Author: Neil Gaiman
The Sandman, vol. 3
My rating: 4.5 of 5
WARNING: MATURE AUDIENCE
A struggling author manages to enslave a muse for his own benefit, inspiring amazing ideas but at what cost? Elsewhere, a stray cat attempts to unite a large enough group of cats to dream the same thing and thus alter reality . . . good luck with that one. Centuries before, Will Shakespeare and his motley band of players perform his Dream for an otherworldly audience. And a woman given transformative powers by the sun-god Ra is cursed to never be truly human again.
I swear, this series just keeps getting better! Dream Country is basically a short-story collection in graphic novel form, featuring four unique stories in which Morpheus is a minor character. All four are strange and unique and kind of wonderful in different ways. Which isn’t to say that they’re all happy and fun; some of them, perhaps even parts of all of them, are dark and pensive. Creative and brilliant, still. My favorite was the one featuring Shakespeare–which incidentally won a World Fantasy Award. The story itself is lovely and strange, and Charles Vess’s artwork is just perfect for it. Actually, Vess’s art is basically ideal for Gaiman’s writing in general, or at least for his fantasy; they mesh ridiculously well. The art for the whole collection is quite nice, although for the last story (the Ra one) I struggled for the first bit to figure out what on earth was actually going on. I think that’s just the story and how strange it is, mostly, though. I would highly recommend Dream Country, both for those who are in the midst of reading The Sandman as a series and for those who are just interested in a collection of independent graphic shorts by Gaiman; I don’t think the previous or future volumes are necessary to enjoy this collection.
Covers & Design by Dave McKean/Illustrated by Charles Vess, Malcolm Jones III, Kelley Jones, & Colleen Doran/Lettered by Todd Klein
Author: Neil Gaiman
The Sandman, vol. 2
My rating: 4.5 of 5
WARNING: MATURE AUDIENCE
After his long absence from the Dream world and his imprisonment in the world of the living, Morpheus returns to Dream to survey his lands, taking stock of those members who are missing and beginning his search for them. Little does he know that some of his younger siblings among the Endless are stirring up trouble for him in secret. Meanwhile, in the human world, Rose Walker is united in England for the first time with her grandmother Unity (a victim of the sleeping sickness that came over so many children for a time) and subsequently returns to the United States to search for her long-lost little brother in hopes of uniting the family. She meets a number of interesting individuals during her search, including Morpheus himself, unwitting that she herself is a dream vortex that he must deal with or risk the destruction of Dream entirely.
Well, I have to say that, although I was not particularly impressed with the first Sandman comic, Preludes & Nocturnes, Gaiman thoroughly made up for the issues I found in that book in The Doll’s House. It made me regret having waited so long to press on with the series. Whereas Preludes & Nocturnes never truly felt like Gaiman’s work, never really set properly (barring that lovely last chapter), The Doll’s House feels throughout like one of his books. It has the right flavor, the right perspectives on things, the right spark that I can’t properly describe; I can only say that it works. The entire volume reads like a novel, having a cohesive plot with multiple, interlacing stories. It also traces back to stories told in the first volume, actually giving them more weight and purpose in my mind. I really loved all the dream sequences that were a part of this book and the way in which they played into the plot. Even more so, I appreciated the way in which the author discussed the ideas of destiny and fate and free will; you would think this theme would be exhausted by now, but it’s something so integral to humanity that perhaps it will always be a pertinent topic. I like Rose’s character as well; she’s got spunk but she’s also kind of broken, and it’s interesting to see that developed. The art is very well done, although still in a very comic-book style that I’m still gradually adjusting to. Fair warning that this is definitely geared for an adult audience and there’s some pretty gristly violence (though not nearly as bad as the first volume) and some nudity here. I definitely enjoyed reading The Doll’s House and am now actually quite looking forward to future volumes of The Sandman in spite of the series’ rocky start.
Covers & Design by Dave McKean/Illustrated by Mike Dringenberg & Malcolm Jones III/Colored by Zylonol/Lettered by Todd Klein & John Costanza
Author: Stephen King
My rating: 4.5 of 5
Clay Riddell has finally gotten his big break, signing a ridiculously good deal for his comic Dark Wanderer as well as a sequel. But his euphoria doesn’t get a chance to last for long as the world around him seems to go mad in a matter of minutes. People lose all appearance of reason, attacking each other, biting, running cars into buildings and people. In the following days, as Clay manages to make contact with a few normal people, it becomes apparent that this madness is linked to using a cell phone . . . and these days, who doesn’t use one? Distraught and desperate, Clay and his new companions, Tom and Alice, begin making their way across country in an attempt to reach Clay’s estranged wife and son–while doing their best to avoid run-ins with those who have come to be known as “phoners”. Especially as the phoners’ behavior becomes increasingly concerning and odd.
Stephen King is an amazing author, and while Cell is probably not my favorite of his books, it is certainly both an exciting and a thought-provoking read. It actually reminds me a great deal of Patterson’s Zoo, only better in every aspect. The idea of someone hacking the cell phone system is both chilling and just possible enough to get under the reader’s skin, however improbable the reprogramming of millions of people’s brains using such a signal is. I admired that King limited the story, kept it to a select group of individuals, kept the reader from knowing everything that’s going on, and never revealed the actual source of the problem. It made Clay and his companions’ experience seem much more present and real, more emotionally gripping. And this is certainly an emotionally loaded story, full of adrenaline and horror and sorrow and worry, but also of affection and laughter and joy, surprisingly enough. I enjoyed the characters and found that each brought something indispensable to the story. On a much more detailed note, I loved the allusions to Clay’s comic and his attention to signage and fonts (which is carried through by using different fonts in the text at key moments); I just found that this added a nice extra touch of character development. For those interested in a chilling cyberpunk zombie story that’s a bit open-ended, I think Cell is a great choice, one I would certainly recommend.
My rating: 4 of 5
Have you ever seen the little girls of the forests, alone and beckoning? Hopefully you never will. But if you ever do . . . run!
The Little Girls of the Forests is a strange but intriguing short story, just the sort that would be perfect for telling around the campfire. Creepy, chilling, unbelievable, but with just enough credible detail to give the reader a moment’s pause. It’s written in a first-person style that almost evokes the idea of a memoir or a research journal–something of the sort of style that writers such as Poe used to employ. The addition of another individual’s “experiences” with the creepy little girls in the story adds authenticity, as do several details that are colorfully thrown in. I know the author personally, so I’m probably biased, but I really enjoyed this story. Plus, it’s super short (seriously, 5-10 minutes to read, tops), so why not give it a try?
You can find The Little Girls of the Forests here on Wattpad.
Publisher: The Impossible Dream
Designers: Epidiah Ravachol & Nathaniel Barmore
Just recently, I was introduced to a rather unique tabletop RPG called Dread. I found this game to be most interesting to play. It involves many of the elements typical to other tabletop RPGs such as Dungeons & Dragons, but rather than using, say, dice for ability checks, players have to pull from a Jenga tower to see if they can successfully complete a task. This makes the game particularly well suited for horror and suspense style stories, since (as you can imagine) the tension builds more and more the longer the game goes on. Also, since a large number of players will likely be removed from the game at some time during play (since your character is removed if you knock down the tower), this is great for one-shots. I think that, while I still prefer a more fantasy-themed longer-duration game, Dread is pretty interesting for something different on occasion. If you like tabletop RPGs at all, I think it would be worth trying at least.
For more information, you can check out The Impossible Dream’s Dread page here or their WordPress blog here. Enjoy!
Author: Isaac Marion
My rating: 3 of 5
He can’t remember being alive. Can’t remember who he was, the people he knew, or even his own name, except for maybe the first letter of it was “R”–that’s what he goes by when he’s called anything. Whatever he was, not R is part of the problem that’s destroying the earth, an inevitable, creeping undeath afflicting the human race. Not that he’s very philosophical about all that besides aimlessly collecting old records when he can find them. Mostly he’s just there, except for when the need for life energy pushes him to hunt down the living–not that he’s particularly philosophical about that either. But on one hunt, when R eats the brain of a boy, he vicariously experiences numerous memories of one living human girl . . . Julie. Who just happens to be in the same room and in extreme danger of being eaten herself. Surprisingly, instead of turning around and doing just that, R finds himself inexplicably protecting her, taking her back to his secret place. And in the nearness of Julie, R finds something happening in himself that can only be described as miraculous. . . .
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked up Warm Bodies. Zombie story, obviously, but those come in all shapes and colors, you know? This one turns out to be a fun little paranormal romance, so if you’re into that genre, this story’s a pretty sure hit. Personally, I enjoyed it, although it wasn’t life-changingly stunning or anything like that. Probably the best part of it is the way the author described being a zombie from R’s own perspective–effective while also making it quickly apparent that R is not your average zombie. The zombies Marion depicts here are your slow, inevitable, relatively stupid variety, with a few quirks unique to this story. Pretty chilling for sure. Julie is a good match for the story, with enough guts and personality to brighten the dull landscape. There’s a nice blend of plot between the survival aspect, the change the world aspect, and the romance itself. Where the story fell a bit flat for me is in the explanation the author picked for how and why the zombie problem started and spread to begin with–and flowing from that, how the problem is solved. Don’t get me wrong, it works with the plot and works well. But it was one of those situations where it’s nearly impossible to suspend my disbelief enough to appreciate what’s happening in the plot. But then, the romance and the way everything works with R and Julie was always the point of the story, not the particular zombie mechanics. So, for what it is–a zombie paranormal romance–Warm Bodies works well and is a cute/creepy story that I would recommend for those who enjoy the genre. Just be warned: gory anatomical pictures at the chapter heads . . . just saying.
Author: Robin McKinley
My rating: 5 of 5
Rae’s mom would be perfectly happy if her daughter spent her entire life being your average barely-graduated-high-school baker with a slightly bad-boy boyfriend (maybe husband at some point)–and she would especially be happy if Rae completely avoided all contact with or allusions to her dad’s entire side of the family with their dangerous magic handling. As a matter of fact, Rae (or Sunshine as she’s known to just about everyone for her obsession with sunlight) would have been just as happy to make giant cinnamon rolls and millions of muffins for the rest of her life too. But things change, and one evening’s drive out to the lake (which should have been perfectly safe) leads to a traumatic encounter with a group of vampires, and perhaps more significantly with herself and her own latent, untrained powers. And suddenly, Sunshine’s life is irrevocably changed in more ways that she even realizes.
Sunshine is pretty much one of my favorite books ever–one of those that I’ve read so many times that I only let myself read it every few years anymore. I mean really, awesome urban fantasy, vampires, and cinnamon rolls–what’s not to love? Plus of course, Robin McKinley is an incredible author; one of the best, in my opinion. The flow, the language, the atmosphere, the characters, and the interworkings of all the tiny details of this story are just perfectly crafted to work together and really allow the reader the fullest possible experience of Sunshine’s story. I love Sunshine’s character. It’s not often that I find a brassy, relatively-uneducated character like her that I really relate to, but she’s pretty much wonderful and so human. I also find it fascinating that McKinley is basically re-telling the story of Beauty and the Beast (for the third time) in this book–using a vampire as the Beast! That’s pretty novel, I must say, but it works brilliantly, especially in the setting she’s built here. Also notable, if you’ve read many of her other books, this one’s a bit racier than most–sex comes up multiple times throughout, and there’s some more adult language at places as well–so I’d say this is a 16+ (although I was definitely younger the first time I read this, and was duly shocked at times. Oops.). For adults who enjoy vampire stories (in a non-Twilight sense, promise) and even more for those who like solid urban fantasy, I think Sunshine is an incredible story that I wish a lot more people would read. Highly recommended.