My December Reading Log

Mile High Murder (A Hannah Ives Mystery) by Marcia Talley was a contemporary mystery centered around two women who take a fact-finding trip to Colorado to look at the marijuana industry, in preparation for creating legislation for Maryland. I was mildly entertained. The first person protagonist is an older woman, which was nice, but the overall tone felt, to me, a little coy and precious, possibly because the narrator abstained while those around her indulged, and maybe that made it feel weirdly judge-y despite clearly trying to be neutral or positive on the issue of using the drug. I didn’t like it enough to seek out others in the series.

Liz Carlyle is one of the first historical romance writers I got into, when I received a copy of her first book as a prize in a drawing; I read at least a dozen of her novels before I burned out on romance for a while. In Love With a Wicked Man is one of her more recent works. It suffered from using both “character with amnesia” and the “hero who thinks he is unworthy of love” tropes, which I feel get used way too often, but I still enjoyed it because the amnesia didn’t last long and the heroine was terrific, a baroness who did her job and took care of her estate and knew how to help cows give birth, and didn’t take much of the hero’s self-centered angst.

Zero Sum Game by S. L. Huang started off feeling like a heist or organized crime plot but soon was giving me feelings of the X-Men, not in a “filed off serial numbers” way but in concept. I would like to read more of that latter story, and find out if there are more people with interesting superpowers and mysterious organizations with ambiguous goals. I loved that the first-person narrator is not always reliable but does not know that she is not reliable, for plot reasons which I will not disclose here; that kept the plot twisting along. Cas Russell’s superpower is mathematics, as in calculating odds and angles and physics in order to pull off seemingly-magical feats of derring-do; I could see in my mind exactly how that would be portrayed in a movie or tv show. It was a fun book. Trigger warning for one offscreen child death, fairly early on.

The Pyramids of London by Andrea K Höst had been in my TBR for quite a while. I liked it a lot, even though I don’t usually get into vampires, because these vampires had some intriguing details (eventually they turn to stone!) and in this universe, the British Isles have been strongly influenced by Egypt and Rome. And there are also Celtic gods in the British Isles, and the country is ruled by three women. There’s a lot of worldbuilding detail, and it’s all really, really cool. The plot loosely follows the mystery of why and how and by whom a couple of automaton designers/engineers were murdered, investigated by their three children and the children’s aunt Rian. It has elements of YA and old-school British kid adventures (from the pov of one of the kids, Eluned) as well as Rian’s adult point of view as she tries to deal with suddenly having to parent. There’s an ancient vampire, but he does not take over the story in any way, which I appreciated. Lots of fun, highly recommended.

Protector Panther (Protection, Inc. Book 3) by Zoe Chant is a light paranormal with a capture/escape from evil scientists plot. I especially liked the heroine, who is a paramedic.

The Ritual Bath by Faye Kellerman is first in the contemporary Decker/Lazarus mystery series, and made gripping airplane reading. A violent rape and then a brutal murder take place in a tightknit yeshiva community in California; we get the pov of Rina Lazarus, the widow of one of the scholars, and Peter Decker, the police detective. The two protagonists develop a romantic interest in each other that I assume is further addressed as the series progresses. I will probably read the next one in the series, once I get through some more of my TBR.

A Study in Honor (The Janet Watson Chronicles) by Claire O’Dell is set in a near-future dystopic America caught up in a new Civil War; Watson and Holmes are both women of color. I enjoyed the book but it didn’t feel Holmesian to me, mainly because Holmes was more of an opaque spy/intelligence agent than a detective. The book is more about Watson, which is fine because she’s an intriguing character dealing with post-traumatic issues and a badly-functioning prosthetic arm and veteran’s bureaucratic issues that resonate strongly with our present world. I’d call it speculative fiction rather than a mystery, and I think I would have enjoyed it even more without the Holmes/Watson idea.

Spectred Isle by K.J. Charles is a post-World War One light fantasy with male/male romance. Protagonist Saul Lazenby discovers there’s magic in England in the 1920s, and ends up working with others to prevent paranormal disasters, in what feels like the setup for a Found Family series.

Dark in Death by J.D. Robb is…number forty-six in the series. I read this one in tiny bits and snatches, but was able to follow because I know the series formula. I think it was slightly better than the last one in the series, but not outstanding. There was a meta element that was entertaining: the murderer is re-creating murders from a [fictional] book series.

Murder in Belgravia by Lynn Brittney is set in London during World War One, and had some nice historical detail including a zeppelin bombing raid that made me wonder if the author owns the same Osprey book I have on the topic. A possibly-triggery brutal injury to a woman (spoiler: she survives) happens right at the beginning, but thereafter the tone is cozy mystery, despite one other episode of a badly injured young man being rescued. The swings in tone jarred me. The characters all felt bland, and their relationships were far too easy. I didn’t like it enough to see if there were more in the series.

Inventing Herself: Claiming a Feminist Intellectual Heritage by Elaine Showalter came out early in 2001, and has been kicking around my TBR for about ten years now. It’s a chronological and biographical look at a series of feminist writers who were influential to later feminists, starting with Mary Wollstonecraft, and eventually including firsthand details about the author’s experience creating an early women’s studies program at Douglass. I am reasonably familiar with feminist history, but didn’t know much at all–practically nothing–about the personal lives of, say, Olive Schreiner and Eleanor Marx and Simone de Beauvoir and Susan Sontag. I spent several weeks reading it, so my thoughts on the overall themes are attenuated, but mostly reading it made me feel hopeful and validated.

The Christians as the Romans Saw Them by Robert Louis Wilken came out of a box of graduate school books, mostly ethnography and theory, that I had excavated from the closet. I think I picked it up because someone else was discarding it, over twenty years ago. It was published in 1984. So I read it! It’s what it says on the tin: reviewing mentions of the Christian movement in the first four centuries or so C.E., starting with Pliny the Younger and moving on to the pagan critics Celsum, Porphyry, and Julian the Apostate. Because the Christians eventually took over the Roman Empire, the works of the critics were usually burned, but fragments survive in the books that argued against them. I know practically nothing about early Christian history, or much about the Roman Empire after Caracalla, but the book gave me enough background to understand. The main criticisms the proponents of Roman religion had were that 1) the Christians didn’t support The State by performing the religious rituals that kept the empire strong; 2) they worshipped a man, Jesus, instead of the one high god that everyone was supposed to worship, even though they said they also worshipped one high god; 3) a lot of their theology didn’t make logical sense and they gave “have faith” as an explanation; and 4) they claimed to grow out of Judaism but really didn’t, which threw all their pronouncements into doubt. The Romans were more tolerant of Judaism because at least it was really old and had sacrifices and other rituals and laws, and because there were large communities of Jews in Roman cities who worked in civil service and otherwise supported The State. Recommended if you’re interested in the topic.

fight like girls for our place at the table by napricot focuses on Sharon Carter, from the beginning of her assignment to keep an eye on Steve Rogers in The Winter Soldier movie, and features a slow-build romance with Natasha Romanov. Recommended!

About Victoria Janssen

Victoria Janssen [she, her] currently writes cozy space opera for Kalikoi. The novella series A Place of Refuge begins with Finding Refuge: Telepathic warrior Talia Avi, genius engineer Miki Boudreaux, and augmented soldier Faigin Balfour fought the fascist Federated Colonies for ten years, following the charismatic dissenter Jon Churchill. Then Jon disappeared, Talia was thought dead, and Miki and Faigin struggled to take Jon’s place and stay alive. When the FC is unexpectedly upended, Talia is reunited with her friends and they are given sanctuary on the enigmatic planet Refuge. The trio of former guerillas strive to recover from lifetimes of trauma, build new lives on a planet with endless horizons, and forge tender new connections with each other.
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