July 2018


It’s time for the second mountaineering check point for the Mount TBR challenge:

So….the beginning of July came and went in a Montana-vacation-blur and then my laptop died. Finally got it back today and now I realize that the year is half-way over….Wait! What? How did that happen so quickly? I must have lost track of time just concentrating on the mountain trail ahead of me. But–it’s that time again. Your mountaineering guide is calling for a second quarterly check-in post. Let us know how your climb has been so far. Seen any mountain goats? [I saw some in Montana!] Any particularly pretty wildflowers? How about the abominable snowman? For those who would like to participate in this checkpoint post, I’d like you to do two things:

1. Tell us how many miles you’ve made it up your mountain (# of books read). If you’re really ambitious, you can do some intricate math and figure out how the number of books you’ve read correlates to actual miles up Pike’s Peak, Mt. Ararat, etc. And feel free to tell us about any particularly exciting adventures you’ve had along the way.

I’m going for 24 books but I’ve only completed 12 and reading the 13th, so I’m still two books behind. But I’m determined to catch up before the next checkpoint. I just need to stay away from shiny new books…

2. Complete ONE (or more if you like) of the following:

A. Choose two titles from the books you’ve read so far that have a common link. You decide what the link is–both have strong female lead characters? Each focuses on a diabolical plot to take over the world? Blue covers? About weddings? Find your link and tell us what it is.

Kenneth Oppel’s Airborn and Russell Blake’s Fatal Exchange are both first in a series books from new-to-me authors. I also don’t intend to continue either series. I rather enjoyed Fatal Exchange which is a modern-day thriller set in New York, but I didn’t like the characters enough to continue. Airborn is set in a luxury airship and is steampunk. It also a YA book which I didn’t realize at the time I bought it.

B. Tell us about a book on the list that was new to you in some way–new author, about a place you’ve never been, a genre you don’t usually read…etc.

I’ve got four new-to-me authors in this batch. But the most different one was Anthony Hope’s The Prisoner of Zenda. It was first published in 1894 is an old-fashioned swashbuckling adventure. It’s been filmed several times, but I’ve haven’t seen any of them yet. It’s set in an imaginary country of Ruritania in Europe. I think this was one of the first time (if not the first) when a story is set in an imaginary European country and that trend is still going on today, for example in various superhero comics and movies (for example, Sokovia in Avengers: Age of Ultron).

C. Which book (read so far) has been on your TBR mountain the longest? Was it worth the wait? Or is it possible you should have tackled it back when you first put it on the pile? Or tossed it off the edge without reading it all?

From my BookMooch records I can see that I mooched Anthony Hope’s The Prisoner of Zenda in 2009 so out of these books that has probably been in my tbr the longest. I enjoyed it, so I probably should have read it sooner but I’m glad I’ve read it now.

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The second book in the Supervillainy saga.

Publication year: 2015
Format: Audio
Running time: 6 hours 55 minutes
Narrators: Jeffery Kafer

The book starts right after the first in the series, The Rules of Supervillainy.

Gary Karkofsky came Merciless, the supervillain without mercy, after he found the Cloak which belonged to a superhero before that hero died. Now, he and the Cloak are permanently bonded so, Gary can (and does almost all the time) mentally communicate with the Cloak. It also gives him the power to levitate, shoot forth fire and ice, and a very limited intangibility.

At the endo of the previous book, Gary (and the Cloak) was locked up in supervillain prison (on the Moon) and managed to escape. However, due to a transporter accident, Gary has been away for a month and during that time, zombies have overrun Falconcrest City. First, Gary wants to find his wife Mandy and possibly the rest of his villain team, Diabloman and Red Riding Hood (his ex-girlfriend). Instead, he finds out that his henchpeople have taken over his house and that Mandy has been kidnapped by a supervillain called Angel Eyes.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book. It’s a great riff on superhero comics with the Society of Superheroes having a supervillain prison on the moon, zombies overrunning the whole world, and amazons and dragons fighting alongside Nazi robots! And Gary is becoming more and more a VINO (Villain In Name Only).

Gary is again cracking jokes left and right and throwing sci-fi references all the time. We also get to meet Death. I loved Mandy. In Gary’s absence, she’s taken on superhero identity and is trying to save the city. The characters are a good mix and I enjoyed their banter as much as the wacky twists in the story. The end has a huge surprise and the book ends in a cliffhanger.

The first book in the fantasy series Thieves of Fate.

Publication year: 2017
Format: print
Publisher: Pyr
Page count: 366

This isn’t the ordinary fantasy world set in pseudo Medieval or Renaissance setting. It’s got two other sentient races but it’s far more technologically advanced than usual fantasy worlds. Most people use guns, not swords. All sorts of mechanical contraptions are become more frequent, at least for the wealthier people.

But what really sets this world apart is its religious philosophy. The Theosophy declares that God and Reason are one. Science and religion are one. God is a scientist, and some believe that life is an experiment. The Reverend Doctors are scientists. There’s no magic as such and the book has only one magical element.

This is a very dark world. Poor people are living on the streets and if you take a loan and can’t pay it, you’re thrown into prison and most likely die there. If you have enough money or right connections, you can do any crime you want. The police are corrupt. Some reviews said the world is Dickensian and that’s a good description.

The story has a lot of POV characters and some of them just disappear before the end. One of those was my favorite character and while I really enjoyed the beginning of the story, I was less enthusiastic with the ending. I found the characters sufficient different from each other that I had no problems following who was who.

Rowena Downshire is thirteen and working as a messenger girl for Ivor who handles both legal and illegal post. Ivor’s got a nasty temper and he feeds and pays the kids who works for him as little as possible. Rowena’s mother is in debtors’ prison and she’s trying to earn enough for both keeping fees and for buying her out. When Ivor’s best messenger girl goes missing, Rowena is sent in her place to Reverend Chalmers’ home with important letters. After receiving the letters, Chalmers sends her to the notorious Alchemist. Unfortunately, a lot of people want the book Rowena is now carrying and she’s robbed of the book.

Rare is a thief. She’s been a thief for most of her young life. While she’s been with her master (and lover) at the start of her career, she’s more independent now. She gets some (or most/all?) of her info from her lover Anselm and uses for her own gain. She’s pretty ruthless and when she gets wind of a prize that many people want, she thinks that she can get it first and sell it to the highest bidder.

Anselm Meteron is a retired thief and now owns several legal places in the city. Rare is his primary mistress and while she infuriates her, he’s very fond of her. When the chief inspector of the city, who is in Anselm’s payroll, comes over and acts strangely, Anselm realizes something is wrong.

Reverend Doctor Phillip Chalmers is doing important and controversial work with a book that he thinks will change the dominant religion in the world. He’s also nervous because he knows that not everyone will be pleased with that. When the delivery girl finally brings the letters from his partner, he panics and sends the book to the Alchemist. Just in time, because he’s attacked and imprisoned.

Bess is Ivor’s former delivery girl. Now, she’s a courtesan for smallduke Regenzi and he’s young and handsome and doesn’t want anything too difficult. She’s happy to be in a place which feels much safer to her. However, when Regenzi goes to buy something from the Alchemist, that mysterious old man warns Bess that her companion is far more dangerous than she could have guessed.

These are just the POV characters at start of the book. A couple of more are added later.
The two other sentient races in this world are quite clearly not human. The aigamuxa (aiga) are very strong and they’ve been used as slaves before. Their eyes are on their heels and their heads are eyeless. They usually travel by swinging from trees, like apes. The lanyani are tree-like creatures which are used as servants by some richer people. We don’t get much info about the lanyani but the aiga don’t care for humans. However, the human nations have trampled their habitats so some of them no choice but to live in cities. They can be aggressive and use brute strength in combat. While I love weird creatures (Barsoom’s kaldane and rykors!), I’m afraid the aigas’ lack of sight made them some what ridiculous as a credible threat.

The story has lots of mysteries and some are left for the rest of the series. I liked the beginning and the atmosphere of the book a lot. Most of the characters are also interesting, but my favorite character disappears too quickly. Many fantasy books shy away from religion, so it was interesting to see it explored at length here. And I loved the revelations about Anselm and the Alchemist so I won’t spoil them here.

Still, the ending was a bit too predictable and I couldn’t take the aiga as a threat. Almost every time I kept wondering how can they see to do that. It seems to me that they must have some other way to either see or sense their surroundings pretty well.

Still, I enjoyed the book and intend to pick up the next in the series.

I won this book from Books, Bones, and Buffy blog some months back.

The prequel book to a steampunk fantasy series the Guild Chronicles.

Publication year: 2017
Format: ebook
Publisher: Claymore Ulfberht & Xiphos LLC
Page count: 292 at GoodReads

Frederick “Dolly” Williamson is a detective at Scotland Yard, in Victorian London. When sir Francis Chilton, one of the senior partners in a highly influential bank, is found dried to a husk in his own house, Dolly is sent to investigate. He calls in Rose Caldwell, a former nun who has lots of skills and knowledge of the occult. Unfortunately, she’s also considered a witch by the public as well as Dolly’s colleagues and boss. However, Rose’s alchemical devices and magical talent turn out to be invaluable in the occult mystery. Another man is found similarly murdered, and the Home office hoists upon Dolly two French occultists who claim to know who is responsible and want to help in her capture. However, they have their own goals.

This story is set in quite a complex world with both steampunk devices and alchemical/magical devices. The occultists have variety of powers, able to take over another person’s mind, project themselves to astral plane, and even use devices to prolong their lives, but with the expense of another’s life essence. Rose can also summon angels to help her. But mostly she constructs and uses various magical devices. Some can see what magical events have happened in the past, others protect against spells.

While most people don’t know that magic really works, Dolly has had previous experience with them and knows that magic and magical threats are real. He works as best he can in the ordinary world and in the magical world. However, he’s not keeping the magic a secret nor is anyone expecting him to do so. Most people just don’t believe it. Dolly is a diligent detective and questions, as best he can, the wealthy and influential people affected by this case.

While Rose is a former nun, she didn’t quit because she lost faith. Quite the contrary: she was excommunicated because she dared to learn about the magic and use it. She’s very much out of her luck in this story, barely making enough money to rent a small apartment and drinking everything else. She has some quite interesting friends.

The cast is quite large. In addition to the people connected directly to the case such as the French Necronist guild members, we meet Chinese gangsters, Haitian Voodoo practitioners, London’s own occultists, and workers’ rights activists. The story has many POV characters, as well, even though Dolly and Rose are the main characters. A few characters aren’t directly related to the case, so I presume they play a large role in the series and so are introduced to us already.

While the main mystery is solved, this is obviously the first in series book. The ending opens up a couple of plot threads for the series.

This was an interesting read and a very imaginative setting. Rose was definitely my favorite character and the most distinct one, except for the murderer. I also really enjoyed the idea of the French necronists guild and that was expanded well near the end.

However, the book had a lot of minor errors with spelling, dialog tags, and more.

A stand-alone mystery book in the popular YA series.

Publication year: 1989
Format: print
Publisher: Pocket Books
Page count: 150

This was a nostalgic read. When I was quite young, I read a lot of mysteries aimed at young readers, such as Nancy Drew and Hardy boys along with some series translated from Swedish such as the Detective Twins. But I always read them in translation. So, this is actually the first Nancy Drew book I read in English. This turned out to be part of the Nancy Drew files series aimed at slightly older readers. It’s supposed have romance, as well, but (happily) not in this book. I think the Finnish translations are from the other series.

Jesse Slade is a rock star who vanished three years ago. Paula’s best friend Bess is still a huge fan and when his final concert is shown on tv, she invites Nancy and George to watch it, too. Nancy see something startling: a body falling off a cliff on the background. Bess manages to get them invited to Los Angeles with the cable music TV station, TVR, which aired that last concert. Nancy persuades the manager to let her investigate Slade’s disappearance. The manager only agrees if Nancy goes undercover. She agrees. However, when she starts work, the people at the station are mysteriously hostile towards her.

This is a rather convoluted mystery for such a short book. Nancy and her friends get to know a little bit of the rock TV station’s life.

Nancy is a good role model for girls: eager for adventure and to see justice and goodness to win, happy to help people but she and her adventures don’t question the the American culture they’re set in. Her father is also clearly quite wealthy. Bess and George are her loyal friends who are always with her. George is a tomboy while Bess loves make-up and clothes. We don’t get to know the side characters much.

No doubt this is an exciting adventure to the intended audience, especially those who are interested in (US) rock TV stations.

The last page of the book has a synopsis for Nancy’s next adventure.

Collects All-New X-Men issues 18-21 and X-Men Gold issue 1.

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis, Chris Claremont, Stan Lee, Louise Simonson, Roy Thomas, Fabien Nicieza, Len Wein
Artists: Stuart Immonen, Wade von Grawbadger, Brandon Peterson and Mahmud Asrar, Rob McCloud, Bob Wiacek, Walt Simonson, Pat Oliffe, Jorge Molina, Salvador Larroca, Christ Sotomayor

After the events in the Battle for the Atom cross-over, the teenaged original X-Men and their professor Kitty Pryde decide to join Cyclops’ lunatic team. This also give the chance for Kitty and Illyana to reconnect. They used to be best friends and roommates back in the Xavier school. On the bad side of things (for me), all the teenaged X-Men and panting after Jean.

In the next issues, the team (teenaged X-Men, Kitty, and Illyana) battles the Purifies, religious fanatics who want to clean the Earth of mutants. They were founded by William Stryker. The team also encounters a girl the Purifiers are hunting. The girl is terrified, and Kitty pursues her. She turned out to be Laura Kinney, X-23.
Apparently, she was kidnapped, and terrible things were done to her. Now she wants revenge and the team follows her to the Purifiers’ base.

In the soap opera front, Scott and Laura have feelings for each other. Despite Jean saying that she doesn’t want anything to do with Scott, she’s jealous and spies on them. (Insert eyerolls here.) Oh, and Illyana gave the team their new uniforms. The Purifiers are a great way to show the team how different things are in the here and now than in the sixties. So, the team’s fish out of water experiences continue.

I didn’t enjoy this collection as much as the previous one but it’s still mostly on the fun side. I especially enjoyed the exchange between the bad guys when some of them were arguing that they can’t kill the time-traveled X-Men or the timeline will suffer… as they’ve seen in movies.

The final issue in the collection is a strange one. It’s X-Men Gold vol. 1 issue 1. Apparently, it came out in 2014 but in the X-Men internal chronology it’s set far further in the past, when Kitty Pryde was still very new to the superhero stuff and using the name Ariel, and Scott was still married to Jean’s clone Madelyne and Nathan had not yet been born. Also, Rogue has only just joined the team and the team is coming home to US from Japan where Wolverine was supposed to have been married… but didn’t. So, a huge blast from the past!

In the main story, the team battles a new kind of Sentinel and Kitty gets to show off her leadership skills for the first time. The issue has also four very short back-up stories. The first involves the original X-Men where… Jean apparently has no objection to dating any of the other original X-Men… In the second story, Banshee and Sunfire (whose only other appearance in the collection is in the next story) meet for the first time. In the third story, Wolverine meets the new X-Men for the first time and immediately thinks of how easy it would be to kill the others. The final story is the weirdest of them all. Xavier and Magneto are in some sort of dream world where they helped to build the world into a paradise… or have they?

While I enjoyed seeing the “classic” (for me) X-Men in battle once again, I doubt new readers would get much out of these stories. Also, they’re pretty forgettable so they seem to be pretty much filler.

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish and is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. Yesterday, the topic was Top 10 Favorite novellas/short stories.

This is another really hard one. I’ve read quite a few of shorter stories over the years. Also, older works which were considered books previously would now be novellas, going by length. But here are my current favorites:

1, All Systems Red by Martha Wells
This was a treat because I came into it expecting it to be good, because every review I’ve seen of had been favorable. Often enough this creates too high expectations for the work. But they were right; I thoroughly enjoyed the Murderbot’s adventures.

2, Randall Garrett’s Lord Darcy stories
These stories are set in an alternate universe, where magic takes the place of science, even in criminal investigation. Lord Darcy is the Chief Forensic Investigator or Chief Criminal Investigator for the Duke of Normandy. His sidekick is Master Sean who does most of the magical forensics. Most of the cases take place among the rich and powerful so Lord Darcy must be diplomatic.

3, Mountains of Mourning by Lois McMaster Bujold
This little gem follows Miles Vorkosigan who tries to show his famous dad that he can do stuff, too. It ends up haunting Miles for the rest of his life.

4, A Mere Scutcheon by Nancy Jane Moore
A three musketeers story but the Queen’s musketeers are women! It’s part of her Conscientious inconsistencies collection.

5, Women of Futures Past: Classic Stories, edited by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
This is a wonderful collection of science fiction short stories by very influential women writers. The oldest was written in 1933 and the newest 1989. Rusch’s introduction “Invisible Women” is also well worth reading if you’re at all interested in SF history.

6, Penric fantasy novellas by Lois McMaster Bujold
Ms. Bujold has been writing these shorter stories set in her five gods universe in the recent years. They’re fun and nice reads. I’ve really enjoyed the interaction between Penric and the demon riding inside him. The first one is Penric’s Demon.

7, That Game We Played During the War by Carrie Vaughn
This short story is available for free at tor.com.

8, The Tomato Thief by Ursula Vernon
This was a fun and yet thought-provoking fantasy novelette.

9, Fiction River: Timestreams
I’ve enjoyed all of the Fiction River collections I’ve read so far and this is among the best. I love time travel stories anyway.

10, The Dispatcher by John Scalzi
In this world, people can’t be murdered because anyone who is killed intentionally come back. The main character is a dispatcher: his job is to humanely put down people who need it.

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