River of Ink
Cooper’s River of Ink is an exquisite offering whose words sing in the blood. This is a tale of ancient Sri Lanka, a tale of conquest, change and forbidden love.
It is the story of Asanka, royal poet to King Parakrama. When an invading army takes over the kingdom, Asanka is commissioned by the new ruler, Kalinga Magha, to translate the epic poem of Shishupal from the Sanskrit into the local Tamil language, so that it might be available to all. In an act of rebellion towards a capricious ruler, Asanka slips allusions into his crafting, hinting at Magha being like Shishupal, another ruthless ruler.
Now, ancient Sri Lanka is not my usual forte for historical fiction, but Cooper does seem to have done an admirable amount of research. The characters are well drawn out. I will admit, there were times when Asanka got on my nerves with his timidity. However, he is a poet, a writer, not a warrior; the type of person whose gentle and empathic nature would be singularly affected by brutality and violence.
River of Ink is Cooper’s debut novel, a marvelous offering from a brilliant young author. I look forward to future works from him.
January 26th 2016
The Purloined Poodle
Hearne’s The Purloined Poodle is a rollickin’ good novella set in the world of the Iron Druid series. It is told from the point of view of Oberon, Atticus’ ever amusing wolfhound. Through the Druidic arts, Oberon has been granted greater intelligence and longer life than hounds normally have. He can speak mind-to-mind with his human, though his perspective is all doggie, leading to hilarious exchanges. Some of Oberon’s most amusing commentary would be sooo perverted from a human, but from Oberon it comes with the charming innocence only animals and babies seem to muster. For one, he finds it hard to fathom why Atticus, in his hound form, still shies from sniffing other dogs’ bums, attributing it to Atticus’ “‘human prejudice’ against asses.” I nearly choked on my tea. Another example, assuming the chapter names are Oberon’s, is the title of the second chapter, “The Man with the Big Salami.” My, my, how salacious. I choked on my tea again. This is not a book to read while drinking. I adore Oberon’s perpetual confusion relating to human concepts of time. And then he references Doctor Who! Twice! And The X-Files!
This story begins on a nice sunny day in a dog park. Oberon meets a pooch named Algy, who tries to attack him. Atticus intervenes. Using his Druidic gifts, he soothes Algy, whose owner is quick to join them. Oberon and Atticus learn Algy is stressed because he was recently shot with a tranquilizer while another dog, a Grand Champion poodle, was dognapped. A little Druid magick and some determined digging help our doggy detective and his human to uncover a dastardly plot, not only rescuing the missing poodle but several other dognapped Grand Champions of different breeds, and to help bring a killer to justice.
Hearne is a master of the charmingly sarcastic, cut from the same cloth as Jim Butcher and Michael J. Sullivan. The Iron Druid books are present-day urban fantasy, and many of the places are ones you can really visit. At the end, Hearne points out some of those places found in The Purloined Poodle. Description, dialogue, and narrative flow nicely, pulling you along into this doggie-centric cozy mystery, Iron Druid style. Hearne never fails to deliver a wonderful, engaging story.
“Naked guys on rooftops would normally inspire comment, but we were in an isolated area surrounded by trees and mountains and no one saw him but us.”
“…he had traveled too far down the road of eternal asshattery and remained abusive.”
I love both of those lines so much. This book was a big shot of joy when I really needed it. I devoured the whole thing in under two hours!
Highly recommended, especially if you like the Iron Druid books or books by such notables as Jim Butcher, Michael J. Sullivan, Scott Lynch, or Patrick Rothfuss. Also K.E. Mills’ Rogue Agent series. That, too.
Symphony for the Devil
Storythreads spanning generations, and eras, come together in this neo-gothic work by Marcus James. Symphony for the Devil is a novel of the mysterious, the supernatural, and the wondrous, both magickal and mundane. It is a tale of lasting legacy and a cursed family. At present, the Blackmoore family curse is held at bay, but proper homage must be paid. This is the second book in the Blackmoore Legacy series, and I would recommend reading them in order!
This tale revolves around several of the Blackmoore clan. There are Trevor and Braxton, far-distant cousins and lovers. There is Mary-Margaret, another distant cousin, come from Ireland to go to university in the States. She is staying with Mabel, another of the clan, in a grand old home. Mary-Margaret is quite out of touch with her extended family’s views on their gifts. She is blindly religious and steps on many toes by condemning the gift and Trevor and Braxton’s relationship. There is Kathryn and Francesca, working to improve the family standing and fortunes. And there is Michael Donovan, the spectral violinist.
This is a long novel, with lots going on. I particularly liked Donovan’s storythread. Violins enchant me, as do those who play them. I admit, it was the cover that drew my attention to this work, precisely because of the violin. But the cover works well for the story as a whole.
James does a masterful job of keeping the threads together with complex storyweaving. I loved the themes of tolerance throughout and the not-so-subtle chastisement of organised religion’s persecution of things “different.” Kathryn had a great point with the quote, “God is not the church, and you cannot find him in there. God is in each and every single one of us, and if you believe that God is perfect, and that God doesn’t make mistakes, then you have to believe that each and every single person on this planet is exactly how God planned them to be.” I love that quote and feel its truth.
Another proofing would not be amiss, and a bit more showing versus telling is recommended. There is a lot of narrative versus dialogue here, and a lot of description, which is good, though sometimes it felt stifling to the story. Great amounts of narrative make sense from a book descended from the same lineage that gave us such classics as Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Also, there’s a lotta use of pronouns, though I was able to suss out who was speaking/being referred to, etc. I look forward to seeing James continue to grow as an author!
Recommended. It so reminded me of Grimm and Sleepy Hollow. The shows, that is. And Supernatural.
Parkinson’s Lite: The Laughable Side
Macioce’s little memoir, Parkinson’s Lite, is a quick and enlightening read. It is the story of one woman’s coming to terms with having a chronic illness and learning to find humor even in the darkest of times. She first goes to the doctor for a cluster of symptoms she was at a loss to explain. Her first doctor gave the diagnosis of Parkinson’s. Unwilling to accept that, she goes on to get several second opinions, ranging from Lyme disease to internal imbalances and back to Parkinson’s.
With wry humor, Macioce bares her psyche to us. It can be very hard for people to talk about their own failings. She is stubborn, refusing to accept the diagnosis. She is a constant worrier, prone to making mountains of mole-hills and quick to assume the worst. Her journey with Parkinson’s showed her that being fretful and pessimistic was emotionally draining. Being more optimistic and learning to laugh at oneself and conditions one cannot change made living with this chronic illness much easier.
As someone suffering from a chronic illness of my own, I can appreciate these lessons. I would highly recommend this book to anyone in similar circumstances as a valuable lesson that it is possible to thrive and be happy.
Ghosts from Our Past: Both Literally and Figuratively: The Study of the Paranormal
Yates’ and Gilbert’s Ghosts from Our Past is a collaboration of love from two young physicists-in-training. The book is organized into three broad parts.
“Our Stories” focuses on the authors’ histories and how they became interested in the paranormal, their meeting and subsequent friendship, and how they came to write the book.
“Our Research” takes a look at ghost accounts through history, from the earliest known accounts from Mesopotamia and the biblical story of the Witch of Endor through to Greco-Roman accounts, medieval accounts, and early modern accounts. The spiritualist era is covered in greater detail, followed by a brief look at the present. Historical paranormal groups and investigators are looked at, along with the history of spirit classification and the classification system they use. My favorite part was the scientific section, which brought into play theoretical physics and quantum mechanics.
“Our Methods” covered practical aspects of ghost hunting, from the tools of the trade (with a new section on PKE meters, proton packs, and ghost traps) to choosing a location and carrying out the investigation, including debriefing and evaluating evidence. They make sure to stress the importance of researching the property first, so you have an idea of the history of both the land and the building, which may give clues as to any hauntings. Also looked at are things to rule out, such as animals or the possibility of a hoax. The history of several famous hauntings are recounted in brief for your reading pleasure. While their passion for ghost hunting and the paranormal is clear, they are scientists first and foremost and are not quick to believe until they rule out more mundane possibilities.
Okay, I loved this book. I loved the in-text banter between them and the overall cheekiness of it. There’s actually a good deal of pretty nifty historical information as well as practical information for the fledgling ghost hunter.
Highly recommended if you like ghosty stuff, or love Ghostbusters.
Hammers on Bone
What do you get if you toss hard-boiled detective fiction and lore of the Great Old Ones into a blender? The answer is Cassandra Khaw’s Lovecraftian noir Hammers on Bone. When John Persons is approached by a kid who wants to hire him to kill his stepfather, the PI is all set to turn him away. But when the kid says his stepdad is a monster and he and his little brother are dead if Persons doesn’t help, a little voice inside says Persons should take notice. Digging deeper reveals some nasty truths about McKinsey and a disease spreading inexorably through London. Can our hard-as-nails PI save these kids before it’s too late?
Persons is a quintessential anti-hero, if ever I saw one. Far from being altruistic, he’s in the game for the money. For, you see, Persons isn’t quite like us. He may look human, but there is more monster than man. He doesn’t think like a human, though he did a marvelous job of blending. He may be a monster, but there are worse things out there. Far worse.
Woven into this noir novella is a social commentary on domestic abuse and child abuse. It’s a lesson that there are plenty of monsters wearing human skin that we need to worry about in our own society as well as a subtle chastisement. There are several times violence is displayed outright and bystanders ignore it. Other times, Khaw shows just how cowed such abuse makes a person, making the abused reluctant or unable to ask for help. If you see this kind of abuse around you, don’t turn away and ignore it. Help as much as you can. You may just be responsible for saving a life.
Okay, so, truth time–I had a straight up “Gaaahhhh”-dancing-around-freaked-out moment. There was some eye-popping going on. Eye trauma freaks me the frick out! Perhaps a little too visceral with the description there. Missing one of my own eyes has heightened my sense of eye protectiveness.
I’m not usually a big noir fan. I prefer mysteries a la Sherlock Holmes. I was hooked by the Lovecraftian aspect, for that I do love, and I found myself liking Persons more and more. This story is well-written, a novella trimmed and lean, without sacrificing storyline. This was my first experience with Khaw’s work, and I enjoyed it so much that I snagged a few of her other works. I look forward to the next in the Persons Non Grata series, even if accounts of eye trauma did freak me out a bit.
Recommended for those who like sci-fi/fantasy, Lovecraftian lore, and hard-boiled detective fiction.