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WiB 2010 Fall Edition: Week 8

November 1, 2010

Hello, November!  Hello, NaBloPoMo!  Apologies for not posting this yesterday.  It wasn’t even a NaBlo thing; my days were just all turned around because of the holiday and because my daughter has been away for a few days to check out the Harry Potter thing at Universal with her dad.  Saturday felt like Sunday and Sunday, of course, then felt like Saturday.

I don’t really dig on any of the badges this year.  Maybe I’ll ask my husband to make one.  He’s the only one with Photoshop in this house.  Maybe he can make some sort of combo NaBlo/NaNo badge that says something like “If you need me, I’ll be in my writing cave” or “I’m insane for attempting both of these…again.”  Because yes, I’ll be writing a novel, or something like the beginning of a novel, or perhaps a group of short stories based off this world I built when I was growing up.  I don’t know.  I haven’t given it a lot of thought, and I’m finding it difficult now because I’m exhausted.  We had a bit of an issue with the fire in the fire place last night, and the smoke alarm went off early this morning.  Thanks and all, but I have a lot of difficulties getting back to sleep once I wake up, so I’m pretty sure I’ll be dragging my heels for most, if not all, of today.

But on to the books!

First off, I read Dark & Stormy Knights, yet another anthology with a Dresden Files story in it.  Like all the later Elrod-edited anthologies have been, Dark & Stormy Knights is a fairly strong collection.  I enjoyed every story but Deidre Knight’s florid “Beknighted.”  There has to be something here to be said for not naming a story something that has your pen-last-name in it; it looks like you’re writing about yourself.  “Beknighted” meanders on about a painter and, um…a painting, and some liquid gold…and like, a knight, and this guy…oh, who cares, it was just plain bad.

Ilona Andrews’s “A Questionable Client” is set in a world where magic and technology do not operate well together, which my husband tells me is a fairly common setting for sci-fi/fantasy.  I did not know this, and found the whole thing fascinating.  Have to remember to put Andrews–which is a pen name itself, for a husband-wife writing team–on my to-read list.  “A Questionable Client” reads well on its own, which says a lot for the authors.  Perhaps everyone COULD do that, but many people don’t remember.

I’m looking at you, Jim Butcher.  You try and you try and then you fail.  You just need to accept that by the time Changes came around, new readers can’t just jump into The Dresden Files.  I have no idea how much you need to know about the Dresden universe to enjoy “Even Hand,” but it’s definitely one of Butcher’s weaker outings, from the perspective of this long-time reader.  Told from the perspective of “Gentleman” Johnny Marcone, one of Dresden’s nemeses, “Even Hand” does little for any major or minor player involved.  I found Marcone confusing as a new reader, and entirely too sympathetic as time went on.  (I say this because Butcher keeps trying to insist that Marcone is “a monster”–even having Marcone declare this in the story–but nothing he does is above and beyond “mob boss” to me.  Sure, that admittedly comes with its own moral ambiguity, but a monster?  In a world of monsters?  No.)  Still, any Butcher is good Butcher, and there are some cool things going on in this story.  But as a character-building experience, it wasn’t worth getting into what little we saw of Marcone’s head.

“The Beacon” by Shannon K. Butcher and “Even a Rabbit Will Bite” by Rachel Caine were both fun reads, reinforcing my previous guess that Rachel Caine is fairly talented when she’s not writing about pirates.  “Dark Lady” by P.N. Elrod is another Vampire Files “case,” and it’s a bit ahead in the mythology for where I am in the books.  Now, don’t get me wrong–I appreciate that Elrod’s gotten to the point where she says “Look, either you’ve read the previous stuff or you haven’t.”  But ARGH, spoilers!  Especially for anyone who wants to start the series from the beginning.  It’s not so bad for me, because I’m three books in, but it’s still a bit of a time-jump.

“Shifting Star” by Vicki Pettersson probably works best if one has some idea about the existing mythology of her Signs of the Zodiac series, but there was definitely enough in here to pique one’s interest.  Lilith Saintcrow’s “Rookwood and Mrs. King” was missing a certain something, but I believe I’ve said that about her before.  Finally, “God’s Creatures” by Carrie Vaughn manages to stand on its own AND make one inclined to search out her novels set in the same universe.

After that, I read Catherine Jinks’s The Reformed Vampire Support Group.  This one was a bit of a let-down, absolutely dragging till about halfway in.  I’ve meant to read Jinks before but never got around to it.  This makes me less inclined to search out Evil Genius.  The premise of this novel is intriguing–vampirism as a weakening disease that leaves its victims relatively lifeless, on several levels, but the narrator’s general apathy skirts the edge of boring.  While embracing life, such as it is, is probably what we’re supposed to be getting out of this, the problem is that there are too many unanswered questions and characters seem to get well and/or ill based on what they need to do to move the plot along.  If the support group is sick all the time, might it have something to do with the fact they’re not eating their “natural” diet?  Can’t there be a way to avoid turning someone and still getting nice, semi-fresh human blood?  Like, say, by working at a blood bank?  If the characters can get IDs with new identities, why can’t the narrator get a fake ID so she can drive a car?  These things kept running through my mind, diminishing my enjoyment of the story.  Although the end picks up considerably, I probably wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone but my kid.  And that’s because she’s already read it and liked it.  So.

For some reason, I read Jane Feather’s The Emerald Swan, which is the third of a trilogy that I HAVE THE SECOND BOOK TO, AND FORGOT TO READ IT FIRST.  Sigh, me.  Just sigh.  This is a somewhat-enjoyable book that plays a bit with the twins-separated-at-birth trope, but the hero is off-putting and pushy.  I guess I’ll read the second book–and maybe even find the first somewhere, someday–but I was let down after loving her novel Virtue the other week.  For some reason, I can’t find the other books in that series, either, except for the last one.  You’re a big help, library.  –Okay, actually, it looks like the library has it, so I guess the issue here is that the books are poorly labeled.  If you’re a series, you should have a number on you, okay?  The later Dresden Files books are like that too.  Bahhhh.

Let’s see—what else?  I read the first Vampire Files book, Bloodcircle.  This book clears up one of the early mysteries of the series in what would’ve been for the 1990s a pretty surprising fashion.  It’s pretty much a straight-up mystery novel, with vampires.  Aren’t those the best kind?  Looking forward to reading the next two.  After that, I hope I can find the solo novels at the library.  I’m not really sure how that goes, because I haven’t looked that far ahead.  I’m having such a good time with these early books that it never even occurred to me to figure out what’s what in terms of the published works, and their availability.  Ah well.  I have another few weeks to figure it out, considering how much I’m front-loading my reading this month.

Two more and then I’m done with my weekly list.  The first is a combo-punch from YA authors John Green and David Leviathan, Will Grayson, Will Grayson, the story of two teens named…well, guess…and how they come to meet and affect each other’s lives in part from afar.  This is a difficult book for adults to get through, I think, because Leviathan’s Will is so painfully real that I felt like I had parked myself in the corner of a Hot Topic for a day and listened to the patrons whine.  But the key word there is “real.”  While Leviathan’s Will is not someone I’d ever want to have to deal with myself, I do realize that he’s less a caricature of an emo kid as much as he’s an insightful portrayal of an emo kid.  Still, it’s no picnic reading through that Will’s early chapters.

Green, on the other hand, creates the typical post-Hornby reluctant hero in his own Will Grayson–perhaps a little retro in his musical tastes, but very much a privileged white kid with first world problems.  He feels neglected by his best friend and works hard to keep himself disconnected for no good reason other than it allows him to wallow in his own misery.  (And yet, despite this, he’s still far more cheerful than Leviathan’s Will.)  There are some great moments in this book that I’m not going to give away, especially for Jen’s sake (Hi, Jen!), and I’ve read the complaints about the ending, but all I’ll say about that is that I feel you’re likely missing the point.  And I’ll be willing to discuss it here AFTER Jen has read it.  I try to keep my girl from as many spoilers as possible.  Privilege of being the bestie.

Finally, I reread the first Excalibur trade, The Sword is Drawn, to gear up for reading the second (borrowed) trade.  Despite showing its age (especially with Rachel’s outfits–yikes!), this British X-Men offshoot is still a fun read, if a bit chaotic.  Three of the characters that make up the team–Kitty Pryde (Shadowcat), Kurt Wagner (Nightcrawler), and Rachel Summers (Phoenix)–have long been favorites of mine.  As much as I love the religious, screwed-up Nightcrawler, super-fun I-was-raised-in-the-circus Nightcrawler is just so awesome.  When the series begins, the X-men have been believed to be killed (I think they went through the Siege Perilous, which is sort of fascinating in that irritating comics way where it can do whatever you want it to), and Kitty is in deep mourning for her lost friends.  Sharing this pain with Nightcrawler, the two end up in England and join forces with the alcoholic jackass Captain Britain and his needy shapeshifting girlfriend Meggan.  Even for those who know nothing about the Marvel U, it’s easy to get into the Brit characters, as they have distinct personalities and a boatload of problems.  Oh, Claremont.  You sure love a soap opera.

And Rachel…well, then there’s Rachel.

The more I read Excalibur (I’m almost done the second trade), the more I want to strip the X-universe down to its bare essentials and build it back up with actual continuity and development.  I don’t even want to put my own agenda on it; I just want it to be…organized.  Although if someone let me do it WITH my own agenda, I’d ditch the magic entirely and find a scientific way of dealing with everything.  I just think there need to be rules, and while magic has its own rules, when you put it in a most science-based universe, you end up with a mess.  It bugs me.  I remember back in the day when my ex-boyfriend guessed that with the Crisis stuff, DC was going to ship the magical characters off to their own universe (likely under the Vertigo imprint).  That would’ve been awesome–although of course I would’ve missed Zatanna.  It would’ve been TIDY.

Oh well.

So yes, that was my week.  Coming up next week: more Excalibur, in case I have anything to say THERE; more Vampire Files; a re-read of Wild Ride, because I meant to do it for Halloween but got busy; and at least one truly “awful book” for my book club.

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