Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Winnemucca Woman

Finished Armistead Maupin's More Tales of the City this morning prior to my ultrasound, and again felt the pleasure of enjoying a good read. (Goal is to make it through all 9 volumes before July, but going on Library copies from this point forwad, since I've managed to lose my collection.)

Anyway, while some of the darkness we got a small peak at in the first volume pops up here, it's not nearly as much of a character as it winds up being in later volumes. I mean, really, the worst we get to deal with is the Cannibal Episcopal Cult at Grace Cathedral, and even that is not quite as bad as later events.

We start on Valentine's Day as Michael and Mary Ann make resolutions for their love lives. As it turns out, Mary Ann's boss (who was having an affair with their landlady in the last volume) left her a substantial gift in his will, allowing her and Michael to take an 11 day cruise on the Pacific Princess to Acapulco. Much to the chagrin of new boss Beauchamp, who's busy dealing with the revelation that his wife DeDe is giving birth to twins from a Chinese father. DeDe's mother, Frannie, on the other hand, is dealing with turning 60 when she gets a surprise for her birthday. Mona is having issues with being alone, so she hops a bus to Reno and instead gets suckered in to working phones at a whorehouse in Winnemucca. Brian, now living in Norman Neil Williams's little house on the roof, is busy watching a woman with binoculars in another building. And Mrs. Madrigal remains as she has been, with hers being one of the largest revelations in the book.

On the cruise, Mary Ann meets and falls in love with Blonde himbo Burke, who has amnesia about his 3 years in San Francisco. Michael resigns himself to being alone until he hits the only gay bar in Acapulco and runs into his former lover Jon. Sparks fly, and by the time they reach San Francisco, all of 'em are happily coupled again.

DeDe manages to befriend D'orothea unexpectedly after she leaves Beauchamp. Beauchamp, upset over the scandal of her children hires someone to beat her up to terminate the pregnancy. (The fact he's cruising the bathhouses looking for men is evidently less of a concern to him than his wife's mixed heritage babies.)

Burke, as it turns out, has issues related to his amnesia like a feal of fenced walkways and puking at the sight of roses. He also remembers a strange rhyme in his sleep and recognizes a man with a hair transplant.

Mona, out in Winnemucca, discovers her name in of the books, calls San Francisco, and the big secret comes out. Mother Mucca, nee Mona Ramsay, is her grandmother. Mrs. Madrigal is actually Mona's father (sort of).

Mrs. Madrigal does try to get Mona and Brian together, but the lady across the city causes issues.

Michael comes down with Guillain-Barre and winds up hospitalized while his mother writes him letters about she and her husband joining Anita Bryant's Save Our Children. Which does lead to a very powerful moment when Michael writes home to mom and dad, discussing his own homosexuality. 

By the end, we find out Burke's amnesia was due to trying to break open a story about a cult eating human flesh during Communion, we find out Brian's nightly appointment was actually Mona's mother, we find out what the anagram in Mrs. Madrigal's name is, and we get to see Michael and Jon happy for the moment. (Spoiler: this doesn't last. They're divorced and reconcile in the next book, then Jon dies off page in book 4.) 

While this volume ramps up the soap opera nature of the narrative, it's still so much fun to read.

Friday, May 17, 2019

I've got that JOY JOY JOY JOY deep in my heart!

With this author, I need to preface this with the fact he's my brother. Indeed, I along with my other siblings show up on the dedication page.


In other words, anytime I review something by someone I know, I do my best to remove my connections with them when reviewing, which is a bit like Jimmy Carter removing himself from his peanut farm after becoming President.

Anyway.

So, The White Angel of Death actually refers to a character, but she doesn't show up until about the midpoint. Which does make her a better character than say, John Galt, who doesn't show up in his novel that he's the main character of until 3/4 of the way through. Mostly, we're following around Michael "Mickey" Weston, a keyboardist for several local bands (most recently, the Balding Orangutans, who fired him, but kept his riff on their national hit "Monkey With Your Love".) Mickey works as a record store and is dating a girl named Trish, who mostly seems to want to argue. We open on Mickey's mom calling him to let him know his brother is in the hospital and likely dying. Frank not only is an addict, but he is also in late stage Acquired Manic Syndrome, the current plague. AMS basically screw with serotonin transmission, making the infected very happy. Second stage screws with the actual synapse, and third stage leaves you paralyzed but orgasmic, essentially left to die of a good time. The disease follows AIDS like transmission, through blood or other bodily fluid.

Frank, the brother, ends up spitting blood on Mickey, who does have a cut on his hand, and who does indeed contract the, I assume, bacteria. (The cure bears a similar name to antibiotics, so I assume bacterial.) As such, Mickey does indeed slowly start transitioning into his life of being a "Happyhead", one nickname for folks infected. While going to get tested, (which is when we find out about government response to AMS, which basically boils down to "You get cured, and if you refuse, we will arrest you and cure you whether you like it or not", under the theory that if the disease mutates into another transmission vector, people who don't deserve it will wind up with it), we also hear about White Angel, an organization run by Jane Alison Tippet, who' initial paperwork reads as if it's your right to die happy than live depressed.

Mickey tests positive on the first round, then demands the second test for confirmation. Then he starts refusing the cure. Indeed, with the sort of help of a coworker (who had AMS and got the cure, which essentially keeps you from ever recontracting the disease), Mickey starts joyholing, which is pretty much happyheads prostituting themselves to the uninfected. $300 an encounter, and the stamina to go 3-6 times a night. Just watch out for the cops, kid.

Mickey does actually get almost caught in a sting operation, and contacts the local White Angel chapter, who provides him a motorcycle and a contact in Chicago. (We start in Columbus. Sadly, most of the landmarks mentioned in this maybe 2 decades ahead of us setting are long gone, razed and built over with utilitarian capitalist venture that the average college student can't afford but make the parents think the area is safe.)

In Chicago, an encounter with his White Angel contact and the bartender who's a CDC mole ends up with him meeting Iz, who's part of an unaffiliated Permanent Floating Rave. The PFR is in a bad neighborhood, and the happyheads are paying protection money to a local gang to leave them alone while they all joyhole (or in a few cases, provide other outlets) for money. Anyway, thing eventually go south, and Iz, who really doesn't like White Angel ends up leading the remnants back to the main house, where Jane Alison Tippet herself resides and runs classes for AMS sufferers, as well as safe houses for them. Mind you, as we sit through Ms. Tippet's class, we find out her philosophy isn't much better than the governments. It draws from the fun 19th century theory that since more people eat up more and more limited resources, the poor should suffer so that more resources become available. Indeed, she thinks of AMS as a gift from G-d, a plague that lets the infected die happy. Which translates into shoving her charges into brothels, providing all the vices they could want, and keeping the money they raise.

In the background, we have national news that we gets bits and pieces of in the context of someone riding serotonin overload really isn't paying attention to national news. This means we hear bits about the Texangelicals and their militias, who in the end help defend President Burlinson from being evicted from the White House following his impeachment.

Honestly, reading this was a bit like remembering my own brief time on antidepressants back in '01, wherein there are some seriously bad things going on, but you don't really pay attention to them because your new brain won't let you. It's very interesting, with the darkness buried under layers of sex, love, and drugs.

Ordinarily I'd post a link to the place to purchase it, but evidently the publisher is slowly going out of business, and Chuck's trying to get the rights back to publish it again. You may get lucky on Amazon, you may not.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Under the boardwalk

On a whim, I picked up what's currently published of the other M/M paranormal romance of Morgan Brice, BadLands.

We start with Simon, who has a doctorate in folklore, who lost his university post and his lover and now runs a New Age store and runs ghost tours on the Myrtle Beach Boardwalk. He's also a psychic medium of some strength. Simon also keeps contacts with his Skeleton Crew, other folks with powers, most of whom are untrained. As we open, the Boardwalk is being haunted by the Slither Slasher, a serial killer hunting down predominantly seasonal workers but also folks with psychic powers.

We then switch perspective to Vic, an Italian cop who moved to Myrtle Beach after running into something supernatural while taking down a killer in Pittsburgh. While he is not a believer, he does come around as the story progresses. Particularly since Vic is working on the Slither case.

They first meet unexpectedly at a Boardwalk coffee shop, flirting over cappuccino. Then they meet as cop and store owner, as Simon uses his powers to contact the victims' ghosts. While he's under, he accidentally hears from one of the Pittsburgh ghosts, which sets Vic on edge.

Anyway, as is to be expected, Vic and Simon go through the initial rush of starting a relationship (complete with whatever the male equivalent of a heaving bosom would be) then end up backing away from each other as Simon playing Nancy Drew gets him under suspicion. Of course, by the end, Simon is vindicated and he and Vic are free to heave bosom together.

While it does fall under a formula, it's still fun reading, and focusing on older characters takes some of the...exuberance...out of the romance that haunted the Witchbane initial outing. While they are heaving quite nicely, they're also not violating several laws of refraction in the process. Worth checking out.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Golden Years

I hadn't been planning on revisiting Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City quite this early, but I needed something in a hurry, so I grabbed it off the shelf again for a quick trip back to Bicentennial San Francisco. While I doubt my July trip to the city will find the magic within this particular volume and its subsequent sequels, it's so much fun to visit.

We start with Mary Ann Singleton, Cleveland native, as she decides to quit her job at the fertilizer company and move to the City by the Bay. Mind you, she telephones her parents from the city to tell them this as her mood ring turns blue... She moves in with her friend Connie briefly until she can secure an apartment and a job. Connie is very... kitchy. She has a pet rock. She introduces Mary Ann to the Marina Safeway dating game and the Dance Your Ass Off club. Eventually, Mary Ann finds Mrs. Madrigal and her rooming house at 28 Barbary Lane on Russian Hill. Mrs. Madrigal grows marijuana with names like Barbara Stanwyck in her garden. She also has a hidden past that we only get hints of in this volume.

In the house, we also have Mona and her eventual roommate Michael. Mona works as a creative copy at Halcyon Communications, although she ends up quitting when one of the clients says some really rude things to her. Michael is gay (shocking in 1976 San Francisco), and his horrible love life forms part of the narrative. In this volume, he meets gay gynecologist Jon at gay skate night, then eventually loses him when Jon walks in on him dancing in his jockey shorts at Endup.

We have Brian Hawkins, a former civil rights lawyer now waiting tables at Perry's. He's straight and making the most of the meet market that is San Francisco.

Eventually we get Norman Neil Williams, who... well, he's really not very nice.

Mixed in with this, we meet Edgar and Frannie Halcyon, Mary ann and Mona's boss and his wife; Beauchamp and DeDe Day, Edgar's daughter and son-in law; and D'orothea, Mona's ex lover who she winds up moving in with again.

All of these lives wind up mixing with each other, as Beauchamp ends up sleeping with both May Ann and Jon, Edgar and Mrs. Madrigal have a nice affair as he deals with renal failure, Brian and Mary ann date briefly, Brian and Michael become good friends, Norman falls off a cliff, D'orothea turns out not to be as black as she pretended to be. (I never said it wound up being politically correct.)

As I recall, I wound up reading the first three in high school after watching the miniseries based on book 1. I read what was the last 3 much later in college, and what's now the final 3 as they were released. My love for them remains strong, even now. Reading the first volume again reminded me of how much I loved the interconnected nature of the narrative, a gay character (who, even if he is referred to as a twink) I could relate to, and the idea that friendship is found in strange places.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

It Was A Fine Affair

So, this should be interesting, since Fosse by Sam Wasson covers subjects that are both entrancing and downright vile on occasion.

As you could probably guess by the title, the actual subject matter is Bob Fosse, dancer, choreographer, director, writer, womanizer, heel, etc. One gets the impression her rode the wheel round and round, his highs high and his lows almost a bottomless pit.As a side note, the FX miniseries Fosse/Verdon was based on this particular volume, although there are a few events in the series that didn't appear in the book. The series also has the advantage of being a visual medium, allowing you to see what they're discussing as well as using some of Fosse's own visual tricks to get their point across. On the other hand, the book delves much deeper into Fosse's entire life, although his women are almost sidelined in the narrative. Which is a shame, since it would appear that Gwen Verson and Ann Reinking both kept his legacy alive and helped translate what went on in Bob's head to the people he was working with.

Anyway, we start in Fosse's childhood, growing up in Chicago during the Depression, and essentially going to dance class in place of his sister. He had the talent, and his teacher wound up playing his agent, sending Fosse and his good friend, Charles Grass to every vaudeville and burlesque outfit he could get them bookings at. Which, by the sound of it, wound up being every seedy theater that would accept them. Eventually Bob got drafted for the War, where he joined the Entertainment Corps. Part of me remains amused at the idea of bawdy performers entertaining their way across the South Pacific. Eventually, he was discharged and wound up in New York, where he wound up meeting and partnering and marrying Mary Ann Niles. While they toured together, Bob essentially outgrew her and started courting the also married Joan McCracken. Whom he ended up divorcing Mary Ann to marry eventually.

Joan, an established actress managed to get more than a few doors opened for Bob, which eventually lead to his big break, choreographing The Pajama Game. Success and love wasn't enough, as Fosse's extra marital affairs eventually doomed this marriage, although the final straw came with Damn Yankees and Gwen Verdon.

Since I can't get video to work, here's Verdon and Fosse in the movie version. 

Verdon and Fosse wound up marrying after her divorce and having Nicole, who eventually wound up in the original Broadway cast of Phantom of the Opera.

 Fosse started getting more involved in the actual control of creating a musical with Sweet Charity, which sadly unleashed "If My Friends Could See Me Now" on an unsuspecting world, later used to sell Carnival Cruises with Kathy Lee Gifford lip syncing for her life on a cruise.

Fosse and Verdon's marriage was a success on a creative level, but a mess on the personal level. Indeed, while they never divorced, they did separate during the filming of Cabaret after Gwen, having flown round trip from Germany to New York and back to get a gorilla costume arrived to find Bob in bed with several German girls.

Mein Herr

Sadly, Gwen's career stalled while Bob's continued to grow. He won an Oscar for Cabaret, a few Tonys for Pippin and Emmys for Liza With a Z. (The book goes into great detail with how Liza was filmed, with multiple cameras essentially making it one big take.) Pippin was evidently a bit of a fight, since Schwartz, who wrote it, wasn't fond of Fosse's rather ironic take on an earnest story. It also introduced Fosse to Ann Reinking, the other major girlfriend in the legacy.(Seriously. I lost track of everyone he was attached to throughout.)

Not the Manson Trio I was looking for, but....

To help boost ticket sales, Bob ended up shooting the famous Manson Trip in Pippin as a 1 minute commercial spot to boost soft sales later in the run. They also did a TV movie version of Pippin for Home Video, which everyone hated. (By all accounts, it was like Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" video's original cut where the dancing was cut in favor of faces.)

We hear about his movie ventures, Lenny with Dustin Hoffman, All That Jazz, which was semi autobiographical, and Star 80, which was really really depressing.

We hear about Dancin', which was sort of a revue of Fosse's style.

We hear about Broadway in the 80's when the big British set pieces came over and corporate sponsorship of shows became the rule instead of the exception.

We meet his friends, like Neil Simon and Paddy Chayefsky (of which one really sad story emerges. A deal was struck after Bob;s first heart attack that if Paddy died first, Bob would tap dance at his funeral, if Bob died first, Paddy would deliver the longest eulogy ever. Paddy dies first, and Fosse indeed tap dances.) We see Fosse do more drugs than all of Height-Ashbury in 1969. We get a brief moment of the dancers in the Dancin' tour dealing with AIDS and how Rock Hudson changed their attitudes. We hear about his rivalry with Michael Bennett, and how that eventually changed like the Nederlander/Schubert rivalry as two old War Horses learning to not fight.

Ultimately though, the book is a really vivid portrayal of the creative person, and the destruction that is the flip side of creation. It also raises questions about it's protagonist, in this more modern era, of whether or not what he achieved justified what he did to create it. (Frankly, had he been around in the past 20 years, we'd not know his work, since he'd have been fired from every show he was part of for his antics. Sexual harassment of the ladies, telling a child actor to stand there naked and get aroused while being harassed by strippers.... the drugs....) And that is up to the reader, on whether creation that benefits all is worth the personal destruction required to achieve it. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Well, it gets credit for participating, I guess

In one of the book forums I follow on Facebook, someone suggested Garth Greenwell's  What Belongs to You. It sounded interesting, the library had a copy, so I gave it a shot. I'm kind of happy it came from the library, because I can't imagine actually paying money for it.

The book, written in first person and masquerading a a memoir, at its most basic level is the story of a teacher at an English School in Sofia, Bulgaria, and the relationship between the narrator and a male prostitute he meets in a bathroom in the National Palace of Culture. Mitko, the prostititute, seems to enjoy tempting and teasing the narrator, hitting him up for money here and there and occasionally satisfying the narrator's physical needs. That's it. Other than giving the narrator syphilis, which he dutifully passes on to his Portuguese boyfriend, Mitko has no real purpose. Nor does the narrator.

We gets and pieces of our narrator's upbringing, including a request from his father that he come home so he can see him before he, the father, dies. This leads to a two page reflection on Dad disowning the narrator after the narrator comes out. Most of the reflection deals with narrator realizing he's gay after watching his male friend make out with a woman. We never do find out if he went to say his goodbyes to his father.

Towards the end, his mother visits, and we listen to him whine for several pages about how adults can't cuddle up with a parent the way a child can. When we last see Mitko a few pages later, Mitko's kidneys are failing, so he's given money for food and train passage to his mother. Our narrator, despite his desire, rejects Mitko's final offer of sexual gratification, which at a guess was supposed to be a symbol of acceptance of self, but honestly, having heard about pus discharge, jaundice, and other such fun things about Mitko a few paragraphs ago, this falls short.

Based on what others have said, I guess this is supposed to be about sublimating desire and passion and instead embracing comfort, but that gets lost amongst the purple prose, the whining, and the dangling plot lines. I'm assuming that the constant harping about how Bulgaria is dying is a metaphor for the narrator's inner death, but that falls flat as well.

Really, about the only two things I enjoyed were the setting (I have a coworker who was raised in Bulgaria, so it made for some fun conversations), and a brief discussion on coming out during the height of the AIDS epidemic and how it was assumed that your life progression was sex, infection death, with no stops in between. That isn't enough to justify a glowing review of what really amounts to an aimless jaunt of a letter to an adult magazine discussing loving a hooker but not even giving any spicy details about the relationship.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Here We Go Again and Again

Funny note about Mercedes Lackey's The Hills Have Spies: The description on the book jacket has absolutely nothing to do with the actual plot. Indeed, the description mentions Mags's son Justyn and Hawkbrothers. Then you read and find out it involves Mags's son Perry and a trip to the Pelegir Hills. Indeed, none of the children is named Justyn.

So, anyway, at the outset, we learn that Mags and Amily have four children that they're raising along with the current King's brood. While all the children are being raised to be escape artists, Perry is in the running to be the next Herald Spy, unless he doesn't get chosen. Perry has Amily's gift of Animal Mindspeech, which while good, doesn't allow him some of the fun things his father can do.

After everyone's been properly introduced and roles established, Perry and Mags end up taking a father and son trip out to the Western edges of Valdemar to investigate something a semi-retired Herald is noticing with odd disappearances among the people out that way.

Posing as traders, they get out to Herald Arville, where upon Perry promptly gets chosen by the neuter kyree Larral. They help the village form a mining pact for the garnets in the ground, then wind up finding out about the kidnappings happening from an inn in the forest.

Perry, with Larral's encouragement, ends up leaving his father while he sleeps to scout out where the people are being kidnapped to, which leads to a city in the hills. (We're skipping over various species of intelligent animals they encounter, like raven Bondbirds and dyheli, and eventually firebirds.) Said city is controlled by someone using blood magic and mind magic to control a mercenary company and those they kidnap. While it's not mentioned if this is another incarnation of Ma'ar, it could be, although Ma'ar's incarnations usually were more subtle in their intrigues.

Perry disguises himself as a dog trainer and takes over the kennel.

What follows is cloak and dagger type things, as father and son try to outwit and outlast the Master and figure out how to come away from this alive.

While parts of this could use more fleshing out, it's a pretty good entry in the larger world that it's set within. If we're going to continue to be stuck with Mags, adding in others will help.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Death of a Nation

As I said, twofer day.

Finished up Robert Jackson Bennett's Vigilance at a soccer game this morning. While some of the set up has been done before, it's always interesting to see different narrative threads escaping from what could be an overused idea.

We center on two characters in the novella. One is John McDean, an executive producer at ONT, which is essentially a biased news/entertainment channel that's focused mainly on older viewers. The other, Delnya, works at a dive bar. The two never meet, but the actions of one eventually have a big effect on the other.

One of ONT's biggest programs, which doesn't have a regular broadcast schedule is Vigilance, in which 3-4 active shooters are chosen from a pool of applicants and sent in without warning to an inhabited area to, well, basically start a mass shooting. If they survive, they win a bunch of money. If a civilian survives, they win a bunch of money. Point being, since no one knows where or when it's going to happen, most civilians have no idea they're about to be on TV.

Set in 2030, the basic set up is that due to global climate change and the death of American industry, most of the youth have moved abroad to South America or Asia. China's economy has far surpassed the US, so the majority of the Us population is now older, insular, and convinced they're still relevant. The show itself came about after a live streamed mass shooting that was rebroadcast across multiple digital formats that due to being digital, had advertising attached. While companies were understandably initially upset about their logos being broadcast during this, it turned out it actually made their sales skyrocket. In the end, a compliant government gave their tacit approval, and the show was born. Using AI color commentary, encouraging viewers to Remain Vigilant and Armed at all times to prevent being shot in public and to be able to FIGHT BACK against the Other....

Delnya's bar is showing the episode when it goes live. We see how the viewers at home react to the carnage through her eyes, as the bar goes to Happy Hour pricing through the event as the patrons start betting on outcomes. Delnya, who;s father was a cop who got shot in a dark alley after being mistaken for a perp, tends to view the show as a terrible idea, and tends to think that patron's view that guns answer all questions instead of raising other more pertinent questions and better risk analysis, is not happy about watching people get shot in a South Bend mall.

We watch as John uses the AIs to change a woman who takes out a shooter from Vietnamese to Irish to satisfy the viewers who feel threatened by dark skin. We see how the team behind the show use technology to lead one of the other two shooters to her so they don't have to pay her.

It's really ugly after a while, and no one gets a happy ending.

While we've seen similar set ups in books and movies (The Running Man, Series 7: The Survivors), this is a different thread to pull on and Bennett does so quite well. While I'm sure some readers would likely start screaming at the book due to some of the politics, much of what he has to say should be considered before outright rejecting it, or rejecting it just for being presented. 

And you thought Seattle Geography was bad before

Finished C. E. Murphy's Thunderbird Falls on Thursday, but been busy trying to catch up on other things. As such, we're getting a twofer today.

Anyway, we're back to following our favorite shaman, Joanne Walker, as she continues to avoid training her Shamanic powers outside of Earth ending events. Indeed, early on, she projects herself into the Dead Zone with no protection and winds up nearly getting eaten by a giant snake and banishing Coyote. Oops.

A Witch finds Joanna and passes on that she dreamed of her, and invites her to join the Coven to help invite an ancient spirit into reality to fix the wounds Joanne's magic has caused.

What follows is a case of "Who can you trust?", and Joanne, acting without guidance, makes a few major mistakes and Seattle's geography gets rearranged via an earthquake.

It was fun to return here, although I think there's a story in an anthology that comes between the first two volumes. It gets referenced, so I spent most of the book feeling like I was missing part of the story.

On the other hand, it remains fun reading with even better characters.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

That Old Black Magic

I was happy to see Seanan McGuire's That Ain't Witchcraft show up at the library this past week, finishing for the time being Antimony's part of the larger story. that there's a bonus Novella at the end bringing us back to her brother Alex was just an added bonus.

Anyway, We pick up with Antimony and her cohorts after fleeing Lowryland at the end of the last installment. Somehow, Cylia, the jink, has managed to get them a house to rent for a few month in Maine while the owner goes to Europe. This works out well, as Fern, the Sylph, has a bedroom she won't float out of and Antimony and Sam have a private bedroom.

Unfortunately, This doesn't work out as well as everyone would like, since James Smith, the cousin of the landlord, is A) a sorcerer with ice powers, and B) wanted dead by the Crossroads. Which, since Antimony made a deal with said magical entity towards the end of the last book, means she gets tasked with killing him. And Aunt Mary, the Crossroads ghost, gets banished by said entity and replaced by Bethany, who read a bit like a ghostly Harley Quinn. That we find out she's Aunt Rose's sister later on....

And then Leonard shows up. Leonard, who's in line to take over the Covenant of St. George.

By the end of the main story, we have quite a bit of teaming up as we find out the true nature of the Crossroads in the InCryptid setting.

The Novella, The Measure of a Monster, focuses again on Alex and his fiancee Shelby, and some missing Gorgon children. Which is also a lot of fun.

I'm glad this series is going strong, even if I do worry about the next volume, focusing on Sarah, the Cookoo/Jhorlac cousin. Given the species love of higher maths, I'm hoping calculus isn't a requirement for the plot.

Again, can't recommend this series highly enough. There have been a few missteps, but it's still fun reading that never fails to entertain.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Et Omnibus Requiem

So, even though David Eddings's The Elenium is technically 3 books (The Diamond Throne, The Ruby Knight, and The Sapphire Rose), I own th eomnibus copy with all three volumes contained within. While this will count against my year end reading numbers, it was easier than trying to delve through three separate volumes.

The plot centers mainly around Sparhawk, a Pandion Knight in service to the Throne of Cimmura, one of the 4 ill defined Elene Kingdoms and the city of Chyrellos. (No, it's nothing like Medieval Europe at all!) The Pandion order has the advantage of having Styric tutors to instruct them in magic, the Styric mostly being Pagans worshiping The Younger Gods from the north. There is a race of mixed Elene and Styric heritage, but they're all involved in worshiping the evil god Azash. there's also the Eshandist Heresy down in Rendor, but they're basically Lutherans portrayed as ignorant savages.....

Anyway, One of the local priests has designs on becoming Patriarch or whatever. that plot gets the ball rolling as Annias has poisoned the rightful queen. They Pandions put a spell on her to preserve her until a spell is found. That leads to the Four Orders of Elene knights to go seek out Bhellium, the legendary stone capable of remaking the world.

And eventually leads everyone to Azash.

Since it's high fantasy and Eddings to boot, the ending is fairly foregone. It's readable, but some of the opinions expressed under veil of fiction get really annoying. As much as people complain about Piers Anthony's sexism, Eddings is just as bad with it. 


Wednesday, February 27, 2019

You remember Albrecht?

As a stop gap between books, I wound up grabbing Bill Bridges's (actually listed here as William Bridges) The Silver Crown, aka how King Albrect of the Silver Fangs became king. Long recap made short: back when Werewolf: The Apocalypse 2nd Edition came out, there was a really cool comic that bookended the text that showed how Albrecht literally ran into the Wendigo Evan who was undergoing his First Change and how they joined with the Black Fury Mari to form a pack. Throughout the book, we had other cartoon glimpses of them, illustrating playing the game and fighting.

Anyway, Albrecht is the Grandson of Jacob Morningkill, who at the start of the books is king of the North Country protectorate in Vermont.Jacob suffers from the usual Silver Fang derangements, in this case, paranoia. He has, however, put his trust in Polly Purebred, AKA Lord Arkady, Scion of House Crescent Moon. When Jacob is killed by Black Spiral Dancers, Jacob uses his last breath to unexily his grandson.

Which ends up with Arkady and Albrecht dueling for the right of Kingship. Arkady cheat sin a way that can't be proven due to archaic Silver Fang protocols, so Albrecht has roughly 2 weeks to undergo a quest to find the MacGuffin, the Silver Crown, fabled relic of the Silver Fangs.

Which leads to the realm of Pangaea, The Abyss, a Black Spiral Hive, the Silver Fang Homeland, and finally New York City. After undergoing a literal hitting rock bottom, Albrecht finally does gain the kingship and heals a few wounds with his pack. (Not that it matters, he and Mari will nitpick each other until Apocalypse.)

It remains a fun read, fast paced with none of the anime style combat that plagued some of the Tribe Novels.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Welcome to Seattle Stadium!

So, I evidently picked up C. E. Murphy's Urban Shaman at one book sale or another, and wound up reading it this past week.

We're following Joanne Walker (AKA Sibohan Walkingstick) as she's flying back to Seattle from her Irish mother's funeral. The oddness gets going on page 1 as Jo sees a woman being chased across northeast Seattle from the plane. After convincing absolutely no one of what she saw from 10000 feet, She hires an older cab driver, Gary, who manages to get her to a church, where she finds the woman who was being chased, who also claims to be a banshee. Then Cernunnos shows up, and everything gets weird.

Well, ok, we're dealing with Herne the Hunter and Cernunnos, as well as a certain coyote who shows up to try to get Jo through shaman training. Seems Jo was a brand new soul built to tie together Irish and Native blood. Which is nice when one is being chased by the Wild Hunt.

Normally in this trope, the main character is either disbelieving for a while or has already been in the life for a while before the narrative starts. In this, she starts off as a non believer, but quickly shatters that after the weird starts.

Really, this mixing of world mythos reminded me quite a bit of Iron Druid. Other than the rush to get the character moving, it's actually a fun romp. I'll have to look to see if there's more.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Muddy Waters

So, in Morgan Brice's Dark Rivers, we follow Evan and Seth to that known hellhole, Pittsburgh. (At a guess, the next edition will be either Cleveland or Detroit. Witch disciples of the Rust Belt for the WIN!)

Anyway, the general plot is that they've discovered another disciple and descendant, this time living in the 3 Rivers. Said descendant, Brandon, works part time as an EMT and part time as a barista. His boyfriend, Alex, works as a PI, one who Seth happens to have hired. Oops.

Add into this Evan's evil ex, who's now working for the current disciple, and who kidnaps Evan about halfway through, uses Evan's phone to text a break up message to Seth (along with an old non consensual video of him and Evan from back in the day), and you have a whole mess of drama.

While the book was actually well written and a heck of a lot more compelling than much of what's currently being written in the MM Supernatural Romance genre, it doesn't change that this particular story is a straight line. Or that the confrontation that ends everything happens relatively early, leaving us several pages of Christmas good will and...well... stocking stuffing.

Mind you, there are other hunters running through the book, but I have no idea if they're from another of Brice's series or not. (If she's creating a shared universe, that's great. If not, give us someplace to track down what the other hunters are talking about. Actually, either way, show us what the heck the Ninja Priest and Government agent were doing prior to this.)

Fun read, if a bit light.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Please make me pure

So, while I haven't as of yet seen the movie version, I did finish Boy Erased: A Memoir by Garrard Conley this morning.

Which is at once rough reading and also irritating at the same time.

Since the tale is told in a non-linear fashion, the gist is our narrator grows up Missionary Baptist with a Car Salesman father striving to become a minister. He dates a girl throughout high school, but remains chaste beyond a few kisses. When he goes to college, he meets a guy who rapes him. Said guy calls Garrard's parents and tells them Garrard is gay. Garrard winds up in Love In Action trying to become an Ex-Gay. End result, Garrard figures out the whole program is essentially a sham and his mother pulls him out. It takes years, but he eventually patches things up with his parents, sort of.

On one hand, one is happy he he got out before the more extreme methods of conversion happen. His rape could have been a lot worse. His parents still love him. That doesn't make any of this narrative any more justifiable by any of the participants. What happened shouldn't happen to anyone. I realize that it can and does happen, but...

I guess I've just been lucky, not growing up believing that that who I am somehow makes me less in God's eyes, that whom I love somehow makes me just as bad as a murderer.

Again, this blog isn't space for me to moralize, to point out that I have huge issues with beliefs that make parents disown their children, that wind up with programs that essentially preach that what's "wrong" with me is somehow a reflection of my parents' sins. I was lucky, even if my own path to where I am now was rocky. To my knowledge, mom's never faced consequences affecting her livelihood and calling based on my actions. On the other hand, I also vaguely remember what it was like to build a giant box to contain myself and shove things I thought would cause shunning into that box. It's been over 20 years or more, but yeah, some of that is still here.

So, yeah.

While I may not be a person who is directly targeted by this memoir, that would be more people who've been through the Ex-gay process and people who need to know the horror of it, but I could feel more than I wanted to of it echoing in my own soul.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Better Out Than In

I normally enjoy Ramsey Campbell, but I find myself at odds with Think Yourself Lucky.

I mean, the general premise holds up, milquetoast David goes out of his way not to rock th eboat or cause problems, but someone is writing a blog about the things he's keeping hidden under a title he chose and under the name of his imaginary friend.

Unfortunately, this is pretty much the plot. We follow David around as he works at his horrible job with his ex as his boss, we read blog posts where someone makes it seem like they're killing people who have hurt David. The ending itself makes absolutely no sense, and we're never really sure how real Lucky is.

Campbell has better books, I'd suggest reading one of them over this one.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

So long and thanks for all the glam

In another one of those "Hey, it placed in Goodreads' 'Best of 2019' survey so let's read it", I just finished Catherynne M. Valente's Space Opera.

How do I describe this?

The basic premise is that a race of bird like creatures makes first contact with Earth (literally everybody on Earth at the same time.) Having discovered our radio signals, the Esca more or less demands humanity send a representative to the Metagalactic Grand Prix, where humanity will compete against the rest of the galaxy's life forms in a singing competition to prove that humanity is sentient. Come in last, humanity will be destroyed.

Among the list of acceptable performers are such luminaries as Yoko Ono and Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeroes, of which the latter gets sent. Kind of like a cross between Gary Glitter and David Bowie, the band used to be a trio, until the female backup singer died in a car crash. Decibel and Oort, on the other hand, are alive and taken to the center of the galaxy to compete. Along for th eride are a string theory/quantum universe leaping representative of a race of sentient Red Pandas and the bird Decibel keeps calling Roadrunner.

Seems part of the Prix's semi-finals includes races trying to disable the other entrants, since the rankings not only determine if new races are sentient but also the division of galactic resources. Given Decibel is essentially pansexual and going full on Captain Kirk, this doesn't go particularly well. Oort, on the other hand, does his best to fade in the background, particularly after Roadrunner gifts his cat with the gift of speech.

There's quite a bit of comedy throughout, including the 321, a sentient AI who chooses a form it thinks humans will find most helpful and trustworthy.

Which is to say knowledge isn't wisdom.
 
There's also a bit of angst, since Oort and Decibel haven't spoken in years, and the reasoning is actually kind of sad. 
 
It's kind of like Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett teamed up to write a book on Eurovision with the help of an American ghost writer.It's not what I would consider to be great, and other than a flat ending, pretty memorable.

Friday, January 18, 2019

This ain't no picnic, and it ain't no country club either

After reading through the pseudonymous Riley Sager's  Final Girls last year, I approached The Last Time I Lied with some trepidation. Thankfully, whomever Riley really is evidently got some better editing this time around, because the pacing and suspense is SO much better.

We get introduced to Emma Davis at the outset, mainly through a flashback she has to 15 years prior, when her three cabin mates from Dogwood Cabin at Camp Nightingale vanished into thin air sometime in the early morning of July 5th. From there, we slowly meet Emma the New York City artist who's painting exhibition of woodland scenes have 3 girls always hiding behind the foliage.

Emma, who's never really had a real romantic relationship thanks to the stress coming out of that particular summer instead prefers the company of gay men mostly, other than a long distance affair with a French Sculptor whom she hooks up with on his brief visits to the city. Into her gallery opening walks Frannie Harris-White, the owner of Camp Nightingale, who buys a painting and invites Emma to lunch at her penthouse.

Seems Ms. Harris-White is reopening the camp, this time with underprivileged girls filling the cabins rather than the more well heeled members of New York society's daughters. As such, she wants Emma to return as the painting instructor for the summer. Which Emma does eventually accept, thinking maybe returning to the woods and Midnight Lake will help her to find out what happened to her friends Vivian, Natalie, and Allison.

As most folks who've gone camping for an extended period can attest, reentry is a pain. It takes some time for Emma to get comfortable again, particularly with Ms Frannie Harris-White and her two sons (Theo, a doctor and the one Emma accused of killing the three girls; and Chet, Theo's younger brother, who's wife Mindy is also on staff) and Frannie's assistant Lottie running the camp. There's a real sense of insecurity among the players, as no one really knows how comfortable everyone should be with one another after the way things ended 15 years ago. Emma gets assigned to be Den mother to the three girls assigned to Dogwood cabin for this new session, who remind her of the three missing girls. We find out about the motion activated camera attached to the door of Dogwood to ensure Emma neither causes or receives any trouble. We meet two other staff members from the same year when Emma was a camper. We continue flashing back 15 years, watching the girls play Two Truths and a Lie, a game Emma ends up teaching her new charges, Miranda, Krystal, and Sasha.

In the trunk that belonged to Vivian 15 years ago, Emma finds a map and a very old picture. The map eventually leads to Vivian's diary, which leads Emma to believe that the Harris family is hiding something. Sadly, Emma is also being watched in the shower, having a few crows dropped in Dogwood, and having LIAR painted across the cabin door in bright red paint.

All of which comes to a head, when on July 5th, Emma wakes to find her three new girls missing without a trace.

Emma becomes a prime suspect, not only because of the events of 15 years prior, but also her own institutionalization after stress induced hallucinations. Her habit of tossing out accusations at everyone like it's a game of Clue doesn't help either.

Anyway, in the end, we find all six of the girls and in the epilogue get most of the rest of the story. Mind you, the final solution makes sense to a point, but leaves more than a few unanswered questions. I can live with that, particularly since my guesses as to what was actually going on were wrong, unlike the last book.

As I stated at the outset, the pacing is much better this time around. While some of the intermingling of time is a little rough, particularly at the outset, and we're never really sure what's real and what's not, thanks to the unreliability of the narrator, it's still a fine novel. I'm much more inclined to read further books by our hidden author should more appear in the future now.

Monday, January 14, 2019

I guess it's a bone orchard?

Going through goodreads.com's best of 2018 list really expanded my To Be Read pile,a and the first one to clear the hurdle was Craven Manor by Darcy Coates.

We start with Daniel Kane, who more or less lives hand to mouth, while his roommate/cousin Kyle walks all over him. Daniel is more or less an Aladdin character, known for giving what little he has to those he perceives as needing it more. Which leads to an odd job offer received by handwritten note under the door, on the night Kyle decided to let Daniel know he's being downgraded to couch surfer, since Kyle's work friend needs a place to stay and can provide more than bill money.

The job is for groundskeeper at an abandoned estate a few miles out of town. One with literally no real road going to it. Indeed, it's a huge manor that's falling apart, although there is a groundskeeper cabin in the garden, not far from the family mausoleum. Pay comes in the form of two antique gold coins, delivered weekly in an envelope, and there are a few rules as part of the employment. Things like keep the curtains closed between midnight and dawn, don't open the tower, and never answer the door if someone knocks.

Given this is a horror novel of sorts, pretty much all of the rules get broken eventually, including the one about no strangers on the property, courtesy of a drunk Kyle who lets greed cloud his judgement.

However, most of the rules deal with the ghost of a little girl, Annalise, who's mother, Eliza, is locked in the tower. Annalise's brother, Bran, would be Daniel's erstwhile employer.

As Daniel becomes more involved in affairs of the estate, he discovers a small village in the surrounding wood where the residents have obviously never seen/read The Ruins, since to a being, all of them have been dead for a century and are covered in some kind of infectious black mold.

Which does set up the central conflict in the book, of whom Daniel should trust. His employer Bran, or out of date town gossip as to who really tore the door off the church and infected the townsfolk with mold? And who really was responsible for the death of Annalise?

It wound up being a different read than I expected, particularly since the setting and stories about Annalise suggested either gothic or vampire fiction. Instead, we get a fairly good ghost story without either a fairy tale ending or a really dark ending. I particularly liked that there is no real sense of place outside the manor, since the adjacent city is never named, and about all we see of it is Skid Row.

While not the best thing I've ever read, it is well written and engaging,which is a good thing.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Under the Tuscan sun

The Spirit Ring by Lois McMaster Bujold has been on my "Want to read" list for several years now, but I've never gotten around to it until now.

Honestly, I know it was released with little real fanfare, the lauds for her fantasy came later with The Curse of Chalion, but this is still a rather tasty morsel, maybe not as polished as her later works, but really good none the less.

Unlike Chalion, we're mostly in the real world, in late medieval-early Renaissance Italy in the City-State of Montefoglia. (We're not given a year to work with, but much of the statuary discussed has pagan themes, although we're told that the Malleus Maleficarum is roughly 10-15 years old here and the Inquisition does have its fires going.) Nestled roughly between Venice and Florence, Montefoglia's Duke Sandrino has a bad tendency to dangle payment in front of Prospero Benefort and his daughter Fiametta in exchange for magically imbued artisan items, like a salt cellar that neutralizes poison and makes people tell the truth. Prospero's masterwork, a bronze statue of Perseus holding Medusa's head, sits beneath clay, waiting for metal to be poured in to make it real.

Unfortunately, this all gets delayed when a Mercenary captain, Lord Ferrante, betrothed to Sandrino's daughter arrives, and it is revealed he is quite the villain. Indeed, as Duke Sandrino prepares to call off the betrothal and exile Ferrante, he is instead killed during the betrothal dinner, leading to Ferrante's hostile take over of Montefoglia. As is Fiametta's crush, Uri, the Swiss Guard captain and model for Perseus. Fiametta and Prospero flee not long after Prospero destroys Ferrante's sprirt ring, a ring housing the soul of an unshriven person. In the case of this particular ring, the soul of Ferrante's infant.

Prospero ends up dying during their escape, and the inn keeper where Fiametta runs ends up putting the body in the smoke house with the hams, waiting for payment for the room. Thankfully, Thur, Uri's brother and miner from Switzerland, happens across her, and they begin to realzie their connection. Unfortunately, Ferrante's men catch up with them and run off with Prospero's unshriven body that's been smoking with the hams for a few days. Thur has a touch of his own magic, related to the Earth, and he talks to kobalds on occasion. Fiametta's magic is related to fire, so one can only assume if their child has an affinity for air, it will compose a song about "September".

Anyway, Fia and Thur escape to St. Joseph, and the Abbot Monreale, who licenses magicians in service to the church. As the story progresses, we find out that Ferrante's magician, Vitelli, has packed both Prospero and Uri in salt in preparation to bind them both into spirit rings. We also find out Vitelli was a former student of Monreale, who in his studies of dark magic wound up becoming consumed by it.

As stated above, while it's not quite as polished as some of her later novels, this is exceptionally well written and filled with narrative goodness. Bujold does a wonderful job of working around societal limitations on women during the period in granting Fia some autonomy in her life, even as she has to hide behind her male figures. Seriously. While known for her science fiction, her fantsy deserves a read by those who enjoy the genre.

Friday, January 4, 2019

You and your words, obsessed with your legacy

I'm not sure if Morgan Brice's Burn counts as a book or not, since it clocks in at 100 pages and is listed as volume 1.5 on Goodreads. However, I own a copy and I finished it, so it's getting treated as one. (I know, technically, it's a novella, but....)

One of the original reviews of Brokeback Mountain I read summed it up as "90 minutes of angst, 1 minute of pleasure", neglecting to mention the 1 minute of pleasure happens roughly 15 minutes in. Burn is a bit like that, since we're picking up in the months following the events of Witchbane, as Seth and Evan try to find relationship balances in a fairly new romance that involves moving in together in Seth's RV. That Seth is trying to train Evan in the fine art of monster hunting and rote magicks doesn't help with this.

So, we follow Seth and Evan from Richmond to Centralia, through battles with a vengeful ghost, ghouls, zombies, and kobalds and a bunch of relationship drama and jealousies as Seth goes through the existential angst of how someone he loves would be better off with someone else and Evan thinks Seth isn't giving him enough credit for the things he can bring to the table.

This leads to both parties doing stupid things, and finally coming to terms in the end, along with a few shout outs to characters from other series, written under both Morgan Brice and Gail Z. Martin.

Honestly, I kind of liked this better than the first one, since it shows a less idealized version of boy meets boy, where boy and boy figure out sex only gets you so far when the rent's due, there's no food in the house, and someone ate the last Twinkie.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

There's a hole in the Bath

My first book of the New Year happened to be Simon R. Green's Murder in the Dark, the latest in his Ishmael Jones series, which as we found out recently is not part of his Drrod/Nightside universe, even if Black Heir is still present.

The major premise has to do with the Organization sending Penny and Ishmael to a site outside of Bath, where a hole has opened up. But not a normal hole. No, this one has razor sharp edges, no bottom, and doesn't actually have dimensions, as the scientists on site actually dug a tunnel under it that never intersected the hole.

As this is Ishmael, not long after they get there, people start winding up dead, cell phones have no signal, and Penny's car won't start. Despite the big interdimensional hole, we can be pretty sure something quite human is busy killing off the scientific team.

For such a short volume, it does contain a lot of stuff, including more clues into Ishmael's origins. On the other hand, the resolution to the mystery, while making sense also seems rather... unlikely. While the motive rings true, it really wouldn't play well in the real world, where less lethal methods that are just as vicious show up.

Fun read.