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Book Review: An Accident of Stars by Foz Meadows (Series, #1)

26225506Summary:
When Saffron Coulter stumbles through a hole in reality, she finds herself trapped in Kena, a magical realm on the brink of civil war.

There, her fate becomes intertwined with that of three very different women: Zech, the fast-thinking acolyte of a cunning, powerful exile; Viya, the spoiled, runaway consort of the empire-building ruler, Vex Leoden; and Gwen, an Earth-born worldwalker whose greatest regret is putting Leoden on the throne. But Leoden has allies, too, chief among them the Vex’Mara Kadeja, a dangerous ex-priestess who shares his dreams of conquest.

Pursued by Leoden and aided by the Shavaktiin, a secretive order of storytellers and mystics, the rebels flee to Veksh, a neighboring matriarchy ruled by the fearsome Council of Queens. Saffron is out of her world and out of her depth, but the further she travels, the more she finds herself bound to her friends with ties of blood and magic.

Can one girl – an accidental worldwalker – really be the key to saving Kena? Or will she just die trying?

Review:
A fantasy written from a queer, female perspective that explores race and social justice featuring the common trope of multiple parallel worlds.

The basic plot is an intertwining of two common to fantasy: 1) there’s multiple parallel worlds 2) political intrigue warring societies etc… These are both done to a level I appreciate. They make sense without overwhelming me with world building and pages of explanations of how a society that doesn’t really exist works.

Both of these basic plots are used to explore queer viewpoints, feminism, and race, all through the lens of social justice. How much you’ll enjoy this lens depends upon the reader. I think the queer part is fairly well-done with a broad representation including: bisexual (by name!), lesbian, trans*, and polyamory. I’m not big on polyamory plots but I thought its inclusion in a parallel world made sense and was clearly not written from a perspective intended to purely titillate, rather, the emotional aspects of these relationships was explored. I do think the explorations of race lacked some of the subtlety present in the explorations of queerness. The white Australian girl being thrust into a parallel world where the majority race is black who is guided by another “worldwalker” who similarly fell through but decided to stay because she’s black and this world is better than Thatcher’s England struck me as a bit heavy-handed and overly simplistic. I’m also not sure how I felt about the black character being put into a secondary role as guide. I kept finding myself thinking how I would have preferred to have read her story. (You quickly find out she stayed in the world, gained some power, joined a polyamorous marriage, had a child, and more! What an interesting life!)

All of that said, I don’t often enjoy traditional style non-urban fantasy, and this one did keep me reading and interested. It’s fun to read a book about political intrigue and multiple worlds dominated by women, touched by dragons, and with no male gaze. I doubt I will seek out the second entry in the series, though, because I feel I’ve already got everything out of the story I’m going to get.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: NetGalley

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Book Review and Giveaway: The Fair & Foul by Allie Potts (Series, #1)

December 29, 2016 1 comment

Book Review and Giveaway: The Fair & Foul by Allie Potts (Series, #1)Summary:
Juliane has a supercomputer for a brain and she isn’t afraid to use it. Perhaps she should be.

Juliane Faris is a brilliant programmer determined to change the world through scientific and technical advancement. Blinded by ambition, she will do whatever it takes to secure her legacy including agreeing to participate in an experimental procedure. The procedure grants her unprecedented knowledge and cellular control over her body but threatens everything she holds dear including her sanity. When others undergo the same modifications it becomes apparent that not everyone can afford the price that this technology demands.

Review:
This is my final accepted ARC of 2016 (well, there was one more, but the author never sent me the book). I thought what better last review of 2016 than a review and giveaway of my final 2016 ARC. I picked this up right before going on vacation, and I found it to be the perfect vacation read. Tightly paced with an interesting plot and memorable characters I found it easy to remember and relaxing to come back to between vacation activities.

This is scifi of the type where scientists do a thing and it turns out that thing might not be so great after all (but we’re not sure yet). I really enjoy this type of scifi but it’s often hard to find one where the main character (the main scientist) is a woman. I knew from the plot summary that a woman was supposed to be the main character but I admit to being concerned that she would wind up overshadowed by a secondary male character. These fears were unfounded, as Juliane (Dr. Faris) stayed at the center of the story at all times. It truly was her tale at all times.

Now, Juliane is flawed, but that’s as it should be. Just because a female scientist is successful doesn’t mean she’s perfect, and it fits within the genre for the main character to have deep-seated flaws. I appreciate how well-rounded Juliane was, even though I often disliked her as a person. There is an awareness of the times she is unlikeable, as well, as seen through secondary characters’ eyes and sometimes even her own self-awareness. This reassured me that they were intentional flaws and not being held up as something to strive for.

The plot was fun, putting a fiction twist on real scientific research. It takes time for some things to develop but this is well-handled with the story being split into three parts divided by time. For instance, one section detailing a scientific discovery then another 5 years later looking at its impact. The plot was well planned and managed to surprise me a few times without venturing into the realm of the ridiculous.

The only things holding me back from a 4 star rating were the dialogue and a few editing issues. The dialogue was primarily unrealistic and stiff. I do work in academia and know how scientists and researchers speak, and the way they do in this book is too stilted and formal. There were also some editing issues throughout the book, such as: using the wrong homonym, spelling errors, and words that were probably from a previous draft that no longer belonged in the sentence in the new draft. Neither of these slowed down my reading or ruined my enjoyment of the book but they did knock it down a bit. The book has a lot of good bones, and both of these are issues that could be easily addressed in the sequel, which I intend to read (I need to know what happens to Juliane!)

Overall, if you’re a scifi reader looking for fast-paced tale of scientists inventing something that could be more dangerous than they realize and would love to see that story told with a woman at the center, you should pick this book up.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Kindle copy from author in exchange for honest review

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Giveaway!

This giveaway is now over. Congrats to our winner!
There were 2 entries, one via blog comment and one via twitter, both by the same person, so she is our winner. Congrats to Katie of Doing Dewey!

Thanks to the generosity of the author, one lucky Opinions of a Wolf reader can win a copy of this ebook.

How to Enter:

  1. Leave a comment on this post stating what type of scifi story you’d like to see more women characters in.
  2. Copy/paste the following and tweet it from your public twitter. Retweets do not count:
    Enter to win THE FAIR & FOUL by @alliepottswrites, hosted by @McNeilAuthor http://buff.ly/2htJ2XG #scifi #womenauthors #giveaway
  3. Repost the Instagram giveaway announcement and tag my Instagram.
  4. Tag one of your friends on the Instagram giveaway announcement.

Each options gets you one entry. Multiple tweets/Instagram posts do not count as multiple entries.

Who Can Enter: International

Contest Ends: January 5th at midnight

Disclaimer: The winner will have their book sent to them by the author.  The blogger is not responsible for sending the book.  Void where prohibited by law.

Book Review: Mermaid in Chelsea Creek by Michelle Tea (Series, #1)

December 18, 2016 1 comment

Book Review: Mermaid in Chelsea Creek by Michelle Tea (Series, #1)Summary:
Everyone in the broken-down town of Chelsea, Massachussetts, has a story too worn to repeat—from the girls who play the pass-out game just to feel like they’re somewhere else, to the packs of aimless teenage boys, to the old women from far away who left everything behind. But there’s one story they all still tell: the oldest and saddest but most hopeful story, the one about the girl who will be able to take their twisted world and straighten it out. The girl who will bring the magic.

Could Sophie Swankowski be that girl? With her tangled hair and grubby clothes, her weird habits and her visions of a filthy, swearing mermaid who comes to her when she’s unconscious, Sophie could be the one to uncover the power flowing beneath Chelsea’s potholed streets and sludge-filled rivers, and the one to fight the evil that flows there, too. Sophie might discover her destiny, and maybe even in time to save them all.

Review:
I feel like if you’re a queer person in New England, you’ve heard of this book. A magical realism read featuring queer characters and a diverse cast set not in Boston but in the nearby town of Chelsea. Its art is gorgeous, and I’ve spotted print versions of it in every single local bookstore. The locals are proud of this book, that’s for sure. With everything I’d heard and the pictures I’d seen when flipping through print copies, I was expecting something a bit different from what I got. Maybe more queer content? Maybe magical rules based in the here rather than in the “old world”? Regardless, I enjoyed it. It just wasn’t what I was expecting.

First, let’s talk about my favorite thing which was how much the author evokes the reality of the place of run-down New England towns in spite (or because of?) the magical content. My skin prickled when I read about Sophie and her best friend going to Revere Beach in the summer. It was just so damn accurate. I had a similar sensation when she talked about the feeling of being in a town that was once booming and now is struggling. There’s no doubt about it, the New England towns that were once booming from manufacturing and are now struggling simply feel dirty, and the author really evokes that. (I should know; I grew up in one). Oddly enough, this magical realism book brings out the feeling of small town struggling New England life more than a lot of realistic fiction I’ve read. If you want to know what it feels like to grow up in one of those towns, read this book.

Second, there’s the magical content. I was expecting something steeped in the local as well, but instead the magic was based entirely in countries parents and grandparents emigrated from. There’s nothing bad about that, it just wasn’t what I was expecting from a book so steeped in place. I also must admit that I found the whole vibe of “magic can only come from other places” to be a bit disappointing. America may be a young nation, but we have our own magic. I’d have liked to have seen a mix of both, rather than the magic be exlusively the domain of immigration.

Third, there’s the queer content. I think I was expecting it to take a more central role, particularly since this is ya (and was talked about a lot in the LGBTQ book reading community) but actually I found it to be more like how the local PCP just so happens to be Asian-American. It’s a thing some people just happen to be and not much is made of that. That’s not a bad thing, again, it just wasn’t what I was expecting.

Overall, this is a fun read steeped in local flavor that I recommend to anyone seeking a fantastical twist on struggling New England town life. That said, the second book in the series promises a journey to Europe, and personally what I liked best about this book was the local flavor, so I don’t think I’ll be continuing along.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

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Book Review: Loud is How I Love You by Mercy Brown (Series, #1)

December 16, 2016 2 comments

Book Review: Loud is How I Love You by Mercy Brown (Series, #1)Summary:
Twenty-one-year-old front girl Emmylou knows that getting her band noticed in the ‘90s indie rock scene will be no easy task. She definitely knows better than to break the number one rule of the band: Don’t sleep with your bandmates! But after she ends up having the best sex of her life with her guitarist, Travis, she finds following that rule is a lot harder than it sounds.

When the band gets the gig of their dreams, making it big seems just within reach. But Emmy’s inability to keep her hands off Travis threatens everything they’ve worked for. Can Emmy find a way to break the rules and not blow the chance of a lifetime?

Review:
It took me a moment to get past the fact that 90s now count as historic fiction. *pours one out for the 90s* But then again Fresh Off the Boat is set entirely in the 90s, much like That  70s Show, so it appears the time has come. I was not a “new adult” (refers to those post high school but pre having your shit together) in the 90s (I was solidly a kid coveting a tamagotchi) but I vaguely knew about all the fads the older kids were into like….flannel and grunge. This book oozes that, and the characters get to have the problems that arise from not having a cell phone or YouTube to promo your band. That was fun.

For those who don’t know, New Adult means to expect more sex. And oh man. The sex scenes in this book. There are a lot of them. They are explicit. I like that sort of thing, and even though I rolled my eyes occasionally at some of their more interesting bedroom pursuits (like “tattooing” with permanent marker), I still thought they were hot, well-written, within character, and, most importantly, made sense within the plot.

What I think could make people love or hate this book is the main character, Emmy. She narrates it in the first person and she is, well, she’s a 21-year-old. She makes problems where there shouldn’t be any problems. She gets all up in her head. She thinks in black and white. She is, basically, young and acts and talks like a young person. Yeah, sometimes it’s infuriating to see her fucking her own life up, but that’s realistic, especially for a character who’s supposed to be a passionate artistic type in a band. I was able to appreciate her for who she is and have faith that she’d grow and get past her issues, but I do think that not everyone would be able to see past that and enjoy it in the same way.

The series will follow other people involved in the indie rock scene, and so we’ve already met them in this book as secondary characters. I’m excited to see what hot shenanigans they get up to and hear a new voice’s take on everything going on for the various bands.

Recommended to those who want to take a visit to the 90s through the eyes of a passionate new adult.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

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Book Review: Grass by Sheri S. Tepper (Series, #1) (Audiobook narrated by Dina Pearlman)


Book Review: Grass by Sheri S. Tepper (Series, #1) (Audiobook narrated by Dina Pearlman)Summary:

Generations ago, humans fled to the cosmic anomaly known as Grass. But before humanity arrived, another species had already claimed Grass for its own. It too had developed a culture……

Now a deadly plague is spreading across the stars, leaving no planet untouched, save for Grass. But the secret of the planet’s immunity hides a truth so shattering it could mean the end of life itself.

Review:
I wanted to say “I’m sure this was super progressive when it was first published” but actually it was first published in 1989 so….actually not so much. I think if I read this in print I might have flown through it faster and not noticed how kind of all-over-the-place it was but actually…it’s kind of all-over-the-place.

First there’s the weird backwards planet that for some reason has decided to revert to medieval European ways of being in spite of being settled at some point in the future when people figured out how to travel through space and colonize planets. Then we jump back to planet Earth which has been taken over by both Catholicism and some weird new religion that I still haven’t figured out but that seems to believe in saving the soul to computers? But also has forced monk servitude?

So some Catholics go to Grass (the medieval planet) because some evil flesh-eating plague is spreading all over the galaxy and Grass is the only place that doesn’t have it. Somehow Grass is blissfully unaware of the impending plague. The Catholic family consists of the mom who used to work helping people who didn’t obey the two child mandate, the father and his mistress, and their two teenagers (one boy and one girl and the girl is of course super sullen).

Then we have a long diatribe about this weird Fox Hunt the Grassians do using entirely alien species. Riding the aliens gives the women orgasms, and this is dangerous. I couldn’t help but feel like the author had some huge problem with horseback riding, and what is with that in scifi? HORSES ARE GREAT, SCIFI WRITERS. STOP WRITING THIS PLOT. Anyway so then somehow this plot of maybe the alien Fox Hunt is saving the Grassians from the plague takes a super weird religious turn involving morals and ethics and what are the aliens actually and the Catholic lady has some weird religious dream after she whacks her head and the aliens start attacking the humans and somehow they find a scientist/doctor person in the midst of all this who can help them with the cure yadda yadda. See? All over the place.

Ultimately it’s realized that this whole thing was basically Catholic lady’s mid-life crisis, and she finally comes into her own as a result of the whole thing and wow. I just kept thinking….who is so out-of-touch with themselves that it takes this whole huge interplanetary incident to sort your shit out? In the end I sort of felt like this is the book version of that random old lady you meet on the bus who talks to you through your headphones to tell you her “tragic” life story and you sit there nodding because you think she might be just a bit coo-coo and well her story is all-over-the-place but at least it’s moderately interesting and then at the end you realize her life has been awful because she is awful.

So…..if you’re a person who didn’t sort your shit out until mid-life and you have a lot of empathy for people who claim to be trapped by their own damn choices then you’ll probably enjoy this book. Also if you have some weird problem with horseback riding you’ll probably enjoy this book.

Why three stars? Because while I found it annoying and disappointing the plot was at least interesting, it was well-written on the readability level, and it was an audiobook but I read the whole thing, so I think that’s saying something.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

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Book Review: It Ain’t Me, Babe by Tillie Cole (Series, #1)

Book Review: It Ain't Me Babe by Tillie Cole (Series, #1)Summary:
River “Styx” Nash was born into the Hades Hangmen motorcycle club. He always knew he was set to inherit running it, in spite of his speech impediment, but he never expected to be running it at the young age of twenty-six. When a young woman shows up at their doorstep, bleeding and unconscious, he’s reminded of a girl he met at a fence in the woods when he was a boy….a girl who has haunted him ever since.

Salome grew up under Prophet David’s rule in the commune that’s the only home she’s ever known. When her sister dies, she finds the strength to run and somehow ends up in the arms of the man who was once a boy she met at the fence of the commune.

Review:
I’m being a bit charitable with my rating of this read because the juxtaposition of commune and motorcycle club (gang) is one I haven’t seen before, and I do think it’s interesting. Additionally, I do realize that these types of romances are basically fantasy so I try to cut them some leeway. That said, this book is not executed as well as it could have been for its genre. There are some jarring elements that take the reader out of the read, thus leading it to be less enjoyable.

First, it’s poorly edited. There are many clear mistakes such as saying things like “gotta to.” It reads like a first copy, not a final draft. Better editing would have really helped this book.

Second, you have to imagine that the reader who might pick up a romance featuring motorcycles might know a thing or two about them. While everything else surrounding the motorcycles can be pure fantasy, the motorcycles themselves should function like the real world (unless it’s scifi). Motorcycles, though, are treated in the book as basically cars with two wheels, and anyone who’s ridden one can tell you that’s not so, and a motorcycle gang definitely would know better than to treat them that way. One glaring instance of being unrealistic about bikes is when Salome first rides on one. The book sets it up that she has no idea what a motorcycle is. She’s never seen one before, she has zero idea how they work. In spite of this, the only riding instruction she’s given is to “hold on.” Even someone giving the most bare of instructions to a new passenger will tell them to follow the lead of the rider — to lean when they lean and not to counter-lean against the rider. This is basic safety and even a motorcycle gang would give those basic instructions because a passenger who is startled could easily cause the bike to crash and riders love their bikes. Similarly, in spite of Salome not knowing anything about motorcycles, she puts on the helmet with zero instructions. I have never seen anyone who’s never worn a motorcycle helmet before be able to put it on with zero instructions. The strap is complicated and almost always takes guidance. Additionally, we are to believe Salome is riding with someone who cares about her, yet he doesn’t check on her helmet at all. This is not something a rider who cares about his passenger would ever do.

The final thing I found jarring was descriptions of the abuse in the cult. I fully expected there to be cult abuse, but there are repeated flashbacks to the rape of 8 year olds whose legs are being held apart by bear traps. I personally find it extremely difficult to get into a romance that repeatedly flashes back to the graphic underage and violent rape of the main character. It made the book feel like it was at war with itself. Did it want to be a contemporary book about the horrors of cults or did it want to be a romance? You can be both, but that is a difficult book to write, and it’s important to either put all of the abuse in one area of the book (usually where the heroine informs the hero about it) or to make the abuse more minimal (ie maybe the heroine grew up in a cult that restricted her knowledge and movement but that didn’t rape her physically).

Ultimately, while I appreciate the interesting combination of main characters (leader of a motorcycle club and escapee from a cult), I found the execution to not live up to the unique premise. Primarily recommended to those interested in the fantasy of motorcycles with little personal knowledge of them. They will be more able to get fully into the fantasy.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

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Book Review: Flex by Ferrett Steinmetz (Series, #1)

Book Review: Flex by Ferrett Steinmetz (Series, #1)Summary:
‘Mancy (magic) is illegal in this parallel world where people find their obsessions turn into magical powers. Paul Tsabo has spent his life fighting to keep ‘mancers off the street and instead brainwashed into a military force. See, the universe hates magic, and if you use it too much, it will retaliate. By doing things like destroying Europe. So the brainwashing is safer. The only problem is that Paul has found himself obsessed with bureaucracy and has developed into a bureaucromancer. A series of unfortunate events leads him into agreeing to make Flex–magic distilled into crystal form for the non-magical to get high on. Paul has officially turned into what he once hunted.

Review:
This is a pretty cool concept. It sounds like it’ll be Breaking Bad: Urban Fantasy Style. Unfortunately, a lack of world building and a lack of focus in the plot made the book fall flat.

Let’s start with what I liked. The concept of how magic comes to be is pretty neat. I like the social commentary that magic is outlawed and the only magical people are the ones with an abnormal level of obsession with things. Using the urban fantasy magic element really highlights how different can be both beautiful and dangerous.

A key part of the plot revolves around Paul, who is recently divorced, and his wife trying to figure out how to co-parent. Paul is a majorly invested father. He doesn’t just walk away after the divorce. That’s nice to see. Also, it’s an inter-racial family. Paul is white, his ex-wife is black, and their daughter is obviously bi-racial.

Romance is really not a part of this plot. I thought at first it might be when a new character is introduced but it actually turns out that she’s introduced to develop a friendship with Paul. How often do we get to see genuine friendships between men and women in literature? Not often.

Unfortunately these positives were hurt by other aspects of the book. The worst is that the book reads like it’s one book for the first half then completely changes course halfway through. Essentially, the first half of the book is about drugs and is basically Breaking Bad. The second half of the book that plot is totally dropped and instead the characters are pursuing a Big Bad Buffy the Vampire Slayer style. It’s jarring and makes it feel like you’re reading a draft rather than a final version of the book. Plus, the book is heavily marketed as the drug book, when in fact the drugs are just dropped in the middle of the book, which is disappointing if that’s what you were reading the book for.

The world also isn’t built enough. For instance, we know Europe disappeared but we don’t know precisely how or when. This is a parallel universe to our own. You’d think that something like Europe disappearing would lead to some major changes in the world, but no. It reads like New York City is precisely like how it is in our world just with added ‘mancers. This is illogical. It can’t be both ways. It can’t both be a world with major changes like no more Europe but also simultaneously exactly like our own.

The book reads like the author has an agenda that comes through too clearly at times. How much that will bother the reader will depend upon if the reader agrees with the agenda or not, I’d imagine. I didn’t so it bugged me more than it might bother others. I also felt that some of the descriptive writing was weak or lazy, leading to a two-dimensionality that veers dangerously toward being offensive.

Overall, this is a good idea that was poorly executed. There are some individually cool scenes, particularly if you like seeing an interplay between our world, magic, and videogames. Recommended, then, to readers who seek out scenes like that and don’t mind the other weaknesses laid out in this review.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Netgalley

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Audiobook Review: The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey (Series, #1) (Audiobook narrated by Brandon Espinoza and Phoebe Strole)

March 7, 2016 3 comments

Audiobook Review: The 5th Wave by Rick yancey (Series, #1) (Audiobook narrated by Brandon Espinoza and Phoebe Strole)Summary:
When a giant spaceship showed up above Earth that wasn’t ours, Cassie and everyone else expected contact. What they didn’t expect was waves of attacks, everything from EMP to disease. Now, she’s at a refugee camp with her father and little brother wondering what the 5th wave of the attack might be. When it comes, will they even know?

Review:
I really enjoyed Rick Yancey’s other series (The Monstrumologist, series review). I must admit to being surprised that this is the series that got picked up into a movie. I didn’t find the blurb nearly as intriguing as that of The Monstrumologist. But since I liked the other series so much, I figured I’d give it a shot. While I can see why it’s taken off, I don’t find it to be as well-constructed or nearly as unique as Yancey’s other series.

The beginning of the book is very slow-paced. Cassie is off hiding in the woods on her own and through her diary where she tries to deal with what has happened the reader learns about the waves of the alien invasion. I like a diary book, but the slow pacing just really didn’t work for a book about an alien invasion.

At a certain point, this narration switches for one chapter to that of the perspective of an alien. Then it switches to the perspective of a boy from Cassie’s high school she had a crush on and his experiences with the alien invasion. Later it flips back to Cassie, only it’s now no longer her diary. Her diary just sort of gets dropped. While I can enjoy multiple narrators, I don’t think these are handled as well as they could have been. The chapter from the alien’s perspective ruins any tension or mystery that had been building around a certain event, in particular. Often switching between Cassie and Ben just feels like it’s convenient for world building and not adding very much to the plot. That said, I do like that the “star” position of this YA action is shared between a boy and a girl fairly equally.

The plot, although slow-moving, starts out strong. There is a plot twist that made me roll my eyes and that I think makes this less unique in YA literature than it started out.

Initially it appears that there will be no love triangle but there ends up being one. I can’t go into the details without some big spoilers but I will say that you make it through most of the book without a love triangle, and then there ends up being one in the last bit. It was disappointing, as I thought something more unique was being done (something akin to a crush turning into a real friendship…but that’s not what happens).

Ultimately the book ends up feeling less about aliens and more about the horrors of child soldiers and war stealing childhood. I definitely think scifi can bring a current issue such as this to people’s attention, but I also think the narration and various irritating and/or confusing plot points ultimately weakens the point. I doubt when I was a teen that such a book would have made me think about child soldiers. Instead I would have felt misled by the title and blurb and been irritated about that, distracting from the point.

All of that said, if a YA reader is looking for an apocalyptic setting featuring dual leads instead of one hero, this is a book that will fit that bill. Just be sure the reader is ok with some surprisingly slow-moving portions for a book with an action-packed blurb. However, I would suggest that a YA reader looking for something truly different check out Yancey’s other YA series: The Monstrumologist.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

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Book Review: Fables, Vol. 1: Legends in Exile by Bill Willingham et al. (Series, #1) (Graphic Novel)

Book Review: Fables, Vol. 1: Legends in Exile by Bill Willingham et al. (Series, #1) (Graphic Novel)Summary:
All the characters from the fairy tales we know actually lived in that folklore world but were forced out into exile in modern-day New York thanks to an enemy known only as The Adversary.  Snow White, right-hand to the ruler of Fabletown, seeks to keep everyone in line. But that gets more difficult when her own sister, Rose Red, is murdered.  A reformed Big Bad Wolf, now their sheriff, promises to help her track down his killer.

Review:
Being a long-time fan of The 10th Kingdom, a story about the characters of folklore existing in a parallel universe to our own that some modern-day Americans accidentally visit, I was intrigued by this idea of a similar story in reverse.  Instead of being engaging and a fun escape, though, my experience with it is best summed-up as meh.  It’s a cool idea that is saddled to a ho-hum plot and flat characters, thereby rendering it a mediocre read.

The basic idea is some unseen Adversary has driven the fairy tale folk out of their land and into exile in our own.  In our land, they’ve all agreed to give everyone a clean slate to start over.  So far so good.  From here though things go from interesting and semi-unique to basically a noir plot we’ve all read before wrapped up in 2-dimensional fairy tale characters.  Big Bad Wolf is the hard-boiled detective.  Snow White is his lady assistant.  A noir version of a fairy tale could have been good, but instead the flattest elements of both genres are mashed together, rather than the best of each.  What you end up with is a wolf without his fangs or a hard-boiled detective without his cigarettes and womanizing ways.  The grit is just removed leaving an overly-sanitized world.

I do enjoy a mystery plot but I also expect them to keep me guessing.  I knew the solution long before the end, and I’m guessing most other readers would too.

The art is mostly good, although the depiction of the talking pig gave me goosebumps in a bad way.  He doesn’t really fit in to the feel of the rest of the art.  However, the art is colorful and easy to follow, and made reading the story go quickly.

Overall, if a reader loves fairy tales and graphic novels and likes the idea of seeing fairy tale characters in modern-day New York, they will probably enjoy this book.  Readers looking for an in-depth exploration of a fairy tale character or to see them more well-rounded in a non-fairy tale setting will be disappointed.  Similarly, readers looking for a tough mystery to solve will want to look elsewhere.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: I remember I bought it at a comic book store, but I don’t remember which one.

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Counts For:
Once Upon a Time IX

Book Review: Maplecroft by Cherie Priest (Series, #1)

Book Review: Maplecroft by Cherie Priest (Series, #1)Summary:
“Lizzie Borden took an axe; gave her mother forty whacks….”
Any New Englander knows the nursery rhyme based on the true crime story of Mr. and Mrs. Borden who were murdered with an axe in 1892.  In spite of being tried and acquitted for the murders, their daughter (in the case of Mrs. Borden, step-daughter), was widely believed to actually be responsible for the murders.  In this book, she definitely was, but maybe not for the reasons you might think.
A darkness is trying to take over Fall River, Massachusetts, and Lizzie and her ailing sister Emma are all that might stand between the town and oblivion, with Lizzie’s parents being the first casualties in the battle.

Review:
I grew up chanting the nursery rhyme about Lizzie Borden the first half of which is quoted above (this perhaps says an awful lot about New Englanders, but I digress), and I also love tales from the Lovecraft universe, which also originated in New England.  When I heard about this book that mashed up the two, I put it on my wishlist.  Lo and behold, my future sister-in-law, who had never even seen my wishlist, bought it for me for Christmas last year.  I thought this would be the perfect read for the fantasy challenge, and although it was a bit different than what I was expecting, I still enjoyed the mix of Lovecraft and women’s history that Priest has woven and am eagerly anticipating reading the sequel.

The story is told through a combination of first person accounts from Lizzie, Emma, and Nance, diary-style entries by their neighbor doctor, letters, police and fire reports, and first person ramblings of a professor from Miskatonic University (another Lovecraft element).  Some readers may be put off by the combination of first person perspectives, but I’ve always enjoyed this style, particularly when it includes things like letters and police reports.  I felt that it was one of the strengths of the book, and I also particularly enjoyed getting to see both Emma’s and Lizzie’s perspectives, as well as that of Lizzie’s lover, Nance.

The Lovecraft mash-up basically is that some sort of Dark One in the deep is out to turn everyone on the seacoast either into worshippers or victims or literally turn them into monstrous ones who live in the deep.  Emma and Lizzie’s parents were among the first to begin succumbing to this infection and that is why Lizzie had to kill them.  Lizzie and Emma now are conducting research, trying to figure out how to prevent the Dark One from actually rising up.  This is all extremely Lovecraftian, including the fact that some of these developments don’t make a ton of sense, but things just don’t make sense in the dark fantasy world of Lovecraft, so I was ok with that.  Readers new to the world of Lovecraft might be a bit more frustrated by how inexplicable most things to do with the Dark Ones and the deep are, however.

I particularly enjoyed how Priest explores how societal and cultural norms of 1890s New England affects women’s lives.  Emma could be a scientist now that women are being accepted into colleges, but she chooses to instead write her scientific papers under a male pseudonym because she believes she would never garner respect otherwise.  Lizzie and Nance are in love and must hide it, although Lizzie often feels why should she bother when she is already disgraced after the trial.  The clashes between Lizzie and Emma regarding both her affair with Nance and the fact that Lizzie believes in trying out magical and fantastical defenses against the Dark One whereas Emma believes purely in science are interesting reading.  They are two very different people who are thrust together both by virtue of being siblings and by the fact that as women in the 1890s their lives are limited.

On the other hand, in spite of liking the characters of the neighbor doctor and the Miskatonic professor and enjoying the exploration of Lizzie’s and Emma’s relationship and getting to see some of Emma’s character, I couldn’t help but feel that Lizzie didn’t get a chance to be enough in this book.  Lizzie Borden is such a looming large figure in local history, even on the book cover she presents as a bad-ass in a period skirt holding a bloody axe.  In contrast in the book she spends a lot of time dealing with her annoying sister.  Similarly, I’m not a fan of the fact that Lizzie does very little of rescuing herself in this book, which is, I believe, if the historic Lizzie really did kill her parents, what she actually did in real life.  To me Lizzie has always been a woman who said fucking enough and took an axe and dealt violently and finally with her problems.  Whereas in the book, she starts off off-screen that way (we don’t actually see her kill her parents) and she sort of tapers off.  Much as I enjoyed seeing her messed up relationship with Emma, I couldn’t help but feel it would have ended more powerfully if she’d said fucking enough and whacked Emma through the skull for being such an insufferable bitch and in the way all the time.  This was my main issue with the book.

My second, more minor, issue is that I felt the plot takes too long to build up to actual horrifying events and/or murders.  The first murders, as I mentioned before, happened off-screen.  The beginning of the book then is a build-up of a lot of tension with not much actual gore or murder occurring.  I should mention that I was watching “The Lizzie Borden Chronicles” on tv at the same time as I was reading this book.  In that show, Lizzie kills at least one person an episode.  Now, some of that gets over the top, but it does get the idea of the pacing one would expect from this type of story right. More mayhem. More murder. More danger. More often.

On a positive note, the scenes between Lizzie and Nance are beautifully done, and while I was frustrated to see Lizzie turn a bit into a lovesick fool, I was very glad it was happening with Nance.  Their relationship and dynamic jumped off the page and really brightened up the book for me.

The set-up at the end of the book for the sequel is well-done, although I’m uncertain how the series can proceed forward so far removed from the actual historical event, I am excited to read it and see what happens.

Overall, this Lovecraft fantastical take on the Lizzie Borden of history and what led to the murders of her parents hits just the right note for Lovecraft fans.  Readers who are new to the dark fantasy world of Lovecraft may be a bit surprised by the slow burn of the horror and how much of it winds up not making much sense, but those readers who can embrace this style of dark fantasy will enjoy it.  Those looking for a bad-ass Lizzie should be aware that this Lizzie only acts when absolutely necessary and then with restraint, and they should perhaps tune into the made for tv movie Lizzie Borden Took An Ax instead.  Recommended to fans of Lovecraft who are interested in getting some local history woven in to the New England settings they are familiar with from the Lovecraft universe.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Gift

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Counts For:
Once Upon a Time IX