Monthly Archives: August 2014

Star Trek TOS: Ice Trap – L. A. Graf

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5 of 5 stars.

The book focuses on Kirk and McCoy on one hand and Chekov and Uhura on the other. There is a bit of Spock, Scott and Sulu, but mostly it’s the aforementioned four and some “Red Shirts”, which we get to know well enough that it actually hurts when/if they die.

As in “Death Count” everyone is very professional and well-trained and I’m still a bit in awe that L. A. Graf managed to pull that off without the book becoming unbearably dull or way too serious. Even in the most dire situations (and in “Ice Trap” there are many) there’s always something to give you hope, to look forward to, to make you smile a bit, because that’s EXACTLY how the characters would react and think like.

I have no idea if the science is sound, but it sounded sound to me, so there.

It was a joy to read.

Star Trek TOS: Death Count – L. A. Graf

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5 of 5 stars.

Spock-Lovers beware! There is not much of our favourite green-blooded hobgoblin in here!

Sadly, I mean it. He has a few lines, but overall he’s not one of the main protagonists.

Which doesn’t mean it’s a bad book.

On the contrary.

When I jumped into the Star Trek fandom in the late 80s/early 90s there were A LOT of books written about the various TV shows: The Original Series (TOS, Kirk, Spock, McCoy etc.), The Next Generation (TNG, Picard & Co.) and Deep Space Nine (DS9, I can’t even remember anyone but Odo and Dr. Bashir). (Voyager and Enterprise came later, when I had already lost most of my interest.) In other words: I read a lot of Star Trek books.

For all non-Star-Trek-fans: The books were NOT the episodes in written form. The books were either tie-ins with the series or completely new, stand-alone stories.

Either way: No matter how much I read, very few of them rang true.

It’s not easy capturing an already existing character, getting him “right”, let alone eight, twelve or twenty of them. Especially since every viewer probably has a different view on their favourite Star Trek crew member and what happens to it, and you just can’t get it right ALL the time.

So, to exactly no-one’s surprise, I didn’t like many of the books. (And that in a phase of my life where I was a LOT LESS picky about outrageous love stories and highly unlikely character developments.)

“Death Count” is one of the commendable exceptions.

It takes the already existing characters and makes them BETTER.

Hard to believe, I know, but it really does.

L. A. Graf concentrates mainly on three characters which were always mostly stereotypes and/or prompters in the series: Uhura, Chekov and Sulu. Settled somewhere between the end of the TV show and before (I think) the first movie, Chekov is now with Starfleet Security and Uhura is a Lieutenant Commander. And they’re absolutely not the clowns the TV series sometimes degraded them to be, they’re fully functional, serious and professional Starfleet officers. We get to know a lot more about their personal lives and their friendship that built and strengthened over the years.

There also is a refreshingly mature Captain Kirk who has to deal with Orions, Andorians and – worst of all – Starfleet auditors.

I’ve rarely read a Star Trek book that provides an interesting case, has the characters down to a T (and even develops them accordingly), conveys the seriousness of a dangerous situation without getting silly, and with a dash of humour and the good-natured teasing we’re so familiar with.

As good as it possibly gets.

Murder on Fifth Avenue (Gaslight Mysteries #14) – Victoria Thompson

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5 of 5 stars.

I usually save the Gaslight Mysteries for whenever I either hit a drought book-wise, or couldn’t be bothered reading for a while, OR just want to read a book I already know is great.

It really is that simple.

After thirteen books it’s like coming home.

I know the characters, I know it’s going to be intriguing and I know probably everybody is going to get what they deserve at the end.

So far I haven’t been disappointed.

“Murder on Fifth Avenue” deals with Frank being hired by Sarah’s father to investigate the murder of one of his club mates, and even Sarah’s mother can’t help but assume that it’s some kind of “test” her husband set up for our favourite Irish-American detective. Fully knowing that the rich and mighty of New York usually don’t want to know the truth as long as SOMEONE is convicted for a crime – preferably someone from the working class – Frank does his best to find out who REALLY did it – and then to let Sarah’s father decide what to do with that knowledge. Since Felix Decker IS one of the rich and mighty, that course of action might backfire.

There are also the beginnings of the Italian Mob and we even graze homosexuality slightly.

I’m still completely in love with the relationship of Sarah’s parents – with her AND with each other – and how they try to (and ultimately manage to) come to terms with the fact that their high-society daughter is now a midwife, an amateur sleuth and seems to be unseemly fond of an Irish copper. It’s an absolute joy to read and I dearly hope we’ll see more of them.

Yes, I also think it’s a true marvel that these books just don’t get boring, even if there are sixteen (I think) of them already, and that Victoria Thompson is perfectly able to keep the suspense, the mystery and the characters on the same (high) level as in all the books before. Also, the character development she allows her characters to go through is the best written I’ve seen so far. The main point some people are criticizing – that the characters, and especially Sarah and Frank’s romance, develop so slowly it’s positively glacial – is the most perfect thing for me. Plus, I can’t imagine anything changing fast in Victorian society. Not even in America, and surely not in the upper class.

I’m absolutely looking forward to reading all the Gaslight Mysteries I haven’t read yet.

***SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER***

The relationship between Paul, Hugh and Garnet is the cutest thing EVER and I’m positively thrilled that neither of them did anything wrong.

Dead Weight (Lizzy Gardner #2) – T. R. Ragan

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2 of 5 stars.

I wasn’t exactly thrilled by the first book in this series, but there were some characters I really liked and wanted to “see” again.

Most of all Jessica and Hayley, because I think they were more interesting than the main characters and I really wanted to know what happens to them.

Unfortunately the case itself is not very interesting, the story just dragged along and… yeah.

There were a few intriguing characters related to the case, but not enough to actually get me “involved” with them, and at the end of the book it was pretty clear that we’ll never see them again, so there.

I liked that Jared is actually “just” the boyfriend in this and not the FBI agent again, and I also liked that Lizzy got a bit jealous of the model-like, picture-perfect “suburb housewife” neighbour, without transforming into a she-hulk, throwing annoying tantrums left, right and centre.

Alas, that’s the most positive I can say about it.

I didn’t even mind Jessica sort of finding her way and having yet to grow a pair, but what really put me off was Hayley going full-on Lisbeth Salander (only without the computer hacking).

Meh.

No more Lizzy Gardner books for me, I’m afraid.

Abducted (Lizzy Gardner #1) – T. R. Ragan

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3 stars out of 5.

Well, as far as crime stories go this was a pretty straight-forward one.

Not too many suspects to choose from, no unnecessary twists and far-fetched turns, no unpleasant surprises… That was nice. The case is interesting, the characters are likeable (unless, of course, those you aren’t supposed to like) and the author changes the POV a few times, so the reader also gets a glimpse into the reasons and the reasoning of the killer.

So far, so good.

The main problem I had with this book was – once again – the love story, because it manages – also, once again – to undermine the educated, intelligent and reasonable main characters the author had built up until then.

It seems to me that authors often tell us how brave, calm, intelligent, logical and so on and so forth their characters are, but utterly fail to let them actually ACT that way. But – to me – actions still speak louder than words. Just saying.

Anyway.

This love story was not only completely unnecessary, incomprehensible and lame, it also got to the point where it really interrupted the reading fluency. Also, it seemed very rushed and constructed, like someone said, “Okay, we need a love story, otherwise readers will lose interest. There must be a kiss here, a sex scene here and then we’ll see how it goes.”

Which leads to a tough-but-traumatized main-character who actively suppressed her fears for 15 years instead of processing and overcome them, and who suddenly isn’t so traumatized at all anymore when she meets her ex-boyfriend again whom she also hasn’t seen for 15 years. Or spoken to. Or has had any contact at all to. And despite not having had contact for 15 years, despite Lizzy supposed-to-be-still-traumatized and having a fuckload of unresolved problems and questions between them, they french-kiss within, like, the first five seconds after having met again.

Of course, not without endlessly telling themselves and the reader what a spectacularly bad idea that is.

And without stopping to do it nevertheless.

Yeah, right.

Jared is even a profiler at the FBI and studied psychology. He, at least, should know better than to rush things like that. But, well… Apparently “sex sells” and to hell with rhyme or reason.

The worst part is: it could’ve been a very nice love story.

IF the author (or the publishing house?) hadn’t insisted on barging in without establishing a reasonable foundation first. (And, sorry, but “they’ve been together 15 years ago, before Lizzy got abducted and severely traumatized” just isn’t cutting it.)

Jared is a nice guy and Lizzy is fine, too. Towards the end of the book there’s a really lovely scene in which they discuss what would probably have happened if Lizzy hadn’t been abducted and they had stayed together up until now. A scene in which they actually TALK about them, about some things that happened ten years ago. If that had been all that happened between them in THIS book (and maybe a kiss) and the sex had come in the NEXT book, I really could’ve gotten on board with it.

Being as it is, this “love story” feels rushed, listless, lame and leaves the slightly bitter taste of a good idea wasted.

Still, 3 stars out of 5, because, like I said before, I really like the case, most of the characters (especially Jessica and Hayley) and usually people aren’t as nitpicky as I am regarding love stories, and manage quite well to not be annoyed by them. 😉 It’s not a must-read, but it isn’t bad, either.

Phoenix Rising (Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences #1) – Pip Ballantine & Tee Morris

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1,5 stars out of 5.

I wanted to like this book better, I really did.

The idea of a super-secret society operating right under the nose of Queen Victoria and the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, trying to “rebuild” Britain to its “former glory”, only opposed by one field agent and one librarian archivist, because everybody else just doesn’t have a single clue, sounded wonderful. And in a Steampunk setting, no less. (Plus, the cover is beautiful and really intriguing.)

I imagined a daring hero/ine with a brainy sidekick (or even a full-fledged partner of equal value, for once) fighting the bad and saving the Empire James-Bond-style – or something the like.

And it actually came to that.

More or less.

Only what seemed like a thousand pages later, which is just too effing long.

“Phoenix Rising” took its sweet time to a) set a plot, b) get to the point and c) getting an effing move on! (Meaning: it was often really lengthy and thus pretty boring.) Which – consequently – made it very hard to find at least SOME kind of access to it and to find the motivation to continue reading.

Also, the two authors spent a huge amount of time to establish the two main characters, but completely forwent to establish the world they’re operating in. Yeah, it’s the Victorian age with a bit of Steampunk thrown in, but what does that actually MEAN?

I’m not exactly firm on Victorian etiquette and his was my very first Steampunk novel, and while I don’t expect Steampunk authors to start from Adam whenever they’re writing a new book, a few general guidelines would have been very welcome.

Anyway.

Even if the plot turned out to be quite interesting after all, this book seems to be mostly carried by the two main characters and their newly-formed partnership/friendship.

Which brings me neatly to the second biggest problem I had with “Phoenix Rising”. (More on my biggest problem later).

This isn’t a partnership, let alone a friendship. This is something like a “work relationship”, at best.  And a forced one to boot.

The authors try so very hard to convince us – especially towards the end – that Books and Braun really came to like each other (or “became fond of the other”, or whatever), but no matter how often they tell us that, not once during the whole book, did I get the feeling that they DO. Not even at the very end.

All Books and Braun ACTUALLY do is:
– slander each other
– try (and fail) to establish a kind of witty-banter-thing, which pretty much always comes across as stiff, aggressive (and most of all completely unnecessary) posturing
– and work more against than with each other.

The only times when they actually get something accomplished are times when they work ALONE and APART from each other. The “divide and conquer” thing is way more effective, because they really do make a horrible team.

Mostly “thanks” to Eliza Braun, field agent (my aforementioned biggest problem) – for reasons I will never, ever understand, because she’s neither a good field agent nor a nice person. Oh, the authors insist on telling us that she totally IS, but judging by how she is constantly trying to “unsettle” Books by shoving her breasts in his face, salaciously rubbing her (beautiful, of course) body (including the ample bosom) against him and making insinuating remarks at every possible moment, she is not exactly professional. (And thus Dr. Sound was imo absolutely right to demote her and transfer her to the archives. He could have – and maybe should have – rescinded her agent status.)

She’s careless with everything stored in the archive (e. g. she destroys one of three vases which – put together – would have had a map to El Dorado on them and is not even remotely sorry). She never listens to Books let alone follows orders, and she makes absolutely no effort of being polite. (Well, the authors say she does, but she really doesn’t.) She’s almost losing her calm at any given moment, even when playing a part or just staying calm is absolutely vital. (E. g. she’s on the verge of losing it and about to slap the host because he slandered the Suffragettes, but ISN’T when an uncle abuses his Laudanum-drugged, minor niece. She merely leaves, because “she would have most assuredly been his next prey”. M-hm. Yeah. Super-agent.)

All the times Eliza drones on and on how Books should go out in the field and needs to act like a “proper” agent,  including improvising and thinking on his feet and whatnot. And the first time he actually DOES, she absolutely hates and resents him for it and immediately wants to punish him! He’s playing a role. Something she wanted him to do in the first place. So instead of being happy that he finally got a clue and acts like the agent she apparently wanted him to be she’s just jealous that he had beat her at her own game and even seems to believe he IS the role that he’s playing. Even if the “partnership” is relatively new, she should really know him well enough by now (page 255 ff.) to be able to distinguish a role he’s playing from his actual character. Seriously, what stupid kind of agent is she, anyway? (Of course, she can punish Wellington a while later. And “punishing” him by throwing him on a bed and practically riding him is not only immature, it’s also cruel and mean. For someone who has claimed to like Books she’s acting like a total bitch towards him. All the time.)

Seriously, Eliza is one of the most ridiculously aggressive characters I’ve ever read.

She blows hot and cold all over, is prone to serious mood swings and apparently completely hung up on being “a colonial” from New Zealand. I mean, seriously, she repeats that every five or so pages, so obviously she hasn’t come to terms with it yet.

That goes for the other “colonial” characters as well, btw.

And I just don’t care. It’s annoying.

It’s okay to tell me once, “There are also people from New Zealand, Australia and whatnot, and they’re looked upon as kind of inferior and worthless by the snobby and seemingly “proper” Brits.” But if you repeat that, like, a hundred times throughout the book, I can’t help but thinking you believe me to be either extremely slow or just too stupid to have understood that the first time. It’s actually quite insulting.

No, sorry. This book definitely wasn’t for me. The only things I liked were Books and the last hundred pages, and that just wasn’t enough.

The House of Silk – Anthony Horowitz

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5 stars of 5 (and I wish I could give more)

I am usually not one to join in with the choirs of “well done”, “an absolute joy to read from start to finish” and/or “heaven” from The Guardian, the Washington Post and the like, because even under the best circumstances maybe only five percent of the books these “literature-savvy” newspapers and magazines praise as “TEH BEST BOOK EVAH” manage to rouse my interest.

“The House of Silk” is the exception, because as far as Sherlock Holmes pastiches go this book is absolutely brilliant and deserves every bit of praise it’s gotten.

Anthony Horowitz captures Watson’s voice perfectly, the atmosphere is decidedly Victorian and a bit on the darker side, the writing style is almost the same as Arthur Conan Doyle’s, but maybe a bit more “up to date”. That’s not to say that he uses a more present language as such, but e. g. there are no “ejaculations” anywhere. For which I’m really grateful, because while that might have been the proper way to speak and write in the late eighteen-hundreds, it’s nowadays an endless well of amusement (especially for twelve-year-olds, I’d imagine, but seriously, even grown-ups can have a field day with that one).

I realized pretty early on what happened to Keelan O’Donaghue and about half-way through I could guess what The House of Silk was about, but I actually missed a vital clue (and really, how could I have been so inattentive?), so the end had a little twist I haven’t seen coming.

All in all this really WAS an absolute joy to read from start to finish.

For everybody who loves the Sherlock Holmes stories of Arthur Conan Doyle a definite must-read.