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Early this week is kind of like late last week, right? I think that’s how that works anyway. I’ve got a review for you all thanks to the nice folks at First Second for sending me a review copy, it’s Spill Zone.

Spill Zone cover

Three years ago something happened in upstate New York. No one’s sure what it was or why it happened. It destroyed Addison’s hometown, leaving her alone to take care of her little sister. Armed only with a camera and her rules Addison dodges both the physics bending horrors within the Zone and the military blockade outside it. All for pictures. All to take care of her little sister.

Scott Westerfeld and Alex Puvilland’s Spill Zone fits pretty squarely in my wheelhouse as far as story concepts go. It isn’t quite fantasy or horror, more something between the two. The format is a bit iffy for me, this is the first volume of a graphic novel so it winds up being largely introduction to the world and characters. In a straight up novel that would be a massive deal breaker for me, it’s a little more forgivable here but does still hurt the story as it stands.

Let’s actually start with that. This is the first volume of Spill Zone rather than the full story all at once and I feel like there are two views that I could take on that. One is to look at it like one of the trade paperbacks of monthly comics, where I know I’m getting an arc and some connective tissue for the main story. That’s the more generous option. The second option is to look at it more like a book that builds to a sequel but has little substance on its own. In a lot of ways I lean towards the second one more. There’s a lot of interesting stuff introduced in Spill Zone volume one, and I do want to know more about what’s going on, but enough is introduced that nothing gets a real in depth going over. That’s where I run into problems with Spill Zone.

There’s a ton of interesting stuff that looks like it’s going to be expanded on in later volumes, but it isn’t expanded on enough in this volume for me to be super into it. Things like Addison’s little sister and her doll. Little sister doesn’t talk, except when she does, but she and the doll have what are apparently mental conversations. Sometimes Addison seems to hear them, sometimes she doesn’t. The doll, Vespertine, gains power from the Spill Zone and seems to rely on regular charges to maintain herself. I would love to see more of that and maybe the mysterious buyer for Addison’s art, Ms. Vandersloot, and have the other Spill Zone in North Korea and all the stuff related to that be introduced in a later volume. Because, as it stands, I feel like that was all just left hanging and could have been done better later.

So, that’s the story as it stands, what about the art? I like it. There’s this slightly sketchy quality to it that lends itself to the comic, especially its more surreal moments. I feel like the art did a lot of lifting to make up for the writing not being super. It’s emotive and atmospheric and, I feel, one of the best things about the book.

Which of course leaves the wrap up. I want to read more of Spill Zone but I’m also really disappointed at how little content it feels like this first volume has. So this is one that gets scored more on where I’m hoping it goes, and what looks like a lot of potential, than its own merits. I’m giving Spill Zone a three out of five.

House Keeping 5/16/17

What a clever title. I know I mentioned like two weeks ago that this was coming. I’m trying not to drop off the map again, and I should have something for you all by the end of the week, but that’s “trying” and “should” and we all know how that works out.

Part of the issue is me not really knowing how to approach some of the newer stuff I’ve got. I’ve got a lot of comics to cover and no real experience working with them, so I’m hitting stumbling blocks there. The bigger thing is that I’m back in school part time and trying to devote enough time to it that I don’t drop out again. Fun times that. Plus, of course, standard life stuff and work stress. Because class I’m not getting as many hours at work and that’s a whole ton of not good.

Long story short, I’m at a bit of a loss on what I’m doing but I’m going to try charging on anyway.

So, house keeping post is coming up later in the week. I’ve been falling behind lately and want to address that. Switching over from that, I do have a review for you all today. Thanks to the folks at Tor, who provided me a review copy, here’s The Empty Ones. Enjoy!

The Empty Ones cover

You’ve seen them before. You’ve even seem the charming strangers with nothing behind their eyes. Carey’s been fighting them since the seventies. Kaitlyn just found out about them a couple weeks ago. To being hunted endlessly by the empty one that nearly killed them, they’ll have to track him down first. Meanwhile a blast from Carey’s past turns up and she doesn’t seem interested in helping save the day.

Robert Brockway’s The Empty Ones is a decent follow up to The Unnoticeables and a solid book in its own right. It’s definitely a middle book, though one that has the courtesy of tying up its own story before jumping for the next book.

It being a middle book is sort of where my big complaint comes from. With The Unnoticeables there was an awareness that there had to be more creepies than just what the protagonists were dealing with, but it was pretty well all small scale stuff. It was local, almost personal, to the protagonists so it felt huge and each thing they stumbled into built it up more and reinforced how out of their depths they were. This book doesn’t have that. It physically takes the protagonists out of their usual haunts and has them chasing the monsters. Having that makes the whole plot feel smaller, or less, even as the stakes are higher this time around.

Part of what makes this an issue is the difference between what the reader knows from the 2013 sections and what the reader learns from the 1978 sections of the book. In the first book, the split timelines worked really well because it allowed the reader to see something in action and then learn about it or vice versa. The parallels aren’t nearly as clean in The Empty Ones, so we get a lot of new information in the past that doesn’t really seem to inform the present or the previous book. It can feel  awkward even when it does land right, making scenes feel off kilter and characters feel not like themselves.

That’s a big part of what I meant when I said it’s solid in its own right but only a decent follow up. On its own, The Empty Ones has a lot of the same energy and punch as The Unnoticeables. The characters are still easy to care about. The monsters are still that extra spark of creepy. Even the new things that don’t totally work in context of the previous book are really cool if taken as part of a standalone novel. Reading it as a sequel though leads to comparisons and little rough spots throughout. The wonderful bittersweet ending to The Unnoticeables is suddenly fractured because we don’t have to wonder how Carey got from there to being nearly alone. Sammy Six’s story matters a whole lot less now because of new details. What’s lost is a lot of character stuff, and not necessarily little stuff at that.

On its own this is a really fun book. The antagonists are far stronger than the heroes, so the heroes have to be clever or just runaway. The characters feel very human or that perfect degree of just slightly wrong. The tone is by and large spot on. Emotive scenes hit the right chords, generally at the right times. And ultimately, while I like it better on its own than as a sequel, it makes me want to keep reading. I want to see where everything goes.

So, where does this leave The Empty Ones? As a standalone book it would be nearly a five out of five. The issue is that it follows a book that I would more than happily give a five to and, while it does well on its own, it doesn’t stack up to the book it follows. So that earns The Empty Ones a four out of five.

Gauntlet

So that was a week without a review. Fun. Today though, I have something for you. Thanks to the awesome folks at Ace, here’s Gauntlet. Enjoy!

Gauntlet cover

A year ago Kali Ling was the first female captain in the Virtual Gaming League’s history. Now she’s the youngest ever team owner. With a new tournament starting up, pitting the best gamers in the world against each other, Defiance is definitely on board. But, between the new pods that constantly adapt to players actions and all her new responsibility as team owner, can Kali stick to her convictions or will she wind up being just as bad as the rest of the VGL when the chips are down?

I have issues reviewing this book. That’s one thing I absolutely need to mention first off, because what’s good can be really good. Unfortunately that’s balanced by the fact that what’s bad tends to be really bad. So, let’s get going.

One of the big things with Gauntlet, much like the book before it Arena, is that Holly Jennings tends to do really well with her character stuff. When Kali is interacting with her team there’s this great flow, these are characters who care about and support each other. They work through their issues by talking, and it’s made clear that communication is part of why they work as a team. I love this aspect of the book. I adore that problems get worked through because friendship and communication. But then that’s kind of why I can’t stand the romance between Kali and one of her teammates, Rooke.

Back in Arena, Rooke was brought in to replace one of their other teammates. He was new and hot and kind of a jerk, so obviously he’s the love interest. It felt under developed then. In this book though we start off with the relationship reset, Rooke has cut Kali out and left the team with no explanation. He did it for her own good, so he says, which immediately loses my interest. It feels like a lot of the Kali and Rooke working things out got cut in an earlier draft and was only left in so that she would be as off balance as possible at the beginning of the book. There was a lot of really self pitying stuff from Kali regarding how she’d been just as bad to him last year that just didn’t really pan. I could have done with a lot less of it, especially since the whole Kali and Rooke thing feels like Jennings was told she had to have a love interest in there somewhere.

Gauntlet can also feel very scattered. At first the deal is that Rooke fell off the wagon and what if he can’t sort things out. Add to that Kali not being able to balance leading the team and doing her job as the team owner. Add to that the tournament itself and something being off about it. Add to that the team being attacked in the tabloids. Add to that Kali still wants to fight corruption in the VGL and do what’s best for her teammates. It can alternate between feeling like there are three different plots that never really go anywhere and feeling like everything is happening at once. A lot of that could have been cleaned up by removing repetition and focusing more on the tournament itself and any single one of the other problems. There was a lot of repetition, mostly things that the reader really shouldn’t have needed to be reminded of like Kali worrying about doing what’s best for the team.

I would have personally loved to see more of the tournament itself. Jennings does a great job with her action scenes and, with the core idea the book is being sold on being a massive tournament, I feel like going more into the game itself would have been an excellent choice. It’s hard to overstate how much I like the fight scenes here. They feel visceral and epic. They’re the place where the characters are in both the most and least amount of danger and that lends them an interesting weight that a lot of the rest of the book lacks. The fights feel a lot like a well done boss fight. They feel like Defiance is up against the wall.

When we finally get the big fight scenes it’s, of course, near the climax of the book. So, it’s actually kind of fitting that my last issue with Gauntlet is with its ending. There were a couple of places where it would have felt really natural to end Gauntlet. They would have been solid and left it open for the next book without feeling like an ad for it. The author went past both of those and just went ahead and set up book three. My issue with this is twofold. One, it gives up a more solid satisfying ending for a much weaker one. Two, it makes the rest of the book feel like less. Suddenly it feels like reaching the end of a game and finding out that the ending it paid DLC. It feels like there is less point to Gauntlet because here’s this cliffhanger that steals this book’s resolution for another book’s beginning.

So, where’s that leave Gauntlet? A big part of my issue with reviewing Gauntlet is that the stuff I didn’t enjoy made me dislike that I enjoyed the stuff I did. For every time there was a scene of Defiance being a great team and friends and just really jiving well together, I remembered that Kali and Rooke didn’t have that for their scenes as a couple. For every awesome fight, there were a bunch of other scenes that felt like repetition for the sake of padding. For all that I really enjoyed the bulk of the book, the ending left me feeling like I just discovered that my Little Orphan Annie decoder ring was an ad this whole time.

It’s a decent enough read, and a good sophomore novel. There’re definitely bits that need work. Jennings could certainly tighten up her writing some, get rid of some repetitiveness. But at the end of the day, even with its issues, Gauntlet is a fun read. Frustrating because of the bigger problems, but fun. It’s definitely a three out of five, but I think with a little more time and a couple more books Jennings could be a five star writer.

So, Words Again

As I continue my quest for a steady posting schedule I find myself failing again and again. I’ve spent the day reading the book I’m posting a review of and trying to get some things sorted out. That hasn’t been real successful, but hey, adulting isn’t really about succeeding in my experience so much as keeping going.

So yeah, review should be up tomorrow evening. Unless something terrible happens and I’m stuck home because of the weather or something, then it’ll probably be earlier. Either that or I’ll just post the spider dance gif with no other explanation.

I’m having a bit of trouble with this one for a few reasons, but it’ll all come out in the wash. Might have some stuff going on on another blog soon. Nothing big, just building a character for an upcoming game my group is going to run. It should be fun writing exercise though.

I’m late, it’s tomorrow already! Sorry everyone. Though I suppose it’s a good thing I’m reviewing the comic for a blast from the past. This is, again, a book that I received through NetGalley for review. Enjoy!

The Flintstones Vol 1 Cover

Meet the Flintstones, they’re the modern stone age family. You’re familiar with them. We all are. So let’s go back to Bedrock and see what a modern look at a stone age family looks like.

The Flintstones is something of a slice of life comic centering on, of course, the Flintstone family as well as the Rubbles and Bedrock itself. It’s anachronistic in a way that feels totally true to the old cartoon, while also turning a sharp eye on modern life, and also being a ton of fun. It also goes back to the cartoon’s sitcom roots, being aimed at an older audience. It feels weirdly subversive to see the concept for an old show turned to, more or less, current concerns. I like that quite a bit.

It’s also interesting to see what Mark Russell did with the characters. Fred and Wilma are more communicative, which is awesome in so many ways. The club Fred and Barney belonged to in the cartoon is a veterans’ society now, which ties into just how bedrock came about. Pebbles and Bam Bam are probably the most changed, being teenagers here rather than babies. They often provide a B-plot that reflects the main story in miniature. That’s more than kind of cool. I do sort of wish we’d seen more of Betty. Since she’s Wilma’s friend rather than Fred’s and most of Wilma’s screen time is with her husband, Betty gets pretty left out. I feel like I want the next book to focus more on Betty and Wilma, I want to see more of what’s going on with them especially after the response to Wilma’s art at the museum.

On to the art! Steve Pugh does a really cool job here. Characters from the original are, for the most part, immediately recognizable while also having dropped a lot of the cartoonyness from before. The random background characters have distinct looks. The coloring, done by Chris Chuckry, is vibrant and conveys mood well. My only issue with the art at all is that it does tend to combine massive beefy dudes with comparatively small women.  That honestly feels like it could be a throwback though given that the main characters are fairly set design wise and, as the comic goes, we get more body diversity in the background characters.

So, final thoughts. When I first saw that this was going to be a thing months ago I didn’t expect it to be much, mostly due to cherry picked panels and not really knowing what to expect beyond the old cartoon. I’m more than pleasantly surprised to be proven wrong. The writing is solid, the art is good, and while it can be serious there’s always a thread of humor. I like the anachronistic stuff, especially all the little background stuff like store names, it fits and it feels like The Flintstones. So that’s a five out of five from me.

I’m something approaching  early this week. I wanted to get this posted the day it came out instead of  waiting until tomorrow. I also wanted to do something to apologize for being so late last week, so I’m posting a review tomorrow as well. Bringing this to you thanks to NetGalley, here’s a review of DC Universe Rebirth: Batgirl volume 1: Beyond Burnside. Enjoy!

Batgirl vol 1 Beyond Burnside cover

Batgirl is on vacation, and Barbara Gordon is headed to Okinawa in hopes of interviewing Chiyo Yamashiro, the Fruit Bat, a vigilante from the 30’s. Even on vacation Barbara manages to find trouble in the form of her childhood friend Kai and the three “students” hunting him down. Can she figure out what Kai’s gotten himself into and how to save him or will Batgirl flunk out?

I feel very out of my depth reviewing this. It’s been since Gail Simone left the Book that I’ve read a Batgirl comic and I’ve missed a lot. That said, while there’s some thing’s I’m not a huge fan of, I find myself really liking this iteration of Barbara Gordon’s Batgirl. Hope Larson does a good job with the characters and a more than reasonably good job with the story.

Let’s actually start with that. What makes this Batgirl different than what I’m used to? She feels a lot younger for one, that’s one of those things I’m not real big on, but it also lends a lighter feel to the comic so it balances out. She’s apparently running her own company as well, a company that makes enough that she can travel around the world pretty easily, so that’s something I’m curious about. I’m also interested in what’s going on in Burnside, which seems to be Batgirl’s Bludhaven, her Gotham in a way. So a lot of that actually makes for a really good jumping on point. The character is familiar enough not to alienate a reader who’s either lapsed or someone who knows her from something else, but also fresh enough to feel new.

The flipside is that the arc that Beyond Burnside covers is very standard Batfamily stuff. The new old friend, Kai, just happens to be Barbara’s roommate at the first place she stays. He gets attacked while they’re out seeing a festival and meeting Fruit Bat, thus introducing our villain. Necessary coincidences happen as required. It’s a good building point, and I’m curious about some of the characters, but it does feel like a safe introduction kind of story. This being the first arc for the DC Universe Rebirth for Batgirl, that’s not a bad thing just very safe.

I’m not familiar with Rafael Albuquerque’s art. It’s not my favorite thing, and I do feel like it’s one of the weaker parts of the book. This is mostly due to the lack of backgrounds throughout the book. Having a single solid color backing the panel can be a great way to reinforce the emotion of a scene, if used sparingly. I feel like it’s overused here, which makes it lose its effectiveness and just feels a little off. Albuquerque’s faces can be fantastically emotive, though they can also slip into something just slightly off, something about the angling in some of the close-ups or just going a little too far with an expression.

I enjoyed this a good deal, it was fun, it did the job of introducing the world at large to keep my interest past this arc, and the one-shot story at the end was a good way to tie up loose ends and cool down from the arc. Batgirl Volume 1: Beyond Burnside gets a four out of five from me, it would have been a five if not for the few issues with the art.

Hey all, I’ve got a post for you from Eugenia Jefferson, author of Confessions of a Frustrated Millennial. Enjoy!

Hello everyone! My name is Eugenia R. Jefferson and I’m author of Confessions of a Frustrated Millennial. It’s a book about three black millennial women who are trying to navigate post-college life and achieve their dreams.

 

How I came to write this book has been an interesting, yet long journey. When I was little I dreamed of becoming a writer. I wrote short stories as a girl and I enjoyed reading. However, as I got older I started to realize that just being a writer wouldn’t bring in “money” so when I went off to college I decided to major in journalism and then went back and got my master’s degree in Integrated Marketing Communications.

 

The first job I landed after my master’s degree was a marketing communications coordinator at a non-profit association. I absolutely hated my job. I was nitpicked on and every mistake I made was taken to HR. Eventually, they let me go and I fell in a deep depression.

 

It was one of my biggest failures. I was searching for a new job and it seemed like nothing was happening for me. While unemployed, I decided to return back to my first love of writing. That’s when I started to develop the characters Natasha, Danielle and Jayla. All of them had a piece of me even though their stories are all different. The more I started to write the more cathartic it was. I was frustrated where I was in life at the time, but the more I shaped my own characters, the more I started to trust the process in my own life. I knew God was writing my story as I was writing my character’s story. I wrote the book on and off while in between freelancing jobs. However, I finally finished at the end of 2015.

 

While this book highlights some of the uncertainties that millennials go through, I feel that the subject is broader than that. It’s for anybody who’s about to give up on a dream. It’s for the person who has anxiety about where their life is going. It’s for the new graduate who doesn’t know what they want to do in their life.

 

Life is a process and while some parts are harder than others it’s a beautiful journey – good and bad.

 

Confession of a Frustrated Millennial is available through Amazon (paperback and Kindle) and Barnes & Noble.

And, in a turn of events I’m sure no one saw coming, I am late posting my postponed review. Who would have thought, right? I’d have had it if not for that sleeping curse. But it’s here now, much to everyone’s delight. Thanks to the awesome folks at Tor, here’s The People’s Police. Enjoy!

the-peoples-police-cover

When Officer Martin Luther Martin was ordered to serve his own eviction notice he didn’t expect to wind up the face for the following police strike against the loan lizards trying to foreclose on everyone. When bordello owner J. B. Lafitte called the strike on being self serving, only helping the police, he didn’t expect them to agree. When MaryLou Boudreau first woke up from dancing with a full hat and no memory of how it wound up that way she never expected to wind up as Mama Legba, television personality and horse to the Loa. No one expected Papa Legba himself to address Luke on tv or the question he would ask. “What do you offer?”

This one might get a little weird, there may also be a few spoilers so heads up. Norman Spinrad’s The People’s Police is a bit of an odd duck as far as fantasy or urban fantasy novels go. It’s well written in many respects, but I’d have a hard time calling it a fun read. It’s got definite fantasy elements, but is also almost cynical in its approach to politics and the way we’re governed. It’s got a really political thesis, but then avoids a lot of what makes that thesis political, becoming sort of a preaching to the choir deal. It’s actually a little hard to come up with much of an opinion on it because of all that, I’m really not used to that.

So, start from the beginning, does the story live up to its blurb? Yes and no. The actual blurb for the book doesn’t really say much, so it’s hard for the book to not fall into it. At the same time the book lacks a certain degree of coherency for much of its run which, in addition to making it feel like it could have been trimmed a good deal, also leads to it feeling very scattered in places. Several characters could have been worked in much better, but instead weren’t introduced until the last probably fifth of the novel. The same can be said for certain events not having enough lead up and so winding up feeling misplaced.

We also get some weirdness with the language of the book both in that Spinrad occasionally chooses to write in characters’ accents, something I’m not a fan of, and that multiple characters will more or less verbatim use really specific wording. That bit is very like being beaten over the head with propaganda, like video game levels of it that you’re supposed to know what it is so you don’t take it seriously, which doesn’t fit because it’s part of the book’s main idea. It feels clumsy or like Spinrad doesn’t trust his audience to get it.

Here’s the kicker, none of that singly or grouped together runs a serious risk of killing a book for me, at least not usually. He’s also got some stuff that’s usually near guaranteed to get me invested. There’s good character work, any number of scenes are strongly written and play well to the reader’s senses, and the weird cynical optimism often works in the book’s favor. It doesn’t set though. We get a lot of back story in the first half of the book, but a lot of its told rather than shown. The supernatural aspect is interesting and the in book discussion had potential, though I feel like maybe Spinrad could have used something other than the Loa or done more to actively show his work. I know next to nothing about Voodoo, so I could easily be missing the mark entirely on that one, but still. Even the character work falls flat in places with a later character’s focus on his religion making him feel very cardboard where he, if introduced earlier, could have been much more dynamic.

I’m sitting at the point where I can easily see people getting really into The People’s Police and any number of other people reading two chapters and reselling it. Its writing is technically pretty good but lacks flavor, for lack of a better word, and has enough little things that I’m just neutral on the whole thing. So that said, The People’s Police gets a three out of five.

Postponement

Hey all. I’m going to be late with my review this week, it is still coming but it’s not going to drop until Friday or Saturday. It’s just kind of been a week and if I finished it now I’d be necessarily rough on the book and I don’t want to do that.

So that’s the bad news, the good news is that I’ve got some really cool books lined up for review in the next couple months. That’s more than kind of exciting, I think. I’m also going to be trying to post more, I’ve gone slack on that again.

You may get innundated with stuff about my garden in a couple weeks. I’ve restarted the beans and have some tomato and basil seeds going. Really looking forward to that.

But, yeah, I’ll have things to say in a couple days. See you all then.