Tag Archives: Series

Review: Blackbirds / Mockingbird

Blackbird
Chuck Wendig

Mockingbird
Chuck Wendig
Title: Blackbirds
Author: Chuck Wendig
Published: 2012
ISBN-13: 978-0-85766-230-9
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Title: Mockingbird
Author: Chuck Wendig
Published: 2012
ISBN-13: 978-1-4814-4867-3
Publisher: Saga Press

I like my protagonists dark and flawed, and Miriam Black is as flawed as they come.  I wouldn’t want to be me if my super power was being able to know how the person whose skin I’m touching is going to die and when.  That’s agony.

In Blackbird Miriam earns her living by hitching rides and ripping off the drivers.  Until she gets saved by Louis, a truck driver who rescues her from four college boys bent on having the good time they think Miriam is offering.

She’s convinced there’s no way to change what she sees, and that makes her even more bitter.  What’s the point of knowing if you can’t do anything about it?  She’s tried before.  But now that she’s met Louis and knows he’s going to die in 30 days saying her name, she has to try again.

And wow, get ready for a tough ride.  Blackbirds is rough, coarse and thrilling.  Wendig pulls no punches in setting this world up.  Miriam isn’t likeable, but she is understandable.  And the questions brought up by having a power like hers is fascinating..  Then there’s the question of who is worth trying to save, and who gets to make that decision.  There’s some true existential stuff going on in this book.

If Blackbird is about changing the destiny of one man, Mockingbird is about changing the destiny of many.  It’s about catching the serial killer preying on the girls who go to school in what is essentially a private, upscale juvenile detention center.  And the truly dark secret of this school is shocking, yet unsurprising.

Just as dark as Blackbirds, and possibly even more terrifying, Mockingbird has Miriam confronting her power, her past and the lives of others more deeply than before.  How does one come to grips with all the destruction she’s had wreaked upon her and has caused?

Chuck Wendig has joined Richard Kadry in my list of favorite urban fantasy writers.  They’re as terrific as their characters are bleak.

 

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Review: Lock In

Lock In by John Scalzi
Lock In
by John Scalzi

Title: Lock In
Author: John Scalzi
Published: 2014
ISBN-10: 978-0-7653-7586-5
Publisher: Tor

Lock in is what happens when a flu pandemic turns weird.  Some lucky survivors become carriers.  Even more lucky survivors have a paralyzed central nervous system, keeping their minds alive but unable to move.  Millions die from Haden’s Syndrome.

FBI agent Chris Shane is a Haden.  He’s also rich enough to be able to afford top of the line “threeps,” an outer shell which connects to a neural network in the brain and allows for movement.  A Haden’s body remains in a sling being taken care of.  Hadens don’t actually move their bodies, their brains move the threep, and can do other high tech wizardry.

This is a murder mystery, police procedural, sci-fi thriller.  With over tones of inequality (on several levels) and political maneuvering to give non-Haden sufferers access to the same high tech.  Then people can make even more money.

I have a running debate with a friend who does not read science fiction.  In this debate, she thinks things like threeps are just too weird.  She can’t relate.  And that’s okay.  My side of the debate is that none of this, of course, is weird.  It’s just different.  Neither of us can decide if it’s because I’ve read a lot of science fiction/fantasy, or if it’s just my easy-going nature.

Either way, John Scalzi’s world-building always seem real and credible to me.  Even if the bodies of old people are genetically re-engineered to be younger and more powerful (Old Man’s War), or it’s people adapting to being locked in to a body with no functioning central nervous system.

I wouldn’t mind if there was a series featuring agents Chris Shane and Leslie Vann.  It would be very interesting to see what happens in this world created by John Scalzi as it evolves and adapts to new laws, and new attitudes.

Apparently, there was a big kerfuffle over something in the book I didn’t even notice until I read about it.  And when I thought about it, I spend more time thinking about the automatic assumption I had made, rather than the thing being kerfuffled.  But you’ll have to figure that out on your own.

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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: 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: Familiar Spirits

Familiar Spirits by 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.