The Springfield Confidential by Mike Reiss

Springfield Confidential reads very much like a Simpsons version of a memoir – irreverent, sarcastic, self effacing, and never taking itself too seriously. But at the same time, I actually want the serious version here – all the endless jokes and “no not really” after reading four paragraphs of ‘truths’ was frustrating. I don’t read biographies for comedy nor fluff and at some point it was getting really hard to tell what was real and what was made up for comedic effect. So what was the point of this being a memoir of being a part of the Simpsons cast – it should really have been an episode of the Simpsons where a comedy writer comes to visit Homer.

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Mike Reiss has a joke for every occasion including much of his own personal life. The endless Jewish jokes are about as interesting as endless Catholic ones and I didn’t feel I got much insight into the tv show or the people running it. Every time Reiss would start to go in depth, he’d back off quickly and crack a joke or make something up. By the end, it felt like I was reading the equivalent of a Twinkie – cute and sweet but not very (ful)filling. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Space Carrier Avalon by Glynn Stewart

While I enjoy Stewart’s books and have read a few now, I will definitely say that fans of hard core military sci fi might not find enough meat on the bone here. But that said, the stories have interesting characters that tend to be somewhat upright but also without the usual conservative constraints. Stewart doesn’t tend to follow normal storytelling rules, often moving between side and major characters randomly and often not using the rule of three. As well, the tale will move from big picture to small picture somewhat haphazardly. But there is always a good story with decent characters to be found and Space Carrier Avalon is no exception.

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Story: The Avalon is an aging ship used by the rejects of the military – as a dumping ground of the people deemed ‘difficult’ and as a place to take advantage of lax military regulations to make money on the side. But with new management in place, things are going to change on Avalon – and the vessel will find itself on the forefront of a new war.

Along with the big story of a new CAG and new Captain trying to bring order to the chaos of Avalon, there are side stories about fixing a situation where crewmembers are being raped with impunity and a smuggling ring is seeing valuable munitions and vessels secretly sold to the black market. Stewart typically matches the big stories with the little stories and it can be a bit distracting and make the book lose focus at times. But he always pulls back to the big story in the end. It can feel like he ran out of things to write about or pushing an agenda, however, with the smaller stories of side characters.

There is plenty of action and the story is very easy to follow since it is people-focused and not technology driven. It may not be on the level of e.g., CJ Cherryh, but I think those who enjoy books by authors like David Webber or Jack Campbell will enjoy this series.

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Grace and Fury by Tracy Banghart

This felt very much like a concept book – that the author had an concept or agenda and so hammered a square peg through a round hole in order to push that agenda. In this case, she wanted to write a book about young women who fight against their roles in society. But with very weak leads who do not take matters into their own hands and had to be rescued constantly, that point was completely lost. If anything, both our mains needed a man in their lives and never really organically grew to understand the strengths of each other’s values and mindsets.

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Story: Two sisters – one conforming to society values of the perfect woman and one fighting them – are caught in a web of intrigue when they find their roles reversed. One taught to serve must fight and one who always wants to fight must learn to be subservient. Will each triumph in their new roles and save the other?

The sisters are older and graceful Serina and younger hot-headed Nomi. Serina must constantly save Nomi from rushing in stupidly and endangering both of them; it makes it very hard for the reader to really like or want Nomi to succeed as a result. And of course, Nomi will ruin Serina’s grounded and careful plans and place both women in life threatening circumstances. Had Nomi been more nuanced, I think this would have been a much more palatable book. But the simplistic nature of her characterization meant that the book was missing a core or heart that Serina’s character just couldn’t make up for by the end.

Serina fared a bit better but even then, she was the cliche of “I refuse to kill even to save others and myself” that honestly is so unrealistic in her situation as to be forehead slapping. We’re supposed to see her become strong – but honestly, it was more about being inflexible and saved by the handsome heart-of-gold guard.

A twist at the end that could be seen a mile away didn’t help much. I wish YA authors would write more characters with mettle, realistic motivations, and ingenuity. But until then, we will have to continue to see protagonists acting in unrealistic ways that more than likely would have seen them killed rather than dangled for the hero love interest to come rushing in and save them. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Hanger Manga Volume 1 by Hirotaka Kisaragi

This feels recycled from so many BL manga: good hearted but innocent young guy gets partnered with hunky alpha male and they are forced to work together where one falls for the other. Both have secrets, both will be targets of bad guys so they can save each other a lot, and one spends all the time cooking for the other and thinking about his feelings like a good waifu. I got bored fast.

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Story: In a future where nanites are addicting, some choose the enhancements they bring and go overboard, often berserking. Those individuals are either executed or become “Hangers” – the ones who brings the bad guys to justice using their souped up bodies. Each Hanger has a Handler – in charge of keeping the other in line. Enter a lot of mooney eyes.

The art is serviceable but there is a LOT of dialogue and none of it is very interesting. It’s mostly about our boyish lead thinking super positive thoughts and being sweet and genki, thereby winning over the ‘beast’ that is his handler. We don’t get much world building and the only other characters we really meet are another Handler/Hanger who are in a sexual relationship (because the nanites drive his lust up, natch).

I feel like the world/story was crafted around the specific of the two guys rather than having them exist in an organic and well developed setting. And I just got bored of reading the same story over and over again, just the window dressing have changed. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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The Privilege of Peace by Tanya Huff

By far, this has to be one of my favorite series of all time. While the first book (7 ago!) was serviceable, by the second book we got the series-long arc and some of the best characters in sci fi when Huff really hit her stride. If all military sci fi was this good, with snappy dialogue and extremely well-drawn characters, I would never read another book in any other genre again. And though The Privilege of Peace ends the series, it does so with aplomb.

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Story: Humans First want Torin dead and out of the way, especially leader Anthony Marteau. But Torin is a hard woman to kill, especially since she has a tight clan of friends around her. But when it comes time to return the ‘data sheet’ plastic to the plastic aliens, things are about to come to a head with General Morris, Anthony Marteau, all the elder races and all the younger races in for the wild ride.

There are so many laugh out loud or simple chuckle/snicker moments as to make this Peacekeeper series a treat. From Torin and boyfriend Craig bon mots, to sexual innuendos, puns, and observations about the aliens that inhabit the book. It’s so effortless and whip smart as to be almost an art form. You’d swear they were living and breathing characters, each nuanced and with their own ticks and quirks.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Torin Kerr is such a great female protagonist. Tough as nails but with a good heart and a smart head, she is a no-nonsense woman with an agenda of keeping her companions alive. You root for her and all her crew as they tough their way through all the series has thrown at them. Those wondering how this ends and if it is good need not worry – The denouement is allowed to happen organically but with all the action we have come to expect when Kerr is involved.

I listened to the Audible version and the narrator did an excellent job with all the characterizations. There was no doubt who was speaking and why they were an alien and not human. In all, definitely one of my all time favorite series and it is with bittersweet joy that I finished this ending book.

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Hush Hush Graphic Novel Adaptation by Becca Fitzpatrick

In all my years of reading graphic novels, I have never come across a book that is so perfectly bad in every aspect: writing, illustrations, adaptation, paper quality/presentation, even proof reading. The only saving grace here is that I found this at the library and didn’t actually pay for this horrendous waste of paper.

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Story: I would write a synopsis here but let’s face it, the original YA book was a fanfiction of Twilight and Twilight was a fanfiction of Harry Potter. But with angels. We’re not talking high prose here. It already sets a pretty low bar for storytelling.

So, here are the glaring issues:

– typographical errors on several pages
– issues in art such as the lead’s hairband appearing and disappearing with each page
– an adaptation that is so bad, you have no idea what is going on half the time. No segues, large jumps, unrelated conversations next to each other. BAAAD.
– Boring, uninteresting, and static panels
– Completely getting the source characters wrong. E.g., the shy, introverted girl with somewhat mousey medium length brown hair is now a tall leggy blonde who dresses like an amateur porn star trying to get attention. There is T&A everywhere – for a girl’s YA fiction. Don’t get me started on how bad the artist drew the other characters wrong – you can find that in other reviews.
– Cheap paper and binding – the library book was falling apart and I doubt it was from eager reading. The paper felt like thin construction paper.
– The story is too short and only tells a very small portion of the book – and certainly none of the interesting parts.
– It’s a terrible read – nothing happens and the characters have no life in the images.

So what didn’t go wrong? I guess I can say that the typeface wasn’t too hard to read? I know I’m grasping here but this book is nearly a “How NOT to do a graphic novel 101”. A real tour de force in awfulness. Lest you be curious and buy the book to see how bad it is, let me warn you that it doesn’t even reach ‘bad as an art’ levels. It’s just poorly presented, poorly done, poorly adapted, and poorly scripted and paneled. Save your money. Provided as an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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The Spell of Whirldungen by A.J. Madelin

Sadly, this book really failed to connect with me at all. Problematic writing with a storyline that felt like a Harry Potter fanfiction after the writer binge watched Lemony Snickett; it was hard to get through.

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Chris Spratt is happy in his little town when one night something magical happens. No one seems to notice the strange occurrences except him – but what’s a young boy to do when no one believes you except your friends? When the town’s children receive an invitation to a prestigious boarding school that seemly sprouts up overnight, Chris knows that there is something evil about and that he may be the only person who could fix it.

For a children’s book, the writing feels very dense and unsophisticated. Paragraphs don’t flow, the obvious is overstated ad nauseum, people don’t react to the fantastical as they should, and everything feels like a fait accompli rather than an unfolding adventure. It’s one of those books that makes all the adults cardboard evil cutouts or doorknob stupid rather than giving us nuanced characters. Combine that with a plot that feels very recycled and you get an idea that there is something missing here. I found myself saying out loud several times, “Ok, we GET IT ALREADY! Move on!” in frustration.

I think most problematic for me is that I have read this type of book before but done so much better; e.g., Sage Blackwood’s Jinx is a perfect example of a story that doesn’t pander to its audience but has more than enough adventure to keep children invested. Whirldungeon feels like a debut book that needs a very firm editor to go through and streamline so that it understands its audience better. In all honesty, a rewrite might do wonders. The subject skews young but the writing is too dense for that audience to really sit through. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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