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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.

The first book in a planned YA fantasy series. Can be read as a stand-alone.

Publication year: 2015

Publisher: Creativity Hacker Press

Format: ebook
Page count in GoodReads: 203

Merrick is an apprentice to his da, the smith. However, he’s not a good smith’s apprentice. He thinks too slowly and his skills aren’t advancing. He sleeps in the smithy and when a blue-glowing ghost appears in the smithy, Merrick thinks of only defending his da’s place. When the ghost limps outside, Merrick follows. The ghost lures him to the area where wealthier people live. There, Merrick meets two other young men whom the ghost has also brought to this place. They find a buried box and three strange items from inside. Before they find out what they are, they must run away from the Watchstanders. They don’t know what is going on, but they agree to meet the next night, to find out.

This felt like a boys’ adventure novel with three teen boys who suddenly find themselves in the middle of very important and dangerous events. The adults around them are clueless at best, a threat at worst.

Merrick is the main POV character. The two other boys, Tam and Kern, are quite different from him. Tam is an orphan, living on the streets. He’s an excellent thief, curious and quick-witted. He’s also quick to insult others. Kern grew up on a family ship. But it sank, leaving Kern the only survivor. He’s now a baker’s apprentice but resents it. Aboard the ship, he was taught to fight.

The city of Deneigh is described well. It used to be a mighty fortress city, but has since fallen to disrepair. People are moving out of it. At least some of the Watchstanders are corrupt and take up the job so that they can shake people down for money. The second POV character is a young Watch officer who is also the son of the Reeve, the appointed governor of the city. The officer enjoys tormenting people.

This book is a quick and light read. The ending ties up plot threads but it’s clearly meant to lead to a series.

The first book in a humorous fantasy the Clocktaur War duology.

Publication year: 2017
Format: Audio
Running time: 7 hours 40 minutes
Narrators: Khristine Hvam

Slade is a forger who was caught. She’s been forced to lead a group of people to an enemy city, hoping to find a way to stop their magical and mechanical soldiers. Others have tried and disappeared. Slate has a little bit of magic, namely she can smell rosemary when meeting with someone significant. Her partner (and former lover) is Brenner, a brooding, snippy assassin who was also caught and is now part of this suicide mission. Her nose leads her to Sir Caliban, a former knight-champion of the Dreaming God, now a convicted murderer. Caliban used to kill demons until one possessed him and forced him to kill innocent people. Supposedly, the demon has been exorcised but death was too good for him. But Slade smells that he’s destined to help her in the mission and so he’s released.

However, they’re all get magical tattoos which will kill them if they stray from the mission. The group’s fourth person is Learned Edmund, 19-year old misogynistic scholar who wants to get some writings back and supposedly knows more about the mechanical soldiers.

It’s a comedy. Mostly. Told from the POVs of Slade and Caliban. The story is chock full of Dungeons&Dragons archetypes, stereotypes, and cliches, most of them turned either on their ear or slightly on their side. As an old gamer, I thoroughly enjoyed this. I’m the one who often plays paladins or bards (or an angel when playing In Nomine). Paladins can be fascinating characters. Caliban is one such, even though he’s a fallen paladin. Kingfisher also plays a little with our expectations: paladins aren’t chaste, in fact they’re often pursued by rich and beautiful women, so much so that Caliban doesn’t even notice Slade much at first. Oh and even though Caliban’s inner demon is dead, it left a part in and it gibbers to him. Sometimes he speaks in the demon tongue without noticing it. This seemed to have annoyed some reviewers. I liked it.

Slade isn’t really a combat person; she used to forge accounts. She’s bitter about the whole suicide mission thing, yet she obviously has hope that she, at least, will get out alive. She’s never even ridden a horse so the journey in horseback is a whole new experience for her.

Pretty much the only thing I didn’t care for was the romance aspect. Too predictable and obvious. No real reason to stretch it out. As a fan of kickass married couples (or trios or other committed relationships), I would have loved for them to get together at the start.

Also I didn’t like that Slade is the only woman. Because I’m so over the “only one woman in a group” and “only one woman in a group and more than one man in the group is after her”. Too bad they’re here.

The ending is very abrupt and leaves us in a cliffhanger.

The first book in the Planetside SF duology.

Publication year: 2018
Format: Audio
Running time: 8 hours 38 minute
Narrator: R. C. Bray

Colonel Carl Butler is on semi-retirement from active duty. Many think of him as a war hero. When his old friend Admiral Serata contacts him about an investigation job on a far away planet of Cappa Three, he’s not thrilled. It seems that the son of a powerful politician has gone missing and the politician is demanding answers. The son is a lieutenant in the space force. Butler is reluctant to agree because he has bad history with Cappa Base. But he does agree.

When Butler, his young aide, and a seasoned bodyguard arrive on the base, after three months in cryosleep, the base is still fighting against alien population. Most of the soldiers on the base view him with distrust and suspicion but he tries to put their fears to rest. The official report shows that the young lieutenant was wounded and disappeared on the way to the hospital. The soldiers are tight-lipped, so Butler has his work cut out for him.

The book is told in first person. Butler is a seasoned soldier who doesn’t really think of himself as part of the brass. He’s no-nonsense type with a dry sense of humor. He drinks hard, which surprised me a bit at first, but it understandable when we find out about his history. He’s married and the book has a few mentions of his wife Sharon but she doesn’t appear. In the past, he has been sent to war on far away planets which is done by putting him into cryosleep. At one point he says that thanks for cryosleep he’s already 13 years younger than his wife.

Butler focuses on unraveling the mystery on Cappa Base. This is a mystery story as much as military SF. In this world, Earth has conquered several planets and basically plundered them for their natural resources. On Cappa Three, 90% of the population supports trade with Earth but the remaining 10% fight a guerrilla war against the Earth forces who want to practically strip-mine the planet. However, we don’t see much of the aliens as the action is focused on the human military. In fact, the Cappans feel like they’re just an afterthought or a substitute for a historical enemies. (They have yellow skin and big, slanted eyes…)

However, the mystery pulled me in, even if the world-building could have been deeper. I enjoyed Butler’s first-person POV and his attitude.

The narrator was very good and suited the voice of Butler very well.

A stand-alone trilogy of science fiction novellas: Collision, Impact, and Maelstrom. With dinosaurs!

Publication year: 2017
Format: Audio
Running time: 7 hours 36 minute
Narrator: Emily Woo Zeller, Andrew Eiden, Amy Landon

These three novellas were a fun ride! Each has a different point-of-view character and a different narrator. All of them are in first person and present tense.

Doctor Elizabeth Callie works in a rural Chinese hospital. When a man fights with the security guards in the hospital, Elizabeth calms him down and does what she can for someone she thinks is the man’s father. The locals claim that the man and his father are tribesmen from nearby desert. But in the X-rays she finds something remarkable: the men have deformities which mean they aren’t modern humans. They are, in fact, neanderthals. Elizabeth thinks that she’s found a neanderthal tribe which has survived to modern day. She takes the man and one collage, Chen, and they head to the desert. But the place is heavily guarded by Chinese military and Elizabeth finds out more than she bargained for: the tribe if from another Earth. Also, there are portals between different Earths in different dimensions and the Earths are heading for collision which will destroy them.

In “Impact”, NYC mounted police Mark finds himself in an alternate world when our Earth collides with another. He teams up with a paramedic Vicki and together they try to survive, help other people, and even find a way back home. They fight saber tooth cats as well as some dinosaurs

The third book has another point-of-view character and most of the characters from the previous novellas meet. It’s good conclusion to the story.

These are fun and fast-paced SF thrillers. The main characters were mostly distinct from each other: Mark tried to be the stoic police officer while he has to make some very difficult choices, Elizabeth is a scientist and a doctor, excited by a potential new discovery. I also really enjoyed the portrayal of the neanderthals. They’re different from humans but clever in their own way. I also enjoyed the scenes where Elizabeth (and later another character) was communicating with the neanderthal man.

I also enjoyed the ending but I think some readers might be disappointed with it. There’s some romance but it doesn’t take over.

A stand-alone science fiction mystery.

Publication year: 1981
Format: print
Publisher: Del Rey
Page count: 246

This book in set in another world, Egara, which was originally habited by a telepathic sentient species, the Iregara. However, when Iregara sent a group of their own people to Earth, as a peaceful embassy, the telepaths were suddenly in contact with thousands of human minds and they burnt out. They became Silent, not able to send or receive telepathy. Their children were also Silent. Because the Iregara culture assumes that everyone is telepathic, the Silents have a lot of trouble and aren’t able to blend in. Indeed, even the jobs they can have are quite limited. A small group of humans have moved to Egara, as well.

Reluctantly, the Iregara have realized that they need a police force in Egara. They’ve never before needed such people and so they turn to humans. They set up a small police force, Conservators of Peace or cops, to start with, 300 cops for 300 000 people. The new police force’s results are also strictly monitored and some Iregara aren’t happy that more humans are in the world and in such visible position.

Ten Kampachalas is one of the new recruits from Earth. He’s been a leo, a law enforcement officer, for five years and is eager to get to know the new world and its habitants. However, in this time, leos on Earth must provide protection for citizens in cities which resemble warzones (some of the citizens apparently fight the leos), so the Iregara way of life is very different to him and all the other new cops. While the cops are expected to solve crimes, they’re mostly expected to act as mediators to keep the peace and to sooth the people against whom a crime has been committed.

Another new aspect is the telepathy, of course. The Iregara can’t turn it off nor use it selectively. They use it all the time on everyone. Even their languages are mostly verbs and nouns designed to arouse emotions and thoughts which the others’ can pick up and understand what it meant. This is, of course, a very challenging to the humans and to the Silents. However, Ten does his best to cope.

The other, more minor, view point character is Director Devane Brooks. In addition to getting the new department going in a new culture and on a new planet, he has a young son and a wife who only came to Egara because of Devane’s career. She’s humiliated and annoyed that the Iregara can read her every thought.

Someone starts to kill the cops. Ten and the other cops must find the killer as quickly as possible.

The book is focused on exploring the telepathic culture and on the culture clash between the humans and the Iregara. It’s not a fast-paced book but I enjoyed the new culture a lot and found the book very interesting. The world-building was much more intriguing than the plot or the characters. The Iregara are bipedal sentients and while they aren’t completely incomprehensible, they’re far more alien than most aliens.

This is a collection of two novellas and two short stories in the Ruby Callaway urban fantasy series. Each happens in a different time period: 1812, 1993, 1959, 2006.

Publication year: 2016-2017
Format: ebook, kindle
Publisher: Watchfire Press
Page count: none in Kindle

Bone Realm (1812): Rebecca Callaway is working in her late father’s business: Liberty Printworks which has also an unofficial apothecary for magical stuff. When a terribly wounded man and a talking dog enter the shop, Rebecca knows that she’s in trouble, especially when the dog reveals that the man’s half-demon. However, for a high price Rebecca (who will soon change her name to Ruby) agrees to try to help him. But the half-demon’s pursuers manage to get into the shop because they’re local policemen. During the fight, the shop is burnt down. Rebecca manages to save very little and must flee with the half-demon and the talking dog. Soon, she must find a way to defeat 1600-year old werewolf or die herself.

This novella sets up is Ruby’s life as a magical bounty-hunter and introduces the world to readers.

Silver Tempest (1993): An Elven King has hired Ruby to find his daughter who has run away… to live with vampires. Elves are very good creatures, and this is a terrible thing to happen to an elven princess. Getting her away isn’t going to be easy at all.

Kentucky Clear (1959): Ruby was hired by an old vampire because someone has stolen a shipment of blood. She’s tracked the thief to a remote log house which has a distillery. But the situation soon becomes very complicated and dangerous.

Going Home (2006): Ruby has been hired to take down a rogue Fae who lives to create chaos. He starts by holding an entire upper-class restaurant to hostage. Things get complicated from there.

For the most part these were enjoyable reads. Ruby has a hot temper and, as she’s fond of thinking, she isn’t there to help widows and orphans. She wants easy gigs so that she can get the money, but things rarely go smoothly. However, she does sometimes help people almost reluctantly. She’s quick to act and talk, and thinks later. She also often takes instant dislike to people and isn’t afraid to say so, usually with a string of profanities. The only partner she wants is her enchanted shotgun.

However, the first novella was somewhat disjointed. Couple of times it seemed that quite a lot of time had gone by and rather mysterious things had happened. The other three are more straightforward and action oriented.

The world-building was very interesting. Earth seems to be just one realm out of nine and Ruby can go from one realm to another but only from specific locations. This last bit was revealed in the final story so during the previous stories I wondered a couple of times why she wouldn’t just jump out of danger but apparently she can’t do that. Her powers aren’t well defined: in addition to being able to walk from one realm to another she can see “wisps” around people or things and these tell her something. She calls it intuition which give her nudges to one direction or another.

The world seems to have demons, the underworld, various fae, and other supernatural creatures such as vampires and werewolves. They’re hiding from ordinary people.

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