2nds Challenge 2009


I still have one more review to do about the last audiobook I listened to on 2009, but instead I decided to take a look at the reading I did last year.

I managed to read and listen and review 83 books, and read 25 graphic novels (one not reviewed), so 108 in all. It’s around my average. I was a bit surprised to realize that I didn’t read much from my old favorite authors Lois McMaster Bujold (1), Anne Logston (0), Steven Brust (0), and Roger Zelazny (1 + 1 short story). On the other hand, in 2008 I found a new favorite author, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, and read this year 6 books from her. Otherwise, I read a lot of new authors and books which were first in the series.

Monthly numbers:
First in a series: 5+6+4+1+1+2+1+3+1+1+3+3
Stand alones: 1+3+1+2+0+3+1+0+1+1+2+0
Later in a series: 5+2+2+2+3+2+2+4+3+4+1

Fantasy:5+7+4+3+2+5+2+6+4+2+2+3
SF:6+3+3+1+2+1+1+0+1+3+3+1
Mystery:2+0+1+1+0+1+1+0+0+1+2+0

I took part in five challenges: 1st in a series, 2nds challenge in 2009, ebook challenge, 9 books for 2009, and comic book challenge 2009. The only one I didn’t complete was the 9 books for 2009 -challenge. I admit that I took a wrong tactic with all of them. I should have started reading the challenge books right at the start of the year. I also made lists beforehand and tried to keep to them too doggedly instead of just growing the lists while reading. I’ve certainly learned my lesson and will take the latter tactic this year. 🙂

I mean to sign up again for a variety of challenges. Also, many of the challenges this year allow the same book to be read for many different challenges, which makes things easier. I’m thinking of joining at least five challenges this year, too. Many of them are the same ones.

Best lists:

The Booking through Thursday’s previous post went through the new reads but I just have to add these.

The Best Nostalgic Read: John Byrne’s Fantastic Four run. Without a doubt.

Best Short Story Collection: Datlow and Windling: Coyote Road. This was a hard choice between this and the fantasy pirate collection.

The second book in the urban fantasy series called Hollows.

It’s also the last book in my 2nds challenge . The final book list turned out to be somewhat different that the one I started with but I had fun! If this challenge is done next year, too, I’m likely to join again. Of course, I already have quite a few series now to get through…

Much to my surprise, this book was in my local library. As far as I can tell, it’s also the only book of the Hollows –series which is in the Finnish library system. Sigh.

The book starts with Rachel Morgan and her pixie partner Jenks undercover trying to steal a fish. One of the local baseball teams suspect that a rival has stolen their mascot, the fish, and hired Rachel to steal it back. Things don’t go exactly as planned but Rachel and Jenks manage to get away with their prize. A F.I.B agent rescues them from the rival team’s werewolves. It appears that the F.I.B. need a consult in Interlanders affairs and because Rachel had worked with them before, their Captain Edden decided to employ her again.

Trent Kalamack’s secretary Sara Jane has tearfully reported that her fiancé is missing. Rachel feels that she owes Sara Jane for what she did for Rachel in the previous book and agrees to investigate. Dan is witch and Captain Edden believes that he was murdered by a notorious serial killer who is targeting lay line witches. Edden’s primary suspect is Dr. Anders because many of the victims were on her classes and he offers Rachel a chance to go into the Anders’ class undercover. However, Rachel is convinced that Kalamack is behind the killings but she agrees to take the class despite the fact that when she took it the first time, also under Dr. Anders, she failed it. To say the least, Anders doesn’t want Rachel in her class.

Rachel’s roommate, the living vamp Ivy, is horrified that Rachel agreed to work a case that’s connected to Kalamack. However, something else is also bothering the normally cool and level-headed Ivy. To make matters worse, Rachel finds out that her human boyfriend Nick seems to be dabbling into summoning demons. Also, she has trouble getting around because one of her spell went awry in a bus last year and the bus drivers are trying to avoid her. She doesn’t own a car.

I rather enjoy Rachel’s circle of friends: Ivy, Jenks, Nick, and even captain Edden and agent Glenn. They are all distinct from each other and rather dysfunctional as a group. Ivy is an upper class vampire who is “slumming” with Rachel and this time we come to see quite a bit more about her decision to leave I.S. and to stay with Rachel. The pixie Jenks is a very entertaining character: curious, loudmouthed, opinionated, and yet fiercely protective of his own. His clouds of children are also entertaining.

We also get more info about the lay line magic when Rachel is forced to use more of it. Dr. Anders requires her to have a familiar so that she can continue the class and so she has to find a way to bind one to her. The demon which was seen in the previous book has a large part to play in this book as well. I guess I have to admit that I’m a bit frustrated with how little Rachel seems to know about magic which is supposed to be her specialty. She mostly muddles through with luck and guessing.

The plot flows out more smoothly this time than in the previous book, Dead Witch Walking. However, it still somewhat relies on characters doing stupid thing such as not listening to others or doing something in the heat of anger. Rachel is quite impatient and not subtle at all. Still, it strikes me a bit odd that she would be so impatient to arrest Kalamack that she would ignore proper procedure which might lead to Kalamack not being sentenced even if he was arrested.

There’s also a change in the mood in the last part of the book which I found a little jarring. The start and the middle feel to me quite light hearted. Then, near the end the stakes are raised dramatically and the mood becomes much darker. At the end, Rachel is in even more trouble than when she started and her circle of friends will probably not trust each other as much as before. I have mixed feelings about it but I’m curious to see what happens next.

Oh, there’s one sex scene in the book but it’s relevant to the characters and the plot.

Part of my 2nds challenge. I’ve only read the Doomsday book from Willis before.

What a great book! It combines comedy, time travel, Victorian times, theories about history, detective novels, romance, and lots more.

Ned Henry is an Oxford historian who has done too many time jumps between 1940s and the current day searching for a bishop’s bird stump from the ruins of Coventry Cathedral. Because of the too many jumps, he’s suffering from a severe time lag which causes among other things “tendency to maudlin sentimentality, like an Irishman in his cups or a Victorian poet cold-sober”, dizziness, difficulty in distinguishing sounds, and blurry vision. The cure is two weeks of bed rest. Unfortunately, it does not look likely that Ned will get that. Lady Shrapnell has taken over the history department and the time travel project. She intends to rebuild the ruined Coventry Cathedral and had commandeered every available person. Ned doesn’t think that he’ll be allowed to take any sick leave.

However, after Ned waxes poetical about a dog, “it’s no wonder you are called man’s best friend, faithful and loyal, and true. You share in our sorrows” etc. he’s yanked back to his own time and promptly assigned bed rest. Prudently, Ned seeks out professor Dunworthy who might know a place where Ned could rest. However, at the professor’s office Ned overhears that one of the historians has brought back something from the past which should be impossible according to the laws of time travel. Dunworthy decides to send Ned back to the Victorian era to recover. He also wants Ned to do something else but unfortunately Ned is so time lagged that he can’t understand that part. So, Ned ends up back in time with a mission he barely remembers.

The book refers often another book called “Three men in a boat” which I’ve never even heard of but which is apparently a real book. I don’t really know much about Victorian times but I still felt that this was a very funny book. I enjoyed especially the two dueling history professors who had different theories about how history is formed: just natural forces working blindly or people affecting events. We did see only professor Peddick who rants about historical people and events, and uses Latin quotes. His adversary professor Overforce is only talked about but never seen. I’m a dog person so I enjoyed the large part that dogs had in the book.

The book does have multiple courtship romances but surprisingly enough I didn’t mind. The rest of the story is just that entertaining.

I listened this as an audiobook and I think that the reader, Steven Crossley, was excellent. The audible download was in three 7 hour parts.

The second book in the Company –series and part of my 2nds challenge.

This time the main character is Joseph who is one of the oldest immortals around. He was made into an immortal in the Stone Age. The previous book’s main character, Mendoza, is a secondary character here.

Joseph has been assigned among the mortals for a quite a long while. His latest job is as a Spanish Jesuit. However, at the start of the book, he’s being reassigned. At first, he spends some free time at New World One which is one the Company’s places hidden from mortals. Even though the year is 1599, the people in New World One have every luxury imaginable from modern drinks to water toilets. Joseph enjoys his time there fully although the melodramatic director Houbert is a bit too enthusiastic about arranging entertainment for all no matter if the all what to participate or not. The immortals are served by Mayans who think the immortals are gods.

After a couple of weeks, Joseph is reassigned to further up north, to the place which will be California later. He, and a group of other immortals, are to relocate a tribe of Chumash Indians to the future and to safety from the invading white people. In order to save them, Joseph has to masquerade as the trickster god Coyote who seems to be a sort of champion for the tribe although definitely not all-knowing or even good all the time. He gets implants from the Company and introduces himself to the Chumash.

Most of the story is Joseph’s experiences with the tribe who seems to be fairly prosperous and quite advanced in trade relations. They aren’t stupid or naive, though. Joseph enjoys spending time with them because they remind him of his childhood and youth in the Stone Age. I was amused by how Baker had decided to make the dialogue quite modern and so the Chumash had Canoemakers’ Union and United Steatite Workers alongside with shamans.

There’s also an interesting subplot about the Company. Apparently, none of the immortals are allowed to travel into the future beyond the year 2355. The humans say that this is the start of the glorious golden years but the immortals have their own, darker, thoughts. Also, the oldest immortals have disappeared over the years. Technically, they cannot die but Joseph hasn’t seen any of the Neanderthal immortals for centuries. They seem to be very loyal bunch but not very easy to blend into the crowd anymore. Also, we see some of Joseph’s memories about Budu who recruited him. Some time ago, Budu was arrested and Joseph hasn’t seen him since. I hope Baker will return to these plotlines later.

The Alta California base is run by humans from the future and there’s a stark contrast between the two bases. The New World One is a decadent place where the immortals drink and party all night and can indulge their every vice. In AltCal, the humans are strict vegans, don’t drink, and are deathly afraid of germs from a less civilized time. They impose these limits to the immortals as well. Also, the future humans don’t care for culture, even pop culture, and don’t even understand metaphors. The future doesn’t look very promising.

The plot isn’t really an adventure story. Instead if focuses on the Chumash society and also the differences between the immortals and their bosses from the future. But I tend to like that, from time to time. In fact, I’d like to read some more books like that.

Joseph’s way of coping with outliving mortals is that he makes a point to not to get involved. Not in people and not in ideas. As far as he’s concerned, they are all transitory. I think that’s a good way to cope, at least in the surface, but how long can anyone live like that? It might also make a character boring in the long run. We’ll see.

Overall: a good continuation. I already have the third book.

The second in the Twelve Houses – fantasy romance series and part of my 2nds challenge.

In the Mystic and the Rider, we got to know a group of mystics and the King’s Riders who traveled across the fantasy world of Gillengaria in order to find out any unrest. The main threads were left unresolved. Now, the six friends are back and continue to unravel the mysteries in their country. The previous book focused on Senneth, a powerful mystic, and her relationship with Teyse, a King’s Rider who didn’t trust mystics at all. This time the main character is the mystic Kirra from the noble house of Danalustrous and her relationships.

Kirra is a shape-changer and a healer, and she’s also the heir to her noble House. However, she’s always been a restless person who doesn’t like to stay in one place for long. Donnal who is also a shape-changer has been her constant companion during her whole life. However, Donnal is a peasant and Kirra’s father has employed him to be Kirra’s defender.

The book starts with Kirra leading a small group that consists of Donnal, a King’s Rider Justin, and a powerful male mystic Cammon to rescue Gillengaria’s future regent Romar Brendyn. Some dissidents have kidnapped Romar and the king fears that they might kill him. The group manages to rescue Romar and then they escort him back to his lands. Kirra is strongly attracted to Romar and during their time together, she starts to respect him, too. Alas, Romar is married. Still, he flirts with Kirra most of the way home.

Then Kirra returns to her home. Much to her surprise, she finds out that her father has decided to make Kirra’s younger half-sister, Casserah, the heir. After her initial shock, Kirra realizes that her father has made the right choice; Casserah loves the land and the people, and would do anything to protect them. Others take this as an opportunity to tell how much they distrust and despise mystics and particularly Kirra. However, her family supports her.

Malcolm, the father of Kirra and Casserah, decides that it would be good for Casserah to visit other noble houses and get to both know them and let them see the new heir. So he demands that Casserah must accept invitations to various balls around the country. However, Casserah has no intention of leaving her beloved Danalustreous. As a compromise, Kirra takes the form of her sister and visits the balls instead.

Her first destination is the king’s house Ghosenhall where she finds out that the king is also sending her daughter to the balls. Princess Amalie has lived a very secluded life and the king wants to introduce her to the nobles who know next to nothing about her. Kirra’s old friends Senneth, Tayse, Cammon, and Justin will be protecting her. In addition, the mysterious young queen Valri and the king’s brother Romar will also escort the princess.

Kirra tells her old friends the truth but she has to lie to everyone else about her true identity which turns out to be harder than she expected. Also, she’s still very attracted to Romar.

During their journey, the group encounters a lot of mistrust and outright hatred of mystics. It also becomes clear that there is a plot against Romar. Some people are concerned about Amalie’s ability to lead the country and would like to have their own candidate on the thrown. Also, some members of the minor noble house, the Thirteenth House, are frustrated with their own position in life and are plotting against the ruler.

While there are some action scenes in the book, this one is more clearly a romance novel than the previous book in the series. The emphasis is in Kirra’s choices: will she start an affair with Romar even though he’s married? What about Donnal who loves Kirra? Kirra will also have to make some unpleasant choices about the way she will use her magic which can make even more people fear the mystics.

The book continues the storylines from the Mystic and the Rider; the unrest among the nobles, the hatred of mystics, and the return of Coralinda Giesseltess who teaches that all mystics are evil and want to corrupt others. Will the nobles accept Amalie as their next queen? Just who is queen Valeri and what are her secrets? However, this book raises more questions and the answers will still have to wait for the next books.

To me, the book felt slower in pace because of the emphasis in the relationship between Kirra and Romar. I also don’t like cheaters which made the whole romance quite pointless to me. Romar admits that he married only to have kids and they don’t have any, yet. Apparently, in Gillangaria it’s dishonorable to have a divorce (or set aside a wife, as they call it) which feels ridiculous to me. How can lying, cheating, and hurting everyone involved which goes on for years be more honorable than a clean divorce? Romar could have easily given her wife a pension and then married Kirra which should have made clear to most people that Romar’s first wife wasn’t to blame. Also, I don’t understand which institution is propping up the “marriage without divorce” thing. Historically in the West, it was the Catholic Church. I haven’t seen any institution which is equally powerful in Gillangaria. So, the whole thing felt quite artificial to me.

The characters are still as likable as ever. Kirra is a merry young woman who likes to play pranks on her friends and it’s easy with her shape-changing ability. She’s also a healer and wants to heal everyone who’s in pain. When she encounters a foreign disease which she can’t heal, she’s very upset about it. Donnal is a far more mysterious figure. He prefers to stay in animal shape and is constantly guarding Kirra. However, they don’t seem to talk much. Together they seek out more information about the old gods and especially about the Wild Mother who is the patron of shape-changers and animals. The six friends are a very close-knit group who all look out for each other – even when it might feel inconvenient.

Romar is a quite honorable (except in his marriage). Despite being a noble, he doesn’t shun the company of commoners and talks to them almost as equals. He also wants to do all the exciting things himself such as fighting or walking into danger instead of being protected. He takes his responsibilities very seriously. However, it was a bit confusing that he doesn’t become official regent unless the king dies, even though he’s constantly referred to as the regent.

The plot focuses on the relationships, both romantic and friendships, and political scheming.

Overall: interesting if somewhat slow continuation.

This is part of my 2nds challenge and the last in my ebook reading challenge!

The second book in the Trade Pact Universe series.

Sira du Sarc and Jason Morgan are back. Ties of Power starts about a year after the ending of the previous book, A Thousand Words for a Stranger. The organization of the chapters is similar: Sira’s chapters are in the first person and every other chapter is an interlude which has another point-of-view character.

For most of the year, Sira and Morgan have been living apart from each other. They are keeping in mental contact and Sira is doing her best to train Morgan in mental defenses because she fears that her family, or the whole Clan, will someday come after them and try to kill Morgan.

Sira’s cousin Barac sud Sarc has been refused Joining a couple of times and according to the Clan tradition it’s unlikely that he will be given another chance to complete his life. So, he leaves his family behind and seeks out Sira. Sira is owns a gambling den and she’s pretending to be a Ram’ad Witch. A group of aliens from a race called the Drapsk are trying to persuade Sira to leave with them but she refuses.

When Barac finds Sira, she’s afraid that the rest of the Clan will follow Barac to her and so she gives the den to Barac and flees. She runs away to the same planet where Morgan is, been hoping that the Clan aren’t clever enough to find them. However, she’s wrong; during a festival she’s attacked and left for dead. Morgan finds her and the friendly locals nurse her back to painful life. But to her horror she finds out that someone has cut her: her reproductive organs have been cut away. She’s terrified about what the Clan will do with her tissue and ovaries, and she’s also enraged. She is too weak to seek revenge for herself and so she puts all of her rage into Morgan’s head and tells him to get back what was stolen from her and kill the people who cut her. Morgan has no choice but to obey.

Meanwhile, a group of the Clan is plotting. Some of them are Sira’s relatives; her sister Rael and older women of her family. They are concerned with the future of the Clan. Sira is the first of the women of the Clan who has been able to give her Power-of-Choice to another. In Sira’s case to Morgan who is human and not Clan so Sira’s actions are even more significant and frightening to Clan people who are looking for a way to save their species. For years, the women who have the Power-of-Choice have been getting stronger and Sira was the first who has such a strong power that she killed every man she tried to Join with. Before Morgan. So, this group is interested in both Sira and in human telepaths. Sira’s sister Rael is given the task to contact Sira.

There’s also another group of Clans people; xenophobes who can, and will, do anything to preserve the purity of Clan. Sira’s powerful father is one of them.

After Morgan had left and Sira had managed to sleep, she realizes what she has done. Desperately, she looks for a way to reach him as soon as possible. The only thing she can think of is to ask for help from the Drapsk. They’ve always been respectful and helpful. So, she teleports to their ship. Unfortunately, the Drapsk have urgent plans of their own.

This is a fine continuation to the first book. The characters are given more depth and they grow. We finally get to hear Morgan’s back story. Morgan’s faithful alien sidekick Huido is also back and provides a lot of humor.

The Drapsk are an interesting alien species and definitely not human. They have their own priorities and even their own behavioral quirks. Their primary communication method is by smells even though they can speak when needed. Great!

I had a bit of difficulty with the formatting because in the ebook, at least, the telepathic speech wasn’t marked in any way. This was unfortunate because Sira, Morgan, and Sira’s family are all telepaths.

The plot isn’t really fast-paced but left time for the characters to think and plan and worry. Sira was remorseful and ashamed most of the time because she literally gave Morgan her own rage and worried about what Morgan might do. She was also trying to heal from the surgery that was done to her. Sira is clearly the main character. Morgan, Barac, Rael, and the other characters were featured in the Interlude-sections but had less screen time, so to say.

I’d definitely recommend reading the first book before this one. The politics can be quite twisted and on the other hand, it’s very nice to see most of the familiar cast again.

The second book in the delightful Temeraire –series. They are historical fantasy set in the Napoleonic Wars with dragons. The dragons are huge and capable of carrying whole crews of men.

In the previous book, Naval Captain Will Laurence acquired the dragon Temeraire and they formed a strong and lasting bond. However, now the Chinese have revealed that Temeraire is a Chinese dragon and they want him back – preferably without the low-born English Captain. Temeraire is a rare Celestial dragon and so, their handlers in China are royalty.

The English government wants to keep good relations with China and some go even so far that they want Laurence to lie to Temeraire so that the dragon would leave voluntarily. But Temeraire doesn’t want to be separated from Laurence and refuses to believe that Laurence would exchange him for another dragon. When the Admiral tries to force Laurence to give up Temeraire, the dragon takes Laurence and flies away. Against orders, they join the battle against the French.

After the battle, Laurence is almost court marshaled for his actions, or rather Temeraire’s actions. However, Temeraire’s insistence convinces the Chinese envoy, the Emperor’s brother Prince Yongxing, that the dragon won’t leave without Laurence. Therefore, both Laurence and the dragon are sent by sea to China. The Chinese delegation and the British crew are suspicious of each other so the long voyage isn’t going to be a comfortable one.

The long sea voyage aboard the warship Allegiance takes up the vast majority of the book. There are three distinct groups aboard the ship: the air crew, the Navy men, and the Chinese delegation. Even the two British groups aren’t too comfortable with each other.

There’s only one huge air battle in the book near the beginning. However, there are smaller skirmished throughout the book providing lots of action. Politics provides motivations to many characters but Laurence isn’t a politician and he isn’t comfortable dealing with politicians such as young Arthur Hammond who is their onboard diplomat. (Alas, I associate the name Hammond with the Stargate’s General, which is very much the wrong association here!)

However, I was more interested in the differences between the Chinese and British cultures. Most of the differences come clear in how differently they treat their dragons. The British Admirals seem to think of the dragons as troops or even just animals while the Chinese have integrated them to their culture more clearly. Different breeds are also treated differently because they are of different class.

Temeraire is also very curious about these differences. He and Laurence also talk a lot about culture in general: slavery and are the British dragons any different from slaves, why woman aren’t allowed to be soldiers while female dragons fight as well as the males etc. I happened to like these a lot but others might think that they just slow the book down.

The Chinese are said to be the best dragon handlers in the world. Still, the Prince manages to completely ignore Temeraire’s own wishes. Through out the whole voyage, the Prince tries to convince Temeraire, both subtly and finally not, that the dragon would be much happier in China with a royal handler. He continues this no matter how sternly Temeraire insists that he doesn’t want to leave England or Laurence. Then again, it’s a very human trait to try to “better” others’ lives without taking into account what these other people want themselves.

I did expect to see more about China but that’s, of course, not the book’s fault. The sea voyage was quite interesting and what little we saw about China was fascinating. I hope that at some point Novik might write a (short) story set in this China.

Overall: a very enjoyable continuation to the series.

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