Friday, September 8, 2017

The curious incident with the sapphire dog in the mountains

As I again went digging through the pile of used books I've managed to collect this year, I came across Game of Cages by Harry Connolly, book 2 in his Twenty Palaces series. Mind you, I never read book 1, but hey....

I feel like I missed something in the set up. We start with the narrator, Ray Lilly, working in a grocery store, wondering if vaguely defined events in the last book were a dream. Then Catherine walks in, and we're headed out of Seattle to a small town in Northern Oregon, wherein an auction is taking place. Not just any auction, one where the big prize is something referred to as a Predator, a being from outside normal reality.

Catherine and Ray both nominally belong to some organization known as the 20 Palaces. They kill predators and those who summon them. Ray is something called a Wooden Man for Annalise, who is a Peer in the organization. Catherine is an investigator. (Still not sure oin all the rankings, but near as I can tell, the Peers actually use the sigils that create magic. Catherine has no magic of her own. Ray has protective sigils tattooed on him by Annalise. He also has a ghost know, which is for him, a slip of paper that can cut through anything. It also cuts away aggression when it hits humans or animals. Usually.

So, anyway, in the pecking order, Ray is somewhere under janitor. However, he's street smart.

They arrive after the auction has already ended. However, the winner is dead and the Predator has escaped.

A character who's pretty much Lo Pan from Big Trouble in Little China summons a predator that's a big ball of lightning. And everyone winds up trapped in small town Oregon a few days before Christmas chasing a Sapphire Dog. (Its method of feeding is to enchant humans to want to possess it, then fight over it. Kind of like Needful Things.)

We find out no one can leave town or sound the alarm as the bodies keep piling up. What passes for the local constabulary calls the staties for backup, and instead wishes them a Merry Christmas.

A peer does show up to take care of the issue, but he dies.

Annalise shows up, and she's glorious.

In the end, I begin to understand that we, the readers are looking through Ray's eyes and his complete lack of information on what the Twenty Palaces are. We get a brief glimpse at how magic in this setting works. We find out about other organizations unaffiliated or opposed to the Twenty Palaces.

It was interesting, and I enjoyed reading it. But I think I need to find book one to get a deeper understanding of what's going on here.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Lane closures ahead.

So, I picked up Night Work by Steve Hamilton at one of the clearance sales I went to this year, mainly because the cover art made it look like a good chiller. Which it wound up becoming, other than one thing. We'll come back to that.

The story centers around Joe Trumbull ("JT" to his friends) who lives alone in Kingston, New York. His apartment is one of two above a boxing gym, in what was the Kingston Greyhound. When we meet Joe, he's headed out on a blind date, his first date since his fiance was murdered a little of 2 years ago.

Joe's date goes well, she even forgives him for being a Probation Officer. Or doesn't mind. She doesn't matter, because they find her strangled in a grave yard a few days later, much like JT's fiancee was. (To be fair, fiancee was strangled and left in her bed.)

However, almost every woman JT interacts with over the next few days winds up being strangled, and the State Police discover that JT's necktie and shoelaces were the garottes.

So, needless to say, JT is the prime suspect, particularly since the deaths all resemble that of his fiancee's.

It's a good set up, and the plot moves at a speedy pace. Problem is, when we find out what is actually going on, the entire things falls apart. And not in the way things normally fall apart. More like the answer is mildly understandable, BUT goes so far over the top that it almost completely ruins the build up.

I guess he has a series he wrote that people enjoyed. I may check it out sooner or later, since other than the resolution, this was a good book.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Really?

I recently inherited about 10 books from my Training coordinator, who's former roommate left them at his house. Among them were a few John Saul novels, an author I haven't read since probably 1992.

Darkness was a reminder of why it's been a while.

The story centers around Villejeune, Florida, a village about 50 miles south of Orlando on the cusp of the Everglades. The town is divided into the working class (with a few rich folks who's lives improved by the number of retirees moving in) and the Swamp Rats, living in shacks in the swamps.

With me so far? In Villejeune, we have the local lawyer, who's adoptive son seems to have a preternatural understanding of the swamp, and a complete lack of emotion.

Moving back into town, we have the Anderson family, who's adopted daughter seems to have very few emotions, although she's a bit looney, trying to cut a baby out of herself that doesn't exist.

Both teens have vision of ancient looking men reaching out of mirrors for them.

And the daughter's grandfather, Carl, is getting vitamin shots from the local doctor that keep him hale and healthy.

While out in the Swamp, the Dark Man is sacrificing their children.

It's really kind of silly, since I had most of the major plot twists figured out LONG before any of the characters did. Also, much like Dean R. Koontz, he does his best to make extreme science the culprit, even if there is a touch of supernatural floating around the swamp.

I mean, I guess I get that we're in the old horror trope of sacrificing the young to keep the old alive and healthy, but it's doesn't particularly excuse the resolution of this silliness involving the children eating their elders.

It's easy reading, and it hold attention, and it doesn't delve quite as deeply into the silly levels Richard Laymon did, but it still reads like a contract novel, designed to pull money out of people's pockets for a cardboard display.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Not bad for an advertisement....

So I picked up Urban Enemies (edited by Joseph Nassise) mainly because Kevin Hearne advertised that it contained "The Naughtiest Cherub", which tells the story of Loki meeting Lucifer. (I should mention: the gimmick here is that all the stories in here are told from the point of view of the antagonists of their various series.)

There are other authors and other series in here that I read, so they were a sort of bonus.

We start off strong with Jim Butcher's "Even Hand", told from Marcone's perspective, as he's forced to enforce his part of the Accords. I suppose Marcone is a villain, but the Dresden files is filled with other complex antagonists who would be more qualified as villains. Not that it matters, it mostly has to do with Marcone mediating a rather violent dispute between some Formori and the local White Court of vampires. Using bombs.

"Sixty Six Seconds" by Craig Schaffer (I'm skipping a few here, since a few of the stories weren't particularly of interest to me, so I'm doing highlights) Crosses his Daniel Faust series with his Harmony Black series. It mainly concerns demons collecting bounties on souls. It reads a bit like Simon R. Green, without the cheekiness.

"The Naughtiest Cherub" by Kevin Hearne continues my love/hate of the Iron Druid. I mean, while giving Lucifer quirks of liking Prince and David Bowie, his portrayal of Loki continues to disappoint.

"Down Where the Darkness Dwells" by Joseph Nassise is ok, dealing with a necromancer who manages to form a symbiotic relationship with Asheral, a fallen angel.

"Bellum Romanum" by Carrie Vaughn deals with the origins of the vampire Gauis Albinus who is somehow responsible for Pompeii.

"Make It Snappy" by Faith Hunter concerns the Master Vampire of New Orleans and his brother.

"The Difference Between Deceit and Delusion" by Domino Finn follows Tunji Malu, some kind of African demon who eats people. He also has a very charming tarantula the size of a small car named Ananasi.

"Balance" by Seanan McGuire explains much of the history of the Jhorlac (aka Cuckoos) and how they operate.

There are other stories and authors in here, but these were the ones that actually stuck out to me and made me want to see if the library has their series. Mind you, what it really served to do was make me wish Jim Butcher would write another Dresden File....

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Meanwhile, off the coast of Zanzibar....

I'm actually a few days late updating, since I finished the book Friday, but I spent my weekend camping and watching the Perseid, which has nothing to do with Devil's Due, Taylor Anderson's latest in the Destroyermen series.

Now you'll pardon me for saying this, but I'm finding the more recent installments are a color commentator away from being WWE RAW or Smackdown. Because we get a lot of set up, one lesser battle about the midpoint (in south America), followed by the last 1/4 of the book, where th etitle fight happens in Zanzibar as Matthew Ready leads the raid to rescue his wife from Kurokawa and the Jaa-ph clan.

This is not to say it's a bad book, since it's not, it's just that it's becoming a bit formulaic. On the bright side, there's a fairly major development at the end of the book, which should make the next phase a bit more interesting, assuming we don't spend the next book in South America.

So really, here's a breakdown.

The Marines chasing the Dominion through the jungle figure out that they've been chasing a ghost force, leading Shinya to reevaluate how to proceed.

General Esshk and the Chooser of the Grik are busy in deepest Africa readying the Final Swarm to drive the Allies back off of Madagascar.

All the fleet not currently involved in the Eastern Theater or circumnavigating the globe to try to catch up with the New United States, get involved on the raid of Zanzibar, in the hopes of saving the prisoners there as well as well as stopping supplies coming from Zanzibar assisting the Final Swarm.

And our boat headed to Cuba via Africa does arrive after taking out both a Dominion Boat and a League Ship.

We're getting more on the League in this book that previous installments, finding that their arrival in this world was during a Spanish/French/Italian Fascist armada aimed at taking out their world's British Navy.

We briefly get to meet a member of the NUSA.

We see the Republic of Real People (down in South Africa) get their various colonial armies together to march on the Celestial City of the Grik.

By far, though, the biggest surprise comes at the end, and I imagine that those consequences will stretch over a few books.

Not bad for a series that was originally supposed to be a trilogy.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

I said medium well, not half baked....

So, at one of the used books sales I've been frequenting, I stumbled across Richard Laymon's The Stake. Having read a few of his other novels, I thought, "Hey, I know they're the literary equivalent of a bag of chips, why not?", and then firmly got the regrets upon reading it.

Laymon, back in the days I was still reading Fangoria magazine every month was famous/notorious in their pages for writing stuff that was a step above the Zebra imprint supermarket horror, but not quite good enough to be considered a classic writer. (Let me add here, that while most of the horror available at Krogers was indeed forgettable and pulpy, there were a few that I still own and occasionally re-read. Lisa W. Cantrell being one of them.) Indeed, the first book I read by him, Out Are the Lights, held my attention fairly well until the horrendously silly ending, that revolved around a deaf character being able to read lips perfectly on a movie screen. But, we're not discussing that one at the moment, even as much as I want to get another copy of that travesty.

The Stake's cover claims it to be "A novel of the supernatural" and even has a Stephen King blurb on it. The former is a misnomer, and the latter is proof that King was willing to blurb for anyone in the 80's.A reviewer on goodreads refers to this one as the novel where Laymon learned to pad out the length. This is also pretty true, particularly given the subplot that gets introduced in the last third and gets wrapped up with a Deus ex machina at the very end.

Anyway.

The book starts with our hero, a midlist splatterpunk author named Lawrence Dunbar and his wife Jean, out exploring ghost towns on the California/Nevada border with friends and neighbors Peter and Barbara. They wind up in a real one, Sagebrush Flat, which dried up in the late 1960's. The town is in disrepair, although the hotel has a new padlocked hasp on the front door. Being drunk and needing to advance the plot, the couples break in to the hotel to explore. Climbing the stairs, Barbara falls through, and Peter, getting under them in the basement, finds a coffin with a teenage girl. Said Girl has a stake through her heart, is surrounded by garlic cloves, and has a crucifix standing watch over her rest.

The couples leave in a hurry. Pete and Larry, though, later on decide to go back and get the body.

That comes later. First, we meet Larry and Jean's daughter, Lane. Lane, who's in High School, has what passed for typical teen issues in the era. Her boyfriend is interested in one thing, and she has a crush on her English teacher, Hal Kramer.

Before Larry and Pete return to Sagebrush Flats, we get a brief glimpse of Mr. Kramer, and his "friend", who happens to be Lane's classmate Jessica. That he's made her his friend through the use of razors and threats of murder isn't important until later.

The boys go get the body while the wives are out of town. While exploring the desert around the town, they find a skinned coyote that someone was obviously eating for dinner.

The corpse winds up in Larry's garage attic, as Larry and Pete decide to make a Amityville Horror style true story book out of the vampire in the desert. Larry starts dreaming about the corpse, seeing her as if she was alive. She keeps making him promises if he'll take the stake out.

Oh yeah, in case I forgot to mention it, Larry spends most of the book obsessing about the women in his life who aren't his wife.

Eventually, Larry finds out the girl's name was Bonnie, and she'd been Homecoming Spirit Queen in 1968. Kramer, in the meantime kills Jessica and her parents, sets their house on fire, and then prepares to make Lane his next "friend". Lane, oblivious to most of this, is doing things to intentionally draw his attention to herself.

And finally, late in the book, we meet Uriah, the one who staked Bonnie and her friends in 1968 and buried most of them under the hotel basement floor. He feels he's on a mission from God to eliminate Satan's vampiric spawn, although we're mostly left to wonder is he's insane or not.

All of this comes to a head in the literary equivalent of Prom in a teen movie. Everyone winds up coming over for dinner.

It's not a particularly badly written book, it just feels as if there's a better book just waiting to be chiseled out of the slab of words as presented. It would have also helped on my end, as a reader in 2017, if any of the characters had been better developed. I mean, we get to know Larry, and we get to know Lane, but everyone else seems like a paper doll, standing there waiting to be interacted with. And, much like Stephen King's early work, the plot doesn't actually do much until the last 50 pages or so.

If you're wanting something that will hold your attention but not really require much thought, give Laymon a try.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The End is the Beginning is the End

So, I picked up Kevin Hearne's Besieged, with the understanding it was a collection of short stories, but I was hoping it was some of the previously published stories that seem to only be available in digital format, particularly since those seem to hold a few crucial plot points that get glossed over in the actual main series.

Sadly, they aren't in here. Instead, we get 9 stories, roughly 4 of which take place after book 4 and 5 that take place after book 8, with one of the missing stories being used as reference around when they're set.

Which is fine, since the last story in the book sets up the events we're supposedly getting in the series finale in April, but...

Anyway, the early stories mostly fill in stories from Atticus's past, including questing to the Library of Alexandra to find some scrolls sacred to Seshat. After a bit of a scuffle with Horus, he finds out Bast cursed hers with the noise of mating cats should one who is not her priest try to read them.

We get stories of a few demon hunts, one of which happens in 1850 San Francisco, another in Kansas.

All of which are presented as campfire tales.

In the present, We get Owen's tale of how he met Atticus, Granuail's talkes of trying to id Poland of vampire after the pact takes effect, Perun and Flidais in a "cuddle dungeon", and trying to rid the Tasmanian Devils of some sort of facial cancer.

The last story, the set up for supposedly the last book, centers mainly on Atticus having to leave Oberon in Oregon having been informed by the Morrigan that Loki has visited Lucifer and is now ready to begin Ragnarok. 

While all the stories are good and readable, and a strong reminder of why I enjoy the series so much, I still feel like this book is mostly filler, a morsel thrown to keep the wolves at bay who anxiously await the next installment. That it also doesn't include some of the other stories is almost criminal, since not everyone is thrilled with e-publishing.

I just can't help wishing for more.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

I miss the rains down in Bridgetown

So, I went in to R. S. Belcher's latest return to Golgotha, Nevada, with as much of an open mind as I could muster, since, unlike previous entries in the series, this one is focused predominantly on only one character. Given the last two books in the series have been ensemble pieces with all the lunatics playing their own roles in the proceedings, I wasn't sure if following Maude Stapleton away from Golgotha would retain the magic that made the first two books so entertaining.

As it turns out, I needn't have worried much, since it seems Golgotha's weirdness isn't the only pocket of surrealness in the post Civil War world. Indeed, while Maude's narrative is set in 1870, we also follow her "Grandmother", Pirate Queen Anne Bonney across the oceans of 1721 on a quest of her own to find Carcosa deep in the heart of Africa. And in one really strange passage, the two timelines converge, making for one heck of a passage.

So, basically, we catch up with Maude not long after the end of The Shotgun Arcana, returning to her roots in Charleston, South Carolina, where her father has taken her daughter Constance. Leaving behind her new love, Mutt, she seeks full custody of her daughter and control of her inheritance from her Grandmother. Not to say there aren't complications of both the normal legal, but that comes in later.

In the mean time, we join Anne escaping the hangman's noose in Port Royal, Jamaica. She's gravid with child, and ends up delivering a son on the beach as part of her escape. Giving her son up to a friend to deliver to her family in South Carolina until she can return, she sets off on a quest for a city she's dreamed of paved with the bones of monsters.

Anne's story eventually chronicles her voyage to becoming the first Westerner to become a Daughter of Lilith. Maude, already being one, and in the process of teaching Constance to be one, must deal with her sisters within the rather small company, who seem to think that Constance needs to be sacrificed to refill the Grail that Maude emptied towards the end of book 1. We learn of the origins of Lilith mythology in this setting, and we learn of Lilith's husband, Typhon, who has a sect of his own, the aptly named Sons of Typhon, who's blood is much like the slick oil that was causing people to go nuts back in book 1.

As with just about every book in the Golgotha series, there's much to unpack in terms of mythology represented. Anne's tale takes us through the Oya and Orishas, while Maude's contemporaries represent Aztec and Oriental cultural mythologies as well.

It's also fair to say that Golgotha gets a little of its own placement in the narrative, as letters between Maude and Mutt travel a few times in the narrative. Mind you, this is where the odder bits of humor float up, as the local golem maker is reported to have hooked up with Shelley Wollstone, and a new brand of snake oil is drawing in customers from places like far off Night Vale.

And Maude even gets a bit of non-Mutt romance with a reporter who trails her doggedly through the book, even joining in her desperate flight to Carcosa on Anne's old ship, the Hecate.

My only regret on finishing this volume is realizing it's likely be a few years before we get another Golgotha volume, since I assume we'll be dealing with his other two series again before we return to Nevada.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Shamantery

So, as I believe I mentioned previously, I've been reading through some books I've picked up at various book sales of late while waiting on reserves to show up at the library. I'm happy to report one of them came in and was picked up today, so I'll be reviewing new fiction pretty soon. In the mean time, let me tell you of the kind of adrift in the overall timeline of Lois McMaster Bujold's World of Five Gods series, The Hallowed Hunt.  (I say adrift because goodreads lists it as book 1 in the series, even though it was written long after the first 2.)


While the two books written before this take place in and around Chalion, This one takes place in what seems to be south of Darcatha in an area once known as the Weald. (They got conquered by Darcatha before this book starts, but it appears they've regained some autonomy since Aurak destroyed the old king. The retain the Quintarian Orthodoxy that Darcatha instilled, meaning that those with Weald era issues like having an animal spirit grafted onto their souls are considered as bad as Demon ridden sorcerers.)

Thankfully, Ingrey kin Wolfcliff has a dispensation from the temple that keeps him from being burned at the stake to rid him of his affliction, namely having a wolf soul grafted on to his by his father. Which is good, since we meet him en route to a former prince's home in exile, where the Prince is dead and the murderer is a young Chalionese woman the Prince was trying to kill in process of adding a leopard spirit to his soul. Somehow, Ijada got the leopard and managed to bludgeon her attacker to death.

Which, in the Weald's political climate makes her more apt to be burned at the stake or hanged for murder than vindicated with a finding of self defense. However, since everyone must ride back to the capital with the prince's body, this gives us time to get a better view of what it means to be a shaman. Particularly when Ingrey's wolf starts coming to the fore and trying to kill Ijada. Thankfully, Learned Hallana (a divine of both the Mother and a Sorcerer in the Bastard's Order thanks to a quirk of fate), arrives at one of the stops on the procession and finds that a geas has been placed on Ingrey. She manages to remove it, but in the process, it brings the Wolf out of the containment Ingrey had built for it. The Divine sends a letter with Ingrey to take with him to another Divine in the Capital to see what can be done.

While this meeting does eventually happen, it's not before we meet another exceptionally memorable minor character in the book, Prince Jokol Skullsplitter, who got his surname from the skullspilitting headaches his poetry gives his crew. Jokol is from islands away from the Weald, and in town to drop off an Ice Bear named Fafa to the Bastard's Order in exchange for a Divine for his island.

While Hallana and Jokol provide some much needed comic relief throughout the book, much of the actual plot centers on Wencel kin Horseriver, Ingrey's cousin. Wencel, it seems, has a horse of his own. And quite a bit more besides.

It's actually quite breathtaking in its plot, once it gets going. We have a conflict between what a man wants and what the Gods want, although the Gods are limited by what their vessels can be inspired and willing to do on their behalf.

When I read this the last time, it was right after I managed to sprain/break by elbow, so my perceptions were likely off with the presence of painkillers. However, a new reread does suggest that while the book takes some time getting going (it's roughly one third of the book before some of the bigger plot points start coming in to play), the overall book remains a fantastic read.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

The future's so bright, I gotta wear shades

While I've read Ernest Klein's Ready Player One on a previous occasion, I recently found a copy at one of the books sales I've been hitting this past year. Since I'm between holds at the library (most of my reserve list is either not published as of yet or I was late getting a reserve in so I have a bit of a wait), I figured I'd pass some time by re-reading it. I just wasn't expecting to finish it again in two days.

For those of you who haven't read it....

Ready Player One concerns one Wade Watts in the year 2044, as humanity is in decline from a lack of natural resources. When we meet Wade (AKA Parzival), both of his parents are dead and he's living in a stack cluster in Oklahoma City with his drug addled aunt. He's enrolled in an on-line High School in the OASIS, a free-ish online world that most of the Earth is in. (basically, with a set of gloves and a visor that scan the world on to your retinas, it's virtual reality on a universal scale.) And he's a gunter, one of the many seeking the OASIS creator Halliday's Easter Egg, which gives the first one to find it ownership of OASIS and all of his sizable fortune.

Wade's best friend online is Aich, who competes in tournaments for money and thus is more well off than Wade. (Seems virtual currency is worth more than "real" currency.) Later on, they add Art3mis to their cabal, a female gunter and blogger.

Halliday's will left everyone with a riddle to find the first key, which in turn would lead to the first Gate. While in Latin Class, Wade solves the riddle and uses a school provided transport chit to travel across the virtual world to get to a small forest that opens on to the Temple of Elemental Evil. Having access to the module, he's able to get into the throne room, where the Lich (who's supposed to be elsewhere) greets him and challenges him to a game of the 80's classic "Joust". (The one where you press the flap button a lot and try to make the NPCs drop eggs.) Art3mis, who had solved the riddle a month prior but had yet to beat the Lich meets him and points out that his name now tops the scoreboard, which had been blank prior to someone getting the first key. Wade figures out where the first gate is and ends up playing through challenge wherein he's Matthew Broderick in Wargames.

While this does lead to plenty of money and endorsement deals, it also puts a giant target on his back courtesy of IOI and the Sixers. IOI being a company that wants to control OASIS (so they can charge people to use it and make ad revenue off of it) and the Sixers being a group within IOI named Oologists who work for the company trying to find the Egg. The leaders of the Sixers, Sorrento, approaches Wade about becoming a Sixer. When Wade denies him, Sorrento and IOI set off a bomb in Wade's stack. Thankfully, Wade's in his hiding space, buried in a pile of cars.

And on and on it goes, filled to the brim with 80's cultural references, until the very last climactic battle in front of the third gate that features Ultraman taking on MechaGodzilla. And a race to the finish in the gate as Sorrento runs about 18 minutes behind Wade.

Given how quickly I finished it this time, I'll again say it's a very engaging read, filled with memories of my childhood, even if a few of the references got on my nerve. (Like the Second Gate, which involves RUSH's "Temple of Syrinax".) I also found myself laughing when a discussion about The Goonies revealed where I knew the mother on The Real O'Neals from.

If you haven't read it, and, like me, remember the 80's, pick up a copy. Or if you like Audiobooks, the version of this one is read by none other than Wil Wheaton.