Book Review: The Odyssey (Hinds)

December 27, 2010

*ARC Alert*

The Odyssey by Gareth Hinds (based on the epic by Homer) was published October 12th, 2010 by Candlewick Press (hard- or softcover, full-color, $14.99 soft, 256 pages).

No surprises that this one is up for a Cybil–actually, there are two Odyssey retellings on the nominations list, but the other one isn’t as pretty.  And oh, this book is pretty.  I’m fairly sure that Hinds does his art digitally, but it looks like watercolor and he handles it well.  His linework is expressive, his colors set a great mood, and his pacing lays the story out quite nicely.  His text adaptation is modern enough to make comprehension easy, but retains the resonance and power of its mythic origins, and besides that he does a great deal to humanize the characters through dialogue–Penelope, especially, is given more emotional screen time than in other translations I’ve read.

Because of Hinds’ page count and some gore, I’d recommend the other Odyssey graphic novel for younger readers.  This one, however, is great for reluctant teens; in my experience the old stories are among the most accessible, and graphic interpretation and contemporary writing make them more appealing still.

 

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Book Review: The Night Owls (Timony, Timony)

December 17, 2010

*ARC Alert*

The Night Owls by Peter and Bobby Timony was released March 30, 2010 by Zuda Comics (softcover, black and white, $14.99, 192 pages).

A nerdy supernatural detective, a flapper with a mean right hook, and an ever-hungry gargoyle?  Yes, please! The Night Owls combines the tried-and-true aspects of the detective genre with Prohibition-era America, flirty comedy, and light-but-satisfying violence (great taste, less filling!).  Add simple, elegant grayscale art and an original cast of baddies and you end up with a great read for middle-grades and up.  The book ends on a rather sizable cliffhanger, and I’m praying for a second volume.


Book Review: Amulet, Book Three: The Cloud Searchers (Kibuishi)

December 17, 2010

*ARC Alert*

Amulet: The Cloud Searchers (Book 3) by Kazu Kibuishi was released September 1st, 2010 by Scholastic GRAPHIX’ press (softcover, full-color, $10.99, 208 pages).

If you read graphic novels, you’ve probably heard of Kazu Kibuishi–he’s the guy who created Flight (now in its seventh volume and up for a Cybil this year), and he has two books of his own up in the Cybils running as well–Copper, a collection of webcomics about a boy and his dog, and this third volume of Kibuishi’s popular Amulet series.

To start, I would recommend going back and reading the first two books before picking this one up; I tried to get into it as a stand-alone and had very little idea of what was going on (but it’s well worth it to do the extra reading). This volume deepens the story of the elf king’s sinister rule and takes the focus of the adventure to a larger scale than just Emily and Navin’s family.  Moral complexity is also introduced to the adventure, and this measure of uncertainty in the mission serves to deepen the characters and create suspense for the next volume. Kibuishi’s settings are the most beautifully illustrated part of the book, as usual, but don’t distract from the characters, who are illustrated with greater subtlety than in previous books to suit their new depths. Overall, the series continues to improve with each new book. I look forward to the next one.


Abbreviated Review: Zeus: King of the Gods (O’Connor)

October 17, 2010

This first volume of what will be a twelve-book series covers a span of time which begins (literally) at the beginning of everything, brings us through the birth of the Titans and other proto-Olympians, then the Olympian gods, ending with Zeus’ war upon and conquerance of his forebears. A wonderful, thorough, and well-researched collection of Greek mythology that can be understood by any age on some level. O’Connor obviously knows what he’s talking about, and presents the gods as they really were– highly flawed characters who stand somewhat apart from concepts of morality. Wonderful, expressive artwork, as well. Highly recommended for interested kids and adults alike.

 


Book Review: Infinite Days (Maizel)

July 22, 2010

*ARC alert*

Infinite Days by Rebecca Maizel will be released on August 3rd, 2010 by St. Martin’s Griffin (Trade Paperback, $9.99, 320 pages). It is the first in the Vampire Queen series and Maizel’s debut novel.

Like the “dog books” from my previous post, “dark” teen dramaromances have a certain formula– an awesomely hot and probably well-off teen girl, attending high school and possibly haunted by her dark past, falls for the hottest, most elite guy at school. He reciprocates. At least one of them is a vampire/faery/something hot and supernatural. The by now well-established minigenre includes books which I actually enjoyed, like Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely, and a lot that I didn’t, e.g. the Twilight series and Alyson Noel’s Evermore. Infinite Days, admittedly, falls under that category and shares some of its flaws.

On the other hand, its premise is completely original and quite interesting– after 500-odd years of terrorizing the general populace, Lenah Beaudonte decides that vampirism holds only illusive charms and seeks a way to regain her humanity. After a hundred years of hibernation and a ritual that involved the self-sacrifice of her best friend and lover, she wakes up in the year 2010 and finds herself needing to learn how to be human again in a new and confusing century.

Lenah herself makes for a strong and often funny voice that I was able to connect with emotionally. Though she seemed at times to be a bit too capable, I surprised myself by liking her– she didn’t take the angsty, desperate tone of so many dramaromance “heroines,” and I’m willing to believe that a 592-year old can handle a lot. Her story, too, was well-though out and engaging, though it dragged the tiniest bit toward the end of part one. Overall, I loved her discovery of day-to-day existence and the backdrop of flashbacks to vampire life and lore that she contrasted it with.

I did suffer from some Pretty in Pink syndrome with this, though. You know, where by the end of the movie everyone in the room is going “No, Andie! You have to choose Ducky!” I found myself biased against Lenah’s love interest, Justin, perhaps because he was the Edward of this story (in role only, thank the gods). Personally I liked Lenah’s friend Tony a lot more, but I can’t complain too much since Maizel did give sufficient support for the romance and lack of it, respectively, and didn’t try to run with it too badly.

And as my final point, I want to say that this read like the first novel it is. I don’t mean that in a bad way; Maizel is obviously worthy of having been published and will no doubt have several more books ahead of her. What I mean to say is that you can tell just by reading it that this is her breakout book; the ideas are fresh and vibrant, but the prose is somewhat rough, even choppy in places. I have every faith that she will improve with practice.

So. Go ahead and pick this one up for its original take on the vampire mythos and likable main character, but be ready to accept that it’s a long read for its 320 pages, and that it does contain elements of established stereotype in the romance aspect of the plot. I would nevertheless recommend it to fans of the genre and perhaps those looking for a good book to introduce them to dark teen dramaromance hibbijabba (a genre that really needs a better name than I am providing).


Book Review: Shadow Bound (Kellison)

June 2, 2010

*ARC Alert*

Shadow Bound will be released June 29, 2010 by Dorchester Publishers (Mass Market Paperback, $7.99 on Amazon). It is Erin Kellison’s debut novel.

Twenty-six years ago, the spirit called Shadowman fell in love with an ailing woman who lived only long enough to bring his daughter into the world. Six years ago, Adam Thorne’s brother used monstrously inhuman abilities to murder his parents. The events seemed unrelated from the outside. But when Adam, now head of the Segue Institute founded for the study of wraiths like his brother, goes looking for Talia O’Brien, expert on near-death experiences, he finds that the young anthropology PhD is something wholly outside of human or monster. She, too, has been affected by the growing menace of the wraiths, but this can’t account for her ability to wrap darkness around herself like a cloak and sense the thoughts of others through touch. Adam had wanted her for her expertise, but she might just be the weapon that he needs.

I picked this book out to read because I love the idea of Talia’s heritage and the powers she inherited from it, and for the first half of the book or so I immersed myself happily in Kellison’s rich descriptive pose and driven characters. Talia and Adam were both decently-developed, and carried most of the story without too much help from side characters. I liked them each well enough alone, until they started getting to know each other.

Almost as soon as they were in a room together and conscious, the two had the hots for each other. Well, okay, they’re both attractive adults– they’re allowed. What bugged me was the fact that this instant desire didn’t abate at all for the entire book and kept cropping up at inappropriate moments. Talia is complaining about having to save Adam’s ass? I don’t need to hear that it is a very fine ass indeed right that second. It also seemed somewhat improbable that Talia would be a powerful supernatural being, incredibly hot, and a doctor– this wasn’t a huge issue, but maybe Kellison should have picked two out of the three. I wouldn’t have minded if Talia was only decently attractive, since that would have made more sense in regards to the fact that she seems completely unaware of her own magnetism.

For all that they found each other so attractive that they couldn’t concentrate on much else without mentioning it from time to time, the pair had a lot of issues to iron out. It seemed like every time they bonded over something, they would instantly find a reason to shut each other out and feel bad about it, and themselves. For the most part these were reasonable things to have problems with, but they were repeated ad nauseam in a way that made me feel as if the entire relationship was a step forward and a step back over and over. This pretty much sums up my problem with Shadow Bound— it’s a great premise with suitably scary villains and a good high-stakes quest, but little flaws in and between the characters become progressively more irritating as time goes on and make it harder and harder to enjoy the book. By the end, I wanted to take Talia, Adam, and their ill-timed sexual urges and dump them all in a lake.

My last, smallest complaint– and this much I admit is me being a literary snob –is the fact that the author on several occasions drew connections between Talia and “Sleeping Beauty”. This was barely connected to the plot at all, and was more of a side note for interest, and the earliest version of “Sleeping Beauty” that I know of is called “Sun, Moon, and Talia.” However, the casual way in which Kellison mentioned this makes me think she’s never read “Talia,” as the story itself is one of the most morally perverted pieces of folklore I’ve ever read. If you want to see what I’m talking about and don’t mind a little gouge-your-eyes-out fairy-tale fun, you can read it here.

My final word on Shadow Bound: pick it up for an interesting mix of dark fantasy and modern fairy-tale, but only if you don’t mind a few character flaws that really should have been ironed out.

This book contains explicit sexual content.


The Massive Comics Feature

May 31, 2010

It has come to my attention that I have a bunch of drafts for posts about comics series sitting around cluttering up my to-do box. Thusly, I have decided to combine them into one massive post which will feature all of my favorites briefly and will probably end up being longer than my ridiculously long post about The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest.

Mmm, cheesecake.

My secret shame first– Witchblade. Top Cow’s flagship series has been running since 1995 and is one of those series which features a main character who is an impossibly thin, hot woman who, in addition to being liberated and independent, spends an improbable amount of time near-naked. The plot is nothing special, a great concept confusingly carried out with the occasional added complaint of redundancy. It’s something you read and like despite knowing that you shouldn’t, like Twilight (okay, well, let’s not get crazy; it isn’t that bad). There’s a little bit of police procedural, a little bit of history of the Witchblade, a lot of conspiracy, a ton of irrational mood swings on the part of Sara Pezzini, the lead… and a lot of Sara being naked and having the Witchblade (barely) cover her moneymaking parts for her. Way to stay classy, Top Cow.

After shelling out sixty bucks for the compendium of the first fifty issues, I can tell you that nowhere in there does Sara get any real answers about what the Witchblade is or what it wants. Every time she seems to gain a modicum of control over her sentient weapon, that disappears a few pages later with no explanation. And whenever she kills a bad guy they seem to come back to life with no explanation somewhere down the line. Oh yes, and every couple of issues there will

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