1st in a series 2012


The first book in the Thursday Next series set in an alternate universe.

Publication year: 2001
Page count: 373
Format: print
Publisher: Hodder

The book is set in an alternate 1985 Great Britain where the Crimean war with the Russians is still going on. Goliath Corporation is the biggest company in Britain and pretty much runs the country. The people are very enthusiastic about art, especially literature, to the point that people change their names to classical poets and instead of door-to-door missionaries, they have the Baconists who go door-to-door and try to convince people that Francis Bacon wrote Shakespeare’s plays. Also, Welsh is an independent country and since the war is with Russians, it seems that the Soviet Union never existed.

Thursday Next is a veteran of the Crimean war and now a LitraTec, a literature detective, stationed in London with her pet dodo. The original manuscript of Martin Chuzzlewit is robbed in broad daylight and nobody saw anything. Thursday investigates the scene but doesn’t find any clues. Then SO-5 operative contacts her and drafts her into finding the fiendish villain who has stole the manuscript, Acheron Hades. Hades is a psychotic master villain with powers nobody else has and he can even hear it when someone says his name so its use is avoided.

Thursday and two other operatives stake out Hades’ brother’s place and soon Hades shows up. The operatives attack but things go sadly wrong. Thursday is the only operative left alive and Hades escapes again. However, Hades’ getaway car crashes and he’s believed to be dead.

When Thursday is recovering in hospital, she sees a brightly colored sports car appear in the middle of the hospital room and a familiar looking woman shouts to her to take a job in Swindon. Then the car vanished and it takes a few moments for Thursday to realize that the woman was… herself.

Swindon is Thursday’s home town and she’s reluctant to return there. However, she thinks that she should listen to herself and returns.

I really enjoyed the setting of the book; it’s full of little scenes that make me laugh. For example, Thursday goes to see a Richard III play where members of the audience are also the actors and the rest of the audience joins in the performance. Also, Thursday goes to Swindon to replace a LitraTec operative who was “shot to death during a bookbuy that went wrong”. The Swindon office has two officers who specialize on Shakespeare related crimes: “They keep an eye on forgery, illegal dealing and overtly free thespian interpretations. The actor with them was Graham Huxtable. He was putting on a felonious one-man performance of Twelfth Night.” I was laughing out loud, in a bus.

However, Acheron Hades was a bit too much a mustache-twirling bad guy who was doing evil because he liked doing evil. Each chapter of the book starts with a quote from another in-world book or a news article, and in one quote, from Hades’ book (Degeneracy for Pleasure and Profit), he even admits that “the best reason for committing loathsome and detestable acts – and lets face it, I am considered something of an expert in this field – is purely for their own sake.” He has some pretty strange assistants, though.

Thursday has a lot of emotional baggage. She fought in the Crimean war ten years ago and her brother was there, too. Thursday survived but her brother didn’t. Also, one of Thursday’s fellow officers said that her brother was steering the attack to the wrong place and her brother got a bad reputation because of that. That fellow officer was Landen Parke-Laine, Thursday’s fiancee. Thursday broke the engagement after that. Landen lives in Swindon so Thursday knows that she has to meet again the man she still loves.

I thoroughly enjoyed Thursday’s uncle Mycroft. He’s an inventor and brought to my mind Doc Brown from the Back to the Future movies. However, Mycroft’s inventions involve, of course, literature. He invented the Prose Portal though which a real person can get into a book and a book’s character can go to the real world. The bookworms were also very entertaining.

Unfortunately, the rest of the cast weren’t really memorable to me. Despite that, I enjoyed the book and I’m likely going to read the next one, Lost in a Good Book, which to my surprise is in the library.

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My newest review: K. A. Stewart: Devil in the Details.

Now this is urban fantasy I like! The main character is a modern day samurai and he’s happily married.

The first in a mystery series starring amateur detective China Bayles.

Publication year: 1992
Page count: 306
Format: print
Publisher: Berkley

China Bayles owns the Thyme and Seasons Herb Shop in Pecan Springs. About two years ago, she was a highly successful attorney but she got fed up with the high pressure life, quit and bought the shop. She enjoys the peace and her friends. She’s just started to make some money out of the shop.

One of her friends, Jo, is dying of cancer but she’s still a prominent woman in town and vigorously opposing a plan to build an airport near the town. Then, she’s dies. At first it looks like Jo has killed herself but Jo’s daughter and China’s best friend Ruby are insisting that she could do that. China is drawn into investigating her friends life and the various people who gather for her funeral.

I thought this whole books was rather charming. The characters are quirky but not too weird. China herself knows what she wants and doesn’t bow to anyone. Even when her lover wants a more permanent relationship, China doesn’t give into to his pressure. By the way, the relationship between China and her boyfriend is a definite plus. McQuaid is former cop and current teaches at the local university, he’s divorced with a kid. No teenage romance here! Bubba Harris, the town’s chief of police, looks like a hick but he seems to know what he’s doing. Ruby, of course, is one of them most eccentric character. She’s also left a hectic life before quitting it, and her unsatisfying marriage, to run a New Age shop next to China’s herb shop. She’s convinced that Jo couldn’t have killed herself and is determined to find out who murdered her.

Jo’s daughter Meredith is in town on vacation from her hectic life. However, Jo and Meredith have estranged to the point that Meredith is bitter to her mother for pushing her away. Apparently, Jo’s marriage was an unhappy one and Meredith feels that Jo took care of her out of duty instead of love.

One of the themes of the book are the relationships between mothers and daughters. China has a difficult relationship with her alcoholic mother and Meredith was estranged from her mother. China thinks: “But is wasn’t just her alcoholism that made my mother unknowable. It was the nearly overwhelming idea of mother, a woman who was me and yet-not-me, from whom I had somehow, by some complicated and tricky maneuver, to separate myself. I wondered whether any of us ever really knew out mothers, yet whether we could ever be successful in knowing ourselves apart from them.”

Often it’s very hard to see our own parents as just people.

It’s interesting that in the middle of reading this book, I finished another short book which also dealt with mothers and daughters: Karen Wyle’s Wander Home. That book is set in an afterlife where people, family members included, are very supportive of each other. That’s not always the case in real life, though. In both books, women outnumber the male characters and that’s always refreshing.

I’ll probably continue with this series at some point. Some Amazon comments say that the writer’s other series are better and now I’m tempted to try one of them.

The first book in the Vicky Bliss mystery series

Publication year: 1973
Page count: 244
Format: print
Publisher: Robinson

Vicky Bliss is a history teacher in a small Mid-western collage. When she finds out that a famous sixteenth century German woodcarver might have left behind an unknown masterpiece, she travels to Germany to find it. However, her obnoxious colleague and lover Tony Lawrence has the same clues and he challenges Vicki to a battle between the sexes. Vicki takes up the challenge, of course, and a third competitor joins the race: George Nolan who is a rich art collector and almost as arrogant as Tony. They all travel to Germany, separately, to the small old town where they think the carved alter is. They get rooms in the Drachenstein castle which has been changed into a hotel. However, the altar isn’t easy to find and they get involved in local trouble – which seems to include a ghost.

Vicky Bliss was born with genes which made her tall, voluptuous, and blond. She’s also got a degree in history but nobody takes her seriously because of her looks. She would like nothing else than to look like a traditional heroine: short, dark, and delicate. So, she’s sworn off marriage. She’s also adventurous, determined, smart, and independent. However, her lover at the start of the book, Tony, instantly declared that he wants to marry her and don’t care what she thinks. He’s also very competitive and yet has a fragile ego which Vicky has to nurse. I was hoping that Tony would be the murder victim promised on the cover, but no such luck. In fact, while this book is a mystery, there’s no current day murder so solve.

Since I’m a fan of Peters’ other series, I couldn’t help myself but to compare this book with the Amelia Peabody books. In fact, Vicky and Amelia have a lot in common being independent and smart women who have to put up with arrogant and overbearing men. However, Tony is a far cry from Emerson: Tone just doesn’t have the same charisma at all.

Vicky, Tony, and George are looking for the altar in Rothenburg. I loved the descriptions of the small town and if I had money, I’d be tempted to visit it. The woodcarver Riemenschneider was a real person and his carvings can be seen today. As far as I can tell, all the historical details in the story are correct and I love that. The trio wanders through the old castle looking for clues and find secret passageways and underground rooms! The setting and the background to the story were really appealing to me. However, especially in the beginning there are long passages about historical events which might be boring people who are less interested in history. Unfortunately, the plot is quite simple and there aren’t many suspects.

Unfortunately, I didn’t really care for Tony or Vicky’s second romantic interest; they’re far too arrogant and yet they tend to hog the scenes. The rest of the cast were more interesting. The old countess who runs the castle/hotel is a tough woman who ruthlessly exploits her young niece who does pretty much all of the work. The niece is beautiful and Tony immediately wants to help her.

A fun, quick read but a bit too predictable.

The first in the Adrien English amateur detective series.

Publication year: 2000
Format: ebook
Publisher: Puffin Books

Adrien English keeps a bookstore and writes mysteries, although he hasn’t been published yet. Then his one-time closest friend, Richard Hersey, is murdered brutally and the police think that Adrien is the prime suspect because both Richard and Adrien are gay and they had an argument the previous night. Adrien is attracted to the sexy detective Riordan but he turns out to be not only a rude alpha male but homophobic. When Adrien starts getting weird phone calls and horrible gifts, he’s convinced that he will be the next victim if he doesn’t find out who killed his friend.

The book is written in first person. Adrien is a very down-to-earth protagonist. He has a heart problem and so he tries to take it easy. He’s lonely but he’s convinced himself that that’s the best for him and he doesn’t complain about it. He’s not stupid but not too bright either. He has a circle of quirky friends who make the novel shine. He belongs to a writing circle with other mystery writers who are, of course, trying to also figure out who the killer it.

Adrien’s mother is a rich socialite who is constantly asking Adrien to move back home with her. She’s a bit scatterbrained and self indulgent but she’s also very determined when she wants something.

A nice, quick read but there weren’t many suspects. The writing style is light but not as humorous as Kerry Greenwood, for example.

The first book in an epic fantasy series. It’s pretty dark so I’m adding this book to the RIP.

Publication year: 2012
Format: print
Page count: 670
Publisher: Solaris

290 years ago the peace accords were signed between the True-men (whom the T’En call Mieren) and the powerful and long-lived T’Enatuath (whom the humans call the Wyrd). The two races have co-existed in an uneasy peace since then. Sometimes half-bloods (whom the T’En call the Malaunje and the humans call the Wyrd) are born to two True-men parents. According to the accords, the True-men have to give up the half-blood infants to the T’En.

Sorne is king Charald’s eagerly-awaited first born son and heir. However, when Sorne is born a half-blood with six fingers and toes, red hair, and dark eyes, the king of Chalcedon is bitterly disappointed. The king wants to kill the boy, instead of giving him to the T’En so that as few people as possible would know about his shame. But high priest Oskane manages to save the infant’s life by suggesting that Oskane could take the child, hide him, and study him so that the True-men could find out any weaknesses the half-bloods have. The king agrees, but orders his young queen poisoned so that he can marry again and produce heirs without tainted blood. The queen was Oskane’s kin and Oskane had arranged the marriage so he feels responsible for the infant and the queen’s death.

Oskane, his aide, and a small group of servants travel to a abandoned place. On the way, they encounter a young woman being chased by a mob. The woman has given birth to a half-blood and the people in her village are furious. Oskane takes the young woman and her family with her. So, a king’s son and a carpenter’s son grow up together, both hated half-bloods, while Oskane dreams of revenge through the boy Sorne. In order to help the two half-bloods to become strong and resist the temptation of their magical gifts, Oskane beats them every day starting when they’re just five years old.

400 years ago a covenant was done between the male and the female T’En. According to the covenant, both sexes lived separetely in their own sisterhoods and brotherhoods. All pure blooded T’En children must be given to the sisterhoods to raise. Girls would never see their fathers again but the boys would return to their brotherhood when they turn seventeen.

Imoshen is a full-blooded T’En girl, born to T’En father, who is the leader of his brotherhood, and his Malaunje lover. Her father has raised her in secret with the hope that Imoshen would give birth to a powerful child who would break the covenant between the T’En brotherhoods and sisterhoods. Imoshen is raised on an island with only a few servants and without any knowledge of her culture.

Both Sorne and Imoshen are outsiders in their own cultures, and so they are a great way to introduce the cultures to the reader. Sorne knows that his culture despises half-bloods, like himself, but he doesn’t have to face that fact until in his adolescence, while Imoshen is thrust into the scheming and oppressive culture of the T’En almost without any knowledge about it. They both see the unfairness of their cultures and idealistically want to change them. Both are also flawed characters, especially when they get older and are scarred both physically and mentally by their experiences. The book follows them from birth to young adulthood.

We also follow a couple of other point-of-view characters. Vittoryxe is an ambitious young T’En woman. She wants to become the leader of her sisterhood, the all-mother, and will scheme and plot to get there. Unfortunately, she also expects everyone else to be a schemer and a liar, and treats them accordingly. Graelan is a young man who has just returned to his brotherhood, head full of battle and glory. To his shock, he’s trust in the middle of brotherhood scheming. Oskane leaves his familiar life at forty-five to raise the king’s half-blood son and to teach him humility and piety. However, Oskane still thinks of Sorne as a pawn and not a person who might want to do something else with his life than be a spy or avenger.

The book has a very complex world. The True-men have six different kingdoms and they each seem to have somewhat different culture, and different religions. They also have different languages. However, we don’t see much of them. Chalcedonian and T’En culture are the important ones for the story.

The T’En, or T’Enatuath as they call themselves, have been divided on gender lines to brotherhoods and sisterhoods. Every T’En has supernatural gifts and they believe that the male and the female gifts react badly to each other. The male gifts, and the males themselves, are seen as aggressive and dangerous. The male gift can taint a female gift, making the female addicted to the male gift. The female gifts are powerful in another plane but leave the female incapable of defending herself in the real world, and thus dangerously vulnerable to both the male T’En and the True-men. The half-bloods, called the Malaunje, serve the T’En in the brotherhoods and sisterhoods. Even though most T’En are born to one half-blood parent and one T’En parent, T’En don’t acknowledge the blood relationship to the half-blood. Also, in the T’En culture same-sex partners are commonplace. Each brotherhood is lead by an all-father and each sisterhood is lead by an all-mother. Each leader has two close confidantes and advisers: a hand-of-force and a voice-of-reason. Each clan has also a gift-tutor who is appointed by the previous gift-tutor. It seems that in a brotherhood, an all-father is replaced by assassination, outright murder, or by political scheming. In the sisterhoods, an all-mother usually steps down when she’s old and appoints the new leader, which usually means political scheming. I found the culture fascinating.

The T’En call the other plane the empyrean plane. The people with powerful gifts can project their minds to that plane but the plane is full of dangerous beasts. Unfortunately, the beasts can sometimes come to the real world on their own and so the T’En women must fight them. Sometimes a frightened or inexperienced T’En can also project herself accidentally to the other plane.

Besieged is centered on political scheming and interpersonal relationships (most of them are dysfunctional in one way or another). Families play also a large part; who should you give your loyalty and why. There’s also some interesting commentary on religion. The True-men of Chalcedonia worship the Seven; Mother, Father, and their five sons, and some characters claim to be able to talk with them. However, it’s clear from the start that they are lying. Religion seems to be pawn in political games or a exuse for people to justify their actions.

The book has a rather dark atmosphere with entire races hating and persecuting each other, children dying, and women being just pawns in political games. Oskane is a particularly dark character; he spends over a decade of his life raising two half-bloods but he always despises them and doesn’t see them as real people.

Yet, the characters have families and loved ones whom they defend and protect. Often enough the family isn’t by blood but by adoption. Both Sorne and Imoshen are curious people who want to know more and do what’s right.

There are lots of plot twists and some of them are down right brutal.

A superhero book.

Publication year: 2009
Format: print
Page count: 451
Publisher: Piatkus

Iridium and Jet were best friends when they were in the Corp-Co’s Academy for teenaged extrahumans, training to be superheroes. But five years later, they are sworn enemies. Jet, who has Shadow powers, is New Chicago’s most celebrated heroine, the Lady of the Night, and Iridium, who has light powers, is a supervillain and running the city’s underworld.

Jet has to participate in a media event with the mayor but she’s just looking for an excuse to blow it off. And she gets it, when a call comes in that Iridium has been spotted. Unfortunately, Jet loses the fight and later, she botches up her appearance on a talk show. Then her mentor, Night, tells her that the mayor and the city’s media are mad at her. To get herself back to their good graces, Jet starts to investigate the disappearance of an investigative journalist, Lynda Kidder. Kidder had written a series of articles criticizing the extrahuman heroes and their supporter, the Corp company. Jet also has to deal with her new assistant who is very handsome and charming and flirting like mad.

Meanwhile, Iridium is trying to sabotage Corp and their extrahuman activities. Her father, who is a supervillain and in prison, has found a way to contact someone who could get Iridium inside info. Also, a new vigilante has come to Iridium’s turf. Iridium confronts him only to find out that the vigilante, Taser, hates Corp, too, and would like to help Iridium. Taser has electrical powers and flirts with Iridium every chance he has.

Black and white has a great superhero feel. It’s not too gritty, like Watchmen and the Batman movies, but it’s also not a parody or a comedy. It incorporates the current media and commercial cultures with superheroes. All heroes in New Chicago (and possibly in America) go through training in Corp-Co’s Academy and the company seems to be some sort of parental unit to the extrahumans. There’s a mention that for the under aged students, they can’t refuse medical treatment which the Corp as assigned to them. All of the heroes have to get a rich company to sponsor them, otherwise they are stuck on monitor duty. This means that the heroes will have to do commercials and media events and also live by rules set by the Corp and presumably the sponsor. Corp’s marketing department designs their costumes and decides their code names. They don’t have secret identities.

The book switches between the story of “now” when Jet and Iridium are enemies, and “then” when Jet and Iridium are at the Academy. The “then” parts cover their five years in the academy in short chapters. In the academy parts, Jet and Iridium become fast friends despite their differences: Iridium has a devil-may-care attitude and she’s quick to take offense and fight, when necessary. Jet is shy and introverted. She’s also afraid of her powers because she has seen her own father become crazy and kill her mother right before her eyes when she was a little girl. Also, she hears whispering voices from the shadows, urging her to kill and maim, and that terrifies her. It’s common knowledge that all Shadow powered people go mad eventually. Jet and Iridium have also things in common: they are both ostracized by most of the other students: Iridium because her father is a villain and Jet because of her “dirty” Shadow powers. Thus proving that no matter how much the youngsters are training to become heroes, most of them are typical teenagers. The Academy is also aggressively homophobic.

The personality of Jet in the early Academy years is quite different from the adult Jet. She has gained confidence and life experience during her Academy and hero years. She’s also made doing her heroic duty the primary and only goal in her life. Iridium is still much the same, except that the adult Iri has a burning hatred towards the Corps and wants to bring it down, while the adolescent Iridium has only suspicions and seems to be contrary because life has treated her like shit, and not because of anything specific the Corps has done to her.

Most of the humans seems to adore their heroes but some hate them: the Everyman Society. The Society thinks that extrahumans want to rule all others and want to get rid of them. They don’t consider extrahumans to be humans, but freaks. The police loath the heroes, too.

The story is supposedly set in the year 2112 but it doesn’t feel futuristic to me, but rather an alternate now. The characters watch reality shows on 3D-TV and fly in hover cars but otherwise, the technology doesn’t seem hugely different and Night says that during his active years, 20 years ago? 10 years ago?, they didn’t even have earpieces with the direct link to the operations center. This doesn’t feel like a world which has had iPhones for a hundred years.

I found it a bit curious that Iridium would trust the vigilante so quickly. She doesn’t know anything about him and yet she brings him to her hideaway and tells him about her big plans against the Corp. Similarly, Jet’s new assistant gained her trust a bit too easily.

I would have also liked more descriptions. Most of the places are described only briefly and the characters hardly at all; I think the writers are relying on the reader being familiar with the genre and supplying the descriptions from familiar comic books. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make the setting memorable and I think it could have been. For example, a couple of times there’s a mention of a pollution layer above New Chicago and I’d love to hear more about it. I would have also loved to have more desciptions of the powers and their use. Now, that’s kept to a minimum.

This is first in a planned series but only the second book has come out so far. It doesn’t end in a cliffhanger but the world has changed and is ripe for new adventures.

I really enjoyed Black and White, and I can’t believe it’s been in my TBR for over a year!

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