30 December 2016

Trove: A Review of The GraceKeepers, Kirsty Logan

Christmas has passed and while still lit, the tree is less the glamour lady she was, having a slightly bowed expressions to her overall evergreen demeanor. Boxing Day's slothfully delightful hours have slipped into the sweet spot of the holidays. It is the holiday stretch, days have lost their significance, New Year's given little thought. Thankfully, NYE has been a home affair for years, having had enough of trying to find the right party, the right food, the right sparkle. Who needs sparkle when you can be safely secure in your PJs drinking champagne, while reading a fabulous book?

This Christmas book haul was an extravagant affair. The tower under the tree has pushed its way into the first bough of decorations self-proclaiming itself as the pretties thing on and under the canopy. Dragon-esque with smugness for my new trove, I quickly immersed myself into the bound fantastical worlds.

As a convoy of little boats, the circus circumnavigates a flooded world. Historically, sea levels rose, submerging nations, obscuring cities, dividing humanity into damplings (those of the sea) and landlockers. Sustaining a paltry existence through illusion, glitter, and shock the crew of the thirteen member crew strive to find emotional and physical security. 

Kirsty Logan's debut novel, The GraceKeepers  draws breath from the subversive clown culture of the buffoon. But this is not a clown story - it is the story of loss and of resurrection. While North, the bear girl dances with danger each night relying upon love to keep her beast bridled, Callanish, a Gracekeeper longs for forgiveness. 

A keeper of the dead, Callanish tends to her birds, acting as medium between the living and the dead. Gracekeepers and clowns provide a service to their fractured world. Seeped in fearful superstition, damplings and landlockers are reliant upon these two types of intermediaries to release them from the bindings of their own nightmares. As humanity begins a new journey, evolving with the sea, the two young women hope to survive.

The Gracekeepers is a delight. I could not have asked for a more poetically beautiful novel to read as my last for 2016. 

21 December 2016

Vintage Nightcap: A Review of My Name is Legion, Roger Zelazny

A Christmas hum vibrates through the house. Our tree glows with expansive warmth as it absorbs the heart-tugging memories of past holidays. In my house, the holiday is not a holiday without the notorious cheeseball to sanctify the blessed day. Cheeseball, a disturbingly delicious concoction of old cheddar, onions, cream cheese, spices processed into a gelatinous ball has altered the course of many a January's fitness regime. My husband's first Christmas with my side of the family found him ill-prepared to the lure of the cheeseball, falling deep into a spellbinding love that, to this day bedazzles him. 

As I gather the ingredients for the making of the ball, I marvel at my December reading propensities. A very vintage month, Ursula K. Le Guin's masterwork, The Left Hand of Darkness soothed my reluctance to read old SF.  Asimov aside, I place full blame on Heinlein. I just do not like that guy, hence the complete ignorance of decades of worthwhile books, and acknowledgements for amazing writers. I bow my head not only in shame but in attempt to unclog the food processor that is bravely attempting to whirl cream cheese together with cheddar. A Christmas miracle is happening folks.

My Name is Legion may have the best cover of any science fiction book in the history of science fiction. Behold the 1970s conception of robotic, SF horror! Unashamed to admit that this book came home because of this robot (for goodness sakes, look at it!), I happily discovered the three novellas within highly entertaining. 

Eerily, the stories foreshadow the creation of a computer network designed to unify the global economy by tracking every aspect of a person's life. Questioning the loss of privacy, our protagonist has the opportunity to destroy his data card, placing him off-grid. Nameless, and untraceable our hero trains himself as an agent-for-hire, willing to commit unspeakable acts, all in the guise of rectitude. As the stories wind in upon themselves, the reader begins to question the protagonist's role. Who is working for the betterment of society? The perception of Big Brother, is murky and surprisingly modern in the way Zelazny approaches this quandary. 

Ending my reading year off with a vintage nightcap, I look to the unexplored possibilities of 2017. May our near future be a creation of our own making, bursting with joy and kindness.

15 December 2016

This Girl's Wish List - 2016

The self-inflicted multi-layered assemble I donned on the school outdoor field trip yesterday had little effect on combatting an encroaching sinus infection. Every Canadian knows if the sun shines brilliantly on a December day, it be cold outside. 

Winter's harsh beauty has materialized in southern Ontario, leaving many scrambling for adequate toques, parkas and excuses to stay home. My entire life has been snow-themed, be it Nova Scotian towering heaps of shovelled snow, -40 Yukon nights lit up by the northern lights, to prairie blizzards that tried to steal not only your breath but your soul. There is little I find not thrilling about this time of year especially with December representing winter's golden moment. The month is a little ball of cold happiness amongst the long stretch of frozen roads, future potholes and a deep longing for the green of regrowth.

Nestled within my little snow globe of happiness are my books. Past years have hallmarked some incredible novels, all arriving under the tree, thanks to Santa. And as I look out onto a city buzzing with Thursday activity, immune to the frigid snap in the breeze, I wonder what little gems will be wrapped up this year. 2016 will not be recorded in the annals of this girl's reading history as wondrous. The passing of my dear Dad left me quite beyond the ability to concentrate. Thankfully the whodunnits saw me through, bringing glimpse of joy during great moments of sadness. Laughing as my husband and I try to unsuccessfully straighten our Christmas tree, I take heart knowing I am doing exactly what Dad hoped, being me.

Of course, to be me, a list is in order. 

Unwilling to scourge the internet for 'best of' recommendations that inevitability reflect commercial sales I went to the Mothership, Megan at From Couch to MoonMy source for all things SF worthy, I take note, when this lady likes a book, going as far as sourcing most of my 2015's This Girl's Reading Wish List from her blog. 

Megan is the SF boss lady we all need in our lives, thus I humbly link you to her post, The Best SF I Read This Year. This is the sweet nectar of heaven, a gift of gifts, which frankly has left me gleeful with reading anticipation. What with this list, and Babylon's Ashes, James S. A. Corey's new installment to The Expanse series, reading life is looking snowstorm rosy.

10 December 2016

The Novel to Gift: A Review of The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin

The after-school playground hour is one of mindless observations intermixed with moments of delightful correspondence. While many a conversation trips over the trappings of parenthood some wind down the science fiction path to life. Although the majority of my friends have little proclivity to explore the genre, there are a few like-minded space odyssey aficionados at my kid's school. Okay, there are two.

Recent months, an updated version of the chain mail has been circulating through social media: send a book to a stranger, in return receive a plethora of new titles in the mail. Smitten, my SF friend (one of the two) was discussing the merits of joining, questioning what book to gift. Intrigued, speculations rose: a novel could not be too popular, nor too polarizing, somewhat enlightening, and most definitely captivating. Making my way home, my wee one in tow, my head swam with book gifting possibilities.

A book snob who rarely branches beyond my personal havens of science fiction, and mysteries, the probability of me participating in a book exchange is zero. Further hindering the issue is my two year library-only policy that has curbed all notions of ownership. While I would love to read 50 new titles, the thrill of them arriving by mail is slightly daunting. Simply unable to release reading control to a group of strangers, I began to formulate a list of books that any SF geek would be jubilant in receiving, whittling down the list to one.

Ursula K. Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness is acclaimed as one of the best science fiction novels written, and while it may seem slightly antiquated under the microscope of 2016 with its androgynous, feminist perspective, in 1970 it was a landmark release. 

Genly Ai, an envoy of Ekumen, a loose confederacy of planets has been sent to Gethem (Winter) to negotiate a peaceful allegiance. Accustomed to the utopian 'Gene Roddenbary' vision of planet federations, Winter's fractioned nations with varying degrees of governmental representations, surprisingly feels modern in its accurateness. Seeped in ethnocentricity's, the social consciences is brutally unaware of their small role in the universe. Genly Ai struggles to lobby his way to a seemingly random King's ear to discover after a year of hardship that not only is his mission but his life is in jeopardy. A fugitive, lost on a planet whose entire cultural identity opposes his very sense of self, Genly Ai must negotiate his way through a myriad of physical and social adversities, relying upon someone he most certainly should not trust.   

The Left Hand of Darkness is an extraneous reading experience. Woven from two opposing perspectives, the reader's complete emersion is necessary. Thankfully, Ursula K. Le Guin is one of a few writers whose creative control concurrently questions social norms while offering an engaging page turner. This is a dense book, deep with layered world-building, taking on a legendary status within the science fiction literary world. The Left Hand of Darkness  is science fiction at it's very best.  

8 November 2016

Friends: A Review of All The Birds In The Sky, Charlie Jane Anders

Operatic singing meanders down the staircase from my child's room as he negotiates his world through lego, all while the hubby smugly slumbers. As the house dances with the rhythms of Tuesday morning, my thoughts slip to friendship. My particular slant to friend bonding is a response to the giggles; if you can follow my joke, and even better, best it, I am yours. While I accumulate new peeps, and meander out of the lives of others, only a few have ever been like-minded readers. Not that someone I adore must shine their geek light as brightly as I, but it is rather odd that my overarching passion for SF books has always been a solo pursuit. 

Always is so defiant in it's absoluteness that as I finish All The Birds In The Sky by Charlie Jane Anders, I realize that my proclivity to fantastical tales is thanks in large part to a teacher friend. The life of an ELS instructor is an odd bag of crazy; the love affair with the place fluctuates from intensely hateful to achingly glorious. Self-perceived as the outsider, colleagues become fast friends, even family within weeks of meeting. Hence my clandestine friendship with a punk-ass girl from Portland, who brought the fun to a small, Japanese rice-village but a wide appreciation for American surrealistic lit. 

Remarkably there was a time that I had not read Katherine Dunn's Geek Love, John Kennedy Toole's posthumous delight,  A Confederacy of Dunces, or the poetic compactness of Lewis Nordan's, Lightening Song. Transecting my life for less than a year, this friend directed me down a path of reading that honed my appreciation of novels like All The Birds In The Sky.

Informed she is a witch at a young age, Patricia progresses through the humiliations of teenage-hood despairing in her inability to unlock her full potential. Was that night she was lost in the woods talking to the birds real, or was it her imagination trying to escape her tragic childhood? Lawrence in the meantime lives a life of constant degradation, the classic nerd, he is bullied relentlessly, eventually creating a portable time machine that pushes him into the future by 2 seconds. The small victory of avoiding the moment the egg was too spatter provides his only respite. Reluctant friends, Patricia and Lawrence move through their high school days trying to salvage some dignity from the vitriol that is slung their way. 

The harbinger of the apocalypse, All The Birds In The Sky masquerades as a coming of age story. Patricia and Lawrence shall bring forth the end of days and so they most die. Charlie Jane Anders has the talented ability to weave words into a tapestry of images. This novel ensnarled me, reluctantly unfolding, inspiring my imagination, even questioning my perceptions, all the while firmly entertaining me. It should be rightly shelved with all the fantastically mundane American lit that I have come to love. There is something quite satisfying reading a novel that puts the reader slightly on edge, slightly unhinged as the story begins to reveal itself. All The Birds In The Sky dystopian message is akin to Margaret Atwood's deeply disturbing MaddAddam trilogy, simply offered in a softer package.

23 October 2016

Return to Magic: A Review of Harry Potter and The Cursed Child

The house is quiet. The son and hubby have vacated to hockey school, leaving me with a 20 pound turkey in the oven, a cup of honey-sweetened coffee and level of contentment only comprehended by a parent who is home alone. The 20 pound bird have you frozen in thought, late for Canadian, too early for American Thanksgiving? There is little point of having turkey without the leftovers, thus the roasting of the bird while I sit in my writing chair, looking out onto a perfect fallish day, feeling less saddened.

As I move along the mourning path, I realize my journey is a transformation. While the essence of me remains, my life will forever progress without the consistency that was my father. Somewhat adrift, the childhood shores of my past are no longer an isthmus of my present but an island of happiness. As friends who have wandered this winding track have forewarned me, you never really heal but life propels you down new avenues, leading to new joys. This past week I actively sought out the sun, revelling in my family moments, enjoying the hilarity that is us three. 

This girl's happiness stems around a few core items; park benches, leaves on trees, a funny hubby and books. Cramming my loaned copy of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child into my purse on Friday was the clearest indicator that my world was returning to it's normal levels of weirdness. What grown woman actively arranges her day around  a hard cover book?  While I may have the glorious bragging rights of being a representative of the generation of kids that Strange Things actively attempts to capture through film, my Harry Potter fandom is through the guise of adulthood. Early in my 30s, entrenched in my oversees teaching adventures, I consumed the first three of the series while navigating the windy streets of Istanbul. My copies over the years have slowly been replaced to a lovely bound set that now sits on the bookshelf, waiting for that moment when the little boy in this house begins his magical adventure.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a Jack Thorne screenplay; as such, it is slightly removed from the core 7, all the while maintaining the essence of J.K. Rowling's incredible vision. Clearly blessed by the author, the story advances the lives of the heroes into adulthood and all it's trepidatious meanderings that comes with parenthood. We are introduced to Albus Severus Potter, middle child of Harry and Ginny, troubled tween, reluctant to navigate the future that seems so clearly laid out for him, who finds solace with his only friend. Their adventures takes us down the winding, dark paths that we come to expect with the Harry Potter universe. 

Because Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a script, I was torn as a reader, spending half my time envisioning the play, the other living in a illusionary world. I was not able to rectify the story as a play, wanting Rowling's jovial, abundant words to expand the dialogue into a techno-coloured extravaganza of imagery. Even though my wants were purely a reflection of a reader's desire to sink into a good book, the script still easily sucked me down into Pottermore. I am fan, and thus the target buyer for this play bound book hence leaving me with a slight tinge of regret. 

As a play, Harry Potter and Cursed Child is alive. An offering of delights for the theatre, somewhat childish and predictable but still a must to see. Having now read the script, I have burst that theatrical bubble. The play when it most certainly will sweep through North America will offer less a thrill for me, because I have unveiled it's plot secrets and secured my own perceptions on it's design. Sometimes, a play should just be a play, perfect in it's purpose, not masquerading as a book, unwilling to compromise, keeping the Potter fans queued outside the theatre, and not as it has happened, the bookstore. 

25 September 2016

Haines, Alaska: Looking to the Skies, SF in Hand

As a child, the autumnal beat of summer's demise, signified my grandparents' annual 
migration North to us, who waited impatiently in Whitehorse, Yukon for, beyond our parents, the two people my brother and I could not adore more. And while Ida and Clare Hedegard's destination was family centred, my grandfather Clare had the fishing bug firmly implanted in his brain. With the Chilkoot Lake and river outside of Haines, Alaska teeming with five thriving varieties of salmon, my father and grandfather were on a mission: who would get to the coveted spot first. 

A flat expanse of shield rock, pommeled by retreating glaziers, meters from the shore,
offered the perfect footing to cast off from. The quick river currents that drained from the fjord were teaming with sockeye. The salmon run was my father's and grandfather's delight, our family albums stocked with both happily showcasing their catch of those days. Whomever got down to the slippery bank first, haphazardly making way through the river currents to that rock seemed always to return to camp with the bounty. 

From the high tides of the Bay of Fundy to Grey Mountain over-looking the valley of Whitehorse, my geographically inspired childhood marked me as an outdoors girl. Hard to believe, so firmly now ensconced in the big city lifestyle of Toronto, house firmly nestled inches from it's neighbour, my world-view still sits firmly within the canopy of my backyard maple tree. I prefer outside; as long as there is a stretch of trees, a parcel of blue sky to raise my eyes up to, I am good. Somewhat, the 10-year-old me, firmly nestled in my soul, who waits for Dad to pass the fishing rod so I can scramble down to the fjord banks to try my luck with the Dolly Varden's is thoroughly puzzled with the city buzz. Where is the crispness to the air, the yellow expanses of boreal forests, the high-bush blueberries, the dusting of snow-covered peaks, the expressive talk of the salmon that got away?

The seasonal shift signifies a myriad of emotions for me and with the passing of my dear father this September I keep tightly bound to my memories of joy. As this very sad summer comes to an end, and my stack of detective novels tower beside me, I am happy to report that my SF bug is back. I spent nary a minute reading science fiction, needing the comforting English-inspired murder mystery as anchor to the turbulent waters of grief. Some lean on food, I require fifty whodunnits

And luck be the one who waits, for what came in through the library system this week but Daniel O'Malley's sophomore novel Stiletto. A rather embarrassing gleeful fan of The Rook, with me badgering countless friends to read it, Stiletto is my salvation. A little humour amidst the tears is much needed, and so I tucked into it's large tome post haste. Half read and not willing to simply bypass a proper review I digress, returning to fishing, and all the Dads who baited their daughters' hooks. 

The path of grief is trodden by us all, and as I follow down it's memory laden, saddened grounds, I walk with tears in my eyes, and happiness in my heart. I am the daughter of a great man. As I look to the skies, SF book in hand I shall remember to live my Best life. 

11 August 2016

Enigma: A Review of Radiance, Catherynne M. Valente

A fairly relaxed family, with a few fundamental rules in place, my house as was my childhood's is dictated overwhelmingly by one; if it is an Olympic year, you must watch. Thus, as my parents in British Columbia sit glued to the TV, so too is their grandson, daughter and son-in-law in Toronto. The child, as his dear Momma whispered wishful hopes of one day he being a member of the Canadian swim team, completed laps through and around the house. By the time my six year old laid his sweaty, curled locks onto his dinosaur pillow-case he was a snoring Olympian in under one minute. The allure of staying up late, with the added pleasure of watching a sport that captivities one's parents is such a monumental experience. I cannot fathom to guess what lurks deep within his brain, locked tight within his little soul of happiness.

With promises of a pool day so our little champ could practise his front crawl, my reading senses are tingling. Enraptured by the sporty things, further enhanced by a desire to read only detective novels of certain historical persuasions, I am at a crossroads. Continue the rumba with the whodunnit or generate the sci-fi geekness that manifests Thank the Maker  gloriously nerdy? Unseemly to ponder January's briskness, especially sitting under our maple's canopy while the wind whispers August's delightful slothfulness, but winter I revert. A month of reading inspired by the gorgeous stack of holiday books, the first month of 2016 was sublime. Of all those amazing books, Catherine M. Valente's Radiance rose beyond my expectations, becoming one of the most creatively illusive stories this girl has ever, yes ever, read. 

Radiance, as the Olympic dream attempts to soar above the political juggernauts of it's own creation I give you science fiction, defiantly so. In fact, it's uniqueness has kept me mum, reluctant to recommend in fear of announcing my passionate propensity to the weird. And weird it so blissfully is, so much that sitting down to the this tale requires a great leap of faith, a willingness to just let things be, and a fortitude to accept that what is on the page. 

While on Venus to film the mysteries disappearance of a diving colony, Severin Unck's crew limps home to Luna with the horrific inability to adequately explain her death. An alternative universe, wrapped within a space opera, tantalizingly shrouded as a mystery novel, Radiance is nothing more than glorious. Questioning how much to reveal, Radiance is best served as an enigma, probing the reader to swim through it's chaotic, yet poetic waters. The story will bounce you through a version of our solar system, alien yet comforting.This is a world draped in the theatre, with visual links to classic science fiction. Space travel is by rockets; the planets, viable options with thriving civilizations, each providing unique opportunities for humanity to elevate or implode. 

Frozen within 1920s cinematic overtures, Radiance is a love-song to the silent film. For this girl, however, it resonates deeply, showcasing what an author, when inspired is able to write. May one day, I be so inclined. 

6 August 2016

To Each Our Mysterious Own: A Review of Charles Todd's Ian Rutledge, Bess Crawford

I adore August. June's summer wish list has successfully been ticked, July's demanding beach call, hopefully has been answered, leaving August to each our very own. My flower pots are bursting with colourful mounds, vines drape the contours of the deck, softening hardened lines. Local green grocers display local wares, inspiring me to kick the meat habit, going full veggie on supper. And yet, the allure of the BBQ wins, with sausages, pork chops and chicken delightfully sizzling on the grill as the hot summer nights inspire al fresco dinners. 

August's slothful abundance offers the perfect ambiance for reading. And no summer is complete without this girl tucking into an English mystery novel to fully complete my idealized perception of reading heaven. As readers, we all have our book respite, the genre that eases the tension, providing a secure blanket of reading comfort. The whys to my propensity to blood, death and the English country-side are thankfully not up for enquiry, with this post more a readers guide to all things mystery, less a query into my weirdness. Surely a SF lover of whodunnits must be on a spectrum of oddness, or maybe not, the mystery reading community is as adamantly passionate as us in speculative fiction. Me thinks my geeky ways fit nicely into both.

But what does one do when looking for a proper English mystery? While Dame Agatha is always a cheerful beginning to death, options abound. The mother, son writing team under the nom-de-plume of Charles Todd have honed in upon WWI as backdrop to both of their investigators:  Ian Rutledge, Bess Crawford. In A Test of Wills, we are introduced to Inspector Ian Rutledge, a broken war hero, haunted by the trenches of France, desperate to keep his job and sanity. Sent to investigate the murder of an army colonel, savagely killed while riding through his country estate, Rutledge's struggle with shell-shock impedes his abilities to unwind the truth. Could the war hero, freshly decorated by the King be the murderer? 

Having a natural inquisitiveness regarding the Great War, the world-building in both the Ian Rutledge novels as well as Bess Crawford, have always made these novels an enjoyable experience. Of the two, Bess Crawford mysteries seem the softer of the two streams, less fully realized than the space crafted for Rutledge. But that may be of design, as Bess Crawford, a WWI Battlefield nurse, and daughter to a distinguished soldier would be less able to mimic the professional techniques of a policeman. Her viewpoint as not only Nurse, but a well-educated, sheltered young woman would have little in common with a London-born policeman, raised to follow in his father's lawyerly footsteps. Even though each detective lives within the same timeframe, neither walk the same social pathway. This fundamental difference offers readers a choice:  exploring the workings of post-war England through the eyes of a woman or through the eyes of a man with murder the vehicle by which to accomplish it. 

The novels of Charles Todd offer us a peak into an England, long forgotten but whose pain, pride, love and desires continue to drum to this day. Easy reads as so often the case with the mystery novel, Ian Rutledge and Bess Crawford books draw the reader in, treating us with vivid historical details and wonderfully, bloody mysteries to unravel. 

23 July 2016

Beauty: A Review of Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel

The heat has trespassed the air space over southern Ontario claiming this land it's demon own. Green branches bow to it's intense gaze, while fluffy, waterless clouds mock animals and humans inability to find sufficient shade. The pure weight of summer's golden epoch has Toronto flailing in its attempt to be cool. Amidst the temperature induced slothfulness I read, all the while half-intently listening to the child discuss his current little boy passions. 

How many words can one 6 year old proclaim over the span of 24 hrs; all of the words, all of them, much to a parent's great alarm, chagrin and wonder. With a proclivity to dinosaurs since a mere babe, the son continues on his quest to study every creature that has lived on this blue orb. Current fashion has snakes, with the subspecies of pythons and boas the highlight of July. Hot, sweaty trips to the local library occur bi-weekly to fuel his overwhelming curiosity, with me, the Momma happily acting as local librarian, Sherpa and translator.  The sheer volume of knowledge I personally have gained regarding anacondas would surely warrant me a fellowship. As these days melt into each other, I marvel at my ability and his wiliness for me to weave into his world. Summer actualizes my joy of motherhood. 

Thus, as we all make summer into a substantive, memory-inspired season, I recommend the highly acclaimed dystopian masterwork Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. Yet again, my timing is greatly off, as the world's enthusiasm for this SF book is a year behind. I read what I read, unfortunately not always on par with the rolling tides of popularity, nor in agreement with the very awards that may have risen a novel to the heights it has achieved. This time, however, the pure beauty bound within the covers of Station Eleven awoke the reader in me. You know the reader, the one who slumbers deep within, hungry for a Tolstoy, a Herbert or an Atwood, yearning for a novel to swim within as the images created line by line, slip you further into a world more real than reality. Not many a book wakes the reader, but when she stirs, my creativity detonates as my soul sings. A good book is drank with your eyes, lives forever in your heart, and it is this that Emily St. John Mandel has written: a cherished moment of reading beauty.

A flu epidemic ravishes Earth, killing 90% of humanity. The world stops, regroups, internet, jet planes, electricity is a distance memory even a myth for many of the post-epidemic generation. Station Eleven juxtaposes those last days in Toronto before the outbreak with the meanderings of a group of musicians/actors who travel the lower Great Lakes as the Symphony. In an apocalypse, the fabrics that a cultured society wore have been tattered, even razed. And yet as I walked with the Symphony as they subsisted off the land, creating music, offering Shakespeare to the small communities that weathered the nightmarish fall of humanities golden age, I experienced wonder, a pure sense of joy. Peppered by images from Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower, and Jose Saramago's haunting triumph Blindness, I am seasoned to the dystopian world-view. Yet with Station Eleven, the images of death, destruction and cruelty are less the story. This is a novel of fortitude, a willingness not only to survive but create beauty along the way.

Station Eleven is your book of the summer, as it is now mine. 

1 July 2016

The Rabbit Hole: A Review of Honor Harrington Series, David Weber

It is Canada Day, a much needed, rainy Canada Day in the heart of downtown Toronto. As I sit within the anticipated green, cloudy, gloom ineffectively resolving my current infatuation with David Weber's Honor Harrington series, I listen to the child reenact wrestling moves. School is out, a calm glee has permeated through the bones of the house, and we have engaged summer.  My little boy's kindergarten days are behind him and while grade one is still a tender age, his baby years are vanishing as his independence blooms. Either my mother-heart is seasoning into a tougher version or as my son grows, his transformation pulls me along a better path of motherhood. 

With the hot weeks of humid laziness stretching before me, my reading pilgrimage to SF heaven looms. Contrary to years past my summer reading marathon launched in spring with May, all Miles  and June, Honor.  Honor Harrington, the female archetype of SF military valour has become my everything. This alarming obsession to find, buy and read all the things has blocked my sense of SF-self. Discovering Daniel O'Malley's sophomore book was not only released but worse, being read by people I know, stopped me in my SF tracks. A saga is a cursed gift to the gluttonous reader; we clap with glee in discovering a dense canon to immerse in, eventually rising from it's world barely able to suss out the good from the bad. The very fact that I am not at this minute buying Stiletto is proof David Weber's Honorverse has sucked out my reading soul.

As Captain in her majesty's Royal Manticoran Navy, Honor Harrington wears the white beret with great respect. She has worked her way up through the years to become a leading force in the Navy, with troops willfully follow her orders to their demise. Honor is one of few humans adopted by a treecat, an arboreal, sentient creature with telepathic abilities, native to her home planet of Sphynx. With Nimitz by her side, Captain Harrington through intellect and sheer iron will defends her Queen's territory battle after gruesome battle. Not everyone is keen to see Captain Harrington rise up through the Navy; the very past she spent decades burying, rises to meet her, promising to take all that she worked so hard to achieve away. 

David Weber books have been in my peripheral for years. The father-in-law, a staunch military SF advocate lurves him as much as I lurve The Expanse. It finally took the monotony of finishing my Bujold obsession to pick up the dusty, neglected hard cover version of The Honor of the Queen. Once I had neatly tucked into it's space goodness, surprising myself by not skipping past the military descriptors, I deduced my earlier reluctance; the cover, these ridiculous, parade of bad covers that degrade the series into a farce of what the world believes SF to be. "Oh, hey, what you reading, omg, I just tried to talk books with a nerd, back away, BACK AWAY."' so says all the people as I read in the park, whispering about my sad geeky existence.

While it may indeed come down to covers, the odd realization is, the Honor Harrington universe is not exactly great nor is it exactly bad. Weber's world-building is key to the success of the series, without the political intrigue within and beyond the Manticoran space borders, the flatness of his characters would have killed the series by the fourth installment. Yet, as I tuck into book 6, happily content in the idealized utopia that is Honor Harrington, I know she will be alright and am completely okay with that. Perfection is obviously an adjective we strive for, how else to explain Honor Harrington's appeal? 

6 June 2016

Science Fiction: A Review of Aurora, Kim Stanley Robinson

Nestled within the secure gloom of a rainy morning, looking through my living room window out onto flowers bowed to raindrops' glistening weight, I think of home. Growing up, home was less a place and more a state of mind; as a Mountie family life was a shift of places, schools, backyards, friends. Even after 7 years of property ownership, I still glance down the street, looking for a moving truck to pack me and my little family onto a new adventure. It astonishes me that my son knows only of one house to call his own. When he reflects on his childhood, hopefully he will marvel at how big this house once seemed, how it would magically expand during the summer, creating living spaces on the front and back porches. Will he reminisce grubbing for slugs, snails and caterpillars under the green canopy of Toronto, while a city hummed around him? 

The idea of home pulses within. We meander through life, captivated by avenues of memories that we either cling or escape from, striving to actualize a personal haven of our own. This very human desire may very well be why Kim Stanley Robinson's Aurora resounded for me so strongly. A self-diagnosed space opera addict, who just came off a May-long run of Vorkosigan re-reads, Aurora renewed my love of pure science fiction.

Humanity has launched the first colonization ship bound for the system Tau Ceti. 160 years have passed since this historic fulcrum with six generations having lived and died within it's 24 biomes. And now as the 2000 survivors of a lost dream approach their new home, survival of the mission is in peril. Many a reader has touted Aurora as the best generation starship novel and while my ventures in SF are somewhat deep I cannot confirm nor deny the acclaim. What I can attest to is that Robinson wrote an honest, raw account of the fragility of life. By encapsulating the reader to the dramas of interstellar life, Aurora becomes less a novel of the trials of space travel, more a ballad of Earth's unique place in the universe. 

We follow Freya, whose unfortunate birthright as the daughter of Devi, Ship's leading engineer and Savour must find her own path. She begins by journeying through the biomes, wandering, eventually enacting the role of Mother to a people quite literally lost in space. Information from Earth takes 12 years to reach the Ship. Every molecule, element, compound within the Ship is part of a complex reclamation system that must co-exist for all life within the biomes to survive. Imagine knowing only a spaceship as home, never knowing the power of wind, the unbelievable expanse of the sky. 

The biome of Labrador upon their children's twelfth birthday dress them in a space suit, casting them into space where he/she are awakened to the shocking reality of their world. Devi through her life speaks to Ship, befriending the AI, expanding it's understanding of self, demanding Ship to, in essence become more human. She rages at her ancestors who deemed it worthy for generations of people to die within the confines of a space ship, all in the mad faith that a moon light years from Earth will be humanities second home. This visceral perplexity of space life, the strain of living within a self-contained ship, the overwhelming scientific complexity, is all masterfully understated. Aurora is a science fiction book, a novel in space, enriched with mundane science and the ever present will to live. 

Kim Stanley Robinson brought back the science fiction to science fiction.

12 April 2016

Yearning for the Mystical: A Review of A Darker Shade of Magic, V.E. Schwab

School-yard parental discussions are an opportunity to lay waste to anxiety, expound snippets of personal data that float off beyond the swings to catch in the tree bows before they atomize, mingling with the atmosphere. As our children stuff worms into their pockets, we whisper hopeful secrets and unabashed longings for time alone. No family retains life's key to success, we all trample along, attempting to catch moments in butterfly nets, comprehending the futility of those actions. As days, months and seasons pass, my span in the school yard has become my moments of peace. Being able to slow life down to snippets of joy, is the magic I actualize.

My son often questions the workings of things, trying to parcel together his understanding of his small world into one of order. As molecular concepts bounce between us, I wonder if those discussions need a pinch of the divine. I want him to be in tune with the extraordinary, discern that the clouds are speaking, churning with advice as we walk under their gaze to school. This spark of energy that ensnarls, comforts, berates, and ground us to the soul of the Earth, reminds us of our humanity. Of all my hopes, I wish that the twinkle in his eyes remains and he continues sussing out the whys to life with clumps of dirt in his hair and laughter being caught on the crosswind.

I selected A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab as one of my year's end reads because of the magic. Whether it be reality or fantasy, I yearn for the mystical, aspiring for impossibilities spun from the mundane. As I curled into a reading ball of content, surrounding myself within the tales of London plus 4, Schwab's writing held me fast. Kell, one of the last blood magicians of his or any realm, transfers between world's as King's errand boy. Gifted with the ability to manipulate the five sacred elements, Kell is marked as either the saviour or the demon, depending upon time, place and fortune. 

Kell's world throbs in the nurturing power of magic, blessing the city, turning the river Thames into a glowing, meandering artery of red power. Red London is the Camelot of the Shades of Magic series with magic the religion, and the heart of it's utopian contentment. Now imagine the opposite, a Dickensian land, and you have arrived in Grey London; a muted city robbed of enchantments that eons ago once hummed. Add to this complexity, the White; a London where magic has become endangered, a force to capture, to control. The citizens, slaves to the constant battles for thronal power suffer under the might of their rulers' dark intent. And yet as the three London's exist, overlaying each other through parallel universes, a Black London lays dead, closed to all three, a haunting, the harbinger of what may befall the rest.

A Darker Shade of Magic is a flowered, unique idea ultimately smothered by the very characters that breathe life into the plot. This realization, however, came later, once I held the weighted sophomore novel,  A Gathering of Shadows and realized the very story that entertained me with the first book was a pretty illusion. Lila Bard, Kell and Rhys have an anime quality that I have yet to determine is the author's crafted decision or side-product of creating archetypal heroes who are in their early 20s. Blame my old lady genes, but a pint-sized thief able to transport from Grey into Red and ultimately into White London, managing to save the Prince and his realm's most powerful magician seems fantastical. And there is the catch, because a reader's intent upon accepting the world-building of a fantasy book needs to swallow a large dose of the unexplained. I whole-heartedly enjoyed my reading of A Darker Shade of Magic at the same time, understanding that it was the concepts and well-written descriptors, not the people that filled my imagination with a rich tapestries of words. 

V.E. Schwab can write, there is little doubt. The issue may very well be that I, as a reader do not fit the demographic.

3 April 2016

Poolside Cactus: The Girls at the Kingfisher Club, Genevieve Valentine

Taking full advantage of my snow bird parent's southern abode, I celebrated March Break beneath the inadequate shade of cacti. As far as my eyes could gleam, the world was about to impale me. Days were quietly spent with morning discussions of snakes that would bleed into pool afternoons, to zenith with star gazing. The kid has an intense relationship with deadly snakes, what can one do but encourage. 

Amongst the busy green spaces of downtown Toronto, my home is the Yang to this desert Yin. Vitalized by orange blossom infused air, and cloudless skies that stretched beyond the mountain peaks, I read. Of the months of 2016, my reading ventures have been nothing but spectacular; there is something to be said in planning. My usual book forays are a mindless romp through blog recommendations jostled up with random choices. Wholly uninterested in the Hugo/Nebula's, I inaccurately presumed that all awards were overrun with similar nomination sentiments. Upon discovering  The Kitschies which in turn directed me to the Mothership, The BSFAs I finally feel more at home with the award scene. Does this mean I have become a more hardened, balls to the walls SF reader? Not so much, I like what I like, with or without the internet fever of acceptance. The Kitschies/BSFAs shortlists act as refreshing guides, offering specimens that I would never have known to read. I am simply not deep enough into the SF publishing world to know what I am supposed to know. This girl is not the geek you think she is. 

What matters is knowing what I know, which happens to be a good book. The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine is that book. A retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses, The Girls at the Kingfisher Club imbues the old German fairy-tale with hooch. It takes quite a book to enchant a frozen Canadian freshly transplanted from a grey-dipped landscape to blooming cacti soaked in blessed heat. Wanting nothing from life but to breathe, motherhood broke through this zen-like state bringing me firmly to pool-side present. As I life-guarded the snake charmer in my life, I quickly was in need of a book. 

Maybe it was the glare of the water or possibly the mid-afternoon cocktails, but The Girls at the Kingfisher Club enthralled me. New York in the 1920s was a city of passions. With the horrors of WWI fresh, and Prohibition locking the United States into a morality play, twelve sisters danced into the early hours. Jo, the eldest, wished to escape her father's house, but with the death of their mother she donned the matriarch hat, offering a beacon of safety. As General, Jo's nightly call of taxis to leave at midnight became their call to arms. With the dark allure of the speakeasy, and an endless parade of young men, the sequestered sisters had reasons to live. 

Valentine brought forth the rush of those dangerous times, soaking the pages with flapper fever. Her poetic tale provides a keyhole into the allure of hidden dance halls, illegal jag juice, and the wanted disregard for societal constraints. It is the timeless story of freedom, draped in beads, bobs and champagne, all throbbing to the beat of the Charleston. My copy bears the waterlogged marks of pool-side splashes and sunshine joy. The Girls at the Kingfisher Club is the redemptive story you have been waiting to read. 

5 March 2016

Romance: A Review of The Discovery of Witches, Deborah Harkness

With a winter that seems less a dream and more a harbinger of the Apocalypse, I found myself at the hill sledding for only the third snowy week this entire season. Watching kids, mine especially aim for the snow jump, hoping to soar but more importantly crash spectacularly, I pondered on my love of vampires. 

Vampires, witches, demons, mummies, beyond the popular zombie grossness there isn't a mythical horrific creature that hasn't caught my fancy. Stephen Sommers 1999 film, The Mummy has an alarming allure over me.The world could be over-run by aliens, every station proclaiming the coming of a new age but I would be that one person glued to the station broadcasting the hokey shenanigans of Brendan Fraser as he battles Imotep all the while winning the hand of his lady love. As the son launches himself into the stratosphere, my gaze blurs as I begin to wonder if my creature love is less about their freaky nature and more about the love affair? Could it be that this sci-fi girl desires a dose of romance? 

How else to explain my 53rd viewing of this rom-com-horror flick or this past week's aggressive attempt to ignore my family in hopes of reading Deborah Harkness's, A Discovery of Witches uninterrupted? Apparently this sci-fi geek prefers her dalliance with the love affair draped in moonlight, soaked in blood and cast in a witch's curse. The first of the All Souls Trilogy, A Discovery of Witches has been described as Bewitched meets Harlequin and I am not one to disagree. We enter a world in which witches, vampires and daemons co-exist all the while remaining hidden in plain sight from us droll humans. A witch by the name of Diana, a Yale alchemical professor and Oxford scholar discovers a magical manuscript while researching for an upcoming conference. Dismissing the magical pull, Diana returns the ancient tome to the Bodleian Library, subsequently entangling herself in a world and a heritage that she has denounced since the death of her parents at the age of seven. 

As every scholarly professor does (obviously), Diana spends her entire existence in the library and it is here that she is spied casting a simple spell. Unfortunately, the spy is Matthew Clairmont, millionaire, genius, geneticist, and 1500 years old vampire; with the dash of the undead hotness to the equation I went from mildly interested to completely besotted. A Discovery of Witches is not going to open your mind to literary possibilities nor awaken your poetic soul. This is a typical damsel-in-distress romance, complete with castles, danger, and lust. Although the helpless, "I don't want to be a witch" scenario was aggravating at best, the novel's historical references are on point. Deborah Harkness, a professor of history uses her expertise to flesh out the narrative, expanding a typical vampire/witch novel into a rich diorama. Like the late Egyptologist, Elizabeth Peters with her beloved Amelia Peabody mystery series, A Discovery of Witches offers a medium for the writing scholar to play. 

Sometimes this girl just wants to read about vampires and witches in love, who knew? 

15 February 2016

Buckets: A Review of The Fifth Season, N. K. Jemisin

Happy loves day has been an extended affair in this house; with the son showering his dear Momma with kisses for over a week, my Valentine's bucket overflows. Of all the moments of brightness that Kindergarten has brought, the bucket analogy our son's teacher wisely taught has been the most fulfilling. The children's book How Full is Your Bucket simplifies the conceptual idea of well-being, action and kindness through the metaphor of a bucket to symbolize a child's emotive self. I have been informed many a day that I have emptied the child's bucket for such indiscretions as asking him to put his shoes away, or interrupting an attempt to jump down the stairs from the very top. Cuteness aside, the bucket has unlocked a window into my son's soul, providing a means for him and I to express emotional health.

Although my heart bucket burst the moment my son arrived into this world, my reading bucket is a vast aquifer, slowly filling, drop by reading drop. Either by luck or research, my end of year pile has been a perpetual reading adventure resultant with me eager to declare each book the best yet. Thus is my predicament of today, freak the freak over N. K. Jemisin's The Fifth Season or stay cool, reserving my glee for the next possibility.

Ever age must come to an end, and so the novel opens with the destruction of the Earth, the fifth season. Cultures reliant upon lore as their only deliverance and a land that is less a provider and more a wielder of death, communities persevere in the knowledge that the end of days will most definitely arrive. The Earth is angry, Stillness the largest continent is a graveyard of past civilizations buried deep within the folds of strata. Amidst the carnage there are the orogene, humans able to tap into the powers of the Earth, drawing strength from it's core, either bearers of hope or of fear. And so we follow the lives of three:  Essun, the grieving mother, Syenite, a four-ring adept and the child Damaya, taken from her family to be trained in the ways of the orogene.  Each narrative masterfully crafted to weave into each other, highlighting the horrors that truly mark this world.  

Upon completion of only the first two pages of The Fifth Season I realized that this was not just an interesting story but an explosive tale that would overwhelm me to the very last moment. N. K. Jemisin is a master story-teller, convincing this geek that fantasy has as much to offer as my beloved speculative fiction. This is a story with three narrators, three plots, existing and finally cumulating into one. We open to the horrific scene of Essun, a mother discovering that her husband has brutally killed their young son and has vanished with their daughter. And while the grief bleeds from the pages, the novel was not an overwhelming display of violence. Rather, Jemisin's ability to fracture the exposition draws the reader in, forcing us to piece the puzzles of this world together, making for one incredibly entertaining read. 

This girl cannot say enough good things about this book.

6 February 2016

Hi-Five: A Review of Aftermath, Chuck Wendig

It came to pass that this family saw The Force Awakens and peace settled upon the house-hold. Truth be told, the kid really wasn't swayed to the light or dark side of The Force, continuing his love-affair with The Hulk while us, his parental units disassembled the screening with any sentient being that crossed our paths weeks past. Too much has been said about the seventh installment to the franchise that I am reluctant to add my voice to the monster of dialogue. The verdict is perched on a sliding scale of popular culture, fluctuating from liking to loathing dependent fully on the reviewer and whose audience it targets. As for this girl, I had a romping good time but I wasn't looking for anything beyond that. My childhood does not need to be validated by whether the Millennium Falcon could survive a jump to hyperspace so close to a planet's gravitational pull. 

What I prefer to contribute to the on-line mayhem is not my cinematic stance but my hi-five enthusiasm for the newest addition to the Star Wars book franchise, Aftermath by Chuck Wendig. 

A visit to any large bookstore chain's science fiction section will familiarize yourself with the phenomena that are the fan inspired Star Trek and Wars novels. These books seem to breed on the shelves, sadly giving the entire genre a bad name. It should be noted that at no time has this girl actually read a Star Trek novel, hence having no leg to stand on and should be taking accordingly. The little, however, I have read from the Star Wars universe inspired a similar level of annoyance that only the new Dune books have been able to rise in me, thus providing a sliver from a shelf to pontificate on. Timothy Zhan's Thrawn trilogy was a brilliant failure, exemplifying an author's ineffectiveness to see beyond the pre-existing narrative. Most of my reading time was spent equally internally editing the blandness, and pining for proper sentences. 

The war is so very not over in Aftermath. The Empire having lost the Battle of Endor, the death of the Emperor, Darth Vadar, and countless of soldiers and support staff is supposedly limping to it's demise. A new world order struggles to secure through the galaxy as planet after planet begins the slow process of renewed identification. The brilliance of Chuck Wendig's adaptation is the harsh realism he envelopes over pop-culture's beloved G-rated space fairy-tale. This is not the Star Wars we have been weaned on for decades, this is the Star Wars your mother would definitely not let you're 10 year-old self watch. 

Aftermath offers an adult version of our childhood heroes and villains. Power is not Dark nor Light but a reflection of political economics. A holovid of Princess Leia beams across the galaxy proclaiming the destruction of the Death Star over the forest moon of Endor, willing the myriad of local governments to align with the New Republic. Is this the proclamation of peace or well-crafted propaganda? The fall of any great civilization is more than a one-act play. The Battle of Endor is the keystone; of and to what degree is unclear. With power as the novel's theme, it provides the necessary framework for a narrative that moves to the fantastic, offering seemingly impossible feats of luck for the rag-tag protagonists. A novel that could easily become trite is saved by layers of governmental intrigue on both sides of The Force.

If you are looking for a light read, something that dabbles within the Star Wars universe, while managing to expand your imagery of a world already well-defined, Aftermath is your book.