Thursday, April 20, 2017

Exorcizamus te, omnis immunde spiritus.

So, in a moment I've been kind of dreading for a while now, particularly since Abracadaver was published in 2014, and Goldzilla has been announced yet not released, I did finish Laura Resnick's most recent Esther Diamond novel.

Picking up right after the ending of The Misfortune Cookie, we start at the end of Chinese New Year with John Chen, the funeral home worker dragging an exhausted Max, Lucky, and Esther back to the mortuary where a recently prepared corpse has just tried to walk out. While this might have lead into a rehash of the zombies in Unsympathetic Magic, it instead focuses on Lopez's partner Quinn, and his oppression by a very old demon. (How old? It speaks pre-Christ Aramaic.)

Given the indie film Esther was working on previously has folded production, Esther is quite pleased that Crime & Punishment: The Dirty Thirty wants her to reprise her role as Jilly C-Note, the bisexual hooker. Also gives her an excuse to sent the show's star, Nolan, to shadow Lopez and Quinn to figure out what the demon is plotting.

While th ebook features much of the same increasingly bizarre situations that make the series so much fun to read, there's a really large fight between Lopez and Esther that's really hard to make it through.

And eventually, we get resolution, sort of rushed, but satisfying none the less.

Unlike other books in the series, this one is not particularly focused on one Manhattan neighborhood. Instead, we're much more focused on the interpersonal relationships of the characters and how the supernatural tends to affect those relationships.

I hope Goldzilla eventually sees release, since I'd really hate to see the series end here.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Wilkommen, Bienvenue, Welcome!

Once, again, I find myself tracking down origin materials for a musical I've recently seen. In this case, I saw Cabaret earlier this month, so I started reading Christopher Isherwood's The Berlin Stories, which formed the basis for the play and later movie I Am a Camera, which in turn became Cabaret.  Since I don't run a theater blog, and I leave the movie reviews for my brother Chuck over at The Other Ebert .... (And I'm not sure when or if I'm going to read the source of the musical I saw in New York. Tolstoy might be a bit much.)

The Berlin Stories is actually two novels, The Last of Mr. Norris and Goodbye to Berlin, with the former being written in 1935 and the latter in 1939. Both concern the author narrating a fictionalized account of his life in Weimar Republic Berlin. By the end of Goodbye, Der Furher has taken power and is about to become a dictator.Both portray a wonderful vision of the era, even if the author left out a bunch of personal things going on in his own life at the time that were (according to Armistead Maupin's introduction) later revealed more in depth in Isherwood's Christopher and His Kind, which will likely be reserved in the very near future. As it is, tantalizing hints lie in the prose, but written is such vagaries as to get around the censors of the era.

The Last of Mr. Norris concerns our narrator (William Bradshaw, which would be Mr. Isherwood's middle names) as he crosses into German by train, sharing a compartment with the title character, a rather effeminate business man whom the narrator assumes is smuggling silk from Paris into Berlin.

Mr. Norris and Bradshaw become friends over time, with Bradshaw getting involved with the German Communists by proxy. Mr. Norris has issues with his hired help, and also appears to be paying a woman of negotiable virtue (and a friend when not otherwise employed) to dominate him. Over time, we see Norris, who does works for the Communists, get Bradshaw involved with Herr Kuno Pregnitz for a trip to Switzerland to make monetary arrangements which would benefit Mr. Norris. Pregnitz is an older man with a collection of physique magazines and a love of books written for younger men. (It's rather implied that Kuno's gay and has an interest in Bradshaw, but given the time of the writing, nothing is ever spoken aloud.) In Switzerland, Herr Pregnitz meets with Van Hoorn and son, not knowing they're Norris contacts. Kuno flirts shamelessly with the son, who in turn befriends Bradshaw, eventually unleashing his Nazi sympathies to the young British narrator. (Having the benefit of reading this nearly a century later, I can say it's quite disturbing how much the young Dutchman believes the crap.) As it turns out, what's been going on is that Van Hoorn Sr. is with the French Secret Service and trying to use Herr Pregnitz government contacts to get better information than Norris can provide.

Which leads to a confrontation with Norris, who in turn leaves town before either the Police or the Communists or his former employee can get him.  We hear bits from him over a few moths, as the reichstag burns while he is in South America.

Then we start into Goodbye to Berlin, which is narrated by a man named Christopher Isherwood. (Or Herr Isseyvoo, as his landlady Frl. Schroeder  calls him.) It takes the form of a diary (or journal really; nothing is dated and the stories really don't have a particular narrative order to them), discussing Isherwood's various dealings with people in Berlin. This section is where we meet the now famous Sally Bowles, a singer with rather...um...loose standards of morality. (It's kind of funny, she's only in the book for about 30 pages, but she's one of the most memorable parts.) We meet the tenants sharing his boarding house with him, including the prostitute Frl. Kost (who winds up with a Japanese sugar daddy towards the end) and Frl. Mayr, the singing Nazi. We wend our way through him teaching English to students, some poorer than others, and at one point join him in a small attic where he's living with a 5 person family. We meet the Landaurs, a Jewish family who's fate doesn't seem that pleasant by the end. (The patriarch suffers a "heart attack" under the eyes of the Nazis.) We watch as Weimar falls and the Reich rises.

Honestly, it's the end that gets to be the most memorable, as Isherwood talks about the folks watching the atrocities start and throwing up their hands, but not doing anything to stop them.

One of the more striking bits of all of this is discussions on how everyone wound up where they are in the narrative, While this would have been Depression era, the post War era with its Inflation is almost another character in the narrative. It's hard not to feel like you are there in some sections, whether freezing in Otto's parent's kitchen, or listening as the old maids argue over small things in the living room.

Quite frankly, I kind of wish they'd have used either one or both of these for the German perspective in my high school lit class's WWII section rather than the rather horrid novel we read instead.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Hard Hearted Hannah

So, since there was a gap between my last finished book and the arrival of my reserves at the library, I had to choose something off the shelf to get me through. Wound up choosing John Berendt's 90's potboiler, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, of which I think I've owned 3 copies at different points. (Kind of like Jewel's Pieces of You album.)

It's been several years since I slipped away from things to go walk historic Savannah with John's narration of the eccentric folks within and the murder that eventually engulfs the entire town. We start with the author, a New York Magazine writer/editor, going on a trip south and eventually moving part time to Savannah, GA.

Within the confines of the city, he meets folks ranging from Emma Kelly (nicknamed by Johnny Mercer as "The Lady of 6,000 Songs") to The Lady Chablis, the Grand Empress of Savannah. Eventually, as he starts moving through the rarefied straights Upper Crust Savannah, he meets Jim Williams, an antiques dealer who lives in Mercer House on one of Savannah's historic squares.

Halfway through the book, Williams gets arrested for Murder, having shot the male hustler sort of in his employ.

The second half of the book concerns the four trials of Mr. Williams and the various personalities involved in said trials. One of whom, Minerva, the Vodou priestess from nearby Beaufort, SC, who gives the book its title. (The graveyard being the Garden, and midnight being the meridian between good magic and evil magic.)

Eventually, Williams gets acquitted, after about 8 years of trials and a change of venue. Then dies of pneumonia quite suddenly in about the same position he would have been in had his hustler friends actually succeeded in shooting him. (Minerva swears and the author sort of agrees that Danny, the dead boy, was angry with Williams and this was his final revenge.)

The book is very entertaining, even as is portrays just about every side to every charcater the author encounters. We hear about Mr. Odem, who's convicetd of forging checks, but charms everyone anyway, Chablis's meltdown at the Black Cotillion, Lee Adler, who is not well liked for his restoration projects downtown, although a thread of anti-semitism exists there as well.

If I had to critisize the book for any one thing in particular, it's that it take half the book before it stops being profile pieces on the people of Savannah and moves into the murder phase, which is also about the only time the narrative has any real sense of linear time.

Like I said, it's a fun read, deserving to be read at a leisurely pace while sipping something mildly alcoholic.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

May you live in interesting times.

So, we begin Laura Resnick's The Misfortune Cookie in the week after Christmas, as she's busy cursing herself for consummating her relationship with Connor Lopez, who has yet to call her after the events. So, given her restaurant job is off again at the moment due to the number of art majors home from college for the holidays and her lack of auditions due to the holidays, she's not very happy. Stella, her employer at the restaurant, calls her to ask if she'd like a New Year's Eve shift. Which starts with Esther turning over a new leaf, vowing to forget about Lopez. Who promptly arrives right after midnight to bust Stella for money laundering. One small fight with Lopez during the bust lands Esther in jail for assaulting an officer, as well as letting their secrets out of the bag in front of the Gambello Family and most of the Mafia investigating squad of the NYPD.

Her friend Lucky, the Gambello hit man, manages to escape the bust and goes undercover in Chinatown, living with family friends at a funeral home that serves Italian funerals on one side and Chinese funerals on the other. He contacts Esther and Max after the mysterious death of Benny Yee, a fairly high up member of one of the Tongs.

Seems Benny got a cursed fortune cookie that caused, well misfortune.

While investigating at the funeral, Esther manages to land a role in John Lee's indie movie, which gets her deeper into the Chinatown mystery.

Eventually, towards the climax, Lopez gets a Misfortune cookie, Esther and Max solve the mystery, and the climax comes during the Chinese New Year parade.

It's an enjoyable volume, filled with bits of history about the formation of New York's Chinatown and its gradual expansion across Canal Street into Little Italy. I'm also a bit sad, since after the next volume, there isn't anymore currently in the series.

Good, if quick read, that left me craving dumplings.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

I sense a motif in my reading

Seanan McGuire returned to her InCryptid series with Magic for Nothing. Which I have now finished, sitting in the backyard enjoying 70 degree weather.

Unlike the previous five volumes, this one doesn't center on Alex or Verity, instead we're following around their youngest sister, Antimony Price. You know, the one who build traps for fun.

We pick up not long after the conclusion of Chaos Choreography, with Verity killing a snake god on live TV then declaring war on the Covenant of St. George.

Which winds up causing issues for Antimony, who gets pulled out of Roller Derby practice to be given her marching orders. As the one in the bloodline who looks least like the rest of the family, she gets sent to England to be recruited to join the Covenant and find out what their plans are for the Price-Healey family.

Which she eventually does, giving us probably the clearest picture of another sect of monster hunters since Alex's trip down under. (Given the covenant has been kind of a Boogeyman since the outset, this has been kind of necessary, particularly given their only other antagonistic appearance back in Book 2.)

Antimony goes undercover as Timpani Brown, lately of the Black Family Carnival, who were taken out by Apraxis Wasps. She does eventually get into the Covenant, where we get a better picture of the Covenant and their European ideas on Monsters, regardless of intelligence, needing to die to protect humanity. And Antimony, and we as readers, get to see them as humans instead of cardboard bad guys.

At the end of her training, Antimony gets sent to infiltrate the The Spenser and Smith Family Carnival, currently in Madison, Wisconsin, to figure out whether or not the Carnival is somehow involved in the mysterious disappearances of some of the local boys.

Antimony ends up growing close to the half Monkeyboy Sam, grandson of the owner. All of which comes crashing down in the final few chapters as the Covenant comes in to Purge the Carnival.

It's really well written, and Antimony makes a good character, better than the occasional references thrown out in previous books. While a few of the twists were expected, the way they came around were not only mostly natural, but unexpected in the forms they took, which is an added bonus. That she manages to add in bits of surreal humor in really serious passages helps quite a bit as well. (Case in point, as the action approaches the climax, Antimony drops in on the Carnival's resident Wadjet [males are giant cobras, females are fairly human looking], only to observe one of the males on the bed watching NetFlix on a tablet. The mental pictures she provides of a giant cobra using a stylus between its coils is perfection.)

I'll admit, while I was amused by this series from the start, other than a plot trigger in book 2, I'm happy the series has come this far and look very much forward to book 7, which will evidently also center on Antimony.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Yaaaassss, Queen!

It was with some trepidation that I picked up Mark Chadbourne's The Queen of Sinister (book two of The Dark Age), mainly since I found out that I misread Goodreads' listings, since evidently the third trilogy was written after the second, not mixed the way I thought. (To be fair, they're bibliography of him is all screwed up.)

Anyway, I needn't have worried, since the first book of the 3rd trilogy really doesn't give away much of the plot of the second, focused on the past the way it is. This is not to say a brief passage in this one doesn't play a part in that book, but....

The Queen of Sinister follows around Caitlin Shepherd, who's village is hit by the plague. Being a nurse, Caitlin is in the heart of it, trying to provide palliative care to the dying. Which also means she's ignoring both her husband and child. Who aren't happy about it. Caitlin has a friend, Mary, whom I think showed up in the first trilogy, but I could be wrong. Mary's a retired psychiatric nurse and witch.

Since there wouldn't be much of a plot here without it, Mary does a seeing for Caitlin, and whatever comes through names Caitlin a Sister of Dragons. After Caitlin gets home, she finds her husband and son plague ridden and dying. Understandably upset, she goes slightly mad, waking up on their graves to a crow pecking at her.

In the mean time, Mary gets a visit from Crowther, who bears a mask that once belonged to the Mad God. Who was told to lead Caitlin to the Summerlands to find the cure for the plague. Which he does, eventually, after picking up Mahalia and Carlton and Matt. Mahalia and Carlton are a package deal, although Carlton is mute. Mostly. Matt is looking to cross to find the Grey Lands and his dead family.

They're also being pursued by what they know as the Whisperers, but what the Tuatha de Dannon refer to as the Lament Brood.

Not long before they cross, it comes out that Caitlin is not alone in her head. Four other personalities are in there, including one whom the others fear and keep from surfacing. About the midpoint, we find out about her.

Mary, in the mean time, takes on a quest of her own to help Caitlin from the Fixed Lands, all while being pursued by the Jigsaw Man. Which leads her to the find The God, who in turn asks her to find the missing Goddess.

Caitlin's party winds up first in Lugh's court (Lugh remaining neutral in the current conflicts) where they meet Jack (not church, but Jack), who spent time in the Court of the Final Word. Given the Lament Brood surrounds the court, Lugh threatens to turn the crew over to them, which in turn leads to the escaping.

As the journey to the House of Pain, and as Mary looks to find and return the Goddess, much happens. Carlton dies, which somehow drops Caitlin in Birmingham. Wherein she meets Thackary and Harvey. The former ends up getting kidnapped by the local Negan, who has a captive Formori. Caitlin finds him, find the Formori, and lets out the final personality, whom we find out is actually the Morrigan.

It's a long quest, but eventually everyone winds up at the House of Pain, except Mary, who does indeed find and bring back the goddess after more than a few misadventures. (I will say his recitation of all of the aspects of the Gorgon is amusing.)

There's a heck of a lot of symbology thrown in here, some of which I remember in the book I read out of order, like the Void in the House of Pain. More than a few characters make the "wrong" decision at the wrong time, although all of the external entities keep saying all choices are part of a greater plan.

I will also add in here that, since most of the plot lines center around the feminine, it also centers around what some groups would consider "the Female Mysteries".  Which, I imagine each reader would be inclined to make up their own mind as to whether or not the male author portrayed correctly.

Honestly, it's a good read, even if the timeline is a bit confusing quite often.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Not as it was advertised.

So, after sitting through 8 hours of ABC's When We Rise, which while good, also had a whole host of issues, I decided to take some advice and read the source material, or at least part of it, When We Rise: My Life in the Movement by Cleve Jones.

Which, one would think based on the cover blurbs, had more to do with the history of gay liberation and less of being Cleve's memoir. It's really a bit of both, although some of the problems inherent in the movie version aren't present in the prose. But, since this is a book review, and not a picking at the 80's cereal commercial disguised as a story about gay rights, let's get back to the book. I'll do my best to keep the movie out of this, particularly since of the two other focus people in the movie, one gets one mention in the book, and the other is never mentioned at all.

By far the biggest problem with the book, particularly for those of us coming in expecting a history lesson, is that the first 100+ pages are life in San Francisco and (briefly) Maricopa county, Arizona, prior to much of anything gay rights related. Cleve arrives in 1971, two years after Stonewall, but again, nothing is really happening, beyond him joining a few college groups that really don't do much of anything. We hear about Cleve doing drugs, we hear of Cleve cruising the city (and later Europe) in search of sex. Or searching for sex and drugs. Or generally not doing much of anything but being a gay hippie in 70's San Francisco, Germany, Turkey, etc. I mean, eventually, he sort of ties in some of what I was actually reading this for, discussing a gay rights near riot in Barcelona. Which also seems to be about the only point in the first half when he thinks of being gay as anything that doesn't involve his penis or anus. (I'm not trying to slut shame him here. I'm merely stating that going in looking for stories of the revolution and finding Jackie Collins is not what I was expecting. Not to mention, it gets a bit dull reading about how many men he woke up next to with his face buried in their chest hair.) This doesn't exactly change much in later chapters, as we hear of him skipping a speech in Austin because he met a hot guy in line for a water fountain.

Anyway, things do start to improve after Harvey Milk's election and inauguration (which Cleve skipped because he was in bed with his barista.) It's about this point where Mr. Jones actually starts to get involved in the community. Admittedly, some of the references he throws in are well before my awareness started (he discusses Rev. Jim Jones and the People's Temple a few places, as well as some guy fasting to death in Northern Ireland), but it's fascinating hearing first hand perspective on life in San Francisco during that period. (Mr. Jones goes a bit more in depth than say, Armistead Maupin in Tales of the City.) We hear about the campaign to stop Anita Bryant, and the defeat of the Briggs Initiative. We hear about Milk's plan to try to stop something akin to the Watts riots from happening in San Francisco. (Which basically amounted to keep em marching until they're too tired to riot.) This works out fairly well until Dan White gets convicted on Manslaughter charges, which in turn sets off the White Night riots.

Eventually, we move into GRID and AIDS. While Randy Shilts' ...And the Band Played On is a better book on the subject (and I'll add in here that when I got to college there was a bit of a joke that every gay man got handed a copy as soon as they came out), it also has a larger focus. Cleve here gives us a much more personal view of life when the obits are 3 pages long every day; you make friends, they die, you make new friends, then they die. (On a side note, there's a poster mentioned that a gentleman made with pictures of his KS lesions to warn other gay men what to look for under the heading "Gay Cancer?" (I tried a Google Image Search to find it, but trust and believe me that googling Gay Cancer is not a good idea.)

Soon enough, we get into Mr. Jones's big claim to fame, the NAMES Project AIDS Quilt. And unlike the movie, Mr. Jones goes more in depth about his mildly adversarial relationship with Larry Kramer, who founded ACT UP. (Kramer tells Jones he should burn the quilt. Jones tells Kramer only if Kramer rolls himself up in it first.)

And on and on, we learn of Jones being one of the first to get the new cocktail that lets him survive AIDS.

And we move into the making of Dustin Lance Black and Gus Van Sant's version of Milk. While most of the narrative from this point on tends to get shamelessly name droppy, there are a few funny bits within, like his unsaid comment to Sean Penn about being married to Madonna and not knowing much about gay culture.

Much of Jones' involvement in big developments ends with the repeal of Prop 8 and the striking down of DOMA at the Supreme Court, with the last chapter reflecting on Obergefell vs Hodges.

All things said and done, there are quite a few gems and a good story within the pages. Problem would be the amount of chaff one has to sort through to get to the wheat. I really wish they had been more honest with the advertising on the cover, so I didn't go in expecting things to start off as more than Mr. Jones being everything the Daughters of Bilitis accused gay men of being at the outset.I can also say that after reading this, I can more firmly point the finger of blame at my issues with the movie being due to people other than the author of 1/3 of the source material. Mr. Jones comes off as a bit too self-absorbed to worry about the Boomer vs. Millennial crap that seems to be all the rage.

Also, I'm a bit sad that the best quote in the book is not something the author wrote himself, but rather a line by Harry Hay that better sums up one of the divides in gay culture, about how gay people must decide for ourselves if we're like the rest of society except for what goes on in the bedroom, or if we're different from the rest of society except for what goes on in the bedroom.

It's a readable book, and I'd be inclined to suggest it to folks looking for an introduction to the movement, followed by other sources that cover more or more in depth the topics within. Then again, the author has also sort of avoided something that Harvey Milk suffers from, which is that his memory is really influenced more by the people that knew him than by his own words and deeds.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Christmas in April

It was a bit out of season to be reading Laura Resnick's Polterheist, since it's set in and around Manhattan at Christmas, but that didn't stop me from enjoying the further misadventures of poor Esther Diamond.

With shifts at Bella Stella down due to the number of college kids on break and no auditions on the horizon, Esther is forced to take a job at Fenster & Co., a large department store famous for its elaborate Christmas displays. As Dreidel, the Hanukkah Elf. Along for the ride are her ex, Jeff (known as Diversity Santa), and Satsy (Drag Queen Santa). We open a few days before Christmas, as various seasonal employees have gone missing along with their costumes.

The first sign that Evil is afoot in the store comes fairly early on as first Satsy gets attacked by a demonic laugh that burns off his Santa suit in the Employee freight elevator, followed closely by Esther getting attacked by a talking tree she sings duets with. Which instead of nice things like "Deck the Halls" instead starts talking about wanting her flesh and blood.

Which is about the time her sort of almost ex-boyfriend Detective Connor Lopez walks into the store. Who's investigating truck hijacking that the media seems to think is related to an old feud between the Fenster family and the Gambello family. Which is about the point Lucky Gambello shows up, since it's not the Gambellos. We also meet all the dysfunctional Fensters, including Elspeth, who knows Dreidel from her stint in The Vampyre.

Any rate, it's about halfway through the book before Max and Nelli show up. Thinking what ever is going on at Fenster's is a Poltergeist, Esther sneaks in Lucky and Max as the elves Sugarplum and Belsnickel. (Max poses as a Blind Elf, which allows him to disguise Nelli as the seeing eye reindeer.)

Which leads in to Esther being attacked by Karaoke Bear the next day at work. Trying to save a customer from the really animated singing bear, she manages to make the saving look like assault. Sadly, Carlos, the customer turns out to be Lopez's father. His wife beats Esther with her purse. Which is a unique way to meet the parents.

Any rate, the last act unfolds, and everything gets resolved in the normal manner.

Followed by a really surprising development that I'm sure will be revisited in Misfortune Cookie.

Overall, the book is a very funny and well written piece, although the reveal and resolution aren't particularly a surprise. There's a distinct lack of red herrings throughout the central narrative. On the othe rhand, Lopen and Esther are actually talking about events from previous books and sharing perspective finally, so that's a good thing.

While not the best book in the series, I can think of worse additions to series fiction by other authors.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Why is it always Spiders?

If this comes off a bit odd, understand I'm listening to When We Rise as I'm typing. I really need to get the book of it and soon.

Anyway, either I misread Goodreads listing, or I didn't, since Mark Chadbourn's Jack of Ravens seems to be set after-ish The Dark Age. Although it's more of a direct sequel to Age of Misrule. And since it involves quantum flux and time travel, it takes some time to figure out what the heck is actually going on.

See, we start with Jack Church in the Bronze Age, where he landed at the end of  Age of Misrule. Only problem is that he now has a spider on him that seems to be leeching his memories. It eventually comes off, but he no longer has any real memory of the events of the previous series, other than that he loves Ruth. Somewhere along the line, he and 4 others among the Celtic tribe he lives amongst wake up the Pendragon Spirit and become the Brothers of Dragons. Again.

And then they die. Except Jack, who made the mistake of eating and drinking Niamh's food and drink that wasn't given freely and without obligation. Which means he's in the Far Lands on and off through the book, when not dealing with what's known as The Army of Ten Billion Spiders.

The goal is to collect the Brothers and Sisters of Dragons before the 5 who are part of the Void can claim them. (All of whom are dead members of Church's pentads. Lead by Veitch. Who doesn't seem to have let death slow him down.) We also have The Libertine, who's the semi-human face of the anti-life.

We go forward through time, with scenes set throughout the eras, including a trip to Elizabethan England, where we run into William Swyfte, the main character in the Swords of Albion series. Who helps Chruch and company try to recover the Anubis Box and the Crystal Skull from the Spanish Salazar.

Which doesn't go well. Mind you, we also meet Dr. John Dee, who passes on a bunch of information on Gnostic thought. Which gets echoed in the 1960's by Timothy Leary. (Who's not dead, he's only sleeping.)

Somewhere in here, we meet The Puck, who's again given a shadowy backstory.

There's a lot to process in here, since the Army of Ten Billion Spiders is working through time to negate the events of The Dark Age. Which really screws with the chronology, since Laura, Ruth, and Shavi never unite. Or at least don't try to unite until towards the end, even with Jack sending messages through time. And the involvement of the Seeliegh Court. And yet another explanation of the term Croatan.

It's a good read, even as it switches around much of the narrative from the prior trilogy. And we even get treated to a scene involoving Loki being corrupted by Spiders during th eBlitz. That alone made it interesting.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

A Hollow Beginning

I was lucky enough to be at the top of the reserve list when Kim Harrison's prequel to The Hollows hit, meaning I'm one of the many who have now experienced The Turn.

For those who have never read The Hollows, this is likely not the place to start reading it, as the only human viewpoint character doesn't really get exposed to the Inderlanders until about 2/3 of the way through, which would likely confuse newbies trying to figure out what's going on with all the supernatural races running around.

Anyway, The Turn is set well before Dead Witch Walking, in the mid 1960's. We start with the graduation from Harvard of Dr. Trisk Cambri and Dr. Trenton Kalamak. Both are Elves, and both hate each other. (Trent is the last of his line, whereas Trisk is a "Dark Elf" with hardier genetics.) We learn that Elves in the 1960's either work in genetics or security, trying to fix the genetic curse leveled on them by the Demons and protecting their own masquerade.

Trisk and Trent used a similar doctoral thesis, in her case using viruses to insert genetic repairs, while he relied on bacterium. They also hate each other. Trisk is further hampered by the Elven predjudices of th etime mirroring that of the Human population, wherein a woman is going to wind up shuffling papers in a lab for old men. `

Trisk ends up on the West Coast working in a Human lab, the idea being that any major genetic discoveries can be passed on to the Elven Enclave. (There's a bit of alternate history here, since one point revolves around developing bioweapons that don't kill after a really ugly Cuban bio crisis.) Trisk develops the T4 Angel Tomato, which is a miracle crop able to grow in almost any environment. Her partner at the lab, Dr. Plank, develops a virus designed to make people sick for 24 hours rather than kill them.

As it turns out, other Inderland species have an interest in the research, leading to a Vampire supervisor and a Witch investor. Who in turn (along with the Were [Colonel Wolfe] and Sa'han Ulbrine) send Kal in to double check her research. Kal is accompanied by his Pixy friend Orchid, who is nowhere near as salty as Jenks in in the original series. (It should be noted here than Quen, who plays a large role in the main series is also in this one, having been hired by the Kalamaks as security. He's a friend of Trisk, and shows up intermittently in the proceedings.)

When Trisk finds out Kal is coming, assuming the worst (he's going to steal her research), she summons a demon of her grandmother's acquaintance, Algaliarept.

Anyway, to condense down a whole heck of a lot of plot, Trent in a fit of professional jealousy, modifies Plank's virus and makes it able to be hosted by the T4 Angel tomatoes. Which has the accidental side effect of making tomatoes toxic, starting off a world wide plague that eventually kills off 25% of the human population. Which starts off some unforeseen consequences, like the complete obliteration of Detroit following the breaking of the Silence by Witches and Vampires.

Eventually, we wind up in Cincinnati, wherein we see the set up of how the main series begins, but not before we come to realize there really isn't a single nice person in the book. Understandable and relatable, yes. But not a single one of them other than possibly Dr. Plank is motivated by anything other than self interest. From Trisk wanting her name on her own work, to Kal trying to bring glory to his family, to Saladan trying to make money on everything to Piscary starting his power play that eventually causes some mid series drama later on....

This is a really fun read for fans of the main series, as people we sort of know show up throughout the course of this volume. On the other hand, given how involved the main series got over 13 volumes, I ended up pulling up the character list on wikipedia to help me figure out who some of the people were with familiar names.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

High School and other torments

I may have mentioned some of this while discussing Mercedes Lackey in previous posts. However, here we are with the final stand alone book of her rather underappreciated Diana Tregarde Investigations series, Jinx High. (There are two that precede this one, but Burning Water takes forever to get going, and Children of the Night is set about two decades prior to either of the other two novels, and it also takes too damn long to get going. Both are great once you hit the halfway point, but... Diana also shows up in a short story in the collection Werehunter and in a collection of novellas Trio of Sorcery. I guess there are a few .pdfs out there that collect or rework some of it, but yeah.)

I happened to find a copy at a used book store a while back, and grabbed it, since the series has been out of print for a while. (I guess it did get reprinted a few years back, but trying to find the original series prior to those reprints was like looking for hen's teeth. Unless you felt like paying big money for a used copy online.)

Anyway, we'll return to the drama surround this series here in a minute.

We'll start with Diana herself, a romance writer by trade, who also has access to Guardian powers in time of great need, particularly for protecting innocents. This one would appear to be set in the late 80's, since there is a Dan Quayle reference as well as a "Just Say No" moment. Diana had a group of people she worked with during her time at Harvard known as the Spook Squad. Novels #1 and #3 focus on former members of the Squad calling on Diana because something fairly major needs outside help. In Burning Water, it was an Aztec deity trying to make a return. In this one, Larry, AKA Kosmic Kid, has a kid involved with some seriously wonky stuff.

Deke, the child in question, has a sort of girlfriend named Faye, who's quite adept and pulling people into her web with sex and drugs. Faye's mother is institutionalized prior to the start, after having tried to kill Faye. Something's a bit off with Faye, as we note at the outset that she causes a car accident that leaves physically impossible results. Like one kid dead, no drugs in anyone's systems, and everyone but the dead girl buckled in. None of which was the case before the car hit a tree at 70 miles per hour. That Faye, who was driving, seems to have vanished from the car right prior to the crash, also adds to the mystery.

Diana ends up in Jenks, Oklahoma, (just outside Tulsa), after Larry calls her to tell her he's got the distinct feeling someone is out to get his son. (Larry's wife is in Japan on business and essentially out of contact.) Due to the numer of accidents happening in the area, yuppie haven Jenks' Secondary school has picked up the nickname "Jinx High". Diana comes in to help teach the business of writing on behalf of the Honors English teacher.

We as readers get more of the plot a heck of a lot faster than Diana does, and halfway through, we know that Faye is actually her mother in a bodily switch. Actually, Faye goes back a little over 300 years, switching bodies with her daughters every generation, but ya know...

It eventually all works out in a rather nice climax, some of which has to do with not waking up whatever is sleeping under Tulsa. (Theory being there are no tornadoes in that section of Oklahoma because even the other gods don't want to wake it up.) Also, Tannim, the mage from SERRAted Edge and Bedlam's Bard shows up as a student.

Anyrate, After this one, there were no more Diana Tregarde mysteries. For the curious, there evidently was a bunch of real life drama that inspired the rant linked above, and a later follow up. I was actually kind of surprised when she started cowriting the Bedlam's Bard series in the 2000's that the Guardians started showing up again.

Also of note, the plot resembles a similar one from the first season of Buffy: the Vampire Slayer. The book was published first, and based on the rants, didn't sell particularly well. And honestly, the plots go different directions, just using the same or similar plot device.

I'm happy I own this one, even if I prefer her other writing over this particular series. It's still worth checking out, since even at her worst, Lackey's work is more entertaining than many other things. 

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Asaka, grow me a garden

Finished Laura Resnick's Unsympathetic Magic on lunch today, which was odd, since I read the book that comes directly after this one prior to reading this one. (Long story short. The library didn't have this one, but they did have the next one, so I read book 4 while waiting for Amazon to ship me this one.) Anyway, this lead to a minor issues of sort of knowing some of the events that happen in this book prior to reading it.

Esther, our actress narrator, is filming a guest role on The Dirty Thirty, a spin off of her world's Law & Order. In her case, this means she's filming around Mount Morris in Harlem while dressed as a bisexual junkie hooker getting pumped for information from a dirty cop. Her mother is thrilled. Sadly, the gentleman she's filming with gets sick in the middle of filming, and Esther tries following the crew to a place advertising the best fried chicken in Harlem. (Much is made over this, since it seems most restaurants in the neighborhood advertise that they have the best fried chicken in Harlem.)

Since it is Esther, instead of finding the fried chicken place, she instead runs across a black guy with a rapier, demonic gargoyles, and a sick man with a severed hand which isn't bleeding. Understandably freaked out, she tries to get help, which ends up with her getting arrested for solicitation, but not before the gargoyles grab her purse.

Lopez, her ex almost lover bails her out, but Esther gets Max involved in trying to figure out what's going on, which ends up involving a complex plot involving a Bokor, zombies, and half the Petro aspects of the Vodoun pantheon. Oh yes, and a rather large boa constrictor named Napoleon.

Now, while I've never set foot in a hounfour (the ritual space of Vodou, and honestly, I haven't lived anywhere where such a thing would be open for the curious), my love of horror movies did lead me down some rather strange research paths at various point. What she presents here seems to follow most of that research, although as is pointed out, New Orleans Vodou and Haitian Vodou  might share commonalities, but they do have different foci. Plus, given the number of syncretic traditions floating around the Caribbean (all of which are oral traditions), there's a lot to work with. And her presentation of Lopez becoming a cheval (horse, possessed by a loa) for Ogoun reflects some of what I've seen places. (Don't ask. I'd hate to lie.)

(Also, for casual readers, the title is a play on the term sympathetic magic, or the idea that something that belongs to a person [fingernail clipping, hair, etc] forms a link to that person, which can then be used to influence that person. AKA, the magic used in making 'voodoo dolls' or poppets.)

Honestly though, this is a fun and quick read and a welcome break from dystopian societies.

Monday, January 30, 2017

The Moon grows dimmer and the tide's low ebb

So, a few months back, someone bought me tickets to see Kander & Ebb's Kiss of the Spider Woman at a local theater. I'd seen the movie several years ago, but I'd never read the book that inspired both.

And the book is a whole different beast than either adaption.

For those unfamiliar with the story, Kiss centers around two inmates in an Argentine prison. Molina, a rather feminine gay man, spends much of his time telling stories of movies he loves to his cellmate, Valentin, a political prisoner being held for Communist activities against the not Communist Argentine government of the 1970s.

Over time, they become friends and eventually lovers, although Valentin remains unaware that Molina has been promised parole if he can get names or contact information out of Valentin. Towards the end, Molina does indeed get paroled, but he never does give up Valentin. Mind you, when he does indeed contact Valentin's friends, he winds up getting killed by said friends while being arrested by government. Valentin obviously knows about this at the end, since as he's in the infirmary being treated for 3rd degree burns and being hooked on morphine to eventually make him talk, he stream of consciousness creates his own fantasy island with his beloved Marta, the bourgeois woman he loves, even if she doesn't particularly return that love due to the nature of their cause.

Did I mention this isn't exactly a happy story?

It took me a while to get into the novel. Most of it is written as dialogue between the two main characters, with only a dash to denote a change of speaker. Like

-Eat the rice paste, it will make you feel better
-No, not unless you finish the movie you started last night.

While that is not an actual quote, it does give you an idea, and accurately sums up much of the early conversation. The non dialog consists of reports from the Warden's office or a report of Molina's activities after parole, or some really long footnotes discussing psychological causes of homosexuality.

Speaking of, for me a reader in 2017, there is a bit of a question as to whether or not Molina is actually gay. While he is indeed male, he identifies as a woman at various points in his dialog. However, having known a few older gay men who do the same thing, it could be that this is again a function of gay culture in the era.

Another question I was left with was whether or not Valentin truly loved Molina. I think, maybe yes, but not as wholly as Molina might have wished. More than anything, I think Molina showed Valentin that maybe people can be more important than the cause.

Oh, and of note here, since none of the adaptions particularly keeps the movies in the book, two of them wind up being bad horror movies. One involving the woman dealing with her new husband's zombie wife, and the other (which starts off the book) involving a woman who believe that if she were to kiss a man, she'd turn into a panther and eat him. That's kind of important, since not long before Molina's parole, Valentin tells Molina that Molina isn't a panther woman, but rather a spider woman, her kisses drawing men into her web like flies. It's actually a rather touching moment, for all of its oddness.

Am I happy I read this? Yeah. It's heavy reading, and a reminder that even in hell, there remains hope of redemption and ways to escape, even if only mentally in the worst situations.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Every Man a King, but no one wears a crown

So, with recent events in the US, I thought it might be wise to finally read Sinclair Lewis's It Can't Happen Here, since it, along with Orwell, seems to occasionally crop up in various conversations.

So, where do we start with this?


How about some background? Lewis wrote this in 1935, which would have been 2ish years into FDR's presidency, and not that far into the rising Nazi era in Europe. It was also the Great Depression in the US. (We're kind of skipping a heck of a lot of human history with that summation, but for the sake of setting the scene, this should work.)

We open in Vermont during the election cycle of 1936. Doremus Jessup edits the Fort Beulah paper, and is attending the monthly rotary meeting. The speakers that night are retired Brigadier General Edgeways and the anti-suffrage DAR woman Mrs. Gimmitch. (Note to some readers here, particularly mom, if she clicks the link. Lewis obviously didn't have a high opinion of the Daughters of the American Revolution. The character's description uses her DAR status as shorthand for a longer diatribe about a type of woman who campaigned against women's suffrage, tried to find ways in the great war to keep the Doughboys from frequenting French cafes and meeting women of international morals, and generally being a conservative gadfly.) Edgeways expresses his belief that the horrors of poverty could be remedied with a strong domestic military (echoing the isolationism of the era) that defends the US borders from invasion by foreign powers. Gimmitch spends most of her time attacking the Unitarian minister's wife, who tends to be a little more liberal than anyone else in the room.

The one things both speakers seem to agree on is that Buzz Windrip should be the next President of the USA. Windrip (who's home state is never mentioned, but is implied to be somewhere southern-midwestish) is running against FDR for the Democratic nomination of 1936 against the rather milquetoast Trowbridge in the Republican Party. Windrip is supported in this by his Legion of Forgotten Men, the workers feeling they aren't getting their fair share, the vets returned home with none of the benefits they were promised, the downtrodden, et cetera. Windrip gets a boost from a syndicated Father Prang (here analogous with Father Coughlin, another Depression era potstirrer), who believes Windrip will lead America back to Jesus and prosperity. Windrip himself is an analogue of The Kingfish himself, Huey Long. Windrip runs on a platform saying that men under him will get $5000 a year (I don't have the math handy to figure out how much that winds up being in 2016 money, so we'll just claim it's quite a bit) and he'll redistribute the wealth from the rich so that everyone can prosper. Of Windrip's supporters in the microcosm of Fort Beulah, Vermont, his biggest one is Shad Ledue, who works as the rather lazy handyman for the Jessup family. Not that Shad is alone in his support, several of the middle class citizens like his promises of sticking it the 5% who own most of the wealth in America. (What little bit there is in this period.)

Eventually, as the Conventions roll around, Windrip gets introduced last to the convention floor, arriving in a parade of military, poor, and disaffected youth worthy of P. T. Barnum. It takes several rounds of balloting before he eventually gets named the Democratic party nominee of 1936.

Windrip, unsurprisingly, gets elected. FDR, much like Teddy, formed his own Party, the Jeffersonians which unsurprisingly failed to get him reelected. Windrip's political rivals either get ambassadorships to out of the way places, or in his main opponent's case, exiled to his ranch in Wyoming. The Legion of Forgotten Men, in turn, become the Minute Men, who, in turn take over as the official military of the US. Windrip, with some rather large strong arming (like having the Minute Men arrest uncooperative congressmen and senators, dissolving the Supreme Court), passes a series of bills that help get his 15 points into being the law of the land. Most of it falls under Martial Law provisions, suspending most of the Constitution, but includes some rather special provisions like making sure Congress can't do anything without his approval, praising the Jewish population while robbing them blind, stripping women of any right beyond keeping house and having babies, and making sure African Americans are awarded only for being good little Negroes. (It's really ugly. However, it's presented much like a pill to a dog wrapped in flowery peanut butter.)

Windrip's Secretary of State, Sarason, takes on many hats in the administration, essentially running everything under Windrip's benevolent guidance. The US eventually gets redistributed as 8 states, new labor laws make sure quite a few people wind up in a labor camp, and eventually Concentration Camps spring up for dissenters who dare speak against the Corpo government.

Trowbridge, the Republican nominee, ends up in Canada running the resistance from there. Jessup winds up in trouble with the law for writing rather anti-Windrip editorials, thereby getting a new supervisor at the paper. The Underground Railroad starts up again, helping smuggle (or given that Prohibition was newly ended around the time of this being written) or bootlegging humans into Canada.

To skip over quite a bit, Jessup eventually ends up in a Concentration Camp for "Being a communist" (which he isn't), his one daughter winds up killing a member of the government by crashing her plane into his, his other daughter runs the local resistance chapter, his son becomes a true believer in the new government.

Jessup eventually does escape into Canada, then comes back the the US via Minnesota long after Windrip gets exiled to France, Sarason gets killed by the new dictator Haik, and the press and Corpos start trying to engineer a war with Mexico.

Many of the references are a bit dated for a modern reader; when's the last time William Randolph Hearst was a major topic of conversation? When's the last time we were particularly worried about communists undermining American values? *cough*

On a personal note, Lewis doesn't seem to particularly hate the homosexuals of the era, while none are major players in the main plot, a few do get shipped off to the camps, while another one gets killed after deposing Windrip. (To be fair, Sarason is analogous with Rohm, who met a similar fate on the Night of Long Knives.)  Also, the morality of Jessup is a bit different, he's having an affair with the local barkeep, and his one daughter even goes as far to encourage the affair.

There's quite a bit of philosophizing in here, from the contention that those most responsible for Fascism's arrival in the US is due to people not dissenting loud enough, pointedly discussing how dictators both reactionary (Mussolini, Hitler) and Radical (Lenin, Stalin) aren't better than their counterparts on the other side of the aisle, and pointing out one revolution that strips rights tends to lead to a counterrevolution where the rights remain stripped for similar reasons. 

Lewis also uses sarcasm the way friends of mine use Nutealla. Which is to say slathered libreally over almost everything, dripping juicily off of each morsel.

Ultimately, Lewis offers no real answers on how to dig out of the hole once one is buried, figuring it's up to us to be creative and find our own solutions, or, better yet, speak up, dissent, and avoid being buried in the first place.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Words come crashing in, into my little world

I was mildly unaware that Mercedes Lackey and a new coauthor Cody Martin had dusted off the SERRAted Edge novels, which share a world with her Bedlam's Bard and Diana Tregard mysteries.

Not that Silence is particularly connected to anything that has come previously in any of the series other than a loose thread of Elves who came through the Fairegrove Industries Gate from Fairieland. And even that doesn't come into play until about the last third of the book.

We start with Staci, a teenager who's been living in New York City prior to the start, suddenly thrust into the sleepy Maine hamlet of Silence after her father remarries and the wicked stepmother inspires the father to send Staci to live with her mother. Staci's mom really doesn't have it going on, being a waitress and alcoholic who's also kind of the town trollop. Silence is, as almost everyone describes it, stuck in the 50's. No internet, no cell phone towers, and no real entertainment options other than the bookstore cum coffee shop owned by kindly Tim.

Staci, who early on ends up meeting two couples in the bookstore, ends up getting a dial up connection to the internet and "blackmailing" her father after finding out that the stepmother had stolen a few outfits and jewelry during the packing. This allows her to at least order clothing via catalog, given the thrift store isn't a particularly good option.

On her initial exploration of Silence, she runs across Dylan, a biker guy who helps her get oriented in town. The waitress at the cafe helps spell out the setting, noting that almost every industry in town is owned by the Blackthornes up on the hill.

Along with Tim, we meet Jake, Seth, Riley, and Wanda at the bookstore. While the foursome are paired off, they welcome Staci with open arms and introduce her to the wonderful world of tabletop RPGs. They also drag Staci out to teen night at the local Methodist church, which is when Staci meets Sean Blackthorne, who invites her up to the estate.

To skip over a bunch of plot building, Sean and his family are unseelie elves. Dylan is seelie, but out on a mission to destroy the unseelie after they killed his cousin. The Blackthornes have some adverse plans for Silence, which it falls upon Staci and her friends to stop.

It's good to be back in the shared universe again. I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed the elvensteeds that appear as vehicles. I enjoyed the geek references sprinkled throughout the text. I really enjoyed goth girl Wanda sitting down with Staci and pointing out that Sean's courtship is a bit like Edward courting Bella, and that it's really not healthy.

The bad part is that the ending is very rushed. Very very rushed. There's an entire chapter that's essentially an 80's training montage before the confrontation with the unseelie. Staci never confronts Sean directly, essentially letting Dylan (the "good one") do it by proxy. And lord, the climax passes and we get a whole page of resolution.

Honestly, I'm hoping this is a prelude to more, since the characters deserve a better story to inhabit, as well as some exploration of the mysterious backstory of Tim, the kindly bookstore owner.