We've never done this before -- a single, very prolific reviewer is responsible for every review in an edition! Master Reviewer Michael J. Jones turned in so many book reviews that it earned him the distinction of his very own edition.
And us the fortnight off! So join us after you read all of his reviews for the the post-publishing party we're having under the oaks in the Courtyard as both drink and grub are on us tonight.
A Grubb of a different sort is at the centre of our tale tonight that got started when Michael was working on a dark and stormy night on his reviews in the deserted Library. If you've ever played Clue, the mystery board game originally published by Waddingtons in Leeds around the late Forties, you'll appreciate the rather amusing (and possibly gruesome) events that unfolded here...
We are immersed in mystery around here. Not just the hidden doors, secret rooms and unexpectedly extensible corridors -- a lot of our denizens and visitors are mysteries as well. Some of them get clearer as they age, like home-brewed beer. Some just get weirder on continued acquaintance. Some showed up so briefly but so memorably that they end up immortalized in our history, mysteries never to be solved.
Several of the undying sort center around MacKenzie's immediate predecessor, Grubb. That wretched man was Librarian for two weeks just before MacKenzie joined us, and lives on in infamy for his high-handed ways and abrupt disappearance. They say he legged it in a panic after enraging Mrs. Ware, the Cook: the funny thing was, the rooms he lived in vanished too. The younger Staff search for him now and again, usually after someone reports that a skinny wraith in thick glasses and a bad combover has been sighted lurking in the Stacks … and when a volume goes missing (and the Wrath of MacKenzie hasn't produced its anonymous return) they say Grubb's had it away to his secret rooms.
Well, we've finally had a clear sighting of our fugitive Grubb. But it's only added to the conundrum. The witness was our own, our very own, Michael Jones, working late in the Reading Room. (You'll notice he is the Esteemed Author of twenty-one reviews in this issue. The man is a machine.) And since he was a little busy at the time, as well as being immersed in several alternate universes, the details are none too clear.
But Michael says he'd been dimly aware of someone going back and forth in the back of the room for some time, and hadn't given it a thought. It was when he turned round to remove a cat (one of several) from a book (one of dozens) that he saw a bony little git step through the floor to ceiling bookcases and vanish.
The gleam of thick eyeglasses flashed green for a moment, and then the scruffy apparition was gone.
Now, Michael is a fearless fellow -- as is well known, he can't die while he still has something to read -- so he went right after the phantom. He says he couldn't find any secret latches or hidden doors; all he noticed was a greasy handprint on the wood of the shelves, and the lingering perfume of pork pie … being a sensible man as well, he went back to his reviewing (which is why he's got twenty-one reviews in here) and eventually home to his patient and lovely wife, leaving a note about the incident for MacKenzie.
Well! The Grubb Hunt to end all Grubb Hunts convened the very next day. They had Jack in, since he knows where more secret doors are than anyone else in the place; they pulled in Kate from the Kitchens, to try dowsing with her frying tongs; they even brought in one of the faerie terriers from the garden to nose about the place. They tried conjuration, abjuration and condensation. They tried scrying. They tried Google (some very odd things show up on Google Earth -- at least on our computers). They tried bells, books, and candles. And a pendulum. And a bee smoker. And, not surprisingly, they found the door.
There are mirrors all over the Library, you know. Some say they're for security, but others swear the mirrors themselves are archives, ones that are only open to Very Special Researchers. Several of them are on the ceilings, and one was over that very stretch of shelves where Grubb was seen to disappear. Turns out that with the right pressure on the right section of shelf, the shelf swings a bit - and so does the mirror in the ceiling, with the interesting result that if you are glancing round from across the room (and maybe slightly dazed with writing your eleventh straight review) someone stepping through the gap looks like he's stepping through the bookcase.
MacKenzie says he's not sure if the rooms behind were Grubb's. No one ever saw them before he moved in, nor after he scarpered. But there was certainly a nice little suite back there, thick with dust and books. (MacKenzie waxed choleric, I can tell you.) And on the floor of the dim little parlour was a rug, and on the rug -- was a skeleton.
It was a feeble little anatomy, wearing a cheap tweed jacket and corduroy trousers. There were glasses askew on the bony face. All around it were scattered heavy books, plus a shattered china plate; and the mummified remains of a pork pie were spread over both the plate shards and the cracked skull. Whatever had happened, happened a long time ago; no corruption in the air, the body undisturbed.
Some of the books had long gone missing, and were identified and reclaimed. Some were unknown to the Catalog and some of those were quite rare and valuable, and taken in with rejoicing (and some understandable suspicion). But they never could identify the body, whose pockets proved to be utterly empty and uninformative. Oh, he'd been a little man in fusty clothes, and there were glasses near him -- but no one could say for sure.
So when all the dust was cleared and settled, no one could decide exactly what they'd found. Did someone whack a good heavy tome over Grubb's head? Did he die from the impact of a china plate? Did he choke on a stolen pie and crack his own skull on a stolen book?
Was it even Grubb? No one knows. If someone did for him, then the Grubb we see from time to time in the Stacks is his ghost. If Grubb himself murdered someone, who and why? And why is Grubb still living in hiding here? All we know for sure is that even finding all this doesn't answer any questions. In the final analysis, it remains the unending mystery:
Grubb. In the Library. With a pork pie.
First up on his very impressive docket is Jes Battin's Night Child, a murder mystery that mixes magic with CSI-style forensics. All the while creating a fantasy setting, 'Battis goes the extra distance to apply science to some of the details, making for a blend of science and magic, rational and irrational, technology and spells, allowing this particular setting to stand out in its own way. It's just plausible enough to work under the circumstances.'
Next up is the vampire paranormal One Foot in the Grave by Jeaniene Frost, sequel that takes place four years after the events of the previous novel Halfway to the Grave, but loses nothing in the interim. 'There's a lot to love about this series. The heroine is strong and sympathetic, a vampire slayer that would give Buffy a run for her money, and Bones is ten times cooler than most of the whiny, brooding vampires one expects to see these days. Together, they're an irreverent, asskicking couple to set fear into the hearts of their targets.'
Michael takes on Laura Anne Gilman next and her new novel from romance imprint Luna, Free Fall, in which magically-talented humans and the secret society bent on destroying them square off in a battle. 'Free Fall is the fifth book in the Retrievers series, and Gilman pretty much kicks things up to eleven as she moves all of the pieces on the board towards the inevitable confrontation.'
Michael continues the use of the Spinal Tap metaphor in his review of Daemons are Forever, the latest book from Simon R. Green. 'Simon Green's books are the literary equivalent of The Who destroying their instruments on stage, all wild abandon and over-the-top violence and shocking moments. Green doesn't just go to eleven -- he starts there.' Intrigued? Read his positive review here.
Once again, Michael uses a Spinal Tap quotation to describe the goings-on of J.F. Lewis' vampire novel Staked. 'Staked is a strangely-compelling vampire story, in which the action, vampirics, and outright outrageousness have all been cranked up as high as the printed page can stand. J.F. Lewis' vampires pack an amazing array of powers, and Eric is the bloodsucking equivalent of a Spinal Tap song: he goes all the way to eleven. It makes for a certain over-the-top, unashamed insanity, a freewheeling intensity that refuses to settle for anything less than the maximum in carnage and adventure.' It's tempting to paraphrase another Christopher Guest movie and point out that Michael keeps using that phrase, and that I don't think it means what he think it means, but it may be best to leave that to the reader to decide.
Michael also goes on to review Green's standalone novel Shadows Fall, about a mysterious town where fictional relics of pop culture go to die. 'It's heartfelt and complicated, with some interesting things to say about reality versus perception, the fickle nature of imagination, and the way pop culture goes through trends and discards bits and pieces regularly.'
It's vampires again with Nancy Haddock's La Vida Vampire, about a vamp tour guide whose personal life takes a spill when one of her tourists turns up dead. 'Nancy Haddock's clearly found enough of a twist on the vampire mythos to let this particular take stick out. The mystery at the heart of the story is clever enough to keep things moving, without dragging things along, and it has a few surprises in store for the reader.'
Following that is Jim Hines' Goblin War, the humorous sequel to his epic (?) fantasies Goblin Quest and Goblin Hero. 'Jim Hines takes all of the usual epic fantasy tropes, and pretty much folds, spindles and mutilates them, going against expectations and convention with style and panache. This is humorous fantasy, but executed in a fairly straight-forward way, with the genuinely funny moments coming when least expected.'
Sadly, Michael's reaction to Caitlin Kittredge's paranormal procedural Night Life was a tad mixed. 'I really enjoyed reading Night Life. And yet, for all its minor differences and unique points, I can't help but feel that there's something vaguely paint-by-numbers about the larger structure. ... She hits these beats well, telling the story in a thoroughly enjoyable manner, but still, but it still feels just the tiniest bit stale, which is a shame, because I strongly suspect Kittredge is going to blow people out of the water once she truly hits her stride. Nocturne City has a lot to offer in further exploration.'
Mercedes Lackey tackles northern European folklore in The Snow Queen, the latest in her Five Hundred Kingdoms series, and earns a thumbs-up from Michael. 'Lackey does a great job of taking the old, familiar fairy tales and imbuing them with a certain metafictional self-awareness, looking at them from the inside and the outside, even as she creates something new.'
Next up is Dru Pagliassotti's Clockwork Heart, another novel to earn a positive review. 'Clockwork Heart is an absolutely fascinating, highly original, thoroughly memorable romantic fantasy, and one of the best books I've seen out of the Juno line to date. The clockwork city of Ondinium has a steampunkish retro-nifty vibe to it, and I was utterly intrigued by the way the setting was presented.'
In Jennifer Rardin's Biting the Bullet, vampire hunter and secret agent Jaz Parks must fight terrorists and zombies in Iran, taking Michael joyfully along for the ride. 'Biting the Bullet is a whole lot of fun, a spy thriller with bizarre magical elements, set in the sort of distant locale that the average reader associates with danger and intrigue. It's not your average urban fantasy . . . heck, let's call it paranormal adventure, or a supernatural Mission Improbable, which is closer to the truth. I really liked this book, and I'm eagerly awaiting the fourth in the series, because there just isn't enough of its kind on the market.'
Vampires finally get down to more productive types of employment in Jeri Smith-Ready's Wicked Game, in which a con artist finds work at a radio station run by bloodsuckers with particular musical taste. 'Wicked Game is clever, funny, creative, and way too much fun. Jeri Smith-Ready plays with a concept I always thought would work well with vampires, setting them up as nighttime radio DJs whose familiarity with the material comes from actual experience, and she does it well, throwing in a nice mixture of musical styles and character personalities.'
It's an angel who gets busy in Michael's review of A Kiss Before the Apocalypse, by Thomas E. Sniegoski. 'I've seen just about every kind of supernatural/paranormal P.I. there is, from vampire to sorcerer to robot, and yet there's always room for a new variation on an old standard. In this case, it's Thomas Sniegoski and his clever, skillful interpretation of a world-weary angel who became a detective because of his fondness for Raymond Chandler's works.'
Michael also saw potential in Melinda Snodgrass' science vs. superstition fantasy Edge of Reason. 'the Edge of Reason is one of those high-concept books that tries to push the boundaries, making for something beyond the usual urban/dark fantasy. Does it succeed in pushing those boundaries? I'll let the reader decide. It certainly gave me some things to think about, and I'll be picking up the sequel when it appears, so I can find out what happens next in Richard Oort's saga.'
Michael also enjoyed The Misenchanted Sword, by Lawrance Watt-Evans, which puts an interesting twist on the time-honoured fantasy trope of a magical sword. 'I can't quite pin down what I like about the Ethshar books. Maybe it's the fact that while complex and detailed, they're not overly complicated. You get a keen sense of the world the characters inhabit, but it's not so alien or multilayered that the casual reader will need extra effort to get involved.'
It's zombie time with Mark Henry's Happy Hour of the Damned, about a zombie who works as an advertising executive and still manages to gossip with her vampire girlfriends over cocktails. It wasn't all fun and brains to Michael, however. 'I have to be honest: half the time I turned the pages out of morbid fascination, the other half I kept reading to see just what sort of train wreck I was inflicting upon my psyche. That's not to say this book is bad; on the contrary, it transcends bad and goes right into camp, offering up something refreshingly new and strange. I enjoyed it immensely, but at the same time, I was staring in mild shock as the story continued to go in unprecedented directions.'
Michael's reaction to Jackie Kessler's Hotter Than Hell was also mixed, but bordering on positive. 'The main character may be hard for some people to swallow, and it doesn't have the easy, pat ending of most romances, and it doesn't really qualify as mainstream urban fantasy. It's billed as paranormal romance, but the author herself describes it as dark paranormal, which can be an awkward niche. But if you want a book featuring a protagonist in desperate need of some moral improvement, with a fast-paced plot, supernatural intrigue, and hot scenes, Hotter Than Hell is definitely a strong contender.'
Michael goes on to show us how so-called 'literary' writers who turn to science-fictional topics may not find sci-fi readers as amused as they may have hoped, in the superhero anthology Who Can Save Us Now? 'Ultimately, I was disappointed by what I found here. While it's billed as a collection of short stories about superheroes, it seems as though half the time, the heroes don't even make more than a guest appearance, with the author choosing to examine some aspect of their existence or influence upon the world, or to tell a story only remotely related to the basic theme. When superheroes do appear, more often than not they're muddled, ineffective, neurotic messes, or joke characters.'
David J Schwartz does something similar with Superpowers, but Michael found him marginally more successful. 'When you get right down to it, Superpowers is, at its heart, fairly mundane. There's no world-saving, or epic villains to fight, or great catastrophes to stop. There's just a handful of confused, conflicted young men and women in a relatively small city, and the people changed and touched by their brief time as superheroes.'
Next edition will be devoted to one of our best and most beloved writer - musicians who Green Man is privileged to know, Peter S. Beagle, and what he has been up to. It's a fat issue with a new interview that Deborah Grabien did with him; 'a preview/overview of the next year of Beagle publishing (which is going to be amazing); Kathleen Bartholomew's advance review of his upcoming story collection, We Never Talk About My Brother; Ann Monn talking about designing covers for Peter; Peter himself on Rebekah Naomi Cox's The Last Unicorn art; Connor Cochran's review of the two live music shows Peter and Phil Sigunick did in Wurtsboro, NY; and a look at the favourite PSB story/book of many folks you've read. WOW!
Revised and uploaded by the Senior Several Annie who really just wants a pint of Scrumpy
Jack, some Cheddar cheese, and sourdough bread. She bets the Rat Fiddlers will have what she wants.
archived by LLS 23rd August, 2008