Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Changes

Changes
Written by: Jim Butcher
Hardcover: 448 pages
Publisher: Roc Harcover
Language: English
April 2010, $24.99
Genre: Urban Fantasy/Book Twelve of the Dresden files

As Chicago's only professional wizard, Harry Dresden has faced demons, vampires, werewolves, dark sorcerers, and hosts of horrors from beyond the mortal realm.

But nothing could have prepared him for this....

I answered the phone and Susan Rodriguez said, "They've taken our daughter."

Long ago, Susan was Harry's lover - until she was attacked by his enemies, leaving her body and soul torn between her own humanity and the bloodlust of the vampiric Red Court. For both her sake and Harry's, Susan disappeared to South America, where she could fight both her savage gift and those who cursed her with it.

Now Arianna Ortega, Duchess of the Red Court, has discovered the secret Susan has long kept, and she plans to use it - against Harry. The Duchess blames Harry for the death of her husband, and she has desired revenge ever since. Susan's secret is the key that will force Harry to take the battle to her, on her own ground, where the might of the Red Court holds sway.

To prevail, he may have to do the unthinkable. For the raging fury of Harry's untapped power has always proved to be his greatest temptation. And now he may have no choice but to embrace the darkness within himself.

Because this time, Harry's not fighting to save a client, the Council, or the world...

He's fighting to save his child.


+++++++++++++

I remember why I picked up the first Harry Dresden book. It was because James Marsters (aka Spike from Buffy/Angel) was doing the audio book. As a big James fan, I was immediately pleased as punch to get my James fix. It helped that I got hooked into the series. It’s been 12 books and while the series has good and bad outings, above all it has been a very enjoyable ride. The Dresden Files are those books that even though I have piles and piles of to be read books, I still go out and buy the latest installment. I can’t help it. I am hooked.

The book opens up with a simple phone call, a phone call that will change Harry Dresden’s life forever. Not only does he have a daughter, by old flame Susan Rodriguez, but she has been kidnapped. How to process all of that? Harry’s life is already a bit complicated with the war with the vampire Red Court, the Black Council and its machinations, and training ‘grasshopper’ Molly Carpenter. This is of course on top of trying not to piss off Marcone enough that he decides their ‘truce’ is far too bothersome and making sure the rest of his life doesn’t get too chaotic. But Harry’s the White Knight and no one messes with family.

Changes are a coming and they are big. Holy cow are they big.

I have one word that summed up my reading of the last chapter one afternoon….What? That’s all I could think. That was it? NO way. That being said I cant review this without giving something away as subtle as I may try to be. It is the book for Changes after all. So read no farther unless you are a spoiler whore and read the last pages before reading the whole thing (this being that you haven’t read this one yet)

Things I loved: There are some things you never mess with. One of them is children. Now I have grown to love Harry over the series. He is infallible, gets his ass handed to him quite a lot, but in the end he is one of the good guys. Even if it hadn’t been his daughter in danger. Even if he had the chance to choose all over again. I think he would make that same choice. His decision came out of nowhere, but it was a decision that needed to be made. Harry is hella powerful, but not that powerful. He needed that extra boost to save everyone (his brother, his daughter, his grandfather…and all of those wacky people he is loyal to and calls friends), his own well being didn’t factor in. He knew he had to do it to fail only marginally as far as he was concerned. Just enough to save his daughter, his own life didn’t matter in the end. I think maybe he believed that Mab would send in the cavalry if she even remotely thought that her new little toy was not going to make it. Or maybe he is just that crazy. He just knew that he had to save his little girl the way a mama bear protects her cobs. No one hurts family. No one hurts his child.

I liked Susan. I liked the somewhat normal life she represented before things turned to utter shite. I admired her that she was keeping her blood thirst in check, that she was keeping her distance as much as I felt like it tore both her and Harry apart. But to deny Harry his daughter? Like Harry I cannot forgive her for that not matter how much I liked her. Then again what was Harry going to do. She would always be a liability for a man like Harry who makes a living and life out of making the bad guys lives a living hell. She would be a weakness, just the way that Murphy can and will be once their feelings are revealed (though problematic since they cant even reveal those feelings to themselves let alone each other). I hope someday he can know his daughter, that she is a force to be reckoned with in her own right and that Molly will be one wicked cool aunt.

Harry knows he cannot have that normal life. The one with the wife, white picket fence, 2.5 kids and a dog named Spot. Harry is always going to be the hero. It is what he is programmed to be, in his DNA. He sees people, good people in bad situations and cannot help but…well help them. He’s helping keep the Council on their toes, training other young wizards that maybe the Council isn’t infallible. Harry is the teacher now as much as he still the student. He’s learned a lot, grown a lot in these few years (okay I guess it is about seven or eight). He’s made allies, *gasp* friends, and certainly his share of enemies as well (which tends to happen when you are too snarky for your own good with the baddies and yet who would Harry be if he weren’t mouthing off?)

This book is about Changes and boy are there changes aplenty. It is more than the knowledge of Harry’s daughter, of the tides of war, of allies and enemies and how those relationships are changing because of the events of this book. It is about the decisions Harry makes to protect those he cares about and how it will indeed change his life, it is knowledge that maybe people way more powerful than you (oh lets say like Gods!) have an invested interest in you and may have been pushing pieces around you. And of course it is the ending which is a game changer all on its own. For Butcher, he gets gold stars for this. While remaining true to Harry’s character he has changed the game entirely. Nothing will ever be the same. Nothing can be the same. How could it? All I know is that the first chapter of the next Harry book has a lot riding on it and I cannot help but sympathize with Butcher for the pressure that is on that. I have faith. Harry has his battle scars. He’s lost as much as he has won. It wont be as simple as pulling a Gandalf (which Harry would find immensely humorous me thinks) Things aren’t this simple. They never are with Harry. He has the potential to be a scary bad ass as much as he is the white knight in tarnished armor. And that makes him a threat to a lot of people in both this world and those we pretend don’t exist.

This booker is darker, but how cannot it not be. What wouldn’t you do for your child? How far would you go? But the snark we have grown to love is still there, it is just razor sharp sometimes. I feel like we are about to head down the rabbit hole and scary things are on the other side. But I love that Jim Butcher isn’t pulling punches. There is no continuation from Turn Coat. No linear plot line. It just happens and you are left hanging on for a breathless ride hoping it will stop and you’ll go back to the old Harry where there are still occasionally puppies and rainbows, but praying that it doesn’t stop. That clever little formula that you had and enjoyed from the previous 10 books, yeah, doesn’t count anymore. This changes everything, the turning point that made a good series into something more. In a way Butcher just pulled a Joss Whedon on me. No one is safe and anything can happen just when you least expect it. Bravo, good sir! Bravo!

I know I keep prattling on about the holy frak of it all, but that is all I can say. The book was wicked awesome. All you can say is WTF. What the Frak. And shake your head. Possibly a lot. Kind of like me. Still. Not only is he the Winter Knight, a position that will change everything, but well…that other thing. And then the explosions. Sigh. There are eight books left in the series and this book has me more excited about those final eight than I have been about a book series in a long time. This book more than lived up to its title. It invigorated a series and I cannot wait to see what happens next. Please sir, may I have some more?! I guess we will have to wit until ‘Side Jobs’ which is an anthology that comes out later this year. Apparently there will be a novella called ‘Aftermath’ which will deal with the events of Changes, 45 minutes later.

Other little loves: Loved loved Vadderung (yeah Norse gods!), the final battle scene (yeah, cinematically in my head it was epic), the ending (holy cliffhanger of all cliffhangers Batman!), Harry’s costume (love you for that Miss Leanansidhe), The ErlKing (Yeah!), Mouse (Oh how I love you and want you to be my puppy, sadly I don’t speak Mouse though), Toot ( I have pizza and am willing to share), Murphy and Fidelacchius (whoo hoo, Karin with a holy sword, grinning like a schoolgirl), The Beetle (sniff), the voice (whose is it? Hush now) and all of the usual suspects that make me happy.


Things I didn't love so much: Yeah, I got nothing. Except that it ended the way that it did. Curse you Mr. Butcher. Curse you. And your damned awesomeness.

Buy or Borrow: Buy. Buy. Buy. I cannot recommend this series enough. It starts off slow, but not only does Harry grow as a character, but Butcher’s writing grows as well. What is there not to like after all. No borrowing. Just buy it. You’ll like it. And if you don’t I would love to have a long thorough discussion on why the hell not. Especially when you look at it as a whole.

Part of: The Dresden Files
Storm Front (Book One)
Fool Moon (Book Two)
Grave Peril (Book Three)
Summer Knight (Book Four)
Death Masks (Book Five)
Blood Rites (Book Six)
Dead Beat (Book Seven)
Proven Guilty (Book Eight)
White Night (Book Nine)
Small Favor (Book Ten)
Turn Coat (Book Eleven)

Also Recommended: Simon R Green’s Tales from the Nightside or Christopher Golden’s Shadow Saga or The Menagerie.

5 out of 4 happy bibliosnark bookmarks (Because lets face it he just turned it up to 11)

Have your own review? Let me know and I will post it.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Magic Bleeds

Magic Bleeds
Written by: Ilona Andrews
Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Ace
Language: English
May 2010, $7.99
Genre: Urban Fantasy/Book Four of the Kate Daniels series

“Atlanta would be a nice place to live, if it weren’t for the magic. When the magic is up, rogue mages cast their spells and monsters appear, while guns refuse to fire and cars fail to start. But then technology returns, and the magic recedes as unpredictably as it rose.
Kate Daniels works for the Order of the Knights of Merciful Aid, officially as a liaison with the mercenary guild. Unofficially, she cleans up the paranormal problems no one else wants to handle—especially if they involve Atlanta’s shapeshifting community.

When she’s called in to investigate a fight at the Steel Horse, a bar midway between the territories of the shapeshifters and the necromancers, Kate quickly discovers there’s a new player in town. One who’s been around for thousands of years—and rode to war at the side of Kate’s father.

This foe may be too much even for Kate and Curran, the Lord of the Beasts, to handle. Because this time, Kate will be taking on family…”


+++++++++++++

Once upon a time I picked up the first Ilona Andrews book, hoping to find something a bit different to tide me between the Mercedes Thompson books. I found it in the Kate Daniels series. Now we are four books into the series and I thought for sure that they would slow down as many series these days tend to do. Whoa was I wrong. What is even better is that this is a husband and wife team writing Kate, Curran and all of the rest of the inhabitants of Atlanta.

Suffice it to say you can begin with this book and not be completely lost and yet however it is like watching Return of the Jedi without watching New Hope and Empire first (yes I am pretending the prequels never happened, cause lets face it don’t we all want to wish it never happened kind of like the last Indiana Jones). My review will include spoilers, so first time Kate Daniel’s readers beware. I will try to stay vague, but I can only be so vague. This is a Smirking review after all and I am passionate about my books.

The book opens up with a very disappointed Kate. How can she not be when Curran is late and she humbled herself a great deal after the last book. Of course she has to put all of her feelings aside when the Steel Horse, a local bar is hit by something big. Something big enough not only to keep her clueless, but big enough to try and start an epidemic of massive proportions if it weren’t for some very quick thinking on Kate’s part. Eventually Kate discovers who is behind the attacks…family. And this time she cannot nor wants to do it with Curran’s help. He is the one who broke her heart after all.

Things I loved: I like Kate. I like her because her inner monologue mirrors my own. I like her because she is flawed like so many of the women heroes I love (can anyone say Kara “Starbuck” Thrace”) and yet she is fiercely loyal. Once you are in her good graces it takes a hell of a lot for her not to protect you with everything she has even if she is currently pissed off at you. Her entire life she has been told that being close to someone is a weakness, that it will only get her and those she cares about into really big trouble. But she is human. She cannot help but form friendships and fall in love. She cannot help but let those carefully constructed shields tumble down just a little bit.

I think that is why with the first chapter it hits home that much harder. I felt that punch in the gut when the infamous ‘Here Kitty, kitty’ former mercenary and general bad ass got her heart broken. It wasn’t being kidnapped or almost being killed, it wasn’t baddies or a boss that it is just an asshat that made Kate crumble. It was putting yourself out there, making yourself so incredibly vulnerable and not having it returned. I get that. I think anyone who has been in love has felt that absolute vulnerability and you pray and you hope that someone won’t shatter you when you feel at your weakest. Even though I knew it was all a misunderstanding, I also knew how much it must have hurt. We are seeing it all from Kate’s point of view. And it all felt extremely honest. As I said Kate doesn’t show her vulnerability because she has been taught that it will get her killed. And any strong independent woman can relate to that even if we aren’t kick ass magical heroines. In this way the book has magic, but its never really been about a magical Atlanta and sometimes urban fantasy gets lost in the setting and the magic of it all, that they forget about the most important aspect and that is the characters. The characters end up being forced or two dimensional. They don’t grow. They don’t lose. They are bound in clichés. And while Kate is the kick ass heroine so proudly depicted on urban fantasy covers everywhere, she is a hell of a lot more real and authentic than most out there.

On top of our main duo, I love the secondary characters. From Raphael to Andrea, Saiman and Jim. Andrea, in particular, grew as well for me. While some may not like the choice she may have taken, Andrea is always going to have that dual nature, torn between two things that make her who she is. In her personal life she has chosen to, in her own way, be part of the Pack and be part of who she is. But in her professional life Andrea chose to stay with the Order. For her the Order means control over so many different aspects of her life including her personal. It is something she clings to and just like Kate, I get that. When life gets out of control, you just hold onto what you can and the parts of you that you can control, to some extent anyway. It hurts just a bit that she chose Order over the Pack and ultimately the Order over Kate, but give the girl time. I don’t think that Andrea trusts that when push comes to shove that Kate will have her back when it came to the Pack because I don’t think Andrea knows how she would deal with that, nor does Kate. After all the Pack, if they really knew about Andrea might shun her or at least a good deal of them would and no one wants to face that sort of rejection. I think Andrea already thinks she is a bit of a monster and a freak, no one wants to hear someone else say it or treat you as thus. Like any true relationship or life in general, there are doubts. I think I might like Andrea less if she didn’t have doubts, if she didn’t need time to process it all.

I cant forget Saiman. Saiman, he’s that bastard you love to hate because in his own way he’s a bit charming (In a Hannibal Lector sort of way). Both Kate and he know that he wants Kate for purely selfish reasons. And they both know that once he gets bored with her or no longer finds a use for her that they will be enemies. In his own way Saiman reminds me a bit of Edward from the Anita Blake series (back when it wasn’t just smut with little plot).

*What else….ooh I loved how my girl got her moxie back. Not that she ever really lost it, but I loved how it was Kate that saved the day and every bit of the day and not Curran. Her reaction to the vote…absolutely priceless. Kate may not be a were but she is an alpha through and through.

* I loved the romance elements, the humor and the bits that make me love this verse and these characters (catnip, Jim’s expression, glued chairs, etc). Any book that can actually make me laugh out loud and cry along with the characters has done something wonderful. For that those two get shiny gold stars.

* The overall plot is coming to a head. We know who Kate is now. We know her capabilities and that of her ‘family’. In this way I like how there is an end to this series, even though each book has its own plot and happies for me to read. There is an end. There can be only one as Duncan or Connor McLeod would say (though I was always a bit of a Methos girl myself). My bets are on Kate because she has what Roland doesn’t, people who love and respect her…and occasionally fear her (with good reason…she does own power words after all).

*Finally, I love the prose. As we get the details and the story from Kate’s point of view, we get her inner monologues. They are real. The language is wonderful. It’s witty, it’s sarcastic, it is sad and it is descriptive when it needs to be. I don’t think it tries to hard and there isn’t a huge use of adverbs (Bethany you know this is true with Meyer). So yeah on that.

Things I didn't love so much: Not really gripe, just a surprise. I truly expected to see people come after Kate after the Games especially Hugh D’Ambray. Roland seems to much of a Cronus (who ate all of his children such as Zeus) to let Kate even remotely live. Then again maybe Hugh has his own reasons for delaying the report and not just for the reasons Kate thinks. I don’t think we have seen the last of him and I do believe he will certainly play a part very soon.

Buy or Borrow: Buy. Buy. Buy. If you like Urban fantasy or series like Mercy Thompson, buy buy buy. No borrowing. Just buy it. You’ll like it. I didn’t even need the guarantee from the publisher. My only problem is these books are getting so awesome that the next will probably be in hardcover which just ruins the symmetry of my bookshelf. (I have this thing where if two or three are paperback, they all have to be paperback or vice versa. It’s an OCD bibliophile thing I know, but *shrug* everyone has their quirks.)

Part of: a Series. The Kate Daniels Series
Magic Bites (Book One)
Magic Burns (Book Two)
Magic Strikes (Book Three)

Also Recommended: Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs or perhaps the Harry Dresden Files by Jim Butcher.

4 out of 4 happy bibliosnark bookmarks

Have your own review? Let me know and I will post it.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Eclipse: A Review

Eclipse (2010)

Directed By: David Slade
Written By: Melissa Rosenberg, based off the novel by Stephanie Meyer
Genre: BOOK TURNED MOVIE?
Time: 2 hr 4 min
Starring: Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart, Taylor Lautner, Bryce Dallas Howard, Billy Burke

Plot: As Seattle is ravaged by a string of mysterious killings and a malicious vampire continues her quest for revenge, Bella once again finds herself surrounded by danger. In the midst of it all, she is forced to choose between her love for Edward and her friendship with Jacob knowing that her decision has the potential to ignite the ageless struggle between vampire and werewolf. With her graduation quickly approaching, Bella has one more decision to make: mortal or vampire.

Review: I should begin right off that I am not a fan of the books. I tried to read them, really I tried, but couldn’t which is saying a lot considering how much I do read. However, I have seen each of the films…because I was forced to. So I had low expectations but the girl’s book club was attending and I hadn’t seen a movie in the theatre in a while so I thought I would give a go. Now as I said I don’t know the story other than what I gleaned off of wikipedia after returning Twilight to the library after reading only four chapters of it. Sorry gang, if you are a lover of all things Edward and Bella I just couldn’t get into it. I’m sorry vampires should not sparkle. I don’t care how impossibly gorgeous they are.

So I went. I did not wear my “Then Buffy Staked Edward, The End” shirt. I was polite. I was being a very good Smirking. First off it made me giggle that almost every single trailer before the film was once a book. First we had “Eat, Pray, Love”, then it was “Charlie St. Cloud”, followed by “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows”, as well as “Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader”. But I did get “Paranormal Activity 2” which is not a book, but a film that will probably give me the heebie jeebies all the same.

Things the film had going for it before it began the opening credits: First - The soundtrack. I loved the first one, liked about two songs from the second, but am completely digging the third soundtrack. A lot. Second Thing – David Slade. 30 Days of night wasn’t too bad. But Hard Candy…completely awesome. So yeah…that was about it.

So what did I think? It wasn’t horrible. I did far less mocking. I will say that David Slade seems to have improved on quite a few things. It looked pretty, the cast performed far better than they have previously (though sadly Jasper emoted more than Bella and Jasper is supposed to be the no emotions guy), Robert Pattinson looked kinda hot and he should smile far more often (Like the Twilight craze, I have not understood the Robert craze even when he was Cedric), Charlie is still the man (yeah Billy Burke for making him an interesting character), the vampires themselves weren’t all pasty in a chalky not good sort of way, and did I mention I like the soundtrack. Also there was actual humor and not the me making MSTK comments due to bad dialogue, bad shots and bad acting. There were funnies. I giggled (does he own a shirt, I’m hotter, Charlie in total for most of the film, etc). Improvements are always good.

But I do have my own gripes. I wont gripe on the story because as you know I don’t dig it. I will just say what I felt was a bit lacking in the film. As I said before Kristen Stewart needs to learn how to emote. The tortured girl thing is getting a bit tired. Bella is supposed to be in love, to be torn, to be angry, to be scared and that was all the same expression for Stewart. Which is a shame. From what I hear Bella was angry all the damn time in the book and we really didn’t get that. Sadly she seems to get typecast a lot which makes me wonder if the brooding tortured girl thing is just her personality in real life. It would be interesting to try and see her do something light and funny.

I love Bryce Dallas Howard, I do, but I kind of like the other actress a bit better. It would have been interesting to see her play a manipulative, cunning bitca and a half with Riley. And the Jacob thing. I don’t get it. Taylor may be all pretty for some but he comes off too boyish and not the Alpha he apparently is supposed to be. I blame this partly on just Taylor himself. He may have the muscles but his stage presence is still too much of a teen and not a man. Then again they are in high school. I think perhaps it doesn’t help that there is no real chemistry between Kristen and Taylor so you know she is always going to choose Edward. Both kisses were a bit awkward as if the actors were like oops kissing my friend, possibly like a brother or sister. It translates on the screen. There isn’t any real choice and I think this movie was trying to showcase this.

Rent/Cinema?: If you are a Twihard (Is that the correct terminology?) then go see it. Of the three films, this was by far the best though admittedly I wont be buying it any time in the near future. Though I think B will. However, the soundtrack, completely worth purchasing even if you don’t like the film or the books. Don’t let the fact that it is from the film turn you away.

2.5/4 popcorns