The United Continuums by Jennifer Brody

The United Continuums neatly wraps up the trilogy but also leaves open the possibility for future stories. Although the ending was satisfying, perhaps too much time was spent on the other continuums and not enough focus on our protagonists. But those who really liked the first two books will find more of the same here.

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Story: The Second Continuum has reappeared in space and has made its intentions known: to wrest control of the Doom project and destroy the other continuums. Myra, Aero, and Seeker will each have a battle to fight: Aero to regain control of the Second Continuum, Seeker, to influence her people, and Myra to prevent the evil Second Continuum leader Drakken from killing her in dreamspace. But each of their continuums are lead by selfish and destructive individuals just as dangerous as Drakken – will they be able to unite the continuums in the fight against Drakken?

Admittedly, I liked this book least of the three. For one, it’s frustrating to once again have a ‘big bad’ telling our heroes his exact plans down to the finest detail – sure, he’s a megalomaniac; but that doesn’t mean he has to twist his metaphorical mustache while revealing all his nefarious plans. Similarly, even the name Drakken sounds cartoony to the point of middle grade read. It was hard to take it seriously when he was monologuing his evil plans.

Similarly, I found the focus of the book to be all over the place. I think the writer perhaps didn’t have enough plot while the heroes essentially ‘waited’ for Drakken to arrive. So we have the POV switching from each of the continuums: Aero and Seeker taking control back of theirs was fine but I admit I lost interest reading so much about what was still happening in the 13th continuum underwater. I think I would have preferred to be surprised about whether they made it or not rather than continuing to follow their story and taking away from the main plot of Aero, Seeker, Myra.

Also kind of frustrating was the lack of nuance between good and evil. The evil were evil – just for the point of being evil. Similarly, the good guys also felt narrowly drawn and far too good. I especially grew annoyed with Divinus’ ‘my dear’ over and over again to Myra. He could be paternal without it, to be honest, and it wouldn’t have come off so treacly.

I think as a shallow read the book is fine – and most should be very satisfied with it. I just expected much more at this point – more richness and nuance in the world and characters. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Floral Accessories by Wendy Andrade

Floral Accessories is a beautifully photographed book of ideas and how-to for floral accessories. The designs are intricate and clearly professional looking but they are also extremely fussy and nearly all the wearable designs seem to detract rather than enhance the wearer.

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The book breaks down as follows: The first section has introduction, materials of the trade, techniques, gluing techniques, and an image finder reference. Then 3 chapters of step-by-step directions for wearable floral artwork, bridal designs, and unique wire techniques. The book ends with sponsor acknowledgements.

For me, I chose this book because I am a photographer and always looking to create pieces for my photography sessions. I found the directions very easy to follow and quite a few of the supplies I already had in my crafts drawer from previous products. We have step-by-step directions with a large photograph(s) above for each of the designs. For the techniques sections, there are many smaller images that show how to achieve a frame, decoration, etc. Note that the how-to sections refer heavily on the techniques section – so you are going to be going back and forth as you make a piece. Also note that not all the designs have directions – they are examples of designs you can achieve once you know the techniques but they only have a short summary and list of flowers you can use.

The photographs are quite lovely as are the models and make up/hair artistry. But I have to admit that most of the models look like someone took a table decoration and wrapped it around them quickly. They bulge in odd areas and are typically very thick. Most of the head/hair pieces work and the bouquets are quite lovely. But I was very disappointed in the messy or clunky ‘jewelry’ designs – most of which didn’t photograph well and I couldn’t imagine having to wear one even for a 1 hour modeling session.

Since the techniques and supplies needed are clearly laid out in both text and photographs, I feel this is a good reference for an artistry we don’t see in books very often. It’s also an inspiration guide since the photography/modeling/hair/MUA are all professional. I recommend leafing through the book in advance to make sure you like the designs as presented. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Grand Passion by James Robinson, Tom Feister

British takes on American noir can be suspicious: one only has to go to Kenneth Branagh’s main protagonist in the movie Dead Again (and the perpetually wrinkled suit wearing laconic protagonist who was an amalgam of everyman in the USA) to get an idea of how it can be too stylized. So, too, do the characters feel hyperreal in Grand Passion; hedonistic, narrow minded, universally entitled and selfish – it’s not a very likable lot of anti-heroes and certainly they aren’t meant to be lovable. But despite the detractions, this title is worth the read in its modern homage to pulp 1950s crime fiction/serials.

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Plot: Mabel and Steve are thieves traveling across the country knocking off banks. Mac is a cop new to a small town and feeling very unwelcome, especially after the death of his wife to cancer. The cop and the crook meet in a shoot out – across the street from each other as their partners – Steve and a local cop – are killed by Mac and Mabel respectively. Mac and Mabel fall instantly in love despite their Romeo and Juliet storyline – but Mabel has a code to follow that requires her to find and then kill Mac for his part in the death of Steve. Unbeknownst to the couple, things are not what they appear in that small town – there’s a bigger set of thieves in town who have to take out Mac before he figures out their scheme.

The story is told by an unknown third person in a very ‘hick America small town’ type of voice. It does give the story flavor and it is consistent throughout the book. It is also a much needed conceit since our two protagonists are so unlikable. Mabel is uptight, intractable. Mac is slow, disaffected, and unemotional. Most of the personality in the story comes from the narration.

The illustrations work well and tell the story perfectly. The book also comes with a large selection in the back of storyboarding and layouts as well as notes from the author to the illustrator. This is a very adult and nicely modern noir piece that, although not treading any new ground plot-wise, was an enjoyable read. We don’t see enough titles like this currently and I appreciated this title all the more reason for that lack. Moody and atmospheric, Grand Passion was enjoyable. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Lady Mechanika by Joe Benítez

Lady Mechanika continues to be a guilty pleasure – yes, I know it isn’t a great series but the illustration work is just so detailed and colorful that I am mesmerized enough not to care. It’s a graphically beautiful steampunk that has as much to do with the genre as swimming goggles with random watch gears glued onto them in a cosplay – it doesn’t bear close scrutiny but then again, why would you?

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Lady Mekanika is despondent over the death of her friend Dallas. She travels to Mexico to get away from the gloom of England only to encounter a seemingly supernatural mystery surrounding the Dia De Los Muertos festival in a local village. She is instantly suspicious of a ‘group of demons’ who demand plunder – why would demons want/need money? Upon encountering children tortured and mutilated as warnings to villagers not to resist, she takes it upon herself to remove the threat permanently. But her actions will have tragic consequences.

This volume is a standalone in the series and does not advance the main story arc of Mechanika looking for the origins of her transformation. As such, all of her usual compatriots are not here and the story revolves solely around her.

There is a surprising amount of talk and philosophy about the Day of the Dead which has to be slogged through to get to the action. And I don’t remember any such thing as phosphorescent moss that looks like green demon flame anywhere in Mexico (and wouldn’t the villagers recognize it anyway?). And who keeps a full detailed replica outfit for an Aztec goddess – in a small village in the era of Catholic priests? But this is a comic so I really shouldn’t look too deep into it.

So what works are the beautiful layouts and illustration work. Mechanika redressed as an Aztec goddess of death was fun and honestly beautifully done. And her vengeance path was very ‘kick butt’ as she goes after the bad guys with a pair of twin sacrificial daggers. Lots to enjoy on the graphic side, perhaps not so much on the story side. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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The City On The Other Side by Mairghread Scott

The City On The Other Side is a fairly standard urban fantasy, albeit one with an historical milieu. I had been hoping to find something more original – a spark or reason for the story other than a rather tenuous tie to the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. The historical aspects are nearly non existent (though there are some middle-grade aimed factoids at the end) and I really wanted to see 1906 San Francisco rather than the alternate fairy world.

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Plot: Isabel is fairly forgotten in her world – her San Francisco socialite mother binding her to the harsh mores of the era while her father lives in Carmel carving stone. One day while visiting her father, she chances upon a dying fairy. Before passing, he gives her a necklace and begs her to find the queen of the seelies and give her the necklace. Isabel soon finds herself in the middle of the cold iron war between the seelie and unseelie courts. With the help of a human boy hiding in the fairy world and stealing in order to survive, they will free the imprisoned queen and bring balance back to the fairy world.

Most of The City On The Other Side is a road quest; our heroine spends a chunk of the book looking for a seelie general and then the queen herself in fairyland. Perhaps because of this, there was little to no flavor of historic San Francisco. This takes place a bit (months maybe?) after the earthquake so there is no dwelling on that event. It’s just randomly explained in the story that it was caused by the unseelies as part of their war. And it’s more of an afterthought at that.

Our character Isabel is plucky but I have to admit that she feels just as disaffected as her parents. I never got much of a flavor of her personality or spirit other than that she wishes her parents noticed her more. Oddly, there is a reconciliation with one of them while the other remains completely disenfranchised from her daughter. Similarly, her friend Benjie is fairly cardboard and mushroom shaped seelie companion Button has an odd mix of flavors so that he is hard to pin down.

Readers may be surprised at some of the seeming anachronisms. Isabel’s mother’s use of the word ‘smog’ feels off since it was a word only just coined that year. Similarly, a museum night watchman using an electric flashlight (also recently invented at the turn of the century) also feels off. Both are possible but not plausible So, too, is it glaring that Isabel is confined by social mores and not by her gender as was custom in that era.

Admittedly, I didn’t find much to interest me in this title. The lack of historic San Francisco really felt like a miss and I’d have enjoyed this more had the author/illustrator researched the locale/time and then put our hero/heroine through a San Francisco streets chase rather than situating so much in the fairie world. Since research was done on different types of fairies by the author, that clearly is where the focus went on the story. But younger, less sophisticated audiences may find this entertaining, if a bit bland. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Maid-Sama! Volume 9 by Hiro Fujiwara

Volume 9 brings the series to a close with some sweet moments and a very “Maid-Sama!” ending. Fujiwara stayed fairly consistent throughout this long series and didn’t sidetrack into the minor character lives too often, keeping the story focused on the moments between Usui and Ayuzawa.

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Synopsis: It’s graduation time for Ayuzawa, Usui, and the other seniors at the high school. Loose ends are tied up as Usui comes to terms with his parents and half brother/grandfather. Ayuzawa, meanwhile, realizes it might just be time to ‘come out’ to her school mates about working in a maid cafe. Ayuzawa’s sister sets her sights on Koh and the poor guy will never know what hit him when she’s through.

The ending is zany and fun – taking place ten years after the end of high school. It’s both appropriate and a solid ending to what has been a very entertaining series. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Queen’s Quality by Kyousuke Motomi

QQ Sweeper ended after three volumes and pretty much focused on Q. For whatever reason, Motomi has decided to continue the story under a new title, now focused on Fumi and a unique but malevolent power within her. Quite a bit of this new story reminded me of Dengeki Daisy; fans of that series will find much to love with this ‘reboot’.

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Plot: Some people are born with a power to control others. They are always female and they can gravitate to good (white queen) or evil (black queen). Fumi’s lack of memory and hard past suggest someone has been grooming her to eventually become a black queen they can manipulate. But Fumi has found a home where there are people to protect her from that fate, especially Q. But what she doesn’t know (and can never know) is that Q has a past with her that he cannot share – and his reasons for protecting her go far beyond preventing the black queen from reappearing.

Admittedly, QQ Sweeper was a bit bland – all the talk about how to clean things was boring and there just wasn’t enough to really define the characters. With Queen’s Quality, the story has become streamlined, has a recognizable villain, and the relationship between our two protagonists is better realized. In all, it’s a much better story now.

Of course, how much does it resemble Dangeki Daisy? We have the fiercely protective but moody/secretive love interest, cheerful but strong heroine, a cute pet name she calls him (in this case, nincompoop instead of baldy), and an interesting set of bad guys. There’s supernatural elements here but parcel for parcel, this shares much of the same DNA from Dangeki Daisy.

I wasn’t really interested in continuing QQ Sweeper but Queen’s Quality has all those great romantic moments that made Daisy so wonderful (and was missing in QQ). So I am all for this much neede change in the series. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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