February 2011

Today the topic of Larissa’s Bookish Life is Best Gay Characters in Fiction.

1, Dr. Ethan Urquhart in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Ethan of Athos.
Ethan comes from a planet Athos which was inhabited by a male only religious sect. They use artificial wombs to increase their population. Ethan has to leave his safe planet and face the rest of the galaxy – full of women.

2, Carl and Tom from Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series.
They are powerful wizards who live together and nobody comments on it. Great!

3, Warren from Patricia Briggs’ series.
Warren is a gay werewolf.

4, Kit Marlowe from Elizabeth Bear’s “Ink and Steel” and “Hell and Earth” duology.
In this story, Kit is a sorcerer and a secret agent for Queen Victoria. He’s very loyal to his lovers.

I really need to read more books with non-heteros in them. The first gay characters that came to my mind were from TV and comics.

The first in the urban fantasy series about antiques dealer Kira Solomon.

Publication year: 2010
Format: Audio
Publisher: Audible Inc.
Narrator: Allyson Johnson
Running Time: 9 hours, 6 minutes

Kira Solomon never knew her parents. She grew up in an orphanage but was adopted by a nice family. However, when Kira’s powers manifested when she was 12, her parents can’t raise her anymore. They brought her to Balm who is the mysterious leader of the Gilead Commission which protects the world from the Fallen and the demons. Kira grows up in the Commission and becomes one of their best Shadowchasers.

When Kira touches an object, she can read its history and possible magical power, but when she touches a human with her bare hands, she will suck the life right out of him or her. Thanks to the Commission’s training, she’s also an expert fighter. She can fight with any weapon but her favorite is her Light Blade because she can channel her power through it. By day, she’s a freelance antique’s dealer and by night she hunts demons. Oh, and she’s black.

Antiques dealer Bernie Comstock is one of Kira’s closest friends and also her mentor. He has found an intriguing dagger and brings it to Kira so that she can find out if it’s a genuine Egyptian artifact. After Bernie leaves the dagger to Kira, she finds out that the dagger is genuinely over four thousand years old and very powerful. Also, the dagger’s original owner is alive and looking for it.

Then, Bernie is killed. Kira uses her powers on Bernie’s blood and finds out that a powerful demon is after the dagger. She swears to avenge his death. She’s also upset because she though that Bernie knew nothing about magic or her life as a Shadowchaser. Now, she finds out that Bernie had been her handler and employed by the Commission.

Khefar is four thousand years old Nubian warrior and he wants his dagger back. He’s immortal after a fashion and he’s been fighting the darkness for a long time. He’s finally close to atoning for his deeds and finding rest. But in order to do that, he has to get his dagger back and get back to work. His guide is a wraith called Nansi.

As an Indiana Jones fan, I loved the concept of the book. However, Shadow Blade isn’t really similar to the movies. The people stay in the same area instead of traveling all of the world, raiding tombs. But, there’s plenty of excitement in the book. There are some pretty intense fight scenes between Kira and demons, especially near the end. There are also some secrets and mysteries to discover.

Kira herself is a typical tough gal UF heroine. She dislikes her closest supervisor who tries to limit Kira’s actions and tie her more to a desk than a motorcycle. However, I liked it that her powers have personal drawbacks. She can’t eat food that is made by anyone else and is a strict vegetarian. Since she can’t touch another person, she’s had only one lover in her life and they had just one weekend when her lover gave her a potion that neutralized her powers. (Although, I found it really hard to believe that Kira never wondered where that potion had come from or tried to get more herself.) When Kira notices that she can touch Khefar without killing him, she’s naturally drawn to him.

She’s somewhat worried about the state of her soul because battling Shadow creatures puts her near magics which can corrupt her.

Khefar has surprisingly modern attitudes but of course, he’s lived through history and has had to change with the times. He’s atoning for the horrible things he’s done in the past. Before he became immortal, he had wife and kids, but has no problems having a relationship now. Also, when he dies, there are certain conditions that have to be fulfilled or he dies forever which makes the process more interesting and might make a good plot twist in a sequel.

Their relationship starts perhaps a bit too quickly but at least Khefar isn’t an arrogant asshole.

I really liked the supporting cast. Kira’s best friend, Wynne Marlowe, is a metalworker and a witch. She and her husband are Kira’s backup, too, and they know about the Commission even though they aren’t on the Commission’s payroll. Khefar’s guide Nansi is a fun character who looks like an old black man. He likes to cook and party, and seems to have an agenda of his own. Then there’s the psychic vampire Dimaas (spelling?) who owns the bar DMZ where people, and creatures, both from the side of Light and Shadow can party together. Normal humans can also interact with non-humans there. Dimaas is one of Kira’s information sources and a shameless flirt. Kira’s foster mother Balm is a mysterious figure. She doesn’t tell anyone about her past, or even her real name, and Kira is determined to find out who Balm is. However, it’s clear that Balm cares for Kira deeply.

There’s a lot of Egyptian mythology in the book. Kira follows Ma’at: she prays to her and has her altar in her house. Khefer is the follower of the goddess Isis. I love Egyptian mythology.

The world has at least two types of magic: Light Magic which the good people use and Shadow Magic which apparently smells of chaos and evil. Normal people can’t sense magic at all. The Fallen don’t have their own bodies but instead need a human host. However, they have half-breed demons and Shadow Magic workers on their side.

Johnson is a good reader. She uses different voices with different characters. However, her reading pace is unhurried which might make some listeners impatient. To my surprise, it made me pay more attention to the reading (I usually do other things while listening a audio book so sometimes I get distracted). With Nansi and some other characters, she uses a little bit of slang (which I presume is in written in) and a intonations that I associate with black people. (I don’t live in English speaking country, so I don’t have much personal experience with spoken English.)

All in all, this was a entertaining read and I will be getting the sequel where we’ll hopefully get an established couple

Booking Through Thursday

All other things being equal–do you prefer used books? Or new books? (The physical speciman, that is, not the title.) Does your preference differentiate between a standard kind of used book, and a pristine, leather-bound copy?

If I was able to buy as many books as I wanted and store them without a problem, I’d prefer new hardbacks.

Currently, I prefer audio and ebooks which I can download to my computer. I haven’t seen used downloads sold anywhere so I guess I still prefer new books. For print books, I like new paperbacks but I have no problem reading used ones.

Collects issues 26-30

Written by Jane Espenson
Art: Georges Jeanty, Andy Owens
Page count: 145
Publication date: 2010
Publisher: Dark Horse

In contrast to the previous collection, this one is all about the season’s main plot. Buffy is worried because no matter where the main Slayer force goes, the bad guys always find them. Now, the attacks seem to be escalating. Faith and Giles are hiding in a former Nazi bunker but a demon horde still finds them, Andrew is back in Rome and leading a Slayer cell. They are also trying to hide underground, but a horde of goatmen finds them and attacks. Andrew is also confronted by his old “friend” Warren who tries to persuade Andrew to change sides, again. Fortunately, the goatmen attack before Warren’s plea succeeds.

The hounded groups manage to join Buffy and the main Slayer force. They are all under attack by demons with tanks and catapults. Willow has woven several magical shields around their hiding place but they fall under the attack and the Slayers are forced to flee – on a submarine.

In the middle of fighting, they managed to get a prisoner and after Willow interrogates it, she knows how the bad guys can find them. The group of Slayers and Wiccans are highly magical so, Twilight can trace the magic. When Buffy hears that, she has a plan: they need to find someone who can make the magic go away. So, the group go the Tibet to find Oz.

Oz has moved on with his life: he has a wife and child. His wife Bayarmaa knows a way to make a person’s magic go to the Earth. That’s how Oz got rid of his werewolf. Buffy is convinced that getting rid of their magic, and so making all the Slayers into ordinary girls again, is the only way to hide for Twilight.

Also, Buffy and Giles are finally reunited, and she tells him what happened to her in the future in “Time of Your Life” collection.

I have really mixed feelings about this collection. I loved seeing Oz again and finding out what had happened to him during the years he was away. His spouse is a great character and the kid is great, too. I though I would like it when Faith and Giles rejoined the rest of the cast; unfortunately, they were mostly diminished into faces in the crowd.

However, I had big problems with the plot. Frankly, I think that Buffy overreacted big time. She didn’t really think about the consequences of getting rid of the magic for all of them. Would they be hiding from Twilight for the rest of their lives? What about the other threats around the world? What would happen if Twilight managed to catch them without their powers? She didn’t consider any of these questions (on-screen) and none of the other character raised them either. That was very much out of character for Faith and Giles at least. Or Dawn who should have been concerned for her sister possibly being in danger. None of the nameless Slayers and Wiccans resisted, either which I also considered weird.

I also thought that the way the depowering (because that’s what it is: lots of powerful girls are being robbed of their powers) was done was also weird. The Slayers were told to do physically exerting stuff and not use their supernatural strength. I wasn’t aware that a Slayer can just choose not to use her strength. How on Earth would that work? I mean sure you can not use your full strength when hitting someone but when shoveling or moving large boulders? Only use their pinky fingers?

Then, Oz’s domestic bliss made Willow speak about how she could never have kids of her own (because of the magic). This seemed a bit weird to me, too. She’s never said before that she would want to have a “normal life”. Granted, the whole gang was very young during the show but even when Xander was getting married, Willow never said a thing. So, it seemed wildly out of character to me. Also, when did Xander and Dawn become experts in rocket launchers and radars?

There’s also the kissing scene. I didn’t recognize one of the characters so for a while I though things were really different than they actually were. I’m still not sure how I feel about the prospective couple.

There are also two short stories, each a couple of pages long. The first is Harmony’s public interview and the second is Buffy’s dream. In Buffy’s dream Spike and Angel start making out, and I would have enjoyed the hell out of that except that they were spouting misogyny about dirty girls.

Oh, and the collection ends with a big time cliffhanger.

Today, the topic of the Top Ten Tuesdays is Top Ten Book to Movie adaptations.

1, Lord of the Rings trilogy.
It’s not perfect but it’s as good as can be when the books were adapted to screen.

2, Alice in Wonderland, (Disney)

3, Jurassic Park
I was surprised how different the book was but the movie works wonderfully.

4, Much Ado About Nothing: the Branagh version

5, The Chronicles of Narnia: the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
Excellent adaptation and I really like the teen actors.

6, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
The book and the movie are quite different, but I enjoyed both.

7, Interview with the Vampire

8, Be Cool

9, Pinocchio (Disney)

10, The Bourne Identity
I think the movie was pretty faithful to the book.

Collects issues 21-25

Written by Jane Espenson, Steven S. Deknight, Drew Z. Greenberg, Jim Krueger, Doug Petrie
Art: Georges Jeanty, Cliff Richards, Andy Owens

Page count: 145
Publication date: 2009
Publisher: Dark Horse

The first story starts with Harmony Bites: Harmony’s reality show where she bites people on camera. The Hollywood people are interested but they think that the show needs a villain. Meanwhile, we’re introduced to a new Slayer. The nameless Slayer was part of an all-female, Hispanic gang and was only able to leave when she got her powers as a Slayer. Buffy’s offer of “Togetherness! Unity! Sisterhood!” doesn’t appeal to her and she starts to look for vampires to kill on her own.

The second story stars the lesbian Slayers: Willow’s girlfriend Kennedy and the Japanese Satsu. Kennedy advices Satsu to forget about Buffy and move on to a girl who actually likes girls. At the same time, she’s evaluating Satsu’s new job as a leader of a Slayer cell and helping her fight… Vampy Cat dolls!

Next, Andrew gets a lead on the rogue Slayer Simone and especially on Simone’s closest aid Nisha. Buffy and Andrew expect to just get Nisha out of a demon trap but instead they have a showdown with Simone herself. It seems that she’s gathered her own gang of Slayers and is terrorizing the countryside. Of course, Buffy has to do something about it. Also, Andrew’s been more sinister than usual.

Then we finally get a new Faith and Giles story. One of the new Slayers tells them about a town which is a Slayer Sanctuary and they have to investigate it. Handelstadt turns out to be quite a strange little town.

In the final story, Dawn is missing, and Buffy and the gang are trying to find Dawn’s previous lover so that he can dispel the spell that has changed Dawn into different shapes.

First of all, I loved the reality show! It was such an off-beat and fun idea. The trade has two fake covers about Harmony’s magazine, Harm, and a couple of pages of Harmony’s interview and “information” about Slayers and why they “hate America”. The Slayers, however, are horrified especially when it turns out that the show is making the Slayers into villains. I’m not convinced that most of the viewers know or believe that Harmony is a real vampire. Most likely the viewers think is just a special effects so the Slayers overreacted.

Most of the stories are one-offs and don’t really advance the main plot which a bit frustrating. Well, except for the first story.

I really love the painted covers which are added as a bonus. While Jeanty’s art is okay, it rarely looks like any of the cast. This actually became a problem for me in the next volume. The male characters are more recognizable because there are fewer of them and, well, Xander has the eye patch.

I’ve never liked Andrew and I still don’t. I was amazed that Buffy let him stay after what was revealed about him in the third story. But Buffy has a tendency to keep the people she’s adopted as part of her family, unless they turn completely to evil and even then there can be redemption.

The volume is pretty light and fluffy, and it’s clearly aimed at the fans who already know the characters and the world.

Today, the topic of Larissa’s Bookish Life is Favorite Fantasy Movies.

I made things a bit easier for me and decided to exclude science fantasy movies such as Star Wars and Back to the Future.

1, The Princess Bride.
One of the best movies ever, IMHO.

2, Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy
They’re certainly not historical movies. 😉

3, Lord of the Rings: the Fellowship of the Ring.
I love all of the movies, especially the extended versions but the first one blew my socks off with the visual effects.

4, Willow
One of the first fantasy movies I ever saw.

5, Ladyhawke
One of the most romantic movies I’ve ever seen.

The third in the Detective Inspector Chen fantasy series.

Publication year: 2006
Page count: 351 + an excerpt from the next book, the Shadow Pavilion
Publisher: Night Shade Books
Format: Print

Pin H’siao is chorus boy at Singapore Three’s Opera house and he’s very unhappy. He’s poor and trying to get clients through his work. One of his coworkers gave him his unfortunate nickname Pin H’siao, the Flute Player, and the others joke that he’s attracting mostly male clients. In a really upscale party, he notices that one of the Opera performers is missing and where she was last seen, there are only a few drops of blood. Detective Inspector Chen and his demon partner investigate the matter. Later, he’s invited to another party but instead of the quick work, he finds out that he’s taking part of a séance. Then, his spirit possesses a demon who is still in Hell.

Mrs. Pa is an elderly cleaning lady. Her fondest wish is finally coming true: her daughter is getting married. However, her daughter Mai died of illness when she was three years old and because of corruption in the system she ended up in Hell. She grew up there and is now marrying a man who is also dead. Only two weeks after the wedding, Mai phones her mother that she has a grandson and that Mrs. Pa will have to take care of him. Mrs. Pa is bewildered but agrees. She goes on a dream journey to another city and brings back with her the little boy who she names Precious Dragon. Even though Precious Dragon looks like a little boy, he talks more like a middle aged man and he clearly knows more than a boy. Also, he has a mysterious pearl which he has to keep in his mouth or he stars to choke. Soon after the boy comes to Mrs. Pa’s small house, a demon attacks them.

After sleeping for several decades the sea dragon Embar Dea is swimming again.

Detective Inspector Chen’s superior Sung is pleased with the way that Chen and the demon Senechal Zhu Irzh are working together. So, the mayor has suggested that there should be more co-operation between the three realms (Earth, Hell, and Heaven). And hapless Chen is supposed to take charge of it. Half a day after Chen first hears about the equal opportunity policy, he’s saddled with Miss Qi from Heaven and leading a fact-finding mission to Hell. Chen, Miss Qi, and Zhu Irzh are going to be honored guests in the Ministry of War. Chen is very suspicious of the whole thing but has no choice but to do it. Meanwhile, Zhu Irzh has returns to Hell just in time to attend his mother’s birthday party.

I really enjoy the way that mythology comes alive in this series. Heaven and Hell are based on Chinese mythology and only people who believe in this religion goes to this afterlife. Other religions have other afterlives. We see far more of Hell this time than Heaven and in this world, Heaven seems to be pretty dull, in any case.

Chen the very model of a honorable policeman. He tries his best to do the right thing which isn’t easy in this world. He’s constantly overshadowed by his interesting supporting cast. The scheming Zhu Irzh who still ends up being a loyal friend to Chen, at least as long as his own ass isn’t on the line. Zhu Irzh’s girlfriend, the industrialist Jhai Tserai is another one who is out to get as much for herself as possible.

Mrs. Pa and Pin are more tragic figures. Both are poor and don’t have many choices in their lives. Mrs. Pa does her best to protect and care for her strange grandson. She’s also proud of her work and thinks that cleaning a place makes order out of chaos. Pin isn’t happy about his life in prostitution but he doesn’t see a way out of it.

Miss Qi seems to be a demure young woman who constantly belittles herself and her skills. However, she’s not what she appears to be.

Most of the book is set in Hell where Miss Qi, Chen, and Zhu Irzh are guests of the Ministry of War. Then the Ministry of Lust makes its move and things start rolling at an escalating pace. The demons scheme and plot happily, and suck the trio, too, into their plots.

It was interesting to see Zhu Irzh’s family: his mother and sister and brother-in-law. He doesn’t get along with any of them and it’s easy to see why he would prefer to stay on Earth.

Another great addition to the series which will change the setting more than the previous books, so I’m very interested to see where the series will go next.

Booking Through Thursday

What’s the most romantic book you’ve ever read?

(Mind you, I don’t mean the hard-core stuff you hide in plain wrappers under your mattress. I mean True Love, Romance, deeply emotional, heart-tugging, and all that stuff.)

And, secondly, did you like it? Is it your usual kind of reading, or did it take you by surprise?

Barrayar by Lois McMaster Bujold.
No sex scenes and the main couple met and married in the previous book.

Yes, it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read (that’s why I’ve never reviewed it; I would just gush).

I read a lot of science fiction, so that’s usual. However, it’s part of the Cordelia’s Honor omnibus which was the first Bujold book I read. So, in that respect it was a surprise.

Also, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find books without a courtship romance in them. I don’t find them particularly romantic; to me romance is when you know the other person and can rely on them unconditionally. So, that was an extremely pleasant surprise to me.

The first in the urban fantasy series about a Cherokee shape shifter.

Publication year: 2009
Format: Audio
Publisher: Audible Inc.
Narrator: Khristine Hvam
Running Time: 13 hours, 59 minutes

Jane Yellowrock is a vampire hunter. She’s also a Cherokee skinwalker, a shape shifter who can change into any animal once she has a sample of it. Shifting into a smaller or a larger creature is problematic because the extra mass has to either go somewhere or come from somewhere but possible. However, she shares her mind with the Beast – a mountain lion whose shape it’s easiest to shift into. But once she changes into a mountain lion, the Beast takes over. While Jane can suggest to her what to do, she can’t command it. She doesn’t know how they can share the same mind but suspects that the Beast knows.

New Orleans has a thriving community of civilized vampires. However, they have a problem: an unknown rogue vampire who is killing and eating both humans and other vampires. So, they decide to bring in out-of-town-talent: Jane.

The timing is good for Jane. Some months back, she was seriously injured while killing a vampire nest and she took time to heal. Now, she’s better and eager to get to work. She’s never met a civilized (or sane, as Jane calls them) vampire before, so the situation is very new to her, too.

Her employer is Katherine “Katie” Foutaneau, who runs a high-class brothel. Jane gets a house right next to Katie’s Ladies and gets to work. By night she tracks the rogue vampire in the mountain lion form and by day she tries to find out everything else she can.

Jane is an interesting character. The Beast is often near the surface and Jane has to mentally wrestle her down and stop herself from growling at people. Jane doesn’t remember her parents or her childhood. Her memories start when she was twelve and was found in wilderness. As far as she knows, she’s the only skinwalker in the world. Her sense of smell is stronger than normal humans and she uses it a lot.

When Jane shifts, the Beast takes over as a narrator and her voice is different from Jane’s. The Beast makes short comments about smells and the funny habits humans have. Her narration has short, even one word sentences, and it’s stylistically very different from Jane’s voice.

In this world, two types of supernatural creatures are out in the open: vampires and witches. Witches have to have a license to work. Jane’s best friend is an Earth witch Molly who knows everything about Jane and the Beast. Molly does some spell work for Jane but she also supports Jane emotionally. Molly has two kids and Jane is close to them, too.

There’s lots of gore in the book. The fight scenes, especially near the end, were bloody, and the rogue vampire actually eats parts of his victims so the descriptions of the bodies are also pretty gruesome.

Unfortunately for me, while I liked the plot, Jane, the setting and especially Jane and the Beast, the romantic plot was, well, typical UF fare. The vampires can smell that Jane isn’t human but can’t tell what she is. So, instead of, for example killing and dismembering or kidnapping her, they invite her to bed. Every single vampire, males and females, are trying get into Jane’s pants and so are their handsome, muscle-bound blood servants. That got old real fast for me. Also, there’s the typical asshole jerk “romantic interest”, Rick. We meet him in the first couple of pages and it was hate at first sight for me. Rick tells Jane straight out that he wants her job, then he stalks her literally by staying near her front door, and phoning to her and demanding to know where she is. When she doesn’t instantly get into bed with her, he says “what are you?”. Yup, if a woman doesn’t want to sleep with him, she’s of course not “real woman”. What an asshat. And what does Jane do? She hires him to stick around even more and gets jealous when she finds out that Rick sleeps around. (When I reached that point, I was rolling my eyes so hard, it’s a small miracle they’re still in my head.) Too bad. Without Rick, this would have been a far better book, possibly one of my favorites in UF.

Hvam is a great reader. Her tone of voice matches Jane’s inner voice very well and she makes accents which sound to me like Southern US. She can also make her voice lower for male characters.

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