May 2011

Today, in the Top Ten Tuesdays the topic is favorite beach reads.

I don’t go much to the beach and when I do, I don’t have time to read, so this is a very hypothetical list of my favorite light hearted fun books.

1, Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters
The first book in a series about amateurs sleuths and egyptologists set in Victorian times. The later ones are especially good for a relaxing reading because you’re visiting old friends. But I recommend starting with the first book.

2, Shadow by Anne Logston
One of the most fun fantasy books I’ve ever read.

3, Witches Abroad by Terry Pratchett
Speaking of fun fantasy… Any of them will do, really, but I like the witches books most.

4, Too Many Wizards by Randall Garrett
Alternate history with magic. The stories are short whodunnits.

5, Temeraire by Naomi Novik
Another alternate history book, this time with dragons.

6, The Illyrian Adventure by Lloyed Alexander
The Vesper Holly adventures are short and light, just right for a beach.

7, No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith
The lady detectives at work in Botswana

8, Scout’s Progress by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
Science fiction romance.

9, Mr. Monk Goes to the Firehouse by Lee Goldberg
If you’re a fan of the TV series, try the books, too.

10, Magic Lost, Trouble Found by Lisa Shearin

Personally, I’m more likely to take comics with me. So I’ll throw in these, too:

1, Elfquest: Fire and Flight by Wendy and Richard Pini
They’re good. Anytime.

2, Bone: Out from the Boneville
Another series that starts as mostly fun and turns more dark.

3, Jack of Fables: The (Nearly) Great Escape
Even if you haven’t read the Fables comics, about classic fairy tales characters surviving in the real world, you can read this one. Jack is from the Jack tales: the Beanstalk, Jack O’Lantern, Jack Frost etc and now he wants to make it big in Hollywood.

4, Tom Strong Book 1
Tom Strong is a science hero, a sort of super hero but with more, er, pseudo-scientific bent. He’s adventures aren’t necessarily bashing super villains, although he does that too, but also going to other dimensions and exploring.

5, Justice League of America: Rock of Ages
Not particularly light but one of my favorite JLA albums ever.

Today the topic of Top 5 Sundays at Larissa’s Bookish Life is Favorite 2nd book in a series.

This is a very interesting question and I think this isn’t asked very often. It’s so hard to limit to just five. Also, I read series that have very different tones so it’s quite hard to measure them against each other. Some of them, such as Stacia Kane’s series are intense and dark, while others, such as Greenwood’s or Peters’s series are light hearted and fun. How can you choose??

1, Barrayar by Lois McMaster Bujold
Admittedly, the book was written quite a bit later but it’s the second book in the internal chronology. IMHO, it’s one of the best books in the whole SF series.

2, Heat Stroke by Rachel Caine
The second book in the series was just as exciting as the first one and for me had the added bonus of Jo and David as an established couple.

3, Unholy Magic by Stacia Kane
This second book was just as intense as the first one.

4, Guns of Avalon by Roger Zelazny
Perhaps the best book in the whole classic Amber series.

5, The Good, the Bad, and the Undead by Kim Harrison
This was the book that hooked me on the series. The start is light hearted and fun with some serious undertones, but about the latter third is quite dark and intense. It reminded me so much of the Buffy episodes I liked the best, that I just have to keep reading.

The first book in the mystery series starring Inspector Monk set in the Victorian times.

Publication year: 1990
Format: Audio
Publisher: Audible Inc.
Narrator: Davina Porter
Running Time: 13 hours, 23 minutes

A man wakes up in a hospital but he has no idea who he is. He’s told that he had an accident and has been in the hospital for a while. He doesn’t remember anything about himself nor about his history. Then one of the detectives from his precinct come to visit him and tells him that he’s Inspector William Monk, a very good policeman.

Monk is released from the hospital and goes to his apartment and starts to go through his life. He finds out that he doesn’t really like himself: he seems to be a lonely man, devoted only to his job. The one one who writes to him is his sister and he doesn’t even return her letters. He’s given some weeks sick leave which he spends with his sister. However, his memory doesn’t return.

Then, he has to get back to work. He doesn’t tell anyone about his amnesia and just works as best he can. He takes over a high-profile case about brutally murdered Jocelyn Gray, who is a gentleman and a wounded Crimean War hero.

The story is set in the Victorian times and explores the differences between classes. During his case, Monk has to interview the victim’s family who are very condescending to him, to the extent that they tell Monk what and who he should investigate because, of course, the murderer has to be some insane lower class man. Monk has to also move among the poor and he’s appalled by the their conditions.

Monk’s amnesia is very selective: he has only lost memories about this adult life. Some of his childhood memories come back to him early on. He’s seem to be somewhat different person without his memories; he criticizes his own life and even his goals. Before, he seemed to want to elevate himself into the higher classes. While waiting for that, he puts his money into clothing and his time knowing about the nobility. Now, he finds that depressing. He also feels lonely and seeks out other people’s approval which he probably didn’t care for before. I find it a bit strange that his personality had changed that much.

The other point-of-view character is Hester Latterly who was a nurse in the Crimean War. She had to come home and take care of her relatives because her father killed himself and her mother died of grief a few weeks afterwards. However, Hester refused to believe that her father would have killed himself and asked Monk to look at the case. She’s a tough and independent woman, and she finds it hard to change back to a demure middle-class woman looking for a husband after her gruesome time in the war. Monk tries very hard not to be attracted to her.

The pace of the book is slow with Monk trying to gather information about his life and about his case, and with Hester trying to get her life back into order.

The cast of characters is pretty varied. Monk has a superior who loaths him and he’s assigned a younger detective as a partner. He has to interview both titled people and boys sweeping the streets. Hestia brings in the point-of-view of the women at the time.

I enjoyed Davina Porter’s narration. She has somewhat different voice for every character and Monk’s inner thoughts. She has a clear voice and is easy to listen to.

A Few More Pages blog hosts the meme Book Beginnings:

How to participate: Share the first line (or two) of the book you are currently reading on your blog or in the comments. Include the title and the author so we know what you’re reading. Then, if you feel so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line, and let us know if you liked or did not like the sentence. The link-up will be at A Few More Pages every Friday and will be open for the entire week.

This time I’ve in the middle of three books:

In print:
The New York Times September 8, 2001
Commodities Week
Last week’s confirmation by the Nobel high energy research team at CERN’s Erqumitsuliaq (Greenland) Quadruple Array Survey Collider of the existence of a sixth alternate Earth has had widespread effects on the worlds’ commodities markets, especially due to the continuing uncertainty as to how soon trade could be permitted with the new world (dubbed “Terra” by the Nobel team).

It’s Diane Duane’s Stealing the Elf-King’s Roses and at first I thought it was fantasy. But I do love alternate realities (being a long time X-Men and Avengers fan) so I’m eagerly looking forward to how they are going to handled in book format.

The beginning certainly establishes very quickly that this a science fiction book which is good since the cover also looks like fantasy.

Last week, Audible had a sale where you could get three audio books for two credits. The only thing that could have prevented me from taking advantage of it, would have been poor selection of books (and I suspect that us non-USAians get a lot fewer discount books to choose from). One of my choices was this:

“Tonight we’re going to show you eight silent ways to kill a man.” The guy who said that didn’t look five years older than me. So, if he’d ever killed a man in combat, silently or otherwise, he’d done it as an infant.

The Forever War by Joel Haldeman. Another SF book. The tone introduces the point-of-view character as a youngish man with a tendency to sarcastic inner monologue. Probably he’s also a military or a mercenary since he’s jaded about killing other people. Or at least about techniques which are supposed to work.

I’ve also just started an e-book:
I hurried off the metro at the Union Station stop, looking around to see if I was being followed.

Dreams Unleashed by Linda Hawley. It’s a paranormal thriller set in 2015. I think this a good opening for a thriller; it has an immediate sense of urgency.

Booking Through Thursday

Do you ever feel like you’re in a reading rut? That you don’t read enough variety? That you need to branch out, spread your literary wings and explore other genres, flavors, styles?

Not really. When I feel the need read something else, I do it. For example, I signed up for the Take a Chance challenge at the start of the year and I’ve read a few books because of it. Well, there is one genre I’d like to read more: non-fiction, but they take more time than fiction so currently I don’t have the time for those history, folklore, and mythology books on my shelves.

The May book in the Women of Fantasy book club.

Publication year: 1987
Page count: 327
Format: ebook from the 2001 reprint with introduction by the author and an appendix with three scenes from the screenplay
Publisher: Orb

Eddi McCandry is a singer and a musician in her boyfriend’s band, InKline Plain. Unfortunately for her, she and her best friend, the drummer Carla, are probably the best musicians in the band which is doing pretty badly. Eddi’s boyfriend and the band leader Stuart Kline just wants Eddi to flirt with the bar managers to get more gigs or payments for underwhelming gigs. Eddi has had enough and quits the band and the relationship. Carla quits the band, too.

On her way to her apartment, Eddi meets a strange man and a big black dog. It turns out that the dog and the man are the same thing: a faerie creature called the Phouka. The Seelie Court needs a mortal in its service and has chosen Eddi. She’s less than thrilled, especially when she finds out that the Unseelie Court are trying to kill her and so the charmingly unflappable Phouka will be her bodyguard for the next six months until the Faerie Courts battle each other. Which means that he will be on her side all the time.

Meanwhile, Eddi has to eat and pay rent, so she sets out to do what she knows best: to build a band of her own.

The book is set in Minneapolis and a lot centers on the day-to-day life of a rock band. I’m not a music fan, in fact I’ve never even been to a concert, and this was sufficiently alien world to me that it felt interesting. Often, the songs that the band is playing or rehearsing are mentioned, and since I’m reading an ebook, I was able to play the songs on the computer while reading the book. This is was an interesting experience.

I liked the characters. Eddi is an independent woman with a strong will and plenty of opinions. She’s also charismatic on the stage and outside of it. She’s a fun main character to follow. I also liked her best friend Carla, who plays the drums. She’s fiercely protective of Eddi and Carla is the first person Eddi tells about the faery world even though the Phouka objects to it. The ex-boyfriend has a small part. Then there’s the rest of the band who are pretty eccentric characters but slowly become friends.

Phouka is the most prominent fairy character in the book. He’s very loyal to Eddi and we only get glimpses of how often he has to fight to protect her. He doesn’t tell her anything that he doesn’t want to which is frustrating at times. He’s torn between loyalty to his Queen, to his people, and to Eddi. Yet, he’s often cheerful and banters happily with Eddi. I liked him perhaps the most.

Most of the fairy characters remain nameless which I found interesting and made them more alien. We only know them by their title, such as the Fairy Queen or the Queen of Air and Darkness, or by the name of their kind, their race, such as the Phouka and the Glaistig. In fact, only three fairy characters are named: a brownie called Hairy Meg, the Seelie Queen’s Consort, and one other.

The concentrates on slowly revealing more about the customs and people of the Faery world, and on the mortal plane, the band.

The book centers on Eddi so much that it’s almost frustrating to me. There were so much other things going on that I would have liked to learn more about. There’s the conflicts between the Phouka and agents of the Unseelie Court. There’s Stuart whose part turns out to be pretty important (in fact, we get quite a bit more of Stuart’s tale in the appendix). Then there’s the larger conflict between the two faerie courts which, by necessity, isn’t revealed much at all to the mortals.

I liked the start of the book a lot. Then I noticed that the name of one of the early chapter is “It’s so easy to fall in love” and I almost stopped reading the book in frustration. However, it didn’t feel like the current paranormal romances, so I continued and I’m glad, because I liked the book quite a lot.

The book has two romances. Fortunately, neither of them were the paranormal romance kind which I’ve started to loath. There are no asshole jerk “heroes” in the book. The first one was OK. To me it felt at the same time more realistic than usual for UF but it also felt like fairy tale like romance if that makes any sense. Especially how it was resolved. Unfortunately, the second one didn’t really work for me. It felt one of those tacked on romances where the hetero man and woman become lovers because there’s apparently nothing else they can do in a book. I would have much preferred it if they had become reluctant allies or best friends or anything else than the bog standard hetero monogamous pair bond. This is something where I feel that fantasy constantly lets me down by going for the easiest option pretty much every single time. Fortunately, the romances aren’t the main plot at all.

The ending was awesome!

My newest review: Philippa Ballantine’s Geist.

It’s pretty good high fantasy and I gave it four stars from five.

The first book in the Vampire Assassin series set in fantasy Venice.

Publication year: 2011
Format: Audio
Publisher: Audible Inc.
Narrator: Dan John Miller
Running Time: 12 hours, 41 minutes

The story starts with a young man chained in the dark without any knowledge of who he is and why he’s chained. Then, we’re thrust in the middle of Venice intrigue.

This Venice is a powerful city-state ruled by the descendants of Marco Polo. However, a half-wit Duke, Marco IV, sits on the throne currently, so the people around him have to do the actual ruling. Venice even has an official Regent, Marco’s uncle Alonzo la Millione, although Marco’s widowed mother Alexa has almost as much unofficial power.

Marco’s cousin, the 15 year old Giulietta is ordered into a political marriage against her will. In desperation, she runs away. However, Atilo Il Mauros is hot on her heels on the streets of Venice. He’s the head of the Assassini brotherhood and loyal only to the Duke. Atilo shadows Guilietta until dusk. Then he has to protect her from the powerful werewolves, called the krieghund, who are trying to kill Guilietta. Atilo manages to get her back home but not before most of his assassins are killed.

Later, Venice custom officers are inspecting a ship and find a strange boy chained there. The boy manages to escape. He doesn’t remember much but light hurts his eyes and water makes him sick. He encounters a young witch who allows him to drink her blood which revives him somewhat. Later, Atilo meets the boy, who is calling himself Tycho, and drafts him into services as an apprentice assassin.

Meanwhile, supposed foreign agents have kidnapped Lady Giuliette. The poor girl knows that she’s just a pawn and nobody would look for her, so she steals a very valuable item. Soon, all of Venice is in uproar about the kidnapping and very unpleasant things start to happen to foreign residents.

This is just the bare bones of the start of the complex plot with a large cast of characters, lots of scheming, and a couple of romances, too. I must admit that the audio book isn’t the best format for the book unless you are able to focus on listening all the time. I usually do something else while listening, so I wasn’t. Maybe that’s why there are a couple of plot point that were really mystifying to me.

Right at the start, Atilo is following Giuliette. At any point before sundown he could have just appeared and whisked her away back home. Instead, he waits for her to apparently change her mind and return on her own. Which she doesn’t do and isn’t likely to. So, Atilo just follows her until sundown and the werewolves come out and massacre his followers. The thing is that apparently Atilo knew that the werewolves were in town and that his followers didn’t have a chance against them. So, this makes Atilo pretty… stupid? Incompetent? Suicidal except with other people’s lives rather than his own? Unbalanced? I don’t know but it sure isn’t flattering. Also, this makes Giuliette seem very stupid and incompetent, too. So right at the start two POV characters are acting stupidly.

Next up is Atilo’s romantic choices. He’s supposedly in love with lady Desdaio who is not only young and beautiful but also a rich heiress. So, other men are trying to get her, too. However, Desdaio is in love with Atilo and agrees to be engaged with him. However, instead of marrying her as soon as he can, he… puts it off. He’s too busy with work, with prostitutes, and having affairs with married women. What? Then he mopes around when other men are interested in Desdaio. What, again? What was he waiting for? Desdaio to become frustrated and marrying someone else? Atilo is very ambitious, has good connections, and is a schemer to boot. He’s also a moor and lots of people view him unfavorably because of that. Surely, it would have been advantageous for him to marry a rich, beautiful, Christian heiress instead of dallying around. Seems weird to me.

Otherwise, the plot moves along quickly with short chapters and quick POV changes. Tycho’s past is revealed slowly as he starts to remember more about it. He’s not a typical vampire; he can move about during the day although the light hurts his eyes, and he can eat and drink normally. He’s perhaps the most interesting character. Giuliette perhaps grows most during the book. At the start, she’s a beaten down girl even though she comes from a powerful family. But her family has made it clear that her only value is in the marriage she will make; that she herself is worthless.

Unfortunately for me, all of the characters are quite gray; they’re selfish and scheming so it’s hard to root for any of them. They’re also horribly misogynistic which is, of course, consistent with the historical aspect but was tiresome to me after a while.

The book has a lot of details about living in 15th century Venice, both for the poor and the rich. Tycho and a couple of other POV characters move among the poor and a couple of street urchins play a significant role in the book. Even in the glittering La Serenissima, life is brutal and often short for the poor and even for rich women. I was particularly fascinated by the description of a prison where the prisoners were forced to work to keep themselves alive, so they didn’t have time to plot escape.

Oh, and the family of la Millione, the descendants of Marco Polo, are imaginary. As far as I can tell, Polo didn’t hold much political power in Venice. During the time of the book, Venice was ruled by competent, if not liked, Doge Michele Steno.

Miller is a good reader. He’s careful when pronouncing the Italian names and I liked his voice. The only thing I didn’t really care for were his voices for women which sounded absurdly high and breathless.

30 Days of Genre

Day 28 – Favorite publisher of genre novels
Another tough one. I don’t really pay much attention to publishers, especially US and UK ones.
TOR and Ace are publishing a lot of good stuff but so are many smaller publishers. Baen, because of Bujold.

Day 29 – A genre novel you thought you wouldn’t like, but ended up loving
Clearly I’m too picky because I can’t think of one. I just don’t pick up books I know I’ll probably dislike. I don’t even have the time to read books I think I’m likely to like!

Day 30 – Your favorite genre novel of all time
I think it’s pretty clear by now that it’s pointless to ask me to pick just one book of anything. I couldn’t even pick one favorite *series* let alone a single book. 🙂

30 Days of Genre

Day 26 – Best hero
I’ve written about a lot of protagonists in previous posts. But when I think about a hero, someone I can admire and perhaps even imitate somewhat, I find myself thinking about a classic: Robin Hood. The man who stood for common people and who made the outlaw’s no doubt miserable life romantic and even heroic. I specifically like idealized, non-gritty and even fantastic versions of him and his merry band. Not the modern books.

Day 27 – Most epic scene ever
Another difficult one. I’ve read quite a few books with epic scenes, no matter if they are called epic fantasy or not. Space opera has lots of epic scenes as well, and so does historical fiction when it concentrates on war. I don’t really have a clue which one I should choose. Perhaps one of the battles in Sanderson’s Hero of Ages.

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