Category Archives: Review

Review: Butcher Bird

Butcher Bird by Richard Kadrey
Butcher Bird
Richard Kadrey

Title: Butcher Bird
Author: Richard Kadrey
Published: 2007
ISBN-13:  978-1-59780-086-0
Publisher:   Night Shade Books

Be quiet.  It’s not necessary to fill every moment with your own voice.  Silence terrifies you.  You see your own existence as so tenuous that you’re afraid you’ll pop like a bubble if, at every opportunity, you don’t remind the world that you’re alive.  But wisdom begins in silence.  In learning to listen.  To words and to the world.  Trust me.  You won’t disappear.  And, in time, you might find that you’re grown into something unexpected.  (p. 126)

In Butcher Bird I read many of the themes which make the Sandman Slim series so interesting.

It’s more than “what is real”.  It’s about what happens when reality shifts and the way through is to accept things are scary different from our expectations.

One of the things I consistently enjoy in Kadrey’s work is the way he reconfigures religious myths.

in Butcher Bird, tattoo artist Spyder Lee lives a life he enjoys.  He hangs out with his best friend and tattoo partner at their favorite bar, getting drunk and being raucous.  He has a solid reputation for his tattoos and shop.  But one night, Spyder steps outside to relieve himself and a demon tries to bite his head off.

Yes, literally bite his head off.  And then a blind woman steps in and saves his life.  Now Spyder can see the demons and monsters humans aren’t supposed to notice.

The key to this particular fight is one of Spyder’s tattoos.  It’s a symbol he thought looked cool and didn’t know the meaning of, which calls the demon to him.

Then Spyder discovers that his best friend, Lulu, isn’t what she appears to be and he is really screwed.  And in order to put everything back into some semblance of order, Spyder goes on a quest with Shrike, the woman who saved him.

I love a good quest story, and this one has great payoffs.  Quests, on the surface, are about going from here to there in order to solve a problem, usually saving the world.  Quests are also about confronting ourselves, our beliefs and what we thought we knew about everything.

Butcher Bird has everything a good quest story should have; unexpected blessings and obstacles, fights (sword play or something similar), evil (in this case in the shape of demons and monsters), tricksters, love, and a drive to put things right.

Reading Butcher Bird while in the midst of the Sandman Slim series, gave me a richer experience, because I already knew what Kadrey was up to.  That appeals to the historian in me.

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Review: A Thief of Time

A Thief of Time by Tony Hillerman
A Thief of Time Tony Hillerman

Title: A Thief of Time
Author: Tony Hillerman
Series: Joe Leaphorn/Jim Chee #8
Published: 1989
ISBN-10:  0060159383
Publisher: Harper & Row

Academic competition is fierce, especially when it’s between colleagues trying to get to the historic pottery remnants first to prove their theory and get published.  Oh, and recognition in their field.

A thief of time is someone who robs graves in order to take something.  In this case, it’s all about the Anasazi, a tribe which mysteriously disappeared around 1200CE.  The ruins left behind appear as though the people planned on coming back, but never did.

The black market for pottery is hot, people will pay exorbitant amounts to own a piece of “authentic” pottery with questionable provenance.  While Jim Chee is trying to chase down a stolen backhoe, Joe Leaphorn is trying to track down a missing anthropologist.

Personal baggage is heavy in this book.  Chee’s relationship with  teacher Mary Landon has hit the skids.  She’s gone back to the midwest to be with her family and go back to school.  In a letter to him, she expresses her deep love for him but sees no way around the white vs. Navajo conundrum they keep bumping against.

Joe Leaphorn is mourning the loss of beloved wife, Emma, who didn’t have Alzheimer’s after all but didn’t survive the surgery to remove a tumor.  My heart sank when I read of her death.  Interesting how easy it is to get caught up in the lives of fictional characters isn’t it?

While working their individual cases, Chee and Leaphorn eventually cross paths and discover they’re working the same case from different angles.  The stolen backhoe is being used to uncover pottery, while a different anthropologist is stealing jaw bones to prove his theory.

A hike to a nearly unknown, unreachable Anasazi ruin, two helicopters converging on the same spot, and the case is solved.  But this one seemed rather convoluted to me as it involved a decades old murder case Leaphorn had worked, a traveling tent show leading Navajos to the “Jesus Way,” and those using Chaco Culture National Historic Park as their base to study the Anasazi.  Too many moving pieces to keep track of, and an unbelievable ending involving the aforementioned helicopters.

But the thing I have always enjoyed about Hillerman’s books is his love of the Southwest and his use of Navajo culture to keep his mysteries from being just another murder/stolen object procedural.  His attention to the cultural differences pulls me in and keeps me there.

Review: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
Jodi Taylor

Title: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
Author: Jodi Taylor
Series: The Chronicles of St. Mary’s (#6)
Published: 2015
ISBN-13: eBook
Publisher: Accent Press

Max and those crazy historians of St. Mary’s are back. This installment is almost tame compared to the earlier books. Tame, that is, if you discount the baby mammoth poo all over one of the pods, five trainees being trained by Max, one of the trainees with an agenda of his own having to do with Richard III, and a not so unexpected twist at the end. I mean, I saw it coming from the first time Max complained of being sick.

Yup, I liked it very much and continue to be delighted with the attention Jodi Taylor gives to the history.

Review: Dead Set

Dead Set
Richard Kadrey

Title: Dead Set
Author: Richard Kadrey
Published: 2013
ISBN-13: 978-0-06-228301-6
Publisher:  Harper Voyager

When I think of horror, I think of Freddy Krueger or Nightmare on Elm Street or Stephen King, even.

If I were to categorize Richard Kadrey’s books, they would be urban fantasy, which also have a dark twisted underbelly to them.

But many have categorized Kadrey as horror, and since I’m not big on quibbling about labels, I’ll just say “‘Kay.”  Because what it all comes down to is story.  What is the story and how is the story told?  That’s what makes a great read for me.

Dead Set is the story of Zoe and how her teenaged life got derailed after her father dies.  The only thing good she can count on is visits with her dream brother, Valentine, when she goes to sleep.  But then, (good stories always have a but then) …

But then, a black dog starts appearing in her dreams.  And she meets a guy at a record shop storing records with souls captured on them.  For a seemingly small price, he’ll let Zoe commune with her father.

And then, Zoe actually goes to her father and nothing is even close to how she imagined it might be.

Kadrey’s stories are creepy, that’s for damned sure.  But they’re also interesting, well-thought out and entertaining.  In Zoe’s story, he captures that heart-ache of a teenage girl trying to fit into her own life, and make sense of the changes that have happened.  It’s the story of a girl longing to re-connect with the love she once felt from both her parents, and to use her teenage rebellion for something other than just being a rebel.

I love the Sandman Slim series.  Love it.  In Dead Set, we have a quieter protagonist whose world is almost as dangerous as Slim’s.  And I loved it just as much.

Review: Devil Said Bang

Devil Said Bang
Richard Kadrey

Title: Devil Said Bang
Author: Richard Kadrey
Series: Sandman Slim #4
Published: 2012
ISBN-13: 978-0-06-209457-5
Publisher: HarperCollins

Satanists make junior high school Goths look like NASA.  (p. 143)

I’ve been taken with Sandman Slim from the very beginning.  Not only is he a mostly unrepentant badass who embraces that part of him.  He uses it to try to make life better for those he loves, and the world in general, although were the world to be aware of Slim, they wouldn’t thank him for his efforts.

At the end of Devil Said Bang, Slim is the only person to have escaped Hell twice.  This is quite an accomplishment, given that no one is supposed to escape ever, especially if you’re a gladiator expected to fight to the death the first time you’re there.

Kadrey shakes the notions of Heaven and Hell, God and Satan, around a lot in his Sandman Slim books.  His notions match mine that all is not so cut and dried as Christians would have us believe, there’s a lot of grey area.  And to shake that notion even more, it’s revealed in the first book, Sandman Slim, that Slim, aka Stark, is a nephilim.  This part angel, part human thing makes just about every supernatural being mad.  To say Slim’s home life was screwed up wouldn’t even begin to cover it.

It is also the conjunction of many celestial mythologies which make the Sandman Slim books so interesting.  Along with other supernatural beings you might not expect to mix with creation and destruction myths.

Devil Said Bang suffers from mid-series dementia.  Something often found in other series by other authors.  There’s just something about the fourth or so book which is messy.  Kevin Hearne’s fifth book in the Iron Druid series, Trapped, suffered from this.

And I will say the same thing about Devil Said Bang as I did about Trapped, there’s too much information being thrown at us.  Too many characters and too many machinations.  I couldn’t keep up.

With that out of the way, what I like about this book was the continued battle Slim has with himself.  He knows that maybe he could do better, but there are times when he just wants to break stuff.  It’s what he knows best.

Nice people are fucking weird.  (p. 244)

There are always interesting characters with “interesting” hobbies, which turn out to be some sort of key to the plot.  In Devil Said Bang, it’s Teddy Osterberg and his collection of cemeteries.  Yes, collection.

For generations, Teddy’s family has been moving cemeteries from their original plot of land to the family land outside Los Angeles.  There’s a lot of detail about the supernatural aspects of the cemeteries, but it comes down to Osterberg as caretaker of the more “special” cemeteries.  It is from this the scary little girl with the curved knife, who is running around killing people, comes.

Did I mention Sandman Slim is dark?

Not only am I fascinated by the mythology Kadrey uses, the machinations and politicking also fascinate me.  How do people think like that?  How do they know how to find that piece of information which will allow them to manipulate others?  How do they think three, four, five steps ahead of the others?  Reading Slim play off the others who think they have one up on him in Hell is fascinating.  As are all the new and inventive tools used to kill the nasties for whom a shotgun isn’t enough.

Richard Kadrey’s books are not for the squeamish, or for those who hold their mythology dear.  I find them very entertaining, if sometimes gross, and I always learn something new about mythology; especially Christian mythology.  Kadrey sends me scurrying into the stacks to look up information, and gives me things to think on deeply which allows me space to reframe what I think I already know.

 

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Review: The Dark Wind

The Dark Wind
The Dark Wind
Tony Hillerman

Title: The Dark Wind
Author: Tony Hillerman
Series: Joe Leaphorn/Jim Chee #5
Published: 1990
ISBN: 0-06-100003-5
Publisher: Harper Paperbacks

The typical Hillerman mystery involves Navajo culture;  either an action meant to look Navajo or something which disturbs the Navajo Way of harmony with the universe.

There’s always conflict between the White people (men) who have strict rules and believe they know what’s best for everyone, especially the Native Americans.  They are usually portrayed as arrogant buffoons who know absolutely nothing about the case or the people against whom the crime was committed.

Sometimes, there’s conflict between two Indian tribes, which is usually resolved by being respectful.

In The Dark Wind, Jim Chee is handed three cases, which all become entwined with a fourth.  The fourth is a small plane crash right in front of Chee while he’s on stakeout waiting for the vandal of the windmill, part of a complicated political gesture by the BLM towards the Hopi Nation.

The plane crash is most decidedly not assigned to Chee, the white FBI, and his captain, make that clear.  He is to stay away from it.  So as he goes about his days driving long distances to chase down clues, he does his best to not get involved in the crash and what turns out to be missing cocaine worth about $15M.

It becomes obvious that the federal agents are up to no good and keep trying to set Chee up for the fall over the missing drugs.  The brutality of these thugs made me wince as they tossed Chee’s small travel trailer he calls home and smack him around.  At first, I thought they were just stupid, prejudiced white men.  Later, it’s revealed that’s only part of their makeup.

While trying to identify a Navajo John Doe discovered by some Hopi men gathering sacred spruce for a ceremonial, Chee encounters the trading post’s owner, Jake West.  West performs magic tricks, which Chee mulls over throughout the book, trying to solve how they’re done.  This proves to be a crucial key to the solution of the missing drugs and the dead bodies which keep piling up.

What keeps me re-reading Hillerman’s mysteries (this is at least my second time through) is the use of Navajo culture and sensibilities to solve the crimes which are jurisdictionally complex.  I read them to re-visit a part of my life in which I was surrounded by Native Americans of several nations, and maybe for a better understanding of my own life.

I also read them because they expose me to other ways of thinking, relating and solving problems.  The Navajo Way is explained as keeping in harmony with the universe, and making course adjustments as necessary.

 

Review: Grace (Eventually)

Grace (Eventually) by Anne Lamott
Grace (Eventually)
Anne Lamott

Title: Grace (Eventually)
Author: Anne Lamott
Published: 2008
ISBN: 978-1-59448-942-6
Publisher: Riverhead Books

If I listed every quote which resonated with me in this book, I would be quoting the entire thing.

Anne Lamott’s writing speaks to me.  Her complete honesty, no doubt.  The way she speaks her truth about her life.  The words she strings together to make me understand how she feels.  I recognize myself in some of what she writes about.

That scared, mixed up woman who can barely keep herself going, much less be expected to do anything else.  The woman who panics for what appears to be no good reason to others, but is a very good reason to her.  Like, “OHMYGAWD, I have no money, I can’t buy the groceries I want, I’m going to have to move my books to the underpass, I’m going to DIE.  The world is going to END!”  Yup, that’s me.

Of course, in my clearer moments I know being poor doesn’t mean the end of the world or anything dire.  It just means no money, and reminding myself that the universe is constantly taking care of me, even when it’s hard to see through the panicked fog.

Her junk food binges in the essay titled “The Muddling Glory of God?”  Frequent flyer here.  Her fraught and confusing relationship with her mother in “Dandelions?”  I still have the scars.

And while I teared up over Anne’s life and the way my heart hurt for both of us, I keep thinking, “She lived through it.  She got to a good place in her life where she can afford groceries and lives in a nice home and has a wonderful community around her.”  I can live through it too.

She makes me think.  And then she makes me giggle as I think about how I might also panic because my dog ran off out of sight on our walk.  Although I think I’d be more worried about the rattlesnakes.

And while I was reading, I was reminded how oddly grace works in my life.  How, really, it’s not so bad.  How when I’m not paying attention and wallowing around in my own mire, grace comes along and does something unexpected.  Then I feel all right and ready to keep going.

If I could ask Anne Lamott one thing, it would be if she would be my life sponsor.  One of my tribe to hold me when my face is red from crying and snot is running over my lips.  One who will take my hand, look me straight in the eye, and say, “You will get through this.”

Her books have literally been life changing for me.  bird by bird taught me about the discipline of writing, of being creative, every day.  Whether I want to or not.  Grace (Eventually) reminds me to wait patiently for the grace which envelops me and takes care of me.  Reading Anne Lamott is like meeting a new, old friend with whom I could share an afternoon talking about the deep things in life, while cracking each other up.

Review: Familiar Spirits

Familiar Spirts by Leonard Tourney
Familiar Spirits
Leonard Tourney

Title: Familiar Spirits
Author: Leonard Tourney
Series: Matthew and Joan Stock – #3
Published: 1984
ISBN: 0-345-34372-7
Publisher: Ballantine Books

New words:  Termagant, quiddity

New terms:  Geneva Bible, witch of Endor

Favorite Quote:

... his manhood celebrated by the monstrous codpiece he wore. (p. 12)

Nits:  As in Low Treason, Matthew Stock is described again as Argus of the hundred eyes.  Not only do I doubt the reference as one someone of Matthew Stock’s class would recognize, the use of that description in a second book makes me cringe a little.  It smacks of either laziness, or “aren’t I a clever writer?”  And why does the magistrate go nameless the entire book?

Matthew and Joan Stock are back on home turf in Familiar Spirits.  The town of Chelmsford is caught up in witch fever.  The opening chapter is a description of the hanging of three people, one of them a witch.  Tourney gets this atmosphere right, describing the delight of the spectators and the business-like demeanor of the gaolers and hangman.

Being accused of witchcraft was a nasty business, a veritable catch-22.  To prove you weren’t a witch you would have to go through trials which would surely kill you, if you survived then you were definitely a witch and would be hanged (or burned).  Horrible stuff.

And, as is usual in witchcraft trials, suspicion falls upon everyone associated with the witch.  Especially after Ursula’s master dies all of a sudden, after her ghost has been seen in the window by the master’s wife.

Then, the master’s wife’s sister and her family are accused.  A mob forms to drive the witches out, etc. etc. etc.

Matthew takes nothing at face value and is perplexed at the ghostly sightings of Ursula, the death, and the burning of the barn behind the master’s home where Ursula was purported to have conducted her tricks.

Superstitious townspeople are all calling for righteous living to be returned to with a speedy witch trial and hangings at the end.  Only Matthew is unconvinced.  Not because he doesn’t believe in witches, but rather, because the testimony given in Ursula’s trial makes no coherent sense.

Against the wishes of the townspeople, including the aldermen, Matthew continues to investigate.   What he turns up is more sinister than witchcraft, and does not come from Satan.  One man’s cover-up kills two more innocent people and nearly gets his wife and in-laws hanged.

Although Tourney’s pseudo-Elizabethan continues to bother me, and this is a fairly straightforward whodunnit, I am still charmed by Matthew Stock, and his wife Joan.  In addition, there is the kind and stubborn Jane Crispin who speaks up in court for herself.  Something no woman would have done, would be allowed.  In fact, she states that she is doomed either way, so why shouldn’t speak up and address the absurdities of the witch trial?  Especially, the “specialist” who brings his assistant along because the boy has himself once been possessed by demons and can point out those who are also possessed.

I suppose these absurdities are no more absurd than some of the political yammerings we suffer through today.

Review: Low Treason

LowTreason
Low Treason
Leonard Tourney

Title: Low Treason
Author: Leonard Tourney
Series: Matthew and Joan Stock – #2
Published: 1984
ISBN: 0704324334
Publisher: Quartet Books

100 Pages a Day:  Part OnePart Two

See also:
The Player’s Boy is Dead  – Review

High treason they call it in the law.  They would with more reason call it low treason, for a man must stoop low – indeed, must crawl upon his belly like a serpent – to practice it.
(Robert Cecil, p. 211)

Leonard Tourney’s Elizabethan mysteries featuring Matthew and Joan Stock of Chelmsford, England are slight books.  Of the two I’ve read, whodunit has been fairly obvious from early in the book, the protagonists must provide proof so justice can be served.

In Low Treason, the Stocks’ son-in-law tell them his brother has gone missing.  William Ingram has received a letter from Thomas’ employer, a jeweler in London, stating that Thomas has left for adventures on the sea.

Knowing this to be untrue, Matthew sets off to London to visit the jeweler and find out what’s really happened.  Shortly after he leaves Chelmsford, Joan answers her door and finds a filthy and nearly naked Thomas asking for Matthew.

After sorting out that Thomas’ life has been threatened and he was nearly killed, Joan packs her bags and heads for London to apprise Matthew of the new situation.

Once they are both in London, it becomes obvious that the plot against Thomas is based on the possibility of his having overheard something which puts the jeweler’s plot against England with Spain in jeopardy.  Because Matthew and Joan have also stumbled onto this information, their lives are in danger as well.

They are arrested on trumped up charges and sent to Newgate Prison, a horrible place which makes the American prison system seem fair and just in comparison.   During service in the prison chapel, an explosion goes off setting the chapel on fire and allowing the Stocks to escape, despite the intentions of their enemy and his bomb.

Matthew has a very powerful friend, Sir Robert Cecil, chief minister and spymaster for Queen Elizabeth I.  It is Cecil, working with Matthew and Joan, who puts plans in motion to catch the jeweler and prove he is plotting with Spain against England.

I enjoy reading these books as a break from some of the heavier fare in my stacks, but find Tourney’s pseudo-Elizabethan style uneven. and some of the plot devices annoyingly convenient.  Nonetheless, Matthew and Joan are sweet, lovely characters who stay true to their convictions and their love for each other.  They prove whodunit and go back to their simple lives in Chelmsford.

Reading Ovid: Metamorphoses – Review

Metamorphoses
Ovid
Translated by David Raeburn

Title: Metamorphoses
Author: Ovid, translated by Daniel Raeburn
Published: Reprint, 2004
ISBN-13: 978-0140447897
Publisher: Penguin Classics

Book OneBook TwoBook ThreeBook FourBook FiveBook SixBook SevenBook Eight Book Nine Book TenBook ElevenBook TwelveBook ThirteenBook FourteenBook Fifteen

Additional resources used while reading Metamorphoses:

When I write about books, I strive more for commentary than recap or review.  In the case of Metamorphoses, I am not qualified to give a close or technical read.  This is some heavy going and I could easily take several classes about Roman literature, Ovid and Metamorphoses itself, just to learn more about the time and context.  Not to mention the fun of taking art history and literature classes devoted to the impact Ovid had on Western art and literature.

Metamorphoses has been studied since first published in 8CE, just a few years before Ovid died.  The body of work devoted to this epic poem is prodigious.

It seems to me that reading it at least once is worthy of the effort, if only to be exposed to this grand writing, and learn the origin stories of things we already know in our contemporary lives.  Black ball, Midas touch, hyacinth and Pygmalion come to mind.

I encourage anyone who has wondered if they should read it, to give it a go.  My views on what people should or shouldn’t read are pretty clear; people should read what they want.

At the start of Metamorphoses, Ovid states his ambition; to tell the story of the founding of Rome from chaos to the present.  That is a lot of ground to cover.  When I first looked at the page count, 636, I thought it would just take a couple of weeks.  Hah!  Two months later.

Raeburn’s translation helped, as did the trick I finally figured out of reading to the punctuation instead of the meter.  I am horrible with meters and they just make the poem choppy and ugly to me.  But ignoring the meter and reading to the punctuation made things so much easier.

There’s so much going on in this work.  It is grand and sweeping, and sometimes choppy and even more difficult.  I would like to have a better grounding in the literature of the time so that I could understand the allusions and homages more easily.  Romans loved their blood and guts and adventure tales.

In fact, Metamorphoses is rife with violence, gruesome in its detail and astonishing in the litany of names of characters involved in all the “stabbity-stab-stab.”  Rape is another prevalent topic, as is punishment by the gods and goddesses.

This is not a nice, tidy look at the story of Rome, fiction or not.  There were numerous times when I had to stop and remind myself that Metamorphoses was written for an audience who had certain expectations for a great story, and for whom violence was nothing to be squeamish about.

The attitudes towards women are difficult, but again, this was written in first century CE, when the very idea of women speaking up for themselves and showing agency was frowned upon at best, punishable at worst.  Ancient Rome was a very stratified society, even wealthy women were held to be barely better than the slave class.  So it is no surprise this found its way into the literature.

There are very few happy endings in Metamorphoses.  Love goes unrequited, and is frequently punished with grim results.  Happy love stories are reserved for those who are pious in their thoughts and actions.  Even those end sadly, as the characters nearly always die.

The parts I most enjoyed were the personifications of emotions and dreams.  Envy, Rumour and Sleep are all represented here, imagined with entertaining lines.

I enjoyed reading the details of how Ulysses’s men turned into pigs on Circe’s island, from the point of view of one of the men.  And, although Polyphemus was a monster in all meanings of the word, it was fun to read how he tried to make himself into something Galatea could love.  Jove as a golden shower getting Danae pregnant is another favorite bit.

There’s so much to enjoy, and revile, in Metamorphoses, it’s impossible to recount them in any way that makes sense.  I could comb back through each book’s commentary and look for things to write about here.  But I won’t.

What I will say is that reading Metamorphoses was a journey worth taking. One which I am just as happy to have completed, leaving me to move on to less complicated books in my stacks.  One lasting effect I am sure of, nothing I see or read will ever be the same since reading it.

If you’re up for an adventure, and don’t mind working for your read, give Metamorphoses a try.  I can’t guarantee what you’ll get from it, and you shouldn’t feel bad if you don’t get into it.  There are far too many books to be read; don’t read the ones you can’t get into.  As for me, I’m glad to have had the experience.