pick & mix 2015


The first book in Sign of the Zodiac series where superheroes battle supervillains in Las Vegas.


Publication year: 2007
Format: print
Page count: 455
Publisher: Eos

I love superheroes and I wanted to like this book. But I’ve read my fill of “grim” superhero stories and they just don’t excite me anymore. And this is grim: rape, murder, screwed up family relations, and cursing, cursing left and right. It felt like those early years of Image comics with the slogan “dead stays dead” and heroes killing people.

Joanna Archer has had a pretty sucky life. Even though she’s the daughter of a Las Vegas gambling mogul Xavier Archer, and so didn’t lack for money, she’s always had a cold relationship with her dad, and her mother Zoe disappeared ten years ago. In fact, Zoe vanished on the night when an unknown man attacked and raped Joanna and left her for dead. But Jo didn’t die. Instead she vowed never to be a victim again and started training martial arts. Pretty much the only decent thing in her life has been her sister Olivia. In fact, their interaction raised the hope in me that this would a book where sisters fight crime together. That turned out to be the wrong impression.

At the start of the book Jo is on a really sucky date which ends with her date, Ajax, showing her a glimpse of another, a paranormal world, and then trying to kill her. Luckily, Joanna has been training martial arts for the past 10 years and isn’t an easy target even when the attacker has powers she doesn’t have. After escaping her attacker, she runs into her ex-boyfriend whom she still has feelings for. But the highlight of the evening, the eve of her 25th birthday, is a meeting with her sister Olivia and their dad Xavier Archer. Xavier promptly reveals that he’s been informed that Jo isn’t his child. So he has disinherited her and wants nothing more to do with her. Jo is actually relieved to hear it. She has no problem cutting ties with Xavier. Later, Jo runs over a homeless man who heals right in front of her and rants about being part of a superhero group who’s going to help Joanna but not be-fore she turns 25 – if she lives that long.

After reigniting her relationship with her ex-boyfriend Ben, Jo goes to her sister’s apartment expect-ing a quiet birthday party. Instead, they’re attacked and Jo goes through a transformation.

Essentially in this world there are heroes who have been literally born into Light side and villains who have been born into Shadows. While it’s possible to change sides, it’s done very rarely and Joanna is the first ever child born whose one parent was Light side and the other Shadow side. The heroes and villains track each other by scent. They all also heal really fast and are very quick. Every-one has a signature weapon and can only be killed with their own signature weapon. Also, their ad-ventures are recorded in actual comic books which are called manuals. And Light side people can’t read Shadow comics and vice versa.

Joanna is an abrasive MC. She’s angry and hurting and just looking for a target to lash out on. But she’s also a survivor and quick to adapt to situations. She’s a loner and has been since the attack. But when she finds out her true inheritance, she’s expected to work in a group of complete strangers. She’s also the prophesied Chosen one. She’s by no means likable but I ended up caring for her and I liked her toughness.

But I had some issues, too. I went through a phase reading “dark” comics and I’ve bounced back from them. I really disliked the way that the Zodiac troop, the heroes, kept her in the dark and just waited her to survive a situation which nobody else would have. I liked the ideas but the whole Light/Shadow split was too dualistically simple for me and a bit strange considering how “adult” and “edgy” the rest of the book was.

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The new Toby Daye book!


Publication year: 2015
Format: Audio
Running time: 12 hours and 47 minutes

Publisher: Audible
Narrator: Mary Robinette Kowal

I’m a fan of the series (obviously: this is the 9th book) so I love the writing style and characters. Of course, I can’t be objective about it. By the way, I don’t recommend this as the first book in the series: that would be “Rosemary and Rue”. This time Toby and her friends travel to another realm and they find out just how much some fae loath the changelings.

Toby and her friends have achieved a lot and have finally started to enjoy their life. Then Rhys, the King of Silences, declares war on Arden Windermere, the new Queen of the Mists, who is Toby’s friend and the boss’s boss. Apparently, the previous, false Queen fled to Silences and managed to secure King Rhys’ help with getting Mists back. However, Arden can send a diplomat to discuss peace and the diplomat has three days to do so. Arden sends her hero, Toby. Toby is horrified at first but has to agree. She takes a small retinue: her boyfriend, her squire, her “sister”, and Walther as her alchemist.

Changelings don’t have it easy in any realm of faerie but in Silences they’re born into servitude. They’re beaten and subjected to addictive substances or poisons at the whim of their masters. This of course angers Toby and her friends. In addition to changelings, King Rhys also disapproves of… well everyone except pure-blooded human looking fae. And he makes his views known loudly and often. Unfortunately, this makes him a bit cartoonish and not in a good way and a clear villain for Toby to bring down.

Like the previous books in the series “A Rose-Red Chain” gives us revelations about Toby and the people around her, although not nearly as much as the two previous books. Walther specifically is from the Silences and part of the former ruling family. That’s why the Sea Witch told Toby to take Walther with her. He also has some other secrets which were a wonderful surprise to me.

Once again, I greatly enjoyed the book. The regular cast is wonderful and we’re introduced to some new characters, as well. We haven’t seen much of Toby’s sister May lately so I was happy to see more of her. Toby also has to test the limits of her powers. On the down side, the villains were one-dimensional and I didn’t really believe that such a small realm which constantly snubs and insults potential allies could really win a war against the Mists. It could well be that we’re introduced to characters and situations which become even more important later.

A stand-alone murder mystery/time travel story. It was part of Storybundle’s Time travel bundle.

Publication year: 2013
Format: ebook
Page count: 322
Publisher: WMG Publishing

Snipers is a murder mystery which also has time travel elements but the SF part never dominates. The past is Vienna 1913 and the present is Vienna 2005.

1913 has three storylines: one is an assassin who goes around killing certain people to prevent them from doing stuff, one is William who has a nuke with him and he trails his victim Stavros Papadopoulos, and the third is Johann Runge, a detective ahead of his time with regards to police procedure. The modern story follows Sofie Branstadter, a historian and a famous non-fiction writer who wants to write her next book about the Carnival sniper, and Anton Runge, Johann’s great-grandchild.

The assassin is determined to kill some people in order to change the future (his past). However, Johann Runge is hot on his trail. Runge even writes a non-fiction book about the assassin whom everyone calls the Carnival sniper. His book is hugely successful but because Runge didn’t catch the killer, he’s widely thought of now as an unsuccessful cop even though he solved a lot of other cases. Sofie’s parents were killed by an unknown murderer when she was just a little girl, so she’s fascinated by the Carnival sniper who is also world’s first serial killer. She wants to get new evidence and starts by exhuming the killer’s first victim, Viktor Adler. The Austrian courts agreed to Sofie’s request to dig up Adler’s body and see what can be learned from him. To her surprise her team finds strange kinds of bullets which seem to be top secret in 2005.

I’m a fan of Rusch’s SF and mystery stories so it’s not surprising that I enjoyed this book a lot. Sofie has her own problems and reasons for writing about the Carnival sniper and Runge is a meticulous detective. The assassin and William also have they own motivations so they aren’t just faceless lunatics. The story has quite a few surprises so I don’t want to tell too much about it.

I’ve completed almost all of my reading challenges so I decided to add another: Worlds Without End is hosting Pick and Mix reading challenge:

Do you find that your eclectic reading list doesnt match the criteria for most challenges? Then the Pick and Mix is perfect for you since any book on WWEnd’s awards, book lists or series is suitable for addition.

The only requirement is that you post a review or even just a brief comment about your reads on the Pick and Mix forum page and make an occasional comment on what other participants have added. Sharing our thoughts makes the whole reading experience more enjoyable. But you can add as few or as many proper reviews to WWEnd’s database as you desire.

Challenge Details
Genre: Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror
Challenge Span: January 2015 – December 2015

Reading Levels
Select your reading level below. You can adjust your level up or down at any time during the challenge.

one scoop = 10 books + 0 reviews
a carton = 20 books + 0 reviews
luxury choc-box = 30 books + 0 reviews
the whole sweet shop = 40 books + 0 reviews

I picked the first level: one scoop. But I’m hoping that I’ll end up with a carton.

Books read:
1, Elizabeth Marshall Thomas: Reindeer Moon
2, Elizabeth Marshall Thomas: The Animal Wife
3, Kristine Kathryn Rusch: Snipers
4, Seanan McGuire: A Rose-Red Chain
5, Vicki Pettersson: The Scent of Shadows
6, Jeff VanderMeer: Annihilation
7, Daniel Suarez: Influx
8, Philip K. Dick: Martian Time-Slip
9, Cherie Priest: Fiddlehead
10, Linda Nagata: Memory

An independent sequel to the Reindeer Moon; a historical fantasy book set in the Paleolithic Age.

Publication year: 1991
Format: print
Page count: 316
Publisher: Pocket Books

This book is set among a different tribe and about 10 years after the events in the Reindeer Moon. It’s written in first person and the main character is Kori, a young man. He’s the son of Swift, who was a secondary character in the previous book, but because Swift and Aal, Kori’s mother, have divorced Kori has grown up among her mother’s people. Even though Kori thinks that he’s already a grown man, his mother’s people treat him like a child and this frustrated him. When Swift visits the tribe, Kori sees his father pretty much for the first time and immediately starts to hero worship Swift. When Swift leaves, Kori goes with him.

Swift came to Aal’s people to find a wife for himself. Swift already has a wife that she’s childless. The only person he’s interested in is Pinesinger and so he gives gifts to her parents and takes the young woman with him. However, Kori and Pinesinger had sex before so the situation is a bit awkward for them. Swift gives his son a wife, but the little girl is just a couple of years old so Kori has to wait for her to grow up which frustrated him.

So, Kori starts a new life with his father’s people. While most of the things they do are familiar to him, hunting deer, reindeer, gathering fuel and berries etc., they have some customs which are unfamiliar to him and nobody bothers to tell him, so he has to learn through mistakes. Then one day, he encounters a strange woman who is swimming in the river. Kori immediately wants her and promptly kidnaps her. However, this could start a fight between her people and Swift’s people, so the men are worried and want Kori to take her back. But Kori keeps her.

Many of the elements from the Reindeer Moon are the same as in this book: the harsh struggle for survival in an environment which can be unpredictable and sometimes starkly hostile. But there are differences, too, and I was a bit surprised by them. The biggest of them were rigid gender roles. Yanan’s tribe was just two small families so everyone had to do what they could and they sat around the same camp fire. But here men hunt and women do pretty much everything else. They even have separate camp fires: one for men and one for women. Men also talk about women disparagingly which I don’t remember reading in the first book at all. Right from the start Kori tells us that men are “open like daylight” and women are “closed as darkness” full of secrets and anger. When something goes wrong a woman is blamed and when something goes right a man gets the credit no matter who has actually done these things. Also, men own women, hunting grounds, and lodges. A man can have multiple wives but a woman can have only one husband at a time. Teaching skills seems to be pretty rigidly defined by gender. One of the women in Swift’s camp hunts, but not well; of course most of the time she does other work and so lacks the experience that the men have.

Maybe I should have expected that but I’m still disappointed. All this gave the tale an undercurrent of misogyny which rather soured the reading for me.

I think Kori is a teenager by modern standards even though he thinks of himself as an adult. He’s a good hunter and could be a lot better if he got more experience and guidance. He’s frustrated because he can’t get that with his mother’s people and much happier when he moves to his father’s people. Yet, he’s very impulsive and headstrong. When he abducts the strange woman and makes her his slave, he isn’t really interested in her; he just lusts after her and wants the children he’ll force her to bear. He doesn’t bother to learn her language or to find out anything about her customs. Nor does he bother to teach her his language. One of the other women does learn her language, so it’s not impossible. Kori even renames the woman Muskrat; she tells him her name and he refuses to use it.

The tribes seems to be very xenophobic. When Muskrat has different skills and uses them, the others make fun of her and Kori feels that she shames him. They also constantly compare her to an animal just because she has different customs. Especially different religious customs frighten them.

In the Reindeer Moon, Swift saw that it’s possible for a wolf to help humans to hunt. However, that wolf befriended a young girl and Swift abused the wolf so that wolf wouldn’t work with Swift. Now, he tries again but again he doesn’t seem to understand that an animal will work only with the person who is kind to it and feeds it. Swift doesn’t bother to do that. This subplot interested me a lot but it was just a small part of the book.

The book has very little magic in it, far less than in the first book.

Again, the book is very well researched.

A stand-alone fantasy set in the Paleolithic Age.

Publication year: 1988
Format: print
Page count: 393
Publisher: Pocket Books

Yanan is a young girl living with a small group of people, including her mother, father, and little sister Meri. They live in tundra where part of the year their world is covered in snow and survival becomes even more of a struggle than during the summer. The people have to rely on each other and work hard to survive. Most of their days are spent setting traps, hunting (and often coming back empty handed), and gathering berries, roots, and even pine corns to eat. Because the group have several people, some of them have the time and energy to make clothing, too. It’s written in first person.

This is Yanan’s coming of age story. She’s a willful girl whose life isn’t easy, admittedly sometimes because she defies customs and is punished for it. The people she lives with form an extended family and it’s important to get along with everyone. But that’s not easy for a teenager.

The book has some fantasy elements, too. In the second chapter Yanan reveals to us that when she died, her group’s shaman (her aunt Teal) captured her spirit so that Yanan could help her people after death, too. She can take the form of an animal and rematerialize into the world. As an animal, she needs to eat and sleep, and mates sometimes, too. Teal and the group’s other shaman command her to help the tribe but it seem to me that the spirits can’t really do much. The group has another servitor spirit who was also part of the tribe before he died. However, when the sprits take animal form, they often seem to forget who they are and just live as animals until the shamans call them back.

The authors has done a lot of research and notes the sources at the back. I think it’s an excellent glimpse into the world where our ancestors could have lived in (excluding the magic, of course).