Blast from the past

The Far Pavilions
by M.M. Kaye

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Around thirtyfive years ago, give or take a few, I watched the TV miniseries with Ben Cross. I am pretty sure I loved it. I think I read the book afterwards and liked it as well, so I will give this 4 stars for now. 

Who knows, I might re-read it at some point…

Shōgun (Asian Saga, #1)
by James Clavell

Rating: 5 out of 5.

As a teenager and in my twenties I read this book three or four times. Loved it. The exotic culture, the adventure, the difficulties of the English captain to understand the alien society and language, his slow growth throughout the story… Great stuff. And I loved the TV adaptation with Richard Chamberlain and Toshiro Mifune. I can hear the soundtrack in the back of my head, as I type this…

What is your blast-from-the-past that you barely remember, but probably liked and are a little scared to pick up again?

War es wirklich Charles Darwin?

WallaceWallace by Anselm Oelze
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Zwei Kapitel und knapp zwei Stunden im Audiobuch bis zu einer wilden Jagd mit einem Schmetterlingsnetz bringen uns zum ersten klaren Hinweis, was den Hauptcharakter wirklich umtreibt. Bis dahin bleibt er ein entrückter Fremder, ein „junger Bärtiger“, dem vom Autor ein Name verweigert wird. Warum, kann ich nicht nachvollziehen und es macht es mir schwer, Interesse oder Mitgefühl für den Hauptcharakter aufzubauen. Sein Begleiter ist ebenso lapidar „der Indianer“ und hat keinerlei persönliche Züge.

Einen roten Faden hatte ich nicht wirklich entdecken können bis zu diesem Punkt. Dass Ganze ist eher eine Aneinanderreihung von verschiedenen Erlebnissen unseres Bärtigen, seiner Familie oder des Nachtwächters, dem wir zu Anfang in der Gegenwart begegnet sind. Und diverser eher zufälliger Personen, die keinen Bezug zur Geschichte haben und deren Erlebnisse nichts dazu beitragen.

Ich vermisse Gefühle. Das Ganze liest sich etwas wie eine Bedienungsanleitung mit zuvielen Beschreibungen. Da hätte ich auch direkt ein Sachbuch über Wallace lesen können, dann hätte ich zumindest mehr erfahren zur Prämisse dieses Romans.

Eine weitere halbe Stunde des Audios hat tatsächlich etwas Bewegung in die Geschichte gebracht, aber ich bin nicht mehr wirklich interessiert. DNF nach circa 2.5 Stunden bzw. rund 88 Seiten.

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Not quite a haunting…

Fireside Magazine Issue 52, February 2018Fireside Magazine Issue 52, February 2018 by Mary Robinette Kowal
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Review for The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington by Phenderson Djèlí Clark, 3636 words, ~8 pages, ★★★★★

2018 Nebula Award Finalists / Short Story — Well worth the Nebula Award nomination.

I love the casual mix of supernatural elements into the story. Imaginative and well written. Not quite a ghost story, not quite historical fiction.

Can be read for free here:…

Beautiful artwork at Fireside Magazine, where the story was originally published:

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Abominable slog

The Abominable

The Abominable by Dan Simmons

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

First things first: This is not a horror novel, regardless of what the book has been categorized as. It‘s a historical adventure yarn, heavy on mountain climbing, with thriller elements.

I went into this book with some hesitation. Ages ago I started reading Hyperion and abandoned it pretty quickly. It‘s been so long, I can‘t even remember, why I gave up. Earlier this year I read Ilium and Olympos. I gave Ilium 5 stars, although I struggled. The scope of the book was just so great and parts of it were enjoyable enough to take me past the not so enjoyable bits. Olympos, the sequel, ended up as another DNF for me. This time the narrative wasn‘t gripping enough to propel me past the boring bits and parts I did not like. The TV adaptation of The Terror was great, but temptation to try Simmons one more time led me to a buddy read of this chunkster.

So…. the introduction immediately dragged. Might be me. I hate prefaces, forewords and the like. The Arctic, Antarctica and Simmon‘s book The Terror are mentioned. The main character as an old man is introduced. Ok, so he‘ll survive the book to tell the tale.

Part 1 introduces us to the other two climbers that will tackle Everest with him. We explore the Matterhorn and some of its climbing history and get some explanations about climbing and Deacon‘s history with Mallory. Picture me skimming the more lengthy sojourns into matters not relating to the main plotline.

I do like how Simmons intertwines real events and characters with ficticious ones. The first 30 pages of Part 1 for example detail the first ascent of the Matterhorn. I also found it interesting to read up on George Mallory and the 1924 Mount Everest expedition that provides the motivation for our three climbers to tackle Everest.

It probably helps with this book to be interested in mountain climbing and the Himalayas.

From the Matterhorn we sojourn to other parts of Europe, ticking off our to-do-list, before actually getting to the main event, Mount Everest. Which takes roughly 240 pages of perfecting their climbing technique, hunting for the perfect gear, getting the perfect gear, testing said gear… There is one scene in Wales, where they climb a vertical ice wall that I really liked a lot. No question, Simmons can write. It just takes him so bloody long to get anywhere!

Finally, finally, we arrive on the appropriate continent, in Calcutta….

“I just wish this Lord Bromley-Whatsis, his serene buggering Highness, had bloody well buggered himself down to Calcutta from the hills and helped us bandobast these buggering great heavy crates to the bloody freight depot a full buggering day earlier, is what I damn well wish. This is his lousy country, his culture where bloody damn venal bribery is necessary everywhere to get the least bloody thing done, and where no one can keep a simple bloody appointment on time. So where is this ‘commander of the expedition’ when we actually need his fat arse?“

Part 2… Close to 300 pages into the book, we finally glimpse Mount Everest.

And, because climbing isn‘t everything: Thanks for the excursion to the war poets of WWI, Siegfried Sasoon et al. Another great amalgamation of fictional and real characters. And a fun side trip to some of my favourite poems and poets… The Soldier by Rupert Brooke, Dulce et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen, etc. Reading about Sassoon makes me want to re-read Regeneration or watch the movie again.

Simmons keeps derailing me with arbitrary stuff like this. I wish he would keep the narrative more on target, instead of taking 50 pages on the minutest detail. It bores me.

By the middle of the book I have pretty much had it. Heavy skimming is the only answer to this.

Part 3, close to 500 pages, starts with some screaming and there is the promise of bloodshed and yetis somewhere downhill… Very heavy skimming to get it over with. So, no more research about real characters or events and links to what I found. I just wanted to get it over with this doorstopper.

The story is actually a good one and Simmons writes well. But this was a horribly over-detailed slog through pages over pages of stuff that did absolutely nothing to bring the plot forward. My goodness. If this had been half the length, it probably would have been a great, suspenseful thriller. As it was, I really struggled to stick with it, even with skimming. I am not exactly glad that I read it, but I appreciate what Simmons did here and therefore give it three stars. But, Dan, seriously, I am done with you for the foreseeable future.

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Under the surface

Wakulla Springs by Andy Duncan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A tale of three generations of an African-American family, segregation and racism, Tarzan movies, swimming, glimpses of an underwater world and maybe the Creature of the Black Lagoon.

Difficult to rate, as it wasn‘t what I expected. More historical than speculative fiction.

A HUGO and Nebula Award Nominee, winner of an World Fantasy Award for Best Novella. “Ranging from the late 1930s to the present day, “Wakulla Springs” is a tour de force of the human, the strange, and the miraculous.“

I expected a Fantasy story, maybe some creative and unusual underwater monsters. There was very little of the strange, and the miraculous.“ Mostly it was of the human condition and how people are treated unfairly because of the colour of their skin. And Hollywood.

I did some entertaining research on Wakulla Springs, the lodge, Tarzan movies and Johnny Weissmueller in the process. The story did provide me with some great imagery, above and below the water surface. Very poetic ending. I want to get a flat-bottomed boat now and do some paddling and swimming.

If Wakulla Springs interests you, have a look here:…

Thanks to Tor for providing this for free.

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No kilts, still romantic…

Highland SurrenderHighland Surrender by Tracy Brogan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

She is not too silly (but a little simple most of the time) and he is not too alpha-stupid. There is a forced marriage-of-convenience, a conspiracy plot and a past, unsolved murder.

The enemies-to-lovers storyline is a little uneven in its pacing, the point where they finally fall for each other is a little too sudden. There is the usual to-and-fro and misunderstandings. But all things considered the love story is ok.

I don‘t expect historical accuracy from a romance read, so I am not too fussed, if it isn‘t glaringly obvious. Based on the additional fact checking I did on the side, the major plot points and representation of the historical facts are fairly true to real events.

‘You ask me to pledge loyalty to a man who’d turn on his own mother?”
Myles lifted his head and smiled down at her. “His mother is English. ‘Tis reason enough.”

In case you are wondering—it took me while to work it out— we are in the middle of the 16th century and the reinging monarch is James V of Scotland . He is a contemporary of Henry VIII and the father of Mary, Queen of Scots.

This is an example of a „coranto“, the dance that Fiona danced with… not telling you…

Dempsey Castle, where Fiona goes to live after her wedding, could be Campbell Castle:…

Sinclair Hall is a bit trickier. I am leaning towards Castle Sinclair Girnigoe, but that is a wild guess……

So, bottom line, not bad. I had fun looking up castles and historical details. The love story was ok, the conspiracy plot was ok, Fiona figuring out her life and how she fits into the Campbell clan was ok, too. However, especially there I would have liked a bit more character development and a tad more exploration of her relationship with her mother-in-law and Cedric Campbell, for example. The story telling fell a little flat, I did some skimming in the middle.

I was entertained enough for three stars and would be willing to pick up something else by the author.

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Men in kilts

When a Scot Ties the Knot (Castles Ever After, #3)When a Scot Ties the Knot by Tessa Dare
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

English girl with a spot of agoraphobia invents a Scottish fiancée, to avoid having to mingle with the ton. Happily retires to a castle in the Scottish countryside, to enjoy life as a spinster and enjoy her calling as a sketch artist (sketching frolicking lobsters, preferably). And what do you know, the figment of her imagination shows up at her doorstep. Tall, dashing and wearing a kilt. And promptly blackmails her into marrying him.

Silly, you say? Pretty much. And entertaining. And not too full of painful romance clichée, with likeable characters and a plot that is not cringe-worthy. The requisite mean guy has limited page time and the drama is not too over the top. Nicely done. Oh yes, banter and hilarity, thank you. And men in kilts. Musn‘t forget those.

Rating: 4 lobsters. I would read something else by the author.

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Paranormal romance finalist

Spectred Isle (Green Men #1)Spectred Isle by K.J. Charles
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked this up, because I have read several short stories by her and also 2 novels/novellas of one of the author‘s other series, The Magpie Lord being the first of those. Very similar set-up, but in earlier, Victorian times. Tall dark stranger, magic, mystery, the other one is generally more of a Dr. Watson type…

A saturnine, sardonic sort of face, clean-shaven; a mouth that seemed made to sneer. He looked like the kind of man Saul had met a great deal in the war in the officer ranks: a thoroughbred aristocrat, effortlessly superior, endlessly disdainful.

I like her writing. It rolls along nicely, good tension, she has humour. I don‘t know how much sense these stories make in their historical setting, but so far they have been fun. And I learned something about London‘s suburbs, parks and medieval, Norman sherifs.

Several refences in the book made me think that I missed reading an important prequel. Perhaps reading the stand-alone The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal would provide back-up to some of the stories hinted at in Spectred Isles?

I like the humour and the slow build-up between Randolph and Saul.

The stories about the war remind me a little of Nightingale’s backstory at Ettersberg in the Peter Grant series—opposing magical forces, misused by their respective governments, the destruction of all the wizards/occultists…

Very readable, creepier than expected, not too many horrid romance clichees, a not too predictable plot. I am very tempted to pick up the next book in the series.

2018 RITA® finalist for Paranormal Romance…

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Valley of Fear

The Valley of FearThe Valley of Fear by Arthur Conan Doyle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Written 25 years after my favourite Holmes story, The Sign of the Four. I don‘t think I ever read this!

25 years later! Excuse me while I wander off to read about Doyle‘s life again.

„..the long, low Jacobean house of dingy, liver-coloured brick lay before us, with an old-fashioned garden of cut yews on each side of it.“

…and about English architecture in the 17th century… and yews…. what a cool tree!

Ok, where was I…I liked the main story a lot, it was very entertaining. Holmes was Holmes—“Really, Holmes,” said I severely, “you are a little trying at times.”—, the various police detectives were very likeable and not as stupid as we have come to believe. Perhaps some of the characters were a bit one-dimensional.

The back-story did not keep me interested enough, but had a nice twist.

Maybe not the best Holmes story, but solid.

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Pointless brain candy

Obsession (The Reckless Rockwoods #1)Obsession by Monica Burns
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Pretty shallow, predictable plot, the usual clichee of characters not communicating with each other, taken to a ridiculous level. It lacked humour and wasn‘t very well written.

I did not get a lot of enjoyment out of it. I kept rolling my eyes constantly through the first six chapters. The plot got a little more interesting eventually. However, the characters were just TSTL all around and it was all just so painfully obvious.

Definitely not going to pick up anything else by this author.

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