July 2017


Top 5 Wednesday is GoodReads group where people discuss different bookish topic each week. Today the topic is: series that got better

I read a lot of series. I love to immerse myself in a world and characters. Thankfully quite a few of the series I’ve read in recent years either start good and continue to be good, or even get better so it was actually hard to choose just five.

1, October Daye series by Seanan McGuire
I didn’t actually fall in love with this series until the third book “An Artificial Night”. The two first ones “Rosemary and Rue” and “A Local Habitation” were interesting enough to keep me reading, though, and pretty soon the characters and the world really grew on me. Toby is a half-human, half-faerie woman. She’s a knight in the faery world and a private detective in San Francisco.

2, Vorkosigan series by Lois McMaster Bujold
The first couple of books is the Vorkosigan saga: “Shards of Honor”, “Warrior’s Apprentice”, and “Falling Free” are the first books Bujold wrote. Naturally, she got better. Great, character centric science fiction.

3, Vlad Taltos series by Steven Brust
I actually really enjoyed the first book, “Jhereg”, where we met the sarcastic human assassin/sorcerer Vlad Taltos and his equally sarcastic familiar Loiosh. They live in a world dominated by Dragaerans, or elves. But the series grows more complex with every book and Brust also experiments with structures.

4, Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters
Amelia and her husband are a family of intrepid archeologists and amateur detectives. They are very humorous historical mysteries. The first two books “Crocodile on the Sandbank” and “the Curse of the Pharaoh” aren’t nearly as good as the rest.

5, Discworld by Terry Pratchett
I personally don’t really care for the first Discworld books “Color of Magic and “the Light Fantastic”. Luckily, I started with the witches book “Wyrd Sisters” which is the 6th book in the series and centers on the wonderful three witches, Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, and Magrat Garlick. The Discworld books can be read in any order.

Collects Angels we have seen on high, MacGuffins, BtVS: Ring of Fire and Dust Waltz, BtVS: Spike & Drue 3: The Queen of Heart and Paint the Town Red, and BtVS 60-63.

Writers: Christopher Golden, Dan Brereton, Scott Lobdell, Fabian Nicieza, Jen van Meter, Doug Petrie, James Masters

Artists: Cliff Richards, Jeff Matsuda, Brian Horton, Ryan Sook, Hector Gomez, Sandy Florea

These stories range wildly in quality, execution, and also in place during the series. Definitely aimed at fans of the show.
The first story “Angels we have seen on high” is a really short and takes place before the series. Dawn is in danger in an amusement park while Buffy is chasing after some vampires. The art is quite blocky and doesn’t resemble the actors at all. But it’s a fun little story.

“A stake through the heart” is also set before the series. Buffy and Dawn’s parents are in the middle of breaking up and this upsets the whole family. Angel and Whistler are creepily watching them from the shadows and Angel tries to help, trying to banish the terrible feelings through a magical ritual. Instead, he manages to manifest them as demons who then prey on the family. We also get cameos by Cordelia, Harmony, and other characters.

“MacGuffins” is set sometime during the series. Buffy is at her dad’s place where someone sends a couple of gremlins and she has to figure out how to get rid of them, alone.

In “Queen of Hearts” Spike and Drusilla are driving to Sunnydale but they pause for a snack. This leads them to a river boat called a queen of hearts and quite a lot of trouble.

“Ring of Fire” is set during the second season when Angel is Angelus and has just killed Jenny. I’ve read this as a separate comic before. It has some great moments, like the return of Kendra and the snark between Spike and Angelus.

“Paint the Town Red” is another Spike and Drusilla story set after they left the show in second season. They’ve settled into a nice little town. But Dru dreams about Angel and Spike’s jealousy drives him to assault Dru and leave her. Of course, she follows but with a surprise.

“The Dust Waltz”: Vampire Queen Lilith and her sister have come to Sunnydale, which means trouble to the gang. Also, Giles’ niece Jane comes to town as well. She’s an archeology student which is interesting but she doesn’t really add anything to the story. Lilith and her sister are powerful and would have made interesting continuing enemies.

Most of the stories are nice but pretty average. Enough the make me want to rewatch the earlier seasons.

A fantasy book set in near future.

Publication year: 2016
Format: ebook
Publisher: TOR
Page count: 319

Six-year old Patricia Delfine finds a wounded little bird and it talks to her. It leads her to a Tree who tell her that she’s a witch and gives her a riddle. She can’t answer it and even soon forgets its wording but it haunts her. She can’t find the Tree again no matter how much she searches it nor can she do anything magical. She’s shunned at school, no matter what she does, and her demanding parents blame her for everything.

Laurence Armstead is a nerdy little boy who manages to build two second time machine watch. He loves science and wants to go and see a space rocket launch. But his absent-minded parents don’t allow him to go. So, he steals some money and goes by himself. There he meets scientists and can touch a real rocket until his parents take him away.

Patricia’s parents forbid her to go to the woods and Laurence’s parents keep sending him to nature camps against his wishes. They’re bullied at school and everyone blames them. Reluctantly at first, they team up against the world. Even though they’re very different, they feel that they can sort of rely on each other. Until Patricia manages to do real magic which scares Laurence.

Life takes them to very different places. Years later, they meet again. This time, they’re working at cross-purposes. Humanity is destroying Earth and they both are determined to do something about it. But very different things.

I liked most of this book a lot, especially the start. The school bullies rang a bit too true to me. I also really enjoyed the assassin who was surreal. One of the best things was Patricia and Laurence’s friendship. They really are very different. Patricia loves nature and she wants to use her natural powers to save it, not just humanity. Laurence loves technology and can build amazing things even at a young age. He wants to use technology to save humanity. They have different circles of friends and they both have things they can’t reveal to each other. Unfortunately, things don’t stay that way.

The characters are very human: they aren’t just good or bad but various shades of gray, doing what they think is right. They’re also very vulnerable.

Unfortunately, for me it lost a lot of its rareness near the end, which was really frustrating. I also didn’t like that all adults in child Laurence and Patricia’s are toxic, including, especially their parents. In the end, I wanted to like it more than I did.

The second book in her Five Hundred Kingdoms fantasy/fairy tale retelling series.

Publication year: 2006
Format: Audio
Running time: 9 hours and 32 minutes
Narrator: Gabra Zackman

Princess Andromeda is the only child of Queen Cassiopeia of Acadia. The king died several years ago. The ambitious and extremely beautiful Cassiopeia rules the country with the help of her adviser Solon. Andromeda, Andie, is 19 but is still considered a child without responsibilities. This frustrates her because she would like nothing more than her mother’s approval. Unfortunately, Andie is plain and her eyesight is so bad the she needs oculars which disappoint her vain mother even more.

However, Andie is very smart and a scholar. When she’s able to prove to Solon that she can research well enough to be useful, Cassiopeia finally starts to treat her as an adult. Andie even finds out that in recent years there have been strange weather patterns along the coast and more shipwrecks than usual. But Andie doesn’t have long to enjoy her new status because a dragon appears in Acadia, for the first time in known history. Andie researches ways to get rid of it but the only thing she finds out is Tradition: the dragon eats a virgin girl every week until a champion arrives to slay it. The queen sends for a champion and meanwhile a virgin girl is sacrificed every week.

But weeks go by and no champion arrives until Andie herself is tied to the stake. Then suddenly a champion appears. He rescues her but doesn’t manage to kill the dragon which just flies away. Andie can’t return home and she persuades the knight to take her with him, which he does but only as long as she won’t be a burden.

This is another enjoyable twist on fairy tales. It’s a mix of St. George, misfit princess tales, and even a dash of Robin Hood. Andie isn’t a traditional princess: she’s plain and bookish but smart and loyal to a fault. She enjoys the company of ordinary guards more than nobility. She knows all about the Tradition and how it tries to change people and things into storylines and so she also knows ways to try to subvert it. Such as it tries to make maidens fall in love with men who rescue them. I was delighted with how this was subverted.

While this book has a romance (it’s a Luna imprint after all) it’s very much down-played. I enjoyed this story almost as much as the first one and especially enjoyed the dragons and the characters who showed up after the half-way point.

The next book, Fortune’s Fool, is apparently based on the Little Mermaid. I’m actually not very familiar with it so I think I’m going to reread it first.

A stand-alone fantasy/horror novella.

Publication year: 2016
Format: ebook
Publisher: TOR
Page count: 143

Professor Vellitti Boe is a history professor at the Ulthar Women’s Collage. She used to be a traveler, going to remote places either alone or with companions. When she became older, she settled on Ulthar. But then one of the students goes missing and Vellitt has to take up her pack again and try to find the student before she goes to the waking world.

The missing student Clarie Jurat is not only stunningly beautiful but very smart. She’s also the daughter of man who could shut down the school if she isn’t found, so after some hesitation, the dean allows Vellitt to leave to a dangerous journey. Apparently Clarie has met a man from the waking world and become so in love with him and his world, that she’s left with him to go to the nearest gate to the waking world. Vellitt isn’t as young as she used to be but she soon recovers her love of traveling, despite the dangers of ghuls, ghasts, and other people. A small black cat comes along with her.

Apparently, this novella is based on Lovecraft’s stories, which I didn’t know when I started to read it. It’s part of the Hugo package. I haven’t read much of Lovecraft’s stories but I’ve played Arkham Horror and watched the few movies and even a play based on the stories, so I’m fairly familiar with them. I’m not a horror reader but the horror elements are mild enough that I didn’t cringe.

I enjoyed the story a lot. Vellitt is a great main character and I wouldn’t mind reading more about her. She’s fiercely independent and wants to stay that way. She’s smart and experienced. The Dreamlands are, of course, a fascinating place with strange creatures and the constant threat of gods destroying any place or person who has offended them in some way. But to her, the waking world is the strange place. I thoroughly enjoyed that reversal and the ending.

Book two of the Broken Earth fantasy series.

Publication year: 2016
Format: Audio
Running time: 13 hours and 19 minutes
Narrator: Robin Miles

Now we find out some of the things that were left unsaid in the first book. Obelisk Gate starts somewhat before the beginning of Fifth Season to show us what happened to Essun’s surviving family: her daughter Nassun and her husband Jija. Nassun’s father took her away, looking for place where she could be cured of orogeny. Nassun is a very smart little girl and she knows her father. But when she found him with her young brother’s body, she realizes that she will have to be very careful with him. So, she goes with him and together they endure traveling and all the dangers. But she can never trust him again; all the time, she has to be on guard and manipulate him. She knows that she can’t be cured and yet she doesn’t want to let go of him.

Meanwhile, Essun story continues from the end of the previous book. She has found a community, Castrima. It’s a strange one, which accepts orogeny and even uses their talents. The comm lives underground and is very selective about their members. Now, she finds out that her former friend and mentor lives there. But he’s in terrible condition; barely alive. He’s still determined to teach to Essun what he knows about orogeny, the obelisks, and history. He brought with him a Stone Eater, a non-human creature and we found out more about them.

The book has one other POV character: a Guardian. We find out more about Guardians as a group and about this Guardian personally. It takes away the mystique the Guardians had in the Fifth Season, of course.

Once again, Essun’s story is written in the second person and the others in first person. The whole book is written in present tense.
At the heart of the story are really the characters and their relationships. Essun is a bitter woman and it’s hard for her to trust. For a long time, she has kept her powers a secret and now she’s in a comm where she can live openly. Indeed, her most useful trait is orogeny. Costrima is far from on ideal place because it’s filled with people who have conflicting feelings and upbringings. They’ve been thrown together because the world is in an upheaval and their own comms have been destroyed. Also, every person has to be useful in order to secure his or her place in the comm.

But Nassun is really at the center of conflicting emotions. She loves her father but also is afraid of him. We also get to know more about her upbringing: Essun was a harsh mother because she thought that she had to teach her daughter to control the power. Essun knows too well what happens when an orogene can’t control herself. Also, Essun herself was brought up just as harshly. But still, I felt very sorry for Nassun who has to grow up too soon and started to loath Essun for what she did to her daughter. At least, she could have explained things better to poor Nassun.

So, I have mixed feelings about this book. Of course, the characters are very well written and the setting is still superb. We get to know more about pretty much everything and I predict that we’ll see a rather emotional ending to the series in the next book (assuming it will end in the next book).

Like the Fifth Season, the Obelisk Gate ends in a cliffhanger. It’s really one long story in in several parts.

Audio wasn’t the best format for this story, at least for me, because I tend to do other things while listening and this book is so complex that it needs full concentration.

A fantasy novella. First story in the Wayward Children series. Can be read as a stand-alone.

Publication year: 2016
Format: ebook
Publisher: TOR
Page count: 156

Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children is a place for kids who have run away and returned changed can go to get counseling and hopefully return happy and same as before. Or that’s the hope of the parents who send their kids there. But most kids aren’t fixed or healed.

Because they’ve had such a profound experience that they can’t return to their former selves, just like adults can’t (and don’t want to) become the children they used to be. These children have not run away, they’ve gone to another world which became home to them and changed them. They’ve stayed in their worlds for years but grown but returned as kids. And the adults can’t understand that. Or won’t. So, the kids are labeled as crazy. Eleanor tries to get these kids under her wing to a school where they don’t have to hide their experiences or hopes of returning to that true home.

Nancy is the newest kid. Before she went through a doorway, she wore bright cloths, ran around, and laughed a lot. Then she went to the Hall of the Dead where she learned to be very, very still to please the Lord of the Dead whom she adores (not in a sexual way, though). Bright colors could be earned but Nancy hadn’t earned them, yet. So, she wears just black and white. Her parents didn’t understand it at all. So, they sent her to Eleanor’s.
Everything is new for Nancy, including the way that the kids and the teachers talk about the worlds. Some are high Logic, others high Nonsense. All of the kids want to go back, they don’t want to stay in reality but most of them realize that they might have to.

This is a weird book, horrible and wonderful at the same time. It’s not children’s story, at all, even though most of the characters are teenagers. It’s also not an adventure story, more like a snapshot of Nancy’s life for a few weeks. There is a mystery to uncover but’s not the main thing and I think it’s too easy for mystery readers to solve. I don’t usually like horror but this had just enough horror elements not to bother me.
I really liked the characters: Eleanor herself has gone to a high Nonsense world. She looks like she’s in her sixties but it older. Nancy’s roommate Sumi has also gone to a high Nonsense world and prefers to use windows rather than doors. She’s talks a lot and is pretty blunt. Kade is the keeper of wardrobe. Then there’s are the “creepy twins” Jake and Jill who went into a world that was similar to a horror movie. Jill was the vampire lord’s apprentice while Jake got to be the mad scientist’s apprentice. I also really liked the setting and a sequel is already out! Apparently it centers on Jack and Jill.

Even though the kids have had really strange and different experiences, this is still a school and they form groups and bully each other. That was one of the things I really disliked but I guess it comes naturally to kids. It’s the adults’ job to teach them better. I’m also not too sure if I liked how they reacted to the mystery part.

Many of the characters are not standard, which I found really refreshing. Nancy, for example, is asexual, one of the characters is a trans boy, and many are people of color.

Most of the kids at the school are girls. Nancy asks about that and is given an explanation:

“Because ‘boys will be boys’ is a self-fulfilling prophecy,” said Lundy. “They’re too loud, on the whole, to be easily misplaced or overlooked; when they disappear from the home, parents send search parties to dredge them out of swamps and drag them away from frog ponds. It’s not innate. It’s learned. But it protects them from the doors, keeps them safe at home. Call it irony, if you like, but we spend so much time waiting for our boys to stray that they never have the opportunity. We notice the silence of men. We depend upon the silence of women.”

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