TWISTING THE ROPE by R. A. MacAvoy

Remember Tea with the Black Dragon?  I chatted about it here.   Well, this is the second in the series, but it has nothing to do with the first.  In Tea with the Black Dragon, Mayland Long, our dragon in human form, helps a musician find her missing daughter, and ends with the middle aged Martha and Mayland becoming an item.

Now in Twisting the Rope, Martha, the fiddler, is on tour with a Celtic music group, and Mayland is acting as their tour manager.  And we have another mystery.  I could really get into this series.  Dragons, music, mysteries.  What’s not to like, right?

The group includes a last-minute substitute pipes (bagpipes) player, grouchy, mean to everyone, and on everyone’s last nerve.  He especially enjoys picking on the young Irish guitar player.  The group also has a lovely lady harp player, and I forget the others, although I do remember that one of them is a California dude.  You know the kind – blonde hair, new age-y, on a non-mucus diet.

Well, the pain-in-the-patooty piper is found hanged and drowned at the end of the waterfront pier, and we do have a couple of possible suspects within the group, especially seeing that nobody liked him.  But was their distaste strong enough to make him pay the piper?

It is a great story, filled with lots of twists and turns, with the ‘normal’ turning ‘para’ only just a tetch, and it isn’t the dragon, either.  Well, I mean, other than his being a dragon.

The title comes from a skill the Irish lad showed the harpist, how to twist dried long grasses into a sturdy rope, used by farmers and husbandmen to make temporary halters and leads for their beasts.  Guess what the dead guy was hanging from.  Right.  Good guess.

Most say they didn’t like it as much as Tea with the Black Dragon,  I think more because it was much less fantasy.  I, being the contrarian that I am, actually enjoyed it more.  Well, that’s the reason the universe has chocolate, vanilla, and pistachio.

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Magic. Wizards. Spells.  Demons.  You know, everyday stuff like that. Ho-hum.  Yawn.  hahaha  This is the first of the Dresden Files series, of which there are about sebenty-lebenty books.  The genre is fantasy/paranormal/magic/mystery.    Kind of noir wizard detective in the 40’s Raymond Chandler style.  You know, Sorceress in A Red Dress.  As written in 2000.

It was fun, but got a little too evil demon-ish for my taste, a whole lot of whirling and swirling and damage and black magic and stuff like that.  I like my fantasy/paranormal/magic/mystery a bit more subtle, thanks.  Here’s the plot, such as it is:

Lost Items Found. Paranormal Investigations. Consulting. Advice. Reasonable Rates. No Love Potions, Endless Purses, or Other Entertainment.

Harry Dresden is the best at what he does. Well, technically, he’s the only at what he does. So when the Chicago P.D. has a case that transcends mortal creativity or capability, they come to him for answers. For the “everyday” world is actually full of strange and magical things—and most don’t play well with humans. That’s where Harry comes in. Takes a wizard to catch a—well, whatever. There’s just one problem. Business, to put it mildly, stinks.

So when the police bring him in to consult on a grisly double murder committed with black magic, Harry’s seeing dollar signs. But where there’s black magic, there’s a black mage behind it. And now that mage knows Harry’s name. And that’s when things start to get interesting.

Dresden is a wizard working as a P.I., or a P.I. working as a wizard.  A woman calls his office, needing his services.  And that’s where it begins.  Then it continues when the police call him to view a double murder where the victims’ hearts have been …. well …. exploded.  Egad.  Obviously done by magic, and between the chick and the gruesome murder, Harry is suddenly busy.

Fun read, but I’ll take a pass on the remaining series.  I can only take so much summoning of demons before I get hungry and want to summon a pizza.

TEA WITH THE BLACK DRAGON by R. A. MacAvoy

“Martha Macnamara knows that her daughter Elizabeth is in trouble, she just doesn’t know what kind. Mysterious phone calls from San Francisco at odd hours of the night are the only contact she has had with Elizabeth for years. Now, Elizabeth has sent her a plane ticket and reserved a room for her at San Francisco’s most luxurious hotel. Yet she has not tried to contact Martha since she arrived, leaving her lonely, confused and a little bit worried. Into the story steps Mayland Long, a distinguished-looking and wealthy Chinese man who lives at the hotel and is drawn to Martha’s good nature and ability to pinpoint the truth of a matter. Mayland and Martha become close in a short period of time and he promises to help her find Elizabeth, making small inroads in the mystery before Martha herself disappears. Now Mayland is struck by the realization, too late, that he is in love with Martha, and now he fears for her life. Determined to find her, he sets his prodigious philosopher’s mind to work on the problem, embarking on a potentially dangerous adventure.”

The quotation marks will give you the first clue in this sci fi fantasy mystery that I did not write that plot description.  I am tired of writing plot descriptions so I have taken to stealing   appropriating  borrowing descriptions from other reviewers or the official blurb.

And yes.  There IS a dragon.  Deliciously, he is elderly, and in human form, out in the world searching for that elusive thing — the Truth.

Turns out, Martha’s daughter got herself involved in a scheme to embezzle from a bank, and things with her ‘partners’ are not going well.  So not well they want to kill her.

Some days are like that.  So Mayland gets his elderly self involved and what starts as a fantasy about a dragon slowly turns into a thriller.

Lovely writing, fun plot.  Great read.  There is a sequel.  I may read that.

BRIDE OF THE RAT GOD by Barbara Hambly

Chrysanda Flamande was the sultriest vamp of the silver screen in Hollywood, California, in the year 1923. Then an elderly Chinese gentleman warned her that a trinket she’d worn in her last movie had marked her to be the bride of an ancient devil-god of Manchuria.

A mash-up of the twenties Hollywood movie industry scene, old Chinese mythology, a bunch of made-up fantasy, and a mystery.  Da Shu Ken, the Great Rate of the North, the Kara-Kudai.  Bringer of plague, misfortune, and death.  He is not really part of Chinese folklore.  He is created for this book, so you can forget looking him up.

Ms. Flamande was given a fabulous necklace by her producer, a necklace supposedly from some ancient Chinese dynasty.  It actually belongs to the rat god and whoever wears it he claims as his bride and takes with him into his hell world.  So now he is after Ms. Flamande.  Her widowed sister-in-law who is functioning as personal assistant, and the nice guy doing the filming work together to find out who killed the handsome stunt man.

Lots about Hollywood, and Pekingese  dogs, of which Ms. Flamande has three, and who play a prominent role in the tale.  The further into the book you get, the more preposterous it becomes, losing touch with reality all together, and becoming a horror fantasy paranormal kind of thing.

Not a bad read, not quite a genre type I usually enjoy, but definitely very well done.   Must have been fine….. after, all, I read the whole thing, right?

THE WORLD WALKER by Ian Sainsbury

I am not sure what to say about this book.  I sot of liked it.  I didn’t like it.  It was strangely weird.  It was  properly strange.  Let me explain.  If I can.

Roswell, NM.  1947.  What seems to be an extraterrestrial  spaceship crashes in the desert.  A being is found, and whisked away to an unmarked secret facility, where it does absolutely nothing.  Until now, when it seems to wake up and just walk through the walls and leave.

A young man, faced with a cancer death sentence, walks out into the desert where he plans to kill himself.  Slashes wrist, is bleeding out on the ground.  Mysterious being approaches, heals him.

A magician in Australia finds he can manifest real elephants in his shows.

A pretty much secret international group of people who can work magic.  With a k.  Magick.  But they call it manna.  Using manna.  Another secret society using manna is the Sons of Satan.  OK, that’s not the name.  I forget the exact name, but something like that.  Nasty bunch.  Headed by a woman, who requires the unwilling services of young men hung upside down on Xs on pentagrams bleeding to death so she can do her spells.

A secret terribly powerful paramilitary organization with an awful lot of pricey high tech weaponry and equipment and helicopters.  Run by a guy who nobody has seen.

The young man in the desert now finds himself with massive superpowers, and the secretary military force is after him, and that Satan lady is after him because she wants to use him as her final sacrifice, and the young man, Seb,  also finds that with his superpowers comes himself divided into three parts, (Omnia Gallia in tres partes divisa est), one part of which claims to be his subconscious and acts like a whole separate person, and which I took to represent the ego, the id and the superego.  meh.

He now finds through his mentor that he has unlimited capacity for sex with no debilitating effects.  With multiple partners.  At the same time.  Sounds like every teenage boy’s wet dream.

OK, so we have a mash-up of aliens, alien technology, magic, violence, gratuitous violence, military stuff, Freudian psychology, lite porn, and ….  so’s we don’t leave out the ladies, …  a romance between Seb and a gal he knows, although why she would want him now since he is banging everything in sight is beyond me, but since it is written by a male writer, I can see why he would think so.

There was also a whole back story of his time as a orphan in an orphanage.  There was a whole lot of a whole lot. It felt like the Trope of the Week book, which my Dearly Beloved liked very much and I found annoying.  I was likin’ the whole alien thing, and then everything became about magic, and OK, are we going the fantasy route?  I can dig that.  But then we had the whole tearjerking orphan back story, and just when I was getting into that, we had the paramilitary, which while I didn’t love it, I could deal with it, when Enter Stage Left come the Satanists and their carnage.

It sort of all came together in the end, but really, superpowers?  And there are several more volumes to this?  The Dearly Beloved downloaded the next in the series, The Unmaking Engine,  which I am not sure I will bother reading.   I am not a big fan of gratuitous violence, being of the gamboling through the daisy-filled hillsides kind of a chick.

He wakes up and finds he has superpowers?  Sounds like every second-rate YA book ever written.

THE BEAR AND THE NIGHTINGALE by Katherine Arden

This is a modern version of an old Russian folktale, or maybe a compilation of several, but it is fantasy, set in Russia in the 1300s, in the days when Moscow was a remote backwater town with wooden structures.

And, as usual, why should I go through the whole plot thing when it has very conveniently been laid out for us already?  Here it is, heavily edited by me to add more details.

At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind–she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.  The area is full of spirits — house spirits, stable spirits, river spirits, forest guardians, all kinds of creatures.  The village people know they are there, but cannot see them.  However, they always leave food and bedding for them.

Vasilisa is special, because she CAN see them, and talk to them.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. This very very young woman has been hiding  the fact from everyone that she sees demons and spirits.  The only place she does not see them is in church, so natch, she has become fiercely devout. And she forbids her new family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.    A monk who is skilled in icon painting is sent to this small village, because he is becoming too popular in Moscow.  He believes he can save everyone because they still have the old pagan beliefs.  He begins to harangue the people in church, exhorting them to give up their attentions and beliefs in the spirits. And so the villagers do, but bad things begin to happen.

Crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed–this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

Beautifully written, and if you are into folktales, you will love it.  I am not so much a fan of fantasy, so I was not as much  entranced.  I had decided to read it based on all the talk about how wonderful it is.  I have to keep reminding myself to pay attention to the community doing the cheerleading for any given book.

Oh, and the bear and the nightingale?  They are the names for winter and a horse that helps Vasilisa.  This book is just chock full of symbolism, and if you read the book, I do urge you to do a little research on the symbolism in the story.  It is very interesting.

THE SOCKET GREENY SAGA by Tony Bertauski

The Socket Greeny Saga.  Every time I thought of the book in my head, I referred to it as the Lemony Snicket book. Funny how certain language sounds lead you astray, down detours, and away from your terribly serious focus.  Have you read any of the A Series of Unfortunate Events books?  I have, but that was before I started the blog, so it is not included among the books I talk about.  Alas.

But not to fret!  We have another nifty YA in the person of Socket Greeny.  Yes, that is the name of the protagonist, and the ONLY reason I decided to read this book.  Because how can you not read a book titled Socket Greeny?   Although I often say I don’t read YA, the truth is I DO read YA, more than I care to admit to, but usually inadvertently, thinking it is something else.  That’s my story and I am sticking with it.

And yeah, it’s another version of the save the world trope, and the only one who can do it is the teenage principle of the book, but  really, would you rather read about a courageous, curious, interesting, intelligent adolescent, or about some dull-witted kid wasting his life on weed and weaseling out of school?   So I, having no patience with ne’er-do-wells, opt for the zippy teenager saving the world single handedly.

This is fantasy-sci fi.  Kind of Harry Potter meets – oh, I don’t know.  Let me just give you the official plot.  So much easier.

Socket Greeny is not normal.

His funny name and snow-white hair are the least of his problems. When a devious prank goes bad, Socket and his friends realize they are about to lose everything they’ve worked for in the alternate reality universe of virtualmode.

But when the data drain encroaches on Socket’s subconscious memories, some mysterious force erases the event entirely. Subtle clues suggest there’s more to him than he knows and will lead him to discover why his mom is always at work. And just how far from normal he is.

Work has always come first for Socket Greeny’s mother, ever since his father died. But when she shows him the inner workings of the Paladin Nation, he discovers why.

Paladins traverse the planet through wormholes to keep the world safe, but from what, they won’t say. Although his parents were not actually one of them, Socket is different. He soon finds himself in the center of controversy and betrayal when he’s anointed the Paladin Nation’s prodigy. He didn’t ask for the “blessing” of psychic powers and the ability to timeslice and he doesn’t want to be responsible for the world. He just wants to go home and back to school and be normal again.

And when the world is soon threatened and the Paladins are forced into the public eye, Socket discovers what his mother means. If he doesn’t embrace his true nature, life as we know it will change forever.

Paladin Nation.  Every time I read that, the song from the TV show kept popping into my head.  I think this book will appeal to people who are into role playing video games, because it has a lot to do with vitualworld, where they get into a major battle with the Bad Guy of the piece.  Socket and friends seem to incur some real life injuries in that battle, and I am not clear how that happened, because, like, virtual world is virtual, right?.  The Bad Guy reminded me of the Quintessential Enemy,  Harry Potter’s Voldemort — beautiful but deadly.

Anyway, OK, some folks love it, some did not.  I did not love it.  For me, it beat to death that old trope of teen saving the world, so it did not really engage me, although the writing was fine.  I wonder who are the principle target of these kinds of books?  Teen boys?  Pre-teen boys?  Teen or pre-teen girls?

This is a trilogy, but I think I have had enough of teenagers.  Frankly, I think the reason I don’t care for this particular trope is because all the teenagers I know couldn’t be trusted to feed the dog two nights in a row without being nagged, so the idea of any of them actually saving anything other than their leftover pizza is a pretty big stretch.