Books Read in June, 2021
The Ninety-Ninth Bride by Catherine Faris King
A Spoonful of Magic by Irene Radford
Pegasus Colony by Phyllis Moore
The Water Works by Rodger Thorm (RPG) (r)
Updraft by Fran Wilde (r)
April, 2021 Locus
April, 2021 Reader's Digest
Sky Coyote by Kage Baker (r)
May, 2021 Locus
The Kingdom of Liars by Nick Martell
Alien Virus Love Disaster Stories by Abbey Mei Otis
The Assassins of Rome by Caroline Lawrence
And that was my reading for June, 2021. This was a very good month of reading for me, both in terms of the quality of the books read and the quantity of books read. It didn't really feel like I read a lot of books in June, due to other stuff that was going on, but some of these books just flew buy in reading. Though one of them was a bit of a slog once more. It was another month of reading for the joy of it, rather than reading because I was bored and had nothing better to do. Made for a good change, again. Regardless, my bookcases are stacked with a pretty large To Read Queue (TRQ) still. The books I enjoyed the most were:
A Spoonful of Magic by Irene Radford
Daphne "Daffy" Rose Wallace Deschants has an ideal suburban life - three wonderful and talented children; a coffee shop and bakery, owned and run with her best friend; a nearly perfect husband, Gabriel, or "G" to his friends and family. Life could hardly be better. But G's perfection hides dangerous secrets. When Daffy uncovers evidence of his infidelity, her perfect life seems to be in ruins. On their wedding anniversary, Daffy prepares to confront him, only to be stopped in her tracks when he foils a mugging attempt using wizard-level magic. Suddenly, Daphne is part of a world she never imagined - where her husband is not a travelling troubleshooter for a software company, but the sheriff of the International Guild of Wizards, and her brilliant children are also budding magicians. Even she herself is not just a great baker and barista - she's actually a kitchen witch. And her discovery of her powers is only just beginnning. But even in the midst of her chaotic new life, another problem is brewing. G's ex-wife, a dangerous witch, has escaped from her magical prison. Revenge-bent and blind, she needs the eyes of her son to restore her sight - the son Daffy has raised as her own since he was a year old. Now Daphne must find a way to harness her new powers and protect her family - or risk losing everything she holds dear. This book appears to be a stand-alone novel, and that said... This book deals with a middle aged Soccer Mom who discovers husband is cheating on her and controlling her mind because he is a wizard and, oh yeah, his first wife may try to rip the stepson's eyes out. Amidst all the books with loner orphans being confronted with the supernatural, it's nice to see that someone in a different demographic category and life stage dealing with the supernatural. I think it adds a lot to character development to see a character embedded in a social context. The children of Daphne and G are well developed characters, and there's a nice "gender switch"; the son is into ballet while the two older daughters are math geniuses, violating traditional stereotypes. The divorce plot here starts strong but sort of wanders, and the specific photos of infidelity the wife is shown are fake... but it turns out the husband has cheated on the wife. More problematic for me at least than the infidelity is the fact the protagonist lied to the heroine about literally *everything* important about him and casually used mind control magic on her. This shows a total lack of respect for her on his part. After having thoroughly convinced me that G is a jerk, the book tries to redeem him, but I didn't quite buy this. The novel also didn't work for me as a tale of moving on and rebuilding one's life story or in terms of redemption. I also thought that the oldest son should have been more angsty. He has a stereotypically female hobby, is a stepson left with a custodial parent who is angry at his father, is the object of the evil plot, finds out he has been lied to about his biological mother, and has bad migraines. It would have been more interesting to bring in more insecurity in the character here. That said, the plot of the novel moves along quite nicely and has a good pace, author Radford's writing is pretty good and captures the feel of both the suburban environment and the characters that she's writing about well, and the book ends on a satisfying note. There are certainly enough things about the world introduced in this book for some sequels. I will admit that I enjoyed the book as a couple of days of light reading, but don't think this "environment" is for me personally. That said, for a different "taste" on urban fantasy this book is worth a read.
Pegasus Colony by Phyllis Moore
In the year 2132, World Space Coalition sent three ships to establish Earth's first galactic colony on the planet, Akiane, in the Pegasus Constellation. They were never heard from again. Three hundred years later, a radio technician has discovered that the colony survived. But those of Akiane want nothing to do with Earth. Everything they have accomplished, they did without Earth's help. The colony was supposed to be WSC's greatest achievement, and it is determined to reclaim the planet and its people as its own. WSC Space Force has ordered Lt. Jessica M. Hewitt to negotiate with the rogue colony. There’s a lot riding on her; if she succeeds, her name will go into history as a hero. If she fails to convince the people of Akiane that they are a colony, history will see her as responsible for WSC's first military galactic takeover. Jess is ill equipped for the task. She has no idea why she was chosen. She doesn't realize that, before she can reunite the two worlds, she's going to have to settle with her own demons first. So far, her demons are winning. The first book in the People of Akiane series, this is a science fiction novel that reminds me a good deal of Eleanor Arnason's cultural science fiction and some of the works of Ursula K. Le Guin. Essentially, the story is a tale of Earth, via the World Space Coalition, arriving and recontacting the colony world of Akiane in the Pegasus constellation after 318 years or so, having seemingly abandoned the colonists as they thought the colony had died out. However, the colonists have...changed, through means unknown at this point to the reader, and are not welcoming of the new arrivals from Earth and the WSC, and want nothing to do with them. Complicating matters is Jesssica Hewitt, who seems to be the main protagonist of the story, though the tale is told from multiple viewpoints, who is thrust into a role that she doesn't want and is seemingly totally unsuited for - diplomat. The story is a good tale about overcoming cultural differences, politics, and evolution, and the reader learns a good deal about the psychology of both the Akiane colonists and the WSC arrivals, as well as learning some of what happened when the colonists first arrived at Akiane some 318 years earlier. Aside from Jessica herself, there are some very interesting characters in the book, notably Captain Faris Assetti of the WSC Falcon who becomes the first commander of the seemingly ill-fated Akiane colony; Adumie, one of the colonist descendants and a priest; and several of the scientists who arrive at Akiane and are each given a strong voice, and whose personalities are quite distinct and play off Jessica Hewitt in various ways. The story of the Pegasus Colony unfolds quite nicely, presenting the reader a mystery of what happened to the colonists and how they managed to survive all that happened to them, but at the same time presents the new arrivals from WSC as "Intruders" (the Akiane descendants' term for them), and the strife between the two is very evident during the course of the story. The mystery element of the story isn't resolved nor fully explained by the end of this book, but the book ends on a very nice cliffhanger that really has me looking forward to the second installment in the series. That said, the story is marred by a bit of stilted dialogue and the editing on the book could have been a bit better. Regardless, these flaws do not overshadow the story itself and the strengths of this novel. As I said, I'm quite looking forward to the second volume of this series. Highly recommended.
Updraft by Fran Wilde (r)
The first book in the Bone Universe series. In a city of living bone rising high above the clouds, where danger hides in the wind and the ground is lost to legend, a young woman must expose a dangerous secret to save everyone she loves. Welcome to a world of wind and bone, songs and silence, betrayal and courage. Kirit Densira cannot wait to pass her wingtest and begin flying as a trader by her mother's side, being in service to her beloved home tower and exploring the skies beyond. When Kirit inadvertently breaks Tower Law, the city's secretive governing body, the Singers, demand that she become one of them instead. In an attempt to save her family from greater censure, Kirit must give up her dreams to throw herself into the dangerous training at the Spire, the tallest, most forbidding tower, deep at the heart of the City. As she grows in knowledge and power, she starts to uncover the depths of Spire secrets. Kirit begins to doubt her world and its unassailable Laws, setting in motion a chain of events that will lead to a haunting choice, and may well change the city forever - if it isn't destroyed outright. This novel is a re-read for me, as I get ready to dig in to the second book in the series. I really like this book. A young girl with a rare talent is raised in a bizarre scarcity society in a city of towering bone spires where flight is one of the few freedoms and giant, invisible flying squids with glass teeth lurk in the sky. Kirit is a strong-minded young girl who craves the freedom of flight as a trader between towers, but the revelation that she has the type of voice that can control skymouths make her valuable to a secretive ruling class of the city. Her struggle to make her way in this world where it all seems stacked against her makes for a tense and engaging story. Kirit is nicely developed as a character in this story, but there are times when to be honest, she's not all that likeable. The rest of the cast of characters in the book are all solid, somewhat well-developed as well, but most of them didn't give me anything to empathize with, and to be honest, it's Kirit's story so perhaps that was deliberate or perhaps not. What steals the show in this novel is the world-building of the author, with a bewildering array of bizarre yet fascinating cultural, biological and physical features to this world. It's difficult to build a world that's so different from our own without piling in a lot of exposition. Author Fran Wilde does this well and unobtrusively, but unavoidably it was impossible for the story to work the way it was structured without introducing new information near the end, which if the reader doesn't digest it in time, takes some of the impact out of the resolution. That said, it was well handled in my opinion, and worked for me. The society presented in Updraft is clearly a scarcity society, where many starve and there's no arable land. The only plants are vines and potted trees and the staple food stuff seems to be different sorts of bird meat. Life on the towers is hard, and the way that this culture treats law-breaking and challenges almost guarantees a steady death toll. I'm not sure it's sustainable. I also want to talk about the Singers here, but I can't without spoiling the book. However, when it comes down to it, this book is a very enjoyable, if at times uncomfortable, read and one that the reader can get immersed in due to the world-building and the prose crafting of the author. I definitely recommend this book.
The Kingdom of Liars by Nick Martell
A story of secrets, rebellion, and murder are shattering the Hollows, where magic costs memory to use, and only the son of the kingdom's despised traitor holds the truth. Michael Kingman is branded a traitor as a child because of the murder of the king's nine-year-old son by his father, David Kingman. Ten years later, Michael lives a hardscrabble life, with his sister Gwen, performing crimes with his friends against minor royals in a weak attempt at striking back at the world that rejects him and his family. In a world where memory is the coin that pays for magic, Michael knows something is there in the hot white emptiness of his mind. So when the opportunity arrives to get folded back into court, via the most politically dangerous member of the kingdom's royal council, Michael takes it, desperate to find a way back to his past. He discovers a royal family that is spiraling into a self-serving dictatorship as gun-wielding rebels clash against magically trained militia. What the truth holds is a set of shocking revelations that will completely change the Hollows, if Michael and his friends and family can survive long enough to see it. The first book in The Legacy of the Mercenary Kings series, this is a complex fantasy featuring a feudal court, a vicious rebellion, magical powers (called Fabrications), and court intrigue. The world-building is terrific, offering the reader a glimpse of a small corner of the universe, the Hollows, which despite the name that might lead you to think of forests and streams, is a feudal city of lords and ladies and a desperate under-class keyed up to rebellion. Except for a brief journey into the forest to slay a wyvern, a legendary two-footed, dragon-like creature with a deadly barbed tail, all the action takes place in the city. There are various "keeps" and castles and cathedrals and mercenaries to keep the populace in line. Oh, and there is an ancient moon in the sky breaking apart with its haunted pieces falling to the city, often causing havoc. Told from the point of view of our protagonist, Michael Kingman, the reader gets to witness the city of Hollow as described by the narrator. As a Kingman, who have for generations acted as right-hand men for the monarchs - Michael has the weight of his family's name and legacy on his shoulders. This has been made even more complicated as his family were branded traitors following his father's actions. Michael currently lives a mundane, dull existence. When not looking after his brain-addled mother he cons Low Nobles for whatever profit he can. Towards the beginning of The Kingdom of Liars, Michael crosses paths with two unique and eccentric individuals. One, an alcoholic, yet extremely influential High Noble and the other, a mysterious magic-wielding mercenary. He is offered opportunities to help his family live a stress-free life, and a possibility to investigate the details of his father's crime to see if he was innocent. Family and Legacy are the most important things to a Kingman. The Kingdom of Liars comes across as a mystery, galvanized by Michael Kingman's obsessive search for answers to whether his father was truly guilty of killing Davey Hollow, and if he didn't, who did? It's an exciting novel, with a good amount of action scattered throughout, and the book's prose flows quite nicely for the most part as well. While most of the characters in Michael Kingman's sphere of influence are well developed, there are a few who are not all that fleshed out, but I have hopes that they will be going forward. The climax of the novel was fast-paced and the last sixty or so pages of the book just seem to fly by. Michael Kingman's questions get answered for the most part, but there are some lovely twists and turns along the way that I didn't see coming, and it's really only during the last few pages that the reader will realize why the series is called what it is. The ending of the novel hints a little bit at what is to come in the next book, I think, but it's a satisfactory read on its own and comes to a firm conclusion. One of the significant strengths of this book is the magic system. Called Fabrications, author Martell throws the reader into the deep end as we are presented with a host of Fabricators, with very little explanation as to what their powers entail. To be honest, I found this compelling, wanting to know more (and even after finishing the novel, wanting to know even more!), and as the story developed, this knowledge was imparted for the most part like threads in a tapestry, gradually weaving together the whole image. In brief, there are characters who are known as light, air, fire and even metal Fabricators, who wield a specific type of (magical) power. I'm not going to spoil too much here, but will say that the most interesting part of the concept of Fabrications is the consequence each character faces should they over-use their power: becoming a Forgotten, where piece by piece your memory, is either partially or wholly wiped. One of the central themes of the book is that of memories, and the leaving of a legacy that can never be erased. However, the more intriguing element of the novel in this regard is the notion of surviving in a world where even one's own memories are fleeting and not to be trusted. Which raises the question: How do you ever know what the truth is? And that is another central theme of the book, but I'll leave that subject to the reader once they've finished the book and answer the question for themselves. At its heart, The Kingdom of Liars is a tale of family, loyalty, and leaving a legacy that none shall forget. This is certainly a book that the reader won’t be able to put down, and will linger with them long after they've read the last page. This book has to be my favourite new book read this year, and I'm looking forward to seeing where the next volume in the series leads. I highly recommend this book.
Sky Coyote by Kage Baker (r)
The second book in The Company series. Facilitator Joseph is quite a guy. He's sailed with the Phoenicians, and he's been an Egyptian priest, an Athenian politician, and secretary to a Roman senator. After all, his employer, the twenty-fourth-century Company, sends immortal cyborgs like Joseph all over the world and all over time. But now Joseph finds himself in 1699, in the Mayan jungle's Lost City (actually a spa for the Company's operatives) with his protegee, the Botanist Mendoza, who still hasn't forgiven him for that unfortunate incident in Elizabethan England. And he has to save an ancient people from encroachment by the coming white men - even if it means convincing the entire pre-Columbian village to step into the future. The second book in the series, as noted above, and continuing the overall tale of the Company and the protagonist from the first novel, Mendoza, though this time out focusing on her Facilitator and the one who brought her into the Company circles. This is a re-read for me, but I've not re-read the books in the series in a good many years, so... Sky Coyote is, at its heart, a Comedy of Manners. Yet for all of that, it doesn't really come off as one. The story features pretensions punctured, amusing miscommunications, servants who say the correct things while silently conveying their disdain, bureaucratic bosses who are child-like in their sheltered idealism, faux naifs/noble savages who turn out to be neither naive nor savage, and a Company man whose job is to facilitate incredible change by using the simple tools of misdirection and misunderstanding. And despite the immortal cyborgs who populate the story gussying themselves up in ornate outfits full of ruffles and flourishes, there's also time travel, secret plots that last a millennia, Native American mythology made real, bloodthirsty monotheists on the horizon, sex with nubile underage lasses. ritualistic entertainment that turns out to be an extended penis jokes, and last but not least, Wile E. Coyote. Yes, this book has it all, but despite that, it's a polished story with well-executed prose and an eye towards professionalism. The author's characters have depth and truly realistic, but tragic, backstories, with wonderfully (at times hilarious) nuanced dialogue. Yes, it seems to have a happy ending, but when it comes down to it, is it *really* a happy ending? While this is a second book in the series, it's obvious that author Kage Baker is building something rather remarkable and wonderful in The Company stories, and I continue to highly recommend this book and the series as a whole.
The Assassins of Rome by Caroline Lawrence
A visitor from the past arrives to see Jonathan's father. Next day, the visitor is gone - and so is Jonathan. Flavia Gemina, Nubia, and Lupus are determined to find their friend, but their search takes them to the Golden House of Nero where a deadly assassin is at work. Can the young detectives find Jonathan and cheat death itself? The fourth book in The Roman Mysteries series, this tale continues the adventures of 10-year-old Flavia Gemina, and her friends Jonathan, Nubia, and Lupus. These 200-page novels are dramatic in their own right, but are hugely accessible for the young readers at which they're aimed though adults can enjoy them just as much. These novels are like the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, only younger, all together, and in ancient Rome. This fourth novel puts the spotlight on Jonathan, the son of a Jewish doctor and a mother who presumably died during the the siege and destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 at the hands of Titus, brother of Emperor Vespasian. When his mother's brother, Simeon, shows up in Ostia, and he learns that his mother, Susannah, may be alive, he convinces Simeon to take him to Rome to find her, as she is most likely with the other female Jews taken prisoner and enslaved in Rome at Nero's Golden House. Naturally, Flavia, Lupus, and Nubia go after him, along with their tutor. Amidst all of this upheaval, there is a plot afoot to assassinate Emperor Titus, and Simeon may well be one of the would-be assassins! Needless to say, all is not as simple as it appears to be, and author Lawrence weaves an intriguing story with plot turns and twists that keeps the reader hooked until the end, where all the knots of the story are tied up rather nicely. The evolution of Jonathan's story in this novel is quite remarkable, as the young man is forced to grow up in a hurry what with everything that happens to him (which I won't mention here, so as not to spoil the plot!). Suffice it to say that what he learns in Rome about his mother is not what he expects, but there is room left at the end of the story for a continuation of some of the plot threads here. By far, my favourite aspect of this novel is the amount of detail and the quality of the detail pertaining to the culture and lifestyle of the ancient Romans, but the reader also gets a deep glimpse into how the Jewish population lives at the time and what happened to the Jewish female slaves taken by Titus during the sacking of Jerusalem and how they survived. The author provides two decent maps, including one of the Golden House of Nero, as well as the glossary and terms index with pronunciation guide at the back, aimed at younger readers but worth an adult's look as well. The reader learns that oranges were a new delicacy in AD 79 Rome, and that the sicarii (famous assassins) used a short, curbed blade no longer than the palm of one hand to slice the back of the victim's neck so quickly that they could disappear into a crowd before anyone knew what happened. The fictional lead characters are also interwoven with real historical figures, notably Emperor Titus, Queen Berenice (who is mentioned quite a bit, but never seen), Josephus, and Domitian, and while I found this to be a bit unlikely (especially meeting with and befriending the Emperor, this does have its element of charm to it. Flavia's and Jonathan's families Jewish and Christian heritages allow the author to insert and weave into the story the details of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, and this story offers up a veritable smorgasbord of Jewish and Christian beliefs - and the Roman interpretations of them. The story also introduces some fascinating characters, including Simeon, his sister and Jonathan's mother, Susannah, and an unusual slave girl named Rizpah. Overall, this was a highly satisfying, quick-paced read that kept me enchanted for the 200 or so pages of the book. I highly recommend the series, and I highly recommend this book!
Overall, I managed to read 8 novels, 1 RPG and RPG product, 3 magazines, 0 comics, and 0 graphic novels in June. This brings the year total in 2021 to a set of numbers that look like this: 37 books, 13 RPGs and RPG products, 8 magazines, 37 comics, and 0 graphic novels.
Anyway, thoughts and comments are always welcome. :)