Sunday, September 30, 2012

Dark Oracle

Dark Oracle, by Laura Bickle (writing as Alayna Williams), is an urban fantasy with a strong element of suspense, not too unlike her other series.  Tara Sheridan is an oracle with a gift for reading the Tarot.  Her mother had the same gift, and both were members of a secret society, Delphi's Daughters, who trace their "lineage" back to the Oracle of Delphi in ancient Greece.  Tara, however, who was initiated as a child, wants nothing to do with the Daughters.  Instead, she uses her talents secretly to work with the government as a criminal profiler.  One case she was working on went badly for Tara, and she has since been living as something of a hermit, hidden away in a cabin in the woods with no one but her cat for company.  

She gets pulled back into that life when an old friend of her mother's (who is also one of the Daughters) comes to ask Tara for her help in an investigation that is of great interest to them, for reasons she doesn't really go into.  Tara is reluctant, but ends up agreeing to help.  The Daughters have connections in some very high places, so she gets called in as a consultant to assist Agent Li in New Mexico, where a clean-up crew is already hard at work on the scene of an explosion at a government lab in the desert.  The man responsible, the physicist Dr Magnusson, is gone without a trace, but the agency and the military are both very interested in finding him.  So interested, in fact, that Magnusson's daughter, herself a graduate student in physics, is also now a target.  Tara and Agent Li soon find that if they want to protect themselves and Cassie Magnusson as well, they will need to put aside their differences and trust each other.  In doing so, Tara also finds that as reluctant as she was to take on this case, and as eager as she is to be done with it once more, it may not be as easy to walk away this time.


After finishing both Embers and Sparks, I hunted for Dark Oracle every time I set foot in a bookstore.  And I actually really liked this one almost as much as I enjoyed those.  It doesn't necessarily have a huge urban fantasy feel to it - it seemed more like mystery/suspense to me, with a heavy mystical element.  But that is fine with me.  I fell in love with urban fantasy, yes, but before I came across this  genre, I was already a big fan of mystery and suspense.  Combine the two, and I am more than content with the outcome.

I love the idea of the Daughters of Delphi, and I won't lie, I kind of wish it were a real thing and that I were an initiate.  The members are all oracles, though their talents vary widely.  Tara and her mother work with Tarot divination, but the current Pythia (basically, the group's leader) is a pyromancer, and another member who features prominently in the story is a geomancer.  Though not quite like the geomancers you come across in World of Warcraft, which is kind of where my mind kept straying to when the practice was brought up.  Bickle's geomancy is more realistic, in that the character doesn't rain fire down upon anyone or things like that.  It involves the reading of ley lines and divination using crystals and runes...things like that.

Once again, I got the feeling that a lot of research went in to the writing of this book; the science behind the dark matter is very interesting, and seems sound.  I am no physicist, though, so don't hold me to that.  The important thing is that this is fiction, and it seems accurate enough to not cross the line into being science-fiction.  Actual physicists, feel free to disagree with me, because you obviously will know more about that part of it than I likely ever will.  But my disbelief, it is suspended.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Beneath A Rising Moon

Beneath A Rising Moon, by Keri Arthur, is the first book in her Ripple Creek Werewolves series.  In the version of the world Arthur has created, humans and werewolves coexist, albeit maybe not too harmoniously.  Werewolves live in their own towns (reservations), there are certain measures upheld to control the werewolf population (basically, the males get some kind of birth control injection), and laws which apply to humans also apply to werewolves.  The werewolves do, however, have their own branch of law enforcement to deal with their own kind:  the rangers.  And it's a damned good thing, too.

So basic werewolf lore tells us that the full moon is a pretty big deal, and Arthur sticks to this.  The nights leading up to the full moon, everyone is more and more attuned to their wolfiness.  In Ripple Creek, Colorado, the Sinclair mansion outside town becomes the red light district; masked and clad in either nothing or next-to-nothing, they participate all night, every night of the moon phase in what is known as "the moon dance."  It seems to be akin to the idea of some kind of sexy pagan festival honoring the moon goddess.  There are centuries-old rules and rituals associated with it, and basically in this entire book, any time you see the word "dance," they are talking about sex.  Dancing = Sexing It Up.  Reverend Moore would have a heart attack.

Anyway, Neva Grant is part of the golden pack in town; telepathic and a powerful empath, she can use the energy from her own feelings and the feelings of others as a sort of psychic weapon.  Her twin sister, Savannah, is a ranger who has been investigating what appears to be a serial murder case; Savannah's determination and tenacity on the job has landed her a room in the ICU, unconscious, and Neva has made a vow to the moon to catch her sister's attacker.  Her plan for continuing the investigation is crazy and potentially dangerous, both to her physical person and her reputation in the pack.

The main lead in the case is the fact that the murderer is a silver wolf, which means the Sinclair family, the head of their silver pack, is at the top of the suspect list.  In fact, they basically make up the entire suspect list.  Their reputation in town among the more conservative golden pack doesn't help, either.  Word is that Duncan Sinclair, the most lascivious of them all, has returned after a ten year absence, and the easiest way Neva figures to gain access to the mansion is to seduce Duncan at the dance.  Once in, everyone else will be too occupied with copulating to pay attention to her snooping.  

What she didn't figure on, however, was the way she would react to him.  To his touch, his scent, his every part of him.  He seems to be living up to his reputation, though, so to allow herself to feel something for him, to hope that there could be more to their relationship than just the moon dance, would be crazy.  But it's too late to back out now...her sister is hanging on by a thread, and more women could be killed if this case isn't resolved.


I received this as an eBook from NetGalley, and it's actually the first eBook I've ever read.  I think I picked a good one!  Ha.  I'm a big fan of romance novels, whether they're good or so-bad-they're-good, and I really enjoyed this one; I read it straight through in one night.  The only other werewolf books I've read were Alisa Sheckley's Abra Barrow duology, and while I thought there was a lot of sexytimes either happening or being referred to in those books, this one has those beat.  If you are one of those people who skims along and skims along in a romance novel, just to get to the juicy bits, you might like Beneath A Rising Moon.  The smut begins early in the first chapter and is pretty constant throughout the entire book.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Marvel Encyclopedia: The Avengers

I am sure you're all at least somewhat familiar with The Avengers, an organization of superheroes in the Marvel universe, many created or co-created by the famed Stan Lee.  If there were a pantheon of comic book writers/creators of superheroes, probably he would be the equivalent of Zeus.  But anyway.  The release of the live action Avengers movie inspired me to finally read my copy of the Marvel Encyclopedia, Avengers edition.  Of this group, you're most likely acquainted with Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, and now also Black Widow (the Natasha Black Widow).  

What not everyone knows, however, is that The Avengers has a rotating active membership, with a large number of reserve members as well.  Some of these other members are recognizable from the X-Men, such as Wolverine and Storm, and others are known on their own, like Spider-Man.  Others are likely to be new faces to some, or many, of you.  People like Squirrel Girl, or maybe the Kelsey Leigh incarnation of Captain Britain.  

This encyclopedia doesn't just provide biographies, however.  You're given a complete rundown of the characters' other group affiliations and solo endeavors; their gear and abilities; aliases; known relatives, the title in which they made their first appearance, among other such trivia.  In some cases, for example, Hulk, She-Hulk, and Wasp, multiple images are provided which show different variations of the character, whether it is a change in the art style or simply a change in the character's form or costume.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis is a classic children's fantasy story set during World War II.  Four siblings (Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy) are sent to the country to escape the bombing of London, and the house where they are to be living is owned by an old and eccentric professor.  There are many rooms to explore, all full of fascinating and mysterious things.  While exploring the house, the children come across a room that is empty except for a large, wooden wardrobe.  Lucy soon discovers that this wardrobe is a kind of doorway into another world:  Narnia.

She meets a faun not long after entering, and after becoming friends with him, she finds that if she doesn't leave quickly, she will become the prisoner of the White Witch, the dictator-queen.  Of course, when she gets back through the wardrobe and tells her siblings about the wood she found through the wardrobe, none of them believe her; it's not until later, when they all find themselves forced to hide in the wardrobe together from the professor's housekeeper, that they see for themselves that she was telling the truth (although Edmund had actually got into Narnia once as well, and met Lucy on his way out, but he's kind of a dick, so he lied to Peter and Susan about it).

The real adventure starts when they all go to visit Lucy's friend, the faun, only to find that he has been arrested for not turning Lucy in to the witch.  They agree (Edmund not really so much) that it's only right to try and help Mr Tumnus if they can, since it was because of Lucy that he was arrested in the first place.  


I can't even count how many times I've read this book.  The entire series is great, and I never get tired of reading each of the books.  Because of the movie that came out back in 2005, this is probably the most well-known of the series.  I like the Pevensie children (except Edmund not so much at first, since he's kind of a little d-bag); they aren't exactly the most complex characters you will ever come across, but that doesn't make them awful or too boring.  Sometimes I get a little annoyed with how goody-goody they seem, because that just does not feel very real, but they are children living during one of the worst times in modern history, so maybe they're just trying to make the best of things as well as they can.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Fifty Shades of Grey

Twilight: Reimagined Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James is a book about an impossibly naïve, sexually oblivious soon-to-be college graduate, Anastasia Steele, and her toxic relationship with the unbelievably handsome and obscenely wealthy businessman, Christian Grey.  Ana's roommate, Kate, is supposed to interview Christian for the university newspaper, but is too sick to leave the apartment, so Ana fills in for her, even though she doesn't even work for the paper at all, and probably there were other students who are actually involved with the paper who were available and could have used the experience for their CVs or graduate school applications.  Anyway, so Ana meets Christian Grey and for the first time in her entire twenty-one years of life, she feels attracted to a man!  He is so incredibly good-looking that, already nervous anyway, she fumbles her way through the interview as best she can, then wants to die a little bit afterward, because she feels so foolish about some of the things she said.

On the way home, she is so flustered that she keeps talking about how pissed she is and how inconsiderate it was for Kate to have her do this interview without giving her some kind of briefing about this guy first.  ANA.  This is the age of the internet.  Even though she does not have her own computer, it would have been more than easy to look him up online.  And how she even made it through college - as a lit major, know she had papers and essays probably constantly - without her own computer is beyond me.  She must have spent a LOT of time at the library or in the school's writing lab.

It's fine, though, because she will never have to see that sinfully beautiful man again, right?  NOPE.  He shows up at her place of work, to purchase some harmless home hardware, to be used for some  mysterious and let's be honest, unimaginative purpose.  While helping Grey find these for-now-innocent items, some guy she knows shows up who asks her out every time he sees her.  As if in the good spirit of foreshadowing, Grey immediately becomes tense and suspicious.  If this were a wildlife documentary instead of whatever it is, Grey would be exhibiting some kind of visual and/or auditory behavior in an attempt to signal his claim on Ana as a potential mate.  This isn't a wildlife documentary, though, but nonetheless, he seems to be barely able to contain himself from an open display of competition for sexual resources.

Ana blows the lesser male off and is in total bliss over securing Grey's phone number and flatters herself with the notion that he came there just to see her.  Oh my, he must really like her or something, jeez!

So she calls him under the pretense of needing some photos to go with Kate's write-up of the interview, and they force their nature photographer friend, José, to broaden his occupational horizons and do his best to capture Grey's inhuman beauty on film or memory card.  The same kind of silent competitive exchange occurs between Grey and José, because José it turns out is also in love with Ana!  But heaven knows why, since she is so plain and clumsy, and it didn't matter because up until that fateful day of the interview, she was asexual anyway.  Not anymore, though!  Miracle of miracles, Grey the Grecian God has asked Ana to accompany him for a coffee.  And /SQUEE, he actually holds her hand! No one has ever done that before!  When they are leaving, clumsy little thing that she is, she almost gets run over by a cyclist in the street, but Grey, in his instinctive protective prowess, saves her!  She mentally begs him to kiss her, but as if he can read her mind, he says no.  And tells her that he is no good for her, and she would do best to stay away.

HOW CAN THIS BE? He HELD her HAND for goodness' sake!  So she pretends to have dignity and waits until rounding the corner out of sight before crumpling to the pavement to cry like an idiot.

(And it only gets more romantic from here, guys.  Get comfortable, because there is an awful lot to say about this book; I'm including a cut here, so the entire homepage doesn't get taken over with this)