1st in a series


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.

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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.

The first book in the Daevabad fantasy trilogy inspired by Middle-Eastern folklore.

Publication year: 2017
Format: Audio
Running time: 19 hours 36 minute
Narrator: Soneela Nankani

Nahri is a young street hustler. She poses as a soothsayer and a healer who can summon and banish spirits. But it’s all just for show; she doesn’t believe it. She lives in 18th century Cairo which has been invaded by the Franks who fight Turks over the ownership of Egypt whose people they despise. She’s an orphan; her parents died when she was young, leaving nothing. She speaks many languages and dreams of being a real doctor.

But when she performs a mock-summoning, something very strange happens: she summons a real daeva, a powerful spirit. That act also brings strange and strong enemies who can even summon the dead. Nahri is forced to trust Dara, the daeva, who is furious at her and put her down all the time. But Dara also says that he knows what Nahri is, so she’s intrigued almost despite herself. However, Dara says that the only place were Nahri can be safe is Daevabad, the city of the daeva. Despite her protests, he essentially kidnaps her, and takes her to a wild flying carpet ride.

The other POV character is Prince Alizayd, or Ali. He’s the younger son of Daevabad’s king. He’s also a djinn, a magical being, like all his family and most of the people who live in the city and country. He’s lived and grown up in the military and so has lived quite a sheltered life. He’s aware, of course, of the injustices in the city and has tried to help in his own way. The shafits are people who are half-human and the djinn oppress them mercilessly: they can’t leave but they also can’t work. Ali is trying to help them but because of his family, he must conceal himself. But then things go terribly wrong and in the end, Ali is summoned to live in the palace.

This is a very ambitious work with very complex world-building. The history of this world is woven with history, especially Islamic history. The djinns are divided into lots of fractions and races, which complicated the reading. Apparently, the print book has a glossary but they audio doesn’t. The writer also uses occasional Arabic words for clothing. This isn’t a book you can just breeze through. However, this also means that much of the book is spent exploring these cultures and tensions.

Ali and Nahri are very distinct from each other; one might call them even opposites at the start. Ali is a very religious young man and a dutiful son to the king. He’s lived almost monastic life and scorns the pleasures his station would give him. Nahri has lived on the street almost all her life. She hasn’t had anything that Ali takes for granted. Yet, they’re both bright, curious people. They’re also loyal and want good for other people. Nahri is a very pragmatic person while Ali is an idealist.

Dara is a very interesting character. He’s very old and has spent centuries as a slave, so his outlook is quite different from the others.

For the most part, I enjoyed the book and the complexities of the djinns. However, I didn’t care for the start of a romance because I didn’t see at all (except that as a case of Stockholm syndrome). For me, there was also the disconnect between Islamic religion being younger than some of the characters who are supposedly following it. The stories about Djinn are also older than that religion. Devas are divine, other-worldly beings from Hinduism and Buddhism.

The ending leaves everything wide open. I already have the second book.

The first book in an urban fantasy series.

Publication year: 2006
Format: print
Publisher: Roc
Page count: 341

Harper Blaine is a private investigator in Seattle. The book starts when her current client’s step-father attacks her and beats her very badly. She sees, hears, and smells things, people, and places which aren’t there. A doctor tells her that she had been dead for two minutes but brought back. He gives her the address of a couple of friends who might be able to help her. They are Ben and Mara Danziger.

When she’s released from the hospital, she tries to dive back to work, to pay the bills. She gets a missing person’s case through her lawyer contact and a strange sounding man contacts her on the phone, asking her to retrieve a missing heirloom, a parlor organ. But her office is also burgled.

But she still hears and sees strange things, so reluctantly she goes to meet the Danzigers. They tell her that because she died, she can now see, hear, and smell the Grey, as they call the misty, desperate place between life and death. The people she’s seen are mostly ghosts but can also be vampires or other paranormal creatures. Harper is called a Graywalker now. However, she refuses to believe it. But when people and stranger things attack her, she must at least know more to survive.

While this book came out in 2006, the tech level feels much older. Harper doesn’t have a cell phone, she uses a pager. Only one person in the book has a cell phone. Similarly, only one person uses a laptop others use desk top computers. I found this quite refreshing and it added to the overall atmosphere.

Harper is the book’s first-person narrator. In the first half of the book, Harper tries to reject the Grey and focuses on investigating her two cases. But in the second part, she dives into the vampire world of Seattle. She’s very down-to-earth woman and finding out that the paranormal is real is a shock to her so of course she resists at first. She owns a gun and must use it a couple of times but otherwise, she’s not great in battle. She’s also a loner; she doesn’t seem to have any friends or life outside her work. However, she has a pet ferret, Chaos. There are also two men who could be considered love interests but they don’t take over the book which was nice. Mostly, she actually does her job by investigating the cases she has.

I really enjoyed the Danzigers. Ben is a part-time teacher at the local university and a magic theorist. His wife Mara is a witch. They try to help Harper but their own experiences with the Grey are limited and they aren’t right all the time. Ben has a tendency to lecture and they both are sources of info-dumps but I found them quite interesting. Mara is the more practical person. Apparently her Irish accent is not Irish at all.

The vampires aren’t alluring in this book. They’re inhuman monsters. They probably have some powers to enchant humans but Harper can see what they really are. That adds to the atmosphere which isn’t horror but leans toward that more than most UF.

I quite liked the story and the characters. Its world-building is interestingly different. However, some of things were left open at the end, such as why Harper was such a special case. Surely, she can’t be the only person who has been dead for a few minutes but brought back. Yet, that was the only explanation for her abilities and why some characters are interested in her.

The first book in romantic urban fantasy series, the Gale women.

Publication year: 2009
Format: Audio
Running time: 14 hours 1 minute
Narrator: Teri Clark Linden

Allie Gale was born to the Gale family and so to magic, as well. The numerous women in the Gale family are strong with magic and so are the few men. The Gales tend to have 4 or 5 girls for every male child. But Allie doesn’t have any sisters. Instead, she has just one older brother and the family is afraid that he’s so strong with magic that he’ll go rogue. Allie loves her brother David and doesn’t believe that her aunts and nieces are right.

But her more immediate problem is that she’s unemployed, had to move back in with her parents, and Michael, the man she thought would be spend the rest of her life with, has gone off his boyfriend. She’s depressed and aimless in her life. Then she receives a letter from her grandmother, who has a junk shop in Calgary. Apparently her grandmother has died and given Allie the shop. Allie is shocked but none of the older women believe that her Gran is really dead. Allie isn’t thrilled about it but she goes to Calgary to check the place out. Mysterious things are happening and one of them is a gorgeous but snoopy reporter who wants to know all about Allie’s grandmother.

Soon, she’s joined by her cousin Charlie who has wild magic and is a musician. She’s also joined by Michael who is still worried about her… and caught his boyfriend cheating on him.

This was mostly a fun book. It’s very much a romance: Allie and Graham’s relationship is the main thing. Also, it’s about dragons. It’s also about familial love, family sticking together, no matter what (well, mostly).

Yet on have mixed feeling about it because the Gale family’s seriously strange. Only people in the Gale family have magic and so they want to keep the talent in the family as much as possible. Males make the choice of their wife among cousins… and before they choose, they sleep around with everyone. The woman can make a male change their mind and do so. In fact, the aunts are unhappy with Allie because she didn’t change Michael’s mind. However, that would have changed him to a different person and Allie didn’t want to do that.

Women also get more powerful when they age. On the other hand, they need a male spouse to rise to the “second circle” (get more powerful). They’re also expected to have a lot of children. And yet, the family has at least one nuclear family where the women are the spouses (to each other) and share a man. So, not so heterocentric after all.

The actual magic is mostly done with low-key charms, except when, er, dragons are involved. Allie’s cousin Charlie has wild talent which allows her to travel through woods. However, some the magic isn’t really defined much.

I liked Allie and Charlie. I didn’t mind Allie and Graham’s romance. I loved the humor and the pop culture references made be giggle. Still, the Gale family dynamic makes me uncomfortable. But I guess I’ll continue with the series.

The first book in the alternate history Lady Astronaut series.

Publication year: 2018
Format: print
Publisher: TOR
Page count: 431 including historical note and bibliography

This is my first Kowal book. I love her work as the narrator of Seanan McGuire’s Toby Daye audiobooks. Happily, I clicked with her writing style or Elma’s voice.

It’s fall 1952 and a huge meteorite strikes us destroying most of the Eastern coast. Elma and her husband Nathaniel are taking a small holiday and they’re in the mountains. That’s why they’re still alive. They manage to escape to the nearest surviving Air Force base because they have a small plane and Elma is a great pilot. Nathaniel is the lead engineer of International Aerospace Coalition and he goes to work – persuading the AF base commander that this was not a Soviet attack. Except for her brother who lives in California, Elma’s whole family is dead. She’s a pilot but the AF won’t give her a chance to rescue refugees. But she must work so she volunteers at the local hospital.

But soon enough, her husband needs her particular skills. Elma has a PhD in Mathematics. But because this is 1952, she works as a computer – one of the very best at calculating anything. She finds out the chilling truth: the meteorite has changed world’s climate catastrophically and if humanity is going to survive, it must happen in space.

But only white men are approved to train as astronauts.

Kowal shows the pervasive, casual, and smug sexism against Elma and all the other women who are just casually dismissed all the time. Just as chilling is the casual racism and undervaluing of black people; how the white men don’t even see either, until it’s pointed out and yet the targets must constantly live with it. Elma doesn’t initially realize her own racism but slowly her awareness grows. Sadly, both attitudes still exist, if not so blatantly.

The book is written from Elma’s first-person POV. I loved her voice. But she constantly undervalues herself and what she’s capable of. Also, she hears her mother’s voice telling her to mind “what will others think”. She has an anxiety disorder and when she almost accidentally becomes the famous “Lady Astronaut” and people want her to speak in front of large crowds, it’s almost impossible for her. But only almost.

She and Nathaniel are happily married and Nathaniel is a wonderful, supportive husband. They both love their work and work long hours but they also find time to support each other. Neither of them talks about starting a family, though. I guess they’re too focused on their work, especially knowing that the end of the world is literally approaching.

There was also no talk about what happens to the billions of people who are on Earth. Are the colonies going to take all of them? It seems that just a select few are going to get off Earth and continue the species in colonies. Of course, a lot of people don’t believe that the Earth is going become unhabitable.

The changes in the timeline are pretty subtle at first and also the change in climate isn’t sudden but gradual. That’s why so many powerful white men have difficulty in believing that the change will come. They’d much rather pour money into their own agendas than the space program. However, we don’t see much of the world outside IAC except through newspaper clippings at the beginning of each chapter. IAC has international staff but they don’t talk much beside work (and sexism).

This isn’t an adventure book: Elma isn’t kidnapped or fighting for her own survival. Also, this is just the beginning of the road off Earth.

It’s the first book in a duology so the ending is wide open.

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