2017 pick & mix


The continuation novella to Penric’s Mission.

Publication year: 2017
Format: Audio
Running time: 3 and 25 minutes
Narrator: Grover Gardner

Penric, General Adelis Arisaydua and his widowed sister Nikys are on the run from Cedonia’s forces. Penric is a sorcerer in the Bastard’s order and he’s grievously wounded. His demon, Desdemona, is healing him but it takes time and energy. But they have to get away from Cedonia and a safe place. However, they are quite a distinct party so they have to find a way to disguise themselves. Unexpectedly, one of Desdemona’s previous hosts comes to the rescue, and so Penric disguises himself as Mira, a high-class courtesan. However, this tactic brings them some unexpected attention, too.

Another short Penric novella which ends rather abruptly and leaves personal matters unsolved. Unfortunately, this novella feels very much like part of a story instead a complete story. I also strongly suggest reading the previous novellas first.

Penric and his small party are fleeing to Cedonia’s border and to a possible safe place. However, they’re trying not to attract attention and have resorted to various disguises. Adelis’ disfigurement makes him easy to spot so he has to disguise himself pretty much all the time which frustrates him. Like in the previous novella, Nikys is a caretaker but this time more for Penric than her brother.

Mira is a delightful character; too bad that according to the title she’ll never been seen again. Penric’s discomfort with Mira’s antics was very humorous to listen to but he’s also willing to trust her completely. Nikys’ discomfort with the same was less great. Nikys’ musings about what it would be like to live with Penric are very grounded but puts obstacles in their way. Of course, it’s far better to have actual obstacles in a romance rather than those that can be solved by having a truthful conversation for 10 minutes…

Overall, this was a light and fun read with some adventure and romance.

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A novella in the Diving universe sci-fi series. Set before the series started.

Publication year: 2014
Format: Audio
Running time: 2 and 21 minutes
Narrator: Flora Plumb

Tory Sabin is the captain of the anacapa space ship Geneva. She’s extremely capable and she knows the dangers of the anacapa drive personally: when she was young, her father disappeared into the fold space with his ship.

When Sabin hears the distress call from captain Jonathan “Coop” Cooper from the Ivoire, she knows that he’s in real trouble. Coop is very reluctant to ask for help. She whips the other captains into helping Coop but they arrive just in time to see strange smaller ships firing on the Ivoire which then slips into the fold space. And doesn’t return.

Sabin is a driven character. For many years, she was focused on finding her father and became a fold space specialist because of it. Now, she’s a captain and extremely good with that.

This was a great novella, set among the Fleet. We get to know more about the Fleet itself and about Coop’s background. It’s very short and focused on Sabin’s story.

The sixth book in the Diving universe sci-fi series.

Publication year: 2017
Format: Audio
Running time: 4 and 57 minutes
Narrators: Jennifer Van Dyck

Boss and her crew are exploring the Boneyards, the graveyard of ships which the Fleet left behind years, maybe hundreds of years ago. Many, if not all, of the ships have the dangerous anacapa drives. She and her team are diving one of the ships when they realize that one of the drives on a nearby ships is still in operation. Anacapa drives are unpredictable and this one affects Boss herself and one of the crew very badly. Still, the crew needs to find out more.

As in the previous books focusing on Boss, this book is written in the first person and present tense, which adds to the tension and immediacy of the story. It has a lot of tensions between the crew and highly experienced people trying to anticipate problems. Both are things I really enjoy in this series.

On the other hand, if you’ve read the previous book in the series (the Falls) you already know what the runabout it, so the story has less surprises than in previous books. Still, it was great to return to Boss and her crew. It’s clear that the series will continue and I’m looking forward to their further adventures.

Boss is a very independent character: in the first book she works alone and very reluctantly hires others only when absolutely necessary. Now, she’s the leader of this team and she’s still sometimes rather uncomfortable with all that.

Other reviewers have remarked that it’s possible to start with this book, but personally I recommend starting with the first one “Diving into the Wreck”.

The fifth book in the fantasy romance series set in the Five Hundred Kingdoms.

Publication year: 2010
Format: Audio
Running time: 11 and 5 minutes
Narrators: Gabra Zackman

Princess Rosamund has just turned 16 and is the sole heir for her father the king of Eltaria. She also knows about the Tradition, which is the power of the fairy tales who steer people into the most, well, traditional paths. Her mother has died recently and she knows that according to Tradition, her father will now marry an evil woman who will hunt down Rosa. So, she runs away. But she’s chased by a murderous huntsman and her fragile plans to out the window. She manages to evade the huntsman but foolhardily promises to seven dwarves to do anything they want in exchange for a place to stay. But these dwarves are mean and evil: they keep Rosa as a slave and expect her to cook, clean, mend, and do everything else too, in exchange for a bit of food and a sleeping place in the kitchen. She’s close to desperation because they’ve chained her to the little, dirty cottage.

She also doesn’t know that the local fairy godmother Lilly already had a plan. She and the king realized the path that the Tradition was likely to take. So, they decide to side-step the Tradition’s demands: Lilly will impersonate an evil sorceress and wed the king. They hastily do that because war is near and the king is forced to go out and defend the kingdom. However, they haven’t told anything about this to Rosa. Lilly manages to find her with her magic mirror and devises a plan to get Rosa away from the dwarves. That plan involves making Rosa appear dead magically and then revive her magically.

However, unbeknownst to Lily or Rosa two princes are nearby. One of them is Siegfried, a Northern prince and a demi-god who grew up with his extended family of gods, goddesses and demi-deities. He’s a sell-sword hero trying to escape his doom: a maiden sleeping in the middle of flames who needs to be kissed awake. That maiden may also be his half-aunt or something… The other is prince Leopold who is more of a roughish prince who laughs and jokes often. He also gambles a lot.

This book mixes up Snow White with a little bit of Sleeping Beauty and a big dose of the Ring of the Nibelung. The beginning was more fun, though, the string of contests for the princes, which takes up most of the book, were fun, too, and riff on the traditional contests in fairy tales, of course.

Like all the other princesses in this series, Rose is quite level-headed. Her mother was a shepherdess and she taught her daughter a lot of useful skills. Lilly has been a godmother for 300 years so she’s also very capable. She has a close friendship with her loyal mirror servant Jimson. Siegfried was also great fun and so was Leopold and their friendship. Not the best of the series for me but quite enjoyable. I’d also love to see the further adventures of the main couple.

I’ve really enjoyed Gabra Zackman’s unhurried narration in this series and this book was no exception.

The next, and the last, book is Beauty and the Werewolf. I might track down the Snow Queen at some point, which is not available through Audible.

The third book in the Five Hundred Kingdoms fantasy romance series.

Publication year: 2007
Format: Audio
Running time: 10 and 36 minutes
Narrators: Gabra Zackman

Katya is the seventh daughter of the Sea King. The King is a sensible man and knows about the Tradition (the way that fairy tales want to impose their own way onto people and entire nations. So, he’s made sure that none of his children are idle or have cause to complain. All of them have their own careers and important duties according to their talents and interests. Katya, Ekaterina, is a warrior and a spy. She loves to travel to other places and meet new people. She also loves shoes and clothing which aren’t practical in the sea. She’s also very aware of her role as the first line of defense to her nation and family. So, she’s happy to spy.

Sasha is the youngest son of the king of Belrus. As a seventh son, the Tradition takes an exceptional interest in him. Sasha is the Fortunate Fool. His family treats him badly in front of others but amongst themselves they know the very important role Sasha has maintaining the stability of the kingdom. He travels around making sure that the Tradition doesn’t twist anyone to a too bad end but at the same time he knows that the lands can’t be too safe. It’s a balance.

Their romance isn’t dramatic. There are no jealous current or former boy/girlfriends, no misunderstandings that could be solved by one honest discussion, no mooning from afar because the other person can’t possibly be attracted to me or any such “romance” troupes. Nope, they just get together. Great! However, that doesn’t happen right away. Before meeting each other, Katya and Sasha have their own adventures first. Sasha is also trailed by unicorns which were very hilarious in this book.

Both Katya and Sasha are quite dutiful towards their families. If the plot had been different, that could have been a tragedy. But this is feel-good romance and adventure without tragedy. The lovers are very compatible and very cute together. This book immediately jumped into my top courtship romances list (which is very short, anyway). However, I’d love to see them working together now that the whole courtship thing is done.

The book is set in vaguely Russian nations which means that certain old witch makes an appearance. She’s the most terrifying aspect in the book. I thought this story was based on the Little Mermaid but happily, that was not the case. Instead, it does weave together several fairy tales from Japan, Russia, and Arabian Nights. That does feel a little too much at times. Otherwise, I loved this book!

The third book in the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences steampunk series.

Publication year: 2014
Format: print
Publisher: Ace
Page count: 374

Our colonial pepperpot and dashing archivist are heading to the US. During the airship voyage, a mysterious man tries to sabotage the ship but Agents Eliza Braun and Wellington Books manage to stop the sabotage. Otherwise, Eliza is unhappy with the voyage because Wellington kissed her previously and she’s expecting him to continue in the same way. Instead, Wellington labors with his steam powered motorcar.

In Norfolk, our intrepid agents are met by two agents from the US’ Office of the Supernatural and Metaphysical. Librarian Felicia Lovelace is on her first field assignment and she clearly doesn’t have any experience in spying, going so far as forgetting the others’ assumed names. On the other hand, her partner William “Will Bill” Wheatley is a very experienced field agent. The Ministry agents are supposed to just consult the Americans about why ocean and airships are disappearing. Soon, they uncover an ominous plot which seems to involve Thomas Edison and his inventions.

I really enjoyed the steampunk elements and the inventors, Edison and especially the others. Both new agents are also rather interesting characters and they play well against each other but their role in the story made me dislike them. I also rather enjoyed the Ministry’s own mad scientists Blackwell and Axlerod.

Also, the Ministry’s enemies are on the move. Almost every other chapter was an interlude focusing on a mysterious priest doing the House of Usher’s work or Sophia del Morte moving in on her newest target. I rather enjoyed these chapters as well. The story is fast-paced with lots of fight scenes.

Unfortunately for me, this book has not just one romantic triangle but two. That’s right: Bill/Eliza/Wellington and Eliza/Wellington/Felicity. Both American agents start to court a British agent amazingly quickly. Eliza and Wellington are unsure about each other’s feelings and Eliza is barely civil to Wellington. So, the story has lots of Eliza and Bill going off to do mayhem while Wellington and Felicia do scouting and other spy things. So, there’s plenty of time for Bill to make moves toward Eliza and likewise Felicity to Wellington. Unfortunately, it felt very contrived to me and went on for far too long.

Near the end, there are some revelations which will, no doubt, feature heavily in the next two books. It ends almost in a cliffhanger. I was thinking that I might not want to continue with this series but it seems that the jealousy and UST is now finally ended as major parts of the books, so I’m going to get the next two books, too.

11th book in the wonderful October Daye urban fantasy series.

Publication year: 2017
Format: Audio
Running time: 11 and 36 minutes
Narrators: Mary Robinette Kowal

Toby is getting married and her “sister” (death omen) May has organized a bachelorette party for her. In a karaoke bar. At first, Toby is horrified but after the Sea Witch has sung a Disney song (from the Little Mermaid) Toby starts to relax and even enjoy herself. Unfortunately, that doesn’t last.

Amandine is one of the very powerful Firstborn Fae. She’s also of opinion that changelings, the half-fae offspring of humans and fae, aren’t worth the space they take. She’s also Toby’s mother who wanted very different things for her than what Toby herself chose. Amandine has never forgiven Toby for that.

Now, she comes to Toby’s home and demands that Toby finds August. August is Amandine’s eldest child and a full-blooded fae. However, August have been lost for over a century without any clue as to where she has gone. Toby has no interest in obeying her mother and so, Amandine takes hostages: two people who are very dear to Toby and May. Now, Toby has no choice. She has to find her sister whom she’s never met, indeed, whose very existence she didn’t even know about until very recently. And she’s must do so as soon as possible: Amandine is cruel.

First, Toby needs someone related to August. That means Amandine’s full-blooded fae husband who is also one of Toby’s most hated enemies.

This was another very satisfying read. We get to know more about Simon and even about the Sea Witch. One of my favorite troupes is enemies forced to work together and here McGuire uses it beautifully. McGuire even finds a way to separate Toby from most of her allies who are, by now, admittedly quite powerful. It’s also heart-wrenching, especially the end.

Amandine is very arrogant. It seems that she’s forgotten, or suppressed, her time with Toby’s mortal father. I can’t really understand how she could have lived with him because now she expects everything to be of high-fae standards. Maybe she’s just crueler than usual. She’s also very powerful. Maybe more than Toby can handle.

Many of the large cast make an appearance and all of my favorites have a large part to play.

Once again, I want to reread the whole series. Maybe next year…

Quotes:
“I’ve been informed that you’re continuing to play at being a detective,” Amandine sniffed. “It seems an odd thing to spend your time in since we both know that you have no native talents in the area. But if you will persist, it seems you’re able to do me a boon.”
I blinked. “What?”
“I wish to hire you.”

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