9 books challenge


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 story has also been published with the name “… and call me Conrad”.

It’s part of my 9 books for 2009 –challenge.

In this story Zelazny mixed post-apocalyptical world with ancient myths and a dash of space opera.

Conrad Nomikos is an immortal. How long he’s lived isn’t clear but he could have been around since ancient Greece. He’s cagey about it, though. He has lived through the Three Days, when a lot of the Earth turned into radioactive sludge. Later, he resisted the blue skinned alien Vegans when they turned Earth into their amusement park and he’s still trying to resist them in his own way.

Currently, he’s the Commissioner of the Earthoffice Department of Arts, Monuments, and Archives. He’s been put into a position he loathes; a tour guide to a rich Vegan, Cort Myshtigo, who wants to visit select places on Earth. When other people around the small office hear where the Vegan and Conrad are headed, they want to come along, too. Among them are Conrad’s ex girlfriend, his best friend, and Hasan who is called the Assassin. But first, the Vegan wants to see a voodoo ceremony. Reluctantly, Conrad agrees even though he’s not sure if there are any genuine voudoun priests anymore. However, the ceremony was a bit more than any of them expected.

Zelazny takes his readers for a wild ride considering how thin the book is; the old paperback I have is little over 200 pages. Most of the Earth is covered in radiation which gives birth to weird creatures which even resemble beings out of old Greek myths such as satyrs and centaurs. Some other myths have come to live, too; wild people who live in the forests and capture and eat others, and even a Dead Man walking and killing.

Most of the humans don’t live on Earth anymore. There’s a mention of colonies in our solar system and some live on Vega as poor workers. It turned out that Vegan males and human females are attracted to each other and so some of the women wanted to move to Vega. The Vegan senses are different from humans and so the humans on the alien planet can’t really integrate into the Vegan society. The Vegans were the ones who rescued humans from their nuclear war and gave humans another place to live.

Conrad himself is a striking figure; he’s taller than most humans and he’s also stronger. On the other hand, he has a limp and half of his face is incredibly ugly. I think there’s even some fungus growing on his face. Despite that, he manages to attract beautiful women to himself (of course…). During the fight against the Vegans he was a terrorist and he’s still a formidable fighter.

The rest of the party seems like archetypes. There’s the Assassin who is also a formidable fighter. He keeps to himself and talks little. Phil is Conrad’s best friend and married to Conrad’s ex-girlfriend. There’s Diane who hates Vegans passionately and tries to persuade Conrad to kill Myshtigo. Myshtigo himself doesn’t feel very alien but he’s also not talkative.

However, when these are mixed together they feel like a new interpretation of the old myths. The book is definitely worth reading.

This is the first in the historical mystery series set in the Roman Republic. It’s also part of my 1st in a series –challenge and 9 books for 2009 –challenge.

Decius Caecilius Metellus the Younger has been recently elected to the Commission of Twenty Six which essentially makes him the chief of the police in his own district and apparently the only investigator. So, when a man is found strangled in his district, Decius’ duty is to investigate the death. The victim turns out to be a former gladiator who had since been freed. During the same morning another murder victim is found: this time a foreigner, a Greek importer of wine. However, the Greek was suspected of being a spy as well and so it’s made it clear to Decius that second case should be investigated very quietly. The Greek’s records have been sealed so Decius suspects that the reputation of someone much higher in the Roman hierarchy is at stake. Still, he does his best to investigate both deaths because it’s his duty. Things take an uglier turn when he is attacked in his house.

The book is written from the point-of-view of an older Decius who writes his memoirs. Often, Decius refers to things to come during his lifetime. This might annoy some people and jar the reader out of the story. On the other hand, it gives nice historical perspective. If the book had been longer, it might have annoyed me, but it’s okay in a relatively short book.

Roberts gives about equal consideration to characters and the historical setting. Decius goes about his daily routine pondering about the case which gives Roberts an excuse to show us the life of a middle-class Roman. Decius’ father is the Urban Praetor for the year and his family is well respected. So, Decius meets with quite a few historically important people such as Caius Julius Caesar, Marcus Tullius Cicero, Titus Annius Milo, and Publius Claudius Pulcher. I don’t think it was required to put them all in the book but they were handled well.

The plot is quite simple; we’ve never really given good red herrings or even a major suspect.

Overall: I liked Roberts’ style and will continue with the series. Audible has the first two in the series and hopefully they will continue with the later books.

Edited to add: This book doesn’t contain romance. Frankly, I find this to be very refreshing because currently almost every book seems to have a courtship romance in them.

Part of my 1st in a series –challenge and the 9 books challenge. It’s the first in the Crossroads fantasy series. I won this one and the next in the series in a contest from Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist. It’s written in the third person and has multiple point-of-view characters.

Most of the book is set in a fantasy land called the Hundred which has several lords who reign over a part of the land but no high king or ruler as such. Once the mysterious Guardians kept the justice but they seem to have vanished and now only the Reeves are trying to keep up the peace. The Reeves are people who fly on giant eagles and live in their Halls mostly apart from other people. They serve as judges during town councils. However, lately the ordinary people have lost faith in them.

The book starts with Reeves Marit and Joss who are investigating one place where Guardians are supposed to be. They find only bones and forbidding magic. Joss returns to the Clan Hall to report their finding but Marit investigates a disturbance near by. She finds that one of the local lords is leading a group of savage men and is promptly killed.

Then the story jumps forward 19 years. Reeve Joss is now a legate but he’s also a drunkard and a womanizer. He blames himself for Marit’s death and can’t find peace for himself. Time has only made the Reeves’ position worse; some people now even hunt and kill the Reeves. At the same time, other people demand the Reeves should protect them better. The Reeves’ commander sends Joss and a couple of other men to guard a caravan and also to investigate.

The next part of the book focuses on the young woman Mai. She lives in Kartu Town far south of the Hundred. She lives in a merchant family and sells fruit in the market. She’s engaged to a young man from her town. Mai and her people live in a conquered country. The Quin are a race of warriors and they seem to have conquered her country easily. Mai’s life gets thrown upside down when Anji, a Quin officer, sees her in the market and wants to marry her. Her family has no choice but to agree; at least the officer didn’t just take Mai as his concubine. Mai is, of course, scared and she’s even more scared when she finds out that Anji has been ordered to leave and get new orders. She has no choice but to follow her new husband to unknown lands.

Shai is Mai’s young uncle. Shai is the youngest of seven sons and therefore considered extraneous because he can’t contribute anything to the family. However, he has a secret; he can see the spirits of the dead and hear what they say. Because he would be killed as a witch if anyone knew about it, he keeps his ability a secret. When Mai is sent far away from Kartu Town, Shai’s eldest brother sends Shai along as well. Like most of his people, Shai can’t ride or use weapons because the Quin have forbidden it, so the journey scared him, too.

The next point-of-view character is introduced about half-way into the book. Keshad is a slave who is trusted with his master’s money to go out of the Hundred and into south to buy merchandise for his master. He resents his own status as a slave and is now close to earning his own freedom by selling other people into slavery. He’s traveling with a caravan back from the south.

There are a couple of more POV characters are well, later in book. All of them are pretty distinct from each other.

The book has many different cultures. The Hundred’s culture is perhaps most like our modern Western culture at least with attitudes towards women; men and women work side by side. It has also seven deities. Of them, the Merciless One was most distinct from the others. Her followers (mostly women) are priestesses dealing in sex and death. They seem to be holy prostitutes who can choose their clients. At the same time, at least some of them have been trained as assassins. Some of the people respect them as holy priestesses while others consider them whores.

Also, the Hundred culture places significance to a person’s birth year; a person born is a certain year is dependable while a person born in another year is restless. While slavery is accepted in the Hundred, in theory a person can be made a slave only for seven years and after that he or she must go free. However, in recent years the owners has started to charge the slaves for food, room, and possible education which lengthens the years significantly.

The culture where Mai comes from separates the men and women somewhat more. They each have their own professions and women rarely learn to read. However, even an unmarried woman like Mai can be sent to the market all by herself to sell fruit. Marriages seem to be arranged by the couple’s parents and the eldest male is the head of the household which consists of his unmarried, close relatives. The culture seems quite peaceful.

The Quin, on the other hand, are a warlike people and they respect strength also in their women. Most Quin women seem to be able to ride and fight as well as the men. Sometimes they buy slaves from other cultures but they don’t enslave any Quin.

Between Mai’s people and the Hundred lies the Sirniakan Empire who worships the fire god Beltan and accept no other gods.

There are also the servitors of the Hidden One who are the only ones who don’t condone slavery at all. However, many of the other cultures respect them and allow them to live in peace even in other lands.

Pretty much all of the characters in this book are non-white. As far as I can tell, there’s only one white-skinned character and she seems so odd to the others that they think she’s a demon. The Hundred are the northern-most country and its people are described having a golden-brown complexion. The others range from brown-black to bronze-red.

I really wanted to like this book. It has many qualities which I like: different cultures (instead of Good and Evil), conflict between cultures who don’t seem evil, lots of non-white characters, actual slavery (not the fantasy slavery seen in most fantasy books), and the reeves. When I was reading the book I was quite entertained. However, when I put the book down, for some reason I didn’t feel compelled to return to it. I started the book in September and I’ve finished quite a few books while reading this one in fits and starts. This is quite unusual for me. Perhaps I’m just still in my epic slump. It did feel slow at times. I also felt that I lost interest every time a new POV character was introduced. They took “screen-time” away from the characters I already knew.

I did have a problem with Marit right at the start. Or rather I liked her a lot and was really disappointed that she had to die in order to further Joss’ story. She does appear a few times as some sort of spirit guide to Joss but it’s too little for my taste. Once again a woman had to die to motive a man’s story.

This is also very obviously the first book in a story because the mysterious interesting stuff which where hinted at, remain a mystery.

I am intrigued by the proposed structure of the series; one trilogy, one stand-alone book, and the second trilogy. I also like the cultures. But I don’t know if I’ll continue with this one. There are other books I’d like to try first.

This is part of my 9 books challenge.

Although the prologue is set in 1890, this is a modern day mystery. I might even call it a cozy mystery because there are no greasily bodies or blood spurting everywhere in the book.

This the first book in a series about art historian Sweeny St. George who specializes is gravestones and other funerary art. She’s a professor at the University of Boston.

Toby DiMarco, her best friend, gives her photos of a very unusual gravestone and Sweeny is instantly interested. The headstone is in Vermont where Toby is going to spend the Christmas with his aunt and uncle, and he invites Sweeny who is estranged from her own family and usually spends the holidays by herself. She agrees.

The gravestone is for Mary Denholm who died in 1890 at the age of 18 in the Byzantium Art Colony in Vermont. Before leaving, Sweeny phones to Ruth Kimball who’s the closest living relative of Mary. Ruth knows about Mary and says that she has always suspected that Mary was murdered. However, she doesn’t have the time to talk more then.

Sweeney calls Ruth again the next evening and to her shock Ruth’s daughter Sherry tells her that Ruth is dead.

She travels to the Colony in Vermont and meets Toby’s family and the local people there. Everyone is in shock about Ruth’s death which is suspected of being a suicide. However, Ruth had been thinking about selling her house to a developer who would like to build condos there. Everyone at the Colony seems to be firmly against building them; they would like to preserve the historical places. Also, there has been a series of burglaries in the Colony and the town near it, and everyone is on the edge.

It seems that more that one person could have killed Ruth but Sweeny has a strong suspicion that someone worried that Ruth, and Sweeny, are looking too much into the death of Mary Denholm.

This is a good mystery. It has lots of interesting and quirky character who aren’t what they appear to be at first. Although most of the characters weren’t very likable, that’s quite usual in mysteries. The setting in Vermont is also interesting and is almost a character itself.
Sweeney herself is quite likable. She’s passionate about her research of funerary items. She’s also an insomniac who tries to medicate herself with alcohol when all else has failed. Her fiancé was killed a year ago in a metro bombing, her father killed himself when she was young, and she’s almost convinced that anyone who gets involved with her is doomed.

She and Toby are old friends and it’s interesting to find out more about their lives and relationship as the story unfolds. They have a lot in common. Toby is interested in one of the women at the Colony and to her surprise Sweeny finds herself a bit jealous. Luckily, this doesn’t take over the book, though.

The plot’s a little on the slow side but this isn’t a thriller to begin with. Most of the book is written from Sweeney’s point-of-view but there are a few chapters from other people’s point-of-view.

This is part of my 9 books challenge . I’ve always liked McKillip’s writing style and this book is no exception. It’s lyrical tale about a wizard woman, her adopted son, mythical beasts, and how hard it is to live in the human world.

Sybel comes from a line of wizards who live alone on the Eld Mountain except for the unfortunate women they lure to themselves through magic. Her mother died after giving birth to her and her only companions have been her father Ogam, an old woman called Maelga, and a collection of mythical beasts. She doesn’t care for other humans at all and is not used to dealing with them.

However, some time after her father died a young man comes to her door with a baby. He claims that the baby is kin to Sybel and also a bastard. He asks Sybel to take care of the boy. Reluctantly, Sybel agrees.

For twelve years Tamlorn lives freely on Eld Mountain. Then one day, the same man comes back to Sybel and tries to convince her to let Tamlorn return. It turns out, that Tamlorn isn’t really a bastard at all but a king’s son and many people would like to use Tamlorn in their own plots and plans. However, Sybel doesn’t want Tamlorn to be used and refuses. But eventually, Tamlorn wants to know about his father and in the end both Sybel and Tam have to deal with the human world.

Once again, McKillip turns fantasy traditions on their ear. Many writers would have (and have when they use the most common trope where a farm boy is the long lost heir) taken Tam as the main character: a twelve-year-old boy who is the rightful heir to a kingdom which has strong enemies. But this is Sybel’s story. While Tam is, of course, a significant character because Sybel loves him like a son, she is still the only view point character who makes all her own decisions and have to face the consequences.

The magic in this world is different from many fantasy books. Basically, Sybel has mind powers: she can call animals and humans to her even from a long distance as long as she knows their name. She can also wipe out memories and presumably influence people’s minds in other ways. Her most prominent power, however, is her ability to mentally control the mythical creatures she has. She can talk with them silently and they must obey her. The creatures aren’t animals as such, though. They talk coherently in their minds and the Boar even talks out loud in riddles.

The mythical creatures are very interesting bunch: the Black Swan of Tirlith, Boar Cyrin who sings and talks in riddles in a sweet voice, the Dragon Gyld, the Lyon Gules, the black Cat Moriah, and the Falcon Ter. Ter is the one we see most often because he’s Tamlorn’s companion and protector. All of the creatures seem quite well-behaved although we are told that they long for the time when their names will be remembered and spoken of again. The Dragon even does something about it. Through out the book, Sybel tries to call to her Liralen which is a huge, white bird.

As is usual to McKillip, the characters face hard choices which have no easy answers.

This is part of my 9 book challenge and 1st in a series challenge.

First of all, this book has a horrid cover. I would never have picked up this one if it hadn’t been recommended again and again. I have no idea which book the cover was commissioned for but it’s a very poor fit for the story. The cover sells sex and the book contains no sex at all. Even the romance subplot is very much a *sub*plot. (By the way, poor Moon Called suffers from the same problem; the cover tells us that it’s about sex, sex, sex, and yet there’s no sex in the story. Enough already with the phony sexy covers!)

This is the first book in the Hollows Urban Fantasy –series. It’s set (as usual) in the US but in a post apocalyptic world. Or at least that’s what I call a world were half of the population has died of a virus.

Some years back, scientists were genetically engineering a brand of tomatoes and the virus got loose from the laboratories. It killed about a half of the normal human population and so gave the non-humans a chance to come out of the shadows. The non-humans pretty much saved the infrastructure of various Western countries but still (or because of it) the normal humans are often afraid of them. Even though now the non-humans live openly they often have their own part of the town where normal humans don’t much visit. The paranormal folk include pixies, fairies, vampires, leprechauns, various weres, witches, warlocks, and other fairy tale folks. In Cincinnati, their part of the town is called the Hollows.

Rachel Morgan is a witch and a runner for I. S. I. S is Inderland Security who is supposed to keep the paranormals, or Inderlanders, honest. As a runner, Rachel’s job is to bring in the non-lawful kinds of paranormals. Alas, the job isn’t as exciting as it sounds because Rachel has mostly brought in folks who try to avoid paying their taxes. She’s convinced that her boss hates her and is just looking for an excuse to fire her. She’s also thought of just quitting except then she would breach her contract with the I. S. and they can send assassins after her unless she can pay off her contract and she doesn’t have that kind of money. But if her boss, Denon, hates her, shouldn’t he be just relieved to be rid of her?

When Rachel talks about quitting with her co-workers, pixie Jenks and living vampire Ivy Tamwood, much to her surprise they not only encourage her but want to quit also and to form an independent agency with her. Denon isn’t happy that one of his best runners, Ivy, leaves. Ivy has so much money that she can pay off her contract so I.S can’t (officially) send anyone after her. So Denon decides to send assassins after Rachel.

While Rachel is in the office during her last day, she hears that a Councilman’s secretary has been murdered and that there’s a rumor that the secretary had been running drugs. Rachel is suddenly convinced that if she can get solid evidence that the Councilman in question, Trenton Kalamack, is dealing in illegal drugs that would big enough favor for I. S. and they would leave her alone. So, she decides to investigate Kalamack.

Of course, that’s not easy. Even if the Councilman wasn’t well guarded Rachel’s own life has been turned upside down. She has been evicted from her apartment and all of her stuff has a curse on it. Fortunately, Ivy was able to find them an office at Hollows so at least Rachel has a place to stay. The office turns out to be a former church which Rachel isn’t too happy about. Ivy had to also move into the church and a vampire isn’t the easiest roommate. Fortunately, the church has an excellent herb garden and the priest used to be a witch himself. When he fled with a woman he left behind many old spell books. This all seems almost too good to be true and maybe it is.

Dead Witch Walking is a highly entertaining first book in the series. It’s not tightly plotted nor is it very fast paced but it has charming characters and a very interesting setting. It also has humor which tends to be sadly missing from UF and from the fantasy genre in general.

I really liked the characters. Rachel herself is willful, impulsive, and brash. She doesn’t listen advice well (just like some people I know :)). On the other hand, she’s loyal, always means well and has a good sense of humor. The pixie Jenks is perhaps the best character in the book. He’s smart mouthed but what do you expect when he’s six inches tall and has to live in the human world? Pixies also have a fierce rivalry with fairies over gardens because they both live in gardens. Jenks has a wife and a dozen children who help him in his duties and his wife patches him up after fights. The living vampire Ivy is a more mysterious and tragic figure – what else would you expect from a vampire… She swears that she hasn’t fed on human blood for three years but can Rachel trust her word? After all they have only worked together but don’t know much about each other beyond that.

I liked the relationships and friendships in the book and Harrison takes the time to introduce the relationships and the characters to us instead of keeping up a furious pace all the time. There’s also humor in both the characters and the events themselves and I felt that Harrison didn’t take everything too seriously which is a good thing. I really liked the shapeshifting sequences.

Rachel doesn’t have a big repertoire with spells and she’s used to buying her spells from stores. So far I’m impressed with the way the supernatural works although it would seem that it’s quite easy to do all sorts of illegal activity with spells. Of course, then the I. S. steps in.

Overall: I’ll definitely continue with the series.

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