January 2009

“But I couldn’t worry about Edwards’s morality. The only person I had to face in the mirror was me. The only moral dilemma I could solve was my own.”

Guilty Pleasures is part of the 2nds challenge and the ebook challenge. This is also the first in the Anita Blake –series.

This is the book that apparently started the urban fantasy –genre in the form that we see it today. I’m a longtime Buffy fan and there are some similarities here. However, there are also significant differences. For example, Buffy has an ensemble cast and has a lot of humor. Anita Blake is pretty much a lone wolf and the book has very little humor and the humor is quite dry and very black. The worlds are also very different. The supernatural is very much in the closet in the Buffy –series while here it’s out in the open and even legal. Also, Buffy in very much a teen series where the main characters are trying to find their own places in the world. Anita is an adult and the tone of the series resembles noir detective stories. The story is told in Blake’s first person voice.

Good: vampires as horror elements, the Church of Eternal Life
Bad: –

Anita Blake raises the dead for a living for Animators Inc. Here necromancers are called animators. Because the raising has to be done during the night, she usually works nights. She’s also known as the Executioner among the vampires because she has a license to kill them. However, in order to legally kill a vampire you need to have a kill warrant from the police.

At the start of the story, a newly turned vampire, Willie McCoy, tries to hire Blake but she refuses because she doesn’t work for vampires. Her boss isn’t happy about it. Neither is Willie’s boss.

Shortly, Blake and her friend Catharine go out to celebrate her bachelorette party. Catharine’s friend Monica has chosen the place which turns out to be a vampire strip club called “Guilty Pleasures”. There, Blake sees a very disturbing vampire show. It also seems the she is somewhat immune to the vampires’ hypnotizing powers because she’s an animator. However, Catharine falls under the spell in a very dangerous way. In return to keeping her friend alive, Blake has to agree to play a detective for the master vampire of the city: Nikolaos.

A number of very powerful vampires have been killed and Nikolaos wants Blake to find the culprit. Blake herself is not a detective but luckily her best friend Veronica Sims, Ronnie, is and Blake recruits her to do some investigating as well.

I really like it that here vampires are threatening monsters. Some of the characters obviously find them alluring, as is seen very early in the striptease scene, but Blake can see through it. I’m also fascinated and repulsed by the concept of the Church of Eternal Life where vampires recruit new ones in exchange for, well, eternal life. I can see how people would be tempted to join, especially non-religious people. On the other hand, there are groups such as Humans Against Vampires so not everyone is as fond of them.

I would like to see Blake and Ronnie together more because they have those rare friendships between women. Blake’s vampire-hunting friend, Death, was quite an entertaining and over-the-top-character. It would be interesting to see Blake and Death really on different sides sometimes.

Apparently the vampire Jean-Claude, who owns the strip club, will become a major romantic prospect later. That’s too bad. He seemed very much an Alpha male character. In other words, arrogant ass who thinks he’s gods’ gift to women and can’t take no for an answer. I don’t find these kinds of men appealing even in fiction. Also, he imposes his will on Blake and makes her his servant. I can’t really see any way for Blake to be attracted to him willingly.

To me Anita Blake is pretty clearly horror fantasy. The scene with the wererats early on and the way that Jean-Claude changed Blake without her knowledge or consent make that clear to me.

Oh, and at least this book doesn’t contain romance or sex.

Characters: 7, plot: 7, setting: 7
Overall: a solid 7

What Kind of Reader Are You?

Your Result: Dedicated Reader

You are always trying to find the time to get back to your book. You are convinced that the world would be a much better place if only everyone read more.

Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm
Book Snob
Literate Good Citizen
Fad Reader
What Kind of Reader Are You?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

Booking Through Thursday

First. Go read this great article from Time Magazine: Books Gone Wild: The Digital Age Reshapes Literature. (Well worth reading.)

Second. Stop and think about it for moment. Computers and digital media are changing everything we do these days, whether we realize it or not, and that includes our beloved books.


I read more and more books from my computer. I’d love to have an ereader which is: a, DRM-free, b, free from regional restrictions, c, cheap, and d, easy to repair.

I don’t live on the American continent. This seems currently to be an insurmountable problem to ereader producers and even to some ebook sellers.

This time Miles Vorkosigan is in deep trouble. After the events in the previous book, Mirror Dance, he has seizures which is not good when you’re in the military no matter if that military is the space mercenaries or a planet-bound Barrayaran military. Miles is also afraid that if his boss Illyan finds out about the seizures, he is going to be pulled off his space duties and into a desk job in Barrayar. This would end his career as the mercenary admiral Miles Naismith and also his relationship with Commander Elli Quinn. He doesn’t want to give up either. But when he’s in combat again, a seizure starts and he accidentally shoots one of his own men. Fortunately, the man doesn’t die but Miles is left with dark choices. In the end, he decides to lie in his report about the combat and blame space suit malfunction. So, now he has lied to his superiors about his condition.

His chief surgeon isn’t convinced that the seizures could be cured but Miles clings to that desperate hope. Until Illyan calls him back to Barrayar, tells him about the falsified report, and gives him a chance to resign. Miles has no chance but to accept the offer. He returns to his family house and broods. All he has even wanted was to be in the military and now his life and his dreams have been crushed.

Memory is the model of character-centered fiction. Miles has to face up to what he has done.

Unfortunately, the first part of the book is quite slow with Miles feeling sorry for himself and seeing some of the old stomping grounds and old acquaintances. On the other hand, by this time most of the characters are familiar and it very nice to visit Gregor, Ivan, Aunt Alys, Duv Galeni, and even the folk at Silvy Vale so long-time readers probably won’t mind the slowness. I didn’t the first few times but it starts to be a bit much on rereads.

When the mystery part starts, the plot starts to move much faster but the mystery isn’t the main thing in this book. The main thing is to face the consequences to you actions and growing up.

“Running is an act of cowardice. Not that cowardice is necessarily bad. As my aunt used to say, “Moderation in all things.””

Part of the 1st in a series challenge.

I was recommended to try out Briggs’ Moon Called urban fantasy. Instead I decided to try out one of her fantasy series. This is a first in a duology which is already quite different. Also, this can be read as a stand alone. The characters are also somewhat unusual even though the setting itself is fairly average.

Wardwick is the heir of Hurog, the keep and the lands around it. Hurog has a proud history but has impoverished in the recent times. When dragons and dwarfs were roaming the countryside, Hurog was a major trading place between humans and dwarfs. But today both dwarfs and dragons have left. However, the people of Hurog are still proud and fierce folk and very loyal to their lord.

Hurog is also a part of a larger alliance called the Five Kingdoms which is ruled by a High King. The current High King is rather a self-serving bastard. Many of the people seem to have magical talent and being a mage or a wizard is a legimate profession no matter is the mage is a king’s advisor or a mercenary. However, the powers of the mages vary wildly.

Good: quirky secondary characters, a twist with dwarfs
Not-so-good: quite generic setting

The main character is Wardwick who is a big and strong young man. When he was young, his vicious father beat him often and one time he beat the boy so much that Ward couldn’t speak well after that. The beating also diminished Ward’s magical talents so that now he can only use a little bit of finding magic. Ward was terrified of his father and decided to pretend that he was mentally slow. This worked very well, because now everyone thinks that Ward is mentally challenged. Ward is very protective of his siblings: his sister Ciarra (whom Ward calls Brat) is mute and looks very young for her age and Ward’s younger brother Tosten who ran away a few years ago. However, Ward knew about Tosten’s plans and helped him so that Tosten could be safe. Ward has also gotten a very good education in arms courtesy of Hurog’s excellent arms master Stala who is also Ward’s aunt.

At the start of the book, Ciarra has run to the caves underneath Hurog Keep and Ward follows her. They meet in a huge cave where they find the bones of a dragon and the chains that the dragon has been kept in. This is a huge revelation to Ward because Hurog was supposed to be on a very good terms with dragons. Also, a boy appears and tells Ward that Ward’s father is dying. The boy is Oreg, a former mortal boy who was bound into Hurog to be the lord’s slave. Oreg is sort of the manifestation of the Keep and knows everything that is going on there and can teleport instantly inside it. Most of the former lords have not treated Oreg well but Ward’s sadistic father has been very bad.

Because Ward is yet too young to rule his uncle, Duraugh, is named the keeper of the keep. So even though Ward is nominally the lord, or Hurogmeten, his uncle is the real ruler for a few years. Ward knows that he could have a fight in his hands against Duraugh for the rulership of Hurog which is made worse by that fact that everyone thinks Ward is an idiot.

Soon things take a turn to the worse. The High King’s favorite, Garranon, and his brother come to look for a run away slave from the caves beneath the Keep. However, Hurog has traditionally been a sanctuary for slaves because by old laws, there are no slaves in Hurog. Of course, many of the old lords had only held up that tradition when is suited them. However, Ward is stubborn and refuses to hand over the slave.

Garranon and his brother have another goal in mind, though. They are in Hurog to convince uncle Duraugh to sign Ward into a mental institution and to become the permanent lord of Hurog. Duraugh agrees reluctantly to take over the impoverished keep. However, with the help of Oreg’s magical power, Ward flees together with his sister, the run-away slave and a few men loyal to Ward. Quickly, Ward puts together an ambitious plan: in order to get Hurog back he must become a war hero. So, the small group heads into south where it is rumored that a war will start.

Even though the majority of the chapters focus on Ward (in first person) there are a few chapters that deal with court intrigue and have several third person point-of-view characters. I felt that this worked well. It was necessary for the plot but also showed a larger world around Ward and gave depth to other characters, too

Ward himself is a somewhat quirky character: he has pretended to be stupid so long that doing so is his default mode even when he wants to appear smart. Otherwise he’s pretty average: strong, good swordsman, has a quiet sense of humor, loyal, brave etc. Although he also confesses that he likes killing people in battle and that scares him.

The secondary characters are even more quirky. Ciarra is a quick witted, mute girl who uses a simple sign language that only a few can read. Axiel was taken prisoner in a war and became Ward’s father’s body servant. When he’s drunk, he claims that he’s the son of a dwarven king. And tortured Oreg. He was born a bastard and the only use his sire had for him was to bind him to the keep. The former slave turns out to be a mage.

I rather liked the cast of characters. The plot wasn’t a typical epic fantasy although it did have a lot of fight scenes. The setting was pretty average. Human characters and a Middle Age –feel. However, this time it’s the dwarfs who have disappeared instead of the elves. There also a nice twist near the end.

Characters: 7, 5 (the secondary characters are more quirky than Ward), Setting: 6, Plot: 7
Overall: 7

I noticed some time back the site Book View Cafe. It has a collection of various authors’ works for free. Most of the stuff is short stories and novellas but there are books too such as Vonda McIntyres’ The Moon and the Stars, Susan Wright’s Slave Trade, Sue Lange’s Textile Planet, Jennifer Stevenson’s Brass Bed, and Sarah Zettel’s In Camelot’s Shadow. You can also read the first three chapters of other books. They have works from the genres of fantasy, science fiction, mystery, horror, young adult, humor, speculative fiction, and romance.

I have to applaud the writers for daring to put up their works for free and I hope it will be a very successful venture.

I will be reviewing some of them later on.

“He was pale, of course; hey, he was dead, if you believed the old tales. The politically correct theory, the one the vamps themselves publicly backed, had it that this guy was the victim of a virus that left him apparently dead for a couple of days and thereafter allergic to sunlight, silver, and garlic. The details depended on which newspaper you read. They were all full of vampire stuff these days.”

I added this also to my ebook challenge read. This is the first in the Sookie Stackhouse -series which I’ve heard called alternatively urban fantasy, contemporary fantasy, horror, and paranormal mystery. I would actually call this one a paranormal romance because the plot in the first book is the relationship between Sookie and her vampire. So, I was again the wrong reader for this one.

Good: –
Not-so-good: not really original but very much average
Bad: vampires as romantic

Sookie Stackhouse is a young waitress who lives in a small town with her grandmother. She also the ability to hear other people’s thoughts. Because she can’t be open about it, she calls the ability her disability and other people just call her weird or mad. Vampires interest her but she hasn’t met any until the start of the book where her first vampire steps into the bar she works in.

Sookie finds out that she can’t hear the vampire’s thoughts which she finds soothing because around people she has to always concentrate to keep the thoughts of other people out of her mind. However, she also finds out that in the bar there is couple, Denise and Mack Rattray, who drain vampires’ blood and sell it. Of course, Sookie becomes worried. When the Rattrays and the vampire, who is called Bill, leave Sookie follows them.

The Rattrays have subdued Bill and are draining his blood so Sookie attacks the couple and drives them away. Soon enough, Sookie is seeing Bill often and even her grandmother is interested in hearing about Bill’s experiences during the civil war. But then one of the local young women is killed. She was known to frequent a vampire bar in a bigger town.

Sookie is very much a girl-next-door protagonist; she’s curious and friendly, loyal and cares deeply about the people in her life. The only thing she isn’t open about is her mind-reading ability but most people know about that, too.

The setting is the modern day US south where the vampires have just come out in the open and have been accepted as citizens although not everyone are thrilled about it. There are vampire bars where some mortals go to get bitten by vampires. On the other hand, other people seem to have no problem killing vampires. This is quite similar to Hamilton’s Anita Blake -series’ setting (I’ve just started the first book) and I was a bit disappointed by the similarity.

Some vampires don’t pretend to be human but act as they please. However, they are cast in the villain role here. Bill is seen as the romantic, old fashioned hero although even he reveals his inhuman side when provoked.

The story flows well and there’s nothing really to disruptive in it. If you like romance, you’ll probably like this one. The characters have some depth but they don’t really have quirks to separate them from all the other characters around. The plot seemed very light-weight to me, because I’d like something more in the plot than just a romance.

My biggest problem is that I consider vampires to be soulless, blood sucking murderers who might appear charming and suave but to whom humans are always just one thing: food. So, I really have a hard time picturing them as romantic anything.

Characters: 5, Setting: 5, Plot 4.
Overall: 4

Booking Through Thursday

Since “Inspiration” is (or should) the theme this week … what is your reading inspired by?

I guess my reading is inspired by the need to explore other cultures and places different from our modern world. Also, by my curiosity and general love of reading.

Oh and good authors also inspire me to read more of their books.

“Real life,” he said, “is always more interesting. You just never know what will happen.”

Since my ebook challenge is still two books short, I’m adding this one.

This is the first in the urban fantasy series Weather Warden. It’s written in first person and the main character is Joanne Baldwin, who can control weather. She is part of the Wardens Association which is in charge of keep Earth habitable to humans by keeping storms, fires, and earthquakes down to a bearable level. It seems, though, that the Wardens are a secret from ordinary humans and human organizations. On the other hand, some teenagers manifest quite flashy powers before they are taught to control them and at least Joanne didn’t have to keep her powers a secret from her mother. Also, Wardens are taught in otherwise ordinary collage where they just seem to have their own classes. So, I get a bit mixed signals here.

Unlike most urban fantasy, Ill Wind doesn’t have vampires or werewolves in it. Instead it has Djinns who work as the magical assistants for the more experienced Wardens. Djinns are uncommon, very powerful, and therefore valued. Well, as long as they are the good little slaves they are supposed to be. Jo had still six months of work ahead of her before she could get her own Djinn.

Good: the Djinn, the different powers and their usage, the short weather reports at the start of every chapter, and romance is really a subplot and doesn’t drag too much.
No-so-good: too little settings info, human characters are pretty average.
Bad: –

Joanne is on the run. She has acquired the Demon Mark which Djinns can see but the Wardens can’t. The mark targets her as an out of control witch who has had dealings with demons. Except that she hasn’t dealt with demons. So, she’s trying to get help the best way she knows how. First she tries to go to the house of Lewis Orwell who is the most powerful Warden in the world and also Joanne’s old friend. Unfortunately, Lewis himself is currently on the fun from the Association. He also has three Djinns to himself. One of the Djinn meet Joanne at Lewis’s house and later gives her directions to drive to Oklahoma City. So, she doesn’t have another choice but to get in her midnight blue ’71 Mustang called Delilah and start driving.

Joanne decides to call and later visit her best friend and a former Fire Warden Esterella Almondovar alias Star. Star is worried about Joanna and after some friendly bantering she invites Jo to visit. Joanne is also worried about a dark storm front which is chasing her menacingly. Even though she could have the power to disperse it, that takes concentration and time which she doesn’t have. Also, dispersing a storm from one location could create serious weather trouble in another location so Wardens are very careful or they could easily hurt others.

On the way, Jo takes up a traveler, David, to whom she is instantly attracted. She can’t tell much to him about her situation but David is okay with that. He would much rather read a book from his back bag, anyway.

Interspersed with the current-day story are Jo’s previous experiences: how she found out about her powers, how she met Lewis, how she met Star… This is a very good pacing since it gives just enough current plot to keep interested and enough background no to get confused.

Joanne is very much a girl next door type: interested in cars, shoes, expensive clothing, handsome men and keeping in good standing with her bosses. She wants to have fun but not at the expense of her job. She’s also very loyal and responsible. In fact, she’s very much a standard fantasy hero and so doesn’t stand out of the crowd too much. Unless, of course, you’ve been mostly reading about extraordinary heroes. Then again, I’m not really interested in shoes or cars.

The pacing is good and the characters are good enough for one read. I was rather enjoying the friendship between Joanne and Star. Sadly, most books tend to have only one strong female character or at most two who hate each other.

I was really hooked by the ending, though, which turned Jo’s situation completely around. I can’t wait to see what Caine will do to her next.

Characters: 6,5, setting: 6 (very little info again), plot: 7
Overall: 7

Good: Characters, tight writing, Kirin’s abilities, pacing
Not-so good: I want more setting, some modern assumptions put into a pre-industrial setting, too short!
Bad: –

Despite the name and the cover, this is a fantasy book. I would call it dark fantasy with elements of horror in it. This is part of my 2nds challenge and the ebook challenge.

I really liked the first book in this series, Blood Magic, which was just intense. This is somewhat less fast paced but that suits the story. Also, you don’t have to read the first book in order to make sense of this one which is always good.

Kirin is a scout in the Imperial Army which is increasingly desperately fighting the Mor. The Mor are alien beings who live below ground. Every once in a while they come to the surface in large masses and try to wipe out humankind. Kirin has lost her lover and many friends to the Mor.

She also has a secret which could get her killed: she’s a necromancer who can create undead things out of dead bodies. She calls them her sweetlings and before she considered them sort of her children. However, after she had a child, she swore that she would never use her powers again. She can also see the souls of the newly dead which uses the souls to create her undead. She also has the soul of her dead twin sister inside her. The sister makes comments with a voice only Kirin can hear.

Kirin and her friend Lia, who is a lighting mage, are on their way to the Imperial City where Lia’s father lives and where the war effort is being coordinated. Lia’s father is a high noble and also the leader of the elemental mages. During the journey through bitter winter, Kirin and Lia become lovers.

On the way, Kirin and Lia encounter a troop of soldiers fighting Mor. Lia and Kirin help them but afterwards Kirin gets a shock: she can see the souls of the dead Mor! The souls seem to hate and fear the humans – or maybe just Kirin. But she gets no answers from the mute souls.

Together the couple and the soldiers continue to the Imperial City which is under siege by the Mor. They manage to get inside. The city is quite a wonder to country-born Kirin. However, she has to constantly be on her guard against all others. Lia introduces her at court to scheming nobles which makes Kirin even more uncomfortable. At least, Kirin has her job as one of the City’s archers. However, then Kirin sees something on the streets of the city which reminds her of her sweetlings. Maybe she isn’t as unique as she thought she was?

Nights of Sin is mostly very quick paced and at the same time it’s very much a character centered tale. Kirin tries to adjust to life at court, has to reevaluate everything she knows about herself, and fight the deadly Mor at the same time. Kirin is a very strong character but she also has obvious vulnerabilities. In contrast, Lia has never had to hide her abilities as a lighting mage. She is used to a softer existence than Kirin. They make a very cute couple.

I mentioned in the no-so-good section that Cook puts some modern assumptions into his setting. One of them is that thin=rich and good. However, this can only happen when the poor have abundance to eat, when the food they eat is fattening (=lots of meat, cream, sugar…), and when they have desk jobs (=no manual labor). This is actually very rare in pre-industrial societies. Abundant food production just isn’t possible when whole towns starve after a poor harvest. In these societies, fat is the sign of wealth. (See! I told you I’m a settings freak!) However, this isn’t told in so many words but rather implied.

Another is that Kirin is the only female soldier we see and yet she doesn’t have to really prove herself. I find it a bit hard to believe that a society which is in the middle of a desperate war, has the luxury of turning down half of their potential fighting force. Sure, the vast majority of women are probably untrained but so are the majority of males. In fact, we even see some young men at the start of their training. The exclusion of women is even more galling when the Mor are known for killing everyone, including women and children. Then again there are women among the mages but I suspect that all of the mages are nobles or at least rich and the vast majority of women don’t have that luxury. Or the talent, for that matter. But these are really nitpicks.

This time we get a bit more information about the Mor which is welcome. Because Kirin is a necromancer, the book has some horror elements. Usually, I don’t care for horror but once again I was so engrossed with the story that they didn’t bother me (or maybe I’ve played so much table top role playing games that I don’t think of undead as horror). Fast-paced, engrossing, excellent!

Characters: 9, setting: 6 (on rather sparse info), plot 7, fun & excitement 9,5
Overall: 9,5

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