Three-Quarter-Time ;)

3cfe4ed97c32719cfeabf2b5cb90cedd

Now I meant to post this on the 15th for a proper 3/4-time update but I had like three more tasks by that time and thought ‘you can wait two or three days more’ and suddenly December is already 3/4 over…

14 points so far

Square 3: St. Martin

Book themes for St. Martin’s Day: Read a book set before the age of electricity.

Naomi Novik – Black Powder War

1 point

Square 6: Bodhi Day (8th)

Tasks for Bodhi Day:

Perform a random act of kindness.

Here

1 point (2)

Square 7: Saint Lucia’s Day

Book themes for Saint Lucia’s Day:

Read a book where ice and snow are an important feature.

Mystery in White

1 point (3)

Square 8:  Hanukkah

Book themes for Hanukkah:

Any book whose main character is Jewish, any story about the Jewish people –OR– where the miracle of light plays a significant part in the stories plot.

Think of England

1 point (4)

 

Square 10: Pancha Ganapati

Book themes for Pancha Ganapati:

Read a book whose cover has one of the 5 colors of the holiday: red, blue, green, orange, or yellow

Serial Killers Unsolved

1 point (5)

 Square 16: New Year’s Eve

Book themes for Hogmanay / New Year’s Eve / Watch Night / St. Sylvester’s Day:

Read a book where miracles of any sort are performed (the unexplainable – but good – kind).

The Sisters of the Crescent Empress

1 point (6)

 

So 14+6 makes 20 points so far

Leena Likitalo: The Sisters of the Crescent Empress

34850418Title: The Sisters of the Crescent Empress
Author: Leena Likitalo
Series: The Waning Moon #2

The Sisters of the Crescent Empress is the second book in Leena Likitalo’s Waning Moon Duology, a fabulous historical fantasy based on the lives of the Romanov sisters.

With the Crescent Empress dead, a civil war has torn the empire asunder. No one seems able to stop the ruthless Gagargi Prataslav. The five Daughters of the Moon are where he wants them to be, held captive in an isolated house in the far north.

Little Alina senses that the rooms that have fallen in disrepair have a sad tale to tell. Indeed, she soon meets two elderly ladies, the ghosts of the house’s former inhabitants.

Merile finds the ghosts suspiciously friendly and too interested in her sisters. She resolves to uncover their agenda with the help of her two dogs.

Sibilia isn’t terribly interested in her younger sisters’ imaginary friends, for she has other concerns. If they don’t leave the house by spring, she’ll miss her debut. And while reading through the holy scriptures, she stumbles upon a mystery that reeks of power.

Elise struggles to come to terms with her relationship with Captain Janlav. Her former lover now serves the gagargi, and it’s his duty to keep the daughters confined in the house. But if the opportunity were to arise, she might be able sway him into helping them flee.

Celestia is perfectly aware of the gagargi coming to claim her rather sooner than later. She’s resolved to come up with a plan to keep her sisters safe at any cost. For she knows what tends to happen to the sisters of the Crescent Empress.

RatingD-

I enjoyed this book almost till the end. The prose is beautiful and the relationships between the sisters are portrayed in a very realistic way. Some sisters get on better with each other, some not so much. Things that one does or says affect the relationships with the other sisters.
It did have flaws that stopped me from really loving the book and most of them were understandable, considering the author has only written short-stories so far and I wouldn’t have minded those things (as much) then. But in a novel, I want to understand how the magic system works. Here I couldn’t even figure out who exactly is capable of doing magic, let alone where the limitations are or how one can protect oneself against spells.
I can forgive a short-story if it uses a short-cut and someone figures out a secret rather quickly and conveniently. This book was full of occasions where people just knew things. Especially Celestia frequently figures out not only that her sisters are keeping things from her but also what those secrets are. That way a fair number of potentially dangerous occasions are swiftly avoided.

But towards the end, things really fell apart. This book is inspired by the Russian Revolution, and the Russian Revolution didn’t just happen one day. The same is true for the revolution in this book. The previous empress was always fighting wars. With most men conscripted as soldiers, nobody was left to tend the fields or earn money. Gagargi Prataslav – an unholy cross between Stalin and the worst Rasputin caricatures, who enjoys laughing diabolically – took advantage of that and incited the revolution.

Now there are clearly two things the sisters need to worry about: the people who have legitimate grievances and who now definitely won’t want to go back to a time where their Empress had full power over them. And the gagargi who is ye-olde-fantasy-villain. He doesn’t care about people but right now they listen to him.

And the book utterly fails at distinguishing between those things. Nobody points out that even if they somehow manage to get rid of the gagargi things won’t go back to the way they were before. Nobody has the viewpoint ‘The gargari is bad but the revolution happened because of understandable reasons.’
The one character who has sympathies for the revolution also refuses to believe that the Gargari is that bad despite all the evidence against it. (He literally wants to sacrifice children. Not kidding.)
As a result, a series that started as a promising subversion of the popular fantasy trope of ‘good and pure ruler that is threatened by evil outside forces’ ends up sounding like an advertisement for an absolute monarchy.

Talking about ‘ends up’: The ending sucked. Not just the moral of the story. It also was bad from a narrative standpoint. There are open endings. And there are endings where I have to go back and check if this is really the last book in the series. And there are endings like this where I had to go back, check and still refuse to believe that this was the end. I might have bought that ending if it made more effort to built up the revolution and the reasons for it as a genuine problem. But it didn’t and made the villain as cliche-fantasy-villain as possible. So the book stays a conventional fantasy-novel, despite all the pretty prose and nice window-dressing. And a conventional fantasy-novel can’t end like this.


Review of book 1


This is also part of the 16 Tasks of the Festive Season:

515cbaa36ec308aeacad092f1ad0f103

Book themes for Hogmanay / New Year’s Eve / Watch Night / St. Sylvester’s Day: Read a book where miracles of any sort are performed (the unexplainable – but good – kind).

I might be stretching the theme a tiiiiiny bit but unexplainable things that help the sisters happen.

Naomi Novik – Black Powder War

91989Title: Black Powder War
Author: Naomi Novik
Series: Temeraire #3

With the Chinese threat neatly dissolved, Temeraire is free to return to Britain and continue to help his friends defend their country. But before they board the ship, Laurence — now a member of the Chinese Imperial family by adoption — receives orders from the British Air Corps that he and Temeraire are not to sail with the British forces. Instead, they must take the land route and stop in Istanbul to collect three dragon eggs which the government has purchased at great expense from the Turkish. But the overland flight is fraught with danger. They will have to scale mountains and cross deserts, evade Napoleon’s aggressive infantry and hide from unpredictable feral dragons. And even before they leave, they discover that Lien has left China before them, intent upon revenge.

She wants to destroy Temeraire by stripping him of all that he holds dear and being a celestial dragon, she has the power and intelligence to carry out her terrible threat.

RatingB-

“It seems very peculiar to me that it should make any difference how one says words, and it must be a great deal of trouble to learn how to say them all over again. Can one hire a translator to say things properly?”

“Yes; they are called lawyers.”

I enjoyed the first two Temeraire books but also had some problems with them. Mainly their lack of plot. It was understandable that the first book in a fantasy-series is heavy on worldbuilding (and that the first book in any series spends a lot of time introducing the characters) but the second also was more ‘things are happening near the characters’ than a more conventional ‘the characters have to get from A to B and on the way they discover that they need to go via Z’ type of plot. As a result, it dragged quite a bit.

Black Powder War finally has a plot. Or at least the first half has. Laurence and his crew have to get the dragon eggs. Things go not as planned. They have to improvise. Once that is done the plot starts to disintegrate again. Laurence and Temeraire just happen to end up in the thick of the war again and there is again a lot of fighting. And I did have the same problems with the fight-scenes as the last time: they are awesomely written but I don’t care enough about the gazillion side-characters to worry about them much. Still, it didn’t feel quite aimless this time around. There might be no typical fantasy-novel goal (kill the evil wizard/retrieve powerful artifact…) but the general aim of defeating Napoleon is much more present than it was during Throne of Jade. And you can’t expect much more from a book about a military force in the Napoleonic wars.

Also: the dragons are cute.


This is also part of the 16 Tasks of the Festive Season:

aea8e0d7dc6a4b59979a9f8b443ab621

Book themes for St. Martin’s Day: Read a book set before the age of electricity.

Mystery in White

23350057Title: Mystery in White
Author: J. Jefferson Farjeon

On Christmas Eve, heavy snowfall brings a train to a halt near the village of Hemmersby. Several passengers take shelter in a deserted country house, where the fire has been lit and the table laid for tea – but no one is at home.

Trapped together for Christmas, the passengers are seeking to unravel the secrets of the empty house when a murderer strikes in their midst.

Rating: B-

“Sergeant,” said the inspector solemnly, “if you’re not very careful, you will become intelligent, like me!”

This book is absurd in a way only a proper Golden Age mystery can be.  The premise makes even And Then There Were None or Murder on the Orient Express seem quite harmless. And the following coincidences that need to happen for our main cast of characters to get involved and eventually solve the mystery go beyond anything I’ve ever read. Or perhaps I should rather say ‘beyond anything I’ve read and still worked’ because I’ve read lots of books with plots that only worked thanks to outlandish circumstances. And I could never forget those. Meanwhile, I read Mystery in White and was vaguely aware that there are a surprisingly high number of people out in a snowstorm who then coincidentally end up in the same place but I never cared that much.

Here, it worked, because under all this ridiculousness there is a very engaging mystery that is populated by characters that go beyond the typical stock characters. I’m not saying that they have great depth (there isn’t too much space for depth with so many characters in a book of that length) but it’s not one of those cases where you read one chapter and can already tell who is going to be the murder victim and who will fall in love with whom.

Sadly one of the characters is also the weak point of this novel. The guy who did most of the sleuthing in this book was thoroughly unlikeable. He reminded me of the way Holmes is written in bad pastiches or on Sherlock. He misses nothing and makes brilliant deductions but is also constantly rude (unlike the real Holmes who just doesn’t bother too much with social conventions when he deems them unnecessary) and doesn’t care if he upsets the people around him.

But, since this book was just a one-off and the author’s other books have different detectives/sleuths I will definitely check out more by him.


is also part of the 16 Tasks of the Festive Season

c5143de15d7078ea3a312b8473a82c1f

Book themes for Saint Lucia’s Day: Read a book where ice and snow are an important feature.

Serial Killers Unsolved

18946406Title: Serial Killers Unsolved: 10 Terrifying Serial Killers Who Have Never Been Caught

Author: Rober Keller

From famous cases like Jack the Ripper and the Zodiac to lesser known ones like the Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run and the Frankford Slasher. Robert Keller presents ten serial killers that have never been caught.

Note: This book is available for free if you sign up for the newsletter on the author’s homepage.

Rating: C-

This book is exactly what it says on the tin: ten unsolved serial killer cases. And even I, as someone who spends too much of their free time listening to True Crime podcasts, had never heard of some of the cases or wasn’t aware of many details about them.

But when it comes to the cases I had heard of before, the book didn’t give me any new facts. And I’m not only talking about Jack the Ripper (about whom I have more books than is probably healthy). Even if all I knew about the killers came from a single podcast like Unsolved Murders, there were no new revelations. Now, if you’re newly into True Crime and unsolved (serial) murders seem especially interesting to you there are worse places to start. The book offers a nice overview and doesn’t dwell too much on the sensational and gory details.

Still, the lack of depth is glaringly obvious in those cases where the author doesn’t just give the plain facts but also weighs in on the theories (or presents his own as in the case of the Boston Strangler where he thinks DeSalvo is completely innocent). Each killer gets perhaps 20 or 30 pages and after presenting the facts, that leaves no more space than a few paragraphs to go into the theories (and the author’s opinion of them) and that’s not enough to provide convincing evidence of anything.


This is also part of 16 Tasks of the Festive Season:

90288e314fa3e41e3742d58421cc8c66

Book themes for Pancha Ganapati: Read a book whose cover has one of the 5 colors of the holiday: red, blue, green, orange, or yellow.

Think of England

34715257Title: Think of England
Author: KJ Charles

England, 1904. Two years ago, Captain Archie Curtis lost his friends, fingers, and future to a terrible military accident. Alone, purposeless and angry, Curtis is determined to discover if he and his comrades were the victims of fate, or of sabotage.

Curtis’s search takes him to an isolated, ultra-modern country house, where he meets and instantly clashes with fellow guest Daniel da Silva. Effete, decadent, foreign, and all-too-obviously queer, the sophisticated poet is everything the straightforward British officer fears and distrusts.

As events unfold, Curtis realizes that Daniel has his own secret intentions. And there’s something else they share—a mounting sexual tension that leaves Curtis reeling.

As the house party’s elegant facade cracks to reveal treachery, blackmail and murder, Curtis finds himself needing clever, dark-eyed Daniel as he has never needed a man before…

RatingB+

I had not planned to buy any new books for a while but then I read the author’s post about the inspiration for this book and just couldn’t resist. I did grow up with the Edgar Wallace-movies and still love them. Now I only know Wallace’s mystery stories that involve beautiful heiresses and dastardly villains who are after their fortune and I don’t know any of his spy-stories (or any of the other authors she mentions as inspiration) and Think of England is clearly a spy story.  Admittedly, not a genre I would have picked up normally and the blurb also made expect something that it would eventually turn into a more ‘conventional’ mystery (with a murdered country house guests) that just had some connection with the treason/spy part.

It didn’t. But that doesn’t mean I regret reading this book. Rather the opposite: I had a lot of fun. The plot is fast-paced and takes the characters from one seemingly hopeless situation to the next while never going so far that you wonder how any human can cope with all that. But during all that, there was still time for the characters to develop their feelings for each other without it feeling rushed.

The way the book handled the issue that ‘true’ Edwardian pulp fiction tends to be rather full of homophobia, racism and various other-isms was also done very well. Neither is Curtis the single person in the whole novel who miraculously is tolerant of everything (as some historical fiction tends to do with their main characters) nor is he full of the worst prejudices that magically disappeared once he met Daniel. He starts off with a fair share of them but the circumstances soon force him to reconsider them. And he doesn’t just go ‘Well, Daniel is a foreigner but also a good guy so clearly everything I ever thought about foreigners being cowardly and evil is wrong.’ It’s a process that takes much of the book (and a lot of the time in which he isn’t occupied with escaping from mortal danger he spends reevaluating all the things he so far accepted without question).

The only downside to this is that while the scenes with Curtis and Daniel were intense and the development of their relationship believable there also weren’t that many of them and I really wished there had been more. And especially with the teasing at the end that they might have more adventures together, it’s a bit disappointing that this is a standalone. There’s certainly potential to develop their relationship further but alas…

tumblr_oyv98gp4q11triqtro6_400


 

This is also part of the 16 Tasks of the Festive Season

a7449600a5876f7a4153efaf1612dde9

Book themes for Hanukkah: Any book whose main character is Jewish (Daniel)

As well as:

5d1ee4ffcae0e1ed17be66ead0a0e419

Tasks for Bodhi Day: Perform a random act of kindness. I tweeted the author to tell her how much I had enjoyed the book. Because I know reviews are a great way to help authors and I always try to write them in a way that they are also helpful to other readers who are trying to decide if they should pick up the book or not. But sometimes it’s just nice to tell an author how much you enjoy what they’re doing.

Half time

Aka time for an overview of my completed tasks:

3cfe4ed97c32719cfeabf2b5cb90cedd

 

Square 1: November 1st: All Saints Day / Día de los Muertos & Calan Gaeaf

Book themes for Calan Gaeaf:
Read any book involving witches, hags, or various types of witchcraft

The Five Daughters of the Moon

 

Tasks for Día de Muertos and All Saint’s Day:
create a short poem, or an epitaph for your most hated book ever.

 

Epitaph for Queen of the Tearling

2 points

Square 3: November 11th: St. Martin’s Day & Veterans’ Day / Armistice Day

 

Tasks for Veteran’s Day / Armistice Day:
Make, or draw a red poppy and show us a pic of your red poppy or other symbol of remembrance

A knitted poppy

1 point (3 total)

Square 5: December 3rd and following 3 Sundays: Advent

Book themes for Advent:
Read a book featuring 4 siblings.

Blood Sisters

Tasks for Advent:
Post a pic of your advent calendar. (Festive cat, dog, hamster or other suitable pet background expressly encouraged.)

Juicy Advent Calendar

 

 

2 points (5 total)

Square 6: December 5th-6th and 8th: Sinterklaas / Krampusnacht (5th) / St. Nicholas Day (6th) & Bodhi Day (8th)

Book themes for Sinterklaas / St. Martin’s Day / Krampusnacht:
A story involving children

Ghostsitter

 

1 point (6 total)

Square 7: December 10th & 13th: International Human Rights Day (10th) & St. Lucia’s Day (13th)

Book themes for International Human Rights Day:
Read any story revolving around the rights of others either being defended or abused.

Hamilton’s Battalion

 

Tasks for Saint Lucia’s Day:
Get your Hygge on — light a few candles if you’ve got them, pour yourself a glass of wine or hot chocolate/toddy, roast a marshmallow or toast a crumpet, and take a picture of your cosiest reading place.

Hot chocolate and cozy reading spot (+moose)

2 points (8 total)

Square 8: December 12th – 24th: Hanukkah (begins 12th, ends 20th) & Las Posadas (begins 16th, ends 24th)

Book themes for Las Posadas:
Read a story where the main character is stranded without a place to stay, or find themselves in a ‘no room at the Inn’ situation.

Revelation

Tasks for Hanukkah:
Play the Dreidel game to pick the next book you read.

 

Unfortunately my lion picked badly

2 points (10 total)

Square 9: December 21st: Winter Solstice / Mōdraniht / Yuletide & Yaldā Night

Book themes for Winter Solstice and Yaldā Night:
Read a book where the cover is a night-time scene.

 

 

An Unseen Attraction

1 point (11 total)

Square 13: December 25th Christmas & Hogswatch

Book themes for Christmas:
Read a book whose protagonist is called Mary, Joseph (or Jesus, if that’s a commonly used name in your culture) or any variations of those names (e.g., Maria or Pepe).

 

The Secret Diary of a Princess

1 point (12 total)

Square 15: December 25th-26th: Newtonmas (25th) & St. Stephen’s Day / Boxing Day (26th)

 

Tasks for Newtonmas:
Take some time out to enjoy the alchemical goodness of a hot toddy or chocolate or any drink that relies on basic chemistry/alchemy (coffee with cream or sugar / tea with milk or sugar or lemon, etc.). Post a picture of your libations and the recipe if it’s unique and you’re ok with sharing it.

Hot Chocolate

 

1 point (13 total)

Square 16: December 26th-31st: Kwanzaa (begins 26th, ends 31st) & New Year’s Eve / St. Sylvester’s Day

 

Tasks for Kwanzaa:
Create a stack of books in the Kwanzaa color scheme using red, black and green and post your creation and post a photo (or post a photo of a shelfie where black, red and green predominate).

Lots of trilogies (or parts of them)

1 point (14 total)