Editor: Kazu Kibuishi
My rating: 4.5 of 5
Perhaps it’s a place where festivities turn to horror. Or maybe it’s a place where stories are broadcast from all over, where magic is made. It may not be an actual place at all, but rather something symbolizing our sense of self. Whatever the case, the idea of a lost island, isolated and strange, is tantalizing and full of equal parts fear and wonder. Come and see what’s there to find.
I’ve read one volume of Kibuishi’s Explorer series previously, The Hidden Doors, which I quite enjoyed. The Lost Islands brings a similar experience–a collection of graphic shorts by a variety of authors/illustrators, all somehow connected by the titular idea. It’s great to see the immense variety that is presented in this collection. You’ve got light, fluffy pieces and scary, adventurous stories and even one that’s contemplative and psychological. All in all, it’s a good selection; I don’t think there was a single story I didn’t enjoy. The art is all excellent, again with a good bit of variety between styles. The stories are generally middle-grade appropriate, but recommended for basically all ages, in my opinion. I especially appreciate that the stories aren’t just existential occurrences; they focus on ideas such as hard work, self-awareness, being true to oneself, and the importance of being a good friend. I would definitely recommend Explorer: The Lost Islands, and I look forward to reading more by the authors/illustrators represented here.
Contributors: Jake Parker, Chrystin Garland, Jason Caffoe, Dave Roman, Raina Telgemeier, Braden Lamb, Michel Gagné, Katie Shanahan, Steven Shanahan, Eric Kim, Selena Dizazzo, & Kazu Kibuishi
Authors: Jenny T. Colgan, Jaqueline Rayner, Steve Lyons, Guy Adams, & Andrew Lyons
My rating: 3.5 of 5
Professor River Song. The mysterious woman who traipses backwards through the Doctor’s life, growing younger even as he grows older. Archaeologist, psychopath, convicted murderer. Child of the TARDIS. A veritable lifetime of spoilers and secrets and untold wonders. Little surprise then that her diary is her closest and best-guarded confidante. And luck those who get to sample its contents.
The Legends of River Song is a collection of short stories set in the same universe as Doctor Who, but focusing particularly on the fabulous Professor River Song. I believe (haven’t taken the trouble to go back and check) that they’re all written as though taken from the pages of her diary; at any rate, the memorable ones were. The collection is quite a mixture of tales, but I think all will appeal to those who enjoy Doctor Who and River’s character in particular. “Suspicious Minds” by Jacqueline Rayner was probably my favorite Doctor/River story both because the story was interesting and, even more so, because she nails the characters of Eleven and River so well, particularly the unique dynamic between the two. (And it’s really interesting to have Eleven described through River’s eyes!) “Death in New Venice” by Guy Adams and “River of Time” by Andrew Lane were both excellent just River stories that flesh out her character nicely. “A Gamble of Time” by Steve Lyons is, while scientifically paradoxical, quite an interesting and exciting story as well. Personally, I found “Picnic at Asgard” by Jenny T. Colgan to be the big disappointment of this collection (which is really tragic, since it’s the first story in the volume; don’t be discouraged, and push past it). Mostly, I felt that Colgan just missed River’s character, perhaps only by a hair, but enough for the story to feel off the entire time I was reading it. Still, overall The Legends of River Song is a nice little collection that I enjoyed and would recommend.
Editor: Kazu Kibuishi
My rating: 4 of 5
The great thing about doors–and perhaps the scary thing, too–is that you never quite know what might be behind them. Just look what Lucy found when she opened the wardrobe doors to play hide-and-seek! In this collection of graphic shorts, we find (and open) doors in closets and in tombs–even in the mind itself!
I have loved Kibuishi’s Amulet books, so I was very curious to see what sort of collection he would pull together. And I must say, I very much enjoyed this collection. There’s a lot of variety, but the “hidden door” theme ties the stories together nicely. There are funny stories, and thought-provoking stories, and wonder-filled stories–and maybe they’re all a little bit of all of those. In any case, they share a beauty, charm, and warmth that is quite delightful, one that can be appreciated by everyone from grade-school kids to adults. Definitely recommended–especially for those who would like to try out the writing styles of different graphic novelists.
Contributors: Kazu Kibuishi, Jen Breach, Jason Caffoe, Steve Hamaker, Faith Erin Hicks, Douglas Holgate, Johane Matte, Jen Wang, Mary Cagle, Denver Jackson, & Noreen Rana
Author: Lish McBride
My rating: 4.5 of 5
Matt didn’t have many friends when he was little. Actually, Ashley might have been the only person who he really clicked with, ever. That is, until she died. . . . But recently, she’s been coming around to hang out again–as Death, or as she says it, as a Harbinger. Whatever that actually is. Not that Matt actually has a clue what she does as a Harbinger. But this evening, on a trip to a diner for waffles, he might just get to find out.
Okay, so clarifications first. Necromancer isn’t actually a novella; it’s a short story “Death and Waffles” along with previews of two of McBride’s other books. The short story is a tie-in to Lish McBride’s amazing story, Hold Me Closer, Necromancer. I really enjoyed the short story. You see a good bit of Ashley in the other Necromancer books, but this story shows a bit more personal side of her. It’s nice to see more than the Harbinger in the school-girl uniform who demands payment in waffles . . . well, okay, some things never change. Point is, I love McBride’s writing and her characters. They’re fun to read, and they’re memorable long after you’ve finished reading. Plus, Necromancer is a great chance to give her writing a try at minimal risk–you can pick it up for free on Nook or Kindle (probably elsewhere too). Definitely recommended.
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.
Author: Neil Gaiman
Illustrator: Teddy Kristiansen
My rating: 4.5 of 5
A hard-boiled detective investigates the legendary case of Humpty Dumpty’s murder. A boy wanders off along the railroad tracks and has a close encounter with a troll under a bridge. Another boy finds himself at the wrong party, where the guests talk about the strangest things. An intergalactic scam artist tells the tale of one of his greatest cons. And a group of jaded epicureans bemoan that there’s nothing new for them to taste . . . until one of their members mentions the legendary Sunbird. In other words, pure literary magic.
In the spirit of Ray Bradbury’s classic children’s book R Is for Rocket, Neil Gaiman pulls together a collection of his short stories that seem well suited to a younger audience, and publishes them together in one neat volume, M Is for Magic. I love it. These tales are some of Gaiman’s best short stories, whatever the age of the reader. They evoke the things I love best of his writing–the wit, the magic, the amazing literary style that is both captivating and easy to read. One thing I found unique about this collection (as compared with his adult short-story collections) is the picture it gives of growing up in the sixties. Probably an unexpected but natural result of most of the stories being written in respect to the author’s own childhood, but there’s an authenticity to the feel of that era as demonstrated in these stories that’s really neat to read. I do have to warn: while a more child-friendly collection than his others, there are still a few things in these stories that might be a bit old for some children. Generally speaking, I’d say this collection would be best for a 12 and up audience. Whether you’re looking for a fun fantasy/sci-fi short story collection for a kid you know or you’re interested for yourself, I think M Is for Magic is a choice that’s, well, magical.
Author: Alice Hoffman
My rating: 4.5 of 5
On the outskirts of a small town just off the shores of Cape Cod sits a small house known to the locals as Blackbird House. Lovingly built by a fisherman–for his wife to live in while he went to sea–in the early days before our country was an actual country, the house has seen numerous inhabitants over the years. Each family has had its own story, and each story has left its own unique mark on the land and the house, connecting the lives lived there across the ages, memory upon memory.
Blackbird House is a welcome, although unexpected, collection of tales centering on a small cabin near the shore. I guess I ought to expect this sort of work from Alice Hoffman, but she still has the gift to surprise me–which is actually really nice. Every tale in this collection was enjoyable in its own right, and seeing the connections between them made them even more interesting. Not that there are particular thematic connections or anything that direct; there are all sorts of stories and characters here, everything from sweet, unexpected romances to heartbreaking tragedies to tales of ungrateful modern youth. No, the connections are more subtle than that, motifs that carry throughout: the sweet peas and the pond behind the house, the white blackbird that haunts the house, red shoes (a sure sign of witches!), that sort of thing. I loved the slice of history that’s presented here, ranging chronologically from early settlement days all the way to very recent years. Yet spun throughout the history is a feel of fairy tales that gives a different weight and experience to these stories, making them timeless in a unique and beautiful way. Blackbird House is definitely an adult collection, but for adult readers–whether your preference is historical fiction, short stories, or even fairy tales–I think this book has something unique and special to offer that is well worth reading.