1st in a series


The first book in the Planetside SF duology.

Publication year: 2018
Format: Audio
Running time: 8 hours 38 minute
Narrator: R. C. Bray

Colonel Carl Butler is on semi-retirement from active duty. Many think of him as a war hero. When his old friend Admiral Serata contacts him about an investigation job on a far away planet of Cappa Three, he’s not thrilled. It seems that the son of a powerful politician has gone missing and the politician is demanding answers. The son is a lieutenant in the space force. Butler is reluctant to agree because he has bad history with Cappa Base. But he does agree.

When Butler, his young aide, and a seasoned bodyguard arrive on the base, after three months in cryosleep, the base is still fighting against alien population. Most of the soldiers on the base view him with distrust and suspicion but he tries to put their fears to rest. The official report shows that the young lieutenant was wounded and disappeared on the way to the hospital. The soldiers are tight-lipped, so Butler has his work cut out for him.

The book is told in first person. Butler is a seasoned soldier who doesn’t really think of himself as part of the brass. He’s no-nonsense type with a dry sense of humor. He drinks hard, which surprised me a bit at first, but it understandable when we find out about his history. He’s married and the book has a few mentions of his wife Sharon but she doesn’t appear. In the past, he has been sent to war on far away planets which is done by putting him into cryosleep. At one point he says that thanks for cryosleep he’s already 13 years younger than his wife.

Butler focuses on unraveling the mystery on Cappa Base. This is a mystery story as much as military SF. In this world, Earth has conquered several planets and basically plundered them for their natural resources. On Cappa Three, 90% of the population supports trade with Earth but the remaining 10% fight a guerrilla war against the Earth forces who want to practically strip-mine the planet. However, we don’t see much of the aliens as the action is focused on the human military. In fact, the Cappans feel like they’re just an afterthought or a substitute for a historical enemies. (They have yellow skin and big, slanted eyes…)

However, the mystery pulled me in, even if the world-building could have been deeper. I enjoyed Butler’s first-person POV and his attitude.

The narrator was very good and suited the voice of Butler very well.

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The first book in the SF series White Space. Can be read as a stand-alone.

Publication year: 2019
Format: Audio
Running time: 16 hours 48 minute
Narrator: Nneka Okoye

Haimey Dz is a space salvager. She works in a small “tug boat” of a ship with Connla the navigator and the ship’s AI. The ship is too small to have a name but Haimey named the AI Singer. Haimey has a troubled past but this ship and the small crew are her home. Unfortunately for Haimey, Singer has been drafted and is leaving the ship soon. She’s already in morning for the AI. The small crew are looking for derelict ships and old tech to salvage. However, on this trip they find more than they bargained for: a really old ship which has apparently belongs to the Korugoi, the people who died before the current nations rose and about whom the current people don’t know much about. Haimey goes in to investigate and an alien technological parasite latches on to her. Even worse, pirates know about the ship too and they’ve come to collect what they can. Haimey and her little ship manage to escape but the pirates are now after them and soon, so are the authorities.

This book has a lot of things I really, really liked: a complex and flawed female main character, a small crew, a lost ancient civilization, and alien species who are part of a vast galactic government. Humans are just a tiny minority who (IIRC and it’s so difficult to try to find anything from an audio book) were let in grudgingly. And it all works wonderfully. The aliens are strange but not too strange.

Also, the humans have implants which can control all of their body chemistry and so their moods, as well. Tech can also change their memories. There are some interesting conversations about this all. Well, interesting to me. No doubt some others will find them slowing the book down. Haimey comes from essentially a cult but has managed to get away from it and carries a lot of baggage. This is her struggle for her identity.

One other thing which endears Haimey to me is that she’s reader. She reads 19the and 20th century books and sometimes comments on them:
”They’re great for space travel because they were designed for people with time on their hands. Middlemarch. Gorgeous, but it just goes on and on. ”

They also debate and talk about politics, such as various political systems and how far you can program people, even when the programming is supposed to be for good reasons.
“Earth could have learned a long time ago that securing initial and ongoing consent, rather than attempting to assert hierarchy, is key to a nonconfrontational relationship. Because we’re basically primates, we had to wait for a bunch of aliens to come teach us.”
“There’s value in work you enjoy, or that serves a need. There’s no value in work for its own sake.”

The first book in the cozy mystery Target Practice Mysteries series.

Publication year: 2015
Format: ebook
Publisher: Ranch Dog Entertaiment
Page count at GoodReads: 166

This was a fun, short mystery.

Diana, she prefers Di, has gone through a bad divorce and needs a change. When her friend from high school, Jess, wants to hire her, Di is happy to pack up and move to Wyoming where Westmound Center for Competitive Shooting (archery and guns) is located. Once there, she finds the place almost empty, except for her bubbly new roommate Mary and a friendly Great Dane Moo. Di will be the new computer person for the firm.

Westmound is starting a new archery program and they’ve already recruited the coaches among the top archery competitors. Four of them competed in the Olympic Summer Games together but there’s quite a bit of bad blood between them. Di did also shoot for a while but gave it up years ago.

Then one of the new coaches is murdered. Mary decides to investigate her death and drags Di along with her. However, many people hated the murdered person and she did also boast that she’s writing her memoir where she’ll expose a lot of people. So, Mary and Di have their work cut out for them.

The writing style is very humorous and I liked it a lot. The mystery wasn’t too complicated although it did have a few twists. The characters were on the light side, no doubt because the book is short.

I liked most of the cast and most, of course, Moo, the Great Dane and his antics. Mary the enthusiastic sidekick was also great fun and a source of good gossip, er I mean, information on the characters.

The first book in the Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club historical fantasy series.

Publication year: 2017
Format: Audio
Running time: 13 hours 39 minute
Narrator: Kate Reading

I very much wanted to adore this book. I liked it and will probably continue with the series but it has a writing style which no doubt will make it almost unreadable to some people. You see, the characters critique the book while it’s written. This sounds like a cute or even charming style, and it is, at first. But ultimately, it robs the book of any tension. We know that the characters will not only survive the fight scene, they all become such good friends that they feel free to give snarky comments while reading the (presumably) first draft. I don’t actually think that most readers open a book just to see how high the body count will be (unless that’s part of the genre of the book, of course) but it takes away even the illusion of tension. Similarly, when we meet the characters who are commenting (and we do meet most of them along the story) again we know immediately that they’ll become good friends. These interruptions also constantly remind the reader that she, or he, is reading a story, preventing any sort of immersion in it. They happen all the time. All the time.

So, the book’s major selling point are the characters and their relationships. Luckily, I really liked them. I also adored the idea of the book.

Mary Jekyll’s mother has just died. Her father died years ago and left them almost penniless. First thing after the funeral, Mary must fire her staff. But since the housekeeper Mrs Poole is critiquing the manuscript we know that at least she will stay with Mary. Mary finds out that her mother has an account on another bank, paying to a “Hyde”. Mary knows that her father’s former friend and murderer Mr. Hyde died some years ago but now she realizes that he might be alive, after all. That’s significant because there’s a reward for information about Hyde. Since Victorian London offers poor and very poor choices to a penniless, orphan girl, she wants to get that reward. So, she goes to UK’s greatest detective, Sherlock Holmes to get help. He and Watson agree to help, out of civic duty, if nothing else. Mary and Watson go the Magdalene Society (for fallen women and unwanted girls) where Hyde is supposed to be. But instead of Mr. Hyde, they find 14 year old Diana Hyde. She’s abrasive and scornful of the nuns so the Society doesn’t want to keep her anymore, so they foist her on Mary.

Mary also gets some letters that were addressed to her father and using the clues in them, she finds out that there’s a secret society in London that is doing something horrible. With the help of Holmes and Watson, Mary and her friends start to unravel the mystery. Holmes is also trying to solve horrible murders in Whitechapel. Could Hyde be responsible?

I adored the idea of this book. The daughters (and other creations) of famous male literary figures coming together and having adventures as friends. Some of them view themselves as “monsters” who don’t have really a place in society, especially in the Victorian era.

They’re all very practical women. Most of them must be, to survive. Mary has taken over the household money because her mother had been seriously ill for years. Diana lived practically on the streets for some years. Catherine Moreau had to keep a level head to survive on Moreau’s island and later to simply support herself alone. The other two had similar circumstances. They all express their frustration with the limits that the Victorian culture puts on women. Yet, the book has a lot of humor, too. For once, Sherlock and Watson are clearly both the sidekicks to these colorful women.

I had a lot of fun listening this book and Kate Reading’s narration was as wonderful as ever.

The book has lots of quotable parts.
“No wonder men did not want women to wear bloomers. What could women accomplish if they did not have to continually mind their skirts, keep them from dragging in the mud or getting trampled on the steps of an omnibus? If they had pockets! With pockets, women could conquer the world!”

The first book in Sherlock Holmes and Lucy James mystery series.

Publication year: 2015
Format: Audio
Running time: 7 hours 28 minute
Narrator: Edward Petherbridge

This was a pretty enjoyable, fast-paced mystery if you can ignore the liberties taken with Holmes and Moriarty and their relationship.

It’s 1895, three years after Holmes supposedly died fighting Moriarty. However, he did survive and lives in secrecy. Some people do know that he survived. Mycroft, Holmes’ brother, has a very high-profile case for Holmes; a man has been murdered and a lot of highly placed men are concerned. The murdered man is in the employ of John D. Rockefeller so his position is more important than himself. It comes clear that a shadowy organization is targeting the men around Rockefeller.

But Holmes’ attention is captured by a young and beautiful American actress, Lucy James, who wants Holmes to find out who are her real parents.

The story has a lot of twists and turns. The writing style is quite faithful to Doyle’s style. Holmes is more emotional than in many other pastiches which didn’t bother me. We also get a lot of historical personages which was fun.

However, Veley adds a different wrinkle to Holmes’ and Moriarty’s backstory which I didn’t quite care for. Also, for a Holmes mystery this was somewhat predictable.

The narrator was great and spot on for this style of story.

The first book in the humorous historical mystery series Her Spyness set in Britain in the 1930s.

Publication year: 2007
Format: Audio
Running time: 8 hours 4 minute
Narrator: Katharine Kellgren

Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie, or Georgie as she’s known to her friends, is a cousin of King George V of England but she doesn’t have much money. Her brother has cut off her allowance and she doesn’t want to marry a boorish foreign prince. Of course, her brother the Duke is also penniless because their father gambled away almost everything and then killed himself. Georgie’s fed up living as an unwanted house guest with her brother and his wife in the Rannoch castle in Scotland. So, she heads to London. She stays in the family’s London house but she doesn’t have enough money to hire even one maid. She tries to work for a living but knows that the royal family wouldn’t put up with that if they found out so she tries to keep it a secret. Even her own mother doesn’t like it and sabotages her first job right at the start. Fortunately, she meets her old friend from school, Belinda, who is now a famous fashion designer. Or at least she aspires to be famous. Meanwhile, she tries to get paying customers. But she’s happy to help out Georgie. As a good royal girl, Georgie doesn’t have much experience with men but in this story she meets a penniless but charming Darcy and Tristram whom she’s known as a child.

This was a fun book. It’s written in first person from Georgie’s POV and it was fun to follow her when she tries to live on her own. She’s smart and knows that she’s been born to privileges even though she’s currently hard on money. Her family and the other side characters are also fun. Her mother used to be an actress before she managed to snare a Duke. But her mother divorced her father rather soon and is now found with one rich man or another. She doesn’t support Georgie, though. Georgie’s brother Binky is quite hopeless at looking after himself and couldn’t support himself at all. His wife, Whiffy, is very proper. Georgie also meets Queen Mary a couple of times. Georgie’s grandfather is a retired police officer who doesn’t get along at all with Georgie’s father’s family.

The mystery is quite on the light side and doesn’t even start until about halfway through when Georgie finds a man murdered in the London house’s bathtub. Despite the title, there’s not much actual spying in the book.

The first book an fantasy series which follows sisters Aurie and Pi in a school of magic. However, it can be read as a stand-alone.

Publication year: 2016
Format: ebook
Publisher: Black Moon Books
Page count: 316 at GoodReads

The story is set in an American city of Invictus which is famous for the Hundred Halls of magic. Each Hall takes only teenaged initiates; they must all pass tests (called the Merlins) where they compete against each other and the tests must be passed before their 21st birthday. The Halls are like American collages; it’s expensive to go there but they also provide room and board. In fact, if you get in, the first year students are forbidden to go out of the Halls, at least on their own. The reputation of each Hall vary. The most exclusive of them is the aptly named Coterie where all students are expected to come from rich families who have members already in that Hall. Also, the students must have patrons to support them during the second year and beyond.

Aurie and Pi (Aurelia and Pythia) are orphans; their parents died in a magical accident seven years ago. They’ve drifted from one foster home to another and are now living together in a very poor part of the city. Aurie carries a lot of guilt from the accident and has tried to take care of her younger sister as best she can. This makes Pi think of her older sister as bit of a domineering pain-in-the-neck. But they clearly love and support each other. Aurie is very responsible and studious but also caring and a creative thinker. She works as a volunteer at the local hospital, caring for children who have very serious magical diseases. However, she’s dismissed from that job because of the actions of an arrogant girl. Oh and the sisters aren’t white.

Aurie wants to get in the Halls at the same time as Pi, so that she knows Pi will be taken care of. Also, they both work to get the money. This is the last year Aurie can take the trials, just before her 21st birthday. She’s studied hard and is sure she’ll make it. However, that arrogant girl who got her dismissed, is also in the trials and makes life really hard for Aurie.

Meanwhile, Pi wants to get into Coterie. She wants it so much that she contacted a Corterie patron and almost forced him to give her a mission. That mission is to summon a demon and find out where the Rod of Dominion is. So, Pi does that. In order to summon a demon lord, she sells her soul to a city fae for three years. And the trouble just starts from there.

The story is very exciting with some twists, too. Pi is more reckless than her sister and pushes her powers and knowledge often to the limit, sometimes dangerously so. They both attract enemies just by being lower class orphan (non-white) girls trying to better their lives. Personally, I sometimes found the hostility from some of the other students a bit much; surely a teacher should have intervened, unless they are deliberately teaching the students to form exclusive cliques and become bullies. Maybe they are, at least in the Coterie.

The magic system isn’t explained much. The sisters use hand gestures and words and require a lot of concentration to do magic. Aurie also writes truth magic. It’s powered by something called faez which apparently those with magical ability create. However, demons are also called faez demons and some places also seem to generate it.

However, the story was mostly exciting and I loved the gaming store where Pi works. It’s owner, Hemistad, is man with many secrets and having side characters playing Magic and role playing games on the side was great. I also loved the sisters. We get alternating view points from them.

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