2021 mount tbr


A novella set in the middle of her book Renegat, which is part of her Diving Universe SF series.

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Publication year: 2020
Format: ebook
Publisher: WMG Publishing

Raina Serpell was a linguist and she loved her work. But now, she’s the reluctant captain of the starship Renegat. She can’t trust her remaining crew. None are officers and they don’t know much about operating the ship. Many of them are also purely lazy and argumentative. But she’s determined to get them home. All of them.

Now, they’re orbiting an unknown planet. An unknown enemy is shooting at Renegat. Raina doesn’t know how to operate the weapons, and everyone is looking for her for leadership.

This was a short and very dramatic story. Raina and her problems are wonderfully realized. The story is quite fast-paced.

However, I’m not sure how easy it is for anyone who hasn’t read the series to understand it. So, I recommend reading another story from the series first. However, the book Renegat is really long so I’m not sure if that’s the best place to start. This story does have spoilers for Renegat.

The first book in a science fantasy trilogy but can be read as a stand-alone.

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Publication year: 1926
Format: print
Page count: 175
Publisher: Tandem

To my surprise, I found an unread Burroughs book from my shelves. It has quite an elaborate backstory, especially for such a slim book.

As is usual for ERB, the story starts with the writer as the narrator and he meets the main character of the main story. This time Burroughs gives us future history which alone would have been enough for most SF writers. The book is set in 1960s when a terrible decades-long war has finally ended. Humanity turns to the stars. They receive a radio transmission from Mars, from Barsoom. Humanity sends spaceships to Mars in order to meet with the people of Helium. Also, the main narrator of the story, Julian, knows the future because he’s already lived it. He can remember his descendants’ future history because he’s reborn to the future.

Julian is the captain of the second spaceship. However, his bitter rival Orthis is also aboard. Orthis sabotages the ship and it goes to the Moon instead. But Julian and the others find that the Moon isn’t a barren place. Instead, beneath the Moon’s crust is a world with not just atmosphere but people. After our heroes explore this world a little, savage, centaur-like people capture Julian and Orthis.

As usual for ERB, this story has lots of adventure with strange creatures and alien landscapes. It’s quite enjoyable if you can ignore the blatant classism. (The descendants of nobility are good and heroic, the descendants of lower classes are the bad guys without a shred of decency.)

Structurally, the Moon Maid is very similar to the Princess of Mars. Julian is unexpectedly thrust to an alien and savage world, he explores the exotic places and people, and he falls in love with the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen. Like John Carter, Julian is a heroic fighting man; even though he prefers firearms, he’s also a good swordsman.

The Moon races are strange. The centaur-like people (No-Vads) are nomads yet they live in villages which are never described. They’re carnivores but they can’t eat the few animals, so they hunt and eat other tribes and also the one other intelligent race, which looks like humans. The “humans” on this world are remnants of a great civilization. They have two cities which are at war with each other.

The book has surprisingly little description. I would have liked quite a bit more. I was also rather uncomfortable with intelligent races eating each other.

Otherwise this was quite an enjoyable old science fantasy book.

The third book in the Whispering Pines cozy mystery series.

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Publication year: 2018
Format: ebook
Page count at GoodReads: 490

After returning to the small village of Whispering Pines for the first time in over a decade, Janye O’Shaye has finally started to feel like she fits in. She’s the Sheriff and she and her friend Tripp are busily renovating her grandmother’s huge house to start a B&B. She knows that Tripp wants to be more than friends. Even though she wants it, too another part is afraid that she’ll be hurt again. Her little West Highland White Terrier Meeka is happy, though.

Jayne decides to kayak to work and good thing that she does: a tourist is near drowning and she rescues him. She tries to make him go to the local healing center but he refuses. Feeling a bit frustrated, she continues to work. But by afternoon, that tourist is dead. It looks like an accident but Jayne wants to be sure. She also finds her Grandmother’s old diaries. Officially, her Gran drowned in her own bathtub but Jayne feels that something more sinister happened. She thinks that the diaries could give her a clue.

She’s tired because she still hasn’t got a deputy and she needs to run the station by herself at the height of the tourist season. Also, the renovation isn’t going as quickly as she thought.

This was a good continuation to the series. It’s as much quirky fun as the previous ones.

Most of the characters are familiar but we don’t see much of the carnival folks from the second book. Although we do get a couple of new eccentric characters. When Jayne finds the diaries their story about the founding of the town and the lives of the original inhabitants draw her. She ends up reading the diaries during her working hours, too. I enjoyed finding out more about her Gran and the town.

This book ties up the continuing mystery of her Gran’s death.

The first book in the Dani Silver Comic Thriller series.

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Publication year: 2017
Format: ebook
Page count at GoodReads: 255

Dani Silver is one of the children of Leroy Logan who is one of the greatest con artists ever. But Leroy is getting older and Dani thinks she can do a long con, a complicated con scheme, all on her own. We get a teaser of Dani gathering her crew to swindle a lot of money.

When the story starts, she has just run out of her fiance Nick (who apparently wasn’t a nice guy at all) and swindled him for little over a million dollars. With it, she buys a house from a small town. But she really wants to do her own cons with her own crew. Dani meets her next door neigbor, a young woman whose husband is hitting her, and Dani decides to help her,

– by swindling the abusive husband.

Then Dani returns to New Orlans, to start her life as the head of her own group of con men and women.

The story had a bit of a slow start but when things get going, it’s like a roller coaster ride. Dani is not a perfect person, in fact she makes rather big mistakes at the start. She also constantly doubts herself and her skills of actually doing the con she set out to do. She knows her crew already but they’ve always worked for her dad and don’t respect her. Dani also has a lot to prove to her dad.

The humor in the book was very much in the silly side, sometimes even distracting from the main plot. For example, Sammy is a hacker but he prefers to do his work in a firm, which he doesn’t work for, hacking himself in at first and then doing the actual work in their office. Funny, but could also be very bad for the job.

Dani is the main first person narrator but we get a few short scenes from other characters’ point-of-views. Unfortunately, the book has some editing errors and some of the humor didn’t really work for me. Still, I enjoyed it.

This was a light-hearted fun read, similar to many con artist movies.

Currently the first book in the Sabel Security thriller series.

Publication year: 2015
Publisher: Machined Media
Format: ebook
Page count at GoodReads: 365

Jacob Sterne is an Army veteran. Now, he’s employed by Sabel Security, an international security organization. He has some problems, though. He hears the voice of Mercury, the Roman god of messages in his head. Mercury usually warns him about danger but sometimes he just makes snarky comments about how soft Jacob is, unlike tough old Romans in the good old days. Jacob knows that Mercury is most likely a reaction to trauma but they still banter. He also has problems with women: he wants to sleep with all of them.

Pia Sabel is a former Olympic level soccer player. Now she’s a multimillionaire and runs the security company. She has her own problems because she saw her parents murdered when she was very young. Her adoptive father owned the security company, among other firms, and gave it to her. She’s headstrong and used to getting her own way. But she also wants to do what’s right, no matter if that’s cutting off body parts from rapists or tracking down corporation which are trying to poison millions of people. Jacob is in love with her but considers her way out of his league.

The story begins in Borneo where Pia Sabel is building a school. But she and her team manages to get on the nerves of the local tough guys and they must leave quickly. On the road, Pia meets a young girl who is carrying her sick younger brother. Pia insists that they stop to help, even though Jacob is against it. The team finds a place they think is a hurriedly built hospital full of local sick people. But the place has guards with guns and the medics are too nervous. Jacob steals three vials. Jacob, Pia, and the team are forced out and to leave the girl and her brother behind. Later, they hear that everyone in that camp are dead. Worse, someone tipped off the media that Pia and her company were there.

Pia is determined to find out who killed the people and why. Also, killers are determined to get back the vials Jacob took.

This is a fast-paced story with lots of violence but the plot is surprisingly complex. Sabel Security seems to employ almost exclusively former soldiers so they also swear like soldiers. The hunt for the bad guys takes Jacob all over the world. However, it does have a couple of gruesome torture scenes. And a lot of people are shot. Sabel Security actually uses dart guns with tranquilizers but their enemies don’t and Jacob and the others change to regular weapons when needed and when Pia isn’t around.

Jacob is a first person narrator for most of the book, but there are two other POV characters in third person. One of them is one of the bad guys so we get a pretty good picture of how they operate and bit about why. Still the full explanation for the reasons of all this came as a surprise to me in the end.

Surprisingly many of the secondary characters are women, in addition to Pia. Two of them are actually Jacob’s ex-girlfriends and he isn’t very comfortable working with them, at first.  Many of the women are former soldiers who are just as good in a fight as Jacob and the other men.

This was like a summer action flick with lots of action and some humor. I didn’t really connect with any of the characters but it was entertaining.

While the book is labeled as the first in the series, there are references to past events. In fact, near the end one plot point is dependent on them.  Apparently, this is the third book about these characters. The first two books are now called Sabel Origins series. But that’s a pretty minor point.

A stand-alone spy novel set in an alternate 1938.

Publication year: 2018
Publication year in Finland: 2019
Publisher in Finland: Gummerus
Finnish translator: Tero Valkonen
Format: print
Page count: 320

Rachel White is one of the few women in British Empire’s Secret Intelligence Service. She and a male colleague are handling a man who has defected from Soviet Union to UK. But the ex-Soviet doesn’t tell anything and in the end, he kills himself just after he has whispered to Rachel the codename of a Soviet mole in UK afterlife, the Summerland. She’s sure he has told the truth, but her hidebound, chauvinistic superior won’t hear of it and demotes her to desk duty for allowing the defector to die without giving any useful information.

But Rachel is determined to dig out the mole. She just doesn’t know whom to trust. Her husband is a war veteran, but not a “normal” war but one where men ate each other’s’ souls and it has changed him permanently. He doesn’t work for the SIS and Rachel must keep secrets from him, which is slowly destroying their marriage. She has made a lot of sacrifices to get a career.

The other POV character is the mole, Peter Bloom, who is dead and now works for the Secret Service in the afterlife. Ironically, Peter hates lying and tries to keep to the truth as much as he can. Through the whole story, we see glimpses of his life, what made him, a middle-class young man to turn to his country’s enemies.

This is not a James Bond –type story. It’s more like a cat and mouse game with very high stakes. The plot isn’t a simple one.

The world has lots and lots of very interesting ideas. When live humans found a way to communicate with the dead souls, it changed the world. The souls who don’t have a Ticket simply fade away. So, most people only care about getting a Ticket, which allows them to flourish in the Summerland. Then, death isn’t the end and there’s no need to grieve. In fact, some people kill themselves after getting a Ticket.

I was a bit disappointed that people can’t get away from dreary work even in afterlife. It wasn’t explained what sort of jobs most do and why, but I think they’re paid with energy which keeps them from fading and able to visit living humans. And apparently, Queen Victoria is still the head of the Empire, even if she rules from the other side. There’s also some very interesting stuff on how religion can support this afterlife and who people are worried that the living will have to support an ever increasing crowd of dead.

The Soviets, on the other hand, have engineered a group mind, the Presence, which is trying to destroy Summerland.

This is marketed as science fiction, but personally I put it in fantasy. Even though some (if not most) of the ideas in the book are based on real, if old scientific ideas.

A short story collection about spies of some sorts.

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Publication year: 2019
Publisher: WMG Publishing
Format: ebook
Page count at GoodReads: 284

This Fiction River focuses on spies. They are set in modern or historical times, a few I think are alternate history. The only fantasy story is about mice and a cat. A couple are near future stories.

Most have a spy main character but in the other stories, the main character is close to a spy. Most are serious tales but a couple are just funny and fun.

“Spy in the Sky” by Tonya D. Price: Set in Cuba in 1960s, Roberto MacAllister is a very bright young man but he’s also the son of a traitor. His dream is to escape to the US and work with rockets. Instead, he catches the eye of a prominet Russian scientist.


“Meeting at the Rise and Shine” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch: Susan is very worried about what the actor-turned president Reagan is doing. Worried enough that she’s agreed to meet with a reporter, carrying secret documents with her. But is she doing the righ thing, after all?


“Highpoint” by Michael Kingswood: Jeremy analyzes satellite images, specifically nuclear sites in North Korea. One day, the images are missing.


“Through the Eyes of a Dog” by Angela Penrose: Shawn loves dogs and when a dog-loving billionare couple wants a dog trainer, he’s more than happy to apply for the job. But he has another motive, too.

“Cat and Mice” by Jamie McNabb: Lionel the orange cat has started to eat a mouse one a week. The mice decide to do something about him.


“Our Man in Basingstoke” by Sabrina Chase: This was a fun story about an older British man who offered his manor house to the war effort during WWII. He didn’t expect what the War Office would require him to do.

“Night Flight” by Jonathan Kort: Marcel is a Jew living in occupied France during WWII. He and his fellow Jews are trying to survive and perhaps do something better.


“End of the Line” by David H. Hendrickson: Ferguson is getting older and getting the shittier assigments. But this is a new low. He needs to go to a retirement home and talk with an old friend, an old spy, and see if he still has his wits about him. If not… well, the Unit can’t let him talk about anything really secret.

“The Florentine Exchange” by Dayle A. Dermatis: This exciting story has two women spies. Antonia is an experienced spy and she’s been ordered to train fastidious Libby. When Antonia’s ankle is twisted, Libby must take Antonia’s place at an embassy ball where she must give a thumbdrive to another spy. But on her way to the ball, Libby realizes she has two thumbdrives. Antonia is up to no good.


“The Message” by C.A. Rowland: This story is set during US Civil War. Sissie is a slave in the household of Miss Antonia. When the Union soldiers bang on their door, Miss Antonia orders Sissie to help hide letters.

“Not What You’d Expect” by Leah Cutter: The narrator in this story isn’t a spy herself. But she gets to know one, Patty, at their yoga class. When Patty needs someone to go with her to a conference to spy on her company’s competitors, it sounds like fun.

“Turkish Coffee” by Johanna Rothman: Mira was born in Virginia but she loves Jaffa. And now she works there. Her job is to discover people’s secrets. She and her parner need to find out who is trying to infiltrate reasearch nuclear reactors.


“The Path” by David Stier: Aisha and her brother Ebrahim escaped from Afghanistan to US. Their whole other family is dead. Ebrahim hates the infidels and tries to force Aisha to live in the same way as she did in Afghanistan. But Aisha wants to succeed and goes to English classes in secret.


“Trafficking Stops” by Lisa Silverthorne: Sawyer Smith because a victim of trafficking she was fourteen. She managed to escape and is now doing her very best to stop the horrible people who sell teenagers and children. But now she’s working with a partner she doesn’t know.


“The Spy Who Walked into the Cold” by Ron Collins: Set in 1969 Chicago. Carl is a former Green Beret suffering from PTSD because of Vietnam war. Now, he’s a rookie FBI agent and working with a man who is spying on the Black Panthers. That makes him very uneasy.

This was the most down-to-earth Fiction River volume I’ve read so far. I love spy stories and these are very good ones. There’s also a lot of variety because a number of them are forced by circumstances to spy on others rather than being professional spies. Now I’d love to see a volume of fantasy and/or science fiction spies!

A stand-alone mash up of Victoriana.

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Publication year: 2011
Publisher: Titan Books
Format: print
Page count: 424 plus seventy pages of extra material, including annotations of most of the Victorian characters appearing in the book, an alternate ending, and a part of a film script for Anno Dracula

The year is 1888. Van Helsing and his group sadly failed to end Dracula’s life. Instead Vlad Tepes is now the Prince Consort to Queen Victoria. The vampires he has made, and who have made even more, are everywhere: in the goverment, in the upper classes, in the middle classes, and among the poor and destitute. Turning to a vampire is both fashinable and a wise political move. The Prince Consort has brought his own Carpathian Guards who are keeping London in line. However, Britain isn’t the only place where vampires are increasing common; it’s the same around the world.

But not all vampires are the same. Among themselves they have racism, according to which ”bloodline” they are; to which vampire they can trace themselves to. The vampires who aren’t from Dracula’s ”bloodline” often look down on him and the vampires he has made.

The book starts with the diary of Dr. Seward. He’s obsessed with vampires and is killing vampire prostitutes with a silver knife, so he’s called the Silver Knife is the press. The killings recieve a lot of attention in the press and the police can’t find the culprit. So, the secret and very powerful Diogenes Club sends their own investigator.

Charles Beauregard is a servant of the club with some martial skills. So they send him. He doesn’t care for Dracula or vampires but serves his Queen loyally, even if Queen Victoria herself is now a vampire.

The other main character is an old French vampire Genevieve Dieudonne who is about 50 years older than Dracula but has never met him. She has no interest in making vampires or killing people. Instead she drinks from willing people. She works in Toynbee Hall which is now a free clinic for vampires. She works together with Dr. Seward.

The book has many other point-of-view characters, but I won’t spoil them here. Many of them are interesting but we only get glimpses of them. Others I didn’t care for. Dracula doesn’t appear until the last chapter.

This book is hard to review. If you like Victorian pastiches and books with more atmospere than plot, you might like this because it’s very heavy on atmosphere, but light on both plot and character development. The search for the Silver Knife seems like just an excuse for the characters to meet rather than a real plot. Also, it has only a couple of fight scenes.

But it has a lot of ideas and atmosphere. And lots of Victorian characters from various other writers. It was a lot of fun to spot them.

I’m joining Mount TBR 2021, too!

“January 2021 kicks off the tenth year for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge and, despite climbing like mad and conquering Mount Everest on the regular each year, I still have mountain ranges to climb. And miles of bookcases to read before I sleep (or something like that). I just can’t resist a good old fashioned used bookstore (though they are become rarer and rarer) or the community Hoosier Hills Food Bank Book Sale which adds to the mountains as fast as I knock books off. And, somehow, despite the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic has cancelled both my trips to my favorite used bookstore and the community book sale, my mountain range seems to be just as vast as ever.

So, once again, I plan to concentrate on reading primarily from my own books in the coming year. Perhaps this year I will actually plant a flag on Mount Olympus…but my declared goal will remain Mount Everest. Please join me in knocking out some of those books that have been waiting for attention for weeks…months…even years.

Challenge Levels:

Pike’s Peak: Read 12 books from your TBR pile/s
Mount Blanc: Read 24 books from your TBR pile/s
Mt. Vancounver: Read 36 books from your TBR pile/s
Mt. Ararat: Read 48 books from your TBR pile/s
Mt. Kilimanjaro: Read 60 books from your TBR pile/s
El Toro*: Read 75 books from your TBR pile/s (*aka Cerro El Toro in South America)
Mt. Everest: Read 100 books from your TBR pile/s
Mount Olympus (Mars): Read 150+ books from your TBR pile/s

I’m again choosing Mount Blanc, 24 books.
Happy reading!

Books read,
1, Kim Newman: Anno Dracula
2, Kristine Kathryn Rusch ed.: Fiction River Special Edition: Spies
3, Hannu Rajaniemi: Summerland
4, Seeley James: Element 42
5, Duane Lindsay: The Grifter’s Daughter
6, Edgar Rice Burroughs: The Moon Maid
7, Kristine Kathryn Rusch: Escaping Amnthra

8, Shawn McGuire: Original Secrets