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The second book in the Bernie Rhodenbarr humorous mystery series.

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Publishing year: 1987 (originally 1978)

Format: Print

Finnish translator: Pasi Junna

Page count: 223

Finnish publisher: Viihdeviikarit

Bernie Rhodenbarr is a burglar. He enjoys breaking into other people’s homes and taking their stuff. However, burglars usually work alone, just as Bernie does. So when his dentist, Dr. Sheldrake, talks about how his ex-wife has lots of expensive jewelry and doesn’t really deserve them, Bernie gets nervous. But in the end, Bernie agrees to break into Crystal Sheldrake’s apartment and steal the goods.

Bernie plans carefully and takes his time in the apartment. A bit too much, even. Because when he has gathered the jewels up neatly, Crystal returns. Desperately, Bernie hides in a closet and Crystal locks him in. Before Bernie can get out, someone else comes in and murders her. Bernie doesn’t hear or see the murderer who leaves, taking the case with the jewels with them.

This was a fun, quick read written in a humorous style. Bernie is in a lot of trouble: the dentist is arrested right away and he quickly points a finger at Bernie. Bernie and the dentist’s nurse try to figure out the murderer. One corrupt cop also tries to blackmail Bernie for half the jewels.

The murdered woman has several boyfriends and her ex-husband hates her, so there are several suspects.

The book is written in Bernie’s first-person POV. While he has no problem stealing, he’s very careful. He’s already been in prison and doesn’t want to return there. He has his own code of honor. The other characters are quite entertaining, too.

A stand-alone science fiction thriller.

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Publishing year: 2015

Format: Print

Publisher: Del Ray

Page count: 445 + a novella set in the writer’s other world, the Dire Earth

Peter Caswell is a very capable assassin who never remembers his work. He has an implant that not only gives him a huge edge in a fight but also makes him forget his missions so that his conscience is clear. However, he doesn’t control the forgetting aspect of the implant. That part is controlled by Monique, his partner whom he’s never met face-to-face. The implant speeds up his thinking, giving him ample time to plan and execute his moves in a fight. It also enhances his senses and suppresses pain, hunger, thirst, and emotions. All of these abilities work only for a limited time.

Now, Monique has sent him on a mission that doesn’t require a memory wipe. A spaceship that was lost a couple of decades ago has been found again. Peter needs to infiltrate the salvage crew. However, once inside the old ship, Monique tells Peter that the ship holds such sensitive information that this now becomes a mission Peter will later forget. Usually, he only forgets a couple of days. Now, he will have a time window of two weeks to find and kill the only surviving crew member of the old ship. But the catch is that the survivor is not on the ship nor on Earth. She’s on a parallel Earth, a world Peter knows nothing about. But he has no choice; the mission has already begun.

The other Earth has its own history and politics. Our other point-to-view character is Melni who was born and raised on that other Earth. She’s a member of a minority race and also a spy in a culture she didn’t grow up in.

This was a very entertaining book with lots of action. Melni and Peter are very different. They’re thrown together and must work together to survive. While Peter is very good at his job, he doesn’t know the world and he can’t even eat the food. As much as he hates it, he needs Melni. Melni doesn’t know him but realizes that he’s very peculiar and strangely similar to the genius she’s spying on.

I really enjoyed the alternate world, even though we are thrown in without explanations and need to figure out who is who. The differences in culture were fascinating, such as that the doorknobs are near the ground and used with toes, not hands. This world’s technology is behind Earth’s.

I guess the biggest problem I had with Peter is that we don’t really know him. What is the company he’s working for? Why is he an assassin if he doesn’t want to remember killing? Why does he trust Monique? We do get an explanation for the latter questions near the end. Melni seems a very capable undercover agent, but she was too trusting with Peter.

And the ending. Not a fan of it. While this is technically a stand-alone book, that ending pretty much requires a sequel.

A stand-alone M/M science fiction romance.

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Publication year: 2021

Format: Audio

Running time: 15 hours, 24 minutes
Narrator: Raphael Corkhill

I’m not a romance reader. I got this book because Audible recommended it to me for some reason. It’s pretty fun and has decent world-building, but it’s solidly grounded in the romance.

Kiem is a prince in the galactic empire of Iskat. He’s a friendly and open-hearted man in his twenties and has a reputation for having wild parties and many willing partners of both sexes. So, it comes as a shock to him when the Emperor summons him and promptly informs him that he’s going to be married in three days so that a very important galactic trade and military treaty can be ratified. His partner-to-be is Count Jainan from a minor world, Thea. Jainan’s previous partner, Taam, was also an Iskat prince and Kiem’s cousin, but firmly a military man. There was also an arranged marriage. Taam died in an accident only a month ago. Kiem feels that it’s too soon for Jainan because the couple must keep up appearances, for the treaty’s sake, and pretend to be in love. However, Kiem must obey the emperor and so they are married.

To Kiem, Taam and Jainan’s marriage was a perfect match and he tries to make things as easy for Jainan as possible. However, Jainan is a very aloof man, who thinks before he says or acts. He’s also a consummate diplomat who will do (almost) anything to make the treaty happen. So the two men’s personalities are very different, which means that the beginning of their relationship is full of misunderstandings and problems. But then they find out that Thaam’s death might not be an accident and that affects the treaty, as well.

Since this is a romance book, it has quite a few romance tropes, but thankfully not really any of the toxic ones. The misunderstands were the most annoying ones to me. Jainan and Kiem are attracted to each other, but think the other isn’t attracted. Kiem thinks that Jainan is in mourning for a partner he loved, and Jainan thinks Kiem has been saddled with an unpalatable partner. Most of the plot could have been solved if they just sat down and honestly talked about it for ten minutes. Their personalities played off each other quite nicely, though.

The world is based on historical arranged marriages to seal off treaties. It has quite a few interesting things, but all of them serve the romance plot. One side character also got some pretty interesting secrets.

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A stand-alone thriller that was the inspiration for Hitchcock’s film starring Grace Kelly and Cary Grant.

Publisher: Guernsey Press

Publishing year: 1953

Format: Print

Page count: 199

I think I’ve seen the movie To Catch a Thief many years ago but I don’t remember much about it. I didn’t even remember the ending.

John Robie used to be the famous jewel thief Le Chat. He was caught and sent to prison, but during the German occupation during WWII, the Germans let out a lot of prisoners, John among them. He joined the French resistance, the maquis, and was a guerilla. After the war, the maquis got unofficial pardons and John retired to a villa in France. One of the local policemen is even a friend of his.

To John’s dismay, someone else is now robbing jewels, using his style. He knows that it won’t be long before the police are after him again, especially his police friend Oriol.

So, when the police arrive, John makes a daring escape. He goes to his former fence and current friend Bellini who has lots of contacts, criminal and otherwise. He was also in the maquis. He convinces John that the only way John can clear his name is to catch the thief. Also, the police are now after all of John’s former friends trying to blame them for the thefts. Reluctantly, John agrees. He knows that the most tempting jewels are in the Riviera nightclubs and casinos. He invents a pseudonym Mr. Burns, disguises himself, and goes to the casinoes.

There he intends to use all his former skills as a thief to figure out where the copycat thief will strike next and trap him. Also, he meets a couple of very interesting characters.

This was an entertaining read set in the glamorous Riviera. John is loyal to his friends and doesn’t see stealing as immoral. He still has his remarkable agility and strength. He’s worried that Oriol and one other close friend feel that John has betrayed them and he can’t explain things. He’s mostly a loner, choosing to live alone except for his elderly housekeeper/cook. Now, he must rely on Bellini and a couple of his criminal friends to help him. Also, he meets an interesting woman or rather a couple of interesting women.

John is the main third-person point-of-view character. There are brief POVs from other, all male, characters.

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A stand-alone weird fantasy novel that is also a homage to Sherlock Holmes.

Publication year: 2019

Format: Audio

Running time: 9 hours, 13 minutes
Narrator: Nicholas Boulton

Captain John Wyndham writers a serialized story in the Strait magazine about how he first met Ms. Shaharazad Hass, the infamous consulting sorceress who has a dark and ruthless temperament. Wyndham writes the story years after it happened, indeed after Ms. Haas has (seemingly at least) died.

Wyndham had been fighting in a war in another dimension for five years. When he returns to the city of Khelathra-Ven, he needs a place to stay and ends up at 221b Martyrs Walk. Ms. Haas is his new housemate and she seems a very quirky character indeed. But Wyndham has no choice. Soon enough, Miss Eirene Viola comes to Ms. Haas to ask her to find out who is blackmailing Miss Viola to break out her engagement with Cora Beck.

Wyndham is an entertaining first-person narrator. Of course, since this is a first-person POV, a lot depends on if the reader likes the voice. He’s from Ii which is a Puritan society so it has much more rigid sexual and social mores than Khelathra-Ven in general and Ms. Haas specifically. So, he’s forced to downplay cursing that the other characters constantly do. He’s also easily shocked by the behavior of Ms. Haas and the other characters. He also throws in meta-commentary since he’s telling the story a couple decades later. He’s loyal and too truthful for his own good. Haas takes a little bit of personality from Holmes but she’s far more morally gray character, being drug-addled most of the time, not just when she’s bored. She insults everyone and is very sure of her own power and skills. She’s also bisexual. Miss Viola is her former lover and so are quite a few other characters we meet.

The world is wildly imaginative and the blackmail plot is just an excuse to take a tour in and around the city and even to the lost Carcosa. The characters are very entertaining, such as the long-suffering Augur Lawson who is trying to rein in his too enthusiastic collages while trying to uphold the laws of the city, which forbid the use of magic. And Eirene who was a thief and an adventurer before she fell in love with Cora.

I enjoyed this book a lot. The only thing I didn’t really care for was the horror aspect which came quite late in the story.

“Co-tenant required. Rent reasonable to the point of arousing suspicion. Tolerance for blasphemies against nature an advantage. No laundry service. Enquire S. Haas, 221b Martyrs Walk.”

“To be reprimanded by one’s landlady is never pleasant, but when the censure in question is delivered in an atonal buzzing from within a partially skeletonised cadaver, within which a teeming mass of insects swarms and moves with ungodly purpose, it can be quite disheartening.”

The seventh Dirk Pitt book.

Publishing year: 1984

Format: Print

Finnish translator: Maria Sivonen

Page count: 418

Finnish publisher: WSOY

This adventure book starts with two plotlines that merge. In one, Dirk Pitt and his friend Al Giordano look for a sunken ship that is carrying a stolen shipment of nerve gas. The gas is escaping and killing people. The second plot involves the kidnapping of the four most important politicians in the US.

The story starts with Arta Casilighio, a bank teller who finds the passport of another woman. Arta gathers the courage to steal a lot of money and head to Europe aboard a ship. Unfortunately for her, a group of Korean men highjacks the ship and kills everyone on it.

Twenty years later, something is mysteriously killing people on ships. The US government sends Dr. Julia Mendoza from the Environmental Protection Agency to order Pitt and Giordano to look for a sunken ship that is spreading the poison. Pitt does so but Dr. Mendoza is exposed to the poison and dies. Pitt swears revenge.

Meanwhile, the four top men in the US government go missing, and the men closest to them try very hard to cover it up while both the FBI and the CIA are looking for the president and the other men.

This was my first Cussler book, but I know the series is very popular. Unfortunately, this book didn’t really work for me. It has lots and lots of point-of-view characters. I didn’t have trouble telling them apart from each other, but none of them were very compelling. Also, the plot centers on politics which I didn’t find compelling. The book has also some racism toward Asians.

The plot has some incongruous elements. Perhaps most fantastical of them is not just mind control, but the notion that you can inject memories from one man’s brain to another’s. For a thriller book, the plot felt slow to me, because of the politicking.

A historical fantasy book that can be read as a stand-alone.

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Publication year: 2016

Format: Audio

Running time: 14 hours, 22 minutes
Narrator: Julia Whelan

The book is set in 1880 in New York when Cleopatra’s Needle is traveling by train toward New York.

Eleanor St. Clair and Adelaide Thom own together Tea and Sympathy. Eleanor is a witch and a former medical student while Adelaide used to travel the country with a sideshow but now she’s a fortune teller who can really see ghosts and futures. They help women who come to their shop with tea, medical knowledge, and more mystical gifts. However, Adelaide thinks that Eleanor is working too much and so she advertises for a shop-girl: ”Respectable Lady Seeks Dependable Shop Girl. Those averse to magic need not apply.”

17-year-old Beatrice Dunn lives with her aunt in a small town near New York. When she sees the ad, she’s determined to start her independent life as a shop-girl. She knows a little bit about magic and dreams about being a witch herself. She travels to New York and after a couple of mishaps arrives at the tea shop. Then she starts to see people others can’t see.

However, some (religious) people know that Adelaide and Eleanor have strange powers, and even worse, are independent women. So they are convinced that the two are in league with Satan. These people want to stop Adelaide and Eleanor at any cost.

Eleanor, Beatrice, and Adelaide are the main characters of the book but lots of other POV characters, as well. Most of their lives intertwine somehow with the three women.

Adelaide has a dark past, which haunts her. When she was a child, her mother sold her to be a lady’s maid. But Adelaide ended up as a child prostitute before she ran away. Then, a woman threw acid on her face so one side of her face is burned and the eye is gone. Eleanor admired her Gypsy mother who taught her magic. Eleanor wants to help women and that why’s she studied medicine. But she soon noticed that her mom knew more about medicine than what passes for modern medicine, so she returned to her mother’s teachings. Beatrice loves her aunt but lost her parents when she was little. She loves to read and dreams about writing. The three are endearing main characters. Perhaps that’s why I didn’t really care for most of the many side characters. And the few that I did care about just disappeared without a proper ending.

Most of the people opposing the three are doing so because of their religious beliefs. So all of the bad guys in this book are Christians or using the Bible as an excuse to act on their bigoted views. Of course, in 1880 women were considered barely second-class citizens and many men simply ignored anything women said or did. A few scenes have Suffragettes and the Christian women oppose them.

The historical setting was done very well, both the characters and their opinions as well as the historical city itself. I was intrigued by the few scenes that had dearlies or fairies that brought dreams to humans. But we didn’t get to know much about them.

Most of the book has a cute and fluffy atmosphere but in contrast is also has the cruder side of NYC, such as whores and the insane asylum. They seemed strangely out of place compared to the tone of the rest of the book. Also, Adelaide’s past is very dark compared to the tone of most of the book.

Overall this was mostly an interesting read for the atmosphere of the historical New York City and the main characters. Adelaide is apparently from one of McKay’s previous books, the Virgin Cure, but I haven’t read it and I don’t think I missed out on anything.

A stand-alone steampunk book.

Publication year: 2017
Format: Audio
Running time: 10 hours 45 minutes
Narrator: David Giuntoli, Claire Coffee

When June Stefanov was a young girl, her grandfather told her a story about an angel helping the Russians during WWII. Her grandfather leaves behind to her a keepsake, a mechanical part that the ”angel” gave her. Now, June is an anthropologist specializing in ancient tech. She travels around the world to find mechanical, human-sized dolls hundreds of years old. Now, she has found a female doll in Oregon. It is about three hundred years old. June fixes it so that it writes down the message it has been waiting to write. But others don’t want humans to know anything about the mechanicals, so June is in grave danger.

Russia, 1725. Peter awakes in the Kremlin. The tsar’s (Peter the Great, after whom the mechanical Peter is named) mechanician has just built him a body. Peter’s anima, his spirit, is older but he doesn’t remember anything before awakening in Russia. Soon, the mechanician awakens another mechanical being Elana, whom Peter thinks of as his sister. Peter has feelings and thoughts and is conscious of himself, but he’s bound to a word, Pravda which means justice. Each mechanical being has such a word and is internally driven to behave in such a way as to fulfill that word.

The mechanical beings fascinate the tsar, but the queen of Russia hates them. Still, Peter does his best to serve the tsar. But when Peter the Great dies, his wife Catherine banished Peter and Elena from Russia. They flee across the country and continue to hide from humans for centuries. They also try to find clues about who made them. Before they leave Russia, they meet another mechanical being who threatens them.

Every other chapter of the book is set in the current day and the next chapter is set in the past. June is a first-person narrator while Peter is a third-person narrator. This worked surprisingly well for me. The historical aspects were fascinating, and June was an interesting POV character in the modern chapters. Both sides of the story have a lot of fight scenes, but in contrast, Peter and Elena ponder about their own existence and June is uncovering the mystery of the mechanical beings.

Elena is a fascinating character. She’s in the body of a 12-year-old mechanical girl and she soon grows tired of being treated as a child. Peter is also very protective of her. She yearns to find out more about herself and the other possible mechanical beings, while Peter considers them a threat. I did wonder why they didn’t try to build her another body.

Overall, this was a very entertaining story.

The first book in the Primordia modern day fantasy (or sci-fi, depending on how you look at it) series.

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Publication year: 2017
Format: Audio
Running time: 11 hours 58 minutes
Narrator: Sean Mangan

Ben Cartwright is a former Special Forces soldier who quit after a couple of tours. When his father died suddenly from a heart attack, he returns home to comfort his mom. There, he meets again his high school sweetheart Emma and his other old friends.

While going through his father’s stuff, Ben stumbles on letters between his great-grandfather and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It seems that the men were friends. Ben’s great-grandfather, also called Benjamin, was an explorer and an adventurer. He even died during one of his adventures: looking for a valley full of dinosaurs in Venezuela! He wrote about the search to Doyle who was inspired to write a book called the Lost World.

Ben and his friends decide to search for the hidden plateau. One of his friends is a tech millionaire so it’s easy for him to finance the trip. But first, they need to go to England to find Ben senior’s journal for the clues to find the hidden place.

The modern-day narration, in 2018, is interrupted from time to time by the short adventures of Ben senior in 1908 when he’s running from terrible danger among strange creatures. In addition to the two Bens, the book has several other POV characters, including their adversary who is determined to find the place first.

Our heroes are an usual group for an adventure book. Emma is a rock climbing instructor. She’s in excellent condition and no damsel in distress even though she’s the love interest. Andrea the actress wants to come, too, because she wants to become famous if they find the lost plateau. Dan is the bored millionaire who finances the trip. Steve comes because Andrea is coming. Later, a zoologist joins them. Even though they are in their thirties, luckily none of them have obligations that stop them from leaving in a couple of days’ notice.

This was a fast-paced adventure, once you get past the beginning. The second half of the book is a constant battle for survival against both humans and other enemies. I haven’t read Doyle’s the Lost World, and I think I would have enjoyed the book more if I had read it first. It ends in a cliffhanger.

This a light adventure story and I quite enjoyed it.

A stand-alone murder mystery set in Oxford.

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Publication year: 2007
Finnish publisher: Gummerus
Format: print
Finnish translator: Raimo Salminen

Page count: 373 (including about ten pages of the historical facts behind the book)

Someone is killing young women, taking an organ, and leaving a strange coin in the place where the organ used to be. The murderer doesn’t leave behind clues except that he or she seems to be very skilled. The police are desperate to catch them but don’t have anything to go on.

Laura Niven is a former New York crime journalist and now a writer who has come to Oxford to research her next book. She’s staying with Philip Bainbridge, her former lover and current friend. About twenty years ago, Laura became pregnant but chose to return to the USA rather than stay in London and marry Philip. Philip maintains contact with Laura and their daughter Jo. In fact, Jo is now in Oxford as a student.

Philip is a police photographer. He has just met Laura when he’s called to a crime scene. Laura is too curious and sees not only the body but the strange coin. Her curiosity is piqued and she researches it. The coin leads her to a historical trail. The murders seem to be related to alchemy and astrology and the famous Sir Isaac Newton who was as much an alchemist as a scientist.

This is an entertaining serial killer story inspired by history. It has multiple POV characters, including Newton himself and a couple of other men during his time. The killer is also a POV character, although they’re not identified in those passages, and the murders are quite gruesome. The ties to the occult were the most interesting part of the book. I also really enjoyed the short chapters set in the 17th century.

Philip and Laura are both pretty successful in their lives. Still, they have regrets about the choices they’ve made. They’re curious and pretty intelligent people. They’re both still attracted to each other but are content to just stay friends. Detective John Monroe is another significant POV character. He’s an experienced detective who has reasons to scoff at anything smelling of supernatural.

Apparently, White has written more than a few non-fiction books and knows the history of the occult pretty well. It shows.

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