Monday, March 31, 2014

Gods Behaving Badly: A Review

Gods Behaving Badly
Written by: Marie Phillips
Paperback: 293 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown, and Company
Language: English
December 2007
Genre: Fiction

Being a Greek god is not all it once was. Yes, the twelve gods of Olympus are alive and well in the twenty-first century, but they are crammed together in a London townhouse--and none too happy about it. And they've had to get day jobs: Artemis as a dog-walker, Apollo as a TV psychic, Aphrodite as a phone sex operator, Dionysus as a DJ.

Even more disturbingly, their powers are waning, and even turning mortals into trees--a favorite pastime of Apollo's--is sapping their vital reserves of strength.

Soon, what begins as a minor squabble between Aphrodite and Apollo escalates into an epic battle of wills. Two perplexed humans, Alice and Neil, who are caught in the crossfire, must fear not only for their own lives, but for the survival of humankind. Nothing less than a true act of heroism is needed-but can these two decidedly ordinary people replicate the feats of the mythical heroes and save the world?


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

I have always been fond of Greek and Roman mythology. When I was a kid my dad would cuddle up with me on a blanket in our backyard and point out the various constellations. And then we read who Andromeda and Orion were. My obsession with mythology continued with Harryhausen’s Clash of the Titans starring Mr. Harry Hamlin. I decorated my room with sheer curtains around my bed just like Andromeda and began carrying around a stuffed owl I affectionately called Bubo.

One of the things I have always loved about mythology is the idea of the old gods living in modern day. Technology has given way to new gods and there are those long forgotten but by a few and thus have no power anymore. Belief = power and it is no fun if no one believes you in anymore. Not really in any case.

This is how Gods Behaving Badly begins. Artemis, the Virgin Huntress, is now a dog walker and bumps into one of her brother Apollo’s many failed conquests, whom he has turned into a tree because she spurned his advances. Its Daphne all over again and Artemis is tired of it. Tired of it all really. See, no one believes in the Gods anymore and now they live in a shambling house with peeling wallpaper. It’s quite the fall from Olympus.

Aphrodite is a phone sex worker with “Venus” by Bananarama as her ringtone. Dionysus runs a nightclub, Apollo plays at being a psychic on TV, and Eros has become a born again Christian. Their powers are mostly gone, but hard times and few followers have not made the gods humble…especially not Apollo. After being slighted by Apollo or perhaps just because she is bored, Aphrodite schemes to get even with him using her son Eros to shoot an arrow of love at Apollo and then another at his new love so that she will hate him. But things don’t go exactly as the Goddess of Love would have liked as her son cannot shoot Alice, his new object of desire and figures he will give Apollo a good fighting chance.

Alice is just a simple custodian and after being fired from her job at the studio where she first meets Apollo, whose love is completely foreign to her (after all she is far more interested in Scrabble and her friend Neil), she somehow ends up becoming the new housecleaner for the Greek Gods Household. It is not a decision her would be boyfriend Neil is too keen about. Eventually Apollo is spurned yet again and though he no longer has the ability to curse the mortal women who refuse to fawn over him, he does have a fairly powerful dad named Zeus. Wacky sitcom like craziness ensues with a trip to the Underworld, having the Sun go out of existence, and learning that sometimes being a hero doesn’t mean you have to look like Hercules.

Things I loved: As sitcom/reality show like as the whole book is, the behavior between the household full of Greek Gods rings pretty true when compared to the mythology. There is infighting, rampant affairs, destruction of the poor mortals, and plenty of backstabbing. This is about the Greek Gods after all which makes the Kardashians seem almost angelic. Even as fall as they have fallen, the gods still do not understand why they have to play by the rules and still believe that they are far better than the average human even if they are a glorified dog walker (though to be honest Artemis is far from the worst and actually feels bad for mortals most of the time). The jobs and personas that they have in modern day still rings true just like I was happy to see Nathan Fillion as a Fedex like Monarch as Hermes in the latest Percy Jackson film. You roll with the times. Xena also handled this fairly well whenever they did modern day episodes.

The romance between Alice and Neil is sweet. They are two awkward people who fall in love and it is beautifully understated. They are probably the only sympathetic characters in the entire novel.

Things I didn’t love so much: The story is constructed as a whole as if this were Fiction 101 and the author’s first stab at writing a novel and it glaringly shows at times. The characters lacked any real depth, it tried a little too hard to be funny and clever, and oh yeah there is that giant plot hole of the Sun goes out (though we are talking about the Greek Gods still being around, so perhaps I am just nitpicking). As a whole this is American Gods lite, chick lit beach book style that perhaps lovers of the Kardashians would enjoy. For me it had a great concept that fell flat which is unfortunate because there are some great glimmers of something that could have been great.

I also had a hard time that Alice didn’t know any of the Greek Gods. Really? In a world full of Clash of the Titans remakes, Xena and Hercules, and well even Disney’s Hercules you would think people would know names such as Apollo, Artemis, and Aphrodite. Come on people. Even if she thought that they were all a bunch of nutters (which I totally get) you must have some precursory knowledge here. Things you gleaned from the interwebs. It just takes me out of the story which is unfortunate.

I also hated Athena’s portrayal . Sorry gang, she’s my favorite (See Bubo reference as Bubo was hers). Suddenly the goddess of Wisdom is a bookish nerd (complete with glasses) who cannot get her ideas, thoughts, or possibly even feelings across because she is doomed to know the answers, but not be able to communicate it. Instead she speaks like she found every big word in the dictionary. I just hated seeing her become such a one dimensional cookie cutter (though everyone else was, but she was absurdly so). Yes she knows the plot and we cannot have her sharing it with everyone, so she becomes a gibberish filled Cassandra. Le sigh.

Buy or Borrow: Borrow. I like the idea, but in the end poorly executed. Just not my cup of tea, want less fluff.

Part of: Standalone

Also Recommended: For more Greek mythology try Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series, Til We Have Faces by CS Lewis, Darkness Becomes Her by Kelly Keaton, or Goddess of Yesterday by Caroline B Cooney

2 out of 4 happy bibliosnark bookmarks 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

SUNDAY SEVEN: ASSASSINS PART 2

Last week we spent some time with our female assassins, but it wouldn’t be fair if I left out the boys. So now we are onto the boys that can kill you with their pinkie, or a gun, or a sword, or well….anything. What are your favorites?

V (V for Vendetta): V is a great character. An anarchist who wears a Guy Fawkes mask, V was an experiment where prisoners were given injections of a compound called Batch 5. This gives him advanced strength, reflexes, endurance and pain tolerance. As an assassin he isn’t too shabby either. Though his weapons of choice are daggers, he is also quite fond of explosives, tear gas, and hacking. He is hyper-intelligent and personally I love that he systematically takes down Norsefire who rule his dystopian UK.

Jason Bourne (Bourne Series): Though I have not read the book series, I am overly fond of the movies. David Webb has been many things and one of them is Jason Bourne, a trained assassin, operative, and all around bad ass. He is skilled in martial arts, firearms, explosives, and driving a variety of cars in a very fun ways. He speaks multiple languages, isn’t too bad to look at, and can Macgyver weapons in cringe worthy ways (pen…that’s all I have to say. Though book and towel works too)

Martin Blank (Grosse Pointe Blank): As a big fan of Mr John Cusack I had to include Martin Blank. Martin is a depressed professional assassin who finds no more love in his work as good as he is at it. After a botched contract he heads back to his hometown for his high school reunion. I love that he tells everyone at his reunion that he is a contract killer and everyone just laughs. No. Really. Love this film and love this assassin.

Edward (Anita Blake Series): Edward was the Monster Hunter long before Anita Blake arrived on the scene. He is the poster boy of assassins, completely unassuming and a bit of a sociopath. The reason he is such a bad ass is because he chose to hunt supernatural targets after assassinating humans became too easy. Though sadly his character changed a lot (shame on you Hamilton), he is still one of my favorite assassins in Fiction

James Bond (Bond Series): How could I not put Mr. Bond in this collection. Debonair, bad ass, and with a penchant for martinis, James Bond is the man. He assassinates with style and always gets the girl. Armed with gadgets from Q, silenced guns, or sometimes just his fists, Bond has been killing bad guys and saving the world since 1953. I have loved many of his incarnations and will continue to do so.

Wade Wilson/Deadpool (Marvel): Oh Deadpool. The assassin/merc with a snarky mouth of gold, Deadpool will crack a joke as he dismembers your body. You would probably laugh too if you were still alive. A mutant with an attitude and some mental issues, he has an accelerated healing factor which helps when his martial arts, swordsmanship and marksman skills fail him. I love him. He’s my favorite comic merc with a smirk. Also I am okay with Ryan Reynolds playing him in a film version.

Ezio Auditore (Assassin’s Creed): It was hard to choose between my two favorite video game assassins, but Ezio beat Agent 47 by a bit mostly because we see him turn into the bad ass as we play the game. And bad ass he is. Love the hidden blades and the parkour. You know you do too.

Honorable Mentions: The Jackal (The Jackal), Agent 47 (Hitman), Kincaid (Harry Dresden Files), Mr. Smith (Mr and Mrs Smith)

Sunday, March 16, 2014

SUNDAY SEVEN: ASSASSINS

I have been spending a lot of time around assassins lately: Been playing an assassin in my video game life (Assassins Creed 2), figuring out to off people in my table top world (Machine of Death) and watching a lot of Chuck in which there are bound to be many assassins. So this week I decided to do my 7 Favorite Assassins from Film and Fiction. But then I had to break it down into two parts (male and female) because there were too many great choices and I really don’t any of them to pop out of the fictional universe and come and kill me. Ladies are first .

Nikita (La Femme Nikita): Whether she is played by Anne Parillaud, Bridget Fonda, Peta Wilson, or Maggie Q, this lady is a badass. Their stories are their own, but similar in that Nikita was once a troubled young woman who is trained to be a super assassin. She does her best not to lose her humanity and tries so hard to live a normal life, but being an assassin is never easy. Whether you are a fan of the original or even the tv versions, Nikita is always one of my favorites.

Hanna (Hanna): In Joe Wright’s 2011 film, Saoirse Ronan plays our title character Hanna who has been raised to do one thing, kill the intelligence agent responsible for her mother’s death and for tinkering with her genes in the first place. It was this film that made me convinced Saoirse would make a great Katniss Everdeen. But also she is a great actor and I look forward to her projects.

Fox (Wanted): Angelina has played a couple of assassins, but I think I like Fox best, though I cannot deny her awesomeness in Mr & Mrs Smith and Salt. But she was awesome in Wanted. Fox is loyal to a fault, truly believing that the Fraternity is doing good in the world. She is sexy, bad ass, and I want some of her guns.

Elektra (Marvel): Elektra Natchios is a kumoichi or female assassin who wields a pair of bladed sai. She has been the love interest of superhero Daredevil, had her own movie starring Jennifer Garner and died quite a few times. Sometimes she is a member of the Hand, sometimes she works for SHIELD, but she is always badass with her sais and trademark red satin.

Beatrix Kiddo (Kill Bill): Part of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, Beatrix was betrayed and took a bullet to the head. When she wakes up she has one thing on her mind, destroy those who took her life from her. And she is really damn good at it. Sword, gun….doesn’t matter, she will kill you with what she has on hand. It won’t be pretty for you. Just ask the Crazy 88s.

Miho (Sin City): Miho is an Enforcer and Defender of Old Town and often referred to as Deadly Little Miho. She is a mute female assassin who owes a debt to Dwight, but is quite adept at taking care of herself and others on her own.

Flying Snow (Hero): In the movie Hero, Flying Snow and her lover Broken Sword are the only assassins who have ever infiltrated the King’s palace killing hundreds of guards all by their lonesome. She is deadly to the point that Broken Sword considers her his near equal while the hero Nameless considers her his equal. While her story is ultimately tragic she is a gorgeous assassin.

Honorable Mentions: Mei (House of Flying Daggers), Black Widow (Marvel), Talia (Batman, DC), and Sydney Bristow (Alias).

Friday, March 14, 2014

Kill Shakespeare Vol 1: A Review

Kill Shakespeare Volume One
Written by: Conor McCreery, Anthony Del Col, Andy Belanger (Illustrator)
Trade: 374 pages
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Language: English
November 2010
Genre: Comic Book/Graphic Novel

What Fables does for fairy tales, Kill Shakespeare does with the greatest writer of all time. This dark take on the Bard pits his greatest heroes (Hamlet, Juliet, Othello Falstaff) against his most menacing villains (Richard III, Lady Macbeth, Iago) in an epic adventure to find and kill a reclusive wizard named William Shakespeare.

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

I am a bit of a Shakespeare nut. The Tempest and Hamlet are two of my favorites, but I have soft spots for Twelfth Night and Othello. I dig the sonnets. I love the way the words flow. I like the stories. It helps that middle name is after a character from The Merchant of Venice. Plus I have a whole genre in my film collection that is nothing but Shakespeare movies from Julie Taymor’s Titus to David Tennant’s Hamlet and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. I have little books and big books, a pocket size version of all the sonnets, and a tshirt that says “O, that this too too solid flesh would melt”. Like I said I’m a Shakespeare nerd.

I am also a big Fables fan. I love that my favorite nursery rhymes and fairy tales hang out, live and scheme together…seriously tons of fun. So of course I had to try Kill Shakespeare since it is a mix of both despite the mixed reviews it has been getting. Because, let’s face it, you never really know. It could be a diamond in the rough.

Set in an alternate world, Shakespeare’s creations all live at the same time just as the fairytales do in Fables. Hamlet shipwrecks in England and is told by King Richard that he is their savior and sent to them to kill the evil Shakespeare and steal his quill which among many things could bring back Hamlet’s late father. So while Richard, Iago, Lady Macbeth and other villains from Shakespeare’s works try to manipulate poor Hamlet into doing their bidding, Shakespeare has his own allies in the forms of Juliet, Othello, and Falstaff. Who is Hamlet to believe and who exactly is this Shakespeare?

Things I loved: I love the premise of Iago and Richard working together alongside a scheming Lady Macbeth (as buxom as she is. This shouldn’t surprise me though, of course they would make her the buxom temptress and relegate her to sex goddess instead of manipulative schemer). I like that Hamlet and Falstaff could potentially be buds. These are the things that drew me to the first trade. It is ridiculous, but fun and I am happy to have Juliet be a heroine though I may have chosen a few others, but maybe they will make appearances in subsequent volumes.

The artwork is not bad. Very vivid in color and while the main characters definitely have their own style and look, I did feel as if secondary characters all blend together. It lacks some of the finesse that other comics have, but it was not distracting overall.

The vernacular ranges from Shakespeare-esque English to more current vernacular. Again, not exactly surprised given the audience that I am assuming the comic is striving for. It is accessible for the most part though it does have its stumbles.

Things I didn’t love so much: I was not expecting the eloquence of Shakespeare. Not that comics cannot be eloquent, but even in Fables the characters don’t always stick to the little pigeonholes that we have put them in. Iago is one of my favorite villains and here he is a simple lackey without the character depth that he has in Othello. Hamlet is not even close to the clever sweet prince I adore, instead he is a bit of a clueless cad who seems more like a bumbling teen than a man who is indecisive and full of self-doubt, even as he tries to right wrongs either his own or those of others.

The pacing can be a bit hectic and the characters don’t really have the depth that they do in the plays, but I think this is largely because the authors expect that you have some cursory knowledge of the various works of Shakespeare. Admittedly they are shadows to their Shakespearean counterparts.

Buy or Borrow: Borrow. I like the idea, but I am not sure that overall it is a series I want to put a lot of time and effort into, but the first volume wasnt horrible.

Part of: A Series

Also Recommended: Fables by Bill Willingham, Unwritten by Mike Carey and Ruse by Mark Waid

2.75 out of 4 happy bibliosnark bookmarks 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

TABLE TOP THURSDAY: Machine of Death

How are you going to die? That is the premise of the book I bought a few years ago. A machine tells you the manner of your death. Granted it can be a little vague. Old age can mean what you think it means or it could mean that you are mowed over by an octogenarian who feel asleep at the wheel. Written by noted webcomic authors Ryan North (Dinosaur Comics), David Malki (Wondermark) and others, the book was published a few years ago, followed by the user-submitted follow-up This is How You Die more recently. I fell in love with the original and raved about it quite a lot. Basically it is a set of short stories and illustrations that range from the tragic to the humorous. So worth the read.

When E saw on Kickstarter that they were trying to fund a game version of the book, he had to let me know . And then he was kind enough to get it for me, because he is that cool of a guy. We received it a bit ago, but haven’t really had the time to play until now.

The premise of the game is this: Machine of Death: The Game of Creative Assassination is a storytelling game set in a world in which a machine can predict how a person will die with 100% accuracy with only a small blood sample. However, the machine delights in being vague and twisted. A card reading "Old Age" could mean you die in your sleep at age 120, or it could mean you're run over tomorrow by an elderly driver who forgot to take his pills today. Players of the game take the role of assassins, who must use the various tools at their disposal -- from storytelling to a slew of items available from specialty Black Market shops -- to create a situation in which a target is killed in a way in line with their Death Prediction. The Machine of Death Game uses this basic idea, of assassins working in a world were cause of death is known to create various game modes.

The General Gameplay of most modes works like this:
• A target is assigned, and given certain details (including Death Prediction, and possibly extra details like a favourite food or crippling phobia).
• Players – assassins – are given Black Market Gift Cards. This is their inventory, what they have to use in order to accomplish their goal: killing the target.
• Players use the Gift Cards to devise a plan.
• The plan is greenlit, either by a Chief player, or via consensus, depending on game mode.
• The timer starts and the plan is put into action. This is represented by dice rolling to beat a "difficulty score." An unlikely plan hinging on a single item may need to roll a 6 for that item, but a rock-solid intricate plan may need to only roll a 2 for all Black Market Gift Cards used.
• The plan is revised, in case of failure of one or more dice rolls. The details of this portion vary greatly from mode to mode, but involve either replacing Black Market Items, creating a new viable plan with the existing items, or calling in "Specialists"
• The target is either killed or escapes. Again, depending on mode, this is either the end of the round or the game.

Game Modes:
•Head-to-Head Mode that's very similar to Cards Against Humanity or Apples to Apples. There's a judge ("the Chief"), who decides whose assassination plan is the best, and gives them a chance to try it out. Designed for 4+ players.
•Co-op Mode, where you players are a team of assassins, and have to come up with a plan together to kill targets that the group comes up with.
• Co-op can be diced further: you can play individual rounds, or Mission Mode, where targets are predetermined and have different levels of difficulty. There's also the more strategic Chief Mode, where there's no timer, but the Chief can rate your plan's likelihood of success and let you take risks on whether it'll work or not.
•Cutthroat Mode, where players can actually assassinate each other (should you want a more competitive version)
•The Day Off Mode, which isn't about murder at all but rather draws upon your bevy of assassin skills to accomplish tasks like "opening a stuck jam jar" and "transplanting a tulip bulb." 


We sat down to play after a quick read through of the rules. You are assigned a dossier that has a Cliff Notes description of your target including little factoids such as what fears or desires you can exploit to get your target exactly where you want them. Our guy loved college football and driving cars. Check. Then we find out whether he knows how he is going to die. Luckily he did not. Then we grabbed our three cards of tools we had to use to kill our target. Of course we would get a walrus. Our first scenario first involved getting our target to a football game where the mascot, the previously mentioned walrus, would “accidently” crush our target. But then we decided what about getting him to a race track where the car that would ultimately kill him had the Walrus mascot on the hood. As we formulated our truly demented assassination plot, we all began to laugh. Not enough time. Need to change tactics. It became an improve version of a Final Destination film where our twisted little minds could not help but giggling like little school girls. We had 90 seconds to do all of this. So thinking on the fly is very important.

Once we had our bearings, our scenarios got crazier and involved a TARDIS, and a ROCKET LAUNCHER. Whee. One of the great things about the game is your Mission booklet has a few targets all within the same realm and range from the Old West, Dinosaurs and Robots. The mini descriptions of each of your targets is great : Always wears a tie, loves gears. Even after you have successfully murdered your target the game doesn’t end. Any time left on the clock we spent dealing with the aftermath of the murder and getting the chance to get more cards which would help in the next set of missions.

My Thoughts: Its collaborative storytelling at some of its best, though admittedly there may be some kinks and quibbles (Such as when you have someone else defining how hard a task can be it can be problematic. It was a great game for all of us to play and since we are all a bit snarky and demented when it comes to killing our people, I just had fun. Now that we know how to play I am excited to break out the expansion pack and play some more.

4 out of 5 d20s.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Ready Player One: A Review

Ready Player One
Written by: Ernest Cline
Paperback: 374 pages
Publisher: Random House New York
Language: English
August 2011
Genre: Fiction

It's the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place.

Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets.

And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune--and remarkable power--to whoever can unlock them.

For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that Halliday's riddles are based in the pop culture he loved--that of the late twentieth century. And for years, millions have found in this quest another means of escape, retreating into happy, obsessive study of Halliday's icons. Like many of his contemporaries, Wade is as comfortable debating the finer points of John Hughes's oeuvre, playing Pac-Man, or reciting Devo lyrics as he is scrounging power to run his OASIS rig.

And then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle.

Suddenly the whole world is watching, and thousands of competitors join the hunt--among them certain powerful players who are willing to commit very real murder to beat Wade to this prize. Now the only way for Wade to survive and preserve everything he knows is to win. But to do so, he may have to leave behind his oh-so-perfect virtual existence and face up to life--and love--in the real world he's always been so desperate to escape.

A world at stake.

A quest for the ultimate prize.

Are you ready


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

I have always been a geek. Call me a fangirl, a nerd, or what have you. It was something I hid when I was younger as it wasn’t quite as “cool” to be a frequent Comic Con Attendee as it is now. I was even made fun of because I read all of the time, for…gasp…fun. I used to pretend to be Wonder Woman with my yarn lasso of truth and awesome underoos when I was a child. I spent far much time with my geology kit and microscope set. I was the shy one who felt more comfortable by myself than in a crowd of people. I wanted to be friends with Marty McFly and be the Childlike Empress from the Neverending Story. I had Fraggles and a Clash of the Titans lunch box. Ooh and I was a gamer. Thank goodness for little brothers because let’s be honest if I had asked for the gaming systems dad would have said no, but together my brother and I were a force to be reckoned with (plus even dad had some fun with Duck Hunt and Galaga).

I think that is what drew me to Ready Player One, the sheer nerdiness of it all. In another world I might be Wade or at least Artemis. Especially when it came to 80’s fandom. I know what SCUBA stands for because Mallory had a little song about it when she was part of a Quiz Show on Family Ties. Movies like War Games and The Last Starfighter were high on my list. And when it came to the films of John Hughes…well let’s just say I was super psyched when there was shout out (Breakfast club, though to be honest it is second for me behind Ferris Bueller with Some Kind of Wonderful coming shortly behind it and then the rest of Molly Ringwald’s films) in even movies like Pitch Perfect because now I wasn’t the only one who fist pumped the air. Okay well maybe Shawn and Gus from Psych. In short, I think Wade and I would get along just fine.

Set in 2044, Ready player One introduces us to Wade Watts and his fairly sucky life. To escape from the tower of mobile homes (apparently trailer parks now rise up instead of out), he runs to an old van to become Parzival amidst the highly popular Oasis which is the new virtual reality that most of humanity now uses on a daily basis. Wade is a fanboy. Mostly about James Halliday who created Oasis and hid his fortune somewhere in Oasis. You just need to follow his clues, solve his puzzles, and know your trivia to find it (largely 80’s nostalgia).

As the story begins Wade recounts the death of Halliday. Wade is a “gunter” like so many others trying to win the game and become Halliday’s heir. Though Wade doesn’t have the money to create a powerful avatar to search for the hidden clues, he does okay. Because he has solved the first riddle. Of course in doing so he puts himself in an awkward position. IOI, a tech company, wants the key to the kingdom as well and turn OASIS into their own pay to play empire. They will not just stop at destroying your online avatar, but your real life as well just to get it. There are also the Sixers, gunters who work for IOI and use IOI’s money and resources which gives them a bit of an unfair advantage compared to other Gunters. Of course then you have other players, guilds who are competing along with you.

Suddenly Wade is on everyone’s hitlist. He has become the player to beat. He teams up with his best friend and some new ones forming the High Five, but aren’t they all in it for themselves? Will Parzival or one of his friends win the game before IOI can do it? And can they make out alive? Will Wade become the new heir to OASIS’s Kingdom?

Things I loved: Though the novel is set in the future it is a future I can imagine quite easily. After all OASIS is what many want the Internet to be. Our personal online holodecks where we can be at home on the couch and explore the universe in virtual reality. OASIS provides gaming, films, social interaction, education and more all from the comfort of your couch. And the VR, okay I totally want my own holodeck. Imagine how awesome Titan Fall or Mass Effect would be if you went to that little version of the OASIS and felt like you were the characters you are playing. Awesomesauce is what I am saying. But beyond all of that, OASIS is plausible. Every day you see couples at a restaurant, both fiddling with their phones instead of talking to each other. You have Netflix and game systems which replace entertainment outside of the home. And more and more education classes are offered at home as well. And in Wade’s world the real world really sucks. It’s an impoverished, resource depleted Earth and so VR OASIS is a nice escape from all of that. We already use our technology as an escape so suspending your disbelief isn’t that hard.

This book is made for children of the 80’s such as myself. In fact it is a bit of a nergasm really with references from Airplane, Star Wars, Ladyhawke, Highlander, Firefly, Family Ties, Tempest, Pat Benatar, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Joust, Zork, Pac-Man, Choose Your Own Adventure, Goonies, Voltron, Max Headroom, Rush, War Games, Douglas Adams, Dungeon and Dragons, and so much more. In short it’s kind of like I love the 80’s in paperback form or a very special scavenger hunt version of Psych and I loved it. There was my childhood and my nostalgia. In this way the book is going to find an audience far easier with my generation instead of the current young adult demographic who has nostalgia for the new Star Wars instead of the original. It’s easy to get lost in the reference tidal wave, but I didn’t mind. It furthered my enjoyment of it all really.

In “Anorak’s Invitation” Halliday mentions one of his sentimental favorites, the Atari game Adventure, and the Easter egg that its creator, Warren Robinett, incorporated into it. Easter Eggs are a great thing. In fact the entire book proved to be its own Easter Egg and Cline ended up rewarding a very special gunter his own DeLorean on the show X-Play. And I love the Scavenger Hunt/Easter Egg element to the whole story. While there were some references that were a little too obscure for me I still dug it and kept asking E if he knew what Wade was talking about.

The pacing is quick (I finished it in one sitting). I like the characters and cheered for Parzival the entire time though kind of secretly rooting for Aech and Art3mis as well and wondering how I would feel if either one of them found the key first instead of Wade. Even the evil IOI worked for me (especially after our recent losses to net neutrality). Damn the man. Save the Empire. Don’t let them into Willy Wonka, I mean Halliday’s dream factory.

Things I didn’t love so much: The book does stumble on occasion which most books do. Sometimes the info dump nature of all things 80’s can be a little tedious. The world is nerd fanboygasm in its construction, especially if you happen to be of the age when all of the references went down. This isn’t a bad thing, but occasionally it’s a bit Mary Sue. And we don’t see any of the other life that has been created. Surely OASIS is not just 80’s fanboyishness. I am guessing we never see that part of OASIS simply because it is not pertinent to the story, but it still would have been nice to see even small glimpses.

There are some stereotypes and they are pretty big ones (Could you have any more stereotypical Japanese characters). And let’s face it the female characters are pretty disappointing. I like Artemis, I do, but as much as she is super smart and a worthy opponent she is the male geek fantasy girl. Her avatar is the epitome of fantasy and as much as she is the nerd girl she is also the artist and poetess. Dream girl. And yet god forbid she actually be the techno nerd girl who programs and designs, who doesn’t adhere to the nerd boy fantasy. It’s just a little frustrating especially since the other women in his life are pretty much described as horrid, slutty, and could care less about his wellbeing. Like I said it’s just frustrating.

Buy or Borrow: Buy. I recommend the novel to anyone who’s a gamer, a fan of pop culture, a child of the 80s, or who just wants a good read.

Part of: Stand Alone

Also Recommended: Watch some Psych, play a little Galaga, and reminisce with some I Love the 80’s. For more future and pop culture filled fiction try Robopocalypse by Daniel H Wilson or Pirate Cinema by Cory Doctorow.

3.50 out of 4 happy bibliosnark bookmarks 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Graveminder: A Review

Graveminder
Written by: Melissa Marr
Paperback: 324 pages
Publisher: Harper Collins
Language: English
May 2011
Genre: Fiction

Rebekkah Barrow never forgot the tender attention her grandmother, Maylene, bestowed upon the dead of Claysville, the town where Bek spent her adolescence. There wasn't a funeral that Maylene didn't attend, and at each Rebekkah watched as Maylene performed the same unusual ritual: three sips from a small silver flask followed by the words "Sleep well, and stay where I put you." >

Now Maylene is dead and Bek must go back to the place--and the man--she left a decade ago. But what she soon discovers is that Maylene was murdered and that there was good reason for her odd traditions. It turns out that in placid Claysville, the worlds of the living and the dead are dangerously connected. Beneath the town lies a shadowy, lawless land ruled by the enigmatic Charles, aka Mr. D--a place from which the dead will return if their graves are not properly minded. Only the Graveminder, a Barrow woman, and the current Undertaker, Byron, can set things to right once the dead begin to walk.


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

A couple of years ago I was introduced to Melissa Marr through Wicked Lovely. Finn knew I would like the series as it involved the fey and that is one of my genre weaknesses. Cannot help it really. Wouldn’t help it if you asked me. *grin* I knew that Melissa was coming out with an adult book and I was curious, but with my to be read pile taking over our guest room and my resolution of not buying any new books until I have read 5 from the TBR pile, it was not picked up until a few weeks ago.

So why do I love Marr? Well she is great at world building and that is rare I think. So much that I read now, especially in my little urban fantasy niche, is the same. Sure names are different, occasionally plots differ too, but there is rarely something that makes that world feel unique and special. Marr does a good job of this. Even as I read the blurb on the back, I felt like the voice was unique. I wasn’t sure whether I might deal with zombies or ghosts, but having a Graveminder with some old school hoodoo mixed in that felt like something I haven’t read before. SO I sat down to read.

Many years ago the townspeople of Claysville signed a contract with a very unique individual. Now they don’t have to worry about their health, the town prospers, and if you leave you quite often are pulled back. Beks grew up in that town, tended graves with her grandmother never knowing the importance of such rituals. After her sister died, Rebekkah couldn’t wait to leave, get away from the death and secrets. But Claysville has a habit of pulling you back even when you spend so much time running away.

After her grandmother Maylene passes away suddenly, Bek returns to Claysville and all of the memories it holds, including one time love Byron. But there is more to her visit than laying her grandmother to rest. Maylene was murdered and her death stirs up more secrets and more trouble than anyone had imagined.

Things I loved: I loved the Gothic undertones with kind of the old hoodoo magic feel. It also reminded me of old wakes where a shot was poured in remembrance. Even if there wasn’t some sort of connection between tending the graves and another world, I like that this town had a graveminder…someone who remembered those who had passed and took care of their resting places. Bring new flowers, make sure that the grave looked minded, and spend a breath or two having a small chat. It is a great little picture and I could see Maylene doing it for years and years. As Bek puts it later in the book she’s the Den mother to the dead.

The story continues with that slow churn and pace, but I liked it. I wasn’t bored reading it and it moved evenly enough that it wasn’t too jarring for the past part (there is some unevenness that I think is largely due to the multiple character perspective, but nothing too horrid). I felt like I was watching an old Southern Gothic horror film, slow to build, but interesting in its own way. I also liked the world that Marr built. It isn’t full of too much description, nor are her characters. The reader is given just enough to formulate their own pictures with their imaginations. Rebekkah is just a gal, Byron is just a guy, and Daisha is so much more. I was given enough information that my imagination filled in the rest and I focused on the story.

The history between Byron and Bek was believable. I completely understood the pain there despite loving each other very much. I think there is always going to be part of Bek that feels responsible and guilty about Byron when it comes to her sister. Even though she had nothing to do with her death. But it’s always going to be there and all they can do is try and work through it and I think that they will.

Things I didn’t love so much: This is not an amazing book, but it is a good book and I cannot tell you why it wasn’t truly awesome. I read through it quite easily and quickly and the world was intriguing enough that I wanted to know more it. I like that it is a one off though could easily be made into a series (more Alicia please). It’s a great world with the dead and the living. But again it gets an extra star for not being 1 of 5 or 15. But it did linger at times and it was difficult for me to truly get into the first half of the book despite the excellent premise. I actually think the moments in the Underworld and Daisha were the strongest.

So minor quibbles aside I really liked Graveminder and I think I will be picking up Alicia’s story as well when my not allowed to buy new books freeze finally ends.

Buy or Borrow: Buy. While not my favorite of Melissa Marr’s stories, the premise and world is very clever and fun to read.

Part of: Stand Alone though there is another book set in the world.

Also Recommended: Read more Melissa Marr with Wicked Lovely. For a not so usual zombie tale try The Reapers are the Angels by Alden Bell. For another great little mystery Cryer’s Cross by Lisa McMann is pretty good and finally for some bonafide returned fiction in television form Les Revenants is a wonderful little series.

3.0 out of 4 happy bibliosnark bookmarks