2019 Mount TBR


The second book in a trilogy of children’s fantasy books.

Publication year: 2003
Format: print
Publisher: Atom
Page count: 182

After the events of the previous book, the Troll King, every troll in Bonespittle wants to make Rollo the king. Even the comely troll maiden Ludicra finally notices Rollo and decides to become his queen. This is all a bit much to Rollo, who is only 14, and he flees the town. He tells everyone that he wants to keep a promise to a friend and to do that he needs to return to Bonny Woods where all the scary elves and pixies live. So, he runs.

Everyone celebrates their new-found freedom so much that nothing gets done. When two weeks have gone by, Ludicra finally decides to organized the trolls and ogres a little. But mostly, she’s worried about her own declining status and to keep it, she needs Rollo back. Together with a small group of trolls, ogres, and gnomes Ludicra and Rollo’s sister Crawfleece head to the scary woods. They also need to cross the Great Charm and they don’t know how.

Meanwhile, Rollo encounters some elves. For a short while, it looks like Rollo might make some new friends, despite an elven prince who is very suspicious of him. Unfortunately, things go wrong and the elves capture Rollo. He needs to be rescued.

This was a fun continuation to the Troll King with lots of adventure. Once again, we’re shown that things aren’t what they look at first glance. This time the POV shifts between Rollo and Ludicra who even grows a little during the dangerous journey. However, it does have a lot of violence and some unnamed characters die in battle scenes. Otherwise, it’s a great read for younger fantasy readers. It doesn’t end in a cliffhanger but most likely trouble awaites our intrepid band of unlikely heroes.

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The first book in a trilogy of children’s fantasy books.

Publication year: 2002
Format: print
Publisher: Atom
Page count: 216

This is book for older children. It’s set in a fantasy world with ghouls, gnomes, trolls, ogres, and faeries. But it’s set in the land of the “bad guys”, so that’s a bit different than usual.

For centuries, sorcerer Stygius Rex has ruled ogres, trolls, the ghouls, and gnomes in fear. Now, Rex has seen a vision and has decided that he’s going to build a bridge over the Great Chasm, from his land Bonespittle to the Bonny Woods which is home to the ferocious elves and pixies. Of course, Rex intends to conquer that disgustingly forested land. To do that, he needs workers.

Enter our hero Rollo. He’s a fourteen year old troll and one of the apprentices of a master bridge builder. Trolls live under bridges and that’s why the Troll Town has a lot of bridges. Sadly, trolls are also the most oppressed race in this nation and so Rex sends his ogres to kidnap trolls and force them to work. Unfortunate Rollo is the first one to be kidnapped.

Despite being a troll, Rollo is quite a typical main character. He’s not very brave but when needed, he will do the right thing. He’s scared of Rex but he’s basically a good-natured boy who doesn’t like the sorcerer’s plans. The ghoul General Drool also frightens him. And there’s a young troll girl whom he admires and tries to talk to.

It’s a fun, quick read. It’s rather a straightforward story of finding out that things aren’t necessarily as you have been told they are (hmmm… maybe some adults need to (re)learn that as well…) It doesn’t quite end in a cliffhanger but definitely has a hook to the next book.

A short story collection of steampunk tales. Most are reprints.

Publication year: 2015
Format: print
Publisher: Robinson
Page count: 518

Many steampunk stories are set in Victorian England but I’ve read some set in the Wild West settings and of course those set in fantasy worlds with steampunk machines and magic side-by-side and alternate worlds without actual magic. This collection has wide variety of settings from imaginary worlds to Mongolian steppes and rain forests of South-America.

The characters are also quite varied. Some of the stories are from “SteamPowered II: More Lesbian Steampunk Stories” so we also get lesbian lovers (no sex scenes), along with the usual spies, adventurers, detectives, and apprentices. The moods of the stories range from adventurous to horror to contemplative. However, especially those stories that are set in the past, racism and sexism is shown affecting the main character. Also, I don’t consider all stories to be adventure but they do have social conscience, so they definitely have a “punk” attitude. In some stories that conscience is hidden, rather than overt and some explore the evils of tech (such as genetic engineering) slightly sideways. A couple of the stories are about the horrors of war.

Tobias S. Buckell: “Love Comes to Abyssal City”: Tia is a young diplomat whose job is to meet the people who come to Abyssal City. However, that job demands that she spends time away from her social duties, spending time with the travelers when they’re quarantined before letting them into the city. Even the day when she’s supposed to meet her future cardmate, she instead spends three days together with a young traveler from another city. She’s fascinated by his stories and him. Perhaps more than she should be because the city itself notices the anomaly when she doesn’t like the man the city has computed to be her perfect match.

A.C. Wise’s “A Mouse Ran up the Clock” is set in Nazi Germany. Simon Shulewitz can build mechanics inside animals and they don’t die. Unfortunately, his skills attract attention from the ruling Nazis.

Cherie Priest: “Tanglefoot” is set in her Clockwork Century series, even though you don’t need to know anything about the series. Dr. Archibald Smeeks is an inventor and a builder but is now quite elderly and lives in the basement of a sanitarium. Edwin is one of the orphans there and does his best to assist the doctor both in work and in remembering. Edwin has his own job, too; he’s building a mechanical boy as a new friend.

Jay Lake: “Benedicte Te”: Algernon Black-Smith is a secret agent for Her Majesty. But someone tries to murder him quite spectacularly with a runaway steam train. Then the Consul-General sends him to a secret mission into the Republic of Texas. However, Algernon strongly suspects that the Consul-General himself tried to assassinate him. So, he must be very careful.

Benjanun Sriduangkaew: “Five Hundred And Ninety-Nine”: This story starts in the modern day Krungthep (Bangkok). Nathamol and Rinnapha are roommates in a university. At first, Nathmol’s biggest problem is that she’s in love with Rinnapha. But when China and America go to war, electricity and other modern comforts are stripped away.

Christopher Barzak: “Smoke City”: The main character of this story has two lives. She lives in the modern world with her husband and kids. But she’s from Smoke City where she has another husband who must work in the steam factories. She also has other children whose destiny is to work, too, in those same factories.

Carrie Vaughn: “Harry and Marlowe and the Talisman of the Cult of Egil”: This is essentially a female Indiana Jones story. Harry (a woman) steals the talisman and then must try to take it back to England in Marlowe’s airship. However, while she and her handsome partner Marlowe have been getting the talisman, the Germans have blockaded the whole island.

Jonathan Wood: “Anna In The Moonlight”: In this world, England has been torn by civil war because some people have had animal parts ingrafted into them and others think that’s against god’s will. Frank is a soldier in that war. The killing hardens him. Until he meets a woman.

Chris Roberson: “Edison’s Frankenstein”: Set in the Chicago World Fair and in a world where prometheic matter has replaced the fledgling electricity as the main power source for steam engines and “Antediluvian” machinery. Archibald Cahabane is the leader of the Algerian Exhibit and he’s trying to get the Exhibit to be built in time. But then a strange man is found and Archibald hears that someone has been murdered.

C.S.E. Cooney: “The Canary of Candletown”: The coal to power steam engines must come from somewhere. Candletown is a coal town where the children born are automatically put to work, with barely enough food to survive. Canary is one of those children. One day she meets with a woman from outside the town.

E. Catherine Tobler: “Green-Eyed Monsters In The Valley Of Sky, An Opera”: Dinosaurs! Opera! Mechanical dinosaurs! In South America.

Alex Dally MacFarlane: “Selin That Has Grown in the Desert” in set on the Mongolian plain. Dursun’s parents are talking about finding a husband for her. But she doesn’t want that because she isn’t attracted to men. However, no other woman is like that and she knows she must do her duty. But then the traders come and with them is a strange looking woman who has many secrets.

Gord Sellar: “The Clockworks Of Hanyang”: MacMillan is a brilliant and famous English detective. He and his long-time friend Lasher are in Hanyang, Korea. They’re disturbed by the local mechanical constructs, the mechanika, which can’t speak and which are built without the knowledge of language. That and the fact that they’re built with the five relationships of Confusious are supposed to ensure that they never rebel, unlike the Western mechanika. However, a mysterious young lady asks MacMillan to investigate on her behalf and he agrees, even though Lasher has more doubts than usual.

Tony Pi: “The Curse of Chimère”: Professor Tremaine Voss has been invited to the screening of one of the first color films, an new invention by alchemists. However, when he arrives, people are running away from the cinema in panic or unable to move and bleeding from the eyes. Luckily, Voss is a very experienced investigator of supernatural things gone wrong. The story’s available for free online at Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

Aliette de Bodard: “Memories In Bronze, Feathers And Blood”: Nezahual used to be a Jaguar Knight. Now he builds mechanical creatures and some of them even come alive. Then Acamapixtli tries to convince Nezahual to start building a different, more peaceful world with his machines. Even the idea is threatening to some. The story is told from the POV of one of Nezahual’s mechanical creatures. The story’s available for free online at Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

Nisi Shawl: “The Return of Chérie”: Lisette is an agent of Kalima, an independent African state. She returns with secret offers of alliance from two different nations to the head of state. She also meets Daisy, who is a secret agent for Kalima and Lisette’s former lover. Oh, they’re both over 50.

Lisa L. Hannett: “On The Lot And In The Air”: A mechanical crow is part of an carnival show where people try to throw rocks at him to make him drop the golden cog in his beak.

Genevieve Valentine: “Terrain”: A steampunk Western. Fa Liang, who builds mechanics, Shoshune siblings Faye and Frank, freedman Joseph and his wife Maria, and Elijah, who is the only one of them who can own land legally, are living and working together on a small farm. They also run a message service where the boys ride mechanical dogs instead of horse. But the railroad is coming and threatening their livelihood and their very lives. Available for free at Tor.com

Sofia Samatar: “I Stole the DC’s Eyeglass”: Pai-te is a servant in the DC’s household. One day she steals his eyeglass. She gives it to her sister who develops a “spirit eye” and starts to build strange things.

Caitlín R. Kiernan: “The Colliers’ Venus (1893)”: Professor Jeremiah Ogilvy is a curator of his own museum and a geologist. When the local miners find a woman trapped inside a mineral deposit, the professor demands to speak with her even though she has killed two men.

Cat Rambo: “Ticktock Girl” is told from the POV of an automata which was built to by wheelchair-bound Lady Sybil to be her legs and fists. A reporter is asking the robot to remember her life and she remembers snippets of it.

K.W. Jeter: “La Valse”: The wealthy with long, long pedigrees are preparing for their annual New Year Eve Ball. Herr Doktor Pavel and his young assistant Anton are making sure the mechanical orchestra functions and that the aristocrats of both genders are property tightened into their mechanical body cages which will make them seem somewhat younger. Then something goes wrong.

Margaret Ronald: “The Governess And The Lobster”: Rosalie has come to Hakuma as a governess for four orphan children. She’s also required to find out if a school should be started in that town. However, Hakuma is a city of transients; both humans and automata rarely stay there for longer than a few months. Apparently, the automata have their own city nearby. The children have had no formal education and pretty much left to their own devices.

Samantha Henderson: “Beside Calais”: In this world, flying machines roam wild, like a cross between birds and horses. Some have been captured and tamed to work and when war threatens, humans start breeding the flying machines for war. In France, the breeding is planned to begin on a seaside farm where éoles and a couple of other breeds of machines still fly wild. Ian Chance has taken a commission to oversee it. On the farm is Ian’s previous lover Claire. When Claire was grievously hurt, crippled, four years ago, Ian ran away. Now he must face her again.

Ken Liu: “Good Hunting”: Liang’s father is a monster hunter and when Liang turns 13, his father takes him along to hunt a hulijing, a fox woman. Young Liang finds out that his father doesn’t know everyone. But the British are building a railroad through China and the old magic is disappearing. Both monsters and their hunters must find new ways to survive.

All of the stories have fascinating worlds. I liked all of the stories although not all of them have adventure. My favorites were “Beside Calais”, “The Governess and the Lobster”, and of course Carrie Vaughn’s story. The stories set in other countries than US or Britain brought a whole new angle to steampunk which I very much enjoyed.

This book brings together some of my favorite franchises: Star Trek TNG and the X-Men.

Publication year: 1998
Format: print
Publisher: Pocket Books
Page count: 265

Based on the premise, this sounded either terrible or wonderful. A bit surprisingly, it was just okay. Apparently, the heroes have met before but in a comic book I haven’t been able to find.

An admiral on Starbase 88 contacts captain Picard because all of a sudden seven X-Men have appeared on the Starbase. The mutants tell the admiral that Picard knows them. Apparently, they have met before because of the machinations of Kang, the time (and now universe) traveling conqueror. Enterprise-E is taking Commander Worf to a conference with the Klingons. But now the conference will have to wait until Picard picks up the X-Men.

At the same time, on planet Xhaldia, which isn’t a member of the Federation but on friendly terms, young people all over the planet have changed in strange ways and have strange, very powerful powers. The government is scared of these youths and confine them to a prison, for the safety of the other people. One of the changed people is a brother to a man who serves on the Enterprise. Not surprisingly, the youths feel that they’re treated unjustly and plan a break out.

The X-Men in this book are Storm, Shadowcat, Wolverine, Banshee, Arcangel, Colossus, and Nightcrawler. I was really looking forward to their interactions with the various TNG crew, such as Geordi and Kurt or Kitty and Data. Also, Federation pretty much is what the X-Men have been fighting for their whole lives so it would have been interesting to see their reactions.

Unfortunately, quite a large part of the book is devoted to unknown characters on Xhaldia. I understand that Friedman had to establish the conflict which the Enterprise-E crew and the X-Men are solving together but the book is quite short and so there wasn’t more than a couple of all too brief interactions between the crews. Most notably, Picard and Storm hit it off very well and so did Worf and Wolverine, while Warren rubbed pretty much everyone the wrong way. He loathes being confined to small corridors of the ship. Guinan and Wolverine also talk a little which was fun.

Of course, the whole plot of mutants appearing on a Star Trek planet at the same time as the X-Men visit, is very contrived. It was fun to read about the X-Men and the TNG crew fighting side by side, though.

A multigenre short story collection.

Publication year: 2016
Format: ebook
Publisher: WMG Publishing

This collection has even more genres than usual. There are stories with no SF/F elements at all, a couple of fantasy stories, an epic fantasy story, a post-apocalyptic story, some science fiction, and a tale of near future mixed with humor. The last story mixes humor and horror. As is appropriate for the theme, many are rather grim. The theme of “last stand” has been interpreted quite broadly, which is evident from the very first story. This time three stories didn’t work for me at all. But I enjoyed the others.

“The Great Ice Cream War of Grover’s Hollow” by Annie Reed: Pooter McKinnon and his friends love ice cream and they especially love Mr. Hurley’s ice cream truck. Mr. Hurley never smiles and the kids are a little afraid of them but they love the ice cream. Then one day, another ice cream truck shows on the same street. It belongs to a large chain.

“Slow Motion” by Eric Kent Edstrom: A baseball story.

“Do Not Resuscitate” by Dory Crowe: Rosemary used to be a teacher but after a stroke, she can’t talk and can’t even feed herself. One night, she sees something awful. Can she somehow communicate what she saw?

“Sunset, Fall, Home” by Dan C. Duval: Gary has a horse farm but the surrounding developments are squeezing it. His youngest son has returned home to ask him to sell the place and for once in his life, Gary is honest with his son.

“’Til Death Do Us Part” by Kerrie L. Hughes & John Helfers: In 1896, Jacob and Clara Troyers have moved to the wilds of America, to settle there. They live alone but near a fort. One night, Jacob is overdue from his hunting trip and a half-wolf, half-man attacks Clara biting her. She shoots it, but to her horror, it turns into Jacob. She must do whatever she can to protect their six-month-old son.

“Circle ’Round” by M. L. Buchman: Lola Mahoney is the new commander of a very tough US army squad. She and her team are sent to a very dangerous mission.

“Unto the Ether” by M. E. Owen: Aliens have come to Earth’s orbit and they’re not communicating, at least with the humans. Instead, they’re following their own protocol which disrupts all the nations on Earth. One scientist has dragged her teenage daughter to a safe bunker on Easter Island and she’s bored out of her mind. The story is told in aliens’ reports and the daughter’s letters to her best friend.

“Bury My Son at Home” by Angela Penrose: The Legion and the Confederation have brought their war to this planet. They recruited all men to their war and now the men are dead. Women are searching desperately for their loved ones’ bodies through the battlefields, to bring them home for decent burial. The battlefields are vast and then they find out that their time has ran out.

“The Flare” by Laura Ware: Ten days ago a huge solar flare hit Earth and everything electrical died. Sue and her husband Dan and their two children happen to live near a grouchy survivalist. Grudgingly, he helps them. But then a teenager staggers to Sue. He was short by a man insists that everyone follow him. And that man is coming for Sue’s small community.

“What’s Left of Me” by Bonnie Elizabeth: a woman battling multiple cases of cancer.

“The Counter” by Rob Vagle: Lane lives in a world where his worth is measured in coins inside him. Today, the Counter is coming to count and weight them, to see if Lane will live or die. Lane knows that he will fall short but he has a plan.

“The Toymaker of Kelsium Rye” by Chuck Heintzelman: Alger Dolling is the only toymaker in Kelsium Rye. By law, he can’t sell the toys; he must give them away. When one toymaker is becoming too old, he vanishes mysteriously. Now, it’s Alger’s turn to face the Destroyer.

“Magic and Sacrifice” by Felicia Fredlund: Tribald has been at war with Soar for three generations. Once again the spring has come and with it a brutal assault through the pass at Fire Mountain. Brave men and woman have died on both sides. Maora and her husband are determined to stop that.

“Lady Elizabeth’s Betrothal Ball” by Anthea Sharp: Most young women are thrilled at their betrothal ball. But princess Elizabeth isn’t like most young women. She already has a lover but because her lover is a poor commoner and a woman, they can’t be together. However, Elizabeth can’t just run away because the British Empire has spread even to the furthers star systems. So, she must do something far more drastic.

“Suppose They Gave a Ragnarok and Nobody Came?” by Lee Allred: Tyr, god of war has been asleep for a long time. When he senses that Ragnarok is near and finds Thor Thorsson, Thor isn’t what he expected. For one, this Thor was adopted so he’s black and for another, he’s a computer programmer, not a warrior. But Tyr must try to carry out Odin’s plan: to find Balder and stop Loki from killing him. However, that plan doesn’t succeed so Tyr and Thor must find some allies to fight the Ragnarok.

“Death Bunnies of Toxic Island” by Travis Heermann: Bunny Boo-Boo was the only thing Haley cared about. Since a hawk killed it, Haley has been inconsolable. But when she hears about a whole island full of rabbits in Japan, she knows she must go there. Of course, nobody tells the tourists that a dangerous opening has been found on the Rabbit Island.

Some of these stories have very interesting premise and I wouldn’t mind seeing more of the world, such as Heintzelman’s and Vagle’s stories. Owen’s story which is told from the aliens’ reports to their superiors and a scientist’s daughter’s letters worked surprisingly well. Over all, this was a good collection.

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 second book in the alternate history Lady Astronaut duology.

Publication year: 2018
Format: print
Publisher: TOR
Page count: 384 including the historical note and bibliography

This book starts a couple of years after the end of the previous book, Calculating Stars. It’s 1961 and the International Aerospace Coalition has established a moon base where astronauts go regularly, they have Lunette on orbit, and planning the first manned Mars mission. However, the space program has still many obstacles. One of them is funding. While the most radical people on the Earth First movement are considered terrorists, their sentiments are echoed by a lot of powerful people. Elma is one of the pilots ferrying people around on the Moon. Unfortunately, she’s parted from her beloved husband for months at a time while she’s on the Moon.

Elma is again the first-person POV narrator and the Mars mission is the center of the book. Once again, Elma and the other women (especially the non-white women) must fight for their places. Even then, Elma and the other women are mostly seen as a good publicity stunt. However, without modern computer technology, all the computing has to be done by hand and all the computers are women. They do have some mechanical computers but everything must be keyed in by hand so they’re actually slower than a human computer.

Sexism and racism are again addressed and shown. South Africa is a large economic contributor to the IAC and their astronauts are very racist. Elma must also confront her own privileges. Most of the characters from the first book return and we get more insight to some of them. There are a couple of things I had a problem with but they would be considered spoilers.

Also, this isn’t glamourous or easy space travel, but more realistic

Over all, this was a great continuation of the duology and I enjoyed it just as much as the first book. Definitely read the Calculating Stars first.

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