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Book Review: The Keep by F. Paul Wilson (Series, #1) (Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge)

December 20, 2014 Leave a comment

Book Review: The Keep by F. Paulu Wilson (Series, #1)Summary:
Captain Klaus Woermann isn’t a fan of the Nazis or the SS and doesn’t exactly keep this a secret.  But he’s also a hero from the First World War, so the Nazi regime deals with him by sending he and a small troop to Romania to guard a pass the Russians could possibly use.  They set up to guard the place in a building known as the keep.  It should be a quiet assignment, but when the German soldiers start being killed one a night by having their throats ripped out, the SS is sent to investigate.

SS Major Kaempffer wishes to solve this mystery as soon as possible so he may start his new promotion of running the extermination camp for Romania.  He is sure he can solve this mystery quickly.

Professor Cuza and his daughter Magda are Romanian Jews who have already been pushed out of their work in academia.  They also just so happen to be the only experts on the keep.  When the SS sends for them, they are sure it is the beginning of the end.  But what is more evil? The mysterious entity killing the Germans or the Nazis?

Review:
It’s hard not to pick up a book that basically advertises itself as a vampire killing Nazis and the only ones who can stop the vampires are a Jewish professor and his daughter.  I mean, really, what an idea!  Most of the book executes this idea with intrigue and finesse, although the end leaves a bit to be desired.

The characterization of the Germans is handled well.  They are a good mix of morally ethical people who are caught up in a regime following orders and see no way out (the army men) and evil men who enjoy inflicting pain upon others and are taking advantage of the regime to be governmentally sanctioned bullies, rapists, and murderers.  Having both present keeps the book from simply demonizing all Germans and yet recognizes the evil of Nazism and those who used it to their advantage.

Similarly, Magda and her father Professor Cuza are well-rounded.  Professor Cuza is a man of his time, using his daughter’s help academically but not giving her any credit for it.  He also is in chronic pain and acts like it, rather than acting like a saint.  Magda is torn between loyalty to her sickly father and desires to live out her own life as she so chooses.  They are people with fully developed lives prior to the rise of the Nazis, and they are presented as just people, not saints.

In contrast, the man who arrives to fight the evil entity, Glaeken, is a bit of a two-dimensional deus ex machina, although he is a sexy deus ex machina.  Very little is known of him or his motivations.  He comes across as doing what is needed for the plot in the moment rather than as a fully developed person.  The same could easily be said of the villagers who live near the keep.

The basic conflict of the plot is whether or not to side with the supernatural power that seems to be willing to work against the Nazis.  Thus, what is worse? The manmade evil of the Nazis or a supernatural evil?  Can you ever use a supernatural evil for good?  It’s an interesting conflict right up until the end where a reveal is made that makes everything about the question far too simple.  Up until that point it is quite thought-provoking, however.

The plot smoothly places all of these diverse people in the same space.  The supernatural entity is frightening, as are the Nazis.  These are all well-done.

One thing that was frustrating to me as a modern woman reader was the sheer number of times Magda is almost raped or threatened with rape, and how she only escapes from rape thanks to anything but herself.  In one instance, the Nazi simply runs out of time because the train is about to move out.  In another, she is saved by a man.  In a third, she is saved by supernatural devices.  While it is true that rape is a danger in war zones, it would be nice if this was not such a frequently used conflict/plot point for this character.  Once would have been sufficient to get the point across.  As it is, the situation starts to lose its power as a plot point.

The ending is a combination of a deus ex machina and a plot twist that is a bit unsatisfying.  There also isn’t enough resolution, and it appears that the next books in the series do not pick up again with these same characters, so it is doubtful there is more resolution down the road.  It is a disappointing ending that takes a turn that is nowhere near as powerful and interesting as the rest of the book.

Overall, this is an interesting fantastical take on a historic time period.  The ending could possibly be disappointing and not resolve enough for the reader and some readers will be frustrated with the depiction of the sole female character.  However, it is still a unique read that is recommended to historic fiction fans and WWII buffs that don’t mind having some supernatural aspects added to their history.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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Series Review: The Georgina Kincaid Series by Richelle Mead

January 9, 2014 1 comment

Introduction:
I post series reviews after completing reading an entire series of books.  It gives me a chance to reflect on and analyze the series as a whole.  These series reviews are designed to also be useful for people who: A) have read the series too and would like to read other thoughts on it or discuss it with others OR B) have not read the series yet but would like a full idea of what the series is like, including possible spoilers, prior to reading it themselves or buying it for another.  Please be aware that series reviews necessarily contain some spoilers.

Red-headed woman in front of Seattle skylineSummary:
Georgina Kincaid loves her job managing a bookstore in Seattle.  She’s not so sure about her job as Seattle’s only succubus, but she doesn’t have much choice about that one since she sold her soul to Hell back when she was mortal in ancient Greece.  After hundreds of years of being a succubus, Georgina has started to feel guilty about stealing the life energy of good-souled men.  So she’s switched to stealing the less high-quality life energy of bad-souled men.  Her demon boss, Jerome, is none too happy about this.  Things take an even more interesting turn when famous author, Seth Mortensen, moves to Seattle and chooses Georgina’s bookstore as his base of operations.  Georgina quickly finds herself falling for him.  Her first time falling for a man since WWII.  Nobody seems to like the idea of Georgina dating Seth, except for Seth, but Georgina doesn’t have much time to wonder why as supernatural life carries on.  Everything from an incubus plot to attempts at overthrowing her demonic boss (by another demon of course) to an escaped ancient supernatural power who feeds on dreams come Georgina’s way.  Georgina starts to notice that Seattle seems to be facing more than the normal level of supernatural upheaval, and she starts to wonder why.

Woman in push-up vest against red background.Review:
A tightly told, sexy, humorous series featuring an overarching plot that ties into all of the smaller plots and lends the series as a whole a greater meaning makes this urban fantasy stand out above the rest.

The series ostensibly focuses on the bad guys of the supernatural world, not something that is seen very often in urban fantasy.  Yes, Georgina is a succubus with a guilt complex, but she is still a succubus, and she still goes out and does her succubus thing.  She is not out trying to save the world.  She’s just trying to get by day by day in the role she has chosen for herself–fighting on the bad guy side of the battle.  But Mead does not let the series fall easily into clear good versus evil.  It soon becomes evident that good guys can be on the bad guy side and bad guys on the good guy side.  In most cases, one decision or the fault of birth decides where they land.  Just because someone is a vampire doesn’t mean he can’t desire to help out his friends.  Just because someone is an angel doesn’t mean they can’t make mistakes.  And the rules aren’t always fair and sometimes incomprehensible.  This gray complexity lends a lot of interesting notes to the series that otherwise wouldn’t be there, not least of Woman standing in front of electrical storm.which is the fact that the characters are able to be three-dimensional in this world Mead has created.

The characters, even the minor ones, are indeed three-dimensional.  They sometimes make stupid choices, big mistakes, and are annoying.  But they also make tough good choices, ones that aren’t easy but still happen.  They fall in genuine love.  They accidentally hurt each other but also sacrifice themselves for each other.  They worry about having a bad hair day.  They cry.  They have great sex and bad sex.  And they come to life in the reader’s mind.

The sex scenes, a key element of an urban fantasy series about a succubus, are never repetitive.  They are tantalizing and sexy, except for a few which are aiming to show that sex can be bad.  They range from the intense love making of a couple madly in love to a fun night out having sex in public at a public sex bar.  And many positions and types of sex are covered as well.  The sex scenes walk the line between barely mentioned and extremely explicit quite well.  They are fully fleshed-out sex scenes without being extremely explicit.

Read-headed pale woman standing seductively against a purplish-red backdrop. The book title and author name are over her.The overarching plot, though, is what really made me fall in love with the series.  Georgina became a succubus in exchange for her husband and all those who knew her forgetting all about her.  She cheated on her husband, and she felt so much guilt at both the act and the pain it caused that she felt this was the best solution.  At first, she goes into being a succubus with enthusiasm but over time her feelings change.  Her hurt starts to heal, and she begins to see the good side of both humanity and life.  She is in the throes of this complex situation of wanting to be good but having already signed a contract for the bad side of the fight when Seth shows up and everything starts going haywire in the supernatural world in Seattle.  Eventually, she finds out that Seth is the reincarnation of her original husband, Kiriakos.  He lived his life thinking he must have a soul mate but never meeting her, so when he died he struck a bargain to get more chances at meeting her.  He has a limited number of reincarnations (10, I believe), that will occur in the same vicinity as his soul mate.  His soul mate is Georgina, and she has met him multiple times throughout her life as as a succubus.  This reincarnation as Seth is his last chance.  From here, the story takes a hard look at what makes people soul mates, that being soul mates doesn’t mean no mistakes will be made, that love Redheaded woman in a sexy leather top standing in front of fog.and a relationship aren’t an easy cakewalk and sacrifices and compromises must be made.  It delves into the idea of redemption, and that being a good person and having a good life aren’t just something innate in you.  It’s a beautiful love story, spanning many centuries, that takes a hard look at what makes relationships work.  It also ties in nicely with the questions established earlier about good versus evil and if being good or evil is a one-time choice or something that happens over time.  I never would have guessed that I could end up feeling so positively about a love story that begins with betrayal but that’s where Mead uses the supernatural with great skill.  The story works because the betrayal is treated so seriously.  Georgina’s betrayal of her husband (and soul mate) leads them both to centuries of pain.  It is not something that can be just brushed off.  It’s a mistake she made, yes, but just because it was a mistake doesn’t mean she can just say sorry and make it all right.  On that note, Kiriakos/Seth also made mistakes when they were first together that he also has to work through.  They both learn through time that you can’t just sit back and let the marriage happen.  You have to pay attention, invest, and work at growing together.

Woman in white and wearing a cross standing in front of a foggy sky.The fun setting, tantalizing sex scenes, three-dimensional characters, and unexpected yet beautiful overarching plot about the nature of good and evil and love and redemption makes this series a stunner in urban fantasy.  Highly recommended to urban fantasy and romance fans alike, although those who are irritated at the concept of soul mates might not enjoy it as much.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap, library, gift, Audible

Books in Series:
Succubus Blues, review, 4 stars
Succubus On Top, review, 4 stars
Succubus Dreams, review, 5 stars
Succubus Heat, review, 4 stars
Succubus Shadows, review, 5 stars
Succubus Revealed, review, 5 stars

Book Review: Oddkins: A Fable for All Ages by Dean Koontz

An assortment of stuffed animals standing on a road between two tall buildings.Summary:
Isaac Bodkins is a magical toymaker.  He makes toys that actually come alive and seek out children who need them the most, such as children who have lost a parent or who are facing abuse.  When he dies before he has a chance to tell his chosen heir about her purpose, evil has a chance to take over again.  His toys, the Oddkins, must set out to tell her before evil manages to land its own new evil toymaker that would create living toys to torture children.  Evil sends out his evil toys in an attempt to stop the Oddkins on their dangerous cross-town mission.

Review:
The person who loaned me this book told me it was marketed as a fable for all ages but really might be a bit too scary for the youngest among us.  Person also knew that I love me some fables, not to mention talking animals or toys, so I was excited to get into this book.  Alas, it wasn’t ultimately my style, but it is a well-written book I could see working for a lot of people.

The plot is a quest where each member of the questing group gets at least one chance to shine.  Although I was fairly certain that good would ultimately triumph over evil, I still was left worried for the main characters periodically, and I also was unable to predict the details of the triumph.  Since the toymaker lived in the countryside outside of the city, the quest consists of time in both the country and the city.  This kept situations varied and engaging.

Since this is a fable and most of the characters are in fact magical toys, they are not what one would describe as three-dimensional.  However, their two dimensions work for the story.  For instance, the teddy bear leader of the good toys is brave and strong and true but he also has to work at being brave.  He is not just naturally brave.  Similarly, although the two potential inheritors of toymaking are good and evil, they both get background information given to them.  The evil one was in prison and only takes pleasure from causing others pain.  The good one ran a toy store and was recently widowed and looking for something more in her life.

So why didn’t I love it?  Well, some things said were just too clearly religious for me.  There’s a lot of talk of afterlife, and the evil toys are driven by who is clearly Satan.  There are also times where the good toys stop and make statements to each other that are clearly the author preaching to the reader through them.  For instance

God’s world is full of magic, isn’t it? Not just the secret kind of magic of which we’re a part, but the simple magic of everyday life-magic. (location 1358)

Given that this happens rather frequently and given that the evil is clearly represented to be Satan, I just found the whole book to be a bit too heavy-handed in the religion department for me.  A reader who does follow Christianity might not be bothered, but even then, the preachiness within a book isn’t for everyone.

Overall this is a well-written fable that is engaging and unique.  It is a bit heavy-handed in its presentation of various religious beliefs for this reader, but other readers who enjoy that in their literature will probably enjoy this book.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Borrowed

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Book Review: The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

August 9, 2010 4 comments

A woman's face and the face of two children.Summary:
Late at night at a party, a gentleman offers to read a ghost story.  He claims this story occurred to a woman he knows personally.  The narrative then switches to the governess’s voice, and she tells of going to work at her first job as a governess caring for an absent uncle’s nephew and niece.  Upon arriving there, she discovers that the property is haunted by the ghosts of the former governess and her lover….or is it?

Review:
I loved the prologue about the party.  It’s full of clearly intelligent and world-wise people, which is rare of the Victorian era.  I was then disappointed when it switched to the governess’s voice.  She is painfully innocent and frankly annoying.  She frequently waxes lyrical about how simply delightful and angelic the children are to an extent that it made me sick to my stomach.  I frankly would have given up on the story if it wasn’t for the fact that it was my audiobook download, the reader had a pleasant voice, and it’s very short, so I figured, why not finish it?  I now am glad I did.

Upon arriving at the end, I found myself wondering if I’d missed something, as I was a bit confused about what happened, and my mind does wander sometimes when listening to an audiobook.  Since it’s a classic, I decided to look a bit at the literature guides online just as I would have gone into lecture in university excited to hear what a professor had to say about a work that I found confusing.  Well, lo and behold, apparently critics have had two distinct opinions on what exactly happens in the story pretty much since the day it was published.  I don’t think it’s a plot spoiler to say that James intentionally wrote it as ambiguous as to whether the ghosts actually exist or the governess is insane.  It can either be read as a straight-up ghost story with some sexual innuendos or as a commentary on the ill effects of the tight-laced Victorian culture on women.  That’s kind of cool, and for the record, I prefer the insane governess reading of the story, as I think that’s actually more creepy than the ghosts.

After reading the commentary and about James’ opinions in general, I realized that James probably found the governess as annoying as I did.  I enjoyed the prologue, and the prologue was a reflection of James and his friends.  This makes so much sense now!  I am certain if I had approached this book with the knowledge of James’ criticisms of Victorian society that I would have enjoyed it much more than I did approaching it as a straight-up traditional ghost story.

Overall, this is a story that will be best enjoyed by readers who thrill to the challenge of ambiguous tales and who are critical of Victorian era mores and norms.  It is not exactly the right fit for readers looking for a traditional ghost story, however.  I also feel it necessary to add that I believe this story is not ideally suited to being an audiobook.  Due to the ambiguity, certain passages lend themselves to a desire to be re-read that is not so easily pulled-off when being listened to.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Source: Librivox recording via the Audiobooks app for the iTouch, iPhone, and iPad

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Movie Review: The Evil Dead (1981)

January 11, 2010 3 comments

Movie poster of a woman clawing her way out of the ground.Summary:
A group of five 20-somethings head for a long weekend in a cabin in the woods.  In the basement, they find an old tape recorded by the previous resident–a professor.  This professor reads passages from The Book of the Dead that he’s been studying.  Playing the tape accidentally raises demons, and the group are left fighting against possession and for survival throughout the night.

Review:
This low-budget B movie is the quintessential cabin in the woods horror movie.  Written and directed by Sam Raimi who went on to direct the Spider-man movies and more recently Drag Me To Hell, it pits these 20-somethings against an evil force that infects them as opposed to a serial killer.

You guys, I absolutely loved this movie.  I already have a weakness for low-budget horror movies, as I love a good chuckle with my jumps, but there is so much more awesome to this movie than the summaries out there tell you.  They tell you this is a zombie movie.  Zombie movie is so not the right definition.  This is an evil trees movie.

In the first half an hour, there is motherfucking tree porn.  What’s tree porn, you ask?  It’s tentacle porn, only with tree branches.  The girl who gets raped by the tree is now infected, and the infection gets spread via wood.  The infection makes them mindless attacking machines, but they do not eat flesh.  They just chant “JOIN US!”  Even more awesome is the fact that when their limbs etc… get cut off not only blood but tree semen comes out of them.

Adding to the awesomeness that is the tree venereal disease is the stop-motion special effects.  They give such a different vibe than cgi and are truly well-done.

There are also your typical B-movie, chuckle-worthy lines.  Plus if there’s nothing too horrifying going on on the screen, you can always watch Bruce Campbell’s chin.  I dubbed him “Cro-Magnon Man.”  His face is just that awesome.  Plus he has a faint unibrow.

If you want a creative twist on a typical horror set-up, definitely check out The Evil Dead.  I mean, you’ve at last gotta watch the first half hour for the tree porn.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Netflix

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