Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Vampire Hunter D, Volume 3 by Hideyuki Kikuchi and Saiko Takaki

When the Vampire Lord known as Mayerling kidnaps the daughter of a wealthy village leader, the leader hires D to bring her back. But unbeknownst to D, there is another family of hunters already on the case, the Marcus family. Brothers Borgoff, Grove, Nolt and Kyle, and their sister Leila, are already on the case.

The problem is that none of them really have much of an interest in getting the girl back. They are more interested in killing Mayerling, the Vampire. And if it means getting him, they'll gladly kill the girl as well- or even use members of their own clan as bait or traps. Especially Leyla, who is their sister, but also their whore, used to service the brothers despite her own protests.

However, Mayerling and his captive aren't just fleeing blindly into the night- they are seeking a specific destination- a spaceport they can use to get offworld. D warns them that they don't know its condition, but Mayerling ignores him. He promised to show the girl the stars, and he will keep his promise. But to keep the Marcus brothers off his trail, he'll do just about anything-including hiring the three best fighters from a clan of mutants- to give them a chance to escape.

Leila seems trapped by the actions of her brothers and her situation, but when she begins to fall for D, she starts to see that she is the one who can choose what she wants to be- she doesn't have to be only what her brothers want or need her to be. Can she escape from the grip of her only remaining family before the entire Marcus clan is wiped out? And what of Mayerling and his love? Is there any hope that their journey can end happily? Or is the dream of a vampire and a human in love too fragile to sustain hope?

Given that the plot of this book (manga and novel both) became the basis for the second Vampire Hunter D movie, Bloodlust, you can pretty much guess how it ends. But those who have seen the movie might be surprised at some of the changes from the book to the movie. But the focus of the story goes from the hunters to the hunted quite quickly. As unlikely as it may seem, the Vampire Lord is actually very clearly in love with the human girl, and she with him.

Her father may have cast her out for loving Mayerling, and hired the hunters to get her back, you get the feeling that it wasn't out of love for her so much as to punish her and keep her from the man/vampire she loved and chose over her father (and the rest of her family if she had any- we don't see them). So in the end, when Mayerling is dying, rather than be parted from him, she makes a choice to follow him into death- at least as noble an act as his rescue of her from the bosom of her family.

Reading this manga may have shown it to be filled with fighting and hatred, but the story is really about love. Love, as shown by the Marcus clan, can take on some very twisted forms, but the pure love of Mayerling and his love shines through it all, and in the end, Leila is free to give her love where she wills. And D? He rides off alone as he always has been, as much an enigma as ever. Recommended.

Trinity Blood, Volume 10 by Sunao Yoshida and Kiyo Kyujo

It has been a year since Sister Esther Blanchett met Father Abel Nightroad in the city of Istvan. There, they fought the vampire Gyula Ka'Dar, who hated and wished to kill the humans because they had caused the death of his beloved wife. But at the last moment, they defeated him, and he gave up his plans of revenge.

Shortly afterward, Sister Esther and Father Abel, who is a sort of anti-vampire called a Krusnik, were sent back to the Vatican, and travelled all over as troubleshooters for Caterina Sforza. But now they are back in Istvan, and what a difference a year makes!

Esther is especially surprised by the homecoming, because in her absence, she has somehow become a saint in the eyes of the people, who think she alone defeated the plans of Gyula with her beauty, innocence and piety. So to come back to where she has lived and be treated as a celebrity as well as saint is rather startling to her.

She soon finds out that it is a canon of the church who has so elevated her. Archbishop D'Annunzio has not only declared her a saint, but written an entire opera to reveal to the city Esther's role in defeating Gyula. The big problem here is that none of it is true. It's all just propoganda to reassure the people that they are safe.

But D'Annunzio has greater ambitions than that. He wants nothing less than a war with the nation of vampires, and plans to martyr Esther to his cause. To make it happen, he's blackmailed a female vampire named Scheherezade al-Rhaman to kidnap and kill Esther. He's ensured Scheherezade's cooperation by imprisoning her Kethuda, or human retainer, and threatening the man with death unless she does what he says.

He could make her kidnap Esther, but not kill her. Not even for the life of her Kethuda. And when Esther finds out what the Bishop has done, she is righteously angry and decides to start fighting back against what this man is doing to her. But with so many people in the church on his own side, supporting him- including Caterina Sforza's older brother, who wants his chance to manipulate the Pope, their younger brother, into declaring War on the Vampire Empire, does Esther have any chance of winning against such a man? Especially when he uses her siding with Scheherezade to declare that the vampires have brainwashed her into fighting for them? Can he really have his way, or will Esther and her allies, including Abel, be able to save her and overthrow this false cleric?

This is another wonderful chapter in the Trinity Blood story, showing that it's not really the fault of the vampires for the ugliness in the world. It's both the humans and the vampires, the ones who want war, not peace, to reign. And that's not exclusive to just one side- it's both. I'm sure both sides would tell you they have no choice- that neither side can or could live peacefully with the other. But as we have already seen, they are wrong. It's not that humans can't live with vampires peacefully. It's that some on both sides choose not to.

The Vatican does hold some blame here- many of their operatives are in the "choose not to" camp, and their ruthlessness and willingness to sacrifice someone like Esther, someone who can live peacefully with vampires, is frightening. If war won't come, they'll make it come, everyone else be damned. How Caterina Sforza and those under her, who do seek peace with the vampires, deal with the malice and treachery of their own side will be interesting, and perhaps might give the peacemakers among the vampires some hope.

Honestly, I love this series and can't wait to read more. Kikyo Kyujo's art lends itself equally to the lovely and the brutal, and there is lyricism in both, plus the constant questioning of who is really on the side of whom lends a definite air of uncertainty to the series, which keeps you guessing. Who will come down on the side of whom, and can the most ardent haters change their ways? This series keeps me guessing, and reading, and I can't give it up. Highly recommended.

Dead is So Last Year by Marlene Perez

Daisy Giordano's entire family is psychic, which includes her mom, her two sisters, and her. For the longest time, Diasy thought that she was the only one without psychic powers, but earlier this year, she finally realized it wasn't so. Now, not only does she have psychic powers, but her old friend Ryan became her boyfriend- and she found out he was a werewolf.

It's now the summer before her senior year, and Daisy and her sisters have returned from France, where they were taking a trip with their mother. They went ahead while her Mom took a small job in Paris, but as the job becomes more complicated, she has to stay longer, which leaves the girls at sixes and sevens.

Soon, each of them has gotten a job to stave off boredom. Daisy gets a job at Slim's, whose proprietor is never seen. And there's a good reason for that, Daisy finds, because Slim is an invisible man. But that doesn't prevent him from having a girlfriend, the witch Natalie Mason, who is temporarily living with her mother.

Poppy, Daisy's beach-obsessed sister, gets a job serving snacks on the boardwalk, and elder sister Rose gets a job with Doctor Franken, a noted researcher, in the college science lab.

But something is strange. One morning coming to work, Daisy notices the normally sweets-avoiding and taciturn post office lady gorging on donuts from the place across from Slim's. When she turns to enter Slim's, she sees her again, and when she turns back, the donut-gorging woman is gone. Confused, she goes to work, but soon notices many people in town making beelines for the Donut store.

Even her nemesis Penny Edwards seems to be treating Daisy better. Or is she? Sometimes Penny is nice, as at the party Daisy and her sisters throw at the beach, and sometimes she's an absolute bitch. But all becomes clear when the town council throws a meeting and says that someone is making Dopplegangers in town, and all the sugar-eaters seem to be dopplegangers.

But who could be making them? And why? Daisy isn't sure she knows, but she does know that her Dad, long missing, has been seen in town and seems to have finally returned to the bosom of his family. But is he really their Dad, or just another Doppleganger? And even if he is a Doppleganger, isn't that cause for hope? Because to be duplicated, their Dad has to still be alive... somewhere.

Meanwhile, she and boyfriend Ryan also have to deal with Sean, Ryan's best friend. They are both on the Football team together, and both have bulked up amazingly in a very short time. But while Ryan has the excuse of being a Werewolf, Sean is just a human. Or is he? When he starts hanging around with Wolfgang, who, unlike Ryan, is a bitten, or made Werewolf, whereas Ryan is a born Were.

But Daisy has also seen a group of young wolves causing trouble in town. Who is in this new pack, and what will it mean for all the other werewolves in town, Ryan included. Does this have anything to do with the problem of the Dopplegangers, or is it Wolfgang's payback for not making the football team. Will Daisy and Ryan be able to handle it, or is Daisy in over her head this time?

I like the Daisy Giordano books, and this one was more of the same, with a wonderful, crackerjack story, likeable characters, and a growing sense of the town of Nightshade. Many of the people in town are strange and supernatural, but in practice, they are just people like any other, from Mr. Bone, the town undertaker, who is something called a Skull, right down to Daisy's boyfriend Ryan, who is a werewolf. There's no big sense that supernaturals are any different than the humans except maybe in looks and dietary practices, but they live and love (and date, and make out) just like humans do.

And that's perfectly okay with me. But there is a growing sense that the town itself may soon be under siege by the Scourge- a group of fanatical anti-supernatural creature haters. Why they hate all supernaturals, we don't know, they just do. But they seem to know that the people in Nightshade aren't always people- they are something else, and they want the world to be rid of them.

Daisy may still be in High School, but she and her sisters are having more to do with defending the town and uncovering the plots against it with each book- and that's just fine with me. Growing up and taking on more responsibility for your actions is all part of growing up- something that many of the teens who read this book will also be coming to terms with as they do the same in their home lives. It's nice that Daisy is growing along with her readers, and we'll see her take on more responsibilities in the future.

I was thinking that this series was only going to be a trilogy, but that no longer seems to be the case. The Scourge is still around, her father is still out there, and the series isn't over yet. And I'm very glad of that. This series is by no means finished, and I still want to read more- more about Daisy, and more about Nightshade. I can hardly wait for the next book. This is good stuff, and I highly recommend it.

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Dresden Files: Welcome to the Jungle by Jim Butcher and Ardian Syaf

Harry Dresden is a professional Wizard living in Chicago. Not someone who does kid's parties, an actual wizard. He's even in the phone book, but that seems to get him as many invites to do parties as anything else. But he does work for the Chicago PD as a supernatural consultant, which is where much of his money comes from.

Now, his cop friend Karrin Murphy calls him in on a case at the Lincoln Park Zoo. A security guard there was mauled, supposedly by a huge male gorilla named Moe. Harry agrees to investigate, but none of the other animal park keepers are willing to talk to him, or even tell him much, and Harry doesn't know why. The only one who seems even a little bit friendly is Dana Watson, a vet from London here to draw blood from Moe for some tests. She tells him that the other keepers are sure that the city wants to kill Moe and let him take the blame for what happened- the other keepers are rallying around Dr. Reese in his efforts to save Moe.

Harry thanks her for the information, and goes to see Dr. Reese, who comes out angry and blustering, until Harry tells him he doesn't think Moe killed the man. This deflates Dr. Reese, who offers Harry a beer and talks with him about Moe. When he has to go, Harry stays there drinking and looking at Moe until he is interrupted by Will, Dr. Reese's assistant.

Will, short for Willamena, is carrying a load of papers, which she drops when she sees Harry. He helps her clean them up, only to be interrupted by Moe, who is agitated. Why? Well, a huge male lion with glowing green eyes is at the door, and it begins attacking Harry and Will. Harry manages to get it imprisoned in a closet with a metal door- and that's when the rest of the pride show up, along with unrelated big cat species, all with the same glowing green eyes.

Harry knows this means that someone is controlling them, and he and will must make a very fast escape without being killed by the cats. It's harder than it sounds, but eventually they get away by setting off the fire alarms and water sprayers, which startle the cats enough to jolt them out of the mental control. Afterwards, Harry and Will make their escape, and Harry tracks down his best suspect: Dr. Watson. He breaks into her office, where he finds jars of something- six of them, and enough magical traces to know she was casting spells in there.

Harry takes home one of the jars to Bob, his skull that contains a spirit of intellect, and Will to his home as well. He leaves her with Mister and goes down to consult with Bob. There, he learns that the jars are full of blood, and are covered on the inside with crosses- symbols of Hecate in her position as Goddess of the Crossroads. She is served by Hags, magical creatures of the Nevernever, and the animal blood in the jars is used by them to undergo a rite of transformation-into a Goddess themselves.

Now it's up to Harry to deal with the Hags. But that won't be easy considering how big and tough they are. And the only way to kill one is to hit it hard over and over and over again until it finally goes down. But when Harry follows its trail and finds not one Hag, but three, how will he survive the confrontation? Will there be justice for the murdered guard and for Moe?

Wow. As soon as I saw these graphic novels in the bookstore, a primitive thought formed in my brain- "Harry Dresden? Must. Have." And I certainly wasn't disappointed when I got them home and read them as quickly as possible. And this particular comic came with a bonus; Pictures of and discussions about Harry by Jim Butcher. I learned lots of stuff I didn't know before about Harry, like that he's 6'9! Yeesh, that's tall! And he's not buff, but wiry- although he's drawn in pretty excellent shape.

Jim Butcher has given his approval to the art, saying that this is what Harry and the others look like in his head- and that's good enough for me. I also loved that this series shows Mister, which the TV series did not. And how big he is. Yeah, he's only in a few panels, but I still loved seeing him. This book was the perfect storm of Harry Dresden- the story was wonderful and the character designs out of this world- but since the story was written by Jim Butcher himself, how could you go wrong?

I loved this graphic novel. I loved it a lot, and I already bought the second one in the series, which novelizes the first book in the Dresden Files series, Storm Front. I'll definitely be on the lookout for more of this series and more graphic novels from this company, Dabel Brothers. This is one series to watch. Highly recommended.

Rasetsu by Chika Shiomi

Eighteen year old Rasetsu Hyuga is an exorcist working for a company in Tokyo. Though she tends to be abrasive and short-tempered, she is an excellent spirit-chaser. She only has one problem in her life- imprinted on the skin her breast bone is a red rose- the mark of a demon she encountered back before she first learned of her abilities.

The demon marked her, then told her that unless she discovered her true love by the time that she was twenty, it would return to claim her... forever. And though ever since then, Hyuga has come into her own as a powerful exorcist, even she knows that she isn't powerful enough to drive the demon away from her. She's rather fatalistic about the possibility, but she isn't out there desperately looking for love, either.

Yako Hoshino is a teacher who comes to the agency to help him take care of a matter he cannot handle on his own- that of a possessed book. Though he is surprised by Hyuga's looks, he can smell the stench of the demon on her from the mark on her body, and makes some rather insulting assumptions about her right away- ones that Hyuga carefully and calmly refutes in a way that is equally insulting to Hoshino, and shows she can give as good as she gets.

When he realizes the truth, he is apologetic, but she isn't having any of his apologies. Still, as Hoshino is blackmailed into joining the same agency that Hyuga works for, she still doesn't warm to him much, and he finds out her other awful secret- her powers are fueled by sugar- mostly cake, but she will eat mounds of sugar crystals if she can't get cake. He finds this gross and disgusting, but finds himself drawn to her nonetheless.

But Hoshino has some secrets of his own, and one of them is that he once fell in love with a girl who looked just like Rasetsu Hyuga. But it's only on a trip for a mission to Hoshino's old school that Hyuga discovers that the woman Hoshino fell in love with was a ghost- a guardian ghost who watched over Hoshino and moved on when he no longer needed her.

Hyuga finds herself fascinated, and looking at Hoshino in a whole new light. Does this mean she really has feelings for him deep down? And will her fascination with this new information about the man who has been a thorn in her side spell doom for the case they are working on?

I read the first chapter of this book in the now-defunct magazine, ShoujoBeat, and it was interesting enough to make me pick up the book. Having read plenty of romantic shoujo manga in my time, I can already tell that Yako Hoshino is being set up as her soul mate and true love, but both of them are going to have to realize that. And the demon who marked her probably lied about letting her go if she found her true love- and they will have to work together to defeat it.

But it's not so much the destination, but the journey that marks Shoujo manga, and it will be all about how the end up caring for each other and learning to show that caring and coming to rely on each other. For that, I am willing to read this manga and watch that slow flowering and the background of ghostbustings and exorcisms.

It will be interesting to see two people who are so guarded come to care for each other and let the walls down for each other and work together. So far, we have only the gentlest inklings of such a future, but I am willing to be there for the ride and see how it happens. The unusual background of being exorcists only raises the stakes for the outcome. Recommended.

Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, Volume 1- Animator by Laurell K. Hamilton, Jess Ruffner-Booth and Ron Lim

Anita Blake is an Animator working for Animators, Inc. She also works as a Marshall who used to hunt vampires. But since Vampires came out and went legal, she can now only kill them if they step out of line.

But that's not what pays her bills. Working as an animator does. When her boss calls het to a consultation with a client who wants Anita to raise a corpse, Anita willingly goes along. But the job as presented, she turns down flat. Anita is very powerful and can raise really old corpses to life for s short time. But this client wants her to raise someone 243 years dead- and Anita won't do that- because someone dead that long would require more than just a goat or chicken to raise. To bring back someone dead that long would require a human sacrifice. And Anita won't go there. At all.

The man offers her a million dollars, then a million and a half, but Anita won't budge. She won't kill anyone to bring back the dead. Not for any amount of money, and her boss Bert, even though he's a huge prick, agrees with her on this point. Animals are fine. Humans? No way!

Soon after, Anita is called to a crime scene by the police. A man and a woman, killed in their home and partially consumed. They have a child- a boy, who is missing, and the Police and Anita want him found. But what could have killed the couple and eaten them? Anita knows the answer- Zombies, and she calls on her old Mentor, Manny Rodriguez to provide her entree to the one woman who could have done it and raised the Zombie or zombies who killed the parents.

Dominga Salvador is a voodoo High Priestess, and she's been looking forward to Anita, who is so very powerful. Dominga could teach Anita a lot about raising Zombies, but does Anita want to learn what this ultra-powerful, ultra-scary woman has to teach? When Dominga shows Anita the secret project she's been working on in her basement, Anita is terrified and repulsed, for Dominga has found a way to keep zombies from decaying- capture their souls at the moment of their death and put them back into the body when they are raised.

She tells Anita that there are plenty of people who would pay good money for zombies such as these, but Anita wants no part of that at all, which disappoints Dominga. She tells Anita that it was not her zombies that killed the couple, but also tells Anita some home truths about Manny that leave Anita rather disquieted- that Manny sacrificed the "White Goat" (Slang for humans) in voodoo rituals for her when he was younger.

Anita doesn't reject Manny for what he did- that was over 20 years ago. But she doesn't want to hang around with him for long after that- not right now, anyway. He understands and leaves, but when she gets home, she discovers one of the bodyguards from the man who wanted her to raise the old body near her house, and she has to drive him off with a gun when he offers her yet more money and gets irate over her continued refusal.

She meets with Dolph Storr after a funeral for a fellow hunter, and tries to track down the Zombie who did the killings. They find the boy's body, which makes both of them even more determined to get whoever raised that Zombie. Meanwhile, Anita looks to get some information from a werewolf reporter she knows, but her tete-a-tete is interrupted by Jean-Claude, who wants to gather her in with his people, since she bears his marks.

Anita is angry. She didn't ask for his marks, and she's not happy about carrying two of them. He's conciliatory, but tells her there is more. If he ever gives her the full four marks, she will be as immortal as he is, and there are other wrinkles as well. Anita doesn't want to hear it, but she agrees to meet Jean-Claude for a further discussion.

Anita meets Dolph back in the graveyard at night to finish tracking down their zombie. They find the grave it was raised from, but the body is missing and the gravestone shattered- which prevents them from making it easy to destroy the zombie. Anita takes the graveyard dirt and bits of the headstone to a psychic she knows, but he's not in the business any longer, and doesn't want to do it because of the psychic residue. Anita has to browbeat him into helping her, and he does, but afterwards throws her out.

Back at home, Anita is woken by a big ugly intruder smelling of death and decay. But when she runs out of bullets in the middle of the fight against it, how will she survive?

I really like the early Anita Blake books, and this one was great. It's nice to see Anita afraid and not have her dealing with her problems by screwing them into submission, as she seems to do in the later books. And here, Anita is merely human, and can still feel a healthy sense of fear and disgust. Especially with Dominga, whose actions and attitude seem to be "If I can do it, I am right to do so." Her idea of imprisoning human souls in a dead body forever is just amazingly disgusting and scary, and we agree with Anita that it's wrong.

Of course, we know that the guy who tried to hire Anita to raise the very old body isn't going to take no for an answer, and at some point, he'll have to try and force her to do it. Or he could try and hire Dominga- and I'm not sure which prospect scares me more. The graphic novel ends on a cliffhanger- will Anita get out of her peril. Well this isn't the last book in the series, so there's more of a question of how she'll get out of it alive and with all her body parts intact. And honestly, it's been so long since I read it, I don't remember any more, so it was a cliffhanger for me, too.

As a graphic novel, the series is good and effective, and I loved seeing Anita in her penguin nighties and reacting to stuff like an ordinary human again, unaffected by the power creep (or is it more like Power surge?) that she gets later. For making me feel with and for Anita, this comic gets high marks, and so I recommend it. For anyone who wants to know why the Anita Blake series is so popular and was so powerful, this graphic novel brings home a long-fogotten lesson. Read it and see.

The Darkness, Volume 1 by Kerri Hawkins

Jackie Escada is an orphan at St. Gerard's orphanage. He's something of a troublemaker, but he's also got a lot of good in him, because he looks out for and protects one of the other girls there, his friend, Jenny.

Since not all of the nuns and priests working at St. Gerard's even like children, there is plenty of room for abuse by the staff. Sister Agnes persists in thinking of Jenny as a whore, even though Jenny is only eight years old. And Father Antonio Basilio has no excuse even being around children when he's sexually attracted to them- Jenny and Jackie especially.

Jackie has some problems. Ever since he can remember, he's had nightmares of things skittering in the darkness outside his perception. Sometimes, he even has these nightmares before he falls asleep. Only talking to Jenny about them helps him to deal with them. She's the only one at the orphanage who knows about them.

But when Jenny and Jackie fall asleep after dinner and wake up out in the courtyard after lights out, he helps her get back into the girl's dorm and prepares to take any punishment on himself. When he's caught by Father Basilio, the good father prepares to sodomize Jackie in punishment- he can't tell of what happened, or he'll be punished for being out so late with Jenny. As he kneels on the stones, his pants pulled down, waiting for Father Basilio to do whatever he is going to do, Jackie hears the sounds from his dreams and passes out.

When he wakes up, he's back in bed, and thinks that this dream was particularly awful. But it had to be just a dream, right? The discovery of Father Basilio's body, torn to shreds, doesn't even faze Jackie. He must have heard the struggle and incorporated it into his dream.

Shortly after, Jackie is found in the orphanage and adopted by his uncle, a crime boss named Frankie Franchetti. Frankie takes Jackie home to his wife and daughter, Appolonia. Appolonia hates Jackie on sight, and is only somewhat mollified at the gift of a dollie from her father. After dinner, she cuts the doll into bits, and plans to do the same to Jackie, but her father has caught her mother cheating on him with another man, and Appolonia sees her father kill the man in a horrific way and deal out justice to her mother as well.

After that, her mother must go into an insane asylum, where she remains in a near-comatose state, and Appolonia never quite forgets what she saw. She still hates Jackie, but she never tries to kill him. Jenny is safe in the orphanage because Jackie insisted on her being protected, and Frankie paid for it to be that way. If anything happens to her, he'll hurt whoever hurt her.

Meanwhile, Jackie is slowly pulled into the family business, becoming a hitman for the Franchetti family. He makes his first kill when he is sixteen, and becomes an enforcer as well as hitman. But when he's finally twenty-one, he discovers that those things he used to hear in his dreams are a sign of his heritage. Jackie is the wielder of the Darkness, passed down from his father. From this point on, if he has any children, he'll die, and the darkness will pass to his child.

Since he recently discovered that he's in love with Jenny, that hurts, but when a rival crime boss tries to take out Frankie, Jacie finds out just how mean and cold a bastard he can really be- as he uses his darkness powers to take down those who have hurt his uncle. But as he does so, he remains unaware that others are watching him, and they have an interest in him- interests that may not coincide with what he wants to do...

I've heard of the Darkness comic, along with a computer game I saw reviewed by Yahtzee Croshaw on "Zero Punctuation". So it was kind of nice to see the comic become a game and now a book. Unfortunately, it's a very slim book- and this is only part 1! I wondered if the book is based on the graphic novel story- since that also seems to be broken up into similar chapters. If it is, I sure hope that the novels get longer. Because the length makes it seem that the story is for kids. And the kind of stuff that goes on here? So not for kids it isn't funny.

These are adult comics- they are all about death, killing and yes, Darkness. Not an external Darkness, but an internal Darkness that is somehow more scary than merely an outer darkness. But the novel implies that Jackie must not give into the Darkness, or he'll be taken over. I didn't see any of that coming out in the book. He uses the Darkness to murder pretty much at will. Where, exactly, is he holding back? I couldn't see it, myself. Perhaps in that he is deciding where the Darkness should be used rather than letting it use him- but we never get a sense of that really being the case.

Suffice to say that, even as a book, the story here doesn't quite live up to the hype that is the back cover copy. Something is missing. It may be in succeeding volumes, but while Jackie is an interesting character, he never quite makes me want to root for him- and the story that's given here isn't long enough to really make me care. I might be willing to see more, but not to purchase them unless and until the story really ramps up. I'm decidedly iffy on this series and can't really recommend it. If you already like the comics, I'm not sure why you should have this version- and this book is hardly a good advertisement for why you should read the comic series.

The Dresden Files: Storm Front #1- The Gathering Storm by Jim Butcher and Ardian Syaf

Harry Dresden is Chicago's only wizard who actually has his name and number in the Yellow Pages under "Wizards". He's there to help if you have supernatural problems and have nowhere else to turn. In magical terms, he's a thug- lots of power, not much finesse.

But when he's called outto a case by his friend and cop Karrin Murphy, or "Murph", she can't resist ragging on him for his leather duster coat, which makes him look like a refugee from a movie set of "El Dorado". He returns the favor by opening the doors for her, which he knows peeves her off, as she is quite able to take care of herself.

But what he finds behind those doors is very sickening. Two people, in the act of making love, whose hearts seem to have exploded out of their chests. There's no sign that there was anyone else in the apartment or any signs of magical workings in the area, and that has Harry confused. There's two basic ways to do what happened to these people- voodoo, which would require a lock of hair from both of them, or Evocation, which would require someone touching them. Since neither of these seem to be the case, Harry is perplexed and a bit frightened. Both options would take a lot of magic. Murph pleads with him to help, and since he's a sucker for a woman in distress, he agrees.

But soon after, he is approached on the street by the bodyguards of "Gentleman Johnny" Marcone, a crime lord, and they take him to see their boss. Johnny Marcone doesn't want Harry anywhere near the case, and he gives Harry a gentle hint to back off. While it's not punctuated by the bodyguards cracking their knuckles meaningfully in the background, Harry gets the hint nonetheless. But he's promised Murph, so he continues on anyway, not agreeing with Marcone.

Back at his office, he gets another job looking into a man's disappearance by his wife. Even though the man has been missing for three days, his wife tells Harry that the man was interested in magic, and where he had a place to do it. Harry investigates, and finds a camera's film cannister in the yard. To look into the matter, he summons Toot-toot, a fairy sprite who lives in the area, and bribes him with food to look into the matter.

But then he is attacked by Morgan, a wizard who has it in for Harry due to Harry's justified killing of his mentor, Justin DuMorne. Morgan all but accuses Harry of the murders he's investigating, which leads to a trading of fisticuffs between the two. Soon after, Harry is back at home preparing to meet a Lady Vampire, but Bob won't help him construct a potion that will teleport him out of danger unless Harry makes a love potion on top of it. Harry grumbles, but agrees.

After that, Harry is off to interview Bianca, a vampire of the Red Court. But when Harry mentions the name of the female murder victim, Bianca snaps and attacks him in her giant bat form- because she thinks that Harry killed both Jennifer Stanton and Tommy Tomm, the two victims. Harry manages to convince her he didn't, and she gives him the name of an associate of Jennifer's, who works as a driver.

He calls her and manages to track her down, where she is driving for a rich couple, but she isn't exactly helpful, and her charges show up too soon for Harry to get anything. With Toot-toot's help, Harry tracks down a pizza truck that delivered to the address of the missing husband, but the Pizza Guy was awfully scared by what he saw. He doesn't want anything to do with that kind of stuff ever again. He *did* see someone in the back of the house taking pictures of what went on, though.

Harry goes to see Murph, and has a run-in with a junkie who's been taking a new drug called Three-Eye. It's supposed to open the third eye and make you see things, and now Harry has proof that the drug is magical- because the man sees Harry's aura, and that's not the thing a non-wizard should be able to see. But when he's talking to Murph, he passes out from a blow on the head he took earlier, and she eventually sees him home.

At home, Harry finally gets some sleep, having completely forgotten he made a date with a reporter named Susan earlier. But in the midst of a rainstorm, Harry invites her in and goes to take a shower. Still in a towel, they are disturbed by a knock at the door, and something mean and very powerful comes in, looking to kill Harry- and Susan, too.

Stark naked in the midst of the rain, Harry and Susan must fight for their life- especially when Susan drinks the love potion rather than the potion to escape. Can Harry fight off Susan's magically-enhanced designs on his body while fighting the creature's hunger for both their lives?

The book ends with a short chapter telling of how Harry met Murph, over the case of a missing girl who actually ran away from her parents. At the time, Murph is still a uniformed patrolman, and Harry is learning to be a private eye. When they run into a troll at a real troll bridge, can Harry keep the girl safe and keep from being arrested by Murph, or killed by the Troll?

This is only the first part of the Storm Front novel in comic form- the first four chapters. And it reminds me well of why I loved and continue to love this book and the entire series so hard- he's a guy who never gives up, and never says die. He takes whatever is thrown at him and throws right back, even if he's wounded or hurting or naked in the middle of a rainstorm.

The case here is sufficiently convoluted that you are still wondering exactly what's going on- but you know that *something* is going on- and that it's not likely to be good. And the battle in the rain is just all kinds of awesome- Harry is drawn as wiry and fairly buff and in shape- though he's more clean cut than I expected from the covers to the books and to the graphic novels as well, where he has some rather longish, scruffy-looking hair. Thankfully, his modesty in the fight is preserved through rather dark shadows and in at least one case, some puffs and streamers of smoke.

And in that, I was a little disappointed. Jim may not describe Harry as "buff", but the body he has in the comic is pretty ripped-looking. In fact, it's pretty much the standard "Hot, heroic male body", complete with six-pack abs and rather defined pecs. Okay, it might look nicer on the comic page, but is it realistic to the books? Harry's a runner, so I'd expect his legs to be rather muscular, if in a streamlined way- but the rest of him, too? I'm not so much with that.

Aside from that, this graphic novel does an admirable job of bringing the book to life, and I will definitely be buying the next volume when it comes out. Aside from some minor quibbles with the way Harry's body is portrayed, this is all kinds of awesome, and brings an already wonderful book to life. Highly recommended.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Hangman Blind by Cassandra Clark

Hildegard is a Cistercian nun wishing to start a daughter house to her own nunnery, one devoted to healing, teaching and caring for others. She has had a vision of her own house with her as the head, and her abbess granted that it was a true vision. So before her abbess can die, she sends Hildegard out into the world to find a suitable grange for her Abbey. But first she must ask permission from the Bishop at Meaux.

Having gotten that permission, Hildegard heads home to Hutton, where she intends to find Lord Roger, who has long shown charity to her and the other nuns, and ask him if he can find a property for her nunnery. But the trip is not without risk. Even with her habit, there is a good chance she could be attacked and die along the way. And signs of unrest are all over, including a row of gibbeted men in the forest, and the body of a slain messenger boy.

Wat Tyler has been spreading rebellion, and the country is up in arms. Hildegard is especially upset over the messenger boy's death, because he was so young. He did keep one secret, however. He was carrying a small phial with a piece of blood-stained cloth inside. It's a relic, but a most problematic one, since it could put the countryside up in arms. It's a relic of Wat Tyler- a piece of his banner, the Whyte Hart, and dipped in his blood.

Hildegard takes the phial and its contents and keeps them safe but hidden. She once more rides for Hutton, but before her arrival, she sees another curious thing- a woman and man riding on horses. But they stop, and the woman gets off her horse and into a litter for the last part of her arrival in Hutton, out of sight of the castle. Hildegard wonders why the woman had to change, but enters Hutton herself in the rain.

There, she meets her brother, Ulf, who is now Steward for Lord Roger. He assures her that Roger will certainly help her, but right now, he is distracted by his new bride, the lovely Melisen, who is as demanding as she is beautiful. Meanwhile, Roger's sister Sibylla is pregnant and about to give birth. Hildegard goes to help her, but the midwife easily delivers the babe with the help of a red-haired serving girl, then leaves.

When Roger learns the baby is a boy, he declares it his heir, even though his own son, Edwin, is the fruit of his own loins. Apparently, the two had a falling-out, and Edwin left to become a mercenary. Now Roger has given his patrimony away to a small baby, should anything happen to him.

Shortly after doing so, Roger is poisoned, though Hildegard manages to save his life by administering an antidote. But he convinces her and Ulf to let it seem like he had died so that they can catch the poisoner by his actions after he learns that he succeeded in killing Roger. They announce that Roger had died of the pestilence, and spirit him away to a nearby Abbey, filling his coffin with rocks and nailing it close because of the supposed pestilence.

But his death is not the first in the castle. The red-haired woman who attended the birth of the new baby is the next found dead, slain in the grain store. But why? What did she know that was so horrible that someone had to kill her for it? Hildegard suspects it may have had to do with the birth of Roger's new heir, but her attempts to track the midwife come to naught- the woman's next job takes her to a local mill. But the Miller's family has fled, and the mill has been fired. All they can find is the midwife's mule. Is she dead, or is she simply in hiding? Hildegard cannot be sure.

But when Melisen is kidnapped from the funeral cortege by William, Lord Roger's brother, Hildegard must sort out who wanted Roger dead and who would gain the most by his death? Is there any way of figuring out who tried to poison him, and why they wished him dead? Hildegard must solve the case if she ever wants some peace and a home place for her nuns and those who will follow and help her.

This is the first in a new mystery series, and it's set in England in the 14th century, shortly after Wat Tyler's rebellion. The peasants are grumbling about their lords, many looking for any excuse to overturn them all and seize the wealth and land the Lords possess. It's not usually a period covered in history, although P.C. Doherty did just that in "The Whyte Harte". While that book dealt with Tyler himself, this one is more incidental to the period.

This mystery is fairly twisty and obscure. I did figure out rather quickly that the newborn baby was not really Sibylla's, but was smuggled in by the midwife and "born" surprisingly quickly for a first-time mother. But I was intrigued and entranced to find out there was more to the deception than just this- I really did find it rather awesome and startling how many layers there were just to that bit of deception alone.

But what sort of turned me off was that the book wasn't all that fun or easy to read. The story was a sort of slog that took me a long time to get through, and the book isn't all that thick to begin with. There were also a lot of characters, and a multiplicity of suspects clogging things up. It's a braided story, because so many mysteries are presented and appear to tease us, going in and out of view, but it's a big, fat braid made up of many, many smaller braids, and I had to read very closely to make sure I didn't miss anything.

I did end up rather liking the story, and the characters, I certainly want to see both Hildegard and Ulf again- and given that this story is first in a series, I probably will. But I do hope the books get a little easier to read, because a series so packed with stuff is a little daunting, to say the least. But I'll give this one a cautious recommendation.

The Killing Way by Tony Hays

Maelgwyn ap Cuneglas is a Briton, and a former member of Arthur's warband. But now, he is only half a man, his sword-arm missing below the elbow, cut away by a Saxon spear. Every day, he drinks himself insensible and futters with wenches in an attempt to escape from a life that is nothing like the one he wanted.

His dirty little secret is that he now hates Arthur, who saved his life when his arm was cut off, taking him to the monks at Glastonbury to have them save his life. But as a result, Maelgwyn can no longer fight, and since killing the Saxons who destroyed his village and raped and killed his wife was the only thing that made him happy, he hates his new life, even though the monks trained him to read and write and he now works as a scribe.

But when a young maiden is found killed and gutted outside Merlin's front door, Arthur calls on Maelgwyn to find the true culprit, whoever he is. Arthur may be Dux Bellorun, the warleader under the current Rigotamos, Vortigern, but Vortigern is dying, and he wants Arthur to be the next High King. And the only way Arthur can do that is to get the acclaim of the people. If he appears to be sheltering a murderer because the old man, Merlin, is dear to him, the people will have no faith in the justice of Arthur's rule. And that is what Arthur wants more than anything. Justice, true justice, for all.

Maelgwyn hates Arthur, but his former leader doesn't give him a choice about taking on the duty. Everyone knows Maelgwyn dislikes Arthur after what happened to him, so they will more readily accept that Maelgwyn's verdict is not coerced or bought to be favorable to Merlin via Arthur.

But that isn't all that is ranked against Arthur. His relationship with Guinevere, Melgwyn's cousin, began when Guinevere was in a nunnery. The two fell madly in love, and were soon in bed together. They were discovered and Guinevere was thrown out of the nunnery, and her broken vow makes it impossible for them to ever be together legally. Many consider her a sorceress who has bewitched or enchanted Arthur. But she also wants to find the true killer and helps Maelgwyn along the way.

Appointed iudex by Arthur, Maelgwyn must tease out the threads of the mystery. Who really killed Eleonore? She was beloved by Kay, but her status as a serving wench in Arthur's great halll meant she came into the presence of more hallowed company- like Tristan, a young man who serves as messenger and ambassador for his father, King Mark.

Tristan, though, swears he had nothing to do with her death. Maelgwyn feels that Tristan is concealing something, but what? And why do Tristan and Mark favor peace with the Saxons? How are the Saxons able to infiltrate the country so easily? And what does Eleonora's death have to do with any of these things?

Maelgwyn discovers that shortly before her death, she said she wished to see Maelgwyn about an assassination plot she had discovered. But against whom? And her heart is missing, found wrapped in a canvas sack in Merlin's home. Merlin had recently advocated eating the hearts of animals to give vigor and retain youth. But would he go so far as to kill Eleonora simply so he could eat her youthful heart?

Maelgwyn is running out of time. When another woman is killed in much the same way, he finds he has only a day and a half to find the true killer and enough proof and evidence to bring the killer to justice. But with bands of murderous Saxons seemingly around every corner and Eleonora's killer on the loose, can "Smiling Maelgwyn" bring the killer to justice? And will the case make him ever change his mind about Arthur?

I found this book incredible, not to mention, incredibly good. Just about everyone knows the Arthurian Legends, but this book presents a look at those legends in a more realistic way, which makes the book seem slightly skewed from the legends. Well, slightly skewed in some aspects, and greatly skewed in others.

The very unique depiction of the characters better known from Arthurian tales intrigued me. We get to see so many characters famous in the tales, like Arthur himself, and Guinevere, but the setting keeps them realistic while adding more shades of meaning to the "legends everyone knows". Merlin himself is a case in point. He's Arthur's mentor. But a wizard? Well, in the book, he's an old man who is going senile. He still has flashes of brilliant insight and wisdom, but he's begun to think he has actual magic powers. I found that appropriate and wonderful. What a great way to explain the legend! And later, we find that the people also think and believe he has these powers as well.

Reading this book, I found a great mystery and a source of endless fascination. Every name I recognized from some part of Arthurian legends and tales made me tingle a little inside, as if I had been goosed. The story gripped me with the strength of a Titan and didn't let me go until the very end. I found it so good that I actually wish this story was the first in a series- but it seems to be a stand-alone for now.

I'd like to beg the author to write more in this version of the Arthurian tales and with Maelgwyn. I found him so interesting and fascinating that I'd love to see more. I recommend this book highly, both for the gripping mystery and the setting.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Vampire Island by Adele Griffin

This is the first book in a series. I read the second, "The Knaveheart's Curse" first, and while I concluded I wouldn't really be following the series, I did end up reading this one, which I had put on hold at the library before I'd read the second one. And I'm kind of glad I did.

The Livingstone kids aren't your normal sorts, they are actually vampire/fruitbat hybrids from the old world. Which means that they do need blood- occasionally. But mostly they live on fruit. Because of the dangers inherent in the old world, where hybrids aren't wanted, they moved to America, and the New World, where they have a chance to shed their immortality and live normal lives.

Lexie is the oldest, and she has a crush on a human boy named Dylan, and she hopes he will like her, too. But Lexie's long hands, super-speed and double-jointed legs, not to mention her quoting of downer poetry, make her an object of derision to most of her classmates, including Mina Pringle, who is sure that Lexie is not quite human and ultra-strange.

Maddy is the middle child, the one with the most vampire in her makeup. She's strong and scary, and doesn't care who knows it. When a family named Von Krik moves in across the street, Maddy is convinced that they are old-world vampires and thus are a threat to the well-being and existence of her family. With her superior hunting skills that are a legacy from 400 years of providing for her family, she decides to put down the Von Kriks and make the city and street safe for her and her own.

Hudson is the youngest, and he wants to make the world a better place. In the old world, humans and vampires live in harmony with nature, and when he sees how people in the new pollute without thinking, he wants to do something about it. He's also the one member of his family who can still transform into a bat. So when other hybrids come forward to ask him to be a Protector, he is so there! But will becoming a Protector aliennate him from the rest of the kids in his class?

I found this first volume actually kind of cute and adorable. I liked the focus on the three siblings rather than just Maddy and enjoyed their struggles to seem normal. Even though the book was split up into what was essentially three different stories that ran concurrently, I enjoyed the way the siblings helped each other and showed up in each other's stories.

My favorite was Lexie's story, and because it is with her inadvertant help that Maddy is able to overcome the Von Kriks. Hudson's story is also strong, and by the end of the book, he seems to have redeemed himself to his classmates. But what I really missed from this book is the background. How can vampires become mortal and age? Is it only hybids, or can all vampires simply choose to give up the vampire life?

I suspect that this information will be doled out to us over the course of the series. We do learn some background here- how the Livingstone family first became vampires, but how did they become hybrids? Were they already part fruit bat? The story implies that they were, but doesn't really spell it out, and I would have appreciated knowing for sure.

I liked this book. We'll definitely see some of the minor characters again, like Pete the Werewolf Kid, because he shows up in the second volume, and probably will in the third, if and when there is one. I liked this first volume much better than the second, and it will make me look up the third, which I hope will focus on all the siblings once again- Maddy isn't strong enough to carry the series on her own, and I like the interplay between the siblings. Pick up this one, definitely.

A Haunt of Murder by P.C. Doherty

The Nightime tales of the Canterbury Pilgrims continue with the Clerk's Tale. Ralph Mortimer is a clerk in the Castle of Sir John Grasse, and his lady, Anne. Ralph is in love with Beatrice Arrowner, a daughter of the town Innkeeper, and on a lovely May Day, she meets with him and several other of the castle's residents for a feast.

During the feast, Ralph tells them that he is searching for an artifact, the Cross of Brythnoth, a fantastic gold and silver cross possessed by a previous lord of the castle. Brythnoth lost a fight against invading soldiers, but before his final battle, he sent his page to give the cross to his lady. The page ran from the scene of the battle, and was later killed, but he did not possess the cross. And so it disappeared into the mists of history, but Ralph is convinced that he can find where the cross is hidden.

As day turns to night, the feasters make plans to continue, but when Beatrice follows Ralph up onto the battlements of the Castle, someone pushes her off the walkway, killing her. Instead of immediately travelling to Heaven, though, she wonders why she appears to still be in the castle. She wanders through the castle grounds, seeing visions of dark knights and snarling, growling black dogs. In the village she encounters two men. One is a smiling, blue-eyed, golden-haired man who tells her not to be afraid. The other is Crispin, who tries to get her to take revenge on the one who killed her.

Beatrice falls somewhat under Crispin's sway, but her compassion for the souls of others, trapped as she is, makes Crispin abandon her. Later, she encounters a woman named Clothilde, who does the same. But again, Beatrice's compassion for others makes her alone, and when the Blonde-haired man appears again, he calls himself Brother Anthony, and warns her away from both Crispin and Clothilde. They are the same person, and are demons, meant to lure her from the path of good. He also warns her to look out for their master, another demon called the Minstrel Man who will soon be drawn to the area and to her.

Meanwhile, back at the castle, Ralph mourns his lost love and comes to realize that the death of Beatrice had something to do with Ralph's own boasts about being able to find the Cross of Brythnoth. But who could have so callously tried to kill him? As Ralph investigates, he must deal with the priest, who feels that the castle has become the focus of dark forces, and the murder of the King's Tax Collector. All around them, the countryside seems to be rising up against the forces of Law and the King. Can Ralph and Sir John keep the land around the castle safe and keep the peasants from rising in revolt? As the bodies mount up and the evil spreads, only the newly dead Beatrice, and Ralph, the man she loved, might be able to avert the evil rising around them and retrieve Brythnoth's Crucifix. But can they do it before the peasants rise and swamp the land they loved?

A very spooky but effective tale. Half of it is told from the perspective of Beatrice, who as a dead spirit can see the other spirits that infect and inhabit all of these places. Ralph isn't able to see her, but sometimes he can sense her spirit near or smell her perfume. But is it really Beatrice he's feeling and sensing? We don't find out until the end of the book. And how is he able to know what Beatrice saw and knew? Again, we must wait until the end of the book for that.

Aside from the spooky atmosphere of the book, the mysteries are well-described. Ralph slowly arrives at the answer to the problem, and it becomes clear that there is a traitor in the castle. But who? I can say that Crispin/Clothilde and his/her/it/their later guises do mirror the malefactors at the castle, and it's quickly becoming clear that, in the wider universe of the meta-story that ties all the tales together, very few of the Pilgrims *didn't* know each other before the whole thing started in some way, As Ralph, the clerk, knew the Knight and his son/page from the ending of the Brythnoth's Crucifix quest.

I love how P.C. Doherty is able to tie so many of these characters together, and provide such interesting tales of murder, ghosts and dark doings for these mysteries based around the Canterbury Tales. It's an interesting idea, playing with characters already established by Chaucer and making sure each tale fits the teller. Amazing and interesting, and firmly set in the middle ages, this book and indeed, the whole series, are sure to delight. Highly recommended.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Comet's Curse- a Galahad Book by Dom Testa

When the Earth is afflicted with a fatal lung disease in the wake of the passing of a comet named after Bhaktul, the man who first sighted it, the people and scientists have great hopes to cure the disease. But when all their efforts fail, they cannot fail to notice that young people, those under 18, are curiously immune.

With that realization comes an idea on how to survive this curse. Pick out 251 exceptional young people and send them off across the universe on a ten year mission to colonize a new planet free of disease. But even as Dr. Zimmer, the lead scientist in charge of the project, oversees the selection of the candidates and the building of the spaceship that might be the only chance of saving humanity, opposition is rising from the people who think that all this cost and effort should go into the saving of anyone.

And the kids who get picked for the project have their own problems, as many of them must watch their families dying. Do they stick to their guns and go on with the mission, or do they choose to opt out and stay with their dying families? At least one chooses to stay behind, and most of the kids chosen are between 15 and 17 so that there is no chance of someone with the Bhaktul virus getting on the ship to infect others.

But even as the ship leaves on its voyage, there are signs that someone extra has snuck onto the ship, even though that should have been impossible. As the kids on board, under the leadership of the President of the Ruling Council, Triana Martell, struggle to find where the stowaway might be hiding, he or she is leaving them messages, promising that they are on a ship of death, and that they all will die.

None of the kids knows anything about fighting, so they can't physically overpower the intruder and throw him or her out. But when the intruder offers to meet Triana in a one on one meeting in the Storage Section, will she put the safety of the others over her own and go to the meeting? Or will she have the others track down and deal with the intruder? And if the intruder is, as they seem, insane, what can a bunch of teenagers do to get out of this situation?

This book is the first in a series called "The Galahad", which happens to be the name of the ship they are travelling in. I give all props to the writer, because Dom Testa can do all sorts of locked spaceship mysteries and various science fiction plots and so on on the ship as they travel to the end of the mission and the planet they are heading for- and then once they are on the planet, innumerable plots can be set there as well. But some of the lacks in this novel jumped out at me.

Okay, number one- these kids are teenagers. You remember that time of your life, when the hormones were flowing and attractions springing up left, right and center? Yeah, well not a single mention was made about prophyllaxis for the crew. Not a one. I mean yeah, these kids are smart and driven teenagers, but did the scientists really expect the kids to hold it in that long? The ship can *only* support the crew it started with. No more. So you know that situation is just completely made of fail.

Second, not a single one of these kids knows martial arts or how to fight. Not even the kids from China. Yet, the scientists are racking their brains to figure out how to keep these kids in shape and make them exercise. Scientists from all over the world, mind you. Now, admittedly it's a plot point in this book that no one on the ship knows how to fight or defend themselves, but come on! The kids are never going to need to fight to defend themselves when they get to this new planet? Nobody ever thought about this? Ever?! That's just made of fail right there. Martial arts teaches discipline, how to fight and defend oneself, and that's just the beginning of what it does.

I came to the conclusion that the scientists behind this mission sound monumentally stupid and I found myself wishing, more and more, for the Marion Zimmer Bradley book "Survey Ship", which had a somewhat similar story (young adults on a space ship- albeit 3 boys and 3 girls) and managed to make a much better story out of the whole thing. These aren't the only things wrong with the story- entertainment being another problem since the only two choices seem to be soccer and hoverboarding. No music, no computer games, no nothing else is mentioned. And I can imagine with only two entertainment-type pursuits, that in not even 10 years time they are going to pall for everyone.

The kind of short-sightedness that passed for future planning just made me feel like my intelligence was being insulted by this book, and I grew very annoyed with it very quickly. Not only did the book insult my intelligence, but I don't plan on picking up or even reading the future volumes unless I am very desperate for reading material. And I dearly hope that Mr. Testa reads this review and fixes what's wrong in future volumes. Right now, I wouldn't spit on this book to put it out if it was on fire.

The Knaveheart's Curse by Adele Griffin

Maddy is a vampire, but not just any sort of vampire. She and her family are hybrid vampire/fruit bats who moved from the old world to the new to get away from the rest of the vampires. The Old Bloods hate the hybrids and act with swiftness to put down any hybrid family who dares gain some power or property.

So Maddy's family moved to New York and decided to drop their vampire habits and become normal people, albeit Vegans. Maddy is having a hard time with that, and with the whole concept of making friends in general. She likes to play pranks, pull tricks and even drink blood now and again. Her favorite target for this is a fellow schoolmate named Dakota Underhill. So when Maddy attends Dakota's ice cream birthday party without a present (which she didn't have because she wasn't invited), the taunts of the other kids make her pull a prank and steal one of Dakota's presents.

When she gets the present home, it turns out to be a weird sort of cane, and when Dakota comes to get her present back, Maddy fobs a clarinet of her sister's on Dakota. Maddy's sister Lexie has decided that, like her parents, she is musical, but she has yet to find an instrument she is good at playing. And in return for the Clarinet, Dakota decides to try and be friends with Maddy, and invites her to the local country club to play golf.

Before she goes, Maddy's family finds out that the ninth Knaveheart has entered the new world looking for a successor, and whoever this is will kill their entire family to show that they have become a Knaveheart. Meanwhile, Lexie has found someone willing to give her guitar lessons for free, but Maddy thinks her sister will be just as hopeless at the guitar as she is at all the other instruments she's tried.

But when Maddie is nearly killed by the Knaveheart on the golf course, everyone warns her to stay away from the Knaveheart and stay safe. Maddy, though, is aching to try and kill the Knaveheart, and when it's obvious that the Knaveheart has set his or her sights on Maddy's family, she's going to need help if she wants to go head to head with one of the oldest and scariest of the old world vampires. She might even have to team up with- yuck! Dakota. But can she drive away the menace that might take her entire family away from her, and save the Knaveheart's target before it's too late?

At the beginning of the book, Maddy acts like a very bratty kid. Even though she's over 400 years old, she still acts like someone of her physical age, 10 or 11, when you think she might have grown up a little more. But no, Maddy is a kid in both body and mind, no matter how old she might be. This makes readers more able to identify with her, yes, but at the same time it makes her less realistic a character. Kids who have witnessed war, starvation and desperation at close hand wouldn't act like Maddy does, and yet Maddy acts like an American kid who has never seen any of those things.

That aside, since most child readers might not realize those things, Maddy does grow up some by facing the Knave and actually starts making friends. But none of her friends are normal humans. All of them seem to be hybrids like her, and I think that's a shame because it smacks a bit of a kind of racism. Can't Maddy ever be friends with normal humans?

This book is interesting, but it has enough flaws that I really wouldn't recommend it to anyone. Annoying heroine, a kind of hidden racism and a character who really doesn't act her age or the kind of things she has seen. Not recommended.

Griffin's Castle by Jenny Nimmo

When Dinah moves with her mother to a falling-down house owned by her mother's boyfriend, Gomer Gwynne, she hopes that this will end up making a true family out of all of them: Gomer, her mother Rosalie, and herself.

But Gomer doesn't want Dinah. She's too frighteningly intelligent, and her mother spends too much time thinking about and caring for her and not for Gomer. He seems to wish he could leave Dinah behind so he and her mother could escape and be alone together. Dinah senses this, and hates him cordially. So even though he fixes up the house a little so they can stay there in relative comfort, he resents Dinah for being there.

Dinah has a chance to make friends at school, but she isn't really interested in being friends. Instead, one night she goes out walking in town on her own and sees a wall full of carved animals. Looking at one of them, a lionness, she sees it blink its eyes and she commands it down off the wall. It comes and follows her home to the castle. Soon, two more animals join her, a bear and a wolf, all from the wall, and encounters with two schoolmates, Barry Hughes and Jacob, a tall boy who perhaps isn't as smart as he is strong.

The two of them become her friends, and slowly get drawn into the magic that Dinah has released from the old house. But soon Dinah realizes that the magical animals from the wall aren't there to protect her, but to imprison her in the house. But why? What do they want from her, and what secrets are hidden in the depths of the house that Dinah has named Griffin's Castle for the broken Stone Griffin she found in the Garden. Why do the animals hate the stray cat who hangs out just beyond the gate, and why does he wish to befriend her?

To find out, Dinah decides to stay home in Griffin's Castle over Christmas. But will she be able to figure out the solution to her predicament all on her lonesome? Or has she finally bitten off rather more than she can chew?

This book looked like a new book, but actually its a reprint of an older book first published back in the 90's. And it was quite obvious to me, because this one had significant plotholes and a slapped on "happy ending" that didn't really fit the whole tone of the book. Add to that the ending which never answered fundamental questions about the plot, and you're looking at a book that could have used at least another 100 pages to flesh out the storyline.

Some of the places that the plot falls through is in leaving the readers wondering why Gomer, who is supposedly so in love with Dinah's mother Rosalie, would put his girlfriend in a house which is just about condemned, where the heat doesn't work and the power lines go out. Is this a place a powerful and rich man is going to stick the woman he loves? It didn't make much sense- there doesn't seem to be any reason he couldn't have found them a much nicer flat or moved them into a newer house, even one he didn't own. He's not married and I doubt there would be any comment on the two living together, so why the plot hole?

Worst of all is that the essential questions of why the animals want to trap Dinah in the house never gets answered, and nobody really seems to care. Dinah could have died, and perhaps she should have, but in the end, the timely appearance out of the blue of an old gentleman who turns out to be her grandfather ends up saving her, and she finally finds a place with someone who loves her and everything is happy and fine Baloney. It in no way fit the tenor of the book and came as a considerable shock from all that had gone before.

I don't recommend this book. Most of it is only okay and the ending fails to conform to the rest of the book in tone and comes as a considerable difference to what has already happened in the story. I can understand not knowing how to end a book, but this mishmash should never have been published. Do not read.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Face Forward by Kevyn Aucoin

Kevyn Aucoin is a famous makeup artist who has worked with many women to make them look their best. Even if you aren't a nationally recognized model or beauty queen, you, too, can learn how to use makeup to best accentuate your features and maintain either a balanced look or how to go all out and really wow people by drawing attention to your eyes or lips.

As his models, Kevyn has gathered together beautiful and powerful women to show off his techniques. And not just to do everyday makeup, but he also shows how to evoke powerful moods using techniques anyone can learn. Even the general problems of women with dark skin are addressed, allowing them to avoid greyish or chalky undertones in their makeup, which aren't flattering to them at all.

The central portion of the book is more like costume makeup, as Kevyn takes already famous woman and transforms them into famous men and women, from Cleopatra to Queen Isabella, James Dean and Clark Gable and more modern icons like Twiggy and Elizabeth Taylor. What can be done with makeup and some suggestion is downright amazing. He even turns a male model into a very respectable Linda Evangelista. Actually, you cannot even tell that this is a man playing a woman.

The book ends with a set of futuristic female face makeups that take the makeup into the 21st century and beyond. A series of stunning visions show what can be done with makeup with looks that are simply amazing.

I liked reading this book. I tend not to wear makeup much at all, and it was interesting seeing what can be done with makeup. At this point, I don't know if I would ever be comfortable wearing foundation makeup. Even with only a light coating on my face, I feel like my pores are clogging up- hot and cranky.

But the looks achievable are quite stunning, and I found myself wanting to look like this occasionally myself- women who spend more time wearing makeup than I do are obviously going to get more out of this than I will- I certainly don't make any claim to being a fashion maven- or even all that fashionable, but this book was still amazing to read.

Everyone should read this book, even if only to get an idea of what is possible with makeup and various looks. Even if you aren't into makeup, you can still enjoy this book for the many splendid pictures, and seeing what is possible. And the step by step directions allow you to try any of these looks yourself. Recommended.

A Dish Taken Cold by Anne Perry

Celie is a maid in the house of Madame DeStael during the turbulent time of the French Revolution. The citizens have long been denied justice and bread, and everyone, Celie included, is hungry for them, but she still supports the King.

A widow, Celie's only hope is her son, Jean-Pierre, who she leaves in the home of her friend Almandine to be looked after. But when her son dies in Almandine's care, she is shocked, distraught and despondent, but there is no way she can blame Almandine. Or can she?

When Celie learns that Almandine left her son alone to be with her lover, a man named Georges, and that this was the true reason for her son's death, Almandine settles on a cold course of revenge as her only option for redress of the wrong done to her.

But this young woman has never caused the death of anyone- not even indirectly. Can she live with herself if she actually does cause the death of Georges?

This is a very short book, more like a short story than a novel, but Anne Perry's talent shines through from the very start. It begins with Celie's finding out of her son's death and ends approximately 70 or so pages later when Paris has completely gone over to the Revolution.

Celine is angry at her friend Almandine, and at Georges, who she is convinced was with Almandine at the time of her son's death. But is it the truth? And could she live with herself if she caused the death of a man who just might be innocent?

But it made me wonder why Celie blames Georges and not Almandine? I mean, Almandine was the one who was supposed to be caring for the baby, not Georges. So why put all the blame on him? It didn't make much sense, but I could understand that Celie was more emotional than logical by that point.

I enjoyed this book, but it's so small that you can read it in less than a day, and is more like a single short story than an actual novel. Not bad, but not very satisfying, either.

Mortal Danger and Other True Cases by Ann Rule

Ann Rule is a True Crime author, having written for many newspapers before telling us the most interesting and horrifying cases that she covered on her newspaper beats. This particular volume, her 13th, covers cases of women who were victimized by men, either their husband, someone they loved, or someone who was just larger and stronger than they were. Rule warns female readers that they may think they can take care of themselves, but men tend to be bigger and stronger, and unless the woman reacts immediately, the male always ends up overpowering her.

The first case covers Kate Jewell, who found love with a Doctor she'd gone to for nutritional problems. Though he was already married, he divorced his wife and went to live with her. They never married, which turned out to be lucky for her- she survived her relationship with John Branden, although she lived in fear for many years after she finally got away.

John Branden was a manipulator, and someone who always had to be the most important one in the relationship. He was convinced he was smarter than everyone around him, and if someone got more attention and praise than he did, he sulked like a child. Slowly, he separated Kate from her friends and co-workers, getting terrifyingly jealous if he even suspected that a man was paying attention to Kate. When she made the decision to finally leave him, he attempted to kill her after raping her, and she managed to get away only by the slimmest of margins.

After Kate escaped the authorities tried to bring John Branden to justice, but he escaped, adopted a pseudonym, and married a woman named Turi Lee, although it wasn't a real marriage, since he refused to sign the marriage papers. There, he was soon up to his old tricks, but this relationship was destined to end in death and murder.

Then there were Brian and Bev Mauck, murdered in their home by an ex-con who was in a relationship with Brian's sister. Though they were active and athletic, both were murdered by a man who got the drop on them- and this case brought down a Republican Candidate for President, for it seems that Mitt Romney appointed the judge that had freed the man who murdered the Maucks later. Romney tried to blame the judge, but the case sank his hopes for election,

Clarence Williams was a two-time murderer, convicted for killing a woman named Laura Anne Baylis who was working as a clerk at a 7-11 under the name of Julie Costello. He'd abducted her from the store late at night and killed her, but after serving the sentence for her crime, he was convicted again by a cold case squad looking into the death of a 15 year old girl named Sarah Beth Lundquist, killed as she walked home from her bus stop late at night.

Lastly is the story of Traia Carr, a divorced woman who disappeared from her own home on a sultry Independence Day night. When her body was found in the woods by a man doing some logging, the trail of her murderer led to someone the police would never have suspected- a teenager who literally lived next door.

And rounding out the book are the stories of two women killed by men who couldn't live with the thought of someone they loved, or had loved, being with someone else. The first, a woman named Kathryn who was killed by Melvin, her ex-husband, with a shotgun blast. The second, Amelia Jaeger, who had married a Swiss man but was driven away by his jealousy and insane behavior. When she left him and moved back to America, he followed her. Her family tried to keep her safe, but her ex-husband stabbed her to death at the airport where they were making him return home.

This book is a scary and sobering look at how vulnerable women are, even in today's society where we supposedly have freedom and equality. It's not just the men you know and are in a relationship with that are a danger to you, but sometimes those you just see and are friendly to on the job or on the street. Some men don't understand that people on the job are paid to be friendly- yes, they may be friendly all the time, but no business attracts customers with surly staff, but a woman who is friendly to them makes them think she likes them, and sets up a relationship in their mind that is completely absent in reality.

What's even scarier is that some men are going to push things and think they are already in a relationship with you just because you are friendly. And if they decide that only they can have you? That's nightmare fuel right there, and all because of the consequence of being friendly. And the only way to really take care of yourself is to train yourself to react instantly- hesitation can lead to your death.

This book is a good, if frightening look at True Crime, and the sorts of things that can happen to women. But if Ann Rule's timely book can save anyone, it will have had its intended effect. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Link by Colin Tudge

Rarely does a fossil come along that is a true missing link- something that calls into question the ideas that scientists have about the human family and where we came from. And yet, in Germany, a fossil recently came to light that did just that. It may be the earliest human ancestor yet discovered, and for many years, it was a secret hidden in a collector's basement.

The fossil is from Germany, a place called the Meissen Pit, a former lake now buried and silted with many layers of sediment turned into rock. During a carbon dioxide outgassing bubble, the fossil, called Ida, was caught in the burst of CO2 and suffocated, then sank into the lake, where it was buried in the sediment at the bottom. It was a relatively gentle death, sedating before death, and Ida couldn't get away because her set but broken arm prevented her from getting away quickly enough.

Colin Tudge follows the story of Ida, how she was found and bought by a collector, and how that collector eventually turned over the nearly-complete skeleton to a scientist he knew, and from then on, the story of Ida as the scientist investigated and found her incredible antecedents and place in both history and the history of humanity. The preservation of the skeleton is so complete that we can not only see most of her bones, but even see what her last meal is from the muck she was preserved in,

This is a once in a lifetime find, and Ida remains the most complete fossil ever found. Her existence is almost miraculous, and has illuminated so much of the history of hominids that in the future, she will remains the crowning fossil of the story of the history leading to humans.

I used to be very into paleontology and archaeology. When I was in college, I wanted to study both and set off across the globe, finding fossils and all sorts of interesting bones or ruins. I can't say I was especially influenced by the character of Indiana Jones or the movies, but more by Roy Chapman Andrews, whose books I read ferociously as a child. The idea of travelling to faraway places, like rural China, and digging for a finding new fossils, really excited me at 11 and 12.

Well, this book fed right into that hunger, and I found the story interesting and compelling, and the history of the fossil is quite amazing. It is thanks to a fossil collector that we even have the skeleton, and the discovery of Ida has shown us a new place to look for new fossils, the Messel Pit in Germany. Each page of the unfolding story of Ida kept me glued to the page, and I read the book straight through in a frenzy of discovery.

The book presents the story in a very interesting way, and brought to my mind the book "Raptor Red", which made the story of a dinosaur interesting. Tudge does the same here, but without resorting to fiction, merely depicting the last morning/day of Ida's life, and then how the scientists treated the fossil. This book is a fascinating look at the life and death of a creature that is probably the earliest ancestor of humans, and an amazing read. Highly recommended.

The Legion of Superheroes: The More Things Change by Paul Levitz and Steve Lightle

The Legion of Superheroes was my first big comics obsession back when I was growing up. Set in the 25th Century, the Legion comprised characters from many worlds where their powers were shared by everyone on their planet, and in the Legion, based on Earth, they used their powers for good. There were other characters who had gotten their powers in accidents or whose abilities were not shared by others on their planet, and they tended to dominate.

Characters like Colossal Boy- who was like Giant Man of Marvel- and from Earth, palled around with Timber Wolf- a futuristic version of Wolverine, minus the adamantium claws and super-healing, Brainiac Five, a super-smart scientist who didn't have any relation to the villain Brainiac, Dream Lass, a precognitive, her sister, the White Witch, who wielded magic, Element Lad- Last survivor of his planet who could transmute any element into any other, Wildfire, a character not unlike Firestorm, whose body was pure plasma energy in a containment suit and even Superboy, all featured prominently in the pages of the comic, among others.

Here are several stories. In the first, Ultra Boy, Chameleon Kid, Shrinking Violet, Element Lad and Phantom Girl discover a planet in the middle of Limbo- but they don't see any figures- just machines and factories. So what could it be doing? Investigation reveals that the machines are constructing Sun-Eaters, a sort of monster that survives by doing exactly what their name says. Aware that someone recently used a sun-eater to attack Earth, they decide to destroy the factory before it can be used to make more Sun-Eaters. But will the robots there allow that?

Meanwhile, back on Earth, Giant Boy's mother, the current president, is stepping down, and the new candidates are under threat from the Khunds, though why is unknown. Several Legion members are assigned to protect the new candidates, which are chosen by computer. Lightning Lass, Lightning Lad's sister, returns and wants to join the Legion again despite the fact that the Legion charter specifically prevents having more than one member with the same powers. But since Lightning Lad and his wife, Saturn Girl, are on leave to care for their new son, that's okay.

Timberwolf recieves a message from Val Armorr, Karate Kid's estate, asking him to perform a mission for his dead friend, and despite the fact that he and Ayla, Lightning Lass, have a history, she only wants to interact with him in a professional way now. So he takes a leave of absence and goes to infiltrate a planet of hardened killers.

The Legion, now short several members, opens up to look for new members from their training groups, and Bouncing Boy reveals how he met one of the students, Comet Queen, and how she got her powers. Another student, Laurel Gand, is shot with the only thing that can hurt her- a Kryptonite Bullet. But who would want to attack her?

The New Invisible Boy discovers new powers, including the ability to Warp Space, when in defending one of the new Presidential candidates from his Khund attacker, he inadvertantly warps them into outer space, where the Kund explodes under his own body pressure. This makes the Invisible Kid sick, and he still isn't sure how he did it exactly.

Meanwhile, the original three members of the Legion- Lightning Lad, Cosmic Boy and Saturn Girl, meet on Mars to set free the criminals from their first case together, when they attempted to protect R.J. Brand from assassins who wanted to kill him. The two men who were left alive are barely human any more from years of being held in the Science Police's toughest prison, and the three decide to leave active service in the Legion to become Advising Members, thus allowing Lightning Lass to stay in the Legion.

Meanwhile, Superboy returns to help the Legion with a bunch of raiders who can really disappear, and we find out the results of Timber Wolf's mission to the planet and discover what it is he was really asked to do and why.

Reading this book was like revisiting a much earlier time in my life. This was the first superteam that I really spent a lot of time following, and it was my favorite comic for many years- with the abundance of characters to follow, you alwaya had favorites, and while it was rare that the Legion were all fighting together at the same time, they were big enough that stories ran concurrently through many issues- some would take care of one mission, while two or three other teams did their same thing.

This makes their story like following many braided braids. I'm sad to say, but if you aren't familliar with the Legion, this graphic novel might be more confusing than interesting- all the characters are doing something different, and none of them get a lot of explanation or backstory here, but I found the stories interesting nonetheless, and reading this book brought me back to remembering the comics when I first read them.

I hope to see more Legion of Superheroes graphic novels, especially ones where you learn the histories and backgrounds of the characters. While some of the characters may seem especially chauvenistic or racist- Dawnstar is a Native American Indian character with Super Tracking Power?!- it's easy to forget that and just enjoy the stories. Recommended.

The Rough Guide to Anime: Japan's Finest from Ghibli to Gankutsuo by Simon Richmond

Anime and manga are still hot in America, and it seems as if they become more and more popular every year. But why? Where did it come from and where has it been? What are the best series in Anime, and which series or movies are the ones you absolutely must watch?

Simon Richmond uses this thick, but condensed volume to inform you about the history of Anime, series or movies that are indicative of a certain time period in the history of Anime, and shows readers the anime that are absolutely "must see" in terms of understanding that history.

Anime is not monolithic, nor is all of it good. Much like western movies and animation, there are some bright stars floating in a sea of mediocrity with occasional islands of excrement. Nor does the book stop there, for the book also covers Manga, Japan's comic books, which unlike some in the West are for all ages, from children to adult male and adult female- not necessarily adult in the sexual sense- although some are, but covering topics that younger readers would find boring or uninteresting. And just like the "public service message" comics that are sometimes published in the West, Japan has instructional and educational manga teaching everything from history to cooking techniques or the history of business and government.

This book certainly gives a good overview of the huge ocean that is manga and anime, spicing up descriptions with screen captures or images from the series or film or book being discussed. Someone looking for a more exhaustive compilation of anime series won't find this book very satisfying, as the number of series covered is comparitively small when measured against what's out there, but the list of the fifty best anime zings as they discuss the storyline and what makes them great, as well as the writer or directors behind the scenes.

For someone looking for a quick, somewhat comprehensive overview of anime, manga and the history, this book is better, though I think that other books have done a better job at this- where it excels is in looks at the writers and directors of Anime, and the listings of series and movies that they have made which give insight into that writer and director.

This is a book you can finish rather quickly, delving into a chapter here and there for a quick overview of anime, but it also lends itself well to a deeper look and to some otherwise overlooked anime and manga classics and the best of what is being produced... well, recently rather than now, given the general length of the publishing cycle. But for those interested in both Anime and Manga, this book will do well and end up in their library for a very long time. Recommended.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Fire Raiser by Melanie Rawn

Holly McClure is a small-town girl from Pocahontas County Virginia, but her upbringing was unusual because her entire family is witches. Not only her family, but even some distant relatives are witches or other sorts of Supernatural Practicioners. But Holly isn't a witch most of the time. She's Wiccan, yes, but it's her blood that makes her special. Holly carries a rare talent for Spellbinding. Use her blood in any spell, and it becomes permanent.

Holly, who is a best-selling writer, met her husband, Evan, when the Federal Marshall came to town to solve a case. Now they are married and have two children together, and Holly is worried that she's suffering from writer's block. Normally a novelist, what she's been producing lately is mostly articles, and she's getting rather antsy about it.

Her husband is running for Sherriff of Pocahontas County, and that means suppressing her controversial, wild side, and becoming a political wife. But a fundraising party opens up a large can of worms and sets them all on a wild ride into white slavery and stolen children.

Meanwhile, Holly's brother Cam, a witch who has powers over all sorts of cloth, threads and fabric, has returned home from a career as a lawyer advising political groups around the world. And to his surprise, the town's chief lawyer is Jamey Stirling, the man he had the worst case of the hots for back in college, when they attended together. Cam loved Jamey, but knew that acknowledging their mutual homosexuality wouldn't be good for either career, so he pushed Jamey away. Now that they have met each other again, can he be strong enough to do it again?

Complicating the whole thing is that the Inn where they are meeting is being used as a brothel holding young women. One of them, a very intelligent girl from somewhere in the former Soviet Union, has been the subject of impregnation, and has almost rendered herself autistic to stay sane. She hates Holly, because her reading one of Holly's books let her captor know that she was smart enough to understand English.

But why is she being used for such a purpose, and why is the owner of the inn so anxious to have her baby? What sort of magical hijinks is the hotel being used for, and can all of them survive when they are trapped in the magical corridor connecting the girls prison with a fully-stocked laboratory and a room where the other girls meet their "clients" and are caught in the act on videotape. Can they escape the trap and stay alive while doing it? What's going on in the Inn, and can Holly and Evan bring the perpetrators to justice?

This was another book I found hard to get into, because so many of the story threads go forwards, backwards and then forwards again as each character is shown in the past and now. This bungee-jumping of times is rather distracting, but it does come out being understandable- just. The problem came when this happens for pretty much every new character, from the pregnant girl to Cam and Jamey. I did like the ending, and how Cam and Jamey were allowed to be happy together, and I liked how the author showed how much Evan and Holly were still in love (lots of boot-banging), but it wasn't a series I'd want to read too much more of.

It seemed to me, not having read the first book in the series, that the supporting characters got much more fleshing out than the main characters. We even get to see a rather heavy-handed hint dropped for a future book- I say future, because I didn't see any particular reason why it should have been mentioned here. Once it's mentioned, the whole thing never becomes relevant to this story, except in the most tangential way. Basically, it establishes that children can inherit their parents magical talents. Um, okay. And the clue drops with a heavy "Pthud!", making itself known.

As a story, it was fairly good, but without having read the first, I can honestly say that the two characters who are supposed to be at the heart of the story, Evan and Holly come off as slightly flat compared to the others. And it didn't make me run to look for the original volume either. The story is meaty and rich, and best absorbed in small doses, but not something that makes me burn to read more. Solid and recommended.

The Reformed Vampire Support Group by Catherine Jinks

Nina Harrison was made a vampire at fifteen, in 1973. But being a vampire isn't all it's cracked up to be in the numerous books, movies and other stories. No, life for Nina is a struggle- a struggle with a disease that can be worse than dying, sometimes.

To deal with the endless problems, Nina writes books about her alter-ego heroine, Zadia Bloodstone, a kick-ass vampire fighting heroine who only preys on criminals and is both beautiful and strong. While Nina is still living with her aged mother and vomiting up the blood that she drinks nightly from the Guinea Pigs raised by another vampire. That vampire is part of the Tuesday Night Reformed Vampire Support Group, and the group, under the leadership of Stanford, a medical man bitten by a vampire named Casimir back in the late 19th Century meets in a church to discuss their problems along with a kindly priest named Father Ramon.

But when Casimir appears not to be home one fateful Tuesday night, they break in to look for him, because if Casimir has backslided and fanged another human, they are the ones who will have to clean up the mess. But Casimir isn't out fanging people. No, he's been staked and reduced to ashes, and his address book is missing. An address book in which he probably kept the names and addresses of all the other members of the support group, from the 15 year old Nina to the elderly 82 year old Bridget- now stuck with her pains and arthritic hips forever.

Someone has found out about them and is trying to kill them. But who could it be? In the ashes of Casimir's body, they find only one clue- a silver bullet, and from there, they must find out who bought it, and who targetted them- and if they can stop the person before this person kills again. For while Casimir might have deserved killing for all the innocent people he turned into vampires- none of the rest of them deserve to die simply for being what they are.

But when the silver bullet leads them to a place called Dubbo, where a man named McKinnon is holding strange animal fights... could that be a Werewolf that's fighting? Can Nina not believe in Werewolves when she's a vampire? And if McKinnon isn't the one killing vampires, who is? And when it appears that they have led the real killer to their very own doorstep, can Nina and the others break out of what she calls "Real Vampire Behavior"- being scared, insular and cowardly, and actually get off their butts and do something to help themselves?

I loved the title of this book, and honestly, I picked it up for that reason alone. Not so much for the cover image, but the title, which really appealed to me. Did the book live up to the title? Well, yes and no. I found the beginning got me into the story quickly, but while the problem of a vampire slayer affects the whole group, it generally comes down to mainly Nina, Dave and Stanton to actually do something about it, so the rest of the group kind of disappears for a lot of the book, and honestly, I didn't miss them.

This was a good, solid book, but it didn't really set my night on fire, to say the least. Entertaining, but not overly so. I found a lot of the characters, Nina included, rather whiny and annoying, especially Stanford. Sometimes, I actually cringed when I saw him appear in the book. But the idea of vampires as damaged and weaker than humans was a new one, and I welcomed that point of view- up to a point, for how did vampires become so feared if Nina and Crew are examples of what a real vampire is like?

Maybe it comes from them not drinking human blood (or 'fanging people' as they call it. But when one of their number does fang someone, the results aren't much better for them- especially as his victim was already drugged, so I thought that vampirism in this book is not the same as vampirism in history and legend- something that caused a disconnect between the story I was reading and the actual legends of what vampires were supposed to be like. And eventually, that interfered with my enjoyment of the story.

I do recommend this story to anyone who wants to read a story about a very different sort of vampire from the kind we usually see- where vampirism truly is a curse and something to be feared- because it makes you weak and cowardly. But it's not a book that will change your mind or expand your horizons, something you'll be telling all your friends that they must read. It's a nice change of pace, and nothing more.