April 2018

The first book in a superhero series set in the 1950s US.

Publication year: 2017
Format: ebook
Page count: 487

The story starts in 1947 when Alice Seymour is 10. She lives with her mom and her abusive father. He’s a former soldier and apparently had traumatic experiences in a war and that’s why he beats his wife. Alice is afraid of him and spends as little time at home as possible. She hangs out with her best friends, Lionel and Marco. They all three also run away from the local bullies. One day, all changes. Alice’s mom is killed in a shoot-out at the diner where she works. Alice’s afraid to go home and instead spends the day with Marco’s family. When her father finally gets her home, he’s furious and starts to beat her. But suddenly, there are voices from nowhere. Then two people, young boys, burst in. One of them has shadows around him. They are able to beat Alice’s father and scare him so much that her father runs away.

Alice’s mother’s sister, Aunt Diana, and her husband Logan take Alice to their home. Alice’s mother didn’t approve of Diana’s lifestyle as a business woman and so Alice doesn’t know Diana. However, aunt Diana and uncle Logan love her and give her a real home where she can read as much as she wants and she’s even able to go to college.

When Alice is 21, in 1959, she’s just graduated with a business degree. Diana owns Atlas bookstore and she also runs various charities. When Aunt Diana is brutally murdered, Alice wants to get to bottom of why and who. She finds out more than she thought possible.

This is the origin story of the Serpent, a costumed vigilante who doesn’t have powers. However, Alice is a trained martial artist and has very durable costume and tranquillizer darts which she calls Serpent’s Bite. She started to train as a martial artist almost as soon as she moved to her aunt’s place because her aunt was a martial arts instructor and Alice never wants to be helpless again. But she gets the costume and advice from another person who used to be a superhero and is now advising Alice.

Alice is a very determined and passionate person. When she comes to live with Diana, she’s determined never to be as helpless as she was in front of her father, and so she starts to train. She’s fierce and wants to protect people. She’s also frustrated by the limits that the society around her put on (wealthy) women. Most girls want to get married and become housewives, and Alice scorns them.

She quickly gets a team around herself. American Steel is stronger and more durable than humans. His partner Shadow Master is able to hear people’s feelings and affect them. They are working as local vigilantes before Alice becomes a hero but later agree to work with her. Also, non-vigilante people help them.

The three of them take down local thugs but also the local drug trade which turns out to be a lot more dangerous than they thought at first. In classic comics style, super powers are given a pseudo-scientific explanation, but of course they’re not really possible.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It a lot of superhero elements and they’re used wonderfully. Because it’s set in the past, it also explores elements of racism and sexism; one of Alice’s friends, Rose, is a black woman and despite the fact that she’s brilliant, she’s not allowed to go to college. Also, Alice’s past isn’t just backstory; it comes to haunt her.

The book had pretty much only one element which I didn’t care for: the love/attraction triangle between Alice and the two male heroes. She’s oblivious to their attraction to her and encourages both of them. The men are best friends but are jealous about Alice. They start out as quite protective of her but end up more or less accepting her into the team.

The book ends in a cliffhanger.

Collects issues 1-4 of Journey to Star Wars: the Force Awakens, Shattered Empire, Princess Leia 1 and Star wars issue 1 from 1977.

Writers: Greg Rucka, Mark Waid, Roy Thomas
Artists: Marco Checchetto, Terry Dodson, Rachel Dodson, Howard Cheykin

This was a fun ride to the past. The main series, Shattered Empire starts near the end of Return of the Jedi with Luke battling Vader and Han’s team putting the explosives on that Imperial base on Endor, and a team of Rebel pilots attacking the Imperial fleet. Shara Bay is one of the pilots and she almost shoots at Luke when he comes down in that Imperial shuttle. After a battle where Shara lost quite a few friends, she’s looking for her husband who is on Han’s team.

In the next two issues, Shara is Leia’s personal pilot when she goes to a mission on Naboo. However, the Emperor has left orders that Naboo will be destroyed after his death. Leia, Shara, and Naboo’s current queen must face down star destroyers!

In the final Shattered Empire issue, Luke goes on a mission to recover something from an Imperial base. Shara is with him, disguised as an Imperial Commander.

These were fun issues, letting us see Star Wars’ big heroes from the point-of-view of a minor character. However, Shara is a skilled pilot herself and used to danger, too. She and her husband Kes Dameron have a young son and they’re thinking of settling down. But Shara isn’t so sure; she feels like she’s abandoning the Rebels. Also, even though the Emperor is dead, the Empire still continues, fighting back as much as they can, and the rebels have a lot of clean-up to do.

The Leia issue starts with the ending of New Hope. After the award ceremony, Leia gives a short speech about Alderaan’s destruction. She wants to get back to work instead of grieving but now there’s a huge bounty on her head, so she must stay at the base. She confronts a pilot who thinks that Leia is dishonoring her parents’ memory.

The final issue in the collection is a reprint of Marvel’s first comic version of New Hope, with added Luke and Biggs scenes.

I really liked the Shattered Empire and Leia’s own adventure also starts nicely. The art was great in both stories. I hope our library has the Leia series, too. They’re not Earth shattering but nice short Star Wars adventures in the classic style.

Top 5 Wednesday is GoodReads group where people discuss different bookish topic each week. This week, the Top 5 Wednesdays topic is Favorite Fandom Items.

Whether it’s something you own or something you are lusting after, what are some of your favorite fandom items/merch/memorabilia? Your picks don’t all have to be from the same fandom!

I have some fandom stuff:

1, shirts and other wearables
These are my favorite things and I have quite a few t-shirts: Wonder Woman, Star Trek: TNG, Marvel Heroes, Sandman, Iron Man suit, Phoenix… I’m hoping that at some point I’d have the money to get long sleeved shirts with fandom pictures because I can only use t-shirts part of the year here in Finland.

I also have Star Trek: TNG and Jedi Academy flat caps, and Batman, Wonder Woman, and Captain America socks.

2, games
Specially, board games. Galactica, Star Trek, Star Wars, Firefly, Marvel Legendary, DC card game… I have loads of these. Next, I want the Buffy board game!

I’ve also played some fandom computer games but today I’d have to have more powerful computer for the graphics alone.

3, posters and pictures
I have quite few of these too. Various Lord of the Rings posters, Star Trek: TNG cast photos (yep, I ordered these when the show was still running), Star Wars and X-Men posters…

4, mugs
I love to get new mugs. I have Wonder Woman, Avengers, Ancient Egypt, Batman & Robin, and three Star Wars mugs.

5, wall calendars
I used to have a fandom calendar for every year. LotR, Star Trek, Star Wars, even an Elfquest one year and a Buffy one. Last year I had a Marvel wall calendar. I also tend to save them and put some of the pictures on my walls. I haven’t found a good one for this year though: I think the only fandom calendar available here in Finland this year was Star Wars which had more pictures of the baddies than the heroes.

I also have a couple of action figures (Kara Thrase, Finn, Scarlet Witch, the Wasp, and Vision). I’m sometimes tempted to get more but they’re just too expensive.

The third and final book in the series about Greek gods in modern times.

Publication year: 2018
Format: Audio
Running time: 16 and 30 minutes
Narrator: Jordanna Max Brodsky and Robert Petkoff

The book begins six months after the end of the previous book, Winter of the Gods, which parted our heroes. Selene, the goddess Artemis’ modern form, is looking for her father Zeus. The king of the gods is almost powerless and enfeebled. He was kidnapped by the enemy who was revealed in the previous book. He wants to bring about an age of humanity by killing all the remaining Greek deities, so Selene’s whole extended family is in danger. The enemy’s also a Pater Patrum to a Mithraist cult so his has a lot of fanatical underlings to help him, but Selene isn’t alone, either. Flint (the modern-day Hephaestus) is with her. He apparently has been long in love with her but while she has been thinking that she should move on from Theo and form a relationship with Flint, she hasn’t been able to do so and doesn’t really want to, either. Flint is able to help Selene with both weapons and equipment and also with planning.

Her former lover Theo thinks that Selene is dead, just like Selene wanted. She thought he would soon fall for a human and lead a happy human life, safe from immortal enemies. Instead, his experiences with the supernatural has made him think that he can bring Selene back from the dead. Unfortunately, that will mean his own death but he’s planning to keep that brief. Scooter, or Hermes, is helping him despite knowing that Selene is alive. Also, Theo’s best friend Ruth is reluctantly helping him.

Selene’s quest takes her and her allies from the sewers of the Vatican to modern Greece. I really enjoyed the descriptions of the places and all the mythology and science which were part of the story. I’d love to visit those places someday.

Throughout the whole series it was also fascinating to see how Brodsky had modernized the deities and made them, well, more palatable to a modern audience, Artemis herself especially. Selene muses a few times who she was different during the ancient times but doesn’t really want to return to that older self. She seems quite content to be the protector of women rather then a goddess who demands human sacrifices. The other goddesses and gods, too, are modernized and humanized in ways I rather enjoyed.

I greatly enjoyed Theo’s circle of scientist friends: Ruth, Gabrielle, and Minh Lo. The new goddesses in the book are also a delight.

Unfortunately, I really didn’t like how Selene treated Theo in the previous book and their relationship isn’t much better in this one. In the previous book, Theo wanted a relationship with Selene and pursued her even though she was cold and uncaring towards him. Now, Selene misses Theo and wants him back. I think she thinks more about him now than ever when they were together. It’s too much drama for me especially when paired with Flint, or Hephaestus’ unrequited love for Selene. She and the other deities don’t really have powers anymore, either.

This was an enjoyable end to the series. The ending especially was fast-paced and the book surprised me a couple of times.

The first book in a steampunk series.

Publication year: 2004
Format: print
Publisher: HarperCollins
Page count: 322

Matt Cruse is a cabin boy aboard the luxury airship Aurora which travels from Lionsgate City, US, to Australia. He loves his job and dreams of being a sailmaker, like is father was. His father worked aboard the Aurora before he died in an accident. Matt is restless on the ground; only aboard an airship can he feel truly alive and also close to his father.

One night, he sees a balloonist nearby. He doesn’t answer any hails, so Matt volunteers for a daring rescue hundreds of miles up in the air. The old balloonist is in a really bad shape but right before he dies, he manages to tell Matt about beautiful creatures in the air. Matt hasn’t seen such things and thinks the balloonist is raving.

A year later, young lady Kate de Vries comes on board the Aurora. She happens to be the old balloonist’s granddaughter and she’s determined to prove that the strange air creatures are real. Matt likes her and he wants to help her. But then the air pirates raid the Aurora.

When I got this book, I didn’t realize it was YA. Matt and Kate are both quite young, even though not children anymore. The nice side effect is that the book has very minimal courtship romance elements.

The captain has promised Matt that he’ll be made a junior sailmaker when an opening comes. However, when a position opens up, it’s goes to another: the son of one of the owners of the air ship line. Matt is bitter but continues his work. He doesn’t really like the passengers because his dream is to work on Aurora and someday, maybe, command it. The passengers aren’t interested in the ship and just want a smooth ride which should be as short as possible.

However, Kate is inquisitive and curious. She wants to know about the ship and that really wins Matt over. Of course, Matt is poor, and Kate is rich, so they both know that nothing can come of their relationship. Also, Matt starts to get jealous of Kate pretty soon. Kate’s chaperone Miss Simpkins is a hilarious figure: she’s dramatic and commanding but also likes to sleep quite a lot. However, Kate is very determined to get what she wants and somewhat spoiled, too.

The story focuses on exploration and adventure which are both things I like quite a lot. It’s quite straight-forward story with a little bit of commentary on the women’s station (especially young women) and the divides between the wealthy and the poor. But mostly adventure.

It doesn’t end in a cliffhanger.

Top 5 Wednesday is GoodReads group where people discuss different bookish topic each week. This week, the Top 5 Wednesdays topic is Favorite Mash-ups.

— You know those comp titles they list in synopses that read something like “perfect for fans of Harry Potter and Game of Thrones”! What would be some of your favorite mash ups, that would make you pick up a book? “A mix of ________ and ___________.” Remember, you can also incorporate games, tv, movies, etc. Get creative!

At first, I wasn’t sure if I was going to come up with anything but after seeing what some of the others have come up with I realized that there are quite a few mash-ups I’d like to see more of:

1, Ocean’s 11 and fantasy
I just love heist stories and there aren’t enough of them in fantasy and sci-fi. A group of (semi)pro criminals band together for a (big league) heist.
So far, I’m only aware of Patrick Weekes’ Rogues of the Republic series. Anything else? Please!

2, Ocean’s 11 and science fiction
Now these are far more common. But I still think they’re more common in TV than in books. I adore Firefly and Farscape. Even Star Trek the Next Generation has a heist double-episode (Gambit 1 and 2). So, where are the books???

I’m, of course, extremely excited that Titan Books will be publishing Firefly books! First will be out in October!

3, Steampunk and Ancient Rome
The steam engine was apparently invented in the 1st century in Roman controlled Egypt. So, how about an alternate reality book (series?? Pleeeeeease!) where Heron’s invention spreads (instead of being squashed because apparently then there wouldn’t be enough work for the slaves which would lead to a rebellion. Bah.) and we get to see steam powered Roman airships.

4, Urban fantasy and ancient Rome/Greek/Egypt/China/India
A grumpy/sarcastic person investigates strange happenings in downtown Alexandria. A female main character would have to be filthy rich / extremely well-connected / really clever but that would just be gravy and perhaps add some comedy.

5, Cozy mystery and secondary world fantasy
Urban fantasy is already well-established and they often have mysteries for the main characters to solve. But they tend to be focused on fighting so every now and then I’d like to read an Agatha Christie style mystery in a fantasy world. You know, a polite human detective that interviews the dwarf and the elf and the dragon in human form to find out just who poisoned the centaur.

I know of Randall Garrett’s Lord Darcy books but are there others?

A science fiction novella where the main characters is a Murderbot.

Publication year: 2017
Format: ebook
Publisher: Tor
Page count: 144 in GoodReads

The story is set in a future time where humans have spread to several planets. The story follows a Security Unit, SecUnit, who is an android with both mechanical parts and cloned biological parts. It’s designed for security on various sites. Despite the fact that it’s (it doesn’t have gender nor sexual parts) clearly a thinking and feeling being, legally it’s the property of the company and not a person. SecUnit’s are called Murderbots and that’s what this SecUnit calls itself.

It’s part of a contract to protect a group of seven humans who are surveying a new planet. Another survey group is set somewhat nearby (on a planetary scale). However, the Murderbot’s company buys all parts as cheap as possible so when things start to go wrong, at first Murderbot suspects equipment failure due to shoddy parts. The first anomaly is a huge lifeform trying to eat the scientists. Such a thing should not have been on the planet. Mapping is also faulty. Things escalate even though the Murderbot would rather sit in it’s cubicle and consume entertainment feeds.

The Murderbot is the first person POV character. It has hacked the governor module which is supposed to order it to keep peaceful and to obey the humans. However, the Murderbot just wants to be left alone and watch the entertainment feeds. Everything it knows about interacting with humans it has learned from the feeds. It’s pretty nervous around humans and doesn’t want any face-to-helmet faceplate interaction with them. Face-to-face talk is even more awkward for it. However, pretty soon it doesn’t have a choice.

This was highly entertaining and enjoyable read. Of course, the world’s background isn’t fully explained. The scientists are pretty reasonable people but want to consider the Murderbot’s feelings which it doesn’t want. Happily, there are more Murderbot stories on the way.

“I could have become a mass murderer after I hacked my governor module, but then I realized I could access the combined feed of entertainment channels carried on the company satellites. It had been well over 35,000 hours or so since then, with still not much murdering, but probably, I don’t know, a little under 35,00 hours of movies, serials, books, plays, and music consumed. As a heartless killing machine, I was a terrible failure.”

“Yes, talk to Murderbot about its feelings. The idea was so painful I dropped to 97 percent efficiency. I’d rather climb back into Hostile One’s mouth.”

“I was also planning to use the time to watch some Sanctuary Moon and recharge my ability to cope with humans at close quarters without losing my mind.”

Written by an anonymous Chinese author and translated by Gulick.

Publication year: 1976
Format: print
Publisher: Dover Publications
Page count: 223 + translator’s prescript and postscript

Apparently, this is a translation of the first part of an 18th century Chinese manuscript. It’s a detective story but more in line with Western detective fiction than in the usual Chinese tradition. It’s loosely based on a historical regional magistrate and set during the Tang dynasty. Gulick’s prescript describes how different usual Chinese mysteries were at least at the time. While it was fascinating to read about their features, they sound very different. However, I don’t know if I would actually enjoy reading one. In the postscript he gives out his reason not to translate the latter half (it’s apparently Judge Dee’s exploits at Court and not a detective novel at all) and what alterations he made to the translation.

In the story, Judge Dee, who is a regional magistrate known for his honesty, tackles three unrelated murder cases at the same time. He usually sends his trusted minions to do the legwork of questioning or snooping around. However, occasionally he must do some questioning himself, too, undercover, of course. But mostly he deducts and questions people.

The first case is a double murder: two traveling merchants are found dead on the street. The local warden accuses a local hostel owner, Koong, of the murders because the merchants had stayed in his hostel. However, after talking with Koong, Judge Dee realizes that Koong isn’t a murderer and starts to look for another suspect. The second case the judge finds on his own: while he’s undercover looking for clues to the first case, he stumbles upon a household of two widows: one is the widowed mother to a son who died a year ago under circumstances that the judge thinks are suspicious. The son’s widow is a recluse who refuses to meet anyone and this apparently further proof of a misdeed. In the third case, a bride has seemly been poisoned during her wedding night.

Most of the time, Judge Dee calls people to his court and questions them there, under torture, if necessary. The Chinese legal system was quite different from Western ones. There are no lawyers. The judge can call witnesses if he wants. However, if the judge puts an innocent man (a woman) to death, he can be beheaded, as well. He’s also under scrutiny from the people around him. All courtly matters are public so there’s usually a large crowd of people watching everything he does, such as the questioning or examining bodies. Also, without actual forensics, Judge Dee has to rely on his wits and judge of character when questioning people.

This was a very interesting read and a fascinating glimpse into the (probably at least somewhat fictionalized) workings of ancient China and its legal system. The characters come from many different social classes, from high officials to humble workers and even outlaws. Judge Dee is feared by most of the people he questions but he’s also respected. He can, and does, torture people but thinks that he has good cause to do so.

Unlike in Western books usually, the three mysteries aren’t related to each other, except that they’re brought to Judge Dee’s attention before he can solve the first one. They’re pretty hard to crack. Some of the cases have supernatural elements, such as the ghosts of dead people and dreams which the judge can use as actual evidence. The book has also some illustrations. Three of them have been made by von Gulick and the rest are apparently ancient woodcuts.

The writing style is pretty straight-forward and easy to read. The chapters are short and point-of-view is omniscient.

Van Gulick wrote more than a few Judge Dee mysteries himself, too. I haven’t read them but now I’m wondering if they’re any good.

Collects Black Widow vol. VI issues 1-6.

Writers: Mark Waid and Chris Samnee
Artist: Chris Samnee

This collection starts with an explosive first issue when S.H.I.E.L.D.’s director Maria Hill declares the Black Widow an enemy of S.H.I.E.L.D. and that she must be apprehended at all cost. Natasha is in the helicarrier and has to fight her way out. Quite a few agents are rather eager to kick her face in.

Next issue starts a week earlier, with Hill and an experienced S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Elder are on a secret cemetery. They’re attending the funeral of a young agent and Elder blames Natasha for her death. At the same time, ominous figures are trying to murder Hill and Elder but fortunately Natasha is there to keep Hill and Elder alive. But it all turns out to be a trap for Natasha. She’s knocked out and brought to a place where Platch Live or “Sleeping lion” blackmails her to work for him. Reluctantly Natasha agrees and in plunged back into her early years at the Russian Red Room.

First off, the art is gorgeous and it doesn’t have nearly as much cheesecake as Birds of Prey. Natasha is smart and tough and in full spy mode. Unfortunately, that also means that she’s keeping lots of secrets and betrays pretty much everyone. On the plus side, she makes daring escapes and shows off her other ninja-skills.

Top 5 Wednesday is GoodReads group where people discuss different bookish topic each week. This week, the Top 5 Wednesdays topic is Favorite Jokesters.

In honor of April Fools (a bit late but hey, I don’t control when Wednesdays fall), talk about your favorite jokesters, pranksters, and funny characters.

This was another hard topic because often it’s hard for a single character to be funny, (except Mark) so it’s hard to pick just one person. But here goes:

1, Loiosh by Steven Brust
Loiosh is the familiar to Vlad Taltos. They have a mental connection so they can silently joke and snark to each other pretty much all the time.

2, Mark Watney by Andy Weir
Mark is one of the first astronauts on Mars. He gets left behind by accident and tries to survive with potatoes and humor.

3, Loki by various authors
Loki is pretty ridiculous in the original Norse myths, at least compared to his Marvel incarnation.

4, the crew of starship Intrepid in Redshirts by John Scalzi
I wasn’t able to pick just one of them. Redshirts is a parody of Star Trek, especially the nameless security people who die all the time. It’s also a comedy.

5, Spider-Man by Marvel
Peter Parker fights crime with puns and powers.

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