Friday, March 18, 2016

Book Review: Staked

Staked: The Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne

Print and audio book

I had this book on pre-order from the day it was announced.  I'm a huge and dedicated fan of the series and of Kevin Hearne.  I've read the books multiple times.  It's one of my geek things.

I just now finished reading the book, weeks after it arrived.  I'm not completely happy with it.  It isn't a happy book, really, although it is busy trying to tie up loose ends and plot threads.

I tried listening to the audio version first, and the things that had started to get on my nerved in Hunted and Shattered, the changes in Luke Daniel's reading, made me quit within the first chapter.  It was grating on me terribly.  So I started with the print version and I've read it in tiny bits for weeks now.

Why?  Why didn't I rip through it as quickly as I did the first 6 books (Yes, I read the first 6 books in less than a week and I've listened to the audio versions so many times I can recite parts of it.  I was less thrilled with Shattered, not because I don't like Owen, but because the splintered narrative kinda got on my nerves.  I like it well enough -- Owen is fun -- but it doesn't work as well because it does sprawl so much and lack a centering point in the plot.

Staked is the same -- multiple plot threads running around trying to be ended, and the actual ending of most of them was, shall we say, underplayed.  Sometimes almost incidental, despite the huge build up and importance.  I feel a bit as if the author is thinking "Damn, I gotta finish this up so I can go on to this other project."  Maybe it was because there was so much to be done that the actual doing of any of it was rushed, short-hand, even skipped over.  

There are a lot of important deaths in this book, and compared to deaths in previous books, these were...I dunno...edited for TV? Fight scenes felt rushed, banter was forced, and nothing had much depth to it.   I really didn't hook in like I did before, and that disappointed me.  I'm not used to that from this series.  Even the books that I like less felt satisfying in a character driven way.

Of course, there were in-story reasons I got my feathers ruffled.  I've never liked Greta, for instance, not because she dislikes Atticus, but because her anger and grief lead her to blame Atticus for the choices made by others than lead to their deaths.  She's always irritated me in her persistent denial of Gunnar Magnusson's agency, his choices and decisions that lead to his death. Atticus never encouraged Gunnar to go to fight Thor.  In fact, he tried very hard to get of it.  Gunnar made that choice (with Lief's encouragement, yes, but she seems to skip that conveniently) and she refuses to accept that.  Makes me want to slap her around.  There are events in this book, too, for which Atticus is saddled with blame that, as a reader, I felt more told than I saw was his fault.  Greta needs a solid ass kick, in my opinion.  I don't see her getting it, and so I don't like her or care about her, and that bleeds over onto Owen and....well, it's all in-story stuff, choices the author made that I can't agree with.  That's always a knock against a book, when as a reader I'm balking at the choices of the author.

The book does have some positives -- we find out a bit about vampire biology (it's supposed to be funny although I didn't laugh or even smile).  We see the Hammers of God as good guys, at last (still don't know what those beards are about).  The number of problems Atticus has to solve is not really reduced, but they are grouped a bit better.  I'm rather hoping that Owen will be too busy with how his story has developed and that his Grove is a writerly method for reducing his presence in future books.  Not having the werewolves involved would be interesting. Other characters have new goals, too, so despite not being enamoured of this entry into the series, I am never the less looking forward to the next book -- I can't imagine it as the last because, unless it is one huge book, there is still a great big lot of stuff to be handled.  I can see this series expanding to twelve books.

I'm still jazzed for the series, too.  I mean, I bought this book in two formats, and I bought a copy to send to a friend, so it's not like I'm walking away from it.  This book was just a book full of final chapters of story lines, clearing the way for the big story line brewing for the future.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Review: Fantasmagoria

Fantasmagoria by Rick Wayne

EBook

Full disclosure:  I know Rick Wayne.  I bought this book myself, so he's not paying me with a copy for a review.  In fact, I don't think he would expect me to have read this.  Surprise!

This book is exactly what it advertises itself to be -- mad pulp with end of the world monsters, alien invasions, murder, explosions, blood, dick jokes, naked women, robots, and even telling you all that doesn't really count as a spoiler.  It's a ride. You get on, buckle in, and hang on.

I had a good time.  I'll be honest, it wasn't a great time.  I don't know that I'll feel the urge to read it again.  I won't forget it, though.  It's a sticky story.

In part I didn't get highly attached because it's a broad story, not a deep one (although I would be willing to class-chat the meta levels if there is alcohol involved.  And chocolate.)  The characters appear and disappear without really making much of an impression.  The "hero" -- Jack "Blackjack" Fulcrum -- is indeed the hinge pin of the story,  That's about all.  Other characters appear, do some stuff, disappear, reappear, popping up like Whack-a-moles.  It's all good, but it doesn't really get me involved.  Gilbert, who could also be considered a kind of hero in the story, is the one who most engaged my sympathy because he did seem to be doing some level of growth.  Really, though, it wasn't important.  The characters are in the story to move things along so we can enjoy the weird settings, the strange conversations, the violence, and the monsters.

I want to emphasise that the lack of developing characters is in no way a negative.  This book is honest pulp.  It's good at being pulp, at being weird.  The settings are important.  The language the different characters use is important.  The events are important.  The characters exist to be the life force, the breath, the movement of the story.  This book is a machine.  All the parts have to work together.  I could practically hear the "clank-clank-clank" of the chain drive hauling the car up the hill for the first drop.

There's also a fine layer of philosophy just under the surface -- Rick thinks Big Thoughts -- but that's not what the story is about.  The story is about the monsters, the blood, the sex, the death.  Like I said, I could easily sit around a table at the local IHOP with pancakes and bacon with friends and pull the book apart for Deeper Meaning, speculating about where everyone came from and where they are going, why they did what they did and why they REALLY did what they did.  It would be a good time, but it wouldn't make one bit of difference to the story.  It's great geek fodder.  If someone made it into a movie, I'd watch.  I could imagine a video game -- or even better, a tabletop RPG -- based on it.

I say that throwing some money at it would be a good bet.


+Rick Wayne



Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Conundrums and Confusions

First  Puzzle.

I'm trying my best to listen to the latest Iron Druid book.  I loved the audio books for the first three in the series, read by Luke Daniels.  Then, around book 4 and definitely into book 5, the style of reading changed.  It became broader, the various character voices more extreme, the humor heavily underlined, and, honestly, downright annoying.  I haven't enjoyed the audio version of Shattered nearly as much.  Now, in Staked, it's gone to a new extreme and I'm actively wincing and shuddering.  It is, in short, ruining the book for me.  I'm going to go with the print version (of course I have the print version) so that the voicing won't prejudice my reading of the book.

Why has the reading style changed?  Is it the producer or director?  I know the books changed companies -- the first three were by Brilliance Audio and I love them.  Then Random House took over the books, and that's when the reading style began to (in my opinion, obviously) sink into this annoyingly broad, exaggerated, hammy style.  Why?  Kevin Hearne is a really good writer and it hurts to have the narrator fail the text.


Second Puzzle:

Why don't I see Elliott Jame's Pax Arcana series not more known?  Why don't I see more about them?  They are really excellent, fun, interesting books, with character development, a nice sexual tension working through the first three, and lots of potential for more entries into the series.  I'm just one voice in the wilderness here, but, hey, really, find these books and read them and tell others about them.  Or, get the excellent audio versions.  No mugging, no broad hints to be sure you "get" the joke.  The humor is sly, sarcastic, sharp, and delicious.  The world is a unique twist on familiar tropes and ideas, and it's well built.  Roger Wayne has replaced Luke Daniels as my favorite reader/narrator.

So, really, why do they seem to be lost in the mass of books?  I've just tuned up Charming yet again, and am listening to it to wash the taste of Staked out of my ears.  I'll just read it, thank you.


Third Puzzle:

Same thing goes for Daniel Jose Older's  books, although in their case, I recommend the audio versions over the print versions (which I will be obtaining because I might get an autograph one day!).  The author reads the books and I'm STILL amazed by his reading.  He makes no mistakes with his own words, and, really, the poetry and music of his reading might blind me to story flaws, but I really don't care.  A lot of very popular, well known music has lyrics that make no sense at all (In A Gadda da vida, anyone?)  Go find Half-Resurrection Blues or Midnight Taxi Tango.  Listen to them.  I command you.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Work In Progress

I'm not a graphic designer.  Hell, I put this together using freaking Powerpoint and Paint because, even though I have really cool programs available, I don't know how to use them and it would take a few days to learn enough.  During that time I'd beat myself up to the point where I'd give up.  Instant gratification is sometimes just rolling while I have the power. I wanted a picture, so I made a picture.
I'm posting little snippets of the story I'm revising right now, with this picture because I am.
Don't make me explain everything.


     “Ma!  Ma! They’re comin’!”  I grabbed little Letty as I scooted across the dusty yard toward the house, yelling my head off.  “They’re coming’!”
      Letty squirmed in my arms, her dirty pink shoes kicking at my thigh. "No! Amber, no!" she squealed. She was almost too big to carry and her legs hung down because she was too mad to wrap them around my hips.  “No!”  She kicked me hard and I almost dropped her.
     Ma Deuce strolled onto the porch, her whipsword wrapped around her waist, the pommel under her right hand. She was such a little woman, sort of squat and dark, grey streaks in her braided black hair, but she always seemed bigger than me. Behind her, taller but so slight she practically faded,  Kelly Ann peeked over Ma's shoulder. She had Princess on her hip and she looked scared.
     "Get the babies inside, Amber, and see to The Mister."  Ma's voice didn't match her appearance, either. The Tamil she'd talked as a baby was paved over with the clips and stretches of the mountain people's speech. My own speech had taken on that flavor, too, since I'd found refuge here in the old mountains.
     "Yes, ma'am."  I snagged Hunter's arm and pulled him with me.  "Come on, we gotta go in now." Hunter dragged on my arm and Letty kicked me again.  "Stop it now. You want a spankin' from Ma?  We got to go inside."   Tag followed without being pushed or told. Letty stopped kicking and just cried her frustration. We hurried into the house behind Ma's shadow.
     "How many?"  Ma asked, voice low, as I scuttled passed her.
     "Two trucks. Maybe five or six."  I dropped Letty to the floor and pushed her toward Kelly Ann.        "Taylor saw 'em first and took off to the blind."
     She nodded once, sharp and definite.  "Good. Where're  Tony and Skye?"
     I shook my head as I untwisted Hunter's hand from his grip on my shirt sleeve. "Didn't see 'em."
She nodded again, just once, and I pushed the two little boys in front of me before they could stop being scared and start being curious.
     Kelly Ann gave me her wide eyed stare and slowly pulled Letty back into the dimness of the house. "Amber, " she whispered, "Was Prentiss Waine there?"
     I shrugged, herding the boys toward the kitchen.  "I didn't see. Check the back door and the windows. Get Lilly to help."  She stared at me for a few more breaths and my impatience got the better of me.  "Kelly Ann! Move it!"  Shaken, she hitched up the baby on her hip, tightened her hand on Letty's arm, and moved down the hall after the boys.
     I turned the other way to the big bedroom. The Mister lay sprawled on the bed, a sheet carefully laid over him so that only his face showed in the lamp light. It hardly looked like a human face, it had been beaten so hard. Swollen eyes, swollen nose, swollen lips, little bloody lines of cuts every which way, and some of his hair shaved off so Ma could stitch his scalp. I wasn't sure he could see me when I crept in to close the window and put the wooden shades in place.
     "Whus habbnin?" he murmured at me, making me jump just a little. He'd left us yesterday morning, saying he intended to get what he was owed, and we'd all slunk around the whole day wondering if he'd ever come back. Except Ma. Ma told us that The Mister would do what he said he would do, no matter. He'd crawled his way to the back door late last night, scaring Kelly Ann near to death. Taylor and I carried him inside.
     "Two pick up trucks comin'. "  I didn't have to tell him who was in those trucks. He knew better than I did.
     "Whes Ma?"
     I carefully lifted the cold pack against his jaw and examined the red and blue bruises underneath it.  "On the porch."  I reached for the clean rag resting in a bowl of water and squeezed a few drops into his mouth.
     "Good."  He moved one hand under the sheet, the one that wasn't wrapped in tight bandages. He was hurt, but not near killed. They wanted to teach a lesson, not murder a useful man. Still, it bothered me to see his big muscled body so battered and broken.  It scared me. "'Ey won find it."
     "You be still, Mister. Ma will skin us both if you mess up her work."  He chuckled soft in his throat. I turned down the lamp so it barely flickered and  put it on the floor between the table and the wall. I didn't want anything to hit it and catch the house on fire. At least the house was cinder block. I closed the door behind me, knowing full well that The Mister wouldn't be resting even in the dark, not until this was over.
     "Amber?"  Kelly Ann, now without her baby, shuffled down the hall.  "The trucks just pulled up. Amber, I'm scared."
     I took her arm and turned her around.  "Then go in with the babies and keep them quiet. All the windows locked?"
     She nodded. "Lilly is double checking and turning off the lamps. Amber, what's gonna happen?"
     I shrugged as I pushed her back to the kitchen.  "Ma will take care of it. Go on."  I glanced into the large room to see Lilly mounting the last shutter over the windows. "Here, help me."  Together we wrestled the heavy door — taken from one of the abandoned houses in the derelict neighborhood — into place in the doorway.  The Mister had added a lot of doors where the house didn't have them before.  I slid bolts into the hinges on the outside. Kelly stopped it as it swung toward her, looking at me in an excited, scared, eager way. I pushed the steel and wood veneer toward her.  "Ma will take care of it. Lock this."  The door had to be shimmied and shoved to fit into the frame. I heard the chunk of the thick plank as Kelly Ann dropped it into place.
     I wondered if I should put up the other door to block the hallways when voices pierced the glass windows at the front of the house. I slowed down, trying to remember that the bright sun outside made the inside of the house too dark for anyone to see me, but not quite trusting that, and eased open the front hall closet door.   Just inside, behind a well fitted drywall piece that I could unlatch by feel, I groped for the double barrel and a box of shells. The Mister had taught me to shoot that one and the handgun, making me practice over and over so that I could hunt nearly as well as Taylor and not jump at the boom or flinch from the recoil. I didn't like guns, but I understood them. I wished Taylor and Tony where here — Kelly Ann wouldn't touch a gun and Lilly wasn't yet practiced enough, so it was up to me to back up Ma. I hoped that I wouldn't have to as I cracked the shotgun and loaded the buckshot shells. I could have used the birdshot, but Ma's tone told me


Oh Yeah, I'm Supposed to Self-Promote

This is the hardest thing I am supposed to do, harder than avoiding donuts, harder than folding laundry or vacuuming, even harder than going to a large dinner party.  Self-promotion for my writing,  Yeah.  I'm working on it.

You see, it's hard for me to just say "Hey, I wrote this great thing!  You should buy it and read it!"  In my head I'm looking down at my feet, kicking the dust, and mumbling "uh, yeah, so, I kinda wrote this thing and...well...it's erotica and NO PRESSURE HERE it would be cool if you'd take a look IF YOU WANT and ...um...it has pictures and...well, ok, nevermind."

So -- self promotion time

In the Temple of Nogged available at Smashwords.  It has nudity and animated stone gods and dancing girls.

Friday, January 22, 2016

New Book and Weather

So, we got a glancing blow from the current winter storm -- lots of ice,  now some snow  It's a touch exciting, of course, because this is The South and we don't have this kind of weather often enough to be prepared for it.  And it is cold.  I'm wrapped in my sweats with socks on and a space heater blowing on me.  I'm happy.

I also got a new book in the mail today -- A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab, which I've wanted since I read a sample after I read Vicious last summer.  So, if tomorrow is likely to be yucky, I intend to get some reading done.  I expect it to be good.

I've been cleaning my palette by relistening to the Pax Arcana books.  This will be my third round through them.  They work for me, and I like them more now than I did when I originally read/heard them. That's a good sign.  The humor is more suited to my tastes, the writing style has more polish and subtlety, and I really enjoy how the characters are changing both internally and in their relationships with each other.  The world is also really interesting.  It shares a lot of qualities with the Iron Druid books (which I highly recommend) without being the same sort of thing.  Oh, you can make a check list of similarities, but the differences are also large and varied, so it does not feel like the same author.  I wonder why Elliot James is not a name I've seen more often.  The writing is strong, the story is good, and the humor and the darkness mesh in ways that keep the books going.  I hope there's another one in the pipeline.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Review: Days Gone Bad

Days gone Bad: Vesik, Book 1 by Eric Asher

Audiobook

I've spent a couple of days thinking about this review, about whether I should write it and how I should write it.  Why?  Because I do not like this book.

I have a rule that I do not read books I don't enjoy unless I'm getting some sort of pay-out (like the books I read for classes and such).  So, I must report that I have not finished it.  I've put 4 hours and 50 minutes into this book.  There are 4 hours left of it.  I can't make myself care.

I did try.  I pushed through a lot of words because I felt like I owed it to the author to read the whole thing before making a negative review.  I resented every minute and decided that, no, I've already bought the book so I owe the author nothing more than to be polite while I dislike the results of his hard work.

So, what didn't I like?

I'll start with the narrator, William Dufris.  I imagine he could be a very good narrator if he could simply underplay rather than overplay what he's narrating.  The nearly constant audible eyerolls and eyebrow wiggles got irritating quickly.  Everything was exaggerated, broad and bright and layered with signals and a 'Hey, listener!  You should laugh now!" inflection.  If he'd been a bit more restrained, I might have enjoyed the book a little more.

That ties in with my second problem with the book.  It was like listening to a narrated situation comedy complete with laugh track and applause sign.  The humor tends toward slapstick (I am, admittedly, no fan of slapstick -- I'm more Grouch Marx than Three Stooges, more Monty Python than The Goodies), and each joke is so obviously set up and the punchline delivered like a baseball bat to the forehead.  Characters are constantly laughing at each other, rolling on their sides, gasping weakly, grinning broadly -- in short, instructing me as the reader/listener that THIS IS FUNNY!  LAUGH NOW!  I was never allowed to decide what was funny or not on my own.  Often times the humor was shoved into scenes not because the main character (this is another 1st person, in the urban fantasy tradition) has a sense of humor, but because genre tropes dictate that the dark hero of an urban fantasy comes equipped with a sense of humor, usually dry and self-deprecating. It was in the script, so to speak, on page 7 at the bottom.

I could have also skipped over the exploding pigeons and the incredibly petty behavior that caused them.

And that leads to my third problem with the book.  Characters existed as lists of quirks and foibles.  These aren't exhibited so much as described.  I did not see these things.  Rather, I was told they existed.  The relationships between characters were also a matter of tell, not show, and often seemed called into existence with a wave of the author's hand.  It's not wrong to have relationships in place when the story starts, but these can be demonstrated in less obvious ways.  The story lacked the sophistication that I have come to expect. In my head, I could almost picture the character sheets written up for each, with selections from the advantages and disadvantages tables balanced to yield more character creation points.  I had little that I could grab onto, and nothing that made me sympathetic to anyone.

Which leads to my forth problem -- this book could benefit from a hard nosed editor beating it with a red pen to remove cliches, repeated words, and odd divergences.  That editor could probably also indicate missing actions that confused me (how someone got back into a car I never saw them get out of, things like that) and maybe tighten up some rambling. The book lacked polish. This isn't the best the author can produce, and a good editor could have helped with that.

This book disappointed me, in summary, because it felt like the author had gone through some sort of "how to" book on writing in this genre.  He took the idea he had about necromancers and fairies (which, into chapter 15 of the book, is still not explained -- there are interesting ideas in the book, but they are never fleshed out and rarely made part of the world) and followed the recipe.  The result is a rather bland dish in which the author didn't assert his individual flair.  I gave the book as many chances as I could tolerate -- far more than I generally do, since I typically give a book 3 chapters to woo me and bring me in -- and eventually decided I had better things to do.


Saturday, January 16, 2016

New Books, New Worries

New audio books waiting for me -- Days Gone Bad by Eric Asher, first book in the Vesik series, and The Shadow Revolution, by Clay and Susan Griffith, first in the Crown and Key books.    I don't know much about either series, except for what's in the descriptions and the uneven reviews -- either highly praised or greatly bashed.

Also am worried about one of my pets, currently at the vet's, who has some questionable growths in his bladder.  Never fun to have a critter not in the best of health.  More testing ahead.  Luckily we have a support system to help us pay for this.  I don't want to think about what would happen otherwise.

So I'm trying to distract myself.

I may label what I write about books here as reviews, but really, I don't think they are.  I don't review books so much as record my experience of reading them.  I don't think those are the same things at all.  In my head, at least, a review is an attempt to persuade someone else, and is written along certain guidelines.  It will give details of the story but carefully avoid giving too much information or "spoiling" the book.

I don't particularly care about spoilers, but I don't usually talk about details of the story.  In fact, I suspect I don't usually give much idea of what the story is about.  I am more interested in my reaction to what I read or heard, because that's what I talk about.

I also try to avoid writing really negative comments.  No writer needs to be publicly lashed.  Such reviews are written as ego-gratification for the reviewer pandering to the inner bully in us all, attempts to entertain through snark and sarcasm.  Oh, if I don't like a book, I have no problem saying so, but in general unless I feel _really_ cheated by a book I've read all the way, I abandon  it and say "not for me".  When I write a negative comment, it is often because a book made beautiful promises and failed to follow through.  I mourn the missed chances.  I get angry about the betrayal.

So, my reviews really don't help much unless you are someone who has read the books I liked and agree with me.  Then you can trust my opinion.  I don't think my opinion is the best of all possible opinions.  Of course I think my opinion is a good opinion because it is mine.  I like it when people share my opinion or think well of it, but I don't rely on it.

I'm also listening to the Pax Arcana series again.  I did read the scattering of short stories the author released as e-books.  Interesting, if a bit uneven, and while they are kind of intended to stand alone or to be introductions to the series,  some of them feel a bit hasty.  They do fill in some backstory, though, and for that reason I more or less liked them.


Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Review: Midnight Taxi Tango

Midnight Taxi Tando: Bone Street Rumba, Book 2 by Daniel Jose Older

Audiobook

It's cold tonight.  I was curled up in my warm bed with one big dog and three cats listening to the last couple of hours of this book because I just couldn't wait anymore.  And now, I am out of that warm bed and sitting at my cold desk because I can't sit around and wait.

Some books I can't do as audiobooks.  They just don't work.  Even with a good narrator, some books are just designed for print.  These books are read by the author, and that is how they are best.  I don't know what else to say about it.  The way he reads, the way he embodies his characters, fills them out, gives them particular rhythms, it's spell casting.

I will admit it right here.  I am all one big fan girl crush right now.  If I were to meet Mr. Older at a con, I'd start babbling like an idiot because I'm so much fangirling on this.  I'd share really good chocolate with him (because I always carry it to cons).

Ok ok, let me get on top of my enthusiasm because, really, I'm freezing here.  I'm also infected with the voices of these characters, but that's another thing for later.  This time, Older changes things up -- pretty brave for the second book in a series, the place where a lot of authors try to do the exact same thing they did in their first book that was good enough for them to sell the second book.  Older doesn't do that, the dashing rogue.  This time, we get three different points of view -- Carlos, the voice of the first book, then Kia (forgive any misspellings, because, you know, audio) who was a supporting character in the first book, and now Riza, a new character.  They all sound and speak in their own rhythms.  That was fucking impressive, and not easy to do.  It also works nicely, giving a wider story and more flesh to the world.  Switching out the eyes through which I was looking pleased me.  I never got bored, never wanted the story to move along a bit.

Plot?  Tricky and interwoven, which also worked for me.  Grim, because, yeah, this is that noir urban fiction I'm so crazy about right now.  I must admit, I almost couldn't forgive him for the cockroaches.  [I'm a born and raised Floridian.  "Palmetto bug" is just 1920s realtor speak for Big Ass Flying Cockroaches which I hate.  Any bug that could freak out my dad when it landed on him as much as it would freak out me when it landed on me is a serious damn bug.]  Threads from the last book are picked up and carried on, and things are stirring.  Obviously there's at least one more book (at least, I say, because I will probably cry if this series doesn't run for a bit.  Lots of story there.) and it's going to rock and ripple and be crazy, I'm sure.

Ok, got to wrap this up because I'm shivering and my warm bed calls, but this was too important to wait unti morning.  Had to get it said now while I'm still excited and in love and fangirly.  Really, I'm too old to be fangirling like this, but hell, that's what I am doing.  Everybody who I know and who loves the urban fantasy needs to hunts these books down and read them so Mr. Older can pay bills and keep writing.  Better yet, get the audio versions because, seriously, that's music you need to hear, beats you need to dance to, colors you need to see when you close your eyes.

Ok, back to the bed.  I'm freezing!

Monday, January 11, 2016

Review: Black Dog Blues

Black Dog Blues, The Kai Gracen Series, Book 1 by Rhys Ford

Audiobook

I was a long time getting through this book because, for various reasons I will explain, I took it in bits and chunks.  Did I like it?  I guess I did, although reluctantly.  Will I follow the series?  Possibly.  I'm not really sure.  I am trying to winnow out what exactly my reading experience was like, and why I feel ambivalent and even a touch embarrassed about this book.

First, of course, I must talk about the reader, Greg Tremblay, since the reader shapes the experience in audiobookland.  He was excellent.  In fact, I think it was his voice and his various accents that kept pulling me back.  I wish he would work more, as the greater part of his available narrations are not books that interest me much.  Really, it was fun listening to him.

As for the book itself, there's nothing obviously wrong with Ford's writing. She's competent, even accomplished, with plot and dialogue, setting and characters.  However, she's more of a romance writer who's dipping into urban fantasy.  Without knowing diddly squat, I suspect she came to writing through fan fiction because she juggles familiar tropes throughout the story.  The biggest one, and one that is very common to slash fiction , is hurt/comfort. [Warning!  Clicking on that link can lead to places you might not want to go.  Be prepared to bail if your eyes start rolling.]  It's a handy way to get around the usual barriers our culture has built in to male characters and develop an intimate relationship between them.

So, we have Kai Gracen.  If you go down the list of sets up on the tropes page, you can practically make a check list for this character.  Torture, abandonment, freakiness, rape/mind rape, orphaned -- you get the idea.  While Kai is still a good point of view character and has a lot of fun little quirks and quips, he fills and overfills the requirements for the Urban Fantasy hero.  In fact, it got a little difficult for me to keep him in my mind as a character and not just a list.  In the depiction of Kai's life,  Ford exhibits what struck me as a pain fetish.  Kai hurts in oh so many ways, and oh so much of the time, and here he goes hurting again because he's tough, tough! dammit! but he's all squishy and soft and hurt inside.

Then we have the sidhe lord Ryder, who is the point of sexual and romantic tension, the one who has to break down Kai's defenses, who gets Kai tangled up in events, and who -- inevitably -- is the one to comfort Kai's pains.  Luckily, Ford is clever enough not to fulfill this part of the trope in this book.  It's as delicate a dance as ever happend since Moonlighting had Maddie and David doing it.  Ryder is a bit less well developed, but he has a role and he fills it well.  He even surprised me a bit a few times, which I welcomed.  Tropes have their uses -- it's why they exist, a code for readers/watchers to speed the story along -- but a good writer can take a trope and tip it just a little, quirk it some, and give it a fresh face.  This ability of Ford's also helped me keep going with the story.  The plot twisted nicely, and while the world was a little out of focus overall, several settings were solid.

My biggest complaint was with Ford's action sequences, of which there are many. It's not the sequences themselves -- she has a deft hand -- but it seemed like every single one was interrupted, usually several times, with long passages about Kai's fear and pain, his flashbacks, his determination, his bleeding and ouching and....it got a little tiresome.  It slowed the action down to a crawl many times.  To me, so much description felt as if the author didn't think the reader would get the idea of how very, very, very, VERY bad Kai's past had been.  Rather than building up suspense and sympathy, for me it dulled things down.  I starting tuning out and checking back in to see if anything had moved along.  The ending, however, did surprise me just a bit, and pleased me because she left plenty of story for a second book and possibly a third.

Now, that embarrassment I experienced.  Once upon a time, long, long ago, I was all about fanfiction. I had particular fandoms I enjoyed, but I read a lot of stuff, especially the slash.  Oh yes, I came upon this before there was an internet, when it was rare and strange and the tropes were not yet established.  Later, I tried my hand at it a few times, mostly as experiments in erotic writing.  Those tropes let me skip a lot of work, just as having an existing world and characters helped me skip stuff and concentrate on what I liked.  And, I admit right here and now, hurt/comfort was my favorite trope.  I used it a lot.

And then, one day, my viewpoint changed.  The fanfic and slashfic didn't read the same.  Instead, I saw repetition.  I saw stories straining to  get what the writer wanted from the story until the story itself just snapped apart.  In short, I didn't like it anymore.  I stopped writing it and deleted all but a couple of pieces I'd written.  I started seeing the damn tropes all over my own work and that was embarrassing because it felt shoddy.  Now, I'll stand up and say some fanfic is excellent writing, but -- let's be honest -- the larger part is written for particular audiences and particular fantasy fulfillment.  That's fine and there is nothing wrong with that.  I just don't enjoy reading it so much.  I rarely like it these days, and I try to stay aware of what is a shortcut for the writer and what is shorthand code for the reader.

So, with all that said, chances are that I will pick up the next book in this series, but I'm not really waiting anxiously for it.   It's junk food, tasty, but too full of salt and sugar and grease. It isn't healthy to eat it every day, but it's still delicious on occasion.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Books Acquired, Life Continuing

I need more books like I need more fingers -- in a pragmatic sense, I've got plenty to do what I want to do and additions are just overburdening my life.  However, with the book addiction I have, the constant lure of A New Book is hard to withstand.  I work at it, really I do, but some days I just want to walk through a bookstore.  Inevitably, I will find some books I must have.

Yeah, that's kind of it.  That's the nutshell, right there.

So, yesterday, amid other errands and shopping, I stopped into Books-a-Million.  Now, as bookstores go, I don't really care for BAM.  Books are often misshelved, which makes hunting down a title tricky at best.  Of course, the ploy means you have to comb the shelves, but too often I just end up reshelving books, being disgusted, and wondering why I bother.  Also, soooo much OTHER STUFF that clammers for attention, bangs on the side of my head, makes me feel overwhelmed.  I don't go in without Zeus, for certain.

But I went in there yesterday (you knew that was coming, right?) and after some combing of shelves, I found the two things I was looking for (one was, yes, in the wrong place) and found a bonus goodie that was COMPLETELY mislocated (nonfiction in the fiction area, out of alphabetical order (an "A" name in the "C" section).  Still, I can't regret it.



The other two R.S. Belcher books -- which I could have gotten as e-books, but I might run down an autograph one day.  They also had the hardcover of Nightwise, which tempted me, but I was already pushing the budget, so I settled for these.     And, lit crit on SF by Margaret Atwood -- score!  I didn't even know the book existed and here it plopped into my eager fingers like a ripe apple.  Great day!

In other reading, I'm bouncing between 4 audio books (yes, I do the same thing with audio books that I do with any other book).  One is Black Dog Blues by Rhys Ford, which has about a half hour to go and I know is going to end on a cliff hanger although I'm only 80% sure which one.  One is the third entry in the Daniel Faust books, The Living End, which is starting out pretty well. although the reader's voice seems so bright and heroic when compared to the character he's voicing.  It's weird.  Also, the Scots burr has not improved much, and I'm sad about that, because otherwise not a lot of problems.

Oh, and I started both Nightwise and Sandman Slim over again.  Sandman Slim is sounding very different to me this time, after Nightwise.  Not worse, not better, just different from my memory.  You can only read/hear a book for the first time once (where do I pick up my Nobel Obvious prize?)

I'm also VERY eagerly awaiting the next entry from Daniel Jose Older who wowed me so much with Half Resurrection Blues.  I got a tweet from him telling me he was wrapping up recording the next book, but I haven't seen an announcement yet (probably because I'm not on the right mailing list or something.  I can never keep up with information.)  I have a couple other audio books from him that I'm sort of saving for a car trip.  Car trips are the best listening time because it's mostly uninterrupted, it's guilt free, and we have a damn good sound system in the car.

On top of all that I'm trying to get together music and rehearsal for my church choir's fund raiser thingie in 3 weeks, so I should be hunting through the music books (and cleaning the ones that got black eyed pea juice spilled on them during Thanksgiving and are currently in the freezer, and need chipping and wiping and so forth.)  Gah!  Suddenly I feel very busy when I don't get diddly squat done.  Oh, and also working on this story tapping the side of my head and revising the NaNo project.

Lots to do, not enough spoons.  So few spoons.