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Month: December 2020

Book Review: Hardears by Created by Matthew Clarke and Nigel Lynch

Book Review: Hardears by Created by Matthew Clarke and Nigel Lynch

Note: The ARC review copy provided contained incomplete artwork and was of low resolution.

In Hardears Nigel Lynch and Matthew Clarke have created a fantasy world of extraordinary creatures and rich mythos on par with the very best. The decision to use Caribbean folktales as a base to jump off and tell original stories pays off. Often fantasy stories are set in Western European/Medieval settings which made the setting of Jouvert Island all the more unique and engaging. I loved the world of Headers. Everything from the character and creature designs to the world architecture is inventive and fabulous.

There are some intriguing characters in the book. The villainous Mr Harding and the pirates make fantastic foils. Unfortunately, most of the protagonists are two dimensional to the point of being cardboard cutouts. Bolo is bland, and I struggled to care about him or what he did. I found myself only caring if Bolo and his crew succeeded because I wanted Mr Harding to be stopped. The plot itself is basic, which is fine if you have a cast of intriguing and engaging characters who you want to succeed. The richness of the original artistry that makes the rest of the Hardears world contrasts with the deficiency of charisma in the heroes who are supposed to save it.

In the end, Hardears is fine. It is even terrific in parts when the action gets going. It’s worth reading just for the gorgeous artwork alone.

Lynch and Clarke have succeeded in creating a fascinating world. I would love to return to it and read more adventures set in it. Next time, I hope they write a story featuring characters who have the charm and complexity to match the setting in which their fates will unfold.

BOOK REVIEW: Penultimate Quest by Lars Brown

BOOK REVIEW: Penultimate Quest by Lars Brown

I’m really struggling to get my thoughts in order. I am not sure what to make of Penultimate Quest. Overall it was a satisfying reading experience. It is a strange, meandering tale about repeating patterns of behaviour that at one point served a useful purpose but now do more harm than good. The characters were well written, and I personally became very invested in their fates. Frustratingly this is one of those books that I think requires repeated readings to get the most out of it. It certainly makes literary allusions that I didn’t understand, and the plot is somewhat convoluted. It is overlong, but I think that is part of the point.

The dialogue is witty, and the banter between party members is engaging. The page layout and panel composition are masterfully done. The art style took me a while to get used to, but for the type of story this, it works well. Our protagonists are believable, damaged, and, sympathetic even when they are doing things that are hurtful to each other and the world around them.

My criticism is that this is a novel that requires a lot of effort, which given how the book starts caught me off guard. There are middle sections where plot and character progression almost crawls to a stop. If I didn’t have to review it, I might have stopped. I was lost at which direction the story was trying to take me, and there were points where I was frustrated and confused by what the comic was trying to do. I am glad I kept with and finished it but fair warning if you are expecting a light read think again. There are heavy ideas explored here, and Brown often takes the most arduous path to get his points across. The story takes characters off in unexpected tangents that are often delightful but on occasion are tedious.

I have mixed feelings about it. It is undoubtedly a novel that deserves to be read. I enjoyed vast chunks of it. Yet, when it didn’t work for me, it really didn’t work me. It is a thought-provoking and challenging book that stayed in my head for days after I had finished reading. It is the sort of book you want to discuss with other people to find out what they made of it. Lars is a fantastic cartoonist, and Penultimate Quest is a lavish showcase of his storytelling prowess.

The Grémillet Sisters by Giovanni Di Gregorio & Alessandro Barbucci

The Grémillet Sisters by Giovanni Di Gregorio & Alessandro Barbucci

An utterly adorable book. The Gremillet Sisters is a heartwarming story that is told with glorious eye-catching artwork. As a fan of Pixar and Studio Ghibli its lovely to read something that captures the same sense of adventure and emotional heft. Di Gregorio script does not treat the reader like an idiot. This is perhaps a more mature story than the initial impression of the artwork might lead you to believe. There is something here for both children and adults. I really enjoyed the interplay between Sarah, Cassiopeia, and, Lucille. The sibling rivalry as the sisters’ jockey for status and petty annoyances they inflict on each other is played both for laughs and dramatic purposes. There are hints of larger supernatural elements in the world of the story that were handled deftly. The core of themes of the novel though are memories, family secrets, and, what effect that hidden trauma has on loved ones when it is exposed.

Part Goonies with its mystery and detective elements and part My Neighbour Totoro with its fantastical creature designs and exploration of sisterhood deftly manages to blend moments of danger with moments of tenderness.

The dialogue is not as sharp as the art, and that does make me wonder if something was lost in translation. Also, at points, the pace does lag. However, these are minor quibbles Di Gregorio, and Barbuhave created a charming novel with a cast of characters that are memorable and who I, for one, would love to see more of.

Mary: The Adventures of Mary Shelley’s Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Granddaughter
The Adventures of Mary Shelley’s Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Granddaughter
by Brea Grant & Yishan Li 

Mary: The Adventures of Mary Shelley’s Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Granddaughter
The Adventures of Mary Shelley’s Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Granddaughter
by Brea Grant & Yishan Li 

Description
When angsty teenager Mary Shelley is not interested in carrying on her family’s celebrated legacy of being a great writer, but she soon discovers that she has the not-so-celebrated and super-secret Shelley power to heal monsters, just like her famous ancestor, and those monsters are not going to let her ignore her true calling anytime soon.

Everyone expects sixteen-year-old Mary to be a great writer. After all, her mother, her aunt, and her grandmother are all successful writers (as they constantly remind her)—not to mention her famous namesake, the OG Mary Shelley, horror author extraordinaire. But Mary is pretty sure she’s not cut out for that life. She can’t even stay awake in class! Then one dark and rainy night, she’s confronted with a whole new destiny. Mary has the ability to heal monsters… and they’re not going to leave her alone until she does.

With the help of a mysterious (and mysteriously cute) stranger, a Harpy, a possessed stuffed bunny, and her BFF Rhonda, Mary must uncover her family’s darkest secret if she’s going to save the monster world… and herself.

REVIEW:

This was fine. Li’s artwork is attractive, there is an assuredness with the panel layout, and line work makes this a pleasing book to look at. Storywise this is very much standard supernatural YA fair. The titular Mary is a likeable protagonist suffer under the weight of expectation from her family to become a great writer but wants something different for herself.
For the most part, Grant’s script balances teenage angst, horror with quippy humour rather well. It very much falls into a Buffy The Vampire Slayer mould of YA stories. It works well enough, and there are some stand out characters such as the Harpy with a toothache. Its when the quirky monsters are on the page that the book soars. However, I did not connect with any other human protagonists as much. The pacing of the story felt rushed toward the end, and there was a moment of Deus ex machina involving one of Mary’s schoolmates that did not work.

This book isn’t aimed 40-something blokes, but for teenagers looking for supernatural YA there’s is a lot to admire about Mary. Not my cup of tea, but it does what it sets out to do and does it rather well.

Mega-Dogs of New Kansas by Dan Jolley Jacques Khouri

Mega-Dogs of New Kansas by Dan Jolley Jacques Khouri

Lerner Publishing Group

Description
Sorry friends: e-Galley not available for Kindle download.
The story of a girl and her dog—in space. Sienna Barlow loves nothing more than riding around New Kansas on top of her mega-dog, Gus. He’s one of the massive pooches protecting the human settlers of a strange planet. In fact, Sienna connects better with Gus than with other kids. So when a visiting official threatens to shut down the mega-dog program, Sienna sneaks off with her best friend. After she, Gus, and a stowaway crash their escape ship, they discover a danger to every human in their community—and launch a wild plan to save New Kansas.

REVIEW

This a superb all-ages adventure. Set in a retro-futuristic Martian colony the character designs and look of the world takes inspiration from 70’s sci-fi shows like Buck Rogers and Battlestar Galactica. The colour palette is a pleasing mix of orange/yellow/brown that harkens back to those classics while still being fresh and modern enough to appeal to younger readers. Khouri skillfully manages to capture crippling shyness that Sienna suffers from and imbues the action scenes with enough peril to keep the reader hooked. Jolley’s script moves along at a decent clip, there is enough character development to the reader invested in the fates of Sienna and Gus. The dialogue captures the awkwardness and excitement of making new friends. Being a fan of Roald Dahl, I am always up for stories that are about children showing adults what clods they are being and setting the worlds to rights. I rather enjoyed this. Jolley and Khouri have done a commendable job of creating a tale filled with derring-do, friendships, and, personal growth.