The first book in the Bakery Detectives cozy mystery series.

Publication year: 2016
Format: ebook
Page count: 161 at GoodReads
Publisher: Fairfield Publishing

Rachael Robinson has a a bakery in Belldale. But business has been slow recently because across the street Bakermatic is selling their cakes and cupcakes a lot cheaper. They can afford to do that because it’s a big firm and they sell prepackaged cakes. Rachael takes part in the Belldale Street Fair but there, too, Bakermatic wins over pretty much all customers with their free samples. A food critic blogger, who doesn’t seem to like anyone’s food, tastes Rachael’s pie but later the critic is found dead, poisoned. Someone spreads a rumor that Rachael is responsible and her customers desert her. It’s up to Rachael and her best friend Pippa to find out the murderer.

This was a quick, fun read. The characters aren’t very deep but their fun to read about. Rachael hates Bakermatic and is convinced that they must have poisoned the critic. She’s the first person POV character. Pippa is almost the opposite of Rachael: Rachael needs to be a responsible bakery owner while Pippa has a hard time holding down a job even for a week. But they’re quite loyal to each other and both are fun to read about. They watch crime TV-shows. When the local police, meaning the handsome detective, says that Rachael is a prime suspect, Pippa and Rachael decide to investigate.

While this was a short book, it has lots of twists and turns and humor. A good introduction to the series.

Collects issues 20-24 from 90s DC TNG comic series.

Writer: Michael Jan Friedman
Artist: Peter Krause, Pablo Marcos

Friedman is a long-time Trek writer and he has a wonderful grasp on the characters. These issues came out originally 1991, during the third season of the show. That’s when I read them for the first time.

Enterprise-D is approaching Hydros system where two Federation colonies are struggling with a disease. Enterprise is heading toward the larger colony while Riker commands a shuttle to the other colony. Riker’s group has Wesley (as an ensign), Worf, Dr. Selar, and a handful of other medical personnel. Enterprise arrives to their destination and start treating the people. But the shuttle Albert Einstein encounters an anomaly which whisks it away. It disappears.

Enterprise searches for the shuttle for days but can’t find it. In the end, they must face the fact that the shuttle and crew have been lost. Captain Picard can’t really accept it, but the ship gets the next assignment and life must go on.

Meanwhile, the crew in the shuttle have their own problems: Riker is seriously hurt and the shuttle is in unfamiliar space.

This was a very Trek story with the Enterprise crew struggling with their emotions while carrying on their mission. Meanwhile, the shuttle crew are facing a lot of unexpected adventures. It’s not one my favorite story lines from the 90s comic but it’s definitely a very good one.

The first book in the Cleopatra’s Daughter historical fantasy series. It can be read as a stand-alone.

Publication year: 2011
Format: ebook
Page count: 351 at GoodReads
Publisher: Berkeley Books

This story follows the early years of Cleopatra Selene in Roman captivity. She’s the daughter of Mark Antony and Cleopatra, the Queen of Egypt. It’s written from Selene’s first-person POV.

The story starts just before Cleopatra’s death. Selene, her twin brother Alexander Helios, and their younger brother Ptolemy Philadelphos are coming to see their mother. The twins are ten and Philadelphos is eight years old. Selene is carrying a woven basket and she can feel something moving inside. They meet their mother who is preparing to die. She gives them last advice and also gives them each a memento and a power. Then she sends them back to the palace and reaches for the viper.

When the Romans invade Alexandria, Queen Cleopatra is dead. The three children are confined to the palace. Eventually, they’re brought to Rome for Emperor Octavian’s triumph. They’re paraded in chains in front of the city populace which is a terrifying and humiliating. Selene must beg for their lives which her proud twin refuses to do so. The Emperor gives them to his sister to raise.

His sister Octavia is Mark Antony’s former wife. Her household has Anthony’s other children so Selene meets for the first time her half-siblings. They’re resent her and her brothers.

Selene and her brothers are raised in the strict Roman way and they can’t worship their goddess, Isis. Perhaps even worse, they’re pawns in the Emperor’s political games. Selene must grow up quickly and learn to play politics herself, to survive.

This is a coming-of-age story but quite a unique one. The Romans try to raise Selene and her brothers as Romans because they view Egyptian ways as decadent and immoral. Octavian is especially scornful of women and lectures that women must be modest and work hard. He hates Selene’s mother. He also hates Isis’ worshipers and to them Selene and Helios are prophesied saviors.

I was fascinated by this portrayal of Isis worship. Her worshipers have a personal connection to her, which is very unusual for the time. Her worshipers also come form all walks of life, from slaves to high-born. Roman didn’t approve of this kind of religion and oppressed the worshipers. Isis worship was portrayed as a clear forerunner to Christianity.

Since the book is from Selene’s POV, the Romans and the Roman culture is seen as evil. Octavian is a moody, sickly, power hungry manipulator and his wife Livia is very strict and cold and indulges her husband’s every whim. Octavia is also very strict but does have a soften side which isn’t seen often. Cleopatra’s and Antony’s faults and not really mentioned.

Selene was raised as a Princess; she knows many languages and can dance and play kithara. The Romans view dancing as sinful and they put the children to work doing chores. During the book, Selene also wrestles with her faith: how can Isis be real and allow her parents to die and Egypt to suffer? She also wrestles with how she feels about her mother.

The book has several magical elements, most of them focusing on Selene and Isis. A couple of times hieroglyphics suddenly appear on her arms, carved in her own flesh, her blood dripping from the wounds. There’s also some prophesies and one character can see different Rivers in Time.

I enjoyed this book but more for the glimpse of Ancient Rome and the culture clash than the characters.

Writers: Christopher Golden, Todd Sniegoski, Keith R. A. DeCandido
Artists: Dave Hoover, Troy Hubbs, Jason Martin, Peter Pachoumis, Lucian Rizzo

This collection has two stories.

In “Embrace the Wolf” Enterprise-D comes to Enoch-7 which has a very peaceful society but it’s people are in the grips of madness which makes them violent toward each other. When the Enterprise arrives, the people are bombing cities. The president asks for help and Picard sends down an away team. But one of them is infected with the madness and brings it back on the ship.

This was a nice story and brings back an enemy from the original series.

“Perchance to Dream” is a four-part miniseries which starts with Data having a dream. He’s alone on the ship at first and when he sees other people, they ignore him. In the end the Enterprise crashes to a planet and he can’t prevent it. The dream disturbs him and he decides to talk to Troi about it. She gives him a little advice and they end up setting a counseling session after the current mission is over.

Most of the story is set in a world which has joined the Federation a short time ago. The populace has just elected a new world governor and the Enterprise’s crew is going to attend her inauguration. However, someone has “outed” the new governor-elect as having different sexual practices than the majority. While most people don’t care, a group of fanatics have threatened her. She doesn’t buckle under terrorist threats, so Worf and his team must give additional security.

This is clearly a “message” story about diversity and fanaticism. Meanwhile, some of the crew wrestle with their fears and tragic past events.

The alien Damiani have different biology than is usual for Federation societies. They have three biological sexes (and presumably gender roles) and so (most?) families have three adults. We’re told that they don’t have sexes corresponding to male and female but for convenience the sexes are called she, he, and it. In artwork, each individual has one, two, or three horns presumably according to their sex. However, one of the sexes has breasts so clearly they nurse their young. On the other hand, this is a very uniform species. They all have black, short spiky hair and wear the same headgear. We don’t really see much of the society, which was a shame. What we do see isn’t really different from ours: they have TV and talk shows (as holograms), they have a violent and oppressive past which they’re struggling to put past them. They have protesters and security people even though most people are peaceful.

This, too, was a nice Trek story, which focuses first on Data and then Worf and his staff. The final issue focuses on Picard and a side of him which we don’t often see, which was very nice.

The characters were very well in character in both stories.

A one shot where characters from both franchises meet for the first time

Writer: Scott Lobdell
Artists: Marc Silvestri, Billy Tan, Anthony Winn, David Finn, and a whole lot of inkers

The Enterprise has detected an anomaly on Delta Vega, where Gary Mitchell changed and died. Captain Kirk is reluctant to return there but must investigate. When the Enterprise arrives, they see a spacial rift made from pure psionic energy. Two ships come out of it, but the first one explodes immediately. The second one is huge and from it comes Shi’Ar Empire’s Gladiator who demands the Enterprise to leave. Gladiator is following Deathbird who wants the energy for herself.

Meanwhile, seven X-Men managed to teleport to the Enterprise just before their ship was destroyed. Wolverine, Cyclops, Phoenix, the Beast, Storm, Bishop, and Gambit try to find a way off the ship and to Deathbird. Lilandra has sent them after her.

This was a short, fun read. The two teams are facing two very powerful enemies. Unfortunately, the story has way too many characters so each one doesn’t have the chance to shine. There is a great moment between Spock and Wolverine, and when Kirk tries to flirt with Jean, she deflects him deftly. I also rather enjoyed Bones and Hank.

The first volume in a manga series.

Creator: Fuse
Artist: Taiki Kawakami

This is a manga apparently based on an internet novel, at least at the back of the Finnish edition, Fuse writes about how he wondered if it was even possible to make a comic from his book.

Mikami is a 37-year old Japanese man who is unsatisfied with his life because he doesn’t have a girlfriend and while he has a passable job it’s not very good. However, he seemed to be a kindhearted man because when his friends’ girlfriend is attacked suddenly, Mikami intervenes. Unfortunately, he’s stabbed and dies. But when he’s dying, he hears a strange voice talking to him: because he’s a virgin he can reincarnate as a wizard.

When his consciousness returns, at first he can’t see or hear anything but can “talk” in his head with a strange voice who tells him things about the world and himself. It turns out that he’s reincarnated as a blob of slime in a fantasy world. However, he has two powers to begin with and every time he digests something or someone, he gets their abilities. He also changes his name to Rimuru. The first person he encounters in this world is a dragon.

The comic has lots of humor but it’s not slapstick. In this first volume, we get a brief scene from totally different characters talking about the wider world. But the rest is from Rimuru’s POV. He’s mostly a fun POV character and is mostly ready to help others. However, he emotionally he felt like a teenager to me, not a middle-aged man.

The artwork is mostly nice but in the last two chapters women are drawn in sexualized ways.

The world feels like it’s put together from various famous fantasy works with dragons, orcs, dwarfs, elves, and humans. The characters also don’t have character development, as such, but get additional abilities, upgrades, like in computer games. This surprised me at first but I got used to it quickly. However, Rimuru gets very powerful very quickly, so the story focuses more on humor and exploring the world rather than danger. Also, people kept saying the dragon which has been imprisoned for 300 years is somehow protecting the valley.

A fun and light read but the volume ends in a cliffhanger.

A stand-alone Star Wars book.

Publication year: 2017
Format: print
Page count: 409
Publisher: Disney Lucasfilm

This is set a few years before A New Hope. Leia has just turned sixteen and she’s ready to take on the responsibilities of the heir to the throne of Alderaan. To prove herself, she must go through the three Challenges: of the Mind, of the Body, and the Heart. To get ready for the Challenge of the Body, she joins Pathfinders who practice survival in different places on different planets. She has already been helping her father Bail Organa in his duties as a senator but now she joins the Apprentice Legislature to represent her home planet there. For the Challenge of the Heart, she will take on missions of mercy around galaxy.

But her biggest concern is that she senses a growing rift between her parents and herself. She’s been very close to them but now her father rarely talks with her and her mother, the queen, hosts seemingly endless dinner parties where Leia isn’t welcome. She doesn’t have real friends; her status has always kept her apart from Alderaan youth. But in the Legislature and among the Pathfinders, she meets other youths and one special young man who is also from Alderaan. The young people in the Legislature are from wealthy classes and some of them will become senators. The same people are in the Legislature and the Pathfinders.

Leia knows that the Empire is hurting people and she tries to help in her own way, but she soon realizes that good intentions alone aren’t enough. She also wants to know what her parents are doing and digs into that.

This was a good novel about young Leia. She’s growing to be the fierce woman in the movies. But she’s already thinking of ways to oppose the Empire, in her own way. She makes mistakes; of course, that’s the only way to learn. She must also face her own very privileged life; she knows abstractly that not everyone lives as sheltered life as she has but it’s another thing to really see it. She learns from bitter experience to think of the consequences of her actions. We also get to see more of Alderaan’s culture.

I liked Leia’s romance interest but of course I knew it was doomed from the beginning. As far as I know, the character hasn’t appeared anywhere else.

The book has several references to the prequel movies and introduces one character in their youth who appears in the Last Jedi. We know, of course, what the Organas were doing. I had the impression that Leia was involved with the Rebellion from early age, rather than her parents trying to hide everything from her, though.

We got a couple of scenes with Grand Moff Tarkin and he steals every scene. I also through enjoyed Mon Mothma in the few scenes she had. I would have loved to see Tarkin and Mothma meet!

I mostly enjoyed the book but it does take liberties with Leia’s youth.

A reprint of the Modesty Blaise comic strips 51, 52, and 53.

Publisher: Titan
Original publication years: 1982-1983
Titan publication year: 2010

“The Balloonatic” starts as a more whimsical story than the average MB story. Modesty is in Venice. Guido Bigalzoni is an Italian reporter and an acquaintance of Modesty’s. However, she’s not eager to see him. But when Guido says that he needs Modesty’s help on a balloon ride, she can’t resist because she’s never been in a balloon before. However, the balloon ride isn’t comfortable for her because while Guido has a drop-dead gorgeous girlfriend but he still tries to hit on her constantly. Of course we all know that Modesty could maim the thin Italian with one arm tied behind her back so it’s played for laughs.

Willie and Guido’s girlfriend Aniela follow the balloon in car. When the balloon floats above a castle, Modesty and Guido see a murder. People who are wearing upper class renaissance costumes are just watching while one of them uses a floret to kill a man in a duel. They notice the balloon and shoot it down. The castle is surrounded by an electrified fence so the blood-thirsty men capture Modesty and Guido.

The rest of the adventure is in more typical MB style, however even the final battle has some whimsical elements. Apparently, Guido has appeared in some previous adventure but I haven’t read them. He’s very focused on sniffing out news and even in a battle he’s thinking about how to best write it.

“Death in Slow Motion” is a far more gruesome story. It starts with Inspector Brooke from Scotland Yard and his 19-year-old daughter. They’re prisoners in Sahara, underneath a small canvas. A woman who blames Brooke for her husband’s death has kidnapped them and will leave them to die slowly with just a pint of water daily for them both. She leaves them under the small canvas but a camera films them. She tells them that she has framed their deaths so nobody is even looking for them. But Brooke is convinced that Modesty will save them.

Meanwhile, Modesty hears that Brooke and his daughter have died while sailing. However, she had a lunch date with Brooke during that time and so she’s suspicious. But she thinks that someone has killed them both, not that they’re still alive.

The story has several short scenes of Brooke and his daughter slowly dying in the desert so the story is very intense from the start.

“The Alternative Man” is set in a tropical island. Modesty has a new boyfriend, Matt, who is a former DEA agent and now a freelance pilot. Modesty hears a plane landing in the dark and Matt tells her that it’s most likely smuggling drugs. She doesn’t want to get involved. Instead, Matt comes up with the idea that they should go to a deserted island and playact a shipwrecked couple. Modesty agrees a bit reluctantly because she knows that surviving will be hard work. Her suspicions are right: Matt doesn’t know anything about surviving. She must do all the work and he resents it.

Meanwhile, sir Tarrant has been invited to the larger island to help DEA track down a local drug lord who call himself Charon. Willie knows the DEA agent in question and tags along.

This is a pretty standard MB adventure except Modesty’s boyfriend is far more unlikable than usual.

These were fun stories. The second one is especially intense and one of the best Modesty adventures. However, the contrast between the first and the second story is big.

A SF and F short story collection with the theme of food and eating.

Publication year: 2020
Format: ebook
Page count on GoodReads: 226
Publisher: Zombies Need Brains

The collection has a surprising number of humorous and downright whimsical stories which was great. But it does have more serious stories, too, and one is borderline horror. Some mix fantasy and science fiction. All stories have food in them and some of them focus on a particular dish.

“Blue” by Paige L. Christie: Blue Eat is a diner but not just any diner. The people there want to help everyone who comes in. A man whose past weights very heavy on his conscious can’t tell his story and May must work very hard to get it out of him.

“My Brother’s Leaves” by Diana A. Hart: Mei’s brother has spent so much money on wine and women that he’s in a terrible debt. When he dies, he leaves Mei is a very difficult position. Mei has no choice but to go through her brother’s memories in the hopes of glimpsing something that will help her. But it’s very dangerous to consume too much of the tea that shows her his memories.

“Snow and Apples” by A.L. Tompkins: Ivan’s beloved Marushka has died and the only thing he can do for her is to fetch some ghost apples. But they’re well guarded. Fortunately, Ivan has friends who might be able to help him.

“Sense and Sensitivity” by Esther Friesner: This is a slapstick comedy in written form. Midge is an agent of Department of Extraterrestrial Respect and Protocol which was formed shortly after the Malkyoh came to Earth. The aliens are ravenous gluttons who demand constant feasts but unfortunately they’re also allergic to various Earth foods. Midge is trying to both protect humans and be properly subservient to the aliens.

“The Silence that Consumes Us” by Derrick Boden: A military pilot crashes her space fighter with one of her enemies’ fighters. They end up on a moon which has barely breathable air. But no food.

“The All Go Hungry Hash House” by Andy Duncan: Three musicians go to a famous Hash House… and things go downhill from there. Another comedy story.

“Pickled Roots and Peeled Shoots and a Bowl of Farflower Tea” by Chaz Brenchley: A woman has founded a monastery in a remote location. A group of soldiers comes to the monastery with a mission their leader is determined to see through, no matter what.

“Course of Blood” by Howard Andrew Jones: This fantasy story begins with a feast. Three soldiers are looking for an enemy general, Hanuvar, who is apparently hiding in the town. Hanuvar has such a fearsome reputation that the soldiers say that they’re looking for someone who claims to be the general.

“A Real Llwelyn Scone” by Mike Jack Stoumbos: The small village of Llwelyn is famous for its scones and a couple of heroes a generation ago. Then a new lord comes to the village and demands to sample the famous scones. The trouble is that they require dragon’s tears to make and nobody in the town now is a hero. So they draw lots to see who will face the dragon.

“Tender” by R.S. Belcher: Monster living among modern humanity need to eat, too. They can order their very specific meals through an app called Tender. The main character is the man who delivers the orders.

“That Final Touch of Salt” by Mia Moss: The narrator is the spirit of a child. A witch, Mirror, cursed the spirit and trapped her to a phial and now forces her to work for Mirror and her family. The poor little spirit tries to escape but in vain.

“Alien Capers” by Gini Koch: This story is set in Koch’s humorous SF world. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really introduce the characters. The main character is a journalist and for a short time he acts as a bodyguard to a 19-year old prince. They are on a planet where all the aliens look like apes but are intelligent. The narrator and the prince are caught holding the crown jewels of a lot of worlds. It all starts in a banquet.

“Magick on the Half Shell” by D.B. Jackson: A fantasy history story set in Boston in 1761. Ethan Kaille is a thieftaker. He can use magic so he often catches thieves who use magic themselves. Sephira Pryce is one of the leaders of Boston’s underworld and a very dangerous women. When she has an offer for Ethan, he’s suspicious.

“Apocalypse Chow” by Jason Palmatier: The apocalypse happened and most humans are dead. But two people are still left and they hate each other’s guts. For now, they must stick together for shelter and food.

“Six Sandwiches to Place Inside a Pentagram to Summon Me to Your Presence” by Gabriela Santiago: This story is six letterd from Elle to her younger brother Kam. They instruct him on how to make various sandwiches and also reminisce on the past, her own and their shared past.

This was a fun collection which several funny stories mixed with more serious ones.

A stand-alone epic fantasy book.

Publication year: 2018
Format: Audio
Running time: 21 hours 44 minutes
Narrator: Caitlin Davies

This fantasy book has a lush, rich history and deep characters. The writing style is also lush and beautiful, much like in Carey’s Kushiel books. However, it doesn’t have any sex scenes, unlike the Kushiel books.

This is a world without stars: only one sun and three moons are on the sky. However, once the world had stars who were also gods. But the gods grew rebellious against the four original gods and were cast out. Now they live among humans and on occasion walk among humans. The world has also several cultures, some of them sea-fearing, other living in desert.

As long as he can remember, Khai has known his duty and his destiny. He was born at the same moment as the youngest member of the house of the Endless, Princess Zariya, and so he’ll train to become her bodyguard, her Shadow. He is reared among the Brotherhood of Pahrkun (the god of the Scouring Wind) who are warrior monks. When he, and the Princess, will turn sixteen he will journey to Zarkhum’s capital and start his duty. He will also then meet the Princess for the first time.

Khai trains hard. At the age of seven, when the book starts, he’s already an accomplished warrior. The book has several parts but it’s clearly divided to three: one follows Khai until he’s sixteen and meets the Princess. In the capital, he will live with her in the women’s quarters among scheming and gossiping which are alien to him. The final third of the book is a more traditional epic fantasy.

Khai never wavers in his duty; never questions it. However, there is a twist which I didn’t know about and won’t spoil here. It’s a good one, though. Zariya is quite a different character than I expected but I really enjoyed reading about her, too.

The biggest drawback, I think, is that all three parts of the book have a different cast of supporting characters. I also felt that each of the casts was larger than the one before it. It was a bit harder to follow who is each character as the story when along. The first part has the all male Brotherhood. I was surprised how different they were from each other. While some of the monks come to the monastery of their own will, or presumably like Khai sent there at an early age, they also have another tradition: any man convicted of a crime so hideous he would be executed, can instead choose to take the Trial of Pahrkun. He fights three of the Brotherhood’s members in the Hall of Proving. If he survives them, his sins are forgotten and he joins the Brotherhood. Three of the monks are quite memorable.

The second part is set in the city with both male and female members of the royal court. Because Zariya and Khai live in the women’s quarters, many of the cast here are women. In the third part they travel away from the city and gather a ragtag gang of accidental heroes around them. However, each of the casts stand surprising well, a testament to Carey’s skills with characters.

Yet, I didn’t feel as connected with the third or second group as I did with the first group of characters. It’s been too many years since I read Kushiel to really compare Carey’s writing style here but it felt similar with the lushness and some repetitions. The book does have quite a lot of tropes: Khai is literally the Chosen One, better at what he does than adults, he has a clear destiny, and we get a Prophecy, too, which they follow in the last third of the book. Still, Carey used them well and they were fun.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book. The characters were great and I adored Khai and Zariya and their developing relationship. The world was also vivid.