Sunday, May 31, 2009

Blood+, Volume 02 by Atsuka Katsura

Saya, the only weapon the world has against the inhuman Chiropterans, had been in a coma for a year, and when she arose, she found that her memory was gone, wiped almost completely clean, Placed in a foster family, she soon came to love and care for them, but the threat of the Chiropterans still exists, and now they are being directed, seemingly, by a one-armed boy named Charles, who hates Saya, but for what reason, he won't say.

Saya does have a close associate named Hagi, a cello-playing man who is bound and determined to look after her. But Saya's adoptive brother Kai is also determined to keep his new sister safe. When Saya's adoptive sister Riku is kidnapped by Charles's minions, the only clues left behind are a note mentioning Vietnam and a bunch of blue roses left by the body of her adoptive mother.

Saya decides to go after her sister, and Kai decides to go with her, against the advice of her handlers, who think he is a needless complication. Once in vietnam, however, Kai also disappears, and Saya finds that there is a village, deep in the jungle, where the blue roses grow. The Villagers are given special medicine by the corporation, Cinofleghe, and while none of them know what is in the medicine, it makes them all feel stronger.

But the Village is built near the site of a massacre that Saya once witnessed, and she relives her memory of it when she sees it, then passes out. When she finally comes around, she makes friends with Mui, the girl from the village who guided her to it. Little does she know that the corporation has plans for the village, and she will learn in no uncertain terms where Chiropterans come from.

And meanwhile, Riku and Charles meet, and he feeds from her. But, he's not the one in charge of the Corporation or of how the Chiropterans are made, and while he takes Riku as his servant, she's certainly not afraid of him, not after learning that he's deathly afraid of moths. But who is the Amstel-oniisama who gives the orders, and who or what is his servant, Solomon?

This manga takes the story of the "Blood" movie and runs with it. But those who read this manga expecting the same character are going to be rather bitterly disappointed by Saya in this volume. Even if she looks the same (and her hair apparently didn't grow at all in two years... what?!) she certainly seems awfully weak.

Yes, you heard that right. Weak. Confronted by opponents threatening to kill her or make her drink human blood, Saya cries like a bloody fountain. I mean, I can only be grateful that she doesn't wail and cry and kick her heels like a baby. I mean, let's face it... Saya was pretty kickass in the movie, and I get that she couldn't remember any of her life, but I'd expect her to be a little more emotionally stable than *that*! She's still had her life experiences, even if she can't remember them. Can't she deal better? It didn't seem right to me.

Even her adoptive sister Riku dealt with the whole being kidnapped and fed on by a vampire better than Saya did at learning about how Chiropterans were made and from who and what. To say I was disappointed with the story was milder than I actually feel about it, and I'll end with "Avoid like the plague if you want to remember the movie at all fondly".

The Game of Sunken Places by M. T. Anderson

Gregory Buchanan and Brian Thatz are friends, even though they are pretty much complete opposites of each other. Gregory is tall, slim, blonde and rather snarky-tongued, while Brian is shorter, dark-haired, bespectacled and pudgy, not to mention, he usually doesn't say all that much. But when Gregory gets a letter from his uncle, Max, in Vermont, with an offer to come up and stay at his house, he asks Brian to come along, and Brian agrees. He wants to go.

They take the train north during the fall holidays, and Brian asks his friend about the man who invited them. Gregory tells him that Uncle Max isn't actually related to him, but a friend of Gregory's father, and extremely eccentric to the point of actual madness. Gregory also has a cousin whom Uncle Max adopted, named Prudence. But Brian notices that a man is watching them, and very strangely, he has a bladed yoyo he's playing with. Brian finds all this rather weird, but the man gets off at the same train stop as they do and proceeds to ignore them, which makes Gregory think Brian may just be easily weirded out.

But when they buy snacks in town, one of the men there warns them off from the town and the house Gregory's Uncle owns, saying that people disappear in the woods up there, and all that comes out is their bodies. Both Brian and Gregory are made somewhat uneasy by all this, but Gregory's uncle picks them up in his wagon and takes them to the house. After dinner, they change into old-fashioned nightgowns, not realizing that Uncle Max has had all their clothes and socks destroyed by burning them in the house's furnace.

The next day, they awaken and realize that they have had the same very strange dream, about flying over the forest to mountains made of metal. True to Uncle Max's request, they have changed into tweed suits with matching capes and artificial collars. They also, the night before, found a very strange game board in the old nursery, stained by water and made mostly illegible by time. In exploring the house, they also find the timer that once went in the center of the game board. And once they turn it over, sand falls into the bottom, and a horn is heard in the forest out back.

Not only that, but names appear in the spaces on the board, names that weren't there just a moment ago. Names like "The Club of Snarth" and "The Petroglyph Wall". And even when one of them turns over the sandglass again, the sand continues to fall, only up this time.

It seems that the boys have been enlisted into playing a game against unknown opponents. But how can they even try to win when they don't know the rules or who they will be playing against, or the penalties for losing and prize for winning? They don't know, but based on the amount of time that passes against the slow running out of the hourglass, they have only five days to figure out what is going on and somehow win against unknown enemies. But as their foes grow deadlier and deadlier, how can the two schoolboy friends survive?

This book reminded me a lot of the films "Jumanji" and "Zathura" in their premise. Just like the movies, the Game of Sunken Places has a game board that changes in response to what happens in the real world, and the people who play it are subject to the same kinds of changes and can even die if they make the wrong moves or don't figure out what is happening around them in time.

But unlike the movies, this book just doesn't give us enough background on the game and what they are fighting for/against. Without understanding what is really going on, and by implying that the game is being played for the benefit of two different species/races of faerie creatures, only one of which we actually meet, the game remains mysterious, and unfortunately, what happened in the story started to lose my interest because nothing was ever explained until nearly the end, and then there wasn't enough explanation. Even the stuff at the very end made the game sound something like the movie version of Mortal Kombat II.

But here's the difference- in Mortal Kombat (and MKII), you cared about what happened to the characters because you got to see what was important to them, what they were fighting for. In this book, you don't know who they are fighting for, or on what side, and this whole annoying vagueness makes you just not care. I mean, at the end you still have no idea why this is being fought, and although you get some idea of the stakes, you aren't invested in either side winning at all- because you don't know hardly anything about either- certainly not enough to make a choice as to whom to support.

And without that, the whole book is pointless. You never cheer for the boys to win, because you don't know the opponents or the stakes, and even they don't realize until nearly the end, when Gregory seems to pull an entire explanation out of his butt. Seems to, because it could be entirely a delusion on his part, and we, the readers, would never know! Avoid this one if you want to read a story that makes some kind of actual sense at the end. This story left me for dead on WTF Island.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Kiss of Midnight by Lara Adrian

Gabrielle Maxwell is something of a loner. She's an artist who expresses her artistic sense through pictures of abandoned and empty places. But just as she's finally entering the big time through the first showing of her pictures, her friends convince her to go to a club for the night. Gaby agrees, but the entire club scene turns her off. Not only that, but she feels like she's being watched. When she finally does decide to go home, she somehow wanders into something like a gang war and manages to get away by using her cellphone camera to take pictures of the six men killing another, because the bright flashes distract the gangbangers.

But the police, who she runs to after seeing the carnage, don't believe her, even when she shows them the pictures. They do the equivalent of patting her on the head and telling her not to worry her pretty head about it, and when she insists she knows what she saw, they imply that she had too much to drink or is on drugs, which just royally annoys her.

But her complaints and angry protestations that she knows what she saw attract the attention of someone at the precinct, who takes time out to tell his master what Gabrielle has seen, so that his master can decide what will be done with her.

Lucan Thorne is a first generation breed warrior who was at the same club with Gabrielle, and managed to smoke the Rogue Vampires that attacked the other man. Well, all but one of them, and that one fled. But he's concerned about what Gabrielle may or may not have seen out behind the club, and he decides to track her down and take her cellphone and wipe her memories. When he presents himself to her as a police detective, she's happy that the police have decided to take her seriously, and easily gives up her cellphone. Wiping her mind, though, is impossible. Lucan finds her very hard to influence- she easily shakes off his commands.

And when he catches her scent, he's not sure he even wants to wipe her memories, because all he can think about is what her blood would taste like if the rest of her smells so good. He leaves, but promises to bring her cellphone back, and wonders at how much he wanted her. He's never been one to want a woman beyond maybe drinking some blood, but lately, his bloodlust has been growing, and that's a bad thing, because an unending bloodlust is one of the signs that a vampire is going rogue. Lucan's been trying to contain it, but without much success.

When he goes back inside to drink some of her blood after she's fallen asleep, he doesn't bite her because he realizes that she is a Breedmate, one of the few women whom Breed warriors can mate with, and if he drank her blood, she'd be irrevocably tied to him- and that's the last thing that he wants. He has no time for a mate. He's got Rogues to catch and kill and nests of Rogues to hunt down.

But soon he realizes that he can't keep away from her, and commits the (to him) sin of starting a sexual relationship with her. But when he realizes that her Breed Mate talent is to track down where the Breed live and congregate, he realizes what a treasure she is and acts to bring her in and protect her. The only problem is that the Rogues have also come to realize her talent, and want her for the exact same reason. But with Lucan's bloodlust spiralling out of control and a traitor lurking inside the walls of the Breed's Headquarters, it may be only Gabrielle's talent and love that spans the line between defeat and victory for Lucan and his men.

This is the first book in the series, but I read others in the series before it. All the same, even though I kind of knew what was going to happen, it was still great to read it. Lucan likes to portray himself as calm and in control, but inside, that control is slipping as he's plagued by a bloodlust that is slowly pushing him in the same direction as the Rogues he fights. And he's a first generation Breed, which makes the consequences for him should he fail in his fight even worse.

Gabrielle, by contrast, can see within the facades that would keep others out. It's part of her psyche, as much as the way she sees through the facades of buildings that seem deserted and which actually harbor rogues or Breed vampires. And she is the only one who can help Lucan when he does start to tip over the edge. Yeah, he's a dickhead about things, but she seems to realize that he's fighting as hard as he can to stay focussed, sane and maintain his place. Only when he realizes that he doesn't have to be the invincible bulwark is he able to build a life with Gabrielle, the woman he loves.

I really enjoyed this book, and it gripped me just as much as it would have if it had been the first I read of the series. It really does set up the conflict between the Rogues and the Breed Warriors, and gives lots of background on the alien beings who first came to earth. I just think that the timeline given is too short. Aliens came to earth 900 or so years ago? And no one noticed? Just not all that believable to me. I know my medieval and dark ages history, and I think *someone* would have said something. Recommended nontheless, because the rest of the story is good, and the romance spectacular.

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Oxford Dictionary of Catchphrases

Everyone is familliar with the catchphrases they grew up with, from "Loose Lips Sink Ships" to "Turn on, Tune In, Drop Out" to "Where's the Beef?" to "Gotta Catch 'em All!" But where did all those catchphrases come from and what do they mean? This book collects a number of Catchphrases that became well-known to the public over the last 60 years, and explains where they came from, who was the performer, business, or company that made them popular and what the phrase meant.

For example, "Where's the Beef?" started out in a Burger Commercial. In it, Wendy's poked fun at burger chains that advertised big burgers, but whose offerings didn't live up to their claims. Two (or three) old ladies exclaim over the very large bun on the counter. But when they look under the bun, the "hamburger" is the size of a sausage patty which makes one of the old women (played by actress Clara Peller) exclaim, "Where's the Beef?!" She continues to ask that question as Wendy's touts its own burgers, from 1/4 to 3/4 pounds. It was such a popular ad that Clara Peller was featured in other ads as well, always with the same catchphrase.

This book isn't very large, about 200 pages, and true to it's name as the "Oxford Dictionary", many of its examples are British and will not be familliar to American readers, especially those used by British Comedians from the 50's and 60's, most of whom are unheard of here in America. Others, such as lines from "Doctor Who" and "Are You Being Served?" or "Fawlty Towers" will be more familliar to those who grew up in the 70's, as all those series were popular on American television at some point.

This is a kind of interesting book, but definitely out of date and in need of some severe updating. It didn't strike me as even nearly complete, even for the time it covered. I could think of quite a few Catchphrases that weren't covered by the book or which just seemed to be ignored. But reading it will bring quite a few reminiscing smiles to your face as you remember an old catchphrase from your youth, or a grimace at one which annoyed you. I mean, really, no "Clap on! Clap Off!" for the Clapper? or "Cuckoo for Cocoa-Puffs!" But "Have it your way!" is in there, along with "Where's the Beef?!"

I'll recommend this book, but only slightly. Too much is missing to really make it live up to the name of "Dictionary". Otherwise, it's not bad. Someone needs to do one for American Catchphrases, and make it bigger and more inclusive.

Goddess of the Rose by P.C. Cast

Mikado Empousai grows roses. All roses. Beautiful roses. And her secret isn't that she has a green thumb, but that her family's blood can cure any rose disease, bring to life any flagging vine. It almost seems like magic. Maybe it is.

But lately, Mikki has been troubled by dreams. Dreams of making love to a man, who, when she touches his head, is also a beast. And she's been hearing animal sounds as well. But when she encounters a woman named Sevillana who gifts her with a strange perfume, her next ritual in the park ends up taking her to the Kingdom of the Rose. There, she learns that an Empousai is not just her last name, but also a priestess of Hecate, Dark Goddess of Magic, an Empousa.

Hecate has called on her, the last living descendant of an Empousa who still practices the old magic, to bring back life to the sleeping Kingdom of the Rose, which has suffered from two hundred years of neglect. But Mikki won't be alone in her efforts, as Hecate's handmaidens still exist and will help Mikki in her quest, along with all the elements. But there is another guardian of the Realm as well, known only as "The Beast".

Asterius was made with both man and beast in him, and was horribly tricked by the last Empousa, who was the one who ran off and left him after convincing him that she loved him. His heart is hurt, and that has allowed the beast in him to come to the fore. But as Mikki works with him, and has come to care for him, she goes much, much further than the last Empousa. She not only comes to love him, but ends up in bed with him.

Free to love him, she and Asterius work on the gardens and grow closer. And the gardens are not without dangers, like Dream Stealers that even ensnare her, at least until Asterius rescues her. But the troubles of the Realm cannot be contained by just small doses of her blood. To truly save the place she has come to love, Mikki will need all the blood in her body to make the Roses, and the Realm, bloom again. Can she leave Asterius behind to do her duty to her Goddess? Whatever she chooses, the choice will not be easy, but perhaps at long last, the damage to the Realm of the Rose can be undone, and Mikki can find a life filled with love with the man/beast of her dreams?

While not as personally affecting as "Goddess of Light" or "Goddess of Spring", I really enjoyed this book, and it was nice seeing the chosen of another Goddess of the Greek Pantheon, in this case, Hecate, Goddess of Night, Magic and the Crossroads. Although I never knew that Hecate was also Goddess of Roses (or at least that Roses were included in any of her domains, this book was still a treat to read, and those who love growing flowers, gardens or roses, will especially love this book, as it goes into a lot of that topic.

Mikki has always lived for the roses she grew, so it wasn't hard to see her making the choice she makes near the end of the novel, but soon we find out that while past empousa's may have sacrificed themselves, it was only out of duty. Mikki does it out of genuine love and respect for the Realm of the Roses, and because of that, she completely changes the Realm she once looked after. She said when she arrived that she was going to change things in the Realm of the Rose, and her words are eerily prophetic in light of the ending.

It didn't make me cry, but I still really enjoyed this book, and I would certainly recommend it to everyone I know, especially those who enjoy romances. And for those of you who've read the other books in the series, you'll see mentions of characters and sites from past stories. "There is a Goddess in every woman" or so the saying goes, and this series shows how true that is, and how women can grow into that role. Become a goddess on your own. Read these books, and enjoy the most wonderful romances I've read. Highly recommended.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Goddess of Light by P.C. Cast

Pamela Gray is an Interior Designer who never had time for a life, or a romance. All the men she's met or tried going out with were controlling or egomaniacs or both, and she's tired of all that. Is a romance with a hot, caring, considerate guy too much to ask in the modern age? She doesn't think so, but it's damn hard to find.

Then, travelling to Vegas to take on a job for a writer named E.D. Faust, creator of fantasy novels, she finally thinks she's going to be let loose with unlimited money to spend who has actual taste. Until she finds out that his idea of "good design" is Caesar's Hotel and Casino, a tacky dump if she ever saw it. It's an idea of what Imperial Rome must have looked like- if Romans had an abundance of money and absolutely no taste at all.

Meanwhile, up on Olympus, Bacchus is royally pissed. After all the other gods had forgotten about earth, he'd adopted Las Vegas as his personal stomping ground. But now it has been discovered by the other Gods, and Zeus has ordered him to allow them in the playground he considers exclusively his. To take his revenge on the other Gods, he manipulates Pamela into invoking the Goddess Artemis and asking for a wish, in way she cannot refuse. And Pamela wishes for a love affair with a perfect lover.

To fulfill her wish, Artemis asks her brother, Apollo, to play the part of Pamela's lover. It should be no problem for him with all the nymphs, dryads and humans he's pursued, should it? Apollo, pleased by Pamela's looks, agrees, and begins to romance her in the midst of Las Vegas.

So while Pamela is struggling to fulfill E.D. Faust's desires with regards to his new home, Apollo arranges to bump into Pamela and begin to romance her. But even though Pamela wants to find love, her past failures make her hesitant to jump into a new romance, even with someone as handsome and too good to be true as the God Apollo. But as he spends more time with her, wooing her and finding out what she desires, then providing it, he begins to realize that even his heart isn't immune to love.

Artemis, too, has found a devoted Admirer in E.D. Faust, and thanks to her, Pamela finds E.D. pulling back from his more vulgar tastes, going to something much more refined and classy, which pleases Pamela to no end. But Bacchus, eager to bring trouble to the Gods, does his level best to kill off Pamela, and an all too mortal Apollo, who has shed his divinity to be with her. But too many stories of mortals and Gods end in tragedy, none more often than in the Greek Myths. Can Apollo and Pamela find happiness forever after together, or will all their happiness end in sadness and death?

I love P.C. Cast's writing, and this was another book of hers whose ending made me cry. The bittersweet beauty of the characters, the writing and their fate made me break down for a three-hanky cry, and made me cry again every single time I went back to it, because I couldn't stop reading it over and over again.

This book took the character of Apollo, a spoiled God who was used to thinking only about himself, to whom humans were toys, and turned him into a real human being, who became actual friends with other human beings and who fell in love with Pamela for who she was, someone who treasured her and despite wanting to turn her into a goddess, too, realized that she wouldn't be happy living in the cage of Olympus, no matter how well-gilded. Artemis, too, comes to see humans as living beings rather than toys, and even thought she tends to be more cool, stand-offish and arrogant than her twin, also comes to real human life in these pages. The two gods brought Pamela what she desired, but in turn, she brought them real life and made both of them human.

The lessons they learned are such that at the end of the book, Apollo chooses to give up being a God for a single human lifetime to spend it with Pamela. To live, to have children, to love and grow old together. And it's the most beautiful thing I have ever read. I can't recommend this book highly enough. More than for any book I have reviewed before, read this one. Just read it. You won't be sorry you did.

Ultimate Human by Warren Ellis and Cary Nord

Tony Stark is sitting in his office, bored and on his way to getting drunk, when he recieves a special visitor, Bruce Banner. Bruce was trying to redevelop the Supersoldier formula and thought he had it right. But when he injected it into himself, it turned him into a monster known as the Hulk. Now, at his wit's end, he's come to Tony Stark for help, because Stark is the smartest man in the world, and if Stark can't help him, no one can.

Tony is moved by Bruce's pleas for help, and takes him to the Ironworks, where Stark tests his Iron Man armor, along with developing it. There, they subject Bruce Banner to the surface of Venus to see him change into the Hulk and how it happens in his body. And what they discover is actually amazing. First of all, his blood is in constant flux. Most of the time, he isn't even actually human any longer. And when he changes, his body continuously evolves to overcome whatever it is facing.

And that's why Tony must climb into one of his suits of armor when Hulk goes berserk and breaks out of his containment room, to subdue the Hulk and knock him out with a electrode jolt to his brain. Banner is upset that he once again fell victim to the Hulk's rages, but Tony offers him hope. Using nanites injected into Banner's body, they can stop the Hulk from ever existing again, using the nanites to shut down any cells producing the Hulk reaction. In the meantime, Bruce can work on the Supersoldier serum, perfect it and make sure it works right in his own body.

Sadly, they will never get that chance, because the Ironworks is attacked by The Leader, a former British Intelligence operative who underwent his own transformation, his brain and cranium grown so large and heavy that he can no longer stand on his own, and he requires a special harness to be able to hold his head up.

Even before his transformation, the Leader was obsessed with protecting Britain with British superagents, but now he means to rip the secrets of Banner and Stark out of them... from their dead bodies if nothing else will do. Facing certain death, Tony lays out their choices to Bruce. Death or stopping the nanites in Bruce's body from preventing the Hulk transformation. But if Tony stops the nanites, they will never work for Bruce again, because the Hulk's physiology will "learn" and reject them. But what other choice do they have to escape the Leader's men?

Wow. I don't usually like the Ultimates universe, but this comic series was very interesting. I can see that they took part of the scenario from the Ultimate Avengers movie (where Bruce is using the Supersoldier serum to try and "fix" his transformation into the Hulk) and ran with it as the way that the Ultimates Bruce Banner turned *into* the Hulk in the first place. It even fleshes it out more and says that the Supersoldier serum *always* turns people into the Hulk, or a Hulk-like creature. Even Steve Rogers' blood.

Which makes me suspect that mentality and wishing have something to do with the outcome. Steve Rogers wanted so badly to be a soldier, the finest soldier, that he somehow "steered" the serum into giving him that. Banner, whose motives were not quite so pure, obviously, didn't get the same result. He even says that just using Steve Rogers' blood produced a Hulk-like reaction, which goes right along with my theory, And this would fit in with the original Marvel universe in which gamma radiation could also be "steered" by what the individual affected by it wanted.

Anybody who knows comics will know that the attempt to do away with the Hulk (who is in his gray-skinned incarnation here) will eventually go awry. The only question is "how?". But the "why" of that "how" makes for an ultimately (sorry, bad pun) fascinating story. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Serenity: Those Left Behind by Joss Whedon, Brett Matthews and Will Conrad

Shepherd Book is preaching in church, giving a sermon in a border town. But he's only there to provide a distraction for the Firefly crew, who either stand by in the ship, or, in the case of Mal, Zoe, and Jayne, have a standoff with a fellow criminal named Ott.

Ott and his men have the drop on Mal, but Mal is pointing his gun right back at Ott. Ott demands the payload, and Mal agrees to save the lives of his crew. But when Ott demands Mal's gun as well, Mal appears to give in, talking about how the Gun is the one thing he carried away from the War, aside from Zoe. But at the last minute, he drop-kicks it into Ott's face, breaking some of the man's teeth.

A firefight breaks out, and Ott and his men manage to escape, after alerting the whole town to the heist. Chased by the town, Mal and his crew arrange a distraction from Kaylee and Wash, and tell Wash to get ready to leave. Roaring towards the ship in a transport stolen by Shepherd Book, the crew get away barely in time- the distraction being the toppling of the Town's entire water tower.

Meanwhile, Dobson, who Mal shot in the first episode of the show, is contacted by the two men with Blue Hands, who want him to take out Mal and capture Simon and River Tam. Seeing as how he's now missing an eye and considers himself barely human because of his prosthetic replacement, he's more than happy to do so... he even has a plan, but needs Alliance clearance to make it work.

Returning to Persephone, Badger contacts them about another job. Mal takes no chances, gassing Badger's bodyguards and then shooting them before taking Badger on board. After a quick liftoff, Badger is telling Mal about the battle of Sturgis, which apparently left behind a significant treasure on board the ships, because the entire thing was over money. Mal accepts the job and kicks Badger off his ship.

But his refusal to take Inara to her next job after he promised to do so leads to a physical confrontation with Shepherd Book, and both Book and Inara leaving the ship. But first there's a battle with Dobson and the Hands of Blue. But can Mal and the Tams survive a confrontation with their own personal enemies?

This was actually the first three-issue series released by Dark Horse, back in 2006, and while I liked it, I didn't think it was quite as good as "Better Days". This is a much darker story, and while I still enjoyed it, I missed the lighter, funnier moments from the second graphic novel. Mainly, this story seems to be a lot about revenge and betrayal, and is very gritty and dark.

But, as always, each character gets their chance to shine, from Zoe and Wash and Jayne, all the way through to River, Simon and Kaylee. The only difference here is that these shining moments are usually violent ones, But we get to see the end of the men with Blue Hands as adversaries (and see that the blue fabric extends over their chests and torsos as well) and the arrival of the Operative, with a different style of sword and wearing it differently. Also, we discover that the hands aren't part of the Alliance, but independent contractors. and they are definitely killed (we see their bodies have been reduced to ashy bones by the Serenity's drivewash).

This comic series apparently is intended to bridge the gap between the end of the series, and the beginning of the movie, because it sets up the beginning of the movie so well, and even though I didn't like the grittiness of this particular story, it better suited the tone of the movie rather than that of the series. So I think you could call it "transitional" in more that one way or sense of the word.

Another wonderful comic series, but it seems at this point, there won't be any more. but considering there were two years between this one and "Better Days", maybe in a year or two... who knows?

I recommend this graphic novel highly as well, but be warned that it comes closer in tone to the move than the television series. But again, it bridges the gap, and for those who loved the series and the movie, we can always hope for more.

Serenity: Better Days by Joss Whedon, Brett Matthews and Will Conrad

Normally, the Serenity's crew leads a hardscrabble existence, one step ahead of bankruptcy, with barely enough cash to cover the operating expenses of the ship. But they all have dreams of what they will do if they ever become rich- far away as those dreams often seem to be.

But when Serenity's latest heist, or art objects from a museum, nets them little more than a new variety of security bot, which chased them right into their own ship before they were able to neutralize it. The dealer offers them a sort of deferred payment. He knows where a big operator secreted a bunch of money, and in exchange for the 'bot, he'll tell them where they can find the money. They can even take the brains of the 'bot with them and not send them to the dealer until after they find the money.

It sounds interesting, so Mal accepts the "payment", which is secreted beneath a stone Buddha in a buddhist temple. But the dealer actually underestimated the amount of money there. Instead of thousands, there are millions of credits. The crew has actually managed to become rich!

Flush with their newfound cash, they leave for the pleasure planet Pelorum, where they rent a suite that costs 1,000 credits a night, and share their visions of how their lives would change with unlimited money. Jayne fantasizes an entire world of his own, filled with women cooing over him, Wash sees himself and Zoe settling down to raise a family, Kaylee to opening a garage that can service any kind of vehicle, and so on.

But one of Inara's clients (who she dreamed to be Mal) is also a top enforcer in the Alliance, and while he normally chases dissidents called "Dust Devils", is sent out after Mal and the others to get back the 'bot's logic center from Mal and the others, and to track down one of the Dust Devils who is in Mal's crew. They think it's Mal, but in actuality, it's Zoe, and this leads to a showdown with the enforcer, and the loss of all the money they had gained.

But Mal never told everyone his own fantasy, and after they lose the money, Inara confronts him with his attitude towards losing the money. But is she right about him? And can Mal and the others drive off the alliance forces, and the 'bot's building, who is planning to pull Mal's teeth out, one by one?

This book is the compilation of a three-issue limited series put out by Dark Horse Comics only last year. It's not quite clear when it falls within the chronology of the series, but starts with all 9 characters on the ship and on the show.

I loved it, though, as it shows us facets of Mal's character (and that of all the characters, really) with the revelation of why Zoe became a Dust Devils, and what all the character would do with unlimited money. Jayne's is funny and over the top, River's is just plain weird, and even Shepherd Book manages to make you laugh. On the other hand, some parts of the book were funny and slightly squicky at the same time, like where Jayne tries to get Simon to help him understand how to deal with a Companion like Inara "And then you stick it in them?"

True to the series, the dialogue has a minor component of Mandarin, which isn't translated into English, but left untranslated in Kanji. And unlike the first series, the reproduced covers of the comics show three characters on each, presenting a much more cohesive image and theme.

I never saw these in a comic store when they came out originally, but I love the comics now, and as graphic novels go, they are damn good. The story is top-notch, the art is wonderful, and everything combines to just scream "Firefly" at you. Highly recommended to those who can't get enough Joss Whedon Firefly.

To Kingdom Come by Will Thomas

Thomas Llewelyn is a young man who works for a private inquiry agent named Cyrus Barker. Normally, they take on cases involving crimes like blackmail and petty theft, but when a bomb goes off in Scotland Yard, not far from where they have their offices, Barker's office is also affected by the blast. Through normally he likes working on his own to solve crimes, this time he's motivated to offer his services to the government in hopes of discovering who set the bomb and bring the perpetrators to justice.

At first the Police and government politely turn down his offer, but when Barker offers to write to Prince Alfred and tell him that the Powers that Be didn't want his help, they decide to accept after all.

Current unrest centers around the Irish and Ireland. Ireland wishes to be free of England, and to also regain their own language and soverignty. While not all groups of Irish people believe in the violent overthrow of the English, others see no other way out than to terrorize the English into letting them be free. In fact, the target of the bomb at Scotland Yard was the new Special Irish Branch, meant to deal with the groups planting bombs. But the Bomb at Scotland Yard wasn't the only one planted that night. There were two others that either misfired or didn't go off.

But as Barker looks for the group responsible, he already has an idea on how to infiltrate the group who planted the bombs: impersonate an infamous Prussian Bombmaker known as Johannes VanRhyn, well-known for making bombs for whatever dissident group is willing to hire him. Thomas, under the name Thomas Penrith, will be introduced as his assistant. But to really learn how to make bombs, he's going to have to work with the real VanRhyn. Bomb-making is a very dangerous art. Will Thomas come home with all his fingers intact?

And at the same time, Thomas and Barker, posing as VanRhyn, will have to infiltrate the group responsible for the bombs, and convince the group of their bona fides, find the real leader and finally bring in the law to arrest them. But when the leader takes a bomb and goes off to commit mayhem, will Thomas and Barker be able to stop the bomb from going off, or will another great London landmark go up in flames... and Thomas and Barker with it?

This isn't a large, thick book, in fact, it's rather thin, but there's a wonderful story packed into these pages. Short and sweet, full of danger, bombs, physical confrontation and combat, love and attraction, and a surprising twist in the end that even I didn't suspect.

Like the perfect bite, the book's story was enough to keep my attention in a day filled with lots of things going on. The fighting and tension scenes are all appropriately menacing, and the scenes with Thomas and Maire O'Casey in Paris were exciting and somewhat Romantic, though Thomas ended up being too afraid of her brother and too much a gentlemen, to succumb to her invitations. And all the while, you'll be wondering how and when Barker and Thomas are going to turn this crew into the Police with enough evidence to secure their conviction.

I liked this book a lot, enough to make me want to check out the first volume in the series "Some Danger Involved", because while we get hints about Baker and Thomas and how they came to work together, I was intrigued enough to want to read it for myself. I recommend this book. It's worth checking out, and the story is good, like a shot of cappuccino.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Vampire's Bride by Gena Showalter

Layel is the King of the Vampires of Atlantis, but he is at war with the Dragons because long ago, the Dragons raped and killed the one woman who was precious to him, a human from the Upper world named Susan. That was over two centuries ago, but Layel has never forgotten his loss, or forgiven the Dragons for killing her. He and his people remain at war with the Dragons. So when he finds the Dragons fighting with some Amazons, he and his warriors gladly join the fight against the Dragons.

Delilah is an Amazon, but she has different feelings from that of her people. Amazons are supposed to use men only for the sex, but she wants love more than just sex. She had hoped to find that with a Dragon she had once fought against, but despite her hopes, he abandoned her after a single night in her bed. That should have hardened her, but she still longs for something else. When she meets Layel on the field of battle, she finds herself incredibly attracted to the white-haired Vampire King. But is there any hope of them ever being together?

Then, during the fight, Layel and Delilah are pulled away from the battle to... somewhere else, along with Layel's second in command, a vampire named Zane. And Delilah's fellow Amazon, Nola, is also taken, With them are two of every race in Atlantis: Dragons, Demons, Nymphs, Centaurs, Minotaurs and so on. Layel tries to kill the leader of the Dragons, but is blocked by an immovable wall. And even though they are on the surface, in sunlight, he is not being damaged by it.

Soon, the beings on the shore are called together by a watery messenger. The beings on this island have been gathered together by the Gods for the purpose of determining which of the many races of Atlantis is the strongest. Here, they will undergo many tests, and the winner will get any wish they desire granted by the Gods. The losers, and there will be many, will be eliminated. Which means, yes, killed.

Any wish... Layel could bring his love, Susan, back to life. Suddenly, he wishes to win the competition, even when the Gods reveal that each of the pairs will be on a different team and fighting against each other. But he's distracted by thoughts of Delilah, and realizes that he is attracted to her, and despite her protests, she is also attracted to him.

As the gods run the contest, Layel grows more and more attracted to Delilah, and works to prevent her from losing and being eliminated. But as time goes on, he realizes that his attraction to Delilah is making him believe they could have a future together, and where does that leave his feelings for Susan? He promised to love her forever, and now he's forgetting her after only 200 years! Hating himself, he tries to push Delilah away, but each of the Gods have a favorite in this contest, and when Hestia takes away Delilah's emotions to help her win, Layel can't stand the thought of not having her love anymore. But can he make a deal with the Gods to get Delilah's love back for a single night and convince her to win?

The setup for this book was generally awesome, even if it read like "Supernatural Survivor: Atlantis Island". Some attention is paid to the challenges at first, but later they fade into the background, used only to underscore the growing relationship between Layel and Delilah. It was nice to see them just be attracted at first, and to see Layel being the one being conflicted over their relationship (because the girl is usually just the nice girl who has doubts) was very nice indeed.

So far there have been four books set in Gena Showalter's "Atlantis" verse, and this is only the second I've read, but I enjoyed it very much. I'd also be interested in seeing how Layel met Susan in the first place, given what is revealed in "Heart of the Dragon", but that's just handwaved away in this book- because it isn't really important. What is important is the relationship between Layel and Delilah, and that was well-done.

This isn't a bad book, but it wasn't well-done enough for me to want to pick up the rest of the series. A story it was entertaining, but nothing special. Unfortunately for me, I found the setup for the story more interesting than the actual story. So, recommended, but get it from the library.

Thirteenth Child by Patricia C. Wrede

Eff's father is a seventh son, and Eff's twin brother is a seventh son of a seventh son. But Eff, who had the bad luck to be born first, is a thirteenth child, and therefore unlucky and will someday become evil and malevolent. At least, that's what her relatives say, and they constantly hound her for her supposed evilness while doting on her twin brother.

Eff is already upset about her birth status, but when her uncle Earn tries to have her arrested, it all comes to a head. Her parents, and her twin brother Lan, defend her, but Earn insists that she is merely a bad influence on them. At which point her parents tell him in no uncertain terms to take himself and his attitude away from their house. Her mother tells him that he and his wife can ruin their children by spoiling them one minute and whipping them the next, but she won't stand for them ruining her own children.

Uncle Earn calls her mad, but Eff's father agrees with his wife, and they show Earn the door. Later that week, her parents announce their decision: they will be moving away from their home to a new town much closer to the frontier, where her father will be teaching practical magic at a newly-built college. Eff worries that they are moving because of her, but her parents assure her that they had decided on this move long ago. That it will get them away from the attitudes of Uncle Earn and his wife Janna is only a bonus.

The move to the frontier is a place for Eff to start again, and she soon makes friends with William, son of the other professor of Magic at the college. Will's father seems to think that having magic makes him better than other people, and is somewhat put out that Eff's father doesn't agree, but the two men treat each other well because they are co-workers. Unlike Will, who is taught at home by his father, Eff and her twin brother Lan attend the school in town taught by a woman of Aphrikan descent. In addition to normal book learning, they are eventually also taught about magic

Both Eff and Lan are good at magic, and Eff finds that her teacher can also be her confidant when it comes to her doubts about herself and her magic. But when a trip home for a family wedding is interrupted by Eff and Lan's older sister running off to marry a man named Brant who is a Rationalist- and opposed to using magic, Eff is once again blamed by Earn for the problem and for her other sister's still wanting to go through with her own wedding even after the scandal is exposed. Eff, pushed to the point of breaking, finds her magic responding to her anger and flowing out against Earn. But scared by the thought of what could happen, she manages to pull it back at the last minute.

This leads to another problem. After that incident, Eff finds that her magic is no longer working right. But even when she pushes on regardless, she seems to drain the magic of everyone around her. Only Aphrikan magic seems to be unaffected, and so she concentrates on that. But when a catastrophe of epic proportions begins to devastate the outer settlements, grubs that eat up the crops, and bugs that drain the magics from the protections that surround the settlements, it will be up to Eff, not Lan, to save the colonists at the settlements and take care of the problem once and for all.

But is it nature, or her own cursed status that caused the problem? And will Eff finally be able to confess to her friends why she is so ready to take the blame for any problem that happens around her? Is her thirteenth child status real or only a bugaboo for closed minds? Can a thirteenth child be both good and a hero?

Patricia C. Wrede is another writer who has no problem sucking me into a story. I saw this book at the library and opened to the first page to check it out. A few minutes later, I was deep into a first chapter and wanting to know more. Much more. She takes the "problem" of Eff, a thirteenth child in a family of 14 children, and sets her own relatives, save for her immediate family, against her. They are sure that she will turn twisted and evil, but their constant censure and stating of this "fact" is out to make it a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Only by getting away from them is she finally allowed to grow. And her teacher brings a new perspective on herself, magic and the world, but can Eff learn to apply it to her problem of being a thirteenth child, or will she always carry a feeling of shame over the simple matter of when she was born? And if she ever does step out from behind that shame, how will her brother Lan, the natural magician who can seem to do no wrong, react to her sudden lifting to heroine status?

This book is wonderful, and it looks to be like the first in a series, which I hope is so, because the story and characters are too good to end so soon and where it did. I want more, and while I'm not going to badger Ms. Wrede, all I can do is my best impression of Oliver Twist. "Please, ma'am. May I have some more?" This book reminds me of the best works of her younger days, the Dragons books, with the added icing of better, more mature writing. Okay, yes, and less silliness because this book isn't a parody. Highly recommended.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Goddess of Spring by P.C. Cast

Lina Santoro is the owner of a Bakery in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but the business that she loves so much and staked so much of her life on is in trouble. Due to what she suspects is embezzling and some definite bad advice by her accountant, she is in danger of losing the business she worked so hard to grow for 20 years. She is devastated at the thought of losing it, so she goes out to find something new she can add to the menu to bring in some more money.

When a patron comes in and mentions she is holding a dinner for the local artists association, Lina bites the bullet and offers to cater the entire dinner for her. The woman agrees, and says she'll come by on Monday to talk over her menu choices. Lina is forced to confess all to her employees and goes home early to brainstorm menu choices. On her way, she stops and buys ten Italian Cookbooks and goes home to look them over for recipes. She finds four, and in the last book, she finds a recipie for "Pizza by the Meter" that can be made anywhere up to six feet long by slowly stretching the dough in the oven.

Part of the recipe is also a spell to Demeter, Goddess of Agriculture, and Lina performs the invocation. As part of it, she takes a small bit of the dough to give to the goddess. After leaving the dough to set overnight, and cleaning her kitchen, she goes outside to return the dough to the earth and begs Demeter for help in saving her business, saying she will do anything in return for the goddess's help. On her way back into her house, she finds an exquisite narcissus blossom and bends to smell it. When she does, she is somehow pulled into the bloom and ends up in the Realm of Demeter.

There, the goddess has a proposition for her. She will send her daughter Demeter to earth and save Lina's bakery business in return for Lina taking Persephone's body to Hades's Kingdom in the Underworld. Hades needs the touch of a Goddess, and Persephone has been asked to do the job. Or, Lina in Persephone's body. Unlike the stories, Hades will not rape Persephone. But she will be under his protection while she is there. And she will have a guide who is newly dead to help her.

Lina agrees, and meets her guide, Euridyce, who guides her to Hades. Hades and his steeds make an appearance, and she finds that the horses seem to love her. But Hades takes her aback as well, for far from the dark, cruel god she was expecting, she gets ancient Batman, minus the mask and Batmobile. And sexy, which she was also hardly expecting. Hades, too, is stunned by Lina, who, despite her appearance as Persephone, radiates a maturity and dignity somewhat at odds with her youthful appearance.

But as Lina brings a touch of spring and renewal to the Underworld, she begins to understand how intelligent and focussed Hades is, and slowly falls in love with him while charming all the spirits and creatures of the underworld. He, too, finds himself falling for this strangely wise and mature young goddess, but how will he feel when he finds out that Lina lied to him, and that she isn't really Persephone at all? Can she survive being hated and scorned by a God of the Dead?

Another great P.C. Cast book that I took the time to savor. The descriptions of the Underworld and of Hades himself are beautiful, and while they are in keeping with the legends around him, there is an extra something there that transforms the "same old, same old" from the legend into something beautiful and new. I also loved the character of Hades. The other Gods don't know him well, he seems grim and horrible. But Lina is able to uncover the truth about him: just like Zeus and Poseidon, Hades is interested in the welfare of his Underworld home, and with doing it right all the time. He has no time to sport with nymphs. And Lina, a businesswoman herself, understands him in a way the real Persephone wouldn't.

Watching how they slowly came together, each in love with each other long before they actually make love, was wonderful, and I felt more than a bit misty-eyed at times. Needless to say, most readers will end up wanting Hades themselves, and no more so for me then when Hades spied Persephone at her bath. The feelings he was feeling, and the words describing the scene made me long for a man who wanted me in just that way. And the ending of the book? Well, it made me cry- tears of sadness, tears of joy. So wonderful and beautiful and right, and if that makes me a sap, so be it. Sappy isn't always a bad thing, not when it's written this well.

I can't recommend this series highly enough, and this book especially. Lina isn't a blushing virgin, but a real, honest-to-god woman, mature in attitude and voluptuous in body. Too many romances seem to assert the primacy of the young, innocent girl tutored in her sexuality by an older, worldly-wise man, and this turns that scenario right on its head. Hades, by virtue of being an immortal God, may be older than Lina, but she is the one with more romantic experience, and she brings it to the party, while he contributes a raw, honest sensuality that turns the heat up in spades. Miss this book, and you'll end up kicking yourself. Read it, and see why I loved it so much.

Goddess of the Sea by P.C. Cast

Christine Canady, called CC, is a Sergeant in the Air Force, and it's her twenty-fifth birthday. But everyone who loves her seems to have forgotten her birthday. Her parents call her only to wish her a happy birthday before leaving on their latest cruise, and her best friend has also forgotten. Celebrating with some KFC and Champagne, she finds she has also gotten a call from someone who she knew at her former duty station- reminding her that her own birthday is a month and a half from now.

Tired and annoyed, Christine gets drunk on Champagne, wishing for a little magic in her life. But when she sees the moonlight outside her small apartment, she decides to go outside and do a little ritual, calling on the Goddess Gaea for some magic and love in her life. Just before she passes out, she has a vision of a man reaching out to her, and her reaching back for him.

The next morning, she wakes up late. Very late. It's almost noon, and she's very glad that she didn't have to report to the base. Instead, it's time to do a few last things before shipping out. But a near-fatal accident is prevented when a woman stops her from stepping onto an elevator that isn't there. A fireman tackles her before she can fall down the shaft, and later, at the BX or Base Exchange, she is given a lovely amber pendant necklace by a woman who claims that she is beloved of the Goddess.

But the next day, she takes a plane across the ocean, and a man who is called Apollo asks to switch seats with her. When the plane goes down, she nearly drowns, but is somehow saved by... a woman with a fish's tail? The woman asks to take her place, and have CC take hers, and CC agrees. When she wakes up, she finds that she also has a fish tail and has become something like a mermaid. But what a mermaid! Life, however, isn't all good, because she is chased by another merman and child of Lir named Sarpedon, who calls her Undine.

CC manages to evade him and slips into a secluded cove. Sarpedon follows her, but CC is saved when the Goddess Gaea banishes him from her realm with a breath. Gaea cannot keep CC with her, nor can she protect her from Sarpedon in the sea, so instead, she comes up with a compromise; She will allow CC to walk on the land by day, but it will hurt her. Once a day, she must return to the sea and bathe in it. This will keep her safe and alive.

CC agrees, and Gaea performs the spell that changes her back into a human, but without her tail and the ability to breathe water, CC is about to drown when she is saved by another Merman, Dylan. At first, she thinks that Sarpedon sent him, but he says he has no love for Sarpedon, and touches Gaea's amulet to prove it. He brings her to an island, and CC finds that once she steps out of the water, she is clad in a beautiful dress, her hair draped in jewels. But a shout from the shore sends Dylan back into the sea, and a human warrior appears to rescue her from the waters.

CC has appeared on an island in the distant past, and the man who "rescued" her is named Andras. He takes her to the island's monastery for shelter, but the monastery is run by monks who take a very dim view of women, and the appearance of "Princess Undine" puts them into a lather. Since she is a Princess, they cannot turn her away, but her modern-day lack of religious belief is highly disturbing to them, even though she tries to go along with their ways.

As she recuperates at the Monastery, she finds that Andras is attracted to her, both for her beauty and apparent wealth and status. At first, she's flattered by the attention, but his attitude towards women as a whole isn't much better than those of the monks, and the monks slowly work on him, seeming to make him think that she will make him unclean if he should win her.

Inside the monastery, she finds something to do in restoring a statue of Mary, who very much resembles the Goddess Gaea, and slowly wins the support and attention of the women who serve the monks of the Abbey, in particular one of the women who serves in the kitchen. CC, in turn, steels them to stand up to the men who would treat them badly, and wins their support with her work on the statue.

Meanwhile, her excursions outside the abbey to the sea to bathe are attracting the attention and ire of the monks, who believe that she is an unbeliever and perhaps something monstrous. As they slowly infect Andras with their beliefs, CC turns to her deepening relationship with Dylan, who has been meeting her every night when she bathes. Between the threat of the monks at the Monastery, and the threat of Sarpedon in the ocean, can CC find love and keep Princess Undine from falling victim to Sarpedon's lust? Because the only way for her to stay alive and return home is to find a way to do just that. But can she ever leave Dylan behind, when she has come to love him so much?

I love P.C. Cast's novels, and Goddess of the Sea is no exception. CC is a strong and engaging heroine, and while she has enough flaws to be interesting (she hates to fly but joined the Air Force because they had the best benefits package), she doesn't often feel sad for herself and fights against injustice as best she can. She asks the Goddess for love and magic in her life, and gets both in spades when she takes the place of Undine.

Drawn back in time and into a world where all the Greek Gods exist, as well as the creatures of Greek myth, CC feels in over her head at first, but soon she's working to empower the women of the Monastery, since the monks have such a bad attitude towards women. She doesn't hide her intelligence or independent spirit, and this makes the monks hate her with a virulence I've rarely read in romance novels. Yet CC holds up just fine, and doesn't allow it to get her down. In the end, matters come to a head when the monks succeed in turning Andras against her, and she must flee the monastery or die. Her influence remains on the women there, who face the monks on her behalf, so there is hope that she has changed things for the better.

The ending was perfectly suited to the novel, and provided the kind of ending I wanted from a book like this. No less magical and wonderful than the story itself, and allowing Dylan and CC to stay together, while also saving Undine from Sarpedon forever. This book is damned near perfect, and draws you into the story with a force of a black hole, not spitting you back out again until the end, when you'll wish for more. More comes in the form of other books in the Goddess series, but this is a book I'm glad I read and glad to own. Highly recommended, and you won't forget the story here, ever.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

My Lady Knight by Jocelyn Kelley

St. Jude's abbey is a specialized nunnery in England set up by Queen Eleanor, formerly of Aquitaine. There, young women are trained to be knights, educated to the limits of their intelligence, which is almost always considerable. But now that the Queen has been imprisoned by her husband, King Henry, the women of the nunnery are forbidden to see or contact the Queen.

However, the Queen sends the abbess a letter imploring for her help. Long ago, she entrusted a metal casket to the Archbishop of Lincoln, containing papers that could cause a rebellion among the people of England. The Archbishop has been reassigned to France by King Henry, and now Eleanor wants one of the women from the Abbey to go and retrieve the papers and the casket and return them to her.

To this end, the Abbess sends Isabella de Montfort. She's less of a warrior than a scientist, and she seeks to decipher the recipie for an exploding powder that she has read of being used in a faraway land called Cathay. But when a fellow student sets off an explosion that destroys the barn, by accident, Isabella suddenly finds herself happy to leave, as it saves her from the abbess' temper. But the abbess tells her that it would be unsafe for her to travel alone, and assigns Isabella to travel with her own nephew, Jordan Le Courtenay, whom she contacts by letter.

Isabella meets Jordan at a nearby abbey, since St. Jude's must remain a secret, where he has sought out the grave of a friend of his, a fellow knight named Ryce de Dolan. Ryce died in a tournament, cowardly slain by other knights. But the local abbey is against tournaments and refused to let him be buried on sacred ground. Isabella finds him there, and Jordan finds her to be disturbingly like a man in how she acts, but is attracted to her nonetheless.

He tries to protect her from dirt, but she helps him uncover the grave of his friend, and take the bones, which he wishes to bury closer to his own manor. In amongst the bones, they find a dagger with a curious figure of a man on a horse and another man in front of him, appearing to lead the horse. It is no noble's sigil that either of them can identify, and Jordan decides to keep it, because it may have belonged to one of Ryce's killers.

He sends Isabella to wait for him at the Abbey while he contemplates the grave of his friend, but the Dagger that Isabella found provokes the Abbot into speaking of "The Brotherhood", of whom he seems afraid. The next day, Isabella and Jordan seek to find a wagon to bring Ryce's bones on, but the one they buy is actually stolen, and Jordan is arrested by the local sheriff, and must be saved by Isabella, who sets what seems to be a fire, but is more choking smoke. Unfortunately, the sheriff and his men catch onto the ruse and capture them, but they are freed by the appearance of Lord Weirton, an aquaintance of Jordan's, who vouches for him.

Jordan and Isabella travel to La Courtenay. Each is attracted to the other, but Jordan doesn't wish to burden her with his attentions, and Isabella tries to be logical and not give into her feelings. But their first night in the castle is interrupted when a man attempts to steal the dagger. Isabella manages to fight him off and knock him down, but shortly after Jordan comes to her aid, the man swallows a vial of something and jumps out the window after getting free, killing himself with the fall.

However, Isabella realizes that what he took was a poison, so that even if the fall didn't kill him, he would still have died. And he also had a mark on his wrist, the exact same one as on the hilt of the dagger. And when Lord Weirton shows up again, his sister Lady Odette in tow, Isabella finds her to be an irritant, but agrees to learn when Lady Odetter offers to show her how to behave in court and around Jordan.

Lord Weirton wants Jordan to marry Odette, but Jordan finds her less interesting, and less affecting, than Isabella. While Odette goes on and on about how... interesting it is that Isabella can take care of herself, she declares that she would always call on a man to protect her, and would die if she were menaced and didn't have one nearby. None of this fazes Jordan, but he allows Lord Weirton and his sister to accompany them to Lincoln.

Along the way, they are ambushed and attacked, but between Jordan and Isabella, and with Lord Weirton, they are able to fight off the men (who are of the Brotherhood) and finally end up in Lincoln. But can they find the papers in the Cathedral, and when Jordan falls victim to a medicine that causes vivid dreams, he imagines that he is making love to Isabella. Can the reality ever trump the fantasy he has had? And when he discovers that the house they are staying in holds a secret underground tunnel that leads to several places sacred to the Brotherhood, can he and Isabella find their way out safely without being captured by the men he thinks are being injurious to the health of the Kingdom?

Who is behind the Brotherhood? What are their goals and what do they want with Jordan and Isabella? What did they have to do with Ryce's death and why did he have to die? And can Jordan and Isabella retrieve the papers in time and return them to the Queen before she is forced to leave England by her husband? And is there any hope for the love that Isabella and Jordan have found together? Or will she be forced to return to the convent without him?

I really enjoyed the backstory behind the novel. The idea of a female knight, or in this case, many female knights being trained at a convent at the behest of Queen Eleanor of England, formerly Aquitaine, appealed to the history nerd inside me. Because Queen Eleanor accompanied her first husband, Louis VI of France, to the Crusades with a group of ladies wearing armor and riding as Knights. And they were led by Queen Eleanor, herself wearing armor. So her doing this sort of thing was right in line with her historical character (if it isn't just a story, as many historians assert).

But what I really liked was the almost modern feeling I got from reading Isabella, and how Jordan loves her for her and finds her intelligence and ability to defend herself admirable instead of a crime against nature or something like that. The only thing I found somewhat annoying was the tingling each felt when they touched each other, even when they barely knew each other. I thought it was a bit much. But that was a very small thing when taken in light of the entire book.

The plot was well-done, and the bits of lies and betrayal made sense in the greater scheme of the book. The Brotherhood is set up early on as the Big Bad of the book, and each plot twist ends with them finding out more about the Brotherhood or facing off against members of the Brotherhood. The secret in the pages concealed in the Queen's casket remains something of a mystery, but the characters find out what it is, even if the readers don't, because it is merely hinted at.

I liked this book a lot, even if it took me a long time to read. I found myself wanting to savor it, and I did a lot of savoring rather than reading at my normal pace. It's a book that appealed to my romance senses and my historical interests at the same time, and if you're interested in the medieval period and Queen Eleanor, you'll find it interesting as well. Recommended.

Wicked Nights by Nina Bangs

Donna Nolan is a talk show host of the radio show Donna till Dawn. And she's been doing pretty well for herself until she'd started fielding calls from a woman who claimed to be under passionate attack by a vampire who worked at the Castle of Dark Dreams in Galveston, Texas. The woman claimed that her vampire lover came to her every night, making love to her all night so that she was exhausted in the morning.

Donna believed the woman was insane, but she let the woman talk, only to be "rewarded" with many similar calls by a group of woman she calls "the Pod", who all claim to be hounded by supernatural lovers from the Castle of Dark Dreams. Eventually, Donna was persuaded by her bosses to travel to Galveston and do an investigation into the claims of creatures at the Castle. She didn't particularly want to go, but with interest in her show dropping, she needs to do something to keep the interest of her viewers.

But this comes at a very bad time. Her parents are thinking about divorcing, her sister is wanting to marry a man she's only known for two weeks (and this will be her third marriage), and her brother is giving up time with his wife in Disneyland to stay with the kids. Donna has an opinion on all of this, and is spending time on the phone to let them know her opinions- all of which convey disapproval. But when she ducks out of the tour of the Castle to buy herself some chocolate and sugary treats, she comes to the attention of a different kind of supernatural entity.

Sparkle Stardust is a supernatural matchmaker, and she thinks that Donna would be perfect for Eric MacNair, the man who often plays the Dark Vampire character in the castle. He has a sweet tooth of his own, and his secret is that he really is a vampire, and he's one of the three supernatural creatures who work there. All three of them pretend to be brothers- one a demon, one cursed by a goddess to protect the last living member of his family of enemies, and one a vampire- Eric.

The minute Eric looks into Donna's eyes, he's intrigued by what he sees, and he can't keep himself from being interested in her despite her take charge, must be in control ways. Worse, he finds himself wanting to make and help her lose control while trying to keep the secrets of the Castle and his friends/"brothers" safe from her prying. But can he trust her to keep his secrets and the secrets of those around her while an enemy vampire named Taurin is determined to hurt Eric in any way possible, which includes hurting Donna to get to Eric.

And Sparkle isn't the only matchmaker determined to get her claws into the pairing of Eric and Donna. Sparkle's opposite number in the ranks of Supernatural matchmakers is Asima, number one handmaiden of the Cat Goddess, and she's completely convinced that Sparkle's way is too vulgar and makes Donna look like a tramp. She's all for dignified, very 1940's stylish looks and ideas, and the two of them are starting a Supernatural catfight over who gets to help Donna land Eric and how she does it.

Poor Donna! With a hot man to handle, two plants in her room that only get a bloom from sex and sexy energy, and the fight between Eric and Taurin, she's soon going to have more to handle than a one-armed wallpaper hanger. But as she slowly begins to fall for Eric, can she learn to let go of her ultra-controlling ways and just feel? Or will the revelation of Eric's true nature be more than she can handle? And who will win the fight to help Donna seduce Eric into true love? Lustful Sparkle, or Elegant Asima? Can Donna make them work together instead? And can a mortal human ever find everlasting love with a vampire?

Okay, I'll start off the bat by saying that Nina Bangs is a good writer. Certainly, I enjoyed the interaction between Eric and Donna, and I certainly felt the heat that built between them until it came out in open, very hot lovemaking. I loved most of the other characters, including the Castle's manager and resident wizard with a tongue full of snark, Holgarth. The two other hot guys, who are very obviously set up as sequel-bait (because this was the first book in a trilogy) are also well-drawn, and by the end, you do want to read their own books.

But what completely ruined the book for me was the appearance of Sparkle Stardust, Asima and Sparkle's helper, Gabriel. I guess Nina Bangs finds them cute and interesting, since they have shown up in every single book by her that I have read, but for me, they came close to completely ruining the book. Every time I was ready to read more about Donna and Eric, there came Sparkle and the competition, butting her nose in and (for me) derailing the story yet again. This became a real struggle to finish the book because I flinched every time they showed up, and they seemed to show up an awful lot.

I don't find Sparkle interesting or funny, and I am tired of reading her in every single goddamn story, which makes me rather hesitant to pick up any more by this author because of fearing that these characters are going to ruin another book for me. Now, I realize that other readers must like these characters, and this is a definite YMMV, but I am usually there to read about the two main characters, and these secondary characters ae getting in the way of me enjoying Nina Bangs' books. And while I might have found the follow-up books interesting, now that I know Sparkle will show up in this series, I have no reason to read them. Recommended with a significant caveat that may end up destroying your reading enjoyment.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

New Tricks by John Levitt

Mason is a magician, a practitioner who used to be an enforcer. Unfortunately, he wasn't really good as an enforcer, and so quit to do other things. To support himself, he plays guitar, and though his main interest and specialty is jazz, he takes a gig playing in an all-girl band after their guitarist broke her arm falling off the stage drunk.

But he's troubled by an earlier meeting with his former boss as an enforcer, Victor. Victor was meeting a woman who had some disturbing information to impart to him, and when she doesn't show, he calls on Mason's magical gift of tracking to find her. They find her sitting on a bench in the park, but she won't be telling anyone anything ever again. Someone has tried to take over her body with magic, and when that didn't work, trepanned her skull with a drill over her third eye. Her body may be living, but the soul is gone with nothing to retrieve.

After his gig, Mason meets an old friend of his, a practitioner named Rolando. They used to be close, but all that changed when Rolando moved from San Francisco to Portland. Portland has a smaller magical community, so he's a bigger fish in that small pond. But he's returned to San Francisco with his sister, Josephine, for a reason. The body of the practicioner that Mason and Victor found carries the same imprint as a number of bodies that have been turning up in Portland, all with mind-problems indicating that someone had tried to take them over but failed.

They even have a suspect, a black magic practitioner named Byron, who recently moved from Portland to San Francisco. Coincidentally, when he left Portland, the attacks on people there stopped, and now that he's moved to SF, a body very similar to the ones in Portland shows up. How odd! But Mason's friend Vincent, while he respects Rolando's suspicions, sends Mason and Rolando to talk to Byron, who seems more irritated than anything else, and makes it clear that he isn't responsible and just wants to be left alone.

Mason actually believes him, but Rolando doesn't. However, Mason finds that once again, Lou, his Ifrit, is attracting attention. Lots of people are showing an interest in Lou. Josephine for one, and she and Mason talk about where Ifrits come from and why only some of them have Ifrits. Mason theorizes that Ifrits are attracted to practitioners with true creativity in magic, because there are powerful magicians who don't have Ifrits.

Josephine is intrigued by this possibility, but points out that fewer and fewer Ifrits are appearing these days. She and Mason go out on a date and are very interested in her, but Rolando appears at the end, spoiling it, and very clearly warns Mason off from any interest in his sister. Mason finds it strange that Rolando would do such a thing, but he continues to investigate, this time without Rolando, and has another talk with Byron after getting caught in a trap at the man's house meant for Rolando.

But he still feels that Byron had nothing to do with the deaths of the practitioners, and when Byron lets him go, he tells Victor exactly that. When he checks out the place that the latest victim died, he meets a homeless man who has becomes less of a mage and more like an Ifrit. He doesn't do magic, he *is* magic, rather like a fae. And yet, this man is also interested in having an Ifrit and expresses interest in Lou. He wants Mason to help him and some others like him try to get an Ifrit. Mason is willing, because the man helps him with a situation.

Rolando is acting strangely, and Josephine seems drawn and strange. Mason suspects that Rolando is doing something to Josephine. But can he track down the true villain in the deaths and bring them to justice when so many of the people involved are stronger in magic than him? Can he save Josephine and protect her from what Rolando is doing to her, and find out the truth about what is between them? Or will he once again be unlucky in love with a fellow practitioner?

I had really been looking forward to reading this new book, and I was glad to see it come out. But once again, the focus seemed to be more on Lou the Ifrit than on Mason. Or perhaps I should say that both of them had their own subplots in the book. Mason searches for the practitioner who is killing and trying to take over fellow magicians, Lou's origins and the possibility of those without Ifrits could have one if they manipulate magic in a certain way is also heavily tied into the plot, although how it fits in with Mason's plot is unclear at first.

And while I found the whole Ifrits thing intriguing in the first book, in this book I hoped I'd learn more about Mason, and another Ifrit-heavy plot felt too much like treading over the same ground as in the first book, only for the second time. Yes, Ifrits are intriguing, but honestly, I'd rather read more about Mason than another book about Lou and his fellow Ifrits. It felt too samey-samey, even if more interesting stuff about Ifrits was revealed.

I'm hoping that the third book focuses less on Ifrits and more on Mason. While Lou might be an interesting subject, let's not throw the focus of the book on him again for a third time right away. I hope it's possible to add books to the series without them being Ifrit-centric. I'm interested in reading about Mason first, his partnership with Lou and about Lou as an Ifrit a distant third. I still recommend this book and this series, but honestly, Mr. Leavitt, enough about Lou for now. More about the world and its practitioners, please?

Dragon Bones by Patricia Briggs

Wardwick of Hurog, known simply as Ward, is a giant of a man born of a father who was abusive to him because he saw Ward as a challenger to his position. When Ward was 12, his father beat him so severely that he nearly killed Ward, and after that, Ward pretended that his father had beaten him into simplemindedness to stop the cycle of abuse. No longer believing Ward was any threat to his power, his father left him alone, leaving Ward to go his own way.

But that kind of mask, easy to put on, is hard to put off, even when you have a good reason to do so. When his father dies seven years later, he places Ward's uncle, his own brother, on the throne until Ward turns 21. Even as Ward inherits his father's bracelet that makes him master of Hurog, including the ghost of the boy who one of Ward's ancestors killed to make the castle impregnable, nobles of the High King's Court come forward to make Ward's uncle a proposition: get rid of the lackwit Ward, and be confirmed as ruler of Hurog by the High King.

Ward barely escapes confinement for transport to the equivalent of an insane asylum, and realizes that he must do something to show that he isn't a weakling or insane or really lackwitted, and secure Hurog on his own merits. The best he can come up with is to travel south and fight against the invading Vorsags on behalf of the people of Oranstone.

Little does Ward know that the King doesn't care about the people of Oranstone. He's more obsessed with his own male lover and the lover he picked for the queen, Ward's cousin Beckram. Beckram is a twin, and his brother Erdick is more of a man of learning than Beckram's man of swordplay. But when Beckram asks Erdick to pretend to be him at a feast he'd rather not attend, Beckram's attempt to influence the Queen to intercede with her husband on behalf of the people of Oranstone brings home a deadly cost- Erdick is killed by the King, who thinks that he is Beckram. Beckram is enraged, and leaves the court rather than comitting regicide.

But he leaves for Oranstone along with 100 warriors that the king has wagered cannot save Oranstone. Determined to discomfit the King in any way he can, Beckram joins the warriors fighting to keep Oranstone free and meets up with Ward and his own group of Warriors, which include his sister, Ciarra, his brother Tosten, a freed slave named Bastilla, The Ghost of Hurog, a boy known as Oreg, and some warriors from his estate.

But Ward has discovered that the invaders are after objects of power, and they would love nothing more than to retrieve the Dragon Bones concealed in the Dwarven-built sewers that run under Hurog, and they offer Ward a position of power in the new counry they will be running if he joins in with them and gives them the dragon bones. Betrayal from within his own party gives Ward no choice but to appear to agree. But can Ward prevent the conspirators from getting what they want and destroying the five nations that make up his homeland? And what will the cost of preventing that outcome be? Can Ward survive the emotional cost of his decision?

This is an early example of Patricia Brigg's writing, and while it's not quite as polished as her Mercy Thompson books, it still takes the tradition of "fantasy heroes" and turns it right on its head. Ward is strong, like many fantasy heroes, but he doesn't come from obscurity, he's a Prince of Hurog in his own right. And he wasn't raised by a loving foster family, unaware of the circumstances of his birth- he was raised by his own abusive father and absent mother- not that she is actually absent, but she might as well be, stoned out of her mind on drugs that distract her from the pain of being married to an abusive man.

Ward could be a warrior, but in the end, what is more of is a protector. He's good at fighting and feels a general joy in combat, but the innate decency that is a large part of his character makes him an even better strategist and commander than he is a warrior- and he's an above par warrior.

I would have liked to have seen more of this world, more of Ward, and the outcome of what happened with the King and Queen- because the situation she presented is rather unstable for the country as a whole. But sadly, this is a stand-alone novel, and the likelihood of me seeing my wishes fulfilled is about "Snowball, meet Hell" situation. But if you enjoy reading a rather clever twist on the fantasy hero story, this is a book that will make you sit up and beg like a trained seal. Highly recommended.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Ravenor Rogue by Dan Abnett

The ending of "Ravenor Returned" left Gideon Ravenor and his allies alive, having not quite prevented a horrible event from happening on Eustis Majoris. Now, the Inquisition is asking him to back down from his current activities and to help with the cleanup on Eustis Majoris. But Ravenor thinks that running down Zygmunt Moloch is more important, and has tracked him to Tancred, where the Inquisition has a HQ. He's convinced that Molotch is on the world, but the Inqusition isn't so sure.

Even so, they argue, other Inquisitors can track down the Heretic. And while Ravenor is meeting with other, high-level members of the Inquisition, members of his team are also meeting with members of other Inquisitorial teams. Harlon Nayl, for example, meets Angharad Esw Swedyr, of the Carthaen clans and wielder of the sword Evisorex. She is attracted to Nayl because he survived a cut from her aunt's sword Barbarisater. She even tells him there is a term for someone who survived such a wound, "spared by the genius".

But this comes in handy when the rest of her team goes after Molotch and all get killed in a trap set by the Heretic Molotch, and her Inquisitor Ballack is the only one to survive. Then, Nayl recieves a message from Angharad saying, 'Spared by the Genius', and he sneaks her on board their (Ravenor's) ship.

Ravenor knows this, and is equally glad for Nayl and jealous of him, because Nayl can have a relationship and he cannot. But now, Ravenor, accompanied by Ballack, really goes rogue to bring down Molotch. To find him, he will even do things that an Inquisitor is forbidden from doing, like consult a witch house that owns an artifact called a three-sided door, or tripartite or triportal. One of the servants of the house is assigned to them to open the door or doors it will take to find their answer.

But Molotch and his men have prepared a trap for Ravenor, and in the end, Ravenor gets most of his people away, but is trapped in the depths of the house as it is about to fall into an endless valley in the bottom of the ocean. With no other way to escape, he and those left behind with him enter the tripartite, hoping that they can use it to take them home- or at least close to home. But Ravenor is dying from wounds sustained by inimical lifeforms on one world, and his attempt to bring them home doesn't exactly help, stranding them on a world 1000 light years out from the place he was attempting to send them. But at least there is a medic who might be able to save him from his wounds. But can he trust her to treat what's left of his body, which looks like a sack with a blob that used to be his face on top?

Back with the others, who think Ravenor dead, his student Carl Thonious has taken over the investigation. But so much has changed. Kara Swole, who knew about his secret and the dangerous warp-demon inside him has had her memory wiped by him. But even if she can't remember exactly what he has become, she knows something is terribly wrong, leading her to attack him. Imprisoned by the people she once trusted, she is locked in a hold, where there is a door behind which something... taunts her. Terrified out of her mind, she tries to survive in a world gone mad.

Zygmunt Moloch wanted to unleash Slyte, but when the demon that formerly lived inside the body of Carl Thonious threatens his life and those of his men, can he team up with those who are chasing him to save the universe and send the demon back to the warp? And what will be the fallout for those who survive the entire thing?

That big storm I mentioned in the last review? Finally breaks. And it is composed of the finest grade of 100% bad shit for everyone involved. Bad stuff happens all over in this book, and no one is immune, not even Ravenor himself. Here, the group of characters is broken in two by Ravenor's trip to the Witch House, and later, after some of them escape, the story continues for the two groups along with what Molotch is doing himself.

Betrayal happens, although fair warning is given of it in the beginning of the book, and we finally get to see what Slyte really is (and it's very gross and stomach-lurch inducing). But we also see that even Molotch, who is dedicated to bringing Slyte out and inflicting him on humanity, is unprepared for the results of his work. And no matter how enamoured he is of the warp, there's stuff even he can't deal with. Slyte is number one on that list, and he actually works with the heroes to deal with it before it can overwhelm them all. And mind you, this isn't just a "saving his own life" kind of thing, because afterwards, he gives up completely.

It's a good book, horrific and suspenseful, especially when Ravenor seems to be dead, not once but twice. Seeing the gradual erosion of Cal Thonious' personality evokes more than horror, since we knew him as he was before, but also his power allows him to conceal the changes from his former friends by messing with their minds and memories. He pleads with Kara not to turn him in to Ravenor, saying that perhaps he can undo what has been done to him, but when he so easily mucks with her memory, you know that this is a fight that's already been lost.

The ending battle is appropriate and what this story has been leading up to all along. But the ending for Ravenor is somewhat in doubt. Even if he is cleared of the charges of going rogue, he's still going to have to deal with how he didn't notice the real threat that was sitting under his nose all this time (Cal Thonious), so it's unclear how much of a career he has left with the Inquisition. No, closure isn't always a cue for what ails you, but the ending leaves a curiously unfinished feeling to this series that I hope Dan Abnett will return to someday, if only in passing to let us know what became of the characters. Recommended, if disturbing to read.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Ravenor Returned by Dan Abnett

Gideon Ravenor, having pierced the heart of the Mergent worlds, returns to the world of Eustis Majoris to track down the people who have been selling the warp artifacts known as "Flects" as drugs on the street.

But the flects are mere bagatelles to the sellers' true plans for Eustis Majoris, and it begins with a woman named Maud Plyton, a detective in what passes for Eustis Majoris' Police force. Called to investigate the death of a supervisor who is working on the restoration of a major chapel sacristy in the hive, she discovers that the ceiling collapsed, revealing another ceiling, and another mural long hidden. Apparently, the sight of the ceiling caused the supervisor to go crazy and fall off the scaffolding, get caught in hanging ropes, and die when his neck snapped.

Certainly she can't see why the mural made the man go crazy. To her, it's one of the most beautiful things she's ever seen. Certainly better than the white ceiling that was constructed over it to hide it. But the powers that be higher up in the Hive Hierarchy treat the case strangely- the file is hidden, all the evidence taken and then apparently wiped from all the computers in the office. What is going on?

Meanwhile, Ravenor, presumed dead by the villains on Eustace Majoris, has returned and is hiding out to keep anyone from finding out that he is still alive. But even so, his return is suspected, and the people responsible for the trade in flects hire a fixer named Orfeo Culzean to make sure that the appearance of a warp demon named Slyte comes about. This will involve the killing and/or neutralizing of some people who stand in the way of the plan.

Ravenor himself has heard of Slyte, and is very interested in keeping Slyte from manifesting. But he believes that Slyte may have something to do with Zael, since his last name is properly Slate, from his father. But while Ravenor keeps his eye on Zael, another problem is growing in the form of his own student, Carl Thoenen. Strange and inexplicable things are happening around him, and his personality is slowly changing, from a prissy man who spends far too much attention on his clothing to a hard man who is more of a doer than a thinker. What could be the cause of such a change?

The focus of Ravenor and his crew is Zygmunt Molotch, the one who is behind the entire plot. It seems that he has somehow managed to replace the entire Administratum's computers with those salvaged from the warp, and is running vast quantities of gibberish through them to discover the secrets of Eternium, a long-forgotten language that can literally reshape the universe. But having suborned the Sector Capital, can Molotch be stopped by Ravenor and his team before Molotch's grand plan comes to fruition?

This book was a like a storm. All through the story, you know something bad is coming. It's presaged with plenty of warnings and predictors, and you know it's going to be bad. But unlike the Eisenhorn books, each of which tell a story separated by years of time, the books in this series come one right after the other, separated by a few weeks, or maybe a couple of months of time. So while both book series tell a single story about an inquisitor pursuing a single villain, the Ravenor stories seem more coherent, because it takes place in mostly the same area.

But the storm at the end of this book isn't really the end of the story, even though it seems to be, because the story ends on a clear note that the trouble hasn't ended, and will continue in the next book. And, Molotch isn't dead... plus we get a look at who Slyte really is, and wonder how Ravenor will end up taking him/it down.

An interesting middle story, usually the worst in a trilogy, because it neither has a discrete ending, and merely maintains most of the characters in a status quo while setting up the ending, the true ending, of the trilogy. That may be true, but this book is fascinating nonetheless and delivers quite a lot of bang for your buck. Recommended.

Fantastic Four: World's Greatest by Mark Millar and Brian Hitch

Reed Richard's old flame, Alyssa Moy, returns from where she has been working in the Arctic with a plea for help from Reed Richards. She tells him that the world has only 8 years left to live, due to various pollutants and other problems. There is no way that Reed can solve the problem- what she needs is his help with a world that she and her colleague are creating on the other side of a dimensional gate- a world to mimic our world, but one with no war, no violence, and no crime.

Reed doesn't necessarily agree with her conclusions on the fate of the world, but he's willing to look at her data, and he thoroughly enjoys his tour of the world they have created on the other side of the gate. He can't agree to help her at this time, but he is going to check her data before he can get back to her.

Johnny, meanwhile, has moved out of the Baxter Building and started a rock band with some of his buddies. Said band will also be starring in a reality TV show. But he's just met an amazing woman who has been robbing banks in addition to boinking Johnny's brains out, so he's more than a bit conflicted as to what to do with her.

Sue has stuff of her own going on, like an attempt to join with other female superheroes and create a team. But when a being from the new world, a sentinel known as "Cap" and based on Captain America, meant to keep order in the new world, escapes and begins to attack the nuclear arsenals of both America and Russia, it's up to her and Reed to put Cap down and end its rampage. Sue feels that Alyssa has her eyes on more than Reed's mind, and turns out to be right. But when Doctor Doom escapes his confinement and is kidnapped by a group of heroes, The Fantastic Four will be drawn into a fight that began in the future, and has returned to the past to wreak havoc.

Is there any hope for the inhabitants of Future Earth? And will Alyssa succeed in capturing Reed's interest in more than her ideas, or has she underestimated his love for his wife? Will the revelation of the future events of the earth lead to it being a self-fulfilling prophecy, or will Reed's reknowned intellect find some way to prevent the future holocaust?

This was a rather strange book. The beginning, with a trip to the past by Reed, Sue, Ben and the kids trying to go to Disneyland on its opening day, reminded me a great deal of the 60's cartoon era FF, specifically, the one with Kang the Conqueror and going back to ancient Egypt through a time machine in the Great Sphinx. But the story just didn't grab me. It didn't seem to have a sense of cohesiveness that a truly great story should. Too many disparate elements that, while they may have been fit together like a puzzle in the end, just left me with an "enh" feeling.

Yeah, stuff happens and the team works together, but the story, I just wasn't feeling it. Sue and Reed, and even Johnny get most of the strokes from this story. Ben kinda gets lost and left out in the cold, even if he does get a new girlfriend out of the whole thing.

I was just not impressed by the story. There were too many elements that, even when later combined, just left me cold. And while there was a valid effort to make the new babysitter character someone whose death you could sympathize with at the end, it instead made me feel a shrug and "so?" Some nice story ideas, but not very good execution of those ideas.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Triple Bind by Stephen Hinshaw, Ph. D.

Girls these days are under far more pressure than at any time previous in our society. Far from a double bind, they are now under a triple bind: Be pretty, sweet and nice, do the former "boy jobs" of being intelligent academically and athletic, and finish it all by appearing to do all the former without appearing to have to work or strive for it. Essentially, be perfect.

Sadly, most girls, if not all girls, find themselves unsuited to doing all three, but if they fall down on any of the jobs, they find themselves censured by their parents, their teachers, or even the other girls they hang out with. Even, most surprisingly of all, their boyfriends, who don't like being upstaged by girls who are smarter or more accomplished than they are.

The result? Girls are under more stress than at any other time, called upon to do impossible things and be perfect at all of them. The smarter girls know it isn't possible to do all those things perfectly, and feel the incredible strain that they are under, and realize that to be seen to be working at those things labels them in ways that they don't want to be labelled at. Not quite pretty enough? You're a wanna-be. Not quite smart enough? Nerd. Not quite outgoing enough? Snob. Don't have a steady boyfriend? Slut. And so on.

So what can we do to prevent girls from falling for this triple bind? How can we take the pressure off and take away the stigma for failing to be complete and perfect? Is there a way to do so? If there is, if there is a way to prevent girls from falling for the myth that they must be forever perfect and composed, it's going to take the parents and friends of those girls working together to make it work.

I grew up in the 70's, and I didn't have the triple bind that I can remember, growing up. Girls were expected to be pretty, yes, but perfect wasn't in the picture/ I can only see that things have changed since then, since smart/intelligent and athletic were nice, but not expected. I can't tell if or how much things have changed since then, since I'm generally not close to young girls any more, so I'm not quite convinced that the problem is all over as much as Dr. Hinshaw would have us believe.

It was interesting to see the view from a male, an outsider to the experience of girlhood and being a girl, but I'm not necessarily sure I agree with him and his conclusions. I do agree with some of his solutions, such as a large support network, but then, I think that all kids should have that anyway as opposed to it being a girl-specific remedy.

An intriguing book, but I'm just not completely convinced that girls are quite so set up to fail as he seems to think. YMMV.