October 2011

In the spirit of Halloween, here are the five episodes of Star Trek:TNG which I consider to be the scariest.

1, Night Terrors
Enterprise is trapped in space and the crew starts to see things.

2, Schisms
Members of the Enterprise crew are being abducted.

3, Frame of Mind
One of the best Riker centric episodes. He’s playing a mental patient in a play but then finds himself committed into a mental institution.

4, Remember Me
The crew start to disappear one by one.

5, Sub Rosa
Crusher must leave her career and friends to fine “love”.

Today the topic of Top 5 Sundays at Larissa’s Bookish Life is Favorite Book Titles.

A lot of these are part of a series so I’m counting a series as one entry.

1, “A Fistful of Charms”, “For a Few Demons More”, “The Good, the Bad, and the Undead” by Kim Harrison
I really like the allusion to the Western movies.

2, “Newton’s Cannon” and “Empire of Unreason” by Gregory Keyes

3, “Tea with the Black Dragon” by R. A. MacAvoy
To me, this conjures up the unlikely image of a little old lady having delicate tea with a huge black dragon.

4, “Eater of Souls” and “Slayer of Gods” by Lynda S. Robinson

5, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by William Shakespeare
Couldn’t resist. 🙂 I’ve always loved that title.

Superheros and zombies! The first book.

Publication year: 2011
Format: Audio
Publisher: Audible Inc.
Narrators: Jay Snyder and Khristine Hvam
Running Time: 8 hrs and 03 minutes

I don’t know if these books can be categorized as fantasy (but they clearly aren’t realism!) but they have zombies and the occasional horrific moments so I’m adding this one and the Ex-Patriots into the RIP challenge and the Horror and Urban Fantasy challenge.

The first book in the series has pretty much the same style than the first except that this time we get a lot more descriptions of the main characters.

The zombie apocalypse ended the world about two years ago. A group of surviving humans is holed up in Paramount Studios which they’ve built into a fortress, called the Mount. Their leaders are superheroes and the people rely on the heroes a lot. The most organized hero is the mysterious Stealth and her right hand man is St. George whom the people look up to. Zzzap can turn into electricity but he has to the keep the Mount’s power going so he spends most of his time in an electric chair doing just that. Gorgon acts as the small town’s sheriff, organizing the watch over the undead hordes outside the gates and keeping order inside. Cerberus is a battle armor and its designer is using it as part of the security team.

St. George and Cerberus lead a group of people to a scavenger hunt to nearby LA. They defend themselves against the ex-humans but mostly they try to sneak around. However, they soon notice that someone has been piling cars and the ex-humans shouldn’t be able to do that. On the way back, the group is ambushed by the biggest human gang in LA. The gang wants the Mount’s resources and their leader has a personal grudge against one of the heroes.

The plot moves fast with fights and twists. Every chapter has a part called “Then” written from the POV of an individual hero and set in the past; how he or she got their powers, why they decided to become heroes, and how some of them witness the first zombie uprisings. These stories introduce the heroes to us in a way that couldn’t have been done in the main story without a lot of exposition. I really liked the technique. The heroes are quite different from each other. St. George is the Superman analogue who wants to save everyone while Stealth is a ruthless woman who is willing to sacrifice a few for the common good. Gorgon is a hardened man who waged his own war against the gangs of LA before the apocalypse. He has an interesting power: when he looks at someone, he drains their energey and become stronger himself. That’s why he has to wear goggles all the time when he’s not in battle. Danielle operates the Cerberus armor whom she designed and built. Regenerator has lost his former healing powers and his wife, and he doesn’t have any hope for the future. Zzzap is perhaps the most powerful hero; he can turn into pure energy. However, he also has to power the Mount and when he’s in his human form, he needs a wheelchair. We also get a few stories from heroes who didn’t survive.

I have only two gripes. The heroes are described more than in the next book and there’s a lot of focus on Stealth’s outfit. Apparently, she has a literally skintight, thin costume and although it covers her completely every male drools after her. Was that really necessary? Don’t we have already enough female heroes who are nothing but hot bodies? Do they have to be in the books, too? Sigh. Her rather cliched background doesn’t help the situation. My other gripe is the weird shift in mob mentality. One minute they are adoring their heroes and the next they are willing to believe that the heroes have betrayed them. This feels like quite a quick shift.

Otherwise, I liked this story as much as I liked the next one, Ex-Patriots, which I listened accidentally first. The heroes are facing a huge problem and they are doing the best they can. However, people are getting restless inside the Mount, where they are safe but where they also don’t have much to do. The heroes work surprisingly well together, even Gorgon who was a loner before.

There’s a lot of action in the book, fighting the ex-humans. The heroes have also a couple of scientists working on the zombie problem and we get to know the pseudo science behind it.

The book has a lot of pop culture references. For example, one of the buildings in the Mount is called the Roddenberry, one of the characters is called Jarvis, Lady Bee wonders if Spider-Man could beat St. George, and Stealth is compared to Batman. The fighting humans also have a contest about killing celebrities and we find out about the gruesome fates of a few famous actors.

The two narrators work the same way as in the next book. Snyder narrates most of the book and Hvam narrates the dialogue for female characters. She also narrates the “Then” parts when the focus is on a female superhero with Snyder reading the male dialogue. I liked this technique but it’s not for everyone.

Oh, and this book is all fluffy fun. If you’re looking for weightier content, this is the wrong book for you.

The first in a mystery series set in Millers Kill with a police chief and a female priest as the detectives.

Publication year: 2002
Format: print
Page count: 358
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Russ van Alstyne is the Police Chief in Millers Kill. He was born there but moved away and has recently returned with his wife. Russ is a hardworking cop with a military background. He’s somewhat surprised to find out that the town’s new Episcopal priest is a woman, Reverend Clare Fergusson. However, she’s a down-to-earth woman who is trying to help the people around her and the Chief soon warms up to her.

Christmas is near and it’s in the middle of a bitterly cold winter. Someone has left a baby at the Church’s steps and Claire finds him. A rich local couple wants desperately to adopt him but that can’t happen until the child’s parents are found. However, a couple of days later, a young woman is found dead. She’s suspected of being the mother of the foundling boy, and Russ and Claire set out to find her murderer.

The plot is fast-paced and I enjoyed the characters a lot, mostly. However, the plot might be frustrating to mystery readers because the characters don’t find crucial information until very late. I also found the ending unbelievable and some of Claire’s actions were too impulsive.

Russ is a married man but his wife doesn’t appear in the book. In fact, Russ seems pretty unhappy about her own business which seems to take up most of her time. Instead, he spends a lot of time with Claire. I hoped that they would have been friends but unfortunately it seems that they are heading for romance.

Claire is a newcomer to the town. She doesn’t know the people nor the proper way to dress in the middle of winter. She also has a sports car which simply can’t handle the snow and ice. She’s curious and determined to make a difference. She clearly underestimates the damage that cold can do even in a short amount of time but that’s a mistake inexperienced people often make. However, she’s also very impulsive and very trusting which I found a little contradictory with her former career as a helicopter pilot in the military. She’s very flashy compered to Russ who is the older and more experienced police officer. I was also a bit puzzled as to why Russ would include a priest into the investigation. Sometimes, her presence was called for, such as a grief counselor but I didn’t expect her to be able to interrogate suspects.

The rest of the cast were quite entertaining. Harlene is a very competent dispatcher at the police station and she knows the other officers very well. The murdered girl’s parents were quite repugnant in real life, but entertaining in a book. The town was clearly divided between the rich and the poor, and the rich want to keep the poor out, even from a church. I was rather surprised that the amount of time Claire and Russ spent together didn’t spawn more rumors or perhaps even a threat to dismiss the Reverend for improper behavior.

The setting was well done. I enjoyed the great depiction of cold weather and its effects on hapless Claire. In fact, the weather was a greater threat than the villain and that’s pretty rare.

Unfortunately, when I heard that one of the main characters is a priest and the other is married, I was looking forward for them being friends and because of that, the kindling of a romance was disappointing. Also, the romance had quite a cliched elements, such as Russ watching Claire dance when she doesn’t know that he’s watching and Russ complaining that his wife doesn’t understand him. So, while I enjoyed the book, I don’t think I will continue with the series.

The topic for Top Ten Books today is Top Ten Books Perfect For Reading Around Halloween.

We did this last year, too, and I have a few additions:

1, Dracula by Bram Stoker is, of course, the classic. I read it a few months ago and it’s still as good as ever.

2, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley is another classic with both science fiction and horror elements.

3, I am Legend by Richard Matheson which was surprisingly good and different from the movie.

4, The three Xombies books by Walter Greatshell had an interesting twist about zombies; it’s a virus, not undeath.

5, Boneshaker by Cherie Priest has steampunk, dystopia, and zombies.

6, The Island of Doctor Moreau by H. G. Wells is especially creepy if you love animals.

7, Blood Magic by Matthew Cook. The main character Kirin can control corpses. The book has a very intense atmosphere.

8, Nightwalker by Jocelynn Drake. The main character is an old vampire and not the sparkly kind. I surprised myself by liking it a lot.

9, Ex-Heroes and Ex-Patriots by Peter Clines combines superheroes with the zombie apocalypse.

10, Unholy Ghosts by Stacia Kane. The main character Chess banishes ghosts for a living.

Today the topic of Top 5 Sundays at Larissa’s Bookish Life is Favorite Sword Wielding Heroines.

Since this a book meme, I’m leaving out the obvious ones from TV:

1, Aliera e’Kieron by Steven Brust
Ah, the nearly psychotic Dragaeran with a quick temper and one of the Great Weapons is one of my all-time favorites!

2, Mira by Jocelynn Drake
The vampire Mira uses any possible weapon but she’s really familiar with swords.

3, Shadow by Anne Logston
Shadow is a thief but I’m fairly certain she uses a sword in addition to knives.

4, Laurana from Dragonlance
Actually my favorite is Kitiara Uth’Matar but she’s a villain. 😉 Laurana starts as a rather timid elven maid but grows into a warrior and a general during the series.

5, Arilyn Moonblade by Elaine Cunningham
She’s one of the first half-elven heroes I read about. Even though she’s a skilled warrior and an assassin, people have looked down on her all her life because she’s half-blooded.

A Readathon tradition! In your final Readathon post, answer these questions.

1. Which hour was most daunting for you?
Hour 11. It was 1 am here and I went to sleep.

2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?
Depends on what genres you like. If you like SF: Warror’s Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold or any of the rest of the series.
If you like fantasy: Nine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny and the rest of the Amber series. They’re also short!
For historical mystery: Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters.

3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?
The only thing I’d change is the starting time to morning here in Finland. 😉

4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?
Updates and the mini-challenges were great.

5. How many books did you read?
3 books and one graphic novel

6. What were the names of the books you read?
In the Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer-Fleming
Boneshaker by Cherie Priest
With Fate Conspire by Marie Brennan
The Black Island by Herge

7. Which book did you enjoy most?
All of them!

8. Which did you enjoy least?

9. If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders?
No I wasn’t.

10. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?
I’m going to participate as a reader next time, too, unless work interferes.

I've only taken part in a couple of challenges but they were fun.

I've already managed to reach my first goal: reading 100 pages of the first book, In the Bleak Midwinter by Spencer-Fleming.
This is another mystery that has a lot of misery surrounding the victims and suspects but I've enjoyed the unlikely team of the Police Chief and Reverend who both have a military background.

I've also reached my second goal and finished a graphic novel: The Black Island. It's a Tintin book. I don't know if they are popular in the English speaking world but they are very much so here in Finland. I'm waiting the movie eagerly.

I've also baked cookies! This is only the fourth time I've done it; the kitchen in my previous apartement didn't really inspire cooking much. This is also the first time I've done them with dark chocolate, from Fair Trade. I did add some more vanilla sugar than with normal cocoa. Soon they'll cool off and we'll see if they're edible!

I managed to forget about read-a-thon but a quick look at the blogosphere reminded me. So, I’m in!

The first order of business is to tell us a little bit about yourself.

1)Where are you reading from today?
Tampere, Finland, as usual.

2)Three random facts about me…
Erm. I moved recently. I’m hoping to get a dog in the spring. I just bought a Buffy wall calendar and I’m really impatient for it to arrive already.

3)How many books do you have in your TBR pile for the next 24 hours?
Three books, one audiobook, and three graphic novels.

4)Do you have any goals for the read-a-thon (i.e. number of books, number of pages, number of hours, or number of comments on blogs)?
I learned my lesson the last time. 🙂 Just 100 pages of two books and one graphic novel.

5)If you’re a veteran read-a-thoner, any advice for people doing this for the first time?
Relax and have fun. Don’t try to force yourself to stay awake.

A science fiction book about a clash between human and alien cultures, and an attempt to understand the aliens. The author kindly gave me a review copy.

Publication year: 2011
Format: ebook, .pdf
Page count: 343

Humans have spread to other planets, namely Tofarn, and encountered the Tofa, somewhat humanoid aliens who don’t have faces, as such, and have four arms. Humans and Tofa have had a lot of difficulties understanding each other, but fortunately, the Tofa have been peaceful, so far. Doctor Mara Cadell has thought up an ingenious solution to the communication problem. In the womb, Mara had a fraternal twin Levi but unfortunately he didn’t survive. However, Mara has been able to keep Levi alive as a presence in her mind. Mara’s suggestion is to breed sets of twins: one human and one Tofa who would hopefully understand each other, and by extension the other species, better. When the twins would be old enough, they could be sent out to act as diplomats between the species. And of course while the grew, the humans would hopefully find out a lot about the Tofa through the twins.

Mara was able to convince the planet’s ruling Council to agree to the Project. It would be a monumental task that will take a lot of funding and time. The Project needs a place where it can be kept a secret and it also needs both human and Tofa host mothers and other staff. They would also need a way to communicate to Tofa the need for embryos and the mothers. However, to everyone’s surprise, the last bit happens easily enough and the Project acquires Tofa embryos, host mothers, and a handful of nurses. Mara is suspicious about how easily Tofa seemed to now understand the request but can’t turn them down. Getting the human host mothers is a more arduous process and because it takes time, some of the initial host mothers have a change of heart. A few political leaders pressure their family members into being host mothers.

The book spans several years and is divided into three parts. It’s written in short scenes which feel a bit fragmented at the start. It’s definitely idea science fiction instead of adventure and I was fascinated with the concept. The fragments at the start tell us about the relations between humans and the Tofa through the eyes of people we won’t see again.

Mara is the main character. Her experience with Levi has shaped her whole life; at the start of the book she doesn’t have any friends and she doesn’t seek human contact both because she feels that her connection with Levi is enough and also because she’s afraid that someone will find out about Levi which would destroy her scientific career. However, she cares very much for the people she leads and for the future of Tofarn. She’ also curious about the Tofa and wants very much to understand them better.

The book has a large cast and we get to know only a few of them well. Laura and Veda are two of the host mothers. They knew each other when they were kids but have grown apart since then. Now, they have a chance to renew their friendship although both have reservations about the other. Laura is the daughter of a Councilman who is hoping that Laura’s involvement in the Project will give him a political edge. In addition to the host mothers, the Project seems to have a large staff of scientists and later, nurses and various teachers. However, they are glimpsed at only briefly when the plot requires them.

Not all of the humans are happy with the Project. One Councilman has a couple of spies in the Project and he hopes to use the Project for his own nefarious aims.

The Tofa are quite alien. Of course, at first we don’t know much about them. However, most of the time when things are revealed about them, they seem more alien rather than less. I really liked that. However, the Tofa twins in the Project don’t really seem alien at all which was a little disappointing. They are often calmer than their human brother or sister, and very protective of them which is quite a human trait. However, it’s remarked that the Tofa twins are quite different from the other Tofa, so they seem to be far more human-like than the other Tofa. The Tofa don’t have genders as such, but the humans working with them call individual Tofa either he or she, so the humans assign them arbitrary genders and no-one thinks that’s strange.

The Project is quite isolated from other humans, or Tofa. The people aren’t allowed to leave much and the family members outside the Project have very limited visiting possibilities. This is because of secrecy. I suspected that it could actually work against the future diplomats who wouldn’t have much experience about other humans or, indeed, large human societies or Tofa.

The characters drink hot chocolate and not coffee. Being a chocolate person myself, I rater appreciated that.

All in all, I found this a fascinating and enjoyable read.

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