Wednesday, March 31, 2010
You ever have one of those weeks? You know the kind....when nothing goes the way you want it to. I swear. Someone is conspiring to keep me off of the computer this week. Over the weekend my computer started acting up. It was weird. It kept randomly shutting down and I still don't know why. My husband was out of town so I decided to wait until he came home so we could have his computer guy look at it. In a way, the computer glitch was a good thing because Monday morning I woke up feeling fairly awful-- just the standard head cold, but enough to keep me from wanting to do anything. My computer didn't act up at all Monday, but I wasn't motivated to post anyway, so no big deal. And then, yesterday, my internet connection started going haywire. You wouldn't believe what I went through to post a review last night. And right now, I can't get on my laptap at all because the wireless connection isn't working at all. What. The. Heck. I think I have an idea of what's going on. We got a PS3 (finally) and every time we try to connect it to the internet it throws our system into a tizzy. It literally goes down for hours. We've never had this problem with the Wii, but our internet provider doesn't seem to like the PS3. And I'm leaving town on Friday (Vegas baby!) so this is going to be one of the worst weeks as far as posting on the blog goes. I hate that. Anyway. Bear with me while I try to sort all this stuff out. ((Update)) Got the laptop connection working but it's now almost 11:30 pm. I seriously don't have the energy to stay up until 2am again to post something meaningful. At least the laptop works....
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
"Once angelology was the center of attention in religious circles, one of the most revered branches of theology. That quickly changed. After the Crusades and the outrages of the Inquisition, we knew that it was time to distance ourselves from the church. Even before this, however, we had moved the majority of our efforts underground, hunting the Famous Ones alone. We have always been a force of resistance-- a partisan group if you will-- fighting them from a safe distance. The less visible we became, the better, especially because the Nephilim themselves had contrived to create an almost perfect secrecy. The Vatican is aware of our activities, of course, but has chosen to leave us in peace, at least for the time being. The advancements the Nephilim made under the cover of businesses and government operations made them anonymous. Their greatest achievement in the last three hundred years has been hiding themselves in plain sight. They have put us under constant surveillance, emerging only to attack us, to benefit from wars or shady business dealings, and then they quietly disappear. Of course, they have also done a marvelous job separating the intellectuals from the religious. They have made sure humanity will not have another Newton or Copernicus, thinkers who revere both Science and God. Atheism was their greatest invention. Darwin's work, despite the man's extreme dependence upon religion, was twisted and propagated by them The Nephilim have succeeded in making people believe that humanity is self-generated, self-sufficient, free of the divine, sui generis. It is an illusion that makes our work much more difficult and their detection nearly impossible." ~Excerpt from Angelology by Danielle Trussoni "There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them." ~Genesis 6:4 Mixing suspense with biblical lore proved very profitable when Dan Brown released "The Da Vinci Code" and Hollywood seems poised to try for the same success with "Angelology," which has already been the subject of a bidding war for film rights. But the success of the film-adaptation may depend on a boost from a good scriptwriter as "Angelology" does well with the theological aspects of its story but falls flat with the action sequences. Sister Evangeline, a twenty-three year old nun, has been living at the New York Convent of St. Rose since she was twelve years old. Placed there by her father after the death of her mother, Evangeline has never really questioned her place in the world and expected to live out her life in quite worship at the convent. But a strange letter from an art scholar piques Evangeline's curiosity and she begins to investigate a strange connection between the former Abbess of the convent and Abigail Rockefeller. Through letters exchanged through the two women Evangeline begins to suspect an artifact of great value has been hidden at the convent and soon begins to talk to an old nun at the convent who knows the secrets of the artifact, and why it has been hidden since World War II. Evangeline also learns that she was not placed at St. Rose by accident and that she comes from a long line of angelologists who have dedicated their lives to studying, and trying to stop the advancements of, the Nephilim; a breed of half-angel, half-human beings that have lurked in the corridors of power throughout human history. "Angelology" shines when it delves into the history of the Nephilim and the angelologists. Trussoni goes back to the time of Noah and creates a convincing mythology for the Nephilim; explaining how and why the angelic beings have moved society from the time of creation. An intriguing chunk of the book is set during WWII and explores the Nephilim influence on Nazi Germany-- and the fact that the Nazi obsessions with the Aryan ideal are based heavily on the physical characteristics of the Nephilim. Yet, as good as Trussoni is at creating a convincing history, she doesn't have Dan Brown's knack for action sequences. In fact, when action is introduced to the story, "Angelology" just falls apart. The maddening thing about "Angelology" is that it has all the ingredients to a really good book but it never comes together the right way. I like Trussoni's writing style when she is building the back-story, but the suspense has a forced feel to it. Instead of building naturally and moving toward a natural conclusion, the tension mounts only to be dispelled by one deus ex machina moment after another. In one scene, the villains just kind of go away when the character they're menacing switches train cars--kind of strange and unconvincing. I wanted to like "Angelology," and at times I did, but there were just too many weak points to the overall story for me to end up really invested in the story. I enjoyed the idea of fallen angels and how they might factor into modern society but the narrative and history falls off when the story leaves the WWII section and never regains the flow it had during that part of the book. The action sequences feel as if they were added to give the book a Dan Brown-like feel, but in the end they just kind of lumber along. Something tells me that we will see "Angelology" on film in the near future, but I predict that it will be tweaked quite a bit before it hits the big screen.
Sunday, March 28, 2010
Ack! Computer problems! My computer keeps randomly shutting down on me. I don't know if I have a virus and it may be days before I can get this fixed. I was also planning on being out of town the end of this week, so I may be offline awhile. I'll try to wrap up some contests I had ending and get a few giveaways up to make up for the time I'm gone. Freaking computer.
Friday, March 26, 2010
Thursday, March 25, 2010
Just as I promised at the end of yesterday's post, I have a giveaway featuring TWO books from Chronicles of the Necromancer by Gail Z. Martin to offer to one lucky winner. The first book is a limited edition ARC copy of The Blood King The hugely anticipated second book in the Chronicles of the Necromancer series, following The Summoner, one of the most successful fantasy debuts of the year. Outcast Prince Martris Drayke continues his quest to seek retribution and restore his father's honour. He must gather his allies and make a direct challenge to the armies of his brother, Jared. Meanwhile, Jared's mage seeks to raise the spirit of the Obsidian King, and creates an imbalance in the natural currents of magic. Tris must learn to use his powers as a Summoner to fight the forces of evil plaguing the Winter Kingdoms. "Attractive characters and an imaginative setting." - David Drake, author of the Lord of the Isles series. And the second book that will go to the winner is latest book in "The Chronicles of the Necromancer" series, Dark Lady's Chosen. Treachery and blood magic threaten King Martris Drayke’s hold on the throne he risked everything to win. As the battle against a traitor lord comes to its final days, war, plague and betrayal bring Margolan to the brink of destruction. Civil war looms in Isencroft. Finally, in Dark Haven, Lord Jonmarc Vahanian has bargained his soul for vengeance as he leads the vayash moru against a dangerous rogue who would usher in a future drenched in blood. "Just when you think you know where things are heading, Martin pulls another ace from her sleeve... believable characters move through a beautifully realized world with all the quirks, depths and levels of a real place." - A.J. Hartley, author of The Mask of Atreus The books are being offered courtesy of Gail Z. Martin herself and she has graciously offered to ship worldwide! Just add your information to the form below to enter and I will randomly pick a winner by Friday April 15th. (All information is guaranteed confidential and will be discarded once the contest is over). No multiple entries please-- all multiple entries will be discarded. Open everywhere. Good luck! **Contest Closed**
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Guest Post Featuring Gail Z. Martin: Escape This Way...Why We Love Fantasy Even More When Times are Tough
From the reports I’ve read, two book genres are the bright spots in the dismal publishing economy: Romance and fantasy. That doesn’t really surprise me, since people right now want some good news, a happy ending and a hero who conquers all. Romance and fantasy consistently deliver mostly happy endings and mostly noble heroes. There’s a clarity to the kinds of struggles faced in the majority of romance or fantasy novels. You know who the bad guy is, and you figure out a clear way to overcome the obstacles and save the day. In today’s ambiguous world, it’s often hard to figure out what or who is to blame for anything, and justice doesn’t get served up as quickly or decisively as it does on TV. My mother used to tell me stories about how she and her friends went to the movies during the Great Depression. No matter how grim the news was, she could count on the movies to lift her spirits. Nothing ever bothered Fred and Ginger, who danced along no matter what. Hollywood seems baffled about the success of recent movies like Avatar, but in light of my mother’s stories, it doesn’t seem strange to me that people weighed down by the economy, the tough job market and consumer debt want to see a movie where the good guys win. I suspect that the same is true for the romantic comedies that also seem to do well at the box office. They don’t change the world or impart the meaning of life, but together with a bag of popcorn and a Coke, they take your mind off your troubles for a few hours, which is worth ten bucks. I know that some readers, authors and reviewers prefer meatier fare. Under certain conditions, I enjoy a book or a movie that stretches my imagination, makes me think, or challenges my conscience. I like that kind of book or movie best when times are good and I’m feeling resilient, when I have some energy left over from dealing with my day. When it’s been a tough week, I want a roller-coaster action ride or a funny romp that doesn’t take a lot of heavy lifting. I want to escape. I think there’s room out there for both types of books and movies, not only in the marketplace, but on readers’ shelves. When I write my Chronicles of the Necromancer series, I want to give my readers a fantastic thrill ride. First and foremost, I want to give them a great escape from whatever’s got them down. Now for those who read carefully and are looking for it, there are some deeper thoughts slipped in between the sword fights, and some insights, perspectives and comments reflecting my own world view if you know where to look for them. So if that’s what you’re looking for, it’s there, or you can blow right by it and ride the coaster. With the current downturn, I think people have also re-evaluated how they spend their entertainment dollars. A movie in an urban area will cost you at least eight dollars, plus drink and popcorn, and it only lasts about two hours. Sporting events and live theater, even at your local high school, cost at least as much or more. On the other hand, a good book will last even a fast reader a whole evening, maybe longer, and you can read it again for free. That’s a lot of entertainment for an eight dollar paperback! So indulge. If reading a romance or a fantasy adventure gets you past all the bad news on the TV, the bills in the mailbox and the baby with colic, then read on. Don’t worry about whether it’s “significant.” Just enjoy. And to the experts and reviewers who who insist that everything be world-changing and gestalt-altering, mind-blowing content: relax. Just ask yourself, what would Fred and Ginger do? They’d keep on dancing. So dance on. Gail Z. Martin, is the author of the Chronicles of the Necromancer series published by Solaris Books. Be on the lookout for an upcoming giveaway featuring Martin's latest book, Dark Lady's Chosen!
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
This Middle-Grade level book is a sequel to Delia Sherman’s Changeling, but from my own experience with this second book – it’s not a requirement that you have read the first book to enjoy The Magic Mirror of the Mermaid Queen. This book series is an Urban Fantasy for the younger set – the hidden fairy/mystical world hidden within our own, inhabited by creatures just beyond our own mortal perceptions. The main character of this series, Neef, is a Changeling (I assume able to manipulate her form in some way, though her power was never used in this book) who is also a mystical guardian of Central Park in New York City. There are mystical guardians for neighborhoods all over New York City (and presumably all over the world) – and these guardians are all taught how to use their powers at Miss Van Loon’s School for Mortal Changelings. Neef begins attending classes for the first time at the beginning of this book, meeting new friends as well as school bullies and odd teachers. One of the major plot points are the hundreds of rules you must learn and abide by while attending school – how do the students work around those rules without getting into trouble (and winding up expelled). On top of all that, something is wrong in Central Park - a Mermaid who lives in New York Harbor is magically attacking the park. She had a run-in with Neef in the previous book, and now that her Magic Mirror is missing, she blames Neef (and therefore is attacking her home). So, Neef needs to go on a quest to retrieve the Magic Mirror – but first that requires her to get a permission slip from the school – which is no easy task. But with the help of her friends, and even the conversion of a former bully into a new ally, Neef succeeds in making everything right again by the end of the book. There are things that I really liked about this book, and then there were things that were just way too familiar. You can already probably see the parallels to Harry Potter in the descriptions of odd teachers and strange rules as well as odd quests. About the only thing that sets this part of the book apart from the Potter series is that this entire book only takes place in the first two months of the school year – with the finale taking place on Halloween. So conceivably any number of future books still might only take place during Neef’s first year at school. On the other hand, I really liked the between world – this place that normal people can’t see, that exists parallel to our own. Sure even this has been used before, but often it’s little more than window dressing – here it’s a major part of the plot. That world is divided up and constantly in a state of forming alliances and adversaries – and those things affect the real world (plants that won’t grow or areas that wind up as ‘bad’ neighborhoods). And Neef is a little like Alice in Wonderland – she’s new to this world, so everything that’s odd to the reader is also odd to her – bridging the character to the reader, which is probably necessary in a middle-grade book.
Ultimately The Magic Mirror of the Mermaid Queen isn’t terribly original, but it’s a very accessible book and an enjoyable read, even for an adult. I never thought the book talked down to its intended audience, and suspect it would be well liked by Middle-Grade readers. Unfortunately, there isn’t quite enough for me to recommend it to adult readers – you’ll find more interesting YA books for your taste elsewhere.
Posted by Jim Haley at 3/23/2010
Sunday, March 21, 2010
Over ten years ago Anne Bishop's first entry in the Black Jewels trilogy was released and many readers were captivated by her rich fantasy that cast Saetan, the High Lord of Hell, as a heroic character. But time has mellowed Bishop's characters and Shalador's Lady, the eighth book in Bishop's Black Jewels series, reads more like a Harlequin Romance than a dark fantasy. The Black Jewels series is based on a unique mythology that uses familiar names from The Bible-- though they are given their own twist for this particular fantasy. The original series followed the story of Saetan, his sons Daemon and Lucivar, and Jaenelle-- the most powerful Queen to ever live-- also known as Witch. The society is caste based and much of the hierarchy is drawn from the jewels each witch or warlord wears in addition to their birth rank. The original trilogy was a dark, Gothic fantasy that could be both violent and romantic. But once the story reached its climax, it also lost most of its tension. "Shalador's Lady," the eighth book in the series, is the second book the follow the story of Lady Cassidy; a light jeweled Queen who has been chosen to rule the land of Dena Nehele. Cassidy has never been a powerful Queen and suffered the abandonment of her first court due to the machinations of a younger, darker jeweled Queen. And though she has settled into a new life in Dena Nehele, she doesn't have the full support of Theran Greyhaven, the heir to the territory she currently rules. And when a former rival shows up unexpectedly, Cassidy is sure she will be abandoned by her court once again. There isn't a lot of real excitement or drama to "Shalador's Lady." It's a sweet book with likable characters, but it's like a "light" version of the original series. Many of the same characters are brought back, including Saetan, Daemon and Jaenelle, but you get the feeling that they're really there for nostalgia's sake. In fact, the whole book seems to have been written for the fans, and perhaps the author, who are loathe to leave the world Bishop created. Most of the book is taken up with a series of minor misunderstandings and manufactured drama just so we can see Cassidy finally have her happy ending. It's fun to revisit old characters, but I miss the bite of the earlier books.
Thursday, March 18, 2010
I have a lot of books. Seriously. Since I've started reviewing I've accumulated hundreds of books that are sent to me by various publishers to review. Sounds great doesn't it? Okay. It is. But for all my good fortune I also feel the tug of guilt on a daily basis that I haven't even come close to getting to all the books I said I'd try to review. I'm lucky in that I'm sent a lot of stuff that I'm not obligated to review-- and those don't leave me with that feeling in my gut that tells me I haven't lived up to my word. I have lots of excuses: the newest of which is that I have a monthly obligation to read new arrivals for the Sacramento/San Francisco Book Reviews; which is a legit reason. But oh the agony of those guilty feelings. On top of that-- and something tells me you'll all be able to relate to this-- I have those books on my shelf that everyone tells me I should read. You know, the critically acclaimed ones. Not necessarily the classics, but books that everyone raves about but you can't quite get into. So, just for the heck of it, I'm going to list the books that stare at me from the bookshelves. The ones that I keep telling myself: next week. I'll read that one next week for sure. In no particular order. The Last Realm: Dragonscarpe by Pat Mcnamara, Gary Turner, Michal Dutkiewicz I got this book quite a while ago and it's HUGE. Coffee-table sized. I know this could not have been cheap to produce and then give away. But my goodness, this is a tough one to sit and read (I don't have a coffee table and it's a bugger to put in your lap) and it's not exactly portable. I even forget I have it because it doesn't sit on my regular bookshelf. It's one that sneaks up on me. Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson I picked this one up on a whim. I've seen mention of Stephenson's work all over the net and it seems as if he's the guy you read if you're the cerebral type. His books aren't just book, they're tomes. (Doorstops like a Stephen King book, only much more complex). I actually thought this seemed really interesting, but not something I had the time to devote myself to. Though I do occasionally wonder if I'm just being intellectually lazy. Perdido Street Station by China Mieville China Mieville is one of those authors that I hear a lot about. He seems to be regarded very highly-- almost reverently. I tried to read "Perdido Street Station" and...well.. it seemed weird to me. I don't know if it's a style thing or if I'm just not very sophisticated. Couldn't get into this at all. A Madness of Angels by Kate Griffin This is one of the very few books that I reminded the publisher when it didn't arrive. (I didn't solicit the book, but had been told it was coming). I read about half, was scheduled to review it when it got bumped from the print edition and it has lingered in online-only hell for a while. This one is tough to put down and then go back to. Good book but has a lot going on and my memory isn't what it used to be. The Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie I don't get a lot of books from Pyr Books, so I hate to appear ungrateful and not review their books. And I really wanted to read this when I got it. But Joe Ambercrombie has a very strong style when it comes to his writing and it's definitely a 'mood' thing with me. His characters are direct and profane and that was somewhat refreshing at first. But by the third book I was craving some subtlety and ended up letting this one linger. I hear it's really good though. Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson This isn't a book I have to read. But I've read so many rave reviews about this series that I feel like I have to or I'm going to be kicked out of the fantasy literature in-crowd. And I have a confession to make. I've tried to read it three times. Each time I get a little farther but it I never quite make it to the end. Why? Why can't I like this like everyone else? Is there something wrong with me? Truancy Origins by Isamu Fukui This one doesn't quite give me the guilt trips the other ones do because I did a giveaway featuring this title--so it got some love. I'm not a big YA reader. I like Harry Potter, but not much else in that category really holds my attention. I was scheduled to review this one but it ended up getting bumped from the print addition due to space constrains and it went to the online-only pile and has stayed in scheduling hell ever since. The Mirrored Heavens by David J. Williams This is a really cool book. This is one of the few that the author personally contacted me about and I've just been lazy about finishing it. Sci-fi isn't as compelling to me as fantasy, so I'm easily sidetracked when I get a sci-fi title. No excuse though... Witch Ember by John Lawson This is the only self-published book in my pile o' shame and I've had it for awhile. I tried to read it and was confounded by the glossary-- it's a big one. But there's real quality in John's work and I owe it to him to go back to this and finish it. John's also a really, really good guy who doesn't give me a hard time about how long I've been sitting on his books. Acacia by David Anthony Durham This one gets to me a lot. Maybe more than any other book on my list. I read at least a third of the way through "Acacia" before I was forced to put it down because I had another book on my schedule that had to be reviewed and I liked it-- a lot. But it's a very detailed book. Very deep in its themes and when I tried to pick it back up I wasn't able to followed the storyline that well; so I put it down in favor of another book that I could quickly read and review and never got back to it. I'm not sure why I feel guilty about not reading it and then don't pick it up. I think it's because I feel like I have to give it my undivided attention but just don't have the time. I'm weird. The Court of the Air by Stephen Hunt I got this one at least a year ago. It's a beautiful book and I read the first few chapters. When I got it I really wasn't familiar with steampunk as a genre and was kind of confused at the overall style. It wasn't until I eased into steampunk with "Clockwork Heart" by Dru Paglissotti, "Darkborn" by Alison Sinclair and later "Boneshaker" by Cherie Priest that I began to understand the technology and Victorian settings that are so common to the genre. Since then I've been itching to get back to this book, but keep getting sidetracked. Boilerplate by Paul Guinan and Anina Bennett This book is soooo cool. I am constantly telling myself that I am going to get to this one soon. Then I forget. It's over-sized so it's on my bottom shelf and I don't give that shelf enough attention. Plus I've only recently gotten most of my books off of the floor (my husband bought me two more bookshelves last weekend) so I don't have many excuses left since I can see it now. As I write this, I realize this could end up being a really long list. I've been looking at the bookshelves I have downstairs and these are the ones that pop out at me right away. But then I remember I have two shelves upstairs that I can't look at right now or I'll wake up my husband. I'm almost afraid to guess at how many will I'll spot up there when I look tomorrow. So, to give myself a distraction, I'll ask you what sits on your pile o' shame.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Sorry I don't have a 'real' post up today. I had to replace the keyboard on my laptop today and lost some computer time. But I do have a nice giveaway up featuring a copy of "Directive 51" by John Barnes. Be sure to CHECK IT OUT
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Prince Naveen: You know, waitress, I finally figured out what is wrong with you. Princess Tiana: Have you, now? Prince Naveen: You do not know how to have FUN. There. Somebody had to say it. Princess Tiana: Thank you, 'cause I figured out what your problem is too. Prince Naveen: I am... too wonderful? [the branch Tiana was holding smacks him backwards] Princess Tiana: No, you're a no-count, philandering, lazy bump on a log. Prince Naveen: Ahaha... [fakes a cough] Prince Naveen: KILLJOY. Princess Tiana: What'd you say? Prince Naveen: Ah, nothing. [fakes another cough] Prince Naveen: STICK IN THE MUD. Princess Tiana: Listen here, mister. This stick in the mud has had to work two jobs her whole life while you've been sucking on a silver spoon chasing chamber maids around your - your ivory tower! Prince Naveen: [glances away] Actually, it's polished marble. ~From Disney's The Princess and the Frog I'll admit it; I'm a sucker for Disney princess movies. I tried to take my kids to see "The Princess and the Frog" a few months ago but it was sold out. We ended up having to see "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakel;" which will likely go down as one of the worst movies I have ever seen. I'm still embarrassed for Wendie Malick, but I digress as usual. Disney released "The Princess and the Frog" last year to surprisingly little fanfare; especially considering that the movie features the first black princess. Based loosely on the novel The Frog Princess, the movie follows the story of a young waitress named Tiana who dreams of opening her own restaurant; a dream she inherited from her father. But achieving that dream isn't easy in 1920's New Orleans no matter how many job Tiana works or how many jars of pennies she saves and her dream is in danger of slipping through her fingers. Naveen, a handsome prince from Maldonia, arrives in New Orleans looking for a wealthy bride. Charming, but lazy, Naveen has been cut off from his inheritance and he's looking for a woman to fund his extravagant lifestyle. And the perfect woman appears in the form of Tiana's best friend Charlotte, a wealthy heiress who has been dreaming of marrying a prince since childhood. It doesn't take long for Dr. Facilier, a voodoo master, to eye Naveen and his put-upon servant Lawrence as a means to use them both to get at Charlotte's money. By casting a voodoo spell on Naveen and Lawrence, Dr. Facilier turns Naveen into a frog and gives Lawrence the appearance of the young prince and promises of wealth and importance if he'll cooperate with his devious plot. A series of misunderstands brings Naveen and Tiana together and Naveen convinces Tiana to kiss him in hopes of breaking the spell. But the kiss, rather than turn Naveen back into a human, turns Tiana into a frog. "The Princess and the Frog" is very old-school Disney. The plot is something of a boiler-plate with the spunky female lead, the slightly clueless male lead and a host of talking creatures, but it still works. Stylistically it reminded me a lot of "Hercules," (the musical numbers featuring the Muses comes to mind) and it seemed like Disney remembered what made it's previous films so enjoyable. Tiana is a great character for little girls; right up there with Belle and Mulan (my personal favories). Determined to succeed through hard work, Tiana faces challenges head on and never looks to anyone else to make her feel complete. And while it wouldn't be a Disney princess film without the romance, Tiana never has to sacrifice a part of herself to get her prince and I like that. Like all Disney films it'll make you laugh and maybe even jerk a few tears out of you and it's a genuinely sweet story. This will definitely end up on my list of favorites.
Monday, March 15, 2010
Sunday, March 14, 2010
Once upon a time, a long long time ago, it was said you should avoid talking about religion and politics with people you just met. It was a no no at parties and certain suicide on a first date. Maybe it was the radicalized culture of the 60's that began dropping the barriers. The most noticeable bits of political content that I've noticed seeping into mainstream entertainment seemed to focus on issues with a feminist or anti-war bent-- and those topics seem to still resonate heavily today. But nowadays it seems as if you have to turn off the television, put down your books and skip movies altogether if you want something that isn't going to hit you over the head with a bias of some sort. I have no particular issue with politics in my entertainment. It would be impossible to ignore current issues if one wanted to be relevant or topical-- especially in cinematic entertainment. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. What brought this to mind was a book I was reading recently that had been glowingly reviewed on another site. I thought it must be exceptional so I paid a little extra for it since it happened to be an import. And the book was okay to a point, but once the author decided to add some ham-handed politics to the mix, I was stopped cold. Let me set the scene for you: The protagonist of the book has just been widowed and is in the process of realizing that her husband had a secret life she knew nothing about. Tagging along while her husband's brother tries to solve the mystery they end up at a science lab to interview a scientist who had collaborated with the deceased. They barge into the building and go right up to the lab area and casually stand outside the lab door just in time to see the evil scientist do evil experiments on fuzzy little bunnies. Sigh. Really? Now, I'm not invested in a pro or con animal rights message in a story. What I'm against is a completely nonsensical sequence of events just to inject a personal bias into a story. The scene was meant to characterize the scientist as a villain but it was gracelessly done. Given the antagonistic culture of animal-right politics these days, I can't credibly believe that anyone could casually walk into any such lab. The incongruity of the scene made my interest in the story come to a screeching halt. And that seems to be the crux of the problem when trying to fuse politics and entertainment. Regardless of bias there is a good probability that you're going to offend at least half of your audience and the current crop of "message" movies that have been both box-office hits and misses are an excellent example of what works-- and what doesn't. Take "Avatar." Most reviews describe "Avatar" as anti-military, pro Gaia, with a dash of white-man's guilt thrown in. And it's a MONSTER hit. Does that mean James Cameron's politics mirrors that of everyone who sees the movie? Absolutely not. What it means is that the other aspects of the film, specifically the stunning visuals, are so compelling that the political content is irrelevant. Even if you vehemently disagree with Cameron, so the reviews say, you'll probably still like the movie. That takes talent. Contrast that with Green Zone, the newest Matt Damon, Paul Greengrass collaboration with a strong anti-Iraq War vibe. The $100 million budget film is sitting on a 48% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes and a $14.5 million open that has been characterized as "poor" by the studio that released it. Some say that audiences just aren't into Iraq War films-- and the performance of other films with the same theme like "The Kingdom," "Rendition" and "Body of Lies" (which came in behind "Beverly Hills Chihuahua") back up that theory. But it has also been widely reported that "The Green Zone" primarily suffers from a ridiculous script and an overwhelming use of the shaky cam. Maybe I'm being bold to suggest it, but I think the success of the "Bourne" films may have convinced the director that audiences could be spoon-fed anything in a similar style and audiences would eat it up. Clearly movie-goers are more sophisticated than Hollywood gives us credit for. And television certainly brings politics to the mix as well. "Battlestar Galatica" drove some people crazy with the "one God" storyline. Mostly the core audience stuck with the show but I'm betting most viewers would have voted to tone down the cylon obsession with God. "Caprica," the spin-off series, seems determined to intensify the oppressiveness of the theme and rumor has it that the show is on the verge of cancellation because viewers are leaving in droves. Oddly, I'm not certain whether they're trying to make a statement that's for or against religion, which is a tact I normally root for. But the show seems to have a religious fixation--to the detriment of other storylines-- and I believe that is what viewers are finding objectionable. I wonder if that will have an impact on "V" since they have been very bold in correlating their plot with the very identifiable premise of "hope and change" that swept through American culture in the last couple of years. Whether you like where "V" is going, you gotta respect the risk they've taken in going down that road; though it may not be profitable in the long run. Politics, no matter the flavor, is always going to tricky to incorporate into entertainment. Personally I think an even-handed approach is always the way to go. Shows like "The Simpsons" prove that being an equal-opportunity offender can allow you to have a 20-year run. So, while I don't want my favorite authors/directors etc. to shy away from political content, I love to walk away from my entertainment not knowing where they really lean on any issue. Give me strong female characters without slinging feminist mottos. Feel the need to include a gay couple in your cast? Great. Just don't try to convince me that every other person in every random situation also happens to be gay (a recent book I read did this) because it isn't believable. And maybe avoid using the Iraq War at all. I'm no expert but that doesn't seem popular no matter what you do. Even the Academy Award winner "The Hurt Locker" couldn't sell tickets. Though they did get a pretty statue for their efforts...So what do I know? Well, what I think I know is this. My favorite movies walk a fine line. "The Dark Knight" has been embraced by conservatives even as others argue that that kind of interpretation is just silly. James Bond can throw in some politics here and there, as is appropriate given the occupation of the main character, and still be politically incorrect-- to my everlasting delight. I've read opinions that say "Iron Man" is both pro and anti military. Fabulous. Does it take a genius to notice that the best way to handle politics is to let the viewer project their own bias into the mix thanks by keeping it ambiguous? Seems like a no-brainer to me.
Thursday, March 11, 2010
The third book in Susan Beth Pfeffer's series of young adult post-disaster novels, This World We Live In attempts the daunting task of bringing together characters from the previous books (Life As We Knew It and The Dead and the Gone). At that task, it succeeds with flying colors and provides another character-driven novel in world gone horribly wrong. Miranda and her family have survived the worst after the moon was knocked into a closer orbit around the Earth by a meteor, but they're not out of the woods yet. Food is scarce, electricity is on-again-off-again at random, and the sudden arrival of Miranda's father and stepmother, and a few unexpected guests, is making things more difficult. But with these new guests is Alex Morales (The Dead and the Gone), and soon Miranda and Alex find themselves in conflict with their growing feelings for one another and the harsh reality that is their future in a world brought to its knees by nature. Much like Life As We Knew It and The Dead and the Gone, This World We Live In captures the essence of family in all the right ways. Miranda's family is an amalgam of the kinds of families we see in the world today (here in the West, anyway): we have the divorced parents, the stepmother, the turmoil between brothers and a daughter in a world no longer founded upon the same equal opportunity we take for granted today, the injection of other people into the social stratum of the family unit (much as friends become members of the family, even though they aren't). Pfeffer continues to make family, social structures, and character the central focus of her novel, despite being set in an future where one could have a heyday with action and violence. Her characters are (still) flawed, and yet lovable regardless. We might not like the way they all act from time to time, but throughout the narrative (and the series as a whole) we come to understand how humanity often needs copious amounts of time to properly adjust to a catastrophic event. In a way, I can't help seeing the analogy between the Great Depression and Pfeffer's out-of-place-moon future, where mankind is thrust into awful situations where even those who were moderately fortunate before are forced to change against strict, horrible social/cultural/physical pressures. Perhaps that is what makes This World We Live In, and the previous two novels, engaging and real. It's not Doomsday or I Am Legend, but an unintentional response to that kind of action-focused post-disaster genre--a response that seems to work without becoming preachy or too geared towards a particular gender or age group (even though it is a young adult novel). It would be pointless to sit here repeating what I have already said about this series. This World We Live In is as much a thrill to read as the previous two novels, and much of the praise I have for this latest edition can be found in those previous reviews (here and here). The epistolary format continues to work surprisingly well, the characters are surprisingly human (they irritate, they amuse, and they make good and bad decisions), and the ambiguity of the ending is both a warm, if not morbid, moment, and a reminder of our fragility as a species. Hopefully Pfeffer will show us more of this world, either through the eyes of her previously established characters, or via the introduction of new characters from entirely different situations (it would be interesting, for example, to see how the richest people of the world are coping with the "end of the world"). We'll see. The only recommendation I have for anyone interested in this novel (besides the obvious suggestion of picking it up and reading it) is not to read the back cover. This may be isolated to the uncorrected proof I received for review, but the synopsis on the back cover of my edition essentially gives away the ending. Don't read it. If you want to learn more about This World We Live In, head on over to Harcourt. The novel is due for release in April on Amazon or anywhere you buy books. Susan Beth Pfeffer can be found on her blog.
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Tuesday, March 09, 2010
Most of you probably remember Daniel Wallace as the author of Big Fish, which was eventually turned into a fantastic movie staring Ewan McGregor. Fans of Big Fish will likely get the same sense of enjoyment from Ray in Reverse. I found this book on a bargain shelf at Books-a-Million and decided to read it. You'll see why I'm glad I did. Ray in Reverse is a downright strange narrative with a unique and stunning conclusion. Ray Williams is dead and in heaven, where support groups collect people together to discuss various aspects of their lives. But Ray is in the Last Words group, where everyone is discussing the last things they said before death, and embarrassment is setting in: Ray's last words weren't all that interesting, let alone complete. What follows is a chronologically reversed narrative about Ray's life, starting from old age and taking leaps further and further back in time to his childhood, before finally returning back to Heaven. We learn about his triumphs and failures, his wants and desires, and, most of all, the kind of man he came to be through all the trials and tribulations of life. Daniel Wallace has a pension for telling strange and engaging stories. I only saw the movie for Big Fish, but much of the magic and wonder that made that movie shine is also at work in Ray in Reverse. While the narrative does leave many questions open to speculation, the way Wallace has tried to capture the essence of a man, rather than the brilliance of a plot, is something worth noting. The narrative cannot possibly capture every moment in Ray's life to put together some sort of cohesive plot, but it can look into what makes Ray tick, and does so to great effect. We see Ray's life in glimpses in much the same way that we remember the most vivid moments of our pasts in glimpses. Certain memories stick out for us--just as they do for Ray--and when you put them all together they paint a unique picture of you. Ray's backwards motion glimpses do just that, and, by the end, we start to understand who he is, especially in terms of his faults. We also come to understand why the beginning of the novel is so prescient: Ray is the everyman looking back upon himself and wondering, "Who am I?" Ray as everyman is a key thing to note about the novel. He's not perfect--not by a long shot. Ray cheats, thinks ill of other people, and succeeds and fails in much the same way that all of us do. Wallace doesn't pull punches for Ray, because to do so would take away from Ray's tragic, yet painfully average life. Flawed characters are strong characters. I think this is part of what makes the novel so enjoyable to read, because it takes what is so normal and everyday and makes it glamorous in its normality and flaws, for good or for bad. Wallace has a knack for doing just that, because even Big Fish has that kind of normality-turned-to-glamorous feel. Wallace's adept storytelling, however, makes difficult for me to find fault with this novel. On the one hand, I loved the way the narrative was pieced together with glimpses; on the other hand, the glimpses also left a few too many holes for my liking, leaving me with a lot of questions at the end. But, at the same time, those questions are part of how the ending comes together, because even Ray is questioning his life. It's a Catch 22 for a reader, I suppose. Regardless, perhaps a few more glimpses could have made for a more rounded picture, but only if doing so wouldn't detract from the ending. Needless to say, I loved Ray in Reverse. Ray is memorable, the structure of the narrative and the two Heaven scenes framing it make for a fascinating and engaging read, and the everyman has, finally, a little magic attached to the title. Hopefully we'll see more of Wallace in the future. For now, we have Big Fish and Ray in Reverse (and, apparently, a couple other novels I've never heard of before). Ray in Reverse can be found on Amazon or your local bookseller. If you'd like to learn more about Daniel Wallace, visit his website.
Monday, March 08, 2010
When you go to your mailbox, you expect to find one of three things: bills, things you bought or requested, or garbage. Imagine my surprise when I opened my mailbox and found a package with a book in it that I not only didn't buy, but also didn't request. Who sent it and for what purpose? Such is the story of how I came to read the third book in Amanda Lorenzo's children's series, Runt Farm. Clovis Escapes (the title of the third book) begins with a precarious situation: Clovis has been imprisoned by the NAARF, an evil organization manned by humans and weasels which takes pleasure in imprisoning the cute and fluffy critters that make up the Runt Farm family. When a letter is smuggled out of NAARF, the Runt Farm family swings into action, sending their trusty bunny companion, Beatrice, to mount a rescue. Clovis Escapes is less a novel than a collection of short moral tales for children. Upon further investigation, it seems that the mission of the author is to create a series of fun and fantastical books for kids that portray more of the mixed and unique families that make up the world we live in today (at least from a Western viewpoint, but that's my commentary, no hers). With that goal in mind, I think she succeeded. The Runt Farm family is a mixed bag of characters, all with little individual personalities (albeit, undeveloped ones, since this is both a series and a book for kids), and all of different animal species (which some might consider to be a little arbitrary). One of its flaws, however, is that each "chapter" (or story) has some sort of moral to portray and does so a little. On the one hand, Clovis Escapes' focus on mixed families is a noble mission; on the other, it leaves out a cohesive narrative for a hodgepodge of stories, some of which are related to the initial premise, and some which are not. The focus on morality at the expense of character development, even in a children's book, makes for a novel that is a little too aware of the fact that it is discussing morality. For example, the middle story, which tells about the wrongs of stealing identities (to purchase cheese), is quite point blank about its message, but, in the process, spends far too little time discussing the consequences or the solution in a way that sets right the wrong being committed. I get that it's for kids, but it's not for the age group that reads Dr. Seuss; this novel is for slightly older children (6-10), an audience that isn't all that interested in being preached to. Having said the above, I do think there are some noticeable positives. First, the characters are, despite the flaw in the storytelling, quite cute and enjoyable. Beatrice, the rabbit, and even Clovis, the initial plot point of the novel, are each easy to engage with and fun to read. Second, the illustrations are gorgeous. Mark Evan Walker provides a series of pencil-style drawings throughout the book; their inclusion makes the interior and the cover come to life in the way picture books do. I sometimes wish more books for younger kids had these kinds of images, and hopefully this is the sort of thing that exists throughout the series. Seeing how I haven't read the earlier books in the series, I can't say whether there is an overarching narrative or improvement over previous books. I do think that, despite Clovis Escapes' flaws, it would be a fun and silly book to read to your kids, but that all depends on whether you're interested in morality tales or stories with other goals. One thing is for sure: a focus on diverse families in children's literature is a good idea--hopefully we'll see more of it in the future. The Runt Farm series is available on Amazon or through your local bookseller. If you'd like to learn more about the author, artist, or series, visit their website.
Let me just confess up front: I don't watch the Academy Awards. I haven't been interested in years. When I was a kid there was still a certain glamor to the biggest award show in Hollywood. It was also a time in which I had actually heard of most of the films nominated. Looking back at years past the Academy Awards looked a lot different than they do today. Take 1988-- a year I picked at random-- and you've got "Rain Man," "The Accidental Tourist," Mississippi Burning," "Working Girl" and "Dangerous Liasons;" almost all of which I saw before the awards show. Compare that list with this year: "The Hurt Locker," "Avatar," "Precious," "The Blind Side," "District Nine," "Up," "Up in the Air," "An Education," "A Serious Man," and "Inglourious Basterds;" how many of those titles had you not even heard of prior to this awards season? Not every year is all about vehicle movies. But more often than not the biggest grossing films are generally not in contention for Hollywood's biggest prizes. And science fiction & fantasy have long been the neglected stepchildren of the movie business despite their huge audience appeal. Just last year "The Dark Knight" was snubbed for an Oscar nomination while being regarded by many as being, far and away, the best movie of the year. When the nominations were announced the oft-repeated meme was that genre films don't get awards; specifically science fiction. Science fiction and Hollywood do have a strange relationship. Producers and directors know that scifi is the go-to genre if you want to make money. The top ten list of the top grossing movies of all time is virtually all scifi/fantasy-- with the sole exception of "Titanic." In fact, take a look at the top 50 highest grossing films-- there are very few movies on that whole list that don't fit into the scifi/fantasy category. "Avatar" now sits on top of the list with over 2 billion dollars in gross revenue. That's almost 1 billion dollars over the next film on the list-- which just happens to be "Titanic;" another film by James Cameron. King of the World indeed. While there are a few top-grossing films that have received award recognition only one, "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King," took home the award for best picture. Why is that? It's hard not to feel a bit disgruntled, as a fan of science fiction and fantasy, that the genre I love is so overlooked. It's as if the sheer popularity of the genre is the reason it's so disparaged. One has to wonder if the Hollywood elite recoil from entertainment that has such broad appeal. If you look at the vehicle movies the crop up award awards season you see films that make very little money. "The Hurt Locker," this year's winner is going down as the lowest grossing film to every win for best picture. It seems as if you and I like a movie, well, we must not be that sophisticated. That isn't to say that "Avatar" should have won this year simply due to it's tremendous success. As I have said before, I am one of the very few people out there who still has not seen the film. I have probably read too many reviews that say "Avatar" is little more than a visual spectacle. I've seen, and posted, parodies of "Avatar" that compare it to "Pocahontas" and "Fern Gully." So maybe it wasn't the best film on the list of nominees. But how could I know for sure? I'm biased. I get that. But I suppose most moviegoers are biased as well since the films we like rarely match up with films the movie industry recognizes. Sure science fiction is good for awards in costuming, cinematography and art direction, but it is seldom recognized beyond that. I could get further into the nitty-gritty behind the reasons "Avatar" lost to "The Hurt Locker." Heaven knows there has been a plethora of articles on the subject today. But I wonder if "Avatar" was doomed from the get-go due to the genre and the final nail in the coffin was its huge popularity? Or maybe I'm just bitter "The Dark Knight" never got the recognition it deserved.
Sunday, March 07, 2010
I was never a fan of the original "Alice in Wonderland." It wasn't as psychedelic as "Fantasia," but it still never fit my perception of what Disney animation was supposed to look like. I suppose I was too busy looking for the singing princess and the forest-animal companions to appreciate the Cheshire Cat. But when I heard that Tim Burton had decided to remake the old classic, I began to rethink my prejudices toward the strange tale. I thought Burton's colorful, twisted vision just might be a good fit. Taking a chance on the PG-rating, I decided to take my kids, with a couple of their friends to a 3D showing of the film-- and promptly discovered that I am not a fan of 3D. But more on that in a minute. Opting for a continuation of the original story, Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland takes place well after Alice's original trip down the rabbit hole. Now a young woman of 19, Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is still haunted by dreams of her trip to Underland as a child. Convinced she is suffering delusions, Alice is often sleep deprived and somewhat sickly. But that doesn't stop the unwanted attention from a rich suitor who corners Alice in front of a crowd of high-society types as he proposes marriage. Seeking a distraction from her predicament, Alice chases after a white rabbit she has seen lurking on the fringes of the party she is attending. And just as she did when she was a little girl, Alice falls down the rabbit hole into another world. Soon after she arrives in Underland Alice discovers that the world's inhabitants have been awaiting her return because it has been foretold that Alice will slay the Jabberwocky and defeat the Red Queen once and for all. Alice is quick to assure the inhabitants of Underland that she is not "that" Alice but she is swept up in the battle between the White and Red Queens against her will. The story is really very straightforward. The Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) is tyrant who repeatedly reassures herself that it's better to be feared than loved and rules accordingly. Fond of yelling "off with their head!" she is quick to take offense at any slight and is rather sensitive when it comes to her own very, very large head. The White Queen (Anne Hathaway) is the benevolent ruler who vows to never hurt a living creature and seeks a champion to fight for her and return the kingdom to her control. The Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp--looking like a deranged Elijah Wood) is the narrator of the film in a sense as we learn what happened between the two Queens through his eyes. But it's tough to grab a hold of the narrative when the voice that delivers it often mutters incoherently. And that's ultimately the problem with Burton's film. Despite a simple plot, the film still darts here and there. The 3D, rather than enhancing the film, adds to the sense of confusion and creatures shoot across the screen in a headache inducing blur. The characters have very distinct characteristics superficially (Anne Hathaway is a hoot as the goth White Queen and seems to have a great deal of fun twirling her way through all her scenes) but are completely lacking in any kind of backstory. We end up knowing more about a bloodhound named Bayard than we ever do about The Mad Hatter. I'm reminded of a description I read about "Avatar" that seems accurate to describe "Alice in Wonderland;" it's a supermodel of a movie: beautiful but not deep. "Alice" is recognizably a Tim Burton film. Stylistically it's hard to fault and it's far less graphic than bloodier films like "Sleepy Hollow;" though some kids might find the loud, charging animals to be alarming (my kids loved it). I enjoyed this version of "Alice in Wonderland" more than the original, but it's hard not to wonder why Burton opted for another remake when his own films have had far more depth to them. As it stands right now, his films seem like little more than vehicles for Johnny Depp to try on new costumes and adopt even stranger speech patterns. Whether you enjoy "Alice" or not will likely depend on what you expect to get out of it. If you're content with a visual spectacle, you won't be disappointed (though I think the 3D is entirely unnecessary). But don't come into the film with high expectations of plot or character development. That's not what "this" Alice is all about.
Friday, March 05, 2010
Title: Shadow Blade Writer: Seressia Glass Pages: 352 Genre: Urban Fantasy Standalone/Series: First in a series Publisher: Pocket Books For Kira Solomon, normal was never an option. Kira's day job is as an antiquities expert, but her true calling is as a Shadowchaser. Trained from youth to be one of the most lethal Chasers in existence, Kira serves the Gilead Commission, dispatching the Fallen who sow discord and chaos. Of course, sometimes Gilead bureaucracy is as much a thorn in her side as anything the Fallen can muster against her. Right now, though, she's got a bigger problem. Someone is turning the city of Atlanta upside down in search of a millennia-old Egyptian dagger that just happens to have fallen into Kira's hands. Then there's Khefar, the dagger's true owner — a near-immortal 4,000-year-old Nubian warrior who, Kira has to admit, looks pretty fine for his age. Joining forces is the only way to keep the weapon safe from the sinister Shadow forces, but now Kira is in deep with someone who holds more secrets than she does, the one person who knows just how treacherous this fight is. Because every step closer to destroying the enemy is a step closer to losing herself to Shadow forever.... As a reader, I have a fondness for the supernatural, especially if it uses our world, culture and trivia as a stage and setting. Urban fantasy is a weakness of mine I love to indulge. However, I have noticed a tendency in this oh-so-favorite genre of mine, which is frightening. I am aware that urban fantasy is in a rut and readers have accused it of recycling ideas and tropes. I agree with those people, but urban fantasy as a genre has a limited focus on female empowerment as well as fighting evil in the modern world. The conflicted, damaged tough chick with special quality, which ensures her a first row sit, when the shit starts flying, will remain as well as her so very special trait to experience a forbidden love. People want to read these tropes, so they will remain, but what hinders the new generation of authors, who enter the genre to shake things up and break the mold? Every well seasoned reader knows that everything has been done under the sun, so repetition of ideas is unavoidable. All that matters is execution, representation, world-building, prose and dialogue to make the difference. However, in the newest urban fantasy novels I don’t see even that aspiration. Heroines are mass-produced in thought process, in dialogue and even the pasts that should carve them out from the herd eerily echoes each other. A few weeks back I reviewed ‘Spider’s Bite’, which although generic and derivative in some areas had a few good hits. After starting ‘Shadow Blade’ almost immediately after, I swear to you I played ‘Spot the Differences’ between the two titles, which is never. I had a severe déjà vu experience. Kira has been turned into a killing machine for a secret organization [Estep’s Gin is an assassin and kills professionally]. Kira’s handler, an old man, whom she cherishes so much, has been murdered and triggers the events in the book [Gin’s handler is murdered as well and that triggers the plot as well]. Kira is assisted by a dangerous man against her will and although she is a solo player agrees reluctantly [Gin is forced to rely on her tall, dark and handsome as well]. Happy ending after a finale, where both heroines almost die? Yes, you got that too. Even when I stop comparing ‘Shadow Blade’ to ‘Spider’s Kiss’ derivative elements continue to pop up on my radar. Kira is the proverbial black sheep in the secret organization. She has a tragic past, which defines her and remains a central piece in her characterization. Everything is black and white in the supernatural world she inhabits, where Shadows fights against Light and whatever elements I loved didn’t come through fully fleshed or explored, due to Glass not exactly showing the reader, but telling and with overused word choices, I have encountered before. As far as the characters go, I really would have preferred reading about any other from the cast from the uptight Sanchez to Zoo and Wynne to the psychic vampire to even the main villain. But Kira and Khefar offered me no thrill to read. Verdict: [D] Ultimately, the newest cover version of a book I have read before.
Thursday, March 04, 2010
Wednesday, March 03, 2010
So many missing children. Their faces looked at me from the flat surfaces of posters and flyers, tacked to a long board opposite the row of chairs — a sad parade of even sadder stories. Although several young girls with brown hair and vulnerable smiles looked back at me, Isabel Rocha’s picture was not on the wall. I found some comfort in that. I will find you, I promised her, as I did each day. On your mother and father’s souls, I will find you. I had allowed her mother and father to be murdered. I would not allow Isabel to share the same fate. I sat with Luis Rocha in the hallway outside of the offices of the FBI, which he had carefully explained was a place where I could not, for any reason, cause trouble. I failed to understand why this hallway should be any different from any other in the city of Albuquerque, but I had agreed, with a good bit of annoyance. Luis was in no mood to debate with me. “Just do it,” he’d snapped, and then fallen into a dark, restless silence. I watched him pace in front of me as his dark gaze took in the wall of photos, a tense, revolted expression on his face. He stopped, and the expression altered into a frown. He pointed one flyer out to me. “That’s Ben Hession’s kid. Ben’s a Fire Warden.” I nodded, but I doubt he noticed. He lowered his finger, but his hands formed into fists at his sides, emphasizing the sinuous flame tattoos licking up and down his arms. Once again, I wondered at the choice; Luis Rocha controlled Earth, not Fire. In that, he and his brother Manny had been alike, though Luis’s power outstripped Manny’s by leagues. Manny had been my Warden partner, assigned to me by the highest levels of his organization to teach me to live as human, and use my powers — for I still had some, although nowhere near as many as I had as a Djinn — usefully. How to become a Warden in my own right. Manny had been a sweet, patient soul who had given of himself to sustain me in this new life. And I had let him die. Now it was Luis’s responsibility to look after me. And mine to never allow such a thing to happen again. A tired-looking man in a rumpled suit stepped outside of his office and gestured to us. As he did, his coat swung open to reveal the holstered butt of a gun attached to his belt. For an ice-cold instant I had an unguarded memory, a sense-memory of the shock and rage washing over me as I watched the bullets strike Manny, strike Angela … It’s a memory I don’t care to relive. ~Excerpt from Unknown: Outcast Season by Rachel Caine Rachel Caine is one prolific author. She writes three different series' of books, all within the urban fantasy genre, and she manages to put out sequels to all three yearly. And while the quality of her books is quite good in comparison to most, there are signs that Caine's writing is getting a bit formulaic. In "Unknown," the second book of her Outcast Season series, Caine continues the story of Cassiel, a Djinn that has been cast to Earth and stripped of her powers. Forced to rely on the Wardens for her survival Cassiel is first assigned to Manny Rocha, but after a tragic series of events that kills Manny, she teams up with his brother Luis as she hunts down the rogue Djinn responsible for Manny's death and the abduction of his daughter. When Cassiel is first cast out she struggles to integrate with humanity. She is no longer a powerful Djinn but carries their immortal arrogance. But Manny and his family somehow penetrated her wall of indifference and now she's determined to avenge the family she feels she failed to protect. The first book in the Outcast Season series was good for two main reasons: a unique plot and interesting characterizations. But "Unknown" doesn't quite capture the essence of the first book and it seems as if Caine has reached the point where she is writing her stories by rote. Paranormal fantasy seems to have become the genre of non-stop action with a little magic thrown in for good measure. A very common trend is for the story to have a strong female lead character, lots of busy work for her to do and approximately 300 pages to do it in. Charlaine Harris, Patricia Briggs and Caine-- among others-- follow this pattern to the letter. Sometimes this formula works but when it doesn't the reader is just ingesting mindless action without any real character development; and I'm afraid that's the trap "Unknown" falls into. The problem with "Unknown" is that the only character that seems to have any arc at all is Cassiel herself. Sometimes that's enough, but in this case Luis Rocha is giving a prominent role in the book, but has virtually no backstory of his own. Another issue is that the story hasn't really progressed from the last book to this one. It almost feels as if the same plot line has been regurgitated for an extra book and once it ended, I'm still not sure that we won't be treated to a nearly identical version of this tale next time around. Maybe I'm getting a little jaded. I've read several other reviews of this book that give it the thumbs up. But by the end I felt as if I was being led on a frantic journey that couldn't quite keep me interested because I had already read this book. I like the idea of the story, but wasn't enthralled with the execution.