Friday, July 31, 2009

Legion of Superheroes Archives, Volume 12 by Cary Bates, Nick Cardy, Bill Draut, Ric Estrada, Mike Grell, George Klein, Bob Layton, Paul Levitz, etc.

This twelfth, and so far, last archive of the Legion of Superheroes series covers stories from 1975 to 1977, including the first volume of the Karate Kid limited series.

"The Jaws of Fear" has the Legion being challenged to defend the Miracle Machine, that machine from another universe, from a master thief who threatens to steal it out from under their very noses. But it can't be destroyed, nor can they let it fall into the hands of Pares. How can they solve their dilemma?

"Trapped to Live, Free to Die" has Timber Wolf being outwitted by a thief intent on stealing his ship when his own is wrecked. But can Timber Wolf outwit the thief known as Blackmace in return and steal back his ship?

"No Price Too High" has the Legion trying to repair a malfunctioning computer on a manufactory world that produces robots. But when the son of the planet's owner shows up and acts like a spoiled brat, nearly bringing the Legion to grief, will they save him from the mad overseer who wants to kill the child to get back at his father?

"Stay Small or Die!" has Brainiac 5 trying to help Shrinking Violet, who's been having nightmares about shrinking and not being able to grow again. But when his plan nearly leads to both of them dying, will she be able to overcome her fear and save them both?

"The Final Eclipse of Sun Boy" deals with Phantom Girl, who, on a visit to her home, witnessed a killing by a notorious killer of her homeworld. She testifies against him, but he brother fears the man threatens revenge on her. Can the Legionnaires save her from a Phantom killer with the same powers as she has?

"The Hero Who Wouldn't Fight" has Cosmic Boy refusing to use his powers on behalf of his teammates because of a religious observance on his homeworld. Can he free them without his powers? Or will his unwillingness to fight result in his death?

The First Issue of Karate Kid has the Legion chasing Nemesis Kid into the past. When he seems to escape, Karate Kid stays behind to track him, and must get used to a very different world from the one he is used to. But can he defeat Nemesis Kid all on his own?

"The Hero Who Hated the Legion" has the Legion going after a bunch of famous jewels hidden on a satellite that crashed on the Island of Marzan. But Marzan was colonized by blacks who hate and distrust whites, and so does their hero, Tyroc, who has sonic powers. They invite him to join the Legion, but he turns them down. But when the gems they are after turn deadly for a group of thieves called the Beta, will their help make Tyroc reconsider?

"1+1=3" has Chuck Taine and his wife, Duo Damsel, ambushed by a bunch of thugs. Duo Damsel takes out the Thugs, making Chuck feel inadequate. But when Luornu passes out and the former Bouncing Boy must defend her on a ricochet-ball court, does he have what it takes to deal with the thugs- and save his wife?

In "Charge of the Doomed Legionnaires", Field Marshal Lorca of the Khunds tries to capture a Legion Cruiser. Stranding them on a planet, his forces fight against the Legion under Brainiac 5's commands. But when he orders them to charge the enemy in an attack, can they survive?

"Future Shock for Superboy" Has Superboy going to the future and meeting a very pretty girl indeed, and he's fascinated with her. But he doesn't have time to chat- he has a Legion meeting to make! But afterwards, when he goes looking for her, he finds her- just in time to see Wildfire shoot her in the back! But is Elna all she's cracked up to be?

"The Secret Villain the World Never Knew" has Tyroc reporting to be sworn into the Legion. But when a foe attacks who can nullify any of the Legion's powers but his, can Tyroc defeat him? Or the real villain who stands behind him?

"The Plunder Ploy of the Fatal Five" has the Legion confused by the things the Fatal Five is stealing- poisons, microcicuits, even part of a planet. But what are they intending to do with it all, and what will happen to Duplicate Boy of Lallor, cut down by the Persuader's atomic Axe and barely clinging to life?

"The Super Soldiers of the Slave Maker" has the Legion taking on a lizard-like ruler of a race that has taken over Murgador and enslaved the people. But when he gets the Legion between a rock and a hard place by threatening to kill the entire population unless the Legion submits to him, what choice will they make?

"Dream Girl's Living Nightmare" has Dream Girl foreseeing the death of the Primor of Demros II. But when the Legion sets out to foil the plot to kill him, will their plans bring victory, or defeat?

"The Trillion Dollar Trophies" introduces us to Grimbor, the Lockmaster, and the woman who has enslaved him with her charms, Charma. Charma is irresistable to men and incites hatred in women. But when Charma sets her sights on the Legion, will she and Grimbor be too much for them?

"This Legionnaire is Condemned" has Tyroc using his super-powers to cause havoc in the city. But when the people condemn him, is he really to blame? Or is there another reason for his screaming?

"Death of a Legend" brings the Legionnaires to a world where they idolize a Hero named Questar. This planet, along with their greeter, Glad-Hander, wants to crown him "King of Heroes" and have him save them from a continually reappearing menace. But when Questor turns out to be rather yellow, can the Legion step in to save the day?

"We can't Escape this Trap in Time!" pits the Legion against the Time Trapper, who must kill them if he is to live. But separated in time, can the Legion work together to defeat him, and save themselves?

Ordinarily, I love the Legion dearly, but there were some things in this volume that really made me wince. Like the whole part of Tyroc's people being referred to as the "Black Race". Later on, the Legion claims to be color-blind, but all the human heroes not of am exotic color are as white as the driven snow, making Tyroc the "Affirmative Action Superhero", which I found offensive. I felt like saying, "Yeah, pull the other leg, why don't you!" When the Legion claimed to be color-blind.

Yeah, sure. Blue, Green, Yellow and Red, but where are the black people? It was honestly insulting, and I'm not even Black. Especially that whole "black race" thing, as if Blacks are a different race from whites! Despite knowing that this was an artifact of the time it was written in, it still left a bad taste in my mouth to read it.

Other than the references to the "black race", I rather enjoyed the stories in this volume. We see, again, that the Legion likes to trick people who are joining them, as they did to Superboy, but a few stories stand out, for good and bad reasons. Still recommended, but gird yourself for the Tyroc stories- the racism in them doesn't go down well.

Poltergeist by Kat Richardson

Harper Blaine is a greywalker, someone who can see into the grey realm that is death, and either talk to and interact with the ghosts and spirits who make it their home, or even enter it as well.

After having dealt with Vampires and vengeful spirits and necromany is her last novel, Harper is hired by a Professor named Tuckman who wants her to look into an experiment he's been performing with a group of volunteers. The volunteers are trying to make a fake spirit, or poltergeist which can affect things in the real world. And in this manner, they have had some success.

He's led them to believe that they can actually do this thing, that they have the power and the will to make such an entity manifest. They even came up with a name for the poltergeist/spirit (Celia), and one of them even painted a picture of "her" for everyone to focus on. And now, just such a spirit has manifested, letting itself be known by way of knocks and various other manifestations.

But the problem now is that the experiment has been, if anything, too successful. Though Dr. Gartner Tuckman put a ringer into the group who could control a variety of effects that would make them think they had been able to make such an entity, it has gotten far out of control, and the participants, and entity, have shown behavior that almost certainly can't be possible.

The professor wants to know if someone is tricking him and the rest of the experimental group. And if they are, how it is being done, for with all his own trickery, he can't figure out who is causing these incidents, or how. Harper, who can hear and see into the Grey, wonders if there is possibility that the men and women in the study could have raised an actual ghost. But when Tuckman's inside mole is slain, Harper begins to feel that something is wrong- very, very wrong.

Though she never met Tuckman's henchman in person, it turns out that Mark Lupoldi worked at her favorite store. She knew him, and liked him, simply as "Mark". And it appears he had an argument with someone in the store just the night before he died. And on top of that, one of the gargoyle statues in the store nearly hit him in the head... without anyone touching it, a sure sign of Poltergeist-like activity.

The rest of the participants are also getting nervous, for "Celia" is getting ruder, and nastier, from pinches and pokes to stealing items and throwing them at the others, it's obvious that the study has gone far out of Tuckman's control. But at the same time, he doesn't want to stop. It's as if he wants to push these people to see how far he can make them go.

And that's a problem, because it seems that one of those people is psychopath who has taken control of the entity named "Celia" and may have used it to murder Mark... and may now have the intention to murder others. And worse than that, the entity definitely exists in the Grey, and it seems to be getting stronger, or at least, angrier. Can Harper fight off this man-made spirit that has taken on a life of its own? And how exactly can she do that? If she can't figure it out, she may end up in the Grey forever...

This book is a sequel to "Greywalker", and I loved it just as much as the first. A lot of characters from the first book reappear here, not the least of which is Chaos, Harper's ferret, Quinton, her tech-fixer guy, Mara and Ben, the married professors- one of whom is a witch and the other a philosopher, their sproglet Peter, and the vampires Cam and Carlos. It was nice to see all the usual suspects back for another round, as well as Will, Harper's love interest, who only speaks with her on the phone, being in London.

Harper may be comfortable with her sight into the Grey, but she's by no means familliar with her abilities. Yes, she's working to improve that, but she's walking blind into her abilities with the Grey. No one else can really guide her, as no one else can see exactly as she sees or what she sees, not even former black magician Carlos or Ben and Mara. They can try, but for Harper, learning about the Grey is like groping in a dark room. Only she can do it, and learn (slowly) from what she does. And in the end, she's going to have to pull her own fat out of the fire, even if she needs a little help getting there.

I find the Grey to be utterly fascinating, as are Harper's adventures in it. Each story is a learning experience both for Harper and the reader, and we grow with her, groping towards internalizing what we see and learn from her explorations into this shadowy realm. I really enjoyed the book and look forward to reading the next two in the series, the latest of which has just come out. This is a great series, and if you like gritty, urban paranormal adventure, this is the series, and the book, for you. Highly recommended.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Shiho Sugiura's Silver Diamond Volume 2: Master & Servant

Rakan, the teen with amazing plant growing powers, now has two men from another world living with him, Chiguse and Narushige. And both are bound and determined to protect him.

We learn more of why Chigusa wanted to kill the Prince, and why both Chigusa and Narushige want to replace the Prince with Rakan: Chigusa's problem is that he sees too well, and he could see how the Prince was sucking... something dark out of the desert land. Also, the world they come from doesn't have a sun, and so people rely on the Sanome, whose plant powers can grow food even in the absence of a sun.

But Sanomes have become very rare indeed. And Chigusa is something even more rare, for when he is wounded, his blood becomes bandages that bind his wounds- that is why he is effectively immortal.

When Rakan is summoned to his mother's grave by an urgent message from the priest-caretaker, he is shocked to find it so overgrown with weeds that the stone is in danger of being damaged. But Narushige doesn't let him pull the weeds- with Rakan's Sanome powers, it is likely the weeds will come back even worse. And the weeds effects are likely due to the powers of his mother, who had to be a Sanome for him to be one as well.

Chigusa and Narushige continue guarding Rakan, attracting the attention of his schoolmates. But when a formerly-blind assassin tries to take out Rakan at his school, it's up to Chigusa and Rakan to take him out, as the assassin has wrapped himself in mirror-vine, and only they can see him. But what will they do with him now that they have him? What's to stop the Prince from merely sending more assassins?

I found this to be an interesting series. The difference between the two worlds is stark and almost frightening, as is the young man who is the Prince of the other world. He's just as pretty as Rakan, but doesn't talk, and always wears gloves, which is pretty creepy, not to mention how he's always smiling- which is pretty creepy in and of itself.

The abundance of male eye-candy in the series reminds me a great deal of Saiyuki. So far, all the guys are... pretty. Pretty in a "young man" (Biseinen or Bishounen) way which could men Yaoi or Shounen-ai hijinks further down the road, or perhaps it just gives the reader license to imagine that it could.

This is an interesting series, with a premise that could lead to so much. It's obvious at some point that Rakan is going to go to the alternate world, what with Chigusa and Narushige wanting to confront the Prince, and possibly replace him with Rakan. But who knows? Obviously, it's not going to be easy, whatever comes. Recommended.

A Lion called Christian: The True Story of the Remarkable Bond Between Two Friends and a Lion by Anthony Bourke and John Rendall

In 1970, two Australians then living in London and working at a furniture store called "Sophisticat" walked into the Zoo section of Harrod's department store and saw two Lion cubs in a cage, a male and a female. Both were immediately drawn to the male cub, and despite a price of 250 guineas (or about 3500 pounds in 2009 currency), they immediately decided that their lives were incomplete without a lion cub.

Though the cub had been named Marcus by the Harrods staff, Ace and John named him Christian. He was a placid cub, pretending all the humans around him didn't exist, but even before they brought him home, Ace and John spent time playing with him and being near him. But before they brought him home, they had a lot to do, getting permission from the Shop Owners to keep him in the basement, working out how they would keep him fed and the best diet for him, and so on.

His sister had already been sold, so when Christmas came around, they carried Christian with them back to the shop. From the start, he took right to the shop and was an instant draw. A placid, easy-going cub, he never attacked anyone or growled or roared at them. In the neighborhood, he was an instant sensation, and people would come into the shop just to look at him- and usually end up buying some furniture, thus increasing the shop's business.

As Christian grew older, he grew larger, and increasingly too big for the shop. Even as he became something of a media and radio star, Ace and John knew they couldn't keep Christian forever, and sought something better for him than selling him to a zoo or a circus. Instead, they were contacted by George Adamson, who had once owned and eventually rehabilitated Elsa the Lioness, of which movies were made about her, the most famous of which is "Born Free".

Adamson had wanted to rehabilitate lions and create his own Pride. He already had two Lions, Boy, who had been in the Born Free movie, and a female named Monalisa. After a long time as he sought permission to get the lions released into a Pride, Christian was finally shipped to Africs. Ace and John accompanied him, along with a film crew who was filming him for a film called "Christian the Lion".

They stayed in Africa for a few months to get Christian acclimated, then returned to London. But a year later, in 1971, they returned to Africa for a visit. Would Christian remember them? Yes, he did, and the video of that reunion became an internet sensation on YouTube. But they again returned a year later, to meet with Christian one last time. He was a fully adult Lion now, with a full mane, and once again, he remembered them. But shortly after Christian left again, he and his pride moved down towards the Meru National Park, after which, he never returned to the area he'd been released in.

But Christian, thanks to his excellent early nutrition, was a huge lion, probably larger than all the other lions in that part of Africa, and so would have been very successful as a Pride Leader. Lions in the wild only live 12 to 15 years, but Adamson is sure that Christian lived out a long and successful life in Africa.

This book was just incredible. I found it at the library and took it home and devoured it in about an hour. It was just incredible reading- most of the book was written in 71/72, but the authors have updated it with new information and tried to explain some parts of it better than they did in the 70's.

The book also includes plenty of pictures, and a lion cub acts a lot like a very large housecat. Who knew? Pictures of Christian taking clothes out of a drawer so he could lie in it, or of him hanging out on the stairs- lying under the table or playing with toys are both fascinating and completely charming. And of course, I just had to look at the YouTube video- the sight of a huge lion showing his affection for the humans who raised him is just... Amazing. I can't say it any better than that.

You should definitely read this book. It's a fascinating look at the life of an animal who lived an incredible life, both in England, and Africa. And not knowing what happened to Christian adds a bit of mystery to the tale. Highly recommended.

Shiho Sugiura's Silver Diamond Volume 1: Silver Seed

Rakan is a young teenager who is an orphan. Ever since his grandfather died, he's lived alone in the house he once shared with his grandfather and mother, who died long ago.

At school, he's well known for bringing in huge bunches of flowers, which he gives away to the teachers, even though all the girls sigh after him. But he doesn't know a thing about how to deal with girls his own age, and so he just leaves them alone.

He also doesn't know why the plants on his property grow so large, lush and wild. All he does is water them, and they grow like crazy, while his neighbor, who is a gardener and takes incredible care of plants, doesn't get the same results he does with just water.

Meanwhile, on another world, Chigusa, a man from a cursed family who has been fighting against the young, handsome, but evil Prince is sentenced to death and shot full of arrows. But then his body vanishes from its place of execution. Everyone seems happy about this but the Prince.

The world is mostly all desert, though it used to be lush and verdant. But now it is mostly sere and Barren, and only the Prince's powers keep everyone alive. Chigusa tried to assassinate the Prince, but failed.

Until his body crashes down onto Earth, in Rakan's very overgrown backyard. Rakan is surprised to see the strange man, but is attacked by some very strange black... things that followed Chigusa.

Chigusa shoots one with a gun that seems more plant than worked object, but misses the thing. Thinking that Chigusa was shooting at him, Rakan grabs the gun, which immediately begins to grow. Rakan stabs it into the ground, where it grows into a tree. Chigusa calls him "Sanome" and makes Rakan touch a strange root-ball like fruit that grows into another gun, with which he kills the strange black things.

Chigusa, for the most part, is stunned on seeing Rakan, at first thinking that he is the Prince, for they look exactly alike, but he soon realizes that Rakan is something quite different- A Sanome, who can make all plants grow with merely a touch. If the Prince were to find out about Rakan, he would kill him, so Chigusa decides to take on a new role as Rakan's bodyguard.

But the Prince wants to make sure that Chigusa is dead, and sends another man, Narushige, to ensure that Chigusa has perished. Narushige is of a family where only women are born to them and have any sort of power- the Shigeka family. But Narushige is useless to them- he can't birth more women of his clan, thus making him also cursed.

Rakan has offered Chigusa shelter, and is torn between embarrassed and annoyed by the way Chigusa doesn't know how to bathe and insists on sleeping in the same room as Rakan. So when Narushige aso ends up in his backyard, he offers the other man his hospitality as well, along with Narushige's snake/sword Koh.

At first Narushige is planning to kill Chigusa, but when he sees the truth about Rakan, Rakan now has two defenders/bodyguards. and he'll need them, for the Prince has dispatched another man, an assassin, to track down and kill both Narushige and Chigusa, ensuring that they never return- and the best way to threaten them is to take out Rakan...

This was an interesting start to the tale. First we meet Chigusa, and because he alone out of all the people on his world can tell tell that the Prince is something evil and unsavory, is trying to assassinate him. But the Prince is saved, and he throws Chigusa into a dimensional vortex, where he ends up on earth. Rakan, on the other hand, is addicted to being normal, and loves doing all the things women normally do, like cooking, cleaning and other housework. He doesn't remember much about the other world, but he's determined to be nothing more than an ordinary human, thank you very much...

Sadly for him, but wonderfully for readers, the arrival of Chigusa and, later, Narushige blow huge holes in his ability to think of himself as normal. Mostly because they aren't really normal, either- Chigusa is pretty much unkillable, and Narushige has Koh, his snake/sword companion, and both are determined to protect Rakan from the bad things they know are coming.

So far, we have seen enough of the other world to know that the Prince is creepy- he's almost always shown smiling, even when he's sending people off to kill others, he doesn't speak, he talks telepathically to a retainer who does the speaking for him (and that's creepy), and he's always wearing gloves. But his ability to send assassins out to kill for him seems to be equalled only by Rakan's ability to befriend and make peace with those who are trying to kill them, so while there is some awfully weird stuff going on, it does make you want to read more.

I also like the spare, open linework of the art. But it's raining prettyboys in the pages of the manga, so those who like their stories heavy on the eye-candy will find plenty of fruitful places to rest their eyes. Definitely worth looking into. Rcommended.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Fruits Basket, Volume 23 by Natsuki Takaya

The curse on the Sohma family has been broken, but there are further revelations. First, Akhito summons the family who have been under the curse to a meeting, where she shows off her new self- in a female kimono, which completely shocks the family, as they thought Akhito was male.

Akhito was pretty shocked herself at the gift of the kimono, as she thought it meant that Shigure was leaving her, when he was merely bidding goodbye to her old life and welcoming her into a new one. He doesn't accompany her to her meeting with the others, but tells her that if she comes to him one more time, he'll hold onto her and won't let go- he's cruel and childish that way. And so she goes to him, because she does love him.

But she wants him to stay with her in the main Sohma compound, because she still is the head of the family. And he agrees, because he does love her.

Meanwhile, Tohru is taking a makeup exam because she missed the regular one while she was in the hospital, and Kyo waits for her outside of school. The two of them have come out about their relationship- well, at least Kyo has, to the disappointment of many of the girls. But Tohru doesn't have the scholarship to go on to college, so she'll be getting a job after High School ends.

Rin struggles with how to forgive Akhito after all she has done to everyone, Rin included. She doesn't hold a grudge exactly, or want to see Akhito grovel, but the hurt she's feeling hasn't gone away. She also wonders if it will turn Hatsuharu off from wanting to be with her, and Tohru comforts her with her presence, telling her that she knows Haru still wants to be with her.

Then, Tohru, Kyo, Hanajima and Arisa go to the zoo, where we recieve another sign that the curse is truly broken: Kyo isn't mobbed by the kittens they go to pet, and one of them actually turns away from him. But after their day in the park, the other two girls tell him that they like him, and they know he'll be taking Tohru away from them. They are saddened by it, but they have been expecting it.

By the time Tohru is finished in the restroom, the other girls have left, and Tohru thinks they left because she took a long time in the bathroom. But Kyo says it wasn't that, and takes her to her mother's grave, where he tells her that after High School, he wants to leave. Not leave her, but leave this place. He spent so long hiding from the world, he wants to learn from it. And he wants her to come with him. And she agrees to go.

We are taken back to the time of Tohru's mother's death, where we see why she told Kyo that she would never forgive him. She wanted someone to watch over Tohru and was trying to tell Kyo that if he didn't pay his debt to do so, she would never forgive him.

A year later, everyone has graduated, and the house that Kyo, Yuki, Tohru and Shigure lived in for so long is being abandoned, but Kyo and Tohru are cleaning up before they go. Meanwhile, Yuki is moving into a new place, and Shigure is living in the Sohma family compound and has given up writing novels. Yuki makes one last visit to Tohru to speak with her. But what will he say, and what will life ultimately bring for Kyo and Tohru?

I loved this entire series, and the ending here made me cry. Cry in a good way. It was so lovely and beautiful and hit all the right notes that I found myself getting misty-eyed all the way through, but when the end came, I actually sobbed- partly in grief that the series was over, of course, but the rest for the beauty of the ending.

Those who have been waiting for this book will be both happy and sad, probably for exactly the same reasons I was. If I had to pick one manga series that was absolutely, positively as close to perfect as anything could come, well, this would definitely be it. It's like a perfect diamond, beautiful and sparkling, but also warms and comforts you like hot soup, a pair of comfy jammies and a purring cat on a cold, stormy day in Winter.

I can't recommend this entire series enough. It's as close to perfect as any manga series will ever get, and the ending just adds the icing on the cake. Highly recommended.

Wolverine Origins- Savior by Daniel Way and Steve Dillon

Logan, who has been manipulated into losing his temper and fighting Captain America, who held the Muramasa blade, has had the ultimate bombshell dropped on him by Emma Frost. He has a son. Now, still wounded from the slash of the Muramasa blade, he has to figure out a way to capture his son without killing him.

But the wound gives him an idea, as he remembers a time in the 50's when he was an agent for the government, and poisoned with Carbonadum, which prevents his healing factor from healing him quite so quickly.

And he also remembers a device he stole and gave to a teammate of his to hide, Christopher Nord, now known as Maverick. It could make Carbonadium, and now Wolverine needs it to capture his son.

But he's not the only one on the trail of the Carbonadium. Other parties, from Omega Red to S.H.I.E.L.D. all want it, and when Wolverine meets Jubilee again, after leaving her when she needed him, he'll do anything to help her now. So when she's horribly wounded during the Fight with Omega Red, he surrenders to S.H.I.E.L.D. to save her life.

But even S.H.I.E.L.D. Custody isn't safe. When Logan's son comes after him with a vengeance, Logan is held in unbreakable bonds. But when faced with a boy who has exactly the same powers as he does, can Logan survive?

After a long time of reading Steve Dillon's Art, I am really coming to the conclusion that he's not my favorite artist for Wolverine. His male characters all have the same look to them, the same square-jawed faces, and all his characters seem to be related by blood. All his black characters look alike, and so do his white characters. It's almost like he's endlessly drawing the same character over and over again.

And it's not just in this title, but in everything I see him do, and while it was okay at first, it's now gotten on my nerves more than a little, to the point where I am distracted from the story by the art, which is never a good thing, in my opinion. The book is otherwise okay, with a good story and some great twists and turns that stuck out in my mind long after I finished reading.

If you enjoy Steve Dillon's art and really like it, more power to you! You'll probably enjoy this a lot more than I did. Otherwise, not so much, maybe.

The Legion of Superheroes Archives, Volume 11 by Cary Bates, E. Nelson Bridwell, Nick Cardy, Dave Cockrum, Mike Grell, George Klein, Jim Shooter, etc,

This volume of the Legion of Superheroes covers the issues from 1974 to 1975.

"Massacre by Remote Control" reveals Invisible Kid's secret- he's fallen in love with a girl he met in the world he sees when he's invisible, named Myla. He loves her and wants to be with her, but recently passed out when he was with her. Still, when the pieces of Tharok's computerized Brain summon Validus to the Legion's HQ to get it back for his master, only Invisible Kid can save the clubhouse. But will it be at the cost of his own life?

"The Legionnaire Nobody Remembers" begins with the Legionnaires finding a picture in their files of a member nobody remembers- Anti-Lad. So who was he and where did he come from? The story is told for the first time, of a Legionnaire who could turn everyone's own powers against them. But who was he, really?

"Brainiac 5's Secret Weakness" shows Brainy finally taking a vacation after becoming burnt out by overwork, but when he meets Supergirl on a vacation planet, she wants them to run off and be together, so he agrees. But is it really Supergirl Brainy is running off with? And if not, who is she?

"The Legion of Super-Assassins" has Superboy taking Lana Lang to the Future for her birthday. But they arrive to find Ultra-Boy gone mad, and while Superboy goes to fetch the cure, the Legion try to execute Ultra Boy and Lana. Who is controlling the Legion to make them do this? And do the only sane ones, Ultra Boy and Lana, have the power to overcome the villain on their own?

"The Legionnaires Who Haunted Superboy" has Superboy being surprised in Smallville by the arrival of Ferro Lad and Karate Kid- both of whom died saving others. But as he confirms with his X-ray vision, they are real and alive. But when a violent robot comes to destroy Samllville, can they destroy it to prove themselves before telling the rest of the Legion they're alive, even if it might kill them?

"Welcome Home, Daughter... Now Die!" has Princess Projectra returning home after a bout with Rigel Fever. But when she returns home, her father has been overthrown, and the new Ruler orders her thrown to a Monster called the Morgu. But when Karate Kid suddenly shows up, is he there to help her- or harm her?

In "The Rookie Who Betrayed the Legion" a SP named Dyron joins the team to help hunt down Universo. But why does he let Universo escape? Why did he betray the Legion?

"Lightning Lad's Day of the Dead" has Lightning Lad taking a Legion Cruiser to the place where his parents died crashing into a space meteor. But when he shows up, so does his antagonistic brother, Mekt. But is he there to kill his brother, or does he have something else in mind?

"Vengeance of the Super-Villiams" has the Legion guarding a prize to be given to a Dr. Lars Kenrick. But Superboy, Mon-El and Ultra- Boy are delayed by their own parents, who have delayed the heroes from the ceremony. But who is behind it, and what are they plotting?

"Who Can Save the Princess?" has Princess Projectra suffering from a horrible disease called "the Pain Plague". The only way to save her is for Timber Wolf, Saturn Girl, Karate Kid and Superboy to take her pain for the remaining hours of the disease. But the pain is so vicious and virulent, can even the heroes survive it?

"Hero for a Day" Has Legion welcooming their greatest fan, a boy named Flint Brojj. But when someone sends a Tilvanian Witch-Wolf, "Deadliest Beast in the Solar System" in a cage, can the Legion take it on? Or will its deadly radiation kill the entire Legion, and their greatest fan?

In "Soljer's Private War", Lightning Lad accidentally resurrects a soldier killed in World War VI. But the Lightning and Gamma Bomb that killed him filled him with a strange energy that can create phantom weapons with real effects, enough to even affect Phantom Girl! How can the Legion overcome this unliving figure of destruction?

"The Lair of the Black Dragon" has Karate Kid seeking the death of the man who killed his father. But when he learns the truth about what happened, will he still want revenge?

"The Ultimate Revenge" concerns Element Boy. When the Legion takes down a known haven of Pirates and Outlaws, Roxxas, the man who killed Element Lad's parents and all his people, is among them. And seeing him alive when all his people are dead drives Element Lad crazy. Can the rest of the Legion stop him before he kills, and will be forced to leave the Legion?

"The Legion's Lost Home" brings Cosmic Boy and Shadow Lass to the old Legion Clubhouse to search for a missing weapon from the Legion's Arsenal, but are they really the Legionnaires? When the Legion of Substitute Heroes shows up, there might just be a fight!

"Last Fight for a Legionnaire"- When Magno-Lad is rejected by the Legion for having a power that Cosmic Boy already has, he joins with other Legionnaires rejected for the same reason decide to challenge the Legionnaires with their powers to a fight, can the Legionnaires defeat the newcomers? And Matter-Eater Lad gets drafted by his homeworld!

"Deathstroke at Dawn"- When Shadow Lass discovers Night Girl of the Substitute Legion being held captive by Criminals, she blasts in to help, and the two discover how well they work together. They even end up saving Cosmic Boy- and he returns the favor!

Here again are some defining moments for the Legion: Matter-Eater Lad leaving to join his planet's leaders, the death of Invisible Kid, and evem the introduction of Flint Brojj, who was an homage to two Legion fans, Mike Flynn and Harry Broertjes. His character would continue to reappear in the Legion for almost 20 years. The costumes continue to change, along with the looks of some of the characters. For example, Karate Kid looks awfully like Bruce Lee in the Black Dragon story- though he was half-Japanese in his background, he'd always been drawn as caucasian-looking before, and I'm not sure if it's Mike Grell's art to blame!

Timber Wolf continues with his more Wolverine-ish looking form, and while he was originally more human-looking, later he became a real Wolverine clone- but I'm not sure who appeared first in print. The stories here show a strong 70's influence in costume and hair style, and makeup as well. The stories continue to improve, though they are once again almost all one-shots.

I liked this volume, and if you are (or were) a fan of the Legion, you'll like and remember them too, very well. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Legion of Superheroes Archives, Volume 10 by Murphy Anderson, Ross Andru, Cary Bates, E. Nelson Bridwell, Nick Cardy, Dave Cockrum, etc.

This volume contains stories of the Legion of Superheroes from the early 1970's, 1971-1972.

"Brotherly Hate" pits Lightning Lad against his own brother, Mekt Ranzz, better known as Lightning Lord, who hates his brother and sister fiercely. But can he defeat his own brother, with exactly the same powers as he has?

"Trust Me or Kill Me" has Cosmic Boy returning to Legion Headquarters to determine who is the real Cosmic Boy before time is up and the rest of the Legion returns. Can he determine who is the real Cosmic Boy?

"Invisible Invaders" has the Legion dealing with a bunch of criminals who can turn invisible just like the Invisible Kid. Can Invisible Kid find a way to overcome his own formula so that the Legion can trap the criminals?

"War of the Wraith-Mates" has two wraiths inhabiting Princess Projectra, Karate Kid, Mon-El and Shadow Lass. But when a landing on a strange planet ends in the death of Shadow Lass, will the other heroes come to their senses and defeat the creature who killed her?

"One Legionnaire Must Go!" has Matter-Eater Lad being suspected of treason to the Legion. But the only ones who are left at Legion HQ are Ultra Lad and Saturn Girl. Can they overcome the traitor and find the real source of the murderous thoughts?

In "Curse of the Blood-Crystals", Superboy's defeat of Mordru and his disposal of the Blood-Crystals that make anyone who sees them insanely hate Superboy comes back to bite him in the ass when the Crystal is found floating in space and picked up and taken back to the Legion for study- and the hatred infects Chameleon Boy! Can Superboy fight him off and save him from Mordru's Magic?

"Murder the Leader" has Mon-El and Saturn Girl in the running for Leader of the Legion. But when both of them disappear and reappear far across the Universe, Mon-El must fight both Validus and Tharok of the Fatal Five when Saturn-Girl appears to be slain. Can he outfight or outwit Two members of the Fatal Five on his own?

"Attack of the Sun-Scavenger" has the Legion celebrating Sun-Boy's birthday. But when they are attacked by Dr. Regulus, can they defeat him, and his cunning plan to regain his power?

"War Between the Nights and Days" has the Legion trying to stop a war on a planet where one side is always in Daylight, and the Other always in Night. Can they broker a peace between the two warring sides- and their warring leaders?

"One-Shot Hero" has a new hero trying out for a spot in the Legion. ERG-1 can duplicat the powers of many in the Legion, but he has one more which he can't demonstrate. He's rejected, but when the Legion is summoned to the site of a runaway machine sucking up plants and animals, can he save the Legion with his power? And what will be the price?

"Timber Wolf, Dead Hero, Live Executioner" has Timber Wolf returning from the dead. But is he really himself? When he seems to go crazy and attacks the President of the UFP, can the other heroes save him and discover who is behind his crazy rampage?

"The Fatal Five Who Twisted Time" and "Prisoners of the Time Lock" has the Fatal Five attacking Superboy in Smallville. Can the Legion come from the future in time to save him and the other people of Smallville?

in "The Gun That Mastered Men", Tyr's Gun returns from Outer Space to free him from his cell and make their escape. When Superboy goes out to defeat the gun, the gin takes him over and makes him attack the Legion. Can the weakest Legionnaires find a way to defeat him?

"The Impossible Target" has Bouncing Boy being kidnapped and attacked by Orion, the son of the Hunter who once tried to take the Legion as trophies in the most dangerous game of all. But can Bouncing Boy defeat the Son, who wants to kill him to avenge his father's death?

"The Legionnaire Bride of Starfinger" has Bouncing Boy proposing to the woman he loves- Duo Damsel. But when she finds she can no longer split in two, it doesn't seem to matter- because she's getting married and leaving the Legion anyway. But when it is revealed that her other self was abducted by Starfinger, and that she will die unless her two selves are reunited, will the Legion give up Duo-Damsel to Starfinger to save her life?

"The Betrayer from Beyond". Now that the Legion is short two heroes with the leaving of Bouncing Boy and Duo Damsel, the Legion needs two new members. The Legion applicant, Erg-1 is trying to return to his containment suit, but is foiled by the force-field around it. But when one of the Legion Applicants turns out to be an intruder in disguise, can ERG-1 save the Legion?

"The Silent Death" Has Dream Girl dreaming of the Death of a Legionnaire. But when she visits the Legion Clubhouse, can she and Karate Kid discover the dying Legionnaire in time to save them from Death?

"Lost: A Million Miles from Home" has Colossal Boy and Shrinking Violet taking down criminals on another planet. But on their way home, the ship suddenly loses power. After some investigating, they discover that somehow Colossal Boy is the source of the power Loss. He exiles himself from the ship, but is attacked by a creature resembling an Asteroid. Can Shrinking Violet discover the source of the Power loss and save Colossal Boy from the attack of the creature?

"Wrath of the Devil-Fish" has ERG-1, now calling himself Wildfire, inducted into the Legion. But when the new sewage and pollution treatment plant is attacked by a devilish Fish creature, can the Legion defeat it or discover what is making it attack the plant?

This book again has a series of mostly one-off stories, with the occasional two-parter to break it up, exactly the opposite of what I usually prefer. But nonetheless, the sheer number and breadth of the stories is amazing. Despite the small number of pages in a one-off story, the writers and artists are able to tell some pretty incredible and amazing stories in that form.

And we see another noteworthy event- EFG-1, later known as Wildfire, joins the Legion. This means the Legion is getting to the point it was at when I started reading. This volume also ushers in new costumes for many members of the group, including Starboy, whose costume now resembles the Night Sky. In general the 70's costumes were more revealing and "Sexed up" from the previous costumes, in line with the fashions and morality of the time- except for Wildfire, but you can't expect someone who's made of anti-energy to reveal flesh that isn't there.

Not quite as good as other periods in the long timeline of this series, this book is still good compared to many other comics of the time, and still gets a recommendation from me for the excellence of its stories and character-building.

Face Down O'er the Border by Kathy Lynn Emerson

Catherine Glenelg is a friend of Susannah Appleby's who lives in Scotland. Her son, only child of her husband Lord Glenelg was taken from her to be raised by a Scottish Nobleman in Scotland, instead of England where she prefers to live. To be near him, she moved to Scotland, and lives with her deceased husband's mother.

But one day she awakens in pain at the foot of the stairs, not knowing how she got there. And nearby is her mother-in-law, dead. Luckily, her friend Annabel MacReynolds discovers her, and the two of them attempt to keep Catherine alive and free when the rest of the household, who wasn't there at the time of the accident, comes in and discovers the death.

Unfortunately for Catherine, her innocent words regarding her mother-in-law are misconstrued, and she is accused of killing her mother-in-law, forcing her to flee. She also moves to protect her daughter, sending her and her nurse to Susannah's manor, and sending a message to Susannah asking her not to come.

But Susannah has discovered about the death through different means and is hurrying to help her friend along with her lover and neighbor Nick Baldwin. They discover that Catherine was trying to discover information about her son's treatment that she hoped could have the boy released back to her care. He's definitely not happy about being the smallest boy among the children being tutored with him, and the mistreatment his schoolmates bring down on his head for it.

So why was Lady Russell killed and her daughter-in-Law framed for the crime? Everyone seems to assume that Catherine is guilty, even Sir Lachlan Dunbar, Gavin Glenelg's guardian, who claims that he came to love Catherine and was going to ask her to marry him. But can Susannah discover the true identity of the murderer, and what really caused the death of Lady Russell before the authorities pin the blame on Catherine Glenelg and sentence her to death? And can she free Catherine's son and daughter to join her in the exile from Scotland that she wants, with a man she has come to love?

Reading historical mysteries is always fun, and Kathy Lynn Emerson writes mysteries that are plenty of fun to read, almost educating as much as they entertain. This one is a little different, in that it doesn't have any ties to Lady Susannah's being author of an Herbal, or with poisons. Instead, its all about murder and detection, showing that while Susannah may be good at detecting poisons, her ability as a detective goes much further than that.

This one also takes place in Scotland, quite far afield from the usual settings of rural England, and it points up the difference between the lowland Scots and the Highland Scots and the languages each spoke- the Highland tongue is impossible for Susannah to understand, even Lowland Scots is fraught with errors.

This was an entertaining mystery with a compelling story, interesting characters, and a great background on the political and social conflicts and tensions of Scotland at the time. It was interesting to see the villain revealed and wonder how Susannah could bring him or her to justice. Recommended.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Legion of Superheroes Archives Volume 9 by Jack Abel, Neal Adams, Cary Bates, E. Nelson Bridwell, Win Mortimer and Jim Shooter

This volume contains more Legion stories from the late 1960's up to 1970.

"Heroes for Hire" presents the Legion with a dilemma: How do they get at a group of Pirates who are defended by an actual living planet? The Legion appears to cope by quitting being unpaid defenders of the galaxy and now only helps people for pay. But have they really gone mercenary, or does their money-grubbing have a point?

"Twelve Hours to Live" has Superboy, Princess Projectra, Karate Kid and Duo Damsel drinking a toast to Brainiac 5's birthday. But their cups have been poisoned with the deadliest poison in the galaxy, and each has only twelve hours to live, and each decides to spend it in different ways. But as they make their wills and time ticks towards zero, time stops, and the other legionnaires are offered an incredible bargain to save their lives. But when they take it, can they succeed at their mission?

"The Legion's Space Odyssey" has Ultra Boy, Invisible Kid, Duo Damsel, Bouncing Boy, Cosmic Boy and Sun Boy blasted off into space by a strange explosion. They wake up on a far distant planet, and Superboy, who is with them, is killed by a strange creature with Kryptonite teeth. How will they ever get home again, and what caused the explosion that threw them into space?

In "The Forbidden Fruits", Timber Wolf is drugged with strange fruits by an unknown man. He's prepared to give him more- as long as Timber Wolf shares them with the rest of the Legion. But which is stronger: Brin's duty, or his love of the Legion and Light Lass?

"One of Us is an Imposter!" When the Legion Computer says that one of the Legionnaires present is an imposter, Mon-El, Shadow Lass, Dream Girl, Lightning Lad and Element Lad must figure out which of them it is- before it's too late!

In "Half a Legionnaire", Duo Damsel splits in two to get a rest while one of her two selves goes on a mission. But when she comes back engaged to a man named Nam'lor, rumors of a criminal duo consisting of a man and a beautiful woman come back with her, and her other self fears she is the one to blame. But what is the truth, and does her new fianceé have something to do with it?

"The Hapless Hero" gives us more about Matter-Eater Lad, and his unhappy home life. While the other heroes have supportive parents, his dad is a gambler, and his mother is a stay-at-home do nothing. When he gets into another fight with them about money, he goes back to the Legion clubhouse, where Shrinking Violet is missing the man she loves, Duplicate Boy. But when Matter-Eater Lad takes her out for a night on the town, will she cause a fight between the two heroes?

In "Kill a Friend to Save the World", Ultra Boy is challenged by a robot in the mall, and defeated. The maker of the Robot, Cosvarr, wants to sell the robots to the UP as protectors, since the Legion is inadequate. But when the Legion investigates, Cosvar has Superboy and Mon-El as his prisoners. Can they defeat Cosvarr or kill their own friends to save them from his robot plot?

In "Chameleon Boy's Secret Identity", Cham goes to a party with Princess Projectra and meets a beautiful friend of hers, but she is completely turned off by his looks. He likes her anyway, so he changes his form to that of a human to be with her. But when her life is in danger, will he give up his secret to save her life? And how will she feel about him afterwards?

"Lament for a Legionnaire" has Dream Girl having a vision of Mon-El's death in a mere five days. But when the vision comes true, who will sacrifice their own life to save that of Mon-El?

"The Fallen Starboy" has Starboy returning to Xanthu to take on a group of thieves who always seem to know when and where shipments are being made, even if changes are made at the time of the delivery. But when Star Boy is kidnapped by the raiders, can he take them on all on his own?

"Zap Goes the Legion" has a supposedly reformed villain using the Legion's own powers against them. Can anyone come up with a way to defeat her?

In "One Hero Too Many" the United Federation of Planets determines that the Legion shall have only 25 active members at one time to remain a tax-free organization. But who will go?

"The Mystery Legionnaire"- When a robotic criminal named Klim wants revenge on the Legion, the same three heroes who defeated him before- Chemical King and Cosmic Boy, along with Shrinking Violet, head off to stop his body from finding his head. But can they reach his head before the rest of his body can, and defeat him again?

"The Tyrant and the Traitor" has the Legion being called in to assist with the toppling of President Peralla of Lahum, who has taken over his planet and intends to try and conquer others with an army of chemical Men. But the leader of the revolution is tied to the Dark Circle. Can the Legion infiltrate and take out both the Tyrant and the Traitor and free Lahum?

"The Legionnaires who Never Were" has Princess Projectra and Saturn Girl being captured on a mission. Bu when they return to the Legion, they find that the Legionnaires don't know them and have no record of either of them. But they do have two new members: Prince Projectur and Saturn Lad. Can the two Legionnaires prove who they are? Or is this some strange dimensional switch?

While there are still some long stories at the beginning of this book, the rest of the stories are one-shots, which was a worrying return to the 50's and 60's stories. I prefer the longer stories, with perhaps a one-shot here and there to break things up.

But the stories are still entertaining and show how much can be packed into a single story without the story being too short or boring. Because even these one-shots can be quite suspenseful and interesting. Yes, I don't like the return to primarily one-shots. I'd rather have longer stories, but I still liked this book.

Reading the old stories shows how the Legion gained its staying power and the amount of interest it generated- really excellent stories with plenty of background for the heroes and incredible foes. Highly recommended.

Greywalker by Kat Richardson

Harper Blaine is a Private Eye, but when a job goes bad and the man she's chasing turns on her with his fists, he's able to give her quite a beating- and she wakes up in the hospital, not knowing how she got there or what happened to her.

It's only quite a bit later that she discovers that she died for two minutes. Harper is shocked and stunned by the news, but she also discovers that with it came a new problem- from the corner of her eyes, she can see things that can't really exist or be there... can she? Her vision seems sheeted by grayness, with things moving in it. Things nobody but her can see.

Tense and frightened with the things she sees, she asks her Doctor, but he says there is nothing wrong with her vision- or the medication she's taking. But he does give her the name of two people who might understand what she's going through- Ben Danzinger, a philosophy Professor, and his wife Mara, a Geology Professor and witch. Harper Blaine has become a greywalker, one who can see into death- into another world. And though she wants to return to her own particular value of "normal", Harper will never really be normal again- not as she defines it anyway.

As she struggles to understand and adapt to her new powers, she also has two new cases that will benefit from her vision into the Grey- one an Eastern European man who is strangely insistent about finding a specific organ lost in a shipwreck back in the 60's, and the other a missing college student who might just have been turned into a vampire.

But when she finds the organ, she may need the help of the vampires to destroy it, because it has been used to power the very darkest of magics: necromancy. But will the effort to destroy the organ and dissipate the energy of death it has built up inside it kill her and her friends, and all those in the city of Seattle? Or will she somehow, somehow be able to make it out intact?

I enjoyed this book alot, and I could really identify with Harper when she freaks out at all of the really freaky stuff happening to her. If I was in that position, I'd be freaking out, too! More to the point, I admired Harper. She doesn't whine and cry about what happened to her, she just sits down and deals with it. Not always well, and she does freak out from time to time, but she doesn't allow it to paralyze her.

I liked learning about the Grey, not just from Ben and Mara Danzinger, but from her own experiences with it, and even learns that her own two teachers can be wrong. It's also interesting to see what sort of things exist in this world, and how different it can be from other Supernatural tales. She even finds a bit of romance, but her job and its crazy hours might end up tearing them apart.

I highly recommend this book. It's an enjoyable, suspenseful read that keeps Harper, and the reader, on their toes. Around every corner lurks another threat, and she manages to rise to the occasion. I can't wait to see more from Kat Richardson.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Legion of Superheroes Archives, Volume 7 by Neal Adams, Pete Costanza, George Klein, Sheldon Moldoff, Jim Mooney, Jim Shooter, Curt Swan, etc.

More stories from the Legion of Superheroes of the 1960's. Approaching their 10th Anniversary, they were becoming one of the most-beloved superhero teams of the DC Universe.

"The Outlawed Legionnaires" has the Legion returning home from a mission to find that they have been outlawed. Even their parents support that if they use their innate powers, they'll be declared criminals! And they find out that their parents are spying on them as well, turning them into the police and monitoring their communications. But who could be behind such a horrible plot, and why is he or she doing it?

In "The Unkillables", after the war with the Dominators, the Legion must escort a Dominator diplomatic party through the 10th Dimension. But there are people on both sides of the war who oppose the truce. Can the Legion keep the diplomats safe from the Unkillables?

"The Lone Wolf Legionnaire Reporter" has the Legion calling Jimmy Olsen from the past to help them with their Legion Bulletin. They only have three days before the issue is due at the printer. But can Jimmy find exciting news stories for the Legion in that time?

"The Chemoids are Coming" introduces Dr. Mantis Morlo and his creations, the Chemoids. When the Legion stops his flying fortress from polluting the atmosphere of the Earth, he vows revenge. But after being diverted to three plots on three different planets, can the Legion stop Morlo from destroying the Earth?

"Revolt of the Super-Pets" has the pets being left behind to guard the Clubhouse, a mission they resent. When a man named Rikkor Rost of Thanl offers the League of Super-pets a place to live on his own planet, where they will be loved and admired and act as the protectors of Thanl. But while Earth is being savaged by metal-stealing raiders, can the Legion... and the Super-Pets combine to take them down?

"The Escape of the Fatal Five" has the Legion being captured and imprisoned to provide their powers use to bring back the Fatal Five from an alternate dimension. Can they overcome the Fatal Five with the help of Shadow Lass, a heroine from Talok V?

"No Escape From the Circle of Death" has the Legion rebuilding their clubhouse, which was nearly destroyed in the last story. But as they build larger and better, gifts arrive for the Legion from all over the universe. But when the Earth is attacked while they are still rebuilding, can the Legion fight off the seemingly endless waves of the invaders that have landed all over the Earth?

I liked this volume. The Fatal Five return, we are introduced to the Dominators and the Controllers as friends rather than enemies, and there are several really long stories, showing the Legion's continual climb to ongoing stories that merge into each other almost seamlessly, as they did when I was reading the Legion.

And these stories are stil exciting today, filled with wonderful battles, and great examples of Superpowers and super-powered peril. Reading these stories really took me back, and I can see why eventually the Legion kicked Superboy/Superman out of his own comic. These stories and this group is something special, and I was upset that the continual rebooting and redoing of the story is what killed the Legion.

These stories are the basis of the Legion canon, and show why the group lasted so long. The History that they set up is fantastic, and reading these books shows why this superhero group lasted so long. An excellent example of why comics are so incredibly awesome. Highly recommended.

Strange Brew edited by P.N. Elrod

Tales of Witches and Dark Magic abound in this collection of stories by the hottest paranormal authors.

"Seeing Eye" by Patricia Briggs involves a werewolf going to a witch to discover the whereabouts of his missing brother. But when the kidnappers turn out to be the black family of the witch he went to for help, he discovers that she's blind- one eye sacrificed by her father, one by her- and she still holds a grudge against them. But can the two work together to get back his brother?

In "Last Call" by Jim Butcher, Harry Dresden must track down magically-tainted beer bought from his friend, Mac's, pub. The beer contains a potion that causes heightened emotions- and it's going to be sold at a sports arena. Can Harry retrieve the beer before it gets drunk and find the person behind the tampering, before anything seriously bad happens?

"Death Warmed Over" by Rachel Caine, a witch who specializes in resurrections finds out that witches with that power are being killed, and she might be next on the list. To help her, the Police want her to resurrect Andrew Toland, a hero witch who she's resurrected before, to be her bodyguard and help her catch the person killing the witches. But as she struggles with her inappropriate feelings for Andrew, can they both deal with the killer gunning for her?

"Vegas Odds" by Karen Chance, has a witch who is half-werewolf being attacked by her own students. Students that someone enchanted to attack her, and if the enchantment isn't taken off, they'll die, slowly. But it appears that the attack was motivated by the name and deeds of her father, and whoever enchanted her students has a grudge against her father. Can she track down the perpetrator and save her students?

"Hecate's Golden Eye" by P.N. Elrod has Jack Fleming and his partner Charles Escott helping a young lady retrieve the diamond pendant that was left to her by her Grandmother. The Yellow Diamond in the pendant is known as Hecate's Golden Eye, and has great magic. It's lucky to women and very unlucky to men. But can even a detective and a vampire stand up to its magic once its unleashed?

"Bacon" by Charlaine Harris involves a witch and a vampire who married a werewolf. When the vampire's husband was slain. She's all too ready to take revenge on his killers. But is the witch part of the solution, or part of the problem?

"Signatures of the Dead" by Faith Hunter has an Earth Witch called in to eliminate whoever is killing other witches and their families. When she teams up with a were-hunter to track down those responsible, can she deal with the fallout, and the prospect of losing more friends and family?

"Ginger" by Caitlyn Kittridge focuses on the sister of her main werewolf character. Ginger has long thought herself a weakling- and she is, compared to her sister. But Ginger has her own strengths, and when she must save people at a courtroom by holding a man who would murder everyone in it in her wards, she may just get a chance to find and show off her own strengths, and see who is a weakling after all.

"Dark Sins" by Jenna Maclaine follows the only witch who has managed to maintain her ability to call power and cast spells after she'd been embraced by a vampire. But when she, her love and their friends are attacked by Dark Witches, she must learn to use her spells in her new form, fast! And discover why she is the only witch who retained her spellcasting ability...

I liked this book. A lot of stories were by writers I consider old friends when it comes to writing. Jim Butcher, Charlaine Harris, Patricia Briggs, Karen Chance- I loved all of their stories, including Charlaine Harris's, which actually made me shudder in both an "ooh, that hurts" and a "Ye ghods that's appropriate" way.

The authors I hadn't read before still made a favorable impression on me, enough that I would go out and read books by these people. It would be hard to pick a favorite story out of any of these, because I just flat-out enjoyed every minute of most of them. If I had to pick a least favorite, it would be "Dark Sins"-not because it is actually bad, but because the characters were the least well-explained and the background least well-developed out of all the stories. And that isn't damning it with faint praise, as I still enjoyed it- I just would have appreciated more explanation!

This is a truly excellent anthology, and all of the authors here would rate 4 or 5 stars out of five with regards to storytelling and writing ability. Highly recommended.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Legion of Superheroes Archives, Vol. 6 by E. Nelson Bridwell, Otto Binder, George Klein, George Papp, Jim Shooter and Curt Swan

More stories from the past exploits of the Legion of Superheroes, super-teens from the 30th Century.

"The Outcast Superheroes" has Superboy and Supergirl being summoned to the 30th century, only to find that the atmosphere has somehow been saturated with green Kryptonite. Unfortunately, the effects will dissipate, but it will take 2 years! So they must kick Superboy and Supergirl out of the Legion for their own good, and take back all the statuettes they gave the both of them so that they won't remember the Legion at all. Superboy and Supergirl are saddended, but take it remarkably well. They also nominate their own replacements: Sir Prize and Miss Terious, two figures covered in armor, one male, one female. Then they return to their own time, with kryptonite capsules implanted in their brains to make them forget the Legion completely.

Meanwhile, Prince Evillo summons a team of his own: the Hag, The Centaur, Sugyn and Apollo. Using Apollo's super-charisma and ability to charm beasts with music, they rob the Galactic Bank, and even the Legion isn't able to overcome them, and they kidnap Lightning Lad to boot, after destroying his mechanical arm. To free him, they travel to Evillo's planet, where Miss Terious says she knows how to overcome Evillo's bad magic. But to do that, they'll need the help of the rest of the Legion- including Superboy and Supergirl. But now that the two have forgotten the Legion, can they make them remember in time to get help?

In "The Fatal Five", the Legion must gather together the Galaxy's five greatest criminals to help the galaxy fight off the threat of the Sun Eater. But by bringing together these horrible people, will they create a threat even worse than that of the Sun-Eater itself?

"The Adult Legion" shows a possible future of the Legion when Superman travels forward in time. Many members of the Legion have married, and some have lost their powers or died. But someone is on a mission of revenge to destroy the Legion. The question is, who could it be? And who are the strange people in armor emblazoned with "L" and "M" who come to the assistance of the Legion in their most desperate hour?

In "The Six-Legged Legionnaire", Lana Lang, in her guide as Insect Queen, travels into the future with Superboy. She decides to apply for Legion Membership, but because her powers come from a ring and not herself, she is rejected by the Legion. But when she accompanies them on a mission, her powers are vital to the success of the mission. But when she loses her ring saving Superman, will Lana ever be human again?

"The Five Legion Orphans" has five of the Legionnaires being reduced to infants on a distant planet. But when they are adopted by couples from the planet, can Brainiac, who still retains his intelligence and his adult mind despite his childish body, find a way to undo the effects, and find out who turned them into super-infants as well?

"The Ghost of Ferro Lad" has the Legion remembering Ferro Lad, who lost his life destroying the Sun-Eater. But when they get back to Earth and the Legion Clubhouse, a series of effects causes them to believe that Ferro Lad's Ghost is angry at them and haunting them. But who is really behind the haunting? And is Ferro Lad's Ghost truly angry at the Legion?

"The Hunter" is a famous hunter who has tired of hunting all the usual game and decides to hunt the most dangerous prey of all- The Legion of Superheroes. Breaking into their HQ and kidnapping them back to his own planet, the Hunter gives them no choice: take part in his hunt or die! Who will win the race to the statue that can set them free?

I liked these stories as well, and the Legion's stories are slowly getting longer, especially the one about the Sun-Eater, which ran five issues- rather appropriate, as the Fatal Five would live and come back to plague the Legion again and again. Instead of one-off stories, the Legion is developing a sense of continuity, and the stories are linked to earlier ones, with more adventure and less fluff and silliness.

And the Adult Legion, while it never quite took off the way the young Legion did, did foretell the fate of some Legion characters. But it was also way off-base on others, which led to this being relegated to being an alternate world later on in Legion continuity. Ideas out of stories in this volume would continue to resonate in Legion Continuity further down the line, from Ferro Lad's brother to, of course, the Fatal Five, and Validus whose story would turn out to be the strangest of all!

I love the Legion, and reading the old stories is causing that Love to surge again to the forefront. I wish that more of these Archives had been published, but they stopped at #12. And they weren't exactly cheap, either, costing $50 per volume. But the amount of stories out there for the Legion is rather anemic compared to their longevity in the comics, and I wish that DC would get cracking and release the rest of the series. Hear that, DC? Highly recommended.

Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr

Aislinn has always been able to see fairies, but she and her Gran know that they aren't to be trusted. Most fairies view humans as toys and treats, to be played with rather than as actual human beings. So, to deal with the unseen fairies everywhere, that most people have no idea are there, She and her Gran have three rules for dealing with fairies: 1) Don't Stare at them. 2) Don't speak to them. 3) Don't attract their attention.

But Aislinn is having trouble keeping the rules lately when a fairie named Keenan has noticed her, and he's been stalking her, making Aislinn feel afraid. And she has good reason to worry. Keenan is the Summer Prince, most of his power held captive by his Aunt Beria, the Queen of Winter. If he can find the right girl, she will free his power and reign beside him as his Summer Queen. But to find out if she is the right one, she must agree to a test: hold the staff of Winter. If she is the right girl, the heat and summer inside her will overpower the staff and set the current holder free. If not, she will become but a shadow of her former self and the new bearer of the staff, under the power of the Winter Queen. Her task? To persuade the next girl Keenan picks not to take the test.

For Aislinn, that's Donia's job. Donia has been a winter girl since the 1920's, and she still loves Keenan. Of course, if Aislinn doesn't take the test, she will simply become a summer girl, a light=hearted, free-loving faerie who no longer remembers much of her human life. And Aislinn, even if she doesn't love Keenan, but Seth, a human boy and her best friend, cannot escape becoming part Faerie herself- either as a winter girl, a summer girl or Summer Queen, that's the only choice she has now.

Which one will she pick? Or will the staff pick for her?

I liked Wicked Lovely. Though the story is pretty self-contained, in the end it all comes down to Aislinn- her life, her choice. But it's not one she arrives at easily. She knows she can't trust Keenan at all, and he'd agree with her- he's overmatched by his aunt Beria, the Winter Queen who pretends to be the ultimate 50's homemaker, complete with high heels and pearls, but who is scarily evil under her human seeming, wanting the power of cold and winter to grow until it smothers all life under a blanket of unending white snow. You definitely get a shiver when she appears in the book.

This series packs quite a lot of punch. Aislinn doesn't want to have to make a choice, but it's already too late to stay a simple human. The moment that Keenan chose her, the moment he entered her life, it was already too late. But unbeknownst to Aislinn, she and her grandmother have an unexpected tie to Keenan that is impossible to ignore.

The ending of the book is completely unexpected, but also wonderful, as there was an actual happy (well, okay, somewhat) ending in all of this. And the fey here are menacing as well as enticing- it all depends on who of them you are looking at. Suffice to say, this is a book that teens will definitely enjoy. If you were in Aislinn's situation. what choice would you make? Recommended.

Face Down Beside St. Anne's Well by Kathy Lynn Emerson

Susannah, Lady Appleton, is quite concerned to hear that Rob Jaffrey, the son of her housekeeper, Jennet Jaffrey, is considering leaving the University he is attending to go to the aid of her foster daughter, Rosamund.

Rosamund's French Tutor has been found dead in St. Anne's Well, a local hotspring. Shortly before she died, she found Rosamund and her two closest friends bathing in the bath meant for nobility, which they had sneaked into through a rent in the wall caused by a recent earthquake. She gently chided the girls for being there and sent them back to the house, promising to follow. But by the next morning she had not come back and been found dead.

Rosamund thinks that the woman was poisoned and wrote to Rob for help in proving it. Though, to the horror of his mother, he is ready to leave school for Rosamund, she persuades him not to and has Susannah go to investigate in his (and Rosamund's) place. So Susannah travels to Buxton, in Derbyshire, and begins to see quite quickly that there is something strange about Louise Poitier's death.

For one thing, Annabel MacReynolds is on the scene. Annabel was one of the many lovers of Susannah's husband Robert Appleby. And while her husband worked for Queen Elizabeth, Annabel worked for Queen Mary of Scots. Though in the intervening years Annabel has grown very fat and claims to have given up spying for a more settled life, Louise may have been her protegé in spying.

If nothing else, she certainly cut a swath through the men of the neighborhood, doling out her favors generously to lad and lord alike. Though Annabel claims to have left such practices behind, could it be than an excess of spying killed Louise? For the healing waters at Buxton are precious to the imprisoned Queen Mary. Could she have been planning an escape, or even just passing on information for the queen? Or did Louise die because of her antics in the bedroom rather than those at spying, the game of Kings... and Queens?

I love the Lady Appleton mysteries, for while taking place during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, they don't occur in London or any large metropolitan area, generally. Instead, they take place in the countryside, in places that would generally seem bucolic on the surface, but scratch the surface and find feuds and hatred and nastiness aplenty.

Once again, characters from past stories turn up. In fact, this book is veritably awash with them, from Rosamund herself, who is the daughter of Robert Appleby by another woman, her mother, Annabel, Rob and Jannet Jaffrey, and plenty of new characters as well.

I liked this story, for it used a same-sex romance, which isn't something one usually sees in historical romances. It's more hinted at than outspoken for most of the book, but it ends up providing the clue that unmasks the murderer. And no, the lover isn't the murderer. I found it quite refreshing that the homosexual (or bisexual) character wasn't painted as evil merely for whom they were attracted to.

I enjoyed this book a lot, and it mixes actual historical people with the fictional characters so well that it's a struggle to tell, sometimes, which is which. An explanation of Elizabethan terminology and a listing of the actual historical characters as well as the fictional preceede the story, making it easy to flip back and forward if you encounter words or people you don't know. Recommended

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Legion of Superheroes Archives, Volume 5 by Edmond Hamilton, George Klein, Sheldon Moldoff, George Papp, Jim Shooter, Jerry Siegel and Curt Swan

The further adventures of the teen superheroes from the 30th Century. In this volume, we get the story of a being who would become one of the Legion's most dangerous and persistent foes- Computo!

"Computo the Conqueror" and "The Weirdo Legionnaire" have Brainiac 5 ensonced in his lab, creating a new super-computer for the United Federation of Planets. But when the computer believes it is superior because of its lack of emotions, which make humans weak, it imprisons Brainiac 5 and tries to do so with the rest of the Legion as well. It kills one of Triplicate Girl's three selves, turning her into Duo Damsel, and even Superman and Mon-El, the two strongest Legionnaires, are unable to prevail. But can Brainiac 5 come up with a solution to overcome his latest creation?

"The Legionnaire Who Killed" is about Star Boy, who kills a man in self-defense on a distant planet, and also to save Nura Nal, Dream Girl, who had come to warn him about the situation. But even with Superboy as his defense Council, can Star Boy be saved from having to leave the Legion because of his breaking of the Legion rules of conduct?

"The Evil Hand of the Luck Lords" has the Legion slowly coming to believe that they have been jinxed by various actions they have undertaken. But when they hear of the masters of a planet that can control luck, can the now-superstitious Legionnaires find a way to get back their good luck before someone dies?

"The Super-Stalag of Space" has Brainiac 5 summonning the Legion to a planet where he has been imprisoned by a strange, 3-eyed red alien who is commander of a Prison there. The Legion is also imprisoned, and must find a way to escape from a man who has thought of every way possible to escape- and already blocked them! Can the Legion find some way to escape the super-prison?

"One of Us is a Traitor" has four new Legionnaires being inducted into the Legion: Princess Projectra of Orando, an illusion caster, Ferro Lad, who can turn his entire body into iron, Nemesis Kid, who can take on the power to defeat any one opponent, and Karate Kid, master of all martial arts. But when the Legion is called upon to protect the Earth from the Khunds who have declared war, it soon becomes obvious that one of the new Legionnaires is a traitor. But which one is it?

"Target- 21 Legionnaires" brings back Sun Boy's perennial foe, Dr. Regulus. But this time, he's aiming at *all* the Legionnaires so he can finally kill off Sun-Boy, his hated foe. Can Sun Boy and the Legion beat back the man in the golden suit?

"The Rogue Legionnaire" introduces a new foe for the Legion, Universo, master of Hypnotism. But when Universo vanishes into one of five possible time periods after wrecking one Legion Time Bubble and stealing the other, the Legion must rely on a science fair entry to search time and bring Universo back to face Justice!

Yet another wonderful issue that introduces many characters who will be important to the later Legion. This collection has a number of firsts: first character kicked out of the Legion. First appearance of Universo. First appearance of Nemesis Kid. First member of the Legion to join the Substitute Legion. And so on.

Reading these stories brings back many fond and nostalgic memories of the Legion, and the fun I had tracking down the old issues of the comic-books, both in comic shops (which we had many, many more of when I was but a wee sprog) and later at conventions like the old Creation Conventions I used to attend in New York City. And I have many fond memories of those as well, even if today I know they were little more than glorified dealer's rooms.

Reading this book was like a breath of fresh air, and despite the rather innocent nature of the Legion back then, the stories still manage to make you feel that the characters are in actual danger from their foes. Reading the stories here will keep you on your toes as well as providing a fun reading experience. Highly recommended.

It's Getting Ugly Out There by Jack Cafferty

Jack Cafferty started out as a newsman, and grew up in the 50's, and he thinks it was better back then. So what's wrong with the country now? Well, he's just getting started!

In this book he takes on ex-President Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rove and the rest of Bush's crew, pointing out their disconnection from reality and apparent inability to face reality on the part of Bush and his team- to the point where he was unwilling to look at any evidence that things were not going according to how he wanted them, his inability to say he was wrong (about anything he did), and his indifference to the number of soldiers who were in Iraq, dying for his plans. And the way he dropped the ball on Katrina in New Orleans? Incredibly shameful. And then he went on to congratulate his own political appointees for the horrible job they were doing. "You're doin' a heckuva job, Brownie?" If a "heckuva job" means complete and utter failure, well, yeah!

But that's not all he's angered with, because he's an equal-opportunity truth-teller, and some of his scorn falls on the Democratic Party, Nancy Pelosi, and Liberal ideas that are just wrong and do nothing helpful for anyone.

Along the way, he takes us on his own journey, from a boy living on the poor side of Chicago with two parents who were not qualified to be parents- an addictive personality father, and a mother who was too weak to stand up on her own- or for her own children. Jack didn't get away from his childhood unscathed. He eventually developed a drinking problem that mirrored that of his father, but thankfully, not the gambling problem that went along with it.

But he's not afraid to tell the truth, not to anyone, no matter how palatable or unpalatable it might be- and that is what his listeners love and admire about him. Well, most of them anyway.

If you're ready for the truth- listen to Jack Cafferty. He's straight with the truth and after reading this book, you'll be hungry for more.

This was a great book, I read it, and honestly, I can't say I disagreed with much, even if I tend to be pretty liberal myself. Pretty, well, no, extremely liberal, but I'm not all the way out in lala land like some extreme liberals are. I support social programs because I don't think people should be starving to death in the streets. At the same time, I want the program to be a hand up, not a handout.

Liberal, conservative, call me or yourself what you will, I think you'll find Jack Cafferty a breath of fresh, rather than hot, air in a medium that is becoming increasingly right wing and polarized rather than neutral and conveying accurate information. Many of these rants will make you angry. Very angry. But they also need to be said. Sadly, too many people nowadays listen and read (if they read) only to things which already support their opinions, and dismiss or don't read what doesn't. This shouldn't be you. Stir up the muck of your own prejudices and fantasies with some factual information that isn't spin set out by someone who wants to keep you numb and happy (or numb and angry when it's time to vote for the "right" candidates).

I recommend this book because it isn't pabulum and will challenge your preconcieved notions and opinions no matter what side you are on. Read it, get angry, and learn the truth away from partisan shills. Highly recommended.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Murder on Waverly Place by Victoria Thompson

Sarah Brandt is a midwife who was once a chid of priviledge. But when she fell in love with a young doctor, and he with her, she defied her parents and married him. They responded by kicking her out of their lives, but when her doctor husband died, they would have accepted her back- except that Sarah had grown used to and to like living on her own.

Instead of returning to her father's house, she trained as a midwife and continued to live on her own. But in her family's past lies a dreadful secret- Sarah had an older sister who also ran away from the family to be married. But in her case, when she got pregnant and tried to give birth, she died, and the baby with her. Two weeks later, her husband hung himself out of grief. Even though the family never speaks of her, no one has forgotten her, especially not Sarah's mother.

So when her mother asks her to go to a seánce and help her ask the forgiveness of Maggie. Sarah's dead older sister, Sarah is shocked. She knows that spiritualists and mediums are more likely to be false than anything, and she can't believe her mother would stoop to consulting a fraud. After all, Maggie is dead, and nothing she or her mother can do or say will ever bring her back. Her mother says she knows that, she just wants Maggie's forgiveness.

Realizing that her mother's emotional need is greater than her ability to be rational on this point, Sarah goes with her mother to an address on Waverly place, in the fashionable part of New York. There, she and her mother meet with the medium, Madam Serafina, a young Italian girl. Around her are her usual coterie of seekers: Mrs. Gittings: a woman who always dresses in black, Mrs. Burke: a friend to Sarah's mother, who recruited her for the seánce, John Sharpe: a widower, and Mr. Cunningham: a young man whose father recently died, leaving him with the business, for which he seeks advice from his father.

The seánce is much like any other, with Serafina using spirit guide named Yellow Feather, an American Indian, to channel the spirits and their wishes. But when Serafina speaks of a baby, her mother calls out for Maggie, and everyone hears the sound of a baby crying. Her mother begs for Maggie's forgiveness, but Serafina faints and the session is over. Afterwards, the others blame Sarah's presence and unbelief for the ending of the seánce, but Sarah wants her mother to stop doing this, and her mother agrees.

However, a few months later, when Mrs. Gittings is stabbed at one of the seánces and dies, Sarah's mother is there, and she summons Frank Molloy, Sarah's cop friend, to the scene, using Sarah's name. When he arrives, he's surprised to find not Sarah Brandt, but her mother, Mrs. Decker, who is using Sarah's name to protect her own, and that of her husband. A search of the house turns up two other people, Professor Rogers, who ran the house for the owner, who was- surprise! Mrs. Gittings, and a nearly adult boy named Nicola, who claims to be a servant in the house.

It soon comes out that everyone at the house was paying to come to the sittings, and as Mrs. Burke had run out of money, she'd been selling her jewelry to pay for the cost. Each of the sitters has money and a high level of class, and none of them appreciate being questioned by Frank Molloy. But when Sarah arrives, summoned by a messenger from her mother, it's up to her and Frank to find the real murderer and also to find the money that Mrs. Gittings was promising Serafina and Nicola, who are in love and who look after each other.

This is another wonderful historical mystery, but this one is set in turn-of-the-century New York City, from the deepest slums to the most rarefied heights. Sarah is a child of priviledge and Frank Molloy a child of the slums, and between them, they can tackle both sides of any crime. And since Sarah is a woman and also a midwife, she also has quite different lines of investigation than Frank. She can take Serafina into her home and question her there, while Frank can't obviously.

I also like seeing the great divide that exists between rich and poor at the time, and the cultural tensions between the many nationalities in the city. Frank Molloy is a Cop, caught between the Irish, who have normally held the positions of Cops, and the increasing number of Italians who want in on the job. Not to mention the politics of Tammany Hall and the power of Theodore Roosevelt who was Comissioner and is now going to be leaving for Washington to serve under the new President McKinley.

Reading these books is like travelling back in time without having to undergo the smells, rampant crime or corruption of that era. If you enjoy good mysteries, you'll want to read this one. And if you like historical eras explored in fiction, you'll also want to read this one. I could go on, but there are many reasons to pick up this book amd you'll find it completely wonderful. Highly Recommended.

Murder on a Midsummer Night by Kerry Greenwood

Phryne is enjoying the hot summer in Australia when she is approached by a woman asking her to look into the death of her son, who has been found drowned in the bay. But the woman doesn't believe that her son comitted suicide- he was too successful, and had too much to live for.

Phryne questions the woman, and finds out that her son had inherited his father's junk business, but been very successful with finds and had turned the junk shop into a place where people saw old things washed and cleaned and made to look almost new. His business was amazingly successful, and he'd promised his mother a lovely new place in Toorai after he made another find, which was coming soon.

Not long afterwards, Phrynne is engaged by a lawyer to find a missing child. Long ago, the deceased mother of the family he works for got sent off to the country for a year and when she came back, was in disgrace until her father married her off to an older man, to whom she gave birth to more children. But when she died, they learned that her year in the country might have been to give birth to an illegitimate child- because she left her estate to all of her children, and now they need Phrynne to find out if there really was a child, and if it's still alive, where he or she could be found.

But the dead son was mixed up with some truly "out there" people, and the family of the missing child isn't much better. And it appears as if one of their servants is ripping the family off. Even if Phrynne doesn't like either set, she has murderers to discover and people to find. Can she track down the responsible parties with the help of Lin, her Chinese lover, and the rest of her family and servants? Or will the mighty Phrynne find these cases beyond her expertise?

I always love Phrynne, and this book is no exception. Phrynne is the woman we all wished we could be: sleek, sensual, beautiful and intelligent, and no matter how much she eats and drinks or how little she exercises, she never gains weight, looks frumpy or has "bad hair" days. And she lives in a sort of 20's "free love" heyday where she and Lin, her lover, are both free to dally with other men and women if they feel like it.

This series is great for more than just the detective heroine's attributes. I like how the series so convincingly evokes both Australia and the bygone 20's. But then, the writer lives in Australia, in a place called "Footscray". There is something a little magical about Australian place-names, often being names to conjure with like Toorai, Footscray, Beersheba and so on. You almost feel like you're there.

With an elegant heroine, wonderful mysteries and an Australia you feel like you inhabit along with Phrynne, this series pulls you in and draws you back every time a new one comes out. I recommend this highly.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A Darker Crimson by Carolyn Jewel

Claudia Donovan is a cop who has literally pulled herself up out of the gutter by the dint of hard work and strong hands. Born in the lower, which are the slums of Crimson City, and despite a checkered past that has given her a young daughter to look after, she is doing relatively well for herself.

Called to the scene of a supe on supe murder, Claudia sees that one of the bodies looks more like a human than a supernatural creature. Also hanging around the scene is a vampire named Tiberiu Korzha. He claims that the human-looking victim is actually a demon, but Claudia has a hard time believing that. She's more inclined to think that Tiber is just lying to her, trying to make her job harder, and to cover up a murder he has committed.

But when she is attacked by a strange, almost unkillable creature, she must flee along with one of her teammates, Commander Jaise, when his own teammates think that he and she might have been tainted by the creature she was fighting, and which killed the rest of the team. She doesn't particularly like Jaise, even though she thinks he's rather good-looking, mainly because he only seems interested in getting into her pants, and he's blazed a wide trail through all the other women at the station. She doesn't want to become just another notch on his bedpost.

But when both of them are sucked into another dimension where the moon glows red instead of silver, she gets the shock of her life. Not only do demons really exist, but Jaise is one himself! And more to the point, they have her daughter! Claudia is angry at them for stealing her daughter, but manages to find a female demon to talk to. The woman tells her that the demons have been imprisoned here for thousands of years. Occasionally one of them manages to get summoned to earth by a magician seeking knowledge, and sometimes, the demons manage to stay on the earthside. But the demons want to be free to roam Earth. They want Claudia because she can open the gate between Earth and the Demon dimension. And they have her daughter, because her daughter is half demon.

Claudia doesn't want to believe any of this, but the demons foil any attempts for her to escape, and she soon finds that Tiber is here also, to discuss a truce between the demons and the vampires. The vampires are becoming more and more convinced that the humans are getting ready to attack them, and despite how powerful vamps are, humans outnumber them. But he's surprised how well Claudia has dealt with being imprisoned by demons, and he feels a powerful need to protect her as much as he can. Especially once they find out that Claudia will only be able to open the gate so many times before she dies from a lack of energy.

Their time on the Demon World must be limited, and Tiber can save Claudia by making her a vampire. But does she have the strength to go through with it? And when she is abducted and raped by another demon, Tiber doesn't know if he can stand the damage this world is doing to Claudia. Can they escape, with her daughter, before it is too late?

I liked his book very much, because Claudia and Tiber became very real characters for me, rather than just characters in a book. Claudia goes from horror to despair to something like hope more than a few times, and as Tiber takes care of her, she begins to realize that she actually feels something for him. Tiber, at first, is attracted to her, but soon comes to care for her as more than just a quick meal. And despite not having made another vampire in hundreds of years, he is willing to do so to keep her alive- even when he promised himself he would never do so again.

A man who would compromise his strongly held principles to keep someone he loved alive? Well, I found that pretty hot. But it's more than just the characters. The world-building is pretty excellent as well. I got the feeling that the demon world was real enough to actually have existed, although most of the demons living there aren't all that well fleshed-out. The demons are pretty scary, as a Bak-Faru demon has sex with Claudia and makes her want it- right until it's over, at which point she cries. It's the worst kind of rape, a creature that can make you agree and want it, even when you don't.

This volume introduces a fourth player into the Human-werewolf- vampire politics, thereby opening up the world of Crimson City more than a little as well. With a mostly well-done story and excellent writing, I'd recommend this series, and this book, to anyone who enjoys Paranormal romance. Recommended

The Bellini Card by Jason Goodwin

Yashim is a eunuch of the court of the Sultan Abdulmecid, newly sitting on his throne. But when he hears that the great painter Bellini painted a portrait of Mehmet the Conqueror. He commands Yashid to get it for him.

Instead, Yashid goes to Constantinople while sending on his friend and colleague, the Polish Ambassador Stanislaw Palweski to Venice instead. Palewski, pretending to be an American named Brett, a buyer of art, try and track down the Bellini. But of course, no one has seen the Bellini since shortly after it was returned to Venice. And while Brett is contacted by a local Art Dealer named Antonio, Palewski is contacted by the Contessa d'Albi to attend a party.

Since the Sultan isn't willing to make a big fuss by contacting the owners directly and offering large sums of money for the portrait, the others must work in secret to try and find the painting and obtain it from the Sultan. But when people start being murdered, dumped in the canal after being beheaded and stabbed, the Venice Police investigate and pin the crime on "Brett", and Yashim must come to his friend Palewski's rescue and determine why someone wants anyone connected with the painting dead- including the Contessa D'Albi, the current owner of the painting.

Can Yashim protect the Contessa when the killer comes to call, and save the painting that the Sultan wishes so very much to protect? Or will unseen foes rob Yashim of both the painting and his life- as well as the lives of his friends?

I like this series, but the subtle poetry of the writing makes it a little hard to get into, and we actually don't get to see much of Yashim until about halfway through the book, when Palewski is wanted by the police, Palewski's love Maria has been kidnapped and imprisoned in an underground space (and Palewski doesn't even know she's missing!), and a murderer is on the loose.

Nope, Yashim is in Constantinople, cooking with a damascened cooking knife he recieves early on from a merchant friend, and looking up a retired former scribe at the Palace who moved to Constantinople after he retired. Yet both these seeming "distractions" become important later- the knife saves his life, and the conversation with the daughter of the deceased allows him to find the painting.

This is a good book, but I wasn't completely thrilled by it. It's not until Yashim actually arrives in Venice that things really start to pick up. Before then, it's a bit of a slog, so I recommend it, but not highly.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Storm Glass by Maria V. Snyder

Opal Cowen was a glassmaker's daughter, whose sister, Tula, was a mage and died at the hands of a blood-mage, Opal herself was kidnapped by the same mage, but was saved by Yelena Zaltana, the Sitian Magician who is now Ambassador to Ixia, the country where she was raised after being kidnapped from her family. Now Ambassador, she is gone and Opal has followed in her sister's footsteps to become a Mage at the Academy in Sitia.

But as a mage, she's only able to do one thing- to infuse her blown glass sculptures with magic, and while she was able to use her glass animals to help the mages achieve instantaneous communication, she feels that she is a "one-trick wonder", a notion that is reinforced by the attitudes of many of her classmates- who also dislike her for her fame in being involved with the evil blood mage, because she caved into his torture and told him where to find her sister again after Yelena had freed her sister from the mage and his control. Because of her capitulation to torture, her sister died, and Opal feels she is only a second-best replacement from the Mage Academy for her sister.

Her torture also made it hard for her to open up to others, and so many of the other students believe she is a snob, or standoffish. And even though she goes through the same training as the others, so far all she can do is put magic into glass, so she feels she really is just a one-trick wonder. But then she is summoned to see the Mage Council in charge of the school. She thinks she is going to be sent home, but instead, she is sent on a desperate mission.

The Stormdancers protect the coast of Sitia from the storms that batter the coast, and they do this by taking the energy of the storm and trapping it in glass balls. But now, the balls they make are breaking, killing the mages who try to use them, and they have asked the Mage Council for help. The Mage Council sends not only Opal, but also Zitora, the third most powerful mage at the school, along with her. They travel to the coast, but along the way are ambushed by a group of men who make it most clear that they do not want the Mage's Council to help the Stormdancers. Opal is frightened of being made a captive again, but manages to work through her panic and help Zitora overcome their attackers.

After tying the men up and leaving them for the authorities, they continue on to the Stormdancer lands, where they discover the problem. Opal knows glass well and is able to figure out the percentages of the ingredients they are using for the glass for the balls, which frightens the Stormdancers in charge of making them, as this is sacred clan knowledge. Opal wants to see how they make the balls, and finds out that it is true- for some reason, the recipe they have been using is no longer working. The glass is simply not dense enough to hold the energy of the storms.

During her time there, she meets Kade, a morose Stormdancer who is desperate to find an answer to what is happening with the glass-one of the victims of the new glass balls was his sister, and the leader of the clan. Now he is leader, and he's chafing under the new responsibilities, as well as missing his sister. When Opal asks to see one of the old glass balls, she gets a shock when he gives her one- because this one holds his sister's soul inside! Somehow, when he imprisoned the storm's energy inside the ball, his sister's spirit was also trapped.

Since the storms will soon be starting for the year, Opal takes the problem to her father, a master glassmaker. He is able to track down the problem to one of the ingredients used in the glass, a false additive called "Brittle Talc" in place of real Talc. This first showed up in glass many years ago, and it nearly ruined glassmaking in Booruby until it was found out how to tell if it is in real talc, and the Master Glassmakers agreed to stop using it- with fines and imprisonment as a consequence. As Opal tries to find out if anyone in Booruby knows who might have sold Brittle Talc to the Stormdancer glassmakers, she has another encounter with the leader of the men who tried to abduct her, a man she knows only as Blue Eyes. But she manages to get out of that confrontation and encounters Ulrick, the son of another Booruby glassmaker who is experimenting with brittle glass to make sculpures which are beautiful.

But his family considers him a disappointment, and they won't allow him to sell his pieces at their shop. Opal, however, feels the magical power contained within the glass he makes and gets him to come back to the Mage Academy with her to be trained in his magic- a magic which only she seems to feel. As he heads to the school ahead of her, Opal travels back to the Stormdancer lands with the proper supplies to help them make newer globes that will not break, and is able to see Kade in action. But when Kade runs out of magic power partway through the storm, It is Opal who aids him by joining her magic with his to enable him to keep going. When she does, their souls seem to touch, but although Opal finds him very attractive, he makes it clear he isn't interested in her.

Disappointed, she sets out to return to the Magic Academy, but on the way, she is accused of a crime, stealing a vase, and thrown in jail until her mentor can free her. But later that night, her mentor appears at the door to her cell and tells Opal to run away, that the guards aren't listening and want to hurt her. But it's only a day or so later that Opal realizes that she's been tricked. The person she's with isn't Zitora, but the blue-eyed man. He knows that she knows the percentages for making the glass globes the Stormdancers use and wants her to replicate it. She pretends to do so, and tries to run away. but when a mage in the party tries to conjure up illusionary spiders to frighten her with. she grabs the spell and stuffs it into one of the globes she made.

When she's done, the globe is filled with glass spiders, and she does manage to get away. Back at the Academy, the mages are intrigued by the expansion of her powers and give her leave to build her own glassworks on the school ground so that she can explore her expanded powers. Ulrick is there, too, and getting lots of attention from the other students, especially the girls. He helps Opal set up her new shop, and suggests getting some of the other students to help her so that they can understand what she is doing. But he's concerned about all the times she's been abducted and takes to sticking to her like a limpet, determined to be her bodyguard and take care of her.

Meanwhile, she set on another task by the Mage Council, to track down where a number of fake diamonds are coming from. The diamonds look real, but are actually glass fakes, and Opal, with her magic, is one of the few who can tell the difference. She is paired with Pazia, another student, one who has been a thorn in her side and the one most likely to think of Opal as a "One Trick Wonder". But after they have tracked down the source of the gems, Opal tries to test her abilities with another globe, and Pazia is the one who offers to cast the spell. She conjures up poisonous green bees to sting Opal, but Opal still manages to stuff the magic into the ball. Soon, Pazia collapses, and the glass ball is full of bees.

But when they take Pazia to the infirmary, they find out she is unharmed, but all her magic is gone. Somehow , Opal and her globe have stolen all of Pazia's magic. Now the Mage Council is frightened of Opal's abilities, and some of them want to put her under house arrest, until Zitora points out that they were asking Opal to find out what she could do with her magic. It would be stupid for them to punish her for doing what she was asked to do. Look at how well that had worked with Yelena! The Council reluctantly agrees, and when Yelena contacts the Council and asks for Opal, they send her to meet her friend. Along the way, Ulrick and Opal also get to meet his sister, the hope of his family when it comes to glassware. But she's an arrogant woman, and also the one behind the glass Diamonds that merchants have been selling. While she claims not to know what happens to the gems she sells, Opal isn't sure that she can believe her.

Having once again encountered Kade and been rebuffed when she tried to express how deeply she cares about him, and seeing that Ulrick also loves her, and she does feel great affection for him, Yelena begins a relationship with Ulrick- and has another encounter with part of the soul of the mage who kidnapped her. But then a shocking betrayal leaves her wondering who to trust, and another kidnapping leaves her stranded in the north of Ixia in the midst of winter's cold. Can Opal find a way to free herself with the magic she possesses, and free two men she loves, one more than death, from the threat of a worse imprisonment than she has ever experienced?

My one problem with Maria V. Snyder's characters is that they can never seem to travel anywhere without bad things happening to them. Kidnapping, death traps. rape- Yelena had this problem, but now Opal seems not only to have it, too, but to even have it worse than Yelena. No sooner is she ahorse than something bad happens. Now< i can see one character having this trait, but two of them? I honestly hope Ms. Snyder comes up with a new gimmick soon, because I started to roll my eyes about this halfway through the book. And no matter what Opal seems to do, she ends up captured. Ulrick seems annoying about protecting Opal- but I very soon came to the conclusion that he was right- she *does* need a protector if all she does it get captured and dragged all over the place willy-nilly.

I also felt that neither male character that she was fleshed out all that well. This is partly because the story is told all from Opal's perspective, but both Ulrick and Kade seem to be rather pale and washed out as characters. Yes, we know that both of them are interested in her, and she is interested in them, but what are they beside that? Much of it, we never know. Kade loved his sister and is the strongest Stormdancer left in his village. Ulrick is passionate about glassmaking and has some magic with glass and he's protective of Opal- and he has a very arrogant sister. Aside from this, we really don't know them well, and that's all pretty much surface stuff, so both men are less compelling than Yelena's lover, Valek.

Despite all this, I did end up enjoying the book, as the action cracks along admirably and despite the numerous and tiresome attacks every time Opal got in the saddle, I still enjoyed reading and wondered what would happen next. This book does have some flaws, but it's still enjoyable, and I do plan to read the next one out, Sea Glass. Recommended.