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Jessica Strider (Toronto, Canada)

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by Emma Pass
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 14.43
32 used & new from CDN$ 10.43

4.0 out of 5 stars A quick paced book with some very tense moments., Dec 9 2014
This review is from: ACID (Hardcover)
Pros: quick paced, interesting protagonist, several plot twists, minor romantic elements

Cons: elements of the ending were problematic

For Parents: kissing, violence, nothing graphic

Seventeen year old Jenna Strong has spent the last 2 years in prison for the murder of her parents, agents of ACID (Agency for Crime Investigation and Defense), because she didn’t like the boy they’d picked to be her LifePartner. Sprung by a mysterious organization for reasons she doesn’t understand, her life outside quickly goes downhill.

Jenna’s an interesting character in that she’s sympathetic for readers, but apparently quite prickly to people around her in the book. She’s standoffish and quickly alienates several of the people trying to help her, though in her defense, she’s given little reason to trust the people helping her. She’s pretty street smart, though she does make some decisions that cause her serious problems.

While I saw a few plot twists coming the book goes in a lot of directions I did not anticipate, making it a fun book to read.

There are minor romantic elements that enhance what’s happening with Jenna without becoming the focus of the story. And while there is some kissing, there’s no other sexual content.

There’s a variety of violence in the book (which involves some prison scenes, an interrogation, bombing and more) nothing is graphically described.

Part of the ending required Jenna to be an angry teen who doesn’t care that the adults around her know more about what’s happening than she does and are better prepared than she is, just that they’re not doing what she wants, which was kind of annoying. It also depended on an adult making some very stupid decisions, which I questioned while I was reading. Having said that, I did like the ultimate resolution.

It’s a quick paced book with some very tense moments.

The Third Horseman: Climate Change and the Great Famine of the 14th Century
The Third Horseman: Climate Change and the Great Famine of the 14th Century
by William Rosen
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 20.69
23 used & new from CDN$ 19.84

4.0 out of 5 stars War, Famine and Pestilence at their worst, Dec 5 2014
Pros: lots of information, political components told like a story with digressions on economics, weather, etc.,

Cons: I personally found the weather talk - though essential to the subject of the book - dryly told and boringly technical

This is an examination of the effects of the end of the medieval warm period during the reign of King Edward II of England. The book gives some background into the population explosion and increased farming that took place during the 400 hundred years when Europe experienced warmer temperatures (including the Viking expansion into Greenland), before delving into the political trials England faced at the time. Much of the book is given over to the war between England and Scotland and how it affected politics (Scotland allied with France at times to force England to back off) and economics (Scotland raided the English border over and over again, forcing the king to raise armies, draining his coffers). Two chapters - of particular interest to me - detailed the effects of the wet, cold weather on crops and the diseases that accompanied the resulting famines, decimating herds across England and the Continent.

While I found some of the weather discourse too technical and therefore boring, the rest of the book was very readable and fascinating.

If you’re interested in how politics and the weather can combine to created a famine, and what else famine brings with it, this is a great book. Similarly, if the politics of England and Scotland or the lives and times of Edward the first and, predominantly the second, interest you, then definitely give this book a go.

Thor: The Viking God of Thunder (Myths and Legends)
Thor: The Viking God of Thunder (Myths and Legends)
Price: CDN$ 9.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent rundown of Thor in Norse Mythology, Dec 2 2014
Pros: thorough, entertaining, educational, lots of illustrations

Cons: mentions religious reconstruction using archaeology but doesn’t give much information about what’s been discovered, drawings of some Viking artefacts rather than photographs

This is a great introduction to Norse mythology on the whole and an excellent one if you’re interested in Thor in particular. There’s a one page rundown of important characters and another with places. The source materials of the myths are briefly discussed, specifically the Poetic and Prose Edda, and during the retellings the author often pauses to explain cultural and situational material necessary for understanding what’s going on.

The stories themselves are quite entertaining, though while Thor’s exploits against the giants are referred to, there’s little description of those battles.

There are a good number of newly commissioned and older artworks illustrating the stories. I would have liked to see some photographs of archaeological finds rather than drawings though.

The author mentions that the sources are light when it comes to how the Norse gods were worshiped but that archaeology has started shedding light on this issue, but doesn’t mention any of the finds or what we’ve learned about their religious practices from them. The author does, however, mention information about religious practices that have survived in written form (eg. Tacitus).

The final chapter deals with how myths of Thor have been used in modern times, like how they were co-opted by the Nazi party when trying to create a sense of nationalism for Germany after World War I. It also goes into Thor’s portrayal in comics and movies.

If you don’t know much about Norse mythology or Thor, this is an excellent book to get you up to speed.

The Genome: A Novel
The Genome: A Novel
by Sergei Lukyanenko
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 16.19
8 used & new from CDN$ 16.19

3.0 out of 5 stars Glad I read it, not sure I'd read it again., Dec 2 2014
This review is from: The Genome: A Novel (Paperback)
Pros: interesting & diverse characters, solid world-building, some thought provoking philosophy

Cons: several highly disturbing (though not graphic) scenes, Lolita style relationship

Five months after a devastating accident that physically cut him in half, Alexander Romanov is released from the hospital. With little money and no plans, he encounters a young girl nearing her spesh metamorphosis and - due to the programming inherent in his pilot spesh - has to help her out. He takes a job as a ship captain to help pay for the treatment she needs and, once she’s done her metamorphosis, assembles a crew for an unknown mission.

The book is split into three sections. The first section introduces the characters, the second deals with the fallout of discovering their mission, and the third revolves around a mystery. While I really enjoyed the first two parts, the third got irritating as two of the characters claim to have solved the mystery but refuse to explain what happened, presumably so the reader has time to put the clues together. It felt artificial, though there is a reason given for their delay in the text. The resolution was interesting as it referred back to several of the philosophical questions the book as a whole posed.

The world-building in this book is solid. There are four groups at play: 1. Natural, unmodified humans 2. Speshs, people whose parents decide before birth what specialized job their child should have, and are then genetically modified physically and psychologically to do the work and enjoy it. 3. Clones. And 4. the Others, several alien races that have interactions with humans. You’ll also encounter human politics, with a child Emperor, various religions (and religious extremism), numerous branches of racism, etc. Different planets have different specialties, atmospheres, and customs, while travel between planets is done using hyper-tunnels and takes a surprisingly short amount of time.

For the most part I liked all the characters, at the beginning at least. The captain’s a great POV character. I love his demon tattoo (and what it does for him), and the way he analyses his world, questioning the way things are, even when he’s ok with the way things are. Kim’s a great character, though I did have issues with her… relationship with the captain (and others, as her being 14 and having sex with people significantly older wasn’t something I’m comfortable with, even if the characters - for the most part - considered it normal, or at least, not unusual). Her specializations made her self-assured, despite her lack of experience. Janet was my favourite character until the half-way point when her upbringing came to the fore. I liked that she’d taken charge of her life, getting several specializations and was willing to be a mentor for Kim.

The one character I didn’t much like was Puck. His antagonistic attitude and desire to prove that a natural human could be just as good as a spesh made him kind of irritating. I did, however, appreciate that he was gay and that his being natural showed off the prejudices of his crewmates.

This is a book that makes you think, though some of the scenes that open the way to philosophical discussion are disturbing to say the least. While nothing’s particularly graphic there are mentions of rape, slavery, and war. I could easily see this being put on university reading lists and/or used for book clubs, as there are some very interesting essay and discussion topics brought up, particularly around genetic modifications and freedom. So, for example, as disturbing as I found the hunting scene, I did appreciate the questions about class, ethics and humanity that the captain ruminated on that arose from it.

In addition to her relationships, I had a few issues with what happened to Kim at the end of the book.

I’m not sure I would want to read it again, but it was an interesting, if somewhat uncomfortable, book to read.

by Tina Connolly
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 6.80

4.0 out of 5 stars A fun fantasy retelling of Jane Eyre, Nov. 24 2014
This review is from: Ironskin (Paperback)
Pros: interesting world-building, great protagonist

Cons: banter between Jane and Rochart didn’t quite match Jane and Rochester

Jane Eliot has worn an iron mask over half of her face since the end of the fae war 5 years ago, when she was cursed with rage. The mask keeps the rage at bay, but marks her as an ironskin, a reminder of worse times, and shunned by society. Upon the engagement of her sister to an aristocrat greatly above their station, she takes a post as governess to a young girl who’s… different. Jane believes she knows how to reach the child, but Dorie is not an ironskin like Jane. And as Jane starts to fall for her brooding new master, she wonders if she’s the right person to help Dorie after all.

This is a fantasy retelling of Jane Eyre. But while the plot remains largely the same, there are a lot of major and minor differences. At times when she diverges from Jane Eyre, Connolly writes in a nod to the original. For example, Jane in this one never went to a boarding school, but she did teach at one and comments that she’s glad she never had to attend it, given the horrible conditions the girls faced. The ending is noticeably different, so don’t think that having read Jane Eyre will preclude your enjoying this book or remove all the plot surprises.

I really enjoyed the fae aspects of the book, from the war to the curse to learning about the dwarvven and their interactions with the fae. I liked that the fae had understandable reasons for the war (that you discover at the end of the book). And I liked that the book kept much of the traditional view of fairy stories (the Irish and Welsh versions where someone who know someone was kidnapped by the fairies and later returned), rather than modern literary fairy tales.

Jane, as with her namesake, was a great protagonist. Though young she’s determined and hard working, stubborn and loving. I didn’t feel the same connection between her and Rochart as I did between Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester, their banter not hitting quite the same notes, but the relationship did grow naturally over time, which I appreciated. Their ending surprised me as things got pretty bleak fast and I wasn’t sure how the author would be able to resolve things.

One of the main divergences from the original is the fact that Jane has a living sister with whom she has a complicated relationship. Both of them envy and resent things about the other. It was nice to see how things developed between them as well as Jane’s relationships with the other female members of the staff.

This is the start of a series and I’m curious to see where the author will take things, as book two is from her sister’s point of view.

The Mirror Empire: Worldbreaker Saga 1
The Mirror Empire: Worldbreaker Saga 1
by Kameron Hurley
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 12.26
28 used & new from CDN$ 10.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I loved some things and disliked others, but worth the read, Nov. 11 2014
Pros: lots of political intrigue, culturally diverse, brilliant world-building, interesting story

Cons: some issues with genders, several protagonists became unlikeable

The dark star of Oma is rising, infusing power into blood magics that were lost for 2000 years. Dhai on a dying world use that power to form gates to a mirror world they wish to conquer, one like theirs but where history went in a different direction, leaving the Dhai pacifists among more warlike neighbours. But not everyone wants to see their reflections on this new world enslaved, and as more and more people on the imperilled world learn what’s happening, they start fighting back.

There’s a lot going on here and a ton of characters to keep track of, many of whom have similar sounding names. There is a glossary of characters and terms at the back to help you if you forget who someone is. The different nations are all distinct, with vastly different governments, attitudes, cultures, and languages. It was fascinating reading about how each nation dealt with different problems.

The politics of the different nations, and how they interacted, was fascinating. I enjoyed how Hurley brought in past battles and showed that various nations’ wars helped shape the current political climate.

There were a wide variety of characters the story followed (several men and women at different levels of power and skintone). I started off liking most of them, though some of their choices as the book continued made me less sympathetic towards them. In a few cases I ended up respecting what they achieved, even if I didn’t much like them as people anymore.

The magic system of drawing power from stars/satellites, was pretty cool. I liked how that contrasted the satellite plus blood combination necessary for calling on Oma. The deadly flora of the world was also cool to read about.

I did have some issues with the world building, mostly with how gender was used/defined. The Dhai, we are told, use five genders: female-assertive, female-passive, male-assertive, male-passive, and ungendered. I couldn’t understand how being passive vs assertive changed your gender. I understand that you can have a linguistic marker of politeness or class (Japanese uses different pronouns to denote this), but again, how does it change gender? That leaves 3 genders, which is what the Saiduan use, denoting male, female, and ataisa. Why then does Roh, a Dhai, have trouble understanding which pronoun to use for the ataisa when his language has something similar (ungendered)? Yes, the two languages use different words (ze vs hir), but that’s a linguistic difference, not, necessarily a gender difference. I was left wondering if the ataisa and ungendered were in fact different genders, rather than different words for the same ‘doesn’t fit into male or female’ category.

I also disliked how the genders in Dorinah are basically swapped. Women are larger, stronger, better educated, assertive, domineering etc. than men. Men, meanwhile, are only around as possessions, useful for status, sex, and children. They’re weaker and powerless over their own lives, fully submissive to the women who own them (their mothers and wives). I was ok with the idea of gender swapping the country (making it matriarchal), but when you give the men all the stereotypical characteristics of women and all the women the stereotypical characteristics of men, you’re basically saying that traditionally female attributes are weak/useless and male ones are strong/worthwhile. Rather than pitying Anavha, Zezili’s husband, I found myself reviling him, and felt bad about it considering he’s basically a stand in for an 18th century British woman (stereotypically speaking, of course).

I did enjoy the sexual politics of the different countries, how many husbands/wives different groups had and whether that was a matter of status or openness of their cultures. Seeing the Dhai culture’s openness with regards to loving both genders freely was also refreshing. I’d have like to learn more of how the Dhai deal with marriages, as I imagine genealogies would be hard to track with multiple husbands and wives in the same marriage (and an openness to affairs), as would preventing incest (assuming that’s not allowed there, which isn’t a given, considering Ahkio and Liaro are cousins).

Lilia’s actions towards the end of the book felt rushed. While much of the book took time to thoroughly develop things, Lilia manages to take several important actions with little preparation or training, which didn’t seem as realistic as what happened earlier.

This was a slower read for me, mainly because so much was happening. I needed to take my time with the book in order to keep track of everything. It had some things I loved, some things I liked and some things that irritated me. On the whole, it’s a fascinating story with some great in depth world-building and some intricate real world style politics. I’ll be curious to see what happens next.

Ancillary Sword
Ancillary Sword
by Ann Leckie
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.00
25 used & new from CDN$ 10.08

4.0 out of 5 stars A great book, Nov. 4 2014
This review is from: Ancillary Sword (Paperback)
Pros: fascinating characters, interesting narrative approach, develops new world-building aspects

Cons: character driven

A week after the events of Ancillary Justice, Breq, now fleet captain and assigned to Mercy of Kalr, departs on Anaander Mianaai’s orders to Athoek to make sure the system stays safe. In addition to her experienced lieutenants, Seivarden and Ekalu (of the Kalr), she has a new 17 year old one, Tisarwat, to train. Once they arrive at the station, they find a suspicious captain, disturbed by the lack of communication after the attack on Omaugh Palace and the destruction of several gates, racial tensions, and minor issues covering larger problems that need to be addressed.

As with the first book, the real aspect of interest is in how Breq sees the world. You don’t get flash backs to when she was Justice of Toren, though that’s often in her thoughts, instead you get her trying to keep up with frequent run downs of the sort of information she would have have had instantaneously as a ship, sent to her by her ship, Mercy of Kalr. It’s an interesting way of seeing things, and allows Breq to pretend she’s still one part of a larger whole while also being a narrative means of showing the reader what’s happening in places outside Breq’s physical sphere. There is a plot, but in many ways this feels like a character driven novel because Breq’s presence is so overpowering. If you don’t like her unique way of seeing the world, you won’t enjoy this book.

Breq comes across as a tough as nails captain. Sometimes she’s too tough, pushing her crew beyond what she should, something I suspected would eventually cause her problems, but her extensive experience means she’s able to pull back at just the right moment. Even knowing what Breq was trying to do, I thought she was too hard on Tisarwat at times. Not only had the lieutenant been through a traumatic experience with little recovery time, she’s given little to no positive reinforcement when she does things right. So while Tisarwat was an interesting character, seeing her through Breq’s eyes made her less sympathetic than she probably deserved to be. It was fun seeing her grow up and mature.

I was a little surprised at the number of secrets she kept from her crew, her true identity as Justice of Toren and what happened with Tisarwat being the main ones, but it does make sense that the crew might balk at such things, so keeping them secret probably made sense.

There’s more information about how the military works and there’s a unique supporting cast. I enjoyed learning more about the military and political politics, both between the ships but also how it applies to a station and planet once they get to Athoek. I’m hoping we learn more about the Presger in the next book. What little was revealed here merely whet the appetite.

Waistcoats & Weaponry
Waistcoats & Weaponry
by Gail Carriger
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 14.44
19 used & new from CDN$ 12.29

4.0 out of 5 stars Part 3 of a Really Fun Series, Nov. 4 2014
This review is from: Waistcoats & Weaponry (Hardcover)
Pros: fun, quirky characters

Cons: more action than plot

Sophronia and her friends are enjoying school a year after their last adventure when Sidheag receives a distressing letter. She disappears and when Dimity and Sophronia attend Sophronia’s brother’s engagement ball, they rejoin her and stumble upon several plots.

This is the third book in the Finishing School series, and it is best read in order as plot points from the previous books, specifically several direct consequences from book two, are important to what’s happening here.

As with the other books, the girls are all quirky and fun to read about. We see them apply their talents in different ways as they rise to the challenges they face. The book is a quick and enjoyable read.

Unlike in the earlier books where the girls come across something strange and decide to investigate it, actively looking for new clues, in this volume they’re helping their friend and stumble across the mystery purely by chance. They find out more of what’s going on in the wider political world and several of them have to make decisions that will greatly affect their futures.

Sophronia has several major decisions to make in this book regarding her future: whether she likes Felix Mersey, whose father is a pickleman (a political position Sophronia abhors) enough to form an attachment with him; what kind of future relationship she wants with Soap, whose social standing is far beneath hers but whose advice and friendship she greatly appreciates; and what patron she wants when she graduates, as Lord Akeldama’s been sending her gifts in an attempt to sway her in his direction.

I personally found the action on the train less interesting than what happened before it. I love the school and the dynamic there, and was a bit sad that so much of the book took place off of it. Having said that, the train did show off the girls’ prowess and contained some fun action sequences.

I’m really looking forward to book 4, Manners & Mutiny, which I believe will conclude the series.

Of Bone and Thunder: A Novel
Of Bone and Thunder: A Novel
by Chris Evans
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 20.38
26 used & new from CDN$ 15.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A tough but educational read, Oct. 20 2014
Pros: real war feel, lots of slang and specialized vocabulary, superb world-building, varied characters

Cons: tough read, slow beginning

Join the Kingdom’s ‘finest’ as they fight to keep their colony, Luitox, free from the Forest Collective. But the FnC are hard to fight, hiding deep in the jungle and, though their arrows snipe the troops, they’re never there when the troops arrive. Manned dragons fly overhead, ferrying troops and flaming suspected hotspots. Some newly freed dwarves have enlisted but still bear hatred for their former slavers. New technologies are invented as soldiers face a mostly faceless enemy. The army must deal with privations and problems galore, even as the war finally rushes towards a conclusion.

This is a fantasy retelling of the Vietnam war. I don’t know much about the war, but this makes me want to learn more. If even a portion of what happens in this book is true it was a truly horrific event. The book touches on all sorts of issues - racism, demonizing the enemy, lack of communication, the incorporation of new and barely understood technology, the horrors of battle, losing friends, those back home not understanding the realities of what’s happening, and more.

It’s a difficult read in that no punches are pulled. War isn’t noble or heroic, it’s dirty, full of pain and desperation. You’ll be seeing blood, puke and all other bodily fluids. Don’t get too attached to any of the characters as the ones that make it to the end do so greatly changed by their experiences.

There’s a fair amount of slang to master, but aside from ‘rag’, short for dragon, which took me a while to figure out as there was no context for it the first time it was used, I picked it up pretty fast. The book jumps ahead frequently, allowing it to cover more time and give a broader look at the perceptions and realities of the war. You’re also getting several points of view: a grunt soldier, two thaums (a cross between a magic worker and a scientist), a dragon rider, people in different levels of command, a journalist, etc. This also helps give a more varied view of the war.

The opening is a bit slow. There’s an atmospheric prologue and some scenes with soldiers followed by a chapter that consists of a much needed info dump that explains the purpose of the war. Things pick up fast though and draw you into the lives of the characters.

It’s a compelling read, and sometimes its easier to come to grips with the horrors of reality when they’re presented as somewhat removed from it. History retelling aside, it’s a great book that will have you wishing that real wars were a thing of the past.

The Boost
The Boost
by Stephen Baker
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.17
26 used & new from CDN$ 5.36

4.0 out of 5 stars Asks some relevant questions about access to information vs privacy, Sept. 29 2014
This review is from: The Boost (Hardcover)
Pros: thought provoking premise, interesting characters, quick paced

Cons: some world-building and logistical issues

Ten days before the national update for the boost, networked supercomputers implanted in people’s brains, Ralf Alvare, a software engineer, finds himself on the run after learning about an open surveillance gate in the program that would allow companies direct access to people’s thoughts and memories. His own boost chip has been ripped out and, newly ‘wild’, he’s heading to see his brother in El Paso, across the border from the infamous drug lord run city of Juarez, where no one has boosts. But John Vallinger, a lobbyist whose spent years working towards this chip update, sends one of his men after Ralf, intent on stopping whatever resistance the programmer can create.

I thought the story was very interesting, with a lot of good questions being asked about privacy vs access to information. Would you put a chip in your head that allowed you to be smarter and access information anywhere, effortlessly, if it meant that someone could track your every move, see what you’re buying, etc.? Would having a brain implant that can affect your thoughts make things better or worse? In the book there’s an app that you can apply to make the tasteless protein they eat taste like anything you program in. There were some great scenes where Ellen, for the first time without the use of her boost, gets to taste actual food and experience other sensations without recourse to a fantasy cover for it. Her observations that some things are better natural while others are better in her imagination, were very interesting.

Ralf’s family’s drama was also pretty fun to read, with the stories getting deeper as more information is revealed. I also liked that his family provided a grounding in how different people reacted to the Boost. His dad rejected and fought against it, his mother helped bring it to the US but then regretted the role she played in making it a ubiquitous thing, his older brother constantly struggled to use it and he spent most of his time in it and is lost without it.

I wasn’t a big fan of Suzy. Though she was a member of the Democratic Movement, she seemed unaware of security issues despite the domestic terrorism she could be accused of and made some odd decisions towards the end of the book.

There’s a scene towards the end of the book that may cause trigger issues for some readers. Though mostly off page, the scene is violent but necessary for the plot and the person attacked is shown as capable of defending themself earlier on. There’s a bit of follow-up in the epilogue that briefly mentions some of the ethical issues surrounding what happened, which I thought was well done.

As for the world-building, I did question, while I was reading the book, the idea that once a chip is damaged or removed that’s it, there’s no fixing or replacing it. Considering the importance of the chips (you can’t pay for things or direct cars without one), and how easily brain injuries can occur that might damage chips, it seems like there should be some alternate options available.

After I finished the book a few other questions came to me about how the world worked. For example, while it’s clear that Juarez isn’t easy to get to or leave, it’s unclear if the Amish wild area is equally blocked off, and if not, how the people there trade with their non-wild neighbours. And does Juarez manufacture all of its needs or does it get a lot of goods through the black market? And if it depends on contraband, how do its citizens pay for it when they don’t have chips and their money is worthless outside their city? I was also surprised by how far money went in Juarez. I would have thought fresh, tasteful food would be harder to grow/raise than the manufactured tasteless food the non-wilds ate. It should therefore be more expensive as the market for things like spices would be non-existent outside of the wilds and are time consuming to make.

The book is told in third person present tense (eg: Ellen blinks her eyes open.), rather than the more common past tense. I personally found the jump between events narrated in past tense and the present tense of the main text jarring. Most readers probably won’t have a problem with it.

This is a quick, entertaining read, and despite the complaints I had with aspects of it, the questions it raises - about letting a government and corporations have control over what information you can access - are relevant ones for our current world.

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