Thursday, February 6, 2014

Book 8: Zombies vs Unicorns

That's right.  Zombies vs. Unicorns.  A collection of short stories that tries to answer the question of which is better.  The hope and purity of Unicorns or the despair and despoilment of Zombies. Six of each (and oddly and a bit disappointingly, only one story has both and even it doesn't have a fight between the two).  Here we go:
1) The Highest Justice by Garth Nix.  Medieval magical setting.  Nix can write and I would have a read a whole book set in this world.  Left me wanting more, much more.  It's a unicorn story with the help of a zombie.  Five out of five stars.
2) Love Will Tear Us Apart by Alaya Dawn Johnson.  Gay zombie lusts after hunk who's dad is a zombie killer.  Interesting set up, cool characters, nothing new here.  Four stars\
3) Purity Test by Naomi Novik.  More tongue in cheek than anything.  Silly fun with all too human unicorn in the middle.  Four stars plus one for the Fort Tryon reference.
4) Bouganvillea by Carrie Ryan.  This is actually a great short story.  Curacao is a haven in world gone mad with zombies.  Teenage girl with daddy dictator issues.  Uses the Zombie backdrop for commentary on survival very well.  Five enthusiastic stars.
5) A Thousand Flowers by Margo Lanagan.  Meh.  Odd story, written well, but avoids the unicorn themes in favor of strange mysticism.  Enjoyable though.  Three stars.
6) Children of the Revolution by Maureen Johnson.  Good short story.  Some of the satire misses, though the end is pretty good.  Three stars.
7) The Care and Feeding of Your Baby Unicorn by Diana Peterfreund.  Very readable twist with unicorns as bad guys.  Pretty standard YA stuff with misunderstood teen girl who discovers she holds secret powers.  One of the few books with an actual upbeat ending, which I appreciated.  Four stars
8) Inocualata by Scott Westerfeld.  Something in this one really grabbed me.  I suppose the half zombie is getting done to death and I'm getting pretty tired of having gay characters pop up all the time, but feels genuine.  I enjoyed this a lot more than I thought I would have.  Four stars.
9) Princess Prettypants by Meg Cabot.  Love the title.  A real unicorn story.  This might be my favorite simply because it totally embraces unicorns rather than trying to make them evil or something.  Sweet with just a tinge of revenge fantasy thrown in.  And Cabot can really keep things interesting, if a bit surface.  Four stars.
10) Cold Hands by Cassandra Clare.  Strange that one my least favorite is by the only author that I've read before.  Shallow characters, not terribly engaging backdrop, and too tidy end.  Two Stars.
11) The Third Virgin by Kathleen Duey.  Putting a twist on the magical healing powers of a unicorn who gets so tired of it all after 500 years (maybe more), especially its own murderous inclinations, Duey pulls off a very interesting piece on redemption.  Four Stars.
12) Prom Night by Libba Bray.  Near perfect.  Gets a lot of development in a short period of time while providing the creepiest story.  Classic horror.  Five Stars.

That's 25 stars for the Unicorns and 23 for the Zombies.  Unicorns win!

Book 7: House of Sand and Fog

More Literature!  But this was kinda ugly.  Yes, it's very well written.  But it pretty much doomsday all over it from the beginning.  Reading it, you know it's not going to end well and, well, it doesn't.  Extermely engaging characters incapable of getting out of their own way.  At times, the loserness of the parties involved feels overdone, particularly the cop.  Stressful, depressing, ugly.  Yikes, these are the types of books I avoid.  Last one of these for awhile.  I needed Lithium just to finish it.  Bring on Zombies vs. Unicorns for crying out loud.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Book 6: White Tiger

Holy moly! I read Literature with a capital L! And a Man Booker winner at that! What's a Man Booker? I had the same question. Evidently, it's awarded to the best novel published in the Commonwealth of Great Britain, whatever that is. So, I guess a book written by an Indian (not sure if he is from India or GB) qualifies. And I'm glad it did. I found it on my bookshelf, left over from a forgotten gift or loaner or something and the label announcing the Man Booker award winner is what hooked me. In short, it's amazing. Told through a series of letters from a rural, uneducated Indian who works and scams his way to a fulfilling life, White Tiger is at turns scathingly funny, deeply poignant, and flat out horrifying in its depiction of modern India. If I hadn't seen a Vice episode on similar themes (though more urban), I could chalk it up to an exaggerated imagination, but I can't. For someone in the so-called western world where my primary exposure to Indians is via my IT team, it serves as a stark reminder of what much of the world goes through, told by captivating, charming, and ultimately soulless character. BRILLIANT!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Book 5: White Trash Zombie Apocalypse

Continuing the adventures of Angel, the white trash zombie, White Trash Zombie Apocalypse picks up shortly after Even White Trash Zombies get the blues. Angel is still dealing with her "condition" by stealing brains from the morgue, wondering about her relationships with Marcus, her sometimes boyfriend, her drunk father, and the mysterious Uncle Pietro. Now, she has to deal with a zombie movie filming at the local high school!! Sounds great, and it is. I'm a huge fan of Angel, who combines vulnerability, femininity, and good old fashioned kickassedness into a delectable plate of deteriorating flesh requiring upkeep in the form of human brains. Sure, it's all very ludicrous, the "parasite" that causes her putrescence is laughable, and the backdrop of zombie mafia (good guys) vs. evil corporation is, well, what it sounds like. But despite (or because of) the insane plot centered on zombies, Angel comes across as one of the most human characters I've encountered in urban fantasy. The White Trash Zombie books are all fun rides and this is no different. The action never devolves into brutality (though it skirts it), the villains are easy to root against (though there are some switcheroos) and the secondary characters all bring their own dimensions (particularly Brian, the zombie enforcer cum valet). It's escapist fun with a surprising amount of tenderness. But it's Angel that sparkles on every page. Told from her point of view, being a zombie is neither curse nor advantage, just another crap thing to deal with in what has been a fairly crappy life. She's feisty and trying hard to be a better person which could become very annoying in lesser hands. Overall, extremely enjoyable, not overthinky, and just a great ride.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Book 4: King Maker (The Knights of Breton Court I)

The gang infested ghetto part worked. The Arthurian retelling did not. Set in the 'hood of Indianapolis (didn't know they had one), Maurice Broaddus crafted a very ambitious work, resetting the Arthurian legend in a drug and gang infested landscape. On the surface, urban fantasy seems perfectbut the inherent limitations of the genre hamper the story quite a bit. We are introduced to a variety of characters, mostly based on different Arthurian characters. Instead of Percival, we get Percy, a simple, kind man caught up in events well beyond his control. Instead of Merlin, there's Merle, a white bum who emerges to advise King. There's Lott instead of Lancelot, a Fedex employee just trying to save enough money. There's Wayne instead of Gawayne, an advocate for the youth of the neighborhood. The best part of King Maker is when the story focuses on the different characters responses and interactions with their neighborhood. Broaddus does a great job of painting despair, hopelessness, anger. But when we get to the fantasy part, wow, it gets weird in a hurry. A couple of moments work, but there's a lot of nonsense towards the end and the climax just isn't interesting. The casting of King Arthur as King and his "knights" as a bunch of holier than thou types is less than satisfying. The characters that are interesting are the bad guys. King, Lott, Wayne, and Merle come across as a bunch of douchebags. I would have preferred a bit more complexity to them. Baylon, a reluctant gang banger who struggles to get the street respect that he desperately wants, emerges as a vibrant character.
Overall, there are some really interesting yet undeveloped elements, but the fantasy elements are so, well, weird. The writing is mostly on par with what you'd expect from Urban Fantasy, but there are glimpses of being more than the genre. It just never manages to escape itself.
Dresden O Meter:
Plot: 5. I'm not sure what it was all about. If I wasn't passingly familiar with King Arthur, I think I would have been completely lost.
Central Character: 5. No real central character, but the good guys weren't very interesting.
Fantasy Hook: 3. I still don't really get it.
Supernatural: 3. Seemed forced rather than organic.
Characters interaction: 8. The actual responses to the world were very real, dirty, and scary.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Top (or bottom) 10 worst fanbases in the NFL.

Top (or bottom) 10 worst fanbases in the NFL.
10) Philadelphia. Boobirds unite. They travel, but start fights, act the clown, and are generally disagreeable.
9) Jacksonville. Just not enough of them and poorly schooled in football anyway.
8) Baltimore. The day I saw a Johnny Unitas Ravens jersey cemented this one. I'm sure a lot of the fans are conflicted over their stealing a team to replace a team.
7) NY Jets. The Jersey penis envy of the Giants is just laughable.
6) Atlanta. Why are Atlanta teams the epitome of fair weather fans?
5) Dallas. So many fans who have never been to Texas.
4) Oakland. Some great fans here, but the thug image of the Raiders draws some really unsavory people.
3) Green Bay. See Dallas, add cheese heads. Never seem to realize when their team is mediocre.
2) Patriots. Arrogant, obnoxious, and unable to understand that NE is not the center of the NFL.
1) Seattle. Loud for the sake of being loud. People in Seattle love talking about their sports teams, but only in the most glowing terms. They seem incapable of seeing any flaws. And now, they've taken obnoxiousness to a new level.

Book 3: Cormorant

I like to read sequels as quickly as possible thanks to the groaning saga of getting the next Game of Thrones novel (pick which one) published. So, after knocking out Mockingbird, I tooled up the Amazon Prime and snagged Cormorant. I still like the Miriam Black saga, but this one went off the rails a bit for me. Overly violent and brutal at times (and unnecessarily so), this is even darker than the predecessors in some ways. I think Wendig is falling into the trap of trying to make each book bigger and badder than the last, which detracts a bit from the enjoyability of the first two. Sure, there was violence in the first two, but here, the violence is more random, less personal, and very brutal. The narrative structure with multiple timelines works a bit, but the "now" timeline never makes sense nor does Wendig make more than a tepid effort to have it make sense. Still, Miriam is one of my favorite characters in urban fantasy and is worth reading, though if the violence and brutality remain at the current level, I won't be as enthused. It saps some of the fun.
Dresden O Meter:
Plot: 8. Interesting and action driven. Kept my attention and I read it every chance I got. Falters a bit from the narrative structure, but still engaging. The lezbo stuff is very silly, highly gratuitous and reads more like a lame penthouse letter.
Central Character: 10. Miriam Black is so much fun. A bit of a male take on a hard ass woman at times at times, but she reminds me of people I've met.
Fantasy Hook: 6. I see how people die, but I can change that if I give the fates someone else. Not terribly original and it creates some problematic issues given that multiple murders seems to be in the future of just about any bad guy that Miriam encounters, so saving one person by offing the offending baddie probably has downstream implications, but oh well. It works with Miriam although it could use some tightening in the explanations.
Supernatural: 5. It's not a supernatural world the Miriam inhabits, though there are others who develop similar "gifts." The real problem is that the supernatural element, once it gets beyond Miriam, is undeveloped and poorly explained. It's kind of a catch-22 though. The supernatural element is usually at its best when it is undeveloped and mysterious. As it becomes better known, the mystery dissapates and the supernatural element gets tired. Overall, Wendig keeps Miriam's curse extremely tight. It's when he gets into the interaction and consequences that it gets very convoluted.
Character Interaction: 8. Miriam is just an awesome character. She's largely in the dark most of the time as to what's happening around her, but that doesn't matter. Her response to her gift is classic in it's determination.
Overall, the book is about an 8 thanks to a noirish writing and pacing and a brilliant central character. The "fantasy" part often creates more questions that it solves with some real consequential inconsistencies. But still enjoyable as hell.