Monday, January 14, 2019

I guess it's a bone orchard?

Going through goodreads.com's best of 2018 list really expanded my To Be Read pile,a and the first one to clear the hurdle was Craven Manor by Darcy Coates.

We start with Daniel Kane, who more or less lives hand to mouth, while his roommate/cousin Kyle walks all over him. Daniel is more or less an Aladdin character, known for giving what little he has to those he perceives as needing it more. Which leads to an odd job offer received by handwritten note under the door, on the night Kyle decided to let Daniel know he's being downgraded to couch surfer, since Kyle's work friend needs a place to stay and can provide more than bill money.

The job is for groundskeeper at an abandoned estate a few miles out of town. One with literally no real road going to it. Indeed, it's a huge manor that's falling apart, although there is a groundskeeper cabin in the garden, not far from the family mausoleum. Pay comes in the form of two antique gold coins, delivered weekly in an envelope, and there are a few rules as part of the employment. Things like keep the curtains closed between midnight and dawn, don't open the tower, and never answer the door if someone knocks.

Given this is a horror novel of sorts, pretty much all of the rules get broken eventually, including the one about no strangers on the property, courtesy of a drunk Kyle who lets greed cloud his judgement.

However, most of the rules deal with the ghost of a little girl, Annalise, who's mother, Eliza, is locked in the tower. Annalise's brother, Bran, would be Daniel's erstwhile employer.

As Daniel becomes more involved in affairs of the estate, he discovers a small village in the surrounding wood where the residents have obviously never seen/read The Ruins, since to a being, all of them have been dead for a century and are covered in some kind of infectious black mold.

Which does set up the central conflict in the book, of whom Daniel should trust. His employer Bran, or out of date town gossip as to who really tore the door off the church and infected the townsfolk with mold? And who really was responsible for the death of Annalise?

It wound up being a different read than I expected, particularly since the setting and stories about Annalise suggested either gothic or vampire fiction. Instead, we get a fairly good ghost story without either a fairy tale ending or a really dark ending. I particularly liked that there is no real sense of place outside the manor, since the adjacent city is never named, and about all we see of it is Skid Row.

While not the best thing I've ever read, it is well written and engaging,which is a good thing.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Under the Tuscan sun

The Spirit Ring by Lois McMaster Bujold has been on my "Want to read" list for several years now, but I've never gotten around to it until now.

Honestly, I know it was released with little real fanfare, the lauds for her fantasy came later with The Curse of Chalion, but this is still a rather tasty morsel, maybe not as polished as her later works, but really good none the less.

Unlike Chalion, we're mostly in the real world, in late medieval-early Renaissance Italy in the City-State of Montefoglia. (We're not given a year to work with, but much of the statuary discussed has pagan themes, although we're told that the Malleus Maleficarum is roughly 10-15 years old here and the Inquisition does have its fires going.) Nestled roughly between Venice and Florence, Montefoglia's Duke Sandrino has a bad tendency to dangle payment in front of Prospero Benefort and his daughter Fiametta in exchange for magically imbued artisan items, like a salt cellar that neutralizes poison and makes people tell the truth. Prospero's masterwork, a bronze statue of Perseus holding Medusa's head, sits beneath clay, waiting for metal to be poured in to make it real.

Unfortunately, this all gets delayed when a Mercenary captain, Lord Ferrante, betrothed to Sandrino's daughter arrives, and it is revealed he is quite the villain. Indeed, as Duke Sandrino prepares to call off the betrothal and exile Ferrante, he is instead killed during the betrothal dinner, leading to Ferrante's hostile take over of Montefoglia. As is Fiametta's crush, Uri, the Swiss Guard captain and model for Perseus. Fiametta and Prospero flee not long after Prospero destroys Ferrante's sprirt ring, a ring housing the soul of an unshriven person. In the case of this particular ring, the soul of Ferrante's infant.

Prospero ends up dying during their escape, and the inn keeper where Fiametta runs ends up putting the body in the smoke house with the hams, waiting for payment for the room. Thankfully, Thur, Uri's brother and miner from Switzerland, happens across her, and they begin to realzie their connection. Unfortunately, Ferrante's men catch up with them and run off with Prospero's unshriven body that's been smoking with the hams for a few days. Thur has a touch of his own magic, related to the Earth, and he talks to kobalds on occasion. Fiametta's magic is related to fire, so one can only assume if their child has an affinity for air, it will compose a song about "September".

Anyway, Fia and Thur escape to St. Joseph, and the Abbot Monreale, who licenses magicians in service to the church. As the story progresses, we find out that Ferrante's magician, Vitelli, has packed both Prospero and Uri in salt in preparation to bind them both into spirit rings. We also find out Vitelli was a former student of Monreale, who in his studies of dark magic wound up becoming consumed by it.

As stated above, while it's not quite as polished as some of her later novels, this is exceptionally well written and filled with narrative goodness. Bujold does a wonderful job of working around societal limitations on women during the period in granting Fia some autonomy in her life, even as she has to hide behind her male figures. Seriously. While known for her science fiction, her fantsy deserves a read by those who enjoy the genre.

Friday, January 4, 2019

You and your words, obsessed with your legacy

I'm not sure if Morgan Brice's Burn counts as a book or not, since it clocks in at 100 pages and is listed as volume 1.5 on Goodreads. However, I own a copy and I finished it, so it's getting treated as one. (I know, technically, it's a novella, but....)

One of the original reviews of Brokeback Mountain I read summed it up as "90 minutes of angst, 1 minute of pleasure", neglecting to mention the 1 minute of pleasure happens roughly 15 minutes in. Burn is a bit like that, since we're picking up in the months following the events of Witchbane, as Seth and Evan try to find relationship balances in a fairly new romance that involves moving in together in Seth's RV. That Seth is trying to train Evan in the fine art of monster hunting and rote magicks doesn't help with this.

So, we follow Seth and Evan from Richmond to Centralia, through battles with a vengeful ghost, ghouls, zombies, and kobalds and a bunch of relationship drama and jealousies as Seth goes through the existential angst of how someone he loves would be better off with someone else and Evan thinks Seth isn't giving him enough credit for the things he can bring to the table.

This leads to both parties doing stupid things, and finally coming to terms in the end, along with a few shout outs to characters from other series, written under both Morgan Brice and Gail Z. Martin.

Honestly, I kind of liked this better than the first one, since it shows a less idealized version of boy meets boy, where boy and boy figure out sex only gets you so far when the rent's due, there's no food in the house, and someone ate the last Twinkie.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

There's a hole in the Bath

My first book of the New Year happened to be Simon R. Green's Murder in the Dark, the latest in his Ishmael Jones series, which as we found out recently is not part of his Drrod/Nightside universe, even if Black Heir is still present.

The major premise has to do with the Organization sending Penny and Ishmael to a site outside of Bath, where a hole has opened up. But not a normal hole. No, this one has razor sharp edges, no bottom, and doesn't actually have dimensions, as the scientists on site actually dug a tunnel under it that never intersected the hole.

As this is Ishmael, not long after they get there, people start winding up dead, cell phones have no signal, and Penny's car won't start. Despite the big interdimensional hole, we can be pretty sure something quite human is busy killing off the scientific team.

For such a short volume, it does contain a lot of stuff, including more clues into Ishmael's origins. On the other hand, the resolution to the mystery, while making sense also seems rather... unlikely. While the motive rings true, it really wouldn't play well in the real world, where less lethal methods that are just as vicious show up.

Fun read.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Talk about your fairy tales

So, on advice from an LGBTQ Horror group I'm in, I picked up the Witchbane series by Morgan Brice, and finished book 1 before work this morning.

I'm really unsure how to do this. It's not that I didn't enjoy reading it, and it's not that I didn't like it, it's just... Well, I get the sense this started like Fifty Shades of Gray, in that our two main characters are semi-analogous to Dean and Sam Winchester of Supernatural. We start with Jesse, who takes his younger brother Seth ghost hunting at the Gates of Hell, a local legend in Brazil, Indiana. Their goal is to make a YouTube ghost hunting video by doing it on Halloween. Seth ends up getting flayed alive, while Jesse gets knocked out and finds the body the next morning. He gets hospitalized, his parents die in a car crash.... Jesse is left with a motorcycle and a motor home.

Two years later, Jesee has linked up with a rather small conglomeration of monster hunters, with the goal of tracking down whomever killed his brother. The set up is something like a Warlock got lynched on Halloween, and now his immortalish disciples sacrifice a descendant of each of the 12 deputies on a twelve year cycle. Seems different disciples are on different cycles, so we start with the Disciple getting ready to sacrifice Evan.

Evan currently lives in Richmond, Virginia, having left home in Oklahoma following expulsion from his church and family for fooling around with a high school athlete. Evan works as a bartender, and has his breath taken away when Jesse walks into his bar. Jesse, for his part, is infatuated with Evan at first sight, even as he doesn't realize Evan is Evan, as he works under the name Sonny. They go on a date, which ends quickly as Evan gets called back in to the bar.

The next night, they try again, wind up back at Evan's apartment, and things happen. Followed by waking up to people breaking in with guns, which is when Jesse finds out his hook up is also the man he's been looking for in a non sexual fashion. Evan's bar burns down, his apartment catches fire, so Evan is stuck living with Jesse, only half believing Jesse's story.

What follows is a dual game of cat and mouse, as the immortal Disciple stalks Evan as Jesse tries to track down said disciple. Eventually, everyone but the disciple and his minions get a happy ending, often in more ways than one.

Now, much as I enjoyed the read, the main narrative spans roughly 48 hours. In that 48 hours, Jesse and Evan explore the Mother's Gift of Pleasure roughly (and I do mean roughly) 9 times, a few occasions getting a refraction period of around 15-20 seconds. While the smut is better written and and more of interest to me than anything Laurell K. Hamilton has written in the past 15 years, it's also really hard to read it when one part of your brain is pointing out that neither man would be able to stalk immortal disciples after wearing themselves out that much. Nor does male anatomy usually allow that short of a refraction period.  Also, given both men have emotional issues with trust, they certainly do seem to forget them with each other quickly.

Honestly, it's fun reading, just remember to put actual biology and psychology out of mind while you read it as a fairy tale.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Liberation or control?

I'm sorry this is getting buried on Christmas Eve, really decreasing my viewership, but c'est la vie.

I finished Michael Bronski's A Queer History of the United States earlier today, and I'm honestly only posting the review now so I don't forget things I want to remember from it.

The stated goal here was to recount the history of queer folks from around the Conquista to roughly 1988. While his telling has some hits and misses, it does have information I hadn't particularly considered before, better terminology for things I've observed, and some fairly interesting anecdotes. Unfortunately, he also seems to be trying to be a queer Zinn, his bias shows up a few times, particularly at the end, and most of the 15-18th century is the literary equivalent of Lady Cassandra.

AKA dry and dusty.
 
So, unlike modern pictures that discuss berdache, two-spirits and the like, Bronski at least has the competency to point out that thinking of the Native Americans as a united people is a mistake, as the different nations had different ideas on gender conformity, and relying entirely on racist European observations isn't exactly accurate. That they did exist is one thing, but their treatment in their nations was really reliant on that particular nation. 
 
Then we get in to the fact that what is now considered queer identity didn't really exist in such terms as where we are now, so really we're chronicling the emergence of an identity as it evolves into forms we now recognize. Yes, we can document same sex relationships in historical figures, but would they have recognized themselves as queer under the current definitions? It's not that homosexuals, transgender folks, aces, aros, and nonbinary folks didn't exist, the language and the recognition of such an identity really didn't exist until fairly recently. As such, particularly during the colonial period, it's not like people were recording their felonious sodomy for future generations to get titillated over. On the other hand, the Puritans of Boston make for a good starting point of showing one of the major threads in history, that of societal control and social purity. 
 
As we move into the 19th century, we get more into discussions on the changes in gender identity and  how what was masculine and what was feminine changed over time. How the rise of cities and urbanization lead to less living with the family and created a thriving culture for single people. We delve into the World Wars, and how the military helped gays and lesbians to find themselves less alone. We discuss the anarchism of the labor movement (tear down the oppressive society and replace it with a more fair and just one) and the Civil Disobedience of Transcendentalism (make ways to fit into society) and how they influenced the modern movement. (Indeed, he draws in other civil rights movements , and how they also influenced the Gay rights movement, and how long it was until they actually started sort of working together.)
 
The last chapter mainly deals with the Lavender Menace, the Briggs Initiative, the Dade County Anita Bryant drama, and AIDS. (I'm skipping over some discussions on Hollywood presentations for the sake of brevity.) we end with Queer Nations (and a few other organizations) protest at st. Patrick's Cathedral in New York, leading to an epilogue pointing out that Gay Marriage is truer to the idea of Transcendentalist (and alignment at redefining Social Purity) than Queer Liberation. It's actually a discussion that deserves more space than what it got, and it really needed to mention Gen X, rather than discussing Millennial and Boomer Queers.  
 
Ultimately, his conclusion is that the movement is a mixture of both the Control and the Libertine impulses of society, and we can find people at either pole within it. Which has been true for a lot longer than I think any of us really know. 
 
 I enjoyed reading this, even with the occasionally dry stretches. The footnotes would be invaluable to someone chasing down more information of our queer ancestors. While flawed in a few places, it's not fatally so. Well worth perusal for those looking for our roots.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Killer Clowns for Outer Philly

Finished the last few pages of R. S. Belcher's King of the Road prior to clocking in this morning. While I will say his Golgotha series is probably my favorite of his ongoing series, all of them are really good reads everyone should pick up at some point.

What we have here are two major plots and one which wiggles through the narrative, setting up something we'll likely be returning to in future volumes. The major ones involve road witch Lovina and Builder Max pursuing a cult of alchemical harlequins that like to murder people as well as Jimmie and Heck trying to fix problems with the Blue Jocks Motorcycle Club, currently dealing with Cherokee Mike's drug running with as of yet undefined supernatural entity Viper. We also get hints that the Benefactors and the Builders have been working on a project involving the Road (and the Rail) that the Brethren do not know about that would likely cause a civil war if it got out.

So, we'll peel off and start with the clowns. That plot deals with a group of killer clowns run by seemingly immortal clowns recruiting from the ranks of juggalos not happy with the more wholesome ranks of juggalo culture. As such, they join up with the Harlequins, who get special face paint that does tend to make them longer lived, although it becomes addictive over time. This, in turn, leads to special ritual murders related to the Cleveland Torso Murders and the Black Dahlia in LA. Which also gets wrapped up in hobo culture and the idea of the Rail, which predates the Interstate. When Lovina dreams of a specific victim who's mother lives in Louisiana now, she winds up in Coalport, Pennsylvania, where the victim vanished from. This winds up involving Emmet, a hobo clown who got involved in tracking down one of the clowns in the 30s, and Dusty, who's a modern hobo, as well as Max, who enjoys field testing theories. Towards the end, Max gets more involved than she bargained for, and winds up proving herself more capable than she likely imagined.

Meanwhile, in North Carolina, Heck, who is still Jimmie's squire, is dealing with the Jocks falling apart, since no one has stepped up as President as of yet. While Heck is likely to do so, he has to finish his Squirehood first. Given the uncertainty, the jocks are splitting off, with Cherokee Mike leading stragglers away from the club to do more illegal activities, like Meth. Part of this is done with Viper, who seems to have magic of his own, and the aid of dark fairie creatures. The Viper Mike alliance also is trying to start a war between Heck's faction, and the Bitches of Selene, a female led MC filled with were creatures, including a transgender Werebear who is 50 shades of awesome and deserves their own spin off now.

The plots wrap up in good fashion, leaving you satisfied and wanting more.

I think the real appeal to me with his various series is that while I may not be as far out on the fringe as his characters wind up being, I'm also a bit beyond the hem in real life, so I can relate to the feelings of not being part of the main body of society. That and the fact his stuff is well written makes for an author I'm keeping alerts open for new material from.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Goodbye, crazy people

I'd been looking forward to Night Fall by Simon R. Green since the advertisement for it at the end of his last Secret Histories novel, since it meant the characters from that series were going to finally share space with his earlier Nightside series, which evidently ended before I started this blog.

A quick rundown on the Nightside...

Nightside is kind of a pocket reality hidden in London, kind of an adult version of The Phantom Tollbooth. Normal reality goes out the window in Nightside, where sin is available to all seekers, timeslips bring in people from all over the universe, aliens, alternate dimensions, etc all exist within. The Nightside is supervised by The Advisors, who in turn are represented by someone with the title Walker. At the start of this volume, Walker is John Taylor, who was the narrator of the Nightside series. Trying to to spoil too much, John is the child of the supernatural entity that formed the Nightside, is married to Shotgun Suzie, and is about to become a father.

Edward Drood, on the other hand, is still working with the Drood family, who are bound and determined to save humanity, whether they like it or not. So, when the borders of the Nightside start expanding for reasons they can't easily discern, the Droods send Eddie in along with Molly Metcalf to figure out what's actually happening, violating ancient pacts that have kept the Droods out of Nightside.

This doesn't go well, and we follow both men as a war inevitably starts breaking out. Eventually, the Droods use Alpha Red Alpha to shift the entire manor into Nightside for what they assume will be a bloodless coup.

Which doesn't happen.

Along the way, characters from both series pop in and out of the narrative, along with JC from Ghostfinders, who eventually helps end the war towards the end. In the end, we get resolution on just about everything, although the final wrap up is kind of abrupt. (It also conforms that Ishmael Jones is not part of this universe.)

I really enjoyed seeing John and Edward sharing the same pages, since they're really two sides of the same character. They do end up pulling a Kirk meets Picard towards the end, which honestly had me cheering while eating my lunch today.

I'm sad to see the world end, but what a ride it was. Although you never know how permanent such endings are, sometime things do come back even in a cameo.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

I'm glad I had insulin on hand.

So, I had ran across Beck Albertalli and Adam Silvera's What If It's Us at the bookstore, and decided to find it at the library, since even if I'm not in the target audience, I find it behooves me to keep current on Young Adult books that center on gay characters. Which is good, since, other than two characters who came out towards the end of Christopher Pike novels, they pretty much didn't exist when I was in the age range. Now when we get YA (and adult) horror novels with openly gay characters, we'll know we have arrived.

We open with two narrators telling us about a chance encounter at a post office between Midtown and Uptown Manhattan. We start with Arthur, a 16 year old musical obsessed Jewish kid who grew up in Milton, Georgia. Arthur is in New York for the summer, interning at his mother's law firm. Mom is working on a specific case, while dad is searching for work in Georgia from Manhattan. He meets a hunky guy with a box outside of a post office between Midtown and Uptown. A brief conversation ensues until a flash mob marriage proposal ends the conversation. Switch to Ben, a 16 year old Puerto Rican guy from Alphabet City who's trying to mail a break up box to his ex, Hudson.

Both walk away attracted to each other, but without exchanging information. Like names.

So we spend the first third of the novel with them trying to find each other. Which through a series of plot devices, they do eventually manage to find each other and arrange a first date. The second third concerns their series of first dates and the reactions of their friends to their relationship. Given that the friends helped them find each other, it's fairly positive, even though the friends have drama of their own. The last third deals with the consummation of their affair and the end of Arthur's summer in New York.

It's all very sweet and saccharine, what with even their parents loving the boyfriend and being very supportive of the children. And unlike Albertalli's Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, the ending is a bit less fairy tale and more realistic. Now mind you, my frame of reference is a lot different than that of the authors or their characters, so the near break up over Hamilton tickets seemed a bit silly to me, but upon further reflection, when I was that age and my boyfriend won the lottery for front row seats to see Phantom of the Opera at the Majestic then managed to lose them by being 15 minutes late to get them, I might have horribly overreacted as well.

As nice as it is to see fairly normal teens with supportive families fall in love, and as much as I can hope this is actually what's happening in the world, my own upbringing wouldn't let me fully share the fantasy as presented. I can hope that this is becoming truth, but I chalk this up as a stretched thin fantasy that remains rather charming despite the thinness of the reality attached.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

I'm a Djinn in a bottle baby

Finally getting a chance to return to Benedict Jacka's Alex Verus series, with Marked finally showing up. Again we're knee deep in politics, but hey, it's fun.

Basically, with Alex's boss Morden in prison, Alex has been given Morden's position as Junior Councillor on the Light Council. Which really does paint a fairly large target on his back, since 3 of the 7 voting members want him dead.

The problems start arising when Anne, Alex's Life Mage love interest, starts showing signs of being possessed by a Djinn from a raid on a magical artifact vault in previous volumes.

Well, that, and an attempt to get Morden to cooperate to bring down Richard Drakh, Alex's former mentor, who's currently trying to get the adepts to unite with the Dark Mages against the Light Council.

Essentially, none of this works out well for anyone involved, particularly when we start seeing signs of Anne's "other half" coming through again. (Anne has pretty much channeled all of her aggression and anger into another personality that has a life of its own.)

It's a good read, although this series is becoming rather hard to read as stand alone, given the amount of metaplot being woven in. On the other hand, given Jim Butcher's glacial release schedule these days, I'll happily lap up a similar series that's just as involving.