Riverdale and Sabrina

December 12, 2017 0

You’ve heard me talk about Riverdale on the podcast. It never fails to astound me that comics which amused me only slightly as a child, and didn’t amuse me at all as a teen have now become cutting edge phenomena. Consider the following.

Archie Comics has undergone a cutting edge renaissance, albeit one might argue that they are merely peripherally the same comic. In 2015, Mark Waid and Fiona Staples modernized the classic Archie into a relevant comic about today’s teens. Before that, Life with Archie explored Archie’s adult life in two separate timelines, one in which he married Betty, and one in which he married Veronica. In 2010, Kevin Keller, Riverdale’s first gay character was introduced.

And then things went really dark. Afterlife with Archie deals with the Archie gang as zombies. Thanks, Sabrina! The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is currently one of my favorite comics, and it is SUPER creepy and twisted. This isn’t your parents’ Archie anymore, that’s for sure.

So, the television show Riverdale has been cranking hard since the beginning of 2017. It’s the lovechild of Twin Peaks and Beverly Hills 90210. In much the same vein as the teen shows of the 80s, many adults are pretending to be high schoolers, but it’s the show’s strange vibe, in the little town with ridiculously big town concerns (whaaatttt??? Riverdale has two high schools and still calls itself the town with pep???? And has a Chok’lit Shop? And two gangs????) that captures the audience. Hey, I’m captured. I am in love with the new take on Veronica Lodge and the enigmatic Betty Cooper. I like Archie and I adore Jughead, the literary, misunderstood writer who comes from a sketchy background (yeah. No identifying with character going on here. Nope.) Even juicier is a cast of Dynasty like parents who are all…well, most of them…kind of revolting that the kids have to work around. Sure. It’s hard to believe the town of Riverdale is besieged by the epidemic of a drug called jingle jangle served in pixie sticks, or has a serial murder called the Black Hood purifying the town, but remember, we’re in television cult territory here. The villains would get away with things, if it weren’t for those darned kids. Go with the flow, and buy your merch at Hot Topic. You’ll be happier if you do.

And…Netflix will soon be airing a Sabrina show along the horror lines of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. While a companion show, I do not think they can go as far as they do in the comic on television, but given that it’ll only be streamed, I could be proven wrong. We also do not yet know if the show will cross over with Riverdale. I’m happy either way. Mid season finale is tomorrow night, kids. Then you gotta wait until January to get your Riverdale on.

Markswoman by Rati Mehrotra

November 19, 2017 0

My agent mate Rati Mehrotra has written the first book of her new series Markswoman. The book is exactly what I’ve been looking for–a gripping fantasy about a strong group of woman, focusing on strength and revenge.

Markswoman takes place in a post-apocalyptic future Asia, where groups of assassins bonded to special daggers keep the peace among clans and their own orders. The story centers on Kyra, last of her clan, focused on becoming a markswoman to avenge her family’s death. When the head of the order of Kali is killed mysteriously, Kyra finds herself on the wrong side and flees. She spends time among the male assassins of the order of Khur, held in disdain by the predominantly female assassins. There, she learns to fight to face her ultimate battle with Tamsyn the usurper.

Markswoman centers on a strong female lead. Kyra has fears and flaws, but also has a strong moral core, and she knows what she must do when the leader of her order is killed. Against all odds of success, she decides she will challenge Tamsyn to a duel. There is a romantic element to the book, but it is a side plot rather than the point of the endeavor. Kyra coming into her own, learning her true potential, focuses the reader and pulls us through the book.

Mehrotra descriptions are transporting. I found her landscapes immersive and her technological descriptions mysterious.  The world of Markswoman, all aspects of it, are deftly weaved into a rich, textured whole. It is hard to find your way out of this book in certain sections, as it seems to envelope.

One of the added bonuses for me, an older reader, was finding so many interesting “elder” characters to read about. Even though this is a YA book, I found myself enjoying the portrayals of many of the wise and experienced people in the orders of Kali and Khur, which transcended the stereotypes of older people generally found in books about younger people. I felt validated.

There are dangling plot points. What is Nineth’s ultimate fate? Shurik’s? What happens after the ending of the book, which seems so abrupt? And that big reveal about parents and children I can’t tell you about? What are the implications of that? I hope we will get the next book in the Asiana series to answer these questions.

Should you read Markswoman? Yes, you should. You can buy it on January 23rd, 2018. You can pre-order it now.

Fire and Bone by Rachel Marks

November 13, 2017 0

Unreliable Alum Rachel Marks does not disappoint with her latest book, Fire and Bone, a YA Urban Fantasy featuring Celtic mythology.

Way back in the beginning of our podcast, we were lucky enough to interview Rachel about the first book of her Dark Cycle trilogy Darkness Brutal. Fire and Bone kicks off Rachel’s The Otherborn series. Sage, the second born daughter of the Celtic goddess Brighid, finds herself suddenly in the world of the Celtic Penta and all that surround them. She also becomes involved in a centuries old tragedy, and it becomes difficult for Sage to sort out which life is present, which is past, and who her allies and enemies are in this new and strange world.

Marks presents us with some winning characters. Sage is vulnerable and lost, yet is solidly grounded and knows herself, sparing us some of the insecurities that have haunted YA heroines in years past. The romance between her and Faelin is compelling, but stays at a level which drives it forward in unrelenting tension. All the characters are dimensional and intriguing. It will come as no surprise to the people who know me I become a fan of the dark prince Kieran, and yes, I’m not giving away any spoilers at all here. Go read the book. You’ll get there.

At the same time Sage is thrust into the intrigue and politics of the Celtic gods, an undercurrent of a tragedy in the past presents as a mystery, and then as very relevant to the current day. The mystery of the past blends with the discovery of the present skillfully, and by the end of the book, both plots come together. The only real flaw of this book is that it ends, and we’ll have to wait for the next one for a while. Since I received an ARC, I have to wait longer than you will, so be grateful for that, at least.

Fire and Bone is available at Amazon from Skyscape in all the usual ways: Kindle, CreateSpace, and Audio. If UF, YA or Celtic is your jam, you should go pre-order.

Snowspelled by Stephanie Burgis

October 12, 2017 0

I am a fan of Stephanie Burgis’ work. Her middle grade novels starring the incorrigible Kat Stephenson are some of my favorites. I love the skillful way Burgis writes the whimsical Kat in a great historical setting. Burgis weaves history and fantasy together in all her works. I just read Burgis’ novella Snowspelled, and I am transported.

Snowspelled is the story of Cassandra Hargrove, an exceptional sorceress who has pushed herself too far, and must now face the consequences of her actions. The book is about Cassandra finding her new self, and her struggles in the face of that. True to perfectionist form, she isolates, breaking her relationship with the her fiance. The two are thrown together at a house party, and well, I can’t begin to describe the chemistry and witty banter between them. You can guess, however, that I came for the setting and I stayed for the relationship. Into this mix Cassandra and Wrexham encounter an elf-lord with an agenda against Angland, and Cassandra has to find the culprit causing an unnatural winter.

All of the characters are wonderfully realized. Cassandra is an easy character to identify with, flaws and all. Brother Jonathan and sister Amy show Cassandra an affection that help the readers extrapolate her less prickly dimensions. I won’t begin to praise Wrexham. We could be here a long time. Just…read the novella.  I read it in a day. That is testimony to its quality, not my speed.

What is best of all about this is that there will be more. I’ll be waiting, not so patiently, right over here.

Review: Terminal Alliance by Jim C. Hines

September 16, 2017 0

The author was kind enough to send me an early review ARC, which I appreciate a great deal. I have read all of Hines’s books, and the reason this book gets five stars from me is it is the author’s most ambitious project to date.

Don’t get me wrong. Hines is one of the most versatile authors working in speculative fiction today, and I love that he ranges far and wide in his take on the speculative. Terminal Alliance has so many moving parts. It makes the philosophical statements he makes in his Goblin series (you missed this? Go look again!), has the strong moral characteristics of his princesses, and is full of the kind of self-examination we get in the Libriomancer series.

AND in and of its own self, this is easily the most interesting group of extraterrestrials I’ve seen in SF in a long time. In a publishing world of Roddenberry style humanoid aliens with facial appendages, Hines gives us aliens that are patterned on other life forms of earth–octopi, bugs, muppets–but he gives them excellent personalities and distinctive traits for each alien and alien culture. No Mr. Spock Vulcan monoliths here. Different planets have different factions that don’t get along. Hmmm…that’s kind of refreshing.

Additionally, Hines’s humor wends into satire in this book. To get these jokes, you have to understand our current culture and see how the future warps and distorts it. We get the jokes the characters in the book can’t get. There’s plenty in there that’s funny for its own sake, but man, the social commentary on current times. It’s pretty good.

I liked Jim Hines as an author before. I am more impressed now than I have ever been, and I’m the academic that called Goblin Quest the current equivalent to Pilgrim’s Progress. Step back and just let Hines write. I’m looking forward to whatever comes next.

Get Your Own eBook of The Vessel of Ra!

September 12, 2017 1

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It’s September 12th, and I’m celebrating the release of my first novel, The Vessel of Ra! With exclamation marks!

Perhaps YOU would like an eBook of The Vessel of Ra? I can do that for you. I’m giving away THREE copies. If you want one, just comment here by the end of September, and I will draw three winners at random. Don’t forget to give me an email address to reach you at, so I can ask you what format you would like.

And now, I’m off to grin like an idiot for the rest of the day. Again, I want to thank my fellow Unreliables for the interview here, as well as all the wonderful friends and writers who have made this day possible.

Review: Continuum by Wendy Nikel

September 3, 2017 5

Like Wendy Nikel herself, I am a sucker for almost any time travel story, so Continuum was a good fit for me as a reader. Time travel as vacation meets the problem solving of Quantum Leap in a satisifying package.

The story begins in the past when Elise Morley retrieves a client who has forgotten herself and almost takes a voyage on the Titanic with her fiancee. Elise saves the client, but the rather inelegant Extraction causes fallout which ripples through the book. Meanwhile, it turns out that the travel agency where Elise works is not the only entity to have access to this technology, and a government agency has been sending people to the future. Elise is sent to retrieve a rogue agent.

While I wish we could have spent more time in the heads of a couple of the characters who were relevant to the past, I found the story that focused on the future well-paced and interesting I wanted just a bit more to explain what Allen was doing and why, although his ultimate motivation was a solid payoff. Chandler charmed me a great deal. And while Elise strikes me as world weary at first, she has a noble turn of character and a surprise plot twist which work pretty well.

Nikel is a solid writer with vivid description, an imaginative future, and a command of accurate historical speech. Check out that purse snatcher in 1912. Her characters manifest their time stream’s habits and inflections brilliantly, which is a real value add for this reader.

Nikel creates a rich world in which she could easily weave a tapestry of other time travel adventures.  While Elise seems like she ends up in a place from which she cannot return, well, it is time travel after all, and whose to say continuity has to be linear?

Review: The Defenders

August 19, 2017 0

What does a writer who is working on two manuscripts do with a little spare time on Saturday? Well, she writes (first and foremost) and then she watches…oh, 8 hours of The Defenders. Caveat: This writer got up pretty early.

I know you are dying, DYING! to hear about The Defenders. Did it work? Was Danny Rand as bad an Iron Fist as he was in his own series? Could the four Netflix heroes work well together? What can you do in a police room full of supporting characters anyway? And what about Dr. Strange, The Hulk, Prince Namor, and the Submariner?

Let’s start with that last question first. The only thing similar to the comic Defenders and this show is the name. No, you are not going to see even the Valkyrie, who was a Defender in the seventies. Let’s face facts: Netflix was just looking for an available super hero name, and they didn’t want to go with the Champions of Los Angeles. Got it?

Our Defenders are the four action heroes on Netflix who have actually had their own shows: Daredevil, Iron Fist, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage. Incredibly well-balanced, moral compass Luke Cage is around to keep the rest of these guys from getting killed. Just saying. Mike Colter is so cool in this show, and his character makes my teeth hurt. In a good way. The acting is mighty fine among the mains. Charlie Cox keeps up Daredevil’s edgy vulnerability. Krysten Ritter delivers again as the hard-boiled Jessica Jones. And yes, Finn Jones as Iron Fist works here. As a matter of re-envisioning, if you look at the entire Iron Fist show as a set up for this show, suddenly you can see how that piece fits into this puzzle. Oh yeah, Iron Fist has many, many problems, but you need those problems to make this plot work.

The show is not without flaws. The pacing is still off, although not as much as in the 13-episode Netflix shows. Still, some parts of the show seem self-indulgent and could use more editing to make sure they firm up the story’s movement. And yet, there might be a counterargument, that everyone gets to see their favorite supporting characters do their thing. Like I live for Foggy, and so even if his bits don’t forward the story, I’m there.

One of the things the Hubs and I noticed as we watched the show: even the villains (sometimes especially the villains) have bad days in this universe. Alexandra, played by Sigourney Weaver tries her very best to destroy New York city with style, but the best laid plans…

Things to watch for that might press your Marvel buttons: first meeting between Colleen Wing and Misty Night. Money moment scene with Luke Cage and Iron Fist squaring off to fight the Hand. Matt Murdock agreeing entirely with Luke Cage that innocents shouldn’t get hurt because they are cut out of that same moral cloth. Jessica Jones telling the story about Matt Murdock’s boxer father to a kid who’s just lost her own father. Electra finally getting her groove back.

And…in this day and age, and especially after Iron Fist, Luke Cage talking about privilege to Danny Rand AND GETTING THROUGH TO HIM made me feel pretty good. Danny is far from a perfect character, but he grows. The only way to go for Danny is up.

I miss Frank, but I understand the next series to watch for will be Punisher, so I guess I can wait. Not too shabby, Netflix.

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