Author Archive

Review: The Seventh Bride

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Review: The Seventh Bride

Ursula Vernon, also known as Ursulav, has been the purveyor of the weirdly beautiful, and the beautifully weird, for over a decade now. Her artwork is impossible to categorize; if you were to start combining random words out of the dictionary you’d have a good chance of accidentally describing something she’s painted. Anthropomorphic saints? Plenty to choose from. Swamp landscape teacup? Got a beautiful one of those. Feral strawberry, cantaloupe sandals, and a biting pear? Yep, yes, and you’ve probably already seen that last one.

In 2008 Vernon started writing and illustrating her own children’s books, and she recently released several short stories written under the pen name T. Kingfisher. This couldn’t have been better news, because as much as I adore her art, what really drew me to her work were the descriptions she included with the art. They’re such a wonderful combination of the bizarre and the totally mundane. The short descriptions often led to longer slice-of-life stories, my three favorites being The Saints of San Axolotl, The Golem Girl, and the incomparable House of Red Fireflies. In Kingfisher’s most recent release she follows the same format she started with her short story collection Toad Words,  taking familiar elements from fairy tales and turning them ever so slightly off kilter.

More than a children’s story, not quite an adaptation, The Seventh Bride tells the tale of a hapless miller’s daughter, dragged into a world of imprisoned brides and stolen gifts. It’s too much to ask of anyone, particularly someone who can’t even keep the big swan at the millpond from stealing her lunch every blessed day.  But she’s got a hedgehog, so at least there’s that much going for her…

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Review: Prince Lestat

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Review: Prince Lestat

That’s what they all love about Lestat. He says we’re damned and then he behaves as if Hell has no dominion over him.

Anne Rice doesn’t need a lot of introduction. In 1976 she published Interview with the Vampire, which pretty much shaped the course of all vampire fiction from then on. The whole concept of vampires changed from things-that-go-bump-in-the-night, to tortured souls looking for redemption, cursed to live forever and drink the blood of human victims who would always be falling helplessly in love with them. If any book, TV show, or movie created in the last thirty years features vampires in velvet and lace, who also happen to be devastatingly handsome and charming (homoerotic subtext optional but fairly likely), you can credit Anne Rice’s books for the style if not the actual substance.

After she published Blood Canticle in 2003 Rice announced she had said everything she needed to say in the Vampire Chronicles. It took her more than ten years to change her mind, but this October she released Prince Lestat, the eleventh book in the Vampire Chronicles (which don’t count Pandora and Vittorio the Vampire, for some reason), taking the vampires much further along in their journey from cursed outsiders to the beginning of a new super race. Anne apparently reread all of her previous vampire books for inspiration in writing this one; from the flood of guest appearances by even the most minor characters, it’s pretty obvious that she wanted to make sure each and every one of her beloved Undead creations had their moment in the spotlight.

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Review: The Complete ElfQuest Volume 1 – The Original Quest

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Review: The Complete ElfQuest Volume 1 – The Original Quest

If you’re familiar with the ElfQuest series at all, you probably already understand why I think it’s amazing, epic, and one of the most gloriously beautiful comic book series ever created. If you’re not familiar with ElfQuest…well where the heck have you been?

First printed waaaaay back in 1978, ElfQuest started as an independently owned and published comic book series written and illustrated by Wendy Pini, with her husband Richard Pini contributing as editor and co-writer. Over the course of thirty-six years it’s spanned more than a dozen different story lines, and is one of the first successful comic book series that has attracted an equal number of male and female readers. The comic is amazingly well-written and (I’m going to be harping on the artwork a lot in this review) absolutely gorgeous.

ElfQuest: The Final Quest began its run in January of this year, and the first graphic novel for the title will be out in April of 2015. For anyone who’s interested in starting this series from the beginning (or for those nostalgic fans who want to update their collection) Dark Horse Books has released a  graphic novel that collects all four books of the original series in one volume.

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Review: The Six-Gun Tarot

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Review: The Six-Gun Tarot

Why is Golgotha the town where the owls speak and the stones moan? Why is this the town that attracts monsters and saints, both mortal and preternatural? Why is our schoolhouse haunted? Why did Old Lady Bellamy wear the skins of corpses on the new moon? How did old Odd Tom’s dolls come to life and kill people? Why do you still pour a ring of salt around that unmarked grave and how did this little ditch of a town become the final resting place of some of Heaven’s treasures?

I picked up R.S. Belcher’s book from a list of recommended horror novels that I thought would work for a pre-Halloween review. I ended up putting it down for a while, since it seemed to be more Western than horror. It’s a Weird Western though, which was a nice surprise. There are shape-changing Indians, a rough-and-tumble frontier town (with a separate Chinese district, natch), a dandy of a Morman mayor with two wives and a dangerous secret, and a lot of other strangeness that made things interesting, but it didn’t really seem all that scary.

Of course that was before the appearance of a cult which kidnaps people and feeds them to an ancient darkness from before the beginning of time, creating an army of human-shaped drones who drip black-ink poison from every orifice and create more drones by forcing the slug-like creature that replaces their tongue down the throat of another hapless victim. And that was after the appearance of a decapitated and rotting head being kept alive in a jar, and the Devil himself hanging around the town trying to figure out how he can profit on all the things going on. This book got dark kinda fast.

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Halloween: Our favorite horror books

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Halloween: Our favorite horror books

Horror novels are good any time of the year, but the best time for them is right around Halloween. With the weather getting cooler and the nights getting longer, there’s nothing like curling up in a dark room with a cup of hot chocolate and a great horror story and scaring the hell out of yourself.

It’s also interesting how much of horror has a sci-fi or fantasy element to it. The exceptions are true-crime books or novels about gritty, urban violence, and those are great, but Kathryn and Elizabeth really prefer the ones with some kind of otherworldly element. So they’ve whittled down their list of favorites and each picked three books they think you’d like, if you’re looking to sleep with the lights on tonight.

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Review: Afterlife with Archie

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Review: Afterlife with Archie

The elements of the story are all familiar: a tragic accident, a grieving loved one, a forbidden magic spell to bring the dead back to life. What starts out with the best intentions ends with an entire town under attack by a hoard of zombies. The difference here is that this isn’t Stephen King or another Night of the Living Dead clone, it’s Archie and the gang, with Sabrina the Teenage Witch breaking the rules to raise Jughead’s beloved pup Hot Dog from the grave. Afterlife with Archie has been running for a few months now, but a reprint run started on October 22 and I stumbled across the graphic novel for the first time a week before Halloween. How could I not pick this up?

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Review: The Shadow Over Innsmouth

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Review: The Shadow Over Innsmouth

It was the end, for whatever remains to me of life on the surface of this earth, of every vestige of mental peace and confidence in the integrity of nature and of the human mind.

There are quite a few different flavors of horror. Some horror stories focus on one particular monster, or a haunting, or some kind of disaster. I’ve never been much for the hack-and-slash type (although strangely enough that one scene from Cabin in the Woods made me happy), and most psychological thrillers only work for me if there’s a supernatural element as well. By far my favorite type of horror is the one that’s hardest to pull off: it has to be clever and creepy. For the most part you never see the monster, since the one you imagine is scarier than the one you see. There’ll be this looming terror of the unknown, of waiting in the darkness hoping you won’t be found by something that you’ll probably never understand. Characters in these stories don’t know if they’ve gone completely out of their minds and made up everything that happened, or if whatever happened has made them go completely out of their minds. Basically I’ll accept any horror recommendation if you use the magic words: Inspired By Lovecraft.

H.P. Lovecraft is famous for creating the Cthulhu Mythos; the concept of a race of godlike beings who are imprisoned/asleep somewhere in the depths of the sea, or in outer space, or just there, in a dimension separated from ours by a thin wall that’s getting thinner all the time. Just seeing The Elder Gods causes people to go insane, and any worship ceremonies for them are filled with odd phrases that try to capture how unknowable they are. (If you watch any  Doctor Who, the phrases that the Ood chant in the episode The Impossible Planet are pure Lovecraft: “He is the heart that beats in the darkness. He is the blood that will never cease. And now he will rise.”)

But Lovecraft wrote stories about other races too, ones a little younger than the Elder Gods, but a whole lot closer.  Lovecraft’s novella The Shadow over Innsmouth tells the story of an entire town taken over, and rotting from within, by a race that’s close enough to be family. 

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Review: Dracula

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Review: Dracula

Hollywood has released yet another vampire movie, this one named after Bram Stoker’s book from 1897. To the surprise of absolutely no one, the only thing the movie has in common with the source material is a) the main character is a vampire and b) the movie’s title is Dracula. What is a surprise to me is how a book can spawn so many movie adaptations and books and TV shows, while at same time has never been made into a movie that’s completely faithful to the original (the film from 1992 comes closer than any of them, but it still messed with the story in some pretty important ways). Whether you’re a fan of Dracula or Lestat or Damon Salvatore or even Edward Cullen, it’s worth it to read Stoker’s novel to see for yourself the book which had so much of an impact that it’s still inspiring people more than a hundred years later.

Fair warning though, this one was tough to get through in places. Even on the second re-read I found myself getting bogged down by the flowery prose. The characters are all just so earnest; going on and on for a page and a half at a time about how desperately grateful they are to have such stalwart friends to stand by them through these trials, and the whole time I’m wishing they would just shut up and move on. In order to really appreciate what Stoker created here, it’s helpful to keep in mind that this is not a collection of old black-and-white movie cliches and overly-dramatic stereotypes; this is where all the cliches and stereotypes come from. The vampire myth was around before Bram Stoker, but he was the one who defined it for modern audiences. Dracula is what started it all.

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Review: Let The Right One In

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Review: Let The Right One In

Oskar hurriedly said: “Maybe you already have a guy at your school.”

“No, I don’t…but Oskar, I can’t. I’m not a girl.”

Oskar snorted. “What do you mean? You’re a guy?”

“No, no.”

“Then what are you?”

“Nothing.”

Oskar doesn’t have much going for him: lonely, unsure of himself, incontinent – especially when he’s under stress, which is all the time now that he’s in middle school and being bullied on a daily basis. He collects newspaper clippings about famous murders, fantasizes about killing his tormentors and being able to do something instead of giving up again and again. So he’s oddly pleased when a ritual murder happens in his small town of Blackeburg.  A young boy is strung up and drained of blood, right around the time a beautiful girl his own age moves into the apartment next door. Eli, who’s never seen a Rubik’s cube but solves it after one day. Eli, who looks emaciated and grey-haired one day, healthy the next, who sits outside in the snow-covered playground with no coat and never feels cold. Eli, who only comes out after dark.

I’d seen the movie (the Swedish-language version) based on John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel years before I read the book. And while I enjoyed the movie very much, I was a little wary about how much the story might have been changed in the transition from book to movie. What I got was something rare: an excellent book, with an adaptation that stays true to the spirit of the original story (in some places the dialog is almost word-for-word), but at the same time there are enough changes to make reading the book and watching the movie two completely different experiences.

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Review: The Third Claw of God

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Review: The Third Claw of God

Still, there was no denying that his headquarters world, Xana, set an entirely new record for the shortest interval between my arrival at a place I’d never been and the very first attempt on my life there.

We’re talking about minutes. Minutes.

Things have started to improve for Andrea Cort at last. She’s been given a promotion (arranged by the ancient software intelligences, the AIsource, whom Andrea is secretly working for) and has more freedom than she’s known since being drafted to the Diplomatic Corps. She also has a devoted new lover/bodyguard, the beautiful cylinked pair Oscin and Skye (former lovers who’d undergone a procedure to merge their personalities together to become one person in two bodies, and yes, they do have sex). Unfortunately she’s still the notorious survivor of an unexplained massacre, and she still has a price on her head. After landing at Xana she fights off a very clumsy, very amateur assassination attempt by attackers wielding an impossibly rare weapon, The Claw of God, which kills by dissolving the victim internally, and which was invented by an obscure sect of an alien race 15000 years ago.

Andrea’s still trying to figure that one out when she and her companion(s) board a luxurious space elevator, owned by her host Hans Bettelhine, the patriarch of the Bettelhine Munitions Corporation. Over the next several hours the space elevators failsafes, well, fail. The elevator carriage is stuck high above the planet’s surface, another visitor is murdered with a second Claw of God, and every member of the boarding party is a suspect. As the Dip Corps Prosecutor-at-Large, Andrea now has to wade through a tangled mess of family history and political intrigue while surrounded by members of a corporation that manufactures weapons capable of blowing up entire planets. And even though there have been at least two attempts on her life since accepting an invitation that still hasn’t been explained, there’s a very good chance that none of this has anything to do with her at all.

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