16 Task of the Festive Season: Thanksgiving

4df6e11028a86363166b5e241b552308

Tasks for Thanksgiving Day: Be thankful for yourself and treat yourself to a new book – post a picture of it.

Are two books OK? My two newest preciousssses

WP_20171222_16_13_55_Pro

London Calling is by Anette Dittert, the former news-correspondent for Tagesschau. During her time as a correspondent, she also had a great video-podcast (called…London Calling) in which she talked about stories that weren’t newsworthy but just fun. She visited parts of London that weren’t tourist-hotspots, talked about English oddities (like cricket) and was always hilarious during it. She’s no longer a correspondent (but still did a few videos (in German) you can watch here) but now she’s written a book about her life in London and I just couldn’t resist.

Elemental Magic is…well a collection of novellas and one of which is by Carol Berg. Have I mentioned that I like that author a lot? I think I didn’t for at least…two entries.
(I do plan to read the whole book, though…but possibly not in the ‘right’ order…)

I am an unexpected pingback

16 Tasks of the festive Season: Christmas

bc304da28f5a33227ea484385cda7dc1

 

Tasks for Christmas: Post a picture of your stockings hung from the chimney with care, –OR– a picture of Santa’s ‘treat’ waiting for him. –OR– Share with us your family Christmas traditions involving gift-giving, or Santa’s visit.

 

So this is a mesh of several of these questions. Because it involves a tradition but not with my family. I still stayed in contact with some friends from my school-days. Today we all live spread around Germany but we try to meet up occasionally and at least make it to (most of) each other’s birthdays. We also always meet somewhere around Christmas to have a fancy breakfast/dinner and exchange small presents. This year I decided to sew some small bags, decorate them (with things that they would enjoy but honestly also things I already had in my endless craft-supplies :D) and fill them with some treats.

Tada!

WP_20171209_11_00_51_Pro

This is the pingback you’ve all been waiting for

16 Tasks of the Festive Season (and a book-roundup)

90288e314fa3e41e3742d58421cc8c66 & c682abe5846b66ce822d50354114004e


Tasks for Pancha Ganapati: Post about your 5 favourite books this year and why you appreciated them so much. –OR– Take a shelfie / stack picture of the above-mentioned 5 favorite books.

tumblr_m1gsvy1YTb1qm6oc3o1_500_zps98fa3d6b

1. Curtis Craddock: An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors
The heroine saves several princes at the end. One of them with her knowledge of fantasy!Latin.

2. KJ Charles: Spectred Isle
A great romance AND demons from the war between Stephen and Matilda. This book is everything I never knew I needed

3. Carol Berg
Yes, not a book but since discovering Flesh and Spirit earlier this year I have been bingeing her books and while the Sanctuary Duet wasn’t quite my cup of tea I haven’t come across a book by her that I disliked. I love her characters, the relationship between her characters, her worldbuilding and how she avoids so many tired fantasy cliches.

4. Carola Dunn: Carola Dunn: Superfluous Women
The Lady Daisy-mysteries now have 22 books and I’m still reading them. Do I even need to say more? (Also, this pulled a really nice twist that stopped me from guessing the killer in advance).

5. J. Jefferson Farjeon: Mystery in White
Now I only rated this book three stars which means it isn’t technically one of my best books of the year but I think the author is really promising and I will check out more by him next year.

AND a shelfie. Well, window-ie since there is slightly more light this time of the year.

WP_20171222_09_58_57_Pro

(The big drawback of e-copies is, of course, the lack of pretty pictures you can take with them. So I had to decide between Spectred Isle and Mystery in White since I have both only as e-book and despite currently reading my – ehem – eleventh Carol Berg novel this year, I consumed most of them as audiobook. Which are on my audible-app. Which is on my phone. Which I needed to take this pic)


 

Tasks for Festivus: Perform the Airing of Grievances: name 5 books you’ve read this year that have disappointed you – tell us in tongue-lashing detail why and how they failed to live up to expectations.

cersei-bullshit

1. Katelyn Davies: A Dance with Dragons series (book 1 with links to the other reviews)
And no I didn’t read all of it this year but enough that it should qualify (and also no, usually I don’t read three full-length novels and four novellas if I already hated the first but I had the whole box set as review copy). The worldbuilding is abysmal and offensive (these horrible people that are really sexist and also the bad guys just happen to look like Arab/middle eastern people and have some customs similar to Muslim ones but that’s fine right? Just a coincidence!) and the characters are so bland and boring that I never really worried about them.

2. Sherry Thomas: A Conspiracy in Belgravia
Sadly the subtitled version of My Dearly Beloved Detective, a Soviet movie that did something actually fun with the idea of an all-female Holmes/Watson duo has disappeared from youtube. That’s a shame because while it wasn’t perfect it was better than this mess. You can still watch the original version if you know Russian. Or at least the intro in which there is singing about the London fog:

 

There is always singing in Soviet movies. It is known.

3. Andrew Caldecott: Rotherweird
That book was sadly so busy with creating quirky characters, that have quirky names, are quirky, act quirky and say quirky things that it forgot to have a plot

4. Brigitte Sokop: Jene Gräfin Larisch (German Review on GR)
This book proves that it is possible to write an extremely boring biography about a person with a really interesting life.

5.  Jim Bradbury: Stephen and Matilda
If you want to write very detailed about military history just do it. But don’t claim it’s actually a book about the whole war. Also, your favoritism is showing.

Obligatory pingback for bookkeeping purposes

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.