Audio Book Junkie

Audio Book Junkie

My name is Mike Finn and I'm an Audio Book Addict.

I'm here to share my experience of the books I listen to.

Review
4 Stars
"Dance, Gladys, Dance" by Cassie Stocks
Dance, Gladys, Dance - Cassie Stocks

I have a bad habit of critiquing books while I'm reading them. Even when I'm immersed in the story and enjoying myself, part of my attention is on how and why the book works. It gives me pleasure and mostly I can't help it.

 

"Dance, Glady's Dance" was an exception. It reached past my over-analytical head and connected with my emotions. It made me happy, even when it was making me sad.

I'm not entirely sure how Cassie Stocks did that but I'm very glad she did.

 

"Dance, Glady's, Dance", like many of the best things in life, requires you to use a little bit of imagination and to be willing to hope.

 

The story starts with Frieda Zweig looking, at twenty-seven, for a fresh start where she can put aside her former life as a would-be artist and live a life more ordinary. She asks herself:

"Who was I going to be? I was more inclined towards inertia than upward mobility and didn’t like most people enough to devote my life to helping others less fortunate than myself. I’d work somewhere, I thought, watch TV in the evenings, and become wholly involved in the lives of non-existent people. I’d develop my own life of quiet desperation, as Emerson’s buddy Thoreau suggested the mass of men (and, presumably, women) led."

To help with this self-imposed task, Frieda defines  "Five Steps To An Ordinary Life":

1. Get a real job.
2. Stop seeing the world as a series of potential paintings.
3. Learn how to talk about the weather.
4. Do the things that normal people do.
5. Figure out what normal people actually do.

Although the initial tone of the book is light-hearted, "Dance, Gladys, Dance", is not a comedy. Frieda uses humour to distance herself from her problems and to suppress the strong emotions that always result in her needing to paint. True, Frieda's reality is often orthogonal to the surface of life as most of us live it and she spends a good deal of her time puzzled and occasionally defeated by everyday things like shopping for clothes, but Frieda is bright and intuitive and kind and fundamentally serious in her approach to life.

 

Frieda's doomed attempt to embrace the ordinary leads her to renting a room in a Victorian house owned by a widower who teaches photography at a local Arts Centre. After she moves in, she meets, Gladys, the ghost of the first woman to live in the house.

In addition to a cleverly designed set of events in the present day that weave together the fates of a number of strong characters, we have chapters that tell us more about Freida's life and how she came to give up on the idea of being an artist and, bit by bit, we hear Gladys' story.

 

Many of the characters in the book are damaged or in pain because they lack belief in their own talent or they have given up on their belief that they can be who they want to be. The book shows women in particular as being at risk of losing themselves in this way or being denied the right to use their talent.

 

The message of the book seems to be: trust yourself, use your talent and take the small opportunities we all have to make the world a less awful place to live in. Delivering this message without coming across as either didactic or sentimental is what makes this book such a triumph.

 

stocksphoto"Dance, Gladys, Dance" was Cassie Stocks' first novel. In 2013 it won the Leacock Memorial Medal, awarded to the best book of humour written in English by a Canadian writer.

 

You can find an interview with Cassie Stocks on writing "Dance, Gladys, Dance" here.

 

You can find details of her biography here.

 

 

A Valentine poem by Wendy Cope that speaks to me

I'm falling in love with the poems of Wendy Cope. This one is from "Serious Concerns" and it sums up how I feel on Valentine's day.

 

 

valentine.001

 

My heart made up its mind fourty-two years ago. We got married twelve years later. She's still my Valentine.

 

Valentine

by Wendy Cope

 

My heart has made its mind up


And I’m afraid it’s you.


Whatever you’ve got lined up,


My heart has made its mind up


And if you can’t be signed up


This year, next year will do.


My heart has made its mind up


And I’m afraid it’s you.

"Force Of Nature - Aaron Falk #2" by Jane Harper
Force of Nature: A Novel - Jane Harper

"Force Of Nature" takes place some months after the events in "The Dry". Aaron Falk is back working in Financial Crimes in Melbourne, tracking down contracts to make a money laundering case against a family firm. The firm has an "Executive Adventure" retreat in the mountains which involves a team of five men and a team of five women navigating through the bush over the course of a weekend. At the end of the weekend, only four of the women make it out. The missing woman is the contact Falke has been pressuring to steal copies of contracts for him. Falk and his partner go to investigate.

 

This is very cleverly told tale, moving along two timelines in parallel. The main timeline, the search for the missing woman and the investigation of the circumstance of her disappearance, is interspersed with the details of what happened in each day in the women's team as the hiked the trail.

 

Without ever making me feel like I was being cheated, Jane Harper fed me bits and pieces of information about the women on the hike that kept changing my assessment of them as individuals and of their relationships to each other. Naturally, I was also kept guessing about what happened to the missing woman. The resolution was satisfying and plausible.

 

Unlike in "The Dry", Falk is not the focal point of this investigation. We continue to learn more about him and he behaves in a way that is consistent with the man we met in "The Dry" but he is instrumental rather than central this time. I thought the book was stronger for that.

 

I liked the way this book presented women. It's quite rare to read crime books that pass the Bechdel Test of having at least two women talking to each other about something other than a man. "Force Of Nature" is MAINLY about women talking to each other.

 

We see the power of the bond between mothers and daughters and between (twin) sisters and the conflicts that arise from hierarchy and dominance. These women are clearly drawn and very believable. The verbal fights and physical violence that these women get into are tough and harsh but still different from the same kind of conflicts between men. My impressions of the women kept shifting as I learned more about them and they emerged as individuals with very different views of the same events.

 

It seems to me that the title refers to two forces of nature: the power of the bush to threaten our well-being and trigger survival behaviours that conflict with how we present ourselves back in the city and the power of family to summon sacrifice and guilt as well as love.

 

The book also looks at the pressure the Internet puts young girls under and what they do to themselves and each other to deal with that pressure.

 

This is a good, page-turning, mystery that is made richer by strong characters behaving realistically in a difficult situation.

 

I liked Falk and enjoyed seeing his view of events. There was just enough development of him to build a basis for a great series here.

 

I listened to the audiobook version. Although it had the same narrator as "The Dry", it didn't work quite so well this time. Partly this was because it's a challenge to have a narrator do so many different women's voices and partly because the editing was a little sloppy with a couple of sections with repeated sentences of mispronounced words. It was still a comfortable listen but adding a second narrator for the second timeline would have made for a better listening experience.

 

Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear a sample

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BookLikes is so slow it hurts

sloth

Since the update last week, BookLikes has slowed way down.

 

It's so slow that I'm being timed out while posting or commenting. 

 

It's nice that ASIN now works but I'd rather do without that than live with this performance

Review
5 Stars
"American War" by Omar El Akkad - highly recommended.
American War - Omar El Akkad

I believe the thing that sets Omar El Akkad's "American War" apart is not his ability to build a powerful and compelling view of a 2075 America, damaged by global warming and collapsing into a civil war, prompted by the South's refusal to stop using fossil fuels, it is his creation of Sara T Chestnut - who calls herself Sarat. Sarat is a bright, curious young girl from Louisianna who is broken and finally destroyed by a war she had no part in making and a need for revenge that she cannot let go of.

 

Sarat is neither hero nor saint. She is strong, brave, bright and fierce. She has also been fundamentally ruined by the war she has lived through. What she does is literally atrocious. Why she does it is completely understandable.

 

It is this ability to help me understand Sarat without turning her into an object or either worship or contempt, that makes "American War" a great novel.

 

In the opening chapter of "American War" the narrator tells us that:

 

"This isn't a story about war, it's about ruin."

In this war of the MAG (Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia) against the North, everything and everyone is ultimately ruined. America becomes a place of violence and vengeance. A place where you or either "Us" or the enemy. A place filled with the desperate poverty of refugee camps, the truculent aggression of militias, merciless oppression by the government and self-interested interference by foreign powers who covertly fuel the conflict with weapons and subversion while publicly offering humanitarian aid. There are assassinations, massacres, torture and bone-deep hatreds.

 

Yet there is nothing here that I cannot look around and see today in the Middle East or the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp or Turkey or in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. Omar El Akkad is a journalist who has covered many wars and revolutions. He has not had to make up the things that come with war, What he has had to do is to help us see them with fresh eyes, to put ourselves in the shoes of the losing side, the oppressed, the refugees, the ones who have seen everyone they love and everything they care about destroyed by an enemy so powerful that victory is unimaginable and the only possibilities are survival or revenge.

 

"American War" is not a book that preaches through soundbites. The pace is slow, You feel the years passing and experience hope being slowly extinguished and being replaced by shame and anger and an insatiable need for revenge.  The book avoids being a series of platitudinous abstractions by focusing on Sarat's slow transformation from a bright, curious child, into fierce fighter and then to a woman broken and in constant pain.

 

Sarat doesn't theorise about war. Perhaps, as the product of it, she is too close to it to be able to see it as anything other than how the world is.

 

The theorising is left to an outsider, Karina, who keeps house for the Chesnuts at one point. She is the one who understands that, diverse as people are when there is peace, they all become the same in war. She believes that:

“The misery of war represents the world’s only truly universal language.”

and that:

"The universal slogan of war, she'd learned, was simple: if it had been you, you'd have done no different."

Karina also sees Sarat differently:

"Unkike everyone else, she didn't admire Miss Sarat or hold her in some revered esteem. The girl was still a child. At seventeen she was still less than half Karina's age.  She knew from experience that there existed no soldier as efficient, as coldly unburdened by fear, as a child broken early."

The only other commentator on what truly drives the conflict Sarat is engulfed by is made by her childhood friend, who, trying to explain why she thinks a certain action is right, says:

"In this part of the world right and wrong ain't about who  wins or who kills who. In this part of the world, right and wrong ain't even about right and wrong. It's about what you do for your own".

This is a statement you could hear all over the world, Treating others differently than your own seems to be a basic human response. When war comes, this response is the oxygen feeding the fire.

 

This novel reminded me that, if I want to understand acts or war or terrorism, I should always remember the "before" that led that person to that event. I don't have to condone them, but I'll never understand them if I stay ignorant of the "before".

 

"American War" is a grim book but an honest one. It is heartbreaking without being in the least bit exploitative. It's wonderfully well-written and brilliantly narrated by Dion Graham.  Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear a sample:

 

https://soundcloud.com/pan-macmillan/american-wart-by-omar-el-akkad

 

og_image_nprbooksClick on the npr books logo to hear Lulu Garcia-Navarro interview Omar El Akkad on how "American War" explores the universality of revenge. In it, Omar El Akkad talks about Sarat and says:

"No. I don't think you're supposed to have sympathy for her. My only hope is that you understand why she did it. I think one of the things that's been lost in this incredibly polarized world we live in is the idea that it's possible to understand without taking somebody's side. So my only hope is that when you get to the end of the book, you're not on her side, you don't support her, you're not willing to apologize for her — but you understand how she got to the place where she is."

 

Reading progress update: I've read 7%. - one chapter in and already happy
Frost Burned  - Patricia Briggs, Lorelei King

After deciding to DNF "Need To Know", which I'd been looking forward to enough to pre-order, I needed something to remind me how much fun reading can be.

 

It's mid-February. The sky is pregnant with grey snow that turns to rain when I drop 200m down the hill to the lakeside. The noon-time temperature is just above freezing. I have proposals to write in my deliberately small and dark office. 

 

So, before I start my day, I decided to spend some time with Mercy Thompson over in Washington State. It's Thanksgiving there, so the weather's no better but within a single chapter, I've been transported from here to somewhere where all I have to do is relax and admire how skillfully Patricia Briggs re-immerses me into Mercy's world through the mundane activity of Black Friday shopping and then blows everything apart, leaving me keen to know what happens next.

 

Better yet, I was able to get this book in the audible version (books 2-6 aren't available as audiobooks in Switzerland) so I can let Lorelei King lay the whole thing out for me as I walk beneath slowly brightening sky to get a café creme and a couple of croissants for breakfast.

 

"Need To Know" by Karen Cleveland - DNF - abandoned at 20% mark
Need to Know: A Novel - Karen Cleveland

The hype that brought me to this book was mostly accurate. It is fascinating to read a novel about a CIA analyst, written by someone who was a CIA analyst for a decade. The premise - what would you do if your work to uncover suspected Russian sleeper cells in the US identified your huaband of seven years and father to your four children as a suspect. I suspect that, as the book unfolds, there will be a complex hiw-do-I-get-out-of-this? plot.

 

Unfortunately, this book is not for me. The pace is slow. The emotions are too wholesome. The characters are vamilla. I expected more anger and more scepticism. There's  too much motherhood and apple pie here for me to enjpy myself.

 

After two hours of a nine hour book, I've decided that I don't Need To Know.

 

Try the audiobook sample on the SoundCloud link below and see if this book is for you.

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Reading progress update: I've read 14%. "The Husband Stitch" - the first story
Her Body and Other Parties: Stories - Carmen Maria Machado

I've read the first story in this collection and I can see that this is going to be a remarkable reading experience: challenging, engrossing and perhaps a little unnerving.

 

I can also see that I need to review it one story at a time. So here's my review of the first story (about thirty-five pages long).

 

The Husband Stitch

"The Husband Stitch" showed me that stories are dangerous. Its muscular form squirms in my imagination's grasp, sleek and slick but with razor-sharp edges that slice and make me gasp with surprise.

 

This is a story filled with other stories, stories that you will half-recognise and half be surprised by. Stories that make you ask yourself what it tells us about the world that we all know these stories? Are they lessons? Warnings? Truths? Myths? Desires? Whatever they are, they persist and they have power.

 

At one point the teller of the tale (who never shares her name and who says that she has been telling stories all her life, says:

"When you think about it, stories have this way of running together like raindrops in a pond. Each is borne from the clouds separate, but once they have come together, there is no way to tell them apart."

Her stories are all about women and the things that happen to them, few of them good and they power her own story, which is a story and not a documentary and therefore holds meaning but does not always release it easily. 

 

She is a passionate woman, who chooses her boy at a party at the age of seventeen and then gives herself to him and teaches him how to use what he's been given. She becomes first a lover, then a bride ("Brides", she tells us, "never fare well in stories. Stories can sense happiness and snuff it out like a candle."), then a wife and a mother.

Years pass and the only thing she withholds from her husband is the right to touch the green ribbon that is always tied around her throat.

 

The ribbon is the heart of this story. You'll have to decide for yourself what it means.  I believe it represents identity. The part of her that makes her who she is. The part that she cannot be without. Yet, in this story, only women have ribbons.

 

If the story has a moral (as opposed to having many or even a different one depending on who reads it) then I think it is about the inevitable destruction wrought by husbands on wives. I think the "Husband Stitch" of the title is an extra stitch that husbands ask the doctor to add when sewing up an episiotomy wound, to make the vagina tighter, almost virginal. This selfish re-shaping speaks to male arrogance and a refusal to accept their wives in their true forms.

 

In the story, her refusal to let him touch her ribbon becomes a source of strife:

“A wife,” he says, “should have no secrets from her husband.”

“I don’t have any secrets,” I tell him.

“The ribbon.”

“The ribbon is not a secret; it’s just mine.” “

Were you born with it? Why your throat? Why is it green?”

I do not answer.

Her husband, she tells us, "...is not a bad man at all. To describe him as evil or wicked or corrupted would do a deep dis-service to him. And yet-"

 

That "And yet?" is where this story and all the stories within it, take us. It is a place both mysterious and sadly familiar. It is how things are.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review
4 Stars
"River Marked - Mercedes Thompson #6" by Patricia Briggs
River Marked - Patricia Briggs

At the start of "River Marked", I found myself smiling. I was glad to be back in Mercy's company and pleased that she has been granted some happiness.  Patricia Briggs writes in a way that makes me feel that I'm going, if not home, then at least back to a favourite place when I open a Mercedes Thompson book. That's a rare gift.

 

Mercy is getting married. Honest. Any day soon. If she can survive her mother's plan-everything-down-to-the-last-second approach. As the wedding plans devolved into chaos my smile broadened. This felt warm and real.

 

When the Fae offered a fancy mobile home for Mercy's honeymoon and a free stay at a perfect spot, I grinned harder, knowing that bad things were bound to follow.

 

The honeymoon takes place on the Columbia River, near Horsethief Lake Park in Washington and the Bad Thing is drawn from Native American traditions and is a lot scarier than the vampires and most of the Fae we've met so far. This monster is hunger incarnate and people are its favourite prey.

 

 

(]Horsethief Falls Pictograph: She Who Watches. East gorge. WA. Angie Moore. 1M "She Who Watches"Pectroglph)

 

I liked the way this story uses Mercy's Native American heritage and of course, her Walker/Coyote nature to give her a better understanding of herself without getting all soppy about it and without sentimentalising Native American Myths.

 

There were clever links to the pictographs in the Park and the scene in the local standing stones was very well done. I loved the fact that Mercy's magical nature meant she could see things the young shaman-in-training wanted to believe in but had not yet managed to see.

 

This time, even though Adam is at her side, it is Mercy who must save the day. She gets help from some surprising places, including meeting with Coyote himself. Patricia Briggs manages to balance, magic, myth, murderous violence with humour and compassion in a way I find very pleasing.

 

The book also moves Mercy on. It gives her happiness and security and demonstrates her strength while still showing her as vulnerable. The letter Mercy wrote to Adam, to be opened if she didn't survive her encounter with the Big Bad, summed her up perfectly.

 

 

OFF TOPIC POST "GAPS" by Mike Finn

Gaps.001

Review
2.5 Stars
“A Study In Charlotte – Charlotte Holmes #1” by Brittany Cavallaro
A Study in Charlotte - Brittany Cavallaro

This is a Young Adult story that reboots the Holmes and Watson story with the great great grandchildren of the original Holmes and Watson: Charlotte Holmes and James (don’t call me Jamie) Watson. They find themselves at the same Vermont boarding school. Watson is an American, raised in London for most of his life and Holmes is a Brit exiled to America for bad behaviour.

 

It’s a clever idea. The changes in age, gender, country and century prevent Charlotte from being Holmes in a dress and change the dynamic between Holmes and Watson in complex ways.

 

Although this is a light read, it’s not a soft one. We have drugs and rape and cold-blooded murder. Charlotte is a hard person to like. She’s bright and fierce but so aberrant in her behaviour that she comes off as somewhere between abused child and irredeemable narcissist. Watson is a little brighter than his predecessor but has a problem with anger and a habit of using violence as a problem-solving technique.

 

The plot reloves around murders that are clearly based on Holmes stories and for which Watson and Holmes are being framed. This provides solid links to the Holmes brand while requiring a modern reinterpretation.

 

The supporting characters, especially the grown-ups, are paper thin. The school set-up is improbable. The denouement is not entirely convincing.

 

It’s a fun romp, with flashes of originality, nuggets of insider humour and an unabashed exploitation of the Holmes brand.

 

I enjoyed myself but I don’t hear the rest of the series calling to me.

I started with the audiobook version but abandoned it in favour of the Kindle version after only half-an-hour. The book has two narrators, Graham Halstead for Jamie Watson and Julia Whelan for Charlotte Holmes. Graham Halstead opened and I never managed to get past his performance. Most of it is fine but his attempts at English accents are not distracting. Not Dick Van Dyke awful but not good enough to match the right accent to the right class.

 

Of all the wonderful narrators out there wouldn’t it have been possible to find Americans who do English accents as well as Paltrow or Anderson or perhaps take the radical step of using narrators who are actually English?

OFF TOPIC POST: Rebuttal On Behalf Of A Dead Cat

contemptuous cat

 

I read this poem by Wendy Cope today:

 

An Unusual Cat Poem

 

My cat is dead
But I have decided not to make a big
                                  tragedy out of it.

 

It made me wonder how the cat would have replied. Here's my rebuttal on the cat's behalf:

 

An All-Too-Usual Human Poem

 

My human is cold
But I have decided not to be at
                              all surprised.

 

Review
2.5 Stars
"Blind Goddess - Hannah Wilhelmsen #1" by Anne Holt (translated by Tom Geddes)
Blind Goddess (Thorndike Thrillers) - Anne Holt

The good things about "Blind Goddess":

  1. The story is told using some cleverly intersecting timelines in a way that makes the story less linear, increases tension and sustains some useful ambiguity
  2. The action scene - there's only one - not much else really happens, despite there being multiple killings - is well-done.
  3. It's set in Norway so there's snow and lots of polite aggression.

 

Things that made *Blind Goddess" a 2.5 star read:

  1. I didn't care about any of the characters - even when they were the good guys and in mortal danger. The writing was too arms-length - too dependent on an omniscient authorial voice. I felt like I was reading a screenplay.
  2. There was so little tension that, even though the plot is quite clever, I was tempted to give up about halfway through and read something that provoked more than mild curiosity.
  3. What little tension there was depended on unlikely events, like a car failing for no reason or a man being so worried by a vague threat that he suicides.
  4. The relationship between the main police officer and the prosecutor was central to the story and yet, after reading the whole thing, I still didn't know what that relationship was.

My advice: unless you're a true scandi crime fan, wait for the TV adaptation to come out.

 

Reading progress update: I've read 9%. a suprising but promising start
Dance, Gladys, Dance - Cassie Stocks

I bought this because I was looking for new, to me, Canadian authors. I wasn't sure what to expect. Now I'm not sure what I have except that it's unusual and promisese to he highly entertaining if read with an open mind.

 

Our heroine is looking, at twenty-seven, for a fresh start where she can put aside her former life as would-be artist and live a life more ordinary.

 

"Who was I going to be? I was more inclined towards inertia than upward mobility and didn’t  like most people enough to devote my life to helping others less fortunate than myself. I’d work somewhere, I thought, watch TV in the evenings, and become wholly involved in the lives of non-existent people. I’d develop my own life of quiet desperation, as Emerson’s buddy Thoreau suggested the mass of men (and, presumably, women) led."

 

To help with this self-imposed task, she comes up with Five Steps To An Ordinary Life:

"1. Get a real job.

2. Stop seeing the world as a series of potential paintings.

3. Learn how to talk about the weather.

4. Do the things that normal people do.

5. Figure out what normal people actually do."

OFF TOPIC POST: And now what? Thoughts on being sixty-one

and now what.001

 

I'm now sixty-one.

 

No, it's not just a number, it's a voice in my head, saying: "Are you ready to pay attention yet? That future you used to have, you've spent almost all of it. Waddaya gonna do with what's left?" 

 

I have no idea why some of the voices in my head speak like that. I'm English and reasonably well educated. Why should a voice in my head say "waddaya"?

 

Still, the voice has a point. I need to make some choices. The thing is that I've lived with myself for long enough now to know that choices are already being made. What I do next seems to get sorted out somewhere deep inside my head while I'm focusing on other things. If I didn't know better, I'd say the voices in my head are taking turns distracting me with prompts to make a rational analysis while they put a plan together that they'll tell me about later.

 

I hope they don't make a mess of it.

 

Figuring out what's going on in my head is something I've found I have to do indirectly. It's closer to reading signs and portents than getting a response to an email.

 

When I find my attention snagged by something new, I know from experience that I should ask myself, "Why did my subconscious make my attention come to rest on THIS today?"

 

The first new (or at least, new to me) thing was a poem by A E Housman called, "Yonder See The Morning Blink"

 

yonder see the morning blink.001

 

It captures a feeling that's been coming upon me more and more, especially in the pre-dawn dark of winter mornings: "Why am I STILL doing this?"

 

I worked it out. Unlike Housman, it's not "Ten thousand times I've done my best". That's only twenty-seven years.  Even if I only count my working life, I'm up there at fourteen thousand times and not done yet.

 

1693750-high_res-last-tango-in-halifaxThere are days when all I want to do is follow the example of the retired couple in "Last Tango In Halifax" and spend my days "farting about doing bugger all".

 

I think that's the desire that my head was using Housman's poem to surface.

 

There are also days when I ask myself, why bother at all? Why not just withdraw? Or stop? Or sulk?

 

Why put up with aching when I wake, with diminished stamina and declining appetites, with bureaucracy that never stops and never learns, with a world turned blind and unkind?

 

Perhaps alarmed that I might become a hermit or perhaps just wanting me to grow up and get on with the plan they haven't shared with me yet, the voices in my head sent me another poem  This time something wonderful that I cannot believe I've never seen before: "Spellbound" by Emily Bronte.

 

spellbound by Emily Bronte.001

 

I'm sure this poem has many meanings. That's part of what makes it wonderful. To me, right now, it's a reminder that, even in the gathering gloom, there is splendour. All I have to do is stay around long enough and keep my eyes open enough to let it work its spell.

 

So, my decoding of the messages so far reads: even though all's to do again, I will not, cannot go.

 

Instead, I'll wait for whatever is going to happen next and be glad that I'm still here to find out what it is.

 

Review
3.5 Stars
"Third Time Lucky and other stories of the most powerful wizard in the world" by Tanya Huff
Third Time Lucky: And Other Stories of the Most Powerful Wizard in the World - Tanya Huff

Tanya Huff is one of my favourite SF/Fantasy writers.  I loved her trope-twisting "Blood" series with Detective Vicki Nelson encountering everything from Werewolves to Mummies, her "Confederation / Peacekeeper" series where Gunnery Sergeant Torin Kerr delivers military SF that isn't just about winning and her "Gale Women" series where the world is saved on a regular basis by women who know how to unleash magic.

 

Two of the things I like most about her writing is the way she uses humour and the way she subverts patriarchal power models. Her women are powerful but they use their power in very different ways than their male counterparts and they love pricking pomposity.

 

I jumped at the opportunity to go back to a collection of stories written at the start of her career and see how far these two elements were already present. What I found were some light, fun stories that made me smile both because they are witty in a relaxed, slightly bawdy sort of way and because they disassemble traditional power models with a wink and a cocky smile.

 

Magdelene, the central character of the seven stories in "Third Time Lucky", is the most powerful wizard in the world. Fortunately for everyone concerned, she is also the laziest wizard in the world. She is more interested in living in a climate that requires little by way of clothing and is populated by well-muscled men who know how to sing than she is in world domination.

 

I read the stories in the order they're published in the book, which is the order that Tanya Huff wrote them in, rather than the chronological order of the stories. This, together with the notes from the author at the start of each tale, let me watch how Tanya Huff's idea of Magdelene developed between the first story in 1985 and the last in 2001.

 

They all made me smile and they all made me look again at power models - the one where Magdelene encounters a wizard bureaucracy I found to be particularly cutting.

If you're a Tany Huff fan, take the time to read this collection.

 

If you're not a Tanya Huff fan yet, read this collection for a gentle introduction to someone who sees the world differently and makes you glad to be in her company.

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