2021 mount tbr


A stand-alone murder mystery set in Oxford.

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Publication year: 2007
Finnish publisher: Gummerus
Format: print
Finnish translator: Raimo Salminen

Page count: 373 (including about ten pages of the historical facts behind the book)

Someone is killing young women, taking an organ, and leaving a strange coin in the place where the organ used to be. The murderer doesn’t leave behind clues except that he or she seems to be very skilled. The police are desperate to catch them but don’t have anything to go on.

Laura Niven is a former New York crime journalist and now a writer who has come to Oxford to research her next book. She’s staying with Philip Bainbridge, her former lover and current friend. About twenty years ago, Laura became pregnant but chose to return to the USA rather than stay in London and marry Philip. Philip maintains contact with Laura and their daughter Jo. In fact, Jo is now in Oxford as a student.

Philip is a police photographer. He has just met Laura when he’s called to a crime scene. Laura is too curious and sees not only the body but the strange coin. Her curiosity is piqued and she researches it. The coin leads her to a historical trail. The murders seem to be related to alchemy and astrology and the famous Sir Isaac Newton who was as much an alchemist as a scientist.

This is an entertaining serial killer story inspired by history. It has multiple POV characters, including Newton himself and a couple of other men during his time. The killer is also a POV character, although they’re not identified in those passages, and the murders are quite gruesome. The ties to the occult were the most interesting part of the book. I also really enjoyed the short chapters set in the 17th century.

Philip and Laura are both pretty successful in their lives. Still, they have regrets about the choices they’ve made. They’re curious and pretty intelligent people. They’re both still attracted to each other but are content to just stay friends. Detective John Monroe is another significant POV character. He’s an experienced detective who has reasons to scoff at anything smelling of supernatural.

Apparently, White has written more than a few non-fiction books and knows the history of the occult pretty well. It shows.

A stand-alone satire of an adventure fantasy book. 30th-anniversary edition.

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Publisher: Mariner

Publication year: 2007
Format: print

Page count: 456 which includes two introductions, an explanation to Buttercup’s Baby, the short excerpt of Buttercup’s Baby, and Reading group discussion points.

I thoroughly enjoyed the Princess Bride movie so I decided to read the book, as well. It’s an odd book, as parodies tend to be. But I think most people know that already.

It shouldn’t work because of the structure, and according to GoodReads’ reviews, it didn’t work for a lot of people. I enjoyed it for the most part.

Goldman creates a construct of himself as the narrator of the book. He claims that Morgenstern wrote the actual books and he just cut off all the dull parts and made an abridgment. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on the reader, Goldman makes his narrator present pretty much all the time. At the beginning of every chapter, he tells us what he has cut and why. Then the ”good parts” of the chapter start. Unfortunately, that constantly interrupts the reading and reminds us that we are, indeed, reading a book.

The second point is that the characters are caricatures or archetypes. Buttercup is beautiful, Westley is a daring lover, Fezzik is a dumb giant, Inigo’s life is centered on fencing and getting revenge on the six-fingered man who murdered his father, Humperdinck is ruthless. We get a little bit more of them in the book, such as Fezzik’s and Inigo’s childhood. But they’re not three-dimensional characters. They’re not supposed to be. Yet, they’re endearing and memorable to many.

Well, ok. Fezzik get a surprising amount of depth in the book. But not the others. In fact, it seemed to me that if Buttercup had been plain, Westley wouldn’t have loved her. That’s not a message you want to send to all teeange girls watching or reading. Or boys, either. And in the book, Westley slaps Buttercup. Just no.

So, I ended up enjoying the movie more than the book. The narrator’s interruptions got on my nerves in the latter half of the book. I didn’t really care for the fictionalized Goldman in the book. He seemed very bitter. Maybe he was supposed to be a humorous character, a parody of a successful screenwriter who can’t write a novel of his own, but for me he instead sucked away humor.

Buttercup’s Baby is a sort of continuation. It’s not a short story but rather just the first chapter of a book, which again was rather frustrating.

If you like the movie and especially if you’d like to know more about Fezzik and Inigo, I think you can like the book, too. Just skip the introductions.

A historical murder mystery set in 80 BC in the Roman Republic. Can be read as a stand-alone but it’s the first book in the Roma Sub Rosa mystery series.

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Publisher: Minotaur books

Publication year: 1991
Format: print

Page count: 380

Gordianus is called the Finder because he’s an investigator. He’s a Roman citizen but hasn’t inherited wealth, so must work for his living. A young slave comes to him early in the morning, asking him to go and meet with the slave’s master, Marcus Tullius Cicero.

Gordianus has never heard of the young man who is just starting his career as an orator and a lawyer. So after dallying in his house for a while, curing his hangover, Gordianus and the slave, Tiro, head to Cicero’s house. Cicero has just accepted his first law case, involving a suspected patricide. Gordianus isn’t too keen to get mixed in such a case but he needs the money so he takes the case.

He inspects the place where the father was killed, interviews different kinds of people, walks up and down Rome itself, and even makes a short trip to the countryside. The case turns out to be quite a bit more complex than he thought at first.

The book has excellent descriptions of Rome and the culture at the time. Slaves are more numerous than free men. While the wealthy take shelter from the hot sun, the slaves toil away, doing all the real work. Saylor doesn’t sweep away the slavery but has ”good” owners and also the ones who berate and beat their slaves whenever they want. We also get to know that slaves can testify at court, but only under torture. Gordianus himself owns a half-Egyptian female slave, Bethesda, and he sleeps with her several times. She’s depicted as pretty headstrong woman so I guess Saylor implies that the sex is consensual on her part, too. But since she’s a slave, she can’t choose.

The mystery itself is pretty complicated and forces Gordianus to go around and meet all sorts of people, showcasing Rome and its people, both poor and rich. Gordianus lives near the Subura, the slums, and he goes through it several times.

I mostly enjoyed this one and enjoyed the historical detail, although the writing style is pretty dry. Interestingly enough, the mystery is based on Cicero’s first real case.

The first book in a planned YA fantasy series. Can be read as a stand-alone.

Publication year: 2015

Publisher: Creativity Hacker Press

Format: ebook
Page count in GoodReads: 203

Merrick is an apprentice to his da, the smith. However, he’s not a good smith’s apprentice. He thinks too slowly and his skills aren’t advancing. He sleeps in the smithy and when a blue-glowing ghost appears in the smithy, Merrick thinks of only defending his da’s place. When the ghost limps outside, Merrick follows. The ghost lures him to the area where wealthier people live. There, Merrick meets two other young men whom the ghost has also brought to this place. They find a buried box and three strange items from inside. Before they find out what they are, they must run away from the Watchstanders. They don’t know what is going on, but they agree to meet the next night, to find out.

This felt like a boys’ adventure novel with three teen boys who suddenly find themselves in the middle of very important and dangerous events. The adults around them are clueless at best, a threat at worst.

Merrick is the main POV character. The two other boys, Tam and Kern, are quite different from him. Tam is an orphan, living on the streets. He’s an excellent thief, curious and quick-witted. He’s also quick to insult others. Kern grew up on a family ship. But it sank, leaving Kern the only survivor. He’s now a baker’s apprentice but resents it. Aboard the ship, he was taught to fight.

The city of Deneigh is described well. It used to be a mighty fortress city, but has since fallen to disrepair. People are moving out of it. At least some of the Watchstanders are corrupt and take up the job so that they can shake people down for money. The second POV character is a young Watch officer who is also the son of the Reeve, the appointed governor of the city. The officer enjoys tormenting people.

This book is a quick and light read. The ending ties up plot threads but it’s clearly meant to lead to a series.

A stand-alone fantasy book.

Publisher: Del Rey

Publication year: 1992
Format: print

Page count: 308

Maggiar is a small and rural kingdom. Lately, it’s in trouble and king Stani’s old (and only) wizard Karoly insists that he must seek advice from his witch-sister. Nobody knew he has a sister or that she lives over the mountain where nobody ever goes. Except that Stani’s mother came from a country over the mountain. Trolls and goblins haunt the forests.

Stani agrees to send Karoly with the escort of guards, the master huntsman, and Stani’s two eldest sons. Bogdan is the heir, a brash and proud young man. Tamas is the middle son, quiet and studious. The youngest Yuri is just fourteen and over his protests, he needs to stay. Tamas doesn’t want to take his foundling dog, so he makes Yuri promise to look after him.

The journey up the mountain is hard. The weather is constantly against the small group and Karoly behaves oddly, speaking rarely and then in riddles. When they near Karoly’s sister’s tower, they are ambushed.

Meanwhile, Tamas’ dog runs away and Yuri decides to follow him. Yuri thinks that the dog is following Tamaes, so Yuri takes his pony and little provisions and follows the group.

Russian mythology has clearly influenced this story. The goblins and trolls aren’t what you’ll find in a European-inspired fantasy. Also, while the story has a lot of magic, it’s not clear-cut spell casting. It’s dreams and not being able to do or think what you want to. Willing things to happen and other people’s will is against you. It wasn’t really clear in the book, either.

Tamas and Yuri are the two main POV characters. Both are very young and trying to understand what’s happening around them. Tamas is trying to figure out who he can trust and that’s not easy. But he thinks things through rather than brashly leaping to conclusions. Yuri knows how to take care of himself in the woods, even though this is the first time he’s done it alone. He’s scared but determined to find the dog and later to find his brothers. For his age, he’s very brave. The third POV character is the master huntsman Nikolai, an experienced woodsman who is trying his best to protect the foolish people under his care. The other characters are quite distinctive, even the dead ones.

Most of the book has a claustrophobic, fearful atmosphere. The rambling, repetitive style adds to the atmosphere. Unfortunately, it’s not very clear in places.

I liked the characters and the world, but the writing style didn’t really work for me.

The sixth book in the Invisible Library fantasy series.

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Publisher: Ace

Publication year: 2020
Format: print

Page count: 336

This sixth book in the Invisible Library series is just as entertaining as the previous books and I’m looking forward to the next.

This time our Librarian/spy/book acquirer Irene Winters is sent to retrieve the only copy of a book written in Ancient Egypt (a scroll, really). The Library needs the book so that they can stabilize a world that is important to Irene, so she’s anxious to get it. However, the current owner of the book is a powerful Fae, a canny negotiator who owns a lot of precious items. In exchange for the book, he wants another item, a painting. Irene, Kai, another dragon, and a group of Fae must steal the painting from another world. Of course, things go wrong.

Kai, who is a dragon prince, isn’t too happy about working with the Fae. In this series, dragons are order incarnate and the Fae are chaos. Each Fae personifies an archetype from stories and behaves according to their archetype. The group also includes another dragon but Kai doesn’t care for her at all.

This was a fun and fast-paced heist story. Unlike the previous books in the series, it doesn’t have much politics, so it’s a change of pace. We also get to meet Irene’s parents, if only briefly. However, from the end, it seems that politics will continue to play a larger role in the next books. I’m also surprised that nobody has strongly objected to Kai and Irene’s relationship, so far, given their important roles in the current politics between the dragons and the Fae.

The cast of characters is mostly new, but they are rather distinctive. I hope we’ll meet them again.

This is a really fun series with dragons, the Fae, many, many alternate realities, and fast-paced adventure. On the other hand, the adventures don’t leave time for character development. Also, this book hints at a larger plot, but I’m not sure if Cogman will ever return to it because she has left previous larger plot hints open. I enjoy the worlds and the characters enough that I don’t really mind that, though.

A prequel novella to the Kana Cold urban fantasy series.

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Publication year: 2018

Publisher: AOE Studios

Format: ebook
Page count in GoodReads: 148

Mark and Alice McNeil have a terrible problem: no doctor or psychologist can find out what’s the matter with their little girl. She has bruises all over her little body and screams so much she’s hoarse. One night in front of Mark’s eyes something invisible seems to attack the girl. She falls and breaks her arm. Desperate, Mark decides to contact a supernatural investigator.

Kana Cold is just starting her work investigating the supernatural. But all the cases she’s had so far have been hoaxes or misunderstandings. So, when Mark tries to hire her, in a seedy biker bar, she’s skeptical and not really interested. But a bit reluctantly she agrees.

This is a mystery story with a little bit of horror elements.

Kana is young but already a hard drinking tough girl, and she really wants to get concrete proof of the existence of the supernatural. We find out a bit about her reasons later in the story. However, a lot of her background is still left unexplored, as is usual for a prequel. She’s half Japanese. She’s pretty distant and cold towards the clients. Her partner AJ is a gadget man and also usually handles the clients, because Kana is too blunt. AJ approaches the supernatural from a science angle and he uses a couple of tech devices he’s built himself.

This was a good introduction to the characters and the setting. The biggest problem I had was with the framing story. Mark is telling the story to a reporter but the main POV character is Kana, and she certainly didn’t share her emotions with him. So it felt a bit strange. Otherwise, this was a quick, enjoyable read.

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.

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