TBR 2011


A stand alone SF book.

Publication year: 1990
Format: print
Page count: 340
Publisher: Baen

This book has multiple POV characters and two main time lines. One of the time lines is centered into 12th century, during the Third Crusade, and the second one is set in the 21st century in a futuristic US. Additionally, the main POV character in the future story line has dreams/hallucinations about being various people in other times.

The chapters with a heading of “Sura” and a quotations from Omar Khayyam, focus on the 12th century. Thomas Amnet is a Knight of the Temple and the Keeper of the Stone for the Templars. The Stone gives its keeper magical powers and near immortality. Amnet is an advisor to the Grand Master of the Order and so he’s also in the middle of intrigue between the various Christian factions. Amnet is known to be a wizard and the Stone can give him flashes into the future. However, recently when Amnet looks into the Stone, a man’s face prevents Amnet from using it properly. Amnet fears that this is a rival wizard and that they will have to fight.

Raynald the Chatillon, Prince of Antioch, insults a group of important Muslims and as a consequence, their military leader Saladin declares jihad against Raynald. The new King of Jerusalem decides to defend Raynald. Meanwhile, the order of the Assassins are killing knights but decide not to side with Saladin. One of the assassins, Hasan, looks young but is in fact a over a hundred years old and a wizard but not connected to the Stone.

In the 21st century, Tom Gurden is a jazz musician and in trouble. He feels like several men have been following him and they have saved his life a few times. However, now they have tried to kill him. Gurden calls to an on-line psychiatric unit, Eliza 212, and tells his story to her. He has also had a couple of dreams where he was a man in various places in time. In the first dream, Gurden is a poor scholar in Robespierre’s France. Later, Gurden’s old lover returns and a man tries to kill Gurden.

The plot is a rather complicated mystery. There are several POV characters in the chapters set in the 12th century but in the 21st century Gurden is pretty much the only POV character; there’s only one short scene from another POV.

The story lines don’t merge until the very end, but a reader is likely to guess what’s going on. Amnet is a loyal Knight who sometimes warns his Master about future decisions but will follow him in the end. He guards the Stone jealously from even his half-blooded apprentice.

Gurden turns out to be an expert martial artist in addition to a masterful musician. He’s become careful and almost paranoid in recent months. Sandy is his former lover who comes back to him at the start of the book

The book starts with a scene where Sandy orders a specific glass made. Glasses similar to that one feature in Guren’s dreams; the dream always starts when he hurts his hand on a glass. The people he is in the dreams are quite different from each other and don’t seem to have much in common. Yet, he doesn’t gain any knowledge or powers from the glass.

The 12th century chapters have most characters in them. Most of them are Christian knights who aren’t romanticized but shown as scheming men who are cruel and greedy at times. We also get a few brief glimpses from Saladin’s POV. As far as I can tell, the story line is historically accurate (except for the magic and Amnet, of course) but condensed for brevity.

I enjoyed the historical chapters more than the future ones. The future characters felt a bit bland while Gurden felt a bit too conveniently competent. I would have wanted to know just who Sandy was.

It’s a nice quick read but not as good as Amber.

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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.

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.

The second book in a duology which is set in the Mirror Universe as seen in Star Trek: Deep Space 9.

Publication year: 2001
Format: print
Page count: 200
Publisher: Pocket Books

The second book continues right where the first one ended. Overseer Kira is doing her best to keep close to Regent Worf and to manipulate him to do what she wants him to do. Worf’s companion Deanna Troi doesn’t like that but Troi needs her gambling permits from the Overseer. So Troi sets out to charm Kira.

Meanwhile, Agent Seven of the Obsidian Order has managed to get close to Kira. Seven is now one of Kira’s most trusted slaves. In fact, Seven is starting to handle more and more of the Overseer’s daily duties. However, one misstep can send Seven to the slave markets.

The plot is again fast paced with quick twists. Kira makes her decisions quickly and is willing to do pretty much anything to keep her new power. She also enjoys showing off her power by simply taking anything she wants. This angers many people, especially the other Intendants. B’Elanna is the half-Klingon Intendant of the Sol system and she’s especially angry; enough to start working against Kira to replace her with someone less greedy.

I didn’t like the way that Kira was described as incompetent in her actual duties. I don’t remember any of the DS9 episodes saying that. It is, of course, rather easy way to blackmail her and so generate conflict, especially because Seven ended up doing Kira’s job and so Seven got her spotlight by putting down another strong female character. Also, many of the relationships in the book are lesbian ones and end up with betrayal and murder.

Otherwise, I rather enjoyed the book. The characters where subtly, or not so subtly in the case of Seven, twisted from their TV counterparts and because the setting is different they could even have character development. The plot twists kept coming and kept me guessing. There are a lot of cameos by familiar characters in the book, for example Keiko as Troi’s slave, Jennifer Sisko did a briefing near the start of the book, and Ro Laren is Kira’s pilot. Tora Ziyal is part of Enabran Tain’s plotting against Gul Dukat.

However, the cover is misdirecting. Now it shows Seven, Janeway, and Beverly Crusher. Crusher was seen only briefly in one scene. Janeway did have a substantial role later as a leader of a slave gang (and Chakotay is her second in command!) but I still think that her role wasn’t large enough for being in the cover. B’Elanna, Kira, or Worf should have been on the cover.

The first book in a duology which is set in the Mirror Universe as seen in Star Trek: Deep Space 9.

Publication year: 2001
Format: print
Page count: 232
Publisher: Pocket Books

“Annika Hansen, Agent Seven of Corps Nine for the Obsidian Order, waited patiently for her quarry to appear.”
This first sentence pretty much tells you if this book is for you. If it makes you groan or want to throw the book across the room, it’s a safe bet the book is too cheesy. I giggled out loud in a train. It’s a very cheesy way to keep calling this character Seven even though she’s never even met the Borg. But that’s the way of the alternate universes: because it’s same characters but in different circumstances, they still have to be recognizable to the readers/watchers.

When Seven was a little girl, her parents died and she was adopted into a Cardassian family. She was surgically changed to resemble a Cardassian and set to the Obsidian Order at a young age. She’s been an extremely efficient agent of the Order ever since. Her personality is much the same as aboard Voyager: efficient, aloof, cold. However, she also loathes her human, Terran, appearance and wants to always appear as a member of another race. When she’s told to go undercover as a Terran, that’s very difficult for her.

At the start of the book, she’s on a mission on Khitomer to murder a powerful Klingon called Duras in order to destabilize the Klingon-Cardassian Alliance and to influence the upcoming election of an Overseer position in a way that the Order’s head, Enabran Tain, wants to. She kills Duras and gets out of the port. A space mercenary called Jadzia is helping her.

The murder enraged Regent Worf. When his parents were killed, he was taken into the Duras family, alongside with the half-blooded B’Elanna. Duras was like a brother to Worf and he vows to find his killer. Deanna Troi, Worf’s companion and Imzadi, and the Intendant of Betazed, does her own investigation and manipulates the other Intendants so that she can have her luxury gambling place.

Meanwhile, the Intendant of Bajor Kira Nerys realizes that she has a real chance to become the Overseer and makes her plans.

The plot centers on scheming and back stabbing. We get to see a lot of characters from the DS9 series from Garak to Leeta and more are mentioned. The mood is much darker than in the primary Star Trek universe. Most people here are loyal only to themselves.

Winn Adami has an important role in the book. I was fascinated how her role was a mirror to the one on the TV-show. If I remember correctly, Winn was, if not an outright villain, at least an ambitious antagonist to Kira and Sisko, and her motives were often suspect. Here, Overseer Kira is the ambitious, self centered manipulator and First Minister Winn is the “last, best hope” for her people.

Worf was also fascinatingly different. Here, he was raised by Klingons so he had no need to hold back his temper or his strength when fighting. He’s famous for his temper and people are genuinely afraid that he will kill them if they enrage him. He’s also in an intimate relationship with Troi, and B’Elanna is his foster sister. Apparently, the other Klingons look down on B’Elanna because of her Terran father, and Worf is helping her overcome that contempt. So, Worf is still brave and loyal; his loyalty is just to different people and culture.

The Betazoids have withdrawn to their own planet and so Troi is pretty much the only Betazoid in Alliance. She uses her empathy to manipulate others, Worf among them. She knows that her only tie to power is her relationship to Worf and so she guards that quite jealously.

I really enjoyed this darker side of the regular characters. Pretty much the only thing I had mixed feelings about was the non-hetero sexuality. Leeta has a live-in girlfriend and Kira uses Terrans of both sexes; apparently she and Seven get intimate. However, because the universe is a darker one, that implies to me that non-hetero relations are seen as, if not down right evil, at least the exotic Other for other people to leer at. Otherwise, the relationships were considered normal in the society and not commented at, which is always great.

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