Friday, August 19, 2016

Graphic Novel Review: Monstress Volume 1: Awakening by Marjorie Liu




Title: Monstress Volume 1: Awakening
Author: Marjorie Liu
Artist: Sana Takeda
Publisher: Image Comics
Publication date: Out now


I think that the best endorsement I can ever give a work or product is when I'm willing to keep reading beyond my initial requirement and/or purchase it with my own money. In this case, I was barely started with the first issue of Monstress when I requested the other six issues. A few pages later I ended up buying the first volume because I liked it so much. That's as good of a recommendation as any, that I spent hard cash to collect the first volume.

Set in an alternate matriarchal 1900's Asia, in a richly imagined world of art deco-inflected steam punk, MONSTRESS tells the story of a teenage girl who is struggling to survive the trauma of war, and who shares a mysterious psychic link with a monster of tremendous power, a connection that will transform them both and make them the target of both human and otherworldly powers.


I can't even begin to tell you why I fell in love with the comic without discussing the artwork. It's lavishly detailed and absolutely gorgeous. The story is fantastic as well, but I've gotten into more than one series just because I loved the art style. It also helps that it suits the story very well, as there's something unique and well, "old" about the style. It's polished in its own way while avoiding the slick feel you get with some of the contemporary graphic novels and comics in the genre - this last part isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it's not always the right fit for every story and I'm glad that Liu went in this direction with the series. I hope that she sticks with Takeda for the series' length, as series art tends to do better when you have the same crew working on the piece from beginning to end, at least on the main pieces.

Story-wise, this is fantastic and what you'd expect from Liu's work. She does an excellent job with Maika, as the character is sympathetic without being a woobie. You can feel sorry for her without feeling like she's an absolute victim, which honestly has become fairly important to me over the years. Maybe it's because we've had so many works of fiction where the author crafts the character as someone everyone should feel sorry for because reasons - we get far too much of that and in many cases very little reason to actually feel sorry for the main character because somewhere along the line the author forgot to make the character actually sympathetic or anything beyond what's been done to them. (cough*Anita Blake*cough) In any case it's just great when we have a character that isn't written solely to garner sympathy and reduced to what things have been done to them.

I can't recommend this enough, especially to fans of series like Saga.

5/5 stars

(ARC provided by Netgalley)

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

When authors disappoint: The case of Kim Harrison and the one star review

It's with a heavy heart that I write this blog. Why? Because one of my favorite authors, Kim Harrison, greatly disappointed me recently.


If you're like me, you likely got into Harrison's work via the excellent Hollows novels. You read them as soon as you could get your grubby little mitts on them and branched out into her other works as you discovered them. She always seemed so down to earth and accessible that it was easy to like her in general, making her a nice parallel to diva-esque authors like Laurell K. Hamilton and Anne Rice, who have openly made dismissive and sometimes even rude remarks about their critics. Rice is especially notorious for her caustic remarks and actions towards negative reviewers.

But Harrison? She just didn't seem to be the type to do things that us Internet bloggers, reviewers, and readers tend to label "badly behaving author" behavior.

That's what makes her actions that much more disappointing.

Last year Harrison put out The Drafter, a book that showed a marked departure from the type of storytelling she displayed in the Hollows series. It's definitely not an easy read given its style and I myself even put down my copy until I had more time to really devote to the book. Now I'm not so sure that I want to return to it, as a few days ago on August 1st Harrison made a post on her Facebook account asking her followers to upvote a positive review in order to make a negative one less visible.


Her reason for doing this was that she just didn't like looking at the negative review and that she felt that Amazon shouldn't highlight reviews by "casual reviewers". Harrison also rationalized that since the book had a four star rating, the negative review shouldn't be the one at the top of the list when looking at reviews by "most helpful". 


The review she's referring to is likely this one and the reviewer, while they have only reviewed 11 items, still gives a review that nicely details why they didn't enjoy the work. It's more than a lot of people give in their reviews and honestly, as far as bad reviews go this generally looks like the type that authors want since it's not nasty, it gives reasons for why they didn't like it, and isn't just someone saying that it was too different from the author's prior work. The review is sitting at 106 of 138 helpful votes, so I can only wonder how many of the "not helpful" votes on it (or on any of the non-4 or 5 star reviews) were added after Harrison posted her comment. 

Now while I suppose I can understand her consternation that the most helpful review on Amazon is for a negative review, one of the people responding to her on Facebook is correct - barring campaigns to upvote a specific review, reviews gain the "most helpful" status by people reading the review and finding it helpful. It doesn't mean that those readers would automatically share the same opinion of the book upon completion, just that it helped them in their decision making process. It also doesn't mean that the reader will leave with the idea that they won't purchase the book. If they're anything like me, they likely read the negative reviews to get a more well rounded idea of the book before acquiring the work and reading it. I've had a lot of books that were actually saved by negative reviews, as they cautioned me to not get my expectations overly high or warned me that the book didn't entirely match up to its description or so on, times when honestly, my expectations were a little high and/or I went into the work expecting something different than what it actually was. (How many of us have picked up a book with jacket descriptions that didn't even remotely match up to what the book actually was?) For that matter the helpful votes might have been written by people who didn't post their own reviews but went away from the book with a similar outlook. They might have not posted their review because they felt theirs was redundant, didn't like to review... or because they were afraid of being harassed if they posted a negative review. 

I just always thought that Harrison was better than the authors who ask their readers to manipulate review rankings in order to make specific types of reviews less visible. Not only is this potentially a violation of Amazon's TOS, but she had to have known that this type of post usually results in people writing reviews to counteract the negative reviews and in my past experience is that not all of the people who write such reviews will have actually read the work in question. They just post the positive reviews in the hope of getting a pat on the head from their author and showing their devotion. 

Such posts also run the risk of causing people to attack the negative reviews. I will say that Harrison never specifically named the reviewer, but given that she specifically mentions a one star review that's the most helpful it's not hard to figure out who she's talking about. The attacks haven't occurred just yet, but the problem is that they can and have happened to other reviewers that were directly or indirectly highlighted by authors complaining about negative reviews. Hell, this review received a metric shit ton of negative feedback and even some real world harassment after mainstream author Emily Giffin made a vague reference about it on her Facebook account. As an author that publishes nowadays and has a strong online presence, there's no way that she could be unaware of this in at least part.

This is just disappointing since I always figured that Harrison was above cheap tactics like this. The problem with actions like hers is that it runs the risk of silencing readers and I know of several people who stopped blogging and reviewing because they were afraid of authors retaliating in some form or fashion because they didn't like that a negative review was written and/or was visible. Stuff like this portrays negative reviewers as second class citizens. They're able to write and publish, but heaven forbid that they ever become visible. In a way this could even be seen as a form of censorship in a way, given that her actions were done in order to make a helpful review less visible. No, she wasn't actively asking for its removal but her actions could have caused the reviewer to remove their honest review because they didn't want to be harassed. It also makes it less visible for people who might otherwise have found the review helpful and didn't want to click through the various pages of reviews. 

I can understand her being upset. It's not easy seeing a negative review and seeing it voted "most helpful", however it's a bad idea to ask people to perform actions that would hide or otherwise obscure a review. Especially as that runs the risk of discouraging other reviewers because they're afraid of harassment from the author and/or their fans. She might not have realized all of this when she posted on Facebook, but she should've been aware that it could be poorly received even if she didn't specifically name the reviewer because history has shown that fans can and do find these reviews and in some cases, openly harass the reviewer. I know she can't be responsible for what her fans do, but this has happened so many times that "don't do anything that can identify a reviewer", "don't make campaigns to raise review rankings and/or stars", and "if you must rant, rant in a non-specific manner" are extremely well known guidelines for authors as a whole. 

Harrison, I thought you were better than this. Really, would it have killed you to, as some fans have told negative reviewers, "just stop reading" and stop visiting the site? Negative reviews happen. Sometimes people find them helpful. It doesn't mean that the book is complete crap or that everyone will share their viewpoint, just that this person had an opinion other people found helpful. It's difficult, but you just have to move on from that. The fan in me doesn't want to label you a badly behaving author, but this type of thing falls solidly in that area. 

Further reading

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Advance Review: The Ouija Trials by Fiona Dodwell


Title: The Ouija Trials
Author: Fiona Dodwell
Release Date: June 13, 2016

I'm pleased to have the chance to read and review another work by Fiona Dodwell. For full disclosure's sake, I am friends with Dodwell and I received a copy of this in exchange for an honest review. 

SIX STRANGERS. ONE BOARD. WHAT CAN GO WRONG? 

When three students decide to make a documentary about the Ouija board, they think it'll be an easy project. What can go wrong? They invite six strangers to attend a séance, and what unfolds during the course of filming their project changes their beliefs - and lives, forever. 

Will they survive the night with their sanity intact - will they survive at all? The Ouija Trials is a chilling story that explores the subject of spirit communication - and highlights the negative outcome it has for many.

There's just something very interesting about Ouija boards. They're firmly entrenched in pop culture, which is pretty intriguing considering that they're a fairly recent invention. Spirit writing has been around in various formats for hundreds of years, however Ouija boards in specific are credited as being invented around the 1890s. That the paranormal and the need to discover what lies beyond the veil have long enjoyed their own individual popularity goes without saying. 


The story's opening, a series of e-mails about a university project, is reminiscent of one of Dodwell's earlier works, the 2015 short story "The Redwood Lodge Investigation". It's worth mentioning in general, but especially as both stories deal with people exploring the supernatural, albeit in very different ways. 

What's fun about this story and Dodwell's work in general is this sense of creeping dread that worms its way in, slowly but surely. This story is no exception, although I will note that it's surprisingly lighter fare than some of her other tales. It's still dark, but it's likely going to be an easier read for some than say, The Banishing. That one dealt with domestic abuse and demonic possession and its resolution still haunts me, just so you know what I'm comparing it against.

This is a fairly quick read and while it's not my favorite Dodwell short story, it's still something that I'd recommend overall. It admittedly lacks a bit of the punch delivered by "The Redwood Lodge Investigation" and "Juniper's Shadow", both of which tie as my favorite short stories of hers, but I still found myself eagerly reading as quickly as I could in order to find out exactly how things would end.

It's well worth checking out, in my opinion.

(4/5 stars)

(Reader copy provided by author)

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The 100 Scariest Horror Novels of All Time per Horror Novel Reviews

If you haven't guessed, I'm a huge horror buff and I can't get enough of the stuff, much to the joy and irritation of my boyfriend.

The horror themed website Horror Novel Reviews has compiled a list of their top 100 scariest horror novels and I'm pleased at some of the titles on the list, especially Penpal by Daniel Auerbach. I haven't read the full novel but I've read his reddit posts and they're genuinely unnerving to read. The Stepford Wives made the list as well, much to my joy. Granted our society isn't at the level where we could replace people with lifelike robots, but the horrifying thing is that I can still imagine that a good many would willingly ship their spouses (male and female both) off to a factory to get "upgraded".

I'm also pleased that it doesn't fall predominantly in any one direction. Granted there are more recent books than old-old ones, but they aren't going for any one specific theme or direction. If you're looking for something to read this summer like I am, this is a good place to start.

Further reading:

Coming soon to an e-reader near you: The Ouija Trials by Fiona Dodwell



If you've seen any of my other posts, you'll know that I'm a fan of Fiona Dodwell's work. It's not always an easy read, given that she's unafraid to tackle tough subjects like domestic abuse, but I've always found her work to be exciting and captivating.

Her newest piece is another short story called "The Ouija Trials" and it's slated to release next month in the US and UK, on June 13. Here's the synopsis:

SIX STRANGERS. ONE BOARD. WHAT CAN GO WRONG?

When three students decide to make a documentary about the Ouija board, they think it'll be an easy project. What can go wrong? They invite six strangers to attend a séance, and what unfolds during the course of filming their project changes their beliefs - and lives, forever. 


Will they survive the night with their sanity intact - will they survive at all? 

The Ouija Trials is a chilling story that explores the subject of spirit communication - and highlights the negative outcome it has for many.

This sounds freaking amazing, in my opinion and you can pre-order the book on Amazon US and Amazon UK for only one dollar.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Mixed feelings: Comixology subscription service

Recently Comixology announced that they would be adding a subscription service, Comixology Unlimited. This isn't anything absurdly abnormal and subscription services for digital comics are actually fairly common. My Facebook feed is usually cluttered with offers for various manga subscription services and I know that Marvel has already launched their own subscription service, Marvel Unlimited. (On a side note DC and Marvel's comics are not part of this service.)

Part of me is always leery, however, of this sort of thing. You don't really "own" digital comics since the publisher can always yank them whenever they want and copies tend to only restored to buyers (or they're given a refund) once the media catches wind of things. A rental service (since that's essentially what this is) gives us even less control over things. There's also the obvious bit about digital copies not living up to paper, but that's sort of a given.

Still, the idea of being able to try various comics is fairly enticing - especially since comics (digital or paper) are pretty expensive. It's always a bit of a crapshoot when it comes to picking out new things. Sometimes you can rest a little easy if you're familiar with the author, but even that's no guarantee of enjoyment.

I do wish that there was a way to know exactly what comics are available under this service. We're given a list of some of the publishers, but not really any way to verify which ones will be offered as not every digital comic will be available under this service.

EDIT:

It looks like you can tell which ones are offered by checking a little box at the top of the search function and when you search through genres there's a little bar across the book that says "unlimited".

So far the selections aren't really making my heart race since they're just the first 1-2 volumes of various series, some of which are already fairly long running. It's not a terrible way to get into a series, but it will prove to be frustrating for people who cannot afford to purchase digital volumes at $8-10 a pop.

RIP Jo Beverly

I just read on Dear Author that Jo Beverly, a popular author of historical fiction. Beverly had been fighting cancer for years and it had been thought to be in remission until only recently, when it was discovered that it'd returned.

When I was working at a local chain bookstore I remember her books being fairly popular and there were many who looked for her works specifically, especially the Malloren books.

Rest in Peace, Jo Beverly. You will be missed.