Locke & Key, Vol. 1: Welcome to Lovecraft by Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodríguez

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While at work one day about six months back I was desperately searching the Toronto Public Library e-catalogue for a novel to read. Absolutely nothing that I was interested in reading was available at the time which forced me to browse the selection of graphic novels that were on the site. I initially was not interested in reading a digital copy of a graphic novel because I had assumed it would be difficult to decipher the text. It actually was not a horrible reading experience and since then I have read a few other digital comics. 

After their father is killed, Tyler, Kinsey and Bode move to the family estate, Keyhouse in Lovecraft, Massachusetts with their mother Nina. The Lovecraft family are still on edge after the brutal murder of Rendell, but have dull comfort in the fact that one of his killers, Sam is in prison. Now with miles between the place of such a tragic family disaster they attempt to adjust to life in Lovecraft with the help of Rendell’s younger brother Duncan. The youngest of the Lovecraft siblings, Bode comes across a key that unlocks a Ghost Door which separates the soul of the person who “walks” through from their body. Using the key Bode is able to explore Keyhouse undetected. In the nature of all good fiction the story is not easy sailing from then on and the family soon has much more to worry about than just healing and moving forward.

I had heard good things about these comics around the time of its initial release and I intended to read them, just not at that time because I didn’t want my expectations to be unrealistically high. I am so glad that I made that decision and by the time I did begin the series I had forgotten what it would be about. It is a wise decision to go into reading these graphic novels not knowing much about the premise so that you are able to discover and be captivated by all the going-ons in Keyhouse. The story is incredibly intriguing and entertaining. You are initially sprung into the story with violence and as the story progresses you are able to overcome the initial shock/gore and develop an actual connection to the characters. Too often in a horror story, whether that be a novel or comic, the characters can feel under developed as the author chooses to focus on the scare tactics that they employ to entertain the reader. In Locke & Key the characters are fleshed out and they continue to evolve as the story, and the series as a whole, unfolds. 

In addition to the well executed storyline this graphic novel has exceptional artwork. Gabriel Rodríguez’s illustrations in this series is mind-blowing and his art style lends itself so well to the story. The illustrations themselves add an element of darkness and mystery to the story and facilitate the more grim elements of the plot so very well. I absolutely recommend this graphic novel to all comic lovers who are able to enjoy stories that have elements of horror. What Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodríguez have been able top create within the pages of this graphic novel is truly great and has absolutely become one of my favorite “darker” graphic novels. I give Locke and Key a well deserved 7.25 Unicorn Horns out of a possible 10 when I consider that this review is supposed to be only on Volume 1 and not the subsequent books as well. 

Shaman King, Vol.1: A Shaman in Tokyo by Hiroyuki Takei

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After finishing an epic manga reading binge I was in desperate need for another series to read. While I was at the library where I lived I was struggling to find a series where all the volumes were available to be borrowed and that I would not have to put on hold and have to wait to be able to read. The only series that fit the bill, that was NOT shojo, was the Shaman King series which is a shonen series. I had not really heard much about the manga series prior to borrowing it from the library, but I decided to take a leap of faith because why not…some of my greatest finds have been impulse purchases/borrowing. Also, the covers and spines for each volume are incredibly gorgeous and colorful…which doesn’t hurt the selection process lol!

The series is about a young Shaman named Yoh, who in the first volume is starting at a new school in Tokyo. The first volume mainly focuses on Manta, a fellow student at Shinra Private Junior High. While Manta is taking a shortcut through a local cemetery he happens across Yoh who is wearing his trademark headphones and just chilling in the graveyard. Through a series of events which involve ghosts, supernatural occurrences, and encounters with a “thug” named Ryu, Manta and Yoh become friends. In the series there are various types of Shamans, Yoh is one that is able to connect with ghosts and allow them to possess his body so that they can lend him their powers. In this volume we are introduced to Admidamaru, a 600-year-old samurai ghost and to a fellow Shaman named Ren who has a particularly sinister interest in Yoh and Admidamaru.

I have continued on with the series and can say that this volume is quite slow in comparison to the remainder of the series. So, if you ever do pick this series up don’t quit until you’ve read up to volume 3. That will give you a much better feel for the series as a whole. As I previously mentioned the first volume has a heavy focus on the character Manta, this only lasts for this volume. As you get to the conclusion of this volume the focus shifts to Yoh and continues that way for the rest of the series (…well for as far as I have read a.k.a Vol. 9). The story itself serves as a backdrop to the rest of the series and helps to slowly immerse you into the world of the series. You are able to get a pretty good understanding of how Yoh’s abilities work and  how they are able to be beneficial to both him and the ghosts that he encounters. The reader gets an introduction to the different types of “relationships” that can form between ghosts, shamans, and non-shaman humans (that sounds kinda pervy, but I swear it isn’t lol). The illustrations in the series are not the best I have ever seen, but it’s absolutely far from the worst. The art style is somewhat minimalistic yet is still detailed. The styling of the illustrations makes it incredibly easy to decipher what is happening in faster paced segments of the story, namely battle/fight scenes.

As a whole package (story and art) I enjoyed volume 1 of Shaman King. It serves as a good set-up to the series and gives the reader enough detail to not feel left behind and unprepared for the following volumes. Overall the story was not amazingly entertaining, but that did not bother me at all because the story quickly picks up towards the end and you can easily identify the main focus/purpose of this initial volume in the series. I give Shaman King, Vol. 1: A Shaman in Tokyo a rating of 7 out of 10 Unicorn Horns. Happy Reading! 

A Silent Voice By Yoshitoki Oima

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Bullying, miscommunication, and atonement. This is by far one of my all time favorite manga series: 10/10 Unicorn Horns! I’d been a little hesitant to review this series, but this is such a powerful story. With the movie now out (depending on your region) I decided to finally review the manga that I found so incredibly moving. So in my unashamed attempt to convince you that “you need this series in your life“, here’s a link to the beautiful, short, spoiler free trailer of the movie- I CANNOT WAIT to see- on YouTube, and of my review:

A Silent Voice- Official Trailer

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Synopsis: In the first volume A Silent Voice (a.k.a Koe no Katachi), before jumping ahead 6 years, surrounds young and very adventurous elementary student Shoya. Jumping off bridges, play fighting, getting into trouble, Shoya is a typical crazy daredevil whose friends join him in his everyday “battle against boredom”. While trying to think of the next great adventure they get a new transfer student, a young girl named Shoko Nishimiya. Being new isn’t what catches Shoya’s attention, it’s the way she introduces herself- using a pen and notebook. Nishimiya is hearing impaired. This of course leads to a ton of curiosity from classmates. Unfortunately this lighthearted curiosity quickly begins to take a turn for the worse as misunderstandings build into a frustration that results in deeply scaring both Nishimiya and Shoya.   

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It is narrated from the point of view of Shoya, the one responsible for instigating the bullying and harassment that eventually forced Nishimiya to transfer schools. And that, the POV, is something that I found so incredible about this series. To be completely honest, as someone who has been on the receiving end, I may have never picked this up if I had known it would be from the point of view of the bully, but after some internal struggling I came to really like the 17yr old Shoya in spite of everything. 

This story manages to bring up a ton of important themes, strong emotions, and issues- depression, self-loathing, shame, a bit of social anxiety, etc.- but more than that I think this story is also about unheard voices. The rest of the story really starts when six years after the so very incredibly infuriating events in elementary Shoya, using the same sign language he scorned, reaches out to Nishimiya, making a tentative attempt to apologize for what he did. This leads to an emotional journey that had a real impact on me, where characters struggle to develop the ability to truly listen and to make their voices heard.

Through the diverse group of characters, personality wise, that come to surround Shoya and Nishimiya you get to see a side of each person’s painfully real and unique voice, as well as dive into the issues with human communication/ miscommunication and of bullying- primarily dealing with the aftermath of it. There wasn’t a single character, major and minor alike, that felt out of place or unrealistic in their emotions. I recommend this all-feels-train of a series to just about everyone.

Half Bad by Sally Green

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When I first picked up this book I knew nothing about it, all I cared about was the gorgeous hardcover look. The series was a gift from a friend who also had no idea what this series was about, but knew I’d love it just for it’s look (a blatant case of judging a book by it’s cover but in this case? I care not lol). After admiring it’s beauty on my shelves for almost a year, I finally admitted to myself that the many, many books I’ve collected and not read deserved more than just outward admiration. It was long past time to get to know my books on a more personal level and love them for what’s on the inside as well (yes I’m aware I’m speaking of my books as the living beings they are =p). So Half Bad by Sally Green is one of the many I’ve got lined up on my to-read-this-year list. 

Though I really enjoyed going into this story with absolutely no expectations or having any idea what it was about, for all those who aren’t up for spending time and money on a book they may have no interest in- Half Bad is set in the U.K. and is about a young boy named Nathan. Nathan, our main protagonist, is a witch, more specifically a half White and half Black witch. This very rare fact in the world of unseen magic users is something that brings Nathan a lot of trouble and a lot of pain- “a lot” being an understatement here. The story starts off with Nathan thinking of ways to “survive” the mental and emotional burden of being locked in a cage every night, and his jailer’s physical and psychological abuse. After we’re introduced to Nathan and his current circumstances, the story goes back to his family and how he came to be in a cage in the first place. 

I have to say I love this story. It’s not the best or most original out there, some things could have been done better, and many things were (to be completely honest) very predictable. Even so, I still loved this story. I loved the contrast- more like prejudiced and abusive discrimination- between Black and White witches despite them having very unoriginal powers. Despite some mild annoyances and repetitive behaviours/thoughts, I really liked Nathan. He has his good qualities of course, and I liked the fact that he’s a diverse character (has a learning disability he struggles with throughout the series). He is also angry with the world, distrustful of people, and makes some stupid choices. Even so I really liked him, and would say his anger is more than justified. I also loved or liked most of the other characters who come into play- most of his family, a handful I can’t name, and even his jailer I found myself liking (couldn’t help being interested in her personality). With few exceptions (three to be exact) I found most characters enjoyable.  

I’m on the 3rd book and, even despite my avid hatred of love-triangles and near-enough-to-it-insta-love (not actual inst-love since the romance happened over time, but quick and serious enough to feel a bit off), I still really enjoy this series as a whole. I genuinely liked the whole idea where White (supposedly good) witches and Black (supposedly bad) witches where quickly revealed to have equally good/bad personalities. It’s a pretty good read if you don’t expect an amazing and epic tale. The first book started off amazingly well, but did start to drop off a bit towards the end. If it wasn’t for that I’d rate this book 9/10, but deserves an honest 8/10 Unicorn Horns overall

I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga

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I Hunt Killers in the first book in the Jasper Dent Trilogy by Barry Lyga. The novel’s main protagonist is Jasper “Jazz” Dent who’s father is a notorious serial killer who is now in Prison. When a serial killer emerges in Lobo’s Nod, where Jazz lives, suspicions rise because “The Impressionist” is fashioning their kills after those that Jazz’s “Dear Old Dad”, Billy Dent, committed in the past. Being raised by a serial killer couldn’t possibly be easy, but it was the norm for Jazz growing up and through Billy he experienced horrors up-close and personal. Although the knowledge that Jazz has about his father’s crimes frightens him and causes him to worry about ending up like his father, Jazz decides to use that information and his experiences to help catch a killer.

I Hunt Killers was the second novel that I had read by Barry Lyga, with Boy Toy having been my first. So, I already knew that I liked Barry Lyga’s writing style and approach to story telling. I had previously experienced that the author could write a novel that makes you think about things that are sometimes viewed as uncomfortable and taboo. As soon as I read the synopsis of the story I had no doubt in my mind that I would enjoy the Jasper Dent series because it would make me feel conflicted and keep me intrigued. This novel did not fall short of my expectations and *surprise* I ended up thoroughly enjoying my reading experience.  

Jasper Dent is a very well thought-out and executed character. He has understandably conflicting and dark thoughts about women and people in general. He is an absolutely tortured and damaged soul. In certain portions of the novel it becomes increasingly difficult not feel empathy towards Jazz and sad for former child-Jazz. The supporting/side characters were a welcomed addition to the story and did not feel unnecessary or arbitrary. The secondary characters added to the overall story, actually benefitted the story and had pivotal moments in some of the novels more memorable plot points.

The storyline is easy to follow, yet complex and keeps the reader engaged throughout the entire novel. There were definitely a few situations that arise that take the reader by surprise. I was able to guess a bit of what was going to happen, in terms of being able to predict the general direction the story was going to go in, but I was never bored or disinterested. The story is suspenseful, mysterious and has components of  a thriller that is for a more mature audience (not in a bad way). Lyga doesn’t underestimate the target age group’s level of comprehension and includes thought processes, flashbacks and circumstances that could have been targeted to an adult reader.

I would recommend this novel to readers that enjoy mystery, thrillers, and crime novels. There is also the less obvious group of readers that I would recommend this series to and that would be fans of dystopian and fantasy novels. I give I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga a rating of 8-out of a possible-10 Unicorn Horns!

A Dance of Cloaks by David Dalglish

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I’ve been hearing about this series for awhile now and finally…after a few years of it sitting on my bookshelf *cough, cough* decided to check it out. I have to say I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this series on a whole yet. It is very promising in a lot of ways, but also, unfortunately, fell short of my expectations. Don’t get me wrong here I don’t regret my purchase, especially now that I’ve read the much improved 2nd installment Dance of Blades, but can’t honestly give the first book any higher than 6/10 unicorn horns

The beginning of this story starts off promisingly with a young boy and main protagonist Aaron Felhorn, son of the well known and greatly feared leader of the underground Spider thief guild Thren Felhorn, as the thief guilds begin a war with The Trifect- three very powerful Lords that have banded together in an attempt to protect their vast wealth. We bounce back and forth in a third person narrative following the lives of various characters on both sides of the war- mostly major characters but a few minor ones as well- and learn how the bloody power struggle between these two groups, The Trifect and newly banded together thief guilds (under Aaron Felhorn’s unforgiving cold dictatorial rule), has effected the lives of those within the city of Veldaren. 

I can’t talk about too much without giving things away, but the story-line was definitely interesting. My main issue lay with the characters. Many of them, to be honest, I couldn’t find a reason to really care about. The main character, Aaron, was interesting enough, as was his power hungry father Thren and a couple others like the mysterious Faceless assassins, an old and wise tutor, and the new Spider Guild recruit. Which wasn’t the best thing considering the story also covered quite a bit of one of The Trifect Lord’s daughter and heir. My feelings about some of the characters do change over time, but this isn’t until well over half the series. Though all this is really a personal preference and with so many POV’s it’s a give in not all of them will be liked by readers, having to go through chapter after chapter of a bunch of unliked characters I couldn’t find a reason to like or, more often than not, really couldn’t understand their significance in the story, is of course something that greatly lowered my enjoyment. There was also the fact that some of the the transitions and scenes came off a bit choppy, or simply didn’t flow as well as others. Some of the characters actions also, at times, didn’t quite make sense to me given what I’d already been shown of their character/personality. My really high expectations probably didn’t help things lol, but considering the fact that the other novels are set 5yrs after the events of the first book, the whole story ended up coming off a bit like a drawn out prologue. 

Okay, to be fair many of my issues are taken care of in the 2nd installment and I found myself liking almost all the character, both minor and major, that were re/introduced. And there is also the fact that many of the characters in this first installment were new and like with most fantasy novels, especially those that are part of a series, things are a bit slow in the beginning while the settling, characters, and necessary background information are all being put into place for readers. Clearly despite my various concerns and complaints I liked the story and some of the characters well enough to keep going and eventually pick up the next book, so things really aren’t as bad as I’ve probably made it sound lol. There are quite a few elements in this series to keep me interested enough to read the rest in this completed 6 book series, and it does look like things will continue to get better. I’d like to give this book a 7/10, but…that’s pretty much the rating I’d give to the 2nd installment. I’d still recommend this series to fantasy lovers, though can’t say it’s one of the better stories out there. Regardless, I’ll definitely be giving this book a chance and would like to hear from some of you what you thought of it if you’ve read it, or plan to. Thanks for reading!

 

 

Furies of Calderon by Jim Butcher

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Furies of Calderon is the first instalment in the epic fantasy series, Codex Alera by Jim Butcher. The series follows a few different characters who at the beginning of the story are in different areas of Alera. As the story progresses the individual storylines intersect seamlessly. Some of the most notable characters are Tavi, a furyless 15 y.o.boy who lives on his Uncle’s steadholt. Amara, a woman who is training to become a Cursori (spy) for the First Lord of Alera. In Alera people have the ability to use Furies, which allow them to connect to the elements and use their Furies to manipulate the elements.  

As much as I do love a long Fantasy novel, I can admit when one becomes a bit taxing on my reading life. That thankfully did not happen while I was reading this book. As a reader it does not take too long before you form bonds with particular characters. Whether those be negative or positive feelings that you develop towards individual characters, it absolutely adds to the overall reading experience. You are able to grow with the characters, feel their struggles and triumphs, you feel betrayals stronger and deeper than you would without having made those connections.

The magic system is rather intriguing and I have seen some interesting stories of how Butcher developed the magic system; however, I have never looked into it to see if it is in fact true so I won’t comment on that point. In Alera people are able to control the elements (earth, air, fire, water, and metal). I enjoyed the fact that the magic system was rather easy to believe and understand. There were very few inconsistencies that I remember reading in this novel, none that I can recall at this time. It sometimes takes you completely out of the world/story when you are made aware of actions and abilities that don’t make sense based upon the explanation of the world/magic system that an Author provided. Luckily, that doesn’t happen in this novel and the magic system, abilities, and limitations of “crafting” are consistent and explained. 

The novel contains political intrigue and unrest, adventure, shifting family/friend dynamics, suspense, a good magic system, character development and an understandability of the magic system and the story as well. If you choose to continue on with the Codex Alera series you will find that Furies of Calderon, acts more as a prequel to the remaining 5 books. I give this novel a rating of 7 out of 10 stars. My rating of the series as a whole is considerably higher. This novel serves as more of a introduction to all the hell that this series is going to put you through over time.