Sunday, December 26, 2010

Strip Mauled

Series: Supernatural Suburbia (#2)
Genre: Anthology (favoring Comedy)
Author: Various (edited by Esther Friesner)
Publisher: BAEN

"Alas, poor werewolves," writes Esther Friesner in the introduction to Strip Mauled. "Forever doomed to be Avis to the vampire's unassailable fang-hold on Hertz, Pepsi to their Coke, Burger King to their McDonalds!" To which LupLun replies, "Where you been? Antarctica?"

I shouldn't be mean. Strip Mauled was published in 2009, meaning that said intro was probably penned in 2008. At which point, yes, the bloodsuckers did rule the roost. But, the wheel turns. Over the past two years, we've seen two debuting werewolf series' make the bestseller lists, a number of more established series being rediscovered, and lest we forget Team Jacob was trouncing Team Edward pretty soundly until the latter started firing the canon. The vamps remain on top, but they're slipping. You're as likely to see parodies of vampire romances than straight examples on the bookshelves these days. Clearly, brooding immortals with cold skin and neck fetishes don't do it for the modern fangirl. She wants someone who romances her, as Trent Reznor put it, "like an animal." So, an anthology with a stated goal being "helping our long-suffering lycanthropic brethren to lay claim to their rightful bite of the American Dream" seems almost quaint these days. Our moon, after all, is already waxing.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Moon Called

Series: Mercy Thompson (#1)
Genre: Adventure
Author: Patricia Briggs
Publisher: Penguin Group

About a dozen pages into Moon Called, a character addresses heroine Mercy Thompson as "Mercedes, the Volkswagen mechanic." I was immediately reminded of that other annoying-to-the-subject running gag, "Kitty, the werewolf". I have to say that this is a first impression that never really went away. Although there are differences in tone, the two series share a similar focus on character and setting over strong plots. Patricia Briggs has produced a solid reading experience, painting an image of a vibrant world inhabited by compelling characters. But when our heroine has to get down to brass tacks and actually solve the mystery of a murder/kidnapping, the writing gets dicey.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Shadow of the Moon

Series: Dark Guardian
Genre: Romance
Author: Rachel Hawthorne
Publisher: HarperTeen

Word from the author’s website is that Shadow of the Moon is the final book of the Dark Guardian series, which is a shame. All this time following the Shifters of Wolford, I’ve been waiting for Rachel Hawthorne to fully realize the potential in her concept. Now, she finally has. In Shadow of the Moon she’s constructed a solid story with appealing characters and a tight plot that has appeal both on the surface and on a deeper level. And only now is the plug pulled. Damn.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Curse of the Wolf Girl

Series: Kalix MacRinnalch (#2)
Genre: Comedy/Adventure
Author: Martin Millar
Publisher: Underland Press

Lonely Werewolf Girl was one of those books that made you struggle to figure out which genre it belongs in. In hindsight, however, I think the best comparison would be a webcomic in it's early stages. It had a continuing storyline, which appeared to have been sketched out in broad strokes. The details were being made up as the author went, with no going back to shore up earlier bits. Instead it embraced an episodic structure, which ensured that every chapter was meant to be read for what it was, not for things that would happen down the road. Along the way it experimented with a lot of different plot developments, characters, and tones, keeping what worked and casually discarding the rest. The resulting story, if not exactly to everyone's taste, was at least unique and unpredictable. Now it's sequel time, and Millar hasn't changed the formula much. He has, however, refined it so as to weed out some of the thornier problems in the first book.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Kitty and the Dead Man's Hand

Series: Kitty Norville (#5)
Genre: Adventure
Author: Carrie Vaughn
Publisher: Hachette

The Kitty Norville books are kind of difficult to classify. They almost fit in the urban fantasy genre, but Kitty is not your typical urban fantasy heroine. She's not a badass. She's not even the adventurous type- despite hosting a radio show that brings her into contact with a lot of strange characters. All she really wants is to settle down into a quiet, normal life with her pack, her radio show, her new bar, and her man. When you think about it, it's a natural choice for Carrie Vaughn to send her heroine to Las Vegas. I mean, is there a city on earth that is less normal?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Low Red Moon

Series: Stand-Alone
Genre: Drama/Romance
Author: Ivy Devlin
Publisher: Bloomsbury Childrens

About thirty pages into Low Red Moon, I e-mailed a couple of friends giving my estimation of how the plot was going to turn out. When I got to the end, I had to sheepishly admit that I was wrong on a good number of things. So I suppose I should give the author props for being original. But- call it sour grapes if you will- the story I had assumed was coming was a whole lot better than Low Red Moon.

Saturday, November 6, 2010


Series: Nightshade (#1)
Genre: Romance/Adventure
Author: Andrea Cremer
Publisher: Penguin Group USA

Nightshade has been promoted relentlessly over the past few months. It's gone as far as the publisher mailing (vandalized) old books to prominent book bloggers and a series of v-blogs from main love interest Shay Doran. (Okay, a young actor playing Shay Doran, but you get the idea.) Hype on that level is a dangerous game- more promotion is generally better, but too much makes readers wary. Fortunately, the blogosphere seems to have decided that Nightshade lives up to the hype, and I agree. Albeit with some reservations.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Dark of the Moon

Series: Dark Guardian (#3)
Genre: Adventure/Romance
Author: Rachel Hawthorne
Publisher: HarperTeen

Poor Rachel Hawthorne... she just can't seem to get it right. She's a good writer- not great, but a sound craftswoman. And yet she keeps dropping the ball. The previous two Dark Guardian books have provided enjoyment, but also disappointment. In the third installment, she cleans up the technical problems- Dark of the Moon is well-paced, centers around an appealing couple, and it weaves it's central romance into the overall plot of the series very nicely. Freed of the minor issues, she produces a pretty good teenage love story. But it doesn't fit at all with what her readers have come to expect, rendering it perhaps the biggest disappointment of them all.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Lonely Werewolf Girl

Series: Kalix MacRiannalch (#1)
Genre: Comedy/Drama
Author: Martin Millar
Publisher: Soft Skull Press

Hard-luck protagonists are nothing new, but Kalix MacRiannalch is on another level. We first meet her as a homeless, degenerate junkie living on the streets of London. She's pawned her only means of protection to afford laudanum- her drug of choice. She's evading a guild of Van Helsing wannabes that want her dead on general principles, as well as the members of her former clan, who want her dead for trying to kill her father the Thane. We soon learn she's also illiterate, friendless, pining for a lost love, depressed nearly to the point of suicide, and quite possibly insane. So I was expecting a moody and depressing view of life in the streets of London, but it turns out that- some very dark bits aside- this book veers more towards comedy. By way of literary anarchism.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Kitty and the Silver Bullet

Series: Kitty Norville (#4)
Genre: Adventure
Author: Carrie Vaughn
Publisher: Hachette

The Kitty Norville series has had its ups and downs thus far. The first book was excellent, but rough around the edges. The second mostly treaded water, serving up overall weaker material but remaining entertaining. The third had some serious issues. But with book four, things have turned around dramatically. Carrie Vaughn has gotten back to basics, returning us to the characters and storylines that were left hanging after Kitty and the Midnight Hour. Now the series seems to be heading in a new direction, and it works. In fact, I can confidently say that Kitty and the Silver Bullet is the best of the first four books.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Sisters Red

Series: Stand-Alone
Genre: Adventure
Author: Jackson Pearce
Publisher: Little, Brown, and Company

Our friend Kitty Norville- channeling her creator, Carrie Vaughn- once noted that Dracula is not about vampires. It's about much deeper themes and issues, with the vampire being a representation of the things humanity has to conquer. In a similar vein, Sisters Red is not about werewolves. Oh, there are werewolves here. The old kind of werewolves- nasty, monstrous, remorseless incarnations of the beast inside man. But this isn't really a book about werewolves. Nor is it really a reinvention of the Red Riding Hood myth. It's a story about big issues- love, sex, family, growing up, finding your place in life- all in all a very human story.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

13 to Life

Series: 13 to Life (#1)
Genre: Romance
Author: Shannon Delany
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin

There's an old lawyer's saying: "If the facts are against you, pound upon the law. If the law is against you, pound upon the facts. If both are against you, pound upon the table." 13 to Life doesn't have the best plot- it's your standard issue high-school Love Dodecahedron, with the twist that the male lead is a werewolf. The execution is equally average, and Delany seems to know it. So she does the literary equivalent of pounding on the table- she pours on the style and the wit, convinced that just because it can't be the best story doesn't mean it can't be good reading. And you know what? It works. Well, it mostly works.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Full Moon

Series: Dark Guardian (#2)
Genre: Romance/Adventure
Author: Rachel Hawthorne
Publisher: HarperTeen

When I reviewed Moonlight, I rejected it for making some game-breaking mistakes with its second half. But up until things went south, I was enjoying the book very much for its brisk pace and realistic characters. And having read some legitimately bad books since then, I look back on Moonlight a bit more charitably today. So when I finally got around to the sequel, I had hopes that Hawthorne would do better with the material. And as it turns out, she has. Maybe not as good as I hoped, but a definite improvement.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Never Cry Werewolf

Series: Stand-Alone
Genre: Romance
Author: Heather Davis
Publisher: HarperTeen

The dustjacket blurb for Never Cry Werewolf claims that the author "didn't set out to write a book about werewolves", and I believe it. The male lead is a werewolf, but this is so irrelevant to the plot that I feel cheated. It's literally just an obstacle that some vials of Liquid MacGuffin are needed to deal with. You could replace it with any random real or imagined chronic disease, tweak the plot a bit, and have the same story. I'm not even sure this book belongs on my blog. But it does have a werewolf, it's advertised as a werewolf story, and I've read it already, so here we go...

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Kitty Takes a Holiday

Series: Kitty Norville (#3)
Genre: Adventure/Romance
Author: Carrie Vaughn
Publisher: Hachette

Kitty Takes a Holiday is a very difficult book to review. I can't honestly say that I disliked it, and I think it advances the overall plot of the series in a positive direction. But having finished it a mere day ago, I don't have a single scene that I can call to mind as being memorable. It's a serviceable book, but totally forgettable. One can't shake the feeling of an author phoning it in.

Sunday, August 29, 2010


Series: Wolves of Mercy Falls (#2)
Genre: Romance
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Publisher: Scholastic Press

Linger does exactly what a good sequel is supposed to. It picks up where Shiver left off, refining that book's strengths and minimizing it's flaws. It doesn't cheat readers of the original, nor does it regurgitate the same plot. Instead it takes the story in a new direction, which progresses from the previous book in a very organic way. Most of all, it provides an engaging tale with an interesting cast.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Claire de Lune

Series: Claire de Lune (#1)
Genre: Drama
Author: Christine Johnson
PublisherSimon Pulse

Reviewing debut novels can be very difficult. On the one hand, there is an impulse to encourage promising talent and praise fresh perspectives. On the other hand, in all areas of life, newbies make mistakes. A lot of first books struggle with the author's inexperience and stylistic flaws, and the reviewer has a responsibility to be honest both to his reader and the author. So I must regretfully report that Claire de Lune is not a good read. In fact- although it pains me to say this- this is a book that does nearly nothing right.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Raised by Wolves

Series: Raised by Wolves (#1)
Genre: Adventure
Author: Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Publisher: Egmont

Jennifer Lynn Barnes is new to werewolf fiction, but not to writing as a whole. Her website lists six previous YA books to her credit. Her experience shows in Raised by Wolves, because the book is clearly the work of a master storyteller.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Kitty Goes to Washington

Series: Kitty Norville (#2)
Genre: Adventure
Author: Carrie Vaughn
Publisher: Hachette

At one point in Kitty Goes to Washington, the author- through the mouth of the eponymous protagonist- gives a shout out to Call of the Wild author Jack London. That is telling, I think. London's favored medium was the short story. He wasn't really cut out for novels, so his novels tend to operate on the Voltron model. He puts several different stories together along a continuous narrative, ideally producing a whole greater than the sum of his parts. If these first two books are any indication, Carrie Vaughn operates in a similar way- weaving together four or five different plotlines into a single tapestry. In Kitty and the Midnight Hour, this worked very well. In Kitty Goes to Washington? Not so much.


Series: Wolves of Mercy Falls (#1)
Genre: Romance
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Publisher: Scholastic Press

Sam, the male lead of Shiver, is an amateur musician. At certain points in the book he tries to get a handle on what he's feeling at the time by composing song lyrics in his head. Perhaps appropriately, when the back cover of this book finally closed, I had a few bars of Tom Petty running through my own head: "The waiting is the hardest part...". Shiver is a book of heartwarming, tear-jerking highs, and tedious, contrived lows, with most of the highs clustered near the end. While the highs are worth it, this is not a book for the easily annoyed.

Friday, August 6, 2010


Series: Dark Guardian (#1)
Genre: Romance/Adventure
Author: Rachel Hawthorne
Publisher: HarperTeen

The story Moonlight sets out to tell is not a bad one, though it is somewhat lacking in originality. However, right at the point where the plot starts to get good, it drops the ball completely, leaving the end result a massive letdown.

Kitty and the Midnight Hour

Series: Kitty Norville (#1)
Genre: Advenutre
Author: Carrie Vaughn
Publisher: Hachette

Katherine "Kitty" Norville, radio personality, lives in a world where all the things that go bump in the night are real- vampires, werewolves, Christian fundamentalists, the works. Really, it's not that big of a deal. They keep to themselves, enjoy their peculiar entertainments, and try to keep the muggles from finding out. Kitty might not even know about it if she hadn't contracted lycanthropy three years ago. But she did, and now she has to deal with the personal implications, wolfpack politics, and the occasional territorial scuffle with the local vampire family.

Then she accidentally creates a hit talk-radio show about the supernatural. All of a sudden her star is rising as she offers pop-psyche solutions and flippant snark to callers dealing with boyfriends more interested in biting thighs then necks, or wanting to talk about unsightly rashes with someone outside the pack. Not everyone is happy, though- both her alpha Carl and the vampire master Arturo want her to shut down the show. Plus, she gets dragged into investigating both a faith healer who claims to cure lycanthropy and vampirism, and a serial killing werewolf. And oh yeah, someone's trying to kill her. And the hitman's pretty cute.

One thing about this book, it's certainly not under-plotted.