Monday, May 31, 2010

Do Reviews Matter Anymore?

I'm under no delusions that I am an influential reviewer. Heck, I'm thrilled anyone would ask me to review anything. I review books and movies because it's fun. I like to spread the word about certain books throw in my two cents concerning popular movies. It's an ego driven exercise for sure, but as long as I can get away with it, I'll probably keep doing it. But do reviews have a meaningful impact in the real world? When I was growing up there weren't that many reviewers out there. Everyone I knew watched "Siskel & Ebert" and two thumbs up from those guys could make or break a movie. If you were really ambitious you might look in your local newspaper and see what they had to say about the latest movie and book releases. My newspaper had a Sunday insert called "The Sunday Ticket" and that was the biggest compilation of reviews around. But things have sure changed haven't they? The internet explosion has changed reviewing forever. And it's not just people like me-- though there are a lot of us around. Nowadays Twitter and Facebook play a huge role in determining a movie's success. Take this Memorial Day weekend for example: "Sex in the City 2" is the perfect example of a movie that absolutely defies expectations. I am not a huge fan of the series (it would be all too easy for me to go off on a digression about why I think the stereotypes in SATC are bad for women-- but I think I've gone on about that topic enough to last a while) so it's not a movie that would normally come to my attention. But the reviews for this haven't just been bad, they've been savage. Rotten Tomatoes -- which I consider a great reviewing tool and something I check often before I spend theater prices on anything-- gives SATC2 a 15% fresh rating. Ouch. But the terrible aggregate score for the movie doesn't seem to be scaring audiences away. The returns for the movie over the Memorial Day weekend, worldwide, are at $78 million. It looks like the movie won't need more than two weekends to turn a profit. And "Sex and the City" isn't at all a lone example of a review proof movie. The highly mock-able "Twilight" scores only a 50% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes but pulled in over $400 million at the box office. Both "Sex and the City" and "Twilight" have a couple of things in common. They're both part of franchises that exist outside the movie theater and were hugely successful prior to making it to the big screen. They are also the kind of movie that women go to see in packs, who then "Tweet" about how much they loved the movie. Believe me, I have seen this phenomenon. But I can't blame the reviewer/audience disconnect on the chick-flick audience. "Shrek the Third" is sitting at a so-so 41% fresh rating, and yet it has pulled in almost $800 million dollars. And do I even need to mention the craptacular "Transformers 2" and its massive earnings? However, these successes could be attributed to their sequel status. So the performance of "The Prince of Persia" is tougher to categorize since it has only garnered a 40% fresh rating, but looks like it will also exceed its budget by the second weekend of its release. Does anyone read the reviews anymore? Clearly reviews do have some weight. At least the recent lackluster performance of "Robin Hood" would seem to indicate that they do. But then again, is it really the reviews, or is everything now based on word-of-mouth spread by the various social networks? I'm actually stumped by the review-proof phenomenon. Movies aren't cheap and I don't like wasting my hard-earned money on movies (or books) that I'm pretty sure I'm not going to like, so I do check the reviews. I scan my favorite blogs and check in with reviewers I trust before I buy anything. But I wonder, have I become the exception?

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Giveaway! "Procession of the Dead" by Darren Shan

I have a copy of "Procession of the Dead" by Darren Shan up for grabs on my giveaway page. Be sure to CHECK IT OUT.

"Iron Baby"

I saw this over at SF Signal and had to post it. I'm still recovering from a nicely boozy Memorial Day barbecue, so I don't have a "real" post yet. But this is pretty funny.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

"Jonah Hex" Trailer

How did I miss this one? I would have added it to my "most anticipated" list if I had seen it announced earlier.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

DVD Review: "Saturday Morning Cartoons: 1980's"

I consider myself a child of the 80's. Sure I was born right on the cusp of the 1970's, but it's the popular culture of the 80's that I remember the most. So when Warner Bros. sent me a copy of Saturday Morning Cartoons: 1980's, watching it was a sure thing. I loved cartoons as a kid. Heck, I love cartoons as an adult. Thinking back to my childhood immediately recalls images from "Scooby Doo," "Superfriends," "The Flintstones" and many, many more. As I got older I was drawn to the more realistic-- though you wouldn't call it that by today's standards-- animation of shows like "Robotech." But it wasn't until I got my copy of the "Saturday Morning Cartoons" collection that I realized how much my love of fantasy had been influenced by the cartoons I had spent hours watching when I was younger. Because this is a Warner Bros. collection you're not going to have every cartoon you might remember from the 80's. What? No "Thundercats?" How can that be? But it's fun to pop in the discs and gradually recall cartoons you forgot you ever watched. The first disc includes the cheesy wonderfulness of "Mr. T." ("My first name is Mister. My middle name is that little period. And my last name is T?") Was is just last night I noticed Mr. T's voice in "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs?"And here I am watching his cartoon from the 80's. But wait, Mr. T isn't the only 80's tough guy who had a cartoon based on him-- that's right, Chuck Norris makes an appearance too! And it doesn't take long to realize that the days of political correctness had not yet arrived as Chuck goes on his adventures with a sumo wrestler (wearing his tiny costume no less), a samurai warrior and a ninja in all their stereotypical glory. Awesome. Also included are the 80's version of a female Richie Rich in "Goldie Gold and Action Jack,"-- with the distinctive ridiculousness of indoor helicopter flying and villains dressed up as Aztec warriors-- and a few episodes of "The Flintstone Kids." But it's the second disc that really caught my eye. Three words. "Thundarr the Barbarian." Oh man. I loved this cartoon. And I gotta mention that it was kind of surreal watching Thundarr today because I had just read a post over at Razored Zen on "Sword and Planet" fantasy that describes Thundarr to the letter (at least as much as I can recall). I should mention that the first disc has a documentary on "Thundarr the Barbarian" that is pretty interesting, but the real draw for me was watching the cartoon itself. It was also an eye-opener to watch all of the cartoons on this particular disc because so many of them have a sword-and-sorcery theme to them, and it's impossible to deny the impact they must have had on my young mind (which is also a somewhat disturbing realization when I think about the cartoons aimed at my kids today). I couldn't have told you the name of "Galtar and the Golden Lance" on a dare, but as soon as the first episode started playing I immediately recognized the characters; though my memory was a bit sketchy when it came to "Dragon's Lair." Another thing I noticed about this collection is that turning your favorite characters into kids was a big thing at that time. This particular collection mainly features "The Flinstone Kids" and "Captain Caveman and Son," and seeing these immediately brings to mind "Muppet Babies" and "A Pup Named Scooby Doo" (though these are not included in the collection). Throw in "The Kwicky Koala Show," "The Monchhichis," "The Biskitts," and "The Completely Mental Misadventures of Ed Grimely," and you have a seriously eclectic group of cartoons. I had a lot of fun watching these old cartoons. They're not nearly as slick as what you'll see today, in fact I'd say they're hokey, but there's something great about getting all nostalgic with your favorite childhood memories. If I had the perfect collection, I'd have a set that includes "Voltron," "He Man," and "Superfriends"-- just to name a few. But this set is a good beginning, and did I mention it has "Thundarr the Barbarian?"

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

DVD Review: "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs"

As the mother of two kids I read a lot of children's books and watch a lot of kid-friendly movies, so it's pretty much a given that we'll end up watching when one of their favorite books makes it to the big screen. Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs is a 2009 release based on a children's book by Judi Barrett that did very well, though it's one of those movies that, more often than not, you catch after its theatrical release. "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" is the story of Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader). Flint's the kind of awkward kid who's always trying too hard but never quite manages to fit in with his peers. Flint's dream is to be an inventor, but the only person who supports and understands this dream is his mother-- who dies while he still quite young. His father Tim (James Caan) runs a bait and tackle shop and tries to be supportive, but ultimately can't connect to his flighty son. Swallow Falls, the small island they call home, is suffering from hard economic times as the sardines that are their main export are not in high demand-- and the people are getting tired of the steady diet of sardines they are stuck with. Hoping to do something for inhabitants of the island, Flint devises a machine that is powered by water and can drop a steady stream of food from the sky. After a bumpy start (one that nearly destroys the town) the machine actually starts working and dramatically announces its success with a shower of cheeseburgers. Flint, who had always hoped to one day be popular is suddenly the hero of the town, though he is far more interested in an young intern named Sam (Anna Farris) who had come to the town to report on the weather and got more than she bargained for. Before long everyone in town is coming to Flint with requests for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Yet it's the town's mayor (Bruce Campbell) who has a big plan to make the island-- since renamed to Chewandswollow-- into a tourist attraction who really puts the pressure on Flint to deliver bigger, more extravagant meals. But the machine is being dangerously overworked, and it looks like a big storm is building that may not only endanger Chewandswollow, but the whole world. "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" is one of those movies that is hard to review as an adult because it's clearly made for it's target audience. There are a few nods to the adults who'll be accompanying the kids, mostly with the inclusion of voices like that of Mr. T and Bruce Campbell who are immediately recognizable, but the movie is so busy that it's unlikely that anyone who doesn't have serious attention deficit issues isn't going to be boggled by the constant action-- and I didn't even try to watch the 3D version. It's a sweet movie and, like a lot of films directed at kids, tries hard to sandwich (no pun intended) in the usual messages of individuality is good and learn to like yourself just the way you are. It's also a natural fit to warn kids of the dangers of over consumption and the movie does a good job on not being preachy on any level-- definite points in its favor. "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" is a kid's movie for sure. My kids were dazzled by the bright colors and loved the idea of food falling from the sky. Other elements, like Flint's many unsuccessful inventions (most notably the ratbirds) were also a big hit. The messages meant to inspire and/or teach were pretty much over their heads, but you gotta give them credit for trying. Adults will likely only give this one a single viewing. There's just so much going on that it ends up leaving very little to actually hold on to. In fact, I found myself zoning out and letting the action wash over me. All in all, decent family fare, but nothing that's likely to blow you away.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Giveaway! "Black Blade Blues" by J. A. Pitts

Thanks to Tor Books, I have a copy of "Black Blade Blues" to offer for giveaway featured on my giveaway page. Be sure to CHECK IT OUT.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Are Reviewer-Bloggers Spoiled Brats?

Ah the blissful autonomy of blogging. It's the best isn't it? I've enjoyed owning my little corner of the blogoshpere and have had very little to complain about. The blog went up on a whim when, as a stay-at-home mom of seven years, I was looking for some way to connect to the outside world. Not being the type to do a slice-of-life or mommy blog, I tried to think of something I enjoyed doing and started writing about that. Three years later, I'm still here. The blog has chugged along. Blossoming a little, though still modest by most standards. A day when I get more than a few comments on a post is a good one. I figure it's a give-and-take kind of thing. The results I get are in direct proportion to the time and effort I'm able to put out. I try to stick to a theme, and mostly succeed. Commentary and reviews are my shtick and though the word "news" is on my header, well, that requires the ability to keep up on current events to an extent that escapes me most of the time. But once the name appeared on the back of a book in a review, my ego wouldn't let me change it. That pesky ego. It gets in the way sometimes doesn't it? Once my blog became somewhat established I found myself in a strange place. I'm not a big blog, but I've been around long enough to get on quite a few mailing lists. I get emails and inquiries on daily basis asking me, me, if I'd like to read a book and give my thoughts on it. Well, don't I feel like a big shot? And after awhile I got used to giving my opinion on books and movies-- and whatever else I decided to comment on. Which is fun. I can't lie. But I guess I wanted something more because I reached out to a local publication that was starting up and looking for reviewers. Well hey, I do that. Why don't I sign up? You see, it was my vanity rearing it's head again. I use my screen name on my blog. But I could use my real name in print. Sweeeet. I haven't seen my name in print in almost fifteen years. I used to write for a local paper doing reviews and features-- fun stuff but kind of rinky-dink. Then I was lucky enough to get a job in television doing interviews and occasionally writing small on-air segments (I even worked in Hollywood!). But the days of feeling like a big-shot had passed and having my name in print again was a minor thrill. Too bad that didn't last long. I've mentioned before that I have been doing reviews for one of those local book reviews that are typically distributed at your local library. Many of you may know the one I'm talking about-- I recognize more than a few of the names that have been appearing next to mine. But I also hear that bloggers are a particularly finicky breed of reviewers. Yesterday was an illuminating day for me. It was the monthly deadline for the publication and I had a few reviews to upload. I'm one of those people who tend to be out-of-site, out-of-mind when it comes to my work-- mostly. I get the in-print publication sent to me and I tend to throw it on the shelf without looking at it. I used to check it out more often. But once I saw my reviews in print without being mucked-up, I took it for granted that once I submitted something, it would retain its integrity. And that was the case for over a year. Then, they switched editors. For some reason I did scan a review of mine a couple of months ago and noticed some strange tweaks had been done to my work. Minor stuff really. In fact, it kind of seemed as if the editor was moving periods around or adding semi-colons just so they could assure themselves that they were doing their job. Once she added the word "besides" to a review for no apparent reason--which stumped me a little. Generally harmless, but it made me uncomfortable. I'm the first to admit, I could benefit from having an editor. Blogging is a solitary thing. I'm lucky enough to have several contributors, many of whom still actually post content for me! I'm so grateful that I take a hands-off approach. Besides, if I'm not signing a paycheck, I don't feel I have the right to have an in-your-face attitude when it comes people who are taking time out of their day to write something for my little blog. I'm also lucky enough to have contributors who write their own content on a regular basis-- so they know how to string a sentence together. But we're just people posting on a blog. We make mistakes, overlook misspelling and typos. I fret over run-on sentences and chop sentences into fragments in an effort to streamline content. But that's the way it is when you're on your own and trying to post on a regular basis (I used to shoot for every day, now I'm happy if I put something up five days a week). I know that every single blogger reading this can relate. It's tough thinking of something to write every day and if you don't have time to re-work your writing, that sometimes means you don't get it quite the way you want. I know when I've nailed a post-- you know the feeling when you're able to transfer your feelings to the page. And I know when I can't put my thoughts into writing. Which is why in-print reviewing was strangely important to me. I had the time, if not the space (200 words) to make sure the words were crafted exactly the way I wanted them to be. It meant something. So having someone cavalierly change my words is not something I can live with. It only took one word, one for me to realize that maybe blogging has spoiled me for other things. But then again, the editor who felt the need to insert random punctuation into my reviews might just be an idiot. I'll let you be the judge. So I'm uploading one review and notice another that I had posted last month-- "Storm Prey" by John Sandford. You may know the title, I have a giveaway up for it right now. It's not the genre I usually feature here, but I have a weakness for detective novels. Anyway, I scan the review and notice that the editor decided to add two little words to the second paragraph. Nothing really, but when you're dealing with something that's 200 words or less, every word counts. Apparently, the editor didn't like the way I suggested that Sandford will have readers coming back "time and again" and decided to say that the book would have readers "engaged and enchanted." Uh. What? Did I read that right? "Enchanted?" Wait, wait, wait. Rewind. Let me read that again. Yep, she really added the word "enchanted." Did she not read the review? Did she not notice that it was a book that included murder as part of the plot? "Enchanted?" Who the heck describes a detective novel as "enchanting?" You'll be completely enchanted by this book featuring kidnapping and murder! Blech. Okay, okay. Maybe I'm over reacting. But I still fume. "Enchanted." I can't stand it. My name is now inexorably linked to that darned review and it bugs me. My feelings are totally out of proportion, but I would never use that word in this context. I'm embarrassed to have my name on that review. So I decide in that moment I need to go back to just being a blogger. I am the master of my online domain and no one can put words in my mouth. Yeah. I like it that way. So I email the owner of the review and let them know why I'm leaving. No big deal, though I feel like I'm being a bit of a spoiled artiste with a petty objection. But it's my name. It might not mean much to them. But it means something to me. I get an email back asking to see the text of the original review-- which is responsible of them. And, surprisingly, I get some vindication in that they agree the word substitution was inappropriate and changed the tone of the review. But they still didn't take my decision to leave the relationship with good grace. After telling me that I was right they went on to tell me that they had a particularly hard time hanging on to blogger-reviewers. That we are particularly resistant to being edited. Come again? I'm right....but I'm a pain in the neck for pointing that out? Apparently we're just too in-de-pen-dent for our own good and if we want to write for print publications, we need to suck it up a little. I wrote them back--politely of course-- saying that I'm familiar with the process, having working in print before. But also accepted that my temperament as a blogger might make it a poor fit for me going forward; and I left it at that. I suppose I should thank them for making it so easy to leave. Then again... I'm not dwelling on this as much as it seems. It's a minor thing. But, given that this blog is mostly frequented by other bloggers, I thought it would be an interesting anecdote to pass on. I have no doubt that most people reading this are going to be able to relate to my feelings. Many of us want to do more than we're currently doing-- unless you're John Scalzi maybe (I couldn't resist throwing that in). A lot of us want to be read beyond the blog and I doubt most of us would mind reasonable editing--especially if it enhances our work. But no one wants to feel like some second-rate hack is being given carte blanche to make you look like a fool. These are my words dammit. They matter to me. I don't think I'm being spoiled for hanging on to that. Do you? Post Script: From the comments on this post, it seems I may have given the impression that it only took one minor incident for me to throw up my hands and say "I quit!" Well, it wasn't quite that bad. I have been doing the reviews for about a year and a half, without pay and I supply most of the books I review (which I personally get from the publisher). I thought that was a pretty good deal for publication. I was very low-maintenance. Never turned in my reviews late, always kept them within the word limit and generally tried to do a good job. I never had any communication from the publisher/editor about my reviews that indicated my work was sloppy. The original editing that had been done felt very unobtrusive and I didn't mind it at all. It's only been in the last three or four months that I've become concerned because I felt the editing took away from the quality of the work I was turning in. It also seemed that, overall, the quality of the publication was sliding. The reviews have become a lot more casual in tone (with the authors now being allowed to use the "I feel" format--something I never did for this job). Long story short-- there wasn't an upside to me anymore. No pay, no books that I couldn't get on my own, and editing that made me uncomfortable with the quality of work my name was being attached to. I feel good about ending the relationship. I can now spend more quality time developing this blog and looking for other side-projects that will do more for me in the long run. ~SQT

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Book Review: "Blood Oath" by Christopher Farnsworth

It was only a matter of time, given the current vampire craze, that someone attempted to fuse political intrigue with everyone's favorite blood-suckers. Unfortunately Blood Oath by Christopher Farnsworth seems to be made up of clichés rather than anything of substance. Nathanial Cade is a vampire who serves at the leisure of the President of the United States. Agreeing to be bound by a blood oath cast by a voodoo priestess, Cade has served since the presidency of Andrew Jackson and has protected every president since that time. Cade lives surrounded by relics of supernatural threats he has defeated but remains haunted by the real-life Dr. Frankenstein, known as Johann Konrad, who still lives and continues to perform experiments in hopes of creating the living dead. Zach Barrows is a kind of political golden-boy. At least he was until he was caught in a compromising position with the President's daughter. He's been hand-picked by the President to replace Cade's current handler who is dying of cancer and soon realizes that there's a big, supernatural world that he never knew existed. And before Zach even has a chance to settle into his new position, he and Cade are called to a crime scene that involves a lot of severed body parts-- indicating that Konrad might be further along in his efforts to create a zombie super soldier than Cade realized. "Blood Oath" is one of those books that are basically fun but really, really shallow. Farnsworth is a scriptwriter and it shows in the basic lack of character development and credibility. Just by reading the back cover of the book you know there's a good chance the story can go from zero to absurd in no time flat if it isn't written with a certain finesse, and I'm afraid it isn't. What bothers me the most about "Blood Oath" are the clichés. You can literally check them off on your fingers: the pairing of the experienced, cynical partner and the smart-mouthed protege-- check; ambivalent hero-- check; psychotic, CIA black-op villains--check; long-standing grudge-match with evil nemesis-- check; gratuitous sex scene--check; explosions and gun fights--check; kidnap and torture of newbie partner-- check... I could go on like this for awhile. I mean, the whole book is like this. But you know what? I take it back. There is something that bothers me more than the clichés. Have you ever had one of those moments when you wanted to chuck a book across the room because a scene was too ridiculous? "Blood Oath" has a few of those. The one that really stands out is a scene in which one set of villains (in this case they are Muslim extremists) are carrying a severed head, intended to be part of the resurrected super-soldiers our other evil-villain has created, through the airport. When stopped by security they claim they are using the head for a "brain transplant" and are let through. Do I even have to explain why this scene is wrong on so many levels? And believe me, there is a lot of story construction here of this caliber. Additionally the characters are not credible at all, with the villains being the worst. As I mentioned before one group of bad-guys happens to be a group of CIA black-ops agents. These people are recruited specifically because they lack anything resembling morals and are prone to committing all kinds of murder and mayhem. And I couldn't help wonder what made Farnsworth decide that if the CIA were to put together a group of agents with the license to operate outside the law, why would they pick the most unreliable, corrupt people they could find? None of the characters have much in the way of personality, but the traits they do have seem to consist of either fleeing the scene at the first sign of danger or killing the first co-worker that becomes inconvenient. And, unfortunately, the heroes don't fare any better. For a novel that's intended to be a new take on the vampire myth, there is nothing new here. Cade is like all the other tortured, reluctant vampires who choose not to feed on human blood. I mean, that's it. The only original take on the story are the bits inserted to show the results of the tests the government has run to see the extent of Cade's abilities. And the partnership of Cade and Burrows doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Burrows is supposed to be the best-and-brightest type. An Ivy Leaguer with a quick wit. The only problem is that there are no demonstrations of logic or smarts that make us believe that Burrows is particularly bright, and his wit consists of dialog along the lines of "Dude, your girlfriend is weird." Normally I don't out of my way to bash a novel. But I kind of want to at least ensure that one voice out there offers an honest review of "Blood Oath." If you go to the Amazon page for this book, you'll see a slew of 4 and 5 star reviews and the only conclusion I can come to is that Farnsworth has a lot of friends willing to review the book. I can see a smattering of readers saying the book is fun, but all the claims that this is the best vampire book ever! really leaves me suspicious that the reviews are not what I would consider honest assessments.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Book Review and Giveaway! "Roadkill" by Rob Thurman

The laptop dropped onto the ground in front of me. Well shit. When I refused to drop my head and read the screen, teeth nipped me hard over the ribs. I hissed, glared at the wolf and read what was typed on the screen. He'd used the caps lock again, either to get his point across or because he didn't believe much in my reading skills. SUCKS TO BE ONE OF A KIND. He rested his chin on my shoulder, sneezed at the dust and waited. "Yeah," I commented after a long pause. "It does, Good Wolf or bad Auphe, it sucks to be the only one." Great. First Delilah, then him. They both had me pulling shit out of layaway early. This time he nipped my shoulder before retrieving from the dirt the ink pen he'd dropped to bite me. He typed: ALL AUPHE WERE BORN BAD. YOU ARE NOT ALL AUPHE. YOU HAVE A CHOICE. YOU CAN BE GOOD. He considered, then backspaced, deleting the GOOD and changing it to NOT SO BAD. At least he was honest, the fur ball. Then he punctuated the sentence. Joy. "I didn't know there was an emoticon for a dog humping another dog. Thanks for sharing." I took off the glasses and rubbed my eyes. There was more typing. I glanced at the screen. At least now that he was sure he had my attention, he'd stopped with the capitalization. Cal smart monster. Cal can read. Good for me. Knock knock. "You've got to be kidding me," I groaned. Knock knock, he persisted, growling around the pen. "Okay, just to shut you up: Who's there?" I gave in. Why not? At this point, it was almost ludicrous. An Auphe being counseled by a butt-sniffing pound reject. No one. The Auphe ate everyone in the house. "You son of a bitch," I growled. Knock knock. This time he didn't wait for the "Who's there?" Twenty cocker spaniels the Auphe is going to skin to make a pimp coat. Seriously, quit it or I will shoot your mangy ass." Knock knock. God, he was as relentless as Niko. "Last one," I warned. "Last one or your ass is grass." The threat didn't hold much weight when it was followed with "Who's there?" I went on, resigned. You, and what happens behind the door is up to you. ~Excerpt from Roadkill by Rob Thurman Urban fantasy is frequently an amalgam of certain ingredients using involving magic, werewolves and/vampires, an urban setting an a smart-mouthed protagonist. I'm usually drawn to most of the elements thrown into the mix, but I will often complain about the snarky one-liners thrown in when I review most paranormal fiction. But the Cal Leandros series by Rob Thurman is the one series that I think uses this element effectively-- and actually has me looking forward to seeing what the characters are going to say next. "Roadkill" is the fifth book in a series about Caliban and Niko Leandros. Technically Cal and Niko are half-brothers, but you wouldn't say that to Niko's face. Cal is the result of an unholy union between an Auphe and a Gypsy mother. The Auphe are the monstrous creatures that somehow became the basis for the elf myth-- even if the only thing the Auhpe have in common with elves are the pointy ears. Cal has spent most of his life running from the Auphe who had planned to use Cal to wipe humanity from the planet. After defeating, and hopefully destroying, the Auphe, Cal has finally found some peace in his life. Working for his brother as a kind of supernatural private investigator and spending time with a very attractive female werewolf have done great things for Cal's mood. Yet good times seem to be fleeting for Cal, and when he is attacked by a werewolf he realizes that the wolves may not be too happy that one of their kind is sleeping with a man who is half-Auphe--but relationship troubles turn out to be the least of Cal's worries. An ancient evil, known as the Plague of the World, has been stolen from his prison and an old Gypsy woman hires Cal and Niko to stop the man that created the Black Death before he has a second chance to unleash Hell on Earth. I'm going to come right out and say it-- I'm a huge fan of Rob Thurman. She's one of the few reliable authors when it comes to urban fantasy. Five books in and I like the fifth book as much as the first-- and every one in between are worthy of reading again. The relationships are the thing. Most of the books are told through Cal's perspective, though the last two books have seen a shift to include Niko, and even a werewolf's point of view. But Cal is who it is really all about. He is one of a kind-- and not in a good way. And if he has a smart-mouth, it's driven primarily out of the fear of what he may become if he loses his touch with his human side. The Auphe aren't known for their sense of humor. Cal's life line, in a very literal sense, has been his brother Niko. And there is no doubt that Cal will do anything to make his brother proud-- well, as long as he gets to complain about it first. But there is still always the danger that Cal's Auphe side will lose control and he'll do something that isn't just stupid, but potentially deadly. Niko's faith in him has not completely eased Cal's worries that he may, one day, harm his brother-- So it's a good thing Niko can kick Cal's butt ten times out of ten-- as Niko is only to happy to remind him. Much of "Roadkill" is told as a sort of road-trip story, just one that has a half-Auphe, two werewolves, a Puck and a human along for the ride. These are the times when Cal really lets the snark show, and it could be annoying if wasn't balanced against the personalities of the other characters. Fortunately, all of Thurman's characters are strong enough to hold their own opposite Cal. His brother Niko is a super-disciplined martial arts expert who never fails to remind Cal that Cheetos do not belong in a major food group and Robin Goodfellow (famously known as the puck from William Shakespeare's "A Midsummer's Night's Dream) is on the trip to test a vow of monogamy and act as a general distraction. Thurman keeps up the action, but also throws in a few, slightly disturbing, interludes to keep the pace from being too fast. This dark fantasy isn't for the faint of heart, but it's as fun as it is grim. Thurman always adds intriguing mythology to her warped world and I look forward to seeing what she comes up with. "Roadkill," for my money, is as good as urban fantasy gets. Courtesy of Penguin Books I have one copy of "Roadkill" to offer for giveaway. Just add your information to the form below to enter (all information is guaranteed confidential and will be discarded once contest ends) and I will randomly pick a winner by Friday June 11th. No multiple entries please. All multiple entries will be discarded. Open everywhere. Good luck!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Book Review – The Lost Fleet: Victorious by Jack Campbell

Three years ago, on a whim, I picked up The Lost Fleet: Dauntless in a bookstore. It sounded like my kind of book, but as usual I’ve got lots of books to read and it sat on my shelf for a long time. Then about two years ago, I started to clean out my shelves – removing books that I had lost interest in or just had decided I was never going to get to and would be better off donating. As Dauntless was headed towards that pile, it caught my eye again though – and I decided right then to give it a try. As it turns out, that was a very good decision, as it remains one of my favorite books and the start of an excellent series (as I’ve described before, a mix of Battlestar Galactica and Master & Commander). Now, with Victorious the series comes to a satisfying conclusion – providing the same consistent level of entertainment as all the previous installments, while also closing out most of the remaining plotlines. When the fifth book in this series (Relentless) ended, Captain John Geary had finally managed to bring his war weary fleet back to Alliance space, having managed to defeat the Syndic backup battle fleet that had been arrayed against his return. But the war isn’t over, and the Alliance leadership gives Geary permission to lead the fleet back into Syndic space – knowing their enemy has been crippled by the massive losses they’ve sustained against Geary’s Lost Fleet. But this time Geary’s mission is to end the war, by whatever means necessary – and then determine what threat the unknown aliens who have made a nuisance of themselves throughout the series really are to humanity as a whole (both Alliance and Syndic). In this book a couple of additional politicians join Geary’s fleet – to both determine what kind of threat Geary himself might be (as he has now managed to save the Alliance, they fear he will attempt a coup against the established government) and to negotiate the terms of Syndic surrender. These two politicians are a nice addition, providing new insights into the feelings of the people of the Alliance (their hatred of Syndics, the antagonism between the military and the government) – since at this point Co-President Rione has become a trusted part of Geary’s advisors, it was refreshing to have these new perspectives. We also get to know some Syndics, as a captured CEO (the ranks used by that government) advises Geary on both ending the war and engaging the enigma aliens. I even thought the battle maneuvers were toned down in this book as compared to prior entries in the series. Which is not to say there were no battles – there is a large scale battle at the Syndic homeworld with a number of twists and turns, as well as a short engagement with the aliens towards the end of the book – just that the battles were written in such a way that they were easily followed. One thing that I’ve loved from the very beginning about this series is how easy I find it to read Jack Campbell’s prose. Some authors I’ll struggle to get through 50 pages – I was halfway through this 350 page book in a few hours of reading. The characters are all well realized, from the duty-bound captain of Dauntless (Tanya) that Geary has fallen in love with, to the tough-as-nails Marine officer who leads her troops firsthand onto Syndic warships – and even the captain who no longer has it in him to fight, and commits suicide when he fails to engage the enemy. The whole series has a wonderful balance of character and plot. But talking about plot, I did mention that most of the plots are closed out in this volume – which means that some aren’t. Now these aren’t the kinds of plots that would necessitate a follow up series – I actually thought for sure that Campbell would never be able to completely finish off this series in one more book, figuring the alien threat would be a part of the next series – and while that could still happen, and the dangling plot threads could be used in a follow up, it isn’t the kind of plots that require resolution. For instance, Co-President Rione had found out in an earlier novel that her husband, who was thought killed in action years earlier, was still alive as a POW in Syndic space. But he is never found in this novel (though she intends to keep looking for him, and POW exchanges are meant to be part of the peace process). Similarly, a relative of Geary had covered the retreat of the Lost Fleet in the opening book – his fate is not revealed (though talked about in this book, and Geary assumes he is dead at the end). Still, we get resolutions to the war with the Syndics, the alien threat is headed off (though it could easily be resurrected in a follow up series) and Geary manages to avoid being Tanya’s superior long enough to propose to her and start building the life he always wanted. And having said all that, I just checked out the author’s website (http://www.johnghemry.com/) to discover that there will in fact be two follow up series, one following John Geary called The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier, the other called The Phoenix Stars which is set in Syndic space. But while I anxiously await both of these series, I still highly recommend the first six Lost Fleet books as a complete science fiction story on its own – drama, action, space-opera, military sci-fi – if any of those staples of the genre are of interest to you, this fantastic series is worth looking at.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Oh the Misogyny...Are Women in Entertainment Just Ornamentation?

Sometimes a topic, like a blog post, just won't die. Back in March of 2007 I wrote a post about the female action hero and it continues to be my most-viewed post. I joke about this from time to time and have even attempted to make a few satirical jabs at the fact that what prompts the clicks on the post has more to do with a scantily clad Sigourney Weaver than anything else. That particular post has such an enduring draw that I have even received emails commenting on the post-- one suggesting that women action heroes are popular because they appeal to men as "eye candy" and that any feminist statement about strong women is mostly incidental.

 I have long mused over how to approach this topic. Part of me agrees with the "eye candy" statement-- in fact a large part of me thinks that "eye candy" is one of the most important factors in movie making period. Do we really think Arnold Schwarzenegger is cast in anything because he's a Shakespearean-quality actor? Would "Avatar" have been a monster hit without the CGI? People are visually oriented and when you put a story on the big screen it needs to be appealing to eye-- perhaps more so than it needs to be well-plotted. But once you put a woman in a tight leather outfit, the cries of "sexism" can't be far behind.

  Ms. Magazine has decided that "Iron Man 2" needs to be taken to task for what the magazine perceives as sexist treatment of women (the author also attempts to throw in some racist allegations as well, but we'll stick to the claims of anti-woman bias for now). ...


Secondly, on females and femininity (these lessons are longer, you see, because females need a lot of teaching):

1. Women are for dancing, either around poles or on stage as props. Wherever they are dancing, they should be scantily clad. Note to cameraman: Shoot women dancers from behind so as to get maximum amount of booty shots, as in the opening scene of Iron Man 2 where our gaze is directed to numerous bent-over butts in red spandex hot pants. As O’Herir points out in his Salon review, there is “no irony” in these “loving, loop-the-loop tracking shots of these dancin’ hoochie-mamas with their spray-bronzed legs and perfect Spandex asses.” Rather it is, as this blogger aptly names it, “a vomit-inducingly sexist scene involving various swooping close-ups of womens’ body parts as they gyrate.”

2. Women are objects. When Tony is shown his new car, he makes a joke about the woman standing next to the vehicle: “Does she come with the car?” In other words, women, like cars, should be sleek, good looking, fast and expendable. Tony assesses new female character Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johansson) using the same parameters: Her intelligence, multi-lingual skills and martial arts training don’t seem to matter; he uses Google to find her old modeling pictures. As Froley of ReelThinker notes, she is put “in her underwear just for the hell of it” and her character is no more than a “near-cameo.” This incites Froley to assume that director “Jon Favreau must be some kind of chauvinist dog, because he takes every opportunity to objectify women.”

~ You can read the rest of the list and the article HERE

 Oh lord, where do I begin with my complete disagreement with this assessment of "Iron Man 2" and its treatment of women? First off, it's beyond clear that the author of the Ms. Magazine article (Natalie Wilson) is viewing the movie through a feminist lens and not taking the actual "Iron Man" story into account. Tony Stark a womanizer? Oh no! How can that be? It must be a Hollywood conspiracy against women! Except it's not.

 It has been stated time and again, in the most obvious terms, that the character of Tony Stark is a narcissist and a womanizer. He's a filthy rich, charming rogue who already had women eating out of his hand and now that he has the extra celebrity that comes with the Iron Man suit. He's not just a woman magnet, he's achieved rock star status. How is it inconsistent to show his character partying with the women who flock around him like groupies?

 But what really, really annoys me about the Ms. article is the implication that the awful, horrible men who made the movie hate women, and the women involved in the various roles are basically victims of Hollywood sexism.

 Here's the thing. Modern feminism is schizophrenic. One one hand, women want to have the freedom to behave like sexual predators-- in the vein of "Sex in the City" -- with no repercussions. Shows like "Cougar Town" celebrate the single woman as someone who can pounce on young men as if it's no big deal. And don't even get me started on the reality-television culture that makes celebrities out of women like Paris Hilton who are famous precisely because of their aggressive sexuality. How are men supposed to view women when this has become the norm? I'm sorry, but I'm not sure that Ms. Magazine understands that you can't behave like Paris Hilton and expect to be treated like Mother Teresa.

Let's face it, "Iron Man 2" is more accurate in it's portrayal of the women likely to throw themselves at Tony Stark than Ms. Magazine would like to admit. As a woman, I think that genre films like "Iron Man" are better for women than movies like "Sex in the City" because the characters are allowed to be more than sex objects. Does anyone think that Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) is going to be taken advantage of by anyone? And do you think anyone made her put on the tight leather outfit (or pose for the lingerie shots for that matter)? And is the tight leather somehow more objectionable than the sky-high cleavage we see on the cover of every woman's magazine in town? Men are always going to want to look at attractive women-- that's never going to change. And beautiful women are always going to be attracted to powerful, wealthy men. Why is it sexist to put that on film?

 But more importantly, women have accountability in how they are portrayed. How many times have we heard that women want "control" over their bodies? Well, what does that mean exactly? Are we talking about reproductive issues here or about the right to pose in Playboy? And does it matter when women are voluntarily participating in the culture?

 Personally, I don't think "Iron Man 2" is misogynistic. Tony Stark does tend to objectify women, but that's because the only woman that exists in his universe is Pepper Pots. The women who shove their phone numbers in his face are not portrayed as ideal; Pepper-- who just happens to be intelligent and poised-- is.

  While other kick-ass women in movies are often put on display in ultra form-fitting costumes, I wouldn't say they're exclusively ornamental. Milla Jovovich might be in combat boots and a dress slit-up-to-there in "Resident Evil," but she still kicks zombie-butt with absolute conviction. Lucy Lawless as Xena might fight in a bustier, but would you mess with her? And if Linda Hamilton wasn't the quintessential bad-ass in "Terminator 2," then I don't know who is.

 And I think Ms. Magazine needs to take into account that men are often held to the same standards of physical perfection when it comes to action roles. Robert Downey Jr. is as lean-and-mean as he's ever been to portray Tony Stark. Hugh Jackman and Jason Statham are only the latest in a long list of physically imposing men following in the footsteps of Schwarzenegger and Stallone. Are we women being sexist if we don't ask them to keep their shirts on?

 If we're being honest then we have to acknowledge that men and women are idealized in film. Ms. Magazine may think it's beneath their dignity to enjoy a movie that features big explosions and scantily clad women, but they are always free to to exercise their right not to see the movie-- just as I have the right to avoid chick-flicks like the plague. I find it far more liberating to watch a woman (even a scantily clad one) kick some bad-guy butt than frantically try to find a husband. But that's just me...

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Movie Review: "Iron Man 2"

I love comic book films that take the genre seriously and "Iron Man" has been a standout in a field that has included masterpieces like "The Dark Knight;" so it's no surprise that it has been one of the most anticipated movies of this year. The only question is whether or not it lives up to its excellent pedigree. "Iron Man 2" takes place six months after Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) gleefully announces his identity as Iron Man to the world. Not shy or retiring is our happily narcissistic hero, nor is he an angst-ridden, ambivalent crusader in the mold of Batman. The Iron Man technology has brought about a period of peace that Tony is only too happy to take credit for and when the government tries to appropriate Tony's technology, he proclaims that he has "privatized world peace" and predicts that nations hostile to America are at least five years away from developing anything that can compare to the Iron Man suit. But what Tony doesn't know is that the arc reactor technology that powers his suit, and keeps him alive, isn't the secret he thought it was. It turns out that Tony's father, the founder of Stark Industries, had a Russian partner by the name of Anton Vanko, who helped him develop the first arc reactor. But when Vanko tried to profit from the technology, Stark had him deported to the Soviet Union where he dies in poverty after passing on his anger-- and blueprints for the arc reactor-- to his son Ivan (Mickey Rourke). Ivan publicly, and catastrophically, unveils his arc reactor in the form of a vicious energy-whip at the Monaco Grand Prix, where Tony is racing, and shows the world that Iron Man is not invincible. The incident then sets off a flurry of controversy over whether Tony is unqualified to keep the Iron Man technology to himself while rival weapons manufacturer Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) schemes to have Vanko develop a fleet of Iron Man suits to sell to the military. "Iron Man 2" is a strange movie in that it has a very sketchy plot, and yet manages to entertain throughout. The thing with "Iron Man 2" is that it feels as if the movie is being pulled in two directions as it flits between one narrative featuring the story of Tony Stark and another that attempts to build the foundation of the S.H.I.E.L.D storyline. It's no secret that "Iron Man" is but one part of a movie franchise that is looking to incorporate other characters from the Marvel comic universe, including Captain America, with the end result being a movie featuring a number of comic book characters from "The Avengers" series. Because of the tweaking needed to introduce certain super heroes into this movie, "Iron Man 2" is not allowed to simply be about Tony Stark and the film suffers for it. What keeps "Iron Man 2" in the running as a successful sequel is a particularly good cast and some good action sequences that keep it interesting. Robert Downey Jr. has turned out to be essential to the success of "Iron Man" because his charisma manages to overcome some glaring defects in Tony Stark's personality. Any other actor could easily bring too much of an edge to the egotistical Stark, but Downey keeps him likable. Sam Rockwell is wonderfully jumpy as Stark's rival and carries his screen time beautifully, while Mickey Rourke is also very good even though his character is woefully under-developed. And when the acting is somewhat weak, as is the case with Scarlett Johansson's portrayal of Natasha Romanoff (aka Black Widow), the fight scenes pick up the slack. It hits you while watching "Iron Man 2" that the casting is uncharacteristically good for an action film, with most of the actors either being nominated for, or winning, Academy Awards. So it's even more glaring when they're not given anything to do. Don Cheatle, who takes over the role of Colonel James (Rhodey) Rhodes from Terrance Howard, is probably the most underutilized actor in the film and it's hard not to feel as if an actor of his caliber is being wasted. But, again, I blame this on the forcible interjection of the S.H.I.E.L.D storyline. Interesting plot-lines, like Tony's slow poisoning due to the arc reactor embedded in his chest, are rushed through, while others, like the strange interlude dealing with Tony's father, feel strangely out of sync. Ultimately "Iron Man 2" is a successful sequel because it's good enough to keep the franchise alive. It's energetic and fun like the first movie and even as you intellectually pick apart the script, you'll still enjoy yourself. It's not an out-of-the-park sequel like "The Dark Knight," but it's still worth the price of admission.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

4 hours of sleep really messes up your blogging...

Oh, am I tired. I was an idiot and stayed up way too late last night. I don't even have a good excuse. I just don't have the good sense to go to bed when I should. Since I'm barely lucid right now, I'm literally going to throw up some random content and go to bed. Hope you don't mind. Neytiri from "Avatar" totally looks like Han from "Halo Legends" (~From Totally Looks Like) Free Stuff... Free download of "For the Win" by Cory Doctorow Pat's Fantasy Hotlist has 5 copies of Swords & Dark Magic, edited by Johnathan Strahan and Lou Anders up for giveaway, as well as 5 copies of City of Ruin by Mark Charon Newton. Sci-fi Chick has some great giveaways-- DVD giveaway of Krod Mandoon and the Flaming Sword of Fire. Feed by Mira Grant. Swords & Dark Magic, edited by Johnathan Strahan and Lou Anders. Enchantment Emporium by Tanya Huff. and Is Anybody Out There?, edited by Nick Gevers and Marty Halpern. Kenny Rogers Totally Looks Like Harry Henderson (~From Totally Looks Like) Miscellaneous... Interview of David Moore (Abaddon/Solaris Books) at Temple Library Reviews. Subscribe to Subterranean Press and help fight breast cancer (kudos to Pat St-Dennis for setting this up). Okay...Off to bed.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Giveaway! "Bullet" by Laurell K. Hamilton

I have a giveaway featuring "Bullet" by Laurell K. Hamilton on my giveaway page. Be sure to CHECK IT OUT.

Monday, May 10, 2010

R. I. P. Frank Frazetta

Fantasy & Sci-fi artist Frank Frazetta died today of a stroke at the age of 82. Like most fantasy artists you'd recognize his work from the cover of various books and comic strips-- most notable are probably his renderings of Conan the Barbarian. But Frank was also known for his album covers and movie posters, including posters for "The Gauntlet" (starring Clint Eastwood) and "What's New Pussycat" (Starring Peter Sellers). Whether you knew Frank's name or not, chances are you know his work, and there are several collections available on Amazon as well. Rest in peace Frank-- at least we'll always have Molly Hatchet. (Thanks Stewart for the heads-up)

Friday, May 07, 2010

John Sandford Book Tour-- Extra Giveaway!

Woo hoo! Thanks to the ever wonderful people at Penguin Books, I just found out that I will also be able to offer an ARC (advance reading copy) of Storm Prey -- the latest release in John Sandford's "Prey" series. The brilliant new Lucas Davenport thriller from the #1 New York Times-bestselling author. "Sandford's track record as a best0selling author is amazing, but it's not an accident," wrote Booklist of Wicked Prey. "His plotting is sharp, his villains are extraordinarily layered, and his good guys are always evolving. And this time, there's a storm brewing...Very early, 4:45, on a bitterly cold Minnesota morning, three big men burst through the door of a hospital pharmacy, duct-tape the hands, feet, mouth, and eyes of two pharmacy workers, and clean the place out. But then things swiftly go bad, one of the workers dies, and the robbers hustle out to their truck-and find themselves for just one second face-to-face with a blond woman in the garage: Weather Karkinnen, surgeon, wife of an investigator named Lucas Davenport. Did she see enough? Can she identify them? Gnawing it over later, it seems to them there is only one thing they can do: Find out who she is, and eliminate the only possible witness... Just add your information to form below to enter (all information is guaranteed confidential and will be discarded once contest ends) and I will randomly pick a winner by Friday May 28th. No multiple entries please-- all multiple entries will be discarded. Open in the U.S. and Canada. Good luck!

Thursday, May 06, 2010

John Sandford Book Tour: Review and Giveaway Featuring "Secret Prey"

I don't often do reviews that aren't 'genre' as it relates to this blog. But when I do, it's frequently detective fiction that I feature-- specifically books by John Sandford. He's easily my favorite author when it comes to that genre and when I was given the opportunity to be part of a book tour spotlighting the twenty books in Sandford's "Prey" series I jumped on it. If you haven't read Sandford yet, be sure to enter the giveaway at the end of this post-- you won't be disappointed. As part of the book tour, we were asked to fill out questionnaires about the book we chose to review-- neat idea don't you think? The book I selected was the ninth book in the series, Secret Prey. Year published: 1998 Tell us about Lucas Davenport: Lucas is a Minneapolis cop, whose current rank is that of Deputy Chief of the Minneapolis Police Department. He has a well deserved reputation as a tough guy and a tenacious investigator. He's not the stereotypical cop though. He made a bunch of money designing web games, drives a Porsche 911 and loves nice clothes-- but he also plays hockey and doesn't back down from a fight. * What is Lucas doing when he first appears in the book? Set up the scene. Lucas is fighting off a lingering depression that's the result of a break-up with his fiance after another one of his cases spilled over into his personal life. He's called in to investigate the murder of a bank president and begins to feel a flicker of interest in the case-- which helps to fight off the malaise he's been dealing with. * Give us a sense of time and place. The book is current to the time-frame it's set in-- the late 90's. Cell phones are common but you don't have the characters texting each-other. The investigation starts out at a hunting lodge where the murder takes place, but moves back to the Cities pretty quickly. The main suspects are very wealthy bank executives, so the story tends to move from the bank boardroom, Lucas' home, the wealthy neighborhoods of the suspects and the police station. * Lucas’s occupation or professional role? Lucas' title is that of Deputy Chief. He takes lead on any investigations that his boss, Chief Rose Marie Roux, assigns to him. * Lucas’s personal status (single, dating, married): Lucas starts out single, and he's really only interested in being with Weather, the woman he was going to marry. But he does start seeing a female detective he's always had chemistry with. * Lucas Davenport is a known clothes-horse; did you notice any special fashion references? He said that he prefers Italian suits. American suits are utilitarian and British suits aren't quite right-- definitely Italian. Let’s talk about the mystery: * Avoiding spoilers, what was the crime/case being solved? Right in the middle of a big bank merger-- one that could set up certain executives as millionaires and see others unemployed-- the CEO of one of the banks is murdered and the main suspects are the executives in line to take over the bank. * Does the title of your book relate to the crime? Absolutely. As the story evolves it becomes clear that many crimes have been committed surrounding a particular person that have remained secret for years. The sequence of events slowly unfolds and layer after layer they are revealed as the book progresses. Who was your favorite supporting character, good or evil? That's a tough one. This book has a lot of good supporting characters-- one of the things I think Sandford does best actually. Oddly, it's one of the smaller roles (I guess you could call it) that I liked. One of the executives, James T. Bone, whose status as good or evil should remain a mystery, is one I liked. His rapport with Lucas seemed very natural. What was your favorite scene or quote? That's another hard question. I like the small moments, the ones that make a story seem real. Lucas is kind of a flirt, so it's fun when he banters with the women he meets. But he's also a guy's guy, so I also appreciate how Sandford includes the trash talk between him and the other cops. If I had to pick one scene though... I think I'd go with the part where two small-town sheriffs are trying to intimidate Lucas and he goads them into a fight. It's not super important as far as the story goes, but it's set up in such a way that it really shows how Lucas handles himself as a cop and as someone who won't be intimidated. Like I said-- it's the small things. Finally, how do you envision Lucas Davenport? If he were to be portrayed in a movie, what celebrity would play him? It's so hard to put the face I've created in my head to one particular actor. If Clint Eastwood (in his heyday) hadn't already played "Dirty Harry" he would have been a great Lucas Davenport. Now I lean toward Hugh Jackman because Lucas is a big, good looking guy. But Jackman would have to be somewhere between his clean cut look and "Wolverine." Maybe grow his hair out a little bit. If you're interested in checking out the rest of the book tour (and maybe a chance at winning some other titles in Sandford's "Prey" series), here is the book tour schedule. John Sandford and the DAYS OF PREY Tour Schedule Monday, May 3rd: Rules of Prey: Rundpinne Shadow Prey: Boarding in my Forties Tuesday, May 4th: Eyes of Prey: Jenn’s Bookshelves Silent Prey: Chick with Books Wednesday, May 5th: Winter Prey: The Bluestocking Guide Thursday, May 6th: Mind Prey: Jen’s Book Thoughts Sudden Prey: Starting Fresh Friday, May 7th: Secret Prey: Fantasy & SciFi Loving News & Reviews Certain Prey: My Two Blessings Monday, May 10th: Easy Prey: Lesa’s Book Critiques Chosen Prey: Reading with Monie Tuesday, May 11th: Mortal Prey: Musings of a Bookish Kitty Naked Prey: Dan’s Journal Wednesday, May 12th Hidden Prey: Novel Whore Broken Prey: You’ve GOTTA read this! Thursday, May 13th: Invisible Prey: Booktumbling.com Friday, May 14th: Phantom Prey: The Novel Bookworm Monday, May 17th Wicked Prey: A Bookworm’s World Tuesday, May 18th: Storm Prey: Bermuda Onion And, finally. courtesy of Penguin Books, I have a copy of "Secret Prey" to offer for giveaway. Just add your information to the form below to enter (all information is guaranteed confidential and will be discarded once the contest ends) and I will randomly pick a winner by Friday May 28th. No multiple entries please -- all multiple entries will be discarded. Open in the U.S. and Canada. Good luck!

Fantastic "Star Wars" Themed Art

I've been meaning to post a link to the article featuring James Hance's "Star Wars" themed art (Click on the link to read the related article about Hance). **Hat tip to Geeks are Sexy** I love these pictures. Force by Northwest (This is my favorite) Lunch Atop the Half Constructed Death Star The Force Fall Collection (So clever) Homeless Stormtrooper Mona Leia Force Family Photo (I guess you don't have to worry about anyone blinking...) Aren't these fantastic! There are tons more at Hance's profile at ArtBreak.com Stuff like this... Hit Girl (work in progress) Perfect Chaos I am officially a fan. This guy is amazing.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Exclusive Look at "Lost Planet 2" and Swag Pack Giveaway (5 sets!)

Please check out my GIVEAWAY PAGE for information related to the exclusive "Lost Planet 2" video and swag pack giveaway.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Movie Review: "How to Train Your Dragon"

**Spoilers Included** I know, I know. The movie has been out for weeks and you probably already know that it has a 98% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes. But I can't help myself. I finally got a chance to see it and I have to throw my recommendation out there for this great little film.

  How to Train Your Dragon is the story of Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), the wry but scrawny son of Stoic the Vast (Gerard Butler) who stands out, and not in a good way, in his Viking village on the island of Berk. The Vikings have been in an ongoing war with dragons that regularly raid the village for food. Hiccup longs to distinguish himself by killing a dragon, and using a contraption he invented, brings down a Night Fury-- the most deadly of the dragons. Of course no one in the village believes Hiccup so he heads out the next day in search of the dragon he's sure he brought down. It turns out Hiccup did successfully bring down a Night Fury, but the dragon isn't dead and when the moment comes to kill the dragon, Hiccup can't do it. Hiccup frees the dragon, only to find that it's too injured to fly.

Unable to leave the dragon stranded and hungry, Hiccup starts to bring it food, and soon finds out that the dragons are not the mindless killers he has been raised to believe they are. Hiccup then designs an ingenious contraption that allows the dragon-- whom he has since named Toothless-- to fly, but only if Hiccup is riding on his back and making the proper adjustments. Bonding with Toothless turns out to be an eye-opener in many ways for Hiccup as he begins to understand the mannerisms of all the dragons and how to tame them.
But the rest of the village isn't ready to hear about tame dragons, and his father is readying the villagers to attack the dragon's nest.

 "How to Train Your Dragon" is just too cute for words. It has everything you want in a great family film; The dialog is quick, clever and funny for the adults and the dragons are colorfully cute and just busy enough for the kids. It's well written and paced beautifully so it never gets bogged down or has you looking at your watch.

And the visuals, oh my goodness, are terrific. Some of the animation has the so-realistic-it-looks-real quality to it and it's hard not to be really impressed with how far Dreamworks has come. Most of the reviews you'll see will echo my sentiments-- with good reason-- though a few have tried to put a political spin on the movie (calling it "pacifist" or some such nonsense)-- but don't believe a word of that. It's a kids movie for Pete's sake and kids don't care a whit about war. They want to see a cute movie with a childlike-hero and a happy ending. It just so happens they get all of that wrapped up in a very charming package. I liked it so much I want to go right out and see it again.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Book Review: "Dead in the Family" by Charlaine Harris

Between Eric's legs I could see a man, very scarred and very muscular, with dark eyes and hair. I knew he was short because I could only see his head and shoulders. He was wearing jeans and a Black Sabbath T-Shirt. I couldn't help it. I giggled. "Haven't you missed me, Eric?" The Roman's voice had an accent I couldn't really have broken down, it had so many layers. "Ocella, your presence is always an honor," Eric said. I giggled harder. Eric was lying. "What is wrong with my wife?" he asked. "Her senses are confused," the older vampire said. "You have my blood. She's had your blood. And another child of mine is here. The bond between us all is scrambling her thoughts and feelings." No shit. "this is my new son, Alexi," Appius Livius Ocella told Eric. I peered past Eric's legs. The new "son" was a boy of no more than thirteen or fourteen. In fact, I could hardly see his face. I froze, trying not to react. "Brother," said Eric by way of greeting his new sibling. The words came out level and cold. I was going to stand up now. I was not going to crouch here any longer. Eric had crowded me into a very small space between the bed and the nightstand, with the bathroom door to my right. He hadn't shifted from his defensive posture. "Excuse me," I said with a great effort, and Eric took a step forward to give me room, keeping himself from between me and his maker and the boy. I rose to my feet, pushing on the bed to get upright. I still felt fried. I looked to Eric's sire right in his dark and liquid eyes. For a fraction of a second he looked surprised. "Eric, you need to go to the front door and let them in," I said. "I'll bet they don't really need an invitation." "Eric, she's rare," said Ocella in his oddly accented English. "Where did you find her?" "I'm asking you out of courtesy, because you're Eric's dad," I said, "I could just leave you outside." If I didn't sound as strong as I wanted, at least I didn't sound frightened. "But my child is in the house, and if he is welcome, so am I. Am I not?" Ocella's thick brown brows rose. His nose...Well you could tell why they coined the term "Roman nose." "I waited to come in out of courtesy. We could have appeared in your bedroom." And the next moment they were inside. I didn't dignify that with an answer. I spared a glance for the boy, whose face was absolutely blank. He was no ancient Roman. He hadn't been a vampire a full century, I estimated, and he seemed to come from Germanic stock. His hair was light and short and cut evenly, his eyes were blue, and when he met my own, he inclined his head. "Your name is Alexi?" I asked. "Yes," said his maker, while the boy stood mute. "This is Alexi Romanov." Though the boy didn't react, and neither did Eric, I had a moment of sheer horror. "You didn't," I said to Eric's maker, who was about my height. "You didn't." "I tried to save one of his sisters, too, but she was beyond my recall." Ocella said bleakly. His teeth were white and even, though he was missing the one next to his left canine. If you had lost teeth before you became a vampire, they didn't regenerate. "Sookie, what is it?" Eric was not following for once. "The Romanovs," I said, trying to keep my voice hushed as though the boy couldn't hear me from twenty yards away. "The last Russian royal family." ~Excerpt from Dead in the Family by Charlaine Harris After nine books, Sookie Stackhouse has been through a lot. She never intended to get involved in the affairs of the supernatural community, but the strange "disability" that allows her to read minds has made her incredibly useful in vampire politics--and the werewolves aren't shy when it comes to using her ability as well. But it's the recent discovery that Sookie has fairy blood that has really turned her world upside down. "Dead in the Family," the tenth installment of the Southern Vampire Mysteries by Charlaine Harris, picks up soon after the Fae Wars have ended and Sookie is just trying to heal mentally and physically. Sookie's tough and she's been through her share of rough moments. But the Fae War was the closest Sookie had ever come to being killed and it has taken quite a bit of Eric Northman's blood to heal her. As a result Sookie's bond to Eric is stronger than ever. And while she's pretty sure she's in love with the vampire Viking, it's difficult to sort out her emotions with the constant tug of the psychic bond. Before Sookie and Eric have a chance to figure out their relationship, Eric's maker comes to town with his newest "son" in tow, and the boy turns out to be extremely unstable. But that's not the only complication Sookie has to deal with. Her fairy cousin Claude abruptly decides to move in with Sookie, which is strange since Claude doesn't particularly seem to like Sookie. Add to the mix the usual Were politics, drama involving Sookie's brother Jason and a young telepathic cousin, and you have one busy mind-reading cocktail waitress. "Dead in the Family" is a slower-paced book than those that have come before in the Southern Vampire Mysteries, which is refreshing in a way, but it also dials down the suspense quite a bit. It feels as if Harris has decided to give Sookie a bit of break after the events of the last book-- which makes sense since no human alive could withstand the grueling set of circumstances Sookie has had to deal with and convincingly run right back into the fray. Like the title would suggest, "Dead in the Family" seems to be all about family-- Sookie's, Eric's, Bill's and even Sam's. We learn more about the history of all the characters than we have ever before and it's something of a sentimental journey-- albeit a frequently dangerous one. Sookie is, as always, a very likable character though Harris seems to be trying to give her an edge as time goes by. Sookie is jaded and not so shy when it comes to wishing her enemies were dead-- something that bothers the good, Christian girl that Sookie still considers herself to be. Because "Dead in the Family" is paced so differently from the other books, it has a sense of being anti-climatic, though it's nice not to see Sookie continually put through the wringer. The difficult part in reviewing the book comes when I have to say whether or not a very fast-reading, 320 page book is worth $25 (though Amazon currently has it listed at $9.99) and I can only say that it depends on how attached you are to Sookie's story. "Dead in the Family" is the kind of book that ties up loose ends and allows the reader to take an emotional journey with the characters and it's certainly entertaining even if it isn't a standout in the series. I like Sookie Stackhouse and I'm always happy to have a chance to return to the Southern Vampire Mysteries--and I have no doubt most of Harris' fans will not be disappointed in the newest offering--but I don't think I'd give this one more than a 7 out of 10.

Giveaway! "A Taint in the Blood" by S. M. Stirling

I have a giveaway up featuring "A Taint in the Blood" by S. M. Stirling on my giveaway page. Be sure to CHECK IT OUT.