August 2010

This week in Larissa’s Bookish life the list is about Best Book Sidekicks.

A lot depends on, of course, just who are considered sidekicks. For example, are the Merry Men Robin Hood’s sidekicks? Are the Three Musketeers d’Artagnan’s sidekicks or are they all protagonists? Can a romantic interest be also a sidekick? If so, is Emerson Amelia’s sidekick? 😉

Here’s my list:

1, Morrolan e’Drien from Steven Brust’s Vlad Taltos books.
Of course, the Dragaeran warrior-sorcerer would strangle anyone who even hints that he’s a sidekick to anybody, much less to a puny human.
2, Loiosh, Vlad Taltos’ familiar.
They have great sarcastic banter going.
3, Dr. Watson from Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes series.
He’s a classic sidekick.
4, Jenks from Kim Harrison’s Hollows series.
The smart-mouthed pixie does a great job keeping his family together, being the main source of comedy in the series, and being the spy and saboteur for Rachel’s company.
5, Ivan Vorpatril from Lois McMaster Bujold’s Miles Vorkosigan books.
Granted, Ivan can get on your nerves but he’s a good counterpoint to the ambitious and genius Miles. Ivan isn’t dumb, he’s just smart enough to duck most of the really difficult jobs.

The first book in the Kate Shugak-mystery series.

Kate Shugak lives with her huge dog Mutt in a cabin in one of the Alaska National Parks near Anchorage. In fact, she was born there and she’s a Native Alaskan, an Aleut. Her parents died when she was young and she was raised by her first cousin through marriage, Abel Int-Hout. She ended up working for the Anchorage D. A.’s office and was one of the best investigators until one suspect, a child-molester, cut her throat. Her vocal cords were damaged and she still has the scar. Her voice is raspy and whispery. She has vivid nightmares about it.

Kate’s former boss and lover, Jack Morgan, brings her a new case: a new Park ranger disappeared six weeks ago. The ranger’s father is a Congressman who sent out the FBI who sent an investigator after the ranger. That investigator happens to be a man Kate trained and was occasional lovers with, and he also disappeared two weeks ago. Reluctantly, Kate agrees to look into it. Pretty much all of the people she interviews are her family or longtime acquaintances; her grandmother Ekatarina who is the tribal matriarch and is doing her best to prevent young people from leaving the Park, her foster father Abel, her cousins Xenia and Martin, the local bartender Bernie, and of course Jack Morgan, who accompanies her. They find out that quite a few people didn’t like the ranger’s plans for the Park.

The story focuses on the people and the setting even though the plot is rather chilling and well-made as well. The people in the park are divided; the older generation wants to preserve their way of life and the younger ones want to be part of the modern world. Kate is an example of this divide. She was able to get an education and move away from the Park, and the family resents her for that. She feels like an outcast from both worlds and chooses to live alone and apart from others. Yet, she gets along with her foster-father and Bernie. There’s also Bobby, who is the local weatherman and is bound to a wheelchair.

Many of the characters have quirky and entertaining personalities. The Alaskan environment is also an added character; the book is set around New Year, and the snow and the cold has to be taken into consideration every time they go out.

Highly entertaining and exciting.

Booking Through Thursday

Have your reading choices changed over the years? Or pretty much stayed the same? (And yes, from childhood to adulthood we usually read different things, but some people stick to basically the same kind of book their entire lives, so…)

Superficially, yes. I started reading kids’ books such as Pippi Longstockings and the Famous Five. (Also Pekka Töpöhäntä and about the Twin Detectives but I don’t think those have been translated into English.) Then it was the horse books and detectives such as the Black Stallion, Nancy Drew, Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators, and Hardy boys. I was also very interested in Native Americans and read comics and books about them. I also read the kids’ version of the King Arthur tales and Robin Hood, and watched “Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds” almost religiously.

I also read Tolkien’s Hobbit, E. R. Burroughs’ Barsoom books, and Susan Cooper’s the Dark is Rising but I didn’t really get into fantasy until I was 12 or 13 and started role playing (the pen and paper variety. Home computers didn’t even exist then.). Then I went through a serious epic fantasy phase with Eddings, Weiss and Hickman, Hobb, and Salvatore. This is when I started to read in English with, yes, Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms books. I dabbled in science fiction but it quickly became clear that women were Not Wanted as characters or readers, so I quickly dumped it.

Then I started to burn out of epic and I didn’t really know that any other form of fantasy even existed. Luckily, I bought Zelazny’s the Great Book of Amber (I though it was just one Fat Fantasy book. Heh!) and promptly fell in love with fantasy again. I found Lois McMaster Bujold and realized that women can be in SF books. When I was in the university, I got a Minor in history and started to read historical fiction again. These days I read fantasy, SF, historical mystery, and mystery.

So, it’s pretty clear that I’ve always looked for adventure and excitement. In that sense, my reading hasn’t changed much.

The first in the UF series Dark Days. I’m tempted to call this book “the nice vampires vs. bloodthirsty elves”. The ending isn’t a cliffhanger but it’s left very much open so it seems to be a long story over several books.

Mira is a 600-year-old vampire. She’s called Fire Starter because she has the “natural” (I’m tempted to say mutant) power to create and control fire. She had this power before she was made into a vampire and it’s only grown through out the years. Many other vampires fear her.

She’s one of the oldest vampires in the US and the Keeper of the city of Savannah. A Keeper’s responsibility is to keep the secrets of vampires and other supernatural races from humans. Traditionally, vampires and werewolves are hostile to each other but Mira has managed to settle cordial relations between them in Savannah.

The Butcher is a very effective vampire hunter and he’s come to Savannah. Mira decides to confront him and learns something surprising: the Butcher is looking for her because they have a common enemy. The naturi were defeated five hundred years ago but not before they had killed countless humans and tortured Mira for two weeks. And now they’re back. Mira agrees to work with the hunter, at least until she knows everything he does.

Three Ancient and powerful vampires defeated the naturi five hundred years ago at Machu Picchu. One of them is dead now but the others live and Mira, and the vampire hunter whose real name is Danaus, set out to find them and tell them that the naturi are back. Then she hopes to return to her life in Savannah. One of them lives in Egypt and another in London. One of them is Mira’s ex-lover and protector and the other is her maker. She doesn’t look forward to meeting either of them again.

Unlike the vast majority of the other UF books I’ve read, this story doesn’t happen just in US. In fact, the characters travel quite a lot; from Savannah to Aswan in Egypt and on to London. I really liked that. Also, there are twelve important sites mentioned in the book and the characters are likely to travel to them in the future books. Only two of them are in US. The next book is likely to start in Venice, one of my favorite cities.

The naturi are an interesting case. They are the real truth (in this fictional world) behind the legends of elves and fairies. Apparently, they harvest human organs in order to do magic so they are very intent on killing humans. They have five clans: light, animal, water, earth, and wind, and have powers according to their clans. Animal clan naturi can control animals and light clan naturi control fire so they can neutralize Mira’s powers. Their blood is also poisonous to vampires. For a while I thought Mira might be a half-breed naturi of light clan but there’s no evidence that naturi and humans can interbreed, and the naturi consider humans, and vampires, as vermin so it’s unlikely. Oh, and animal naturi can control werewolves. That’s the main reason vampires distrust the lycantropes.

The vampires in this book are more along the lines of classic vampires: they are unconscious during the day. I also assume that they can feed only on human blood. Even though they don’t have to kill a human when they feed, there was no suggestion that vampires could feed from animals. Also, they know spells and usually use them to mask their presence from humans. They have also telepathic powers. Mira uses them usually to search for humans and other vampires. However, the naturi are immune to the telepathic powers.

Mira is a very independent character. She doesn’t much care for lesser vampires. Instead she cares about keeping the peace and the secret in her own area. She has two human bodyguards, Michael and Gabriel, whom she calls her angels. Michael is also her occasional lover although she’s trying to keep him at a distance so that the human can have his own life. Often enough Mira comes across as a cold. She mostly cares about her own survival and manipulates everyone around her.

Danaus is another interesting case. He believes that all vampires are evil and he’s very efficient in his job as a hunter. However, he has quite a few secrets himself. He’s a member of an organization of humans who try their best to keep an eye out for the supernatural. However, they aren’t well informed. Danaus is very confident and the strong, silent type. Once he made up his mind that Mira is useful to keep around, he does his best to protect her. He’s very much a paladin-type who has now had to team up with the evil vampire for the good of world. I’m very much a sucker for this type of uncomfortable team-up and enjoyed it hugely. Mira does try to tell Danaus that vampires aren’t quite as evil as he thinks they are, after all, humans kill each other, too.

There isn’t a romance in the book. Mira is physically attracted to Danaus a few times but it’s understood that when the world is saved, it’s very likely they are going to try to kill each other.

The bad things: there was some repetitive writing. Mira’s mannerism of running her hands through her hair and threatening Danaus with death. Also, there was a lot of talk about how vampires enjoy torturing other, lesser vampires but that wasn’t really shown much.

Also, I’m afraid that the naturi didn’t really live up to their dangerous reputation. They were very effective at the start of the story but less so as the story progressed. Perhaps this was to be expected because there were quite a few fight scenes and not many expendable secondary characters on Mira’s side.

All in all, I enjoyed this. I do like immortal characters and there were quite a few of those here. They even behaved like they were old.

Another short stand-alone SF book.

This one has again a weird structure. Instead of normal chapter numbers, each chapter head is either “One” or “Two”. The book starts with “Two” and the “One” and “Two” chapters alternate after that. “One” chapters are about Red Dorakeen who is trying to find just the right exit from the Road which stretches apparently through all of time. The right exit has been blocked and so he’s trying to smuggle explosives to open it up. The Road has cops, too, and they are trying to prevent stuff being blown up so the confiscate Red’s explosives. Soon after, Red finds out that someone has put assassins after him.

The “Two” chapters are about everyone else. Most of them are about Randy Dorakeen who is trying to find someone. However, later we find out about his youth and how he found the Road so his story is very much not linear. Some of the “Two” chapters are about Red’s enemies. Some historical characters make cameos, and Marquise the Sade and a Tyrannosaurus Rex are significant secondary characters.

The Road is literally a road with gas stations and hotels along the way. Most people on it know what’s going on. The people drive cars on it. Red’s companion is a chatty artificial intelligence which can habit a book (I presume it’s a reading device but it only has one book in it, Flowers of Evil) or the car.

This one reminded me of Amber. Driving along the Road and trying to change things? The first Amber book came out 1970 apparently and this was written in 1979.

A weird little book.

Lois McMaster Bujold’s next Miles Vorkosigan book is available as an electronic Advanced Reader’s Copy:
The first five chapters are posted as free samples.

Booking Through Thursday

What is the first book you remember reading? What about the first that made you really love reading?

The Black Stallion, translated of course to Finnish. I was horse-mad then and read everything horse-related I could get my hands on. My other childhood favorites were Merja Jalo’s horse books and Enid Blyton’s Famous Five.

I don’t remember a specific book that made me love reading. My parents read to me a lot when I was little and I guess I developed then a love for books and stories in general.

The second book in the Kate Daniels UF series which is set in alternate reality Atlanta.

At the end of the previous book Kate got a new, steady job at the Order of the Merciful Aid. They put security of humanity above the security of any one person.

Kate gets a new assignment from her old contact at the Mercenary Guild which should have been simple if not easy: they were to retrieve an arsonist with a salamander which tosses fireballs. However, a mysterious person kills the arsonist with a crossbow bolt. Then the shooter vanishes.

Then the Shapeshifter Pack contacts her. Someone has stolen their maps. Someone who uses a crossbow and disappears into thin air. The Pack wants Kate to get the maps back. She agrees and starts to investigate at the scene of the robbery. There she finds 13-years-old Julie whose mother is an amateur witch and her whole coven has disappeared. Kate takes in the young girl while she looks for her mother, too.

On top of everything else, the magic and technology flares are coming in alarming frequency. When the magic flare is up, most of technology doesn’t work and vice versa. The frequent shifts are very disturbing and can cause some weird things.

The stakes are really upped this time. I’d be willing to call this book epic urban fantasy.

This time, a lot of things were explained. The magic waves are explained here as humanity’s influence. Before humans were influential, magic reigned. During Bronze Age, technology gained the upper hand. For some reason, magic shifted into power again some thirty years ago.

There are also some more hints about Kate’s background. Apparently, her sire was someone very hated and powerful but she wasn’t raised by him.

Unfortunately, I don’t really care for Kate’s romantic interests. The leader of the Pack, Curran, is apparently one and yet he treats Kate like shit. I wouldn’t give him a second glance. The other is apparently Bran who threatens openly to kill Kate. Funny thing, but I don’t consider death threats to be aphrodisiacs nor sexual harassment to be funny. I pretty much thought Bran was insufferable anyway.

I did like most of the characters. The Order employs many women and it was great to see them interact. Most UF books have only one female character and the rest are males. Andrea was especially delightful: a competent knight who has a secret.

I did have a facepalm moment with the book. One of the shapeshifter pack is a Hyena pack. Apparently, hyenas have female alphas and in the pack females and pups eat before the males, so Andrews made the hyenas dress and look androgynously and be sexually kinky. I fail to see how these are associated with each other.

You can read the first chapter for free at the authors’ website:

The third book in the Chanur saga. It starts immediately after the end of the previous book Chanur’s Venture.

The Kif have kidnapped Hilfy and Tully. Pyanfar Chanur and her crew are determined to get them back. Unfortunately, in order to do that, she will have to get involved into the politics of the Kif and the Mahendo’sat. Other Hani don’t like that at all.

The stakes are raised impressively. Pyanfar has to rely on her non-Hani allies who might betray her and her crew. Paradoxically, the other Hani in the book are quite hostile to the Pride of Chanur and it looks like Pyanfar and her crew might have brought big trouble on the Chanur clan no matter how things go.

The pacing is good and the writing is very intense, especially in the latter half of the book. We get to know more about Pyanfar herself and about her crew members, especially the First Officer Haral, and the wounded Chur and her sister Geran. Hilfy is changed after her captivity and torture at the hands of the Kif.

We also get more information about the jump ships. Apparently, when a ship jumps, it burns calories off the crew. Where there’s not enough calories, it starts to burn off flesh and bone so, it’s important for jump ship crews (and passengers) to eat enough and jumping can be very dangerous for the wounded.

Despite the high level of politicking, there’s also a very intense battle near the end. It’s very different from the clinical phaser or blaster battles usually seen in SF.

The book doesn’t end in a similar cliffhanger as the previous one but it’s more of a breathing space before the continuation. Everything is still out in the open.

Excellent continuation to the series and I’ve already ordered Chanur’s Endgame which is an omnibus of the next two books.

Larissa has a new feature on her blog: Top 5 lists. This week is about Top 5 movie soundtracks .

I’m afraid my Top 5 is pretty predictable:

1, Star Wars
Williams’ soundtrack is pretty much a classic.
2, Gladiator
I love to listen to “Barbarian Horde” while reading an action scene in a book.
3, Pirates of the Caribbean
I love these so much, but I associate them so much to the movies that I can’t concentrate on reading while listening to them.
4, Mummy returns
Despite my inordinate fondness for Egyptian mythology (or perhaps because of it…), I love this soundtrack much more than the movie.
5, Lord of the Rings trilogy

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