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Reviews Written by
Jessica Strider (Toronto, Canada)
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Lady Mechanika TP Vol 03: The Lost Boys of West Abbey
Lady Mechanika TP Vol 03: The Lost Boys of West Abbey
by Marcia Chen
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 10.99
13 used & new from CDN$ 6.35

5.0 out of 5 stars Love the artwork, May 23 2017
Pros: beautiful artwork, interesting story, great characters

Cons: short

Lady Mechanika hears of a strange murder case where kidnapped urchin boys were found murdered next to mechanical parts. She starts investigating, wondering if this case could lead to information about her own origins.

As with the previous volumes, this one stands alone, though there is a quick, non spoilery callback for the events of volume 2. It’s only two issues, so the story is much shorter than those of the earlier graphic novels (and the price reflects that).

Once more the artwork is gorgeous. The characters have a fun mix of Victorian and steampunk fashions.The cast is widened with the addition of a detective inspector, who I suspect will show up in later volumes.

The cover gallery at the end has some nice pieces.

I’m loving this series.


Lady Mechanika Volume 1: Mystery of the Mechanical Corpse
Lady Mechanika Volume 1: Mystery of the Mechanical Corpse
by Joe Benitez
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 25.69
20 used & new from CDN$ 18.46

5.0 out of 5 stars Gorgeous artwork & an interesting story, May 16 2017
Pros: gorgeous artwork, interesting characters, good story

Cons:

Issue 0 is a prequel story that takes place about a year before the main comic. It features Lady Mechanika hunting a ‘demon’ that’s been killing children.

Issues 1-5 comprises a story about a young woman, found dead in a train station, who has similar mechanical arms to Lady Mechanika.

I LOVED the artwork. The colours are rich and bold, the backgrounds lush, and the characters vibrant.

Lady Mechanika is portrayed in a sexy fashion without showing much (or sometimes any) skin. I loved her costumes (particularly her Victorian style dresses), and the occasional steampunk elements of it. She’s intelligent, no nonsense, and kickass.

The supporting cast are also well dressed and appropriately quirky. I enjoyed the fact that there’s history between Lady Mechanika and the two lead antagonists.

The story was pretty interesting, though there was one scene where the antagonists had an expository conversation meant for the reader rather than each other.

This volume is self-contained, with a quick mention of what will begin the next volume.


A Face Like Glass
A Face Like Glass
Price: CDN$ 11.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A fun book with a twisting plot, May 9 2017
This review is from: A Face Like Glass (Kindle Edition)
Pros: fascinating world-building, interesting characters, twisting plot

Cons:

Neverfell was found around the age of five in the tunnels of Cheesemaster Grandible. Seven years later, a series of errors has her emerging into the wider world of Caverna and the mysterious Court that rules it. For in a world where Faces must be learned and lying is a fact of life, Neverfell’s face can change expression with her emotions, and lying is beyond her skill.

The world of Caverna is fascinating. You’re introduced to it - and all of its various workings - slowly, through Neverfell’s eyes and experiences. While she’s told early on that everyone lies and manipulates, her own trusting and trustworthy natures make it hard for her to protect herself from the plots of others. As the book progresses, you learn more about the world and the darknesses it’s based on.

The plot takes a lot of turns I wasn’t expecting, which was a real joy. Neverfell’s a great character and her constant curiosity has her acting in unpredictable ways. She starts off hopelessly naive, but over the course of the book learns what society is like, and that not everyone she meets has her best interests in mind. The Kleptomancer is really fun, and I’d have loved seeing more of him and of the brilliantly insane cryptomancers.

This is a fun book, one that briefly touches on numerous discussion points, so it would make a great book club novel.


Spill Zone
Spill Zone
by Scott Westerfeld
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 25.31
33 used & new from CDN$ 15.76

4.0 out of 5 stars Very atmospheric, May 2 2017
This review is from: Spill Zone (Hardcover)
Pros: atmospheric, interesting characters, intriguing story

Cons: a little slow

This is the first volume and so mostly sets up the spill zone and the characters. It’s a bit slow, but that’s due to the many panelled atmospheric nature of the artwork. While the artwork wasn’t entirely to my liking, it does embody the post-apocalyptic feel of the city and the creepy stuff going on inside it. It’s also highly expressive, showing a lot of motion and emotion.

Addison’s pretty interesting as a protagonist, gutsy if not terribly business savvy. Her obvious love for her sister shines through. I have to admit, I’m most intrigued by Vespertine, her sister’s telepathic, snarky doll.

The story ends with several mysteries introduced and I’m very curious to see what happens next.


City of Miracles
City of Miracles
by Robert Jackson Bennett
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 20.60
26 used & new from CDN$ 13.22

5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant end to a brilliant series, May 2 2017
This review is from: City of Miracles (Paperback)
Pros: emotional punch, multi-layered plot, great characters

Cons:

It’s been thirteen years since Sigrud last saw Shara Komayd, but the news of her assassination still hits him hard. When he goes looking for those who killed her, he stumbles into a series of plots started years past. He also has to locate and protect her adopted daughter, Tatyana, from Shara’s enemies.

This is the third book in the Divine Cities trilogy. While it was possible to read book two of this series as a standalone, the personal connections and plot twists of book three require having read at least the first book, though I’d recommend reading both before starting this one. Knowing the close connection between Sigrud and Shara is what propels the first half of this book, with Mulaghesh making an appearance and Signe’s name showing up several times. But it’s Shara’s presence that infuses the story, and Sigrud’s regrets regarding his treatment of the women in his life that completes it.

In many ways this book takes the plot of City of Stairs and brings it full circle, explaining some of the mysteries that book left open as well as some of the mysteries surrounding Sigrud himself.

I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about Sigrud as the main point of view character considering how straightforward he is. But he’s quite fascinating once you get into his mind. And while he isn’t the planner that Shara was, he’s quite intelligent and figures things out pretty fast.

It would have been nice to get to know Tatyana better, but I loved Ivanya. It’s strange seeing the future of a fantasy world, and seeing how people affected by the great events in one book pick up the pieces of their lives - or transform themselves completely - because of them. Ivanya is cool under pressure, having prepared for years for what’s coming.

The plot has several layers to it, some of them get pulled back quickly, while others take a while to be revealed.

This is a brilliant end to a brilliant series, and I’m not ashamed to say that it had me in tears several times.


Skullsworn: A New Novel in the World of "The Emperor's Blades"
Skullsworn: A New Novel in the World of "The Emperor's Blades"
by Brian Staveley
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 32.45
29 used & new from CDN$ 22.71

5.0 out of 5 stars Great Stand-alone fantasy novel, April 25 2017
Pros: excellent characters, great world-building, variety of fights

Cons:

Pyrre has reached the final test for becoming a priestess of Ananshael. She must kill seven people in fourteen days. But her final target must be someone she loves above all others, and Pyrre has never known love. So she returns to the city of her birth and the man she once knew, hoping he’ll be The One.

Pyrre appears as a side character in Staveley’s Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne. This is a stand-alone novel where she - and her worship of the god of death - are in the forefront. While the previous books aren’t necessary to enjoy this one, there are descriptions of Rassambur, the assassin’s home base, in book three, Last Mortal Bond, which flesh out the city and the practice of Ananshael’s priests.

Witnessing her trial are two priests, Kossal, an older man who speaks truth and has few cares for the world, and Ela, the woman he loves, who loves everybody and who’s as graceful as she is deadly. Ela tries to teach Pyrre what love is, a conversation that involves as many knives as you’d expect from a duo of professional assassins.

There’s a surprising amount of banter considering the premise of the book. I enjoyed Pyrre’s attempts to understand her own emotions as she alternates between getting closer and further away from Ruc Lan Lac. Her plan is overly convoluted but has some fascinating consequences. I especially enjoyed the chapters dealing with the delta and life there.

The world-building was top notch, expanding an unexplored area of the world but tying it and its history into that of the previous books. The delta felt vibrant and the dangers - and how to deal with them - realistic. The local religion also had weight to it, practiced differently by the city folk and the delta people.

As expected, there are some fabulous fight scenes, against a surprising variety of people and things.

This was an excellent book.


Six Wakes
Six Wakes
Offered by Hachette Book Group Digital, Inc.
Price: CDN$ 11.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling space mystery, Feb. 28 2017
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This review is from: Six Wakes (Kindle Edition)
Pros: fantastic mystery, suspenseful, interesting technology, diverse characters

Cons: a few continuity errors

You’re introduced to all six characters, plus their AI, all at once, so it’s impressive how Lafferty keeps their voices unique and their personalities distinct. You jump around to everyone’s POV, so this is important.

The story unfolds mostly linearly, with important historical background flashbacks as needed to forward the plot, learn more about the characters, and keep you guessing about what happened. I was impressed by how intricate the various stories were and how they eventually pulled together. The pacing is great, propelling you towards the ending.

I was also impressed by the treatment of Joanna’s character. She was born with withered legs and uses a wheelchair and 2 prosthetic legs in the book. Her choice to retain this disability comes up in the book, and is handled well.

The technology and world-building were a lot of fun. There’s a series of codicils governing the creation of clones, riots, anti-cloning sentiment, the generation ship, AI, mind hacking, and more.

I did notice two minor continuity errors, one where a character got up twice to program food, and another where two characters suddenly shift from talking in the theatre to talking in one of their rooms. Hiro got a little annoying at times, but even the characters in the book complained about that.

It’s a fast paced book that kept me guessing and glued to the pages. Highly recommended.


Hurricane Heels
Hurricane Heels
Price: CDN$ 6.75

5.0 out of 5 stars Magical Girls Grown Up, Feb. 14 2017
This review is from: Hurricane Heels (Kindle Edition)
Pros: diverse and multi-layered characters, great world-building, excellent storytelling

Cons: minor confusion at times

Five thirteen year old girls are chosen by the goddess to help fight the Grey, an entity created from terror, rage, and destruction. Now 25, Alex, Ria, Aiko, and Natalie help Selena prepare for her upcoming wedding. As the big day approaches, they reflect on their past as magical girls and wonder how long they’ll have to keep fighting.

Hurricane Heels is a a collection of 5 interconnected stories. Each one is told from the point of view of a different girl.

This is a novel for adults who love magical girl stories like Sailor Moon, who are interested in what real life for such girls growing into women would look like. The author clearly explains why no one in the larger world knows what’s going on in the fight between good and evil and how the girls heal after their battles. But these are women who swear, drink, go to a strip club (it’s a bachelorette party), and hold day jobs around their monster battles.

I loved the juxtaposition of these young girls getting magical powers and being given decidedly earthy weapons. When you think of magical girls you think glittery magic weapons, light weight, deadly because of their magical attacks. But these girls get an ax, a chainsaw, double swords. There’s no way to avoid the solid brutality of these as weapons and the death and gore of their battles against the Grey.

Each chapter begins with a black and white illustration of the girl whose point of view that chapter is from. Unlike the Sailor Moon characters, these aren’t thin waifs. They’ve got some weight on them and some curves. They look like real women, chosen to do great things.

At one point I tried to see what the main thrust of each story was - love, power, etc. Each character has a colour, a different piece of transformation jewelry, and a primary weapon, surely they each have an attribute they embody as well. A few of them seem to on the surface, but when you consider each character - and each story - more carefully, these aren’t simplistic portrayals. These are multi-layered characters who are scared of their new responsibilities and powers in different ways. They also try to hide their frailties from their friends, not realizing that they all have similar doubts. They fight because they need to, because the world needs them to. It’s amazing how well you get to know each girl, despite how short the book is.

I did find the scene in Ria’s story where she moved from the Philippines to the US a bit confusing. I had to read it twice to realize that’s what happened. There was also a formatting issue in the first story. In two places necessary page breaks, showing where one scene ended and another began, were missing. Because each story jumps between places and times so often, the page breaks are needed to help the reader reorient themselves. It was very confusing going from the end of a fight scene to the girls grabbing a drink with no indication that the location or time had changed. It was even more confusing jumping from a post fight conversation to a strip club scene.

This is a brilliant book. If you like magical girl anime - and even if you just enjoy well told stories about women trying to find their places in the world while battling evil to save it - this book is for you.


Dreadnought: Nemesis - Book One
Dreadnought: Nemesis - Book One
by April Daniels
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 18.74
26 used & new from CDN$ 12.25

5.0 out of 5 stars Deals with some heavy issues, Jan. 24 2017
Pros: complex issues, great world-building, transgender protagonist

Cons: a few minor complaints

The book deals with several complex issues, not the least of which is Danny’s gender transition. I appreciated that the author didn’t pull punches, and showed Danny’s conflicted emotions and real consequences for both long term and short term actions.

It was great seeing a transgender protagonist, and the author showed how difficult things are: from coming out to friends and family, dealing with opposition, and learning to feel good in your skin. I especially appreciated the scenes where Danny learns about make-up and gets her first bra. While the book didn’t make me cry, I did feel for Danny on multiple occasions and was frankly shocked by a lot of the things that happened.

While Dreadnought is described as being invincible - his death notwithstanding, Danny quickly realizes she has limitations and can still feel pain and hurt herself. So there was tension and actual concern during fights that things might not go well for her.

I also appreciated that there was no romance in the book. There were times I thought the author was heading in that direction, but Danny had so much to deal with already, I think a love interest would have been too much. Having said that, I wouldn’t mind seeing a romance develop in later books.

The world-building is quite good, with some basic history into where super humans come from and how they’ve impacted recent history. While you don’t learn everyone’s backstories, some of them - specifically Calamity’s - are very realistic. Others are brushed off as comic book style transformations (specifically ones dealing with mythological or mystical origins).

The plot is great. while I saw one or two of the complications that cropped up, I was blindsided by most of the plot twists. The mystery of Utopia’s identity kept me guessing, and I enjoyed seeing Calamity teach Danny the ropes of ‘caping’.

I had a few minor complaints, like Danny’s insistence that her best friend would come around to her new body quickly. Considering the fact that Danny didn’t feel she could share that she was transgender with him, something about her friend must have tipped her off to the fact that she couldn’t trust him with the news.

I also had trouble picturing the action in some of the airplane rescue scenes, though the author did a great job explaining Danny’s powers in other scenes.

This is a fantastic debut and I’m really looking forward to seeing how the series progresses.


Last Year
Last Year
by Robert Charles Wilson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 29.64
26 used & new from CDN$ 21.76

5.0 out of 5 stars Alternate history as tourist attraction, Jan. 10 2017
This review is from: Last Year (Hardcover)
Pros: great characters, interesting premise, thought provoking

Cons:

It’s 1876 and the City of Futurity is close to its fifth and final year of existence, when the mirror, the portal that connects it to an alternate world’s future, will close. The city is a tourist attraction for people on both sides of the portal, though information and technology is carefully controlled on the past side. Jesse Cullum is a local man, hired on as security. When he prevents an assassination, he’s promoted to help with an investigation with a 21st Century woman.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this. The book takes place entirely in the past, though there are a few conversations that mention the future. The interesting thing for me were the moments when the past and present collided in terms of societal and cultural norms. There is ‘historical’ language, that is to say, some offensive terms are used, in context, and often called out by the future characters. I loved that the author kept Jesse mentally commenting that he didn’t understand what his partner, Elizabeth, is talking about. In the same vein, I also appreciated the occasional reminders of some fundamental differences between the future and the past, the dangers of childbirth being one, and how Elizabeth often forgot about or overlooked these differences.

A few scenes are from alternate points of view, but the majority of the book follows Jesse, who’s had quite an interesting life. His amiable personality and quiet confidence makes him a fun character to follow, even as the story goes through two transitions. Each part gives a more comprehensive look at how the future and past have affected each other, while the third has quite a bit of action compared to the other two parts, as you finally learn more about Jesse’s past in San Francisco.

Elizabeth was a former soldier and Jesse’s observations about how she differs from the women of his time are great.

Several scenes make you think - some about how things used to be and others about how things are now. The ending especially asks some hard questions about the decisions people make and the consequences others face because of them. The book doesn’t answer any of the ethical questions that come up, but they’d be interesting to discuss.

I really enjoyed this. I suspect a deeper knowledge of the period might have increased my enjoyment, knowing some of the events being discussed and how the presence of the futurists changed things, but as someone who knows very little about the USA during the late 1800s, I found the depiction of life fascinating.


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