2020 mount TBR


A Buffy book set during early third season.

Publication year: 1999
Format: Print
Page count: 210
Publisher: Pocket Books

Willow is babysitting a toddler, when she starts hearing strange bumps from upstairs. She calls Oz and almost convinces herself that it’s nothing. Meanwhile, Buffy and Giles are hunting vampires. They’re also talking about the latest drama among the Slayerettes: Cordelia is organizing a big spring party in Weatherly park. It’s the same park which in danger of being mowed down and Willow is trying to stop that by organizing a demonstration. So, Cordelia and Willow are at odds with each other.

However, the bumps upstairs turn out to be real. When Willow gets there, to her horror the baby has turned to a monster with wings. The monster tells Willow that she must join the monster and save Weatherly park. Then it attacks. When Xander and Cordelia get there to save Willow, the monster is gone but so is the baby.

It turns out that other babies have disappeared, too, and it’s kept a secret. Even though people are warning Buffy and her friends to stay away, of course they investigate.

This is a quick and entertaining read set during the time when Cordelia dated Xander and Willow dated Oz. No mention of Faith or the Mayor, though. Buffy deals with a lot of vampires with Angel’s help. The fight scenes don’t really add anything to the plot but simulate some episodes rather well. That’s a bit of friction between Cordelia and the other characters, but not a lot and that’s fine with me.

A short story collection of various genres. Like, the name says, almost all of them are fast-paced and exciting.

Publication year: 2018
Publisher: WMG Publishing
Format: ebook
Page count at GoodReads: 295

This is another Fiction River collection which as stories from multiple genres, from sci-fi to fantasy to modern military action/adventure. It also has a story with a penguin main character and one story has a cooking contest.

“Payback is a Bitch” by Diana Deverell: Bella is in charge of providing private security for US government people in Dhaka, Bangladesh. She’s on a supposedly routine drive, when her team of bodyguards turn against her.

“Death-Blind” by Robert Jeschonek: The main character of this story wakes up in a maze, his own voice blaring at him, urging him to kill someone before the time runs out.

“The Airship Adventures of Captain Jane Fury” by Anthea Sharp: The captain of the HMS Minotaur, an airship, is on an urgent mission which could very well change the future of Britain, if she arrives on time. A storm, a band of pirates, and even a bigger menace try to stop her.

“Fifteen Men on a Dead Man’s Chest” by Henry Martin: A group of SEALs has been ordered to take back a cruiser which has been high jacked by pirates. Things go wrong from the start.
“The Tomb of Arisel” by Bonnie Elizabeth: The main character needs desperately an item from the catacombs below the temple of the Goddess of Love, Arisel. But she has fearsome guardians.

“Goodnight, Madison” by Lisa Silverthorne: Five days ago, Sam’s little daughter disappeared. He’s a police detective but he can’t find the person responsible. Until other kids start to disappear and Sam gets a letter.

“Romancing the Puffin” by Louisa Swann: Magnus and his moody but brilliant girlfriend are in the Antarctic, studying penguins. Now, she’s transformed him into a penguin and he must try to survive to find out if she can forgive him and turn him back.

“Dominant Species” by Dayle A. Dermatis: The main character of this story is a shapeshifter. She also works tirelessly to expose animal abuse. This time, she heard that people on a remote farm abuse dogs. Unfortunately, the situation is far worse and turns out very badly for her.

“Three Seconds” by T. Thorn Coyle: Zachary used to be a troubleshooter and a killer but he gave it up when he met the right man. But Zachary’s past has come to haunt him.

“Blood Chase” by Leah Cutter: Parayat is a loyal servant of the emperor and was born a star sister, able to create illusions. Now, the emperor has tasked her to slip inside the house of a traitor and kill him.

“Caterpillar Boot Man” by Valerie Brook: Cuba has been beaten bloody and now an armed man is chasing him in a car. Can Cuba get away?

“The Case of the Dead Son” by Laura Ware: This is a noir urban fantasy story. Eli Leafrunner is a police detective and a half-elf. He works in the Neighborhood, the dark underbelly of the Islands of Fantasy where most magical people live (and run it for humans to visit). Sorin is an influential elf. When his son’s death was declared a suicide, Sorin put a death curse of Eli. Eli has just hours to find out what really happened to Sorin’s son.

“Breakfast at Luigi’s” by Thea Hutcheson: Deirdre is a smart and beautiful young woman. She’s found a “sugar daddy” in a retired mob accountant, Luigi. When two hitmen invade the house, Deirdre is terrified but determined to get out alive.

“Black Phantom, Gray Op” by Stefon Mears: Aren Vestergaard has just quit from the Navy. He bought a ship and has set up a charter piloting business. On his first day, two people hold him on gunpoint and force him to take to a planet deep outside of human space.

“The Last Ramekin” by Liz Pierce: Molly is a kitchen witch and all the other cooking wizards and sorceresses look down on her. She’s made it to the final round in the contest and is determined to give it her all.

“The Princess, the Huntsman and the Monster” by Erik Lynd: Emily has just escaped from a man she thinks of as the Monster. She’s naked and alone is the snow.

I enjoyed almost all of the stories. The last one is the slowest but it’s pretty good. “Romancing the Puffin” and “The Last Ramekin” were my favorites.

14 short stories about Batman. They don’t follow any continuity and some are clearly in different worlds than any other stories in the collection.

Publisher: Bantam
Publishing year: 1989
Format: print
Page count: 401

This is a mixed bag of stories. The mood changes from horror to comedy, most being rather dark. Most of them have multiple POV character, one is Alfred’s diary, and one told in memos.

“Death of the Dreammaster” by Robert Sheckley: This story starts with the death of Joker. In this world, most of Batman’s allies are also dead: Robin, Batgirl, Batwoman. Not surprisingly, Bruce is somewhat depressed. Then he sees Joker’s green hair and white face on the street. He must find out what’s going on.

“Bats” by Henry Slesar: Robin is dead and Batman has apparently gone insane. Faithful Alfred is so shocked that he pours out his emotions to a diary.

“Subway Jack” by Joe R. Lansdale: This story has lots of horror elements and is somewhat choppy. Someone is killing homeless women on the subway. Batman and Gordon investigate. The writing style is somewhat gothic, with diary entries in the middle of usual prose. A couple of times Landsdale also adds descriptions of comic panels. They’re very evocative but jarred me out of reading.

“The Sound of One Hand Clapping” by Max Allan Collins: From horror to comedy, Joker is distressed because he doesn’t have a woman in his life. Then on TV he sees a female criminal calling herself the Mime and convinces himself that he’s madly in love.

“Neutral Ground” by Mike Resnick: Just five pages told from the POV of old man Kittlemeier who makes costumes to various people. He asks no names and doesn’t care what the people do with them.

“Batman in Nighttown” by Karen Haber and Robert Silverberg: In this story, Bruce is holding a masquerade party on New Year. His costume is a devil but someone else has come as Batman… and that person robs Bruce’s guests. Bruce doesn’t have time to change to his costume before driving after the “Batman”.

“The Batman Memos” by Stuart M. Kaminsky: This story is told with various memos and letters. A Hollywood exec wants to make a Batman movie and is looking into the legal and other aspects. Wayne represents Batman and comes to Hollywood. In the memos, we find out that one of the actresses goes missing.

“Wise Men of Gotham” by Edward Wellen: The Riddler is threatening wealthy men whom he calls the Wise Men of Gotham. Batman must figure out the riddles and rescue the men.

“Northwestward” (Black Widowers #61) by Isaac Asimov: A group of men calling themselves Black Widowers interview real-life Bruce Wayne on whom the fictional Batman was based on. This Wayne is over seventy years old but his minds is still sharp. He has a mystery for the group.

“Daddy’s Girl” by William F. Nolan: A Robin story. Batman is in Washington and Robin is trying to catch a cat burglar. Instead, he falls through a skylight and meets a very strange and naive girl who has never left her father’s house.

“Command Performance” by Howard Goldsmith: Another Robin/Dick Grayson story. Carol is a runaway and Dick’s classmate. When she ends up on the police station after she’s tried to substitute a cheap imitation jewelry to a very expensive real one, Dick starts to look into her story of the Man who forces teens to steal. In this story, Dick’s a reporter for Gotham High School’s Clarion.

“The Pirate Millionaire’s Cove” by Edward D. Hoch: A man dressed like a pirate kills a millionaire on his yacht. Bruce decides to go undercover in the Yacht club to find out who is responsible.

“The Origin of the Polarizer” by George Alec Effinger: Waters is a genius but he’s forced to work at a lowly job shipping electronics parts. However, he realizes that one Gotham City resident orders a lot of such parts and deduces that Bruce Wayne is Batman. In a (il)logical move, Waters sabotages Wayne’s next shipment and becomes a super villain, the Polarizer. He’s determined to outwit Batman. Meanwhile Batman and Robin are building their new computer with vacuum tubes and punch cards. They’re marveling how much more effective the BATIVAC will be. The story is set in 1957.

“Idol” by Ed Gorman: The strangest story in this collection, told from the POV of a psychopath who is obsessed with another man whom he sees as an impostor.

I liked most of the stories but I don’t think any of them are particularly memorable. Still, they showcase how versatile Batman is: from horror to comedy and comic book like stories. It even has two rather realistic stories. The cast of secondary characters also differs wildly: one has Vicky Vale, in another Bruce is dating wealthy socialite Vera St. Clair, two features Robin while in two Robin is dead. Commissioner Gordon is the only other character, besides Batman himself, who is pretty much the same in the stories he appears. I was a bit surprised that the only major villain making a significant appearance here is the Riddler. Joker is on a couple of pages in the first story.

The fifth book, and the second in the second trilogy, in the Roma Nova alternative reality action/thriller series.

Publication year: 2016
Format: Print
Page count: 296
Publisher: Pulcheria Press

The book is set at the beginning of 1980s. Roma Nova was founded by refugees from Roman Empire and has thrived during the centuries. However, it’s not a democracy. Power is in the hands of the heads of the twelve families, all women, and the imperatrix who is always a woman.

Aurelia Mitela is in her forties and at the height of her career. She’s the foreign minister and the head of the twelve families who together advice the imperatrix. 13 years ago, she set Caius Tellus to prison in Germany after he assaulted her and killed people. However, now he’s served his sentence and is back. Aurelia tries to fight it, but to her horror, outdated laws let Caius walk. He manages to influence the head of the Tella family and eventually even the impratrix herself to worm his way to the highest levels of government.

At the same time, some people are rioting. Aurelia suspects that Caius is behind it but can’t find any proof. When her 19-year-old daughter is attacked, she takes her and flees to her farm but even that place has been attacked. When riots continue, led by Roman Nationalist movement which calls for return to the “natural” male leadership, the Roman Novan government itself is in danger.

For some readers, the beginning is slower because it’s focused on Aurelia’s personal life, her alienation from her daughter, and fears of Caius. Of course, if you’ve read the previous book (which I recommend) you know just how dangerous Caius is so it’s great foreshadowing. But when the action starts, it’s relentless. It also felt like the darkest book in the series so far.

This was a great book in the series. The characters are great and it’s so rare but wonderful to see a woman over 40 as the main character of an action book. Aurelia is a former special forces Major so she’s more than capable of fighting with both hand-to-hand and weapons.

Aurelia a passionate character; she cares deeply for the people in her life and also for Roma Nova itself. The current ruler Severina is a weak person and therefore a bad ruler but Aurelia tries her best to guide her, even when Severina doesn’t want that guidance. Severina is more than a plausible character and so is Aurelia’s daughter who is becoming increasingly uncomfortable of her mother’s protection.

While the main plot of overthrowing the matriarchal leaders of the nation is very similar to the plot in the second book of the series, Perfiditas, the execution was completely different. The revolutionaries take advantage of the people’s prejudices and ignorance in addition to lazy or corrupt government officials, set in their ways. It’s all frighteningly realistic.

The book ends in a cliffhanger so I’m going to get the next book soon.

A Buffy the Vampire slayer book, set in the third season.

Publication year: 2000
Format: Print
Page count: 178
Publisher: Pocket books

The story starts with a young woman, Heidi, who is chased by two vampire men, twins in fact. They catch her and take her back to their “home”, to their mother who is also a vampire. Together they drink from the girl and kill her.

Buffy and her mom Joyce are in the mall, having a nice day together. Then Buffy realizes that someone is following them. It turns out to be Suz Tompkins, one of the “tough girls” in Sunnydale High. She asks Buffy for help, nearly crying because her best friends have gone missing and she suspects something really bad has happened to them. Heidi’s own mom doesn’t care and the police think that Heidi has just run away or joined a gang.

Buffy agrees to help and the vampire twins arrive in the Bronze. Buffy lures them out. She and Angel attack them. She kills one of them and then their vampire mom arrives just in time to see her kill the other. The vampire mom summons the Greek goddess of revenge, Nemesis, and asks for revenge against Buffy. Nemesis puts Buffy on trial.

This was a fun Buffy story, except she does more contemplation than usual. The Scooby Gang are in character and pretty funny. It has several references to earlier episodes, which I quite enjoyed. Overall, I enjoyed the story.

I enjoyed the Mount TBR challenge last year even though I didn’t quite reach my goal of 24 books. But I still have lots and lots of unread books so I’m going to
join Mount TBR 2020 with the same goal of 24 books.

Like last year, I’m adding my Fiction River e-books and StoryBundle e-books into the TBR pool in addition to the physical copies but not audiobooks even though I have still unlistened audiobooks from last year.

Books read:
1, Cameron Dokey: Here be Monsters
2, Alison Morton: Insurrectio
3, Martin H. Greenberg, ed.: The Further Adventures of Batman
4, Mel Odom: Unnatural Selection
5, Kevin J. Anderson, ed: Fiction River: Pulse Pounders: Countdown
6, expanse
7, buffy