Thursday, October 31, 2019

October Site Update

The previous eleven reviews have been archived and cross-linked on the main Brightdreamer Books website.


Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Morning Star (Pierce Brown)

Morning Star
The Red Rising Saga, Book 3
Pierce Brown
Del Rey
Fiction, Sci-Fi
****+ (Good/Great)

DESCRIPTION: For centuries, humanity has been stratified into a hierarchy of Color, ruled over by the ruthless Golds, while lowColors like the Reds toil in slavery. It was supposed to be a triumph over eons of warfare, but only brought more depraved cruelty to the solar system. Six years ago, driven to rebellion by the betrayal of his people and murder of his visionary wife, Darrow began his quest to infiltrate and destroy the Golds, his Red body painfully Carved and transformed to become one of them as he entered their elite Institute... only what he found was far more complicated and dangerous than he could ever have imagined. Since then, he has gathered friends and enemies, risen through the Gold ranks and become entangled in their games, and started a rebellion that has spread across his homeworld - which is why he has been tortured and imprisoned for a year by his enemy, the ArchGovernor, Adrius au Augustus, better known as the Jackal of Mars. Rescued by his friend Sevro, who took up the mantle of the rebel warlord Ares, Darrow finds his faith in himself and his own rebellion shaken, but the people of the system still need a leader to break the bonds of the Gold rulers. For better or worse, war rages and blood is spilled. Can a broken Darrow snatch victory from the jaws of near-certain defeat?

REVIEW: The original Red Rising trilogy comes to a conclusion here; though the saga continues, Darrow's war reaches its climax in this book, with the fate of the entire solar system hanging in the balance. As harrowing as the first two books could be, this one tops them both.
Like the previous two volumes, Morning Star starts fast and only rarely slackens the pace, pages full of battles and blood-feuds and betrayals and troop movements across the vast reaches of space, all watered by oceans of blood and veritable mountains of casual cruelty - mostly by the Golds, but some by other Colors as well, products of a society that has gone out of its way to remove the humanity from the human race. It also - despite very brief recaps at the start of the book - doesn't pause to ensure the reader remembers all the names, family associations, and other entanglements that color Darrow's interactions and frequently endanger his plans and his life. I recalled the gist of things as I read, memory prompted by context, though I know I missed a fair bit of nuance by having not reread the previous books before starting this one. (In other words, do not think that you can come in on this series partway through.)
This is not a clean war on any side, with clear moral boundaries; though the Golds are inherently cruel, many of them are simply defending the only order they have ever known, entirely believing the lie that the Society they have built is inherently better and more peaceful than the old warlike ways of pre-Color Homo sapiens... and, for all the lofty aims of the rebellion, the Sons of Ares cannot win with clean hands, nor can they ensure that the world they aim to build will be free of the evils that plague the one they seek to destroy. Time and again, Darrow finds himself having to resort to underhanded tactics that cost loyal or innocent lives, all without knowing whether that cost will buy ultimate victory. These conflicts started nagging Darrow from the first book, when he got his first true taste of Gold society in the Institute of Mars, and have only grown more troubling as the rebellion grows from a simple idea to tangible action and widespread warfare, much of which is beyond his control. He must learn to embrace his own flaws and rise above them when possible... and learn to embrace and trust his friends, flaws and all. They the one true advantage he has over the Golds, who only rarely view others as anything but potential tools or rivals for personal advancement or glory, and they are the one true promise he can cling to when he strives to create something better, the notion that other people can and should matter as more than personal stepping-stones or obstacles.
It's an unrelentingly intense, blood-soaked story told on a grand - borderline grandiose - scale, with shades of ancient war epics in a far-future setting, wrapping up most of the threads from the previous books in a justly cataclysmic and well-earned conclusion.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Red Rising (Pierce Brown) - My Review
Starfire: A Red Peace (Spencer Ellsworth) - My Review
Dune (Frank Herbert) - My Review

Monday, October 21, 2019

Paper Girls Volume 6 (Brian K. Vaughan)

Paper Girls Volume 6
The Paper Girls series
Brian K. Vaughan, illustrations by Cliff Chiang and Matt Wilson
Image Comics
Fiction, MG? Graphic Novel/Sci-Fi
***+ (Okay/Good)

DESCRIPTION: After discovering a time machine in their Ohio suburb in the 1980's, paper delivery girls Emily, Tiffany, KJ, and Mac have been bounced across the timestream, encountered giant robots and dinosaurs and aliens and even clones of themselves, been caught in the middle of a temporal war, and discovered truths about themselves and their futures they perhaps should never have known. Now, blasted into separate times, they struggle to reunite - but can they hope to end the battle that is tearing the world apart without sacrificing themselves in the process?

REVIEW: The Paper Girls saga comes to a conclusion in this volume, bringing together the various factions in a single moment of reckoning. Some elements wrap up decently, but the conclusion felt like a cheat in some respects, negating the girls' trials and triumphs. (I can't get into details without spoilers, but one aspect in particular drug it nearly down to a flat Okay rating.) Despite my qualms about this finale, it's still a decent, action-filled series with strong girl protagonists and a fairly smart storyline.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Time Keeper (Barbara Bartholomew) - My Review
When You Reach Me (Rebecca Stead) - My Review
Paper Girls Volume 1 (Brian K. Vaughan) - My Review

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Rosemary and Rue (Seanan McGuire)

Rosemary and Rue
The October Daye series, Book 1
Seanan McGuire
Fiction, Fantasy
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: October "Toby" Daye was born between two worlds: the mortal realm of her human father in San Francisco, and the Summerlands of her Faerie mother. Such unions inevitably end in tragedy, and for changelings the tragedy rarely ends, as they're too human to be truly part of the Fae courts and too Fae to ever be truly human. She tried living a normal mortal life, even finding a husband and having a daughter and working a job as a private investigator (never mind that her clients tended to be nonhuman), but a curse trapped her as a fish for fourteen years: long enough for everyone, mortal and immortal, to give up on her... and for her to give up on herself.
Toby's struggling to rebuild a life now that she's free. She claws a living off minimum wage jobs, refusing to return to her old liege; Faerie magic cost her her family already, and be damned if she falls into their traps again. But when an old associate, the Countess Evening Winterrose, is murdered with iron, her last message binds Toby with an unbreakable curse: find the killer, or be driven to madness and death. Like it or not, Toby has a case to solve - one that will drag her into the very heart of the Faerie community of San Francisco, and into magicks unseen since the days of King Oberon.
This special edition includes the original novella Strangers in Court: When a younger Toby discovers she's carrying the child of her mortal lover, she decides it's time to leave Home, the nest of outcast changeling miscreants where she's been living since fleeing her disinterested Fae mother. But to make a clean break and start a new life, she needs to perform an act great enough for the Queen to acknowledge her... and do so without being destroyed by pureblood politics and powers.

REVIEW: Like all urban fantasies, Rosemary and Rue works to blend ancient beings and powers with the modern world. Unlike some, this book doesn't forget the inherent inhumanity and cruelty of the traditional Faerie races, their general disregard for mortal emotions and lives save as temporary playthings for their inscrutable games. This attitude bleeds over into the changelings, halfblood Faeries who fit into neither world; October can be just as selfish as any of the purebloods, which can make her difficult to spend time around as a main character. She spends less time hunting down Evening's killer than trading snark with various characters and barely avoiding death, until toward the end of the tale. (How often can one woman pass out from pain and blood loss in a story, anyway?) Her own attitude gets her in at least as much trouble as the case; sometimes I had to wonder why she had so many friends seemingly devoted to her survival, given that she was about as cuddly as one of the thorn-covered rose goblins. Despite that, though, the tale moves fairly well, with plenty of action and magic, enough to manage to hold onto a Good rating. I don't expect I'll follow this series, as even by the end I didn't particularly like Toby, but it's a solid urban fantasy that leaves plenty of threads for future installments to follow.
As for the included novella, it relates the story of how Toby finally had to grow up and start defining her own life instead of letting others define it for her - in the process making friends and enemies that prove pivotal in the events that unfold in Rosemary and Rue. It probably wouldn't stand too well on its own, but it comes packaged with this edition, so that's not an issue.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Darkest Part of the Forest (Holly Black) - My Review
Discount Armageddon (Seanan McGuire) - My Review
The War of the Flowers (Tad Williams) - My Review

Catwings (Ursula K. Le Guin)

A Catwings tale, Book 1
Ursula K. Le Guin, illustrations by S. D. Schindler
Fiction, CH Fantasy/Picture Book
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: When her kittens Thelma, Roger, James, and Harriet were born with wings, Mrs. Jane Tabby didn't know what to make of them - until she realizes that they have a chance to escape the dangerous alleys and streets where she lives. They fly away at last to the countryside, hoping to find somewhere safe to live, but the world is a large and perilous place for four little kittens.

REVIEW: I've been doing some tidying and realized I never got around to reviewing this one. It's a fairly simple tale, if with shades of peril around the edges and some nice turns of phrase. The kittens are fun, though they face some problems in finding a home, especially when a local Owl decides that winged cats are too dangerous to have around. The illustrations add a nice, if mild, sense of wonder to the concept of flying kittens. Catwings should be enjoyable for the target audience: young children, and parents reading along with them.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Catkin (Antonia Barber) - My Review
Lord of the Forest (Jackie Morris) - My Review
Mr. Wuffles! (David Wiesner) - My Review

Friday, October 18, 2019


YOU WILL BE MY FRIEND! (Starring Lucille Beatrice Bear)
The Lucy series, Book 2
Peter Brown
Little, Brown Books
Fiction, CH Humor/Picture Book
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: Lucille the bear decides to make a new friend today. It shouldn't be hard; the forest is full of animals, after all. Surely one of them will be looking for a friend like her... right?

REVIEW: A sequel to the fun Children Make Terrible Pets sees Lucille try to actually make a friend instead of taking home a "pet." Once again, her enthusiasm hits several stumbling blocks: trying to change herself to be like others doesn't work, but neither does demanding others change. The illustrations are at least half the fun, as Lucille's attempted friendship with a hive of bees goes wrong and she innocently asks an ostrich what it's like to fly, among other mishaps. It's enjoyable, and has a nice, fitting ending.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Children Make Terrible Pets (Peter Brown) - My Review
The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend (Dan Santat) - My Review
You're Finally Here! (Melanie Watt) - My Review

Day Dreamers (Emily Winfield Martin)

Day Dreamers: A Journey of Imagination
Emily Winfield Martin
Random House
Fiction, CH Fantasy/Picture Book/Poetry
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: A dragon chases the clouds... a tide pool spawns a nautical carousel... unicorns race through a tapestry forest... Imagination takes flight, conjuring all manner of beasts and adventures in all manner of places.

REVIEW: With simple verse and lively illustrations, Day Dreamers is a tribute to the powers of imagination. Dragons, a phoenix, a griffin, and more fly or leap or crawl through the pages, taking daydreaming children on grand (yet safe) adventures. If there's any objection to these kinds of stories, it's that my imagination was never so pastel-colored and bubble-wrapped... but this is a picture book, to be read aloud or enjoyed alone, meant to conjure pleasant imagery and encourage imaginary adventuring, and at that it certainly succeeds.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Ocean Meets Sky (The Fan Brothers) - My Review
The Cinder-Eyed Cats (Eric Rohmann) - My Review
Free Fall (David Wiesner) - My Review

Monday, October 14, 2019

Fangirl (Rainbow Rowell)

Fangirl: A Novel
Rainbow Rowell
St. Martin's Griffin
Fiction, YA General Fiction
***** (Great)

DESCRIPTION: Twins Cather and Wren Avery have always done everything together. They made friends together. They played together. They wrote fanfic for Simon Snow, the blockbuster fantasy franchise, together. When their mother took off and their mentally fragile father started falling apart, they got through it because they stuck together. Cath always assumed they'd live out their lives together, in their hometown of Omaha or wherever else. Whatever came, whatever life threw at them, twins are forever.
Until Wren tells her that she doesn't want to share a college dorm room.
Cath knew they'd been growing apart - Wren hadn't even been interested in their joint fanfic efforts lately - but she always thought they'd overcome any gap between them. Now, she can only watch as Wren loses herself in boys and booze, and only struggle as, for the first time in her life, she must face the world and her social anxieties on her own. Not even the boy mage Simon Snow can help her now...

REVIEW: I admit I mostly read this because I heard that Rowell was writing stories based on the fictional Simon Snow fantasy series she invented for this book, and I prefer coming in at the start of any series, even a tangential start such as this one. (I also admit that the clearance price at Half Price Books influenced my decision.) I knew it involved fandom, though, and that can be a thorny subject to handle well: in popular media, fans often are portrayed as shallow or immature or otherwise worthy of mockery or pity. Here, however, it's clear that Rowell gets it. She gets what fandom is, what purposes fanfic serves, and what fans are. She gets the all-absorbing sense of wonder, the way the worlds and characters come alive in a fan's mind, the value of playing in someone else's backyard to grow one's own skills and imagination, even the validation that the fannish community can offer when the mundane world is too cold to tolerate alone. Cath uses Simon Snow and fanfic not just as crutches but as tools. They give her solace when she's down, a purpose when she's lost, and means to grow both as a writer and a person. As one with fannish tendencies myself, I could relate quite easily despite the generation gap.
Cath's anxieties and problems stem not from fandom or strict immaturity (though there is a trace of that: with Wren as the Bold One, she never had to step forward and develop social skills until dropped in the metaphoric deep end of the pool), but from a life scarred by an absentee mother and a mentally ill father, and perhaps an over-reliance on her twin. Those scars affect Wren, too, but differently, driving them apart in small ways long before college - and in bigger ways after they reach campus. The twins are more than their scars and flaws, though, as are all the characters. Cath's growth can be slow and at times painful, with some backslides now and again, but she's always worth rooting for - and, skirting spoilers, she learns that growing up doesn't mean having to give up everything that has ever brought her joy, even if she has to re-evaluate her relationship with them. The ending doesn't see wounds erased and perfection achieved, but rather offers hope that, even with our problems, we can move forward to find better places and maybe, just maybe, write a happier ending for ourselves.
I was utterly absorbed from start to finish - a rarity for a non-genre story - and, thinking back, I can't think of any significant downsides to shave even a half-star off a top rating. (It doesn't hurt that I enjoyed what we readers were shown of the Simon Snow series, clearly inspired by but not mimicking Harry Potter - both the "canon" excerpts and the fanfic. And I generally don't read slashfic, even of characters I know...) Fangirl is a great coming-of-age story for the fan in all of us, and one of the best depictions of fandom in general that I've read.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Will the Vampire People Please Leave the Lobby? (Allyson Beatrice) - My Review
I Kill Giants (Joe Kelly) - My Review
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (J. K. Rowling) - My Review

Friday, October 11, 2019

Unicorns 101 (Cale Atkinson)

Unicorns 101
Cale Atkinson
Fiction, CH Fantasy/Humor/Picture Book
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: If you think a unicorn is just a horse with a horn, you're very much mistaken. Allow the unicorn professors - Professors Glitter Pants, Sprinkle Seed, Star Hoof, and Sugar Beard - to educate you on everything from unicorn evolution and diet to signs of unicorn habitation and the many uses of rainbows.

REVIEW: With lively, colorful illustrations, Unicorns 101 tackles everything one could possibly want to know about unicorns, particularly how awesome they are compared to mundane beings like people or ordinary horses (their scientific name is Betterthan horsicus.) One might suspect the unicorn professors of being a wee bit biased, but it's all in good fun, and got some snickers out of me. Not a word of it is based on actual classical unicorn lore, of course, though that's to be expected: if humans knew anything about unicorns, why would the unicorns need to write their own book?

You Might Also Enjoy:
A Glory of Unicorns (Bruce Coville, editor) - My Review
You Don't Want a Unicorn! (Ame Dyckman) - My Review
Fairy Foals (Suzanah) - My Review

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Lumberjanes Volume 7: A Bird's Eye View (Noelle Stevenson et al.)

Lumberjanes Volume 7: A Bird's Eye View
The Lumberjanes series, Issues 25 - 28
Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters, Kat Leyh, Grace Ellis, and Brooke Allen, illustrations by Maarta Laiho, Carey Pietsch, and Ayme Sotuyo
Fiction, MG? Adventure/Fantasy/Graphic Novel/Humor
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: With the High Council on its way for a camp inspection, Roanoke Cabin counselor Jen is determined not to let anything go wrong, supernatural or otherwise: her college application may depend on it. But when the kittens from the nearby Scouting Lads camp invade, now manifesting magical powers, it's the start of another high-flying adventure - literally high flying, when a giant bird abducts the High Council before their very eyes.

REVIEW: Another fun and quick-reading outing from the Lumberjanes series follows through on some earlier threads; the kittens were conjured by Riley during their first adventure, and Barney the Scouting Lad struggles to find a place among the Lumberjanes, where he feels more at home than around other boys. Old ways and new clash, as the Roanoke girls and the elders of the High Council try to figure a way out of their predicament. Meanwhile, Hes from Zodiac Cabin seems to have a grudge against the girls. An amusing tale that both progresses the main plot (such as there is one) and sets up the next adventure.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Power Up! (Kate Leth) - My Review
Lumberjanes Volume 1: Beware the Kitten Holy (Noelle Stevenson and Shannon Watters) - My Review
Paper Girls Volume 1 (Brian K. Vaughan) - My Review

Monday, October 7, 2019

The Ruin of Kings (Jenn Lyons)

The Ruin of Kings
The A Chorus of Dragons series, Book 1
Jenn Lyons
Fiction, Fantasy
***+ (Okay/Good)

DESCRIPTION: Imprisoned, beyond hope, with only a taunting mimic as jailer and companion, the young man known as Kihrin relates the story of how he went from being a slum-raised thief to the Lord Heir of a royal house in the Capitol, from a soul-ensnared slave to the fulfiller of an ancient prophecy, from an inconsequential musician's apprentice to a slayer of demons and savior – or destroyer – of empires. But he does not have the whole story… and, where he lapses, the mimic adds in missing pieces with stolen memories.

REVIEW: I have just finished reading this book, and I'm still trying to puzzle out what I thought of it. Hopefully, writing this review will help. (To be honest, I write reviews to think a little more about what I've read, to work out I feel and why; this is basically my way of talking to myself. I just share these in the off chance anyone else finds that process interesting or remotely helpful… but, I digress.)
On the positive side, this is a different epic fantasy, set in a world less bound to the old Tolkien-flavored (and pseudo-medieval European) tropes than several entries in the subgenre. Lyons presents many interesting cultures and ideas, with manifested gods and goddesses, reincarnation as a matter of course (goddess of death willing, of course), soul-bound slaves, the odd dragon now and again (who are well and truly Dragons in this world, immense and ancient forces of utter destruction and chaos, and not just casual window dressing), and more. The tone tends toward bouts of humor and wit, sometimes self-aware and poking at the brooding nature of epic fantasy in general, while also venturing into dark and downright gory territory. It also has an interesting presentation, told in two layers of flashbacks: one starting with Kihrin as a fifteen-year-old boy thief, the other a few years later as he begins the enslaved life that will lead him, quite unexpectedly, to both freedom and burdens beyond his comprehension.
This brings me to the negative side, and the problems that, while starting small, accumulated like a mountain of sand to weigh down my reaction.
Unlike many epics, Lyons limits the narrators to a small handful of characters, focused mostly on Kihrin (though one could argue that the boy Kihrin, the enslaved Kihrin, and the imprisoned Kihrin actually telling part of the tale are all three different people insofar as what they see and know… and the whole is being written down by another party, who adds his own footnotes.) This starts out nice, but becomes a problem when the cast of involved characters and races and nations sprawls deep into the double digits – further complicated by almost all of them having multiple names depending on when and where and how one knows them. The relationships I, as a reader, am expected to track rise from complex to complicated to impenetrably tangled, as the plot juggles a vast array of incidents and scandals and wars and interactions martial and marital and familial and otherwise… not helped by some of the names looking similar enough on the page to create momentary confusion when presented after long absences or in unfamiliar contexts. (And some of these names are reincarnated versions of previous names, to add to the pile-on.) I'm used to epics, so I'm used to name juggling, but usually those names show up as tangible characters as the narrative moves around the world; with relatively limited viewpoints to work with, many here are just mentioned by other people for most of the book. By the end, I had pretty much given up sorting out the whole sordid mess save for the core players… and even then, I know I was missing some subtleties for not being able to immediately recall some previous interaction someone had had with so-and-so over such-and-such a matter (though maybe not really… some characters have misinformation or are outright lying, which did not help.) There's a very thick glossary, including family trees, at the end, but by then it's frankly too late to help.
So, while many exciting things happened, and epic confrontations unfolded, and emotions got ground and twisted, and some great mental eye candy played out on the pages, I couldn't help feel their impact was somewhat muted by a sense that I wasn't keeping up like the author had intended, that I should probably have started a spreadsheet or flow chart if I really wanted to understand everything going on. This leaves me in an odd position… and it exacts a penalty in my rating, unfortunately. While there was much to enjoy here, and some needed fresh air in a genre that still, decades after Tolkien, can feel a bit stale at times, I just plain could not lose myself in it like I longed to… even if part of me is tempted to try the next book, to see if maybe it finally clicks.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Jhereg (Steven Brust) - My Review
King's Dragon (Kate Elliott) - My Review
The Way of Kings (Brandon Sanderson) - My Review