Friday, August 28, 2015

Werewolf Cop by Andrew Klavan

I really enjoy Klavan's blog posts on PJMedia, as well as a couple of his earlier police procedurals, so I thought Werewolf Cop sounded like a fun read. It didn't totally disappoint, at least. Klavan's writing was good enough to drag me to the ending, but not quite good enough to make me want to run right out and grab some more, alas!

Hotshot cowboy cop (in fact his nickname is Cowboy) Zach Adams runs up against an adversary he really can't handle when Dominic Abend, a former Nazi turned mobster, shows up in the U.S. Abend and his sidekicks torture and kill a known fence, searching for an artifact which was stolen from him, and then leave a trail of destruction as they interrogate everyone else who had contact with the item.

The trail leads the Cowboy to Europe, where he is attacked and infected with lycanthropy by a werewolf there. The werewolf doubles as an elderly female college professor, who has been hunting Abend for the purpose of destroying a powerful and evil magical artifact which he possesses. When Adams kills the werewolf, he inherits its mission.

Zach's mission is further complicated by the aftermath of an extramarial affair, and his inner struggles as he deals with guilt and the potential consequences of his infidelity if it should be revealed, and by the possible corruption of his partner by the criminal Abend.

Twisted, bloody, introspective - typical Klavan.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Kitty Saves the World by Carrie Vaughn

So, Kitty and her eclectic packmates become convinced that Dux Belloram,or Roman, has acquired a magical artifact which will empower him to cause a volcano to erupt - he seems to have done it with Vesuvius centuries ago. So the hunt begins. They lure him to New Mexico with the promise of a new ally - Cormac in drag, so to speak - and try to trap and kill him, but things go badly, and they are attacked by the usual demon and both they and Roman flee the scene.

When they return, Kitty's wolves have all gone missing, and she spends some time running around Denver trying to locate them. The new master of the local seethe of vampires is a weak-willed fellow, who falls under Roman's spell, and eventually forces a confrontation with Kitty.

At long last they discover that Roman is going to work his disastrous spell in Yellowstone, a cauldron of volcanic instability which is long overdue for an eruption. Kitty and all her allies pack up and road trip to the park, where they are able to divine Roman's location and face him down once and for all.

Vaughn claims this is intended to be the last of this series, and it's been a pretty good run, but once you've killed one arch villain, it's tough to top cataclysms and world domination, so she may actually be telling the truth.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

A Rotten Person Travels the Caribbean by Gary Buslik

When Rick Steves speaks or writes about travel, you can be fairly certain that he demonstrates a high level of respect and love for the countries and cultures that he visits. On the contrary, Buslik seems to hold most of the places he visits and the people he meets in contempt. Granted, he's not only sarcastic about foreigners in his writing - he says nasty things about his wife and friends, as well.

I know that the purpose is supposed to be comedy, so one can forgive him some poetic license, but it wears thin pretty rapidly for me, and I gave up on it about halfway through. There's plenty of sarcasm going on in my own head some days, I don't need to increase the traffic.

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Sword of the South by David Weber

Did I miss something? It seems as if there may be at least a short story, perhaps an entire novella, in between War Maid's Choice and this book. Bahzell and Leanna are happily married, running a tavern, with a ten year old daughter, Gwynna, who has a telepathic bond with a dire cat. How time flies!

The fourteen hundred year old schemes of Wencit of Rum are finally coming to fruition, beginning with the appearance of a bedraggled man without a memory, at least of who he is, though his knowledge of geography and swordplay and harpistry seem to be just fine. Wencit knows his true identity, but he refuses to enlighten the poor fellow, who names himself Kenhodan. I suppose if Wencit told him, he'd have to tell us, and spoil the surprise, which truly isn't all that surprising if you've read enough of this sort of thing.

Be that as it may, Kenhodan is the key to the next step in Wencit's plots, which revolve in this episode around the defeat of an evil sorceress, Wulfra, and the recovery of a powerful ancient artifact which she has under her domain, though not necessarily her control. Our mysterious red-headed warrior, Bahzell Bloody Hand, and the ancient wild wizard Wencit (say that three times fast) book passage aboard Brandark's fastest ship for the first leg of their voyage, enduring yet roundly defeating a pirate attack, then journey overland, pursued by Dog Brother assassins, for the remainder of the quest.

Things go about as expected, and the trio manage to deal with every obstacle thrown in their path, including an acid-spitting dragon. It is, of course, quite handy that Bahzell, as a Champion of Tomanak, can magically heal his fellow travelers from all the wounds they suffer in various skirmishes.I don't recall Aragorn being able to pluck out the arrows pincushioning (that's totally a verb) Boromir and lay on hands, but Bahzell is special, dontcha know.

There's a side plot which will probably become important in the 2nd or 3rd book in this final fantasy trilogy of Weber's involving Bahzell and Leanna's daughter, who appears to be slated to be the next incredibly powerful wild wizard, either succeeding or replacing Wencit as appointed guardian of Norfressa.

Predictable, but Weber is always quite readable.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Veiled by Benedict Jacka

Alex begins to worry about what will happen when his former master, dark mage Richard Drakh, decides to focus on either recruiting or eliminating Alex at last. His friends suggest that he join the Keepers, the law enforcement branch of the Council, to gain some extra protection and to make Richard more reluctant to deal with him violently. So he approaches his sometime friend, Caldera, and she gets him recruited on a probationary basis.

Just about the time Alex gets used to the idea that most police work is boring, a late night routine assignment goes horribly wrong and results in him being chased around a railway platform by an assassin, who very nearly succeeds in killing Verus. Alex begins to pull at the threads around the edges of his new case, and pretty soon begins to unravel a deadly conspiracy which holds incriminating information on many of the "light" mages on the Council.

This seems to be more of a transitional novel than anything. The point seems to be to get Alex firmly ensconced in his role as a Keeper, and to finally find a good teacher for Luna's Chance magic talents. Anne and Variam are in a holding pattern, though Variam has definitely found his home with the militant wing of the Keepers. The balance of power on the Council is shifting in a way it hasn't in centuries, as a dark mage is appointed a seat for the first time in history.

Hoping for book six soon, now.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Wicked Bronze Ambition by Glen Cook

 I've been reading Glen Cook's work for a long time - three decades, in fact. I may have to re-read his early Black Company novels one of these days and get some reviews up. I used a Christmas gift card to buy Nook versions of the first six of them recently, and picked this one up as an ebook to catch up on the Garrett series, too. Ebooks weren't even a gleam in their daddy's eye back when I first wandered the streets of Tunfair.

Though Garrett would much prefer to avoid the gazes of the dangerous and powerful, it's gotten a little tougher since being affianced to one of the most powerful sorceresses in the city. Her daddy and grandmother have decided they need Garrett to use his skills to find out more about the contest known as the Tournament of Swords, which threatens to kill off many of the children of the magical families of the kingdom, and by implication to put a stop to it, as well.

Then, someone kills his fiancee,Strafa, and all bets are off. Once the shock is over, he relentlessly pursues the identity of the killer(s), with the help of all of his friends whom we have come to know over a dozen or so books, as well as the resources of one of the powerful wizarding houses, since he is now considered to be family by the denizens of The Hill.

The downside to this novel is that it takes a long and winding road to discover the truth about who is behind the resurrection of the tournament and Strafa's murder, and Garrett stumbles like a drunken bull through it all, only the steadfast support of his friends keeping him from a dire fate on his own. There was almost an element of french farce to the whole thing, as Garrett repeatedly tracked down the usual suspects, hauled them off to be questioned by the Dead Man or to his friends in the Algarda or Relway's guard, then they would escape or be turned loose, and he'd end up tracking them down all over again for a new round of questioning.

Glad I pushed on to the end for a nice surprise twist.

Friday, August 7, 2015

True Enough by Farhad Manjoo

Manjoo seems to have set a new record for how quickly I grew disgusted with the premise of a book. Far from being an unbiased study of fragmentation of our news media, his premise immediately veered to the left, explaining why conservatives and Republicans believe all of the lies that come from Fox News, while the progressives and Democrats live in a fact-based world.

I'm sorry, this book was not "true enough".

The Power of No by James Altucher

I must have read an interesting article by Altucher somewhere which prompted me to put his book on reserve at the library. If that article was an excerpt from this book, it must have been the best thing he wrote, as the rest of it is a confusing, anecdotal gallimaufry of stale ideas about self fulfillment and success in life. I kept trying to push on and finish it, but I simply couldn't relate to what James and his wife, Claudia, had to say.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Spider's Trap by Jennifer Estep

While attempting to untangle a dispute between a pair of minor mob bosses at a meeting hosted on her friend's riverboat, Gin - now the reluctant leader of the Ashland underworld - contends with more of a blowup than anticipated when a mysterious stranger detonates a bomb on the boat. It takes Gin a while to determine who the real target of the attack was, and when she does, it brings back flashbacks aplenty from her days training with Fletcher.

As has become the routine in these tales, Gin doesn't really want to get too involved in pursuing the attacker until one of her friends gets hurt. In this case, it's bf Owen, who narrowly escapes death at the hands of a vengeance-minded metal elemental.

Ok, so I've wondered occasionally why the all powerful and all knowing assassin, the Spider, with all of her friends and resources, never seems to spend any time just thinking about her craft, and how to do things better. It seems like she was more effective in the earlier stories, actually.

One of the key plot devices in most of the conflicts is the use of elemental magic. Why don't any of her allies sit her down and just do a brainstorming session about what possible attacks and defenses a fire elemental, ice elemental, stone elemental, metal elemental, water elemental (you get the drift?) would be most likely to use, or have been seen to have used, let alone come up with some novel ideas for how to attack or defend against one? Fletcher was supposed to have been one of the most feared and respected assassins in the history of Ashland, and Gin has access to all of his files, but he never wrote down anything he had learned about how to kill elementals? If he kept files at all, they ought to have been useful stuff, right, not just gossip and reminiscences. Of course, in the first place, what self-respecting assassin would ever keep paper files laying around his home for anyone to stumble across. Really?

So, once again, Gin gets surprised by how tricky and powerful and nasty her latest foe turns out to be, and nearly dies several times, before finally doing something desperate enough to work.

Time for Gin to step up her game.

Monday, August 3, 2015

The Man Who Knew Too Much

Once upon a time, in my youth, I was the quintessential math nerd. Who am I kidding? I was a geek through and through in STEM fields. My life was a cross between That 70s Show and The Big Bang Theory and if you mind-melded together the characters of Eric and Leonard, it would pretty much describe my life. This book about mathematician Alan Turing stirred up a lot of old memories of fun times solving math problems. No, that's not an oxymoron, people!

Turing was one of the key figures in Great Britain's WWII effort to decrypt the secret communications of the German armed forces using the Enigma device. There's a pretty good description of the strategies employed and the counter-strategies that the Germans attempted to stay one step ahead of their foes.

One of the interesting things the British did to help them decipher the code was to plant mines in particular locations specifically chosen so that the Germans found them easily. Then, when the Germans sent messages back to headquarters to report the discoveries, the British knew what the content had to include (locations), and were able to use these as a key to decipher the rest of the message.

Turing was a homosexual, back in the times when that was still a criminal act in England, and he eventually may have committed suicide after being convicted of unnatural acts, chemically castrated by the government, and denied permission to work for the government in any capacity from that point forward due to security concerns. The book spends an awful lot of time interpreting nearly everything that Turing wrote, spoke or accomplished in terms of his sexuality, but if you ignore most of that, it's still an interesting, though tragic, story.

Fun quote:

"In Newman's laboratory, the walls were covered with brown tiles in what F.C. Williams, his partner in the project, called, a 'late lavatorial' style."

One of Turing's early creations, a computer called "Baby" was set to the initial task of testing Mersenne primes, a task which involved many man hours of calculations. Turing envisioned a time when his machines would become almost human, but I don't think he really had any concept of what the computer revolution would accomplish, and even though Siri sounds almost human at times, computers still have not evolved consciousness, nor have they become inventive or creative.

He also had the odd idea that computers could be taught by  method similar to the one we often use to raise children, with both reward and punishment.

I've certainly been tempted to punish mine...but I think it's got the upper hand.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Around the Web

Funniest thing I've heard today, at According to Hoyt,
"I made entire friendships based on how many books this person had to lend."