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review 2016-07-12 01:42
I bought this based on the cover
The Lady ParaNorma - Vincent Marcone

And the interior illustration: the one in that went along with the signature.   I'm an autograph whore, especially at Readercon, especially at the ChiZine booth.   I just am.   I didn't bother looking into this book before I bought it, because ChiZine doesn't let me down.  They don't bother with anyone who doesn't produce quality work. 


So I was surprised in a couple ways when I opened this up.   In the comments to my previous post there are people saying how lovely this cover is.   I figured I'd get that quality throughout.   And I did.   The quality of the images - the composition and color, the quality with which they are made - is the same.   Except that they're more intimate, the more so as the story goes on, maybe just because I got to know Paranorma more as this story progressed.  I didn't expect this to be an illustrated poetry - which I felt it was - but I was also more and more pleased as I read it.   The rather simple story it tells belies what it says about loneliness and the stigma of being different: there's not a whole lot of words here, and they all rhyme, at times in a way that feels just slightly forced since they aren't all true rhymes, but the words that are there pack a punch.   Still, this wouldn't be this book, this beautiful five star book without the interior illustrations.   They capture the spookiness of this gothic poem, the awe inspiring sense of loneliness and the need for a companion, all the while emphasizing the message this story sends. 


Shatteringly gorgeous and lush, each illustration seemed to get better and better, until I thought they couldn't get better.   Then they got better.   It's like Marcone slowly builds up to see if he can defy the expectations, and then he does.  I would buy anything else that Marcone illustrated.   Anything.   Even a book of illustrated Bieber lyrics, and I think Bieber lyrics are the most inane thing ever in the history of everything ever. 


Anything, guys.   Go out.   Buy this book if you like the cover.  You will be blown away by the art inside. 


Also, note, there is a red cardinal on every page.  I'm stupid and/or blind and couldn't see some of them. I got frustrated, until I looked at the pretty, pretty pictures and melted in pleasure.   Yes, more please.   I forgot all about the cardinals.   For those into that kind of gothic where's Waldo - but not quite as hard - you'll be into that aspect, too.   Oh, also, read the short bio in the back.   Marcone talks about how he creates his art, and it's absolutely fascinating!

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review 2016-02-12 17:50
Important, depressing, captivating
The Thief of Broken Toys - Tim Lebbon

As depressing as this was, I kept gravitating towards the book: the focus is on Ray, a man grieving the loss of his young son, and his relationship with the people in his small town, from friends, to the woman he flirts with at the bakery, to his estranged wife.   


For such a short work, it does a thorough job of examining guilt and loss and depression, in a way that I was able to related to despite not being party to Ray's loss.  I haven't lost anyone that close to me yet, and still, his despair at life in general felt all-too familiar at times.  


The problem is a catch-22: to fully explore that kind of loss and depression, Lebbon had to immerse the character in a sense of despair that consumed every part of his life.   It's tough to read about that, and yet it was somehow cathartic.   Here, finally here, is something that made me feel so close to a character, like we shared these feelings exactly, that I somehow felt less alone while still being horrified that Ray was going through this.   Maybe it allowed me to process some of the horror I felt at my own suicidal impulses, the same sense that sometimes, just sometimes, life wasn't worth it in the end. 


It's not a pretty thing to admit, to feel, or to examine too closely.   Maybe I could only really do that through a proxy, and poor Ray became my catharsis, my proxy, a way to parse through my own worst experiences and times.   And it's very scary to have that, to need that, or to realize that Ray is my other self.  I wanted to curl up in a ball and weep for him most times, and it's not easy to hold him up as a mirror to me when the depression consumes me utterly. 


Then again, this is what made this such an important read for me.   Because it's multifaceted, and is brutally honest about how Elizabeth, Ray's wife, deals with loss as a counterpoint to Ray.   She's an alternative, although I didn't feel as closely connected with her: she was a mystery, able to move on far more than Ray, and I envied her for that. She was more removed in a couple ways, one being the narrative itself which revolved around Ray rather than her.   She simply wasn't in this book enough for me to feel a real connection to her, but my detachment was taken one step further.   She was beyond me, and even if she'd taken up half of this book, I would have connected so strongly with Ray as he is presented here, I would have felt her sorely lacking as a relatable character in comparison to her. 


This book isn't for everyone.   It's dark, and the horror and fantasy elements are both scarce and wondrous, unexplained even when they seem to have been.   (Or at least, one character asks Ray if he hadn't been watching these magical processes when Ray asked how they were accomplished; it's supposed to have been understood by Ray, but was glossed over so there's no explanation for the readers.)  It's perfect for this story: just as the magic in life is unexplained and unexplainable with mere words, no resolution is given to grief and loss and how to deal with them.   They're simply presented as aspects of life, and far too rich and deep to have any concrete answers.   Any explanation, any instructions on how to banish grief and loss from one's life, would come off as shallow compared to the depth of this novella. 


No, it's far better that I'm left wandering and wondering.   I'm actually sitting here in public, on the verge of tears as I write this.  I fear if I give in to the impulse, I'll wail out all my sadness, though, so I'm holding back.   All I can say is that I found this one of the most deeply touching things I've read.  I knew Lebbon was good, I just didn't know he was this good.   



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review 2016-02-08 20:11
Amazing retelling of Greek mythology
The Door in the Mountain - Caitlin Sweet

There are familiar elements - the minotaur, the labyrinth, Icarus, Athens, Crete, Pasiphae, Minos - but the world itself is beautiful and complex and original.  See, some of the population are godmarked, and each god gives different gifts.   But the fantasy element is there to support the more complex political and religious world, in which Ariadne fights for power as an unmarked princess.   She plays political games, bitter that the gods have abandoned her and that her mother fawns over her bastard child, Asterion, a boy who turns into a bull. 


He's Poseidon's son, or so she claims, so she truly believes, and so does everyone else.   Although she may have simply slept with one of his priests and given birth to a very powerful son.   (Icarus, who can sprout feathers and who has talons but cannot fly, is never said to be the son of a god.   Either it's specific animals who are important to certain gods, or just as likely it's the fact that Icarus is of Athenian lineage, and thus an outsider in Crete, as well as not being of royal blood that changes things for him.)


Sweet never gives us concrete answers, but it doesn't really matter.   Either Asterion is the son of a god, or not, but everyone believes it.   It also makes this world a little slippery.   I don't have all the answers, but I find I don't care: I loved this story, I loved certain characters, and I loved how full and rich the ones I don't like are.   Furthermore, what people believe about Asterion affects this story more than his actual lineage.  


Ariadne and Asterion are interesting, because for a large part of the novel, I couldn't tell who was the hero of the story.   (Neither, although I can't pinpoint a hero of the story so far.   There are good people being manipulated, there are good people who refuse to be manipulated and who are crushed under those with less morals, and there are manipulators.   So far, though, no one comes out as a hero as of yet.   I'm looking forward to reading the sequel, even if there is no clearcut hero in that story either.  Looking back, I'm usually miffed at this type of thing.   Maybe if the world weren't so complex, the characters to full, or the  the story so intriguing, I would have been upset at the lack of a hero.)


Then again, maybe I liked this novel for this fact.   These aren't heroes, and for the most part they don't think of themselves in such terms.   From king and queen to slave, none of them have a perfect life, or anything close to it, and all of them are presented simply as human beings doing their best to cope with their lot in life.   Even Ariadne - who clearly is the villain of the piece now that I've reread the synopsis on the back - wasn't quite evil.   She did evil things, but she did so because of the large amount of pressure she felt from her parents: they wanted a godmarked child to take the throne.   Her older brother becomes ineligible, Asterion will never be picked as he is despised by Minos, and Ariadne's two other brothers are never considered.   She oftentimes feels overlooked, and because of this she learns to manipulate people into watching her, and giving her power.   Her life ends up revolving around Machiavellian machinations to keep and even gain power.  I hated her for a while, and then felt pity for how sad and empty and meaningless her life was in the end. 


Chara, the slavegirl who befriends Asterion, is arguably the most likely candidate for hero.   However, she's playing a long game, there's very little action she takes as she waits on her plans to come to fruition, and the ending of this novel is a cliffhanger.   I guess she's still the hero, but I have a hard time saying this: for one thing, not a lot of the novel revolved around her, and for another I have yet to see if she'll be successful or has simply thrown her life away. 


In the same vein, Icarus won me over.   He was my favorite character and he's a dangling thread.   However, I suspect I'll learn more about him in the sequel.    Now, to order the sequel which I want right now.   Right, right now.  


I also realize writing this that I've listed a lot of things that seem like flaws, but the truth is, this novel works.   It all comes together beautifully, it had lush prose, it was compelling and captivating because despite all the despair some characters lived with, their hope for a better life and selflessness in the face of horrors touched me deeply.   I ended up writing the first half of my review in my head as I was reading this, and then abandoned it, as I was swept up in Sweet's vision of Crete.  


My hope is that this spawns a series.   Sweet has so much more to mine in Greek mythology, and while I'm not always drawn into retellings of these myths - I love the original myths too much to like anything done poorly - I would read so, so much more by this author set in this world.    Or she mines this world, the politics, the religious factions, and the characters so well, but it's also a very small part of the world centering on Crete. I would love to see what Sweet would do if she was given carte blanche to expand into other parts of Greece or the world, even.   


I'm actually going to go past the bookstore, so I'm going to look for this and order it in if they don't have it later today. 


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review 2015-08-23 18:32
ChiGraphic tackles time travel...
Infinitum: Time Travel Noir - GMB Chomichuk

So, I've been told this is the hundredth of ChiZine's books, and their first graphic novel under their ChiGraphic imprint.   I got it despite not being a fan of time travel stories because 1. Chizine, and 2. 



That adorable illustration was left in the cover of the book.   Thank you, author/artist!  I know you weren't there, but thank you for donating the time and spending the energy on adding a little oomph to these books!


So why only three and a half stars?  I'm gonna be honest: I like my time travel simpler than this.   There were times when the characters - mostly the main character - was going on about the paradoxes upon paradoxes, and I just couldn't.   Look, it's not that I can't tackle hard literature, it's just that I'm not usually invested in time travel paradoxes, so I, and I know this is a flaw in me as a reader, just kinda get ADHD about it all.  I want to be elsewhere!  


That being said, there were some twists on the usual time travel tale, even though the changing the past, policing the past - and future - and aliens involved might seem familiar.   It was how they were all put together that made it more interesting than usual.   And then the art...


A lot of it was put together in an unusual way, framed like a scrapbook with odds and ends at some points, but always in a way that drew the eye.   It was a work of art, no doubt.   It was all stark black and whites, giving it a noir feeling at times, and thus muddling the past-present-future, and giving this another edge. 


And while it may not have been for me, I would have only knocked down one star.   And I really hate saying this because I love ChiZine, but the printing was... off.



I want to give them the benefit of the doubt.   Printing white text on a black background, especially this much, is probably just a new experience for them.   However, one star off: it wasn't that I couldn't read any part of this, I could.   But I had to put in enough effort that it irked me at points.   (And, no, I really don't want a new copy because I adore the illustration in this one, so I'm happy with this specific one.   If it goes on sale as a digital copy, however, I may invest in another copy of this for ease of reading.)


The truth is that the more I got into this, the more I got into the story.  I felt for the main character, for his confusion, and I could feel his rising frustration.   The ending was bittersweet, and I felt that, too.   The story idea was good, and solid to boot, in my opinion, and if you like time travel more than I do, then you'll probably like this more than I did.   (Which is saying something.  I would have rated it quite highly for the art and storyline, and also character, despite not liking time travel.  Although I think the art and characters are what really stole my heart, if I must be honest.)


I also see that the author has another graphic novel coming out with ChiGraphic.   While I wouldn't get it without being able to flip through and see what the printing looks like, and if there's as much white text on a black background, I would buy it if it was cleaner.   (And there was some black text on white background here, and this was all very clean.   It wasn't even all white text on black background, just a couple pages here and there, but it was enough that I don't want to mislead people and say it wasn't anything.   Like I said, it bothered me, and enough that despite this being my favorite press, I'm whining about it this much.   So, yeah, I'd try to find this in store and flip through.   In my copy, it was mostly at the front that there were printing issues, by the way.   And only the text.   The images were perfectly clear.)


PS - I want to apologize.  I know it's silly, but I still want to apologize for whining that much about the print.  It's why I added a picture.  You can see how it fades in and out a little, or black ink leaked to where it shouldn't, muddying the words. 

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review 2015-08-11 00:38
Near Perfect
Floating Boy and the Girl Who Couldn't Fly - Paul Tremblay,Stephen Graham Jones


This works best when the two authors - who use the pen name P.T. Jones when they are writing together - don't try to sound hip or cool or like teens.   Because it takes a lot of bravado, I believe, to do that and get away with it, and this felt more like effort, which is a shame because I really liked the characters and plot and book as a whole when it didn't try so hard to be like what teens are like. 


See, the characters feel like people: full and fun and like they don't need to be super-hip.   But they try, and I found myself rolling my eyes at some of those points.   Still, at some point it let go of the effort, and it was a far stronger book.   Without that, the characters shone through, and I really enjoyed the slow and steady pace of this novel.   It wasn't clear where it was going at some points, but the journey was so fun it became the point. I  wanted to see how the story between the characters unfolded even more than I wanted to know how the mystery was solved. 


There was one minor nitpick, too.   I thought I'd remember the page numbers, but apparently not.   During a chase scene, bare feet are mentioned, and later wet socks are mentioned.   Since the main character was running away, with her little brother on her back, she had no time to put on socks, nor would she think of doing so given the circumstances. 


Overall, though, I liked this.  I'm finding I like more of a slow burn, though, where time is taken with the characters.   I wanted to write a longer review, but I've been having a migraine today.  I ended up going inside while the boat for the whale watching came into port, and I couldn't stand comics in general, especially not Watchmen, so I finished this instead.   I'm glad I made this choice, because this was just far too fun to put off any longer. 

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