1st in a series


The first book in the Eric Steele action/thriller series.

Publication year: 2018
Format: Audio
Running time: 9 hours 19 minutes
Narrator: R. C. Bray

Eric Steele is a former Special Forces soldier who has served US in many countries and wars. Now, he’s an Alpha – a soldier with a special mandate answerable only the US president. He usually works only with his handler, Demo. But when a nuclear missile is stolen from a military convoy, he must team up with Meg Harden, a former Army soldier and current CIA operative. Unknown to Steele, matters are very complicated at Washington: president Cole has terminal cancer and CIA’s director Robin Styles is ruthless in pursuing more power.

The book has five main POV characters: Steele, Meg, vice president Rockford who is a former soldier, Nate West who has stolen the missile, and CIA director Styles. A couple of minor characters also get a POV chapter. The first chapter is written from a minor character’s POV.

Steele is a loner, a patriot, and extremely capable. His enemies also know that he’s one of the best and try to eliminate him. Meg is also a loner but more because the men around her push her away. She’s very beautiful, very good with computers, and a fighter. She’s also attracted to Steele from the first. Rockford is very loyal to the president and is doing his best conceal Cole’s illness.

Nate West is a former Special Forces solider who has grown bitter because the government couldn’t prevent his family’s deaths. He enjoys torturing and killing people. He’s Steele’s former mentor and when Steele finds that out, he wants to take out West any way he can. Styles is also a very nasty enemy. She’s the first female CIA director so she’s under a lot of pressure. She knows how to manipulate people and is very ambitious. She even chose her girlfriend because she can manipulate her easily.

For the most part, this was a very fast-paced read with lots of action. The fight scenes are detailed and we got a lot of information about the various guns. The enemies are vicious and there are a couple of detailed torture scenes, as well.

I enjoyed most of the book but the torture scenes were a bit much for me. The narrator fit the book very well and did a great job.

The first book in a fantasy series. It’s a murder mystery but can be read as a stand-alone.

Publication year: 2019
Format: ebook
Page count at GoodReads: 306

This was a fascinating read. It’s set in a fantasy world where magic is taught and not an inborn talent. The world has also technology although it’s somewhat tied to the magic. Using magic is called cyphering. Women rule societies and men are considered too emotional and weak-willed to serve the state, even though that attitude is waning, so the world has reverse sexism. The characters aren’t human. I got the sense that they’re cat-like creatures. (I freely admit this could come from my inordinant fondness for C. J. Cherryh’s hani.) Their faces are muzzles and they have fur but also skin. But they behave mostly in human ways and have very human motivations. Otherwise, of course, it would be hard for us readers to understand them.

Jhee is a middle-aged woman who has been working as a magistrate, a justicar for years. Now, she’s been called to the capital and she’s taking her family with her. Shep is her primary husband, a former soldier, and they’ve been happily married for a long time. Just before they left, Jhee married two others, but more out of sense of duty than any passion. Both new spouses are young and she’s constantly thinking that she’ll get them better spouses, more appropriate for the youngsters’ tempers and ambitions, when they get to the capital. Mirrei’s mother was Jhee’s old friend and Jhee has some sense of duty toward her. Mirrei is a healer but her own health is fragile because she’s suffering from a disease which is becoming increasingly common. Kanto is a handsome young man and he’s interested in fashion and the arts. He’s also a musician and artist. He feels that Jhee favors the other spouses over him. Jhee is somewhat uncomfortable with this new arrangement: she tries to make time to her new spouses and not show too much fondness for Shep.

Their ship hits a coral reef and is wrecked. Fortunately, there’s an abbey nearby and the crew and Jhee’s family are welcomed there.

The abbey’s previous abbess, Saheli, died just a few days before. Apparently, she translated straight to a spiritual plane. Jhee is more distressed when she finds out that three prospectives, young male attendants, have also died: one fell during an earthquake, one died from a disease, and one apparently killed himself. Even though Jhee’s the area’s justiciar, she hasn’t heard about the deaths before. With the ship needing repairs, she starts to investigate.

All the regular staff in the abbey are women and many of them think men are beneath them. Saheli was the one exception so her death is starting to look increasingly suspicious to Jhee. Jhee enjoys reading, but the abbey’s archivist takes an immediate dislike to her. The current abbess, Pyrmo, is apparently a drunkard and soon Jhee suspects her of murder, too. With the locals whispering about the ghostly Mist Abbess, she has her hands full both with the investigation and trying to balance her new, and more complicated, family life.

The abbey is full of strange characters and the more we learn about them, the less spiritual they seem. Lady Bathseba is a retired vizier. She still lives in luxury in the abbey. She’s quite snobbish but seems to know a lot about what’s going on. Then there’s a poetess who pretends to be drunk so that she can snoop around. The others snub her. The abbey’s doctor is also a drunk and the others no longer trust her but go to the herbalist to get medicines. The cast of characters is large and the book would’ve benefited from a list.
Jhee is the major POV character with a couple of chapters from another character’s POVs. It’s not particularly fast-paced but has a solid mystery.

For the most part, I really enjoyed the story. Jhee and her spouses are interesting characters and I also enjoyed most of the supporting cast. The world-building was mostly good, too, without info dumps. However, the magic wasn’t explained much and sometimes I wanted more descriptions of places and people. Jhee’s spouses all have public names and private names. Shep, for example is Dawn Wolf publicly. But none of the other people, male or female, have names that mean something. So I didn’t get the name system. Also, the book could have done with another round of editing. But these are small concerns.

I loved the different culture and I’m definitely reading the next book.

The first ST:DS9 relaunch book.

Publication year: 2001
Format: Print
Page count: 284
Publisher: Pocket books

The book starts three months after the end of Star Trek: DS9’s last episode so it contains heavy spoilers for the final season. So does this review.

Three months after his father’s disappearance, Jake Sisko is down on Bajor, helping with an archaeological dig. One of the archaeologists, an elderly prylar, gives him an ancient book of prophecies which gives Jake not just hope that he’ll see his father again, but that he must go to the wormhole and bring his father back. However, he decides not to tell anyone about it in case the prophecy is wrong.

Back in DS9, Colonel Kira is in command. She sees a dream about Benjamin but is rudely awakened with the news of a murder on the station. It turns out that she knows the murder victim, an elderly prylar who took care of Kira when she was a child. The victim brought the prophecy to Jake, but the others don’t know that. The murder also died so the station security needs to find the motive for the murder and the murder’s identity.

Kira has been feeling low and this news depressed her even further. Also, the station’s newest security chief is agnostic Lieutenant Ro Laren whose abrasive manner drives almost everyone away and Kira doesn’t think Ro can solve the mystery. However, she leaves the crime to Ro and continues dealing with the everyday life on the station.

Nog and Ezri Dax are repairing the Defiant. The Dominion War left the star ship is such a bad shape that it’s still being updated to newer systems, much like the station itself. However, a Federation star ship is guarding the wormhole in case the Dominion will break the truce.

Suddenly, three Dominion warships emerge from the wormhole and attack. The warships seem to be packing more firepower than ever.

Meanwhile on the Badlands, Enterprise-E is looking for any remaining Jem’Hadar ships. Commander Elias Vaughan is advising captain Picard. Vaughan is an old soldier who is doubting the choices he’s made in his life. When the Enterprise finds an old cargo ship, something peaks Vaughan’s curiosity and he leads an away team to the ship.

This book is mostly about DS9, as is appropriate for the relaunch. Enterprise doesn’t appear until about half-way through.

Mostly, we follow the remaining DS9 people. Kira, Kasidy Yeats, Dr. Julian Bashier, Ezri Dax, Quark, and Nog, as well as few new characters, including Ro Laren. All of them are POV character. Most are handled fine. Kira is exhausted but stubbornly pushing forward while Quark is developing a crush on Ro. Perhaps not surprisingly, Ro is finding it hard to replace Odo and her past makes the Starfleet people uneasy around her, as well. Kasidy is mostly thinking about settling on Bajor and Nog is full of self-doubt and hatred toward the Dominion.

Unfortunately, I found the handling of Ezri and Julian excruciating. They’re a couple now but apparently a happy couple is too boring, so the writer (or editors?) concocted a strange rift between them. I mostly liked this but I found the book strangely introspective, which didn’t really gel with the visual TV-show.

The ending is a cliffhanger, so this is clearly the first book in a series.

The first book in the Oxford Tearoom Mysteries.

Publication year: 2016
Format: Audio
Running time for the whole box set: 17 hours 35 minutes
Narrator: Pearl Hewitt

This story was part of a collection of three books: the prequel and books 1 and 2.

Gemma Rose has started her tearoom just a couple of weeks ago. She has a brilliant if somewhat eccentric chef and her best friend works as a waitress. Best of all, she has a lot of customers. But then a very rude, almost obnoxious American tourist walks in, snapping his fingers for service. Gemma grits her teeth and plays nice. But then the chef’s mischievous cat Muesli slips to the tearoom and Gemma must try to get her before the customers spot her. The rude American makes a crude pass at Cassie, Gemma’s best friend, and threatens to return the next day. Gemma thinks there is something very strange about him, beside his lack of manners. That evening, in the pub, the American picks a fight with a local man known for his hotheadedness. They’re both thrown out.

But the next morning, Gemma finds the American dead. He’s sitting in front of her tearoom, murdered with a scone. Not only are she and her friends prime suspects but after the local newspaper writes about the murder, nobody comes to her tearoom anymore. Worse, the detective on the case is Gemma’s old boyfriend Devlin and he’s determined to treat her like any other suspect.

This was mostly a light and fun read. Gemma’s mom is very prim and proper and she’s trying to fix Gemma up with a doctor. She also doesn’t think that running a business is a proper job.

Gemma is the first person POV character. She’s rather an immature and impulsive lead. She used to be a canny businesswoman for eight years but she seems to have none of those qualities now. All her savings were used on the tearoom and she doesn’t know how to cook herself. When the local newspaper starts writing about the murder and Cassie’s possible involvement, Gemma is close to bankruptcy because people are afraid to come to the tearoom. There’s a possible love triangle between Devlin and the doctor, which I really don’t care for.

However, the cast of characters are fun. The four old women are nosy and very entertaining when they try to help Gemma. I also enjoy Cassie who is an artist but must work part-time jobs until/unless her paintings start to sell. The narrator was great and I enjoyed the writing style a lot.

The prequel to the Oxford Tearoom Mysteries.

Publication year: 2016
Format: Audio
Running time for the whole box set: 17 hours 35 minutes
Narrator: Pearl Hewitt

This story was part of a collection of three books: the prequel and books 1 and 2.

Gemma Rose is a former Oxford graduate and she also grew up in Oxford. However, after graduation she decided to take a high-paying job in Australia. But now, eight years later, she decided to quit her job and move back to Oxford. She wants to start a tearoom and is buying a run-down cafe to do it. She’s already talked to a local bank and been assured that she’ll get the loan.

On the plane back to Britain, she becomes fast friends with the woman sitting next to her, Jen Murray who is visiting Oxford and staying at a local hotel. After Jen has left, Gemma realizes Jen forgot her scarf. Gemma takes it intending to return it to her. Gemma is staying with her parents while she’s trying to get the tea room up and running.

Her mother has invited four old women to tea. While Gemma doesn’t particularly want to meet them and reminiscent about her childhood, she put up with them. After meeting her oldest friend Cassie, Gemma goes to the hotel and returns to scarf to Jen. Jen invites her to stay for a while and drink with her. Gemma accepts and they talk at the hotel bar for awhile. Gemma doesn’t drink but Jen drinks a lot. In the end Gemma helps Jen up to her room.

The next morning, Gemma is surprised and saddened when she hears that someone has murdered Jen the previous night. She’s even more surprised and horrified to find out that she herself is the prime suspect. Of course, the bank refuses to give her the loan while she’s a suspect and another buyer wants to get the place.

This was a fun and light cozy mystery. It does a great job introducing us to Gemma and the people in her life. I especially liked Gemma’s relationship with her best friend Cassie. They support each other wonderfully. While Gemma didn’t care for the four old ladies, they helped her solve the mystery and were very funny. The mystery starts pretty late compared to the other books (I’m halfway through the second book) and it’s quite convoluted. But I liked the characters and the light writing style quite a lot.

The first book in the Planet of Adventure science fantasy series.

Publication year: 1968
Format: Audio
Running time for the whole series: 23 hours 3 minutes
Narrator: Elijah Alexander

The story starts with a distress call which comes from an alien planet Tschai. A star ship is nearby. Even though the signal originated two hundred years ago, the men decide to investigate. Adam Reith and Paul Warner are scouts who are sent down in a small ship. However, only moments after they leave, a missile destroys the star ship and the scout boat is damaged. They manage to land but a group of local people approach. Reith is amazed to see that they’re humans (or men as he calls them the whole series). They casually kill Warner but Reith manages to hide.

Soon after, a sky craft comes down and scatters the men. This one is crewed by a group of blue aliens, the Chasch, and their servants the human Chaschmen. A third group of men attack the second group. However, the Chasch manage to get the boat and leave with it and Reith’s supplies.

Reith is wounded and taken captive by the third group. He’s given food and allowed to heal. He also learns their language and how the local humans thought they’re originally from the moon. A girl catches his eye but the tribesmen don’t want her to have anything to do with him, so they kill her. Reith is considered a slave but he’s not happy with that, of course. He finds a way to escape and starts his journey to get his scout boat back so that he can return to Earth.

This is very much reminiscent of Burroughs’ Barsoom, with strange locals and somewhat different local customs that Reith needs to navigate. While the aliens have flying craft, the local humans must ride jump horses and use swords to fight. The humans have divided into several tribes, according to which alien species they serve. They all practice slavery and are pretty violent. Some even kidnap women who are then considered property. When Reith tells the first tribe he encounters that he’s from Earth, the local priests, the magicians, think that he’s a dangerous heretic. After that, he’s more close-mouthed about where he comes. In the course of his travels, Reith gets two male companions who tell him more about the local customs and wonder about Reith’s ignorance.

The book has two named female characters, both romance interests. The first girl is killed for showing interest in Reith and the second is beautiful beyond measure and already a kidnap victim when Reith meets her. The kidnappers are from the cult of Female Mystery and are all women, only referred to as priestesses. They hate all men and sacrifice beautiful women. Of course Reith decides to rescue her because everyone else considers her property and even show disdain at Reith rescuing her.

Vance creates vivid alien landscapes and creatures:
“The non-human creatures – Blue Chasch, as Reith was to learn – walked on short heavy legs, moving with a stiff-legged strut. The typical individual was massive and powerful, scaled like a pangolin with blue pointed tablets. The torso was wedge-shaped, with exoskeletal epaulettes of chitin curving over into a dorsal carapace. The skull rose to a bony point; a heavy brow jutted over the ocular holes, glittering metallic eyes and the complicated nasal orifice.”

The story is fast-paced, except perhaps for the passages dealing with the history of the various human tribes and how they got to this planet. Reith isn’t happy about their status are servants of the aliens and decides that he should encourage them to rise up.

The end isn’t a cliffhanger but leaves everything open.

The first book in the Stillhouse Lake mystery/thriller series.

Publication year: 2017
Format: Audio
Running time: 10 hours 4 minutes
Narrator: Emily Sutton-Smith

Gina Royal was an ordinary housewife with a considerate, if cold, husband and two children. The day when a drunk driver hit their garage, changed everything. Melville Royal was a serial killer. He had tortured and murdered women in his garage. He had cut out their vocal cords, first, so Gina and the kids has no idea what he was doing. But the world at large doesn’t believe that. Gina was tried but acquitted. But many people still believe that she was Mel’s accomplish and they hound her and the kids.

To protect them, and herself, Gina has changed her name and moved many times during the four years after Mel was put to prison.

Now, she’s Gwen Proctor who will do anything to protect her kids. She’s learned how to shoot and has just passed her test for carrying a concealed weapon. She’s always on her guard, ready to leave at a moment’s notice. She also stays on top of what the lunatics are saying about her in the internet. The stalkers and trolls are still looking for her and want to kill both her and her kids. She has one ally, a mysterious man called Absalom who arranges for their new identities and helps them stay one step ahead of the men looking for revenge any way possible.

But Gwen’s children, who are this time called Atlanta and Connor, are tiered of moving around and living with restrictions. Atlanta is 14 and a rebellious goth girl, always getting in trouble in school. Connor has become closed off, introverted. Gwen has severely restricted their internet access which also makes them different from other kids.

They’ve stayed in the house on the shores of Stillhouse Lake long enough that they’ve finally getting comfortable. But then a body of a mutilated young woman is found in the lake. The MO is similar to what Mel did and Gwen is horrified. She tries to run but someone has told the authorities her real identity and suddenly she’s again a suspect. Even the few people she has started to trust view her now with suspicion.

I enjoyed this book a lot. Gwen is paranoid and always expecting trouble. She also has a lot of guilt because while she was innocent she also also so naive that she didn’t realize what Mel was up to right under her nose. She’s had to live with fear for four years and it has taken its toll: at first, even mistakes drive her into a defensive mode. But of course this is a thriller, so her precautions turn out to be more than necessary. Gwen and her kids felt like normal people who had been thrown into a terrible situation and are now trying to cope as best they can.

The first chapter is in third person but the rest of the book is in first person, which was an interesting choice and reflected on how much Gwen/Gina has changed. It’s written in present tense which heightens the tension.

However, Gwen’s internal monologue can feel repetitive. Sometimes I also wondered why USA doesn’t have a protection service for the families of a killer, because they can be victims, too. While the internet trolls’ writings are horrible, especially when they photo shop Gwen’s kids’ heads to pictures of murdered kids, I’m pretty sure few would actually do anything in real life. Of course, all it take is one deranged person to kill them all. Also, I sometimes wondered why nobody recognized Gwen. The kids had been growing up and their looks change, so I could buy that nobody recognized them but Gwen is an adult and she doesn’t think about disguising herself. I found the description of the murder victims gruesome. Luckily, in an audio book they went past quickly. Also, while the ending is mostly satisfying, there’s a twist which leads to a second book.

The story starts a bit slow, with Gwen and her kids doing everyday stuff. But there an ominous mood and tension which just builds and builds.

The reader was very good and I think she suited the book very well.

Next Page »