Author/Illustrator: Ben Clanton
Narwhal and Jelly, vol. 1
My rating: 3.5 of 5
Narwhal wanders into unknown waters and meets Jelly–who may or may not be imaginary, but who is definitely a good friend. Together, they do cool stuff like eat waffles (yum!) and make a pod of friends. And even though misunderstandings may sometimes lead to conflict between them, they’re the sort of friends who work things out together and still have lots of fun.
Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea is an weird but adorable graphic novel for younger readers (I would say early elementary, primarily) featuring two super-cute sea pals. It is extremely random and whimsical at times (okay, most all the time), but in a way that’s fun and relatable . . . although it’s still a bit too random for me to be wholly on board with it. I can see it being a really fun read for kids, though. Plus, it includes some fun sea-animal facts and features some helpful conflict-resolution skills–something kids in the primary intended readership definitely need to be exposed to. The art is appealingly simple, although the random (again) photographs of waffles and strawberries throw off the vibe a bit . . . or maybe they make the vibe. I don’t know. A bit weird for my taste, but cute and fun. Recommended for early elementary readers.
Author: Scott Heim
My rating: 3.5 of 5
Three siblings travel back to a hometown they’d left far in the past, glad to forget it except in nightmares. They’re going to bury their father and handle his estate. But before they even get into town, they find themselves confronted with horrors from their childhood and with the guilt of what they had done all those years ago.
Loam is one of those stories that starts out reading like some slice-of-life family-drama sort of thing–relatively innocent and safe for the most part. But as the story proceeds and the author starts unpacking the skeletons in this particular family’s closet, the horror element begins building gradually, atmospherically, until by the time you get to their childhood home, you’re ready for something horrific to jump out at you. Nothing ever does quite jump out, which is almost worse, leaving a slimy feeling that it might at any time. The ending is kind of like that, too–open-ended enough that we don’t know if the horror is actually over or not. I’ve heard some people complain that the story “just ends abruptly,” but I liked the way it left things open for interpretation rather than tying everything up nearly, which I honestly think might have killed the story. Also of note, the author does a fabulous job of giving us a lot of backstory early on, so we’ve got context, without making it an info-dump. There’s a lot of detail woven seamlessly into the story in such a way that it’s just picked up on without even realizing it sometimes. The author also employs an interesting use of flashbacks mixed with the main storyline to give us more information and build the tension. The use of potentially faulty memories adds an interesting sense of uncertainty to the atmosphere as well. I will say that Loam feels like a story that would generally fit better in a short story collection than as a standalone novella, but it was still an enjoyable, eerie read.
Author: Terry Pratchett
Discworld, vol. 1; Rincewind, vol. 1
My rating: 3.5 of 5
Welcome to the Discworld–a world quite unlike our own, in fact, a great flat disc spinning on the back of a giant space turtle. A world where the gods occasionally intervene (for their own amusement), where eight is a dangerous number, and where magic has its own color (octarine, in case you were wondering). Observe, if you will, Rincewind–a failed wizard who really would like to come out of this whole situation alive–and his companion, Twoflower, a the very first tourist in the Discworld–and a daft one to boot. Oh, and of course, the walking luggage that’s tailing Twoflower around, ready to eat anyone who isn’t nice to him. Somehow, these individuals manage to embark on a rollicking adventure (that Rincewind could have done very well without, thank-you-very-much) across the Discworld, inches from death (or, in Rincewind’s case, Death himself) at nearly every turn.
I’ve generally found Terry Pratchett’s writing to be quite enjoyable–very smart and funny or intense and insightful. In this particular case, it tends more to the absurd and clever. This is my first time dabbling in the (admittedly intimidating) Discworld universe. It actually took me a few tries to get into this story, and even at that, it wasn’t one that I could sit down and consume quickly. But I’m glad that I made myself keep reading; definitely worth it in the end, and I look forward to trying more of the series. Right off, you can tell that there’s some impressive worldbuilding going on here–granted, an absurd and logically impossible world, but that’s kind of the point. There’s a lot of cleverness that goes into the world, the word-building, the ridiculous situations that occur. I admit, sometimes it does feel like the author’s so caught up in his own cleverness that the reader gets a bit lost in the shuffle, which is probably part of why I had a hard time getting into the book at the start. The Color of Magic is definitely more world-building and adventure focused than it is character focused, but I did find Rincewind’s character to be interesting; he was definitely growing on me by the end, enough that I would like to read the rest of his sub-series at the very least. Recommended, especially for those who enjoy a touch of absurd humor and sardonic wittiness.
Author: Charlaine Harris
Sookie Stackhouse, vol. 2
My rating: 3.5 of 5
Warning: Mature Audience
Things in Sookie’s life had never been easy, what with her unwelcome gift/curse/whatever of telepathy, but they had definitely taken a turn for the stranger and more complicated once she started dating Bill, a vampire. Although the reprieve his presence gave her mind, what with being unable to read his, well . . . it certainly hadn’t been all bad, not by far. But Sookie’s life shows an extreme run of bad luck as she finds a coworker dead in the parking lot, gets summoned to Dallas to conduct telepathic interrogations, gets kidnapped, is attacked by a maenad, and fights with Bill. Not that she’s about to let all that stop her from investigating her friend’s murder and seeing justice done.
I found Living Dead in Dallas to be a solid follow-up to the first volume in the series, Dead Until Dark. It builds well upon the groundwork that was laid in the first book, developing Sookie and Bill’s relationship, getting Sookie further embroiled in vampire Eric’s schemes, and bringing some new mysteries and dangerous elements to add to the overall intensity of the story. The author does well keeping that small-town Southern girl vibe going, even when Sookie is dumped in the big city of Dallas and expected to manage. We get some solid character development in this volume as well–you’ve got a self-educated, smart woman who is very brave and has strong convictions . . . yet who is also remarkably brittle at times. She’s an interesting character. The story itself is kind of all over the place, but in a way that actually ties together eventually. There’s enough going on to keep things engaging, and the pacing is good. Other than a fair warning that this is definitely an adult book, I would generally recommend Living Dead in Dallas, especially to paranormal romance and mystery lovers.
FanFiction ID: 7968683
Status: Complete (3 chapters)
My rating: 3.5 of 5
Sam’s friends always tell her that she has the worst taste in men. But her newest boyfriend, Dr. John Watson, may be the worst so far. Or maybe the best. She’s not quite sure what to make of him, actually. When she first met him at her job as a bank clerk, he seemed so nice and normal. He still seems nice–polite, compassionate, competent. But he’s competent in the strangest situations. Like, normal people wouldn’t know how to respond in these situations, right? Sam certainly doesn’t, and ever since she’s met John Watson, she seems to keep getting dragged into stranger and stranger situations. And that’s not even taking into account all the people (who apparently know John far better than she does) who keep warning her away from him. Or the tall, dark, and creepy stalker who seems to be following John around everywhere.
I really love scifigrl47’s Sherlock stories in general. They’re well written, have a great sense of humor, and show a thorough and insightful understanding of the characters. The Secret Identity of John Watson in particular is an interesting case because it’s told entirely from an outsider point of view. And it proves a point that the author makes in the story notes quite brilliantly–the lives of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, to anyone not in the know, can only appear horrifying and bizarre. The brilliant thing is how this story makes the point. Sam and her friends are great characters–relatable and human and a great foil for the nearly superhuman existences that are Sherlock and John. And their theories on who John Watson is just keep growing more and more hilariously out there the longer they go. The whole thing is really quite funny. There’s some cute romance here too, although the humor element is certainly a greater focus. Fair warning for those of you who don’t care for OCs: this story is majorly focused on an OC and her relationship with Dr. Watson and Sherlock. Personally, I love outsider POV stories; they provide some great insights into characters that we often have grown too close to for us to see clearly anymore. And The Secret Identity of John Watson does just that to great effect and with great amusement. Recommended.
Note: You can find The Secret Identity of John Watson at https://www.fanfiction.net/s/7968683/1/The-Secret-Identity-of-John-Watson.
Author: Bruce Coville
My rating: 3.5 of 5
Susan is actually excited to be going back to school–mostly because this year (sixth grade) her class is being taught by Ms. Schwartz, possibly the best teacher ever. They’re even supposed to be putting on a play soon, which has Susan’s aspiring actress heart soaring. But when class starts back after spring break, they find Ms. Schwartz gone without explanation and a substitute, Mr. Smith, in her place. Mr. Smith begins to suck all the joy out of learning, and Susan hates the change of teachers. But then she finds out a secret that makes all her previous complaints about Mr. Smith seem insignificant–he’s actually an alien plotting to take a group of children back with him to space to study! Now she’s got to convince someone, anyone, of the truth before it’s too late.
Bruce Coville is a consistently excellent author that I just really enjoy reading. My Teacher Is an Alien is no exception. It captures the environment of a sixth grade classroom, the interpersonal dynamics, and the complications of trying to get adults to listen when you’re that age. And in the midst of that mundanity, you’re introduced to this suspenseful, incredible situation with aliens and force fields and missing teachers. It makes for a great mix. This volume is also kind of nostalgic to read, being written in the 1980’s; it’s kind of nice to look back to a world where you would actually have to bring a camera (using film!) to get evidence, and then wait overnight for it to be developed at the drugstore. There’s just a different atmosphere to stories set (and written) in that time period. I also enjoyed Susan and her friend Peter’s characters; they’re interesting individuals with well-developed characters. In general, the story’s just pretty engaging and fun–recommended.