Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Circus of the Damned / Laurell K. Hamilton

3.5 stars out of 5
Most women complain that there are no single, straight, men left. I'd just like to meet one that's human.

I'm Anita Blake, expert on creatures of the night. I've dined with shapeshifters, danced with werewolves, and been wooed - but not won - by Jean-Claude, the Master Vampire of the City.

And now a darkly dangerous vampire named Alejandro has hit town. He too wants me for his human servant. A war of the undead has begun. Over me.

I would be flattered if my life weren't at stake...



***2017 Summer Lovin' Reading List***

I’m still enjoying the Anita Blake series, although I have to tell you, Anita does not seem like a 24 year old character to me. I think she would be much more believable as someone in her late 30’s or early 40’s considering how jaded she seems to be and how experienced she thinks she is.

I wonder if Hamilton got any money from Nike for product placement? It seems like she mentions the shoes by name at least once per chapter. Although I suppose I could say the same thing about 2-3 brands of gun….

In this installment, Anita learns:

1. Working two full time jobs will wear you out
2. When you meet a guy in a vampire’s house, there is very little chance that he’s normal
3. Vampires will always choose dramatic ways to fight each other
4. Snake-creatures are not her friends
5. Training new employees is twice as much work as it should be
6. Jean Claude has nipples. Honestly, she mentions it every time she sees him.

Brothers in Arms / Lois McMaster Bujold

4 out of 5 stars
If his enemies would just leave him alone, Miles Vorkosigan (alias Admiral Naismith) decided bitterly, the Dendarii Free Mercenary Fleet would collapse all on its own. But his enemies were plotting a more deadly fall.

For some unexplained reason the Dendarii payroll is missing and the orders from the Barrayaran Imperial Command are being delayed by Miles's superior, Captain Galeni. What connects the impeccable insufferable Captain Galeni and the Komarran rebel expatriates on Earth anyway? But the most deadly question of all before Miles is more personal: are Miles's two identities, Admiral Naismith of the Dendarii and Lieutenant Lord Vorkosigan of Barrayar, splitting apart along the lines of his divided loyalties? And who is trying to assassinate which version of him?


As per usual, Miles Vorkosigan creates a stir wherever he goes. After figuratively hitting a wasp nest with a stick and annoying the Cetagandians, he hares off to old Earth to get his crew healthy and his ships fixed. Of course, things go horribly awry and lots of intrigue & adventure follows.

Somehow, for me, even though there are lots of action sequences, these books are more about the relationships. He has to balance his two identities as Lord Vorkosigan and Admiral Naismith, each with their own responsibilities. He has his cousin Ivan to consider, as Ivan is also stationed on Earth. Plus Miles makes friendships & alliances wherever he goes—and they complicate an already intricate life. Finally there’s the question of whether he will ever get a personal life and find someone to love him as Miles, regardless of which identity he’s currently living in.

Plenty of adventure here for those who like such things, and lots of character development for me. Another successful installment in the saga of Miles Vorkosigan.

Book 261 in my Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading Project.

Mercy Blade / Faith Hunter

4 stars out of 5
Things are heating up in the Big Easy. Weres have announced their existence to the world, and revived the bitter tensions that run between them and their old enemies: vampires.

As a trusted employee of Leo Pellissier, Blood Master of the City, Jane finds herself caught in the cross fire. When Jane is attacked by a pack of marauding werewolves, she is thankful for the help of a mysterious stranger named Girrard. He explains that he used to be Leo's 'Mercy Blade,' a sacred position charged with killing vampires who have gone insane.

What Jane doesn't know is why this powerful assassin left New Orleans--or, more troubling, why he's now returned. It's definitely not to make Jane's life easier...


I enjoyed this installment of Jane Yellowrock in spite of myself!  It’s only book three, and already Hunter has introduced werewolves to the mix.  Not that I mind them too much, just that I like vampires so much better.  Jane runs into them by accident—or was it an accident?  Can she know how much vampire master Leo is manipulating her life?

One of the reasons that I like Jane so much is that she bestows nicknames on the people around her.  That’s one of my bad habits—giving names to those people who I see frequently, but don’t really know.  I guess I’m glad to know that other people do the same thing.

If one thing troubles me, it’s that Jane is such a doormat when it comes to the men in her life.  However, she is so ultra-competent in her professional life that she would be positively Mary-Sue-ish if she didn’t have a major flaw, and this is it.  And really, who hasn’t been torn from time to time, wondering if you’ve chosen the right guy?  Jane has the added complication of Beast to deal with—trying to please two strong female personalities is a tough job for one guy.  She may need two or three!

Thursday, 17 August 2017

A Mystery of Errors / Simon Hawke

2.5 out of 5 stars
wo travelers, Will Shakespeare-a fledgling dramatist, and Symington Smythe, an ostler and aspiring thespian, meet at a roadside inn and decide to cast their lot together for fame and fortune in the cutthroat world of the London theater in Elizabethan England . . . but neither was prepared for their offstage encounter with A Mystery of Errors. When a backer's daughter is double-crossed by a would-be suitor, the reluctant bride turns to the ostler and the playwright for help.  Little does anyone realize that these simple affairs of the heart and an arranged marriage will lead to a vast web of conspiracy, mistaken identity, and murder that finds the playwright targeted for assassination and the ostler hopelessly in love.

This novel suffered from comparison with recently read historical fiction by C.C. Humphreys, whose work stands head-and-shoulders above this little mystery. The writing of just the first page had me wondering if I would even bother to finish the book. After all, life is finite and there are tons of good books out there.

I did persevere, however, and followed the story to its rather pedestrian end. The plot was imaginative and I wish the author had been able to exercise more skill in its execution. Rather than flowing, events bumped along rather brusquely. The dialog was simple and the characterization was basic. Every now and then, there would be a tiny info-dump as the author proved that he had done his research.

If you are considering this book, I would suggest that you approach with caution. If you are looking for a book featuring Shakespeare as a character (as I was), I would recommend Shakespeare's Rebel. If something involving a highwayman is your goal, try Plague. If you are looking for a 21st century humourous take on Shakespeare, pick up Shakespeare Undead, which is lighthearted yet effortlessly shows how to reference the Bard’s works without belabouring the point.

At some point, I will probably solider on and read the second mystery in this series, as I have made a bit of a project out of reading all the novels I can find that feature Shakespeare as a character. You are not obliged to follow me in this obsession.

Plague / C.C. Humphreys

4.5 stars out of 5
London, 1665. A serial killer stalks his prey, scalpel in his hand and God's vengeance in his heart. Five years after his restoration to the throne, Charles II leads his citizens by example, enjoying every excess. Londoners have slipped the shackles of puritanism and now flock to the cockpits, brothels and, especially, the theatres, where for the first time women are allowed to perform alongside the men. But not everyone is swept up in the excitement. Some see this liberated age as the new Babylon, and murder victims pile up in the streets, making no distinction in class between a royalist member of parliament and a Cheapside whore. But they have a few things in common: the victims are found with gemstones in their mouths. And they have not just been murdered; they've been . . . sacrificed.  Now the plague is returning to the city with full force, attacking indiscriminately . . . and murder has found a new friend.

Chris Humphreys is an inspired historical fiction author. I met him last weekend at a literary conference and he is smart, funny, and charming as the devil. He definitely benefits from his acting background, particularly his ease with performing Shakespeare (we got an excerpt from one of the Henry plays during his key-note address). During one of his panel discussions, he mentioned that as an author, one must choose how the dialog will be written—choose your form of “bygone-ese” as he called it. Humphrey’s ease with the English of Shakespeare and his playwright’s ear for what will sound good gives his fiction a feeling of reality, using just enough older vocabulary and never becoming too 21st century.

There is, of course, theatre involved in the novel—a subject that the author is knowledgeable and comfortable with. But the variety of characters, from highwayman to serial killer to royalty, gives the story a breadth that I appreciated. As a reader, you are not limited to merely the theatre of 1665, you experience many parts of London. In fact London itself could be counted as a character.

I will be working my way, gradually, through all of Chris Humphreys works and will definitely look forward to more. Highly recommended.

Imago / Octavia Butler

4 out of 5 stars
In the third book of her Xenogenesis series, Octavia Butler gives us the alien’s perspective.  It makes the Oankali marginally less creepy, but only a tiny bit.  Butler excels at creating truly alien life forms, with wildly different forms of reproduction.

The Oankali having stinging cells and tentacles, giving them some resemblance to jellyfish (Cniderians) in our world, but they are upright walking, hand-and-arm-possessing, intelligent life forms.  And, it turns out, they have a three stage metamorphosis like Earth’s insects do.  This installment follows that mysterious third sex, the Ooloi, as one of Lilith’s children matures sexually into the adult form (hence the title, Imago).

In the first book, the Oankali have rescued the small remainder of humanity from a disaster of their own creation and have begun combining the two species.  That’s what the Ooankali do and they consider it their payment for their rescue services, but that’s not what it looks like or feels like to humans.  Lilith gradually becomes convinced that she won’t be allowed to live as human and reluctantly gets involved with the aliens, although it is against her true wishes.

In the second book, we follow Lilith’s construct child, Akin, who actually has five parents and who understands the relationship between the two species better than either the humans or the Oankali.  He sees the basic incompatibility between the two species but also how they can also become compatible.  Seemingly a paradox, which Akin reveals as a prejudice of the Oankali against humanity—we’ve always known that humans are prejudiced against the aliens.

This third installment reveals just how much the Oankali need and long for relationships with humans.  To this point, they have seemed very unemotional, almost clinical, in their desire to revitalize their own DNA through incorporation of the human genome.  Jodahs, who is metamorphosing into one of the mysterious Ooloi, shows us the depth of feeling, the intense sexual need, and indeed the pain of separation that we have been missing so far in the story.

Despite gaining understanding, the whole sexual system of the Oankali feels deeply creepy.  The human male and female in the sexual constellation experience repulsion when they touch one another directly, but when joined by an Ooloi, experience intense sexual pleasure.  Pheromones by the Ooloi make the situation addictive—being apart from one’s group becomes torment.

Butler is skillful in her refusal to “pick a side.”  She provides logical reasons for the aliens’ behaviour and points out both the logical and totally illogical responses of humanity.  She explores co-operation, coercion, limited choice, and unequal power without making it obvious which species she favours.

In some ways, this series makes me think of Arthur Clarke’s Childhood’s End, in that humanity is being absorbed into a genetic continuum, but likely won’t survive on its own ever again.  Do we mourn the loss or celebrate what survives?

Book 260 of my Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading Project.

Shivering Sands / Victoria Holt

4 out of 5 stars
 
***2017 Summer Lovin’ Reading List ***

In many ways, this is a very dated Gothic romance—after all, it was first published in 1969. I’m pretty sure that I read it as a teenager, but it must not have been part of my personal collection, because this reading felt like I was enjoying it for the first time. There are enough differences from Holt’s usual romance formula to make it feel a bit fresher plot-wise too.

A young widow, Caroline Verlaine, takes a position as music teacher at an estate close to excavated Roman ruins where her sister had been working as an archaeologist, only to disappear under mysterious circumstances. Concealing her relationship to the missing woman, Caroline tries to trace her missing sister. There are no poisonous distant relatives, exiling Caroline to a tedious life of uninspired pupils, penury, and living below stairs. She has freely chosen her position for a specific reason, she has an undeniable talent for music, and is therefore much less rebellious than other Holt heroines.

Of course, further disappearances occur and there are mysterious goings-on that lure Caroline into dangerous situations. If I have any complaints, it is that the ending was a bit abrupt and completely predictable. I felt the heroine’s choice should have been just a bit more difficult, requiring a just bit more agonizing than occurred. The book ends suddenly with Caroline’s choice, giving no insight into what happens to numerous other characters who formed an integral part of the story.


Still, in this genre, this was a very enjoyable novel.