March 2018

The first book in the Hidden Alchemy urban fantasy series

Publication year: 2017
Format: ebook
Publisher: Chaos Fox
Page count: 182 in GoodReads

Kaitlyn Felis is a treasure hunter and an alchemist. When the story starts, she’s in London but an apartment isn’t a great place to do alchemy. When her uncle contacts her, saying a mysterious elf Fein Thyrin wants to hire her, Kaitlyn jumps at the chance. So, she travels to Prague and Fein puts her instantly to work, making powders and items from him. Kaitlyn also gets an assistant Erin. Erin isn’t a powerful magic user, nor is she an alchemist but she’s smart, willing to learn, and extremely beautiful.

Kit is immediately attracted to her and soon they fall into bed. However, Erin’s feelings are confused and she keeps Kit at an arm’s length. But they’re still able to work together. That’s good because when Kit hears that Fein is after the Seers Stone, Kit demands that Fein hire her to find it. He promptly does so but demands that Kit take with her two companions: Erin and Fein’s Cait Sidhe (a feline fae) called Tyn. The trio heads to Reykjavik where the stone is supposed to be. However, things aren’t that easy.

This was a fun short book set in a world with a variety of magic and magical creatures, including various elementals (who look like humans), elves and faeries, nymphs, werewolves, and others. Kit doesn’t seem to have magic herself but as an alchemist she’s extremely interested in all sorts of magic and magical beings. However, she can sense magic, especially when she’s touching it. She uses a few items and powders. She’s also curious about pretty much everything. She’s bisexual and usually has one-night stands with people of both genders. However, she does have one long-time friend and lover, Logan Sionnah. She flirts with almost everyone and is very friendly by nature. She also likes to touch people and things. She has a will-of-the-wisp as a pet, Wispy. It eats leaves. It’s quite small and is usually kept in a cage, even though it stays with Kit willingly. It can’t speak.

Tyn is also an interesting character. He has a very troubled past and doesn’t let anyone near him emotionally. Except Fein whom Tyn seems to trust completely. At first, Erin seemed quite a friendly and warm character. However, after sleeping with Kit she became closed off and distant for a time.

The set-up for the series took up quite a lot of the book, when Kit travels to Prague and settles in her new lab and flat, but I found that enjoyable, as well. The real adventure was fast-paced and I enjoyed Kit’s sunny disposition to life.

Collects Birds of Prey issues 86-90, 92-95.

Writer: Gail Simone

Artists: Adriana Melo, Will Conrad, Bruce Timm, David Lopez, Fernando Blanco, Joe Bennett, Jack Jadson, Eddy Barrows, Robin Riggs, Paulo Sigueira, Adam Dekraker, Joe Prado, Dick Giordano

This trade includes the Infinite Crisis event during which the comic skips a year ahead. That happens in the middle of the trade which was kind of jarring.

The first issue has three shorter stories with Babs getting out of hospital and getting a party, Dinah fighting a supervillain in Metropolis, and Helena using her mob background to protect one of her students and his family.

In the next couple of issues, Helena starts to infiltrate the Gotham mob. Namely, her father’s mob the Bertinelli family. To start things, she takes Creote (the Russian muscle, and lover of, Savant), Dinah, and Lady Blackhawk and they head to Istanbul to shake up the people who supply stuff for the other Gotham mob families. Meanwhile the Calculator is trying to find out who Oracle is and kidnaps Savant. They torture him for a couple of days before the ladies and Creote realize that he’s gone.

Batman appears and shows his complete lack of trust in Helena by demanding the Oracle and her team stay out of Gotham. However, Oracle sticks with Helena’s plan. Barbara also tells her father that she’s Oracle and used to be Batgirl.

Then the comic skips one year ahead.

The Crime Doctor wants to defect from the Crime Syndicate to the good guys. Oracle tries to help him, despite the fact that he’s a serial killer and psychopath. He’s willing to reveal the secrets of the Syndicate to her, after all. Helena, lady Blackhawk, and lady Shiva are protecting him from a bunch of super criminals. But the Doctor also has a young daughter whom he wants to be safe.

Meanwhile, Dinah is in Vietnam. She’s deep in jungle and is handed over to an old, very stern woman called Mother for training. We find out that Dinah has agreed to exchange experiences with Shiva, so Shiva is now part of BoP while Dinah is trained really hard.

I liked almost all of the storylines in the trade. Helena dealing with the mobsters fits really well for her character and it was nice seeing that Barbara finally trusts her. However, I wasn’t too wild about yet another story about people trying to find out who Oracle is. Of course, Savant kidnapped and tortured was a really ironic reversal and his ultimate loyalty to Babs was actually touching.

The Crime Doctor story was nice and pitted BoP against a variety of supervillains, which was a nice change of pace for them. However, the Dinah/Shiva story was much more interesting. It really brought out Dinah’s character. The ending was fitting to both characters.

This was another enjoyable collection. Of course, the jump in time in the middle of things was jarring but I liked the stories after it better. Oh yes, Gypsy appears. I wasn’t familiar with her beforehand and she wasn’t really introduced much. Also, the art of the second half has thankfully less cheesecake than before. Shiva keeps her cloths on and zipped up. I think the biggest cheesecake is Lady Blackhawk’s teeny tiny skirt. Maybe DC was finally getting the note that these are awesome women, not just a chance to draw as much tits and ass as possible. Dinah gets awesome fight scenes, first against Deathstroke and then in the Vietnamize jungle.

Top 5 Wednesday is GoodReads group where people discuss different bookish topic each week. This week, the Top 5 Wednesdays topic is favorite teachers/mentors.

I have a lot of favorite teachers, so it was hard to narrow it down to just five but here goes:

1, Merlin
According to many different writers, Merlin wasn’t just the court wizard of Arthur but also his mentor. Perhaps the best known is T. H. White’s “Once and Future King”. Also, in the Prince Valiant comic book series, Merlin teachers Valiant himself, mostly about chemistry but also psychology.

2, Toby Daye by Seanan McGuire
Right in the first book, Toby is given a squire to train. Initially she disliked Quentin but soon she became rather protective of him and us reader love him. And her.

3, Miss Havisham by Jasper Fford
In the Thursday Next, miss Havisham (yes, from Dickens) is an older and more experienced agent and she takes Thursday under her wing, teaching her how to be an effective Jurisfiction agent. They police fiction books.

4, Charles Xavier from the X-Men
Xavier is the ultimate mentor teaching a whole school full of young mutants how to use their powers, and giving them an otherwise rounded education, as well.

5, Tsering by Elizabeth Bear
She’s a tutor to magic users. However, she doesn’t have magical aptitude herself. She does know a lot about magic, both practical and theoretical. She also has life lessons to tell.

The second book in the alternate world thriller Roma Nova series. I strongly recommend reading the first book, Inceptio, first because the characters and their relationships are introduced there.

Publication year: 2013
Format: Audio
Running time: 11 and 54 minutes
Narrator: Caitlin Thorburn

Perfiditas starts seven years after the end of Inceptio. Karen Brown is now a Roma Nova citizen and has fully embraced her life as a member of the highly politically powerful Mitela family, as Carina Mitela. She’s also a captain in Roma Nova’s elite military force, the Praetorian Guard Special Forces (PGSF). She’s also married to Conrad(us) and they have three kids. Their life is complicated by the fact that Conrad is Carina’s boss in work but otherwise as a member of the Mitela family, Carina is Conrad’s social superior. Conrad has also other children from his previous union with none other than the Imperatrix herself.

Someone shows Carina’s emergency token to the Guard and when Carina hurries to meet her, for her surprise she finds out Mossia who is extremely worried about an employee, Aidan, whom she’s also been sleeping with. Aidan has apparently left her leaving behind a strange note. Both Mossia and Aidan are behaving very strangely, and Carina starts to investigate Aidan. The clue leads her on the trail of a plot to overthrow the Nova Roman way of life. Meanwhile, Conrad has just been promoted to legate and the boss of the whole PGSF. This makes him a target for the conspirators, too.

Most of the book centers on a plot to overthrow the matriarchal leaders of the Roma Nova. They also threaten the Imperatrix’s and Conrad’s children. A couple of PGSF members are apparently part of the plot: one tries to stab Carina and another frames her. Carina realizes that she has far better chance of catching the plotters when she returns to her previous role as an underworld figure Pulcheria. Unfortunately, she doesn’t know whom she can trust so she doesn’t tell anyone at the PGSF. From the guards’ point-of-view, she has really turned traitor and while some of the criminal contacts still trust her, some are very suspicious.

The end of the book deals with the aftermath of Carina’s decisions. They threaten not only her career and professional relationships but her marriage and her family, as well.

The bad guys are frustrated because they’re denied political influence because of the gender and have decided to take over. However, the majority of the male characters in the book don’t feel that way, thankfully. This was a nice reversal of the trope of an entire gender rising up against the other. The plot is mostly fast paced with schemes and counterschemes following each other very quickly. In fact, I found them a bit confusing although that could be because I listened an audio book and didn’t concentrate on it fully. Politics also play a big part.

I was disappointed with Conrad. I expected him to trust Carina and support her fully. Instead, he’s suspicious of her motives and character. Indeed, it felt to me that he doesn’t really know her even after seven years together. At times, it felt to me that he (and some other officers) were more concerned with following regulations than getting the bad guys. In fact, Carina’s long-time friend Flavius (who was part of the same criminal organization as Pulcheria and now is also a PGSF officer) was the one who supported and helped Carina fully. He accompanied her back to the criminal world and faces the same charges as her. This actually perfectly fits their characters in the first book and creates more tension to Carina’s life, so I understand why Morton chose to write that.

Carina herself is an excellent character and action heroine. She’s smart and flexible in her thinking and isn’t afraid to bend the rules and take chances when needed. This is something that Conrad doesn’t do well and can sour their relationship.

Still, this was a very good continuation to the series and I’m definitely reading the next book, Successio.

A military thriller set in the near future.

Publication year: 2017
Format: ebook
Publisher: Lulu Publishing Services
Page count: 442 in GoodReads

Sarah Dharmawan is a highly competent police officer in the Indonesia police and also a member of Densus-88, Indonesia’s special forces counter-terrorism squad. She comes from a family of military officers.

At the start of the story Sarah is assigned to Britain to help bring down one of the largest drug Cartels in the world. There’s evidence that the Cartel has a drug lab in Indonesia even though it’s headed by Irish and British people. Sarah joins a group of people who come from all sorts of British and Irish police and military branches. They’re all used to working in secret and are highly competent and skilled. But their enemies are equally formidable.

The Cartel is made up of former soldiers, some of them even special forces soldiers. They also have one member who loves torturing men and women. A short time ago, they kidnapped one of the anti-terrorist group members and tortured her to death. They’re also not against killing or maiming innocent people to get what they want. Their favorite tactic is to snatch someone and torture them for information (or for fun…). That means that Sarah and her colleagues must be always vigilant and ready to defend themselves at all times.

But life isn’t just work for Sarah. Among her new colleagues is a man who both irritates and intrigues her.

The story is set in 2026 but I don’t think it has any actual science fiction elements. In 2020, Britain reduced the size of their armed forces a lot and that’s why many of the former soldiers have had to look employment elsewhere, including criminal circles.

Sarah is a highly competent action heroine. She’s proficient in firearms and unarmed combat and is in extremely good shape. She’s also a quick learner and a good leader. She speaks six languages and is extremely beautiful. She’s also a fitness model and men almost swoon when they see her. She’s always eager to learn new things and when she realizes that she’s made a mistake, she willingly admits it and learns better. As a policewoman she hates criminals and when she has to, she kills to defend herself and the people close to her. She’s ambitious and passionate at her work and is always working to excel at it. She’s also a mix-race character: her father is Indonesian and mother Spanish/English.

The book is written in present tense which heightens the tension, especially in combat scenes. It’s also written in third person omniscient point of view which felt a little strange at first to me. In this POV, the narrator can access any character’s thoughts and even give hints about what’s going to happen in the future. It’s not very common these days, so it was good to read something a bit different for a change. The vocabulary has a lot of military acronyms and British slang. Fortunately, there’s a glossary at the end.

The books stars with the bad guys torturing a woman to death. One of the bad guys really likes torture so there a couple of more torture scenes. The fights scenes are furious, and a lot of people get killed in this book. I was a bit surprised at first that Sarah’s colleagues execute their enemies after a fight, instead of getting them alive for questioning. But this book is really about war against drug dealers.

I really liked Sarah. She has a younger sister and older brother. I loved her relationship with them because very often action heroines are only children and even orphans. The other team members also grew on me quickly, as I love competent characters.

Some readers have said that the beginning is slow. It’s true that the first five chapters concentrate on setting the characters, the conflict, and the setting. However, this also means that when the fight scenes arrive, they’re furious and the stakes are high. I much more prefer that than reading a book where a fight scene (or any scene) is there just because a formula demanded it. When the fighting does start, the tension level doesn’t really ease off until the end. The book has also a very strong romantic element.

While the focus on tactics and guns certainly gave the book realism, I was sometimes a bit frustrated with them because I’m not a military person at all and it felt a bit too much. I also thought that the author, and the characters, focused a bit too much on Sarah’s looks. Otherwise, this was quite an enjoyable read with highly competent characters.

Top 5 Wednesday is GoodReads group where people discuss different bookish topic each week. This week, the Top 5 Wednesdays topic is Favorite Science Fiction & Fantasy in Other Media such as in movies, tv shows, games, anime, etc.

I follow a lot of SF/F tv-shows, comics, and movies. It was hard to narrow it just to five. I also have a lot of older favorites but this time I decided to focus on newer tv-shows.

1, the Flash
While I’ve read far more Marvel comics, I like the DC tv-shows far more than the Marvel shows. Flash is a very good mixture with comic book superhero stuff (like alternate realities, time travel, and possible futures) with a group of loyal friends and family fighting crime together.

2, the Expanse
A grittier show than Flash, the Expanse follows a huge cast of characters all over the solar system.

3, Supergirl
Targeted at (far) younger viewers than me, I still love most of this show, especially Alex who gets to shine almost as much as Kara herself.

4, the Gifted
This is a new tv-show and alternate reality take on the X-Men. I love alt realities and this is very well done. Main characters include minor X-Men characters such as Polaris and Thunderbird but not any of the major ones (so far, at least). The show follows the trials of the Strucker family who has to flee their home when their teenaged children are identified as mutants.

5, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
I’ve only seen the first three seasons because I live in Finland and I’m still waiting for the rest to come out in DVD/blu-ray. Most of the Marvel tv-shows are too dark for me but I love Agents (and Agent Carter… sigh) where competent agents take on some of the less powerful monsters of the Marvel universe.

A stand-alone historical fantasy book which follows Achilles from the perspective of Patroclus.

Publication year: 2011
Format: print
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 2013
Translator: Laura Lahdensuu
Publisher of the translation: Basam books
Page count: 454

This is a love story from the point-of-view of Patroclus. His childhood is unhappy because he’s an ugly and clumsy boy who is a constant disappointment to his father. When he accidentally kills another boy, he’s sent into exile and to the court of King Peleus. There Patroclus meets Peleus’ beautiful, shining son, Achilles.

This is an excellent retelling, focusing on the love story of Patroclus and Achilles which was officially forbidden during the times but clearly tolerated. It’s not focused on fighting, except when the Trojan war gets really going, but even then Patroclus isn’t a soldier and we don’t really get to see much of the war at all, except the most famous and climatic scenes. Instead, it’s focused on people and humanizing the characters from legends. The gods are very much alive, real, and active. Achilles’ mother Thetis is a nereid and she hates all humans, including Patroclus. She has definite plans for her son. For most of the book, a doom is hovering over Achilles as is quite appropriate for Greek epic. As soon as Achilles and Patroclus hear about the Trojan war, they also hear about a prophesy that Achilles will die there.

Achilles seems quite a different person than in Homer’s epic. He’s not really interested in fighting until he gets to Troy. He’s calm and gentle man before it and it seems that the violence in the war really changes him. Patroclus is more a healer than a soldier in this tale. They both seem rather different from the majority of men in their time who tend to be warriors grasping for fame and fortune. And, of course, the women of the time aren’t treated as human; they’re property to be kept or given away, spoils of war in the war camp. Except for immortal women who have their own agendas and favorites.

“He is a weapon, a killer. Do not forget it. You can use a spear as a walking stick, but that will not change its nature.”

Collects Birds of Prey issues 69-75

Writer: Gail Simone
Artists: Ed Benes, Ron Adrian, Jim Fern, Eduardo Baretto, Eric Battle, Rob Lea, Steve Biro, Andrew Bepoy, Rodney Ramos

This collection has one main storyline and a couple of more stand-alone issues at the end.

Three teenagers have killed themselves wearing the costumes of dead superheroes and Oracle is convinced that they’ve actually been murdered. She sends Huntress to Oregon to a cult with a charismatic leader. His followers seem hate women and Huntress is almost immediately captured and brought to the cult’s farm. Meanwhile, Dinah questions the parents of the dead kids. Only one of them agrees to talk to her and it seems that the kid was a part of the cult and the cult had been blackmailing her parents. When they couldn’t pay any more, the cult persuaded the kid to kill herself.

Helena investigates the cult from the inside. She even has a supposed ally: Vixen. Unfortunately, the cult has brainwashed Vixen, too. At the same time, Barbara has to confront another sort of threat.

Meanwhile, Oracle is trying to rehabilitate Savant and his friend Creoto. She gives them an apartment on a run-down part of Gotham and orders him to fix it, without killing anyone.

In the next to last issue, Dinah confronts Savant. He did ambush her and break her legs, after all, so she has to do it. The final issue seems to be an aftermath to a Batman story. In it, Barbara had to blow up the clocktower which has been her headquarters and home for years. She takes the Birds of Prey out of Gotham and into a plane which is piloted by Lady Blackhawk. At the end, there’s a shorter story about Lady Blackhawk.

Once again, this is very entertaining stuff. Dinah and Barbara are very clearly good friends and they need that bond against a common enemy. Helena is more “rough around the edges” as Babs says. Her faith is questioned in this story and she gets to kick ass a lot. She’s clearly still the outsider in the team, though. But even Dinah is more accepting of her and they bond a little when they infiltrate a gathering of various supervillains’ minions.

The only bad point, really, is the cheesecake art with gratuitous butt shots on pretty much every page.

The final book in the 500 Kingdoms fantasy romance series. This one was clearly inspired by Beauty and the Beast along with werewolf tales and has elements from various other fairy tales. It can be read without reading the other books first.

Publication year: 2011
Format: Audio
Running time: 9 and 52 minutes
Narrator: Gabra Zackman

Bella, Isabella Beauchamps, is the daughter of a wealthy merchant. Her mother has died, and her father has remarried. Her stepmother has two daughters of her own. However, they all get along mostly fine. Bella runs the household and handles her stepsisters and stepmother. But when she heads into the forest to talk with the local Granny, the wise woman who lives alone in the woods, Bella is attacked and bitten by a wolf. She escapes but early next morning the king’s men whisk her out of bed before she can talk with anyone. They bring her to a castle where a young duke Sebastian lives with his invisible and silent servants, and with Eric, the gruff games keeper who likes to seduce vulnerable girls and leave them. The duke is cursed to become a werewolf during the nights of the full moon and he attacked Bella. He’s sorry and he’s looking for a cure, after all he is a wizard.

Bella can’t help but to feel a bit sorry for Sebastian who seems to be a nice man. However, she still doesn’t like being confined to the castle for at least three months. Or if it turns out that she will also turn into a werewolf, for the rest of her life. As a first step, she investigates the invisible servants and put the house to order quite brusquely. But Eric is watching her.

Bella is another of the delightful heroines in this series. She’s curious and down-to-earth practical woman. She also acknowledges that she does have some faults, as well. For example, she’s afraid that her father wouldn’t need her anymore and she realizes that she has manipulated the family and servants around her.

Eric is the huntsman or rather the warden. It’s his job to keep people away from the castle and grounds. This gives him a great chance to be as are rude and crude as he wants. He’s dismissive of Bella at first and then tries to get her to his bed. He’s also a man with quite a difficult past.

Sebastian the young duke is kind and very concentrated on his work. He’s not seen much in the book. Bella spends a lot more time with Eric.

The tale has references to Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood in addition to the overall Beauty and the Beast story. It’s not very complex or surprising; it’s a fairy tale retelling. As that it’s quite enjoyable. It’s also completely a stand-alone.

Storybundle is currently offering three interesting bundles:
Feminist Futures is available for 20 days while Sorcery and Steam , and Young Adult Variety are available for six more days.

They all have interesting collections of ebooks. Sorcery and Steam has Fiction River: Alchemy and Steam as part of the basic bundle.

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