Friday, July 30, 2010

Review - Secret Invasion

Like New Avengers / Transformers, I haven’t heard a lot of good things about Secret Invasion. Heck, I wasn’t even impressed with the tie-ins that Nova and the Guardians of the Galaxy had with this event (though they kept mostly to themselves and were harmless enough – they also didn’t make me want to seek out the “main” series and see what it was all about)… and yet, there was something about this story that called to me. Perhaps it was seeing Iron Man, Captain America and Thor on the cover of the TPB (and knowing these characters hadn’t been working together since the Civil War story had occurred). Perhaps it was the cosmic nature of the story – alien shapeshifters are among us, and are ready to launch their final offensive and take over the Earth. And maybe it’s because I was looking for a fairly straightforward story, another big ticket “event” where there’s lots of action – but Secret Invasion worked very well for me. Our Marvel heroes are divided, having come down on opposing sides of the Civil War which pitted those who were ready to register as superhumans with the government and those who opposed the measure. Conveniently (perhaps even orchestrated by the Skrulls themselves) this has left our worlds heroes fighting against each other when the world needs them most. Reports of an alien craft landing in the Savage Land (a Lost World hidden within Antarctica) leads both the underground Avengers (opposed to registration) and the Mighty Avengers who are registered on a quest to find out what its purpose might be. As the spaceship opens, they find it filled with superheroes – some thought dead, some obviously imposters – or worse, the originals meaning the imposters have been among them the whole time. And while they’re otherwise occupied, the Skrulls launch their all out invasion against the poorly defended country. They take out the Baxter Building first, hoping to eliminate the threat of The Fantastic Four – as well as the SHIELD helicarrier, which after the Avengers represents the country – and perhaps the world’s – last line of defense. In the Savage Land the Avengers discover that the Skrull ship was mostly a diversion to keep them from the real action, but also a way in which to take out Iron Man’s formidable armor. A few heroes return from long captivity among the Skrulls, and the Avengers all assemble and head back to New York (always New York) where the main thrust of the Skrull invasion is happening. Here they’ll band together with anyone available to fight, including villains, the new Captain America and even the reborn Thor – as they discover the Skrull Queen has been among them since the very beginning, and that everything that’s been happening for years now (in terms of comic plotting) have been leading to this point. Yes, there are some flaws in the story – plot lines are shown here briefly, but then picked up in the respective comic series of that character/group instead of finishing within the pages of this book. Some characters make brief appearances, only to move out of the action soon after. But this story on its own is all about the action – and if the character in question isn’t a part of the main action at that point, then they’re left behind. I never felt like I couldn’t understand what was going on though, the series has enough of a plot on its own to feel complete (some things just made me interested in going out and reading other Secret Invasion stories, just to see what happened to certain characters). There are some great moments of betrayal and shock within these pages though, some good character moments, and nothing that felt out of place. There were moments in Civil War where characters didn’t seem like themselves to me – that wasn’t the case here. If you’re looking for some classic Avengers action, then you’ve come to the right place. What’s great about this story is, it also sets up nicely a new status quo at the end of the book, a darker tone where a villain gets the chance to redeem himself by having become a hero through the luck of being at the right place at the right time. While the heroes may have saved the planet, they really lost this war – and things are only going to get darker from here (as my next comic review will be of Dark Avengers vol 1: Assemble).

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

"Sucker Punch" Trailer

From the director of "300" and "Watchmen," we now have a violent, futuristic version of Alice in Wonderland...
[Zack] Snyder has described the film as "Alice in Wonderland with machine guns", including dragons, B-52 bombers and brothels. Snyder's wife and producing partner Deborah Snyder concludes, "in the end, it's about this girl's survival and what she needs to do to be able to cope." In February 2009, Snyder released a short synopsis of Sucker Punch which states: "Set in the 1950s, it tells the story of Baby Doll (Browning), who is trying to hide from the pain caused by her evil stepfather and lobotomy. She ends up in mental institution in Brattleboro, Vermont and while there she starts to imagine an alternate reality. She plans to escape from that imaginary world but to do that she needs to steal five objects before she is captured by an unknown adversary. She has 5 days to escape before being lobotomized. In order to cope with the situation, she enters the hyper-real world of her imagination, and the lines between reality and dream begin to blur. She is joined with friends who are inmates from the institution. Lessons learned in the said fantasy world could help the girls escape their real-world fate."
I can't think of a thing that's wrong with any of this...:)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Movie Review: "Salt"

Improbable as it may be, with her pin-thin arms, slight physique and unearthly beauty, Angelina Jolie is probably the most credible female action hero to hit the big screen since Sigourney Weaver made her debut as Ellen Ripley in "Alien." Something in the way she sets her face speaks of an attitude that says she means business, and it's that attitude that carries a movie that might otherwise sink under the weight of a plot that is not only fairly absurd, but out-of-sync with modern politics. Jolie plays Evelyn Salt, the film's namesake, a CIA agent who has been accused of being a KGB sleeper agent raised within the Russian machine to infiltrate the American intelligence community. A mysterious Russian defector by the name of Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski) sets events in motion when he abruptly walks into the CIA and proclaims that Evelyn is a Russian agent who is planning on murdering the Russian president while the foreign leader is in the United States to attend a state funeral. Fearing for her husband's life, Salt chooses to go on the run to ensure his safety as well as try to clear her name.

Giveaway! The Circle Series by Linda Robertson

Thanks to Simon & Schuster, I have ONE SET of the first three books of "The Circle Series" by Linda Robertson up for grabs on my giveaway page. Be sure to CHECK IT OUT.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Temporary Comment Moderation

It seems I have an Asian porn site that wants to post in my comment section-- and they won't stop. This isn't a bot either because I already have word verification going on, so some idiot is actually taking the time to post links in my comment section. Very irritating. What really annoys me is that their site has some numerical page address, rather than a name (at least that I can decipher) so I can't get an IP address to block them from my blog. What I can do is temporarily enforce total comment moderation until this idiot gets tired of wasting their time. I hope you all don't mind, but I am sick of having to delete the garbage that's being posted. I promise to remove the full moderation as soon as I can. Thanks for understanding.

Making the Rounds..."Priest" Trailer

Not sure what to think yet-- but at least the monsters are monsters.
A post-apocalyptic sci-fi thriller, is set in an alternate world -- one ravaged by centuries of war between man and vampires. The story revolves around a legendary Warrior Priest (Paul Bettany) from the last Vampire War who now lives in obscurity among the other downtrodden human inhabitants in walled-in dystopian cities ruled by the Church. When his niece (Lily Collins) is abducted by a murderous pack of vampires, Priest breaks his sacred vows to venture out on a quest to find her before they turn her into one of them. He is joined on his crusade by his niece's boyfriend (Cam Gigandet), a trigger-fingered young wasteland sheriff, and a former Warrior Priestess (Maggie Q) who possesses otherworldly fighting skills.

Priest Trailer
Uploaded by teasertrailer. - Full seasons and entire episodes online.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Review: The Dark King & The Lightning Tower

I was highly entertained by my last foray into a Black Library Audio Drama, and this follow up did nothing to dissuade me of the notion that this is how Audio books were meant to be done. This time there are two short stories, written by two of the biggest names in the Warhammer fiction line, The Dark King by Graham McNeill and The Lightning Tower by Dan Abnett. They are interrelated stories, both taking place during the Horus Heresy era (about a millennia before Warhammer 40,000), detailing how the Imperium came to be wracked by civil war – led by the favored son of the Emperor, Horus. But this audio drama is about two of the Emperor’s other sons, Konrad Curze and Rogal Dorn – brothers who will become bitter enemies. In The Dark King, in the waning days of the Imperium’s Great Crusade, Konrad Cruze is leading Imperium forces on a planet that has recently been brought to heel for daring to rebel against the rightful rule of the Emperor. Konrad believes the best way to ensure the populace learns its lesson is to beat them down into submission, but when his brother Rogal Dorn hears of his methods, he takes over command of the planet and relieves Konrad of duty. Konrad is placed under a form of house arrest (on board an orbiting space ship), but he knows that he can no longer fight for an Imperium led by weaklings like his brother, so he plots his escape – and ultimately the rise of his loyal troops to become the fearsome Night Lords. I only have one disappointment with this first story; it lacks one critical scene. Upon returning to their command ship, Konrad faces his brother Rogal, and beats him near to death. But we only hear about that scene afterwards, from Konrad who’s now under arrest for assaulting his brother. This scene will be referred to again in the next short story, but again not described in detail. One could make a case for that fact that it could never be fairly described by either party – they would only both remember it from their own point of view – but I felt like I had missed something the first time through because of its absence. But the scene immediately following well makes up for it – it’s one of the most action packed intense scenes I’ve heard in an audio book so far. Konrad escapes from his jailors, battling them within a darkened anteroom – moving in and out of the dark and striking at them without warning. You can hear their fear, and even though he’s not a good guy – you can’t help but root for Konrad to escape. The Lightning Tower takes place some time later, as the Imperium prepares for the inevitable assault upon Terra (Earth) that they know Horus and his followers will one day pursue. To that end, the Emperor has tasked his son, Rogal Dorn to convert the Palace into a Fortress – changing it from utmost beauty into an ugly militaristic structure whose only function is to protect the Emperor. Rogal does not enjoy his task, and he finds himself questioning why his brothers have chosen to rebel. While at first he believes his biggest fear is that he might begin to understand the truth behind their rebellion – in reality it is his last interaction with Konrad which really makes him afraid. No one has ever nearly beaten him like Konrad did, and he knows that Konrad will face the forces of the Imperium with the same fervor – and that scares Rogal more than anything else. This is a great companion piece to The Dark King, though not as strong on its own. The Lightning Tower is lacking any action or significant story movement – it’s really just an exploration of Rogal Dorn’s feelings about how the civil war is proceeding and how deeply scarred he is from the events with his brother Konrad. There is some interesting insight for me (as a newcomer) into the world of Warhammer during this era – from the Emperor’s human advisor (the Emperor I assume is Astartes, a modified human like his sons) to the “lost” sons whom they don’t refer to (and these are not the sons in open rebellion against the Emperor). I also learned that the Palace lies at the top of the Himalayas – a place sure to make for an interesting backdrop for the inevitable battle to come. I haven’t mentioned the excellent audio work done for this recording yet, but everything that was true of Fireborn applies here as well. This is a feast for the ears, with the sound effects of battle, the echoes of footfalls, the grinding of pneumatic doors, the hiss of armor – as well as the fantastic orchestrated music which plays at just the right moments to add to the overall effect. It’s like listening to a movie, only having the action described to you by a narrator. If you are a fan of audiobooks, I can’t more highly recommend picking up one of these audio dramas from the Black Library – I have listened to each one of them twice so far, and enjoy them so much that I can safely say I’ll continue to pull them out when I’m looking to hear another audiobook in the future.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Are Fan Reviews Diluting Film Criticism?

**Updated quotes to include section specific to Roger Ebert** I don't pay a lot of attention to high profile cyber wars. Generally they're kind of like the on-air feud between Donald Trump and Rosie O'Donnell that raged a few years ago-- full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. But the sniping that has gone on between film critics Roger Ebert and Armond White is particularly compelling to blogger reviewers like myself. I don't know much about Armond White other than the fact that he is a film critic for the New York Press who tends to have contrarian views when it comes to film criticism (praising movies like "Transformers 2" while panning "Toy Story 3") and infuriating followers of the aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes when he ruins the "fresh" score of movies like "District 9." I also know that he holds reviewers like Roger Ebert in low esteem, blaming him for the proliferation of blogs just like this one.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

My Favorite Vacation Re-Reads (For Now)

If you're lucky vacation time is a great time to catch up on your reading. If you have kids, it's a time to glance at a few paragraphs before you collapse into your hotel bed. I've learned that I can't bring a book I haven't already read with me when I go on vacation. Even if I'm lucky enough to find an honest-to-goodness beach for my beach reading, the distractions are too much and I spend more time picking the book up and re-reading the same page over and over. Unless I have read the book before. I can't keep every book that comes through my front door, but I definitely keep as many favorites as I can. I've always liked re-reading books. My memory isn't sharp enough to remember more than the sketchiest details of a book after a few months-- give me a few years and it's like I'm reading it for the first time. But my "favorite" re-reads vary. I can't attempt to re-read a book that I read recently. It has to be something I haven't read for at least a year-- ideally it will have been a couple of years. But I've had fun over the summer picking out a few old favorites and taking them on the road with me. So here's my list of this summer's best re-reads. Old Man's War by John Scalzi I don't read a lot of science fiction-- I tend to prefer fantasy when I read, though I like science fiction best when it comes to my movies. I'm weird. But I just love "Old Man's War." Everything about it tickles my fancy and credit goes to Scalzi's writing style which is so accessible. But where Scalzi really earned my respect was the deft handling of plot lines that could be politically biased and heavy handed, but flow naturally and effortlessly within the characterizations. "Old Man's War" is the perfect book for the busy vacation because it's instantly engrossing without being over complicated. Ancient Appetites by Oisin McGann I received "Ancient Appetites" a few years ago from a UK publisher and thought it was wonderful. It's even better on the second reading. It's a hard book to describe, though I guess I would call it a YA steampunk novel. Full of action and inventive scientific and mystical elements, it's just a really fun book that still kept me up reading. It's not on bookshelves in the US, but easily obtained through used book sellers here in the States. I just purchased the sequel and can't wait to read it. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban The Harry Potter series is probably the only whole series I'll go back and re-read every few years, but if I only have time to spare for one book in the series, I often pick up "The Prisoner of Azkaban. I'm not sure why, but this one was probably the book that really got me hooked on the series. If I had to guess, I'd say it was the introduction of Sirius Black and the history we're finally given about Harry's parents. This is when the series begins to grow up IMHO. Bitten by Kelley Armstrong Paranormal fiction is a great choice for vacation reading. Many of the books are short, easy to follow and loaded with action. My choice this year was "Bitten." I discovered Armstrong's series after at least three books had already been released and devoured them within a week. I've always liked the way Armstrong set up the series with varying main characters and the female perspective. But I'm always drawn back to the first book because of it's unique take on the werewolf story. Werewolves may not be new anymore, but Armstrong gets credit as one of the first who ushered in the recent popularity of the genre, and she still does it better than most. Clockwork Heart by Dru Pagliasotti Sometimes I'm in the mood for a little romance, though it has to have some fantastic elements to it. I read "Clockwork Heart" a few years ago and was thoroughly charmed. It was the first steampunk book I ever read and it definitely stoked my interest in the genre. Best described as a steampunk version of "Pride & Prejudice" it draws on the best elements of Jane Austen's great story without borrowing too heavily from the original. Very likable and sweet no matter how many times I read it. So there's my list and I'm sticking to it. Anyone else re-read anything this summer? If so, what's your list look like?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Out For a Few Days

We had plans at the end of the month to take the kids on a weekend trip before school starts, but somehow things got shuffled around and we'll be leaving this weekend. Oh darn, that means I'll be out of town while we have 106° weather here, how will I ever survive? I should be back by Tuesday. Have a great weekend everyone!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Movie Review: "Inception"

There really isn't a better way to usher in your 40th birthday than to helm a film that is receiving almost universal acclaim, and that is precisely the enviable position Christopher Nolan finds himself in after the release of the elaborately realized Inception. Few writer/directors have the goodwill Nolan can claim, but after delivering quality blockbusters like "The Dark Knight" and well regarded small budget films like "Memento," Nolan has absolutely earned bragging rights as one of the best in the business, and "Inception" is sure to add to his golden-boy shine, even if it doesn't, quite, hold up as his best effort.

"Red" Movie Trailer

Review: The New Avengers & The Transformers

I’ve heard nothing but bad things about this series, from reviews that have blasted every aspect of it (concept to execution) and yet there was something compelling about it to me. I’ve loved the Transformers for a long time, it was one of my favorite toys (and probably the last toy line I was really into as a kid), and I’ve been a fan of Marvel comics for a long time. This seemed like the equivalent of a summer movie blockbuster – maybe not all that intelligent, but certainly it should be entertaining. And I’m here to tell you it is exactly that. Don’t listen to all the negative press about this series – no, it’s not the greatest Avengers or Transformers story I’ve ever read – but let’s be clear here; we’re talking about superheroes and sentient robots from outer space. Is there any particular reason these two franchises can’t get along? In fact there isn’t – and Ms Marvel makes a point of noting that during her cosmic travels she’s encountered worlds devastated as described by the Autobots (when talking about what the Decepticons will do to Earth should they not be stopped) – but I’m getting ahead of myself here. The Avengers have gone to Doctor Doom’s country of Latveria because it has recently increased hostilities with neighboring country Symkaria – in what will likely lead to outright war. The Avengers are looking to prevent that, though Captain America notes that the planes he sees flying bombing missions into Symkaria don’t look like the type Doom’s country employs (to the eagle eyed reader, they do look to be the familiar shapes of Decepticons). The Avengers find a dome shaped base, and Doctor Doom who seems as surprised as they are to find it in his country. As they try to break in, they are met by the Decepticons, who take Spider-man because his irradiated blood carries a unique energy signature that they can harness into Energon which will give them additional powers beyond what they are normally capable of. Ok, so that was a bit of a stretch, but again – superheroes, talking machines – let’s go with it here. The heroes (who by this point are in-fighting incessantly, almost to the point that I was thinking this was the reason people were turned off by this series) retreat, though begrudgingly – and find the Autobots arriving to help. The Autobots explain that the Decepticons have usurped one of Doom’s devices and used it to make an aggression ray of sorts – one that’s affecting all the humans in the vicinity (making sense of the in-fighting of the Avengers, as well as the rising tensions between these countries) as a cover up so that they can harvest the fuel of our world and leave it a husk when they’re done (this is where Ms Marvel mentions she’s seen this happen before). The Autobots and Avengers then work together to invade the dome and defeat the Decepticons, in grand spectacular fashion. We have Iron Man coming in wearing a Transformer sized armor, Spider-Man webslinging around Megatron the way he’s shown on the cover of the original Marvel Transformers #3 (but didn’t actually occur in that issue) Optimus Prime giving the beat-down to Megatron, and lots of other fun moments. Yes, there are strange out-of-character moments (I think Captain America is singing the Star Spangled Banner as he heads into battle at one point, which just didn’t seem right – but I’ll chalk it up to the lingering effects of the aggression ray), but by and large both the art and the story really impressed me for what this book is. These robots from space fit in as well in the Marvel universe as any other cosmic threat (and are treated as just another one of the many that exist), frankly it can even coexist with the already established appearance of Spider-man (though that’s long been written out of his history) in the Transformers – because there’s really no reference to him having never seen them before. And though never followed up on in any other comics that I know of, the ending certainly set up the possibility for a follow up Avengers/Transformers series. But ultimately, if you’re a fan of either series, this is the kind of series that was made to be easy to pick up and read for anyone. I’m a fairly casual fan at this point, having not followed Transformers in comics for since their Marvel days and only reading Avengers since it’s New incarnation - but that’s more than enough to follow what’s going on here. This is exactly as advertised, a big dumb action film – so get out the popcorn and have fun reading it, and don’t worry too much about if it makes sense or not – remember, superheroes and giant talking robots.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Giveaway! "Labyrinth" by Kat Richardson

Courtesy of Penguin Books I have a copy of "Labyrinth" by Kat Richardson up for grabs on my giveaway page. Be sure to CHECK IT OUT

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Shaping the Adult

I loved fairy tales as a kid; couldn't get enough of them. Like most little girls I was somewhat drawn to princess stories, though I never wanted to be a princess. I simply think that I was looking for my own gender to connect to, and princesses were what you found most of the time.

 But mostly I was a sucker for the animation. I didn't say I was deep. To this day the one that stands out the most in my memory is "The White Cat" from Dean's A Book of Fairy Tales. I poured over that book and studied every illustration from "Beauty and the Beast" to "The Frog Princess;" those images are an indelible part of my childhood.

Best. Trailer. Ever.

Giveaway! "Omnitopia Dawn" by Diane Duane

I'm adding a couple more giveaways this week than I normally do because I have some duplicates of new releases that I'd like to make sure are up in sync with their release dates. Today's contest features "Omnitopia Dawn" by Diane Duane, be sure to head over to my giveaway page and CHECK IT OUT.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Movie Review: "Toy Story 3"

**Spoilers Included** In 1995 "Toy Story," the first full length feature film presented entirely in CGI, was released and wowed audiences with its technical brilliance and excellent storytelling. Unlike most animated film series', Pixar took it slow and didn't rush the release of successive films and it shows in the craftsmanship of this third installment. The movie has been out for almost a month now and it's no secret that it has been critically hailed and currently carries a "fresh" score of 99% on Rotten Tomatoes -- beating out "The Dark Knight" by 5% on their aggregate scale. So it may be redundant for me to throw in my recommendation but it's never a waste of time to give some respect to a film that is so good that it leaves the competition looking like they're still trying to decipher the formula that "Toy Story" has perfected.

Giveaway!

Courtesy of Orbit Books I have a copy of "Tracking the Tempest" by Nicole Peeler up for grabs on my giveaway page. Be sure to CHECK IT OUT.

Contest Winners!

I've had several contests wrap up over the last week or so and I need to announce the (randomly selected) winners. "Procession of the Dead" by Darren Shan goes to-- Eszter Balogh: Budapest, Hungary "Terminal World" by Alastair Reynolds goes to-- Laura Armstrong: Ontario, Canada "Distant Thunders" by Taylor Anderson goes to-- Dave Wyatt: Fulton, Maryland "Pretty Monsters" by Kelly Link goes to-- Kathy Martin: Duluth, Minnesota and "Undead and Unfinished" by MaryJanice Davidson goes to-- Crystal Caruthers: Norman, Oklahoma Congrats everyone-- These will be in the mail very soon!

Friday, July 09, 2010

Review: Transformers Exodus by Alex Irvine

I’m a pretty big transformers fan. I collected all 80 issues of the original Marvel comics run of the four issue limited series, as well as their follow up Generation 2. I collected many of the toys in my youth, and even some of the resurgence of the comics under Dreamwave (the best of which was Transformers: Armada). I was aware of the Beast Wars through my nephew, who was really into that show, and my own sons love Transformers Animated. So, the only shows I really missed were Robots in Disguise (really more of an Anime take on the property anyway) and Energon. Oh and it should be noted that I actually enjoy both live action films. And books, oh I’ve read plenty. From the Alan Dean Foster books tied into last summer’s Revenge of the Fallen, to an earlier attempt at original fiction by Scott Ciencen called Hardwired (which was such a miserable failure of a book that I had no desire to read the next two books in that trilogy, despite the change in author). But no prose book has ever come as close to being a perfect Transformers book as Alex Irvine’s Exodus. I’m not going to spend a lot of time talking about the same part of the book most reviews seem to be focusing in on. Yes, this book gives the reader the origin of the war between the Decepticons and the Autobots, and shows how it is intricately linked to the rise of both Megatron and Optimus Prime. And that part of the plot is well thought out, revealing both characters to be much more than the marketing of a toy; but well realized personalities, capable of being betrayed and of going to extreme and desperate measures to do what in their own minds must be done for the sake of their “movement”. But that’s really only just the early part of the novel, the set up for the other 2/3 of the book, in which the war itself is fought – in the trenches, slowly, painfully over the course of centuries (megacycles) as each side tries to gain an upper hand, and more and more of the energon resources of the planet are used up to fuel their neverending war. What starts as two political movements, both looking to create a more equal society, eventually coalesces into two diametrically opposed viewpoints (like Magneto and Xavier) that splits Cybertronian society and forces each member to choose a side. And the lore that Irvine includes, and uses to an excellent degree – I would imagine that the uninitiated might not catch every reference, and it shouldn’t defer from their enjoyment of the story – but for those who have some passing interest in Transformers, this book reads like a love letter to all of the series. Ratbat as the council representative from the Minicons, makes connections between Ratbat’s use as a Decepticon leader in the Marvel comic as well as the use of Minicons in Armada (and the existence in general of these smaller toys). The Allspark having been sent away from Cybertron to protect it, the Thirteen Primes (including The Fallen), the Matrix of Leadership, mentions of the Quintessons, space-bridges, Teletran-1, and just the right amount of use of characters from a number of different series (like Jetfire, Omega Supreme, Trypticon, Lugnut, Sentinel Prime, Ultra Magnus & The Wreckers) all added not just a whiff of nostalgia to the book, but a critical part of showing how much bigger the story really is. There’s a lot of history here, making for a well rounded world, a deep world with its own mythology - and its own iconic characters. The main stars of course are the usual suspects, aside from the obvious two above, you’ve also got the devious Starscream, loyal Soundwave and Bumblebee (loyal to their own side, that is), the mad-scientist Shockwave, medic Ratchet, weaponmaster Ironhide, security guru Prowl, and Jazz, the only Autobot who can get away with calling Prime out on his decisions. There are a few moments of silliness – I wasn’t fond of the use of Six Lasers over Cybertron (an obvious analog to Six Flags) and there were times that I wished for a little more interaction between certain characters (like Jetfire being a part of the Seekers – the same group as Starscream – and him choosing to betray them and join the Autobots – it’s a fairly important moment in Transformers lore, but glazed over in this book). And yet I find I can’t really nit-pick those small things that I wished were in the book when there was so much that I loved about it. Optimus leads not only by example, but by taking charge of the most dangerous missions – this is a leader who shares the same dangers as those who fight at his side. And his mission here seems insurmountable – fighting Decepticons who have learned to tap into Dark Energon, making them even more powerful; trying to save Sentinel Prime; finding the Matrix of Leadership; stopping the threat of Trypticon; and all while facing dwindling resources and a losing battle which sees the Autobots yielding ground every day to the Decepticons – until the only option left open to them is the Generation One project, building an Ark, and leaving Cybertron until they can one day return… I find I have no other ways to say it, Transformers: Exodus is a fantastic Transformers novel, and a great book in its own right. It works as a novel for a fan of any series, it could be the origin for all versions of the Transformers mythos. It’s also one of my favorite reads so far this year, and I highly recommend it.

We've Named Him Barney

New toys are the best aren't they? My old computer had been acting up, so we ordered a new laptop-- and it's purple! Of course I have done nothing productive since it arrived-- though I have spruced up the blog a bit. My husband christened the computer "Barney" after the infamous purple dinosaur and something tells me the name is going to stick; though I fail to see a resemblance. Oh well. At least my computer isn't randomly shutting down on me anymore.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Where to Begin?

I have been really, really........really bad about keeping up with my "books received" list. I was somewhat ambitious about wanting to keep the list updated with the description of the book included, but once I got behind it began to seem so time consuming that I kept putting it off until I had time to get to it-- until I didn't have time to get to it all. I know-- I'm so lucky to have a problem like that. Anyway. I need to do something, so, for now, I'm putting up pictures. Here are some recent arrivals...

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Book Review: "The King's Bastard" by Rowena Cory Daniells

Piro caught Leif and thrust him behind her, as Garzik reached for an arrow. The wolfhounds had one of the juveniles trapped in a corner of the dairy. Florin and Orrade were doing a sweep of Narrowneck to be sure they had got them all. Garzik notched his arrow and drew, waiting for a good shot. 

 The side of Piro's neck prickled with warning. She turned. Another juvenile stood in the shadows, poised to attack Leif. 

"Garzik!" she hissed, reaching for an arrow and nocking it. 

"Quiet, Piro. I don't want to hit one of the dogs." 

She couldn't take her gaze off those gleaming orange eyes, but at the same time she was aware of the raised tail, the poisoned spike dripping with venom. Could her arrow drive through the manticore's eye into its brain before it struck Leif? She didn't think so. But she had to do something. She thrust Leif behind her, saw a stray bucket and, quick as thought, kicked it at the beast. The manticore struck instinctively, tail hitting the bucket with a resounding ring of chitin striking metal. Piro loosed her arrow. It took the manticore high in the shoulder where it hit the neck. 

Garzik swore. A dog howled, then whimpered. The other two growled as they attacked, tearing the second manticore apart. The cornered Affinity beast screamed in pain and fury. Piro's manticore took one step before its legs folded under it. She darted aside dragging Leif out of the way of the falling tail. They collided with Garzik's back, driving him to safety and fell in a heap on the dairy floor. 

 "Whaa?" Garzik rolled to his feet. He gaped as he took in the second manticore. 

 Piro climbed to her feet. Odd, her legs didn't work properly.

 ~Excerpt from The King's Bastard by Rowena Cory Daniells

Byren and Lence are the eldest sons of King Rolen, and the seven minutes that separated their birth have dictated that Lence would rule Rolencia-- and Byren wouldn't have it any other way. But when a renegade power user tells Byren that he is destined to be King, he fights her awful prophecy in every way he can.

It doesn't take long for a distance to grow between Lence and Byren, and he doesn't know if the rift was already there or if the seeds of discord were planted by the old seer. At the same time, other cracks begin to appear in the peaceful facade of the kingdom of Rolencia. Political unrest brews despite the strategic marriage arranged between Lence and the daughter of a powerful warlord.

Unusual amounts of untamed magic, known as "Affinity seeps" begin to appear, drawing magical, and dangerous, creatures toward human habitations. Even the churches have become more concerned with internal power-plays than spiritual matters. Further complicating things is the presence of the illegitimate nephew of King Rolen, Illien Cobalt, whose friendship with Lence seems to be increasing the distance between the two brothers.

 "The King's Bastard" follows a template that is very common in fantasy fiction; an heir to the throne who is jealous of the younger, more popular sibling. Throw in some prophesy and magic and you might think you've read this book before-- and maybe you have, but that doesn't mean you won't like "The King's Bastard" as much as all the others. There's just something to be said for telling a good story.

 The book follows the perspective of three of the four children of King Rolen: Byren, Fyn and Piro. While Byren deals with the secular threats to the kingdom, Fyn and Piro become caught up more magical intrigues. Magic users are required to serve the churches and Fyn has spent most of his life in a monastery. But Piro's ability didn't show itself until she had already been betrothed to a neighboring warlord, and revealing her secret may add to the unrest that already unsettling her father's rule.

 The best thing about "The King's Bastard" is the pacing. I can't remember the last time I read a 600+ page book so fast. There are times the book walks a fine line between fantasy and soap-opera but somehow the author always manages to pull the book back from the brink of too many misunderstandings and overheard conversations. She especially does a good job of balancing more than one main character without confusing transitions-- you can put this book down and pick it up without any difficulty sliding right back into the story.

I also like the balance struck between the political and magical aspects of the story and the inclusion of magical creatures such as manticores and leogryfs, known as "Affinity beasts" is an especially nice touch. Bad things happen to the characters in "The King's Bastard" but not in a grueling or graphic fashion. We also know who the villains are, we just don't know how things are going to play out. If I had to come up with a short-hand description of the book, I would say it's kind of a less gritty version of "A Game of Thrones," which I liked because it has a lot of entertainment value without being overly complicated.

I might have wished for an ending that didn't quite feel so rushed and slightly convoluted as it didn't quite match the excellent pacing of the rest of the book. But, overall, the book is a definite page-turner and I genuinely look forward to reading the next book in the series.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

"Rango" Trailer

This looks cute, but please don't tell me I have to wait until March 2011 for a movie worth seeing? Pretty please, let "Inception" be good... Be back to regular posting soon. Took some holiday time off with the family for the 4th (gotta love 4 day weekends!).

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Happy Fourth of July!

I'm all set. Got my watermelon margaritas, barbecued ribs and berry cobbler all ready. Hope you all have a great holiday.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Review - Guardians of the Galaxy vol 3: War of Kings Book 2

My tour of the Marvel Cosmic titles comes to an end of sorts with this volume of Guardians of the Galaxy – I’m now caught up until the Realm of Kings books are released later this summer. Last time, Nova convinced me that it would be a book worth sticking with – but would this volume of Guardians convince me of the same thing? It’s not as clear cut as I expected, and I’m even more convinced after reading this volume that some of these issues (if not all of them) should have been incorporated into the War of Kings book itself. But, I’m getting ahead of myself – first, let me talk about what happened in this book. When we last left the Guardians of the Galaxy, Phyla-Vell (formerly Quasar) had taken on the mantle of Avatar of Death, calling herself Martyr – so that her lover Moondragon would be allowed to cross over into the world of the living again. The Guardians are celebrating the return of Moondragon in a bar onboard their headquarters (the Celestial Head called Knowhere) when they wind up in a bar fight – and we first start to see signs that all is not right with Martyr/Phyla. She’s in a much darker place now, not the naive girl she has seemed up until now, but much more cynical and willing to do whatever is necessary, even at the expense of others. This carries over into their next mission, realizing that the war between the Kree and the Shi’ar will bring about the cataclysmic event that the Guardians were formed to prevent – they break into two teams, each tasked with approaching one leader on opposite sides of the war to attempt to talk them out of their hostilities. But when Phyla decides to take Crystal of the Inhumans as a hostage to force Black Bolt to halt the war, and Warlock finds himself in battle with the very powerful Vulcan – the results are not what the Guardians had hoped for. Warlock finds himself severely out of power and vulnerable to a dark personality called the Magus, which imposes it’s will on him. Meanwhile, the rest of the Guardians wind up bringing the War of Kings right back to Knowhere itself – with both the Shi’ar and the Inhumans fighting it out right on their own backstep. If that isn’t enough, Starhawk gets free during the ensuing chaos – sending some of the Guardians into the future, so they can see firsthand the result of this War. Can those Guardians fighting alongside their future counterparts, find a way back to the past, or at least warn the ones left behind of the threat the Magus poses – and even if they can help send a warning, will it be too late to save some of the Guardian’s lives. As I mentioned earlier, one of my first thoughts upon reading this volume was that I wished they had put them in order with the rest of the War of Kings storyline in one (or two) books. It would make more sense that way, as it would be very difficult as a reader of just the Guardians book to follow this without reading the main War of Kings event (and I firmly believe this is why the cosmic books were put on hiatus during The Thanos Initiative event going on right now). The art is hit and miss, with Brad Walker being if not as great as Pelletier certainly still very good, and Wesley Craig being too cartoony for my taste. But even then, the writing team of Abnett and Lanning know how to use their artists for the best effect – Craig’s chapters were set in the far future, and his art may have actually fit better with that future version of the Guardians (understanding they were introduced years ago, when comic art was of a totally different style). But the story was choppy, partly because some of these issues led directly into WoK issues, partly because it felt like more time had passed between book 2 and book 3 than we’re led to believe (Phyla seems REALLY significantly different, and while many of the Guardians comment on it, and talk about how she’s got to stop acting this way – I’m surprised none of them do anything about it until it’s long past too late). I didn’t dislike this book, but it’s my least favorite of the Guardians of the Galaxy volumes I’ve read so far – oh sure, all the same humor is there that’s been in this series throughout, along with great space battles, story twists and turns (an old Avengers adversary as savior of the Guardians trapped in the future!), and frankly shocking deaths – it’s still a more than worthwhile cosmic comic. But I’m hoping things get a little more focused in the next volume, Realm of Kings – dealing with the aftermath of this latest war, and the opening of the Rift and what it means for the Marvel universe.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Giveaway!

Courtesy of the author herself, I have a copy of "The King's Bastard" up for grabs on my giveaway page (I'm halfway through and it's very good). Be sure to CHECK IT OUT for your chance to win.