The Awesome: Sex, Blood & Monster Hunters

The Awesome by Eva DarrowsThe Awesome by Eva Darrows

Published: May 26th, 2015
Publisher: Rebellion / Ravenstone
Genre(s): Young Adult, Fantasy, Monster Hunters
Format: eBook
Length: 352 pages

The Awesome has a fantastic cover. Even though the main character is a monster-hunting teenage girl, she isn’t pictured striking a pose in skin-tight jeans. Instead, we’re treated to a stylized green vampire skull and the title in hot pink graffiti. This cover is by far one of the book’s best assets, and it also does a great job of setting the tone for the book itself: fast, loud and a little punk.

Maggie Cunningham’s mother, Janice, hunts monsters. Janice is fully licensed to hunt, and Maggie is her apprentice-in-training. In fact, monster-hunting is fully above-board and regulated by the government, which means there are rules and requirements before you can take on bigger bounties and tougher monsters. Maggie wants to follow in her mother’s footsteps and become a badass monster hunter, but there’s one problem, and it’s a big one: she’s a virgin.

Turns out vampires can smell a virgin’s blood from across the room, and it sends them into a blood rage. Maggie can’t hunt vampires until she’s “devirginized”, which is actually kind of a challenge because she’s home-schooled and spends most of her time socializing with no-one but her mother and other hunters. The solution? Maggie decides to go to a party with her best (only) friend and find a (hopefully) nice boy to deflower her. This goes about as well as you might imagine, and things only go downhill from there.

The Awesome is raunchy and vulgar from the get-go. The Cunningham women have a very frank approach to their sex lives (not that Maggie is thrilled to know about her mother’s sexual proclivities). That frankness paired with Maggie’s wry sense of humor make the character leap off the page, although she does fall prey to the cliché of identifying herself as “not like other girls” early in the book.

Maggie’s quest to lose her virginity actually ends up being a very original way to approach a romance storyline, and probably aligns way more closely with the sorts of mishaps that plague actual teenagers. Maggie’s fumbling social disasters start off raunchy and end up sweet, which is difficult to do well.

The supernatural aspects of The Awesome are a bit more jumbled, however. The conflict isn’t introduced until reasonably late in the book, and it always feels secondary to Maggie’s romantic entanglements and her relationship with her mother. The result is that the supernatural parts of the book feel a bit undercooked.

Darrows also raises the issue of Maggie’s prejudice against supernatural beings (instilled in her by her mother) but never quite addresses it head-on. Maggie meets vampires and zombies and eventually learns to respect them as people instead of just targets, but it never feels like she has a true eureka moment where she understands the situation in more than black and white terms.

As I was reading, it also occurred to me that the traditional urban fantasy story would probably focus on Maggie’s mother, the monster hunter. Instead, we’re given a peek into the world of someone who wants to get to that place but doesn’t have her shit together.

Tone and characterization are the best parts of The Awesome. The plotting is a little loose, but I’m sure future installments in what I assume is a series will only improve in that area. Darrows sets up a few things that I’m sure she’s planning on paying off in later books, and I’m definitely going to check them out.

REALLY LIKED IT
REALLY LIKED IT

Full disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from Net Galley.

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iZombie Vol. 1: Dead to the World

Published: March 22, 2011
Publisher: Vertigo
Genre(s): Fantasy, Graphic Novel
Format: Trade Paperback
Pages: 144

Pop culture has been in zombie/vampire/werewolf overdrive the past few years, and it’s pretty rare to find a story that has a unique twist on the mythos. iZombie, an ongoing series from Vertigo by Chris Roberson and Michael Allred, isn’t the savior of the genre, but it does at least have a few original twists on some tired old archetypes.

iZombie tells the story of Gwen Dylan, an undead gravedigger who has to eat brains once a month to keep from becoming a full-on shambling zombie horror. She doesn’t enjoy the taste at all, describing them as worse than “a cross between motor oil and someone else’s vomit”, but eating them keeps her sane and relatively normal, so she digs up the freshest grave once a month and does what she feels is necessary. One unfortunate side effect of brain-eating is that the memories of the deceased come along for the ride, and she finds herself compelled to finish their unfinished business. When the story opens, she eats the brains of a man who may have been murdered, and sets out to solve the mystery.

Gwen’s only friends are Ellie, a ghost-girl who died forty years ago and dresses like one of Austin Powers’ backup dancers, and Scott (aka ‘Spot’), who turns into a “were-terrier” during the full moon, which mostly just means he becomes embarrassingly hirsute. They live in a version of Eugene, Oregon overflowing with supernatural beings; the paintball place down the road is run by a coven of vampires that look like former sorority girls, and a mysteriously menacing man wrapped in bandages may be an ancient Egyptian mummy. Naturally, there are also monster hunters thrown into the mix, one of whom becomes a possible love interest for Gwen, which will surely lead to further complications down the line.

The art, done by the inimitable Michael Allred, is gorgeous, full of thick black lines and his signature Madman style. One particularly impressive spread in the middle of the book shows Gwen walking through the memories of another character. The memories are shown as individual panels in the comic, but are printed in an exaggerated halftone. Gwen seems to exist above the panels, standing between or on top of each individual memory. Allred’s art is easily my favorite part of this book.

The story is good, but mostly setup. The mystery established at the start doesn’t amount to very much, and many of the plot threads in this initial volume are not resolved. However, the explanation of the overal supernatural mythos is thoughtful, and most of the creatures are given an interesting twist. Only the vampires seem particularly cliche – too-beautiful women preying on lonely men. I think there’s potential here, however; Roberson establishes enough interesting threads that I look forward to reading future volumes.

REALLY LIKED IT
REALLY LIKED IT

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2010: My Year in Reading

I had a great year of reading in 2010. I read even more than I did in 2009, and easily beat my previous record of 60 books in one year by finishing 68 in 2010. To be fair, that does include all 6 of the Scott Pilgrim books, which are fairly short and took about 1-2 hours to read, on average, but a book is a book, that’s what I say. I figure as long as I’m not counting Little Golden Books in my numbers I’m doing alright.

2010 was also a big deal for me because I decided I needed to do something about my ever-expanding collection of paperbacks and hardcovers. Carting around several dozen boxes full of books every time I move doesn’t get more fun the more I do it. Accordingly, in the hopes that it might help de-clutter my life, I bought myself a Kindle. The Kindle doesn’t dominate my reading life yet – I still have hundreds of physical books to read, and the public library is never far away – but I hope that in time it will at least prevent me from needing to buy another big bookcase to store my ever-expanding collection.

I also started an Audible membership this year, mostly because I was in a book club and needed to read the new David Sedaris book quickly, but also because they have a snazzy iPhone app and I thought I might like having a regular stream of audiobooks to listen to at work. Audible also happens to fit in quite nicely with my desire to avoid new physical book purchases.

The Sedaris was a bust – one of the two truly terrible books I read last year – but Audible has been a huge winner for me. The iPhone app has a lot of really cool features, especially the ability to view your entire Audible library and add and remove new books on the fly so that you don’t worry about taking up too much space. My favorite listens so far have been the First Law books by Joe Abercrombie, but I was also excited to pick up a collection of Woody Allen books read by the man himself. Listening to audiobooks at work has really been helping make the days go by quicker. I think it even makes me more productive some days.

Of course, no year-in-review post would be complete without a best-of list, so I’ve included a list below of all the books I read in 2010 and rated 10 out of 10. These are the books that blew my mind and made me love reading just that much more.

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