Monstress Volume II: The Blood by Marjorie Liu & Sana Takeda

Monstress, Vol. 2: The Blood (Monstress, #2)Monstress, Vol. 2: The Blood by Marjorie M. Liu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Volume II of this ongoing series follows our anti-heroine Maika Halfwolf on her quest to reveal the secrets of her late mother Moriko Halfwolf and evade the disparate groups determined to harness the power of the monster living within her – or destroy it. The cast of characters from Volume I has only gotten larger, the story more complex. Every page is densely packed with intricate images rendered in a dark, eerie palette that needs to be read in a well lit room to get the full impact. It should also be read with a face shield to protect from the blood spatter on every page. Super gory and not for the faint of heart, though I gather it’s pretty standard for graphic novels/comic books. I have to space the books out when I read them, but I can certainly tell you I’m looking forwards to volume III.

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Burn Bright: Alpha & Omega #5 by Patricia Briggs

Burn Bright (Alpha & Omega, #5; Mercy Thompson World - Complete, #15)Burn Bright by Patricia Briggs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Briggs plumps up her Alpha & Omega series with another offering readers will want to devour in a day. We rejoin Charles and Anna Cornick keeping an eye on their werewolf pack while the leader, Bran, Charles’ father, is away sorting out some other troubles. Trouble stops in to visit when the volatile, fragile wolves living on the edge of the pack for the support and comfort Bran brings them are targeted by mysterious kidnappers. Anna and Charles rally the pack to defend the vulnerable wolves, but they also need to piece together who could even know about these wildlings, as they are called, let alone what this ineffable someone wants them for. As fast-paced as ever, Briggs keeps the action humming until the last page. As is fairly standard with Briggs, there is minimal, somewhat descriptive violence, and brief mentions of sexual assault and violence towards a child.

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A Year of Themed Book Reviews – March: Women’s History: The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente

The Refrigerator MonologuesThe Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The unhappy ending to every story ever written. Because this time we are talking about the women who’ve been refrigerated, a term coined by Gail Simone to refer to the trope of destroying a female comic book character to further the plot-line of the male protagonist; which started a discussion about how when “bad things” happen to male superheros they are frequently returned to their original status but female superheroes are not, and about how women characters are being used as plot devices for male protagonists instead of fully-rounded characters in their own right. Valente has created a book where we finally hear these women telling their own stories. She weaves all of these tropes, all of these classic deaths, into new tales and has the woman tell her own story, about her dreams and aspirations and wants and rage over being demoted from the protagonist in her own story to the supporting cast in someone else’s. At being “food for a super hero.” (144)

Comes with the a milder dose of the standard selection of comic book violence: murders, mentions of rape, abuse, and assault, and the death of a child.

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A Year of Themed Book Reviews – January: Blood Donation (Vampires) Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice

Interview with the Vampire (The Vampire Chronicles, #1)Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Anne Rice has crafted a thrilling and fast paced novel around the auto-biographical account of a vampire living in the States in what is probably the 1970’s. He is dictating his life story to an unnamed boy interviewing him, and it all starts on an indigo plantation in the swamps of Louisiana in the 1700s, when our hero Louis is turned – by the vampire Lestat – into a vampire. Lestat moves in with Louis onto the plantation and the two of them commence trying to hide their vampirism from the slaves, educate Louis about the finer points of vampire life, arguing about almost everything, killing rats and small animals for food on the part of Louis, and killing humans on the part of Lestat. A lot of humans. Interview with the Vampire is on the lighter side of violence for a horror book, but on the heavier side for a generic fiction selection. But the plot is utterly enthralling, and the events in Louis’ life make the book hard to put down until you turn the last page.

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A Year of Themed Book Reviews – January: Blood Donation (Vampires): I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

I Am Legend and Other StoriesI Am Legend and Other Stories by Richard Matheson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Though the cover gives no indication, this edition actually includes not just the novel I Am Legend, but several short horror stories mostly themed around vampires and other supernatural creatures or events. Traditional African religions form the main plot’s scaffolding of two of the short stories and it’s apparent they are something Matheson was fascinated with, though how accurately he has represented them in his work is a question I am not equipped to answer. One of those two, From Shadowed Places, is as much about prejudice as it is about witchcraft and despite being published in 1960 it is clear Matheson is on the side of equality, problematic as the story’s depiction of its educated, powerful African-American heroine and the resolution of the conflict may be. But I’m getting ahead of myself. I Am Legend is the first novel in this collection so I will start with that. Vaguely similar to the Will Smith movie of the same name, our hero Robert Neville is the last surviving human uninfected by a vampirism plague which can turn the living and the dead. He spends his nights locked in the home he has converted into a fortress, drinking himself to oblivion and his days researching the disease, roaming the dead city, searching for supplies and killing all the vampires he can find. Utterly alone. Until the afternoon he sees a woman out walking in the sunlight. His abduction of her, a near-mindless nostrum for his loneliness, preciptates a series of events that will propel him out of his carefully crafted universe into legend.

The abrupt closure to I Am Legend is followed by Buried Talents, a short story set in a fairground game booth where you win prizes by tossing ping-pong balls into empty fishbowls. Or try; no one wins anything until a tall man in a wrinkled black suit puts his quarter on the counter. He doesn’t care about the prizes, but he doesn’t want to stop playing.

The Near Departed is a scant two pages. A mortician discusses funeral arrangements for the wife of an unnamed man. She is to have the best of everything, as she is young, beautiful, and everyone loves her. Her husband always gave her the best of everything and her funeral is to be no exception.

Prey is the first short story featuring traditional African religions. Amelia has come home from a shopping trip with a “genuine Zuni fetish doll” as a birthday present for her anthropologist boyfriend Arthur, whom she plans to see that evening. But when she calls her narcissistic mother to cancel their regular Friday night plans so she can spend Arthur’s birthday with him, the resulting guilt trip and silent treatment so upset her she cancels with Arthur as well and goes to take a bath, leaving the fetish unboxed and unattended on the living room end table. What she doesn’t know is that these fetishes must be handled very carefully. Her evening does not go as planned.

Witch War Seven pretty little girls are the weapons in this dark twist on traditional World War Two stories. The writing is more experimental and repetitive than the other stories, with Matheson playing up the apparent dichotomy of “pretty little girls” being the agents of destruction.

Dance of the Dead Another post war story, we follow four college students on a double date into the dangerous and alluring city of Saint Louis, to watch the Dance of the Dead.

Dress of White Silk appears to be an excerpt from the diary of a young girl who has been locked in her room, for what she does not know, by her grandmother. She is reminiscing over the events leading to her grounding and attempting to puzzle out, with her childish logic and grasp of grammar, where she has done wrong. But her conclusions and our conclusions are vastly different.

Mad House explores the idea that human emotions can imprint on the items around them, and the horrifying, violent results of their long term exposure to the rage of a man with anger management issues.

The Funeral is a darkly comic supernatural story where the owner of a funeral parlour finds an unexpected niche market giving the undead their dream send offs.

From Shadowed Places was probably my favourite story in this collection. A wealthy young trophy hunter named Peter Lang is gripped by a mysterious malady that is slowly killing him through sheer agony. It has no discernible physical source and modern Western medicine is powerless against it. When it is clear Lang is at death’s door his fiancée, Patricia Jennings, remembers an old school friend who teaches anthropology and spent a couple years in Africa. Dr. Lurice Howell is the powerful heroine I mentioned before, and it is her power and knowledge which will battle death for Peter.

Person to Person tells us of David Millman, plagued by an idiopathic ringing in his head that wakes him up each night at 3 am. No medicine he tries will alleviate it and allow him to sleep undisturbed, until one day the therapist he is seeing suggests David try answering the phone. That definitely sets things in motion, but not in the direction either of them are expecting. And Millman’s struggle for control of this bizarre affliction will close out not just the book, but his life as he knows it.

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A Year of Themed Book Reviews – January: Blood Donation (Vampires): Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K Hamilton

Welcome to the first review of A Year of Themed Book Reviews! Each month I will pick a theme and review books related to it. Depending on how much time I have, there may be more than one theme each month and I may also review books outside the themes as they interest me/are suggested. January has two themes: self-improvement, which is pretty obvious, and blood donation, since it’s blood donor month. Unfortunately, I was unable to locate books on a history of blood donation, except for one book that looked to be a university text book and promised to be staggeringly boring, which I did not want to inflict on anyone. I was lamenting my difficulties to my mother and she brilliantly suggested I do vampires. Which brings us to the first themed book review of 2018 and the first book of the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series, Laurell K Hamilton’s Guilty Pleasures

Guilty Pleasures (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, #1)Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K. Hamilton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In an alternative reality where zombies, vampires, and were-animals are common, Anita Blake is a resurrectionist/private detective/vampire hunter who is hired by a group of vampires to figure out who has been killing off their most powerful members. It’s a little strange that they’ve hired her since it’s quite clear they despise and fear her, look on humans in general as lesser beings, and because she dislikes vampires in general, although she’s not an unrestrained vampire killer, only dispatching ones who have been killing humans and only after receiving a court order to do so. Yes, it’s that kind of world. Anyways, Hamilton drops you right into the universe and once the scene is set the action doesn’t stop. Her characters are interesting and at the end turn out to be more nuanced than you would have given them credit for. It is on the marginally more violent side, with a few instances of torture and mentions of rape, so anyone with serious bloodshed or assault issues may want to give this a pass. But if you’re looking for a fast paced and thrilling distraction, Guilty Pleasures could suck you in to the whole series.

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Night Broken: Mercy Thompson #8 by Patricia Briggs

Night Broken (Mercy Thompson, #8)Night Broken by Patricia Briggs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Night Broken starts with Adam Hauptman answering an unexpected phone call from his ex-wife, Christy, tearfully telling him she’s in danger and can she please come stay with him – with them, because Adam and Mercy are married and living together now – for a few days until Adam and the pack scare off her stalker. What she doesn’t tell them is that her stalker, one Juan Flores, isn’t human. She knows he isn’t vampire or fae, so she figures he’s a werewolf and will be no match for the pack. She’s wrong. Juan is much more dangerous than a werewolf and his obsession with Christy – mistaking her for his long-lost beloved – might just be the thing that gets Mercy, Adam, and all their friends killed.

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Dingo by Charles de Lint

Dingo (Newford)Dingo by Charles de Lint
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This quick little fantasy story about shapeshifters, dingoes, and spirits is another delightful foray into the world of Charles de Lint. There’s magic, teen romance, bones and baobabs. Small-town high schooler Miguel meets Newford’s newest arrival, Lainey, when her family moves into town that summer from Australia and he immediately falls head over heels in love with her. Lainey isn’t exactly what she seems however. Her ancestors made a bargain that could cost her her life and her family has been on the run ever since. Lainey wants to stop running. Miguel will do anything to help her, but neither of them know exactly what will be necessary to secure her freedom, they’re going up against powerful spirits from the beginning of time, and their only other ally is the school bully. Is he turning over a new leaf by helping them? Or is he hoping to get the power of the dingo spirit for himself?

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The Blue Girl by Charles de Lint

The Blue Girl (Newford, #15) The Blue Girl (Newford, #15) by Charles de Lint
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve actually been avoiding Charles de Lint books for several years now; since skimming The Onion Girl in a Chapters one day to see what the author was like and almost immediately coming across a sexual assault I found very distressing. However a dear friend pressed The Blue Girl into my hands and assured me it was one of her all time favourite books and now that I’ve finished it I regret the years spent not reading de Lint’s works. Which are many. So let me introduce you to my first de Lint experience, The Blue Girl.

While you wouldn’t think a tattooed teen punk with gang ties would have much in common with a geeky, shy girl whose mother doesn’t even let her wear pants, the friendship Imogene and Maxine forge is grounded in things much stronger than fashion. The two ostracized girls are each others’ havens from the bullies that have plagued their high school years. Things are going reasonably smoothly until Imogene notices Adrian. Monster crush, you ask? No. Adrian is a ghost. He’s been haunting the school since his death, hanging out with a pack of fairies, and Imogene intrigues him; when they get to talking one day he tells her his story and tries to introduce her to the fairies. But she can’t perceive them. That bothers Adrian, but it’s when the fairies offer to “help” Imogene see them that things really go wrong. Their machinations bring Imogene to the attention of the some truly malicious creatures, and neither Imogene, nor Maxine, nor Adrian have any idea how to keep Imogene safe. It’s not just her life in danger. It’s her soul.

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Frost Burned: Mercy Thompson #7 by Patricia Briggs

Frost Burned (Mercy Thompson, #7)Frost Burned by Patricia Briggs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Alright I’m starting this review off with a tiny rant. Let’s talk cover art. Mercy is half native. She describes herself as looking tan “even in November.” Yet every one of the covers has her so white she’s practically translucent. She’s got dark, straight hair, feather earrings, and looks like she’d burn with 5 minutes of sun exposure on a cloudy day. Visible minorities, people. They’re a real thing.

You’d think a pack of werewolves would best most anything they came up against, and until Frost Burned you would be correct. I imagine they were as surprised as Mercy when a team swarmed Adam’s house (Mercy’s house too, since they got married in River Marked) and took down almost every single werewolf – and their families – in the pack in one fell swoop during Thanksgiving weekend. Mercy and Jesse escaped only because they were out braving the Black Friday crowds and caught wind of the scheme through the pack bonds. With only a wounded Ben to help, can Mercy stop the kidnappers and rescue the werewolves?

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