March 2012

Italian original: Marcovaldo ovvero Le stagioni in città
Finnish translation: Marcovaldo eli Vuodenajat kaupungissa
Publication year of the original: 1963
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 1986
Finnish translator: Jorma Kapari
Format: print
Page count: 143

This short book has twenty short stories which have the same main character, a poor unskilled laborer Marcovaldo and his family. He makes so little money that they are constantly on the brink of disaster. They live a large Italian city, large enough that during a fog or when he gets of the bus on the wrong stop, Marcovaldo gets completely lost. He dreams of a simpler country life and tries constantly to get a little more money or food. Yet, when he gets his hands on a rabbit, he likes the poor animal and wants to keep it as a pet.

The stories start with a mundane place but are often exaggerated to the point where they become absurd fantasy. A couple of times, a story leaves the hapless protagonist in quite a dilemma and just ends there. For example, when Marcovaldo tries to find his way in a very thick fog, he ends up stumbling into an airplane, for the first time in his life, and it takes off. Not a word is said how he manages to get back. Indeed, at times he’s so miserable, that given the opportunity, he might not return.

Yet, not all of the stories aren’t depressing. Most of the stories are charming and often witty examinations of the harsh city life of poor people. How people want to get the best of any situation but often things end up just the same or even worse. A couple of times Marcovaldo and his family even manage to escape to the countryside which turns out to be pretty bizarre. However, there are a couple of stories which are down right crushing in the end.

The other Calvino book I’ve read is If on the Winters Night a Traveler and I really enjoyed it. This is witty little book but not as good.

The fourth story in the Clockwork Century series.

Publication year: 2011
Format: Audio
Publisher: Audible
Narrator: Edoardo Ballerini
Running Time: 12 hrs and 9 minutes

Josephine Early runs a bordello house in New Orleans. She, and all of her girls, are of mixed race and she knows very well how precarious her position is. Not surprisingly, she supports the Union. However, for years now New Orleans has been a occupied city. The city was first conquered by the Union because of the port and the river but then it was reconquered by Texas which is still occupying it. The locals don’t like the Texans at all but few can do anything about the situation. Josephine if one of those few.

She’s a spy for the Union and she’s involved in other plots, as well. Her brother runs with the local pirates and her pet project is the Ganymede, a war ship that sails underwater. However, she needs a crew she can rely on and who are brave enough to sail the Ganymede. The previous crews drowned. Her last chance is an old lover whom she hasn’t seen in ten years: Andan Cly. And then there’s the zombie problem.

Andan Cly is thinking about settling down. He’s almost respectable now; running supplies to the underground city of Seattle instead of pirating. He’s also met a spirited woman who is another reason to settle down. He agrees to make a supply run for the city’s de facto ruler, Jaychoo (spelling?), and others when he receives a telegram from Josephine and decides to go to New Orleans to see her, perhaps for the last time.

I was a bit hesitant to get this book because of the many mixed reviews around. However, Ganymede was just as fun as the previous books and I was glad I bought it. The story has a mix of old and new characters. While the story starts in New Orleans with new characters, it moves quickly to Seattle, where we meet most of Boneshaker’s cast and Mercy from the previous book. This was great. We also get information about the giant machines which keep the air in the underground city breathable; they’re old and haven’t been repaired or serviced for a long time. I will be hugely surprised if Priest doesn’t follow this up in some next book.

The zombies have spread from Seattle to the rest of the US even though most folks don’t yet believe they exist. Cly and his small crew know about them, so they have no problem fighting the rotters.

Unfortunately, the story had some problems as well. There’s a continuity mistake with Cly and Mercy. They appear to meet for the first time in this book.. except that Cly flew Mercy to Seattle in Dreadnought. I was also left wondering why the underwater ship didn’t have any sailors in the crew. I also thought that Cly agreed to sail the Ganymede a bit too easily considering that the previous crews had all died. I also liked Kate Reading’s narration a lot better than Ballerini’s. I would have preferred it if he hadn’t tried to make female voices. Unfortunately, he apparently didn’t know anything about Angeline or about Lucy O’Gunning because their voices are pretty similar to the prostitutes. (In Boneshaker it was established that Angeline has a damaged throat so she doesn’t sound like a “normal” woman.)

The characters are again great. Josephine is a resourceful woman in the early forties (yes, forties!). She carries a gun and is fully aware of the dangers in all of her professions. She’s also very protective of her underlings and her brother, and she passionately wants Texas out of her city. Her ladies are all practical and have their own quirks.

Cly is equally protective of his crew and he’s also a very capable man. He thinks a bit about his former life with Josephine but thankfully doesn’t angst about it. One of his crewmen is out of Seattle for the first time and Cly acts as a sort of mentor and father figure to him.

This was more uneven than the previous stories but I’m eagerly waiting for the next book.

A novella set into the same world as “Dragon’s Tooth” but before it.

Publication year: 2010
Format: ebook, pdf
Page count: 29
Publisher: WMG Publishing, Smashwords edition

Tara Miller is the best magical troubleshooter the Abracadabra Inc. has. She has a strong work ethic and is overworked because of it. When the manager of Le Petit Chatêau calls her and tells her he might have an Assassin’s Dagger on his hands, Tara has no choice but to get on the first train, abandoning her first good night’s sleep in three weeks. The dangerous dagger had been left to the magic shop with a refund demand – for a purchase which had been apparently made 150 years ago.

The dagger could be real or a fake, and it if it’s real it could be one of three different daggers. Tara has to find out just what she’s dealing with without triggering the item’s lethal powers and that’s a challenge by itself. However, when she gets to town, she finds out that the store’s manager is strangely reluctant to help her and hasn’t been following Abracadabra’s guidelines. Abracadabra owns the store and wants it to be aboveboard and accessible even to people who don’t believe in magic.

Tara is the same, efficient and competent character as in the “Dragon’s Tooth”, and I really enjoyed seeing her in action. She’s careful with magical things she doesn’t know much about and even though she’s very good at her job, she doesn’t allow it to make her arrogant or overconfident.

The story has a very limited cast of characters: mostly just Tara and Chartier, the store’s manager. However, Tara has a large network of people whose expertize she can rely on when needed. This was a good way to show a glimpse of the magical world around the characters and it also fits her profession.

The world is our modern world but with working magic which seems to be hidden from the mundane folk. Unlike in many other fantasy stories set in the modern day, the magic and the technology aren’t struggling against each other, and Tara uses laptops and smartphones as easily as anyone else.

Another great, tightly plotted short story which has a dash of humor, too.

The fourth book in the A Time to… Star Trek: TNG series.

Publication year: 2004
Format: print
Page count: 332 plus a short preview of the next book
Publisher: Pocket Books

In the previous book the Enterprise-E was sent to explore a region of space where the Admiralty though they would find only the ruins of a dead civilization. Instead the crew found the Dokaalans who had survived their homeworld’s destruction and are now living in a few mining colonies among the asteroids near their former planet. Because the asteroid field had has lots of radiation, Enterprise’s systems aren’t working properly. Still, when the crew noticed that one of the colonies was in danger, they sprang to action and tried to save as many as they could. The Dokaalans were grateful even if some of them were suspicious of the mighty starship which had technology the Dokaalan’s haven’t even dreamt about. Since then, Picard and his crew have tried to help any way they can. The Dokaalan’s have shared their most ambitious project: to terraform a nearby planet to suit their needs as a new homeworld.

However, an alien race has infiltrated the Dokaalans using holographic suits. The infiltrators have subtly sabotaged the Dokaalan’s colonies and even the terraforming effort. Now the aliens have even infiltrated the Enterprise and are reading to destroy it if needed.

This book continues the somber mood that the three previous books had. New characters are introduced only to be killed off, Picard is second guessing himself, and the already beleaguered Dokaalans face problems everywhere. The characters also angst a lot over previous decisions which I thought was unnecessary, especially for such experienced officers as Picard, Riker, and Crusher.

The Dokaalans seems to be very resilient species. Most of their race died when their homeworld was destroyed by a natural disaster but the survivors managed to build lives on the asteroid mining colonies which had been meant to be temporary. Their resources were limited and their space technology is rudimentary, and the Enterprise crew compares it to Earth’s early 21th century technology. Still, the Dokaalans have started the terraforming project which would take centuries to finish. They seem to accept the Enterprise crew pretty easily considering that until the Enterprise showed up, they had no idea other people than their own even existed. However, the Dokaalans have to be very practical. There’s some mention that the more religious thought that the Enterprise had been sent by their god but this wasn’t explored further.

Picard and his crew try to help the Dokaalans as best they can. However, because the radiation limits their technology’s usefulness, they are often frustrated with how little they can do. For example, the teleporters don’t operate and sensors have only limited range. The crew rescues large groups of wounded Dokaalans twice, so the medical staff is featured more than is usual.

We get short chapters from the POV of the infiltrators. The alien aboard the Enterprise is actually unusually moral for his profession; he doesn’t like killing and avoids it. On the other hand, he would destroy the Enterprise if ordered. He also doesn’t expect to be able to leave the ship before that. However, his primary mission is to destroy Data and he manages to shut down the android at the start of the book. These chapters are very effective at bringing the tension level up.

Unfortunately, there’s again a lot of repetition. Previous plot point are told again when the characters mull them over or talk about them, and a couple of times even a couple of previous paragraphs is summed up again which seemed a bit weird.

Like in the previous book, there are a lot of references to earlier TNG episodes and when the crew finds out that there’s an infiltrator in the ship, they muse about the Dominion war and the Founders. This is, of course, a treat to long time fans. Unfortunately, sometimes they slow the pace down and interfere with the story.

The ending wraps up the story nicely.

Carl from the Stainless Steel Droppings is hosting the annual Once Upon a Time challenge for reading all things fantasy, mythology, folklore, and fairy tales:

Wednesday, March 21st begins the sixth annual Once Upon a Time Challenge. This is a reading and viewing event that encompasses four broad categories: Fairy Tale, Folklore, Fantasy and Mythology, including the seemingly countless sub-genres and blending of genres that fall within this spectrum. The challenge continues through Tuesday, June 19th and allows for very minor (1 book only) participation as well as more immersion depending on your reading/viewing whims.

I’ll be taking part in Quest the First: Read at least 5 books that fit somewhere within the Once Upon a Time categories. They might all be fantasy, or folklore, or fairy tales, or mythology… or your five books might be a combination from the four genres.

And Quest on the Screen: Stories are not just limited to the printed page. Many entertaining, moving, profound or simply fun stories are told in the realm of television and film. To participate in this quest simply let us know about the films and/or television shows that you feel fit into the definitions of fantasy, fairy tales, folklore or mythology that you are enjoying during the challenge.

And Short Story Quest: This quest involves the reading of one or more short stories that fit within at least one of the four genres during the course of any weekend, or weekends, during the challenge. Ideally you would post about your short story readings on Sundays or Mondays, but this is not strictly necessary.

I was tempted to take on Quest the Second (Read at least one book from each of the four categories) but I’m unsure about differences between the categories. Would, for example, a Robin Hood book be folklore? I don’t think it’s mythology because the stories don’t (usually) have supernatural elements. I have a tendency to put all fiction books into fantasy when they have mythological or fairy tale aspects. Is steampunk fantasy? It’s usually lumped in with science fiction.

1, Robin McKinley: Spindle’s End
2, Jennifer Estep: Spider’s Bite
3, Carolyn Crane: Mind Games
4, Barbara Hambly: Dragonsbane
5, Kevin Hearne: Hounded
6, Liz Williams: The Iron Khan
7, Robin McKinley: Sunshine
8, Jack Vance: The Dying Earth
9, Elizabeth A. Lynn: Watchtower
10, Tanya Huff: Blood Price
11, Tanya Huff: Blood Trail
12, Neil Gaiman: Neverwhere
13, Carolyn Crane: Double Cross
14, Karin Lowachee: The Gaslight Dogs

Short story collections:
Fritz Leiber: Swords in the Mist
DB Jackson: A Spell of Vengeance

Mirror, Mirror

First in a popular mystery series.

Publication year: 1982
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 1996
Format: print
Finnish translator: Reijo Kalvas
Page count: 224
Publisher of the Finnish translation: Viihdeviikarit

Kinsey Millhone is private detective in her thirties. She’s most comfortable in cramped quarters and she’s meticulous and patient which are a private detective’s best qualities. She’s also a loner and a very private person. She’s a bit surprised when Nikki Fife appears to her office. Mrs. Fife has just been released from prison where she’s been for eight years after she was convicted of her husband’s murder. However, Nikki still says that she’s innocent and she wants Kinsey to find the real murderer. That would not be easy after such a long time but Kinsey takes the case. She followed the trial but much to her surprise, she soon finds out information she didn’t know before.

The victim, Laurence Fife, had a been a divorce lawyer, a driven and ambition man and womanizer. Nikki had been his second wife and they had an infant son when Mr. Fife was poisoned. Fife’s first wife Gwen is supposedly still bitter. However, Kinsey finds out that a woman was poisoned with the same substance just four days after Fife’s death and the police looked for a connection. The poisoned woman was Fife’s firm’s accountant and they were rumored to have an affair but the police hadn’t been able to connect the murders.

Kinsey is quickly attracted to late Fife’s business partner. At the same time, Kinsey has another case going. She’s been hired to prove that Margie Threadgill is trying to commit insurance fraud. Kinsey parks in front of her house and tries to get pictures that show that Margie hasn’t hurt her back. This is pretty humorous and lightened the mood of the book.

Except for the romance, which is pretty brief, A is for Alibi is a pretty straight forward mystery story. Because the victim was poisoned, there’s more emphasis on motivation than opportunity and alibis, which is a bit ironic considering the title.

Kinsey drives around talking to people connected to the case. Most of them seem like ordinary people, some depressed, most trying to move on with their lives. Kinsey has just one cop contact who is all grumpy but agrees to help Kinsey. Instead, she seems to have a rather large network of fellow P.I.s which makes sense. Unfortunately, the few fat people in the book are presented in a really poor light.

This was a quick, fun read and I’ll probably continue with the series.

Collects Avengers vol.3 issues 1-11, Avengers Annual 1998; Iron Man (1998) #7; Captain America (1998) #8; Quicksilver #10
Publisher: Marvel
Publication date: 2011

Almost a year of Busiek’s Avengers! It’s very hard to top this.

The first four issues were collected in the Morgan Conquest . They gather up almost every Avenger ever to battle Morgan la Fay and eventually to form the new team which has internal conflict from the start.

In issue 5, “Accusation Most foul”, a couple of other classic elements returns: the Squadron Supreme and public suspicion. The issue starts with a training sequence where Warbird refuses to use her Binary powers and still doesn’t tell Cap that she doesn’t have them anymore. Meanwhile Tony is helping Vision repair his synthetic body which was wounded in issue 3. While his body is being repaired, Vision is a hologram and so confined to the Mansion, and also creepily spying on his fellow Avengers. Downtown, Hawkeye is helping Wanda to shop and they discuss how Wanda is able to summon Wonder Man who is thought to be dead. Wanda is a bit uncomfortable with her fluctuating powers. Then the team is called to help with a crashed airplane. The plane is slowly sinking into the sea and the Avengers start to help the rescue efforts. Cap and Hawkeye are arguing when the Squadron Supreme appears and accuses the Avengers of being impostors. Interestingly, the media picks up on this and is speculating if it could be true that the real Avengers are still dead. Of course, a fight ensues.

The issue has several hints about things to come. The issue starts with Jarvis picking up the mail and a letter from Costa Verde is mentioned. Thor is bringing in the Cask of Ancient Winters. Wanda is worried about her powers and summons Wonder Man again. Cap also notices how rusty the team is working together and Carol is still not telling about her powers.

The issue has a lot of humor. Hawkeye is making his cracks which refer to classic events, such as the Squadron Supreme being mind controlled again and when Freeman says that the Avengers have to clear up their name or they would be arrested, Hawkeye says: “Again? But that trick never works.” Loved it.

In the next issue, “Earth’s Mightiest Frauds?” the Avengers decide, after some bickering, to travel to Project: Pegasus where the Squadron lives and investigate things. Cap and Hawkeye talk briefly about Hawk eye’s frustrations about not being the leader. They shake hands but Clint still has his reservations. Meanwhile, Wanda and Carol commiserate about the situation. This could have been a great time for them to talk about the troubles they’ve had with their powers but no. The team heads to Project: Pegasus and searches the Squadron’s living quarters for any clue. This is, of course, the worst possible moment for the Squadron to return. Another fight breaks out. During the fight, Wanda again wonders about her changing powers: she can somehow tap into magic even though she’s had only a small about to training in it. After the fight, Cap and Carol quarrel. Again.

Like in the previous issue, there are great small moments in this issue too: the Vision explaining how the publics suspicious response is logical with Skrulls and other impersonators running around. The Cap/Hawkeye and Carol/Wanda moments mentioned above. Carol also gets the Avengers into the Project in a great way.

The Squadron storyline concludes in the Annual, which I don’t have.

The next issue is the final part in a four part cross-over, Live Kree or Die. I don’t have the other issues but there’s a good summary. The Kree Lunatic Legion wants to change all of humanity into Kree. To do that, they’ve stolen a prototype power generator and they’ve captured Warbird whose human/Kree genetic mix they’ve used to fire up the generator. Warbird was apparently drunk which allowed the Kree to capture her. She managed to escape though. However, the Kree Supreme Intelligence doesn’t seem happy with the Legion’s plans.

The Court Martial of Carol Danvers, issue 7, starts with the court martial where the active Avengers, plus Quicksilver, accuse Carol of alcoholism, reckless behavior, and deliberately not telling them about her power level decrease. Carol quits. The Avengers get a message that the Lunatic Legion is on the Blue side of the Moon and preparing to use their weapon. The active Avengers, Quicksilver, Justice, and Firebird race to the space Quinjet and to the Moon.

A huge battle ensues on the Moon. However, the Kree are only delaying the Avengers while they power up their weapon.

Wanda worries about Carol and thinks about the friendship. Unfortunately, we haven’t really seen them interact differently than with any other Avengers and the rest of the team don’t seem broken up about her leaving. This time Wanda summons Simon (briefly) by just thinking about him and later has doubts about summoning him just for battle. Justice is really excited about fighting alongside the Avengers and we find out about Angel’s health problems. When she uses her powers on a high level, she risks radiation poisoning. Meanwhile, Carol tries to fly to the Moon under her own power and fails.

This is a fine wrap-up issue for the story line and also for Carol’s story line, for now. I didn’t like that she left the Avengers but it was great that she had a, well, gender-neural story line.

Next we have two stories that take up two issues. In issue 8, Turbulence, Moses Magnum is the threat and we’re introduced to two new characters. Jarvis is on the airport meeting a young girl from Costa Verde whom he’s been sponsoring for years. Unfortunately, that’s the same day when armed men and a shape shifting woman, called Silverclaw, terrorize the airport. However, Jarvis manages to call the Avengers for help. Cap, the Scarlet Witch, Hawkeye, Justice, and Firestar answer the call. They are imprisoned but get help from a new hero, Triathlon. When Magnum and his goons escape, Triathlon hides on their airplane.

Again, we’re treated with small character moments. Angel and Vance get their new costumes and Angel is less than thrilled about how revealing her costume is. Cap also gets a new energy shield and Wanda get a new gypsy type costume (although I’m not convinced that wearing a full length skirt into battle is very smart). I liked Vance’s new costume although I’m not thrilled about it. However, I liked Angel’s previous costume and wasn’t convinced she really needed a new one. But I really liked her attitude towards the new one and how she modified it.

Wanda is still thinking hard about her changing powers and wants to get some answers about why they are changing and why she’s able to summon Simon. During the battle, both Wanda and Clint follow Cap’s orders but they aren’t happy about it. After all, both have been team leaders before. The issue ends with Wanda again summoning Simon and apparently having sex with him. In the finest soap opera tradition, Vision is just then sneaking into in her room. I actually thought his skulking around to be pretty creepy and unbecoming for an Avenger.

Silverclaw turns out to be a victim of blackmail. She’s really quite a sweet girl and the Avengers don’t press charges.

In the next issue, The Villain Who Fell from Grace with the Earth, the Avengers get a call for help from Triathlon. Magnum and his goons are on a floating resort and planning something really big. The Avengers agree to help. Some of them swim to the big ship and others infiltrate it by pretending to be paying guests. Triathlon and Hawkeye team up and we hear Triathlon’s origin story. Again, Wanda is reluctant to summon Simon just for battle and she uses her changed powers to block Magnum’s energies. The mystery around Simon deepens; when Wanda is knocked unconscious, Simon returns to pummel her attacker. (And is anyone still in the dark about why this is happening? ;))

The issue ends with somewhat bleaker note. Wanda is determined to get answers, even if she has to leave the Avengers to do it and Hawkeye leaves with just a note on the door.

Great, small moments: Hawkeye continues to keep an eye out for Justice and Firestar, and he’s over all in a teacher mode which is a far cry from the rebellious ex-criminal he used to be. The issue starts with a breakfast scene where Silverclaw again apologies to Jarvis about her attack last issue. On the continuing soap opera side, Jarvis comments on how lovely Wanda looks and Vision is distracted by watching Wanda. You’d think he would have learned by now to say something before it’s too late?

Next issue, “Pom and Pageantry” starts with NY celebrating Avengers day. There’s a parade where Cap, Justice, Firestar, Vision, Iron Man, Thor, Wasp, and Giant Man ride on a float with the city council and two commentators walk us through Avengers history: members, villains, and the dead. Meanwhile, Wanda returns to her old mentor, Agatha Harkness, and asks her for help. Agatha has some explanations and revelations about Wanda’s powers and her ability to summon Simon. Then, the Grim Reaper attacks the Avengers and with him are the dead members, including Simon. The Reaper has twisted them into hating the Avengers and so the battle is joined. The Reaper makes a force field around the team and the other heroes rush in to try to break it.

I liked this issue a lot. On a reread, I wasn’t thrilled about the Wanda/Vision/Simon thing, especially when I remember how it (wasn’t) resolved. However, here we finally get answers to Wanda’s situation which was great.

This is also a celebration issue of Avengers’ history which isn’t really friendly to new readers. Every Avengers ever is shown again either in the montage pages or in balloons and costumes the people are wearing. I giggled at the Jarvis balloon! Considering how much misery and mistrust has been directed at the team over the years, they more than deserve a bit of celebration. We also get to see glimpses of Spider-Man and Daredevil as they swing by, and the X-Men and the Hulk follow the parade on TV which was a nice touch. For some reason I also really enjoyed the two commentators, the Stunt Master and Chili Storm. It was really endearing to see the spectators dressed up as the various heroes. Once again, the panels are full of details. I’m amazed at how well Perez does that.

Initially, I was happy that Wanda’s powers were expanded from the smallish, and rather ill-defined, probability hexes to chaos magic which can have power over all of nature. As it turned out, the writers apparently considered her too powerful. And that might be true in the comic book world where no-one dies permanently and all superpowers are non-lethal to begin with. Also, this makes her backstory even more convoluted which isn’t a good thing.

Issue 11 “… Always an Avenger!” starts with Wanda returning to the Mansion mulling over Harkness’ explanation. According to her, Wanda is able to summon Simon because he loves her more than life and is his anchor to the land of the living. In order to bring him permanently back, “all” she has to do love him back. Wanda isn’t convinced (and if she doesn’t love him, that’s pretty much impossible to do, anyway…). However, the dead Avengers assault her in the mansion and take her captive. Meanwhile, other NY heroes are trying to get inside the force field where the Grim Reaper is torturing the Avengers with his monologue about days past and how he has been wronged and this is his revenge. Over at the mansion, Wanda uses her powers to rekindle the former Avengers’ true selves.

Simon’s problems come to a head in this issue and that’s another long storyline resolved, for now. This being a continuing comic, nobody is happy in the long run. 🙂 The Grim Reaper and Wonder Man issue was handled nicely, with the twisted family feeling they have going on. Wanda also acknowledges that the Vision and Simon’ personalities are very similar, since they are based on the same brain patterns.

Over all, this as a very good collection with more (if minor) character development and power changes than is usual in a long-running comic. In fact, it reminds me a bit of Claremont’s long X-Men run which I really enjoyed, except that the Avengers don’t really change as much; rather they have difficulty taking up old roles. Clint and Wanda have both been team leaders and they chafe a little under Cap’s command. Some of the characters obviously have their own comics so they can’t really change but even the characters who don’t have, change only a little. Overall, there wasn’t a life threatening danger for them, rather the issues feel like light adventure (again, not a complaint, but an observation – not every issue can have a life threatening danger! Well, unless you are an X-Man under Claremont. 🙂 ). All of the characters are established ones and there’s no serious threat of them dying, although they can leave the team, of course, and the Vision has been under repairs for most of the arch.

Overall I really liked all the nods to the team and character histories. While the team had a fixed roster there where new and old characters coming and going which is part of the charm of the team book like Avengers. (Bendis, take note: this is the way to introduce new team member candidates – not just declaring them new members.) Another classic, if somewhat frustrating aspect for me, is the changing mood of the public. One issue they are adoring Avengers as their heroes and in the next issue they suspect that the Avengers are impostors. Ah, the changing human mood! Bickering! Cap and Hawkeye at odds! Wonder Man coming back from the dead was another treat to old fans.

Can’t wait for the Ultron issues in the next collection!

Issue 11 also provides conclusions to many long-running mysteries so it’s a good issue to end the collection.

The third book in the Clockwork Century series.

Publication year: 2010
Format: Audio
Publisher: Audible
Narrator: Kate Reading
Running Time: 13 hrs and 24 minute

Venita “Mercy” Lynch is a nurse in the Robertson war hospital in Virginia. Even though she was born a Southerner, she married a Yankee three years ago. Over two years, her husband has been a soldier in the civil war between the Union and the Confederacy, on the side of the Union. Then Mercy is given the news that her beloved Philip has died in a POW camp and she feels like her world ends. But she’s given only a day to mourn and then she’s back to work: assisting male doctors in surgery, comforting the dying, and cleaning up after the living and the dead.

Then she gets a message that her father is dying in Seattle and he wants to see her. Mercy haven’t seen her father since she was a little girl and he left Mercy and her mother. Still, Mercy feels that it’s her duty to go and she also needs a change. So, she slips quietly away into a dirigible heading North.

The long journey is a dangerous adventure and Mercy’s professional skills are stretched to the limit with wounded men. Other people, both men and women, are also suspicious of her because she travels alone and she has to prove herself time and again.

Dreadnought describes the horrors of war; men who are too badly wounded to live long, men dying suddenly or with agonizing slowness, orphans and widows who are left behind. I’m a pacifist in real life, so Priest is preaching to the choir here. In fact, I was occasionally nauseated by the descriptions. However, throughout it all, Mercy remains a practical, level-headed, no-nonsense heroine who does what has to be done. She’s competent and keeps her cool. I loved her! However, she’s quite reminiscent of both Maria in the previous book and Briar in Boneshaker. (In fact, I’d love to see Maria Boyd and Mercy teaming up!)

The Civil War has been going on for twenty years and the narrator says plainly that the war isn’t about abolition anymore but about defending home. However, only two of the Southern states still practice slavery. The rest have freed their former slaves to work on their own land. The Union people seem to be more racist that the Southerners or at least they make a point not to mingle at all with non-white people.

Some other reviewers mentioned that they found the lack of romance odd. I don’t; she’s just been widowed! Sheesh, it seems pretty odd to me to demand that a woman is somehow required to start a romance just a couple of days after her husband died! True, they spent the last two years apart but that doesn’t mean their feelings cooled off because of it. Mercy doesn’t dwell on her feelings during the journey but she doesn’t seem to be a demonstrative person and so she probably doesn’t want to start crying in front of strangers.

Dreadnought has a huge cast of secondary characters. Partly it’s because they change a couple of times when Mercy continues with her journey. Mercy also travels with several people. Some of them need Mercy’s skills and some are suspicious of her because she’s seen as too Southern. Most are suspicious of each other. Mercy often tries to conceal where she comes from but her way of talking is still revealing. Most of the secondary characters are very territorial which is probably expected after a long war. They range from kids to various adults and a couple of retired elders. I enjoyed most of them. The late Bloody Bill is (Buffalo Bill?) is said to have been a robber along and his underlings, the James’ brothers, still are. I hope we get to know more about them at some point.

There are a couple of mysteries to solve on the way and they tie in with the first book, Boneshaker.

Dreadnought is an enjoyable adventure story if somewhat dark at the times, and a great continuation to the series.

A fantasy novella.

Publication year: 2008
Format: ebook
Page count: 54
Publisher: WMG Publishing, through Smashwords

Tara Miller was the best troubleshooter with Abracadabra Incorporated. She made quite a lot of money but was burned out so now she’s retired. She bought a small magic shop in France and has struggled to get clients. The shop is finally doing relatively well and Tara decided to splurge on a shopping trip in Paris. In a small shop she senses magic and to her amazement she recognizes a real dragon’s tooth which is on display for the tourists. She knows that she shouldn’t get involved but she just can’t help herself.

Dragon’s Tooth is quite short but manages to introduce interesting characters and a world, and tell a nifty story. There’s quite a bit of humor in the story, too.

Tara is a determined, intelligent, competent woman. She’s been in tight spots before and knows how to take care of herself. She’s also very responsible and wants to protect innocents. In short, she’s just the sort of protagonist I love. In contrast, the other characters are more or less shifty. I loved how Tara didn’t take any bullshit from any of them.

The setting is the modern world with magic and magical creatures. Abracadabra Incorporated has been around for a long time and has evolved with times. Now, it’s a corporation which specializes in magic. The troubleshooters roam around the world looking for unlicensed magic and magic users, and either putting them out of business or making them an offer they can’t refuse. Considering how much talent they should have at their disposal, I was a bit surprised by their current employees.

Short and enjoyable story. Has she written anything else with this world or characters?

The third book in the A Time to… Star Trek: TNG series.

Publication year: 2004
Format: print
Page count: 315 plus a short preview of the next book
Publisher: Pocket Books

The Dokaalan are facing disaster: their planet is experiencing a series of earthquakes which are only escalating until they are threatening to destroy the civilization. The Dokaalan have a very limited capability for space travel and while they have a few mining colonies on nearby asteroids, they can’t evacuate their whole race. The people in the colonies can only watch with horror. As a last attempt, they send probes to space, pleading for help.

Decades later, a Vulcan vessel finds one of those probes but concludes that it’s too late to do anything. Earth Admiral Forrest suggests sending the newly commissioned Enterprise of the NX class to investigate but it would take a long time to get to the Dokaalan’s planet in an unexplored region of space and so the Enterprise is sent elsewhere.

A couple of hundred years later, Enterprise-E is in a political hot water and the Federation decides to send Captain Picard to investigate what happened to the Dokaalans and to explore that region. The experienced officers and crew aren’t happy about it but they have to obey.

In the wake of the previous books’ mess, some people think that Picard’s best days are behind him and that he might have succumb under the weight of all the tragedy and torture he has endured during his career. His crew and Admiral Nechayev still support him and he’s still in command of the Enterprise-E. But the Enterprise is sent to essentially a milk run and some of the officers grumble about it. Still, the voyage alone will take almost a month and take them to an unexplored region of space which might be dangerous. However, nobody mentions the possible dangers or rewards of exploration which I found a bit odd considering that ordinarily exploration is Federation’s main thing.

The book has a lot of references to previous events from the First Contact movie and various TNG episodes which was great. Picard is even reading a fictional book about first contact between humans and Vulcans, and thinks that it didn’t go like that. We also get to see a couple of familiar secondary characters: Lieutenant Taurik from engineering and nurse Alyssa Ogawa. Ambassador Worf is thinking of a way to help his former crew mates and the EMH program is needed later in the book. This is very much a fan friendly, or even fan geared, book.

Beverly Crusher has been offered a job as the head of Starfleet Medical and she’s seriously considering taking it. On the other hand, she feels that she can’t abandon Picard before he’s back in the good graces of the Admiralty. Picard himself resents that his crew is under suspicion because they are innocent, and on occasion he doubts his own decisions afterwards, because he knows that the Admiralty is watching him closely. Riker is again thinking about getting his own command and LaForge is resentful to the Admiralty because they took away Data’s emotion chip.

The book starts with a translation from one of the Dokaalans. He lives in a mining colony and is writing a journal about the events during the earthquakes. It’s pretty grim reading. There are short chapters of the journal from time to time throughout the first half of the book.

The pacing is pretty slow and contemplative. This is, by the way, an observation and not a complaint. I really like it when Trek has different types of episodes. One can be a contemplative episode about the nature of humanity or meeting of two different cultures and another can be a spy mission and third an action adventure.

Compared to the first two books, the new characters don’t take over the same way but the pacing is much slower and there isn’t an overall tension in the book until near the end. There are a couple of twists in the book after the half way point and they are all left open for the next book.

This is an interesting contrast to the previous books and the writing style is some what better. However, there’s a lot of repetition which can get tedious.

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