2nds Challenge 2011


I read 17 books for the 2nds Challenge 2011 hosted by A Few More Pages and achieved my goal of 12 books.

I enjoyed all of the books I read for this challenge and intend to continue with most of them. This year, I read three 2nds books from my favorite authors, so I can’t choose between them: A Local Habitation, Flying too High, and City of Ruins were all excellent. Bear and Cherryh are also among my favorite authors but for some reason, I didn’t enjoy these books as much as their previous ones. However, I will continue with these series, too.

Books read:
1, Marjorie M. Liu: Darkness Calls
2, Seanan McGuire: A Local Habitation
3, Tara Maya: Taboo
4, Kerry Greenwood: Flying Too High
5, Tim Powers: On Stranger Tides
6, Kristine Kathryn Rusch: City of Ruins
7, Ben Bova: Vengeance of Orion
8, Layton Green: The Egyptian
9, Jocelynn Drake: Dayhunter
10, Susan Wright: Star Trek: Dark Passions, Book 2
11, C. J. Cherryh: The Faded Sun: Shon’Jir
12, Peter Clines: Ex-Patriots
13, Linda Hawley: Guardian of Time
14, Elizabeth Bear: By the Mountain Bound
15, Carrie Vaughn: Kitty Goes to Washington
16, Baroness Orczy: The Elusive Pimpernel
17, Elizabeth Bear: Chill

The second book in the Jacob’s Ladder SF trilogy.

Publication year: 2010
Format: Audio
Publisher: Audible
Narrator: Alma Cuero
Running Time: 11 hrs.

The book starts soon after the end of the previous book, Dust. At the same time, things have changed but some have stayed the same. The one of the main POV characters in Dust, Perceval Conn, is a POV character here, too, but to much smaller degree. Perceval’s uncle and father are the main POV characters this time, together with the Necromancer Mallory and a few other characters.

Even though the generational ship is under way, is badly damaged, has a new AI (called an angel), and has a new captain, there are still people who are trying to take over. The antagonist in Dust, Ariane Conn, is dead but her mother Arianrhod manages to escape her tank and is still determined to become the captain of her world. Another AI is helping her. Tristen and Benedick track her through the ship while Perceval and the AI are trying to keep the ship together and make some hard choices.

They barely escaped the sun going nova and are now speeding through space on the nova’s shock wave. Some of the ship is so badly damaged that it can’t be salvaged. Most of the passengers are sleeping in pods; they are needed to repair the ship but can the ship feed them? However, most of the story follows Tristen and Benedict.

Tristen and Benedick are both troubled characters. They have both done things earlier in their lives, in the service of their father, which they now regret. They both come face to faces with some of the consequences. They are quite introspective and are trying to behave now in a more moral manner. This time, Arianrhod is a POV character and we see what motives her, and the relationship she has with her rebel angel (fragment). We also get to know a few other Conn family members.

Mallory is a more enigmatic character. The Necromancer is more enigmatic character whose job is to take care of the memories of the dead people, so Mallory knows a lot and often advises the other characters. Gavin is a helper AI in the form of a basilisk. However, he has feelings and at one point he muses that humans realized that a brain without feelings wouldn’t function properly.

The characters are interesting but I didn’t really connect with any of them.

There are a lot of religious reference in the book: the AIs are called Angels and the ship itself if called Jacob’s Ladder. There are also quotations from the King James Bible and the New Evolutionist Bible. Some people consider the ship’s builder as gods while others consider them close to torturers. Some of the characters talk about the Christian God and what he apparently wants. This is rather uncommon for SF where religion is often left out, at least on the SF books I’ve read.

Like Dust, Chill also reminds me of Zelazny’s Amber books. Like in Amber, Bear’s trilogy has a feuding family at the heart of it. Perceval, Rien, Tristen, Ariane, Arianrhod, and Benedick are all part of the Conn family, and dangerous to each other. They also live a lot longer than the ordinary people, the means, around them. In this book, it’s because of science and not magic, though. They also have an absent father, dead in this case, who spawned the large family. The ship itself remind me of the way Corwin walked though the Shadow worlds. While Jacob’s Ladder doesn’t have quite as wide a range of different worlds as the Shadows, it’s still possible to encounter a mammoth and a snake cult in different parts of the ship. Also, the names, of course, reference Arthurian stories. Tristen goes through somewhat similar trials as Corwin and Benedick is a bit similar to Zelazny’s Benedict who also withdrew from his scheming family.

There are a lot of ideas in the book about human evolution, post humanity, immortality through technology, and artificial intelligences. Yet, the society in the ship is cruelly divided between the few immortals and the many means so only a few can enjoy the fruits of the high technology.

Chill builds on the characters and places seen in Dust so Chill doesn’t stand alone. Dust should be read first.

One of the sequels to the Scarlet Pimpernel.
Publication year: 1908
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 1948
Format: Audio
Publisher of the audio translation: Otava
Narrator: Vesa Mäkelä
Translator: Armida Enckell
Running Time: 6 hrs, 30 minutes, 5 double sided cassettes

According to Wikipedia, this is the third book in the series but the second one I’ve read, so I added it to the 2nds challenge.

The book starts with a description of France; how the ordinary people have become bloodthirsty after the Revolution. The masses want more and more victims to the guillotine, and the leaders behave in very cruel ways towards their own people. Meanwhile, citizen Chauvelin wants to get his revenge on the Scarlet Pimpernel. Robespierre himself sends Chauvelin to England as France’s official representative and with a lot of money and power. Former actress Désirée Candielle is in England and the men decide to enlist her to help them.

Meanwhile, Sir Percy Blackely and his young and beautiful French wife Marguerite are happier than in the first book. However, now that Marguerite knows that Percy is the Scarlet Pimpernel she is very anxious about his exploits. She even asks him to stop working against the French but Percy doesn’t want to do that.

Désirée is working in a puppet show tent in Richmond Green and Marguerite meets her there when Désirée’s supposedly collecting money for Paris’ poor. Marguerite is at first a little suspicious but Désirée manages to alleviate her fears and so Marguerite invites her to a party so that the Frenchwoman can sing in front of the Prince of Wales. However, almost immediately Désirée asks that she can bring a protector with her and Marguerite agrees to that. Unfortunately, the protector is none other than the devious Chauvelin. In the party, Chauvelin and Désirée manage to engineer a situation where Percy challenges the Frenchman into a duel. The duel is set to happen in France. Once again, Marguerite feels that she must do everything she can, to help her husband.

The writing is very similar to the first book. The French are described as cruel and bloodthirsty, except for the nobles who are haplessly fleeing for their lives. Their leaders are even ready to sacrifice their own people to get just one or two traitors. Often enough, just by looking at other people Marguerite can instinctively know if she should trust them or not, and her instincts are always right. Nobles are always described as behaving in a noble manner and having even noble bone structure which sets them apart from ordinary mortals.

The book has quick plot twists and lots of excitement. Marguerite is the main point-of-view character but there are lots of others, too, and the POV change can be startling. There isn’t a lot of violence; the story centers on dastardly plots and counter-plots. There are a lot of sneaking around and disguises worn by various characters.

There are some historical cultural differences which might amuse the modern reader. For example, some characters say that it’s not proper for a man and his wife to love each other, and expect that behavior to stop with time.

It’s an entertaining and fast read.

The second book in Vaughn’s urban fantasy series. It’s my last book in the Horror and Urban fantasy challenge and one of the books in my Take A Chance Challenge, number 7. I went to the What Should I Read Next page, put in Pride of Chanur by Cherryh and the page recommended Vaughn’s whole series. I don’t think they’re actually similar, though.

Publication year: 2006
Format: print
Page count: 321 plus a bonus short story Kitty meets the band
Publisher: Orion

After the end of the previous book, Katharine ”Kitty” Norville is staying on the road. She’s still doing her talk show on Friday nights, The Midnight Hour, and talking about various supernatural phenomena. She’s doing the show from a different city every week. Then she’s called to testify in front of the US Senate because they are investigating the Center for the Study of Paranormal Biology. So, Kitty drives to Washington, D. C.

There two hulking Men In Black take her to meet the local Vampire Master, or Mistress in this case. Alette is courteous but firm; the local lycanthropes are running wild, Kitty is Alette’s guest, and she will protect Kitty from her own kind. Kitty isn’t thrilled about it but doesn’t have a choice. She moves into Alette’s house instead of a hotel. Alette plans for her minion to always escort Kitty but Kitty slips out on her own to do some sightseeing. She’s also invited to parties. In one of them, she meets a werejaguar and is instantly attracted to the handsome Brazilian man. Through him, Kitty explores D.C.’s relaxed werecreature community.

But it’s not all fun. The Chair of the Senate committee is a paranoid religious Senator who wants to expose all ”the monsters” to the public. The head of the Center, doctor Paul Flemming, is another witness and Kitty finds out about his military background. A couple of old enemies are also in town. Not to mention all of the reporters…

I liked this book a lot more than the first one. Kitty is away from her former toxic werewolf pack and the dangling plot lines from Kitty and the Midnight Hour get conclusions, sort of. Vaughn can continue them if she wants to but it’s not necessary. I also really enjoyed the start of the book where Kitty does a brief literary analysis of Dracula: ”But what it’s really about is saving the world through superior office technology.” The callers are also very entertaining.

There are a lot of interesting characters in the book. I loved the way Kitty’s mom calls her every Sunday to catch up. Kitty’s lawyer Ben is a solid ally who does his best to protect Kitty’s interests. Originally, Kitty is afraid of Alette and also admires her style. Several people serve Alette and Kitty asks them straight out if they know that she’s a vampire. Turns out that they do; their families have served her for a long time. Also, Alette doesn’t use them against their will or oppress them. Emma is working through collage while serving Alette, and Tom and Bradley, the two MIB chauffeurs, turn out to be rather normal people, after all. I also rather enjoyed the professional psychic and the reporter who grew up with supernatural tales.

The werecreature pack is set up very differently than Kitty’s old pack and it was a revelation to her, and of course to us readers, that there can be a pack without constant jockeying for power and the alpha position. This makes sense, of course, because most people aren’t powerhungry jerks.

Kitty and the werejaguar Luis have a fling. Neither pretend that it’s more than that and it was great to see Kitty more relaxed and enjoying her life. There’s no huge proclamations of love or anything like that. Great!

Kitty has done a lot of growing up since the start of the first book. In a conflict situation her first instinct is still cowering and looking meek, but she can be more aggressive, when needed. She has a lot of guilt from the events in the previous book, which is understandable. The psychic helps her through them which I considered a bit too fast but I’m sure most readers don’t like Kitty dwell on her feelings.

The plot isn’t a roller coaster ride but moves in a good pace. There’s an air of tension about the Senate hearing because they could theoretically declare all werewolves and vampires non-humans and non-Americans. However, I wasn’t really convinced that would happen and I don’t know if that would have really changed anything. So, for me at least, there wasn’t a huge doom and gloom tension.

This was a great continuation to Kitty and the Midnight Hour; in fact I think I would have been happier reading them back to back.

In the short story Kitty meets, on her show, the band Plague of Locusts. The bass player is apparently possessed by a demon. Nice one.

The second book in the Edda of Burdens trilogy. It’s set before the first book, All the Windwracked Stars.

Publication year: 2009
Format: print
Page count: 318
Publisher: TOR

The previous book in the series, All the Windwracked Stars, started with the aftermath of a battle and a world’s ending. In this book we find out the events which led to that battle and to the tarnished.

The einherjar and the waelcyrge, the Children of the Light, are living in relative peace in mead halls around the world. They have the ability to take a mortal’s dying breath and avenge his or her death but, at least according to this book, they don’t use it much. They are immortal, don’t sleep, and don’t require food so they each have their own interests to spend time on. For example, Muire is a historian and a poet, Ulfgar is a smith, and Mingan has his wolves. They can’t lie but they also don’t have to tell the whole truth. The biggest problem they seem to have is that their war leader Strifbjorn is still unmarried and all of the women are attracted to him. Of course, Strifbjorn and the strange outsider Mingan are lovers and are keeping that a secret. Apparently, only heterosexual relationships are allowed because of the low birthrate. Also, the einherjar and waelcyrige have an ability called the Kiss where they share a splinter of their soul with each other, permanently. It’s forbidden to share the Kiss before marriage vows but, of course, Strifbjorn and Mingan have shared it, so Strifbjorn has decided never to marry. However, Muire accidentally sees the lovers but keeps their secret.

Then, Strifbjorn finds an unconscious woman on the beach. He thinks that she’s a mortal and saves her. However, it turns out that the woman might be the goddess, the Lady, whose coming the Children of the Light have been expecting. If that’s true, she will be their leader in a coming war.

The story has three point of view characters: Muire is called “The Historian” in the headings. She’s small and meek for a waelcyrge, and she believes herself to be the least of her warrior sisters. However, others have noticed her capabilities. She can cast spells and is very loyal to Strifbjorn. She’s also the only one whom we see traveling among the mortals and avenging the dying. If she’s not entirely happy, she’s at least content with her life. She’s in love it the war leader but has always known that she can’t have him. Her story is told in a first person and past tense.

Mingan, the Grey Wolf, is the second POV character and his story is told in first person and present tense which emphasized the way that he lives in the moment. He’s older than the other Children of the Light but he doesn’t remember much about his past, at first. He wears a collar and feels very hot all the time. He loves Strifbjorn and understands why they must keep their affair a secret. He’s shorter than the einherjer but stronger and considered one of their best fighters. The others whisper that he has a demoness as a lover. Instead, Imogen is Mingan’s sister (in spirit if not in flesh). She feeds on misery and Mingan feels compelled to feed her when he can. The Imogen is not just a fighter; she’s a terrifying weapon whom only Mingan can wield. The Wolf has never felt at home in the mead hall so he lives with his wolf pack in the forest.

The third POV character is Strifbjorn who is written in third person. He’s honorable to a fault and is greatly troubled by the need to keep his affair a secret. He’s a leader first and always thinks how his actions will hurt or help other. Well, almost always. 😉

By The Mountain Bound is a tale of love, secrets, betrayals, and loyalty. It doesn’t really matter if you’ve read the first book or not. A lot of things are told here which aren’t made clear in All the Windwracked Stars and nothing depends on reading it first. In fact, reading this second book first is likely going to make reading the first book a richer experience because you know what has come before. If I had the time, I’d read the first book again.

The book is intense and well paced. However, there’s an air tragedy and sadness on it, especially if you’ve read the first book.

Edited to add: is the series SF or fantasy? Apparently, even the publisher can’t decide: the first book is labeled SF and the second fantasy. Hmh. I’d call this one epic fantasy but first one has enough technological gadgets that I’d call it SF. Of course, if you’re of the opinion that books which have magic, can’t be SF, then this is clearly fantasy.

The second book in the Prophecies trilogy.

Publication year: 2011
Format: ebook, pdf
Page count: 201

The first book in the series, Dreams Unleashed, was a psychological thriller which focused on Ann Torgueson’s past and present as a former CIA operative and a current member of the underground resistance moment GOG, Get Out Government. The second book is firmly set in the present when Ann’s life changes irrevocably. There are a few scenes set in the past but not as many as in the first book. Guardian of Time continues from the first book, so I strongly recommend reading it before reading this one. Each chapter has a heading with the year and the place where the chapter is set, which is very helpful.

Guardian of Time is set in the year 2015 where the governments have trampled people’s rights in the name of safety. Everyone is tracked with implanted chips and government operatives can even listen in on people inside their own houses. GOG is the secret organization made up of individuals who oppose the governments’ actions.

Ann Torgueson is a widow, a mother of an adult daughter, and a technical writer working for AlterHydro. When she was younger, she was part of CIA’s paranormal espionage section and was trained to use her paranormal abilities. She can remote view accurately things that are happening far away and things which have happened in the past. She quit working for CIA and is now working with AlterHydro, and very few people know about her past.

However, when she’s accused of corporate espionage, her comfortable life starts to change. When one of her friends tells her that he’s in huge trouble, Ann looks for a way to help him and finds that she has new paranormal abilities. Ann’s new abilities are so strong that the US government wants her no matter what the cost. However, Ann wants to help GOG and not the government.

The plot is fast-paced and has a lot of twists which I don’t want to spoil. This time, Ann travels a lot outside US and the places are described well. The pacing is good and Ann has to face both personal and larger challenges.

There are a lot of new characters in the book and few minor characters turn into major ones. Most of the characters are other GOG members and Ann has an easy camaraderie with them. Sometimes, I felt that she trusted them a little too easily, but I guess GOG researches the candidates thoroughly so Ann had no reason to distrust them. Most of them are met only briefly and they have the same goals as Ann.

Also, Ann develops very strong new abilities. However, she and the people around her seem to accept them quite easily. I was a bit surprised by this. Even if you have some supernatural abilities, or have seen others use them, I think these abilities are so strong, and dangerous, that people would naturally be inclined to not believe such things are possible or fear them. Here they are accepted as part of Ann’s destiny and the biggest fear is that the government would get their hands on Ann. I’m very curious to see where the third book will take Ann and her new abilities.

We get some answers to questions which were left open in the previous book and some startling new information. Guardian of Time is a great continuation to Dreams Unleashed and doesn’t suffer from the usual middle book syndrome where the story can stall so that it’s not ended too soon.

The book ends in a cliffhanger.

Superheroes and zombies!

Publication year: 2010
Format: Audio
Publisher: Audible Inc.
Narrator: Jay Snyder and Khristine Hvam
Running Time: 11 hrs and 32 minutes

Two years ago zombies overran the Earth and society as we know it collapsed. Now, a couple of thousand survivors are holed up in a fortress called the Mount which they have built from a former film studio on the outskirts of Los Angeles. The Mount is lead and protected by a small group of superheroes. St. George is strong, very durable, can fly, and breathe out fire and smoke. He used to be called the Mighty Dragon and he was one of the most famous heroes before the collapse. Stealth is a mysterious woman who can fight really well, move silently, and turns herself invisible in her suit. She’s also a great strategist. Then there’s Zzzap who can change into pure energy form. In his human form, he’s in a wheelchair and he doesn’t get a miracle cure. Also, when he’s in his energy form, he uses up his own energy reserves which are limited. Danielle is a scientist who was working on a battle armor called Cerberus. Now, she’s using it to keep others, and herself, safe. However, Cerberus isn’t as flexible as the Iron Man armor; it takes about an hour for Danielle to get into and other of it, and that was a great touch of realism.

The book starts with a humorous episode where St. George gets a haircut, which isn’t easy because of his almost indestructible state, and the population celebrates USA’s Independence Day. It downplays the horror aspects of the situation.

Then a small group led by St. George and Cerberus heads out to LA to gather any possible supplies. To my surprise, only a few of the local Marines are in the group. They shoot down any zombies that gets too close and continue their ongoing competition in who can kill the most famous people. This again downplays the horror.

Some of the people at the Mount are expecting the rest of surviving humanity to rescue them. Some are convinced that they are the last survivors. However, when a drone plane flies over the Mount, both groups are surprised, some pleasantly and others not so much. St. George sends Zzzap to investigate and he confirm that the drone belongs to a group of US soldier. However, after two years of isolation, can the groups trust each other?

There are a lot of different people at the Mount. Some of them are ordinary people but there is a Marine base, too. Apparently a gang, the Seventeens, started the zombie apocalypse and some of the gang members are now in the Mount but they aren’t exactly trusted. Christian was a member of the local government and she resents the power that the superheroes have. She’s agitating for an election. I was expecting her to have a more prominent role but she didn’t. I can’t help but to think that the heroes should have giving her a role in the new governing structure.

There are a lot of pop culture references in the story. For example, one of the buildings in the Mount is called the Roddenberry, Zzzap laments that he’s never going to know how Lost ends, and when the scavengers are given armor, they say they should be in the Lord of the Rings. Yes, it’s cheesy but I liked it.

The characterization is surprisingly good. The people have come somewhat used to the situation and are using humor to make things bearable. However, Danielle has been so traumatized that she doesn’t feel safe outside the Cerberus armor and refers to herself as “tiny, helpless woman”. She’s a scientist and an engineer, just like Tony Stark. St. George is a clear analog to Superman and Stealth is an analog to Batman. Apparently, they are romantically involved, sort of, but Stealth keeps St. George, and everyone, at an arm’s length. There are also several super soldiers who are trying to do the right thing. I was delighted that the female character aren’t shown just as accessories or possible romances to the males or as hostages. Stealth uses a suit that covers her up completely and the Cerberus armor isn’t gendered (no pointy breasts here!). Even though Stealth is quite underpowered compared to St. Gorge and Zzzap, she’s competent and more than holds her own in a fight.

Most humans aren’t comfortable calling the undead zombies, so they are often called “ex-humans” or exes.

Some of the heroes got their powers accidentally, much like most of the heroes in the DC universe. However, most of the secondary super powered characters are soldiers who got the powers through a US government program. The zombiefication seems to be a virus that is spread through biting.

The chapters have been divided between “Now” and “Then”. The Now chapters follow St. George and his group in third person. The “Then” chapters each have a different narrator and some of them are set in the time before the zombie apocalypse and some after it but before “Now”. These chapters are in first person. They showcase characters who are in the current storyline but don’t get a POV which is a great way to give more insight into them and getting a bit more sympathetic POV to characters who aren’t sympathetic in the other story line. Near the end of the book, we get POV chapters from the villains, too. This structure worked really well for me.

The audio book has two narrators: Jay Snyder is what I’d say the dominant narrator; he narrates the Now chapters, no matter if the POV character is male or female, and the various male characters’ dialogue. Khristine Hvam narrates female dialogue except in “Then” chapters which are narrated by a female character. Then Hvam narrates the chapter except for male dialogue which Snyder narrates. I’ve listened to both of them with other books and I liked them. However, I was really impressed how well they worked together. I haven’t listened before an audiobook with two narrators but at least here it worked really well for me.

The Audible book has a bonus short story at the end which runs about an hour. Codependent is about Holly who is surviving alone among the ex-humans. Then she meets up with another woman who claims not have been infected with the zombie virus. For me, this story was more horrific than the main story. The zombies, called junkies this time, seem to be somewhat different than in the main story. For example, they can speak a little and fight amongst themselves over food.

Oh, I’ve just realized that this was the second book in the series. Well, I’m certainly getting the first one!

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