Category Archives: Book Review

The Grand Tour: of The Purloined Coronation Regalia

Authors: Patricia C. Wrede & Caroline Stevermer

Cecelia and Kate, vol. 2

My rating: 4 of 5

Following their weddings, cousins Kate and Cecy–along with their husbands Thomas and James and Thomas’s mother Lady Sylvia–embark on a grand tour of the Continent, a honeymoon to be remembered. Or, well, that’s what it was supposed to be. And it certainly is. Memorable, that is. Nearly from the start, the party find themselves confronted with strange happenings–mysterious visitors, falling ceilings, magical illness, secret messages, and strange magical rituals performed in ancient ruins, among others. Certain that something odd is going on, they begin investigating, because really, could these people ever leave something that intriguing alone?

The Grand Tour proved a solid follow-up for Wrede and Stevermer’s first volume, Sorcery & Cecelia, although with some marked differences. If I could compare the first volume to Howl’s Moving Castle, then The Grand Tour could better be compared to one of Elizabeth Peters’s Amelia Peabody stories, just with magic. The dates are completely off, of course, as is the location, but the whole well-to-do British travelers in foreign parts getting involved in mysteries and intrigue involving some antiquity or the other? Definitely fits here. As for the writing, this volume is told more as journals or memoirs as opposed to letters, so the tone is a bit different–actually quite a bit, really. There’s a touch of dissonance at first, to be honest, like the authors are figuring out who their characters are all over again when seen in this different light. After that first bit, though, you get to see more of the characters’ individualities coming through, you get more facets to them than might have been seen if this were also told as correspondence. And the characters are, well, quite the characters. Without the decorum demanded by Regency-era society, they might be quite shocking, and even while attempting to exercise decorum, they push the bounds at times. But in a very enjoyable sort of way. On the whole, I quite enjoyed The Grand Tour and would recommend it to those who enjoy Regency-era stories, historical fantasy, and intrigue.

 

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The Demon Prince of Momochi House (Manga)

Mangaka: Aya Shouto

Status: Ongoing (currently 12 volumes)

My rating: 4.5 of 5

When she turns sixteen, orphan Himari Momochi mysteriously receives a will stating she’s inherited her family’s ancestral home, Momochi House. Not that she thinks to question it much; it’s a true windfall, and she cheerily packs her bags and sets off into the mountains to move in. Only, once she arrives, she finds this mysterious boy Aoi is already living there, claiming to be the house’s guardian, along with a variety of yokai. Because apparently the house is on the border between the human world and the otherworld, a gateway of sorts. Not one to be so easily discouraged, Himari determinedly declares she’s the house’s landlady and tries to get the squatters to leave . . . only to be confronted with the fact that Aoi literally cannot leave the premises since he’s been chosen as the house’s guardian. Well, Himari’s not about to leave either, even if it does mean she has to share her home and deal with whatever weirdness comes through from the otherworld. And believe me, the weirdness is just beginning.

Personally, I find The Demon Prince of Momochi House well worth reading for the gorgeousness of its art alone, especially the color spreads at the beginning of each volume. Absolutely stunning. As for the story itself, well, I’m almost tempted to think of it as xxxHOLiC lite. You’ve got all these encounters with traditional Japanese yokai and suchlike, as well as other traditional folklore, all set in this mysterious house on the border between worlds. Yeah, sound familiar? But instead of this dark josei sort of flavor, you’ve got something much more traditionally shoujo. Bishounen galore–and it’s only Himari’s fixation with Aoi that keeps this from becoming some kind of reverse-harem situation–for one. A tendency for shoujo tropes, gentle romance, and a generally lighter tone in spite of going to some dark places at times. Oh, and Himari is a pretty classic shoujo heroine–innocent, romantic, stubborn, slightly blonde, and a total do-gooder. But she’s pretty likeable for all that. And Aoi’s mysterious dark past (and sometimes present) kind of counterbalances her air-headed sweetness. Shouto-sensei actually does quite a good job at making the characters more nuanced than you’d expect, especially through their facial expressions. I really love Aoi’s variety of expression in particular; well, I love his character in general, so there’s that too. Currently there’s a lot of uncertainty still as far as where the story will go, but it’s shoujo enough that I’m hoping for a sweet, satisfying end. I’m certainly curious where the story will go from here.

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The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins (Graphic Novel)

Story by  Clint McElroy,  Griffin McElroy, Justin McElroy, & Travis McElroy

Illustrated by Carey Pietsch

The Adventure Zone, vol. 1

My rating: 4 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience, mostly for language

Join brave adventurers, Magnus, Merle, and Taako on their quest to fight goblins, find lost family members, and hopefully survive level one. Observe their sheer skill in BS-ing their way past obstacles–and their attempts to avoid them when possible, except where there’s treasure or items involved. Marvel as their Dungeon Master steps in to clarify the rules. In short, dive headlong into an engaging game of Dungeons & Dragons as an uninvolved observer.

First off, I have to confess that I have never listened to the podcast that this graphic novel is based on (also titled The Adventure Zone). So I’m just coming at this as a D&D player and a casual reader. With that in mind, this graphic novel is basically brilliant. It does a great job of showing you the story that the DM and the players are weaving, but never really lets you forget that this is, in fact, a roleplaying game that’s going on here. As such, there’s some meta kind of stuff that will be amusing to players but that won’t mean much to those who haven’t played D&D at least a little. Not that it wouldn’t be fun for them; there’s just stuff that will be missed. For gamers, I think this will truly strike a chord because it clearly shows oh-so-many of the struggles and quirks one tends to run into while playing and presents them in a humorous way. And yes, this graphic novel is definitely funny in a quirky, snarky kind of way. I liked the art as well; it suits the story nicely and does a great job of presenting graphically what was originally released as audio only on the podcast. Fair warning that there is a good bit of adult language here, as well as some significant violence (like, whole town destroyed violence) which probably shouldn’t come as a surprise, but just putting that out there  in case you either don’t game or come from an atypical group that’s always sedate and polite. Not my general experience, gotta say. In any case, Here There Be Gerblins is definitely a GN I would recommend to fellow D&D players, as well as possibly to those interested in/curious about the game. I’m certainly looking forward to the next volume.

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Sorcery & Cecelia: or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot

Authors: Patricia C. Wrede & Caroline Stevermer

Cecelia & Kate, vol. 1

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Kate has been dragged to London along with her (much more lovely and socially graceful) sister Georgina to be presented to Society. Meanwhile, her cousin (and long-time partner in crime) Cecelia is left in the countryside, staving off complete boredom as best she can. The two quickly begin an exchange of letters, sharing gossip and commiserating with each other’s woes. But somehow the two of them soon find themselves dragged into some inexplicable, magical conspiracy, unsure who to trust or what exactly is happening. But these two cousins are nothing if not sharp-witted, and they quickly begin putting their heads together (through letters sent back and forth) to figure this thing out before either of them ends up in true trouble.

Sorcery & Cecelia is an absolutely charming story! I’ve greatly enjoyed Wrede’s stories before, so that’s not particularly surprising; however, I don’t particularly have a great taste for Regency-era stories, and this most certainly is that. But it just has so much to offer, in spite of that, or perhaps because of. The setting causes so much of the story to be couched in politely-barbed wit, and the effect is quite delightful–reminiscent of The Importance of Being Earnest, I’d say. And the addition of magic to the setting is perfect. Between that and Thomas’s character, there are bits that almost remind me as well of Howl’s Moving Castle (the book, not the movie). The entirety of the story is told in letters exchanged between Kate and Cecy. It’s actually quite brilliant; this book started out as a role-play sort of game between the authors, exchanging letters in character, and sort of just happened to develop into an actual book. Because they’re cool like that. In any case, it works amazingly well. The story starts off a little slow at first, but I found myself quickly falling in love with the cousins’ wit and humor, and as actual plot began really developing, I found myself utterly pulled in. Highly recommended, and I am looking forward to reading the rest of this series.

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Meteor Prince (Manga)

Mangaka: Meca Tanaka

Status: Complete (2 volumes)

My rating: 2.5 of 5

Hako has the worst of luck–pencils breaking, things falling on her, rain beginning just as she goes outside, you name it. So why should it be any surprise when an experiment by her friends in the Occult Research Club leads to a naked alien prince falling on her, claiming she is his soulmate, and demanding she mate with him? Fortunately for Hako, she has awesome friends who manage to convince said prince, Io of the planet Yupita, that he has to win Hako’s love first. Meanwhile, they also convince Hako to try to make him fall in love with her and then make him leave. Of course, with her luck, what are the chances they’ll actually both fall in love for real?

Meteor Prince is not a bad read, but it’s certainly not Tanaka’s best by any means. It’s cute and goofy and hopelessly romantic in a sweet, innocent way (ignore all the nudity and talk of mating; it’s actually pretty clean). But it’s also kind of predictable and tropey. Like, down to the amnesia getting in the way of their love kind of tropey. Io is very reminiscent of Tamaki Suoh is oh so many ways, only with a dark past that never really gets developed much, with less social awareness (le gasp! Is this possible?), and with cool alien shape-shifting abilities. And aside from her bad luck, Hako is a pretty predictable shoujo heroine–innocent, girly, a bit too sweet, but relatively lacking in outstanding characteristics. On the other hand, Hako has a pretty awesome baby brother whose background and character I would have loved to see developed more; we didn’t even get to meet him until partway through the second volume! Probably the biggest pro for this series is actually Hako’s friends in the Occult Research Club–both because they have interesting personalities and because they’re just good friends, which is important. As for the art, it’s cute, pretty typical in style for the author. So yeah, for a cute, short shoujo manga, Meteor Prince will do quite nicely, but it’s not particularly memorable or outstanding.

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Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge

Author: Paul Krueger

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience for language, alcohol use, and mild sexual content

All throughout her school years, Bailey Chen has been a force of nature, succeeding the first time with everything she tries. But after graduating with a fancy business degree, she finds a grating disconnect in her experiences with adult life. While trying to get a “real” job that actually utilizes her (significant) skills, Bailey settles for working at a bar–a job gotten for her by her childhood best friend, Zane, which could actually be a good thing, except for “The Fight” four years ago, since when they haven’t actually really talked. Like, at all. And the fact that he actually looks and acts like an adult now, nothing like the unkempt, goofy boy she remembers. And just to make Bailey’s life even more of a mess, while closing the bar one night, she stumbles on Zane’s secret stash of alcohol, mixes up a drink that has actual magical properties (she’s just a natural like that, remember?), and discovers a whole nasty world of monsters and alcohol-powered magic. And it’s looking more and more like her actually calling is less up-and-coming businesswoman and more magical monster-hunting bartender. Yikes!

Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge is a volume I probably wouldn’t have picked up necessarily on my own (although the cover is distinctly tantalizing, don’t you think?); however, it came to my attention in a Humble Bundle I purchased–the Quirk Books one, surprise there. And you know what? It manages to be surprisingly good. Yes, it’s never going to be great literature, and it’s definitely something of a niche story. But . . . it manages to bring us a quirky, fun new-adult urban fantasy that’s solidly build from start to finish. It delivers an exciting story, some surprises, a messy-cute romance, and a fascinating magic system. Seriously, I think the whole cocktails-based magic thing–and the way the author develops it, complete with extracts from a “reference book” explaining things in more detail–is fresh and engaging. Add to the cool urban fantasy aspect some relatable, interesting characters and a sometimes painfully familiar expedition into the wonderful world of adulting and yeah, you’ve got a pretty neat story. Recommended for those just venturing into the whole adulting thing themselves, as well as for fans of urban fantasy, regardless of age or life experience.

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Tempests and Slaughter

Author: Tamora Pierce

The Numair Chronicles, vol. 1

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Arram Draper is one of the youngest students at the Imperial University of Carthak, sent there by his family to hone his Gift–before he accidentally burns up everything they own! It swiftly becomes clear that his Gift is special, powerful, enough so that he rises quickly through his classes to get special training with advanced teachers, along with his best friends Varice and Prince Ozorne. As if being friends with a prince didn’t come with enough complications on its own. Not to mention the problems Arram gets into once he gains the attention of various gods and other supernatural beings. It’s pretty clear that he will never really fit in, not that he really wants to, but as Arram experiences more of the troubles facing Carthak–the threats to the Imperial succession, the horrific place that slavery and gladiatorial entertainment play in the nation–he finds himself more convinced than ever that he can’t stay in this country, even if it means leaving the people who mean the most to him.

I love Tamora Pierce’s writing, always. And Numair has been a favorite character of mine in her books for quite a while now, so it’s pretty cool getting to go back and get his backstory. Having said that, in the past, I’ve always watched characters grow up into legends in her books, so it’s a bit weird to know the legend first and then go back to that character’s childhood. (He even has a different name as a kid, although we’re already introduced to that fact in some of Pierce’s other Tortall books.) It works though, and I feel like his character is consistent while allowing room for his growth into the adult Numair that we know and love. It’s neat to get a look closer look at Carthak, and at this time period in this world’s history, too, since most of the stories we get are set in Tortall and are a bit later chronologically. As far as the general storytelling, if you like Pierce’s writing, you’ll like this. It’s solid, engaging, character-driven fantasy writing with an easy, gradual pacing, lots of character development, and a unified plot. Lots of room for development in future volumes, too. At its core, Tempests and Slaughter is a school story, so a lot of it revolves around Arram’s classes, teachers, and friendships, as well as a bit throughout about the physical and emotional changes he goes through during this time and the complications of handling that without a real father figure around to talk about it with. So, warnings that there may be some content that’s a bit old for elementary/middle-grade kids . . . okay, considering the exposure Arram has to the gladiator’s ring in later parts, I’d make that a definitely. Recommended for high-school and up, but definitely recommended.

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