September 30, 2014

Blog Tour: BATTLING BOY: THE RISE OF AURORA WEST


Attention, residents of Blogosphere-opolis: This is no ordinary review. This is a very special blog tour review, organized by First Second, who kindly supplied me with review copies of the new superhero graphic novels created by Paul Pope: Battling Boy and The Rise of Aurora West (which is a sort of prequel/companion book to the first volume). In addition to the usual review, I'm also thrilled to draw your attention to some ORIGINAL, EXCLUSIVE ART provided by the artist of The Rise of Aurora West, David Rubin. That's what those amazing sketches are down there: drawings of Haggard West, Aurora's superhero father.

Anyway, on to the review.


Summary:The Rise of Aurora West is just out this month, and it’s the second volume in the series that began with Battling Boy, though each one stands alone pretty well and, honestly, you could read them in reverse order and be just fine. You'll find some overlapping characters, of course—most notably Haggard West, who is city of Arcopolis's main line of defense against the Monsters. Which monsters? Basically all of them, and they steal children. In Battling Boy, readers were introduced to Haggard; Aurora, his daughter and superhero-in-training; and the god-boy sent down by his Thor-like father to help them: Battling Boy. He's basically on his training mission, a rite of passage he must complete to achieve full god-like status. Unfortunately for him, fighting the monsters of Arcopolis proves a bit more difficult than he'd thought, even with the help of Haggard and Aurora.

Battling Boy is, unsurprisingly, the story of Battling Boy. In The Rise of Aurora West, we get some backstory on Aurora and her father, which makes it feel like a prequel more than simply a standalone volume. How did Aurora get to be the butt-kicking almost-fully-fledged superhero she's portrayed as in Battling Boy? How did her mother die, and what does it have to do with her father's monster-fighting mission in life? Though Haggard tries to be a protective father (making sure, of course, that she has proper training in such superheroic areas as monster-mauling and proper jetpack use, and doesn't go out after curfew when the monsters roam), Aurora has a mind of her own and is determined to figure out what her father's not telling her about what happened to her mother.

From Battling Boy - click to embiggen
Peaks: These two volumes are fun, funny adventures that reward readers who are familiar with the tropes of superhero comics—they both adhere to and lightly mock many of the conventions of classic comic series. The writing is clever, and the artwork is engaging, with plenty of atmospheric detail in the city itself (reminiscent of, say, Metropolis or Gotham City) and villainous monsters who are just the right amount of ooky and creepy without going unnecessarily overboard.

Valleys: I found it a little more difficult to distinguish what was happening in the action scenes (especially with multiple monsters) in the monochromatic The Rise of Aurora West--it was easier to tell what was happening in the full-color version of Battling Boy. Overall, though, that wasn't a huge issue; it didn't seem to be too important to my understanding of a fight scene to know exactly where Aurora just kicked which monster. (In his…um…monster junk?)

Conclusion: Basically, I'd call this one a super-fun (pun intended) hero series that pays homage to a lot of classics of the genre, and would appeal to both boys and girls who like adventure comics as well as adult readers who like superhero comics (oh, I KNOW you are out there and I am friends with some of you, so don't bother with the denial!).

For the full blog tour schedule complete with links (and more awesome exclusive art), visit Macmillan Teen.


You can find Battling Boy by Paul Pope and The Rise of Aurora West by Paul Pope, JT Petty, and David Rubin at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

September 29, 2014

TURNING PAGES: THE SPIRITGLASS CHARADE, by COLLEEN GLEASON

As you know, I was a HUGE fan of the first of the Stoker & Holmes novels, and for me it felt genuinely "Holmesian" (Sherlockian? That's even worse. Forget it), with its Victorian rigidity and bleak stratification of London society. I was was both pleased and nervous to see a sequel; second books so often are... troublesome. But, my worries were unfounded; this is not Colleen Gleason's first rodeo (or her pseudonym, Joss Ware's, first rodeo, either) and the woman knows what she's about. This was a disturbing, surprising, and altogether worthy successor to THE CLOCKWORK SCARAB. More weird Victorian spiritualism, more rigid manners, beribboned fashions, and astonishing gentlemen - and a few kisses, too.

Summary: Princess Alix calls on the Misses Stoker and Holmes again, when it turns out that a dearly beloved friend is running herself to the poorhouse on spirit mediums. Talking to the dead is not done, and it's expensive to boot. Charlatans stand ready to fleece the gullible, and all the ladies must do is to debunk a medium and help seventeen year old Willa Aston find her missing brother - if he's not actually dead - and convince her that her mother is not speaking to her from beyond the grave. Ever the "stake-em-and-slay-em" Stoker, Evaline is beyond bored with what she sees as a superficial case, and dearly wishes vampires would pop out of the woodwork. Mina "observes-while-others-merely-look" Holmes is ...well, a touch hostile, to be honest. In her mind, all mediums are frauds, and only the weak-minded and hysterical fool consults with them -- making this case a vast waste of time. When it turns out that rumors of La Société de la Perdition being back in town are true -- and when both girls see for themselves a green ectoplasm-ish thing on the ceiling, it may just turn out that this "simple," boring case has dropped our sleuthing girls in well over their heads. Where's Buffy and Uncle Sherlock when you need them??

Peaks: As mentioned in my first review, both Evaline and Mina are ANNOYING, and they don't actually endear one to the other very much more in this novel -- I feel like any true "friendship" between the two of them will be a long time in coming. I don't actually consider this a problem as much as a very realistic stroke of modernizing Victorians that writers writing within the time didn't actually make clear. I don't imagine that Sherlock Holmes' original writer thought he was annoying - but taken altogether, he MUST have been - I mean, who says "elementary" when explaining the answer to a question? Someone annoying. And Mina, with her obsessive self-observation, and pedantic analytic insistence on condescendingly letting everyone know how and why they should have caught up with every clue -- wow. You'd want to smack her a couple of times a day. Equally aggravating in her leap-first-don't-think worldview is Miss Stoker. She is an excellent example of a young woman entirely blind to her privilege -- not realizing that many of the shenanigans she gets up to are because her family is filthy rich and noble. In this novel, Evaline's violent streak is equally unnerving, especially as it's not entirely clear if La Société de la Perdition is actually entirely everywhere, or if that's only Evaline's fevered imagination, as she sees vampires behind every post, and wants to KILLLLL THEM ALLLLLL. She's a little scary.

In addition to the relationship between the girls slowly taking shape, the plotting is tight. There's no "second book slump" here; the action and pacing are kept crisply moving right along, and though there's not novelty on every page, as with the first novel, the relationships move forward, and there are secondary mysteries tying from the first book to pull things together. Victorian elements abound - child pickpocket gangs and organized crime, spiritualism, medical advances and ghoulish research. And while the random reinvention of historical figures isn't something I normally love whole-heartedly, Gleason has a light touch, and the historical is far enough removed from the realm of the real to keep things interesting. Also, combining the historical with the supernatural really elevates the work into something else entirely. The gadgets Mina loves are quite a bit more in evidence this time around, as are the supernatural elements, which really begins to raise the profile of the novel as steampunk.

Valleys: Some have complained that the girls sound indistinguishable... and I would agree, for a given value of "indistinguishable." They're of similar class in Victorian England, which was practically a monoculture at that point (PRACTICALLY, I said, not entirely or literally) so there is going to be similarity. Where they differ is in what captures their interest (gadgets vs. killing vampires), what they obsess over (gadgets & appearances vs. killing things & appearances), and how they react to things (detached observation vs. getting in there and killing things). Where I tended to sigh was over the romances both Mina and Evaline experience in this novel. Evaline's quite drawn to Pix, which makes sense, since she spends a great deal of time wishing she were as strong, dashing and daring as he -- and the noble suitor she has in the previous novel pales in comparison, yet persists. In her turn, Mina has been drawn to the time-wandering Dylan, but her heart also beats for the red-headed Inspector, rescuer of dogs, and owner of his own crime-busting gadgets, which he sometimes will even share.

It's definitely a positive that Dylan becomes more of a defined character in this episode, as he goes off and has his own adventure, separate from the girls. I do find Dylan's storyline to be troublesome, mostly because I've wondered why it's included, and feel the novel would be just fine without it, but also because I find his calm acceptance a little disingenuous. Yes, steampunk is cool, yes, and a steampunk Victorian England would be interesting, but if I had time-dropped there, I'd be a lot more frantic about getting home - obsessed with it -- and terrified I'd be in the past through some stupid wars and other nonsense that I wouldn't want to live through. Add to that, jumping to an historical timeline that he can't even really recognize --? I would think a character's emotions would be all over the place. At any rate, it looks like Dylan will be around a bit longer, though I wonder how much he can be, as he is an anachronism out to change history. How long do you exist in the future, though, if you change the past...?

Conclusion: With a decorously Victorian sensibility and a break-neck steampunk pace, THE SPIRITGLASS CHARADE strikes just the right notes between the strictly defined genres of steampunk and mystery to produce an addictively readable and fun sequel to the Stoker & Bram series.



I received my copy of this book courtesy of Chronicle Books. A week and a day from today, on October 7th, you can find THE SPIRITGLASS CHARADE by Colleen Gleason at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

September 27, 2014

"A More Diverse Universe:" Celebrating the Works of Authors of Color, Year 3!

It's that time again, Reading People!

Time flies. Last year's selection was SHERRI L. SMITH'S mind-blowing (and mosquito-the-size-of-a-hovercraft-scary) ORLEANS. In its inaugural year, we highlighted INTISAR KHANANI's THORN (HM! What is THAT author doing these days...? I need to check and see). And this year's novel is another fabulously unexpected one which I read last month -- and it's unexpectedness raised it above the other books I was already considering to recommend to the list this year. I've already reviewed it but want to give props AGAIN to BABA ALI AND THE CLOCKWORK DJINN, by Danielle Ackley-McPhail & Day Al-Mohamed.

The "A More Diverse Universe" challenge came by way of one blogger, Aarti, challenging other bloggers to read and talk about ONE BOOK written by a diverse author during the last two weeks of September. Just one. If everyone reads -- and recommends -- just one book... well, then we bloggers will finally become the change we want to see. Are you in? There were one-hundred thirteen recommendations at last count! Click here.

September 26, 2014

TURNING PAGES: INVISIBLE, by DAWN METCALF

I haven't been this stressed out by reading a fantasy novel since Holly Black's TITHE. Tension simply sings in this second book in the Twixt series. While not exactly a standalone - it does help to know a little about the world and its denizens - even the protagonist is still flying blind, unsure who to trust, so new readers can get up to speed quickly.

Summary: To recap, in the first novel of The Twixt, INDELIBLE, Joy accidentally sees what she shouldn't - that is, the Fae. Normally they put your eye right out for that, but the scalpel wielded by Invisible Ink -- slipped, leaving Joy with a flash across her vision that is Ink's magical signature. Through this mistake, Joy's had to become his lehman - his servant, his... woman, and they'd best hope nobody guesses Ink's not infallible and screws up sometimes, or else they'll both die horribly. The Twixt has RULES, yo. Fortunately, Joy and Ink learn to get along - deal with each other - and have even fallen a lot into like... and at the conclusion of the adventures that happen in INDELIBLE, The Twixt decide that Joy's going to be allowed to live... except, in INVISIBLE, one old knight hasn't gotten the memo. He shows up everywhere - in rusting armor, at Joy's job, in the woods on the way home, in terribly ordinary places ... waiting to kill her. He's undying, unstoppable, unkillable -- but Joy CAN'T do what will get him off her back: give up Ink and the Twixt, and all of her power. She can't. She won't. She has tasted of both love and power -- and surely, surely, there's got to be a way to have it all?

Peaks: Many times, sequels disappoint -- and while I didn't read the first book in this series, I can't imagine this is one of those "slumpy sequels." From the first page, there's action, and the character's emotions are ping-ponging off all over the place, as thoughts and choices and reactions are on go-go-go frequency. There's not a lot of time to stop and mope or to stop and ponder -- which eventually kicks her in the butt, because sometimes Joy is NOT thinking, and the reader will want to give her a sharp slap. (Fortunately, that doesn't happen too often.)

There's drama and danger and tension and cheerful creepiness throughout. It's a novel which is hard to put down, even if you're new to the whole thing. I was surprised by how well I liked it -- truly surprised. I was also surprised (and maybe I shouldn't have been) by how physical the novel was, in terms of the relationship -- not necessarily physical in a whoa-hawt-sexytimes way (though they are officially trying to date), but physical in terms of description. The author worked hard to make everything - light and shadow, the brush of skin against skin, even an innocent brush of fingers - hugely descriptive, in just the way a young heart categorizes every. single. moment of a first love... All that innocent discovery is really intense, and there are two more books in this series -- ! I can see readers looking forward to that.

I like that the question of this novel is a bigger question that people face - how much happiness, of what we want -- are we allowed to have? How much should we hold onto, when what we're clinging onto with a death grip could ruin everything? Joy tugs away on the threads of a world, and could be the instrument which unwinds... or the one who ties everything back together.

Valleys: The pacing is, for the most part, swift and revelatory. I was surprised by how little I found with which to quibble - there are times, as mentioned, that readers will want to SMACK Joy, but they're rare - my suggestion is that you READ INDELIBLE FIRST. You *can* get into this one without background, but it'd be easier to understand exactly what's at stake if you read them in order.



I received this copy courtesy of the publisher. After September 30th, you can find INVISIBLE by DAWN METCALF online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

September 25, 2014

Toon Thursday: Writing Retreats - The Real "Story"

Since I'm leaving today for a weekend writing retreat (during which I sincerely and fervently hope to make serious progress on my WIP), I thought it would be appropriate to repost my cartoon featuring a writing retreat pie chart. Enjoy!

September 24, 2014

COVER REVEAL: ROSE EAGLE, by JOSEPH BRUCHAC

The prequel you didn't know you needed to Bruchac's epic KILLER OF ENEMIES:
This novella prequel to Joseph Bruchac’s Killer of Enemies is set in the Black Hills of South Dakota, where readers are introduced to seventeen-year-old Rose Eagle of the Lakota tribe who is trying to find her place in a post-apocalyptic world.

Before the Silver Cloud, the Lakota were forced to work in the Deeps, mining for ore so that the Ones, the overlords, could continue their wars. But when the Cloud came and enveloped Earth, all electronics were shut off. Some miners were trapped in the deepest Deeps and suffocated, but the Lakota were warned to escape, and the upper Deeps became a place of refuge for them in a post-Cloud world.

In the midst of this chaos, Rose Eagle’s aunt has a dream: Rose will become a medicine woman, a healer. She sends Rose into the Black Hills on a quest to find healing for their people.

Gangly and soft-spoken, Rose is no warrior. She seeks medicine, not danger. Nevertheless, danger finds her, but love and healing soon follow. When Rose Eagle completes her quest, she may return with more than she ever thought she was looking for.

I was surprised as heck to hear that there was a prequel to KILLER OF ENEMIES, the post-apocalyptic tale of Lozen, the noteworthy girl of quiet skill who took back her people's pride. I actually am still sneakily hoping for a sequel, or at least something else in that vein from Bruchac, but I'll take Rose.

Stay tuned for more about this novel!

September 23, 2014

TURNING PAGES: PROPHECIES, LIBEL & DREAMS by YSABEAU S. WILCE

Not gonna lie; we've been the bemused and bedazzled fans of Ysabeau Wilce since waaaaaay back in the day and the advent of her first book of Western fantasy, packed with rangers, skirted men, hummingbird gods, and plain craziness. We invited her by for the Blog Blast Tour, plied her with lies and libations, and asked her all manner of questions. A Good Time Was Had. We haunted her blog until news of her next jaunt to Califa emerged, and happily read of the derring-do of Flora, faced with Tiny Doom, a fittingly post-apocalyptic name for surely the most disastrous and ambitious chit of all time - next to Flora Segunda herself, of course. Our third outing with Flora was rich and thick with Huitzil magic and a new nemesis. Flora's secrets spilled would spell her doom, and now older, and (somewhat) wiser, Flora strove to secure her future.

Finding that there was a book of short stories under the name of the author's old blog which included "Metal More Attractive," published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in February, 2004;" "The Lineaments of Gratified Desire," which was included in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, 2007 and "The Biography of a Bouncing Boy Terror," the short story about Springheel Jack previously published online in the Bibliotheca of Crackpot Hall (another of Ysabeau's blogs) was good to see -- people who didn't know about the author's blog shouldn't miss those tales. However, finding new shorts I hadn't yet read was icing on the cake. Published by Small Beer press and passed along to me by our bud Colleen, who knew how much we'd loved the strange land of Califa from the first, made this collection twice the treat. Fans of her work will be so glad to see more of Califa; those who've never encountered that place on any map will be intrigued and hopefully look around for more. This is a lot of fun.

Summary & Review:Here's the thing: Califa is odd. Rich and strange, as the saying goes, filled to the brim with realistic detail, and a sort of steampunk sensibility which includes amazingly specific clothing and ritual courtesies, akin to 19th century, Gold Rush-era West Coast America in "real life," native peoples who Will Not Be Subdued, family histories which have their own power and magic and -- oh, yes. Power. And magic. The 19th century, according to the author, is the most durable mythic era of the Western, so exploiting - poking it, adding to it, and seeing how far it will stretch and what it will embrace, makes perfect sense. Part of Califa's charm is that its roots are so familiar to us, so when we come across the inevitable sideways leap off the well-trodden path, we leap down the rabbit hole after Alice, as it were. The historical notes which follow are amusing - and as always contain that little pinch of historical fact to leaven the load of hooey.

The anthology begins with "The Biography of a Bouncing Boy Terror," the simple tale of the Sparkly-Red Boots of Doom, and reminds us how Springhill Jack, the first of Flora's toughest nemeses, came to have the boots and wreak his reign of terror upon the innocent citizens of fair Califa. It's a good story to open with, my dovetails, since we've not had a Flora tale for awhile, and puts us back into the rhythm and lingo of the city.

Before we delve deeper here, a caveat -- the Flora novels are published as young adult/middle grade and marketed as such, these shorts - and this anthology - are not YA. These are about the world in which the Flora tales are set, and the boot-wearin, mescal-drinkin' in-the-eye-spittin' riotous, rambunctious frontiersfolk show their stripes. If you imagine a Venn diagram, the only overlap between the Flora books and this collection is setting -- but what a gloriously chaotic and fun setting.

"Quartermaster Returns" is like a Western yarn that is three parts a joke with a great punchline, and one part again that tantalizing mix of "Huh? That might have some basis in the truth..." which comes from great details about how the Frontier Army operated in the West. I enjoyed it because it included female soldiers -- with no apologies or expectations. That's one of the gifts of Califa - that the author dreamed up this place entirely, and managed to include the idea of equality in the fantasy, as so many others seem categorically unable to do.

"Metal More Attractive," is a Hardhands story - a tale of the famously villainous, punk-rocking wizardly type, and his niece, his leman, and the hoped-for lover he almost chose over everyone. That all characters in the novel are male except for the Hardhands' saccharine sweet Grandmama and the toddler Tiny Doom is completely irrelevant - just another important taste of that diversity in fantasy.

If you've ever wondered how the ginormous pink pig which Tiny Terror totes around became so... er, unique, "The Lineaments of Gratified Desire" will help you out there. And leave you worried about the slightly vacuous smiles and possibly hungry inner lives of your stuffed animals.

A little older - and a little wiser? - Tiny Doom runs against the Will of Hardhands and her own determination to Do Things. Stymied by his influence, Tiny Doom decides to go glamored and anonymous to Wreak Havoc with a Black Deed in order to find admittance into a secret regiment. After cutting a swath through a party, stealing innocuous things, Tiny Doom thinks she's done enough. Unfortunately, the dollymop she uses to gain admittance to a soiree is accused after she's gone. Well, there's no honor in letting the innocent suffer, right? In "Lovelocks," our cadet sets everything right. Mostly.

"Hand in Glove" also deals with innocents going to be punished for the Dark Deeds of Others. The golden boy of the Califa Police Department, being plied with beer and praise in the saloon, doesn't want to hear that the suspect he's caught, bang to rights, is the wrong guy entirely. What are facts, against the adulation of the crowd? Fortunately, Constable Etryo - and she'll be fiked if she quits this job she hates - isn't just there to be a stone in Detective Watkins' shoe. She's there to dispense justice... any way she can.

"Scaring the Shavetail" is a good old-fashioned tale of a "rupert," a "jonah" - a fresh-out-of-school officer put in charge of soldiers who actually know what they're doing - which is never a good match, ever. It Never Ends Well. This story is another old soldier's joke, and indeed, it has a great punchline, and ties up the novel with just slightly creepy overtones. Nice.



This book was a well-appreciated gift! After October 14th, 2014, you can find PROPHECIES, LIBEL & DREAMS by Ysabeau S. Wilce online, or at an independent bookstore near you!