off the shelf 2012

The fourth book in the series.

Publication year: 1993, 2006 for the omnibus
Page count: 283 in the omnibus
Format: print
Publisher: Daw

Vicki has taken on a case that infuriates her: a man has faked his own death and escaped his wife and children to another life. His family was devastated by his death but when his wife realizes he might be alive, she’s determined to make him pay. Vicki is also determined to catch him and make him pay. On top of that, her personal life is starting to shatter; his boyfriends are pressuring her to choose between them. So, Vicki is in no mood to talk to her mother. However, after dodging her calls for a few days, she hear the awful news: her mother is dead.

As usual, Vicki bottles her feelings tight inside. She travels to Kingston by herself; she doesn’t even tell her boyfriends about her mother’s death. However, Henry and Celluci find out about it pretty quickly and follow her, each in his own car. They are determined to give Vicki any support she allows them to give. She’s not happy that they have come but she allows them to stay.

Which is a good thing. In the middle of the funeral, they find out that Vicki’s mother’s body is gone. Vicki will not rest, or grieve, until she has found the body.

Henry and Celluci are afraid that she will break down mentally if she continues to keep her emotions so bottled up. Vicki focuses on rage all the time so that she doesn’t have to think about the fact that her mother is dead and the she dodged her mothers’ last calls. Then she finds out that her mother had a heart condition and everyone at her work place, in the university, knew about it, but she didn’t. She battles rage, grief, and guilt.

I’ve enjoyed the classic villains in the series a lot. This book’s villains continue the trend: they’re a group of scientists at the Queen’s University’s Life Sciences department. Essentially, they’re trying to reanimate the dead. We get to know this at an early stage and like the previous books, Blood Pact isn’t a “who did it” but “how we’re going to stop them” mystery. Thankfully, the corpses aren’t described in gory detail. I still think that Blood Pact has more horror elements than the previous books.

The book ends with a bang that will change the rest of the series.

A steampunk short story collection.

Publication year: 2009
Page count: 427
Format: ebook, pdf
Publisher: Book View Press

The collection has the following 9 stories:

“The Accumulating Man” by Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff
“The Persistence of Souls” by Sarah Zettel
“The Soul Jar” by Steven Harper
“Zombi” by Pati Nagle
“A Princess of Wittgenstein” by Jennifer Stevenson
“The Savage and the Monster” by Nancy Jane Moore
“The Water Weapon” by Brenda Clough
“The Sisters of Perpetual Adoration” by Judith Tarr
“Shadow Dancer” by Irene Radford

All of the stories have different main characters and the main story lines but the themes evolve and the setting changes which I liked a lot. In the first story the main character, Mary Shelley, (yes, she who wrote the Frankenstein) finds out about new science which she thinks is abdominal: it can transfer a human soul to another body. We get to see the consequences of this science in the other stories. Another scientific achievement is done by Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace; they create machines in the shapes of men. The metal men become more and more common, and are programmed for more and more varied tasks.

Many of the stories contemplate the way souls and machines are intertwined in this setting. Some of the characters wonder if a machine can have a soul. And if machines can feel and think for themselves, are they not slaves? “Zombi” especially explores the similarity and difference between humans slaves and the machine men. The story is set in New Orleans where slaves are still kept. “The Savage and the Monster” asks who is really the monster and why.

My favorites were the first story, “The Accumulating Man” because of the famous characters, yes, but also because of the way that Mary grows less timid during the story, “Zombi” because of the main character, and “A Princess of Wittgenstein” which was written in pure dialog. “The Soul Jar”, set in a circus, was also memorable. And the last one was delightfully unexpected.

While many steampunk works are fun and fast paced, this one has weighty themes and makes you think.

Book View Cafe has a sample:

The third book in the series.

Publication year: 1993, 2006 for the omnibus
Page count: 268 in the omnibus
Format: print
Publisher: Daw

Doctor Elias Rax is the Curator of the Egyptology department in the Royal Ontario Museum. He’s made a terrific find in the UK and because the British Museum isn’t interested in the sarcophagus, he’s able to buy it and bring it with him. However, during the long sea voyage something starts to affect his mind. He becomes obsessed with the mummy which he’s convinced is in the sarcophagus. And something is stirring in it; something that has waited for more than a millennia to get out and serve his dark god again.

Meanwhile, both of Vicki’s boyfriends (the 450-year-old vampire Henry Fitzroy and Detective Michael Celluci) are getting antsy about their arrangement. They both know that they are in love with Vicki and want to settle down with her. However, Vicki is doing her best to avoid that conversation with them. But when Henry asks for Vicki’s help, she’s ready to give it. Henry has been dreaming about the sun which he hasn’t seen for 450 years. He’s starting to think that he’s losing his mind and wants to die in sunlight. Because vampires are solitary creatures, he can’t ask any other vampire about it. Vicki agrees to come to Henry’s apartment every sunrise and to keep him from killing himself.

Two men die mysteriously in the museum. Even though the official story is that they died of heart attacks, Celluci is convinced that a mummy has killed them. When Celluci heard of the first death, a mummy was mentioned but after that everyone denies that the museum even has a mummy so Cellyci’s instincts say that it is a cover up.

Once again, Vicki has a lot of problems. The plot forces her to work during the night and twilight which is when her eye sight is at its worst. She’s also fiercely independent which lands her in a bit of trouble. She also comes across as angry pretty much all of the time.

A couple of chapters near the end of the book are set in a women’s prison. Vicki is stripped of her glasses and she is pretty much helpless. I didn’t really care for that section of the book.

I was quite amused when Henry and Celluci are forced to work together. Again. They seem to be developing a working friendship, even though when Vicki’s near, they devolve into macho posturing, which I really don’t care for. We find out more about Vicki’s and Celluci’s relationship. Turns out that during the four years they were together, they weren’t exclusive. It’s just when Henry turned up that Celluci became possessive and jealous. More than a bit too convenient, not to mention hypocritical of Celluci. I find the non-exclusive relationships quite refreshing compared to the “I own you” alpha male bullshit in many other UF. Still, no matter how much I hope that the triangle with change into a triad, it’s not likely. Apparently, Henry is sleeping with Vicki’s young male friend, a former street kid, and Vicki is fine with it.

The plot is fast paced. We get to know the villain quite early, so the book isn’t a “who done it” but “how we’re going to stop him”. The villain is very powerful and I wondered how they are going to stop him.
The ending is a bit too convenient and leaves the love triangle wide open (still).

A collection of four short stories set in an alternate Earth.

Publication year: 1981, short story first publications 1974-1979
Page count: 229
Format: print
Publisher: Ace

The collection has the following stories: “A Matter of Gravity” (1974), “The Ipswich Phial” (1976), “The Sixteen Keys” (1976) , and “The Napoli Express” (1979).

Lord Darcy, the Chief Forensic Investigator for the Duke of Normandy, is given four cases. Most of them are murder cases with a side dish of spying or a lost item. The stories are detective stories set in a world where magic works. Magic is used in a scientific way as a forensic tool. Lord Darcy himself doesn’t have a magical Talent but his faithful sidekick Sean O Lachlainn is a master sorcerer. The two seem to have worked for a long time and trust each other implicitly. In fact, if one of the stories didn’t have an adventure with a woman, I would think that they are lovers.

In the first story, Lord Darcy and Sean investigate a locked room murder of Count de la Vexin. In the second story, an agent of the King’s Secret Service asks Lord Darcy to solve the murder of another agent and to get back the phial the murdered agent was carrying. In the third one, Lord Vauxhall dies while carrying secret papers. The papers disappear and Lord Darcy is called in to find them. In the final story, Lord Darcy and Sean are undercover in the Napoli Express train.

I enjoyed all of the series but especially the last one which is clearly a homage to Agatha Christie. However, the second story’s beginning turned out to be misleading which was frustrating.

Still, I was far more interested in the setting and the information we got about how this world is different from ours. King John rules a large Anglo-French Empire and his chief opponent seems to be Poland’s King Casimir IX whose secret police, the Serka, features in almost all of the stories. The people are also very religious which is different from the usual fantasy stories.

Publication year: 1992
Page count: 310 + an excerpt of If Faust You Don’t Succeed
Format: print
Publisher: Bantam Spectra

The demon Azzie Elbub works in one of the oldest pits in Hell but he has other ambitions. He gets his chance when one of the souls in his pit turns out to have been taken mistakenly before his time. Azzie is ordered to take the man’s soul back to Earth and when he gets there, he stays on Earth.

It’s the year 1000 and the millennial contest between Good and Evil is rapidly approaching. Azzie meets the old god Hermes and he encourages Azzie to make an entrance to the contest. Azzie flies around getting money he needs to get started and even has to bodily burst into a meeting between the demon lords who are deciding Hell’s entrant. His suggestion is a twisted fairy tale: the Sleeping Beauty. He will build the Princess and her Prince Charming from body parts which will have belonged to cowards and other similar people. He will also coach the two from the start so that tale will have a really unhappy ending, thus proving that people are evil. This seems to be the best idea so far and the lords agree. They give Azzie an unlimited credit card and he flies to work.

Unfortunately, the demons in Supply don’t seem to know how important Azzie’s work is and at every turn he has to bribe and threaten the demons to get the required stuff, like an Enchanted Castle and an Enchanted Forest. Indeed, Azzie’s biggest foe in the book is Supply.

Azzie manages to get help from Ylith, his old witch girlfriend. He also gets a vile servant Frike. The little man with the hump wants the henchman job so much that he kills his two rivals.

Writing humor is hard. For some reason, I didn’t click with this book. I know intellectually that some of the stuff was funny, especially the demonic bureaucracy and the other Supply demons, but they just didn’t make me laugh. Hermes also seemed inexplicably helpful to Azzie, for no other reason that he’s the main character. I mean Hermes didn’t even ask anything in return for his help and advice.

The third book in the series.

Publication year: 2007
Page count: 318 + an excerpt of Kitty and the Silver Bullet
Format: print
Publisher: Warner Books

After the climatic ending of the previous book, where Kitty changed into a wolf in front of television cameras, Kitty has withdrawn to a mountain cabin. Supposedly, she’s taking a break from publicity and writing a book. Instead, she’s fighting her inner wolf who wants to just run away from civilization.

Then, someone leaves a slaughtered rabbit on her doorstep and paints a cross on her door with blood. Kitty calls in the local sheriff but to her dismay the local police officers aren’t very efficient. She’s also concerned because she didn’t hear or smell anyone, even with her werewolf senses.

The werewolf hunter Cormac appears. He brings with him Ben O’Farrell, Kitty’s friend and lawyer. A werewolf has bitten Ben and he’s now transforming into a werewolf, too. It’s not going to be easy; some people go crazy. Cormac wants Kitty to help Ben.

Then someone leaves many slaughtered dog carcasses outside the cabin door and makes a circle around the cabin with crosses made of barbed wire and silver. The sheriff is starting to believe that Kitty is doing this herself to get attention. This makes Kitty, of course, angry.

The book has a quite isolated environment and a limited cast. Cormac is his usual dour self and we get to know his background. Apparently, he and Ben made a vow when they were a lot younger that if either of them gets infected with lycantrophy, the other one would kill him. However, in the end, Cormac couldn’t kill Ben but brought him to Kitty thinking that she can help him. Ben seriously thinks about killing himself. Kitty is, of course, furious. She takes Ben into her pack, of two wolves, and becomes very protective of him. This is quite a change for her; when we first met her, she was the omega of her pack, in the next book she doesn’t have a pack, and now she’s the leader. She’s pretty unsure about it herself except that she wants to keep her small pack alive and thriving.

Cormac is now rather protective of Kitty. When the police fail to found out who has been bringing the carcasses outside the cabin, he starts to look into it. Ben is pretty much a mess. As a lawyer, he’s used to being in control and having rules to follow, or bend. Now, he doesn’t have them. His whole self has changed and now has a stranger in his mind. Kitty remembers how her best friend T. J. helped her when she changed and tries to do the same thing for Ben. Also, there’s a lot of tension between Cormac and Ben; neither of them knows how to deal with the change.

There’s a town near the cabin. Now that people know that Kitty is a werewolf, the owner of the convenience store trains a shotgun on Kitty every time she shops there. Also, Ariel, the Priestess of the Night, has started her radio show about all things supernatural and Kitty is convinced that she’s a hack who is trying to ride on Kitty’s fame. Kitty even calls in to the show. This was very, very human and funny.

Overall, I was pretty impressed with the book. Kitty has grown quite a bit and I like her better when she isn’t in an abusive relationship with her pack leader.

The ending, or rather the last 1/3 of the book were really surprising in a good way. It was quite different from the videogame like endings a lot of fantasy books have.

The first book in the Thursday Next series set in an alternate universe.

Publication year: 2001
Page count: 373
Format: print
Publisher: Hodder

The book is set in an alternate 1985 Great Britain where the Crimean war with the Russians is still going on. Goliath Corporation is the biggest company in Britain and pretty much runs the country. The people are very enthusiastic about art, especially literature, to the point that people change their names to classical poets and instead of door-to-door missionaries, they have the Baconists who go door-to-door and try to convince people that Francis Bacon wrote Shakespeare’s plays. Also, Welsh is an independent country and since the war is with Russians, it seems that the Soviet Union never existed.

Thursday Next is a veteran of the Crimean war and now a LitraTec, a literature detective, stationed in London with her pet dodo. The original manuscript of Martin Chuzzlewit is robbed in broad daylight and nobody saw anything. Thursday investigates the scene but doesn’t find any clues. Then SO-5 operative contacts her and drafts her into finding the fiendish villain who has stole the manuscript, Acheron Hades. Hades is a psychotic master villain with powers nobody else has and he can even hear it when someone says his name so its use is avoided.

Thursday and two other operatives stake out Hades’ brother’s place and soon Hades shows up. The operatives attack but things go sadly wrong. Thursday is the only operative left alive and Hades escapes again. However, Hades’ getaway car crashes and he’s believed to be dead.

When Thursday is recovering in hospital, she sees a brightly colored sports car appear in the middle of the hospital room and a familiar looking woman shouts to her to take a job in Swindon. Then the car vanished and it takes a few moments for Thursday to realize that the woman was… herself.

Swindon is Thursday’s home town and she’s reluctant to return there. However, she thinks that she should listen to herself and returns.

I really enjoyed the setting of the book; it’s full of little scenes that make me laugh. For example, Thursday goes to see a Richard III play where members of the audience are also the actors and the rest of the audience joins in the performance. Also, Thursday goes to Swindon to replace a LitraTec operative who was “shot to death during a bookbuy that went wrong”. The Swindon office has two officers who specialize on Shakespeare related crimes: “They keep an eye on forgery, illegal dealing and overtly free thespian interpretations. The actor with them was Graham Huxtable. He was putting on a felonious one-man performance of Twelfth Night.” I was laughing out loud, in a bus.

However, Acheron Hades was a bit too much a mustache-twirling bad guy who was doing evil because he liked doing evil. Each chapter of the book starts with a quote from another in-world book or a news article, and in one quote, from Hades’ book (Degeneracy for Pleasure and Profit), he even admits that “the best reason for committing loathsome and detestable acts – and lets face it, I am considered something of an expert in this field – is purely for their own sake.” He has some pretty strange assistants, though.

Thursday has a lot of emotional baggage. She fought in the Crimean war ten years ago and her brother was there, too. Thursday survived but her brother didn’t. Also, one of Thursday’s fellow officers said that her brother was steering the attack to the wrong place and her brother got a bad reputation because of that. That fellow officer was Landen Parke-Laine, Thursday’s fiancee. Thursday broke the engagement after that. Landen lives in Swindon so Thursday knows that she has to meet again the man she still loves.

I thoroughly enjoyed Thursday’s uncle Mycroft. He’s an inventor and brought to my mind Doc Brown from the Back to the Future movies. However, Mycroft’s inventions involve, of course, literature. He invented the Prose Portal though which a real person can get into a book and a book’s character can go to the real world. The bookworms were also very entertaining.

Unfortunately, the rest of the cast weren’t really memorable to me. Despite that, I enjoyed the book and I’m likely going to read the next one, Lost in a Good Book, which to my surprise is in the library.

The second book in the series about Jill Kismet, a demon hunter.

Publication year: 2008
Page count: 329
Format: ebook
Publisher: Orbit

I haven’t read the first book in this series but I had no problem following the story.

Jill Kismet is a demon hunter, working together with the police of the city of Santa Luz and the Catholic Church. However, most of the humans don’t know that powerful demons hunt them. Even some of the Church officials don’t really believe that Jill is on their side. After all, the official Church doctrine is that even though they train hunters, the hunters are damned because they deal with demons.

Someone is murdering prostitutes in a gruesome manner and Jill is called on the case. The prostitutes’ eyes and most of their intestines have been carved out. Jill and the police believe that the demon responsible eats them. At the same time, Jill finds out that the local Church has been withholding information from her. One of their seminary students has been infected with a demon and Jill has to exorcise it. Demons shouldn’t be able to get near the seminary students, so Jill is very unhappy with that.

Earlier, in the first book I think, Jill was forced to make a bargain with a powerful hellbreed named Perry. He looks like a human but is not. He runs a local underworld cafe, the Monde Nuit, and makes deals with humans. Apparently, Jill got supernatural strength, speed, and healing ability from the deal. She has a scar on her wrist as a mark of the deal and that scar seems to pulse with sex magic pretty much all the time. She also makes smaller deals with Perry for information and she pays them with hours spent alone with him. She’s very nervous about them beforehand because Perry forces her to do things that she enjoys and yet hates herself for enjoying.

The world is pretty grim, full of prostitutes, pimps, drug users, people who make deals with demons to get a slightly better life. The police are often swamped with cases and faced with supernatural horrors they can’t deal with. Jill and her fellow hunters are their only hope of destroying the monsters. The murder scenes are very gory. The story is told in first person POV.

Before Jill became a demon hunter, she was a street prostitute. Her demon hunter mentor saved her and took her as a lover, too. But that mentor, Mikhail, is dead and Jill has to rely on her own wits and skills to survive. She has a new lover, Saul, who is a were, who can transform into a cougar. He’s very possessive and a good working partner because he already knows a lot about the supernatural world. Their relationship seems solid to me but sometimes Jill wonders why Saul is attracted to her in the first place. Apparently, weres are usually repulsed by hellbreed and the people they make deals with.

All characters curse a lot which actually feels pretty adolescent to me, especially when they’re cursing to terrified victims. Even though Jill acts all tough outside, on the inside, she’s sometimes insecure. While she doesn’t doubt her abilities, she doubts her intellect and her decisions and Saul’s feelings for her. She hates Perry, especially when he shows up to save her in fights.

In addition to Perry and Saul, the secondary characters are police officers, who actually appreciate Jill for doing her work, and pimps and their victims.

I’ve read Saintcrow’s Dante Valentine books before and unfortunately, the main characters seem pretty similar: they’ve both been horribly wounded in the past, both physically and mentally, and seem to be stronger because of that. However, Dante has far more trust issues than Jill.

The final book in the Star Trek: TNG A Time to… series.

Publication year: 2004
Page count: 344 + an excerpt of Star Trek: Titan: Taking Wing
Format: print
Publisher: Pocket Books

The year that started in A Time to Be Born is finally over. Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-E are finally back in the good graces of Starfleet, if not the fleet’s finest as they once were. This book almost feels like an episode of TNG.

The book starts in Qo’nos, in the Klingon homeworld, where Worf is unhappy with his job as an Ambassador because, once again, the job has required him to compromise his honor. Then, a group of Klingon terrorists attacks the Federation embassy rounding up almost all of the staff and visitors, Alexander among them. Unhappily for the terrorists, Worf is the only one who manages to stay free.

Meanwhile, the Enterprise is full of more frivolous story lines, which is almost a relief after the previous books which were so full of death and war. Riker and Troi have finally decided to marry and Troi’s mother immediately decides that the wedding will be on Betazed and that she will micromanage it. Riker has accepted the captaincy of starship Titan and he’s looking for his first officer. His first choice is LaForge who spends a lot of time thinking about it. At the same time, Starfleet Command is sending an inspection team to the Enterprise. Scotty has learned about it and is worried that the team has only people who have a personal grudge against someone on the Enterprise. So, he managed to include himself in the team.

I was delighted to see that the Enterprise part of the book starts with a poker game! The poker games were one of my favorite recurring events in the TNG series so it was great to see them back. Perhaps it helped to create a lighter mood to the book. The Klingon terrorists turn out to have information which could trigger a war between the Klingons and the Federation (again). However, this feels like pretty standard TNG stuff.

We also get to see a vote for the president. At the start of the book, the previous president and his chief of staff were force to resign over the fiasco at Tezwa. Publicly, they just said that it was time to get the Federation a peace time leader. In this book, two candidates are struggling for the presidency. (Really? Billions of planets and just two candidates?) However, we don’t see them enough for this to be really a book about politics. In fact, we barely get a glimpse of one of the candidates, Fel Pagro, who wants to stop Klingons from acting like, well, Klingons. The other candidate is shown in much more detail and with more moderate opinions. The outcome wasn’t really in doubt, for me at least.

This book sets up a lot of things, such as the Titan books. The final chapter is the start of Troi’s and Riker’s wedding in the movie Nemesis and the epilogue is set after the movie. A great way to tie up the loose ends from the series.

The third book about the immortal cyborgs who live through human history.

Publication year: 2000
Page count: 332
Format: print
Publisher: Tor

The Spanish Inquisition destroyed Mendoza’s family in the sixteenth century. Then employees of Dr. Zeus Incorporated, from the 24th century, made the child an offer to become part of something larger and wonderful. Mendoza didn’t really have a choice and so she was turned into an immortal cyborg who would live through human history and gather various items and see momentous moments. Mendoza is a botanist and she doesn’t really care for the company of people. She loathes mortal men and can barely tolerate fellow cyborgs. She fell in love with one mortal man when she doing her first mission as a cyborg. It was 1555 in England and Mendoza was very young. The man was Nicholas Harpole, a devoted Protestant, and things didn’t go well. Nicholas was burned at the stake and Mendoza is still haunted by his memory.

The book starts with a brief overview of Dr. Zeus and how the time traveling cyborgs can’t change known history but they can apparently interfere with the lives of unknown people and events. The story is told by Mendoza; it’s her statement to three people.

Mendoza has been living away from people for the past 150 years doing her botanical research. It seems that she’s been happy. However, now she’s been assigned to a more populated area: the outskirts of Los Angeles in 1862. She’s staying at a stage couch inn with five other immortals: the Facilitator Porfirio, Anthropologist Oscar, Zoologist Einar, Ornithologist Juan Bautista, and the Anthropologist Imarte. They’re a very entertaining group. Imarte works as a prostitute because that’s a good way to get men talking about their lives. Mendoza met Imarte before and they don’t like each other. Juan Bautista collects animals before he sends them on to Dr. Zeus and he also rescues a baby condor who then refuses to leave him, ever. Juan Bautista is also still a teenager and he loves his animals very much. Oscar is a traveling salesman and he strikes up a bet with Porfirio that he will be able to sell a very expensive pie cabinet. Unfortunately, the people living in the area are too poor to buy it.

In addition to being a zoologist, Einar is a film buff. The movie industry hasn’t yet started so Einar shows Mendoza the places where all sorts of things will happen in the future. He also arranges viewings for various old films. We also get to know how the others became immortal. Oscar even has a mortal family, his baby brother’s family, and he’s trying to keep them safe.

The first two thirds of the book is about Mendoza getting to know these people and getting comfortable with them. She gets nightmares about Nicholas and she’s producing “crome radiation” during them. The plot doesn’t really kick in until late in the book even though there are a few mysterious events before that. These are probably part of the longer storyline.

The book has a lot of showing rather than telling but that didn’t really bother me, except when Mendoza describes nine hours long movie and her companions’ reactions to it. I was seriously thinking of just skipping it. On the other hand, I thoroughly enjoyed it when Oscar told us about his family and Einar told about a strange bar in LA. Maybe it’s because I used to be a Wild West fan in my teens and I’m still somewhat of a history buff.

Mendoza in Hollywood is similar to the previous book, the Sky Coyote, in that there doesn’t seem to be a plot as such, but more like a character study of the various immortals. Luckily, I found that fascinating. In fact, I’ve ordered the rest of the series since the Finnish library system doesn’t have any of Baker’s books.

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