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Jessica Strider (Toronto, Canada)

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The Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Fairy Tales
The Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Fairy Tales
by Franz Xaver von Schonwerth
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.87
15 used & new from CDN$ 13.70

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Some new fairy tales and familiar ones told differently make for a great collection, Feb. 24 2015
Pros: fun, wide variety, readable translation, interesting characters, informative introduction

Cons: commentary could have been more in depth

This is a collection consists of 72 of the lost tales Franz Xaver von Schönwerth recorded in the Eastern Bavarian region of Oberpfalz in the late 1850s. Rediscovered recently and translated into English, this collection allows modern readers more insight into the Germanic oral culture of what we now call fairy tales.

There’s a short forward by the historian who discovered the papers on how this volume came to be published. The translator of the collection, the chair of folklore and mythology at Harvard, does the introduction and commentary on each of the stories. The introduction explains where these stories fit with the other tales that have come down to us and points out that fairy tales morphed from stories told by and to adults into stories told more often by women (whether mothers or nannies) to children. Which is why there are so many princesses and female rags to riches stories, and so few such tales about boys. This book brings back several tales of ‘Cinderfellas’ and other disenfranchised young men. The commentaries, coming at the very end of the collection, mention the similarities between these tales and others we’re familiar with. There’s only room for a little explanation, so some of the commentaries are merely synopses while others have a bit more depth to them.

While some of the tales have morals and happy endings, several don’t have either, with some truly unscrupulous people getting away with horrible things and curses going unbroken. And since these were oral tales you can expect a lot of twists out of left field, where the stories turn on previously unmentioned characters and events.

The collection is separated into seven categories: Tales of Magic, Enchanted Animals, Otherworldly Creatures, Legends, Tall Tales and Anecdotes, and Tales About Nature. It’s a decent attempt to separate the stories, but the reality is that most of the stories can fit into several categories and that some stories with similar elements end up in different sections. There are a few with overly Christian themes (including some tales with the devil as the antagonist), and some with more ’pagan’ themes. There are a lot of dwarfs and witches/evil women, and a smaller number of elves, gnomes, mermaids and other fantastical creatures. And curses. Lots and lots of curses.

One story ended with a very modern idiom, which made me wonder what the original German said, but on the whole I thought the translation was great, immersive and entertaining.

The stories are only a few pages each and the collection as a whole is a quick and pleasant read. While most of these wouldn’t be considered ‘children’s stories’, they’re not overly bloody or ribaldrous. The collection is fantastic for the variety of tales told and for the ways they used the fairy tale tropes we’ve become familiar with.

by Claire North
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.18
15 used & new from CDN$ 18.18

4.0 out of 5 stars Action, mystery and SF elements, Feb. 24 2015
Ce commentaire est de: Touch (Hardcover)
Pros: fast paced, complex, interesting morally ambiguous characters, thought provoking, several international locales

Cons: took a while to get into

When Josephine Cebula is gunned down at Taksim station, the ghost riding her flesh jumps to a new host in order to follow the man who, though obviously after the ghost and aware it left the body, for some reason made sure that Josephine died. It’s quickly apparent that a secret organization is hunting ghosts, and ‘Kepler’ is their current target.

The book begins with a murder and catapults you through several countries in various bodies as ‘Kepler’ (named so by its hunters) tries to figure out who’s after it and why. Flashbacks to earlier lives show other murder attempts, other lives, other ghosts and how they all deal with the flesh they wear.

The idea of beings that can transfer between bodies isn’t a new one, but North does some great things with it. I loved that the ghosts were all individuals, treating their flesh in different ways. Some, like Kepler, are respectful, learning about them, and offering them money and improved circumstances for the time they lose. Others are less concerned with the humans around them, wanting to glory in the achievements, beauty and wealth of others without putting any effort into learning the skills necessary to achieve anything of their own. I liked that the ghosts can’t access the memories or abilities of their flesh, meaning they can pretend to be that person, but only with effort on their part to learn the habits and skills of their borrowed flesh. I also liked that the people they take over have no memory of what’s happened to them. This allows them to be tracked while also making what the ghosts do - stealing time from their hosts - more insidious. Kepler argues at one point that most people don’t care - or are even happy - to lose an hour or two of their lives, especially when working or doing boring tasks. Few people would even notice if they were taken over for a minute or two, long enough for the ghost to get lost in a crowd. But consider the ghost that stays for 6 months or a year. What about 10 years? Or 30? Who’d be ok with losing that amount of their lives?

And what happens when you’re effectively immortal, but unable to have a home, loved ones, possessions? What does that kind of lifestyle do to you after hundreds of years, when you’re constantly moving from body to body, running from hunters or just bored of who you are?

The book asks some tough questions as none of the primary characters - except the main antagonist - is entirely good or evil. There’s so much grey area and you really get to know - and like - the characters that it’s hard to remember that this all started with a murder, and that Kepler, who seems so kind and loving, has done some horrible things in its past - depending on your point of view.

Because there’s so much to learn about the ghosts, the killer and the plot, I found the opening slow. Not in terms of things happening, but in terms of trying to get a handle on everything that was happening. By the time I had a grasp on things I was thoroughly invested in Kepler and so drawn into the story that it was hard to put the book down.

I’d recommend this for book clubs as there’s a lot of discussion possibility here. And if you like action and mystery with body hopping protagonists, give this a try.

Star Trek: City on the Edge of Forever
Star Trek: City on the Edge of Forever
by Harlan Ellison
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 23.19
14 used & new from CDN$ 20.16

4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting to see the original episode screenplay, Feb. 24 2015
Pros: great artwork, interesting story, thought provoking messages

Cons: story drags a bit in the middle, some unnecessary characters

A drug dealer on the Enterprise teleports to a planet that has been making the chronometers on the ship count backwards. When an away team follows, the fugitive passes through a portal to Earth in the 1930s. A change there affects the present, forcing Kirk and Spock to go after him.

The story has Kirk fall for a woman who’s making things better for those living in the depression era, but Spock discovers that she’s fated to die and saving her life is what changed the timeline.

There are a lot of differences between the original screen play and the episode that aired under this name. Several characters are removed entirely or condensed, making the plot tighter. The guardian is the same in essence but not in execution. I thought some of the changes made the story stronger but others changed its ultimate message.

The artwork is in a realistic style that I enjoyed. The shading is done in such a way that each panel looks more like an oil painting than a comic book page. Expressions are clear and give added emotion to the story. Even full pages of dialogue have interesting backgrounds and character motion.

Ultimately, I preferred the TV episode to the screenplay, but I think the screenplay has a lot to offer and this comic rendition of it is beautifully done. It’s an excellent story and a wonderful tribute to Star Trek fans to make it available.

by Arwen Elys Dayton
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 15.87
33 used & new from CDN$ 9.39

4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting novel, Feb. 10 2015
Ce commentaire est de: Seeker (Hardcover)
Pros: realistic characters, interesting plot, interesting background, fast paced

Cons: don’t see the scene the entire book revolves around, Alastair’s accent comes and goes

For Parents: some non-graphic violence, minor sexual content, drug abuse

Fifteen year old Quin is nearing the day when she, her cousin (well, third cousin but one of their relatives remarried so they’re really only half third cousins), and John, the boy she loves, are initiated as Seekers. They’ve been training for this for years, learning how to fight to make the world a better place. But John knows that Quin’s father is more brutal than she understands. And the Seekers are no longer the noble warriors that she’s been taught they are.

The book is split into 3 parts. The first segment deals with the teens’ hopes before the initiation and the immediate aftermath of the ceremony. The second segment deals with events some time later, as the protagonists have tried to move on from what’s happened. The third brings the players together again to decide whether their futures will be determined by the choices of their past.

I loved the characters. As events unfold each protagonist makes decisions that deeply affects the rest of their lives. Subsequent decisions aren’t necessarily good ones, even though each does their best to move on. I especially liked learning more about Maud and the history of the Dreads. I hope more of this history will be revealed in future books.

Quin starts off fairly naive, but ended up going in directions I hadn’t expected. At first I thought she was wrong about John and how he would deal with the knowledge he was looking for, but as the book progressed I slowly realized that she was right and that his quest was destroying him. At the same time, I liked John, sympathizing with his plight, as a youth. But time and decisions make him less noble. Shinobu has the most startling transformation between the first and second sections of the book. Here too, his reasons for his actions are completely understandable, even if his decline is not pleasant to read.

This is brought up by a character in the book, but it seemed bizarre that both Quin’s mom and Shinobu’s dad try to warn them away from their initiation but refuse to explain why. It’s impossible to make an informed decision without information and these two know for a fact that their children don’t understand what they’re making an oath to do. Similarly, lightly warning the kids off only made the kids more determined to take their oaths.

Alastair, Shinobu’s father, is a big, red-headed, Scottish man. Sometimes he speaks with a Scottish accent (cannae, etc.), and sometimes he doesn’t. There doesn’t appear to be a reason why his accent comes and goes.

My main complaint with the book is that the pivotal moment of the book, the scene the entire book turns on, the scene where Quin and Shinobu go on their first mission to become Seekers, is never properly described. We’re given a few glimpses, enough to know it was horrible, but not enough to properly understand what Quin and Shinobu actually did on the mission. And this knowledge is essential to understand and sympathize with their following actions. Their despair, depression, Quin’s bout of OCD, their extreme hatred of her father (but not so much Sinobu’s) all come down to what happened in that scene. I think retaining this scene would have increased my emotional attachment to Quin and Shinobu as well as made John’s mission more sympathetic, but I also understand that the scene would have been dark and bloody and the author probably wanted to keep a younger rating for the book.

Ultimately I really enjoyed the book. It’s well written, fast paced and at times thought provoking. It’s got an interesting magic element underlying how the Seekers can do what they do. It’s got some characters who really go through the wringer. Can’t wait for the next book.

The Martian: A Novel
The Martian: A Novel
by Andy Weir
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 17.56
36 used & new from CDN$ 15.02

5.0 out of 5 stars Tense survivalist hard SF, Jan. 20 2015
Ce commentaire est de: The Martian: A Novel (Hardcover)
Pros: tense, compelling, humerous, hard sf

Cons: swearing, some exposition

Mark Watney is presumed dead after being hit by flying debris and having his suit depressurize during the evacuation of the Ares 3 mission on Mars in a dust storm. But hours after his crew departs on the only ship, Mark wakes up. Now he’s alone on Mars with no way home and supplies only designed to last a crew of 6 for 31 days.

This is a novel of survival under extreme conditions. It’s predominately told from Mark’s point of view via daily journal entries. Mark is a resourceful man with a dry sense of humour, which helps keep the novel upbeat even though things are constantly dire. It’s a compelling book that’s hard to put down with lots of tense moments.

It’s also hard science fiction, meaning there’s a good amount of science explanation and mathmatics going on. Most of the time it’s quick and engagingly told (often using humour). Communications are reproduced with the time lag and flight times are dictated by real physics. According to an interview I read by him the only scientifically inaccurate point in the book is the dust storm on Mars at the beginning of the book.

There’s a fair bit of swearing, which I’m not keen on, but a lot of it was understandable given the circumstances. My only other complaint is that a lot of necessary information was given in conversations in ways that - though they worked in the text - would sound odd in real life. So, for example, people would say things like “It’s nice to be back in Houston.”, rather than simply “It’s nice to be back.”, so the reader would know where the conversation was happening. Similarly, people often explained things to coworkers that their coworkers should know, like how various scientific things work, or what they’re called, so that the reader would learn this information. It’s a catch-22 in that the reader needs the information and there are only 2 ways to get it across, via dialogue or exposition. Dialogue is the more interesting way of reading it, so he made the right choice. And most people won’t notice he did this, they’ll just enjoy the fast paced story.

This is a fantastic book and I can understand why it made so many top 10 lists for 2014 and why it’s been optioned for film.

The Providence of Fire
The Providence of Fire
by Brian Staveley
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 20.38
36 used & new from CDN$ 20.38

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly enjoyable second book. Can't wait for the third!, Jan. 13 2015
Ce commentaire est de: The Providence of Fire (Hardcover)
Pros: lots of intrigue, lots of action, lots of unexpected plot twists, fascinating characters, brilliant writing

Cons: middle drags a bit, lots of swearing

Note: this is book two of the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne, and as such both the synopsis and review contain spoilers for book one. If you haven’t read The Emperor’s Blades, it’s a fantastic fantasy novel.

Picking up immediately where The Emperor’s Blades left off, the novel continues to follow the murdered Emperor Sunlitan’s children: Kaden, heir to the throne, is now able to enter the vaniate and use the Kenta gates built by the Csestriim; Valyn, is considered a traitor by the Ketral under whom he studied for the past 10 years, learning how to kill to protect the Empire; and Adare, who leaves the capital to find an army she can use to wrestle power from the general il Tornja.

There is so much going on in this book. The characters all travel a lot to get closer to their various aims, discover those aims need to change, and in the course of the book change drastically as people. It’s fantastic seeing characters react to situations based on limited and often faulty information, make decisions that affect their future - often very negatively - and watch them muddle through. The book feels more like reading history than a structured work of writing. Alliances change, trust is misplaced and/or broken, characters do things they regret and see things they’re helpless to stop.

Several battles pepper the book and the climax revolves around a war. There’s a lot of action, blood and gore. There’s also a lot of politicking, much of which went in directions I did not expect, especially in Kaden’s storyline.

The characters are varied in how they act, react and change. They remain entertaining and engaging throughout the novel, though I did find that the middle of the book dragged a bit, especially around some of Adare’s arc. The ending was fantastic though, and sets things up for what ought to be an amazing third book.

There is a lot of swearing, which fits the characters but isn’t something I’m particularly keen on. I’d place this on the lighter side of grimdark, because most of the characters remain sympathetic, even as they often end up doing horrible things. It feels like a cross between Joe Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy and Daniel Abraham’s Dagger and the Coin series.

I really recommend this series.

by Tina Connolly
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.36
27 used & new from CDN$ 8.68

5.0 out of 5 stars Features a different kind of heroine., Dec 23 2014
Ce commentaire est de: Copperhead (Paperback)
Pros: Helen’s a complex character, interesting plot

Cons: Alastair’s mistreatment of Helen is more told than shown

Helen Huntingdon’s husband is part of Copperhead, an organization that aims to rid the city of the fae - and the dwarvven. Under his direction she replaced her normal face with a fae one, an act that now leaves her in peril of being overtaken by the fae and having her own existence wiped out. She’s not alone, almost 100 other influential women in the city have had the same operation.

Helen brings her sister Jane to a Copperhead meeting in order to remove the fae mask of the host’s wife, but when the host turns on their new weapon against the fae, something goes horribly wrong. The wife is left in a fae trance while Jane, accused of murdering the woman, has disappeared. Helen must convince the rest of the 100 fae faced women to have the operation to return their original faces while she searches for her missing sister, because it sounds like the fae are gearing up for another attack.

Helen is a great character. While Jane, the protagonist of the first book, and her older sister, is direct and often tactless with her sense of right and wrong, Helen has learned to manipulate the people around her into thinking she’s a bit empty-headed and have them do things for her when she smiles and flirts. She feels guilty that she wasn’t brave enough to join the fae war like Jane, and resentful that Jane left her - at 13 - to watch their mother die of a slow illness afterwards. Helen doesn’t want to responsibility that’s left with her when Jane disappears. She wants to be shallow, discussing fashion with other socialite women, dancing, and flirting. She wants to find Jane so she can hand over the fate of the 100. But when push comes to shove - again and again and again - she knuckles down and does when she has to. Indeed, as the book progresses you discover how much of her flirtatious attitude masks insecurity and how capable she really is when she trusts herself. We learn what she actually did after the war - how she helped and what decisions she made that trapped her in the present, with a husband who isn’t who she thought he was. It’s fascinating seeing the different sides of her, and watching her decide who she wants to be moving forward. It’s a story about seeing yourself as you truly are and accepting the good and bad in you. It’s a story about growth.

The Copperhead plot was pretty interesting, as was the mystery of what happened to Jane and the danger facing the city. There’s a touch of romance that develops organically from the story. In addition to Helen there are a number of other interesting women who play a large part of the story. It’s cool to see female friendships and interactions in a fantasy setting.

I felt that Helen and Alastair’s relationship wasn’t as well defined in the book as it could have been. There’s more telling than showing to indicate that their relationship is bad. Early on he takes her mask - the only thing that keeps her safe from being taken over by the fae when outside. He sees it as a way of protecting her. She sees it as a way of controlling her. Without other interactions it’s hard to know if she is being unreasonably restricted by him (I’d argue she isn’t considering how easy it is for her to sneak out). Only later in the book do we see his darker side, but even then, some of the revelations about him at the climax still came as something of a shock to me.

As much as I enjoyed Ironskin I have to admit I liked Copperhead more. Perhaps it was because the story was more original, perhaps it was because Helen was such a delightful character to get to know. I’m really enjoying this series and look forward to finishing it off in Silverblind.

by Emma Pass
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 14.43
33 used & new from CDN$ 13.05

4.0 out of 5 stars A quick paced book with some very tense moments., Dec 9 2014
Ce commentaire est de: 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
35 used & new from CDN$ 5.15

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
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.

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