October 2011

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.

Today, in the Top Ten Tuesdays the topic is Books Bought because of the Cover or Title.

1, Fistful of Charms by Kim Harrison
Both the title and the cover tempted me to buy this one. I had no idea that it was fourth in a continuing series, though. I like the play on words with the Western title Fistful of Dollars, and remembered the Star Trek: TNG episode Fistful of Datas. However, the series is post-apocalyptical urban fantasy and doesn’t have a western feel at all.

2, The Disappeared by Kristine Kathryn Rucsh
I was looking for more SF and this one caught my eye on the internet. It was only available used and is was a bit of a hassle to order a used copy from US. It was worth it.

3, The Iron Hunt by Marjorie Liu
For some reason I really liked the cover of the first edition even though it’s simple. The later prints have had gorgeous covers, though.

4, The Snake Agent by Liz Williams
I really like the wonderful cover and the blurb about a Chinese hero lured me in.

5, The Alexander Cipher by Will Adams
The Alexander in the title is Alexander the Great so of course I had to get it.

6, City of Saints and Madmen by Jeff VanderMeer
I knew that VanderMeer was famous is US when I bought it but I wasn’t prepared at all for the new weird sort of book with several intertwined novellas.

7, The Iron Dragon’s Daughter by Michael Swanwick
This felt like a different sort of fantasy than I read at the time (epic, mostly) and it was translated into Finnish. Those days, it was very rare to find a translated fantasy book which wasn’t either for children or based on a roleplaying game.

8, Elfquest by Wendy and Richard Pini
I wasn’t at all prepared for the gorgeous and addictive world of Two Moons and the elves when I innocently picked up my first EQ album.

9, The Right Hand of Amon by Lauren Haney
Obviously, there’s a references for Ancient Egypt but that was all I knew about the book.

10, Murder in the Place of Anubis by Lynda S. Robinson
Another that I requested from BookMooch based on the title.

Obsidian Alliances has three stories. The first focuses on the crew of Voyager, the second on the New Frontier characters, and the third one on Deep Space Nine characters.

The Mirror universe in the book is based on the DS9 episodes where Terrans are slaves and the Klingon-Cardassian Alliance rules most of the known universe. The Dark Passions books are set in a different alternate universe.

Publication year: 2007
Format: print
Page count: 435
Publisher: Pocket Books

I read the first and the third novellas. I think I’ve read a few New Frontier books at some point but that was years ago and I didn’t remember much about the characters which took away the point of reading Peter David’s Cutting Ties.

In The Mirror-Scaled Serpent by Keith R.A. DeCandido Chakotay, Seska, Kate Janeway, Annika Hansen, Tuvok, and Harry Kim are a cell in the rebellion. Chakotay is the captain of his ship Geronimo and Kate is his engineer. The crew are in the Badlands, being chased by Gul Evek when they encounter two escape pods that suddenly appear. They are able to save one of pods, and the Alliance ship rescues the other. The Rebels get Neelix, an alien from far away. Neelix tells the skeptical humans, Cardassian, and Vulcan that his lover Kes is a powerful telepath and he wants her back. Tuvok convinces the rest of the crew that the Alliance must not get a telepath, and they start a desperate rescue mission. Evek has taken Kes to an old science station where B’Elanna is the commander. B’Elanna herself is partial to torture as well and her favorite is a blond Terran named Thomas.

The story contains a lot of torture. At the start of the story poor Kes is being tortured by the Kazon-Ogla and soon the Terran doctor Zimmerman is torturing her again in order to study her. Apparently, the torture activates her telepathic powers. Also, Tom has to endure a lot in the hands of sadistic B’Elanna who combines torture and sex.

The crew of the Geronimo don’t get along well. Chakotay spent his childhood on a remote colony but after the Alliance conquered the planet, he and his family became slaves. He’s only escaped slavery a short time ago. He doesn’t have Starfleet training or discipline, and neither does his crew. Harry Kim is the most tortured man in the crew and has become bitter but an excellent fighter and saboteur. Seska was the right hand woman of Gul Evek until she defected. She believes that the Cardassians have been twisted by their association with Klingons and is fighting to end that. She also despises humans. Tuvok has a secret mission of his own. Additionally, one of Geronimo’s crew is a traitor and their actions seem actually pretty logical, given the world they live in.

This story is very dark, by Star Trek standards. None of the characters are really admirable; they’re just trying to survive as best they can. Chakotay has some idealism but even he has to face facts. He actually pretty close to his Prime universe counterpart in character. However, I was amused that this is the first story with Seven/Annika in it when she didn’t take over the whole story. She’s also clearly nothing like her Seven persona; it’s seems that she’s more interested in sex than work.

The more sadistic characters are on the side of the Alliance. Doctor Zimmerman seems to enjoy torture. B’Elanna enjoys torturing others but she’s also a tortured character; she despises herself because she’s a half-breed and because she’s been demoted to the supervisor of a remote science station.

The story has a lot of action.

Saturn’s Children by Sarah Shaw brings back a lot of familiar characters from the DS9 Mirror episodes.

The former Overseer Kira Nerys is a bad place: after her disgrace, she was allowed to live only on the “mercy” of Regent Martok who delights in inflicting every cruelty on her. Then, she’s given to the new Bajoran Intendent: Ro Laren. Apparently, Ro and Kira have been adversaries for a long time and Ro wastes no time putting Kira into the slave quarters and into menial jobs. Ro’s headquarters are on a Klingon ship and Kira doesn’t have any current allies on it.

Meanwhile, Rebel General O’Brien has his own troubles. General Bashier and his newest closest ally, General Zek, are trying to undermine O’Brien’s authority and control the Rebels themselves. O’Brien is more interested in staying alive and keeping other people alive, too, and posturing. Bashier and Zek accuse O’Brien of being soft when he didn’t destroy a civilian outpost. Also, O’Brien met Keiko Ishikawa just two weeks ago and they are already a couple. Bashier thinks there’s an informant in O’Brien’s crew which forces O’Brien to spy on his crew. At the same time Bashier and Zek have plans in motion.

This story has lots of familiar characters: Leeta is O’Brien’s first officer aboard Defiant and I was delighted to see that she’s no-nonsense officer and competent. Ezri Tigan is the tactical officer, and married to Leeta, and Sito Jaxa is the pilot. Michael Eddington is O’Brien’s closest ally and he seems to be as levelheaded as in the show. Worf’s brother Kurn is the captain of the Klingon ship where Ro and Kira are. I think that Zek is supposed to be the Mirror universe counterpart but he’s just as greedy and ambitious as in the prime universe.

This story focuses more intrigue than in action and we also get to know more about the Rebel characters when O’Brien has to look at their personal files.

Both of the stories are fast paced with lots of plot twists. They’re a great glimpse to the twisted Mirror Universe.

Booking Through Thursday

If you could get a sequel for any book, what would it be?

I read a lot of series but it wasn’t hard to come up with a few books that I’d love to read more about. I really liked the dowager royina Ista and I’d love to see what life is like after Paladin of Souls.

The first book in a humorous mystery series.

Publication year: 1999
Format: print
Page count: 296 plus a preview of Murder with Puffins
Publisher: St. Martin’s Paperbacks

Meg Langslow is down-to-earth, no-nonsense woman. She’s a self-employed blacksmith who usually makes jewelry. However, she was able to get a whole summer off from work and return to her small home town in Virginia in order to be the maid of honor for three weddings. Meg’s best friend, brother, and mother are getting married withing just a few weeks. She actually doesn’t care for her brother’s bride, Samantha, but agreed to be her maid of honor, anyway. Meg’s also not wild about her mother’s groom who is the man next door, Jake.

Most of the brides seem to be far interested in small details, like interior decorating or being out of town, and leave the big things to Meg which keep her incredibly busy. Of course, Meg’s strange relatives aren’t helping things, either. Then Jake’s first wife’s sister appears. The sister doesn’t like the impending wedding at all and seems to be in general quite unlikable person. Soon, she’s found dead on the beach. Meg’s father, a retired doctor, is a mystery enthusiast and even though the local sheriff claims that the death is an accident, Meg’s dad starts an investigation drafting Meg, too.

Murder with Peacocks is written in a very humorous style. Most of Meg’s relatives are very strange from her dad who eats almost anything and gives lectures on poisonous plants to the Uncle who insist on wearing a gorilla suit in every party. Also, since Meg’s single, her best friend Eileen is determined to get her together with Eileen’s fiance’s brother Barry. Except that Meg loathes the uncouth, borderline rapist Barry. In fact, Meg seems to be the only sane person in her family. Then there’s Michael, the other sane person in the book.

The local dress-maker was going to make all the costumes for all of the weddings, but she’s currently in Florida with a broken leg. So, her handsome son Michael is filling in for her, and quite expertly. The dresses are made by a group of Vietnamese women who don’t speak English at all and Michael is their interpreter. The local gossip insist that Michael is gay, or What-a-Waste as the local homophobes say. However he seems to be very interested in Meg but whenever he tries to ask her something, he’s interrupted.

Most of the time, Meg is furiously trying to get the wedding organized instead of investigating the murder. Even when there are a couple of attempts on her father’s life, the local sheriff tries to write them off as accidents. So, the plot centers more on the weddings instead of the mystery. The main attraction to the story are the eccentric characters and not the plot.

I was quite surprised that Meg had agreed to this monumental task in the first place and that she didn’t quit when it came clear that none of the brides are going to help her at all. The families seem to be rich so surely they could have hired someone to organize the weddings as a full time job? But of course, if you like the humor, the premise is quite funny.

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