Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Book Review -- In Shining Armor

In Shining Armor:  Book 4 of the Pax Arcana by Elliott James

Audiobook read by Roger Wayne

I've waited a year for the audiobook version of this.  It was worth waiting.  I'm addicted to Roger Wayne's voice acting.

This time the author digs up some dangly threads from the second book (excellent) and spins them into another tangled web.  I really admire how he's developed his main character, John Charming.  John isn't gaining powers and magic weapons as the books go by, as often happens in series like these.  Instead, he's trying to make a life with what he gained in terms of lovers and friends in the previous books. He's dealing with his internal issues while dealing with the difficulties around him, and he's maturing (gasp!) in a slow, natural way. His romance with Sig may have resolved the sexual tension of the first three books, but there's plenty of other relationship tension to keep things interesting.

It's also a deep delve into the world of the Templars -- and we get to see the Templars being has competent and deadly as we've been told they are (but never quite seen, since John can always best them).  We also get to meet up with new and varied magical creatures and get an idea of how they live.  I thoroughly enjoyed that.

If there's anything lacking, it's that John seems to get emotionally close only to women -- Molly (who doesn't really appear in the book, but is referenced several times) and Sig, and now his baby goddaughter Constance.  There are several male figures in his life with whom he has emotionally fraught relationships, but he holds those at an unexamined distance and any resolution in them we are told rather than shown.  I could speculate about why the author does this (or doesn't do this), but it would be just speculation.  It does appear to me to be a stark omission in the books, since there are few female characters compared to male, and John is actively trying to build a sort of family for himself.  Maybe James is saving those tensions and questions for later books.  I hope they are dealt with eventually.

I'm a big fan of the Pax Arcana series, especially in the audio book versions, and I recommend them to any reader who enjoys urban fantasy with some twists on the tropes.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Book Review: Darcy's Passions

Darcy's Passions: Pride and Prejudice Retold Through His Eyes  by Regina Jeffers

Every so often I like to read a Not Good book.  That is, I pick something that requires nothing of me, that's easy to read and easy to forget.  Since I am an admitted lover of Jane Austen's work, I have an unfortunate addiction to all the assorted sequels, variations, and other fan fiction that finds its way into print.  Most of it falls into the circle of Not Good.

This does not equal Bad.  A Bad book is another creature entirely.  I avoid Bad Books.  I resist giving them my time.

So, here we have a fan service novel where the writer goes into the territory Austen herself did not feel qualified to enter.  There are no surprises here -- the writer slips in how she would have tied up the various loose threads in the original story, and then continues the weave beyond the final line of Austen's work to imagine the first few months of Darcy and Elizabeth as a married couple.

The worst I can say of this particular book is that it could have used a better editor with more of a grasp on 18th and 19th century language.  Many anachronistic slips occurred, especially when Jeffers is creating dialog for the characters.  These were jarring, because otherwise she managed to keep things smooth and predictable.  She did a good job of that otherwise.

Yes, the various side characters she chose to amplify tended to have very modern ideas.  Her ideas of character development tended to be restricted to "Strong but weak.  Confident but unsure.  Kind but cruel."  However, all the real character development was done by Austen in the original novel, so she didn't need to do any heavy lifting.  Tensions between characters already existed and she just gave a view of them from different eyes.  Nothing was going to change.  Her biggest problems began when she moved away from the solid ground of the novels into her extensions, where everything took on a sheen of Teen Angst and Young Love.

None of these problems interfered with my enjoyment of the book while it lasted, however,  It' a Not Good book, as I said.  It fulfilled its purpose in letting me relax before bed, not putting any negative thoughts into my mind, and being entertaining enough.  It didn't contradict the original novel or my ideas about it, it didn't commit any egregious errors, and it didn't take itself too seriously.  In all, a satisfying Not Good book experience.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Summer Book Report

As usual, I took a pile of books with me on vacation, and, as usual, I read one of them.  Also as usual, I got interested in sometime else entirely and had to get books on that subject.   Now I'm on a tear, gathering up books on my particular passion until I get sick of it (which happens occasionally) and I move on to something else.

So, this summer, I read

Jane Slayre by Sherri Browning Erwin -- for a second time.  It far surpasses Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, but didn't get nearly the attention.  Someone should make it into a movie.

Shrill by Lindy West reviewed previously

The End of Faith by Sam Harris  -- I was curious about his podcast, and he was reading from this book, so I had to read the book, and thus an obsession began.

Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris

Godless:How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America's Leading Atheists by Dan Barker

The God Argument: The Case Against Religion and for Humanism by A.C. Grayling

And I'm nearing the center of Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon by Daniel C. Dennett.

With in the last few years I read Richard Dawkins' The Greatest Show on Earth and Michael Shermer's The Believing Brain, Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb and a number of other books about how our brains work, all in my search to understand why humans believe things.

I have an equally tall pile of books I intend to read -- Karen Armstrong's A History of God and The Argument for God, Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate, The Better Angels of Our Nature, and How the Mind Works, more Sam Harris, several books by Victor J, Stenger, and of course Christopher Hitchens' God is Not Great.  I plan (if my energy and interest hold out this long) to delve deeper into Dawkins'.  Oh, and for fun, I have Penn Gillette's God, No!

Just in case someone out there wants to debate and argue with me, lemme state it here.  I am not Christian and have not identified as such for about 30 years. I've read the Bible more than once. I spent time on my knees in prayer.  I am not -- right now, at least -- an atheist.  If I have to have a label, I'd call myself a deist.  I have plenty of little things I do that are, at the bottom, quite irrational, but they don't extend beyond myself and occasionally small groups of like-minded people.  I try to be quite rational about my irrationalities. So, please, don't even bring it up.  Talk about the books instead.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Book Review: Shrill by Lindy West

Shrill:  Note from a Loud Woman by Lindy West


I heard about this one on a This American Life podcast. It's nonfiction, because I'm on a nonfiction kick right now (because, of course, I have piles of fiction I had planned to read so of course now all I want is nonfiction).

I could say a lot about this book, but I sort of don't see a point in saying much at all.  I liked the book -- well, I liked most of it.  Some parts smacked of sourness.  Some of the humor left me making a face of "really?"  Some of the ideas felt hammered into my head.  But I did laugh, and I got choked up, and I smiled, and I nodded my head at other parts.

I share a lot of qualities with West.  I've lived the life of a fat woman, knowing that my body was not the acceptable sort of body (interestingly enough, I have pictures of me as a teen that demonstrate I was NOT fat.  I was so much NOT fat -- I was healthy and flexible and strong, but I wasn't a match for the then-current ideals of beauty.  I had it so firmly fixed in my head that I was fat that eventually I worked to make it so.).  I would have liked to have had the bravery to Just Be Myself 30+ years ago, before I fell down the rabbit hole.  Ah well.)  I didn't have the defense of humor as she did, but I did have a lot of boyfriends and relationships with men who wanted to keep me out of sight for various reasons, or just used me as a convenient vagina owner.

I also remember the shitstorm about West's confrontation with Jim Norton.  Now, I like Jim Norton and I know he's had his own battle with weight and sex and relationships, and he's a thoughtful man, but, yeah, I thought he swung his white cis/het man privilege around during that debate, unable to imagine himself as either a rape victim or a rapist, unable to extend his mind into the experience of being a dehumanized sexual object.  I think he's wiser now.  But, yeah, not a high point for him.

Still, I got a bit bent over West's rejection of those comedians who did try to say "Hey, I totally did not get this and now I've been thinking about it, and I gotta say I'm sorry for not getting it before and being a dick."  Yeah, she has a reason to be bitter, because she's still taking loads of internet abuse (she apparently has a lot of power in some people's minds, that she can mess up whole realms of stuff people like by pointing out problems and requesting respect.  Gotta admire her for being so restrained, what with all that power.)

Still, my overall reaction to the book is more tepid than enthused.  It's a scattering of stories told out of order and yet not separate and discrete.  It reads more like a collection of articles than a cohesive biography, but it isn't set up like that -- at least, I didn't pick up the cues.  That drained impact from the overall story and left me without a firm place to hold on.  West is a fine writer, but I'm not certain that long form is really firmly in her grasp.

Friday, June 17, 2016


I'm trying to get things packed up and cleaned up, so I'm moving "floor books" to whatever space I can find on the shelves.  So what happens then?

You know what happens then.  I see another stack of books that I just KNOW I'll read this summer.

Yeah.  Sure.


Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Summer Reading Ambitions

As usual, I'm packing books to take north for vacation reading.  Maybe I should put that in all caps:


which means a pile of books I probably won't read, but that I have all kinds of intentions to read.  So, in a way, I am lying to myself about this whole thing.  Or maybe I'm just super ambitious.  
  • The Six-Gun Tarot -- R.S. Belcher
  • Outlander -- DIana Gabaldon
  • Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep -- Philip K. Dick
  • Old Man's War -- John Scalzi
  • The Gunslinger: The Dark Tower 1 -- Stephen King
  • Nice Girls Don't Have Fangs -- Molly Harper
  • The Monkey Wrench Gang -- Edward Abbey
Those are the books I really, really intend to read this summer.

  • Day Watch/Twilight Watch/Last Watch -- Sergei Lukyanenko
  • Ancillary Mercy -- Ann Leckie
  • Johannes Cabal, The Detective -- Jonathan L. Howard
  • A Darker Shade of Magic -- V.E. Schwab
  • The Inner Reaches of Outer Space -- Joseph Campbell
  • Girl on the Moon -- Jack McDonald Burnett
Those are the book I am ABSOLUTELY going to read this summer.

  • Pride & Prejudice: Manga Classics -- Jane Austen, Po Tse, Stacy King
  • The Novel Cure -- Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin
  • Aspects of the Nove -- E.M. Forster
  • Romeo and/or Juliet -- Ryan North (I'm already reading this one)
  • Uprooted -- Naomi Novik
  • Winterwood -- Jacey Bedford
  • Monstrous Little Voices: New Takes from Shakespeare's Fantasy World
Those are books I really would like to read this summer.

  • The Sculptor -- Scott McCloud
  • Writing Down the Bones -- Natalie Goldberg (already reading)
  • Wild Mind -- Natalie Goldberg
And if I have time, I want to squeeze in those three.

None of this counts in the books on my e-reader or the audio books I want to read.  I figure if I manage a book every two days I might get through the list.

Ambitions.  I have 'em.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016


I try to stay away from politics, because it's icky and sticks to my paws. Nevertheless, as much as I try to stay in my protective shell. it seems politics will follow me anyway. There is no escape.

So, Trump. So much noise about Trump. Facts don't even apply to him. His long line of business failures, his gutting of Atlantic City, his scam of a university, the verifiable falsity of so much that he says, and the utter hatred and bigotry he exudes -- why does this appeal to some segment of the US population to the point they want him as President? He's never really been poor, he has no connection to people suffering from economic hardship, and he has benefitted from the schemes of the GOP to reduce taxation on the small percentage of people here who have all the money. (I mean, seriously, if you are going to tax someone, doesn't it make sense to tax the people with all the money?)

But aside from the tissue thin ideas he presents, my big problem is the hatred he validates. Those comparisons to fascism aren't lost on me. I've read a lot about WWII written by people who were there and who were writing about it while it happened. I've watched a lot of documentary footage that delved into why Hitler was able to win over the German people, the techniques he used, the staging, the rhetoric. Trump is certainly playing that same game. The faces of people at his rallies are reflecting the same light as those German people in the newsreels. Hitler had a small but fervent following in the US before the war (the Amerikadeutscher Volksbund), so it's not like being in the US makes that impossible.

I've read a lot of people trying to delve into what makes this attraction happen. The gist of it seems to be -- and what I've thought for a while now -- is that Trump legitimizes and validates all the base emotions and expressions of emotions that our broader society tries to suppress. He plays hard on the quandary the US feels about money and education -- that those with a lot of money don't deserve it because they didn't earn it/deserve it because they earned it; that those with education don't have any common sense or practical skills/that a college education is the way to get ahead in the world. He plays with our feelings about immigrants with we are nearly all the children of immigrants who came here for a better life/immigrants who come here for a better life will take away what we have. He lets us hate women because they aren't men (Hillary is, of course, set up for this. There is certainly a line of thinking for women that disowning other women and criticizing them for not being "womanly" or "feminine" along certain sets of rules will help them be favored by men, since men have the power. Trump digs in and makes those ideas seem attractive, even practical. It's far easier to hate than to love, easier to reject than to accept, easier to throw beer bottles and wave signs than to seek to understand and to share. Trump's words tell us that we aren't the ones who need to change. It's "Them" (whichever "them" he's targeting at the time). "They" need to change, to stop trying to take our stuff, to stop coming to our country, to give us what we want because we want it. Our jobs went away because of "them".

And we get led along that path that says we are just fine as we are, we have all the truth we need, we don't have to look into ourselves or look into anyone we think we like for truth or facts. We can have a good time and hate, ride the energy of hate, expand and expound on hate, and Trump makes that ok.

There's no secret about it -- thinking is hard work. There is so much information to be sifted out of piles of crap. We can get fooled by the crap and feel embarrassed, humiliated, ashamed when we are proven wrong. We want to be right, for pete's sake. Being right is the best thing. Even if we are left standing on a crumbling levee while the water rises around us sweeping away all we love and know, as long as we are right, we're ok. Once we've decided we are right, we don't want to be bombarded with alternate views that might shake our fortress of rightness. We don't want to have to think anymore. If we find someone who makes us feel right, who plugs into the more unexamined but emotionally fueled parts of ourselves and says "Hey, those feelings that everyone says you should really examine and maybe change? You don't need to! You're right!" we are going to follow that person. We go with our gut, get primitive, be basic, be salt of the earth, all that stuff that is at one time praised and yet is treated with contempt and...

It's a whirling mess. A downright whirling mess.

For myself, I had hopes for Bernie but I was never sure his particular brand would make it. He's dragging our right-skewed politics back to center (Isn't it odd that "right" has so many meanings?), for which I am glad. He's planted a new idealism and I hope to see new representatives of his ideas sprout up to run for office.

I'm not completely enamoured of Hillary, but I've long thought she has the experience and know-how. She knows where the bodies are buried, probably because she buried some of them herself. She's causing a lot of controversy because she's Establishment. She's got dirty hands -- I find it heard to believe that anyone in politics doesn't have a little dirt under their nails, even Bernie (I am not comfortable with Saints anyway) because there's not a lot clean about politics. Leadership isn't really designed for people who don't know how to deal, to compromise, to make the choices that leave a queasy feeling in the stomach. There are a lot of conflicting agendas in this world, a lot of groups who wants totally divergent things and who have totally divergent things to offer.

Hillary and Bernie both have not played the same hate card. They both have some practical ideas based on having experience with the mess we call government. Neither of them scare me nearly as much as the GOP extremists. I'd like to see the US edge back from the cliff, get some self control. Yes, I do think there are some important ideas in the past (like the taxation rates pre-Reagan) that need to be revamped and put in play again. We have infrastructure to shore up (jobs!) and technologies to explore (more jobs!). We have an education system in serious need of help (yet more jobs) and it would be nice if we started making more of the stuff we consume here instead of relying on cheap and often exploitive overseas labor. I'd like to see focus move from the success and wealth of the CEOs and board members of companies back to the people who do the work (no one fucking needs a $10 mil house or 18 cars or a maid for their dog. Can't people be content with, say, a $2mil house, 4 cars, and walk their own dog?)

See how long I've run on? No one will read this and I don't blame them. Nothing new in my ranting. But I'm honestly worried about the next 4 years. I'm getting older and my life will be more difficult, and I'm scared. I want to have a strong, proud country again, full of citizens who don't have to hate and shoot other people and scream blame, who can be honest with themselves and rise above the base parts of their nature.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Go Read This

Oh, and this says important stuff.

Male Rape is No Joke

Rape victims can be ANYONE.  There are no particular protections from rape provided by social or economic class, race, gender, location, education, body type, or age.  Rape is about power over another person. treating a human as a thing.  It is about causing pain, humiliation, and trauma.  It is about power.  It's not even about sexual power, but power pure and unmixed with qualifiers or excuse.

That the rapist is often the one more subject to the protections (or lack thereof) provided by race, gender, age, sociol-economic level, public status, etc. is just more evidence of what rape is not.  For those people who our culture on the whole sees as rightfully and deservedly powerful, who embody power (in this case, white males) they can never really be rapists or rape victims -- they can't take power from someone because it already belongs to them, and that power cannot be taken away from them by another because power belongs to them.

Reality, by the way, in the truth of trauma, suffering, and the pressures brought down on victims of any gender, aren't considered.

So, yeah, go read the article.

Letters to my Imaginary Friend

I think I've mentioned it before, but some time last year I decided that Patton Oswalt was my imaginary friend, and I started writing letters to him.  Now, let me be quite clear -- I am in no way connected with Patton Oswalt.  I am not stalking him, and the couple of times he responded to tweets I made are rather treasured, but in that way of a fan thinking "Hey, I got 5 seconds of attention from someone I admire who entertains me, woot!" and not much else.  I look upon the entire thing as something I do to entertain myself, so hold up on the tranquilizer gun and the special jacket.

With that said, yes, I have written several very long letters to Mr. Oswalt.  I wrote them by hand, with a fountain pen on nice stationary (you have no idea how hard it is to find nice stationary these days, or how pricy a decent fountain pen is, so, yes, this is a hobby sort of thing).  I even mailed some off to an address I found where one could request an autograph.  I expect they are somewhere being reduced to pulp or compost right now, unread and unnoticed.  I'm ok with that.  One doesn't expect responses from an imaginary friend.

And I fully understand that the version of Patton Oswalt I hold in my head is imaginary (as are, quite frankly, the version most people who do not know him well hold in their heads -- his fans, his haters, those who know who he is but are more or less indifferent -- none of us have a real, fully developed and multi-dimensional version of him available to us.  That can be said for most of the people we run into in this world, so it's not anything special.  Some of us don't even have fully realized versions of ourselves in our heads.)  I built it up via his comedy performances (all seen on video because he's far too smart to ever perform anywhere near where I live, and even if he did, there would be too many people in attendence for me to tolerate.  I have solid reasons for preferring imaginary people most of the time, but we shan't go into that right now.)  This imaginary version has a connection to me that I made up.  The original actual person doesn't owe me a damn thing ever.

So, why am I even talking about it?  Mostly because I want to, because the whole concept interests me, and I like romping through my own head pulling out things to look at and talk about.  Don't roll your eyes.  I'm no different from most of you except in my choice of topic.  I could be geeking out over tiny details in Pacific Rim or the whole Godzilla canon (which does NOT include the 1998 Giant Lizard Breathes Tuna Breath on New York movie).  In fact, I have and will again go into deep discussions about both these things and many others.  But this, this imaginary friend thing, that's what I want to talk about now.

It's soothing to write letters to Patton Oswalt.  I have the little conversation going in my head where Craig Ferguson is talking about how getting a "happy ending" from a massage therapist is never going to happen...but it might happen.   It doesn't exist in the realm of probability, but it exists in the realm of possibility.  Patton Oswalt could possibly one day read one of my letters, could be moved to respond, could enter into conversation with me...and he could rent a plane to fly a banner over my house telling me to leave him alone.  Not probable.  Yet it teases there on the edge, just like most day dreams and vague longings.  But I don't bank on it, don't spend much time entertaining it.  I just write my letters.

The letters go on about whatever is in my head, including the letters themselves because that's how my brain works.  I talk about my life, about things in the world, wondering what his take on them might be, about books, movies, my struggle with depression and anxiety, about dogs.  In fact, to my imaginary friend version of him there is little I could not write about.  He's a very good imaginary friend.

And because he's imaginary, there is no need to wait around tensely for a response.  There won't be an answer (if there were, I think I would be torn between giddy delight which might include dancing around the room and horrified anxiety which might involve hiding under the bed and peering out fearfully at whatever form the response took.  Either way, I would likely spend days debating on reading it.  Maybe I'd enshrine it somewhere, or enlist someone else to check it for explosives (not all bombs involve chemicals).

I'm considering writing another such letter.  It's been almost a year since the last one (still in my desk) where I pondered if I was over the fit, if I'd satisfied whatever urge I felt.  Now it's stirring up again.  In part, it is because of his own recent loss, the pain of which I can imagine but hope not to experience (scrap for some other writing).  In part, because it is summer and I am about to head to my own corner of peace and paradise where I can happily do such things without spending a lot of time wondering if I should be doing something else instead.

Mostly, though, it is because I did something a bit illegal recently.  I recorded (in the clumsiest manner) a short segment of one of Oswalt's audio books to share with certain friends, in part because I find it delightfully funny, and in part to encourage them to buy and read the books/listen to the books themselves.  I kept it very limited for fear of the Furies of DRM and Copyright going after me.  Now, though, I'm contemplating posting it publicly because, damn, I want more people to read his books so that I can reference them in the best of geeky ways and know someone else will get it.

And this makes me want to write a letter.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Review: The Rook

The Rook: A Novel by Daniel O'Malley

Audiobook narrated by Susan Duerden

For the record, if it is necessary to label your book "A Novel", perhaps someone thinks you didn't do a good enough job in making it obviously a novel.  Pet Peeve and it just makes me feel like publishers think I'm stupid.

Onward.  The Rook is built along my favorite lines -- a bit science fictiony, a bit superhero-y, a touch of paranormal, and a whole lot of "whodunnit".  It's a good book to start the summer.

Now, the reader.  Susan Duerden does a respectable job with voicing the characters.  My big problem -- something that actually irritated me and made me pause the book more than once -- was her "neutral" narrator voice.  The book is written as a combination of 3rd person limited and 1st person epistolary.  She gave the main characters (yes, plural, for reasons I'll explain) a good, reasonable voice that worked.  But the neutral voice...gah!  Every sentence ended on an uplift, a vocal inflection that is not uncommon with women because it lets each sentence, no matter how obviously declarative, sound like a question.  Each line has an echo of "Is this all right with you?"  It's not the full questioning uplift, just a hint of one, but so frequent that it became noticeable. Now, this is the expositive part of the book, which is quite certainly declarative in nature.  The narrator/author is not asking the reader questions.  However, that slight uplift, that ending of each sentence on a place higher up the scale by a note, a note and a half, so repetitively, got supremely irritating.  It may not bother anyone else, but it bothered the hell out of me.  It was also unnecessary, since she did quite well voicing characters, including male characters, with distinct voices, inflections, and vocal mannerisms.

Then we have the story.  I got hints of Jasper Fforde in this, not just from the British setting, but from the very evenhanded, unexcited way very bizarre parts of the world were just..accepted.  I enjoyed that in the Thursday Next books, and I enjoyed it here.  We start the book with Myfanwy Thomas, or at least a woman who used to be Myfanwy Thomas and who choses to be her again.  The question presented to us is a nice twist on the classic dead body in chapter one -- who "erased" Thomas's personality and memory, and why?  Thomas knew it was going to happen and has prepared with meticulous detail a series of letters and a binder of information, among other things, for the person she would be if she survived whatever it was that would happen.

And from there, we are off.  The comedy is sharp and cynical and, at certain moments, a bit overdone, but not so much that it threw me off the story.  Myfanwy is interesting, not only as the detective AND the victim in this sort-of murder mystery, but as someone trying to take up someone else's life without that someone's particular problems and coping mechanisms.  Thomas (the old personality) had some serious damage.  Myfanwy (the new personality) doesn't have the memories of those traumas, and so isn't hedged around with defenses.  It's a marvelous sort of "What If?" story.

The frosting on this layered story cake is also quite delicious, as we discover (yet another) secret agency charged with saving humanity from the dark, alien, and mysterious parts of the world that would seriously upset the normal, reality TV show watching citizen.  There are deadly enemies, weird dangers, and problems with finding something suitable to wear for various important agency events.  I was surprised that Myfanwy, who is not in the usual heroic "strong female character" mold, didn't really need anyone to save her, but was just fine when someone did.  She will stand up for herself when she feels like it, but she doesn't always feel up to it.  That worked for me.

Short version -- worth the reading.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Book Review: Skinwalker

Skinwalker:  Jane Yellowrock 1 by Faith Hunter


A G+ friend , +Curt Thompson , talked this series up a few weeks back, and so I had to try it out. He did a good job selling it and I'm sold.

Yes, this is yet another action packed vampire and spooky thing series.  I'm fine with that -- it's obviously my favorite current genre.  And I'm picky -- I've given a lot of different series a try  in the last 10 months or so and not everything thrills me.

So, I'm excited by this one.  First, a female lead who is NOT drop dead gorgeous, is NOT being chased into the bed of every man (or really any man -- or woman) in the book, and who is NOT made up of simple parts (tragic past, basic flaws, needs curing).  Jane Yellowrock is one of the better leads I've run into for a long while (I could make a list of all the ones I've fallen OUT of love with, but I won't.)

Second, she's a person of color -- a Cherokee Native American, specifically.  The author seems to be doing a good job on the research and -- as far as I can tell -- is doing a pretty good job honoring the culture she's given her character.  I know there are a lot of assorted feelings about cultural appropriation, but I also think writers are writers specifically because they can extend their imaginations into the lives of other people.

Third, the whole first book managed to be great and tense and interesting without any real sex scenes.  That's pretty unusual for this particular corner of the genre.  Oh, there's steamy sex promised in future books, but just that little break in the tropes was very nice.  Hunter does a pretty respectable job bucking tropes, or at least giving them little twists.

So, there are 9 more books and a bunch of short stories in the series.  I have them all on my wishlist.  I owe Curt a cookie.

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


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


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


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


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.

Monday, January 04, 2016

Review: Nightwise

Nightwise by R.S. Belcher


I literally just finished this book.  I believe the only appropriate reaction I can cobble together in this moment is HOLY FUCKING SHIT!

I am now intent on hunting down more books by this author.  How is it no one ever mentioned him?  How did I miss out on this for so long?  I feel cheated, CHEATED.  This book has only been out a few months, but still, there are other books and I intend to know about them.

Ok, ok, let me calm down a bit.  Deep breaths, calm....Nope, Still excited as hell.  Please accept my apologies for my unladylike language, but this book requires a more...um...downhome vocabulary.

First thing.  If Bronson Pinchot narrates something, I will listen.  I recommend all of you listen.  If you find a recording of him reading a dictionary, buy it!  Telephone listings, the syllabus of your freshman year English Lit class, whatever.  I have the hardest time matching up his magnificent reading voice with my memory of him as Balki.  That voice is chocolate, silk, and woodfire smoke, puppies and kittens, beach sand and good tequila.  Enough said.

Second thing.  Gritty.  Dark.  Deep down darkness that made me wince a time or two but would not let me go.  This goes beyond noir, goes to extremes Chandler couldn't have gotten past the editor.  The style of this writing jangles back and forth between bone breaking blues and Appalachia hymns.
The story is that of a powerful man who was born to magic, but also with a healthy dose of ego and stubborn determination to get what he wants.  He's lived a bad life, mostly because he's traded away bits of himself to try to help others on occasion.  Mostly he's a conniving bastard, a hillbilly, a child of the mountains who grew up hard and lived hard, who brings trouble in his wake and tries to protect those who befriend him by being an asshole and chasing them off "for their own good".   It's almost like Sandman Slim had a cousin, kinda sorta.  That's not a good comparison, but it works.

Warning -- we run into some dead dogs in this story, but we don't see them die and I was able to skip past it in 30 seconds.  We also witness some horrible mistreatment of expensive Mont Blanc fountain pens, which almost hurt as bad, but they were rehomed so that's ok.  That's how grim this is.  We won't even worry about the body count, including people being casually tossed under the figurative bus.

We have blood, we have kinky sex (totally makes sense to me that magic and kink would be lined up with one another), we have the mishmash of traditions from all over the world, we have money and drugs and liquor and Cheerwine.  Characters come from all over, each one walking onto the stage and taking up space, and some of these characters are just not like anyone else I've run into.  Rather, they are very much like MANY people I've run into (and called friends or family) but not quite in these combinations.

What's best about this is the mystery itself, the question that runs through the book -- "What is the Greenway?"  Every conspiracy theory about the founding of the USA is woven in here.   In one section, what might have been a really boring info dump turned into a fascinating examination on the idea of money, the abstract concept of it.  This isn't a dumb book.  It's not even a somewhat smart book.  This book is sharp and it pokes at things, pries open the ideas it wants to play with and spreads them around, but most of the time the reader has to put it all together herself.  Eventually there's a check answer page of sorts.

Remember that itch I've been having, the one that wants gritty and dark?  This is aloe, baby, Benadryl Gel.  It's not bloody and gruesome for the sake of it.  Everything fits into place neatly, everything is reasonable and rational within the framework given.  There's just so MUCH.

I am hoping really hard this is the first of a series because I want more.  I'm also a little pissed that this might be the first in a series because that means I have to wait.  I hate waiting.  But if Belcher can keep up this kind of music, I am so fucking there.

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Review: Redemption Song

Redemption Song: Daniel Faust Book 2 by Craig Schaefer

I read a lot of books in series and I haven't been reviewing each book in the series as a rule.  I feel like reviewing this one.  This one made up my mind about a lot of things.

This isn't a perfect series, but it's a very good one.  It has a lot of the qualities I liked about the tv show Leverage -- smart people doing incredibly clever things that are just so much fun to watch.  I call it competence porn (with a hat tip to Laura Ann Gilman who gave me the phrase some years ago).  It also has some of the qualities of The Dresden Files, that high point in the urban fantasy/paranormal mystery/demons and detectives genre to which almost everything gets compared.  The one thing that brought me firmly into Schaefer's team is the moment I had to pause the story because the main character was doing something -- for very good reasons -- that was dumb and was going to turn out badly, and I couldn't quite watch it happen.  I did eventually, of course, but right then I just couldn't.  I'd signed on with the character that deeply.  I didn't want to see him mess up.

But best of all was the reveal at the end, when the plans inside of plans was unfolded, all the hidden bits were made clear, and I got to really enjoy all the cleverness.  That just summed up the book beautifully, and made a very satisfying second helping.  I'm still not sold on the love relationship between Faust and the succubus Caitlin.  It is still a bit hand-wavy "the author said it is so" for my taste (and I married my husband 6 months after meeting him, so I am completely in the love-at-first-sight camp).  However, Schaefer is trying to ladle in more reason for the relationship to exist, and I'm willing to just nod and go along with it.

Even more, even though Faust is the point of view character most of the time and it's his show, his 'family' are also in on everything.  He couldn't do it solo.  He has a group of people who are working with him, and while he does try to protect them, he doesn't undermine their abilities or think they are incompetent, that his world is just to scary and bad for them.  Oh no, his family is made up of other folks who are well aware of the magical reality and are skilled and knowledgeable, but who aren't ass deep in alligators nearly as often as Faust is.

It's also interesting that, as much as Faust is a con man, a thief, and occasionally an assassin -- aka a "bad man" with a damned soul, he doesn't come across like that.  He's got a lot of good in him.  He just doesn't use much of it on the mundane world, and it's hard to fault his reasoning.  He's not really an anti-hero or a Robin Hood or any of that.  He's honestly what he is -- a con man, a thief, and someone who has, when required, killed a few people.  He doesn't want to hurt people in general, and he doesn't spend much of his time hating the world or anything like that.  He just has some people who matter more to him while others matter less.

So, I'm now waiting until I can get the next books in this series.  My itch is very soothed.

Friday, January 01, 2016

The Yearly Book Post

I do this every year, it seems -- make lists of the books I've read and books I intend to read, feel ambitious, stuff like that.

Not going to do it this year.  Not really a point.  I don't seem to read the stuff I put in lists.  I read other things, or I don't read at all.  It's frustrating, so I am going to cut out some frustration and just not set goals that I'm going to ignore.

Listing books is such a habit, though.  I feel as if I'm breaking some kind of taboo or maybe foolishly ignoring an ancestral ritual.  I don't know.  It's on my mind.

There are books I would _like_ to read,   So I can, perhaps, soothe my listmaking soul, by making a sort of "Yeah, I'd like to read this" list of books.

  • Ancillary Mercy
  • The Art of War for Writers
  • Shakespeare's Restless World
  • Hild
  • The Inheritance Trilogy
  • The Lives of Tao
  • Female Masculinity
  • Guadalcanal Diary
  • Titan
  • Dead Iron
  • Orlando
  • Johannes Cabal: Detective
  • Fear Institute
Just a short list, just to see what I manage.

Mostly I am putting my goals into writing.  I've got writing to do, revisions to work on, new stories to write. So that is where my goal making goes.  Revise the Nano novel and get it ready for a first edit.  Get going on a second story I've got a little bit written on.  Finish up two other stories I've had lying around.  See what else comes up.

That's my plan.