Ah, just got the last installment of the Princess series a couple of days ago. LOVELOVELOVELOVELOVE.

Okay, getting the LOVE overwith, aside from the chance to revisit with Talia, Sleeping Beauty, Danielle, Cinderella, and Ermillina Curtana, Snow White, I had a great time reading it. Jim Hines knows how to move a plot along, and while the earlier books aren't slouches in the plotting department, this was was even more involving. Because, fellow readers, when one of the main characters is in true mortal danger, and you KNOW (unlike many other series) dead means dead in this Princessverse, it ups the ante.

The only regret I had while reading SQS's is how little I felt I knew Snow White before this book. Of all the characters in the earlier books, she was the most inscrutable with the least well-known background. And, while I learned a ton more about her in this book, it was through another agent. I'm not sure how Hines could have done it any other way, because by the end of the story, Talia had to have her happy ending, too (although in truth, there aren't endings at all, you know?), at least for this series of four books. I did feel a little emotionally removed from Snow during the reading. Which is disappointing for me. Of course, this was my first reading, and rushed so I could find out what happened.

A more extensive review soon on Hathor Legacy, as soon as I can finish it. Haven't been feeling well today, so it might be up for Monday.

In the meantime, don't take MY word that this book and it's three earlier books are worthwhile, fun, summer reading with fun and sobering twists on these well-known Disnified characters. Check them out yourself!
Y'all know I love zombie books and short stories. I wasn't convinced I'd like Feed, because when I picked it up for a quick look in the bookstore, I wasn't drawn into it. Luckily for the author, B&N allows you to download a sample of about 24 pages. So I downloaded the sample, and HAD to order the whole book. I was hooked.

I stayed up until 4 am this morning to finish it, and I rarely do that anymore. I probably will have to reread some of the last bits to refresh my memory about what happened since I was wandering in & out of consciousness for a few minutes.

The title refers to not only the virus created zombies that wander the landscape, but also the main characters' online profession of being blogging reporters in their post-apocolyptic world.

A lot of the book's first third is devoted to copious amounts of worldbuilding/infodumping, but believe me, it's necessary to read through it, and it's not all that bad. The zombies aren't actually the main feature of the story, although as an active background that forms the behaviors and rituals and medical requirements of the people in this world, they're vital. The real story is about how a pair of very bright siblings forge ahead to build a blogging site that will set them up for life. How? They've been selected to report on a presidential candidate.

The main character, Georgia Mason, is 20, a reporter and too good at what she does. She rarely missteps, is savvy, shrewd and is just this side of being believable. She's so competent she's scary. Her brother, the same age, is more of an adventurer (tho Georgia is, too) and fills the irresponsible side of the equation. And then there's Buffy, their tech wizard (yes, she named herself after THE Buffy). Really bad things start happening to the presidential candidate and his family and coworkers. He's being sabotaged, and no one but Georgia thinks there's anything to that.

I don't mind worldbuilding when it builds to something, and you gain the benefits of knowing the background to the story. In this case, Mira Grant/Seanan McGuire does a pretty good job. Some of it is repetitious, and could have been mentioned less often, but, what the heck, it worked for me and got me immersed.

A commenter on Hathor Legacy mentioned how disappointed she was by the point of view shift that happens late in the novel, and I could see her point. I usually dislike it a lot, too. In fact, I HATED it in The Reapers are the Angels. In that book, the POV shifts from the main female character abruptly in the final chapter or coda to the male character who's been tracking her with the intent to kill her. In Feed, the shift is not as sudden, not coming out of the blue, and when it happens, you feel that character's grief legitimately. Really, this is how it should be done, if it should be done at all. I was leary about it, but as I said, Georgia is almost too perfect, and we don't get to see many of her flaws (if any).

Do I recommend this? Yes, even if you're not into zombies--zombies are not the main meal in this book. Now, I can't wait for the sequel to come out.
Finally on LJ! What the heck is going on with it? Sheesh!

I've been in a storm of reading some books that've been recced by readers over at Hathor.

The first one I dove into this past weekend was The Orphan's Tales: In the Night Garden by Catherynne Valente. The other, which I read until about 3:30am this morning, was Feed by Mira Grant/Seanan Macguire. I lost track of Perdido Street Station by China Mieville, but I'll return to that one; it's complex, so I'll have to restart it, I think. Another book I've been slowly rereading is The Waters Rising by Sherri Tepper.

Tepper, a writer who writes with strong, often overstated themes, but always progressive and feminist...ergh, her book is problematic. It's based in the same world as her much earlier novel Plague of Angels, only further into the future. Tepper enjoys setting her SF/F books in pseudo fairy-tale worlds, or with fairytale ish characters. So, although Waters is a very different different book from In the Night Garden, let me tackle them both, because it was through reading In the Night Garden that I became motivated to write anything about Waters Rising.

The Waters Rising...where to start. Argh! Okay, it shares a main character with Plague of Angels-Abasio. It's an undeterminant number of years in the future from where he started. Mysteriously, the waters of earth are rising, and even more mysteriously, it's all fresh water, so the entire ecology of the earth is changing yet again. The reason I've been so reluctant to write about Waters is because it's so *scattered*. It's a mish-mash of odd talking creatures, unbelievable metamorphasis among the characters, and a bizarre mix of science and fantasy. The earlier book Plague of Angels worked better, was tighter, and used the tropes of fairy tales more effectively. In this case, it's not happening. It's almost as if Tepper thought this wild idea might as well mesh with that wild idea, and sewed it all together with a generations' long plot, coincidence and a total WTFery.

Part of the WTFery has to do with the main character, Xulai. She is coded as a far future Chinese girl (she's pictured on the cover). She starts out as a young girl, appearing to be around ten years old when Abasio meets her, and he develops feelings about her at odds with her appearance that admittedly kind of skeeve him out. But that's okay! Because she's actually NOT ten years old, and conveniently ages to a young nubile 19 year old girl when her magic camoflague wears off. Abasio is at least two or three or more times her age. It's difficult to say how much older, but let's just say...uhhh. If I relayed the plot, which mixes in assassin cybernetic monsters from the Big Kill times eons ago, an octopus sea king that speaks English (just like Horse) and is a sagelike being willing to help land creatures adapt to the rising waters, well, it's a good thing it's Tepper writing this, because I don't know if anyone else could remotely pull this sort of here-and-there plot together. And even she doesn't do it, either.

Moving on to The Night Garden! The Night Garden has to be one of the more intricately woven books I've read in a long while. No character is a minor character, and every character introduced as a secondary character in another character's story ends up in a story of their own, where their story is told and they become their own main character in their own lifestory. It's fabulous. Valente plays on her creatures' expectations of their futures-they know they're living in a fairytale, yet are surprised when the script doesn't go the way they think it will. And she plays on the readers' expectations of where and what the story is all about. It's slyly feminist. Rapunzel isn't who or what you think she is, and neither is the bartender she eventually meets. And the bartender discovers that his long-ago love is no longer who he wants her to be, and she has her own purpose (and always did). Stepmothers are kind and loving, and her daughters are jealous. Beasts are well-spoken and civilized, and humans are beastly. Everything is turned upside down in this world with its own mythology and religions of living stars and gods and creatures. It truly is a fantastical world of fairy fantasy.

There's a second book in the trilogy that's out, and I already bought it. The story in the first book just stops. Some story threads are wrapped up, but the frame story isn't resolved. Who is the girl telling the story? Why was she cursed with the tattoos around her eyes? The third book isn't out, but I'm eagerly awaiting it! After I finish the second book, of course.
I've been reading a couple of zombie anthologies recently. For some reason, anothologies of short stories appeal to me much more than  a full-scale novel stuffed with zombies and angsting protagonists. Short stories about zombies/survivors get right to the point, they don't dally (if it's written well) and the writer has less of a chance to screw things up.

The Living Dead anthology (1 & 2) are both excellent, AND Joe Johnson Adams the editor, manages to do what so many other anthology editors don't do; he infuses his anthology with tons of stories written by-get this-WOMEN WRITERS. Yes, just about every other story is written by a woman (there are about 20) and believe me, yes, it makes a difference to see that my own gender is represented so well in the pages and in the stories themselves. Even though women are usually educated to read and write about white men, and it can be difficult for women writers to crack out of that box, when they do, it's terrific. It's not going to be only white men surviving disasters (zombie or otherwise). Women are going to be more than sex-fodder, rape-fodder, rescue-fodder, and all the usual crap that women are used as in most literature or genre fiction.

The front of The Living Dead 2 lists Cherie Priest, Kelley Armstrong and Carrie Ryan along with Max Brooks. Inside there's this list of writers:  Paula R. Stiles; Karina Sumner-Smith; Molly Brown; Jamie Lackey; Amelia Beamer; Brenna Yovanoff; Mira Grant; Cherie Priest; Kelly Link; Krya Shon; Kelley Armstrong; Carrie Ryan; Kim Paffenroth, R.J. Sevin & Julia Sevin; Catherine MacLeod; Genevieve Valentine; and Sarah Lanagan. No Poppy Z. Brite this time around, but hopefully she'll be in a third anthology. More of the stories in this book are original, although there are some reprints. All in all, most of the stories were involving.  That's 18 out of 44 stories.  That's 41% of the anthology. Pretty good. And most of the stories are pretty high quality, too, making you think.

The biggest disappointment was The Skull-Faced City by David Barr Kirtley. It's a sequel to a story he wrote for the first anthology, which he explained was written in anger about an ass-faced male friend of his who was abusive to his girlfriend (the friend's girlfriend, not his own). In the sequel, all the women are rescued, are pregnant, or abused, and have very little agency of their own. That's par for the course in a lot of horror stories, so nothing new there.

Last Stand by Kelley Armstrong sticks in my mind the most. She explores the concept of the Other explicitly in this story, and you're left wondering who the zombies are for the first few pages. The zombies aren't traditional mindless things in this, and they have a woman leader of immense steely strength leading them.

The other anthology is The Dead That Walk edited by Stephen Jones. His anthology has many more Big Names in it: Clive Barker, Harlan Ellison (with a story that made no sense at all to me), Joe Hill, Stephen King, Richard Matheson, etc. No women listed on the cover. Who are the writers inside? Let's see: Yvonne Navarro; Nancy Holder; Lisa Morton; Kelly Dunn. That's out of 24 stories. That's 4/24, or 6% of the total number of stories. I don't like distilling an anothology into gender percentages, but it does start to irk when you read story after story after story from a predominately white male point of view--even when the stories like that are written by women writers. Remember when I mentioned that women writers have to break out of that box, making the white male the protag of their stores because that's the default? -- it also doesn't help when an anthology chooses that kind of story to include, when there are other points of view to include.

I was less impressed with The Dead That Walk overall, heavy-hitter writers or not. I did really enjoy a riff off of Of Mice & Men near the end of the book. But that's more or less because my daughter had just been reading through it for school, and I got to review the original book. I just don't "get" Harlan Ellison. Maybe back when I was in high school and could wrap my head around disjointed seeming experimental narratives, but not now. Joe Hill's contribution is one that I've seen before, and doesn't actually include actual zombies (that's okay, but this fell flat for me). For The Good of All by Yvonne Navarro sticks in my head, though. She's writes a Catholic latina point of view in a setting that's not often used--the southwest, and uses a main character who's working class, a woman, who has very strong opinions and a point of view, and the other character is male priest or Slavic stock. What she does, and why, makes you think, and horrifies at the same time. Which is the point of most zombie stories isn't it? It's the only story that I remember, aside from Tell Me Like You Done Before (the Mice&Men riff) by Scott Edelman.

Comparing these two anthologies makes the contrasts pop out. I never really think of who the editors are of anthologies, or what their criteria for choosing stories are, but it's fairly evident here that one anthology is trying to be more inclusive, while the other one is trying to sell books by using Big Names (which always helps sell a book) while mostly ignoring varieties of other viewpoints that are not white male.  While I can appreciate novels and short stories that mostly use white male points of view (The Stand, etc) and are sexist and Old World in their attitude about women's strengths and weaknesses, I'm much happier reading stories which don't ignore women, which feature women, don't have women as helpless pregnant help-meets that help patriarchy along. It's refreshing to know that others are represented as well.

Anyway, even if you're not into Zombies, give The Living Dead anthologies a try. The stories are uniformly well-written (if sexist here and there), have a plethora of stories written by women in women's point of view and have some decent stories written by men in a female point of view. Zombies aren't just creatures of fear-they're also creatures of modern statement. Meaning, just like in science fiction, they're relevant to current American culture (buybuybuy to bouey the economy).

Not all zombies are mindless. Not all humans have souls. Which is worse?
It's Xmas, and I'm still on my End of the World As We Know It kick. I started rereading Swan Song
(which long-time readers of this LJ will recall I read last year, I think) after going through The Stand: Expanded Edition: For the First Time Complete and Uncut (Signet)(yet again).

I have decided I really don't like King's portrayal of Franny, the pregnant 20 year old, in The Stand. She's the only character in the entire book who breaks out into tears over EVERYTHING, real or imagined, that happens to her or anyone else. None of the male characters break down into tears on a regular basis. Neither do any of the other female characters. She's annoying as hell, and I honestly wished several times that her character had been killed off in the explosion that kicked off the last third of the book.

In Swan Song, the women are more central to the story...sort of. Sister is a homeless woman who regains her sanity after many years of craziness. She was drunk, drove off the road, and killed her young daughter in the accident. Her husband and mother in law rejected her. She's forgotten her real name, and goes by Sister. She's probably one of the more interesting characters in the book. Another one is Glory, who Josh falls in love with; she has a son Aaron. Anna is another strong woman character in the village of Mary's Rest. There's Sheila who serves the men on the Bad Guy Side, but who isn't really bad, even though she enjoys sex (or used to) before nightmares of her male companion holding a dead infant started haunting her. And then there's Swan, the main protagonist who actually doesn't DO a heckuva lot except be angel, "leads" and performs miracles in rejuvenating the dead earth and waking up the plant life. She is perhaps the weakest of the bunch. Her story starts as the book ends, so you rarely get to see her actually use her powers as powers, even though they're hinted at, and she never truly uses the crown of glass that Sister works long and hard to deliver to her.

There's some virgin/whore going on in Swan Song, but considering the number of strong women that populate the book, I can forgive it. McGannon makes some structural errors in his plot, as does King. His characters don't come alive quite as much as Kings. But he gives larger roles to women and POC and makes them human. Josh, Swan's protector (a role bestowed up on him presumably by a God who reanimates a dead man) is not the Magical Negro that King so loves. He's not a perfect character by any means; and although white characters seem to populate this book more than black characters---all of the cities are blasted away and rednecks seem to rule---but even so, there's a sizable population of nonwhite people who live out in the boonies, yes? Not saying I'd give McGannon a blue ribbon for Swan Song, but he DOES include nonwhite characters in a major role, and secondary and tertiary roles which is something I don't notice too many horror/fantasy writers doing; horror and a lot of fantasy in this country (USA) seems lily-white except for the growing genre of zombie fiction (thanks to the inclusion of a black actor in the first Living Dead movie thanks to the director/producer).

King, on the other hand...his main female characters are Frannie, a weepy sobby pregnant girl who cares too much for the feelings of the teenage boy she travels with and doesn't take enough care of her OWN: and Nadine, a woman in her 30s who is "saving" herself for her invisible husband, the Dark Man, and who goes crazy over the course of the book. There is also the Magical Negress, Abigail Freemantle who serves as the touch stone to gather all the main characters together and who really doesn't want the job but does it anyway. Abigail is the ONLY obvious black woman in the book. When the book was cast for the miniseries, the Judge was played by a black actor. I guess someone clued King and the director into the fact that apparently only white folks were immune from Captain Trips if you go by the book. Other people could just go off and die. Which they did.

Sorry for the long post. I'm thinking out loud. Comments are welcome.
I'm going to stick this under a cut because, as the author said in her LJ, do NOT read the final 75 or so pages before the rest of the book. So, therefore, to respect the spoiler wishes of those who might read this later and don't want to stumble upon the revelations, don't read further. Trick of the Light: A Trickster Novel (Trixa)  

Here there be book spoilers. Don't say I didn't warn you. )

Conclusion: If you're a Thurman fan who loves her complex, angsty guys and want to live a little more in another area of the Cal Leandros universe, this is for you, totally and completely. Other wise...I recommend with some reservations.

See my review of Nothing but Ghosts on Hathor here. Wonderful little book.
I've got a new book review up on Hathor-not to worry, Charlaine Harris' first three books get an overall thumbs up from me (with a couple of exceptions). They were fun!

These are the books reviewed:Dead Until Dark (Sookie Stackhouse, Book 1) and Living Dead in Dallas (Southern Vampire Mysteries, Book 2) and Club Dead (Southern Vampire Mysteries, Book 3)

World War Z

Jun. 1st, 2009 08:07 pm
I finished World War Z a few days ago, and went through some of the chapters again.
I can understand why it's been optioned for a film; but I have no idea at this point where along the process it is, aside from a director having been hired. But this is Hollywood, and you never know what's going to happen.

I have to admit that the stories in the book which hit the hardest, or were the most memorable, were the ones narrated by the women. One woman tells about the ends that the people who tried to escape into Canada went to survive (let's just say, not everyone survived the dreaded Canadian winter...with their flesh intact). And then there was the pilot, now a Colonel, who swears she heard another woman over her handset radio guide her to safety...but even though the evidence says otherwise, that other woman never existed.

I thought...it was curious how Brooks had the zombie plague originate in China. There's never any guess as to *what* causes the zombies at all. That issue is never addressed. But HOW zombies spread--that's the interesting part. He inserts a doctor who talks about the illegal trade in organs, ripped from still-living Chinese prisoners, and how those transplants were part of the reason for the wide-spread appearance of zombies everywhere. Then Brooks takes his narrator to Tibet, where the largest city in the world still exists, and the human smuggler there details how the zombies spread to Africa (a popular destination for Chinese trying to escape the zombie plague).

From there, until it's admitted what the zombies are, it's called the "African rabies"!

Even though the Swine flu (remember that recent scare?) originated in Mexico, there was some furor about it being called the "Mexican Flu"--which was quickly taken back by the people who coined that term.

Other than the politics, which World War Z if rife with, the actual story of the spread, the fights, the techniques for getting rid of zombies, and how people dealt with it, and twenty years after the near-extinction of the human race how they *still* deal with it--all feels remarkably spot on for psychology. Little nation-states emerge, and are then stamped out by the army. Last Men On Earth abound. So do people who believe they ARE zombies (really, they're walking in comas).

I was disappointed by the limited number of female viewpoints in WWZ, but to be honest, that he included any at all was surprising. And that one of the women was in the military was even more surprising.

If I didn't have so many other books waiting in my TBR pile, I'd reread it more thoroughly.


May. 31st, 2009 05:45 pm
Lots of fun summer reading in one series! Read the review here.

The Enchanted Inc series of four novels is light-hearted, fun, and a great refuge for those tired of the gritty, angsty, Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance plots. I've reviewed one of the books on my LJ before, but, after having more exposure to the UF and PR genres...my god, where are all the books like this series? Where are they?

Does anyone here read Jodi Picoult books? There's a movie coming out soon, starring one of the girls from Medium called My Sister's Keeper that's based on her book of the same name.

I picked the book up for a brief skim while I was waiting in the grocery store for a prescription. In short, the book focuses on "What would happen if a child, who was expressly born to medically assist an older child, grew to the age where she didn't want to be pushed around anymore and go through any more tests, or even donate an organ?"

If I'd bought this damned book, I would have hurled it out the window and added it to my growing imaginary pile of books waiting for a bonfire.

Not because of the subject matter. No. I think the subject matter IS an interesting one. No, it's because I read the final two chapters. And I am glad I did.  Let's put it this way, without spoiling anyone who is planning on reading this piece of crap or going to see the movie:

Picoult chickens out at the end of her story. Oh, she takes it to a logical conclusion, and then pulls some Chick Lit twist shit that I find contemptible. She takes the EASY way out. She takes the emotional "heart-wringer" "twist" ending that negates EVERYTHING the title character was fighting for. And this isn't the only time she's pulled this last-minute crap in one of her books. Oh no.

She LOVES to take the easy plot out.

I just love this book. LOVE love it. Theadora of Pyrene and Ran Cormallan are possibly the best realistic nonromantic romantic pair I've ever read. And Thea's no wash-out. She's got a mind of her own, her own perspective, and her own way of seeing things. The world of Ivory is wonderfully complete.
I've got a new book review up at Hathor Legacy-- The Dead Girls' Dance by Rachel Caine
Spiral Hunt is a brand new 2009 entry into the urban fantasy field. Even the cover is different from the usual leather clad, weapon-totin', tattooed monster fighting chicklet on just about every other cover I see on the book shelves. Score one.

   See? See?  It's an Irish green, framing Boston (more on that) on the top of the cover, and the primary motif of the book below that, along with a hint of the main character (or is it?) in there, too.

Boston, as you can see from the cityscape seen across the Charles River, is a presence in Spiral Hunt. Evie, the protagonist, is a bicycle messenger, and spins her cycle to destinations all over the city. Boston, for those who don' t know it, is not that large, and very cyclable. It's big enough for several distinct neighborhoods, and those are mentioned by Evie as she finds herself going through them, or to them. It's a lot of fun for me, because I'm originally from the Boston area, and went to school in the Fenway across the street from the MFA and lived in Jamaica Plain (one of the areas Evie mentions). Unfortunately, Ronald doesn't give much *flavor* to the environs. If it weren't for the names and the knowledge of the locations, Evie Scelan could by bike messengering anywhere along the East Coast. I can see why a reader not familiar with Boston would be scratching their head and feel lost in Ronald's Boston.

The protagonist is Evie Scelan, a 29ish year old woman who earns her money riding a bike through Boston, but also by Finding things. She is even listed in the phone book as Finder. She finds misplaced cookbooks, lost dogs, lost children (tragically, sometimes), anything the owners want, she can literally sniff it out--though not exactly like a dog would, in a very similiar fashion. It's unique in the UF field for this sort of "power" of supersmell to be used, but Ronald makes good use of Irish myth and legend in the rationale for Evie's talent--which even she doesn't know exactly how it works, or what she's truly capable of.

There are plenty of women in Ronald's book. There's Rena Santestaban, a police detective and friend, and Sarah, a Wiccan who owns a magic shop (in Brookline, was it?) with some genuine magic objects in it. And then there's Katie, a little girl who's much older brother, Nathan, is interested in Evie, but not overpoweringly so. Lots of conversations that pass the Bechdel test.

Evie's adventure starts off with a strange phone call from an old boyfriend who also had magical talent. But she hasn't seen him in fifteen years, and has no idea what's going on. Shortly after, we begin to find out about the undercurrent, Boston's local magic presence and culture. So far, no elves, no fairies, no little people or leprechauns (yay!). Instead, bodies start showing up, from the past and the present, with odd lines carved or drawn into their skin and flesh. And now, Evie's friends and acquaintances are slowly being eliminated.

Worth the read--at least, it was for me, it was like a trip home, sort of.  Unlike Rob Thurman going overboard with minute metaphoric descriptions of every little thing in Cal Leandros' voice in Nightlife, Margaret Ronald goes completely in the other direction, making her setting and characters, although alive, not *living*. It's dry with the absence of sensory inputs other than Evie's magical sense of smell. It took me a long time to figure out what seemed missing, and I think that's what it is. The plotting is okay, and the story is fine, and the characters have a lot of promise. There's simply a lack of emotional connection in there for me, and I *love* Boston. I don't ask for purple prose, and I don't ask for too much description; but I do enjoy being able to feel like I'm right there in the book with the characters, It didn't quite happen for me.

It's the first in a projected series based on Evie Scelan, and I'm looking forward to them. I just hope Ronald is able to 'warm' the story up a bit and make me feel I'm back in Beantown.

Check out my new review of a female buddy book set in a Texan zombie wasteland!

"Rhiannon Frater’s self-published entry into the zombie sub-sub genre sounded good to me. It features not one, but TWO female protagonists that are a team, devoted to each other. That’s great, because with only one very new pro book out, virtually all of the zombie books I’ve seen in the stores or on Amazon are perponderously male-centric. They might have a woman or women involved in the storyline, but either they are a joke, or sidekicks, or play a conventional role."

There's more. For all of you wondering where the all the female buddy type stories have been hiding, here's one of them. Check it out!

Whew! What a ride these two books were!

Here's a link to my review of the first two books.

Madhouse (book 3): Thurman definitely set aside the overuse of metaphors and overly thick descriptions of...just about everything. She's gotten much, much better, even from Book 2.

Madhouse sees the introduction of Delilah, a smart werewolf woman with connections to the Kin (the werewolf mob) and a more intimate connection with Cal. She starts out as just a way to keep George out of his life and safe, and develops into a highly entertaining, blunt, enjoyable character who I hope sticks around for a few more books! She's awesome. (and depicted on the cover along with Cal).

There's also a female Boggle with a litter--oh boy--who is distinctly different from her mate, Boggle, who was killed in an earlier book. There's a mummy living in the basement of Metropolitan Museum (where else?). And of course, the Big Bad, Sawney Beane, a cannibal creature from Scottish lore and legend.

Madhouse, like the other entries in Thurman's series, tends to read episodically, like a TV show, within each novel, with three or four acts bookended by teasers and tags. Moonshine, book 2, was formatted the same way, and missed some opportunities: I thought the "Goodfellow" tagging along with Cal was really the *other* puck, but nope. Anyhow!

Cal learns he can make gates-tears in space-time-and use them to get away, to go to the hell the Auphe held him for two years, and uses that in the fight against Sawney. But every time he uses that newly developing power, his Auphe side churns closer to the surface. The relationship between Cal and Niko is, of course, paramount, even as they allow others into their inner circle. An entertaining, if gruesome read. This series isn't afraid of making sure the reader knows that humans are simply a convenient food source for most of the supernatural creatures featured within it. It's a VERY dark New York.

Deathwish-(book 4, just released (SPOILERS)

Here, Thurman alternates the first person point of view between Cal and Niko. It's a good thing, too--I was starting to wonder about Niko and his perfection as a Ninja fighter so great that he's even better than Cal, who's half Auphe and as deadly as they come. Thurman doesn't quite succeed in making their voices completely distinct (I would have to flip back to the chapter heading to make sure what POV I was reading sometimes--hey, I get distracted when I have my kids running around!). It was great to find out what motivates Niko, but more importantly WHY. It does fit, and does make him more understandable and human. It'd be nice if Thurman could explore his POV more often in later books, if only to make him a little more human and a little more flawed.

Cal comes into his own in this book, grows up a lot, and by the end, settles a big issue with Niko--a giant pychological issue. Hopefully, since they've both moved up a notch, and no longer have a major enemy to contend with, other developments can take place. Mainly, Cal's inner demon-monster is in danger of resurfacing in ways dangerous to him and their friends.

The story zings along, with the addition of a new character, new monsters from South America, and the loss of trust between Niko and Promise--but the final two chapters, while not exactly coming out from nowhere, felt tacked on somehow. A surprise villian shows her colors, but then--that's it. The emotional arcs played out expertly, and I tore through Deathwish in one day. The character dynamics are right there, feel psychologically accurate, they feel real (including the omnisexual Robin, who gives Capt Jack from Torchwood a run for his money!) and they're fun, if dark. If you don't like Dark Horror/Urban Fantasy, don't go near these, but if you enjoy Supernatural, but are like me and a wimp when it comes to seeing horror on the screen, this series is for you.

Thurman only gets *better* in her series, just like Jim Butcher-the current gold standard in UF. What I like most, and there's a lot to like:

A) consistent continuity from book to book, there are facts that skip one book and are mentioned two books later! Thurman treats her readers as *intelligent*! Wow, you have NO IDEA how important that is

B) the characters do change and grow, sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly and time does move on--they aren't stuck in a weird timeless well that series tend to suffer from

C) Thurman is still improving as a writer, so stylistic mistakes you see made in one book are quickly fixed in the next book.

D) interesting twists on monsters, informants and what makes and doesn't make a monster (Cal is something of the "Spock" or "Data" or better yet, the "Worf" for the series)

E) Although set in New York you virtually never meet regular humans except as spear throwers or as a chunk of meat in a monster's lair. It makes for a strange version of such a popular setting for fiction.

F) the way the books are set up, you just KNOW the ending of the series is going to end tragically. Just *listen* to the conversations between Cal and Niko, and their realizations of who's going to outlive whom, and what's going to happen then. Hopefully Thurman can live up to that "gun on the wall". It's a huge, elephant gun up on that wall.

The first thoughts I wrote out for Nightlife (book 1) of the Cal Leandros series were not all that positive. Cal's overly metaphoric, dense voice grew more and more irritating with each page, and I felt trapped within his head. That is NOT good for a first person narrative book. His brother Niko, whom he worships excessively, is a Gary Stu if I've ever read one; he is without faults and is the perfect Ninja Monster fighter.

It was a real uphill battle for me to like ANY of the characters in Nightlife, mostly because there was an emotional disconnect due to Cal's own emotional distance and lack of knowledge of himself and only surface realizations about others. He is not a perceptive nor an inquisitive individual. He has no curiosity other than (conveniently) what his brother tells him. This is a narrative ploy, of course, to avoid "As You Know Bob" expositions. But it's bleepin' irritating. More than I can tell you.

It was actually a relief (sort of) when the Darkling took over Cal and we started hearing a new voice, a new perspective. Instead of Cal's angsting and refusal to look within himself, instead the reader (me) got a head full of a self-important Bad Boy who even in Darkling persona, screws up mightily. Unfortunately, Darkling merely fulfills tons of Bad Guy cliches along the way, all the way to the Monologue.

While reading the second book, Moonshine, I realized that I started becoming more involved in the story. It took me a chapter to realize why: Thurman had slowly shed the bad habit of making Cal speak in mixed, soupy metaphors and started allowing his voice to tell the story in a more direct manner. At one point Thurman even pokes fun at Cal's metaphor habit by having him stop in midsentence and realize exactly how stupid he was sounding. Niko is, however, still annoyingly perfect in just about every way, what with a dedication to health food, mastery of swords, weapons and hand-to-hand (when did the kid find the time and the teachers to *teach* him these skills, anyhow, while he and Cal were trying to *survive*? It doesn't track), a sympathetic rich, sexy vampy girlfriend, extreme intelligence, etc etc. Oh, and a job as a teaching assistant at NYU! After only his second year there!

Somehow Niko and Cal have the time between classes, homework and grading homework, to go monster hunting, and take off for several days to Florida on the track of a MacGuffin. The absence of the local Healer with his wolf cousin was noticable. I knew it was obvious that Thurman had to get rid of him because otherwise, where would the tension have gone if the heroes rushed to him every time they got hurt? As it was, with all the blood loss and beatings these two take from the various monsters they fight and consult it's a wonder they can move at all what with all the accumulated injuries.

The relationship between the brothers is warmer, with slightly less bossiness of Niko to Cal; as a younger sister of three siblings, I'm biased to wanting to whomp any older sibling type from telling me what to do. I roll my eyes at Cal's constant "You DID know better than me!" refrains about Niko. Niko is never wrong. I would like Niko much better if he weren't so perfect and was wrong at times. He is written as omniscient, which makes him into a know-it-all, which makes him tiresome. It doesn't give him room to grow.

I came out of Nightlife thinking, sheesh, what an incredibly screwed up, unhealthy relationship these two brothers have together. I'd hoped that Thurman would explore that aspect of their relationship more--the resentments (how could Niko NOT be resentful sometimes?) and so forth. Moonshine does explore it a little more with a less quippage and fast talk between the two. I do like them better as Thurman's writing improved.

The Leandros brothers are a nice respite from the glut of female kick-butt vampire/werewolf urban fantasies out there. Their presence trades in those tropes for other tropes (and a whole lot less sexxing and a bit more story). Up until last night, I wasn't planning on buying Book 4, which just came out, but I think I'll order it from Amazon tonight. I peeked ahead and realized that Thurman did a very cruel thing to her readers: she left Book 3 on a cliff hanger. Not good form, IMO, but at least I don't have to wait to find out what happens next.

Now, if only someone would write a story involving *sisters* or *cousins* or *friends*  in a buddy-buddy relationship. That isn't catty. That isn't bitchy. That isn't "smartypants"/sarcastic all the time. In fact, my wish list of what *I* would like an Urban Fantasy to be might be another article.

Back on November 11th, John Scalzi featured this book and an interview with its author on his blog. Now, it sounded like it had a cool premise, and a very nice cover (which Scalzi featured for a few weeks on his menu side-bar), and I finally saw it and picked it up yesterday.

I didn't read the cover details before I bought it, but I guess I figured it wouldn't be a problem. It's labeled on the spine as "Paranormal Romance". I have read some good paranormal romance in my time-mostly Susan Krinard's work up until a few years ago, when it became difficult to find any new books by her.

Anyhow, onward to Red. Go ahead and read the article by the author. Now, I'll be the first to say that her premise is very cool sounding. The problem is, although the setting is set in an apocalyptic future, and there's a Romance there (or else it wouldn't earn the designation "paranormal romance", now would it?) Summers focus is mixed. I think it's a case of a story wanting to be something else, but having to fit into a romance slot. This sort of SF requires deft information dumping, and serious choosing of details. There are details about characters that really have little to do with the main thrust of the story. (get it? thrust?)

I'm editing to add this paragraph: SERIOUS rape trigger warning for this book. The very first chapter opens with the first person POV of a rapist-killer-cannibal chasing his prey, a young woman, through a forest. And it doesn't happen just the once, it happens AGAIN later on in the book. I was able to read this because unlike the movies, I can get through written rape scenes.

Summer's exposition leaves a lot to be desired, as does the world she sets her characters in. The set-up came across as an excuse for a supernatural were-wolf society in a science fiction setting. But, with her premise, Summers could have done the werewolf trope differently, since she bases it in science. But nope, it's the usual trope you can find in any one of a dozen Urban Fantasy books on the shelves these days.

The style isn't exactly easy to read as I would have expected in a paranormal romance. I don't mean simplistic, either, using small words. I mean, there was a lot of unnecessary description, adjectives and character description. I consider those to be newbie mistakes, but, looking at Summers' Amazon page she's clearly not.

Unlike in Kim Harrison's Morgan the Witch series, which I've also reviewed, I do give Summers kudos for trying to give a carry-through of what happens when a fair amount of the world has been decimated by a world war (inexplicably set in 2010) 150 years after the fact. She does try, but is hobbled by the requirements of the romance. Things happen because they Must because the two main characters are destined.

She also uses a first person point of view for one of her characters (a serial killer) in order, I suppose, to ratchet the suspense up, but that tactic doesn't succeed. I'd much rather have spent more time with the male hero and the female hero trying to figure out what was going on in a logical manner. Again, the mixing of too many genres messed the pace up. Now there's Mystery, Science Fiction dystopia AND some weird genetic engineering stuff going on as WELL as a hammer pounding into the reader about Pure Blooded humans being better than genetically engineered ex-soldiers. Or something like that. Somewhere in there is the romance.

Yeah, the book is a thematic and narrative mess, and the writing could have been tightened up a lot more, and the story made to run more smoothly by dropping the first person point of view, and focusing more on the main characters while also giving them more personality.

My other objection is the lack of logical character development with the main female character. The question posed by the author on Scalzi's blog, and on the cover of the book is, What if Red Riding Hood was *also* the wolf? Unfortunately, that's never really answered in a direct scene. We only know SHE doesn't remember ever changing into a wolf, which in this book is a bone-popping, painful experience and that's an emotional cheat. She ever experiences being a werewolf herself. She's ignorant and stupid. She's a hunter with the police of that era, given no respect in her cadre, and for heaven's sake, when you see her crying and breaking down for the Nth time, it's no wonder. She doesn't have any of the hard edges you'd expect from a military officer who kills people on a routine basis. Her personality and character simply don't track.

Would anyone like mycopy of this book? I'd like to hear other opinions. It sucks that there was a good premise not living up to its promise. I just want to be sure my estimation of it is accurate.

Thumbs up on this one. Lots of well-written female characters, a nice range of male characters who play the secondary roles, or accompanying roles. It's not a romance, even though yes, the main female protagonist ends up, in a way, with a male character. Another female protagonist might end up with a male character, also, but it's not a sure thing, and the way de Lint played their relationships in the beginning, the cards might have played differently.

The main part of the book, however, had very little to do with romance at all (thank god), and much more to do with accepting who you are, what your role is with the relationships in your life, and not paying attention to who is important. There is also a dash of redemption thrown in (but it doesn't end like you might think) and disappointments with loved ones.

de Lint throws in tons of smaller themes amongst his larger ones with a large cast of characters that wander through the book. They're all vaguely connected at first-some of them know each other only by name or reputation or mention-and they all come satisfyingly together at the climax of the book. His plot weaves many threads that, looking at the page count, it's a wonder he fit it all in the modestly sized paperback. There's enough plot there for a much latger story, but he doesn't let the plot overwhelm the characters or the story. His language is elegant, transparent, and never does he infodump. When he lets the reader know, it's when the characters find out, but it's so well-done, you hardly notice. It's all part of the organic structure of the story he's telling.

Oh yea! I should mention that the book is about the power struggle between imported land-spirits from Europe (Ireland, in this case) wanting to take over the land, and drive off the native manitou spirits of the area. The manitou barely show up; it's up to the unlikely bunch of characters in the story to defeat a rampaging, dangerous Green Man and save the local residents of the spirit world.

I'm very happy. I really like this sort of comtemporary fantasy--what used to be called urban fantasy until the paranormal romance took over the label. No covers here with bareback half-naked tatooed girls on it.



March 2017

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