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was sold to gypsies as a small child for half a tank of gas and a kitten. She was quickly, if not easily, retrieved by her mother after the kitten was revealed to be an Eldrich horror looking for a ride into the nearest metropolitan area to begin wreaking havoc. It's been a bone of contention between Maria and her family ever since, whether the Horror-kitten would've been more or less trouble than she grew up to be.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Book Review: Dead in the Family

There is more going on in this cover than I'm aesthetically comfortable with.
From Goodreads

 After enduring torture and the loss of loved ones during the brief but deadly Faery War, Sookie Stackhouse is hurt and she's angry. Just about the only bright spot in her life is the love she thinks she feels for vampire Eric Northman. But he's under scrutiny by the new Vampire King because of their relationship. And as the political implications of the Shifters coming out are beginning to be felt, Sookie's connection to the Shreveport pack draws her into the debate. Worst of all, though the door to Faery has been closed, there are still some Fae on the human side-and one of them is angry at Sookie. Very, very angry...

In the interest of full disclosure, I really enjoyed this book - the Sookie Stackhouse books have always been one of my guilty pleasures. However, there are a lot of reasons why this isn't a good book. If this review starts sounding schizophrenic, please don't be frightened. It's just my Inner Fan and Inner Critic are screaming obscenities at each other in my mind.

The Good:

As always, Charlaine Harris has written a book that is dark, morbidly funny, and in its own way thought provoking. I reviewed the series a few years back and what I said there still holds true. Sookie still has a strong voice, the characters are still compelling, and the increasingly tense political and social climate surrounding Supernaturals is getting more and more interesting.

The fan favorites - Eric, Pam, Bill, and Alcide - were in attendance, most of them with more than the short cameos that we've been treated to in past books. It was a treat to find out more about Eric's past, and as a history geek and all around awful human being, I got a cheap enjoyment out of turning one of the Romanov's into a vampire.

The Bad:

Dead in the Family read like two books shoved together and only one of those books got finished. I respect the theme Harris was trying to follow in this book - Sookie's family, Eric's family, Bill's family, and the families of pretty much everyone in Bon Temps - but we went from a possible murder conspiracy and took a hard left into the realm of dysfunctional family reunion. I was interested in both tales, but I would have liked them separately or at least better integrated with one another.

In a recent interview where Charlaine Harris announced the end of the series, she said, "I find myself wanting to bring back random people, just so I can say, 'Here they are. Here's what happened.' And then I think, it's not going to be a very cohesive book if I have all these guest appearances. I really have to stick to the core of the book[.]" I think this struggle is evident even in this earlier book. Of course, there was a time when this book was supposed to be the last. I suspect that parts of this book had been left as it was when it was still the finale instead of just another book in the series.

The Rest:

At the end of Dead and Gone, Sookie had been kidnapped and tortured by sadistic faeries as part of a war. Her physical injuries were extensive, as were her emotional and psychological trauma. We get glimpses of this at the beginning of Dead in the Family, but overall Sookie is -mostly- the same Sookie we've been reading with and about since 2001. Normally, this would bother me, the way an important character development is mentioned and dropped. Frankly it would piss me off...if not for that mostly. Sookie is Sookie. It's a fabulous testament to her character, which has always been resilient in the face of opposition, that she carries on. It's part of what readers and the other characters love about her. But whether it's immediately noticeable or not, she has changed.

Her experiences have hardened and hurt her, and she is more callous, more calculating for it. While it may help keep her alive, the growing ease with which she can consider killing someone and follow through on it disturbs even her. She suffers a moral problem which is very human and also very animal - she doesn't want to hurt people or cause death, but she will if her life or the lives of the people she loves are on the line.

This is an evolution of the character I've been wondering about for a long time and I'm glad that Harris has followed through on it. Even a character as bright, strong, and obstinate as Sookie can't remain unchanged in the face of all the darkness and death she's seen. Yet Sookie isn't the sort of person to succumb to that darkness either. Harris has respected the need for development while also knowing her character, convincingly showing the change in personality and morality as it affects this particular character, and I applaud her for it.

Final Thoughts:

Personally, I really enjoyed this novel and I'm looking forward to the rest of the books in the series, however there are a few technical problems in plot construction that I can't get over.

My Rating: 3/5 Mushrooms

Friday, May 18, 2012

Book Review: Welcome to Bordertown

From Goodreads:

Bordertown: a city on the border between our human world and the elfin realm. Runaway teens come from both sides of the border to find adventure, to find themselves. Elves play in rock bands and race down the street on spell-powered motorbikes. Human kids recreate themselves in the squats and clubs and artists' studios of Soho. Terri Windling's original Bordertown series was the forerunner of today's urban fantasy, introducing authors that included Charles de Lint, Will Shetterly, Emma Bull, and Ellen Kushner. In this volume of all-new work (including a 15-page graphic story), the original writers are now joined by the generation that grew up dreaming of Bordertown, including acclaimed authors Holly Black, Cassandra Clare, Cory Doctorow, Neil Gaiman, Catherynne M. Valente, and many more. They all meet here on the streets of Bordertown in more than twenty new interconnected songs, poems, and stories.
Yes, yes, this is my second anthology review in as many weeks. Shut up, I've been finding some really good ones.

I'm not quite sure why I didn't pick up Welcome to Bordertown when it first came out, other than A) I was busy with finals and I forgot about it, and B) I'm occasionally really stupid and doubt the awesomeness of authors. Thankfully, Cassandra Yorgey saw that I was blind and showed me the light. Namely, she did this by scoring me a pass to FaerieCon East where I got to meet AND HAVE TEA with Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman (Guys! Ellen Kushner bought me tea!) so that I would understand their awesomeness, and then she lent me her ARC to read. Now I keep this book next to my bed, beside my Ultimate Hitchhikers Guide, in case of emergencies.

The Good:

Beautiful writing by a ton of authors, many of whom I know and others I am looking forward to reading more from. Welcome to Bordertown really explores and makes use of the best aspects of writing in an anthology. There is a world - Bordertown - that has established rules, geography, history, which must be obeyed by everyone. But working within those rules, writers can do whatever they want. And that leads to a collection of stories as varied as the dwellers of Bordertown themselves. Characters of every ethnicity, gender, species, age, sexual orientation, etc can find a place and a voice in the stories of Welcome to Bordertown - which, by the way, is a great way to make readers feel welcome.

The stories progress in a sort of chaotic order. In the first few stories, we're introduced to this hopeful new world, where the misfits and unorthodox have a place and anything is possible. More stories expose us to everyday life in Bordertown and the risks it poses to its' occupants, both old and new, stripping away some of the promise of Bordertown and turning into a place like any other. Full of dangers. Full of opportunities. Just like everywhere else. Finally, as we near the end, we see the darker side of Bordertown, with its injustices and the people willing fight against them. It's a beautiful storytelling arch, showing us that even with magic and faeries, you can't run away from your problems forever. Happily ever afters must be fought for constantly.

The Bad:

There's not so much Bad in this anthology as there are personal requests. More comics. Fewer poems. More poems. No comics at all. Why is there a motorcycle on the cover?

The Rest:

My standard warning for anthologies applies here: Not all stories are created equal. It is more than likely that readers are not going to like every story in here. But you're going to like an awful lot of them, I promise.

Final Thoughts:

Beyond being great YA, this is just a great book period. I would recommend it to anyone interested in fantasy, and frequently do. I sincerely hope it won't be another 13 years before the next Bordertown book comes out.

My Rating: 5/5 Mushrooms.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Book Review: Steampunk!

This cover is even more impressive in person.
From Goodreads:

In the first major YA steampunk anthology, fourteen top storytellers push the genre's mix of sci-fi, fantasy, history, and adventure in fascinating new directions.

Imagine an alternate universe where romance and technology reign. Where tinkerers and dreamers craft and re-craft a world of automatons, clockworks, calculating machines, and other marvels that never were. Where scientists and schoolgirls, fair folk and Romans, intergalactic bandits, utopian revolutionaries, and intrepid orphans solve crimes, escape from monstrous predicaments, consult oracles, and hover over volcanoes in steam-powered airships. Here, fourteen masters of speculative fiction, including two graphic storytellers, embrace the genre's established themes and refashion them in surprising ways and settings as diverse as Appalachia, ancient Rome, future Australia, and alternate California. Visionaries Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant have invited all-new explorations and expansions, taking a genre already rich, strange, and inventive in the extreme and challenging contributors to remake it from the ground up. The result is an anthology that defies its genre even as it defines it.
I picked this baby up at the Baltimore Book Festival last September, during Libba Bray's book signing. I'm still fairly new to Steampunk as a genre and in some cases a lifestyle. However, it's an area that I've been finding increasingly comfortable, and when I saw this anthology, with so many authors I already love, I jumped on it. If you doubt the awesomeness, check out this list of authors who are in here:

M. T. Anderson
Elizabeth Knox
Ysabeau S. Wilce
Delia Sherman
Christopher Rowe
Garth Nix
Kathleen Jennings
Dylan Horrocks
Cory Doctorow
Cassandra Clare
Libba Bray
Holly Black
Shawn Cheng
Kelly Link

Lookit that list. Isn't it a nice list? That is one fine list.

The Good:

This is one of the best anthologies I have ever read. Out of 14 stories, almost every one is in the 4-to-5-star range. The big name authors don't disappoint. Libba Bray, Cory Doctorow, and M. T. Anderson probably have my favorite stories. However, some of the lesser know authors have their shining moments too, like Delia Sherman, Kathleen Jennings, and Elizabeth Knox. I won't say that everyone brought their A-game, but I never felt like anyone was coasting, happy to settle for a passing grade.

While I've been developing a growing love affair with steampunk lit, I love that this anthology is filled with authors who haven't written in this genre before. Or if they have, it hasn't been their first choice. Where so many steampunk writers seem to think of the world before the story, these are simply authors who have taken on the concept of steampunk - however they interpret that - and used it to accent a plot or a character. And for that, I feel that the impact and depth of the world is so much more potent, giving steampunk an emotional resonance that the casual steampunk reader may overlook.

The Bad:

The flaw of all anthologies applies here; simply, not all stories are created equal. Though they are few, a few of the stories just felt out of place with the rest of the collection. I won't name names, as I think some of them are still fine stories if not exactly right, but I think readers will be able to spot the odd man/men out.

The Rest:

The stories rise and fall in merit based largely on personal preference. I'm certain that a few will stand out to everyone, the rest will probably find their rating in the tastes of the readers and their vision of steampunk.

The vision of steampunk is a big part of what this collection captures. The stereotypical steampunk story is set in Victorian London and features women in corsets and men with fabulous coats and secret agendas. This is a very fun stereotype in the hands of the right writer. But the stories in this collection go well beyond the known and accepted boundaries of the genre, taking it from Ancient Rome to Australia and Appalachia and the future. I'm not going to say that Steampunk! breaks any new ground. However, it introduces young adult readers to a genre they may think only applies to nineteenth century England and shows them that it can be anywhere through the writing of authors they already know, love, and trust.

Final Thoughts:

I think fans of steampunk and readers who are new to the genre will find this a fantastic collection. I like to think of it as a gateway drug to the world of steampunk. It certainly helped me find my feet and dive in.
My Rating: 5/5 Mushrooms

Friday, May 4, 2012

Book Review: Boneshaker

GOGGLES AND AIRSHIPS! WIN! Ooo, and a quote from Scott Westerfeld. Shiny!
 From Barnes and Noble:

In the early days of the Civil War, rumors of gold in the frozen Klondike brought hordes of newcomers to the Pacific Northwest. Anxious to compete, Russian prospectors commissioned inventor Leviticus Blue to create a great machine that could mine through Alaska’s ice. Thus was Dr. Blue’s Incredible Bone-Shaking Drill Engine born.
But on its first test run the Boneshaker went terribly awry, destroying several blocks of downtown Seattle and unearthing a subterranean vein of blight gas that turned anyone who breathed it into the living dead.

Now it is sixteen years later, and a wall has been built to enclose the devastated and toxic city. Just beyond it lives Blue’s widow, Briar Wilkes. Life is hard with a ruined reputation and a teenaged boy to support, but she and Ezekiel are managing. Until Ezekiel undertakes a secret crusade to rewrite history.

His quest will take him under the wall and into a city teeming with ravenous undead, air pirates, criminal overlords, and heavily armed refugees. And only Briar can bring him out alive.

All I can say is that it was a good thing I waited until my Thanksgiving break to read this book because once I picked it up, it was impossible for me to put down.

The Good:

Where do I start? I'm not used to reviewing books I love this much. Compliments are anathema to my being.

This book is like an action-adventure movie on paper. By which I mean, we get all the thrills, danger, and edge of your seat tension that we love about movies, plus the detailed exposition and character insights that we can only get via books. Plus, mad science.

Let me make it clear that I am not a fan of the zombie-zeitgeist that's taken media by storm over the past years. They're a metaphor which has been played out and overused by people seeking to criticize our capitalistic and apathetic society. However, in Boneshaker, there's no metaphor beating us over the head to be heard. (Okay, well, yes, you can probably find meaning in the sap-drug that's made from the same gas that causes people to become zombies, but Priest doesn't let social commentary get in the way of the story. It's like an optional side dish; you can examine the book for hidden meaning and symbols, or you can choose to enjoy people living in a walled-off city. Your choice. Much like whether or not to eat the carton of rice with your Chinese take-out. Where was I again?) These zombies are only monsters that were created by a disaster that's half man-made/half natural and they want to eat you. All of you. Every last tasty limb. Watching your weight by eating only brains is such a waste of time when you're already dead. I digress.

My point is that Priest has made zombies fun again. I kind of want to hug her for it.

The cast of characters is typical of adventure novels, but still fun. I never had to stop and reread a previous chapter to remind myself who someone was. We never get too deep into who they are, so they remain in this in between space - more filled out than cardboard, but not quite individuals. The main narrators, Briar and Zeke, provide contrasting narratives: Briar's maturity, her world-weariness, and her mama-bear-like focus and determination to rescue her son versus Zeke's youthful exuberance, then faltering confidence in his meticulously planned escapade as it all goes to hell.  There isn't exactly anything new about them except the situation they're in. But still, fun.

The plot is also fairly familiar. Parent has to rescue child from stupid adventure, gets sucked into larger drama that invariably prompts protagonists to save the day, after which parent and child become closer and understand one another better. But this plot takes place a walled off city filled with blighted gas, shambling horrors, and a mad man living in a train station. Like I said. Really fun.

Also, mad science.

The Bad:

Briar has a secret. It's supposed to be a doozy. Unfortunately, I figured it out about halfway through the book. Maybe sooner.

Furthermore, while I enjoyed the premise of the Civil War having lasted for decades longer than it really did, I wish the author had done more with it. I understand that the author probably had her hands full with main plot of the novel, but a bit more focus on the politics, on what else is happening in the world, the factors that have kept the war going on like this, etc, would have been really, really nice filler for world-building.

For that matter, the alternative history of it in general, while enjoyable to me, is a factor that other readers may not enjoy. Suspension of disbelief allows us the understand and accept that things are different in this world, but we're expected to just accept this without ever getting a full or satisfying explanation. I was able to overlook that and enjoy the book despite this (I've been programmed to accept these things by a lifetime of reading Stephen King), but I can understand how other readers may not be get past that.

The Rest:

The writing is not the greatest in the world. My rhapsodizing about Laini Taylor a post or so back? Not gonna happen here. However, that doesn't mean that the writing is bad. As my mother said when I gave her the book, Priest's writing is innocuous; it gets out of the way of the story. And what a story it is.

While this book isn't marketed as YA, I could easily young adult readers enjoying this book, despite the lack of romance and the middle-aged heroine. Teenage girls should be reassured that they can still rock in their old(er) age, in my opinion.

Boneshaker also marks the beginning of the Clockwork Century series. While I normally gripe about book series - so long, more books to buy, what will I do with my dashed hopes if the series starts to suck - Boneshaker and its sequels have so far been immune to those issues. Despite being over 400 pages long, I read this book in less than a day, and since they're all first released in paperback I've been able to easily afford the sequels on my college student budget.

Final Thoughts:

Before it is anything else, I think that this book is fun. It's quick, it's exciting, it has equally quick, fun, and exciting sequels. It takes a bunch of pop-culture curiosities, like zombies and steampunk, and throws them in a pot, and gives us some tasty book-chili. Not everyone likes chili. Not everyone likes the same type of chili. Few people want to eat chili every day. If you like zombies, walled-off secret cities, mad science, and fierce heroines, don't mind liberties being taken with history, and just want to read something slightly mindless without being stupid or crude, give Boneshaker a ride. And even if you don't like the book, go follow Cherie Priest on twitter anyway. She posts pictures of cats.

My Rating: 4/5 Mushrooms