March 2014

The seventh book in the series.

Publication year: 2012
Format: print
Page count: 325
Publisher: Del Ray

Laurence and his Celestial dragon Temeraire have been exiled in disgrace to Australia. After the events in the previous book, they are reconciled to live more or less peacefully there. However, the British government still needs them and Hammond is sent to Australia. It turns out that Napoleon has allied himself with the African Tswana tribe and has sent troops to South-America, too. The French are attacking Brazil (which is held by Britain’s ally Portugal) and there’s a concern that they are making inroads with the Inca. So, Britain sends Laurence and Temeraire to South-America because they have some experience the Tswana. Laurence guesses that the Tswana want to free the slaves which the Portuguese are keeping so he’s unhappy about the order.

Temeraire isn’t happy about following orders anymore but when Hammond reinstates Laurence as a Captain, Temeraire agrees to leave. So, Temeraire, Iskierka, and Kulingile are loaded into the familiar dragon transport ship Allegiance. Unfortunately, they are caught in a mighty storm and Allegiance sinks leaving the three dragons and some of their crews in the middle of sea.

This book is very similar in style to some of the other Temeraire books where we explore new areas of the world. Novik is very good at creating new cultures which have both dragons and humans in them, and I love to read about them. However, readers expecting some resolution with Napoleon’s forces, are going to be disappointed.

I adore the dragons and they are really the highlight this time, too. Temeraire and Iskierka have long been at odds with one another and more recently they’ve apparently developed some attraction to each other. I loved that Iskierka hasn’t become any softer because of it, if anything, she’s more obstinate and annoying than ever, especially to her poor Captain Granby. (I loved what Iskierka was scheming on behalf of her hapless captain!) Of course, both Iskierka and Temeraire are terribly young. In fact, Temeraire is only seven years old currently and Iskierka is a year younger!

I’m happy to continue with the series even though it seems that the next book centers on a trope I don’t much care for.

Booking Through Thursday

Why do YOU read fiction?

The two big Es: Entertainment and Escape. Or perhaps R and E: Relaxation and Enjoyment?

Sure, I can learn something from fiction (although the need to justify fiction reading with, well, any reason at all, makes me anxious and I have enough anxiety in my life already, thanks) but that’s definitely not the main reason. Of course, I’d love to be in a position in real life where I could claim that reading books about survival on Mars or traveling in airships could actually come in handy…

Fourth book in a series about superheroes after the zombie Apocalypse.

Publication year: 2014
Format: Audio
Narrator: Jay Snyder
Running Time: 10 hrs, 42 m

This book is set in quite a different setting than the others, at least at first.

The prologue is about young woman in a wheelchair who is talking with her psychiatrist about her dreams, where she and almost everyone else are dead – but in a world where the undead are walking around.

Then we meet George Bailey who is a janitor at the local university. He sees strange dreams every night (they’re marked as “Then” chapters and are written in the first person POV). In those dreams he’s incredibly strong and fights monsters, sometimes side by side with other strange people. Then he starts to see people who lurch around looking pale, even corpse like, but surely that’s just a trick of the light… But then he starts to notice that he’s stronger than he should be and that he doesn’t get hurt easily. Or at all. And then, one of the students, Madeline, approaches him and tells him that everything is wrong, that the vast majority of people of the world are supposed to be dead, but that George and some other superheroes have gathered the survivors into a safe place. George thinks that she’s crazy but he can’t deny what strange things he’s seeing.

Yes, this book uses one of common sci-fi tropes and if you’ve read the series, it’s pretty easy to guess who is behind it. Unfortunately, I don’t care for this storyline. In fact, I’ve only seen the similar Buffy episode once and have no interest seeing it again. So, I was a bit anxious about listening this one. However, I ended up enjoying it a lot. There are some very familiar things in the book but they are twisted enough that I at least was mightily entertained.

The main POV character is George but there are a couple of other POV character, too, such as Lieutenant Freedom.

However, I was a bit disturbed by a scene in the third chapter where a man attacks a woman in broad daylight. He gropes her and rubs against her, but she doesn’t really seem to mind it; she only protests when he breaks her phone. Maybe that’s supposed to be an example of how screwed up this world is, but the scene is over quickly and it’s never mentioned again.

Otherwise, this is another enjoyable addition to the series.

Once Upon a Time VIII is here! Carl from Stainless Steel Droppings is hosting the challenge:

Friday, March 21st begins the eigth 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 June 21st and allows for very minor (1 book only) participation as well as more immersion depending on your reading/viewing whims.

The Once Upon a Time VIII Challenge has a few rules:

Rule #1: Have fun.

Rule #2: HAVE FUN.

Rule #3: Don’t keep the fun to yourself, share it with us, please!

Rule #4: Do not be put off by the word “challenge”.

The challenge has several options to choose from and I’m going to go with these:

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.

I have a lot of fantasy books in my TBR.

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.

I’ll start watching the new TV-series Sleepy Hollow and I’m bound to watch some fantasy movies, too.

TBR plan:
Tanya Huff: Blood Debt, Blood Bank.
Dellamonica: Blue Magic. I loved the first book and it’s high time I read the sequel
N. K. Jemisin: Shadowed Sun. Another second book in a series where I loved the first one.

Robin of Sherwood: season 1
Robin of Sherwood: season 2
1, A. M. Dellamonica: Blue Magic
2, A. Lee Martinez: Too Many Curses
3, Tanya Huff: Blood Bank
4, Kristine Kathryn Rusch: Five Diverse Detectives
5, A. Lee Martinez: Monster
6, Terry Pratchett: Night Watch

The first book in the planetary romance series about Barsoom.

Publication year: 1912
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 1974
Format: print
Finnish translator: Seppo Ilmari
Page count: 216
Finnish Publisher: WSOY

There’s no way I can be objective about this series. It’s one of the most memorable SF series I read as a kid and I loved the whole series. To me, John Carter is an iconic (pulp) hero. I was a bit apprehensive about rereading it again after so many years because I was a bit afraid that to an adult the series wouldn’t be as enchanting. I was partly right. I still adored the setting but noticed the definite pulp roots and the sexism. It also quite possible that people who read it only as an adult would be left scratching their heads and wondering what all the fuss was about.

First off, the book is written in first person and, as one reviewer in GoodReads points out, this rather means that John has to constantly tell us how badass he is (and he is pretty badass). But on the other hand, the POV draws the reader right into the story, on the red plains of the dying Mars and, to me at least, it’s still mighty effective. Overall, for me that story still held up pretty well, even with the pompous dialog.

The biggest draw of the book is the romantic atmosphere and I don’t mean the romance between John and Dejah, but the setting. Human societies have flourished on Barsoom for thousands of years but most of them have died off, leaving behind beautiful, crumbling cities where the barbaric Thark tribes live. Even the planet’s atmosphere is dying and would evaporate if not for the atmosphere plant which produces oxygen. The remnants of the human population live in cites which war frequently against each other and against the Tharks. Even though they have extremely effective firearms and airplanes, they tend to fight most with swords. It’s a wonderfully romantic image.

The story itself is pretty straight forward action adventure where John comes inexplicably to Barsoom, explores new societies, makes friends and enemies. He falls in love with a Barsoomian princess and spends the rest of the book pretty much rescuing her.

At least in Thark society, both men and women know how to fight. In fact, the women are the ones who teach the young males (and presumably the females, too) to fight. Males teach tactics. Yet, only the males rule and the women do all the drudge work, such as cooking, rising kids, making ammunition, and healing the male warriors from even the most grievous wounds. Some excuse is made that by tradition the male and female Tharks don’t kill each other. The Tharks also don’t seem to have much of a sex drive and only mate to produce eggs where the offspring come from. The eggs are sealed off in incubation chambers and when they hatch, they are randomly given out to females to raise. John often says that their lives as cold and cruel. The society of the red Barsoomians seem to be more human like.

I can’t help but to compare the book to the movie. Visually the movie was stunning and captured the spirit of Barsoom. The movie Dejah Thoris was also way better: she’s a scientist and a warrior and she uses the brains pretty much the whole movie. The book Dejah is very beautiful and gets kidnapped a lot. Ok, she’s also proud and stands up to the people who threaten her which I guess is better than most female characters did a hundred years ago, especially in pulp adventure stories. But I adored the movie Dejah and thought that the actress, Lynn Collins, stole every scene she was in.

A stand-alone humorous science fiction book

Publication year: 2012
Format: Audio
Narrator: Wil Wheaton
Running Time: 7 hrs, 42 m

The book starts with the starship Intrepid’s command crew and a couple of ensigns on away team, on an alien planet. Land worms eat the young ensign Davis, after grieving him for a couple of minutes, the command crew realizes that they need more crew members.

Among the new ensigns are Andrew Dahl, Maya Duvall, and Jimmy Hanson. Soon after arrival they notice that strange things are happening aboard the Universal Union startship Intepid. Most of the crew avoid away team assignments so much that they even use the intercom system to alert them when a member of the command crew is approaching. That’s because many of the junior members tend to die during the missions, by ice sharks or by vaporization or by shuttle accident. Also, sometimes the command crew speaks in excessively dramatic way and usually around the same time the natural laws bend and break. And then there’s poor Lieutenant Kerensky who seems to have some sort of medical emergency regularly (sometimes he’s beaten up and sometimes he contracts a horrible disease) but heals in just a couple of days. He’s the ship’s navigator. Yup, the Intrepid isn’t like the other starships.

I found the book hilarious. I’m a Star Trek fan, not to mention a fan of various other science fiction shows, so a lot of the gags and cliches are quite familiar to me. It’s also refreshing to read about the junior members instead of the command crew. The ensigns are a likable bunch and Davis is determined to find out just what is going on. If there’s one thing that slightly annoyed me, it’s that the characters and the ship are never described at all. It’s a bit strange considering how looks are something of a plot point later in the book.

The second half and the three coda parts at the end are very, very meta and perhaps not to everyone’s tastes.

Third book in a series about superheroes after the zombie Apocalypse.

Publication year: 2013
Format: Audio
Narrator: Mark Boyett, Jay Snyder, and Khristine Hvam
Running Time: 10 hrs, 20 m

The zombie Apocalypse has overrun the world but there’s one spot of resistance where humans still survive. A group of superheroes is defending a fortified part of Los Angeles they call the Mount. They’ve battled not only exes, as the zombies are called, but sometimes also other humans, and a super villain who can control the exes, Legion.

The book starts thirty months after the apocalypse and almost a year after the end of the previous book, Ex-Patriots. There’s not much recapping of previous events, so I strongly recommend reading both Ex-Heroes and Ex-Patriots first. The book also deals with some characters and plot lines which were introduced in the first book. As in the previous books, this book is divided between flashbacks which are titled “Then” and chapters set in the current time, “Now.”

The Ex-Communication starts with a bang; Legion is attacking the Mount with the exes and he has made them wear helmets. This upsets the defenders and makes them unsure about themselves. However, the heroes are able to turn back the tide, but it’s obvious that Legion has upped the ante.

Then we get a first person POV “Then” chapter with Max who died in the first book. He was able to change into a demon form known as Cairax Murrain. However, it seems that he was a sorcerer and is able to cheat death. And Zzzap is willing to help him and persuade the other heroes to help, too. Unfortunately, they don’t tell much about it all to the normal humans and they draw the wrong conclusions, namely, that humans can return from being an ex.

In an other “Then” chapter we get a journal from a young woman who is trying to run away from the zombies. At first, the entries feel quite repetitive (in fact, I was starting to wonder if there was something wrong with the audio file) but that’s intentional. The girl is a interesting new character.

This book deals a little with how the normal people are dealing. The ones we see the most often are the ones defending the Mount and going on raids into the city. In this book, some have found religion and are (rather desperately) trying to find passages in the Bible which would give instructions about zombie apocalypse. Some of them want to think that being an ex is just a disease and people can recover from it. They are also going to elect a mayor to the Mount. None of the heroes want to be a candidate.

Most of the characters are familiar from the previous books. The main POV is from St. George, a Superman-type hero who is mainly concerned with defending the people and the Mount. The other POV is from Captain Freedom, a soldier who is was made into a super soldier. Both are experienced fighters.

This was a good continuation to the series and the heroes have to deal with a problem they haven’t yet met: magic. It might feel a bit out of place to some people in a series based on science, or at least science as known in comics, but plenty of comics have also magic so I didn’t have a problem with it.

Yesterday, the topic of Top 5 Sundays at Larissa’s Bookish Life was Favorite Couples in TV and movies.

This was surprising hard but I managed to narrow them down to five.

1, Olivia and Peter
From Fringe.

2, Angela and Hodgins
From Bones.

3, Maid Marian and Robin Hood
From the 1980s Robin of Sherwood.

4, Tessa and Duncan
From Highlander TV-series. And it only lasted for the first season. Sob.

5, Zoey and Wash
From Firefly

The first in the Smokey Dalton historical mystery series.

Publication year: 2001
Format: Audio
Narrator: Mirron Willis
Running Time: 11 hrs, 20 m

Smokey Dalton is a black man, living in Memphis in 1968. He has managed to get a good education but has chosen to become a private detective for the local black people but to white people he’s just doing “odd jobs”. So, when a white woman walks into his office, he’s quite surprised. Then Laura Hathaway tells him that her mother has left Smokey a sizable sum of money in her will and Laura wants to know why. However, Smokey doesn’t know the Hathaways and becomes curious himself. He takes the case and starts to look for any link between himself and the rich white woman. Years ago a mysterious benefactor gave him a lot of money and Smokey suspects now that Laura’s mother did that, too.

Smokey is a smart and thoughtful man. He’s also good at his job and looks after people close to him. He’s an orphan and doesn’t have any siblings but he’s taken a couple of young men under his wing. Their mother isn’t capable to taking care of them and it seems that they could easily turn to crime.

The story is set against the backdrop of Memphis sanitation workers’ strike during which the racial tensions between whites and blacks reach a boiling point. Also, Martin Luther King Jr. is Smokey’s old friend, from elementary school. Smokey’s afraid that King is in danger and is trying to protect King when he comes to Memphis.

The historical time and place which comes to life in the book. As far as I can tell, the racial tensions are described well and believably. Several times we get to see that the white people honestly have no idea how blacks are treated. Many whites also behave with a casual racism.

The characters are great and I thoroughly enjoyed the book. That’s not surprising because Nelscott is a pen name for Kristine Kathryn Rusch.

I also really enjoyed the reader; he was perfect for Smokey’s voice.

First book in a humorous mystery series.

Publication year: 1970
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 1991
Format: print
Finnish translator: Erkki Hakala
Page count: 420
Finnish Publisher: WSOY

John Archibald Dortmunder has just been released from prison. He’s looking forward to that and also of the three hundred dollars he sold his cell for. Unfortunately, the warden decides to escort him to the gates, so Dortmunder doesn’t get his money. This isn’t promising. In fact, that’s a good description of how his life continues: despite good planning and skills, bad luck interferes constantly.

Dortmunder is a small-time criminal. He does some swindling gigs, such as selling subscriptions to book series which don’t exist. But he really shines in his job as crime planner: he looks over the place that needs to be broken into and assigns the right men for various jobs.

This time his friend Kelp has a job waiting: the Bambolo diamond which is being shown in the Coliseum Hall. The diamond is worth half a million dollars but it would be difficult to sell. Luckily they don’t have to sell it. Instead, they have a man who wants them to steal it for him and is willing to pay for it. Dortmunder is skeptical but after meeting Major Iko, he agrees to get a group to together and steal the rock.

Kelp and Dortmunder contact three other men who are the best in their own business. Stan Murch is their driver. He and his mother are mad about cars and even listen car races on records (LPs). Chefwick is one of the best lockpickers in New York. He’s also crazy about trains. Alan Greenwood is good generalist. The group manage to get into the Coliseum but Greenwood is caught, with the diamond. However, he has swallowed the rock so the group still has chance to get it, but they need to get Greenwood out of the prison. And then their problems only start.

This is a fun crime novel, from the criminals’ perspective. They all know each other and trust each other. All five also have distinct personalities and so has Major Iko who is very fond of gathering information about the men he works with. Iko is also worried about the costs but has to deliver equipment to the five men, when they need it. The plot moves at a fast pace and has a lot of twists in it.

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