Just for Fun reading challenge 2012

The newest Toby Daye book! The sixth book in the series.

Publication year: 2012
Format: Audio
Publisher: Audible
Narrator: Mary Robinette Kowal
Running Time: 12 hrs and 26 minutes

A year has passed since the tragic events at the end of the previous book, One Salt Sea. October Day, Toby, is trying to recover and not think about Tybalt. But she feels like she isn’t in control of her life anymore and she’s taking more and more unnecessary risks. Her former fetch (a death omen), May, her would-be lover Tybalt, and her squire Quentin are all worried.

Then a fellow knight, Etienne, asks for her help with finding his half-blooded daughter who has been kidnapped. Etienne had had a brief relationship with a folklore teacher years ago and didn’t even know that he had a child until the child’s mother, Bridget, call him in panic, accusing him of kidnapping Chelsea. Toby and the gang are shocked by Etienne’s revelation because he has always been a very by-the-book faerie and very unlikely get involved with a mortal, but circumstances were exceptional. It turns out that Chelsea is already sixteen and she has her father’s teleporting abilities. Most likely, some faerie has kidnapper her for their own nefarious schemes. To muddle things more, Chelsea’s mother Bridget knows something about the faeries and doesn’t trust any of them, especially Etienne and the suspicions fairies he has sent. However, Bridget doesn’t really have any other choice but to help Toby and Quentin.

Chelsea doesn’t know anything about Faerie but she has been secretly experimenting with her powers. She hasn’t said anything to her mother who has always said that they need to keep her powers a secret.

All of the familiar cast returns and I love them. May has been officially designated Toby’s twin sister, and she and Quentin live together with Toby in a rather large house which is owned by Toby’s liege lord, Sylvester. Tybalt, the suave King of Cats, has problems of his own; his underlings aren’t happy that he has become close to a changeling and some are taking matters into their own hands. Also, his heir and Toby’s friend Raj has disappeared. Tybalt has a big presence in the book and I really enjoyed that. We also get to visit the technologically inclined faeries of Tamed Lighting who were introduced in the second book. And of course Toby needs help from the sea witch Luidaeg with tracking down Chelsea.

The brief scene with Luidaeg gives some surprising insights into her personality and life, and are among my favorite scenes from the book. Indeed, many of the characters get further development. We get to see how Quentin has learned under Toby’s tutelage and May gets to stand up to Toby.

My favorite parts of the previous books have been the characters, the expanding world, and the dialog. They are all great in this book, too. The characters feel like old friends to me and many of them are friends who have survive horrible things together. That shows in their interactions. We also get to visit a couple of new places and learn more about Tybalt’s background.

The story starts with a familiar premise: Toby looking for a lost child and getting help from the sea witch. Fortunately, beyond that there’s little repetition of the previous books.

My only complaint is that Toby gets hurt a lot, although mostly physically this time. I’m very happy with the ending. This is a great continuation of the series although it’s not as an emotionally gut wrenching as the previous book.

The first of the City Watch books.

Publication year: 1989
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 2001
Format: print
Finnish translator: Maija Sinkkonen
Page count: 334
Finnish Publisher: Karisto

Ankh-Morpork’s City Guard is in a bad way; Captain Vimes has only two underlings and he drinks constantly. It’s not wonder when criminals are doing their criminal work legally and all the three watchmen are allowed to do is ring their bell and call that everything is alright.

Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, Carrot Ironfoundersson doesn’t know that. He was raised by dwarfs but on his sixteenth birthday he’s told that he wasn’t born a dwarf but was found as a child from the woods. Carrot’s parents have decided that it would be better for Carrot to return to his kind. They write to the Patrician of Ankh-Morpok to ask that Carrot be allowed to join the illustrious City Guard. He’s accepted. Carrot is used to doing what he’s told and even though he’s sad to leave the only life he’s known so far, he heads towards Ankh-Morpok, reading his book of the city’s laws so that he could be well prepared. After he arrests the leader of the Thieves Guild, Captain Vimes tries to make him more adapted to the life in the city.

Meanwhile, the Unique and Supreme Lodge of the Elucidated Brethren of the Ebon Night wants to take over the city, to repay all slights (real or imagined) to the members. Their Supreme Grand Master is sometimes almost baffled by the stupidity of the others. Still, they are determined to summon a dragon to burn the city down so that the King of Ankh-Morpok would come, slay the dragon, and make the city more just. The Supreme Grand Master even has a suitable man for the job. To their own astonishment, they succeed. However, things don’t go quite the way that the secret brotherhood wanted.

The City Guard has quite interesting characters. Captain Vimes is cynical and very depressed about his job and life. Sergeant Colon is “one of nature’s sergeants”; he tries to avoid all exertion but is dependable. He’s married and his wife works during the day and Colon works nights. This is said to be the reason for their happiness. Corporeal “Nobby” Nobbs is very untidy and about as tall as a dwarf. He smokes constantly and there’s a veritable graveyard of tobacco stumps behind his ear. He and Colon have strange discussions which are sometimes philosophical. All of these three know that they are considered scum of the city. Carrot is completely different, not only in looks, since he’s over six feet tall and muscular, but also in attitude. Carrot’s enthusiasm and naivete inspires Captain Vimes in the end when it’s up to the City Guard to protect their city.

Lady Sybil Ramkin is a significant secondary character. She’s one of the high old nobility and very eccentric (I think she’s gentle parody of the British aristocracy). She breeds swamp dragons and the dragons are pretty much everything to her. Still, when things get tough, she’s quite level-headed and sensible. And in defiance to the fantasy traditions of small and young and delicate little princesses, Lady Ramkin is big, fat, middle-aged, and tends to wear rubber boots.

Along the way Pratchett makes wry observations about dwarven culture, the nature of libraries, and the nature of humans. Oh and the discussions near the end about how one chance in a million will always succeed is priceless!

One of my favorite Discworld books.

“People who are rather more than six feet tall and nearly as broad across the shoulders often have uneventful journeys. People jump out at them from behind rocks then say things like, “Oh. Sorry. I thought you were someone else.””

“Thunder rolled. … It rolled a six.”

“The three rules of the Librarians of Time and Space are: 1) Silence; 2) Books must be returned no later than the date last shown; and 3) Do not interfere with the nature of causality.”

“If there was anything that depressed him more than his own cynicism, it was that quite often it still wasn’t as cynical as real life.”

The third book in the urban fantasy trilogy with superheroes.

Publication year: 2012
Format: Audio
Publisher: Audible
Narrator: Rebecca Wiscoky
Running Time: 10 hrs and 47 minutes

Justine Jones is a hypochondriac; she’s convinced that a vein in her head is going to burst and kill her. After all, her mother died of a vein star syndrome. However, she’s found a way to make her fears work for her. For a while she was a ember of the Disillusionists, a group of people who can manifest their fears into other people and hopefully make them reform their lives. Unfortunately, their handsome but manipulative leader Sterling Packard turned out to be a cold-blooded murderer and now he’s on the run.

Meanwhile, Justine is engaged to the man of her dreams. She’s happily, if nervously, planning their wedding but something doesn’t seem quite right.

Head Rush starts immediately after the shocking ending of Double Cross. All of the familiar cast returns, well, the live ones, anyway. We also get to meet Justine’s dad who was a great character. He has a phobia about germs and Justine is afraid that he’ll go the church in his Hazmat suit.

The first half of the book focuses on Justine trying to figure out a mystery which the reader already knows. The book also focuses on the romantic aspect more than the previous books. Unfortunately for me, I don’t really care for the romantic lead and I’m not romance reader. However, the rest of the cast are very entertaining and Justine is a hilarious narrator, when she isn’t angsting.

Still, Head Rush is far more predictable than the previous two books because certain things have to happen to get a romantic happy ending. However, it ties up the plot lines satisfyingly.

Recently, I found out that there are two novellas in the series, but with different point-of-view characters. I’ll probably get them.

The first chapter is available on the author’s site for free.

Publication year: 1988
Format: Audio
Publisher: Audible
Narrator: Celia Imrie
Running Time: 10 hrs and 27 minutes

The tiny kingdom of Lancre has three witches: Gytha ”Nanny” Ogg, Esmeralda ”Granny” Weatherwax, and the young Magrat Garlick. Granny is one of the most experienced witches alive and ”most highly regarded of the leaders, of [whom the witches] don’t have”. She’s grouchy and doesn’t have any family. She’ also very powerful but prefers to use headology rather than magic. She doesn’t approve of much. In contrast, Nanny has a large family and she rules them ruthlessly. She’s more easygoing and Granny’s best friend. Magrat is a new witch who is trying very hard to impress the other witches. She even suggested that they should form a coven. She believes in crystals and other New Age stuff, to the other witches’ annoyance.

On a dark and stormy night, a man appears and gives them an infant and a crown. Even the witches have heard that their king has died. A bit later, a group of soldiers come to threaten the witches for the child. The witches don’t give in and instead most of the men flee. The witches decide to hide the kid and what would be a better place than group of traveling actors? The witches see the show (a first time for both Granny and Nanny) and in the end give the kid to the childless actors. The witches even give the kid three gifts, fairy godmother style. Little Tomjohn’s childhood is interesting, to say the least.

Meanwhile, in the castle, king Verence’s ghost is trying to get used to being dead. Apparently, his cousin Duke Felmet and his ambitious and determined wife have killed him and taken over the small land, and it’s Verence’s destiny to haunt the castle until his heir takes it back. Verence’s mood isn’t lifted when he finds out that the castle is haunted by a variety of the earlier owners, some of the Verence’s ancestors.

Duke Felmet is actually not happy with the situation. He’s haunted by what he has done and is trapped in a loveless marriage. He blames the trees. There are a lot of trees in Lancre.

Felmet has a new fool who is quite a tragic figure. His past is pretty horrible in the awful school for fools. He also didn’t choose his profession; his grandfather just made him continue the family tradition.

Obviously, MacBeth has inspired this book. There’s also a Hamlet-like ghost. Hwel, the dwarven script writer for the troupe, channels Shakespeare and tries out various wordings.

There’s a lot of things going on in the book. According to Granny and the Fool words are dangerous things because they can change how people view things and remember the past, no matter what really happened. Pratchett explores this through the actors and the Fool.

“The past is what people remember, and memories are words. Who knows how a king behaved a thousand years ago? There is only recollection, and stories.” the Fool

“Things that try to look like things often do look more like things than things. Well-known fact.” Granny Weatherwax

One of my favorite Discworld books!

This is the first time I’ve listened a Pratchett book and I really enjoyed Imrie’s reading. She has individual voices to all witches and most of the supporting cast, too. Death has a very echoy voice and I would swear that he has a male voice but there’s no mention of a male voice actor.

A stand-alone SF book set in a post-Soviet Union Russia with a healthy dose of Russian myths.

Publication year: 2003
Format: print
Page count: 427
Publisher: TOR

Elena Irinovna is an astrophysicist and she used to work in the U.S.S.R.’s space program. After the collapse of the Soviet government, the space program was ruthlessly cut down and Elena was one of the people who ended up unemployed. Like most people, she’s trying to survive as best she can. She and her family live in Kazakhstan. She managed to get a job as a cleaner and smuggles stolen goods in order to get so much money that she, her mother, and her sister can move to Canada. On a run to Uzbekistan to sell clothing, her ride is stopped at the border and she runs into a corpse which has a curious, small object in his hand. Elena takes it.

In St. Petersburg, Ilya Muromyets is again near death but like all other times before, a rusalka appears and heals him. Ilya was born 800 years ago and is one of the legendary Russian Sons of the Sun, a bogatyr. However, in recent years he’s been very depressed and looking for death. Only heroin has given him a little solace. Then, a strange man called Kovalin appears in his apartment. Kovalin claims that he knows what Ilya is and he might even help Ilya – if Ilya helps Kovalin first. Ilya agrees to find a strange object Kovalin is looking for.

The book has nine parts and each part has at least one chapter set in a world called Byelovodye where Colonel Anikova and her team are looking for a small object. Anikova’s team includes a Mechvor who can look into other people’s thoughts and dreams.

Elena’s and Ilya’s lives have become bleak and desperate. Elena still dreams about stars but she doesn’t believe that she can return to anything like her old job, even in Canada. At the same time, she’s lucky because she has a job and can even save money. The book portrays the brutal reality of the modern Russians and parts of it are really depressing to read. Elena’s sister was a lawyer and now she’s a waitress and resorts to prostitution, too. Elena wants to protect her family but that’s not easy.

Ilya is a figure from Russian legends and we get to see a few more of the centuries old Russian heroes. For a long time, Ilya tried to live up to the legend but ended up as a soldier in various wars. He became bitter and disillusioned, and now longs for death. However, he still has the instincts to protect others from the rusalki, the female monsters from mythology.

Byelovodye is a fascinating place and also from Russian myths. It’s said to be another world where dreams can come true. The question is, whose dreams?

The plot is slow at times, when our protagonists travel around, and furious at other times. There aren’t many fight scenes but they’re fast. Once again, people (and others) are usually not what they appear at first glance.

I liked the ideas more than the characters and I would have loved to see more of the Byelovodye’s side.

A stand-alone SF book.

Publication year: 2003
Format: print
Page count: 358
Publisher: TOR

The Poison Master begins in 1547 when Doctor John Dee is trying to convince Sir John Cheke that Dee’s large mechanical bee can be made to fly – with ropes and pulleys. Dee is a mathematician and dreams of calculating astronomical journeys. We follow his experiments throughout the years. The book has twelve parts with two to five short chapters, and each part begins with a chapter about John Dee.

But the main character of the book is Alchemical Apothecary Alivet Dee whose twin sister has been Enbonded to the Lords of Night. Alivet is trying to make enough money that she can buy her sister free. She’s even moved to the fringes of the city of Levanah because the rent is lower and she can save more money that way. As an apothecary, Alivet makes drugs and perfumes, and her biggest employer is Genever Thant who arranges for new experiences for the jaded rich. On her free time, Alivet takes part in the Search where the humans are put under a trance and search their subconscious for information about their origin. The Unpriests, who serve the Lords of Night, have made the Search illegal so it’s done is secret.

But then everything goes wrong. During an experience orchestrated by Thant, one of Thant’s clients dies. Thant flees and so does Alivet who suspects that Thant will blame her. To Alivet’s surprise, a man from another planet contacts Alivet and wants her help in overthrowing the Lords. In exchange, the man will help Alivet free her twin. Alivet agrees.

The red-eyed man from the planet Hathes is Arieth Ghairen, the Poison Master. Alivet can’t trust him and yet she’s attracted to him. Ghairen takes Alivet through a portal and into a starship and then to his world, where she can start to work on an alchemical poison which could defeat the Lords of Night.

I really enjoyed the world building. The book has two distinct worlds. Alivet’s home is Latent Emanations, where a large group of humans live, essentially enslaved by the Lords of Night and to their Unpriests. The Unpriests use high technology which is forbidden from the rest of the population. The world has also a native species, the anubes, whose passion seems to be traveling and brining other people to their destination. They seem quite independent from the humans. Ghairen’s world Hathes has high technology which seems to be available to all. Hathes has also a native population which seems to be enslaved by the humans. They work as servants and live is squalor.

The people who live in Latent Emanation know that the Lords of Night have brought them there, but they don’t know from where they have come and they don’t seem to remember much of their previous culture. For example, Alivet has a locket her grandmother gave her. It has a carving of a crucified man but Alivet doesn’t know who he is or why he’s depicted that way. The Lords take men and women to their palaces from time to time, and they aren’t seen after that. The Unpriests are feared and they seem to sort of keep up law, but in an unpredictable way which make the population scared of them. Both men and woman are Unpriests.

Also, the drugs Alivet use are somehow alive. They have souls and Alivet can communicate with them when she’s in a trance.

Alivet is a very active protagonist. She’s determined to get her sister back and willing to do whatever it takes. If that means having to work with a Poison Master, so be it. Even though Alivet is attracted to Ghairen, she doesn’t trust him, and he’s very close mouthed about his past and motives. Alivet is also curious and wants to solve mysteries. While she’s attracted to Ghairen, she’s determined to get business done with before she even thinks about him more, so this isn’t a romance.

John Dee is greatly interested in mathematics. He’s a religious man and he thinks that he’s just using the brain that his God gave him, even though religious authorities call his work heresy. We follow his life through decades and as far as I can tell, most of it is accurate, except that in this book he sees angels and communicates with them.

An interesting parallel between the two Dees is that in John’s chapters, all the people are male, except for the brief appearances of Dee’s wife and Queen Elizabeth, while in Alivet’s chapters most of the characters are women. In John’s time it’s because the people who had the leisure and power to engage in alchemy and mathematics, were male. With Alivet, the people closest to her are her sister and aunt. Later, the people she meets are mostly women. I don’t know if this is a conscious parallel.

The plot advances at a good pace but the ending is somewhat abrupt.

The eighth book in the mystery series.

Publication year: 1996
Format: Audio
Publisher: Belinda Audio
Narrator: Stephanie Daniel
Running Time: 6 hrs and 28 minutes

The eighth book in the series takes Phryne away from most of the established cast and to a classic mystery in a very constricted and secluded place. Phryne has been invited to visit the Cave House, a mansion of mixed styles in the middle of mountains. With her are her maid Dot, her lover Lin Chung, and Lin’s bodyguard/manservant Li Pen. When they are driving towards the house, they hear a gunshot and rescue a frightened maid. Nobody seems to know who has molested her.

Cave House’s owner is Phryne’s old friend Tom Reynolds but she hasn’t met his new, rich wife Evelyn. The House also has several interesting guests, such as a Polish poet, a young heiress and her imposing mother who is trying to find a husband to her daughter, a very religious older woman who is interested in gathering more money to her Church, a couple of young men down on their luck, and a misogynistic colonel and his down trodden wife. Soon Phryne realizes that Tom is in deep trouble: someone tries to kill him. Then the river overflows and the guests are trapped in the house, with their secrets.

The audio book has again a short interview between Daniel and Greenwood at the end. Greenwood says that she wrote this book as a deliberate homage/twist of the old Agatha Christie type mysteries. The book has many of the classic mystery elements and Greenwood twists some of them quite deliciously.

Phryne and Lin, from Ruddy Gore, are now an item and a lot of people can’t stomach that. Some of the Cave House’s staff and guests don’t care for the Chinese and Phryne battles racism with quite a straight forward style, using her money and influence.

One interesting twist is that neither Phryne or Evelyn were born with money and so can appreciate it the way that those born with it necessarily don’t. Another great addition to the series!

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