Elfquest The Final Quest Volume 3 by Wendy and Richard Pini

Volume 3 is clearly going to be about Cutter’s ‘discovery’ from the end of volume 2 – and as such, this volume more than the others is about the emotion rather than the action. But Strongbow, Rayek, and others also get their moments of pathos as revelations and choices draw hearts in separate directions.

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Story: Cutter has all but been lost to his loved ones but they have not given up on him. As Sunstream’s Call echoes around the world of Two Moons, it finds new elves who have found even better ways of hiding safely amongst the nature of the world. Cutter Kinseeker will live up to his name while the rest of the tribes face more problems – from betrayal of Ember’s safe location to lifemates being torn apart by the decision to stay or leave with the palace of the high ones.

I’m happy that the humans feature less in the Final Quest since I rarely found them interesting as foils for the elves. I can’t say that I really understood Rayak’s decision regarding Winnowill or Cutter’s strong reaction to Timmain’s revelation. It felt like a lot of drama for drama’s sake. But the story is less choppy now by volume 3 so it doesn’t feel like we are being ping ponged across the plot by jumping into the POVs of so many characters.

Each of these volumes end on nice cliff hangers, attesting to the story being carefully plotted out. The illustration work is lovely if never perhaps as brilliant as the original series. It’s always fun to see how each character will be outfitted newly or how they will have grown.

In all, I am enjoying the Final Quest and I am very happy to see the Elfquest Story finally coming to a close after enjoying the series all these decades. I’ll always treasure my original comics and my Fire and Flight volume 1 looks like it went through the war, it’s been read so often. This Final Quest may not have the impact of the first series, when we had such a small and therefore more focused set of characters. But it’s still a joy all the same. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Elfquest Final Quest Book 2 by Wendy and Richard Pini

Back in the late 1970s, I came across an interesting title while visiting a comic book store with my father. Elves, huh? It was issue 3 or so and, Of course, I would be hooked. Some of my best memories growing up revolve around the Elfquest series: from Christmas morning and getting a new compilation Volume (in color!!), to junior high and then high school spent calling our poor local comic book store to see if the long 3 month wait was over and the newest issue had arrived. Of course, after I graduated in 1985 the main quest ended and then guest authors were brought in – and I drifted off. But now with Final Quest, we are working toward a definitive end for our elves in the world of Two Moons.

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Story: The tribes are split up, with the focus on trying to find the right time to send The Call to unite the elves back to the palace. But not all the elves want to return to the stars and the humans are still rallying in an attempt to wipe out the elves finally and forever. As some cherish their wolf blood, others wish to have the ‘taint’ removed to become what they were meant to be. It will divide the Wolfriders as each elf seeks to find meaning and what it right for themselves. And for Cutter especially, a devastating truth will have terrifying consequences.

As much as I do love the series, I have to admit that much of the Final Quest feels like drama for drama’s sake. There are many organic moments but there also seems to be a lot of overreaction and hysterics. Somehow, I’m not feeling the emotional bond that would allow me to seamless empathize with the characters and their travails. I think the heart of it, especially with the previous book, is that the sheer amount of POVs means the story jumps all over the place all the time. So I don’t get time to settle in with any one character. And as much as I love all the characters in the world, I still would rather see them through only a very limited set of eyes. To me, the Elfquest series will always be about the original Wolfriders and it is in their stories that The Final Quest truly shines.

Of course, it’s always wonderful to see Wendy’s work again. It may not be as rich or perhaps as expressive as in the past (who can ever forget the cover of issue 16?). But it’s still Wendy’s distinct style that makes the series so beautiful to read. And we get each of the volumes in full color, which is always a joy.

Eflquest the Final Quest is a treat for Elfquest fans – to pull together all the disparate storylines into one tale so we can see how our favorite characters have changed/grown/been challenged. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Arrow of Lightning by Joseph Bruchac

With Arrow of Lightning, author Bruchac ends this interesting series in a satisfying manner. The mixture of post apocalyptic with Native American (and other cultural) flavors made for a very different spin on the post apocalyptic genre. Certainly, Bruchac is a master storyteller, creating a new fable for the modern age with all that one should contain: action, adventure, a group of characters very much of their time/place, and various morals interwoven throughout.

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Story: Lozen knows Luther has survived somehow – and that he is going to come after her. If she stays with her small band, she only brings danger to them. But now that she has found a life worth living, how can she give it up? But even worse, the Jester and Lady Time have a single-minded drive to exterminate Lozen and her crew – and Luther will be one, but not nearly the nastiest, of their weapons.

One of the biggest assets that Bruchac brings to the story is a set of character voices that are incredibly unique and distinct. The perspectives make sense for the characters and there’s never a need to read who is speaking – you know instantly. Lozen is grounded but not very smart; the Dreamer always talking like a book, Hussein respectful and empathetic, even Lozen’s mother has a very motherly voice that comes through clearly in her dialogue. Some books dramatically increase their efficacy in audio but I can’t imagine the KIller of Enemies series would be any better in audio because the written word here is so rich.

Bruchac reaches deep into his storytelling roots to ensure that there are morals in his tales. From discussions about the need for religion, respecting all cultures, dependence on technology and science – these are all reflections of his Native American heritage. Fortunately, they aren’t cloying or sledgehammers – he weaves the morals seamlessly into the story so he can make a point but not make it more important than the plot itself. Even subtle issues like Luther – do you kill the poisonous snake in the garden even if it puts you in danger in the attempt – or do you let it be since it is a creation of the environment in which it has to survive and therefore no more evil than anything else in the world?

If I had some nitpicks, it’s that the books follow the same format: Lozen fights a monster, Lozen and crew move around and encounter things, Lozen gets hints/help from Hally to conquer/defeat otherwise insurmountable opposition, a low key big bad fight at the end. As well, I never appreciate POVs from the enemy and I felt there was far too much “Luther is eeeeevil” torture porn (especially in the second book). It’s toned down here and it’s obvious why we got so much Luther from the denouement – but it was still too much. I think in true fables, everyone loves the bad guy as much as the good guy; Luther ended up being the ‘big bad’ much more than The Ones and it’s clear Bruchac enjoyed writing him.

I was most curious about Hally – Lozen’s mind reading sasquatch. We do get roundabout answers on who/why he is what he is. It’s about what I expected and I respect that we aren’t spoon fed his story. It makes sense for the story and how he has interacted with Lozen up to the end of this book. But Lozen’s powers, whether granted through Hally or not, were a bit – convenient. Just what she needs when she needs it. And kind of random.

In all, I really enjoyed Arrow of Lightning and the entire series. I have to appreciate that Bruchac resisted romanticizing either Lozen or Native Americans. Our heroine is not the brightest bulb but she feels real and grounded because of that. And never, at any time, does she need to be saved by the hero/is made to sound powerful but doesn’t do anything. Lozen carries her group and each provide an asset. For that reason, this isn’t a YA novel – it’s much too smart for that. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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The Man Who Designed the Future by Alexandra Szerlip

Szerlip has given us a very thoroughly researched biography of Norman Bel Geddes. Through luck, timing, and charisma, Geddes was able to work his way up the ladder of the theater industry, creating revolutionary sets and theatrics, that would eventually lead to even greater, non-theater challenges.

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Because the book is so comprehensive, it can be very dense at times. The author clearly loves her subject and there is a bit of hero worship in there. But I also have to appreciate how much research went into getting every detail and every fact of every theater production Geddes was involved in. By the time we get away from theater and toward the showmanship of the New York World’s Fair, it’s clear he was a creative genius at the top of his game.

That I rate this four instead of five stars is that it was a very dry read and the title is somewhat misleading. I think Geddes and his wife made their mark in theater rather than mid century design. I was under the impression this was a book about an Eames or Saarinen type of designer – whereas Bel Geddes felt more about showmanship than actual art. All the same, I did not have much knowledge of his work and enjoyed reading especially about the Worlds Fair project. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Mayday by De Campi, Parker, Blond

Mayday is a difficult graphic novel┬áto review – I didn’t love it but I didn’t hate it. Yet I didn’t feel ‘meh’ about it either. The art and story are solid and I enjoyed seeing the 1970s milieu. Perhaps the best way to describe the issue I had with Mayday is that it was ambivalent in too many places. Our anti-hero is neither likable nor not-likable, the panels and art are creative and yet too obvious in several places, and even the cover (a burning communist hammer/sickle) and title are hard to discern and/or decipher.

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Story: A soviet official has defected with a list of spies in several sensitive US areas. He is escorted to a safe house in Palm Springs. But two deep undercover agents – each diametrically different – have been tasked with removing the official permanently and taking back the film exposing the spies. Felix used to fly MIG jets but one day killed a fellow officer. Rose is a honey trap. As they travel across California, attempting to get to San Francisco, they are chased by the FBI. But Felix won’t be caught easily – even when the vulnerable Rose makes bad decisions.

The story is fully fleshed out and each of the characters has a distinct back story. Felix is, of course, fascinating in his ability to survive each new situation thrown at him. We should be rooting for him as he goes on his killing spree – and I’m not quite sure the author did enough to makes us really want him to get away. Rose, on the other hand, is just as interesting in her very different way that creates friction but also emotion between the two. Felix is determined to save her even knowing that the mission pretty much means their death, even by their own country. Even when Rose isn’t able to save herself.

Where the story falls flat for me is the chase by the FBI. De Campi did almost too good a job of portraying the swaggering Americans as they likely would be viewed by non-Americans – brash, bold, and honestly kind of stupid in their unshakable self belief. Jack Hudson is a man of reason but we needed more to like him other than that he’s not as stupid or over-the-top as his superiors. The story really sagged in the scenes that featured him or the FBI.

I imagine I will have to read this several times to understand why it was named “Mayday” (sounds like an air crash, not a cold war spy thriller). Similarly, it took me several days to realize the cover was a stylized communist flag – I thought it was a plane that was blown up and falling to the ground (because of the Mayday title).

The drug induced psychedelic scenes painted like day glow Jefferson Airplane or Grateful Dead concert posters were cliche and too easy – a disappointment even though the translation was done well. And I’m still not sure if I should be happy or sad at how the book ended – and who died and who didn’t. There were several pages of just clutter, sensationalism (a full page frontal nude woman running into a gas station bathroom because “her eyeballs were floating”), or just boring (the FBI offices). But the author and artists know how to tell a story and I enjoyed the twists and turns of this hyper violent “French Connection” style thriller. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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The Guardian Herd: Dark Water Trials: Promise Keeper by Alvarez

My 13 year old loved the Warrior Cats books and also Guardian Herd. Here is her review of this new series:

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I felt that the continuation book to guardian herd was rather dull compared to the earlier books. The storyline was too cliche and too easily comprehended. The landscape shared similar issues to the story – not unique enough. The characters were fine but they lacked interesting quirks to give them more personality.

The landscape is just a fantasy land with pegasi, dragons,giants,etc. I guess I was hoping the worldbuilding would be expanded. You can easily figure out what’s going to happen next, which made it hard to want to read.

The characters were relatable and did some unexpected things every so often. It was interesting to not always know what they would do next. Yet still some more interesting characteristics would have been nice. It would have added the final touch to all the characters in the story.

In conclusion, the book didn’t live up to the expectation of the last books. It had more cons than pros. In all, it was not terrible but it was a little disappointing.

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User by Devin Grayson, John Bolton, Sean Philips

User is a three part miniseries collected in a high quality hardback edition. Originally published in 2001, the series has its roots in 1990s MUD culture – the precursor to the MMORGS of today. Back then, ‘gaming’ was all text and imagination – a way to socialize anonymously, for free, with little hardware commitment, and often used to escape the pressure of real life. Of course, modern games such as League of Legends and Blizzard’s World of Warcraft/Starcraft have since replaced the interactions with visuals and a true gaming experience. So younger gamers may not understand the allure of ‘all text’ but for older gamers, this will definitely bring back some nostalgia of sleepless nights spent online with ‘friends’ in a pseudo fantasy world.

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Story: Meg is devastated when her mother walks out on the family. Her father withdraws from reality, leaving her younger sister vulnerable to a sexual predator and she herself at a loss. A chance try of a fantasy social game hooks her completely – she becomes a chivalrous night, has adventures and interactions, and discovers new aspects of herself. More importantly, she finds in the game the strength to deal with her troubled home life. But it will come at a cost – her obsession with the game has a price for her real life.

At first, this reads like a cautionary tale of how becoming obsessed with games can cost one everything in real life. Certainly, Meg’s coworkers and boss are at a loss as to what to do with Meg completely withdrawing and suddenly calling in sick often. Meg herself resents all time away from the computer – especially in lieu of what is happening in her home. But it becomes clear by the middle that this is a book about a person finding oneself – using the virtual world to envision and then enable the virtues needed to deal with life’s crises.

A lot has been said about the gender fluidity of online gaming – where men often play female characters and even have ‘relationships’ with other male online players. In this case, Meg explores cybersex and, ironically, how a male/male relationship leads to a female/female one. At heart, this is one of the main focuses of the book since this is a very personal work from the author.

There are some poignant insights – from meg’s younger sister’s cry for attention as to why she sticks with the sexual predator family friend, to the father who has completely withdrawn from reality, to the mother who has turned her back on responsibilities and run home, to the complete normalcy of the people at her work. Of course, none of the game characters are who what they seem, though all being so harmless does feel very disingenuous.

The art is very 1990s but does convey nuances fairly well. The mundane world is bland and detailed. The computer world is bright, colorful, and nebulous. If I was to be honest, it felt very dated – the computer world as interpreted by a traditional artist and full of polygons and character strings. I wanted the fantasy world to be prettier and more imaginative.

So the real question is whether this is too dated or not – has it aged well? Certainly, the art does ground itself in its milieu of the 2000 era. The story of MUDS feels like a far more innocent time than the catfishing we know today in modern MMORGS. And that our heroine finds her gumption and real life love interest from a game is idealistic at best. Most of the story is hyperreal and so loses any chance of feeling real as a result. Certainly, gender fluidity gaming doesn’t have the lurid ring it did two decades ago.

As someone old enough to have been in the original MUDs and still heavily invested in online social gaming, I found it to be a bit too pat and a bit too personal – almost a Mary Sue rather than a pointed story. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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