Wait, What’s Happening?

The one consistency I’ve found across the reviews for Ninth City Burning, whether it was 1 star or 5 stars, is that J. Patrick Black used a range of science fiction icons that his inspiration. This certainly isn’t a bad thing, and I didn’t feel it took anything away from the story. Instead of reiterating those icons, he molded them to fit his plot. That’s just good authorship if you ask me.

I’m going to be blunt with my overall criticism – it’s confusing. A real quick overview of the plot: Valentine’s Day, aliens attack using technology we’ve never seen before. Five hundred years later we’re in a stalemate against them, but we’ve harnessed their technology so we can hold our own against them. This is where people are making

comparisons. Similar to Star Wars, certain people have a “force” they are able to yield as a weapon. Blacks calls it thelemity and backs it all up with science. There is an academy to train kids for a lifetime of military service, much like Ender’s Game (others cite Harry Potter and Hogwarts but I don’t agree completely with that connection). We’ve created giant suits of armor (Pacific Rim by Tel Toro, anyone, anyone), while in space and bouncing between portals. There is also mention of Starship Troopers and Red Rising, all for good reason.

Lately I’ve been obsessing over the “question” character. Many times it’s the main character but side characters work as well. The fastest way for the author to get relevant information to the reader is for one or more characters to know even less of what is going on than the reader, so as that character asks questions, the reader learns along with them. Sometimes there are good question characters, frustratingly slow question characters, or even wrong characters to be asking questions. The lack of information and sometimes outright wrong information coming from the characters was frustrating. I didn’t have a full grasp of the story until halfway through because it simply wasn’t given to me.

Black uses a rotating cast of POVs and each of them are at a different level of in the “know.” With the extensive world building Black needed to do, I’m not sure this was the right narration technique. Rae and Naomi are part of a “wandering” community that haven’t encountered the alien war and don’t believe it’s happening. Torro lives in a settlement working long hours in various factories that send their goods to the “front.” The settlement communities romanticize the war because they need volunteers to go fight, but no one comes back from the front, so these citizens often argue amongst themselves what is actually happening. Jax and Kizabel and Vinneas are a little higher on the food chain and have seen some of the fighting first hand. They help to explain the basic intro information to start with. Then there is a scene with Torro as he is going through training where an officer sits down the new troops and tells them the truth of what’s been going on for the last 500 years. It was the first time I felt like I finally understood what had been happening. Even with Torro growing up in the settlement, knowing and believing this war has been happening, he has been fed misleading information his whole life (which he shared with the reader).

This way of getting information across made for a confusing story. Even when all fo the information was revealed, I didn’t have that satisfactory feeling as everything clicked into place. I felt lied to, like the citizens of the settlements had been lied to.

Ninth City Burning is the start of a trilogy. Series often fall prey to the beginning of the story being mostly world building, and it ends just as the epic battle is about to take place. I’m pleased to say Black didn’t fall pretty to this typical blunder. We get a battle at the end and promise of an even more epic battle to come. I think Black has a lot going for himself with this story. Even as confused as I was in the beginning, I was invested in the characters. Black has all the space in the world to show us where he can take this story, and I’ll keep my fingers crossed that it only gets better from here.

 

 

 

By: Emily Coleman
Thank you Blogging for Books for the ARC of Ninth City Burning.

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What Will Disappear Next?

I haven’t been reading YA as frequently as I used to. The characters tend to get on my nerves and the sentences are more likely to bother me. While The Disappearances is far from perfect, it has a unique and refreshing premise. Murphy created a story steeped in mystery laced with literary references. The amount of research and prep that went into this stories structure is impressive. And as Murphy’s debut novel, she will only strengthen her style and voice.

Aila and her brother Miles are shipped off to live with her deceased mother’s childhood friend after their father is drafted into WWl. The siblings are treated with distrust and disdain because their mother left Sterling and never came back. Aila learns their mother was blamed for a curse blanketing the town and the surrounding towns for decades. The disappearances occur every seven years. Smell disappeared first. The stars. Colors from paint and pencils. A person’s reflection. Children born into these towns grow up without these senses. When Aila and Miles arrive, they lose all of them as well.

Each disappearance could be linked back to Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets. Murphy must have read Shakespeare backward and forward to pull out just the right lines to create a story around them. Using everything she’s learned from her mother’s personal copy of Shakespeare’s collected works, Aila helps the town inventor and her new group of friends to lift the curse that has plagued the town for so long.

The Disappearances is a story that suffers from “weak ending” syndrome. The ending seemed too easy. There were questions left unanswered. Not that the story rose those questions, but I wanted to know more about why that worked or how that didn’t work. It wasn’t explored enough for me to feel completely satisfied. My final feeling is that it was good; worthwhile premise but lackluster ending.

 

 

 

By Emily Coleman

City of Conclusions

The conclusion of a series is always bitter sweet. Even if the last book isn’t as perfect as the first one, knowing there won’t be another story in this world or with these characters is always sad. City of Miracles wraps up The Divine Cities trilogy and based on the ending, we won’t be visiting the city of Bulikov with Shara and Sigrud again.

Sigrud is always Shara’s side kick but he takes the main stage when he learns of her death. Ever loyal, he returns from exile to avenge her death (I was trying to stay away from that description, but it’s exactly what he does). Shara has never done anything simply so naturally Sigrud runs into a tangle of mysteries that envelope Shara and her daughter, Tatyana, and later Sigrud himself. We meet a plethora of new characters but some old faces join Sigrud’s mission of protecting Tatyana. (He completed his revenge on Shara’s killer within the first few chapters as efficiently as we expected.)

As much as I liked Sigrud’s character in the first two books, it wasn’t the best idea to make him the leading character. Putting Sigrud at the forefront drastically changed the dynamic of everything Bennett had previously set up. Shara’s story was steeped in politics and the war that breaks out was a centralized action scene. With Sigrud leading the way, the story became an action packed thriller. Shara was the brains and Sigrud is the brawn. Sigrud could help Shara piece together the clues and events but she was vastly more educated than him. Nothing against Sigrud, as he’s always been a great character, but it was more fun watching Shara’s brain piece together the puzzle than follow Sigrud fumble through the mysteries of Shara’s work alone.

While Sigrud made for a less than desirable main character, it was still an enjoyable book, with the right ending. This last book action at the front but it never lost its mysteries or investigation work that we all originally fell in love with. It’s nice to see the series wrapped up nicely. I haven’t read Bennett’s older stuff but it’s been added to my TBR pile.

 

 

By: Emily Coleman
I received an ARC of City of Miracles from Blogging for Books for an honest review.

All Locked Up

There isn’t much more that can be said about Joe Hill’s Locke and Key series but I wanted to throw in my own two cents. Joe Hill is a favorite in this household; we’ve met him a couple of times. Gabriel Rodriquez was the co-creator with Hill and they made an incredible duo.

The comics medium relies heavily on dialogue, with little exposition to move the plot forward. This can make it feel as if information is being thrown at you, or one character is simply the “questions” guy or the “answer” girl. The benefits comics have is the artwork to act as exposition and bridge what is unsaid. This doesn’t always work in sync between writer and artist. But when it does, you know. There is magic happening in the first issue between Hill and Rodriquez. They dropped a horrific story in our laps and made it even harder to watch by giving us characters that are immediately human. They made us feel for the characters in the space of a few panels and that’s not as easy as it may seem.

The dynamics of this duo wouldn’t have been quite as explosive with one missing. The series works as a whole because of Hill and Rodriquez collectively. It’s tough to say one is better than the other. If Hill had partnered with a different artist, his writing would have stood out; and if Rodriquez had partnered with a different writer, his art would have stood out. Their collaboration together was the perfect storm.

Locke and Key follows a family after tragedy strikes and changes the family dynamic. Mom moves her kids to her late husband’s family home, Keyhouse, as per his wishes. Not only is the family dealing with their grief, but they now are dealing with the strange goings on Keyhouse has to offer. And it’s not for the faint of heart. This whole series is brutal and gory and heart wrenching. Tyler, Kinsey, and Bode are fighting for their lives, they’re fighting for each other, their friends, and their sanity. It’s survival against supernatural foes who have been waiting decades and centuries for the chance to escape.

Locke and Key is a top notch story from Joe Hill and an artistic masterpiece from Gabriel Rodriquez. It’s a great beginning series for new comics readers. Hill’s writing is easy to follow while still providing complete storytelling and Rodriquez’s art is crisp with details that don’t become cluttered or overwhelming. I’m ashamed it took me so long to read it but I hope you won’t wait much longer to read Locke and Key.

Body Modification

Emma Rios has accumulated a closet full of creative hats she’s been rotating through. In 2015, Rios and Brandon Graham co-created ISLAND MAGAZINE, with the distribution help of IMAGE COMICS. ISLAND MAGAZINE is an oversized comic anthology published monthly. I.D. was published in ISLAND MAGAZINE’s first issue and was published as a standalone trade in June 2016.

Rios used red and white throughout the entire trade. I couldn’t help but think of rust colored dried blood. It gives the story an unsettling quality go to along with the plot. The cover art are interlaced tubes that look like brain synopsis. The artwork is classic Rios style, detailed and busy. Each page is filled with overlapping panels and small, sometimes no gutter space between. She uses body language as much as the dialogue to portray the characters inner turmoil. Rios opens with two beautiful pages in bubble panels. The first bubble shows the three characters sitting at a café table but they are clearly strangers from each other. The next page is a three by five bubble panel spread of individual close ups. She’s biting her nails, he’s adjusting his glasses, Ze is sweating nervously. These two pages raise a lot of questions.

I.D. is about body transplants. Specifically brain transplants into a new body. It’s experimental and scientists and surgeons are taking volunteers. Charlotte, Mike, and Noa are the next round of volunteers to undergo this risky procedure. Each character confesses their reasons for it but it’s clear there is more to it for each of them. Rios shows this with the expert use of body language in relation to the other characters and the continued use of close ups. Each character acts pensive and guarded even after confessing their reasons for volunteering. Like there are more layers to each story. I haven’t heard if Rios has any plans to continue this story but has plenty of material to work with.

It’s hard to say I.D. is great because of its plot or because of its characters. Both are excellent. If you weaken one part or the other, the story would simply be okay. I’m very impressed with this work from Emma Rios. It would be great if she decided to continue this story but I get the feeling she’s done. And I also respect that. These characters are unique in their own right and the story is a big “what if?” It’s a fun “what if?” It’s hard to gush about this story without giving it all away but I want to gush, so please read it so we can gush together.

 

 

By Emily Coleman
(This review has been previously published and has been moved to this platform for your convenience.)

How They Survive

Essex County by Jeff Lemire has crawled into my blood, my veins, my very being, and changed me. And the daunting aspect of writing this review is, nothing I say will do this piece of literature the justice it deseessexcountyrves. Everything about Essex County and its characters is beautiful, and lonely, and stark, and satisfying, and real. There is magic flowing between these pages that made its way into my heart and mind and I know will never leave.

Jeff Lemire uses three short stories and two flash fiction stories to tell the lives of everyday characters living outside of Ontario, Canada. There is nothing easy about their lives but they bear it with solemn dignity. Lester is living with Uncle Ken after his mother passes away but Uncle Ken doesn’t know what to do with a kid and doesn’t understand Lester’s love of superhero’s or comics; Vincent and Lou played hockey together, then a betrayal kept the brothers apart until tragedy brought them back to the family farm together; and Mrs. Quenneville who visits her husband every week in the cemtry, a son living with her who wants nothing to do with her, and she is the country nurse who visits elderly farmers, the nursing home, the forgotten, with little appreciation. These may be three separate stories but Lemire has weaved and looped their lives into tangles and each character makes an appearance in each other’s stories. Because like any other small farming community, their lives are connected.

The two flash fiction pieces show a little earlier Essex County history. The boxing club was started by two best friends and meant as a simple pastime for the community and would remain a pastime no matter what; and Eddy Elephant Ears who spent the last 10 years in a coma after a violent car crash that killed his family, but it’s okay because he doesn’t remember them. Even Mrs. Quenneville makes an appearance in Eddy’s story.

Essex County is a portrayal of the heartbreaking and the heartbroken; through the ups and downs, each character has persevered until their end. There is a strong family connection as well. Uncle Ken might not know how to raise a child but he’s going to try beady little eyeshis damnest because he promised his sister he would. Jimmy might have messed up his chance of being a better father but he gives up his box of memories because the boys “still got a right to know who he is.” Mrs. Quenneville has made her patients her family whether they asked for it or not because her “patients are all I have these days. They’re like my family now, I guess.”
Lemire’s art is both loose and detailed. “Tales From The Farm” has an almost sketched quality while “Ghost Stories” seamlessly moves from present to past to present. Some panels are overlapped in the past and present simultaneously and some panels float away like the memories they are. “The Country Nurse’s” artwork is a little tighter from the first two stories. One artist element Lemire has mastered are the character’s eyes. I’ve never seen such emotion in beady little eyes. Lemire also uses numerous panels to evoke emotion like isolation and loneliness. Essex County is a quiet representation of everyday life and what they do to survive it.

 

 

 

 

By Emily Coleman
(This review has been previously published and has been moved to this platform for your convenience.)

Twelves Ways Into My Heart

1. Hannah Tinti is a literary lyricist I can’t get enough of.

2. Not many authors can turn prose into poetry but Tinti pulls IMG_2760it off like there’s nothing to it.

3. Samuel Hawley is one of the truest characters I’ve read.

4. Hawley’s “hits” and jobs don’t feel like they’re coming from a trained professional, but from a guy relying on his common sense, and becomes a professional because of it.

5. Lily is the perfect love story for Hawley.

6. Lily’s touch is all over Hawley and Loo’s lives and Tinti pulled it off without feeling overbearing or cliché.

7. Loo goes on a transformative journey as she learns of her father’s past, how she fit in it, and what their future relationship will look like.

8. Loo’s own love story is still open to possibilities.

9. Marshall is the love story that Loo needed.

10. Marshall goes on his own transformative journey as his life intertwines with Loo’s.

11. Tinti is masterful at making every character we encounter essential to the story.

12. This story will live in my heart for a long time, and I know it will live in yours as well.

 

 

 

By: Emily Coleman