2021 pick&mix

I completed all my challenges!

Mount TBR

My goal was Mount Blanc: 24 book. I read 26.

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

9, K. C. Hunter: Kana Cold and the Case of the Shinigami

10, Genevieve Cogman: The Secret Chapter

11, Jefferson Smith: The Brotherhood of Delinquents

12, Steven Saylor: Roman Blood

13, William Goldman: The Princess Bride

14, Michael White: The Equinox

15, Indrek Hargia: Apothecary Melchior and the Mystery of St Olaf’s Church

16, Sylvain Neuvel: Sleeping Giants

17, Sylvain Neuvel: Waking Gods

18, Alex Archer: Rogue Angel 1: Destiny

19, Max Brooks: World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

20, Jeffrey Lang: Immortal Coil

21, Robert J. Sawyer: Time: Complete Short Fiction volume 3

22, Gwyneth Gibby ed.: Fiction River Presents: Time Travelers

23, Timothy Zahn: Conquerors’ Pride

24, Stefon Mears: Twisted Timelines

25, Leonard Goldberg: The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes

26, Melanie Karsak: Wolves and Daggers

Action/Adventure Bingo card

My goal was one bingo. I read 16 books and got two bingos.

Pick&Mix challenge

My goal was 10 books. I read that easily, most of them audio books.

Action heroine reading challenge

My goal was originally 30 reads and I upgraded it to 50. I read that, too. Most of my reads for this challenge were comics.

I read 54 books in 2021. I reviewed 46 comics but read much more of them.

Out of those 54 books, 22 were fantasy, 19 were science fiction, four were thrillers, five mystery, two historical fiction, and three were multigenre short story collections.

Twenty were new to me authors.

A stand-alone novella about exploring alien planets.


Publisher: Harper Voyager

Publishing year: 2019

Format: Print

Page count: 153

This is the sort of space exploration I really like: no humans bickering or fighting. Just highly competent people doing what they do best and enjoying it. And making some tough decisions.

Merian is an exploration space ship, with a crew of four who are all scientists. Ariadne O’Neill is the first-person POV character and the ship’s engineer. Jack Vo is the geologist, Chikondi Daka is the botanist and Elena Quesada-Cruiz is a weather expert (and trust me, they need her!) They are best of friends and they need to be because they’re a small and very intimate community for a long time.

They explore four planets that are in the Goldilocks zone and have atmospheres. Instead of using high-tech gadgets, their bodies are changed according to the planet. On one of them, they need light so they emit bioluminescence and they’re more resistant to radiation, on another, they’re stronger to function in the higher gravity. Their bodies are modified while they are in cryosleep to the next planet.

Earth doesn’t have faster than light flight yet so the crew must be in cryosleep, called torpor, which slows down aging while they travel from one planet to the next. This means, of course, that their journey will take over 80 years and take them away from all their families and friends. But they are dedicated to their work, pushing the boundaries of human knowledge.

At the start of the novella, Chambers does touch on the realities of space travel today. Namely that it’s done for profit not for science no matter how much the corporation would want us to believe it. In fact, Merian is funded by a global crowdfunded non-profit organization.

The story deals with a lot of things. There is a casual acceptance of queers and people of color. The story also deals with the way the characters are cut off from Earth. They get news but it’s fourteen years out of date and soon deal with politics and wars the crew doesn’t know about. But most of all the spirit of human ingenuity and the need to explore and learn is at the center of everything. Even though I was a bit disappointed by the ending, it’s a lovely, very human story.

We have found nothing you can sell. We have found nothing you can put to practical use. We have found no worlds that could be easily or ethically settled, were that end desired. We have satisfied nothing but curiosity, gained nothing but knowledge.

A stand-alone humorous fantasy adventure/romance book.


Publication year: 2018
Format: Audio
Running time: 14 hours 32 minutes
Narrator: Jesse Vilinsky

I’m not a romance reader. I usually must tolerate them in most books, but rarely is it the most enjoyable thing in a book. This was very close to being a romance I actually enjoy reading. Unfortunately, it did have far too many jealousy moments, especially near the end. I loath jealousy, especially in a will they or won’t they couple who haven’t even told each other about their feelings. But otherwise, this is a near-perfect romance for me.

Halla is a respectable widow of 36. She’s the housekeeper to her wealthy great-uncle (from her late husband’s side). Said great-uncle was elderly and she took care of him. But when he dies, it is still sudden. Halla is very surprised to find out that the moody old man left everything to her. His relatives are furious. The old man isn’t buried yet when Halla’s aunt Malva (from her late husband’s side) declares that Halla must marry Malva’s clammy-handed son. Halla detests him and refuses. So Malva imprisons Halla in her own room.

Halla is desperate to find a way out. The only thing she can think of is to kill herself. There is a large sword in her room and she draws it. But to her astonishment, the Spirit of the Sword manifests, scandalized by her lack of clothing.

Sarkis was a mercenary before his spirit was bound to the enchanted sword. Most of his owners know his story and think he’s a traitor who deserves to be used as a tool, nothing more. And Sarkis agrees. But now he’s somewhere in the decadent Southern lands, among strange people who have even stranger customs. And his wielder isn’t a warrior, but a middle-aged housekeeper trying to kill herself. Instead, Sarkis convinces her to go to the servants of the White Rat who can help her. Provided that they can get out of the house and survive a several days journey without any supplies to the Temple.

Halla and Sarkis play off each other very well. Sarkis is a stranger to the decadent Southern lands and is learning the local customs. All of his wielders have died, sometimes despite his best efforts. He’s used to being a tool instead of a person. But he still does his best to protect his wielder. He’s jaded and battle-weary. Halla is very curious about him… and about everything really. She’s bright and loyal but she’s also used to pretending to be stupider than she is, because that’s safer. Her marriage wasn’t exactly an unhappy one, but her husband died several years ago and she doesn’t miss him. Her life has been a pretty sheltered one.

The book has also other enjoyable characters, including a gender-neutral priest. Initially, I didn’t really think that Malva and her son were a big threat but in the end, I was proven wrong.

The dialog is hilarious, playing the differences to the hilt. Yes, there are a couple of terrible romance tropes, such as misunderstandings which lead to very stupid decisions, but otherwise I really enjoyed the book.

My biggest problem is that I want the second book. I want a series of Halla and Sarkis bantering happily and working together to solve… any problem, really. The ending hints at a possible continuation and I really, really hope we’ll get it.

The narrator, Jess Vilinsky gave Sarkis a Scottish accent which I adored. I really enjoyed their narration.

A stand-alone urban fantasy book.


Publication year: 2018
Format: Audio
Running time: 9 hours 21 minutes
Narrator: Kevin T. Collins

I’m a huge fan of Brust’s Vlad Taltos books so I guess I was expecting something similar. The Good Guys isn’t a Taltos book.

Donovan Longfellow, Marci, and Susan are a field team for the Foundation. The Foundation is dedicated to keeping the existence of magic a secret from the regular people. They also train magic users and hire them for minimum wage. The trio considers themselves the good guys.

Donovan is told about a new murder possibly done with magic because it was done in bright daylight in a restaurant and nobody saw a thing. When the trio gets to the site, Marci finds out that very powerful magic has been used to murder the victim. A time-stopping spell from an artifact. Donovan and the team must find out who the killer is and where do they get their magical artifacts. However, when the team realizes that the killer is after quite bad men, they start to wonder if they are, indeed, the good guys.

This was an entertaining read. The characters are quite distinct but for some reason, I just didn’t connect with any of them. Donovan has some FBI training so he’s very good at police work. He’s also black. Marci is a new sorceress but unlike the other two, she has a personal life. Susan is an experienced sorceress and quite formidable with both her magical talents and physical skills. I wanted to like them more.

However, I don’t think the format of the book was best for audio. The story has many, many POV characters. One of them is in the first person and the rest in the third person. The scenes are quick and the POV character changes often. It was a bit difficult to follow in the audiobook for me.

The world was interesting and I feel there could be more stories in it. Brust plays around with quite a few tropes. For example, Donovan knows that torture isn’t an effective way to get reliable information, so the team simply talks with people, even those who try to kill them. Also, Susan is the team’s muscle.

A Penric and Desdemona fantasy novella.

Publication year: 2020
Format: ebook

Publisher: Spectrum Literary Agency

Pagecount at GoodReads: 102

This is the ninth Pen and Des story in publication order but the third one in the internal chronology.

Ten years had gone by since Pen had contracted Des, a bodyless demon which lives inside Pen. Pen is used to her and she to him. They tease each other but clearly know their bounders.

Pen is in Lodi, a Venice-like city with canals and boats. It’s the Eve of Bastard’s Day and people are starting to celebrate it with heavy drinking and other debaucheries. Pen has plans to spend it translating one of Des’ previous host’s papers. Instead, he’s summoned to the archdivine’s presence and sent to a hospice where an apparent madman has been brought in. The doctor there wants Pen to see that the man isn’t really possessed. But when Pen arrives at the hospice, he confirms the doctor’s fear: the young man is possessed by an insane demon. And then the possessed man manages to run away.

Pen and Desdemona search for him in vain. Only a Saint of the Bastard can draw out a demon from a human or animal. Fortunately, there is one Saint in the city. Perhaps they can even help find the unfortunate man.

If you’ve read the previous Pen and Des novellas, this is quite similar in mood to the others. It’s warm-hearted and charming rather than a thriller with a world at stake. Most of the story takes place with Pen and Des looking at the possessed man. However, there isn’t a much substance to the story, just entertainment.

While Penric is the only third-person POV character, the Saint rather steals the show and I hope we’ll see them again. I also thoroughly enjoyed the banter between Pen and Des, as usual. Also, Des’ terror at meeting and working with a Saint, who devours demons, was understandable and entertaining, too.

This was an entertaining, quick read, exactly the mood I want to read right now. It seems that there are three Pen and Des novellas I haven’t read yet!

This is the third book based on the SF TV-show Firefly. It’s set after the show but before the movie Serenity.


Publication year: 2020
Format: Audio
Running time: 8 hours 15 minutes
Narrator: James Anderson Foster

This was a strange story. It begins with Mal, Zoe, and Jayne meeting a small posse of men to pick up a sealed crate for Badger. But Mal gets a really bad feeling. The meeting goes sour and turns into a gunfight. After the fight, Mal doesn’t want to take the cargo, even though the crew desperately needs the money. But Jayne wants to take the cargo. Mal flat out refuses to take it to the Mule. Even though he’s wounded, Jayne walks back, carrying the crate all the way. During the walk, he starts to hallucinate about his mom and younger brother.

Jayne manages to get to the ship. Simon promptly confines him to the sick bay. But in the middle of the night, Jayne slips out and brings the crate inside and hides it. This is, of course, a very bad move.

River flips out but she can’t communicate with the rest of the crew well enough to tell them that the crate is dangerous. Wash lifts Serenity off the planet. But during the flight, every crew member slips to a dream where he or she lives through their fondest dreams… which turns into their most horrible nightmares.

Inara and the Shepard have left the ship so they’re not among the crew. Almost all the other crew members get their own subplot in their dream so they all get their chance to shine. Unfortunately, when the dreams turn to nightmares, most of them are very graphically gory. While some Firefly episodes have torture (War Stories comes to mind…) this was a bit too much.

Also, I’m not sure that Mal would have forced a wounded crew member to walk back to the ship.

I have quite mixed feelings about this story. I enjoyed most of it. I think the dreams were quite appropriate for each character, although I felt sorry for a couple of characters. But they ended up too dark for me.

A stand-alone fantasy book set in a post-apocalyptic world.

Publication year: 1996
Format: Audio
Running time: 16 hours 23 minutes
Narrator: Kyle McCarley

Most of the world is a desert called the Waste. The biggest remaining city is Charisat: a great place if you’re rich and local but not so good if you’re poor, a foreigner, or non-human. Khat is all three: he a krisman, a species which the Ancients created to survive the desert. However, many humans think that the krismen don’t have souls and so they shun the krismen. But not all humans do that. Khat’s business partner in their relic hunting business is a human Sagai. He’s also a foreigner so they banded together for mutual survival but they’re now loyal friends.

A wealthy man hires Khat to find a Remnant, a place left behind by the Ancients when they vanished. Khat is paranoid but he, Sagai, and Sagai’s family need to eat, so Khat takes the job. Of course, it turned to be quite different than he expected.

The other POV character is Elen, a young female Warder, a very high-ranking police officer of sorts. The Warders have magical powers and they’re recruited from the highest level patricians, so they don’t have many dealings among any lower-class people. Elen has quite a few preconceptions about them. It’s a shock to her to realize that her ideas aren’t always true. But she’s also quick to learn. She’s the only female Warder and so she sometimes attracts unwanted attention. She’s a trained fighter, too.

Khat has a dark past that haunts him. It’s very hard for him to trust anyone. In fact, the only people he trusts are Sagai, his family, and his widowed landlady and her kids. Khat defends them fiercely. He distrusts all high-class people and expects nothing but prejudice from humans and is rarely disappointed. But he’s also very good at his job, which a relic hunter. In this world, ancient relics are one of the biggest merchandise. Khat is very good at identifying if items are actual relics or fakes and he knows whom to sell them. He’s also very good at negotiation.

The city is a dystopia. Foreigners and non-citizens are subjected to harsh and draconic rules. On the other hand, scholars are respected. This is a fascinating city and world, and Welles takes her time to introduce them.

I mostly enjoyed the book. Relic hunting is a fascinating business. I also enjoyed the characters. Even though both Elen and Khat started as stereotypical people, they didn’t stay that way. I also really enjoyed Sagai and his family and the landlady’s family. Even though Khat isn’t related to them, they’re very much a tight family unit.

The plot takes a while to get going but it was worth it, for me at least.

This is the second book based on the space western TV-show Firefly.

Publication year: 2019
Format: Audio
Running time: 8 hours 23 minutes
Narrator: James Anderson Foster

This second book focuses on Jayne Cobb. He’s my least favorite crew member so, I wasn’t thrilled about that. However, Mal and Inara get their own time in the spotlight, too.

The title gives away the inspiration to the story, the movie “Seven Samurai” and of course all the other stories inspired by “Seven Samurai”. The basic storyline follows the plot clearly. Our nine heroes come to defend a beleaguered little town on the edge of nowhere, against an enemy which has far more gunfighters. Of course, there’s more to the story than that.

Jayne gets a call from his former lover/partner-in-crime Temperance Jones, now McCloud. A group of bandits terrorizes the town where she lives in. The townsfolk don’t have a prayer against the ruthless men (and a few women). The Scourers’ leader, Elias Vandal, is rumored to be a former Reaver…

When the rest of the crew hears about the terrible situation, they’re ready to help. Except for Mal, who wants to get paid for it. But they head to the town, anyway. Near it, Serenity is shot down. Wash just manages to set the ship down.

Mal, Jayne, and Zoe head to the town. It turns out that the townsfolk are too afraid of the bandits to defend their homes and expect the crew of the Serenity to save them. So, the crew is in a tough situation.

And Temperance has a teenaged daughter. Named Jane.

This was mostly a fun listen. The banter between the crew was great and the story even has a couple of surprises in the end. However, while each of the crew got at least one chapter from their POV, some of them felt neglected. Simon, Wash, and Zoe in particular. River also felt off.

I was expecting the ending to be a cop-out, and it was. Of course. The crew must stay together and fly to the next adventure. In that respect, the whole Temperance and her daughter angle felt like a waste of time because nothing can come from it. It’s not a big problem, but it still makes the ending very obvious. Oh, and even since I fell in love with “Legends of Tomorrow” when I see a man with the name “Vandal” I just can’t help but to think of Vandal Savage. This time it sort of fit because the bandits’ leader’s name is Vandal, but it’s still distracting.

But this was a fun, entertaining episode.

The third book in the Daevabad trilogy.


Publication year: 2020
Format: Audio
Running time: 28 hours 37 minutes
Narrator: Soneela Nankani
Publisher: Harper Voyager

This is a good ending to this Middle-Eastern fantasy series.

This third book has the three familiar POV characters as the first two. But the ending of the second book changed the status quo. This book starts only moments after the end of the second book.

Nahri and Ali are exiles, struggling to survive and to return to Daevabad. But they’re alone. What can just two people do against the powerful enemy who has taken over the city? Especially when the conqueror has Dara by their side? Meanwhile, Dara is having more and more doubts about the person he’s serving when he sees how the people of Daevabad are treated.

This is a huge book, almost 800 pages. It’s full of twists, surprising revelations, and our heroes learn surprising things about themselves and others.

However, because of the ending in the second book, Kingdom of Copper, many of the political machinations which were such an integral part of the first two books, are mostly abandoned. In fact, since Nahri and Ali aren’t in Daevabad anymore, the story takes us to new places and introduces new characters, most of whom I enjoyed.

On the negative side, I didn’t care about some family revelations which I don’t think were foreshadowed but came out of nowhere. There was also a big difference in tone between some chapters (the desperation in Daevabad and Dara’s personal hell compared to the Ali and Nahri chapters). I also think that Dara’s arch was pretty brutal and he never did find out some very crucial things. Also, he should have seen what his master was doing wrong quicker. Ali also didn’t really face consequences for his attitudes and actions.

Still, I enjoyed this ending for the most part.

I’ve joined Pick&Mix challenge this year, too.

This challenge is for people who don’t quite match up with more specific challenges. So whether you are a super busy person who can barely find time to read a dozen random books a year, or someone who has a yen to read the whole opus of a fave author, this is the place for you. Happy reading!
Challenge Details
Genre: Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror
Challenge Span: January 2021 – December 2021

The Reading Levels are 10, 20, 40, or 80 books.
Once again I’m choosing just ten for the simple reason that I won’t be counting my Mount TBR books to this challenge. I also read some indy books which aren’t on this site.

Happy reading!

Books read:
1, S. A. Chakraborty: The Empire of Gold
2, Mary Robinette Kowal: The Relentless Moon

3, Genevieve Cogman: The Secret Chapter

4, Dominik Parisien, Navah Wolfe ed.: The Mythic Dream

5, Martha Wells: City of Bones

6, James Lovegrove: The Ghost Machine

7, Lois McMaster Bujold: Masquerade in Lodi

8, Mur Lafferty: Six Wakes

9, Becky Chambers: To be Taught if Fortunate

10, Daniel H. Wilson: The Clockwork Dynasty