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.
From Quirk Books, the publishers who brought us such awesome stories as Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, comes a bundle filled with pop-culture fun. You’ve got quirky horror stories, a couple of volumes of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, whole volumes dedicated to pop icons, and a number of survival guides of various sorts. Frankly, this collection looks absolutely quirky and definitely fun. If you’re interested, you can check this bundle out here.
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.
Author: Chauncey Rogers
My rating: 4.5 of 5
Laure hates Éclatant; she can’t wait to get away, just as soon as she can manage to come by (read “steal”) enough money to afford the journey. Seriously, the royalty here are either mad or idiots. Just look at this latest debacle–the prince dances with a girl at a masked party, falls madly in love, the girl disappears, and the prince can’t seem to remember her name or any defining features. But rather than do the reasonable thing and take the girl’s disappearance to mean that she’s just not that into the prince, the king issues a decree: the girl left behind a glass shoe, and whatever girl can be found to fit the shoe will be legally declared to be the girl the prince fell in love with at the party (whether she actually is or not) and will wed the prince. Pure absurdity! But . . . there may be a way Laure can use this to her advantage, if her newly-found concern for her mark-cum-traveling-companion Luc doesn’t get in the way.
What a delightful take on the classic Cinderella story this is! Rather than getting Cinderella’s view at all, we are presented with quite a different, er, well, heroine seems to be stretching it a bit, but she grows into the role rather. Laure is sassy, crabby–and open about it. She’s a girl who once knew a happy home but who lost it long ago, and it shows in the way she’s isolated herself from all close connections, living on her wits and making do as best she can. It’s actually quite vicariously liberating to read from the perspective of such an openly ornery character; she’s rather a delight. Moreover, it’s great to see the way that she grows and changes as a person through her time with Luc and the events that unfold; there’s some huge character development going on there. And the writing itself is just lovely–comfortable to read, humorous, vibrant, and rich. I was very impressed with the story, would certainly recommend it, and am looking forward to trying some of the author’s other books.
NOTE: I received a free review copy of Happily from the author in exchange for an unbiased review, which in no way affects the contents of this post.
Author: John Allison/Illustrators: Lissa Treiman & Max Sarin/Colorist: Whitney Cogar/Lettering: Jim Campbell
My rating: 4.5 of 5
School politics and a mysterious individual who won’t show his (her?) face manipulating the players behind the scenes. Relationship drama on multiple fronts. Camping trips! Old friends stopping in to visit. The wonky world Susan’s brain enters after too many days with nearly no sleep. Find all that and more in the third volume of Giant Days!
As with the first two volumes, volume 3 of Giant Days delivers quite the charming, quirky slice-of-life drama as it looks into the daily lives of Susan, Daisy, Esther and their friends Ed and McGraw. It consistently follows the first two volumes in the delightfully odd look at college life, the relatable and fabulous characters, and the wonderful art that so characterize the series as a whole. I enjoyed especially that the first chapter is an Ed-centric one, giving us a closer look into his life, as well as McGraw’s. Also, although it was totally random, I loved the “Night World” visuals when Susan, and later Esther, get to that point where reality warps due to lack of sleep–the trippiness of the art there is really fantastic. And, while much of the story in this volume is pretty episodic, with the characters kind of scattered at points, the last chapter where the three girls go on a camping trip together loops us back to the beginning, to that wonderful connection and relationship that these three have. This volume managed to be relatable, full of feels, and also laugh-inducingly funny, sometimes within the same page. Recommended. (Warnings for a major cliffie at the end, though!)
Author: John Allison/Illustrators: Lissa Treiman & Max Sarin/Colorist: Whitney Cogar
My rating: 4.5 of 5
The holidays are here! Which means it’s time for the ball–vintage dresses and relationship faux pas abound. Then the university is closed, and everyone is supposed to be at home resting and celebrating with family. But Esther and Daisy received an emergency text from Susan, and they have made their way to Northampton to rescue her, from what, they know not. And when the girls get back to university after the holidays, what awaits but the dreaded exams . . . it would probably help if Esther had actually bothered to attend class for most of the previous semester. Meanwhile, Susan is keeping secrets from her friends, and Daisy has developed a weird Texan alter-ego. Naturally, zaniness ensues.
The second volume of Giant Days follows faithfully in the steps of the first volume, dealing a strong combination of relatable, cute slice-of-life story with some pretty hilarious comedic randomness. I would say that I liked this volume slightly less than the first volume, but that’s a matter of levels of brilliance rather than of good versus not good. The characters are strong, developing their personalities even more and branching out to show us more of each of the girls on their own, while still giving us a good chunk of page-time with them together. (Personally, I would have preferred more time with them together, since that’s when they really shine, but it’s neat to see them developed individually as well.) We also get more involvement and character growth for both McGraw and Ed, both of whom I’m growing to love almost as much as I do Susan, Esther, and Daisy–which is quite an accomplishment. Seriously, at the risk of sounding repetitive, the level of character development for all five of these characters is just stunning. It makes me very happy to read it. So does the art, which is just perfect for the story–bright and expressive and kind of casual. Highly recommended.