October 2016

The first in a humorous fantasy series.

Publication year: 1998
Format: print
Page count: 331
Publisher: DAW

Claire Hansen is a Keeper, a person who sorts out magical accidents. Usually, that means that she’s magically summoned to a place where a pit to Hell has opened and then she seals it and moves on to the next site. But this time, things aren’t as straight-forward. When she stumbles into the Elysian Fields Guest House in the middle of a thunder storm tired, drained and head aching, she doesn’t at first realize that she’s in the house where she was summoned to. In the morning, she finds out to her horror that she’s now the owner of the run down little place. The hotel has an opening to Hell in the basement but it has been closed temporarily. Apparently, two Keepers were needed to close it down, and in one of the rooms one Keeper is sleeping in suspended animation, as she has been for about 50 years. Claire needs to figure out just what she has to do here. Additionally, the hotel comes with a young and very nice handyman Dean who is distractingly gorgeous and the most trustworthy person in the world. The attic also has the ghost of a man who has died over a hundred years ago. The hotel attracts only a few customers but they’re quite strange. The nosey old woman next door doesn’t make things easier, either.

Claire has a cat companion Austin. He can talk and does so quite a lot. Sometimes he’s helpful, sometimes snide but mostly he wants to be fed, and preferably not the geriatric kibble the vet has assigned to him. Austin is, after all, already 17 years old.

This was a fun and funny, light read. It’s not really an adventure story, though. More like a comedy with heavy romantic elements. Claire and Dean are dancing around each other the whole book. Dean comes from Newfoundland, and he’s very polite, loves to cook and clean. He’s also very decent fellow who is immediately attracted to Claire. Claire has been a Keeper all her life, meaning that she’s always got magical powers and she knows a lot of things which normal mortals don’t. She’s determined, or rather stubborn, and she’s used to doing things by herself and moving from place to place. When she’s faced with the very real possibility that she might have to stay in the guest house for years, she doesn’t take it well. She’s also never really considered a long-term relationship, so she quickly dismisses Dean as too young for her. Of course, the Hell pit in the basement is quick to send her all kinds of temptations so perhaps is smart no to start anything right next to it. I just though it was a very weak excuse.

This book also contains a love triangle, or at least a triangle of unsatisfied sexual tensions. But it might be the nicest love triangle I’ve ever read about. The ghost in the attic is Jacques, a French sailor, and he’s also immediately attracted to Claire. As a Keeper, she can give him a body and that’s what he asks her for, in between hitting on her. Dean, of course, doesn’t like it but is mostly really polite about it. Things never escalate to an obnoxious level.

The neighbor Mrs. Abrams is another quite funny character. She has orange hair, doesn’t remember Claire’s name, and has the tendency to barge in whenever she wants to. She also has a Doberman called Baby.

The different guests are also very funny. I also loved the pop culture references, especially to Star Trek: The Next Generation.

However, the book doesn’t have a coherent plot. Different things just happen. The characters don’t really change, either.

Yes! A new Toby Daye book!

Publication year: 2016
Format: Audio
Running time: 11 hours and 28 minutes
Narrator: Mary Robinette Kowal

October, Toby, Daye is hosting a slumber party to the teenagers in her life so for once things are quiet. But not for long. Toby’s Queen Arden Windermere asks Toby’s help. In the previous book, the alchemist Walter revealed that he had found a cure for elf-shot. Elf-shot is what the fae nobles use to wage war on each other and threaten others while still keeping to the letter of Oberon’s law of not killing each other. When a full-blooded fae is shot with it, he or she will sleep for a hundred years but if a changeling is shot with it, he or she will die. Walter’s family was elf-shot and they were sleeping so he found a cure and woke them up. Queen Arden’s brother and best friend are still sleeping and she wants to wake them up. However, lots of fae are really concerned about the cure and the High King Aethlin Sollys has decided that nobody should be woken before he calls a conclave of all royalty. The High King is coming next week and Arden wants to wake up her brother and best friend before he arrives. Of course, he arrives early and catches Arden, Toby, and Walter red-handed.

Toby is ordered to attend the conclave. She loathes politics and now she must mind her manners among all the North American royalty. She takes her squire Quentin with her, of course. But there are, of course, complications. For one, the meeting takes place in one knowe and nobody can leave or enter until a decision has been made. For another, Toby’s fiancé Tybalt has to keep a distance from Toby. Tybalt is the king of the court of dreaming cats and he can’t be seen allied to anyone outside of it. For third, Toby’s liege Duke Sylvester Torquill will be there, too.

But soon after then conclave begins, one of the monarchs is murdered and it falls on Toby to find the murderer. Many of the full-blooded fae despise Toby because she’s a changeling which makes the investigation all the harder. Luckily, she has the backing of the Queen Arden and the High King and Queen. At the same time, the fae discuss the cure and surprisingly many are against it.

This is another excellent addition to the series. I adore these characters and the setting. Toby is her determined self and we get to see a lot of the Luideag the Sea Witch, Tybalt, and Quentin. I really enjoyed their interactions. I was rather looking forward to seeing Quentin with his parents but that didn’t happen. Arden is also seen more. She’s a new queen and new to the world of fae, as well, so she’s still unsure about herself. But this time she could host the gathered royalty without mentioning how much she wants to run away. So, she’s growing into her role. We also get hints that the young oneiromancer Karen isn’t what she seems.

The book has a lot of new characters. However, I thought the High King and Queen were a bit too easy to manipulate. Otherwise, the new monarchs were a nice mix: they weren’t all arrogant, racists jerks thinking that changelings were born to serve them.

This book didn’t bring as much heartbreak to Toby as some of the other books so it didn’t feel as intense to me as, say One Salt Sea. I wasn’t really happy with the ending, either. However, quite a few characters have been elf-shot during the series, so I’m very interested in finding out what happens to them. And I just have to wonder what is the Sea Witch up to? Hopefully, we’ll find out soon.

The second book in the Tiger and Del fantasy series.

Publication year: 1988
Format: print
Page count: 382
Publisher: DAW

Sandtiger, Tiger, is a Southron sword-dancer and one of the best in his business. Delilah, Del, is Northern sword-dancer, just as good but a woman. After the end of the previous book, Del has some very important unfinished business in the North: she must answer for her actions in front of the men who trained her. She has one year to come before hem. She and Tiger are making their way to the North but they have a lot of obstacles. If she doesn’t get there in time, she will be declared an outlaw and hunted by everyone.

Now, they’re nearing the border between North and South but have only two months left of the deadline. But they keep stumbling into strange things. First are the loki: demonic spirits which can affect people and even take them over. Then they meet a mother with two kids whom raiders have robbed, leaving destitute. Del decides to help them and Tiger can’t really leave them behind either. Also, strange, unearthly hounds attack them again and again.

In the first book, Del was out of her element in the South. This time Tiger is out of his element in the North and he hates it. Worse, he doesn’t believe in what Del tell him about the local magical stuff. Or rather he doesn’t want to believe such things exist at all. Pretty much the only thing he does believe in is the wet and cold weather, and that’s because he doesn’t have a choice. Unfortunately, his attitude was frustrating to me to read about. Also, as soon as he crossed the border to North, he felt strange and is uneasy all the time.

As in the first book, Del and Tiger bicker and argue all the time. Again, Tiger makes assumptions about Del which he shouldn’t. For example, Tiger just wants to deal with Del’s problem and then blithely assumes that they both will return to his home, to South. But North is Del’s home. I can only think of one reason why Del would want to return to the misogynistic South: Tiger. And is he really enough? I don’t think Del much enjoyed her time in the South: Tiger just didn’t notice.

In addition to finding out a lot of things about the North and its environment, we also find out about the sword-dance traditions in the North which have a lot more rules than the Southron traditions. Tiger is often baffled by them. Del also does some soul-searching: she’s been so focused on her mission that she hasn’t thought about what she would do afterwards.

The plot is again fast-paced and we meet lots of new characters on the way. However, the ending is a cliff-hanger.

Oh and the cover is whitewashed: Tiger isn’t white.

Booking Through Thursday

Somebody walks up to you and says, “I need a really good book to read–any genre. What do you recommend?”

What’s the first book off the top of your head?

I would first ask what they prefer to read and what their current favorites are. But off the top of my head: Cordelia’s Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold (for character centered science fiction).

A stand-alone secret history book.

Publication year: 1991
Format: Audio
Running time: 16 hours and 57 minutes
Narrator: Simon Vance

The book starts on that famous day in Switzerland in 1816 when Mary Shelly, Lord Byron, Percy Shelly, and John Polidori decide to write ghost stories. But this time, a strange creature attacks them.

But to the main character Michael Crawford the story starts on his way to his second wedding. He’s heavily drunk and puts his bride’s wedding ring on a statue, for safekeeping. However, in the morning he can’t find the statue anymore and has to buy another ring. The wedding proceeds but in the morning, Crawford wakes next to his bride who has been brutally murdered. He has some strange memories about the night, too. However, he realizes that things look very bad for him not only because he didn’t wake up when Julia was butchered but because his first wife eloped with a sailor and died in a fire. People whisper that Crawford started that fire, even though that’s not true. So, Crawford runs away with the help of one of his friends.

Crawford is a former navy doctor but since then has specialized in obstetrics. He takes another name and poses as a medical student. He also gets work as a doctor’s assistant and meets John Keats. However, Julia’s mentally disturbed twin sister, Josephine, is on his trail and tries to murder him. But a strange apparition saves him, and then Keats tells about the nephillim, creatures who are attracted to writers. However, in Crawford’s case he apparently married himself to one of the nephillim by putting a ring into the statue’s ring finger. Now, the creature guards him jealously. Keats knows a possible way to get rid of the creature and Crawford has no choice but to try it.

Powers has created here a fascinating type of vampire. The nephillim act as more than muses to writers: without them, the men apparently can’t create much. The nephillim also drink blood from the men’s family members and manipulate political events. They pretend to care for the writers and other people they bite but don’t, really.

Lord Byron, Mary Shelly, and Percy Shelly are important characters in the book. I rather enjoyed reading about them.

However, I think this book was way too long. There are long passages where nothing really happens.

Today the topic of Top ten Tuesdays is Character Names that I love.

I like a lot of names so it was hard to restric myself to just ten. For example, Pratchett has lots of great names.

1, Robin, from Robin Hood.
2, Aeryn Sun from the Farscape tv-show is a very impressive warrior woman and my current computer’s name.
3, Aliera e’Kieron from Steven Brust’s fantasy series. She’s also a very impressive warrior woman and my previous computer’s name.
4, October Daye is a half-fae detective and a knight. From Seanan McGuire’s fantasy series.
5, Thursday Next is a literary detective in Jasper Fforde’s funny books.
6, Esmeralda “Granny” Weatherwax, one of the three witches in Pratchett’s Discworld books.
7, Alexander the Great.
8, Victor von Doom. If I ever have to change my last name, I will be von Doom.
9, Temeraire the dragon by Naomi Novik.
10, Modesty Blaise, from O’Connell’s comics and books. She’s one of the best spies and martial artists in her world.

The first book in a fantasy series but can be read as a stand alone.

Publication year: 1986
Format: print
Page count: 286
Publisher: DAW

Sandtiger is mercenary, or a sword-dancer as they’re called in this world. While he doesn’t like slavery, it’s a fact of life. When a gorgeous, blond Northern woman comes to him in a bar, looking for a slaver, Tiger knows she’ll be in a big trouble. He tries to help her, even though she doesn’t realize it at first. But when Tiger notices that she carries a sword, he thinks that she’s gone too far. Still, wanting to bed the exotic woman, he agrees to guide her to Julah, across the terrible desert.

The woman turns out to be Delilah, or Del, and she’s focused on a single mission: to find her younger brother who was taken captive and sold as a slave five years ago. The rest of her family was murdered, then. Tiger thinks her mission is insane, especially for a woman, but he humors her thinking he’ll charm her to his bed later.

But the desert if full of dangers from beasts to cannibals and slavers. Tiger does his best to protect the crazy woman against them all.

The only first person narrator in the book is Tiger. I thought Del was going to be a narrator also but she isn’t, she remains quite a mystery. Tiger can be frustrating at times but he’s also entertaining.

The world in this book is harsh. People will easily die in the desert but the humans are, as usual, the most terrible enemy. The Southern culture is based on slavery and the book gives us an unflinching peek at what it does to people: takes away their dignity, self-respect, and very life.

In these societies, women are second-class people at best, non-entities at worst. They need a powerful man to latch onto or they will be taken as slaves. Tiger reflects that culture: he simply doesn’t believe that Del can do anything. It’s also frustrating to the reader, when Del is denied again and again the chance to shine because Tiger steps in, literally.

This wasn’t an easy read because of the slavery and the way Tiger constantly puts down Del. And because of the misogynistic culture pervading the book. And the way that Tiger just has to sexualize every woman he comes across. And the way every man drools after Del.

Yet, there’s something compelling about the characters and the setting. I have the next book and I’m going to try it, at least.

The plot moves along at a good speed and gives constant twists and turns. I found that the desert was an interestingly different setting, although I’m a bit skeptical about the way the characters were supposed to survive it. No camels, for example.

The sixth book in the series is again a collection of short stories and a novella.

Publication year: 1997 (1973-1977 for the stories)
Format: print
Page count: 330 + an excerpt of Swords against the Shadowlands by Robin Wayne Bailey (has anyone read that?)
Publisher: White Wolf Publishing

The collection starts with six rather short pieces which don’t really offer any twists and not much adventure, either. Basically, our heroes are chasing girls. But the last, and the longest story, is mostly adventuring and the most worth reading.

The Sadness of the Executioner
: Death needs to make his quota and sets his eye on Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. He sends an executioner for each, rather than just striking them down dead, so that the heroes have a chance against them.

Beauty and the Beasts: On the streets of Lankhmar City, the Twain are following an alluring girl (who, surprisingly, isn’t naked) whose one side is black and the other white. While following her, the Mouser and Fafhrd are arguing which one of them should have her.

Trapped in the Shadowland: The heroes are looking for their previous lovers. Instead the two find themselves in the desert, dying of thirst. They can just glimpse a cooler side but that is Shadowlands, Deaths domain. And Death wants them badly. Enough to do some serious magic.

The Bait: The most straightforward short story: The Mouser and Fafhrd awake finding a naked young girl standing between their beds. Each wants to have her first but strange warriors appear.

Under the Thumbs of the Gods: Issek, Mog, and Kos aren’t happy with our heroes who have worshipped, or pretended to worship, them for a short while and then abandoned them. Now, they want revenge and they do it in the forms of the girls whom the heroes have previously loved.

Trapped in the Sea of Stars: Our heroes have been sailing and nude girls forming from mist are trying to lure them either to their deaths or back home. Mouser waxes philosophical about Nehwon’s laws of nature which he apparently invents on the spot.

The Frost Monstreme
: Two beautiful girls find Fafhrd and the Mouser in a bar, bored out of their skulls. The girls claim to need heroes to guard their legendary home, the Rime Isle, from a fleet of Mingol pirates and their leader, the evil sorcerer Khahkht. They give the heroes plenty of gold for hiring more men like themselves but are whisked away by an icy sorcerous wind. Fafhrd immediately seizes the opportunity for action and hurries off to find ten more Northern berserkers. Mouser is a bit slower but in the end also goes to look for ten fighter-thieves. They agree to meet in a middle of ocean near the legendary sea port. But getting to the port is harder than they thought.

Rime Isle: Fafhrd, the Mouser, and their hand-picked heroes have arrived to the Rime Isle but immediately things take unexpected turn: the town people haven’t hired any mercenaries and haven’t heard about a threating Mingol Fleet. However, the Mouser and Fafhrd get secret messages from the girls that they want to meet in secret. The adventure includes various twists and two gods which have been worshipped in our lands.

While reading this one, I wasn’t sure if I’m going to continue with the series. (I have the last two books.) But after the ending of “Rime Isle”, I’m curious to see what the duo will do next. However, I didn’t like the stories here nearly as much as the previous volumes. There’s just so much musing about how worthless and traitorous girls are that it’s not a nice read for me. There’s also less adventurous feel to the stories. Perhaps Leiber could have explored other countries from which we sometimes only know the names. On the other hand, in the last two tales our heroes are maturing; they’re becoming leaders of men rather than lone vagabonds. We’ll see if that trend continues.

Still, I think this is the weakest book so far and not the place to start reading this series.

The third book in the Vicky Bliss mystery series. This time John Smythe lures Vicky to Stockholm looking for Nordic treasure.

Publication year: 1983
Format: print
Page count: 296
Publisher: Avon Books

Three years after the end of the previous book Vicky gets an anonymous note which can only be from John. It contains one rose, a one-way ticket to Stockholm, a reservation for a night in a cheap hotel, and a cryptic note: Wielandia Fabrica. Vicky wants to get away from the miserable rain in Munich, so she travels to Sweden. Her boss grumbles, mainly because he wants her to continue the erotica book she’s writing, but lets her go. There, she feels right at home: she’s always felt out of place everywhere because she’s tall, blond, and beautiful. In Sweden, she’s surrounded by other tall and blond people.

However, one tall and blond man, Leif, acts very suspiciously even though Vicky enjoys his company. John is quite elusive, using several amusing disguises and just tries to get Vicky to return home. Instead she accepts an invitation from a distant cousin Gus Johnson. He’s an elderly gentleman and appears to be in danger so Vicky wants to warn him. However, she’s not the only one who travels to Gus’s small island home.

This was a very entertaining book. I’m not sure if the plot made any sense but it moved fast and was a lot of fun. Most the characters are new and they were entertaining, too. We also got to know stuff about Sweden’s history and art, which was great.

Collects Rat Queens issues 6-10.

Writer: Kurtis J. Wiebe
Artist: Roc Upchurch, Stephan Sejic

This first collection is just as much fun as the first one. However, I recommend reading the first collection first because the characters and the situation they’re in aren’t introduced at all and the storyline continues from the first.

The story starts the next morning from where the previous collection ended. The Rat Queens are in a situation which seems somewhat unusual for them: they were part of the group that saved the city of Palisade. But the mayor isn’t willing to trust the women completed: he sends them out of the city and searching for a caravan which has been presumably attacked. Meanwhile, Sawyer the captain of the city guard and Hannah’s on-again off-gain boyfriend, is looking for a missing elf woman and finds out a lot more.

This time we get to know a bit more about our heroines. We get a glimpse of Violet’s past among the other dwarfs, Hannah’s parents and her earlier friendship with a fellow wizard Lizzie, and Dee’s past comes calling. None of them have easy pasts but that’s no surprise.

I enjoyed this one, too. There’s even more sex, humor, swearing, and desperate battles than in the first volume! The last two issues have a different artist so they look quite a bit different, but I didn’t mind it. The collection does end in a cliffhanger, though.

Next Page »