Category: Five Star


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, 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.

Song of the Deep

The review I mentioned in that last post, this is it. I had a lot of fun writing this one just because of how positive it was. That was really nice, it’s been pretty stressful over in my corner of the world, so saying something positive was exactly what I needed.

song-of-the-deep-cover

Merryn and her father live in a cabin by the sea. Each day he braves the ocean to bring home fish to support them. Fish, and bits and pieces from the deep that he swears are treasures. But when a massive storm strikes and her father doesn’t come home, Merryn has a vision of his boat being dragged beneath the waves by a sea monster.  Determined to save her father Merryn builds a submarine out of the treasures and sets out using his stories to guide her.

Song of the Deep by Brian Hastings is the book of the game for the Metroidvania game of the same title; it’s also the author’s first book. I would not have realized that this was a first book if it hadn’t been talked about in the intro. The writing is tight. The characterization is consistent and on point. Also, my biggest thing, it’s a kids’ book that doesn’t talk down to its readers.

The protagonist and narrator, Merryn, is a legitimately charming character. She’s smart and brave and kind and this is all stuff the reader sees rather than being told. Never mind that she built a submarine and went to the bottom of the ocean all on her own, she pauses her quest multiple times to help beings in trouble.  It just makes me really happy, kind of like seeing the kind of protagonist I wanted as a kid finally showing up.

As to the not writing down to the readers, that’s a problem I’ve noticed in a lot of kids’ books. Either the language is over simplified, which makes it stilted, or it feels like the author doesn’t know when kids learn to read and skews way down. Song of the Deep doesn’t do that. While the language is pretty simple, it feels like the author trusts his readers to be able to follow along. I really appreciate that, not just because it made it more fun for me to read, but also because I feel like when media knows kids can keep up and understand things it provides for better entertainment.

I don’t actually have problems with the book. There are a couple of things I wish had gotten more details, but it really wouldn’t have fit to just suddenly insert exposition. There was a section near the end that didn’t feel as dangerous as it was presented as but, again, that would have slowed down the story and it wouldn’t have felt right.

It’s probably pretty obvious by now, but the book earns its five stars. I not only enjoyed this book but really want to see what Brian Hastings will do if he writes another book, whether a sequel to this or something different. More than that, I want to see more books like this full stop.

I’m really excited for this one because I get to be one of the early reviewers for it and because I really enjoyed the first book in the series.  I’m even excited enough to get this one posted on time, so wow.  On a less literary note, I’m also probably not going to be posting any more regarding the DC reboot for a bit, this is just a delay until September when I’ll actually get some of the rebooted comics.  On the the review!

Agent Jackie Rutledge is still haunted by the death of her partner.   She’s falling apart with no anchor and a forced vacation.  In comes a vengeance driven serial killer from the wrong side of Deadworld and powers that she doesn’t understand, the side effects of her previous trip into the land of the dead.  Jackie’s going to have to pull it together long enough to stop the furious ghost of a grieving mother and prevent herself from becoming suspect number one.

The Vengeful Dead by J.N. Duncan continues the story from Deadworld almost from its end.  Jack is still stuck dealing with the emotional upheaval of having failed her partner and being dragged into Deadworld.  She and Nick are still uneasy around each other, though he seems much more able to move on that she does.  They have to rely on each other to find Rosa and convince her to stop, and convincing her to stop could easily kill them both and destroy all they care about.  It’s also one of the most entertaining urban fantasy novels I’ve read in a long time with elements of a murder mystery police thriller and the best parts of a good romance novel.  It’s quickly becoming one of a handful of series that keep me interested in urban fantasy and make me want more.  In fact, the only low point I can think of is that the antagonist was painfully one note for most of the book, and I’m fairly sure that she was written that way on purpose.

It’s the character growth here that makes the book excellent Jack is still damaged, still angry and confused, and still incapable of standing on her own.  She’s stubborn beyond belief though and hits rock bottom quickly thanks to her new powers and the stress of literally chasing ghosts.  Nick is still prone to melancholy and worrying about Jack being afraid of him, but he grows enough of a spine to decide to live his unlife and try for the relationship.  Shelby seems to be growing more and more into Jackie’s trickster mentor, pissing Jackie off enough to make her tear down her own walls and grow as a character.  I’m a little disappointed with Laurel’s use in the book, she’s the only one who doesn’t seem to grow much and remains for the most part just Jackie’s worried friend who wants Jack to heal enough to function on her own.  That said I also expect that she’ll get more character development as the series continues and that makes me happy.

I’m OK with waiting for the next Deadworld novel only because I only have to wait until next April and because I get to be an early reviewer for this one.  The series is good enough and The Vengeful Dead is enough better than Deadworld that I don’t particularly want to wait, but I can. Duncan is now an immediate add to my “to read” list.  Where does that leave my review of The Vengeful Dead?  It leaves it at a four and a half out of five because I still can’t get Rosa out of my head as just a horribly driven monster.

So, editing on 8/31/2016, I stopped doing half stars in my reviews pretty quickly since most places that host reviews require an even number out of five. So, for the sake of the new “Rating” category, this is counted as a five star book.

 

Wow, I don’t think I’ve read a book this quickly or wish it would have been longer this much in a long time.  I would suggest starting the series just to get to this book, I enjoyed it that much.  Also, remember that the giveaway for a signed copy each of the first two books in the series ends at midnight tonight.

A severed female hand is found in the course of a perfectly normal Chinatown ghost tour.  Her body is found on the roof above with the head nearly cut off.  The only clues are two silver hairs, two nonhuman silver hairs.  It doesn’t take much digging for Rizzoli and Isles to discover the connection to a horrific murder-suicide nineteen years earlier.  One of the only surviving connections to the Red Phoenix massacre is a martial arts master who knows much more than she’s willing, or able to share.  What was it that murdered the woman on the roof?  When all clues point to the Monkey King, will Rizzoli be able to outwit a foe who’s got centuries of experience on his side?

I’ve got to admit when I’d first read the materials included in my review copy of Tess Gerritsen’s The Silent Girl I was prepared to be disappointed.  It kept mentioning that this was a deeply personal book for the author, and I was worried that the personal aspects would affect the story telling or displace Rizzoli and Isles somehow.   I shouldn’t have worried.  Gerritsen is at the absolute top of her game here, with writing and plot every bit as tight as any of her previous books and a use of mythology that had me absolutely enthralled.  The characters introduced were handled deftly, kept front and center without stealing the spotlight, and made memorable with development that minor characters seldom receive.  Johnny Tam in particular stands out as a character that I hope to see more of in future books.

This is definitely a Rizzoli book though, with Isles moved over to the side as a secondary character while Jane tackles the investigation head on.  I like this, especially with the last book, Ice Cold, having been as Maura centric as it was.  It’s great to see more of Rizzoli’s character development, such as seeing her worrying about her daughter and husband.  It’s great to see a Rizzoli who’ll still get spitting mad at the suggestion that something’s too dangerous even after she’s acknowledged the danger to herself.  She’s still brash and bitchy, but the chip on Rizzoli’s shoulder has definitely shrunk a bit since The Surgeon.

When it comes right down to it, the only complaints I can think of for The Silent Girl are that it could have done without the final chapter and that the ad for the TNT series “Rizzoli & Isles” takes away from the cover.  I give Tess Gerritsen’s The Silent Girl a five out of five, this makes me want to reread the rest of the series.

Nothing to say here just at the moment.  If any of my readers live near Auburn, there’s a massive sale over at Turn the Page (previously The Book Rack) next Friday and Saturday.

Carrie Vaughn is one of those authors who’s books I buy as soon as I possibly can after they come out.  With After the Golden Age, I didn’t have to wait.

Commerce City’s greatest super villain, the Destructor, is in jail for tax fraud and it’s up to crack forensic accountant Celia West to make sure he stays there.  But as the trial proceeds mistakes in Celia’s past come to light, mistakes hidden by her super hero parents and the police, mistakes that could bring her entire life tumbling down around her.  To save the day Celia will have to learn to deal with her father, her past, and the growing distance between herself and those she cares about.

This book made my inner comic nerd dance with glee.  For the Olympiad, it took fairly stock super hero types and developed them into people rather than capes.  Less fortunately any other super heroes got less development including Typhoon, also known as Celia’s best friend Analise.  The main villain was appropriately conniving and creepy.  The mysterious retired hero was mentioned just enough to make me want to learn more about him.  Best though was that Celia got herself out of most of her emotional funks.  She went through the “no one loves me” phase to the “wait, why am I letting the bad guy win” phase by herself.  Celia didn’t get the support that Vaughn’s longer standing heroine Kitty Norville has, but she has the same tough smart assery that makes Vaughn’s books a joy to read.

I will admit that my one big frustration while reading After the Golden Age was that while I was reading I kept trying to figure out which comic book super hero each of the Olympiad could be compared to.  After reading though, I’ll admit that I enjoyed that too.  I give After the Golden Age a five out of five and suggest it to anyone who’s a fan of superhero comics.

Here it is, the third and final of the Marshall Cavendish books I was sent, also the one I originally requested.  I’m also going to be doing a give away of a signed copy of Memento Nora to celebrate its release, more on that after the review.

Angie Simbert’s Memento Nora isn’t the kind of thing I’d expect to find aimed at younger audiences.  Near daily attacks drive people to Therapeutic Forgetting Clinics where with one little white pill they can leave their fears behind.  Nora has her first visit after the bookstore she and her mother are about to visit blows up in front of them, dropping a dead body right at her feet.  So, off to forget she goes, at least until she sees mystery guy Micah spit out his pill.  At least until she hears what her mother is forgetting.   She decides to remember and, alongside Micah and his best friend Winter, share their memories through a comic, Memento.

As I said at the beginning, I hadn’t expected this to be aimed at younger teens when I first read the blurb on Goodreads.  It deals with some pretty heavy stuff from government conspiracies to issues at home, and does so without flinching away from the characters reactions.  The characters were well thought out, though they felt a little older than their listed ages.  The chapters for Micah and Winter were limited and scattered throughout the book, but did an excellent job of developing their characters and back grounds.  Memento Nora gets a bit scary when you pause to think about it, that world is something that I could see people letting happen.  It’s built on fears and worries that most people seem to either lack or be content to ignore, and on the idea that we as people will trade our very memories for an illusion of safety.  I give it a five out of five and look forward to seeing what Simbert does if she writes another novel.

On to the giveaway!  Because I enjoyed the book and because I feel like it, I’m going to giveaway one copy of Memento Nora signed by the author.  Interested?  Just post a comment below, something about the book or current world events, and your email address.  On April 1st I’ll announce the winner.  Winner will have three days to get back to me with a mailing address, if they don’t then I’ll choose another winner.  Thanks!

A quick edit, I’ll only be able to send to commenters from the Continental United States due to issues with shipping.

As I said earlier in the day, I’m sorry about how late this isClasses and life in general have been kind of crazy lately.  Enjoy!

I’ve been a fan of Orson Scott Card’s since I first picked up Ender’s Game back in seventh grade, so when I got a chance to read The Lost Gate I jumped on it.  It’s a great mix of the mythic and the modern day, very similar to some of Neil Gaiman’s books.

Danny’s the odd man out in his family, a mage with no magic among gods with no worshipers.  A drekka with no place in the North complex.  That is, until the day when he discovers that he’s a gatemage and his world becomes a deadly game of cat and mouse.  Gatemages are killed as soon as they are discovered among the families with exception to the weakest of the weak, those who can sense gates but not make or use them.  Danny is neither weak nor willing to die, so he runs to save his own life and to give himself a chance at learning about his powers.  We see Danny grow up, meet new people, and learn what it means to be human.

As I said back at the beginning I’m a big fan of Card’s Ender series of books, and it looks like I’ll be a fan of this series as well.  Danny is a trickster hero who relies on his brains to stay out of trouble.  He avoids direct confrontation, preferring to misdirect an opponent to taking them on alone.  Like Ender before him, Danny worries about becoming a monster due to some of the choices he makes.  It could’ve gotten a little tiresome, but Card uses Danny’s self doubts to make him a more human figure in comparison to the casual monstrosities of his family and some of the humans that me meets.  I like that Card doesn’t write down to his audience, he seems to expect them to keep up with him, this is a habit I tend to find terribly lacking in current young adult literature.  This is a series that I would start buying for my younger cousins as well as for myself.  That said, my one complaint is how quickly Danny mastered his magic.  It seemed kind of like in a super hero comic where the hero gets new powers just as they need them or, failing that, right before they need them.  Over all, I give The Lost Gate a five out of five.