Merry Christmas, all

I definitely didn’t meet all my reading resolutions this year, but it’s still been a good year.

Hopefully everyone out there are celebrating the season in the way they like best.


Wizards can’t solve everything

38085968As the world is on the brink of World War Three, suddenly wizards appear, destroying all of the world’s nuclear weapons, and taking control of the world. In Wizards Rising: The Cataclysm, four of them take control of North America for only three years (or so they say). A social worker, Amanda, wins the position of Supreme Liaison between the ordinary people and the wizards, and finds herself torn in different directs as she starts to learn more about the wizards and their society and what they are really looking to do with the world.

A nice part of the novel is that every time I started to think ‘that’s a little ridiculous’, the author threw in a little twist that made that ridiculous element make perfect sense. The wizards are supremely powerful, but seem immature, but there is a reason for that. They place arbitrary limits on the age of people applying to the Supreme Liaison position, and fill it through a process that seems more appropriate to a reality television show, but there’s a reason for that.

I also appreciated the fact that there was no quick and easy fix at the end.

While not a perfect read (I wanted to know more about what was happening outside of North America, as well as more about the Wizarding culture), I do hope there will be a sequel, since the world has been completely altered in the end, and I’d like to see what happens next. This book also goes to show that self-published doesn’t mean bad. Sometimes it just means that the subject matter doesn’t quite fit into the mainstream publishing houses.

The price of Globalization

In a lot of ways, Bombardier Abroad: Patterns of Dispossession does not live up to the title. Maybe putting them the other way around would have been better. The majority of the book is about three cases of dispossession, and how the Bombardier company ties in. For those who don’t know, Bombardier is a Canadian company that creates transportation products of various types (rail, air, sea), and in the last year drew the ire of American company Boeing, leading to Trump imposing massive tariffs.

First is the Chinese occupation of Tibet, and the ways that Han Chinese are displacing the native Tibetans. This chapter focuses on the building of a train line to Tibet, which is being used to bring in Han Chinese tourists and businesses, as well as troops to prevent unrest, and transport out the product of Chinese-owned and controlled mines. But the only tie-in for Bombardier is that they sold a number of train cars to China for the line. The main objection was that Bombardier didn’t cut off the chance of any business in China by refusing to make train cars for them.

The second chapter covers a South African high-speed rail line that Bombardier was a part of a coalition of companies that bid on the project. In this case, the author doesn’t really make the case that the railway was completely bad, just that it doesn’t do anything for poor people who have transportation issues. The railway is designed to service business classes moving between large cities without any service to poorer communities that need better transportation more. While I don’t disagree that the money is not well aimed, I don’t see it as quite so immoral as the author implies for Bombardier to be involved.

The third chapter deals with another railway line in Israel. Now this project had heavier moral implications, since there were moves to appropriate land from Palestinians for the line between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. But while the project is problematic, Bombardier has little involvement. They sold some train cars to Israel, and not for the first time, and the author implies that Bombardier should have take the high road, and again refuse to be even tangentially involved.

Basically, the summation is that a company with shareholders should cut off avenues of business. Or that since Bombardier has received funds from the Canadian government, the government should order them not to do business (non-military) in countries that Canada has reasonably congenial relationships with. Neither option sounds terribly realistic. Perhaps one could say that Bombardier should have pushed the South Africa project to include more options for future expansion that would benefit the poorly serviced communities.

I sympathised with the urge, but it really didn’t make much sense. I think the author would have been better served by writing a book about dispossession, perhaps using railway lines as a common thread, but the focus on one company weakened some of the point.

Agatha Christie on Mars

36262384I love a good mystery, and one of my favorite classics is Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, in which a group of people, each with their own dark secrets, are trapped on an island, dying one by one.

It is easy to see how that book was likely an inspiration for this novel.

As One Way starts, Frank Kittridge is in prison for killing his son’s drug dealer. He has no contact with his now ex-wife and son, and is just existing. Then a man from the company that runs the prison presents him with a way out. But not on Earth. They are recruiting prisoners to go to Mars to build the base for the scientists and astronauts that would follow. Thinking that this would give his son something to be proud of, Frank agrees.

The training is tough, with his only real contact being other convicts being trained, and a guard who is a sadist. And before he really feels they are ready for it, Frank and the others, along with the sadist, are loaded into the rocket as frozen cargo and sent to Mars.

Of course, everything starts going wrong. First, part of the early loads sent to Mars went off-course slighting, and are at the absolute limit of what they can reach, and without those loads, they are dead. Retrieving the first one also results in the death of one of the team due to a fault in her spacesuit. She is the first death, but not the last. The convicts are working hard, and dying one by one until the last few realize that it isn’t just accident, but they are being murdered. But on a team of all murderers, who do you suspect.

I did have a couple of little issues with the plotting. No one realizes who the killer is or why until the very end, which is a little silly. No one is that trusting. I also don’t know how the company thought that they could cover everything up. Really? And why was there addictive drugs on the ship? One character dies of an overdose, and another develops and addiction, which leaves me wondering how it was that dangerous drugs were sent.

And I get the feeling that the author didn’t really know what to do with his female characters. There are two among the convicts, and they both die almost immediately on arrival on Mars, like he couldn’t wait to get rid of them rather than dealing with the complications that being female in an isolated, mostly male, group. I wish he could have done more with them.

Still, while I had figured out whodunnit and why well before the still living characters did, the book was a good read, and I look forward to the second book in the series.

A different type of Classical Poetry

40893727Reading classical poems can always be problematic, because attitudes have changed drastically over time. The poems of ‘Antarah ibn Shaddad in War Songs were written in the sixth century CE (or more than 1400 years ago, in other words). Today, the idea of a warrior (not soldier) who will then turn around and compose poems about his enemies, his allies, his *horse*, is just not something that feels real to a modern reader. Or writing odes about his lost love, while also referring to ‘my woman’ (ie, a slave who travels with him).

I found the historical lessons in the introduction to the book to be fascinating, and I’m wondering if there are any books about ‘Antarah ibn Shaddad, or about the time period. Apparently there is a comic book based on him, though.

Beyond all that, the poems were enthralling (although sometimes a very modern term will make me stumble, since I expected something a little more stilted). My only wish is that while each poem is preceded by notes about the translation, there is a lot of material in the appendixes (such as commentaries from Arab writers closer in time to the original), that I would have preferred to have had with those notes instead of having to flip back and forth. But considering that this is a publication from a university press, I really appreciated the thoroughness of the coverage.

And this is why I don’t run

27917989In Death Chase by Lizella Prescott, Mira, Isabelle, and Kimmy are college friends running a 50km wilderness race together when strange things, disturbing things, start happening. Along the trail they find strange art, threatening messages, possibly poisoned cookies and beer left on the route.

As we go, we learn that the three are trying to repair their friendship after something bad had happened that had finally led to Mira going into rehab for a year. As they go along, and especially after finding a dead body, we find out through flashbacks just what happened that their friendship needed repairs. Mira is the focus, and driver, of the events, and as we go, we learn just how bad it was. It got to the point where I wondered why the other two would even bother to have anything to do with her, considering the fallout.

I did see part of the end twist coming, but the rest of it still caught me off-guard. And as for the ‘what happened after,’ it was painful and oh so believable.

All in all, I found this book to be the perfect little thriller, closer to a novella than a novel at only about 170 pages, with the tension ramping up to an explosive conclusion. It proves that gems can be found from small presses.

Navajo fantasy. Cool

36373295Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse is a style of book I have never (personally) run into before. One the one hand, it’s an urban fantasy with monsters and gods walking the Earth. On the second hand, it’s a post-apocalyptic world (it’s called the Big Water, but the tidbits dropped indicate that it was faster and more violent than just sea level rise from climate change). On the third hand (shit, where did that third hand come from?) it’s a book set on an Indian reserve that raised a magical wall made of turquoise to protect their territory from the outside world and refugees. Again, we get hints about the outside world, but nothing detailed. Hopefully we’ll find out more in a future volume in the series.

Maggie Hoskie is a monster slayer, recently abandoned by her god-like mentor who saved her life after her grandmother was killed. She gets called on to find a child kidnapped by a new type of monster. From there, she ungraciously accepts the help of her neighbour’s too-handsome healer grandson to track down the origins of these new monsters. Oh, and Coyote is harassing her to do something for him, and you can never trust Coyote, even when he’s trying to help you.

The world is incredibly well-drawn, both in the mundane and the supernatural elements. Non-humans walk the reserve, and people’s clan histories give them unusual abilities. Maggie is a wonderfully damaged heroine, and Kai is an intriguing side-kick, although I do hope for more of his history in the next book. The book could have used a pronunciation guide (it took me a while to get over trying to figure out how to pronounce those bizarre accented characters), but eventually I got used to it.

And while the book has a tied up conclusion, you can see hints of where it is going in the next book, which I can’t wait to read. Storm of Locusts is currently scheduled for the end of April, next year.

The Readathon Begins…

7:58 am – I have my tea, my Danish, a comfy seat, knitting, and a pile of books. I am starting with Plight of the Living dead in hour one.

9am – I started from page 108, and now on 152. 44 pages read, with 56 left to go. I highly recommend this book. The author passes on interesting information with tongue firmly planted in cheek.

10am – I’m now at page 192. 40 more pages down, 26 left to go. Then on to finishing A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising.

11am – Plight of the Living Dead is finished, and starting from page 138 of A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising, I read 10 pages for 36 pages this hour. 3 hours Dow, 120 words read. Oh, and one broken plate. Oops.

12pm – 50 pages of Vampire Uprising read, with 120 to go. I will definitely finish this one today, which is good, since it’s almost due back to the library.

1pm – another 32 pages read, along with a bit of literary candy (aka fanfic). The cough leftover from my cold last week is coming on, though, and my eyes are tired, so I’m going to dose myself and go to bed with and audiobook for a while. After that it will be time to take my Kobo out to a restaurant for a late lunch/early dinner.

3pm – 2 hours, which includes 1:46 of the audiobook An Unwanted Guest, and a tiny nap. Definitely time to go find food.

5pm – Orp. I am stuffed. I read some more fluff while eating, and then dived into Ike’s Mystery Man (a biography) for 11 pages. Nonfiction tends to read slower for me.

6pm – 17 more pages in Ike’s Mystery Man. Eisenhower has just been elected.

7pm – Another 12 pages in Ike, then back to the Vampire Uprising for 28 pages (paper works better when taking a hot bath. I do want to finish this one off, since I have 60 pages left.

8pm – 32 pages of Vampire Uprising. 28 pages left. After that, more Ike, followed by finishing An Unexpected Guest.

9pm – Vampire Uprising is finished, and I listened to 38 minutes of An Unexpected Guest. There’s just over 2 hours left, less at 1.8 speed. I plan to finish that before bed.

10pm – Another 1:46 listened to in An Unexpected Guest. Only 29 minutes left.

11pm – An Unexpected Guest is finished, and I listened to just over an hour of Hallowe’en Party by Agatha Christie. It’s one of the last Hercule Poirot novels, published in 1969. I thought the theme was appropriate for the season.

However, I am reaching the end of my ability to concentrate, so I’m going to bed, with the alarm going off early enough to do so last reading in the morning. Still, if you convert audiobook time to pages, I have passed 500 pages of reading today. Not bad for a Readathon. Plus three books that were in progress are now complete.

8am – well, I overslept the alarm, but did listen to a bit more of Hallowe’en Party before the end gun went off (metaphorically, of course). Another hour of the book listened to.

So, Plight of the Living Dead finished – 110 pages

A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising finished – 180 pages

Ike’s Mystery Man continued – 40 pages

An Unexpected Guest audiobook finished – 4:35

Hallowe’en Party audiobook started – 1:54

October 2018 Read-A-Thon is coming

Sigh. I have been bad about writing reviews lately. I have a number that are waiting for me to go back through and post, but I’ve been so tired in the evenings that I don’t want to turn the computer on when I get home from work. I do plan on posting soon for that.

In the meantime, tomorrow is the October 2018 Dewey’s 24 Hour Read-a-thon. For Ottawa, that is starting at 8am tomorrow. I have a number of books in progress that I plan to finish in the morning before I start anything new.

So, what am I reading?

Library book: A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising, by Raymond A Villareal. It’s been billed as the vampire equivalent of World War Z, but it isn’t quite. I currently have about 170 pages left to go.

Paper book: Plight of the Living Dead by Matt Simon. This is actually a pop-science book, written with a lot of humour, about all the parasites, fungi, insects and the like that turn their victims/hosts into functional zombies. Remember the story about the fungus that makes an ant climb up to unleash spores on it’s fellow ants? Not very rare, it turns out. I’ve got 110 pages left in this one.

Audio book: An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena. This could be described as a new version of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. A small group are staying at an out of the way luxury country inn when they are trapped by an ice storm. The power is out, the land lines are out, there is no cell phone coverage, and people start dying. The narrator for the audio book is really engaging.  I have 4:35 left.

NetGalley ebook: Ike’s Mystery Man: The Cold War, the Lavender Scare, and the Untold Story of Eisenhower’s National Security Advisor, Robert Cutler by Peter Shinkle. This is a really interesting biography of Robert Cutler, and I am enjoying it so far. I’ve only just started this one, so I am only page 45 of 351. I don’t know that I will finish this one this weekend, but I am planning on getting through a chunk of it.

Waiting in the wings:

Thresher: A Deep Sea Thriller, by Michael Cole. It’s coming up on Halloween, so horror in the tradition of Jaws. I do enjoy Severed Press.

Mapping the Interior by  Stephen Graham Jones. Again, horror themed by a Native American author. Also a novella.

Hallowe’en Party (audiobook) by Agatha Christie. Did you know that there was a Halloween-themed Hercule Poirot mystery? Perfect for the time of year.

So, it should be a fun weekend. I’ve got my knitting, for while listening to audiobooks, I’ll be picking up snacks/pre-made food on the way home, and tomorrow is supposed to be a grey and drizzly day, so perfect for curling up with a small pile of book.

Do you really know what Fascism is?

38255329Fascism is a thing that a lot of people will refer to (he’s such a fascist!) without really understanding what makes the concept of Fascism. In How Fascism Works, Jason Stanley does a good job of breaking down the elements of Fascism, and providing examples from places like Nazi Germany. He also points to examples of similar behaviours in places like Poland and Hungary and the Middle East, as well as the recent United States.

He doesn’t go quite to the point of saying that the US is on the verge of becoming a Fascist state, but he makes it quite clear that it’s in danger of going down that route, and he does it by going through, step by step, and providing concrete examples. I don’t know that he will ever convince someone who doesn’t want to believe (and who thinks that Trump is good for the country), but he does leave you thinking.

Still, the book is short enough that while he covered the basics, there wasn’t a lot of depth to it. I would have also liked to get an idea of if there are any common signs that a society is in the earliest stages of a slide into fascism.

Like Fire and Water…

384650291As a reader of slash fanfiction, I expected Firestorm to be right up my alley, and in a lot of ways it was. Unfortunately, I came out of it wanting just a little bit more.

The concept is a contemporary fantasy, where there are four young men that are hosts to elemental spirits. They use their powers to deal with natural disasters, and they live together, with Fire (Elijah) and Water (Dante) being a romantic couple, as are Earth and Air (Stephen and Christian). But at the start of the novella, when they are around twenty, Fire dies in a car crash. Water is devastated, and even more so when almost immediately, the Fire spirit chooses a newborn as his new host. They are supposed to be partners, as soon as the boy grows up, but he doesn’t want this interloper, he just wants to mourn his dead lover.

The new Fire (Nicholai) ends up on the outside growing up, pulled to Dante, but rejected. Instead he ends up on his own, working solo as much as possible, until Dante pulls his head out of his ass. I doubt it’s much of a spoiler to say that they do end up together eventually, after the Elijah’s secrets are exposed.

I liked the world, although I wondered how the three that are together are living in relative obscurity in a small town when they aren’t needed. Wouldn’t there be tourists that come to try to gawk at them? Wouldn’t religious nuts want to kill them? Wouldn’t the government want to lock them up in protective custody because they are too valuable to run around (let alone die in a car crash behind the wheel). And what about the fact that Fire was ‘reborn’ in a different country? Do they get paid? By who, since they are called all over the world? I would expect them to have giant bank accounts, but I can’t figure out if they have any money at all.

My biggest problem is that when Nicholai is around Dante, Dante acts like he’s the younger one, even though it’s clear that he’s at least twenty years older than his new partner. It’s referred to on a physical basis from time to time, but even at forty, he still tends to behave like a petulant teenager, despite the influence of an immortal elemental. And the elementals are petty enough that, for example, Fire doesn’t let Nicholai have any real lovers, since Fire wants Water, but Dante doesn’t want Nicholai.

I was also left wondering about the fallout of the final twist in the story. We never find out what the reaction of the world to it.

I would have liked to have had the world fleshed out a little more, which would expand the novella to a full novel. Still, it was a nice little bonbon of a read. Just don’t expect any depth to it.

The first half of 2018 in review

I decided to take a look at the books I read in the first half of this year, since I’m a huge list maker, and I’ve been keeping track of my reading for years (including pages read each day). Still, I’ve never actually looked at breakdowns, other than how many books I read in a year and how many of them were library books. I’ve been trying to up the number of books from the library, since I spend way too much money on books, and buy more books than I read. It’s the same way that I’ve reached the point where I’ve got too much yarn in the house, and I’m trying to restrict myself to buying less yarn than I use in knitting projects (and I have trouble keeping to that when Michaels has a sale)

So, what was my reading up until the end of June this year…

48 books read

Some format break-downs
15 library books
14 from NetGalley
2 graphic novels
12 novellas
9 audiobooks

My breakdown by genre
8 non-fiction (5 on politics)
12 fantasy
9 science fiction
6 horror or dark fantasy
6 action/adventure
5 mystery
1 poetry collection
1 short story collection (mystery/sf/fantasy)

Now mind you, some of the books I slotted into one category also fits into a second (or third or fourth) category. In the breakdown by genre, I slotted with which category I thought of first.

Finally, here is the list of all the books I read from January to the end of June, in order they were read. Well, not including fanfiction, which would add the equivalent of a lot of books to the list.

Continue reading “The first half of 2018 in review”