Stellar issue 1 by Joseph Keatinge and Bret Blevins

With Stellar issue 1, we are given a brief introduction to a post apocalyptic universe in which everything seems to be in ruins. Retro future spaceships, giant robots, huge alien creatures, and an almost steampunkian type of army lie in ruins or given death through flashbacks. Amidst all this strides our protagonist, Stellar. She is apparently one of several creatures given the ability of mass destruction – and now she repents what she has done in the past.


Story: A woman brings a smart mouthed wanted fugitive alien creature in for justice – only to find that the government destabilized once again and the bounty is now void. Frustrated, she brings the prisoner back to a ruined outpost to let him help orphaned children and make some use out of him. But at the same time, she has flashbacks of the ruin she helped create of so many worlds – and how others like her may still be trying to track her down and finish her off.

This is a first issue comic and fairly brief, so the story only just gets started. We know we have a woman with bad memories of being a weapon of war, a lot of aliens and alien-landscapes, and the end suggests she may be in hiding while trying to help what is left of humanity.

The illustration work is solid and we have some interesting alien creatures along with a melange of various sci fi tropes lying broken and destroyed in the backgrounds. The current storyline is told in tones of blues while flashbacks are delivered in vivid warm tones. There is nothing entirely new here, either in story or illustration work, but again this is the first comic so there isn’t enough to go on yet as to where this will go. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Tiny Fox and Great Boar 1: There by Berenika Kolomycka

This is what you would expect from a children’s illustrated book: a solid but easy to follow story, engaging characters, lots of questions for children to think about, and beautiful illustrations. The story comes in several parts and they all tie in together with the adventures of the fox and the boar and their friendship. The moral of the story comes in the first page with two simple two sentences: “Tiny Fox was always alone, though he never felt sad. Like most small animals, he’d always though that he was happy.” This is a story about learning to respect/care for others in all their unique ways.


Story: Little Fox lives happily under an apple tree until one day a boar comes and also sits under the same tree. Little Fox views the boar as an interloper and the two compete for the resources of the apple tree until eventually they form a truce. But when Winter comes and food gets scarce, the two decide to set off together to fill their stomachs. But with each having a very different mind on where to go, it will take compromise and respecting each other to find a new home.

The heart of the story is understanding others and how having different opinions doesn’t make you wrong – it just makes you different. Most of the story is about sharing and respecting – not being selfish and learning to enjoy the company of others. It feels like a story that is especially good for families with a new child along the way or who are moving to a new location. The book shows nicely how a situation may seem ideal but it might also be very lonely as well. It also shows that friendship is a two-way street.

The perspective is only from the fox’s POV so the boar is much less developed. I think this is good in that we often have to learn to respect others without knowing their true thoughts. But it is also a bit frustrating in that it would be nice to show that what we think someone is feeling may not actually be the case. We never really get boar’s thoughts to understand his POV as well.

The illustrations are lovely – clean and simple watercolors that work nicely with the story. The fox and boar are emotive and the action easy to follow. The dialogue is few – allowing for great discussions with children about what the fox or the boar could be thinking during the interactions – from rolling down a hill to each having an apple fall on their head.

In all, a lovely story with only a few small detractions. One was the occasional odd word choice (perhaps due to translation?) such as the fox saying “This is his apple tree. And this here valley is his home.” And the animals going from walking like animals to full anthropomorphic jumping in and rowing a boat. But in all, recommended. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Onyx & Ivory by Mindee Arnett

Although I am giving this a 4 out of 5 star rating, I have to admit that I do so more because Mindee Arnett’s writing is so strong rather than that I actually enjoyed the book as much as I had hoped. What I do like about her stories is that she is ‘show and tell’ – she doesn’t just give us a strong protagonist, she shows us WHY she is strong. That’s such a rarity in the shallow stories so prevalent in the YA shelves these days. But at the same time the characters felt overidealized and very unrealistic. As well, too many YA cliches were hit squarely on the head to really feel that we have something unique and original here. Add in some glaring logic holes and I came to the conclusion that while I can honestly recommend this series for others, I won’t be continuing the story.


Story: Kate has had to deal with being ‘the traitor’s daughter” since her father was executed after attempting to kill the King. She’s scraped by using her skills with horses while trying to stay out of people’s attention. Corwin, meanwhile, is the second son of the king. He has been told often enough he is a failure/disappointment to the royal family and so spends time away from the court. Especially after the girl he fell in love with when he was younger, Kate, became the traitor’s daughter when her father tried to murder his. But as outside threats begin to squeeze the small kingdom of Rime, both Kate and Corwin will be thrown together – with Kate’s darkest secret lurking and there to destroy everything.

Right from the beginning, I became frustrated with the tiredest cliche of YA fantasy: unique speshul snowflake girl with super rare, super strong, ability or history – one that no one inexplicably tells her how to use/control despite it being in everyone’s best interest to do so. In Kate’s case, she has the (of course) super rare spirit magic/ability that could get her killed if she is found to use it. So instead of developing it in secret so she can control it/it can help her, why not keep it hidden so when she finds out its full scope, it causes all kinds of problems (usually deaths) for those around her? I’m heartily sick of this trope and it feels like lazy writing to not think through a better solution to cause dramatic tension in the story.

I also found Corwin to be so ‘good’ as to be overidealized, like nearly all YA love interests can be. Yes, he makes mistakes of the heart – but he’s the one who lets the pride down and approaches our prickly girl protagonist instead of her breaking the ice with him. Because yeah, that makes the girl seem like she has the power so that readers can say she’s a strong female protagonist. But for once, I’d like to see the girl use her wits to triumph through a situation rather than either a) the prince saving her or the situation, or b) the girl doing impulsive impetuous acts that are supposed to look brave but to any reader with half a brain are foolhardy, dangerous, and just dumb. Kate’s actiona – from doing stupid things when told she shouldn’t do them to just impulsively jumping into situations that should have killed her – aren’t strong; they are just stupid. And I’m tired of really doorbell stupid heroines who have ‘spirit’ but no brains.

That isn’t to say that author Arnett doesn’t give Kate moments of bravery and intelligence. We are given enough backstory to see that Kate has taken charge of her life and made best of her life as she could. And she is given a (very unrealistic) situation in which she can save the Prince’s life through acts of heroism. But it’s not enough to offset the blind stupidity of so many of her actions. I didn’t like Kate much and want to respect a main character for their intelligence and not because they are pretty or ‘spirited’. Especially since Prince Corwin was so bland as to be turnip for all that he contributed to the story.

The story has several twists but you will see all of them coming from a mile away. Sadly, this is the second YA Fantasy book this week I’ve read with the exact same plot twists. The only difference is that Arnett’s writing is so much more solid and her world building more interesting. Yet again, we have a world that doesn’t make sense – how so many people have magical abilities yet no one knows how they work or what they really do. I just don’t think you can wipe out complete knowledge of an ability when so many used it and can still use it. It’s just a storytelling tic to slowly trickle information to the reader at the expense of believability and logic.

For me, the thing that really put me off the story and the reason why I won’t be continuing this series are the glaring logic holes. From Kate worrying about being put to death for having a magic ability and then not running away immediate out of the City when her magic was discovered by the ‘enemy’ to the disbelief that she would forgive Corwin so easily after he let her father be executed over jealousy of her accidentally kissing his brother. It felt like a copout to have her cavorting with Corwin so easily, so easily betraying the rebellion’s secrets, and just not having a care about her well being or those around her despite the real threat of death/torture.

So in all, it’s a good series in that the writing is solid. Just the plot and the characters (yes, I know that sounds like I am contradicting myself) were problematic for me personally since I expect so much from Arnett after how much I enjoyed her Avalon series. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Geekerella by Ashley Poston

I can see why Geekerella was so beloved upon release in 2017 – it is a charming remake of the fairy tale with an appropriate modern flavor. Relatable (if not very realistic) main leads make you want to root for them through the whole book despite the frustrations and adversity they encounter. Giving the “prince’ a POV helps humanize him and makes him even more interesting. The ‘geek’ aspect of both main characters having sci fi fandoms gives the book its true charm.


Story: Elle’s father was a sci fi nut – his favorite show being Starfield. He started a con to celebrate it in previous years and even met his wife, Elle’s mother, through cosplaying the characters. But after losing his wife, remarriage, and then eventual sudden death, that life was lost to Elle. Her stepmother always resented Starfield and how it took her husband away from her. And Elle has had to give up those warm memories of her parents in order to concetrate on helping her stepmother and two stepsisters climb the social ladder. Darien, meanwhile, has worked his way up through the showbiz ladder thanks to the efforts of his ambitious father. He’s been betrayed by those he thought friends and spends his life on the road. All Darien wants to do is go to Starfield cons and relax. But then he gets the chance of a lifetime – to play the lead in the Starfield reboot. This new series will change both Elle’s and Darien’s life as both find opportunities to change the situations in which they’ve found themselves.

Author Poston makes some smart choices in re-imagining the fairy tale: from ensuring that the step-relatives aren’t one-dimensional to also giving ‘prince’ Darien a whole backstory. Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of a fairy tale like Cinderella is that we never got to know much about the prince and he remained an overidealized hero we could mold anyone into at whim. But by far for me, the best choice Poston made was to not make Darien caucasian (nor have the main character of Starfield be Caucasian and instead to have Indian heritage). These modernization touches help round out the story a bit more and give it more depth.

Some fairytales are used more as inspiration than source; in this case, it is very much a retelling rather than loosely taking aspects of the story. From the lost slipper, pumpkin coach (food truck), prince (the lead of Starfield is a prince), to a fairy godmother who ends up being a very unique best friend driving the pumpkin truck. It’s all there and all very clever. Even the two dresses (one that the character originally finds and is destroyed to one that is newly created) are there. I had to appreciate the amount of thought that went into recreating the Cinderella story.

Both characters of Darien and Elle are surprisingly likable. Sure, they are in no way realistic; especially Darien is so perfect that I didn’t want him described as so physically handsome. Rather, I wish he had played a part other than a “Baywatch” type soap opera role that required “abs that are insured.” The part about being a geek is that what defines you isn’t how you look so much as what you love. That was missing here when you create a main character that handsome.

I had a few nitpicks but in all, this was a charming story and a very enjoyable read. It’s also a cut above many YA romances in that it is clear a lot of inventiveness and love went into it creation. Yes, our main character is a Mary Sue – but such a fun one that you quickly forget that potential detraction and just enjoy the story. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Game of Secrets by Kim Foster

This is likely going to be one of my most disappointing reads this year considering the premise sounded so interesting and the book began promisingly enough. But by half way through, this began to hit every trope/cliche in the YA genre (and not even creatively at that) and the writing began to feel rushed and simplistic through to the end. It felt as if the author spent a lot of time on the beginning and then hurried through the rest in order to get this published.


Story: Surviving in the streets of Dickensensian White Chapel isn’t easy for Felicity Cole; especially considering she and her brother are orphans and he has a fatal flaw: supernatural powers that would immediately see him mob murdered like her mother. When someone close to her is brutally murdered by an aristocrat, she loses control of her anger and discovers she has powers as well – physical ones. Hunted, imprisoned, she is saved by a mysterious benefactor and taken to a hidden academy to train to become an assassin and bodyguard to Queen and country. But Felicity only cares for being reunited with her young brother who may be walking the streets alone without her. Fortunately, a fellow aristrocratic student is hot and interested.

I wish I could determine if it was lazy or just unsophisticated writing. But the tropes/cliches were painful:
– unique snowflake with mysterious past no one tells her about and mysterious superpowers she will have to learn to use by herself because no one wants to help her despite it being in their best interest
– Perfect bog standard overidealized love interest who inexplicably instaluvs her – super handsome, intelligent, in a position of respect, and 100% devoted only to her for no particular reason
– Mean girl rival for melodrama so author can show ‘spirit’ by giving her comeuppances and cat fights
– Perfect sweet best/friend maid who has the personality of a pansy but makes our gal look feisty
– Girl does completely brain dead actions, constantly, that always results in trouble for everyone else and needing to be rescued – and no one seems to mind that it gets them nearly killed several times.
– Girl had previous love interest who was murdered – does she think about him? Not more than “I should be sad about Kit but the new boy makes me tingle and blush.” Oh and the brother she’s desperately trying to get back to? Pretty much forgotten while she’s so busy with super hunk and mean girl.
– Everyone puts new girl in positions of power for NO REASON – she’s a moron, she screws everything up, she doesn’t even care about those people. But hey, let’s pick her for missions even though she doesn’t have powers and over competent handsome boy even though she’s proven several times to ruin missions.
– Betrayal from within their rebel group! Who’d a thunk it? Could it be the nice sweet older guy??

And then there are the logic holes about the worldbuilding. How no one seems to know anything about the ‘tainted’ except only a few yet everyone in London wants to kill them. Zero world building (why was Warwick photographing that day? Why does he want her? Why does the world hate tainted? What do the Hunters want? Why haven’t they gained access to the academy before? etc. etc. etc. – don’t expect answers this volume). She was supposedly raised in the slums but speaks perfect formal English – just missing some mannerisms like good curtseying that deportment school will fix?. Damn her father was a good English teacher! Her father was Greek – with the last name of…Cole? Something about Shakespeare and Marlowe – making her even MORE special. And don’t get me started about the ‘stunning’ reveal of what the Tainted are – it was hard not to giggle derisively even for a YA book.

Typically, I’d suggest this is a no-brain Summer read that is fast and easy. But the writing is so bad in the second half and the book so much in need of a rewrite that I just can’t recommend Game of Secrets (even the title is generic and meaningless). It’s a cut above many Harry Potter fanfictions – but that’s the best I can say about it. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Gangsta Cursed 4 by Kohske

Although a spin off, this is probably one of the best I’ve read. All of the horrible and terrifying pathos of the original series is fully intact here in this story of Spas/Marco Adriano and how he turned from being a hunter of Twilights to a hunter of Hunters.


As Spas recognizes the evil the Hunters are doing, he finds himself in the middle of a war: trying to save both Hunters and Twilights from the greater evil manipulating them. But sometimes, the only solution to stop death is to kill: as he confronts his friend, the very psychotic Marie/Maverick, he recognizes that in her insanity, she is beyond reason and will continue to slaughter Twilights. But how can he kill the person who has cared for him for so long? Meanwhile, Nick is sent after “the Burner” who has been wreaking havoc and killing the elite Twilights. And Munroe watches comfortably as Striker and Beretta attempt to siege his stronghold and are efficiently rebuffed.

Gangsta remains one of the best written shounen series out there. The sheer amount of violence can be tough to stomach at times but clearly is not there for sensationalism or to use action to cover poor story writing. This is one of the few manga where you really have to go over every panel carefully or you will miss important clues about the story. Because it is so intricately nuanced both visually and through prose, it’s a manga that you want to reread as often as possible to see all the hints, clues, and layered storytelling. Easily, this is one of the best stories out there, if you can get past the blood and violence. Amidst all the despair in Egastulum, Kohske is always careful to sow little glimmers of hope, some of which will be crushed and others nurtured. It’s a harsh world he’s created.

I am glad to have this side story of Marco and certainly it casts a very different light on him and his role in the original Gangsta series. The high quality of the origin story is also upheld and clearly this is high level storytelling at its best. I look forward to the next volume to see how Spas eventually turns into Marco. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Bleach 73 by Tite Kubo

I can see why people felt that this last arc went on too long; all the same, it was worth it so that we were able to get so much closure and character development as we did in this volume. I had always wondered what kind of Bankai Urahara would produce and it didn’t disappoint when we finally saw it. But then we also get to see the ultimate form of Zaraki’s bankai AND the ultimate form of Hitsugaya’s Hyorinmaru!


Story: Urahara battles Sternritter “D” Askin Nakk Le Vaar and his ugly Gift Bereic erected around the Death Ball Deluxe poison containment egg. Trapped in ever increasing poison, Urahara is forced to bankai to survive. But his uncanny ability to see all possibilities and prepare for all of them means that Le Vaar may just have met his match. Meanwhile, Sternritter Gerard Valkyrie is fighting Hitsugaya and Byakuya when “trouble” arrives in the form of an annoyed Zaraki Kenpachi. Ichigo confronts Ywacht with Orihime while Urahara battles outside.

There was a lot in this volume to enjoy and even with so many different battles going on, it was great to see so much happen and with so many surprises. Tite Kubo really honed his illustration work over this series and the artwork is clean and the action is fun and furious. It’s all leading up to the final battle and I’m enjoying this final story arc. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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