the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for the ‘Kage Baker’ Category

Friends, I have the best possible #firstworldproblem.

 

I got to read TWO Kage Baker collections, at the same time!    In the Company of Thieves, is all (you guessed it) Company stories,  and The Best of Kage Baker is a mish mash of all sorts of wonderfulness.  In fact, I am still working my way through The Best of Kage Baker,  savoring it bit by bit.  The Best of, so far seems to be about half Company stories, and half other stuff.

And eeeee!!!  The Best of Kage Baker has illustrations!!!

 

Here’s some thoughts on what I’ve read so far:

 

The Carpet Beds of Sutro Park – I have such a soft spot for this story.  It’s a very quiet story, it’s a slow burn.  Ezra doesn’t have lofty goals, and neither do it.  His reason, tho, is pretty tragic.  He does right by Kristy Ann, and it’s probably a good thing that he never tells anyone,  as I don’t think they’d understand his loving intentions.

 

Hollywood Ikons – Religious paintings that can fry your brain because they were painted using secret mathematical formulas possessed by Imhotep? And Joseph was Imhotep?  If Tim Powers wrote Raiders of the Lost Ark and made it a buddy comedy involving manuscript preservation, cro-magnons, and Hollywood landmarks, you might get something close to Hollywood Ikons.  This story pushed all my buttons in the best possible way!   Also, note to self: if doing a google search on what the heck Joseph is talking about, search “Byzantine ikonography”, instead of “ikon”.  “Ikon” brings up pages upon pages of a K-pop boy band.

 

The Women of Nell Gwynne’s –  I know I’m supposed to like stories like this.  Steampunk!  Gadgets!  Women who have fallen on hard times and now make the best of things by becoming paramours who are also spies and potential blackmailers!  Flouncy dresses!  And I know this story won about a million awards for being steampunk! Gadgets! Company! Funny sexy stuff!   But the funny sexy scenes didn’t do much for me,  and tbh I have always struggled with steampunk.  If it’s your thing, you will love this story.  But I’m sorry, I’m meh on Nell Gwynne’s.  Can’t a woman be of service to the Gentlemen’s Speculative Society without, well, servicing the gentlemen? We can provide people with miniature cameras, buttons that dissolve into sleeping pills, and internal combustion engines, but we can’t devise a way for a “fallen woman” to make a living without selling her body?  I’ll shut up now.

 

Noble Mold –  Joseph pretending he’s a priest and Mendoza doing a bad job pretending that she doesn’t want to kill him? Of course I loved this story!!  Joseph has this long game point of view that I appreciate. (ugh, i guess that’s called wisdom? or something?)  Mendoza is on the hunt for a particular plant, and the family who owns the property is very, very reluctant to let her dig it up.  There’s a 60 year old secret here.   Joseph has to protect his own secret,  the family’s secret, and yet somehow still get that plant dug up!  Luckily,  he’s really good at creating miracles.  After all, he’s the guy who played Imhotep!  Noble Mold is freakin’ fantastic.

 

Old Flat Top – wait, is this Budu, who I love?  Nope, but it is someone who worked with Budu!  And his job to sit at the top of the mountain, and keep the early humans who live in the valley below from killing each other.  He’ll pretent he’s a god, if that’s what it takes to make sure these idiots don’t kill each other.  And every so often, a brave youth climbs the mountain, in search of the god of the mountain.  Man, I could read a million stories of the Enforcers.  These guys!  Life is pretty simple for them, their values are very black and white, their job is to protect and make sure early humans survive.  I like how the Enforcers make everyone else think more about everything.  Especially since the Enforcers don’t really care about making people think,  which makes watching their interactions even more fascinating for me!

 

Hanuman – I was laughing my head off reading this story.  Why, you ask?   Because this guy, Hanuman, is hitting on Mendoza, and he thinks he has a chance with her!  She gives him the time of day, because she’s recovering from an injury and she doesn’t have anything else to do, and she’s polite and he’s inoffensive.  Could it be?  Could Mendoza be making a new friend?  I was so happy that she was having a nice time, and maybe making a new friend!!! Is she going to let someone in?   And then.  Well, that sure made me stop laughing, and I feel a bit of an ass for laughing at the beginning and wondering if this was the start of a beautiful friendship between Hanuman and Mendoza.   After all that, if I was Mendoza I’d stomp off into the forest and not talk to anyone for another 200 years.  And people wonder why she has trust issues!

 

Maelstrom – another one where I laughed and laughed and laughed! And finally, a funny story that actually has a happy ending!  On Mars, Mr. Morton has built the Edgar Allan Poe Center for the Performing Arts.  What follows is a laugh out loud, raucous, joyous,  Muppet Show-esque comedy of errors, complete with nervous directors,  terrible actors, even worse understudies, and Martians with hearts of gold.  I adore Alf so much!  And I love Baker’s Mars – a family of misfits, eccentrics, dreamers, and adventurers.  Maelstrom was exactly what I needed. I hope as I get further into The Best of Kage Baker,  that I get to hangout some more with these characters.

 

Stay tuned, for more Kage Baker!

 

or whatever book I pick up next!

Remember I said I wanted all my favorite characters, all in the same place,  but I didn’t think this could ever happen because I was afraid we’d never see Lewis again?

 

Also, I probably wouldn’t be able to handle the emotions of having everyone together, because OMG these characters!  And dude. Have you met me? I might be all tough and crusty on the outside, but I’m a squishy ball of squishy cry-y emotions on the inside.

 

In The Sons of Heaven, the year 2355 has arrived, and everyone is here for it.  Everyone needs to know what happens, and everyone believes their side will win.

 

The Sons of Heaven is my Avengers:Endgame.

 

I was not ready.

 

With minimal spoilers,  here are my thoughts as I progressed through the book.

 

  1.  This title seems kind of arrogant?
  2. LEWIS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1
  3. Awww,  Latif, you sure had a glow up!
  4. What exactly has happened to Nicholas and Alec?
  5. Edward is kind of a dick.
  6. Wait, WHO is having a baby???  How is this going to work, actually?
  7. I need a novel that is all Budu all the time.  He’s being a good dad to Joseph.
  8. Uhh. .  should we tell Bugleg who he’s genetically related to?  Can you imagine if 23andMe existed in this world?
  9. Parenthood really does change you.
  10. LEWIS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  11. Edward being even more of a Victorian dick.  Why are you being such an asshole?
  12. For the first time in a long time, Joseph knows exactly what he’s doing and why.
  13. Bwahaha,  tweens and their hormones!
  14. HELLO NICHOLAS.  So, how’s this gonna work?  Actually, who cares! I’m good with it!
  15. Victor,  what are you planning?
  16. Hearst? To be honest I’m pretty meh about him.
  17. I’m sorry Ancilla, but David never really loved you.
  18. Does the Captain have another ace up his sleeve? Kinda thought he might?
  19. Victor!!!!
  20. The title.  It makes sense. It’s still arrogant AF, but it makes sense now.
  21. July 9th, 2355.  The silence has fallen.
  22. If it hadn’t been for the power of story, Tiara wouldn’t have known who the tall man was. It’s a good thing someone told her all those stories. It’s a good thing someone wrote all those stories!
  23. This ending is not what I expected but I love everything about it, I’m going to go cry now.
  24. There is a Doctor Who quote I want to say, but it is a HUGE spoiler so I’ll keep it to myself.
  25. I love this series, I love Mendoza, I love Nicholas, I love Joseph, I love Lewis.

 

That’s it,  that’s the not-review  of The Sons of Heaven.

 

I’ve been avoiding reading this book for ten years, because I thought if i knew how the series ended, that I wouldn’t have any reason to revisit it. I worried that knowing the ending would wreck the journey for me.  (you guys KNOW how I struggle with endings!!!)

 

But? I’m good.  I’m way more OK than I expected.   Might have to read the end of The Sons of Heaven again, because it was that damn good.  And I’ve still got The Empress of Mars, Not Less than Gods, and two short story collections to read.  So yeah, I know how the main plot line ends (or oh shit, is there more??), but I’ve got more journey and more story to read.  I get to explore more nooks and crannies of the world.

 

Oh yeah, and I tried to make butter.

 

I’ve been re-reading Kage Baker’s Company series.  I’m not writing formal reviews,  just chatting about the books every few days, making small connections, making big connections.    Some spoilers are unavoidable.

 

If you don’t care about this series, but are interested in my poor brain exploding due to realizing my beloved characters never had any free will,  scroll way down to a paragraph that starts with “I used to think . . ”.

 

 

Previous posts in this series:

post 1 – talking about In the Garden of Iden (book #1)

post 2 – talking about Sky Coyote (book #2) and Mendoza in Hollywood (book #3) and also the movie Rocketman and the tv show Star Trek: Discovery

and now we’re up to talking about The Graveyard Game (book #4) and The Life of the World to Come (#5).    This is where I realized my beloved characters don’t have any free will,  that everyone is trapped. Here we go!

 

 

About ten minutes after I finished The Graveyard Game,  I pulled The Life of the World to Come off the bookshelf. Boy these books have some truly awful cover art.

 

The Graveyard Game is a hella fun read, and it’s a fast read!  We’re back to Lewis and Joseph, and I adore Joseph, even if he’s a jerk sometimes.  Please, is there an internet archive of Joseph fan-fic? Pretty please? Anyway, Joseph is trying to find out what happened to Budu,  and Lewis gets a little obsessed with trying to figure out who the hell Edward Alton Bell-Fairfax was. They are both sort of trying to figure out what happened to Mendoza.  The problem is, when you’re a cyborg who is enslaved to The Company, every word you say, every photo you take with your cybernetic eyes, every web-search you do, is recorded and added to the temporal concordance. Everything you do becomes recorded history, so you have to be super sneaky, and make sure nothing you do is recorded.    Because recorded history can not be changed.

 

Joseph finds some secret bunkers, and reminisces about his early years with the Company and Budu’s heroic acts.   Lewis is haunted by his past, when he saw something he shouldn’t have.

 

Joseph has a hard time coming to terms with the idea that as you age, the world changes.  You feel like you don’t fit in with the younger generations anymore, the things you care about aren’t the things they care about.  What happens when an immortal has a mid-life crisis, and realizes that trends in Company brainwashing and programming have drastically changed over the course of known history?   The Graveyard Game might be my favorite Company book! (well, tied with Sky Coyote, because that book is just so damn funny) I guess I just love any excuse to hang out with Joseph!

 

And then we get to The Life of the World to Come,  which is the most annoying book in the history of EVER, while at the same time being the most confusing book of the series and the most important book of the series.

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As of Tuesday this week, I’m telecommuting until further notice.  I have a mini-desk set up in one corner of the living room,  and a huge thank you to IT for sending me home with an extra plug-bar!

I’m trying to keep to my normal schedule as much as possible, I’m the kind of person who really needs structure.  This means:  Up at 6am or earlier,  exercise,  have a shower, have a coffee. . .  and well,  I used to leave for work around 6:40am because I had an hour commute.  I used to get home from work around 6:30, because hour commute.

no more hour commute.

I’ve just bought myself 2 hours a day (or more!) to read!!!  I’m trying to read in the morning, instead of obsessing over reading the news.

I’m re-reading my way through Kage Baker’s Company series,  blew through In the Garden of Iden in a couple of days, and am now a few chapters in to Sky Coyote.

We picked up a few more Witcher books, so I have those two.

 

if you’ve just gained some time, due to #reasons,  what are you taking the time to finally read?

 

 

I’d forgotten how freakin’ smart In the Garden of Iden is,  now that I’ve read further into the series there is SO MUCH foreshadowing in this book that OF COURSE I wouldn’t/couldn’t have seen the first time I read it.  Also? The sex scenes are SO ADORABLE!

I was nervous getting up to the scene at the end. Iif you’ve read the book, you know the scene I’m talking about.  I was this close to DNFing it, and going right to Sky Coyote, so I  could skip that scene, because with all that’s going on, did I really need to torture myself with reading that scene?

Mendoza managed to survive it.  Baker managed to write it.  I needed to put on my big girl panties and read the fucking scene. I took a deep breath, and I read it.  I didn’t like it,  but I got through it. The actual scene? it was shorter than I remembered.  A little easier to survive than I expected.  Still, it was brutal.  Maybe next time, I’ll skip it.

 

ok, more random thoughts on this book:

(apologies in advance for crappy grammar, shouty caps, and crimes against italics. I’ve been drinking. it’s been a week, ok?)

 

for the uninitiated,  In the Garden of Iden has time travel, romance, teen angst, grown-up snark, and immortals. It is sorta like Outlander meets Twilight, minus the werewolves and with way better writing and humor?

 

Shit, the title!!!!   Excellent play on words on Garden of Eden.  Mendoza finds herself in a paradise, and is then thrust out, having had her eyes opened to so much awfulness.   And holy crap, she is SO seventeen years old!!  the teen angst is so adorable!    And what she knows now? the knowledge she has (about life, about mortals) she can’t unknow. I think I could play with this paragraph for about forever, so i’m just gonna shut up now.

 

I like that this book is written in past tense first person.  At least that means we know for a fact that Mendoza doesn’t die.

 

srsly, what the fuck are they teaching these kids in school?

 

Joseph rocks.  The first time I read this, I thought he was an asshole.  After re-reading Iden and a few chapters into Sky Coyote I don’t think he’s an asshole at all.  i mean, he’s a total jerk sometimes, but he’s not an asshole.

 

In the Garden of Iden came out in 1997.  for context, that was the year I graduated high shool, and at the time I wouldn’t have known quality science fiction if it bit me in the ass.  For folks who were actual grown-ups in the 90s,  did this book “break the internet”?  Were people all like “what the hell is this?”, or did this book come out, and no one knew what it was and it didn’t get any buzz?  I mean, the series doesn’t really get going big time for a few books or so, but Garden of Iden is SO FREAKING GOOOOOOOOD!!!!!!!!!!!!!   what was was the reaction when this book came out?

 

omfg time paradox!!!   Joseph, Nef, and Mendoza were sent to Walter Iden’s estate to (among other things) collect samples of certain plants that would shortly become extinct.  Some of these plants have medicinal extracts, etc.   avoiding spoilers:  if Joseph hadn’t given Iden __________,  maybe Iden wouldn’t have ______  ____   _______ , and maybe _____ ______  would never _______  ________ in the first place???  i freaking LOVE shit like this!!!

 

More in a couple days when I’m further into Sky Coyote.

The Hotel Under the Sand, by Kage Baker

Published in 2009

Where I got it: purchased used

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I love Kage Baker’s books.  She wrote the Company series, a handful of humorous fantasy novels, and a bucket of short stories, all with her signature brand of humor, wit, and pull-you-right-in writing style.  Her career was cut short when she passed away from cancer in 2010.  Her books have become hard to find, so every time I am in a used bookstore I head right to the “B” section and buy everything they have of hers that I don’t already own.

 

The Hotel Under the Sand was published by Tachyon in 2009, and is her only known work for children and middle grade readers. This novella has a similar feel to Un Lun Dun by China Mieville, except it is all around happier and sunnier.

 

Young Emma has survived a shipwreck and washed up onto a beach.  As she is exploring the island, she meets a ghost named Winston. He is the Bell Hop Captain of the famous Grand Wenlocke hotel, and might young Emma have any luggage he can carry for her, or shoes he can shine?  You see,  decades ago, a wealthy man by the last name of Wenlocke started work on a massive resort on these famous sand Dunes. Adding to the allure and magic of the resort, this would be a resort where time stands still. Thanks to a time engine in the basement, guests are encouraged to stay as long as they please! Months, years! When they leave to go back home, only 2 weeks will have passed.  Perhaps the project was doomed from the start, as just before the hotel was due to open a huge storm came and swept it under the sands, taking Winston with it.

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Gods and Pawns by Kage Baker

published in 2007

where I got it: purchased used

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I’ve been trying (and not always succeeding) to read Kage Baker’s Company books in the order of publication.   Which meant next up was Gods and Pawns, which was  published in 2007.   The series starts with In The Garden of Iden, a novel that completely broke my heart into a billion little pieces. Then came Sky Coyote, in which I fell a little bit in love with Joseph even though he is a complete asshole. Or at least, I thought he was an asshole until I met Porfirio, now that guy is a piece of work.  The Company books get darker and darker the further you read in the series, and yet Baker’s writing style is full of humor and wit, so you’re laughing at the same time.  With all the research that went into these novels and short stories much of her work reads a little bit like Tim Powers, that of course these crazy things didn’t happen . . . but no one can prove that they didn’t….

 

Gods and Pawns is a collection of short stories that take place in the Company world. Similar to her collection In The Company of Thieves, these mostly light-hearted short stories are excellent entry points into Baker’s Company world.

 

What is The Company? In the future, time travel is discovered. However, you can only travel backwards in time, and recorded history can not be changed. The owner(?) of The Company sends operatives back in time, where they take in orphaned children and turn the children into immortal cyborgs who are now employees of The Company.  For the cyborgs, it’s a post-scarcity life – they never need to worry about money, or a job, or a roof over their heads. The job security is great because they are immortal. But what are they working towards? What is the point of finding and then hiding all the valuable paintings and manuscripts and gems in the world for some future you may never see? Is this a good gig? Is it slavery?  What’s the retirement policy like?

 

I have condensed and vastly oversimplified Baker’s amazingly complex world. If you enjoy long running space opera series with fantastic writing, time paraxodes (paradoxii?) horrible secrets, lots of dark humor, all written by an author who is a genius at playing the long game, this is a great series for you.  If you’re not sure if that is something you’d like, the short stories are a great place to start.  For more information, and possibly epic spoilers, checkout the Company reread that Stefan Raets did at Tor.com last year.

 

While I was disappointed that Mendoza doesn’t star in a larger portion of the stories in Gods and Pawns, I was happy to see my favorite side character, Lewis, get the spotlight.

 

Surprising nobody, my favorite short story in Gods and Pawns is the Lewis/Mendoza story, “To The Land Beyond the Sunset”, in which our two immortal operatives act as mortal guests of a family of supposed gods.  Mendoza is excited about the rare plants she finds on their property, and Lewis is trying to figure out how exactly these people are related to each other, and why they seem so ignorant. There’s also the whisperings in the walls of a secret family member who keeps getting moved around the villa so the “visiting mortals” can’t see him. There’s the expected humor in this story, Mendoza and Lewis are immortal, and do have what could be construed as godly power. And this lonesome family appears to be underfed, ill-informed, living in a ramshackle villa, and not godly at all.  Everyone is playing a role, it seems.  Mendoza’s first discovery makes me hope these people die a horrible death for what they are doing. The next discovery makes me feel so terribly sorry for them.

I always imagine Lewis looking like Cyril from Archer.

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Is it just me, or did 2015 fly by in like two weeks? How did that even happen? It certainly was a crazy year – I started a new job, we moved into a bigger apartment, i learned a whole new definition of the work “workaholic”, I didn’t read nearly as much as I wanted.

Anyway, here is my annual “Best of the year” list, presented in no particular order, with links if you’d like to read my reviews.

The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson, easily my favorite novel of 2015.

The Bone Swans of Amandale – by C.S.E Cooney, in her short story collection Bone Swans

The Fifth Season, by N. K. Jemisin

Binti, by Nnedo Okorafor

Flex, by Ferrett Steinmetz

The Apex Book of World SF Vol 4 edited by Mahvesh Murad

Soft Apocalypse by Will McIntosh

Babel-17 by Samuel Delany

The Life of the World to Come, by Kage Baker

 

Honorable mentions for the year go to:

City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett. I read it in 2015, but can’t actually talk about how freaking amazing it was until 2016. So I guess it’ll have to make my best of 2016 list.

and this stuff, which is omg, what I always wished ginger ale would taste like. Also? it’s alcoholic.

ginger ale

2015 was a crazy year, and I don’t mind that it’s over.  I’ll see everyone on January 1st for Vintage Science Fiction month!

life of the world to comeThe Life of the World to Come, by Kage Baker (Company #5)

published in 2004

where i got it: purchased used

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As this is the fifth book in Baker’s Company series, spoilers are unavoidable. You’ve been warned, and I am not at all sorry.  If this is the first you’ve heard of Kage Baker, or of her Company series, stop reading right now and type “Kage Baker” into that search box thingy on the upper right.

 

I can never decide if I want to wait in-between Baker books, or binge read the whole thing. Because I want to know what happens . . . but I’m enjoying the anticipation.  And like my Banks books of which I have become so fond, I must ration Baker. Because there will never be any more.

 

In the year 2350, a group of hobbyist re-enactors use their nearly limitless resources to change history. Or at least, sort of.  One of the so-called rules of time travel is that history can not be changed. So how are these naive idiots doing it?  Frankie Chatterjie and Foxen Ellsworth-Howard meet at their friends Rutherford’s home, which also serves as a museum.  Wealthy, bored, (and thus supremely dangerous) and connected with Dr. Zeus, Inc, the three friends use anachronistic slang, sip fake brandy, and fuss about with genetics. You see,  they’ve been tasked with coming up with a better, smarter, more contemporary version of the Company’s Enforcers. An upgrade, of sorts. This perfect person that they are genetically creating will be bright, irresistible, and willing to die for a noble cause. Each iteration of their fellow will tell our genetic dabblers what changes they need to make to build the perfect enforcer.  He will be tall, not exactly handsome, determined, and irresistable. Sound familiar?

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the graveyard gameThe Graveyard Game (Company, #4) by Kage Baker

published in 2001

Where I got it: purchased new

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I really enjoy Kage Baker, but life is full of so many fun books it’s hard for me to monogamously read one series until I finish it.  I’d read Mendoza in Hollywood (Company, book 3) a while back, and was a little underwhelmed by it. It felt like a rehash of the first book, and I thought it was kinda slow. Anyways, thanks to this tweet from fellow blogger Lisa, I decided to dive back into The Company series and pick up the next book in the series, The Graveyard Game.

what is this book doing to me

 

I’m too lazy to type up a summary of the series so far, and what exactly The Company is. Go read my review of In the Garden of Iden for all that (and to get hooked on the series).

 

As this is book four in Baker’s Company series, spoilers are unavoidable. #SorryNotSorry.  It’s kinda funny how things are all coming together now, actually. The first book in the series, In The Garden of Iden, functions perfectly well as a standalone.  the next book, Sky Coyote is most definitely a sequel, but if you read them out of order the universe wouldn’t end.  Book three, Mendoza in Hollywood circles back to some stuff that happened in book one and feels a smidgen apart from the other books in the series. And now, in The Graveyard Game, everything comes crashing together as Baker rips everything wide open for the gist of the rest of the series.  I zipped through this book in just a few days (which if you’ve seen my work schedule, you know is a miracle), it kicked me in the feels and then tore those feels out and kicked them some more.

 

Some things that happen to you when you are an immortal cyborg:

 

  • your broken heart never heals because your memory is so good that you never forget anything
  • a “long standing grudge” has a whole new meaning
  • you can play a really, really really long game.

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mendoza in hollywoodMendoza in Hollywood, by Kage Baker

published in 2000

where i got it: purchased used

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This is the third book in the company series, and it’s my third favorite.   Some quick non-spoilery background on the The Company for those of you that don’t know: 350 years from now, time travel is possible.  But you can only go back in time, you  can’t bring anything back to your “home”  time, and history can’t be changed. Ok, so how to get rich quick if artifacts can’t be brought back? Easy.  Send some crews and technology into the past, have them build safehouses and a staff of employees who will set aside your artifacts, and wait, patiently, nearly forever. Company operatives are cybernetically immortal, given an education about everything that will happen, ever (because this is the past for their instructors and doctors, who are from the future), and programmed to be fanatically loyal to the company.

 

Thus, we get science fiction/historical fiction. Which, if you ask me, is one of the best genre combos EVER.

 

Anyways, in the first the book in the series, we met Mendoza, who is rescued from the Spanish inquisition by a company operative. She’s raised and educated within the Company, and completely bombs her first assignment. The second book follows different characters with Mendoza as a very minor character, and in this third book, we are back with Mendoza.  She’s gotten over the raw, raging anger of what happened all those years, but she’s far from healed.

 

Mendoza has been by herself for a very, very long time, and I get it, she hates people, I’m ok with that (some days I hate people too).  So she’s used to very quiet days, very little interactions, not much going on, just being one with nature. Introvert, indeed. Her new assignment is to a post in the Cahuenga Pass in Southern California in 1862, with the mission of collection valuable plant specimens before the drought (and grazing animals) kills (and eats) everything.  Mostly unaffected by the Civil War, it’s an interesting time to be in Hollywood’s backyard.  Mendoza has no choice but to take the assignment, and besides, maybe some conversation would be good for her.

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.