Drifter Volume 1 by Ivan Brandon (Author), Nic Klein (Illustrator)

Drifter Volume 1 (collecting comics 1-5) harkens back to the glory days of science fiction in the 1970s. Mysterious, inscrutable, metaphysical ponderings on humanity and relationships (to other humans, alien life forms, even an entire planet), with characters you may not even like but who fascinate you regardless. Coupled with illustrations which decode the story through color and you have a title that is anything but predictable or expected – and all the better for it.

24830036

Story: Abram Pollux keeps meeting death – and inexplicably surviving. He crash lands on a remote mining planet, is attacked by an alien life form, immediately shot by a human, and then finds himself bandaged up in a mining settlement, half alive. Pollux has his own agenda but he will have to contend with the planet and come to understand it and its inhabitants – human or otherwise – if he is to ever leave. Because not coming to terms with planet Ouro is leaving a path of destruction in his wake.

The story is driven through inner monologue – very stream of consciousness that allows the author to play loose and fast with readers’ understanding of what is happening. Pollux is certainly not a likeable character and his actions are quite a mystery through most of these first five issues. As such, readers looking for a simple and straightforward story will be left with many “WTF?” moments and likely end the story frustrated. Those looking for nuances and deeper meanings in their stories will find much to explore in subsequent rereadings.

The illustration work is more straightforward than the story, fortunately, grounding the metaphysical musings and providing a lush color structure to enjoy. From luminous underwater blues to one of the best illustrations/coloring of a sunset I’ve ever seen in a comic, there is a lot to love visually in Drifter.

Ostensibly, the story is about Pollux and discovering his mysteries – why is a year missing from his life right after the crash, what appointment is he late to when he crashed, why did he crash, and who exactly is he? But to the writer’s credit, the story has a huge secondary character: the planet Ouro itself. Pollux is unable or unwilling to come to terms with all the planet throws at him and there are devastating repercussions as a result.

A large cast of side characters provide more context and exploration of the ‘humanity’ theme that underpins Drifter. Some, such as the sheriff, were quite interesting. Others, such as the young girl bounty hunter or Pollux adversary Emmerich, were too sketchily written to really appreciate yet. But in perhaps the one misstep in an otherwise excellent title, a catholic priest with a secret felt heavy handed in a book with so many subtle messages: yes, religion has a corrupting influence and yes, Pollux is aptly compared to being messianic. But the priest storyline honestly could have used a finer hand and more restraint. His scenes distract and almost upstage the Pollux/Ouro narratives.

Drifter is a title that will divide – it’s not an easy read nor should it be read quickly. Rereads reward yet the mysteries are only barely touched upon even up to five issues. But a beautiful color palette and illustrations do make it worth the extra effort.  Reviewed from an arc provided by the publisher.

Posted in graphic novel, sci fi | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

How to Make Curtains by Rebecca Yaker

I have really enjoyed the Storey Basics line of do-it-yourself books. All are concise, easy to follow, and include simple line drawings for illustrations/steps. The books are affordable and always current.

22129335

With How To Make Curtains, the book breaks down as follows: Window dressings (anatomy of a window, window treatments defined); From the top down (fixtures and hardware, heading styles); Fabrics, Lengths, and Linings (choosing your fabric, classic curtain lengths, types of lining); Measuring up (taking accurate measurements, structural elements of curtains); Calculating yardage (curtain fullness, curtain width, curtain length, making pattern repeats); A Few Basic Techniques (terms and tips, adding lining); Sewing your curtains (unlined rod pocket curtains, lined rod pocket curtains, tab top and tie top curtains, hidden tab curtains, grommet top curtains, instant new sew curtains, fabric tiebacks); Metric conversion charts; index.

The book is no-nonsense, get-to-the-point and get you making curtains as quick as possible. There’s no fluff or filler – terms are explained, techniques and tips given efficiently, and readers can be expected to make excellent curtains in a very short amount of time.

Those familiar with Storey Basics line know that the books are about getting readers through a project quickly but with quality results. The history of curtains, pretty pictures of presidential palace visiting rooms, and the author’s own house curtains won’t be included. Instead, the how-to information in easy to digest chunks over 120 pages or so, with simple black and white illustrations.  Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

Posted in crafts, nonfiction | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Weird Space: The Baba Yaga by Una McCormack

Although listed as Book 3, this is a standalone in a universe created by coauthor Eric Brown (he has written two previous books in the universe but I do not believe they share any characters). The story is fast paced, engaging, and with a multi-POV set of threads that weave together by the end. Although the worldbuilding is fairly shallow (there are a lot of mysteries to be explored in this universe by different authors), I enjoyed reading The Baba Yaga through to the end.

23492678

Story: Humans had battled one deadly alien species – only to have another, more powerful and mysterious one appear. Now with a truce in place, political machinations will jeopardize all the peace that has been so hard won and endanger the lives of many. When a colony world is attacked and destroyed by the new alien menace, one group of people will need to connect with another to reveal a galaxy-wide conspiracy.

What we have are two central POVs: Delia Walker is an intelligence agent caught up in the high end politics of human space. Maria is a colonist and the mother of a young daughter; she unwittingly holds the evidence to a devastating truth. Both women are fleeing, one with purpose and the other with desperation. Although I enjoyed Delia’s story much more than Maria’s, both characters are well drawn. A wide collection of supporting characters were similarly fleshed out and distinct.

The Baba Yaga (named for a Russian Legend) had some great action sequences and I enjoyed reading stories of tough women characters who can hold their own.  The contrast of Delia’s worldliness and Maria’s naivete was a smart choice, as were some of the more interesting details about each of their lives. Most of the book is a mystery that the two women have to uncover; there are some twists near the end that I particularly liked.

The book is written in a straightforward fashion and the sci fi never gets in the way of characterization or story. I look forward to reading more from Una McCormack and hope she returns to this universe. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

Posted in sci fi | Leave a comment

The Witch Hunter by Virginia Boecker

The Witch Hunter reads very much like the Y in YA – illogical, anachronistic, kind of silly in places, complete with love triangle and soppy romance. It’s the type of book in which all the characters (especially our heroine) will make rather poor decisions but luck always saves them. It was entertaining enough but I couldn’t help feeling disappointed at the lack of atmosphere or gravitas – these were thoroughly modern teens set in a world as defined and realistic as a high school stage play.

18190208

Story: Elizabeth and her crush, Caleb, hunt wizards and witches for the crown. When Elizabeth is accused of being a witch herself, she is saved by a ragtag band of secret rebels – the Reformists. As she gains their trust, she will have to decide if she believes their prophecy that she will save them all. For Elizabeth should just kill them all, including handsome and sweet young doctor John, as she’s been taught.

For me, the book was so impossibly anachronistic that I really wish this had been a straight fantasy and not set during England’s reformation period. This is Henry VIII’s time period – and women are treated as equals, Masquerade ball gowns are sleeveless, skintight, and fit perfectly despite being made for someone else, and the perfect comeback to someone hitting on you is an exclaimed, “you wish!” The idea to turn the reformation on its head and make it about witchcraft rather than protestant/political power struggles should have been great – just not with the characters of the movie Clueless.

And that’s where the real problem with the book lies – the characters continually screw up. I found I didn’t have any respect (which led to a dearth of liking) for Elizabeth or her actions. We’re told she’s an amazing fighter and level headed – but every subsequent action after that disproves everything just told us! Naive, I can understand. But really, her actions and choices are idiotic for most of the story. Not at any time does she come off as resourceful, intelligent, or mature for her age. I kept getting a picture of a hamster running around in a cage, popping on and off a hamster wheel while squeaking ineffectually.

The love triangle is trite and new love interest rather bland. I never got a feel for him or what he was about other than all he thinks about is her. I kept wishing for more about him or at least for there to be more to him than just his crush on the heroine. The other side characters were similarly ill-defined.

The writing is easy to follow and it is a fairly quick read. I have read a lot worse this year but honestly I didn’t enjoy Witch Hunter as much as I had hoped. The lost potential of the historic milieu, lack of interesting characters, and simplicity of the storytelling left me udnerwhelmed.  Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

Posted in AU, YA | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Deathstroke Vol. 1: Gods of Wars (New 52) by Tony S. Daniel

Deathstroke Volume 1 collects comics 1-6 and pairs them with some line drawings and variant covers. Our eponymous antihero is given a bit of a cosmetic makeover here, throwing him off his game as he attempts to save his son and daughter from, of all people, his own father. Fans of Deathstroke will likely find the new youthful, two-eyed, dark haired Slade disconcerting. Those not versed in Teen Titans lore may not mind it as much and can enjoy the title more.

23012585

Story: After a battle leaves him so damaged even his superhuman healing powers are barely enough to keep him alive, he wakes up to find he’s been rejuvenated – giving him the appearance of a 20 something buff young man (complete with two eyes). As he rushes to save his son, whose powers are sought by his father, he will team up with Harley Quinn, battle Batman, and otherwise learn to compensate for having an eye.

Deathstroke has always been a singularly driven figure – he gets the job done and doesn’t think twice about doing so. But in turning him into a Superman look alike, I feel the authors did him a bit of a disservice. The characters’ gravitas and maturity are jettisoned in favor of someone doubting himself constantly and ‘off his game’ due to the sudden use of two eyes. I wanted more mask and less Superman clone, to be honest.

There’s a lot of action and so much gory bloodshed (as well as a gratuitous sex scenes) to make this fully an adult title. Because everyone seems to have the ability to cheat death and heal, the authors/artists decided to go full out and kill people in spectacularly bloody ways. All the same, it got old seeing people alive again in the next few panels after being eviscerated or their head chopped off.

The illustrations were fine. I felt that too many of the characters were just too beefy to realistically be able to make the moves as shown in the panels. Deathstroke’s father, especially, has a thin old man face but an Arnold body that really seemed silly. As well, there’s enough half naked or naked men in here to nearly qualify this title has homoerotic.

The scenes with Harley were the best – gotta love her craziness and humor. You’d think she’d be a good foil for Slade’s single-mindedness – and she really is. But the fight with Batman felt pointless; we know he’s not going to beat the Bat nor the Bat beat him, so it was just a matter of waiting to see what plot device the writer would use to separate the two.

In all, Deathstroke kept my interest but I was admittedly really put off by the ‘new’ Superman-clone Slade. It just felt so pointless to give him a new face and weaken him.  Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

Posted in AU, graphic novel | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Gotham Academy by Becky Cloonan, Brendan Fletcher

The beautiful artwork of Gotham Academy (collecting comics 1-6) drew me in – illustrations, color, and layout are so exquisitely beautiful in this series. Adding in parts of Harry Potter, Manga, and Winx/W.I.T.C.H. makes for a winning combination perfect for girls (and guys) who are looking for a bit of a different tale than expected from the superhero universe of Gotham City. It’s a book both myself and my 12 year old enjoyed.

23395763

Story: Olive Silverlock begins her new school year a changed person. Moody, sort of breaking up with boyfriend Kyle, but still good friends with Maps Mizoguchi. For Olive’s mother was committed to Arkham Asylum by Batman and she’s angry, hurt, and very resentful. When a ghost is sighted in the derelict North Hall of Gotham Academy, she’ll assemble friends and frenemies alike to discover what’s really lurking there – and how it relates to her mother and her own damaged self.

The characters are fun in Gotham Academy – from quirky offbeat friend Maps, Map’s brother (Olive’s sort of ex-boyfriend) Kyle, to antagonist Pomeline. It’s all very Buffy The Vampire Slayer but trading that show’s sunny Southern California optimism for Gotham City’s ever present gloomy pessimism. The action is contained within the Academy and other than some cameos by Batman and Killer Croc, it’s fairly super-hero free. What we have here is introductory vignettes getting to know characters; more about the group coming together and eventually forming a detective club.

The story is very slow to start and meanders a bit; hence, the 4 instead of 5 star rating. The promise of the artwork hasn’t lived up to the story lines yet and we’re given a lot of hints but not enough to really hook a reader. Olive especially needs more developing beyond moody and mopey. But the promise is there and I’ll definitely be following the series.  Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

Posted in ARC, AU, graphic novel | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The China Study Quick & Easy Cookbook by Del Sroufe and LeAnne Campbell

The China Study Quick & Easy Cookbook provides a large collection of recipes that are plant-based (no meat) and utilize a variety of whole foods. Although the word “China” is in the title, it’s not an Asian food cookbook. Rather, it references a series of books by co author Leanne Campbell and features a wide range of dishes (typically, variations of unhealthier food such as Mac N Cheese). The book is bright and friendly, well photographed, well designed, and with nice breadth and depth in the recipes (which are very easy to make). The focus of the book is healthy food that is very quick and easy to prepare.

23258946

The book includes meal plans, pantry lists, and then ends with measurements guide, dietary symbols, nutritional value, and an index. Recipes are single page, have bold orange titles, use italics and bold for the ingredients list, and steps are in numbered paragraph form (the easiest way to follow a recipe!). Storage time, substitutions, and tips are included as needed.

The recipes break down as follows: Breakfast dishes, Sauces, Salad Dressings & Seasonings, Snacks & Spreads, Salads, Sandwiches, Pasta & Baked Dishes, Soups, Entrees, and Deserts.  Recipes vary: Stovetop fruit crisp, tostads, pita pizza alfredo, poblano-corn quinoa cakes, mushroom tacos, island red bean stew, asian noodle soup, fuss-free pho, Southwest burgers, summer penne pasta saute, late summer potato salad, falafel, alfredo sauce, jerk spice rub, herbed orange vinaigrette, fresh apple muffins, apple pie granola, muesli, and many, many, more.

Common substitutions for unhealthier ingredients are medjool dates for sweetness, non dairy milk (coconut, hemp, etc.) for milk, cauliflower for cheese, mushrooms for beef, and whole grains for flour, etc. There are several bases that you’ll make in advance and use them through the week to make the various recipes.

The list of recipes is long and they are well photographed. The substitution tips help keep the recipes fresh and interesting. But most importantly, very few recipes have more than 3-4 ingredients or 3 steps. Indeed, many recipes have 1-2 steps (not counting the staples made in advance, which are also easy). I found it very quick to plan a bit in advance and then quickly whip up meals in the morning and during the day. All really are that time efficient.

In all, I really liked this cookbook a lot. It’s friendly, easy to use, and has great recipes for eating healthier. The breadth of the recipes means there is a lot for everyone, regardless of likes/dislikes.  Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

Posted in cookbook, fitness/diet, health, nonfiction | Tagged , | Leave a comment