Framed

Author: Frank Cottrell Boyce

My rating: 4.5 of 5

In a small Welsh town where it rains nearly daily and nothing every really happens, Dylan finds himself the last boy anywhere near his age. So even a soccer game is out. Left keeping the petrol log for his family’s gas station/mechanic shop and avoiding the unwelcome attentions of “Terrible” Evans, it seems like nothing will ever change . . . until one day when a whole cavalcade of vans rumbles past their station, up the mountain, to the abandoned slate quarry. Suddenly, the town is abuzz with gossip. Perhaps even moreso when it becomes known that the contents of the National Gallery have been temporarily relocated to the quarry due to flooding. And somehow, the presence and exposure to the art there begins to change Dylan and his town . . . but will the changes all be for the good, or will Dylan and his siblings be inspired to more sinister designs?

As always, Frank Cottrell Boyce delivers a home run of a story in Framed. The writing, the characters, the themes–it’s all brilliantly executed and very readable. I love the way he chooses a few motifs and uses them repeatedly to tie the story together and draw out deeper ideas in a way that’s relatable. Surprisingly, this is perhaps the most credible and realistic of his stories that I’ve read to date; most of them tend to be rather tall-tale like (or even just be absurd science fiction), but this story is something that–while improbably–could possibly actually happen. Which is actually pretty great, because this is a story of inspiration and positive change in the midst of darkness and stagnation. I love the art aspect of this story as well; in a lot of ways that aspect reminds me of E. L. Konigsburg’s books (she’s another favorite of mine!). All in all, Framed is a great middle-grade story which reaches way beyond its intended grade range–recommended for basically anyone!

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Season of Mists

Author: Neil Gaiman

The Sandman, vol. 4

My rating: 4 of 5

WARNING: MATURE AUDIENCE

Destiny of the Endless has gathered his siblings together, setting the wheels of fate in motion and sending his brother Dream on a quest to Hell to right an old wrong. But when Morpheus arrives, he finds an empty Hell in which Lucifer declares that he quits and hands Morpheus the key to Hell. And so, the dead return. The demons wander unrestrained. And Dream is left with an unwelcome burden . . . one that many others would gladly relieve him of, whether it would be wise to permit them to or not.

Season of Mists wasn’t my favorite of the Sandman volumes so far (I have an extreme fondness for Dream Country); however, it was certainly intriguing and presented itself as a complete and united tale more than some of the volumes of this graphic novel have. There’s definitely some wonky theology, but it was fascinating to see the juxtaposition of different pantheons and philosophies all vying for Dream’s favor and interacting together in the Dreaming. And Dream’s reactions to all of them most certainly gained him several extra coolness points in my books. It was nice to see some resolution of the Dream/Nada story as well. And ooh, getting to see more development of the Dreaming was very neat; I loved the artistic renderings of that. All in all, Season of Mists was a solid addition to Dream’s story, and it seems to leave us set up for some interesting occurrences in the next volume, which I am looking forward to reading.

On a completely random side note, the creator biographies in this volume are absolute rubbish but well worth reading–utterly random and silly, but very funny.

Covers and Design by Dave McKean/Illustrated by Kelley Jones, Mike Dringenberg, Malcolm Jones III, Matt Wagner, Dick Giordano, George Pratt, & P. Craig Russell/Lettered by Todd Klein/Colored by Steve Oliff & Daniel Vozzo

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A Little Birdie Told Me (Psych Fanfic)

Author: Olivia94

FanFiction ID: 6396248

Status: Complete (36 Chapter)

My rating: 5 of 5

Warning: Rated T for violence, whump, & crime scene descriptions

Santa Barbara’s favorite (fake) psychic detective has gotten himself stumped–not something he appreciates. Shawn and his colleagues are tracking down a killer who live tweets his crimes, but they just can’t seem to keep up. This guy is just too good. And too psychopathic for Shawn’s usual tricks to work; he’s finding the guy impossible to read. Which becomes problematic in the extreme when the killer takes an interest in Shawn personally. . . .

Gah, writing summaries for mysteries is nigh on impossible to do well! Anyhoo. A Little Birdie Told Me actually has quite an intriguing plot and premise both, regardless of how poorly I describe them. And with 36 lengthy chapters, the author takes the time to develop the ideas properly. There’s a good balance of mystery, romance, and excitement throughout, including some nail-biting moments in the latter half of the story. The writing itself is absolutely solid; very nice to read. But what I probably love most about this fanfic is the way in which the author captures the characters. The tale is told in first person, alternating between Shawn’s (primarily) and Juliet’s voice–and the characters are spot on. I’ve seen writers capture Shawn pretty well in the past, but this author goes the extra mile to pull together nuances, details, all the little absurd things that make Shawn, well, Shawn. I love it! The relationship building between Shawn and Juliet is really cute as well, very them. I would definitely recommend A Little Birdie Told Me to Psych fans everywhere, and I will be checking out the author’s other work in the near future.

Note: You can find A Little Birdie Told Me at https://www.fanfiction.net/s/6396248/1/A-Little-Birdie-Told-Me.

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The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch (Graphic Novel)

Story by Neil Gaiman/Art by Michael Zulli/Lettering & Adaptation by Todd Klein

My rating: 4.5 of 5

WARNING: Mature Audience/Partial Nudity

Our narrator invites to listen to his tale of a most unusual evening, one he might not have believed himself had he not experienced it himself. A couple of his friends convinced him to come along and help them entertain an out-of-town guest who shall, for purposes of his story, be called Miss Finch–a strange woman to be sure, a biogeologist with an awkward personality and a great desire to see extinct creatures like Smilodon alive in their natural habitat. As fate would have it, the party winds up in a bizarre underground circus of questionable taste, but fate takes a strange turn when they arrive at an exhibit in which one individual is to have their greatest wish granted . . . and Miss Finch is the one chosen individual.

I first read “The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch” in Gaiman’s Fragile Things as a short story, which I found quite outstanding and memorable. This graphic novel adaptation is also quite intriguing, staying close to the spirit of the original short story. It’s this strange blend of magical realism and an almost macabre oddness that gets under the skin somehow. Typical Gaiman, that, I suppose–his stories have a way of being unsettling but brilliant in ways I didn’t even know stories could be. Zulli’s art is just perfect for the story, bringing together that darkness and unsettledness and all the totally out there aspects of the circus in a way that fits and ties everything together. I love the departure from a typical comic-book style; it’s more neutral tones and semi-realistic styles that work really well for this story (and are much more what I prefer in general). I would definitely read more of this artist’s works (and am pleased to see that he appears to have illustrated a few other Gaiman graphic novels!). I think for those who enjoy Gaiman’s work or who are looking for a different but quality graphic novel, The Facts in the Case of the Disappearance of Miss Finch would be a great choice.

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Iron Grip (Merlin Fanfic)

Author: Sydelle Rein

FanFiction ID: 8249420

Status: Complete (21 Chapters)

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Something is off about Merlin; Gwaine can tell. And he’s determined to find out what. When he does discover what’s going on, it’s a bit more than he was expecting–blackmail, evil plots, oh, and Merlin has magic, that’s new. Not entirely surprising, though. In any case, Gwaine’s determined to help his friend out whether Merlin wants help or not. Of course, that might have worked a bit better if they had both had a complete grasp of the nature and magnitude of the issues they were facing.

If you’re looking for a good Merlin fanfic, Sydelle Rein is one of the top writers I would recommend. And Iron Grip is admittedly one of my favorites even among this author’s excellent body of work. The writing is very readable and enjoyable, the plot is credible and true to the conceptual style of Merlin in general. And I love the way the author fleshes out Gwaine’s character and the friendship between Gwaine and Merlin. I mean, their friendship is one of my favorite things about the TV show to begin with, and there is definitely not enough of it in the show. So seeing it developed more here is fabulous. I think the author did a good job of balancing that with Merlin’s relationship with Arthur as well–the bromance and banter is still definitely present. As is Gwaine’s picking on Arthur, which is lovely and very funny. Overall, Iron Grip is a nicely balanced and very enjoyable fanfic which I would certainly recommend.

Note: You can find Iron Grip at https://www.fanfiction.net/s/8249420/1/Iron-Grip.

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Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth

Author: Frank Cottrell Boyce

Illustrator: Steven Lenton

My rating: 5 of 5

Prez used to live with his grandfather, a crusty old sailor who took care of Prez and told stories about traveling the world. Then, as his grandfather’s memory got worse and worse, Prez took care of his grandfather. That is, until they came and took Prez’s grandfather away and put Prez in the Temporary. Now Prez is staying with the Blythe family on their farm for the summer–trying to help where he can, but not saying a thing. Enter Sputnik: a weird little alien wearing goggles and a kilt who always carries a doorbell with him. He tells Prez that 1) he’s here to look after Prez and 2) they only have until the end of summer to save the Earth. Yikes. On top of that, Prez can’t figure out why everyone just accepts Sputnik’s appearance out of nowhere and is so thrilled when he shakes their hand . . . oh, wait, to everyone else, Sputnik looks like a dog. This is going to be an interesting summer.

Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth is just so utterly zany that I can’t possibly do it justice. It has all the fabulous writing of Boyce’s other books, which I just love. The characters are heartwarming and funny. I really liked the Blythes; they manage to be good people with kind intentions without being an overkill unbelievable foster family. I absolutely adore the way Boyce writes family conversations; it’s like this cloud of sentences competing on the page! And there’s Prez, sitting quietly in the midst of it all. Sputnik’s character is fabulously absurd–he adds quite the wild-card effect to basically everything. Gravity tides, real working light sabers, reverse grenades that put things back together . . . physics does not work normally around this strange being. But I love the way he sees the world, the way things we typically think of as amazing are unimpressive to him, but random ordinary things are important enough to be worth putting on his list to save the planet. He has a way of making you re-think priorities. Basically, Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth is a fabulous, funny middle-grade story, and I would highly recommend it.

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Of Swords and Warlords (Merlin Fanfic)

Author: Jae’s Stories

FanFiction ID: 11300978

Status: Complete (24 Chapters)

My rating: 4 of 5

Warning: Rated T for violence/whump

If only Merlin had been a bit more careful about concealing his magical protection of the king and his knights when they were attacked by the mercenaries. Sure, Arthur and the others had never particularly noticed the falling branches and overheating enemy swords, and sure, these mercenaries weren’t the brightest bunch, but the fact was, they noticed that Merlin had magic. And that was something the self-proclaimed warlord whom they worked for was very interested in. Because magic means power–possibly even enough power to take over Camelot. But he didn’t count on Merlin’s stubborn loyalty, and he made the possibly fatal mistake of underestimating Merlin’s power. Will loyalty be enough to convince Arthur when he finds out about Merlin’s magic, though?

I really enjoyed reading Of Swords and Warlords, and I’m looking forward to checking out some of the author’s other fanfics. This particular story starts out pretty whumpy, so fair warning there. The author does a good job of bringing out the individual characters though, and I really enjoyed the way the reveal was handled. I also found it amusing that this one started out with Merlin being discovered completely by accident–not by some group seeking out the legendary Emrys, not even by someone out to get the king, but by a group of mercenaries who happened to see too much. Throughout the story, there’s a nice mix of humor and caring/protectiveness that goes a long way to balance out the violence and the angst (not that this is that angst-heavy of a piece to begin with). A lot of that comes from Gwaine, naturally; the author does a great job with his character, and I really love the friendship sections between him and Merlin. Incidentally, I also love that he already secretly knows about Merlin’s magic; I’ve seen about a 50-50 split in fanfics regarding this, and it’s always amusing to see which direction an author goes with that.  Other random stuff that I enjoyed in this story includes a country doctor in a small independent village between Camelot and Cenred’s kingdom (not something you see much of) and Merlin’s “sleep-magicing” like some people may sleepwalk or talk in their sleep (not the best way to keep his magic a secret!). As for the writing itself, there are a couple minor typos and a bit of a tendency towards run-on sentences, but overall it flows, is quite readable, and is engaging and interesting. Of Swords and Warlords would definitely be among my recommended Merlin fanfics, and I’m looking forward to reading the sequel (which is currently being released).

Note: You can find Of Swords and Warlords at https://www.fanfiction.net/s/11300978/1/Of-Swords-and-Warlords.

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