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

Emerald City Comicon Pile Of Loot

Monday, March 30, 2015

This isn't a review, because I haven't written a review in weeks. I've been super busy with other things, but I wanted to share the AWESOME stuff I got this weekend at Emerald City Comicon.

In general, I had a great time, and I got to listen to both creators I know and love and creators I'm just getting interested in talk about their work! Woo!

(Are you reading The Wicked & The Divine yet? Get thee to a comic shop, stat!)

I got some neat freebies from the Dark Horse Booth, Yay, preview of the next Avatar comic!

And I brought my copy of Cleopatra in Space: Target Practice to get signed, and got a free print :)

(I am so excited for book two! Read my review of book one.)

But let's get to stuff I actually put down money for...

I bought this print from a very talented friend of mine, whose work is in general awesome:

Someone recommended this comic to me a while back, I read the first issue online, then decided to pick up the whole thing from the creators. They were running a special, so I also got to pick out a print:

Speaking of prints, I picked out this super-cute postcard:

Claire Hummel, the artist, is also known for her Historical Disney Princesses collection, and we chatted super-briefly about historical costuming. This is why going to cons is so fun. 

I picked up this little art book on a whim because fan art amuses me and I like to support artists:

And even though I have almost EVERY issue, I finally picked up this big book:

I loved this series. I sung its praises extensively back when I talked about comics every week. Like I said, I collected nearly every issue.

And now I also have this:

Totally worth it.

Red Sonja: Volume One: Queen of Plagues

Monday, March 2, 2015

Red Sonja: Volume One: Queen of Plagues
Gail Simone, Walter Geovani, 2014

Premise: Collects Red Sonja #1-6. Old debts come calling for the warrior woman Red Sonja when an urgent summons comes from a king and a city important to her past. Plague and war are barreling down on a peaceful people, can Sonja save the city from Dark Annisia?

This new series got a lot of love when it came out. And I see it. The writing is Gail at her best: snark and pacing finely tuned, grounded humor alongside epic storytelling. The art is beautiful.

And yet.

The damn chain-mail bikini.

I want to love this character. I want to be above the idea that this old design hampers her. I enjoy pinup art (sometimes). I love Power Girl.

And still I spent the first two issues cringing at the damn ugly, painful-looking thing. After which, Sonja gets some different costumes, first because she’s travelling in the snow, and later for a specific battle.

Other than that, I really did enjoy this book. I think that most of the supporting characters are well crafted. The art, as I said, is gorgeous; it’s brutal in keeping with the world, evocative of old fantasy illustration, while being sleek, modern and easy to follow.

My only other quibble came with the end of the plot. There’s a few too many character twists in a row, which felt to me like in some cases a waste of characters, and in others a fall-back to overused cliches that the story had previously sidestepped. It all kind of works, but it’s not completely satisfying.

I do want to read more of this series, and especially also the related anthology series Legends of Red Sonja, in which an assortment of popular female writers take on the character.

This introductory volume, I’ll give:

3 Stars - A Good Book