1st in a series


The first book in the SF series Mickey7.

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Publication year: 2020

Format: Audio

Running time: 9 hours, 15 minutes
Narrator: John Pirhalla, Katherine Chin

Mickey7 is an Expendable, an employee whose consciousness is downloaded to a new clone body after he dies. So, he does all the most dangerous jobs and especially those where he is sure to be killed. There can only be one version of an Expendable at a time. Also, it’s easier to grow a new body than replace an expensive drone or other equipment, so that’s why people who have space-age technology use expendable humans.

He and the rest of the crew are colonists on Niflheim, a planet that was supposed to be able to support life easily. When the ship arrived, they saw that the planet was ice and snow. It also has dangerous animals which were dubbed creepers. The colony is struggling and resources are low.

On a routine mission, Mickey7 falls down a ravine and is left for dead. That doesn’t surprise him. However, he manages to return to the base, and to his astonishment and dismay, Mickey8 is already in his bed.

This was a fun and quick romp. Every other chapter is present day and the other chapters are either from Mickey’s past or he tells us some significant piece of history. The book is about space colonization and cloning.

Mickey has a girlfriend but only one close friend on the base. The commander is a religious man who thinks that cloning is an abomination, so he uses any excuse to punish Mickey. While the parts of the story are pretty dark, the overall tone is light and humorous.

The first book in Legendborn YA fantasy series.

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Publication year: 2020

Format: Audio

Running time: 18 hours, 54 minutes
Narrator: Joniece Abbott-Pratt

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books

Bree Matthews lost her mother a few months ago and she can’t get over it. She hates living in a house where everything reminds her of her mother. She has applied to a residential program for bright high schoolers at a university and both she and her best friend Alice are accepted. Despite her father’s misgivings, Bree and Alice attend.

But during the first night, Bree and Alice participate in a party that is outside the campus. Bree sees something unexpected: a supernatural creature attacking. Some of the other students use bows and arrows and swords to take it down. Bree hides.

This was an entertaining read and a new twist on the King Arthur legend. It has the descendants of various knights who belong to a secret order. It also points out that all the descendants and members are white. Some of them have been slave owners. And Bree is black.

The main themes of the book are grief and racism. Bree’s grief over her mother was beautifully and realistically described. Her reactions, too. When she realizes that she might not have died in a simple car accident, she won’t allow anything to stop her from finding out what really happened. She’s brave and determined and also wants to protect her friends and dad. She does have flaws, as well. Also, she’s only 16.

While racism is shown through some people’s actions and words, there are also heartbreaking scenes where Bree realizes that she always feels out of place. For example, because buildings and places aren’t for her (race) even though most likely black workmen (or slaves) have built them, but for white people. Or because she doesn’t know her family history. There are also a couple of flashbacks to her foremothers who were slaves.

Themes are more important than the plot. So the plot has a leisurely pace.

Despite the strong themes, the story succumbs to some YA tropes. The love interests and the love triangle. I didn’t care for the triangle. I kind of like the love interests as characters, though.

Bree doesn’t know anything about the magic at the start of the book. When people tell her about it, there are quite a few info dumps, which I didn’t mind. The Arthurian stuff comes up later, so I don’t want to spoil it. I enjoyed most of it but was dubious about some things.

The first book in the Iron Widow YA science fantasy series.

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Publication year: 2021

Publisher: Penguin Teen

Format: ebook

Page count from Goodreads: 394

Hundreds of years ago, the alien Hunduns tried to conquer the Earth. Now, giant robots made from the husks of the aliens defend the remaining humans. Each robot has a psychically linked team of two people: the main pilot, a boy, and his concubine pilot, a girl. The girl dies almost every time. The boy pilots are media superstars.

Wu Zetian is an 18-year-old woman whose older sister became a concubine pilot and died a few months ago. But she didn’t die in battle. Zetian is convinced that the pilot her sister was supposed to be paired with, killed her and got away with it. She’s going to get revenge.

So, she makes herself beautiful by getting rid of her unibrow and then volunteers for the concubine program. She knows that she’s going to die, but she wants to kill the male pilot first. When her spiritual energy which powers the mechas, qi, is tested, she gets a much higher rating than most people. So, she is paired with the pilot she thinks is the murderer. But she ends up killing him in their linked minds and survives, which is extremely rare. Now, the military wants to control her and pairs her with a boy pilot who murdered his own family.

The world is harsh and even more harshly patriarchal. Everyone seems to think that it’s ok to sacrifice girls so that boys can pilot the big mechas against aliens. However, the boy pilots rarely survive past the age of 25 while the girls usually die in their first battle. Society is very much influenced by the old Chinese traditions where girls aren’t valued. Also, the old custom of foot binding has been revived, at least in some cultures. When Zetian was five, her grandmother crushed and bound Zetian’s feet, so it is difficult for Zetian to even walk. Zetian’s family wants her to become a pilot because when she dies, her family gets paid and Zetian’s brother can study. So, Zetian doesn’t like her family.

The plot is fast-paced with lots of fight scenes between the giant mechas and some between people. Unfortunately, that left the characters rather shallow. I would have also liked more world-building and more information about the Hunduns. Also, the other female characters didn’t seem to see the problems in the society or they were just trying to get by. Of course, the novel is in the first person from Zetian’s POV.

Zetian is a very angry character and the more she finds out, the angrier she becomes. She doesn’t dwell on any warm memories with her sister, but instead remembers her father’s belittling words and her mother’s advice to obey and confirm. Her only warm memories are with Gao Yizhi, a rich city boy, whom Zetian met accidentally. They’re in love but they can’t marry. Zetian leaves him to get her revenge on the boy pilot. She’s suspicious of every male character, quite rightly. When she gets power, she uses it ruthlessly. Especially in the end.

The first book in a historical fantasy series the Radient Emperor set in China in the 14th century.

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Publication year: 2021

Publisher: TOR

Format: ebook

Page count from Goodreads: 416

The story covers years 1345 to 1356 and is broken into three parts.

The first part follows our protagonist, a nameless second daughter of a destitute Zhu family. Almost all of her family has died of hunger, just she and her brother, and their father are left. Her brother and father call her a “useless girl”. She has learned to fend for herself, hunting with traps and hiding part of what she catches. Otherwise, she would have starved to death, too.

One day, the father takes the children to a fortune-teller. The old man prophesies that her brother, Zhu Chongba, is destined for greatness. The father and brother are happy and determined to survive. But for the girl, the fortune-teller says just ”Nothing”. The usual fate of girls in China.

But the girl is also determined to survive. A group of bandits robs them, but they don’t have much. So, the cruel men kick the father to death and the brother also dies the next day. The girl buries them, wondering why her brother has died when he was destined for greatness. She realizes that she can take up her brother’s name and greatness for herself. She remembers that her father arranged for the brother to go to a monastery. And so she walks to the monastery and sits outside for days until the abbot takes pity on her and lets her in.

She’s two years younger than the other novices and can’t read. She also has to keep her sex a secret. But she’s determined to succeed.

The second part introduces a handful of new POV characters. General Ouyang comes from the conquered Nanren people but he serves the Mongol Emperor who rules China with an iron fist. Ouyang’s father and the rest of the family were executed as traitors and Ouyang were the only one to survive. He was made a eunuch and a slave. Still, he clawed his way up, even though almost everyone despises him. He has, of course, plans of his own.

Ma Xiuyuing is the beautiful daughter of the rebel Red Turbans’ general. Recently he died in battle. Ma is betrothed to a young and foolishly arrogant rebel general. She feels that she has no control over her life. She’s a more gentle character than any of the rest. The other POV characters include a high-born Mongol man and a young thief who joins the rebels out of self-preservation.

The book has a couple of minor fantasy elements but you can almost read it as alternate history.

Zhu and Ouyang are mirrors of each other. They both have a destiny that they’re striving for ruthlessly. However, Zhu takes on her brother’s promised greatness to escape her fate of nothingness. She thinks that she has deluded heaven into believing she is her brother and she must do everything just like her brother would have. On the other hand, Ouyang has infiltrated his enemies to avenge his family. Except that he has grown to love his former master, lord Esen. Esen in turn thinks Ouyang as his best and most trusted friend. Ouyang is competent, of course, but must constantly endure the Mongols’ disdain both for being a eunuch and a Nanren.

Zhu and Ma are also mirrors of each other, as women. Ma has no desires of her own and hasn’t even realized she could have them. Zhu has a very strong desire and bends herself and the people around her to her will.

This society is misogynistic. It devalues women and deforms them and puts them in a tiny little box of either a dutiful, chaste daughter or a dutiful wife. Women do most of the domestic work and are still called useless to their faces. But I don’t think the narrative is misogynistic. While Zhu is clearly the exception who constantly hides her femininity, there are a couple of rather powerful women we see briefly. Ouyang despises women. The society also elevates warriors above other men. Without bureaucrats, the Emperor couldn’t rule but they are also constantly put down, as we see with lord Esen’s brother who is a bitter disappointment to their father.

This book certainly has an epic scope, with a large cast of characters and spanning decades. However, there aren’t many detailed battle descriptions. It’s far more focused on intrigue. The rebel Red Turbans have few leaders but they’re constantly fighting amongst themselves. The men under the Emperor are also undercutting each other.

The story was entertaining, if on the grim side. The ending isn’t a cliffhanger but Zhu’s journey hasn’t reached the end.

The first book in the fantasy series the Book of Dust.

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Publishing year: 2017

Format: Print

Finnish publisher: Otava

Page count: 687

Finnish translator: Helene Butzow

This series is a prequel to the His Dark Materials series.

Eleven-year-old Malcolm Polstead’s parents run an inn called the Trout in Oxford. He’s a studious boy who likes to help people both in the inn and out of it. He’s also very observant. When three strange men come to the inn and ask Malcolm about a baby who is in the care of the local nunnery, he thinks it’s very strange. He hasn’t heard about it and tells them so. Later, when he’s on the Thames in his canoe, La Belle Sauvage, he sees a man looking for something. His daemon Asta thinks she saw where the man dropped the item. But before they can help the man, he’s arrested. Malcolm and Asta go and retrieve the item: a wooden acorn. They manage to open it and find inside a secret message. But they don’t know where to take it, so they keep it.

Later, when Malcolm goes to the monastery, he asks about a baby and much to his surprise, a nun tells him that they are caring for a baby. She’s called Lyra and nobody is supposed to know that she’s there.

The first half of the book is building tension when Malcolm slowly realizes the depth of the secrets he has stumbled upon. We also get to know Dr. Hannah Relf who interprets the alethiometer at Oxford University. She’s also part of a conspiracy against the Magisterium, the religious organization that wants to control the world. We also meet some other conspirators. When the action starts to roll in the second half of the book, everything is in place. Well, mostly. The second half has scenes and magic that felt very random to me and they weren’t explained. Also, compared to the first half where the only magic are the daimons, the second part seems disjointed. Also, the main bad guy, Bonneville, seemed very strange.

Malcolm can feel quite a passive character who only reacts to events, but he’s just 11 and doesn’t know much about the larger plots. This can frustrate readers who are expecting a more Lyra-like main character. For the first half, Malcolm runs errands, spies for Hannah, and just talks with people building tension for the rest of the book and series.

It’s been a couple of decades since I read His Dark Materials series but I recently watched the first season of the TV show so I remember it well. I loved the daemons, again. Malcolm’s Asta still changes form at will and the adults have stable daimons who reveal a lot about their personality.

Some characters from the previous series appear. However, we already know what happens to Lyra so there’s no tension about what ultimately happens to her. Of course, I don’t read books to find out how the main characters will die, so this didn’t really bother me. Overall, I enjoyed this book and it’s a fine beginning to a new series. I just hope Pullman has some explanation for the random things that happened.

The first book in the YA SF/fantasy series Pit Dragon Chronicles, but it can be read as a stand-alone.

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Publishing year: 1982

Format: Print

Publisher: Orbit

Page count: 243

Austar IV is a backward planet that has only one thing going for it: dragons. Specifically, dragons fighting each other. Some Austarians own, train, and breed such dragons.

The Austarians have been divided into two classes: those born free and those born into bond slavery. Also, some free people are forced to sell themselves, or their children into slavery to survive. A bondslave must always carry his or her bag of coins around their neck so everyone can see that they are a bonder, as they are called.

Jakkin is one of the latter. A feral dragon killed his father when Jakkin was very young and his mom sold herself and Jakkin to bond slavery. Now, Jakkin is 13 and working in a dragon Nursery. He cares for the male dragons, the studs. But he dreams of stealing a dragon egg and training it to fight. That way he could get a lot of money and buy his freedom. He has two friends among the other bonders, boys his age. However, the supervisor (also a bonder) hates Jakkin.

Jakkin is determined to steal an egg: he has even found a secret place where the dragon can grow and Jakkin can train it. However, an accident with one of the most temperamental male dragons leaves him in a bad shape. How can he now pursue his dream?

For a children’s or a YA book, this story has lots of very mature elements. Jakkin is a slave even though he’s called a bonder and not a slave. Granted, his master isn’t a harsh one and he’s allowed Bond Off days, essentially days free of work. He isn’t beaten or starved. It’s more a plot device: he wants to become the trainer and owner of a fighting dragon because he wants to be free. Also, because he likes dragons a lot. Also, the world has Baggeries where the bonders and free men go. They’re bordellos and it seems that a lot of free women work there. One of the significant secondary characters is a weed smoker. Also, some of the characters believe that some men are simply born into bondage and can’t survive free.

Children probably won’t even notice these things, though. (I hope.)

Otherwise, this was a fast-paced, exciting read. Jakkin is single-minded in his goal to get and train the dragon. Unfortunately, it can make him look stupid. But he is only 13.

The book has only two named female characters. One is an older woman, the cook. The other is Jakkin’s age and was clearly created to be a mysterious teenage girl for Jakkin to pursue. The world-building is, unfortunately, quite sexist.

The dragons themselves are interesting. They’re herbivores but still fight each other so much that before humans started to train them, they were nearly extinct. They live in stables, males and females in different buildings. The females are also referred to as hens. So, I got the impression that they’re horse-like. However, their blood is acidic and burns a human. A dragon can form a mental bond with a human. However, that’s not common.

We don’t actually see the dragons fighting until very near the end.

This was a fun, if somewhat peculiar read. Unfortunately, I can’t really recommend this for kids.

A stand-alone science fiction book.

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Publication year: 2018

Format: Audio

Running time: 13 hours
Narrator: Emily Woo Zeller

Nika Rik Terri is a famous body-modification artist. She redesigns people’s bodies and sometimes heals them, too, using machines made for it. She considers it both an art and a science. She’s obsessed with her work and has even invented the extraordinary machine that can put one person’s mind into the body of another. Unfortunately, she fell in love with a smooth-talking, ruthless criminal who treated her badly, and she plans to run from him. Then a mobster comes into her shop and forces Nika to use her machine so that the mobster will use Nika’s body to assassinate someone. Nika realizes she needs to run right then. On the way, she stumbles into a beginning body-modder Snow. She helps him against a violent man, but they both need to run.

Josune Arriola is a junior engineer aboard the cargo spaceship Road to the Goberlings. She keeps her head down and works as well as she can. But she has a secret of her own: she’s actually a member of the legendary exploration ship the Hassim. Her captain has sent her undercover to the Road so Josune can tell her captain where the Road is and the two ships can meet covertly.

Hammond Roystan is the captain of the Road. He is supposed to be happy ferrying goods around space, but slowly Josune starts to realize he’s not what he appears to be.

But then the Road encounter Hassim, drifting in space. Someone has attacked it. The Road’s crew are salivating at the chance to loot it, but Josune is heartbroken for her former crewmates. But the Hassim’s treasury of knowledge of undiscovered planets makes the Road a target for powerful enemies and also some of the Road’s crew members want more than just their share.

This was mostly a fast-paced space adventure with mystery. Nika and Josune are the two POV characters. Nika, Josune, and Roystan all have secrets to hide while they run from their enemies. The rest of the crew are entertaining, as well. For example, Jacq is a cook and makes special meals for his captain. I also liked the growing relationship between the beginner body-modder Snow and Nika. Her blunt manner and way of doing bodymods scandalizes Snow who is trying to soften her words and eventually even stop people from relying on Nika.

Nika is a very single-minded character. She speaks bluntly, seeing no reason to hide her skills or interest in other people’s modifications. Her obsession with trying to ”improve” people can feel offputting, even fatphobic. Josune is a seasoned fighter. Hassim was a target for greedy people and companies, so all the crew must be capable fighters. She’s attracted to Roystan but doesn’t believe he cares about her.

The first chapters are slower when Nika is doing her body-mod thing and we get a lot of details about it. The implications of being able to change your appearance on a whim, as long as you have the money of course, are fascinating. However, we don’t see enough of society to really see the impact. The focus is on the Road and its crew. Most of the power seems to be in the hands of 27 companies and freelancers like the Hassim or the Road must be constantly on their guard. Laws are only followed in legal zones but even they aren’t safe.

This was a fun, light space adventure. It’s a stand-alone, but has a sequel.

The first in a cozy mystery series.

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Publishing year: 2017

Format: Print

Finnish translator: Taina Wallin

Page count: 142

Finnish publisher: Tammi

Sarah Edwards has recently moved back to the small town of Cherringham where she grew up and where her parents live. She’s a web designer. She’s also a divorced mother of two teens. When she was younger, her best friend was Sammi Jackson, before Sammi moved to London and they lost touch. But now, Sammi’s body is found in the river. The police think it’s a suicide or an accident, but Sarah doesn’t believe that. She meets Jack Brennan who lives in a houseboat on the river. Jack is a former NYPD detective who moved to Cherringham after his wife’s death. Together they start to figure out just what happened to Sammi.

This was a nice, quick read. It’s a cozy mystery where Sarah and Jack talk to people and get to know each other, too. The characters are entertaining small-town English people, and the mystery isn’t too complex. Jack is reluctant to interfere at first, thinking that the local police and the local people aren’t too happy to see him meddle. He’s right, but he still can’t resist a mystery. Sarah is determined to find out what happened to her friend and she finds that she enjoys the detective work.

Apparently, the series first came out as ebooks in English and in Finnish, too. I have the omnibus version of the first three books.

The first book in the Heartstrikers urban fantasy series where the main character is a dragon.

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Publication year: 2014

Format: Audio

Running time: 13 hours, 31 minutes
Narrator: Vikas Adam

Julius is the smallest dragon in the ambitious Heartstriker clan. He’s also very undragon like. True dragons are cold schemers who use anyone and anything to further their own aims and the aims of their clan. But Julius just wants to get along with everyone and has no interest in using anyone. So, he keeps his head down and doesn’t interfere with the affairs of the more powerful dragons.

Finally, his mother has had enough. So, she seals Julius in his human form and sends him to Detroit Free Zone to either succeed gloriously, and bring honor to his clan, or fail miserably – and then his mother with eath him. DMZ is the only city on Earth where dragons aren’t welcome. The powerful spirit that rules the DMZ will destroy them if she sees any. While Julius is sealed in his human form, he can’t shift to this dragon form so he can’t fly or breathe fire. He’s also broke. Luckily, one of his brothers has a job for him: to track down and capture a dragon from another clan. That dragon’s family wants her back. Julius has his doubts, but he doesn’t really have a choice. Luckily, while in the club, where he met his brother, he meets a mage Marcia who is also down on her luck. Julius hires her to find the other dragon.

Not so luckily, Julius’ eldest brother, Bob (yeah, that a nickname) the family seer has taken an interest in him. And there are mobsters after Marcia.

This is a fun mix of magic, technology, dystopia, and myth. DMZ is a capitalistic dystopia where the only thing that matters is if you have money. The underside of the city is a hive of scum and villainy while the rich live in the upper levels in security and comfort.

Julius’ family is also quite chilling: they use humans as tools and anyone else, too. Julius is the opposite of them. He’s one of the kindest and most considerate characters I’ve read lately which was nice. He also has a geeky side to him, as well. He starts to like Marcia and helps her simply because Marcia is kind to him.

We get to meet quite a few of Julius’ family. Beside his ruthless, power-hungry mom, there is Ian the suave businessman who is courting a dragon from another clan, Bob the insane seer (or is he? His antics made me laugh, though), Justin the dragon with more brawn than brains, and Chelsie the family assassin. And Jessica who is a snob. Of course, we meet dragons from another clan, as well.

I really enjoyed the writing style. With a cast full of ruthless dragons, it could have been dour or black, but instead it’s light and fun. Bob has hilarious antics and Julius has a nice sense of humor.

I also enjoyed Marcia. She’s in a tight spot and making the best of it. She has a mercenary side to her which balanced out Julius well. It seems that they’re fated to have a romance, which is too bad. I would have loved for them to be friends.

I listened to the audiobook version and it was very good.

Since this is the first book in a series, some things are left open at the end.

The first book in the mystery series Cold Poker Gang.

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Publication year: 2014

Publisher: WMG Publishing

Format: ebook

Page count from Amazon: 182

In this series, a group of retired Las Vegas Police detectives gathers together once a week to play poker. They also have permission to look into cold cases and try to solve them.

Bayard Lott hosts the game. He’s a widow, living alone. He has an adult daughter Annie who is a very good poker player and rich. She also solves mysteries together with her boyfriend Doc Hill. Lott’s former partner and best friend Andor Williams is also a player in the weekly game. The newest player is Julia Rogers who retired from detective work because of a leg injury. In fact, Julia wants the gang to try to solve her husband’s murder.

Julia’s husband was murdered 22 years ago in Las Vegas. The case was never solved. Lott and Williams were the detectives on the case back then and it has always bothered them. This time, they’re far more experienced and can look at the case from a slightly different angle. Julia lived in Reno back then so Lott and Williams didn’t even interview her.

This is a complex case with a lot of surprises. That partly explains why Lott and Williams didn’t get anywhere with it the first time. Unfortunately, their work also seems sloppy. Julia gives the case a very personal angle, especially when they find disturbing things about her former husband and she’s thinking about how she can tell her daughter about it.

Lott and Julia are the two POV characters. They also quickly find each other attractive and start liking each other’s company more and more. Lott’s wife died three years ago and he’s still not over it while Julia never had a real relationship after her husband’s murder. The romance is a gentle one without the toxic romance tropes, so I liked it a lot. The mystery is also more like a cozy mystery, without blood.

This was an interesting case with very likable POV characters.

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