Dragon’s Green: World-building, Magic and Bookishness…

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dragon's green

Dragon’s Green by Scarlett Thomas.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 24th May 2017.  RRP: $19.99

When you churn through as many books as I do during a year (and even I have to admit that my reading is a tad excessive) it’s rarer and rarer to come across a story that feels truly different.  Particularly in the middle grade fantasy bracket, it’s safe to say that many stories follow similar themes, tropes and imaginings.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – we all love a story with familiar themes and fantastical worlds whose workings are easy to understand – but whenever I come across a book that feels a little different, there’s always a spark of excitement that flares to life in my stony chest.  So it was with Dragon’s Green by Scarlett Thomas, which we received from Allen & Unwin for review.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

‘Some people think opening a book is a simple thing. It’s not. Most people don’t realise that you can get truly lost in a book. You can. Especially you. Do not open any of these books without my permission, Euphemia.’

Effie is a pupil at the Tusitala School for the Gifted and Strange. When her grandfather becomes ill she discovers she is set to inherit the family library. The more she learns about it the more unusual it is. Before she knows it, her life is at risk from dark forces from this world and beyond, intent on using the books and the power they contain.

With her grandfather gone and the adult world ignoring her, can her unreliable classmates help save her life?

Packed with puzzles, curses, evil nemeses and a troupe of beguiling heroes, Dragon’s Green is an adventure novel for children about the nature of magic.

This blurb is a little misleading, because it makes Effie’s story sound just like every other hero of every other middle grade fantasy ever written.  There are multiple ways in which Dragon’s Green sticks out from the pack and I will detail them now for you (you’re welcome!).  First up, the blurb makes no mention of the world in which Effie lives.  The story is set firmly in a world very like our own…however it is a speculative world (of the future?) in which a Worldquake – like an earthquake but affecting the entire globe at once – has knocked out the internet and general access to electricity and everyone is now reliant on archaic technologies to communicate (hello walkie talkies!), conduct research and generally get along.  This worldquake and its effects are mentioned a number of times, but we are never privy to its causes or its place in the scheme of this world.  I expect this will be expanded upon in further books.

Then there’s the Otherworld.  There’s the Realworld (our world, Effie’s world, for want of a better term) and the Otherworld.  The Otherworld runs on magic and renewed access to it has some connection to the Worldquake, but this connection is not entirely clear.  Again, I expect this will become more apparent in later books.

The Realworld and the Otherworld exist independently to each other for the most part, unless an individual has the ability to perform magic.  In this aspect, the book takes a bit of a Potter-esque approach, in that magic is known about (on some level) by non-magical people, but not talked about.  The world of those possessing magic is complex.  There are multiple roles or talents that the magically endowed could be born with – mage, witch, hero, warrior, healer, scholar – as well as magical objects (called boons) that can enhance the abilities of the magical.

Finally, the link between the Realworld and the Otherworld has a strong dependence on BOOKS!  (Hooray!)  Books (certain books, not every book) provide a portal to the Otherworld for certain readers and as such are sought after by the Diberi, a sect of magical individuals who wish to harness the power of being the Last Reader of certain books.

Have I convinced you yet, that this isn’t your average “kid-discovers-they-have-magic-powers-and-embarks-on-an-action-packed-and-mildly-humorous-quest-to-save-the-world” story?

Dragon’s Green felt refreshingly grown-up in its approach to the narrative.  Effie is not hapless and bumbling, stumbling upon the answers as she develops her power and a belief in her own abilities.  She is confident, innovative and knows when to delegate.  The four supporting characters, who throughout the story grow to become friends, have backstories that are explored in enough depth to make the characters seem authentic and their motivations believable.  There are multiple plot-threads that interact with and affect each other and far too many puzzles have been raised in this initial book to be resolved by the end of the story.  Essentially, the story feels like it comes with a history that we don’t necessarily know yet…but it will be revealed by the end of the trilogy.

This book was a bit of a sleeper for me.  I was interested from the beginning, but I didn’t really appreciate the originality and complexity of the story until I was deep into the final third.  Dragon’s Green is a book that celebrates thinkers of all persuasions, not those who rush into situations with reckless abandon.  Even the warrior character is clearly a lad with the brains for strategy and a backstory to hint at more depth than one would expect of a rugby-playing troublemaker.  I also absolutely loved the way that another supporting character, Maximillian’s, talents have been revealed here and the hint that good and evil are not necessarily clear cut.

As an aside, the dustjacket of the hardback edition that I received had a little sticker proclaiming “This Book Glows in the Dark!” so I checked and it does.  When left in a dark room, the cover turns into a delightfully atmospheric green overlay featuring the moon and the book title.  Unusually, this edition has gorgeous illustrated endpapers inside a misleadingly plain purple cover.  Nice touches, I thought, and ones to make this book a keeper.

It took me a while to come to this decision, but I have to nominate Dragon’s Green as a Top Book of 2017 – it’s got too much going on to be left languishing with your common-or-garden middle grade fantasy.

top-book-of-2017-pick-button

Do yourself a favour and grab a copy today! Or, you know, once pay day rolls around.

Until next time,

Bruce

A Collection of DNFs…

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did not finish button

It’s time for another round up of books I have recently lain aside.  Given that I now have a default policy of not finishing books that I lose interest in, I unsurprisingly find that I DNF a lot more books than I did previously.  I certainly don’t feel guilty about this, but I do like to make you aware of some of these books because even though they didn’t hold my attention, it doesn’t mean they won’t hold yours.

First up, we have Rotherweird by Andrew Caldecott which we received for review from Hachette Australia.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The town of Rotherweird stands alone – there are no guidebooks, despite the rotherweirdfascinating and diverse architectural styles cramming the narrow streets, the avant garde science and offbeat customs. Cast adrift from the rest of England by Elizabeth I, Rotherweird’s independence is subject to one disturbing condition: nobody, but nobody, studies the town or its history.

For beneath the enchanting surface lurks a secret so dark that it must never be rediscovered, still less reused.

But secrets have a way of leaking out.

Two inquisitive outsiders have arrived: Jonah Oblong, to teach modern history at Rotherweird School (nothing local and nothingbefore 1800), and the sinister billionaire Sir Veronal Slickstone, who has somehow got permission to renovate the town’s long-derelict Manor House.

Slickstone and Oblong, though driven by conflicting motives, both strive to connect past and present, until they and their allies are drawn into a race against time – and each other. The consequences will be lethal and apocalyptic.

Welcome to Rotherweird!

I started off very much enjoying this one but made the decision to lay it aside at chapter seven, after 133 pages.  The narrative style was engaging, the characters quirky and there was a twist quite early on that I didn’t expect that opened up a completely new direction for what I thought this book was going to be.  By chapter seven though, I was having trouble keeping the characters straight and remembering exactly who was who and who was allied to whom and things were moving just a little too slowly to encourage me to keep on plodding away.

I do think this book has a lot of potential for presenting an original story, but I didn’t have the concentration required at this point to make a framework for what was happening as I read.  This one will definitely appeal to those who enjoy small-town intrigue, historical mystery and other worlds rolled into one.

Next, we have nonfiction zombie explanatory tome, Living with the Living Dead: The Wisdom of the Zombie Apocalypse by Greg Garrett, which we received for review from the publisher via Netgalley.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

When humankind faces what it perceives as a threat to its very existence, a macabre living with the living dead thing happens in art, literature, and culture: corpses begin to stand up and walk around. The dead walked in the fourteenth century, when the Black Death and other catastrophes roiled Europe. They walked in images from World War I, when a generation died horribly in the trenches. They walked in art inspired by the Holocaust and by the atomic attacks on Japan. Now, in the early twenty-first century, the dead walk in stories of the zombie apocalypse, some of the most ubiquitous narratives of post-9/11 Western culture. Zombies appear in popular movies and television shows, comics and graphic novels, fiction, games, art, and in material culture including pinball machines, zombie runs, and lottery tickets.
The zombie apocalypse, Greg Garrett shows us, has become an archetypal narrative for the contemporary world, in part because zombies can stand in for any of a variety of global threats, from terrorism to Ebola, from economic uncertainty to ecological destruction. But this zombie narrative also brings us emotional and spiritual comfort. These apocalyptic stories, in which the world has been turned upside down and protagonists face the prospect of an imminent and grisly death, can also offer us wisdom about living in a community, present us with real-world ethical solutions, and invite us into conversation about the value and costs of survival. We may indeed be living with the living dead these days, but through the stories we consume and the games we play, we are paradoxically learning what it means to be fully alive.

I put this one down after 40% simply because I felt the author had done his job too well, and I had heard enough on the topic that I agreed with.  The book highlights the ways in which the imagery of the undead often accompanies moments in history that trigger instability and a sense of doom.   The book focuses on different aspects of the human experience that are highlighted by the zombie apocalypse narrative – the strength of community, for instance – and does this by examining the themes and events common to various iconic zombie-related pop cultural phenomenon of recent history.  These include The Walking Dead, Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead and the satirical Shaun of the Dead.  I imagine hardcore fans of these stories will get a new perspective as they watch after reading this book.  Even though, of the shows featured, I had only seen Shaun of the Dead (and that a long while ago), it didn’t hinder my engagement with the points the author was trying to make.

The author himself notes that he makes some of his points from a Christian perspective and while this didn’t bother me particularly, it may not be to everyone’s taste.   The biggest problem I had with the book was that the author made his point so well during the introductory first chapter that I didn’t really feel the need to read to the end of the book!  If you have a burning interest in pop culture phenomena and how these influence and in turn, are influenced by wider world events, you should find something to keep you amused here.

Next is The Book of Whispers by Kimberley Starr, a historical YA fantasy novel that we received from the publisher via Netgalley.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Tuscany, 1096 AD. Luca, young heir to the title of Conte de Falconi, sees demons. the book of whispersSince no one else can see them, Luca must keep quiet about what he sees.

Luca also has dreams—dreams that sometimes predict the future. Luca sees his father murdered in one such dream and vows to stop it coming true. Even if he has to go against his father’s wishes and follow him on the great pilgrimage to capture the Holy Lands.

When Luca is given an ancient book that holds some inscrutable power, he knows he’s been thrown into an adventure that will lead to places beyond his understanding. But with the help of Suzan, the beautiful girl he rescues from the desert, he will realise his true quest: to defeat the forces of man and demon that wish to destroy the world.

When I requested this I remember thinking, “Should I?” and it turns out I probably shouldn’t.  I put this down at 11% simply because I felt there was too much telling, with a first person narrator, and not enough showing, and the narrative style was quite staid, as it often is with historical novels of this era.   I was quite interested in the demon element, but after 10% of the story the demons haven’t done anything except hang around and so my interest wasn’t piqued in the way that it might have been.  If you enjoy historical fiction set in the medieval era this may be more to your tastes than mine.

Finally, we have early chapter book Clementine Loves Red by Krystyna Bolgar which we received from the publisher via Netgalley for review.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

It’s the end of the holidays for Mark, Annie and Pudding (real name: Derek). clementine loves redThey’ve
spent the summer in a cottage on the edge of a forest in the countryside, but they haven’t had any really exciting adventures to tell their classmates back at school…

Until, on their final visit to see the Frog King of a nearby pond, they find a frightened young girl crying in the woods. The curiously named Macadamia tells them she has lost Clementine, and so the three children set out on a quest to find her.

But they are not the only ones looking for Clementine, and a storm is approaching, bringing with it a night full of surprises…

I’ve only just now noted that this story is actually a translation from the original Polish and that knowledge beforehand would have gone a long way to atoning for some of the oddness of the story.  I put this one down after 37% simply because I was a bit bored and couldn’t really be bothered ploughing on to the end.  The story is straightforward enough, though the translation has rendered the narrative style a bit too offhandedly, in that the characters don’t seem particularly invested in finding the mysterious “Clementine” or even having discovered a kid named Macadamia in the woods.

The illustrations are simple line drawings and didn’t add much to my reading experience.  I think this was just a case of reader and story not matching up and I’m sure others will enjoy this lighthearted adventure.

So there you are: four books that I decided not to finish.  Have you read any of these?  Do they sound like they might be your cup of tea?  Let me know!

Until next time,

Bruce

Getting in Sync with Pratchett: The Wee Free Men…

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the wee free men

Well, it has finally happened; that which I was despairing of ever occurring has come to pass: I have read a Terry Pratchett book all the way through and enjoyed it!  Hurrah!  I know I’ve said it before on this blog, but even though Terry Pratchett is the kind of author that I should automatically adore, given that I enjoy funny, subversive, slightly silly fantasy tales, I haven’t ever gelled with any of his books for some reason.  Finally though, it has happened.

We received this new release edition of The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett, being the thirtieth in the Discworld series and the first book in the Tiffany Aching five-book series, from the publisher via Netgalley and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Tiffany wants to be a witch when she grows up.

A proper one, with a pointy hat. And flying, she’s always dreamed of flying (though it’s cold up there, you have to wear really thick pants, two layers).

But she’s worried Tiffany isn’t a very ‘witchy’ name. And a witch has always protected Tiffany’s land, to stop the nightmares getting through.

Now the nightmares have taken her brother, and it’s up to her to get him back.

With a horde of unruly fairies at her disposal, Tiffany is not alone. And she is the twentieth granddaughter of her Granny Aching: shepherdess extraordinaire, and protector of the land.

Tiffany Aching. Now there’s a rather good name for a witch.

This particular edition of The Wee Free Men is being marketed as a middle grade story, hence the middle-grade-ish cover design, but I can’t imagine many a middle grader will take to Pratchett’s style of humour much and would prefer to stick to thinking of this book as an adult fantasy fiction tale.  I have found when reading Pratchett before that I really enjoy the first few chapters and then my interest tapers off, but with this story I maintained my interest throughout…mostly.

Tiffany is an independent sort of a nine-year-old, having grown up under the influence of Granny Aching, the previous witch of the Chalk and owner of two fantastic dogs.  Tiffany feels the pressure to be as savvy and wise as old Granny Aching was, but senses that she doesn’t quite have the stuff to be the next Chalk witch…well, not yet anyway.  Once the Nac Mac Feegle – little blue crazy fighting men with thick accents – become involved however, Tiffany discovers that she’s going to have to get her witch on whether she likes it or not.  Add to that the fact that a fairy queen has scarpered with her younger brother and you’ve got the makings of an adventure to remember.

I can’t say exactly what it was about this story that made it different from others of Pratchett’s that I haven’t been able to get through, but I did enjoy Tiffany’s independence mixed with her completely understandable anxieties about becoming a witch while having absolutely no witchy skills to speak of.  I did lose interest a little during the parts set in the fairy world – I find hearing about dreams tedious at the best of times and this section was set entirely in a selection of dreams – but overall I found the story engaging enough that I looked forward to getting back to it.

I can now safely put the others of the Tiffany Aching sequence on my to-read list, although I’ll take things slowly.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Spellslinger: Magic, Cards and Deadly Talking Squirrel Cats For The Win!

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spellslinger

It’s not often I run across a YA book with such original world-building, so I’m just a little bit excited to be sharing Spellslinger by Sebastien De Castell with you today.  We received our copy from Allen & Unwin for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

“There are three things that earn you a man’s name among the Jan’Tep. The first is to demonstrate the strength to defend your family. The second is to prove you can perform the high magic that defines our people. The third is surviving your fourteenth year. I was a few weeks shy of my birthday when I learned that I wouldn’t be doing any of those things.”

Kellen’s dreams of becoming a powerful mage like his father are shattered after a failed magical duel results in the complete loss of his abilities. When other young mages begin to suffer the same fate, Kellen is accused of unleashing a magical curse on his own clan and is forced to flee with the help of a mysterious foreign woman who may in fact be a spy in service to an enemy country. Unsure of who to trust, Kellen struggles to learn how to survive in a dangerous world without his magic even as he seeks out the true source of the curse. But when Kellen uncovers a conspiracy hatched by members of his own clan seeking to take power, he races back to his city in a desperate bid to outwit the mages arrayed against him before they can destroy his family.

Spellslinger is heroic fantasy with a western flavour.  

I know I already had you at “deadly talking squirrel cats” but this book has plenty to offer those with a penchant for stories featuring easy-to-follow world-building, an original method of magic use and subtle commentary on social hierarchies and dominant cultural myths.  Kellen is days away from taking the mages’ trials, earning a mage name and upholding his family’s honour – the only problem being that he hasn’t sparked any of the bands that will allow him to perform the spells to pass the trials and so will probably end up as a servant instead. When a wanderer arrives in town and takes an interest in Kellen, events unfold that will tear the fabric of everything Kellen believes about his world.

Spellslinger is an incredibly well-paced story, with revelations about the world and its players occurring at regular intervals.  The learning curve regarding understanding the Jan’Tep society is pleasantly tilted and explained within the action of the story so that the important features and history of the world are grasped quickly, without need for the reader to grope around trying to piece bits together and or wade through boring information dumps.

Kellen is a believable and likable character who realises that he must use his other skills – mostly his crafty, tricksy, strategising brain – to manage in the world as his magic deserts him.  Into this strict social hierarchy comes Ferius Parfax, a wandering, card-slinging, fast-talking, ass-kicking woman who manages to avoid any stereotype relating to female characters in action stories.  She is clever, cautious, compassionate and covert in equal measure and essentially performs the narrative function of holding the piece together, as well as providing the impetus for new directions at the end of the book.

The narrative balances action and danger with more philosophical questions about identity, cultural background and the injustices we perpetuate in order to maintain our own comfortable living standards.  I particularly enjoyed Kellen’s convsersations with the Dowager Magus as something peculiar in YA fiction; the adult conversations and the expectation from the Dowager Magus that Kellen would rise to her expectations intellectually felt authentic and added an extra layer of gravitas to a narrative that could otherwise have descended into your typical boy-hero-saves-world story.  Spellslinger is definitely a YA book that could be appreciated by adult readers in this sense.

The ending of the book leaves the way open for a completely different setting and story for the second book in the series and I am looking forward to seeing where Kellen’s path will take him.

And after all that I’m not going to tell you anything about the deadly talking squirrel cats.  You’ll just have to read the book.

Until next time,

Bruce

Bruce’s Shelfies: DNFs with Potential…

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A while ago I decided to take on a DNF (Did not finish) default policy for all books that came across my path, inspired by this post by Anya at On Starships and Dragonwings blog.  As a result, I no longer push myself to finish books when my interest is waning or I’m just not feeling the story….

…but…

…that doesn’t necessarily mean that because I decide to DNF a book, it’s because the book is bad.  Sometimes I DNF because I can’t push through fast enough, or I started off enjoying the book but then lost interest.  So it is for today’s two titles.  Read on to find out why I made the decision to put them down…and why you might like to pick them up.


 

built on bones

 

I received Built on Bones:15000 Years of Urban Life and Death by Brenna Hassett from Bloomsbury Australia for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Humans and their immediate ancestors were successful hunter-gatherers for hundreds of thousands of years, but in the last fifteen thousand years humans have gone from finding food to farming it, from seasonal camps to sprawling cities, from a few people to hordes. Drawing on her own fieldwork in the Mediterranean, Africa, Asia, and beyond, archeologist Brenna Hassett explores the long history of urbanization through revolutionary changes written into the bones of the people who lived it.

For every major new lifestyle, another way of dying appeared. From the “cradle of civilization” in the ancient Near East to the dawn of agriculture on the American plains, skeletal remains and fossil teeth show evidence of shorter lives, rotten teeth, and growth interrupted. The scarring on human skeletons reveals that getting too close to animals had some terrible consequences, but so did getting too close to too many other people.

Each chapter of Built on Bones moves forward in time, discussing in depth humanity’s great urban experiment. Hassett explains the diseases, plagues, epidemics, and physical dangers we have unwittingly unleashed upon ourselves throughout the urban past–and, as the world becomes increasingly urbanized, what the future holds for us. In a time when “Paleo” lifestyles are trendy and so many of us feel the pain of the city daily grind, this book asks the critical question: Was it worth it?

Built on Bones is a nonfiction look at how our species evolved from roaming nomad hunter-gatherers, through a settled farming lifestyle to our current incarnation as urban couch potatoes and asks whether the trendy “paleo” way of living really is based on the actual way that hunter-gatherer societies functioned.  Hassett begins at the beginning, with the oldest remains of settled societies before moving on chapter by chapter toward our present-day urban living.  I put this one down after 109 pages – about halfway through chapter five – in the middle of an interesting discussion on equality and ways in which social power structures (in early societies as well as more modern ones) tend to shape who gets access to which food resources and how this then affects our understanding of historical societies when we dig up their bones.

This was a completely fascinating read, and one to use against that annoying “clean-eating, whole-food” aficionado that we all have in our social circle.  Hassett injects lots of humour into what is essentially an academic work, as well as plenty of footnotes that I came to think of as snide asides, and the only reason I have DNFed this as a review book is that it is taking me far too long to get through.  If you look at my Goodreads challenge you can see I’ve been reading it for over a month and I’m still only a third of the way through.  Seeing as the book is released this month, I really couldn’t see how I could possibly get through it all in order to give it a proper review in a timely fashion.

So this was a DNF for me review-wise, but I am certain that I will keep reading it until the end, although I can’t imagine how long that will take.  Definitely give it a go if you are interested in anthropology and how our access to and methods of making and consuming food impacts on our lifespan and general health.

carmer and grit

We received Carmer and Grit #1: The Wingsnatchers by Sarah Jean Horwitz from the publisher via Netgalley and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

A stunning debut about a magician’s apprentice and a one-winged princess who must vanquish the mechanical monsters that stalk the streets and threaten the faerie kingdom.

Aspiring inventor and magician’s apprentice Felix Carmer III would rather be tinkering with his latest experiments than sawing girls in half on stage, but with Antoine the Amazifier’s show a tomato’s throw away from going under, Carmer is determined to win the cash prize in the biggest magic competition in Skemantis. When fate throws Carmer across the path of fiery, flightless faerie princess Grit (do not call her Grettifrida), they strike a deal. If Carmer will help Grit investigate a string of faerie disappearances, she’ll use her very real magic to give his mechanical illusions a much-needed boost against the competition. But Carmer and Grit soon discover they’re not the only duo trying to pair magic with machine – and the combination can be deadly.

In this story perfect for readers of the Lockwood & Co and Wildwood series, Sarah Jean Horwitz takes readers on a thrilling journey through a magical wooded fairyland and steampunk streets where terrifying automata cats lurk in the shadows and a mad scientist’s newest mechanical invention might be more menace than miracle.

This story is a complex steampunk/fantasy tale aimed at middle graders.  I enjoyed the initial chapters immensely, as they featured solid world building and a clean introduction to the problems that the characters were going to face later on, but I ended up putting this one down at 33%.  I have a hit and miss relationship with steampunk stories generally, but it was the magic elements of the story that put me off. I found that I was much more fascinated with the automatons that Carmer had dreams of building (and the mysterious, sinister automaton cat that appears early on) than with Grit, the fairy princess with a chip (and only one wing) on her shoulder.

While the mystery and the danger that the main characters would face was set up nicely, I just found my interest waning after a little while.  I can see this series gaining plenty of fans though, so if you enjoy your fantasy stories blended with another genre I would definitely give this one a go.


So what do you think?  Have either of these titles sparked your interest?  Let me know in the comments!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Gabbing about Graphic Novels: Superhero Sikhs, Robot Soldiers, Creative Crabs and an Oddbod Afterlife…

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gabbing-about-graphic-novels

I’ve got four graphic novels for you today mostly for the grownups, but with one helping of YA/upper middle grade fare.  I received all of these titles from their respective publishers via Netgalley for review.  Let’s get gabbing!

Super Sikh (Vol 1) by Eileen Kaur Alden, Supreet Singh Manchanda, Amit Tayal & Pradeep Sherawat

super sikh

From Goodreads:

Deep Singh aka “Super Sikh” is the world’s first modern Sikh superhero comic book. Geared toward both young adults and the young at heart, Super Sikh Comics is a not-for-profit venture supporting global literacy programs and diversity in media.

In “Super Sikh”, secret agent Deep Singh is overworked and exhausted from destroying the Taliban at night and maintaining a cover job by day. He’s a big Elvis fan, and he decides to take his dream vacation to visit Graceland (Elvis’s home). Unfortunately, a crazy Taliban group decides to follow him to America and get rid of him once and for all. But Deep Singh and his team are not going down without a fight!

Target Age Range: 

YA and adult

Genre:

Superhero, secret agents, action

Art Style:

Classic superhero realism

Reading time:

This was a short, volume 1 sampler so it only took me about five minutes to get through

Let’s get gabbing:

It took me a page or two to figure out what the go was with this story, but I’m happy to report that it got funnier the further into the story I got.  There is plenty of tongue in cheek humour here and all the secret agent tropes that you would expect, with a Sikh twist.  I particularly enjoyed the scenes in which Deep is given his new gadgets for his mission (a holiday), which included a kara (the silver bracelet that Sikhs wear) that deflects bullets!  Towards the end of this sampler, poor old Deep is unfortunate enough to be on a plane to the US when it is hijacked by Mexican terrorists and of course, nobody believes that he’s trying to save the day – he’s wearing a turban after all – and he ends up incarcerated.

Overall snapshot:

I would love to see future installments in this adventure as this sample has bucketloads of potential, truckloads of subtle, subversive humour and is doing a great service to diversity in literature.

Rust: The Boy Soldier by Royden Lepp

rust

From Goodreads:

Made to look like a boy but built for battle, Jet Jones is a robot caught in the middle of an ongoing war. While trying to save as many people as he can, Jet discovers there is more to who he is and what he was made for than he could have ever imagined. His experiences in the war set him off on a journey to learn what it means to both hero and human. It is the first adventure of many for the rocket boy.

Written and illustrated by Royden Lepp, Rust: The Boy Soldier collects the previously released prologues from the first three volumes of the critically acclaimed series Rust along with the yet to be released prologue from the upcoming fourth and final installment. Together for the first time and in an all new reading order, Rust: The Boy Soldier is the complete story of Jet Jones’s time in war and the beginning of this high octane, all ages adventure.

Target Age Range: 

YA and adult

Genre:

Sci fi, war

Art Style:

Cartoon realism – dark colour palette

Reading time:

At 128 pages, but with little text, this was quite quick to get through – about ten minutes

Let’s get gabbing:

The ending of this prologue was probably the best part of it for me – in that the last few pages really piqued my interest in Jet’s future amongst humans.  The prologue itself is mostly scenes of war, in which we are introduced to Jet, a robot soldier who has incredible powers to kill and destroy but is also capable of choosing his own path.  The prologue is mostly artwork with little text, and so it was a bit tricky to get a rounded idea of what’s going on in Jet’s early world.  It’s obvious that there is a war going on, fought by both robot and human soldiers, and at some point Jet becomes unhappy with his killing capabilities, deciding instead to pursue a different way of life.  The sepia colour palette reflects the dreary, dangerous frontlines of the war and gives the overall feel of a steampunk atmosphere.

Overall snapshot:

I would like to see the second volume of Jet’s story before making a decision on whether this graphic novel is my type of read.  Having only seen the first part of Jet’s life, which centred around war, I don’t feel like I’ve got a full appreciation for what this series is going to be about.

The March of the Crabs by Arthur de Pins

march of the crabs

From Goodreads:

All species in the world evolve…except one. Cancer Simplicimus Vulgaris, or the square crab, has suffered with the same evolutionary defect for millennia: it cannot change direction. Condemned to walk in one straight line forever, these crabs living along the Gironde estuary have largely resigned themselves to their fate. However, one seemingly ordinary summer, three crabs decide to take matters into their own claws and rebel against the straight and narrow path they have been sentenced to, upending the entire ecosystem in the process. From critically-acclaimed French illustrator and animator Arthur de Pins comes the first volume in his hilarious and touching trilogy about scuttling towards your own destiny.

Target Age Range: 

Adult

Genre:

Natural world, humour

Art Style:

Cartoony

Reading time:

Took me about twenty minutes to half an hour with a few short interruptions.

Let’s get gabbing:

Considering this is a one-track story (see what I did there?!) it’s remarkably engaging.  There are two plot lines unrolling simultaneously.  The first involves the crabs of the title – Cancer Simplicimus Vulgaris – who have ignored any attempts at evolution and are mostly (except for a few renegades) perfectly happy to be restricted to following a straight line of travel their whole lives.  The second storyline features two documentary makers who are certain that Cancer Simplicimus Vulgaris are at least as exciting as anything David Attenborough could cook up, and are intent on filming this threatened species in its natural habitat.

This is quite a funny story.  Aside from the inanity arising from the trials of a species that can only walk in a straight line, the crabby characters each have their own personalities, if not their own names.  You see, the likelihood of one crab’s path crossing another’s is so scant that the crabs don’t even bother to name themselves – what’s the point if your trajectory won’t ever bring you into hailing distance of another of your species?  I particularly enjoyed the scenes featuring a nihilistic crab who had the misfortune to be born between two large rocks.

Once the plot twist happens (**spoiler: an unlucky situation prompts a serendipitous discovery by two of the crabs) the story is suddenly plunged into action scenes which have a humour all their own.  A bombshell is dropped right at the end of this volume and I can’t imagine how life is going to change for our crusty protagonists with their new-found knowledge.  I’d like to find out though.

Overall snapshot:

I want to know what happens next for Boater, Sunny and Guitar – the three protagonist crabs – given the exciting note on which the story ends here.  If you are a fan of quirky stories and unexpectedly lovable characters, you should definitely check this graphic novel out.

Stitched #1 by Mariah McCourt & Aaron Alexovich

stitched

From Netgalley:

Crimson Volania Mulch has a problem; she just woke up in a crypt and, besides her name, has no idea of who, where, or what she is. Welcome to the Cemetery of Assumptions, a vast landscape of stones, mausoleums, and secrets. Home to monsters and mayhem, it may also hold the answers to her unknown parentage. 

Crimson is a resourceful patchwork girl and determined to find them. Along the way, she meets the mysterious Wisteria, who has a tendency to change and a witch named Parameter whose spells tend to go awry. And two boys, Simon and Quinton, who make her feel something besides lost and confused. She must battle ghosts, zombies, and monsters in order to learn where she came from and who her real “mother” is. But will she do it alone, or will she have help from her new friends and unexpected crushes?

Target Age Range: 

Middle grade/YA

Genre:

Humour, Fantasy

Art Style:

Colourful, blue-hued, busy

Reading time:

About twenty minutes

Let’s get gabbing:

This turned out to be far more cutesy in content than I would have expected given the cover, in the sense that while the characters are undead/paranormal/magical the story includes typical tropes for the upper middle grade age group, such as crushes on undead boys and squabbling amongst the girl gang.  Crimson is a bit of a mystery protagonist here in that she awakes in Assumption Cemetery with no memory of how she got there.  Luckily, she maintains quite a positive attitude despite her seeming adversity and immediately pops off to explore her surroundings, meeting some new friends along the way.

I loved the pet that turns up out of the blue as a gift for Crimson – so cute!  I also enjoyed that one of the characters is reminiscent of the Creature from the Black Lagoon, because Mad Martha is currently designing an amigurumi of a similar character – that was quite topical for we shelf-dwellers. Overall though, I was a little disappointed that while the trappings of an original, intriguing paranormal world were present, the story didn’t really use these to best effect and my final impression of the story was that the characters could have been lifted out of any old pre-teen saga.

I found the formatting a bit busy for my tastes also.  There were smaller frames within middle sized frames within large frames throughout, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was going to miss something on each page because there was so much going on.

Overall snapshot

I’m quite happy to leave Crimson and her friends at the end of this volume.  Even though there is some mystery remaining as to who Crimson actually is and where she came from, I don’t feel like the characters and the mystery are engaging or original enough to keep my interest.  If you know of any upper middle grade readers who like fantasy, mystery and graphic novels however, they might like to give this a try.

Well, this was definitely an interesting mix to get my teeth into and generally the quality is quite high.  Have you come across any new graphic novels lately?

Until next time,

Bruce

Night Shift: After Dark in a Department Store…

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night shift ya

We received YA novel Night Shift by B. R. Meyers from the publisher via Netgalley and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

At Willard’s department store, none of the night security guards survive for long, and eighteen-year-old Daniel Gale is about to discover why.

Tired of living out of his backpack, he ignores the clerk’s gossip about the old building being haunted and accepts the latest vacated position of night guard. On his first shift Daniel narrowly escapes a fatal fall down an elevator shaft and is rescued by Mary—a bossy and intriguing girl far too beautiful for after hours inventory.

Anticipating every night shift as a chance to be with her, Daniel thinks his traveling days are over hoping that Manhattan is the place to call home. But as his life becomes more entwined with Willard’s, Daniel senses unnatural changes and bizarre coincidences both with Mary and the store itself. Soon he begins to suspect Willard’s is hiding something more sinister than gossip about ghosts—something that could make him the next casualty of the NIGHT SHIFT.

I was really in the mood for some creepy, atmospheric horror – or at least paranormal – when I requested Night Shift and while there are some aspects of the story that I praise for being original and unexpected, this wasn’t atmospheric or paranormal in the slightest.  Daniel is a solid protagonist around which to build a narrative – he has a fascinating past, he seems like a reliable narrator and generally I wanted him to succeed against whatever foes were lurking in the dark of Willard’s.  In the interests of an exciting story, I also wanted him to have the absolute willies scared out of him at least once…and preferably multiple times…during the story so that I could live vicariously through him.

This isn’t that kind of book.  It’s not a ghost story in the typical sense of the word (or even at all) and while it does have a fantastic twist that I didn’t see coming – but admittedly, probably should have, if I’d used my puzzling-things-out brain (more about this later)- there is far too much in-between filler that sucks the suspense out of the story quicker than a recently serviced Dyson cyclonic.  I felt like this book was at least a third longer than it needed to be and this is chiefly due to whacking great chunks of dialogue that doesn’t progress the story, but exists, it seems, to develop character relationships that I felt were already quite solid.

The stringing out of the mystery went for so long that I very nearly put the book down before the twist had even happened.  As I stumbled across the twist in the mystery, I wsa surprised enough to emit a little “Oh!” and quickly flick on in the hopes that the suspense and excitement would ramp up.  Unfortunately, the author took the route of stretching things out to the extent that by the end I didn’t really care about the whys of the plot and just wanted it all to be over.

Admittedly, there is a full and developed story toward the end of the book that links Daniel’s past to his present situation and provides some feel-good moments and action scenes, but by then it was too late to salvage my interest.  There are plenty of interesting and original things going on in Night Shift but because the first part of the book is so focused on ghosts, I had certain expectations of what the story was going to be about.  The twist provided a momentary respite from those dashed expectations, and the thought that maybe there was going to be a more original take on the ghost gossip, but I just couldn’t seem to get past my pre-conceived ideas of what the book was going to be in order to fully enjoy what it is.  Night Shift turned out to be more focused on relationship building and romance than the paranormal/magical realism elements, and as regular readers of this blog know, I’m a sucker for the latter.

If you are looking for a story that is high on romance and budding relationships featuring an unexpected couple, you will probably find something to enjoy in Night Shift.

Until next time,

Bruce