New Author Challenge 2011

The first original fiction Buffy the Vampire Slayer book! Clearly, I’ve been living under a rock! Until a few weeks ago, I had no idea there are original fiction Buffy books. I was delighted when I found out that the Finnish library system has a surprising number of them. None of them are in my local library, though.

Publication year: 1997
Format: print
Page count: 160
Publisher: Pocket Books

This is set during the first season (the vampires in the book serve the Master) and contradicts the later Halloween canon but it was written before any of the Halloween episodes.

Buffy, Xander, and Willow are looking forward to Halloween. Giles is edgy even though nothing has been happening for weeks. Xander and Willow tell about the local horror story: that when it rains on Halloween, the scarecrows come to life and kill everyone close by. Giles scoffs at that. Buffy goes on patrols but just manages to scare a few classmates who are convinced that she’s psycho.

The trio goes to Bronze’s traditional Masquerade to celebrate. Buffy notices some vampires who try to tell her that they don’t work during Halloween, but later she finds no less than five vampires with victims, and rescues the ungrateful teens. Then, old Mr. O’Leary comes to Bronze yelling that the dead are walking. Of course, Buffy heads out to the cemetery near O’Leary’s place – and next to pumpkin field. It’s raining.

Giles reads former Watchers’ journals and comes across a nasty description of a fight between a former Slayer and Samhain, the spirit of Halloween and a demon lord. Giles is convinced that the old Pumpkin King has come to Sunnydale. The spirit killed one of the previous Slayers.

The start of the book is a bit slow for such a short book. The gang hang out and talk, Cordelia and her cronies torment Buffy a couple of times before the action moves to Bronze. There we get a couple of funny scenes; Buffy as the Pirate Queen, and Willow and Xander as Scully and Mulder, and lots of pop culture references. Willow has even dyed her hair, which was brown in the first season, red and people comment on how good she looks.

There’s a fight with vampires but the real action doesn’t start until about half way into the book when Buffy goes to the cemetery which is infested with zombies. Slow-moving, brain-wanting, smelly zombies.

Samhain is a actually a very scary villain because he uses others’ fears against them. The absurd(er) side is that he has a rotten pumpkin head and can apparently command pumpkins. He’s supposed to originate from Ireland in the seventeenth century. Too bad that pumpkins are from North-America. (Also, as far as I can tell the name Pumpkin King is from Nightmare before Christmas and not from any old myths.) He can also raise and command zombies.

This a quick read, in fact I read most of it during bus riders to and from city center. There’s some humor but it’s not as good as Buffy episodes at their best. I also didn’t find the dialog as witty as in most episodes. However, the characters were in character and it was great to visit the first season again. The story was scarier than the average Buffy episode and the second half of the book is better than the start.

However, this is written for fans of the show and any reader should watch at least the first season before reading it.

The first in a mystery series set in Millers Kill with a police chief and a female priest as the detectives.

Publication year: 2002
Format: print
Page count: 358
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Russ van Alstyne is the Police Chief in Millers Kill. He was born there but moved away and has recently returned with his wife. Russ is a hardworking cop with a military background. He’s somewhat surprised to find out that the town’s new Episcopal priest is a woman, Reverend Clare Fergusson. However, she’s a down-to-earth woman who is trying to help the people around her and the Chief soon warms up to her.

Christmas is near and it’s in the middle of a bitterly cold winter. Someone has left a baby at the Church’s steps and Claire finds him. A rich local couple wants desperately to adopt him but that can’t happen until the child’s parents are found. However, a couple of days later, a young woman is found dead. She’s suspected of being the mother of the foundling boy, and Russ and Claire set out to find her murderer.

The plot is fast-paced and I enjoyed the characters a lot, mostly. However, the plot might be frustrating to mystery readers because the characters don’t find crucial information until very late. I also found the ending unbelievable and some of Claire’s actions were too impulsive.

Russ is a married man but his wife doesn’t appear in the book. In fact, Russ seems pretty unhappy about her own business which seems to take up most of her time. Instead, he spends a lot of time with Claire. I hoped that they would have been friends but unfortunately it seems that they are heading for romance.

Claire is a newcomer to the town. She doesn’t know the people nor the proper way to dress in the middle of winter. She also has a sports car which simply can’t handle the snow and ice. She’s curious and determined to make a difference. She clearly underestimates the damage that cold can do even in a short amount of time but that’s a mistake inexperienced people often make. However, she’s also very impulsive and very trusting which I found a little contradictory with her former career as a helicopter pilot in the military. She’s very flashy compered to Russ who is the older and more experienced police officer. I was also a bit puzzled as to why Russ would include a priest into the investigation. Sometimes, her presence was called for, such as a grief counselor but I didn’t expect her to be able to interrogate suspects.

The rest of the cast were quite entertaining. Harlene is a very competent dispatcher at the police station and she knows the other officers very well. The murdered girl’s parents were quite repugnant in real life, but entertaining in a book. The town was clearly divided between the rich and the poor, and the rich want to keep the poor out, even from a church. I was rather surprised that the amount of time Claire and Russ spent together didn’t spawn more rumors or perhaps even a threat to dismiss the Reverend for improper behavior.

The setting was well done. I enjoyed the great depiction of cold weather and its effects on hapless Claire. In fact, the weather was a greater threat than the villain and that’s pretty rare.

Unfortunately, when I heard that one of the main characters is a priest and the other is married, I was looking forward for them being friends and because of that, the kindling of a romance was disappointing. Also, the romance had quite a cliched elements, such as Russ watching Claire dance when she doesn’t know that he’s watching and Russ complaining that his wife doesn’t understand him. So, while I enjoyed the book, I don’t think I will continue with the series.

A science fiction book about a clash between human and alien cultures, and an attempt to understand the aliens. The author kindly gave me a review copy.

Publication year: 2011
Format: ebook, .pdf
Page count: 343

Humans have spread to other planets, namely Tofarn, and encountered the Tofa, somewhat humanoid aliens who don’t have faces, as such, and have four arms. Humans and Tofa have had a lot of difficulties understanding each other, but fortunately, the Tofa have been peaceful, so far. Doctor Mara Cadell has thought up an ingenious solution to the communication problem. In the womb, Mara had a fraternal twin Levi but unfortunately he didn’t survive. However, Mara has been able to keep Levi alive as a presence in her mind. Mara’s suggestion is to breed sets of twins: one human and one Tofa who would hopefully understand each other, and by extension the other species, better. When the twins would be old enough, they could be sent out to act as diplomats between the species. And of course while the grew, the humans would hopefully find out a lot about the Tofa through the twins.

Mara was able to convince the planet’s ruling Council to agree to the Project. It would be a monumental task that will take a lot of funding and time. The Project needs a place where it can be kept a secret and it also needs both human and Tofa host mothers and other staff. They would also need a way to communicate to Tofa the need for embryos and the mothers. However, to everyone’s surprise, the last bit happens easily enough and the Project acquires Tofa embryos, host mothers, and a handful of nurses. Mara is suspicious about how easily Tofa seemed to now understand the request but can’t turn them down. Getting the human host mothers is a more arduous process and because it takes time, some of the initial host mothers have a change of heart. A few political leaders pressure their family members into being host mothers.

The book spans several years and is divided into three parts. It’s written in short scenes which feel a bit fragmented at the start. It’s definitely idea science fiction instead of adventure and I was fascinated with the concept. The fragments at the start tell us about the relations between humans and the Tofa through the eyes of people we won’t see again.

Mara is the main character. Her experience with Levi has shaped her whole life; at the start of the book she doesn’t have any friends and she doesn’t seek human contact both because she feels that her connection with Levi is enough and also because she’s afraid that someone will find out about Levi which would destroy her scientific career. However, she cares very much for the people she leads and for the future of Tofarn. She’ also curious about the Tofa and wants very much to understand them better.

The book has a large cast and we get to know only a few of them well. Laura and Veda are two of the host mothers. They knew each other when they were kids but have grown apart since then. Now, they have a chance to renew their friendship although both have reservations about the other. Laura is the daughter of a Councilman who is hoping that Laura’s involvement in the Project will give him a political edge. In addition to the host mothers, the Project seems to have a large staff of scientists and later, nurses and various teachers. However, they are glimpsed at only briefly when the plot requires them.

Not all of the humans are happy with the Project. One Councilman has a couple of spies in the Project and he hopes to use the Project for his own nefarious aims.

The Tofa are quite alien. Of course, at first we don’t know much about them. However, most of the time when things are revealed about them, they seem more alien rather than less. I really liked that. However, the Tofa twins in the Project don’t really seem alien at all which was a little disappointing. They are often calmer than their human brother or sister, and very protective of them which is quite a human trait. However, it’s remarked that the Tofa twins are quite different from the other Tofa, so they seem to be far more human-like than the other Tofa. The Tofa don’t have genders as such, but the humans working with them call individual Tofa either he or she, so the humans assign them arbitrary genders and no-one thinks that’s strange.

The Project is quite isolated from other humans, or Tofa. The people aren’t allowed to leave much and the family members outside the Project have very limited visiting possibilities. This is because of secrecy. I suspected that it could actually work against the future diplomats who wouldn’t have much experience about other humans or, indeed, large human societies or Tofa.

The characters drink hot chocolate and not coffee. Being a chocolate person myself, I rater appreciated that.

All in all, I found this a fascinating and enjoyable read.

Obsidian Alliances has three stories. The first focuses on the crew of Voyager, the second on the New Frontier characters, and the third one on Deep Space Nine characters.

The Mirror universe in the book is based on the DS9 episodes where Terrans are slaves and the Klingon-Cardassian Alliance rules most of the known universe. The Dark Passions books are set in a different alternate universe.

Publication year: 2007
Format: print
Page count: 435
Publisher: Pocket Books

I read the first and the third novellas. I think I’ve read a few New Frontier books at some point but that was years ago and I didn’t remember much about the characters which took away the point of reading Peter David’s Cutting Ties.

In The Mirror-Scaled Serpent by Keith R.A. DeCandido Chakotay, Seska, Kate Janeway, Annika Hansen, Tuvok, and Harry Kim are a cell in the rebellion. Chakotay is the captain of his ship Geronimo and Kate is his engineer. The crew are in the Badlands, being chased by Gul Evek when they encounter two escape pods that suddenly appear. They are able to save one of pods, and the Alliance ship rescues the other. The Rebels get Neelix, an alien from far away. Neelix tells the skeptical humans, Cardassian, and Vulcan that his lover Kes is a powerful telepath and he wants her back. Tuvok convinces the rest of the crew that the Alliance must not get a telepath, and they start a desperate rescue mission. Evek has taken Kes to an old science station where B’Elanna is the commander. B’Elanna herself is partial to torture as well and her favorite is a blond Terran named Thomas.

The story contains a lot of torture. At the start of the story poor Kes is being tortured by the Kazon-Ogla and soon the Terran doctor Zimmerman is torturing her again in order to study her. Apparently, the torture activates her telepathic powers. Also, Tom has to endure a lot in the hands of sadistic B’Elanna who combines torture and sex.

The crew of the Geronimo don’t get along well. Chakotay spent his childhood on a remote colony but after the Alliance conquered the planet, he and his family became slaves. He’s only escaped slavery a short time ago. He doesn’t have Starfleet training or discipline, and neither does his crew. Harry Kim is the most tortured man in the crew and has become bitter but an excellent fighter and saboteur. Seska was the right hand woman of Gul Evek until she defected. She believes that the Cardassians have been twisted by their association with Klingons and is fighting to end that. She also despises humans. Tuvok has a secret mission of his own. Additionally, one of Geronimo’s crew is a traitor and their actions seem actually pretty logical, given the world they live in.

This story is very dark, by Star Trek standards. None of the characters are really admirable; they’re just trying to survive as best they can. Chakotay has some idealism but even he has to face facts. He actually pretty close to his Prime universe counterpart in character. However, I was amused that this is the first story with Seven/Annika in it when she didn’t take over the whole story. She’s also clearly nothing like her Seven persona; it’s seems that she’s more interested in sex than work.

The more sadistic characters are on the side of the Alliance. Doctor Zimmerman seems to enjoy torture. B’Elanna enjoys torturing others but she’s also a tortured character; she despises herself because she’s a half-breed and because she’s been demoted to the supervisor of a remote science station.

The story has a lot of action.

Saturn’s Children by Sarah Shaw brings back a lot of familiar characters from the DS9 Mirror episodes.

The former Overseer Kira Nerys is a bad place: after her disgrace, she was allowed to live only on the “mercy” of Regent Martok who delights in inflicting every cruelty on her. Then, she’s given to the new Bajoran Intendent: Ro Laren. Apparently, Ro and Kira have been adversaries for a long time and Ro wastes no time putting Kira into the slave quarters and into menial jobs. Ro’s headquarters are on a Klingon ship and Kira doesn’t have any current allies on it.

Meanwhile, Rebel General O’Brien has his own troubles. General Bashier and his newest closest ally, General Zek, are trying to undermine O’Brien’s authority and control the Rebels themselves. O’Brien is more interested in staying alive and keeping other people alive, too, and posturing. Bashier and Zek accuse O’Brien of being soft when he didn’t destroy a civilian outpost. Also, O’Brien met Keiko Ishikawa just two weeks ago and they are already a couple. Bashier thinks there’s an informant in O’Brien’s crew which forces O’Brien to spy on his crew. At the same time Bashier and Zek have plans in motion.

This story has lots of familiar characters: Leeta is O’Brien’s first officer aboard Defiant and I was delighted to see that she’s no-nonsense officer and competent. Ezri Tigan is the tactical officer, and married to Leeta, and Sito Jaxa is the pilot. Michael Eddington is O’Brien’s closest ally and he seems to be as levelheaded as in the show. Worf’s brother Kurn is the captain of the Klingon ship where Ro and Kira are. I think that Zek is supposed to be the Mirror universe counterpart but he’s just as greedy and ambitious as in the prime universe.

This story focuses more intrigue than in action and we also get to know more about the Rebel characters when O’Brien has to look at their personal files.

Both of the stories are fast paced with lots of plot twists. They’re a great glimpse to the twisted Mirror Universe.

The first book in a humorous mystery series.

Publication year: 1999
Format: print
Page count: 296 plus a preview of Murder with Puffins
Publisher: St. Martin’s Paperbacks

Meg Langslow is down-to-earth, no-nonsense woman. She’s a self-employed blacksmith who usually makes jewelry. However, she was able to get a whole summer off from work and return to her small home town in Virginia in order to be the maid of honor for three weddings. Meg’s best friend, brother, and mother are getting married withing just a few weeks. She actually doesn’t care for her brother’s bride, Samantha, but agreed to be her maid of honor, anyway. Meg’s also not wild about her mother’s groom who is the man next door, Jake.

Most of the brides seem to be far interested in small details, like interior decorating or being out of town, and leave the big things to Meg which keep her incredibly busy. Of course, Meg’s strange relatives aren’t helping things, either. Then Jake’s first wife’s sister appears. The sister doesn’t like the impending wedding at all and seems to be in general quite unlikable person. Soon, she’s found dead on the beach. Meg’s father, a retired doctor, is a mystery enthusiast and even though the local sheriff claims that the death is an accident, Meg’s dad starts an investigation drafting Meg, too.

Murder with Peacocks is written in a very humorous style. Most of Meg’s relatives are very strange from her dad who eats almost anything and gives lectures on poisonous plants to the Uncle who insist on wearing a gorilla suit in every party. Also, since Meg’s single, her best friend Eileen is determined to get her together with Eileen’s fiance’s brother Barry. Except that Meg loathes the uncouth, borderline rapist Barry. In fact, Meg seems to be the only sane person in her family. Then there’s Michael, the other sane person in the book.

The local dress-maker was going to make all the costumes for all of the weddings, but she’s currently in Florida with a broken leg. So, her handsome son Michael is filling in for her, and quite expertly. The dresses are made by a group of Vietnamese women who don’t speak English at all and Michael is their interpreter. The local gossip insist that Michael is gay, or What-a-Waste as the local homophobes say. However he seems to be very interested in Meg but whenever he tries to ask her something, he’s interrupted.

Most of the time, Meg is furiously trying to get the wedding organized instead of investigating the murder. Even when there are a couple of attempts on her father’s life, the local sheriff tries to write them off as accidents. So, the plot centers more on the weddings instead of the mystery. The main attraction to the story are the eccentric characters and not the plot.

I was quite surprised that Meg had agreed to this monumental task in the first place and that she didn’t quit when it came clear that none of the brides are going to help her at all. The families seem to be rich so surely they could have hired someone to organize the weddings as a full time job? But of course, if you like the humor, the premise is quite funny.

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!

The first in a series of historical adventure novels.

Publication year: 1905
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 1935
Format: Audio
Publisher of the audio translation: Otava
Narrator: Vesa Mäkelä
Translator: Armida Enckell
Running Time: 6 hrs, 5 double sided cassettes

The book is set in 1792, during the French Revolution. The nobles are fleeing France to avoid the guillotine and a mysterious cabal of English noblemen called the Scarlet Pimpernel is helping them. Often the daring leader of the group himself is in disguise and helping the hapless nobles, mostly women and children.

However, the main character of the book is a young noblewoman Lady Marguerite Blakeney, a celebrated French beauty who is married to English Lord Percy Blakeney. She is accused of giving away French nobles to the French police and the rescued French nobles shun her. This was mostly an accident but nobody will give her the time to explain. The rumours don’t seem to affect her standing in England, where she’s in the center of society.

However, Marguerite’s marriage is in trouble. She loves Percy but unfortunately, Percy found out that she inadvertinately caused the Marquis de St. Cyr and his two sons to be killed. Ever since Percy has been distant towards his wife. Marguerite has likewise become disillusioned by Percy’s lazy behaviour.

Meanwhile, Citizen Chauvelin has come to England in order to find out who is the leader of the Scarlet Pimpernel and to catch him. Chauvelin blackmails Marguerite to find out who the mysterious leader is. Chauvelin’s agents have stolen a letter that implicates that Marguerite’s beloved brother Armand is part of the Scarlet Pimpernel society. Marguerite has no choice but to agree.

The plot structure is somewhat different than is usual to modern novels. The main character Marguerite is first seen in Chapter 4 and the other characters discuss about her before she is introduced. The start of Chapter 5 is the narrator telling us about Marguerite’s background and character. The previous chapters are spent telling about the circumstances in France and about Scarlet Pimpernel’s brave exploits until they focus on a small tavern where we meet a group of people, Marguerite among them.

We are told that Marguerite is the smartest woman in Europe in addition to being wealthy and beautiful. When Chauvelin blackmails her, she agrees to help him but secretly she is always looking for a way to get rid of the police officer without endangering her brother. She’s very loyal and quite brave, and when she finds out that her husband is in danger, she disguises herself and follows him.

Lord Percy is outwardly a lazy dandy but even in conversation he’s quick to maintain that image and to deflect any chances of heroism or dueling. He maintains his cover so well that even his wife doesn’t know him. He feels that he can’t trust Marguerite.

Chauvelin could have been just doing his duty to his country but he’s depicted as a cruel and viscous man who is hates the Scarlet Pimpernel especially and often uses underhanded techniques to capture him. The French as also described as villainous because they want to execute innocent children who had had the misfortune to be born noble.

The plot is fast-paced and has unexpected twists. It centers on spying and intrigue rather than violence. Once again there was surprisingly small amount of misogyny in the book, compared to some modern books. Unfortunately, it had quite a lot of antisemitism, describing a Jewish character awfully and the other characters felt free to treat him very badly.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t happy with the translation. I fully admit that it could be because the translation was done in 1935 and it has simply gotten old. Still, some idioms are translated literally and I found some of the inflections strange. Also, both he and she are translated “hän”. This is, of course, literally correct but makes listening the text a bit difficult at times. Most of the time it’s possible to deduce from the surrounding context just who is doing or saying something to whom. However, these days it’s customary to change the he/she to a name or to woman/man to make the text make coherent to Finns.

However, I enjoyed the story a lot and I’m already listening to the next translation.

A historical mystery story where the detective is Dante Alighieri.

Original title: I delitti del mosaico
Publication year: 2004
Format: Print, a Finnish translation
Page count: 331
The translation’s publisher: Otava
Translator: Leena Taavitsainen-Petäjä
Publication year of the translation: 2006

It’s June 1300 in Florence and Dante Alighieri is suffering from a horrible headache. The Bargello, a chief of the City Guard, comes to meet Dante because of horrible crime. Dante is a prior of the city so he agrees to go to scene of the crime, which is an abandoned monastery outside Florence. The victim has been murdered in such a gruesome way that he hasn’t been identified yet. It seems that the victim was a master mosaic artist who has come especially from Rome to build a mosaic into the church which is going to be rebuilt as an academy for learned men. The artist had been suffocated with quicklime, one of his main tools.

Dante is intrigued by the crime and starts to investigate. On his way back home, he stumbles to an apothecary to get help to his growing migraine. In addition to a new remedy, he finds out that the apothecary and the master mosaic artist where both members of a group of learned men who meet in an ill-reputed tavern. They call themselves the Third Heaven. Dante invites himself into the next meeting and meets a group of eclectic men who have all come recently from Rome.

14th century Florence is full of intrigue; the Guelphs and the Ghibellines are ready to fight for the fate of the city and the Pope has sent an emissary to the city. Dante is right in the middle of it as a prior; he supports the Ghibellines who want the Holy Roman Emperor to have all the Earthly power instead of the Pope, and he isn’t shy about it.

As historical story, the book succeed fairly well; the people behave and talk as they might have. Dante is a hot headed man who is very likely to start arguing with, well, anyone. He’s equally good at arguing about astrology, the Pope’s power, or what the murder’s motive might have been. Indeed, there are lengthy discussions about astrology and it’s effect to the justice system, and about various religious topics. I found some of them fascinating. The Third Heaven group also discusses love a lot, especially for seemingly unattached men whose only interaction with women is through whores. Unfortunately, all of this means time away from the mystery.

Unfortunately, the book doesn’t work very well as a mystery. More time is dedicated to the various current day subplots than the mystery itself. There are a lot of suspects but I, at least, thought that I didn’t know enough about the victim or the suspects to be able to deduce the murderer.

Also, Dante isn’t a likable character. He’s arrogant and clearly very privileged man. He constantly mocks pretty much everyone else around him: the other priors, the guards, the poor, the beggars, women, especially priests. He doesn’t seem to have any friends. He’s hot tempered, and quick to grab his dagger or bellow. I also found it somewhat strange that his family, wife and presumably kids, are only mentioned once in the whole book and they don’t appear. He also thinks that he is the only logical man around; yet, his logic is based on previous authorities and common knowledge more than facts.

The book has only one significant female character who is a tavern dancer and whom Dante constantly calls a slut in his mind. She’s extremely sensual and strikingly beautiful (of course, insert an eye roll here) and all of the men drool over her pretty much all the time, Dante especially. There is an air of misogyny in the story but that is, alas, probably consistent with the times.

All in all, this was a pretty good glimpse at Florence at the time but, for me at least, it didn’t really work as a mystery.

A modern day international thriller which is apparently the second book in the series but can be read as a stand alone.

Page count: 188 pages in the pdf.
Format: ebook, a pdf.

Dominic Gray is a former Marine and a Jujitsu Master. After a strange case, he quit the Marines and now he works for Viktor Rader who is an expert of cults and cult like behavior. Together they investigate cases where cults are involved. This is their first case together.

Gray meets a prospective client in Manhattan. Al-Miri, the client, wants Gray to investigate a theft from his company. The company researched aging. Gray is at first sceptical about the case but decides to take it when he sees a strange medallion that Al-Miri wears. During his investigation, he meets Veronica Brown, a beautiful and driven investigative journalist. Veronica is instantly intrigued by Gray who is less than thrilled by the idea that a journalist would investigate his doings. It seems that Al-Miri’s company might have found a way to extend life significantly, which interests a lot of people.

Another storyline follows Jax, the mercenary who delivered the stolen liquid forward.

The book is very fast-paced with short chapters and several action scenes. The point-of-view characters also change quickly from Gray to Veronica to the villains. Jax’s chapters felt a bit disconnected from the others because his connection to the rest of the plot seemed pretty slim until near the end. The plot moves quickly from Egypt to US to Bulgaria and back to Egypt, and I enjoyed the international feel of the book. People even speak other languages the English! The places are also described well, although economically, and there’s a different feel to the busy New York and to the lazy afternoon in Venezuela.

The cult in the book has ties to Egyptian mythology which I enjoyed a lot. Several characters also glimpse a threatening figure wrapped in bandages lurking around.

The book has several point-of-view characters but Gray is clearly the main character, and Jax and Veronica are the main supporting characters. All three are surprisingly complex for a thriller. Gray has mental baggage from the previous book where he apparently fell in love and lost the woman. She’s still around but was so shocked by the events that she doesn’t want to continue a relationship with Gray. Gray had an awful childhood with a sickly mother and an abusive father, but he’s turned all the pain he had to endure into a strength and has a great need to protect others. He’s reluctant to use weapons and prefers unarmed combat. At times, he loathes that he has to use violence, but when it’s necessary, he kills without remorse. During his childhood and teen aged years, Gray was taught a variety of martial arts and mental disciplines.

He’s attracted to Veronica but he still has feelings for his previous girlfriend.

In contrast, Jax is a mercenary. He seems to care only about money and women. When people come after him, his only instinct is to survive at any cost. He’s from a poor background and he doesn’t want to return to poverty, instead he wants to enjoy life to the fullest.

Veronica is a driven, self-employed investigative journalist. She’s gorgeous (as is alway the case in books like these) and she knows how to use her looks to her advantage. Later, we find out that she believes that her days are numbered and she wants to hold on to what she has. She has an instinct for juicy stories and Gray immediately intrigues her.

There’s a whole cast of other characters. The villains belong to a cult and they don’t care who they hurt to get what they want. Gray’s partner Viktor is a Sherlock Holmes like figure: he’s brilliant in his own field, and he uses opium and absinthe to escape the boredom of his life.

Author’s website:

The fourth book about the adventures of Captain William Riker and USS Titan.

Publication year: 2007
Page count: 370
Format: print
Publisher: Pocket Books

The story focuses on exploring the space outside known space and I love that!

The book starts with “Epilogue” (which isn’t quite apt because the starting chapter would technically belong in the middle of the book) where one of the crew is in bad shape on a planet and hallucinating about his childhood and youth in refugee camps. He was in a shuttle that crashed.

The we jump to the start of the story. Titan is exploring a region of space dubbed the Occulus Ora while her First Officer is trying to work out some personnel problems. The chief engineer has managed to rile up quite a few people, and the captain and his wife are having some problems that are effecting the ship, too. However, soon they get a distress call and head out for rescue mission. Instead, they are caught in a sector of space where warp drive doesn’t work and they are dead in the water. When they investigate, they find a nearby planet Orisha inhabited by an insectoid species. Apparently, the Orishans are experimenting with warp drive but as a power source. They aren’t interested in exploring space.

The captain decides to send an away team to the planet but something goes horribly wrong.

I found the story’s structure near the start pretty weird. The Epilogue ended when Jaza started to remember what had happened before. Still, the majority of the start of the book is from the POV of the First Officer Vale and Jaza had no access to her thoughts. I also wasn’t wild about the time travel aspect of the book or the Riker/Troi tension. Otherwise, I found the concept of the Orishans and their culture fascinating. They seem to have two or three classes (the Dreamers who make the decisions and are scientists, and the Guardians who are the soldiers) but they don’t fight amongst themselves. They have a bigger problem: a large structure on their orb which destroys their world from time to time. Not surprisingly, the Orishans think it’s a god and try to appease it.

The main point-of-view characters are the First Officer Vale and the Science Officer Jaza. However, there are many other POV characters who are touched on just briefly. The familiar characters Riker, Troi, and Tuvok are minor characters in and Alyssa Ogawa doesn’t appear. However, there was a lot of interaction among the other characters and the multi-species crew seems to be finally working together, for the most part, anyway. Also, because most of the characters in the book were not established ones, they can and do have character development and might even really be in danger.

While I enjoyed exploring the new society (pretty different from usual Star Trek fare!), the ending left many mysteries open. What is the thing on the orbit and how did it appear here? Who built it or was is really sentient? Why was it there and behaved the way it did? No idea. This was frustrating.

You can read the first chapter for free on Amazon.

Apparently the next books in the Titan timeline would be the three book Destiny series. However, that one seems to have Ezri Dax in a large role and I’m still not ready for that. Reading about Data in the past tense in this book was traumatic enough. So, I’m going to dive into the Mirror Universe books!

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