1st 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.

The first book in the Alex Cross thriller/mystery series.

Publication year: 1995
Format: Print
Page count: 355
Finnish publisher: WSOY
Finnish translator: Jorma-Veikko Sappinen

This story starts with the villain who is fixated on the kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh’s infant son in 1932. He wants to be as famous as the man who did that, Bruno Hauptmann. We find out a lot about the villain during the story.

But the main character is a homicide detective Alex Cross from New York. He’s a psychologist and currently works for the NYPD. He and his partner Sampson are investigating a series of vicious murders of a prostitute, her teenaged daughter, and her infant son. But because the victims are poor and black, those cases aren’t news. He and Sampson are pulled off the case and pressured to investigate the kidnappings of two children of famous white people. Michael Goldberg’s dad is a minister and Maggie Rose Dunne’s mother is a famous actress. They go to the same school for the children of the wealthy and famous. They were kidnapped the from school and the investigation quickly points to their math teacher who has disappeared. Alex and Sampson are disgusted because they were feel that nobody cares about the killer who is murdering black people. However, Alex quickly develops a bond with Maggie and her mother, because of his own children.

The kidnapper sedates the kids (who are just nine) and buries them. One of the FBI agents gets too much air time, taking the media’s attention away from the kidnapper, so he kills the agent. Then he demands ten million dollars in ransom.

Alex is a widow with two young children. He lives in a bad neighborhood with his grandmother and the two kids. Her wife was shot and the killer was never found. He and his partner also help at the local soup kitchen. He’s a likable character who is constantly in trouble with his superiors who want to do things differently because of political reasons.

The story features a lot of rivalry between different police agencies. Right from the start, Alex and Sampson don’t trust the FBI and they’re right. The Secret Service is also involved because they were supposed to be watching the kids. The head of SS’s child detail is Jezzie Flanagan. She’s worked hard to get to her position and is determined to get the kidnapper. She’s very beautiful with troubled past.

This is a fast-paced story with many POV characters, a couple of whom are seen only once. Alex’s POV is in first person and the others are in third person. The plot has a lot of twists and even a courtship romance. However, I guessed the twist with the love interest. I didn’t like it and was hoping I’d be wrong. But this being the first book in the series, only three things could have happened to her. That’s why I don’t really like reading romantic subplots; they feel pointless.

It did have couple of surprises. I was surprised that the whole book wasn’t about getting the kidnapper. Most of the last half of the book is a courtroom drama and about the whole media circus around Maggie and the kidnapper. The time skips also surprised me.

This was a quick, mostly satisfying read although it left a few things open at the end.

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.

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 mourning 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.”

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