Read Recently — August 2017 — Maybe a nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there

Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris

I’ll be honest: I haven’t much enjoyed Ms. Harris’ urban fantasy novels, especially as they tended to centre around one Sookie Stackhouse and her excruciating vampire sidekicks. On the other hand, I have enjoyed Harris’ mysteries, and the Midnight trilogy are a completely new series, presumably unconnected to Sookie. So, I thought I’d give the first one a try and if I didn’t like it, I didn’t have to go on to the rest. To my great surprise, I actually enjoyed it.

Midnight is a very small town in Texas. Very, very small. The titular crossroad is basically all there is to it, and the population is less than a dozen. At the crossroads is a gas station and a pawnshop. The pawnshop is owned by one Bobo Winthrop, a good-lookin’ SOB who also owns and rents out some of the nearby property. Across the street from the pawnshop is a house belonging to Fiji Cavanaugh, a witch who teaches the craft to women from out of town and sells crystals to tourists (but knows some real magic too). Behind Fiji’s place is a pet cemetary (spelled right) run by the Reverend Emilio Sheehan (aka The Rev), who also has a small church and does weddings, etc on demand (occasionally he preaches in the local diner, Home Cookin, run by Madonna Reed who does nothing extraordinary in this volume except cook well. Her man, Teacher, is the town handyman). Joe Strong and Chuy Villegas are a nice gay couple who run an Antique gallery and Nail Salon. The Gas ‘N’ Go is run by Shawn Lovell, whose daughter Creek sometimes waits tables at Home Cookin, and whose son, Connor, goes to school outside town. Two people rent apartments under the pawnshop from Bobo: Lem, who works the night shift at the Pawnshop, and his lover Olivia, who frequently goes out of town and knows a lot about applied violence. Olivia is gorgeous but Lem is pale as it is possible to be and is never, never seen in the daylight.

New guy in town Manfred Bernardo is renting a house next to the pawnshop from Bobo. Manfred is a psychic, and a real one, but since his powers aren’t reliable he runs a lot of scammy websites and basically fills the house with computers. Bobo, he learns, pretty much has it all together, but he has two things troubling him: number one, his ex-girlfriend, Aubrey, disappeared some time ago; just vanished one day and never came back, not even to collect her belongings, and number two, right-wing hate groups across the south believe that he inherited a vast collection of weapons that his race-war crazed grandfather had put together before he was arrested and died in prison. Bobo insists he hasn’t got the weapons, but every now and then some group of bigots will track him down and threaten him — or worse.

Still, things seem to be copacetic in town, until Fiji convinces everyone to join in for a community-wide picnic, and the picnic site turns out to be home to a corpse. Aubrey’s, naturally. It looks like she’s been shot, and nearby is a pistol that is supposed to be in the pawn shop.

Sherriff Arthur Smith is kinda sympathetic to the Midnighters, but Bobo is the prime suspect and to tell the truth, everybody in Midnight seems a little hinky. Can the townsfolk, whatever else they might be guilty of, clear their names? Or is one of them guilty after all?

The fantasy aspect of the story is kinda quiet. Manfred has one psychic vision, and Fiji casts a couple of spells, but neither has a big affect on the story (though the one spell does help Fiji escape from kidnappers). Fiji’s cat can talk, there are hints that the Rev is some kind of werecreature, and there is a subtle hint that Joe and Chuy are a bit more than they appear to be. Lem is a vampire, of course, but he seems to be the only one around and is slightly atypical, which leaves the question of a connection to Sookie’s world kind of up in the air.

But that is the only connection unmade. Early in the book, when Manfred visits his various websites, he admires a photoshopped picture of himself shooting lightning bolts from his hands. The text tells us, “Every time he admired the Photoshopped bolts, he thought of his lightning-struck friend, Harper.” That would be Harper Connelly, whose psychic powers anchored a series of mystery novels (see the Harper Connelly tag, below, for my thoughts on that series). Bobo Winthrop turns out to be originally from Shakespeare, Arkensas, home to Lily Bard. In fact, the bit with his grandfather is from one of the Bard novels. About two-thirds of the way through the book I stuck in a note saying, “I wonder about Arthur Smith” and sure enough, right before the end, Arthur gets into a discussion of hobbies with Manfred and mentions that he used to be part of a club “that met once a month to talk about famous cases of the past”. That club was called “Real Murders”, and it was the driving force for the first couple of Aurora Teagarden mysteries (see the Aurora Teagarden tag). That pretty much makes this a kind of Harris-verse forming up. I frankly hope that Sookie doesn’t latch on to it because not only would that suck all the joy out of this, but it would also mean that Sookie and the Vampires are in the background of all those other mysteries, which would really suck (pun was not planned, but if it amuses you I’ll take credit for it).

This isn’t great writing, or anything; there’s a lot of telling rather than showing (especially when it comes to people’s emotions), for example, but I’m not a hard-liner when it comes to that sort of thing. What there is here is a fairly fun story with some likeable characters and an interesting mystery. Which I’ll take over fine writing any day of the week (but not every day of the week). Recommended, but we’ll see if the second and third books hold up.

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Read Recently — August 2017 — Mysteries

Book, Line, and Sinker: a library lover’s mystery by Jenn McKinlay

The town of Briar Creek, Connecticut, is dealing with two simultaneous, related problems: a treasure hunter has found an old map supposedly revealing the location of Captain Kidd’s treasure on one of the islands in the bay and, having gotten permission to dig, has kind of driven the entire town treasure-mad, and the town’s Tourism Director is feuding with the leader of the historical society, who feels that the digging will be harmful to the town. Trudi Hargrave, the Tourism director feels that bringing in tourism and associated dollars will be good for the town in the only way that matters. Matters come to a head when, shortly after the historian threatens to get rid of Trudi by any means necessary she is found in the excavation on the “treasure island”, dead.

Fortunately for Milton, the Historical Society leader, Town Library Director Lindsey Norris doesn’t believe that he’s guilty and, with the help of her friends and, in particular, her boyfriend Mike Sullivan, a tour boat operator, she sets our to clear his name and find the real killer before s/he can strike again.

Complicating things for Lindsey is the fact that her ex-boyfriend has come to town, determined to reclaim her. Lindsey isn’t interested in being reclaimed, but can she convince him — and, more importantly, Sullivan — of that?

The Library itself plays only a peripheral role in this, being mostly a place for Lindsey to take off from, and she doesn’t own a cat but rather a small dog. Despite that, I’m rather enjoying this series, liking Lindsey and Sully (even though he does something really stupid at the end of the book) and even Lindsey’s ex turns out to have good qualities. I don’t think this will ever be one of my favourite series’, but so far it seems like a reliably entertaining cosy. Mildly recommended.

When Falcons Fall: a Sebastian St. Cyr mystery by C. S. Harris

St. Cyr takes his wife and young son to the village of Ayleswick-on-Teme, to fulfill a vow to a dying man and perhaps, if he’s lucky, find some sort of clue as to the identity of his real father. He isn’t lucky: he is able to fulfill the vow but instead of a father he finds a dead young woman, who came to Ayleswick on a sketching tour and apparently committed suicide. The local magistrate, new to his office, doesn’t believe it’s suicide and calls on St. Cyr for help. He may regret it, as Sebastian will turn the town upside down to find out what’s going on.

Matters are not helped by the fact that Napoleon Bonaparte’s brother Lucien is in town. A prisoner of war, Lucien is supposedly on the outs with the Little Emperor, but is he? Could his presence be connected to the murder, or is there something older and darker going on?

This is a strong entry in a good series. St. Cyr’s quest to uncover the truth of his identity doesn’t show any signs of being ended soon, but even when it is his drive for justice will, I think, suffice to keep the series going. It helps to have read the earlier volumes, though. I don’t think this is one of those series where you can just dip in at any time, which takes this from recommended to mildly recommended. It gets the higher vote if you’ve read the rest, though.

Re-read Recently — August 2017

Rosemary and Rue: an October Daye novel by Seanan McGuire

The excellent beginning to an excellent series. Originally written up here. Still recommended.

The Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko; translated from the Russian by Andrew Bromfield

Again, an excellent start to an excellent series. Originally written up here. Still highly recommended.

Read Recently — August 2017 — Lovecraft, Again

The Lurking Fear & Other Stories: collected short stories, volume four by H. P. Lovecraft; selected, with an introduction, by Matthew J. Elliott

I think this is the last of the Wordsworth Editions volumes, unless they want to start publishing his letters (which would not totally surprise me; there are way more letters than there are stories). This volume contains some of Lovecraft’s oddest stories, and considering some of his juvenalia is included, some of his worst (in terms of writing ability, I mean; non-white readers have probably already found a story or two that strikes them as his worst. Still, the great thing about Lovecraft is that he can always surprise you).

The first story gives its title to the entire volume (and, in fact, to just about any volume containing it. It is, in many ways, the quintessential Lovecraft title): “The Lurking Fear”. It was originally a serial and it shows: it is divided into four parts, each with its own sub-title. The narrator, an unnamed investigator of strange events, is drawn to Tempest Mountain in the Catskills, a place to which the Martense family, a dutch family originally living in New Amsterdam, retreated when the British took over the island and renamed it New York. Sadly for the Martenses, Tempest Mountain got its name from the frequent storms and lightning strikes, to the noise of which the family proved hereditarily sensitive. Over the centuries they dwindled to nothing. Now, after a violent thunderstorm a local village has been devastated by something with teeth and claws. In part one, “The shadow on the chimney”, the narrator and two strong friends seek out the ruins of the Martense manor and spend the night there, taking turns standing watch. Late in the night the narrator awakens to find a storm breaking, and that the one friend he was sharing the bed with has thrown an arm over him in his sleep. Only it isn’t the friend . . . and neither of the other two men is ever seen again . . . In part two, “A Passer In The Storm”, our narrator shares the story, and his quest, with a friendly reporter. The two of them find themselves caught by another storm when they investigate the ruined village that started the whole tale. The reportor leans out the window of the house they take shelter in to check the weather, and never moves again. . . . In “What the red glare meant” the narrator encounters the horror in one location, while it also attacks in another. He is saved by a fortuitous lightning strike, not an uncommon feature in Lovecraft’s stories. In part four, “The Horror In The Eyes” the narrator at least learns the true nature of the Lurking Fear, This is by no means one of Lovecraft’s worst stories; it has some nice grand guignol elements, but you can pretty much see the ending coming a long way away.

“The Beast In The Cave” is a piece of juvenalia. The narrator gets lost in Mammoth Cave after he wanders away from his guide and his light burns out. Alone in the dark of the cave he hears feet approaching, but not shod feet. And whatever is coming sometimes walks on four legs, and sometimes on two . . . Again, you can see the ending coming long before the narrator figures it out.

“The Alchemist” is another piece of juvenalia. Antoine, last of a long line of French Counts, is fated to die at the age of 32 as all his ancestors did, ever since one killed a sorceror who was that age. Revenge from beyond the grave . . . or is it? There’s the roots of a good story here, but the young Lovecraft was not skilled enough to nurture them.

“The Tomb” has young Jervas Dudley become obsessed with an old tomb in the forest outside his town. He believes that he descends into it and learns about the past there. His family and friends think he’s nuts.

“Beyond the Wall of Sleep” has an attendant at an asylum take care of a mentally deficient hillbilly whose dreams may be dissasociation or may be visions of a life beyond this world. The narrator has a device that allows him to experience those dreams himself . . .

“Memory” is a vignette, a single-page vision of the far future. It’s actually quite well-written, but too slight to be very interesting.

“The Transition of Juan Romero” has the narrator, a British wanderer, working in a Mexican or Southern USian gold mine. A firghteningly deep abyss is discovered in the lower areas of the mine, and one night the narrator and the titular other miner are seemingly called to it. The narrator falls behind, which is perhaps for the best. The ending doesn’t make a lick of sense.

“The White Ship” is a dreamlands story, in which a lighthouse keeper boards a dream ship and rather stupidly steers it too far.

“The Terrible Old Man” is, so far as I can tell, only the second story set in Lovecraft’s fictional town of Kingsport. In this one the titular Old Man is an elderly ex-sailor, possibly a pirate, who lives alone and pays for purchases with old gold coins. Some ethnic types try to rob him, but things don’t go well for them. This wouldn’t be a bad story if Lovecraft could have let go of the prejudice.

“Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and his family” has the titular lord learn enough about his ancestry that he douses himself in oil, walks out onto the moor, and sets himself afire. Hint: one of his ancestors came out of Africa! No, no, he’s literally descended from an ape. Yes, I’m spoiling that because a) it’s easy to figure out when you read the start of the story, and b) it’s so fucking stupid.

“The Street” has lovecraft waxing maudlin about New England architecture and how it hates immigrants.

“The Temple” has a German U-boat commander in the first world war wind up stranded on the ocean floor. What he finds there is actually pretty interesting, and he comes to a fate he dseerves. Lovecraft, for the record, sided with the British against the Germans.

“The Tree” has ancient greek sculptors and good friends competing for the right to make a statue for a dictator. In the end, the tree wins. It’s an okay story, but nothing special.

“From Beyond”, on the other hand, is one of Lovecraft’s great stories, and was made into a film by the same people who did Re-Animator. Scientist Crawford Tillinghast intends to see what no one has ever seen before. At first, he doesn’t consider whether he might also be seen.

“Nyarlathotep” is a short piece about the end of the world, and the titular Egyptian’s place in it. Very effective, and very affecting. One of my favourites.

“The Picture In The House” has our narrator taking shelter from an unexpected rainstorm in what he at first thinks is an abandoned house in the woods. But there is an old, old man living there, who is fortunately friendly to a wandering scholar. Our old man is very fond of his books, particularely an old one with a picture of what the artist thought was an African cannibal buffet. That kinda picture can make a man think . . . Again, very good.

“Ex Oblivione” is a short meditation on suicide by drug. Very poetical, not very interesting.

“The Quest of Iranon” is another dreamlands story about a misunderstood artist who seeks his special home.

“The Moon-Bog” has a man buy a castle in Ireland only to learn why sometimes you should listen to the locals and leave the landscape alone.

“The Outsider”‘s narrator grew up in a grim castle surrounded by thick, shadowy woods, Eventually he decides he must see the sky, so he climbs the highest tower and forces open the trapdoor at the top. What he finds up there changes him forever, and not for the better. Then he goes out on the beach and shoots an arab.

Okay, some of that’s not true. “The Outsider” is okay, but the whiplash discovery at the end for me kinda makes the first part make no sense.

“The Music of Eric Zann” finds our narrator living in an old house on a street of Paris which, once he leaves it, he can never find again. Zann is an old man who lives on the top floor and plays the violin very oddly in the night. The narrator tries to befriend him, but Zann has good reason not to let anyone into his room. A nicely evocative story slightly undercut by Lovecraft’s unwillingness to give us the full story.

“Hypnos”‘s narrator joins another man in drug-fuelled consciousness expansion. Sadly, they attract the attention of something better left alone . . .

“Azathoth” is another very short piece set in the distant future and probably unfinished.

“What the Moon Brings” seems like an attempt to transcribe a dream, something Lovecraft regularely did. This is mostly atmosphere, not much plot. Not bad for what it is.

“The Rats In The Walls” is one of Lovecraft’s more famous stories, if only because the narrator has a black cat named “N*gger-Man”. It’s a pity that he made that choice, because the story itself is pretty good. Basically, the narrator discovers that his distant ancestors were a rather unlikable lot, but he buys his ancestral home in England and restores it. It seems though that only he and his cats can hear the strange sound of rats moving downward through the walls in the night, down past the cellar and sub-cellars, into the unknown and mysterious past of his family. But is the past really dead?

Elliott describes “He” as a hate-letter to 20th century New York, and that about sums it up. Immortality, visions of the past and future, and Native ghosts get tangled up in Lovecraft hating on New York. The surprising thing is that it works as well as it does.

“In The Vault” is a very good piece featuring a cheap-ass mortician in the country getting trapped in his own “recieving tomb” in which the bodies and coffins are stored until he is able to inter them. In his efforts to get out, he falls victim to some ironic revenge for a thing he ought not to have done . . ..

“Cool Air” has the narrator befriending a doctor who lives upstairs of him, a doctor who must keep his rooms strangely cool due to his own medical condition. One summer day the doctor’s special air conditioners break down . . . sadly, this is prevented from being a great story by the very obvious ending.

“The Desendent” is another fragment, one which never gets far enough to make sense.

“The Very Old Folk” is not a story, but a letter Lovecraft seems to have written about one of his more memorable dreams. This one involves a Roman Legion in Spain making the very bad decision to disturb the celebrations of the titular folk. It isn’t a story, but it is interesting. And brief.

“The book” is another fragment, this time seemingly a prose retelling of part of Lovecraft’s “Fungi from Yuggoth” sonnet-cycle. The poems do it better.

“The Evil Clergyman” reads like another dream transcription, particularely the bits where the narrator does things but doesn’t know why he’s doing them. It needs another couple of passes before it becomes a workable story.

“Notes on writing weird fiction” seems like less of an essay and more a fraction of a letter Lovecraft sent off to someone. But I could be wrong about that.

Anyway, this volume is really only for Lovecraft completists. The best stories are “The Lurking Fear” itself, “The Terrible Old Man”, “The Temple”, “Nyarlathotep”, “The Picture In The House” and “In The Vault” and they’re all available elsewhere. “Rats In The Walls” is also very good, but problematic with that damn cat’s name. This particular volume is mildly not recommended.

Read Recently — July 2017 — Wizardries

Games Wizards Play by Diane Duane

I have missed a book. When last I visited the Young Wizards series in Wizards At War, I observed that it did not seem like much of a war. Regardless, I somehow missed A Wizard of Mars, which I shall have to find as soon as I can.

Games opens with what seems like a genuine war, as Kit Rodriguez, one of the series heroes, fights what seems like a desperate battle on the dark side of the moon. It turns out to be a wizardly LARP, though, which have effectively an unlimited FX budget and no end of drama. Nita, meanwhile, is working with the whales in the ocean off Long Island, a call-back to Deep Wizardry, the second book in the series, debugging spells. Both of them get called upon to mentor a younger(ish) wizard in the Invitational; an every-eleven-years gathering of the best and brightest in young wizards to show off hopefully ground-breaking new spells. Dairine is also invited to mentor; she has been working on star-management (that is, actually controlling how stars (giant spatial balls of flaming gas that planets orbit around) behave) with the father of a close friend (possible boyfriend) from a few books back who mysteriously vanished, and feels a little stressed out about all the responsibility, but agrees to help out Mehrnaz Farrahi, a young Iranian whose spell is aimed at cancelling out earthquakes, but who really needs help dealing with her unsupportive family.

Nita and Kit, meanwhile, have been assigned Penn Shao-Feng, a San Franciscan of Chinese descent (from Shanghai) who has a spell for protecting satellites from solar flares and a terrible attitude problem, at least in regard to Nita. Add to this that Nita and Kit’s relationship has fairly recently moved from friendship to romance and they are having the usual sorts of problems working things out (to the amusement of their friends, of course) and Penn is an irritant they just don’t need.

There’s no apparent world-threatening menace this time, just the questions of whose protege will win the Invitational (or will it be a dark-horse third party?) but that provides enough stress to keep our heroes on their toes.

In a nice touch, in addition to Nita and Kit’s rampant heterosexuality, one of their friends comes out as openly gay and another is asexual (but not aromantic, which is another nice touch). All things considered, this is a great book and a good addition to a great series, but you can’t start reading here, you have to start with So You Want To Be a Wizard, which I recently realised I no longer have in my collection.

Recommended (Highly Recommended, if you have read the rest of the series).

So You Want To Be A Wizard by Diane Duane

Realising I no longer owned a copy of this book, I immediately went out and bought one. I wasn’t intending to read it this month; it should have been way down the TBR pile, even at the rate I was going through books on vacation. But I picked it up for a brief look at it and the next thing I knew I was halfway through it, so I figured I’d better finish.

Juanita ‘Nita’ Callahan is not having an easy time at school. She’s kinda nerdy, but can’t help talking back to a girl who’s determined to bully her and that results in her having to hide in the public library late one friday night. While a friendly librarian sends the bullies on their way, Nita browses the shelves and, in a series of “So You Want to Be a” books that she thought she had read all of (So You Want To Be An Astronaut. So You want To Be a Teacher, etc.) she finds the titular volume. She doesn’t at first believe that it’s real, but after the bullies catch her anyway, beat her up and steal her favourite, lucky pen, she takes the oath in the front of the book and finds her name is now included in the list of wizards in the New York area.

When she goes to try a spell to get her pen back she meets Christopher ‘Kit’ Rodriguez, who also has a problem with bullies and is trying to get himself an aura of power so that they’ll leave him alone. The two of them combine their spells and, after a look at a dark, twisted version of New York City, turn out to have summoned a sentient “white hole” that they nickname Fred because part of its very long name sounds like “Fred”. Fred is looking for someone to report the loss of something very important to, but he can certainly help Nita retrieve her pen first.

That doesn’t go quite as planned, and the pen gets caught in Fred’s aura, causing him problems (among others, hiccups during which he emits solid objects, such as bricks, or Lear Jets). To clear everything up, they seek the help of the local Advisories, senior wizards who help junior wizards with, among other things, advice. This is a nice gay couple (to the best of my knowledge, Duane never calls them gay or a couple in the course of the series, but they obviously are) named Tom and Carl who will show up again and again in the course of the series, though never in a major role. It seems that to fix Fred and get the pen back, Nita and Kit are going to have to go to New York and use a major teleporter/gate. When they get there, the gate isn’t where it’s supposed to be, but that’s only the first problem. They locate the gate and work things out but are attacked by some very nasty monsters and forced to jump through the gate. On the other side, they find themselves in the shadow New York from their vision earlier. It seems that the important object whose loss Fred was looking to report is in fact there, and they must get it back because it is something that can, when used, define and possibly change the universe: for the good if used by good, but for the worse if used by evil. And the power that runs this shadow world is perhaps the most evil of all . . .

Though written long before, this covers some of the same territory as the Harry Potter books, though much better (Duane’s magic is more scientific and doesn’t rely on dog latin; Nita and Kit are better and more realistic characters than Harry and his cartoon friends , there’s no prophecy and no chosen one and the setting isn’t locked into one claustrophobic location: our heroes can go anywhere in the universe or beyond). In a just world, Duane would have all the fortune that Rowling has in our world. But alas, this just goes to show that there is no god. That said, this book (and the ensuing series) is highly recommended.

Read Recently — July 2017 — Strange New Cities

Company Town by Madeline Ashby

New Arcadia is an oil platform off the coast of Newfoundland, though calling it a platform doesn’t do it justice. It’s a town supporting a large and varied population, including merchants, schoolteachers, and a branch of the United Sexworkers of Canada, possibly the last Union someone at our point in the timeline would have expected. But while sex work may be legal in this future, it still isn’t safe and the USC of New Arcadia has hired a dedicated bodyguard for its workers.

Go Jung-Hwa is half-Korean and the daughter of a former sex-worker. Hwa has no augmentations, no high tech in her body, and an odd birthmark that makes her face difficult for some augs and cameras to spot (I’m a little unclear as to how that works, to be honest. The failure to make that clear is one of the book’s major failings). Hwa isn’t organic by choice; she’s just always been too poor to aug up. And when her mother gave birth she had been to poor to get Hwa fixed up. Hwa also has a seizure disorder that would be easy to control with augs but she has to use drugs. She protects her friends and clients with Taekwando and sheer badassery.

However, being organic is about to pay off for Hwa. The “Old Rig”, the oil-processing part of the platform, was destroyed by a massive explosion and fire some time ago, and a new corporation has bought the whole place. No one is sure what Lynch Ltd and its owners, the Lynch family, are planning to do with the New Arcadia, but a lot of people are afraid that they just intend to strip the platform down and sell it off again for profit. Zachariah Lynch has plans, all right, but they aren’t anything that simple. Among other things, he intends to send his son and heir, Joel, to school on the platform for a year, and they want a bodyguard for him. In addition to being young enough to go to school (and having never finished high school herself, in need of a degree), Hwa has the advantage of being unhackable. Hwa likes Joel, and can see a lot of advantages in taking the job. But then one of her friends is brutally murdered and no one is going to go to much trouble to find whoever killed a sex worker. No one but Hwa . . .

Ashby seems like a talented writer. It would be easy to make Hwa either unlikeable or too likeable; too much the perfect heroine, or too much the brutal ball-buster. Instead, Ashby places her firmly in the middle: we like her and want her to succeed in what she’s trying to accomplish, but she’s not always someone you’d want to get close to. And the ending of the story, featuring as it does a confusing time-travel sort of scenario and a possible deus ex-machina (as well as a kind of wish-fulfillment scenario that weakens it as a conclusion–I know that doesn’t make any sense but I’m trying not to spoil anything) is, well, weak. Ashby could do better, and I’m disappointed that she doesn’t.

Mildly recommended, with possible trigger warnings for sexual assault, graphic violence, and child endangerment.

Silence: a novel of the SERRAted Edge by Mercedes Lacky and Cody Martin

Back in the late 80s/early 90s, Lackey wrote a couple of series of urban fantasy novels, of which the SERRAted Edge were the best. SERRA is an independant racing circuit and elves got involved in it, using disguised elfsteeds and cars manufactured without steel. The Seelie save lost and runaway children from the unseelie (I won’t critique the fact that the Seelie/Unseelie duality isn’t about elves. I won’t critique the fact that the Seelie/Unseelie duality isn’t about elves. I won’t critique the fact that the Seelie/Unseelie duality isn’t about elves. I won’t . . . I also won’t bring up the male banshee). Then, as with what the frontspiece of this book assures me is called the “Urban Elves series” but I have always preferred to call the “Bedlam’s Bard” series, she rested for a long time. Until 2016, when she teamed up with Cody Martin to produce a new SERRAted Edge novel.

Staci’s dad has remarried, and her new stepmother figures a new broom sweeps clean, and one of the things she’s sweeping away is Staci. Staci and all her worldly goods, or at least those that her Stepmother hasn’t “accidentally” made off with, are dumped on her mother’s porch in Silence, Maine. Mom is a waitress and a substance abuser. She is not exactly living in the good part of Silence. Silence also has almost no cell-phone reception and even less internet.

Cut off from almost everything that used to matter to her, Staci does find that Silence has an SF bookstore and a crew of friendly gamergeeks, including young lovers Jake and Riley (despite Riley’s gender-nuetral-sounding name she is a girl), technogeek Seth, and Goth Wanda. There is also apparent biker-punk Dylan and the Blackthorne family, who basically own the town and whose good-looking son Sean seems to be developing a thing for Staci.

Of course, the Blackthornes are Unseelie Elves, and Dylan is a Seelie elf, and something bad is going to happen to the town before long if the Blackthornes aren’t stopped. I don’t think that’s spoiling anything; if that doesn’t happen then none of the setup makes any sense.

This isn’t great stuff, but it’s serviceable and much better than a lot of the crap Lackey has churned out over the years (and much, much better than some of the other stuff that is called Urban Fantasy these days). One reservation I do have is the romantic relationship beteen Dylan and Staci that developes towards the end of the book. It isn’t necessary and I can’t help but think that the story would be better if they were just friends throughout.

Mildly recommended; you’ve read better but you’ve also read much, much worse.

Read Recently — July 2017 — Non-fiction

Investigating Lois Lane: the turbulent history of the Daily Planet’s ace reporter by Tim Hanley

Hanley traces the history of comicdom’s greatest female reporter, from her early days as the Daily Star‘s gossip columnist to 2015 and the new 52. Each chapter also has a kind of sidebar; a short sub-chapter about something related to the main chapter (chapter 1a is titled “Joe Shuster’s Lost Lois”).

It’s a well-written book and looks thoughtfully at a character whose history is not often fully examined or appreciated, compared to her boyfriend. If you’re into comics, highly recommended. If not, still mildly recommended.

The End of Christianity edited by John W. Loftus

Another collection of essays edited by Loftus, with a title intended to invoke Sam Harris’ The End of Faith. Loftus, of course, focusses on his Outsider Test for Faith but the others do take things in some interesting directions.

Mildly recommended.

Dancing In The Streets: a history of collective joy by Barbara Ehrenreich

Ehrenreich examines, as the subtitle suggests, collective ecstacy from the earliest times (cave paintings suggest that group dancing was part of the earliest religious ceremonies) to the present (sporting events may serve some of the same functions that these ceremonies used to serve). My copy is full of post-it notes. Highly recommended.