Friday, November 16, 2012

And Now, for Something From August.

The slow advance into up-to-date rolls on.  Without further ado, BOOKS!

Seanan McGuire
This, friends, is the true heir to the Sookie Stackhouse throne.  It’s funny, it’s screwball comedy, and even better, it’s magic is not only well crafted and just different enough to standout, but it’s magical allegiances are shifty and full of grey area pratfalls.  For instance, our heroine’s loving cousin is also a telepathic killer who’s with the protag as much to prevent a killing spree as to provide girl time.  The romantic lead, however, is less cool.  Honestly, when it failed the sex in the first book test, I cringed, but the real problem is that he’s just not that damn interesting yet.  Maybe in the next outing.  In the meantime, I’ll root for the sex-crazed Tanuki, or the cute bakery boy as rivals.  Yes, I ship bizarrely.  So why is it still an A-?  Because, dude, a TANUKI; also a metric crap-ton of international folktale beasties and a relationship with the word “monstrous” that is constantly fluid and surprisingly meaningful.  The family supporting cast, seen only briefly, is terrific enough to inspire chants of “MOAR! More! MAOW!” and I cannot wait to see what they get up to.  Oh, and the lead character is trying to make it in the competitive world of Ballroom Dancing.  Seriously.  While helping mythical creatures/people and working as a cocktail waitress at a supernatural strip club.  It’s brilliant froth: snarky, silly, and still occasionally moving.  As an anchor to what may well be a fantastic series, I have high hopes. 

Ilona Andrews
The problem with a truly great cast of character is that, eventually, they start to need/deserve their own little spin-offs to solve their own little issues without dragging down other peoples plot lines.  The problem with these spin-offs?  They’re never quite the real deal.  In the previous Kate Daniels books, side character Andrea had a lot of plot shoved in her face, from romantic explosions, to professional crisis, to personal Gethsemane.  This book is an exciting, not-quite stand alone addition designed to deal with all of that.  It would definitely help to have read the whole prior series.  The plot is brisk, and, dear gods, sensible and adherent to its own internal logic; the stakes are high and the risk feels very real.  Also, I deeply love the different angles on the other series characters we've come to love.  Always a treat.  But the big problem is that Andrea is not Kate, and this is Kate’s world, her bombed out and magic eaten Atlanta, her magical detection/protection office, her sidekicks.  So regardless of Andrea’s unique voice, or even her own viability as a series lead, I was always somewhat disappointed not to hear KATE’s voice.  But if it weren't for that, this book would otherwise be a pretty much perfect example of how to make exciting, romantically immediate, and crisply well-written Urban Fantasy.  A must for fans of the genre, as well as fans of the series. 

Cassie Alexander
I bought this because of the premise.  A nurse—whoa-who, a new profession: detectives, mercenaries, and the magically gifted need not apply—takes a job in a crappy urban hospital to save her drug addled brother.  The catch?  This wing she works in caters to supernatural people/things and her job, even more so than the average nurse’s, is believably dangerous.  It’s a full plate of dirty needles, cranked up werewolves, creepy shapeshifters, and neo-natal drama.  And dragons.  Because, hey, what’s not better with dragons?  The main plot involves some full-on creepy vampires, who not only chart high in their yuck factor, but in their occasional humanity, that want to kill our heroine because she killed one of their own.  The drug addled brother is a real standout, as the author nails the walking disaster of having an addict in the family.  The romantic drama, however, is much less fun and why this one falls to a B+.  I do not love zombies, and find them hard to buy as “love interests,” and Edie’s sexual habits just don’t feel believable. But I have no qualms about picking up the next installment, and a good deal of hope that many of my issues are just first time author jitters.

Anne Osterlund
I quite like this author, and absolutely loved her Academy 7, so my hopes were high for this one.  A princess, a spy master’s son, an assassin on the loose, and an evil step-mother, even.  And it’s solid.  The plot moves briskly, the drama is believable in both its big and small aspects, with the family dynamics tense and complicated, and the political intrigue murky and actually intriguing.  Even the slight romance is handled with grace.  The problem is the ending.  Where our author’s skillfully realistic world can’t quite provide a happily-ever-after, but we don’t get the big fireworks the the twist ending seems to warrant, either.  So it feels like a bit of a letdown, even though it is far more believable than anything that would actually be satisfying.  Which is the ultimate bitch of being a writer.  A well crafted, internal logic-adherent world breaks in the face of what we actually want out of a reading experience in these days of Hunger Games excitement.  This is a good book, rock solid, but I still find myself suggesting that it might be for younger readers, or at least those of us not permanently jaded by the onslaught of immediate and revolutionary gratification.

Kalayna Price
I like the main plot here.  Our necromancing lead is tracking apparent suicides while all around her begin to to question her loyalties, her means to her end, and her personal choices.  The suicide inducing shade is a really fun device, and the ways this forces her to interact with her two romantic interests are novel.  But then the plot gets overburdened with unnecessary secrets.  Everyone is keeping something from someone else, and in almost all cases, they are keeping mum just to give the plot twists and trajectory.  This is supremely irritating.  Also un-fun is the way  our romantic entanglements get tanglier just Because They Need To.  Words fail to express how  %^#*ing over the romantic triangle I am, let alone the endlessly rebuilt one.  And this one is starting to prove the why of that.  Look, I get that a series has to have reversals and set-backs in order to maintain momentum; I’m just tired of the only game in town being a lead who can never quite figure out which Hot Guy she should climb into bed with.  Why can the plot not be sustained by the creepy politician dad and his obviously shady machinations?  What about the Fairy Queen?  Or Alex’s encroaching blindness as she uses her magic more and more?  How about the changing dynamic of her relationship with the police?  All of these things interest me so much more than which needlessly complicated mess of a dude she’ll pick.  I’ll still buy the next one, but it had better get more plot focused fast. 

Kate Cross
There was something so familiar about this lead character.  Her missing husband.  Her steampunk fetish jewelry.  Even the—OH, I see.  Kate Cross is the pseudonym of Kady Cross, whom we remember from last month’s The Girl in the Steel Corset, and our lead, Arden, is a dead ringer for the aunt in that novel.  Which is weird, but whatever.  I liked many things about this one: that the romance between a couple separated by years and a fake death was dealt with rather than swept under the rug; that the earlier relationship was less perfect than it first appeared; that I could buy that our leads would fall back in love with one another.  I really really liked the supporting cast, who seem more than capable of carrying this into serial land.  What I did not love was how the plot happened because plot.  Why? Because the Author Says So! was a major theme here.  Also, I like my steampunk to be steam-based, rather than magic because-it-just- is based, plus at several points the incredible silliness of Avengers type good guys/bad guys dynamic was actually giggle inducing.  It made me want to go read The Man from the Diogenes Club as a palate cleanser from the Rocky and Bullwinkle of it all.  This isn't bad by any means, but I would suggest that it’s more for the romance fans than the steampunk ones, which is a shame, because I think the author is capable of much better.

A note on Grading: on my Scale A=I might buy the hardback; B=pay trade cover price; C=get it used or from the bargain bin; D=used if you’re in to self flagellation; F=what, are you stupid?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

I'm so far Behind these are the Books I Read in July

See?  I told you I would get those reviews out.  I will behave like an adult.  I think I can; I think I can; I think I can.  Right.  Less positive self reinforcement, more book ratings!

Rhiannon Held

As we’ve learned, I love new things.  I am a frequent victim of “New! Shiny!”  I’ll own it.  And when it comes to books, I adore anything that isn’t like the rest of the mass produced crap I often, nevertheless, read.  So why am I giving an A+ to a WEREWOLF book?  Because this is functionally a reboot of the lore.  Because it involves a genuinely crazy person, with valid reasons for being crazy—and it never ever not once, tries to magic her out of crazytown.  It embraces crazytown with the same spare elegance that it rewrites werewolf tropes.  The language is effective, clear and kept me engaged.  I was not planning to pay 15$ for this slim little gem, but once I’d read the first chapter, I literally couldn’t put it down.  I walked up to a total stranger I saw reading it in a cafĂ© the next week and said “good choice,” it’s that fab.  An enforcer w/ a shady past, a mysterious threat, a damsel in distress—and yet somehow all of these things felt fresh and immediate.  Pick it up; it’s worth it.

Kate Griffin

Oh Matthew Swift, how I have missed you.  I have missed your full page descriptions of London minutia, your fabulously wrongheaded assumptions, your magic system and certainly your electric blue angels.  Nothing else in Urban Fantasy is quite like this.  If you haven’t already fallen head over heels in love with these books about how the Tube is its own form of magic and traffic wardens having the mystical power of the “Stop!” sign, do yourself a big favour and buy the first one.  They are grrrr-reat.  This time it’s more drugs, weirder drugs whose concept is so much fun, a heaping serving of violence, and plenty of folks who’d like to see our Midnight Mayor deposed or dead, though not necessarily in that order.  Also, the new assistant is fun.  Hell, it’s all fun.  Get thee to a bookstore near you!

Amanda Downum

I really like this series.  It’s twists unfold a little like the kind of origami that I just can’t quit figure out how to do, the characters grow up, wise up, and fuck up without being shamed for it, and events impact their emotional lives as well as the plot in believable ways.  The minus is mostly due to the slow start and what feels like a couple of random dead ends at the front.  But after the ½ way point it rapidly picks up pace and finishes in a muddy, morally dubious finale that is absolutely fabulous.  Because the reason I champion these books is that from the very first, the bad guys have never really been bad and the good guys have never been all that good.  Just people, trying to do the best they can in face of very large events.  This go round, the events are the world ending kind of big, rather than just political disaster type big, and our heroes are still reeling from the events of previous books—so start with the previous books!  :P

Steve Rasnic Tem

Oh, this book.  I wanted so much for this book to be a thing that it was not.  What it is is creepy, and atmospheric, and quite good.  But.  It was so self-consciously post-modern and self aware and literary that I just wanted to smack the pretension out of it.  Look, we get it, little girls growing up is scary for dads-look, a metaphor!  We get the importance of blood-look a metaphor!  We have stood under the deluge of werewolf imagery—look, a metaphor--for a while now.  It took me a long time to read this because I don’t love slogging through that sort of obviousness, but honestly, I somehow still ended up liking it.  I wouldn’t pay full cover again for it, though I’d say to buy it used.  It’s no Overlook, but the Deadfall does have some fun/creepy surprises and set pieces up its sleeve.

Kady Cross

This is a fun concept.  In steampunk England--are there any other locales for steampunk to be set in?--a girl with a split personality has a tendency to misbehave.  In the course of this, she runs into a motley group—are there any other kinds of groups?—who share many of the same issues.  Though, to be fair, the explanation of “magic” made me giggle a little and think of midiclorians.  I liked the characters, but I felt many weren’t given enough screen time, and the plot felt a bit sloppy with the villains easy to spot.  But my biggest complaint was how the “dark” half of our split heroine was portrayed: strong; quick witted; able to hold her own; funny; and someone the most enjoyable characters in the book wanted to know better.  Yet this was the evil side she had to suppress/control?  Because the good side was everything I find irritating in girls: simpering.; weak-willed; self-effacing, and nervous.  Yuck.  I get not wanting to black out; I’m on boardl with that. I just wish that the coolest part of our lead wasn’t portrayed as naughty.  But the ending was fun, and set up the next in what seems like a series nicely.  Will I pick up said sequel? Sure--used.

Jordan Summers

Ah.  And then there is this one.  In some futuristic half-assed post-apocalypse American southwest, a sexy werewolf sheriff and a cold army soldier track a serial killer while lusting after each other.  The plot is bad.  The prose is bad.  And yet, somehow, Tor published this.  A legitimate publishing house--and there are sequels.  I got nothing, except the hope that anyone can get anything published.  I tried--twice--to get through this.  I made it maybe 50 pages into bad villain POV, sloppy characterization, hackneyed plots and sketchy world building and then I just gave up.  Gave up.  It was so, so bad, that I just said I have better ways to waste my life and gave it back to the used bookstore from whence it came.  Which is how a book earns an F.  I don’t even finish.  Yeesh.  Save yourself some time and irritation and just skip this.

A note on Grading: on my Scale A=I might buy the hardback; B=pay trade cover price; C=get it used or from the bargain bin; D=used if you’re in to self flagellation; F=what, are you stupid?

I WILL Post the Book Reviews, I WILL!

Get prepared.  I WILL post the soggy backlog of books I've been reading.  It will be a glut.  It will be momentous.  It will . . . okay, probably not happen all that that fast, but it will finally happen, I'm almost sure of it.  So, to begin the begin:

Bill Willingham, et all

This, for me, is the book where Fables became Fables and I started to understand why everyone and their dog was so in love with this series.  It is fast paced, occasionally brutal, surprisingly filled with truth, and, as always, gorgeously drawn.  Puzzle pieces start dropping together and lives start falling apart.  I lurv it.  The adversary makes a move on Fabletown and our heroes/rogues/villains have to fight back while still trying to have personal lives and pay the rent.  So far, my absolute favorite in the series.  This is also a high bar to set, because a lot of plot happens here and it’s about twice as thick as the previous volume.  Which is great, but please read them in order.

Mean Seasons Vol. 5
Bill Willingham, et all

That thing I just said, about the high bar? Yeah, this is what I meant.  Most of this volume is taken up with fallout from holding off the enemy, and dealing with character development.  These are great and needful things, but I was so spoiled by how much plot and action and breathless “oh god more please now” was crammed into the previous edition that I just couldn’t help feeling a bit let down.  Still quite good though.  Note: it is also really, really sad.  Like, existentially. 

Suzanne Johnson

To be honest, I bought this book because I was curious about how it would handle the idea of a post Katrina NOLA and in this regard I feel like I made a solid purchase.  I still wish it would have incorporated more, to feed my ghoulish need to see all the mess from the view of an insider, but it felt like the sorrow and devastation were just about right.  Hmm, that sentence feels wrong somehow. :D  The plot is brisk and not as romance-heavy silly as the cover implies, and if nothing here is incredibly new, than at least it is handled well.  Characters are just southern enough without seeming like freaks or cutouts, the setting is authentic feeling and a refreshing change from the ubiquitous Seattle/Portland of most UF, and the plot is handled well, though more of a suspense than a mystery, which is fine.  This is one where the writing is good enough to make me ignore the occasional annoying romantic entanglement, or super trope-y magic system.  I would recommend picking it up used wholeheartedly. 

Bill Willingham, et all

A lot happens in these pages, don’t get me wrong, but this is also the volume where the monthly publication schedule feels hardest pushed and most irritating.  Mostly, my bitch is that it feels like set up and is massively episodic.  As it must be, to keep on that kind of schedule.  Reading a comic, even once it’s been bound into volumes, is what it is, but here I feel the disparate pull of the needs it’s trying to meet—and not always succeeding in meeting them.  Still, this is an absolute necessity for getting through the next volumes.  And it nevertheless offers more than the average of great writing, fun characters, and fabulous artwork. 

Shiloh Walker

This book.  What to say about this book?  Hmmm.  Well, to start, I should own that I picked it up because of Author Confusion.  I thought it was by Meljean Brooke, a romance author whose steampunk is shockingly enjoyable.  It is not.  My bad. 
I almost put the book down forever after the first chapter.  Because it begins in villain POV land.   Which we all know I despise.  But even worse, the POV functions as a master class on why I find them so damn squicky.  Because it is written like a Criminal Minds episode.  Vicarious violence to women, whoa-who,more, MOAR!  There is utterly no functional need for it.  It is intentionally awful.  It is also intentionally cruel, demeaning, and torture-porn titillating.  But I kept going.  Someone had recommended me this; it must get better.  And it does.  That’s the problem.  Our heroine is blind, but wonderfully functional, her love interest is believable, but still macho and fun.  Side characters set up the rest of the trilogy and seemed interesting enough to sustain it.  The mystery was twisty and enjoyable.  At the ½ point it felt like escapism romantic suspense fun.  This is why I have such a big problem: because the villain POVs came back.  What this means is that I’m supposed to consume torture porn as a part of my fun escapism.  That torture porn is fun.  No likey.  Also, at this point, characters start making stupid decisions so that the author can soapbox and/or move the plot along.  And also, the book isn’t so much a part of a trilogy as 1 book split into 3 easy payments.  But the writing, oh the writing is great.  The prose style is swift, even funny, and I loved the choice to make our lead blind without ever making her disabled.  But I will never give these books any more of my money.  Never recommend that anyone else do, either.  No matter how well they’re written, I cannot and will not condone the idea that gratuitous violence against women-1st person depictions of rape, murder, torture, and evil--should ever EVER be a part of my leisure time.  I finished this, yes I did.  And then I took a shower.

A note on Grading: on my Scale A=I might buy the hardback; B=pay trade cover price; C=get it used or from the bargain bin; D=used if you’re in to self flagellation; F=what, are you stupid?