The Shi! No One Tells You About Toddlers by Dawn Dais

the shit no one tells you about toddlers

2 out of 5 stars.

I received an ARC of this work.

I do have an interest in biographical works about young children so I decided to give this one a try. I have heard both good and bad things about the toddler years, and since one of my close friends just had a baby, I am also interested in seeing what the next couple of years have in store.

Most of my disappointment comes from the lack of content in this book. It is short, the chapters are just snippets, and none of the stories are very long or go into a lot of detail. This reads a lot more like an outline of a book than a finished book.

The idea behind this work is that there are a number of chapters, each with an amusing theme, like getting toddlers to eat or toilet training. The author complains or talks in general terms about the more universal experience, tells some anecdote from her life and then at the end of each chapter there are very small snippets from other mothers around the same theme. Very occasionally two professionals also add some more scientific explanation of some phenomena.

They (author and editor) just tried to pack in too many themes. The anecdotes are so short that I did not get a good glimpse of the day to day raising of a toddler. The ending pieces by other mothers added absolutely nothing of substance because they were only a couple of sentences. I very much enjoyed the input of the professionals, but they were only called upon a couple of times.

This was just too short and over too quickly for me to get anything out of this. There are some biographies/ comedies that I could recommend, but this would not be one of them.

The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi

water knife

4 out of 5 stars

I received an ARC.

This one was more disturbing than I initially thought it would be. I read Bacigalupi’s Ship Breaker duo and since that was fairly speculative I thought this one would follow suit. It was shockingly realistic though. From what I know of the Colorado River, it, and the states it supplies, are going to be in trouble in the near future. That, combined with the lack of futuristic technology in the book, make it seem very close to reality. This book is ultimately about water, and a future in which it has become dangerously scarce.

Set in the near future, three different characters try to navigate a water-starved Southwestern United States. The survival of different cities depends on their political clout  and ability to claim senior water rights. Las Vegas is one of the big players, with Catherine Case and her goons destroying nearby competitors by undermining their water supply. Angel is one of those goons, and when someone in the area starts claiming they have traced down a game changing water allocation document, Case send him to investigate. Lucy is a future Pulitzer prize winning journalist who is willing to risk her life to uncover the shady dealings and murders behind the ongoing legal battle for control of the Colorado. It is her friend who initially claimed possession of what might be the most valuable document in America, but when he is found murdered, she has the story of a lifetime in her hands. Maria is a refugee from the now ruined state of Texas who lives hand to mouth, trying to stay out of the way of local gangs and save up enough to escape to one of the more hydrated states.

I thought this book was going to read like a dystopian novel, but it actually had a lot of characteristics of a legal thriller. A lot of the action is around legal battles for water rights, since the United States has not quite dissolved and any state caught attacking another for water will face retaliation from the federal government. There are hidden dealings, gangs and murders, but it is not outright like it would be in a dystopia. The cities have to at least appear to be handling things legally and above board. The world is dystopian, but the plot is the type of action I would more expect to find in a John Grisham novel.

Maria’s viewpoint was probably the one I enjoyed reading about the most. Angel and Lucy both live fairly privileged lives within the world of the novel. Angel is employed by one of the most powerful women in America and Lucy has enough money to buy herself water. Lucy is also not native to the area, so she has the ability to relocate elsewhere (state borders were quickly shut down once the drought hit. Too many people were flooding into the states that had steady water supplies). It is from Maria that we get a good sense of what a prolonged drought and interstate tensions would do to the most vulnerable parts of the population and how it would potentially affect politics and companies. In Maria’s world, refugees from stricken states like Texas are taken care of by large companies like Dasani and Camelpack, who provide emergency water and other supplies to citizens who have no place else to go. Criminals can be bribed to sneak people across state borders, but since they are heavily policed by troops and local militias, that is a very dangerous option. Tensions against refugees even from other cities whose water has run dry makes moving around tricky, but when the water is turned off, people don’t have much of a choice. Local gangs prey on the desperate and those who cannot afford to live in technology rich, Chinese built condos often have to go to great lengths to buy the barest necessities. Maria’s best friend is a prostitute and Maria herself sells water to Chinese workers on their lunch breaks, all the while paying protection money to several dangerous men.

The plot is full of twists and turns as Angel and Lucy both try and find the truth behind the elusive document and the trail of bodies it seems to be leaving behind it. There are several torture scenes I found a bit intense, so while others on Goodreads have characterized this as a YA novel, I would probably recommend it more for adults. It would be a good thought-provoking read for older teens if they could stomach the violence, but I found it a bit of a hard read in places.

Bacigalupi built an insanely convincing world very close to our own. The most futuristic technologies are ones that are able to recycle water more effectively, and some medicines that are a bit more advanced. Nothing that could not reasonably come into being in the next 50 years or so though. Fighting is done with guns and cell phones and computers still look much the way they do now. That is what makes this book so scary. It is only a small step away from the present. Control of waterways is only going to become more important as the population continues to grow and average global temperatures rise. It is completely conceivable that battles over water rights in already drought stricken states will become more tense and water prices become more interesting than oil. It would be a great book for a book club that wants to tie speculative fiction closely in with world events.

This book was a quick read since I had trouble putting it down. Having a variety of characters occupying different layers of the social strata gives the reader a rounded view of the world the author has created, and fast paced action keeps you reading. This was definitely an attention-grabbing book by an author quickly making a big name for himself.

All Clear by Connie Willis

blackout all clear

4 out of 5 stars

I think I finally found a science fiction book that my history-loving mother would like.

It is 2060 in Oxford. Time travel is begin used by historians to observe and document key events in human history (though some are so critical time travellers are not allowed near). 3 students have gone back to observe World War 2. Merope (Eileen) is in the British countryside taking care of war evacuees. Polly is watching the blitz as a shopgirl in London, and Michael is watching the evacuation of Dunkirk. All three complete their assignments when it becomes clear that the time travel drops to take them home are malfunctioning. They are all stuck in the middle of one of the deadliest wars in human history, with only a limited knowledge of upcoming bombings and troop movements.

I love the balance Willis has struck between the science fiction and historical elements in these books. On one side, the time travellers have an advantage over the contemporaries in that, for the time they were scheduled to be in the past, they have memorized which areas of the country get bombed and burned, so they are pre warned, for a while, of where is safe. On the downside, they live in fear of inadvertently changing the course of history. Time travel is supposed to prevent paradoxes and major changes to history, but small, worrying discrepancies start showing up. Each character experiences World War II both through the eyes of the people around them in the time period, and as a historian with the knowledge of the 21st century.

Willis does a great job of taking readers through the terror and tedium of being in London during the Blitz. People are terrified for their lives as bombs reign down, but also have to cope with how boring it is to be stuck in the dark every evening with nothing to do. Little details, like how precious pantyhose become and how difficult it is to navigate when all the road signs are blacked out really add a realism to the text. All three characters have to survive the war, try to find a way back to the future, not get arrested as spies, and try not to wreck history.

There are a lot of complaints on Goodreads about these books being tedious, but I found the pacing to be in line with other historical fiction I have read. Willis does go into a lot of detail about the day-to-day doings of the characters, but that makes the setting real. There is not as much action as science fiction fans might expect, but there is a lot of character development that kept me interested.

I really enjoyed learning about World War II through a science fiction lens. I was constantly popping onto Wikipedia to read articles about the events and people. These are great for historical fiction buffs or anyone who loves time travel.

Stolen Songbird and Hidden Huntress by Danielle L. Jensen

stolen songbirdhidden huntress

4 out of 5 stars

This review may contain spoilers for the first book.

I received an ARC of the second book.

This as yet unfinished trilogy really hit a lot of the right notes for me. Cecile is a normal girl, ready to join her mother in the big city and sing at the opera, when she is sold to the trolls. They believe she is part of a prophecy which will break the curse set on them that traps them in their kingdom beneath a mountain. Cecile is quickly bonded to their Prince Tristan, but the politics of the kingdom go to hell when the curse remains unbroken. The elite aristocracy, inbred to the point of deformity but still magically powerful, are furious that one of their own has had to defile himself by bonding to a human for nothing. The half-bloods, made weak by the mixing of troll and human blood and made slaves to the aristocrats, are pushing closer and closer to rebellion. The king, knowing that any harm to Cecile will hurt his heir, uses her to control Tristan and Tristan’s insane but powerful brother can see openings to take the crown and rule.

The politics are done very well in these two books. There are enough characters and factions to keep you on your toes, but not enough to get seriously confusing. The plots play out with thought and intricacy and keep you interested and engaged trying to figure out all the angles and anticipating the character’s actions.

Cecile and Tristan are a great couple. They are both bonded to each other against their wills but end up making a great team. Tristan is a complicated character who has to weigh the pros and cons of his actions very carefully. Breaking the curse will mean unleashing his father, brother, and other powerful and evil creatures onto mankind, possibly returning the earth to the state of bloodshed it existed in before the curse. Leaving the curse in place will continue to subject the half-bloods to slavery at the hands of their full-blooded brethren. Either way, blood will be spilled. Cecile is not politically savvy, but is brave and has some unusual magic of her own. She quickly comes to feel sympathy for the half-bloods, and even some of the full-blooded trolls as they languish beneath the foot of a tyrant.

The first book takes place mainly in the troll kingdom, and the second takes place mainly in the human world. To break the curse, the witch who cast it must be tracked down and either persuaded to undo it or killed. Cecile is able to escape the king and the troll kingdom itself, but since Tristan cannot, the King uses him as leverage to force Cecile to track down and kill the witch. Cecile goes undercover as an opera singer following in her mother’s footsteps and must try and master her magic enough to track down and kill someone who has escaped detection for generations all the while trying to deal with her controlling mother attempting to mould her into the next stage sensation.

The contrast between the two settings was great. There are politics going on in both the human and troll realms, but Cecile’s roles are so different you really get to see two sides of here character. She and Tristan also make progressively more and more difficult decisions as tensions rise in the troll kingdom and they get closer to having to decide the fate of two peoples.

The thought put into all the characters reflects very well on the author. Some of them make decisions we might not have made ourselves, but you can always see the internal justification for it. This is not a pure good-against-evil book, where everything is black and white. Characters think and act rationally according to their own logic and circumstances, and even as you root for one side, it is possible to see where the other side is coming from.

The writing flows well and never interrupts the narrative, and the story is not overloaded with too much sappy romance. The characters feel like people and the narrative voices are clear and distinct. I would definitely suggest this to anyone who loves fantasy.

The Paper Magician and The Glass Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg

paper magician  glass magician

4 out of 5 stars.

This review contains spoilers.

This one is intensely cool if only because of the system of magic that has been set up. Those who have read Tamora Pierce’s “Circle of Magic” books will partially recognize a craft / materials based magic system. The main one focused on in this book is, as the title would suggest, paper magic, though other magicians can use plastic, rubber, metal or glass. Magicians are trained at a college and are bonded to one material after graduation. That material will be theirs to manipulate and work their magic through. You cannot switch and you cannot have more than one. Anyone unsatisfied with those choices can always use blood/ flesh magic, but those people tend to turn evil.

Ceony has just graduated and has been told that, instead of getting to choose her own material, she is being shipped off to be taught paper magic, since no one else wants to. Convinced this is the most boring possible path but unwilling to give up magic altogether, she goes along with a heavy heart. She meets her teacher, a 30-something weirdo named Thane, and starts to discover that paper magic (basically origami that comes alive and other neat tricks) may not be as horrible as she was led to believe. Before they get very far, one of those evil magicians I mentioned before appears and steals Thane’s heart. This is not metaphorical, she goes into his chest and rips it out. Think Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Ceony decides to give chase and ends up wandering through Thane’s heart (this time metaphorically, I think). She sees his memories, hopes, and dreams and ends up saving him after confessing her love for him.

This was the huge flaw in the book that would have ruined it had the premise not been so cool. The 19-year old student has only known her 30+ teacher for a couple of weeks and it is never hinted that there will be a romantic relationship. We get the feeling they are becoming friends, but then love is sprung on us out of the blue at the very end. Completely unexpected and unrealistic. There time together had been so brief and she had come into it so snarky and unhappy that it grates to have the author try and convince us this is at all believable. It would have worked so much better if the timeline of the story was extended a couple of months or if they had just stayed friends. The romance was way too much too soon for a novel of this length.

The second book I enjoyed more than the first. It was less abstract than the first, none of it taking part in a manifestation of someone’s soul. Ceony and Thane are now facing a more practical attack by a blood magician on English soil. A psychopath is on the loose and targeting Ceony, and another psychopath is on the loose and wants to become a blood magician. Ceony and Thane’s relationship is now a little undetermined, and less of a focus of the book. Most of the book is awesome magical action and it really showcases the unique magical system of this world. One of Ceony’s friends is a more central character and since she is a glass magician we get a good view of another type of magic. It is a bit longer, has more characters, and leads us deeper into the world Holmberg has created.

The writing was lyrical and, except for that one flaw, this was a great read. I really love the idea of magic based around materials and crafting, instead of the classic 4 elements or spells and potions.

Unbound by Jim C. Hines

nubound

4 out of 5 stars.

Hines is a master of tongue-in-cheek pokes at fantasy tropes. Read him if you love fantasy that also sort of makes fun of fantasy. It acknowledges, but also loves the silly staples of the genre. It makes tons of references to other fantasy and science fiction works.

This is the third book in the series. Gutenberg (the printing press guy) is head of a group of magical librarians who have the ability to pull objects from well-loved books. In the past, Isaac has used this power, as well as the help from his friends (among them a druid and fire spider) to defeat evil as part of Gutenberg’s group. In this third volume, he has been kicked out and had his magic blocked. This does not mean that trouble is over though. Isaac has to face disaster without magic. At least he still has his friends!

I adore the silly, fun-ness of these books. It appeals to me as a librarian (because we get superpowers of course) and as a geek (so many awesome references!). It is mostly goofy and action filled, but also has some poignant moments.

It also deals with some alternate sexuality and relationships which I appreciate. There has been way too much fantasy that is nothing but an excuse to describe heterosexuality sex with busty females of every species. I like the change of pace.

These are so enjoyable and light. Perfect for geeks and nerds who enjoy authors who are clearly massive nerds themselves. It is too bad Hines has not written more (he only has 3 series) but I have read and liked all of them. The dialogue and situations are giggle-causing, and he nicely includes a list of all works he references, so if you have a friend or patron who is looking to get into fantasy and science fiction, these books will give a great overview of some of the staples.

The Art of Freedom: Teaching the Humanities to the Poor by Earl Shorris

the art of freedom

2 out of 5 stars.

I did not finish this, just to be completely honest. I loved the premise and was really interested in how much difference a free course in the classical humanities could make. I read about half of the book and I still have no idea. Earl Shorris may have had a brilliant idea about reducing poverty through free college-level courses but the man has absolutely no sense of narrative.

The chapters consist of brief biographies of everyone included in that leg of the project and a timeline of that stage. There are no charming anecdotes or anything resembling stories. It is very boring personal details about the people and dates. It is a simple timeline peppered with unnecessary facts that has been stretched out into a book. Everyone but Shorris is not sketched out in enough detail to seem real and there is not enough narrative flow to bind everything together. It is sooo dry. The thesis of the book is ill defined and not supported. As much as I was really pumped for this book, I could not drag myself through it.