Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Seahawks and Harry Potter, Cold Magic by Kate Elliott, Honor's Knight by Rachel Bach, Best State Ever by Dave Barry and The Cater Street Hangman by Anne Perry

I realize that this is from last month, but my favorite player on our local football team, Richard Sherman, has come out as a Harry Potter fan, and has gotten fellow players to dress as characters from the HP books/movies. I find this whimsical and hilarious. 
NFL Halloween video of the season: For a press conference this week, pro football star Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks "dresses as Harry Potter--and it's awesome," the Huffington Post reported.
I have four books to report on, so lets get right to it. Cold Magic by Kate Elliott was a book recommended to fans of other fantasy series, like Game of Thrones and Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar, so I decided to give it a whirl, and I got this first book from the library. I've become accustomed to fantasy series with over 500 pages per book that have slow starts, but this book started slow and stayed that way, mainly due to the overwrought prose and labrynthine plot. Here is the blurb: 
Cat Barahal was the only survivor of the flood that took her parents. Raised by her extended family, she and her cousin, Bee, are unaware of the dangers that threaten them both. Though they are in beginning of the Industrial Age, magic - and the power of the Cold Mages - still hold sway.
Now, betrayed by her family and forced to marry a powerful Cold Mage, Cat will be drawn into a labyrinth of politics. There she will learn the full ruthlessness of the rule of the Cold Mages. What do the Cold Mages want from her? And who will help Cat in her struggle against them? Publisher's Weekly: The first installment of Elliott's Spiritwalker trilogy puts a decidedly steampunk edge on epic adventure fantasy. The setting is a pseudo-Victorian Europe at the emergence of an industrial revolution, replete with dirigibles, gas lights, and great political and social upheaval. The unpopular cold mages believe that the "reckless tinkering" of radical scientists and natural historians will destroy society. Irreverent orphan Catherine Hassi Barahal mostly thinks about staying out of trouble and finding out about her mysterious explorer parents, but when a cold mage shows up to collect on an old contract, Cat is forced to marry him and undertake a nightmarish journey across an ice-covered country in which she learns frightening things about the mortal and spirit worlds. After a slow start, Elliott pulls out all the stops in a wildly imaginative narrative that will ring happy bells for fans of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy.
As floral as the prose was, the characters were even more annoying, particularly Cat's cousin Bee, who comes off as a know-it-all and snob. When it turns out that Cat isn't even really a Barahal, but was instead fathered by a cat from a race of magical shape-shifting arctic pumas, she descends into a tailspin of fear and anger, enough so that while running from her husband, who has been ordered to kill her by his master, she seems more intent on trying to figure out why her aunt and uncle have been lying to her all her life, and why they'd sacrifice someone they treated as a daughter without batting an eye. Cats resourceful nature grows as the book progresses, and the story gets easier to read as more action is injected into the plot, but I found that by the end of the book I didn't really care enough to seek out the sequel and delve through 500 more pages of angst written in florid prose. I'd give this book a B, and recommend it to those who like a lot of narration and twists/turns in their stories.
Honor's Knight by Rachel Bach is the sequel to Fortune's Pawn, and the second book in the Paradox series of science fiction adventure novels.  I enjoyed the first book enough that I was eager to find out what happened to our memory-wiped heroine Devi Morris, Mercenary Extraordinaire. Fortunately, I wasn't disappointed, and Devi is really put through her paces in this book, and while her memory wipe doesn't last, a lot of developments with Caldswell and his crew of misfits is revealed. Here's the blurb:
Devi Morris has a lot of problems. And not the fun, easy-to-shoot kind either.
After a mysterious attack left her short several memories and one partner, she's determined to keep her head down, do her job, and get on with her life. But even though Devi's not actually looking for it — trouble keeps finding her. She sees things no one else can, the black stain on her hands is growing, and she is entangled with the cook she's supposed to hate.
But when a deadly crisis exposes far more of the truth than she bargained for, Devi discovers there's worse fates than being shot, and sometimes the only people you can trust are the ones who want you dead. Publisher's Weekly:This solid sequel to Fortune’s Pawn reveals unexpected complexities in its comic-book future setting. Recovering from a mysterious attack, soldier-for-hire Deviana Morris is plagued by amnesia and distracting hallucinations. Forced to choose between allies who use talented children as expendable munitions and enemies whose malice is leavened with humanitarian values, Devi wrestles with unfamiliar moral quandaries. The simplicities of brutal combat come as a welcome relief in an undeclared war where the fates of planets are at stake and the deadliest weapon of all may be Devi’s own blood. In Bach’s universe, phantasmal horrors lurk between the stars, but the ability of leaders to forgive themselves for vicious acts of exploitation is all too familiar. The novel raises interesting questions about consent and utilitarian moral compasses while remaining firmly rooted in the traditions of epic space opera and military SF. The result is an interesting balance between introspection and action, a sequel that builds, rather than merely killing time.
For a change I agree with the PW reviewer, in that there is a well-written balance in this book between Devi figuring out things about herself and figuring out what she needs to do to right some wrongs within her universe. She discovers that there are no easy answers, and, while I loathed Caldswell and his cronies who are not at all averse to using and killing little girls in order to save the universe from nearly invisible plasma creatures who eat planets for breakfast, I understood her need to save him from a horrific death at the hands of the carnivorous alligator species who think of humans as prey. Bach's prose is very clear and clean, and it moves along the swift plot like greased lightening. I'd give this book an A, and recommend it to anyone who read the first book and who, like myself, is anxious to read the next installment.
Best State Ever by Dave Barry is subtitled "A Florida man defends his homeland." Having lived in the Tampa Bay area of Florida for 5 years, I can honestly say that I saw for myself the good and bad of Florida, and in my opinion, the bizarre and strange and horrifying aspects of the state far outweighed the whimsical, fun aspects. Barry has been a humor journalist for the Miami Herald for decades, and herein tries to make his case for believing that most of the weirdness perpetrated in Florida is completely due to people from other states moving to Florida and clogging it with their random acts of strange once they get used to the hot and humid weather. Actual Florida natives, he asserts, are genuine, peaceful folk just trying to preserve their subsistence way of life, along with the gators and the giant cockroaches, or "palmetto bugs" as they're called in Florida. With every section, Dave comes off as an immature jerk whose sarcasm isn't funny and whose defense of Florida comes off as idiotic. Here's the blurb: A brilliantly funny exploration of the Sunshine State from the man who knows it best: Pulitzer Prize winner and New York Times–bestselling author Dave Barry.
 We never know what will happen next in Florida. We know only that, any minute now, something will.
Every few months, Dave Barry gets a call from some media person wanting to know, “What the hell is wrong with Florida?” Somehow, the state’s acquired an image as a subtropical festival of stupid, and as a loyal Floridian, Dave begs to differ. Sure, there was the 2000 election. And people seem to take their pants off for no good reason. And it has flying insects the size of LeBron James. But it is a great state, and Dave is going to tell you why. Join him as he celebrates Florida from Key West at the bottom to whatever it is that’s at the top, from the Sunshine State’s earliest history to the fun-fair of weirdness that it is today. It’s the most hilarious book yet from “the funniest damn writer in the whole country” (Carl Hiaasen, and he should know). By the end, you’ll have to admit that whatever else you might think about Florida—you can never say it’s boring.
Though it's true it's not actually a boring place to live, it's also the most sexist state I've ever lived in, and the most prejudiced place I've ever seen. A majority of the people there aren't nice people, and it's not unusual to get yelled at by the clerks in Publix grocery store for no apparent reason. Jobs pay half or less of what they would anywhere else, and there are huge roaches everywhere. The weather is like stepping out of a hot shower into another hot shower when you go outside, and insane people brandishing weapons in traffic is just another day on Gulf to Bay Blvd. Barry, who spends a lot of time going to various roadside attractions in Florida, finds that the only attraction he really likes is the one where you get to shoot machine guns and hand guns at targets with the help of a retired military guy who is probably really tired of middle aged guys with low testosterone coming into his weapons range trying to reclaim their youth. I did a lot of eye rolling reading this book, and I didn't find it the least funny. I'd give it a C, and only recommend it to teenage boys who find this kind of immature humor hysterical. 
Finally, I picked up a copy of The Cater Street Hangman by Anne Perry mainly because I always get her mixed up with Anne Bishop, who writes the "Others" series and who writes a dark fantasy series that I've read (I'm about 6 books in). I'd also heard that Anne Perry's mysteries were delightful and bordered on Steampunk. Unfortunately, that last bit is not true, there's no Steampunk heroines here, only a repressed and sheltered Victorian woman who snipes and snarls at her two sisters and who watches her family unravel after a series of garrotings take place near her home.  Here's the blurb: While the Ellison girls were out paying calls and drinking tea like proper Victorian ladies, a maid in their household was strangled to death. The quiet and young Inspector Pitt investigates the scene and finds no one above suspicion. As his intense questioning causes many a composed facade to crumble, Pitt finds himself curiously drawn to pretty Charlotte Ellison. Yet, a romance between a society girl and so unsuitable a suitor was impossible in the midst of a murder....
This is supposedly the first "Charlotte and Thomas Pitt novel" and I was expecting the intrepid policeman to woo Charlotte earlier in the novel, and for them to solve the mystery of who is killing these girls, including Charlotte's sister, together. Unfortunately, that doesn't happen. Most of the novel is taken up with proper ladies manners and gentlemen's foibles for the public, while in private there's cruelty, ugly jealousies and infidelity all happening at the same time. None of Charlotte's relatives are what they seem to be, especially when it comes to light that her father has been keeping a mistress for over 25 years just down the street, and her grandmother, (her father's mother) is a vicious old harridan who loathes her daughter in law and her grandchildren. She actually blames them for all the family problems, and lambastes Charlotte for being smart and speaking her mind. Meanwhile, the Vicar, whom everyone hates as a pompous windbag and his pathetic self-sacrificing wife are obviously up to no good, and anyone with half a brain will know around a third of the way through the book who the murderer really is. I wasn't totally bored with this view inside of a proper upper class Victorian family, but I wasn't enthralled, either. At least not enough to want to read any further into the series. There was just too much sexism and classism for me. I'd give it a B-, and recommend it to anyone who is a die hard fan of Victorian drama and mystery.

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