Doctor Strange Vol. 2: The Last Days of Magic by Jason Aaron, Chris Bachalo

dr-strange

They’ve crossed the dimensions, purging each of all sorcery. Now the Empirikul are here. And with Earth’s Master of the Mystic Arts weakened beyond measure, is there any chance of stopping them? The Sorcerer is no longer Supreme, and he’ll find himself at the mercy of the Imperator! With his magic destroyed and his world on the brink of disaster, are there any more tricks left up Strange’s sleeves? Or failing that, how about some cool weapons? Plus: As the Empirikul wreak havoc on magic users across the Marvel Universe, discover Wong’s ultimate sacrifice, watch Brother Voodoo make a stand, and meet a new player just as she’s about to lose the game!

I’ve not read Dr Strange before and I picked this book up around the time the film came out in the hope of brushing up on some of the source material.

It took me several attempts to get into the story and it was only later that I realised the probable reason for this – when I brought it, I didn’t realise this was the second half of a story arc, and I haven’t read the first novel.  The Empirikul, having decimated other realities, have come to this world, and are decimating their way through the magical forces in the world. It is up to Strange and the other magicians to band together to prevent the loss of everything, sometimes making total sacrifices to achieve the end.

It’s taken me a while to write this review – I dont know the creators and I dont know the characters at all, so I dont know how well or badly those involved are performing, but judging by the other reviews around the place…..this is a poor second book, especially in relation to what is generally considered to be an excellent first book. Judging by the fact it took me so many attempts to get started, and it still took me ages to review, I generally agree with what else has been written about it.

So in summary: I have more than enough Graphic Novels on my TBR list that I need to read so I will not be in a rush to buy any more Doctor Strange stories.

 

Book Review: The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane

A thrilling new novel from #1 New York Times bestselling author Lisa See explores the lives of a Chinese mother and her daughter who has been adopted by an American couple.

Li-yan and her family align their lives around the seasons and the farming of tea. There is ritual and routine, and it has been ever thus for generations. Then one day a jeep appears at the village gate—the first automobile any of them have seen—and a stranger arrives.

In this remote Yunnan village, the stranger finds the rare tea he has been seeking and a reticent Akha people. In her biggest seller, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, See introduced the Yao people to her readers. Here she shares the customs of another Chinese ethnic minority, the Akha, whose world will soon change. Li-yan, one of the few educated girls on her mountain, translates for the stranger and is among the first to reject the rules that have shaped her existence. When she has a baby outside of wedlock, rather than stand by tradition, she wraps her daughter in a blanket, with a tea cake hidden in her swaddling, and abandons her in the nearest city.

After mother and daughter have gone their separate ways, Li-yan slowly emerges from the security and insularity of her village to encounter modern life while Haley grows up a privileged and well-loved California girl. Despite Haley’s happy home life, she wonders about her origins; and Li-yan longs for her lost daughter. They both search for and find answers in the tea that has shaped their family’s destiny for generations.

A powerful story about a family, separated by circumstances, culture, and distance, Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane paints an unforgettable portrait of a little known region and its people and celebrates the bond that connects mothers and daughters.

From edelweiss in exchange for a review.

I’ve read several of See’s books before (namely Peony in Love and Shanghai Girls), and this story develops around a small ethnic Akha group in western China. Starting in the 1990s, this has a feel of a group of people very much secluded by their location, traditions etc. Very traditional, there is a lot of superstition, such as the killing of twins and the subsequent shunning of the parents; pre-martial sex is accepted, almost expected, so long as the girl didn’t get pregnant; not having to be under one child rule, due to their ethnicity etc.

Li-Yan (also known as Girl)  is moderately educated, but misses out on going to higher education when a stranger (Mr Huang) arrives in the village, looking for pu’er (a specific type of fermented tea) and she is used as a translator. She is also distracted by San-pa, with who she has regular sex. He’s gone off to Thailand to get a job when she finds out she’s pregnant, still unmarried. She gives birth away from the village, helped by her mother, the local midwife. However, instead of killing the child, as tradition dictates, she is sent to the nearest town in order to find someone to look after her baby. She travels alone, and leaves the baby near an orphanage to be picked up.

She returns home to pick up the pieces and San-pa returns a few years later in order to “claim” Li-Yan. The two get married, and return to Thailand, only for Li-Yan to become disillusioned with everything. She realises that they are in Thailand illegally, San-pa is involved in the drug trade and is addicted to opium. With no money and no friends and no protection, Li-Yan is planning her escape when San-pa is killed by a tiger.

Having made her way back to the village, finally Li-Yan is able to go to tea school with the help of Mr Huang, though she doesnt know it at the time. She graduates, sets up shop in the city selling pu’er, makes friends, and finally gets married for a second time, this time to a rich Chinese man who splits his time between China and the US. She is thrust into a new world, where she is exposed to new things and realises just how backward her people are. She and her new husband keep looking for Hayley (though they dont know that’s her name), whilst knowing she’s somewhere in the US.

Meanwhile, she sees the effect of money is having on her village – whilst the houses are better, things are changing perhaps too much, and people seem to be ditching much of the traditions, for better or worse.

Interwoven to Li-Yan’s story are letters, adoption notes etc of Hayley being adopted and growing up in the US. It gives some insight into what’s it like to be a foreign adoptee with Western parents and the inherent need to find more whilst feeling a disconnect with your adoptive parents.  It’s only during a group chat later in the book that we actually “hear” Hayley’s voice, and then it’s in a mixed group of people. It’s an interesting way of presenting things, and helps break they story up, but could we have hear more from Hayley as Hayley?

I think See did well in challenging our perceptions with regards to other cultures, and how we shouldn’t judge another group of peoples to be all the same.  Whilst it is an interesting book, I can’t say that I was in love withThe Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane but I’m glad I’ve read it.

Anyway, it was interesting that when I was reading this book I was watching a repeat of Exploring China: A Culinary Adventure (with Ken Hom going around China), that included a stop in this province, and cooking with pu’er. I think reading this book helped me put things in a little more context as it was suddently a new word I was aware of.

 

 

Book Review: Romancing the Rogue by Erica Ridley

When the new earl inherits, poor relation Miss Rebecca Bond must wed immediately or be out on her ear. The only man she’s ever loved is summoned to hear the will—but he already rejected her so soundly that they haven’t spoken in years. Yet who better than a rakish Viscount to teach her how to snare a gentleman who appreciates her charms?

Daniel Goodenham, Lord North Barrows, regrets nothing more than the lost friendship with the one woman who treated him like a man, not a title. Fate has given him the perfect pretext to win her forgiveness—even if it means having to matchmake her to someone else. But now that she’s back in his life, he’ll do anything to convince her to choose him instead…

This story was first featured in the Vexed anthology.

I’ve read several of Ridley’s books before so I am pre-approved on Netgalley for many of her books on the site.  This is a relatively short book, with a very limited cast of characters.

Rebecca had a dubious first season, having been shamefull rejected in public by the older (he was 17) Daniel Goodenham who had just inherited his title after the death of his father. She has spent the last five years living in the shadows of Castle Keyvor, but with the death of Lord Banfield everything is now in jeopardy.  The new earl becomes aware of her existance and gives  her an ultimatum: with 5 girls of his own he has no extra time or money to support a sixth: she has mere months to find a husband, or he will choose a husband for her. Her parents long gone, her wardrobe significantly out of date, the chance of a small dowry, and out of practise in flirting etc., she feels she has little chance of finding a suitable husband in time.

She realises that Daniel would be coming up for the reading of the will and that she would make use of his reputation as a rake – without realising that it’s all made up in the press.

Disgusted by his birthday party, where he knows virtually noone but all the young women are flirting for his attention, Daniel comes up to the castle early. I’m not entirely sure how he’s certain that’s where she’ll be – in the need to find Rebecca’s forgiveness. He gets about a week with her before the others arrive for the reading of the will and it doesnt always go well. He finds her infinately more intelligent and talented than he ever hoped, she finds him not the rake that the press had made him out to be.

We dont get to meet the other guests, and certainly dont sit in on the reading of the will – we only get to hear the results, which surprises at least one of the couple. This is a good choice as it doesn’t clutter the story up with 1 dimensional characters who add nothing to the story. The only character that confuses me slightly is the reaction of Mary the maid who seems to have no problem in taking orders from Rebecca, despite (apparently) Rebecca’s non-visibilty around the castle for the last 5 years.

Anyway, a shortish story, that seems pretty standalone, and not requiring an investment in a series of 8 books to find out what happens to everyone involved (as seems the fashion nowadays).

Book Review: The Doctor Wears a Stetson by Anne Marie Novark

 

the-doctor-wears-a-stetsonJessie Kincaid was fifteen and innocent when Cameron asked her to the prom. She lost her heart that night, but his plans didn’t change. He left their small town to pursue his dreams.

Seventeen years later, a trip home leads Cameron McCade back to Salt Fork, Texas and the newly widowed Jessie Devine. Since his return, the fire between them burns as hot as ever. Can they take up where they left off? Can Jessie risk her heart again?

Ebook free from Amazon. I started reading this in the effort to clear some space from my ebook, and if I’m honest – it’s not engaging and the story line is barely remembered just a week after finishing.

Jessie was in love with Cameron well before he asked her to go to prom (after Cameron and his girlfriend split up mere days before the dance). Not long afterwards, Cameron goes to the city to become a doctor, and has come home for his mother’s birthday, having been offered a lucrative job – all he has to do is accept.

Jessie is newly widowed – he husband had been seriously sick – and with the medical bills etc, the garage she inherited from her father is on the verge of bankruptcy. She has drilling rights to the McCade ranch and had vowed to her now dead husband never to sell them back to the McCades – there was some long running feud I long stopped caring to find out about, that meant the rights werent to be sold back out of spite.

Cameron comes back, Jessie has low confidence and is spiralling out of control financially, blah blah hlah.

Sorry, just a completely forgettable story

Book Review: The Last Night by Cesca Major

The Last Night by Cesca Major #BookReview

In a quiet coastal village, Irina spends her days restoring furniture, passing the time in peace and hiding away from the world. A family secret, long held and never discussed, casts a dark shadow and Irina chooses to withdraw into her work. When an antique bureau is sent to her workshop, the owner anonymous, Irina senses a history to the object that makes her uneasy. As Irina begins to investigate the origins of the piece, she unearths the secrets it holds within.

Decades earlier, another young woman kept secrets. Her name was Abigail. over the course of one summer, she fell in love, and dreamed of the future. But Abigail could not know that a catastrophe loomed, and this event would change the course of many lives for ever..

The Last Night was received from the publisher (Corvus Books) in exchange for a review. I have read this author’s debut novel The Silent Hours and the review can be found here

This story has a dual timeline, and is apparently inspired by real events. In the modern day Irina is a furniture restorer,  who keeps her secrets very close, hiding behind layers, even when she strips the varnish off the furniture she looks after to find the secrets hiding within.

Irina’s face carries scars, a daily reminder of an accident that happened years before, damaging her face as well as her relationship with those around her (from her mother to her now-ex-boyfriend Andrew and, for most of the book, us too). An unnamed client sends a bureau to Irina for repair, and during repairs she begins to feel a presence.  Strange things begin to happen. She hears and sees things that make her doubt herself and her sanity. She becomes obsessed with discovering more about the history of this piece of furniture. The culmination for her is to confront the past in conjunction with her mother – both of whom have been avoiding the subject for years, carrying their own form of grief with them.

Meanwhile, back in the 1950s, young Abigail’s mother has died and she has to leave her family home, and her friend Mary,  to live with her sister Connie and Connie’s husband. As children, Abigail and her sister were close, but have drifted apart over the years (we get an inkling as to how and why) and Abigail is surprised by the luxury they live in. She’s also surprised by the actions of her brother-in-law Larry, and spends as much time away from the house as possible. She meets and falls in love with a local fisherman called Richard and finds comfort with Richard and his father that she is not feeling in her sister’s house.  The 1950s story culminates with a tragic series of events that changes Abigail’s and Richard’s lives forever.

The relationship between Abigail and Larry is suitably disturbing (especially bearing in mind Abigail is a naive 1950s girl with a sister who has learnt how to protect herself, even if it means not protecting Abigail).

Whilst Irina has some history of seeing things that aren’t there (she has been known to see her dead brother in a crowd – even though it can’t be really), the images she sees are real to her at the time, and obviously puts her off staying in her flat and driving her car etc.

It’s a slow paced book with a slow build up of the tension and pressures for both women. This is a good use of the two time periods, with both main women confronting issues that are seemingly out of their control and their comfort zones.  I have read a debut and second novel from another author and was disappointed when it appeared that the writer had written essentially the same story twice. However, I can categorically say that Major has not done this here, and has sucessfully pulled off the dangerous “second novel”.

 

 

 

Book Review: The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett, Stephen Baxter

The Long Earth Book Review

The Silence was very faint here. Almost drowned out by the sounds of the mundane world. Did people in this polished building understand how noisy it was? The roar of air conditioners and computer fans, the susurration of many voices heard but not decipherable…. This was the office of the transEarth Institute, an arm of the Black Corporation. The faceless office, all plasterboard and chrome, was dominated by a huge logo, a chesspiece knight. This wasn’t Joshua’s world. None of it was his world. In fact, when you got right down to it, he didn’t have a world; he had all of them.

ALL OF THE LONG EARTH.

This is a Terry Pratchett, who is/was one of the few authors I generally buy their books in hardback. It’s been a while since he did a collaboration, but it was around the time that this series was announced it was also announced that Pratchett had early onset Alzheimer’s, which he subsequently died from. There are 5 books in the series, and this is the first, where the whole thing gets started.

It turns out that the Earth we live on isn’t the only version of this world….it seems that there are many other versions, at various stages of development, that can be reached by “stepping” either east or west. Some can do this naturally, some can do it with the use of a little stepping device that is powered by a potato, and some can’t step at all. There is a certain level of resentment in the latter group, especially  rest of their family leave for what they see as a better life and Leave them behind.

We are introduced to a number of main characters through whose eyes we see this new world.

  • Labsong who is a Tibetan consciousness associated with the Black corporation, and it is his money, tools etc that set up finding out more about the non datum earths.
  • Joshua is a natural “stepper” and Labsong gives Joshua the tools to get away from Datum Earth and investigate the other possibilities.
  • In the latter part of the book we are joined by Sally, a natural stepper, who is the daughter of the man who invented the stepping device. Rumour has it that daddy is dead, but there is some foreshadowing that he might turn up in a following book.

This is a relatively slow book, where Labsong, Sally and Joshua are generally left alone to do their own thing. Occasionally they get to investigate new creatures, some benign, some not, and this allows the authors to muse on what earth may have looked like had evolution taken a little detour from what happened on our version of earth.

Finally they come across a massive beast that seems to be the source of Joshua’s unease and Labsong sacrifices his ambulatory unit, if not his consciousness, to be absorbed by the alien in order to find out more.

The focus on the Long Earth for the story made it a bit disconcerting when very late in the book they introduce the idea of the long Mars. Either I was not paying attention in the rest of the book….always a possibility….or this was a very late entry of the idea of alternate other worlds. The fact there is a whole novel dedicated to the long Mars makes me wonder…..

I actually read this book in late 2016, but it’s taken me this long to write a review. It wasnt *bad*, it’s just been really difficult to know what to say about it. In reading other reviews, it seems I’m not the only one. Whilst overall people like/love the book, there are a number of things said that I tend to agree with:

  • It seems more of a number of short stories on a theme, rather than a comprehensive joined up narrative.
  • Whilst there are some amusing scenes that bring a wry smile on occasion, it’s missing the sharp wit of Pratchett that brings up dodgy looks on the bus when you laugh out loud.
  • Labsong and Sally are reasonably well defined and memorable, but Joshua (as the character the human outsider should be able to relate to the most) is the least memorable – it took me ages to remember what his name was!

 

Book Review: Death on the Cherwell by Mavis Doriel Hay

 

Death on the Cherwell Book ReviewFor Miss Cordell, principal of Persephone College, there are two great evils in the world: unladylike behavior among her students and bad publicity for the college. So her prim and cosy world is turned upside down when a secret society of undergraduates meets by the river on a gloomy January afternoon, only to find the drowned body of the college bursar floating in her canoe.

The police assume that a student prank got out of hand, but the resourceful Persephone girls suspect foul play, and take the investigation into their own hands. Soon they uncover the tangled secrets that led to the bursar’s death – and the clues that point to a fellow student.

Received from Poisoned Pen Press, via Netgalley, in exchange for a review.

I’ve been in two minds as to whether to write a review right now about this book, but decided to give it a go. I read this in late 2016, at a time that I became a touch apathetic around reading in general, and this might well have soured enjoyment of any book I read during this time.

This should be exactly my type of book – set in a woman only college, with plucky gels suspecting foul play; their best men friends/brothers being pulled into the investigation (despite them being asked to do unspeakably bad things – like ask their friends questions!; a random Yugoslavian student who may be mad enough to kill; and several older, gentlemanly policemen who have to put up with women going where they shouldn’t.

In reading other reviews of this book to get some inspiration, it seems that other people are able to articulate my general mood – one calls it a “curate’s egg” (i.e. “good in parts”), whilst others say that the story “ebbs and flows”. This is generally what I was thinking, where the conversations between the girls for example are good, but there is far too much time spent working out possibilities in terms of alibis, motives and routes taken. The attitudes of some of the characters are quite old fashioned to modern day audiences, but are very much a product of the time the book was written – and should not be a surprise to consumers of Golden Age Crime.

In Summary: I might well read this book again in the future when I’m in a better frame of mind, and should my reaction change, you’ll find out about it!