Sunday, February 28, 2016

[Book Review] Marked in Flesh

Marked in Flesh / Anne Bishop (Powell's Books)

I'll admit to being somewhat surprised when I saw this book available for review.  Vision in Silver felt like it was the end of a trilogy, wrapping up the major plot lines with easily assumable future going forward.  Clearly, there's more.

The actions from Vision in Silver changed the power dynamics, with the cassandra sangue sheltered by the Others and certain radical human elements pushing for discord in order to profit.  Only, there are terra indigene that even the Others on the fringes of human society speak of only in whispers.  The Courtyards and the shifters have stood as barrier between humans and these Elders.  But terra indigene have learned from the humans before, and what they learn this time may not be to anyone's benefit.  And they Meg has piqued the Elders' interest as well.

This is a series that I definitely enjoy reading, and it's interesting to see characters struggle with their natures.  To some extent I'm never fully comfortable with the cutting aspect of the book.  I think it's done well, particularly the treatment of it as an addiction and that itchy need that goes along with it.  However, I always worry that the fantasy part of it elevates the cutting into something that makes it more attractive.  But a big part of the ongoing plot is how to keep prophesy without the need for cassandre sange self-harm, how it's not a simple problem.

I will admit that to some extent having the Elders show up seems a bit like a cop-out.  I don't think shifters and sanguinati needed something that even they're scared of, something that could bring about their extinction along with that of the humans.  My issue isn't with the idea of there being super scary terra indigene, more that the relationship between the "regular" terra indigene and the Elders is akin to that between the humans and the "regular" terra indigene.  But overall it's a minor complaint.  The most important thing about the Elders is it reinforces the idea that the terra indigene are truly other, that human form is a shape they wear.

I'm interested to see where Bishop takes the story next.

Advance Reader Copy courtesy of Roc/Berkley Publishing Group via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review; changes may exist between galley and the final edition.

Lord of the Rings : Fellowship of the Read - Book 1, Chapter 7

A brief interlude in the home of Tom Bombadil.

Elements of this stay remind me of the stay with Beorn in The Hobbit, particularly considering the nature-druid spin they gave him in the film adaptation.  The Old Forest is not a place where our hobbits expected to find friends or friendly shelter, yet they find true sanctuary in Bombadil's home.  Other elements remind me of various interactions with elves, but with less artifice.  The elves often use song and merriment to hide their nature and power.  For Tom, song is much a part of him as breathing.

Tom himself refuses to be defined, but exists outside of time, predating even the elves.  The fact that the Ring has no effect on him is remarkable.  Even the Istari have something to fear from the Ring's influence.  Perhaps the lack of effect is related to his position as a Master with great power, but without any ownership.

"He is, as you have seen him," she said in answer to his look.  "He is Master of wood, water, and hill."

"Then all this strange land belongs to him?"

"No, indeed!" she answered, and her smile faded.  "That would indeed be a burden."
However, for all his power, the sanctuary of his home is not absolute.  The hobbits' dreams are touched by something outside themselves.

Tom may be largely untouched by the darkness of the world at large... but I don't think Goldberry is.  She understands fear and danger.  Tom knows about the darkness, but it doesn't really touch him.  Again, I also think that Merry and Pippin have a better grasp on what they're facing than Frodo does.  I don't think it's just remembered fear of their encounter that makes them cry out to not speak of Old Man Willow at night.

Monday, February 22, 2016

[Book Review] The Beauty TP Vol 1

The Beauty / Jeremy Haun & Jason A. Hurley (Powell's Books)

What if physical "perfection" could be attained through infection with a STD?  An elevated body temperature and increased appetite seems like a small price to pay for luminous beauty.  Some embrace it others fight, but what isn't known about the beauty could be a higher price than any would want to pay.

The Beauty makes for a particularly interesting read, with its take on our cultural obsessions of how we look.  The story is dark, layered, and well composed.  The story arc is solid, I'm not sure if the series is over with this volume ("Volume 1" leaves me thinking there will be more), but if it is, it ends at a very solid place.

The look at beauty standards is clearly limited to a narrow set of Western ideals.  The Beauty offers only transformation towards a specific body type and appeal, not something tailored for individual preference.  In some ways this makes for problematic facets, but in terms of a straightforward story arc it makes sense.  Among other things it allows for a more direct approach.  Not everyone who has the Beauty wants it, and not everyone who doesn't have it wishes they did.  It is a disease, albeit one that transforms the infected into someone who might grace the page of an underwear ad.

There's definitely room to explore more facets of the story.  What about people who think the disease is worth the ending?  The commodification and effects on sex work are acknowledged but never explored, and that could make for a fascinating story all on its own.  I don't know where the comic will go after this volume, be it continuing forward as the fallout effects people's lives, or going back in time to tell origin and parallel stories.

Advance Reader Copy courtesy of Image Comics in exchange for an honest review; changes may exist between galley and the final edition.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Sometimes natural 20s ruin the GM's fun

Game number three was about getting everyone from point A to point B, getting people in a good place to address large gains from leveling, and of course, further messing around with the characters.

Ahead of time I statted out several random and not so random encounters.

Of course, this means queue up a player rolling natural 20's for random happenings during the night.  Mind you, this is our half-orc fighter, who has yet to roll any sort of critical when trying to hit something... but gets them instead for things like "does anything interesting happen tonight?"

I certainly didn't want to use my more interesting night-time encounter on the first night, so I pulled out something a little more on the random side, and had a bunch of awakened shrubs trying to dismantle the wagons.  This ended up as a less than glorious fight, with neither side doing much damage to the other for the most part.  The dragonborn barbarian spent the fight for the most part asleep and farting, and the gnome warlock spent it (once he woke up) laughing his ass off at his companions flailing ineffectually at shrubbery.

As for the dragonborn barbarian, my plans for him started out with some lucid dreaming.  This was spread over a series of nights, so the dreams could develop and grow.  Also to give more time for the character to react.

So back tracking a little to the first game, the shrine in question was to Arwan (and since I'm being lazy and not linking to all my research, here's just the Wikipedia entry on him).  Things started out with just a general feeling of being watched, but no matter what the source of being watched couldn't be identified or located, and no one else noticed anything.  Then the dreams started.

The first dream started off with Daqurin running through the woods, and considering his lack of night vision, he can see shockingly well.  A howl rises up around him, through him, as the white hart he's chasing stumbles as the flanking hounds leap out, taking it down.  As he joins the hounds in tearing into the hart he notices that the hart is staring at him directly.  Then he woke up with the taste of blood in his mouth.

Dream number two starts out with running through the woods again, but this time the howl doesn't go through him but spurs him to run faster in fear.  He stumbles and the hounds leap out and take him down, teeth tearing into him.  He see's the hound he was the night before, tearing into his hindquarters, then wakes up.  This time he walks up to the half-orc fighter and asks Halcron to punch him in the face to make sure he's actually awake.

The next night something disturbs Daqurin's sleep, a feeling of being watched.  A large hound, all white with red eyes and ears stands over him.  He attempts to speak to the snarling hound, realizing that there's something not normal after several nights of dreams.  The hound lunges for Daqurin's face, and he wakes up.

Another day passes, and Daqurin has evening watch duty.  Then he hears a voice from next to him speak up.

"So, I have to ask, are you trying to get on some sort of holy shit list?"

There's a slight woman reclining by the fire to his side, dressed in dark clothing and leather armor.  He does a well on his perception check, enough to realize that the leather armor is actually dragon scale, and to get a pretty good idea that if she wanted to kill him, he'd be dead.  In his defense, this NPC happens to be a high level PC from a game I played many years ago (Loren), and the barbarian is only level 2.  With dragon scale armor, he's not particularly surprised.

The jist of the visitation is that amends need to be made, and that defiling a shrine isn't exactly winning him any points in his quest for redemption.  Arwan might have even had some interest in Daqurin at one point.  However, being in exile does not mean there is no chance of return.  But nothing comes for free, and sometimes it's hard to get a god's attention.  He's instructed to seek out the temple of Arwen when they reach the city they're traveling too, and if needed to tell them that he was went by Loren.

As for the rest of the party and daytime adventures, we again get a natural 20 on a largely superficial roll for talking with some random travelers, meaning they get some advanced warning about what's waiting for them down the road.


Man, boar are interesting and nasty animals.  I had fun researching them for this encounter.  These creatures are crafty, rabidly protective of their young (at least the mothers are...), violent, and cannibalistic.

So of course I threw in a pack of sows with piglets who decided that the riverbank right next to the bridge is a perfect place for a wallow.  The encounter starts out with two sows and some piglets visible, and it starts out alright.  Some damage is done by the surprise flanking attack from the third sow (seriously, these guys set up flanking attacks... also sounds of fighting often attract other boar because they like fights... and maybe snack on the loser of the fight), but they did pretty well against the boar.  Things would have likely been more interesting had they not known they were riding into an encounter, but hey.

I had one big night encounter planned, the one I didn't want to use on the first night.  And the fighter makes a natural 20 on his perception check... and the player was actually perceptive enough to pick up on the details.

The creature for the encounter is a pocong, for which I took a ghost (Monster Manual, p. 147) and worked it into something approximately what I was looking for and of appropriate challenge rating.  Pocong appear as a shroud wrapped form, hooded and bound in cords.  They're literally bound ghosts, unable to move on due to the tight cords, and can only move by hopping.

A natural 20 meant that Halcron noticed the cord, and since it wasn't acting in a clearly aggressive nature he decided to try and communicate.  I was so sure they'd try to attack it.  So, this encounter ended up wrapped up (or unwrapped) rather quickly without any violence.

Now to get everyone into town, and move on from there.

Lord of the Rings : Fellowship of the Read - Book 1, Chapter 6

Enter Tom Bombadil.

The old forest (and therefore the next few chapters) is completely excised from Peter Jackson's film translation... and commonly one of the least missed sections.  The general consensus seems to be that it would have turned into a weird, drawn-out passage adding nothing to the story of the Ring (all these years... and Hobbit films later, I think we've seen a number of examples of weird, drawn-out passages that add nothing to the story).  I will bow to Christopher Lee's opinion that the film worked out better without Tom Bombadil, regardless of any opinions I hold on how certain elements had potential for different types of danger to the flight from the Shire to Rivendell.

With the general outlook and lifestyle of hobbits, the Old Forest stands out as a bit of an anomaly.  It's a reminder of a conflict between hobbits and nature, one that nature remembers even if the garden-loving hobbits have largely forgotten.  The forest itself may explain why hobbits have remained largely out of notice of the world at large, a physical and metaphysical barrier.  I think the forest might actually be representative of the scars left by previous wars.  The adventures ahead may be metaphors for what Tolkien witnessed in World War I, but there were wars and scars before, ones that made there mark.

I find this chapter to be particularly fairy tale-ish, with the woods a living, treacherous thing.  The next few chapters tie together quite tightly, and I don't want to get too far ahead of myself with it.  But the Old Forest is a marked difference from the Mirkwood.  Neither forest is one where you should stray from the path, but for markedly different reasons.  When Bilbo went through the Mirkwood it had fallen under the shadow of the Necromancer, and dark creatures like the giant spiders had taken up residence.  The Old Forest is not evil or under any shadow, but stands more as an ancient fragment that exists outside the normal concepts of morality.  The trees are what the trees are, with a level of awareness the allows them to protect themselves from those who may mean them harm, and the memory of a tree is a long thing indeed.

The exact nature of the trees of the Old Forest and of Tom Bombadil himself never really is revealed, though aspects remind me of the ents.  Timeless magical beings are mostly classified in Middle Earth, elves, Istari, or other.  Tom Bombadil is something else entirely, as are the land's he resides in.  I can imagine the trees of the Old Forest being shepherded.

In many ways this section is at odds with the rest of the story, a fairy tale side trip within an epic fantasy.  Multiple interpretations of Fellowship have proven that you can tell the story fine without either the Old Forest or Tom Bombadil.  I believe when I read this passage as a kid I liked it, but was also generally confused by it.  Re-reading now, there's pieces to hobbit history and the personalities making up our quartet that are starting to shine through as they face these smaller threats at the start of their journey.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Cover Reveal: Orpheum & Scarlet Thread

Taking part in a cover reveal and promoting a giveaway in conjunction with two paranormal romance books coming out soon.  Check it out!

The Scarlet Thread is a dark fantasy for fans of Greek mythology and Gothic romance. Fans of Fallen and Percy Jackson will be captivated by this mashup of fallen angels and forgotten gods.

Orpheum is a young adult dark fantasy romance based on Eastern European history, the myths and literature of Orpheus and Pythagoras’ theory of Musica Universalis, or the music of the spheres. 

Monday, February 15, 2016


I've been excessively excited for this movie to come out.  Everything pointed to this movie being done right, with a cast and crew that both got Deadpool and went to town with it, and a brilliant marketing campaign.

So on Valentine's Day I heartlessly wrangled my other half out of bed before noon on his one day off and dragged him to the theater for a first showing of the day for Deadpool.

Short version: this was a fantastic idea and enjoyed by all.

I'm about to start talking about the movie, and while I'm attempting to avoid detailed spoilers, if you want to avoid them completely, stop reading here.  There are detail spoilers below.

The price of admission was worth it by the opening credits.  This bode well for the rest of the experience.

There was also some squeeing on my part since pineapple and black olive pizza has been my favorite literally as far back as I can remember.  Usually people look at me like "You want WHAT on your pizza?" when I bring it up (except Ann, she's awesome and my pizza buddy).  But no, Wade orders my favorite pizza of all time.

The movie is hilarious, crass, violent, and irreverent.  Deadpool not only breaks the fourth wall, acknowledges that he's breaking the fourth wall, but makes references explicitly to the X-Men films ("Stewart of McAvoy?").  The characterization was fantastic, with the blend of a monstrous self-assured ego and absolute self-loathing.

There's a definite challenge is staying true to Deadpool's origin story, among other things there are so many variations out there one can't stay true to them all.  The basics tend to stick to a few facts:
  • Some mix of special forces and mercenary background
  • Sick humor pre-Deadpool
  • Dead parents (or soon to be dead by his hand, without any memory or knowledge of it)
  • He almost never shuts up
  • Sex worker love interest who he leaves as he knows he's dying
  • Terminal cancer
  • Weapon X/shadowy agency doing human experimentation
  • Violent and deadly exit from Weapon X, presumed dead (because who could survive that)
  • He takes his name from the next death betting pool, the "deadpool"
  • He has an associate/punching bag/minion named Weasel, a prisoner/roommate named Blind Al, and never the twain shall meet. 
  • He knows he's a fictional character 
They did a pretty good job hitting those points.
No matter which version you read you can expect vulgarity and violence at some point.  Some of the story arcs have less vulgarity than others (Hawkeye vs. Deadpool stands out, but that might be because of the Dadpool time going on in it).  There's a reason this movie is rated R.  There's a reason fans of the comic books were excited when they first learned it would be rated R.   You will hear excessive and creative vulgarity, witness gore, see full-frontal male nudity (significantly more nudity from Reynolds than Baccarin), enthusiastic sex, and skee-ball (no, that's not a euphemism, I just felt it was worth a mention).

Though of interesting contrast, Tank Girl has to limit the number of times they said "fuck" to I think 3 in order to keep an R rating instead of being pushed to NC-17.

But anyways, I went in with a pretty solid familiarity with the various Deadpool comics and story arcs, and I wasn't disappointed.

It's a bit of irony to me that Morena Baccarin plays the love-interest, especially as she's most often recognized from her role in Firefly, where she played a Companion who was secretly dying of a terminal illness.  But damn am I happy to see her in a feature film, and she nails it.  Well, nails him too.  Happy Women's Day.  In all seriousness, the sex representation in this movie is pretty awesome.  Wade and Vanessa pretty gloriously and hilariously celebrate their enjoyment of each other.

The bar itself is a bit of a blend from the story.  Weasel is certainly in a more respected position than he ever ends up in the comics, and while there is a mercenary bar that Deadpool frequents, Weasel is certainly not the bartender, nor is that the source of the "deadpool."  It was a reasonable blend of setting elements, and to be honest, Weasel in the comics is a bit unrealistic as a normal human (how many times are his knee caps shot out?).  Weasel works here as an anchor character for story elements and has a bit more depth.

Blind Al was pretty much perfect.  My quibble is that she's very much portrayed as a voluntary housemate ("I wish I never heard of Craig's List"), and there's an openness about Deadpool's home and willingness for the people in his life to interact that doesn't exist in the comics.  The relationship between Deadpool and Blind Al was pretty amazing, a blend of harassment, resentment, and affection.  The IKEA furniture detail adding a bit of hysterical absurdity.

The absence of Dr. Killebrew confused me, and the general shying away from the experiments being part of Weapon X.  It could still be part of Weapon X, and Dr. Killebrew could be in the background, but the doctor in particular was markedly missing.

The references in the movie knock it out of the park.  The opening credits are genius and set the tone for the entire movie.  The references to other aspects of Reynold's career, including Green Lantern and X-Men Origins: Wolverine are slipped in smoothly, and don't fall flat if you simply miss it.  I caught the X-Men Origins: Wolverine Deadpool action figure, my other half didn't to no change in his enjoyment of the film.  The clear breaking of the fourth wall to the confusion of everyone around fits, and the references to the different X-Men timelines and castings are cleverly done.

For me the oddest thing is the ending was almost too happy.  We've gotten a slightly happier more sane Deadpool than some of his iterations.  He doesn't seem to have multiple voices in his head, and there's not so much an issue of murderous rage towards either Weasel or Blind Al in certain circumstances.  No one's throwing up when they see his face, which means he's a bit less horrific than the comics, and the end of the movie is just over a year since he signed his life away so perhaps the psych trauma is still building.

I will probably see this again in the theater, and I will definitely be picking up a copy once it's out on disc.

If you're looking for a place to start with reading Deadpool I highly recommend starting with Daniel Way's run writing.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Lord of the Rings : Fellowship of the Read - Book 1, Chapter 5

"A Conspiracy Unmasked" always struck me as a most sinister chapter title, especially in the clearly darkening setting of this story.  But more than anything, this chapter serves to partially alleviate the clearly encroaching threat and to showcase the stalwart nature of hobbits.

Since the film completely skipped over the relocation farce, 99% of this chapter never makes it to the screen.  Tolkien has been introducing notes of danger all along, but the ramp up is slow.  Jackson instead has not only compressed the timeline and excised most of the history lessons, but is giving us greater extremes of tension offset by moments of levity.  The one thing from this chapter that makes it to the film is taking the ferry across the river, and making note that the rider will have to go miles to the nearest bridge.  But rather than the almost casual crossing our hobbits make in the book, the film has them racing in terror with a black rider in hot pursuit.

The history lesson that Tolkien does include also gives us insights on hobbit society.  The idea that Buckland is basically a Shire colony and "virtually a small independent country," to me speaks volumes on the scale of geographic spread of the hobbits.  The Shire is not a small country community, it's a sprawling collection of communities and towns.  With the general insular (and gossipy) nature of hobbits, the Bucklanders and those from the old Shire view the others as peculiar.  Beyond their "odd" enjoyment and of water activities, what actually sets Bucklanders apart is their closeness to the wilds.  The know there are unusual and dangerous things on the other side of the hedge.

Sam's life has been changed simply by virtue of his close relationship with the Bagginses, then further when he was designated Frodo's companion.  By the time they cross the Brandywine, he has repeatedly pledged himself to Frodo's quest.  Crossing the water is a new experience, but nothing on par with the earlier meeting of the elves.  But meeting the elves doesn't have the symbolism of water, and it's the taking of the ferry that triggers the feeling that his old life is slipping away as he moves forward into something new.  Tolkien is giving Sam a baptism of sorts, with the water washing away who he was to make room for who he will become.

Frodo's new home is quite nicely set up, and we get some delightful playfulness and domesticity from the friends as they scrub off the road and enjoy dinner.  I'm personally quite impressed by three bath tubs with sufficient hot water.  That is quite a bit of effort and luxury.

Frodo's friends are really quite clever and insightful, far beyond what we'll see in the films.  Merry flatly says "you are miserable, because you don't know how to say good-bye."  His four friends have known all along that he was making plans to leave, to the point where they've been expecting it since Bilbo did.  Honestly, I feel that hobbits in general have the potential to be incredibly insightful and cunning, but by and large they live a quite complacent and sedentary life that fails to provide opportunities for this to emerge.

The revelation that his friends have been tracking his activities and making plans of their own to accompany him doesn't thrill Frodo.  His immediate reaction is one of betrayal and dismay, and I don't think this is a side effect of the ring by any means.  Instead I think it's a normal reaction to finding out that your friends are effectively spying on you and making plans behind your back.  It's not a particularly comforting situation to encounter.
"But it does not seem that I can trust anyone," said Frodo

Sam looked at him unhappily.  "It all depends on what you want," but in Merry.  "You can trust us to stick to you through thick and thin - to the bitter end.  And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours - closer than you keep it yourself.  But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word."
The decision to be happy and thankful for the company is probably one of the best that Frodo has made so far.  The prologue and snippets of history so far imply that hobbits have made their mark on world events in subtle ways.  This journey is far more than simply taking the Ring to Rivendell, and Frodo knows it with his future framed as unknown, with the possibility of never returning to the Shire.  Merry, Pippin, and Sam will all have just as important roles as Frodo in the story that follows.  Even Fatty is playing an important role in maintaining the illusion of Frodo's residence in Crickhollow.

Frodo's dreams I think will prove somewhat prophetic, with the sea and the towers, but to what extent I cannot be sure at this stage in the game.  I do find it particularly interesting that the sea is "a sound he has never heard in waking life, though it had often troubled his dreams."

Saturday, February 13, 2016

[Book Review] Driven

Driven / Kelley Armstrong and Xaviere Daumarie (ill)

The pack is not known for its tolerance for mutts, and for good reason.  But sometimes the sins of the family are not universally shared, and when Davis Cain comes running scared to the pack for help they can't completely ignore his pleas.  After all, if something is successfully hunting werewolves, they need to know about it.  If it's a trap, well, that's what back up is for.

On top of this challenge, Malcolm's back.  He's sought out re-admittance to the pack, and Elena's making use of him.  He may be a monster, but now he's their monster.

I'm so happy that Armstrong is continuing the Otherworld stories, especially those of the pack.  Elena is what drew me into the series, and while I've come to enjoy the other leading ladies, they came as a jarring shock at first.

Driven is a great continuation of the story of the pack, and while it can be read without reading the other novellas, it definitely makes reference to events in the preceding two or three.

It's interesting to see how the pack has swelled over the years, after a low of a bare handful at the end of Bitten.

Advance Reader Copy courtesy of Subterranean Press via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review; changes may exist between galley and the final edition.

Friday, February 12, 2016

[Book Review] Star

Star / Pamela Anderson & Eric Shaw Quinn (ghostwriter)

Star is the story of a lovely and optimistic ingénu from Florida with not much to her name but her smile, her dreams, and her... assets.  Her dreams are modest; save up enough from her two jobs to afford cosmetology school.  That all changes when she comes along as make-up artist to a friend's photoshoot, and connects instantly with the staff MUAs.  A few Polaroids taken while goofing around bring her to the attention of the search agents and they decide that she's exactly what they're looking for.  Paired with an overwhelmingly enthusiastic response to Star on a stadium jumbo-tron while she happened to be wearing a shirt emblazoned with a beer brand, her face (and body) become very much in demand.  Soon it's off to L.A., where her face, her breasts, and her naivete take celebrity culture like a storm.

I picked up Star as part of a buddy read.  None of us expected a huge amount from this, more of a "hey, why not?" with the bonus of if it's horrible, we had a support network.

For me, during the entire read I kept thinking "I really wish Carl Hiaasen wrote this."  Maybe it's the start in Florida, maybe it's his book Strip Tease, but I think that if everything in this book had been fed to him the result would be amazing.  As it was, I wasn't particularly bowled over by Star, but I've also read far worse.  There was a lot of what struck me as rather uninspired sex that varied from just something on the page to something that detracted from the story.  Some of the wording emphases annoyed me, like the repetition of referring to how many falls Star could take someone down, just general hammering of character details.  Probably my favorite characters were the make-up artists, though the dog was something of a sweetie.

Names and locations have been changed, but by and large this is the story of Pamela's start in show business.  Most of the obfuscation is so thin that it's impossible to not know who/what she's talking about.  Some times I know that out of a group one of them must refer to a specific person, but I'm just not sure (specifically, I wasn't sure which actor on "Lifeguards, Inc." was supposed to be Hasselhoff, then I pulled up his IMDB page and realized he was on "The Young and the Restless"... so that answers that one).  By and large, one could grasp most of the contents of the story simply by reading her Wikipedia and IMDB pages, pretty much everything that happens before she marries Tommie Lee.

Star herself is unbelievably naive.  I've met people as innocent of the world around them as she is, but generally that's paired with an incredibly sheltered upbringing.  With the explicit inclusion and revealing of sexual abuse and arguable physical abuse (as well as emotional), I really can't imagine that she's reached adulthood retaining such innocence.  The surrounding environments she finds herself in, and that she willingly enters, argues strongly that the only way she could stay such an ingénu is willful ignorance.  I don't particularly like using the label "Mary Sue," but considering this is a thinly-veiled memoir, Pamela is literally inserting herself into the story, I feel like it's fitting.

Monday, February 8, 2016

[Book Review] Black Science Premiere HC: The Beginners’ Guide To Entropy

Black Science Premiere HC: The Beginners’ Guide To Entropy / Rick Remender and Matteo Scalera

A dark and harrowing story of intersecting parallel lives all caught up in trying to fix their mistakes as they rebound across realities.  There's no true hero or villain here, just bad decisions, conflicting self-interest, desperation, and intentions gone wrong.

Grant McKay has created a device allowing him and his team to tear through the boundaries between dimensions, only sabotage has launched them (and his visiting family) into the unknown with no way to control their dimensional shifts.  Their journey takes it toll on both the travelers and the worlds they encounter, changing things in ways no one imagined.

Beautifully illustrated and high tension.  The different views and clashing realities disallowing any one hero or villain.

Advance Reader Copy courtesy of Image Comics in exchange for an honest review; changes may exist between galley and the final edition.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

[Book Review] Creature Delights: The Complete Collection

Creature Delights: The Complete Collection / Eva James

Here's the really short review: I was pretty thoroughly unimpressed with this entire collection of stories.

If you want more than that, read on.  Sorry if I get a bit crude.

From the Amazon teaser text:
The Complete Collection of the Creature Delights series! Warning: These stories was written to unlock your darkest fantasies and innermost desires. They are not for the faint of heart and are not your average erotica. They are not suitable for someone under 18 years of age. Read at your own risk...or delight! Inside The Complete Collection, you'll get 5 full stories, including: The Ogre’s Mistress The Forbidden Mermaid Taken by the Alien The Spartan and the Sexy Cyclops The Sexy Beast Under the Full Moon. Unlock your hidden desires! When you meet these creatures, it will not be fear you feel, but something else…something deeper…something sexier. Will you run for his life…or will you stay and discover a side of the mythological beasts that no one has ever known…?  Fans of Christie Sims and E.L. James will love this spicy hot romance series with strong, independent women and sexy, strange alpha heroes.
First off, my dislike of this book has nothing to do with the subject matter.  I've read and positively reviewed erotic romance and erotica with "monstrous" love interests before.  The thing is, the ones I positively reviewed were well written with interesting plots and characters, and to be honest, some pretty hot sex.

Taking a quick look at who Christie Sims is, sure, I'll say the recommendation is about accurate.  I generally don't take comparison with 50 Shades of Grey as a positive endorsement, but I've come to take it with a grain of salt since it's used so broadly.  I don't think 50 Shades particularly matched any of what it promised, but it was supposed to be this crazy hot kinky book involving a super rich dude with issues, and since none of that even comes close to applying to Creature Delights, I have no clue about that part of the recommendation. 

In Creature Delights the characters struck me as rather basic and two-dimensional, the story-lines all following the same basic plot, and the sex as pretty conventional except for the whole "monstrous" love interest thing.  Really the strongest reaction I had to the stories was extreme confusion as I tried to figure out the anatomy and geometry involved.  If we're talking something with say average human proportions scaled up... that does mean other things are scaled up, which makes accommodation by a human female a little more involved, and receiving from a human male a little less... filling?  And I'm still trying to figure out how one would put their head between a mermaid's legs.

Some of my dislike does come from the format.  There's a reason one of the common writing suggestions is to read your work out loud.  Audio books bring out the flaws in the writing, and this applies even to books I love.  Sometimes I just can't do the audio book for one reason or another.  I could have skimmed this book and been done with it very quickly in print, which would have made some of the heavy word repetition less noticeable and generally shortened this ordeal.  I honestly also had issues with the narration, how words were emphasized was just off, and the accents were painful.

The audio book starts off with some soft jazz porno music.  Or at least that's what pops to mind immediately.  I'm not sure if soft jazz porno music is a thing, but that's what it sounds like to me and there was much laughter.  I like humor... but I like laughing with the story, not at it.  I'm pretty sure this music wasn't supposed to be funny.

As for the individual stories, at the risk of spoilers, they're broken down below.

The Ogre’s Mistress
Woman goes hiking, get's herself injured, is rescued by an ogre, they have improbable sex, and declare their lifemate intentions.

This story loved the word "grunt."  So much grunting.  I probably wouldn't have noticed this nearly as much if I was reading instead of listening.  Also, this story was published in 2015 and is assumably contemporary, it doesn't particularly fit your character for her to use "cellular phone" instead of "cell phone," and "man bun" isn't a new thing so it really shouldn't be blurring your idea of what gender the ogre is.  As an aside, it's a goddamn bun, not a "man bun," there's no need for that qualifier.

Were the story told from the ogre's point of view I'm pretty sure we would have gotten internal monologue along the lines of "Want to fuck, not eat stupid human."

When it comes down the the sex... it's just awkward.  Some of it's the writing, some of it is vocalization that makes me think of Bevis and Butthead.  But everything about the ogre is described as significantly large and generally scaled up from human size, so I'm pretty sure that sex isn't as simple as tab A into slot B, and it kind of takes some things right off the table with their height differences.  Look, I know women give birth, and yes, I'm aware that in the dark recesses of the internet you can find videos of "that shouldn't be able to go there," but the vagina is not a bag of holding.

The Forbidden Mermaid
Sailors out to see in search of treasure fall victim to some horny bisexual mermaids, there is improbable sex, and plans for a long term partnership.

It's a little hard to get past the accents in this one, and it would have been better off without them.

This is probably the least vanilla story in the collection in that there's a threesome.  But when I say "there is improbable sex" I really mean it in this one.  How does this mermaid anatomy work?  Their vaginas are pointed out as located above their tales, and then later one of the mermaids is described as burying her face between the other's legs.  Most of this story is drowned out by the "what????" bouncing around in my head.

Taken by the Alien
Scientists doing late night monitoring and various sciencey things.  Aliens drop in for a short notice visit, lady scientist wakes up strapped to a bed in an alien ship (for safety concerns that she not fall off), finds out she's been picked up to be someone's mate, freaks out, then decides he's kind of hot, so why not get it on with him.

You know, nothing really stands out to me about this one.  It was there.  The change in character focus was a bit strange, but since the author hasn't actually been consistent in POV throughout the book, it is what it is.

The Spartan and the Sexy Cyclops
Widower Spartan goes off to address the monstrous violence against his city, finds a lady cyclops (who oddly reminds him of his dearly departed wife), and decides to get it on.

I feel this story could benefit with a stronger familiarity with the setting.  I'm not a history scholar, but even I was cringing at details here.  The sex... well it has the reverse of the problem of The Ogre's Mistress.  Sorry man, I'm not so sure you'd actually do much for her with that equipment, this story really emphases how much larger than you she is.  Other than that, there's really nothing to stand out here.

The Sexy Beast Under the Full Moon
Accused of witchcraft a woman runs from angry villagers who are scared off by a monstrous flying figure, the woman wakes to find her self chained up, accosted by uncouth minions, and brought to the "sexy beast" who gives her an offer she can't refuse (or at least, is more pleasant than running from angry villagers).  I assume they have sex and end up as some sort of life mates.

I just gave up during this story.  Halfway through the story, almost done with the book, I just couldn't bring myself to finish.  I'm sorry.  Also, the accents were even worse than those of in The Forbidden Mermaid.

This audiobook was provided by the author, narrator, or publisher at no cost in exchange for an unbiased review courtesy of AudiobookBlast dot com

Lord of the Rings : Fellowship of the Read - Book 1, Chapter 4

Our hobbits wake rested and refreshed, with no sign of the elves except breakfast (clearly the elves are not only fantastic hosts but know hobbits).

This is a rather thoughtful bunch of hobbits.  What with Frodo ruminating over things (thinking during breakfast, of all things), Sam reflecting on the elves, and Pippin's rather astute observations about the whole situation.  I actually think that Sam and Pippin have a better handle on what's going on than Frodo, be it that the Ring is sewing confusion in his mind or he's dealing with the weight of ring bearer and realization of how dire the situation may be.  Pippin nails it with his comment about the importance of the rider's sniffing, and Sam feels he has to go, he knows they have a long way to go and will face danger, but that he has "something to do before the end, and it lies ahead, not in the Shire."

The reflections on the elves is perhaps the most telling of elven interactions so far (including The Hobbit).  This meeting started out with jest and a playful mien on the part of the high elves, one that was only broken by Pippin's mention of the black rider.  The visiting and feasting was all told from Frodo's point of view, now we get the thoughts and musings of the others.  As Sam puts it, the elves are "a bit above my likes and dislikes."  And maybe Gildor would have proved evasive when asked about the "sniffing," but then Frodo was rather evasive himself.

Sam's proclamations of accompaniment and protection does seem quaint and amusing in the current light.  As far as heroes and saviors go, Sam is even more unlikely than Frodo (or Bilbo, and he was quite unlikely).  However, as could be considered a refrain even this early on in The Lord of the Rings, "Courage is found in unexpected places."

Wisely, they continue their journey through the woods, with a distance road sighting of a black rider reinforcing their choice.  Their meanderings take them onto the land of a Farmer Maggot, which beyond being a somewhat awkward family name, stands out in Frodo's memory as something of a terror.  As it turns out, the fear was well earned and deserved, what with Frodo making a nuisance of himself stealing mushrooms from the farm.  "I recollect the time when young Frodo Baggins was one of the worst young rascals of Buckland," but that Farmer Maggot is a rather delightful family man who's insular hobbit nature serves them all well in the face of encounters with a black rider.  His comment about the strangeness of Hobbiton folk did crack me up some, with what Hobbiton folks say about everyone else.

What does make Farmer Maggot stand out is his pointed lack of interest in their activities.  A good bit of this is enlightened self-interest, since what he doesn't know he can't be dragged into.  However, he does Frodo and company a great kindness in transporting them discreetly down the the road, and as it happened to be right into the company of Merry Brandybuck.

The gift of mushrooms was a nice touch.

Most of this chapter does not appear in the film (scene title regardless).  But this is where our quartet meets up, and the fear of Farmer Maggot's (and his dogs') retribution for stealing appears.  We also get the "sniffing" black rider, and Frodo's overwhelming compulsion to don the ring from the previous chapter.  Extra flourishes were added (like the drawing out of insects and an almost hallucinatory visual effect) that really ramp up the tension of the encounter.

The trimming and compressing of plot for the most part works for me.  These are dense chapters, and the plot doesn't overall suffer from these changes.  What really stands out in difference is the establishment of Merry and Pippin as the troublemakers, stealing from Farmer Maggot and getting them all chased off the lands.  To this point in the book, Merry and Pippin have been incredibly steadfast and helpful to Frodo, even respecting his need for privacy without digging deeply.  While it does make Merry and Pippin into the official comic relief, and Billy Boyd and Dominic Monaghan embody their roles fantastically, but I think in the long run it proves detrimental to Frodo's character with some of his depth stripped away.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Link Smorgasbord, January 2016

What Could Have Entered the Public Domain on January 1, 2016? Under the law that existed until 1978 . . . Works from 1959 
A general reminder and very informative.

Lawrence Lessig: Laws that strangle creativity
Really good video

Lifting the Veil on the New York Public Library’s Erotica Collection
On the cultural importance of erotic materials when looking on society.

Library of Congress Anoints Graphic Novelist as Ambassador for Young People’s Literature

'Diary of Anne Frank' Published Online as Copyright Expires
This whole copyright case was interesting to follow, and obviously one with a lot of emotional charge.

The Force Awakens RPG Madness
Hahahaha, so much yes.  I went to see The Force Awakens with my Star Wars group, and we spent a lot of the film thinking "that's something Team Stupid would do... oh I think we DID do that one..."

The librarians are coming to party
Wish I was able to attend ALA Midwinter this year, especially as is it's so close.  I love how the article starts though.  :D

The long goodbye to Internet Explorer

NYPL: Public Domain Collections
Over 180,000 items in their Digital Collections in the public domain.  Really awesome stuff here.

I Can Haz Copyright Infringement? Internet Memes And Intellectual Property Risks
Great to read, and important.

3D Systems abandons its Cube printers, but DRM means you can't buy filament from anyone else
DRM, 3D printing, and obsolescence.

Cosplay, Copyright and Fair Use
Pretty much exactly what the title implies, as related to a recent court case.

[Book Review] The Art of Mad Max: Fury Road

The Art of Mad Max: Fury Road / Abby Bernstein (Powell's Books)

I've always had a weird relationship with the Mad Max franchise.  It always struck me as something powerful, but it also never made ANY sense to me.  I've seen Road Warrior a number of times and it's not a particularly complicated story line and has pretty straightforward action and I'm always going "what is going on here?"  Of course, some of that might actually be part of the point...

As I've gotten older (plus experienced some emotional trauma), I've also gained a level of squeamishness that adds a layer of difficulty in watching at least the first two films.  This left me largely adoring Mad Max in theory or from afar.

Yet I was excited about Fury Road.  Maybe it has something to do with my love of cars?  The Fast and Furious films are certainly a guilty pleasure for me (particularly as they push the bounds of how few fucks they have to give and go more and more over the top).  Maybe it was the over-the-top post-apocalyptic punk glamour?  It wasn't particularly Tom Hardy, nothing against him, but he's never been an actor that I've had strong associations with regardless of wonderful performances in many movies.   Actually, I do have a strong association with Tom Hardy, I always thing "did he write a whole bunch of classic novels?"  In this case, I attribute that to me being horrible with names and not necessarily just because I tend towards bookish (I mean, I have to struggle to keep Les Paul and Les Claypool straight).

Then I saw Fury Road in the theaters and was floored.  I know it's basically a two hour car chase through the desert, I don't care.  The layers, the story, the acting, the action, the stunts, the cars... beautiful.  I didn't expect the film to be beautiful.  The fact that it also has a strong feminist message, passes the Bechdel test, has layered female characters, and a positive representation of disability (Furiosia doesn't need two hands to beat you) was all just icing on the delicious cake for me.  Though fantastic icing, I have to say.

Every time I learn more about the making of the film I'm blown away.  I've had close to a year at this point to learn about the reliance on practical effects, snippets of character backstory, the stunt work, the building of the cars, and this The Art of Mad Max: Fury Road was still worth reading.

The Art of Mad Max: Fury Road is full of stills, photographs, and concept art.  It tells of the journey of making Fury Road and shares about the individual characters themselves.  There are a few flaws, some bad placement and coloring of text over images making it hard to read, but by and large a very rich and easy to follow book.

Monday, February 1, 2016

[Book Display] Book Display

November is NaNoWriMo, which makes for as good of a theme inspiration as any.  Books concerning authors, writing, librarians, libraries, and books.  And I realize that I very well could also include Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets on this list, but considering the past three displays featured a Harry Potter title, I'm leaving it off here.

I also then failed to post this for months, for reasons involving failing to transfer the photograph to a computer whenever I thought of it, and then finally deciding the display was not nearly exciting enough visually to deserve a photo.  When I get to posting the also lamentably late Dec display there will likely be a photo because it's a prettier than normal, and the Feb display will get one as well.  Beyond that, we'll see.

I did make use of this comic though:

Assorted books, across genres, styles, and audiences:
  • Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library / Chris Grabenstein
  • The Book of Speculation / Erika Swyler 
  • The Library at Mount Char / Scott Hawkins
  • Mr.Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore / Robin Sloan
  • Library Mouse / Daniel Kirk
  • On writing : a memoir of the craft / Stephen King
  • Bird by bird : some instructions on writing and life / Anne Lamott
  • Handling the truth : on the writing of memoir / Beth Kephart
  • Blood on the forehead : what I know about writing / M. E. Kerr
  • Writing and enjoying haiku : a hands-on guide / Jane Reichhold
  • Careers for writers & others who have a way with words / Robert W. Bly
  • Basket Case / Carl Hiassen
  • Inventing Mark Twain : the lives of Samuel Langhorne Clemins / Andrey Jay Hoffman
  • How to write your life story : the complete guide to creating your personal memoir / Karen Ulrich
  • A slip of the keyboard : collected nonfiction / Terry Pratchett
  • Follies of God : Tennessee Williams and the Women of the Fog / James Grissom
  • Naked Heat (Nikki Heat) / Richard Castle
  • Little Red Writing / Joan Holub & Melissa Sweet
  • A beginning, a muddle, and the end : the right way to write writing / Avi
  • Writing romances : a handbook by the Romance Writers of America / Rita Gallagher & Rita Clay Estrada
  • D.W.'s library card / Marc Tolon Brown
  • Rocket writes a story / Tad Hills
  • The geometry of love / Jessica Levine
  • I, Librarian (Rex Libris) / James Turner
  • Abhorsen (Old Kingdom/Abhorsen) / Garth Nix
  • Preludes & Nocturnes (The Sandman) / Neil Gaiman
  • First among sequels (Thursday Next) / Jasper Fforde
  • The woman who died a lot (Thursday Next) / Jasper Fforde
  • Inkheart (Inkheart) / Cornelia Caroline Funke
  • Mr. Putter & Tabby write the book / Cynthia Rylant
  • Start your own freelance writing business and more : copywriter, proofreader, copy editor, journalist / George Sheldon 
  • Picture writing : a new approach to writing for kids and teens / Anastasia Suen
  • Bliss : writing to find your true self / Katherine M. Ramsland
  • A guide for the writing of local history / John Cumming
  • Worlds of wonder : how to write science fiction and fantasy / David Gerrold
  • Escaping into the open : the art of writing true / Elizabeth Berg
  • The Wishing Spell (The land of stories) / Chris Colfer
  • Julie & Julia : 365 days, 524 recipes, 1 tiny apartment kitchen / Julie Powell
  • Dr. Seuss & Mr. Geisel / Judith Morgan & Neil Morgan
  • The storied life of A. J. Fikry / Gabrielle Zevin
  • A widow for one year / John Irving
  • The last hero / Terry Pratchett
  • Off the page / Jodi Picoult & Samantha Van Leer
  • Angelheaded hipster : a life of Jack Kerouac / Steve Turner
  • The book thief / Markus Zusak
  • Fahrenheit 451 / Ray Bradbury
  • Wonderbook : the illustrated guide to creating imaginative fiction / Jeff VanderMeer & Jeremy Zerfoss
  • Killer librarian / Mary Lou Kirwin
  • The bookstore / Deborah Meyler
  • My bookstore : writers celebrate their favorite places to browse, read, and shop / Ronald Rice (ed) & Leif Parsons (ill)
  • Shelf life : romance, mystery, drama, and other page-turning adventures from a year in a bookstore / Suzanne Strempek Shea
  • An arsonist's guide to writers' homes in New England / Brock Clarke
  • Fangirl / Rainbow Rowell
  • The word exchange / Alena Graedon
  • The public library : a photographic essay by Robert Dawson / Robert Dawson
  • 1001 books you must read before you die / Peter Boxall (ed)
  • The rover (The rover) / Mel Odom
  • When memory speaks : reflections on autobiography / Jill Ker Conway
  • The night bookmobile / Audrey Niffenegger
  • Smoke Screen (A Dido Hoare mystery) / Marianne Macdonald
  • Booked to die (Cliff Janeway) / John Dunning
  • The angel's game / Carlos Ruiz Zafón
  • A window opens / Elisabeth Egan
A few movies made it on to the display (sadly, we don't have Buffy in our collection):
  • The Mummy
  • Ghostbusters
  • The Princess Bride
Some additional books that would have also worked:
  • Libriomancer (series) / Jim C. Hines
  • Un Lun Dun / China Mieville
  • Snowcrash / Neil Stephenson
  • The Library Dragon / Carmen Agra Deedy & Michael P. White
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Harry Potter) / J. K. Rowling
  • Nursery Crime (series) / Jasper Fforde