Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Dragon Girl, Vol. 1 by Toru Fujieda

★★★★
A prestigious all boys high school is in its first transitioning semester of becoming co-ed. The manipulative student council is actively phasing out traditional customs and clubs to forge a new identity for the school. Rinna is a feisty, ambitious girl intent on following in her estranged father's footsteps by joining the cheering squad. Hasekura is the current cheer captain trying to uphold tradition while adamantly deterring female students from joining. They must overcome their differences in order to prevent the club from being disbanded. The series is completed and compiled within two omnibuses. This is the first omnibus that is comprised of thirteen chapters.

I think the cover art misrepresents this manga in a lot of ways. Overall, the artwork is clean and attractively stylized without being excessively romantic. The characters are wonderfully designed with unique features that enhance their personalities. The layout is also designed well and flows nicely.

Dragon Girl is a lighthearted and amusing manga that I enjoyed reading. The story is very character driven with an initial simplistic plot. It's more of a slice of life focused within the school setting and its related activities. The overall story is fast paced with continuous tension and conflict that manages to remain charming and humorous throughout. The later chapters begin to develop romance story lines and complex back stories while hinting at an intriguing plot from the antagonists.

The story has a large cast of characters that possess wonderful characterization. I liked how each character stood out in their own way while adding a comedic or conflicting element. I loved the main character and I'm so glad this manga was recommended to me. Rinna is assertive and ambitious while remaining charismatic. I thought it was cute how she impacted the other characters. I found it amusing how she would awkwardly succeed at the challenges presented to her. I liked that she was flawed and wasn't interested in romance initially. I think this made it more impactful when she was vulnerable. The romance story lines were also more engaging with the slow build up and development.

I admit this manga contains familiar stereotypes found throughout shojo manga and lacks the high caliber of the more popular established series currently out there. However, I think Dragon Girl is a fun and refreshing short series worth reading if you can find it at a decent price.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Spirit Bear by Rod Raglin

★✩
Kimberley is an ambitious employee for a prestigious corporate relations firm whose client wants to build a ski resort in Northern Canada. Jonah is part owner to a lodge within the desired real estate and is intent on sabotaging the deal by rallying an environmental activist platform centered around the rare Kermode bear, a subspecies of black bear renowned for its cream colored coat. Kimberly and Jonah find themselves attracted to each other but differing priorities and ideals results in heated conflict. This is the first book in the Eco-Warriors series that can also be read as a stand alone.

Spirit Bear was an okay book that I picked up because I was interested in the environmental activist aspect and I like Kermode bears. I enjoyed how the nature landscapes were portrayed with vivid visual descriptions and a sense of appreciation. I also liked the personification of the animals and their short side stories highlighted in the book.

This book utilized a lot of story telling stereotypes and cliches that made the story easier to absorb but also created an off-putting reading experience for me.

The characters felt two dimensional in their characterization. I didn't like how absolute their personalities and morals were or how they were portrayed in over exaggeration.  I'm not sure if they were just meant to be symbolic caricatures but the result felt like a strange morality play.

Due to my ethnicity I'm hyper aware and critical of how Native Americans are portrayed in the various forms of media. The story's inclusions of cliche stereotypes such as being "adopted" into a tribe, vision quests, selling land without comprehending the contract, and metaphorical dialogue left me feeling exasperated. I also didn't like that the Japanese businessmen were portrayed as poachers wanting superficial trophies for shallow medicinal purposes.

I disliked that these ethnic stereotypes were included but I recognize that this may be in combination with the poor character development overall. I appreciated that it wasn't overly excessive and I acknowledge that the author did try to edit the perspective when the story allowed.

The initial story setup was simplistic and left me wanting to know more information and details about the situation to make it feel realistic and heighten the tension. As a result the beginning didn't feel that strong to me and I couldn't get into the story until chapter four.

The story utilized the vision quest literary trope as a pivotal part to character motivation and plotting. My ethnic apprehension aside, I felt it stole the impact away from elements of the story such as character growth and revelations. It created a mystical component to a contemporary story that came across as odd and slightly forced.

Jonah and Kimberley's romance storyline was awkward. It was cute that they were strongly attracted and pined over each other. However, I think they were established too heavily in opposition without a middle ground courtship. I didn't like how their emotional outbursts and betrayals were easily dismissed and neutralized without being acknowledged or reconciled. It made their constant conflict seem nonsensical and only made them seem farther apart. The lack of intimacy created a dull physical relationship that I wasn't invested in as a reader.

Overall, I thought Spirit Bear was just an okay book. It invoked familiar stereotypes and cliches within a vivid setting. I liked that the story unfolded slightly unpredictably with the ending completing the story and resolving the main problems. The issues and situations were overly simplified which made the story easier to read but it also hindered its ability to have a larger impact and feel realistic. I'll be continuing the series because I requested the books all at once so I'm curious to see how the writing will evolve.

[Disclaimer: I received my copy of this book through Story Cartel in exchange for an honest review]

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Flesh Cartel, Season 1: Damnation by Rachel Haimowitz & Heidi Belleau

★★★★
Mat is a MMA fighter/bouncer that has sacrificed a lot to continually support and provide for his younger brother, Dougie, a virtuous and respectable college student. They share a strong and inseparable bond strengthened since the death of their parents when they were children. Both brothers are abducted from their home, repeatedly sexually assaulted, tortured, humiliated, and imprisoned before being sold through an elaborate auction. This is the first season in The Flesh Cartel serial short story series that includes The Flesh Cartel #1: Capture and The Flesh Cartel #2: Abduction.

Flesh Cartel Season 1: Damnation is a dark and brutal introduction into what promises to be a captivating and shocking series. This book has a lot of warning labels and for good reasons. I feel I should reiterate that this is not a romance but an explicit depiction of nonconsensual BDSM specifically focused on M-M sexuality. A majority of the scenes were too hardcore for me to find personally arousing.

I love stories that can illicit a strong emotional response from me. These stories terrified me in a way that no other book has ever done before. This had a lot to do with how well written and immersive the stories were.  The prose was engaging, fast paced, and flowed well. While the descriptions and imagery were vivid.

The stories are told from both Mat and Dougie's perspective. The main characters have different personalities and distinct voices.  The viewpoint transitions were a bit awkward at times and made me wish they were labeled.

The characters had amazing characterization that made them feel authentic and added depth to the story. I found it intriguing to witness how both characters uniquely processed, endured, and adapted in order to continue surviving their harrowing experience. It was heartening to read their devotion to one another and painful when that bond was used against them.

I also enjoyed the chapters from the auction attendee, Nikolai. The chapters were strategically placed before and after each story. These chapters were able to get across his personality while instilling a strong presence and foreboding future for the main characters.

Flesh Cartel Season 1: Damnation was a perfect example of great serial short fiction. Both serial short stories were able to tell compelling stories with dynamic characters while implementing impactful cliffhangers that either from great story telling or morbid curiosity made me want to continue reading the series.

[Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher Riptide Publishing through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review]

Monday, May 19, 2014

Suffer The Children by Craig DiLouie

★★★★
An apocalyptic horror story about a mysterious affliction that swiftly kills all the children of the world. They awaken from their graves a few days later hungry for blood. The parents then have to consider how far they will go to provide for their children.

Suffer The Children is a chilling horror story grounded in reality by great characterization. The story is told from four points of view. Each perspective gives a broader look at the effects of the epidemic.

The characters were complex and well rounded. I enjoyed how authentic they felt. It was easier to empathize with them because their motivations and thought process were clearly illustrated.

Though the abnormal death and resurrection of the children was alarming I think it was the response that was truly frightening. I adored how the author challenged the reader’s outlook by presenting morally ambiguous situations and decisions. I also appreciated the amount of research and thought that went into this book.

At the core of the story is the emotional, instinctive, and protective parent to child bond. It explored themes such as family, faith, guilt, grief, love, death, time, and family dynamics.

I think if the reader were a parent or perspective parent this story would be exceptionally horrifying. Even though I’m neither this book was still able to give me chills.

The world building in the story was fantastic. The story explored what disaster relief protocols would be put in place. It also illustrated the global effects on the economy and medical field.

I enjoyed the focus on how people from different backgrounds reacted. The behavioral study was particularly intriguing to me.

Suffer The Children is a horror story I found to be exceptional because it was grounded in a sense of reality.

[Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher Permuted Press through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review]

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Playmates by Jess C . Scott

★★★★
Tania and Trevor are adolescent twins devoted to one another and share an unbreakable bond strengthened from enduring a volatile dysfunctional home. An ominous metamorphosis gradually transpires as they mature into fledgling serial killers. This is the first book in the Wilde Twins trilogy.

Playmates is a captivating story that is intelligently written. I loved the psychological elements presented throughout the story. I appreciated that the author approached the story with a broad understanding on child development and abnormal psychology. I liked that the information was conveyed unobtrusively through the characters establishing a more impactful characterization.

I also enjoyed the social commentary prominent throughout the story. It included an interesting assessment on mass media, pop culture, consumerism, and conformity. I liked how it explored themes concerning society such as family dynamics, gender roles, and sexuality. I appreciated that the ideas were presented with a morally ambiguous stance preferring to expose its influence on the characters and their thought process.

The chapters alternate between both siblings creating a contrasting yet united perspective. The story highlights pivotal events each year from when the characters are 9 to 13 years old.  The simplistic youthful narratives were intriguing to read. I liked that the narratives highlighted how the main characters actively processed external information around them in an attempt to better understand their world. The author acknowledges the myriad of influences that contributed to the main characters evolving into serial killers in a natural suspenseful progression.

At times the higher cognitive thinking made them seem a couple of years older. However I think overall their concerns and thought process were true to their age range. I also liked that the preteen perspective presented was modern with recent embedded references illustrating the extensive generational changes.

The ending is abrupt and I didn't consider it to be well executed cliffhanger but the second book (Bedmates) picks up immediately where the first ends continuing with the suspenseful action. If you plan on reading this story I would suggest purchasing the trilogy boxset for a more seamless reading experience.

Playmates is a compelling and thoughtful story that delivers a suspenseful account of a sibling serial killing team emerging from childhood.

[Note: I received my initial copy of this book through Story Cartel in exchange for an honest review. I have since personally purchased The Wilde Twins Trilogy Boxset which includes this story.]

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Unfinished [Expanded 2014 Edition] by Patrice Williams Marks

★★★★✩
Donny York has just been resurrected within a futuristic legal system that reanimates murder victims for 72 hours in order to identify and testify against their killer. He reminisces about the first trial that incorporated The Unfinished while preparing to face his own killer in court. The 2014 expanded edition also includes the first chapter from the forthcoming novel that expands upon the story.   

The Unfinished is a short story that is 21 pages long. The first-person narration illustrates great characterization through a strong voice with a conversational tone.  

Idioms and slang gave an interesting cadence and color to the narration but I also felt it disrupted the pacing. It was also a bit confusing when context clues weren’t readily available. I was pleased to note that the sample from the novel expansion has smoothed the narration while remaining true to the main character’s voice.

I liked how science fiction elements were interwoven within the story while still maintaining a sense of being from a modern bygone era. I liked that concise details were given but I would have also liked to have gotten a bit more description. I appreciated the attention given to world building and am curious to see how the novel will expand upon it.

The story was engaging and I enjoyed the concepts explored. The ending was surprising, impactful and abrupt. My exact response was me saying “What?!” aloud. I was thankful for the chapter sample of the novel that picks up immediately after the short story’s ending.    

Overall, I enjoyed reading The Unfinished. It’s an engaging short story about an intriguing legal system and a mystery that demands to be further explored.

[Disclaimer: I won a copy of this book through BookLikes]

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Noah by Darren Aronofsky, Ari Handel, and Niko Henrichon

★★✩✩
Noah is righteous man trying to provide a peaceful life for his family in a world filled with strife and cruelty. He begins receiving visions of a great flood that will cleanse the world of humanity’s corruption. Prompting Noah to build a vessel that will house and protect mated pairs of innocent creatures. He begins to doubt the role of humans in the future purified restored world resolving that his family will be the only and last.

This graphic novel is based on the screenplay's initial draft for the biblical inspired 2014 film ‘Noah’. I view the Bible as a classical literary work equivalent to mythology. Despite its iconic fame the story of Noah is actually a brief tale in the Bible (Genesis 5:32-10:1). I was excited about the prospect of a lengthier reinterpretation as an epic dark fantasy.

The illustrations by Niko Henrichon were beautifully detailed, colored and rugged giving a better sense of a barbaric antediluvian world with a diverse population. The layout was clean and well designed. The panels were composed well with variation in size for dramatic effect. I loved the artwork and the overall product was beautifully put together from the cover, binding, paper quality, and additional art insertions.

The biblical story of Noah is tale abundant with potential as an apocalyptic dark fantasy because the antediluvian world was lush with fantastical elements and violence. I liked that the story incorporated other biblical inspirations and interwove them into the story. Such as the characters Tubal-Cain and Methuselah, the physical location the Tower of Babel, and possible origin for the curse on Canaan. I especially enjoyed the inclusion of the Book of Enoch which tells the tale of angels known as the watchers who oversaw humans after the fall from Eden, imparted knowledge and fathered the Nephilim.

The story attempts to distance itself from the entanglement of religion by referring to the higher power as 'creator' with no direct verbal communication with the main character, no established agenda  and  no prominent influence or interception beyond progressing the story. I liked that the graphic novel's story tried to draw away from its biblical origin and create its own narration as a fantasy story through ambitious world building.

The graphic novel is 256 pages long which I feel wasn't long enough to tell the story it set out to. As a result the pacing felt off, rushed and choppy. The transitions were also abrupt making it feel like something was overlooked. The characters weren't properly established so it was difficult for me to have an emotional connection with them and understand their motivations for the actions they took.

Noah felt woefully underdeveloped as a main character. Noah's characterization and motivations were pivotal to understanding his beliefs and internal struggle. The lack of focus resulted in tension feeling forced and nonsensical. It also made the story's thinly veiled message sound derisive rather than impactful.  

I felt the dialogue in the story was flat, reflected little characterization and did the minimal job of progressing the story. Tubal-Cain and Methuselah probably had the best dialogue while the other characters were inconsistent

The story had an innovative magic system, intriguing society, fantastical creatures and dynamic world building that were all hinted at but weren't addressed sufficiently. My main complaint being that the story didn't go far enough or explore the elements it choose to focus on thoroughly enough.

Noah is a graphic novel with wonderful artwork and amazing concepts that made me feel disappointed and frustrated because it had so much potential to be an epic story but faltered in its execution.

[Disclaimer: I won a copy of this book through Goodreads First Reads]


[Note: For graphic novel reviews a rating reflects my reception of the story with the artwork's quality not factored in but noted in the review. I'm more concerned with characterization, the story line, dialogue and pacing.]   

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Hostile Ground by L.A. Witt and Aleksandr Voinov

★★★★★
Mahir is an undercover detective attempting to infiltrate a covert drug ring by becoming employed as part of the security team. Ridley is the intimidating head of security fixated on testing Mahir’s loyalty and weeding out any threats to the organization. Both immediately find themselves tangled in a dangerous erotic game of manipulation.

Hostile Ground is a sexy suspenseful book with great characters. I loved that this book was so much more than just a titillating story. The prose was intelligent, engaging and fast paced. The dialogue flowed well and felt genuine coming across as witty, sexy, and heartfelt. The characters were well rounded, complex and felt authentic.   

Mahir is a compelling character whose point of view tells the story. Mahir is Muslim of Syrian descent which results in racial tension within the story and a cultural precedent that clashes with his sexual identity. His rational and accepting demeanor is heartening to read. The novice undercover assignment demonstrates an interesting duality as he projects a persona that is part truth and fiction.  

Ridley is an intense and calculating character that tests Mahir in more ways then one. Elaborate mind games force both of them to continually out think each other while trying to stay a step ahead. I enjoyed the morally ambiguous decisions and situations that Ridley’s character presented. This forced Mahir to truly consider how much he would endure and concede in order to build a solid case.   

I loved that both main characters were masculine men secure in their sexuality. Their relationship dynamic was explosive and complex. Their chemistry and physical attraction was initiated through an erotic appeal for trust and dominance. I enjoyed reading their chaotic journey to further establish trust and intimacy when the future of their relationship was obscure and discouraged.       

The erotic scenes were vivid, coherent, flowed well, and were of course sexy. I find this commendable and noteworthy because it’s very easy for erotic scenes with same sex couples to become confusing or feel unnatural.

Gay sexuality was addressed unobtrusively through the embedded story line. I liked that the story showed the full spectrum from the direct aftermath of coming out through a secondary character to the long term residual complications and concessions through the main characters.  

I enjoyed the elements of realism that the authors instilled especially with the professions, physical location, culture, criminal operations and psychological components. This further established the tension and suspense that was continually present throughout the story.

The first portion of the book has dynamic character conflict and interplay. While the second portion of the book adds additional action and drama resulting in continual suspense until the very end.

Hostile Ground is an engaging thrilling story with fantastic characters that I thoroughly enjoyed reading. 

[Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher Riptide Publishing through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review]