Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Year's Best Graphic Novels, Comics & Manga: From Blankets to Demo to Blacksad by Byron Preiss, Howard Zimmerman, and Neil Gaiman






  It seems as if I have become quite lucky with BookCrossing finds within the past few months, because lo and behold! I have found another. The book Gods were smiling down upon me on that snowy and slushy winter's day, when I ventured to the same park where I found my previous BookCrossing book, and stumbled across The Year's Best Graphic Novels, Comics & Manga: From Blankets to Demo to Blacksad.
  "Really?" I thought. "Another book about graphic novels and manga? Someone must really want me to expand my literary palate even more..." (Even though I clearly already admitted that I now like manga.)
  Even though I had already picked up a BookCrossing book from that spot, and from that BookCrossing member before, I figured the book would be better off being read and re-released into the wild, rather than it sitting in the cold, wet snow for another few days. I brought it home.
  When I picked up my first BookCrossing book, which happened to be manga, I was excited to go on an adventure into a genre of literature I had never experienced before. When I picked up my second BookCrossing book, I was less excited. I always imagined that I would read every BookCrossing book I found, because I felt that in some cosmic twist of fate, I was meant to pick it up and read whatever was left for me, but...a book summarizing comics and manga? Do people actually read these books, or are they just books left over from garage sales that eventually find themselves on secondhand shelves? Is this a coffee table book? I didn't think this book was actually readable.
  But every time I thought about moving on, re-releasing the book, and diving back into my Harry Potter reread (which, I'm ashamed to say, I have not finished yet), I felt guilty. How could I pick up this book and take it home just to have it sitting on my couch for two weeks before returning it to the wild?
  I had to read it. So I did. (It didn't hurt that one of the forewords was written by Neil Gaiman.)
  The forewords sold me, and it wasn't just because one was written by Neil Gaiman. In the forewords, these writers and comic-enthusiasts alike wrote about what comics and graphic novels meant to them when they were younger. How they aspired to write comics one day, to meet Stan Lee, and to collect and collect comics until their little geeky hearts were full to the brim with joy. These are feelings I have had for many things in my life, and I recognized their passion, like a zebra recognizing a similar black and white-striped pattern.
  I understood their passion, and I thought to myself, "I must find out what makes these dorks so passionate about word bubbles, cartoons, and flying super men in tights and capes."
  Since the "Year's Best" book was a decent variation of samples of different comics, graphic novels, and manga flavors to taste, it's easy for me to say that there were some stories I loved, some I found amusing, and some I would be satisfied to never see ever again in my life. For instance, Hsu and Chan? HIT. Any of the manga? Miss. Owly? Hit! Serenity Rose? Miss, miss, miss. Miss, to the point of me reading two pages, and skipping the rest. (And I never skip in books.) I also loved Family Reunion and Robot in the Rain. Yossel and Demo were incredibly dark (and creepy--especially Demo), but the artwork was exceptionally done. Some of these comics and graphic novels (I leave out the manga but none of them particularly tickled my fancy) were lacking in story, but were beautiful to gaze upon, and some were simple drawings with a story deep enough to bring you to tears. I found Secret Identity fun and easy to read, along with Blankets, Queen and Country, Ex Machina, and Sandman (bravo, Neil Gaiman).
  After I finished the book, I read the reviews of it on Goodreads, and was disappointed to see that many readers gave it low ratings due to the size of the samples per comic, graphic novel, and manga. (Each sample was a page to 5 or 6 pages long.) I definitely disagree. I feel that the sizes of the samples were more than satisfactory, because they gave the reader a chance to move on to something different without becoming bored.
  I won't credit myself more than I deserve, and say that I am an expert in this genre of books. I don't think I would even be able to tell the difference between a graphic novel and a comic, given the chance. But I will say this: My mind has been opened even more to this field, I now have some obvious favorites (and obvious un-favorites), and I look forward to reading more from these writers and artists.




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Wednesday, February 1, 2017

A Wizard's Forge by A.M. Justice






  Victoria of Ourtown is the heroine the world needs right now. Snatched from her peaceful life of becoming the youngest Logkeeper Ourtown has ever seen, Vic must survive the torment of being sold into slavery, learn to rebuild a life after losing her identity, grow the courage it takes to lead an army of men five times her size into battle, and fight against the half of her that feels pulled to return to her vindictive master... In A Wizard's Forge, Vic will face trials of life, magic, and death, and it's up to her, and her alone, to survive.
  When A.M. Justice told me that she had re-written her novel Blade of Amber (one of my favorite review requests), and asked if I could read it and give her my two cents, I was thrilled to hear that I would be revisiting one of my most favorite stories. Apprehensive, in fear that my favorite characters would be put in danger they didn't face in the original story, but thrilled nonetheless. Blade of Amber was such a wonderful book, I was beyond curious to see what A.M. Justice had done to A Wizard's Forge (the re-write) to make it different.
  As a reviewer, I read every review request like a review request, unless an author's writing is impressive enough to mask the real world around me, and fully submerge me into fiction. As I read A Wizard's Forge, I disappeared into its pages. I felt reconnected with the familiarity of a beloved story, but at the same time, I felt as if I was reading it for the first time. When I read Blade of Amber, I would keep track of minor imperfections in my head (which I can't help, because I have been asked to edit many books since I became a reviewer), and I would ask myself, "This book is amazing, but does it compare to books one would find in a bookstore?" Blade of Amber was one of the best review requests I had ever read, but in all honesty, it still had enough imperfections to be categorized only as a review request from an indie author. I say this with brutal honesty, because I have to make it known, the volume of improvement A.M. Justice has made with her book.
  In A Wizard's Forge, I found no imperfections. If I hadn't known that A.M. Justice was an indie author before I read this, I would have never guessed that she is not a Barnes and Noble bestseller. With her updates and new corrections that turn Blade of Amber into A Wizard's Forge, she has evolved from indie author into an up-and-coming author. I do not say this lightly, because if you ask me honestly, I will tell you that most of my review requests come from authors who all need some tips, tricks, and editing before they contend with the big dogs. I would have said the same for A.M. Justice if I was going solely based on her first draft of Vic's story.
  I write this long, drawn-out review in hope of making it clear to all, that A.M. Justice has improved her story on an impressive level. She is ready to be published professionally. She is ready to have her books on bestseller shelves around the world. I highly encourage her to pursue getting A Wizard's Forge published, because this book should not be overlooked.
  I gush a lot about books I love, I know I do, and I'm sure my reviews can come off like I'm crying wolf, but please believe me when I tell you that this is a good one. A really good one. I will happily back up Ms Justice if she decides to take her editing and publishing further, because I believe in this book. I believe in its success. I look forward to the day when I get to boast about my autographed rough draft of A Wizard's Forge, while the rest of the world is racing to the bookstore to find a copy of their own.



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Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Discovery of a BookCrossing Book/Sweet Rein Vol. 3 by Sakura Tsukuba






  Alright, I freely admit that this was my first crack at reading Manga.
  For some reason, when my friends discovered Manga and started delving into the interesting world of Japanese Animation, the fascination skipped over me. (As did High School Musical--sorry.) I went right from Goosebumps and American Girl books to Twilight and the Mortal Instruments. I don't say this insinuating that getting into Manga was a rite of passage that I missed, but in a way, it was, since I seemed to be the only young adult who didn't understand the fascination.
  That being said, years later, an opportunity presented itself (literally) for me to finally try my first copy of Manga.
  There is a wonderful little bookworm program called BookCrossing. Readers will find a book they love (or a book they want to read, a book they don't like so much, etc.) put a BookCrossing tag in it (with a code), and cast it off at a random public spot for someone to find, read, and drop off again so someone else may find it. As each person logs in that they found said book, readers come together and discuss (online) how they liked or disliked the book they found. It is incredibly neat. Ever since I discovered BookCrossing (around five or so years ago), I have been dying to find one myself. Finding one while I was living in Florida had slim chances, since the state is so big, and not many people (at the time) were casting out books. My one chance of finding one was to make a trip to Disney, and I really only ventured into Orlando for one thing--the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
  I have a point to this blog post, I promise.
  Once I moved to New England, the chances of finding a BookCrossing book had become much higher, but I honestly had given up on finding one once I found out how difficult it would be to find one in Florida. I could have cast one out myself, but that took an effort, and I can be extremely lazy. (Yes, I admit it!)
  Fast-forward to living in New England. About a week ago, as I was doing a photo shoot for my business HerShelves Elves, I was wrapped in as many sweaters and jackets as possible, scouring a park, placing my elves in front of giant Christmas decorations for my Facebook page. As I walked to the center of the solid, icy, packed snow, I placed my elves on a bench covered in bows and wreaths. But something else was in my shot, wrapped in a plastic zipper bag.
  My very first BookCrossing book.
  With a fleeting glance, I noticed it was Manga, but I didn't care. I finally found one! I quickly took my pictures, and shivered as I ran back to my car. I knew I had to read it. I found this book for a reason. It had to be the book gods' way of telling me to expand my literary palate even more.
  So, with excited and giddy shaking hands (and a tad bit of trepidation), I started Sakura Tsukuba's Sweet Rein Vol. 3.
  I honestly didn't realize it was the last volume of the saga until I started reading about Kurumi (the Santa) and Kaito (her reindeer), and realized they were already well-acquainted with their readers. Nevertheless, I delved in anyway (against my inner OCD's shrieking will in the back of my head).
  It was difficult adjusting to the word bubbles and phraseology of the characters' dialogues, but surprisingly the order in which you read the word bubbles was extremely easy to understand. Right to left with the comic windows, just like reading Hebrew, but left to right because it's English. (It's much easier than it sounds.)
  Of course, with my mind being a tad more closed than I'd care to admit, I thought the way Kurumi, Kaito, and Sakura Tsukuba's reoccurring characters communicated with each other was a bit childish and silly, but, I admit, I gradually became amused with them.
  The book is told in four parts, Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter. Some seasons I liked more than others (Summer and Winter), and I actually found myself picking a favorite character out of the bunch. In addition to those pleasant surprises, I was also shocked to find myself disappointed when the book ended suddenly. (The last few chapters, which I THOUGHT was another installment of Spring, was in fact a preview of another Tsukuba story.) I was so disappointed. Disappointed enough to casually look up Sakura Tsukuba on the internet...and, you know, just see how many Kurumi and Kaito books there were...and, you know, just check it out, just in case the story continued...
  Okay, FINE. I admit it. I became hooked. Horribly hooked. I want more of their story, I want the first few installments of the Sweet Rein books (because Vol. 3 is the LAST, apparently), and I want to casually stroll through the Manga sections of the bookstore (which I would never normally venture into unless it was attached to the YA section).
  I hate to sound a tad hippy dippy, but this fateful find of a BookCrossing book opened my eyes to a new universe of literature. Now that I've finished the book, I plan on dropping it off at a different park in the vicinity, and logging on to BookCrossing to thank the originator of the book for introducing me to Manga.



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Thursday, December 1, 2016

An Other Place by Darren Dash






  I was contacted by Darren Dash about a week ago to read his upcoming novel, An Other Place. Being such a huge fan of his, it was a surprise and an honor to receive an email from him, let alone hear that he wants me to review a book of his, before it's even released.
  Once the shock subsided, I was ready to sink my fangs- er- teeth into his new story.
  Newman Riplan is not who you would call a saint. He is successful at his work as a troubleshooter, well on his way to making his first million, but he is certainly not everyone's cup of tea. Easily hypnotized by the crook of sex, alcohol, and drugs' spindly finger, Newman is entirely out of it when his two friends send him on a plane to a mystery vacation.
  Little does Newman know, that on his way to his destination, he gets lost in An Other Place. Everything is wrong with this Other world. The currency is teeth, no glass is to be found anywhere in the city, and strange beasts run free with every corner you turn. No one there seems to know of anything relating to the world Newman has left, and he quickly realizes that he can never leave.
  I have never been so happy to be an outsider (looking in) so much in my life. Although I didn't care for Newman (at least at the beginning), I took comfort in the fact that I was not facing this nightmare of a journey on my own. I have been successfully terrified by Darren Dash's YA books (written in his alias, Darren Shan), but never to this extent. Darren Dash has opened a new artery of terror in An Other Place, and has let the adrenaline-laced blood flow into his readers.
  Several times this book made me shout, "What? WHAT?" I couldn't dig my heels into the ground far enough to slow this ride. I am not entirely sure if I can even categorize this book as a book I loved, as I have with his other books. Though, in all honesty, I know for a fact that this story will stick with me. As soon as I finished the last page, I felt as if I had been sucker-punched in the gut.
  "I liked it" or "I loved it" doesn't come close to summarizing the feelings I have for An Other World. I hated it, I wanted to leave Newman's head, I wanted to explore, I wanted to take a handful of Cheryl's sleeping pills, I wanted to tell Newman everything was going to be alright, I wanted to scream at him to run, I wanted to talk to the Alchemist, I wanted to stay, I wanted to flee, but most of all, I wanted to know more. I had to know how this city was born, and what Newman has to do to beat it.
  One thing you can say for Darren Dash's writing; he has you always wanting more.
  All in all, An Other Place is unlike any book I have ever read. It had hints of The Twilight Zone, Pines, and Station Eleven, but not quite. An Other Place was an entity of its own.
  So, Darren, I have one question for you: Where do you think you are? 



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Saturday, November 26, 2016

Secrets of Worry Dolls by Amy Impellizzeri






  From the author of Lemongrass Hope, Secrets of Worry Dolls takes us on a journey to the fertile orchid fields of Guatemala, through the devastating trials of a mourning family post 9/11, and into the past of a woman whose secrets can only be trusted in the hands of her tiny worry dolls.
  In Amy Impellizzeri's latest inspiring novel, we meet Lu, and are transported through time as she tells her story, and the story of her mother, and why her life has made her mother the way she is; distant and haunted.
  Secrets of Worry Dolls spins a sad tale, lights a spark of hope, and mends our broken hearts with the meaning of family, love, and courage. Together, Lu and her mother Mari will make it through this life, and in the process, inspire us all.
  Since I was so hopelessly in love with Ms Impellizzeri's debut novel Lemongrass Hope (full review here), I was a bit hesitant to jump to conclusions with Secrets of Worry Dolls. I was scared I wouldn't love it as much, and I would be comparing the two throughout the entire read-through. Cautiously going into the story, I slowly warmed to Lu and Mari's narrative, but still, I held off solidifying an opinion of the book until I was finished. I didn't particularly adore Lu or Mari, and although I tried not to compare the two in my mind, and although I loved Lemongrass Hope right off the bat, Secrets of Worry Dolls was not hooking me as quickly as I expected.
  I came to the end of the book, and the story, and the twists, the emotions--everything hit me so hard and so fast, I immediately rated the book five stars. I may not have had a love affair throughout the story as I did with Lemongrass Hope, but as for endings, Amy Impellizzeri's latest book takes the cake. As I said, I wasn't in love with Lu, but her character progression was impeccable. I wasn't too in love with Mari either, but her story...her story. Ms Impellizzeri did a remarkable job of painting a literary portrait of Mari, and why she is the way she is.
  I could honestly talk about this book for hours. I am just stunned at what a 180 degree turn this book took for me, and although I was lukewarm throughout, this story's end was well worth the wait.



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Thursday, November 3, 2016

An Interview with New York Times Bestselling Author Darren Dash




An Interview with Darren Dash


I have been a fan of Darren's for quite a while. He was extremely influential in my love of reading as a young adult. So, when he approached me and asked if I would help spread the word about his new adult novel, An Other Place, how could I say no?


So, without further ado...





The Literary Connoisseur: Hello, Darren! Thank you for joining my readers and me here at The Literary Connoisseur! I know we’re all very excited to find out more about your new book, An Other Place, and to hear what you’ve been up to lately! If you’re ready, let’s begin. For readers who have yet to become fans of yours, why don’t you tell us all a little about yourself. 


Darren Dash: I’m best known for my YA books, written under the name of Darren Shan, but I’ve always written for adults too – in fact the first book I ever published, Procession of the Dead, was for adults. I live in Ireland, though I spend a good chunk of time in London too, and I travel frequently.


The Literary Connoisseur: Please tell us about your new novel, An Other Place. 


Darren Dash: A young go-getter chokes on a peanut on a flight to a mystery destination, and when he recovers he finds himself at the start of a journey to… an other place. That’s really the most I want to say about it, as I think this is a book that’s best enjoyed with the minimum of knowledge. All I’ll add is that it’s very dark and twisted, a book which will hopefully unsettle readers and leave them asking questions for a very long time.


The Literary Connoisseur: I’m sure you have plenty of possible plots rattling around your head at all times! What inspired you to write this particular story? Has it been brewing in your head for some time, or has it been recently discovered? 


Darren Dash: I actually wrote the first draft back in 1998, but let it lie fallow for many years while building my Darren Shan career. I have mild OCD, but back in 1998 I was ceding more and more ground to it, letting routines dominate my life to an unhealthy degree. I was in the middle of a frenetic creative streak, knocking out novels one after the other, ideas coming fast and furious. But socially I was in a much darker place, worried that I might end up like Howard Hughes. I wrote An Other Place to try and make more sense of my world and to examine the creative process.


The Literary Connoisseur: How would you say An Other Place is unlike your other Darren Dash novels? 


Darren Dash: It’s very different. I think it’s different to most other types of novels too. It’s a very personal book, but also one that I think will connect with a lot of readers, because it addresses questions that plague and intrigue us all – Where do we come from? How do we make sense of the world? Are there other realms to be explored? But it doesn’t come at these questions in a straightforward way. Instead it sneaks up on them in a way that Franz Kafka or Rod Serling might have approached them.


The Literary Connoisseur: Is there a possibility for more Other Place books in the future? Perhaps one following future Alchemists? 


Darren Dash: I very much doubt it. An Other Place was born out of a very strange, very specific period of my life, and I hopefully won’t ever find myself back in that sort of head space again. Bad news for the variety of my stories, I know, but good news for my own mental health!


The Literary Connoisseur: Newman undergoes some serious trauma, changes, and alterations to the comfortable life he had before his journey to An Other Place. Without spoiling anything for your readers, would you say he grows as a character and as a human being (as I believe)?

Darren Dash: Absolutely. Newman is very self-centred and egocentric when we first meet him. In fact he’s something of an unlikeable character, even though I think many readers will share far more in common with him than they might wish to admit. We don’t really warm to him that much over the course of the novel – he’s not someone who becomes a nicer guy, because the plot of this book doesn’t require niceness – but I think we come to empathise with him, because nobody deserves to endure what he was to go through, and also because I think most of us can’t say for certain that we would behave any differently than he does.


The Literary Connoisseur: What would you like to say to readers who are considering picking up An Other Place? 


Darren Dash: If you want to go on a disturbing, mind-bending horror trip, this is hopefully the novel for you. If you prefer simpler, plot-driven horror novels, this might not float your boat.


The Literary Connoisseur: An Other Place is somewhat of a different book for you. How do you feel, sending this new story on into the world? Nervous? Excited? 


Darren Dash: Very nervous! I genuinely had no idea what the response to this one would be. It covers so much ground, and is so different to anything else out there, that I was afraid that readers would give up on it halfway through in their droves. A general reaction has yet to be determined, but the first couple of reviews have been excellent, so hopefully they’re an indicator of good things to come. Or else those two reviewers are just as warped and rare as myself!


The Literary Connoisseur: Do you find it difficult to switch back and forth from Darren Shan to Darren Dash, considering you write both YA (young adult) and adult fiction? Or is it second nature now that you’re a pro at this? 


Darren Dash: I’ve always found it natural to flip between the two. It helps that my YA books are extremely dark and adult in many ways, but even if I was to write more innocent books for my younger readers, I think it would just seem normal to me to move between worlds. I’m interested in different types of stories, horror, sci-fi, literary, thrillers… and in stories for the young as well as the old. I read both YA and adult books for pleasure, I believe at writers should write the sorts of books they enjoy reading, hence the straddling of the two realms.


The Literary Connoisseur: Again, without spoiling anything for your readers, what symbolism or “point” would you like readers of An Other Place to take from their reading experience? 


Darren Dash: There are lots of different questions I hope they go away asking themselves, but one of the impressions I most hope they take from it is that they should value their family and friends, as they can be far more important to us than we realize, and we never know when we might be cut adrift from them.


The Literary Connoisseur: Are you currently working on any new projects? 


Darren Dash: Yes, I’m working on a new Darren Shan series which is still probably quite a way off being released, and the next Darren Dash book, a light-hearted sexual comedy inspired by A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which might well see print in the summer of 2017 if all goes according to plan.


The Literary Connoisseur: Last, but definitely not least, what is your response to, “Where am I?” 

Darren Dash: 
I should say, “Where do you think I am?” But that would only make sense to people who’ve read the book! I’m in a good place, at least in this world, and fighting to cling on in there, despite the call of Alchemists and my OCD.


The Literary Connoisseur: Darren, thank you again SO much for stopping by The Literary Connoisseur! I am beyond honored to say that I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing you. I cannot wait to hear what other projects you have in store for your beloved fans and new fans alike! Happy writing!








About the Author






Darren Dash was born in England in 1972, but has spent most of his life in Ireland, where he lives with his wife and son. In his day job, under a different name, he has sold over 25 million books worldwide, mainly in the YA market. But he feels much more at home in the nights of his adult worlds...



Thursday, October 20, 2016

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes: Book Before Movie






  When Louisa Clark's father loses his job, Louisa becomes the sole bread-winner of her entire family (which includes her grandfather, sister, and her sister's son). When Louisa herself loses her job at a local cafe, a new opportunity presents itself.
  Will Traynor is a former thrill-seeker/adventurer, now a quadriplegic. After Will is hit by a motorcyclist in a tragic street accident, he is wheelchair-bound, and not at all amused by his new caretaker--Louisa.
  Together, she will bring out the newly-found hope in him, and he will bring out the adventurer in her.
  When I started Me Before You by Jojo Moyes, I was warned over and over again that I would be devastated by the end. My fellow readers were right, and no matter how much I prepared myself, I would not be fully aware of the emotional impact of Will and Louisa's story. That being said, in all honesty, I was not as crazy about the book as many of my friends. I enjoyed it thoroughly, cried quite a bit, and it left an incredible impression on me, but it wasn't one of the best books I had ever read.
  Fast-forward a few years later--now. The movie has come out, with Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin, and I was anxious to see it. Perhaps not anxious. Nervous. Okay, I was extremely terrified of seeing the movie, in fear of the emotional spectacle I would make of myself. (Hence, why I chose to wait until the DVD came out to see it, instead of going out in public--with people.)
  As I said before, I loved the book, but I wasn't obsessed with it, as I am with, say, The Fault in Our Stars or Charles Sheehan-Miles' The Last Hour. But I was interested and curious enough to look forward to this movie.
  Boy, was it a pleasant surprise.
  I was expecting a movie like The Secret Life of Bees, that was beautiful and charming, but Me Before You was...incredible. Hilarious, sweet, emotional (VERY emotional), well-acted, beautiful, and enough to be a movie I would watch and rewatch over and over again. In a way, I enjoyed it more than the Fault in Our Stars movie, because Me Before You was not so overwhelmingly sad to the point that I couldn't watch it again. (I have yet to watch The Fault in Our Stars for a second time after seeing it initially, two and a half years ago...)
  When I went into the Me Before You movie, I expected to be blown away by Sam Claflin since I am already just so in love with him (thanks to The Hunger Games movies and Pirates of the Caribbean), and not so much with Emilia Clarke. Not because she isn't talented, but because I had never seen her in a role before. (I am going to read the Game of Thrones books before I watch the show.) But Emilia Clarke was the star of Me Before You. She was the most perfect Louisa, more perfect than I could have ever pictured Louisa. She WAS Louisa. Of course, I am always impressed with Sam Claflin, but Emilia Clarke stole the show.
  All in all, the book to movie adaptation of Me Before You only enhanced my opinion of the book, as did other remarkable adaptations like The Help, Gone Girl, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Amazing book with an even better movie, and that's quite an accomplishment.



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