Category Archives: Book Review

Oh! My Useless Goddess! (Light Novel)

Author: Natsume Akatsuki/Translator: Kevin Steinbach

Illustrator: Kurone Mishima

Konosuba: God’s Blessing on This Wonderful World, vol. 1

My rating: 4 of 5

When Kazuma Sato’s sad, shut-in life in modern-day Japan ends abruptly–the one time he actually goes out!–he finds himself presented with a most unusual offer. Proceed to the afterlife or life out the rest of his life in a fantasy-like world with the intention of defeating the Demon King who is plaguing the people of that world. Bonus: he gets to request any one special item to bring along. But rather than choosing a normal item, Kazuma picks Aqua, the goddess who is offering him this choice–surely a goddess has some pretty handy stuff when dealing with monsters and such, right? But rather than the glamorous life of fighting monsters with beautiful girls at his side, Kazuma finds himself working odd jobs in the lowest level starter town, fighting animated cabbages, and looking after three relatively useless (although admittedly pretty) girls. Not exactly what he had in mind.

Oh! My Useless Goddess! was an amusing and funny light novel that I quite enjoyed. It falls into the somewhat ecchi shounen genre, but it kind of parodies a lot of the stuff you typically see in that genre. Instead of a protagonist with a lot of drive who keeps getting better, you get a protagonist who’s lazy and average (but manages to be an engaging character in spite of that, surprisingly, perhaps because he’s relatable). Instead of big, glamorous fights, you get slimy frogs, cabbages . . . and the occasional flashy “Explosion” from Megumin. Instead of your typical shounen “harem,” you get a quirky, weird set of girls who are basically hopeless despite having the best possible qualifications and being from impressive classes–okay, maybe that’s not too different from the typical stories in this genre, but still. Aqua, Megumin, and Darkness do have distinctive (read almost stereotypical) traits, but they manage to be interesting characters in spite of that. The plot is funny, largely due to the character interactions and the impossibility of Kazuma’s task in this new world. Plus it was interesting that, while the basic plot device of having a modern-day teen dumped in a fantasy/video game world, this story used a novel method for getting him there. A couple of things I found interesting on a side note: 1) The author mentions that this originally started as a webnovel, which I thought was pretty neat. It’s cool to see web-based stories get picked up by publishers and turned into physical novels. 2) The chapters in this light novel are weird. Meaning that there are only 4 official chapter divisions in the entire book; however, each chapter is divided multiple times into smaller chapter segments. So it works out as though there were several chapters, it just doesn’t look like it at the start. Weird. Well, this light novel is weird in general, but in a fun sort of way. Recommended for those who enjoy the genre in general, mostly.

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House of the Dead

Author: Elizabeth Wilson

My rating: 5 of 5

She knew she shouldn’t approach the derelict old house. Everyone knew it was abandoned–probably haunted too. But Blake Callaghan’s curiosity is just too much, so she scales the wall and wanders through the overgrown, unkempt garden towards the house. You can imagine her surprise when she encounters an old man in the garden; so very old he is. He introduces himself as Mr. Donn and begins to tell Blake stories, wondrous stories of the Sidhe, of changelings, and of the Dullahan. Stories of the brevity of life and the certainty of death that change Blake somehow in the hearing of them.

House of the Dead is an incredible novella/short story collection that I would highly recommend to anyone who enjoys fantasy or mythology. It pulls from old Celtic legends, but presents the tales in a fresh, insightful way, uniting the individual stories within Blake’s story and making them part of a greater whole. I first discovered the author through her Merlin fanfics, writing under the pseudonym Emachinescat; they are wonderful, and I fell in love with the author’s writing then. This novella displays the same brilliance, but perhaps even more finely crafted. There is both a richness of imagery and a sparseness of dialogue in this book that is unusual, I think, and I found it oddly moving. There were several times when the stories moved me to the point of chills, and by the end of the novella, I was crying. The perspective on life and death offered here is truly powerful, echoing the Doctor’s idea that “we’re all stories, in the end” and the desire to really live life to the fullest, to write a good story with your life. As I said, highly recommended.

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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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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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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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First Test

Author: Tamora Pierce

Protector of the Small Quartet, vol. 1

My rating: 5 of 5

A decade after the kingdom of Tortall decided to accept girls to train as knights instead of just boys, ten-year-old Kel becomes the first girl to actually apply. Inspired by tales of the Lioness’s valor and already skilled through her training in the Yamani court, Kel is determined to succeed and become a knight of Tortall. But she is shocked when Lord Wyldon, the training master, puts an extra requirement on her that the boys don’t have to fulfill: her first year is a probationary period, and only if she satisfies him at the end of it will she be allowed to stay on as a knight-in-training. Hurt and frustration are barely the beginning of what Kel feels, but her time with the Yamanis has also trained her to hide her emotions and press on through unrealistic expectations, deep-seated prejudice, bullying, and social rejection until she proves herself.

First Test is such a great reminder of just why I love Tamora Pierce’s books so much. It’s this fabulous mix of fantasy and slice-of-life, encompassing bits of school story (the majority of the tale), culture and history, exciting battles, amusing relationships with various animals, and growing friendships among many other things. Plus it’s an excellent look into changing perspectives on what women are capable of and that whole dynamic. Kel is a powerhouse, incredible character–the perfect individual for this particular story. Her story is so similar to and yet so different from Alanna’s in the Song of the Lioness Quartet that it’s quite interesting to compare the two. And knowing that Kel has Alanna’s secret backing is fabulous. But seriously, I love Kel’s stubbornness and determination, the way she works so hard to get where she wants to be. And the way that she’s quiet and feminine–which is partly stubbornness in the face of opposition itself–but is also ready to get into fistfights when necessary also contributes to a richness of character. Plus her friendships with all the various animals and her  intentionality in standing up for those who are weaker and afraid. She’s just a very well-realized and fascinating character, and I love that about her. I also really love her opinionated and chatty mentor Neal as well–also a richly developed and complex character who is quite likeable. It’s been entirely too long since I’ve read these books, and I’m greatly anticipating re-reading the rest of this quartet. I would highly recommend both First Test and the rest of the quartet to . . . well, basically anybody who likes a solid fantasy. As far as appropriate age recommendations, this quartet (like the Song of the Lioness books) is difficult to place, but I would say that First Test at least is appropriate for middle-grade and up (possibly even older elementary). Just be warned that the later books in the quartet grow up as Kel grows up, so there may be some more mature content there.

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