Lumberjanes: Volume One: Beware the Kitten Holy

Monday, July 13, 2015

Lumberjanes: Volume One: Beware the Kitten Holy
Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Brooke Allen, 2015

Premise: Collects Lumberjanes #1-4. Alice, Molly, Jo, Mal and Ripley are spending their summer at Miss Quinzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet's Camp for Hardcore Lady Types. They should be learning scouting skills, canoeing, hiking and learning about nature. Instead they’re trying to get to the bottom of some seriously mysterious goings-on.

I read the first issue of Lumberjanes a while back, and knew that all the hype is true: this is a really special book. I bought the collection of the first four issues a few months back, and just finally got time to read it. And good timing, too! Lumberjanes just won two Eisners, for Best New Series and Best Publication for Teens (ages 13-17).

This book deserves its awards and its laurels. It’s loads of fun, funny and clever and sweet all at once. It stars great characters in an insane, cartoonish world, where exploring a cavern full of deadly booby traps is not the weirdest thing the girls do that day.

I ended up reading the book twice in quick succession. The pace of the story is extremely quick and light, and there isn’t a lot of dialogue on many pages. There is so much going on in the art, though the style is deceptively simple.

I love the way the characters are developed. There isn’t the smart one and the girly one and the tomboy, etc. They each have particular quirks, but they’re all scouts. They’re all at summer camp, and willing to fight magic foxes (see issue one) so they’re already on that level together. Alice, for example, is maybe the most feminine in look, but it’s more notable that she’s the most brash and outspoken. Each of the girls is a unique character, and it comes through not only in the dialogue but in the way they stand and move. I really want this series to run for a long time, because I can feel the edges of backstory for several girls that I am very intrigued by.

They are friends, and that’s the most important thing. The teamwork is great, the adventure satisfying. There’s a hint of something stronger possible between two of the girls by the end of issue two, and it’s adorable.

Occasionally the action gets a little more cartoony that I personally like, but it works with the style and tone as established.

I just love the whole premise here: five friends at camp, exploring a crazy mystery, because who else is going to do it… grownups?

5 Stars - An Awesome Book (to the max!)

PS: It risks being cutesy, but the habit of the girls substituting names of female icons into oaths is pretty great. (i.e. on page two: “What in the Joan Jett are you doing?!”)

Dark Triumph (His Fair Assassin: Book Two)

Monday, July 6, 2015

Dark Triumph (His Fair Assassin: Book Two)
Robin LaFevers, 2013

Premise: Sybella blessed the day she was told she was a Daughter of Death and taken into Mortain’s convent to be taught to kill. Because her human father, the nobleman d’Albret, was the stuff that nightmares are made of. But now she is back in his household, spying for the young Duchess of Brittany, and trying to keep both her life and her sanity intact long enough to kill d’Albret.

If you liked Grave Mercy, don’t be foolish like me and allow a few years to go by before you read this sequel. I was intrigued but terribly confused for several chapters before I remembered barely enough of the political plotline to pick up on how this story fits into that story.

I remember being very interested in Sybella before, as she was a mysterious side character in book one, and at least the first half of her story lived up to those hints. She was subject to an incredibly dark childhood, but now must face those demons, external and internal, while she works secretly on behalf of the convent.

She constantly wonders whether the darkness that she sees in d’Albret is in her as well. She is good at the skills taught at Mortain’s convent. She enjoys killing those who deserve to die. Adding that to her background, it’s only natural that she worry about the darkness within her. Balancing what she wants with what the convent wants, her past with her potential futures, and her instincts with her fears, are her core conflicts, and they are well handled, for the most part.

And she’s really interesting, and her story is complex and haunting….for the first half of the book.

And then there’s a romance.

And really, really I’m fine that there’s a romance. It’s done well, and the characters fit together in a satisfying way. Even if there is some painfully maudlin stalling in the form of some predictable I’m-sure-he-hates-me-so-I’ll-hate-myself-no-of-course-he-doesn’t-really shenanigans.

And then she gets a big piece of plot/character/world knowledge dropped in her lap by the protagonist of the first book. Maybe this wouldn’t have bugged me if I’d remembered the first book, but I found it awkward. It could have been more effective if she’d discovered more of it on her own.

And THEN late in the book she gets a big dollop of (spoiler) mental and spiritual healing from the visit of a divine character who only appears the once. Which, for me, rather makes the whole story that came before seem unimportant. It’s all a bit deus ex machina, and between this, the romance, and the way the final fight shakes out, for a badass assassin maiden, she sure depends on validation from a lot of dudes.


All that said, I did still enjoy the experience of reading the book, and the parts that were good were very good. I’m intrigued by the third book as well. Maybe I won’t let years go by again? Or maybe not.

3 Stars - A Good Book

Batgirl (Volume 1: The Batgirl of Burnside)

Monday, June 29, 2015

Batgirl (Volume 1: The Batgirl of Burnside)
Cameron Stewart, Babs Tarr, 2015

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley for the purpose of review.

Premise: Babs moves to a new neighborhood for a fresh start, a new look, and a new outlook.

Reviewing this book is really hard. I think I'm too old for it. (For what it's worth, I am 33.)

I like the art; I like the humor. In principle I like the lighter take and I liked aspects of the story. But for me, it's not my Batgirl, without quite being a brand new Batgirl.

In this volume, they did a soft reboot. The character gets a new outfit, new friends, a new neighborhood to protect, and the protagonist has been called (both affectionately and not) "hipster Batgirl". She does live in a Brooklyn analogue, and is making dumb mistakes the way young people in their early twenties do ... although it bothers me a little that at the same time she's struggling with, not college, but her dissertation. That's just one of the little story mis-matches that gave me pause.

I really enjoy the current Ms. Marvel, whose success clearly paved the way for more lighter, woman-centric fare. And I liked quite a bit of this. The tone is fun, the art is snappy: it has a striking, singular style, without losing clarity. The facial expressions are often great. The visualization of her eidetic memory was very cool.

The writing between Babs and Dinah, or with her other friends, feels pretty good. The love interest(s) I found forced and awkward. The moral is... something about protecting people? I'll admit, at the end there I was far more interested in the pathos of (spoiler) her unhinged AI clone, and was sad when that story wrapped up in such a simplistic manner.

Maybe I would enjoy the next arc more. This one feels like a transition to me. If there had been absolutely nothing connecting it to anything that has gone before, I might have been able to just go with it as a full reboot. But as it was, there are just enough callbacks that remind me of my Barbara: adult, capable, meditative, goddamn majestic at times. And then cute early-twenties-but-acts-like-a-teen Babs is just...cute. Capable enough at times, but not the same at all.

Erin had a really good point about this version of the character: she's Batgirl from the animated show The Batman. If you missed that one (it aired from 2004-2008), it started super rough, but grew into a perfectly good show. This is a great comic version of that character.

This is hard for me, because the book is getting a lot of love, and I'm really happy that lighter comics and comics targeted at girls are being released and gaining traction. This one just isn't for me.

2 Stars - An Okay Book (But, add a star if “The Batman” is the animated superhero series of your childhood, and maybe add another if you’ve never read a comic with Oracle in it.)

The Magpie Lord (A Charm of Magpies: Book 1)

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Magpie Lord (A Charm of Magpies: Book 1)
KJ Charles, 2013

Premise: Lucien Varney has returned from abroad to take up the unwanted mantle of Lord Crane after the mysterious deaths of his father and older brother. But someone doesn't want any of his line left alive, and to fight magic he'll need some unconventional help from a young magician...

If you've been here long, you probably know that I'm ambivalent towards romance, as a genre. But sometimes... Sometimes romance is just perfect. Particularly when there is magic. And.. I’ll be upfront with you... pretty boys.

This book was delightful. It has no pretentions of great “literature”, and it flirts with unreality as most romance does. It was a joy to read, and I've already bought the sequel.

This book handily manages what I consider to be a core element of the best romances: give me two interesting characters who are even more interesting together. Lucien and Stephen both have interesting backstories, interesting lives, and great chemistry.

Lucien, as the black-sheep/vagabond returning to England after a long time abroad, is light-hearted on the surface, despite the fact that it's his life and fortune at stake. Stephen, while mostly professional and quiet, struggles both with a dark history with the Crane family and the burden of his talent.

The adventure/mystery plot is playfully interwoven with the romance. I devoured this book in less than 24 hours, I was sucked into this story to a depth I haven’t experienced in a while.

It was start-to-end fun and incredibly charming. I didn’t know I needed more LGBT fantasy romance in my life, but I’m glad this is the one I stumbled into.

4 Stars - A Great Book

Update and Promotion :)

Monday, June 15, 2015

From Turtleback Mountain, Orcas Island, WA, 6/13/15

Hi all,

You may have noticed that my posting here has been more and more sporadic. I still like writing and sharing book reviews, but I've been extremely busy and haven't been able to finish any posts lately.

Part of being busy has been, ironically, related to finally getting a few days off! We just got back from a great camping trip. Lots of hiking and watching wildlife - I'm exhausted, but feel more together than I have in a while.

And part of the aforementioned busyness is related to this bit of awesome:

Shiny-new, and available later this week! As is now standard for Erin's books, I did a lot of the final editing and all the formatting, so you can blame me for any last lingering typos.

Pre-order for Kindle!

Paperback should be available this week as well.

I love the world that Erin's building, and I think you're going to like meeting Alaji. She's stubborn, sharp and fiercely loyal, and determined to take whatever the world offers. She's willing to go against her people's beliefs in order to try to save them, and that's only how the story starts.

I've already read the first draft of Book Two, so I can tell you that you want to jump on board now: there's so much great stuff ahead!

Did I mention there's a pre-order?


Monday, May 18, 2015

Naomi Novik, 2015

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley for the purpose of review.

Premise: Agnieszka lives in a beautiful valley, with family, friends and neighbors. Yes, the nearby cursed Wood is a constant peril, and the wizard who protects the valley is incomprehensible and possibly dangerous, but she doesn't dream of any other life. Until. Of course, one finds her.

I had fairly high hopes going into this book, as I have enjoyed Novik’s work in the past. Happily, Uprooted not only met expectations, it blew past them: it’s easily one of the best books I’ve read this year.

I loved the style, there’s just enough modern pace mixed with plenty of gorgeous fairy tale prose. I loved the characters, especially Agnieszka's caring and stubbornness, always acting on instinct. Her friendship with Kasia forms the backbone of much of the story, and that kind of great friendship always makes me happy to see.

The romance comes in second or third in importance, which I like, and it has enough of a slow burn and enough build to make it satisfying. The world is intriguing overall and the twists and turns off the plot kept me turning pages quickly.

Most of all I loved the magic - the way magic is described by different characters, perceived and manipulated in different ways. It is lovely, lyrical and draws from different traditions than many fantasy novels today. All the different wizards are interesting, even the ones we one see for a little while have complicated relationships to the world of magic.

Reading this was like coming back to a brand new world: there are enough echoes that you're never lost, but enough unique moments that it's never boring.

Plus the opening is freaking brilliant. I absolutely loved this book.

5 Stars - An Awesome Book

The Snow Queen

Monday, May 4, 2015

The Snow Queen
Joan D. Vinge, 1980

Hugo Winner - 1981

Premise: Moon is a Summer, brought up among the clans of fishers and farmers who live along the warm seas of Tiamat. Arienrhod is the Snow Queen, leader of the Winters, who live in the technologically-advanced city of Carbuncle. The Change is coming, when by tradition the Summers will take over from Winters for 150 years. Both women want what is best for their people and their planet, but the struggle between them could save or destroy their world.

Wow. This book took me a while to read, but it was worth it. My copy is only 462 pages, but it felt much longer. The pace was slow, like the unfolding of a flower.

I really liked the tension between the science-fiction elements and the mythic elements. From the very start the book walks this interesting line. In the few pages of the prologue, the reader is introduced to the city of Carbuncle during the Festival, a masquerade that felt medieval to me in the descriptions of its significance and hedonism, and then the story turns immediately to the subject of offworlders and cloning techniques. The planet of Tiamat is eternally at a tipping point between superstition and technology because of its unique place in an interstellar community.

This book does a great job providing science-ish explanations for fantastic or seemingly magical elements without robbing them of their narrative power. There is a sort of mystic order among the Summers: sibyls, who can answer any question and have a series of taboos around them. The secret of the sibyls is what much of the plot hinges on, and I found the resolution both satisfying and intriguing.

I also really enjoyed the multifaceted nature of the narrative. All the characters were extremely well-rounded. They all had perfectly good reasons, from their perspective, for their actions. Arienrhod is the most obvious villain of the piece, but despite being corrupt and vicious, she is also shown to be vulnerable and desperate, fueling much of her cruelty. Jerusha Palathion, a local official of the interstellar authority, is an even more complicated example. She’s trying to do her job, and work towards justice, but that gets more and more complicated as she goes. Likewise, even the most good-hearted characters make choices that they question later.

I was left selfishly wishing for more resolution to the plot, but the bittersweet uncertainty of the ending follows perfectly from the story and the characters.

5 Stars - An Awesome Book

List of Hugo Award Winners