Friday, December 27, 2013

Brawn Stroker's Dragula, by Nicole Antonia Carro

I bought Brawn Stroker’s Dragula, by indie author Nicole Antonia Carro on a whim. When I read the title, I was expecting something incredibly camp and lightweight, but that is certainly not what I got. Instead, I found a tale full of people I could call friends, and situations I hope my friends never find themselves in!

The Blurb:

Ybor City, Florida. November 1999

On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, lowly female impersonator Chris Reynolds brings a mysterious stranger home. In the four-day weekend which follows, Chris and his friends become embroiled in the secret world of Dr. Stephen Bartow, a reluctant & incompetent vampire who only wants his humanity restored so he can return to his one true love. Yet they are all in danger when a demon from Dr. Stephen’s past returns to destroy them.

One romantic evening gone wrong for Chris and his alter ego Dee Flaytable is forever transformed into a formidable creature of the night– fabulous and seductive, her siren’s song captivates every audience. But can she triumph in the face of true evil?

When the Vampire Queens battle, who will win?

My Review:

As I said at the outset, I picked this up looking for a light, quick read, but ended up staying up to 2:30 a.m. to finish it. The tale is told through the journal entries of Chris Reynolds, and Dr. Stephen Bartow, which I found interesting.

In 1999 Florida, Chris lives in a slightly skewed reality, performing as a drag-queen. He has talent, but he's no RuPaul, and he knows it. His off-and-on boyfriend, Billy, plans to be a preacher and is afraid to come out of the closet.

Chris himself can’t tell his parents what he does for a living, as they would crap their southern middle-class baptist pants. His female roommate is his shield, giving him the appearance of heterosexuality for his folks, who were so afraid he was gay that her being black is no problem. When Chris is accidentally turned into a vampire, things go horribly awry.

This is far more than a tale of a Drag Queen of the Damned. Carro takes on obsession, rape, grinding poverty, racism, homophobia, and all stops between.

This particular book actually follows Dr. Stephen's tale more than Chris's, but i think it works well, as without knowing what happened to Stephen, we can't know why Chris has to fight the Evil Vampiress. Through Dr. Stephen’s journal we are taken back to the post WWII south. We are introduced to his spurned ex-fiancĂ©e and see the lengths she will go to have revenge on him. Dr. Stephen is a competent enough physician, but though he is not really a heroic man, he is turned into a vampire with a mission.

The horror is well balanced with humor. It is both graphic and violent, and is not a book for those who want their vampires sparkly and their entertainment sanitized. This a book for smart, thinking people who also like vampires.

I believe a second book is in the works and I hope it will focus more on Chris, as he is an awesome character, but wherever the author goes with this tale I will definitely buy it.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Happy Hour In Hell (Bobby Dollar 2), by Tad Williams

Okay, now we are talking deep. Happy Hour In Hell (Bobby Dollar 2), by Tad Williams takes us from the bowels of Heaven to the heart of Hell, and its a rough ride, and a heck of a good story.

But first, may I just say how refreshing it is to find a book by a big publisher (DAW) with such a great Blurb? This is a great innovation—they should keep up the good work!

The Blurb:

I’ve been told to go to Hell more times than I can count. But this time I’m actually going.

My name’s Bobby Dollar, sometimes known as Doloriel, and of course, Hell isn’t a great place for someone like me—I’m an angel. They don’t like my kind down there, not even the slightly fallen variety. But they have my girlfriend, who happens to be a beautiful demon named Casimira, Countess of Cold Hands. Why does an angel have a demon girlfriend? Well, certainly not because it helps my career.

She’s being held hostage by one of the nastiest, most powerful demons in all of the netherworld—Eligor, Grand Duke of Hell. He already hates me, and he’d like nothing better than to get his hands on me and rip my immortal soul right out of my borrowed but oh-so-mortal body.

But wait, it gets better! Not only do I have to sneak into Hell, make my way across thousands of miles of terror and suffering to reach Pan- demonium, capital of the fiery depths, but then I have to steal Caz right out from under Eligor’s burning eyes and smuggle her out again, past demon soldiers, hellhounds, and all the murderous creatures imprisoned there for eternity. And even if I somehow manage to escape Hell, I’m also being stalked by an undead psychopath named Smyler who’s been following me for weeks. Oh, and did I mention that he can’t be killed?

So if I somehow survive Hell, elude the Grand Duke and all his hideous minions and make it back to the real world, I’ll still be the most hunted soul in Creation. But at least I’ll have Caz. Gotta have something to look forward to, right?

So just pour me that damn drink, will you? I’ve got somewhere to go.

My Review:

First off, I'm not going to give you the play-by-play of the book. Instead, I am going to give you my impressions. 

If you like your angels as painted by Michelangelo, you are in the wrong place. Bobby isn't that sort of an angel. Bobby gets in and does Heaven’s dirty work with his bare hands. He’s a hard-boiled detective, a bad-boy, and he’s the sort of angel my mother warned me about. But he’s also just the sort of angel you want on your side when you suddenly find yourself dead, and your soul is being judged.

The action starts on page one and it just keep on going all the way through the book. Even the places where a less-skilled author would be giving you an info dump are well-plotted and the momentum of Bobby's adventures keeps you moving while you absorb the atmosphere.

And let’s talk atmosphere: if I die today, I don’t wanna go to this version of Hell. It is everything Hell should be—lurid, sadistic, brutal, horrifying, disgusting and evil. It’s no place for an angel, and the things that happen to Bobby are violent and beyond horrible. In every situation, and all the way through the never-ending string of torments Bobby is put through, he is still focused on his one obsession, that of getting Caz back.

It's hard to say which place is more malevolent, Heaven or Hell. Hell is more obviously evil, but Heaven is not a fun place either. Bobby's superiors are not a nice bunch. Of course, you have to realize that Demons are just Fallen Angels, so the capacity for cold, hard justice was always there. The Smyler is one of the creepiest villains I've ever seen. Not the sort of villain to read about before bed! And he’s just the tip of the iceberg.

But even in Hell there is the occasional flash of kindness, things that get Bobby asking questions. While in Hell, Bobby’s eyes are opened to the possibility that the gray area between good and evil may be wider than he thought, and he begins to wonder about his former partner, a renegade angel, and the mysterious third way. If that sub-plot will take Bobby anywhere, I don't know, but I am intrigued.

It is a stand-alone book, in that you don’t have to have read book 1 to understand exactly what is going on, and there is a satisfying conclusion, even if it’s not the one you expect. That makes it even better! I am now eagerly waiting for the next installment in this madcap mountain of mayhem! 

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde

Over Thanksgiving, my son, Dan, pressured me to drop everything and read The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde.  Published in 2000, the Eyre Affair was Fforde's first novel. The book was generally acclaimed, with critics calling it "playfully irreverent," "delightfully daft," "whoppingly imaginative," and "a work of ... startling originality." My son adores this book and the entire series. I found it—interesting—and I heartily enjoyed this book despite the tortuous plot, the side trips that go nowhere, and the occasional moments of HUH?!? WTF….

The Blurb:

The first installment in Jasper Fforde’s New York Times bestselling series of Thursday Next novels introduces literary detective Thursday Next and her alternate reality of literature-obsessed England

Fans of Douglas Adams and P. G. Wodehouse will love visiting Jasper Fforde's Great Britain, circa 1985, when time travel is routine, cloning is a reality (dodos are the resurrected pet of choice), and literature is taken very, very seriously: it’s a bibliophile’s dream. England is a virtual police state where an aunt can get lost (literally) in a Wordsworth poem and forging Byronic verse is a punishable offense. All this is business as usual for Thursday Next, renowned Special Operative in literary detection. But when someone begins kidnapping characters from works of literature and plucks Jane Eyre from the pages of BrontĂ«'s novel, Thursday is faced with the challenge of her career. Fforde's ingenious fantasy—enhanced by a Web site that re-creates the world of the novel—unites intrigue with English literature in a delightfully witty mix. Thursday’s zany investigations continue with six more bestselling Thursday Next novels, including One of Our Thursdays is Missing and the upcoming The Woman Who Died A Lot. Visit

My Review:

First off, let me say that I have read both Douglas Adams and P.G. Wodehouse. Either one is a lot easier to follow than Jasper Fforde. Heck, James Joyce is easier to follow and he’s darned near incomprehensible.

But Fforde’s writing has a real charm and despite the confusion, and with a certain amount of discipline I was able to get into the swing of things. It is a “fantasy, science fiction, mystery, satire, romance, thriller” of a book. There is a plot; it is most definitely unique and extremely convoluted. However, it is worth the effort.

In 1985, in a parallel universe, England and Imperial Russia have fought the Crimean War for more than a century. England is still a parliamentary government, pretty much owned by a powerful weapons manufacturing company with a questionable agenda, the Goliath Corporation. Wales is a separate, socialist nation, and for some reason that notion cracked me up.

Thursday Next is an awesome character, but following the plot takes work on the part of the reader. So I resorted to taking notes, which helped me keep things straight in my head. In the course of duty, Thursday gets shot and has to take a new job, where she is forced to team up with the awesomely named Jack Schitt, who really is a…. Never mind. 

So anyway.

I recommend this book for people who love a real challenge in their reading material. Enough of the plot holes finally get filled in that there is a resolution to the tale. You are probably wondering why I am saying I enjoyed the pain—and I will tell you:

It’s hilarious.

It is laugh-out-loud, freaking hysterical. The names of his characters and the situations he puts them in are genius. Acheron Hades is evil, Landon Parke-Laine is a jerk,  Rochester is awesome, Jack Schitt is a turd and Thursday's eccentric family is a riot. Oh, sure, it is uneven and incredibly random, the story travels all over the place and some things are like the Cheshire Cat’s smile in Alice in Wonderland, but stick with it and after a page or two you won't care because you'll be laughing again.

The whole concept of a world where a criminal master-mind can hold a world hostage through literature really rang my bells.  Time-travel, entering into a novel and befriending the characters and changing history by changing the classics of literature--it's a grand idea.

Someone else may not have as much difficulty keeping Thursday's adventures straight as I did. Many people, including my son Dan, love this book with a passion, so I recommend you give it a shot.  

I am not sure I will read the next book in the series too soon, however—I nearly quit reading this book several times out of frustration, so I won’t start the next installment until I feel up to putting a lot of effort into reading a book. I will read it--just not soon. I am giving The Eyre Affair four stars, because it did entertain me, and Fforde introduces some notions that had my mind working long after I put the book down. That, to me, is the mark of great book.

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley

First published in 1983, Mists of Avalon by the late Marion Zimmer Bradley is a wonderful retelling of the Arthurian legend. I chose to reread The Mists of Avalon this week for two reason: first - as my reward because it is one of the greatest epic fantasies of all time, and second - it had been over a year since I last read it. This book was a watershed moment in fantasy literature for me, and for millions of readers over the years.

The Blurb:
In Marion Zimmer Bradley's masterpiece, we see the tumult and adventures of Camelot's court through the eyes of the women who bolstered the king's rise and schemed for his fall. From their childhoods through the ultimate fulfillment of their destinies, we follow these women and the diverse cast of characters that surrounds them as the great Arthurian epic unfolds stunningly before us. As Morgaine and Gwenhwyfar struggle for control over the fate of Arthur's kingdom, as the Knights of the Round Table take on their infamous quest, as Merlin and Viviane wield their magics for the future of Old Britain, the Isle of Avalon slips further into the impenetrable mists of memory, until the fissure between old and new worlds' and old and new religions' claims its most famous victim.

My Review:

The main protagonist is Morgaine, who watches the rise of Uther Pendragon to the throne of Camelot as high-king. When she was still a young child, she was taken to Avalon by High Priestess Viviane, her maternal aunt, to become a priestess of the Mother Goddess. While in training, she sees the rising tension between the old Pagan religion and the new Christian religion. At the age of fourteen, she is given in a fertility ritual to a young man whom she later discovers is Arthur, her half-brother. Morgaine conceives a child, Gwydion (who will later be called Mordred), as a result of the ritual. She conceals his existence from Arthur.

After Uther dies, his son Arthur proves himself in battle and ascends to the throne.  Morgaine and Viviane give him the magic sword Excalibur and a bespelled scabbard as gifts from the country of Avalon.  Using the sword, which is a pagan weapon, Arthur succeeds in driving the Saxons away. 

But when his wife Gwenhwyfar is unable to carry and deliver a living child, she is convinced that it is a punishment of God: firstly for the presence of pagan elements (a position which Morgaine deeply resents), and secondly, for her forbidden love for Arthur's finest knight Lancelot.  Hating herself for loving him, Gwenhwyfar becomes a religious fanatic, and the relationship between Avalon and Camelot becomes hostile.

The story is compelling at the outset, and it captivated me from page one.  Upon finishing this book I immediately re-read it!  Zimmer-Bradley immerses you in the culture and mores of the mythical Britain of the seventh and eighth centuries.  The thoughts and feelings of each character are clearly drawn, and so are the places and the societies in which they live.  The over-riding themes of love and treachery make for a tragedy with tremendous political ramifications.

There are good and wise men and women and there are greedy, shortsighted people, and all are depicted with an impartial eye in this tale. The flaws and the strengths of each character are drawn with compassion. The personal choices those in power make change their society for all time. The clear and visible change in the cultural values of pre-christian Britain is vividly portrayed, setting the place of women in the society of Britain for the next 1,200 years. 

Within the two generations that this book spans, we see women going from having a respected voice and power in their society, to being relegated to the position of chattel; property of their husband and having less of a voice than his cattle.  

This book crosses many genres, Fantasy, Romance, Historical Fiction--Marion Zimmer Bradley created a world that never existed before and breathed life into it, giving us real, solid people to envision when we think about the Arthurian Saga. It is masterfully woven to make a novel that sets the standard for Arthurian literature, and raises the bar for writers of fantasy in general. It is a book that I think of as a cornerstone-book, one of the real foundation books in the library of truly great, modern storytelling.