Tag Archives: contemporary

Overtime (Novelette)

Author: Charles Stross

The Laundry Files, vol. 3.5

My rating: 4 of 5

Lucky for him (ha), Bob has pulled the distinct privilege of working the night watch at the office over the Christmas holiday–by virtue of being out sick while everyone else was putting in their vacation requests. Go figure. Oh well, theoretically, it should be a boring job sitting around babysitting a phone that never rings . . . unless the unthinkable happens. But then, considering Bob works for a secret government organization whose sole purpose is protecting the world from the things that go bump in the night and considering his stellar run of luck so far, why shouldn’t the unthinkable happen, right?

When I picked up Overtime, I was definitely expecting the fabulous combination of eldritch horror and office mundanity that it offered. What I wasn’t expecting was the Christmas theme. And yet, it works marvelously, providing a delightful comedy-horror plot that ties this little novelette together brilliantly as Bob deals with temporal anomalies, an eldritch interpretation of Santa Claus, and the challenges of fighting back the apocalypse using only office supplies, used Christmas decorations, and leftover treats from the office Christmas party . . . theoretically the last Christmas party the Laundry will see if the predictions offered by a Mr. Kringle (that only Bob can even remember now) are to be believed. The writing offers the same engrossing, droll style found in the earlier Laundry books (and yes, I would recommend reading at least The Atrocity Archives first for some context),  but with a slightly more story-based focus and with less techno-babble . . . probably due largely to the short length of the story. Recommended for those who enjoy a sardonic tone and a solid urban fantasy and/or comedy horror story.

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Laid-Back Camp (Manga)

Mangaka: Afro

Status: Ongoing (currently 4 volumes)

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Rin loves solo camping, and even though she’s only in high school, she’s already made numerous camping trips on her own. The quiet, the beauty of the scenery, the delicious camp food . . . it’s all quite enchanting. On one camping trip, Rin encounters another student, Nadeshiko, who is about as bubbly and enthusiastic as Rin is calm and collected. Yet the two quickly form a fast–if unusual–friendship, texting back and forth, trading camping advice, and sending pictures of places they’ve gone. Sometimes they even go camping together with Nadeshiko’s outdoor club from school, which is fun too, if a different sort of fun from the camping to which Rin is accustomed.

Laid-Back Camp is a very unusual but charming manga. It’s very chill–the “laid-back” in the title is quite appropriate. There’s a seinen flavor to the story, even though the main characters are all high-school girls. And it’s a very cute, fun story revolving around Rin and Nadeshiko in their separate camping-related endeavors (Rin’s solo camping trips to fabulous locales, Nadeshiko’s goofing around with her school club, shopping trips to camping supply stores, and group camping trips) while also developing the unusual friendship between these two. The other side of this manga is that it is, in fact, a camping manga. Which doesn’t mean you have to like camping or be interested in it to enjoy the story; it’s cute and fun either way. But if you are interested, the manga actually provides a lot of information–comparing camping supplies based on cost and utility, describing various sorts of campsites, even going over camp-friendly recipes. It’s pretty cool, giving lots of info without obnoxiously overriding the story. I’ve really enjoyed reading Laid-Back Camp and look forward to reading future volumes of it.

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Abigail and the Snowman (Graphic Novel)

Author: Roger Langridge

Colorist: Fred Stresing

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Nine-year-old Abigail is having a rough time adapting, what with moving to a new home, adjusting to a new school (in the middle of the school year!), and having her dad being so busy with trying to find a job. He can’t even keep their tradition of going to the zoo for her birthday this year! But things begin to look up when Abigail runs into Claude one day at the playground and promptly decides he’s going to be her new best friend. He’s in need of a friend himself, what with being a yeti, escaped from a government research lab and on the run. Good thing adults can’t see him (although kids can, which quickly makes Abigail popular with the other kids at school); only, the people from the government have special equipment that can find him, and they’re closing in fast.

Abigail and the Snowman is quite the unusual graphic novel. For one thing, although it is most definitely a graphic novel in the way it’s set up, I’m also inclined to compare it to a comic strip (because of the art style) and to a picture book (because of the intended demographic and the sort of story it tells). It’s really cute–definitely a feel-good, happy ending kind of story. I feel like it expresses the challenges of a single-parent family going through a difficult move very well–both from the kid’s perspective and from the parent’s–while still giving us a loving, functional family relationship. It also shows a good development of real friendship and loyalty, especially as both parties are brought to the point of making choices that are sacrificial for themselves for the safety and wellbeing of their friend. I would generally say that the intended audience is elementary grade (depending on their tolerance for a certain amount of violence/scariness; parental discretion advised as there are bad guys with guns involved in the story), although middle-graders would probably also enjoy the story. It’s heartwarming enough to be fun in a different way for grownups as well.

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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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The Trash Krakken (Graphic Novel)

Created by: Thomas Astruc

Miraculous Adventures, vol. 1

My rating: 3.5 of 5

In this adorable graphic novel, it’s business as usual for Paris’s favorite superheroes. Hawkmoth’s sending weird akumas after their miraculous. Chloe is being a spoiled brat. Master Fu is wise and enigmatic. Chat Noir is hitting on Ladybug. Marinette still can’t speak to Adrien without turning into a beet-red, stammering mess. Oh, and the superheroes of America are calling these two heroes in as backup against a creepy monster that’s terrifying New York City.

In The Trash Krakken, we are given new stories that are very much in keeping (generally speaking) with the original cartoon version of Miraculous Ladybug. The stories, villains, and sometimes settings are new, but the style, the age level, all of that sort of thing are consistent. You even get the set phrases and transformation sequences from the cartoon, just in graphic novel format. I do think that the second half of this book, featuring the story set in New York, is a bit different in style, but it’s neat in that Chat Noir and Ladybug are still very much in their usual character, and the different setting only serves to emphasize the cool aspects of said character. The art style is very cute. I admit, I don’t care for the art in the prologue (although the story is cute), but after that, it settles into the style featured on the cover which, while a bit “looser” and “sloppier” that I typically prefer manages to be pretty adorable, dynamic, bright, and fitting with the characters and the story. Recommended, and especially nice if you’ve got younger readers who like the show and/or want to read more graphic novels; it’s actually age-appropriate for anyone who’s old enough to watch the cartoon.

Written by Nolwenn Pierre, Bryan Seaton, Nicole D’Andria, Thomas Astruc, Mélanie Duval, Fred Lenoir, & Sébastien Thibaudeau/Illustrated by Brian Hess/Lettering by Justin Birch/Coloring by Darné Lang

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The Case of the Unwelcome Owl (Sherlock/Harry Potter Crossover Fanfic)

Author: FayJay

AO3 ID: 120495

Status: Complete (oneshot)

My rating: 4.5 of 5

John Watson finds himself awakened in the middle of the night by the looming form of his flatmate Sherlock Holmes at his bedroom doorway . . . demanding John hand over his gun to him. Because apparently, there’s an owl in the flat, and Sherlock wants to shoot it. And oh, look, there’s a fancy envelope the looks an awful lot like a wedding invitation that definitely shows signs of being held in said owl’s beak (John’s been learning to pay more attention to the small details). Only, since when do owls deliver correspondence? And who on earth would be brave enough to invite Sherlock to their wedding?

Oh my, The Case of the Unwelcome Owl was a delightful find for me. Basically, Sherlock receives a wedding invitation from his cousin Luna Lovegood, and John finds out about the whole wizarding world and (yay!) gets to meet Luna. Bordering on crackish (okay, it may have tipped rather far past the border at some points), it manages to be a charming character study. Really, as John says once he figures out what’s going on (sort of), it explains so much! And while it is remarkably quirky, this story also manages to be true to the characters in the essence of who they are, even while bringing in some very unorthodox backstory. I actually quite loved the way the author brings out the characters’ personalities through all sorts of little details, as well as the way the plot unfolds gradually with Sherlock holding on to his secrets as much as he can. On a side note, crossing other fandoms over with Harry Potter is basically the most done thing in the world . . . but this managed to be something unique and special. I love Luna, and she really doesn’t get enough attention–she’s got so much potential as a fanfic character, too, as is clearly shown in this fic. Also, kudos to the author for bringing so much humor into this story; The Case of the Unwelcome Owl had me laughing at every turn. Definitely recommended.

Note: You can find The Case of the Unwelcome Owl at https://archiveofourown.org/works/120495.

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White Collar (2009-2014 TV Series)

USA Network

Status: Complete (6 seasons/81 episodes)

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Notorious con artist and forger Neal Caffrey has been caught again after escaping from a high-security prison with only months to go on his sentence. Caught, no less, by FBI agent Peter Burke, the only one who has ever been able to get in Neal’s head and track him down. Now, Neal has talked Peter into making a deal, letting him out of prison on an ankle tracker for having him help Peter on his cases. An insider’s view, if you will. And although trust between them comes at a premium for a while, these two unlikely partners quickly develop a close working relationship and one of the highest close rates in the bureau.

White Collar is one of those shows that I would have (did, actually) write off as another of those boring police procedural shows–probably still wouldn’t have watched it if it weren’t for some awesome fanfic writers who love other shows that I enjoy also writing fic for this one. And I am so glad that I decided to give it a try. (And not just because Matt Bomer’s gorgeous, although yes, he is that.) Seriously, the show manages to be smart and funny and angsty and full of the best sort of bromance. It wrestles with issues like trust and true friendship. The characters grow and develop over the course of the show. And they’re pretty awesome right from the start, whether you’re talking about Neal’s suave, smart, sharp-dressed culture or Peter’s baseball-loving, down-home feel that will surprise you with moments of absolute brilliance or Mozzie’s conspiracy theories and undying friendship or Elizabeth’s warmth and insight. I can honestly say that I fell in love with these characters within the first episode, and that love only grew with time. The bromance between Neal and Peter warms my heart, the way they pick at each other incessantly, yet have each others backs when it counts, the adorable little-boy smiles they get when they’re together. It’s fabulous and heartwarming. The individual episode plots are more your standard procedural stuff, but they manage to be smart and interesting, allowing the characters’ individual traits to shine and grow, while also mixing in bigger long-term plot elements in the midst of each individual episode’s plot. I would highly recommend White Collar, and not just to those who like police shows, but to those who enjoy intrigue, great characters, bromance, angst, high-class suits, and guys who look great in them.

Created by Jeff Eastin/Produced by Jeff Eastin, Jeff King, Mark Goffman, Nick Thiel, Margo Myers Massey, Matt Bomer, & Tim DeKay/Starring Matt Bomer, Tim DeKay, Willie Garson, Marsha Thomason, Tiffani Thiessen, Natalie Morales, Hilarie Burton, Sharif Atkins

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