Category: stand alone


I’ve gotten the chance to review a number of Seanan McGuire’s book now and I’ve enjoyed them all. So, of course I was excited to see Sparrow Hill Road on netGalley, even more so when I was OKed to review it. This is one of those books that I had been meaning to read and meaning to read. Bonus in that the second book is coming out soon. Enjoy!

Sparrow Hill Road cover

Rose Marshall is sixteen and running from the man who ran her off the road. She’s been sixteen and on the run since prom night. Since she’d made a rash decision while angry. Since 1952 when she took the keys to her brother’s car and the short cut on Sparrow Hill Road to look for her boyfriend.  Bobby Cross is still hunting her, trying to catch the one that got away and feed his immortality a little longer.  He won’t stop until he catches up to her. But at least he can’t kill someone who’s already dead.

Seanan McGuire’s Sparrow Hill Road is interesting to me in a lot of ways. It started out as a set of twelve short stories published across a year. Those stories were well received enough to be reworked a little and republished as a novel. That, to me, is all kinds of awesome. Then you jump into Sparrow Hill Road being a ghost’s story rather than a ghost story. It’s Rose’s story to tell and she’s well aware of a lot of the folk lore surrounding her and those like her. I actually have a little trouble talking about this one because of how much I enjoyed it.

This isn’t a settled book by any means. It roams from decade to decade and coast to coast, from living to dead and back again. The characters likewise never seem to settle. Weather that means the phantom driver who spends his afterlife racing the road he died on or the route witches whose magic is called from driving and the road itself. Pauses are brief and stopping or being stopped always seems to carry a risk. That doesn’t mean that the book moves at a breakneck pace throughout its run, Ms. McGuire does a fantastic job with her pacing here. It never felt like I needed to pause and reread something to understand what was going on. It also never felt like the book was dragged down by over explaining things.

Rose’s ability to borrow life from a willingly offered piece of outer ware is fascinating to me, likewise the rule that she can enjoy food and drink only if it’s willingly offered by a living being. Both serve to allow her to, temporarily at least, experience the parts of living that she’d enjoyed and interact with normal people as though she were one of them. It also serves to limit Rose. She can only borrow life until the sun comes up so she’s a ghost, cold and insubstantial, during the day and any food she eats that isn’t willingly offered tastes of ash. The aspect of Rose having chosen to guide the dead is also an interesting one. It isn’t something she’s bound to, at least not beyond feeling a sort of responsibility for the newly dead. It’s something she doesn’t always want to do and, in fact, something of a mirror to her habit of trying to help drivers avoid their deaths. Of course, both of those choices lead to her being seen around horrific traffic accidents and being blamed as a result.

That feels like sort of a running thing through the book, people act without knowing the full story. It happens with Rose, with the story of the pretty dead girl up on Sparrow Hill Road and all the people she’s supposedly killed. It happens with a number of the characters introduced within each section of the book, they react to the bits they know but act before digging further. They jump to conclusions while angry or confused and go based on their impressions. It’s a sort of humanizing thing that allows for a lot of the conflict in the book without it feeling like it was just thrown in.

Speaking of conflict, if there’s a bit that didn’t entirely work for me it winds up being Bobby Cross himself. This goes back to Sparrow Hill Road having originally been a set of short stories. Bobby Cross feels like a week antagonist, largely because he doesn’t have much to do early on. He’s the one who killed Rose. He wants to finish the job. Not has to, wants to. But for a lot of the book’s run it doesn’t feel like he’s a threat. The antagonists from other sections tend to be more present, likely because that’s their moment while Bobby is running a long game. When he’s effective, he’s great but when he’s not he just sort of feels like a disposable villain of the week.

I started writing this review knowing that I was going to give it a five out of five. I enjoyed it enough to not really know how to write about it without just throwing words for pages on end. Even now there are bits that I want to go back and add more thoughts on. I think I’ve come to a decent place to end this though. Sparrow Hill Road is well worth the read and I’m super excited for the next one.

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I’m really going to need to learn not to announce things before they’re ready to roll. My computer messed up and wouldn’t work, I think I’ve got it working mostly right again but it took a while to get it going again. In any case, this one’s thanks to the awesome folks at Curiosity Quill Press. Here’s Anne Stinnett’s Creature of the Night. Enjoy!

Creature of the Night cover

It’s TV’s most scandelous phenomenon. Fantastic vampire judges. Roaring crowds jumping at the bit to see contestants fail. Blood and glamour in equal measure.  It’s a chance at eternity for one lucky contestant, and the risk of death for the other eleven, the new season of Creature of the Night promises to be a bloody good time for the viewing public.

Anne Stinnett’s Creature of the Night is a book that I really wanted to like just based on its concept. The whole vampire game show thing where the winner becomes a vampire is kind of awesome and something I’m a little surprised I haven’t found in other urban fantasy novels. Supernatural beings using their being supernatural to grab a wide and adoring audience, or being used to do that, seems like it would be more of a thing. The idea that people not only go wild over this but blood thirsty, mocking failed competitors and camping out wild is interesting and feels like it could say a lot about the culture surrounding celebrity culture. The problem comes when it didn’t seem interested enough in the characters or world to really pull that off.

Let’s talk about that potential though, because I really do think that something like Creature of the Night could do a lot of interesting things with urban fantasy. The ingredients are all there.  The masquerade was broken, so people know that vampires are real. More than that, the television viewing public not only loves them but loves seeing people risk their lives to become vampires. It almost seems like they have the world enthralled. But there’s a limit to how many people can be turned legally, which leads to the show being billed as a sort of way to find “worthy” people to be turned. This makes me wish that we could have seen more of the world beyond the show, possibly through more time in the mansion or more time with the viewers at home. Just something more away from the show challenges themselves so that we get more of the back ground.

That’s sort of a running thing in Creature of the Night, that sort of need for more details outside of the competition itself. The back story for the world is mentioned and teased, but in a way that becomes distracting rather than informative. It’s the same with the protests over certain aspects of vampires interacting with humans, they’re mentioned and it is part of a couple of characters back stories, but they don’t really do anything for the story. It would almost be better, if we were looking to keep the length of the book about the same, to drop the world building hints entirely and allow the reader to make their own assumptions about how this all came about, then use the space from dropping that to develop the characters more.

It’s sort of a thing I think I can see what Stinnett was doing with the characters, this being a horror comedy and all, but she left her characters really flat. They were sort of horror movie cliché sketches of characters rather than being full on developed, which made it really difficult to care what happened to any of them. This ties heavily into my thing about wanting more page time away from the show challenges. While the challenges are largely interesting they also feel big and sensationalistic. They show the characters as competitors but not as people. The between challenge chapters do some character interactions, but they’re also taken up with the in book show’s confessional sequences where the characters talk about the challenges and other competitors and whatnot. What makes this a little strange, is that it’s clear that changes are happening with some of the characters but we don’t see much of them as they change, possibly because the show lasts at most a week. Plus the confessional bits often have characters returning to type, rather than reflecting any sort of development.

At the end of it, Creature of the Night feels very like the novelization of a B movie that doesn’t exist. The characters have little to no presence. It’s often violent or gross for the sake of shock factor for a fictional audience. Cutaways to the audience at home or the judges can be interesting, but usually feel like padding. All in all, it would work a lot better on film than page. I wasn’t a fan of this book and I think I would wait to check out the reviews on any other books Anne Stinnett writes, but I would be willing to read her again. It’s mostly because of that that Creature of the Night gets a three out of five.

Later than I’d planned for, but this is one that I’ve been looking forward to finishing. It’s been a book that I’d been meaning to read since before its release but didn’t get the chance to really dig into until this week. Here’s Edgar Cantero’s Meddling Kids. Enjoy!

Meddling Kids cover

Back in 1977 the kids of the Blyton Summer Detective Club had their last big case, some guy in a mask was hunting around in a supposed haunted house and the Blyton Summer Detective Club decided to stop him. They succeeded, really, they did. But maybe they saw a little more than they were meant to. A lot more than they were meant to. They solved the case, but what they saw broke them a little and they went their separate ways. The tomboy, wanted in two states. The brain, turned biologist, turned alcoholic. The golden boy, a star on film and in person, burned out before his time. The horror geek who turned himself over to an asylum, the only one who still talks to the golden boy even if he wishes he didn’t.  But the case wasn’t finished, not by a long shot. And that’s going to drag them back to the town where summer lived. The Blyton Hills, where their last big case was never fully solved, where everything went wrong, where just maybe they can put it back together again and put the past to rest. Put the past to rest and maybe save the world while they’re at it.

Edgar Cantero’s Meddling Kids is a deeply interesting beast of a book combining a number of takes on its own prose and some distinctly strange ideas that I want to see more of. This is, from title to composition to set up a fond reflection of those other meddling kids and their Great Dane. It isn’t a one to one thing, certainly, but the familiarity from that reflection allows for a certain degree of comfort with the less Saturday morning cartoon aspects. Lovecraftian strangeness and all that.

That’s actually a really good starting point here, Meddling Kids is sort of Lovecraft by way of Scooby Doo. It’s a lot softer than most of the Lovecraft based stuff I’ve read, more comedy than pure horror. But it plays with the wrongnesses worked into the fabric of reality that make up the horror of a lot of that sort of style of horror deals with. The writing will sort of break from standard prose into stage directions and lines and then snap back, characters interact with the narrative in non-standard ways. Kerrie, the resident brain, has hair that’s almost a character of its own. It reacts to things and has feelings, and somehow that’s done frankly enough in the writing to work. Similarly Tim, the Weimaraner, is given a ton of human reactions and is textually treated as being as self aware as the rest of the cast. Even buildings get in on the act. This all makes for some really nifty double take moments. It can also be a bit distracting when you first start reading, so there is that.

As far as the story goes, it feels very much like a comedy horror detective story. It is, in fact, shaped like itself. That isn’t a bad thing by any stretch, but I do feel like it shines the most when the characters have reached Blyton Hills and are poking at the things they hadn’t had the chance or awareness to investigate in the past. The points where things they’d talked about or experienced as kids come back up in the story, how safe a room had always felt or wanting to ride a mine cart, are really strong points for the characters and they feel good. This reads best when the focus is squarely on the characters, when it’s a bunch of former teen detectives trying to go back to what was and get down to the bottom of what is. It stays there too. The reader gets to see Andy being grumpy and aggressive and trying to keep the team going. We get Nate trying to keep it together as things get weirder and weirder and the dead guy won’t stop talking to him. I do wish we has seen more of the dead guy, I feel like Peter could have been a bigger presence throughout.

The setting is also great. Like I mentioned before, buildings become almost characters, reacting to the characters approach, muttering, and the like. The town of Blyton Hills is a town dying a slow death, but not ready to let go. There’s still people and drama and the issue with that old mansion. The choice to have the book take place in 1990 also works well with a lot of standard horror tropes. The technology we rely so readily upon just isn’t there, so they’re cut off in a lot of ways. There is no just grabbing a cell phone to call for back up, because they weren’t nearly as common. Likewise, the research needed has to be done by hand because the internet wasn’t as big or readily accessible. It also sort of slots the story into this sort of timeless place that doesn’t feel quite real, technology is seldom specifically brought up so the reader can sort of let things slide as they will. Blyton Hills itself has that sort of not real feeling so many fading towns get, it meshes well with the cast being comparatively small, but we’re also treated to the protagonists noting how empty the place feels. It makes for a pretty fantastic level of low key creepiness.

Meddling Kids is definitely a book that I hope gets a follow up. The handful of things I wasn’t a fan of pale in comparison to the things that work. This gets a five out of five from me. And I’m probably going to go looking for more of Edgar Cantero’s work.

Wayfarer: AV494

I am really excited to bring this one to you all, mostly because I was excited to read it. Something about checking out new sci-fi does that for me, I think it might be down to how well done the first chapter was on this one. This one’s thanks to the nice folks at Curiosity Quill Press for providing a review copy. Here’s Matthew S. Cox’s Wayfarer: AV494. Enjoy!

Wayfarer AV494 cover

An expedition to planet AV-494 could make Kerys Loring’s career, especially after her bosses took all the credit on the last one. She’s desperate enough to be cheap and experienced enough to know what she’s looking for. She’s everything Avasar Biotechnology is looking for. It’s clear they were right to hire her when she quickly makes a fantastic discovery, one that could change everything. A discovery that does change everything, seemingly unleashing a curse upon the station and driving everyone in it to violence. Kerys will have to find the truth if she wants to survive, though even then it might not be enough.

Wayfarer: AV494 is a solid piece of sci-fi with awesome character work. Matthew S. Cox did a really good job with his setting and, more than just that, with making the station feel both familiar and new. Wayfarer: AV494 is also very much a zombie story and hits a lot of notes familiar to that brand of horror.

That’s actually where my only minor qualms with the book come from. The characters surrounding Kerys are legitimately enjoyable, so seeing them succumb to the hate plague infecting the station is jarring and wrong and it works so fantastically. But then there’s the point where background characters start dropping like flies and these well built, likeable characters are part of that. It got to a point where I kind of stopped caring for a bit because it seemed so completely hopeless. There were a couple of spots of hope along the way and I know that sort of hopelessness is kind of a hallmark of this particular sub-genre, but it did get a little tiring.

Past that I really liked the way the characters, Kerys’ abusive ex aside, were handled. The other xenoarchaeologists Kerys works with, the various military personnel she works with, and Annapurna, the head of the xenobotany team, all wind up with solid if brief characterization that leaves them feeling very human. The way the xenoarchaeology team talks to each other as they work, the joking and such, feels organic. Some of the best work with the infection early on came from them because they were themselves, just a little wrong, where as the unnamed back ground characters were just suddenly ready to fight any and everyone. Which brings up the abusive ex, Will, since we’re shown his behavior through how he acts towards Kerys, most of his positive attributes are more informed than anything. He isn’t really played off of anyone, which makes him feel less solidly a character rather than others with less over all page time but more interactions outside of just Kerys and how she reacts to them. I’m entirely sure that this was on purpose, but it did wind up feeling a bit overdone and made it somewhat difficult to believe that other characters would be as taken with him as Kerys thinks they could be.

The setting works really well here, leaving our protagonist trapped while everyone around her goes mad. If she leaves, then she has a vastly limited air supply and nowhere to go that would be any help. The station itself is nearly a character, starting clean and orderly and well run before devolving into messes and murders and the chaos of people falling apart. The weather outside builds as Kerys’ emotions run high, leaving the station feeling somehow even less safe. Places that are briefly seen towards the beginning get a second run through after the infection sets in, showing how the stations inhabitants affect their surroundings. The changes in some of these areas a just as startling as the changes in the people living in them and it’s fantastic.

All in all, I really enjoyed this book. There were a couple of things that lost me a little, but nothing really big. I could have done with a little less hopelessness at times, but I would definitely read another book by Matthew S. Cox. So, yeah, Wayfarer: AV494 gets a four out of five.

This one’s late. It’s late and I’m not particularly happy with it. Largely that comes from this being non-fiction and that not really being my cup of tea reviews wise. I broke my own rule and remembered why I had it. This one’s from the nice folks at First Second, here’s Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World. Enjoy!

Brazen cover

While I mostly enjoyed it, I am probably not the target audience for Penelope Bagieu’s Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World. That’s not a complaint. Brazen is a cool jumping off point for looking more into the women mentioned in it but, given that it is split into twenty-seven sections, there’s not a lot of deep going into any given story. It’s also a bit of a mixed bag on the women included. Several I understood completely, a few I didn’t quite get.

In large part, Brazen feels like it could be a really good source for a middle school history class to pull from. There’s enough information to catch interest in the women featured and enough to get started. I would have liked to have seen a bibliography or an index at the end. I feel like having the sources included could have made this even better in regards to finding out more.

The writing is simple and straight forward which works well with the short sections. The art has a nifty sketchy quality while also having a fair degree of detail. The overall effect is quite functional and makes for an enjoyable read.

That’s ultimately a big chunk of what decided it for me. I enjoyed reading Brazen and I know that a younger me would have enjoyed it more. Not citing her sources somewhere in the book does lose some points for me. So, I’m giving Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World a four out of five.

This one was a bit difficult for me to write for a lot of the same reasons that most of the other books aimed at a younger audience are difficult for me to review. It’s not a bad story by any means and I feel like a younger me could have benefited greatly from reading something like this. Thanks to the folks at First Second this is The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang. Enjoy!The Prince and the Dressmaker cover

Lady Crystallia is the belle of the ball, the woman every girl wants to be. She’s beautiful and charming and everyone loves her. Lady Crystallia is a secret. Prince Sebastian should be trying to find a betrothed, it’s what his parents want. It’s what he should want. Mostly he just wants his secret to stay hidden so he can keep being Lady Crystallia and going out at night. Frances knows Sebastian’s secret, she makes all of Lady Crystallia’s dresses after all. She’s Sebastian’s secret weapon and Lady Crystallia’s biggest fan, but can she bear to stay secret when all of Paris loves her work and she can’t say anything about it?

Jen Wang’s The Princess and the Dressmaker is a very attractive book. The art is nicely expressive and the costuming is beautiful. It’s very much a coming of age story, a finding yourself story, and I’m not entirely sure what to do with it.

Frances is, I think, the protagonist I identify with more. She has a dream she wants to follow, but her terrible job stifles it until she takes a risk and gets a lucky break. She gets to be the person seamstress for Sebastian the Crown Prince of Belgium. More than that she’s his secret weapon in living his truest life as Lady Crystallia, making his dresses and being allowed to create what she considers beautiful. But she can’t do anything with this creativity beyond making Sebastian’s dresses; she’s a secret keeping a secret. All she can do is watch as her fashions become popular without anyone knowing that they are hers. That leaves me perhaps more frustrated with Sebastian’s side of things than his character deserves.

This is, after all, a coming of age story and Sebastian is at most a teenager under a ton of stress from his parents and with a ton of fears about how people, especially his parents, would react. I feel like the story did a good job showing how badly the stress bothers Sebastian and how equally badly he handles it, but only occasionally. Mostly we see Lady Crystallia being the bell of the ball and Prince Sebastian being tired and disinterested in finding a betrothed. I feel like more could have been done with showing him trying to live up to being the kind of prince his parents want him to be. More could have also been done with Lady Crystallia as Sebastian’s sort of comfort zone, the person he becomes when he needs to be confident and comfortable. This is kind of a short book though, so there isn’t a ton of room for that.

Ultimately I am not the audience for The Prince and the Dressmaker, I think I am a little old for it and I’ve mostly found my footing. Coming of age stories are good and can be really enjoyable but this one wasn’t for me. The art was really nice and I would definitely read more of Jen Wang’s work in the future, so I’m giving this one a four out of five.

 

Posting this later than I’d like, both in the day and in the month. But hey, January’s the door to a new year so it totally makes sense to post this as it closes. Right? Right. This one’s thanks to the folks at Tor.com, here’s Beneath the Sugar Sky. Enjoy!

Beneath the Sugar Sky cover

An impossible girl landed in the turtle pond outside of Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. Rini came to Earth to find her mother, Sumi, and take her back home. The problem is, Sumi was killed long before she could have had Rini and logic is quick to realize that an impossible girl shouldn’t exist. With a world to save and her existence on the line, Rini will have to find a way to put her mother back together. Luckily for her the students of the Home for Wayward Children are used to quests and ready to help.

Seanan McGuire is quickly becoming one of my favorite writers and Beneath the Sugar Sky is a really good example of why. This is a solidly written story with great character work and really interesting stakes. It is something I enjoyed so much that it’s actually really hard to write about because I just want to fangirl about how much fun I had with it.

So let’s start with the characters. Unlike Down Among the Sticks and Bones, which focused on two particular wayward children and their trip through a door, Beneath the Sugar Sky widens that focus to a number of students both new and old. This was a thing that I wasn’t sure on before I started reading, because I haven’t gotten to read the first book yet, I didn’t know Kade or Christopher or Nadya. But McGuire does a fantastic job of introducing them here through Cora’s perspective. There’s a sort of easy familiarity here that works really well.

The setting is interesting on a number of levels. Baseline, I like the idea of so many disparate worlds that can be accessed by the right people. The storytelling potential of that is awesome and those same people winding up back on Earth looking for a way home is a fantastic story hook. McGuire uses both amazingly here, both showing us a couple of the worlds and the sheer longing the cast has when faced with something close to theirs. It makes for some really good moments and some really great world building exposition.

The flipside to that potential and the possibility of characters going back to their world is that I’m very used to protagonists being fairly set.  It took a little adjusting to this new cast and the idea that characters might drop in and out of the story because of the doors. I like it, but it did feel weird for a good chunk of the book. It also left me wanting to see similar stories done for other characters though, which is a definite plus.

I knew less than half way through Beneath the Sugar Sky that it was a five out of five book. It made me want to jump to the first book and read the series again as soon as I finished it, so that I could see what came first and then re-see the second book and this one in that context. So, yeah, I had a lot of fun and really look forward to the next book in the series.

This one is for kind of an older book. I’d actually originally stumbled across this back when I worked at the bookstore. I was hoping to find stuff featuring Batwoman and then here was this. It popped up on my BookBub suggestions not too long ago and I finally had a chance to give it a read. So here’s Alexis Hall’s Iron and Velvet. Enjoy!

Iron and Velvet cover

Private Investigator Kate Kane should know better than to take a job from a vampire, much less a vampire prince. She should know, but bills need paying and jobs are a little thing since her partner died. She’s got a dead werewolf outside a vampire’s nightclub, some kind of horrific ooze, and not a lot of clues to go on. Stepping wrong on this case could lead to a war or, worse, her dead but at least she’s got scotch.

I am mostly happy with Alexis Hall’s Iron and Velvet. The main character is by turns enjoyable and frustrating with an implied back story that I really want to find out more about. The back story elements made for awesome character building without devolving into an angst fest. The parts that did get angsty felt tone appropriate and were generally balanced out with a thread of humor.

There were a couple of rough spots early on, with the cast being introduced, where the writing went off the rails a bit. The initial descriptions for our hedonist vampire prince and lingerie model alpha werewolf got kind of male gaze-y and uncomfortable. That said, the resident incubus got similar treatment and this did improve later on. I did find myself much more into the book after the introductions were past and I got into the meat of the story.

The mystery itself unwinds slowly with a couple of false starts and room to get to know the major players while still holding enough back that it’s still a solid mystery. There’s build to a solution but then there’s more. Kate finds herself trying to solve the problem without making any more problems or setting off a supernatural war. Things get a little fiddly there and while I liked the issues it brought up I feel like more could have been done with it. I would probably say that regardless though, I have a tendency of wanting more out of tense situations where the protagonist is out of their league.

That actually leads me to a big positive I had with this book. Kate was noteably out of her depth at various points and, instead of hard headedly going for it anyway, went for help. She had contacts from her previous P.I. work that she could ask for details and she goes to them when she realizes she needs help. It was super refreshing and I would really like to see more of that.

So, that’s kind of where I’m left with this one. There was some stuff I was iffy on at the start, but then the book rolls on and got really fun. There’s a ton of implied back story that I’m really interested in, possibly more so because it isn’t just spelled out for me. Iron and Velvet gets a four out of five from me. I’m definitely going to go find the second one in the future.

Head Games

I’m cutting it a little close to the wire here. I’d driven to visit my folks and spent a fair amount of time on the road today. It was fun and my car is once again fully functional, plus I got to see their new kitten. So, a win all around. This book is a bit of an odd one for me, it’s not my usual genre at all, but it was worth giving a shot. Thanks to the nice folks at First Second, this is Head Games. Enjoy!

Head Games cover

Novelist Hector Lassiter thought his adventure days were behind him. At least, he thought that until an old acquaintance lures him into one last run. He’s found Pancho Villa’s skull and a buyer, he just needs someone to get it to them. Money in the bank, easy as easy can be. At least until others get wind of the skull. Feds, frat boys, and soldiers of fortune are on Hector’s tail and the only folks he can count on are himself, a poet, and a woman hard as nails and twice as beautiful.

So, the Head Games graphic novel is an adaptation of Craig McDonald’s debut novel of the same title. It’s content is more than a little bit of a surprise, given that I’m used to more kid friendly graphic novels from this publisher. That threw me for a bit of a loop. The book very much not my usual thing. The lead character is very much a man losing his place in the world and becoming more aware of it day by day. This might be his last big adventure and he knows it. He knows that the world is changing without him and that he can’t, or won’t, keep up.

That’s actually part of the problem with the book. The protagonist, Hector Lassiter, spends so much time looking back to his glory days early on in the story that, while I’m interested in those stories, I don’t really care what’s going on in the actual plot. The action is tied too much to Lassiter’s past and his adventures in his youth. That’s where most of the characters who are after the skull come from, they’re people he knew from his army days or folks who have been hired by those people. I would have liked for there to have been more characters who weren’t connected to him or, failing that, if the protagonist had been Bud, the poet side character. I could have also done without the second and third parts included, combined they’re about half the size of part one and they don’t really add much to the story proper.

This is the part where I admit that my problems with the book are probably more due to the nature of it being a graphic novel adaptation of a novel rather than an original comic. Some connective tissue and character details were probably cut to make it flow better. For what it is, the writing is pretty solid even as it’s not exactly my thing.

The art fits really well with the plot. It’s blocked out with a lot of heavy shadows and sparse color. The character design is also solid, the characters are distinct and the backgrounds are detailed without distracting from what’s going on.

At the end of the day, Head Games isn’t really my kind of story. There isn’t much of anything wrong with the writing, and very little that couldn’t be attributed to it being an adaptation. It’s a first book as well, so others in the series could easily have less of the looking backward. I would probably be willing to read one of them. So, given that, I give it a three out of five.

So, I’m behind on this whole Halloween thing. I’d blame work and all the other usual things, but it isn’t any of that. It’s this book, this one that I’m reviewing now. I nearly quit. But I kept going and I’m going to keep going.

The Essential World of Darkness cover

The truest enemy of the Garou is the Wyrm, corruption and pollution incarnate. Its spawn hunt the Garou and contaminate Gaia, bringing darkness and filth to the world. Once there were guardians to keep the Wyrm trapped on its side of the Gauntlet and away from the physical world. Once, but that was a long time ago. Now there’s little more than fragments left, the Great Wolf was shattered and one of its fangs lost, the other guarded by an orphaned werewolf who is little more than a child. If she can’t find the lost fang before the moon is full then the Wyrm and all its horrors will invade our world.

Owl Goingback’s Shaman Moon is the second book in The Essential World of Darkness. In a lot of ways I feel like there isn’t really a good way for me to review this one. This book and I started out on the wrong foot. The bulk of the first chapter covers the main character’s tragic back story in a California orphanage, and this section very nearly made me stop reading the book. We’re talking less than five pages in and I was considering quitting. Because of that, this is going to get kind of spoilery.

Let’s start with the bit that I nearly quit the book because of, because the beginning is always a good place to start. See, our character was found in a dumpster near her parents’ murdered bodies and never felt like she belonged in any of the foster homes she wound up in, so she ran away a lot. This wound her up in an orphanage of nightmares run by a woman the kids referred to as the “Iron Maiden”, a woman who only smiled when she was beating one of the girls under her care with a riding crop while calling them terrible names. This woman has a goon squad of older girls who beat the younger girls until they have broken bones and need hospitalization. They don’t get that though, because hospitals would ask questions, no the only medical treatment the girls at the orphanage get is from an elderly pedophile. It goes on and on. The main character makes one friend who, to avoid getting beaten by the goon squad for smoking stolen cigarettes, kisses her and flirts a tiny bit once. Because of this, best friend character is raped by the Iron Maiden and murdered.  Keep in mind, none of this echoes down into the plot itself, our heroine thinks back to the orphanage maybe twice and both times could have been replaced with almost anything.

In addition to the juvenile ideas of what constitutes dark, the writing in Shaman Moon is less than stellar. There are long bits of out of place exposition and clunky bits of environmental statistics. It leads me to wondering just who this was written for. A fan of the Werewolf: the Apocalypse game would already know a lot of the exposition while someone just looking for a werewolf story would get tired of it pretty quickly and look for another book. There’s big repeated bits that keep covering the same ideas, everything is the Wyrm, details about werewolves’ forms, non-werewolves are at best oblivious to the damage they’re doing the planet, this one type of werewolf is bad. It’s stuff that could have been worked in a lot better or glossed over and left to the reader to understand. Left as it is, it feels like Goingback needed to fill his hundred or so pages but only had forty pages of story.

The environmental stuff gets similarly tiresome, there’s only so much statistics I want to deal with in my fiction reading especially when it’s just shoved in there. Yes, pollution is an aspect of the Wyrm, the werewolves one true enemy, but that doesn’t mean that I need statistics about how it’s expected to affect nature in the coming years. It, again, feels like padding and breaks the flow of the story utterly.

I actually don’t have anything good to say about this one. There were ideas there that could have been solid, but they were covered up in padding and bad writing. At the end of the day and idea doesn’t mean much if nothing gets done with it. Shaman Moon gets a one out of five.