Saturday 20 April 2024

Deceiver / C.J. Cherryh


4 out of 5 stars 

Book number 519 of my Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading Project

Eleven books in, and I am still enjoying this series very much. I do realize that there is always a dangerous chase combined with gunfire, but each time it fits with the other events of the book. Cherry writes very good pursuit scenes.

Bren has come into his own—a Lord in his own right, with a reputation as a dispassionate negotiator. He is reunited with Lord Geigi, who has returned from the space station to restore order in his district. The two men find themselves very much in accord with each other and the aiji-dowager. Will these three and their respective staff members be able to deal with the Marid clan? If they can do it without involving Tabini, he can deny knowledge of it and still reap the benefits.

As in the last couple of books, the heir-apparent, Cajeiri, gets his own POV chapters. He may only be almost nine years old, but he is mature beyond that. Sometimes he resents the necessity but he steps up when he can. He has trials imposed on him, namely two Assassin's Guild members selected by his father. They seem to have an attitude problem which he tries valiantly to remedy with limited results. For once, he is only tangentially involved in the biggest kerfuffle this time out. He is too smart for his own good, letting his occasional boredom lead him astray!

Cherryh leaves matters on a hopeful cliffhanger and I will definitely be reading the next volume before too much time has passed.

Monday 15 April 2024

Lavender House / Lev AC Rosen


3 out of 5 stars 

Mystery Book Club 2024

True confession: I would never have picked up this book if it hadn't been chosen as a selection for my RL book club. It's never going to be a favourite, I don't expect to ever re-read it, and I doubt that I will read further in the Evander Mills series. Still, I am not unhappy to have read it.

This novel gave me an intimation of what it is like to belong to a persecuted minority. The constant need to be on guard, trying to hide your essential self, is exhausting and it's so easy to mess up. Evander (Andy) Mills came back from the war and opted to become a cop. He spends his spare time drinking and cruising the clubs for sexual encounters in the bathrooms. Until he gets caught in a police raid. Suddenly, he is unemployed, homeless and seriously considering suicide. He has internalized his society's hatred for gay men.

He is both intrigued and uneasy when he is approached by an obviously well-to-do woman to investigate a murder—of her wife. Andy gets to see what life can be like in a found family where everyone can be honest within their community about who they are and who they love.

My curiosity was engaged around the issue of how Andy was going to investigate the matter without his official status and connections. That's what kept me reading. So, intellectually kind of interesting, but I wasn't emotionally engaged. The book ended up feeling more like a vitamin pill rather than a delicious treat.

Sunday 14 April 2024

The Stainless Steel Rat Returns / Harry Harrison


3 out of 5 stars 

Book number 518 of my Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading Project

Well this is goodbye to the Stainless Steel Rat. Despite the hopeful “until next time” on the final page, this was the last Rat book. It was published in 2010 and Harrison died in 2012. Slippery Jim was obviously a favourite character of Harrison's—he returned to Mr DiGriz eleven times!

Jim DiGriz is enjoying his illgotten gains on the pleasure planet Moolaplenty, when his agrarian relatives and their livestock arrive on his doorstep. Jim had devoutly hoped that he would never see another porcuswine (except as a menu item), but as he deals with this crisis he finds he must purchase the spaceship that his cousins and their critters arrived on and evacuate them to more suitable environs. He inherits the grumpy ship's engineer and accepts a pilot provided by his son James.

This unlikely conglomeration of people and porcuswine bumps from one problem to the next. Jim finds that he can still think and fake his way across the universe successfully, although his beloved Angelina must give him pep talks and nudge him along from time to time. With her support (and unspoken threats) they deal with whichever predicament confronts them.

You can see Harrison's sharp and humorous attitude toward the world. His style is perfect for making fun of governments, the military, and violence of all kinds. I found this novel a bit less focused than I could have wanted, as their sabotaged spaceship bloats along from planet to planet in search of intergalactic communications.

It is with fondness that I say, “So long, Slippery Jim DiGriz!”

Saturday 13 April 2024

Only Hard Problems / Jennifer Estep


3.5 out of 5 stars 

Free Range Reading

Once again, my attention has been hijacked by the unexpected arrival of an e-book on my library account. I've been enjoying Estep's self-published stuff quite a bit. Yes, she has a formula, but it's a recipe that I like. This little novella gives us a peek into the world of Zane Zimmer, Regal bad boy and frequent opponent of Kyrion Calderan, love interest of Vesper Quill. Despite (or maybe because) they are both Arrows, Zane and Kyrion have despised each other for a long time.

Vesper has her own reasons to look askance at Zane, despite her desire to put some trust in him. But she realizes that if what he says is true, he is in a difficult spot—wanting to protect her but being ordered to capture Vesper and Kyrion to return them to the Imperium. Lack of success could mean his execution.

Estep does a good job of humanizing her part-time villain. Zane has some redeeming qualities: he truly loves his family, even when they disappoint him, and he is highly motivated to keep them safe in an uncertain world. He's developed a persona as an arrogant arse specifically to keep the other Arrows and the public at arm's length. No one quite knows how smart and sensitive he is under the disguise, just as he wants it. Being underestimated is his advantage, at least until he meets Asterin Armas, heiress to a mineral fortune. Everyone seems to be pushing them to get engaged and they both react poorly to being pressured. But as they are thrown together more often, Zane is softening on this issue. Maybe Asterin is too.

My next decision is whether to petition my library to purchase the next book? They've developed a pattern of rejecting my recommendations, so I'm scared of jinxing things. There seems to be a waiting list for this one, so perhaps I can count on other fans to make the request. Fingers crossed!

Sunday 7 April 2024

Fair Trade / Sharon Lee & Steve Miller


4 out of 5 stars 

Book number 517 of my Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading Project

It is always a pleasure to spend time with Jethri Gobelyn van'Deelin, especially when he is dealing with twisty and ticklish situations. He can see that the Dust clouds moving in certain parts of space are wreaking havoc with ship navigation and that delivery of necessary goods to planets within the Dust is tricky and getting trickier. However, the big trade associations don't seem to understand the urgency of the situation. Jethri, young as he is, seems to be the Ambassador for his father's plan to cope with Dust, at the South Axis Trade Fair.

If that was not enough, someone in the Liaden ranks is playing dirty tricks to prevent him from gaining Master Trader status. He is lead trader on his ship, but is saddled with a pilot who is set in his ways and not inclined to be flexible. And how does one pursue a promising relationship when one's time is scheduled down to the bathroom breaks?

Meanwhile, there are complications aboard the Dulcimer, the ship that lent Jethri assistance when he was challenged to a duel in a previous installment. A neurodivergent young woman is coming into her own, possibly with the assistance of a posse of norbears, those fuzzy telepathic beings who cause consternation among some in the galaxy. The new captain is trying to extricate himself from the less-than-legal patterns of the previous management and facing opposition from one crew member who is determined to make trouble (and who intensely dislikes norbears and the young woman).

These two story lines intersect at the trade conference, along with a stash of forbidden Old Tech, drawing the Uncle into the mix. As I understand it, this subseries is set in between the Great Migration (of books 1 & 2) and the much later adventures of Clan Korval. There are enough loose ends that I am certain that the authors planned more Jethri in future.

Sadly, however, I learned that co-author Steve Miller died in February of this year. It's anyone's guess whether Sharon Lee will continue to write, with her husband and co-conspirator gone. I wouldn't blame her if she declared herself unwilling to go on. I love the universe that this pair created and I will undoubtedly continue to reread the published material long into the future. I will treasure the books that I have not yet read (rapidly decreasing) and have my fingers crossed that maybe one was left in the hopper before Miller's passing. Good lift, Mr Miller, and safe landing.

Friday 5 April 2024

Bride / Ali Hazelwood


4 out of 5 stars 

Free Range Reading

I got a message from my library this afternoon: this e-book is ready for you, please do something about that. After a bit of debate, I signed it out and foolishly thought, “I'll just read a few pages to see if I'll like it.” And, yes, I read the whole thing in one sitting.

All the details were just perfect for me. Vampyres, Were shifters, complex political manoeuvring, including an arranged marriage to cement an alliance between the Vampyres and the Weres. The narrator of this tale and the less-than-willing bride is Misery, the daughter of the Vampyre leader. Just like Medieval times, there will be the exchange of hostages and this arranged marriage. Misery is used to this—she has previously been the hostage to the Humans, where she grew up with a human girl, Serena. Serena, now a journalist, has gone missing and left a note which references the name of the Were leader. This is what cinches Misery's decision—she must know what happened to her only friend and agreeing to the wedding will aid her search.

But of course you know going in that this is going to be a romance. It is in fact perfectly suited to my taste. There are overarching questions about Serena, politics, and other characters that we get to know. More than just the romance in other words. Misery has a snarky sense of humour that I loved. She and her husband Lowe see their relationship shift as they get to know each other, but they each have wrong ideas that they can't seem to get around. Lowe provides the heading to each chapter, giving us a glimpse into his point of view and allowing us to see their misguided ideas. Yum!

So, I enjoyed it a great deal and I'm glad I abandoned my responsibilities to read it. If you like the fake marriage kind of romance plot, I would recommend it.

Thursday 4 April 2024

Mislaid in Parts Half-Known / Seanan McGuire


3.5 out of 5 stars 

Free Range Reading

Slightly less satisfying for me than the previous books in this series. I do love portal fantasy and McGuire is very up front, letting her characters know that there are portals (known as Doors) and the basics of the workings of these openings in reality. I love the idea that children can escape difficult home circumstances and find an alternate reality where they are appreciated and valued. But sometimes things still don't work out and these fugitives end up back on Earth, learning to fit back into their old lives at Eleanor West's School for Wayward Children. Eleanor had her own experiences and provides understanding and safety.

This volume was basically more of the same stuff that McGuire has been dishing up for nine books now. So why was I less impressed? Well, for one, look at that cover, at that lovely sauropod framed by one of those notorious Doors. I felt like I had been promised a heaping helping of dinosaurs and I got only one chapter. And may I add that there was not one sauropod on offer.

Also, McGuire has not hidden her messages about the abuse of children, whether by neglect or active. However, this book felt particularly preachy to me. There was quite a lot of fulminating on the theme that you are not justified in perpetrating abuse because you experienced it. Which I completely agree with. I just felt like I was beaten over the head with this super-obvious moral to the story.

Will I continue reading this series? Very probably. I'm still very much a Seanan McGuire fan girl. She is an amazingly prolific and entertaining writer.