Artist/Author: Jesper Ejsing
My rating: 5 of 5
Right from the moment I first opened the package containing Elsewhere, my first thoughts were “gorgeous” and “stunning.” The book itself is large and thick enough to have an impressive heft to it. And the cover is the breathtaking painting of a white dragon just lightly looking back at you with a faint smirk. And that’s honestly a good barometer for the rest of the volume. In this beautiful artbook, we are given over 400 pages of absolutely wonderful fantasy art. And right from the start, the author invites us to take the journey into his imagination alongside him–introducing the reader to his method and giving short explanations of the origins of and his feelings about certain works. What a journey, too! Here we see dragons (lots of impressive dragons), watch fierce battles, encounter a variety of strange beings in various habitats, and discover terrifying monsters.
Throughout, I’m impressed by . . . well, a lot of things actually. The sense of movement that Ejsing captures in his paintings, for one. He mentions in here that he tries to capture that moment where the outcome is undecided, where you don’t know who wins, and I feel that is done quite well. The sense of focus and balance is also impressive, feeding into that sense of motion and giving it order and meaning. And that is where these paintings really begin to truly come together and shine–because each one is telling a story, inviting us into a world only the artist can otherwise see. And the characters depicted in the paintings are full of personality and emotion, from their nuanced facial expressions to the movement of their limbs to the widely varied clothing that adorns them. The variety and sheer depth of imagination that is presented here is also impressive, and I have to admit that as a gamer, it will likely provide inspiration to me for years to come. Because so much of this work is tied to fantasy worlds that I know and love, like D&D and Pathfinder, worlds that Ejsing clearly has a passion for as well. My sole complaint about this book is that in a few rare instances, with the two-page spreads, there were some details lost in the centerfold, including important details like the faces of some individuals. But honestly, that is such a minor thing compared to how truly fabulous Elsewhere is as a whole, that it hardly bears mentioning. This is an artbook that I would definitely recommend, particularly to fans of fantasy art and to gamers. And hey, it would make a gorgeous coffee-table book for those of the geekier persuasion!
NOTE: I received a free review copy of Elsewhere from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review, which in no way affects the contents of this review.
Author: Stephenie Meyer
My rating: 2.5 of 5
You’re likely all familiar with the story of Bella and Edward, star-crossed lovers who obsess over each other–one human, the other vampire, a love-story fraught with complications. But what if, perhaps in another universe, things had been just a little different. What if Bella had been a guy–Beau–and Edward a girl–Edythe? Would fate have still drawn them inexorably together? And would their choices lead them to the same conclusion? This is Beau and Edythe’s story.
Having just read (and enjoyed) Meyer’s The Chemist, I decided to (finally) give Life and Death a try. And I have to say that, having read Twilight a few times in the past, the experience of reading this book was immensely strange. I guess I was expecting something along the lines of a retelling–you know, the same concepts, but genderbent and retold. This is more like a genderbent manuscript rewrite with an alternate ending. There are areas where awkward phrasings were corrected, certain concepts were delved into more, obvious changes due to the altered gender of the characters . . . but there are also huge swathes of story that are exactly the same, down to memorable phrases being word for word. None of this is exactly bad, but . . . it also feels kind of cheap to be marketing this as a whole new book, you know? I did enjoy the alternate ending, and I think it was fitting. And yes, the gender swap did make the romance less weird and creepy that it was in Twilight, I guess. But on the whole, I honestly wasn’t super impressed. I probably would have liked Life and Death a lot more if I hadn’t read Twilight first, so there’s that . . . if you haven’t read either and are interested in trying one, this one is probably the better book. Otherwise, not particularly recommended; it was okay, but just generally a strange reading experience.
Author: Charlaine Harris
Sookie Stackhouse, vol. 1
My rating: 3.5 of 5
Warning: Mature Audience for sex, language, and violence, although it’s all relatively minor
In a lot of ways, Sookie Stackhouse is your average small-town Southern girl with strong ties to the community and a good job waitressing in a local bar. Oh, and a knack for reading people’s minds, which, not so average I guess. She calls it her “disability,” and although Sookie never talks openly about her gift, it’s given her a bit of a local reputation; “crazy Sookie” they call her. Of course, their opinions only seem more justified when vampire Bill Compton comes to town and Sookie–rather than running the other way like any sensible girl–starts dating him. And when the bodies of other girls in similar blue-collar jobs start piling up . . . well, the community starts to get nervous.
Cozy mystery meets vampire romance in this first installation of Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse series. I wasn’t sure quite what to expect from this book, since I basically just had the cover, the fact that it seems fairly popular, and the knowledge that it was filed in the science fiction/fantasy section to go on. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised, although this isn’t exactly what I would typically pick up to read. The author does a brilliant job capturing small town Southern U.S., from the fine rules of polite behavior to the pine pollen that is ubiquitous in its season. Being a girl with small-town Southern roots myself, I was surprised at how well this aspect was depicted. The plot element of having vampires being “out of the coffin” as it were, being accepted as legal citizens, was pretty fascinating and led to some different potential plot directions that your average vampire story where they live in hiding and so much of the plot is just keeping their secret. But still, as much as I hate to do so, there’s a sense in which I have to compare Dead Until Dark to Twilight. Not in like a one-of-these-stories-was-copied-from-the-other sense; it’s just that with vampire romance stories, there are certain tropes that seem to keep coming up. The nice girl getting dragged into a dangerous life, the mysterious boyfriend, the shapeshifting (usually werewolf, so the change-up here was nice) other guy, the other (more dangerous) vampires coming around and causing trouble. Not saying any of that’s a bad thing–they’re tropes for a reason–but still. The romance was a little more that I would typically read; that’s probably one of the reasons this wasn’t so much my favorite story. Still, it was within acceptable bounds for the most part. As for the mystery aspect, it was a pretty typical small-town murder mystery, mostly notable for the fact that it was mixed with a vampire story at all. On the whole, Dead Until Dark was an enjoyable, quick read with good pacing and a great depiction of small-town life that I would recommend for those who enjoy both sexy vampire stories and a good mystery.
Author: Grace Ellis
Illustrator: Shae Beagle
My rating: 4.5 of 5
Julie lives in a world where magic and mundane go together seamlessly–for instance, her best friend and fellow barista Chet just happens to also be a centaur. Or at least Chet was a centaur, until they tagged along on a date with Julie and her new girlfriend Selena to a back-alley magic show . . . where the magician stole their magic and left them a normal human. Horrors! Now the friends are on a mission to trap this magician and get Chet’s magic back before any more magical people are hurt.
Moonstruck was one of the sweetest, most charming graphic novels I’ve read in a long time. Right from the start, the cute art and pastel palette are just delightful. Add in the marvelous variety of character designs, not only in the main characters but also in the background, and you’ve got a story that’s visually engaging and charming. There’s a huge amount of diversity presented here, too, but (major kudos to the creators) in a way that feels natural and relatable, not forced or contrived. The characters are who they are, and I love them for it. As for the story, a great deal of it is character building and relationships, both romantic and friendships–lots of great friendships here, and the love story is sweet. Add in the coffee-shop dynamic and some light-hearted humor, and you’ve got a pretty cozy story. But then you’ve also got a certain amount of adventure, as these friends deal with Chet’s loss of magic and their subsequent tracking down and defeating of the magician. It’s a good balance. Probably more than anything, I love the characters and how they deal with real, complex emotions and situations. I love that Julie deals with worries and uncertainty, and I really want to see her backstory explored more in future volumes–like, we know she’s not all about being a werewolf, but why does she not like that about herself? In any case, I would definitely recommend this first volume of Moonstruck, and I’m looking forward to reading more.
Hey guys, just wanted to give a heads up that right now Kodansha is offering a pretty amazing Humble Bundle of fantasy manga. Titles include Land of the Lustrous, Fire Force, Noragami, Mushishi and a number of others–most of them pretty major titles. Even better, each title includes multiple volumes of the manga–up to the first 15 volumes, for Pumpkin Scissors! This is definitely a great chance to try some new manga titles, one I’m certainly taking advantage of myself. If you’re interested, you can find out more here.
Author: Richard Titus
My rating: 3 of 5
An isolated tropical island. A whimsical, incompetent king who just wants to see the world. A mysterious girl. Sea monsters and pirates. Extra-dimensional lizards who may or may not exist. What kind of mad wonder is this?!
You can tell before you even open The Gift of the Quoxxel that it’s going to be a quirky trip. And you would be right in that assumption. This is quite the whimsical genre-mash, with a lot of fantasy but also elements of science fiction and mystery, plus a lot of humor. If you’re a fan so Seussical neologism or Alice in Wonderland-style whimsy, this is the book for you. It’s filled with quirky characters, long strings of alliteration, and plenty of surprises. For myself, I did personally find the surprises to be a bit too obtuse for my taste. It was like the author tried to keep things so mysterious at points that I just found myself getting lost. Not that I get the feeling that everything is supposed to fall into place and be perfectly understood. It’s not that kind of story. But . . . I kind of found myself getting lost in the whimsy at times. Still, The Gift of the Quoxxel was a fun trip, and even better, one that’s appropriate for all ages.
Author/Illustrator: Ben Hatke
My rating: 5 of 5
Julia’s house has just come to town–on the back of a giant turtle!–and settled by the sea. It’s lovely, only the house is too quiet. So what does Julia do? She puts out a sign, an open invitation for the lost, the unwanted, and the unusual to come live with her. And do they ever. Now there’s too much noise and chaos! Good thing Julia knows just what to do.
I have found Ben Hatke’s graphic novels to be utterly charming ever since I first discovered Zita the Spacegirl, and Julia’s House for Lost Creatures is just that as well–utterly charming. Julia herself drew me in right from the start. I mean, she has a house built on a turtle. She enjoys tea and toast in a delightful room filled with all sorts of interesting objects. And when it’s too quiet, her first instinct is to reach out to the lonely and the unwanted. What’s not to love? Plus, she has a sense of order that appeals to me. The way she models good problem-solving skills makes this a great read for kids as well. The general reading level of the story is quite picture-book appropriate, although I have to confess, I had to pull out the dictionary and look up one of the creatures–so it’s not all super-easy, little kid vocabulary either. The art is delightful, similar in style to that of Hatke’s graphic novels. The color palette is lovely–vibrant but still soft and mild–and the use of space and the amount of visual variety is also pleasant, going from full-page pictures to vast amounts of white space with a single picture and a couple of lines of text. There are even a few places where comic-style panels are used. All told, Julia’s House for Lost Creatures is a treat to read that I would recommend for kids and adults alike.