Friday, December 28, 2012

Why are we neck deep in the Unseelie Court?

Oh yeah, because Dresden died two books ago and came back as the Winter Knight at the end of the last book.

Slowly progressing through Cold Days, book 13 in Jim Butcher's Dresden Files. Progress has been slow due to the holidays, work, and a distinct lack of free time recently.

However, it's becoming one of the better books in the very long running series. (I remember back in the day when they were short and paperback. I know, get off my lawn.)

As I mentioned in the opening, two books ago, Harry Dresden died at the end. Then his ghost ran around, only to be resurrected by Queen Mab to serve as her Winter Knight. Which is where this book starts off, treating us to a fairly amusing recovery montage of Mab trying to kill Harry once a day, every day, for 11 months while he goes through Physical Therapy. And, wow does she get creative. Even if not many details are given on every method, more than a few provide a chuckle, like a brief mention of a crocodile with a ticking noise in its stomach.

On the Eve of Harry's birthday (Halloween, natch), Mab throws a party in his honor at Arctis Tor, kind of the fey version of Superman's Fortress of Solitude. We get reintroduced to Maeve, Mab's errant daughter, the Redcap (interestingly, most of the named sidhe are usually treated as a "clan" in other novels involving fairies. For instance, in Cold Days, Cait Sidhe is one actual being. In the October Daye novels, the Cait Sidhe are a breed.), and several other assorted fey folks in the court of Winter..

During a dance with Mab, she offers her first command to her new knight: Kill Maeve. Harry returns to Chicago and starts getting back involved with the several supporting characters involved in the series, trying to figure out how to do just that. As well as figure out how to stop his own private island in the middle of Lake Michigan from blowing up and taking most of the midwest with it.

Add into this several fairies of all shapes and sizes trying to kill him, and you have a fairly fast paced novel filled with intrigue as Harry tries to figure out what the hell is actually going on.

In other series, a character like Harry would be like a sword cutting through a Gordian knot of intrigue. Thankfully, Butcher prefers to allow intrigue equal footing with action, making the reader think through the consequences of Harry's actions as much as Harry does. A tough row to hoe, but fairly deftly handled.

Whil my favorite in the series will probably always be Dead Beat, Cold Days is a welcome book in a fabulous series. For those who haven't read the series, start with Storm Front and keep going. It'll be like buttah.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

There's something about Albuquerque...

And it isn't the Weird Al song that goes on for 15 minutes live.

Fourth Grave Beneath My Feet becomes the fourth book in Darynda Jones's Grave series. And oh boy.

I'll admit, the first book (First Grave on the Right) annoyed me, mainly because it wasn't until about a third of the way through the narrative did she give us any setting information. It was a bit like SE7EN, where we knew only we were in an urban area and something was amiss. It got better, obviously, since I'm reading book four, but first impressions tend to stick around.

Charley, who is THE Grim Reaper (unlike Maddy in the Black Wings novels, who is A Grim Reaper), spends most of the novels letting people "cross over" as they walk through her. She works as a P.I. with her partner/secretary Cookie; deals with her dad (a retired cop who now runs the bar her office was located over) and her uncle (still a cop, and uses Charley's leads to solve cases); hates her stepmother; oh, and she's in a very dysfunctional relationship with Reyes Farrow, who's parentage is pretty much the focus of the first book.

Now, given the last book involved Charley getting tortured and nearly killed towards the end, and Fourth starts with Charley becoming a recluse, spending her time ordering Home Shopping Channel junk and generally trying to ignore the world outside. Things get moving with a new client walking into her apartment and Reyes returning to her life.

The only problem with Reyes' return is that it seems to have derailed the plot. I'm interested in the mystery here; the client has been having stuff straight out of Fatal Attraction happening to her since she was 5. (For those of you not alive in the 80's, let's just say that Glenn Close did to a bunny what Cruella DeVille was trying to do to Dalmatians. Charley's client keeps finding broken necked bunnies and stuffed bunnies with stuffing missing from the neck in her house, usually on the bed.)

Of which, two thirds of the way through, Charley really hasn't done much but interview the client's shrew of a step mother. Instead, we've focused on Charley's slow return to normal, demonic possession (The demons want Charley, since she's a gate to the afterlife), and one whole hell of a lot of Reyes Farrow and her lust for him. While I enjoy the tension between the two characters, it's almost a less healthy relationship than that between Bella and Edward. It's saved by the fact that Charley can take care of herself, but still, she keeps getting in to trouble because she just can't quit him. (and given Reyes was in prison during the start of the series, we've already been through the people wanting to marry/love men on death row. It wasn't pretty.)

I dunno. I enjoy the series, the narrator is fairly funny. I just get annoyed when the plot becomes window dressing for the author's personal sex fantasies. I don't bear a grudge towards erotica, I just get annoyed when it becomes the focus of the narrative for the sake of being smut. Which, while this series is borderline, it hasn't crossed that line as of yet.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Back to the London Wizard

Finishing Benedict Jacka's Cursed and trying to figure out which book comes out of the TBR pile next.

Cursed is the next book in his Alex Verus series that started in Fated, reviewed previously on here. Once again, we have Alex, our intrepid Divination mage, running around London and trying to figure out his feelings for his apprentice, Luna. (Luna is still dealing with her curse, that pretty much prevents her from coming to any harm, but instead pretty much kills off or maims anyone she gets in contact with physically.) Alex is, of course, fighting off feelings of attraction towards her, which are affecting how well he's teaching her. In the mean time, Luna has a new beau who Alex thinks is a dumbass. Quite understandably, particularly given that Martin manages to get himself a Monkey's Paw, which, for anyone who's ever read the short story, knows is a REALLY BAD THING.

Add to this that it would appear that someone has returned to a forbidden magic practice that drains a being of any potential magic and adds it to the caster. (Reason it's forbidden has to do with driving the caster insane.) Only someone has figured out a way to modify said process so it's draining magical creatures rather than humans or mages. Which of course means that Arachne, the rather large Tarantula living in the London Heaths is threatened by this. As the novel progresses, we also find out Miss Arachne has a few secrets of her own hidden in her lair, and I'm kind of interested/horrified by the erotic material that may appear at some point between what's living in her lair and the giant tarantula herself. *twitch*

We also have been introduced to Meredith the Enchantress, who more or less manipulates emotions as her main focus. She's also a cross between a femme fatale and a Bond Girl, who's working for the Ice Mage Belthas. Belthas being the one who contracted with Alex to investigate who's behind all the draining.

And of course the Dark Fire Mage Cinder is back, as is Alex's old foil/friend Deleo. Again, in this book, they're much more morally ambiguous, given their encounters in the last book, but by the same token, it's nice to not have stock characters that show up and chase Alex around like a bad D&D villain.

Really, having seen a few James Bond movies now, I can say that the series is playing in a similar trope. Minus M and Q, of course. But still, it's amusing, and it's distracting, and it reads fast. Which means I'll probably get the next book pretty soon.

Friday, November 30, 2012

There are things you don't know about, and things you don't need to know about.

I finished Christina Henry's Black Lament earlier tis evening, and I now find myself waiting for the next book.

This series started with Black Wings, in which we met Maddy, Agent of Death. Maddy has a hereditary position witnessing deaths and escorting souls to the Door to the afterlife. She has a gargoyle house guardian named Beezle who happens to eat everything in site. She has a boss at the Agency (the one who lines up her collections) named JB, who starts off as a sanctimonious prick, but by book 4 is in the running to be a love interest. She has a father, Azazel, who's a Fallen angel who sat at the right hand of Lucifer. She has a great grandfather (quite great) who just happens to be Lucifer Morningstar. Oh yes, we're knee deep in re-imagined Christian Mythology here.

Black Lament is book 4 in the Black Wings series, and picks up pretty much where book 3 left off. Maddy's husband has just died and her Great Grandpappy, Ol' Scrotch is informing her that her husband lives on inside of her...and her baby.

In the last book, which delved into an unholy alliance between the Chicago fairie courts, the vampires, and her father Azazel's Court, a fairly major fairie wound up dead at Maddy's hands. As such, the Fey are mildly pissed with her, and end up sending monsters after her. Which promptly get dispatched, and winds up getting her in hot water with Oberon and Titania. Add on to this some very strange vampire behavior coming out of the last book, and Maddy, now Hound of the Hunt of Lucifer, is using a large sword to cut through the Gordian knot of Immortal politics.

Henry loves to hint around at the plots and counter plots that Maddy is navigating at sword point, suggesting that Maddy is being used as a pawn by several different factions, suggesting that perhaps, despite her good intentions, Maddy is not working for the good of humanity as she likes to think she is. Then again, the road to hell is paved with good intentions...

And this one leaves us with so many new questions. Such as, why are the rebel Fallen working with the vampires? (Part of this is made known at the end, however, the purpose isn't revealed.) Who is Puck, really? (Maddy meets him during her showdown with Titania and Oberon, and it's suggested he's much more than just a fairie. Hell, given the rather pointed conversation between Puck and Lucifer at the end, one wonders if he isn't an aspect of Jehovah. Not bloody likely, given his actions, but still...) And what part does the Agency play in all of this politicking? (Upper management spends most of this book trying to keep Maddy out of Fallen politics, regardless of Agents being kidnapped by players in the current coup.)

The series starts with Black Wings, moves into Black Night, continues in Black Howl, and Black Lament is the newest addition.

Monday, November 26, 2012


Maybe just a little.

WAY back in 1994 (Let's not go there), White Wolf Publishing created a Storytelling game named Mage: The Ascension, set in the World of Darkness along with the games Vampire: The Masquerade and Werewolf: the Apocalypse. While they later added other games, revised, then restarted the system with new setting, most of the games were accompanied by an anthology of short fictions to give people some of the flavor of the setting. (I read the Vampire one, The Beast Within, and wound up buying the core rulebook the next pay period.)

The Mage anthology, Truth Until Paradox (edited by Stewart Wieck) included two awesome stories; one just being a continuation of the previous. Golden Nutmeg, Silver Pear and Grimm Reminders by James A. Moore and Kevin Andrew Murphy centered around one Penelope Drizkowski and her friend Grimm as they fought off an evil mage. Penelope goes by the nom de Goth Penny Dreadful, and gets the best lines in the entire story.

A few years later, she reappeared in World of Darkness: Outcasts as part of a story about Mages that don't fit in with the rest of Mage society. It also expanded on her clique, some of whom like Spooky Pete had appeared in other lines. (Pete showed up in a few Wraith: the Oblivion stories, since he can see the dead.)

And back in 2004, Kevin Andrew Murphy ended up writing a serialized novel titled Penny Dreadful that went up on White Wolf's website.

I didn't know it existed until a friend mentioned it when I was camping last September. And then it took me until today to find a copy, since it only exists in .pdf format. Found here. Since I do have the Nook now, I spent some time learning how to download and open .pdf files on a tablet.

And oh boy am I happy I did.

I just finished Part 1 of 8, in which our heroine and her talking cat familiar, Mr. Mistoffeles, wind up at a Vampire bar talking to Oscar Wilde, who now goes by the name Sebastian Melmouth. By far the best parts of the narrative are her asides, usually about the absurdity of the situation. (Like going to the powder room and noticing that she committed a faux pas by using the porcelain toilets, something the female vampires don't do.) By the end of the night, she's singing like Molly Brown and leading vampires in a sing-a-long.

To give you an idea of why I love Penny D- so much, I offer up a quote that sums up her character.

"Honestly, I've looked through The Kama Sutra and The Perfumed Garden, and while most of the positions involve persimmons, peaches and pomegranates, Jodi was doing a fine job improvising with pepperoni pizza.

"Yes children, the letter for today is P, and that includes Prostitute, Pulchritude, and Passion.

"However, I'd done what I intended, namely to see if Bimbo Yaga was home, and if so, distract her for a little while. I'd succeeded beyond my wildest dreams, 'cause the way Miss Blake was teasing that poor boy, I was certain she meant to earn her free pizza."

Later on, when confronted by Bimbo Yaga, she asks her if  she found a blackened pair of chicken legs in the ashes of the house.

Yes, I love her. She's the kind of character I'd love to meet and go hang at a bar with.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Too little time

Due to the fact I work in retail and the joy of Black Friday, I'm still plugging though Sky Coyote.

However, I did manage to get a Nook Color during my lunch break on Thursday. While I am not updating this blog via the Nook, (All I've done with it so far is charge it and register it, which told me touch screen keyboards and I are going to have issues) it will give me some new avenues in which to find content for this blog. (Because there are several books out there not available other than in e-content that I want to read.)

So, since I'm not reading something new, I figured I'd discuss Jasper Kent's Danilov Quintet, mainly because I was talking about it with a friend of mine at work who happens to love Russian novels. Book 4 is due out early next year, so...

The first book, Twelve, starts as Napoleon invades Russia in 1812. Special military agents (read: spies) Aleksi, Vadim, Maks, and Dmitri end up meeting with 13 mercenaries out of Romania. The leader of the band, Zmyeevich, introduces 12 Oprichinki (The name for an earlier Black ops group in Russian history) who all bear the names of the 12 apostles of the New Testament. Only in Russian, since the book is set mostly in and around Moscow. Anyway, as Aleksei, the main character, begins following around these new Oprichniki around trying to destroy Napoleon's army's morale, he ends up discovering their true secret... they are the voordalak he heard tales of as a child. And then the book gets interesting. I thought Napoleon retreated before hitting Moscow, but I was wrong. Much is made of the game of cat and mouse between Aleksei and the vampires during the occupation, as Aleksi comes to the opinion that nationalism is no excuse for letting such vile creatures exist. And the vampires seem to feel that killing their kind is grounds for execution.

Add into this the very odd relationship between Aleksei and Domnikiia (a Moscow lady of negotiable virtue who keeps Aleksi entertained with his wife Marfa raises their son in Petersburg.) and you have a recipe for one hell of a read.

Book 2, Thirteen Years Later, picks up with Aleksei doing spy work among certain groups concerned about which brother will become Tsar when Aleksandr I dies. (Which in turn sets off the Decemberist Uprising, which is where the book climaxes.) Marfa is still raising their son in Petersburg, although he's military now, and sympathizes with the revolutionaries. Once again, we get involved in the cat an mouse games, as Aleksi goes chasing off after St. Germaine along with the soon to be Tsar Constantine. What he finds involes what the real goal of the Wallachian voordalak really is, and then getting involved in the Decemberist Uprising trying to save his son Dmitry. some of the historical bits get a bit long, but there's some great humor at the assumptions Aleksei keeps making about the nationalities of the English speakers. (Hint: they're Scotsmen, not English.)

Which brings up to Book 3, The Third Section. The title references Tsar Nikolas's secret police, who monitor communications and keep an eye out for revolutionaries. Aleksei is barely in this one, due to the ending of the last one. We instead follow around his son Dmitry in Crimean War and his daughter by Domnikiia, Tamara, who works in Moscow with the Third Section. As the book progresses, the half-siblings eventually get tied together, unaware of their shared father or his exploits in voordalak hunting. All of which leads to a rather prolonged climax as both siblings, the main villain, and Aleksei all meet up and everything gets laid bare.

If you have time to spare, they're well worth reading. I will admit to having Wikipedia open while reading them, since I honestly didn't know every much about the periods in which they are set.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Wait, what?

This may be another case of me being behind the rest of society, but I'm now in Book 2 of Kage Baker's Company novels, Sky Coyote.

I think it's best to explain the premise of these before getting deep into the plot. Basically, in the 24th century, Zeus Inc discovers time travel. And the numerous complications with it. You can only go back in time and you can only return to the present that you left. You can take stuff back in time, but not bring things back from the past. You can't change recorded history. Which makes it rough to make a profit.

Which is why Zeus Inc changed its name to Dr. Zeus Inc, using another failed project, immortality. See, immortality can only be conveyed before the end of puberty. And it's quite expensive. Therefore the middle aged rich men who could afford it can't get it. By combining projects, Dr. Zeus sent folks back in time to make people who wouldn't be missed immortal to collect and preserve things outside of recorded history until they can be revealed in the 24th century. Dr. Zeus makes a huge profit, several beings gain immortality, everyone's happy. Well, sort of.

In Book 1, The Garden of Iden, we meet Mendoza and watch her transformation from mortal to immortal following a slight encounter with the Inquisition. Mendoza becomes a Grade 6 Botanist within the company, and gets assigned to Elizabethan England. (Ok, technically on the cups of that era. Mendoza winds up accompanying Prince Phillip's entourage to England as he prepares to marry Mary.) She falls in love with Nicholas, who has a dark past. (Heaven forbid! He was a libertine. Now he's a Lutheran in a period when Mary's trying to stamp out Anglicans and other heretical non Roman Catholic heresy.) Their love, much like two lovers in Verona a few years later, is about as successful and long lived as Mary's reign in England.

Book 2 picks up towards Winter Solstice in 1699 CE. We join Joseph the facilitator (and also the one who saved Mendoza from the loving arms of the Inquisition) as he checks in to New World One, one of The Company's outposts in South America. Wherein we find out about his past in what was to become the Basque region of the Pyrenees. However, New World One is a Mayan city with 24th century technology and humans who think the guy in charge is Kukulkan. On New Year's, said Administrator holds a fin de sicile mourning the soon to come destruction of the indigenous folks by conquistadors. On New Year's Day, 1700, Joseph and Mendoza leave for what will one day be California.

The California base is very sterile and run by 24th century mortals, who tend to view the cyborgs as something to be feared or ignored. Somehow less than human, really. All of which is a bit beside the point, since Joseph's real purpose is to save the Chumash tribe for preservation and release in the 24th century. (I might be misremembering here, but all I could think of was Buffy: the Vampire Slayer's Season 4 Thanksgiving episode when I read the tribe's name.) The Chumash religion focuses on anthropomorphic a\sky gods, of whom Sky Coyote is the one who deals with humans. The Chumash are also fairly advanced, having a sea shell based monetary system and trade with neighboring tribes, organized labor, etc. Joseph gets some prosthetic work done and takes on the role of Sky Coyote, here to save the Chumash people from the Sun's white men in big canoes who will kill the Chumash.

We have a few themes floating around in here. Neolithic Chumash society has a lot in common with late 20th Century American society, what with business versus labor concerns. The Scientists, the priests, the astronomers, and the shaman all want to argue about what Sky Coyote actually means when he says something, much the way contemporary humans debate religious dialog. Also, a tribe further south is now monotheistic, and convincing other tribes that their god is the real one, and Sky Coyote is actually a being who fell out of favor and therefore fell from grace.

Meanwhile, back at the California base, conflict is stirring between the cyborgs and the future humans. One of the more interesting passages concerns Lopez discussing how the cyborgs appreciate the culture that came before the 24th century (technically future culture at this point), versus the future humans who ignore the foundations of their culture and instead play games all day and worry about hurting abalones that the cyborgs want to eat for dinner. Also, one of the human admins would rather save the monotheistic tribe rather than the Chumash, because the monotheistic tribe's values seem to line up better with his, at least on a superficial level.

A quick look at the library catalog suggests a few more books in the series, while Wikipedia reveals the author died a while back. Which is sad, since It's really quite fascinating reading, if a bit slow in the outset. 

Friday, November 16, 2012


The Lightning Thief was much better than it had any right to be.

I'll admit, I checked it out on a whim, having been bombarded at work by advertisements for the new book in the series that follows the series this one starts, but I was impressed.

Having avoided the movie, the hype surrounding the books, etc, I wasn't sure what to expect. One of the first things I noticed was the book was published via Hyperion, a Disney company. While that's usually a a good sign, I still remember the cinematic abortion that was Hercules. (For those who can't tell yet, I'm a Greek mythology nut. Disney's retelling of Hercules [or Heracles if one wants to be CORRECT], was so far off the story that I found myself vowing to never watch a Disney film again. Not that I kept that vow... And the funny part is that I had no issues with Disney's version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Mind you, trying to make a book with one whole heck of a lot of rapine and a dead heroine at the end into a children's movie must have been one heck of a challenge...)

Then I started reading the book. At first, my mind cynically wrote it off as a Harry Potter knock off. I mean, while Percy's life is not nearly as miserable as Harry's prior to Hogwarts, there is an amount of similarity there. Abusive home life, trouble at school... Things do take a different tack when Percy's math teacher turns out to literally be a harpy and attacks him on a field trip. (I could only wish my field trips were that exciting.)

His Latin teacher throws him a pen that becomes a sword, and all of a sudden, we're off to another world. Sort of. First, we have to go back to Manhattan to meet Percy's loving mother and his horribly abusive step-father. (Unlike Harry, Percy's mother is still alive. His father, however, is notably absent.) His mom ends up taking him out on Long Island to get away from the horrible step father, where in they get attacked by the minotaur. less than 50 pages in and we've already had two fairly major "monsters" from the Greek mythos show up.

Percy manages to defeat the minotaur, barely. In the process, he loses his mother and consciousness. Which is when we enter Camp Half-Blood, sort of a summer camp for demigods. The camp is run by Chiron (who passes for human by sitting in a wheel chair) and Dionysus (on punishment detail for chasing too many nymphs. And very glossed over, since this is Young Adult.)

As the book continues, we find out Poseidon is Percy's father, and that Zeus's Thunderbolt has been stolen. Zeus blames Poseidon, Poseidon thinks it was probably Hades, and Percy ends up going on a quest with Annabelle (daughter of Athena) and Grover (a satyr) to Los Angeles to enter the underworld to get the thunderbolt back.

Along the way, the meet several more monsters, a few gods, and generally try to become heroes who survive their legend.

I've really enjoyed it. About the time they started the quest is about the time I stopped comparing it to Rowling. I did have a few quibbles with the book though.

Chief among them: Athena was chaste, so I can't see her having half-breed children. (Seriously, the book mentions that most of the Olympian females were chaste; I realize having Athena be Annabelle's mother helps the plot along, but still...)

Another part that had me quibbling involves a fight with the Chimera on the St. Louis Arch's observation deck. Percy finds up falling out of the arch and landing in the Mississippi. For anyone who's ever been to the Arch, you understand this goes well beyond improbable in the manner in which the fall is described. Because there's still a lot of park, embankment, road, and levee before you hit water. Also, given Poseidon has dominion over the sea, I can't see him having much influence over polluted fresh water.

I also had a minor umbrage with how Hades was presented at the outset. Riordan made up for this when Percy and his entourage actually hit the underworld. (Mind you, I had similar issues with Hercules on this as well. Yeah, Hades has issues. but he's generally not quite the horrible god he gets portrayed as in modern takes on the mythology. I honestly think modern Western thought hates him because of what he represents.)

Yeah, I'm late getting on the bandwagon. But if The Lightning Thief is any indication, the series should be fun reading and an interesting take on ancient civilization.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Do graphic novels count?

I think they do. While I won't chronicle comic strip compilations here, I think I will add when I'm reading graphic novels.

So, with that in mind, I just finished Bill Willingham's Fables: Super Team and Fables: Inherit the Wind.

Fables, for those not into comics, is an imprint of DC Comics Vertigo line, dealing with characters who more or less walked right out of the story books of our childhood. Only its more like Sondheim's semi-gawdawful Into the Woods musical, where, after the narrator dies, the stories have to find their own path.

These two are actually much later in the series, long after the Adversary (basically, an evil ruler who invaded most of the homelands of the fables) has been defeated and a new adversary (Mr. Dark, more or less the personification of night and all things hidden within the dark) has risen.

In Super Team, Pinocchio is trying to form the fables into a super team to defeat Mr. Dark, who has more or less taken over Manhattan at this point in the story. His theory is that Superheroes always win their battles, and by tapping into that trope, they should be able to take down Mr. Dark. Of course, the fact that they rip off Marvel Comics in doing so just adds to the silliness. (Really, Ozma of Oz doing her best Scarlet Witch was the highlight.) Very well drawn series, and the book is as high quality as everything that has come before.

Inherit the Wind picks up with what happens after the battle with Mr. Dark. Sadly, I can't discuss the plot here without spoiling everything that happened in Super Team. So what I can say is that the new characters introduced are interesting in their own right (Personifications of the East, West, and South winds), and that the odd version of A Christmas Carol featuring Rose Red (Snow White's sister) at the end of the book was fabulous.

I know graphic novels are not for everyone, but Fables, much like Sandman (or pretty much everything else in the Vertigo line) is a very well crafted story with a bunch of picture enhancements. Start at the beginning (Fables: Legends in Exile) and be prepared to see your childhood favorites in a whole new light. (For that matter, grab a copy of Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes. It's Neil Gaimen, it's like buttah.)

Just started Rick Riordan's  The Lightning Thief this morning, but not far enough in to really comment as of yet. Look for it next.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

How many Norsemen does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

Five. One to hold the bulb, and four to drink until the room spins.

So, I'm reading Jacqueline Carey's Dark Currents, book 1 in her Agent of Hel series. For those not versed in such esoterica, Hel is one of the Norse Aesir; specifically, she watches over souls not taken to Valhalla. (As a note, Aesir is the plural of Ass, which really explains the Norse Pantheon.)(And Ass translates as god, but I really hate the Norse pantheon, so I'll stick with the vernacular translation.)

This one centers on Daisy, born of a rather interesting night of Ouija summoning a demon and part time incubus. As such, Daisy has a tail and a slight anger management problem. However, as Daisy and her mom live in Pemkowet, Michigan, this is much less of an issue that it may seem at first.  Most books in the genere go one of two ways. At least one major supernatural race is out of the closet (The Hollows, Southern Vampires, Anita Blake) or none of them are (Night Tracker, Blood Ties). In this, some cities (In this case, Pemkowet) have a more or less semi-aware human populace while most folks not under the influence of the Underworld (In this case, Hel actually grew Yggdrasil II in a sand dune on the coast of Lake Michigan and the underworld she inhabits is the remains of an old Dutch city that got buried in the sands.)

As the book starts, Daisy and her best friend are watching an open air concert. By the end of the evening, She and her best friend will be fighting because Jennifer has been flirting with Cody, whom Daisy has had a crush on since elementary school. However, as Cody is a werewolf, Daisy knows the all too human Jennifer won't have much luck in the relationship department. All of which gets interrupted a few pages later, as 4AM rolls around and Daisy gets called out to a crime scene.

You see, Daisy works as an Agent of Hel. Since Hel doesn't get out much, it falls to Daisy to represent the goddess in crimes that are perpetrated by and against the "eldritch community". (Basically, she's kind of like Fox Mulder, if Fox worked for the aliens as well as the FBI.) (I would also mention that while I love the word eldritch, it means green.) And since a young frat boy was fount floating face up in a fresh water river after drowning in sea salt...

As the investigations continue, we meet Daisy's second possible love interest and suspect, a ghoul named Stefan, new to Michigan by way of Poland. Stefan owns the Wheelhouse, a local ghoul bar. (For the sake of clarity here, Ghouls in this universe are more or less emotional vampires. Immortal, but feed on strong emotions rather than blood.) Stefan is working on getting the ghoul motorcycle gang out of the meth business.

We're also following Daisy's mom's Loteria card reading, which so far has been quite literal, and dealing with her Lamia godmother's attempts to get the undines and maiads to talk about what they saw when the frat boy was thrown in the water. (The Lamia, Lurine, is a famous B movie actress who married an old man and inherited his fortune when he died. She's also comic relief. Not a page goes by without a boob joke in one of her scenes.)

As of now, we're knee deep in investigating a Frat alumni and what the hell he means about being a Master of the Universe, and wondering who did kill the boy and why he had fish scales under his nails.

It's a good read, even if I do have a few quibbles. Mainly the one gay character, a guy who owns a magic shop and has purses dropping out his mouth every time he talks.

Also, this makes the third series I've read that's for some reason decided to introduce the Norse pantheon, and the second to specifically bring Hel into the fold. Wondering if Norse is becoming the new Native American in these things, or if it's more akin to Greece's mystical obsession with Egypt back in the Hellenic age. (Oh! It came from Egypt! It much be mystical!)

And I will finish this by thanking the author for not invoking Thor in her mythology. What little I actually know of Norse (I'm much more familiar with Greek, Sumerian, and Egyptian mythology) suggests that Thor is nothing like his Marvel Comics persona. In fact, he comes off as 20 pounds of manure in a 10 pound bag. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

I think I found my new superpower...

Due to the fact I can't renew it and it's due back on the 14th, Libriomancer by Jim C. Hines jumped to the head of my reading list. Book 1 in his new Magic Ex Libris, series, I was originally expecting at best a Mary Sue (Mary Ellen, Sue Ellen...whatever the term is. Maybe not Sue Ellen, that kind of character is the one that shows up and demands the deed to your oil field.) story, wherein the author was more or less writing himself into the story. At worst...

And then I started reading. My initial reaction to the start Issac's story was one of jealousy. Issac, out narrator is a libriomancer, a magician who can literally reach into a book and grab something out, as long as the object is big enough to fit through the book. (Examples so far include a disruptor ray, a lightsaber, the winged sandals of Hermes, a sonic screwdriver...) The jealousy directed not only at the ability, but also that I wrote a very similar power into characters about 20 years ago. Then again, I bet that most avid readers wish for very similar powers most of the time.

I digress.

Issac, much like the characters mentioned in my last post, is another one who has fallen from grace. A member of a secret magical organization, Die Zwelf Portenaere, Issac was on the fast track for a research position when he screwed up his field work. As such, he starts the book as a cataloger on Michigan's Upper Peninsula, not allowed to use magic except in cases of emergency. (A bit of background here on DZP. It's revealed early on that Johannes Gutenberg founded the order after discovering libriomancy. The magic works on a couple of ideas, mainly that there are multiple copies of the same edition of a book, and that as people read said book, their belief in the story fuels the magic inside.) Mostly, what Issac does is keep a database of what kind of things could be pulled from the books he catalogs. His specialty is Science Fiction and Fantasy, which leads to much name dropping in the narrative. (More side notes.  I remain amused at how he's getting around trademarks and copyright on a few items. There's enough description to let you know what it is he just pulled without ever naming it. Second, I'm glad he has a small bibliography at the end, because a few of these I want to read now.) Should something be in the book that should be locked (for instance, the miniature black hole from David Brin's Earth or the weapons grade rabies from a book created for this narrative), Gutenberg will "lock" the text to prevent anyone (especially awakening libriomancers) from grabbing something really bad out of a book.

Well, after getting attacked by "Sparklers" (vampire species Sanguinious Meyerii, caused by people getting vampirism from Twilight novels) and being saved by a hamadryad, we find out that not only are vampires of several species attacking libriomancers and the other types of magicians in DZP, but Gutenberg and his immortal automatons have gone missing. Lots of investigation and visiting a vampire nest in Detroit later, we're suspecting that Gutenberg himself is behind the war between the factions (the vampires are saying they were attacked first), particularly since a few locked books are suddenly semi-unlocked. To a point where Issac just violated a whole bunch of rules of magic by more or less trying to enter a book that has its lock ripped out to try to find the person who destroyed the lock. This was a bad idea. However, the person who ripped the lock out seems to be suffering from what the psychiatrists libriomancer being held by the vampire nest in Detroit describes as a cross between Dissociative Identity Disorder and possession. Namely, the bad guy just identified himself as about 5 different people, including Moriarty, Norman Bates, and Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

I love his shameless name dropping, and I love the powers on display here. Although I honestly think Issac would be well served by pulling Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden's trench coat out of a book at this point.

On a personal note, I'm trying to make this blog look prettier than it does now. I seem to have not inherited the fabulous allele when I got the gay gene, which is making the process more difficult. 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

What happens when the journey ends?

I'm almost done with Kelly McCullough's Broken Blade, Book 1 in his new Fallen Blade series.

The premise is fairly straightforward, narrated by one Aral Kingslayer, who has long since stopped using his moniker, preferring instead to work as a "shadowjack". His Holy Order fell several years back, and his goddess was killed by "the new gods"; the Son of Heaven now runs the government. Thankfully, Aral still has Triss, his shadow familiar. Triss, who exists as Aral's shadow, mostly hides as Aral's shadow, occasionally taking his "normal" shape of draconic shape.

Into his life of drunken forgetfulness walks Maylien, a girl dressed as a servant who wants Aral to do courier work for her. The price is more than generous, but the hob doesn't turn out quite as Aral imagined. Mainly because the Baroness Marchon, upon who's balcony he is to deliver the message, is having a clandestine meeting with Devin, another of the "Blades" whom Aral worked with in his Holy Order. Devin, it seems, has sold out his temple after the fall, becoming an assassin for hire. (The order killed people who were in need of their next turn on the wheel of karma, not murder for hire.)

Somehow, this set up begins awakening the old Aral, particularly after finding out that Maylien is the Baroness's elder sister and should have the barony, being tortured by people who know something about controlling shadow familiars, etc. It's less the hero's journey, and more an exploration of what happens after the hero returns home and find the world isn't what he left in the first place.

I've discussed McCullough's past series before (his WebMage pentad, concerning an alternate Earth wherein the universe runs on a computer based on Greek mythology. It's quite imaginitive and I loved all five books), and there are a few series I can point you towards that discuss what happens when Campbell ends and the hero continues to exist.

There is, of course, Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis's Dragonlance Legends trilogy, which while mostly being about time travel in a fantasy world, also shows this trope of what happens when a hero (Caramon) returns from heroing and can't get his life back together. By the end of Legends, Caramon has finally fixed his life and his relationship with his brother Raistlin. Well, sort of. For those of you who have never read the Dragonlance Chronicles or Legends, let's just say that Caramon and Raistlin don't have issues as much as they have volumes. Even if they are derivative of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings (which isn't surprising, since he more or less set the groundwork for most modern fantasy. Not to mention, Frodo also finds he can't really go home again.), they remain good reads in their own right.

There is also Richard K. Morgan's A Land Fit for Heroes, which starts with The Steel Remains. I'm not sure how to describe this series. I started reading it because Ringil, one of the three major protagonists, is gay. The alien half-human is also bi, and hooked on a marijuana type drug. The third, a horseman from the outlands, has issues with his tribe forcing him out. The series is interesting, but very graphic, and every character tends to swear like a sailor on a golf course. There's also the rather graphic description of Ringil's boyfriend's public execution for being gay. However. there's an awful lot of densely packed plot involving another alien race making their return to Ringil's world and potentially enslaving the humans. Mind you, this provides motivation for the three war heroes (all three served in a previous war before the series starts fighting along side the rest of humanity against dragons and lizard armies. After the lizards were defeated, humanity returned to their warring states and leagues.) to get back together eventually, but in the mean time, we get a look at three lives of old war heroes more or less put out to pasture by the people they saved.

While the hero after the journey isn't quite a full cliche yet, the possibilities remain interesting, particularly juxtaposed again more modern and real issues of people returning from war and trying to reenter society. For most, they can do it; for others, it's it quite difficult. But no one returns unchanged, and I think that's why stories in this vein remain facinating.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Let's dig something out from the grave of the past...

I was going to start my review of the current reading (Broken Blade by Kelly McCullough, which will be fun, since I can tie it to at least two other series), but, given it's Halloween Eve and I had a few discussions today that I thought might make better blog fodder....

A conversation with a coworker today brought back memories of Main News, a store that used to be in my hometown.  It was kind of a convenience store that also sold lots and lots of paperbacks, magazines, newspapers and the like. Most of the paperbacks fell into the best seller or pulp categories, but they did have a young adult section, which wound up emptying my very slim wallet most weeks. When new owners bought the business in the mid 1980's, they added pipe tobacco and cigars to the milieu. Such scents as pipe tobacco tend to get in things, namely pulpy paperbacks. So many books of my youth still carry the scent, and to this day, smoke shops tend to bring back fond memories of browsing the wire racks for something of interest and looking at the comic books for something that caught my eye.

Oddly enough, one of my recurring nightmares involves going in to Main News and finding a labyrinth of books that I have to navigate.

Sadly, the building holding Main News fell apart and had to be torn down not long after I moved away for college. Is it odd that my heart holds a special place for a bookstore? (As a side note, the book I most remember buying here was the 3 in 1 novelization of the first 3 Nightmare on Elm Street movies. Which was funny, since the novelization of Dream Warriors was obviously based on an earlier script. The first 2 were fairly synoptic with their respective sources , but the third...Order of death was off, some of the one liners were WAY off, and the plot deviates at several points.)

Speaking of childhood horror, I was also reminded of another story almost no one has ever heard. I'm not sure if it still exists or not, but it used to be Scholastic would send home fliers with books listed appropriate for specific ages groups. Students would fill out the order, bring payment in, and BOOM! A month later, a bunch of books you forgot about arrived.

Well, once upon a time, I dreamed of a book. I recall the dream clearly, the book was glowing in my bedroom drawing down malevolent spirits. A few moths later, the book showed up on the Scholastic list. A book I had dreamed of, there in print waiting for me to invite it into my house. That book was When Midnight Comes... by Carol Beach York. Which didn't end up drawing malevolent spirits into my bedroom, but instead cured my insomnia. Seriously. It was basically a happy middle class family being invaded by an emo cousin, whom they blame for supernatural goings on. They kick the emo cousin out, and BAM! Midnight comes. Seriously. Worst juvenile horror ever.

On the other hand, some insomnia was caused by juvenile horror titled The House on Hackman's Hill by Joan Lowery Nixon. Which is funny, since the first half of the book is an elderly neighbor telling a story about Mr. Hackman and his stolen mummy and how a statue of Anubis pretty much came to life and made Mr. Hackman vanish; the second half is pretty much Jeff and Debbie breaking into the house and experiencing the same damn thing. Scared me to death as a child. It was a few years before I could read any Egyptian mythology, because I was convinced that Anubis was going to come chase me down over missing mummy eyes. Mind you, I read it again in my 20's and it wasn't nearly as nightmare inducing as it was when I was younger. It's still a good read, well constructed, and honestly, the Anubis Statue is more or less doing its job.  But I count this book as the gateway I found to get me sucked into horror fictions.

So, what books from childhood do you remember that shaped what you read today? And any bookstores you remember fondly?

Sunday, October 28, 2012

I hate it when this happens

So, since The Rapture of the Nerds  by Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross is due back Tuesday and has enough requests that I can't renew it, I've been trying to plow through it.

It was a heck of a lot better in the description in the library mailer.

Because really, I'm either missing a bunch of stuff, or it wasn't aimed at me. Because reading about the adventures of a future Welshman gone to Tripoli to be on a tech jury while wearing a bio-hazard burqa  has really most sincerely left me cold.

Huw wakes up with a hangover at the beginning in a post-sigularity world. (Singularity defined in the text as the point where technology more or less broke linear time.) We get a bit of flavor as to how the world works now (something about the solar system dissolving into semi-sentient dust that people can hack into and download stuff from), then we get Huw (a post post modern curmudgeon) flying to Tripoli to judge technology someone downloaded. (Again, the logic here is not great. Something about how new technology that's downloaded must be judged by a jury as to whether or not it should be released on humanity, or what's left of it.)

Huw also has some kind of bio-tech disease that's reminding me a bit of Warlock in the old New Mutants comic book.

I'm guessing there's satire involved here, since the device he's on the jury for somehow shares part of a genome with Sarah Palin.

Really, it's a bit like reading a less interesting version of the witchfinder from Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaimen. (If you want to read a co-authored work of fiction, that one is a good place to start and to finish.)

I'll be honest, my tastes in science fiction are a bit odd to begin with, so this may just be one of the ones that's far enough in another substrata of genre that I'm not liking it. If it was closer to Matt Ruff's Sewer, Gas, and Electric: The Public Works Trilogy, I might have liked it more. (That one has a hologram version of Ayn Rand running around, so it's amusing that I enjoyed it.)

Hell, I'll even read Michael Crichton on occasion, even though he annoys me more with each passing page. I guess when I read science fiction, I expect either full on space opera where somehow the laws of physics have been changed to a point where they don't really effect how fast a star ship can travel (Lois McMAsters Bujold comes to mind. Time does play a factor in travels, but there is still a bunch of Sci-Fi shorthand for getting places), or social commentary (Crichton or Heinlein or Haldeman or Bradbury), or go literary with it the way Dan Simmons did with his Ilium/Olympos cycle (wherein Shakespeare's Caliban is running around with a recreation of the Illiad on Mars, people on Earth reliving Proust...It sounds like a mishmash, but wow, it's fun to read.)

I do recall reading Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke in Junior High and liking it; I also recall loathing Orson Scott Card's Red Prophet series. I remember my first Asimov, Nemisis, which was a fun read, even if the conclusion left a lot to be desired. And who can forget John Christopher's Tripod Trilogy, which I recall reading in serialized graphic form in the back of Boy's Life every month. I still love those books.

When I read Science fiction, it does make me miss my dad. He LOVED the stuff. I imagine he could better help me find stuff that would appeal to me more so than this tprobably better than I think it is tripe I'm going to return unfinished.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Non fiction? On My book blog?

A friend of mine on the slowly dying (it's more goth now than it was in its heyday) LiveJournal writes a separate journal under the handle bookfrog. She's as snarky with her reviews as I am, although she generally only goes a paragraph or so.

One of the books she recommended a while back was Literary Hoaxes by the veddy British Melissa Katsoulis. (It's amusing to me, since they Americanized most of the English, but British/Canadianisms still pop up, such as referring to any indigenous tribe as "First Nations people". That, and an entire chapter is devoted to Australia, and books most American readers never heard of in the first place. Because seriously, who reads Australian literature voluntarily?

Now mind you, some of these I was familiar with before reading the book, such as the anti-Semitic pamphlet about the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. I also seem to recall reading Go Ask Alice at some point, which is almost as silly as such anti-drug propaganda like Reefer Madness. (Just for the record, other than maybe a beer a month, I don't indulge in drugs. However, I'm also well aware that much of the anti-drug media out there makes William Randolph Hurst seem understated.)

Some of the more recent stuff, though, I can't figure out why the hell I don't recall knowing about. Like J. T. Leroy, the trans hooker with AIDS, who wrote books about it, and inspired Shirley Manson and Billy Corgan, and turned out to be some kind of alter ego of a middle aged housewife. Or   Anthony Godby Johnson, the boy dying of AIDS who befriended Armistead Maupin, but wound up being a fiction created by a middle aged housewife. (This was the basis for his novel The Night Listener, which was made into a Robin Williams movie.

And then there's Marlo Morgan, who more or less made up out of whole cloth a large tribe of Aborigines taking her on walkabout after watching Crocodile Dundee a few too many times. Um, yeah. And the worst part of that one is she didn't get caught until people in Australia actually read the book. Evidently the Americans and the British will swallow anything from Australia whole.

It's a fun, occasionally gossipy read. (The author is more subtle than British tabloids, but yes, there are moments of very dry and droll comments on either the hoaxers or the folks sucked in by the hoax.)

Next up in the TBR pile is either The Broken Blade by Kelly McCullough, The Rapture of the Nerds by Charles Stross, or These Children Who Come at You With Knives by Jim Knipfel. I also have two books on hold at the library that will soon be joining the TBR pile, both of which that are more in the spirit of the title of this blog. One of which said something about a demigod in a town ruled by Hel from the Norse mythology.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The joys of trying to better organize the at home library

So, I started sifting through my book collection, which remains mostly still boxed from the last move. As it is I keep finding things that need to take priority over buying a bookshelf, most of my personal collection remains boxed up, with me occasionally sifting through it to find something that's bothering me. (In today's instance, I was looking for Neil Gaimen and Terry Pratchett's fabulous Good Omens.) Well, while looking through my over large collection of paperback Mercedes Lackey and Sharon R. Green novels, I found a lone hardcover I got through Paperback Swap a few years back.

And, oh Cthulhu, did it bring back memories.

When Jeff Comes Home by Catherine Atkins is packaged as Young Adult fiction, but wow, there's more triggers in there than on a fanfic website. The plot centers around Jeff, kidnapped on the way home from a baseball game, returning to his parents about 3 years after the kidnapping. We deal with his re-integration to high school life, what really is Stockholm Syndrome in relation to his kidnapper, and about halfway through the book, the arrest of the kidnapper.

It's a very hard book to read. Jeff goes out of his way to not talk about the variety of abuses the kidnapper put him through, which makes it worse when after the arrest, said kidnapper is telling everyone that the sex between them was consensual and instigated by Jeff. Which, given Jeff is in High School, causes abuse and bullying by his new peers. Because, hey, it's ok that he was getting raped by his 40 some odd year old kidnapper, because obviously Jeff was some kind of faggot who deserved it.

I think it was Hero girl who posted something a while back about the idea of things we fantasize about being a hell of a lot nastier in the reality. (I delved through her archives looking for the post, but I either misremembered it or it was posted in another on-line forum). I know I myself, standing on my own borders of kink vs vanilla, used to contemplate such things if they would have happened to me. But really, this book is an illustration of what even a virtual reality can be like. Because in reality, Jeff probably would have been killed. Even in this virtual reality his life is hell. I spent half the narrative wanting to hug him or smack the crap out of him. Neither of which would have been the correct response to where he was emotionally during the narrative. And in a fantasy setting, you can say "no" and leave. Which doesn't work in a real situation.

Also, having started the actual coming out process in high school (I'll present it thusly. One of the first openly gay people I ever really talked to divided coming out into 4 parts. 1. Coming out to yourself. 2. Coming out to your friends. 3. Coming out to your family. 4. Coming out to the world. I had started part 1 prior to high school, but I found out that starting part 2 in high school social setting more or less got the ball rolling on part 4. I survived, but oh lord, it was hard on occasion.), the interaction with his less supportive classmates started bring up a lot of old hurts I thought I'd moved beyond.

It also is a striking illustration of a dysfunctional family. Not only the fucked up relationship between Jeff and his kidnapper, but the re-integration with his real family. Mind you, there's one whole hell of a lot of stress on the relationships here, what with 2 younger siblings mostly ignored while the parents are trying to keep hope alive that their golden oldest son is alive and well somewhere, a wife and husband being torn apart by grief... And the fact no one want sto really talk about any of it. Dad keeps trying to get Jeff to talk about his experience, yet ignores the pain elsewhere in his family.

It's about 250 pages of ugly and trigger situations. It's also exceptionally well written and hard to put down. I know it's YA, but it's also not one I'd recommend to folks under 15ish.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

And now back to broke girls who can afford leather outfits.

Finished Fated a few days ago, now reserving the rest of the series.

And moved into Shadow Walker by Allyson James (who helpfully includes excerpts of books she writes under a pen name at the end), third in her Walker series. Also set in New Mexico (up by Taos), like Darynda Jones's Grave series (set in Albuquerque).

This series started with Storm Walker, wherein we met Janet Begay, a half Navajo woman  who's mother was actually one of the major evil goddesses of beneath. (Quick, someone load up Cher's "Halfbreed"!) She's opening a hotel in the area of the magickal vortexes that actually are paths to the beneath. (Having not particularly studied Pueblo/Navajo mythology, I can't speak as the the veracity of the presentation of the cosmology here. However, given another series I read has gone into the worlds beneath, I kind of imagine there is a basis in those myth cycles.) She has a boyfriend who's a dragon, a magic mirror that's more or less referred to as a "drag queen" (Given the mirror has no gender, but talks in a masculine voice while making comments that would make RuPaul blush, I get where they're coming from. But still... I long for the days of Phaedra Weldon's Ghost series, where there were actual developed gay characters. Mind you, they were the ghosts of the previous owners of the house the main character lived in, but at least they didn't play into stereotypes older than my grandmother.)

Anyway, there's a heck of a lot of romance and magick through the first two books that leads us to the third book. In this one, Janet is dealing with several disasters. Her dragon boyfriend, Mick, is currently being enslaved by an evil witch. Her hotel seems to have an odd curse that's destroying plumbing and wiring, making the county building inspector want to close her down and claim the land under eminent domain. Oh, and her Navajo grandmother just moved in to the hotel.

The series is mostly readable, and is fairly good on the pacing. I still question how someone "scraping by" can afford half the toys she uses in the books, let alone the clothing...

And as an added ace, one supporting character keeps showing up and stealing scenes. That would by Coyote, the trickster god. Given this is the second series he's showed up in and generally having the same effect on the narrative (the first being Kevin Hearne's Iron Druid Chronicles), I'm beginning to wonder if the furry trickster might not just be making semi bad fiction fully readable to achieve his own ends.

I will also add that besides the Walker and Iron Druid Chronicles (which oddly enough incorporates a few other mythology cycles besides Celtic as it goes on),  Kelly McCullough wrote an absolutely fabulous pentad involving the Greek Mythos in the modern world that also delved into the Norse pantheon for a book.  Since that series is finished, I can highly recommend it.

The Walker series starts with Storm Walker.

The Ghost series starts with Wraith.

The Iron Druid Chronicles start with Hounded.

The MythOS series starts with WebMage.

All four are good reads, although the last three listed are probably among the best out there.

Friday, October 12, 2012

From Kung Fu demons to Wizards in London

So I finished A Devil in the Details a few days ago (Seriously, the ending reminded me of Cleo Coyle's Coffeehouse Mysteries, wherein the murderer inevitably goes after the narrator, who hasn't figured out whodunit until whodunit shows up with a weapon of narrator destruction. I think the hot cop the narrator is dating would be better served to follow her around, since the killer will inevitably find her first.), and while I enjoyed reading it, it really needed more action building in the mushy middle.

So, now I'm reading Fated by Benedict Jacka, first in his Alex Verus series. (And given this one was published in Feb. of this year and I think Book 2 is already out, I rather imagine his publisher got 3 manuscripts up front.) It got points from me early on for the narrative shout out to Jim Butcher's Dresden Files (the narrator, one Alex Verus, makes a comment about how one mage in Chicago advertises in the Yellow Pages under Wizard), and has continued to entertain, even in the bits that have to stick to the formula of "Urban Fantasy".

Alex, our protagonist, much like Butcher's Harry Dresden has a murky past apprenticed to Dark Mages. (A bit of background here. Rather than defining Light Mages as good and Dark Mages as evil, the set up is much more like the Vorlons vs the Shadows in Babylon 5 [And if you never watched Babylon 5, shame on you. Seasons 2-4 were some of the best Sci-Fi television ever recorded.] In other words, Dictators vs Objectivists.) All mages are more or less policed by a council (at least on the British Isles; while mentions of mages on the continent or across the pond have happened, almost all of the political maneuvering has been in London), and Alex has an issue with the council, since they seem to feel that of he had died at his mentor's hands, the world would have been better served. Or they would have, since then they wouldn't have had to do anything.  

So far, we've met two "people" in his support network. Luna, a part time employee of his (like most protagonists in books of this nature, Alex owns a magic shop) who is the latest beneficiary of a curse laid upon her family by a strega back in the 1500's; and Arachne, a rather large talking tarantula seamstress living in a warded cave in a park. He also has a very flighty air elemental providing transportation for him.

We also have met various faction operatives trying to draw Alex in to the central focus of the book. Liam, who's working for a very powerful Council member, and Cinder, who's working for a very powerful dark mage.

You see, Alex is a Diviner, which plays out a lot like the Foresight gifts in Brian Lumley's Necroscope series. Basically, he can see the possible futures as they might play out and can then select actions to get him where he wants. Which, so far, has kept him from getting killed by a Light Mage with an Air Elemental, a Dark Mage with entropy magic, and a Lightning Elemental warring factions accidentally managed to summon and annoy.

The pacing is quite good, as intrigue abounds, and all the warring factions trying to get Alex to open a relic from an age when the mages warred openly keep the action going. It reminds me a lot of the aforementioned Dresden Files crossed with Simon R. Green's three ongoing series. Really looking forward to see how all of this plays out, since I have my suspicions, but I still have about 150 pages to go.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Not Kung Fu, Redneck Samurai fighting demons....

As I mentioned in my inaugural post, the next book on the reading list had to do with martial arts and demons.

A Devil in the Details by K.A. Stewart is turning out to be almost Anime in its plotting. We have Jesse James Dawson narrating about how he's adapting the code of Samurai to challenge demons to release other folks from their pacts with demons. In Kansas City. Which as someone who's actually lived in the Show Me state, I can state that my disbelief was suspended fairly high from the get go.

It started off strong, with Jesse fighting a scorpion tailed demon from sentence one. That lasts for half a chapter, and then we start getting into Jesse's personal life. Which, while interesting, has lead to a bunch of character development, more angst than Vampire Hunter D, and almost nothing going on. I'm about halfway through the book, and so far, he's made one demonic challenge that has a two week interval until the actual combat. (I will admit to amusement, since the person he's challenging the demon on behalf of plays for an unspecified Arizona baseball team as an older pitcher. Big Unit anyone?)

We've also met Jesse's wife and daughter, his best friend the blacksmith...oh and the organizer of the "Grapevine", a loose network of other Demon fighters. Two of whom have now gone missing. One of which Jesse's why saw being dragged off while looking in her scrying bowl.

Oh yes. This is something that needs mentioned. So far, the set up is much like the Buffy-verse, in that the main character, despite the fact he's challenging demons on a frequent basis, is agnostic. His wife, in full on Willow Rosenberg fashion, is a sister to the dark ones. Holy symbols seem to work, but not due to any real faith put in to them. (He does mention that his wife puts protective glyphs in his armor, but that's her faith protecting him, rather than his own.)

Like I said, halfway through, and not much really has happened in the way of plot development. It's interesting enough to hold my attention, but I keep wondering when we'll get into something happening.

For those curious what drew me to this particular book, it was the cover. Rather than a scantly clad female form on the cover, we have an overexposed picture of what appears to be a cross between Sting (from The Police) and Cloud (From Final Fantasy games) wielding a katana. There's also an author blurb from Simon R. Green, praising the book.

Ah, Simon R. Green. Were that K.A. Stewart to follow your plotting more closely. Simon's book sall start with a bit of shark jumping, followed by a pretty much non stop "How the hell can he top this?" plot line. Which is amusing, since he currently has 3 series in the same shared world. One of which, Secret Histories, is basically James Bond, only with super science, magic, and Cthulhu. His other two involve such things as what amounts to the Planescape setting from D&D 2.0, only Sigil is somehow in modern London and subways that connect to ancient hells long disconnected from the modern world.

His original series (Nightside) starts with Something from the Nightside. Secret Histories starts with The Man with the Golden Torc. And Ghostfinders starts with Ghost of a Chance. They all remain fast paced and so completely outrageous to be completely entertained.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Ah, the notorious Young Adult novel...

Since for a few of you, this is the first blog of mine you've ever read, this is going to be a wonderful illustration of how my thought process works.

Today was day 3 of a 4 day off weekend. As such, I wound up driving north to one of the outlet malls that actually has store I want to shop at and has prices that make me feel like it was worth driving up there. On the way home, I stopped in Ashland, Ohio, to hit one of the Amish markets that has really good cheese and pickles. And fudge. Pumpkin Pie fudge.

Anyway, I was hungry, so I drove into town and hit the McDonald's (Hey, Monopoly started and I want to WIN!) south of the Ashland University campus. And then I walked around campus for a while, remembering my time there.

See, I actually applied to Ashland and was accepted back in 1994, mainly because of the experience I had in 1992 there at the Governor's Institute for Creativity. Where in my particular group wrote, directed and performed an original one act musical. (I wrote 1.5 verses of a song and most of the scoring for the song. I also contributed most of the humor to the script, since adolescents and hormones usually equates with emo.)

So, what the hell does any of this have to do with a book blog?

We had two "talent shows" during the 2 week camp. A few folks read excerpts from novels they were writing. I read a story I had written that was based on a 2 sentence synopsis in a Christopher Pike book.

Yes, Christopher Pike. Some of you of a certain age may remember his rather large catalog. And R. L Stein.

Back in my high school days, I was known for reading tomes. Usually Steven King's back catalog, Anne Rice's Vampires, Clive Barker's stuff...Stuff that was very adult and huge time sinks. Thankfully, there's a wonderful world of Young Adult novels that are also horror themed. Christopher Pike (Showing my lack of Silver Age geekdom, I found out later that pseudonym refers to the original Star Trek) had a bunch of these. Of course, I also noticed that he tended to slip in New Age philosophy into many of the later novels, which made them more fun for me to read.

Mind you, he also wrote a few that went a bit on the preachy side. The Road to Nowhere is a good example of this. Not only does it center around a time loop (which is one of the sci-fi conventions that never ceases to annoy me), it also gets into the abortion debate. When I reached the last page, I gave the book a razzberry.

He also wrote a few which I still have copies of and still occasionally pick up and read. The best of them is The Midnight Club. It centers on 5 teens in a hospice (and believe me, I wish more hospices were converted mansions on the Pacific coast) who meet at midnight every night and tell stories. (If I tell you World's End is my favorite Sandman collection, will you see a pattern emerge?) One of the major plot points revolves around past lives and shared karma. But the real reason I loved it so much as a kid? One of the supporting characters turns out to be gay. Which is a major rarity in Young Adult (or maybe not anymore, it's been a while since I've had any reason to read it. That, and YA seems to be expanding a bit. See Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, etc. Now that Dumbledore came out [after he's dead, of course]...). But there it was. A gay character I could semi-relate with in a book. Something that was largely missing in my teen years.

He did write some Adult fiction as well, but the only one of his adult novels that I ever read centered around using K to bump people out of their bodies so dead Nazis could possess them. It was kind of stupid.

But still, Young Adult got a largely undeserved bad reputation. Much like "Adult" fiction, there's often hidden gems among the dross, which makes me suspect the ones I liked best had the same ghostwriters.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Introductions and the like

So, I caved in and created another blog I can forget to update as often as I should. I have two others that remain semi active and a few defunct ones that I don't think even exist anymore.

For the really curious, I'm one of 6 contributors at Together We're Better, a shared blog started back in January to help track New Year's Resolutions, and my LiveJournal, which like most of em gets personal and frequently emo.

Anyway, I wanted to set up a blog to help track what I'm reading, particularly since a good majority of what I'm reading anymore is series Urban Fantasy, and I tend to lose track of which authors I'm actually reading, then finding out I missed a release date by several months. I do read a lot outside of that particular area, however, I find books with scantly clad heroines posed provocatively on the cover tend to make good reading over lunch and on the bus, which is when I actually get most of my reading done these days.

To be fair, male characters are starting to make inroads into the genre (see Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden and Kevin Hearne's Iron Druid), and many authors have long since written their series out of the box I'm labeling here (LKH's Anita Blake [OK technically she started the current iteration of genre, but she's since gone off the deep end into supernatural erotica] and Kim Harrison's Rachel Morgan). But still, so many remain behind, gradually getting better to a point where they don't have to follow formula quite as much.

Which is where my current read is getting to.

Ashes of Honor by Seanan McGuire is Book Six in her October Daye series. October, the main character, started off as a relatively weak Daoine Sidhe changeling, born to a fey mother and human father. The first book turned her into a goldfish in a koi pond for 14 years at the very beginning. As the series has progressed, October has become much more powerful, learned more about her heritage, met increasingly more powerful and devious villains...fairly standard formula stuff, and fairly well researched into the old myths. It's a bit like reading a campaign from the old Changeling: The Dreaming setting.

Now here, in Ashes of Honor, we find October resolving two long standing not quite antagonistic relationships. One with Tybalt, the King of the local cait sidhe clan, with whom she's been flirting and fighting with since book one, and with Etienne, the Tuatha de Dannan knight of her current court. Tybalt, you could see some kind of romance with coming from book one. Etienne...Well, Etienne is more or less a textbook example of Lawful Stupid. The very epitome of Paladin. And now, here in this book, we find he does have weakness. In a brief and understandable bit of stress relief, it seems he sired a bastard changeling on a Folklore professor at Berkeley. A child he didn't know about until she vanished and her mother accused him of taking her. Which, of course, it turns out the daughter managed to get a full compliment of Tuatha de Dannan teleportation powers and no limits, so she's opening portals to places Oberon locked up eons ago...(Hey, have to have a plot somewhere...)

Basically, the series, while remaining within the formula, remains fun reading. You can usually predict some of the major outcomes, but most of the collateral stuff remains unpredictable and amusing. As the series has progressed, more of the author's voice is showing in the text, making it much more enjoyable.

I'll also mention she's started a new series, InCryptid. Book One, Discount Armageddon, came out earlier this year. It got around the necessity of having a half naked woman on the cover by making the main character a waitress in a supernatural strip club. Thus she's normally dressed like a dancer from an 80's Hair Metal video. Also a fun read, given how she's playing with things like Gorgons, Boogymen, and Dragon Brides. (It's like reading an old horror movie magazine, only with snark. Love it.)

So, anyway, Almost done with the current book. Not sure what's next in the pile, but I think it has to do with some guy kung-fu fighting demons.