Book Review: The Gilda Stories: Expanded 25th Anniversary Edition, Jewelle Gomez (2016)

Friday, June 17th, 2016

A subversive and exhilarating read!

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free book for review from the publisher. Trigger warning for violence, including rape.)

“Why do you say others may kill and we must not?”

“Some are said to live through the energy of fear. That is their sustenance more than sharing. The truth is we hunger for connection to life, but it needn’t be through horror or destruction. Those are just the easiest links to evoke. Once learned, this lesson mustn’t be forgotten. To ignore it, to wallow in death as the white man has done, can only bring bitterness.”

My love is the blood that enriches this ground.
The sun is a star denied you and me.
But you are the life I’ve searched for and found
And the moon is our half of the dream.

That she hit him with his own whip seemed to startle him more than the pain.

The Girl is just nine when her mother passes away – of the flu, contracted from one of the white women she was caring for in the main house. Scared that she’ll be sold off like her father, she runs away, getting as far as the state line that separates Mississippi from Louisiana before being discovered by a bounty hunter. Gilda finds the Girl in her cellar, shaking and covered in blood – and with the corpse of her would-be rapist at her feet.

As with many girls before her, Gilda takes the Girl in, offering her sanctuary in her saloon/brothel. But Gilda and her lover/business partner, Bird, take a special interest in this girl, teaching her how to read and write in multiple languages; how to grow her own food and run a business; and, eventually, in the ways of their kind. Gilda is a three hundred-year-old vampire, you see, and her days walking this earth are numbered. Tired of the war, hatred, and inequality that surrounds her, Gilda yearns for her “true death,” and hopes to turn the Girl so that Bird will not be left alone in her absence.

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DNF Review: Revenge and the Wild, Michelle Modesto (2016)

Monday, February 1st, 2016

(Full disclosure: I received an electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss.)

The two-bit town of Rogue City is a lawless place, full of dark magic and saloon brawls, monsters and six-shooters. But it’s perfect for seventeen-year-old Westie, the notorious adopted daughter of local inventor Nigel Butler.

Westie was only a child when she lost her arm and her family to cannibals on the wagon trail. Nine years later, Westie may seem fearsome with her foul-mouthed tough exterior and the powerful mechanical arm built for her by Nigel, but the memory of her past still haunts her. She’s determined to make the killers pay for their crimes—and there’s nothing to stop her except her own reckless ways.

But Westie’s search ceases when a wealthy family comes to town looking to invest in Nigel’s latest invention, a machine that can harvest magic from gold—which Rogue City desperately needs as the magic wards that surround the city start to fail. There’s only one problem: the investors look exactly like the family who murdered Westie’s kin. With the help of Nigel’s handsome but scarred young assistant, Alistair, Westie sets out to prove their guilt. But if she’s not careful, her desire for revenge could cost her the family she has now.

(Synopsis via Goodreads.)

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Book Review: The Last American Vampire, Seth Grahame-Smith (2015)

Wednesday, January 14th, 2015

American History V

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received an ARC through Goodreads’s First Reads program.)

It’s one of the few true blessings to the curse of being a vampire. For in those ephemeral moments we cease to be monsters and get to be superheroes.

I have a confession to make: I’ve never read Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Sure, I watched the movie – when it came to DVD last autumn – and liked it. Just not enough to check out the book on which it was based, apparently.

So when I spotted a Goodreads giveaway for The Last American Vampire, I was torn. Usually it’s pure folly to read a series out of order, but the alternate history aspect proved impossible to resist. Also, it looked like the story was far enough removed from Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter that I might enjoy it anyway; as of this writing, Goodreads doesn’t even list them as part of the same series, though this could very well be a temporary oversight.

While fans of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter will undoubtedly get more out of The Last American Vampire, this newcomer loved it just the same. The story follows Henry Sturges – Abe’s immortal friend and mentor – in the years before and since the fatal shooting in Ford’s Theater. Breaking one of the Union’s few rules – “A vampire will make no other vampire.” – Henry stalks Abe’s funeral procession, finally stealing the corpse from its casket in Springfield some three weeks after Abe’s death. Henry lovingly resurrects his friend, nursing him back to health, only to have Abe commit suicide by sunshine upon realizing what he’s become.

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Book Review: The Secrets of Life and Death, Rebecca Alexander (2014)

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014

A Mostly Fun Mix of Urban Fantasy & Historical Fiction

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free ARC for review through Library Thing’s Early Reviewers program.)

It is said in Poland that nowhere is the line between alive and dead finer, than in Transylvania. Only when a corpse is bloated and festering, or entirely beheaded, is it believed dead.

Poland, 1585. The scientist-slash-sorcerer Dr. John Dee and his assistant Edward Kelley are summoned to the castle of His Majesty King Istvan Báthory of Poland, King and Duke of Lithuania, King and Viovode of Transylvania, Prince of Hungary (say that five times fast!). His sister’s daughter, the Countess Elisabeth Báthory, is dying of a mysterious illness – one with symptoms eerily similar to the sickness that claimed her mother Anna and grandmother Katalin before her.

Caught between the warring forces of the Vatican and its brutal Inquisition; Elisabeth’s husband, the fierce Ferenc Nádasdy; and the angels (or are they demons?) who communicate with Dee through Kelley, the scientists risk death if they fail to cure the Countess – and possibly their mortal souls should they succeed.

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Book Review: Buffy the Vampire Slayer Omnibus, Vol. 3, Eric Powell et al. (2008)

Friday, April 11th, 2014

“Decapitation with a smile!”

four out of five stars

The third volume of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer Omnibus features an even dozen stories, all of which are concurrent with Season 3 of the television series:

Wu-Tang Fang – The Scoobies dust the “Mickey Rourke of China,” a traveling vampire named San Sui who feeds on the blood of vanquished foes.

Halloween – The night before Halloween, Willow storms out of the house after an argument with the ‘rents, and swiftly falls into the clutches of a group of vamps.

Cold Turkey – Buffy brains a vamp with her frozen turkey when he tries to make a Thanksgiving meal out of her. The night shopping? Still more harrowing.

Dance With Me – When Buffy (repeatedly) turns Gary down at the dance, he decides to become a vampire so that she’ll have no choice but to pay attention to him.

White Christmas – Buffy takes a job selling popsicles at the mall, only to discover that her boss is summoning demons in the walk-in freezer. Choice quote: “I don’t wear clothes only to impress guys.”

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Book Review: X-Files/30 Days of Night, Steve Niles et al. (2011)

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

Don’t MAKE him say the v-word, Scully!

four out of five stars

When the grisly remains of some sixteen truck drivers are discovered by plow driver Henry-Lee “Patches” Brown, Mulder and Scully are called out to Wainwright, Alaska to investigate. Decapitated, drained of blood, and hung atop a 40-foot pole, these clearly aren’t the victims of an ordinary serial killer – despite what their colleagues at the FBI believe. Mulder and Scully’s investigation leads them to an abandoned 19th century ship, a limbless old man, an ancient artifact, and a young girl covered in third-degree burns (and then…not). All the while, they must contend with the 24-hour darkness that has enveloped wintry Wainwright.

A fan of the 2007 film 30 Days of Night, I was researching the comic book series by Steve Niles, trying to decide whether I should give it a try, when I stumbled upon this crossover series. Whereas the 30 Days of Night comics generally have poor to fair reviews, this one came highly recommended. But hey, they had me at “The X-Files“!

Steve Niles and Adam Jones (of Tool fame) expertly capture the tone and spirit of the show in this adaptation: the wry humor, the amiable-yet-sometimes-exasperated banter, the sense of camaraderie between our favorite two federal agents. The writers nail the characters of Mulder and Scully (and Skinner!), even if the art isn’t always spot-on. As I read, I could easily envision this story on the small screen. (Or large. Someone make this happen please! Given the comic’s final panel, it would make an excellent sequel to the 30 Days of Night film!)

The story wasn’t quite as long as I would have liked, but then I’d rather the writers leave me wanting more rather than wishing for less.

Whether you count yourself a member of the X-Files or 30 Days fandom, X-Files/30 Days of Night belongs in your book pile.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: The Carvings Collection, Drake Vaughn (2013)

Monday, January 20th, 2014

A Mixed Bag of Horror Stories

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review at the author’s invitation. Also, trigger warning for rape and animal abuse.)

The Carvings Collection contains ten horror stories from the “crinkled mind” of Drake Vaughn. The stories range from conceivably true crime (fundamentalists do the darnedest things!) to the supernatural/fantastical (vampires, werewolves, and giant cockroaches, oh my!) and “psychological tales of imagination gone wrong.”

Dolls – A young girl’s menagerie of dolls begins to act out scenes of abuse on each other – and on Ella, their owner. In this story, it’s the adults who are the real monsters.

Driver’s Seat – A woman dealing with apparent PTSD in the wake of a carjacking/murder spree reconnects with her husband through violence. (Or regains control by embracing her darker impulses? I don’t know, I was both confused and somewhat disturbed by this point.)

Master Key – A quartet of teens find more than they bargained for when they cut class to light up and happen upon the nether regions of their high school, which was built on the ruins of a (supposedly!) abandoned paper mill.

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Book Review: The Strain, Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan (2009)

Saturday, January 15th, 2011

It’s a Nazi Vampire Plague, y’all!

Set in present-day New York City, The Strain follows Ephraim Goodweather – an epidemiologist with the CDC – as he races to stop the spread of an virus that essentially hijacks its host body, transforming human to vampire. (Nonhuman animals appear not to be affected, though this doesn’t preclude their consumption by vampires. Spoiler warning: the dog gets it!)

Transmitted via the exchange of bodily fluids (usually in the form of a “brutal” feeding frenzy as opposed to a more sophisticated and sexy neck bite), the virus is as old as the seven vampires – the Ancients – who are spread out among the “Old” and “New” Worlds. Kept under wraps by a tenuous truce between the Ancients for centuries, the virus is about to be unleashed upon humanity by a renegade vampire – the Dark One, Master, Sardu, The Thing – with the help of one especially evil, ambitious and self-involved human. (A billionaire, natch.)

Our hero “Eph” is accompanied by fellow CDC scientist Nora Martinez, along with a rag-tag team of unlikely experts, namely: Vasily Fet, an exterminator working for the City of New York and Abraham Setrakian, an elderly pawnshop owner and Holocaust survivor who has spent much of his life in pursuit of the Dark One.

I don’t want to spoil the book for anyone, so I won’t go any further into plot details than this. One rave featured on the back cover describes it as “Bram Stoker meets Stephen King meets Michael Crichton”; I don’t know about Crichton, but if you’re a fan of Stephen King and/or modern-day vampire stories, most likely you’ll love The Strain. I’ve seen a number of complaints that the book itself is “strained” – that is, drawn out, tedious and much lengthier than need be. Co-authors Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan do spend quite a bit of time elaborating on the “science” behind the vampire plague, it’s true; the vampire parasite’s history, biology, anatomy and the like are described in almost-loving detail. However, this need not be a negative; if you prefer your science fiction and horror stories served with a whiff of scientific plausibility, you’re apt to appreciate the “medical mystery” aspects of The Strain.

As an aside, I found myself both touched and charmed by Abraham’s backstory (particularly the “bubbeh meiseh” that opens the first book in the trilogy). I also wanted to throttle the Barbour parents with my bare hands. Seriously, folks, you don’t leave your “family members” chained in the shed out back, even if they are “just dogs”; doubly so if you know that one of your neighbors has beaten them in the past. “Love”? More like neglect. Yuck.

See also: Milk addictions, Nazi monstrosities & long-suffering canines: Three things about The Strain. at POP! goes The Vegan.

(This review was originally published on Amazon and Library Thing, and is also available on Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you think it so!)

Intersectionality ‘Round the Interwebs, No. 10: Feminist Dilemmas, Light Switches & Veg/an Vampires

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

I know y’all hear this entirely too often, but it’s been a long time since I last posted an intersectionality link roundup. Too long! What can I say? VeganMoFo monopolized my October. (But seriously, we have to stop intersecting like this.)

Alas, many of these links are a little older, but still worth a look.

Jennie @ That Vegan Girl: Vegans and vampires and

Breeze Harper @ Vegans of Color: Twilight and Vegetarian Vampires? New Philosophy book…

Though I’ve shied away from the Twilight series due to its not-so-subtle misogyny, I may have to reconsider, given the books’ allusions to vegetarianism. Nor is vegetarianism an uncommon theme in vampire fiction. In the first link, Jennie explores vegetarianism and veganism in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight, as well as the HBO TV series True Blood (which is based on another series of books, Charlaine Harris’s The Southern Vampire Mysteries). In the second, Breeze Harper of VOC points to a new anthology on the subject, Twilight and Philosophy: Vampires, Vegetarians, and the Pursuit of Immortality, which has since been added to my wishlist.

Ari Solomon @ The Huffington Post: The Feminist’s Dilemma

Vegan entrepreneur and dudely feminist (or pro-feminist/ally, if you prefer) Ari Soloman argues that the plight of nonhuman animals is indeed a feminist issue. Using the lives and deaths of “dairy” cows as an example, he posits that the human exploitation of nonhuman animals is oftentimes gendered, with the females of the species suffering especially brutal and prolonged abuses – all because they’re capable of perpetuating the species/industry. Naturally, I agree.

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Movie Review: 30 Days of Night (2007)

Sunday, April 27th, 2008

A darker take on the vampire flick

four out of five stars

30 DAYS OF NIGHT is based on the first three-issue series of graphic novels by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith (also called “30 Days of Night”). I have not yet read any of the graphic novels (according to Wiki, there are 13 series), but after watching the movie, my interest is certainly piqued. Since I have little knowledge of the novels, my review is only of the movie – not how it compares to the graphic novels, or how it fits into the series as a whole.

The story takes place in the isolated oil town of Barrow, Alaska – a town so far north that, for 30 consecutive days each winter, the sun does not rise (hence the title, “30 Days of Night”). Anticipating thirty days of uninterrupted darkness, a group of bloodthirsty vampires descends upon Barrow, quickly picking off most of the townspeople. A brave few, including the local sheriff, Eben Oleson (Josh Hartnett) and Stella, his fire marshal wife (Melissa George), manage to survive, taking refuge in hidden attics and making supply runs to the general store under the cover of blinding blizzards. The film’s climax comes on the 29th day, in the form of a fight between Eben and the head vampire, set amid the backdrop of a town in flames.

Overall, 30 DAYS OF NIGHT is a good enough horror flick. The dialogue is a bit choppy at first, but it evens out as the movie progresses. The acting is solid enough, though no one really delivers a stand-out performance. The movie’s greatest asset is its setting: an isolated town, blanketed with snow and darkness. The blue and grey tones cast on the set and actors are eerily beautiful. The overhead shots, of which there are many, are simply stunning. The town even looks gorgeous when it’s on fire.

As for the vampires, they aren’t what you’d expect; they’re more animalistic than your usual horror movie vamps. Complete with bat-shaped faces and pterodactyl-like wails straight out of the Cretaceous Period, they resemble alien-animal-Slavic zombie hybrids. Kind of like James Carville, but more evil (only slightly, though). One of them even looks like he might be Marilyn Manson’s undead cousin. For the most part, the vampires don’t talk, but communicate through wails, screeches, body language and at times telepathy (or so it seems). The head vampire is allowed several lines of dialogue (all in subtitles…I suspect it’s probably Russian, through it sounds a bit like Klingon), and he occasionally reaches the brink of philosophizing, for example, about the existence of god. Yet, these moments are prematurely truncated. Consequently, we never really get a sense of the vampires’ back story – their origins, their hierarchy, their future plans for humanity. Which is a shame, since the graphic novels sound as though they do flesh out (pun intended) the vampiric characters in greater detail.

Even though the filmmakers failed in personalizing the vampires, I generally enjoyed the movie – up until the last ten minutes or so, that is. The film’s climax is silly and unnecessary. My quibble isn’t with Eben’s poor showing in the fight scene; indeed, given the circumstances, you’d expect that the vampires would whip his hybrid arse up and down Main Street. Rather, the fight (and the plot twist leading up to it) is wholly unnecessary, as the sun rose soon after the climax. (Like, in a matter of minutes.) Neither Stella nor Eben’s hideouts were compromised by the fire, so both could have waited it out. The whole silly spectacle might possibly have been redeemed it if had been used to set the film up for a sequel – which is what I’d expected – but it didn’t seem to easily allow for a second film, at least not involving our hero and heroine. As a result, the ending was just…weird. Weird and incomprehensible. However, after researching the graphic novel series, the ending makes much more sense; yet, it just doesn’t work in the context of a single movie. A sequel would certainly go a long ways towards salvaging this movie’s ending.

By the by, is there anything hotter than a grizzled Josh Hartnett in a thermal undershirt? Meow!

(This review was originally published on Amazon. Please click through and vote it helpful if you think it so!)