2010.01


Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites: Animal horror adventure stories

Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites by Evan Dorkin (writer) and Jill Thompson (artist)

Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites is about a group of dogs that seek out the supernatural. In the first story, they call on a wise dog who helps them free the spirit of a dog haunting a doghouse. In the second story, they deal with a black cat who is acting as a familiar for humans about to enact a sacred ritual of black magic. First they capture the black cat, and then they go to see and disrupt the ritual (with dire consequences for the humans). On each adventure, they drag one of the neighborhood cats, “Orphan,” into their plans.

In the third story, “Let Sleeping Dogs Lie,” is about the return of the black cat who raises dead dogs from the grave using a spell from her previous masters. The cat wants to command the zombie dogs to attack the dogs that captured her, but it turns out zombie dogs don’t like cats any mo... Read More

Hilda and the Troll: An intriguing start to this graphic novel series

Hilda and the Troll by Luke Pearson

The HILDA graphic novels had been on my radar for a while, but knowing they've recently been adapted into a Netflix original made me finally give them a read (I like to read the source material before watching any adaptations).

In Hilda and the Troll (2010), Hilda is a young girl living with her mother in an unspecified part of the Scandinavian countryside, in a little wooden cabin on a great grassy plain. She spends her days wandering outside, drawing in her sketchbook, and reading texts about mythological creatures — which, the reader soon realizes, are not mythological at all.

Hilda encounters sea spirits and giants and trolls, recording them faithfully in her sketchbook. And this isn’t treated as particularly extraordinary; it’s taken for granted that her world is filled with such things. A little man made out of wood occasiona... Read More

Hex Hall: Tropey but fun

Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins

Hex Hall (2010) is Rachel Hawkins’s debut novel, a young adult paranormal boarding school story.

Sophie Mercer is half-witch and half-mortal, but lives alone with her single human mother and knows little about her magical father. After wrecking her high school prom with a disastrous spell, Sophie is sent to Hecate (nicknamed Hex) Hall, a school for delinquent magical beings.

In her human school, Sophie was outcast for her witchy powers. At Hex Hall, her magic is not at all unusual, but the social hierarchy is no less daunting. Sophie quickly runs afoul of the in-crowd: befriending her roommate, Jenna, who is ostracized for being a vampire and suspected of murder; turning down the elite girls’ offer of coven membership; and developing a crush on the queen bee’s boyfriend, Archer.

A series of near-deadly attacks begins taking ou... Read More

White Cat: A YA series with an interesting magic system

White Cat by Holly Black

White Cat (2010), the first book in Holly Black's The Curse Workers series, focuses on Cassel, a teenage boy born into a family of workers. Working magic is illegal, which means anyone born with the gift — his entire family — either works for the mob or as a con artist. Except Cassel, that is, because Cassel doesn’t have a gift. What he does have is strange dreams that make him sleepwalk, and end up in the strangest places, like on top of the dorms at his boarding school. If only he could figure out what was causing these dreams, he knows he would be okay. But what’s causing the dreams is even scarier than what is in them.

White Cat is quintessential Holly Black. You have intriguing characters, razor sharp dialo... Read More

Feed: One more zombie novel?

Feed by Mira Grant

I have grown weary of zombies. In the past five years, everyone started writing zombie novels, apparently out of ennui at the thought of writing yet another variation on vampires, and that was good. But the mass of zombie material all seemed to hit the market at the same time, and it was too much, too undiluted, with too many books that weren’t good enough to be worth reading. Soon I was avoiding any book that purported to be about zombies, because, hey, enough already.

So when Mira Grant’s Feed came on the market, I was not inclined to read it, especially because it was published in that really annoying new taller and thinner paperback format — it’s less comfortable in the hand and it doesn’t look good on the bookshelf next to the standard trade and mass market paperbacks. Then ... Read More

Morning Glories (Vol. 1) by Nick Spencer (An Oxford College Student Review!)

In this new column, I'll be featuring comic book reviews written by my students at Oxford College of Emory University. Oxford College is a small liberal arts school just outside of Atlanta, Georgia. I challenge students to read and interpret comics because I believe sequential art and visual literacy are essential parts of education at any level (see my Manifesto!). I'll be posting the best of my students' reviews in this column.

Today, I am proud to present a review by Victoria Gu, the very first Oxford Student featured on our site! Victoria is a chronically sleep-deprived freshman intending to double major in Biology and Psychology and pursue a career in medicine. She originally hails from Seattle, WA where she spends her breaks indulging in overpriced hipster eats, cooking old Chinese home recipes, and camping beneath the stars. From a young age,... Read More

Scarlet (Volumes 1 & 2) by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev

Scarlet (Volumes 1 & 2) by Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev

Angry about innocent people being shot by police? Scarlet is the comic book series you will want to read, even if you think you don’t want to read a book on this subject because you are angry enough already (I know I am).

Before I continue with this review, let me be clear: This book is not a cop-hating book, even though there are cops depicted whom you will hate. The book does not suggest that all cops are this way; in fact, of the two main cops that initiate Scarlet’s story when she was younger, one is corrupt and the other is every way his opposite. I like that the author, Brian Michael Bendis, deals with these issues in a more complex way than you might think possible in twelve issues of a comic book series.

I’m very excited to be writing this review, because I’ve been waiting five years to tell you about Read More

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms: Different

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

CLASSIFICATION: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is epic fantasy that mixes together court intrigue, mythology, romantic/family drama, and celestial magics. It brought to mind everything from Jacqueline Carey, Lane Robins' Maledicte, and Marie Brennan’s Midnight Never Come to Gregory Frost’s Shadowbridge / Lord Tophet, John Scalzi’s The God Engines, Read More

Black Rain: A novel’s worth of Indiana Jones opening scenes

Black Rain by Graham Brown

Black Rain is terrific summer reading fodder that fits squarely in the realm of the lighter-weight Dan Brown-esque genre of tech-thrillers. Other leaders of this genre include James Rollins and Jeremy Robinson, whose stories are a bit formulaic and their characterizations often thinly built.

Graham Brown, however, brings new energy. His core plot involves the Mayan creation myth called "Popul Vuh." After having discovered several crystals that suggest the existence of a tremendous new energy source, a semi-secret non-governmental organization goes to Brazil to find their source.

Brown picks apart certain stories from "Popul Vuh" and develops historic explanations for their origins as his team of ex-military and researchers uncover clue after clue surrounding the origin of the crystals. Black Rain contains government conspiracies, hidden j... Read More

Immortal Beloved: A light but promising new start to a supernatural trilogy

Immortal Beloved by Cate Tiernan

Nastasya is a burned-out immortal who has spent hundreds of years trying to avoid any sort of real emotion. With her equally jaded friends, she spends all her time in endless, meaningless carousing. She’s not very likable at first, but that’s the whole point. When her friend Incy’s casual cruelty gives Nastasya a wake-up call about what her life has become, she doesn’t like herself much either.

Horrified with herself, afraid of Incy, Nastasya does the only thing she can think of. She turns to River, a woman who offered her help many decades ago. River runs River’s Edge, a halfway house for immortals that serves as part rehab, part magic school. Troubled immortals go there to relearn an appreciation for life and to study positive spellcraft. Nastasya doesn’t quite fit in at first but eventually comes to enjoy her stay at River’s Edge, though her attraction to standoffish “Viking god... Read More

If Walls Could Talk: Begins another paranormal cozy mystery series by Blackwell

If Walls Could Talk by Juliet Blackwell

I’ve been enjoying the audio versions, read by Xe Sands, of Juliet Blackwell’s WITCHCRAFT MYSTERIES series, so I thought I’d give the audio versions (also read by Xe Sands) of Blackwell’s HAUNTED HOME RENOVATION MYSTERIES a try. These are also paranormal cozy mysteries which take place in San Francisco and which feature a slightly socially awkward independent woman running her own business.

In If Walls Could Talk, the first HAUNTED HOME RENOVATION book, we meet Melanie (“Mel”) Turner, a divorced ABD (All But Dissertation) anthropologist who took over her family’s construction business after her mother died and her father became depressed. Turner Construction’s area of expertise is renovating old houses in the... Read More

Hellhole: A major disappointment. Not recommended.

Hellhole by Kevin J. Anderson & Brian Herbert

After a failed rebellion against the corrupt regime of the Constellation (an interstellar empire that spans dozens of worlds) General Tiber Adolphus is exiled to the newly colonized and extremely hostile planet of Hallholme. Because of the harsh conditions of this world, it is quickly awarded a nickname: Hellhole. His rebellion may have failed, but Adolphus still commands the loyalty of much of the population. Despite attempts by the ruler of the Constellation, Diadem Michella Duchenet, to make sure his attempt to settle Hallholme fails, he survives the first years there. Now, more than a decade later, Adolphus is at the point where he once again has the support and resources to undertake action against the tyrant Duchenet. And this time he means to succeed.

Hellhole is without a doubt, one of the worst books I've read in the past few years. Read More

ZITA THE SPACEGIRL by Ben Hatke

ZITA THE SPACEGIRL by Ben Hatke

If I were forced to choose one word to sum up Ben Hatke’s ZITA THE SPACEGIRL trilogy, it would be “delightful.” I could toss a lot more words into the mix — imaginative, whimsical, heartwarming, and so on, but really, all one need know is the entire series is a delight. And now I just wondered if our comic/graphic expert Brad had reviewed it and of course he has, and it turns out at the end he says Zita is “a delight.” So there you go.

The trilogy is made up of Zita the Spacegirl, Legends of Zita the Spacegirl, and The Return of Zita the Spacegirl. The books are aimed at YA, and it’s hard to imagine any child not enjoying every aspect of it — character, plot, visuals. While it lacks the rich depth or wholly original characters to make it a full crossover book, it’s equally hard... Read More

The Search for WondLa: Sweet heroine, dull plot

The Search for WondLa by Tony DiTerlizzi

Eva Nine has been living in an underground bunker for all of her twelve years of life. She’s being raised by a slightly humanoid robot named MUTHR (it’s an anagram), her omnipod (a personal hand-held device) and her computerized home called Sanctuary. Eva Nine is the only human she’s ever seen. What’s above ground? Why is she not allowed out? Are there any other humans on Earth? If not, where are they? Soon some of Eva’s questions will be answered because somebody is hunting her and to escape, she must leave Sanctuary by herself.

When Eva Nine gets outside, she finds that everything is unrecognizable and nothing is as she’s been taught. The flora and fauna are unknown to her omnipod which is usually able to identify anything. She encounters strange enemies and makes friends with creatures that seem impossible. Could it be that she’s not on Earth? Where is she? Why is somebody hunting her?... Read More

Zeus: King of the Gods: The Best Greek Mythology Comics

Zeus: King of the Gods by George O'Connor

If you are even slightly interested in mythology, you need to order immediately George O'Connor's Olympians Series of graphic novels. The first six books that are out so far are stellar, and though you can read them in any order, it's best to start with Zeus: King of the Gods. Books two through six are best if read in this order: Athena, Hera, Hades, Read More

A Matter of Blood: Leave the lights on

A Matter of Blood by Sarah Pinborough

Sarah Pinborough makes it clear from the first page of her prologue in A Matter of Blood that we’ll be seeing plenty of blood — and worse. The novel opens on the scene of a corpse squirming with maggots. An unnamed man stands in the doorway and declares that “This has to stop,” but the noise of the flies only grows louder. It seems, though, that the man is talking to someone — not to the corpse, not to himself, not even to the flies, though maybe he is speaking to someone through the flies. And maybe, we think, we’re on to something with that last thought, because as the speaker continues, the flies gather together and form into a shape that is nearly human.

It’s the last glimpse of the supernatural we get for a long time, though. Instead,... Read More

Mystery Society by Steve Niles and Fiona Staples

Mystery Society by Steve Niles (writer) and Fiona Staples (artist)

If you are looking for a light, funny read with beautiful art, you should check out Mystery Society by Steve Niles and Fiona Staples. The basic story sounds like it should be written seriously, but Niles turns to wit instead. The Mystery Society is a renegade group devoted to debunking myths (or verifying them), revealing military secrets, and exposing the lies of reporters (who have themselves been lied to, as one character points out). What’s amusing? The team includes not just psychic twin sisters with a mysterious secret and a woman bit by a ghoul who calls herself “Secret Skull,” but also the brain of Jules Verne housed in a robot body (with — I kid you not — a “butt jet”).

The relationship between the two main characters is what make... Read More

Ex-Heroes: A zombie story with superheroes

Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines

I don’t really enjoy reading about superheroes. While it may be fun to read about Superman or Batman kicking ass and taking names against enemies far less powerful, I usually lean toward reading about flawed heroes or at least ones that can die. Having a hero like Superman, who’s nigh-invulnerable, removes the element of tension and the thrilling feeling you get when the hero is in danger. On that basis, I was hesitant to read Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines, but Mihir at Fantasy Book Critic convinced me otherwise.

Zombies and superheroes – two themes that are everywhere in modern film and literature. Man of SteelThe Dark Knight, the first two seasons of The Walking DeadRead More

Cold Magic: A cold and exhilarating roller-coaster ride

Cold Magic by Kate Elliott

I feel like I've been waiting a very long time to read and comment on this book, not only because it was recommended to me ages ago, but because it contained everything I love in a novel (which have been missing from various other books on my reading list for quite a while). Not only a complex and appealing female lead, but also a strong bond between two women which makes up the emotional centre of the narrative, solid and fascinating world-building, political intrigue on a wide scale, an emphasis on the female gaze, beautiful prose, lots of diversity, a dash of steampunk and plenty of witty insights strewn throughout its significant length.

That's the perfect recipe for a great book.

Admittedly a little slow to start with, the reader is introduced to Catherine Hassi Barahal, a young orphaned teenager living with her aunt, uncle and extended family in modest dwellings, who attends universi... Read More

Shades of Milk and Honey: A Regency romp with magic

Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal

Jane Ellsworth is resigned to spinsterhood. At twenty-eight, her chances of finding a husband are dwindling. Her long nose and sharp chin make her less than a beauty, and she can’t help but compare herself to her younger sister Melody who is a beauty. Jane’s proficiency in the art of glamour, manipulating etheric energies to enhance art, music or decoration, is above average, but in Jane’s mind, this is nothing special, because glamour is “no more a necessary than playing the piano.”

With Shades of Milk and Honey, Mary Robinette Kowal expertly captures the flavor and detail of a Regency-era novel, in a nineteenth-century England where magic is an everyday thing. Fans of Jane Austen will enjoy this novel. Readers who have never read Jane Austen might find this book to be a good introduction, surprisingly enough, since Kowal hews pretty closely to the p... Read More

Live Free or Die: I wouldn’t pay for this

Live Free or Die by John Ringo

Humans were alarmed when the first aliens that arrived to introduce themselves to Earth set up a hypergate that immediately connected Earth with all the outside universe. We were no longer alone. At least the Glatun were friendly aliens.

Tyler Vernon, a smart hard-working guy who chops wood for a living, decides to take this opportunity to improve his fortune. He finds a product that our new alien friends love and begins a business empire. Soon he’s the richest man on Earth, and that means he’s got a lot of influence on how things get done. When another alien race, the Horvath, come through the gate, declare themselves Earth’s “protectors” and start demanding tribute, Tyler is the only human who seems ready to take them on.

Live Free or Die, the first in John Ringo’s TROY RISING series, starts strong. Tyler is, at first, a likeable entrepreneur whose clever busines... Read More

Swarm: Shallow but thrilling

Swarm by B.V. Larson

Professor Kyle Riggs and his kids were asleep in their house when the alien spaceship arrived. It killed the kids, kidnapped Kyle, and put him through a series of grueling tests. Since he was still alive afterward, the ship made Kyle the captain. This has been happening all over Earth. Most of the captured humans have been killed because they couldn’t make it through the rigorous tests, but all the survivors are now piloting spaceships and in the perfect position to fight off an alien invasion that’s coming to enslave humanity. Add in a beautiful naked coed who’s chained up inside Kyle’s spaceship and you have a silly, but exciting, male wish-fulfillment fantasy.

I want to admit straight up that even though I’m giving Swarm only two stars (it’s just not a very good book), it entertained me. I think many readers will love Swarm — those who just want a fast-moving exhilarating ride ... Read More

Museum of Thieves: Asked too much of me

Museum of Thieves by Lian Tanner

She didn’t want to be safe. She wanted to be free.

It’s Separation Day and 12-year old Goldie is finally going to be separated from her parents and guardians. Literally separated. For in the town of Jewel, where the most important value is safety, children are always chained to a parent or guardian during the day and tied to the bedpost at night. And when they do something wrong, as Goldie is prone to do regularly, they’re put in heavy “punishment chains.”

This year the Grand Protector has lowered the separation age from 16 to 12 because she believes that Jewel is much safer than it used to be. But her brother, the Fugleman, and his henchmen, the Blessed Guardians, have conspired to ruin this year’s Separation Day and to keep the kids in chains. But Goldie escapes and that means her parents have to go to the dungeons. Can Goldie stay free and get her parents out of captivity, ... Read More

Kat, Incorrigible: Magical Austen for the middle grade reader

Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis

I was twelve years of age when I chopped off my hair, dressed as a boy, and set off to save my family from impending ruin. I made it almost to the end of my front garden.


Thus begin the adventures of Katherine Ann Stephenson, also known as Kat. Kat is twelve and has a plethora of problems. Her oldest sibling, Charles, has gambled away all the family’s money and been sent home from Oxford. Her oldest sister Elissa is in love with the idea of being the tragic gothic heroine who sacrifices everything to marry and save her family from destruction. Angeline, who used to be Kat’s protector and confidante, now locks herself away in a room with Elissa to gossip about boys and goings-on in Society. That leaves Kat, who has to put up with her absent-minded father and controlling step-mother who is determined to marry Elissa off to the wealthy Sir Neville, regardless of the dark rumors about... Read More

The Last Dragonslayer: A fast and mildly entertaining read

The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde

The Last Dragonslayer, by Jasper Fforde, is a young adult novel whose style will be readily familiar to those who’ve read Fforde’s adult fare such as the THURSDAY NEXT series. Unfortunately, the wit and satire don’t quite translate fully to the young adult realm here, and while The Last Dragonslayer is a fast and mildly entertaining read, it falls short of the exuberant originality and enjoyment I’ve come to expect from this author.

The novel’s setting is a not-quite-our-own world, more precisely the Ununited Kingdoms, where once upon a time magic was a more powerful and pervasive force but has been gradually weakening over time. Where wizards once mastered the winds, now they go about unclogging drains, getting cats out of trees, delivering pizzas... Read More