Sunday, October 31, 2010

"The Walking Dead" Premieres Tonight!

Set your DVR if you're going to be out trick-or-treating, because this one looks really good.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Book Review: The Reapers Are the Angels by Alden Bell-- by S.M.D.

Zombies.  They're the in thing right now next to glittering non-vampires.  They're what really goes bump in the night, because they don't have the motor function or brain activity to avoid objects.  They're hungry for your flesh, and filling up our bookshelves and movie screens.  And they're scary as hell.

Alden Bell's (a.k.a. Joshua Gaylord) debut genre novel does for zombie fiction what Cormac McCarthy's The Road did for dystopian fiction, or John Ajvide Lindqvist's Let the Right One In did for vampires:  use the clich├ęs of the form to tell a deeply psychological, literary story.  The Reapers Are the Angels follows Temple, a teenager born into a world overrun by a zombie plague.  She doesn't remember the "good old days," because they ended years before she came into the world; but she remembers an old man who helped her and a younger brother she had tried to protect.  Now she wanders the landscape, avoiding the undead and trying to survive in a world reduced to "survival of the fittest" at its most radical.  And she's a product of her time:  untrusting, ruthless, methodical, and smart-witted.  As Temple wanders from place to place, trying to avoid her demons and understand who she is, she encounters a cast of characters that change everything, from Moses, who wants her dead, to Maury, a mentally handicapped man who doesn't understand the world around him.  And her journey will show her that there darker things in the world than zombies...

The Reapers Are the Angels is not your typical novel.  Its plot is simple and its overall feel is disconnected.  But it is also brilliant.  People who read this novel for the plot are reading it for the wrong reason.  It is about a character (Temple) and her development, about her journey to understand who and what she is, where she belongs, and how to deal with the mistakes of her past in a unforgiving world that is stuck in the dumpster and disinclined towards grieving.  A number of reviews of this novel have seemingly ignored this key element, and I suspect it is because many expect a zombie novel to be plot-oriented--never mind that many zombie stories are, in fact, character studies in a zombie-run world.  After all, The Reapers Are the Angels is set in a world framed in a way that is likely familiar to the zombie fan, and some of the events that occur throughout the book have happened before.

But the novel is about Temple, not the world, and ignoring how she views the world around her, how she forms her own form of morality without the security we are afforded every day, and how she conceives of her own kind (humanity) are indelible marks of a story that thinks beyond the mundane events of life in a zombie world.  The disconnection one feels while reading this novel is brought on by the disconnection Temple feels to the communities and places she visits.  She, as indicated earlier, was born into a post-human world.  Zombies have always been there for her, and her journey into cities, towns, farms, and so forth are journeys into the unknown.  She understands them in the same way we might understand a radically different culture (East vs. West, for example).  Even religion plays into this disconnected feeling, because while Temple was raised briefly with a concept of God, she is forced to reconcile her beliefs with the reality surrounding her, without the "support" of scripture, creating a religious framework that seems slightly alien when compared to the religious world we live in now.  All of these elements are relayed through Temple's point of view, one of the other strengths of the novel.

Bell's narrative is told in third person present through Temple's eyes.  This creates both an intimate connection to the character and to the world, since everything is happening "now" rather than in the past (again, this brings up the problem of the past; namely, that Temple does not want to relive hers and that the world is slowly developing a concept of the past that is progressively present, rather than focused on what once was).  One could even read into the use of third person, rather than first person--if disconnection from place and self is a principle element of the novel, then isolating Temple slightly from the reader by avoiding an entirely internal view maintains the disconnection for the reader as well.  There is a kind of brilliance at work here, both in the narrative that Bell attempts to create and in the language and style.  The language is reflective of Temple's limited experience and the style itself is urgent and fluid, while also being fragmented and to the point.  One gets the sense while reading The Reapers Are the Angels that the future is indeterminate and yet always present (always progressing, but going nowhere at the same time), an urgency brought out in Temple's interjections and in the stochastic "plot."

Despite its effective narrative style and display of characters, The Reapers Are the Angels did have one flaw:  its ending.  On the one hand, the book ends how you might expect (which I will not mention here); on the other, however, there is an enormous shift that pulls the reader too far into disconnection.  I found myself wishing the novel had ended at the height of the climax, because then the implied tension in the novel (and the world) would have been maintained at its worst point.  But the novel continues beyond the climax, dragging us into a new space that had never been ventured to before.  I am intentionally being vague about the specifics, though, because as much as I have issues with the way the novel ends, I still think The Reapers Are the Angels is worth reading.  The ending simply reminds one that there are no perfect books.

In the end, The Reapers Are the Angels is simply an extraordinary book.  True, it lacks the flare of originality in much the same way as Cormac McCarthy's The Road (a text that contains very little originality in terms of its world content, but makes up for it in its story of an understandably overly cautious father and a naive son), but The Reapers Are the Angels presents a well-written, deeply psychological story that we're not familiar with in a world that we are.  It is a kind of cognitive estrangement in that sense (to use Suvin's term).  It's the kind of book that zombie fiction fans should love, and a book that readers who are not familiar with the form will find engrossing (as I did).  The zombies keep coming, Temple's mind keeps bleeding, and the pages keep turning.  What else could you ask for?

If you'd like to learn more about The Reapers Are the Angels, check out the publisher's website (or wherever you buy your books).  Alden Bell can be found on his website.

Dean Winchester Vs. The Twilight "Saga"

I'm glad I'm not the only one that finds "Twilight" slightly disturbing...

Friday, October 29, 2010

Review: The Dark Tower – The Battle of Jericho Hill

I was fortunate enough that when I first started reading The Dark Tower novels in college, it was only a few years until Stephen King would release Wizard and Glass – so I didn’t have to wait nearly as long as some fans did to see this epic story continue. Even so, as the series finally wrapped up there was always one story that was hinted at but never revealed to the reader in full; The Battle of Jericho Hill. Taking place sometime before The Gunslinger (the first book in the series) but after the flashbacks to the trials of his youth in Wizard and Glass, this battle seemed to be an important turning point in Roland’s life. Yet somehow in the books, all we were given were tantalizing glimpses of this event… until now. With Marvel Comics quasi adaptation of The Dark Tower into comic form, they’ve done more than just adapt existing material – they’ve also added in previously unknown parts of the saga, leading up to this bit finale. Previously, Roland became the youngest Gunslinger to pass his trials, but things haven’t gone well for him ever since. First he and his friends are sent on a mission to a far off town as scouts out to gather information on John Farson and his army gathering against the Gunslingers of Gilead. There he falls in love, the girl is killed, he discovers a powerful magical crystal ball, and they all barely escape with their lives. Roland becomes a prisoner of the evil power of the crystal ball, and upon returning to Gilead he winds up killing his own mother – just as betrayal from within will allow John Farson to finally strike and destroy the Gunslinger’s homes. Roland is able to escape with the last of the Gunslingers, vowing to defeat John Farson and raise Gilead from the ashes once again. It is here that The Battle of Jericho Hill begins. At first the reader is brought up to speed with a chapter devoted to the aftermath of the previous battle, The Fall of Gilead. Here Roland continues his maturation from boy into leader of the Gunslingers, and it is also in this part of the story where the larger tale of The Dark Tower is first revealed. The destruction of Gilead has destroyed or severely weakened one of the beams of the world – three invisible lines of energy which crisscross and intersect at The Dark Tower, a nexus of power for the world. If the Gunslingers are to raise Gilead again, they must first ensure the Tower is safe – because Roland knows that is the true goal of the hideous creature called Crimson King. If the Tower falls, the Crimson King can remake the world in his own image, one of death and chaos. But as the second chapter opens, nine years have passed and the Gunslingers are no closer to the Tower. John Farsons army has kept them from moving beyond the borders of Gilead – keeping the busy trying to defend the helpless as Farson unleashes the power of ancient technology, like tanks and laser cannons, in his desire to keep Gilead under his heel. Roland decides it’s time to face Farson’s army once and for all – but just as his father had to deal with a traitor from within the Gunslingers at Gilead, so to on the battlefield of Jericho will Roland’s Gunslingers be betrayed from within. Upon finishing The Battle of Jericho Hill I had mixed feelings. There’s no doubt, it didn’t quite live up to my expectations, but then I’ve been wanting to read this story for a long time and it’s quite possible nothing could have lived up to what I had envisioned. I had thought this would be the final battle with John Farson, as they are never brought up again in future Dark Tower books – but that was not to be. So instead it winds up being another tragedy like The Fall of Gilead, where the Gunslingers lose (though they do keep Farson’s men from being able to use the large laser cannon again). Except this time only Roland survives to fight on, setting him up as the lone Gunslinger readers are familiar with from his first book. Anyone who knows the entire story will wonder about the Horn from the battle of Jericho, and the bad news is he leaves it behind – so the Marvel version of this story won’t be changing anything about the ultimate ending to The Dark Tower. I also felt a little like Jae Lee was burnt out on The Dark Tower in this, his last miniseries. Most of the pages are one page splashes, with text written over top. Now Jae Lee does a lot of that, and has for most of the previous books, but in many cases this time I felt like I wasn’t being shown the important thing mentioned in the story on that page – and certainly without that text I’d never know what was going on. His artwork is most definitely suited to the darkness of this world, and he as much as anyone has made iconic likenesses out of certain characters – like John Farson and the Crimson King, that I will always imagine them that way from now on. At the same time, I was glad to see that starting with the next volume the reins would be turned over to a new artist – I feel like there’s been a steady decline in Jae Lee’s work since he started on The Dark Tower and it’s time to bring in some new blood. As to the story, as I said it wasn’t quite what I was hoping for – not quite as epic as I thought it should be, it didn’t quite end the way I wanted it to, and the fact that it repeated some beats from the previous tale felt less like a parallel and more like a recycling of ideas. It’s not a bad book; it’s just not quite what I as a long time fan had been hoping for. However, I can see how this battle broke Roland, losing all his connections to humanity and becoming so driven in his quest to track down the man in black and find the Tower; because that’s all he has left – and I suppose that’s really what this story needed to deliver.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Giveaway! ARC Copy of "The Painted Boy" by Charles de Lint

Courtesy of Penguin Books (Viking imprint) I have an extra ARC (advanced reading copy) of The Painted Boy by Charles de Lint to offer for giveaway.

Jay Li should be in Chicago, finishing high school and working at his family's restaurant. Instead, as a born member of the Yellow Dragon Clan—part human, part dragon, like his grandmother—he is on a quest even he does not understand. His journey takes him to Santo del Vado Viejo in the Arizona desert, a town overrun by gangs, haunted by members of other animal clans, perfumed by delicious food, and set to the beat of Malo Malo, a barrio rock band whose female lead guitarist captures Jay's heart. He must face a series of dangerous, otherworldly—and very human—challenges to become the man, and dragon, he is meant to be. This is Charles de Lint at his best!

Just add your information to the form below (all information is guaranteed confidential and will be discarded once contest ends) to enter and I will randomly pick a winner by Thursday November 18th. No multiple entries please-- all multiple entries will be discarded. Open everywhere.

Good luck!

**Contest Closed**

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Book Review: "Highborn" by Yvonne Navarro

I noticed last year that angels and demons seem to be a trend that's gaining traction in the paranormal fiction genre. Sure enough, I've been getting more than a few books in this style added to my TBR list and I'm so intrigued with the various interpretations of the theme that I can't help but dig in.

Highborn by Yvonne Navarro is the story of Brynna, a fallen angel who begins to wonder if redemption is possible even for a depraved soul that chose to leave service in Heaven for power in Hell. Acting on her desire to return to Heaven, Brynna escapes Hell and starts her journey in the human world. Brynna discovers that hiding from demons sent to bring her back to Hell are the least of her problems as she quickly becomes entangled in an investigation into a series of high profile murders-- and the detective in charge of the investigation.

The Good: There are many things I like about Navarro's style as a writer. She's not afraid to go for it when it comes to violent encounters or gruesome descriptions of Hell. Violent encounters might not be everyone's cup of tea, but if the story goes in a direction that calls for it, I like an author that doesn't hold back-- and Navarro doesn't. I also appreciate the integrity she brings to the character of Brynna. "Highborn" is the kind of book that could be a typical fish-out-of-water story littered with cute malapropisms, but that would get old really fast. In Navarro's hands Brynna never loses her sense of being different. There's no attempt to smooth out the feeling that Brynna is alien to this world. No rapid adaptations to modern slang or anything else that fits the character into a cookie-cutter mold of any kind. There are some really nice character interactions in "Highborn" too. Brynna, for all her strangeness, forges connections with others through her protective nature and the people she takes under her wing add a lot to the story.

Needs Work: I need to know where a character comes from before I can appreciate where they are; so the back-story is key to my enjoyment of a book. We know Brynna is a fallen angel whose real name is Astarte, but there isn't a whole lot more to her background. She was a favorite of Lucifer and, as the title suggests, a highborn one at that. But after a tantalizing glimpse into Hell at the very beginning of the book, we're not really shown any more of her previous life. And that killed me because I really wanted more. Navarro seemed like just the author to deliver an honest-to-goodness hellish vision of Hell. I've read so many books that fall short of letting their view of Hell be as dark as it should and I was sure Navarro would give us that but, to my disappointment, it never came. Unfortunately the character development follows the same basic pattern throughout; an enticing tidbit here and there, but not enough to really satisfy the reader.

"Highborn" is an interesting book for me. In some respects I think it's much better than your standard paranormal fare because the personality of Brynna stays true throughout. It's great that there isn't some stereotypical shift in her perspective that puts her in-sync with everyone else. I liked that she stood out from beginning to end. At the same time it's the elements I liked that highlighted the elements I felt were lacking. I wanted the book to live up to its potential, but I never quite felt that it got there. I kept reading, waiting for the payoff-- some kind of big reveal-- but was left with feeling that the story was incomplete. I will, however, definitely read the next book Navarro writes in this series. I like the overall story, the characters and the author's style-- so I'll be back. But if the next book doesn't prove to be more fleshed-out, I wouldn't be encouraged to continue further than that.

3 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Uh Oh-- Have Zombies Jumped the Shark?

I saw this over at SF Signal and John DeNardo asks if Zombies have jumped the shark now that they're featured in a Sears ad.

And who let that cat in there?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Ben Kenobi: Private Jedeye

Yeah, I giggled when the dialog went like this --Greyson: what about before you were a dick? Ben: I've always been one... It's great having a childish sense of humor-- everything seems funny.

Hat tip to Patrick St-Denis

Top Ten Vocabulary Building Horror Films of All Time sent me over this fun list and I had to post it. I don't know about you, but I learned most of my vocabulary from my favorite books. In college I was the only person in my English class who knew what a centaur was. Sad but true. So when I see a list referencing popular movies as a means to a larger vocabulary-- I get it. Be sure to also check out's Hot Word Site (today's is Jack-O-Lantern).

Considering that the most frequent sound to come out of a horror movie character’s mouth is a blood-curdling scream, vocabulary may not be the first thing you think of in relation to fright flicks.  However, don’t let the funhouse mirror distort the unexpected ways these films have contributed to the popular lexicon.  Whether these films make you scream, cry or quiver, your readers will be sure to learn something thrilling along the way.   

Spook your lexicon – and your nerves – into overdrive, and keep your app handy for the following picks:

  1. The Exorcist – This controversial masterpiece not only redefined horror movies, but has also given people nightmares and nausea since 1973 and introduced us to the term pneumoencephalogram.   

  1. The Silence of the Lambs – When Dr. Hannibal Lecter insists, “Enthrall me with your acumen,” we can’t help but be enthralled with his. We also have Dr. Lecter to thank for some perverse culinary education – fava beans and Chianti will never taste the same.

  1. The Shining – Stephen King’s imagination for horror + Stanley Kubrick’s cerebral filmmaking + Jack Nicholson’s sardonic wit = neuron-firing chills.  Kudos to a film that makes ten words – “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” – one of the most terrifying moments in cinema. Alas, you won’t find “redrum” in any mainstream dictionary.

  1. Jaws – Sure, those of us who were kids in 1975 are now afraid to swim in a pool, but this classic may have done more to generate interest in Carcharodon carcharias than all Shark Week episodes combined.  When we weren’t being traumatized, we were educated on the animals’ extreme territoriality as well as nautical and medical terminology. 

  1. Scream – A clever plot and satirical dialogue set this one apart within the otherwise mind-numbing teen slasher genre. Randy offers insight into the killer’s actions: “It's the millennium, motives are incidental.”  We dare you to find a line like that in any of the Friday the 13th films.  

  1. Suspiria – This English-dubbed, gruesome 1977 Italian Dario Argento classic revolves around unusual words that inspire the viewer to look them up, when you aren’t too busy gasping in terror.

  1. Videodrome – From what we can determine, the only film included in our Quotes section is David Cronenberg’s early, visionary work. Phrases, concepts, even the names of characters play off of word meanings. And who can forget the grotesque yet mesmerizing imagery and the young James Woods’ intensity?

  1. The Omen - We have to give this film credit simply for making its title, a useful and sophisticated term, ubiquitous in popular vocabulary. For better or worse, the series also deserves credit for perpetuating concepts such as the Anti-Christ and the apocalypse.

  1. Alien – This film put Sigourney Weaver on the map and put us into a state of nightmare for about a week. Nevertheless, those with the intestinal fortitude to see past the blood were enlightened by discussions of evolutionary biology, artificial intelligence, and corporate politics. The film’s 1979 movie poster corrected a scientific fallacy perpetuated by Star Wars – “In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream…”

  1. Psycho – This masterpiece brought the oedipal complex out of the English classroom and made it something so scary that we were afraid to shower. Norman Bates lulls us into a false sense of security with his discussions of taxidermy and armchair philosophy before forever proving that men dressed as old ladies can indeed be terrifying.            

Beware: while some of these may indeed be scary, your brain may turn into something resembling a melted Reese’s cup if you watch one of these:

  1. Bride of Chucky – While it’s true that the ‘F’ word is one of the most highly searched terms on, we’re not giving out any awards for overusing it in a script.

  1. I Still Know What You Did Last Summer – The only thing that could make this film even less stimulating would be to cast Audrina Patridge into a supporting role. Now that’s scary. 

  1. Hostel – What we learned from this movie was to be irrationally terrified of travel and that’s pretty much it.  Queasy and crass, some critics have placed this film into a sub-genre of torture porn. We’ll pass.

  1. Saw (its sequels in particular) – This franchise may forever be tainted by its ridiculous number of sequels, despite a solid effort in Saw I.  Neither the characters nor the dialogue had us reaching for the books.

  1. Blair Witch Project – There is no doubt that this creepy, documentary-like film is frightening, but there is hardly enough dialogue to keep you engaged. You may find more verbal stimulation in the cleverly titled Gossip Girl episode “The Blair Bitch Project.”

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Have You Ever Said Her Name?

Fear comes naturally to us when we're kids, don't you think?

After seeing "Jaws" at the tender age of six (what were my parents thinking?) I became convinced a shark was lurking under my bed, ready to grab my succulent little legs. Logic didn't matter. My fear overrode the knowledge that sharks not only couldn't fit under my twin bed, but needed water too. I spent many years vaulting onto my bed from what I presumed was a safe distance from the snapping jaws of a great white shark.

I had the same kind of fear of the ghost known as Bloody Mary.

You know the story. You stand in front of a mirror and with the lights off, maybe holding a candle, while you chant Bloody Mary and if you're lucky (or not) Mary would appear. What happens next varies. Some stories say the woman in the mirror simply stares balefully at the summoner --which some people believe will drive the viewer insane-- while others claim she will attack or even kill those brave (or stupid) enough to call her.

There are lots of ideas of where the story of Bloody Mary comes from. Most frequently she is claimed to have been a woman who was executed hundreds of years ago for being a witch-- though some stories give her a Lizzie Borden-type myth as a murderess. Some confuse the urban legend with the story of Queen Mary I of England, known as Bloody Mary during her reign thanks to the number of Protestants put to death in an attempt to establish Catholicism as the official religion; but as the challenge is usually passed kid-to-kid it seems unlikely Mary I comes up too often.

It's amazing how enduring the Bloody Mary tale is and the story doesn't really change. I heard a fairly mild version 30 years ago when my friends told me the bloody image of a woman would appear in the mirror if I chanted Bloody Mary's name three times. Recently my 10-year-old daughter came home asking me if I had ever heard the name Bloody Mary and related to me an almost identical version of the story I heard so long ago. She was no more interested in taking up the challenge than I was.

Popular entertainment has also featured the story of Bloody Mary as a staple of urban legends featured on shows like "Southpark," "Charmed" and "Supernatural," but the most memorable interpretation has to be Candyman-- the 1992 movie based on a short story by Clive Barker titled "The Forbidden"-- as it transfers a tantalizing childhood scare into a grown-up horror.

I never had the nerve as a kid to try to summon Bloody Mary. The idea of deliberately courting a ghostly visitor was far scarier than a Ouija Board or telling ghost stories. I mean-- as far as I was concerned it she could really show up! I think it's fair to say my fear of Bloody Mary has evaporated along with my worries that a shark may be hiding under my bed. But I can still remember the thrill of dread the idea of chanting Bloody Mary's name gave me all those years ago. I never heard any good Bloody Mary stories either-- maybe my friends were as scared as I was.

What about you? We're you the brave kind of soul that called out to the supernatural? And if so-- got any good stories?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Review: Transformers Armada vol 1

I’m not going to go into a history of the comic company Dreamwave, but suffice it to say this comic – which came out at the same time as the Transformers cartoon of the same name – was the book I was more excited about at the time when Dreamwave held the license to make these comics. I had read the first two issues of this book before dropping it (along with any individual comic collecting) but it’s one I’ve been anxious to revisit, knowing my library had the collected volumes. There are many concerns I had when reading the book, ones that I’ll pass along in this review as well; things like the general entertainment value, the ability for non-fans to understand what’s going on, and what interest a well-versed fan might have in reading it. Armada (at least in comic form) has one of the strongest openings of any Transformers story; yes the war rages on Cybertron between Autobot and Decepticon but in the middle is a “third” race of Transformers called Minicons. This is a smaller robot sect who up till now have been mostly the equivalent of civilian casualties in the war. But something is about to change all that – Megatron has discovered they can use the Minicons by attaching them to a larger Transformers body to give them an extra power boost. Now it’s all about the Decepticons trying to force the Minicons into servitude, and the Autobots trying to save them (as well as convince them to help their side of the war). The minicons, however, would rather not be involved at all. They escape from Cybertron, but when their ship crash lands on – you guessed it – Earth, you know the war is not far behind. The Cybertron section of this book is actually the stronger story. Once the Minicons get to Earth, a cast of pre-teen children become involved in a rather contrived way, helping the Minicons (who then adapt their transformations into things like skateboards) escape from the Decepticons (who of course arrive before the Autobots). The minicons are well developed characters, much more so than any other Autobot or Decepticon (save Optimus and Megatron) in this story. There were two things that stuck out in particular for me in Armada. First, there’s the plight of the Minicons. You can see what slavery is like for some of them, and how the others (who have been freed) shy away from helping the Autobots for fear of becoming slaves again. This is a downtrodden group, on the run and only wanting to be left alone. My second point comes along those same lines; because the Minicons are so small (about the size of your average human in robot form) and the story is told mostly from their perspective – the battles between Autobot and Decepticon are HUGE. These robots tower over the Minicons, and the perspectives used through most of the series let’s the reader see these battles through their eyes. Speaking of the art, it’s just gorgeous. That’s one of the things I remembered from my early impressions of this series, and it was true here as well. I’m not sure if James Riaz went on to do any other Transformers work, but he does a heck of a job here. At the same time, I wouldn’t call this essential reading for Transformers fans. It’s not the greatest story I’ve ever read – it’s definitely a satisfying take on the “origin” especially for this particular series, and because of that it’s very newcomer friendly. I think there are a number of things a long time fan can take away from this series as well. But it’s not a “classic”, and anyone over the age of 11 is bound to be annoyed by some of the antics of the kids who are introduced about half-way through. Still in all, I’m not unhappy to say I’ve read this volume – I just don’t know if I’ll seek out the next two in the series (which is the complete comic run).

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Are YA Authors the New Innovators?

I've never been a huge YA reader. I loved Harry Potter, yet I've always has a bit of a prejudice against YA fiction because I preferred a book that didn't feel as if it was holding back on content to appeal to a certain age group. But it's clear the success of Harry Potter has brought about more YA fiction than every before. And who can blame the authors? Clearly there's a huge cross-over audience for really good YA fiction.

And lately, I've been getting a lot of titles that have me rethinking my original biases. Most of the books are by authors I've never read before, though some old favorites are showing up to take advantage of the trend (De Lint is actually an old-hand at this-- I just thought his looked really cool); and I'm really intrigued by what I'm seeing. It's not that the ideas are wholly new and unique to YA fiction. But there seems to be a real effort in delivering well crafted stories that appeal to a broad range of ages. Could it be that YA fiction is where it's at these days?

Here's a small sampling of what I've gotten recently. What do you think? Innovative or not? Or am I just seeing a trend where none exists?

Mercury Falls by Robert Kroese

Years of covering the antics of End Times cults for The Banner, a religious news magazine, have left Christine Temetri not only jaded but seriously questioning her career choice. That is, until she meets Mercury, an anti-establishment angel who's frittering his time away whipping up batches of Rice Krispy Treats and perfecting his ping-pong backhand instead of doing his job: helping to orchestrate Armageddon. With the end near and angels and demons debating the finer political points of the Apocalypse, Christine and Mercury accidentally foil an attempt to assassinate one Karl Grissom, a thirty-seven-year-old film school dropout about to make his big break as the Antichrist. Now, to save the world, she must negotiate the byzantine bureaucracies of Heaven and Hell and convince the apathetic Mercury to take a stand, all the while putting up with the obnoxious mouth-breathing Antichrist.

The Painted Boy Charles De Lint

Jay Li should be in Chicago, finishing high school and working at his family's restaurant. Instead, as a born member of the Yellow Dragon Clan—part human, part dragon, like his grandmother—he is on a quest even he does not understand. His journey takes him to Santo del Vado Viejo in the Arizona desert, a town overrun by gangs, haunted by members of other animal clans, perfumed by delicious food, and set to the beat of Malo Malo, a barrio rock band whose female lead guitarist captures Jay's heart. He must face a series of dangerous, otherworldly—and very human—challenges to become the man, and dragon, he is meant to be. This is Charles de Lint at his best!

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.

The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff

Mackie Doyle is not one of us. Though he lives in the small town of Gentry, he comes from a world of tunnels and black murky water, a world of living dead girls ruled by a little tattooed princess. He is a Replacement left in the crib of a human baby sixteen years ago. Now, because of fatal allergies to iron, blood, and consecrated ground, Mackie is fighting to survive in the human world.

Mackie would give anything to live among us, to practice on his bass or spend time with his crush, Tate. But when Tate's baby sister goes missing, Mackie is drawn irrevocably into the underworld of Gentry, known as Mayhem. He must face the dark creatures of the Slag Heaps and find his rightful place, in our world, or theirs.

Edward Scissorhands meets The Catcher in the Rye in this wildly imaginative and frighteningly beautiful horror novel about an unusual boy and his search for a place to belong.

Elder Signs Press Kindle Giveaway!

Just in case you didn't see the contest featured on my left sidebar-- I need to draw your attention to a Kindle 3G giveaway over at Elder Signs Press. Sign me up! Click on the link to check it out.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Short Story Giveaway!

You're lucky I'm a believer in paying it forward because I almost decided to keep my copy of "Steampunk'd." In fact, I may be having second thoughts right now....

Okay. Before I change my mind.

Courtesy of Penguin Books I am able to offer copies of two great sets of short stories to one lucky winner.

The Dragon and the Stars
An all-new anthology of Chinese culture-inspired science fiction 

This unique collection of science fiction tales demonstrates the diversity of the Chinese experience around the world, merging China's rich heritage with new traditions, offering North American readers an opportunity to discover these exciting writers.

The Dragon and the Stars is the first collection of science fiction and fantasy stories written by ethnic Chinese living outside of China. It features new fiction from Chinese writers in Canada, the United States, the Philippines, Singapore and Hong Kong.

Steampunk can be defined as a subgenre of science fiction that is typically set in an anachronistic Victorian or quasi-Victorian setting, where steam power is prevalent. Consider the slogan: What the past would look like if the future had come along earlier. The stories in this all-original anthology explore alternate timelines and have been set all over the world, running the gamut from science fiction to mystery to horror to a melding of these genres.

Rabe and Greenberg oversee this collection of 14 original stories of what might have been if steam tech took different paths in the Victorian era. Includes tales by Jody Lynn Nye, Stephen D. Sullivan, Paul Genesse, Marc Tassin, and others. Original.

Just add your information to the form below to enter (all information is guaranteed confidential and will be discarded once contest ends) and I will randomly pick one winner by Wednesday November 10th. No multiple entries please-- all multiple entries will be discarded. Open everywhere.

Good luck!

**Contest Closed**


I have randomly selected the winner of my Ann Aguirre giveaway and the winner is...

Misha Mathew; India

Congrats Misha! The books are on their way...

Monday, October 18, 2010

Review: Troubled Waters by Sharon Shinn

Zoe’s entire world becomes unhinged when her father passes away from a long illness. Her father had been an advisor to the king before being banished for reasons unknown to Zoe some 10 years prior, and they had lived in anonymity in a remote village ever since. But upon his death an agent of the king, named Darien Serlast, comes looking for Zoe – with plans to make her the king’s fifth wife. In her grief she accompanies him to the city, but takes the first opportunity to make her escape and live amongst the unwanted of the city, starting a life of herself – one she never had while taking care of her father. She makes friends and get’s a job, but slowly begins to realize there’s something different about her. She can dive underwater for unending amounts of time and never need to breathe. She can hear the pulse in everyone and know who is related to whom. Those powers signify her status as a Prime, the leader of one of the elements and head of a powerful family. She now finds herself in a position of being thrust into the role, learning about the family she never knew and now an advisor to the king herself – full of treachery and intrigues. The king wants to sign a treaty with a nearby nation, but do all his advisors agree with that decision? And what of the kings three daughters, each by a different mother – and none yet named heir. Someone wants to ensure one of them is never selected, and Zoe finds herself right in the middle. Troubled Waters is a fantasy novel in a new universe by Sharon Shinn. That’s not to say that this novel couldn’t be a part of the Twelve Houses universe (it could easily be another continent on that same world), but there is no connection between this and any other work of hers that I’ve read. There’s no word on if this is the first novel in a new series, or if it is stand alone – but it reads as a complete novel with no lingering plots. I discovered Sharon Shinn years ago, picking up Archangel because it looked intriguing. It remains one of my favorite novels ever, and I go out of my way to read anything by Shinn as time allows. She has a style of writing that appeals to me, instantly engaging with the ability to describe even mundane activities and make them interesting. All of her characters come alive, these are fully realized people with complex personalities… and there’s no shortage of characters in Troubled Waters, so that’s saying a lot. Shinn’s world-building is has also long been a strong suit of hers, and this “just on the cusp of Industrialization era” based fantasy world could almost have been called Steampunk – but even without that label it’s an interesting place to visit. From the ornate castle of the king to the little shops, the open marketplace with blind oracles and temples where you can receive the blessings of the elements, as well as the river which comes from the high mountains and flows through canals in the city where the homeless live out their lives. This is not an action packed fantasy adventure novel. It was about 150 pages before Zoe even discovered she had any powers. There are only three “action” type moments in the entire book – and none of them are the kinds of things you’d find in a fantasy blockbuster. This is not that type of book, and if that’s what you’re looking for, it’s best to look elsewhere (Shinn’s wonderful Twelve Houses books are more action packed). That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy Troubled Waters – it’s just best to be prepared for what kind of book it is. This is mostly about court intrigues and the mystery of who is trying to kill the princess, not to mention Zoe learning the secrets about why her father was exiled. It has a dash of romance, just like all of Shinn’s books – not a “romance” novel, but it’s one of the stronger elements of the story. I was a little disappointed with the ending, it seemed a little off in that Zoe is told a bunch of things that have happened in her absence when she could just as easily have been there in person to see them for herself – but considering I stayed up well past my bedtime to finish reading it is a testament to how much I was enjoying reading this book. If you’re a fan of Sharon Shinn, definitely give it a read – if you’re new to this author, this is a nice stand-alone book (which could be used by the author as the beginning of a new series) that gives the reader a good feel for what you can expect from any of Shinn’s books (strong characters and exquisite world building). It’s not my favorite Shinn novel, but it’s by no means bad – another solid work from an author who consistently puts out excellent books.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

So Vile That it Makes the Case for Censorship?

I've never been a fan of slasher films. If I'm going to watch something that falls into the horror category I much prefer suspense over blood. I'll take "The Exorcist" and you can keep "Saw."

Because my sensibilities don't run toward anything bloody, there's been a more than a few films that have escaped my notice. I'm not talking about stuff like "Halloween" or even "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (which is bad enough) but a newer more disturbing trend toward movies that take the "torture porn" genre to a level of grotesque that defies description.

So bad are these films (one in particular) that I don't want to print the names here for fear that you'll look up the descriptions (as I did) and hate me for bringing them to your attention. So I'm going to deflect and mention the post that brought them to my attention over at The House of Sternberg and leave it at that. Call me a chicken-- but let me warn you, even the descriptions of certain movies are not for the faint of heart. This stuff makes movies like "Hostel" look like a Disney production.

And you may think it strange to have a discussion about films that I don't want to mention by name, but it's a discussion I want to have without increasing their footprint-- if that's possible.

Sadism has been around a long time and some of the most offensive content in film today takes its inspiration (if it could be called that) from the infamous Marquis de Sade who put pen-to-paper and brought his diseased imaginings to the masses. But Sade didn't have tools like the internet to help his ideas spread and fester. In fact, his deeds earned him many years in a mental asylum-- not to mention the death penalty at one point.  But his work has endured to be studied and dissected at will, though it's not something you usually fear will fall into the hands of your children. But when film-makers decide to up-the-ante on Sade's fascination with fetishism, torture and rape, even incorporating children into the narrative beyond Sade's sick writings, and put it on film, it's inevitable that you have to confront the issue of whether the slippery-slope argument isn't a good enough reason to stop this garbage from ever being made.

The umbrella of "art" and "free expression" has been the tool-of-the-trade when it comes to purveyors of smut. If something doesn't fall under the heading of one, it can usually be shuffled to the other category. And we let it because we know that we must allow content we don't like so that there will be freedom to distribute content we believe has actual merit. And if that fails to garner audience support, a political justification is often thrown in for good measure. As I scroll through the descriptions and reviews of some of the most aggressively violent and offensive films I have ever heard of, I am frequently told these movies are meant to be an allegory of "societal rape"-- it appears that this is the fall back raison d'etre of these films. And, sadly, there are no shortage of takers who'll seize on that as reason enough to justify the existence of such "entertainment" as they throw around multi-syllabic words in an attempt to intellectualize what the rest of us can't comprehend was even made in the first place.

I've been surprised that I can have such a visceral reaction to films I've never seen. That a description and audience reaction is all it takes to make me feel sick to my stomach. I can't imagine what it must be like to sit through something that critics have said will break your soul, wish they could "un-watch" and encourage readers to never, ever consider watching. It's clear that the world is a worse place because something like this exists and I resent that it's out there waiting to be discovered by my kids. We're not talking about horror films at this point, we're talking about a horror that has been inflicted on society.

So what do we do about it?

*Sigh* Probably nothing.

I've never been an advocate of censorship because I presume the marketplace will put the worst-of-the-worst in the darkest corner it can find. And usually that's the case. But there seems to be a creeping acceptance that comes as more content accumulates over time. We've gone from grainy films shot in secret to movies that are lovingly crafted with large crews of people determined to present them in a way that has critics decrying the substance even as they admire the cinematography. And society at-large doesn't seem to know what to do either as they are banned in some countries and given awards in others. No doubt the creators of such swill pat themselves on the back for having blown our collective minds-- but all I can do is hope that karma has the last word where these people are concerned.

Ultimately I know I have to live in a world where this kind of thing not only exists, but will continue to be made. And it worries me. I worry because it's so easy to believe that we won't be touched by the fringes of society and that, really, it's nothing to worry about. But apathy and complacency are deadly to any society and I wonder how far down that road we've gone. This isn't solely a problem that belongs to any one group as the grossest of the current crop of atrocities are foreign made. So we're globally screwed-up at this point.

The only thing that gives me hope is the nature of societies to go through pendulum swings. It is often observed that as societies go through economic periods of prosperity and austerity, entertainment will go through it's own fluctuations that reflect the economic mood. Though I haven't quite figured out what to call the mood that has led the appalling creations that have led to this post, it's not hard to draw comparisons to the era that gave birth to the Marquis de Sade and the worst of today's degeneracy. But if, as I hope, the pendulum swings back I also have to wonder what the reverse arc will look like-- and face the uncertainty of whether censorship will have been the more gentle option in the long run. I'm not jumping on the censorship bandwagon just yet... but for the first time ever, I'm tempted.

Friday, October 15, 2010

New York Comic Con 2010 Report

New York Comic Con on Sunday, Oct 10th “Kids Day” was pretty crazy, with crowded conditions and lots of noise – and many distractions which could easily fill your entire day. My kids (6 & 4) and I went in with some pretty well laid out goals, and only managed to accomplish maybe 60% of them. It wasn’t until the drive home that I realized we hadn’t stopped at Dark Horse’s booth, Orbit Books or EOS books. Not too bad considering how many booths we did go to – but still disappointing. There’s always the next time though – as my older son already asked if he can dress as Obi-Wan for NYCC 2011. Meanwhile, I’ll give you a description of some of the things we did get to do. I’ll avoid talking about the toy searching; except to say there was no success finding any Krypto toys after searching many, many toy vendors, though I have some leads for online purchase. We spent probably a good hour on this, and considering we were there from 10am to 3pm, and in Marvel’s Next Big Thing panel from 1:00 to 2:15 (and eating lunch for ½ an hour before that) – you can start to see that our time on the floor was fairly limited (probably around 2 hours total). One of our first stops was to Del Rey, though to be honest I didn’t get much of a chance to look around their booths. They had up the assortment of Star Wars covers as posters that you’ve probably seen elsewhere. I didn’t see any more copies of the Deceived/Red Harvest poster, nor the paperback of Death Troopers, but I did spot a pile of interesting looking credit card sized things with the Fatal Alliance cover on it. Upon getting it home, I’ve discovered it gives me an access code to a special website where I can see exclusive excerpts from various Star Wars books (like chapter 13 of Fatal Alliance, or a huge preview of The Making of the Empire Strikes Back – with pictures and text I haven’t seen anywhere else) as well as comics and the promise of more to come. That was a very nice surprise. Unfortunately, Del Rey being mostly adult books, my kids weren’t very interested in this area, and short of my picking up Alex Irvine’s Iron Man: Virus, I wasn’t able to stop and see if the Deus Ex or God of War books were out as well. Del Rey was preparing for J.W. Rinzler’s panel on the Making of Empire and his signing of the book at their booth later – but I was already fairly certain I wouldn’t be able to make it to those, since my priority panel was Marvel’s The Next Big Thing and I was afraid of torturing my kids with too much sitting and listening to other people talk. We started to make the rounds and stopped off at TOR books, where I was very impressed by what they had chosen to do at NYCC. They were giving away Ender’s Game and two other novels when we stopped by (one a Fantasy book, the other I don’t remember), and they were talking to each of the people who stopped at their booth to recommend those books and explain why a person should try reading it. One of the TOR folks spend a long time with my 6-year-old talking about the “Weenies” series (such as The Curse of the Campfire Weenies), which had the desired effect of both making him aware of the series and getting him to seek it out. I thought this was a great example of what book publishers should try to be doing at an event like this. As we were wandering between toy booths, we had what was probably one of the most unique moments of the convention. I realized we were passing the Her Universe booth, and I saw a blonde girl who looked like Ashley Eckstein to me. So I stopped my sons (all three of us are The Clone Wars fans) and introduced myself. Ashley was glad to talk to us, despite my youngest being rather shy – and called both my boys her “Skyguys”. She also quoted a few lines from The Clone Wars Movie, which seemed to spark some recognition in my older son as he figured out he was talking to Ahsoka. I think he was a little caught off-guard, and ultimately we thanked Ashley and moved on – but to my surprise later on my sons were happily explaining to their mom how they had met Ahsoka at the comic book convention – so it was something that definitely stayed with them. There were a couple more very quick book related stops we made during the day. The first was to Titan books, at which we picked up a copy of The Clone Wars Magazine – something we were all looking forward to checking out. We also stopped at Penguin/Grosset & Dunlap – who make Star Wars books for kids a little older than my crew. I picked up their free samplers, which include some pictures of the pop-up Heroes and Villains books that I haven’t seen anywhere online. Skipping ahead to our last stop before leaving NYCC, we visited with DK Publishing (which makes Star Wars kids books among many others). We had actually passed them by a few times earlier, and the place was always busy. They had stock of signed books from the previous days of the convention for sale, and those piles slowly diminished over the course of the day (like the Avengers Ultimate Character Guide) – but we were still able to pick up a few Star Wars items. While we were there, Jason Fry was signing The Clone Wars: New Battlefronts – The Visual Guide, and he wrote a very nice message to my sons and gave us a couple of signed cards as well. He genuinely seemed happy to talk to the fans who were stopping by, not rushing anyone along and paying close attention to the kids who asked him questions. The kids got a couple of Star Wars DK Readers books, a Clone Wars sticker book, some Toy Story 3 books, an Atlantis Lego Brickmaster book… all in all a great selection from DK, and probably my kid’s favorite booth of the day. Obviously, I’ve skipped some of the other things we did at NYCC – the comic book stuff. I’m also writing a piece for and if you’d like to read the rest of our experience you can check it out there (including a comic written by Alex Irvine). I’ll talk about what booths we visited as well as the Marvel panel we attended. Otherwise though, we had a really great time at NYCC 2010 and plan to attend again next year – and hopefully I’ll be able to stop at more publisher booths next time.

Behind the Scenes of AMC's "The Walking Dead"

Frank Darabont ("Shawshank Redemption") and zombies? I'm in heaven.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Items Received

Too keep up with FTC requirements to disclose all material sent to this site for reviews and giveaways, here is a list of recent arrivals.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

First Impressions-- Season 1 "Spartacus: Blood and Sand"

I was the happy recipient of the first season of Spartacus: Blood and Sand (Starz) last week and finally had a chance to pop in the DVD today and start watching. However, having kids means that I have to schedule this particular entertainment at a time when they're not home. Like most shows on the premium channels it has violence, nudity and language in abundance. Because of the time constraint I was only able to get through two episodes today-- not enough for a proper review-- so I'm just going to give a quick summary of my first impressions.

Holy cow! Xena's naked!

Having a show set in ancient Rome definitely screams nudity as far as reputations go. It doesn't matter whether the story is set in Pompeii (with its notoriously phallic fixation) or our vague imaginings of the wild Bacchanal (to which the show does refer in the early episodes), it's something all the "it" shows are only too happy to feature; but I'd be surprised if any nudity on this show gets more attention than that of Lucy Lawless. I mean, she's Xena! But she gamely jumps in with sex scenes that are raunchily vivid. Like "True Blood," (which has earned a reputation for being "vampire porn,") "Spartacus" has been jokingly been referred to as "Debbie Does Rome." I am not any kind of an expert on ancient Rome, so I can't say whether the show is historically accurate; though I bet it's highly exaggerated. And the show doesn't discriminate between male and female nudity. You'll see more women overall, but the men aren't exactly shy when it comes to displaying the goods.

I didn't know you could lose so much blood and still live...

Like the name of the show ("Blood and Sand") implies, there's a whole lot of blood spilled on this particular show. In fact, it doesn't just spill, it flows, spurts and puddles in copious quantities. The CGI use becomes clear in the battle scenes primarily because of the show's unusual fixation with blood. It seems as if the sepia tones that seem to overlay everything are there merely to highlight the redness of the blood as it splashes across the screen in slow-motion splendor. It doesn't matter whether someone receives a major or minor wound-- there will be blood and lots of it.

We do love a good spectacle...

The centerpiece of the Spartacus story is the Gladiator Arena. The show wastes no time in featuring the bloody sport (appropriately so) and the scenes are unnerving-- but not for the reasons you'd expect. When you watch it, you can't help but think are we so different today? We might not keep slaves or literally throw people to the lions anymore, but seeing the crowd cheer on the grotesqueness of the games put me in mind of the modern voyeuristic indulgence--  the reality show. Perhaps I'm getting old, or maybe I'm too young to put it all in perspective. I'm not sure which. But the uninhibited culture of the hyped-up reality show, coupled with the YouTube culture, makes me think we've resurrected the spectacle depicted in "Spartacus" with a modern twist. It doesn't matter what people do as long as they're willing to do it for an audience and people will flock to see it.

I'm intrigued

I'm normally not drawn to watch anything that's heavy on the sex and violence but the lead in "Spartacus," Andy Whitfield, is very compelling. I do know that Whitfield is not scheduled to return for a second season (due to a very unfortunate cancer diagnosis), but I can't quit the show even knowing that. I hear the first two shows of the season are the weakest and that it gets much better as it moves along-- so I'm willing to put in the time. (If they can replace Dumbledore....) And I won't lie, I'm curious to see what they're going to have Lucy Lawless do next.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Coming Soon-- My "Most Anticipated" List for Year's End

There isn't much of the year left, but I think there are a few gems to look forward to. This is my 'must read' list for the season. A couple of sequels by well-loved authors are here, but most are new to me. And one or two may have made the list thanks to a really cool cover. Let me know what makes your list-- I wouldn't want to miss anything!

Midsummer Night by Freda Warrington (Tor)

A sensuous, suspenseful modern fantasy of love, betrayal, and redemption
Decades ago, in a place where the veil between our world and the world of the Aetherials—the fair folk—is too easily breached, three young people tricked their uncle by dressing as the fey. But their joke took a deadly turn when true Aetherials crossed into our world, took one of the pranksters, and literally scared their uncle to death.

Many years later, at the place of this capture lies a vast country estate that holds a renowned art facility owned by a visionary sculptor. One day, during a violent storm, a young woman studying art at the estate stumbles upon a portal to the Otherworld. A handsome young man comes through the portal and seeks shelter with her. Though he can tell her nothing of his past, his innocence and charm capture her heart. But he becomes the focus of increasingly violent arguments among the residents of the estate. Is he as innocent as he seems? Or is he hiding his true identity so that he can seek some terrible vengeance, bringing death and heartbreak to this place that stands between two worlds? Who is this young man?

The forces of magic and the power of love contend for the soul of this man, in this magical romantic story of loss and redemption.

Seer of Sevenwaters by Juliet Marillier (Roc)

Get swept away in the romantic fantasy of this national bestselling author's world of Sevenwaters

The young seer Sibeal is visiting an island of elite warriors, prior to making her final pledge as a druid. It's there she finds Felix, a survivor of a Viking shipwreck, who's lost his memory. The scholarly Felix and Sibeal form a natural bond. He could even be her soul mate, but Sibeal's vocation is her true calling, and her heart must answer.

As Felix fully regains his memory, Sibeal has a runic divination showing her that Felix must go on a perilous mission-and that she will join him. The rough waters and the sea creatures they will face are no match for Sibeal's own inner turmoil. She must choose between the two things that tug at her soul-her spirituality and a chance at love...

Geist by Philippa Ballantine (Ace)

Between the living and the dead is the Order of the Deacons, protectors of the Empire, guardians against possession, sentinels enlisted to ward off the malevolent haunting of the geists...

Among the most powerful of the Order is Sorcha, now thrust into partnership with the novice Deacon, Merrick Chambers. They have been dispatched to the isolated village of Ulrich to aide the Priory with a surge of violent geist activity. With them is Raed Rossin, Pretender to the throne that Sorcha is sworn to protect, and bearer of a terrible curse.

But what greets them in the strange settlement is something far more predatory and more horrifying than any mere haunting. And as she uncovers a tradition of twisted rituals passed down through the dark reaches of history, Sorcha will be forced to reconsider everything she thinks she knows.

And if she makes it out of Ulrich alive, what in Hell is she returning to?

The Greyfriar: Vampire Empire Book 1 by Clay & Susan Griffith (Pyr)

In the year 1870, a horrible plague of vampires swept over the northern regions of the world. Millions of humans were killed outright. Millions more died of disease and famine due to the havoc that followed. Within two years, once-great cities were shrouded by the gray empire of the vampire clans. Human refugees fled south to the tropics because vampires could not tolerate the constant heat there. They brought technology and a feverish drive to reestablish their shattered societies of steam and iron amid the mosques of Alexandria, the torrid quietude of Panama, or the green temples of Malaya.

It is now 2020 and a bloody reckoning is coming.
Princess Adele is heir to the Empire of Equatoria, a remnant of the old tropical British Empire. She is quick with her wit as well as with a sword or gun. She is eager for an adventure before she settles into a life of duty and political marriage to a man she does not know. But her quest turns black when she becomes the target of a merciless vampire clan. Her only protector is the Greyfriar, a mysterious hero who fights the vampires from deep within their territory. Their dangerous relationship plays out against an approaching war to the death between humankind and the vampire clans.

The Greyfriar (Vampire Empire, Book 1) is the first book in a trilogy of high adventure and alternate history. Combining rousing pulp action with steampunk style, the Vampire Empire series brings epic political themes to life within a story of heartbreaking romance, sacrifice, and heroism.

The Cardinal's Blades by Pierre Pevel (Pyr)

Welcome to seventeenth-century Paris, where intrigue, duels, and spies are rife and Cardinal Richelieu's agents may be prevailed upon to risk life and limb in the name of France at a moment's notice. And with war on the horizon, the defense of the nation has never been more pressing.

Danger is rising from the south—an insidious plot that could end with a huge dragon-shaped shadow falling over France, a shadow cast by dragons quite unlike the pet dragonets that roam the cities like stray cats, or the tame wyverns men ride like horses, high over the Parisian rooftops. These dragons and their descendants are ancient, terrible, and powerful ... and their plans contain little room for the lives or freedom of puny humans.

Cardinal Richelieu has nowhere else to turn; Captain La Fargue and his elite group of agents, the Cardinal's Blades, must turn the tide. They must hold the deadly Black Claw cult at bay, root out traitors to the crown, rescue prisoners, and fulfill their mission for the Cardinal, for their country, but above all for themselves.

It's death or victory. And the victory has never been less certain.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Giveaway! "Betrayer of Worlds" by Larry Niven and Edward M. Lerner

I'm trying to up my percentage of science fiction giveaways and, thanks to Tor Books, I have a copy of Betrayer of Worlds by Larry Niven and Edward M. Lerner to help me do just that.

Fleeing the supernova chain reaction at the galactic core, the cowardly Puppeteers of the Fleet of Worlds have---just barely---survived. They’ve stumbled from one crisis to the next: The rebellion of their human slaves. The relentless questing of the species of Known Space. The spectacular rise of the starfish-like Gw’oth. The onslaught of the genocidal Pak.

Catastrophe looms again as past crises return---and converge. Who can possibly save the Fleet of Worlds from its greatest peril yet?

Louis Wu? Trapped in the Wunderland civil war, all he wants is to go home---but the only possible escape will plunge him into unknowable danger.

Ol’t’ro? The Gw’oth ensemble mind fled across the stars to establish a colony world free from tyranny. But some problems cannot be left behind, and other problems---like the Fleet of Worlds itself---are racing straight at them.

Achilles? Despite past disgrace, the charismatic Puppeteer politician knows he is destined for greatness. He will do anything to seize power---and to take his revenge on everyone who ever stood in his way.

Nessus? The insane Puppeteer scout is out of ideas, out of resources, with only desperation left to guide him.

Their hopes and fears, dreams and ambitions are about to collide. And the winner takes . . . worlds.

Simply add your information to the form below to enter (all information is guaranteed confidential and will be discarded once the contest ends) and I will randomly pick one winner by Monday November 1st. No multiple entries please-- all multiple entries will be discarded. Open everywhere.

Good luck!

**Contest Closed**

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Elitism-- or Just Self-Promotion?

It seems that every so often a blogger has to pick a fight with another blogger. There's really no doubt, when this occurs, that the instigator of this particular game is looking for attention. Sadly they get it all too often as the blog post is picked up by other review blogs amid a flurry of outraged tweets and Facebook updates.

Why is this such an easy game to get sucked into?

I guess we all like drama. If it isn't something that involves us personally we're only too happy to inject ourselves into the conversation as we madly dash over to the offending post and give our "I think" thoughts on the subject. I've done this more times than I'd like to admit.

But there's something very personal about review blogging. We all have our own take on how it should be done and when someone attacks us personally (though I have not been the recipient in this particular game of late), well, we take it personally. It's a strange phenomenon from my point of view. I know those who consider themselves the "elite" in our little fishbowl look upon my willingness to do giveaways with disdain; claiming that people like me are too eager to please the publishers and act as little more than advertising arms of those organizations. That's a tough critique for me to take because I fund almost all the giveaways I do here out of my own pocket. So it costs me money to be criticized... Tell me why I do this again?

I do get the hesitation to do reviews based on books sent to us by the publisher. Once the faucet is turned on and you start getting freebies, it's easy to get sucked into the desire-to-please cycle that keeps the books coming. I dance around this myself, though I have occasionally been known to tear-to-shreds a book that was sent to me. I've come to the conclusion that if I don't ask for a book (and I almost never do) then I don't have an obligation to be nice. I don't like to savage someone's work and I try to be respectful and honest; which is what I think almost all the reviewers in our circle are trying to do.

Another accusation that is frequently thrown at people like myself is that we're just not doing it right. I don't know whose rules we're supposed to be following exactly but I've repeatedly read that I should be writing more in-depth reviews-- with quotes and analysis of the subtext of the book. I hear that I'm not doing my job if the review is less than 1000 words long. To this I say-- are you kidding me? I've actually done reviews for print publications for years and I've been told repeatedly to keep it at 250-500 words because the reader doesn't have the attention span to read something longer. When I've been paid for the job I was told anything longer just meant I was wordy. I've taken it as a luxury as a self-made reviewer that I could be wordy if I want to. But let's be honest, who the heck has time to do a master's thesis every time they review a fantasy novel? I frequently hit the 1000 word mark and wonder if I lack the talent to make it more succinct. I guess you can't win in this particular game.

The rub in all of this is that the bloggers who have the most elitist attitudes make their own rules and feel they can enforce them on the rest of us. They make arbitrary declarations and put the rest of us on the defensive, and I'm left to wonder why. Whenever I see a post that piously outlines the criteria I should be following, whether on an author or reviewer site, I pretty much want to flip that person the middle-finger and childishly ask who made you God of all things blogging?

What's really silly in this whole exercise is that it would be incredibly boring if we all did it the same way. I could pour myself into the mold of the "intellectual" bloggers and follow their "rules." I could leave out the giveaways and take the fun out of everything and be dour and judgmental in my reviewing. I could declare paranormal fiction beneath me and scoff at anything that doesn't reek of erudition. How long do you figure that would last before my audience fled and I took the blog down due to my own lack of interest?

The thing is, I can do scholarly. I have a college degree and have a decent pedigree that includes study abroad and minor in Japanese. But after many years spent in classrooms and libraries pouring over assignments and drowning in academia, I'm not interested anymore. I like that my blog is on the lighter side. I don't get paid for this, so I might as well do what's fun for me. And something tells me there are a LOT more bloggers out there who can relate to my point-of-view than the high-brow stance.

The bottom line is that we are all masters of our own domain. Don't like the way we do things? Then you are welcome to leave and keep your opinions to yourself. The bald fact is that if you don't like my blog, chances are I'm not frequenting yours. Your snark might fill some needy corner of your soul but I'm pretty sure the rest of the world can read the insecurity and need for attention all that lashing out is really about. I think if the bloggers who like to engage in such back-and-forth were to stop and examine their motives before they posted-- I mean a real self-examination-- they'd be shocked at the self absorption going on. But I don't suppose this kind of thing grows out of self awareness and I'm sure the look-at-me kind of thing will never end as long as we have the safe anonymity of the internet.

But then, here I go. Having my look-at-me moment for the day.

But I'm not naming any names.