Book Review: Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin

Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy; Dystopia; Steampunk

Series: Book 1 of Masque of the Red Death

Publisher: Greenwillow Books

Date of Publication: April 24, 2012

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Never have I felt so broken up over writing a review for a book that ultimately ended up not being my cup of tea. It’s tough, seeing asMasque of the Red Death is a Young Adult dystopian novel inspired by the Edgar Allan Poe short story of the same name, and so it is at once creative, original and highly ambitious — which all happen to be qualities I admire in a book. It had some good ideas, and so I wanted to like this, tried hard to like it, but in the end there simply were too many issues that prevented me from getting on board.

The book is set in a gothic, post-apocalyptic rendition of the late 1800s, with a dash of steampunk mixed in for good measure. 17-year-old Araby Worth lives life amongst the elite thanks to her father’s illustrious career as a scientist, while the poor are left to fend for themselves in a city ridden with plague and death. Those who have the means to afford them buy the elaborate porcelain masks which help prevent the contagion, but the dictator Prince Prospero has a iron hold over their production. Still grieving the death of her twin brother which she believes is her fault, Araby wants to help change the way things are by working towards making salvation from the disease available to all.

I’m torn over these details. On the one hand, I’m completely in love with the setting, and my one regret is wanting to know a lot more about the history and background than the book was able to give me. I also think the main character had a lot of potential, but for some reason Araby feels pretty much devoid of any personality. If I had to guess, I would say it’s the writing style; told in first-person present tense, the narration could have been a lot more powerful, but instead it came across very clipped as I was bombarded with simple short sentences that often described everything Araby saw in front of her eyes but sadly not what was going on inside her head. As such, I couldn’t get a sense of who she was at all.

Even now, there are so many blank spots in my mental picture of her as a character, since a lot of her motivations and behaviors just didn’t match up. Her father, for example, whom she thinks is cold, aloof and uncaring, is actually in my opinion a sweet, kind and rather cool dad! I mean, here’s a man who takes his morose teenage daughter for walks just to get her out of the house and on a whim would buy her nice things like books. Then there’s Araby, one of those girls who contemplates betraying her parents for a boy she’s only known for a grand total of like five minutes. I’m just shaking my head.

Which brings me to another thing that bothered me — the dreaded love triangle. It would be nice if I had any interest at all in either romantic option, but behind door number one is Elliott, the prince’s nephew who seeks to fuel a rebellion by convincing Araby to join him by his side. Meanwhile, behind door number two is William, the handsome porter with the awesome tattoos who works at the club Araby frequents and whom she is drawn to. One guy is arrogant, the other is dull, and both are patronizing to the extreme. It’s really tough for me to get into a book when the romantic drama takes up such a huge part of the story, especially when I think the heroine is deserving of so much more than what she’s offered.

I feel like I’m being too harsh in this review, but even after putting my YA-reading hat on and embracing the romance, I just couldn’t get into this book. I think it had some great ideas, but I feel like we’ve only scratched the surface on a lot of them, much like how I think Araby’s character could have been much better developed. While this book was a quick read, I can’t help but think maybe a little more detail could have gone a long way into fleshing out the story and making it more satisfying.

 
2.5 of 5 stars

 

Want more steampunk? New to the genre? Visit Once Upon A Time’s Clockwork Carnival 2013 for all sorts of steampunk goodies.

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Mogsy’s Book Haul

I always love welcoming new books to my library, and the last couple of weeks saw some new arrivals from various sources!

In the physical book pile:

The Crimson Shield – won from a giveaway the author Stephen Deas (writing as Nathan Hawke) was hosting on his blog and on Twitter, so I was pretty psyched out of my mind when my copy arrived safe and sound from its long journey across the Atlantic. What a bold choice it is to leave all writing including title and author information off the front cover, but I can’t deny that the result is quite dramatic and effective. Can’t wait to read this book.

Countdown City – from LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program, the second book of the Last Policeman series. I read the first book earlier this year and was really looking forward to seeing what would happen next, so I pretty much devoured this sequel. Look for the review in a couple days!

Skulk – an ARC I received from Strange Chemistry, and it’s one of those books that make me really happy I check out YA. I meant to review this closer to its release date, and only picked it up to read a chapter or two just to see what it’s all about. I ended up finishing the book in a couple sittings because I couldn’t help it; it was pretty addictive. My review should be up closer to October when the book comes out!

Love Minus Eighty – oh man. Oh frickin’ man. My deepest gratitude to My Shelf Confessions for hosting the giveaway of this book, which is how I got my copy. I’d been falling to pieces lately pining to read this, and I was floored when I got the email saying I actually won. Currently in the middle of this and I can’t even being to describe how captivated I am by it right now.

Now on to the digital pile:

 

Looks like I didn’t do quite as well on the self-restraint front this week with NetGalley:

The Troop – looked interested from the NG newsletter they sent out.
Warrior of the West – invite from Atria to review the second book in the King Arthur Trilogy after I reviewed the first.
Letters from a Murderer – from Angry Robot’s mystery and crime friction imprint, this one looked like something I’d enjoy.

Ebooks I purchased:

Stormdancer a friend of mine has offered me an opportunity to read the second book, but whether or not that pans out I wanted to read book one first before the sequel comes out. Plus, the description on this looked cool, and I’ve heard some great things.
Angelfallan interesting looking YA book I came across while browsing Amazon’s own publishing titles, which got some pretty good comments and reviews. For a few bucks I picked up both the ebook and the audiobook Whispersync bundle.
The Mister Trophyrecommended to me by a Goodreads friend who told me to check this author and series out if I enjoy urban fantasy. It’s a short read and it could be had for a couple of bucks, so I thought, why not!

Book Review: The Exodus Towers by Jason M. Hough

The Exodus Towers by Jason M. Hough

Genre: Science Fiction, Post-Apocalyptic


Series: The Dire Earth Cycle #2

Publisher: Del Rey Books

Date of Publication: August 27, 2013

Author Info: www.jasonmhough.com

With thanks to NetGalley and Del Rey for the opportunity to read an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The Exodus Towers takes up shortly after The Darwin Elevator. The “traitors” are now separated from Darwin, Australia after the discovery of a second alien elevator in Belem, Brazil. Skyler Luiken and the colonists are working to set up, well, a colony, using the new alien towers and their transportable auras. Tania Sharma and her crew are supporting them from above and desperately trying to keep Russell Blackfield from finding out about the colony, while still maintaining the food for air and water trade with him. Meanwhile, Sam Rinn and Kelly Adelaide are still imprisoned by Blackfield within Nightcliff.

From the first image of a girl dancing among the ghosts of desolation, I was hooked. Things quickly picked up from there, moving along at a spiralling pace that introduces some intriguing new characters, eager to stake a claim in the aftermath of Neil Platz’s death and Blackfield’s anarchy. The Jacobites take on a greater role and Skyler learns that he isn’t as unique as he thought.

And all the while, the mystery of the aliens and their purpose continues to loom over them, now with a clock ticking down, if Tania’s calculations on the “Builders’” schedule is correct.

For the first half of the book, my thoughts went off the rails because of how much was happening. I hate to use typical review buzz words, but I’m going to have to fling out “action-packed” and “edge of your seat” to describe the suspense, drama and excitement as I hopelessly devolved into subhuman squeals, flails and tears. I may have even uttered a loud “**** YEAH!” at one point.

Fortunately, before my review completely deteriorated into “lakjdflajf!!!,” with me huddled in the corner desperately reading The Plague Forge, impatiently awaiting news about when The Dire Earth Cycle is going to be made into movies, the second half of the book settled down and allowed my nerves to do the same.

Time is a big factor, with the Builders’ scheduled to – do something – in two years from where the book begins. After the initial action, events skip quickly through the more mundane aspects of taking control of Nightcliff and setting up the colony. This part of the book might seem dull to some, but, as I said, time is a factor and I appreciate the way Hough worked all of this preparation in under the continued, ominous mystery of the Builders. Are the Builders malevolent or benevolent? Their SUBS disease has wiped out/converted 90% of human life on earth, while their elevators and aura towers are protecting the rest. WHAT THE HELL DO THEY WANT???

*ahem* Sorry.

Also during this time, the characters and their relationships change significantly and sometimes surprisingly. Certain relationships that seemed to have been forged in The Darwin Elevator have not ended up where I expected – and I love that! I might be disappointed that I don’t get what I thought were OTPs, but I love that Hough hasn’t taken the obvious routes.

I am really happy to spend more time with Sam, one of my favourite characters from the previous book. She’s a rough and tumble woman of Amazonian height who can hold her own against any man. She began as a dangerously subordinate member of Skyler’s crew, but she really impressed me after Jake’s death, showing a side of herself that isn’t just about the typical bluff and bluster. This continues in Towers, where she gets to display intelligence, leadership and compassion. Meanwhile, Hough continues to reveal that his other lead characters are not perfect and sometimes, aren’t even likable.

One thing I really want to praise is the diversity of Hough’s survivors. Too often, post-apocalyptic stories forget that the rest of the world exists. It’s ironic that the survivors have all been sequestered into one small pocket on the bottom of the world, yet Hough has made it clear that, when the crisis hit, everyone from everywhere attempted to make their way to Darwin. That means that the one million remaining humans are a true cross-section of the billions of people that used to live on the planet, and it does not feel like tokenism when we meet characters from various cultures, some of whom don’t even speak English.

Click here for more on The Dire Earth Cycle, including an interview with author Jason M. Hough.

4 of 5 stars

Book Review: Children of Fire by Drew Karpyshyn

Children of Fire byDrew Karpyshyn

Genre: Epic Fantasy

Series: Book 1 (so far)

Publisher: Del Rey

Expected Date of Publication: August 27, 2013 

Author Information: Website | Twitter

I’d looked forward to this novel for a long time, ever since last year when Drew Karpyshyn announced he was leaving BioWare to focus on his own original book project. Having very much enjoyed his work in video games in the past, including the novels that spawned out of the Mass Effect and Star Wars: The Old Republic universes, I was disappointed to see him go but was also very curious as to what he was working on. 

Turned out, it was Children of Fire, the first book of his idea for a new epic fantasy series, and it sounded something he’d been cooking in his head for long time. After years of reading his Star Wars and video game tie-in novels, I was very interested in seeing what Drew can do with his very own story and characters. My thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for providing me with this e-ARC.

About the book:
 
Long ago, a great warrior called Daemron was was chosen by the gods to lead the war against the Chaos spawn. He was given three magical talismans to aid him in the fight — a crown, a ring, and a sword. Daemron, however, grew corrupted with their power and ended up turning against the gods.  The savior of the world instead became its destroyer. 

Daemron was thwarted in the end, banished to a plane beyond the Chaos Sea, sealed behind barrier called the Legacy. A religious cabal called The Order have been tasked to maintain this magical shield, protecting the world from the Chaos and its minions. The three magical talismans were hidden away or lost.

Now the Legacy weakens, and Daemron grows strong enough to cast his essence into the world. Across the land, four Chaos-touched children are born beneath a blood red moon, each embodying an aspect of Daemron himself. Though Keegan, Scythe, Vaaler, and Cassandra grow up in different places with different lives, their fates are intertwined — but whether it is their destiny to restore the Legacy or unleash the destroyer upon the world is yet unknown.

My thoughts:

I loved lots of things about this book, and on the top of that list was the sweeping, overarching feel of the story. The introduction including the details surrounding the four children’s origins was in my opinion the best part of the book. While all born of “suffering and strife”, the background and circumstances of each child were nonetheless unique and interesting.

The character development continues as we follow the four children, and we get glimpses into the major events of their lives as they grow up. But as we edged closer towards the present and more and more talk of fate and destiny crept into the picture, that’s when I hit a wall. I still enjoyed the story very much, but at this point everything began to feel a lot more run-of-the-mill and typical.  

It is possible that I am just a bit more critical of the fantasy I read these days, especially if they come with the description of “innovative epic fantasy”, but I admit I expected a lot more from the characters and plot. Both bordered on the cut-and-dried and formulaic after while, which I felt was the main thing holding back the story. I know the concept of the Big-Damn-Hero-destined-to-save-the-world is one that’s tried and true, but it’s very in-your-face here and nowadays I crave a lot more out of my fantasy reads.

And maybe I’m just still not used to seeing the author’s writing outside of media adaptations, but while I love his “pulpy” style in Star Wars and game tie-in books, here it kind of feels out of place for the kind of story he wants to tell. I thought that more focus could have been placed on the setting and supporting characters too, to give the story as a whole more of an “epic” vibe, because I didn’t feel like I was getting enough of history and identity from this original world he’s establishing from scratch. The Danaan people and their cities come to mind, for example.

I also think some of the points I brought up above could do with the pacing. I think Drew Karpyshyn did a fantastic job presenting to us his main characters, considering there are four of them and that’s quite a few different perspectives to follow. Keegan gets the bulk of the attention, though, and I wished we could have seen more of of the others at different ages because it feels like a couple of them disappear for a long stretches at a time. When they resurface, sometimes years afterward, I don’t feel like I know them enough anymore to know if it only seems like dialogue feels forced, or if they are actually acting out of character.

Overall, this ended up being more of a fun read than a truly epic read, and became a lot better once I shifted my expectations accordingly. It felt like the book could have benefited from a little more structural editing to address pacing issues and plot and character development, but it was a great introduction to a brand new world of magic and fantasy lore. I’m a big fan of Drew Karpyshyn, and I’m glad he finally got the chance to bring his own ideas to life and share it with his readers.

Final verdict:
3 of 5 stars

Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

As with the pattern of previous Neil Gaiman books I’ve read, Ocean features an average male protagonist who wouldn’t be particularly interesting, but for the magical realm he’s introduced to and the ensuing adventure. But, while the other books adhere firmly to this fairly specific pattern, Ocean quickly and mesmerizingly walks down the lane into an entirely different story. Well, not an entirely different story, but this time, the story of the man quickly becomes the story of the boy he once was and the women he met in the house at the end of the lane, including one Lettie Hempstock, a girl just a few years older than his seven years, who takes him to a pond, only to reveal an ocean.

Thus far, I’ve found Gaiman’s books to be dark but whimsical. Even the evil characters have a sense of humour and are quick with their wit, but Ocean was very melancholy and I felt connected with it far more deeply than I have the others. I thought Gaiman did an excellent job of telling the story through the eyes of a little boy who becomes bound to a frightening creature who can control his family with her desire to make them happy. The boy’s sense of hopelessness and fear and his bravery are palpable, making the story very engaging.

The men in Gaiman’s other books tend to annoy me with their refusal to believe in the magical things presented to them. Here, a child who adores books and takes so many cues from them, willingly accepts the unbelievable, both good and evil. And when he finds it in himself to fight, it feels far more real than the grown ups who suddenly realize their role as the hero. Perhaps it helps that this book doesn’t require the main character to valiantly save the girl; he has to fight to save himself.

I suspect that the men in Gaiman’s other works are loosely based on himself. Upon reading Ocean’s acknowledgements, I came to feel like this was far more personal to the author than anything else he’s written. That the little boy was far more himself than any other character he’s brought to life. He does state that the family in the story is nothing like his own and this really is a work of fiction, but his comment about the Hempstocks being with him all his life is what really struck me and made me appreciate Ocean all the more.

4 of 5 stars

Book Review: Dragon’s Child by M.K. Hume

The King Arthur Trilogy Book One: Dragon’s Child by M.K. Hume

Genre: Historical Fiction, Arthurian Fantasy 

Series: Book 1 of King Arthur

Publisher: Atria Books

Date of Publication: November 12, 2013

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Thank you to Atria Books for sending me an advanced copy of Dragon’s Child in exchange for an honest review! Originally published in 2009, a new edition of the paperback and ebook will be available later this fall, thus it was provided to me via Atria’s latest Galley Alley program. This book first caught my eye when I found out it was an Arthurian fantasy novel written by an expert on the subject. Like many, I’ve been exposed to my share of retellings and interpretations of the King Arthur mythos in fiction (there are a ton out there!), but I am most definitely not well-versed in the historical details. This made me curious as to how an academic authority on Arthurian literature would tackle the legend.

Not surprisingly, the novel turned out to be a story of Arthur (known here as Artorex) and his journey from a humble childhood to become the High King of the Britons. Artorex is presented to us as the reluctant hero, whose personal choice would have been to raise a family on his foster family’s farm and live out the rest of his days as a simple steward. Fate, however, has set him on another path.

I’ll admit that I found it difficult to get into the story at first. The introduction to the hero’s journey is a familiar one: the boy who everyone had initially dismissed suddenly discovers that he has a greater destiny. In the next few chapters, his skills are honed and he becomes stronger. He learns to fight, he learns to ride, and he gains all the experiences he will someday need to become a great leader. It was pretty standard, even as Arthurian legends go, and I had to suppress the temptation to skim this section, especially knowing that the real meat of the story had to be just beyond this point.

Thankfully, I was right and the book did get better. Much better, in fact, with the introduction of Gallia, Artorex’s first wife. That’s right, I did a double-take too when I saw that. M.K. Hume herself wrote in her Author’s Note explaining that she once came upon an evocative reference in an obscure text named Guinevere as Arthur’s second wife, but even though she could find no other material in her research that even hints at a first wife, the idea stuck. And I have to say, the fact whole epic trilogies can develop and evolve from tiny little tidbits like that is what fascinates me about historical fiction, and why I love the genre.

In this case, I really enjoyed the author’s take on Artorex’s childhood and teenage years, as well as her reasoning behind why she chose to tell his story the way she did. A lot of attention is given to these formative years, and I was surprised at how engaging the story became after getting past his boyhood training. Even though Hume used a third person omniscient point of view to narrate the story (which I normally dislike, because it tends to distract me from the main character), the focus always remained on Artorex, making his transformation from the boy known simply as Lump to King Artor of the Britons a very drawn-out but believable one.

In the end, I went from feeling luke-warm towards this novel to liking it quite a lot. The writing style can come off as a bit cumbersome at first if you’re not used to it, but I later felt it suited the book very well, giving a cold edge to some of the darker and more violent parts of the story. This first book ends with Artorex being crowned the High King, and the best part is knowing there is so much more to his legend, which I’m looking forward to continuing in the rest of this trilogy.

 4 of 5 stars

An Interview with M.L. Brennan, Author of Generation V

These days, books find their way onto my to-read list for any number of different reasons, but I like to think that coming upon Generation V was somewhat of a serendipitous fortune. M.L. Brennan was a name I first came across when I followed a few random links in my Twitter feed and came upon this post on her blog. My first thought was, “Damn, this author has great taste!”

And now, as they say, you know the rest of the story. I discovered that not only does M.L. Brennan read fantastic books, she’s also written her own fantastic urban fantasy debut, Generation V. It’s also incredibly apropos that that particular blog post should be the one I stumbled upon, because if I had to make my own list of “Authors Who Deserve More Recognition”, M.L. Brennan would be at the top of it.

Seriously, HOW did I not know about Generation V before?! Original, humorous, and highly entertaining, as you can see from my review, this book is a gem that deserves way more attention! To my absolute glee, M.L. agreed to be interviewed, and I hope you enjoy her answers as much I did!

Mogsy: GENERATION V stood out to me because of its many creative and fresh ideas. You take a lot of our notions of vampires in Urban Fantasy and turn those on their head. What inspired you to write about these unique vampires like Fortitude Scott and his family?

M.L. Brennan: Firstly, thank you so much! I’m a big fan of Urban Fantasy – I read a lot of it, and there are a lot of series that I love. But when I decided that I wanted to write an Urban Fantasy, I was really cautious about what parallel points would exist between my book and the other books in the sub-genre. Vampires are all over Urban Fantasy – with good reason, of course (they’re FUN!). I wanted to use vampires, but I made the decision early on that I wouldn’t use them unless I was able to make mine look completely different from what everyone else was doing. I’m not sure I ever got that far, but they are a bit off the beaten path!

Mogsy: Specifically, one of the things that blew my mind was your take on how vampires propagate. There’s just something so disturbing but also fascinating about it, which is a feeling I love to get from a book. Did you intend for that idea to be central to the book’s story, or did it grow out of the writing process?
M.L. Brennan: I wanted my vampires to be born, not made, and that was almost a mission statement when I sat down and started designing my vampires. One of the major reasons was that I didn’t want my characters to have those memories of being human before being turned into something else – for “turned” vampires, that transformation always gives them a little bit of a tragic air, because each vampire was essentially victimized at some point in their past – turned from something natural into a predator, but a predator who will always have something in common with her victim. I didn’t want that kind of baggage with my vampires. For Fortitude’s sister, Prudence, for example – she has never been human, and completely lacks the frame of reference that could prompt her to feel empathy for her victims. 
This took about two years to completely hash out, and it developed a lot over that time. I had it completely worked out before I sat down to start the book, because this one was so important for me. In a big way, it defined my vampires for me. The process of figuring it out was a very organic one – I did research on predator-prey reproductive balances as well as how parasites reproduce. (There were some pretty gross pictures on the latter.)
Mogsy: Another thing that struck me as very original was the inclusion of Suzume Hollis and her family of kitsune, fox shapeshifters that are a prominent subject in Japanese folklore. What can you tell me about your interest in mythology and your decision to feature aspects of it in your book?
“Fox Fires at New Year’s Eve”

M.L. Brennan: I was one of those kids who loved mythology. When I was little it was mostly Greek, Roman, and Norse mythology (shout-out to Edith Hamilton here), but when I was older I became interested in folktales. What I find so fascinating about folktales are what they represent about the ideals and values of the culture that created them – what traits heroes have, how monsters are presented, and so on. 

The kitsune have an extremely complicated presentation in Japanese folklore. In some stories they are extremely nefarious, and need to be driven away. In other stories they are creatures who can show surprising loyalty and helpfulness to a person who has shown them kindness. In some stories they are simple pranksters who can be scolded into an apology, and in others they can be extremely dangerous and seductive. 
My decision to include the kitsune was a combination of a lot of things – firstly, all of what I loved about their presentation in folklore was something I wanted to try to present in a complicated character. Secondly, I was trying to be mindful of not focusing solely on a European selection of monsters of creatures. Thirdly, it gave me access to a rich and nuanced shapeshifter character without using werewolves – now, I love werewolves, but as a creature they can bring along some baggage. And finally I really liked the idea of a creature that was going to be primarily female and matrilineal.
Mogsy: Fort may be a bit of an underdog, but he definitely lives up to his name. He’s also often hilarious and I love his sense of humor. Where did you get your inspiration for him and what was it like writing his character?
M.L. Brennan: Buffy The Vampire Slayer premiered when I was in high school, and that combination of seriousness and snark is something that really appeals to me. I think there are a few links between Fort and some Joss Whedon characters – the literary bastard half-cousin three-times removed of Xander and Wash, perhaps? Fort goes through a lot of grim events, but I didn’t want him to be a grim character himself – he’s someone who can have fun, and can also have fun at his own expense.
I also really wanted Fort to be a true underdog – which means that he gets beaten up, walked over, and generally abused for a good chunk of the first book. I was pretty tough on him! But nothing bugs me more than authors who present characters as underdogs, but at the start of books they are beating people up, coming out on top, and generally acknowledged as total badasses. That’s not quite an underdog – that’s a little more rugged rebel. Fort has an arc – you see in this book just how much he is willing to take before he does something, but you also get to see where he draws the line, and how much he’s willing to commit at that point.
Mogsy: Both Fort and Suzume show examples of a couple prominent themes in this book, specifically the struggle against one’s own nature as well as the need to strike out on one’s own and be independent. Did you draw from any personal experiences when developing the background for these two characters?
M.L. Brennan: To a certain degree every character has a piece of my own ideas and experience in them. (Yes, even Prudence). But I think that we all carry a certain amount of genealogical and heritage-related baggage. Maybe it’s a history of alcoholism, maybe it’s just a history of crummy marriages. How we deal with that baggage and to what degree we allow it to influence our decisions and lives is a theme I’m very interested in, and I do play with it a lot in this series.
Mogsy: Another theme that stood out for me is that of family and tradition. I think Fort’s relationship with his mother and siblings is as dysfunctional as it gets! Still, he interacts with each of them very differently. What was it like writing Madeline, Prudence and Chivalry, three people in Fort’s life who come from such different eras and backgrounds?
M.L. Brennan: Very fun! Each of the three was born in a different historical period, and each of them views Fort very differently. What each wants from him (and for him) is different, but the fundamental truth about each of these characters is that their love for Fort is true and unbreakable. This doesn’t make them nice or good, and it can lead to some pretty extreme actions and horribly dysfunctional relationships, but that is the bedrock for each of my “adult” vampire characters. As long as I always remembered this, it led to interesting scenarios that still had an interesting emotional grounding to them. In a lot of ways the book is primarily a family drama. 
In terms of the origin eras – I researched a bit, but I used it more as background color than as an absolute directive for how the characters acted and spoke. Think about a normal family setup – you might have grandma born in the 1920s, mom born in the 1950s, and you born in the early 1980s. These are incredibly different eras when you look at them – yet all three use fundamentally the same language and terminology, because while all had a different point of origin, they’ve been living in the world and have ended up in the same era. There will be differences in outlook and experience, but there will also be commonalities that come from the family structure. That was one of the ideas I had when I was putting together this very diverse group of vampires.
Mogsy: Tell me about your experience writing GENERATION V. Did you have a solid idea of where the story will go when you started? Were there any surprises? Did the finished book end up how you’d envisioned it?
M.L. Brennan: I’m a pretty serious outliner, so most of my big surprises and hair-pin turns came when I was constructing an outline of the plot. Once I had my outline (about ten pages long on Generation V), I sat down and wrote the book pretty close to what the outline was, so when I had the finished manuscript on my desk it looked almost exactly how I’d envisioned it. (The last scene, for example, was something I’d had in my head for two years before I started writing the book.)
Some changes occurred during the editing process – all wonderful improvements. I’m extremely lucky to be working with Anne Sowards, who edits Patricia Briggs, Jim Butcher, and Anne Bishop (among others!), and every time she made a suggestion or a comment, it always made the book better. 

Mogsy: I know that you’ve written short works in other genres, but decided to branch out and to write the kind of book you love to read, which was how GENERATION V came about. What is it about Urban Fantasy that draws you in? What would you like to see more of from this genre in the future?

M.L. Brennan: What I like about Urban Fantasy is the most fundamental part of it – monsters in the big city. I like seeing how monsters and creatures fit into a contemporary setting. I like seeing our familiar world and city streets house something unexpected and magical. I like plenty of other genres as well, but there’s just something in me that would rather see an elf riding an elevator than riding a horse through the Woods Of Peril (across from the Plains Of Mystery. Turn left at the Endless Ocean).
In terms of where the genre is going – I think it’s going in a great direction. Right now we’re a big tent genre – there are gritty cop procedurals, there are steamy romances, there are action/adventures, and sometimes all of those things happen at once! But there are so many different authors bringing in what they’re good at or interested in, and I think it makes Urban Fantasy more representative and interesting. It’s a genre that has something for everyone.
Mogsy: I see in the book’s author page that you hold a Master’s degree in the humanities and you teach basic composition to college students.  How has your professional experience influenced your writing and storytelling?
M.L. Brennan: Working toward my MFA helped me learn the value of editing, and it made me better able to accept and utilize constructive criticism. It also really helped hone my writing, so it absolutely influenced the way that I write and construct.
In terms of my day job…well, the truth is that basic composition is a freshman course, and it has a lot of remedial aspects to it. There’s a good reason why all the professors who have tenure avoid teaching basic comp – it’s not fun. Not fun to teach, not fun to take. It’s an important course, don’t get me wrong, but any professor with control over their own schedule does their best to stick to the higher-level literature courses or the creative writing stuff. My basic composition is about 400 essays and 1,000 homework assignments (five classes, twenty students average, 4 essays and 10 homeworks) of explaining to people how to use an apostrophe, how to support a concept clearly, and why a paragraph shouldn’t be the length of a page. 
In short – it funds the writing and storytelling. 🙂 

Mogsy: I also read that you live in a house that’s more than 100 years old! I can’t help but notice in the book that you include a lot of description, history, and culture of the Rhode Island and the New England area. Did your own personal environment play any role in shaping the setting of GENERATION V?

M.L. Brennan: Oh, definitely! I grew up in New England, and I wanted the books to have a very defined sense of place about them rather than being just generic Americana. So unless it’s actually important to a character’s background, they won’t live in some new subdivision with a generic house that could be found anywhere from Kansas to California to Maine and was built within the last ten years. So there are references to a house being a “New Englander,” and Fort’s apartment is in an older building that used to be a private residence, and was carved into apartments in the 1950’s.

Setting the “home base” for the vampires in Newport, RI was also a lot of fun, because that’s a place that I’m very familiar with. I’ve spent a week there every summer since I was four, and I was lucky to live there on my own for a full year during my first year of college. Just about every location reference I make for Newport is absolutely real – you can visit the Thames Glass Company and the Newport Fudge Company, you can walk up the cobblestones on Thames Street, you can drink an Awful Awful from the Newport Creamery (which I highly recommend!), and you can even tour the mansion that I modeled Madeline’s home on – it’s Rosecliff.

Pictures of Rosecliff – inspiration for Madeline’s mansion
Mogsy: So what’s next for Fort and Suzume? Can you tell us something about the sequel IRON NIGHT that’s coming out in early 2014, and what it has in store for us?

M.L. Brennan: I can’t give too much away, but I’m really excited about this book!

Here’s a tidbit you’ll like – I reveal some more about the background of the kitsune in this book, along with some of their legends. You’ll also be seeing a lot more of one of the creatures that got a brief cameo in Generation V – in Iron Night they get fully fleshed out. And you’ll also be seeing a lot more of Prudence – and probably not in a way that you might’ve expected! 

Book 2, coming out in
early 2014

Mogsy: Of course, I was ecstatic to see there will be more books in this series and am hoping we’ll see the adventures of Fortitude continue for a while yet, but is there anything else on your plate at the moment or any future plans or ideas to write other stories?

M.L. Brennan: Right now I’m writing the third book Fortitude Scott book – I’m really hopeful that people like it, since I’ve got a lot of ideas for more books, and some of the plotlines that I’m building up just won’t be completely told by the end of book 3. But I do have a few other ideas on the back burner – even if I get contracted for more Fortitude Scott books, I’ll definitely be working on building up some other stuff. I have another Urban Fantasy idea, but I’ve also been a lifelong fan of SF, so that might happen at some point! 

Mogsy: Is there anything else you would like to add, or anything else you would like to tell us about yourself or your book?

M.L. Brennan: Just how delighted and grateful I am that people have responded so positively to Generation V, and I hope that they enjoy following Fortitude Scott through Iron Night! And thank you again for the marvelous interview – this was such fun!

Thank you for the interview! For more information about M.L. Brennan:
Website | Twitter

Book Review: Generation V by M.L. Brennan

Generation V by M.L. Brennan

Genre: Urban Fantasy 

Series: Book 1 of American Vampire 

Publisher: Roc Books 

Date of Publication: May 7, 2013 

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Urban fantasy is quickly becoming one of my favorite genres, and I’ve certainly been reading a lot of it this year. The problem with that, however, is that I’ve become a lot more picky, so these days for a UF series to catch my eye, its ideas or stories need to be very interesting and it has to offer something a little different. That’s why when the author of Generation V sent me a request for an honest review of her book, I very enthusiastically took her up on it. The book looked like it fit the bill for something more unique and original.

In that, I was definitely not disappointed. The book stars Fortitude Scott, who’s not your typical urban fantasy vampire because he’s, well, technically not even a full vampire yet. He’s still mostly human, a trait which Fort is trying desperately to hold on to in the face of his impending transition. Meanwhile, his full-vampire mother and older siblings look upon him as a constant source of exasperation and embarrassment. But then Luca, a new vampire, shows up in his town and Fort realizes that there are worse monsters than his family.

Several killings and abductions drive Fort to take action. Along with the kickass shapeshifting kitsune woman Suzume Hollis, they try to find a way to stop this ruthless vampire. The problem is, Fort doesn’t have much of a plan, not to mention the distraction that is his mess of a personal life. He’s broke, his girlfriend is cheating on him, and he’s on the verge of losing his job. The good news is, all that might not matter when he manages to track down Luca. In his mostly-human state, Fort realizes he is hopelessly outmatched and is probably going to get himself killed.

Have I ever mentioned how much I love an underdog? Fort is not like other urban fantasy heroes. He’s not strong, he doesn’t ooze sophistication or finesse like the rest of his vampire brethren in the genre, and he’s not particularly fashion-minded either. In fact, he’s kind of pathetic, albeit in a very adorable sort of way. The poor guy gets pushed around everywhere — at work by his boss, at home by his hipster roommate, and in his love life by his girlfriend Beth who manages to convince him that their relationship can benefit from her sleeping around with other people. At a point, he almost becomes too painful to read about, but the nice thing about underdog stories is that they always bounce back. But more on that later.

In the meantime I just have to say I also loved the kitsune fox shapeshifters in this novel. They feature prominently in Japanese folklore, and I thought their inclusion here was a nice twist on the usual shapeshifter-in-a-vampire-book idea. Werewolves are fine and good, but it’s also so much more interesting when an author works ideas based on mythology into their stories. Come to think of it, this may also be why I adore another one of my favorite UF series, the Mercy Thompson books by Patricia Briggs, which incorporates Native American myths on Coyote. It worked well there, and likewise, the kitsune also worked very well in Generation V.

Suzume Hollis, the bodyguard charged to keep an eye on Fort, is one of the kitsune. Her character is very intriguing. Although I think her attractiveness might have been overplayed a little, she also sets herself apart from a lot of female characters in urban fantasy by being mischievous, quirky, and sometimes just downright silly — like all trickster foxes ought to be. Usually, I find it’s often the male protagonist in an urban fantasy who does all the wisecracking, but Suzume can certainly hold her own on that front.

Speaking of which, I love M.L. Brennan’s sense of humor. I know I’ve described many an urban fantasy as “funny”, but very rarely do I actually forget myself and laugh out loud while reading — something I found myself doing several times during the course of this novel. Fort may be a doormat, but he definitely has a way with words.

To balance out all that humor, though, are also some pretty heavy themes in this book. There are some bold new takes on vampires like their nesting habits, the fact they aren’t immortal and that they actually age (even though the process is reeeaal sloooow), but it is the manner in which they procreate that takes the cake as one of the most fascinating and yet disturbing ways I’ve ever read. It’s pretty neat, though. And I love it when books make me feel like that.

One thing I think I would have liked to see more of is Fort’s growth over the course of the novel, because as it is he doesn’t find his backbone until almost the very end. As well, there are some aspects of the story or character motives that confused me or that I thought could be better explained or taken further, but this also just means a lot of potential for this series. I was happy to hear that there will be a book two, but not so happy when I discovered that I’ll have to wait until early next year for Iron Night. This is a great choice for urban fantasy fans looking for something fresh and fun.

For more about M.L. Brennan and GENERATION V, be sure to check in again tomorrow for an interview with the author!

 4 of 5 stars

Are We There Yet? (a sort of Eye of the World review)

The Eye of the World (Wheel of Time, #1)The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan

Two stars for effort, worldbuilding and potential, especially knowing that Brandon Sanderson takes over in the end, but, having finally gotten through Eye of the World (audiobook really helped), I understand why I put it back on the library shelves, along with The Sword of Shannara, when I was a teen.

Review done, let’s move on to commentary about a problem I’m seeing a lot in epic fantasy: epicness for the sake of epicness. I think it’s a disease some authors have. That is, writing these huge stories within these massive worlds with all sorts of characters. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Eye of the World develops some pretty strong lore and (vaguely) interesting characters, but after a while, I started to wonder how much of the story was actually necessary.

Are we there yet? Perhaps we should stop at another tavern.

As far as epic fantasy goes, I’ve read and loved The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit before it, but don’t ask me to read them again. I was quite happy with the movies and not at all troubled by what was edited out. Die hard fans might complain about the lack of Tom Bombadil, but I’m okay with that because he really wasn’t that integral to plot and/or character development (No, he wasn’t. Stop it.). When thinking about an Eye of the World movie saga, I can see alllll the scenes that could be excised with no real loss to the story — because did we really need to visit yet another tavern??

Game of Thrones is another prime example of an author that has lost his way in his epic fantasy. I can’t stop praising HBO for sifting through the detritus to bring only the meat, without ever losing the heart of GRRM’s original story and I’m looking forward to how they end the TV show far more than I am looking forward to whatever GRRM eventually plans to do. Assuming he has greater plans than just fanboying over himself.

Back to Eye of the World for a moment. I said the book had some (vaguely) interesting characters. Actually, the only character I care about is Moiraine. I could do with a few less of the younger ones on this fellowship. Half the time, I can’t even tell them apart. I suppose that’s convenient if any of them were to die, but I can’t really say the deadly and dangerous events in the story have filled me with enough dread to actually believe anyone was going to be hurt in any interesting way. I mentioned Brandon Sanderson above, and frankly, he’s about the only thing that would encourage me to read on any time soon because I am fond of his characterization and know that he will do a good job of making the characters more likable and memorable than they currently are.

Oh you’re just bitter, you might say, and you’d probably be right. But having recently read and loved what Ursula K. Le Guin could accomplish in under 200 words, my meh-ness grows over epic fantasy that is epic just because the author does not know how to trim the fat.

2 of 5 stars

Book Revew: The Isle of Blood by Rick Yancey

The Isle of Blood by Rick Yancey

Genre: YA horror paranormal

Series: Book 3 of The Monstrumologist

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers 

Date of Publication: September 13, 2011

Author information: Website | Twitter

After having positive experiences with both the first two books in The Monstrumologist series, I eagerly anticipated getting my hands on the third book. This probably explains why I wasn’t entirely prepared for my disappointed reaction when I finished. Don’t get me wrong; on it’s own and outside any biases or pre-conceived notions, this book is a solid horror novel for young adults. But compared to the The Monstrumologist (my review here) and even The Curse of the Wendigo (my review here), I have to say it fell quite a bit short.

The book starts off in a similar way as the others, teasing the next horrifying monster that our characters will encounter next. In this case, it’s news clippings and reports about “red rain” and bloody raw meat falling from the sky. These incidents and the disgusting nidus, nests made of human parts and poisonous sputum, are the only evidence of the creature known as “the Faceless One of a Thousand Faces” or Typhoeus magnificum. For monster hunters like Pellinore Warthrop, it is considered the “Holy Grail of Monstrumology.”

When a mysterious package shows up at the monstrumologist’s door, our protagonist and narrator Will Henry witnesses firsthand how exposure to its gruesome contents rapidly turn the hapless courier who delivered it into a mindless, rotting horror. Dr. Warthrop, recognizing what’s inside the package as a nidus, takes Will Henry on a race to follow the trail and track down the magnificum.

I didn’t think this book was as impressive as its predecessors, for a couple reasons. Firstly, I’m not sure if this is merely a byproduct of Will Henry growing up over the course of the series to become a teenager in this novel, but this was the first time I actually found his character annoying. By design, he was moody, whiny and childish. I also sensed a shift in his narration style to become more abstract and ineffective, especially since we have so many more scenes in this book involving flashbacks, dreams, and delirious visions.

Secondly, my favorite character Dr. Pellinore Warthrop was largely absent for a big chunk of the story. Interesting things happen when he’s around, so when he’s not, all we’re left with is Will Henry being mopey and feeling sorry for himself. While I can understand that this book is supposed to a deeper exploration into the relationship between the two of them, I can’t help but think there had to be a better way to accomplish this. The inaction in the first part of the book was a letdown compared to the action and suspense I’d grown used to from this series, and really only the opening and the ending managed to come close.

On the bright side, I thought this was the most humorous out of the three books so far, with more light moments than I expected to balance out the depressing and melodramatic. While I considered this a positive point, The Isle of Blood just had a very different feel from rest of the series, with many departures from what I thought was the norm for these books. Like I said, it wasn’t bad, but I can’t deny I was expecting something maybe a little more fast-paced and entertaining, and a little less subdued.

3 of 5 stars