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! 

The Edge of Never by J.A. Redmerski

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Camryn Bennett is a young woman that is unsatisfied with her life. In an attempt to find herself, Camryn leaves on a bus, with no specific destination in mind. Camryn encounters Andrew Parrish on one of the Greyhound busses along her trip and through an unbelieving series of events the two end up going on a road trip together.

I don’t even know what to say about this novel! The premise itself is not that engrossing and doesn’t pull you in right away. You go into reading this novel knowing that there is a person who is displeased with the direction their life is taking. Now, generally you would expect for the reasons or circumstances that caused the displeasure of the characters life to be revealed, well this book definitely does not deliver the answer to that question…or at least not in a way that makes sense. Oh, no wait…I guess it does make sense if your entire identity is wrapped up in someone else…then that person ceases to exist so you feel lost…but then you find a new human to develop your identity around while the story tries to act like you’ve developed any semblance of self or figured out what the hell you want out of life-except the new human and to travel-well, if you think about it that way then I guess The Edge of Never does make sense. I’m a firm believer in the whole concept of “If you can identify that there is a problem, then think of a solution”, but I fully well understand that that process can take time, especially when it comes to matters of self, identity, purpose etc etc etc. So of course it will take time in a novel to come to some solution to the whole “quarter life crisis” that Camryn was experiencing, but I got to the end of the novel and kept shaking my head and wondering to myself…how did we get here? Because there is nothing but absolute Unicorn FECES from beginning to end in regards to conflict resolution of the overall story arc.  

This novel is intended to be a romance, or so I have come to believe, but it displays an incredibly unhealthy relationship. This novel is not on Fifty Shades of Grey – or it’s New Adult equivalent, Beautiful Disaster – level, but it’s up there! The levels of misogyny that permeated almost all of the initial stages of Cameron and Andrew’s relationship was pungent. Then there’s the matter of the blatant stalking that occurred and the incredibly sad fact that because Andrew was attractive the reader is expected to not identify that it is stalking. Also, having that act be told from the perspective of Andrew doesn’t alleviate the unhealthy behavior and it  should not be written off as, or woven into, a supposed sense of concern. Well, we could go on to discuss ownership of a person, isolation, slut-shaming, abuse of power, and many more things that are jacked up about this novel…but, I’m going to call it quits here.

I have expressed in previous reviews that I don’t want to bash a particular novel because the Author puts in a lot of time and effort to create and bring the story to life. I also don’t think that J. A. Redmerski is a horrible human being just because I noticed and pointed out some things about this novel that are problematic and that perpetuate negative standards, ideas and representations of a romantic relationship. I have a serious concern when the ending, “explanations”, and “reasons” for someone’s behavior negates the red-flags that should have been flying high throughout the novel. Due to the problematic aspects, unlikable characters, unrealistic story, inconsistent storyline and character behaviors, predictability, lack of character development, and not strong writing I give The Edge of Never  a rating of 2-out of-10 Unicorn Horns. 

 

Fires of Invention by J. Scott Savage

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I received an Advance Reader Copy of Fires of Invention back in 2015 at BookCon in New York City. Savage was in attendance, and doing an author signing of his soon to be released (at the time) novel and of his previous works.  I had never read anything by this author before reading this novel in 2015 and went into reading it with no expectations. The story follows thirteen-year-old Trenton Coleman as he navigates life in the City of Cove. In Cove, creativity of any kind  is illegal and the City is structured in order to highlight the dangers of creativity. Throughout the novel the reader is introduced to Kallista Babbage, a girl whose father was a “creative type” that passed away in an explosion. Trenton and Kallista end up working together to build a machine after finding blueprints that it seems Kallista’s father, Leo Babbage, was working on before his death.  

This novel is an incredibly interesting and thoughtful read. The author is able to keep the reader engaged throughout the entire novel. The novel did not lag in any areas and was fairly consistent throughout. There were some pacing issues in certain parts of the novel in regards to certain plot points and events not having been fleshed out and explored as much as they could have been. I did read an ARC of the story and the final, published novel may not have contained those issues.

Overall, I give Fires of Invention a rating of 8.5 Unicorn Horns out of 10. The author accomplished what they set out to do in this novel. All the major plot points were well executed, the characters were dynamic and well thought out, the intrigue and mystery of Cove built organically and did not feel force-fed, and the story was complex and layered. This is a novel that I would recommend to ANYONE! The novel can easily be enjoyed by adult readers who do not tend to read middle grade fiction. And of course I would suggest that anyone within the target age range that is interested in Fantasy, Science Fiction, Dystopian and/or Steampunk to give this novel a read. 

New Release: Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza

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Empress of a Thousand Skies follows Rhiannon Ta’an, the Crown Princess to the Kalusian Dynasty. Rhiannon has spent years training for when she would take over the throne, but she has not just been training for when she becomes Empress. Rhee has also been on a journey to exact revenge on whoever is responsible for the death of her family years before. People are watching carefully for when Rhee takes the throne and many are hesitant and wonder if she is ill-prepared for the duties that await her. Although the performance of the future Empress is in the forefront of the minds of many, the thoughts consuming Rhee’s minds are fueled by revenge, hatred, grief and loss.

I’m going to just say this off the jump…I was not expecting to like this novel as much as I did. Empress of a Thousand Skies is a standout for me within Young Adult Science Fiction. Belleza accomplished creating a captivating story that was well rounded with characters that had depth. I’m easily distracted by discrepancies within a story line, but I did not run into that issue with this novel at all. The author did an amazing job of keeping the story consistent throughout. I love that this story did not depend on “love” to bring a level of entertainment and interest. It is so refreshing to read a YA that did not have a love-triangle or case of insta-love anywhere in the story. The severity and importance of Rhee’s quest of revenge is not cheapened by a love interest that distracts her from her goal.

I give Empress of a Thousand Skies a rating of 7-out of-10 Unicorn Horns. The novel is well written, the characters are multi-dimensional, the world building is superb, and the story is entertaining from beginning to end. I would absolutely recommend this book to fans of YA sci-fi and fantasy novels.

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. 

Proxy by Alex London

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Proxy by Author Alex London is the first installment in a Young Adult Dystopian duology. The novel follows Knox, a Patron and Syd, his Proxy. In this dystopian society the wealthy do not have to pay for their crimes. Anything they do that is punishable, from the most trivial of childhood transgressions to acts as horrible as manslaughter, their Proxy has to take the repercussions of their actions. So when Knox causes the accidental death of his friend in a car crash, Syd is the one who is sentenced to death. In an unbelievable sequence of events the boys’ lives become entangled as the story progresses. Both Knox and Syd learn things about themselves, each other and the society they live in. Not much of what they have grown up seeing and believing is the actual truth  and we the reader get to join them on this quest for truth and redemption.

Knox is initially an incredibly unlikable character. He’s spoiled, entitled, self-involved and self-centered,  but as the story is concluded it is undeniable that his character has the most growth. The author does a superb job at executing Knox’s character development and up until the very last page of this novel his character consistently surprised me. Syd is not a bad character, he’s also a great character in this novel, but he was much more ‘aware’ from the beginning of the story so at some points his character’s growth does not seem to have as much impact as the other main character.

This novel will make you feel all sorts of feels. The unjust and unfair structure of this society is astounding and at times hard to read without seeing parallels to the world we live in. This novel breaks your heart and your spirit in parts, but it is so very beautifully and purposefully executed that I can’t even be angry at the author for all the pain he put me through lol. Another aspect of this novel that I enjoyed is that everything is not always okay. So many times in YA fiction, the story is so neatly and sweetly wrapped up, which is completely unrealistic when you take into account the climate of the world the novel is set in, but Alex London does not spare our feelings. Although the climax and conclusion of the story are far out there I still have to appreciate what the author tried to accomplish.

I really enjoyed this novel, I will note that I did NOT enjoy the second installment in the duology as much as this first book. The second book, Guardian, fell flat in so many areas such as, world building, character development, the believability and consistency of the stroyline, and the  fleshing out of the side characters.  So, just keep that in mind if you decide to pick up this book….there’s a possibility that you may not love the series as a whole. I would recommend Proxy to YA dystopian lovers, especially if you are not all that interested in reading another book that feels like a re-write of The Hunger Games or Divergent. Overall I give this novel a rating of 7 out of 10 Unicorn Horns. Also, Syd is gay, so if you are looking for a novel with a gay main protagonist outside of Contemporary/Realistic Fiction this is a worthwhile read.