Friday, September 30, 2016

September Site Update

The September update for the main site has been posted, archiving and cross-linking the previous twelve reviews.


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Art of Kubo and the Two Strings (Emily Haynes)

The Art of Kubo and the Two Strings
Emily Haynes
Chronicle Books
Nonfiction, Art/Media Reference
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: LAIKA's 2016 animated masterpiece Kubo and the Two Strings, the story of a boy in mythical ancient Japan who must find a lost set of armor to save himself and avenge his family, featured cutting-edge stop-motion and CGI blended seamlessly with traditional influences and techniques. This book explores the artwork and designs used in the film, with some notes on the production and storytelling process.

REVIEW: I saw this movie twice on the big screen (so far), and - like all great animated movies - found it fascinating on both a technical and a storytelling level. This book, as promised, offers a closer look at the characters, settings, and other elements of the film. Some "art of" books delve further into the storytelling process, script alterations during production, and character development - features this title mostly lacked, save some mention of the tale's roots in the foreword by director/producer/animator/studio founder Travis Knight and a note on how Kubo was aged up as the story became darker and more complex - but overall it's an interesting look at how LAIKA put the pieces together. This stuff fascinates me, making me wish (once again) I had the money, time, ambition, and talent to do stuff like this, creating impossible wonders and breathing them to life.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Art of Anastasia (Henry Deneroff) - My Review
The Art of How to Train Your Dragon (Tracy Miller-Zarneke) - My Review
The Lord of the Rings: The Art of the Fellowship of the Ring (Gary Russell) - My Review

Monday, September 26, 2016

Spirelli Paranormal Investigations: Episodes 1 - 3 (Kate Baray)

Spirelli Paranormal Investigations: Episodes 1 - 3
(The Spirelli Paranormal Investigations series)
Kate Baray
Fiction, Fantasy
*** (Okay)

DESCRIPTION: Jack Spirelli, owner of the Junk Store secondhand shop, just went public with his new business as a paranormal investigator. Despite having no magic of his own, he'll take on most any case for the underground community of magic users and nonhuman beings in modern Austin... but he'll need an assistant to be truly effective. When the dragon Marin walks into his shop (in human form, of course), he's naturally suspicious - dragons don't often leave their families to seek their own way in the world - but he can't afford to be too picky. Soon, Jack and Marin are neck-deep in cases ranging from a missing earth witch to supernatural memory theft to protecting a defector from the dangerous Coven.

REVIEW: This is a spinoff of another series by author Baray which I haven't read. That may explain some of my trouble getting invested in the characters and their world. I felt I didn't really know enough about her urban fantasy setting, the differences between magic users and other possible players in paranormal problems, so troubles and solutions tended to materialize out of nowhere. The characters were decent for what they were, but I never really connected with them. They played their roles competently, if without too much originality in these three short episodes. I could see hints around the edges of potential in future installments. The three adventures contained in this volume follow the usual PI format: a problem shows up in Jack's office, he and his assistant head out to investigate it, they get in a few scrapes, and things get resolved in time for the proverbial closing credits. It's not bad, though the third episode had some repetitions and other issues that hinted at a too-speedy editing round, but it's just not my cup of cocoa. If you're looking for a quick PI-style urban fantasy read, this might fit the bill.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Death Warmed Over (Kevin J. Anderson) - My Review
Hounded (Kevin Hearne) - My Review
A Pocket Full of Spells (Ash Stirling) - My Review

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Lumberjanes Vol. 2: Friendship to the Max (Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis, authors, illustrations by Brooke A. Allen)

Lumberjanes Vol. 2: Friendship to the Max
(The Lumberjanes series, 5 - 8)
Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis, illustrations by Brooke A. Allen
Fiction, YA Comics/Fantasy
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: The adventures of the Lumberjanes girls of Roanoke cabin continue. From friendship bracelets to Capture the Flag, summer camp continues... to be plagued with monster attacks and magic and general weirdness in the woods. The mystery surrounding the golden-eyed beasts deepens as a fellow camper proves to be more than just another Lumberjane, drawing Roanoke into a case of celestial sibling rivalry with the power of the universe up for grabs.

REVIEW: Much like the first collection, this volume starts quickly and maintains high levels of action and humor. Cabin counselor Jen has been drug into the strangeness, adding a new dynamic as the five core characters continue to grow. Still a fun series.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Fairy Quest: Outcasts: #1 (Paul Jenkins) - My Review
Lumberjanes Vol. 1: Beware the Kitten Holy (Noelle Stevenson and Shannon Watters) - My Review
Princeless: Save Yourself (Jeremy Whitley) - My Review

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Forbidden Library (Django Wexler)

The Forbidden Library
(The Forbidden Library series, Book 1)
Django Wexler
Kathy Dawson Books
Fiction, YA Fantasy
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: Alice has always been a good girl, studying hard and following the rules and never being a bother to her tutors... but everything changes the night she sees her father talking to a fairy in the kitchen. Dad always told her storybook creatures like fairies weren't real, but there's no mistaking what the winged man is - nor is there a doubt that he's somehow responsible when her father suddenly leaves on a steamship the next day, a steamship that goes down with all hands. When the swarm of solicitors finish picking the estate's bones, Alice finds herself packed off to "Uncle Jerry", a man she never knew existed, and his peculiar home in the countryside. Here, in his immense and mysterious library, she meets a talking cat, a mystery boy, dangerous books imprisoning magical beings, and powers she never knew she had - powers that might lead her to the fairy man and the truth about what really happened to her father. But first, she's going to have to break a few rules...

REVIEW: Another discount find, this middle-grade book has obvious appeal for those of us who love reading and fantasy. Alice makes a competent, intelligent heroine, not above the odd mistake but never one to whine or give up, no matter the odds. Surrounding her are numerous characters of often-dubious moral fiber, each with their own agendas and a certain disregard for the consequences to others... traits that Alice begins to pick up by association as her Reader abilities - the power to enter magical books and bind their prisoners to her service, among other things - develop. The story moves at a good pace, with some great descriptions and real peril, though the ending is more of a hook for the next book than a solid conclusion (something I've sadly gotten used to in this day and age, where series are the rule rather than the exception.) Still, I enjoyed it, and - marketing tactic or not - I'll be looking forward to Book 2.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Libriomancer (Jim C. Hines) - My Review
The Book of Story Beginnings (Kristin Kladstrup) - My Review
Behind the Canvas (Alexander Vance) - My Review