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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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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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Hurt and Comfort in Camelot (Merlin Fanfic)

Author: PenPatronus

FanFiction ID: 8759369

Status: Complete (49 Chapters)

My rating: 4 of 5

You guessed it: here we have a collection of hurt/comfort short stories set in the Merlin-verse. I’m not even going to attempt a summary proper, since the stories are unrelated for the most part, some even contradicting others in the collection. But basically, this is a miscellaneous group of short stories, drabbles, and a few multi-chapter fics (“Throw the Boar”! :D) focusing mostly on Merlin and Arthur, but also including the knights, Gwen, Gaius, and a few other canon characters. The flavor of the stories is generally focused on hurt/comfort, but there’s a nice mix of really dark stuff (lots of angst and even a couple of deathfics–fair warning) mixed with some lighter bromantic, humorous pieces that are pretty cathartic. Also, there are several reveal fics included–again ranging from insanely dark to kind of amusing–and a good bit of whump (again, fair warning).

I love short stories, and I love Merlin . . . so what’s not to love about a collection such as Hurt and Comfort in Camelot? The stories were interesting, developing themes that I enjoy seeing in Merlin fanfiction while also presenting ideas in a different light and providing fresh, interesting scenarios. The writing itself was quite good–very readable with solid grammar and a pleasant style. The author’s understanding of the characters and portrayal of their relationships and personalities was spot on and fun to read, even when it broke my heart or made me cry . . . and there were times that it made me laugh as well. I liked that balance, even though the primary focus of the stories was generally a bit on the darker side. I would definitely recommend Hurt and Comfort in Camelot to Merlin fans just about across the board, but especially for those who enjoy hurt/comfort stories (obviously) with significant themes of angst, friendship, and bromance.

Note: You can find Hurt and Comfort in Camelot at https://www.fanfiction.net/s/8759369/1/Hurt-and-Comfort-in-Camelot.

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The Swamps of Sleethe: Poems from Beyond the Solar System

Author: Jack Prelutsky

Illustrator: Jimmy Pickering

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Past the outer reaches of our solar system lie wonders the likes of which you could never imagine. But beware! Not all of those wonders are friendly, and some are downright deadly . . . planets that make you laugh yourself to death, giant demon birds, a beholder who waits in silence with one solitary, staring eye. Scary stuff.

The Swamps of Sleethe does something most unusual–it combines the dark cautionary tones of older fairy tales with the chilling horror of a good ghost story with an absurd Seussical element. All in a variety of verse forms. And manages to do it well! I actually quite enjoyed this strange collection of children’s poetry. It’s obviously tailored to appeal to a middle-grade audience, but I enjoyed it as an adult as well. Fair warning that basically all of these poems are describing strange ways to die on equally strange and impossible planets. It’s all pretty macabre, but as with Last Laughs, it’s in  a darkly humorous sort of way that’s actually kind of appealing. (Or maybe I’m just a terrible person and they’re not really funny at all.) The last poem was kind of a sucker punch to the reader, but a timely one that made the whole volume all the more powerful and striking. Ooh, and the illustrations that accompany the poems are just fabulous–interesting color combinations and weird but fascinating designs that I really liked. I wouldn’t say that The Swamps of Sleethe is for everyone, but if you enjoy a bit more macabre sense of humor, this could be fun. Or if you’re a parent/teacher who’s having trouble getting a middle-grader to read poetry, this could be a good option to try; they might actually find it enjoyable!

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Little Robot

Author/Illustrator: Ben Hatke

My rating: 4.5 of 5

A box tumbles out of a moving truck, only to be discovered by a little girl exploring outside. She opens to box to find a little robot, just the right size to be her friend. These two develop an understanding and a growing friendship, although like any friends they must work through their share of misunderstandings. All is not well, though, as those that made the little robot come searching for it–whether or not it’s willing to go.

The creator of the adorable Zita the Spacegirl has brought us another excellent children’s graphic novel in Little Robot. This is a perfect story for basically anyone; it’s charming, creative, simple, yet engaging. It would actually make a pretty solid easy-reader for children learning to read for themselves. Most of the text is reasonably simple–I actually love that in a few instances where a more difficult concept was being expressed, Hatke actually used a picture in the text bubble rather than trying to use too many words to explain or worse trying to oversimplify the idea. There’s a mild amount of peril, but the ending is happy and satisfying. The little girl in this story (who is never actually named) seems to only be about 5 or thereabouts, although she’s surprisingly precocious in some ways for that age. She’s got a fun personality. Also, points for making her not white and giving her a wrench to carry around and fix stuff. The art in this whole story is Hatke’s typical style–in other words, it’s fabulous. The colors, the lines, the textures, and the angles are all just perfect. Basically, I loved Little Robot and would highly recommend it to anyone of any age.

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