Monday, December 20, 2010

Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay

Under HeavenUnder Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Read: 29-10-10 to 20-12-10

I'm not quite sure what I think of this book.

I liked it, but it wasn't prefect. The prose was beautiful and so was the setting. But something about it just didn't seem to flow properly for me. It was beautifully put together, but it seemed to be lacking narrative flow.

All the different points of view sometimes worked and sometimes didn't. Some of the characters are introduced and never seen again. I wouldn't have understood the shifts of first person POV if I hadn't heard a podcast with the author, explaining it.

(All the first person POV is for female characters, because in such times they had to be powerfully in the moment to have an impact on the world.)

I've still given this a high rating, because it's a beautiful book and I really enjoyed reading it, but it isn't perfect and I find myself left with a slightly puzzled feeling.

I read this with a book group and about half of the commenters loved it and half were disappointed. I find myself somewhere in the middle, and it is clear different readers have very different responses, so read it for yourself and see what you think.

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Sobering but important

This video was made by Laurel of Dreams at Stake who has very severe CFS. Because of that it took her over 4 months to make.

It is well worth watching.

As always with You Tube videos I post on the blog, it doesn’t fit my template, so please do click through at watch it either at Laurel’s site or You Tube.

Saturday, December 18, 2010



pie It’s the scientist in me, but I think that’s totally brilliant.

Friday, December 10, 2010

My November Reading

Considering that my main reading focus remains Janny Wurts’ Wars of Light and Shadow series (of which I am up to book 4 and which I am still loving), I’m pleased with what I managed this month.

Seabiscuit was finished this month, but certainly wasn’t all read this month. It’s been my “take a break” book over the last few months and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time with it. I will be reading Laura Hillenbrand’s new book, Unbroken, when life (and my reading schedule) eases up a bit.

As well as dragging me into the Wars of Light and Shadow, Beyond Reality is also to blame for me reading some short fiction this month (and next as well). I don’t usually find short stories an easy read and only pick ones that are filling in pieces of bigger series I already read. But the group has been picking 2 stories a month and so far I’ve managed to read them all. I found that if I copy the story off the internet and turn it into an ebook I can read on my phone I find it much easier to manage, so that is what I’ve been doing. So far, some have worked better for me than others, but I’m looking forward to continuing with the challenge. I’m not sure just when I read the shorts, so I’ve just added them to the end of the list (links are to the stories themselves, not to reviews.

  1. Indulgence in Death – J. D. Robb (373pp)
    Eve Dallas, Book 38; Futuristic Mystery; eBook; 8/10
  2. SeabiscuitLaura Hillenbrand (453pp)
    Non-Fiction; 8/10
  3. Bonds of Justice – Nalini Singh (348pp)
    Psy/Changeling, Book 8; Paranormal Romance; eBook; 8/10
  4. Guardian of the DeadKaren Healey (348pp)
    YA; Fantasy; New Zealand; 10/10
  5. Fugitive Prince – Janny Wurts (576pp)
    Wars of Light and Shadow, Book 4; Fantasy; eBook; 10/10
  6. How Do You Tuck in a Superhero? – Rachel Balducci (208pp)
    Non-Fiction; Library Book; 6/10
  7. Paper Cradle – Stephen Gaskell
    Short Story; Web/eBook; 6/10
  8. A Study in Emerald – Neil Gaiman
    Short Story; Web; 7/10
  9. Hokkaido Green – Aidan Doyle
    Short Story; Web/eBook; 5/10

Best book of the month = Fugitive Prince
Biggest disappointment of the month = Hokkaido Green

November Reading:
Books read this month = 6
Short Stories read this month = 3
Total reads this month = 9

10/10 reads this month = 1
DNFs this month = 0
New reads this month = 9
Rereads this month = 0
paper books : eBooks = 3 : 6 = 33.3 % : 66.6 %

Pages read this month = 1994

November Challenges Progress:
Flashback Reading Challenge = 0
Big Book Challenge = 1

November List Progress:
eBooks read = 6
SFF books read = 6
Library Books read = 1
Audiobooks listened to = 0

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey

Guardian of the DeadGuardian of the Dead by Karen Healey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars (10/10)
Read: 17-11-10 to 21-11-10

Oh, I really liked this. I've had it sitting on my TBR shelf for months, and now I wish I'd started it sooner.

It was great to find a New Zealand book with both a wonderfully accessible heroine and Maori myth that wove so seamlessly into a contemporary narrative. I also thought that Healy did a wonderful job in explaining the mythology (most of which I knew at least to some small degree) to the reader without belabouring the point for those who already knew what she was talking about.

I haven't read much in the way of modern versions of my own homeland's mythology that isn't either historical or a retelling. I thought this was beautifully done and it's so great to have a wonderful New Zealand book to share with friends both locally and overseas. I have a good gift on my hands here.

I loved Ellie. She was wonderfully easy to like I think as much for her flaws as for her strengths. She's complex and very relatable and I would love to see her in another book one day. Kevin and Mark were also great characters, if less rounded than Ellie and I'd love to learn more about them too.

I'm not going to say much about the ending, because I don't want to spoil it, but I thought it was just perfect, which surprised me a little, as it wasn't at all what you might expect. In fact, it was the end that pushed my rating up from a 9 to a 10, because it just rounded off this wonderful, unique, unexpected book perfectly.

I'll be keeping my eyes of for Karen Healey's next book, also set in New Zealand and called The Shattering which is due for publication in September 2011.

Go out and find a copy of Guardian of the Dead and read it. I loved it and I hope you will too.

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Laura Hillenbrand on Today Show

Laura Hillenbrand is the author of the best-selling book, Seabiscuit, which I finished reading last week. She has now released a new book called Unbroken, that I have on reserve from the library and I’m looking forward to reading.

While I am attracted to both books because of their subject and because they are so well written, it is also because Laura Hillenbrand has severe CFS. She’s been ill for the better part of 25 years, much of that time spent in bed. Despite that, she’s written one best seller and it’s looking like this new book may well be one as well.

While I don’t know her and she’s never heard of me and never will, I respect her so much, to have achieved what she has. My writing, while probably never of publishable standard anyway, just faded away on me, dried up and vanished completely. I miss it, but there’s just nothing there in my head any more for me to work with.

Hillenbrand has managed not only to do the hard, physical and mental work of writing two books – she’s done all the research and work involved in preparing to write them as well (check out the enormous number of research books on her shelves in the video below). I couldn’t take in that information and collate it into anything coherent any more, let alone then write it all up so beautifully (and I’m not as sick as she is).

I’m very impressed (and I admit, a little jealous) and I wish Hillenbrand all the very best, both with her health and her career. It’s so good to see someone with this awful illness doing so well.

The video below is from NBC’s Today Show and talks mostly about the book, but also a little about the illness. It’s so nice to see something in the media that acknowledges how serious it is without being disbelieving, disrespectful or mocking.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand

Seabiscuit: An American LegendSeabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand

My rating: 4 of 5 stars (8/10)
Read: 16-9-10 to 14-11-10

A friend lent me this book, and while I've been reading it very slowly, I've also been thoroughly enjoying it.

Hillenbrand made her subject come alive and I found myself cheering for this ungainly little racehorse too - and racing is not something that interests me at all.

So don't let a lack of interest in horse racing keep you from a great book filled with wonderful characters.

I was also interested to read the book knowing Hillenbrand suffers from severe CFS. I am so impressed that she managed to write this while often house-bound. In the interview at the back, she mentions sometimes needing to just close her eyes and write with her eyes closed. While I don't suffer the awful vertigo she does, I could totally relate to that.

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Indulgence in Death by J. D. Robb

Indulgence in Death (In Death, #31) Indulgence in Death by J.D. Robb
Eve and Roarke, Book 38
My rating: 4 of 5 stars (8/10)
Read: 8-11-10 to 9-11-10

I really enjoyed this one. I always enjoy a new book about Eve and Roarke and this one didn't let me down. It has an interesting - if particularly twisted - mystery and Eve faces it in her usual fashion.

I've heard some people complain that they don't enjoy the interactions between Eve and Roarke as much now their marriage is settling down (they celebrate their 2nd wedding anniversary in this book). I'm quite the opposite. Books are so often about people getting together and the drama and conflict involved in that (there's got to be drama and conflict for a story after all). I'm loving seeing the developing, calming relationship that is growing between two such tempestuous people. To have a good marriage - and Eve and Roarke certainly do - they can't stay in conflict. So the conflict is coming from outside now and it is their solid relationship that stands against it.

This very fact was used to great effect in this book, and how Eve exploited someone's outside view of their marriage compared to the reality of it made for a satisfying conclusion to the mystery.

Although, that said, if I have any particular issue with Nora Roberts' books, it is that I often feel they sometimes end about a chapter too soon. If the main issue of the book is resolved, she often stops it at that point. While I don't want the end of a book to meander on, I'd like a little more finish than she sometimes gives me, and I feel this book suffered from that.

I can't really go into more details without spoilers, which I don't want to do, but I felt it wouldn't have hurt to see at least one more police interview at the end, and maybe finish on the up note of a planned barbeque with friends that was constanly mentioned throughout the book but forgotten right at the end.

It's a minor complaint, but has left me feeling a little disappointed at the end, after having had a great adventure.

View all my reviews

Sunday, November 07, 2010

This is cool too

But go and watch in on You Tube itself as my blog template doesn’t show the full width of the clip and you need to see it all.

This is delightful

This is the most delightful, gorgeous thing to watch. Look at the happiness and joy on that little boy’s face.

Everyone else looks and sounds pretty happy too.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

My October Reading

I got more read than I expected this month, so I’m pleased with that. I’m still loving The Wars of Light and Shadow and they are still taking up most of my reading time (and a lot of my available energy).

  1. Son of the Shadows – Juliet Marillier (608pp)
    Sevenwaters, Book 2; Fantasy; 9/10
  2. Whisper of SinNalini Singh (unknown)
    Psy-Changeling, Book 8.5; Short Story; Paranormal Romance; 8/10
  3. Here, There Be Monsters – Meljean Brook (unknown)
    The Iron Seas, Book 0.5; Short Story; Steampunk Romance; 8/10
  4. Anatomy of an EpidemicRobert Whitaker (416pp)
    Non-Fiction; Library Book; 6/10
  5. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot (369pp)
    Non-Fiction; Library Book; 10/10
  6. Warhost of VastmarkJanny Wurts (576pp)
    Wars of Light and Shadow, Book 3; Fantasy; 10/10
  7. Tea with the Black Dragon – R. A. MacAvoy (176pp)
    Fantasy; eBook; Reread; 7/10
  8. Cryoburn – Lois McMaster Bujold (345pp)
    Vorkosigan, Book 14; SF; 10/10
  9. How to Fossilise Your Hamster – Mick O’Hare (256pp)
    Non-Fiction; Library Book; DNF
  10. Ten Things I Love About You – Julia Quinn (377pp)
    Bevelstokes, Book 3; Romance; eBook; 7/10

Best book of the month = Warhost of Vastmark (Cryoburn was a very close second)
Biggest disappointment of the month = Tea With the Black Dragon (because it wasn’t as good as I remember, not because it was bad)

October Reading:
Books read this month = 7
Short Stories read this month = 2
Total reads this month = 9

10/10 reads this month = 2
DNFs this month = 1
New reads this month = 8
Rereads this month = 1
paper books : eBooks = 5 : 4 = 56 % : 44 %

Pages read this month = 2867

October Challenges Progress:
Flashback Reading Challenge = 1
Big Book Challenge = 1

October List Progress:
eBooks read = 4
SFF books read = 6
Library Books read = 2
Audiobooks listened to = 0

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Post it Note Update

I finished Warhost of Vastmark today (just as brilliant as the previous two books). While I keep telling myself that if it’s too much effort, I can stop marking/making notes as I read this series, there’s so much that I want to mark that I can’t stop myself. So here’s the book pile as it is now.

Wars of Light and Shadow after 3 books
From top to bottom, that’s my son Marcus in the background, then The Curse of the Mistwraith, The Ships of Merior and Warhost of Vastmark (all read and with their attendant post-it notes) and at the bottom Fugitive Prince and Grand Conspiracy waiting for me to get to them.

Oh and that’s today’s book loot in the very background.

Book Loot

We drove over to Barbara’s Books today for me to pick up my copy of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Cryoburn, which had come in for me. They had a good selection of near-new books at reduced prices, so despite my good budgetary intentions, I came home with more books than I had planned.

Book Loot

While perhaps bad for one’s bank balance, engaging in book loot is always a satisfying experience.

  • Cryoburn – Lois McMaster Bujold
    I’ve been hanging out for the new Miles adventure and can’t wait to start this. It also contains a CD-ROM that includes the book as an ebook (along with nearly all the other Vorkosigan series books, although I had already bought those) and a selection of interviews and essays.
  • From Black Rooms – Stephen Woodworth
    I’ve read the first two in this series and liked them. The third is in my TBR pile. This is the fourth book, which I’d been holding off buying until I’d finished the one before it. But when it’s sitting there for $5 (instead of nearly $25 new), well, it needs to come home with me.
  • Servant of the Empire – Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts
    I read this (and Mistress of the Empire) when they came out, but for some reason I never had my own copies. I think I must have borrowed them off a friend. So naturally, at a reduced price, they came home with me too.
  • Mistress of the Empire – Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts
    See above. Besides, I’m on a major Janny Wurts kick at the moment as I read my way through her Wars of Light and Shadow series.
  • Firebird – Mercedes Lackey
    For some reason I never read this one in my Mercedes Lackey reading days. But I’ve joined Erica’s Women of Fantasy 2011 Book Club and this is one of the selections, so a $15 hardcover (instead of nearly $50 new – which is what I paid for Cryoburn) was a no-brainer.

So all in all, I’m a happy book buyer. I also got Warhost of Vastmark finished, so I can even start Cryoburn this afternoon without any lingering feelings of guilt.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Wars of Light and Shadow - Quick Update

Just a quick picture of the state of my books in Janny Wurts' wonderful Wars of Light and Shadow series.

This is Curse of the Mistwraith and The Ships of Merior finished, with Warhost of Vastmark ready for me to start tomorrow.

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

First lost tooth

First lost tooth
Originally uploaded by rocalisa.

It's been an exciting few days at our house. We noticed Marcus had his first wobbly tooth at the weekend, and he's been carefully taking a container to school each day to save it if it comes out there.

I picked him up this afternoon and he immediately started patting his pockets, and looked very worried when both appeared to be empty. We hurried back to the classroom and eventually found the container (with tooth inside) rolled under the next table over.

It is now safely at home and we're waiting to see if the tooth fairy comes tonight.

I can't quite believe that my tiny, scrap of a baby is big enough to be losing teeth. (I also have no idea how a full size adult tooth is going to fit in the tiny gap the lost tooth has left. I hope that doesn't mean there are braces in our future budget.)

Saturday, September 04, 2010

We're All Fine

In reply to Christine's request, just a quick note to let everyone know we're fine after today's earthquake in Christchurch.

We live in Auckland at the top of the North Island, while Christchurch is halfway down the South Island. Dave tells me it's around 700km away in a straight line (and around 1100 if you drive; New Zealand has a lot of twisty, turny landscape and therefore roads).

Marcus and I were staying with my parents who live in Palmerston North, which is south of Auckland, but still a long way north of Christchurch. We flew back this afternoon and were about an hour late as our plane was one of the ones that had been grounded in Christchurch and had to wait for the airport to reopen to be able to leave.

We're now home again in Auckland and looking forward to a night in our own beds.

All our friends and family in the area are well and accounted for. Luckily there appears to have been no loss of life. Houses in New Zealand are built to earthquake standards (it was mostly old buildings and chimneys that fell it seems) and that combined with a fairly small population and the fact most people were asleep at the time rather that out and about seem to be the reasons we have been so lucky.

My parents are both from around Christchurch and recognised a lot of places that have been shown on the news. Things could have been much worse, but there's still going to be a lot of rebuilding to do.

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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Just for Janny

Here you go, The Ships of Merior after four chapters:

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Sunday, August 22, 2010

A new start

Having finished (and loved and highly recommend) The Curse of the Mistwraith, I've now started the second book, The Ships of Merior.

And yes, I'm letting loose with the post-it notes again. Here's Ships after on chapter.

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Pretty, pretty

Look what I got in the mail today:

omnitopia dawnMany thanks Theresa at Fantasy and Sci-Fi Lovin’ Blog for a wonderful giveaway and being willing to pay the awful postage to send it to New Zealand.

I’m looking forward to reading it – and I’ve got at least one friend I think will probably read it too – so thank you very much.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Catted on a Sunday afternoon


Current state of Curse of the Mistwraith

I’m up to Chapter 17 (two chapters to go!) and here’s what my copy of the book currently looks like:

curse2a Part of my knows I’m crazy doing this, but there’s so much in this book that I feel I’m going to either miss or certainly forget if I don’t mark it.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Inhuman by Eileen Wilks

Briggs, Patricia - Alpha and Omega 00 - On the Prowl (2) These all-new paranormal romances from today's hottest authors feature a female werewolf who comes into her own; a Lord who crosses paths with a fiery mage; a mixed-blood Child of the Moon who faces an uncertain future; and a woman whose sixth sense proves to be a dangerous talent.

As I started Eileen Wilks' Night Season, the first two characters we met were the two from the story "Inhuman" in this book. Since I couldn't remember the details about them, I decided to go back and read the shorter story before going on with the full book.

It's a good little story and a good introduction to Kai and Nathan. It also is a good reminder of how much the world changed at the end of the previous book.

I'm looking forward to seeing what happens to Kai and Nathan next as I move on to Night Season.

This is barely even a comment on the book, and certainly doesn’t count as a review. It’s one of those situations where a short story is written for an anthology that is a side-piece to a full series. It adds to the main story-line but isn’t totally essential. So this isn’t the place to start if you want to try Wilks’ world of the Lupi. For that, you need a different short story – Only Human in the Lover Beware anthology – or jump right into the first book in the series, Tempting Danger.

Inhuman (in the anthology On the Prowl)
Eileen Wilks 
World of the Lupi, Book 3.5
Read: 31-7-10 to 1-8-10

World of the Lupi

0.5 – Only Human (in the anthology Lover Beware) (Goodreads link)
   1 – Tempting Danger (Goodreads link)
1.5 – Originally Human (in the anthology Cravings) (Goodreads link)
   2 – Mortal Danger (Goodreads link)
   3 – Blood Lines
3.5 – Inhuman (in the anthology On the Prowl)
   4 – Night Season (Goodreads link)
   5 – Mortal Sins (Goodreads link)
5.5 – Human Nature (in the anthology Inked) (Goodreads link)
   6 – Blood Magic (Goodreads link)
   7 – Blood Challenge (due out Jan 2011) (Goodreads link)
   8 – Ghost (working title)

See Maru Jump

This is such a cool video. See Maru (who has a whole YouTube Channel of his own) jumping out of a huge box in slow motion. It shows just how agile and graceful cats are when they jump.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Lovely little ME/CFS joke

How do you identify the grocery list of someone with ME/CFS?

It's on the table at home.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

July 2010 Reading

Wow! I managed to read a decent number of books this month – and to “review” them too. All while also reading The Curse of the Mistwraith. So I’m feeling quite proud of myself, even if a lot of this month’s books were on the shorter side.

  1. Pretty Polly – Barbara Hambly (unknown)
    Darwath; Short Story; Fantasy; 8/10
  2. The Last Stormlord – Glenda Larke (674pp)
    Watergivers, Book 1; Fantasy; eBook; 9/10
  3. Restoring Harmony – Joelle Anthony (320pp)
    YA; SF; Library Book; 6/10
  4. Persepolis – Marjane Satrapi (160pp)
    Graphic Novel; Non Fiction; Library Book; 7/10
  5. The Deadly Dinner Party – Dr Jonathan A. Edlow (264pp)
    Non Fiction; Library Book; 6/10
  6. Dragon Prince – Melanie Rawn (576pp)
    Dragon Prince, Book 1; Fantasy; eBook; Reread; 9/10
  7. The Fire King – Marjorie M. Liu (336pp)
    Dirk and Steele, Book 9; Paranormal Romance; eBook; 8/10
  8. Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang – Kate Wilhelm (256pp)
    Science Fiction; Reread; 9/10
  9. ScatterlingsIsobelle Carmody
    Children; SF; eBook; 7/10

Best book of the month = Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang
Biggest surprise of the month = Persepolis
Biggest disappointment of the month = Restoring Harmony

July Reading:
Books read this month = 8
Short Stories read this month = 1
Total reads this month = 9

10/10 reads this month = 0
DNFs this month = 0
New reads this month = 7
Rereads this month = 2
paper books : eBooks = 5 : 4  = 56 % : 44 %

Pages read this month = 674 + 320 + 160 = 264 + 576 + 336 + 256 + 238 = 2824

June Challenges Progress
Flashback Reading Challenge = 2
Big Book Challenge = 2

June List Progress
eBooks read = 5
SFF books read = 7
Library Books read = 3
Audiobooks listened to = 0

Scatterlings by Isobelle Carmody

Carmody, Isobelle - Scatterlings Merlin awakes from a terrifying accident not knowing who, or where she is. All she knows for certain, is that this is not her world ... Bewildered and alone, Merlin sets out through an alien landscape to try and discover the truth about herself - as terrifying as it may be.

I discovered Isobelle Carmody through her Obernewtyn series, and as I always do with any author I like, I toddled off to check out her backlist.

This post-apocalyptic tale was the one that interested me most (although I hope to try out her fantasy some time too) and when I saw the ebook on sale, I bought it, downloaded it and let it sit on my phone until I was ready to read it. After finishing Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang, I decided to stick with the end-of-the-world theme and give Scatterlings a go.

First up, this is a children's book, probably aimed at preteens around 10 - 12 (although I have no experience with picking ages for books so don't take that as gospel). All the same, it is a nice, easy little read for an adult and I enjoyed it.

It doesn't have a lot of depth, but I did think that it matched the idea of the worth of survival against the need to preserve technology that I found in Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang. The Citizen gods in their domes are determined to survive, even if their time has passed and they are willing to use anyone and anything required to do it.
Meanwhile, the clans have adapted to survive in this new world (the cause of the old world's demise is never really addressed by the way) and their society is disrupted and thrown into upheaval by the intrusion of the Citizen gods.

I really liked the concept of honesty among the clans, and the way that the presence of telepathy made lying essentially obsolete. In many ways, this was the greatest difference between the old world and the new, not biology or technology but honesty.

There is not a lot of depth to the characters here, but I'm not sure that it was ever intended. This is a adventure story wrapped around a mystery and it does do both those things well.

The main character is Merlin, who at the beginning of the book wakes with no memory of who she is. I don't want to say anything about this as any discussion would involve spoiling the solution to the mystery, which I don't want to do. All I will say is that the answer is not what you might expect and very clever. I also liked the answer Merlin found to solve the main dilemma, one that managed to think of both sides of the problem and avoid lots of wanton destruction.

There is also an unexpected twist at the end that I thought was particularly well done. The solution was an apt one that was obvious when you stopped to think about it, but not something I had anticipated. In a way, that leaves the ending quite open, but to me it felt well finished all the same.

While nothing to blow the mind, I found this a very enjoyable story and I'm glad I found it and read it. If you'd like a pleasant little read and you see this in a second-hand bookshop or library, I'd recommend picking it up.

Isobelle Carmody 
Read: 28-7-10 to 31-7-10

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm

Wilhelm, Kate - Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang When the first warm breeze of Doomsday came wafting over the Shenandoah Valley, the Sumners were ready. Using their enormous wealth, the family had forged an isolated post holocaust citadel. Their descendants would have everything they needed to raise food and do the scientific research necessary for survival. But the family was soon plagued by sterility, and the creation of clones offered the only answer. And that final pocket of human civilization lost the very human spirit it was meant to preserve as man and mannequin turned on one another.

Sweeping, dramatic, rich with humanity and rigorous in its science, Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang is widely regarded as a high point of both humanistic and hard science fiction. It won science fiction's Hugo Award and Locus Award on its first publication and is as compelling today as it was then.

When I dug out my grotty old paperback of this book, I checked the publication date out of curiosity. It is a 1981 edition that I clearly bought second hand. So I'd guess I bought it in the late '80s when I was in my late teens. That feels right with my vague memory of first reading it and means it is now well over 20 years since I read Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang. That long ago read had left me with a good feeling about the book, but I had no idea how it would hold up all these years later. Considering it was already around 10 years old in my hypothetical "late '80s" (it won the Hugo Award in 1977) it can certainly now be classed as an old book and maybe even a classic. It was republished as part of the "SF Masterworks" series in 2006 (with the nice cover shown above and not the horrible one I have) so there are clearly people out there who do consider it a classic.

In terms of the book "holding up", I had two main reactions. A yes and a maybe.

I think the scientific premise stands up very well. In fact the end of the world as it comes to David and his family could be an eerily close future. It is a world of pollution, climate change and declining population where humanity's science can't keep up with what we have done to our planet. The solution the family reaches - to clone themselves - has been a science fiction staple for a while now, but I suspect was much newer in 1976 when the book was first published. It is, in fact, disturbingly much more possible now that it was then, making Wilhelm's vision of what such a drastic step might do to our cloned descendants still very timely all these years later.

As for the maybe, that concerns the writing style. This book is very much a "tell" book, rather than a "show" book. I can't truly say if this is a product of when it was written and published - too many years and other books have gone by, not to mention brain cells, for me to remember. However, I have my doubts that it would be published today in this form for just that reason. It's an older style of story-telling now and with demands for a first paragraph "hook" and lots of "show" from modern writers, Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang may well have a style that would not resonate with modern readers.

Did it work for me? Yes, it did. Whether that is because the style still works (well, of course it does if it tells the story well) and stands on its own, or because I read it with the awareness I was rereading an older book, I really can't say. But hey, I enjoyed reading it and surely that what counts? All the same, for all that it is about people, their personalities, individuality (or loss of same) and psychology, it is an idea book more than it is a character book.

Considering that, Wilhelm does an excellent job of making you care for the characters as, twice over in quite different societies, we watch people forced to stand back as their youngers take over their place in the community and wonder if things will be better or worse in the new future.

I liked David a lot. I'm not sure why, as in many ways there isn't all that much too him, but I remember I did last time and I did now as well. He starts out young, disbelieving and a little idealistic, but faced with the coming catastrophe, embraces the only solution they have found to save themselves and make a future. All the same, he and the other "elders" clearly see cloning as a short term solution that needs to be replaced by sexual reproduction as soon as fertility returns. It is the clones themselves, really not the same as their progenitors, who change the plan. And David is forced to stand aside to let what he sees as a dangerous future fall into place without him and those like him.

I don't know if it is a fault in the writing or a deliberate choice of the writer, but on the whole the clones themselves, both in the early generations and later in part 2, have very little personality and none of them really stand out. It seems to me that the only one who truly has character in the book is Barry. All the other main characters, David, Molly, Ben and Mark, have their own personalities and individuality. It is Barry who remains part of his brother-group, who feels right that way, but still can stand back and see the bigger picture.

For all I liked David and Mark, on this reading it was Barry who impressed me most. It is Barry who can see that the community is failing, that with the successive generations the clones are losing creativity and that without inspiration to solve an unexpected problem, failure is the only possible result. The next generation, led by Andrew and his brothers, can still see this, but see no reason to do anything about it. Their solution will inevitably lead to the end of the community, but this does not seem to concern them unduely.

Barry cannot do anything to change things himself and like David however many generations before (I do wish there was some idea of how much time has passed between part 1 and part 2), he must stand aside as the future forges on, however disastrously, just as David was forced to do.

But what saves the community is Mark. Strange, single, individual Mark, who is still creative, inspired and ingenious. And Barry has enough wisdom to stand back and let Mark do what he can’t do himself.

I didn't remember the bit of psychological theory thrown into the mix that suggests there is an optimum age for individual ego to develop, that in the clone groups it is swamped by the brother or sister group and never occurs. But Mark is still with Molly at that age and has no clone brothers, so in him that development does occur, no matter how many generations it is since the original catastrophe. It's an interesting idea. I have no idea if it makes sense in terms of modern psychological theory, but it certainly works for the book.

I ended up taking away two main things from Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang. Okay, on reflection, make that three.

First and most clearly, the book is an ode to individuality. It is that individuality and inspiration that lets David and the others find a solution to ensure survival, one that that they consider must be only temporary. But as the clones form their own small collectives, they wish to maintain that and go to whatever ends to see that happen. As they lose their individuality to conformity, all those things that allowed humanity to reach the heights it did begin to be lost. It is only with the rediscovery of individuality in first Molly (and a little in Ben) and later in Mark, that humanity has a chance to escape a second possibility of extinction.

But it is also about the lengths we will go to in order to maintain our own kind, and for the purpose of this book the clones are a totally different type of "own kind" from humanity such as we are out here in the real world as represented by David and later by Mark. David's generation saw the cloning as a necessity to survival - but they weren't setting out to make a new kind of human (as they in fact did). They were, as they saw it, creating a stop-gap measure that would allow "real people" (for lack of a better term) to re-emerge on the other side.

On the other hand, the clones wanted their kind of people and community to survive. And as they begin to face their extinction in the latter part of the book, they too will go to great lengths to maintain their own kind. The problem is that "their kind" is a dead end - they have lost too much of what it takes to survive and it is only going to get worse. Andrew and the others' solution doesn't seem very practical to me and would probably only hold off the inevitable a bit longer (something that the epilogue seems to endorse). But, unlike David and Walt and their colleagues, the clones lack the ingenuity or ability to risk or “something” that David and the others did have, to try a different way. They choose to maintain their way and in the end they lose.

And a smaller third thing, that struck me as I reached the last few chapters was that perhaps, survival is enough. Barry objects to Mark's plan because he sees all the things that will be lost. They will have to be so focused on survival that the "higher learning" things the Valley community has struggled so hard to maintain and gone out foraging for will get forgotten. Perhaps they will indeed, but surely as Mark sees, our very survival is the most important thing. Once you have that, you can start rebuilding those other things, but if you are so determined to keep the electricity and the technology and such without the proper infrastructure to maintain it, then you'll fall. And in the end, that is what happens to the clones, while the reader is left with the feeling Mark and his group will thrive - slowly perhaps, but surely.

Hmmm, after having written all this, I find that if I go back to the original question of how the book holds up, I have to say very well. Clearly it has made me think and reflect, and that's what good science fiction should do. Many books these days tell a story and little more - and there's nothing wrong with that - but the classics are the ones that stick with us and have something more to them. Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang surely fits into the latter category and I hope it is still being read well into the future.

On a simpler note, I've also always felt that it has such a perfect last line. It sums up what much of the whole book and its dominant theme of individuality is all about. And it reads beautifully too.

Because all the children were different.

Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang
Kate Wilhelm 
Read: 27-7-10 to 28-7-10

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Jacob’s Faith by Lora Leigh

Leigh, Lora - Breeds 11 - Jacob's Faith (2) I had two attempts to read this in 2010. In all honesty, neither went entirely well.

23 Jan 2010 to 31 Jan 2010

Sorry, but I just don't care.

I don't care about the characters. I've read a quarter of it and there doesn't seem to be any plot showing up yet. I'm just not in the mood to plough through this and I'm giving up.


7 Apr 2010 to 7 Apr 2010

After reading the next book and finding it okay [Aiden’s Charity which I rated 6/10], I decided to try this again. I still don't particularly care about the characters and there wasn't much plot, but I skimmed through it quickly and managed to pick up the most important points - mainly characters that may show up again later and the introduction of a new type of Breed.

Jacob’s Faith
Lora Leigh
Breeds, Book 11
Read: 7-4-10 to 7-4-10

Breeds (in chronological order)

  1. Tempting the Beast
  2. The Man Within (Goodreads link)
  3. Elizabeth’s Wolf
  4. Kiss of Heat (Goodreads link)
  5. Soul Deep
  6. The Breed Next Door (in Hot Spell anthology) (Goodreads link)
  7. Megan’s Mark
  8. Harmony’s Way (Goodreads link)
  9. Tanner’s Scheme (Goodreads link)
  10. Wolfe’s Hope
  11. Jacob’s Faith
  12. Aiden’s Charity (Goodreads link)
  13. In a Wolf’s Embrace (in Beyond the Dark anthology) (Goodreads link)
  14. Dawn’s Awakening (Goodreads link)
  15. A Jaguar’s Kiss (in Shifter anthology) (Goodreads link)
  16. Mercury’s War (Goodreads link)
  17. Christmas Heat (in The Magical Christmas Cat anthology) (Goodreads link)
  18. Coyote’s Mate (Goodreads link)
  19. Bengal’s Heart (Goodreads link)
  20. A Christmas Kiss (in Hot for the Holidays anthology) (Goodreads link)
  21. Lion’s Heat (Goodreads link)
  22. Styx’s Storm (due Oct 2010)
  23. Navarro’s Promise (due Jan 2011)

Silver Borne by Patricia Briggs

Briggs, Patricia - Mercy Thompson 05 - Silver Borne Whee, I loved this one. I thought it dropped away bit at the end when a new character showed up to be the solution to a major issue, but really, I don't care. Great read. Yay for Patricia Briggs who is such a good author.

Silver Borne
Patricia Briggs 
Mercy Thompson, Book 5
Read: 1-4-10 to 11-4-10

Mercy Thompson

  1. Moon Called (Goodreads link)
  2. Blood Bound 
  3. Iron Kissed
  4. Bone Crossed
  5. Silver Borne
  6. River Marked (due Jan 2011)

Chicks Dig Time Lords by Lynne M. Thomas and Tara O’Shea (editors)

Thomas, Lynne M. and O'Shea, Tara (eds) - Chicks Dig Time Lords A combination of anecdote and analysis, this was an interesting read. Most of the entries were relatively light-weight, concentrating on the authors' experience of Who fandom, but there were a few more in-depth essays delving deeper into topics of women and Doctor Who.

Chicks Dig Time Lords
Lynne M. Thomas and Tara O’Shea (eds) 
Read: 14-4-10 to 21-4-10

The Poisoner’s Handbook by Deborah Blum

Blum, Deborah - The Poisoner's Handbook Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer Deborah Blum follows New York City's first forensic scientists to discover a fascinating Jazz Age story of chemistry and detection, poison and murder.

Deborah Blum, writing with the high style and skill for suspense that is characteristic of the very best mystery fiction, shares the untold story of how poison rocked Jazz Age New York City. In The Poisoner's Handbook Blum draws from highly original research to track the fascinating, perilous days when a pair of forensic scientists began their trailblazing chemical detective work, fighting to end an era when untraceable poisons offered an easy path to the perfect crime.
Drama unfolds case by case as the heroes of The Poisoner's Handbook-chief medical examiner Charles Norris and toxicologist Alexander Gettler-investigate a family mysteriously stricken bald, Barnum and Bailey's Famous Blue Man, factory workers with crumbling bones, a diner serving poisoned pies, and many others. Each case presents a deadly new puzzle and Norris and Gettler work with a creativity that rivals that of the most imaginative murderer, creating revolutionary experiments to tease out even the wiliest compounds from human tissue. Yet in the tricky game of toxins, even science can't always be trusted, as proven when one of Gettler's experiments erroneously sets free a suburban housewife later nicknamed "America's Lucretia Borgia" to continue her nefarious work.

From the vantage of Norris and Gettler's laboratory in the infamous Bellevue Hospital it becomes clear that killers aren't the only toxic threat to New Yorkers. Modern life has created a kind of poison playground, and danger lurks around every corner. Automobiles choke the city streets with carbon monoxide; potent compounds, such as morphine, can be found on store shelves in products ranging from pesticides to cosmetics. Prohibition incites a chemist's war between bootleggers and government chemists while in Gotham's crowded speakeasies each round of cocktails becomes a game of Russian roulette. Norris and Gettler triumph over seemingly unbeatable odds to become the pioneers of forensic chemistry and the gatekeepers of justice during a remarkably deadly time. A beguiling concoction that is equal parts true crime, twentieth-century history, and science thriller, The Poisoner's Handbook is a page-turning account of a forgotten New York.

I picked this up on a whim from the new books stand at the library.

I was rather surprised at how much I enjoyed it. I think it is the long ago chemist in me (hey, I have a BSc(Hons) in Chemistry) that was attracted to it. I very briefly considered forensic science while at university but quickly realised I was way to squeamish for it. But I do love a good forensic mystery where it is science that solves the puzzle.

To read about the beginnings of that science was fascinating.
It was also very interesting to hear about the chemical issues of drinking in the Prohibition era. I had realised the full implications of what the law meant or how absolutely dangerous it had been.

If you like a bit of chemistry, a bit of history and some interesting poison cases, this might be just the book for you

The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York
Deborah Blum
Read: 17-5-10 to 18-5-10

Fledgling by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller

Lee, Sharon and Miller, Steve - Liaden 11 - Fledgling Theo Waitley has lived all her young life on Delgado, a Safe World that is home to one of the galaxy's premier institutions of higher learning. Both Theo's mother, Kamele, and Kamele's onagrata Jen Sar Kiladi, are professors at the university, and they all live comfortably together, just like they have all of Theo's life, in Jen Sar's house at the outskirts of town.

Suddenly, though, Theo's life changes. Kamele leaves Jen Sar and moves herself and Theo back into faculty housing, which is not what Theo is used to. Once settled back inside the Wall, Kamele becomes embroiled in faculty politics, and is appointed sub-chair of her department. Meanwhile Theo, who has a notation in her file indicating she is "physically challenged", has a series of misadventures, including pulling her best friend down on the belt-ride to class, and hurting a team mate during a scavage game.

With notes piling up in her file, Theo only wants to go "home" to the house in the suburbs, and have everything just liked it used to be.

Then, Kamele uncovers evidence of possible dishonest scholarship inside of her department. In order to clear the department, she and a team of senior professors must go off-world to perform a forensic document search. Theo hopes this will mean that she'll be left in the care of the man she calls "Father", Professor Kiladi, and is horrified to learn that Kamele means to bring Theo with her!

A lovely return to the Liaden universe and a long break. Theo is a delightful protagonist and I enjoyed watching her grow.
It took me a little while to get back into the swing of thing, but once I did the book was a delight.

It did feel a little unfinished though. The overall mystery was never properly put to rest. Sure, a satisfying conclusion was reached, but the reader was left to figure out a lot of the details by inference rather that because it was written into the book.

A couple of characters got away and we still don't know the exact why of what was being done. I hope these things are concluded in the next book. (I have a copy of Saltation and will be starting it an a day or two.) But even if it isn't, I won't be very unhappy.

I really enjoyed Fledgling and it has confirmed my desire to reread the entire Liaden series, as I've only read it all once. I'm quite, quite sure these are books that only grow richer with rereading.

Sharon Lee and Steve Miller 
Liaden Universe®, Book 12 (in my own personal reading order)
Read: 11-5-10 to 18-5-10

Liaden Universe® (in my own personal reading order)

  1. Local Custom
  2. Scout’s Progress (Goodreads link)
  3. Mouse and Dragon (Goodreads link)
  4. Conflict of Honors (Goodreads link)
  5. Agent of Change (Goodreads link)
  6. Carpe Diem (Goodreads link)
  7. Plan B (Goodreads link)
  8. I Dare (Goodreads link)
  9. Crystal Soldier (Goodreads link)
  10. Crystal Dragon (Goodreads link)
  11. Balance of Trade (Goodreads link) 
  12. Fledgling
  13. Saltation (Goodreads link)
  14. Liaden Unibus I (Goodreads link)
  15. Liaden Unibus II (Goodreads link)
  16. Ghost Ship (due 2011)

The Tender Leaves by Essie Summers

Summers, Essie - The Tender Leaves Maria was curious about the father she had never known, so it was luck when Mrs. Jensen offered to pay her fare to New Zealand for looking after her. Maria could have done without Mrs. Jensen's disapproving nephew, Struan, or could she?

I don't know that this is the first romance I ever read, but it's certainly one of the early ones. I know I was attracted to it because it was set in New Zealand and written by a New Zealand author. Such things are easier to find these days, but weren't so much back when I was a teenager. I went on to read other Essie Summer books, again because they were set in New Zealand, but this one always remained my favourite.

So when I saw it for sale used a month or two back, I bought it, mostly for nostalgia's sake. I had no idea if it would stand the test of time or not, but I remembered it with pleasure so I decided to take the chance.

I've been very tired this last week and wanted a simple, gentle read, so I decided it was time for The Tender Leaves.

I'm pleased to say that it does stand up on a reread. I was enchanted by it all over again and enjoyed a book that featured my own country and indeed, a lifestyle that reminded me of what I know of my mother's childhood.

The book has a copyright date of 1980, but really the feel of it is more like something out of the sixties. My mother grew up on a New Zealand farm very like Heronshaw (although in the South Island and not in Hawkes Bay as in the book) and the feel of life fits more with her teens and twenties than mine. For example, the characters take a boat back to New Zealand from England for one thing, and that would have been more likely in the late sixties (indeed my parents did exactly that) than in the eighties. Plane travel was already the done thing by then and taking a cruise ship would have been a luxury few could afford.

The book is explicitly set in about 1980 as Johanna mentions the Napier earthquake (1931) as being half a century ago, but I still can't shake the feeling that the lifestyle it describes was fading by then. But I don't care in the least as it adds to the feel of the book, which is what I love about it.

My only other complaint is that Maria seems to be fairly dumb about figuring out some of the clues put before her. But I honestly don't know if that's because she is, or because this time I already knew the answers and what the clues really pointed towards. I think this is a book where a first read is a different experience than a reread because of this, but that's okay as the reader can enjoy both. It's a gentle mystery that resolves into a trope a rather like (I'm not sure what that says about me) but one that really can't be given away without changing the experience of the book, so I'm going to shut up about it now.

If you'd like a gentle, old fashioned and sweet romance, this is a book that provides it beautifully. And if you read it long ago, I can assure you that it stands up very nicely to a reread.

The Tender Leaves
Essie Summers 
Read: 18-5-10 to 22-5-10

Devil to Pay by Jeaniene Frost

Frost, Jeaniene - Devil to Pay Fall in love with the unpredictable and irresistible dukes (and one dog named Duke) of Four Dukes and a Devil. Join New York Times bestselling authors Cathy Maxwell, Jeaniene Frost, and Tracy Anne Warren, along with USA Today bestselling author Elaine Fox and RITA® Award winner Sophia Nash, for tales of noble danger and devilish desire.

I got my hands on this one to read the Jeanine Frost story "Devil to Pay". Being a completist, I wanted to read it before adding the next Cat and Bones book, Destined for an Early Grave to the TBR.

It's just a pleasant little story, with no effect on the major storylines, but I like the characters and Blake's determination not to let anyone else be hurt was very well done. There was a brief cameo from Cat and Bones and it was nice to see Mencheres again, especially now his own book is out and on my wishlist.

As I said, just a pleasant little story and not necessary for the novels, but if you like to do everything in order like I do, it's worth the read.

Devil to Pay
Jeaniene Frost
A story in the Night Huntress world
Read: 21-5-10 to 22-5-10

Night Huntress

  1. Halfway to the Grave 
  2. One Foot in the Grave
  3. At Grave’s End (Goodreads link)
  4. Destined for an Early Grave (Goodreads link)

Night Huntress World

  1. First Drop of Crimson (Goodreads link)
  2. Eternal Kiss of Darkness (Goodreads link)

Doctor Who: The Writer’s Tale (The Final Chapter) by Russell T. Davies and Benjamin Cook

Davies, Russell T. and Cook, Benjamin - Doctor Who The Writer's Tale (The Final Chapter) I loved the first half of this book when I read it (before the second half was added for the reprint), but this time I just wasn't in the mood.

I wonder if it was because the new series has started and we have a new Doctor now and all this fussing about the old Doctor didn't seem so to-the-point.

Or maybe I've just had enough of the ups and downs of RTD now I'm watching Stephen Moffat.

Or maybe I'm just in a reading slump, which my lack of reading any other books right now does seem to suggest.

Anyway, I find I don't really want to keep reading.

All the same, I highly recommend the book, as I loved it the first time I read it, so check out that review instead of this one.

Doctor Who: The Writer’s Tale (The Final Chapter)
Russell T. Davies and Benjamin Cook
Read: 29-5-10 to 14-6-10

Local Custom by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller

Lee, Sharon and Miller, Steve - Liaden 05 - Local Custom (1) Each person shall provide his clan of origin with a child of his blood, who will be raised by the clan and belong to the clan. And this shall be Law for every person of every clan . . .

Master trader Er Thorn knows the local custom of Liaden is to be matched with a proper bride, and provide his prominent clan Korval with an heir. Yet his heart is immersed in another universe, influenced by another culture, and lost to a woman not of his world. And to take a Terran wife such as scholar Anne Davis is to risk his honor and reputation. But when he discovers that their brief encounter years before has resulted in the birth of a child, even more is at stake than anyone imagined. Now, an interstellar scandal has erupted, a bitter war between two families—galaxies apart—has begun, and the only hope for Er Thorn and Anne is a sacrifice neither is prepared to make . . .

A totally lovely reread of a series that has been a keeper ever since a friend introduced me to it. I moved to hardcover with the series and eagerly await new books.

I decided to go in chronological order for my reread and I found myself wondering if this would be the best way for a new reader to go. There were parts where I found myself harking back to what I could remember of the later books (which were, in fact, written first). It'll be interested to see what I think when I get up to the ones that were written first.

I have taken copious notes (does anyone know how to get the annotations I've put on a Stanza ebook back off the phone to save for future reference?) mostly on things I think might be important later. Doing this, does make me feel like I've taken the entirety of the book on board this time, which I don't think I did on a first reading where I was eager to see where the story went. These are definitely books that need to be reread.

I could see some of the romance tropes the authors choose to use in their SF book - mostly the "big misunderstanding" where the hero and heroine are at odds over something that could be solved with a conversation. The difference here is that Lee and Miller had it work by introducing the differing "local customs" of Liad and Terra, so even when Er Thom and Anne thought they were communicating, they were sometimes at cross purposes without knowing it because of their different base points of understanding. This is a major part of the book - it is its title after all - and I think it is done well. As is the resolution, when finally, each works out that they had taken the other's words according to their own meaning and takes the time to work out what the other had meant according to that other's own understanding.

I am really enjoying rereading the series, and I look forward to picking up Scout's Progress after a break reading something else. The random number generator picked Melanie Rawn's Dragon Prince, so I'll give that a try tomorrow morning.

Local Custom
Sharon Lee and Steve Miller 
Liaden Universe®, Book 1 (in my own personal reading order)
Read: 6-6-10 to 15-6-10

Liaden Universe® (in my own personal reading order)

  1. Local Custom
  2. Scout’s Progress (Goodreads link)
  3. Mouse and Dragon (Goodreads link)
  4. Conflict of Honors (Goodreads link)
  5. Agent of Change (Goodreads link)
  6. Carpe Diem (Goodreads link)
  7. Plan B (Goodreads link)
  8. I Dare (Goodreads link)
  9. Crystal Soldier (Goodreads link)
  10. Crystal Dragon (Goodreads link) 
  11. Balance of Trade (Goodreads link)
  12. Fledgling
  13. Saltation (Goodreads link)
  14. Liaden Unibus I (Goodreads link)
  15. Liaden Unibus II (Goodreads link) 
  16. Ghost Ship (due 2011)

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi

Satrapi, Marjane - Persepolis Originally published to wide critical acclaim in France, where it elicited comparisons to Art Spiegelman's Maus, Persepolis is Marjane Satrapi's wise, funny, and heartbreaking memoir of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. In powerful black-and-white comic strip images, Satrapi tells the story of her life in Tehran from ages six to fourteen, years that saw the overthrow of the Shah's regime, the triumph of the Islamic Revolution, and the devastating effects of war with Iraq. The intelligent and outspoken only child of committed Marxists and the great-granddaughter of one of Iran's last emperors, Marjane bears witness to a childhood uniquely entwined with the history of her country.

Persepolis paints an unforgettable portrait of daily life in Iran: of the bewildering contradictions between home life and public life and of the enormous toll repressive regimes exact on the individual spirit. Marjane’s child's-eye-view of dethroned emperors, state-sanctioned whippings, and heroes of the revolution allows us to learn as she does the history of this fascinating country and of her own extraordinary family. Intensely personal, profoundly political, and wholly original, Persepolis is at once a story of growing up and a stunning reminder of the human cost of war and political repression. It shows how we carry on, through laughter and tears, in the face of absurdity. And, finally, it introduces us to an irresistible little girl with whom we cannot help but fall in love.

I'd seen a lot of mentions of this book (and its follow-up) on blogs. While I never went out to look for it, it did remain in the back of my mind.

While in the library today I saw it on a display stand and immediately picked it up. My mother is visiting and I thought it was something that would appeal to her, so I figured that even if I didn't read it, she might.

In fact, I picked it up not long after we got home and sat there until I finished it. I have already put a library hold on the second book.
This is a fascinating read about Satrapi's childhood in Iran at the time of the revolution. We follow the author from childhood (I'm not sure how old she is at the start) through the revolution and the Iran/Iraq war until she is fourteen and her parents send her to Austria to get her out of Iran.

It was fascinating to see the lives of Iranians who seemed to have very similar notions to my own, adjusting to the strict post-Shah atmosphere of Iran. Satrapi grows into a typical teenager interested in pop music and clothes, in a society where such things are forbidden. For some reason the scene that most showed it for me was the one where her mother warned her about painting her nails and she insisted she would keep her hands in her pockets.

As someone who knows nothing beyond popular knowledge of the Iranian revolution, I found it ironic that the same people who knew enough to support the revolution against the Shah, were the same ones to recognise the oppression of the new regime and to be opposed to that as well. Satrapi's parents and relatives were some of these.

I know I haven't given this a hugely high score, and I'm not even quite sure why as I tend to rate by gut feeling. I think it was mostly because it didn't feel finished, stopping abruptly as Satrapi left Iran (although I realise that this is non-fiction rather than fiction, meaning things don't always wrap up neatly) and because the graphic novel is a medium I struggle with.

All the same, I agree with others who have described this as an important work and I highly recommend reading it.

Persopolis: The Story of a Childhood
Marjane Satrapi 
Persopolis, Book 1
Read: 15-7-10 to 15-7-10


  1. Persopolis: The Story of a Childhood
  2. Persopolis 2: The Story of a Return (Goodreads link)

The Deadly Dinner Party by Dr Jonathan A. Edlow

Edlow, Jonathan A. - The Deadly Dinner Party Picking up where Berton Roueché’s The Medical Detectives left off, The Deadly Dinner Party presents fifteen edge-of-your-seat, real-life medical detective stories written by a practicing physician. Award-winning author Jonathan Edlow, M.D., shows the doctor as detective and the epidemiologist as elite sleuth in stories that are as gripping as the best thrillers.

In these stories a notorious stomach bug turns a suburban dinner party into a disaster that almost claims its host; a diminutive woman routinely eats more than her football-playing boyfriend but continually loses weight; a young executive is diagnosed with lung cancer, yet the tumors seem to wax and wane inexplicably. Written for the lay person who wishes to better grasp how doctors decipher the myriad clues and puzzling symptoms they often encounter, each story presents a very different case where doctors must work to find the accurate diagnosis before it is too late. Edlow uses his unique ability to relate complex medical concepts in a writing style that is clear, engaging and easily understandable. The resulting stories both entertain us and teach us much about medicine, its history and the subtle interactions among pathogens, humans, and the environment.

I found this in the library by chance. I like a scientific/medical mystery book of this kind, so I brought it home.

While the case studies were interesting, the writing did, on the whole, let the book down. The author had a tendency to outline the problems, hint or explain the issue quickly and then diverge into a history lesson about the bacterium/condition/additive/whatever in question before finally finishing up conclusion of the case study and final outcome.

For me, it just flattened everything, and the mystery and resolution thereof got seriously bogged down in everything else. It's not that I don't want to know the history of the condition, but the way it was done in this book didn't work for me.

The information was interesting, but it wasn't exactly a stimulating read. Not bad, but certainly not amazing either. But a short read and a nice break from the epic fantasy I've been reading lately.

The Deadly Dinner Party
Dr Jonathan A. Edlow
Read: 15-7-10 to 16-7-10

Dragon Prince by Melanie Rawn

Rawn, Melanie - Dragon Prince 01 - Dragon Prince Melanie Rawn's best-selling debut is a novel of love and war, magic and madness, and deadly dangerous dragons that hold the secret to unimaginable wealth that could prove key to mutual peace-or a bloody tyrant's reign. And among it all, an idealistic young ruler struggles to civilize a culture that understands the strength of the sword-but has yet to discover the true power of knowledge.

It's gone slowly, but I really enjoyed rereading Melanie Rawn's Dragon Prince. I loved meeting the characters all over again and watching them find their feet and change their world. In many ways, it's a relatively simple story (certainly not as complicated as the later volumes in the series or Rawn's truly complicated - but excellent - Exiles series), but a most enjoyable one.

It shows it's age a little bit, mostly in that some of the themes probably wouldn't be treated the same way today (mostly Rohan's pain in trying to be "civilised" and finding himself a "barbarian" underneath). But all in all, it was still a very enjoyable read and I hope to find the time to go back to the rest of the series before too long.

Dragon Prince
Melanie Rawn 
Dragon Prince, Book 1
Read: 15-6-10 to 23-7-10

Dragon Prince

  1. Dragon Prince
  2. The Star Scroll (Goodreads link)
  3. Sunrunner’s Fire (Goodreads link)

The Fire King by Marjorie M. Liu

Liu, Marjorie M. - Dirk and Steele 09 - The Fire King Long ago, shape-shifters were plentiful, soaring through the sky as crows, racing across African veldts as cheetahs, raging furious as dragons atop the Himalayas. Like gods, they reigned supreme. But even gods have laws, and those laws, when broken, destroy.

Zoufalství. Epätoivo. Asa. Three words in three very different languages, and yet Soria understands. Like all members of Dirk & Steele, she has a gift, and hers is communication. When she is chosen to learn the dead language of a shape-shifter resurrected after thousands of years of icy sleep, she discovers a warrior consumed with fury.

Strong as a lion, quick as a serpent—Karr is his name, and in his day he was king. But he is a son of strife, a creature of tragedy. As fire consumed all he loved, so death was to be his atonement. Now, against his will, he has awoken. Zoufalství. Epätoivo. Asa. In English, the word is despair. But Soria knows the words for love.

I haven't been in the mood for romance lately, or at least, not the genre version, but I wanted something different as a break from The Curse of the Mistwraith and this is the one that caught my eye.
I've been reading Marjorie M. Liu's Dirk and Steele series from the beginning, but I was starting to lose track of what had gone before and who was who, so I didn't immediately buy this one when it came out. Then I discovered that it, and all the previous books, were finally available as ebooks. That pretty much made the decision for me, I purchased it and (surprise, surprise) it immediately sat in the TBR list as my books usually do.

It had a lot of good reviews when it came out, so I was rather looking forward to reading it.

I'm very glad I did. This was an excellent addition to the series. There wasn't too much baggage from earlier books, meaning I could get on with enjoying the story here without worrying too much about what had happened before. There was one recurring character that I don't remember much about (Robert), but since I know he's still a mystery to everyone else, it didn't matter at all that he was also a mystery to me. All the same, I hope he gets his own book one day and we finally find out what his story is.

I loved Soria and Karr. Both were well-rounded with good, solid back stories and it was lovely seeing them get to know each other. Their interaction was lovely.

I really liked the way Karr walked most easily in his chimera shape rather than staying in human form - something that fitted with his history as well as his personality - and the way Soria took that in her stride and accepted it as part of him. So often with shape shifter stories the shifter spends most of his/her time in human form and the animal shape is only used in particular or extraordinary circumstances. Karr was equally human, lion and dragon and he embraced all of them rather than trying to fit the human norm. Of course, that was easier when he was originally alive and it will be interesting to see what happens in the future now he wants to live in the modern world with Soria.

I also particularly liked that Liu chose to make what had happened when Soria lost her arm not be something paranormal. So often in a paranormal book, everything ends up tying back to the character's abilities and the plot of the book. Here, this is not the case, and it was a refreshing change. What happened to her had a huge effect on her and was a major factor in why she ended up in the place she did with Karr and therefore was every important, but I really liked that it was separate from anything to do with Dirk and Steele.

We saw progress for Eddie, who suffered a major, um, "setback" in the earlier book, The Last Twilight. While I don't remember all the details of that, we were given enough for this story, which was all that was needed. It will be interesting to see what we learn about him next - and if Evie sticks around.

Eddie and his choices at the end of the book act as a stark contrast to what Roland does (or rather doesn't do) both in this book and earlier when Soria was hurt. He doesn't come across particularly well here, but I suspect there is more to things than we have learned so far. I will be interested to see if Roland ends up getting a book of his own and what we will discover then. He's certainly not past the point of no return, but he's got some work to do to beat his own demons. I rather think I'd like to see him do it. But he sure owes Soria for past behaviour.

It was also a nice touch that, while his is clearly a romance, it actually contains no explicit sex. While I have nothing at all against a good sex scene, it can be annoying when over-the-top attraction, lust and sex take over from the story. If I have to choose, I'll take a good
story over a sex scene any day. In The Fire King, Liu focuses on the story and the development of the relationship between Soria and Karr, rather than just lust. That's a win in my book.

The existence of the chimera also answers an interesting question about the shapeshifters in this universe that, I must admit, I had never thought to ask. But it's a good one, and I'm glad Liu brought it into the series. It will be interesting to see what happens between the shifters and the chimera in the future.

I'm really glad I did stick with this series. This was an excellent story with really enjoyable characters and I find myself really looking forward to the next one.

The Fire King
Marjorie M. Liu 
Dirk and Steele, Book 9
Read: 22-7-10 to 26-7-10

Dirk and Steele

  1. Tiger Eye (Goodreads link)
  2. Shadow Touch (Goodreads link)
  3. The Red Heart of Jade (Goodreads link)
  4. A Dream of Stone and Shadow in Dark Dreamers (Goodreads link)
  5. Eye of Heaven (Goodreads link)
  6. Soul Song
  7. The Last Twilight
  8. The Wild Road (Goodreads link)
  9. The Fire King