Disclaimer: I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.
Spartan, an adventurous boy, his three human friends, a...moreDisclaimer: I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.
Spartan, an adventurous boy, his three human friends, and his dog Grimm make contact with an alien that manifests itself in the shape of an egg. Using its vast powers, they go on exploration journeys. In this introductory volume, the kids travel to the Amazon rainforest and learn a little bit about the locals, as well as about deforestation.
This graphic novel is intended for kids about eight to ten, and the main character is named after Nabila Khashoggi’s son. It’s very light edutainment, with little sense of conflict or peril. The children have largely interchangeable personalities, and the Egg makes everything just a bit too easy.
I liked that the lumber company employees weren't characterized as villains, but they seem awfully superstitious and easily tricked. It also seems highly unlikely that anyone will listen to their crazy story about forest spirits, and the locals won’t have an advanced alien and super technology on their side next time. On the other hand, a shaman does show the power to send bad dreams, so perhaps it will work out.
This is one book that could have done with a glossary, or a text page with more concentrated information about the Amazon.
The art is serviceable, but it’s clear the artist has a lot of development potential ahead of them. The lettering is too obviously computer-generated, and takes away from the feel. One amusing bit is that three of the children, including the business suited black kid, wear swimming-suitable trunks under their clothes, despite not having planned to go swimming that day. (The fourth child’s swimgear is never seen–perhaps he wears ordinary underpants.)
It’s an okay introduction to the Amazon for young readers, but will leave many of them hungry for more substantial information. Consult with your local children’s librarian for what might be a good follow-up book.(less)
Disclaimer: I received this book in a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.
Ara is the daughter of the Sultan of Granada in the ear...moreDisclaimer: I received this book in a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.
Ara is the daughter of the Sultan of Granada in the early 15th Century. She has lived all her life in the Alhambra, the Red Palace. Frustrated by her cloistered existence, Ara sneaks out of the walls to see the arrival of her distant relative, the Sufi mathemagician Tahirah. Before she can re-enter the palace, Ara witnesses a strange scene involving the Wazir, Abd al-Rahmid.
She has little time to think about this, as she is caught by her tutor Suleiman, a learned eunuch, and returned to the women’s quarters. Suleiman worries that Ara could have fallen into the hands of evil Christians. Turns out that Christians are the least of the dangers afoot, as the magic that protects the Alhambra from disaster and summons its faithful stone lions is under attack from within.
Suleiman soon falls victim to dark magic, and it is up to Ara and her graceful cousin Layla to learn the seven symmetries from Tahirah to restore the Alhambra’s defenses.
This is a children’s edutainment book, supported through the National Science Foundation. The science part is teaching the concept of band symmetry, one of the mathematical foundations of geometry. In addition, there’s some history and cultural information that could be helpful to a young reader. The back has glossaries, maps and a summary of the symmetry lessons taught in the story.
The story itself is pretty good, if perhaps a little heavy-handed at points; the Wazir is a little too obviously evil to have kept it a secret so long. Ara doesn’t have much of a character arc, her job is to learn the symmetries so she can spot the problems. Layla has a bit more growth, learning that math can be easier to learn than she thought. The real character development is for Suleiman, who must learn wisdom from his curse and the changes it brings.
This book is primarily aimed at children about 10-12 (Ara is ten in the back cover text, but twelve in the story) but should be engaging for readers up to junior high level, especially girls interested in geometry. Parents may wish to bone up on Spanish history of the period and Muslim culture of the time so they can discuss the book with their kids.(less)
Disclaimer: I received this book in a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.
Aznaro, Cordin and Osoro, three blood brothers, have re...moreDisclaimer: I received this book in a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.
Aznaro, Cordin and Osoro, three blood brothers, have returned to Spain after a tour of the known world. Already feeling restless, Aznaro becomes interested in a proposed voyage by one Christobal Colon, who thinks he can sail to India faster by heading west across the uncharted ocean. The brothers sign up as rookie sailors, although there is a bit of a hitch, since it turns out that Aznaro had sex with Torsten Rentier, first officer of one of the ships, the night before.
Worse, Aznaro soon makes an actual enemy on board the Santa Maria, a man who comes to share a dark secret with the brothers. And as you might have guessed from your history classes, the voyage is taking them to a destination they could never have guessed.
Though not listed anywhere on the book itself, this is the second book about the brothers, the first one being titled Aznaro. The main characters have something in their blood that makes them unaging and very hard to kill. They have in fact been alive nearly three hundred years at the start of this book. This causes them a certain amount of angst, and the need to move on frequently.
While the point of view skips around quite a bit, sometimes between paragraphs, the primary character is Aznaro, with the major plot threads being his struggle with the new immortal Rodriguez, and his romance with the man he calls “Reindeer.” The other brothers are on other ships and play very little part in the story. Indeed, one vanishes from the book altogether around the 3/4 mark!
While the book is quite good on the details of being a sailor in Christopher Columbus’ time, said personage himself plays a very tiny role, seldom interacting with the crew. So I can’t really recommend this book to Columbus fans.
While yes, Aznaro and Rentier have sex, it’s not on camera or explicitly described. The movie if one is made, could probably get by with a PG-13.
Some issues: There are a couple of brief torture scenes, the viewpoint switching can be confusing as the author doesn’t mark the switches well, and there are numerous missing words and some dubious grammar that points up the need for a good editor/proofreader. (this book was self-published.)
If you are in need of a gay romance novel with some paranormal elements, and a bit of history, this might suit your fancy. But everyone else might want to wait for a revised version with better editing.(less)
House of Secrets started its publication history in 1956 as a “weird menace” title. You couldn’t really do horror comics as such under the Comics Code...moreHouse of Secrets started its publication history in 1956 as a “weird menace” title. You couldn’t really do horror comics as such under the Comics Code, but short tales tinged with the supernatural where evil was punished and good rewarded? Sure. It also had a number of psuedo-superhero types, like Mark Merlin, Prince Ra-Man and Eclipso. The last of these, (“Hero and Villain in one man!” went on to be a player in the DC universe, and has his own Showcase volume. The Silver Age run ended with #80 in 1966.
After a three year hiatus, it came back as *The* House of Secrets. The Comics Code had eased up some, and it was possible to do horror comics in the mainstream again. #81 started by introducing an actual House of Secrets, which seemed to be both intelligent and malevolent, killing its then-owner in the first story of the issue. A new caretaker was hired, the pudgy and rather cowardly Abel, who loved to tell scary stories. (His nastier brother Cain did the same over at the House of Mystery.)
Each issue, Abel would introduce a few short tales of horror, often having a small adventure of his own in between. The quality of the stories varied widely from trite to quite good. A particularly well-received story was “Swamp Thing” in #92. It was so liked that the main character was slightly updated and given his own series, which went on to become famous. Another standout is “The Ballad of Little Joe” in #86, about a puppet that comes to life. What makes that story special is that one of the “villains” is clearly a philosopher at heart, rather than the conqueror his culture wants him to be. ”You can twist form–but can you ever change a man’s love?”
Then there’s “There are Two of Me…and One Must Die!” in #91, which puts a new twist on the stock DC plot of spotting the fake person by a tiny clue. I do have to say that reading a bunch of these stories in a row can make them a bit samey, and they’re mostly quite tame by today’s horror standards.
The art ranges from workmanlike to excellent–the lack of color does not hurt most of the stories, and in some cases enhances the feel. (The four-color process sometimes detracted from the mood of stories.)
I would recommend this volume to DC fans of a certain age, and those looking for horror stories that are spooky, but not too horrific. I’ll leave you with one of the epilogues…
“Silence sounds like green vines creeping…dry boards scream like blind men seeking…for these are the signs…of secrets lurking…”(less)
A couple of years back, there was a surprise hit anime titled Puella Magi Madoka Magica. While many magical girl stories have dark undertones beneath...moreA couple of years back, there was a surprise hit anime titled Puella Magi Madoka Magica. While many magical girl stories have dark undertones beneath their fluffy, candy-colored exteriors, Madoka went full on into very dark places by twisting some of the standard genre cliches. I won’t spoil those plot points here, just in case.
Kazumi takes place more or less in the same world as the Madoka series. Young Kazumi wakes up to find herself stuffed in a trunk, naked, and with no personal memories beyond her name. After some confusing adventures, Kazumi discovers that she can use magic, and is told that she is a mahou shoujo, a “magical girl.” Kazumi is told that magical girls make a bargain with certain beings. In exchange for having a wish granted, they must use their magical powers to fight monsters known as “witches.” Being amnesiac, Kazumi does not remember what her wish was.
Kazumi meets other magical girls, and fights some monsters. But given the world she’s in, there must be something else going on….
It’s difficult to go into too much detail about the plotline without discussing spoilers. Suffice it to say that this volume is deceptively light-hearted, and the subtitle “The Innocent Malice” will apply by the end of the series. I should mention that despite the main characters being junior-high age girls, the target audience for the series is seinin, young men. In this volume, that’s most notable with some blatant fanservice scenes that the artist’s notes make clear are to appeal to him.
I’m a bit dubious about recommending this volume, as for the people who are into the deeper themes and plot twists, the series will read better as a whole.(less)
This is another Ace Double, two small books combined into one upside-down from each other so they make a fair-sized paperback. In this case, a short n...moreThis is another Ace Double, two small books combined into one upside-down from each other so they make a fair-sized paperback. In this case, a short novel and several short stories by former ad executive Robert Lory.
Masters of the Lamp is a spy novel set in the far future. Two agents of the Federation’s Intelligence Arm have gone missing, and the Head, an organic supercomputer, suspects a connection. It’s up to Shamryke Odell (named after a long-extinct plant), top agent, to discover what’s up. Though he prefers to work alone, Sham is teamed up with Aleya Nine of the Merchants’ Guild. He’s reminded that she’s an expendable partner.
Soon enough, the agents find themselves bound to Marquette, the planet of religious fanatics. And not just one denomination, but all sorts of religious fanatics. Disguised as pilgrims, Sham and Aleya must discover what’s really going on behind the scenes, who’s responsible and what their ultimate goal is.
The story is James Bond-ish, with gadgets, double agents and people being killed just as they’re about to spill the secret. Sham is alleged to be a ladies’ man, but doesn’t get any until after the story ends. Religious belief is generally treated as a bit silly, but at least one bit of dogma turns out to be a life-saver for the cult that practices it.
A Harvest of Hoodwinks is an anthology of short tales linked by the theme of deception. The most striking of the stories is “Because of Purple Elephants,” in which two small children discover an alien spaceship, with telepathic invaders aboard. The older of the boys must make a decision that could save Earth or mean death. ”The Star Party” is interesting for following the notion of a genuine astrologer to a painful conclusion. ”Just a God” deals with an abrupt change in theology. And “Debut” is a very short piece that’s almost all twist.
“Snowbird and the Seven Warfs,” about a Cheyenne man mistakenly drafted into an alien game show, demonstrates one of the problems that crops up in Ace Doubles. They were still using rather old-fashioned standards when it came to talking about sex, even in 1970. Thus the last few paragraphs take a very roundabout approach to implying that the man has had his penis enlarged.
This isn’t the best Ace Double I’ve read, but it was bargain priced, and “Debut” really is a gem.(less)
Disclaimer: I received this book in a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.
Locke Lamora is a con artist and thief living in the ci...moreDisclaimer: I received this book in a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.
Locke Lamora is a con artist and thief living in the city of Camorr, a sort of fantasy version of Venice strongly influenced by Dickens and Machiavelli, and probably named after the Camorra, a real-life Italian organized crime group. Orphaned…presumably…at a young age, Locke learned thieving early on, and took to it well. He has his own gang, the Gentleman Bastards, and they are secretly far more successful than they’ve been letting on to Capa Barsavi, the local crimelord.
The Gentleman Bastards are in the middle of a really big scam when their plans collide with other plotters, one of whom is willing to do the unthinkable in order to achieve their goal. Tragedy ensues, and Locke must scheme faster and meaner than ever before if he is to survive, let alone come out ahead.
This book doesn’t have any likable characters, though a few are somewhat sympathetic or act for a cause greater than themselves. Locke’s one virtue is loyalty to his very small group of friends. He also has a bottom line he won’t cross, which makes the person who will the villain of the story. He and his compatriots are quite clever, however, which makes this a good caper story.
Trigger Warning: Torture is practiced by several characters, including Locke.
Due to much of the plotline being dependent on twists, it’s hard to be specific without being spoilery. I did feel that one section towards the beginning was a bit padded. We see a twist, then the reveal that it’s a con game, and then flash back to a long sequence of Locke and his gang preparing for this trick. It didn’t establish much that wasn’t covered elsewhere in the book, and could have been cut, allowing the reader to figure out how it was done.
This is the first of seven planned books about Locke Lamora. The second, Red Seas Under Red Skies, is already available, and the third, The Republic of Thieves, is scheduled for release in October. (This giveaway was presumably to create buzz for that.)
The lack of characters I want to continue reading about really hurt the book in my opinion. Others may find Locke more lovable.(less)
Jermyn Graves is a spellmaker, a rare kind of wizard that can reshape old spells for new purposes, and even create new spells for other wizards to use...moreJermyn Graves is a spellmaker, a rare kind of wizard that can reshape old spells for new purposes, and even create new spells for other wizards to use. Or rather, he will be once he finishes his journeyman training with the only master spellmaker in the land. When Jermyn arrives at the isolated village of Land’s End, however, he finds that the winter cold is more than matched by a chilly reception from certain people.
Lady Jean Allons’ household has been struck by tragedy and family rancor, making for tricky navigation for the young wizard. When tragedy strikes again,Jermyn must use his training and the help of his skunk familiar Delia to solve the mystery before he himself is condemned to die.
This is the second in a young adult fantasy series about Jermyn, the first being A plague of Sorcerors. It’s a pleasant light read. While Jermyn is a talented wizard beyond his years, his inexperience shows, and he lets prejudice get the better of him when dealing with a local hedgewitch. Jermyn’s seventeen in the story, but there’s nothing that makes it unsuitable for younger teens.
The worst thing I can say about the book is that it’s a little forgettable–it wasn’t until halfway through that I realized I had read it before and thus already knew who the murderer was. Check your local library for this and the previous book if student wizards are your cup of tea.(less)
Nick Carter, master detective, is a character with a long history, in three distinct phases. He started in 1886 in stories most associated with the di...moreNick Carter, master detective, is a character with a long history, in three distinct phases. He started in 1886 in stories most associated with the dime novels, was reinvented in 1933 for the pulps, and then again in 1964 as “Nick Carter Killmaster” for a long running series of action paperbacks. It’s the 1930s incarnation that this volume focuses on.
The house name for the writers of Nick Carter stories was Nick Carter; the first story in this volume, “Marked for Death” is by Richard Wormser. It’s Nick’s pulp magazine debut, and establishes Nick as a master of disguise and detection who isn’t afraid to use the three revolvers he carries. While more violence-prone than his Nineteenth Century incarnation, Nick is still more cerebral than hard-boiled.
Nick is called to Boston from his usual New York haunts by a friend whose father has been murdered and is now being hounded for money he supposedly owned. Problem is that last time he was in town, Nick Carter showed up the Boston police, and they are not going to be cooperative. Warning: Nick does not like Pomeranians, and casually kills one to test a theory.
“The Impossible Theft,” by Thomas C. McClary, is from 1934. It involves the theft of a quarter-million dollars from a bank in a manner which seems, frankly, impossible (and is never satisfactorily explained.) As a seeming side note, a cheap replica idol used to decorate the bank also vanishes. Nick Carter quickly connects this with the visit of a certain Maharajah to New York and infiltrates his Westchester mansion as a magician.
This story is much more fanciful than the first, and invokes the work of Charles Fort, as well as heavy doses of Orientalism and “the mysteries of the East.” People from South Asia are likely to find the depiction of the Maharajah and his court laughable, insulting or both, despite Nick’s new-found respect for some of their number.
The script for the first episode of “The Return of Nick Carter” radio series is also included. ”The Strange Dr. Devolo” was written by Walter B. Gibson (scribe of the Shadow) and Edward Gruskin. The seemingly immortal mad scientist is using a weird crystal to hypnotize wealthy people into believing they’re famous people from the past. Nick has to track him down using secretary Patsy as a decoy and expose the strange doctor’s trickery.
The volume is rounded out by Nick Carter’s comic book incarnation from 1947, in “The Lucky Stiff” by Bruce Elliott and Bob Powell. Nick and Patsy go to the horse races, but the fix is in–in more ways than one! Despite the murder, this is a lighthearted tale that ends on a laugh.
There’s also several text pieces that introduce the various aspects of Nick Carter’s career.
Overall: While not up to the quality of the greats, these are some rip-roaring pulp tales. If you’re willing to put up with the period racism, you should be able to enjoy them as examples of one of American lowbrow literature’s enduring characters.(less)
**spoiler alert** Disclaimer: I received this book in a Goodreads giveaway in the expectation that I would review it. This review will contain heavy s...more**spoiler alert** Disclaimer: I received this book in a Goodreads giveaway in the expectation that I would review it. This review will contain heavy spoilers.
This is the third in a trilogy about Abby Thomas, a denominational college student on a summer service project to be a tutor to economically disadvantaged eleven-year-old Merri. They discover that Beautiful House, a program on Merri’s computer, allows them to view (and experience!) past events in old buildings. They soon draw in a young man named John Roberts, who starts a romantic relationship with Abby while helping them explore the history of Merri’s house, once a station on the Underground Railroad.
In this volume, Abby’s revealing of this information to her college roommate backfires when said roommate, Kate Greenfield, shows up with her fiance Ryan Turner in tow. It seems Kate has run into a brick wall in her family research. An ancestor named Ned Greenfield was born at Hickory Hill in Equality, Illinois–but that’s all she can find on him or his parentage. She asks Abby to help her using the Beautiful House program.
Equality, once a thriving salt mining town, seems friendly enough at first. But the townspeople become considerably less welcoming once the subject of Hickory Hill comes up. Abby and her friends soon discover some painful truths about the past. But God is in the business of redemption, and makes all things new.
This book is aimed at the Christian young adult market, so there is quite a bit of God-talk. An exact age range is a little harder to pin down. The topics of rape, torture and the cost of human lives of slavery may be a bit heavy for younger teens, while the sexual prudishness of the protagonists will probably have older teens, particularly ones not raised in more conservative Christian communities, rolling their eyes. Conservative Christian parents, on the other hand, are likely to approve of Abby and John’s chaste relationship.
The book has some serious flaws, which I will talk about in the spoilers section below. I can only recommend it as an introduction to the history of slavery in Illinois–there’s a list of further reading books in the back that are more to the point on the subject.
The biggest problem I have with this book is the villain of the modern section, Ryan. Abby takes an immediate dislike to him on first meeting and it’s easy to see why. The man is a horrible excuse for a human being, consistently putting his worst foot forward. He has zero appealing personality traits. Which would be okay if this were a different kind of story, one where the villain is mostly offstage so that the stalwart heroes only see him when he’s opposing them.
But instead he’s a tag-along for the group, in most scenes, repeatedly failing to show any redeeming characterization. By the time of his “sudden but inevitable betrayal” Kate looks less like an impulsive young woman in love, and more like someone who’s really, really stupid and needs it spelled out to her in large letters that Ryan is bad news. Tellingly, the one time Kate mentions what, specifically, she likes about Ryan, we aren’t allowed to hear it.
Ryan would have been a much better character if he were allowed to show positive character traits, reasons why Kate might have chosen to be his fiancee or special skills that made him valuable to the group. Even having him make valid criticisms of the protagonists’ actions might have helped. In this way, his final betrayal would have seemed less inevitable and more of a heartbreaking experience.
Looking at it another way, some in-story evidence suggests that Ryan may be either brain-damaged or not actually from Earth’s culture. (Seriously, a college student who is unfamiliar with libraries?) If this is the case, he’s less villainous than pitiable. And his reasoning for having sex with Kate shows the perils of abstinence-only sex ed and purity culture–a more streetwise woman than Kate would have noticed how bogus the logic was.
A more excusable flaw is that the protagonists don’t really follow logic chains. They know from repeated experience that Beautiful Home only works when it (or possibly God) wants to, and only shows them what it (or God) thinks they need to see. Yet they constantly worry about the program being abused or falling into the wrong hands. If God is showing Ryan women in their pajamas, then there is obviously some reason why God wants Ryan to see women in their pajamas, and you shouldn’t fault Ryan for that.
But hey, people are illogical like that in real life.
I’m also a little skeptical about exploring the issue of slavery and its ill effects from the point of view of privileged white people (Merri considerably less privileged, of course.) It worries me that the protagonists are surprised by an integrated church in the 21st Century, and that John has never seen a church that allows black people and white people to worship together before.
I see this book was self-published–the author may need a stricter editor to work out some of these problems with.(less)
I bought this book directly from the author, who markets it by going around to conventions in person. He’s hoping that by the time he reaches the thir...moreI bought this book directly from the author, who markets it by going around to conventions in person. He’s hoping that by the time he reaches the third or fourth book in the series, he’ll thus have an inbuilt audience. I will say that it seems to have done well at getting readers to actually review the book on Goodreads. Since it’s a first novel, I’m going to be a bit more nitpicky than I otherwise might.
When political scheming by Prince Barok of the Zoviyan Empire against his possibly more evil half-brother Prince Yarik backfires horribly, the young royal finds himself going into exile. Accompanied only by Leger, an alcoholic war hero who’s been appointed his alsman (head servant) as a slap in the face, Barok finds himself ruling the remote and dilapidated province of Enhedu, whose people (and the ghosts of the title) are less than happy to have him.
Soon, Prince Barok is joined by his one faithful servant, Dia, a concubine who has her reasons for being grateful to the otherwise less than admirable prince. It’s about this time that Barok learns a few things about his heritage he wasn’t aware of, and that his exile might be less coincidence than fate…or someone’s plan. Now Barok must somehow restore Enhedu’s prosperity and prevent its people from being forced into slavery.
There are four first-person narrators, Barok, Leger, Dia and Geart (Prince Barok’s former bodyguard, who spends much of this volume in prison or slavery.) This can get confusing, as most of them have very similar narration styles–Barok’s more distinct at first, until his personality changes. With the switching back and forth, it takes a fair amount of time before it’s clear where the plot is going.
Quite a bit of time is spent on the community building part of the plotline; the author’s researched well, but this does require some patience on the readers’ part. The volume is illustrated, some maps, some scene-setting photographs and diagrams, and a couple of handwritten notes that are a bit hard to read (especially the one that is supposed to be hard to read.)
I do see a lot of potential here, but this was perhaps a little ambitious for a first book. I noticed a tendency to overdo the negative qualities of some of the villains, for example. A neighboring lord isn’t just greedy, he’s fat, ugly, balding, rude and illiterate. A meddlesome woman isn’t just self-righteous and judgmental she’s also fat, lazy, nagging, frigid and either doesn’t understand how pregnancy works or tells easily spotted lies about it.
This is also a book that could use a glossary. There’s three different military units that all have names that start with “H”, for example, and that took some leafing back and forth to figure out which one was which.
This is a relatively low-magic setting, at least until near the end, when one of the characters really gets to cut loose. In the final chapters, we also get a few details that make the religious struggle not quite as simplistic as “sky father religion bad, earth mother religion good,” but it’s a very small caveat that is likely to be more important in later books.
While it’s an okay read, I would need to see some strong improvement in the next volume before recommending the series.(less)
First up this volume, Manami participates in a special Christmas card tournament and must research Christianity to figure out the special rules for he...moreFirst up this volume, Manami participates in a special Christmas card tournament and must research Christianity to figure out the special rules for her angelic and demonic cards. I found the bizarre use of the birth of Jesus, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection hilarious. Others unfamiliar with Japan's usual treatment of religion might find it blasphemous. Fair warning.
Overall, Manami remains an eternal newbie who hasn't actually learned the rules of the game, and does rash things. Good thing she's got tons of card luck (and the possible supernatural help of her key card.)
The art is pretty, but the romance aspect of the story is really forced.(less)