May 2010

This is the first book in Shearin’s fantasy series. It’s set in a city which is set in a secondary world with elves and goblins.

Raine Benares is a Seeker who finds lost items. She’s not especially powerful but she has connections and friends. While she’s an orphan and doesn’t even know who her father is, she’s very much a part of her mother’s family who are mostly pirates and thieves. She’s also in very good terms with her sorceress landlady and the landlady’s grandson is almost like a little brother to her.

Quentin Rand is a supposedly retired thief who Raine employs sometimes. He has a habit of getting into trouble and so Raine feels protective towards him. When she notices that Quentin is about to break into a necromancer’s home, Raine decides to follow him and make sure he doesn’t kill himself. Raine’s cousin, the handsome pirate captain Phaelan, comes along as her trusty sidekick.

Things go wrong, of course, and Raine finds herself in possession of a mysterious amulet. A lot of people want the amulet. Among them is the notorious goblin grand shaman and his crack troops who will murder and torture to get what they want. The supposed good guys are also after the amulet. The head of the order of Guardians (who is quite powerful, not to mention handsome, too) turns up with his men.

The plot is quite fast-paced and has a lot of people. Most of the time Raine has a sidekick with her; either Phaelan or her landlady’s grandson Piaras. This was quite amusing to me because I’m used to male characters who have female sidekicks (or less powerful male sidekicks) to protect and it worked well.

The world has at least three intelligent races, humans, goblins, and elves, which can apparently interbreed with each other and get along well enough to live in the same cities, although each in their own part of the city. They use rapiers instead of heavier swords and their ships have cannons. There was no mention of pistols or muskets, and if they exist, the Guardians would have probably used them. I was a bit uncomfortable with such modern concepts as diplomatic immunity and ordinary city watchmen giving tickets to nobles in a fantasy book. Oh, and goblins aren’t green skinned little uglies but look like humans except for a light gray skin. Some of them are even very handsome to elven eyes.

I also had a minor problem with the English names: a feared necromancer named Nigel? Really? Mychael is also not fantasy enough for me.

There’s some romance in the book as well and I’m afraid I didn’t much care for it. Now, Mychael is someone new and I can see why Raine would be attracted to him. But Tam? Tam is handsome, charming, and rich. He flirts with Raine every chance he gets. Raine’s knees go weak every time she sees him. Apparently they’ve known each for years. My question is: why haven’t they gotten together long time ago? The only reason I can come up with is that the writer wants unsatisfied sexual tension. Not good enough.

The city of Mermeia was interesting. It seems very cosmopolitan, especially for a technology-hampered fantasy land, and when the gondolas were mentioned, I realized that it felt like Venice. I adore Venice. The book also had a event which I love and don’t see enough: a masked ball. Alas, the ball wasn’t milked for everything possible but was fun nevertheless.

The book is lighthearted fun but it does have a lot of characters, factions, and politicking. I enjoyed that but it might get confusing to some.

Booking Through Thursday

What books do you have next to your bed right now? How about other places in the house? What are you reading?

About twenty; the ones I intend to read next. I have over 200 books in my apartment on various bookshelves.

I’m currently reading Brokedown Palace by Steven Brust and relistening Black Powder War by Naomi Novik.

This is the first book in the Retrievers UF series.
I was inspired to get this book because of SciFiGuy’s recommendation.

Genevieve “Wren” Valere is a witch. Her specialty is tracking things and staying unremarkable. Her business partner is Sergei Didier who seems to be a mild-mannered, if eccentric, gallery owner. Together they are Retrievers. They find things that have gone missing and bring them back without asking any questions from their clients. Wren traces the things, magically or not, and retrieves them while Sergei gets them clients and handles the money. They have been in business together for ten years.

This time, they’ve been hired to find a magical cornerstone which was stolen right out a building in the middle of New York. Wren scouts the place but can’t directly trace the thief. So, she and Sergei have to do it the old fashioned way. But the more they know about the case, the more difficult it gets.

When I ordered this book, I had no idea it was a Luna imprint which is a Romance SF line. I noticed the logo only when I had book in my hands. I don’t mind romance as a sub-plot but I don’t really care for it as the main plot and so I was a bit worried. However, the romance between Wren and Sergei is really low-key. They’ve recently started to be attracted to each other and they angst about it a bit, but don’t manage to do anything about it.

Both Wren and Sergei are loners and have trouble trusting other people. They both hold secrets from the other. Wren is happy to befriend non-humans while Sergei don’t like them at all. Also, Wren is a magic user and Sergei is not. They complement each other nicely.

The world is full of non-humans called the fatae. However, they seem to be created by magic-using humans rather than being natural creatures. They have clans such as piskies, demons, and angels. The ones that are shown in the book don’t look like humans. For example, P.B. is a demon who looks like a polar bear complete with fangs and claws.

The humans who can use magic are a tiny minority but have still managed to fracture into squabbling factions (ah, humanity!). The most mages are ruled by the Council who is made up of three men and one woman who have both magical power and mundane power. Freejacks are mages who don’t want to be ruled by the Council’s iron fist. Often enough, they have to still obey the Council’s demands. Wren is a Freejack. Then there are the wizzards who have gone insane from using magic and are a danger to everyone else.

The fatae and the Freejacks have a social network called the Cosa Nostradamus where they exchange information and gossip.

Unfortunately, the world-building had some inconsistencies. This is world where magic is supposed to be a secret and most people don’t believe in magic. Unfortunately, that’s a very difficult conspiracy to maintain when 1, magic is showy (people levitating, teleporting, moving objects without touching them, attacking with energy balls coming from their hands etc.), 2, non-humans are part of the society (P.B. is a messenger walking around on the streets of New York, the girl with hoofs instead of feet works in an ice cream shop), and 3, magic-users offer their services to ordinary humans. If the humans don’t know that they’re good at their magical jobs, why would they hire them?

Also, because people don’t supposedly believe in magic, government doesn’t either and there’s no secret government branch putting their noses into the magic community. Unfortunately, that’s the opposite of how people in power operate.

Thirdly, Wren make an off-hand comment that people aren’t interested in ghosts and by extension the possibility of an afterlife. That just doesn’t sound like the human race I know.

Some reviewers said that the book is slow. Yes, the pace is leisurely most of the time but it fits the writing style. This is a book where the main characters have the time to eat, shower, and sleep.

The book is written in the third person. The main point-of-view character is Wren and the major secondary POV is Sergei. There are also short chapters from the POV of the bad guys.

Entertaining and readable.

Larissa at Larissa’s Bookish Life has a post and a giveaway about Kick-Ass Heroes:

It’s amazing that there so many powerful and kick-ass women in the literary world, but sometimes, I just can’t help getting a kick of reading about these heroes that care so much that they’d move hell and earth to save and defend the people they love. What is not to like about that?
What about you guys?
Who is your favorite Kick-Ass Hero?
What makes a man a Kick-Ass hero, in your opinion?

Well, my standards for Kick-ass Heroes are pretty much the same as for the heroines: must be able to win most of his fights and defend the helpless and the innocent. And be male.

My favorite Kick-Ass Hero is, of course, Batman from classic comics. For some reason, none of the movie Batmans have managed to come close.

There are quite a few superheroes who fit this category, of course: Captain America, Thor, Superman etc. Wolverine is a bit of a fringe case because sometimes he goes on a killing spree.

In literature, there are quite a few violent heroes. I tend to like heroes from somewhat older books than Larissa who is asking about urban fantasy heroes. Quite frankly, I haven’t yet met any of these newer heroes who can hold candle to the older cadre:
John Carter of Barsoom, the best swordsman in two (or possibly three) planets. Aragorn and Legolas from both books and movies. Both Luke Skywalker and Han Solo kick ass as well. Personally I’d put in Indiana Jones in this category as well even though he does lose fights quite often, too. King Arthur and his knights are more classic example.

Robin Hood is maybe the epitome of defending the innocent but in the older stories he tends to lose fights – at least against men who will become his companions.

So, do you know any urban fantasy heroes who could take on Batman or John Carter? I’d love to know!

Booking Through Thursday

What’s the most useful book you’ve ever read? And, why?

Well, the most obvious answers are text books and non-fiction in general because they’ve helped me graduate from various schools.

But sometimes fiction can be useful, too. For example, last year was quite stressful for me and reading through the classic Fantastic Four graphic novels helped me unwind.

I’m afraid I can’t pick just one useful book, though.

It’s the middle of May so it’s time to look at how I’ve done so far with the to-be-read pile challenge.

I decided to read 24 books or 2 books a month from my looming pile of books. The number is so low because of review books (which can’t be in my to-read-pile and so far haven’t been in my to-be-read- lists, either) and audio books which I tend to buy from Audible. So far, I’ve read:

1, Elizabeth Peters: The Hippopotamus Pool
2, Kristine Smith: Rules of Conflict
3, R. A. MacAvoy: Tea with the Black Dragon
4, Ilona Andrews: Magic Bites
5, Amanda Cross: In the Last Analysis
6, Ian Rankin: Knots and Crosses
7, Julie Czerneda: To Trade the Stars
8, Jim Butcher: Fool Moon
9, Kate Elliott: Shadow Gate
10, Elizabeth Bear: Hell and Earth
11, Martha Grimes: The Man with the Load of Mischief

11 books so I’m slightly ahead of schedule!

On the other hand, I’ve bought 5 books:
Star Trek: Titan books 3 and 4
Jocelynn Drake: Nightwalker
Laura Anne Gilman: Staying Dead
Lori Devoti: Amazon Ink

So the pile has been brought down by 6 books in total! Yay!

Incidentally, buying just 5 books in 5 months is very little for me. It’s probably the lowest amount I’ve bought for years.

This is the second book in the historical fantasy duology Stratford Man dealing with Will Shakespeare and Kit Marlowe, and their careers as magicians and spies for the Queen.

Hell and Earth starts where Ink and Steel ended; Will back on Earth and Kit back in the Seelie Court. They continue to protect both Queen Elizabeth and the Faerie Queen the Mebd from conspiracies. Will has learned that his poetry has magic which can influence people or even the fate of England. He and his compatriots, among them Ben Jonson and Thomas Walsingham, decide to do a new translation of the Bible. Which is, of course, heresy.

After his brief stay in Hell, Kit has been changed; other people’s touch brings him pain. He can still be in his lovers’ company but can’t really touch them anymore. He longs for Will and stays on Earth with him as long as he can. However, the dark Prometheans who tortured him before, have still more plans for him. And so has Lucifer.

The chapters alternate with either Will or Kit as the point-of-view character. Each chapter starts with a short quote from either Shakespeare, when the POV character is Will, or Marlowe, when the POV character is Kit. A few times the POV changes in the middle of a chapter and then a quote also shows the change. I thought this was very elegant.

Again, both Kit and Will go through emotional wringer and physical torture as well. The plot is mostly political intrigue although this time in London. The Faerie Court is seen only briefly.

My only complaint is the lack of female characters which is, of course, totally appropriate for the setting. Both Queens are only seen briefly and they are more the motive for other character than actors themselves. Annie Shakespeare does appear, though.

I love these books to bits! They are full of history and mythology and literature. I really should read Faustus again.

This is the first book in Smith’s series about a lady detective in Botswana.

Mma Precious Ramotswe is a woman in her thirties. Her father is a former miner who managed to invest his money is cows and so make a small fortune. He dies and Mma gets the cattle. His dying wish is for Mma to sell the cattle and open up a small shop. Instead Mma realizes her dream and found the first Ladies’ Detective Agency in Botswana.

The book is made up of small vignettes instead of a conventional storyline. We get to know about some of Mma Ramotswe’s more eccentric cases and about her first case. A couple of chapters are devoted to her father’s life’s story after the observation that ordinary people’s lives don’t usually get recorded. Mma Ramotswe’s brief and unhappy marriage is also told. However, except for her marriage, her life has been a happy one.

The cases aren’t flamboyant but instead quite ordinary and Mma Ramotswe can usually solve them by using a little bit of knowledge about the local people and customs. In fact, I think that these small cases are more likely to be what most detectives face, instead of the usual detective stories.

I’m afraid that I’m going to have to call these stories charming, again. I’ve never been to Botswana or Africa, so the setting seemed exotic to me. It was nice to see another side of Africa because the side I’m used to seeing is of famine and war. Here, people live ordinary lives with customs that are somewhat different than the ones I’m used to. However, underneath we’re all people.

Mma Ramotswe, and many of the other women in the book, are sexist against men. They think that men are stupid and lazy and only looking for other women. On the other hand, some of the men don’t have high opinion of women, either.

Many of the books in this series have been translated into Finnish and my read was a translation. Some of the Amazon reviewers commented that the book had simple language. If so, it didn’t show in the translation.

It’s a fair book for the first in the series.

Booking Through Thursday

Are your book choices influenced by friends and family? Do their recommendations carry weight for you? Or do you choose your books solely by what you want to read?

Most of my influences come from emailing lists and blogs of people who are interested in similar books. Sometimes I even check out books in the Amazon recommendations. I choose books that sound interesting and read some reviews about them before I choose to get them. I tend to read reviews from different sources and not just one or two places. When I read Amazon reviews, I tend to read both the one star and five star reviews because sometimes a well written one star review can tell more than a couple of glowing lines in a five star review. Also, people have different tastes.

Obviously, availability is also a factor for English language books. I don’t live in US, so when a book is out of print, the postage could cost far more than the book itself. Sometimes they can be available through BookMooch, though.

In his third book wizard Harry Dresden fights ghosts.

First things first, James Marsters narrates the audiobook. Swoon!

The book starts with Harry driving as fast as he can with it old car. A Knight of the Sword, Michael Carpenter, is in the car with him. Apparently, Michael is an old friend and they are driving into danger. On the way, Michael starts to question Harry about his lovelife with Susan. Harry is annoyed but admits that he loves her, he just can’t say it.

They stop at a hospital and charge in. They are determined to stop a ghost who is preying on infants. Unfortunately, Harry’s chivalry bites him in the butt again. The ghost Agatha had a hard life herself and Harry can’t help but to see her as a victim, too. Michael has to save the day and even then, Agatha escapes into the Nevernever. However, she can still reach kids and so our heroes will have to journey to the Nevernever after her.

In a flashback, a mysterious, beautiful (of course), and seductive young woman is looking for Harry’s help. She says hostile spirits are after her and she knows it because she has the gift of prophecy. Harry gives her his protective talisman and tell her to go to a church if there’s trouble.

Back in the Nevernever, Harry and Michael confront Agatha but come face to face with Harry’s godmother Leanansidhe. Harry made a deal with her earlier and Leanansidhe wants to collect it. She’s, of course (add eye rolling here), inhumanly beautiful and an archetype of the seductive villainess.

The duo manages to escape but are arrested. Later, Harry is invited to a masked ball in the honor of the local vampire queen, Bianca. Also, it seems that someone or something is stirring up ghosts which are popping up all over Chicago.

There are a lot of things going on in the book and it’s fast-paced. Once again, Harry is sometimes beaten down and rather quickly back on his feet and slinging spells. The ending is likely to have consequences in the next books.

Some new characters are introduced in the book. Unfortunately, they aren’t really original and their backstories aren’t told so they stay pretty two-dimensional.

I’d love to know more about Leanansihde. Where does she come from? Why is she interested in Harry specifically or does she have deals with many other humans?

Michael seems like an interesting character, but there’s no backstory to him. I sort of like that he’s one of the hard fighting good guys and still has a wife and family. He seems very uncomfortable with magic which doesn’t come from religion. I’d like to know how Harry managed to convince him to work with him. Also, unfortunately, his wife Charity seems to be of the “barefoot and pregnant” type without a life of her own. The fact that they both are deeply religious (and Catholics) just makes it worse.

Again, a quick read but nothing special.

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