Category: fantasy


So, I’m late again. We didn’t have water for most of the day today, old pipes and all, so most of the day was spend out and about to avoid dealing with that. That aside, I’ve got a review for you all. It’s a fun little comic courtesy of First Second, here’s the first volume of Cucumber Quest. Enjoy!

Cucumber Quest The Doughnut Kingdom

The peaceful Doughnut Kingdom has been conquered by the wicked Queen Cordelia and her minions as part of her plot to resurrect the Nightmare Knight. If she succeeds then the world will be helpless before her. The world needs a hero, a legendary hero at that. Luckily(?) nerdy wizard in training Cucumber’s weird pushy dad has decided that his son will be just the legendary hero that the world needs. So, teamed up with his much more heroic younger sister, Cucumber’s stuck on an epic quest to stop a tyrant and save the day.

Gigi D.C.’s Cucumber Quest: The Doughnut Kingdom, is an utterly cute comic that gets very tongue in cheek about standard fantasy conventions. Cucumber is told repeatedly that he has to be the legendary hero instead of his sister, because younger sisters are never the hero. The Oracle protector of Dreamside had to look through the window while Cucumber read a letter from his dad to know that he was the right guy. What I’m saying is that it’s great fun to read.

Cucumber Quest reminds me of Saturday morning cartoons in a lot of ways, not a specific one mind but that nostalgic concept. The art is, as previously mentioned, cute as well as being very emotive. Color gets used a lot for impact. I feel like that might be overdone in some places, but it’s also something that didn’t really bother me until I’d already read the comic several times, so there’s that.

The villains manage to walk the line between feeling like an actual threat with Queen Cordelia and being bumbling morons with the BLT Trio. That matches our reluctant hero and the Saturday morning cartoon feel. As does the younger sister character, Almond, the knight in training. She who totally wants to do this adventure thing and fight the villain and be the hero. Part of me wants to compare her to Scrappy Doo, dragging Cucumber along on his adventure because she wants to be there. But she’s more than that. While she does do some bone headed stuff, Almond is basically the driving force of the story because Cucumber wouldn’t do the quest if he was left to his own devices.

Really all I’m left with now is scoring it. Cucumber Quest: The Doughnut Kingdom gets a five. It’s a quick read and a fun one and I very much look forward to volume two when it comes out.

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Hey all. Got a review for you, this one’s from my library and is kind of a throwback to last year. Enjoy!

Places No One Knows cover

Waverly Camdenmar’s life is perfect academically, socially, even her extracurriculars. Her life is utterly perfect, except that she hasn’t slept in days and instead spends all night running to escape herself. Marshall Holt’s life has been falling apart for years. His family can’t stand each other. His friends are bellow the bottom of the social latter. He’s close to not graduating. But he doesn’t care, he drinks and smokes and utterly wrecks himself with how much he doesn’t care. He’d never be good enough for Waverly anyway. But then one night she dreams herself into his room, his life, and nothing can stay the same. She can change in her dreams, but is Marshall worth risking everything she’s built?

Places No One Knows, by Brenna Yovanoff, isn’t my standard fare by any means. I started it back when I worked at the book store and finished it because I’d started it. It is very much a teen romance, but one that’s got some other stuff going on. The other stuff is what kept me going and held my interest.

See, both of our leads have pretty serious issues that they either can’t talk about or just don’t want to acknowledge. Marshall’s home life is terrible and he feels like a failure because he can’t not be bothered by it, so he self medicates. That leads to him being an academic failure and everything cycles back around. He has feelings and wants to help people, but doesn’t know where to start or how to help himself.  The flipside to Marshall is Waverly, the popular girl with the fantastic grades and the best times on the track team. Waverly who isn’t good at social cues or actually dealing with people despite being able to read them like it’s nothing. Who feels robotic and memorizes all manner of trivia to distract herself from her own faults. Waverly who runs until her feet bleed and she can’t think anymore to escape her own mind and the concerns that her life isn’t what it should be. These two I find interesting because they don’t feel standard, but I wish Waverly’s issues had been gone into a little more deeply. She feels like she didn’t get a full character arc and, while this would usually be a positive, the book leaves a lot of room for her to back slide massively and let everything fall to pieces.

In light of both the sheer amount of character stuff going on, and my own lack of interest in romance plots, I would have liked to seen less of the romance and more of Marshall and Waverly figuring their stuff out. Marshall gets a fair amount of this and we see him making efforts to pull himself out of his issues. Not so much with Waverly, she stays pretty entrenched in her belief that she’s somehow broken until the book’s climax. But that doesn’t feel right for her as a character, she moves by inches throughout the book unwilling to admit that she needs anything and unable to meet most people at an emotional level, but then all the sudden there’s this big character moment and things are fixed? It doesn’t fit for me.

I also find myself wishing that there was more with the minor characters. Waverly and her social group have this whole Mean Girls thing going on with a strict hierarchy and unspoken rules. But then along comes Autumn, the social outsider, to shake things up because she’s bored. I would have liked to have seen more of the fallout from that, instead of it being fast forwarded through for magic candle romance stuff.

Ultimately Places No One Knows isn’t a book for me. It has some really interesting character stuff, but then also a romance that feels unnecessary and forced. There’s fantastic ideas, but subpar follow trough. It’s the kind of book that I finished and shrugged, because it ended the way it had too but without resolving a lot of character issues. I didn’t dislike it, but I also wouldn’t read it again, so it winds up with a three out of five.

I have an actual reason it’s late this week! I messed up and left my laptop charger in Opelika after visiting for Labor Day, so I can’t get to the original file for this because the battery is dead. So, I’m rewriting it all in one go here because my gaming rig lacks word. This’ll be fun. This one is thanks to the nice folks at First Second publishing, this is Mighty Jack and the Goblin King. Enjoy!

Mighty Jack and the Goblin King cover

Jack’s sister Maddy was taken by an ogre. He was supposed to be keeping an eye on her, but she was taken anyway. Now it’s up to Jack and his friend Lilly to save Maddy before she’s fed to something known as the beast. But stories are never that simple and the goblin king in the kingdom below is as mighty as Jack and might be the ally he needs to save his sister and get home.

Ben Hatke’s Mighty Jack and the Goblin King is the second part of his Mighty Jack duology, so I am missing a bit of the story. That isn’t a huge problem though, the story does a good job of standing on its own and most of the references to the previous book can be hand waved as semi-standard fairy tale ingredients. Magic plants definitely fit a Jack story after all.

This is a very quick read, not a bad thing, but the story is enjoyable and I liked the characters. I would have actually liked to have seen more of them together, but I feel like that’s a side effect of missing the first book. Just a reason to try and find it.

Lilly gets separated from Jack fairly early on so, while he’s trying to plan how to save Maddy from the giants, she’s dealing with the goblins and their king. It kind of leaves the scenes with Jack feeling like they’re holding time until the goblin king comes to help save the day. That’s not really a complaint though, even as short a time as we saw the goblins’ hide out was cool and I like the idea of there being trash from every world in the under relm of a multiversal nexus. It’s a nifty idea.

The story is fairly straightforward and the art complements that. It’s fairly simple and a bit cartoony, but nicely emotive and it does a good job expressing what’s going on without feeling choppy. Again, the goblins are my favorite because they don’t seem to have any kind of uniform features while also being immediately identifiable as goblins. The colors are vibrant, the creature designs are fun and remind me a bit of Labyrinth, I very much enjoyed the art here.

So, what’s the verdict? I had fun with this comic from page one to the end and, while I have a few issues with the very end that’re probably more to do with having not read the first one, I don’t have any major  complaints. I’m giving Mighty Jack and the Goblin King a five out of five. It’s good and I’m likely to jump at the chance to review Hatke’s work again if I get the chance.

I’ve been having the hardest time getting this done. Seriously, I spent more time staring at a blank page on this than I spent on some of my papers back in college. I keep going off on Holtzmann related tangents, which is fun but not what I’m here for. A lot of my stuff also winds up being pretty cyclical, so there’s that too. Plus writing this up makes me want to do another thing about the characters specifically later on and I kept getting side tracked by that. Quick note, the version of the movie I have is the theatrical release, not the extended cut, so I may make reference to the movie not having certain scenes that were restored for that. It’s a lot later than I meant for it to be, but hopefully still fun. Enjoy!

General Feelings:

The Book: So, one of the big things with this Book vs. Movie is that both tell, essentially anyway, the same story. I went into a lot of my stuff with the book in my review, but I feel like I need to repeat that my main issue with it stemmed from its having a set protagonist in Erin. That the book is based on the script for the movie also means that a lot of moments I really enjoyed in the movie are absent because they were improvised by the actors. That said though, there are a number of flashbacks early on that fill in both Erin’s tragic back story and what happened between her and Abby. The movie doesn’t suffer hugely from not having them, but they did make me appreciate Abby a lot more.

The Movie: This is one where I saw the movie several times before I read the book. I am distinctly hoping that a sequel happens, maybe set after the upcoming comic or something. The movie is a horror comedy, much heavier on the comedy than the horror. It could have used some of the flash back stuff the book had to beef up the initial dynamic between Erin and Abby and, not going to lie, I would have had less Kevin but it’s solid and funny. It also has a lot more Holtzmann and Patty, due to the actresses physically being there, which is something I’m never going to complain about.

Erin vs The Ghostbusters:

Dr. Erin Gilbert: I’m not a huge fan of the book’s version of Erin.  It isn’t that she’s a bad character so much as that the way she’s written tends to make her feel stiff and unconnected to other characters. Part of this is that a number of shared scenes in the movie are Erin’s thoughts in the book or cut down to being between her and Abby. Book Erin is a protagonist who lends herself to over thinking things and worrying more about her/their credibility being acknowledged than actual accomplishments. Now, the flipside to this is that the book being so Erin focused pulls her issues to the front. She’s noted the day of her tenure review on her calendar as V day, validation day. That no one believed her as a child when she talked about the ghost is something that gets touched on a lot and built on. Eventually other people’s disbelief lead her to taking an authority figure’s advice and abandoning the paranormal, her research, and Abby. It’s something she struggles with throughout the book.

The Ghostbusters: While the movie does still tend to focus more on Erin and it could be argued pretty easily that she’s still the main character, I very much prefer how present the other characters are in the movie. Admittedly a big part of the other characters being more present is that their actresses are physically there, even if only in the background, so even if a character isn’t doing anything that effects a scene they’re still there doing something. Because there was a lot of improvisation on a lot of lines there was more interaction between the Ghostbusters and that did a lot to sell them as a team. There’s more cohesiveness as a result and that means I care more about what happens. That I’d watched the movie first and Holtzmann and Patty are my favorites affects this greatly. They’d probably still be my favorite characters if I’d read the book first, but that’s a lot to do with seeing more of them in the movie.

Rowan North:

Book: Rowan is much more a foil to Erin in the book. They both had rough childhoods due to their parents not understanding them and kids at school being aweful. They both have an interest in the paranormal, Erin to prove it’s real with science and Rowan to end the world and rule over the ghosts. They’re both smart, having attended and graduated MIT. But then Erin is a partical physicist, because she gave up on the paranormal and ran away from her research to try and be normal, while Rowan is a janitor who hates his job and everyone he interacts with. Erin is self destructive in a way that leads to no validation being enough, she needs everyone to know that this thing was real all along. Rowan doesn’t seem to care what anyone else thinks of him, he’s put himself above it all, if people don’t accept him then that’s fine they were worms anyway. His back story is more than a little cartoonish, but so is he. Rowan is one of the only characters that I feel benefitted totally from the book. He gets point of view scenes and seeing that makes him familiar. The book grounds how fantastical Rowans plans are in a character who is at once both the ineffectual loser who doesn’t people well and also the guy driven enough by his anger to build bombs in his basement.

Movie: In the movie Rowan loses out on almost all of the point of view bits he has in the book. This loses a lot of what made him work there and makes him a limp villain with not a lot of drive. We get a scene where he monologues to himself about going from having been bullied to being the bully, but that doesn’t work for me, it’s too neat. We don’t get anything on his background beyond that. We don’t get as much of the utter distain for humanity. He feels more like he’s there because they needed a bad guy and less like he’s be hording ammo if the Fourth Cataclysm didn’t work out.

Character Moments:

Book: As I’ve mentioned before, the book doesn’t have a ton of little character moments. That does make the moments that it does have stand out more. My biggest example is towards the end of the book, Erin’s punched a blogger and left the headquarters to be alone and we get Patty and Holtzmann going out to get sandwiches. This bit has next to nothing to do with the plot, but it lets us get to know both of them better and shows them interacting and being friendly. There’s also the bit right before it with Holtzmann trying to cheer Erin up after the fallout from her decking the blogger.

Movie: The movie is made of character moments largely, again, because the actresses are physically present and it featured a lot of improvisation. It bounces in importance from Holtzmann flirt dancing to “The Rhythm of The Night” which is awesome but minor, to the Swiss army knife/side arms scene which is both a character moment and also important to the big fight at the end of the movie. While he’s not my favorite, most of Kevin’s non-plot scenes are from the movie. Plus, again, with the movie we’re out of Erin’s head and so see more of how the other characters react to things.

Conclusion:

This is a case where I like the movie better, hands down. While the book clarifies things that the movie could only hint at, it only does so for one character. The ghosts of the book, Slimer excluded, were also less cartoony because I was imagining them rather than seeing them and the book goes a little more into the descriptions for it’s mooks. Meanwhile the movie benefits massively from its actresses which the book, by virtue of being a book, doesn’t have. That’s pretty well what a lot of my feelings on the book boil down too, it was entertaining and fun but it didn’t have the characters as I knew them while also being similar enough that it felt weird. If you can find the book, give it a shot. If not, grab some friends and watch the movie.

Confession time. I know this is the full name for the movie, so I’m only assuming that it’s also the novelization’s proper title. If anyone knows, give me a heads up. Anyway. There’s a review to kick off my throwing so, so many words at the new Ghostbusters. Enjoy!

Ghostbusters Answer the Call cover

Dr. Erin Gilbert has moved past the strangeness of her childhood. She’s respected in her field, up for tenure at Columbia University, and then some guy shows up with a copy of the book she thought she’d buried. To protect her safe, normal life Erin’s going to have to confront her former friend Abby and her new co-worker Holtzmann. Confront them and then wind up working with them once she’s booted from Columbia and determined once again to prove the existence of ghosts to prove she isn’t lying or insane. Strange things are happening in New York and it’s going to be up to the Ghostbusters to get to the bottom of it.

Ghostbusters: Answer the Call, the 2016 movie, was one of my favorite recent movies. It isn’t a perfect movie by any means but it’s solidly entertaining and a lot of fun. This isn’t a review of the movie though, this is about the novelization by Nancy Holder. This bit is mostly here to point out that I’m not really reviewing the story here, I like the story it gets a four out of five from me. This is mostly going to be me talking about the writing itself.

One of the big differences here is that the novelization has a set main narrator where the movie is more of a group thing. Erin Gilbert is the decided lead of the novelization, she’s the one we’re following and it’s her head we’re stuck in for the bulk of the story. That’s both a positive and a negative. Being in Erin’s head lets us dig a lot more into her character stuff it makes it very clear that she’s got anxiety and serious issues with needing validation from the most conventionally normal people possible. That’s fantastic and is both heavily supported by her back story as well as doing a fantastic job informing her actions in the story proper. The flip side to being in Erin’s head is that she’s not an incredibly likeable character here, she’s judgy and picky and can be just generally unpleasant. I do feel like a lot of that comes from the  writing itself. Erin’s thoughts have this weird stilted diction to them that would have been great if she was one of several leads, it is really notable and feels fairly technical in a lot of places. Unfortunately it can put me in mind of “not like other girls” YA protagonists.

That’s actually kind of a thing with the writing throughout the book, it can feel very like a bad young adult novel when it’s at its worst. There’s a couple scenes that do nothing for the book where Erin talks to other, basically one off, female characters and they feel very like something that would pop up in bad YA. These one off characters exist to mock Erin, and to a lesser degree the other Ghostbusters, which serves to reinforce her not fitting in but the scene doesn’t really work because they have no bearing on anything. Another bad YA moment is when Kevin is introduced and Erin’s brain literally stops working for a paragraph or so. Points for her losing interest as she realizes how incredibly dumb Kevin is.

I feel like I’m being unfair to the main character here. I sort of am. These moments are pretty spaced out and the unlikablilty would probably not be nearly as much a thing for me if I hadn’t seen the movie first. What’s it like when other characters get the spot light? There were some bits before Patty joins the party and towards the end with the other Ghostbusters as the point of view characters. I would have loved to see more of that. We also have several short bits throughout with Rowan, the antagonist. Those have a lot of the same bad YA feel, but they work a lot better for me because Rowan is a character that I’ve known people who were like that. He thinks he’s much better than anyone else, that his station in life is an unfairness inflicted upon him by the innumerable fools he must constantly suffer. That whole feel ties in really well to his driving thing being, essentially, revenge against the world as a whole. Rowan is stilted and full of himself in ways that can often throw a fantastic dark mirror to Erin. I adore that. The idea that, in another iteration of the story, their places could have been swapped interests me. Though, I do feel like more could have been done with him to solidify that and make him a bit less cartoony.

What this all boils down to is that, while Holder does some fantastic character work that I would have absolutely loved to have seen more of on more characters, the same character work can come across as more than a little juvenile. And that can be jarring. There’s a section that I actually read like five times featuring Holtzmann and Patty that was really good, it made me wish there was more of them in the book. It felt like a genuine moment for both of them and, after so much Erin angsting over her past mistakes, it felt really good to just have them getting to know each other. As with many things I’ve mentioned here, I would have really enjoyed more of that kind of moment during the quiet points of the plot.

So, I’ve already said at the beginning that I enjoyed the story. I’ve talked a lot about the writing itself being solid but cartoony or overly exaggerated, about it needing a little more. That’s kind of what decides it for me. Ultimately I would read Nancy Holder’s writing again whether another movie novelization or original fiction, but the need for just a little more in a lot of the character work leaves Ghostbusters: Answer the Call with a three out of five all told.

I’m late! Sorry all, long day yesterday, I didn’t get as much done on this as I wanted to then. I’m really excited for this review though. Back when I was dealing with my being at a low point I kept putting off reading this because I adore Seanan McGuire’s writing and I didn’t want to start it only to find that I wasn’t enjoying it, like every other book I was picking up at the time. That I’ve finally read it and enjoyed it as much as I expected if not more so is a great thing for me. So, thanks to the awesome folks at Tor, here’s Down Among the Sticks and Bones. Enjoy!

Down Among the Sticks and Bones cover

Jack and Jill, sorry, Jacqueline and Jillian, were their parents’ perfect children. Jacqueline was her mother’s daughter, soft and well mannered and always dressed like a fairy princess, a pretty decoration for the society ladies to coo over. Jillian was her father’s sporty tomboy, fearless and brave and almost as good as the son he’d wanted, at least he could talk peewee sports with the guys at work. They learned early that adults couldn’t be trusted. They learned early that what’s said isn’t always what is. But they never learned to lean on each other. When they find an impossible staircase in the room their grandmother abandoned years ago what they’ve learned won’t be enough for the world they find at the bottom or the choices they’ll have to make once they’re there.

Seanan McGuire’s Down Among the Sticks and Bones is a deeply interesting thing to me. It feels like it’s nearly all character study, which I love to pieces. It’s a story about choices and at the same time a story about being shaped by circumstance. It’s a story about expectations and how being forced into them can break someone without them realizing it, but also about how jumping to escape those expectations can hurt just as much. It’s a story about sisters, twins, split by expectations and choice and circumstance.

A big thing I like about Down Among the Sticks and Bones is the way things echo down from the beginning. Jacqueline is constantly told as a young child not to get dirty, to keep her dress clean, it’s part of her mother shaping her into the perfect society daughter. Once she’s on the other side of the door Jack has a phobia of getting dirty, even after years of working with Dr. Bleak as a mad scientist’s apprentice, it still effects her. Their dad does his best to shape Jillian into the ultimate tomboy, to make up for not having a son, but kids are cruel and the boys she was friends with as a kid abandon her as expectations tell them that girls are gross and not fun. She gets to see people calling her sister the pretty one without being allowed to be anything but the tomboyish one, the trouble maker with the same face as the prettiest girl in class. So she has no support structure on our side of the door and thus, once in the Moors, Jill clings to the adult authority figure who promises her comfort and pampering. She clings to him and idolizes him even as it’s revealed that he’s not concerned with her well being. Old resentments grow into a gulf of frustrations with consequences of their own.

I do feel like, ultimately, Jack pushes the story a lot more than Jill does. It tends to happen in stories with sibling protagonists that one gets more focus than the other. That said though, that feels more like a feature than a bug here. Jack chooses to go with Dr. Bleak, so Jill is left with the Master. Jack was tired of being just pretty and so jumped at the chance to learn, while Jill was tired of feeling like second pick and decided to be whatever the Master wanted to convince him she’d chosen him. That this also gave her a chance to be the pretty one is, if not significant to the initial choice, a fantastic bonus. Jack does more in story because she chose to be Dr. Bleak’s apprentice and so works with more people. Jill is the Master’s pampered daughter and so has little she has to do, which leaves her to soak in more of how fantastic it is to be the town ruler’s child and so above it all. It can leave Jill hard to care as much about, since we see her less versus seeing Jack grow.

Another thing I want to talk about real quick is the setting. The book takes place in this sort of fairy tale world, but it’s more gothic literature than the Disney stuff most of us have grown up with. The sun is seldom out from behind the clouds and night comes far too early. The mountains are full of wolves and what lurks beneath the ever stormy sea must be placated. The Moors are a dangerous place, something that the reader is reminded of regularly, but the danger is a fact of life. People plan for it and work around it. The Master is terrifying and dangerous, but so are the things behind his city’s walls. It’s dark, but not oppressive. It’s dangerous, but not paralysingly so. It’s really well written.

I don’t have a lot of wrap up here. I adored this book. I enjoyed the characters. The setting was great. Even the stuff that bothers me works in terms of the story itself, and I’m totally going to go find the one that came before this one. It gets a five out of five and if you can find it you should give Down Among the Sticks and Bones a read.

I’m late again. Not going to lie, this one was hard to write. LArgely because a lot of my issues with the book stemmed from spoilery things that were hard to write around and I didn’t want to do a spoiler filled review. This one’s from NetGalley. Enjoy!

Moonbreaker cover

Eddie Drood, former head of the Drood family and very secret agent, is a dead man. He was attacked and poisoned by Dr. DOA and cannot last much longer. To prevent anyone else getting hurt Eddie and Molly Metcalf, former magical terrorist turned ally and love interest, are going to do whatever it takes to stop Dr. DOA. If that means dealing with the Unforgiven God, fighting the Drood family’s past mistakes, or even going to the moon to prevent a world ending weapon from being used, well that’s just business as usual.

Moonbreaker is another book that is far into its series, leading to me having a number of issues with both the characters and story. That makes me worry a little about being fair to the story, especially given that I can’t help comparing it to books from Simon R. Green’s Nightside series which is set in the same world.

The characters, particularly Eddie himself, were a fair part of my issue here. Imagine that James Bond knew that he was kind of awful and was perfectly happy to explain that to his companion and, by extension, the reader. Also MI6 has not only hunted Bond in the past, but also has a habit of hording all the dangerous things and people they’ve managed to capture. Just in case. That’s the Eddie and the rest of the Drood family. For a first time series reader this makes Molly the reader’s view into the Drood family’s whole deal, and her horror with some of the things the family does just sort of gets brushed aside. It’s what and how they do things and it’s always been that way. That annoys me. I’m good with protagonists that aren’t golden heroes who do no wrong and help everyone, those guys get boring, this isn’t that. The Droods feel so married to the grey area that I just couldn’t get invested in them or Eddie.

My other problems is that the plot feels almost fractured. There are several conflicts that crop up that have little to do with stopping Dr. DOA or could have done better as the main conflict of another story. There are enough of those that by the time we get to the climax of the story there just isn’t any tension. Eddie’s presented as pretty boringly unstoppable for most of the book’s run due to his Drood armor, only being weakened by the poison in any meaningful way in the last quarter or so of the book, which doesn’t help with all the little conflicts feeling unimportant. Then the book was over and I could only be disappointed.

Molly was pretty awesome though. I kind of want to read a series about her. What didn’t work with Eddie being so, so over powered because of his armor, sort of worked in Molly’s favor. She’s also supposed to be super powerful but, because all the Droods have this ridiculous armor, she stands out more for holding her own despite being so much weaker by comparison. She’s also the one who wants to look for an antidote or something instead of just letting Eddie have his death. Trying to find a cure would have actually worked better for me as the B conflict that a lot of the other stuff and it could have hit a lot of the same beats the book did anyway.

Where does that leave Moonbreaker? Despite my best efforts, I know that my enjoyment of the older Nightside books leaves me more disappointed in this one than I would otherwise be. That’s not really fair to this book as a standalone and, again, it being later in the series doesn’t help things. I feel like there were a lot of good ideas here that wound up being used as padding instead of explored as well as they could have been. But it is rushed and disjointed, so it gets a two out of five. I would read Simon R. Green again, just not this series.

Mormama

Hey all, I’ve got a review for you today. It’s a little late, just due to general life stuff, but still up on Wednesday. So I’m happy with that. Thanks to the nice folks at Tor, this is Mormama. Enjoy!

Mormama cover

Sometimes the past doesn’t like to let go. The Ellis house has been standing for three generations, a rotting shrine to fabulous wealth and festering greed.  The house keeps its own, drawing them back when they try to escape. Lane escaped once, until her husband walked out on her and her son. She had to go back to the house that nearly devoured her as a child. Memory less, Dell can only hope that the card in his pocket will take him home to the Ellis house and a family that could be his. Theo, Theo wants out, away from the elderly Aunts who haunt the house like a trio of ghosts, away from his mom being stuck unable to care for either of them, and away from the thing that whispers to him at night. Away from the Mormama who tells him about the house’s tragedies and the darkness that presses in on its residents. Sometimes the past doesn’t like to let go. Sometimes it refuses to.

Southern gothic isn’t a genre I’ve done much with before. Based on Kit Reed’s Mormama, it’s not quite horror, and it’s not quite genre literature, but somewhere between the two. There’s a lot of almost character versus atmosphere going on and, more than that, a character versus past thing. I really dug both of those aspects. The downside to how atmospheric and into how trapped the characters feel by their situations is that the book can be very easy to put down.

So, what do I mean by that? Part of the atmosphere for the book was this sort of floating hopelessness. It seeped into little corners of the characters lives and pulled them more tightly to the house. Lane wants out as soon as possible, but she can’t find a job to allow that. Dell wants his past back, wants to know where he came from, but he’s so desperate for it to be this one version of him that he can’t accept anything else. He also can’t bring himself to use the one source he has that might tell him everything. Even the Aunts are trapped in their past and the bitterness they have over merely being caretakers of the house rather than the belles they had been in their youth. It’s both something that slows down the book and cuts its readability and also, ultimately, really cool.

That’s kind of my feeling on a lot of the book ultimately. It’s a slow read with a lot of bits that don’t feel super important to the story but that absolutely build the characters and atmosphere. Which makes for an interesting read. I do feel like some of the supernatural bits could have been tied in better, but that’s a little thing for the most part. The fairly slow pace over can make the ending feel a little too fast, but that’s not a huge deal, that little too fast can also make it feel cataclysmic. It’s a scale thing I guess. I actually don’t have a ton to say about this one so on to the score I guess?

Like I said earlier, southern gothic isn’t a genre that I have a ton of experience with. That’s part of why I don’t have a ton to say about it. There’s also a lot of almost fiddly bits that would probably count as spoilers, so I’m not talking a ton about those. That said, I did quite enjoy this book. While it can get slow at points that works for the overall feel of it. I’m giving Mormama a four out of five and would read Kit Reed again.

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.

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.