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.