Saturday, October 30, 2010

Bad Movies We Love by Edward Margulies and Stephen Rebello

Not all movies made are good. Some of them are bad, some of them are very bad, and some pass through the time/space continuum that separates the very bad from the "So bad, you'll puke yourself laughing at the scenery-chewing, overacting, and bad special effects on display on the screen when you go to see them.

The authors have made 21 different lists of "So bad they are amusing and/or good" movies. Each of those lists is a different category, and then, they rate each film on its badness in the category, ranging from "So bad, you just have to watch it NOW" to "Just excruciatingly bad- watch at your own risk", which they call "You are on your own".

The twenty regular lists and the one "worst of the worst" list at the end encompass over 200 movies, from "Mame", "Butterfield 8", "9 1/2 Weeks", "Myra Breckenridge" and "Action Jackson" to supposedly highbrow stuff like "Caged", "A Summer Place", "The Eyes of Laura Mars" and "The Exorcist II: The Heretic" with plenty of other stops along the way,

The best chapter is, of course, the last, the so-called "Hall of Shame", populated with instant non-classics like "Kitten with a Whip", "Xanadu", "Can't Stop the Music", "The Fountainhead", "Mommie Dearest" and "The Oscar" being among the many polished turds on display. Better than just letting us know that these movies are bad, the book tells why they are bad in all their steaming glory, calling out directors on far-reaching visions that reached too far, or, conversely, not quite far enough, acting that is leaden, wooden, histrionic of flat as pavement after the steamroller goes by. Perhaps we are meant to believe that the two actors who simply have no chemistry together are deeply, madly in love with each other, or perhaps it is the script itself that fails to inspire, with horrible, tortured dialogue that somehow passed muster with the production company, but which inspires hilarity of entirely the wrong sort in viewers, or laughter when the film is supposed to be serious.

For people who think that past movies were simply better than Sturgeon's Law, which states that 90% of everything is crap, this book provides an eye-opening look at the truth that this simply isn't so, and the ratio of crap to good hasn't really changed at all in the history of movies. It's selective memory on the part of movie-goers who only remember the good and forget the bad. And there is a lot of bad, and even worse to find among those old movies.

What is also obvious is that the two authors really love movies, even the hilariously bad ones, They lovingly trot out all the flaws that make a a movie bad, or make it an unintentionally hilarious laugh-fest that can still be enjoyed in a "so bad it's awesome" way. Whether you have seen the movie in question or not, just reading the description can often make a reader laugh. I got the most laughs for my reading out of the section on disaster films like "Airport, Avalanche, The Poseidon Adventure, Delta Force, Earthquake and Concorde: Airport '79. I'd seen most of them and remembering them did make me laugh.

This wonderful book serves as a smorgasbord of bad movies that will make you both howl with laughter and just howl at the awfulness of it all. If you like laughing at absurd movies, add this book to your collection and the baddest ones to your Netflix queue, then sit back and wait for the yuks to roll in. But if you don't like bad movies, you will still get some enjoyment out of the book- just skip the movies themselves. Recommended.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Collegium Chronicles- Book Two: Intrigues by Mercedes Lackey

Mags, the poor orphan boy who worked in grinding poverty and insanely Hellish conditions in a gemstone mine has been rescued and is now a Herald-trainee in Valdemar's new Collegium which is being set up to train Heralds, Bards and Healers simultaneously. But Mags, who was rescued by the Heralds from where he'd been little better than a slave in a mine run by an unscrupulous man, finds himself feeling disgusted with his fellow Herald-trainees, who complain about the food and their rooms, when Mags thinks them spacious luxuries, compared to his previous life. In any case, he doesn't think they have any right to complain.

More, though, it makes him feel like he'll never fit in with his fellow trainees. So instead of moving to the new building with the rest of his fellows, he goes on living in the stables with the Companions, most of whom he feels closer to. Being out in the stables when everyone else is in the main building has excited some comment about Mags, about why he is stuck in the stables, almost as if he isn't good enough. But Mags is happy where he is and doesn't want to move.

Meanwhile, Mags has been asked if he will join the Kirball squads that are starting up. It's a mixture of many sports, and played on the back of Companions. Unusually, gifts are allowed. and while Mags is a little put off by Dallen saying it is a wargame, he does agree to join one of the teams. He's shocked when he's told that he normally wouldn't be able to join, as a first year trainee, but his skills are up to the task- the Heralds just want to make sure he's filling out properly, since the lack of food when he was a slave made him the smallest and thinnest trainee.

On his way to dinner, he meets up with his friend Lena, the Bardic trainee. But they meet a strange bard, who gives Lena a message to deliver for him. Lena seems strangely put off by this, and she tells Mags that this strange bard, who gave no sign of recognizing Lena at all, is actually her father, and himself a famous bard. Unfortunately for Lena, her father could seemingly not care less about her, and Lena, who has hoped to make her father proud of her talent, is completely crushed that he doesn't even know or remember her. Apparently, all he cares about is himself and his own artistic temperament, which he uses to justify acting like a jerk. And he only gets away with that because he is a highly gifted Bard.

After dinner, he is given a task by the King's Own Herald, Nicholas. He's to follow a man named Councillor Chamjey, whose appearance and attendance at council meetings of late has been... irregular, which is unlike him. This time, however, Nicholas thinks Mags can investigate on his own. So Mags does, first going to his noble friend Lydia to ask what she thinks he might be up to, given that she talks to the servants, and servants talk amongst themselves. Lydia tells him that some of the servants think Chamjey is having an affair, but others have pointed out that is wrong. When he goes out. he never has presents or dresses up any, like a man would if he was trying to impress a woman. But, he might be using his position as a councillor to make lots of money off other people's misfortune.

So Mags tails him, and manages to find out that Chamjey is talking about winter taking out a lot of the sheep flocks around Valdemar, and how he is going to make money by raising the tariff on imported wool. Nicholas is happy with the job that Mags did, but he also wants him to talk to the thing, which sends Mags into a lather, thinking he isn't good enough to speak to the King. However, Mags finds he has already met the King, and spoke to him when he was looking like a plain and simple Herald, so that is one load off his mind.

Mags is still looking into finding out who his parents were, but the example of Lena and her father, which Lena is still upset about, makes him think that ultimately, who his parents were don't matter. It's what he does with himself that matters. But when he finally finds out where he came from, he is stunned. His parents weren't bandits, they were captured by bandits, and they were so foreign that nobody could understand their speech. Unfortunately, they were killed by the bandits, but had killed their own captor who came to kill them during the fighting with the guard in return. Their son was handed over to the townfolk of the nearest town to deal with, and that was that.

Mags is thrilled and angered by what he reads, but he thinks that maybe his parents were on the run because they were bad people. The Archivist begs to differ and tells him that maybe his parents were on the run from their in-laws because their love was forbidden, or because their families didn't want them to wed. However, going by the details in the report, they had to be from somewhere beyond Rethwellan- the other countries around are close enough that someone would have recognized their speech, the north was blocked by Herald Vanyel, and they weren't Hawkbrothers. So they were definitely from far away.

Back at the Collegium, Mags takes his first steps to get into the new sport of Kirball, and talks with Herald Setham about the game, and why it is being played- because they need more Heralds urgently, and they have to train them to face death and hardship. Mags understands, because he knows all about that, but most Heralds have come from a more settled life, and don't know what it's like to be on the razor's edge of death. Mags is just fine with this, and though he thinks that the field they are using is insane, he also likes the idea of the game.

After dinner, he goes to meet with Lena and his Healer friend Bear, and finds them talking in Bear's Greenhouse, along with his other friend, and the King's Own's daughter, Amily. Mags is happy that Amily and Lena have become friends, because Lena doesn't make friends easily. Mags hopes that Amily, who is crippled, can bring Lena out of her shell. Amily is also impressed with Bear, telling him his affinity with herbs is a gift, and he should cherish it. That makes Bear happy.

But while Kirball training starts to take up more and more of Mags's time, he finds out that Lena isn't the only one who is having trouble with her family. Because Bear doesn't have the true Bardic gifts of the rest of his family, they want him to come home from the Collegium and marry a girl he knew when he was a child, and have children, so that hopefully his children will have the healing gift. And because it's his family, and they are strong healers, Bear feels that maybe they are right and that is what he should do.

Mags is unhappy, but tells Bear that family isn't everything. After all, he's a foreigner, or at least, his parents were. But Bear tells him to keep it down. Apparently, foreseers have seen a vision of the King covered in blood and a dark figure whom they say is foreign born. And because Mags is foreign born and on the periphery of the trainee Heralds, being quartered in the barn, some people seem to think it means Mags will betray and kill or try to kill, the King.

But even though Mags tries to ignore the rumors, they don't go away. While those who know him know that him attacking the King is simply ridiculous, but the rest of the Collegium isn't so sanguine about Mags, and when a horrible accident breaks both of Dallen's legs, and Mags quarrels with both Bear and Lena, and Nicholas doesn't seem to want to see him any longer, Mags runs away from the Collegium and takes a job as a potscrubber to try to survive. But could it be that he is wanted after all? But when Mags must track down a man he can only call "Temper" because of his extreme anger, it may be the end of Mags, and the King as well! Can Mags find the man before he can kill the King, or Mags himself?

I really enjoyed this book. Mercedes Lackey's writing and the character of Mags just pulled me and kept me reading. This does feel a little bit different from most of the Collegium books because Mags is involved with Spying and the intelligence service of Valdemar-something that wasn't introduced into the series until fairly late in its continuity, with the introduction of Myste (an author insert for Lackey herself, given that her nickname is "Misty". But here we see that Spying Heralds date from the very beginning of the Collegium, and maybe even beforehand, since Nicholas must have been trained by someone.

Here we see how Mags' parentage both helps and hurts him- he doesn't have to deal with a borderline abusive and straight out neglectful father like Lena, nor a family that thinks he has far better things to be doing than his training, like Bear's family, but at the same time, he knows absolutely nothing about them, and he wants to. And so his being foreign-born ends up causing a lot of problems for him. But at the same time, it seems that it will also become more of an issue in the third book. Given that now we know that Mags was recognized by someone in the first book, and that he is again in the second, I feel safe in predicting that another foreign delegation may show up in the third book, possibly from Mags parents homeland and solve the mystery once and for all. And given that he was recognized (may look like a dead ringer for someone important), maybe he's a prince or a noble.

Like always, the story threads are skillfully interwoven, with threads for numerous subplots, from Lena and Bear's family troubles, Mags's jobs as a spy and tracker, and once again, the foreign delegation and what they want. I found the period of when Mags is despairing over everything and runs away difficult to read, as it felt painful, even to the reader, but when he finally comes back to himself, it gets better, and the story comes to a wonderful and even thrilling conclusion. But reading near the end made me feel a bit sick to my stomach, as Mags's concerns became my own, even while I knew that nobody would just turn him out of the Collegium out of hand. Mercedes Lackey's ability to make me empathize with Mags is one of the best parts of her writing, and the reason why I keep coming back to her stories and books.

This is a book and a series that you will definitely want to pick up, and a writer whom, once you have read her, you will keep coming back to her for all sorts of wonderful stories. Even her stand-alone books are excellent, and you may become a Mercedes Lackey evangelist yourself once you start reading her. Highly, Highly recommended. In fact, I can't recommend her enough. Go out there and read her.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Lord of Misrule: The Morganville Vampires- Book Five by Rachel Caine

Morganville is in Chaos. The Vampires under Bishop and the Vampires under Amelie are clashing, the town is in lockdown, and the blood bank is burning as Bishop tries to bring the vampires that make Morganville home to heel. But there are literal dark storm clouds hanging over the town and something supernatural is the reason why. And with Claire's parents now making their home in Morganville, it's more important to Claire than ever to protect the town and her friends from the chaos pervading it.

But now there are more than just two camps of vampires, or even three. In the past, there were those vampires who supported Amelie, those who supported Oliver, and those who supported Bishop. But now there are vampires who don't support anyone, who want to leave Morganville behind and say goodbye to Amelie's grand experiment. And now there is a huge twister on its way to Morganville, and the humans have been told to take shelter in the City Hall until it passes. But Bishop is in control of City Hall, and to do so might mean more people could die than might have been killed by the twister itself.

Worse, the humans who hate the vampires have seized this moment to rebel and try to push all the vampires out of town and take back their lives, making the whole situation even more chaotic and scary, especially when both sides need to work together to oust Bishop. For most of the book, Claire is on her own while she and her friends try to alleviate the situation. Claire and Myrnin may have found the ultimate solution to the disease that infects the Morganville Vampires, while Bishop and his followers seem to be immune to it. But why? And is the possible cure that Myrnin and Claire found an actual cure or just a stopgap, and how can they be sure?

Claire has her assignment, and her friends have theirs. Shane has to help at the Blood Bank. Michael is sent to protect the college students, and Eve has to find Oliver, Amelie's former opponent and now honorable opposition and Ally. Claire stays with Myrnin, and though he tries to protect her, it can't stop Bishop from grabbing Eve and using Eve as bait to reel in Claire. But what does he want from Claire, and why is he so desperate to get her to swear fealty to him? And is it a real oath when she's been whammied to make her swear it? As the fight continues, Claire is in a desperate situation, and it doesn't look like it is going to get better any time soon...

I love this series! It's such a joy and a pleasure to read, and even though lots of desperate things are happening to Claire and her friends, as soon as you move from one book to the next, you are drawn right back into the action just like no time has passed at all. Even though the characters are the same, so much happens that you are right on the edge of your seat, wondering how things can get worse, and how Claire will get herself out of the current fix she is in, even if getting out of one fix leads her into an even worse one.

Even as Claire and her friends try to keep the town safe, progress is made in their relationships. Claire and Shane are deeply in love- they want to become lovers, but Shane is almost 20, and Claire is only 16, and her parents do not approve of their relationship in any way. I know they want to protect their little girl, but that little girl is facing life and death practically every day now, so you can sympathize with both sides in this argument. They have her move back in with them, but can they really interfere in the course of true love?

It's not just the main characters who make the story here, it's all of them, from Claire and her friends, her parents, the vampires of the town like Myrnin, Oliver and Amelie and human characters like Monica Morell and her brother Richard, and the Doctor who is helping Claire and Myrnin replicate the formula to cure the vampires of the disease. Very few characters are either wholly good or wholly bad, but most exist in exquisite shades of gray, making you unsure of how much on Claire's side they are on at any given moment. Very much like real life, of course.

Be warned that this book ends on a very low note for Claire and her friends, but it's clear from the chapter included from the next book, Carpe Corpus, that things don't stay that low for long. Things are bound to look up, and I hope that Bishop finally gets the comeuppance he's been dearly begging for ever since book three when he first appeared to take over. This is a series to love and re-read over and over and over. Highly recommended, and not your typical vampire book or romance. Well worth the time to read.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Feast of Fools: The Morganville Vampires Book Four by Rachel Caine

Claire Danvers thought she understood what was really happening in the town of Morganville, but the arrival of Mr. Bishop, Amelie's parent in blood, has radically changed the town. Mr. Bishop doesn't approve of how Amelie is running the town, and he fights her for control, and wins. Now, Amelie's former opponent, Oliver, isn't happy with this turn of events, because even while he wanted Amelie ousted from power, he wanted to be the one in charge, and Bishop is too powerful and too extreme even for Oliver to countenance what he is doing.

At least Claire can be assured that her parents are safe, and that she can deal with the situation on her own- but when she realizes that her parents have moved to Morganville to be with her, Claire is heartbroken, and has to reveal to them what has been happening to her and what sort of town her parents have moved into. And why things have suddenly become so much worse for any humans in Morganville. Even people who were previously safe, like the Mayor and the Morell family, are now in danger because Bishop will recognize no prior agreements.

But what does he want from Morganville, and why has he returned? And why do he and his followers alone seem to be immune to the disease that afflicts the vampires in town? Can Claire keep Myrnin on a steady course as they attempt to find a cure to the disease, and can they find one in time to help Amelie and Oliver take back the town from Bishop? Because now Claire may have to do the hardest thing of all, side with the vampires she's been trying to keep the town safe from to end the threat of Bishop and his followers.

But Bishop is a bigger threat to Claire and her friends and family than she realizes, and when he invites the vampires in town to a ball, each of the vampires is to bring a human "date" as a partner. But what will Bishop demand of the vampires that inhabit the town, and will any of them give him what he wants?, And when the rebellion against Bishop finally breaks out, will the town and its people have any chance to survive?

Well, things keep going from bad to worse for Claire. First, all she had to worry about was herself, but now that her mother and father have moved to be with her, there is no escape, and Claire is even more desperate to try and keep her parents safe. And Claire is also starting to have feelings for her mentor, Myrnin. Not the kind of feelings that you'd think, but protective ones, and now that Bishop is in town, Myrnin seems to have changed and not for the better, either. Bishop's presence is turning Myrnin into a much darker figure that Claire is sure she doesn't like.

And things aren't good on any front. Her parents are in town, and they don't approve of her relationship with Shane at all, as he is years older than she is. They want Claire to move back in with them, but she wants to stay with her friends, and no one in town is safe. And none of Bishop's followers seem any nicer or more sane than he is. And all of them seem to have it in for Claire and her friends. How can Claire save everybody and is it even worth trying any more? Something is going to have to change, but Claire and her friends will have to be authors of that change if they want to have any say in saving the town.

This series continues to get better and better with every book, combining vampires that are good with those that thrive on sheer chaos as well as evil and indifference to humans. While there are some vampires that come down as strongly on the side of good as possible (Matthew and his grandfather, Sam), they are few and far between. As Morganville descends into chaos, can anyone survive the coming storm? I loved this book and this entire series. Highly recommended for both.

Midnight Alley: The Morganville Vampires, Book Three by Rachel Caine

Claire Danvers is an extremely intelligent girl stuck in the third-rate college known as Prairie University in the town of Morganville, Unbeknownst to anyone outside of town, Morganville is also where most of the vampires in the world live and for a very good reason. These vampires are sick and dying, with some sort of blood-bourne illness that makes them weak and unable to reproduce when they wish to. Amelie, the founder of the town, is having a very smart vampire named Myrnin research a cure to the vampire disease, but he isn't making much headway.

Myrnin, it seems, has other problems besides the disease that is afflicting most of the vampires: he's crazy, suffering all sorts of episodes where he turns paranoid, murderous, and delusional. And with Claire being so smart, and now that she is under the personal protection of Amelie, Amelie has assigned her to try and help Myrnin with finding a cure. That is, if Myrnin doesn't kill her first. Bur can Claire survive the tutelage of a vampire that often doesn't remember who she is, or treats her as a snack? And even if she can keep him on an even emotional keel and working on the cure, can she learn enough of magic to understand what Myrnin is working on enough to help him?

Working for Amelie is a mixed bag. While Claire is now safe from Monica Morrell and the Monickettes, who are actually sucking up to her and trying to be nice to her (which makes Claire nervous and unhappy, always suspecting a slap rather than a stroke from their outstretched hands), her roommates are much less happy with Claire's new protector. They view it as her having made a deal with the Devil, and none of them seem to trust her any more at all, least of all Eve, Claire's former BFF.

Not only that, but the underground newspaper written by "Captain Obvious" has outed Michael as the newest vampire in town, and Eve's psychotic brother is back and on the loose in town. And when a dead girl's body is thrown through the window in Glass House, Shane is fingered for the killing. But who really killed the girl, and can Claire and Eve discover the truth in time to keep Shane from being killed for the crime?

Meanwhile, a new threat to town, Bishop, the man who made Amelie a vampire in the first place, but refused to join his daughter in blood has come to town, and he doesn't have the disease that the vampires in town are prey to. So when he announces his intention to take over the town, it's a disaster, because his views on how vampires should treat the humans there are very different from Amelie's, and she might not be strong enough to prevent him from prevailing in their conflict. But is there hope for Claire and Myrnin to find a cure in time?

This book series derives a lot from cliffhanger endings. Every book ends on some sort of cliffhanger, and in peril seems to be the kind of default that Morganville is based on. Events happen so quickly and so much happens that often, not a lot of character growth and development goes on during the course of the book. But that's okay, because the time frame of the novel seems to happen within only a few weeks of time, and character growth takes more time than that. And also, the novels in this series come out every few months rather than having to wait a year between books, which also makes it easier to bear the waiting.

With each book, we learn a little more of what makes Morganville tick, and some of the secrets hidden in the town, like how the town manages to survive with an entire college based within it. Something has created a barrier around the town, and if you do manage to find out about the vampires, the minute you cross that barrier, you forget. And if you don't forget, the vampires will find out and send an elimination squad after you. But most of the novels are really based around Claire and her outsider's reaction to how Morganville is set up and what makes it tick. Claire is slowly being drawn into the center of the Web that is Morganville, and while it allows her to find out more, it also puts her in terrible danger from those vampires who may not want to be beholden to a human.

I love this series, and the episodic nature of it is not a turn-off to me, nor the cliffhanger endings or the almost miniscule amount of character development when charted against how much time passes in each book. This series is completely addicting, and I'm glad to keep getting my fix with each new book and each new story and secret revealed. Wonderful and scary and charming all at once. Highly recommended.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Midnight Alley: The Morganville Vampires, Book 2 by Rachel Caine

Claire Danvers has survived an attack on her by the girls at her dorm, and she has finally found a new place to live, with her friend Michael Glass in Glass House. But Michael has a little problem, while he's always in the house, he happens to be a ghost, and can't manifest during the day. She also has a cute boyfriend, Shane, who has problems of his own, like the fact that his father happens to be a crazed vampire hunter who is determined to kill all the vampires in town because they killed his wife and destroyed his family.

Shane was supposed to be his father's man on the inside, but he lost interest in actually killing vampires. Still, when it seemed like Claire might not survive, he called in his father and his father's followers to keep Claire and their other roommate, Eve, safe. Little did he know that Claire and Eve might be in more danger from his Dad than from the vampires he is determined to fight against. Shane and his father disagree about what must and should be done about the vampires of the town, and Shane can't seem to forgive his father for trying to kill Michael, who Shane's father believes is a vampire. He doesn't seem to know about ghosts.

But soon Shane's father sets to work, and starts killing the vampires of the town, His first victim is Brandon, an evil troller, but instead of his father, Shane is blamed for the crime and caged, which is the sentence for murderers in town. Shane is put in a cage and will soon be burned at the stake unless Claire and Eve can find evidence that Shane isn't the real murderer.

One day, she notices that Oliver, Eve's employer at the Coffee shop Common Grounds, in a deep conversation with Shane's father. Since Oliver is also a vampire (and to be honest, not a very nice one), Claire begins to wonder what is going on. She also decides to attend the local Halloween Party, the Dead Girl's Dance, to try and hook up with Michael's Grandfather, Sam Glass, who also happens to be a vampire. But since she is invited to attend by her enemy, Monica Morrell, the daughter of Morganville's mayor, and the one girl who wants Claire dead more than anything, Claire knows she has to be cautious. But little does she know that more than just Monica and her Monickettes are stalking her at the party...

And when Shane's Dad frees him from the cage, Michael decides he must be able to leave the house to protect his friends. But when he asks Amelie, the leader of the town's vampires, to finish the job that Oliver started by attacking him and leaving him in his ghost-like state, will Claire and Amelie be able to bring peace to the town, and at what cost to Claire and her friends? Will Claire ever be safe in Morganville? Or will she be stuck here until she dies?

Morganville is a small town in Texas, but it is also where most of the remaining world's vampires reside. Though we don't know why at this point, the town is run like a mafia town, where certain vampires provide "protection" to human residents, but require a toll of blood to continue the protection. The Glass House, where Claire is currently living, also seems to provide some protection to the people who live there, but why, other than "the Founder's protection" is unsure. Is Amelie (the protector) also protecting the descendants of Sam Glass, who she loves, for his sake, or is there some other reason why Glass House seems so different.

Claire herself has to deal with a lot of hate from Monica Morrell. Claire is very smart, and next to her, Monica, who is used to being the top in everything, feels insecure, which makes Monica hate Claire with a passion. And Monica's "Gang", the Monickettes, as Claire calls them, will pull stupid and deadly pranks on Claire that end with her getting moderate to severe injuries everytime they are around. She has many, many reasons to distrust these girls (I don't think she yet hates them), but they aren't her favorite group of people. And even then. Claire won't let Monica be hurt or injured like Monica wants to do to her. Claire might be a bit naive, but she's the better person by far.

The book ends with something of a detente, and I wondered how Monica is going to take the news. Will she now suck up to Claire as much as she hated her and tried to kill her before? Probably, but you just know that at some point Shane's father will be back to make more trouble. The question is, how much trouble will he make, and will Shane once more be on the hotseat for the troubles his father caused or causes? This is such a fascinating series and I love it so very much. Rachel Caine might normally be an adult writer, but she doesn't dumb down her writing for young adults, she just mutes some of the lovemaking and whatnot. Highly recommended.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Van Helsing's Night Off by Nicholas Mahler

"Van Helsing's Night Off" is a series of short comic strips based on famous characters from all sorts of monster stories, from Dracula and the Wolf- Man to the Mummy and Frankenstein's Monster. Also featuring prominently is a Zorro-like character known as "The Masked Avenger" and a female werewolf known as the "Wolf Ma'am".

Mahler draws these characters in the midst of their nightly tasks and when they take time off. Each section is a small, contained story in itself. One concerns a vampire who rises from its grave to drink in a bar. But when he gets all bat-faced (so to speak), and goes back home, how will he figure out which grave in the cemetery is his?

Most of the stories in the book are kind of cute, but the book made me feel kind of like I'd eaten a load of cotton candy- not really full, and like what I'd consumed was rather ephemeral. The stories tend towards the mildly amusing, but didn't inspire any real laughs or amusement, just weak smiles. I thought the most amusing one was the first Masked Avenger story, in which he rescues three women from being killed, and each comes home to live with him.

At the end, he takes a night off and goes out drinking, and as he comes home, all three are waiting to kill him in turn, presumably for drinking (because none of these stories has dialogue). Again, it inspired a weak smile, and that was all. Others left me asking, "Is this supposed to be funny?", like the titular one where Van Helsing, on his night off, hangs a painting... from a stake. If I was a cartoon, there would have been a huge "?" hanging over my head at that one.

I suppose there will be some people who find this book the absolute height of humor, but sadly, I am just not one of them. I was left confused by many stories. Was I supposed to find them wildly funny? Or just subtly humorous? The art is fairly crude and sometimes you really have to sit there and think before reading as to what is going on. As a book of problems that monsters encounter, it's okay, but not great. On the other hand, with no dialogue, you won't have any problems reading what's going on. Not recommended, but YMMV.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Glass Houses: The Morganville Vampires Book One by Rachel Caine

Claire Danvers is sick of Morganville, Texas. Okay, so she's not technically old enough to be attending college, but she's a bright kid and finished high school early. And not only did she do that, but her grades are good enough to get her into Harvard or M.I.T. Unfortunately, her parents wanted to make sure that she could handle being on her own well enough before they sent her so far away, so they sent her to Texas Prairie University, based in Morganville, Texas, instead.

But Claire hates Morganville, which is filled with mean girls who take deadly offense to Claire being so smart. And when she pisses off the Chief Mean Girl, Monica, by correcting her on who was involved in the second World War, in front of a sexy boy that Monica has her eye on, it means war to Monica and all her mean friends. Not only do they throw away Claire's clothes, but they push her down the steps of the residence hall near her room, nearly killing her. Claire feels she can't complain to her parents, because they already think she is unsuited to enter college at such a young age.

Instead, she decides to find a room elsewhere and leave the Mean Girls behind. She finds an ad for a private house looking for a roomate, and, legs still shaking, goes off to look into it. There she meets housemates Eve and Shane, who are at the very least friendly to her. But she will have to meet their other housemate, Michael, to get his approval for her to move in permanently. However, once she reveals she can actually cook a little, enough to prepare some meals that the others can't, she is pretty much golden.

But her state has the others asking questions about what has happened to her, and she receives some bad news. Monica's father is the Mayor of Morganville, so she isn't likely to receive any help from the University in dealing with her, additionally, living in Morganville might be dangerous for Claire, because everyone in Morganville has to have a protector- a vampire who watches over them and takes care of them, and Claire, being an outsider, has no one.

Things might not be so bad if it wasn't for the vampire in charge of the Morganville wasn't such a horrible man, but Bishop is cruel and cold, and not only that, he's the Protector of the Mayor and his entire family. The only way for Claire to buy the safety of herself and her roommates (and now friends) at Glass House is to find the book that the vampires want, a book written by the oldest vampire in town, Amelie. But will Michael let her stay in the Glass House, and can she escape the hatred of Monica and the "Monickettes"? And what about the fact that she seems to be falling in love with Shane, who is way too old for her?

As the campus police search for Claire, she may never be able to leave Morganville, as she knows too much about the town to be allowed to live. And worse, her parents have arrived, called by the school because she left her home in the residence hall. But can she protect her parents from the Supernatural threats in town, and her roommates from the vampires who would wipe them out? If Claire ends up trusting the wrong bloodsucker, her life could end very shortly... Will she be able to make the right choice?

I really enjoyed this book a lot. It was hard for me to read about Claire's mistreatment at the hands of Monica and the Monickettes because I was also mistreated in school, although, admittedly, not as badly as Claire is mistreated. I never had acid dumped on my back, nor was I pushed down a flight of stairs, but reading that part made me dream up revenge fantasies on Claire's part against her tormentors.

I liked how the rest of the story was handled, and the twists and turns that kept me interested, and kept me reading. So many reversals of fortune happen, and at the same time, you are consumed with Claire's safety, along with that of her roommates. And her roommates have their own secrets, too. Some of them are revealed, but some of them aren't, and the story ends on a cliffhanger that makes you want to seek out the next book to find out what is going to happen.

This book is marketed as a Young Adult novel, but Rachel Caine's writing will appeal to both adults and teens, as she is also responsible for the "Weather Warden" series of Novels, and it gives teens something to look forward to reading after they finish the books in this series. I can't wait to see what happens with Claire and her new friends, and how she'll deal with having a boyfriend who is older than her when she is just a young teen. I guess I'll have to keep reading to find out. Recommended.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Trickster's Queen by Tamora Pierce

Alianneis a girl of Tortall, the daughter of the famous Alanna the Lioness, first female Knight of Tortall. But Aly is no fighter. In fact, she follows more in her father's footsteps, being drawn to the life of a spy. But neither her mother nor her father want Aly to take up her father's business and become a spy, which is difficult, dangerous work. When Aly takes a sail along the coast before her mother comes home for the summer and before she and her life can become her mother's new project to tackle, she runs afoul of pirates and is kidnapped, bound for slavery in the Copper Isles.

There, Aly, who disguises her true identity so as not to become a political prisoner, is bought by a family known as the Balitangs to be a lowly kitchen slave. When they are exiled by the ruling family, the Rittevongs, Aly is approached by the deposed former God of the Copper Isles, Kyprioth, to keep the family safe, especially the two oldest daughters of the house, Saraiyu and Dovasary, with whom he planned on restoring the true ruling House of the Isles, and himself to the chief God of the Isles.

Both Saraiyu and Dovasary are half Raka, the islanders native to the Copper Isles, and half Luarin, or light-skinned invaders who conquered the islands. More importantly, both sides of their family have links to the ruling castes. Their Raka mother was the last remaining princess in line for the throne, and their Luarin father is linked to the Rittevons through his own bloodlines. Since their mother has died, they are being raised by their Luarin stepmother, Duchess Winnamine Balitang, who has two children of her own, Saraiyu and Dovasary's half-sister Petranne and their half-brother Elsren.

Aly was asked by Kyprioth to keep the family safe for a year, and then he would let her return to her own home and family in Tortall. Aly did so, but the Trickster managed to trick her. During that year, she became very attached to her owner/employers and wished to see the job through to putting one of the sisters on the throne of the Copper Isles. In that time, however, the girls' father, Lord Mequen, was assassinated, and Aly managed to keep the rest of the family alive, reaching out to the Raka slaves and freemen on the island that held the Balitang family estates, Lombyn Isle. In addition, the God Kyprioth sends her his servants- crows, who help Aly spy and teach her their "Language". One of the crows, Nawat, takes on human form, and falls in love with Aly, courting her in his own way- by offering her bugs to eat. Aly politely refuses the bugs, however.

Now, Aly and the Balitangs, forgiven their trespasses by the new King of the Isles, the son of former King Oron, his first son, Hazarin, have returned to the city of Rajmuat. But Hazarun, too, is dead, of apoplexy, and his brother, the three year old Dunevon, is now King. His elder sister, Imajane, is regent, along with her husband, Prince Rubinyan.

Aly and the Balitangs have returned with many free Raka to act as their servants, and Aly is their leader, for all of them are spies and as well, there are mages among them. Ochobu, one of the mages, is head of a group of mages called the Chain, who are dedicated to overthrowing the Luarin and seeing a Raka Queen once again. Aly's chief opponent is a noble named Topabaw, who runs the Spies of the Copper Isles. But thanks to a gift from her "Aunt", Daine, a wildmage, Aly is given some creatures called "Darkings" that look like little pools of shadow, but which happen to be sentient.

Aly asks them if they will aid the rebellion, and they think it will be great "fun" and agree to help. She wears one as a necklace, which allows her to keep in touch with all of them. Through the Darklings, and the rest of her spies, she wages psychological warfare on Topabaw, putting him on the outs with the Regents, which lead to him eventually being permanently removed from his post, and his head being permanently removed from his neck. Left behind to replace him is Sevmire Ambau, a much less experienced spymaster, who Aly can pretty much walk all over.

Everyone wants the eldest Balitang daughter, Saraiyu, on the throne, but as Imajane and Rubinyan move to consolidate their own power by killing the child-King on his birthday by sending a storm to sink the ship he was given for his birthday, along with all the noble sons who accompanied him- Elsren included, they also try to marry her off to keep her out of the running for the throne. Aly, who is mired in all her spy operations, doesn't notice that Sarayiu has fallen in love with a young Carthaki healer, Zaimid Hetnim, until the two of them run off and elope together, aided by the Carthaki's own goddess, the Graveyard Hag. The two lovers make it to Carthak, leaving the rebellion seemingly in ruins.

Or is it? Now that their hopes of Saraiyu are demolished, the rebellion realizes that Dovasary, or Dove, is a cool and level-headed child and would make an even better candidate for the Queen of the Isles than her sister would. And Dove is already acting as part of the rebellion. But it's not only the Raka who want the Rittevongs off the throne of the Copper Isles- many of the Luarin nobles feel that the Rittevongs have become entirely too comfortable, and too overreaching of their powers on the throne, and seek to replace them. With what, they haven't decided, but Duchess Winnamine's sister, Nuritin, is one of the leaders of the Luarin conspirators, and even they agree that someone like Dove would be hundreds of times better for the Copper Isles than another Rittevong monarch, so they throw in with the Rebellion.

While all this is happening, Aly has been separated from Nawat, who has been fighting soldiers on the other islands. When he finally returns, he has grown into his feelings and role as a human man and Aly is stunned by the change in him. They quickly become lovers, but Nawat gifts her with a contraception charm so that they can share a bed without having to worry about pregnancy.

As the anti-Rittevong sentiment spreads throughout Rajmuat, Aly quickly foments division between Imajane and Rubinyan, making Imajane think that her husband is having an affair with another lady of the court. At this point, the two have lost the support of mostly everyone, even Taybur Sibigat, the former bodyguard of Dunevon- who was completely destroyed by the death of the child-King, especially when it was made clear to him that they were responsible for killing his monarch. He supports Aly and her group utterly, and soon it is time for the Rebels to fight if they want to regain the Copper Isles and see Queen Dovasary put on the throne.

But even if the rebels are able to overcome the last remaining loyal servants of the Rittevon and place Dovasary on the throne, will Aly be able to leave the Isles she fought so hard for? And what will her famous mother and father think of the life she has managed to carve out for herself in the Isles, and the mate she has chosen in Nawat? Will they be able to live with the knowledge that Aly has chosen exactly the kind of life they didn't want for her? And how will Aly's fellow rebels feel if and when she confesses her true parentage to them?

This is one of those books I really enjoyed. Aly is very much unlike Tamora Pierce's usual heroines, who are almost always strong fighters, but she does possess a strong personality and has a need to show people how good she is and can be at her chosen profession. Even though she wants to be with her family, she finds it enjoyable to be a spy (and spymaster) and do the job she loves and wants to do. In the first book, she was rather restrained about her enjoyment of doing that job, simply because she knew it would be over soon. But here, Aly knows she won't be leaving the Copper Isles until she is done, and she simply buckles down to the work and does it. It's no longer something she enjoys (although she does enjoy it), it's simply what she is, and she simply doesn't spend time thinking about doing it- she does it.

Her romance with Nawat is like that, too. In the first book, Trickster's Choice, she spends time being sort of amazed that this man who she likes is really a crow, and not human. But in this book, when he returns, she never really thinks of that, only that she loves him and enjoys being with him. It's as if the Aly she was before has been distilled down to her essence, to what she truly is, and she doesn't spend time thinking about the things she wants to do, she just has gotten to the point where the thinking, wishing, dreaming and hoping is no longer necessary- it's just a distraction, so she doesn't spend time on it any more.

This is an excellent book, and a wonderful ending to this series/duology. It brought Aly's story neatly to an end, and left her in a much better position than she started with, with a husband, a child on the way, and with the people she loves. There was also a sting in the tail of her relationship with her father that was very welcome, and her shock over the reaction of Dovasary to learning of Aly's parentage was wonderful. A Triumph. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Scott Pilgrim, Volume 2: Versus the World by Bryan Lee O'Malley

Scott Pilgrim is a 20-something slacker who has no job, is part of a band named Sex Bob-omb, and has two girlfriends, the high-school girl Knives-Chau, whom he met on the bus, and Ramona Flowers, a delivery girl for Amazon that he, quite literally, met in his dreams.

Scott has spent most of his life not growing up, but when he met Ramona, she made him want to change, at least a little. As part of his romance with her, he's been roped into fighting with Ramona's seven evil exes. He's already defeated one of them, but they are all lining up to take him on, and as a slacker-dude, he's not very well equipped to defeat them.

But when he tries to break up with Knives-Chau, she is horrified. She almost literally idolized Scott, and the news that he is breaking up with her for an older woman enrages her. She follows and spies on Ramona as soon as she finds out who she is, and asks her friends what Ramona has that she hasn't got. She calls Ramona fat and old, apparently not realizing that Ramona isn't really any older than Scott. But now, just as Scott has to deal with Ramona's exes, Ramona has to deal with Knives, who attacks her at the Public Library. They fight, and Ramona knocks Knives down, but Knives is determined to fight for her man.

Meanwhile, Scott has to fight Ramona's second evil ex, Lucas Lee, who has become a movie star. He defeats Scott very quickly, but when Scott asks Lucas to show off his hot shredding moves on a Skateboard, he challenges Lucas to ride the rails down a very dangerous set of stairs, and when Lucas wipes out, Scott scoops up the coins he gets for defeating him.

Meanwhile, Scott gets a call from Envy Adams, another of his ex-girlfriends, and she has a proposition for him and his band, to play an opening for her at their next concert. Scott is wary about accepting, because Envy is a user. But worse, she has a guy named Todd in her band, and he has the same name as one of Ramona's Ex-boyfriends. But it couldn't possibly be the same guy, right? Right...?

This book made me realize I was right to mistrust any character whose name is "Knives". I figured that she would end up causing problems for Scott and Ramona's relationship, and I was right. There is just no way to get around it, and it doesn't seem that she is done yet.

Scott remains his usual unlikeable self, but we get to see that he isn't as shallow as he sometimes seems. I am getting the sense that the evil exes of both characters are more there to depict their baggage- the same kind of baggage that everyone carries around from their past failed relationships. Only here, instead of being the hidden issues that suddenly slap you in the face, they are externalized into the exes themselves. By defeating the exes, you overcome the damage they did to your psyche, or you are able to get over the things they represent holding you back.

I am still enjoying this series, although Scott is a pain in the rear, he is starting to get a little better, and we see that he may be carrying baggage of his own. It's still not enough to make him likeable, but he is very persistent, and that gives him some charm, at least. Recommended.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

No Mercy by Sherrilyn Kenyon

Samia is a former Amazon who now exists only as a Dark Hunter. Samia has avoided contact with most people, and all men because she picks up the thoughts of people in the items they have handled. Since it's hard for her to be constantly bombarded with the thoughts of men, she avoids all contact and lives in a home where only she has handled anything. If someone else touches anything, she has to throw it out because of the mental static and damage she will sustain if she keeps it.

But then, in an attack at the place known as Sanctuary. she meets Dev Peltier, a bear shapechanger, who possesses one very important quality or ability- she can sense nothing of his thoughts. Not when she touches him, or any item he has touched or which belonged to him. This intrigues her enough to invite him back to her house to spend some horizontal time with her- something she hasn't done in over a thousand years. And its good, but the idea of being able to do this more often so freaks her out that she sends Dev back home.

Because Samia may be a former Amazon, but she had fallen in love, once, and her husband and daughter were killed by the Daimons. The Daimons have found out something interesting recently, that if they drain the blood and souls of actual Demons, they can gain the powers of those Demons, including the power to go out in the sunlight and remain unharmed. Because of this, they can now go where the Night Hunters cannot, and this will enable them to destroy their ancient foes, And the first one they intend to go after is Samia.

Dev isn't without his own problems. His inattention caused the death of one of his sisters when he was younger, and so he's extra attentive in keeping watch over Sanctuary. His encounter with Samia makes him think, "Yes, more please!" But at the same time, he's a little worried at how she does a complete turn in attitude after they have some fun. And then he discovers that Samia is his Bearswain, his fated mate, without whom he will have to lead a life of complete celibacy. But he doesn't know that Samia has some serious trust issues. Not only was she an Amazon, she was their Queen, and her own sister betrayed her and killed her husband and daughter. And now Samia, known as Samia Savage, is one of the Dogs of War- Dark Hunters and Huntresses so consumed in the hunt that they will let nothing turn them aside from their target.

But with the increased threats of the Daimons, whose leader Stryker wants Samia for her talents, Dev and Samia will have to team up to find some way to nullify the threat of the Daimons who can hunt during the day. And though she and Dev have fallen in love, it is forbidden for them to be together- unless she goes on an almost impossible quest to retrieve the girdle of the Amazons from the immortal who holds it fast, and she has to retrieve it without Dev's help. Add to that a mission to Hell, and Samia and Dev have their work cut out for them if they want to be together. But will Samia be able to give up the fight to be with Dev, and can he ask her to make that choice?

So far, most of the Dark-Hunters we have seen in Sherrilyn Kenyon's series have been male. In fact, it seemed like it was all male, except for a very few females. Now, though, we get to go inside the head of one of them, an Amazon named Samia. Samia was more than just an Amazon, though, she was their Queen, and although she was a very good Queen, she was brought down by her own sister, who craved her power and position.

Throwing herself into hunting Daimons (after taking her revenge on her sister, Samia became part of a group known as the Dogs of War, a set of very determined hunters. She puts the Hunt in Huntress. But even thought the story was pretty good, it seemed short for a Dark-Hunter story, and there was a component of same old, same old in it. Apparently, every Dark Hunter had a horrible life. Mistreated, beaten up, you name it. What, were the only ones who wanted to come back the most mistreated people/ I know that there is the idea of love being able to conquer all (or the magic hoo-hah, for that matter), but oftentimes it seems that these characters are so badly hurt that they'd benefit from some time with a shrink rather than just plunging into a be all and end all relationship. You know what I mean?

This was an okay book, but it felt like it was missing another 75-100 pages or so. Stuff was simply glossed over at the end and it had the air of the slightly unfinished about it. It's still an okay read, but it felt like Sherrilyn Kenyon was getting tired of the story and so just rushed the ending more than a bit. It's still okay, but doesn't have the weight and heft of some of her earlier books. Recommended, but only slightly.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Scott Pilgrim, Volume 1: Precious Little Life by Bryan Lee O'Malley

Scott Pilgrim is in his early 20's, a slacker who actively resists growing up or even getting more mature. He lives with a gay roommate who owns most of the furniture and stuff in their rented apartment. He has no job and just drifts through life.

But Scott seems to have reverted even more, because now he's dating a seventeen year old High School girl named Knives Chau who he met on a bus. He doesn't seem to mind listening to her talk about all the angst and drama of high school, because in her eyes, he is totally cool. Not only is he cool, but he's in a band called Sex Bo-omb that plays passable, if not good music, and he seems to be happy.

But Stephen and Kim, his band-mates, don't seem to feel the same about Scott's new girlfriend. They think it's disturbing that someone his age should have a girlfriend who is six years younger than he is. But Scott doesn't feel that he's done anything wrong by going out with a girl he met on the bus, and she was talking with her mother at the time. He brings his girlfriend, Knives-Chau, to meet the members of his band, Sex Bo-omb, and she is completely enthralled by them and their performance.

Unfortunately for Scott, soon after, he starts running into a strange girl in his dreams. She doesn't hang around or do anything really strange, she just moves on through whatever is happening in his current dream and disappears. Scott is mystified as to why he is having a dream about a girl- the same girl, when he is already in a relationship.

But Scott doesn't think she is anything but a dream, until he sees her in real life and sets up a meeting. The girl, Ramona Flowers, works as a delivery girl for an online retailer, and one of their secrets for fast delivery is traveling through people's dreamscapes. Scott is lucky, or unlucky, enough to have a convenient headspace for Ramona to travel around in. He meets her by buying stuff from the company, and since she's the local delivery girl, she delivers it to him. But when he finally bumps into her at a party, he asks her out, and nearly ends up spending the night with her when he walks her home from their date. And yet he can't confess that he's fallen in love with Ramona to Knives-Chau.

And then, one night at a Sex Bo-omb concert, a strange man appears and challenges Scott to a fight. Matthew Patel is Ramona's first, evil ex, and he won't let Scott date her unless he defeats Patel in battle. Apparently, this is nothing new for Ramona, who has seven of these evil exes just waiting to take Scott on. But can Scott defeat Matthew Patel, and gain some coins (and the love of Ramona) in the process? Or will he decide it's all too much and leave her alone? Can Scott grow up and become an adult, or will he choose to be a slacker-dude all his life? Now's the time to decide!

Okay, I have to admit, I only became interested in this after hearing about the movie (not *seeing* the movie, because I don't want to until after I have read the source material. It's usually better that way.), and then I had to wait a really long time for the first volume to come in, because virtually everyone in the library system apparently had the same idea, just as with the Percy Jackson books and the Wimpy Kid novels, which were impossible to find this summer.

So when I read it, I had only a few ideas of what to expect. Scott. Ramona. Evil exes. Battles. The whole nine yards. But the story is more than that. Scott, as the story opens, is still acting like a kid despite being a nominal adult. Even in the apartment he shares with his gay roommate, Wallace, he's only contributed a poster to the decor and doesn't even have a real bed, sleeping in the mattress on the floor. Wallace owns just about everything in the apartment, but he lets Scott use it. Scott is going to have to really step up to the plate to date Ramona successfully, and part of that will be dumping Knives-Chau.

Although, that name is quite disturbing. Will she end up being an evil ex of Scott's? Given her name, it seems quite probable that she might be. I mean, what reasonable mother names their child "Knives"? This reminds me of Trigun and Vash's brother, Millions Knives. As someone once remarked, "Yeah, with a name like that, he'd be sure to grow up happy and sane! NOT." But even if she accepts it gracefully, Scott has a long way to go to make a woman want to be his girlfriend. So even if Scott seems happy with the status quo, can he change to get Ramona, or will he lose her because of his problems in facing maturity?

I don't know. I have heard the movie's ending was different from that of the graphic novels, but since I have studiously avoided spoiling the end of the movie for myself, I am still interested in reading the rest of the graphic novels, and hope to get them soon from the library. I'll certainly be looking forward to it. This is a good graphic novel. Nothing that is going to blow your socks off, but solid and fun to read. Recommended.

Friday, October 08, 2010

The Chronicles of Nick: Infinity by Sherrilyn Kenyon

Nick Gautier is a Cajun guttersnipe living in New Orleans. He and his mom live alone, uncared for by any of their kin, because his mother gave birth to him out of wedlock. So they cast her out when she wouldn't agree to give up her baby, and now she works to support Nick by being an exotic dancer in a small club.

Nick's father is in jail, which Nick more than thinks he deserves, as his dad is one very scary dude. Nick, by contrast, is a good kid, and very smart. So smart, he's on a scholarship to St. Richard's Academy, a prestigious school. But the kids there treat him like dirt and pick on him, and the headmaster thinks Nick is trash who doesn't deserve to be there. Nick tries to be good, but when the other kids diss his mother, he gets angry and charges the guy who insulted her, which gets him suspended for the rest of the day.

Needless to say, this makes his mother very angry. She can't understand why Nick can't just get along with the other kids. Nick tries to make her understand, but she just doesn't believe him when he tries to tell her what is going on, which just makes Nick frustrated and angry.

Then, one night, a friend of his asks him to be a lookout while he takes care of some business, for $100. Nick, who knows his mother is perpetually short of money, agrees almost without thinking about it, but when he realizes that his friend's "business" is mugging tourists, along with his crew, Nick is shocked and outraged, and won't let his friend do it, which gets him beaten up and shot for his trouble.

But Nick is saved by an awesome warrior named Kyrian, who kicks the butts of his former "friends" and then takes Nick to the hospital, where his mother is called. Because of his actions in defending the tourists, Nick is a hero, and nobody seems to know that he started as the lookout- except for Kyrian.

Nick's mother is devastated. They can't afford for Nick to be sick, let alone in the hospital. Kyrian offers to pay, but his mom also is chary of taking anyone's charity, and is suspicious of Kyrian for offering it. Finally, he agrees to let Nick work at his mansion to work off the debt, which she, very reluctantly, accepts.

While Nick is in the hospital, he meets a girl named Nekoda. This isn't the first time they met- they met at school while he was waiting to be disciplined, but Nick was attracted to her then, and he's still attracted. Nekoda pays him attention, but in a good way, and Nick finds himself tongue-tied around her. Nekoda is working as a nurse's aide, and she helps Nick get over the pain he is feeling by bringing him books and later, a portable game console- her own, which makes him very happy.

After he gets out, his arm is still in a sling, and he gets a party. The next day, when he goes to school, something strange is happening- and not just because he's treated in a friendly fashion by the kids who pick him up in a car. One of the kids at school tried to eat one of the other kids. And a very short time later, the coach attempts to eat another kid. School is closed for the day, and Nick decides to hang out with the local Zombie and other pest hunter, Bubba, and his "apprentice", Mike.

Bubba isn't exactly sane, but Nick doesn't want to piss off anyone with that many guns. Later, he goes to meet his new employer, whose housekeeper feeds him and lets him get a handle on where everything is in the house. But when a group of zombies show up and try to kill him, Nick is saved by a tremendously tall man that appears to him, for a moment, to have blue skin and horns. He introduces himself as Acheron Parthenopaus, and to Ash's amazement, he isn't able to wipe the zombie incident from Nick's mind.

But things are going to get a lot stranger for Nick. In addition to hordes of crazed zombies running the streets, he finds out that the football team of his high school just happen to be werewolves- the good sort, of course. And his friend Alex is a werebear, and the other humans at school are all squires, working for Daimon Slayers known as Dark-Hunters.

But little does Nick suspect that he, himself, is part-demon, and of a kind fated to destroy the world. Or he could be its savior, *if* he follows the straight and narrow path. But Nick is just as easily seduced into using his powers for evil as any human could be, and little does he know that the girl he likes is supposed to destroy him if he turns to evil... But can Nick keep his mom safe, and stay alive in a New Orleans that suddenly seems to be spinning wildly out of control?

I've read and loved lots of Sherrilyn Kenyon's Dark-Hunter books, and this YA series focuses on Nick Gautier, the smart-alecky, back-talking Squire of Kyrian of Thrace, back before he actually became a squire. The opening line of the book made me laugh, and once it started there, it drew me in and I never looked back.

Nick's past as an impoverished but intelligent kid is laid out before us without any punches pulled. He's despised by most of the kids at his school, and we find out during the course of the story that those who are being nice to him have ulterior motives for the way they treat him, which, you have to admit, sucks pretty hard.

The story is told in partial flashback. Teens who have read the Dark-Hunter books will recognize Nick as he is now- Demon, lover of the Goddess Artemis, and just generally P.o.'ed at the entire world, including his former friend, Acheron. But I didn't see why the story needed to be told that way. Nick seemed to be wanting something out of the retelling in hid current life- perhaps he's trying to change the future, or remember Nekoda for some reason. But why? It's not yet clear.

I found the book enjoyable to read, and like most of Sherrilyn Kenyon's books about normal humans reacting to extraordinary events, this one more than kept my attention. I'm not a fan of the newer, nasty Nick, but reading about him when he was just an entirely puny and defenseless kid was fun and interesting. I also want to know why Nick is remembering these things. Is it to change himself or to change the past? I'd love to find out. Highly recommended, especially if you love the Dark-Hunter series.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

World of Warcraft: Book Three by Walter and Louise Simonson and Mike Bowden

King Varian Wrynn, also known as Lo'gosh, has returned to his people, regained his memories and had his split personality reintegrated. Now that he has slain the Dragon Onyxia, he has one more task, to return to Theramore.

Varian wants to make peace with the orcs of the Horde, but he doesn't trust them. An orc, who he considered a friend, slew his father, King Llane, and he hasn't trusted orcs ever since. But unknown to him, the female orc didn't have a choice. She was being controlled by an insidious magic that even she didn't realize she was under. Pregnant by a human, the orc known as Garona is so stunned by her actions and lack of ability to stop them that she gives up her newborn son, Med'an, to be raised by the undead mage known as Meryl, thinking herself a danger to her son and everyone around her.

Now that her son is mostly grown, she comes back to save him from an attack by trolls, but soon disappears again to find out why the two-headed troll chief attacked her son. He tells her that her son is the focus of a prophecy and is heir to undreamt of power. But unbeknownst to Garona, this troll is the one who holds the reins on the spells that make her do his bidding and make her kill with no knowledge of why she is doing so.

Meanwhile, Varian's friend and also a friend of the Orc Chief, Thrall, Jaina Proudmoor contacts Thrall to ask for a summit meeting. Despite how happy he is to see her, he warns her that this isn't a good time for a summit for him. But she points out that Varian Wrynn is in the same position, and the best treaties usually end up leaving both parties unhappy in some way, because they must both give something up. And in this case, both sides will come to the summit unarmed.

But Garona is once again being controlled by the Troll King, and he is sending her to the summit to try and kill Varian Wrynn, Thrall and Varian's son Anduin. Meanwhile, her son, Med'an, who has long thought his mother was dead, overhears the truth of who Garona is and what she was sent to do when he eavesdrops on Meryl's meeting with an orc messenger. Throwing caution to the winds, he flies off in search of her to try and stop her and keep him safe.

At the summit, both sides have brought weapons, and it looks like it might come to blows when Anduin is the first to lay down his weapon and remind everyone that the summit is supposed to be peaceful. Thrall is impressed that such a young boy is the peacemaker of the family, and he and his men follow Anduin in laying down their arms, There follow some talks, but there are those on both sides who oppose any kind of peace with the other side, and during a break, Garona attacks, seeking to slay her targets. But her attack fails and both Varian and Thrall see the attack as a betrayal by the other side. Can they ever see past their differences to realize that not only do both want peace, but that peace would be better for both sides?

And can Med'an save his mother from the magic that is afflicting her, and can the Blood Elf Valeera, who gave up the practice of magic, be saved from the demon possessing her body that afflicted her when she called upon her magic to save them all? And will the troll King's machinations be discovered in time to save the summit meeting and bring peace to the lands of Horde and Alliance?

I read the first book, but completely missed out on the second, and so with the beginning of the third book, I was kind of at a loss. But the blurb on the inside of the dust jacket brought me up to speed. I just found it strange that instead of discussing what happened in the graphic novel I was reading, the blurb on the dust jacket talked only about what happened before. It actually felt kind of strange, reading it like that. On the other hand, it let me know what was happening without leaving me out in the cold. So I actually applaud it, no matter how strange it was.

This is a great volume, completing the story of Varian Wrynn coming back to power and trying to make peace with the Horde. As everyone who has played WoW or even read the books knows, Thrall is a better leader than the Horde deserves. He's more noble than many in the Alliance, the putative "Good Guys" of the story, and he's always looking out for his people, even if some of them want all-out war on the Alliance. And yet, it seems that any time he puts out a hand in friendship, the Alliance ends up wanting to chop it off. Because he's an Orc. And Varian Wrynn doesn't trust Orcs.

Which just goes to show how flawed and stupid both sides can be. The Orcs, with the exception of Thrall, don't really trust anyone in the alliance, and the Alliance all hate the Orcs and can only see the worst in them. Part of me knows it's because the two sides are enemies in the game, but this kind of stupid infighting and distrust is endemic to all races. Sad, but also part of the game world. Still recommended, and I'd like to see how this ends.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Kisses from Hell by Kristin Cast, Alyson Noël, Kelley Armstrong, Richelle Mead and Francesca Lia Block

Kisses from Hell is an anthology novel set in the same universes and starring many of the same characters as past volumes in this series, including Vacations from Hell, Prom Nights from Hell and Love is Hell. This book contains five stories.

"Sunshine" by Richelle Mead takes the Moroi vampires to a party on a private island. One of the girls, Rhea, has drunk too often from the same blood donor and now he's in love with her, illustrating why Moroi can't drink from the same person over and over again. Her boyfriend is Stephen Badica, leader of their little party, but Eric Dragomir can't stop thinking of Rhea from the time he first meets her. So when Daniel, the obsessed blood donor, escapes from the castle and takes Rhea captive, Eric must find her and rescue her first if he wants to confess his own feelings to her.

"Bring Me to Life" by Alyson Noël takes a young artist named Danika to a new art school in a creepy deserted house in Scotland. At first she thinks she is the only one to have fallen into this place, where she is given free meals and old-fashioned clothing in exchange for simply creating art, but soon a male student named Bram comes to join her. But when she starts dreaming of being the past lover of a vampire and living in this very same manor house, can Bram save her from the insanity? Or does she even want to be saved?

"Above" by Kristin Cast is a story in poetic prose about a girl who has lived underground all her life who escapes to the upper world and finds love with a vampire. But when her own people abduct her back underground, can Sol, her vampire love, find her and return her to his embrace?

"Hunting Kat" by Kelley Armstrong tells the story of Kat, a girl genetically engineered to become a vampire on her death. Kidnapped and rescued by Marguerite, another vampire, Kat is hunted by the company that made her. but when she is kidnapped off the street by the company, along with two other boys named Neil and Chad, she will have to escape again with their help- and decide which one is the traitor.

"Lilith" by Francesca Lia Block tells the story of Paul Michael, a picked -upon outcast in his own school. When a new student, a girl named Lilith, arrives, she becomes interested in him and gives him the chance to become a vampire and take his revenge on the students who have always mistreated him. But can he keep her interest for long?

This was an okay anthology. I definitely liked "Sunshine", "Bring Me to Life" and "Hunting Kat", but "Above" was just nearly impossible to read for me. It reads very much like an experimental novel- something that's half poetry and half prose, but the layout was confusing, and I found the story somewhat hard to read.

"Lilith" also didn't appeal to me, mainly because a lot of it just felt like an abused kid's revenge fantasy. The ending was also rather abrupt, leaving the main character somewhat in limbo. I didn't particularly enjoy it, but the ending did leave me wanting to know more, like what happened to Paul Michael after that.

The other stories I found by turns tense, dreamy and interesting. "Bring Me to Life" had just the right mix of horror and romance to hit all my buttons right, and "Hunting Kat" had Kat struggling to survive on her own, which was good since she will have to do that any way at some point. And Sunshine was just good reading, with tones of suspense and mystery and romance as well.

I liked this anthology, even if the stories were something of a mixed bag. You may not enjoy the same stories I did, and may love or hate them all, but it's a good bet you'll find something in here to enjoy. Recommended.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Falconfar by Ed Greenwood

Rod Everlar is a writer of fantasy who created a fantasy world called Falconfar. Under his control, the world became beloved by fantasy fans and he wrote and created much of the world. Then, he got tired of his creation and sold his idea to the computer company that was going to release games based on Falconfar. Then, he didn't think any more about it.

Until the night Taeauna, one of the winged female warriors called Aumrarr that Rod created falls out of the roof of his house to tell him that the world he created is real, and that several powerful wizards known as "Dooms" have banded together to enslave Falconfar. She begs Rod to come with her and save what he has created, for he is known as the Archdoom, the Archwizard whose whim rules the world.

Apparently, although Rod was careful to destroy every foe that he created to menace his fictional(?) world, the company he sold his world to has made numerous foes for their upcoming games, and it has wreaked havoc on his world. The Aumrarr are being slaughtered, and Taeauna is attacked and dewinged. Only a few Aumrarr survive the destruction of their stronghold, and through Rod, the Dooms of Falconfar now know of the human world, and without magic to gainsay them, their will here can run rampant.

Unfortunately for Taeauna, Rod has no ability with magic and can't really affect the Dooms that much. But with the help of allies, he and Teauna have slain both Malraun and Arlaghaun, but Lorontar, another Doom, controls Malraun's body.

But as Rod and Taeauna are separated, Rod is chased across Falconfar and must give peace to a dead wizard and his animated skeletons by absorbing their memories, along with that comes some ability to recognize and use magic.

Meanwhile, the two remaining Aumrarr escort two thieves who might be heroes to use them in a scheme to bring less chaos to the land, while Lorontar abducts two with the talent to be magicians to become his apprentices and instill in them a great hunger for magic, and no fear of killing or looting corpses to obtain it. Meanwhile, the great families of the land have their own plans for Falconfar, and aren't above using swords or magic to make it come about.

But when two wizards slip onto Earth through the portal to his house, they discover that magics work weakly on Earth, but they *do* work- and are left free to roam and make mischief, while Rod himself works with Taeauna to bring peace to the land... which may be a feeble hope for right now.

I love Ed Greenwood's Forgotten Realms novels. Let's face it, Ed Greenwood is the one who developed the Realms, and he is its main "voice", and usually, I love that voice. But when it comes to Elminster, well, I wasn't expecting to encounter him again (in vocal form) in Falconfar.

Or to be precise, many Elminsters, because that same sort of voice (all men of less than aged years are "Lad" and all women are "lass", among other things, seemed to be coming from almost every good male character in this book that wasn't from Earth. And while one, or a few, Elminster-like talkers are fine, this series has made me annoyed to the point of distraction. I find it almost impossible to read.

Not helping that is the fact that I don't really care for the characters. Rod is more often played for the fool, because even though he's the one who created Falconfar, his information about it is way out of date, and he's not able to fight or do magic. He spends most of his time running, falling and not being able to do well, anything. Not exactly a thrilling hero.

And none of the other characters really make me want to root for them, either. All seem to be retreads of characters from the Realms, from Mirt the Moneylender to Storm Falconhand, so it reads like an inferior sort of Realms. If you haven't read any of the Forgotten Realms books, maybe this series makes better reading. But when I am reading it, all I can think of is what it isn't, instead of what it is. Not recommended.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Batgirl by Brian Q. Miller, Lee Garbett and Trevor Scott

Stephanie Brown isn't unused to the heroing business. She fought crime on her own as the Spoiler, and took over as Batman's sidekick, Robin, for a while, but now she's decided to break out on her own as the new Batgirl, fighting crime by night even as she lives the life of a college freshman by day.

Needless to say, no one is really happy with Stephanie. Not Oracle, who used to be the original Batgirl before she was crippled, or Batman and his new boy wonder, Robin, who happens to be his son by Talia Ra's Al Ghul. But as Stephanie fights her way through Gotham's Underworld, she slowly gains converts and friends. First Oracle, then Robin and Batman himself.

But Stephanie has more problems than just supervillains like Scarecrow. She also has to live up to her Mom's expectations, and they don't include being a superhero. Her mom wants her to be a student and do well in college- not to stay up all night fighting crime and barely have the energy to drag herself out of bed and to her classes the next day.

But Stephanie wants to do all those things, even if trying kills her. But when a woman named Roulette sets up Batman- Dick Grayson, to die, Stephanie has to step in and come to his rescue before things get completely out of hand. But can she save Batman while she herself is suffering from a concussion or a gunshot wound?

And then there is her mother, a physician who works at the local hospital. When Stephanie is injured, can she stay away, or at least have her mother not recognize her at the hospital? And can she convince her mother that she is okay and not going out fighting crime at night as her mother has asked her not to do? Her mother fears for Stephanie's safety, but can Stephanie keep her new life and activities secret from her Mom?

I liked this book. I like how Stephanie started out with some powers but was generally clueless about crimefighting, and how she had to take instruction from Oracle, among others, to really get the crimefighting portion of her duties down solid. I already hate the new Robin, so I didn't care so much about her rivalry/infighting with him except to think that they were like squabbling siblings, and how none of that was welcome. Yeah, it's fun, but I enjoyed the parts where she gets the upper hand because I despise Damian. :P

But this book is more than about Stephanie. It's also about the first Batgirl, Barbara Gordon, now known as Oracle. Barbara was Batgirl until she was paralyzed from the waist down, and in addition to first being angry with Stephanie for stealing the identity of Batgirl, she has to take the girl under her wing and help the perpetual screw-up to stay alive. And then there is another girl who was also deprived of the use of her legs that Barbara wants to connect with and help, but the girl is seemingly too mired in anger and fear of what she lost to look forward to what she might become. And then her father decides to step in and help her with her love life...

I enjoyed the witty banter and the screw-up superheroine who is trying to do good and become effective as a crime fighter, and it's unusual to have a Bat-family hero or heroine being so vivacious and bubbly and good natured. It's like being close to Batman automatically injects you with grimdark and you become humorless and dark by nature. Well, Stephanie is an antidote to that, and she succeeds in winning over both Oracle and Dick Grayson (and yes, Damian, too). It's a feelgood comic, and I enjoyed it a lot. The art is crisp and clean, and it's not your usual bat-fare. Recommended.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Dark Peril by Christine Feehan

Solange Sangria is a werejaguar. In fact, she is the Princess of werejaguars. But thanks to her father, who believes only in strength, the werejaguar males have almost declared war on the females, keeping them imprisoned and mating with them only to produce children. After a certain point, the men descend on the children, trying to force them to shift shape. If they can, they are kept in the clan. If they cannot, the children are killed and discarded.

Solange hates her father for what he is doing to the Werejaguars as a whole, and has spent her entire life fighting him. But now, something new has entered the equation. No, not something, someone.

His name is Dominic Dragonseeker, and he has lived without color for hundreds of years. But he is a Dragonseeker, and they do not go quietly into the night or become a vampire. Except that Dominic is trying to infiltrate the vampires who are running a special operation in the jungles. So he has allowed himself to be infested with a set of microbes that only vampires are prey to, and kill them to have himself go out in a blaze of glory and in a way that is useful to his people.

Until he catches sight of Solange as she pulls herself from a river. Solange has been yanking her father's tail for his mistreatment of her and her family. He doesn't know that she is his daughter, because he thinks she died long ago with the rest of her family. As it is, her mother is still imprisoned in his compound, and she seeks to free her mother, but because of the number of male werejaguars guarding the compound, she has never been able to infiltrate it.

Now, Solange, who has lived most of her life alone and on the run from the male werejaguars and her father's men, will have to deal with Dominic, who she has long thought was a fantasy in her mind. Dominic, too, thinks Solange was just a fantasy of his perfect mate. But she isn't used to living with anyone, so how can she be the kind of mate that Dominic wants, but even more, the kind of mate that Dominic deserves?

Dominic, too, is aware that he is damaged goods, and while Solange struggles with feeling helpless and broken in the face of Dominic's love, and the feeling that she will never be good enough for him, Dominic realizes that he can no longer go through with his plan to die disrupting and destroying the vampire convocation. He must live for Solange. But with the worst and strongest vampires in the world attending this meeting, with the intent to kill off Dominic and his fellow Carpathians, can he keep himself from drinking her blood, because her blood is the only thing that can cure the parasite infestation living inside him. But how long can he keep from drinking her blood as the urge to increase their connection grows?

I liked this book, although it did feel like something of a return to her earlier books like Dark Hunger. Solange was a character in Dark Hunger, and we got to see her then as a wounded warrior- someone who was very mistrusting of Carpathians, who was fighting a war against the male Werejaguars and who didn't want or need the help of the Carpathians. And yet, she seems to be doing it alone when in Dark Hunger she was being helped by her sister, Juliette. And it bothered me that Juliette and her life-mate, Riordan, seem to have done nothing for the Werejaguars in the meantime. That has all fallen to Solange.

Solange was a bit of a disappointment. She seems strong on the outside, but inside, she feels weak and unhappy. Despite her having contact through her fantasies with Dominic. she goes from a strong character to a creampuff when it comes to her emotions. She's fairly consistently bemoaning the fact that she can't be the kind of lifemate that Dominic deserves- she must be as strong and competent as he is. And that got on my nerves after a while, to be honest. It's like everything she did meant nothing- she couldn't take pride in her accomplishments because she didn't fit what she thought he wanted.

But aside from those concerns, I mostly enjoyed this book. It did feel a bit strange, coming back to the South American jungle after so long a time away from it. It did remind me quite a bit of the book Dark Hunger, and why don't Juliette, Riordan, Solange and Dominic team up to take out the bad male werejaguars? Surely, they are powerful enough to do so? Aside from the fact that I loved the ending, which is different from all the others in the Carpathians books, this was a pretty solid book, and a great read. Recommended.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Of Midnight Born by Lisa Cach

Alex Wodling is a minor lord who is extremely interested in Astronomy. In interest of being left alone to look at the stars, he buys the famous, haunted Maiden Castle. Rumor has it that no man can spend the night there before being driven out by the ghost that haunts the place, but Alex doesn't believe in ghosts and decides to not only move in, but to make the entire serving staff male and create a bachelor household.

The trouble is that the castle really is haunted, by the ghost of Serena Clerenbold, the last owner of the keep. Her family had become poor, and so she and her brother attempted to kidnap their rich neighbor with the intent of wedding Serena to him to keep her people, and her patrimony, alive. When she was murdered on her wedding night, her spirit was trapped in the castle, in a cherry tree in her garden.

For a long time, she has hated all men, and been left alone in the castle. But when Alex brings people back into the castle, it irritates her and she expends energy to try and drive them out. Believing all men are beasts, she wants nothing less than Alex and his Bachelor crew to be gone- but the more energy she expends to do tricks and pranks to drive them out, the faster the cherry tree she depends on as a source of life, dies.

And then she finds that Alex is most certainly not a beast, and in fact, is rather delicious. As they slowly come to an agreement over his use of the castle, Serena finds herself falling in love for the very first time in her extended life, and wishes she could become alive again to enjoy Alex's kisses and caresses. But unbeknownst to Serena, she isn't the only ghost inhabiting Maiden Castle- there is also the Shadow, who seems to want to protect Serena from ever falling in love or coming to love another. Who could the shadow be? The Ghost of her brother? Or her erstwhile husband, who may have killed her on her wedding night, or who she might have killed, according to local legend?

But even if they find out who the Shadow is, and why it seeks to harm both Serena and Alex, they must deal with the fact that her tree is slowly dying. And while Serena is using her energy to appear whole and human for Alex, the situation is untenable for both of them. What will happen when Serena's tree finally dies? Can Serena live with losing the man she loves for an eternity or will Alex find some way, any way to save her?

This book was a solid romance, but nothing special. I did like the fact that it was the heroine who was the ghost, but her pranking simply because she could didn't make me like her very much. In fact, I actually found her annoying and a pain in the butt. She is terrorizing people just because she doesn't like men, which lost her my sympathy early on.

Admittedly, she does learn better later, but that early loss of sympathy wasn't easy for her to regain. Alex himself comes off as a bit of a jerk himself, refusing to believe in a ghost (despite having "met" her years earlier without realizing it) until she literally rubs his nose in the fact that she is there, and watching him, including when he is taking a bath. Both eventually soften their attitudes towards each other, but I never was very invested in either character or in their romance.

In the end, of course, they wind up in a "Happily Ever After", but I still wasn't wholly sympathetic to their romance due to Serena's earlier bitchy behavior and Alex's jerkiness. It was nice that they found happiness with each other, but there was a whole lot of "not caring" on my part for either of them, so this wound up being a big, fat zero for me. It's okay, but it didn't rock my socks, or my world. It was barely on this side of "meh". YMMV, of course. Not recommended.