December 2020


Collects Thanos issues 13-18. (2016)

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Writer: Donny Cates
Artists: Geoffrey Shaw
Publisher: Marvel

Considering what 2020 has been like, I thought it would be appropriate to close my reading year with this collection. I guess you could even say it was inevitable ;).

It’s pretty much what it says in the title. Thanos has just conquered the savagely terrible “warrior” race of the Chitauri when Cosmic Ghost Rider arrives. Thanos tries to simply kill him but can’t. Instead the new Ghost Rider takes Thanos to a ride to the future. They arrive to a dead world where only one person lives: old Thanos who has killed almost everyone.

The younger Thanos isn’t impressed. He thinks the older version has given up and is just a shadow of himself now. Of course, there are lots of battle scenes, both about old Thanos’ previous battles and a couple of current ones. One issue tells the story of this new Ghost Rider. The collection ends with an Annual which is itself a collection of short tales over the millennia of Thanos’ life.

This turned out to be a bit too depressing read so I won’t be reading the rest of the Thanos series. But an appropriate ending to the reading year.

A collection of novellas and short stories set in these writers’ own worlds, except for Marr.

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Publication year: 2009
Page count: 358
Publisher: EOS

Originally, I bought this collection for Drake’s story because I love her Dark Days series. The only one I haven’t read before is Marr. All of these stories assume that the reader is familiar with the world and the characters.

Ley Line Drifter by Kim Harrison: The main character in this story is the pixie Jenks who is Rachel’s main sidekick in the Hollows series. A strange pixie enters his home but the pixie is there ask for help and not try to challenge him. After thinking it over, Jenks agrees to try to help him.

I love Jenks and this a great story about him. However, it’s further along the series than I’ve read and refers to things I don’t know about. Also, Harrison doesn’t open the world or the characters at all but assumes that the reader is familiar with the violent world of the pixies in the Hollows series. Also, the story is left unresolved.

Reckoning by Jeaniene Frost: the main character in this story is the vampire Bones. New Orleans’ vampire queen summons him. Her closest minion gives Bones the task of killing a pair of ghouls who eat their victims alive. Also, another vampire is hunting Bones.

Bones is a very powerful and charming vampire and uses his powers of seduction and intimidation to the max. He’s the main love interest in the Night Huntress series but carried this story alone well. Also, I think this story stood alone better.

Dark Matters by Vicki Pettersson: This is the story of the parents of Pettersson’s Signs of the Zodiac series. A superhero has an affair with a supervillain. They know from the start that their relationship is doomed because they can’t alter their behavior or destiny. But they’d drawn together anyway.

I really don’t care for the way that the characters are born to good or evil in Pettersson’s series, so the story didn’t work for me.

The Dead, the Damned, and the Forgotten by Jocelynn Drake: Fire Starter vampire Mira is the Keeper of her town of Savannah. Most supernatural people in her town know to keep their secrets from human eyes. When a vampire is killed and left for humans to find, Mira has a big problem in her hands, especially when another vampire comes to town, intending on dragging Mira to Venice for punishment if she can’t solve the murder quickly.

This was a great Mira story, set right before the series starts. It gives her and her second in command Knox relationship a little bit more depth. Fans of the series won’t be disappointed.

Two Lines by Melissa Marr: this is apparently her first adult supernatural thriller. Eavan was born to a family of monsters, the glaistig, who feat of sex and death. Eavan doesn’t want to be a monster like them, she wants to stay a human. So she has avoided both so far. But now she’s become obsessed with a very attractive drug dealer who is drugging young women senseless and selling them. Eavan wants to stop that but doesn’t want to kill him and is very attracted to him. The matriarch of her family, Nyx, wants to turn Eavan to a full glaistig and forces a very attractive bodyguard on her. The bodyguard, Cillian Owens works for Crypto Drug Administration and knows something about the supernatural world. However, he’s less than thrilled when Nyx bribes and threatens him to become Eavan’s bodyguard. But he takes his job very seriously. Eavan is also very attracted to Cillian and doesn’t want him to get to any danger because of her.

This was an entertaining story with a lot of sexual tension.

These were entertaining stories but I’m not sure how well the first four will open to readers who aren’t familiar with the series.

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish and is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. Today, the topic is Top Ten Favorite Reads of 2020.

I read less than usual this year but that’s because I’ve concentrated on my writing. Also, most of the books I’ve read this year have been solid three or four stars so they were very entertaining but with only a few stand-outs. I did manage to read or listen and review 55 books and 38 comics. Also, I loathed the WordPress change. I want the classic design back. 😦

1, Martha Wells: Network Effect

The first full length novel in the Murderbot series and I loved it to bits.

2, Alison Morton: Insurrectio and Alison Morton: Retalio

Yes, they’re two books but Retalio continues were Insurrection left off, so I must include them both. Great alternate reality thrillers with a headstrong and independent female main character, who is in her forties.

4, T. Kingfisher: The Clockwork Boys and T. Kingfisher: The Wonder Engine

This is a really big book cut in half. It’s a fantasy comedy with a cursed ex-paladin, a burglar, an assassin, and a naive young scholar as the main characters.

5, Alex White: A Big Ship at the Edge of Universe

This was a fast-paced, fun space adventure that mixed magic and sciences fiction

6, Heist with Michael Caine

This is actually a series of podcasts about real life heists around the world. Fascinating stuff.

7, Trevol Swift: Justicar Jhee and the Cursed Abbey

This is a murder mystery in a fantasy world, where the characters aren’t human but feline. The main character is a middle-ages magistrate who stumbles on murders in an abbey.

Comics

This year I started a huge reread of Modesty Blaise comics. I love them almost as much now as when I was quite a bit younger. So I had far better luck with reading comics this year than books.

Peter O’Donnell and Neville Colvin: the Scarlet Maiden

It’s very hard to pick just one favorite MB album. But I’ll go with the Scarlet Maiden simply because that name story is one of my favorites because of the whimsical elements.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: Terra Incognita

I can’t resist a bit of Terran Empire every now and then. These stories focus on Mirror Universe Barcley who is undercover in the usual Enterprise and they were quite entertaining.

Takuma Morishige: My Neighbour Seki vol. 1-3

This goofy school manga series was a great change of pace. Rumi Yokoi is a studious and quiet girl who just wants to study but unfortunately, she sits next to Seki who does everything else than study. To amuse himself, he invents the most elaborate games from building long domino rows to inventing a whole new games with chess pieces.

Fantastic Four/Avengers: Domination Factor

I also reread some comics from 1990s. I’ve forgotten how much I enjoyed this goofy time-traveling Avengers/FF crossover.

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Collects Excalibur (2018) 7-11.

Writer: Tini Howard

Artists: Wilton Santos, Marcus To

This collection is clearly divided to two story archs. The first one is a hunt but this time Excalibur is hunting Warwolves, the wolf-like silver beings from the first volume in 1990s. I believe they’re originally from Mojoworld. Then we’re solidly back in Otherworld and dimension hopping, reality altering stuff.

Apocalypse needs the skulls of Warwolves in order to establish a gateway to Otherworld. The Warwolves are imprisoned in London Zoo so our heroes head there. Except that the Warwolves aren’t there. Cullen Bloodstone has acquired them. Betsy goes to see him and he invites our heroes to his manor, to hunt the Warwolves. Then Excalibur talks a bit about if it’s okay to kill intelligent beings. But since Warwolves have killed innocent people, they decide it’s ok. Of course, the hunt doesn’t go as planned.

In the next story, people in London hate mutants. They burn images of Jean Gray and professor Xavier and the gates to Krakoa. Kitty and Rachel come to the rescue with a flying ship. However, Betsy needs to go the lighthouse and she heads to the Starlight Citadel which used to be the home of the Captain Britain Corps. But Opal Luna Saturnyne, who commanded the Corps, doesn’t like Betsy. So she sends her own, new battalion of priestesses against Excalibur. Fighting ensues!

Meanwhile, Jame Braddock with his reality-altering powers is getting bored so he creates his own realities!

A lot is going on in this series. It also uses the Hickman style of storytelling giving us a page of backstory at least once an issue.

The second story is weird. But I love weird X-Men stories. Is it one of those… maybe? I’m mostly enjoying it. I still don’t care about Rictor or Apocalypse. And Gambit is weirdly grumpy all the time. And it ends clearly in the middle of a story, in a cliff-hanger. Also, I think the upcoming crossovers probably limited the storyline and the characters available.

Some characters from the original Excalibur comic make an appearance. Most noticeably Peter Wisdom who is Britain’s agent and works as a liaison between the team and the Queen. Kitty and Rachel’s appearances are way too brief.

I am rather excited about the strange new reality and how our Excalibur is going to react to meeting their counterparts.

Happy Holidays for everyone who is celebrating!

My next Robin Hood story is on Amazon!

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Happy Christmas Robin Hood is a Christmas short story.

I lots of fun writing it because I used one my favorite tropes: enemies forced to work together, for a while at least.

The ruthless Sheriff of Nottingham has cancelled the Christmas feast for the poor. But Robin Hood has barely time to wonder what’s going on, when he’s knocked unconscious. He wakes up in a cart, tied up. Next to him is the Sheriff, also a prisoner. Can they overcome their loathing for each other long enough to escape?

“Happy Christmas Robin Hood” is a fun historical fantasy short story

The first book in the alternate reality/steampunk Burton and Swinburne series but can be read as a stand-alone.

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Publication year: 2010
Format: Audio
Running time: 14 hours
Narrator: Gerard Doyle

This story is set in1861 in Albertian England. Victoria was assassinated when she was young and King Albert is a recluse as a monarch. This book has a gorgeously realized alternate reality where Charles Darwin’s theories have greatly diminished the importance of religion and London’s streets are filled with various steampunk engines and also enhanced animals. Two very different factions influence British society: Techonologists and Eugenicists. The first ones, of course, create machines while the second faction create genetically enhanced animals which work in very specialized areas, such as parakeet who deliver messages. Then there are the Libertines who want everyone of be free of social conventions. The Rakes take the Libertines’ values even further to callous sexual and drug addled deviancy without any restrictions at all.

Sir Richard Francis Burton is a renowned scholar and explorer. He and his former partner John Speke explored Africa and Middle-East a lot. As a consequence, his reputation is bad. Still, when king Albert calls him to serve, he can’t say no. However, the missions will put him in jeopardy and as a result, he breaks up his engagement with Isabel Arundel. Her parents are very relieved but she takes it badly.

Burton is charged with finding man-wolfs who are apparently kidnapping poor children. And he meets with the Spring Heeled Jack who is pretty much a bogey man in this London. The Jack roughs him up and demands that Burton “do what he’s supposed to do”. When Burton tells about this strange encounter to the Prime minister, he orders Burton to find out more about the Jack.

Burton’s closest associate Algernon Swinburne is a young “failed poet” who drinks too much and longs for life-threatening adventure so that knows that he’s alive. He practically forces his help on Burton.

This was a strange book, as the title promised, with alternate history turned up to ten. I’m not so sure that Queen Victoria’s death alone would have caused all this and later we found out that it didn’t.

Many historical people appear in the story and a couple of them are dragged in the mud as the villains. I didn’t know about them so I won’t spoil the surprises from anyone else. Burton and Swinburne are both historical figures, themselves. Spring-heeled Jack is also a real historical mythical figure.

The last third of the book really goes deep into the Jack and I found it fascinating.

The writing style is quite, er, Victorian. Especially at the start we’re told pretty much everything about the characters and their backstory. Shameless info dumps abound. The steampunk technology is very comic book like. If you like the writing style, I think you’ll like the book.

I liked it enough that I might read the sequel at some point.

The third book in the Aurelia Mitela alternate reality thriller trilogy.

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Publication year: 2019
Format: ebook
Page count: 338 at GoodReads
Publisher: Pulcheria Press

A year ago, Aurelia Mitela was secure and happy in her life. She was the foreign minister of Roma Nova, a former special forces major, and as a Countess she was also the head of her family. Her daughter has married and moved to EUS. But after Caius Tellus usurped the throne of Roma Nova and ruthlessly pursued everyone in the legitimate government, Aurelia barely escaped with her life. Now, she’s officially an exile and thanks for Caius’ very public lies, even the small group of other Roman Novan exiles think that she’s betrayed her country and her honor. They want nothing to dow with her. Even her former friends have turned away from her which breaks her heart. Only her lover Miklos still believes in her.

Aurelia is still recovering from a near fatal shooting but she must stand up to the other exiles and convince them that even with their small resources, they must start a plan to retake Roma Nova. But Caius sends both assassins and legal teams after her. She turns to her old allies, both political and personal. But many won’t help her, at least publicly.

The final book in the trilogy continues shortly after the end of the previous one, Insurrectio. It’s mainly political intrigue but Aurelia has assassins after her and she goes on a scouting mission to Roma Nova.

Caius was a smooth manipulator in the previous books. Now, he shows his ruthless side. He believes that women are too emotional to lead and enacts laws that force women not only to step down as business owners and soldiers, but make them legally beholden to a man; husband, father, or brother. Not surprisingly, the independent Roma Novan women loath this and Caius’ soldiers enforce the laws brutally. Aurelia sees this from a distance but it’s still quite disturbing. Of course, many men are against these laws, too.

This is set in 1980s so it’s also historical fiction. It’s fast-paced and entirely from the first-person POV from Aurelia. This was an excellent ending to the series.

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish and is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. Today, the topic is Top ten books on my winter TBR list.

All of them! I’d very much like to read every unread book on my shelves. I’m also thinking of rereading books next year.

1, Fire & Ice by Trish Heinrich
The second book in the Heroes of High Tide superhero series. I thoroughly enjoyed her Vigilante series and I’m looking forward to continuing the journey with Colleen and Karen.

2, Domesticating Dragons by Dan Kobodlt
I enjoyed his Gateways to Alissia series where a stage magician ended up in a world were magic was real. This sounds like Jurassic Park except with dragons rather than dinosaurs.

3, Anno Dracula by Kim Newman
I bought this alternate reality book over a year ago and I really want to read it. I love the concept where Count Dracula has married Queen Victoria.

4, Princess Bride
I love the movie. Another book I bought over a year ago and I really should read it already.

5, Mary Robinette Kowal’s the Relentless Moon
The third book in the Lady Astronaut of Mars alternate reality series. I loved the first two.

6, Aliette de Bodard’s the Citadel of Weeping Pearls
“The Citadel of Weeping Pearls was a great wonder; a perfect meld between cutting edge technology and esoteric sciences-its inhabitants capable of teleporting themselves anywhere, its weapons small and undetectable and deadly.
Thirty years ago, threatened by an invading fleet from the Dai Viet Empire, the Citadel disappeared and was never seen again.” I enjoy de Bodard’s inventive scifi and really want to read this one.

7, Feed by Mira Grant
Mira Grant is Seanan McGuire’s pen name and I love McGuire’s Toby Daye series. This is very different, a zombie apocalypse book but in a blog format.

8, Elizabeth Wayland Barber’s Women’s work, the first 20,000 years.
Another book which has been on my selves for way too long.

9, S. A. Corey’s Babylon’s Ashes and Persepolis Rising
The next two books in the Expanse series are waiting for me.

10, Marvel comics
I broke down and bought a year of Marvel Unlimited so next year will feature a lot of Marvel stuff and Star Wars.

So many books, so little time.

This is Somethin’ Else production for Audible Originals podcast.

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In this series Michael Caine narrates for us real life heists. He tells about the criminals who did the heists, the people trying to catch them, and also the people caught up in the situation. Many of them have been interviewed for the podcast. The robberies were done in different countries.

The series has six episodes. They’ve all been fascinating and not just told about the crime itself but the criminal culture leading to them and making them possible. I don’t usually care for true crime or memoirs (which is the other category this podcast belongs to) but this one I’ve enjoyed a lot. The heists don’t use much violence. In fact, the criminal avoid it as much as they can.

The first episode is “Underneath the Diamond Town” and it’s set in Antwerp, Belgium, the diamond capital of the world. We hear about the security and how the supposedly impregnable vault was breached.

The second episode is “You Gotta Have Balls” and is tells about the biggest bank robbery in 1972 in US. We get to know about the FBI agents who chased the robbers.

The third episode is “The Transylvania University Book Heist” which happened in the university in question in Kentucky. The librarian who was working during the heist tells us about her experience.

The fourth episode is “All the Money is Stockholm” and tells about a helicopter heist in 2009. A literary writer is contracted to write about this heist and he interviews the criminals.

The fifth episode is “The 150 Million Dollar Fax” where the thieves robbed the Australian government for 150 million. It’s considered to be the first large heist where the robbers never had to enter the bank they robbed.

The sixth episodes is “How Do You Plan a Heist?” where the series creator and Caine look at “the social and security implications that the stories in this series have thrown up.” Even though people enjoy watching movies like Ocean’s 11, in real life the robberies have consequences. And today more and more crimes are done preying of vulnerable people without ever meeting them.

Caine is a good narrator and the cases are fascinating. However, the podcast has a musical soundtrack which can be distracting.

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