Thursday, July 05, 2012

2012, Part 11

The Neonomicon by Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows- In a world like our own, but not quite, an FBI agent named Aldo Sax is on the trail of a bunch of killers, and a new drug that may have fueled the strangely similar murders by three separate people named Aklo. Sax tracks down Aklo, and it turns out to be a language- the language of Nyarltotep, which infects him and drives him into killing people in exactly the same way. Years later, two naive young agents named Brears and Lamper go to find out the truth, and uncover a group of cultists who are tied into a deeper, hidden world. And only one of them will come out alive. What secrets will the other uncover along the way? This graphic novel was dark and disturbing, which I suspected it would be when I first saw it and picked it up. The intersection between the ideas of H.P. Lovecraft and the modern world (not our own, especially with references to holidays like Farrakhan Day) is chilling and yet leaves the reader in a sort of horrible wonder by the end of the story. Excellent story, excellent art. It will leave you uncomfortable, and yet, that's the idea. Highly recommended.

Crystal Gardens by Amanda Quick- Evangeline Ames has come to the village of Little Dixby to rest and to work on the sensation novel she wishes to write. A Private Inquiry agent who often masquerades as a lady's companion, she was recently involved in a case where she was nearly killed by a fortune hunter she exposed. But when a man breaks into her rented cottage determined to kill her, she has no idea of who would want her dead or why. Fleeing, she seeks refuge in the paranormally powerful grounds of the Crystal Gardens, owned by Lucas Sebastian, who quickly realizes why she is there and keeps her safe. But as the cottage she is renting is on his land, he feels determined to keep her safe, while exploring the grounds of his former Uncle's estate and discovering who murdered him. He urges Evangeline to move into the Manor with him, and brings his aunt to be her chaperone to protect her reputation. But with her comes Lucas's sister, Beth, and a host of problems around the man Beth wants to marry, who her mother is flatly denying her hand. And then there is the reputed treasure of Roman gold that supposedly lies on the grounds of the estate- perhaps within the psychically dangerous Night Garden itself, or in the hot spring that feeds the garden much of its paranormal power. But as forces both near and far conspire against them, Evangeline and Lucas find themselves not so inexplicably drawn to each other by both lust and love. But can they survive against the people trying to kill and hurt them both? I loved this book. It's not tied to either the Arcane Society books nor the more recent series that began with Copper Beach, but contains similar types of paranormal powers. I noticed Lucas had what would be called the "Hunter Talent" in the Arcane Society books, whereas Evangeline's talent was more like the Amber Resonance powers of Amber tuners-only without the Amber. and while I felt "Copper Sands" was like the Arcane Society books with the serial numbers filed off, this book I found better as a stand-alone novel while incorporating paranormal psychic powers. Highly recommended, and Evie's two friends are also highly sequel-baited.

Investigating the Paranormal by Joe Nickell- A Former investigative reporter, Joe Nickell is also a member of CSICOP, the Committee for Scientific Investigations of Claims of the Paranormal. In this book, he shares the results of his own investigations of everything from ghosts to religious miracles like crying icons, idols which drink milk, the incorruptible bodies of saints, poltergeists, phenomena like Spontaneous human combustion, U.F.O.'s, spiritualism and photos of ghosts and spirits, as well as things like Auras and Kirlian Photography- and debunks them all, as well as showing how and why these things aren't true. So, if you are invested in believing in these things being true, but believe in science showing the truth, this book is going to dash those beliefs. If you don't accept science, you can still deny the truth, but those who accept that science and investigation will get the most out of the book. Highly recommended.

Archangel's Blade by Nalini Singh- Dmitri is the second to the Angel Rafael. When a dead body turns up in a busy intersection in New York, it's up to him to find out who killed the man, as Rafael is with his love, the former Hunter and newly born Angel Elena in China meeting the Archangel Lijuan. But a tattoo on the body concerns him, because it's the sigil of a female angel who turned him into a vampire, and killed his wife and children, then forced him to serve her, until he was able to turn the tables on her and end up killing her and tearing her to pieces. But to catch the perpetrators, he will need the help of the Hunter Honor, who comes to the case with baggage of her own- after an attack on her by vampires, she was kidnapped and tortured, her blood drunk as she was raped and abused. Rescued, she has only recently recovered from her experience, but the cracks in her confidence are still there, just barely papered over. But Dmitri finds himself unusually incensed by the attack on Honor and wants to help her find the vampires who attacked her and get vengeance on them. Why, after so many years, is he attracted to a woman who is not his wife, and can Honor overcome her trauma to trust him and help him discover who is tormenting Dmitri with the sigil of his maker's sigil? And why are both Honor and Dmitri dreaming of his earlier life, and what is that strange connection that they share? Is it just one of justice and revenge, or is it something else? Dmitri is such a cold character in the earlier books in this series, that it was nice to see he had some heat beneath the coldness, but that coldness and sort of deliberation that are at the core of him can also be a sort of passion- and that Honor somehow appeals to him not only as the man he was, but the man he is now. And Honor is equally strong character, living and choosing to live after being so brutalized, but to still be able to show gentleness and emotion rather than cutting herself off from life, was wonderful. I felt the ending and the nature of their connection was a bit, "Oh, come on!", but the story itself was something I completely loved. Highly recommended except for that one ending quibble.

Alice in the Country of Hearts, Volume 1 by QuinRose and Soumei Hoshino- Alice is having tea with her sister in the garden and falls asleep, dreaming of a cute little waistcoated rabbit with a pocketwatch claiming that he is going to be late. But when her sister wakes her, telling her she sleeps too much, Alice experiences a moment of envy and regret. Everyone loves her sister, even the men Alice is interested in. Wouldn't it be nice if there was a place where Alice was wanted as much as her sister? Alice decides to nap some more as she is still tired, but is abruptly grabbed by a man with rabbit ears, who runs off with her and jumps into a hole in the ground with her. Afterwards, sick and dizzy from the experience, he tries to get her to take "medicine", but she refuses, so he takes it and forces a kiss on her, flooding her mouth with the liquid, which she inadvertantly swallows. Then the rabbit-eared man, Peter White, is happy, as it means she cannot leave this Kingdom, the Kingdom of Hearts, until she refills the vial by interacting with the people who live there. And in that time, he can try to win her heart. But Peter isn't the only inhabitant of this strange land. There is also Blood, known as the Mad Hatter, and his servants, including the March Hare, and the twins Dee and Dum; Vivaldi, the Queen of the Castle, where Peter is her majordomo and Ace serves as her knight. She is also served by the King and the cards. Gowland runs the amusement park and has his own set of faceless servants, as well as Boris, who is part cat. All these people are locked in combat against each other, ready and willing to kill ruthlessly- and all of them have strong feelings of love for Alice. Some more romantic, and some more sisterly. But Alice can't wait to get out of there and get back to her sister, so she takes refuge with Julius in his Clock Tower. But can even he keep Alice safe when her many admirers and suitors seem willing to kill each other messily to win Alice for their own? And what is really going on in the Country of Hearts? Why was she brought here, and what does the Demon Nightmare have to do with it? And as Alice becomes closer to the inhabitants the longer she stays, will she still choose to go home when the time is done? This book makes about as much sense as the original Alice tales do, and while the characters tend to be very different. Blood is the leader of the Hatters, but not the same as the Mad Hatter in the original book, and his companion Elliott, the March Hare, is also very unlike the original March Hare. Some of the characters have seemingly no connection to any of the book characters, like Julius and Gowland, and the conflict between the groups is now a gang fight.. It's amusing, but while a lot happens, there isn't much of real substance, and the volume is so long that it seems like a slog to get through it. Recommended only if you have a high resistance to reading without knowing what the heck is going on and are willing to wait... and wait... and wait... for some kind of answers.

Alice in the Country of Hearts, Volume 2 by QuinRose and Soumei Hoshino- Alice continues to interact with the inhabitants of the Country of Hearts, and has become friends with most of them. But while Blood of the Hatters is willing to lend her books from his huge library, he also accuses her of being a horrible flirt, spreading her affections around while keeping them all on a string, and threatens to kill her, then ends up strangling her, which Alice doesn't like at all. And he isn't the only one with troubling new problems. Ace, too, exhibits a more bloodthirsty and violent mindset and kills several people right in front of Alice, leaving them both spattered with blood and her nearly catatonic. Boris finds her and brings her back to herself, but when he goes off to confront Ace about what he has done, Ace nearly kills him as well, and Alice finds herself acting as his nurse. But when Ace shows off to finish the job and kill Alice like he told Boris he was going to, can Alice talk him out of killing them both, or will this be the end for the both of them? I found this volume to be better in story, but still very disjointed, and the ending both comes out of nowhere and is not continued in the third volume. it seems like the editors dropped the ball here when it came to that part of the story, as I doubt it ended so abruptly in the original manga volumes. I found it not all that satisfying to read, and while the art is lovely and the guys are super cute, I just feel like I ate cotton candy- an astonishingly sweet taste on the tongue, but nothing in the belly afterwards, and feeling slightly sick that I ate the whole thing. Not recommended.

Alice in the Country of Hearts, Volume 3 by QuinRose and Soumei Hoshino- Alice's time in this world is fast approaching its end, and while she has managed to make some kind of peace with Blood, it seems like everyone else wants her to choose them and stay with him, Blood just doesn't care. But Alice is determined- she misses her sister terribly and only wants to go home and be with her again. And while she says goodbye to Vivaldi and Julius, Peter begs her to stay with him one more time, but she can't forget that he was the one who kidnapped her in the first place and forced her to stay here. But when the time finally comes to make the choice, will Alice be able to go through with her plan to leave, or will the choice be made for her? And what has really happened to her sister back at home? Will she be missing Alice forever? Unfortunately for readers, the answers of what has happened to the people who Alice loved and left behind is never really answered, making the ending of the series feel especially disappointing for me. I also really disliked the ending, as it mirrored the beginning of the story so closely- but I can't reveal it without spoiling the story for everyone. To me, the ending seemed non-sensical and like nothing had really changed, and after all the non-events of the series, I felt that was anathema. Not recommended, unless you like looking at pretty boys irrespective of story. The story isn't much there, and to have such a non-ending ending just made me want to slap someone or something. Not recommended at all, except as eyecandy.

The Earl and the Fairy, Volume 2 by Ayuko and Mizue Tani- The first volume of this series set things up pretty well, with Lydia Carlton being a fairy Doctor, someone who helps humans and fairies be able to live together. But when she is kidnapped on her way to London to meet her father, she is rescued by Edgar Ashenbert, a young man who claims to be the heir to the Half Fairy Blue Knight Earl. However, he must find the sword belonging to the Blue Knight Earl to actually claim the title, and he really has no connection to the BK Earl, so he needs Lydia's help to find the sword. His tale that he is an escaped slave seeking to gain a place so that he and the friends he helped rescue can never be enslaved again strike a chord in Lydia, and she agrees to help him. Now, near the home of the Blue Knight Earl, the island of Manan, Edgar and Lydia must decipher a riddle to find where the sword is hidden. But the Merrows of the island may need a sacrifice of blood to give up the sword, and Edgar's enemies tell her that Edgar plans for Lydia being the sacrifice. Can Lydia discover the truth, and find the sword from where it was hidden years ago? And once she does, will her strange adventure finally be over? Reading this as I did after Alice in the Country of Hearts, I was almost fooled into thinking that the end of this volume was the end of the series, but that isn't the case. The story will go on, and this is good, because otherwise, it would have been a non-ending ending. We finally get to see Lydia's father in this volume, and while he's a researcher, he seems woefully unprepared to have a daughter. I enjoyed Lydia's interactions with the various fairies, although her faerie cat companion Nico seems to have more conversations with them than she does. I do wonder where the relationship between Edgar and Lydia will go from here, and if he really does feel something for her, or he is cynically saying so to use her and her abilities. Recommended, but the ending is a little bit deceptive.

Black Dawn by Rachel Caine- Morganville is facing the worst time yet. The Draug have taken over the town, saturating the area with rain and luring vampires and humans both into their nests, where the Draug can feed at their leisure. Amelie, the town's founder, has been bitten by the Draug leader and may be dying. The vampires of Morganville have mostly abandoned the town, but a few people are still ready, willing and able to fight, like Claire Danvers, her boyfriend Shane, and their roommates, Vampire Michael Glass and his bride to be, Eve. And with them will stand Myrnin, Claire's half-mad vampire mentor in the arts of alchemy and magic, Oliver, Amelie's sometime foe and now second in command, and some of the humans who hate vampires, because they realize how much worse things could be with the Draug in charge. But as Amelie struggles not to give in to the transformation to Draug, Eve and Michael must deal with the aftermath of his imprisonment and near-death by the Draug- his attack and near-killing of her, which has left her feeling afraid of him. Shane, too, is nearly killed by the Draug, leaving him feeling as if nothing he experiences is real. But a last ditch effort reveals a way the Draug can be killed, and an unexpected ally turned opponent must be trusted to lead the attack on the Draug strongholds. But as human and vampire fight their monstrous opponents, and humans and vampires fall in battle, will winning have any meaning if and when they win, and can winning, even for both sides of Morganville, mean an end to everything they have learned or taken for granted about Morganville? Can they live with the changes their actions might bring about? I had the idea that this was either the last Morganville book or the second to last, but now I hear there will be three more books before the series ends, and that's actually all to the good, because the ending of this one had so many changes and things that had happened, both good and bad, that the changes will take a good, long while to iron out. Suffice to say, that while there is some good stuff, a lot more bad stuff goes on, and the changes to Morganville will be considerable, and it doesn't look good for Claire and her friends. The book kept me on the edge of my seat throughout, and I am wondering what will happen to ClaireBear and her friends. Highly recommended.

The Unofficial Game of Thrones Cookbook by Alan Kistler- takes names of various foods mentioned in the Game of Thrones saga and attempts to provide recipies to various meals and foods mentioned in the story. Some of these, you can tell what recipes they came from, things like Guacamole or various salads. But others, unless you live in an area where hunting is both allowed and common, are going to be new to you. Elk, Venison, Wild Boar, Swan... And then there are ones that can be farmed, like Bison/Buffalo, quail or Goat. On the other hand, at least one of the "recipes", I wouldn't call a recipe at all, for corn on the cob with butter. Does anyone really need a "recipe" for how to cook that? Shuck corn ears, boil in water, let butter melt on hot, drained ears? I think something needs to have more than two ingredients, corn and butter, to be called a recipe. Though I guess there are some people who have never made their own hot corn on the cob. Most of the recipes are good, but unless you live in an area where people do a lot of hunting and are willing to eat animals seen as more decorative than food (Swans, mainly), you will never cook or brew them all. If you are willing to substitute, you can make your own "Game of Thrones" inspired meal, but be aware this is more like "Put on a show" food than something you are likely to prepare yourself, at least some of the time. Recommended.

Conflict of Honors by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller- Priscilla Delacroix was outcast from her planet by her mother at sixteen and forced to survive on her own in space. Now, as cargo master on the Liaden ship Daxflan, having worked her way up from cook's assistant, she is sure her ship's Trader, Sav Rid Olanek, is shipping illegal pharmaceuticals. Serving on a Liaden ship as a Terran, she and the other Terrans are treated as second class citizens, so perhaps it isn't so strange when her shipmates push her into a broken storage compartment and leave her for dead on a world called Janaklin. but it rankles. And when her only recourse is to try tp get passage on another ship that will end up an another world where the Daxflan is headed, she finds her only option is yet another Liaden ship, the Dutiful Passage, captained by Shan yos'Galan. But can she trust this Liaden Captain and Master Trader to employ her honestly and do right by her? As Priscilla travels with the ship under her common use name of Priscilla Mendoza, she finds herself struck by how honestly and rightly this particular ship is run, and finds all her old skills coming to the fore as her pursuit of her shipmates and higher status for herself bring both her and Shan yos'Galan into conflict with the Daxflan and its master. But when things turn deadly, can she keep Shan, her shipmates and the Dutiful Passage out of harm's way, or will the conflict engulf them all? And can Shan, who has come to love and esteem the lovely Priscilla, discover her true name and worth and love and esteem her as she deserves to be? I loved this book, which takes place in the same universe as the Liaden books "Agent of Change", "Carpe Diem" and "Plan B", and introduces Priscilla and Shan yos'Galan to the world. This book came out second or third in the series, in strict chronological order, but the story can stand on its own quite well. In fact, this is another book I found myself sucked into whole and entire before even the first chapter had ended, and similar to the other books, it grabs you and doesn't let you go until the book is done. I loved this book, and I loved this series. The characters are a delight, and so is the universe and world-building, which are done with a minimum of words and yet convey so much. Highly recommended. This is a series to look out for, and if you haven't read it already, you should.

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