Mini-Review: Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea, Ben Clanton (2016)

Monday, December 12th, 2016

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Come for the narwhals, stay for the under-the-sea waffle parties.

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Library Thing’s Early Reviewers program.)

Good thing that waffle is a kung fu master!

Every time I pick up Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea, I picture Season Eight Leslie Knope reading it to her triplets before bed.

I mean, there are waffles! With a strawberry sidekick! Fighting robots! And they also know how to party!

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I’m 99.9998% certain that Narwhal the narwhal is Leslie Knope’s daemon in an alternate universe. (That pinprick of doubt? Stems from the shocking lack of waffle toppings. Like, where’s the whipped cream? The chocolate sauce? The gorram sprinkles?!)

So, like, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect of a graphic novel for kids. As it turns out, it feels a lot like a picture book, but with panels like a comic book. It’s definitely meant for younger readers, but that’s okay! Adults can still enjoy it too. It’s silly and weird, but also hecka cute and kind of a fun distraction. And don’t we all deserve a little escapism after the dumpster fire that has been 2016?

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The book’s comprised of five short stories that follow a narwhal named Narwhal who’s found himself in strange waters. He befriends a perplexed little jellyfish; forms his own pod, with the help of shark, blowfish, and octopus; shares his favorite book (don’t get the pages wet!); throws a super-awesome party; and celebrates all things waffle-related.

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In summary:

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(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: Monstress, Volume 1: Awakening, Marjorie M. Liu & Sana Takeda (2016)

Monday, August 15th, 2016

Devastatingly Gorgeous Artwork & Intricate World-Building Make Monstress a Must-Read

five out of five stars

To quote the poets…murder is terribly exhausting.

— 4.5 stars —

I pre-ordered Monstress based on the cover alone; and, the more I learned about it, the more excited I became. A steampunk fantasy set in turn-of-the-century Asia, featuring a diverse cast of mostly-female characters, written and illustrated by two women of color? Sign me up!

As it turns out, Monstress is everything I’d hoped for and then some. The story takes place in 1920s Asia, though you might not know it at first glance: this alternate ‘verse is so very different from our own. Humans are not the only – or even the first – sapients to walk the earth. (To borrow a term from The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet.) We were preceded by Cats, the children of Ubasti: Multi-tailed, talking creatures, who can wield a weapon as easily as a sarcastic comeback. The immortal Ancients assumed the forms of beasts and, like their Greek cousins, enjoyed toying with humans. It is from such relationships that Arcanic halfbreeds were born: some are human in appearance, while most are not; yet all Arcanics possess great powers, powers which can be extracted from their very bones. Last but not least are the Old Gods, of which precious little is known. Some believe them to be monsters.

While humans and Arcanics coexisted in peace for generations, war broke out for reasons that aren’t entirely clear. An infernal bomb, which rained destruction down upon the city of Constantine, resulted in a stalemate. Now both races live on their respective sides of the wall. Yet the Cumaea – a powerful order of nun-witches that rules the human federation – is intent resurrecting the war and exterminating the Arcanics.

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: Jacob, King of Portalia, Casey Clubb (2014)

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014

You had me at “LGBT Fantasy”!

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-copy for review from the publisher.)

Eleven-year-old Jacob Prios is a dreamer. He kind of has to be, when real life holds so much potential for unhappiness.

Jacob wants to be an accomplished and famous “intergalactic musician” – even though he’s completely lacking in talent, no matter how much time he devotes to practicing the violin – just like his father Prantos, who died under mysterious circumstances when Jacob was only four years old. Now his mother is remarried and hardly ever speaks of her late husband. One of the few reminders Jacob has of his father is the clubhouse they built together – and on the eve of his twelfth birthday, Jacob overhears Rick and Laney conspiring to board it up after the weekend celebrations. As if this isn’t bad enough, Jacob’s journal – the one in which he scribbled another boy’s name, surrounded in hearts – has gone missing from his violin case. Jacob is convinced that he’ll soon be outed by Jimmy and his “goons,” the reigning bullies at Archer Middle School, and disowned by his stepdad Rick and best/only friend, Sammy.

And then something remarkable happens. Jacob picks up his violin and begins to play a song for Sammy – “one I’d heard long ago, in a dream of my father” – and unwittingly opens up a portal to another world.

(More below the fold…)

Mini-Review: Delivering Yaehala (A Fantasy Novelette), Annie Bellet (2011)

Friday, August 1st, 2014

Nine Moons, Two Unicorns, and One Scarred Young Woman

four out of five stars

Alone in the Namoh desert, Alila is immersed in the difficult and dangerous task of gathering frankincense resin from a cliff-side tree when “trouble [comes] in the form of a figure on horseback.” Tasked with lookout duty, her twin unicorns Gabi and Hezi are the first to sound the alarm. By the time Alila makes her way down to the injured rider, her horse has succumbed to his injuries. The woman is shaken but still alive – and noticeably pregnant, at that.

This isn’t any damsel in distress, however; Yaehala is the newest member of the Pashet’s Purdah, his “collection of perfect women.” She is a princess, carrying the heir to the Pashet’s throne. The Pashet’s First Serena hired mercenaries to kidnap Yaehala and cut the child from her belly so that she could claim the boy as her own, thus securing her place on the throne.

Though it goes against her better judgment, Alila decides to offer the princess passage to the sea, where she has ships waiting to ferry her out of the country. This is in no small part to make amends for past sins: accidentally killing her best friend and her unborn child in a fit of rage and grief. For this crime she was tattooed, mutilated, and banished to the desert, left for god to pass judgment on. She is “anathema. Marked. Forbidden.”

Yet, just as the gods sent Gabi and Hezi to heal Alila’s broken body, Yaehala offers her the chance to find forgiveness and redemption.

More a short story than a novella (or novelette), “Delivering Yaehala” is quick yet satisfying read that’s not short on suspense. One especially anxious moment sees Hezi and Yaehala taken captive by mercenaries (truth be told, my heart ached more for the unicorn than the woman riding her. I mean, c’mon! UNICORNS! Magical unicorns, with saliva that heals, muzzles that locate water, and horns that light up at night. The full nine!)

Another enjoyable story from Annie Bellet.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: Project Unicorn, Volume 1: 30 Young Adult Short Stories Featuring Lesbian Heroines, Sarah Diemer & Jennifer Diemer (2012)

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

Monstrously Beautiful

five out of five stars

Project Unicorn (“A Lesbian YA Extravaganza!”) is a ya fiction project created by the wife-wife writing team of Sarah Diemer (Love Devours; The Dark Wife) and Jennifer Diemer (Sappho’s Fables). Though the project is currently on hold, the idea is this: every week they post two free short stories on their website; these are gathered in a monthly zine, along with two previously-unpublished titles, which you can buy on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Smashwords. There’s also a quarterly edition that includes the contents of the previous three ‘zines, which is also available on etsy. As of this writing, there exist six zines and two volumes.

I first discovered Project Unicorn by way of “The Witch Sea,” an enchanting story about a witch named Meriel and the unexpected love she feels for a sea creature named Nor. A multi-generational feud has placed Meriel in the heartbreaking position of denying Nor that which she most desperately years for: the depths of the sea. I loved it so much that I promptly added all of Sarah Diemer’s titles to my wishlist.

The stories found in Project Unicorn, Volume 1 are every bit as magical as “The Witch Sea.” Beautiful, glorious, rainbow-hued magic. Accompanied by a menagerie of fantastical creatures – Kelpie unicorns, werecats, Victorian mermaids, kind-hearted witches, demons, even trees made human – the authors invite us to find and embrace the weirdness, the alienation, the darkness within ourselves. Those monsters staring at us through the glass of a magical compact? They are different from us, but…also the same. And that’s a wonderful thing. There’s light in the forest, yo.

(More below the fold…)

Is there another way to win a maiden? | Kindness, courtesy, good works, that sort of thing.

Sunday, July 31st, 2011

Still fro The Last Unicorn

“What can I do for you?” Prince Lír asked. “Nothing very much just now,” Molly Grue said. “The water was all I needed. Unless you want to peel the potatoes, which would be all right with me.”

“No, I didn’t mean that. I mean yes, I will if you want me to, but I was talking to her. I mean, when I talk to her, that’s what I keep asking.”

“Sit down and peel me a few potatoes,” Molly said. “It’ll give you something to do with your hands.”

They were in the scullery, a dank little room smelling strongly of rotting turnips and fermenting beets. A dozen earthenware dishes were piled in one corner, and a very small fire was shivering under a tripod, trying to boil a large pot of gray water. Molly sat at a rude table which was covered with potatoes, leeks, onions, peppers, carrots, and other vegetables, most of them limp and spotty. Prince Lír stood before her, rocking slowly along his feet and twisting his big, soft fingers together.

“I killed another dragon this morning,” he said presently.

“That’s nice,” Molly answered. “That’s fine. How many does that make now?”

“Five. This one was smaller than the others, but it really gave me more trouble. I couldn’t get near it on foot, so I had to go in with the lance, and my horse got pretty badly burned. It was funny about the horse —”

Molly interrupted him. “Sit down, Your Highness, and stop doing that. I start to twitch all over just watching you.” Prince Lír sat down opposite her. He drew a dagger from his belt and moodily began peeling potatoes. Molly regarded him with a slight, slow smile.

“I brought her the head,” he said. “She was in her chamber, as she usually is. I dragged that head all the way up the stairs to lay it at her feet.” He sighed, and nicked his finger with the dagger. “Damn. I didn’t mind that. All the way up the stairs it was a dragon’s head, the proudest gift anyone can give anyone. But when she looked at it, suddenly it became a sad, battered mess of scales and horns, gristly tongue, bloody eyes. I felt like some country butcher who had brought his lass a nice chunk of fresh meat as a token of his love. And then she looked at me, and I was sorry I had killed the thing. Sorry for killing a dragon!” He slashed at a rubbery potato and wounded himself again.

– Peter S. Beagle, The Last Unicorn (1968)