom!": And 20 Other Myths and Misconceptions about Transgender and Gender-Nonconforming People

I saw this book awhile ago and was interested in reading it.  I have a close friend who is trans and didn't want to burden her with all of my questions.

You're in the Wrong Bathroom! is exactly what it says it is: the book goes through 21 myths about trans people and gives you the real facts.  A few myths in I was kind of laughing to myself - the facts invariably for every myth are that people are different and no one's experience is the same.  That's true of cisgendered people; why wouldn't it also be true of trans people?

You're in the Wrong Bathroom! was a really fast read.  My major complaint was that it is an American book and focusses mainly on things in the States (although it does bring up some statistics and anecdotes from the rest of the world).  I would be interested in knowing more about how things are in other countries (although it does cover a bit of that, particularly in Myth 19).  All in all, I learned a bit and am glad I read it. :)

Friday, December 8, 2017

Cry Wolf

I love Patricia Briggs’ books.  So I was pretty excited to start reading Cry Wolf, the first book in her Alpha and Omega series.  I got through the prologue, which dealt with a random character, then got thrown into the story at a point that most definitely wasn’t the beginning.  Annoyed, I charged my Kindle, bought and read the novella that takes place before this book, then went back to it.  Now everything made sense (and I knew who all the wolves in the first chapter actually were).


Once I got through that hurdle, I found I had a hard time putting the book down.  I’ve stayed up way too late over the last few nights reading it (I started it at 2am on the 7th, and finished it a little before 4am today).


Cry Wolf is about werewolves Charles and Anna.  Charles is a two-hundred year old very dominant alpha wolf (second to his father, who is the alpha of all the wolves in North America).  Anna is a rare omega wolf, who is sort of like a medicine woman; she exudes peace and can calm the rage of other werewolves.  Anna was turned into a werewolf against her will and brutalized (that all happened in the novella).  She falls outside of pack structure, so dominance doesn’t actually work on her (alpha wolves can normally command more submissive wolves to do things; those commands just slide right off of her).  In her old pack, she was kept ignorant of her powers and was told she was a useless submissive wolf.  With Charles and his father Bran, she starts to realize that she is neither useless nor submissive.


Charles’ wolf decided as soon as he saw her that Anna was his mate.  This is super strange for him as well as her because he’s never had a mate before.  Suddenly he finds himself not only determined to protect her (from danger as well as potential rivals like Asil, an ancient wolf who is almost as old as Charles’ father), but also able to let down his guard and relax (thanks to her Omega powers).


The story alternates between their two viewpoints.  Neither one really talks to the other one (sometimes because they aren’t given the time, other times because they’re afraid to express their feelings).  When they get to Charles’ home in Montana, Anna is overwhelmed and feels like she doesn’t belong.  It doesn’t help that Bran’s mate Leah comes over to make a power play with her, and that Charles keeps wanting to leave her behind on things because he doesn’t want to subject her to seeing him possibly kill again.  Charles is also injured (from the novella - he got shot three times with silver bullets, and one of the bullets wasn’t properly removed).  But he isn’t given a chance to heal because there’s a werewolf attack in the nearby mountains.  As his father’s enforcer, it’s his job to deal with it.  Normally that would mean killing the wolf, but with Anna coming along, there’s a chance they can bring him in peacefully.


But the rogue lone wolf is not the actual problem - he was a man changed when he defended a student in the mountains from an attack.  It seems there’s another wolf running around.  And it looks an awful lot like Asil’s mate who died two hundred years previously. Died to a witch....

This book didn’t do anything amazing, but I still had a lot of fun reading it (like I said, I stayed up waaaay too late while reading it).  I’m looking forward to reading the next one in the series (after a break to catch up on sleep though!)

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Alpha and Omega: a Companion


I started reading Patricia Briggs Cry Wolf, the first story in her Alpha and Omega series. But I felt like I was in the middle of the story over the first few pages. So I looked it up on Goodreads and sure enough, there's a novella that happens first. Thankfully it was available on Kindle. So I bought it, charged my Kindle, and read it.

This novella is the story of how Charles and Anna met, and what exactly happened to her. She was changed against her will and told for three years she was a useless submissive wolf. Charles is the one who tells her the truth: she is not a submissive, she's an Omega. Omegas has are rare and fall outside of the regular werewolf hierarchy; Anna wasn't submissive, her pack had to beat submissiveness into her.

Together, Charles and Anna confront her pack. Unexpectedly, Charles' wolf claims Anna as it's mate (after knowing her for only a few hours). Together they discover why Anna's pack was so sick. And now she agrees to accompany Charles and the Marrok back to Chicago.

That was a bit annoying, but now I'm ready to actually read Cry Wolf.

Note: I didn't read the version in On the Prowl, but I like the cover better than what the Kindle version had.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Integral Trees

Wow was this a bit of a rough read.

I got Larry Niven's The Integral Trees back a few years ago, at a Toronto convention.  Someone had ranted and raved about it, then I found a copy of it on the trade floor. After I finished reading Witchling, I wanted something different.  I debated between The Integral Trees and Ringworld before ultimately choosing The Integral Trees.

The Integral Trees takes place on this world that has no real ground: the atmosphere is a giant smoke ring in orbit around the neutron star, Voy.  In the smoke ring, the thickest part of the atmosphere where life can exist, there's clumps of water and plants.  Most of the plants are fragile and thin; the exception are the huge integral trees, which grow hundreds of kilometers long.  It's on these that humans, the descendants of a starship mutiny, now live.  With the exception of the humans, all the life in the smoke ring has evolved to fly because there is no ground; even the plants are capable of moving about to some degree.  The humans have only been here about 500 years, but they too are adapting: they are now taller than us (because they grow up with less gravity) and some have prehensile toes which are capable of gripping things as another pair of hands. 

I'll admit, I didn't figure out about the height of the humans until it clicked when they were talking about a dwarf character - the dwarf was small enough to fit into a spacesuit meant for one of us....he was small because he was our height.

So anyway, the humans live in the tufts of the giant trees.  The trees have no root structure, just a tuft of branches at either end.  The humans who live in Quinn Tuft have sent a party of people, made up of cripples and people the Chairman of Quinn Tuft doesn't like (like Clave, his rival and son-in-law, the Grad, who is the Scientist's apprentice, and Gavving, who just happened to go on an ill-fated hunting expedition that got the Chairman's son killed), to go on an expedition.  Their village has been in a drought and they are sent to gather food and renew the tribal marks along the trunk.  our adventurers find evidence that the other side of the trunk has another tribe who is still alive; the two sides get into a fight.  During this time, the tree cracks in half, sending Quinn Tuft out of the smoke ring, and the other side back into the smoke ring.  Most of our party, plus one of the women from the other side of the fight, manage to jump free of the trunk.  They collect everyone and sail through space on a piece of bark hooked to a flying alien whale.  The whale leads them to a jungle, where they see two different peoples fighting.  Most of the Quinn Tuft people get captured by the side who has an ancient spacecraft (but one lady who is crippled and Clave, who had a broken leg, get left behind).  The Quinn tribe are further separated at their captor's tree - they are put into slavery and separated based on whether they are men, women, or pregnant women.  The Grad ends up going to the new tree's Scientist (at the Citadel), where he is made a second Scientist Apprentice (much to the annoyance of the current Scientist's Apprentice).

While the Quinn Tuft slaves think of rebellion and try to organize themselves (which is tough because they are separated), Clave and the jungle people plan an attack on the tree.  The entire jungle can move once every 20 years, and the time is now.  They attack the Citadel and manage to capture the spacecraft (thanks in part to the Grad being in the spacecraft at the time and murdering the Scientist).  They save who they can, then accidentally take off into space. The AI on the original spacecraft manages to make contact with them briefly, telling them what to do to get back into the smoke ring.  Then everyone in the spacecraft (which includes a couple of jungle people and a few people from the tree that took everyone captive) settles on a new, younger Integral Tree.

Niven is a hard-science fiction writer.  I wasn't really prepared for what that would mean.  In this case, the first few chapters were really front loaded with heavy hard-science.  There were some helpful pictures to aide in understanding what the world was like, but it still took me a bit to get some of the science.  But that's okay, I understood the basics well enough.

Then the actual plot started happening.  There were way too many characters with similar-sounding names.  In the main group alone there was Jinny, Jayan, and Jiovan; I kept getting confused about who was talking (although in the early part of the book, it was pretty much always Jiovan).  There were also just way too many characters.  The main group that started out from Quinn Tuft had like ten people.  While people came and went, the final group who colonize the new tree had like twelve.  There were also random people coming and going through the rest of the book; keeping everyone straight (while juggling similar-sounding names) was rough.

The story itself was also kind of boring.  The stakes at the beginning didn't seem very high - the only person who suspected the tree was dying was the Grad, and he never really shared much information except under extreme duress - everything was classified).  None of the characters had real character (in the example of Jiovan, he didn't really sound different to me from any of the other characters.  His distinguishing feature was that he had only one leg.  That's not at all helpful in dialogue). 

All in all, I felt that you read this book for the science and worldbuilding, not for the actual story, which makes me sad.

Oh, as a side note, I discovered that this is Book 2 in Niven's series about the State.  I had no idea there was a book that came first.  The first book has nothing to do with the smoke ring though, so that's probably why people were talking about The Integral Trees instead.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Witchling

I actually remember buying Yasmine Galenorn's Witchling, many many years ago. The second book in the series, Changeling, was the one that caught my eye. But Witchling was the first book in the series, so in the end I decided to buy it.

Witchling and Changeling are the first two in Galenorn's series about the three half-human half-fae D'Artigo sisters. Camille is a witch whose powers only work some of the time (I'm not really sure why either....because she's a half-fae?) Delilah is a werecat. And Menolly is a vampire.

The three sisters are Otherworld agents working on Earth. When their fellow agent is murdered, they start an investigation that leads them to demons. It seems Shadow Wing, a powerful and dangerous demon, has taken over the Subterreanean Realm; now he wants to conquer Otherworld and Earth, too. He's looking for the nine spirit seals; if he finds and reunites them, the worlds will merge back into one. So it's up to the D'Artigo sisters (and pretty much everyone they meet) to stop him!

When I bought Witchling, I found it in the fantasy section of Chapters. From the back of the book, I thought it was an urban fantasy. It was, but it was more of a paranormal romance. I was a bit disappointed by that fact because that wasn't what I wanted to read. But I'd already started it, so I kept going.

For book 1 in a series, I really felt like it started in the middle of the story. Characters showed up from the past, and you'd get a big chunk of text telling you what had happened (how they got here, who these people all were, how Camille managed to figure out the solution to their problem, etc). That was actually a huge problem through the entire book - very little showing seemed to happen. Camille would just give you a narrated info dump, you'd get a bit of dialogue, then onto the next info dump. Because of all of this telling, none of the characters seemed to have any real depth, which was unfortunate; I think they could have been much more interesting than they all were.

The amount of characters introduced in this book was also kind of staggering. By the end, there are potentially three very attractive and dangerous men wanting Camille. There are guys interested in both of her sisters (but only one per sister at this point). They also managed to find Titania, queen of the faeries, three demons (which were all rather easily killed), Tam Lin, and a cute baby gargoyle.

One more gripe: everything seemed so easy all the way through the book. As I mentioned, Camille quickly thought through their problem and arrived at the easy solution - this was in the "final boss fight" at the end of the book, which took less than six pages to conclude from initial description of the demon to his conveniently easy death. This example is the most obvious one since I just finished reading Witchling, but it was by no means the only time this sort of thing happened in the book. As a result, the stakes never, ever seemed very high (even when the book was trying to tell me how scared everyone was or how frightening the big bad was).

While those were a lot of cons, the book had some definite positives. For one, the world was very interesting. I liked Galenorn's Otherworld, and some of the strange creatures in it (like the Corpse Talker, she was really interesting). I liked the idea that when the Earth and the Otherworld split apart, some beings chose to stay (like Titania or the vampire Dracula). And the Otherworld itself seemed really interesting (even though I didn't get much of a chance to see it, just whatrver Camille told me and a very small glimpse at the end).

Witchling is also a quick read, so that was a plus. I don't think I would've finished it otherwise.

So yes. Overall Witchling wasn't really my kind of book. So I probably won't go looking for Changeling now. :( But that's ok. I'm glad I gave the series a shot. :)


Saturday, November 25, 2017

Equal Rites

My original plan after finishing Warbreaker was to read Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay.  But with how epic in proportion Warbreaker was (and suspecting that Under Heaven may be of a similar scope), I decided to look for something completely different.  What I decided on was Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett.  Equal Rites was an odd choice, especially considering I wasn't very fond of Guards! Guards! earlier this year.  But I knew that I wouldn't have to take it at all seriously.  Besides, it is the first Discworld book featuring the witches.  I read Wyrd Sisters years ago and enjoyed it; I was willing to take a chance on this one.

Equal Rites is the story of Eskarina Smith.  She's the eight daughter of an eighth son.  A wizard passes his staff onto her at her birth, believing she is the eight son of an eight son.  He only realizes his mistake too late to change it. 

For the first several years of Esk's life, nothing remarkable happens.  Granny Weatherwax, the village's witch, had attempted to destroy the wizard staff to no avail; wizards are men, witches are women; there's no such thing as a female wizard.  So instead, it was forgotten in a corner of Esk's father's blacksmith.  But when Esk is threatened, it is quick to come to her rescue.  And with Esk suddenly exhibiting magic, Granny convinces Esk's parents to let her train the girl.  Unfortunately, Esk's magic proves to be the wizarding kind.  And so the two of them set off to try to convince the Unseen University to properly train Esk in wizardry.

The first half of the book is pretty great.  Esk is a very willful girl, who refuses to let anything stop her from getting to Ankh-Morpork.  It leads to some hilarious adventures, like when she goes up to a caravan leader and ends up asking the way to the city when he refuses to let her come with him.  When he realizes she is going to walk on the dangerous, bandit-laden roads on her own, he hurriedly goes after her to let her come with the caravan.

Unfortunately, once Esk makes it to the Unseen University, her story really loses its charm.  She was laughed at by the wizards, so she seems to take their words to heart.  She actually throws her staff away into the river at one point, after it hits her friend, Simon (she doesn't realize it, but the staff saves her and the University from him).

Luckily Granny Weatherwax is there for the rest of the book!  Granny Weatherwax is rather like the older version of Esk - she is determined and won't let other people stop her.  She barges into the University's dining hall (where women are NOT allowed) and ends up in a wizarding battle with the Arch-chancellor.  They have to break off their battle when other students tell them Esk has left her body in an attempt to rescue Simon (he had never woken back up after being hit by Esk's staff).  So they form an unlikely friendship trying to save the two young people.  I don't really know what Granny Weatherwax's feelings were on the matter, but the Arch-chancellor definitely found himself admiring Granny's figure and otherwise being somewhat tempted away from his celibate life.

Although it sort of lost it in parts, Equal Rites was a pretty fun romp through the Discworld.  I definitely preferred it to Guards! Guards!, although I don't think it was as much fun as either Wyrd Sisters or Reaper Man.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Warbreaker

Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson is a book I've been interested in reading for a long time. Earlier this week I hurt my head and was told to limit my screen time. So I've spent the week reading (which is why this is the third book I've read this week already!) I decided to read Warbreaker because my copy is a hardcover; since I'm not going far this week, it seemed like the perfect time to read it.

Warbreaker is about the two Idrian princesses, Vivenna and Siri. Their father signed a treaty with Hallandren years ago, promising a Hallandren princess would be wed to the Hallandren God King at Vivenna' s 21st birthday. Everyone is surprised when their father sends Siri instead of Vivenna. Vivenna has spent her entire life training for this. Siri has not. So Vivenna decides to go to Hallandren to rescue her sister.

Siri is woefully unprepared to deal with the politics of the priests and pantheon of Hallandren. In Hallandren, they worship the Returned as gods and goddesses. The Returned are people who come back after they have been killed; they're believed to have visions of the future in their dreams. So they are pampered - having servants and a priesthood dedicated to providing for their every wants and needs. In their turn, the Returned are expected to give up their divine Breath to heal someone eventually.

One of the current pantheon is Lightsong the Bold. He completely refuses to believe in his own divinity. He does everything he can to shirk his divine duties (and is very much annoyed that no matter what be does, people seem to follow him and believe in him anyway). 

Lightsong crosses paths with Siri in the court. He is the one to realize that she is truly unprepared for where life has sent her - she is as naive as she looks. 

And of course, Siri being Siri, she starts to assert herself in hee own way. Which leads to a surprising development with the God King.

Meanwhile, Vivenna arrives in Hallandren and discovers she is woefully unprepared for life in the colourful city. She makes the acquaintance of some mercenaries, Denth and Tonka Dah, who agree to help her try to rescue her sister. And as war between Hallandren and Idris seems to loom ever closer, they help her try to disrupt the war to give her outnumbered people a better chance.

And I loved how people of one faith  (generally Vivenna from Idris) interacted with people of another faith. For example, Vivenna found out that one of the mercenaries, Jewels, gave her Breath to the God King when she was a child. Vivenna pitied her, believing it was a horrible thing and that she had to have been coerced or otherwise forced into it. But no, Jewels is proud of giving her Breath away. Confronted with that, Vivenna tries to rationalize it with her own faith....and can't. This sort of thing happened with Vivenna over and over again, always in different ways. It was a fantastic way of showing how different people viewed the world and how someone's beliefs can challenge your own. And the beliefs all came naturally from the world Sanderson built. I loved it!!!

Oh, I haven't really touched on the mystery in the book either. Lightsong takes interest in a murder that happened in one of the other goddess' palaces. Everyone else takes no notice of it. But he does, investigating and interviewing witnesses. He finds he's quite capable, which leads him to investigate what else he might be good at - what other memories came back with him from his life before he Returned (which he can't remember).

Oh and I need to also mention Vasher and the mysterious sword he carries, Nightblood. Nightblood is sentient and completely hilarious (which is the exact opposite of Vasher, who is stoic and says very little). The sword has no real understanding of time passing, and seems to think everyone is talking to it almost all the time. It was great.

Another interesting duo were Denth and Tonka Fah. They were always spouting off "mercenary humour," complaining about why no one like mercenaries. They (mainly Denth) were the ones who started to open Vivenna eyes about the way she looked down on the people around her (even though her religion said not to, and she is extremely pious). Sanderson's treatment of them was fantastic - their betrayal hit me like a punch to the gut in much the same way it hit Vivenna.

The God King was another interesting character. Siri discovers he has no tongue and is largely ignorant of life in general. But he is gentle and has a large intelligence in his eyes. She teaches him how to read and write in secret; as they begin to communicate, they end up truly falling in love. 

So yes. Warbreaker gives us political intrigue, war, mystery, love, betrayal, a fantastic plot that keeps you guessing, great characters, a fantastic world and an incredible magic system that revolves around colours and Breath. I absolutely loved this book! It is hands down the best fantasy I've read since Naomi Novik's Uprooted. Loved it, loved it, loved it!!!

Monday, November 20, 2017

Harley Quinn

Over the last few months, I read all of the Harley Quinn graphic novels I could get my hands on.  I didn't mark them down on Goodreads because I didn't feel like using them for my reading challenge.  But I thought I should say something about them on here. 

I started with the three Harley Quinn rebirth volumes that are out so far (#4 comes out in January).  I think that was back in September when I started them.  Then when I finished those, I started in on the series that came before Rebirth (which had six volumes). Most of the volumes are available on Hoopla, so I read them there.  But two of them weren't; luckily I was able to get them from the library.

I don't remember why exactly I started reading these, but I really enjoyed them.  Harley herself has a heart of gold - she's just a bit misguided in her means.  These stories also aren't your typical super-hero stories: she does kill people without remorse when they break her code. 

I really liked the Rebirth series....but it was a little confusing at first because she's already got all her friends and her building and her Gang of Harleys.  So it was good to go back and read the series before Rebirth because it explained everything that happened to get her to that point.  I'm really looking forward to the next volume in the new year. :)

The Marrow Thieves

I read the synopsis of Cherie Dimaline's The Marrow Thieves and was totally hooked:

In a futuristic world ravaged by global warming, people have lost the ability to dream, and the dreamlessness has led to widespread madness. The only people still able to dream are North America's Indigenous people, and it is their marrow that holds the cure for the rest of the world. But getting the marrow, and dreams, means death for the unwilling donors. Driven to flight, a fifteen-year-old and his companions struggle for survival, attempt to reunite with loved ones and take refuge from the "recruiters" who seek them out to bring them to the marrow-stealing "factories."
Isn't that great?  I lucked out too that the library had a copy! :)

So The Marrow Thieves is the story of Frenchie, the young fifteen-year old boy the synopsis mentions. At the beginning of the book, Frenchie's brother sacrifices himself so that Frenchie can get away.  Frenchie then manages to find a group of people who are fleeing northward; they take him in and he becomes part of their adopted family.  They spend half of the book fleeing northward to escape the recruiters and their new residential school system that has been created to hold Indigenous people (and later suck the marrow from them).  After a few chance encounters, which diminishes their numbers, they manage to find their way to a small rebellion.  The rebellion agrees to help them rescue one of their elders who had sacrificed herself to the recruiters so the rest of them could escape.

Now I managed to read The Marrow Thieves in a day, so what I'm going to say may seem a bit counter-intuitive: this was a slow, ponderous read.  The book sped up a bit as you got nearer the end, but it was still pretty slow going.  This was especially true after reading Murder on the Orient Express, which has a much faster pace.  I think the slow pace had to do with the writing (but I'm not positive because I've never read anything by Dimaline before so I have nothing to compare it to - plus I am not really thinking straight today - I had a bit of an accident last night which has left me with a bump on my head and headaches).

I wasn't very fond of Frenchie as a character as the book wore on.  He was a confused teenage boy, which was understandable - growing up can be confusing enough without a country hunting you down for your marrow.  But near the end he became super jealous and really confused about his feelings to the point where it was difficult to read/care. Like he literally went to hang out moping on a bed a few times while puzzling through things....it reminded me of the first half of Mockingjay, where it was also boring to read about confused Katniss.

I should say that there were some really interesting characters like Wab.  Unfortunately the book seemed to largely forget these characters existed in the latter half of the book, just making the odd mention of them being there.

I also don't quite know what to make of the ending.  On one hand, it was a good ending which left you with the feels.  But on another hand, it is so open-ended that I don't know what to think. 

But on the plus side, the premise was really cool.  I liked the dystopian world that Dimaline gives us, especially since it is built off of global warming and wars over water, which are both very topical. And the way the residential schools are built on - they are a very sad/upsetting/angering part of Canadian history - I loved how the people in this book had overcome their effects of the past (yet hated how they were having to deal with them all over again, but in a Nazi-deathcamp sort of way). It was a very interesting look at this subject as here in Canada we are presently trying to have an era of Truth and Reconciliation.

And I have to say - I loved all the discussion of Indigenous culture.  I read a lot of fantasy and speculative fiction/genre fiction of one form or another and do not encounter books celebrating Indigenous culture; this was a wonderful treat amid such a serious book.

So where does that leave me?  I loved the idea of The Marrow Thieves and so much of what it brings to the table. But it is still a hard read thanks to its writing style.  I enjoyed chunks of the book, but really wanted to love it more than I did.  And in the end, I think it is worth reading, but it's definitely not for everyone. 

Murder on the Orient Express



So with the new movie out, I had to read Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express quickly.  I got it from the library a few weeks ago, but had a bit of a hard time starting it because it wasn’t what I really wanted to be reading right now.  But yesterday afternoon I finally took the plunge and started.  It’s a super quick read too – I managed to finish it last night!

Murder on the Orient Express is an interesting read, rather different from And Then There Were None because this time you are following Belgian detective Hercule Poirot.  On his way to Paris, he books passage on the Orient Express.  Overnight on their second night, one of the other passengers is found dead in his compartment to multiple stab wounds.  Thanks to the train being stuck in a snowdrift, it is obvious that the murderer is one of the other passengers.  It’s up to Poirot, with the help of his friend, M. Bouc and the Greek Dr. Constantine, to find the murderer.

Since you are following Poirot, and he is the one solving the crime, you know right off the bat that he is innocent (which is very different from And Then There Were none; in that book, EVERYONE was a suspect). Likewise, his two friends (M. Bouc and Dr. Constantine) are immediately presumed to be innocent of the crime.  

The remaining passengers are a varied lot (which reminded me of And Then There Were None): you have a Russian princess, her German maid, a Swiss nurse, the Count and Countess Andrenyi, an American matron, an American salesman, a British valet, an Italian salesman, an English governess, an American secretary, a Colonel, and the victim, a philanthropist.  Poirot notes that it is odd to see the Orient Express so full at this time of year (it’s an off-season for travelling) – the detective only made it onto the train because his friend M. Bouc is the director of the train line. 
Once the crime is committed, Poirot and company must use their wits to reason their way through the crime (because everyone is stuck on the train – they have no access to modern scientific methods for solving crimes).  They interview everyone and discover that everyone has a verified alibi.  So how could this crime have possibly been committed?

Murder on the Orient Express is a fun and fast read.  I didn’t find it as satisfying as And Then There Were None, but it is still a good story and well worth reading.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Sword of the Rightful King

I was pretty excited to read Jane Yolen's Sword of the Rightful King. The synopsis sells the book as a sort of alternate history of the King Arthur Legend: the mage, Merlinnus, creates the sword in the stone as a test for Arthur, who is already High King of Britain.  But someone else pulls the sword from the stone!!! While that is, in the end, what does happen, this book is very much NOT an alternative history of the story. 

What happens is that Gawaine is summoned to his mother's (Morgause) chambers.  She tries to persuade him to stay home and rule as king of the north, but he refuses; he wants to return to Arthur and Cadbury (Camelot).  So she sends some of his brothers with him (just not the youngest).

I'm going to note here that Gawaine seemed like the main character.  But after this beginning stuff, the narrative largely moved away from him, which was rather disappointing.

Meanwhile, a boy named Gawen also shows up at Arthur's court.  Gawen wants to be trained as a knight, but ends up being told to study with Merlinnus.  It's around here that Merlinnus also has the idea to create the Sword in the Stone as a test for Arthur and a means to unite all of Britain under his rule.  The narrative largely switches to follow Gawen from here rather than Gawaine (and it's a bit confusing because their names are so very similar).

Morgause finds out about this test and conspires to get one of her sons to pull it instead. She shows up at Cadbury to try to work some magic on it; that fails, thanks to Merlinnus and Gawen working on a protection spell.  Then she bespells almost the entire court, and attempts to make Arthur fall in love with her.  Thankfully for all, her scheme is discovered by Gawen, and she leaves.

Then at Midsummer's Eve, when magic is supposed to be most potent, everyone attempts to pull the sword from the stone.  Arthur is the one who succeeds, so everyone is happy.  But he confronts Merlinnus later to tell him that it is a different sword he pulled from the stone. It turns out that Gawen managed to pull it out by melting butter and getting the sword to slide out (this was disappointingly not shown to us, the reader - all we knew was that Gawen went to the kitchen and *did something*); Gawen replaced the sword with another one for some reason.  Arthur claims Gawen is now king, but Gawen reveals that she is in fact a woman and so cannot be king.  Arthur then decides to marry her, making them both High King and Queen of Britain (and uniting the two people who have pulled swords from the stone).

For the most part, this was a fine retelling of the King Arthur myth.  But by leaving out till the very end the fact that someone else did pull the sword from the stone, I felt cheated by the story thanks to the synopsis making me think someone else pulling the sword was the actual main plot point that would get the story going.  The whole sword in the stone took way too long to get going in the book as well, making me sort of lose interest halfway through.  Same with the way the book started with Gawaine and then abandoned his narrative - that actually made me feel cheated as well.

On the plus side though, Yolen has a fine writing style that was easy to read.  I think if the synopsis had been better (and not sort of misleading), I would have been a lot happier reading this book.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Write a Western in 30 Days: With Plenty of Bullet-Points!

Write a Western in 30 Days: With Plenty of Bullet-Points! by Nik Morton was an interesting read. I've never written a Western, and I was intrigued by how he proposed to do it in 30 days. (Spoiler on that front: he considers every 8 hour chunk a "day," and sets out a rough guide as to how much you should write per day). I loved the early chapters of the book, which detailed facts about the Old West. I started losing interest though once the book moved into the nitty gritty of writing. I think this was because these aspects of the book were written for beginner writers; in my case, I've heard the advice before. But I persevered and made it to the end (although I admit that I totally skimmed the appendices). The book also made me interested in reading Morton's The $300 Man, although I probably won't because he gives away most of the plot points here (except for the very end). All in all, Write a Western in 30 Days is a solid writing book, particularly for beginner writers and anyone interested in writing a Western quickly.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Living with Less: How to Downsize to 100 Personal Possessions

I picked up Living with Less: How to Downsize to 100 Personal Possessions at work. I'm not interested in downsizing my own life to 100 personal possessions, but I was interested in how people go about doing it themselves (and in maybe picking up some tips for how to let go of some things in my own life). I didn't realize that Mary Lambert meant "personal possessions" as clothes, electronics, sports equipment, and hobby materials only; she doesn't include things like books, dvds, or your kitchen (because those are shared things in your household, assuming you aren't single). But whatever, this fact didn't bother me as I read it.

Living with Less is very easy to read and follow along with. It has some good tips for clearing things out, but pretty much all of it comes down to "take out your garbage bags and label them "giveaway," "charity/thrift store," and "junk"; take as much time as you need to let go of things with heavy attachments; and "love it, use it, or lose it." Once you get down to your 100 personal possessions goal (which can include whole categories of things - with Lambert's method you'll end up with more than 100 individual possessions at the end), she gives some tips for tackling other areas of the home. I didn't really realize Lambert is a feng shui consultant; talk of feng shui and chi features heavily in the latter part of the book.

I think "Living with Less" is a great place to get you started with clearing out the clutter in your house (as I was reading it, I got inspired to clear out more of my stuff). But if you've more than a beginner or looking for a book on strict minimalism, you should give this book a pass.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Morningtide

Well, Morningtide was a disappointment.  It picks up a little after Lorwyn left off.  But it picks up enough later that I found the beginning of the book super confusing.  Rhys, Ashling, Brigid, Sygg, the yew sapling (who is growing extremely fast) Maralen, and the Vendilion Clique (the trio of fairies) are together attempting to free the two giants who helped Rhys in the first book.  The giants have been captured by the Blessed and are being turned into Vineborn warriors.  After successfully rescuing the giant brothers, the party starts to splinter apart.  Ashling disappears in a flash (chasing her elemental), so the Yewling and Endry (the brother fairy) go looking for her.  Brigid wants to atone for her treachery; she intended to help Ashling, but after she disappears, she forces her company on Sygg, who she also wronged (the ferryman ends up allowing her to accompany him on his journey to find what is happening to his people).  Rhys, Maralen, the giant brothers, and the remaining two fairies seek out the giants' sister Rosheen.  They find Rosheen in a valley asleep, and manage to use the fairies to interpret her prophetic dreams.  Ashling finds herself back at her home mountain; the final part of her trial involves her getting to the peak (but she has to get through a stone giant/elemental first).

All of this stuff goes on for what feels like ever without really getting anywhere.  The narrative is split between all the parties, flitting back and forth between them within chapters.  I found that any time something started to get interesting, we'd immediately cut to something less interesting.  Everyone was trying to figure out what the heck was happening through prophecies that weren't particularly interesting (and everyone kept saying this was happening too soon, but nothing seemed to explain why that was the case).  And the characters seemed to get more boring as the book progressed (the Vendilion clique was boring listening to Maralen....and there was a lot less of the two sisters through the book.  Plus Rhys was pretty boring in this book - half of his actions were seen through the eyes of the Blessed who were hunting him, so we didn't even get to see him really in action until he was getting the snot kicked out of him at the end.  And I still don't really know what the heck Maralen is, nor do I really care.).  Morningtide was a real struggle to get through; I have no intention of reading Eventide after slogging through this book.  And I'm especially disappointed because I loved the idea of this setting, but these books just didn't really live up to what I was expecting of them.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Lorwyn

I used to play Magic: the Gathering a lot back in high school.  But these days, I've been more interested in the worldbuilding and flavour of Magic than the actual game.  The plane/world of Lorwyn particularly caught my attention back when it came out.  I loved how the elves were different from your regular elves (really everything seemed familiar and yet different in a fun way) and how the whole world seemed to fit together.  So I bought the Lorwyn Cycle books, which promptly have sat on my shelf for years, until I finally started reading the first one a few days ago.

The world of Lorwyn, at least according to the Lorwyn book by Cory J. Herndon and Scott McGough, is nothing like how I pictured it in my head.  The book opens with basically a massacre of an elven bridal party by some unknown force.  The world is a brutal place where people get killed constantly, either by random forces or by elves.  The elves are particularly brutal - commanding officers will kill subordinates because they can and it will send a message to the rest of the troops.

So anyway, the story mostly follows Ashling, a flamekin pilgrim who is seeking her elemental, and Rhys, an elf who loses one of his horns, becoming an eyeblight to the rest of the elven nation (or Blessed Nation, as they call themselves).  Their paths cross when Ashling is hired by Rhys's old treefolk teacher, to deliver a message to Rhys (and bring him back to the treefolk).  Along the way, Ashling picks up a trio of faeries, and a kithkin warrior who accompany her on her quest.  For his part, Rhys manages to find Maralen, the lone survivor of the bridal party, and to get the Blessed Hunters after him, wanting him (and anyone who helps him) dead.

It took me a bit to warm up to this story and the characters, but by the end I found I was quite interested in what happens.  Book 2, Morningtide, is a direct continuation of the story, so I'm excited to read it next (especially people seem to say it is a lot better than Lorwyn)!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Blue Sword

I can't remember exactly why I bought Robin McKinley's The Blue Sword.  I think I got it after reading Uprooted.  I also think I was attracted to The Hero and the Crown, but ended up buying The Blue Sword at the same time because it is the first book in McKinley's Damar series.  I've read one other book by McKinley (Sunshine) and liked it well enough; so I decided to give The Blue Sword a shot when I went out to camp over the weekend. 

The Blue Sword is the story of Harry Crewe, an orphan girl who goes to foster with a couple who live on the edge of Damar.  Her brother arranged this for her after their father died.  Harry is kidnapped from their home by Corlath, the Hillfolk King; Corlath laid eyes on her, and his magic (called kelar) insists that he bring the Outland girl with him.  Harry is treated with the utmost courtesy (although due to their cultural differences, some of that courtesy, like the male servants wanting to bathe her, is not appreciated). 

Harry begins to learn the ways of the Hillfolk, starting with how to ride like them (they have no stirrups nor bridles, and control their horses completely through their body language).  She then goes into the wilds with Mathin, one of Corlath's 18 King's Riders, to train for six weeks.  When she returns, she enters the Laprun trials (a competition held every three years now to determine whether or not a man or woman is worthy to wear a sash - only sword-bearing citizens can wear one) and places first, becoming the Laprun-minta (she loses only to Corlath, who is the final combatant she must face).  After that, Corlath makes her one of his Riders, giving her the blue sword Gonturan, which was last wielded by Lady Aerin the Dragon-Slayer generations ago.

At this point, the Hillfolk are preparing for war against the Northerners, who have mobilized their gigantic army and are heading through the mountain passes.  Harry and Corlath have a disagreement - Harry thinks they should be concerned about the Northern army splitting into two and going through two passes.  The second pass is by the Outlander settlement which Corlath tried to warn when he first saw Harry; he believes it is their problem.  Under the cover of night, Harry saddles her horse and leaves.  Two of her friends (and the hunting cat which has befriended her) join her.  She amasses a small force which slowly gains numbers when others join her (including her friend the Outland colonel). They arrive at the pass to find that the bulk of the Northern army is planning on crossing the mountains there.  They defend the pass on the first night and Harry manages to knock down the enemy's standard (although she knows she would never have been able to defeat the opposing commander one on one - he was toying with her in their battle and let her live).  Harry goes to the top of a mountain and with the help of Gonturan, manages to bring the mountains down on the pass and the Northern army, crushing them. 

Harry then goes back to Corlath (because a whole bunch of her friends urge her to - she was afraid to go because she was afraid of his reaction to her desertion).  Instead she is welcomed back; Corlath declares his love for her.  They are married, have many children, and open up diplomatic negotiations between their two nations. 

While I powered through The Blue Sword, I had a bit of a hard time reading it (it was very much a slog to get through).  I liked a lot of the characters, and the book was interesting enough.  But I think unfortunately it was a characteristic of how the book was written - it just didn't work for me, but I'm not entirely sure why not.  I'm a bit worried to read The Hero and the Crown now, but at the very least I should be able to power through it like I did The Blue Sword.

Also: why did Harry only name Colonel Jack Dedham as her Queen's Rider in the end???  Why didn't she name Senay and Terim, too?  They were the two friends who went with her from Corlath's camp to defend the second passage - don't they deserve the same honour as Jack?

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Dark Tower: The Drawing of the Three

Alright then.  So back in June, I finally read The Gunslinger.  At that time I said I was pretty uninterested in continuing.  But then a friend at work lent me The Drawing of the Three and The Wasteland.  So I guess I get to continue on this ride.  I put off reading The Drawing of the Three for a couple of weeks, but finally just got on with it (it helped to find out that most people either like books 1 and 4, or 2 and 3.  Since I didn't like book 1, by that logic I should be good to go for book 2, right?)

The Drawing of the Three opens with Roland, the last gunslinger, on a beach.  His ammunition has gotten wet in the surf, so he's unsure of what will still work.  He is attacked by a weird lobster monster, which severs and eats two fingers from his right hand and one of his toes.  Roland manages to kill it, then finds the first of three magic doors that open a portal back to our world.  He must go through them and find the three people the man in black told him about at the end of the last book. 

The first door leads to Eddie, the Prisoner.  Eddie is a junkie, a prisoner to the demon of his addiction to drugs.  He is smuggling drugs back to New York City.  When Roland enters the door, he arrives in Eddie's mind and is able to control him (or sit back and do nothing).  This chunk of the book was really fun, with Roland trying to figure out how to navigate the world and its strange customs (like the ritual of clearing the customs.  Or the fact that podkins are called "sandwiches" in this strange, amazing world.  Or how about how paper is pretty much disregarded and everywhere?)  Roland sees that the stewardesses (or "army women" as he calls them because they are in pants) are onto Eddie and manages to help him by bringing the drugs back to his world.  After clearing the customs, they go to deliver the drugs to Balazar, which ends in a shootout (but luckily they are able to bring some penicillin back to help Roland, who is badly suffering from an infection).

Next, the second door leads to Odetta and Detta.  Odetta is an intelligent, sweet lady in a wheelchair (she was pushed into the path of an oncoming train years ago, which severed her legs).  Detta is an evil hellion of a woman.  Both happen to inhabit the same body.  Detta is in the process of stealing some cheap costume jewellery when Roland charges in and brings her kicking and screaming into his world.  Eddie starts to fall in love with Odetta, but at any moment she may leave and Detta will return.  It makes for a harrowing journey down the beach to the third door.

The third door leads to a man named Jack Mort. Mort is the cause of so much pain and anguish.  He gets people maimed and killed for fun.  To Roland's horror, he discovers that Jack dropped a brick on a little girl's head years ago, causing her self to splinter into two (becoming Odetta and Detta).  Jack is also the one who pushed Jake, the boy from The Gunslinger, into traffic, which killed him and brought him to Roland's own world.  Meanwhile, back in Roland's world, Eddie (who is exhausted - he's been forced to bring Odetta and Roland to the third door in Odetta's wheelchair because Roland's infection has returned and is once again killing him), has been captured by Detta.  She's using him as bait to draw Roland back into the world they're in - she wants to force the gunslinger to bring her back to her world, or else she's going to kill him.  Roland is in a race against time, having to get the medicine (and new ammunition) before Eddie is killed by the lobster monsters who are on the beach, all while navigating New York City in the body of a monster. 

I found the lobster monsters really weird.  They were there as a ticking time bomb, a menace that made life that much more difficult for people.  But it felt super arbitrary.  I mean, Roland could have just as easily lost his fingers to the man in black at the end of The Gunslinger, rather than to these things here. 

As for the rest of the book, I was really drawn in (ha ha ha) during the beginning portion with Eddie.  But I lost that a bit once we got to Odetta/Detta.  Detta in particular was a bit hard to read (I mean this literally - there was a page from her perspective that was one crazy long run-on sentence.  It was hard to concentrate on what she was thinking the further into that that I read!)  The book also got really monotonous at that point.  Beach. Walking. Lobster monsters. Repeat.  The Jack Mort stuff was interesting enough, but too similar to the beginning stuff to be really new (I mean Roland as a fish out of water sort of thing).  He also took control and did whatever he had to to get what he needed (he didn't kill any innocent bystanders, but he used Mort to get around, used his brain to find information, and wandered in places to "steal" things - I put steal in brackets because he always paid for them, but he'd go up and terrorize people with guns beforehand because he had to).  But everything turns out alright in the end: Detta and Odetta are reunited, Eddie is saved from lobster monsters, Roland gets to heal, and Jack Mort is dead.

I also need to talk about the references to genitals.  I kept track as I was reading (only because the first page literally had two separate references in it).  There were 32 separate instances.  37 total (Detta would throw around two to three references all the time).  Jerking off got 6 mentions.  I didn't count references to sex (because I honestly didn't really care), but I would guess it was comparable to jerking off. In a book with 400 pages, it's not tons, but it was still enough that I noticed as I read (on average it's a reference per ten pages) and it kind of knocked me out of the narrative because a lot of them didn't seem warranted.  Has anyone else felt like that while reading these books?  Does Stephen King have some preoccupation with (mostly male) genitals?  Or is this just a Dark Tower thing???  I haven't read any of Stephen King's horror novels, so I honestly don't know if this is just a quirk of his writing or not. 

I also feel like it is part of the reason these two books have felt more like "guy books" (I felt like that with some of Chuck Wendig's books, too).

So anyway, I liked The Drawing of the Three a lot more than The Gunslinger (I was more interested in the story by a long shot), but I didn't think it was amazing.  I will be reading the third book (because my friend lent it to me), but I'm definitely going to go read something else (or a few something elses) in the immediate future.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Rosemary and Rue

I heard Seanan McGuire speak at 4th Street Fantasy several years ago.  I looked up her books afterwards and they sounded interesting, so I grabbed Rosemary and Rue, the first book in her October Daye series.  I finally got around to reading it now.

Rosemary and Rue opens with this really intriguing prologue.  October "Toby" Daye is a private investigator who just happens to be a changeling (a half human-half faerie).  She's tailing her only suspect in a kidnapping case (the wife and daughter of her liege lord and friend have disappeared).  The suspect (her liege's brother) gets the better of her and turns her into a koi fish.The prologue ends with Toby saying that the koi pond "was my home now, the only one I'd know for fourteen years."

So that was a pretty cool hook.  Unfortunately, chapter one opens with Toby working at a grocery store fourteen years and six months later; the curse had been broken somehow six months earlier, and she was trying to put her life together.  Her husband and daughter wanted nothing to do with her (they believe she left them fourteen years ago).  And Toby wants nothing to do with the faerie world because it caused all of this.

I say this is unfortunate because I thought it would be fun to see what happened - how the curse was broken, who broke it, etc.  But nope.  Skip ahead.  McGuire gives details a bit later in the narrative, but it's not very satisfying.

Anyway, a faerie noble, the Countess Evening Winterrose (who happens to be the only one Toby is really speaking to) is murdered.  Before the murder, Eve calls Toby and lays a binding on her, so that Toby must discover who the murderer was or else she will die.  This forces Toby back into the world and life she left behind. 

While Toby is much weaker than her mother, she inherited her mother's ability to taste blood and relive the blood's memories.  It's pretty neat.  She does this pretty early in the story (going to Eve's murder scene to learn what she can).  There's a part later in the story where Toby (and a couple of other changelings) is attacked and another fae, Tybalt, saves her.  Tybalt gets the attackers blood all over everything (including his shirt).  It was obvious to me that Toby could discover who had hired the attacker at that point.  And it was obvious to her too: she tried to tell Tybalt that, but he shooed her away (to be fair, she had almost died a couple of times - the attacker had shot her with iron, which had almost killed her.  Then the same attacker was waiting for her when she was leaving the Japanese Tea Gardens where her friend, Lily, had managed to heal her).  But then there was about 100 pages of Toby checking out random leads before FINALLY going and getting Tybalt's shirt to discovered who had hired the guy. 

Warning: Major Spoiler Ahead. 

The culprit was a bit surprising in some ways.  It was her changeling friend/old mentor Devin.  Devin had been friends with Eve, but she had a Hope Chest, which has the power to turn changelings into either full humans or full faerie, whatever they wish.  Devin wanted it to live forever.  So he killed Eve, and kept sending random people to go and kill (or torture then kill) Toby to stop her from getting the chest (or find out where she had hidden it).  The weird thing about him doing it is that he kept sending kids who had no idea about his plan to hang out with Toby.  Or like he would patch up Toby, then send a Doppelganger in to torture and kill her.  Or he called in a huge favour to heal her from iron poisoning, then turned around to murder her (this was really, really weird.  It would have made more sense if ANYONE else in the book had called in the favour instead).  These were really, really weird moments.  I guess he was wanting Toby to back off from the investigation and kept asking her to - it was only when she kept saying no that he'd send more things to murder her.  

Other than these plot issues (this and the weird prologue to chapter 1 time gap I mentioned earlier), I really enjoyed the book.  And to be fair, this was McGuire's very first novel.  So I would be interested in reading more from her (and more October Daye) in the future. :)

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Guards! Guards!

Waaaay back in 2009, a couple of friends recommended that I give three different Discworld novels a chance after I read The Colour of Magic (twice!) and The Light Fantastic.  The three novels that were recommended to me were Reaper Man (which I read in February 2009), Wyrd Sisters (which I read in July 2009), and Guards! Guards! I'm not proud of it, but it's taken me EIGHT YEARS to finally get around to reading Guards! Guards!  I've picked it up a few times, or moved it to the top of my reading pile.  But it always gets shoved back for some reason.  Well, no more.  Over the weekend I finally sat down and actually READ the thing!

Guards! Guards! is the first book about the Night Watch of Ankh-Morpork.  There's Captain Vimes, the drunken leader of the Watch.  His second in command, Sergeant Colon.  Corporal Nobbs, the opportunistic thief ("the door just happened to be open, honest" sort of thief).  And Carrot Ironfoundersson, their new recruit.  Carrot is a massive man who was raised by dwarves - his dwarven father sent him to Ankh-Morpork to make a man of him.  Carrot is the only one of the bunch who believes being a member of the Night's Watch is a worthy occupation (almost everyone else in the city, including the other three members of the Watch, think the Watch is useless).

A secret society is plotting against the Patrician (the ruler of Ankh-Morpork) - they've decided to summon a noble dragon to terrorize the city a little bit, then set someone up to conveniently proclaim himself descended from the old kings of Ankh-Morpork and slay the dragon.  But things go a bit wrong and the dragon ends up crowned king instead!  And only the members of the Night's Watch, with the help of the Librarian of Unseen University (who happens to be an ape),and Lady Ramkin (who happens to breed swamp dragons), are ready to risk being burnt to a crisp to dethrone the new monarch.

I know it's been almost a decade since I last read a Terry Pratchett novel, but I honestly think Guards! Guards! was my least favourite of the three Discworld books that were recommended to me.  I found the book a bit hard to get through, especially since about half of it seemed to be the set up for the latter half (the dragon wasn't crowned king until over halfway through the story!)  The most entertaining thing about it was Carrot, who took his duties seriously (he read the law book of Ankh-Morpork and would be constantly quoting it while arresting people.  Plus he was a crazy dwarven-trained machine who could defeat basically whole armies while trying to arrest people. Oh and every here and there you'd get a letter written from him to his dwarven parents.  He was fun!)

Vimes was a bit of a tough sell to me.  I was not a fan at all at the beginning.  But the way he played off other characters (specifically trying to reign in Carrot) was fun.  The other two members of the Watch were just okay in my mind.  They were fine, but they seemed much more like stereotypes than characters to me.  Lady Rankin was pretty fun though.  :)

So yeah.  This was not my favourite Discworld novel.  But I think it was better than The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic, so that's something.  I doubt I would recommend Guards! Guards! to anyone though.