Wednesday, February 27, 2008

"Sharp Teeth" by Toby Barlow


This is something very different, dear readers. Not only that - it's GOOD. I have to 'fess up here; I have a MySpace page (finally, after much prodding from a friend of mine!) and one of the "friends" I've made is none other than Clive Barker. Anyway, he posted a bulletin about this book, so I checked it out on Amazon. Sounded interesting, about lycanthropy and such, so why not?

This is anything but your ordinary book about lycanthropes. As I said, this is something entirely new. First off, the book is written in verse. Yes, you read that correctly - this is poetry. In more ways than one, really. Now, clear your mind of any prejudices against poetry; I had to do just that, as that form is not one of my faves. But this isn't ABAB rhyme scheme or anything so mundane. If you've ever read "Beowulf", you know what sort of verse I'm talking about. (And if you haven't read that classic, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy!)

Anthony is a guy looking for a job. One day he hears about an opening at the dog pound. And with that job, his entire world changes. He meets a girl and falls in love, having no idea that she's a lycanthrope, let alone part of a pack with an alpha intent on what appears to be world domination. There's Peabody, the cop who knows that something is different about some of the dogs he's been seeing; no dog just sits in front of a house for hours, staring at it. The packs are made up of interesting characters, too, and oddly enough, while being led by the alpha, they're actually held together by the one female pack member. If the female disappears or is killed, the pack sort of disintigrates.

The plot is tightly written, circling around and around into tighter loops, until everything finally comes together at the end. The lyncathropes are very different, not bent on eating people and not "werewolves" - they literally turn into dogs at will. I found myself marveling at the author's use of language as well as his character development; no one in this piece is expendable. In short, this is one of those books that I will be talking and thinking about for a long time to come. I'm anxious to see what Barlow puts out next, too.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

"Ashes to Ashes" by Jennifer Armintrout

Well, I'm finally done with this third entry in the author's "Blood Ties" series. Yeah, that statement right there should give you a good indication of how I feel about the book. It's not as bad as the second book, but again, not nearly as good as the first book. Enough that when I saw there's a fourth installment planned (peeking on Amazon!), I did not add it to my Wishlist. I think I'm done with this series, probably even this author, unless she's going to go in a different direction.

Suffice to say that Carrie Ames, former doctor, now vampire newbie, is still waffling between Nathan, her current sire, and Cyrus, her former sire (who was killed in book one and brought back as a human in book two, when he became much more interesting). Nathan and Carrie's friend Max is still in the picture, much more so than in the previous books, as is the werewolf of his dreams, Bella. If the author chooses to write primarily Max and Bella's story in book four, I'll read it. If not, forget it. Carrie has become predictable and quite frankly, a very whiney character. I didn't sympathize with her at all, not a good thing when you're talking about your protagonist! It's been long enough since I read the first book that I found myself wondering if she was always like this, or if I just hadn't noticed it back then (sort of like when you first fall in love - you can overlook a lot of faults!)

Another problem is the author's lack of backbone. If you're familiar with another certain author who shall remain nameless but goes by the initials LKH, you know what I'm talking about - the inability to kill off any of your characters. Armintrout has killed a few in these three books, but just like a bad soap opera, they keep coming back. Where's the drama in that? Why should I feel like there's danger when I know this person will be back at some point? It just doesn't work for me.

I'm not going into the plot here because there really wasn't much of one. It read pretty much the same as the last one, which may be why I found myself taking quite a while to finish the book. There are other authors out there writing in the same genre and, quite frankly, doing a much better job.

Friday, February 15, 2008

"Holidays Are Hell" by Kim Harrison, Lynsay Sands, Marjorie M. Liu, and Vicki Pettersson

Unlike most of the people on Amazon, I picked this up because of the Liu entry; hopefully, if you've been keeping up, you know how much I like her writing. I've read the other authors (albeit not much of Sands work), so it wasn't like I was going to just read the one story. Overall, not bad, but as with a lot of these collected works, not fabulous, either. Turns out this is a sequel to "Dates From Hell", which I probably will not seek out.

Harrison's story "Two Ghosts for Sister Rachel" is a look at our heroine Rachel Morgan before she was a heroine. She hasn't been out of the hospital too terribly long and she really, really wants to work for Inderland Security, something her father did. However, like most teens with dreams, she's got a lot to prove and a mother to get past. It was an interesting look at a now hard-as-nails character, and it does give some insight into why certain things have been happening in the series.

"Run, Run Rudolph" by Sands is a cute look at shape-shifting and even includes a mad scientist! I've read only one of her books; her work is just a little too light and fluffy for me, this story included. Truthfully, it seemed very out of place in this quartet.

I'm going to skip ahead to Pettersson's "The Harvest" and save my gal for last. This is actually a prequel of sorts to her novels about the Light and Shadows; it tells a story involving Zoe Archer, mother of Joanna Archer, the main character in those books. I put off reading it for a while because I haven't actually finished the 2nd book in that series yet, then realized that I wouldn't be spoiling anything for myself. Zoe was once an agent of Light, going so far as to infiltrate the Shadow agents organization and become the girlfriend of their leader. Having given everything up for the sake of her daughters, Zoe is now human and trying to protect her granddaughter, who has been kidnapped by the Tulpa. The story isn't too bad; what I really liked was the idea of how powerful the human imagination is. You go, Zoe!

Now for "Six" by Liu. Six is a government agent and gets involved in vampire politics. Doesn't sound like much, but it's a great story. As one reviewer on Amazon pointed out, Liu tries very hard to make sure that her people, heroines especially, don't suffer from the "Mary Sue" syndrome - you know, where they can do no wrong, can overcome any obstacle, are basically perfect and pretty. In Six's case, she truly is a work of the state; she has no real memory of her childhood and is almost the perfect killing machine. Enter one fairly handsome necromancer, the aforementioned soul-stealing vampires, and you have a pretty awesome story. However, it's not entirely up to the Dirk & Steele standards. Luckily, she's got a new book out now and it's in my bag waiting to be read!

"The Prophet" by Kahlil Gibran

I finally picked this up last weekend after reading quotes from it on a friend's MySpace page. And hearing her talk about it for a long time, too! It's one of her all-time favorite books, and since it obviously means a lot to her, I thought "why not?"

Well, the only thing I guess I can say is that it didn't take too long to read. I do have a confession to make - I do NOT like poetry in general. And that's what this is, really, one very long and sort of New-Age-y poem. There were fragments here and there that I thought "yeah, I can see that" or "yes, I would agree with that". But I didn't have any sense of being moved by this book.

What's more, I went to Amazon thinking that maybe others out there were just as unimpressed by it. Turns out - NO. There are well over 200 reviews of this work on Amazon and none are less than 4-star reviews. Not a one! So, I guess I'm the only one out here that just doesn't quite get it.

I am glad that my friend likes it though. I totally believe that there should be at least one book in everyone's life that they adore and recommend all the time to people. I, of course, have several! But this isn't going to be one of them.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

"Duma Key" by Stephen King

Bookbabe is most definitely one of King's "Constant Reader" folk, and very happy to be one this time around. This is like the King of old; a good book - no, a great book - with characters that feel real enough you expect them to be in the room with you. As he did with "Lisey's Story", he's exploring the world of art and creation, a place where anything can and does happen. But not always for the best....

Edgar Freemantle is a middle-aged man, owns his own business, married, has two grown daughters. Life is pretty good for Edgar. Then one day everything changes; there's an accident at a work site and he loses his left arm. Almost loses his life, as well. Edgar also has some brain trauma from the accident (his pick-up truck was crushed when a crane backed over it, a crane who's beep-beep-beep mechanism was malfunctioning). The result of his injuries are, of course, one less arm than most people and one less wife, as well. At the suggestion of his therapist, Edgar decides to relocate, hoping a change of scenery will do him good.

Enter the island of Duma Key and the rental home Salmon Point. Only in Edgar's mind, it's "Big Pink" and it's the best thing that's ever happened to him. He's taken up drawing again, painting even, and what's more, he seems to be pretty darn good at it. Never mind that the his art is a bit strange, and definitely never mind that his art can and does have a direct effect on the real world. Edgar is doing much better on Duma Key and Duma Key seems to be glad to have him.

Ah, but this is King were talking about, so you know that things are about to get weird. Edgar meets his neighbors, the indominatable Elizabeth Westlake and her caretaker, Wireman, and realizes that his artistic abilities may not be his own. He learns from Elizabeth that there's a force that has been sleeping on Duma Key, one that has apparently awakened with his arrival. And he learns that nothing is as it seems.

This is King doing what he does best, creating characters that are so rich and complex that you feel as if you really know them. Then he puts those same characters in danger and has you hanging on the edge of your seat to find out what happens. "Duma Key" is not a book to be missed, especially if you're a fan of King's older works.