Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Book Review: "Dreadnought" by Cherie Priest

Over the last two years I have had the pleasure of picking up the latest zombie/steampunk fusion by Cherie Priest as a birthday present to myself, and after reading this year's installment, Dreadnought, I can only hope that I'll be able to celebrate a few more birthdays with one of her books tucked under my arm.

"Dreadnought" is a loose sequel to Priest's last book "Boneshaker," with the characters of the previous installment only showing up as we near the end if this chapter. Both books take place during the Civil War, though they are written in an alternative history in which both steampunk mechanicals and zombies exist. While the story in "Boneshaker" used the Civil War conflict as a fringe element to its story, "Dreadnought" plunks its characters right in the middle of the bloody conflict.

Mercy Lynch is a nurse at a Confederate hospital in Richmond Virginia when Clara Barton (the founder of the Red Cross) comes with the news that Mercy's husband, who happens to have been fighting for the Union, has died in POW camp. Distraught, but too busy to be allowed to grieve, Mercy has no other plan than to keep on patching together the young men who survive long enough to end up on her care. But when word comes that her long absent father has become ill, and may not live, Mercy decides to undertake the incredibly dangerous cross-country journey to the West Coast to be reunited with her father.

The only way to get across the war-torn countryside is by dirigible and boat, and once Mercy crosses the Mississippi she faces the even more daunting prospect of finishing her journey on the Dreadnought; a fearsome, armored, steam-powered war engine built by the Union that happens to be her only real means of getting across country in time to see her father.

But the Dreadnought is more of a challenge than Mercy could ever have dreamed as she soon finds out that it is hauling a secret cargo that has brought it to the attention of the Confederacy -- which is bent on stopping the Dreadnought and stealing the mysterious cargo even if it means killing every civilian on board.

There is a particular genius to combining steampunk with the Wild West and it's far-and-away my favorite aspect of "Dreadnought." There's something about a corset-wearing heroine with a pair of pistols on her hip, and her earthy view of the world, that tickles my fancy. Combined with the fast-paced setting of a speeding train, and a few zombies thrown in, and it's hard to go wrong.

Yet, as good as the setting is, Priest really shines when it comes to creating her lead characters. Mercy Lynch is everything you'd hope for in a leading-lady from the Old West. She's smart and has just the right amount of sass to deal with the upper-crust as well as a curmudgeonly Texas Ranger. She inserts herself into the thick of things because she's the most capable person in the room-- though it should be noted that her curiosity also gets her into a fair amount of trouble. Mercy is also our eyes into a world of shifting values and obvious racial tensions, but Priest has a deft touch that doesn't ignore any topic while still avoiding any kind of preachiness.

If I have any critique of "Dreadnought" (and I do have to give a slight edge to "Boneshaker" as the better book of the two) it's that the steampunk elements are not prominent enough throughout the book. The early chapters have just enough to keep the idea afloat with some unique war machines and the requisite trip in an airship, but the descriptions are not terribly detailed. The Dreadnought is intended to be the centerpiece of steampunk machinery as far as the story goes, but trains were not particularly unusual in the Old West and simply adding some formidable armor isn't quite enough to give it a proper steampunk feel. "Boneshaker" had the smaller, more intricate gadgets involving goggles and mechanical arms and I missed the detail this time around. Additionally I think a few of the supporting characters could have benefited from fuller back-stories, but overall the narrative doesn't really suffer as the dialog is brisk and clever and easy to connect to. Priest also does a good job of continuing the storyline involving the zombies, though the progression of that story moves significantly slower (in a good way) than what I've come to expect from this particular plot device-- which I like because it isn't allowed to overwhelm the story (no pun intended).

"Dreadnought" is a worthy successor to the terrific "Boneshaker." I look forward to the continuing story of Mercy Lynch and the cast of characters that are re-introduced at the end of the book --- not to mention the great combination of the Wild West, steampunk and zombies that Priest has melded together in such a fun way. It definitely makes my list of recommended books.

4 out of 5 stars.

Guest Post! Cinda Williams Chima

I love guest posts. I especially love hearing from authors on pretty much anything to do with writing. Today's post is by Cinda Williams Chima, author of several YA novels including the newly released book, The Exiled Queen.





On Theme

From the inbox:

Hello, I’m doing a book report on your book. Can you tell me the theme of The Demon King? Also if you could give me a list of your major and minor characters, the major conflict and its resolution, it would help me out a lot. –Signed, Desperate in Des Moines

Ah, theme. Why not go straight to the author when you’re on deadline? Didn’t you ever want to raise your hand in English class during the discussion of The Lord of the Flies, and say, “Well, actually, I emailed William Golding last night, and Golding said he didn’t make Jack red-headed as a symbol of anarchy. Jack was modeled after this obnoxious red-headed kid he knew growing up.”
My usual answer to theme questions is that readers and writers are partners in story, and that every reader has a different take-away based on his personal history and beliefs. So, I say, decide for yourself what the theme is, but be ready to defend it.
Kids hate this.
I think it’s a mistake to write to a theme. It becomes too much like a “lesson,” as in, I’m going to write a story that demonstrates the consequences of disobeying your parents. Theme grows out of story, not the other way around. Anything that gets between the reader and the story dispels the dream of fiction. 
That said, I’ve noticed that themes tend to resurface in my novels. For instance, all of my books are about transformation. I love the notion of second chances, since I’m continually transforming myself.
Adolescence is a time of transformation. The characters in fantasy stories are often teens, because that is when we come of age and assert power over the world, and that is when magical gifts often manifest.  
I’ve had readers of The Demon King write to me and say, “That Princess Raisa ana’Marianna is spoiled and naïve.” Well, yes she is, to begin with. But she won’t stay that way—not if she wants to survive. I hope that readers see in her the roots of the queen she will become.
Her counterpart, Han Alister, is a cynical, streetwise thief and gangleader with a magical heritage bound up in the silver wristcuffs he’s worn since birth. He, too, is reinventing himself. He, too, has assumptions that need changing, especially about himself.
When Han’s and Raisa’s worlds collide, it is the catalyst for change in both of them. The Seven Realms quartet is the story of a journey from childhood into adulthood in—um—extreme circumstances.
I’m also intrigued by the notion of secrets—secret lives and hidden pasts. For years, I had a secret life as a writer of fantasy fiction. Now I am totally outed.
Much of the conflict and drama in the Seven Realms cycle is driven by the secrets people keep from each other, and from themselves. I use an alternating third person point of view so that at any given point, the reader has more information than any of the characters, which is a great way to ramp up tension.
A third overarching theme of the Seven Realms cycle is the notion of revisionist history—the consequences of the Big Lie.
George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” But even students of history will fail if the history they’ve been taught is wrong. History, after all, is often written by the victors, and other folk with agendas other than the truth.
As The Demon King opens, the peoples of the queendom of the Fells have been squabbling for a thousand years—ever since the magical catastrophe known as the Breaking shattered the Seven Realms. In the words of Han Alister, “Wizards, flatlanders, and the aboriginal mountain clanscouldn’t agree that water was wet and the sky was blue.”
After the Breaking, a network of rules and restrictions called the Naeming was put in place to keep wizards in check and queens from marrying foolishly. But now, the Bayars, a powerful wizard dynasty, are on the rise again, and the clans are restricting the flow of the magical tools the wizards depend on. The queendom teeters on the brink of civil war, and Raisa worries she will inherit a disintegrating ruin.
There’s only one thing the warring parties agree on: A thousand years ago, the powerful young wizard known as the Demon King nearly destroyed the world, until the warrior queen Hanalea killed him and saved the Seven Realms. 
The problem is, that story may not be true. In fact, the peoples of the Fells may have been victims of an elaborate hoax. The question is—who benefits from a lie that’s been told for a millennium? And how does that play out in the lives of characters in the fictional present-day?


The Demon King is now available in paperback, and The Exiled Queen released September 28. Excerpts from each of my books are available on my website, www.cindachima.com. Help for writers can be found under Tips for Writers, including a document called, “Getting Started in Writing for Teens.”
I blog at http://cindachima.blogspot.com/, where you’ll find rants, posts on the craft of writing, and news about me and my books.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

This One is a Keeper

I rarely get DVD's for myself-- mostly what you see featured on the blog are unique giveaways sponsored by the distributors and I don't often get copies sent to me (which is a real bummer in the case of the "Lord of the Rings" giveaway).

So when I got the opportunity to get the first season of "Spartacus: Blood and Sand" for review, you know I jumped all over it.

Just got it in the mail today and I can't wait to watch it!




For those interested in getting their hands on a copy of "Spartacus: Blood and Sand" season 1, check their trivia contest on Facebook for your chance to enter and win.

Review to come soon!

Monday, September 27, 2010

New "Game of Thrones" Featurette

Still on vacation (really) but thought I'd post this since I know there is so much interest in the show...


Sunday, September 26, 2010

Mini-Vacation

There are so many wonderful conceits about blogging. My favorite is the assumption that anyone else would care what I have to say about anything. I tell myself that you're not really here just for the giveaways.

Another thing I tell myself is that I'm missed when I take a day off.

Stop laughing.

The point is, when I take a little time off I feel like I have to say something. Which is silly because we all know that we don't check in on other blogs on a daily basis, we check our feeds to see what new posts are up. At least that's what I do.

But there's still this irrational need to say something when I'm taking a day or two off. I guess it's like calling in sick-- though in this case I'm calling in lazy. It's my birthday and I'm in a do-nothing mood. So I'm going to take a mini-vacation and do a whole lot of nothing for a couple of days. You won't have time to miss me though (I told you to quit laughing) because I'll be back with the winners of some contests and a guest post by Wednesday.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Chris Evans Goes Barefoot-- Sort of-- on the Set of the new Captain America Movie

These are some fun shots from the new "Captain America: The First Avenger" movie.

A very buffed Chris Evans is dressed up for a scene that has him running through the street barefoot-- with some very interesting protective footwear (not that there's anything wrong with that).






In these shots a stunt double, dressed up as Evan's character, tackles a female stunt double (who is hopefully supposed to be one of the bad guys).




Friday, September 24, 2010

Review: Superman/Batman - Supergirl

A girl from another planet, with amazing powers but completely untrained in how to use them. Who among her teachers - all with much the same powers - will have the most influence over her? Will she follow a dark path siding against her friends and family - or will she ultimately be redeemed? I skipped over the first volume of Superman/Batman (this is an ongoing series of miniseries at DC, with each story arc being collected into trade paperback) – not because I heard bad things about it, because I’ve always liked Supergirl. This was to be the story that re-introduced her to the DC fold after her death during Crisis of Infinite Earths many moons ago. Plus, this was drawn by the brilliant, late Michael Turner (who passed on way too young) – well, this book has been calling to me for a long time. It doesn’t disappoint. From the introduction of a naked girl running through the streets of Gotham City all the way to the final battle with Darkseid, “Supergirl” was a really great Superman story. At the heart of this one, Clark is hoping that this girl really is who she says she is, hoping that he’s no longer the last one of his people. Batman,on the other hand, plays his part well in this story, keeping the reader ever aware that things that are too good to be true often are by not trusting this girl who claims to be from another world. The series of adventures will take them to Paradise Island, the home of the Amazons and Wonder Woman (who will help oversee the training of the young Supergirl) to the far off war-torn world of Apokolips. Superman, at Akokolips, will have to face his greatest fear – a girl who may be the only other Kryptonian in existence used as a weapon against him – and the only way to defeat her may be to kill her. This was a great story; it hooked me from the get-go and made me want to keep right on reading to the end. Unlike many comic TPBs (where I’ll take frequent breaks between issues), I read this in one sitting. There are multiple big screen battles and betrayals like Superman leading the Amazons against an army of Doomsday clones in use by Darkseid. There are also great smaller moments where you see the friendship that exists between Clark and Batman, or Clark’s desire to continue to have hope in someone long after everyone else has given up. As expected, the art is fantastic – really the perfect match to an already excellent story story. There’s even a sketch section at the back of the book to see more of what Turner was doing with these characters. I may not continue to read more of the Superman/Batman book, which changes writers & artists with each new arc, but I’ll definitely be seeking out more Supergirl collections in the future as well as more of the work of Michael Turner. Either way, if you’re a fan of any of these characters, this was a highly entertaining book and I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

R.I.P. Jennifer Rardin

How sad. Details haven't come out yet but it has been reported on her official site that Jennifer Rardin, author of the Jaz Parks series has unexpectedly passed away.

Jennifer D. Rardin, 45, of Robinson died at 10:59 a.m. on September 20, 2010. She was born April 28, 1965, the daughter of James Pringle and Carol Ryan-Pringle. Jennifer was a graduate of Casey High School and received her Bachelor's Degree in Literature from Eastern Illinois University. She was an author and had penned eight books over the course of her writing. She was a Master Gardner and worked as a grant writer for the University of Illinois Extension Office.

You can read the rest of her obituary and leave condolences here.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Ann Aguirre Giveaway!

Woo hoo! I can do full-fledged giveaways on my blog now! (after ditching a really annoying, high maintenance advertiser).

So, to celebrate I'm giving away three out of the four books in Ann Aguirre's Sirantha Jax series (which I have received thanks to the generosity of Penguin Books).

Wanderlust


After being wrongly declared dead, Sirantha Jax is left broke because her estranged husband drained her bank accounts. Therefore, she has little choice but to agree when the Conglomerate asks her to work as an ambassador for them to Ithiss-Tor. The journey to Ithiss-Tor is anything but easy, because in space there are creatures that try to make a meal of her crew, wars being fought, and a group called the Syndicate actively working against an alliance with Ithiss-Tor. Half the battle is getting to the planet alive and one piece.



Doubleblind

Finally, Jax and crew arrive at Ithiss-Tor in one piece. In fact, they’ve been reunited with the war-savaged March. Now Jax must pull herself together and become the perfect politician for the sake of humanity. If she fails, the human race is sentenced to war with some very nasty people. However, Jax’s mission won’t be easy. There are dissidents at home and the Ithorians themselves seem to regard humans as lesser creatures. Then there’s always the problem of March, who has been boomeranged back into a dangerous, emotionless mercenary mentality. He’s on a hair trigger, a threat to anyone who makes too sudden a move around him, and Jax has put fixing him on the agenda right along side getting an almost impossible treaty with the Bugs.




Killbox

Jax is done with being an ambassador and decides to go back to what she’s good at: jumping and kicking ass. However, as Jax cedes power March gains his own. The Conglomerate needs to fight the Morgut, particularly the the danger-prone areas of space, and they have nothing to fight with. That’s where March steps in–as the new commander of the Conglomerate Armada. Now he and Jax are piecing together their armada with whoever they can get and the odds are worse than ever.


Just add your information to the form below to enter (all information is guaranteed confidential and will be discarded once contests ends) and I will randomly pick one winner by Wednesday October 13th. No multiple entries please-- all multiple entries will be discarded. Open everywhere.

Good luck!

**Contest Closed**

Monday, September 20, 2010

Books Received

Stars and Gods by Larry Niven

Niven returns with the sequel to his most recent collection, Scatterbrain, which gathers an equally engaging assortment of Niven's latest work, all in one captivating volume. Here are choice excerpts from his most recent novels, including Ringworld's Child, as well as short stories, non-fiction, interviews, editorials, collaborations, and correspondence. Stars and Gods roams all over a wide variety of fascinating topics, from space stations to conventional etiquette.
Give yourself a treat, and feel free to pick the brain of one of modern science fiction's most fascinating thinkers.



Sparks by Laura Bickle

WITHOUT A TRACE...Anya Kalinczyk is the rarest type of psychic medium, a Lantern, who holds down a day job as an arson investigator with the Detroit Fire Department—while working 24/7 to exterminate malicious spirits haunting a city plagued by unemployment and despair. Along with her inseparable salamander familiar, Sparky, Anya has seen, and even survived, all manner of fiery hell—but her newest case sparks suspicions of a bizarre phenomenon that no one but her eccentric team of ghost hunters might believe: spontaneous human combustion.
After fire consumes the home of elderly Jasper Bernard, Anya is stunned to discover his remains—or, more precisely, a lack of them; even the fiercest fires leave some trace of their victims—and she is sure this was no naturally occurring blaze. Soon she’s unearthed a connection to a celebrity psychic who preys on Detroit’s poor, promising miracles for money. But Hope Solomon wants more—she’s collecting spirits, and in a frantic race against time, Anya will face down an evil adversary who threatens her fragile relationship with her lover, her beloved Sparky’s freshly hatched newts, and the wandering souls of the entire city.



Trance by Linda Gerber

Ashlyn Greenfield has always known when bad things are going to happen. Each time that familiar tingling at the back of her neck begins, she knows what's to come a trance. She's pulled in, blindsided, an unwilling witness to a horrible upcoming event. But she's never been able to stop it not even when the vision was of her mother's fatal car accident. When soulful Jake enters Ashlyn's life, she begins having trances about another car accident. And as her trances escalate, one thing becomes clear: it's up to her to save Jake from near-certain death.



Personal Demons by Lisa Derochers

If you had to choose between Heaven and Hell, which would it be?

Are you sure about that...?

Frannie Cavanaugh is a good Catholic girl with a wicked streak. She's spent years keeping everyone at a distance--even her closest friends--and it seems her senior year will be more of the same...until Luc Cain enrolls in her class. No one knows where he came from, but Frannie can't seem to stay away from him. What she doesn't know is that Luc works in Acquisitions--for Hell--and she possesses a unique skill set that has the king of Hell tingling with anticipation. All Luc has to do is get her to sin, and he's as tempting as they come. Frannie doesn't stand a chance.

Unfortunately for Luc, Heaven has other plans, and the angel, Gabe, is going to do whatever it takes to make sure that Luc doesn't get what he came for. And it isn't long before they find themselves fighting for more than just her soul.




Rebel by Claire Delacroix

Having sacrificed his wings in a bid save humanity, fallen angel Armand has a bold plan to assassinate Presidential candidate Maximilian Blackstone. When things go awry and his partner Baruch is gravely injured, Armand fears that he will fail in his task and forever lose the chance to rejoin the angels in Heaven.

Theodora is a wraith, a woman who officially doesn't exist. She lives in the shadows, taking risks to earn the bounty placed on dangerous assassinations—bounty that buys the chance at a new life for those she loves. Captured when her latest hit goes horribly wrong, Theodora finds herself the prisoner of a strong, arrogant stranger.

Soon enough, these two solitary souls find their missions—and their hearts—entwined. But in their desperate attempt to save the world, will they be able to save each other?


Esperanza by Trish MacGregor

High in the Andes lies the city of Esperanza, partly in our world, partly in the next. The spirits of Light and Darkness are battling for control. Tess Livingston, FBI agent, is pulled into this battle, where she will find power and a love that transcends time.



Blameless by Gail Carriger

Quitting her husband's house and moving back in with her horrible family, Lady Maccon becomes the scandal of the London season.
Queen Victoria dismisses her from the Shadow Council, and the only person who can explain anything, Lord Akeldama, unexpectedly leaves town. To top it all off, Alexia is attacked by homicidal mechanical ladybugs, indicating, as only ladybugs can, the fact that all of London's vampires are now very much interested in seeing Alexia quite thoroughly dead.
While Lord Maccon elects to get progressively more inebriated and Professor Lyall desperately tries to hold the Woolsey werewolf pack together, Alexia flees England for Italy in search of the mysterious Templars. Only they know enough about the preternatural to explain her increasingly inconvenient condition, but they may be worse than the vampires -- and they're armed with pesto.


Married With Zombies by Jesse Petersen

A heartwarming tale of terror in the middle of the zombie apocalypse.
Meet Sarah and David.
Once upon a time they met and fell in love. But now they're on the verge of divorce and going to couples' counseling. On a routine trip to their counselor, they notice a few odd things - the lack of cars on the highway, the missing security guard, and the fact that their counselor, Dr. Kelly, is ripping out her previous client's throat.
Meet the Zombies.
Now, Sarah and David are fighting for survival in the middle of the zombie apocalypse. But, just because there are zombies, doesn't mean your other problems go away. If the zombies don't eat their brains, they might just kill each other.


The Book of the Living Dead by John Richard Stephens (Editor)

From Poe to Lovecraft-a unique zombiethology of the literary undead.
Corpses rise in a variety of frightening ways in this collection of classic stories by an impressive lineup of authors including:
Mary Shelley, Edgar Allan Poe, Washington Irving, H.P. Lovecraft, Guy de Maupassant, Mark Twain, Jack London, William Wyman Jacobs, Théophile Gautier, Charles Baudelaire, John H. Knox, Sir Hugh Clifford, Thomas Burke, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, F. Marion Crawford, F.G. Loring, William Butler Yeats, Douglas Hyde, E.F. Benson, Lafcadio Hearn, Perceval Landon, E. and H. Heron, Amy Lowell, G.W. Hutter, and Sir Walter Scott.


Bones of Empire by William C. Dietz

Second in the duology that started with At Empire's Edge- from the national bestselling author.
In a far-distant future, the Uman Empire has conquered and colonized worlds. Once thought invincible, its reign is now fragile as alien subjects and enemies conspire against it.
On holiday in the capital city, cop Jack Cato gets a glimpse of the Emperor-and realizes what he's looking at is a supposedly dead shape- shifter. His mortal enemy is still alive and once again on the run. And the fate of the Empire-and Cato's own honor-are at stake...


Memories of Envy by Barb Hendee

A reluctant predator, Eleisha Clevon is determined to locate all vampires still existing in isolation, so she might offer them sanctuary at her home in Portland-and more importantly, so she can teach them to feed without killing.
But the beautiful and delicate Simone Stratford doesn't want to be saved. Made into a vampire in the Roaring Twenties, she enjoys playing her own elaborate games with mortals, stoking their passion for her before finally draining them of their blood. And soon Eleisha and her protector, Philip Branté, find themselves caught up in one of Simone's games, which turns into a battle for Eleisha's life and Philip's soul...


Antiphon by Ken Scholes

Nothing is as it seems to be.
The ancient past is not dead. The hand of the Wizard Kings still reaches out to challenge the Androfrancine Order, to control the magick and technology that they sought to understand and claim for their own.
Nebios, the boy who watched the destruction of the city of Windwir, now runs the vast deserts of the world, far from his beloved Marsh Queen. He is being hunted by strange women warriors, while his dreams are invaded by warnings from his dead father.
Jin Li Tam, queen of the Ninefold Forest, guards her son as best she can against both murderous threats, and the usurper queen and her evangelists. They bring a message: Jakob is the child of promise of their Gospel, and the Crimson Empress is on her way.
And in hidden places, the remnants of the Androfrancine order formulate their response to the song pouring out of a silver crescent that was found in the wastes.


Intrigues by Mercedes Lackey

Magpie is a thirteen-year-old orphan chosen by one of the magical Companion horses of Valdemar and taken to the capital city, Haven, to be trained as a Herald. Like all Heralds, Magpie learns that he has a hidden Gift-the Gift of telepathy.

But life at the court is not without obstacles. When Mags is "recognized" by foreign secret operatives whose purpose is unknown, Mags himself comes under suspicion. Who are Magpie's parents-who is he, really? Can Mags solve the riddle of his parentage and his connection with the mysterious spies-and prove his loyalty-before the king and court banish him as a traitor?


The Magickers Chronicles by Emily Drake

Long ago, a war was fought between two opposing groups of magic practitioners-the Magickers, who believed in using magic for the general good, and the Dark Hand, who felt that magic belonged to them and should only be used for their own benefit. Now the Magickers are looking for young recruits to their cause-for the final battle will soon begin...


Treason's Shore by Sherwood Shore

Fourth in "an intense fascinating epic"* of high action and fantasy adventure.
Inda, fresh from his triumph on the battlefield against the Venn, takes his place beside King Evred as Harskialdna, the King's Shield. But the Venn are far from defeated and only Inda's fame is strong enough to inspire all the squabbling kingdoms to unite and raise a force mighty enough to protect the strait and repel the enemy. Evred has also ordered Inda to take over the strait once the battle is won, but Inda, a former pirate, knows that this is a very bad idea. Now Inda must choose between obeying his liege-or committing treason.


Gwenhwyfar by Mercedes Lackey

The bestselling author of the Valdemar novels pens a classic tale about King Arthur's legendary queen.

Gwenhwyfar moves in a world where gods walk among their pagan worshipers, where nebulous visions warn of future perils, and where there are two paths for a woman: the path of the Blessing or the rarer path of the Warrior. Gwenhwyfar chooses the latter, giving up the power that she is born into. Yet the daughter of a King is never truly free to follow her own calling. Acting as the "son" her father never had, when called upon to serve another purpose by the Ladies of the Well, she bows to circumstances to become Arthur's queen-only to find herself facing temptation and treachery, intrigue and betrayal, but also love and redemption..


Lord of Emperors by Guy Gavriel Kay

In the golden city of Sarantium, the renowned mosaicist Crispin seeks to fulfill his artistic ambitions and his destiny high upon a dome intended to be the emperor's enduring sanctuary and legacy. But the emperor is plotting a conquest of Crispin's homeland to regain an empire. And with his fate entwined with that of his royal benefactor, Crispin's loyalties come with a very high price


Dracula the Un-Dead by Dacre Stoker

At last--the sequel to Bram Stoker's classic novel Dracula, written by his direct descendant and a Dracula historian

Bram Stoker's Dracula is the prototypical horror novel, an inspiration for the world's seemingly limitless fascination with vampires. Though many have tried to replicate Stoker's horror classic- in books, television shows, and movies-only the 1931 Bela Lugosi film bore the Stoker family's support. Until now.

Dracula The Un-Dead is a bone-chilling sequel based on Bram Stoker's own handwritten notes for characters and plot threads excised from the original edition. Dracula The Un-Dead begins in 1912, twenty-five years after Dracula "crumbled into dust." Van Helsing's protégé, Dr. Jack Seward, is now a disgraced morphine addict obsessed with stamping out evil across Europe. Meanwhile, an unknowing Quincey Harker, the grown son of Jonathan and Mina, leaves law school for the London stage, only to stumble upon the troubled production of "Dracula," directed and produced by Bram Stoker himself.

The play plunges Quincey into the world of his parents' terrible secrets, but before he can confront them he experiences evil in a way he had never imagined. One by one, the band of heroes that defeated Dracula a quarter-century ago is being hunted down. Could it be that Dracula somehow survived their attack and is seeking revenge? Or is their another force at work whose relentless purpose is to destroy anything and anyone associated with Dracula?

Dracula The Un-Dead is deeply researched, rich in character, thrills and scares, and lovingly crafted as both an extension and celebration of one of the mostclassic popular novels in literature.


Dracula by Bram Stoker

Dracula is an 1897 novel by Irish author Bram Stoker, featuring as its primary antagonist the vampire Count Dracula. It was first published as a hardcover in 1897 by Archibald Constable and Co. Dracula has been attributed to many literary genres including vampire literature, horror fiction, the gothic novel and invasion literature. Structurally it is an epistolary novel, that is, told as a series of letters, diary entries, ships' logs, etc. Literary critics have examined many themes in the novel, such as the role of women in Victorian culture, conventional and conservative sexuality, immigration, colonialism, postcolonialism and folklore. Although Stoker did not invent the vampire, the novel's influence on the popularity of vampires has been singularly responsible for many theatrical, film and television interpretations throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.


Will Power by A. J. Hartley

While on the run from Empire guards, Will Hawthorne and his band of thieves are transported to a mysterious land that none of them recognize or know how to get home from. Turns out that they've landed right in the middle of a battle between goblins and humans. Their human allies are practically storybook counterparts to the rough sorts they knew in Stavis, speaking in high-flown prose, dressed to the height of fashion, and dripping with wealth and social propriety. Will's companions are quite taken by these fine folks, but the Fair Folk are appalled by Will's unorthodoxy.
At first Will does whatever he can to try to squirm into their good graces, but just when his efforts are feeling totally futile, he begins to wonder if these too-perfect courtiers and warriors have anything to offer beyond their glamour and their burning hatred of the goblins. But is there any recourse for Will and his friends once it turns out that the humans who are sheltering them may not be on the right side of their eternal conflict?
Will Power is a funny and fleet-footed stand-alone fantasy featuring the characters readers grew to love in Act of Will in an all-new adventure about the danger of first impressions.



Pariah by Bob Fingerman

The world is in chaos. A zombie plague has devoured every nation on the planet. New York City is no exception. Imagine eight million zombies. Shoulder to shoulder. Walking the streets, looking for their next meal. The residents of one apartment building have bonded to keep themselves safe from the onslaught, but their inevitable demise lurks right outside their window, a constant reminder of the doom that awaits them. Forced to remain in the safety of the building, the tenants find themselves at each others' throats. When they spy a lone teenage girl who walks among the hordes, unattacked by the undead, their world opens up.


Coronets and Steel by Sherwood Smith

In this new fantasy series, a young woman takes her own destiny by the hand-and the hilt.
California girl Kim Murray is unsatisfied with grad school and restless in life. Modern men disappoint her, and she studies ballet and fencing because they remind her of older, more romantic times.
She lives with her parents and her beloved but secretive aristocratic grandmother, who speaks only French and refuses to share stories about the mysterious family she left behind in Europe, inspiring Kim to travel there and find her roots.
Kim soon finds herself swept up in an adventure of fantastic deceptions and passionate intrigue-and a shocking realization about her own bloodline that leaves her reeling.

Book Review: "Bayou Moon" by Ilona Andrews

I always feel like I'm throwing the dice when I pick up a book of paranormal fiction because there has been such a deluge of titles in recent years.  But the husband & wife writing team known as Ilona Andrews really caught my attention with On The Edge last year and I knew Bayou Moon was going to be on my 'must-read' list as soon as I saw the title; and it was every bit as good as I had hoped it would be.

"Bayou Moon" is one of those sequels that follows the story of one of the secondary characters to make an appearance in the first book. William, a shape-shifter and romantic rival of one of the main characters in "On the Edge," takes center stage in the second installment of Andrews' "The Edge" series.

The Edge is a swath of land that stands between the non-magical world, known as the Broken, and the magical world known as the Weird. Thanks to unruly magic and its history as a place of exile for fugitives from the Weird, The Edge is a particularly dangerous place--and nowhere is more hazardous than the Mire. Cerise Mar was raised in the swamp known as the Mire as part of a large clan that is land-rich but cash-poor. The Mars are known as a strong clan that will defend their land and their honor with magic and muscle as needed, so it's unexpected when Cerise's parents disappear and it appears that foul play was involved.

What Cerise doesn't know is that her parents were unwittingly drawn into the middle of an ongoing conflict between two nations in the Weird who are after control of a magical weapon that can change the balance of power. William, a man whose fate was sealed by his shape-shifting nature, is a soldier hired to look into the actions of a spy from the Weird, known as the Spider, and in the course of the investigation crosses paths with Cerise.

There are so many things to love about "Bayou Moon" that it's hard to know where to begin...

You might think that the shape-shifting nature of William's character would make "Bayou Moon" like any other work of paranormal fiction, but that would be selling the story short. William isn't the alpha of some wolf pack-- in fact there are no wolf packs in the Weird. He also isn't one of those stereotypical, brooding characters, whose main role is to look good in a pair of jeans-- though you know he looks good in them anyway. There's an honest-to-goodness back story here. Likewise Cerise doesn't fall into the clichéd characterization of the sarcastically hyper-sexual bad-ass. She's tough, but not irritating like so many leading ladies are these days.

The world of "Bayou Moon" is also endlessly fascinating. Unlike most paranormal fiction it doesn't really take place in an urban setting and the traditional fixtures of the genre, like vampires, witches and fairies, are nowhere to be seen. William's shape-shifting nature isn't the centerpiece of the story and the creatures that are sort of home-grown in the Broken are as original as they are deadly. Additionally, "Bayou Moon" isn't just about magic as the Broken is home to those who can perform all levels of magic (for many characters that means none-at-all), to those people and creatures who are magic. If I had any nit-picky complaints it would be that some of the plot devices are a tad complicated out the outset, but they do become clearer as the book moves along.

All of the story elements fit together seamlessly in a way that treats the reader to a unique blend of plot, setting and characterizations that put the book on a level above most of its competitors. If it falls below what I would consider a 5-star book, that's largely because it isn't one of those books that will go down as an instant classic-- it's still a paranormal romance after all. But for what it's meant to be it does its job very, very well (which means it's not a bodice-ripper in my lexicon). Even better, the story does find a way to tie back into the first book of the series with the promise of more sequels to come.
4 out of 5 stars.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Book Review: The Horns of Ruin by Tim Akers

Following on the footsteps of SQT’s post yesterday about Zombies in literature, today I’ll be reviewing The Horns of Ruin – a perhaps not so typical Steampunk adventure that includes swordplay, jetpacks, mystical powers… and undead enemies. To be honest, I’m not expert on Steampunk – what little I know about this sub-genre of fantasy and science fiction is that it’s a blend of Victorian era technology (often “steam” based like locomotives) and then advancing that technology further without moving down the path our own history carved. In this case, the showpiece of the book is Ash, a gothic city structure built on the ruins of two prior cities. This city is almost a character in its own right, from subterranean passages and underground lakes and streams running beneath, to the libraries where slaves toil in unending servitude for the past sins of the god they worshiped, as well as the towering building spires and cathedrals built to worship those same gods. Eva Forge is the last Paladin of a dead god named Morgan. Morgan had two brothers, Amon and Alexander – but it was Amon who betrayed him and now they are both dead, with only Alexander left to rule. Eva is asked to accompany her master, Fratriarch Barnabas, the leader of the Cult of Morgan, on a mission heading deep into the parts of the city where they are at their most vulnerable to retrieve a librarian slave named Cassandra of the Order of Amon. All seems in order at first, but then the Fratriarch is abducted when the group is attacked by a group of the undead wearing jetpacks. Now Eva must work together with a member of the group she blames for the death of her god, as well as an earnest but perhaps too law-abiding officer in the employ of Alexander, named Owen, in retrieving Barnabas and discovering the mystery behind his need to employ Cassandra in the first place. I have mixed feelings on The Horns of Ruin, not in the sense that I disliked the book – in fact I enjoyed reading it - more that I just didn’t walk away from it with a strong feeling one way or the other. As I’ve mentioned, the city of Ash itself – and the world constructed by Tim Akers - is one that was very compelling. The magic system uses chanting and specific phrasing in order for users to wield it, which I felt was pretty unique. I’m always a fan of monorails, and there’s a neat connection between them and the prior groups who have inhabited the city, as well as the magic they all tap into. There are some fantastic “set pieces” where battles take place which provide just the right amount of background material to make them memorable, and the writing makes those fights enjoyable to read. Yet the characters weren’t all that compelling to me. Eva is a gruff, no nonsense warrior who doesn’t treat anyone nicely – even the people who are trying to work with her to solve the mystery. Worse, even after abusing them, these other characters still seem devoted to her – when it makes no sense to me that they should feel this way. I’m not a big fan of the first person narrative (in this case told from Eva’s perspective), which may be part of my problem – I don’t have any insight into the thoughts of these other characters, and so I can’t see why they might have their own reasons for working with Eva. Beyond Eva, Owen and Cassandra, most of the other characters are relegated to minor roles – putting in brief appearances and not really taking on a life of their own. I would have liked a more compelling villain, or to have had stronger feelings about the other members of Eva’s order – instead I just felt like they were a part of the scenery. My only other issue would be with the ending of the book, where it seems as though the author wanted to leave things open for a sequel and so not everything is wrapped up as I thought it could be. While it’s a complete novel in that the mysteries and questions asked at the beginning are solved by the end – I didn’t have the sense of satisfaction upon finishing the book that I would have liked. I’d most certainly recommend reading The Horns of Ruin for the fantastic setting that Tim Akers has created, especially for a Steampunk fan; I’m just not sure that I’m compelled enough to read more in this series should another book be forthcoming.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

How Many Ways Can You Write About Zombies? More Than You Think

I never knew I was a fan of zombie literature until I started reading it as the current wave of zombie-themed fiction started landing on my doorstep. Two of the best books I've read in the last two years ("Boneshaker" by Cherie Priest and "The Reapers Are the Angels" by Alden Bell) have featured the undead without turning the story into a cartoon. But how many ways can you write about shambling creatures that hunger for braaaaaains?

Way more than I ever could have guessed.

Here's a sample of what's out there and how the authors have put their unique spin on the genre.


Steampunk & Zombies

Steampunk is easily as big of a craze as zombies with a slew of mish-mashes going on and, according to i09, the zombie/steampunk thing has been nearly done to death. However, a search of "steampunk zomibes" doesn't bring up the slew of titles the i09 article would imply (and in fact the article itself fails to mention who, specifically, is writing all these books). Nonetheless, it's a great blending whether it's tired or not and Cherie Priest made her mark with her impressive debut Boneshaker and continues the trend with the equally absorbing  Dreadnought. But it isn't just Priest who's bringing airships and zombies together, George Mann brings his Victorian era automations and zombie goodness together in The Affinity Bridge and The Osiris Ritual, both of which are getting some great buzz.


Zombies & the Classics

Who knew that Jane Austin's timeless classic "Pride and Prejudice" could be spiced up with zombies? I sure as heck wouldn't have thought of it, but a full-fledged fad was born when Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was released. Since then I've seen The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and the Undead and The War of the Worlds Plus Blood, Guts and Zombies, among others that include things like mummies, werewolves, sea monsters and vampires.

Sci-fi & Zombies

There's often a scientific element to the zombie story as biochemical accidents are frequently used to explain how the zombie plaque began. But it's rare to see zombie deliberately created by advanced science as they are in James Knapp's inventive debut State of Decay. So ingenious are Knapp's "revivors,"-- zombies that are scientifically manufactured to be military cannon fodder-- that it's surprising there aren't already a slew of copycats out there. But something tells me they're on their way.


Funny Zombies

Anyone who has seen Shaun of the Dead knows there is comedic potential in the zombie story. So it was only a matter of time before we started seeing the style repeated on popular fiction. Mark Henry was the first author I read who really picked up on the potential for zombie humor with Happy Hour of the Damned and his wonderfully self-absorbed socialite zombie Amanda Feral. He definitely finds a way to make you cringe and laugh at the same time. Not to be outdone is Jesse Peterson with her debut, Married With Zombies, and her recognition that in the modern world you're going to see zombies with breast implants.

Zombie Survival Guides

This is pretty self explanatory-- But rest assured, if we're attacked by zombies and you can make it to the local library, there will be LOTS of books on the subject of how to survive a zombie apocalypse. Max Brooks seems to be the expert here with many, titles, on the subject.

Zombies & God

Post apocalyptic fiction seems to bring out the inner philosopher in many authors and it's a natural question to wonder where God would fit in a world populated with zombies. In Alden Bell's The Reapers Are the Angles the main character, Temple, often muses on the character of God and the beauty of His dangerous world. My fellow blogger Stewart Sternberg has his own zombie-themed book The Ravening, coming out this November.  And, like Bell, Stewart looks at the way people react to tragedy and turn to God-- or any approximation thereof-- to make sense of the world for them. I will admit, these introspective, thoughtful books are my favorite style when it comes to zombie lit.


I never guessed zombies were such a versatile topic, but I am now a full-fledged fan. It's not just about "Resident Evil" anymore.

"Night of the Living Trekkies": Book Trailer (NSFW)

Funniest, and most well done, book trailer I've seen yet. I'd buy this book based on this. I'm actually working on a zombie-related post right now and this fits right in.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Giveaway! "Lord of the Rings" Trilogy Blu-Ray Prize Pack

You know you want the whole "Lord of the Rings" Trilogy on Blu-Ray. You know you do. So now's your chance to get ALL THREE movies for free. Just go to my GIVEAWAY PAGE to see how you can enter-- and maybe win a few other cool prizes too!

Winners!

Time to wrap up my finished contests and announce some winners (all randomly chosen of course).


"Shades of Milk and Honey" by Mary Robinette Kowal:

The winner is: John Speelman; Canada


"The Last Page" by Anthony Huso:

The winner is: Walter Shirmacher; Sterling Heights MI


"The Truth of Valor" by Tanya Huff:

The winner is: Ronda Noel; Wichita, KS


And the 5 winners of "Dust" by Joan Frances Turner are:


Patricia German; Roslyn; SD

David Manning; Portland, OR

Larry Davenport; Liberty, TN

Kim Coomey; Monroe, NY

and

Sue Rojo; Bronx, NY


Congrats to all the winners!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

"Game of Thrones" Trailer and Featurette

From the HBO series, currently in production in Belfast, that's based on George R. R. Martin's A Song of Fire and Ice series.

Awesome.

Here's the latest from the HBO series based on George R. R. Martin's Song of Fire and Ice series that's currently in production.



Friday, September 10, 2010

Review: Superman/Doomsday

This could be considered book 3 (or book 4 depending on how you view it) of the “Death of Superman” storyline. First you’ve got the “Death” story, where Doomsday and Superman fight each other to their mutual deaths. Then comes the “Funeral for a Friend” (which could just be a part of the “Death” story, or separated out on it’s own) where the other DC heroes deal with the aftermath of Superman’s death, and send Doomsday’s body off into space. Next comes the “Reign of the Supermen” or “The Return of Superman” story where four new Supermen come on the scene all claiming his mantle in some way. One of them turns out to be one of the best Superman villains to be introduced in a very long time, and the culmination of this entire event is the return of the one true Superman to his rightful place. Except, there was still this open ended question about Doomsday – the creature that had ended Clark’s life in the first place. That’s what this next chapter intends to answer, starting with Hunter/Prey – where we learn that Superman wasn’t the only one to survive their fight to the death, and we’ll also discover why Doomsday wants to kill Clark in the first place – because of what the Kyptonian people did to Doomsday (also providing us with his origin tale). I read this story in its original comic form (before picking up this oversized TPB) and remembered not being all that impressed, but I was ready to try again. Unfortunately, my memory was pretty good – the story has a few faults that just are worsened with nearly every follow up tale that comes after it. First we have Doomsday’s power – he cannot be killed. If he is “defeated” his body will eventually revive and he can never be beaten in that same way again. While I admire that the writers were trying to come up with a new villain more powerful than Superman, whom he could never defeat the same way more than once – because Superman had only just barely beaten him the first time, they also set up a creature so powerful Superman can’t EVER defeat it. Then there’s the problem of the final solution he comes up with for Doomsday – send him to the literal end of time (when the universe destroys itself) – which Doomsday can’t survive. So, let me get this straight, you’ve now created a character so powerful you can’t defeat him without ending the universe? Oh and also, it took 150 pages (and multiple fights) for him to determine this final solution – something that maybe should have occurred to him from the get-go and saved us all some time. At least Superman got a new scifi suit to fight Doomsday with, he visits Apokolips and Darkseid – which was a good side-trip – and there is a return of the Cyborg Superman within these pages as well, a much better villain than Doomsday anyway, and at least this shows us how he can continue to come back (in a much more plausible way than Doomsday). After that, we get more of the “Aftermath”, with some tales of Doomsday’s wanderings prior to his battle with Clark (but after escaping from his Kryptonian creators), in a series of completely forgettable tales that include the Green Lantern corps (even as a fan of Green Lantern nowadays, I still couldn’t get excited over this tale). It then moves on to a large story featuring Brainiac who uses cloned Doomsday tissue to create a new body for his own intellect to inhabit. Of course, Superman (along with the Justice League) finds a way to keep that from happening, but in all it’s a pretty well told story and probably the one I got the most enjoyment out of in the entire volume (and it most obviously sets up how Doomsday can be used again and again in the future – by cloning him). The last few stories unfortunately are near complete rubbish – not only because it’s nearly unnecessary, but because without the context of a number of other issues around these stories, they make very little sense. The government, now run by Lex Luthor, decides to bring Doomsday back (from the last place Superman trapped him) so it can be used to defeat an alien race threatening the Earth – only Doomsday then turns on the Earth, and Clark has to defeat it again (only now it’s learned to talk and think – at least until the next time). This isn’t a terrible book, it just doesn’t come anywhere close to living up to the “Death/Rebirth” storyline that spawned it. As you’ll see in my next comic review (in two weeks), it’s a somewhat necessary “missing link” between that story and ones that will come in the future – explaining how Doomsday and the Cyborg Superman return and will continue to do so again and again in the future, but it’s by no stretch required reading. Only fans who really love Superman need look here, otherwise there are far better Superman stories to be found out there.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

New Pictures of "X-Men: First Class" and "Captain America: The First Avenger"

Should I admit that I didn't know an X-Men prequel was in the works? Somehow that got by me. But filming is in full swing and images are starting to make their way around the web. It stars James McAvoy as young Charles Xavier, Michael Fassbender as Magneto, January Jones as Emma Frost-- and Kevin Bacon  as Sebastian Shaw too!  I'll see it for Kevin Bacon alone (says the girl who grew up on "Footloose"). It's scheduled for release in June of 2011.









I was, however, aware that "Captain America: The First Avenger" was in the process of filming. For those who haven't been keeping track, the film is set for release in July of 2011 and stars Chris Evans as Steve Rogers/Captain America and Hugo Weaving as Johann Schmidt/Red Skull. Of course Samuel L. Jackson will also be appearing as Nick Fury.







Fingers crossed that this means next year will be much better for summer blockbusters!