RIP VI challenge


The R.I.P. challenge has ended. I managed to complete both perils I took part in.

Peril the first:
Jocelynn Drake: Dawnbraker (Dark Fantasy)
Giulio Leoni: The Mosaic Crimes (Mystery)
Jacqueline Carey: Kushiel’s Scion (Dark Fantasy)
Donna Andrews: Murder with Peacocks (Mystery)
Julia Spencer-Fleming: In the Bleak Midwinter (Mystery)
Peter Clines: Ex-Heroes (Horror light)
Peter Clines: Ex-Patriots (Horror light)

I’ve also listed Bear’s By the Mountain Bound but I’m still in the middle of it.

And Peril on the screen:
Hellboy: Sword of Storms
Hellboy: Blood & Iron

I watched a couple of more peril related stuff, such as Underworld, Monk’s sixth season, and started Bones’ sixth season, but I didn’t review them.

It was a resounding success and fun! Thank you, organizers!

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Superheros and zombies! The first book.

Publication year: 2011
Format: Audio
Publisher: Audible Inc.
Narrators: Jay Snyder and Khristine Hvam
Running Time: 8 hrs and 03 minutes

I don’t know if these books can be categorized as fantasy (but they clearly aren’t realism!) but they have zombies and the occasional horrific moments so I’m adding this one and the Ex-Patriots into the RIP challenge and the Horror and Urban Fantasy challenge.

The first book in the series has pretty much the same style than the first except that this time we get a lot more descriptions of the main characters.

The zombie apocalypse ended the world about two years ago. A group of surviving humans is holed up in Paramount Studios which they’ve built into a fortress, called the Mount. Their leaders are superheroes and the people rely on the heroes a lot. The most organized hero is the mysterious Stealth and her right hand man is St. George whom the people look up to. Zzzap can turn into electricity but he has to the keep the Mount’s power going so he spends most of his time in an electric chair doing just that. Gorgon acts as the small town’s sheriff, organizing the watch over the undead hordes outside the gates and keeping order inside. Cerberus is a battle armor and its designer is using it as part of the security team.

St. George and Cerberus lead a group of people to a scavenger hunt to nearby LA. They defend themselves against the ex-humans but mostly they try to sneak around. However, they soon notice that someone has been piling cars and the ex-humans shouldn’t be able to do that. On the way back, the group is ambushed by the biggest human gang in LA. The gang wants the Mount’s resources and their leader has a personal grudge against one of the heroes.

The plot moves fast with fights and twists. Every chapter has a part called “Then” written from the POV of an individual hero and set in the past; how he or she got their powers, why they decided to become heroes, and how some of them witness the first zombie uprisings. These stories introduce the heroes to us in a way that couldn’t have been done in the main story without a lot of exposition. I really liked the technique. The heroes are quite different from each other. St. George is the Superman analogue who wants to save everyone while Stealth is a ruthless woman who is willing to sacrifice a few for the common good. Gorgon is a hardened man who waged his own war against the gangs of LA before the apocalypse. He has an interesting power: when he looks at someone, he drains their energey and become stronger himself. That’s why he has to wear goggles all the time when he’s not in battle. Danielle operates the Cerberus armor whom she designed and built. Regenerator has lost his former healing powers and his wife, and he doesn’t have any hope for the future. Zzzap is perhaps the most powerful hero; he can turn into pure energy. However, he also has to power the Mount and when he’s in his human form, he needs a wheelchair. We also get a few stories from heroes who didn’t survive.

I have only two gripes. The heroes are described more than in the next book and there’s a lot of focus on Stealth’s outfit. Apparently, she has a literally skintight, thin costume and although it covers her completely every male drools after her. Was that really necessary? Don’t we have already enough female heroes who are nothing but hot bodies? Do they have to be in the books, too? Sigh. Her rather cliched background doesn’t help the situation. My other gripe is the weird shift in mob mentality. One minute they are adoring their heroes and the next they are willing to believe that the heroes have betrayed them. This feels like quite a quick shift.

Otherwise, I liked this story as much as I liked the next one, Ex-Patriots, which I listened accidentally first. The heroes are facing a huge problem and they are doing the best they can. However, people are getting restless inside the Mount, where they are safe but where they also don’t have much to do. The heroes work surprisingly well together, even Gorgon who was a loner before.

There’s a lot of action in the book, fighting the ex-humans. The heroes have also a couple of scientists working on the zombie problem and we get to know the pseudo science behind it.

The book has a lot of pop culture references. For example, one of the buildings in the Mount is called the Roddenberry, one of the characters is called Jarvis, Lady Bee wonders if Spider-Man could beat St. George, and Stealth is compared to Batman. The fighting humans also have a contest about killing celebrities and we find out about the gruesome fates of a few famous actors.

The two narrators work the same way as in the next book. Snyder narrates most of the book and Hvam narrates the dialogue for female characters. She also narrates the “Then” parts when the focus is on a female superhero with Snyder reading the male dialogue. I liked this technique but it’s not for everyone.

Oh, and this book is all fluffy fun. If you’re looking for weightier content, this is the wrong book for you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The first book in a humorous mystery series.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The first book in the second trilogy set in Carey’s fantasy world.

Publication year: 2006
Format: print
Page count: 943
Publisher: Warner Books

Imriel nó Montrève de la Courcel is the third person in line for the throne of Terre D’Ange. He’s also a thirteen year old boy who has experienced awful things and is trying to cope as best he can. He’s enjoying his time on the Montrève country side as Phèdre’s and Joscelin´s adopted son but his mother casts a long shadow on his life. Imriel’s mother, Melisande Shahrizai, is a master manipulator and one of the most famous traitors of Terre D’Ange. Imriel is trying very hard to be “good”; the opposite of his mother. He’s trying to keep his impulses in check, his sometimes sharp tongue included, and he tries to treat everyone kindly. But he has a lot of baggage: he was kidnapped and kept as slave before he was sold to a place of unspeakable evil. He saw and did things which could have broken anyone. Phèdre and Joscelin saved him.

The book starts with the news of Melisande’s escape. The Montrève household moves to the capital to discuss matters with the queen and prepare themselves against possible revenge. Imriel moves to the capital, too, and has to deal with the courtly life which he clearly despises. The Queen and her husband, the King of Alba, have two daughters. Sidoine, the elder, is destined to rule Terre D’Ange but some nobles don’t like the fact that she’s half-blooded on her father’s side and are trying to promote Imriel as the next king of Terre D’Ange because he’s “pure-blooded” D’Angeline. Sidonie’s younger sister Alais is still a child and Imriel loves her dearly as a sister.

Also, Imriel’s blood relatives want to get to know him. He was reared as a peasant so he never knew his family in the House Shahrizai. He’s afraid of them and doesn’t trust them at all.

Carey’s writing style is as lush and beautiful as ever but the subject matter is quite different. The story centers on Imriel’s inner struggles when he’s growing up and spans quite a few years. In a way, he tries to repay Phédre and Joscelin for rescuing and adopting him, and he also tries to be the opposite of his mother. He’s afraid of himself and he’s trying to suppress his darker side. This affects his sexuality too; he’s very uncomfortable with it at first. He wrestles with his own feelings and is often quite self-absorbed and brooding, which is understandable at his age and with his past.

Later in the book there are people plotting and scheming around Imriel and he’s always trying to catch up to it. He also makes great friends and some enemies. The book has a few sex scene which are integral to character development or the plot or both, but there’s no BDSM elements like in the previous books.

It’s been quite a while since I read the first trilogy and there are lot of reference to the events in the first three books. This is also understandable because Phédre and Joscelin are legendary figures, and so their exploits are told often. Some might be frustrated with the repetition but it fits Carey’s style.

I love Phédre and Joscelin, and it was great to see them alive and happy, and it was also great to see other characters from the previous books: queen Ysandra and her husband Drustan, for example. In fact, I got a yearning to read the first trilogy again. I didn’t like Imriel nearly as much as any of the familiar characters, though. In fact, I liked some of the new secondary characters more than him. Eamonn, the Prince of Dalriada, is a cheerful and carefree warrior who wants to learn and discusses philosophy just as eagerly as battle techniques. He and Imriel duel when they first meet but later become as close as brothers. Later in the book we meet Lucius who seems like another carefree nobleman fob on the outside but turns out to be quite a tormented man. I also rather liked Alais who, at the start of the book, is just a young girl who wants a puppy and grows into an adolescent who has to start worrying about her future far too young. Sidonie is a cool and collected young woman even when she’s just fourteen but I suspect that’s just a front that she has to keep up because she’s the Dauphine. I would have liked to see more of Brigitte, the Skaldi girl who is studying in the university in Tiberium. She’s opinionated, stubborn, and fierce.

However, the plot is very slow compared to the previous books. Imriel’s growth pains aren’t as interesting as Phédre’s and Joscelin´s adventures. However, the latter third of the book is quite intense and there are heartbreaking moments in it, too.

I really enjoyed the latter half of the book which is set in Tiberium, this universe’s Rome. Imriel enrolls into university and studies under Master Piero who takes his class outside the university lecture halls and into the real world, and is of course thought to be mad by the other professors. Tiberium is quite close to the old Rome in culture; women can’t inherit, submissive gays are barely tolerated, women have to monogamous instead of taking on lovers openly, like in Terre D’Ange. Imriel seems to fit in quickly, though. Of course, as a man the restrictions don’t really apply to him. And of course, I prefer the Terre D’Ange culture where all forms of consensual love are sacred and nobody is made to feel shame or guilt for what they may desire.

I enjoyed the book but not as much as the previous ones.

The second Hellboy animated movie.

I enjoyed the first movie but this one I liked a lot more. Essentially, it has two story lines: one of them follows the team of Hellboy, Liz Sherman, Abe Sabien, Professor Bruttenholm, and Sydney Leach when they investigate a house for a possible haunting. The house has been recently bought by Oliver Trumbolt, a millionaire who wants to make it tourist attraction. The BPRD team thinks that their presence is just a PR stunt. Except for the Professor who insisted on joining the team.

The second storyline starts in 1939, the young Professor and a local Transylvanian team are hunting Erzebet Ondrushko who is not just a vampire but also Goddess Hecate’s high priestess. The professor and the local priest are the only ones of the team who survive. The story moves back in time through out the movie. This team resembled somewhat of the team in Dracula except that it contained a priest. Otherwise, there’s a young bride who is the victim of the vampire and her groom, and the knowledgeable outsider. The constable might be mapped to Lord Godalming.

Ondrusko’s loyal minions, two very short old women with sharp teeth, are calling her back to unlife at the manor, of course. The Professor is haunted by his past but is reluctant to reveal more until he’s sure.

The story is quite intense and action packed. The BPRD are an experienced team who rely on each other and clearly know each other well. Leach is the new character who is on his first field assignment but he isn’t a screw up, either, and the other characters don’t pick on him as the newbie. The Professor even gets some character development and it was great to see how the other team members tried to protect him.

The team fights ghosts and there’s an even epic fight with Hecate herself. At the end, there are pretty clear clues to Hellboy’s real identity and the “Right Hand of Doom” is mentioned. I think they planned to have more Hellboy animated movies. A pity that didn’t happen.

In the extras, there’s a short film called Iron Shoes. In another clip the second story has been put together in a chronological order.

A historical mystery story where the detective is Dante Alighieri.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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