Book Review – The Case of the Secret Santa

TITLE: Francine Pascal’s Sweet Valley Kids Super Snooper #1 – The Case of the Secret Santa
AUTHOR: Molly Mia Stewart
ILLUSTRATOR: Ying-Hwa Hu
FORMAT: Paperback
PUBLISHED: 1990

 

Okay.  I read the Sweet Valley High series a bit, but Sweet Valley Twins always annoyed me because of the book where one of the sisters gets her period and the other one is mad that she doesn’t.  That book pretty much sucked and it was pretty much the point in which I quit reading any of the series whatsoever.   Apparently they went ahead and made a younger kids version as well, although I’m a little surprised to discover that Francine Pascal had nothing to do with it.  At least Ann M Martin pretended to write the Baby-Sitter’s Little Sister books even if she really didn’t.  But I am getting off topic.

I found this book in a free bin of books and I have to admit that I was a little curious, and when I wanted something mindless to read for a few minutes, I decided to give 30 minutes of my life to it.

So.

In this story, Jessica, Elizabeth, and a bunch of their friends have decided to start a detective club for something to do over Christmas break.  After deciding on a secret handshake and electing who else but the twins as co-presidents, they start looking for a mystery to solve.  Their mystery comes in the form of the temporary janitor, Chris.  Jessica thinks he’s Santa.  Elizabeth thinks she’s full of it because Santa isn’t even real, and even if he was, why would he be a janitor.

Okay, then.

So, issues with the book.  Even moreso in this book than in the main series, since it revolves so much around Jessica and Elizabeth, their friends are almost pointless to the story; Jessica finds every clue herself, for instance.  The is Santa real or not thing was pretty much annoying, as the author was clearly trying to not at all touch on that, even though it was a book about whether or not somebody was Santa.

And I can’t even tell you how many things happened in this book that would never have happened in a real setting – like the kids leaving the playground during recess to go all over the building repeatedly.  Seriously.

Oh, and after a couple pages of forming this club for over-Christmas purposes, they solved the mystery before school let out for the year.  And the ending was a bit cliche, but I won’t give it away.

 

So, the book is RL2, which means 7-year-olds, and I know that explains a lot (like why you can write a book about whether or not Santa is real and never bother answering the question either way), but it doesn’t forgive some of the things that I’m complaining about.  The book isn’t that long, and the author couldn’t manage to explain time of day or point in school year with any level of clarity, for instance.

I suppose the book is appropriate for the age group, but I really think that the book could have still managed to be well-written.  So, 3/5 pages, I guess.  But there’s better stuff out there for this age group.

Book Review – World War Hulk: X-Men

Title:  World War Hulk: X-Men

Author:  Christos Gage, Robert Kirkman, Dan Slott, & Daniel Way

Illustrators:  Stefano Caselli, Butch Guice, Javier Saltares & Andrea Di Vito

Format: Paperback

Published:  2008

 

This is a review that has been a long time coming I read this comic book in a desperate plight to avoid doing working on a paper.  I finished the book and found myself busier than I could imagine and never writing the review.  I came into possession of this book from my co-worker who is one of my comic guru’s.  While my one friend got me started and has me obsessed with Batman or more namely Robin (aka Tim Drake) my coworker is trying to ensure that I expand my horizons.  Thus he gave me his copy of World War Hulk X-Men, as well as another World War Hulk book I have yet to read.

 

The basic premise of the store is that Hulk being a danger to mankind was sent into out space to a planet that was habitable for the Hulk but was uninhabited.  He was sent by a group known as the Illuminati that includes various different Marvel heroes.  Unfortunately there was an error in the ship flight path and Hulk was sent to an inhabited plant where he was made a slave and worked and fought his way to being king of said planet.  He found a wife and had a child but the planet was destroyed.  Enraged by what happened the Hulk returned to earth to exact revenge on the Illuminati and any who got in his way.

 

This book is a multi-story cross over having a few issues of X-Men, a few issues of Avengers: The Initiative and issue of Ant-Man a few issues of Iron man and a few issues of Ghost Rider.  It is a rather expansive story line that hit several characters and tied into together each comic would reference the same events from different character perspectives.  It was interesting to see the different perspectives of the same event.   It is something I haven’t seen before but have wondered about.  What was X characters reaction to a situation why didn’t character Y get involved.  This book answers that and for that it is cool.

 

However, I also had problems with this.  Many of these comics, though part of the World War Hulk story line are only a small part of the over-arching story line for the different characters.  Many of these issues were part way through the characters story line and thus referenced things in their story that was not part of the Hulk story.  I can respect that, but it made it very difficult to follow along, particularly as I am very new to the Marvel universe.  I know of these characters and have a basic understanding of what they do but I don’t KNOW the characters I don’t know some of the back story from other sources like I did with Batman.  Most of my knowledge of the Marvel Universe was X-Men cartoons as a child and the recent Marvel movies.  There were a lot of things that I knew I was missing out on and it made the story kind of difficult to get into.  Like there was a mysterious character that I could tell I should have known who it was if I was familiar with the story arch but I wasn’t and it made me feel like I was missing out.

 

Over all the story was hard to follow and not that gripping to me.  I am actually dragging my feet to read the next book but seeing as I am borrowing I feel like I need to read it.  So it will sit in my desk drawer for a bit longer and I’ll give this book that I did read a 3 out of five pages.  If I knew what was going on the book would have been good but being a bit lost it wasn’t that great.  World War Hulk is not a good starting point for getting into the Marvel Univer

Book Review – Inside Divergent

Title: Inside Divergent: The Initiate’s World
Author: Cecelia Bernard
Format: Paperback
Published: 2014

Okay, so you already know by now that I really really liked Divergent, and that I was pretty much okay with the series.

So I was screwing around on the library website and I saw that this book was available, so I figured what the heck.

*sigh*  I really should have quit while I was ahead.

Inside Divergent features full-color photographs on every page and a few boxes of text here and there.  It’s designed as a movie companion for a movie that hasn’t come out yet, although  all the images are movie stills.  As a side note, I have to say that I still don’t know about all the casting choices, so the book pretty much was annoying all the way through.

Even worse, the book is basically a guide to the world of Divergent, and if you’re at the point where you’ve read the books, you’re dying for the movie and you’re grasping at everything you can get your hands on, you’ll be really annoyed that this book spends most of the book telling you what the factions are.  If you’re not somebody who has read the books and you’re getting this thinking it’s a movie companion, there are spoilers.  For example, Tris’s test results.

So, uh, this book is pretty pointless.

Also, I’m a little confused as to why there is almost no new material whatsoever in this book and Cecelia Bernard – whoever she is – is listed as the author.

I’ll give it a star because it’s pretty, but that’s all it’s getting. 1/5 pages for sure.

Book Review – The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Young Reader Edition by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer

Title: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Young Reader Edition
Author: 
William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer
Illustrator: 
Elizabeth Zunon
Format: 
Hardcover
Published:
 2012

So a few weeks ago, I squeed over the adult edition of The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind but recommended that elementary students try the Young Reader version due to some PG-13 content.  Since I recommend it, I thought I ought to actually read it.  As with the adult version, it tells the story of William Kamkwamba a young teen from a poor village in Malawi who is forced to leave school and endures a famine, but rather than giving up, he self educates through a small library and builds a windmill to bring electricity to his village.

In my head, I had pictured a nonfiction chapter book for advance elementary readers and thought this would work very well, maybe get 3rd-6th graders excited about practical science.  I was a little taken aback to discover it was a picture book told much like a fairytale.

First the art.  The art is cool, a sort of mixed media approach with great color balance and slightly three-dimensional effect, but it’s also the sort of cool that will probably excite adults more than kids.  The proportions are a little off on the people and give it a slightly surrealist vibe that I would have found off-putting at ten.

I can’t help feeling they really missed the mark by going the stylized picture book route rather than a more concrete approach with photographs for slightly older children.  The photo of William standing on his quirky construction towards the back of the book is a lot of fun, and I feel like a more concrete approach would have been better for actually getting kids excited about hands on science and recycling.

Overall the word flow is fairly smooth, there were a few pages where I feel they tried to pack in a little too much plot for a picture book, but then the ending cuts off rather abruptly with some vague line about magic.  It would have been a great place for some variation of “I tried it, and I made it.” which was a great quote from Kamkwamba’s first TED talk and really more to the point of his story.

So while I gave the adult version a 5/5, the Young Reader version fell a little short of my hopes.  I’d give it a 3 for story adaptation and 4 for the art, so 3.5/5.

Writer Wednesday – Robert Sells

Let’s start with the basics. Who are you?
Who am I? Well, first, I’ m a teacher: forty-five years teaching physics in college and then in high school. I have been writing for the past five years. But, I have been telling stories to my kids, my students, and now my grandchildren for fifty years.

Tell us (briefly) about you…
…and a bit about what you’ve written…
… and what you’re working on right now.

I started writing about five years ago. My wife insisted that her Christmas present that year be a written story from me. Of course, she got other presents from me, but I obliged with three furious years of writing. The end result my first novel, a coming-of-age story about a farm boy becoming king. This book was called return of the white deer. My second novel has been with me even longer in story format. I would have my students discuss what would happen if an intelligent computer got control of the internet. How would the computer behave? Then I would tell them, straight-faced, that it already has happened and it was targeting me. As soon as I finished my first book, I started reap the whirlwind. Before finishing my second novel, another idea tickled my brain. What would happen if someone buried a treasure and then contracted Alzheimer’s? Suppose he was hiding the money for the mob? This line of thought ended as my third book, the runner and the robber. It will be published this spring.

What are your earliest book-related memories?
Brownie the Mouse. At the advanced age of nine, I finally figured out that books actually offered great stories. Up until that point, reading was simply a necessary task done to please my teachers and parents. The story was not that good, but it caught my interest.

What are your three favorite books?

Tale of Two Cities, Footprint of God (By Greg Illes), and Lord of the Rings.

How many books to do you read at any given time? What are you reading now?
I’m always reading one book. Now I read to see how other authors write. Presently I’ m reading Fablehaven.
Finish this sentence; when I curl up with a book, I ___
When I curl up with a book, I go to another world. Then, usually to sleep.
How likely are you to read a book that’s been recommended to you?
Depends on who recommends the book and how many different people recommend it. That was how I was pushed into reading hunger games.

How likely are you to recommend a book (that isn’t yours)?
Very likely.

What do you look for in a good book?
Interesting mystery and some adventure. Then clear writing and consistent story-line.

Why do you write?
To create a story. Play with characters. Share with others.
If you couldn’t be a writer, what would you be?
A composer, though I don’t know how to read music and shower stops working when start singing.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Just thoughts and ‘what ifs’ in my head. For example, suppose God made a broadcast to the world and said he was going to retire (after 14 billion years). Then he says he is going to leave Satan in charge. Where could I go with that idea?

What has writing taught you about yourself?
Not much. It’s not that I am so perfect that I can no longer learn. Rather, it’s that I pretty much knew my shortcomings before I started writing. I have so many, it’s difficult to come up with new ones.

How do the people in your life seem to view your writing career?
They assume that I am smart. But, after we chat awhile, that notion is quickly dispelled.

Are there any stereotypes about writers that you don’t think are true?
Maybe some of the masters can write without a hundred edits and hours just thinking about a scene, but most of the authors I have met work at getting the words just right.

What do you see as the biggest challenge today for writers starting out?
Starting and finishing. Most are afraid to start, fearing they might not finish. Others start, but don’t finish.
Have you made any writing mistakes that seem obvious in retrospect but weren’t at the time?
Yes, oh yes, and yes again.

Is there a particular project you would love to be involved with?
I would like to write science articles for western New York. But who would take them? Newspapers are tangled with politics and misery. Maybe blogging?

How do you deal with your fan base?
Respectfully. They are why I write.

Finish this sentence; my fans would be surprised to know ___ about me.
How difficult it is for me to write. My training was not in writing or literature; it was in physics and math. Tad different.

Anything else we should know?
Hmm… I play poker and blackjack (I’m a card counter) and always cash out each year with more money than I put in.

Bonus! Want to win something?

Hey, loyal followers.
One of my favorite authors and all-time favorite people, Janine Spendlove, is giving away a copy of the Divergent Thinking anthology that she is in.

If you’d like a chance at winning it, CLICK HERE!!!! for your chance. If you are unfamilliar with either Janine’s work or Divergent (which the antho deals with), search the blog, since they’re both around.

bookcover

Writer Wednesday – Sara M. Harvey

[[Heya, everyone… Here’s a bonus interview for you! Happy Birthday, Sara!]]

Let’s start with the basics. Who are you?
Sara M. Harvey, aka Saraphina Marie (online handle)

Tell us (briefly) about you…
I’m originally from California, I’ve lived all over the country and made costumes for Disney and the Renaissance Faires in California and Wisconsin. I’m a history nerd, I love Steampunk, Star Trek, and musicals. I currently live in Nashville and I have a lot of large, trouble-making dogs (ok three, but it feels like many more than that!). My husband is amazing and geeky and handsome as all get-out and I think I may have the world’s cutest and smartest three-year-old (but really, what mom doesn’t think that?).

…and a bit about what you’ve written…
My debut novel was the romantic urban fantasy A YEAR AND A DAY, recently picked up as an ebook from Baen. I also have a romantic/sexy historical fantasy about Japan called SEVEN TIMES A WOMAN. And a not-sexy Steampunk series called THE BLOOD OF ANGELS (which features THE CONVENT OF THE PURE, THE LABYRINTH OF THE DEAD, and THE TOWER OF THE FORGOTTEN).
I like to read and write fantasy the best, but I tend to spice it up with other genre elements like romance, erotica, and horror (but not at the same time…usually). I have a few short stories out there as well, “Six Seeds” can be found at BENEATH CEASELESS SKIES, “Deep Underground” is my Lovecraft homage and is in Apex Publication’s MOUNTAIN DEAD anthology, and my romantic lesbian Steampunk short originally published in the STEAM-POWERED anthology is being picked up for a reprint in THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF GASLIT ROMANCE.
Some people call that creative ADD, I prefer to think of it as range.

…and what you’re working on right now.
My latest novel is MUSIC CITY, an urban fantasy about a banshee that comes to Nashville and ends up with a record deal. It is currently in the edit phase as I prep it to be self-published! (More about that in my Kickstarter: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/musiccity/making-music-city-sing)
In the same musical vein, I am writing a pseudo-Italian Renaissance story about opera singers (which is a big part of the “pseudo” element as the Italian Renaissance is 15th and 16th century and opera doesn’t come along for a couple hundred years later, yay for cafeteria-style history!)

What are your earliest book-related memories?
Funny you should ask that, my mom and grandmother just brought me 4 boxes of my childhood books that has been stored in the garage. Memories, wow! SO. MANY. FAIRY. TALES. Also Stephen Cosgrove Serendipity books. We did not find my hardcover of the Grimm’s Fairy Tales my aunt gave me when I was eight, however. Getting that book was probably my fondest childhood memory of reading. That and the amazing WWI time travel story CHARLOTTE SOMETIMES, of which John Smith of The Cure is also a big fan!

What are your three favorite books?
JUST THREE?!?!
Umm, AMERICAN GODS by Neil Gaiman, KUSHIEL’S LEGACY TRILOGY by Jacqueline Carey (so I cheated there), and the original collected Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

How many books to do you read at any given time?
One at a time and ONLY one at a time. Always.

What are you reading now?
Cherie Priest’s FIDDLEHEAD, and it’s awesome!!!!

Finish this sentence; when I curl up with a book, I ___
…forget the rest of the universe exists.

To re-read or not to re-read that is the question.
Nope. Rare exceptions: AMERICAN GODS 10th ANNIVERSARY EDITION, some anthologies (in bits and pieces), Grimm’s.

How likely are you to read a book that’s been recommended to you?
It depends who is doing the recommending! But usually, I am pretty likely to want to experience a book someone else is really passionate about.

How likely are you to recommend a book (that isn’t yours)?
100% likely. I am a big advocate of books I LOVE. I will talk your ear off about books I love. I will go and buy you your own copies of books I love.

What do you look for in a good book?
Writing with texture. I come from a theatre background so I look for the things that make a good play or movie: setting, character, dialogue, costuming. I am way willing to overlook some plot issues or pacing if I can really tumble into the world of the book and get lost there.

Why do you write?
So my brains don’t explode.

If you couldn’t be a writer, what would you be?
Costume designer (lucky for me, I do both!)

Where do you draw your inspiration from?
History. Truth is truly stranger than fiction!

What has writing taught you about yourself?
Perseverance. I had no idea how tough it would be. And not the writing part, but the business part. Writing is like having 2 or 3 full time jobs at once, not counting my dayjob, freelance work, being a mom, or being a wife. it’s madness but somehow I navigate it daily and (so far as I can tell) I am still sane!
Who knew??

How do the people in your life seem to view your writing career?
Everyone thinks is it really cool. I have a wonderful group of supportive people behind me from my family, my in-laws, my friends, my co-workers, and all my people on twitter and facebook. It’s amazing how many wonderful people I’ve found to include in my life because I decided to try and publish the stuff I wrote.

Are there any stereotypes about writers that you don’t think are true?
I don’t know…I like to write in coffee shops, I talk to myself, I have multiple tracks of thought going on at the same time and sometimes forget where I am (and who I am). I think the first-time novelist writing “The Great American Novel” and landing some ridiculously sweet deal gets old. I know it happens, but that people still think every author is destined to be a New York Times bestseller is rough. I appreciate the vote of confidence but that doesn’t really work out that way for most people!

What do you see as the biggest challenge today for writers starting out?
The market keeps changing. Almost 10 years ago when I first started to try and sell my debut work, it was already getting fast and loose and now, it’s hard to keep track. Mergers at the top of the scale and a flood of small and indie presses at the bottom, plus ebooks and self-publishing. It’s a crazy and ever-changing world out there. I can’t imagine trying to start out now in 2014. It was hard enough in 2005!

Have you made any writing mistakes that seem obvious in retrospect but weren’t at the time?
“Head-hopping,” where you change the perspective from which the story is told usually within a paragraph (or even in a sentence). Sure, you tell yourself it’s fine, it’s a third person omniscient, but you’re writing it like a third person limited perspective and you don’t seem to know it. While you’re going along, no problem, but once you go back to read it…ugh! I am now very glad that SEVEN TIMES A WOMAN took a little longer to find a home. It seriously needed some editing after I had grown and learned more as an author.

Is there a particular project you would love to be involved with?
A collaboration with Neil Gaiman or Jacqueline Carey. If we’re going whole hog in this land of I-Wish, a collaboration with Jacqueline Carey on a Terre D’Ange book (which ain’t EVER happening… but I can dream, right?)
How do you deal with your fan base?
I love them.
Really, they are awesome. I get great emails and Facebook messages. Having fans is probably the best fringe benefit of this whole shindig. I have a list of reviews and emails that I read when I am feeling blue.

Finish this sentence; my fans would be surprised to know ___ about me.
It’s funny, the thing that seems to surprise my fans (and also students and co-workers) the most is that I drive a really big pickup truck. That is surprises them surprises me! I guess I don’t seem like a truck-girl from outward appearances! But I loves me a good pick-up! (And since I travel a lot and tour with books and costumes, it has always been my most practical option!)

Anything else we should know?
The funding period for the MUSIC CITY Kickstarter is running through March 18th! Help me bring banshees to Nashville!

Writer Wednesday – Steven Shrewsbury

StevenShrewsburyTourBadge_450X300

Let’s start with the basics. Who are you?
Steven L. Shrewsbury, author from Central, Illinois.

Tell us (briefly) about you…
farm kid in his forties, blue collar all the way…rumored to be Robert E. Howard reincarnated.

…and a bit about what you’ve written…
I’ve written a fantasy series about Gorias La Gaul, 700 year old warrior available from seventh star press (OVERKILL, THRALL BLOOD & STEEL and more to come); I also write historical horror novels, like HELL BILLY and modern horror tomes like STRONGER THAN DEATH, HAWG, TORMENTOR and the forthcoming Lovecraftian Western LAST MAN SCREAMING. I collaborate on a Viking series with Peter Welmerink called BEDLAM UNLEASHED and with Maurice Broaddus on BLACK SUN RISING, also forthcoming. PHILISTINE is my new release, a tale of Goliath.

…and what you’re working on right now.
Another 2 books about Gorias La Gaul, a thriller, and 2nd draft of another horror western and 3rd draft on a book about Widowmaker Absalom Abbas.

What are your earliest book-related memories?
Mom getting me talking tapes from the library of congress, listening to the BIBLE and TARZAN OF THE APES. I read my brother mak;s yellowed Howard and Wagner novels and then Harlan Ellisons STRANGE WINE. I do remember reading THE MOMEN and my mom throwing it out in 1980.

What are your three favorite books?
HOUR OF THE DRAGON by Robert E. Howard; THE GODFATHER by Mario Puzo and SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE by Kurt Vonnegut.

How many books to do you read at any given time? What are you reading now?
A few. IRON MAN a bio of Tony Iommi; HUBRIS about Hitler; a collect of Elric tales and re-reading THE HEORES by Joe Abecrombie.

Finish this sentence; when I curl up with a book, I ___
Want to be left alone to travel into the realm of that writer’s mind.

To re-read or not to re-read that is the question.
There are some books that are so good one must re-read them. I think I re-read THE GODFATHER every few years. Stuff by Howard and Wagner also.

How likely are you to read a book that’s been recommended to you?
That depends on who recommends it. I would.

How likely are you to recommend a book (that isn’t yours)?
Very likely. I love to support other authors. I could give you a long list of great storytellers.

What do you look for in a good book?
If the writer has a good VOICE and speaks to me, not trying to impress another or make their voice ring too much. Tell me a story.

Why do you write?
I write because I have to. I dunno how else I’d let it all out. I love to tell tales.

If you couldn’t be a writer, what would you be?
A preacher…not a pastor. I’d hate dealing with people’s problems every day, but preaching on Sundays? That’d rock.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Things come to me when I read history or hear music. A few lines in a song by Black Sabbath might inspire an entire novel. I read about an obscure event in history and I know JUST what happened out of camera range. My sons inspire me as well as a few close friends.

What has writing taught you about yourself?
That I’m no where as bright as I thought. But it also taugh tme about dark places inside that are best kept chained than on display.

How do the people in your life seem to view your writing career?
My kids love it. I have a brother that enjoys it. The rest hate it and wish I’d take up basket weaving.

Are there any stereotypes about writers that you don’t think are true?
That we are all nuts? That’s true. The more authors I meet, the more I think that. I always thought I was a bit different, but there are so many that are bugf%$k crazy it is sorta shocking.

What do you see as the biggest challenge today for writers starting out?
Finding their voice and not following bad advice.

Have you made any writing mistakes that seem obvious in retrospect but weren’t at the time?
A great many. I listened to bad advice many times, sometimes by selfish jerks, but ya can’t make an omelet without busting eggs.

Is there a particular project you would love to be involved with?
I’d love to write a novel of Conan, one about Wagner’s Kane…sure. I’d also like to write a book about Howard’s BRAN MAK MORN.

How do you deal with your fan base?
Whips & chains work at first. Naw, they are great folks and I deal with them like any other group of friends.

Finish this sentence; my fans would be surprised to know ___ about me.
That I’m half blind.

Anything else we should know?
Just that PHILISTINE is my greatest work so far, an epic in fantasy, a horrific ride through a realm unseen as of yet in such fiction. Trod the bloody pages of history and try to forget the images seen there…go ahead, try…

Book Review – Nashville/Davidson County Public Art

Title: Nashville/Davidson County Public Art: Location Study & Typology Recommendations
Format: Paperback
Published: This format printed 2010

Okay, Nashville/Davidson County Public Art is a unique thing I managed to find on the shelves in my local library when I was randomly checking the shelves. Apparently our local government voted for 1% of the budget to go towards public art – I’ll leave most of the commentary out of this, but I’m torn between thinking we need more things to enrich and enlighten and thinking that 1% of the budget is a lot when we’re short of funding for things like education; what do you think? – and this is the report/study/whatever done to evaluate locations in the county.

There’s a section at the front that explains the book and the process, and a few appendices/that type of thing in the back. The bulk of the book, though, is made up of the site studies. A map of the location with a few landmarks (local businesses, schools, welcome centers, whatever) marked, a couple photos of the area, and paragraphs about both the site and what should go there. Then there’s a couple pages of photos of other pieces of public art across the country in a similar vein.

I’ve got to say that I’ve learned a lot about my county from this book. History of parts of town, little factoids, etc. They also explained both what was going in a site if construction was underway, or what was already there. I liked that stuff, because I like silly trivia. Just sayin’. Also, as a not TN native, I don’t know a lot of the local history that I would have learned in schools. So it was nice to learn something about my area.

So how to give you a rating. Personally, I give the book a 4/5. I really liked it, and the public art – although sometimes very odd – was mostly really cool. (Side note – I had no idea that Cleveland, OH had so much public art, and they didn’t even put the Free stamp, which we all know about if we came from anywhere near there, in the book) So I think it was interesting. If you’re from the area, or you’re into public art or sculpture or design, it’s interesting. With that said, I think this is going to appeal to a very specific demographic (after all, the book wasn’t even really sold anywhere, just distributed to the important key people who needed the study) and if you’re not part of that, just keep walking on by if you happen to see a copy.

Book Review – Phantom Dreams (vol. 1&2) by Natsuki Takaya

Title: Phantom Dreams (vol. 1&2)
Author: 
Natsuki Takaya
Illustrator: 
Natsuki Takaya
Format: 
Paperback
Written: 
1994
Published: 
1996 (Japan) / 2009 (U.S.)

Natsuki Takaya is the writer of Fruits Basket one of the best, most beloved, and critically acclaimed manga series to grace American soil, and Phantom Dreams is her first published comic series.  In 5 volumes total, it tells the story of Tamaki Otoya who has the power to summon guardian spirits to exorcise Jaki (demon like spirits made up of negative emotions).

It’s really important to emphasize Phantom Dreams is her first comic series.  Reading it after Fruits Basket is definitely taking a step back.  The pacing is rough, the story lacks a strong episodic quality, and the half tones and patterns get a bit excessive.   This is also much darker and bloodier than Fruits Basket.  At the same time, you can already see Takaya playing with themes like abuse, possession, forgiveness, and redemption.  There’s even a cat demon.  Her strong talent as an artist is certainly there.  The art isn’t as clean as her later work, but the people are beautifully and consistently drawn.

I regret not being able to review all five volumes.  Other reviewers online claim that while the story has a very slow start, vol. 5 wraps it up beautifully, but my library only carries up through vol. 3.  And the start is really a bit too slow and dark for my taste.  Tamaki is casually abusive to his mother and girlfriend.  He and his girlfriend are in middle school but are already “lovers” with partial nudity depicted.  I get the sense towards the end of vol. 2 that both will be addressed and have consequences, but it’s so casually brushed off at the beginning that I felt rather squicky about it.

The biggest weakness in the story is a lack of humor or true warmth.  What jokes there are either are mean spirited or show a bitter-sweet naiveté that fails to balance out the darkness depicted.  The art doesn’t always depict transitions well.  In a couple places, scenes change without any clear indication that the characters were elsewhere or that time had passed.

Overall, I wouldn’t bother with this one unless you can get your hands on all five volumes (for that pay off ending) or you’re a big Takaya fan who likes to see the progress of a writer/artist…and you’re over 18.  I’ll give it a 3/5 mainly for the skill level of the art and the attempt to tackle deeper themes.  However, it’s not something I’d recommend to everyone.

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