Thursday, July 24, 2014

Everything comes with a price

Some people have a knack for things. Perhaps the letters of her Scrabble bag spell out the future. Maybe they can hop on their bike and find whatever it is they're looking for, whether they know exactly what they're looking for or not. 

Or their car drives them to Christmasland.

In Joe Hill's NOS4A2, some objects can help their users open rifts in the universe. Victoria McQueen, also known as Vic - or simply The Brat - discovers this when she gets her Tuff Burner for her eighth birthday. As she rides away from her parents' fight, a bridge that has collapsed years ago appears before her. On the other side, she finds the bracelet that her parents are fighting over - and a piercing headache unlike anything she's ever experienced.

Over the years, her Tuff Burner and her Shorter Way Bridge help her other lost things, too. A cat, left for dead on the side of the road. A plush penguin. Trouble.

Trouble in the form of Charlie Manx. Once, long ago, Charlie might have thought he was doing good. In fact, even now, he believes that the children he 'rescues' are being given everything they could ever want. They get to live in a land where it's always Christmas. Where they wake every morning to presents and songs and games. Where the evil parents in their lives will never hurt them again. Never mind that their teeth are replaced with row upon row of hooks, like a shark. Or the games that they play with knives and scissors and lynching trees. Never mind the mothers that become the playthings of the Gas Mask Man for no reason other than that they were trying to protect their sons and daughters from the man in the Rolls Royce Wraith.

As a teenager looking for trouble, her bike led her into the path of old Charlie Manx. That encounter ended with Manx behind bars, a conveniently untrue story about being kidnapped by him, and riding off to safety on the back of Lou Carmody's motorcycle.

But now Charlie has escaped the jail hospital. He's found his Wraith, all fixed up for him by an amateur mechanic. He has his Gas Mask Man, who only needs to rescue one more kid before he can go to Christmasland himself.

And he has his sights set on Vic's son.

Now Vic is in a race against time. His old Tuff Burner is long gone, but she's picked up a talent for motorcycles, having married Lou in the intervening years. She's going to have to hold herself together - through police investigations and her own mental illness - long enough to put Manx in the ground once and for all.

Before her son turns into one of the damaged children of Christmasland.

As with his comic book series Locke and Key, Hill tells a wonderfully creepy horror story with touches of magic and the supernatural. Everyone's actions have consequences, and using their reality-bending talents leaves everyone involved broken in one way or another. In showing us these shattered individuals, the truly good people in the story shine like beacons of hope, and the reader can only hope that they get to the end unscathed.

Highs: The side characters, like Maggie and Lou, steal the show.

Lows: The very last chapter 'Come All Ye Faithful' wrapped things up just a little too prettily for me.

Verdict: Despite a slightly weak ending, NOS4A2 is the type of creepy psychological horror full of damaged people and terrible magic that one would expect from the son of Stephen King.

Further Reading: Locke & Key, Another Volume 1, The Midnight Palace

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Alexia wasn't the first Tarabotti to travel to Egypt

The growing popularity of the ebook has created a renaissance in the short story market. once relegated to transient magazines and intimidating best-of anthologies, now anyone can create a Kindle Single and release their tale as an inexpensive tidbit for the general population.

Another bonus of the new publishing industry is the freedom it gives authors to revisit past worlds. While an author may consider a series complete, she might still have a few scenes that never made it into a book, or a bit of backstory that could be told, but these bits and bobs aren't enough to warrant a novel. Instead of being lost to a few pages in an anthology, or never seeing the light of day at all, authors now have the ability to put these treats online for their fans to enjoy. 

And such is the case with Gail Carriger's The Curious Case of the Werewolf that Wasn't, the Mummy That Was, and the Cat in the Jar.

Note: The Curious Case... is part of the Parasol Protectorate series. As it's a prequel, it shouldn't have any spoilers for the series itself, but it might not make much sense without the rest of the series. Check out the review for Soulless here. Otherwise, read on!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

A mother's love can be...difficult at best.

Dragons have a certain image to uphold. Vicious, ruthless and driven, they can be found both  as leaders of corporations and heads of underground organizations. Predators by nature, and clannish as well, being born a dragon is a dangerous, competitive situation.

In Rachel Aaron's Nice Dragons Finish Last, Julius has a problem. As the youngest and smallest Heartstriker, he's constantly surrounded by stronger, more powerful siblings. As a result, he's become very, very good at being unassuming. Since getting in the way of his family would more than likely make his remaining time on Earth rather unpleasant he simply stays out of their way, mostly playing video games in his room.

Such passive behavior is NOT what his mother has in mind. As the second most powerful Draconic clan - and certainly the largest - such a blemish on her reputation simply cannot be tolerated. She'd much rather simply order his death by one of her enforcers, but she's nothing if not fair, and that means giving him a chance to redeem himself.

And this is how Julian has found himself kicked out of the clan house with just the shirt on his back. He's told that has until the end of the month to earn his way back into the clan, or else he'll be permanently exiled - or worse. 

But that's just too easy for a Heartstriker, so his mother Bethesda turns it up to hard mode. If he wants to live as a stupid weak human, she's more than happy to oblige. She's sealed away his magic, leaving him to earn his way back into her good graces with none of the benefits of dragon-hood.

Even though he can't access the benefits of being a dragon, the threats are still all too real. He's been dropped off in the Detroit Free Zone. When magic re-entered the world, the spirit of Lake St Clare Algonquin flooded the old city of Detroit, and claimed the area as her own. On top of the ruins, a shining city has been built, but dragons are expressly forbidden. So long with trying to make a name for himself, he can't make so much of a name that Algonquin or her guards notice.

As ruthless as his siblings can be, they still try to help each other out. Ian, one of Julius' older brothers, has a mission for him. He's been dating a dragoness named Svena, a daughter of the Heartstriker's rivals, the Three Sisters. Svena's youngest sister Katya has run away from home again, and she needs someone to retrieve her. He's the only dragon who is unassuming and non-threatening to get within a mile of Katya, and all he needs to do is get a bracelet with a binding spell on her.

Of course, a soft-hearted guy like Julius couldn't just take an easy job and do it. As the job progresses, he starts to wonder why Katya wants to escape her family so badly. He knows how bad it can be to be the outcast in a clan, and perhaps he has more in common with Katya than anyone realizes.

Along the way, he also runs into a mage name Marci, who might actually be in more trouble than he is. But with his powers locked away, he needs all the help he can get. And for a human, Marci is a heck of a lot of fun.

Rachel Aaron, who also writes under the name Rachel Back, is a master of fiction that draws you and and just won't let go. Her books keep you in 'just one more chapter' mode, and before you know it, your alarm clock is going off. Well plotted, thoroughly thought out and carefully edited, Aaron's first foray into self-publishing shows none of the problems that plague the budding industry. Nice Dragons Finish Last is an addictive, immensely enjoyable read that, as is the case with all of Aaron's works, leaves that reader eagerly anticipating the next story.

Highs: Any chapter with Bob, the clan's Seer, ends up being a fantastic mix of comic relief and dangerous prophecy.

Lows: Hopefully, we'll get more details into the history of the Dragon clans, and the re-emergence of magic, in later books.

Verdict: A must-read for fans of urban fantasy, and a strong suggestion for readers of New Adult and general Fantasy as well.

Further Reading: Fortune's Pawn, The Legend of Eli Monpress, Princess of Wands

Monday, June 23, 2014

Manga Monday: Yotsuba's on TV! She must be famous!

Between running a house, going to the park and entertaining Jumbo, it's no wonder Yotsuba's worn out in Yotsuba&! Volume 10.

Note: Yotsuba&! Volume 10 is part of an ongoing series. Check out the review of Volume 1 here, and Volume 9 here. Otherwise, read on!

Friday, May 30, 2014

Who's to say a lady in trousers would be a bad influence?

Betrayal, human cargo and the Chinese underworld all converge on Black Heath Manor in Cindy Spencer Pape's Dragons & Dirigibles.

Note: Dragons & Dirigibles is the seventh story of the Gaslight Chronicles series. While the stories work well as stand-alones, there are inherent spoilers, especially where the romances are involved.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Why let a little something like death slow you down?

Gwen Dylan isn't your normal gal. She works as a grave-digger at an all-natural cemetery, for one, which automatically brands her as 'one of the guys.' She's recently cut ties with her past, so she only has a few people that she can truly call her friends.

Oh, and she's a zombie.

In iZombie Volume 1: Dead to the World, Gwen isn't exactly your standard shambling undead. As long as she maintains a steady diet of a brain a month, she keeps her focus and her memory. And so, being the moral sort, she's found herself employment that lets her be around plenty of brains that no one is using anymore.

Honestly, her life is actually pretty normal for being a living dead girl. She lives in a crypt in the cemetery she works at, and has a slightly 'airheaded' ghost for a roommate. Her other friend, Scotty, is a 'thrope' of the terrier variety.

But she still has a couple problems. When she eats a brain, which is by far the most disgusting thing she's ever had to choke down, she is flooded with the fragmented memories of that person's life. Sometimes it includes a bit of unfinished business that the decedent has left behind. Often it includes his final moments, and whether he died under...mysterious circumstances.

It turns out, Gwen isn't the only undead in town either. A pack of vampires has taken up residence at a local paintball course, and while their leader is bright enough not to leave a trail of bodies behind, not all of them are.

And there might be another, less ethical zombie in town as well.

Chris Robertson does a good job setting up a world full of creatures of the night, while still giving us some rules to go by. The characters each have their own personality quirks already, with plenty of room to go. Gwen even has a love interest, of a sort.

It's amazing how full a life a gal can have, even when she's dead.

Highs: Gwen's friends are hilarious, and their antics are sometimes even more fun than the main story.

Lows: The artwork isn't quite what I expect from a Vertigo title, and there's a lot of backstory still missing.

Verdict: iZombie Volume 1: Dead to the World is a fun, quick read with lots of potential for future volumes.

Further Reading: iZombie Volume 2: uVampire, V Wars, World War Z, Soulless: The Manga, The Unwritten

Thursday, May 8, 2014

As the world ends, families come together.

It's amazing how life can change in an instant. Forgetting to check your blind spot while driving, or carelessly mowing the yard, can have consequences that last forever. Lightning strikes cause forest fires that decimate hundreds of acres, and tornadoes can flatten towns in a matter of minutes.

In Susan Beth Pfeffer's Life as We Knew It, Miranda is an eyewitness as one of these events happens. It's been the most talked about astronomical event in a generation: an asteroid is about to hit the moon, and it's large enough to be seen with just a normal pair of binoculars. All the new stations have been bringing astronomers on to talk about it, and Miranda's teachers have been trying to elbow moon-related topics into their lesson plans.

But no one could have expected that the astronomers would be so wrong. No one knew that the asteroid would be orders of magnitude more dense than anything they'd ever seen before. So when that huge piece of space debris hit the moon, it didn't just put on a show for the amateur stargazer. The asteroid hit with such tremendous force, in fact, that it moved the moon visibly closer.

With the increased gravitational pull of the moon on the Earth, the planet is thrown into chaos. The tides rise higher than even the worst tsunamis, literally wiping island nations off the map. Earthquakes strike areas that have weak fault lines, but haven't shaken in centuries. Satellites are disabled, and the worldwide information grid is shut down.

Underneath all of those worldwide crises, there are the day to day problems of living in a world turned on its head. Miranda is a high school girl, who lives with her mother and younger brother in northern Pennsylvania. She has most of the normal high school girl problems: a mother who pushes the schoolwork, friends who are drifting away, an ankle injury that cut short her dreams of figure skating. Like most girls, she was pretty unremarkable, and the journal that she kept only reinforced it.

But as the world crumbles around her, the journal that she's keeping becomes more and more compelling. Public utilities stop working, school is cancelled, and their well runs dry. With the lack of satellites the television quickly becomes channel after channel of emergency signals, and the radio stations soon fade out.As winter begins months early, and both food and fuel begin to run out, it will be all that the family can do to stay together and stay alive.

Unlike so many of the young adult books I've read lately, I truly like Miranda. She's far from perfect, and since it's her journal everything we see is through her eyes, but she is absolutely the most relatable character I've come across in YA in a long time. She fights with her mother over silly things, she resents both the freedoms that her older brother receives and the special treatment of her younger brother. She's a fairly capable, independent young lady, but still mourns the loss of her friends, whether physical or emotional. She worries about her father and his new family, and her sister or brother-to-be. She does the best she can in the situation that she's found herself, and few readers could honestly say they would do better.

Life as We Knew It is a refreshing take on the young adult dystopian novel, without the tired love triangles and created drama that have become hallmarks of the genre. 

Highs: Watching a family try to pull together in a crisis, even when it's hard, is always uplifting.

Lows: I never like books with unreliable narrators, and a few scene might not have happened quite as Miranda writes them, but for the most part it's minimal.

Verdict: Different enough to stand out in a field flooded with dystopian fiction, LIfe as We Knew It is a wonderful, realistic look at a family in crisis.

Further Reading: The Dead and Gone, The Book Thief, Shades of Grey, Under a Graveyard Sky