Jem and the Holograms: Showtime (Volume 1)

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Jem and the Holograms: Showtime (Volume 1)
Kelly Thompson, Sophie Campbell, 2015

New Release! I received an electronic copy of this book from NetGalley for the purpose of review.

Premise: Jerrica Benton and her sisters dream of a music career. An online video contest seems like a great way to make a splash, but first Jerrica will need a way around her stage fright, and then they’ll meet the competition…Collects Jem and the Holograms Issues #1-6

Up front, I need to admit: I never watched Jem as a kid. I knew that there were dolls in shiny outfits, but it wasn’t a show I was ever into. Today, I think I’ve maybe seen at most one episode, watched on Youtube years back when I was curious. I was told the premise at some point.

So unlike many people who are going to read this book, I don’t care about Jem the show.

I love Jem the comic book.

I love the bouncy, sprightly dialogue, the silly situations. I love the good-hearted characters and the fledgling romances. I love that the antagonists can be BOTH over-the-top-ridiculous and complex and interesting.

It’s a wonderful balance between surreality of setting and premise and reality of story and feeling. But most of all I love the art.

Sophie Campbell does an amazing job with bright, beautiful designs that leap off the page. Gravity-defying hairstyles, candy-coated color and imaginative layouts to evoke music. The diversity of body types is wonderful to see, but even more than that I love the kinetic sense to her art. The characters are always moving or leaning or sitting or crouching in a way that says something about the character, the scene, and feels completely reasonable. No talking heads to be found here.

There were a few aspects of the plot/premise that go back to the original show that I found a bit grating, particularly Jerrica’s attempts to keep the true identity of Jem a secret. But overall this was a ridiculous amount of fun.

5 Stars - An Awesome Book

Penryn & the End of Days (Angelfall, World After, End of Days)

Monday, October 19, 2015

Penryn & the End of Days (Angelfall, World After, End of Days)
Susan Ee, 2012, 2013, 2015

Premise: Six weeks ago, the world ended. Or, at least, a series of catastrophes and an army of angels decimated the human race, which amounts to about the same thing. Penryn is 17. She only wants to keep her little sister safe, and her schizophrenic mom alive. When her family is separated, she will do anything to get them back. Even make a deal with an angel.

For a series that, if you emphasize certain parts of the plot, falls squarely into many Paranormal YA tropes, this had some serious bite. The action was fast and furious, the story fascinating in its twists and turns.

I'll say up front that there is a romance and I didn't hate it by the end, because it ended up tying into the plot in a really interesting way. If it had ended up being a romance for the sake of angst or for the sake of romance itself it might have driven me crazy, but I actually think all the relationships are purposeful and build the backbone of the story here. It did frustrate me some in the first and second book, though.

I really liked the slow reveal on the world. It's very bleak, but not without moments of hope. You get the general idea of how bad things are right away, but what happened, and why, is strung out in pieces as new facts come to light. The technology, while not described in depth, is really interesting. The angels have a magic-esque level of science, and also maybe magic? Even they don't seem to fully understand it.

A lot of this series ended up being about the nature of humanity, and the nature of societies. How far will you go to protect one person? All people? Other sentient, non-human races? What happens to sentient races when civilizations fall? If horrible things happen to us, must we become horrible in turn? How do you choose who to listen to? Who to follow? There's actually a lot to unpack here.

By book three, the angels pick up a lot more nuance as well, raising questions of whether they are right to follow their leaders. Interesting stuff for dystopian YA to play with. It doesn't really delve as deeply or as intelligently as I might really love, but there's interesting stuff here.

All three books are short, I read them very quickly and enjoyed them.

3 Stars - Good Books.

Gwendolyn’s Sword

Monday, October 12, 2015

Gwendolyn’s Sword
E. A. Haltom, 2015

New Release! I received a copy of this book from NetGalley for the purpose of review.

Premise: Lady Gwendolyn has been doing a fine job managing her husband’s estate while he is overseas with King Richard. But with mercenaries sympathetic to Prince John passing through and machinations from her sister-in-law, Gwendolyn will use a superstition, her own stubbornness and her unorthodox training to protect her people.

Spoilers ABOUND below, FYI.

I was going to cut this book some slack because I assumed it was YA, but I’m not seeing that on any of the promotional pages.

I might have enjoyed this at age 12. Now, not so much. It’s not that it’s terrible. It’s that it’s terribly cliche.

Gwendolyn doesn’t just know how to use a sword. She’s also great at it, despite the first chapter being the first time she fights in earnest against someone with deadly intent. She’s also secretly the heir of King Arthur. I almost put the book down for good at that point, rolling my eyes.

The historical elements are thin at best. The reactions of characters and their ideals felt falsely modern around gender and sexuality. Gwendolyn’s recollections of a conversation between she and her husband about sex made me almost quit the book a second time. There is a whole plot thread about the fact that she is secretly a virgin. Why is this the case? It only causes trouble for her. Is it just to make room for an annulment and a romance in a potential sequel? I can't think of any plausible in-world reason, so it feels unnatural and forced. It didn’t do this book any favors that I read it within six months of reading The Summer Queen (actual grounded historical fiction set in the same time period).

The magical elements were okay, but it might have been a better book if all the magic had all turned out to be a lie.

The writing is serviceable most of the time, but occasionally swings between describing too much and not enough.

I did not believe the ending at all. The characters depart under a cloud, practically fleeing from an angry crowd, then disappear. And they return injured, having caused the death of the local earl’s son, their only sympathetic witness a little boy who had been friendly with them earlier and people just took their (lying) word for what happened? REALLY?

Overall, not a recommended read.

1 Star - Didn’t really like it, almost a DNF

Ancillary Sword

Monday, October 5, 2015

Ancillary Sword (Imperial Radch Book 2)
Ann Leckie, 2014

Premise: Sequel to Ancillary Justice. If you haven’t read Ancillary Justice yet… I don’t know what to do with you. Breq’s ploys in the first book have allowed her a certain amount of autonomy. Now she just wants to keep herself and her crew alive long enough to fulfill a debt.

I bought this book months ago and only got around to reading it now, just before the release of the third book.

I am an idiot for waiting.

Although, on the other hand, having some distance from the first novel allowed me to fall in love with the conventions of the series all over again. I love Breq’s perspective. She has lived a long time, she is not human, not really, and sees things in a subtly different way from the people around her. I love the way she questions history and draws connections that are uncomfortable or unthinkable for others.

And I still love the pronoun thing.

[In case anyone’s reading this who hasn’t read the first: because of the language/culture Breq is from, all people are “she”. All siblings are ‘sisters’.]

Gimmicky or not, it pushes my brain into this androgynous space where two somewhat-contradictory things seem simultaneously true:
Physical gender is completely immaterial to why or how a character does any action, including sexual or physical violence.
The characters seem female until proven otherwise, which gives the whole thing a all-female society feeling.

Both of these feelings mean that the character’s action can only ever reflect on them as individuals or occasionally on their culture. It makes me really think more about all the assumptions that are usually built into reading about character interaction. Character A threatens Character B. If A is male and B is female, that is a different scene, without any different language, than the other way around, because of centuries of cultural expectation. Or Character A expresses interest and curiosity about Character B. Whether the pair is male/female, female/male, male/male or female/female means a lot about what assumptions the reader is likely to make.

All of those crutches, assumptions and tropes are stripped away by this writing, and it’s delightful.

The plot of Ancillary Sword suffers a little from ‘second-book’ syndrome, in that not a lot happens on a large scale. However, I still thought it was a great story, and I want to know what comes next.

5 Stars - An Awesome Book