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Princess Alethea's Magical Elixir
  Book Reviews by Alethea Kontis
May 2009

Title: Pride & Prejudice & Zombies
Author: Jane Austen & Seth Grahame-Smith
EAN: 9781594743344

Yeah, yeah . . . everybody's talking about it, so I guess I will too. The news about Pride & Prejudice & Zombies (PPZ) came over the wire here at work sometime in January, and my friend Janet and I jumped on it immediately. The concept was simply too great -- possibly the greatest "elevator pitch" in history. We got our advance reading copies of the book with its gorgeous cover and started reciting passages at random in poncy, stilted English accents. We stood with our backs ramrod straight and stuck our pinky fingers in the air and had a good laugh about it.

And then we had to sit down and read it.

Yeah, I've read Pride & Prejudice -- the original version -- more than a few times. I'm one of those girls who knows all six hours of the A&E miniseries by heart. Had a bad day at work? Life getting me down? Chinese take-out, ice cream, Elizabeth Bennet, and Mr. Darcy and suddenly the world's not so bad. Pride & Prejudice is my comfort food. Then again, so is Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The thought of Miss Eliza Bennet kicking undead butt and taking names . . . well now, that's an image that's right up my alley. I really looked forward to seeing what feats Seth Grahame-Smith had accomplished.

That said, over the last few months, I've only made it about sixty pages into the book. I just can't stop putting it down. It's not that I'm a purist -- I'm certainly not of the mind that what Grahame-Smith has done is tantamount to blasphemy -- it's just that I can't get into it at all. The subtlety is gone. For example: Mr. Bennet isn't funny anymore, he's just angry and overprotective. The slow boil underneath has broken the surface; all that delicious passive-aggressiveness is now simply aggressive.

The best analogy I can think of is when you sip your glass of water and find it's a glass of Coke instead. It's not that you don't like soda; it's just not what you were expecting. So you make a face and put it down. Every time I pick up PPZ, it's just not what I expect it to be. So I trudge through a chapter and put it back down.

It's a really great idea. It's a great-looking package. It makes a great gift. One day, it might even make a great movie. It will make new fans of the original P&P that had never read it before, and I am a huge fan of anything that gets reluctant readers to pick up a book. It's already a bestseller. It makes a great conversation piece and will be talked about for years to come. It just doesn't happen to be my cup of tea. I'll stick with the old-school miscommunication and manners of Miss Eliza and Mr. Darcy.

Please pass the Chinese food.

Title: Mark of the Demon
Author: Diana Rowland
EAN: 9780553592351

Speaking of comfort foods: from time to time, I go through a phase where all I want to do is watch CSI. It's a show that appeals to both my inner actress and the chemistry degree I never used for anything but my official Geek status. CSI is a cast of beautiful, smart people running around playing detective. They trade Twitter-worthy quips and dance through montages that reduce the wait for a mass spectrometer or DNA result or fingerprint database match to half the length of a Coldplay song. They have some laughs, they have some drama, and they catch the bad guy. Fin.

Diana Rowland's Mark of the Demon is like an episode of CSI . . . only with more realistic science, better police procedural, and demons. It punched every single one of my buttons -- I read the entire manuscript from cover to cover in one day. I haven't done that in a long time . . . since I read Thanks for the Memories over the holidays, I expect. It's always such a treat when that happens. When a story is this fun, you jump right in the car with the characters and let them drive. I suspect Diana had a similar pleasure writing this.

Detective Kara Gillian has just been promoted from chasing check fraud to the Violent Crimes division, and she's been made the lead on a case that looks like a resurgence of the Symbol Man serial murders of several years ago. She's also just conjured a twelfth-level demon and officially become a full-fledged summoner. Apart from the arrogant presence of handsome FBI agent Ryan Kristoff, Kara's got it pretty good. Time to throw a wrench into the works.

The wrench takes the form of Rhyzkahl, a Demon Lord with immeasurable power and a particular fetish for Kara. She's not quite sure how she brought him to this plane -- she was trying to summon a fairly innocuous fourth-level demon at the time -- but it's clear what Rhyzkahl wants. Her. And not in an "I'm going to eat your insides" kind of way. Unfortunately, she needs the Demon Lord's help to crack the Symbol Man case.

Mark of the Demon is fast-paced and fun. It's sour, bitter, sweet, salty, and sexy. It's science without technobabble, and gritty without being gross. Diana also provides a great sense of the deep south Louisiana setting -- an atmosphere that's always present, but never oppressive. And there are no vampires. None. Zero. Not even a mention. That in itself is enough to make me want to shake the author's hand and shine her pedestal.

There's really not more I can say -- just go read it. After gobbling up this debut, I'm really looking forward to what Diana Rowland offers us next!

Title: I Need My Monster
Author: Amanda Noll
Illustrator: Howard McWilliam
EAN: 9780979974625

Before I go, I want to mention one more book that I've absolutely fallen in love with. Every so often, a picture book crosses my desk that makes me want to email the author and gush and gush about it. (Adam Rex is still wiping off my gush over Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich.) I've just pulled up Amanda Noll's website (www.amandanoll.com) and am about to do the same. Howard McWilliam is next. This is their first book. You're going to want to own it.

Here's the story: Ethan goes to bed one night and finds (*gasp*) that his regular monster has gone fishing (Gabe left him a note). Oh, no! What is Ethan to do? How will he sleep without a monster under his bed? So Ethan does what any intelligent boy with a purpose would do: he begins the process of interviewing prospective monsters for the position that Gabe has left vacant.

The illustrations are like watching a movie -- if they made wallpaper out of the endpapers, I'd have it plastered all over my bedroom. The monsters are fantastic. Each gives it their all, but Ethan's a picky boy who knows what he wants . . . and what he doesn't.

This book just made me smile from beginning to end. It's a bit long in the text, but still makes a great read-aloud. Better yet, it begs the interactive, art-inspiring follow-up question: what characteristics would you require in your perfect monster?

Read more by Alethea Kontis

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