2nds challenge 2012


My newest review: Sarah Jane Stratford’s Moonlight Brigade.
It’s a vampire novel set during the Second World War and just loads of fun.

I gave it four stars of five.

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The second book in the Disillusionists super hero trilogy.

Publication year: 2010
Format: Audio
Publisher: Audible
Narrator: Rebecca Wiscoky
Running Time: 10 hrs and 19 minutes

Justine Jones is a hypochondriac but thanks to Sterling Packard she can now project her fears into other people (this is called a zing). Packard is the handsome leader of the Disillusionists, a group of neurotics whom Packard has given the ability can project their fears into other people. Packard chooses villains who have hurt other people as the targets. Justine is still not happy about twisting other people’s minds that way but she has grown to accept it when the targets are hurting other people.

Justine’s newest target is Ezmerelda, a woman who can invade other people’s dreams and make them do things while sleepwalking. Years ago before she was unofficially imprisoned, she made other people into cannibals. Justine has to touch Ez in order to zing her and now Ez has a channel to Justine’s dreams. And Packard’s. However, Justine isn’t convinced that Ez was behind the cannibal attacks and wants to be sure that she’s guilty.

At the same time, three people are shooting highcaps, the people with super powers. Even the highcaps don’t know each other so Packard and the city’s new mayor Otto Sanchez are very interested in stopping the shooters. The trio (called Dorks because the mayor doesn’t want the press giving them cool names: I loved that!) have some way to shield themselves against the highcaps’ powers.

The Disillusionists have their work cut out for them but then Justine suspects that something else is also going on. The plot is quick with a lot of twists and the ending is a real surprise and promises interesting and dramatic things for the last book.

Unfortunately, Justine’s love life is still rather confused. Previously, she was hesitating between two men, Packard and Otto, and chose Otto. However, she’s still very much attracted to Packard and her new relationship with Otto isn’t on solid ground. She makes the mistake of not telling crucial things to Otto and she angsts about it. This is my least favorite aspect of the series. Packard can read psychology and he profiles other people quickly. However, Justine is convinced that he’s wrong about her. In the previous book Packard lied to her and manipulated her coldly, and Justine can’t trust him.

On the other hand, Otto is committed to keeping Midcity’s population safe. He’s also a hypochondriac and his fear is the same as Justine’s. Otto seems quite heroic compared to Packard but they share a dark history. In the previously book Otto was the police chief and he has been elected mayor since then.

The Disillusionists squad is just as entertaining as before. They are all neurotic and that of course colors everything they do and say. They often go undercover to meet their targets and zing them with a fear. This creates great comedic moments. For example, Justine pretends to be a nurse and she can push her fear of diseases into the targets. During the book, the group has to make interesting moral choices. Simon, one of the neurotics, calls the team “reverse emotional vampires”, which amuses me greatly.

The book is written in first person and present tense.

The second book in the Blood series.

Publication year: 1992
Format: print
Page count: 281 in the Blood Books, volume 1
Publisher: DAW

Vampire Henry Fitzroy asks Vicki Nelson to help him in a professional capacity. Two members of the Heerkens family in London (Canada) have been shot dead and they can’t go to the police because they have a secret: they are werewolves. The members have been shot in wolf form. Vicki is astonished at first but accepts the situation quickly and agrees to help the family. She and Henry drive to the small town and to the Heerkens’ sheep farm where they meet the rest of the family. The two wers had been killed at night from a long range so the shooter has to be extremely good.

Vicki starts to investigate the neighbors and everyone else who lives nearby and has the skills and the chance to make the shots. One of them is a cop. The pack’s leader has an adult son who is the only one of the pack who works among humans. Colin is a cop in the London police department and his partner Barry Wu is an Olympic shooter. There are also birdwatchers and other people running around in the woods near the farm. The closest neighbor is a religious vegetarian. Vicki doesn’t have much to go on but she’s determined to find the murderer.

Vicki and Henry start the book dancing around each other. They’re attracted to each other but haven’t yet slept together. Then, Vicki’s long-time lover Michael Celluci shows up. He’s almost burning with jealousy and has run background checks on Henry. He found suspicious gaps in Henry’s life and decides to drive to London and confront Vicki with them. What follows is a lot of alpha male posturing. Unfortunately, I don’t care for that and Mike comes across as a possessive asshole. He and Vicki also snarl at each other instead of talking so Vicki almost as much a jackass. Henry is his charming self but most of the book is set during the day, so he doesn’t appear much.

I really enjoyed the wer. For Huff’s wer, shape changing is as natural as breathing and they do it almost as often and whenever they please. This results in a six-year-old running around first in boy form and then in his fur form which was amusing. The wers also say that humans smell weird so they aren’t attracted to humans. The wer keep to themselves as much as possible. Clothing restricts the change to they try to keep as little of it as possible but have to learn to keep them on for school. Some neighbors think that they are nudists. The females also come to heat instead of following the human mating pattern. Huff has modeled the pack closely to wolf packs; there are both a male and a female alpha who run the pack, and they are the only breeding pair. It seems that many births are twins and even triplets are mentioned. The wers also follow their instincts more than humans usually do. I found their pack dynamics interesting and more wolf like than is usual for urban fantasy.

The first book had several horror elements in it, but this one is clearly a mystery, not a horror book. A great second book for the series and to me it was better than the first book.

Italian original: Marcovaldo ovvero Le stagioni in città
Finnish translation: Marcovaldo eli Vuodenajat kaupungissa
Publication year of the original: 1963
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 1986
Finnish translator: Jorma Kapari
Format: print
Page count: 143

This short book has twenty short stories which have the same main character, a poor unskilled laborer Marcovaldo and his family. He makes so little money that they are constantly on the brink of disaster. They live a large Italian city, large enough that during a fog or when he gets of the bus on the wrong stop, Marcovaldo gets completely lost. He dreams of a simpler country life and tries constantly to get a little more money or food. Yet, when he gets his hands on a rabbit, he likes the poor animal and wants to keep it as a pet.

The stories start with a mundane place but are often exaggerated to the point where they become absurd fantasy. A couple of times, a story leaves the hapless protagonist in quite a dilemma and just ends there. For example, when Marcovaldo tries to find his way in a very thick fog, he ends up stumbling into an airplane, for the first time in his life, and it takes off. Not a word is said how he manages to get back. Indeed, at times he’s so miserable, that given the opportunity, he might not return.

Yet, not all of the stories aren’t depressing. Most of the stories are charming and often witty examinations of the harsh city life of poor people. How people want to get the best of any situation but often things end up just the same or even worse. A couple of times Marcovaldo and his family even manage to escape to the countryside which turns out to be pretty bizarre. However, there are a couple of stories which are down right crushing in the end.

The other Calvino book I’ve read is If on the Winters Night a Traveler and I really enjoyed it. This is witty little book but not as good.

The second book in the Clockwork Century series. Or rather a novella.

Publication year: 2010
Format: Audio
Publisher: Audible
Narrator: Dina Perlman, Victor Bevine
Running Time: 5 hrs and 46 minute

Pirate captain Croggon Beauregard Hainey’s ship has been stolen and he and his small crew are chasing it in a smaller aircraft. Hainey swears bloody vengeance on the Free Crow’s stealer, red-headed Felton Brink, who has had the temerity to rename the craft Clementine and is using it as a legal transport. Hainey has only two crewmen, Lemar and Symian, who are loyal only to him. Hainey is is an escaped slave and a notorious pirate. He carries the Rattler, a huge gun which a smaller man can’t even carry, and he uses it when he has to.

Maria Isabella Boyd is a former Southern spy. Unfortunately, this has made her famous and so she isn’t able to get any more work. She’s also in her forties, a widow, and a divorcée so she accepts any work she can get. In this case, she’s hired by the Pinkerton detective agency. Maria is the first woman the agency has hired and so she has a lot of prove. Her first mission is to make sure that Clementine gets safely to her destination. Captain Hainey is known to chaise the ship and Pinkerton lets Maria decide what to do about the pirate; kill him, capture him, or let him go free.

The book is set during the war between the Union and the Confederacy but in this world the war has been going on for 20 years. The characters are from Confederacy and have worked for it. Maria especially loathes the Union and working for it but she’s a realist. And she’s a woman at a time when it’s still not really proper for a white woman to work, especially when she’s at an age when she should be at home popping out kids. Even though the pirate crew, all black men, are able to move more freely in the Union, they still face a lot of racism.

Considering the books shortness, it’s quite verbose with various descriptions and it could have been easily cut down further.

Captain Hainey starts off as a sort of rogue but seems to be decent enough. Unfortunately, his bloodthirsty reputation is well deserved. The only thing he cares about is getting his ship back and he will do anything to get it.

Maria is loyal to the Confederacy and resents the Union. She spends a lot of time justifying her new job which felt unnecessary to me. She’s manipulative and especially skillful at manipulating men, but of course she has to be. At the start of the story, it’s well established that she isn’t beautiful which is great compared to all the “flawless skin” beauties running around pretty much every genre. Unfortunately, some men were rather rude about it. However, for a long-time spy she trusts people quickly and we never hear her thoughts about slavery even though Hainey is a former slave.

The novella contains a lot of action scenes especially later in the book and there isn’t even a hint of romance in it (great!). However, some things, and people, where a bit too convenient.

Perlman narrates the chapters which are from the point-of-view of Maria and Bevine narrates the chapters which are from the point-of-view of Hainey. They narrate together only when these two characters are in the same chapter and the Perlman narrates only Maria’s dialog and Beive Hainey’s dialog. This worked for me fine.

The second book in the Gatekeeper trilogy which is set on the third season after Revelations and before Lovers’ Walk.

Publication year: 1999
Format: print
Page count: 370
Publisher: Pocket Books

The Gatekeeper in his house in Boston is responsible for keeping dimensional rifts closed and imprisoning all monsters which have managed to slip into Earth from other dimensions. However, he is getting older and weaker. A cult of robed men called the Sons of Entropy have taken advantage of that. Their feared leader Il Maestro has commanded them to attack the Gatehouse and capture Buffy for his own sinister purposes. Buffy and her friends defended the Gatehouse from the attacks earlier but now they have more important task: to find the Gatekeeper’s eleven year old son who has been kidnapped. The boy had been in a school in London and time is short, so Buffy, Angel, and Oz use the Ghost roads to get to Britain in just a few hours. There, they are contacted by a man sent by the Watchers Council. Unfortunately, the man is a spy and sends the trio to a trap. However, the boy isn’t in Britain so the trio will have to do a road trip around Continental Europe.

Meanwhile, Giles, Willow, Cordelia, and Xander defending Sunnydale. Dimensional rifts are opening up and Willow uses her spells to seal them. One rift even opens into the Summers’ house and Joyce has to confront a supernatural threat. Also, the Flying Dutchman has broken free from the Gatekeeper’s bindings and is gathering live people to kill.

However, the Sons of Entropy don’t know that their Maestero is just a pawn. Il Maestro serves a demon who demands a sacrifice: Buffy or the Master’s beloved daughter. The Master is a vile man who has served evil for centuries. He enjoyed killing and torturing other people. Yet, he loves his adopted daughter and would like her to be his successor to the all-male Sons of Entropy.

Again, there’s a lot of action. Buffy, Angel, and Oz battle various creatures and groups of Sons of Entropy. Some of the Sons are low level sorcerers but powerful enough to give our heroes a lot of trouble. There are also more horror in the book than is usual for Buffy: the Flying Dutchman flies around and kidnaps people. This is often told from the point-of-view of the kidnapped, and to-be-killed, men and women, and so it’s more horrific because they aren’t the main characters and anything can happen to them. There’s a great sequence with the Dutchman and one of the regular characters. Also, since the Sons of Entropy are human Buffy’s gang is in fact killing and brutally wounding them which is quite different from the show where the villains tend to be various monsters.

Cordelia’s, Xander’s, and Willow’s parents are talked about several times which a bit unusual. The Scooby Gang stays out long into the night, battling evil, and are worried that they are going to be grounded until graduation. Cordelia and Willow also have a nice bonding moment which we didn’t really see in the series and is very ironic considering what happens in the episode follow the book. Buffy and Oz also talk more than probably in the series as a whole.

Spike and Drusilla have kidnapped the boy and are holding him. There are a few scenes with them but putting them on the cover is almost false advertising. Again, Faith doesn’t make an appearance.

The Ghost roads weren’t used much which was a bit disappointing. Only people with a connection to the supernatural can walk them and that’s why Buffy, Angel, and Oz are the only ones to use the roads. Apparently, being a witch doesn’t count. Unfortunately, the Ghost roads are declared immediately very dangerous and not to be used lightly, so the trio uses a car most of the time. In the first book, Angel was confronted by Jenny and I would have loved to see more of that sort of character torture. Alas, it didn’t happen. The ghosts attack the trio, when they try to use the roads, and demand to be let back into the world. Of course, Buffy couldn’t let that happen. Also, there are monsters walking the Ghost roads.

This is as good Buffy entertainment as the first book and the characters are mostly themselves. However, there’s no clear attraction going on between Willow and Xander, which is a bit odd considering the next episode. I didn’t care for that plot twist at all, so I’m not complaining. 🙂

The book ends is huge cliffhanger!

The second in a nine book series about Star Trek: TNG crew before the movie Nemesis.

Publication year: 2004
Format: print
Page count: 296 plus an excerpt from the next book in the series
Publisher: Pocket Books

At the start of the book the crew of Enterprise-E is in a bad place after their return from the disastrous tour on the Rashanar Battle Site. Captain Picard has been relieved of command and is in the custody of Counselor Colleen Cabot of the Medical Mental Health department. Riker is the acting captain but he’s unable to keep the crew’s spirits up and many have requested reassignment. LaForge is thinking of retiring and Data has been ordered to hand over his emotion ship because the Admiralty is afraid that the chip will unbalance him. The Ontailians want Picard to admit to murder or they will leave the Federation.

Picard is stationed on the Medical Mental Health’s holodeck where he has lived like a recluse. He accepts a deal so that he won’t be sent to prison and that Starfleet will avoid a public trial. However, Wesley is determined to help with his Traveler powers. Wesley visits a few key people and tries to convince them that Picard did the right thing and that something very dangerous is lurking in the Rashanar Battle Site. Wesley is concerned that his meddling will cause the other Travelers to strip him of his powers but he can’t just observe dispassionately. He goes so far that he takes Picard’s accuser at the inquiry, in the previous book, to Rashanar to show him what is going on there. He also takes Cabot to a similar journey and soon enough they persuade the Admiralty to send the Enterprise back to Rashanar to investigate it, unofficially. However, Riker is still the acting captain during this undercover operation and Picard is just a passenger. Cabot is also going because Picard is still her patient.

The Ontailians aren’t happy to see Starfleet, or especially the Enterprise, to return to the site, so the crew must disguise themselves. They end up getting an old shuttle and sending four people in it to scout the site. Picard, Cabot, tactical officer Vale, and Wesley in disguise as Ensign Brewster put on civilian clothes and try to blend in with the looters on the battle site. It’s very dangerous.

There’s also a side plot with Data. One of the admirals wants to insert a chip in his head to replace the emotion chip. The Admiral doesn’t tell Data what the chip will do and it’s all really fishy. LaForge is rightly very concerned and Wesley interferes to get Data out of the Engineering section intact. Maybe this will be explored further later.

Cabot has a passionate romance with one of the established characters. She’s also a significant point-of-view character to the point that she seems to be the main character. She starts out the book as a competent Counselor who doubts Picard’s story but not his sanity or capability as a captain. As far as I can tell, she’s never left Earth. However, once she’s on the Enterprise, she quickly shows a strong adventurous spirit and she has no trouble handling the suspicious and rowdy looters of various races. This seemed quite abrupt change to me. I had no problem with the romance but I wished to see more of the regular cast.

I tend to love stories where the (highly capable) Starfleet officers are out of their element (such as Gambit 1 and 2) and this was definitely such a book. Picard and Vale disguise themselves as looters and try to get information out of the other looters. I enjoyed this even though Cabot steals their thunder somewhat. I also enjoyed Wesley’s reluctance to show himself to his friends because he feared that the more he showed himself, the sooner his powers would be gone. In that respect, the ending wasn’t satisfying.

I was a bit surprised that the Ontailians apparently got no trial and no punishment even though they destroyed a Starfleet ship in the previous book. It just wasn’t mentioned and somehow Picard got accused for that. We did get to know more of the Ontailians in this book and their culture seems to be, for once, quite different from the modern Western one, which was a pleasant surprise. I wouldn’t mind seeing more of them.

The plot is wrapped up in this book, except possibly the issue with Data’s emotion chip.

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