Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Watch This! Angel (Pt. 1)

Welcome to Part One of a three part post series on Angel. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a show that was unique at the time and became iconic, to the point that many shows and movies have since tried to capture it's particular brand of appeal, with varying degrees of success. It seems natural that such a larger than life show would deserve a spin-off. Angel was a natural character choice for a spin-off series. His history and mythology are deep enough to be expanded upon over the course of many seasons. It's still surprising to me that the series only went on for five seasons, when it rightfully could have gone on much longer, as evidenced by it's continuation in comic form. But let's just work with the show we have, for now. This initial post will focus on the main cast of characters, with heavy bias on the ones I find the most interesting.

Angel, Out of Sunnydale

Angel himself is far more interesting in his own series than he is in Buffy. One of the problems with his existence in Buffy is the fact that he is supposed to be centuries old. Buffy, throughout his entire tenure as a main cast member, is a high school student. However wise, worldly, and jaded Angel is supposed to be, however tortured he is, we don't get to fully appreciate it because he's  in the role of high school boyfriend. And that, my friends, has an undeniable ick factor to it. Whether or not you like Buffy and Angel together, whether or not you think they're soul mates, you have to see the truth that as long as Buffy is not grown up, Angel cannot act his age. The writers have to temper his maturity so that it doesn't come across as ridiculously skivvy.

Once Angel gets to LA and starts his mission for redemption, all of the sudden you start to feel his age. He is written as a tortured, reluctant super hero. Suddenly his backstory as a vampire with a soul seems darker, and it fits with the darker tone of the entire show. We see, for example, that he isn't mindlessly good all of the time. He makes questionable choices and get's caught up in the need for revenge. In season two, he becomes so focused on taking out the bad guys of Wolfram and Hart that he completely severs himself from his friends. His mistakes are what make him engaging.

Cordelia, All Grown Up

Cordelia is our second transplanted Buffy character. She was originally a shallow, privileged, mean
spirited foil for Buffy. Gradually, however, she was given more depth. She's shown to be smarter than she let's on, and more complex than the typical cheerleader character is usually allowed to be. She dates the comically unpopular Xander, hangs out with the Scooby Gang, and survives some of the bigger battles of Sunnydale. So while you might initially think that she seems like a rather random choice for a main character in the spin-off series, it actually makes some sense. She's already well established, and at least redeemable if not likable.

One of the things I  appreciated about Cordelia's development is that she kind of continues to be a little vain and a little shallow, despite learning empathy and the need for a higher purpose. She's given the gift of visions of people who need Angel's help. The visions are painful and rob Cordelia of the possibility of a completely normal life, time and time again. As a result, she becomes less of a socialite and more of a fighter, though she has much fewer opportunities to kick ass than the boys do.

In terms of how well she functions as a romantic interest for Angel...well, that never rang true for me. While I'm not the biggest fan of the Buffy/Angel pairing, I never felt like Angel's chemistry with anyone else was really complete.


In Buffy, Wesley was best described as Not Giles. He's there to try to replace Giles when the council determines that Giles sucks at his job. He comes across as irritating and even a bit comedic, and his character continues in this fashion throughout his initial appearances in Angel. His character development takes a series of turns, however, beginning with the episode in which he's captured and tortured by Faith. From this point on, he becomes steadily darker and more complex, making some morally questionable decisions, but always trying to fight on the side of good. Like Cordelia, I initially disliked his character, and like Cordelia I felt he remained flawed throughout the series. However, his character get's a better treatment in terms of both romance and send off. I really liked him with Fred, is what I'm saying.


The first non-transplant character in Angel is also the most manufactured of the main characters. I urban character, a tough guy who has lived on the streets, maybe even been in a gang of sorts, but is still on the right side of the good/evil line." And out of that mold springs Gunn, with his tough sounding name and his tough attitude and his tough toughness. Still, it's hard to dislike the guy, who frequently serves as the team's muscle despite a lack of formal training or super powers of any kind.
can almost hear the writers cooking this guy up. "Okay, we have this urban fantasy set in Los Angeles. We need a really

Angel has a lot of other recurring characters who, depending on what season you focus on are part of the main cast. It would be impossible to fairly cover all of them. In terms of which recurring characters I liked the most...

Darla seems like a natural addition to the cast, since she's Angel's maker and a huge source of conflicted emotions for him. During one of the shows more interesting arcs, she brought back to life as a human with a soul, and she struggles with how to deal with that. Later she's given the Mystic Pregnancy treatment, and her character basically becomes a plot device. I'm mostly okay with the way the writer's handled this, however. I like that, while she's mostly a villain, we do get a sense that she has a good side, a part of her does actually love Angel, and she is capable so sacrifice.

I also really like Lindsey, both as an antagonist and reluctant ally. He's a cynical, jaded character with a murky sense of morality--basically he's the clichéd lawyer from all shows and movies. During his time at Wolfram and Hart, you kind of get the sense that he's in over his head, that he doesn't want to become entirely evil. Yet he's not above some underhandedness, and he does stay with them despite a chance to jump ships. He's the kind of character that I really enjoy, because you can see his motivations, but you're never sure how evil he actually is. And, in fact, he's probably mostly just selfish.

That's the run down of Angel's most interesting characters, or at least as much as I'm able to do in a reasonably sized post. In Part 2, I'll be discussing the world building and How Things Work in the Angel/Buffy universe. The final part of the posting series will of course be a top ten episodes list, and then we'll be moving on to other things. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Review of Cut Run by Madeleine Urban and Abigail Roux

Cut & Run (Cut & Run #1)One of my goals for this year is to read more M/M romance, and this series was recommended to me for that reason. I'm a little ashamed to admit that I honestly did not expect to enjoy it. The premise is that our two heroes are FBI agents forced into a partnership with the goal of catching a serial killer. Romantic suspense, specifically the kind with murder mysteries, is not my usual cup of tea, but reviewing would be no fun if I never stepped out of my comfort zone.

Ty Grady is a cocky, rough-around-the-edges agent recently pulled from an undercover case that ended in disaster. Zane Garret has been playing everything carefully by the books during his stint at a desk job, and this is his first out-on-the-streets case in a long time. Ty dislikes his buttoned up, serious visage on sight. This case, however, is something of a last chance for both agents. And given the fact that the killer has already taken out two FBI agents, this case is personal.

The chemistry between Ty and Zane is absolutely explosive. Their initial dislike for one another and all of their macho posturing just helps to build up the tension that culminates into a lot of very steamy sex. More impressive, perhaps, is that they have romantic chemistry--they have the beginnings of a real emotional connection, the kind that comes with protectiveness and affection and intimacy. Just the beginnings, but it's there and its so very sweet.

I loved the character development. These are two older guys who already have a lot of history and a lot of baggage. Zane had a wife, who's death still haunts him. He's a recovering alcoholic and his addictive personality is still, and will probably always be an issue. Ty spent time in the military and has already gone several rounds with PTSD. They spend this entire book getting physically and mentally beat to hell, and by the end they start to see each other more clearly, even to the point of almost swapping roles.

The action in this book is well placed and well paced. There are just enough tense moments to keep you invested without robbing the story of it's character driven core. I'll admit freely that I did get drawn into the mystery, drawn into the case, and I wanted resolution as much as Ty and Zane did.

I kind of liked the fact that it didn't end on an HEA sort of note, or even a happy for now note. It's more of a together for now, but we've got shit to work through kind of ending. It's hopeful, but it's not sappy. It fit both of their characters and the overall tone of the story, and left me wanting the next book immediately.

It's easy to recommend this book, to romantic suspense fans and to M/M fans in general. Its a sexy, action packed book with truly excellent characters. 4 stars.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Review of The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie by Jennifer Ashley

On the surface, this seems to be your typical historical romance, with the arguably gimmicky catch of a hero who is "mad". In fact, Ian suffers from Asperger's, which can best be described as very high functioning autism. I'll be honest, that's what made me buy this book in the first place. For some reason it seems that mental disorders are fairly taboo in the romance with, with the obvious exceptions of PTSD and depression. You'll probably never find a hero or heroine with schizophrenia or bipolar or crippling OCD--hard to make those things both realistic and sexy, I guess. So yeah, even comparatively minor, increasingly common things like Asperger's are underrepresented in the romance world. How does this author pull it off? Well....

Ian seeks out Beth, a wealthy widow, because she's engaged to his rival and he wants to warn her off him. He quickly becomes obsessed with having her, and she is fascinated by him. Their growing relationship is soon threatened by a detective who hates the Mackenzie family, and is determined to pin murder on Ian.
The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie (Highland Pleasures, #1)
There are some instances where I thought the author absolutely nailed Ian--his quirks, his personality, his intensity, and even the symptoms of his disorder make him come out of the page. He's unreasonably intelligent, but obsesses over inanimate objects (Ming bowls). He's an intense lover, but he has trouble connecting to anyone emotionally. He understands high finance without trying, but misses subtle nuance in conversation and doesn't get Beth's jokes. The author clearly has an understanding of what Ian's disorder means, and how he might reasonably be expected to adjust to the challenges of life (or not).

Here's the thing though: despite this excellent set-up, the execution is sloppy as hell. Beth and Ian connect with an ease that belies his carefully explained disorder. Ian, who is perhaps overly self aware, explains that he cannot love, he does not know how to connect with people, and so forth. But then he connects with Beth and starts to love her simply because she's there, being non-judgmental and having excellent sex with him.  For her part, Beth is just a bit too understanding for a person in a time period when no one had any understanding of Ian's disorder. She never once thinks that perhaps he's just cold, just anti-social, just doesn't like her. She shrugs it all off, and it's not long before he's confessing his love to her. The transition between point A (first meeting) and point B (we're in love!) just wasn't there for me.

As for the murder mystery, it just hampered my enjoyment all the more. I almost never get invested in murder mysteries, and this one is delivered in a sort of off-handed manner that did nothing to increase the tension.

On a positive note, I did genuinely like all the characters. Not only are Ian and Beth oddly charming, but Ian's entire family is intriguing. His brothers are a rugged alphas that don't give a fuck, and aren't too concerned with fitting into society. But they have a ton of money, and they each have their particular talents. If there's a question as to whether I'd read more of the series, the answer is yes, I believe I would.

While I wished this book had focused more on emotional development and logical transitions in a romantic relationships, and while I wholeheartedly wish the mystery had been left out altogether, I did enjoy many aspects of it. The author has a nice style, and the characters are appealingly quirky. 3.5 stars.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Review of Easy by Tammara Webber

I didn't want to read this book at first. Yes, it's true that I want to try more new adult books, but the college setting makes me leery since I'm only a year removed from living in that setting. Tammara Webber managed to win me over with a truly excellent love story, much to my surprise.

The book opens with our heroine, Jacqueline, very narrowly avoiding getting raped by her ex-boyfriend's frat brother. Her rescuer, Lucas, is sexy, mysterious, and everything her ex-boyfriend was not. The attack has made Jacqueline feel like a victim, especially when her attacker starts following her and telling lies about her. With Lucas there to support her, Jacqueline finds perspective, strength, and power against helplessness.

EasyThe relationship between Jacqueline and Lucas is simply precious. I found their emails and texts really charming. Jacqueline initially comes off a bit judgmental, labeling Lucas (because he has tattoos and piercings) as a slacker and a bad boy. To her credit, though, she seemed all too willing to be proven wrong. Once she sees him in the right light, she's eager to help him slay his personal demons (and he's got some serious demons). What I enjoyed most, though, was the fact that Lucas is protective. Not just that he's protective, really, but that he wanted her to be able to defend herself, and he fully believed that she could. The care he takes in giving her the empowerment of self defense is as emotionally impactful as it is practical.

Now, perhaps the only downside to the book is the fact that it gets a bit heavy handed with its message. Not only does it preach self defense and personal safety up, down, and sideways, but it also returns time and again to rape and how rapists should be treated--it's a huge part of the plot, and it's a little bit after-school special. Even as I write this, though, I can understand that their are teenagers and young women that can never hear these messages enough--they need to hear that rape is not the fault of the victim, that rape needs to be reported, that rapists need to be apprehended. Yes, I'm quite certain there are young readers who need to marinate their brains in these thoughts until they sink in past all of the rape culture we've been stewing in. For me though, I must admit, I got sick of it.

To sum this book up, it's a lovely romance and a nice contemporary story with awesome intentions. If the messages felt a bit tiresome to me, the characters made up for it by being adorable and sexy. Highly recommended. 4.5 stars.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Watch This! Once Upon A Time, Season 2 Micro-Review

A few notes, just to keep everyone informed:

Now that I've completed my Buffy series, I am planning on moving on to Angel. Hopefully that will be a more organized and comprehensive review series, now that I'm starting to grasp how I would like to structure those posts. I need some time, of course, to rewatch most of the episodes. Tentatively, I that series will start next Wednesday.

To continue that thought, it does look as though many of the Watch This Wednesday posts for the foreseeable future will be retrospectives of older/cancelled shows or shows that have a good number of seasons out already. This is do not only to the accessibility of those shows but also to the fact that I'll have the most to say about things with hours of content. So, if there is a show, mini-series, or movie series that you would like to discus  here, please feel free to drop your suggestions in the comments.

Today, though, I'm between retrospective posts, so it seems like a good time to go over what I though of Once Upon a Time, season 2. I started off the fall TV series watching tons of shows, but sadly Once was the only one I was able to keep up with (without sacrificing reading time). If you're wondering what I thought of Grimm, Arrow, Beauty and the Beast, or Supernatural...well, so am I. Hopefully I'll find an opportunity to catch up on those shows over the summer. In the meantime?

Once, season 2....

When season 1 ended, I felt that the writer's may have made the mistake of blowing the lid off of things too dramatically and too soon, and I worried about where they would go from that point on. One of the things I enjoyed about the show was the one episode retellings of individual fairytales, and seeing how they were reflected and fit into the Storybrooke world. Now that everyone remembers who they are, things are less episodic, more connected. This type of narrative can be problematic if the writers constantly have to find a way to one up themselves, to the point where the story loses it's natural flow. This season showed a struggle to not fall into that trap, managing to be enjoyable despite some stumbles along the way.

Henry is more of a plot moppet than ever. Always there to whine about people who want to kill the evil queen or just let her die,. Always there to be the motivation of the other characters, and to get in harm's way when the plot demands it. Poor kid is annoying as hell, and sadly one of the downsides to the show.

Emma, on the other hand, is the show's best attribute in a lot of ways. Interesting and respectable, as much as any fish-out-of-water/savior character can be. She's not vapid, she's decently developed, and she's not solely motivated by romance. Sadly, in the current TV climate that makes her a top shelf heroine.

But this show has an ensemble cast so...what about the rest of them? Well, they're a mixed bag. Snow and Charming are somehow less interesting this season, though I'm glad we're past all of the infidelity business. They tried to give Snow this conflict where she darkened her heart by killing Cora. It's a failure, both because Cora deserved to die and because Snow is all too quick to feel bad about her actions, negating any of the interest you usually get from dealing in moral gray areas. Mr. Gold remains the most interesting cast member, both because he actually does dabble in those moral gray areas and because he's given conflicts that are actual conflicts.

I'm going to leave off with a list of my favorite episodes for the season. These are the episodes that, if/when I do a top tend list, would be contenders.

Tallahassee (Episode 6)
Child of the Moon (Episode 7)
The Outsider (Episode 11)
Manhattan (Episode 14)
The Miller's Daughter (Episode 16)
Selfless, Brave and True (Episode 18)
Second Star to the Right (Episode 21)
And Straight on to Morning (Episode 22)

Happy Watching, everyone!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Review of Rogue Rider by Larissa Ione

It's fair to say that Larissa Ione has her fair share of duds, even in an otherwise lovely series. That was certainly the case here. In the interest of full disclosure, it's not like I went into this book expecting a terrific read. As a hero, Reseph failed to excited me. He spent the previous three books as the vile, villainous version of himself. We were never given enough information on good Reseph to make me feel like I wanted to see his redemption story. Nevertheless, I was willing to try.

Rogue Rider (Lords of Deliverance, #4)So, to recap, Reseph had been turned into Pestilence, and committed all sorts of crazy evil. In the last book, Pestilence was stabbed with a dagger that turned him back into Reseph. Now, Reaver (the guardian angel of the four horsemen), erased his memory and dropped him in a snow bank. Our heroine, Jillian, discovers him, takes him home to her cabin, and romance ensues. Jillain was once attacked by demons. When her neighbors start dying under very demon-like circumstances, she's determined to believe that Reseph is not to blame, despite the fact that he doesn't know who or what he is.

The first and most obvious issue with this book is pacing. We spend a lot of time with Reseph and Jillian in her cabin, just kind of waiting on something to happen. It is boring as hell. To rub salt in the wound, the payoff following all that boredom isn't particularly grand. There is just nothing within the plot that captivated any part of me.

Sadly, I was not enamored with Reseph. He has his charming moments, I'll admit. He's sweet and protective toward Jillian, and yet he appreciates her ability to take care of herself. I was regrettably distracted by the fact that he has amnesia, which of course I knew would come crashing down at some point. I was distracted by the nasty things he did while evil, however involuntary, and by whether the author was going to get around to resolving all of that angst. I wasn't crazy about the way his family handled his return, either. No one could decide whether it was okay to be pissed at him for what Pestilence did, or if all should be forgiven because it was all against his will. At the risk of getting a tiny bit spoilery, I was also really unsatisfied by the fact that he doesn't earn his redemption or return to sanity--the heroine kind of does it for him.

Jillian, who initially seemed bland and uninspired, actually turned out to be the more engaging of the two. She's survived a horrible ordeal, coped by living alone and working her ass off on her farm, and she makes huge sacrifices for what she believes is right. Her judgment in blindly trusting Reseph very questionable, but I'm willing to assume she simply has good instincts.

Whatever my expectations might have been for this book, it did not surprise me and it did not elate me. I can only hope Ione's next book will be better. 2 stars.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Review of The Elite by Kiera Cass

I've talked a lot about how I'd been sort of reluctantly looking forward to this book. Reluctantly, because when I stop and analyze The Selection, it was a very flawed book. Unfortunately all of the flaws from the first book were only magnified in this book, and while it was still oddly readable, it left me with such a feeling of hollowness and frustration. I have long since accepted the fact that the premise of this series is gimmicky at best and downright stupid at worst, but that's kind of part of the charm for me. So why do I keep expecting something more from it?

The Elite (The Selection, #2)The Selection has now been narrowed down to six girls, The Elite, who are now supposed to be really working and learning what it will mean to be a princess and eventually a queen. One of the points in favor of this series is that it acknowledges that, on some level, there is more to the job than wearing a nice dress and living happily ever after. This book delves a bit into political power and duty--I'll talk more about that later. To get back to my point, the premise has now shifted focus so that America should be competing in earnest, and not just going along for the ride while getting over a bad break-up. She should be putting her head on straight and making sure her heart is in the right place before committing to marriage to a major world leader. But that's not what America does, because America is a little girl who doesn't understand anything.

I'm not even going to touch on the fact that I have a problem with the love triangle and America's inability to decide between two boys, because that subplot is stupid and overdone and pointless as hell, so it goes without saying that I hate it. What I really want to get at is the ultimate question of: Do you want the throne or not? Because regardless of your feelings about the prince, whether you love him or just like him as a friend, what's really at stake here is enough power to slowly but steadily change your country. America does not understand this concept. She grew up in one of the lower classes, but she's only just now (now, at the worst possible moment) realizing that the caste system is brutal and unfair. What? I'm sorry, how did that basic fact escape your notice when you were freezing and eating lousy food?

But, alright, she has this epiphany that her country might have an unfair caste system. Guess what, sweetie? You're in a competition that would put you in an excellent position to help people. Yeah. You could become a princess and feed the poor and shelter the homeless and sow the seeds of change to make your country better. But this fact totally escapes America because she's all caught up in the romantic drama of whether or not she likes Maxon or just likes him. Or hates him. Whatever. Then, when Maxon appears to have betrayed her, she figures she wants to leave anyway, and tries to make a totally pointless grand gesture on live television. Maxon calls her out on this, too. He tells her, and I paraphrase a bit, yes we can and should change things, but for anything to work you have to be subtle, quiet, and not dumb as a bag of hair. And she is. Dumb, that is. Or at the very least, she's so naïve and so unworldly that she has no idea what to do with herself. It's sad.

The romance? I think it may have died for me, and I have no idea whether the third book will revive it or not. I didn't get the sense that any of these characters know who they are, let alone what they want, and I was deeply discomfited by the idea that all of this is going to culminate in a marriage. None of them are marriage ready.

So, to wrap this up, this book is a mess of characters that are becoming steadily less likable. At times it felt like it was trying to say something deep or important, but it chokes because it still just wants to be a soap opera teen drama. I'll read the final installment, but without much excitement. 3 stars.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Review of Something About You by Julie James

Something About You (FBI, #1)I've admitted time and again that I'm not the biggest fan of romantic suspense. My issue is that I've never been one to get deeply immersed in murder mysteries, and often a mystery is the basis of the suspense portion of romantic suspense. My decision to give this series a try despite my usual preferences was based on the fact that it kept appearing on DABWAHA year after year, making it pretty far in the running, and being praised by readers left and right.

Our heroine, Cameron, is an Assistant U.S. Attorney who, in an unfortunate coincidence, overhears the murder of a prostitute. The murder may be tied to a U.S. senator, and is certainly tied to a scandal. More importantly, the FBI agent assigned to the case is Jack Pallas, a man with whom Cameron has a bit of a history. Jack holds Cameron responsible for nearly destroying his career years ago, and having to work with her and protect her throughout this case puts him in a foul mood. Nevertheless, there is a constant burning attraction between them, and neither of them particularly wants to deny that attraction.

Right off the bat some things frustrated me about the heroine and her relationship with Jack. We are supposed to automatically believe several things about her--she's smart, she's professional, she's morally conscious, and she's not a coward. Yet, the reason that Jack is angry with her is that he believes she chose to drop the ball in a case against an organized crime syndicate, which he had spent years building undercover. In reality, it was her boss that made the call to drop the case, and she did nothing about it because she didn't want to rock the boat at work. While that's understandable on some level, it does not endear me to her. It makes her seem weak, cowardly, and subservient, that she would let such a huge case just drop and take the heat for it just because she doesn't want to lose her job. Any crime that was committed by those bad guys after that point, anyone who died or got hurt? That's kind of on her head. And let's not forget that she ends up in a better position, with all sorts of promotions and success, because she didn't "rock the boat". Perhaps that was not the outcome she intended, but it works out that way, so the whole thing was a bit self serving.

Leaving that aside, I suppose she's an okay heroine. Jack is a hot hero, very tough and very determined. The sexual tension is sizzling, and I could not deny that they fit well together in that respect. The dialogue between all of the characters is snappy and fun. When it comes to actually fighting the bad guy, neither of them is totally brainless, which made up to some extent for my earlier issue.

Plot wise, the whole thing is a bit predictable. I can't say that I was ever fully drawn into it. It's not a mystery at all, because the reader knows early on who the killer is and what his motivations are. In this case that may have been a bad call, since it diffused a lot of the tension for me before the story even really got going.

Overall, I think if you're a fan of romantic suspense this might appeal to you more than it did to me. It had it's virtues, but overall it's not going on my favorite books list. I may or may not carry on with the rest of the series. 3 stars.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Watch This! Iron Man 3 Bonus Review, And a Note About Twitter

Okay, so you'll remember that I had promised a review of Iron Man 3. I figure that I better get it up today, because by next week it will be fully irrelevant. So here are my quick and dirty thoughts on the latest Marvel superhero movie.

Better than Number 2, not as good as Number 1.

The first Iron Man movie had an impact on me in that it made superhero movies seem less juvenile. I liked the Sam Raimi Spiderman films...for the most part, but if you watch them now you will undoubtedly notice that they've aged and now appear pretty cheese-filled. Iron Man, on the other hand, had this older, suave, sexy, smart hero with a cool origin story. Robert Downey Jr. was perfectly cast as Tony Stark. This remained true throughout the second Iron Man, and of course in The Avengers. But Iron Man 2 suffered from overstuffed syndrome, where it tried to do too much and ended up falling short of the brilliant simplicity that was the origin story. Iron Man 3 is a more successful story because it dials back a bit and just tells the story of Tony Stark having PTSD and getting overly dependent on his suits.

Tony spends a lot of time outside the suit in this movie, and that's for the best. It ends up being a more human, more character based story. He has panic attacks, he screws up his relationship, he makes colossal mistakes, and he has to kind of MacGyver his way through defeating the bad guys. It's interesting and fun as hell. I also loved that Pepper took a slightly more active role, actually becoming involved in the action portion of the plot instead of standing on the sidelines.

The movie is not without flaws, as we see the usually brilliant Tony making some enormously stupid moves. I'm not sure if that's all to do with being sleep deprived or being arrogant or what, but yeah...kind strayed into TSTL territory. The big issue that the uber-fans have, though, is the way that the villain known as The Mandarin is handled. I'm not invested enough in the Iron Man comic universe to care about that at all. If I were? Yeah, I'd probably be pissed.

So, yeah, Iron Man 3 is worth seeing unless your inner fanboy/girl will implode do to extreme deviation from comic book continuity. Or whatever.

My other note for today is that my original Twitter account is now sadly inaccessible to me.  I no longer have access to the original email that it's connected to and so, unfortunately, I can't do much to fix it and I've had to let it die. I never actually tweeted frequently, just post sharing and the like. What I really used it for was to keep up with authors and other bloggers and the obvious entertainment purposes of easy stalking. It's been hard to be without that tool, so I've started the arduous process of setting up a new account. The new username is @PenguinKumer. As before, follow me and I'll follow you. We'll all get along fantastically.

Watch This! Buffy The Vampire Slayer (Pt. 4)

I had originally intended for this to be a seven part posting series--seven parts for seven seasons. However, once I finished my marathon re-watch of the entire series, I kind of felt like it might be time to close this off and move on. And what better way to finish off the series than with a top ten list? So without further ado, my top ten favorite Buffy the Vampire Slayer Episodes.

#10: The Zeppo

Season 3, Episode 13

I haven't really had a chance to mention yet that Xander is one of my favorite characters in this series--he'd rank somewhere in the top ten characters of the buffyverse. He's the heart of the group, the most normal member, the down to earth jokester that restores a measure of reality to the world. Unlike most of the cast, he has no special powers, and his feelings of inadequacy are brought up in several episodes, but never so much and so hilariously as in this one. There is a potential apocalypse on the rise, and Buffy is all caught up in that epicness, but the episode does not focus on that story arc. Instead we follow Xander as through the mishaps of encountering dead, now resurrected bullies. The bullies are trying to make a bomb to blow up the high school, and Xander is the only one available to stop them. I loved the campier tone, the shift in focus, and the respect for the little guy that this episode displayed.

#9: Hush

Season 4, Episode 10

In this episode, everyone in Sunnydale loses their voice, causing mass panic, and the mysterious
beings known as "The Gentlemen" are responsible. They use the silence to steal the hearts of their victims. This episode is unique in that it features almost no dialogue, with close to 30 minutes of relative silence. The team is forced to communicate in gestures and writing, which is hilarious. This is also one of the absolute creepiest episodes of Buffy. The silence is down right eerie. Watching it this time through, I couldn't help but sit up and pay attention.

#8: Restless

Season 4, Episode 22

Season 4 had a relatively weak over-aching big bad story, compared to the other seasons. The finale is a positive note that has almost nothing to do with that arch. Instead, it follows our main characters through a series of dreams in which they encounter the First Slayer. I liked the style of this episode, and how it felt very dreamlike and creepy. I liked that it hinted at the depth of Buffy's power and origin, and that it heavily foreshadowed things to come. Most of all I liked the glimpses into each character's psyche. We get an idea of what they must feel deep down--Xander's insecurity, Giles' fatherly concern for Buffy, Buffy's feelings of isolationism, and so forth.

#7: The Prom

Season 3, Episode 20

At first glance, this appears to be just another common high school experience amplified Buffy style,
but there's actually a lot going on in this episode emotionally. A shot early on shows Buffy's notebook, where she's written "Buffy+Angel Forever" on the cover, and that startled me into remembering that Buffy is still painfully young. She wants to have a normal youth, with normal experiences--like attending prom with her boyfriend. At the same time, Angel is realizing that there's really no place for him in Buffy's life, that he'll only end up hurting her. Despite Buffy's insistence that she doesn't mind the sacrifice, Angel makes the choice to leave. This is completely heartbreaking, and yet inarguably the right thing to do. My favorite moment, however, is when Buffy is awarded the "Class Protector" award, her classmates applauding all the good she's done. After the many episodes where we saw Buffy worry that she'd never amount to much socially, never be remembered, and that she was giving up everything to be the slayer, this moment of validation is incredibly powerful. It's a bittersweet episode, and that's why I love it.

#6: Graduation Day

Season 3, Episodes 21&22

This episode proves once again that the creators understand the significance of all of the milestones of young adulthood, and that they're very good at giving them a supernatural twist. Buffy declares her independence from the council of watchers, and leads the fight against the big bad of the season (The Mayor). All of the students fight back, and it's awesome and hopeful and empowering. I liked the callback to Xander's military training (obtained through a spell that turned him into a soldier temporarily). I also appreciated that Buffy had to appeal to The Mayor's human side, through his connection to faith, in order to defeat him. This episode is good, action-y fun.

#5: The Body

Season 5, Episode 16

This is the only episode that actually made me cry this time around. Buffy arrives home to find her
mother still and lifeless. She calls 911, she tries to revive her, in the end Joyce is just dead. Nothing supernatural is going on--it's a simple case of natural death. The entire episode is slow and somber--even the music is absent, and that silence is deafening. It captures grief and shock perfectly--with Buffy in denial and then sick with sadness. Her friend's reactions are also very well done, just as miserable and helpless. Willow loses it over not knowing what to wear when she sees Buffy, and her performance is absolutely heartbreaking. No one knows how to deal with ordinary, unexpected death, when there is no enemy to fight and no villain to blame. This is one of the saddest things I've ever watched on TV.

#4:The Becoming

Season 2, Episodes 21&22

Buffy loses her virginity and Angel loses his soul. If you know nothing else about this show, you probably know that. It's the ultimate cautionary tale of teenage sex, of boyfriends gone bad, and of what happens when a relationship can't overcome bad circumstance. You can't help but revel in the angsty goodness that is this story. But what makes this story a cut above Twilight and the like, is that Buffy has to make this impossibly hard decision to kill Angelus (evil Angel). As I've said before, Buffy is just your average teenage girl--she get's self absorbed, has brainless moments, makes mistakes---but when it counts, she's strong as hell. And not just physically strong, but emotionally strong.

#3: Normal Again

Season 6, Episode 17

I always like the stories that delve into themes of insanity and reality, and this one is no exception.
Buffy is exposed to a venom that splits her mind into two realities. In one, she's in a mental institution being treated for extreme delusions--her entire nightmarish, demon filled life is a delusion, as are her friends and her powers. Her parents are there, begging her to come back to reality and be normal again. In the other reality, she actually is living this life with demons and monsters that want to kill her friends. The magic of this episode is the fact that it's completely plausible to have a teenage girl with schizophrenia build an entire fantasy life around having superpowers and being able to safe the world. It speaks volumes that there's a part of Buffy that may want to choose the reality in which she is insane but ordinary, just for the sake of being normal.

#2: Chosen

Season 7, Episode 22

What can I say about the series finale? It's a great conclusion to an incredible story (though the story does go on in comic book form after the show ends). Buffy and the crew fight the biggest bad of all, The First, the ultimate in evil world destroying demons. They are joined by all of the potential slayers. It's a big girl power episode, with all of this young ladies getting strong and kicking ass. They suffer their share of loses, with characters dying and sacrifices being made, but in the end Buffy finds that she can smile. She's overcome all of the odds and survived the worst of the worst, and she's not alone anymore.

#1: Once More, With Feeling

Season 6, Episode 7

What can I say, I love a musical. The musical episode of Buffy is pure fun, but also strangely sincere.
Tara and Willow glow with love and magic (they are my very favorite couple in the series). Xander and Anya sing about their secret doubts for their married life. Spike sings of his unrequited love for Buffy. Giles sings of needing to let Buffy find her independence. And then, the big reveal, Buffy confesses that she had been in heaven before she was brought back to life. I love that this episode is able to poke fun at musicals, showing people singing about sidewalk sales and parking tickets, while still acknowledging the power of singing out what's in your heart.

So, that's my top ten. You guys, this was ridiculously hard to put together. There are 144 episodes of Buffy. In the process of doing this, I initially just made a list of all the episodes I found memorable or emotionally jarring, and that list included close to 40 episodes. I had to do a lot of narrowing down, and I still feel like I'm leaving out a lot of excellent stories. I'm going to finish off with a quick list of honorable mentions. If I still didn't hit your favorite episode, go ahead and talk about it in the comments. Happy Watching!

Honorable Mentions

Angel (Season 1, Episode 7)--First glimpse at Angel's backstory.
Surprise/Innocence (Season 2, Episodes 13&14)--Angel experiences perfect happiness and loses his soul.
The Wish (Season 3, Episode 9)--Cordelia wishes Buffy had never come to Sunnydale--Anya's first appearance.
Earshot (Season 3, Episode 18)--Buffy gains the ability to hear people's thoughts.
Wild at Heart (Season 4, Episode 6)--Oz learns that his control over his wolf side is slipping, and he betrays Willow.
The Replacement (Season 5, Episode 3)--We see two versions of Xander--the successful one, and the total loser.
Fool for Love (Season 5, Episode 7)--Buffy asks Spike how he killed two slayers.
The Gift (Season 5, Episode 22)--Buffy sacrifices herself so that Dawn may have a shot at a human life.
Two to Go/The Grave (Season 6, Episodes 21&22)--A grief stricken Willow turns evil and threatens to destroy the world.
Selfless (Season 7, Episode 5)--Anya's backstory.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Most Anticipated

It's time once again to update my list of anticipated books for the coming year.


The Darkest Craving (Lords of The Underworld, #10)The Darkest Craving by Gena Showalter--Now that I've caught up with this series, I can put the next installment on my list of books to look forward to. This book is set to feature Kane, keeper of disaster, as the hero. Apparently his love interest is half-fae, and her name is Josephina. I have absolutely no idea how this one will go, since I have no strong feelings toward Kane one way or another.

Magic Rises by Ilona Andrews--My desire to read this book only grows with each passing week. The plot sounds so interesting--I absolutely cannot wait.

Saga Vol. 2 by Brian K. Vaughan--I jumped onto this series too goddamn early, and now I'm having to wait ages for volume two to come out. Still, of the very limited number of comic books I enjoy, this is at the top of the list.

Midnight Frost by Jennifer Estep--The plot of this seems to involve someone getting poisoned and a quest for an antidote. You know, this series does lack the epicness we get with most novels and yet, it is very readable.

Macrieve by Kresley Cole--All I can do is hope that this is one of the better additions to the series. I hope, and I wait.


Bound by Night (MoonBound Clan Vampires, #1)Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins--This book optimistically promises both a sweeping new love story and some visits from our two established couples--and I'm looking forward to both.

Destiny's Surrender by Beverley Jenkins--Not a lot of info on this one yet, just the old school style cover.

Bound by Night by Larissa Ione--A new series, with vampires. I don't know how I feel about it. After years of vampire hype, we're all a little burned out and I'm no exception. So we'll see. Beautiful cover, though.


Eyrie (Society of Feathers, #2)Archangel's Legion by Nalini Singh--The comes out right after my birthday! Happy birthday to me!

Eyrie by Emma Michaels--Again, I'm not sure how much I care as time wanes on. I may need to reread book one in order to remember what I liked about it or why I should look forward to this.

Allegiant by Veronica Roth--I was just waiting on this to get a title in order to put it on the list, and here it is! In some ways I've felt this series is slightly over-hyped (the fanfare over the title reveal was too much), but in other ways it has been a good trilogy so far.


Reaver by Larissa Ione--I had some trouble getting through her last book, so my excitement for this is somewhat tempered. On the other hand, Reaver is one of her better characters.

Up From the Grave (Night Huntress, #7) January

Flame by Amy Kathleen Ryan--This is another case where the wait is so long that I'm not sure it will hold my interest. This is a case of I really just want to finish this series, already, what's the hold up?

Up From the Grave by Jeaniene Frost--Oh boy, this cover is MEH. But, you know, it's Cat and Bones--the cover almost doesn't matter.


Cress by Melissa Meyer--This one is set to feature Rapunzel! So excited!


The King by J.R.Ward--Wrath and Beth and baby drama and a monarchy that probably needs saved. We'll see how that goes.


Sunday, May 5, 2013

Review of Tidal by Emily Snow

Lately there's a lot of chatter about "New Adult" novels, and New Adult romance in particular. The idea, I suppose, is to have a genre that bridges the gap between YA and...just plain A, with characters that are traditional college age (18-23, or so). They are still young enough to be in that very transitional period where all of the good character development that we see in YA can happen. The important difference is, in NA they can have sex. I feel like that's often the main motivation--character is 18, she can choose to have sex now without all the backlash. There's also the factor that most of these characters are now living independently from their parents in some capacity, so they have all of the new freedoms and troubles associated with that.

The reason that I'm offering up this unnecessarily long explanation of what I think New Adult is, is that this is the first review on this blog that I will actually be labeling as New Adult. That's not to say that I haven't reviewed books that authors or other readers might call NA, because I know I have. I know I've reviewed a lot of books that might technically fall in that genre by virtue of the character's age alone. This is just the first one that I feel qualifies for the label in terms of age range, content, and labels already assigned by other readers--my gut tells me this is a true NA, and so it is. This is the ceremonial induction of a new sub-genre on RtP.

And on to the review.

TidalWillow Avery is a famous young actress who's gone off the deep end a time or two, a la Lindsay Lohan. The book opens up with her just getting out of rehab and already being told by her agent that she needs to get back to work, and he has a role lined up for her as the heroine of Tidal--a remake of an old beach drama. She'll be playing a surfer, so she has to learn the basics of surfing. Enter out hero, Cooper, who at the tender age of 22 is the best surfing guru in Hawaii. Willow isn't sure how she'll stay clean, or even if she wants to, but she does know that Cooper is an excellent distraction. Cooper wants Willow from the moment he sees her, but is he willing to violate his professional rules in order to be with her?

If you're thinking that you won't like this book because the heroine sounds like an unpleasant, self absorbed, drug-using tool, I'm here to tell you that you're wrong. Somewhat. The author does a good job of making her sympathetic and helping us to understand how she became such a mess, without removing all of the blame from her. It's fairly clear that Willow's parents see her as a source of cash, and while they do still care about her on some human level, all of that cash definitely got in the way of the normal parenting that would have helped prevent the slide into rampant drug use. As the story goes on, we learn of Willow's depression which mostly centers around one big event in her past (you'll be able to guess it early on, but I won't spoil it anyway), this one event that made her want the numbed out state that being high brings. Again, she's partly responsible for that event, but her parents and the other people in her life are also responsible for handling it so very poorly. No one is demonized to the point of being the villain of the piece (well, maybe Willow's best friend), and so I ended up feeling my heart crack a little, if not break entirely over Willow's sadness.

Cooper is not as thoroughly developed by any stretch of the imagination. He's kind of just there as this nice guy who cares very deeply about Willow, and he wants to see her stay happy and healthy. His love helps her open up, and it helps her want to do better for herself, but it doesn't cure her. That's important, and I really liked that the author didn't make their relationship the magic solution to all of Willow's problems. One of the things I felt was a bit weak, in terms of story telling, was Cooper's relationship with his parents. I won't say too much for fear of spoilers, but again, his story is just not as well developed.

The reason that I knocked some stars off of this book is that in the end, it does treat a lot of the issues with a softer hand than I would like. It handles these really big issues competently, but somewhat predictably. It's not going to help you understand drug use or depression or family drama on a deeper level. I also felt that Willow and Cooper's relationship lacked the epicness, the really deep tug between two characters who you are convinced will end up together. They love each other, but I'm not sure I saw enough between them to call it swoon worthy.

And so there you have our first New Adult book. Do I recommend it? Yes. Don't let the heroine discourage you. This is a well developed belated coming of age story with a sweet little romance that's reasonably enjoyable. 3.5 stars.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Review of The Darkest Seduction by Gena Showalter

One of the things that persuaded me to get back into this series was the fact that I knew Paris had a book. Not only do I sort of grudgingly like Paris (I'll explain the grudging part in a minute), but the set up between Paris and Sienna, which took place earlier in the series, was really excellent.

The Darkest Seduction (Lords of the Underworld, #9)Paris is possessed by the demon of Promiscuity, and one of the consequences of his possession is that he can only sleep with a woman one time--after which, he will fail to respond to her sexually ever again. Sienna had the distinction of being the first woman to arouse him twice, before she was abruptly killed. Now Sienna is a spirit, and is also possessed by the demon Wrath. Paris still wants her, and is willing to brave all kinds of hell to get her back.

The secret society/band of brothers trope in paranormal romance usually features some predictable cookie cutter personality types. There's always the leader/series strategy guy. There's the hacker/technology savvy genius. The legitimately crazy/genuinely scared one. The unusually normal guy who is the most in touch with the human world. The smurfette.  And then there's Captain Super Dick--the one who sleeps with approximately all of the women. I generally hate Captain Super Dick. I even had problems with Rhage from BDB, though admittedly he won me over in the end. But generally, I hate unapologetic man-sluts. I hate that their behavior is rarely seen as bad and is often actually lauded for behavior that would get a female character blacklisted.  And Paris is, of course, Captain Super Dick.

What distinguished Paris to the point where I'm kind of fond of him is the fact that he actually doesn't like the revolving door to his bedroom. Showalter describes his dilemma in such a way that I can see why that would get really depressing after a hundred years or so. She actually made me sad that he has so much sex. I don't think any author, not even Ward, has made me feel the plight of the ever-horny in quite this way. What's more is that, this dilemma makes Sienna valuable to Paris even before he really loves her, and that gives us an interesting premise to build the entire quest of this book on.

Sienna, if I'm being honest, is still a bit bland in personality. Despite Showalter's attempts to load up her back story and give her solid motivation, in the end I don't feel that I'll remember her. When I compare her to some of the other heroines in the series, who stand out both for their huge personalities and grand powers, she just falls short. No matter who's power she absorbs or how big a deal she is.

Anyway, the romance in this one is more than adequate, and I found the plot quite engaging. I would say that among the books in this series, it is far from the best, but it is certainly not the worst. 3.5 stars.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Happy May!

And so we arrive in a brand new, shiny month. April was a truly excellent month for reading. I blew through thirteen novels, and not one of them was appallingly bad (although one was pretty boring). I have so many reviews I need to write, but first and foremost--the best book of April...
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