March 27, 2008

Embrace the Night

By Karen Chance

In order to end the geis binding her to Mircea, Cassandra Palmer must find the Codex Merlini. (As in, Merlin. I do love a touch of the King Arthur legends.) EMBRACE THE NIGHT opens with a terrific action scene and rarely stops. Cassie attracts trouble, much to the consternation of many of her companions, but to the great enjoyment of her readers. How can she help it, when everyone and their dog wants the Codex?

I’ll admit it: I barely avoided a spoiler in this review. It’s relatively minor, but I’d prefer to avoid it. (Although, if you read the excerpt, it’s mentioned in the first chapter.) In this book, Cassandra matures. I’ve always been fonder of Cassie than most urban fantasy heroines – her reasons for not wanting power are reasonable and she understands that she can’t survive alone and sometimes has to trust others. As she learns to be more confident in her abilities I like her even more.

To continue the character love, I also enjoy the various love interests. Karen Chance gives Mircea, the main love interest, incredible sex appeal. His scenes with Cassie will be earmarked in many a copy of EMBRACE THE NIGHT, I suspect. Yet she still manages to create viable reasons to keep him and Cassie apart. However, secondary love interest Pritkin is less reasonable (more homicidal) and just as lovable . . . er, sexy. (Okay, so I have a soft spot for a certain sort of gleefully armed men. Please don’t quote me on the “gleefully armed.” Crushes on imaginary characters defy my wit.) Pritkin and Cassie’s scenes are no less hot than those with Mircea. (Tomas is mentioned, but not seen in the book.)

I don’t want to make it seem like the book is all sex – in three novels, Chance includes a grand total of two sex scenes. She does include a great deal of sexual tension and darn-close-to-sex though. Who doesn’t love them some well-done sexual tension? LKH used to be able to do it, in the early Anita Blake books. Chance writes one intricate plot which the relationships serve to deepen, not to overpower.

I found EMBRACE THE NIGHT easier to follow than TOUCH THE DARK or CLAIMED BY SHADOW. Cassie, for those who haven’t read the first two novels, can travel through time. This necessarily complicates the story. Both TTD and CBS required a second reading before I fully understood just what happened in certain scenes, but I felt I had a much better grasp of the story in EMBRACE THE NIGHT. (That isn’t to say I’m not already re-reading it.) Chance isn’t the best writer in the urban fantasy genre, but her books are fun and sexy. I need to be seeing her on more shelves.

EMBRACE THE NIGHT comes to a bookstore near you on April 1st. Chance’s new series starts with MIDNIGHT’S DAUGHTER in October 2008. Find out more at her website.

Still coming soon: A review of short stories by Mary Robinette Kowal, nominated for the Campbell Award.

March 25, 2008

Vampire Sex and Unique Chicken

Bad Luck, Trouble, Death, and Vampire Sex

By Garth Nix

Green Wizard Gardner just killed his grandmother in a freak accident. This is a bit of a problem since she’s the queen and now her guards want to kill her. Fortunately, he escapes with her gargoyle Gurl to another dimension. Unfortunately, he seems to have a strange preoccupation with dangerous sex, powerful guns, and being a private eye. This short story about regicide and magic gone awry entertains, but it is not Garth Nix at his best. Since Night Shade Books currently offers it as a free download, no one should miss this Ditmar-nominated tale. The open ending allows every reader to imagine their own continuations for the characters’ lives.

Unique Chicken Goes in Reverse

By Andy Duncan

Unlike with Nix, I read this story unfamiliar with Andy Duncan. You can be assured I will be reading more of his work now. Despite its length (less than 5,000 words), “Unique Chicken Goes in Reverse” manages to say a great deal about faith. A priest goes to a farm upon receiving a cryptic note from his secretary:
Father Leggett discovers young Mary O’Connor worships a frizzled chicken, referring to it as Jesus Christ. Most laugh at the girl’s belief, but the priest believes she may be onto something. A subtle exploration of grace, faith, and religion as a whole, I believe “Unique Chicken Goes in Reverse” will appeal both Christians and non-Christians alike. This short story deserves its Nebula nomination.

Both stories are available as free downloads from Night Shade Books. Have fun exploring Garth Nix's site and Andy Duncan's blog.

Coming Soon: A review of short stories by Mary Robinette Kowal, nominated for the Campbell Award.

March 22, 2008

Kitty Kitty

Kitty KittyBy Michele Jaffe

In BAD KITTY, Jasmine Callahan discovered a murderous plot afoot in Las Vegas. In KITTY KITTY, she leaves the canals of the Venetian to the canals of Venice, only to stumble across the path of another murderer. Only this time, she isn’t soon enough to prevent tragedy. She can track down the killer and prevent more murders, by following the guidance of Mr. T and using her Italian gleaned from Commissario Rex and translated episodes of CHiPs.

Little Life Lesson 1: Mr. T might not be the best role model. ESPECIALLY if white leather pants are involved.

Of course, the rest of the cast is still along for the ensuing mayhem. The Thwarter has morphed into Dadzilla, a more dangerous version of the breed. Jack just might be off with another girl who can stop a rhinoceros in its tracks with a single look. And while Polly, Roxy, and Tom are in the United States, they’ve just had a very worrying IM conversation with Jas. (Princess P: “Ah. I see that we are using the alternate universe definition of “plan” meaning “a massively horrible idea.”) Oh yeah, and there’s the Evil Hench Twins – call them Sapphyre and Tiger’s*Eye (the star is silent).

BAD KITTY knocked my socks off when I first read it. Hip, funny, and clever. Jaffe follows it with a sequel that’s every bit as fun. I want Polly as my fashion designer, with Roxy providing the armament. Jas’s horrible Italian adds to the book’s strong sense of language. Jaffe has a knack for teenage lingo. Instead of copying current slang, she - like any self-respecting teen – invents her own. The language Jas and her buds share, as well as that of the Evil Hench Twins, rings true with any teenager because it evokes the private words they share with their friends.

Many books aimed at young adult girls in the market today feature bad role models. Jas’s ideas of bad are incredibly funny because she’s such a good girl at heart. Reading a mainstream YA book where the teens use their brains and don’t smoke, drink, or do drugs is a pleasant change. So parents, don’t worry if you see your daughter or son reading KITTY KITTY.

However, I hope they clean up the final version of the cover. On the ARC, someone needed to spend more time in Photoshop. Even cleaned – I envy the United Kingdom. Their cover is Jordache.

KITTY KITTY hits shelves July 1, 2008. Find out more here.


The BAD KITTY manga CATNIPPED will be in stores the same month.

ETA: I think the manga is adorable, but as the second volume was never published you must be prepared to live with the lack of an ending.

March 20, 2008

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

HBPThe Boy Who Lived returns to Hogwarts for the sixth year. Voldemort’s return is public knowledge, but he gathered power while the Ministry of Magic denied Dumbledore and Harry’s claims. The book opens with Severus Snape making a cryptic promise to Narcissa Malfoy, in a scene that sets the novel’s dark tone.

I will refrain from plot synopsis as many have already read the novel as well as its sequel. Instead, I’ll explain why I choose HBP for my first review. On my personal blog, I often mention books I’m reading, have read, or will read. The first book I offered in-depth commentary on was HBP, as soon as I finished it at 10:30 AM the day it came out. This review builds on that original commentary. I felt it fitting to use this book for my inaugural review.

Rowling has magic in her pen. Her prose may not always flow and some plot twists might be obvious, but few books are as fun to read as the Harry Potter series. Her Hogwarts imposes itself on the reader’s imagination – children across the world hope for an invitation on their eleventh birthdays. I devoured this and her other six books because she catches your attention and holds it.

Despite this, I feel Rowling became less descriptive in this entry. Some parts seem rushed and it damages her fantastic world-building. It also ensures that Harry seems blander. Most fans hate OoTP Harry. I, on the other hand, think it is his best incarnation. He’s temperamental, impulsive, hormonal, and often quite stupid. Rarely does an author write a teenager that perfectly. With this less emotional Harry, more emotional remove exist between the reader and his grief and crushes.

But while I feel remove from his crush, Rowling develops one relationship I hoped for in many of the previous books. She also, FINALLY, grants Draco Malfoy some character development. Long a fan favorite and a key figure in many of the best fanfictions, the Malfoy of the books left something to be desired. Namely, a third-dimension. DH does not focus on Malfoy, but it does continue this development with some wonderfully done scenes involving the entire family.

In the end, the flaws of HBP don’t matter. It’s the sixth book of the most popular series ever. The Harry Potter books may not be perfect, but they are something special.

You know what J. K. Rowling’s written. You know where to find more information. Enjoy.

Coming next: KITTY KITTY by Michele Jaffe

March 19, 2008

Things I Hate Right Now, Part I

1) Trying to start my own review blog.

It would be easier if I focused on one genre or age group, but I tend to read and love a random selection. Thus, I will be trying to promote this blog and become popular with a large variety of subgroups.

(If push comes to shove, I might choose cyberpunk as my favorite genre. Another thing I hate: always having to explain what cyberpunk is after making that statement.)

2) The cut in RIF's funding. Yes, this news is a month old, but action can still be taken. All you have to do is go here and fill out a short form to be sent to your Senators and Representative to help RIF.

3) I discovered Marie Brennan's brilliant DOPPLEGANGER and WARRIOR AND WITCH only to learn it's a duology, not a series.

They will be reissued as WARRIOR and WITCH in August 2008.

ETA 4/29/12:  Reading is Fundamental has a three-star rating from Charity Navigator.

Things I Love Right Now, Part I

1) Julie Kenner's Kate Connor deserves to be compared to Buffy.

Kaigou has an excellent rant here about why this overused comparison is often utterly misused. (One should comb through her LJ - her rants, analysis, and other essays are erudite, pratical, and snarky.)

Kate Connor, on the otherhand, does seem more Buffy-esque than the majority of urban fantasy heroines. She strives for suburban ideals between hunting demons, as made obvious by the title of the series. She trusts her friends with her secret (because it might help to have someone helping you research and it help your friend stay safe if they know demons are out there). She remains upbeat instead of angsting about her dark, tormented past. (Kate grieves realistically for her dead first husband, but Kenner clearly understands the difference between grief and angst.)

Deja DemonDEJA DEMON will be released July 2008. You can find out more about Julie Kenner at her website.

2) I finally managed to get my hands on MADHOUSE by Rob Thurman over Spring Break.

I picked up NIGHTLIFE during a 3 for 4 sale two years ago and became hooked. Cal Leandros may angst (usually a turn-off), but he's very aware of it. Thus, both he and the other characters snark about it. Thurman's dialogue is filled with sniping, realistically witty and not. The relationship between Nick and Cal is done very well - they sound just like a pair of bickering siblings, where no one really gets hurt by the worst barbs because of the underlying affection.

MADHOUSE was not my favorite of the series, but Thurman still exceeds the majority of current urban fantasy writers for quality.

MadhouseMADHOUSE hit shelves in February. If you don't own it yet, I'm very disappointed in you. Thurman will have a short story in WOLFSBANE AND MISTLETOE, coming October 2008. Find out more about her here.

3) I got gift certificates for my birthday.

Edit: The Book Muncher is holding her first contest. Her blog also has a wonderful list of various book contests for the month.
Edit Dos: Shooting Star Magazine is also holding its first contest.

March 18, 2008

Grand Opening

For ages, I have been saying I would start my own book review blog.

. . . Now I have.

Are you excited yet?

To pad this thing out, I'll probably post some old reviews and other such that I've published in miscellaneous places.

Then we'll get to the meat of the matter.

Ya'll better be excited now.


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