Thursday, April 28, 2016

Review: The Fun Family by Benjamin Frisch





Beloved cartoonist Robert Fun has earned a devoted following for his circular daily comic strip, celebrating the wholesome American family by drawing inspiration from his real home life... but the Fun Family bears some dark secrets. As their idyllic world collapses and the kids are forced to pick up the pieces, will their family circle become a broken mirror, or a portal to a nightmare world? In his debut graphic novel, Benjamin Frisch presents a surreal deconstruction of childhood, adulthood, and good old American obsession.

I'll be straight up honest with you from the get go. I really didn't like this work. There's a lot going on here and at times I really felt that Frisch was just trying a little too hard to bring in various different themes and deconstruct not only the long running and beloved daily comic The Family Circus, but various American ideas, ideals, and thought processes. There may be some minor spoilers in this here and there, so fair warning.

That said, I do have to say that Frisch has certainly done a good job of capturing some of the most prevalent habits of modern day humanity and showcasing how ludicrous those habits can become. Psychology and religion are two common opiates of the masses and while it'd be initially easy to assume that Frisch is ridiculing them because they exist, this isn't what he's doing here. What Frisch is doing, or at least what I thought he was doing, was showing how utterly dependent people are on either practice, following them so obediently that they rarely question or challenge whether or not they're acting in ways that is ultimately healthy for either themselves or the people around them. The only person who really challenges these ideals is the eldest son Robby, as he tries to find a way to maintain the status quo even as those around him dismiss him for his actions.

Now before you go and start to think that Robby represents the rational mind in this work, you need to understand that Robby is also representative of an unhealthy line of thought himself. Part of the reason why everyone in the book launched into their own particular, frequently dysfunctional methods of finding self-enlightenment and happiness is because the status quo wasn't working for them. They were unhappy because they were in this unchanging world and ultimately what Robby is asking for is for them to return to that life. The only problem is that once the dam opens up and the flooding starts it's pretty much impossible to return to the way things once were, especially when the one trying to restore the prior pecking order is not the person who created said order. Still, it's hard not to share in Robby's frustration when he tries so hard to achieve success and for a brief moment gets it, only for that success to falter and leave. It's especially easy to empathize when Robby sees everyone around him seemingly become happy despite their methods having aspects that are just as toxic as the lifestyle they all left behind.

I really think that this book would have greatly benefited from being far shorter than it was, but I can't help but wonder if the book's length was a deliberate nod towards the longevity of comics like The Family Circus where its never aging cast goes through the same actions again and again. If it was then that's sort of clever but it still didn't do much for me as a reader and at times I just really wanted things to wrap up. If I'd picked this up in a bookstore I'd have put this back unfinished, but as a reviewer I figured that I'd keep going.

Now something to take in mind here is that work like this is highly, highly subjective. Surreal comics of this type rarely achieve mainstream popularity, so I can't entirely dismiss this offhand. I didn't like it, but I do admire how darn ambitious Frisch was with this work. The artwork is well done in that it doesn't fit well with the story's feel, which produces a jarring effect that's actually one of the things I liked about the piece. The whole wrongness of it was just interesting.

So do I recommend this? Eh... I'm not sure. I disliked the work but as you can tell it clearly made me think, so I kind of have to recommend this as one of those "make you think" type of deals. The reviews for this work are likely to be predominantly negative, but if this work doesn't develop a cult following I'm going to be very surprised.

2/5 stars

(ARC provided by Netgalley)

Review: I hate Fairyland Volume 1 by Skottie Young



From superstar writer and artist Skottie Young (Rocket Raccoon, Wizard of OZ, Fortunately, The Milk), comes the first volume of an all-new series of adventure and mayhem. An Adventure Time/Alice in Wonderland-style epic that smashes it's cute little face against grown-up, Tank Girl/Deadpool-esque violent madness. Follow Gert, a forty year old woman stuck in a six year olds body who has been stuck in the magical world of Fairyland for nearly thirty years. Join her and her giant battle-axe on a delightfully blood soaked journey to see who will survive the girl who HATES FAIRYLAND. Collecting Issues #1-5 for only $9.99. "Skottie Young is an Eisner Award-Winning, New York Times Bestselling cartoonist who has been making comics and children's books for over fifteen years. Books such as Rocket Raccoon, the Wizard of Oz graphic novels, Little Marvel and Fortunately, The Milk have made him a fan favorite, critically-aclaimed writer and artist. Jean-Francios Beaulieu is the colorist behind the award-winning Wizard of OZ graphic graphic novels and has worked with Skottie Young for over ten years. Nate Piekos is an award-winning letter and designer who has created some of the industry's most popular fons and has used them to letter comic books for Marvel, DC, Oni Press, Dark Horse and many more."

Oh my glob, I can't recommend this title enough. The series's premise is fantastic and the artwork is top notch, as it fits the IHF's satirical tones pretty well. It's a fast and easy read, as I was able to devour this in only one sitting.

What makes this comic work so well is that Gert's descent into sheer bloody madness happens almost immediately in the book. Her initial impressions of Fairyland are far from pleasant, as the child is initially terrified by being swallowed up by a magical portal that plops her into the skies of Fairyland... where she immediately plummets thousands of feet to the ground. With an introduction like that it's no wonder that she's turned into a hardened killing machine intent on only one thing: escape. To make matters worse she's physically a child while her mind has aged to that of a thirty-something year old woman.

Gert's tasked with finding a key that would allow her to leave Fairyland, but her travels have been so long and bloody that the Queen of Fairyland has lost patience with her. The land's rules don't allow her to harm Gert, something that I found a nice touch, so she tries a variety of different indirect ways to accomplish just that, including finding a rival child for the key.

This was a highly enjoyable read and one that I can easily see myself buying on my own. While this is the first volume the story is wrapped up with enough of a conclusion to where Young could have walked away from this instead of making it an ongoing series. I'm kind of glad that he didn't, as there are still plots to be unraveled and fantasy tropes to poke fun at. In lesser hands IHF would have been a one trick pony that wore off its welcome early on in the series, but Young has done an excellent job of creating a series that's incredibly fun to read. The series might not have much of a focus beyond showing Gert slicing and dicing her way past anyone who makes her mad (and almost everyone makes her mad), but Young fully embraces this aspect and pulls it off spectacularly.

(ARC provided by Netgalley)

5/5 stars

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Review: Street Magicks by Paula Guran

It's been a while guys! My schedule has been fairly chaotic lately due to school, since I started a graduate program about a year ago. Saying that my schedule has been limited is an understatement since the classes are all online and more involved than most of the classes for my Bachelor's. I thought that there'd be few better ways to try to start my reviewing back up again than with a collection of magic themed short stories. (This post was originally started before I reviewed Maestra.)




Streets are more than thoroughfares. Cobblestone or concrete, state of mind or situation-streets are catalysts for culture; sources of knowledge and connection, invisible routes to hidden levels of influence. In worlds where magic is real, streets can be full of dangerous shadows or paths to salvation. Wizards walk such streets, monsters lurk in their alleys, demons prowl or strut, doors open to places full of delightful enchantment or seething with sorcery, and truly dead ends abound. This selection of stories-some tales may be rediscoveries, others never encountered on your fictional map-will take you for a wild ride through many realms of imagination.

Without even looking at the content, readers will be able to tell that they're in for an excellent ride just by virtue of the authors that contributed to this anthology. There's something here for everyone when you have fan favorite authors like Jim Butcher, Simon R. Green, and Caitlin Kiernan, after all.

As you'd expect with any anthology, there are going to be pieces that you like less than others but overall I enjoyed everything that I read in Street Magicks. The authors were all well chosen and edited, so I really can't find much to criticize here. If I had to pick something I suppose that it'd be that I've seen better anthologies out there, but that's more based on my current reading mood, which is slowly starting to turn back more and more towards horror novels.

Overall I have to say that I would recommend this anthology to readers, even if only as a library read. With summer looming around the corner you'll need prime beach read material and this would be an excellent pick, a lovely fantasy/urban fantasy themed anthology swimming against the sea of bodice rippers and thriller novels that tend to surface as most summer reads.

4/5

(Arc provided by Netgalley)

Review: Maestra by L.S. Hilton




By day, Judith Rashleigh is a put-upon assistant at a prestigious London art house. By night, she’s a hostess at one of the capital’s notorious champagne bars, although her work there pales against her activities on nights off.

TO GET WHAT SHE WANTS

Desperate to make something of herself, Judith knows she has to play the game. She’s transformed her accent and taught herself about wine and the correct use of a dessert fork, not to mention the art of discretion. She’s learned to be a good girl. But when Judith is fired for uncovering a dark secret at the heart of the art world—and her honest efforts at a better life are destroyed—she turns to a long-neglected friend. A friend who kept her chin up and back straight through every slight: Rage.

SHE WILL CROSS EVERY LINE

Feeling reckless, she accompanies one of the champagne bar’s biggest clients to the French Riviera, only to find herself alone again after a fatal accident. Tired of striving and the slow crawl to the top, Judith has a realization: If you need to turn yourself into someone else, loneliness is a good place to start. And she’s been lonely a long time.


This is a fairly interesting book, given the hoopla surrounding it. People have been comparing this to various books, especially Fifty Shades of Grey, due to the book containing a moderate amount of sex scenes. I need to say straight off that I'm not  a Fifty Shades fan, so when I picked this up I was more expecting to find something new to poke fun at.

People picking this up hoping that it will contain as many sex scenes as FSoG will be disappointed. Yes, there is sex in the work, but it's nowhere near as prevalent as some of the professional reviews would have you believe. The book *is* liberally sprinkled with sex or references to it, but it's more of an afterthought than anything else and Hilton could have probably removed or reduced many of these scenes without harming the novel. Doing this probably would have worked out well for Hilton, as the critics were right about one thing. The sex scenes are easily the weakest part of the book. They're not awful, but they just feel a bit superfluous at times. It's not Laurell K Hamilton level, where her characters go "OK! STOP - SEXY TIME" (my apologies to MC Hammer) at ridiculous moments, so the book does have that going for it.

The characters are OK enough for the most part, although the majority of them just sort of faded in and out of the book. I don't know that I could really name many of the characters outside of Judith and Rupert, as I forgot about many of them once they'd served their purpose in the book. Judith is relatively interesting, as she's far from a likable person but still has some occasional twinges of regret now and again. I'm not entirely sure that I buy the rage portion of Judith's character, as was promised in the book jacket synopsis, though. She's angry at times but by large she's written as cold and clinical. Not a bad thing, but if you're expecting a furious character ala Gillian Flynn, you're going to be disappointed.

Maestra really takes off whenever Hilton starts writing about art and the forged paintings, as this is easily the most entertaining stuff in the book and I can't help but wish that there was more of this as opposed to the sex and murder. I like books that have unlikeable, yet compelling lead characters, but this just wasn't quite a four star read for me. It's certainly entertaining and would make for a good beach read, but I can't help but hope that Hilton manages to work out the kinks in part two of the series otherwise I'm not sure that the Maestra series has enough gusto to make a satisfying trilogy.

What I will say is that this is better than Fifty Shades. I know that isn't a hard bar to sail under and that for most readers it's like saying that breathing in Taco Bell farts is better than someone holding your head underwater until you stop making bubbles. It's still better, so don't let the Fifty Shades comparisons scare you off.

3/5 stars

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Review: Juniper's Shadow by Fiona Dodwell


Available on Amazon and Amazon UK.


If you've ever followed my reviews, you'll know that I'm a fan of Dodwell's work. I've become friends with her via my coverage of her books (full disclosure) and I have to say, she's only getting better.

Lately she's been on a short story spree, as "Juniper's Shadow" was preceded by the very excellent "The Redwood Lodge Investigation". She's been doing well with this format, as short stories lend themselves very well to horror, and I'm excited to see what she will come up with next.

When Leighton Banks finds an extremely rare record at a music fair, he is thrilled with his find. However, after hearing the legends and creepy stories associated with the music, he beings to wonder if the record is cursed. 

Thrown suddenly into a dark world where even music can put lives and souls at risk, Leighton soon learns that he must find a way to put a stop to a centuries long curse, or become victim to it himself.

Juniper's Shadow takes a little while to get started since much of its horror derives from Leighton's imperfect relationship with his pregnant wife Jessica, as the two constantly quibble about his dream to own a record store. She's supportive, but he feels like he's a failure since she's almost the main breadwinner. Leighton wants so desperately to succeed that it'd make sense that he'd jump on something that'd make a huge profit - a record by Victor Marlowe, a musician whose music has left a dark legacy. A legacy so dark that there have been efforts to eradicate all remaining recordings of his work.

This is where the horror comes in, because as the story progresses there's this increasing sense of dread. From the start Leighton is warned against purchasing the album (although the seller isn't that reluctant to let it leave his grasp), however he's lured in by its background and the idea of raising a large sum. He quickly grows obsessed with researching the record and if you're familiar with Dodwell's writing style then you know that what Leighton is going to find will be dark indeed.

Overall I was rather pleased with this story. It's not perfect, but that's mostly because this is something that I think would have worked far better as a longer piece, maybe as a novella or full novel. We're left with far too many questions at the end of this and while some don't need to be answered, I was just intensely curious as to the album's background. This next part is a mild spoiler, so I'll try to post it far enough down that those who want a spoiler free review can avoid it. It does somewhat pertain to the piece as a whole and it's not a major spoiler, if you're afraid of it giving away any large reveals.

If you're wondering if you should try this out, I say go for it. It's available for free for Kindle Unlimited readers and while $2.99 is a little pricey for a short story, I greatly enjoyed it.

4/5 stars

Reader copy provided by the author

(Thar be spoilers)



(seriously, there are spoilers)

\

This isn't going to be a major spoiler, but I couldn't help but wonder what the motivations were for the old man selling the record. He was somewhat reluctant to sell Leighton the record, but not so reluctant that he wouldn't have sold it. There's this nasty sort of cat-and-mouse interaction where you can tell that he's baiting Leighton, who likely wouldn't have otherwise shown any interest. There are more revelations at the end of the story that I won't divulge here, but this was the main reason why I felt that this would work exceedingly well as a longer piece. There's a dark, nasty and entirely human force at work here along with the supernatural ones, which is what makes Dodwell's work so horrifying, because a large portion of the misery and darkness in her work comes from how people treat one another. If you look back at her other work, you'll see that while the supernatural does come into play, it's only there because the involved humans invited it, even if inadvertently. I think that this is why I continue to really enjoy her work, since I maintain that how humans treat one another is almost always the most terrifying aspect of horror. It's why books and films like Richard Matheson's Hell House (later adapted into the wonderful The Legend of Hell House) work so well - it has supernatural horror but most of it is a direct result of human interactions. 

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Winter cleaning, or how I learned that vampirism could solve everything

I admit that I'm not the best at keeping this up and that this can be a problem since unmoderated blogs are prone to spam. Since I signed on tonight I decided to clean out the "send me your money and I'll save your life through the power of (insert something here)" spam. 

Then I saw the spam in response to my 2014 post about Fated, the vampire series that was accused of plagiarizing other work. I started deleting some of it, but I'm going to have to leave it up because it's just that freaking hilarious. I'd like to think that some of it is snark. With about 40+ comments that are almost entirely spam, I'd really like to assume it's snark. I'm going to leave the e-mails up on this because I figure that if you e-mail them seriously looking for vampirism, then it's on you for whatever else happens.

Yes, you read that right. When I came across it, I saw that it had 44 comments (I've deleted two). Only three of those (one of which is mine) are actually about the article. The others give off vague promises that you too can have a life of excitement and wealth as an undying bloodsucker. One of which even promises that you could accomplish this with just a mere "snack of my finger". 


You heard that right guys, all you need to do to gain immortality is bite off one of these guy's fingers. Brings a whole new perspective to the term "finger foods". 

Pictured here: a child achieving immortality and literally becoming a child of the night. (Image from Death and Taxes Magazine.)


That doesn't seem enticing? (I don't doubt you, because I'm pretty sure that this guy is a zombie trying to trick unsuspecting vampire wanna bes into joining Team Zombie.) Want something that actually seems like it'd be from a vampire? How about paying this person some money to (presumably) get a vial of blood in the mail? 

Seems legit. 


I'm sure that you'll likely get something from that, but it's probably not going to be vampirism. 

Not pictured here: diseases. 


There are others in the comments making similar promises, one of which swears that a hot Indian vampire transformed her into a being that requires no sex, which is good if you want to be a Masquerade vampire, but bad if you're hoping on having that hawt, hawt vampire sex that's so frequently depicted in various films and books. 

If you want to read the hilarity, you can do so here. I'll be disappointed if I don't get spam in this article's comments section promising me immortality in return for my bank account number or general cash transfer, to be honest.


Best Snark: iTunes Terms and Conditions: The Graphic Novel

In what's quite possibly the snarkiest thing ever created (lately, anyway), artist and writer Robert Sikoryak has made a graphic novel adaptation of iTunes's Terms & Conditions.



The end result is pretty snarky and probably one of the only ways you'll actually get me to read the entire thing, the South Park human centipede withstanding.

Seriously, I'd read it and write a book report in order to keep this from happening. 


You can read the piece in all of its glorious snark here. The piece has a mixture of art styles and as of this writing, he's still publishing new pages every day. It's supposed to be 94 pages and he's on page 58, so there's still more to be enjoyed.

Further reading: