Thursday, February 20, 2014

It's not really shapeshifting, but it is!

As I recall, I wound up picking up In A Fix by Linda Grimes because the review of the second book sounded interesting.

Given how mediocre the first book is, I doubt I'll find out how true that statement is.

Ciel Halligan assures us early on that she's not a shape shifter, but constantly shape shifts throughout the narrative. She does so by borrowing people's auras and becoming them. Which aids her in her job as a "facilitator", wherein she takes over the life of a person in order to facilitate something they themselves can't do. At the start, she's impersonating Mina, a well-to-do socialite trying to get her boyfriend Trey to propose to her on vacation in the Bahamas. Which is fine, until the cabin they're co-habitating explodes.

This is when we get to meet her "brother" Billy. (Her mom's best friend's step son.) Billy, of course, is dolled up as Queen Elizabeth II. We hear about how close knit the adapter community is. We meet her other "brother", Mark, who's a CIA spoook, and we eventually meet her biological brother Thomas, the lawyer.

And we get fed a silly plot about neo-Vikings trying to get Sweden to man up. We get some really bad erotica, and a female author who obviously has no idea how male parts work. (Which wouldn't be a big deal, but one of the bits involves Ciel adapting to become a frat boy with a twitchy penis.)

And honestly, even if the book remains readable and mostly interesting, it's very hard to get past the narrator telling us she's not a shapeshifter and the spending several scenes shapeshifing to escape from any number of women in jeopardy cliches.

That, coupled with the mildly incestuous love angles, really didn't endear me to the idea of reading another book in this series.

Monday, February 10, 2014


I posted about Tales of the City back in October not long after finding out that Book 9, The Days of Anna Madrigal, would be released this year. Happily, the book indeed got released, and I finished the book Sunday on my lunch break. Amis tears. If I were a drag queen, my mascara would be running.

It's a very touching book and a fitting end to a series that started in the 70s and has continued sporadically since then.

As Days starts, we find the nonagenarian Mrs. Madrigal living quietly in San Francisco, being helped by FTM trans person Jake (who's hysterectomy was one of the plots in the last book, Mary Ann in Autumn). A phone call from Brian Hawkins informs us that he's found a new woman to ride around in his Winnebago cross country. We find out shortly thereafter that this mystery woman is someone we met back in Significant Others. Wren Douglas, the World's Most Beautiful Fat Woman, as she used to be known, is now Mrs. Brian Hawkins. Brian and Wren end up taking Mrs. Madrigal across state borders to Winnemucca, Nevada, where a young Mrs. Madrigal grew up as Andy Ramsey at the Blue Moon Brothel.

In the mean time, Jake, Amos (Jake's cis-gendered partner), Shawna (Brian and Mary Ann's adopted daughter), Michael, and Ben (Michael's much younger boyfriend) plot a trip further south in Nevada to Burning Man. Jake has created an art car to honor Mrs. Madrigal as a pioneer in the trans community. Shawna wants to get pregnant at Burning Man, preferably with Ben's sperm. Michale is worried he's too old and fat to enjoy himself. He's also grossed out by Shawna's sperm request.

And between all of these plots, Mrs. Madrigal keeps flashing back to being 16 at the Blue Moon, revealing her past. And oh wow, what a humdinger that is. Margaret, Mother Mucca's good friend and older call girl, helps Andy find himself, usually with turquoise pedicures and shimmering nightgowns. We meet Lasko, the handsome Basque and Mexican boy who works at the local Pharmacy, when not in school or helping at his parents' restaurant. Andy had a bit of a crush on Lasko, who he once watched running in native costume at a festival. Lasko...oh Lasko. The love story here is like so many young loves short and very poignant. While I can't say I ever went to quite the extremes Andy and Lasko did, I understand all too well the desire to hurt someone you care about because you yourself are hurting. I'm not sure I needed that reminder of my misspent youth.

At Burning Man itself, we find out Mary Ann is also there, eventually bringing back some of the magic from the earlier books, where coincidence abounds. (There are a few passages where Brian tried to explain the magic of coincidence that permeates the series. While it's slightly unbelievable, it's also quite charming.) And the serendipity effect is still blossoming here, what with Jake's trying to be ex-gay boyfriend from the last book being strongly hinted at being dressed as a satyr at Burning Man, as well as pretty much falling in at all the right places towards the climax of the novel.

One thing I both loved and hated was the ending. It's quite enigmatic. While I assume one thing, it's written in such a way that many other things might also be true. And, as sad as I am that the series in ending (again), this is as good of an ending as we could have wished for. At least it doesn't end with a sympathetic character going off the deep end and moving to New York.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Fur flying everywhere.

I'll preface this by stating I wasn't sure how much I'd like The Silvered by Tanya Huff. I love her other books, but I loathe werewolves. Thankfully, my love won out and I really enjoyed reading about Mirian Maylin taking on prophecy and becoming part of a duo out to overthrow an Empire.

The book opens on said empire's invasion of Aydori borders by Captain Reiter and his rag tag band of Imperial shields are sent by a prophecy to retrieve 6 pregnant mages from far off Aydori. In the meantime, Mirian Maylin has been told not to return to University, having not mastered more than the first level in any of the 5 magical disciplines. Not that that's stopping her mother from trying to set her up with any member of the pack, the werewolves that act as protectors of Aydori. Because were Mirian to become Mage-Pack, that would increase her mother's societal standing and hopefully get the Pack to start banking with Mirian's father. Which leads to a scene at the Opera, where the Mage-Pack (women) mated with the Pack (men) try very hard to keep people calm in the beginning of the invasion, telling folks to wait until morning to begin pulling further withing Aydori borders to the more defensible capital. Mirian also catches the nose of one of the unmated Pack, who tells her she smells amazing. (Pretty much any Pack we meet throughout the book says this or something similar. Given most of those saying it are barely out of adolescence, I assume her amazing mage powers smell like pizza.)

Anyway, Mirian sees Captain Reiter capture 5 of the most powerful members of the Mage-pack and takes it upon herself to go report the taking of the mates to the Pack fighting on the front lines. Whereupon she gets captured by Captain Reiter, who thinks her to be the 6th Mage. Lord Tomas Hagan, nephew of the Pack Alpha (who just died to Imperial weaponry) finds and rescues her, leading to a rather hurried race against both Captain Reiter (trying to re-capture her) and whatever fate will befall the 5 Mage-pack members once they reach the Capital of the Empire.

Which we as readers get to see in rather graphic detail. See, The Emperor has declared both Mages and Pack to be abominations, less than human, and expendable. Thus why Pack pelts are worth money in the Empire. His grand plan involves mating the beasts with the other beasts to get Mages he alone controls. (The Empire is a very science heavy realm, where magic is dying out. Even though most of the decisions the Emperor makes is based on Soothsaying.)

It's actually quite brutal in places. And the gay subtext in this is hard to miss, particularly since Ms. Huff is married to a woman. One of the biggest themes here is the idea that by declaring someone as less than human, it's a lot easier to torture them and kill them, because they're nothing but an animal. And again, Ms. Huff has no problem portraying gay male relationships in her fictions. We meet a were in the Empire who's paired with a soothsayer who end up taking Tomas and Mirian in about 2/3rds of the way through the narrative. They, along with the mental ghost of Mirian's mother as well as heroines of books Mirian read provide a little levity to the story. (Seriously. The mother's instructions on how to be a proper lady crop up at inopportune times during the chase.)

Another bit of subtext falls under the idea that the more society advances and become more civilized, the less room we have for magic and wonder in that society. Which has its good and bad sides.

Really though, I ended up liking the book. While it's not listed as series fiction, I wouldn't complain if she returns to this world for another story or two.