May 2019


It’s a funny cozy mystery story in an urban fantasy setting. The murder takes place during a paranormal cheese convention! It’s the second in the Casino Witch mysteries series.

Publication year: 2018
Format: ebook
Page count: 160 (in GoodReads)

About six months have gone by since Ella found out that she’s a mage in the first book, “Of Murders and Mages”. She’s been training both with her official mentor figures and with her father’s friends. This hasn’t left her much time for anything else. Even though her official mentor is Olivia, she’s too busy running the casino to train her. So, Olivia’s aunt Ann, who trains witches for a living, has taken over the training. Ann’s daughter Vanessa is training with Ella and they’ve become close friends. But currently, they’re helping at the Paranormal Cheese Convention.

Vanessa thinks that she can invent a spell that will stuff the goodie bags quicker but has only managed to make the process a lot slower – and then cause an explosion. Vanessa’s mom and brother Vin aren’t impressed and somehow Ella is the one to blame. However, a man has passed away, supposedly from natural causes and Vin takes Ella to confirm that. Ella does that with her magical powers but during her vision she finds out that another man has been murdered.

The former president of the Paranormal Cheese Council has been flattened to death by the world’s largest wedge of cheese (it’s the size of a queen bed). It seems that the man was hated by many people so there’s no shortage of suspects. However, the cheese wedge is owned by Vanessa and Vin’s great-great-grand-mother Granner who’s not happy about her business being interrupted. Vanessa is eager to investigate and drags Ella to the investigation, too.

This was a funny cozy mystery with a lot of things going on. Ella still has a lot to learn about the magical world and about her own powers. Also, the local magical law-enforcement seems to be more than a little threatening and too interested in Ella. Her father was murdered and she don’t know who did it and why, so she tries to avoid any undue attention. Also, she’s strongly attracted to Vin who has now broken up with his former girlfriend. But Vin’s dour nature doesn’t invite Ella to tell him about her emotions.

Vanessa is Ella’s faithful friend and co-investigator. Even though she has trained far longer in magic, her spells makes things explode rather than do what they’re supposed to. Patagonia is Ella’s familiar. She’s a huge black cat who seems to enjoy making Ella trip and stumble. All the mages have cats as familiars.

Granner is a funny new character. She’s around 180 years old and doesn’t allow anyone to get in the way of what she wants. She’s a shrewd businesswoman who has been running her own cheese business for a long time.

I enjoyed the zany cheeses and the mage community. Unfortunately, I don’t really care for Vin and so I don’t really care for the romance, either. Otherwise, I enjoyed this fast-paced short book.

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The fifth book in the Invisible Library fantasy series.

Publication year: 2018
Format: print
Publisher: Pan books
Page count: 418

After stealing a book from world where she was first imprisoned for witchcraft and then escaping the dungeons, Irene is expecting a quiet evening with her former apprentice Kai and Peregrine Vale, the greatest detective in this pseudo-Victorian alternate world. But another Librarian has disturbing news and needs Vale’s skills. A very high-ranking dragon has been murdered and it happened at the worst possible place and time. The fundamental forces of this series’ universe, the dragons of order and the Fae of chaos, are trying to get together a peace treaty. Or at least some of them are. There are factions on both sides who would prefer that not to happen or possibly even a full scale war between them. So, the murder investigation is going to be a very delicate matter, involving high-born Fae and dragons who both have very clear ideas about their own importance. Luckily, neither side has any problems with working with a woman. That prejudice is limited to the place, which is 1890s Paris in as neutral a world as could be found. A world which is in balance between chaos and order.

The Library is an intermediary between the two sides and Irene is drafted into the investigation as the “neutral party”. Joining her will be Vale as the investigator and one dragon and one Fae. Naturally, neither wants their own side to be the culprit. To Irene’s horror, she finds a clue which could mean a Librarian is the murderer. A lot of Librarians are on the spot, working with the dragons and the Fae. But can Irene trust even her own superiors?

Like all of the other books in this series, Mortal Word is highly entertaining. However, the focus is on the investigation rather than action, so it feels a bit different from the previous books in the series. Irene has been dreaming of investigating a murder mystery with the world’s greatest detective and at first she’s thrilled but as problems pile up, she finds out that it’s not as fun as she expected it to be.

In the previous book, the Lost Plot, we got to know a bit more about the dragon society and that knowledge is used here. We also get to know more about both the Fae and the dragon society, especially about the people and customs at the very top. Irene and Kai’s relationship changed at the end of the last book and so Kai isn’t here to smooth things out between Irene and the dragons. In fact, Kai isn’t seen much in the book.

Instead, we get Vale and the two representatives. The dragon representative in the investigative team is Mu Dan, a judge-investigator whose position is quite rare in the dragon society because she’s independent rather than serving her family and liege lord. Unfortunately, it also means that she doesn’t have any powerful patrons and so she’s, well, expendable if need be. She’s sensible and practical, for the most part. The Fae representative was a hoot but I won’t spoil it here.

So, the team is very entertaining. Because of the peace talks, the book has a lot of characters but most of them are distinctive enough that I had no trouble telling them apart. Also, the dragons all have Chinese names, and so do their human servants. I also really enjoyed the most powerful Fae who are each a archetype or a stereotype and can compel people to respond to them as if they’re part of the same story.

Irene is put into a very dangerous position and this time she needs to be politically savvy. She also doesn’t know whom she can trust. Keeping Kai away reinforce her sense of being alone.

I think the Mortal Word can be read without reading the series first, but you get the most out of it by starting with the Invisible Library.

Wyrd and Wonder is a month-long celebration of all things fantasy hosted by Lisa, Imyril, and Jorie. The list of daily prompts can be found here.

These sorts of characters are very common in fantasy (and other genres as well) because it’s easier for the reader to follow along when the main character discovers things, such as the wider world around the character, magic (and how it works) no matter if the character already knows that magic exists or not, the supernatural world (and how it works), or a group of people and their relationship. It also brings in elements of mystery.

Urban fantasy has many, many of these types of characters. They start in the “real world” and know how it works and we readers also know how it works. However, then something happens and the characters gets information about the supernatural world around her or him. As the characters get to know more about that hidden world and the people in it, so do we readers. It’s very common for the main character to be a teenager (or even younger) and so she or he is also looking for their place in the world while they find out about the supernatural world. However, sometimes the main character is an adult. For example, in Kat Richardson’s Greywalker the main character is already a private investigator.

Another example would be Marvel’s Doctor Strange movie where Strange is already a famous surgeon when his hands are injured and he must seek supernatural aid.

An extreme example of fish-out-water story is the portal fantasy where people from the “real” world travel to a fantasy world. Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures is Wonderland and Lewis’ Narnia books are the classic examples in children’s books. However, there are a few books where adults travel to a fantasy land, such as Guy Gavriel Kay’s Fionavar tapestry and Alis S. Rasmussen’s Labyrinth Gate.

However, my current favorite fish out of water -situation comes from Lois McMaster Bujold’s novella Penric’s Demon. Penric is young man who doesn’t know much about the supernatural side of his world. (In fact, those of us who have read the Chalion books know more about it than he does. But the novella can be read very well without reading any of Bujold’s other work first.) He’s technically a nobleman but the youngest and his family is not terribly wealthy one. In fact, at the start of the story he’s about to marry a cheese merchant’s daughter who he doesn’t love but he knows that the girl would bring needed wealthy to his family.

But instead, he meets with a dying old woman and his life is changed forever when the woman’s demon jumps into Penric. In this world, demons are bodyless creatures. They start out almost animal-like but grow in intelligence when they move from one creature’s body to another. This demon, whom Penric names Desdemona and who considers herself female, has had many human hosts and so she’s very intelligent and knowledgeable. Although “she” has as many personalities as she has had hosts because each of them has left a strong impression the demon. She also serves one of the five deities of this world. When she jumped into Penric, that means the Penric, as well, must abandon his previous plans and join the religious order.

Penric is a charming protagonist; kind, generous, and studious. He wants to study but the family couldn’t afford it. Luckily for him, he’s now pretty much obligated to become a scholar. He also has lots to learn. Throughout the novellas, he forms a very interesting relationship with his demon. And of course since Desdemona is always present, she can’t help but to influence his other relationships, as well.

I very much enjoy these novellas. They focus on characters and their interaction and don’t really have much violence

One of my favorite writers, Kristine Katryn Rusch, has created a Kickstarter project to get the newest Diving universe book out. It’s a stand-alone science fiction book. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the series.

The Kickstarter has funded and even reached it’s fourth stretch goal. So, now just by supporting it with five dollars, you can get loads of cool stuff, including a new Diving universe novella, a bunch of Rusch’s short stories, and a lot of swag for writers.

Wyrd and Wonder is a month-long celebration of all things fantasy hosted by Lisa, Imyril, and Jorie. The list of daily prompts can be found here.

One of the main reasons of why I love fantasy are the wonderful unreal locations, the more different from my life, the better. I do also read books set in generic Medieval settings or modern urban cities but I always prefer more exotic locations. Oh, and except for Cogman’s series, all of them are complete.

Amber by Roger Zelazny
First seen in “Nine Princes in Amber”. In this universe, there a just two contrasting real worlds: Amber and Chaos. All other worlds are just reflections of them. So, the people of Amber, more specifically the royal family, can walk anywhere in those other worlds, called the Shadows. The Shadows can be, and are, anything: one world is our modern world, the next a Star Wars type science fiction world. Quite a few are far less developed agrarian worlds. And the characters travel to many of these in just one book. First book: “Nine Princes in Amber”

Discworld by Terry Pratchett
Being a whole world (on the back of a turtle) Discworld, too, has many locations. Perhaps my favorite is the city of Ankh-Morpork which is suspiciously similar to London.
It’s a walled city with the river Ankh running through it. And Pratchett says it so much better:
“A city like Ankh-Morpork was only two meals away from chaos at the best of times.”
“It wasn’t that the city was lawless. It had plenty of laws. It just didn’t offer many opportunities not to break them.”
“Throat took a deep breath of the thick city air. Real air. You would have to go a long way to find air that was realer than Ankh-Morpork air. You could tell just by breathing it that other people had been doing the same thing for thousands of years “
Most Discworld books are stand-alones and they can be read in any order. I love the city watch books (first one: “Guards! Guards!”) and the witches books (first one: “Equal Rites”).

Menzoberranzan by R. A. Salvatore
The vast underground city of the drow, or the dark elves, is led by the Matriarchs of the most powerful families who are also high priestesses of the spider goddess Lolth. They are an evil and cruel race whose city is full of schemers and terrible places.
Not all Drizzt books are set in Menzoberranzan but the Dark Elf trilogy is. It follows Drizzt’s childhood and struggle to escape the city: “Homeland”, “Exile”, and “Sojourn”.

Divine Cities series by Robert Jackson Bennett
In Bennett’s series, divine beings literally lived on the Continent. They influence pretty much everything in the lives of their people. They also enslaved the city without a god to defend it, Saypur. However, 75 years go the people of Saypur rebelled and found a way to killed the divinities. They conquered what was left of the Continent after the divinities died. Now, strange this are happening on the continent again. The series focuses on two cities Bulikov in the first and third book and Voortyashtan in the second book. These are cities where natural laws didn’t apply when their patron gods were alive and when they left, things changed dramatically.
The trilogy is “City of Stairs”, “City of Blades”, and “City of Miracles”.

Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman
Somewhat reminiscent of Amber, this universe has many, many alternate worlds. They have different levels of technology and they’re also on different scales in the chaos/order spectrum. In chaotic worlds, magic is possible and might even be more prominent than science. Chaos is personified by the Fae and order by dragons. They’re powerful and hostile to each other and the Librarians try to stay neutral between them. The Librarians can travel from world to world using their Library which seems to exist in the middle of the worlds.
The first book is “Invisible Library”.

Temeraire series by Naomi Novik
In this world, dragons are huge and used for aerial combat instead of any sorts of airplanes. The Napoleonic wars are still going strong with lots of dragons on both sides. In England, the Dragon Corps are scorned not just by the other military branches but especially by civilians. Most people thing that dragons are just animals to be used, even though they can talk and are clearly intelligent. The dragon characters are great! Also, different cultures view dragons very differently. For example, in China dragons are hugely respected and they’re part of society, unlike in England.
The first book is “His Majesty’s Dragon” (or “Temeraire” in UK).

Seattle in the Clockwork Century series by Cherie Priest
In this world, Seattle is a walled off-city where only the most desperate people live. The city has been tainted by gas which kills people and animates their bodies. The world around it has also changed, but I really enjoyed the claustrophobic Seattle when our heroine Briar Wilks must descent there, to look for her teenaged son. And added bonus is that Briar is a middle-aged heroine, who are still quite rare in fantasy.
The first book is “Boneshaker”.

Chief inspector Chen series by Liz Williams
While this series is set in the future, it has plenty of fantasy elements. Chen is a police officer in Singapore Three and he gets all the cases which have any supernatural elements. Soon enough, he gets a new partner Zhu Irsh, who is a demon from Chinese Hell. The case takes Chen to Hell. Even though most people don’t seem to really believe it, human souls (or at least the souls which lived and died in the Chinese culture because there are hints that European afterlife is somewhat different) go the Heaven or Hell according to how well the surviving members of the family have dealt with the Celestial and the Hellish bureaucracy. If the right permits are signed and offerings made, a soul should go to Heaven. However, it’s also possible to get special visas for a living human to visit Hell. Chen has one so that he can investigate cases.
The first book is “Snake Agent”.

Of course I must end this piece with one of the most weirdly wonderful fantasy worlds ever:
Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Full whimsy and delight, with a dash of more darker tones, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is deservedly a classic.

Oh dear, reminiscing about all this wonderful series, I now want to reread all of them. And I have such a huge stack of TBR books waiting.

Collects issues 1-5 of Through the Mirror.

Writers: David Tipton and Scott Tipton
Artists: J. K. Woodward, Marcus To, Chris Johnson, Josh Hood, Carlos Nieto, Débora Caríta
Publication year: 2018
Publisher: IDW

I’m a fan of alternate universes. This comic is set in Star Trek’s Mirror universe and in the same timeline as the Deep Space 9 Mirror episodes. It’s a sequel to the Mirror Broken comic.

The story starts with Worf and a couple of Enterprise-D’s security people doing an inspection of Starfleet mining facility on Naia VII. Someone has been stealing equipment and the mined resources. At first, the Enterprise people don’t notice anything strange but then Worf sees an Enterprise crewman, Jones, who shouldn’t be there. And he’s has goatee! When Worf tries to talk with Lieutenant Jones, he fires on Worf and his people. They chase him but he managed beam away, together with Commander Riker, who has two braids on his beard and La Forge who has artificial eyes instead of his visor.

Back on the Enterprise, Lieutenant Jones denies leaving the Enterprise and the logs back him up. However, the Enterprise receives a distress call from an Andorian battle cruiser. They’re very tough so the crew has bad feelings about it. They find the cruiser has only a few survivors and they accuse humans of attacking them. The ship has been stripped of everything of use. On the security logs, Riker and Picard are shocked when they see their own faces.

Then we switch to the Mirror universe crew. Their Picard has a bold plan: to infiltrate Enterprise-D, force the crew to abandon ship, and take the Enterprise for himself. To do that, he sends inquisitor Troi and Lieutenant Reg Barcley to Enterprise-D.

This was fun. Our crew figured pretty quickly what was going on. The Mirror universe crew used a (regrettably short but hilarious) holoprogram to train Barcley to interact in our universe, or at least the way they thought the “our” universe would be like. Everyone would complement everyone all the time. Also, the infiltration duo has first season’s uniforms so Troi is in the short skirt uniform with a head band. That was really a blast from the past! Unfortunately, the interactions between the Mirror crew and the Prime crew were far too short. Beverly was barely there at all and even Wesley was just working on the background.

The final story is “Ripe for Plunder” which is set some months before the main story. In it, Data goes looking for Emperor Spock. This was also a fun little story, with only Picard and Data appearing from the TNG crew. It was a little shocking to see how ruthless this Data is.

“Ripe for Plunder” is the only story with painted art and for some reason it seemed to fit the story and characters much better than in the previous collection. The main story has more ordinary art by several artists which was mostly ok.

I felt that the story was too brief. I would’ve loved to see more interaction between the crews. Especially when Troi went to Enterprise-D, I was looking forward to her confronting “our” Troi but that didn’t happen. She did meet Riker but that was far too brief. I was kind of disappointed with Barcley’s big role because I would have wanted to follow a more prominent character. He did find out how the crew treats the “our” Barcley and wasn’t too pleased with it. In fact, the story ends with a cliffhanger. Happily, the Humble Bundle’s Star Trek bundle does have Terra Incognita so I’ll be soon diving in to that, even though it promises more Barcley. (I don’t hate him or anything, he’s just one of the least interesting choices as the focus character.)

Collects X-Men Red issue 6-11.

Writer: Tom Taylor
Artists: Mahmud Asrar

This comic was discontinued far too soon. It was building up steam and high concepts but then it just ended.

Cassandra Nova is targeting the original Jean and her team. They’re in Atlantis so Nova sends a teenaged Hulk to attack it. At the same time, Jean has sent Gambit, Nightcrawler, Trinary, the new Wolverine and her sister to retrieve a phone from the murdered UK ambassador’s things. Since phones record everything around it, it has the brief conversation between Jean and Nova which could prove that Jean didn’t murder the ambassador. Meanwhile, the people of Atlantis are building Searebro to enhance the abilities of both Jean and Trinary. It seems to be a kind of new Cerebro except that other people can use it, rather than just telepaths.

Most of the fighting in the collection is two-fold: Jean versus Nova on the psychic plane and Trinary versus tiny sentinel nanites. Nova is keeping Forge under her mental command and has forced him to invent nanites which Nova implants into humans. These so-called sentinites detect mutants and make the carrier attack them. We also get a brief Jean versus Rachel fight. (Poor Rachel; despite her powers, she’s constantly mentally controlled.)

The team is just starting to form and work together when the comic ended. While most of the plot lines are tied together, it felt a bit rushed. But overall I really enjoyed the two volumes and even the new characters.

I rather liked the hopeful ending. I also think this could be fitting end for Nova, but I doubt it will stick for long. Presumably, the team also rescued Forge, although we didn’t see it.

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