Friday, April 30, 2010
It’s a hot and humid Georgia summer, and 10 year old Beau Jackson and his family have made their annual journey to the summer retreat of Gull Island. (Gull Island is not really an island, it’s a peninsula, but like the name of Gull Island, not everything is like it seems.) Beau’s family stays in the old home still occupied by his grandmother and they’re joined by his aunt and his odd cousin Sumter. The Jacksons seem like a typical albeit somewhat dysfunctional Southern American family, but that doesn’t take long to change. As Beau and Sumter begin spending time in a run down little garden shack which contains a presence which Sumter names “Lucy,” what starts out as innocent childhood fantasies slowly turns into something much more diabolical.
Neverland is an intense read. Douglas Clegg does a masterful job of capturing the feel of a hot Georgia summer. I felt the humidity and the stale smell of the old decaying swamps nearby. The picture Clegg paints of the out-of-favor tourist retreat is a vivid one and I had no problems picturing my childhood self running barefoot down scrubby sidewalks on the streets of Gull Island.
The way Clegg deals with tension in Neverland is a story in and of itself. Tension rises sharply and then drops suddenly, over and over. If it were a roller coaster ride, I would have already shared my breakfast with the people sitting next to me. At first I found this story style hard to get used to. I kept thinking “How many rugs does Clegg have, and how many times will he pull one out from under my feet?” About midway through the story it became apparent that the tactic was intentional. The attention span of a 10 year old, even one in terror, is short-lived. Once everything was deemed ok, the kids were quick to move on to the next thing. Each event built a little on the last, finally concluding into a crescendo of violence and terror. The story itself reads almost like a Young Adult novel, and at first I thought that was what I was going to get. That is, until the f-bombs were dropped, and the trailer trash started showing some nipple.
The characters of Neverland were also colorful and engaging. Clegg either has some southern ties, or has spent a serious amount of time around southern folk. The southern cultural touches stay consistent through the whole book. The cast stayed small, so the reader gets to know each character intimately. The only ones that were left out were Beau’s sisters, who remained off to the side for the majority of the plot.
I found Neverland, which would be marketed as dark fantasy or horror, to be a nice diversion from what I typically read. Although I was not disturbed by much in the book, I did find it intense and creepy. I’m not sure if that says more about me, and what kinds of things don’t scare me, or if I just felt too separated from the things going on in the story. Old veterans of horror will enjoy the read, but are not likely to find it any more or less scary than your average horror tale.
But it’s not the scare factor that makes Neverland special — it’s how the story is told. Clegg’s masterful weaving of reality and imagination through the mind of a child leaves you unsure of what’s the product of an overactive imagination or actually something evil. You truly get a feel for what Beau is going through with the moral ambiguity that can only come from 10 year old boys. I highly recommend you give Neverland a try. Its unique voice is something to be experienced and it will appeal to horror and fantasy fans both.
You can also learn more about Clegg’s books at the Fantasyliterature Douglas Clegg page
Photos: Puppies stuffed in bag
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Seriously? Somebody filled a bag of puppies and left it? This is either a failed attempted the greatest easter basket ever made, or the actions of a very sick individual. The one in the back seems to be asleep...adorable.
David Valentine returns home for a break in Choice of the Cat, but his rest is short-lived, as he quickly becomes the victim of military bureaucracy and is given a special assignment: he is to partner with a special agent who goes by the code name Smoke. Smoke, a small, attractive female killer with mild psychotic tendencies, is a specialized soldier called a Cat. While we learned a little about Cats in Way of the Wolf, we get to see what it’s like to be one in Choice of the Cat. Valentine (now code-named Ghost) and Smoke are assigned to gather intel on a group of Nazi-like super soldiers who are under Kurian control. These “Twisted Cross” soldiers are capable of organized destruction and have been to known to wipe out entire fortified cities overnight. This may sound a little silly, but if you’ve read the first book, you know what you’re getting into (and if you are contemplating reading the VAMPIRE EARTH series, check out our reviews of Way of the Wolf).
The story format E.E. Knight chose is the same as the first book: Valentine is placed in one tight situation after another, and usually cracks a few heads to get his way out. It's fun, a tad bawdy, and exactly what you want from this type of book. There are books that enlighten you, make you cry, or try to change you for the better. Then there are the books that just kick ass and chew bubble gum, and are all out of bubble gum (thank you Duke Nukem). Choice of the Cat is that second type of book. There are no elves, no fairies, and no magical glades of wonder. Guns, explosions, punches to the face, and just a touch of the human spirit are what you get in the VAMPIRE EARTH series.
I listened to Choice of the Cat on Audio CD by Brilliance Audio. The novel is once again read by the talented Christian Rummel. (Go back to my Way of the Wolf review to see exactly how I feel about Rummel.) Suffice it to say that he fails to disappoint in this sequel. As the number of characters increases, so does the range of voices he has to cover, and he manages all of it without ever breaking you out of the narrative flow. This is a fun book and a very nice addition to Brilliance Audio’s library of titles. Highly recommended to those who like action-adventure type SF&F.
You can also learn more about EE Knight’s books at the Fantasyliterature EE Knight page
These books also remind me somewhat of the Deathlands series. Though EE Knight is a much better writer. My review of Deathlands is here: Pilgrimage to Hell
Monday, April 26, 2010
Post-apocalyptic science fiction is one of my favorite sub-genres. Finding a good fantasy equivalent can sometimes be difficult, as it usually gets classified as science fiction. E.E. Knight’s Way of the Wolf has vampires and magic, and clearly falls into the category of fantasy. It also is about a post-nuclear United States with aliens, and scattered communities of humanity fighting for survival. It’s a strange mix, but it all works out well.
In the 2020’s a series of natural disasters struck earth, followed by a disease that caused the infected to go insane and die. The population of the earth was decimated. Shortly after these events, the Kurians, a race of magical beings, appeared and assumed control over the planet. The Kurians feed off the life force of humans (and others), and they use a group of really tough critters (Reapers) to do their collecting. These are the vampires of the story. Our protagonist, David Valentine, is a part of an elite group of human rebels called the Wolves. With their senses magically enhanced, they are the Kurians’ and Reapers’ worst nightmare. Way of the Wolf follows David through his early and present encounters with the Kurian oppressors.
As you can see by my summary, the plot and background is fairly simple at a glance. But as you follow David in his travels, you begin to peel back the onion and understand that there are more complex issues at play. I was expecting an action-packed romp of “Mad Max the Vampire Hunter,” and in a lot of ways that is what I got. On the other hand I wasn’t expecting the characters in Way of the Wolf to be quite like they were. The hero is a rather quiet and well-read fellow, choosing to lead through example rather than aggressiveness. He is not the gung-ho type and knows exactly when he should run rather than stand and fight. The female characters are not your typical choices in post-apocalyptic fiction either. Typically you would have a Mary Sue type with milk-white skin and the undying need for a strong man… or a butchy bullet-chewing she-warrior. E.E. Knight places his female characters squarely in between the two stereotypes. They are feminine but still tough, as you would expect from anyone living in their world.
I listened to Way of the Wolf on audio book CD from Brilliance Audio. It was read to me by Christian Rummel who is a rather prolific voice talent, and for good reason: he’s awesome. Seriously, how this man goes from gritty cigar chomping old veteran to sweet sensual Wisconsin beauty is beyond me. “Wisconsin beauty? That specific?” Yes dear readers, the man has his Northern/Midwestern accents down to an art form. If I ever win the lottery I will personally hire him to come to my house and read to me. I may even have him read Louisa May Alcott simply because it would be coolest rendition of Little Women known to mankind.
Overall, I loved the book and its audio adaptation. Those of you who straddle the line between fantasy and sci-fi will find a nice home in Way of the Wolf. It’s an action-filled, somewhat male-centric perspective of life under alien vampire overlords. Christian Rummel was a perfect fit to read the audio version, and I look forward to listening to/reading the rest of them. I have yet again been hooked into another great series!
You can also learn more about EE Knight’s books at the Fantasyliterature EE Knight page
Friday, April 23, 2010
Dragonfly Falling is the amazing follow-up to Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Empire in Black and Gold. The story directly follows the events of book 1. The wasps have increased their hold on the lowlands, and the position of our heroes is much more precarious. The empire has begun its assault and the blood is flowing. Tchaikovsky’s battle descriptions are nothing short of epic, bloody, and gritty, with nail-biting sequences that seem to run for pages. Empire in Black and Gold introduced you to the players, and set the overall stage. I struggled a bit with its pacing, but had none of that problem here. Dragonfly Falling is truly when the dung beetle hits the fan.
The characters continue to grow and change in amazing ways. Like Empire in Black and Gold, Dragonfly Falling explores the many facets of the various characters. Who’s good and who’s bad is not always so clear cut, and that’s refreshing. I’ve also come to realize that there are just as many “Insect Kinden” in Tchaikovsky’s world as there are insects. I stopped keeping track of them about a quarter of the way through the book. As nice as it is to have a diverse population in your story, you lose a bit by always having a convenient race to solve various issues. It’s not a device often used in the story, but the potential for abuse is there. I wonder if it will become a little more prominent as the series progresses.
I am so glad Pyr has decided to release the SHADOWS OF THE APT series in the US, as so far it has been incredibly well written and unique. Dragonfly Falling raises the stakes in every way possible, and I’m excited to see how everything progresses in book 3, Blood of the Mantis. Dragonfly Falling does everything right, and I really can’t find many faults. Tchaikovsky’s writing is top notch and seems to be getting even better. In a genre where a lot of ho-hum stuff gets over-hyped, do not let SHADOWS OF THE APT fly under your radar. —Justin
You can also learn more about Adrian Tchaikovsky’s books at the Fantasyliterature Adrian Tchaikovsky page
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
So today I don't believe I will bum any smokes, considering I now know what little effect they will have. No wonder the pamphlet in the package says "if you slip and have a smoke it's ok"...yeah those evil bastards know that it would give you no satisfaction...my brain is now denying nicotine. Also the dreams have continued and get more and more vivid with each passing day. The moods are still slightly up from the norm as well, but the not have cigarettes has tempered that to say the least.
I don't really have any dreams to share as they have been rather mundane. I've been dreaming about being an electrician, or driving around, or having a picnic....no zombies, no end of the world, and no mutants. They are however, much clearer and harder to distinguish from reality while having them.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Justin: Thanks for stopping by, Joe. It’s an honor to have you with us. Let’s get started… We’re interested in your “getting published” story. Will you tell us about your experiences in getting The Blade Itself published?
Joe: Once I’d finished a draft of The Blade Itself that I was happy with I set about trying to get it published in the usual fashion – sending a letter and 50 sample pages to agents specializing in sf&f. Spent about a year collecting photocopied rejections. Then a friend of mine who knew I was doing it and worked for an educational publisher found himself on a desk editing course with Gillian Redfearn, who had just then started as an editor at Gollancz. He persuaded her to have a look at it, she liked it, asked to see the rest, and I got an offer a week later. I was pretty thrilled, as you can imagine, but things move slowly in publishing (after the initial interest), and the first book didn’t actually come out until over a year later, by which point I think I was already starting on the third book.
Justin: So the “read my friend’s manuscript actually worked?… nice! What’s the biggest adjustment you’ve had to make since becoming a full-time writer, besides the additional garage for your new Ferrari collection, and the boarding house for your mistresses?
Joe: The toilet seat carved from a single enormous diamond is cold when you first sit down on it. But it soon warms up. In all honesty it’s been a slow and steady shift from a not very serious hobby, to a serious hobby, to getting a contract and obviously taking it more seriously, to it being a part-time job, to it being a full-time job, over the course of about six or seven years. So in a sense I’ve been adjusting steadily the whole time, and I still am.
Cheack out the rest over at Fantasy Literature
Friday, April 16, 2010
Thursday, April 15, 2010
I love Harry Dresden like he’s the crazy scary magical uncle I never had. My wife (The Asian OverLord™) gets annoyed at my exclamations of “Hell’s Bells!” and my constant need to tell people that a scar on my hand came from “Hell Fire” rather than a childhood bicycle wreck. THE DRESDEN FILES have become a part of my life in a way that few stories do.
When I first learned about Changes, it frightened me. I thought to myself: if Jim Butcher “Changes” too much, I will be forced to follow him around conventions until he promises to change it back, or send him e-mails filled with frowny faces. I don't like it when the creator of something I enjoy takes drastic measures for the sake of being "fresh." Fortunately for Mr. Butcher, Changes shakes a lot of things up, but does so without losing sight of what makes these stories so great. This novel does bring some serious “Changes” to the Dresden universe, but they feel justified. Harry is still funny, still finding his way out of tight jams, still surrounded by people he loves, and still tries to always do the right thing.
In Changes, Harry is once again at odds with the Red Court Vampires. They have taken a loved one hostage in a power play that puts in motion events that jeopardize the unstable peace between the vampires and the white council. Over the years the cast of THE DRESDEN FILES has grown quite large and in Changes it seems that they all play a role in one way or another. Butcher manages to juggle the massive cast without it feeling like fan service, and more like it's what the situation actually requires. When Harry calls out the troops, just about everyone shows up. Even Susan makes a return and provides some good ol'fashioned relationship tension to the story.
I’m happy to report that in Changes, Butcher assumes you’ve read the previous books. Thus, there isn’t any tedious recapping of previous installments — he only recaps events which occurred far back enough that even old fans may have forgotten. Be prepared to have quite a bit of the old familiar rearranged in this book. The funny one-liners and humorous situations are still here, but the tone and plot are darker and more dramatic.
In conclusion, Changes does just what the title suggests. Fans of the series will look back on this book and remember it as a pivotal moment in the story of Harry Dresden — these events will have a lasting impact. Changes is darker and more serious, and contains some of the most powerful scenes Butcher has ever written. I dare not ruin it by sharing them here, but you will laugh, cry, and often scream at this newest DRESDEN FILES book. I cannot recommend THE DRESDEN FILES enough, and if you have not started them yet... you need to get busy! —Justin
You can also learn more about Jim Butcher's books at the Fantasyliterature Butcher's page
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
I told him I was already beginning the mental preparations of quitting. Such as, warning family members, buying a new video game, and making arrangements for a small vacation a couple months into quitting. He then suggested I try Chantix. I politely declined, stating that I seen the annoyingly depressing commercials about how I will die, and leave my family cold and alone, and that Chantix can save me. He then went on to tell me he has had several patients try it and claim it to be the easiest way to quit they ever tried. That he so far had no patients that started taking that did not end up quitting. He also said it gave them some seriously messed up dreams. That sold me. I get an easy way out of smoking and I get F'd-up dreams?...sweet. $150 later and I have a 1 month starter pack.
Originally I planned on taking it in secret then later announce to everyone my superior will-power at quitting cold turkey, but alas I have this blog...and Chantix gives me something write about. So over the course of the next few weeks I will share with you the process of quitting smoking on the latest "quit-smoking" drug.
Nothing of note really. I took the tiny little pill about 10am. I felt that subtle rumble in my lower intestines that we all know and love at about 11am, but I believe that had more to do with the 3 MacDonald's sausage biscuits than Chantix. There was no effect on my need to smoke day 1 (and there isn't supposed to be). After I went to bed last night I did get some weird dreams. Not sure if it was Chantix related or not, I tend to be an active dreamer anyway. I dreamed that people were turning into zombies and only I could prevent them from changing over. My dad was really mad at me because he was turned into a zombie. Not only did I fail to prevent it, but I also kept saving others and not addressing his current need to be returned to normal. My point to him was that he was already dead, there fore it was too late and I had many other people not yet zombies that I could save. It all seemed perfectly logical, and my dad seemed very selfish to not wait his turn. It's not like I knew how to change people after they were zombies, just how to stop them from being zombies in the first place....geez dad what were you thinking??
I'll report some more in a day or two.
Friday, April 2, 2010
Woohoo! Another MERCY THOMPSON book from Patricia Briggs’ is hitting the shelves. I had just finished book four (Bone Crossed) only a few weeks ago, so I was very happy to get a chance to read Silver Borne so soon afterwards.
I love the MERCY THOMPSON series. I started reading it while waiting for the next DRESDEN FILES novel and they have been a worthy diversion. Silver Borne, the fifth book in the series, continues the story of Were-Coyote and VW mechanic Mercy Thompson. With each installment Mercy has found herself in deeper trouble, and Silver Borne carries on that tradition with enthusiasm.
This time, Mercy is on the outs with the local werewolf pack, and in the middle of a fae struggle for power. She holds an item that a fae queen needs and, in typical fae fashion, the queen has no problem taking down Mercy's friends in order to get it.
Patricia Briggs’ books are fast-paced, and Silver Borne reads as one of the fastest. The mystery begins almost immediately and leaves you sitting on the edge of your seat till the climactic conclusion. Mercy's adventures are always fun to read, but they have taken on a bit of a more serious tone in the last couple of books. Mercy always carries the consequences of previous encounters into the next story, and in Silver Borne you can be sure she gains a little more baggage to take into book 6. Some of the awkward romances and unresolved side plots get some much needed attention in this book as well.
Overall Silver Borne is highly entertaining. It’s a great book to read through in just a couple of sittings. (I would like it very much if Briggs decided to make subsequent books longer — they always feel too short.) Fans of the series will not be disappointed in Silver Borne, and new readers should start MERCY THOMPSON now before they get too far behind
You can also learn more about Patricia Briggs' books at the Fantasyliterature Briggs' page
Also Patricia is currently on a book tour promoting the new book. Check out her scheduled appearances Here