Monday, September 5, 2016

Review: Oh Joy Sex Toy Volume 3

Title: Oh Joy Sex Toy volume 3
Authors: Erika Moen and Matthew Nolan
Publisher: Oni
ISBN: 978-1-62010-361-6

When I selected this, I knew I was getting into a series that I had not previously read, however I assumed that the series would be one that would lend itself easily to new readers coming in with random volumes. Not only was I correct in this, but OJST itself even addresses this point.

On a side note... don't read this at work or in any location that you think might not be overly appropriate for strong sexual matter. This sounds like a no brainer, but I'm somewhat used to having some things along these lines be more cute diagrams and speech bubbles than fairly detailed pictures of people getting it on with other people and themselves. This book has those detailed pictures, which in my opinion is kind of a selling point - you can't educate unless you show what you're writing about, right?

Erika & Matthew think the world of sex is pretty rad.

Using humor and research, their awesome comics are about everything that relates to sex. They review sex toys, share sex education, interview sex workers, and crack horrible, horrible puns, all in the name of promoting sex positivity.

In this third volume they visit a swingers’ house party, a queer porn set and cover all sorts of topics like HPV, foreskins and UTIs, in addition to the newest and oddest sex toys. Each volume is a unique dive into the world of sex, making this book a great standalone addition to your shelf whether you’re already read the rest of the series or this is your introduction.

Can I just say that it's the sex positivity alone that made me want to read this? There are far too many things out there that treat sex like it's something to be objectified or despised. Even worse are the ones that try to pass themselves off as open minded or positive, only for the work to have various "buts" and "ifs" thrown into the work. The romance genre is especially notorious for this, as it's common for the book to treat sex like it's liberating one or more of its characters... but usually only if it's between a committed pair. It's heavily frowned upon for a character to enjoy sex with multiple characters and when it is done, it's typically done to illustrate how the character is a "slut", "cad", or something wrongfully deviant from the ideal, which is a character that is only interested in sex with their One True Love. I don't mean to digress, but I need to stress how common it is to find works that, while being more sexually open than some of the other works out there, still aren't entirely sex positive and put certain negative connotations on things deemed socially incorrect by the mainstream populace. (And by this I mean things like multiple sex partners, open relationships, and the like - not things that are out and out morally and legally wrong, such as pedophilia.)

That being said, on with the review.

The artwork in this book is incredibly playful, which suits the tone and mood that its creators are going for. They want you, the reader, to have fun looking at the book, learning from the successes and failures. With some of the topics in this book it could be all too easy to use a darker and more serious artwork style, which would potentially run the risk of making something seem less open or negative, so the lighthearted style seems to be very deliberately done. The volume features a wide range of topics, some of which I'm actually glad to see in print somewhere. It's refreshing to see someone cover vagimus, for example, something that effects a lot of people and isn't covered all that heavily anywhere.

I was partially afraid that Oh Joy Sex Toy would just be a complete love fest for everything and everyone. By this I don't mean that it'd be awful to have a "yay for everything" book, but it's good to have a critical look at some aspects of sex and we get this to a degree with the sex toy reviews and Erika debating whether or not to star in an adult film. It's interesting to hear her reasons for not going through with everything, which is part of what makes this book so cool to read - that we get these different perspectives.

This series might not be for everyone, but it's something I wouldn't mind getting the complete set of, just because it's so nice to get a wide perspective on things.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Surprising Book Facts and a reflection

I came across the following image on my Facebook feed today:

The image comes from a blog post by Robert Brewer, a motivational speaker. Brewer wrote the blog post years ago, but later removed said image after he received complaints and discovered that the research he had used to create the image was bad. He even wrote a follow up post in 2015 about the lessons he learned from the experience. I have to tip my hat to him as it's not easy to admit when you're wrong, especially in a situation like this where you didn't intentionally set out to spread misinformation. 

However the diagram did remind me of things I'd heard from various people throughout the years. I remember working at a video store and recommending books based on customers' video rentals, only to be told that they hadn't really read anything since school (college or high school) beyond magazines or the occasional textbook. I've also heard people say that they haven't been to a bookstore in years, although I wasn't always able to ascertain the context and whether they meant that they hadn't read anything since then or that they got their books from somewhere else. I'd had many situations where it looked like it could be a case of either. 

I think that part of the explanation for reluctant adult readers is because of the lack of variety of reading materials in high school. Not every student was encouraged to read at home and/or have access to reading materials. Their parents wouldn't necessarily discourage it, but they wouldn't always have access to reading materials and their parents wouldn't always encourage them to read things that interested them. I've heard multiple people say that they found reading in high school to be dull and boring, as they just didn't connect with the characters in the classic works you typically find in North American classrooms. This was possibly because of the subject matter, but also possibly because teachers couldn't go into the more salacious subject matter out of a fear of losing their job. It's likely why none of my history classes during my public education discussed the fact that Benjamin Franklin was a huge ladies' man or that he played pranks like his life depended on it. Even the whole Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings thing was covered quickly and swept to the side, lest a parent complain about their child learning about Presidential sexual shenanigans. (And potential rape depending on what materials you read about Jefferson and Hemmings.)

This is why it's so important for classrooms to allow their students to explore literature on their own before starting in on the classics. A student will best appreciate something if they appreciate reading to begin with and they'll also be more likely to continue reading as adults. Using a variety of reading materials can also help, as more reluctant readers might be more open to reading a story in graphic novel format. This is a format that has long been maligned as "frivolous", however any comic book or graphic novel fan can easily attest to the fact that graphic novels can provide a rich and insightful look into various different cultures and lifestyles. It can also help provide training of a sort, as I introduced a friend's child to manga. The traditional right to left reading format helped the child, who suffered from mild dyslexia, form an attachment to reading. Once she got hooked on reading graphic novels, she branched out into YA novels and the like. Now a beautiful young woman, she's a voracious reader of anything she can get her hands on. 

I'm glad to say that many schools are trying to allow their students the freedom to read whatever they want rather than pointing them only at specific books. More schools (and parents!) need to do this in order to keep things going. Keeping the chipper spirit going, there are also more adults reading. Whatever you might think of stuff like Fifty Shades and Twilight, it did get a lot of adults to start reading. I'm also happy to say that there are far more initiatives aimed at children and teens, where the goal is to provide them with free reading materials and inspire a love of reading. Lots of local groups tend to donate books to schools, hospitals, or other locations where children can go to pick up books - however unfortunately the areas that tend to need this the most are usually the hardest to reach. 

I suppose the only thing we can do is to continue reading and try, when possible, to encourage others to pick up a book. I remain adamant in my belief that there's a book out there for everyone. 

Friday, August 19, 2016

Graphic Novel Review: Monstress Volume 1: Awakening by Marjorie Liu

Title: Monstress Volume 1: Awakening
Author: Marjorie Liu
Artist: Sana Takeda
Publisher: Image Comics
Publication date: Out now

I think that the best endorsement I can ever give a work or product is when I'm willing to keep reading beyond my initial requirement and/or purchase it with my own money. In this case, I was barely started with the first issue of Monstress when I requested the other six issues. A few pages later I ended up buying the first volume because I liked it so much. That's as good of a recommendation as any, that I spent hard cash to collect the first volume.

Set in an alternate matriarchal 1900's Asia, in a richly imagined world of art deco-inflected steam punk, MONSTRESS tells the story of a teenage girl who is struggling to survive the trauma of war, and who shares a mysterious psychic link with a monster of tremendous power, a connection that will transform them both and make them the target of both human and otherworldly powers.

I can't even begin to tell you why I fell in love with the comic without discussing the artwork. It's lavishly detailed and absolutely gorgeous. The story is fantastic as well, but I've gotten into more than one series just because I loved the art style. It also helps that it suits the story very well, as there's something unique and well, "old" about the style. It's polished in its own way while avoiding the slick feel you get with some of the contemporary graphic novels and comics in the genre - this last part isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it's not always the right fit for every story and I'm glad that Liu went in this direction with the series. I hope that she sticks with Takeda for the series' length, as series art tends to do better when you have the same crew working on the piece from beginning to end, at least on the main pieces.

Story-wise, this is fantastic and what you'd expect from Liu's work. She does an excellent job with Maika, as the character is sympathetic without being a woobie. You can feel sorry for her without feeling like she's an absolute victim, which honestly has become fairly important to me over the years. Maybe it's because we've had so many works of fiction where the author crafts the character as someone everyone should feel sorry for because reasons - we get far too much of that and in many cases very little reason to actually feel sorry for the main character because somewhere along the line the author forgot to make the character actually sympathetic or anything beyond what's been done to them. (cough*Anita Blake*cough) In any case it's just great when we have a character that isn't written solely to garner sympathy and reduced to what things have been done to them.

I can't recommend this enough, especially to fans of series like Saga.

5/5 stars

(ARC provided by Netgalley)

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

When authors disappoint: The case of Kim Harrison and the one star review

It's with a heavy heart that I write this blog. Why? Because one of my favorite authors, Kim Harrison, greatly disappointed me recently.

If you're like me, you likely got into Harrison's work via the excellent Hollows novels. You read them as soon as you could get your grubby little mitts on them and branched out into her other works as you discovered them. She always seemed so down to earth and accessible that it was easy to like her in general, making her a nice parallel to diva-esque authors like Laurell K. Hamilton and Anne Rice, who have openly made dismissive and sometimes even rude remarks about their critics. Rice is especially notorious for her caustic remarks and actions towards negative reviewers.

But Harrison? She just didn't seem to be the type to do things that us Internet bloggers, reviewers, and readers tend to label "badly behaving author" behavior.

That's what makes her actions that much more disappointing.

Last year Harrison put out The Drafter, a book that showed a marked departure from the type of storytelling she displayed in the Hollows series. It's definitely not an easy read given its style and I myself even put down my copy until I had more time to really devote to the book. Now I'm not so sure that I want to return to it, as a few days ago on August 1st Harrison made a post on her Facebook account asking her followers to upvote a positive review in order to make a negative one less visible.

Her reason for doing this was that she just didn't like looking at the negative review and that she felt that Amazon shouldn't highlight reviews by "casual reviewers". Harrison also rationalized that since the book had a four star rating, the negative review shouldn't be the one at the top of the list when looking at reviews by "most helpful". 

The review she's referring to is likely this one and the reviewer, while they have only reviewed 11 items, still gives a review that nicely details why they didn't enjoy the work. It's more than a lot of people give in their reviews and honestly, as far as bad reviews go this generally looks like the type that authors want since it's not nasty, it gives reasons for why they didn't like it, and isn't just someone saying that it was too different from the author's prior work. The review is sitting at 106 of 138 helpful votes, so I can only wonder how many of the "not helpful" votes on it (or on any of the non-4 or 5 star reviews) were added after Harrison posted her comment. 

Now while I suppose I can understand her consternation that the most helpful review on Amazon is for a negative review, one of the people responding to her on Facebook is correct - barring campaigns to upvote a specific review, reviews gain the "most helpful" status by people reading the review and finding it helpful. It doesn't mean that those readers would automatically share the same opinion of the book upon completion, just that it helped them in their decision making process. It also doesn't mean that the reader will leave with the idea that they won't purchase the book. If they're anything like me, they likely read the negative reviews to get a more well rounded idea of the book before acquiring the work and reading it. I've had a lot of books that were actually saved by negative reviews, as they cautioned me to not get my expectations overly high or warned me that the book didn't entirely match up to its description or so on, times when honestly, my expectations were a little high and/or I went into the work expecting something different than what it actually was. (How many of us have picked up a book with jacket descriptions that didn't even remotely match up to what the book actually was?) For that matter the helpful votes might have been written by people who didn't post their own reviews but went away from the book with a similar outlook. They might have not posted their review because they felt theirs was redundant, didn't like to review... or because they were afraid of being harassed if they posted a negative review. 

I just always thought that Harrison was better than the authors who ask their readers to manipulate review rankings in order to make specific types of reviews less visible. Not only is this potentially a violation of Amazon's TOS, but she had to have known that this type of post usually results in people writing reviews to counteract the negative reviews and in my past experience is that not all of the people who write such reviews will have actually read the work in question. They just post the positive reviews in the hope of getting a pat on the head from their author and showing their devotion. 

Such posts also run the risk of causing people to attack the negative reviews. I will say that Harrison never specifically named the reviewer, but given that she specifically mentions a one star review that's the most helpful it's not hard to figure out who she's talking about. The attacks haven't occurred just yet, but the problem is that they can and have happened to other reviewers that were directly or indirectly highlighted by authors complaining about negative reviews. Hell, this review received a metric shit ton of negative feedback and even some real world harassment after mainstream author Emily Giffin made a vague reference about it on her Facebook account. As an author that publishes nowadays and has a strong online presence, there's no way that she could be unaware of this in at least part.

This is just disappointing since I always figured that Harrison was above cheap tactics like this. The problem with actions like hers is that it runs the risk of silencing readers and I know of several people who stopped blogging and reviewing because they were afraid of authors retaliating in some form or fashion because they didn't like that a negative review was written and/or was visible. Stuff like this portrays negative reviewers as second class citizens. They're able to write and publish, but heaven forbid that they ever become visible. In a way this could even be seen as a form of censorship in a way, given that her actions were done in order to make a helpful review less visible. No, she wasn't actively asking for its removal but her actions could have caused the reviewer to remove their honest review because they didn't want to be harassed. It also makes it less visible for people who might otherwise have found the review helpful and didn't want to click through the various pages of reviews. 

I can understand her being upset. It's not easy seeing a negative review and seeing it voted "most helpful", however it's a bad idea to ask people to perform actions that would hide or otherwise obscure a review. Especially as that runs the risk of discouraging other reviewers because they're afraid of harassment from the author and/or their fans. She might not have realized all of this when she posted on Facebook, but she should've been aware that it could be poorly received even if she didn't specifically name the reviewer because history has shown that fans can and do find these reviews and in some cases, openly harass the reviewer. I know she can't be responsible for what her fans do, but this has happened so many times that "don't do anything that can identify a reviewer", "don't make campaigns to raise review rankings and/or stars", and "if you must rant, rant in a non-specific manner" are extremely well known guidelines for authors as a whole. 

Harrison, I thought you were better than this. Really, would it have killed you to, as some fans have told negative reviewers, "just stop reading" and stop visiting the site? Negative reviews happen. Sometimes people find them helpful. It doesn't mean that the book is complete crap or that everyone will share their viewpoint, just that this person had an opinion other people found helpful. It's difficult, but you just have to move on from that. The fan in me doesn't want to label you a badly behaving author, but this type of thing falls solidly in that area. 

Further reading

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Advance Review: The Ouija Trials by Fiona Dodwell

Title: The Ouija Trials
Author: Fiona Dodwell
Release Date: June 13, 2016

I'm pleased to have the chance to read and review another work by Fiona Dodwell. For full disclosure's sake, I am friends with Dodwell and I received a copy of this in exchange for an honest review. 


When three students decide to make a documentary about the Ouija board, they think it'll be an easy project. What can go wrong? They invite six strangers to attend a séance, and what unfolds during the course of filming their project changes their beliefs - and lives, forever. 

Will they survive the night with their sanity intact - will they survive at all? The Ouija Trials is a chilling story that explores the subject of spirit communication - and highlights the negative outcome it has for many.

There's just something very interesting about Ouija boards. They're firmly entrenched in pop culture, which is pretty intriguing considering that they're a fairly recent invention. Spirit writing has been around in various formats for hundreds of years, however Ouija boards in specific are credited as being invented around the 1890s. That the paranormal and the need to discover what lies beyond the veil have long enjoyed their own individual popularity goes without saying. 

The story's opening, a series of e-mails about a university project, is reminiscent of one of Dodwell's earlier works, the 2015 short story "The Redwood Lodge Investigation". It's worth mentioning in general, but especially as both stories deal with people exploring the supernatural, albeit in very different ways. 

What's fun about this story and Dodwell's work in general is this sense of creeping dread that worms its way in, slowly but surely. This story is no exception, although I will note that it's surprisingly lighter fare than some of her other tales. It's still dark, but it's likely going to be an easier read for some than say, The Banishing. That one dealt with domestic abuse and demonic possession and its resolution still haunts me, just so you know what I'm comparing it against.

This is a fairly quick read and while it's not my favorite Dodwell short story, it's still something that I'd recommend overall. It admittedly lacks a bit of the punch delivered by "The Redwood Lodge Investigation" and "Juniper's Shadow", both of which tie as my favorite short stories of hers, but I still found myself eagerly reading as quickly as I could in order to find out exactly how things would end.

It's well worth checking out, in my opinion.

(4/5 stars)

(Reader copy provided by author)

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The 100 Scariest Horror Novels of All Time per Horror Novel Reviews

If you haven't guessed, I'm a huge horror buff and I can't get enough of the stuff, much to the joy and irritation of my boyfriend.

The horror themed website Horror Novel Reviews has compiled a list of their top 100 scariest horror novels and I'm pleased at some of the titles on the list, especially Penpal by Daniel Auerbach. I haven't read the full novel but I've read his reddit posts and they're genuinely unnerving to read. The Stepford Wives made the list as well, much to my joy. Granted our society isn't at the level where we could replace people with lifelike robots, but the horrifying thing is that I can still imagine that a good many would willingly ship their spouses (male and female both) off to a factory to get "upgraded".

I'm also pleased that it doesn't fall predominantly in any one direction. Granted there are more recent books than old-old ones, but they aren't going for any one specific theme or direction. If you're looking for something to read this summer like I am, this is a good place to start.

Further reading:

Coming soon to an e-reader near you: The Ouija Trials by Fiona Dodwell

If you've seen any of my other posts, you'll know that I'm a fan of Fiona Dodwell's work. It's not always an easy read, given that she's unafraid to tackle tough subjects like domestic abuse, but I've always found her work to be exciting and captivating.

Her newest piece is another short story called "The Ouija Trials" and it's slated to release next month in the US and UK, on June 13. Here's the synopsis:


When three students decide to make a documentary about the Ouija board, they think it'll be an easy project. What can go wrong? They invite six strangers to attend a séance, and what unfolds during the course of filming their project changes their beliefs - and lives, forever. 

Will they survive the night with their sanity intact - will they survive at all? 

The Ouija Trials is a chilling story that explores the subject of spirit communication - and highlights the negative outcome it has for many.

This sounds freaking amazing, in my opinion and you can pre-order the book on Amazon US and Amazon UK for only one dollar.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Mixed feelings: Comixology subscription service

Recently Comixology announced that they would be adding a subscription service, Comixology Unlimited. This isn't anything absurdly abnormal and subscription services for digital comics are actually fairly common. My Facebook feed is usually cluttered with offers for various manga subscription services and I know that Marvel has already launched their own subscription service, Marvel Unlimited. (On a side note DC and Marvel's comics are not part of this service.)

Part of me is always leery, however, of this sort of thing. You don't really "own" digital comics since the publisher can always yank them whenever they want and copies tend to only restored to buyers (or they're given a refund) once the media catches wind of things. A rental service (since that's essentially what this is) gives us even less control over things. There's also the obvious bit about digital copies not living up to paper, but that's sort of a given.

Still, the idea of being able to try various comics is fairly enticing - especially since comics (digital or paper) are pretty expensive. It's always a bit of a crapshoot when it comes to picking out new things. Sometimes you can rest a little easy if you're familiar with the author, but even that's no guarantee of enjoyment.

I do wish that there was a way to know exactly what comics are available under this service. We're given a list of some of the publishers, but not really any way to verify which ones will be offered as not every digital comic will be available under this service.


It looks like you can tell which ones are offered by checking a little box at the top of the search function and when you search through genres there's a little bar across the book that says "unlimited".

So far the selections aren't really making my heart race since they're just the first 1-2 volumes of various series, some of which are already fairly long running. It's not a terrible way to get into a series, but it will prove to be frustrating for people who cannot afford to purchase digital volumes at $8-10 a pop.

RIP Jo Beverly

I just read on Dear Author that Jo Beverly, a popular author of historical fiction. Beverly had been fighting cancer for years and it had been thought to be in remission until only recently, when it was discovered that it'd returned.

When I was working at a local chain bookstore I remember her books being fairly popular and there were many who looked for her works specifically, especially the Malloren books.

Rest in Peace, Jo Beverly. You will be missed.

Chapter review: The Long Drop by Denise Mina

Title: The Long Drop
Author: Denise Mina
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Release Date: April 1, 2017
ISBN: 0316380571

I was kind of excited when I saw this on Netgalley. Granted it's only a one chapter preview, but it's a literary novel about a crime that actually happened. I always maintain that the scariest stores are the ones that about real life events where we can't laugh the monsters away as a Jason-esque figment of an overactive imagination. Deep down we know that they aren't real. It's what makes books like The Devil in the White City so chilling, as we cannot deny the existence of serial killers like H. H. Holmes.

The "trial of the century" in 1950's Glasgow is over. Peter Manuel has been found guilty of a string of murders and is waiting to die by hanging. But every good crime story has a beginning. Manuel's starts with the murder of William Watt's family. Looking no further that Watt himself, the police are convinced he's guilty. Desperate to clear his name, Watt turns to Manuel, a career criminal who claims to have information that will finger the real killer. As Watt seeks justice with the cagey Manuel's help, everyone the pair meets has blood on their hands as they sell their version of the truth. THE LONG DROP is an explosive novel about guilt, innocence and the power of a good story to hide the difference.

 A disclaimer is needed here: this review is based solely on the first chapter of the book and I also was unaware that Peter Manuel existed prior to reading this chapter. The latter will likely work in my favor slightly, since it's always more entertaining when you discover true crimes via books or other entertainment media. (Within reason, of course. Some of those Hollywood flicks will occasionally distort the truth to the point where the entire thing might as well be fiction.) 

When I went into this I was expecting this chapter to open more along the lines of The Devil in the White City, where we're given a nice little info dump about the time period and the basic plot of the book. We get this to a certain extent, but for the most part we're left to figure things out on our own. This wouldn't be an issue except for the fact that two of the chapter's central figures (Manuel and Watt) start a conversation by shouting at one another across a table in a manner that was frankly quite disorienting. I'm not sure if this is intentional or not, since I only have the first chapter to go by - if it's intentional then it's well done, but if not then it makes me a little leery about the rest of the book. 

Still, the idea of a handsome, charismatic serial killer is one that intrigues and horrifies, as it's all too easy to picture serial killers as creepy, ugly, or anything other than ordinary or handsome looking. It's those murderers that always sink beneath our skins the quickest since they're not just a boogeyman (or boogeylady), they're an anti-NIMBY (Not In My BackYard) and proof that terrible things can happen anywhere and to anyone. Despite being a little disoriented, Mina does a decent job of setting Manuel as a creepy individual whose physical appearance belies his inner, monstrous personality. 

Rating: N/A, since it's just a chapter

(Chapter ARC provided by Netgalley)

Monday, May 16, 2016

Review: Wandering Star by Teri S. Wood

Title: Wandering Star
Author: Teri S. Wood
Publisher: Dover Publications
Release Date: June 15, 2016
ISBN: 0486801624

As someone who grew up loving indie comics mainstays like ElfQuest and Sandman, I'm honestly surprised that I didn't discover Wandering Star until now, so many years later. It's entirely the type of thing that I would've been into as a teenager, with its moody but strong main character Cassandra and its plethora of other interesting characters. Odds are I would've shipped some of the characters together, regardless of their expressed interest in one another. (Shipping is odd like that.)

This much-praised space drama follows the far-flung adventures of Casandra, daughter of the President of the United Nations and the first terran accepted into the Galactic Academy. Casandra discovers to her woe that Earth isn't the most popular of planets and joins the outcasts working on the Wandering Star, the Alliance's prototypical spaceship. When the Bono Kiro, the Alliance's longtime enemy, makes a sudden reappearance, Casandra and her misfit crew just might turn out to be the galaxy's last hope. 

This is an incredibly ambitious series and I'd be lying if I said that at times it was a little frustrating, given that the overall universe and its stories are so much larger than what we're shown here. To use a modern equivalent, it'd be like if Saga had only covered Hazel's birth rather than its current sweeping goals. It could very easily be expanded upon and Wood has expressed interest in creating a webcomic, which I think would work fairly well nowadays.

The artwork here is well done and has a fresh style that helps showcase the characters' feelings and drives. Characters are equally well designed and I'd have to say that one of my favorites had to have been Mek, who first appears in the comics as a fervently anti-Earth student of the Galactic Academy. To say that he undergoes a lot of changes and problems throughout the series would be an understatement. What's most interesting about this series, however, is how much it applies to today's societies. Prejudice and war are sadly still very much a part of today's world and I think that many will be able to sympathize with Cassandra's plight.

Ultimately this is a series that has gotten far less attention than what it deserves and hopefully Dover's release will help rectify that at least in part. It's one heck of a story and one that would work well as a feature film.

5/5 stars

(ARC provided by Netgalley)

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Review: Court of the Dead by Corrina Bechko, Landry Q. Walker

Title: Court of the Dead: The Chronicle of the Underworld
Authors: Corrina Bechko, Landry Q. Walker
Publisher: Insight Editions
ISBN: 1608874842
Release date: May 17, 2016

When I first began reading this book I was sure that this was a companion piece to an RPG game, where they give more description so players can flesh out their gaming experience. A little reconnaissance shows that while there's no game, there is a line of figures by Sideshow Collectibles and apparently this book is a tie-in. This explains quite a bit, since I kept feeling like the book was a part of something else and not something on its own. 

The book has a few things to offer readers, namely its mythology and artwork. The writing here is interesting enough and for what it is (a guidebook to the Underworld and its occupants) it's pretty well detailed. If you did want to use this as the base for a RPG, you wouldn't be disappointed since all of the basics are covered. Readers are given just enough to know what's going on, although I'll say that the best portions come when the creepy court jester Malavestros inserts his own opinions and reflections that frequently contradict the narrator, an official Underworld historian. 

Where the book shines is in its artwork and I'd wager that this will likely be the most popular aspect of Court of the Dead for most readers. It was certainly my favorite aspect, as the pictures are just lavishly done and beautiful enough that I'd say that if you're looking into getting this, I'd recommend the print version. (Assuming that there will even be an e-book edition.) This was gorgeous in my e-book ARC, but I know that it won't hold a candle to the larger print copy. 

4/5 stars

(ARC provided by Netgalley)

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Review: Paper Girls Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughan

Title: Paper Girls Volume 1
Release Date: April 5, 2016
Publisher: Image Comics
ISBN: 1632156741

I hadn't heard about Paper Girls until fairly recently and I have to say that it's one of those comics that isn't getting the attention it should, despite it being written by Brian K. Vaughan of Saga fame. It's one of those comics that has a great plot, interesting characters, and a central mystery that kept me reading throughout the entire first volume. 

The series's premise is set in 1980s America and centers around a group of 12-year-old girls, all of whom work as newspaper deliverers. We're introduced to the girls by Erin, who has just started her route and is invited to join the other three girls after they rescue her from being harassed by a group of older boys intent on causing mischief. From there they end up getting involved with some strange looking aliens and end up finding that their entire town has disappeared. 

We're given a little bit of explanation here and there as to what's going on and the nature of the aliens is explained by the end of the first volume, however we're left with far more questions than answers. Just enough information is imparted to keep it from getting too frustrating, which only makes things far more interesting. I have to say that even after zipping through the first volume I'm still not sure what's going on, although I keep wondering if it's a similar situation to Stephen King's Langoliers. 

Art-wise, this is great and throughout it I kept thinking that the character design reminded me very slightly of Frank Miller's art style in The Dark Knight Returns. In particular, the character design for Mac reminds me heavily of the character Carrie Kelly, Miller's Robin. It's not super strong, but it's enough to where I wonder if Miller's Carrie was a bit of an influence on Mac's character or design. 

Character-wise, Vaughan and all did a good job. There are a few moments where the characters are a bit jumpy in how they're established, where their emotions don't really come across as strong as they should. A key example of this would be a scene in Mac's home between herself and a family member, where an emotional moment just doesn't feel as solid as it should, given that they were somewhat antagonistic towards each other only a page or so earlier. It's not so bad that it stands in the way of the story, but we know that Vaughan is capable of so much more. 

Overall this was a fun read and Paper Girls is something I can easily see myself purchasing and re-reading in the future. It's just a little surprising that I hadn't heard of this until I saw it on Netgalley, especially given that it's being written by someone involved with one of the most popular indie series currently running. Hopefully this will be rectified at some point in the future. 

4/5 stars

(ARC provided by Netgalley)

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 opinions on work like this are 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.


I'm not going to push this up another star since I didn't get three stars of enjoyment out of it, but I do have to say that I have kept thinking about Fun Family days afterwards. When I describe it to people I do say that I didn't particularly like it, but I have to say that I didn't actually hate it either. I'd actually go so far as to say that I might actually flip through this again at some point in the future if I saw it at my library. I wouldn't own it, but I'd read at least part of it again.

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.


(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.


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.


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