2023 mount tbr

A stand-alone spacestation murder mystery novella.


Format: ebook

Publisher: WMG Publishing

Page count from GoodReads: 120

Publishing year: 2012

Kris DeLake is Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s romance pen name. However, this novella has no romance.

Grissam Hunsaker runs a run-down, very remote space station that pretends to be a resort for the rich. However, very few people find the place. So, when Hunsaker gets the message that a passenger ship is coming in just sixteen minutes, he’s annoyed. The Vaadum Resort and Casino has minimum staff and it takes a lot longer to prepare for over twenty guests. But the Presidio was in trouble and needed a place to dock, fast. The passengers are shocked, not just by the fact that their ship had a fire, but also because someone has murdered two of them.

Susan Carmichael is on the run and doesn’t want anyone to know. She just wants to leave the station and continue her journey. But when one more of the passengers is killed, she realizes nobody is safe.

Richard Illykova is the ship’s newest employee and the lowest on the pecking order. He works on the ship to pay for his passage. But when people start to die, he must rely on his skills from his former work: as an assassin.

This was a fun, short murder mystery. The characters are interesting and very different from each other. The mystery kept me guessing.

This is apparently a prequel to her Assassins in Love series but can be read as a stand-alone.


Publication year: 2020

Format: Audio

Running time: 9 hours, 37 minutes
Narrators: Paul L. Coffey, Kirsten Leigh, Ryan Jordan McCarthy

Set in the Chaco Navajo reservation. Ben Dejooli is a Navajo Nation police officer with a troubled past; his little sister vanished six years ago and his best friend Joey Flatwood was accused of it. Ben was convinced that Joey knew what had happened and testified against him. Joey refused to say anything and was banished. Many people blame Ben for it. Of course, being a cop doesn’t help. That day crows started following Ben but tries to ignore them. After a fight, he faints and is brought to the local hospital.

Caroline Adams is a nurse at the Navajo hospital. She’s plagued by self-doubt, especially when the patients curse her and she wonders if they’re right. However, she has a special talent she hasn’t told anyone about: she can see a color surrounding every person, except herself. When Ben is brought to the hospital, he’s surrounded by angry colors which means he’s seriously ill. But he refuses treatment. She’s immediately attracted to him and wants to find a way to help him.

Owen Bennet is a doctor working in the Navajo hospital. He’s close to burnout, working long days. He’s also in love with Caroline but has never said anything because he screws up relationships. When he notices that she’s very worried about Ben, he wants to help them both.

This isn’t an adventure book. It starts slowly, building the characters, the setting, and the mystery of the crows and what happened to the little girl. We get to know how the Navajos live on the reservation. We also get to see a couple of their old rituals, too. However, Ben is an outsider who doesn’t believe in the rituals but rather is humoring the people around him. His grandmother is a real interesting character who refuses to speak in English and otherwise despises white people. She’s a follower of the “old ways”. His sister’s disappearance broke his dad who mostly drinks. His mom left the reservation and hasn’t contacted them.

The supernatural elements are used sparingly at first but they become very prominent near the end. The story is told from the first-person POV of the three main characters. We get to know each one very well.

Collects four short stories.


Publication year: 1991

Format: Audio

Running time: 3 hours, 2 minutes
Narrator: Connie Willis

“Even the Queen”: Tracey’s daughter has chosen to join the Cyclists and the whole family is in an uproar. Tracey’s mom is especially upset and tries to make Tracey talk her out of it. After all, Tracey is a judge and should be able to prevent her own daughter from doing stupid things.

Winner, 1992 Nebula Award and 1993 Hugo Award, Best Short Story.

“At the Rialto”: Dr. Ruth Barringer is one the physicists who have arrived in Hollywood for a quantum physics conference. She’s trying to get into her room but the receptionist who is really an actress/model gets confused. Also, Ruth is trying to avoid David who draws her into distractions like moonlight walks rather than attending the lectures.

Winner, 1989 Nebula Award, Best Short Story.

“Death on the Nile”: The MC, her husband Neal, and a group of friends are going to Egypt for a vacation. But one of MC’s friends is trying to seduce Neal and that’s just the first thing that goes wrong. I enjoyed the excerpts from the “Egypt Made Easy” tour guide.
Winner, 1994 Hugo Award, Best Short Story.

“Why the World Didn’t End Last Tuesday”: A committee tries to plan Armageddon.

“Close Encounter”: The main character is in a hospital heavily drugged.

These were funny and fun short stories and easy to listen to. The first one was the best but I also really enjoyed “Death on the Nile”.

The second X-Files book.


Publication year: 1994

Format: Audio

Running time: 5 hours, 42 minutes
Narrator: Patrick Lawlor

A bunch of early X-Files audiobooks were available for free from Audible last year and I grabbed them.

Scully brings to Mulder’s attention a mutilation case. First cattle, but now people. People who don’t seem to have any connections to each other except that they were mutilated in the same way. Mulder agrees to investigate, and they head to Albuquerque, New Mexico. The local sheriff isn’t cooperative and neither are the local people. Konochine Indians live on the mesa and are hostile to everyone but especially to the FBI.

This was a quick monster-of-the-week mystery and an okay read. Grant spends a lot of time establishing the local people and unfortunately, I wasn’t really interested in them. We get chapters from the POVs of future victims (with grisly descriptions of the deaths) and a couple of other local people some of whom are never seen again. Donna Faulkner is a major secondary character. She sells Konochine items but the tribe doesn’t like her. So she gets them from a Konochine who isn’t in good graces with his tribe because he was in jail.

These people were necessary, of course, to build the mystery but I was just impatient to get back to Mulder and Scully. The mystery centers on Native American magic but I don’t think Grant is a Native American.

A collection of SF short stories, novellettes, and two novellas. The second book in an SF anthology series.


Format: ebook

Publisher: WMG Publishing

Pagecount from GoodReads: 590

Publishing year: 2021

The theme of the collection is aliens and in almost every story there are, indeed, aliens. But they’re not always in the center of the story. In fact, many of these stories feature aliens in an unconventional way. I was a bit disappointed that none of Rusch’s creepy and wonderful aliens from her Retrieval Artist series made it. But I ended up enjoying the stories. There were just different than what I expected.

Dean Wesley Smith

My Socks Rolled Down (2011): The main character has just one pair of Magic Socks. He has had them almost since he was born. Now, he’s watching the lottery on TV and his Magic Socks are going wild.

The Great Alien Vibration (2015): Jimmy has finally asked out his work colleague, Stephanie. They’re going to a mystery movie where Jimmy is the only man in the audience but that’s fine by him.

Sighed the Snake [Poker Boy • 7] (2010): Aliens last visited Earth in the late 1950s. Now they’re back and Poker Boy and his trusty sidekick and girlfriend Front Desk Girl must deal with them. The aliens love to gamble, that’s why they’ve returned to Las Vegas. It’s Poker Boy versus a sneaky alien at the poker table.

A Deal at the End of Time [The Seeders Universe] (2017) : When the Event killed off most of the people on Earth, Parker had been happily married and teaching law. Now, he lives alone and runs the End of Time Bar, Saloon, and Eatery. He’s mostly accepted the new normal. But then a beautiful woman appears right in his kitchen.

Me and Beans and Great Big Melons (2008): Innis is just looking for a hamburger and beer to watch a game. He never expected to run into an alien in the local supermarket.

Who’s Holding Donna Now? (2014): When three aliens start to gamble at Sandy’s bar, the owner gets really bad feeling about it.

Love with the Proper Napkin (1994): Two people write things on napkins in a bar. A hilarious story.

Dried Up [Poker Boy • 15] (2011): Poker Boy and his girlfriend Front Desk Girl wake up to electric static in their bed. Two gray-skinned beings with huge eyes stand next to them. The Silicon Suckers look like the Grays but they’ve lived on Earth longer than humans. They’re also quite powerful so Poker Boy is worried at first. But it turns out that they need his help.

The Last Man [Buckey the Space Pirate] (2017): Buckey goes into a simple costume pasty, expecting it to be boring. After all, it’s not an SF convention. Instead, he comes face to face with Maiden Molly, the Sex Queen of the planet Frost. She’s looking for the last man on Earth. Buckey jumps right to the chance.

Dinner on a Flying Saucer (2008) (a variant of Dinner on a Flyin’ Saucer): The nameless main character stumbles back home at 3 am, smelling of whisky and little red marks on his shirt collar. When he explains to his wife that little grey men had abducted him and served him dinner on their flying saucer, she doesn’t believe him.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Skin Deep (1988): Cullaene lives among the human colonists but hides his true self. When a group of people comes to question him about a body they found, Cullaene realizes he needs to leave, once again. But his human friend’s daughter is showing symptoms and without treatment, she will be disfigured or maybe she’ll even die. Cullaene could help her, but it could cost him his life.

Alien Influences [Alien Influences] (1992) / novelette: A continuation of the novellette Dancers Like Children in the first volume. John grew up in the colony Bountiful and the alien Dancers influenced him so much that he, and the other children, did crimes without realizing it. Now, John is an adult and a bounty hunter. A very rich client wants to hire him to find a stolen art object. The money is too good to pass up. But in order to solve the theft, John must face his past.

Glass Walls (1994): Beth is another one of the children of Bountiful, influenced by the alien Dancers. Now, she works at an interstellar hotel, sometimes with aliens. She and the staff makes sure that the guests get everything they want, including sex. She makes herself live in the now, like a Dancer, so the aliens wouldn’t influence her. But then a baby Minaran is brought to the hotel. Minaras are endangered, protected spiecies, so the Minaran shouldn’t be there, must less in full view of everyone.

The Injustice Collector (2005) / novelette: Humans have landed on an alien planet. The local people aren’t curious about them but indulge in the humans’ strange customs. However, something goes seriously wrong, children die, and the locals send for a Justice/Injustice hearing. The hearing is quite different from what humans are expecting. The story is the Injustice Collector’s record of the proceedings to a review board.

Broken Windchimes (2009) / novella: The main character is a human singer who lives among the alien Pané. The Pané have very sensitive hearing. They find human male sopranos very pleasant, but they demand perfection. The main character is a star: he has been singing for them for 22 years, ever since he was a small child. Now, his voice breaks.

Bonding (1999) / novelette: Marisa is an undercover agent and enjoys her life without any close ties. She’s one of the best, choosing her assignments. This time she’s after people who illegally capture and sell alien animals, the Ce’nark. The animals thrive in cold. The job goes sour when a young Ce’nark accidentally bonds with Marisa. It will die if the bondmate leaves it alone. Now, she must care for a vulnerable young animal. Luckily, it’s possible that the Ce’nark’s tribe could be nearby and they could accept the youngster back. If Marisa can find them on a frozen planet.

What Fluffy Knew (1998): A fun story told from the POV of a cat. Fluffy is a princess, a big white cat. Everything is right in her world: she has food, people to pet her, and comfortable places to sleep in. Then they came and everything changed.

Blind (1999) / novella: When Scott was ten years old, he and his older brother Richard snuck into the woods. In a fairy circle, they thought they saw a face in a fog, and Scott took pictures of it. Supernatural aficionados around the world took an interest and Richard was happy to be interviewed, but Scott wasn’t. Richard was convinced that a UFO was in the woods but Scott didn’t believe that. Later, Scott went to MIT and got so rich he could retire while Richard stayed in their home village and raised a family. Now, Richard is dead of exposure in the woods. Everyone believes he was cheating on his wife but Scott is convinced that something else happened. He investigates.

Fit to Print (1997) / novelette: Frank Butler is a veteran New York Times journalist. His grandmother came from a secluded little town of Bonner Bay. Frank loves it and still goes there every summer during his vacation. But this time something has changed. Small, strange pictures have been taped to many windows: a tiny person in a circle floating on the crest of a wave. Frank asks the mayor what is going on. She’s reluctant to tell him because he’s a reporter. But finally, she admits: aliens have arrived to Bonner Bay.

The End of the World (2007) / novella: A little girl is separated from her Momma in a frightened crowd. The girl is terrified but tries to do as she has been instructed: to change herself to resemble the sidewalk where she’s laying. But she’s so scared she’s not sure if it will work.

A hundred years later, a small-town detective Becca Keller gets a strange call from her ex and goes to meet him. His company is renovating an old building. And they’ve found a mass grave. It must be a hundred years old but a smell still lingers.

The two plotlines seem separate at first, but pretty soon I guessed how they would connect. Hope is a town with a proud history of accepting the black and the Chinese at a time when most of the US wouldn’t accept them. So, when a mass grave is found, that threatens to shake the whole town. Becca’s ex has also invested a lot of money in the renovation site and could go bankrupt.

Meanwhile, a hundred years ago, the little girl’s family is very different from the local people and they must always be alert for trouble. But at the beginning of the story, the girl is separated from them in a crowd that has grown violent.

At least in these stories, the writers have quite different styles. Rusch writes longer stories and they’re often more somber, melancholy, even pessimistic in tone. Since the stories are longer, she also focuses more on worldbuilding. Smith writes shorter and in a more humorous way. Some of them are quite whimsical and have less conventional aliens. I enjoyed both styles.

A stand-alone SF novella.


Format: print

Publisher: JABberwocky Literary Agency

Page count: 156

Publishing year: 2017, originally published in Asimov’s 2015

The novella is set in de Bodard’s Xuya universe.

Suu Nuoc is a general in the Viet Dai Empire and also the Empress’s former lover. Now, he’s an investigator. The Grand Master of Design Harmony Bach Cuc has disappeared from her lab, leaving behind only her memory implants. Bach Cuc is a scientist and she’s working on reaching the Citadel of the Weeping Pearls. The Citadel vanished thirty years ago along with its builder, the Empress’s eldest and most headstrong child, Bright Princess Ngoc Minh, and her staff. It’s rumored that the Citadel, a space station, had very advanced tech and weapons. Tech that could turn the tide of the upcoming war. But the return of the Bright Princess Ngoc Minh would upset the court and many are against that. Suu Nuoc works with a mindship, The Turtle’s Gold Claw. The mindship is the Empress’s granddaughter.

When the Empress hears about Bach Cuc’s disappearance, she orders Suu Nuoc to investigate. She knows that the general isn’t in favor of the court because of his low birth and straightforward manner. She’s trying to ward off a war with the Nam Federation. They have stolen some of the Empress’s mindships and warped them against her.

Diem Huong was six when the Citadel vanished, taking her mother with it. Since then, her father has become a drunkard and she has become a brilliant engineer. Together with another engineer, she’s building a machine that will, hopefully, take her back to the Citadel and her mother.

Ngoc Ha is a younger princess. She adored and resented her oldest sister Ngoc Minh. She’s not sure if she wants her back. Her only child is the mind of the mindship, the Turtle’s Golden Claw. She felt that she was in the shadow of the Bright Princess.

This is a story about mothers and daughters and about sisters. Court intrigue and interpersonal relationships take the center stage. It’s also a mystery and there’s a war brewing in the background. For such a short novella, it has a lot going on and four POV characters. Still, it works.

It’s beautifully written, as is usual for de Bodard. The setting is very well developed, for example, the mem-implants that allow the high-born to consult their ancestors. Suu Nuoc doesn’t have them because he’s a commoner.

The ending was a bit abrupt and some things are left hanging.

A collection of fantasy and SF short stories. Originally published as a hardcover, this is the third softcover.


Format: print

Publisher: TOR

Page count: 370

Publishing year: 2014

Bombshells by Jim Butcher (The Dresden Files): Harry Dresden’s apprentice Molly has had a hard time after Harry died. She’s trying to take over for Harry as a wizard but thinks that she’s not good enough. Then one of her friends asks for help searching for a missing boyfriend, who is a vampire.

I enjoyed this story, although the three dangerous women used their looks and breasts a bit too much to be taken seriously.

City Lazarus by Diana Rowland: Danny is a corrupt cop in New Orleans. Ever since the river left, the city has become a cesspool for criminals, the desperate, and a few very rich men. Danny works for one of the rich men. But then he meets a woman, a stripper, and starts to have feelings for her.

This one didn’t really have a dangerous woman, except as a manipulator.

Hell Hath No Fury by Sherrilyn Kenyon: Four friends are looking for ghosts, real ones. They arrive at an abandoned town with their equipment. However, one of the four has actual psychic powers and makes contact with the ghost who is very angry.

This has a very familiar storyline, but I enjoyed the ghost and her story.

Some Desperado by Joe Abercrombie (Red Country): Shy’s have a really bad day. Her horse just fell and died. Her band of desperados has turned on her and is hunting her. She runs to a town, hoping to get help, but it’s abandoned. She has only a knife and her wits to defend herself.

The most action-packed story in the collection with a great Western setting.

The Hands That Are Not There by Melinda Snodgrass (Imperials): The only SF story in the collection. The main character is depressed about his chances of getting a promotion because of his low birth. But an older man in the bar tells his story of how things could be much worse.

Another one where the woman is a manipulator, using her looks and sex. The SF setting seems rather dated with women as stay-at-home moms or whores and advancement at least in the military is based on family connections.

Caretakers by Pat Cadigan: Val is in her mid-fifties and lives with her sister Gloria who is 15 years younger. Their mother has dementia and lives in an assisted living home. Gloria has always been pretty aimless. Val is relieved with Gloria starts to volunteer at their mom’s home. But then Gloria becomes convinced that something strange is going on at the home and Val doesn’t believe her.

This was strange. Once again, the dangerous woman was a minor secondary character. The main tension was between Val and her sister.

Novella: Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell by Brandon Sanderson (The Cosmere): Silence runs a waystop in the Forests of Hell where the shades of dead people hunt the living. Secretly, she’s also a bounty hunter. When a ruthless criminal with a huge bounty on his head steps into her station, Silence is determined to get him. She also has a far more personal reason to take him down. It’s going to be a hard battle.

This was the best story in the collection. The setting is great. The Forests have shades who can kill and maim if you don’t obey the three rules: don’t kindle flame, don’t shed the blood of another, and don’t run at night. Silence is also a great character.

The stories were different than what I was expecting. I guess after watching Xena and Buffy I’m just not that interested in female characters whose only option is to use their looks and sex to get what they want. Still, it has a couple of good stories, too.

I didn’t reach my goal in 2022 so this time I’m joining with a modest goal.

Mount TBR 2023 challenge post.

This year I’m joining with the goal of 12 books, hoping to climb Pike’s Peak.

Books read:

1, George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, ed: Dangerous Women 3

2, Aliette de Bodard: The Citadel of Weeping Pearls

3, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Dean Wesley Smith: Colliding Worlds, vol. 2

4, Charles Grant: Whirlwind

5, Connie Willis: Even the Queen and other short stories

6, B. B. Griffith: Follow the Crow

7, Kris DeLake: Killer Advice