1st In a Series Challenge 2011


There are still a few weeks left to go but I don’t think I will start another series this year. I’m very happy with the books I read for this challenge. I aimed for 12 books and ended up reading and listening 25, which surpassed the Obsessed level!

I wasn’t unhappy with any of the books and ended up reading more in most series. I even found a new favorite author, Kerry Greenwood. Most of the books were fantasy and science fiction with a few mysteries, too. I’ll sign up for next year, too!

Books read for the challenge:
1, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin
2, Seanan McGuire: Rosemary and Rue
3, Tara Maya: the Unfinished Song: Initiate
4, Skinwalker by Faith Hunter
5, Shadow Blade by Seressia Glass
6, Ben Bova: Orion
7, Kerry Greenwood: Cocaine Blues
8, Amanda Quick: Second Sight
9, Four and Twenty Blackbirds by Cherie Priest
10, Evangeline Walton: Prince of Annwn
11, Jon Courtenay Grimwood: the Fallen Blade
12, Philippa Ballantine: Geist
13, Joe Haldeman: the Forever War
14, Linda Hawley: Dreams Unleashed
15, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro: Hôtel Transylvania
16, C. J. Cherryh: Gate of Ivrel
17, Raymond Rose: The Fire Inside
18, Elizabeth Bear: All the Windwracked Stars
19, C. J. Cherryh: Faded Sun: Kesrith
20, Susan Wright: Star Trek: Dark Passions, Book 1
21, Jacqueline Carey: Kushiel’s Scion
22, Donna Andrews: Murder with Peacocks
23, Julia Spencer-Fleming: In the Bleak Midwinter
24, Peter Clines: Ex-Heroes
25, Cherie Priest: Boneshaker

The first book in a steampunk/horror series.

Publication year: 2009
Format: Audio
Publisher: Audible Inc.
Narrators: Wil Wheton and Kate Reading
Running Time: 13 hrs and 42 minutes

Briar Wilks is the daughter of a hero and the widow of an evil genius. Levitictus Blue designed the Incredible Bone-Shaking Drill Engine to drill through the Alaskan ice but things went really wrong, and now everyone thinks he’s responsible for the destruction of Seattle’s city center and the formation of blight gas which kills humans and turns them into rotters. Meanwhile Briar’s father Maynard Wilks, a prison guard, helped the prisoners during the disaster at the cost of his own life. When the people had fled the city, they built a wall around it and live now on the outskirts of the former city.

Briar and her son Ezekiel, Zeke, have been living on the outskirts of Seattle since Seattle was closed down. Briar is grimly determined to keep them both alive and works long hours at the factory to do just that. She even changed her last name back to Wilks but that hasn’t stopped people from harassing her and her son. However, she hasn’t told much about the past to her son because it’s too painful to her. Zeke’s friends are convinced that both Zeke’s grandfather and father are innocents caught up in events. Zeke is tired of being bullied because of his family and he decides to head into the walled city of Seattle to find proof of their innocence.

An underground tunnel leads to the city but just when Zeke has gone inside, an earthquake collapses the tunnel. Briar is frantic to have her son back. She packs her meager gear and heads to the city after she begs a ride in an airship. Everyone knows that nobody can live in the city for very long because of the blight gas and the rotters. However, there’s actually a couple of small communities in Seattle, and Briar and Zeke will have to survive them, too.

This is a fast-paced adventure story with quirky characters. Briar is actually grimly determined to find her son and to survive anything in Seattle. She brought a gun against the rotters and a gas mask against the blight. I feel that she’ very similar to Sarah Connor in her determination to find her son alive and to protect him. Zeke is equally determined to survive and to find proof about his father’s innocence. He thinks that the Russians pay Levi Blue to start his machine too soon.

I really enjoyed the secondary characters. The people inside Seattle have lived there for a long time; they’re tough and used to fighting both the blight and the gas. In many ways, they remind me of American settlers, or at least their romanticized version in many fictions. Some of them made a point about how few women there are in side the walled city and we only see two women, in addition to Briar, in the book. They are both quite memorable. Lucy O’Gunning is the mistress of a bar called “Maynard’s”. She’s lost her arm and has a strong mechanical arm instead. Then there’s Princess Angeline, an old Native American woman whom the locals respect and fear a little. She’s very handy with knives and a gun.

The other secondary characters are also interesting. The book has two shady airship crews. Clyde, the huge captain of Naamah Darling (is this a reference to Carey’s books?) and his motley crew. In fact, I’d like to read more about them. Then there’s the mysterious Doctor Minnericht who seems to be a tyrant ruling Seattle with his inventions. Nobody has seen what he looks like because he always wears his mask.

The Chinese have their own group. One of the locals hates them and even kills one of them but the others seems to get along with the Chinese more or less well. I found them quite puzzling. The other characters tell us that there are only adult Chinese men in Seattle, except for a few teenage boys. They tend the machines which make the air in some places in Seattle breathable. Yet, they don’t seems to charge anything for it. So, why would they stay, away from their families? (Come to think of it, Briar seems to be the only character in the book with a family.)

However, I had a bit of a problem with the others, too. Most of them seem reasonable people and it’s apparently possible to leave the city. Yet, they stay. Why? Surely, they could have found a better life for themselves than running away from rotters for decades. I can understand those who stay to make a profit from the drug business (yep, people have found a way to make the blight into a drug). However, what good is money, if you can’t spend it? Surely the criminals should have been coming and going once they’ve earned enough. And if they have to spend several decades earning money here, surely, there are better places to earn money? And what about the rest? Are there really no better place for them? There is a civil war going on but clearly the war effort doesn’t draft/employ everyone or the captains of the dirigibles wouldn’t be around. Hopefully, we’ll get to see more about the world around Seattle in the next books.

Still, I enjoyed the book and I’m looking forward to the next ones.

Oh, and even though there are both male and female characters in the book, there’s no romance. This is definitely a plus on my book, because it’s seems that it’s increasingly difficult to find a book without the obligatory romance.

Superheros and zombies! The first book.

Publication year: 2011
Format: Audio
Publisher: Audible Inc.
Narrators: Jay Snyder and Khristine Hvam
Running Time: 8 hrs and 03 minutes

I don’t know if these books can be categorized as fantasy (but they clearly aren’t realism!) but they have zombies and the occasional horrific moments so I’m adding this one and the Ex-Patriots into the RIP challenge and the Horror and Urban Fantasy challenge.

The first book in the series has pretty much the same style than the first except that this time we get a lot more descriptions of the main characters.

The zombie apocalypse ended the world about two years ago. A group of surviving humans is holed up in Paramount Studios which they’ve built into a fortress, called the Mount. Their leaders are superheroes and the people rely on the heroes a lot. The most organized hero is the mysterious Stealth and her right hand man is St. George whom the people look up to. Zzzap can turn into electricity but he has to the keep the Mount’s power going so he spends most of his time in an electric chair doing just that. Gorgon acts as the small town’s sheriff, organizing the watch over the undead hordes outside the gates and keeping order inside. Cerberus is a battle armor and its designer is using it as part of the security team.

St. George and Cerberus lead a group of people to a scavenger hunt to nearby LA. They defend themselves against the ex-humans but mostly they try to sneak around. However, they soon notice that someone has been piling cars and the ex-humans shouldn’t be able to do that. On the way back, the group is ambushed by the biggest human gang in LA. The gang wants the Mount’s resources and their leader has a personal grudge against one of the heroes.

The plot moves fast with fights and twists. Every chapter has a part called “Then” written from the POV of an individual hero and set in the past; how he or she got their powers, why they decided to become heroes, and how some of them witness the first zombie uprisings. These stories introduce the heroes to us in a way that couldn’t have been done in the main story without a lot of exposition. I really liked the technique. The heroes are quite different from each other. St. George is the Superman analogue who wants to save everyone while Stealth is a ruthless woman who is willing to sacrifice a few for the common good. Gorgon is a hardened man who waged his own war against the gangs of LA before the apocalypse. He has an interesting power: when he looks at someone, he drains their energey and become stronger himself. That’s why he has to wear goggles all the time when he’s not in battle. Danielle operates the Cerberus armor whom she designed and built. Regenerator has lost his former healing powers and his wife, and he doesn’t have any hope for the future. Zzzap is perhaps the most powerful hero; he can turn into pure energy. However, he also has to power the Mount and when he’s in his human form, he needs a wheelchair. We also get a few stories from heroes who didn’t survive.

I have only two gripes. The heroes are described more than in the next book and there’s a lot of focus on Stealth’s outfit. Apparently, she has a literally skintight, thin costume and although it covers her completely every male drools after her. Was that really necessary? Don’t we have already enough female heroes who are nothing but hot bodies? Do they have to be in the books, too? Sigh. Her rather cliched background doesn’t help the situation. My other gripe is the weird shift in mob mentality. One minute they are adoring their heroes and the next they are willing to believe that the heroes have betrayed them. This feels like quite a quick shift.

Otherwise, I liked this story as much as I liked the next one, Ex-Patriots, which I listened accidentally first. The heroes are facing a huge problem and they are doing the best they can. However, people are getting restless inside the Mount, where they are safe but where they also don’t have much to do. The heroes work surprisingly well together, even Gorgon who was a loner before.

There’s a lot of action in the book, fighting the ex-humans. The heroes have also a couple of scientists working on the zombie problem and we get to know the pseudo science behind it.

The book has a lot of pop culture references. For example, one of the buildings in the Mount is called the Roddenberry, one of the characters is called Jarvis, Lady Bee wonders if Spider-Man could beat St. George, and Stealth is compared to Batman. The fighting humans also have a contest about killing celebrities and we find out about the gruesome fates of a few famous actors.

The two narrators work the same way as in the next book. Snyder narrates most of the book and Hvam narrates the dialogue for female characters. She also narrates the “Then” parts when the focus is on a female superhero with Snyder reading the male dialogue. I liked this technique but it’s not for everyone.

Oh, and this book is all fluffy fun. If you’re looking for weightier content, this is the wrong book for you.

The first in a mystery series set in Millers Kill with a police chief and a female priest as the detectives.

Publication year: 2002
Format: print
Page count: 358
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Russ van Alstyne is the Police Chief in Millers Kill. He was born there but moved away and has recently returned with his wife. Russ is a hardworking cop with a military background. He’s somewhat surprised to find out that the town’s new Episcopal priest is a woman, Reverend Clare Fergusson. However, she’s a down-to-earth woman who is trying to help the people around her and the Chief soon warms up to her.

Christmas is near and it’s in the middle of a bitterly cold winter. Someone has left a baby at the Church’s steps and Claire finds him. A rich local couple wants desperately to adopt him but that can’t happen until the child’s parents are found. However, a couple of days later, a young woman is found dead. She’s suspected of being the mother of the foundling boy, and Russ and Claire set out to find her murderer.

The plot is fast-paced and I enjoyed the characters a lot, mostly. However, the plot might be frustrating to mystery readers because the characters don’t find crucial information until very late. I also found the ending unbelievable and some of Claire’s actions were too impulsive.

Russ is a married man but his wife doesn’t appear in the book. In fact, Russ seems pretty unhappy about her own business which seems to take up most of her time. Instead, he spends a lot of time with Claire. I hoped that they would have been friends but unfortunately it seems that they are heading for romance.

Claire is a newcomer to the town. She doesn’t know the people nor the proper way to dress in the middle of winter. She also has a sports car which simply can’t handle the snow and ice. She’s curious and determined to make a difference. She clearly underestimates the damage that cold can do even in a short amount of time but that’s a mistake inexperienced people often make. However, she’s also very impulsive and very trusting which I found a little contradictory with her former career as a helicopter pilot in the military. She’s very flashy compered to Russ who is the older and more experienced police officer. I was also a bit puzzled as to why Russ would include a priest into the investigation. Sometimes, her presence was called for, such as a grief counselor but I didn’t expect her to be able to interrogate suspects.

The rest of the cast were quite entertaining. Harlene is a very competent dispatcher at the police station and she knows the other officers very well. The murdered girl’s parents were quite repugnant in real life, but entertaining in a book. The town was clearly divided between the rich and the poor, and the rich want to keep the poor out, even from a church. I was rather surprised that the amount of time Claire and Russ spent together didn’t spawn more rumors or perhaps even a threat to dismiss the Reverend for improper behavior.

The setting was well done. I enjoyed the great depiction of cold weather and its effects on hapless Claire. In fact, the weather was a greater threat than the villain and that’s pretty rare.

Unfortunately, when I heard that one of the main characters is a priest and the other is married, I was looking forward for them being friends and because of that, the kindling of a romance was disappointing. Also, the romance had quite a cliched elements, such as Russ watching Claire dance when she doesn’t know that he’s watching and Russ complaining that his wife doesn’t understand him. So, while I enjoyed the book, I don’t think I will continue with the series.

The first book in a humorous mystery series.

Publication year: 1999
Format: print
Page count: 296 plus a preview of Murder with Puffins
Publisher: St. Martin’s Paperbacks

Meg Langslow is down-to-earth, no-nonsense woman. She’s a self-employed blacksmith who usually makes jewelry. However, she was able to get a whole summer off from work and return to her small home town in Virginia in order to be the maid of honor for three weddings. Meg’s best friend, brother, and mother are getting married withing just a few weeks. She actually doesn’t care for her brother’s bride, Samantha, but agreed to be her maid of honor, anyway. Meg’s also not wild about her mother’s groom who is the man next door, Jake.

Most of the brides seem to be far interested in small details, like interior decorating or being out of town, and leave the big things to Meg which keep her incredibly busy. Of course, Meg’s strange relatives aren’t helping things, either. Then Jake’s first wife’s sister appears. The sister doesn’t like the impending wedding at all and seems to be in general quite unlikable person. Soon, she’s found dead on the beach. Meg’s father, a retired doctor, is a mystery enthusiast and even though the local sheriff claims that the death is an accident, Meg’s dad starts an investigation drafting Meg, too.

Murder with Peacocks is written in a very humorous style. Most of Meg’s relatives are very strange from her dad who eats almost anything and gives lectures on poisonous plants to the Uncle who insist on wearing a gorilla suit in every party. Also, since Meg’s single, her best friend Eileen is determined to get her together with Eileen’s fiance’s brother Barry. Except that Meg loathes the uncouth, borderline rapist Barry. In fact, Meg seems to be the only sane person in her family. Then there’s Michael, the other sane person in the book.

The local dress-maker was going to make all the costumes for all of the weddings, but she’s currently in Florida with a broken leg. So, her handsome son Michael is filling in for her, and quite expertly. The dresses are made by a group of Vietnamese women who don’t speak English at all and Michael is their interpreter. The local gossip insist that Michael is gay, or What-a-Waste as the local homophobes say. However he seems to be very interested in Meg but whenever he tries to ask her something, he’s interrupted.

Most of the time, Meg is furiously trying to get the wedding organized instead of investigating the murder. Even when there are a couple of attempts on her father’s life, the local sheriff tries to write them off as accidents. So, the plot centers more on the weddings instead of the mystery. The main attraction to the story are the eccentric characters and not the plot.

I was quite surprised that Meg had agreed to this monumental task in the first place and that she didn’t quit when it came clear that none of the brides are going to help her at all. The families seem to be rich so surely they could have hired someone to organize the weddings as a full time job? But of course, if you like the humor, the premise is quite funny.

The first book in the second trilogy set in Carey’s fantasy world.

Publication year: 2006
Format: print
Page count: 943
Publisher: Warner Books

Imriel nó Montrève de la Courcel is the third person in line for the throne of Terre D’Ange. He’s also a thirteen year old boy who has experienced awful things and is trying to cope as best he can. He’s enjoying his time on the Montrève country side as Phèdre’s and Joscelin´s adopted son but his mother casts a long shadow on his life. Imriel’s mother, Melisande Shahrizai, is a master manipulator and one of the most famous traitors of Terre D’Ange. Imriel is trying very hard to be “good”; the opposite of his mother. He’s trying to keep his impulses in check, his sometimes sharp tongue included, and he tries to treat everyone kindly. But he has a lot of baggage: he was kidnapped and kept as slave before he was sold to a place of unspeakable evil. He saw and did things which could have broken anyone. Phèdre and Joscelin saved him.

The book starts with the news of Melisande’s escape. The Montrève household moves to the capital to discuss matters with the queen and prepare themselves against possible revenge. Imriel moves to the capital, too, and has to deal with the courtly life which he clearly despises. The Queen and her husband, the King of Alba, have two daughters. Sidoine, the elder, is destined to rule Terre D’Ange but some nobles don’t like the fact that she’s half-blooded on her father’s side and are trying to promote Imriel as the next king of Terre D’Ange because he’s “pure-blooded” D’Angeline. Sidonie’s younger sister Alais is still a child and Imriel loves her dearly as a sister.

Also, Imriel’s blood relatives want to get to know him. He was reared as a peasant so he never knew his family in the House Shahrizai. He’s afraid of them and doesn’t trust them at all.

Carey’s writing style is as lush and beautiful as ever but the subject matter is quite different. The story centers on Imriel’s inner struggles when he’s growing up and spans quite a few years. In a way, he tries to repay Phédre and Joscelin for rescuing and adopting him, and he also tries to be the opposite of his mother. He’s afraid of himself and he’s trying to suppress his darker side. This affects his sexuality too; he’s very uncomfortable with it at first. He wrestles with his own feelings and is often quite self-absorbed and brooding, which is understandable at his age and with his past.

Later in the book there are people plotting and scheming around Imriel and he’s always trying to catch up to it. He also makes great friends and some enemies. The book has a few sex scene which are integral to character development or the plot or both, but there’s no BDSM elements like in the previous books.

It’s been quite a while since I read the first trilogy and there are lot of reference to the events in the first three books. This is also understandable because Phédre and Joscelin are legendary figures, and so their exploits are told often. Some might be frustrated with the repetition but it fits Carey’s style.

I love Phédre and Joscelin, and it was great to see them alive and happy, and it was also great to see other characters from the previous books: queen Ysandra and her husband Drustan, for example. In fact, I got a yearning to read the first trilogy again. I didn’t like Imriel nearly as much as any of the familiar characters, though. In fact, I liked some of the new secondary characters more than him. Eamonn, the Prince of Dalriada, is a cheerful and carefree warrior who wants to learn and discusses philosophy just as eagerly as battle techniques. He and Imriel duel when they first meet but later become as close as brothers. Later in the book we meet Lucius who seems like another carefree nobleman fob on the outside but turns out to be quite a tormented man. I also rather liked Alais who, at the start of the book, is just a young girl who wants a puppy and grows into an adolescent who has to start worrying about her future far too young. Sidonie is a cool and collected young woman even when she’s just fourteen but I suspect that’s just a front that she has to keep up because she’s the Dauphine. I would have liked to see more of Brigitte, the Skaldi girl who is studying in the university in Tiberium. She’s opinionated, stubborn, and fierce.

However, the plot is very slow compared to the previous books. Imriel’s growth pains aren’t as interesting as Phédre’s and Joscelin´s adventures. However, the latter third of the book is quite intense and there are heartbreaking moments in it, too.

I really enjoyed the latter half of the book which is set in Tiberium, this universe’s Rome. Imriel enrolls into university and studies under Master Piero who takes his class outside the university lecture halls and into the real world, and is of course thought to be mad by the other professors. Tiberium is quite close to the old Rome in culture; women can’t inherit, submissive gays are barely tolerated, women have to monogamous instead of taking on lovers openly, like in Terre D’Ange. Imriel seems to fit in quickly, though. Of course, as a man the restrictions don’t really apply to him. And of course, I prefer the Terre D’Ange culture where all forms of consensual love are sacred and nobody is made to feel shame or guilt for what they may desire.

I enjoyed the book but not as much as the previous ones.

The first in a series of historical adventure novels.

Publication year: 1905
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 1935
Format: Audio
Publisher of the audio translation: Otava
Narrator: Vesa Mäkelä
Translator: Armida Enckell
Running Time: 6 hrs, 5 double sided cassettes

The book is set in 1792, during the French Revolution. The nobles are fleeing France to avoid the guillotine and a mysterious cabal of English noblemen called the Scarlet Pimpernel is helping them. Often the daring leader of the group himself is in disguise and helping the hapless nobles, mostly women and children.

However, the main character of the book is a young noblewoman Lady Marguerite Blakeney, a celebrated French beauty who is married to English Lord Percy Blakeney. She is accused of giving away French nobles to the French police and the rescued French nobles shun her. This was mostly an accident but nobody will give her the time to explain. The rumours don’t seem to affect her standing in England, where she’s in the center of society.

However, Marguerite’s marriage is in trouble. She loves Percy but unfortunately, Percy found out that she inadvertinately caused the Marquis de St. Cyr and his two sons to be killed. Ever since Percy has been distant towards his wife. Marguerite has likewise become disillusioned by Percy’s lazy behaviour.

Meanwhile, Citizen Chauvelin has come to England in order to find out who is the leader of the Scarlet Pimpernel and to catch him. Chauvelin blackmails Marguerite to find out who the mysterious leader is. Chauvelin’s agents have stolen a letter that implicates that Marguerite’s beloved brother Armand is part of the Scarlet Pimpernel society. Marguerite has no choice but to agree.

The plot structure is somewhat different than is usual to modern novels. The main character Marguerite is first seen in Chapter 4 and the other characters discuss about her before she is introduced. The start of Chapter 5 is the narrator telling us about Marguerite’s background and character. The previous chapters are spent telling about the circumstances in France and about Scarlet Pimpernel’s brave exploits until they focus on a small tavern where we meet a group of people, Marguerite among them.

We are told that Marguerite is the smartest woman in Europe in addition to being wealthy and beautiful. When Chauvelin blackmails her, she agrees to help him but secretly she is always looking for a way to get rid of the police officer without endangering her brother. She’s very loyal and quite brave, and when she finds out that her husband is in danger, she disguises herself and follows him.

Lord Percy is outwardly a lazy dandy but even in conversation he’s quick to maintain that image and to deflect any chances of heroism or dueling. He maintains his cover so well that even his wife doesn’t know him. He feels that he can’t trust Marguerite.

Chauvelin could have been just doing his duty to his country but he’s depicted as a cruel and viscous man who is hates the Scarlet Pimpernel especially and often uses underhanded techniques to capture him. The French as also described as villainous because they want to execute innocent children who had had the misfortune to be born noble.

The plot is fast-paced and has unexpected twists. It centers on spying and intrigue rather than violence. Once again there was surprisingly small amount of misogyny in the book, compared to some modern books. Unfortunately, it had quite a lot of antisemitism, describing a Jewish character awfully and the other characters felt free to treat him very badly.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t happy with the translation. I fully admit that it could be because the translation was done in 1935 and it has simply gotten old. Still, some idioms are translated literally and I found some of the inflections strange. Also, both he and she are translated “hän”. This is, of course, literally correct but makes listening the text a bit difficult at times. Most of the time it’s possible to deduce from the surrounding context just who is doing or saying something to whom. However, these days it’s customary to change the he/she to a name or to woman/man to make the text make coherent to Finns.

However, I enjoyed the story a lot and I’m already listening to the next translation.

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